Commentary, News

Session limits1. Don’t limit democracy by limiting sessions
It is not a surprise that proposals to limit the length of legislative sessions are making the rounds in Raleigh these days. A lot of people are still reeling from the contentious and grueling eight-and-half-month long session that ended September 30 and don’t want to go through that again.

Rep. Gary Pendleton wants to put a bipartisan commission together to build support for a constitutional amendment limiting legislative sessions to 90 days in odd numbered years when lawmakers pass a biennial budget and 45 days in even years when budget adjustments are made.  [Continue Reading…]

spellings-400c2. Changes ahead for UNC system with Margaret Spellings as new president
Things will be different in 2016 for the state’s public higher education system, now that a new president for the University of North Carolina system has been named and the beleaguered chair of its governing board is gone.

But what changes are coming are far from known, with plenty of uncertainty for the 17-campus system about what priorities the governing board and former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will have when she starts in March.

Spellings, who spent much of her career working for former President George W. Bush, will become the head of the UNC system with little background in higher education itself. But, she’s also spent decades in Texas and Washington immersed in both public education policy and Republican politics.  [Continue Reading…]

School vouchers3. School vouchers: We need accountability before further expansion

The subject of school vouchers remains a controversial and divisive matter in North Carolina. To many opponents, they pose an existential threat to the future of public education. To many proponents, they are a potential cure for all that is broken or imperfect in K-12 schools.
Whatever one’s position on vouchers, however, one idea ought to unify all sides – that the voucher system ought to be driven by data and sound policy principles rather than ideology and intuition.

Unfortunately, the new 2016 state budget recently enacted by the legislature more than doubles North Carolina’s funding for the voucher program from $11 million to $27 million over the next two years in spite of a complete lack of evidence of how the program worked in its first year of operation.  [Continue Reading…]

Trans pacific4. A little well-founded paranoia about a loss of U.S. sovereignty

There are a lot of good reasons to be skeptical about the claims of those who issue regular rants about “world government” and supposedly diabolical plots to subvert U.S. sovereignty. If you ever venture out into the political blogosphere or the world of social media (or just check your “junk mail” file), you know how these claims tend to go.

Usually, the allegation is that liberal elites led by our power mad, socialist President are on the verge of ceding all powers of the United States government to the United Nations. Sometimes the reference is to something called “Agenda 21.” At others, the claim is that a move is afoot to merge all of North America into one large new country that will be flooded with dark-skinned immigrants bent on overrunning Anglo Saxon culture.

The rants are, in a word, mad and deserving of all the derision that sane people can pour on them.  [Continue Reading…]

Virtual charter schools5. Another virtually ignored accountability problem in the education privatization crusade

The crusade to privatize public education in North Carolina has become a hallmark of the folks currently in charge in Raleigh.
There’s the sketchy school voucher scheme that diverts public money to almost completely unaccountable private schools and religious academies that even some prominent Republicans say shouldn’t receive taxpayer funds.

There’s the explosion of for-profit charter school companies that run what are supposed to be public schools that serve students and communities not out of state corporations and their shareholders.

And there’s the least discussed of the privatization tactics, two virtual charter schools that opened in the state this fall operated by two different for-profit companies, one of which has a scandal-plagued record in other states.  [Continue Reading…]


Trans-Pacific PartnershipOne of the things notably and happily absent from President Obama’s State of the Union speech this week was any push for the pro-corporate/globalization agenda found in the move to revive “Fast Track” and approve the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). About which, all a caring and thinking person can say is “thank goodness.”

As explained in this commentary from last October (“NAFTA on Steroids?”), the TPP is a potentially grave threat to the well-being of American workers and consumers and our national security itself. By ceding democratic powers to corporations and international tribunals, the TPP threatens to subject American labor, environmental and consumer protections to being overruled and dismantled as unlawful restraints on trade. Meanwhile “Fast Track” is an already discredited idea that would bestow powers on the President to unilaterally negotiate and control trade agreements that has been appended on to TPP legislation in Congress.

The President’s failure to promote the proposal is being hailed by opponents as an extremely positive sign — especially given the public opposition of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. According to the good folks at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch program: Read More


This little, under-reported development in China is likely to have vastly greater impact on North Carolina’s unemployment rate than all of the conservative tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthy combined.

Economist-extraordinaire  Dean Baker explains:

China’s central bank announces job creation program for the United States Read More


Here’s the intro to today’s “must read” from two of the nation’s most astute economists:

Taking aim at the wrong deficit
By Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker

Jared Bernstein

Dean BakerWASHINGTON – Ask most people in this city what the most important step is to increasing economic growth and job creation, and they’ll reply, “Reduce the budget deficit!”

They’re wrong. So-called austerity measures — lowering budget deficits while the economy is still weak — have been shown both here and in Europe to be precisely the wrong medicine. But they could be on to something important if they popped the word “trade” into that sentence.

Simply put, lowering the budget deficit right now leads to slower growth. But reducing the trade deficit would have the opposite effect. Not only that, but by increasing growth and getting more people back to work in higher-than-average value-added jobs, a lower trade deficit would itself help to reduce the budget deficit….

Read the rest of the essay at the New York Times by clicking here.


Five quick things worth knowing/remembering on the first Tuesday of fall 2013:

#1 – As noted below, seats still remain for Thursday NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation: “Worse than NAFTA: Lori Wallach explains the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Click here for more info and to register.

#2 – It’s hurricane/sea level rise season, but don’t think that’s leading the folks running the state of North Carolina to do anything intentional or proactive to address it. Indeed, as journalist Kirk Ross reports over at the N.C. Coastal Federation website, the state Coastal Resources Commission has been gutted and is now “essentially out  of business.”

#3 – On the courts and law front, Senator Richard Burr is still doing his impression of The Invisible Man by blocking Senate consideration of federal District Court nominee Jennifer May-Parker for the long-vacant seat in North Carolina’s Eastern District and then lacking the decency to even admit he’s doing it or explain why. Court watchers at the Center for American Progress are urging folks to call Burr and demand action

#4 – And speaking of “The Invisible Man,” has there been a more delightful story in recent days than the overwhelming response to the book-banners in Randolph County for their knuckleheaded effort to ban the the Ralph Ellison classic? Barry Saunders of Raleigh’s N&O did a great job ridiculing the book banners yesterday and now, today, we learn that the censorship effort has completely backfired.      

#5 – And finally, for those looking to have America’s health care crisis explained in fast-moving 7 minute video, check out this pretty doggone accurate effort by a fellow named John Green at the website Upworthy.