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McC709Governor Pat McCrory is now answering questions about how he came to choose Valerie Macon as North Carolina’s newest poet laureate.

The governor defended his decision Wednesday saying the little known self-published poet from Fuquay-Varina would bring a new voice to the position:

“One of my objectives is to open up the availability of all appointments to people that typically aren’t inside the organized groups,” McCrory said. “We’ve got to open up opportunities for people that aren’t always a part of the standard or even elite groups that have been in place for a long time.”

McCrory acknowledged he was unaware of a N.C. Arts Council website that spelled out the process for selecting the state’s top poet:

“Well, we must have missed that web site, sorry,” he said. “Listen, I’m reviewing the entire process.”

The Associated Press reports Valerie Macon has also clarified the initial press release from the Governor’s office:

In naming Macon, McCrory noted her self-published books “Shelf Life” and “Sleeping Rough.” His original statement said she also had served as a regional distinguished poet in North Carolina.

Macon has since confirmed she wasn’t the distinguished poet but was mentored by a poet who had won that honor.

For its part, the N.C. Arts Council says it looks forward to working with Macon. Sarah Ovaska has more on how others in the arts community have responded to the appointment.

You can read some of Macon’s work here. Click here to learn about the state’s past poet laureates.

Gay marriage 2There are two articles worth reading in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning about Tuesday’s anti-gay speak-out by some conservative pastors.

Chris Sgro of Equality NC is on the editorial page with this excellent post in which he responds to a list of absurd claims. For example:

‘(Marriage equality) is not a trend of the people but a trend of the courts.’ – Dr. Mark Harris, former U.S. Senate candidate and Charlotte pastor

Actually, it’s both. Not only have there been 24 consecutive victories for the freedom to marry since June 2013, but support for marriage equality throughout the nation and North Carolina has never been higher. For example, at the time of Amendment One’s passage in May 2012, 53 percent of North Carolinians supported civil unions and marriage. That number had risen to 63 percent eight months later.

“Courts have put themselves above Almighty God.”

– the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.

The judges who have ruled on the cases affecting marriage equality have been at every level – from federal to state courts. They are Republican-appointees, Democrat-appointees, liberal and conservative. Regardless of ideology or past ruling history, each of these judges has upheld that same-sex marriage should be legal. It is a constitutional, American, common-sense issue.

Many people of faith support same-sex marriage. There is no “lock” on what religious North Carolinians believe about same-sex marriage. That is why many faith leaders have joined the United Church of Christ and our friends at Campaign for Southern Equality in a suit to protect their religious right to conduct same-sex marriages.

Meanwhile, columnist Barry Saunders takes one of the most outspoken hate purveyors — the Rev. Patrick Wooden — to task in this essay entitled “Rev, let’s quit worrying about gay marriage and focus on real issues.”

To which all a body can say is “Amen.”

In a new post this afternoon, Jesse Cross-Call at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports the latest confirmation that North Carolina is shooting itself in the foot with its stubborn and shortsighted refusal to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of uninsured people under the Affordable Care Act.

As a growing number of reports increasingly make clear, a state’s decision whether to expand Medicaid as part of health reform has real-life effects on its residents and its businesses.  In the 26 states and the District of Columbia that have expanded Medicaid (see map), the positive benefits are already playing out.  Here’s some of the latest information:

  • Hospitals are providing less uncompensated care.  In Arizona, hospitals reported that the Medicaid expansion is the chief reason for a 30 percent decline in the amount of uncompensated care they have provided so far this year, compared with a year ago.  The Colorado Hospital Association found a similar decline in charity care through April when it surveyed hospitals in 15 states that have expanded Medicaid and 15 that have not.
  • Medicaid expansion is driving large gains in health coverage.  A survey conducted by the Urban Institute finds that while the uninsurance rate is dropping across the country, states that have expanded Medicaid have seen a drop in the percentage of non-elderly adults who are uninsured by more than one-third — a 37.7 decline — while the uninsured rate fell by only 9 percent among states that haven’t expanded.  A survey from the Commonwealth Fund found a similar trend. Read More

The state Senate pushed its most recent proposal in committee today to move North Carolina’s complicated and massive Medicaid program to a new structure outside of the state’s health agency.

MedicaidThe Senate’s Medicaid plan  would also open up the state’s $13 billion health care program for poor children, the disabled and elderly to privatization by managed care companies, by phasing out the current fee-for-service payment system in preference of paying for a set price-per-patient (called capitation).

Today’s Senate proposal (introduced Wednesday as a committee substitute for House Bill 1181) comes closer to what House members have wanted, but still has some significant differences.

Provider and doctors’ groups voiced criticism of the Senate proposal (click here to view a summary), saying that opening up the $13 billion government health care program to privatization could lead to out-of-state companies siphoning off profits at the expense of patient care.

“The Senate’s new proposal to upend North Carolina’s Medicaid program would harm our state’s most vulnerable patients,” said Robert Seligson, the director of N.C. Medical Society, in a statement released Wednesday. “The Senate preference for corporate managed care disregards the hard, productive work over the past year to craft a consensus Medicaid reform plan that provides more financial certainty for the state without compromising patient care.”

The new Senate proposal would shift the Medicaid program out from under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to a new Department of Medical Benefits headed by seven board members appointed by the governor and legislature.

Read More

As we reported last week, many of the children crossing the border into the United States wind up in court defending themselves — a situation that presumably does not end well for them.

The American Civil Liberties Union describes the plight of such children in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle against Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking an order requiring that counsel be appointed for children in immigration court:

 Plaintiffs are eight immigrant children, ranging in age from ten to seventeen. The Government has begun proceedings to deport each of them; they will soon be called to appear before an Immigration Judge. In court, the Department of Homeland Security will be represented by a trained lawyer who will argue for the child’s deportation. But no lawyer will stand with the child. Each will be required to respond to the charges against him or her, and, in theory, will be afforded an opportunity to make legal arguments and present evidence on his or her own behalf. But in reality those rights will be meaningless because children are not competent to exercise them. Each child has attempted to find representation through pro bono legal service providers, but none of them have found anyone with the resources to take on their cases. Absent this Court’s intervention, these children will be forced to defend themselves pro se under the immigration laws – a legal regime that, as the courts have recognized, rivals the Internal Revenue Code in its complexity.

Numbers released yesterday by  the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University show as expected that represented children fare much better.

Among the conclusions in that report:

Children were not represented about half of the time (48%) they appeared in Immigration Court, although there is wide variation by state and hearing location.

Outcome if attorney present. In almost half (47%) of the cases in which the child was represented, the court allowed the child to remain in the United States. The child was ordered removed in slightly more than one in four (28%) of these cases. And in the remaining quarter (26%) the judge entered a “voluntary departure” (VD) order. (While with a VD order the child is required to leave the country, the child avoids many of the more severe legal consequences of a removal order.)

Outcome if no attorney. Where the child appeared alone without representation, nine out of ten children were ordered deported — 77 percent through the entry of a removal order, and 13 percent with a VD order. One in ten (10%) were allowed to remain in the country.