Commentary

Nation’s most conservative circuit court strikes down Texas’ voter id law. Implications for NC?

Voting rightsAs challenges to the voter ID laws in North Carolina and elsewhere continue, it is of note that, today, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — a groups of judges that likely comprise the nation’s most conservative federal appeals panel — affirmed a lower court decision to strike down Texas’ voter ID requirement. Together, the various opinions in the decision run to 203 pages, so there’s lots off deciphering ahead. This is the initial quick take the Texas Tribune:

“Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. 

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed previous rulings that the 2011 voter ID law — which stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls — does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The full court’s ruling delivered the strongest blow yet to what is widely viewed as the nation’s strictest voter ID law. Under the law, most citizens (some, like people with disabilities, can be exempt) must show one of a handful of types of identification before their ballots can be counted: a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

Texas’ losing streak continued in its efforts to defend its law, fighting challenges from the U.S. Department of Justice, minority groups and voting rights advocates.”

This section from the majority opinion (pages 21 and 22), however, sure seems as if it would be relevant here (note – citations have been omitted): Read more

Commentary

The Right’s war on higher education in NC continues

Higher Education Works FdtnThe good people at the Higher Education Works Foundation are out with another fine essay documenting and critiquing the latest installment in the Right’s ideological assault on public higher education in North Carolina. This is from a new and well-footnoted post entitled “A continuing retreat”:

“North Carolina’s public universities are obliged to cut $62.8 million this year.  That’s what lawmakers required in the state budget signed into law this month.

It’s not a devastating amount.  Chancellors will work to limit the damage for students, researchers, and programs that directly impact regional economies.

But it’s yet another decision to disinvest from a University system that has already trimmed $700 million since 2008.  And it didn’t have to happen.

Legislators entered the budget session with a hefty surplus, after all. They could have avoided the cuts and still had more than $300 million left. They could have used the state’s improving tax revenue to reinvest in institutions that have seen state support per student decline 20% since 2008.

Instead, they chose to continue a trend of disinvestment from public higher education, a trend that has directly contributed to the rising cost of tuition.”

The post then goes on to take the lead cheerleaders for the cuts — the transparently partisan Pope Center for to Dismantle Higher Education — to task:

“Writing in praise of higher-ed cutbacks on behalf of the Pope Center for Higher Education, Jenna Ashley Robinson says such cuts help balance the budget and force universities to ‘eliminate wasteful and inefficient spending on campus.’

Leaving aside that the state budget was plenty balanced without cuts to education, Robinson ignores how deeply state institutions already trimmed expenses.

From 2008-09 to 2013-14, North Carolina’s public universities produced 18% more graduates while spending 15% less cost per degree when accounting for inflation – they produced more graduates for less money.

But eventually, less funding simply means less higher education.  Less money for teachers, less money for life-changing research, less money to create ripples across regional economies, less money for the high-quality education North Carolina needs to remain competitive.

The Pope Center’s Robinson calls for exactly that:  Recurring cuts, implemented year after year, regardless of budget needs or education goals.

That kind of ideological retreat from public education makes little sense at a time when North Carolina is growing, when the state’s economy is signaling a need for more well-educated workers, and public universities are reeling from almost a decade of disinvestment.”

Click here to read the entire post, the footnotes and a powerful chart documenting the cuts.

Commentary

Hopeful news: NC wind farm taking shape; will generate enough power for more than 60,000 homes

AmazonWindFarm

Image: Amazon.com

Notwithstanding the efforts of North Carolina’s fossil fuel-loving lawmakers to scuttle it and other such promising efforts, a long-planned wind farm is starting to take shape in northeastern North Carolina.

As the Outer Banks Sentinel reports, the facility will ultimately feature 150 giant wind turbines that will reach nearly 500 feet in the air. One-hundred and four turbines in Phase 1 of the project are expected to be in place by November.

“Situated on a 34-square-mile site 10 miles northwest of Elizabeth City, spanning 22,000 acres of farmland owned by more than 60 farmers in Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties, the wind farm is on track to begin producing power by the end of 2016.

Craig Poff, the Business Development Director for Iberdrola, which has partnered with Amazon Web Services to finance the project, called it the ‘largest construction undertaking in eastern North Carolina….’

Extensive testing of each turbine to ‘make sure that everything is operating properly and safely’ will also be completed in November. Each turbine is equipped with sensors measuring wind direction, velocity and force and automatically directing “constant changes” in the blades’ orientation, pitch and yaw to capture maximum energy output.

By the time the project’s second phase is complete, with a less definite timeline, there will be 150 wind turbines in place, generating 300 megawatts of electricity — enough to power more than 61,000 homes — and providing millions of dollars in tax and landowner revenue for decades to come, according to company spokesmen.”

This is, in other words, really encouraging news — both from an environmental and economic development perspective. This is not to say that wind farms are perfect or that there won’t be some negative impacts, but they clearly pale in comparison to the planet-threatening impacts of ever-expanding fossil fuel use. Congratulations to all who are part of making this project happen

Commentary

This morning’s ‘must read’ editorial on the Cleveland convention

Be sure to take a couple of minutes this morning to check out the lead editorial in the Fayetteville Observer for a powerful take on the nation’s recent spate of race-related violence and distinctly unhelpful tone emanating from the Republican convention in Cleveland. After alluding to the recent shootings in the U.S. and France and the stress it has place on all of us, the authors put it this way:

“In Cleveland on Monday, we saw too much demagoguery and not enough calming. The astonishing low point at the Republican National Convention’s opening session was delivered in an address by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who warned the crowd that, ‘There’s no next election. This is it!’ Unfortunately, the one-time presidential candidate never disclosed what form the coming apocalypse will take.

But it was the theme of the evening – ‘Make America Safe Again’ – that deserves careful fact-checking. As unsettling as the past few weeks have been, America remains safe. Crime rates across the country are down, as they are here in Fayetteville. Yes, we can still be safer, and we want to be, but as police departments here and in many other cities have adopted community-policing strategies and violence de-escalation tactics, we have less to fear, not more.

What we really need is leadership that won’t ask us to huddle together in fear, but rather encourage us to support each other, and our peacekeepers, and move confidently toward our challenges.

We’re especially troubled to see hateful bigots in our midst trying to ramp up white people’s fears of African-Americans. In the past few days, people who claim to represent the Loyal White Knights of the KKK have been in several neighborhoods, dropping plastic bags that contain fliers using racial epithets and small rocks that recipients are urged to throw at African-Americans. The bags have been found in yards in Gray’s Creek, Massey Hill, Hollywood Heights and Bonanza Drive, according to the police and Sheriff’s Office.

The White Knights are a Christian white supremacist and anti-Semitic organization. We hope they’ll crawl back under their rock and stay there – we don’t want or need their hate here.

What we saw in Dallas and Baton Rouge was domestic terrorism, fueled by blind hatred. Let’s remember that it infects very few of us, and that the best remedy is for all of us to stand tall, together, and never give in to fear.”

Commentary

Powerful essay underscores absurdity of Burr/Tillis judicial blockade

In case you missed it, the essay below (which originally appeared here) does a great job of explaining the outrageous nature of the ongoing blockade of Judge Merrick Garland and numerous other Obama judicial nominees by the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate — a blockade in which both of North Carolina’s senators — Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — continue to play a sadly prominent role.

The Need for a Reflective Judiciary Demands a Return to Normal Order
By Danyelle Solomon and Michele Jawando

Fifty-two federal judicial nominees are currently waiting for Senate action, underscoring congressional gridlock and the need to put people before politics.

Edward Stanton III, the highly respected African American U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, has been waiting for more than a year for the U.S. Senate to vote to confirm him as a federal judge. Despite his stellar record and bipartisan support, it is looking less and less likely that the Senate will confirm him before the year is out. Unfortunately, Stanton’s story has become the norm rather than an exception.

The president nominates judicial candidates with the advice and consent of senators. The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary—chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and comprising senators from both parties—is responsible for reviewing nominees’ credentials, making evaluations of their records, and then voting on their nominations before sending nominees forward for full consideration before the Senate. This process used to work more smoothly, with just a few months being the average wait time between nomination and confirmation. That is no longer the case, with confirmations now regularly taking more than a year.

To have a fully functioning judicial system, courts need judges. And for courts to maintain their legitimacy with the public, judges must reflect the populations they serve. As much as judges strive for fairness, judges’ backgrounds’ can affect their decisions and the public’s acceptance of their decisions. A 2014 Rasmussen Reports poll found that 84 percent of black voters and 56 percent of other voters of color consider the justice system to be unfair to black and Hispanic Americans. Without more equal representation on the bench, that number will just continue to grow. Read more