Commentary

ICYMI, the editorial page of the Charlotte Observer features another great op-ed this morning that was co-authored by former Raleigh mayor, Charles Meeker (a Democrat) and former Charlotte mayor, Richard Vinroot (a Republican). The subject: the urgent need for redistricting reform.

As their honors note:

As former mayors of North Carolina’s two largest cities, we know how important it is to have a government that fairly represents the people, and in which voters have confidence. And we believe that the way we have drawn maps in North Carolina for the past five decades or longer has undermined citizens’ confidence in our government, created highly partisan legislative districts and caused gridlock.

We also believe that North Carolinians have had enough. For that reason, we, and other North Carolinians who care about the value of our vote and the future of our state, are supporting a transparent, impartial and fair process for redistricting. We urge you to join us.

The model we support is based on the way Iowa has drawn its maps since 1980. Their maps are required to have districts that are compact, contiguous and follow state and federal law. They cannot be drawn based on the political makeup of districts, past voter turnout or other partisan factors. Instead, the maps are drawn by professionals, reviewed by citizens and then approved or disapproved by the legislature in a timely fashion.

We respectfully urge the newly elected members of the N.C. General assembly – many of whom have expressed support for our proposal in their public statements – to work with us by passing impartial, fair, nonpartisan redistricting reform in 2015. In our view, there is no better way to show respect for our voters and improve our democracy!

To which all a caring and thinking person can say is “hear, hear!” and “if only a majority of our current General Assembly was comprised of caring and thinking politicians.”

Click here to read the rest of the op-ed.

Commentary

Thom TillisWell, this is off to a good start. Senator-elect Thom Tillis is already staking  out a less-than-courageous profile in his new job by essentially parroting the absurd remarks of his new colleague Richard Burr on the CIA torture report and attempting to make it a partisan issue — even though people of both major parties clearly bear responsibility for the atrocities.

Tillis gets a small measure of credit for admitting the torture — what he calls “those practices” — was wrong, but then he makes the illogical assertion that releasing the information will hurt American “credibility.”

Uh, excuse us Senator-elect. but here’s what will enhance American credibility going forward: telling the truth and not torturing people. As this morning’s editorial in the Wilmington Star News correctly notes:

“We pride ourselves on our sense of morality, justice and humanity, and should feel shame that the inhumane tactics described in the report were sanctioned on our behalf.

Moreover, they didn’t work. The report, which was gleaned from more than 6 million pages of information, found that in most cases subjecting enemy combatants to brutality produced no useful information.

That is hardly a revelation. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who spent 51/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has repeatedly denounced torture and other harsh tactics as cruel and ineffective. His observations have been backed up by experienced military interrogators who said that many captives will make up stories or offer bad information just to stop the physical or mental pain….

We cannot profess to be of superior moral fiber if we embrace the same disregard for human life and dignity that compels us to label terrorists as evil.”

Unlike Richard Burr, North Carolina’s new senator has six years to worry about re-election. You’d think he could take a break from partisan demagoguery for at least the first few months of his time in D.C.

Commentary
Davidson die in

Photo: John Deem, Lake Norman Citizen

John Deem, the Senior Editor of a suburban Charlotte community newspaper called the Lake Norman Citizen wrote a thoughtful opinion piece this week about a “die in” protest that Davidson College students conducted during their community’s recent Christmas festival to protest the nation’s epidemic of police killings. (He also took the photo at left.)

One might quibble with a point or two that Deem makes, but the spirit of his piece and his hopeful support for the Davidson students is a welcome addition to the discussion.

As Deem notes:

“Each of the protestors Saturday wore the name of a person who died at the hands of a police officer. While that didn’t necessarily imply that each cop in those examples was guilty of using undue force, it did illustrate a trend that was troubling to the students, and to many other Americans.

The underlying reasons for that trend are the subject of intense debate, of course. The reactions range from, ‘Don’t cause trouble in the first place and you won’t have a problem,’ to, ‘I don’t have to do anything and the cops will still hassle me because I’m black.’ From, ‘You can’t truly understand the decisions a police officer has to make until you have to make them yourself,’ to, ‘You can’t truly understand what it’s like to be black and feel targeted by the cops just because of the color of your skin.’

Most of us live in a world comfortably between those extremes. And most police officers of all races, despite some tragic exceptions, conduct themselves honorably. Tying all cops to those who employ excessive force is its own form of discrimination.

One thing we can all agree on is that, for a variety of reasons, a racial disconnect persists in America. The good news is that if some of  our most promising young people are willing to spend their Saturday night lying on a wet street in Davidson in an effort to demonstrate their concern over an issue — as remote as it might seem to most of us — then there’s hope that they, as future leaders, will someday be part of the solution.”

Click here to read the entire essay.

News

justice2What can you do with a drunken lawyer?  Last night Georgia executed Robert Wayne Holsey,  a man of questionable intellectual capacity convicted for killing a sheriff’s deputy in 1995 — despite the fact that his court-appointed lawyer failed miserably in his defense and admitted to drinking up to a quart of vodka in the evenings while trying the case.

Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project discusses the sad truth in response to his own question — “What Can You Do With a Drunken Lawyer” — that very few defendants get a new trial due to their attorney’s incapacity.

Says Armstrong:

One reason is the test that courts use to evaluate such claims. A defendant must show not only that his lawyer was incompetent, but that the trial’s outcome would likely have been different had the attorney been more capable (and sober). This second prong has been used to defeat so many claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that some practitioners consider the whole exercise virtually pointless. One attorney put it this way: “We just simply put a mirror under the lawyer’s nose, and if it clouds up, that’s effective assistance of counsel.”

You can send a kid to Harvard for what it cost to keep him incarcerated.  Also at the Marshall Project is a report out by the Justice Policy Institute on the costs of jailing youth offenders entitled “Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration.”

“We could send a [juvenile justice youth] to Harvard for [what we pay for incarceration] and we don’t get very good outcomes,” one state family service director said in the report.

The price tag for confinement  in North Carolina, according to the report? Up to $437.67 per day for one juvenile — or $39,390 for three months; $78,781 for six months; and $159,750 for a year.

The mysterious case of Bobby Chen.  In early November, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case brought by a man — acting as his own attorney — who had sued the city of Baltimore for allegedly razing his row house to hide damage caused by the city’s demolition of a house next door.  As the Wall Street Journal reports here, Bobby Chen asked the court to address his inability to get court extensions of time because of difficulties serving papers on city officials.

Mr. Chen filed his petition to the Supreme Court in March. Parts of it were hand written. His grammar was often incorrect. And he made a motion to submit the case without paying the court’s $300 filing fee because he said he had virtually no money. Despite incredibly long odds, his appeal caught the court’s eye. The justices announced on Nov. 7 that they would hear Mr. Chen’s case.

The problem now? Nobody can find Mr. Chen — who has until Dec. 22 to file his opening brief.

 

Commentary

windfarmIn case you missed it, the good people at Environment North Carolina released another very encouraging report last week on the growth and potential of renewable energy — this time focusing on wind. The report is entitled “More Wind, Less Warming: How American Wind Energy’s Rapid Growth Can Help Solve Global Warming” and it’s worth a few minutes of your time — both to lift your spirits and to help prepare you for your next debate with the fossil fuels lover next door.

This is from the executive summary:

“Wind power is on the rise across America. The United States generates 24 times more electricity from wind power than we did in 2001, providing clean, fossil fuel-free energy that helps the nation do its part in the fight against global warming.

American wind power is already significantly reducing global warming pollution. In 2013 alone, wind power averted 132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — as much as would be produced by 34 typical coal-fired power plants. But with the United States and the world needing to move toward a future of 100 percent clean energy in order to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, America must do much more.

If America were to take advantage of just a fraction of its wind energy potential to get 30 percent of its electricity from the wind by 2030, the nation could cut carbon emissions from power plants to 40 percent below 2005 levels. That much wind power would help states meet and exceed the carbon dioxide emission reductions called for by the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft Clean Power Plan, and help the nation meet its commitment to cut U.S. carbon pollution by 26 to 28 percent by 2025.

Power plants are the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. By implementing policies that increase the production of wind energy, both on- and offshore, America can help put the nation and the world on a course to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.”

The bottom line: Wind energy can become a huge source of power in the U.S. and federal, state and local governments can make a big difference in pushing it forward in order to speed the nation’s transition from carbon to renewables. Let’s keep building the momentum.