Commentary, News

Calling UNC’s $2.5 million Silent Sam payout a “sham” is too kind. It’s an outrage.

Calling the UNC Board of Governors’ sly announcement last week of a $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans a “sham” — as the McClatchy editorial board team did Monday — is overly kind.

It is a disgrace. It is an embarrassment. It is an outrage. It is, frankly, appalling the leadership of North Carolina’s esteemed university system would quietly negotiate an accord with an organization like the SCV with no public vetting, and to release the terms of said deal the afternoon before Thanksgiving.

No one in North Carolina should forget our history, which is precisely why the university system should not be kowtowing with an organization with such a fantastical version of it, one in which slavery is reduced to a bit part in the Civil War.

The university and the people of North Carolina can be thankful that the racist statue no longer stands at UNC’s grassy McCorkle Place, but they shouldn’t have to do so while stomaching a payment to a group like this. Both sides should explain how they arrived at this deal, which seemed to arrive concurrently or even before the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed their suit, as the Durham attorney T. Greg Doucette elucidated on Twitter last week. How? Why?

At this moment, the board’s words and deeds continue to speak loudly, and not in the right way, about this supposedly silent statue.

Read part of the McClatchy editorial below:

For more than a year, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors has tried to resolve a problem that didn’t really exist: What should it do with Silent Sam? The Confederate statue with its racist roots had been topped by protesters on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus in August 2018. Agree with the method or not, Silent Sam no longer was a safety hazard or a source of pain and controversy to the school community.

But instead of merely giving the statue away or keeping it closeted, the board decided last week to pay millions of dollars to a Confederate sympathy group to take the statue off the UNC System’s hands. In a whisper-like announcement the afternoon before Thanksgiving, the UNC system said it had agreed to settle a lawsuit involving Silent Sam by giving $2.5 million to the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The resolution “does what is best for the university,” said BOG member Jim Holmes. In reality, it’s a resolution that brings new problems and new shame to the UNC system, and it comes with new questions about the money and timing of the agreement.

First, the timing. UNC’s announcement Wednesday began: “This morning a judge entered a consent judgment in a lawsuit involving the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam.“ But documents show that the lawsuit was both filed and settled on Wednesday, the same day as the UNC announcement. The odd timing was discovered by attorney and former BOG member Greg Doucette, who noted that the board met at 10 a.m. Wednesday to approve a settlement that clearly had been agreed to before a lawsuit had even been filed. The board should address what was behind that legal maneuvering, including what legal standing the off-campus Sons of Confederate Veterans had, if any, to bring a lawsuit regarding the statue.

As for the $2.5 million, the university says that it will not come from state money, but from the interest earnings of the UNC system’s privately funded endowment. That’s money, however, that might be used to fund worthy and urgent needs that fit the UNC system’s core mission of educating students. Instead, it will go to an organization that promotes a revisionist history overwhelmingly rejected by serious historians, an organization that hosted a distasteful “secession ball” in South Carolina less than a decade ago and continues to propagate the historical fiction that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.

It’s also a group that chooses to ignore the distress that symbols of the Confederacy bring to many of its fellow Americans. Now, that group will raise Silent Sam and bring the same pain to another North Carolina community, and it will do so with millions of the University of North Carolina system’s dollars. It’s an inadequate and clumsy resolution, a washing of hands that continues to stain our state.

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

Powerful op-ed refutes Berger’s claims about a rosy NC economy

Be sure to check out NC Budget & Tax Center economist Patrick McHugh’s new op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer. In “As the NC GOP hails tax cuts, most incomes stagnate and poverty remains high,” McHugh offers a powerful rebuttal to a recent piece that appeared under the name of state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, in which he attempted to claim that everything is going swimmingly with the North Carolina economy, thanks to GOP tax cuts.

Here’s McHugh:

Most families in North Carolina aren’t getting ahead in the way Berger is portraying it. The typical family income is slightly higher than it was in 2010 when we were just exiting the Great Recession, but the median income still buys less than it did at the turn of the Millennium. Our labor market is increasingly segregated between handsomely-paying white collar careers and low-wage jobs that don’t bring in enough to get by. We’ve lost many of the middle-income jobs that used to be the pathway from entry-level positions to a more comfortable life. Berger’s tax cuts haven’t fixed that problem.

The lack of good job opportunities has an even more devastating impact on communities and families trying to escape poverty. Our state has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country and last year (the most recent figures available) over 1.4 million North Carolinians were under the incredibly low threshold the Federal Government defines as the poverty line (less than $26,000 for a family of four).

Poverty is widespread but imposes a particularly harsh weight on some communities. One out of every five children in our state was in poverty last year, which should be enough in-itself to stop any elected leader from claiming their economic policies are working. We have also failed to dismantle the long-standing obstacles to opportunity which trap Black and brown North Carolinians in poverty far more often than their white neighbors.

North Carolina’s economic growth under the current tax cutting regime has been remarkably unremarkable. Job growth since 2010 has been identical to the regional average and slower than South Carolina and Georgia. The low tax mantra is also hard to square with the fact states along the West Coast which aren’t as allergic to taxing wealthy people and corporations added jobs faster than North Carolina over the last decade. Clearly having the lowest corporate tax rate in the country hasn’t propelled us to the lead of the pack.

Meanwhile, as McHugh points out, repeated tax cuts are devastating core state services and structures that boost the middle class. McHugh’ on-the-money bottom line:
Senator Berger isn’t alone in spinning stories to defend his policies. The real question is how much truth gets sacrificed, and the consequences to people whose lives are written out of the story.
Click here to read the entire essay.
Commentary, News, Trump Administration

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Trump and his allies: Channeling the true spirit of the original American Thanksgiving?

Americans, like the inhabitants of just about every country – especially the ones that find themselves having come out on top in a number of historical conflicts – have a penchant for rewriting history in a light that’s flattering to themselves.

Wars tend to get sanitized of their brutality, disasters and horrific mistakes.

Crass greed, materialism and acquisitiveness get recast as drive, ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Social progress for women, racial and ethnic minorities and others long forced to endure discrimination is presented as more a matter of natural human progress and the beneficent acts of enlightened leaders than something that had to be wrenched from the hands of a selfish and narrow-minded ruling class.

Meanwhile, successful politicians – however real their human foibles and imperfect their works – are regularly lionized along with many of their creations.

Take, for instance, America’s much-beloved Thanksgiving holiday. [Read more…]

2. Five revelations in the controversy surrounding UNC board member Tom Fetzer

Text messages and emails point to questionable actions, claims and motives in rogue investigation of former ECU interim chancellor

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s ongoing coverage of the recent East Carolina University controversy, you may be having some trouble keeping it all straight.

When videos of former interim chancellor Dan Gerlach drinking with students at bars near campus surfaced in October, they were quickly followed by rumors he had driven home drunk. Gerlach was placed on administrative leave while the UNC system hired the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson to investigate the matter.

But UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer began his own investigation, utilizing Greenville-based attorney Peter Romary – a fact Fetzer kept from other board members and UNC system officials. [Read more…]

3. Trump administration: Poor immigrants need not apply

Carlos came to the U.S. looking to provide a safer and more financially stable environment for his family. Like thousands of others, Carlos crossed the border out of necessity. His wife, and one of his young daughters, joined him shortly thereafter.

In 2011, while living in Cary, Carlos was held up at gunpoint near his home by a man who demanded money. Fortunately, when the man realized Carlos did not have any money on him, he left. But the experience understandably left Carlos and his family traumatized. Happily, as part of an effort to encourage vulnerable immigrant communities to report crimes, the U.S. government provides a special visa to victims of crime known as the “U visa.”

While there is technically no cost to apply for the U visa, applicants often need to pay for a separate application, an “I-192,” if the government identifies any reasons why they should not be admitted into the country. Submitting the I-192 to the government costs $930 per person, but immigration regulations provide for a waiver of the fee for low income families. Carlos, who was making about $1,600 per month working as a short order cook while his wife stayed home to avoid child care costs, got a waiver of this fee based on his limited income. [Read more…]

4. The extreme danger in not holding Trump accountable for his actions

Donald J. Trump used the power of his office to blackmail a foreign ally into undermining a political foe here at home. Nothing in U.S history approaches that abuse of presidential power, yet the gravity of the charges apparently does not matter.

The overwhelming evidence proving those charges – the sworn testimony, the emails and direct messages, the de facto public confessions by President Trump, his personal attorney and his acting chief of staff, explaining that yes, they did pressure Ukraine to produce political dirt – that too does not matter.

It does not matter because over the course of the past month, GOP officials have made clear their grim determination to protect Trump from all consequences for his actions, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. So the question arises: Then what? [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Back in their districts, here’s how Democrats are talking about impeachment

5. Dems battle Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over student loan forgiveness

WASHINGTON — A long-simmering feud between U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and congressional Democrats over student loan forgiveness is heating up as hundreds of thousands of borrowers continue to wait for help on loans they claim were fraudulent.

DeVos narrowly avoided a congressional subpoena earlier this month after a lengthy fight with the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor. Her critics in Congress say they still intend to haul her in for questioning over the Trump administration’s controversial loan forgiveness rule, and some lawmakers are pushing an effort to upend her policy entirely.

In late September, Democrats in the House and Senate introduced resolutions to overturn DeVos’ decision to reverse of an Obama-era student loan forgiveness policy. In a statement issued at the time, Senate sponsor Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that “This rule is another Trump-DeVos giveaway to the notorious for-profit colleges at the expense of defrauded student borrowers.  Senators will now have a chance to go on the record: Are you with the students or the predatory industry that defrauded them with worthless degrees and a lifetime of debt?”

North Carolina Democratic Rep. Alma Adams has been a frequent and longtime critic of numerous Trump administration higher education policies. She co-sponsored the House version of the resolution that would overturn the DeVos rule. [Read more…]

6. Weekly Radio Interviews and Micro-podcasts:

Click here to listen to this week’s newsmaker interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield.

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Commentary

Thanksgiving holiday humor from Celia Rivenbark: OK boomer!

Some of you will read this column before Thanksgiving and, because of varying deadlines, others may read it a week or so later. A few unlucky souls won’t read it at all because they suspect I’m going to bash Dear Leader again. They’ll get their MAGA’s in an anticipatory wad and huff off to read “Snuffy Smith” or “Blondie.”

I got one thing to say to them: OK, Boomer.

Oh, that felt good. Now I know why the kids are enjoying it so. It’s such a deliciously fine-tuned put down – dismissive but not cruel.

I mention Thanksgiving because where better to witness the clashing of generations than around the family table? There’s Grandpa, all “Pass the cranberry sauce and build that wall.” There’s the adult chirren all “No politics at the table, Grandpa!” and here’s the lanky nephew, a freshly woke vegan who responds with the battle cry of his Generation Z: “OK, Boomer(s).” He will then mutter his suspicion there’s GMO’s in the green bean casserole and Grandma will say “No, honey, that’s just onion straws.”

With any luck at all, they’ll agree to disagree but, the way I see it, these days, civility is evaporating faster than alcohol on a skeeter bite.

“OK, Boomer” isn’t helping the sitch but it’s also not the worst thing in the world. That would be the maniac in the White House. Wait, sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.

The rapscallion in me would like to suggest we turn “OK, Boomer” into a drinking game during the holidays this year. For every utterance, you gotta take a shot. (Woke nephew can sub in kale juice as needed.)

I seriously love Thanksgiving but fully expect to hear “OK, Boomer” directed at me at least a half dozen times. (Where did I put that Fireball?) Guilty as charged. I’m a boomer by the calendar but, I swear, I’m a Gen X at heart and a millennial in overall maturity.

Much of the time “OK, Boomer” is deserved from what I can tell. A little background for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about because, well, Boomer. The expression went viral via TikTok (ask your grandkids; I can’t do everything for you) depicting an elderly man in a baseball cap and polo shirt whining that younger generations have Peter Pan syndrome, never wanting to grow up.

Ahem. While every generation has rebelled against their elders, this “OK, Boomer” response has galvanized teens around the world. At the heart of all the angst is Gen Z’s belief we’ve handed them a stinking pile of dying planet, no health insurance, insane rent and unaffordable college tuition.

To which unenlightened Boomers say: “Yeah, but your hair is 18 colors and just use that tattoo money for your rent, you little ….”

I’m just warning you things might be a little more tense than usual this Thanksgiving. You could get angry. Or you could smile softly and think about your 401k they’ll never have. All better?

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times-bestselling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.

 

Commentary, News

Hopeful holiday news: Public support for the death penalty hits a new low

Here’s a glimmer of good news that might just be shareable at your Thanksgiving table: the latest Gallup poll shows that the the decline in public support for the death penalty appears to have reached a tipping point. The following is from the Death Penalty Information Center:

For the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1985, a majority of Americans now say life imprisonment is a better approach for punishing murder than is the death penalty. According to the 2019 Gallup death-penalty poll (click here to enlarge graphic), 60% percent of Americans asked to choose whether the death penalty or life without possibility of parole “is the better penalty for murder” chose the life-sentencing option. 36% favored the death penalty.

The response reflects a 15-percentage-point shift in American’s views towards capital punishment in just five years. In 2014, the last time Gallup asked the question, 50% said the death penalty was the better approach to punishing murder, while 45% preferred life in prison. “This is a pretty dramatic shift in opinion,” Gallup Senior Editor Dr. Jeffrey Jones, who conducted the survey, told the Tulsa World.

The shift away from capital punishment crossed partisan lines, though it was more pronounced among Democrats and Independents. In his analysis of the poll for Gallup, Jones wrote, “all key subgroups show increased preferences for life imprisonment. This includes increases of 19 points among Democrats, 16 points among independents, and 10 points among Republicans.” Read more