Commentary

Fabulous cartoon series explains America’s exploding inequality

Alvin Chang at Vox had a fabulous post this morning that illustrates America’s exploding inequality in 20 on-the-money cartoons. Here’s the intro and cartoon #1:

“Something massive and important has happened in the United States over the past 50 years: Economic wealth has become increasingly concentrated among a small group of ultra-wealthy Americans.

You can read lengthy books on this subject, like economist Thomas Piketty’s recent best-seller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (the book runs 696 pages and weighs in at 2.5 pounds). You can see references to this in the campaigns of major political candidates this cycle, who talk repeatedly about how something has gone very wrong in America.

Donald Trump’s motto is to make America great again, while Bernie Sanders’s campaign has focused on reducing income inequality. And there’s a reason this message is resonating with voters:

It’s grounded in 50 years of reality.

You can see lots of discussion and debate and political fighting over who has wealth in America, and whether that should change. Or, you can look at the the cartoon below to understand how the distribution of wealth has changed in America, and why.


Let’s say the 100 figures below represent every household in America

The poorest 20 percent are wearing red shirts. The second 20 percent are wearing orange, and so on:

Click here to see all 20 cartoons.

Commentary

HB2 update: Is Charlotte City Council planning to back down?

HB2Worrisome and perplexing news from the Queen City this morning: there are indications that the Charlotte City Council may take action tonight to “repeal” all or part of the human rights ordinance it adopted in March as some sort of olive branch to the state lawmakers behind HB2. The effort is being driven by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, which says that such an action would represent “an overture” to state lawmakers who might then modify the HB2 law. Here’s the Charlotte Observer:

“Under the proposal, the Charlotte City Council would remove the ordinance from its books, even though House Bill 2 nullified almost all of it. In return, the legislature would modify some of HB2, the controversial law that, along with other provisions, requires people in government facilities to use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate.”

In response, equality advocates around the state and nation have derided the proposal as an absurd and destructive step. Advocates at Progress North Carolina distributed an action alert this morning that said the following:

“The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce is pressuring the Charlotte City Council to repeal their non-discrimination ordinance.

We’re hearing there could be a vote as early as tonight. Repealing the non-discrimination ordinance would send a terrible message to the LGBT community.

Here are two things you can do today to help Charlotte stand up to the bullies in Raleigh:

  1. Send a message to the Charlotte City Council and urge them to keep their non-discrimination ordinance and protect their stand for equality.
  2. Attend the City Council meeting tonight at 5PM at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center – 600E 4th Street. We need all the folks who are able to show up and make it clear that the community supports this ordinance and stands against HB 2.”

Stay tuned.

 

Commentary

Former advisor to Presidents Reagan, Ford, Nixon and Clinton blasts NC GOP leaders

David Gergen's Profile Photo

Image: twitter.com

In case you missed it over the weekend, a veteran of three Republican White Houses with longstanding ties to North Carolina called on his native state to repeal HB2 over the weekend. In a commencement speech at Elon University, David Gergen called on state leaders to repeal the law, which he described as taking the state “backwards” and “damaging” its reputation. This is from a CNN story:

“Straying from the norm of giving personal advice while acknowledging some would disagree, CNN political analyst David Gergen blasted North Carolina’s Republican Party during his Elon University Commencement address Saturday, calling for the repeal of the highly controversial House Bill 2.

He spoke of how far North Carolina had come from when Gergen grew up in the state, when racism was prevalent and industries were poor, only to go ‘backwards’ with legislation like HB2.

‘We are not only damaging our reputation, but putting our fellow citizens at risk,’ Gergen said.

Gergen went on to blast the state’s GOP leadership on an array of issues. This is from the speech itself, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here.

“Let’s be clear: the people elected to state office got there fair and square. They had the gumption to run for public office and voters chose them to serve. I am sure most of these newcomers also meant well.

But the signals coming out of the State Capitol in Raleigh have sent a thunderous message rolling out across America: that North Carolina is no longer a pioneer in advancing people of color, people who are gay, people living on the margins. Instead, many here want to go back, far back to a darker time.

This is not the place to re-litigate each and every issue but what other message did state legislators intend when they:

— seriously restricted access to voting;

— embraced a constitutional amendment to deny equal rights to gays and lesbians;

— placed more restrictions on abortion;

— enacted a flatter tax imposing heavier burdens on the less fortunate and lightening burdens for the wealthy;

— rejected federal funding for Medicaid and unemployment benefits;

— and cut funds for public schools as well as state universities, our pride and joy.

This is not the North Carolina that we all loved — a North Carolina dedicated to equal opportunity and a growing, inclusive prosperity.

Now, incredibly, we have wandered into a needless fight over the bathroom rights of transgender people. It is hard to believe that we have broken two of the cardinal rules of politics — first, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Second, leave as much power as you can in the hands of local people.

Until now, nothing seemed really broken. In the few instances when problems arose, good folks in places like Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh found ways to settle them without fanfare.

But the sudden rush by the state legislature to pass a law imposing a one-size-fits-all solution — and worse yet, a solution that seems to punish transgender people — has made North Carolina the poster child of backward-looking leadership. Now we are in the same headlines as Mississippi.”

Commentary, News

This week’s top five on N.C. Policy Watch

ECU_Staton1. ECU chancellor-elect brings complicated, political past to new role:
Critics question whether ideology trumps academics in Cecil Staton’s hiring

Late last month, when Cecil Staton—Republican politician, religious scholar, businessman and right-wing book publisher—was named the future chancellor of East Carolina University, the news came and went with little reaction from most North Carolinians.

Staton, one of the first major university appointments under controversial new UNC system President Margaret Spellings, was hailed as a celebrated academic with an Oxford degree, a successful entrepreneur, a vaunted academic fundraiser and a “cheerleader” for higher education at his former home in Georgia. But, based on a N.C. Policy Watch investigation, Staton’s past is more complicated and, apparently, much more bizarre than that.

[Continue Reading…]

Coal ash pollution2. Did the McCrory administration fail to perform the most basic job of government?
Deposition indicates administration officials and Duke Energy pressured regulators to loosen water safety standards, jeopardize public health

There are a lot of serious indictments that can be leveled at a public official. Corruption, ineptitude, disloyalty – the list of potential offenses is a lengthy one. At some basic level, however, it’s hard to imagine a more damning allegation than that he or she knowingly jeopardized the physical health and well-being of his or her constituents.

[Continue Reading…]

Budget choices3. More ill-conceived tax cuts and MIA investments: Why the House budget proposal comes up short

The $22.225 billion budget proposal that the state House of Representatives released for the upcoming 2017 fiscal year reflects the limited aspirations for North Carolina that the House and Senate leadership have agreed on. Legislative leadership used a flawed formula to set a low budget target — even lower than the Governor’s $22.33 billion proposal — that has no basis in economic realities or community needs and leaves $127.4 million on the table unspent.

Overall, the House proposal represents a 2.26 percent — or $490.3 million — increase over the current 2016 fiscal year budget. This proposal reflects leadership’s loyalty to severe budget constraints and lopsided tax cuts, which primarily benefit profitable corporations and the wealthy.

[Continue Reading…]

McCrory bathroom4. On HB2, warning signs abound, but state leaders just keep on driving

As the fallout from HB2 continues to pile up, one bad news story at a time, I am reminded of the time a friend of mine drove from Washington, DC to Birmingham, Alabama, unintentionally by way of Miami, Florida. (In case anyone is wondering, Miami is not exactly on a direct route, being about 10 hours further south than one needs to drive when traveling to west Alabama from points north and east). When I asked my friend why he took the scenic route (this was before the advent of GPS), he answered that he didn’t have a map, wasn’t quite sure where all the other exits went, and felt like he should just keep driving south, because he knew eventually he’d hit water.

Right about now, Governor McCrory is behaving a lot like my friend.

[Continue Reading…]

Classroom5. A brief lesson on the reality of immigration and the lives of immigrants in North Carolina

Immigration is one of the most contentious issues of our time. Debates on the matter — both generally and with respect to the specifics of various proposals surrounding it — are pervasive in homes, schools, workplaces, television and social media.

Given this backdrop, I probably should not have been surprised when I received an email recently that was purportedly from a North Carolina fifth grader. But I was. And I was sad to see unauthorized immigrants painted in such a negative light – even by such a youngster. Hopefully my response, which follows below, can help shed some light and maybe even open and change some minds.

[Continue Reading…]

 

2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, Commentary

Five of the biggest problems with the state budget passed by the NC House this week

Budget choicesThere are actually dozens of things not to like about the 2017 budget proposal advanced by the North Carolina House of Representatives yesterday. Unfortunately, caring and thinking people have become so numbed and cowed by the relentless and regressive assault on progress and modernity that conservatives have been waging in recent years that many have acquiesced passively. Others have simply allowed themselves to be bought off by mere crumbs and/or simply shrugged their shoulders and expressed gratitude that things weren’t worse. Add to this the vindictive and mean-spirited brand of politics that is practiced by so many conservative leaders on Jones Street these days and it’s no particular surprise that numerous state lawmakers who know better simply waved the white flag this week.

Fortunately, despite the blather from bill sponsors and their apologists and the mostly milquetoast media coverage the muted legislative debate generated, some experts are tolling the damage that the budget bill will wreak (especially when combined with the destructive impact of budgets enacted in recent years).

Here are some of the biggest “sore thumb” problems that are already evident — even before the state Senate likely starts making things worse next week — according to the experts at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center:

#1 – The destructive use of artificial and crippling spending caps – “The House budget would keep state support for services below pre-recession levels, when adjusted for inflation. That would be fine if public needs had shrunk. But they have grown. The budget also caps off the only period as far back as 1971 in which state spending would decline as a share of the economy for eight years in a row while the economy itself grows. As such, many unmet needs will persist in programs that support vulnerable communities, despite a slight increase in investments and a modest compensation package for teachers and state employees.”

#2 – Adding still more, poorly targeted tax cuts – Despite the huge need for new dollars to rebuild structures and services decimated by years of cuts, the House doubles down on the use of poorly targeted tax cuts — much of which will inure to the benefit of the state’s wealthiest individuals. As the BTC notes: “Their proposal reduces General Fund availability by $25 million due to raising the standard deduction to a maximum $16,000 from $15,500, based on filing status. It also raises the maximum by $500 each year over the subsequent three fiscal years. This approach is more costly and not as well targeted as restore the state EITC, which does a better job of helping working families and addressing inequities in our tax code. They reduce General Fund availability by another $51.5 million for a tax break exempting mill machinery from state taxes.”

#3 – Providing inadequate pay to teachers and other state employees – Teacher raises will be decent for some teachers under the House plan (up to 5% for some), but the proposal has the distinct feel of an election year bone that will do little-to-nothing to make up for years of neglect — especially for veteran teachers. Add to the fact that other state employees will go for the umpteenth year in a row without a truly meaningful raise (just 2% this year) during a time of significant national economic growth and falling unemployment and it seems fair to ask: “If not now, when?”

#4 – Shortchanging a bevy of essential structures and systemsRead more