Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


DEAF TO TEACHERS? LEGISLATORS POISED TO SHORT--CHANGE PUBLIC EDUCATION: A House appropriations subcommittee unveils details today of a skimpy education budget. It offers up less than a 1-percent boost next year for North Carolina’s public schools, community colleges and universities. The constitutional requirement for access to quality education – a “right” in our state – is not being met and it is the General Assembly’s failure. Per-student spending ranks among the lowest in the South and the nation. Teacher pay, when adjusted for inflation, is less today than it was in 2009. While the legislature scrimps its constitutional duties, it finds plenty of money to spend on unnecessary tax breaks for corporations. The latest is a proposed $140 million annual cut in the franchise tax. That’s on top of $2.5 billion in corporate tax cutting that has already been enacted over the last five years. All that comes at a cost of meeting the VERY BASIC needs of North Carolinians.

IN NC, TAX CUTS WIDEN INCOME INEQUALITY: We may be one of the most economically vibrant states in the richest nation on earth, but over 21% of North Carolina’s children live in poverty. The figure is even worse for children under five. Almost 23% of our kids suffer from hunger. Four out of ten of our children of color are poor. Almost half of all North Carolina kids are classified as poor or near poor (under 200% of the federal poverty threshold). Our youngest members are the most vulnerable. Their hardship is more pronounced than in almost any advanced nation. The top one percent of Tar Heel households, on the other hand, capture about 18% of all our state income. They average incomes of $902,972 per year. The other 99% of North Carolina households enjoy an average income of $43,550. This represents our greatest income inequality since 1929. So, what are the results of our much ballyhooed and much altered state tax structure? In the last reporting year, the poorest quintile of Tar Heels paid 9.5% in state and local taxes. Their average income was $11,400. The middle quintile paid 9.4%. Their average income was $40,100. The richest one percent paid 6.4 percent in state and local taxes, on incomes of $1,085,000.

THE GLORIOUSLY GROWING IRRELEVANCE OF FRANKLIN GRAHAM: In a tweet Wednesday, Graham blasted presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg for having the nerve to be publicly gay. Homosexuality, said Graham, was not something to be “flaunted.” He called on Buttigieg, a Democrat from Indiana, to instead repent. Used to be that when Graham told people to boycott Wells Fargo or not buy cookies from Girl Scouts because they treated gays and lesbians as real people, the reverend’s comments would be worthy of big headlines and cable TV crawls. This week, there were a few frowns, but mostly, America shrugged. Why? Graham is not the Christian leader he once was. He’s a man whose organization does wonderful work, but he’s also one whose words have become increasingly and gloriously irrelevant. In part, that’s because Graham’s perspective on homosexuality has been pushed to the fringe, but it’s also because of how he has marginalized himself with his vocal support of Donald Trump. Like other supposed faith leaders, Graham has been caught in the trap of politically supporting a man with so many moral failings. How do you tell a gay candidate to repent but utter hardly a peep about the philandering, dishonest man who now holds the office?

FACED WITH TRUMP'S MISDEEDS, "THE SYSTEM" FAILED: The somewhat anticlimactic outcome of Mueller’s probe underscores once again that special prosecutors are poor substitutes for the performance of congressional duties. The contrast with Watergate is striking. Special prosecutors did their part. And when Richard Nixon was finally brought to book and ousted it was boasted that the “system worked” — meaning checks and balances inherent to a tripartite government of independent branches. It also included the dogged reporting of The Washington Post and substantial leaking by the FBI. But the decisive contrast lies in a party system not then, four decades ago, so warped by partisan spirit as to ignore dutiful checks of executive power. The impeachment charges against Nixon, heard out by the House, gained substantial GOP votes. The Senate Select Committee, chaired by Sam Ervin Jr., found a working Republican ally in Sen. Howard Baker, who famously asked, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” (The answer was “plenty and soon”) Nixon knew when his hour had struck and resigned. Trump, his gross unfitness whitewashed by Attorney General William Barr, is in no danger of removal.

THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON DEMOCRACY (IF YOU CAN'T WIN PLAYING BY THE RULES, CHANGE THEM): More recent efforts by Republican-held state legislatures to erect large barriers to voting are more explicit. Republican lawmakers in Tennessee, for example, are pushing broad new restrictions on large-scale voter-registration drives, including civil penalties for groups that unintentionally file incomplete voter-registration forms and criminal punishment for those that don’t attend state-mandated training sessions, according to the Tennessean. Last November, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to end felon disenfranchisement. Unable to stop the change, Republicans chose to put barriers to its implementation. On Wednesday, the Florida House of Representatives passed legislation that would require former felons to pay fines as part of their criminal sentence before they can vote again. It’s a poll tax. And like those under Jim Crow, it is an ostensibly neutral policy that falls hardest on black communities, which have a higher share of former felons. Republican lawmakers in the states use the legal leeway from rulings like Shelby County v. Holder to erect new barriers to voting, while Republicans in Washington look for new ways to embed their partisan interests in the electoral system.


KATHY REPASS: DISCLOSING TRUMP'S TAXES SHOULD NOT BE A PARTISAN ISSUE: I’m sure that America will uncover the truth about President Trump’s taxes because our democracy is too important to fail. Yet, I’m shocked that elected representatives, including Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, have made this a partisan issue. Every modern candidate has released their tax returns. If anyone else had blatantly refused to publicize theirs and then sued Congress over subpoenaing them, everyone would be screaming loudly. So why not now? Why are there different rules for Trump than for everyone else? I ask because it truly leaves me perplexed. Yet, I know there is a major reason for Trump’s taxes being hidden from us. And, this is why America needs to see them.

JOE LYONS: IF YOU THINK TRUMP IS BAD NOW, JUST WAIT: The more we learn about President Trump, the man, the more fearful we become about Trump, the president. It is not enough to know that he has debased his office — that has been obvious from the very beginning of his presidency — but that his aberrant behavior could endanger our country. You see, this is a man who was born into a wealthy family and provided with everything he wanted. His parents over-protected him; so he never had to face the consequences of his failures. His father bailed him out of at least four bankruptcies and his lawyers took care of his risky and semi-legal business transactions. Trump’s self-centered personality precluded his having close friends, only sycophants, which is what he got with his vice president and most Republican members of Congress. The problem, though, is that the more enemies he makes, the more pressure he will have to endure, which will lead to chronic psychosis. We will then have a president insane enough to punish his perceived enemies with a weapon of war. We must not allow this man to serve another term in office!

KIM MACKEY: I'M A TEACHER. I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO BE A NURSE AND A COUNSELOR, TOO: Have you ever told a group of people you’ve known for only a few weeks that their friend has died? I’m a teacher. I have. Have you ever had someone tell you he or she is suicidal and doesn’t know who else to turn to? I’m a teacher. I have. Have you ever had a nightmare where one of your current students was shooting up your classroom? I’m a teacher. I have. Have you ever had to receive training on administering a rectal seizure medication? I’m a teacher. I have. I’m a teacher. I don’t have a full-time school psychologist, nurse or social worker at my school. I’m a teacher. I work with counselors who have much higher than the recommended caseload of students and fill in for the off-campus psychologist or social worker. You’re a member of this community too. Have you ever contacted lawmakers about fixing these staffing issues? I’m a teacher. I have. Will you?



From the dark side

This week's spotlight is on Duke Energy, for defending the indefensible:

More than 16,000 men and women of Duke Energy – and nearly 10,000 more retirees – are proud to call North Carolina home...

Blah blah blah, sentimental bullshit designed to foster empathy.

Our contribution to that has been to produce reliable, affordable and safe electricity, which for more than a century has powered economic growth and vitality in our state...

Blah blah blah, look how well we served you. And made tens of billions in the process, but we're not going to talk about that.

Now we are managing the legacy of the coal-fueled electricity that built this state by permanently closing all basins where coal ash is stored. Guided by science and engineering, we have made tremendous progress, which includes full excavation of basins where doing so makes sense.

Of course the writer is oblivious to the irony, if Duke had been guided by science and engineering in the past, as opposed to bean counters, we wouldn't be having this discussion, because they would have lined their coal ash pits before dumping ash into them. But now they're having to pay the price for that negligence, all of a sudden science and engineering are their stock in trade. Pull the other one.

State and federal laws have recognized two main options to close basins, both of which effectively protect people and the environment – capping a basin in-place or excavating it. We’re pursuing both approaches, with customized plans that make sense for each site.

Understand, the only type of site where a cap-in-place plan would be appropriate is one with a natural impermeable layer like dense clay blocking groundwater movement. None of Duke's impoundments meet that criteria.

But NCDEQ has unilaterally ordered that we use only the most extreme option to close the remaining basins. It made its decision following a flawed process that is counter to state law dealing with coal ash management, and despite the fact that NCDEQ has already ruled that these basins present “low risk” to water sources and communities.

"Low risk" isn't "no risk," it just means that the leaks detected so far have not been voluminous. Considering NC has had about 1,200 additional miles of creeks and rivers added to the "impaired" classification, any leakage is unacceptable.

It’s our duty to put customers first, and our approach has us on track to close basins quickly, safely and affordably. NCDEQ’s approach is far more expensive and disruptive without measurable benefit to the customers and communities we serve. That is why we have decided to appeal the NCDEQ order.

No, your duty is to your stockholders. You've proved that time and time again by seeking rate increases so you can continue to pay your much-lauded quarterly dividends. It is NC DEQ's duty to protect the residents and wildlife of this state, and they are doing so by requiring excavation of all coal ash impoundments.