Commentary

National think tank: Why Raleigh should be among top five Amazon finalists

Image: City of Raleigh

There are lots of legitimate concerns about Raleigh’s efforts to woo a massive new 50,000 employee Amazon headquarters — the city and state’s already stretched and under-resourced infrastructure, the threat of more urban sprawl, and the costly incentives package that’s apparently being offered by state and local officials, to name three.

That said, it would appear that some people in the know think Raleigh is (or, at least, ought to be) a truly serious contender. In an article entitled “Here’s what happens when inclusion is factored into Amazon’s list of 20 HQ2 city finalists,” Raleigh makes the top five of the Brookings Institution, a venerable national think tank. This is from the article:

What good are the 50,000 new jobs the HQ2 is proposed to bring if the current population can’t access or benefit from them?

Whether or not Amazon can bring value to a city is really predicated on how much it contributes to and accelerates that place’s inclusivity—defined as how growth is distributed among different types of individuals. Bezos has an opportunity to provide a vision for an America that citizens and residents desperately need in this moment of political unrest, racial division, and global discord. Put simply, Bezos can bring disparate people together through work. Building off the strength that American cities’ diversity offer will give Bezos the moonshot and landing he sought through the competition. And if he is to build from the current diversity that the list* of 20 finalist cities has to offer, and indicate a serious focus on advancing inclusion, the list should be further winnowed down to these five cities (in no particular order):

  • Austin, TX
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Nashville, TN
  • Denver, CO

We based this chart below on the numerical diversity among the finalists, as well as how well these cities maximize their diversity based on a measure of inclusion. Population and unemployment data were used alongside more robust measures of inclusion. Through its Metro Monitor analysis, the Brookings Institution tracks the economic performance of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas along three dimensions: growth, prosperity, and inclusion. It ranks cities partially from its inclusion indicators, which were employed for this exercise. Inclusion indicators measure how the benefits of growth and prosperity in a metropolitan economy—specifically, changes in employment and income—are distributed among individuals.

Click here to check out the chart and rest of the article.

Commentary

Fayetteville Observer rightfully blasts Trump administration’s marijuana policies

Add the Fayetteville Observer to the long and growing list of responsible voices that have taken the Trump administration to task for its absurd and prehistoric policies toward marijuana. In an editorial yesterday, the Observer heaped a special measure of scorn on the administration for its ridiculous failure to allow the Veterans Administration to even study the possible benefits of medical marijuana at a time during which legal opioids are, literally, killing thousands of Americans — including lots and lots of vets.

In “VA gets it wrong on medical marijuana,” the Observer responds this way to the recent and incorrect assertion of VA Secretary David Shulkin that his agency can’t even study marijuana’s possible benefits:

“That’s nonsense. As the Brookings Institution’s John Hudak told The Washington Post, ‘… there are no restrictions on doing scientific research on it. Universities do this all the time….’

What there is, apparently across federal bureaucracies, is a resurgence in old thinking about drugs. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to rekindle the government’s old and failed attempts to curtail drug use through interdiction and prohibition, a costly strategy that not only hasn’t worked, but has led to what may be the most widespread drug use in American history.

A substantial part of the country’s opioid crisis is rooted in widespread VA prescription of opioid painkillers for veterans. While Shulkin says the VA has cut back opioid prescriptions by 33 percent since 2013, its alternatives of yoga, meditation, acupuncture and hypnosis aren’t always effective for PTSD patients and are even less useful for chronic pain.

Although there has been little research into the use of medical marijuana for those conditions, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from the thousands of veterans who have turned to it when other treatments failed to help them.

Incredibly, marijuana is still classified by the government as a Schedule 1 drug — the same classification that includes heroin. Any college kid could tell the feds why that’s ridiculous.

At least 29 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, and eight have gone a step further and approved it for recreational use as well. On the campaign trail, President Trump said he supported providing medical marijuana for people with serious illnesses. Yet his attorney general appears to be living in a time warp, 40 years behind the rest of government, and he may have the VA secretary there with him. Sessions wants to launch a new offensive against marijuana and earlier this month he acted to make it easier for federal prosecutors to go after marijuana dealers in the states that have legalized it. In doing so, he’s running head-on into the widespread belief that cannabis should be legalized. An American Legion survey of veterans found that 92 percent support research into whether medical marijuana will help treat physical and mental conditions and 82 percent said they want to have medical marijuana made legal.

On that score, the veterans are right. It’s time for our federal leaders, and especially the VA, to join the rest of us in the 21st century.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Supreme Court blocks lower court’s order for NC to redraw partisan congressional maps

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted state lawmakers’ request to block a lower court’s order for them to redraw the 2016 congressional maps because of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.

The order was released Thursday evening. It grants the stay pending the timely filing and disposition of an appeal.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the stay, according to the order.

The U.S. District Court ruled last week that state lawmakers intended to maximize partisan advantage when drawing the 2016 congressional map and thereby discriminated against non-Republican voters. A three-judge panel gave the legislature until 5 p.m. Jan. 24 to redraw the maps and said they would also hire a special master for time’s sake.

Lawmakers requested a stay from the panel — it was denied — and the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the League of Women Voters, a plaintiff in the one of the two partisan gerrymandering cases, urged the Supreme Court to move quickly through the appeals process.

“North Carolina voters deserve to have a fair map before the 2018 election, or they risk a fourth consecutive election under an unconstitutional map that does not reflect their preferences,” said Ruth Greenwood, senior legal counsel for voting rights and redistricting at Campaign Legal Center. “A single election under an unconstitutional map is one too many; four are intolerable. For that reason, the Supreme Court must move quickly to hear this case this term.”

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, agreed and said they are optimistic justices will hear and decide the case before the end of the court’s term in June.

“Voters and even most elected officials agree that partisan gerrymandering is violating the constitutional rights of Americans all over the country,” she said. “While we are disappointed that the stay was granted, North Carolinians deserve to participate in fair elections in 2018.”

Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Tomas Lopez said they too were disappointed about the stay.

“As the lower court warned in its ruling, without new, constitutional maps, North Carolinians will cast votes in congressional elections conducted under unconstitutional maps in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 — virtually the entire decade,” he said. “However, we remain hopeful that the Court will ultimately strike down partisan gerrymanders in the cases currently before it, and set a national precedent that people, not parties, should pick their representatives.”

Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause NC, another plaintiff in the cases, said they are disappointed the stay was granted but that “this fight is far from over.”

“We will ask the Supreme Court to affirm the lower court ruling or hear this landmark case,” he said. “We are confident that the court will ultimately agree that the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymander violates the constitutional rights of North Carolina citizens.”

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), who helped draw the 2016 congressional map, tweeted almost immediately after the court’s order was released.

“SCOTUS reins in District Court Overeach and grants STAY. 2016 Congressional maps remain in place. #ncpol,” he wrote.

Similarly, the state GOP party released a statement applauding the Supreme Court for issuing the stay.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has halted the partisan political efforts of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, who tried to inject utter chaos in our elections just days before filing begins,” said Chairman Robin Hayes. “Today’s ruling allows our congressional elections to proceed under the fair and legal maps used in the 2016 elections. We hope the Supreme Court will soon review the Fourth Circuit’s similar unprecedented actions in the legislative redistricting case and offer similar relief.”

Hayes is referring to a racial gerrymandering case in which a three-judge panel has not yet ruled whether it will take lawmakers’ redraw of an unconstitutional map or a special master’s. That case is North Carolina v. Covington, and involves legislative districts, not congressional ones.

You can read the Supreme Court’s order granting the partisan gerrymandering stay below.

17A745 Rucho v. Common Cause Order by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

News

Report: More than 140 organized racist acts on campuses last year

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were more than 140 reported incidents of organized racist acts on American campuses in 2017. It’s a problem problem outlined further in a recent piece from the Washington Post on hate groups making a recruitment push on campuses.

Those reports are not a surprise to those who have been paying attention to racist incidents in higher education over the last year.

They wouldn’t come as a surprise to many students in the UNC system either, who have dealt with everything from racist and anti-Islam graffiti  to harassment of those protesting the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus.

As the Post reports, organized racist groups are concentrating on campuses specifically.

From the Post’s piece:

The targeting of colleges and universities was not a haphazard choice by the white-power groups but rather a calculated strategy.

“It’s striking a blow directly at the heart of our foes,” said Matthew Heimbach, founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a far-right organization that seeks a whites-only nation-state and has been labeled a hate group for its anti-Jewish and homophobic stances and its opposition to racial mixing. “It lets them know that there are people that are radically opposed to them, that aren’t afraid of them, that will challenge them. It shakes their thought that they’ve got the campus environment locked down and lets them know that people who oppose them go to their school or are a part of their local community.”

College campuses, Heimbach said, are ideal for recruiting members and gaining publicity because the presence of the hate groups inevitably creates an outcry on campus and in the community. He said the ranks of his organization have tripled over the past year from 500 to 1,500 members, although The Washington Post could not independently verify that assertion.

White Supremacist murders more than doubled over last year, according to the ADL.

Commentary, Defending Democracy, News

Civil rights groups issue scathing takes on Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval of Trump judicial nominee, Thomas Farr

As expected, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Thomas Farr to be a federal judge in North Carolina’s Eastern District today along with several other extreme Trump nominees. In response, the national and North Carolina civil rights communities have issued a series of scathing responses. Here are just a few:

From People for the American Way:

“On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Republicans in Congress flock to social media to post their favorite Dr. King quotes out of context and reflect on his legacy of equality and justice. At the same time, they refuse to act on the core values of civil rights, often working actively to undermine the principles that King (and their tweets) espoused including voting rights, workers and union rights, anti-poverty measures and more.

Which brings us to Thomas Farr, Trump’s nominee for a federal court in North Carolina.

No one with a record of racially targeted voter intimidation and suppression should be nominated to the federal bench—but that is what we see with Thomas Farr. As if that’s not enough, he potentially lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his involvement in one of the most notorious voter suppression campaigns during Jesse Helms’ 1990 run for Senate in North Carolina.”

From the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund:

“On Monday, Senators on both sides of the aisle celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. and his tireless work to advance the cause of racial justice in the United States. Days later, however, when faced with an opportunity to honor Dr. King’s legacy with more than mere lip service, Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee instead voted to advance the nominations of three federal court judges – Thomas Farr, Mark Norris, David Stras – and Eric Dreiband as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Each nominee has a clear and unequivocal history of hostility to civil rights. They are part of a coterie of anti-civil rights nominees the Trump Administration has nominated for federal appointments. We must conclude that this is a deliberate and shameful plan to degrade our judiciary and destroy the norms that have governed the appointment of federal judicial nominees. The Senate’s Constitutional obligation to advise and consent on nominations is one of our last safeguards, and the Senate must do better than today’s deeply disappointing Judiciary Committee vote. Now the ball falls in the court of the full Senate. We call on the full Senate to stand up for the American people.”

From Democracy North Carolina: Read more