Commentary, Defending Democracy

Big crowd expected for Raleigh “democracy reform” townhall tonight

Organizers expect a big crowd tonight for a “democracy reform” townhall meeting featuring Congressman David Price that will take place at Broughton High School in Raleigh.

The event, which features the moniker “A Better Deal for Our Democracy,” will take place from 6:30 – 8:30.

The event website says that those in attendance will receive a congressional update from Price on issues like “extreme partisan gerrymandering and attacks on voting rights to foreign interference in our elections and rampant corruption in Washington,” hear from local advocates about the democracy reform agenda in North Carolina, and get a chance to offer their own thoughts and ideas for solutions to the challenges facing our nation.

Attendees will also discuss the road ahead in light of recent developments such as the Supreme Court’s redistricting rulings and the General Assembly’s proposed constitutional amendments. Click here for more information and to RSVP.

Commentary

Prof. Gene Nichol provides a useful lesson in constitutional history

In case you missed it this morning, be sure to check out Prof. Gene Nichol’s fine essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer  celebrating and explaining the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as it arrives at its 15oth anniversary.

Here are some on-the money excerpts:

“This month marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the most consequential provision of the U.S. Constitution, the 14th Amendment. It grants citizenship to anyone born in America and assures that state governments afford due process and equal protection of the laws.

Rep. John Bingham, the enactment’s principal author, explained he sought ‘a simple, strong, plain declaration that equal laws and exact justice shall be secured within every state for any person, no matter whence he comes, or how poor, how weak, how simple, how friendless.’ The 14th Amendment, along with its civil war counterparts, sought to remedy the tragic defects of 1789 and bring egalitarian democracy to the United States.

Of course Bingham’s words have been much-ignored in our constitutional history. The 14th Amendment was largely gutted in its first 50 years – except as a tool for corporate interests. And Plessy v. Ferguson cruelly buried its central meaning.

But since 1954, the Supreme Court has frequently used the 14th Amendment to demand that American government make real its foundational promises. Brown v. Board of Education (school segregation), Loving v. Virginia (anti-miscegenation laws), Craig v. Boren (sex discrimination), Harper v. Virginia (voting rights), Goldberg v. Kelly (right to hearing), Roe v. Wade (reproductive rights), Graham v. Richardson (immigrant rights), Obergefell v. Hodges (gay rights) and Reynolds v. Sims (equal representation) are its principal markers. Without them, the U.S. would be a tyrannous nation. Anything but the land of the free. So it’s good to raise a glass to the old, but essential and defining, provision.”

After noting the repeated and ongoing efforts of conservative politicians like Donald Trump and North Carolina legislative leaders to undermine the amendment, Nichol concludes this way:

“But it’s also accurate to characterize the struggle as a continuing, never-yielding fight over Bingham’s 14th Amendment. The Tar Heel State initially voted against the amendment in 1866, for example, before eventually yielding to the pressures of the Reconstruction Congress. And the aggressive social and political agenda of today’s North Carolina Republican Party is impossible to square with the due process and equal protection mandates of the last half-century. Read more

Commentary, News

Coalition of groups calls on OSHA to save worker lives, adopt heat stress rules

In recent years, largely due to global warming, there has been an increase in days of “extreme” heat and record-breaking summers. In fact, 17 of the 18 hottest summers have all taken place after 2001, with 2016 and 2017 being the two hottest summers on record. With the hike in temperatures there has also been an increase in the number of days with deadly heat — days during which the combined heat and humidity overwhelm human thermoregulatory capacity even for people at rest.

The increase in number of deadly heat days and overall average temperature could prove to be deadly for workers who labor outside. Worker deaths due to heat have been reported all over the United States. Workers in industries ranging from construction to agriculture work full time in extreme heat with little to no protections or precautions to protect them from the dangers of heat exhaustion. According to Public Citizen, due to the record breaking summers that are now becoming the norm, the epidemic of heat stress injuries and deaths will only worsen and exacerbate other health problems such as asthma and heart disease.

The effects of the temperature rise on workers can be seen in the case of migrant farmworkers in North Carolina. Researchers at the Center for Work Health found that North Carolina has historically ranked as having some of the worst rates of US heat fatalities among workers. From 1992-2006, for every 100,000 North Carolina farmworkers, an average of 2.5 died of heat illness. Many North Carolina agricultural employers are required to provide cool drinking water within a quarter-mile of worksites, but because they are not actually required to provide rest breaks, workers do not always have time to drink that water. With the temperature rise that is already locked in, it is vital to protect workers from these extreme conditions. The solution to heat-stress is simple: hydration, shade, and rest breaks for workers, but many employers will not implement these solutions voluntarily.

California, Washington, and Minnesota have already implemented some form of protective heat standards for their workers, as has the U.S military. But for approximately 130 million workers across the nation there is no current protection against heat stress. A coalition of organizations led by Public Citizen is petitioning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to initiate the rulemaking process for the first national standard that would protect U.S workers from the dangers of heat stress. The proposed standard would include heat stress thresholds, medical monitoring, personal protective equipment (PPE) and a Heat Alert Program, among other protections and precautions. This coalition will also launch national and state public education campaigns in an effort to bring awareness of the growing problem of extreme heat.

You can learn more about the petition and campaign at:  https://www.citizen.org/our-work/health-and-safety/heat-exposure

Commentary, Trump Administration

Editorial: Trump’s embrace of Putin would offend Jesse Helms

For many Americans, the late Jesse Helms is what they think of when they think of North Carolina. And for progressive North Carolinians, there are many, many good reasons to find an association with the utterly intolerant GOP figure objectionable.

That may be one reason you’re not likely to hear many kind words about the late senator on these pages, but Capitol Broadcasting Company has published an editorial this morning that asks: What would Helms, a staunch anti-communist, think of President Donald Trump’s gushing embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin this week?

Based on Helms’ comments in 2001, the longtime North Carolina Republican likely wouldn’t have had much nice to say about Trump, even as members of the national GOP today grapple with how to respond to the president’s disastrous trip to Helsinki this week.

From the Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial:

There has been much hand-wringing among conservatives on just how to respond to President Donald Trump’s embrace of Russia’s Vladimir Putin even as he distanced himself from his own government’s fundamental institutions.

To those who might be looking for guidance on how to react, they need not look any further than Jesse Helms, the godfather of the nation’s modern conservative political movement.

Much has changed since that pre-9-11 time. Most folks (except for our president) are 18 years to the wiser. They know that Putin’s government ordered and financed the meddling and attempted sabotage of the 2016 elections. All aimed to at least build distrust in our electoral process.

In 2001 then-President George W. Bush traveled to Europe for a series of meeting with allies and other international leaders, including Putin. Bush’s embrace of Putin wasn’t quite the gushing idolization that Trump expressed this week. But for the time, it was effusive. Helms, the longtime Republican senator from North Carolina and diehard anti-Communist, was alarmed by Bush’s initial chummy assessment of the Kremlin’s leader who’d been an ex-KGB operative.

“He’s an honest, straightforward man who loves his country. He loves his family. We share a lot of values,” Bush said at a June 16, 2001 news conference with Putin.

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

Helms wouldn’t have any of it. Just a few days later, when then Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms didn’t mince his words of concern and caution. See and hear what Helms said.

Helms’ said:
“I would be misleading you if I did not admit to raising my eyebrows at the assertion that Mr. Putin is ‘trustworthy.’ A ‘remarkable leader,’ he was called. And a man with whom we ‘share common values.’ Now, I criticized officials from the previous administration for using nearly those precise words to describe Mr. Putin. And I was dumbfounded to hear them from mine.

“For we must not forget that under Mr. Putin’s leadership the press has once again felt the jackboot of repression. Arms control treaties obligations remain unfilled and violated. Dangerous weapons technologies have been transferred to rogue states and Georgia’s and Ukraine’s security has been threatened in brutal, indiscriminate military trampling in Chechnya remains unabated.

“For these reasons Mr. Putin is far, in my judgment, far from deserving the powerful political prestige and influence that comes from an excessively personal endorsement by the president of the United States.”

Helms’ stern warning about Putin proved right. Apparently those who seek to portray themselves as inheritors of his political legacy, like Trump, want more to benefit from Helms image than heed his warnings.

Bush eventually came around to Helms’ perspective. Earlier this year, in the wake of the revelations of the Russian meddling, he told Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo that Putin “is a very aggressive person who wants to reinstate Soviet influence even though the Soviet no longer exists.”

Jesse Helm’s prescient words 18 years ago may still echo in the Capitol.

On this, at least, his would-be heirs in Congress should perk up their ears.

Commentary

Why we shouldn’t forget about the fight for equal pay

In spite of years of fighting for equality, men continue to earn more than women, even with similar levels of education and work experience. This phenomenon is the gender wage gap, and it doesn’t just hurt women–it hurts working households all across the country.

When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women earned approximately 60 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned. And in the 55 years since then, the gender wage gap has only closed by about 21 cents.

In 2017, women were paid 88 cents for every dollar earned by men, even taking into account various factors such as race, age and education level. This data, alongside the reality that this past decade’s progress in closing the gender wage gap has been the slowest in almost 40 years, underlines a serious problem within our workplaces that isn’t improving fast enough for the families who depend on women’s paychecks.

Meanwhile, women of color fare much worse than the average white woman. North Carolina women on average are paid 86 cents to a man’s dollar, while Asian women make 80 cents per dollar, Black women make 64 cents per dollar, and Latina women make 48 cents per dollar on average. Discrimination against mothers and pregnant women is also rampant, with mothers making approximately 71 cents per dollar. This gap exists regardless of education levels or industry. In fact, women with master’s degrees typically make less than men with bachelor’s degrees within the same profession.

Ultimately, the persistence of the gender wage gap is a loss for all of America, not just women. Reports from 2015 show that 42% of women are primary breadwinners for their families, and 22.4% of mothers were co-breadwinners. The gender pay gap amounts to thousands of dollars per year in lost wages that could be supporting American families and the economy. The pay gap isn’t an issue for women to solve alone. Initiatives in Congress like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was most recently reintroduced in 2017, aim to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and provide women who have been disenfranchised by the wage gap with more compensation. The Paycheck Fairness Act would also put gender based wage discrimination under strict scrutiny. All these steps, if taken, will ensure that equal pay is a reality sooner rather than later.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work. It’s time for our policy makers to turn this goal into a reality, for the sake of families all across America.

Veda Patil is a summer intern for the Workers’ Rights Project at the NC Justice Center. She is currently an undergraduate student at UNC Chapel Hill.