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In case you haven’t yet read them yet, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read the statements issued yesterday by UNC Law School Dean Jack Boger and Professor Gene Nichol in response to the the recommendation of a special committee of the UNC Board of Governors to close the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Here is an excerpt from Boger’s statement:

Jack Boger“The BOG special committee rests its recommendation on no genuine reason beyond a barely concealed desire to stifle the outspokenness of the center’s director, Professor Gene Nichol, who continues to talk about the state’s appalling poverty with unsparing candor. The committee’s original charge was to cut funds to centers that spent too much and to redirect their state aid toward other projects. On that basis, targeting the Poverty Center makes no sense at all. The center hasn’t taken state tax dollars since 2009, and its modest staff — a few earnest post-JD law graduates and an army of dedicated student volunteers — are housed in three small rooms nestled in an off-campus building and paid through private sources.

In prior decades, the University of North Carolina won the hearts and the gratitude of the state’s people by combating the scourges of peonage and child labor, of woefully inadequate medical care and appallingly bad public education. These earlier faculty-led initiatives drew fierce opposition from those who managed to benefit from others’ poverty and oppression. Yet the University pressed ahead, fulfilling what Dr. Frank Graham once celebrated as ‘a tradition of our people': that in Chapel Hill they would find ‘a place where there is always a breath of freedom in the air . . . and where finally truth shining like a star bids us advance and we will not turn aside.”

The Special BOG committee would constrict that breath of freedom. It would order the Poverty Center to turn aside from investigating conditions of human misery in our state that cry out for greater attention, not less.’

And this is from Nichol’s inspiring response:

Gene Nichol“Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, eighteen percent of us live in wrenching poverty. Twenty-five percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color. We have one of the country’s fastest rising poverty rates. A decade ago, North Carolina had the 26th highest rate among the states. Now we’re 9th, speeding past the competition. Greensboro is America’s second hungriest city. Asheville’s ninth. Charlotte has the nation’s worst economic mobility. Over the last decade, North Carolina experienced the country’s steepest rise in concentrated poverty. Poverty, amidst plenty, stains the life of this commonwealth. Even if our leaders never discuss it…. Read More
Commentary

DeanSmithI didn’t attend UNC and had only lived in North Carolina for a year when Coach Dean Smith won his final NCAA championship in 1993. I do have two daughters who are both Chapel Hill grads, but save for that and my admiration/appreciation for the school, any connections to Coach Smith that I have ever enjoyed have been, to say the least, extremely attenuated. Indeed, for my college basketball coaching hero — the late, great John Robert Wooden — Smith was an up and coming rival back in the day.

It is therefore, above all, a sense of gratitude that I feel today to the troubled, if unwitting, souls at the Pope-Civitas Institute for producing a list in recent weeks — the so-called “Map of the Left” — that would include us both. What a gift that they actually got the darned thing out before Coach Smith passed.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I am struck by what a great gift the Pope-Civitas people have given to the hundreds of caring and thinking folks who were named. From now on, all of us will always be able to proudly wear the badge of honor of having been associated with such a great man.

And as David Zirin of The Nation (among many others), explained this morning, there were loads of great reasons that Smith was included on the “map” — especially his passionate opposition to racism in all of its ugly manifestations (most notably the death penalty). Even if the silly Civitasers want to think of it as a “vast and shadowy network,” the so-called “map” is, for the most part, a list of people and organizations dedicated to truth, love, sunlight and modernity — i.e. the same things Smith fought for throughout his admirable life.

RIP Coach Smith. All members of the progressive cause in our state are honored to have had such a marvelous teammate.

Commentary

If crazy ol’ Keith Olbermann was still hosting is MSNBC news and commentary show these days, you can bet that former Arkansas Governor-turned-semi-permanent-Presidential-candidate Mike Huckabee would be a strong contender for the today’s “Worst Person in the World” award.

As Associated Press reported yesterday via WRAL.com:

“Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Sunday said being gay is akin to choosing to drink alcohol or use profanity — lifestyle choices he says are appealing to others but not to him.

The former Baptist pastor, who is weighing a second run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, also claimed that forcing people of faith to accept gay marriage as policy is on par with telling Jews that they must serve ‘bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli.’ That dish would run afoul of kosher rules in the same way Huckabee sees asking Christians to accept same-sex marriages.”

Sadly, this kind of hateful and ignorant talk appears to be exactly what some on the far right are looking for. Witness the latest glowing Huckabee reviews from the “nonpartisan” Pope-Civitas Institute, which brought Huckabee to speak at a church in Charlotte last week (with a fee for admission, with those who paid more getting better seats) and then posted a pair of glowing reviews of the man and his likely candidacy (here and here) on its blog.

The bottom line: We’ve come a long way fast in recent years when it comes to overcoming fear, ignorance and discrimination in this country, but if Mike Huckabee and his ilk were to have their way, that progress would come to a screeching halt.
Commentary

There’s a simple reason that the Pope-Civitas Institute (an organization that was founded by one of the state’s richest and most powerful men and named after his father) still struggles to be taken seriously in the North Carolina policy debate after years of effort, even in the current hard right political environment — namely, the low quality of the content it regularly produces.

New confirmation of this fact is on full display today in the group’s latest below-the-belt attack on the President of the North Carolina NAACP, Rev. William Barber.

Of course, scurrilous Civitas attacks on Barber are nothing especially new. Every few months, it seems, the group finds some out-of-date and unflattering photo of Barber to marry with some laughable implication that Barber is somehow enriching himself with public funds. Remember the downright offensive “Money Monday” baloney from a couple of years back? As we explained at the time:

“…it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the utter disconnection from reality that these libelous attacks bespeak.

On the one hand, they are just so downright (and comically) crude and ham-fisted that you almost have to cringe in embarrassment for the Pope-Civitas people. Seriously, the notion that giant organizations with proud histories like the NAACP, AARP and the YWCA are protesting the myriad regressive actions of the 2013 General Assembly because some branch happens to administer a few thousand dollars in public funds is just so patently absurd that it’s hard to believe that a supposedly serious group – a group nervy enough to describe itself as “North Carolina’s Conservative Voice” – would stoop to allege it.

Similarly, to imply that Rev. William Barber – a courageous man who works night and day at enormous personal sacrifice, physical pain and even personal risk; a man who directs a tiny paid staff and who has, for years, tirelessly traveled the length and breadth if the state in an old minivan to help countless underdog causes – is doing what he is doing in order to advance his own personal financial agenda, is just so utterly wrong and, for lack of a better word, malicious that it must render any fair-minded observer virtually speechless.”

Now, Pope-Civitas is at it again — trying to manufacture a controversy out of whole cloth over the fact that Barber serves as the unpaid chair of the the board of a Goldsboro nonprofit that receives Department of Public Instruction funds (via a competitive grant process) to help serve low and moderate income families (irrespective of their religious beliefs) and promote community economic development.

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Commentary

Sometimes, its hard to figure where the folks on the far right are coming from in their crusade to sell off our public structures to the highest bidder. For some, plain, old-fashioned greed clearly plays a part, but with columns like this recent little doozy from the Pope-Civitas Institute, it’s clear that something else is at work.

And that something is an amazingly warped view of human society.

According to the Pope-Civitas people, the North Carolina Zoo is the “waste of the week.” And, no, it’s not because there’s been some incident of waste or graft; they simply don’t see any public value in the concept of a public zoological park. Here’s how they put it:

“Few would attempt to argue that a core service of state government is to display animals for viewing in our leisure time. The NC Zoo is still another example of something the state compels state taxpayers to subsidize that should instead be financed through voluntary support.”

To which all a body can say in response is: “Says who?”

Who says that it’s not a core service? And more to the point, who says that “to display animals for viewing in our leisure time” is all zoos are about?

Honestly, do these folks pay any attention at all? As even many fourth graders probably understand, there’s a hell of a lot more to zoos and other such institutions than “leisure.” Good lord, the list of important contributions made to human society by zoos — with respect to education, science, research, history, preserving the environment and endangered species, understanding our place on the planet and just plain making life more livable (and in dozens of other areas) — would take all day to spell out.

If anything, we desperately need more public institutions capable of such important accomplishments. What’s next on the Pope-Civitas hit list? Public libraries? Read More