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Governor Pat McCrory’s notorious hyper-sensitivity to criticism was on full display yet again yesterday. The Guv went to the trouble of issuing a special statement in response a mild and understated barb from President Obama about the well-documented decline in North Carolina’s commitment to public education.

Here’s what the Prez said:

“Funding now here in this state, and teacher pay, is ranking as low as it gets. And so part of it is just pointing that out and hopefully understanding this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat. You should want to make sure schools are successful and have … teachers who are motivated and have professional training but also are making enough of a living that they can afford a middle-class lifestyle.”

Rather than letting the remark go as he would have been smart to do, McCrory tried to respond with a snippy comment in which he touted his Rube Goldberg teacher pay raise plan of last year and basically said that Obama had no idea what he was talking about.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Obama was quite correct. North Carolina spending on public education is still well-below pre-Great Recession levels. And while, some teachers did get a desperately overdue raise last year, it in no way made up for the years of layoffs, class size hikes, losses of support personnel and numerous other indignities visited on our public schools because of the state leadership’s ill-advised tax giveaways to the well-off.

The bottom line: As usual, the Governor overreacted to a gentle bit of criticism and in so doing, only served to focus more attention on the policy failures over which he has presided.

Commentary

#ConfirmLoretta2It’s no particular news that conservatives in Washington continue to raze basic rules and traditions of American governance. When a block of U.S. Senators starts trying to seize authority to conduct U.S. foreign policy from the chief executive, you know things have hit a new low. Still the ongoing stonewalling of Attorney General nominee and North Carolina native Loretta Lynch (which even includes North Carolina’s two senators, for crying out loud) is an especially offensive exercise in dysfunction (and maybe something worse).

As Roll Call’s David Hawkings writes:

“The most amazing thing about the Loretta Lynch story is that the congressional community no longer views it as amazing….

For essentially the first two centuries under our Constitution, senators afforded the president free rein to stock his Cabinet as he chose, except in the most extraordinary circumstances. Getting over the ‘advice and consent’ hurdle was about proving competence for public service, demonstrating good manners and keeping your moral nose clean.

It would not have been newsworthy at all — let alone a rationale for disqualification — for an attorney general nominee to take the same position as the president who nominated her in a balance of powers battle with Congress. (In fact, it would have been much more problematic for a nominee to openly break with the president in such a dispute.)”

Now, as Hawkings points out, a majority of Republican senators would deny Lynch the job merely because they disagree with her position of sticking up for the President’s immigration policy.  They can’t even point to some broad ideological divide with the well-respected prosecutor as was the case when some Democrats balked at approving the far-right conservative John Ashcroft back in 2001.

Of course, the elephant in the room of which Hawkings fails to take note is the little matter issue of who and what Lynch is. That is to say, isn’t it interesting that Senators feel free to break such extraordinary new ground when it’s an African-American president nominating someone who would be the first African-American woman Attorney General?

Commentary

President Obama 4President Obama’s popularity numbers have soared recently and it ought not to be a surprise. Despite being held back for years by the stubborn refusal of conservatives to fund an adequate stimulus effort and being far short of where it ought to be, the national economic recovery continues to advance. Better times generally produce better numbers for the President.

Here’s the other obvious factor in the President’s rising popularity with voters: he’s stopped trying to play nice with the forces of reaction. Instead of sticking to his doomed efforts to find common ground with the forces on the Right who would never agree to anything, he’s started taking the bull by the horns and giving voice to the kinds of positions that the people who elected him have long hoped for: a direct confrontation of greed and inequality, assertive immigration reform, a foreign policy that eschews serving as the world’s self-appointed police force and a renewed commitment to combating climate change.

Even for folks who may disagree with the President on some issues, his decisiveness and principled, strong leadership on these and other issues are clearly what people want and expect from him. Let’s hope the President is buoyed and emboldened by the positive public reaction to this new, more assertive leadership style and that it becomes one of the defining features of the final two years of his presidency.

Commentary

President Obama 4Today, Republicans in the U.S. House passed legislation that would reverse the immigration policies put in place by President Obama through executive action. The new legislation would terminate the temporary stay on deportation announced by Obama in November, a change that would have negative consequences for over six million immigrants. The legislation was voted on as an amendment to a Homeland Security funding bill.

A second amendment was also passed that would eliminate Obama’s 2012 immigration policy which granted work permits and deportation protections to the “Dreamers,” thousands of undocumented youth who were brought in this country as children and grew up here. Twenty-six Republicans, including Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, voted against this amendment which narrowly passed in a 218-209 vote.

The bill now moves to the Senate where it will face a tough battle to get the 60 votes needed for it to pass, particularly due to this second measure overturning immigration protections for the Dreamers. The legislation which would supply the Homeland Security Department with almost $40 billion for the rest of the budget year must be passed, with or without the amendments, before the Department’s current funding expires at the end of February.

This legislation comes as no real surprise given the strong opposition and outrage from many Republicans over what they saw as Obama’s “unconstitutional” executive orders. However, in this battle for political power, it does seem that many of our representatives haven’t taken the time to consider the uncertainty and fear this legislation has brought back into the lives of millions of immigrants.

Commentary
Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

There was once a time in the United States (and not that long ago) in which the idea of guaranteeing every American the opportunity to obtain a free public education all the way through college was a widely — even universally — shared  dream. In the mid-20th Century, states throughout the country worked hard to expand their community colleges and universities and to keep tuition and fees to a bare minimum. Republicans and Democrats were on board. Here in North Carolina, we even enshrined this important value in our state constitution.

And then, in the latter part of the century, the  anti-government, tax-cutting Right reared its backward-looking head. Fueled by millions from reactionary corporate oligarchs, these ideologues commenced a crusade against “government schools” and progressive taxation and within a few decades, thousands of once nearly-free colleges and universities were charging huge, debt-inducing sums to attend.

Now, President Obama, much to his credit, is pushing back against this destructive trend with his proposal to establish a national program — based on work in Tennessee — to make community college free to all students who meet certain requirements. It is an inspired and overdue proposal.

Unfortunately and not surprisingly, the ideologues are pushing back with absurd and hateful blather about “giveaways” and “freebies.” Listen to Louisiana Governor Booby Jindal as quoted in an editorial in this morning’s Wilmington Star News:

“Why stop there?” he said. “Why not have the government buy a car and a house for everyone?”

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. When supposedly serious elected officials equate providing access to public education with giving people free houses and cars, the national political debate has truly sunk to a new low.

As the Star News noted with admirable restraint in response to Jindal: Read More