Commentary

Editorials blast Berger’s latest shameless demagoguery on HB2

Phil BergerJust when you thought the defenders and architects of North Carolina’s disastrous LGBT discrimination law, HB2, couldn’t take things any lower, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has stepped up to the plate with a giant backhoe.

As editorials in the Charlotte Observer and Fayetteville Observer have rightfully highlighted in recent days, Berger has let fly with a new series of outrageous assertions and patently false claims in which he blames the illegal behavior of a fully male man who apparently entered a women’s restroom in Charlotte on — we are not making this up — Democratic opponents of HB2.

Here’s the Charlotte O:

“Phil Berger’s office wanted everyone to know about a Charlotte TV news report on a man who went into the women’s bathroom at the Seventh Street Public Market in uptown, alarming a female patron.

It appeared to be a standard case of a sexual deviant trespassing in the women’s restroom. But Berger said it was much more. He called it proof of how Charlotte’s much-debated non-discrimination ordinance lets a man avoid criminal charges for such an offense simply ‘by claiming he felt like he needed to use the women’s room that day.’

‘Roy Cooper, Jennifer Roberts, and anyone else actively fighting the common-sense bathroom safety bill needs to explain why they think what this man put this woman through in a Charlotte bathroom this week should be legal,’ Berger said in the news release.”

As the editorial went on to explain, Berger’s statement was an utterly outrageous crock of B.S. This morning’s Fayetteville O puts it this way:

“Phil Berger ought to be ashamed. But we doubt that he is. Playing to people’s worst fears and prejudices is working out pretty well for him. Why stop now?

The state Senate leader jumped on a story from Charlotte last week, about a woman who went into a restaurant bathroom and found a men in the next stall, apparently doing lewd things. She and her husband alerted building security officers and the man was later arrested and charged with indecent exposure.

That should have been the end of the story, and it would have been, save for resolution of the case in court.

But Berger had his press aide launch a release that said this is the kind of behavior Attorney General Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts are encouraging by opposing House Bill 2 and by backing measures that would let transgender people use the restrooms of their choice.

Never mind that the man in the stall was dressed in running shoes, shorts and a T-shirt, was clearly living his life as a male, was definitely not transgender, and was arrested under the appropriate statute.

But hey, what are a few little details when you can rile people up – and gain support for a misbegotten law – by pandering to irrational fears and ignorance?”

News

NC virtual charter operator coughs up $168 million settlement in California case

Virtual charter schoolsHere at Policy Watch, we’ve reported extensively on the struggles of North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools.

Both schools—run by for-profit, education groups K12 Inc. and British-based Pearson—have been besieged with skyrocketing dropout rates in their first year of operation.

Yet state lawmakers moved in this year’s budget to include new relaxed restrictions for the schools, prompting fresh criticism from some traditional school advocates.

Now comes this report out of California, where state authorities have reached a reported $168.5 million settlement with K12 Inc. , which runs the controversial N.C. Virtual Academy, over claims that the company “manipulated attendance records and overstated its students’ success” in California, according to The Mercury News in San Jose, Calif.

From the Mercury News report:

The deal, announced Friday by Attorney General Kamala Harris, comes almost three months after the Bay Area News Group published an investigation of K12 Inc., a publicly traded Virginia company, which raked in more than $310 million in state funding over the past 12 years operating a profitable but low-performing network of “virtual” schools for about 15,000 students.

“Knowing that something will be done to address the schools’ problems is very reassuring,” said Gabriela Novak, who pulled her daughter Elizabeth from K12’s San Mateo County school after a year of frustrations and difficulty communicating with her teachers. “Finally, the system is working.”
 Harris’ office found that K12 and the 14 California Virtual Academies used deceptive advertising to mislead families about students’ academic progress, parents’ satisfaction with the program and their graduates’ eligibility for University of California and California State University admission — issues that were exposed in this news organization’s April report.
The settlement could help spur legislation that would prevent for-profit companies like K12 from operating public schools in California.
Supporters of virtual charter programs say they provide an option for students who struggle in traditional school settings, but virtual charters nationwide have been plagued by questions about dropouts and poor academic performance.
A Stanford University study of virtual charter academics last fall concluded that students in the online programs trailed their peers in traditional schools by as much as a full academic year.
More from The Mercury News report on virtual charters:
The Attorney General’s office also found that K12 and its affiliated schools collected more state funding from the California Department of Education than they were entitled to by submitting inflated student attendance data and that the company leaned on the nonprofit schools to sign unfavorable contracts that put them in a deep financial hole.
“K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction and loading nonprofit charities with debt,” Harris said in a statement. “This settlement ensures K12 and its schools are held accountable and make much-needed improvements.”
The California Teachers Association and the California Charter Schools Association both applauded Harris’ announcement and denounced the company’s practices — even though the two special-interest groups are frequently foes.
More to come this week at Policy Watch.
Commentary

NC congressman: EPA employees should not be allowed to fly on business trips

Richard HudsonHo hum, another day, another embarrassing action from a member of North Carolina’s mostly reactionary congressional delegation.

Natasha Geling at Think Progress has the details on the latest nutty proposal — this one from Congressman Richard Hudson (pictured at left) of suburban Charlotte:

“Congress is getting ready to dole out funds for the Environmental Protection Agency, with the House Rules Committee meeting Monday night to go over the more than 140 proposed amendments for this year’s $32 billion dollar EPA-Interior funding bill.

And if a North Carolina congressman gets his way, EPA officials may find themselves taking more buses and trains than planes for official business: Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) has proposed an amendment that would ban EPA officials from using funds to pay for official travel by plane.

Hudson also introduced a second amendment that would prohibit EPA officials from carrying firearms — something that a small number of employees do for enforcement purposes. As Grist points out, however, Rep. Hudson does not appear to believe in gun control writ large, calling President Obama’s proposed ban on AR-15 ammunition part of the president’s “liberal gun control agenda.”

The EPA has a criminal enforcement program that focuses on pursuing people that have committed serious environmental crimes. The agency has long argued that it is critical that members of this program be allowed to carry firearms, but the program is controversial among some lawmakers who believe that officials with the agency should not be allowed to possess weapons as part of their job. Elected officials have tried previously to strip the agency’s ability to carry firearms, but those proposals have been largely ignored.

Hudson’s amendments are far from the only proposals that seek to limit funding for the EPA and the Department of the Interior. Other amendments include one that would block funding for the implementation of the Well Control Rule, a proposed rule that seeks to prevent the kind of major offshore oil spill seen in 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Another amendment prohibits any funds from being used to stop Arctic drilling leases for the 2017-2022 leasing program. Another amendment blocks the Department of the Interior from using any funding to implement the Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands rule, which seeks to regulate how fracking can occur on federal and tribal lands.”

Commentary

Lawsuit against State Senator’s farm highlights sadly typical treatment of farmworkers

Farmworkers 2In a recent article in Durham’s Indy Week (“Can N.C. Farmers Mistreat Their Guest Workers with Impunity?”), author Paul Blest highlighted a lawsuit brought by seven farmworkers against their employer (State Sen. Brent Jackson of Sampson County) and used it as a starting point to discuss some of the injustices that are often visited upon workers who are imported into the U.S. under the H-2 visa program. As a Student Action with Farmworkers intern with the North Carolina Justice Center this summer, I can verify the existence of many of the problems raised in the piece and have seen firsthand the impact of wage theft and improper housing on these workers.

H-2A workers are victims of wage theft regularly. Some are not paid their contract wage, which is $10.72 per hour in 2016. Others are not paid until weeks after they have worked. Others are robbed of their hours as the following passage from Blest’s article describes:

“We began to notice that the grower and supervisor would steal our wages by punching us out for anything they could—changing fields, waiting for equipment to come, or our water breaks. … Little by little, this added up, and over the season, he stole thousands of dollars from our wages.”

Such a scenario is not uncommon among the workers I have visited on outreach this summer. And this is not a minor matter. North Carolina uses more temporary visas for agriculture workers, known as H-2A visas, than all other states except Florida. As the number of H-2A’s increase, so does the abuse they suffer.

Improper housing is also a huge problem and something that I have witnessed when visiting farmworkers. But this is nothing new. A 2012 investigation by staff of the Center for Worker Health at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that “migrant housing in North Carolina is plagued with violations. Researchers uncovered at least four violations of housing law in each of the 183 camps they inspected for the study.”

Unfortunately, these types of violations are hardly ever discovered because of the workers’ need to have a secure job to send money to their families in Mexico and fear of retaliation from growers if they complain. In the Jackson case, not surprisingly, only one out of the six farmworkers who filed the law suit against Jackson Farms was contacted to return to work.

The bottom line: These are the types of mistreatment that farmworkers (both H2A workers and American workers) face that are illegal under the law, but that many growers continue to get away with. Let’s hope that with more outreach to camps to increase awareness and inform people of their rights, more farmworkers will be able speak up and safely demand better their conditions in the agricultural system. For now, however, there is a long, long way to go.

Commentary

Responding to the violence: The best editorials of the weekend

Editorial writers and columnists  tried to do what they could over the weekend to give voice to the collective sense of anger and grief that so many caring and thinking people feel right now with respect to the senseless and destructive racism and violence that are plaguing our nation. Here were three essays that stood out:

#1 – Charles Blow of the New York Times authored a fine, if anguished, column (“A Week From Hell”) in which he observed:

“We must see all unwarranted violence for what it is: A corrosion of culture.

I know well that when people speak of love and empathy and honor in the face of violence, it can feel like meeting hard power with soft, like there is inherent weakness in an approach that leans so heavily on things so ephemeral and even clichéd.

But that is simply an illusion fostered by those of little faith.

Anger and vengeance and violence are exceedingly easy to access and almost effortlessly unleashed.

The higher calling — the harder trial — is the belief in the ultimate moral justice and the inevitable victory of righteousness over wrong.

This requires an almost religious faith in fate, and that can be hard for some to accept, but accept it we must.”

#2 – Meanwhile, the little Southern Pines Pilot put it this way in an editorial entitled “A Desperate Need For Reconciliation”:

“We simply can’t keep going on like this. If ever there was a time for sincere and heartfelt reconciliation at both the personal and national levels, surely this is it.

Yes, too many recent police actions and overreactions in too many places have been terribly wrong and brutal, and too many departments have come to approach their jobs in an overly militaristic fashion.

But it is heartbreakingly and ironically wrong that angers aroused in other places should have been unleashed on officers in Dallas  who, by all accounts, were trying hard to deal with protesters in sensitive and professional fashion.

There is a growing sense that the American dream, with its vision of good will and tolerance and shared progress, is slipping through our fingers, to be supplanted by ever-greater hatred and division. Now is the time to reverse that evil trend and start moving forward together, while we still have a chance. We can all start in our own hearts.”

And finally, Raleigh’s News & Observer made this astute observation in a piece entitled “Congress must act to stem gun violence”:

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