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[This post has been updated to correct a duplicate link.] The gun insanity continues. Another average morning, another whirlwind of horrific stories about innocent people in and around us dying (or having their lives endangered) senselessly because criminals and crazy people have easy access to killing machines:

Meanwhile,  the chief defender and enabler of the terrorists around us — the gun lobby — goes merrily about its business, buying our politicians and undermining our democracy.

Commentary

unemploymentVeteran Raleigh News & Observer political reporter Rob Christensen, a confirmed centrist who has sometimes frustrated progressives down through the years with his extremely high tolerance for conservative policy blather, is right on the money this morning with a new and powerful takedown of the state’s Scrooge-like unemployment insurance policies.

In addition to explaining and dissecting the state’s U.I. system and the recent conservative-designed changes that have made it the “stingiest…in the country” in succinct terms, Christensen takes an important  extra step and speaks from the heart in the conclusion to his essay:

“So why are our political leaders behaving this way when most of their constituents punch a clock or fill out a time card?

Here are several thoughts. Businesses bankroll most of the legislator’s campaigns and finance a battery of lobbyists on Jones Street. There is almost no one to speak for people who get laid off.

There is also a view among some conservatives that unemployment insurance is, in the words of the Civitas Institute, “paying people not to work.’’

This view, I might add, is contrary to my life experience. Three of my grandparents worked in a textile mill. My father was a factory worker. I worked in a textile mill and other manufacturing plants in my early years.

I have known lots of hard working people – family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues – who have been laid off. It is a terrifying experience. You don’t know how you will take care of your family or meet your mortgage payments. Often your self-esteem takes a beating. The modest amount of unemployment insurance doesn’t even begin to cover living expenses.

There are apparently some people who believe the American worker is a slug just waiting for a chance to sit on his or her duff. I think they are wrong. I believe most Americans just want a chance to earn a decent living.”

Click here to read and share the entire column. It deserves it.

Commentary

The Pope Center for Higher Education is out with a new article in which it laments the fact that student loan debt and loan defaults are both up in North Carolina.  This is obviously not an unimportant problem and so good for them for raising it.

As one might have suspected, however, the group’s conclusion as to why this is so and what ought to be done about it are mostly the usual market fundamentalist gibberish.

According to the Pope people, too many North Carolinians go to college — especially minority students who go to HBCU’s. The “solution,” therefore, is for all those kids who are trying to better themselves to cut it out. Better to get a job in retail or fast food and get on with life as a cog in the new post-industrial North Carolina.

Uh, earth to Pope people: Your article never mentions the word “tuition” except to say that it’s generally lower in HBCU’s.  In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been skyrocketing in the UNC system in recent years as conservatives have repeatedly slashed the state’s commitment to higher education.

A critical and obvious part of the solution to the problem of rising student debt — notwithstanding the Pope group’s denials — is to lower tuition and the other costs associated with higher education.  That an article would purport to discuss the problem of rising student debt without even paying lip service to the rapidly rising cost of attending college (or for that matter, the proliferation of predatory, for-profit colleges) is a testament to the amazingly powerful blinders with which the ideologues on Right Wing Avenue view the world and dispense their toxic policy prescriptions.

Commentary

[The title of this post has been updated to assuage the concerns of those who interpreted it as somehow heralding criticism of the the City of Raleigh.]

In case you missed it Sunday, the editorial page of the Greensboro News & Record did a great, if sobering, job of summing up the ongoing war on North Carolina’s natural environment that’s being waged by the state’s conservative political leadership.The editorial — “A toxic wish list,” begins this way:

“Don’t look now, but planet Earth is under attack. From Raleigh.

And resistance is futile. Or so it seems.”

After alluding to a 2013 bill by Greensboro’s Senator Trudy Wade that, amazingly, proposed to allow garbage trucks to spill more noxious liquid on the highways and byways of the state, the editorial puts it this way:

“But Wade’s bill was only the first drip in a noxious flood of legislation that followed from a GOP-controlled legislature that seems hell-bent on disintegrating protections against tainted water and filthy air. The list, contained in an omnibus bill, is as long as it is shortsighted.

One provision, pushed by Wade, would no longer require electronics companies to help defray the expense of recycling and disposing of discarded computers, televisions and other products that can create dangerous toxins in landfills.

Wade’s reasoning: The expense was too burdensome for those companies.

So, where, then would the additional costs logically shift? To the city and county governments that have established e-recycling drop-off programs. And ultimately to local taxpayers.

What’s the harm? Wade told the News & Record’s Taft Wireback. ‘It’s still banned from landfills.’ As if an electronics fairy comes and magically takes old e-junk away in the dead of night and leaves quarters.

Another pending change would allow construction nearer to streams.

Another would allow companies that turn themselves in for pollution not to be assessed penalties if they cooperate in clean-up efforts.

Another would force citizen groups that file lawsuits against state agencies on environmental issues to reimburse the state for attorney’s fees if the state wins in court. (In effect, it dares citizens to sue.)

Still another Read More

Commentary

Today is the first day of the 2015-16 school year in lots of places throughout North Carolina and editorial pages across the state this past weekend welcomed back the return of teachers and students with some harsh words for the political powers that be.

The Winston-Salem Journal minced no words in an editorial entitled “Teacher shortage: Legislature must end the brain drain”:

“North Carolina once concentrated on providing the best public education it could. But in the first years of the 21st century, Democratic leaders lagged in funding for education. The Republicans have been harder on it.

Some Republicans seem to have made a point of bad-mouthing teachers and the teaching profession. That doesn’t create an atmosphere in which they feel appreciated.

And the legislature has taken more concrete steps to diminish the teaching profession by eliminating the teaching fellows program and stipends for advanced degrees. Right now, as the legislature fumbles around with its budget, teacher assistants hang in limbo, not knowing if they’ll have jobs once the dust settles. Teachers had to take the state to court earlier this year just to retain tenure status.

And despite some movement toward raising salaries, our teachers continue to be underpaid for the important work they do.

Texas and other states have come to North Carolina to recruit new teachers, knowing they can offer better deals. And many teachers have accepted.

Who pays for this backward motion? The students, initially, and then our communities, which wind up with less-educated members and a less-educated workforce that fails to attract the jobs of the future.

Education is the best predictor of future success. If the legislature really wants to bring in new companies and jobs, it would recognize that instead of shortchanging our teachers, our students and our future.”

Here’s the Fayetteville Observer reminding us that the ideological driven move to rewrite the Common Core standards will be very expensive:

“The Academic Standards Review Commission has released some of its preliminary reports on how to revise teaching standards for math and English.

In addition to its curriculum recommendations, the commission added this: Once the revisions are made, the schools will need money for new teaching materials, including textbooks, and a sufficient number of teachers and teacher assistants to carry out the job.

The budget that lawmakers are negotiating doesn’t have that money in it. The Senate, in fact, wants to get rid of at least 8,500 teacher assistants and hire about 3,300 new teachers for lower grades.

We might indeed end up with better schools if the review commission’s advice is heeded. But we need to remember that the Common Core pushback was purely political, rooted in the canard that it’s a federal takeover of education. It’s not. The standards were developed by educators. And they are widely supported by business and the military. Can we really afford this exercise in the politics of education?”

And finally, the Wilmington Star News put it this way in a piece entitled “Let’s support our teachers”:

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