Commentary, News

Policy Watch takes home seven NC Press Assn. awards; Sorg wins prestigious freedom of information honor

The reporting and commentary team at NC Policy Watch was recognized with seven separate awards last night at the annual North Carolina Press Association banquet. Topping the list was Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg who was singled as the 2017 recipient of the prestigious Henry Lee Weathers Freedom of Information Award.

Sorg, who has been recognized on multiple occasions throughout her career for journalism excellence and who is one of the nation’s preeminent environmental reporters, was recognized for her “efforts and exceptional work in advancing and upholding the cause of Freedom of Information.” In a fashion that is typical of her commitment to excellence in reporting, Sorg missed last night’s award ceremony in order to report on a public hearing regarding the planned expansion of the I-540 tollway in southern Wake County. You can read the story that she filed early this morning on that issue by clicking here.

In addition to the Weathers award, Sorg also won recognition for stories she wrote on the GenX water pollution crisis and the controversial chemical manufacturer SePro, which sought to sell one of its products to the state to kill algae in Jordan Lake. The former won second place in news enterprise reporting and the latter garnered second place for investigative reporting. Both competed in the online publications category.

Other Policy Watch award winners last night:

  • A second place for Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter Melissa Boughton in the general news reporting category for online publications for her in-depth look at state lawmakers’ attempt to shrink the state Court of Appeals,
  • A third place for Investigative reporter Joe Killian in the investigative reporting category for online publications for his examination of the opioid crisis,
  • A third place for New Media Director Nelle Dunlap in the appearance and design category for online publications for her work on the NC Policy Watch and Progressive Pulse websites, and
  • A third place for Policy Watch founder and recently departed longtime director Chris Fitzsimon in the editorial category for online publications for his commentary on the North Carolina General Assembly.
Commentary

Debunking the mad idea of arming teachers

Not that any sane person can’t figure this out intuitively, but in case you wanted a little more information on the subject, here are a couple of essays to check out this morning regarding the Prevaricator-in-Chief’s loony tunes idea of arming school teachers.

In “Arming teachers to stop school shootings is a dangerous myth,” Luke Barnes at Think Progress provides a helpful summary of some actual research on the subject that is instructive. Here’s an excerpt:

“But research shows both Trump and the NRA are wrong. Armed personnel within schools would have very little chance of stopping a school shooter. What’s more, it’s been consistently proven that more guns in schools increases the risk of a deadly accident.

‘There are some myths behind the armed teacher idea in the U.S. The first is that good guys with guns can easily stop mass shootings and there have been numerous studies to show that’s not true,’ said Eugenio Weigend, associate director for gun violence prevention at the Center for American Progress….’The FBI conducted a study of 163 instances of mass shootings and found that only one was stopped by an armed individual versus 21 that were stopped by unarmed people.’

…Then there’s the issue of the extensive training school personnel would require in order to have any chance of neutralizing a school shooter. As Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out Wednesday night, the type of training teachers or other school personnel would require to prepare for school shootings is incredibly difficult and similar to that undertaken by police SWAT teams — clearing buildings packed with students, making split-second decisions to avoid accidentally shooting either an innocent victim or another armed responder.”

With schools like Marjory Stoneman Douglas, which had more than 3,000 students, the idea of one or even a half-dozen armed personnel being able to quickly find and neutralize an active shooter in the ensuing chaos seems ludicrous. That’s if they even decide to enter in the first place. According to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ armed school resource officer did not go inside the school to confront the killer when the shooting happened. He has since resigned.”

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has an interesting essay entitled “Gun Rights, ‘Positive Good’ and the Evolution of Mutually Assured Massacre,” in which he thoroughly explains and debunks the “positive good” theory behind this terrible idea. After explaining the NRA’s basic argument — that having more guns everywhere makes everyone safer — and explaining its origins in the writings an off-kilter economist named John Lott, Marshall says this:

“In the abstract, where no humans actually exist, there’s actually a compelling logic to this. If I know you’re armed, I’ll be on my best behavior. You will too because you know I’m armed. Of course, in practice, almost everything is wrong with this logic. Read more

Commentary, News

Public hearing re: offshore drilling on the NC coast scheduled for next Monday in Raleigh

In case you missed it — and it wouldn’t be surprising if you did — the Trump administration has scheduled a single public hearing in North Carolina on its plan to open up the state’s coastline to seismic testing and, ultimately, oil and gas drilling. The event will take place next Monday, February 26 from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Raleigh at the North Raleigh Hilton Hotel.

The following is excerpted from an editorial that ran earlier this week in the Wilmington Star News: entitled “Large turnout needed at offshore-drilling hearing in Raleigh”:

“The federal government’s only public hearing in North Carolina on plans to open our waters to oil and gas drilling and seismic testing is this Monday at a hotel in Raleigh – 130 miles or so from the nearest threatened beach.

That’s not too surprising. The Trump boat is tilted so far in favor of oil, coal and other fossil fuels, it’s a wonder it hasn’t capsized. (We guess we should count ourselves lucky the hearing is not being held in Asheville.)

President Trump has filled his offices with old oil-and-gas hands: Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon/Mobil; Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who tried his best to block President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and now runs the EPA; and Ryan Zinke, a former board member for an oil pipeline company who’s now the Interior secretary.

We’ve seen how Mr. Trump has all but moved to outlaw solar energy, slapping a 30 percent tariff on solar power parts and slashing funds for solar energy research. Clearly these folks don’t want a bunch of tree-huggers and snowflakes standing in the way of Smoky Progress.

They’re joined, of course, by 7th District Rep. David Rouzer, who’s said again and again that he thinks offshore oil wells would be the best thing in North Carolina since Krispy Kreme. (Rouzer, the distinguished representative of the state’s biggest coastal region, lives near Raleigh, so we don’t expect him to know about Britt’s doughnuts.)….

We want to repeat our position: We are realistic about our need for oil and natural gas, and, therefore, are not opposed in principle to offshore drilling. We also are realistic about drilling’s potential threat to our vital tourism and fisheries industries. At a time when oil is relatively cheap and plentiful (compared to the $5 a gallon gasoline of the Bush years) and the United States is becoming a net oil exporter, we believe possible benefits of drilling are currently outweighed by inherent risks. We believe there are many residents in our area who share those views. We wish our representative in Washington did, too….

(You also can submit comments online through March 9 at tinyurl.com/yawoltb8).

And then we should consider this: If we can’t get public officials who’ll stand up for our sounds and beaches and our unique coastal economy, maybe it’s time we get some new ones. You can make your voice heard on that issue, too, in November.”

Commentary

Join us next Wednesday for a discussion of reproductive freedom

Join us next Wednesday, February 28 for a very special Crucial Conversation luncheon –

The Hyde Amendment at age 41: The path forward in the fight for reproductive freedom for low-income women

Click here to register.

The Hyde Amendment was first introduced by an anti-abortion congressman in 1976 as a way to explicitly bar low-income people from accessing abortion care, and it’s been a provision tacked onto the federal budget ever since. For 41 years, legal and safe abortion has been the only type of health care stigmatized and politically targeted in this way.

And for 41 years, the tentacles of the Hyde Amendment have grown. In North Carolina in 2018, no federal, state, county or local government employees can obtain coverage for abortion care through their employee benefits; and North Carolina residents who access their health care through the military, Indian Health Services or the United State Peace Corps volunteer program cannot have an abortion covered through that insurance. State lawmakers have even forced private health insurers that offer plans on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace to drop abortion coverage.

With the procedure typically starting around $500, plus potential travel, child care and lost work costs, many low-income patients seeking an abortion are forced to scramble to come up with the money needed to access this common, safe and legal medical procedure.

So, where do things stand and what is the path forward in the battle to restore and guarantee reproductive freedom for all?

Join us as we tackle these and other urgent and timely questions with representatives of three of our state’s leading advocacy groups for reproductive freedom:

Omisade Burney-Scott of Sister Song, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Sister Song’s mission is to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.

Marles Earle of the Carolina Abortion Fund, a volunteer-run nonprofit that provides financial assistance to North Carolinians who choose to have an abortion but cannot afford the full cost.

Tara Romano of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, a statewide advocacy organization that works to ensure all North Carolinians can make the reproductive health care decisions they need, including preventing pregnancy, carrying a pregnancy to term safely, and terminating a pregnancy.

When: Wednesday, February 28th, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration requiredClick here to register.

Cost: $15, admission includes a box lunch. Scholarships available.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

National experts assail Trump’s latest healthcare treachery

In case you missed it, the Trump administration has launched yet another outrageous attack on the Affordable Care Act today. Under the new proposed rule, the ACA ban on junk/sham health insurance policies would be, in effect, repealed. This is from an assessment by the experts at Families USA:

“The draft rule released by HHS allows insurance companies to sell sham insurance plans that do not cover essential health benefits or preexisting conditions, protections that are required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). More specifically, the rule allows short-term, sham insurance plans, which currently may only be sold for a coverage period of 3 months, to be sold and marketed for up to 364 days. These sham plans can include fine print that, for example, would exclude coverage of asthma, diabetes, or cancer treatments, exclude critical services like pharmacy or maternity care, or include hidden limits, like covering only two days or no days of hospital care a year.”

Families USA executive director Frederick Isasi says the proposal would have disastrous consequences:

“The consumers who buy these plans won’t be the only ones harmed by the Trump administration rule. These sham plans are likely to cause the price of comprehensive coverage to escalate if healthier individuals and families exit the marketplace where comprehensive coverage is sold and instead buy these junk policies.”

Experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities were also highly critical:

“The proposed rule change would roll back 2016 regulations defining short-term plans as those lasting less than three months, defining them instead as those lasting less than one year. It will be open for public comment until April 23.

Because short-term plans offer less coverage and can deny coverage or charge higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions, they offer lower premiums for some healthy consumers than comprehensive plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As a number of groups representing both insurers (such as America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association) and consumers (including CBPP) have warned: “If short-term plans are allowed to be sold as a long-term alternative to regular health insurance, they will attract healthier consumers away from the regular insurance risk pool and endanger people’s access to comprehensive coverage.”

Compounding the problem, the tax law enacted in December will, in 2019, end the ACA’s individual mandate that most people have health coverage or pay a penalty. This year, the mandate could provide some protection against the expansion of short-term plans because enrolling in one wouldn’t protect someone from having to pay the penalty during 2018. But next year, without the mandate, short-term plans would likely attract more enrollees.”

The center says the change will likely lead to higher premiums in the individual market, the demise of market reforms and access to comprehensive coverage in the individual market, and the exposure of more consumers to gaps and high costs.

The proposal will, in other words, continue the Trumpists’ nefarious effort to undermine a law that they could not muster the votes in Congress to repeal. As such, it is yet another perfect symbol for a dishonest, illegitimate, incompetent and utterly heartless presidency.