Commentary, Defending Democracy

Today’s “must read” editorial decries latest special legislative session plans

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com. It speaks the truth about the latest special session plans from Republicans on Jones Street. This is from “Special session reveals phony motives behind constitutional amendments”:

“Want proof of the true partisan motivation for the bundle of vague and unnecessary state constitutional amendments carelessly rushed out of the North Carolina legislature last month? Look no further than Saturday’s letter from House Rules Committee chair Rep. David Lewis to House Speaker Tim Moore.

Lewis fears a commission, set up by the legislature to provide unbiased summaries of the proposed amendments, won’t spin and obfuscate as the Republican leaders of the legislature want.

Without a shred of proof, Lewis wrote that the commission would overreach and therefore legislative leaders should quickly call a special session to write the explanations themselves. Bringing the legislature back is a terrible idea and shouldn’t be done. It will lead, as we’ve seen in the past, to nothing but trouble.

The commission, established in state law (passed by the legislature), is made up of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and the General Assembly’s legislative services officer. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein happen to be Democrats and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble is a Republican. It is not a political complexion that the dictatorial leaders of the veto-proof Republican-dominated legislature find to their liking.

In stark contrast to the way the current leadership rules the legislature, the commission has outlined an open and transparent process to develop the summaries of the proposed amendments – including sincerely seeking input from the public and holding publicized open meetings.

That is, unfortunately, the polar opposite of the secretive, orchestrated and hasty approach that Lewis, Moore and their cohorts in the state Senate employed when in just a few days they shoved the amendments onto the November ballot.”

After explaining the reality of what such a special session will entail (obfuscation, hypocrisy, lack of genuine debate) the editorial concludes this way:

“While certainly not intended, legislative leaders may end up providing an even clearer display of their heavy-handed approach to governing.

Rather than enhancing their desire to camouflage their efforts to rig the State Constitution, legislative leaders will offer up another unvarnished display of their insincerity and abuse of authority.

In the end, these legislative leaders will offer up the best argument yet to vote against these superfluous state constitutional amendment.”

Commentary, Environment, News, Voting

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Powerful new hog trial testimony puts Smithfield back on the defensive
By Lisa Sorg

As a former police officer and firefighter, Wesley Sewell has encountered odors so putrid that they would make most people retch. He’s even ranked the smells. No. 1 “is when I had to remove burning bodies from a plane crash,” Sewell told a jury in a federal hog nuisance trial yesterday. No. 2 “is when I had to remove a person from their home who had been dead a week on the toilet. Hog feces is number three, or at least in the top five.”

Sewell is not a plaintiff, but was subpoenaed as a witness in the most recent lawsuit against the world’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown. [Read more…]

2. Fearing suppression, voting rights advocates make case for early voting sites in letters to county boards
By Melissa Boughton

Early voting in North Carolina is a big deal with a big turnout, but advocates are bracing for a negative impact this year after some last minute legislative wheeling and dealing.

To help minimize the damage, the ACLU of North Carolina and Democracy NC teamed up to inform county boards of elections of the effects of Senate Bill 325 and House Bill 335 and to make recommendations for consideration as they adopt early voting plans. [Read more...]

3. Just say ‘no’: The easiest way to push back against NC’s rogue General Assembly is to vote against all six proposed constitutional amendments
By Rob Schofield

Like Congress and most modern American state legislatures, the North Carolina General Assembly is not a popular or respected body. Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling asked voters their opinion of the General Assembly earlier this year and the results were fairly dismal. It found that less than one-in-five North Carolina voters (19%) approved of the job the legislature was doing, while more than half (51%) disapproved. [Read more]

4. Plea deal offers glimpse into rampant bail industry fraud
By Joe Killian

When Sarah Jessenia Lopez plead guilty in May to attempted notary fraud related to bail bonding, it was not earth shattering. After all, fraud and criminality in North Carolina’s for-profit bail industry has been rampant for years.

The North Carolina Department of Insurance regulates the bail industry. Between 2009 and 2016, its criminal investigators made more than 1,500 arrests related to insurance and bail bonding fraud alone. There have been more than 750 criminal convictions with more than 250 cases currently pending in court. But a close examination of Lopez’s plea deal reveals details that could reverberate throughout the already troubled industry and contribute to the final dismantling of one of the state’s largest and most powerful bail surety companies. [Read more]

5. N.C. General Assembly has failed to act, but the time to stop Chemours’ pollution is now
By Billy Ball

“How long before we say enough is enough?” state lawmaker Ted Davis Jr. asked his colleagues in the N.C. House in February. “How much more is Chemours going to get away with before something is done?”

Chances are the Wilmington Republican, whose constituents are right to be worried about the Delaware-based chemical company’s discharges into the Cape Fear River, is asking the same questions today as pressure mounts on Chemours practically everywhere outside of the North Carolina General Assembly. [Read more]

6. Cartoonist John Cole: It’s getting deep… [Read more…]

Commentary, News

Horror stories emerging about life in former Wal-Mart-turned-ICE facility

The list of horrible acts being committed in the name of the American people by the Trump administration continues to grow. For a classic and stomach-turning example, check out reporter Alan Pyke’s story on Think Progress entitled “‘This is it for you. You’re fu**ed.’: Inside ICE’s abuse of migrant kids at a frigid old Walmart — Nicknamed the “hielera” or icebox, Casa Padre is a hellscape of cruel guards, sickening food, and psychological torture. Here are some excerpts:

“Children are sleeping on floors and being cussed out by guards, subsisting on meager rations of beans, crackers, and tortillas that leave them feeling ill, and passing the nights sleeping on floors under bright lights in a converted Walmart in south Texas.

The new reports of harsh physical conditions, humiliating psychological abuse, and basic deprivation at the so-called ‘Casa Padre’ facility in Brownsville, Texas, come almost a month after President Donald Trump took symbolic steps to quash public outcry over his family separation policy aimed at punishing and deterring migrants.

The children and parents who swore out hundreds of affidavits to attorneys appealing the United States government’s treatment of migrants have mostly fled violence in Central America. The conditions in which they find themselves today in the world’s richest and most powerful country shock the conscience — and almost certainly violate the conditions of the legal settlement that’s bound American officials in treatment of minors in immigration detention for decades, lawyers say.

In many cases, the only bathroom the children are allowed to use is located inside their holding pen.

There is a security camera in the room which points to the bathroom’ in the cell where a 17-year-old from Guatemala named Noe is being kept with a dozen other boys, he said.”

The story goes on to describe many dreadful aspects of life in the facility, including terrible food, outrageous discipline practices and a culture of abuse. Here’s the sobering conclusion:

“The horror stories were unearthed by attorneys seeking a judge’s help to enforce the longstanding consent decree that governs U.S. treatment of child detainees and families of migrants that include minor children. Only about one in 10 interviewees reported being treated particularly well, or offered any praise for the adequacy of the food, blankets, or other conditions, attorney Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law said in the filing that accompanied the shocking testimonials.

‘[A]bout 90%… provide testimony that is shocking and atrocious,’ Schey wrote. ‘It amounts to a picture not just of forcibly separating thousands of children from their parents, but on a much broader level of a program of forced hunger, forced thirst, forced sleep deprivation, coupled with routine insults, threats, and physical assault, that leave class member children crying, trembling, hungry, thirsty, sleepless, sick, and terrified.’

‘Mental health experts agree that many class members will never fully recover from the terror and humiliation they experienced in Defendants’ custody.’

Though Schey is bound by legal standards to use the word ‘Defendants’ there, the rest of us don’t have to be so oblique. The people doing this to the 900-plus children at Casa Padre and more than 1,000 others at other facilities — while also failing to reunite families as they were ordered to do by a federal court — are officials of the United States government that represents all 300-plus million people who are citizens of this country.”

 

 

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Big crowd expected for Raleigh “democracy reform” townhall tonight

Organizers expect a big crowd tonight for a “democracy reform” townhall meeting featuring Congressman David Price that will take place at Broughton High School in Raleigh.

The event, which features the moniker “A Better Deal for Our Democracy,” will take place from 6:30 – 8:30.

The event website says that those in attendance will receive a congressional update from Price on issues like “extreme partisan gerrymandering and attacks on voting rights to foreign interference in our elections and rampant corruption in Washington,” hear from local advocates about the democracy reform agenda in North Carolina, and get a chance to offer their own thoughts and ideas for solutions to the challenges facing our nation.

Attendees will also discuss the road ahead in light of recent developments such as the Supreme Court’s redistricting rulings and the General Assembly’s proposed constitutional amendments. Click here for more information and to RSVP.

Commentary

Prof. Gene Nichol provides a useful lesson in constitutional history

In case you missed it this morning, be sure to check out Prof. Gene Nichol’s fine essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer  celebrating and explaining the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as it arrives at its 15oth anniversary.

Here are some on-the money excerpts:

“This month marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the most consequential provision of the U.S. Constitution, the 14th Amendment. It grants citizenship to anyone born in America and assures that state governments afford due process and equal protection of the laws.

Rep. John Bingham, the enactment’s principal author, explained he sought ‘a simple, strong, plain declaration that equal laws and exact justice shall be secured within every state for any person, no matter whence he comes, or how poor, how weak, how simple, how friendless.’ The 14th Amendment, along with its civil war counterparts, sought to remedy the tragic defects of 1789 and bring egalitarian democracy to the United States.

Of course Bingham’s words have been much-ignored in our constitutional history. The 14th Amendment was largely gutted in its first 50 years – except as a tool for corporate interests. And Plessy v. Ferguson cruelly buried its central meaning.

But since 1954, the Supreme Court has frequently used the 14th Amendment to demand that American government make real its foundational promises. Brown v. Board of Education (school segregation), Loving v. Virginia (anti-miscegenation laws), Craig v. Boren (sex discrimination), Harper v. Virginia (voting rights), Goldberg v. Kelly (right to hearing), Roe v. Wade (reproductive rights), Graham v. Richardson (immigrant rights), Obergefell v. Hodges (gay rights) and Reynolds v. Sims (equal representation) are its principal markers. Without them, the U.S. would be a tyrannous nation. Anything but the land of the free. So it’s good to raise a glass to the old, but essential and defining, provision.”

After noting the repeated and ongoing efforts of conservative politicians like Donald Trump and North Carolina legislative leaders to undermine the amendment, Nichol concludes this way:

“But it’s also accurate to characterize the struggle as a continuing, never-yielding fight over Bingham’s 14th Amendment. The Tar Heel State initially voted against the amendment in 1866, for example, before eventually yielding to the pressures of the Reconstruction Congress. And the aggressive social and political agenda of today’s North Carolina Republican Party is impossible to square with the due process and equal protection mandates of the last half-century. Read more