Budget cuts and the environment

Following are a series of posts on specific proposed cuts in the budget that will threaten environmental protection, land conservation and long standing programs aimed at guarding public health as well as our natural resources.

For an overview on the impact of state budget cuts and environmental policy shifts take a look at the Exile on Jones Street column in this week’s Indy.
The money quote:

If you measure the success of the GOP leadership in the General Assembly by its ability to turn back the clock, there are few triumphs that will top what has happened to environmental policy, especially the dismantling of the lead agency, DENR, charged with protecting it.

At risk is not just the regulatory framework that protects our air, land and water resources, but some of the “goodliest lands” the state has proudly sworn to protect and conserve.

Budget cuts that are jeopardizing our environment

Here’s the first column for the Indy in several years. Glad to be back doing it. Not happy about having to share this unfortunate bit of news.

If you measure the success of the GOP leadership in the General Assembly by its ability to turn back the clock, there are few triumphs that will top what has happened to environmental policy, especially the dismantling of the lead agency, DENR, charged with protecting it.

N.C. House budget cuts are jeopardizing our environment

Higher Ground

Higher ground

This county is no more awash in illegals than it was at another time “awash” in Italians, Irish and Germans. If it is awash in anything, it’s in racist and dangerous rhetoric contrary to the highest principles on which it was founded.

Occasionally, this column has joined the attempt to inject some simple sanity into the increasingly polarized debate over this country’s policies and attitudes about immigration.

And as the presidential election nears, and the hyperbole and the hate speech jacks up, the need for a little clear thinking is waxing.

Credit Marisol Jiménez McGee, advocacy director of El Pueblo, who, with a child due in a little more than a week, recently gave a powerful, laser-sharp analysis of what has become this nation’s key conflict.

It was, in my mind, the single best speech, talk or utterance I’ve ever seen on the subject and the points she made are worthy not just of repeating, but ought to be inscribed on a set of handy, wallet-sized cards for anyone looking for how to knock down some of the blunt, extremist arguments you hear cascading into mainstream dialogue.

Speaking last week before an audience of progressive Democrats at Chapel Hill’s Community Church, Jiménez McGee offered an analysis of the new “war of attrition” against immigrants.

Quoting the leaders of this new movement (coming soon to a community college, a social service agency, hospital or an employer near you), Jiménez McGee said that since “loading them up on boxcars” isn’t practical, the idea is to starve them out – to deny the undocumented access not just to social services but to the basics of our society, like a sound education and equal protection.

Such efforts, by tradition, require a bit of “dehumanizing” of The Other, such as a popular online game that allows you to assume the role of a border patrol vigilante shooting drug dealers and/or “breeders” – the icon for such being that of a woman with children in tow.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s push to make local police and sheriff’s deputies enforcers of immigration laws pushes people farther into the shadows, making them reluctant to report crimes and allowing criminals in their communities to flourish unchecked by the safeguards enjoyed by the rest of us.

The system is broken, Jiménez McGee said plainly, but it won’t self correct.

The way the laws are crafted now, someone who’s been here and wants to “get legal” would have to return to their country and get in a line roughly 12 to 15 years long.

And now that the federal government has decided to simply walk away from immigration reform, state legislatures that had been on hold while waiting for the feds will cut loose. It is, after all an election year.

Like the civil rights movement of the last century, which by necessity is still, well, necessary, resolving the moral and legal issues around immigration won’t wait for politicians, business leaders and polite society to work things out. Like the civil rights struggle, law and economics and the basic guarantees of human rights are in profound disagreement. Just as it was under Jim Crow, an underclass has been created, one full of individuals who are only permitted limited participation in society and are disenfranchised politically just as hardily as they are exploited economically.

This era, probably this election cycle, marks a turning point for our political parties and institutions.
For the Republicans, this is the party’s Voortrekker moment, its wagons circling as it embraces an apartheid that would institutionalize the underclass for the sake of their friends in the corporate class.

Like apartheid, it comes at a heavy price for both the dignity of the oppressed and the soul of the oppressor.

For the Democratic party, this is a pivotal moment. Buying into the rhetoric, even a bit, means turning its back on its social justice past and returning deeper into its history – to its darkest days. This is not, as one party official recently opined, “a second-term issue for a Democratic president.” There’s a war on. And its time is now.

Print column closing

Since starting the daily grind of putting out a weekly newspaper, I’ve been hemming and hawing about whether/when/how to end the weekly print column, which runs in The Citizen, here in Carrboro and Yes! Weekly in Greensboro.
Hem: It’s kinda the opposite of blogging – boiling things down and being non-newsy because deadlines are such that you can’t be.
Haw: Hey, it’s beer money.
Hem: Blogging a bunch of things first and building a column from the posts is a cool idea.
Haw: Who has time to reconstitute all that stuff?
Hem: The online and print world must merge someday!
Haw: In reality, the goals/mission of a print column and the goals/mission of a blog are different.
Hem: Having a a print column is very prestigious.
Haw: Sure, unless it starts to suck.
Hem: Um . . .
Haw: Beer money

While all this deep thinking was going on Mr. Womack called and settled things by offering to let me out of my contract saying Yes! is making a few changes and won’t be needing my services in 2008.
We had a nice talk about newspapering and such and it was a swell end to a decent run of typing.

So, since the beer money has dried up, that’s that.


TWC: Blue Yodel No. 171

Blue Yodel No. 171
Randy Parton said it best the night he was told to leave his namesake theater. Speaking to a couple of reporters upon exit, Parton – brother o’ Dolly – noted that he’d fulfilled his obligations to the City Of Roanoke Rapids and then neatly summed up in a pissed-off-country-singer kind of way the state of what was once touted as Branson East.

“You see anything else out here?” he snarled.

Indeed, sport.

Parton was, save a Tuesday Christmas show with Charlie Daniels, the only thing on the schedule in the only building in a complex meant to rescue another beleaguered mill town from economic gloom.

Now, thanks finally to the release of expense records, the taxpayers are learning a little more about what Mr. Parton did with his free time and the folks that cut the deal with him are shocked, shocked, that there was high living and tomfoolery afoot.

So they canned him and called him names. There will be lawsuits flying before long and my hunch is that “Take This Job and Shove It” got added to Parton’s set.

And while the city fathers will try to pass off some surprise at what was happening, this relationship was headed for a heartache from the beginning.

A look at Exit 171 on prestigious Interstate 95 where sits the Randy Parton Theater reveals exactly the kind of not much that the singer referred to. This may be an interstate exit ready to hit the big time, but not this year and not anytime soon. No, it is not yet, as one press release put it, a “music and entertainment venue that will become a nationally-recognized travel destination for our state.” No, for now this is another boondoggle you can pin at least in part on some star-struck local leaders, but mainly on this state’s provincial patchwork of economic development “partnerships” – a system that rewards the politically connected and well-heeled, but rarely dreams big for the rest of us. (One may recall that the Tall Ships fiasco in 2005 was championed by a similar regional partnership.)

There may be folks involved who really, truly believed that the first phase of the “quality, family entertainment venue” on Exit 171 would directly create 2,595 new jobs and millions in new revenue rolling into Halifax County, but it was clear that those folks, along with the people charged with its oversight and analysis, were not tethered to this earth.

In announcing the deal a couple of years ago, the state’s Northeast Regional Partnership noted that the project was supported by findings from a consultant and a study by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Center for Competitive Economies, which according to the partnership estimated the music theme park would have an overall economic impact to the state of more than $500 million and would lead to 12,250 jobs.

But when you’re filling the roles of both booster and oversight, it’s easy to make the numbers dance the way you want them. Until the state, which created these partnerships, steps in and reforms the structure, this won’t be the only blue yodel for the taxpayers.

EJS: Dec. 6

Backblogin again.
From the column on December 6

The Guv gets it
Affix blame, if you would, firmly with the campaign class – the pollsters, consultants and money folks – and shame to the candidates who listen to them. I’m talking about the reaction of our gubernatorial candidates to a ruling that allows undocumented immigrants the opportunity to a community college education in the state of North Carolina.

Immigration is the new gay and thanks to the steady work of demagogues, those afeared of being “soft” on immigration are trying to outrun each other to whatever quadrant political game theory says is safest. Read more

Exile on 08 Senate race Part Deux

Putting the column up early due to the timeliness of it:

Deal with it

The question is no long whether the state can deal with a gay candidate running for high federal office. Jim Neal, who announced his run for Senate last month, spent an hour last weekend on BlueNC, answering questions about policy, politics and the Senate race. He also plainly and directly answered the question about whether he was gay. His reply went like this:

Subject line: Gay
Text: I am indeed. No secret and no big deal to me — I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think otherwise.

So, now the question is how will this state deal with an openly gay individual running for high federal office. Neal, obviously, is not going to dwell on it and intends to focus on what he would do if elected and on Elizabeth Dole’s record as a defender of an administration with an approval rating that rivals Nixon’s during the last days of Watergate.
Besides, it’s apparent that he’s already “dealt” with the fact that he’s gay. And, unlike other figures in the state’s history, he’s candid and comfortable. Now, it’s everyone else’s turn and what remains to be seen is how the rest of the Democratic Party responds, how the press treats the news and how the mudslingers on the right deal with someone who is not trying to dodge things.
Conventional wisdom has GOP strategists licking their chops. Vernon Robinson, who had his lunch consumed regularly in the last election, kept trying to link Rep. Brad Miller to some kind of Bay Area left-wing gay conspiracy (I’m still trying to follow the dude’s logic on that). And in the twilight of his years, even Jesse Helms, who made any contribution or endorsement of his opponent from the gay community political kryptonite, has acknowledged the damage of his demonizations. Nevertheless, look for prominent Republicans to offer Democrats friendly advice on the subject for the next year.
On the Democratic side, there are stories of some campaigns panicked about the effect on the rest of the ticket in eastern NC. There’s also a long-running split among the African-American clergy over gay issues that has been exploited in the past and is likely to be again. Meanwhile, Neal’s straightforward acknowledgement has been a breath of fresh air for many Democrats in and out of North Carolina. For some, it’s an example of much-needed courage. And the netroots, as one might guess, are a bit blown away that such a story would emanate from the South.
And the press? Well, as of this writing, the printed and broadcast press have not jumped all over the story, (links below) but you can bet the pollsters are redrafting a few question and we’ll see stories on the results soon.
So a conversation has started – one that we all ought to have had years ago. There’s also a higher level of transparency and candor in a business ruled for too long by sleight of hand and coded linguistics.
Deal with it.

Update: The N&O front-pages the story (gets BlueNC’s name wrong though).

AP has a story on it as well as featured on the heavily commented thread on WRAL.

TWC: The flip tax

The flip tax

I don’t know about you, but when I see a political organization whose name includes the phrases “concerned citizens” “good government” or “protecting the American dream” the BS detector in my head goes off with enough volume to wake the dead.
So imagine the cacophony as I scrolled through a list of “local committees” set up to fight the real estate transfer tax in the 17 counties that have it on the ballot this fall. Now, most of these organizations’ titles are plainly put — “Something-Something County Against the Transfer Tax” — but a few have to trumpet their effort to protect home equity, homeownership or, in the case of Pender County, “protect the American dream.”
After reading that name, I was a little worried that my homework on the transfer tax, which applies a .4 percent tax on the sale of real estate, is incomplete, because I could not for the life of me see how an extra $1,000 on every $250,000 was that big of a threat to our way of life.
Thankfully, Reuters settled it for me in a recent, unrelated article about the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. In the article, an individual in New York left holding the bag when values and sales plummeted on houses in which she was speculating said the American Dream in the 21st century involves flipping properties at a handsome profit. I suddenly felt silly and old thinking it was still a brick ranch in a quiet neighborhood. And that totally explains why Pender of all counties would choose to protect that dream – flipping property there is bigger than Texas Hold ’Em and Hair Bands put together.
You can find all the local groups on the revamped itsabadidea.org website, which is now stripped of any reference to the recent statewide campaign that failed to persuade the Legislature to not include a local option tax in this year’s budget. But please be aware, though, that there’s no sign on the site of Angie, the poor woman who drove around the state in a red pickup trying to warn us. She was so caught up in the effort to fight the tax, and now that she’s vanished without a trace I’m left wondering – worrying, really – what happened to her. Is she in some kind of narrative commercial limbo along with that couple who were always on the verge of getting it on thanks to Taster’s Choice coffee?
Evidently, the NC Realtors PAC, which sponsored Angie and her truck, have moved on and their website is focusing instead on the above-mentioned local organizations. Curiously, all those local organizations have managed to purchase toll-free phone numbers, most of which seem to have a very similar voice asking you to leave a message.
As you can imagine, money is flowing into these campaigns from local and state interests. According to Greg Flynn, a journalist who has been tracking the money going into the effort to stop the transfer tax, RPAC has already spent close to $2 million this year and last. Links and finance reports are at Flynn’s site, stopthenchometicks.blogspot.com
One thing to keep in mind is that this battle won’t end on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Several counties that considered the tax opted to wait to put them on the ballot until the May primaries.