POLICE BODY-CAM AND DASHBOARD VIDEOS SHOULD BE PUBLIC RECORD: Backers of the current law contend it might only need a tweak or that, as original law sponsor John Faircloth, R-Guilford County,, said it “only needs to be applied properly.” This law was faulty at its conception — regardless of how many legislators voted for it or how much “bipartisan” support it had. The public’s business should be public. If there’s a reason to keep it secret, law enforcement can go to court to keep it under wraps. But the initial assumption should always be, that when the government collects information, it is public and up to the government to show why citizens don’t need to have access. The too tense situation in Elizabeth City more than amply demonstrates the 2016 law was misguided. Laws should promote domestic tranquility and this needs to be fixed before it contributes to even more unnecessary tensions.
IN NC, LOW-INCOME FAMILIES HAVE POOR ACCESS TO ATTORNEYS: More than two million low-income North Carolinians are eligible for the services of a nonprofit legal aid provider. National research shows that 71% of low-income families will experience at least one civil legal problem each year. Yet, 86% of these legal needs go unmet because of legal aid organizations’ scarce resources. The bottom line: legal aid providers are forced to turn away many eligible callers who have worthy cases. Today, there is one attorney for every 8,000 eligible North Carolina residents, compared to one private lawyer per 367 North Carolinians. Legal Aid of North Carolina, the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and Pisgah Legal Services — in addition to thousands of volunteer lawyers — cannot keep up. One clear answer is to increase funding for North Carolina’s legal aid programs. Since 2007 the General Assembly has cut its support for legal aid by nearly 90% — from more than $6 million in 2007 to around $700,000 in 2020. The federal government and North Carolina’s philanthropic community continue to increase contributions to this need, but cannot approach meeting it. Especially now, as we are emerging from the pandemic, our state government should look on meeting this need as a sound investment. If poor citizens can secure legal counsel to protect their needs for food and shelter and safety, the return on that investment is many thousands more productive, taxpaying citizens. Now is the hour for our General Assembly to restore this vital support.
LET'S END THE DE FACTO BROADBAND MONOPOLIES: At its core, the problem faced by eastern North Carolina is a lack of competition. Firms like Suddenlink operate as de facto monopolies in many areas of our towns and cities, with consumers unable to bring market pressures to bear that would lead to service improvements and better pricing. Only two options will change the dynamics that are in play: More competition, or to regulate these internet service providers as the state does another large private utility provider, Duke Energy, with oversight by the N.C. Utilities Commission. More competition, essential to a working and efficient capitalist economy, is a better path. It can be achieved through public-private partnerships in which cities and towns utilize their assets in cooperation with private providers operating the retail service and providing the end-product to consumers. SB 547 -- THE FIBER NC Act, a bipartisan bill pending in the state Senate, would allow exactly that. It would better enable these public-private partnerships and allow cities and towns to fully utilize our assets and make investments in fiber. It would also allow cities and towns to seek grants that could go for that purpose.
VOTER TURNOUT IS LOW ON PURPOSE, AND IT HAS BEEN FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY: Under the guise of “good government,” reformers targeted the three pillars of working-class democracy: the saloon, the rally and the ballot box. Saloons had served as party headquarters, intellectual salons and even polling places for poor voters. By shutting them down on Election Day, “reformers” stifled a key institution. And by introducing permit requirements for demonstrations, they helped quiet the noisy rallies that had once energized public opinion. Most important, “reformers” attacked the election process itself. States passed new registration laws and literacy requirements, moved polling places into unfriendly neighborhoods, and most employers stopped letting their workers take time off to vote. Authorities switched from the tradition of casting color-coded ballots in a public box — to private voting with dense, text-heavy, government-printed “secret ballots.” None of these changes amounted to anything like the brutality of Jim Crow, but they were enacted with what one pastor called “the secret cause” of ending “unqualified suffrage.” And so turnout crashed, falling by nearly one-third from the 1890s through the 1920s, until fewer than half of the eligible were voting. It fell especially among populations who were poorer, younger, immigrants or African Americans. The harm to turnout lasted for a century. While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 fought racial discrimination in voting, the discouragements preventing low-income participation have never been addressed. In 2020, heated voter turnout reached 66 percent for the first time since 1900. But it’s as if this new engagement triggered some automatic alarm, and we’re met with renewed talk about purifying the ballot. This history shows that even small discouragements can do grievous harm to participation. And it reminds us that we should be prepared for such suppressions to continue, until Americans can accept the basic principle that there is no such thing as an “inferior type” of voter.
THE WIND AND SOLAR BOOM IS HERE: Faster than many thought possible, and despite long doubt about renewable energy’s practicality, a momentous transformation is now well underway. We are moving from a global economy fueled primarily by climate-warming fossil fuels to one in which we will cleanly pluck most of our energy out of water, wind and the fire in the sky. People who study energy markets say that economics alone ensures our eventual transition to clean fuels, but that policy choices by the governments can speed it up. Last October, the International Energy Agency declared solar power to be the cheapest new form of electricity in many places around the world, and in particularly favorable locations, solar is now “the cheapest source of electricity in history.” Unlike fossil fuels — which get more expensive as we pull more of them from the ground, because extracting a dwindling resource requires more and more work — renewable energy is based on technologies that get cheaper as we make more. This creates a virtuous flywheel: Because solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and related technologies to produce clean energy keep getting cheaper, we keep using more of them; as we use more of them, manufacturing scale increases, cutting prices further still — and on and on. In a forecast published late last year, Chase and her colleagues at BloombergNEF estimated that by 2050, 56 percent of the world’s electricity would be produced by wind and solar power. But she says that forecast is already out of date — it’s too low. Others go further still. “The fossil fuel era is over,” declares Carbon Tracker Initiative, a nonprofit think tank that studies the economics of clean energy, in a new report. Kingsmill Bond, its energy strategist, told me that the transition to renewable energy will alter geopolitics and global economics on a scale comparable to that of the Industrial Revolution.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
JOSEPH MORAN: FORGET THE MOTIVE, IT'S THE EASY ACCESS TO GUNS THAT IS KILLING US: After more tragic shootings it is frustrating to see the primary focus be yet again on the attempt to ascertain shooter motive. Human beings are complex, and there can be any number of motives for why a person kills: vengeance, racism, despair, jealousy, xenophobia, machismo, road rage, or mental illness. Often it is a combination of these, making it impossible to narrow down to one. But there is one factor common to all of these shootings: our all-to-easy access to lethal weapons. As long as the discussion of cause is hijacked, and law enforcement and media attention diverted primarily to trying to determine motive, our morgues will continue to fill with the bodies of victims who succumb weekly to our disgraceful national gun plague.
HEATHER MURPHY: CANCELING STUDENT DEBT IS THE RIGHT (AND SMART) THING TO DO: Some people say it simply wouldn’t be fair to cancel debt when “responsible” students have had to pay it back. As one of the “responsible” students who joined the military to get money for college, I wholeheartedly support canceling all student debt. And I support establishing universal higher education in the U.S. Every day, gifted children are born into families that will never have the financial resources to send them to college. They deserve a chance to pursue higher education and follow their dreams. Our society desperately needs them to go out and become experts in their fields. The U.S. will only become stronger with a well-educated populace. Canceling student debt would be a boon to a COVID-crippled economy. With 45 million people not paying loans and loan interest, they’ll have cash to spend in the local economy. One bank executive is not going to keep your restaurant afloat, but a bunch of relieved millennials just might.
SHERRI ZANN ROSENTHAL: NC'S PISTOL PERMIT LAW IS NOT OBSOLETE, IT'S CRITICAL: Until the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) covers all gun sales, N.C. pistol permits aren’t ‘obsolete’, as Rep. Jay Adams, R-Hickory, claims. (April 22) His bill would eliminate the N.C. permit system at a time when NICS doesn’t cover all online sales, private transfers or gun shows. Can’t we all agree that those known to be mentally unstable or convicted criminals shouldn’t have easy access to guns? If Republicans are sincere about protecting North Carolinians, and all U.S. citizens, they’ll support national legislation to close the NICS loopholes — before ending our state’s system. Until then, the N.C. permit system should also include rifles. That’s logical, but unlikely. Follow the money, not Republican “prayers” after the next gun murder.