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Commentary

It’s an open secret that many modern American conservatives want, as one of their ideological leaders put it with horrific and violent imagery a few years back, to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

And here in North Carolina, we can attest that the plan is fully operational. In area after area, our state’s right-wing leadership is doing its utmost to undermine our public structures — in education, healthcare, environmental protection — as part of a plan to hollow them out and sell them off.

Indeed, it’s not too far-fetched to begin to see some parallels between the Flint, Michigan water crisis and what’s going on here. Think about it. As I point out in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing (“The Right’s disingenuous propaganda about ‘choice'”) there are actually some striking parallels and important lessons:

“The simple truth is that public education is not a commodity or a consumer product. It is an indispensable component of a free and healthy society – like clean air and water or a public safety system.

Imagine if we told the people of Flint, Michigan that they are now ‘free’ from the ‘burdensome regulations’ of a failed public water system and have ‘choice’ when it comes to where they get their water. As outrageous as that would be, it’s hard to see how it differs much from the bill of goods school ‘choice’ champions are peddling here.”

Indeed, that’s precisely the nature of the scam: Keep under-funding public systems and structures and then, when they fail to perform up to snuff, blame it on the very nature of government and “bureaucracy” and use it as a justification to perpetuate the vicious cycle by cutting spending still further and selling off more public assets.

Let’s hope the crisis in Flint wakes people up to the simple reality that the only way for Americans to save their public structures and common good institutions from the privatizing vultures is to nurture them, invest in them and keep them strong.

Commentary

Dan ForestAdd the Wilmington Star News and Raleigh’s News & Observer to the list of community voices that are rejecting Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s absurd and revealing attempt to squelch the truth about charter schools.

Here’s the Star News from over the weekend:

“The theory is that, let loose from red tape, charters can experiment and try new teaching techniques, revitalizing education. Some charter schools do, in fact, live up to that lofty goal.

Like a lot of theories, however, that formula doesn’t always work in practice. In Southeastern North Carolina, for example, we’ve seen that charters run by private, for-profit companies have been remarkably secretive about how they spend taxpayer money. It’s hard to tell, but it appears that some of them have been paying headmasters and administrators bloated salaries while doling out peanuts to the front-line teachers….

Some Republicans, it seems, don’t want to hear anything bad about charters – or any inconvenient facts.

We are not anti-charter school. Some are excellent. We simply want thorough transparency and a complete accounting of how the schools are performing. We don’t need politicians asking us to use rose-colored glasses.”

And this is from the lead editorial in this morning’s N&O:

“Charters began about 20 years ago with the idea that they would be free of some rules governing regular schools. They didn’t have to adhere to the regular teacher pay scale, and they could alter their school calendars. They could experimen, and successes could be integrated into regular public schools.

Unfortunately, conservatives have crusaded for charters, which are funded by taxpayers, almost with the attitude that they represent a private school system within the public one. That’s not good, and critics have warned that the expansion of charters could indeed lead to these exact problems of economic and racial imbalance.

Forest and other state officials need to face the fact that there are problems with charters that may require some serious changes in structure and rules. Otherwise, charters will become exactly what some advocates appear to want: a publicly funded private school system with little accountability.

The charter school mission needs to be refocused on its original intent. And weak charters, or those with dramatic racial and economic imbalances, should be shuttered.”

Let’s hope other voices continue to speak out in opposition to Forest and his twisted efforts to undermine public education.

Commentary

Gene NicholIn case you missed it over the weekend, Gene Nichol was dead on in an op-ed blasting the University of North Carolina’s multimillion dollar expenditures on public relations firms in the wake of recent academic and athletic scandals. As Nichol rightfully points out, the notion that public institutions must turn to high-priced private consultants to clean up internal messes when they already employ a fleet of administrators whose job is to precisely that is crazy. Nichol highlights two of the most obvious reasons:

First, it’s a massive waste of precious resources:

“When we spend $10 million or $15 million on the nation’s most expensive lawyers and corporate consultants, we deploy funds that could have supported impoverished Carolina Covenant students, or increased skimpy graduate student stipends, or raised the salaries of maintenance workers. I’ve never heard the university admit this. So enough with the “it’s only private money” charade.”

Second, if existing staff aren’t up to the job, then why the heck are they there?

“Our greatest chancellor, William B. Aycock, died a few months ago. Dealing with crises like the Dixie Classic and the Speaker Ban, Aycock saw his share of trouble. Still, he never considered hiring ‘the most complete communications agency in the world.’

Thinking of Aycock, it’s easy to envision two distinct approaches to leadership and problem solving. In the first, decision-makers sit around a huge table in South Building. There is a chancellor and her cadre of assistants. And then a provost and his sizable group. Add to that our internal public relations team. And our external PR posse. Then there are internal and external groups of lawyers. As I said, it’s a big table.

They work for days, or weeks, responding to a crisis. Eventually a decision is made, and the group produces a statement to be issued by the chancellor. The final product is so chockablock with doublespeak that faculty members jokingly circulate email translations for the bureaucratically unschooled.

In the other model, Aycock returns to his campus office late in the evening after having had dinner with his family. He has consulted with university officials throughout the day. Now he sits behind his desk, a small lamp providing illumination. He makes the toughest decisions. And with pen and yellow legal pad, he explains them to the university community and to the people of North Carolina.

The first model, of course, costs millions. The second, a relative pittance. But the cheap route would outperform the big boys every time.”

Click here to read Nichol’s entire essay.

 

Commentary

North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse is loudly attacking the news media and “disgruntled former and current employees” for the story about Gov. McCrory’s involvement in helping a longtime friend and political donor obtain a state contract to provide prison maintenance services over the objections of top prison officials.

Fire breathers on the Right, however, are hearing no such excuses.

Here’s the ultra-conservative Beaufort Observer:

“We think most North Carolinians know that a person does not donate $50,000 to anyone without expecting something in return, whether it be a multi-million dollar contract, season tickets. to get their kid in the “right” university or whatever. The quid pro quo is not what is important. What is important is that such contributions make it appear that decisions are influenced by money. We think you should have to make a choice: Either exercise your right to make political contributions or your right to solicit contracts from the state and its subsidiaries. But not both.

It used to be called ‘payola.’ It still should be. It is legal bribery when one gets private emoluments (benefits not everyone gets) from the government while making political contributions or secret bribes. To call them ‘legal contributions’ is a distinction without a difference. To put a dollar limit on such contributions is immaterial.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Haymaker is blasting the news as reminiscent of corruption by Democratic elected officials:

“When the GOP took control on Jones Street in 2010, and state government in 2012, they promised that things were going to be different from the ways of the old regime.  We got a new set of people in charge.  But a lot of the nasty habits from the old regime are still apparently hanging around.”

Commentary

In case you missed it, columnist Susan Ladd of the Greensboro News & Record hit a home run this week with an outstanding essay entitled “We are citizens of North Carolina, not customers.” Here’s Ladd:

“I’m not a customer.

I thought it was an odd choice of words when Gov. Pat McCrory first said on the campaign trail three years ago that he intended to treat the citizens of North Carolina like ‘customers.’

McCrory has used that metaphor frequently during his term, most recently lauding the state’s customer service improvements at the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.

You can use the customer metaphor for residents and taxpayers, but it is a shallow and ultimately unsatisfactory interpretation of the relationship between people and the government of the state in which they live.

A customer is someone who receives a good or service in exchange for monetary compensation.

It’s clear now what the governor meant when he talked about customers. If you carry the metaphor to its logical conclusion, you can see he has done exactly as he promised.

Your best customers get the best service and the best deals. In politics, those are the customers who can make generous campaign donations, such as oil and gas companies that want to reap the state’s natural resources through fracking and offshore oil drilling. The residents of beach communities and counties targeted for fracking — who only pay taxes, after all — got the bum’s rush.

People without food, the people without jobs, the people without insurance were left to struggle on their own. Because businesses get to choose their customers, I guess that’s the equivalent of ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service.’”

As Ladd goes on to explain, she is:

  • “a resident of Greensboro, and as such I should be able to have a voice in how my leaders are elected.”
  • “a citizen who has the rights and protections that belong to all Americans.”
  • “a constituent, a part of the whole that makes up North Carolina’s voting population.’
  • “a stakeholder in the natural resources of the state, part owner of the water, land and air, who deserves more of a say about how those precious resources are used than the companies who want to exploit them without regard to damaging the environment.”

And finally, here’s her excellent conclusion:

“McCrory made a big splash last week about streamlining and improving customer service at the DMV. That’s great, but making it easier to renew my driver’s license is a poor trade-off for selling the rest of the state to the highest bidder.”

Read the entire piece by clicking here.