Here’s a little bit about what’s captivating my attention after the long holiday weekend.

The Boston Marathon is underway, with the wheelchair racers already finishing up and both the elite men’s and women’s runners coming in during the lunch hour.  You can watch a live-stream of the runners here or read updates via blog form here.

There have been no shortage of moving remembrances of the tragedy that befell last year’s race, among some of the better reads was this article about a different pair of brothers who both lost their right legs and are trying to rebuild their lives.

There’s plenty happening here in North Carolina this morning, including the monthly release of federal jobs data from the state commerce department. A first-glance look shows that the state continued to see unemployment drop (now down to 6.3 percent, and below the national average), but the numbers also show that the actual labor force of the date (comprised of people who have jobs and who are actively looking for work) shrunk by approximately 50,000 from this time last year.

What that jobs data means has become a bit of a political flashpoint, with Gov. Pat McCrory calling the numbers “evidence that the policy changes we made are working” in a statement he released this morning.

On the other side, some economic analysts (including the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center) have urged caution in declaring victory over North Carolina’ job crises crisis, and instead say the shrinking labor force may mean those in prime working condition have been so frustrated in their job searches they’ve stopped looking.

Finally, I’ll leave you with what has become in recent years one of my favorite things about the Easter Holiday: the Washinton Post’s annual Peep diorama contest.

This year’s winner was “’I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King Jr. Addresses the Peeple

Another favorite was “Peeping POTUS,” a take on the NSA affair, with a family of Peeps being spied on by the Oval Office and federal agent Peeps while a Peepward Snowden exposes the whole arrangement on a television set.

There’s a great photo gallery of winning entries here.

 

040910_1521_TGIFlunchli1.jpgMembers of the House Committee on Food Desert Zones will meet this afternoon to issue their recommendations on how to promote healthier eating in areas that have limited access to fresh, nutritional fruits and vegetables.  Legislators are focusing on this issue as studies have shown residents who lack access to healthy choices in their local grocery store face higher levels of diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

This afternoon over at Duke University, Representative Graig Meyer and Governor Pat McCrory’s Senior Advisor on Education, Eric Guckian, will take part in a discussion about what makes for a successful K-12 education in North Carolina.

On Tuesday, members of a legislative committee examining the impact of the Affordable Care Act will hear from U.S. Senator Richard Burr and Pam Silberman, President of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. The meeting gets underway at 10:00 a.m. at Elliot University Center Auditorium at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro campus.

(Photo: Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices)

(Photo: Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices)

One of the most highly anticipated meetings for the week comes Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. when the legislature’s environmental oversight committee holds a special hearing on coal ash regulations. Members are expected to discuss Gov. Pat McCrory’s “comprehensive  action plan” that he be given broader authority over coal ash disposal.

If you missed it over the weekend, several Republican legislators said they were upset that they were not notified about McCrory’s coal ash plan before it was released, and that it did not go far enough.

Two televised debates air this week to help North Carolina voters learn more about the top candidates in the Republican U.S. Senate primary. The first hour-long debate is slated for 7:00 p.m. Tuesday at Davidson College. Time Warner Cable News will broadcast the debate which will also be streamed by The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh.

WRAL-TV in Raleigh will host the second senatorial debate with many of the leading candidates on Wednesday. The debates conveniently come in advance of early voting, which starts on Thursday.Defenders of Justice

The N.C. Justice Center holds its 16th Annual Defenders of Justice awards ceremony Tuesday evening in Chapel Hill, honoring individuals or organizations who are making significant contributions in litigation; research and policy development; public policy advocacy and grassroots empowerment. You can read more about the 2014 honorees here.

Wednesday afternoon Environment North Carolina is hosting an event at Durham Central Park School for Children with Congressmen G.K. Butterfield and David Price to highlight steps people are already taking to fight climate change.

The school’s 4th grade class recently ran a fundraiser via kickstarter to purchase solar panels in an effort to cutcommon-core their carbon footprint. They not only raised enough money to buy the panels, the class is taking an additional step and building small wind turbines to generate even more clean energy.

And finally, the Committee on Common Core State Standards meets for a final time Thursday before delivering its recommendations to the General Assembly in advance of the upcoming legislative session. The question is will lawmakers recommend that the state opt out of the Common Core or delay its implementation as further review take place. Stay tuned…

Coal ash clean upThe N.C. League of Conservation Voters has a powerful critique of the Governor’s coal ash “plan” in this morning’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin (see below). As an aside, how can DENR Secretary Skvarla and the Guv be “adamant that one size probably will not fit all”?

Another Stall on Coal Ash

Gov. Pat McCrory last week proposed legislation which would let the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) direct Duke Energy to ‘close’ its coal ash ponds – an authority which DENR already inherently has through its clean water permitting process – but leave Duke proposing how such ‘closures’ would take place.

Strip away the double-talk and it’s clear that the governor is doing little more than asking for the General Assembly’s blessing on his plan to let Duke continue to call the shots on coal ash. Read More

Last week’s disturbing news about an ongoing teacher exodus in North Carolina’s capital county (Chris Fitzsimon has the details in this morning’s “Monday numbers”) is rightfully provoking frustration and alarm in many places around the state. A couple of good editorials capture those emotions.

According to the Wilmington Star-News:

“At some point, the state, which pays teacher salaries, is going to put itself at risk of not having enough teachers to carry out its constitutional mandate on schools.

Our students deserve the best and brightest teachers. What is happening in Wake County, which is consistently rated as one of the top places to live in the nation, is not a good sign.”

And Raleigh’s News & Observer puts it this way in an editorial responding to last week’s press conference in Raleigh announcing the bad news: Read More

TeachersAccording to the market fundamentalist think tanks, North Carolina teachers are not really underpaid or overworked. Over the last several years, their websites have been replete with articles informing us that North Carolina has a comparatively low cost of living, that teaching is not a year-round profession and other such arguments that supposedly should allay concerns about teacher well-being.

Meanwhile, over in the real world, the evidence to the contrary continues to accumulate. One would hope that the latest news from Wake County (“Wake County sees an ‘alarming’ rise in teacher resignations”) would finally convince these folks of the error of their arguments. After all, here is a classic “free market” moment — a point in time in which people are acting on the ground based on rules of “supply and demand.”

This is from coverage of the story at WRAL.com:

“Teachers in Wake County have been leaving their jobs mid-year at a greater rate than in years past,” Assistant Superintendent Doug Thilman said. “Given the flat pay scale over the past few years, the recent legislated removal of both career status and higher pay for teachers with graduate degrees, increased teacher turnover has been expected.”

Don’t be surprised, however, if the groups find some new way to dutifully parrot the Pope-McCrory line in the coming days and come up with some creative explanations as to why so many teachers are leaving. And you can bet just about anything that their take won’t include a call for across-the-board raises.