Commentary

More maddening hypocrisy on hunger from the Guv’s office

HungerAnother day, another pious pronouncement from a powerful North Carolina politician about a terrible social ill that his own policies help to make worse on a daily basis. The latest (and recurring) issue: hunger.

Yesterday, the Governor’s office released a statement in which it said the Gov. McCrory and his wife would be observing “Hunger Action Month.” This is from the statement:

“Governor Pat McCrory and First Lady Ann McCrory are observing Hunger Action Month by lighting the Executive Mansion in Raleigh and the Western Residence in Asheville orange tonight.

‘We remain committed to connecting families with jobs, education, health care and opportunities to help combat the critical issue of hunger in our state,’ Governor McCrory said. ‘Ann and I encourage all citizens to join us this month in raising awareness about the need to end hunger in North Carolina.’”

Action, huh? It sure isn’t evident if you consider, among other things, the Governor’s decision in 2015 to sign House Bill 318 — a multifaceted attack on vulnerable people that slashed food assistance for more than 100,000 people in need with the supposed objective of incentivizing them to “get a job.” As we noted at the time:

“Obviously, the central problem with this approach is that it ignores common sense and the reality on the ground. Simply put, 100,000 North Carolinians aren’t sitting around not looking for work because they can get a few bucks per week [around $30] to buy a little bit of food. If there were jobs available – even lousy, part-time jobs – these people would obviously be much better off working than merely receiving SNAP benefits. (And if a few hundred people were somehow milking the system for such a pathetic benefit, all one can say is ‘God forbid!’)”

The bottom line: Maybe anti-hunger advocates need to move Hunger Awareness Month to the spring or summer when the General Assembly is actually in session so that state leaders will be forced to confront the stunning disconnect between their words and deeds more directly. Unfortunately, given the record of recent years, even blatant shaming of this kind seems likely to be ineffective.

Commentary

Just let the people vote, for Pete’s sake; SBOE actions are no panacea

Dallas WoodhouseYesterday’s actions by the State Board of Elections to expand voting opportunities in some, but not all, North Carolina counties in this fall’s election (see Joe Killian’s thorough story below) were, on the whole, better than had been feared. To its credit, the Board did not simply adopt the outrageous voter suppression recommendations of Republican Party boss Dallas Woodhouse (pictured at left) hook, line and sinker.

That said, it’s important not to get too carried away in praise of where things stand when it comes to voting rights in North Carolina. First of all, there can be no doubt that years of partisan efforts by the Right to suppress votes — particularly the votes of African-Americans — have taken their toll. Yes, the federal courts have pushed back against those efforts and many counties will have more reasonable early voting plans as things stand now, but for millions of average North Carolinians, the whole situation remains a confusing mess.

For years now, they’ve heard endless conflicting and confusing stories about things like voter ID and other voter suppression tactics that will have undoubtedly left them unsure where things stand and, in many cases, just plain disgusted and discouraged. This is, of course, just how people like Woodhouse and his ilk want them to feel.

From the beginning, it’s been their unabashed goal to discourage the poor, the marginalized, the disabled and people of color (i.e. those perceived as more likely to vote for Democrats) from voting. If they couldn’t accomplish it explicitly, they were happy to settle for the next best thing: chaos (or, at least, the widespread perception of it). And so, here we are, just a few weeks out from the 2016 general election with enormous confusion and 100 widely varying voting plans in North Carolina.

All of which points out the absurdity of how North Carolina deals with the issue of voting and elections in general. Sure, things could be worse here, but there are numerous simple steps we could take to make voting vastly easier — things like automatic registration, easier-to-use mail in ballots, a return to the option of straight party voting, voter “portability” which allows voters to move from county to county without constantly updating their address, pre-registration for teens and even online voting. Uniform statewide standards would be helpful as well.

The bottom line: North Carolina needs to move into the 21st Century when it comes to voting and elections. Yesterday’s actions by the state Board of Elections did some good, but ultimately, they were mostly about resisting an effort to take us back to the 19th. We’re still several decades behind the times.

Commentary

McCrory vs. the NC Chamber: One of them is not telling the truth (Video)

In case you missed it last night there was some big news on the HB2 front. In a speech in Winston-Salem yesterday, Gov. Pat McCrory claimed that the state’s highest profile business lobby group, the North Carolina Chamber, helped write the state’s all-purpose LGBT discrimination law. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to watch McCrory’s statement.) This directly contradicts statements made by NC Chamber boss Lew Ebert. This is from a story by reporter Mark Binker on WRAL.com:

“Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday that a group of top business leaders helped to draft House Bill 2, something the North Carolina Chamber has denied for months.

The statement appears to put the Republican, who is seeking re-election this fall, directly at odds with the state’s largest business lobby, which has supported GOP candidates in recent campaigns….

‘I think they ought to read the bill,’ McCrory says at roughly the 26-minute mark of his campaign’s video, insisting that most people do not understand what was in it.

‘It’s only a five-page bill. There are four parts of it, two parts the Chamber of Commerce helped write here in North Carolina.’

That explicitly conflicts with statements North Carolina Chamber officials have made since April, although it jibes with speculation put forward by lobbyists and activists at the time….

In an interview on Time Warner Cable News, Chamber President Lew Ebert was asked whether the Chamber played any role in shaping the bill. He responded, ‘Not at all.’

Kate Payne, a spokeswoman for the Chamber, repeated that denial Wednesday night.

‘The North Carolina Chamber had no part in suggesting, drafting or reviewing House Bill 2,’ Payne said.”

This is actually a pretty dadgum big deal. As we noted in this space on multiple occasions back in the spring when HB2 was coming into being, the Chamber was notably and absurdly silent — in public anyway — on the matter. This from a March post:

“What gives with the NC Chamber? There was a time when, in its previous iteration as North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, the NC Chamber was mostly a force for slightly-right-of-center moderation in state politics and policy. Over the last several years, however, since former Martin administration official and public education booster Phil Kirk was replaced with conservative fire breather and anti-tax zealot Lew Ebert, things have changed dramatically.

At no point in recent times was this more evident than last week when the Chamber remained publicly silent while state lawmakers and Gov. McCrory rammed through the most regressive and far-reaching LGBT discrimination law in the U.S. — a law that is provoking a firestorm of protest and scores of boycotts around the country. As has been noted on this website and others, dozens of the state’s most prominent corporations and local chambers of commerce have spoken out against House Bill 2 in recent days, but strangely and disturbingly, their overarching trade association — the NC Chamber — remains silent.”

Now, according to McCrory anyway, we know what happened. In keeping with its reputation as a cynical, opportunistic, ideologically driven lobby group for the top 1%, the Chamber did, in fact, cut a backroom deal as has long been speculated and then publicly denied it had done so afterward.

Unless, of course, it didn’t — in which case the Governor of North Carolina has told a slanderous falsehood about a powerful ally.

All in all, it’s a hell of a mess and just the latest depressing chapter in the sordid HB2 saga that continues to wreak havoc with the reputation of our once great state.

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Commentary, News

Thankfully, the Right surrenders on another “culture war” issue

In case you missed it, there was some encouraging news from the good people at NC Child yesterday. Once again, after stubbornly holding out for decades, the Right is on the verge finally giving way on an important issue of the culture wars — corporal punishment.:

Corporal Punishment Disappearing from the NC Public Education Landscape

Today NC Child released data showing that just three local school districts in North Carolina used the practice of hitting students as a form of discipline, and that incidents of such corporal punishment have fallen 50 percent since last year.

The data come from a recent survey of public schools done by NC Child, according to Senior Fellow Tom Vitaglione.  “The survey has gotten easier each year, as fewer schools use this ineffective and outmoded practice,” Vitaglione said.

The survey shows 71 occurrences in the three districts (35 in Robeson County, 22 in Graham County and 14 in Macon County) during the 2015-16 school year. Overall, this is a 50 percent reduction from the prior year.

“We have sent notes of congratulations to each of the school boards and administrations,” said Vitaglione. “We are especially delighted that the Macon Board of Education has recently adopted a policy to prohibit the use of corporal punishment in its schools.”

The survey shows a 50 percent reduction in Graham (from 44 incidents to 22) and a 60 percent reduction in Robeson (from 88 to 35).  Data on which schools used corporal punishment and which children were hit are not yet available. In the prior year, all the corporal punishment in Graham occurred at Robbinsville High School, and most of the occurrences in Robeson were to student members of the Lumbee Tribe at Prospect Elementary School.

“There are now more than 80 studies that indicate that corporal punishment is an ineffective form of discipline,” said Vitaglione. “We hope that the education leaders in Graham and Robeson will soon join their colleagues in the state’s other 113 local school districts in making corporal punishment in North Carolina a thing of the past.”

NC Child Survey on Corporal Punishment Occurrences in the Public Schools

District                                  2014-15                        2015-16

Graham                                      44                                    22

Robeson                                     88                                    35

Macon*                                       11                                    14

*The Macon Board of Education has recently prohibited corporal punishment.

Of course, it should be noted that numerous so-called “Christian” schools — many of which receive public money in the form, of school vouchers — are likely still beating children, but at least, the practice has almost been eradicated from the state’s public schools.

Commentary

National LGBT commentator skewers McCrory’s claim that HB2 is “irrelevant”

McCrory on Rotterman show

Image: Think Progress

It’s increasingly difficult to keep up with the various and conflicting claims Gov. Pat McCrory is making about HB2. One day, he’s defending the state’s all-purpose LGBT discrimination law as “common sense” and an effort to guarantee “bathroom safety” and the next he’s characterizing the law as “irrelevant” because of federal lawsuits and actions taken by the Obama administration.

There have already been plenty of explanations on this website and others as to why HB2 has nothing to do with either common sense of bathroom safety, but the “irrelevant” characterization is a new, interesting and surprising one that deserves a little more attention. Fortunately, Zack Ford, an editor at Think Progress undertook the task late yesterday in an outstanding post entitled “North Carolina’s Governor Says His Own Anti-LGBT Law Is ‘Irrelevant.’ It’s Not: The embattled governor keeps trying to shrug off his state’s discriminatory law.” Ford quotes McCroy in a recent interview with public TV as saying the following:

“The fact of the matter is…HB2 is actually irrelevant now because the Obama Administration has given a directive through EEOC?—?through the Justice Department, and to our universities?—?basically saying, ‘If you do not recognize the concept of gender identity, the redefining of sex from the 1964 Civil Rights Act?—?you can lose your funding’….This is all going to the Supreme Court, so when the media keeps talking about HB2, HB2 is irrelevant because now 21 other states are suing the federal government along with the state of North Carolina.”

Ford then goes on to detail some of the numerous ways in which HB2 is fully and quite destructively relevant to the lives of ordinary LGBT North Carolinians:

“The only problem with McCrory’s claim is that HB2 is still very much in effect in North Carolina, making it very relevant to the transgender people impacted by it.

Just two weeks ago, a federal judge ruled that the University of North Carolina could not enforce HB2, but that injunction only applied to three specific transgender plaintiffs in that case. The ACLU of North Carolina and Lambda Legal are appealing in hopes of finding broader relief for all transgender North Carolinians while the case plays out, but that relief is not guaranteed.

Furthermore, neither that particular case nor the suits directly between North Carolina officials and the federal government?—?which have been delayed until March while the Supreme Court considers a similar case in Virginia?—?address the aspect of HB2 that prohibits municipalities from extending nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, the law was passed specifically to override protections that Charlotte passed at the local level. Aside from inconsistent protections some have found at the federal level, it remains legal to fire, evict, or refuse service to someone for being LGBT in North Carolina.”

Click here to read Ford’s entire post and here to watch the McCrory interview.