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  • A fight for the future

    Five months ago, coastal North Carolina residents sat in the crosshairs of a monster storm. Some 43 people died during and immediately after Hurricane Florence, which left $17 billion in damage. Hurricane Michael followed one month later. Three people died and millions more in damage resulted. Wilmington and many other affected communities have not fully recovered. Water damage remediation equipment churns 24-hours a day outside the 100-year-old Alton Lennon Federal Courthouse, closed indefinitely. Blue tarps dot the rooftops of a partment buildings, businesses and churches awaiting roofing crews. Power saws drone in neighborhoods where gutted homes undergo repairs. Hurricane season returns June 1, and with it the threat of new storms. Gov. Roy Cooper testified on Feb. 6before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, to the increasingly powerful and erratic storms that have hit North Carolina in recent years. He cited the two, 500-year floods experienced in two years, and three in fewer than 20 years. Cooper described mudslides in the mountains that have damaged apple orchards and ski areas, record heat in the Piedmont that has killed poultry and damaged crops, and wildfire and flooding risks to Fort Bragg and the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point. The worst of the damage, however, has occurred in Eastern North Carolina, which faces the prospect of more storms and floods, he said. Two years after Hurricane Michael hit, Hurricane Florence “decimated coastal communities and crushed coastal tourism and fisheries.” As Florence pounded the coast for days with punishing winds, it dropped trillions of gallons of rain. Communities went under water under historic flood levels, livestock and crops drowned. Cooper told the committee, conducting month-long climate hearings, about steps taken in North Carolina to respond, with a new North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency to administer federal block grants to fund disaster recovery and plans to develop and implement strategies to protect the state from future storms. He discussed the North Carolina Flood Inundation Mapping and Alert Network that will identify areas facing the most risk during disasters and the safest places to rebuild. “But when storms are becoming more destructive, it’s not enough to pick up the pieces,” he said. “We must take action to prevent this kind of devastation in the future. I urge this Congress and all our federal partners to match the same level of determination brought to disaster recovery in our fight to reduce the effects of climate change.” Cooper got the ball rolling at the state level last year, with an executive order to achieve a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in North Carolina by 2025. This includes increased state building efficiency and 80,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road. But states and researchers rely on federal funds to pay for scientific research and drive innovation “that can help solve our climate crisis,” he said. Federal legislation and regulation will further protect the state, plus government leadership to work on a global level to effect international solutions. TheGreen New Dealresolution proposed Feb. 7 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (Mass.), is a beginning. It offers a framework for the kind of bold environmental change needed to combat the devastating effects of global warming. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationrecently reported that 247 people died in 14 weather and climate disasters last year, with greater than $1 billion in losses from each event. Since 1980, there have been 241 weather and climate disasters in the United States, each with at least $1 billion in overall damages and costs. Total costs came to $1.6 trillion. In North Carolina so far, the storms exacted a price to be paid: more than $1 billion in state and federal funds for recovery efforts, and counting. How do we move forward? Government legislation and policy can either curtail or fuel climate change on a major scale, from the greenhouse emissions permitted by industry to the decision on whether there is a bus route serving your neighborhood. Call and write local, state and federal representatives to advocate for action. Attend town halls and other public meetings so the urgency of climate change remains top of mind for those who represent you. Consider a run for public office yourself. Perform an inventory of your home and an honest assessment of your life choices. From reducing the amount of red meat you consume to installing solar panels on your house, there are things you can do. Here is ahandy calculatorfrom the Nature Conservancy that can guide you on steps to take to reduce your carbon footprint. While the state continues post-disaster recovery, we must remember that the next big hurricane, fire or flood will cost more lives and destroy property. This is a fight for the future.

  • One Person, One Vote

    It looks as though the U.S. Supreme Court may finally weigh in on the question of whether districts gerrymandered for partisan advantage are constitutional. Earlier this month, the court agreed to hear two cases that challenge the practice, one from North Carolina, where Democrats are the aggrieved party, and one from Maryland, where it is Republicans who are aggrieved. For the sake of both parties, let’s hope the court sets reasonable limits on the practice and establishes a fair playing field that allows voters to choose their representatives instead of representatives choosing their voters. Rucho v. Common Cause comes out of North Carolina. It’s an appeal by the North Carolina General Assembly of a federal district court ruling that Republican lawmakers violated the Constitution when they drew district maps in 2016 that were blatantly designed to “to gain partisan advantage” for the Republican party, as the lawmaker in charge of drawing the maps said on the floor of the General Assembly. The maps resulted in 10 Republican and 3 Democratic representatives to the Congress in 2016, even though Democrats got nearly half (46 percent) of the statewide congressional vote. The Maryland case, Lamone v. Benisek, was brought by Republican voters who argue that Democratic state lawmakers redrew a district in 2011 to retaliate against citizens who supported its longtime Republican incumbent. The incumbent, Roscoe G. Bartlett, won his 2010 race by a margin of 28 percentage points, but in the redrawn district he lost in 2012 to Rep. John Delaney, a Democrat, by a 21-point margin. The plaintiffs argued that by redrawing the district, the Democrats violated the First Amendment by diluting their voting power. In 2017, a U.S. district court denied a preliminary injunction to the Republicans challenging the redrawn district, but Judge Paul V. Niemeyer dissented. He wrote that the problem of partisan gerrymandering is “cancerous, undermining the fundamental tenets of our form of democracy.” “The widespread nature of gerrymandering in modern politics is matched by the almost universal absence of those who will defend its negative effect on our democracy,” Judge Niemeyer wrote. “Indeed, both Democrats and Republicans have decried it when wielded by their opponents but nonetheless continue to gerrymander in their own self-interest when given the opportunity.” The Supreme Court has been prudent in its reluctance to take on the issue of partisan gerrymandering. In cases in 1986, 2004 and 2006, a majority of the court agreed that partisan gerrymandering violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But Supreme Court Justices have rightfully worried that, as former Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a 2004 case, there are “no judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating” claims of partisan gerrymandering. Political registration isn’t a reliable test because many people are registered independent and many, no matter the party they are registered as belonging to, vote for the other party’s candidate. One solution to that dilemma arose in Whitford v. Gill, a case out of Wisconsin that came before the Supreme Court in 2018. It advances a standard called the “efficiency gap,” which would establish whether the results across districts in any given election roughly matched the number of votes cast for a given party. It was thought that the court would decide the case based on whether the “efficiency gap” standard developed by political scientists would, in the court’s view, be an acceptable standard for determining when partisan gerrymandering had occurred. But in June 2018, the court remanded that case to the lower courts after finding that the plaintiffs, a group of 12 Democratic voters, did not have standing. The court found unanimously that they did not meet the requirement under Article III of the Constitution that plaintiffs in federal lawsuits must show that their complaint arises from a specific, direct and significant injury that could be remedied or prevented by a decision of the court, rather than from a general grievance. Instead of dismissing the case, the court remanded it to be argued again, giving the plaintiffs another opportunity to establish standing. Judge Niemeyer’s dissent in the Maryland case, Lamone v. Benisek, presents an eloquent argument for how gerrymandering harmed the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case. “Building on the Supreme Court’s previous holdings that ensure ‘one person, one vote’ and that prevent racially motivated gerrymanders,” Niemeyer wrote, “we held earlier in this case that when district map drawers target voters based on their prior, constitutionally protected expression in voting and dilute their votes, the conduct violates the First Amendment, effectively punishing voters for the content of their voting practices.” If that isn’t a grievance worthy of “standing,” it’s hard to imagine what is. As Americans, we have no more fundamental right than the right to vote. But it isn’t just the harm to individual voters the Supreme Court should consider. It is the harm to our democratic process. Allowing legislatures to “pack and crack” voters means that candidates only need appeal to their base. That gives the most radical elements of their parties power way beyond their numbers. Once elected, lawmakers cannot risk compromise for fear of alienating that base. That brings government to a halt, as the present federal shutdown demonstrates, and leads to increasingly entrenched polarization. As the 2020 Census approaches with the redistricting that will follow, we can only hope that the Supreme Court sets a standard that prevents the kind of redistricting abuses we’ve seen during the past decade. If it fails to do so, voters throughout the nation will be disenfranchised as state legislatures engage in an orgy of partisan gerrymandering. Any competitive human activity with no rules and no referee soon becomes a free-for-all. Let’s hope that’s not where our nation is heading.

  • Important to get the Census right

    If you think it seems there’s a little less elbow room here in North Carolina, you would be right. And if you enjoy living here, there are more and more people agreeing with you. As the sun set on 2018 it marked the third straight year North Carolina saw a population gain of at least 100,000 people. As of July, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the state’s population at 10.4 million souls, a jump of 113,000 from 2017. That puts North Carolina’s growth rate at 1.1 percent, well above the national average of 0.6 percent, and placed the state in the top 10 for population growth, and in the top five in terms of numeric growth. Since 2010, the state has added 850,000 residents, a jump of 8.9 percent. The vast majority of that growth, two-thirds of it, has been from people moving here as opposed to people being born here. That said, being born here makes a difference; North Carolina is what is termed a “sticky” state. Those born here tend to stay here. The numbers are interesting, but behind them are political ramifications: The growth means The Old North State is on track to pick up a 14th congressional seat following the 2020 census. Right now, the state has 13 congressional districts, but thanks to some … er, creative electoral engineering in the 9th, we only have 12 representatives in Congress. That contest will eventually be settled. What comes after could have a lasting impact on the state’s delegation in Congress. North Carolina’s congressional maps have been something of a full-time jobs program for legions of lawyers since gerrymandering following the 2010 census. Newly drawn district lines were ruled unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering and then due to partisan gerrymandering. A federal three-judge panel ruled the lines used in the 2018 election were unconstitutional, but the matter had dragged through the courts so close to voting that the plaintiffs in the case argued it was too late to change them. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the 13 districts shuffled around in a creative manner yet again headed into the 2020 race. But following 2020 it will be 14 seats, and that will be harder to gerrymander following the census. The first census was held in 1790 and has been held every 10 years since as required by the Constitution. Its task is both simple and complex: To count every person in the U.S. and where they live. The census itself may be subject to some electoral engineering. The 2020 census is the focus of a slew of lawsuits over the push to add a citizenship question for the first time since 1950. Given the toxic national conversation over walls, deportation, ICE raids and the like, it’s a guarantee that with a citizenship question, many people, fearful of potential repercussions, will skip the census. It will guarantee an undercount in states with large numbers of immigrants, including legal immigrants and citizens in immigrant communities who might have a non-citizen living in their household. An undercount carries real consequences in dollar terms. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill demographer Rebecca Tippett estimates more than 400,000 North Carolina children have at least one immigrant parent. In an environment of fear, it’s a given a lot of those households will skip the census. Tippett says every person missed means a loss of nearly $1,000 in federal funding. The census issue sounds like something a ways off in the future, but we’re on the clock. The Census Bureau has to do a population count by April 1 of 2020, send it to the president by the end of that year, and the states have to have new redistricting data in hand by April 2021. Get it wrong, and it’s a mistake we’ll live with for a decade. For a growing North Carolina, that is unacceptable.

  • Segregating public schools is a bad trend

    Race continues to be the primary determinant of K-12 public education. Nikole Hannah-Jones, an award-winning New York Times Magazine reporter and former reporter for the News & Observer of Raleigh, spoke recently at Duke University in front of a large gathering o kick off the Color of Education Initiative. Hannah-Jones asserts that integration has been the most effective strategy for closing the achievement gap between white and black students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducted the research to support Hannah-Jones’ position. The NAEP analysis says; “White students attended schools that were 9 percent Black, while Black students attended schools that were 48 percent Black, indicating a large difference in average Black student density nationally.” The analysis showed schools in the highest density category (60 to 100 percent Black students) were mostly located in the South. Prior research by NAEP indicates six reasons why Black student density is related to achievement and the Black-White achievement gap in schools that serve large percentages of Black students: More likely to employ less experienced teachers. More likely to have low-socioeconomic-status and have one parent/guardian. Oppositional culture – the burden of “acting white’’. (Fordham and Ogbu 1986) Lower expectations from teachers for student performance. Tracking of Black students tends to differ by the density of Black students. The number of school disciplinary reports increases as the percentage of black students in a school increases; and Black students are more likely than White students to face discipline. A result of this analysis trend back towards segregation and the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decision, a landmark 1954 Supreme Court case in which the court ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. The decision established that “separate-but-equal” education and other services were not equal. In North Carolina, House Bill 514 was ratified in June 2018 and is now the law in North Carolina. For those of you who may have missed this new law, HB 514 allows municipalities to grant enrollment priority to their residents should they open charter schools. Kris Nordstrom of NC Policy Watch, commented: “Authorizing the creation of racially separate and unequal charter schools is not only immoral, it’s educationally harmful, and almost certainly unconstitutional, to boot.” Make no mistake about it, North Carolina, by passing this law, has positioned the state for resegregation, and has federal funding to support the continued growth of charter schools, having been awarded $23.6 million over five years from the Department of Education’s Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter School Program to help the state’s 185 charter schools meet the needs of economically disadvantaged students and to promote the continued growth of charter schools in North Carolina and perpetrate resegregation of schools. As stated by Hannah-Jones and the NAEP study, we are creating a separate and unequal outcome for our students in North Carolina. The NC Department of Public Instruction reports charter school membership has increased to a high of 97,111. The number of private schools has almost doubled since 1991-92, according to the Division of Non-Public Education and Home Schools; and the number of NC students has increased by 48,386 over the past ten years to a high of 135,749. The top five NC counties with the highest number of Home-schooled students in 2017-18 are Wake with 7,834; Mecklenburg, 6,417; Guilford, 3,233; Buncombe, 2,962; and Forsyth with 2,857. Fifty-eight percent are listed as religious and 42 percent are listed as independent. Funding for school choice has also increased with the Personal Education Savings Accounts (PESAs), a voucher program for private schools that is projected to reach over $1 billion dollars in ten years. So why the growth of charter schools and private schools? Parents wanting what they consider the best education for their children, reprioritization of state funding, housing segregation and as Hannah-Jones cited, the increase of charter schools in mostly white suburban communities and the fact that white parents often choose schools based on the percentage of Black students that attend, making integration more difficult. We believe Hannah-Jones is correct in her assertion that the seeds for undoing public education are in place. Her message rings true, “We lost the moral message of public schools; that they are about the common, not an individual, good.” Segregated schools take us back as a nation to a time and period where racial strife, fear and discrimination were prevalent and not forward to the needed atmosphere of racial harmony necessary for a nation that will become more diverse for years to come.

  • Adapt to climate change for economy’s sake

    Anyone looking for evidence that the intense rain events, droughts and hurricanes increasingly impacting North Carolina are going to damage the state’s economy should consider Bubba O’Leary’s General Store in Chimney Rock. In February 2017, about three months after the nearby Party Rock Fire burned for 25 days, scorching 7,142 acres of state park and private land and blanketing the town with smoke, the Asheville Citizen-Times interviewed the store’s owner and Chimney Rock’s mayor, Peter O’Leary. “It’s not like people are desperate, but it certainly had a negative impact and everyone is feeling the pinch,” he told the newspaper. O’Leary estimated an evacuation at the peak of the November fire cost him about $30,000 in profits, or about 25-30 percent of what he was hoping to accumulate for the winter. This was a tame fire compared to those that raged across the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016 and to this year’s California wildfires, but even though no one died and no homes or businesses burned, Chimney Rock suffered an economic hit. Ecologists pointed out afterwards that fire is a natural part of the Southern Appalachian landscape and that overall, the forests would benefit. Even so, the Party Rock fire was a historic fire that started during a historic drought, like the 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires that killed 14 people and burned more that 17,000 acres in Tennessee. In that fire, more than 2,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released by the Trump Administration on the day after Thanksgiving, predicts that the frequency and intensity of wildfires will become more common in the Southeast and that the 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires may have been just the beginning of an unwelcome trend. It appears we are already experiencing the impact of climate change and though the environmental consequences have long been the focus, the impact on the economy gets its due in this new report. “In the absence of significant global mitigation action and regional adaptation efforts, rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity, and the vitality of our communities,” the report says in its summary findings. In addition to more wildfires, the report predicts more intense hurricanes like Hurricane Florence, the monster that made landfall in September and dumped almost 36 inches of rain on some regions of the North Carolina coast. That deluge, coupled with extensive wind damage and a strong storm surge, caused massive flooding and an estimated $17.9 billion in damage. On Nov. 28, Gov. Roy Cooper sent a request to North Carolina’s congressional delegation for $6.3 billion, bringing the state’s full federal request to $8.8 billion, to help the state and communities recover from the disaster. Among the needs Cooper identified in the request were repairing highways and interstates, reviving businesses that lost workers, income and stock, and helping farmers whose crops were ruined. Florence was the wettest tropical cyclone ever recorded in North Carolina. In the face of these and other extreme weather events, it is certainly possible to continue to deny human-caused climate change is occurring, as President Trump did when he told reporters “I don’t believe it,” referring to the federal climate assessment. Most of the rest of us would rather not believe it either. For starters, the consequences of climate change aren’t yet having a significant impact on most of our lives. For many non-scientists, the whole idea is still pretty abstract. Besides, believing it forces us to accept that humans have, for the most part inadvertently and unintentionally, unleashed the prospect of a world that will be significantly less hospitable in less than a century. It also forces us to confront the fact we ought to do something about it, and that something will be complicated and fraught with hard choices. Maybe that’s what prompted the North Carolina legislature, at the behest of a group of businesses and property owners, to pass HB 819 in 2012. That’s the law that bans state and local agencies from basing coastal policies on long-term scientific models indicating an accelerating rise in sea level. But even those who don’t accept the implications of climate change science can’t ignore the reality of the extreme weather events it predicted and the devastation they’ve wrought in North Carolina over the past few years. The impact these events have had on people’s lives is wrenching and the cost, not just to local economies but to all of us as taxpayers, is enormous. Refusing to acknowledge this reality or adapt public policy accordingly is foolhardy and has already proved not only costly, but catastrophic for many in the most vulnerable areas. The Fourth National Climate Assessment says that “more immediate and substantial global greenhouse gas emissions reductions, as well as regional adaptation efforts” are needed. It goes on to say that mitigation and adaptation actions present opportunities to improve local economies, for example, infrastructure investment. Would it not be wiser to seek out and grasp those opportunities rather than continue on a path that looks increasingly perilous?

  • North Carolinians deserve Medicaid expansion

    An important component of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded Medicaid eligibility so low-income people living in households at 138 percent of the federal poverty level could get health care coverage. However, the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could not be forced to expand Medicaid programs. Eighteen states decided not to expand, citing difficulty predicting and affording the costs. Federal funding covered 100 percent of the costs until 2016, with a reduction to 90 percent by 2020. North Carolina’s Republican legislature passed a bill in 2013 that outright banned the expansion. The state has a history of moving slowly on Medicaid, being one of the last states to adopt it, in 1970, four years after the funding became available. Most North Carolinians who have health insurance are covered by a private plan, either under an employer or marketplace exchange. Other coverage comes from Medicaid, Medicare, and military and veteran benefits. Yet 11 percent of the population remains uninsured. Out of the 10.1 million North Carolina residents, 31 percent are low income (less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level), according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Eighteen percent of the population is covered under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). While children and their parents/caregivers make up most of the enrollees, most of the funding goes to the disabled and the elderly. Some 69 percent of Medicaid in North Carolina pays for acute and long-term care. Click here for details of who is covered under Medicaid in North Carolina and how the funding is spent. If North Carolina were to expand Medicaid, 208,000 more low income people who have no other option for coverage could receive health care coverage, with a positive result for the state as a whole. A KFF review of 202 studies of the impact of Medicaid expansion published between 2014 and February 2018 found: Significant gains in coverage and reductions in uninsured rates, particularly among low-income and vulnerable individuals. Greater access to care, use of services. Positive relationship to affordability of care and financial security. Mixed results on capacity for providers to meet the need for services. Participants said their health had improved following the expansion. (Long-term studies will be needed to evaluate this.) Initial Medicaid enrollment growth and state and federal spending exceeded initial projections in many states. While state spending from state funds didn’t increase, that is expected to change as the federal share for the expansion drops to 90 percent through 2020. Reduced uncompensated care costs for hospitals and clinics and positive or neutral effects on employment and the labor market. Disproportionately positive impact in rural areas But were states like North Carolina that initially rejected Medicaid out of fear that costs would be difficult to predict and potentially overwhelm their budgets correct? A report from the Brookings Institution found that even as the federal contribution drops to 90 percent, state “costs are likely to remain modest, despite increased enrollment.” Over the next decade North Carolina stands to lose $36.1 billion by not participating in Medicaid expansion. In addition to providing basic health care, Medicaid funding could be used for targeted items such as funding substance abuse treatment in the fight against the opioid epidemic, tobacco cessation education and treatment and more. When Gov. Roy Cooper campaigned in 2016 on a platform to expand Medicaid, he said that he was “appalled by North Carolina’s failure to expand Medicaid to its neediest residents, especially when our tax dollars are already going to pay for it in other states.” Once he took office, Cooper was determined to expand Medicaid through executive action. He said the 2013 law banning Medicaid expansion violates the governor’s “core executive authority” to accept federal funding and protect the public’s health. The expansion remains in limbo following a challenge by lawmakers. However, as a result of the November elections for state House and Senate seats, Republicans no longer hold a supermajority under which they can overrule any gubernatorial veto. While Republicans still hold a majority of seats, the 2019-20 General Assembly is undoubtedly expected to be more moderate and potentially more receptive to expanding Medicaid access. Virginia (General Assembly bill) and Idaho, Utah and Nebraska (ballot initiatives) have recently reconsidered their positions on Medicaid expansion and determined that providing low income individuals with access to health care is a good thing for their states. North Carolina should join them.

  • The nation needs checks and balances

    There couldn’t be a more compelling example of the urgency to vote in the upcoming midterm election than President Trump’s recent threats to overturn the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution with an executive order. This is America’s foundational document. A change can only be initiated by two-thirds majorities of Congress or the states and can only take effect after three-fourths of the states have ratified it. There is no path for a president to change the Constitution. Yet this president boldly asserts that he can. The founders anticipated someone like our current president being elected, and built checks on runaway executive power into the Constitution by setting up co-equal branches of government. They never anticipated one of those branches, Congress, would forgo exercising that power. Yet, to date, the Republican-controlled House and Senate have shown little inclination to challenge President Trump. That’s something North Carolina voters need to keep in mind when they select the 13 men and women from this state who will represent us in Congress come Nov. 6. With the Republicans in control of the executive branch, Congress and now the majority on the Supreme Court, there is grave concern that the current president believes and demonstrates he is in control of the entirety of government. Additionally, he attacks the free press calling it the “enemy of the people” and attacks all of his critics and anyone who challenges his authority. He attacks the nation’s historical allies, embraces the authoritarian regime in Russia, tells lies continuously and threatens to end the probe that is investigating him and his presidential campaign. With the control that our 45th president holds over the branches of government that are designed to provide checks and balances, we have the makings of a government where far too much power rests in the hands of one man. A dictatorship is an authoritarian form of government where power rests with one ruler. Today there are at least 24 dictatorships in the world. The United States is not one of them. But the very fact that some now worry that what might once have seemed inconceivable is even remotely possible is alarming in and of itself. Many would argue that a dictatorship cannot happen in America. Author Jim Powell a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute outlines eight points that can lead a nation towards an authoritarian form of government: Bad economic policies and foreign policies can cause crises that have dangerous political consequences. Politicians commonly demand arbitrary power to deal with a national emergency and restore order, even though underlying problems are commonly caused by bad government policies. In hard times, many people are often willing to go along with and support terrible things that would be unthinkable in good times. Those who dismiss the possibility of a dictatorial regime in America need to consider possible developments that could make our circumstances worse and politically more volatile than they are now – like runaway government spending, soaring taxes, more wars, inflation and economic collapse. Aspiring dictators sometimes give away their intentions by their evident desire to destroy opponents. There’s no reliable way to prevent bad or incompetent people from gaining power. A political system with a separation of powers and checks & balances – like the U.S. Constitution – does make it more difficult for one branch of government to dominate the others. Ultimately, liberty can be protected only if people care enough to fight for it, because everywhere governments push for more power, and they never give it up willingly. By this standard, a president who starts tariff wars with China and threatens to undo Constitutional amendments raises alarms. Add to that a Congress whose spending policies increased the deficit by 14 percent in 2017 and there’s real cause for worry. With the pending election, it is imperative that Americans vote and elect candidates who will protect our republic that has long been a beacon of hope and leadership for the world. Elections have consequences and those elected provide the direction for the nation. And yes, every vote counts. Our president has demonstrated that if things are not going his way, it is a conspiracy of the deep state. Examples include the “rigged’’ 2016 election when the polls indicated he would not win the presidency. He did not believe the unemployment numbers during the past administration, arguing that they were fake. When the numbers continued to improve during his administration, they were the best ever. We have had imperfect and untruthful leaders before, but they’ve been held in check by our system of government with its separation of powers. Never in recent history has that system felt more fragile. The election of greater consequence is the 2020 presidential election. If the current president loses the 2020 election, will he accept the results or will he refuse to vacate the office, saying the election was rigged? What as a nation do we do at that time with a president who exerts control over the Congress and the Supreme Court and drives the nation into a perilous constitutional crisis? As the Cato Institute’s Powell pointed out, liberty can only be protected if people care enough to fight for it. Now more than ever, it’s critical to care enough to become informed and vote.

  • Failed policies contribute to disasters

    More than three weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall on the North Carolina coast, only a light breeze kept the smell of mold from being overwhelming along the streets in Fairfield Harbor. The community near New Bern no longer had a functioning gate, which probably makes it easier for cleanup crews trying to dry out the lovely homes surrounding the golf course. They have disgorged their first-floor furnishings along with wallboard, insulation, appliances and wiring onto lawns, where it sat in careless heaps, souring. Some homeowners are living on the second floor of their homes. One or two appear to be living in recreational vehicles parked in their driveways. A bad situation got worse when local officials asked people to cover debris piles with tarps to keep them from being scattered after warnings that Hurricane Michael could cause tropical storm force winds in New Bern. Hurricane Michael packed winds of 155 miles per hour when it hit the Florida Panhandle last week. How long will it be before life gets back to normal for those who live here? A long time by the look of things. And at what cost, especially for those with children and the elderly? Or to counties and municipalities who must haul all that debris away and dump it into landfills at taxpayers’ expense? Or to those without flood insurance? A Washington Post analysis comparing the number of policies in National Flood Insurance Program with the number of housing units in counties hit by the storm found that in Craven County, home to New Bern, only 9.9 percent of homes are covered by flood insurance. Home insurance doesn’t usually cover flooding, something many people don’t realize until their home floods and they try to make a claim. Most flood insurance is purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In Wilmington, located in New Hanover County and also the scene of severe flooding, 14.2 percent of homes have flood insurance, according to The Post analysis. Reporting by the Houston Chronicle following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, that while the National Flood Insurance Program was designed to insure properties vulnerable to flooding, only half of such properties carry flood insurance as required by law. The program, created by Congress in 1968, was intended to reduce the costs of disaster relief, but those costs have exploded, the Chronicle found, and while it was supposed to be self-supporting, premiums don’t come close to covering the expenses, requiring repeated bailouts by taxpayers. The Chronicle reported that numerous attempts to reform the program have been thwarted by real estate developers and builders bent on developing coastal property and some coastal leaders who covet the tax revenue that development brings. The failure of this legislation isn’t just in its cost to taxpayers, it’s in the misery it causes homeowners enticed to buy in flood-prone areas by low cost flood insurance, which rarely covers all the costs associated with the damage. To make matters worse, even those who would like to move often find themselves trapped because the value of their homes, once flooded, plummets. Sadly, the debris-lined streets of Fairfield Harbor create a scene observed far too often these days. Extreme flooding from Hurricane Matthew in October 2017 killed 28 people and damaged or destroyed more than 90,000 homes in North Carolina at a cost of $4.8 billion. But Matthew paled by comparison to Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Maria and other storms that have wreaked monumental damage on U.S. soil during past few years. And then there’s Michael, which came ashore at Mexico Beach, Fla., last week as the strongest storm to make landfall in the continental US since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Two converging factors appear to be escalating this devastation. Scientists believe rising ocean temperatures may be contributing to more powerful hurricanes with more rainfall and higher storm surge, which is compounded by rising sea level. That, along with denser development in low lying coastal areas, creates a recipe for calamity. A report issued on October 8, 2018, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, warned that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040. Among the many results will be rising sea level and more extreme weather. The scientists conclude that only by dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next 12 years can the direst consequences be avoided and they concede that’s politically unlikely. The failure of flood insurance reform is only one example of unworkable policies that short-sighted lawmakers indebted to special interests seem unable to address. At a time when we need visionary, principled leaders to deal with the challenges that confront us in North Carolina and the nation, the North Carolina General Assembly and Congress seem trapped in old models of economic prosperity and development that are not sustainable. And they are enslaved to special interests by campaign finance laws that favor big money over constituents’ interests. As a state and nation, we are consumed in a partisan fray we can ill afford. Our best hope is to use every means available to tell lawmakers and candidates for office that we expect them to stop demonizing and start reaching across the aisle, to stop putting party and special interests ahead of the state and country. And we need to vote against those who fail to do so, whatever their party. Additional reading: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Build-flood-rebuild-flood-insurance-s-12413056.php https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/09/17/only-percent-have-flood-insurance-hard-hit-carolina-coast/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e52b43b84d53 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate/ipcc-climate-report-2040.html

  • VOTING: Know what and who you’re voting for

    Sample ballots are now available for viewing in North Carolina, and it would pay to take a moment and peruse your choices before stepping into the voting booth. That’s because ballots will look a little different this year due to actions taken in Raleigh. Wrinkles in the ballot have a long history in North Carolina. For example, there was a time when you could simply choose to vote a straight party ticket instead of voting in individual races. That option has gone the way of the dodo. Even this wrinkle had its own wrinkle. Through the 2012 elections you could cast a straight-party vote, but that didn’t include casting a vote for U.S. president and vice-president. That plan was hatched by state Democrats to boost local candidates as the GOP began to gain national popularity in the 1960s. However, the plan has a serious flaw; a significant number of voters cast straight-party votes but failed to mark a choice for president. In 2000 the state recorded a 3.15 percent undervote – i.e., 92,000 Tar Heels went to the polls but failed to cast a vote for president. In 2004, that number was 75,000. Straight-party voting was allowed through the 2012 election. The GOP-dominated legislature passed a bill in 2013 eliminating the option, a measure that went into effect in 2014. When it came to electoral engineering, they didn’t stop there. The new twist this year goes a little like this: Roy Cooper, a Democrat, had the temerity to be elected governor in 2016. Under law at the time, candidates in the governor’s party would be listed first on the 2018 ballot. That clearly wouldn’t do, so the legislature, under HB 496, decided candidate names would appear in random order. In February, the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement held a random drawing determining the alphabetical order of candidates in the May primary. The letter “F” was drawn, meaning a candidate with a last name starting with F would appear in the first ballot position, cycling through the alphabet and ending with “E.” In previous elections, candidates in the governor’s party were listed first. This year the order will be under the alphabetical drawing regardless of party. So, does ballot order matter? The short answer is yes. The long answer was provided in an article by University of Virginia Center for Politics director Larry Sabato. In poring through eight research essays on voting order, it was found that for voters who walked into their polling place without well-defined determinations voted as much as 5 percent more in favor of the first name listed. Of course, there are plenty of caveats. Well-known candidates, such as those running for president, governor or U.S. Senator, tended to produce fewer additional first-name-listed votes. Lesser-known candidates in the middle and toward the bottom of the ballot gained more of an advantage by being listed first. Partisan races have a lower first-name bias than non-partisan races. Primaries have a larger bias than general elections. In races with multiple candidates, those listed first or last tend to fare better than the crowd in the middle. First-place bias will likely tilt the vote for the six constitutional amendments appeared on North Carolina’s ballot. “For’’ is the first option, and undoubtedly many people will choose it despite some of the … creative wording that appears, such as in the following measure: “Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend at least two nominees to the Governor via legislative action not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.” That’s about as clear as mud. It’s easy to see voters puzzling over it, and then simply punching “For’’ and moving on to the next amendment. It’s our responsibility to vote, and our responsibility to know what/who we’re voting for. Take a few minutes to check out your ballot. Go to www.nc.gov/voter-lookup-sample-ballot to see the political landscape you’ll be facing come early voting or Election Day.

  • Climate Change is Real

    With the recent storm patterns that have hammered the United States, it is time for state and federal government to embrace the fact that the climate is changing. A failure to recognize this is costing the nation and North Carolina billions of dollars in property damage and loss of life. Hurricane Florence is more evidence for those not already convinced that climate change is real. And those not already convinced include the majority of the North Carolina legislature. During the last decade, North Carolina and South Carolina have endured almost one hurricane a year, not including tropical depression storms that have caused flooding, property damage and loss of life. Many maintain the recent patterns of storms in the United States and around the globe are driven by climate change. It can be argued that the historical storms in New Orleans, Houston, Florida, New Jersey and along the eastern seaboard can be credited to global warming. Those who argue climate change is not real are not facing the extraordinary research that has been done in North Carolina, the nation and internationally. The evidence is overwhelming that climate change is real and has implications for our economy and our very lives. A key question is what is climate change, or global warming? And are we simply going through a period of time with more storms? In reviewing a formal explanation by Wikipedia, “climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns, when that change lasts for an extended period of time (i.e. decades to millions of years). Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather within the context of longer-term average conditions. Physical evidence to observe climate change includes a range of parameters.” The recent storms are a very small sample size, not enough to build an ironclad case for climate change. But there are plenty of additional, and convincing, components for the argument: sea level change, cloud cover and precipitation changes, changing vegetation patterns, Arctic ice sheet erosion, temperature changes and more. These factors are in turn impacted by growing populations and growing emission levels. In 2005, North Carolina authorized the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change to direct the commission to determine if a cap on emissions was warranted, and if so, at what level. The North Carolina Climate Action Plan Advisory Group (CAPG). The 43-person Commission of diverse experts from across the North Carolina expired with the submission of its report in 2008. The 118-page report listed 564 recommended options for further study and potential adoption that are believed to be most important for mitigating North Carolina’s GHG emissions. The associated economic impact projected significant cost savings for the state through 2020. In the summer of 2012, North Carolina, conservative state Rep. Pat McElraft introduced a bill that stipulated state and local agencies must refer to historical linear predictions of sea level rise rather than current research, and only look at 30-year predictions – basically ignoring the evidence and overlooking the potentially dangerous impacts of weather-related damage to homes and property along coastal Carolina. The bill was passed despite rising sea levels on the state’s coast and the recommendations from the CAPG. We implore politicians to move away from political party positions and provide the funding to support scientific research that will assist local communities, regions and the states to address this crucial issue, that impacts everyone, regardless of boundaries or political affiliation. Global warming is a real and must be addressed. In 2015 the Pew Research Center reported, “that a median of 54 percent of all respondents consider climate change a serious problem.’’ Politicians should also consider climate change a reality – not a political agenda item. Fortunately, 196 countries see the impact of global warming, given that they signed on to the Paris Agreement, to bring nations together to fight against climate change. President Trump pulled the United States out of the accord, for political and shortsighted reasons. Global warming is real and we must take appropriate actions to address it or continue to face the wrath of mother nature.

  • Voters should rein in power grab

    The proposed amendment that would change the rules for who appoints North Carolina judges when vacancies occur between elections started as a 101-word sentence with two semicolons. The Flesch Reading Ease formula gave it a score of -52.3 and termed it impossible to comprehend. Faced with the herculean task of trying to decipher it, it’s easy to see why voters would toss a coin or just give up. That’s one way citizens can be robbed of any real say in how their government operates. Incomprehensible amendments are only one difficulty for voters. It’s been a year of lawsuits and chaos surrounding every aspect of voting as the Republican-controlled General Assembly spent much of its time defending gerrymandered districts, trying to strip power from the executive and judicial branches and trying to make voting more challenging. The most recent installment in this ongoing outrage occurred in late August when three federal judges, for the second time, ruled Congressional maps drawn by state lawmakers an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that favors Republicans. But even the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, groups that sued to have the maps overturned, agree it’s too late to redraw them before the November election. That decision came right after a federal court ruled the wording of two constitutional amendments, including the one mentioned above, was so misleading that they could not appear on the ballot. However, the court allowed GOP lawmakers to rewrite the amendments. In a hastily called special session the General Assembly scaled back one and barely changed other. They did this just days before the deadline for printing absentee ballots. The two were among six constitutional amendments GOP lawmakers placed on the ballot in June during the last week of the 2018 session with virtually no debate or public input. Two, including the judicial vacancies one, are blatant power grabs that would undermine the executive and judiciary. Two fix problems that don’t exist. Two should be addressed by legislation after all their implications are thoroughly debated. None should be amendments to the state’s constitution. All five of the state’s living governors, two Republicans and three Democrats, jointly condemned the two amendments that would have stripped from governors and given to the legislature the power to appoint members to hundreds of boards and commissions and to appoint judges and justices to vacant seats. There are outliers, but most citizens want a government that is efficient, free of corruption and supportive of business. One that stays out of people’s private lives so long as they do not harm others. And one that keeps tax rates as low as is compatible with the functions government must perform, such as providing public education, ensuring public safety, building a safe and adequate infrastructure, protecting the environment that sustains us and providing a safety net for those who cannot care for themselves. To some, it may seem that business friendly government and some of those objectives are mutually exclusive, but quite the opposite is true. An educated workforce, a dependable infrastructure, a clean environment and a culture of compassion are all objectives that support a healthy and enviable marketplace. But keeping government efficient and business friendly while meeting those objectives requires an ongoing balancing act, one that demands a collaborative approach with many competing interests at the table. Imperfect as it is, the fact that ours is the richest and most successful nation in the world is testament to its success in achieving that balance. One person, one vote. A fair playing field where all interests have a chance to be heard. An attempt to find compromise that takes them all into account. These principles were built into our system of checks and balances. But these principles are at risk in North Carolina. The Republican-controlled legislature has tried everything its members could collectively think of in recent years to take power from voters and from the judicial and executive branches and gather it to themselves. The confusion that has generated as the midterm election approaches is a powerful incentive for voters to throw up their hands and stay home on Election Day. But if voters tolerate such behavior, we risk putting far too much power in the hands of far too few and losing the principles and the balance that supports our freedom and economic strength. There are resources to help us learn about candidates and ballot initiatives before the election. One is ballotpedia.org, a non-profit, non-partisan encyclopedia of American politics and elections. Another is the state Board of elections website ncsbe.gov. This may be the most important state election in a generation. It’s a critical time for voters to claim their power.

  • John McCain, American Hero

    I served in the United States Air Force (AWACS) and am a Vietnam War Veteran. I flew 120 Arial Combat Support Missions and was awarded four Air Medals. I spent the majority of my career working for the public sector and am considered an expert in public administration. I also served on the Board of Directors for the National Forum for Black Public Administrators. I served governors and political appointees, both Democratic and Republican Administrations. One of my greatest honors was to serve as co-chair of the Arizona Veterans Committee for John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008. I also served as an Arizona delegate (alternate) for the Republican National Convention in support of John McCain. While the overall campaign was not successful, there was one consistency – John McCain’s relentless determination to continue to serve the people and this country. There has been much commentary about his care for the people and this great nation.As an African-American, I was asked by friends, family and the media: “Why do you support John McCain? My response was, I have and will always support the candidate I feel is best for the country and the people, regardless of the political party, race or gender. I believed then and I believe now, John McCain was the better candidate. I also have the utmost respect for our first African-American President, Barack Obama. As far as I am concerned, there is something they have in common as it relates to history – they both left their mark. After the 2008 Presidential Election, John McCain told me he felt bad because he let me and others down. That was just another demonstration of his character and his care for all of us. He was very sincere and I could feel it bothered him. I told him he should not feel that way, given what he has done and was doing for this nation. I am not going to restate all the good things that have been said the last several days regarding John McCain, they are all true. He is the role model for what this country needs, he has set the standard for other political hopefuls to follow. My final message to John: You will always be my Commander-In-Chief. Edward O. Willis lives in Phoenix, Arizona

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