Lunch Links: Fracking rules, DHHS returns to the hot seat, and reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty

Make sure you grab a big lunch today, because this is going to be a busy week! Here are just a few of the items NC Policy Watch will be keeping an eye on:

The full Mining & Energy Commission meet Tuesday to take action on the draft chemical disclosure and setback rules. If you’re worried about the chemicals used in fracking, this is one meeting you won’t want to miss.

Top officials at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services will be in front of the the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services on Tuesday.

Look for plenty of questions from both sides of the political aisle about why nearly 48,000 Medicaid cards were sent to the wrong addresses, and why the USDA continues to have “grave concerns” about North Carolina’s food stamps delivery system.

Governor McCrory continues to be unwavering in his support of DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, but the News & Observer calls these latest problems “inexcusable.”  Another editorial in  the Southern Pines Pilot pointedly says it’s time for the McCrory administration to stop shunning responsibility:

… Gov. McCrory, whose tendency toward combative defensiveness is growing tiresome: If he can’t stand the heat, he should never have taken charge of the kitchen.

On the education front, the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board is meeting today to determine which of the 71 charter schools that have applied to open in 2015 should advance. If you missed it last week, go back and read Lindsay Wagner’s piece on the 26 new charter schools that received the go ahead last Thursday to open this fall.

And as all those charters get cranked up, The Columbus Dispatch offers a cautionary tale about the failure of 17 charter schools in Ohio this past year.

“A school goes belly up, and the public is out the money, and the kids’ educational programming has been harmed,” said William L. Phillis, the executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. He has been critical of charters.

Since 2000, when the state auditor began auditing charter-school finances, 110 schools have been found to have misspent a total of $22.6 million. Many of them are closed.

Mother Jones has details on a Nevada credit union now offering personal loans to educators to cover the costs of their school supplies.

The Washington Post weighs in on the “political turbulence” President Obama may face as he visits the Research Triangle on Wednesday.

Georgia’s General Assembly convenes today where legislators are being greeted by their own Moral Monday movement. Progressive activists are urging lawmakers there to rethinking the decision to not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Look for more talk about Medicaid expansion and the need for a strong, modern-day safety net when North Carolina progressives gather for the Mass Moral March in Raleigh next month.

NC NAACP president Reverend William Barber notes the February 8th rally comes as our nation marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of an unconditional War on Poverty:

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As promised, it’s going to be a busy week. Enjoy your lunch break and stay tuned!

Lunch Links: Traffic problems and other dirty tricks

(Photo: Amy Newman/ at New York Times)

(Photo: Amy Newman/ at New York Times)

Who could have ever predicted that the downfall of N.J. Gov. Chris Christie might be “traffic problems in Fort Lee”?

If you know anything about Fort Lee, N.J. and the access roads leading to the George Washington Bridge, you appreciate that making it across without traffic on any given day is a crapshoot.   That said, as we learned yesterday Christie staffers felt compelled to create traffic problems there — for four days — as payback to the Fort Lee mayor who failed to support the governor during the recent election there.

If you missed it, here’s the recap from the N.Y Times:

Emails and texts revealed that a top aide had ordered the closings to punish the town’s mayor after he did not endorse the governor for re-election.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie, emailed David Wildstein, a high school friend of the governor who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge.

Later text messages mocked concerns that school buses filled with students were stuck in gridlock: “They are the children of Buono voters,” Mr. Wildstein wrote, referring to Mr. Christie’s opponent Barbara Buono.

The emails are striking in their political maneuvering, showing Christie aides gleeful about some of the chaos that resulted. Emergency vehicles were delayed in responding to three people with heart problems and a missing toddler, and commuters were left fuming. One of the governor’s associates refers to the mayor of Fort Lee as “this little Serbian,” and Ms. Kelly exchanges messages about the plan while she is in line to pay her respects at a wake.

The political fallout may be mounting. Heads are rolling, Christie’s nascent bid for President in 2016 is being questioned (that’s the national media chatter), the nomination of his chief of staff to be state Attorney General may be in jeopardy, criminal charges may be looming — it goes on and on.  All because of . . . what ?

Politics above all else, even constituents — a bug that unfortunately has infected public servants at all levels.

Speaking of political games at the expense of constituents,  if you live in any of the 44 North Carolina counties served by the Eastern District federal court — that means you, people in Raleigh, Wilmington, New Bern and all along the coast — you might want to give your senator, Richard Burr, a call and ask him why he continues to block the nomination of Jennifer May-Parker to serve as a judge there.  Burr himself submitted her name for the position back in 2009, but has since backpedaled, refusing recently to return the traditional “blue slip” needed for a nominee to move forward with a judiciary committee hearing.  In the meantime, you’re now going into your ninth year with an understaffed federal court, the oldest federal district court vacancy in the country — a court that’s been relying on the graces of three senior status judges, two of whom are in their eighties.  So give the senator a call and ask him why the hold-up?

Of course, political gamesmanship is nothing new. Most of us have at least have heard of the Watergate break-in and the dirty tricks of the Nixon administration. But here’s a break-in many of us just learned about this past week:  the 1971 burglary of an FBI office in Media, Pa.  As described by Democracy Now:

 On March 8, 1971, a group of activists — including a cabdriver, a day care director and two professors — broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. They stole every document they found and then leaked many to the press, including details about FBI abuses and the then-secret counter-intelligence program to infiltrate, monitor and disrupt social, political movements, nicknamed COINTELPRO. Calling themselves, the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI, no one was ever caught for the break-in. The burglars’ identities remained a secret until this week when they finally came forward to take credit for the caper that changed history.

Learn more about the outed burglars and their heist — called the “original Wikileaks”  by one writer — by watching this N.Y. Times video.

And finally, here’s one New Jerseyan who’s not about to watch his star fade.  Bruce Springsteen is set to release his latest album, “High Hopes,” on January 14. In a world in which “albums” should probably now be called something else, and in which release dates are preceded by single releases (selections from Springsteen’s latest have been airing on the CBS show “The Good Wife”).

Here’s Bruce with the title song:

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Lunch Links: Jobless benefits clear a hurdle, DHHS takes more heat, and 22 powerful images by Dreamers

It’s lunchtime and only 21 degrees outside, so let’s see if we can’t find a few stories to warm you up for this afternoon.

First, in case you missed it, the U.S. Senate voted 60-37 to advance legislation that would extend federal jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

The bill still has a ways to go, but check out this piece in Mother Jones that introduces us to some of the 1.3 million Americans who are desperately hoping that Congress passes the benefits bill this week so they are not left out in the cold.

‘If Congress fails to renew these benefits, only a quarter of jobless Americans will be receiving any benefits at all, according to the Huffington Post.’

The New York Times editorial board explains how Mel Watt can make rental housing more affordable in his new role as leader of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The editorial boards for the Charlotte Observer and the Winston-Salem Journal turn-up the heat on the McCrory administrations after DHHS mailed nearly 49,000 Medicaid cards to the wrong recipients. Here’s a excerpt from the Journal:

‘The mistaken mailings are no small matter. They constitute a violation of federal privacy laws. The information on those cards is not public information and was not to be shared with anyone but covered persons and their parents or guardians.

The mistaken facts coming from [spokesman Ricky]Diaz just perpetuate the impression that DHHS leader-ship doesn’t take seriously its responsibilities for accurate public information and open government. The young Mr. Diaz, who has little experience in public life, clearly doesn’t understand the necessity to be accurate with information released under his agency’s letterhead.’

Today’s Fitzsimon File details the reality behind McCrory’s misleading “Carolina Comeback”.

Think Progress is reporting that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will announce a proposal for statewide universal Pre-K in his State of the State address on Wednesday.

Buzzfeed has posted 22 powerful images by Dreamers – offering a window into the life as an undocumented immigrant in America.

Finally, to end on a lighter note, we’ll close out lunch links with this Kenny Loggins medley, recorded in 1992 at the Grand Canyon. Loggins is rockin’ his 66th birthday today:

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Holiday Exodus Lunch Links

Santa Parade

As we wind down the the work week and many head home for an extended holiday break, here’s a few bits of year-end cheer.

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Thankfully, Fox News host Megyn Kelly — who declared that Santa Clause was, in fact, white — has been silenced.  It turns out that the big guy takes on many different colors and ethnicities, not a tough act to pull off when you’re a fictional character. Kelly, by the way, was not the first to land in hot water this past month for casting Santa in a single mold.

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Pope Francis joins in a selfie ( (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)

Pope Francis joins in a selfie ( (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“Who am I to judge?”  With those five simple words, spoken in response to questions about gay priests, Pope Francis shocked the world and managed to recast Catholicism as a more inclusive, open-minded and compassionate institution.  Here’s why Time magazine named him Person of the Year:

He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century.

Read more about Pope Francis in this New Yorker profile.

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Jan. 3, 2013. Sydney Festival's the giant Rubber Duck installation, Darling Harbour, Australia. This is the latest incarnation of artist Florentijn Hofman's famous oversized toy which measures 15m high and 18m wide and has been commissioned especially for this year's Sydney Festival. (Photo Damian Shaw—EPA)

Sydney Festival’s the giant Rubber Duck installation, by artist Florentijn Hofman. (Photo Damian Shaw—EPA)

The annual ritual of capturing the past year’s best and worst is well underway. Time magazine selected these photos as the top 10 — a choice that just gets tougher as more of us equipped with cell phones fancy ourselves photographers.

“Dizzying technological advances allow a mind-boggling number of images—half-a-billion a day—to be shot and posted online,” writes David Rohde in this Atlantic piece. Rohde argues that the world still needs professional photographers, though, who capture the moments that change history.

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Speaking of photos, here’s one that’s stirred up a bit of a controversy and raises this important question: Can you be a Springsteen fan and a Carolina fan at the same time?


Springsteen catching a Duke Men’s basketball game last night with his daughter, a Duke senior, at Madison Square Garden. (Twitter)

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Merry Christmas, all!   See you next year . . . . .

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Friday the 13th Lunch Links

Maybe it’s the time of year (pardons and all), maybe it’s a full moon rising, or maybe it’s just the reverbs of Friday the 13th, but this week brought us some quirky stories about yearning to be free and hoped-for redemption — some old, some new and some ongoing.

Free the Possum.   Clay County opossums got a break yesterday when Wake County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour ruled that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals could move ahead with its lawsuit to halt the annual Brasstown New Year’s Eve “Possum Drop.”

During the drop, held in the small town of Brasstown, a live possum in a Plexiglass box (with air holes)   is lowered from a pole at a local convenience store, amidst fireworks and crowds of people.

It’s been a New Year’s Eve happening for years:

The tradition stretches back roughly two decades, when gas-station owner Clay Logan and a group of friends got the idea to celebrate the hillbilly way of life by lowering an opossum, a fixture on the dark mountain roads in Clay County, about 100 miles southwest of Asheville. “If New York can drop a ball and Atlanta can drop a peach, then we can lower a possum,” Mr. Logan said.

N. C. House Speaker Thom Tillis lowering a possum to celebrate the start of 2012 in Brasstown.   (Photo WSJ/Jarrard Cole/Reese News Lab)

N. C. House Speaker Thom Tillis lowering a possum to celebrate the start of 2012 in Brasstown. (Photo WSJ/Jarrard Cole/Reese News Lab)

And it draws big crowds, including House Speaker Thom Tillis,who lowered the box in 2012.

PETA argues that the drop scares the animals to death.  The group successfully stopped the drop last New Year’s Eve and is hoping to do so again through the pending lawsuit.

But state lawmakers say the drop is just fun, and this past year passed a law which allows the issuance of a permit to hold a wild animal “for scientific, educational, exhibition or other purposes.”  Governor Pat McCrory signed the new law, originally called the “Opossum Right to Work Act,” this past March.

Up next, “Free Bubba.”   According to this report, Bubba the fugitive “ram on the lamb,” was finally captured this week after months of wandering through parts of the Triangle:

The animal suddenly appeared in a residential neighborhood, near the Streets at Southpoint Mall in late summer. Neighbors called the authorities and soon the Durham County Sheriff’s Office was on the case.

The animal was spotted at an abandoned house in the 1500-block of Cornwallis Road and later visited GlaxoSmithKline in RTP. He also popped up on lawns and access roads.

Earlier this week, the hunt came to an end. Bubba had settled in near the 2200 block of Glover Road.  He began to damage windows and doors in an attempt to head-butt offending reflections of himself. He caused approximately $5,000 in damage.

Apparently it took some luring with fresh apples and oats and a custom-built pen to bring Bubba in:

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Still not free.  No one’s quite sure what’s going on with UNC guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, who’ve yet to play this season and are likely to miss tomorrow’s game against Kentucky.

Questions have dogged the pair since the summer — Hairston for driving rental cars somehow connected to Haydn “Fats” Thomas, a Durham resident and convicted felon, and McDonald for wearing a designer mouth guard and appearing in promotions for Iceberg Guards, the mouth guard company.

Tar Heel coach Roy Williams told the News & Observer that he didn’t know anything about how an NCAA investigation would continue, but he wasn’t optimistic that it would be soon.

“I would be stunned if I were to go upstairs and somebody would say those guys are eligible to (play) today,” Williams said.

Fans are getting anxious.