Commentary, News

Chancellor endorses Koch Brothers-funded center at Western Carolina

As reported in this space two weeks ago, administrators at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee are considering a proposal by the controversial fossil fuel magnates, the Koch Brothers, that would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The proposal would make Western one of the largest university gift recipients in the country out of the scores of campuses currently receiving Koch money.

Monday, in an email to faculty, the chancellor at Western, David O. Belcher, announced that he is endorsing the proposal. Here is the text of the email:

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share with you my decision to endorse the recommendation of the Provost and Provost Council to establish the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise (CSFE). Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees will consider this recommendation at their meeting scheduled later this week.

I have appreciated the healthy, robust conversation that this proposal has generated and which informed my own contemplation. It is my firm belief that the university, of all places, is and must be the locus of civil discourse and debate on the worthy issues and ideas of our time. I am grateful that, as demonstrated in this case, Western Carolina University is such an institution.

I trust you had a good Thanksgiving holiday and wish you well in these last weeks of the fall semester.

Yours,
David Belcher

As we also also reported previously, the proposal (which is being spearheaded by an arch-conservative economics professor) is opposed by Western’s Faculty Senate, which drew particular attention in an October statement to the fact that the Koch proposal is contingent upon the university matching the gift to the tune of $1.4 million. Unfortunately, the faculty opposition, which also highlighted the fact that other campus programs with outside funding could benefit from $1.4 million in matching university support, appears to have fallen of deaf ears.

As Chancellor Belcher noted in his email, Western’s Board of Trustees (which includes, among others, conservative firebrand and former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer), will consider the proposal later this week.

Commentary, News

Proposed Koch-funded “free enterprise” center at UNC system school sparks controversy

Koch brothers

Charles and David Koch – Image: www.thinkprogress.org

As multiple news outlets have reported of late, the controversial and conservative fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch have spurred a rising tide of controversy in recent years with dozens of gifts to universities around the nation. Moreover, as The Atlantic reported last month in “Spreading the Free-Market Gospel: What’s new and interesting about the Koch brothers’ approach to funding academics” there is clearly a method to their largess:

“Last year, a staffer for Charles and David Koch’s network of philanthropic institutions laid out the billionaire brothers’ strategy to spread their views on economic freedom.

Political success, Kevin Gentry told a crowd of elite supporters attending the annual Koch meeting in Dana Point, California, begins with reaching young minds in college lecture halls, thereby preparing bright, libertarian-leaning students to one day occupy the halls of political power.

‘The [Koch] network is fully integrated, so it’s not just work at the universities with the students, but it’s also building state-based capabilities and election capabilities and integrating this talent pipeline,’ he said.”

Click here to check out a database that demonstrates just how broadly their tentacles have already spread.

Edward Lopez

Prof. Edward Lopez

Now, comes word that the Kochs have offered to make a UNC system school — Western Carolina University in Cullowhee — one of their largest university gift recipients. Under a proposal currently under consideration by WCU administrators, the Charles Koch Foundation would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The faculty member driving the process appears to be Economics Department Professor Edward Lopez, who also boasts the title of “BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism.” Lopez, who gave the “Friedman Legacy Lecture” this summer at the John Locke Foundation, is a graduate of the Kochs’ largest university grantee, George Mason University, and an energetic proponent of “free market” economic theories.

While accepting one of the Kochs’ largest gifts in the country to promote conservative economic theory is, for some, controversial in and of itself, what has added extra impetus to the debate at WCU in recent weeks is the fact that the grant is contingent upon the university kicking in another $1.4 million of its own. Read more

Commentary

Right wing assails McCrory over prison contractor questions

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, News

North Carolina Lt. Governor “guest hosts” radio show of self-described “Christian wacko”

Dan ForestYesterday was a wild and wacky day (and night) in the already wacky world of North Carolina policy and politics as lawmakers stayed in session past four o’clock this morning and sent all kinds of new potential laws to the Governor — often with only a cursory review of what they actually will do.

For some of the players in the drama, however, the chaos of end-of-session sausage making was clearly not enough to hold their complete attention. Take Lt. Governor Dan Forest, for example. Yesterday, the presiding officer of the state Senate took three hours out of his workday to serve as “guest host” on Called 2 Action Radio — an program hosted by a self-described “Christian wacko” named Steve Noble (In 2011, Noble released a book entitled “The Making of a Christian Wacko: Are You Next?”)

In case you’re not familiar with Mr. Noble and his program, it is a syndicated show based in Raleigh in which the host and his guests spew a steady stream of vitriol and condemnation — especially toward gays, Muslims, Mormons and anyone else who does does not adhere to their particular brand a far right, fundamentalist religiosity. Just last week, Noble held forth on multiple occasions on the supposed incompatibility of Islam and the the U.S. Constitution, how he “hates Islam,” how the Bible is explicitly pro-capitalist, how Donald Trump has twice violated “Jesus’ prohibition against divorce except in cases of sexual immorality” and, well, you get the idea.

According to the folks at Right Wing Watch, Noble said the following in the run-up to the vote on the marriage discrimination amendment back in 2012:

“The homosexual lifestyle is not an orientation it’s just a temptation, we all face that, but they’re the ones, that’s the only group of sinners that’s chosen to try to attack the entire world, let alone the word of God, to say ‘no, no, we’re going to keep fighting until you all agree with us that this thing that we know as a sin, isn’t.”

Noble went on to describe homosexuality as, among other things: “the playground of Satan and the evil forces against God’s way.”

Yesterday, a post on on Forest’s Facebook page stated that:

“Dan is the fill in guest host for Steve Noble’s nationally syndicated radio show today. On live now with Congressman Mark Meadows. Tomorrow we will post the full three hour podcast where you can hear Dan interview Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, David Barton, Rep. Meadows and more>’
Then in the middle of the afternoon, Forest tweeted the following:
“On air in place of Steve Noble for the next few hours. Have presidential candidates, business and faith leaders on your local radio station.”
As of yet, the promised podcast has yet to materialize on either the Called 2 Action website, Forest’s website or his Facebook page. We’ll keep an ear and eye out.
Commentary

Rep. Speciale’s offensive attack on President Obama getting national attention

Michael SpecialeA remarkable story from the General Assembly lost in the ongoing budget blitz was the shocking slur against President Obama posted on Facebook by State Rep. Michael Speciale of Craven County. For a refresher on the kind of policy positions to which Speciale frequently gives voice, check out this post from a couple of years back.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported yesterday:

Outspoken Republican state Rep. Michael Speciale of New Bern took to Facebook this month to share an obscenity-filled comment about President Barack Obama.

“Look you Islamic son of a bitch” begins the quote Speciale shared on his public Facebook page Sept. 5. “Unless you give all your land back to the native Indians, don’t pretend to lecture Israeli’s (sic) about our borders when you can’t control your own.”

The quote isn’t from Speciale himself. He posted an image of Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Facebook that featured the comment. The image appeared on a page called “1 MILLION People to DEFEAT Barack Obama.” It’s unclear where the quote originated.

“Are you going to do something about (Islamic State terrorists),” the comment concludes, “or should Israel show you how it’s done because you are too much of a coward and the most piss poor excuse for an American president in your Great Nation’s history.”

Not surprisingly, this is likely not the end of the story. Though WNCN reported this morning that Speciale will not be apologizing or even commenting on the matter, the issue is now percolating into the national news. This morning, the national journal Foreign Policy highlighted the matter and posted the image on its website. It seems certain that other national news outlets will follow up.

Let’s fervently hope that Rep Speciale comes to his senses and issues a sincere apology ASAP and/or that Speaker Moore and Gov. McCrory demand it.