Rep. Larry Pittman, Jesus Would Never Have Sent That Email Concerning Arming Teachers

While evoking the paraphrased words of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, Rep. Larry Pittman once again is calling for more guns to be in our schools.

And this call had some extra extremism added to them.

pittman

From an email he sent to all NCGA members on April 16th:

“We need to allow teachers, other school personnel and other citizens, who are willing, to be screened and to receive tactical training and bring their weapons to school, in cooperation with local law enforcement who would need to be informed as to who is doing this.  We should give them a fighting chance.  Otherwise, when they die, and children die whom they could have defended, their blood will be on our hands.  I cannot accept that.  I hope you will think this through and find that you cannot accept it, either.”

“Blood on our hands.” That’s what he said.

“Blood on our hands.”

Ironic that a pastor/extreme guns’ rights activist asked for people to be screened but still be against gun control laws that call for “screening” of potential gun buyers.

Pittman goes further and says,

“What we must not do is to allow ourselves to be misguided by emotionalism to enact further gun control laws that violate the Second Amendment and the rights of honest citizens.  Such new gun control laws will not solve the problem.  They will only leave good people defenseless, when the best way to stop an evil person with a gun is a good person with a gun.  We will help nothing by violating the rights of 18-20 year old citizens or discriminating against a certain set of long guns simply on the basis of their cosmetic appearance.”

“Emotionalism?” Remember this?

pittman

That was in reference to a Facebook comment on another user’s post.  Pittman and his apparent “emotionalism” speculated the Florida shooter was part of a conspiracy to “push for gun control so they can more easily take over the country” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article200294174.html).

The original picture was not correct in the first place. And Pittman is not correct in this instance either.

And that mention of “the best way to stop an evil person with a gun is a good person with a gun” is straight from the mouth of Wayne LaPierre who after the Sandy Hook Massacre quoted,  “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Pittman didn’t even give LaPierre credit for the use of a “zero-sum” fallacy. Besides, most teachers in this state who have been polled think that having a “good guy” with a gun is another way of endangering more people.

Let it not be lost that Pittman is an ordained Presbyterian minister. From the NRA to the pulpit to the General Assembly to the email inbox of many, what Pittman is doing is literally shilling more guns for the gun lobby.

It is hard to not look at Pittman as a “man of God” and not want to tell him that he already has “blood on his hands.”

It seems that many politicians like Pittman who claim to be hardline “pro-lifers” are helping to privatize the very institutions that are giving “life” to many individuals. As a representative, it would seem like Pittman would want to support more actions that would give life to so many.

We are in a state where almost 1 in 4 children live in poverty. What has Pittman as a lawmaker done for that? Created a surplus while cutting taxes for those the highest earners?

Did Pittman preserve life by voting to expand Medicaid to many in the state? No. He let our citizens continue to pay money to the federal government to help finance other states’ Medicaid program.

Did Pittman vote to punish those companies that hurt water supplies for those who have to use that water for living?

Lack of medical care, shelter, food, and basic resources kill people. That’s blood on someone’s hands. The Jesus that I think Pittman refers to would not like that.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would not confront politicians and call them out for their hypocrisy in not defending or helping take care of those who needed aid.

The Jesus I know called out the Sadducees and the Pharisees for their self-righteous ways.

The Jesus I know did not canvas for votes. He came to help all of us no matter race, gender, or physical ailment.

The Jesus I know preached and practiced the Golden Rule through his actions and not his emails.

That’s not what Pittman is doing.

Far from it.

“As Clear As The Setting Sun” – Sen. Phil Berger Should Not Be Re-elected

hamlet skull

To be or not to be: that is the question.
Whether to suffer under Berger more,
Or elect someone who works for us all
And not swim against a sea of troubles.

If Shakespeare has taught us anything about human nature and our lives (actually he has taught us much), then we would certainly know that the state of the king’s palace usually dictates the state of the kingdom. Just review perhaps his most famous play, Hamlet, where the greed of one man for power (Claudius) causes a chain of events that literally bring down a kingdom, takes innocent lives, and even makes the dead come back.

Consequently, the state of the General Assembly and the actions of its players has direct effects on the state of North Carolina as a whole. But one of these players has had the leading role for a while in Raleigh, Sen. Phil Berger.

In this drama of an election year, it is worth beseeching our fellow North Carolinians who live in Rockingham and Guilford counties who also have Sen. Phil Berger as their state senator to seriously contemplate his actions as a legislator and the effects they have had on the rest of the state. Why? Because…

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Marcellus, I,iv).

Something is rotten in the state of North Carolina. The list of offending actions causing this state of decay is long and well-documented. And Sen. Berger has been the chief architect in most all of them.

There was the religious freedom bill. There was the Voter ID law. There was HB2. There were the countless attacks on public education. There was the tax “reform” that has placed more burden on the middle class of the state. There was the marriage amendment. There was a reduction of benefits for the unemployed. There was the refusal of Medicaid expansion.

All of it has been poison poured into the ears of North Carolinians. It adds to the madness of North Carolina.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Polonius, II,ii). 

While many of our constituents may debate the merits of who should go into what bathroom or who should be able to marry whom, there have been deliberate, calculated attempts at consolidating power on a state level by this man at the expense of others. Sen. Berger has thrown out so many red herrings to take attention away from what has really happened in legislative sessions that many are convinced it is madness to go against his policies.

But there is a method to it. The thought that some would want grown men to go into girls’ locker rooms at a public school is madness. But that is the deception – a method to extend power over local municipalities about how people can sue in state courts or how local municipalities can contract work.

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain” (Hamlet, I, v). 

Shakespeare was often very wary of how villains presented themselves. Iago was “two-faced” showing a public side to hide private motives. Edmund people-pleased in order to destroy them. Richard III smiled constantly in the very faces of people he eliminated.

The public facade can often be a mask for other motives. Rather than focus on the smiling visage of a politician, listen to his words, read his explanations, and then compare them to his actions. And why? Because…

“The Devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape” (Hamlet, II,ii).

No, Sen. Berger is not the Devil. But I do think he will have a lot to answer for when he greets his maker as he is asked what he did for those who needed the most help. So, I beseech you to…

“Listen to many, speak to a few” (Polonius, I,iii). 

Yes, he is an incumbent for your district. He supposedly represents your ideals. But consider that his actions have had deleterious effects on all North Carolinians. In his efforts at gerrymandering districts, he has shown us all his conscious efforts at squashing voices who disagree with him.

Ask any public school teacher outside of your district and nine times out of ten, that teacher will be able to directly name Sen. Berger as an adversarial presence in public education.

Ask any person in the LBGT community who has faced discrimination.

Ask any parent who needs Medicaid to help with healthcare coverage for his/her child.

Ask any of the almost one in four kids in our state who live in poverty.

Ask any small municipality (even Hamlet, NC) about having Raleigh overrule their own local ordinances.

 “This above all: to thine own self be true” (Polonius, I,iii).  

The operative words here are “true” and “truth”. Don’t allow political double-speak and platitudes to cover up what is the truth. And the truth is what affects lives. Sen. Berger has affected a lot of lives – negatively.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (Hamlet, III,i).

Maybe the question should be, “To vote, or not to vote.” The answer is yes, you should. But please consider who you vote for, because if life is a stage, then the rest of the state and even the country is watching the play.

Don’t let this end tragically. Don’t let us be haunted by ghosts of actions past. We can have a new script.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robbing Peter to Pave For Paul – Rep. Jon Hardister’s Misguided Amendment for Charter Schools

Robbing Peter to pave for Paul.

That’s what a recent amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister would do. According to the News & Observer,

A budget amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister, a Greensboro Republican, cuts $2.5 million in road maintenance money to provide grants for charter schools that serve low-income students and want to provide student transportation – a service that many charter schools don’t offer.

“If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school,” Hardister said (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article153682054.html).

hardister

Hardister, a former board member of the Greensboro Academy Charter School (which now has Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes on its board of directors), has not been shy about his championing of “school choice.” Along with the Opportunity Grants, the Achievement School District, and charter school cap removal, Hardister has been a leading voice in offering “reforms” that have not shown any empirical evidence of working on a broad scale.

So, it is not surprising that he offers this amendment. But his quote above gives another glimpse into the disconnect that many in Raleigh suffer from when it comes to low-income students and academic achievement.

Hardister said, “If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school.” That’s true.

But if a student is on free or reduced lunch, it can be harder for that student to learn. Period.

Beginning his fourth year in the state House, Hardister has watched his own political party craft social policies and voted along party lines on the very issues that affect why so many students are on free and reduced lunch to begin with.

Ironically, Hardister serves an area in Guilford County that literally borders the infamous 12th congressional district that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court for racial profiling. In fact, it was considered one of the top ten most gerrymandered districts in the nation by many watchdogs. That charter school he was a board member of? Yep, it’s in that 12th district.

It seems that if Rep. Hardister really wanted to make sure that kids who were on free and reduced lunches had a better chance for a quality education, he would have spoken loudly about how the very students who fit that description in his hometown and their families had their voices muffled because of the GOP’s redistricting efforts to place minority voters in the same voting areas.

And since Hardister is an ardent supporter of vouchers, he probably subscribes to the standard party mantra that “parents know best where to send their kids for school.” Give those parents a voice in voting and they may choose that what’s best is that the state fully fund public schools where their kids already have transportation and are already part of the community.

Did Rep. Hardister stand against recent budget proposals that literally wiped out a quarter of the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction? No. But he surely knows that while DPI is far from perfect, many rural counties with high populations of free or reduced lunch students depend very much on DPI’s services.

Did Rep. Hardister question the further investment in the Opportunity Grants when there still is a lack of oversight of the schools that take vouchers? Did he read the report by the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University that showed how flawed the voucher system really is all the while voting on budgets that brought down the per-pupil expenditure for traditional public schools?

Did Rep. Hardister consider that the budgets he greenlighted made the state’s public university system more expensive for the graduates of our high schools? NPR did a report just yesterday that talked about how the dwindling investment by states like NC in their university systems is actually preventing more low-income kids from going to college. And after the catastrophe of Betsy DeVos’s first 100 days in office, the promise pf getting a student loan that could actually be paid off in a reasonable amount of time disappeared.

Did Rep. Hardister even fight to expand Medicaid for those in the state who have students in their families that receive free or reduced lunches? Hungry students have a hard time learning. Sickened ones do as well.

So this amendment to take money from the transportation budget to make sure that some of these charter schools can transport students to and from school seems more like lip service from a politician. Because if Rep. Hardister really wanted students who received free or reduced lunches to succeed in school, he would do everything in his power to make sure that those students did not have to get on a bus already hungry or sick.

But if those students did come to school hungry and sick, why not fully fund the public schools and give them the resources to combat the very needs that plague these students. More teaching assistants, guidance counselors, nurses, counseling, before and after school programs would help, but that would require investment. Is he willing to do that?

If Hardister is keen on helping kids, then he would invest in the very things that helped them.

And if education is the road to a better life in both the literal and metaphorical manner, then Hardister better not take money from the “road” budget; he should be adding money to it.

“Suffer the Children” – The Willful Ignorance of the North Carolina Senate

suffer

Matthew 19:14 in the King James Version of the Bible states,

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

It is a verse that combines two very specific words: “suffer” and “children.”

The KJV was produced over 400 years ago under the direction of the monarch who followed Elizabeth I to the throne of England, a woman who ushered a golden age for her country and launched its exploration into the new world patronizing the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh for whom our state named its capital.

Interestingly enough, the word “suffer” in that context means “permit.” Jesus was instructing his disciples to allow the children to come unto him.

In the Raleigh, North Carolina of today the words “suffer” and “children” have been often combined.

Except, “suffer” means something totally different and something totally non Christ-like.

In this modern context, “suffer” means to subject to something bad or painful. And what has been revealed this week in the North Carolina Senate’s budget proposal certainly is adding suffering to many children.

This is the same governing body that refused to expand Medicaid to many low-income families that have children thus negating their access to preventative healthcare.

And while bragging about a state surplus in revenue while “serving” a population where over %20 of the children lives in poverty, the NC Senate proposed the following according to NC Policy Watch’s Brian Kennedy:

As we wrote about last week, the Senate budget seeks to permanently prevent North Carolina from providing food assistance to low-income families with children through a process known as broad-based categorical eligibility (CAT EL).

A special data request to the Department of Health and Human Services finds that eliminating CAT EL would strip food assistance from more than 133,000 low-income North Carolinians, 51,345 of whom are children who will also no longer receive free or reduced cost school lunched.

Thirty-six percent of the households that will lose food assistance have children, 28 percent support elders, and 23 percent are households with disabled persons.

What is most egregious about this provision is that SNAP is completely federally funded. The elimination of CAT El would result in ZERO cost savings to the state (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/05/15/nc-senate-budget-strips-food-assistance-children-families/#sthash.5GQaO9W7.dpuf).

It should also be noted that the same senate budget proposal also LOWERS North Carolina’s ranking in per pupil expenditure from 42nd last year to 43rd this year according to figures reported by WRAL (http://www.wral.com/nc-ranks-35th-in-nation-for-teacher-pay-ranked-41st-last-year/16693105/).

And add to that, there was this as reported by thinkprogress.org’s Lindsay Gibbs:

At 3:07 a.m. on Friday morning, North Carolina Senate GOP leaders rushed through a budget amendment that stripped education funding for teaching assistants and STEM programs in districts led by Democrats, cut funding to provide fresh produce to food deserts, reallocated money that was supposed to go to an arts museum and a downtown revitalization project, and eliminated a position that works to secure federal aid for disaster relief.

It appears the amendment wasn’t passed to achieve specific policy goals though, but rather as an act of political retribution after a prolonged and contentious budget negotiation in the state’s senate (https://thinkprogress.org/north-carolina-senate-gop-targets-children-who-live-in-democratic-districts-37e03adae03d).

So there are actions that affect the health of children. And there are actions that affect the food sources for children. And there are actions that affect the education for children.

That’s a lot of suffering and children, but not the kind of “suffering” Christ seemed to be talking about.

Ironic that many of those same state senators profess Christ as their savior and moral compass.

But professing Christ and acting like Christ can be two completely different things.

 

Map It And It Becomes Very Apparent That Medicaid Expansion Refusal Affects Schools

On Sept. 5th, I constructed a post concerning the high correlation between poverty, school performance grades, and the gerrymandered districts within North Carolina.

Yesterday, NC Policy Watch referenced a study by the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund in Chapel Hill entitled  “Putting a Face on Medicaid Expansion in North Carolina.” You can reference it here:

http://www.law.unc.edu/documents/poverty/publications/medicaid_report_final.pdf

The title graphic literally explains it all.

medicaid

Now, I invite you to reread that post (in italics) and consider the new graphic shown above, “Percent without Health Insurance by County”, in relation to the original graphs.

Political leanings and lenses aside, sometimes data can create a picture so vivid that it is really hard to argue against the conclusions.
Last week, the state of North Carolina released its school performance grades for the 2015-2016 school year. With pretty much the same parameters kept in place, the results really did nothing but reconfirm that the majority of schools which receive low or failing grades are usually schools with high poverty rates in their respective student bodies.
But there’s another correlation in the data that needs to be made note of – how it aligns to the gerrymandered districts recently struck down by the court system.
If you have not visited EdNC.org, then take the time to do so. They have been kind to post some of my op-eds and they do try and show / represent all sides of the educational debate. And there are many viewpoints passionately defended.
They also have a feature that is invaluable. It’s the Data Dashboard. You can find it here – https://www.ednc.org/data/.  Take the time to peruse this resource if public education is a top issue for you.
Here is a dot map of the 2014-2015 school performance grade map for the state (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/03/consider-it-mapped-and-school-grades/) .

map1

Take notice of the pink and burgundy dots. Those are schools in the “D” and “F” category.

medicaid

Now look at a map from the dashboard for Free and Reduced lunch eligibility for the same year.

map2

If you could somehow superimpose those two images, you might some frighteningly congruent correlations.

medicaid

Now look at a map that shows the percentage of African-American students in each county’s population. It is also from the EdNC.org dashboard.

map3

If I could superimpose all three maps then I could show readers how confident I am that the correlation between the population of African-Americans, poverty, and school performance grades is incredibly strong.

medicaid

And there is a reason that I have not included other minority groups. That’s because when the Voter ID law was recently repealed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the subsequent appeal to that decision by the governor  was dismissed by the Supreme Court, the courts specifically pointed to the “surgical precision” that the law targeted African-Americans and poorer people.
And here is a map of our current congressional districts, two of which were considered to be “gerrymandered” districts by federal courts, specifically districts 1 and 12. Images come from The News & Observer report  from Feb 6, 2016 entitled “Federal court ruling corrects gerrymandered NC  districts”   (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article58911173.html).

districtmap1

 

medicaid

congressmap01

See any correlation to the maps above with the data that appears in the maps concerning school performance grades, numbers of free and reduced eligible students, and percentages of African-American students? I do.
Wow! Do I ever.

See any more correlation?

Wow! Do I still ever!

Legivangelists and Others who Praise the Lard

Having grown up in a small town in the deep South during the 1970’s and 80’s, it was not uncommon to view televangelists on weekends, especially when only four or five channels were available to watch. Claims made by these people were seemingly noble and altruistic, but they always asked for money to do God’s work. They wore sharp suits, had fantastic hair, and convinced many that if money was sent, then God’s glory could be delivered.

I will never claim that all televangelists were and are shady. Billy Graham has been an inspiration to many here in North Carolina. My mother read his books and watched his sermons. He never came across as greedy and truly seemed interested in helping people.

But there are some people who seemed to cross a line and used the Lord’s name as a resume builder, a salary raiser, and a policy shaper.

Think about Jim and Tammy Bakker and the PTL Empire. Think about Oral Roberts and his claim that if he didn’t raise enough money that God would take him from the earth. Think about Jimmy Swaggart and his famous admission of infidelity.

I especially remember seeing Ernest Angley (a native North Carolinian) asking for people to touch the television screen so that he could heal people through the air waves. It was fascinating and even I as a young boy would touch the static-laden screen. But one day I asked myself, “If he could do that through the TV, then why couldn’t  Rev. Angley just go down to the local hospital and heal those people for free?” Certainly that would be favorable to God.

From then on, I became understandably more skeptical of those who profess a strong faith but whose actions seemed to alienate the very people who needed the most help.

Claims of helping the poor and those in need seem to have been very profitable for many of these televangelists. It allowed them to raise massive amounts of money and garner enough power to control the emotional and moral compass of many. There is a strong correlation between those televangelists and many that we have in elected office in Raleigh who make the same claims of altruism and preach a common sermon that has raised massive amounts of money to do the great work that needs to be done.

These politicians need a name befitting their purpose in mixing personal politics with evangelical callings; therefore, I submit a new entry into the lexicon of our language: legivangelist.

Legivangelist  – (n.) one who preaches to constituents about how holy his cause is in hopes of obtaining votes in elections  to maintain power over those he claims to help

Ironically, like many of the televangelists of the 80’s and now, legivangelists are being somewhat dishonest about their true intent in helping the poor and trodden. They are singing what Ulysses Everett McGill calls in O Brother, Where Art Thou?  “songs of salvation to salve the souls” to voters. And it is not for the glory of the Lord. It is for the advancement of a political agenda.

Take for instance the Opportunity Grants. Many of these legivangelists told North Carolinians that we needed to help the poor to get a good education. Rather than fully funding public schools and competitively paying qualified teachers, what happened was a voucher system that allows taxpayer money to be diverted to private (ironically mostly religiously affiliated) schools for someone else’s profit.

What was presented as a solution for poor students was really a way to weaken public schools by siphoning money and resources away from where they were originally intended.

Another example is the idea for school choice and charter schools. Legivangelists saw an opportunity to use more tax payer money to finance privately-run charter schools so that all people could have a “God-given” right to choose the school for their students even when that charter school makes a profit and can be selective in its student body and totally bypass regulation and testing.

Again, it is a tactic to present oneself as holy and giving, but in reality it is hurting others (public school students) for a profit of money and/or political power. Charter schools have shown to be less diverse than traditional public schools; they have a highly selective process in building a student body.

The HB2 bill just passed into law was aimed at protecting women and children from certain but nonexistent attack from sexual predators. However, in reality it was nothing more than a scheme to allow for more discriminatory legislation and a power grab over local municipalities. It was using the ruse of protecting our women and children for the sake of politics. In fact, it was using women and children as pawns in an unholy scheme.

When a state has almost one in four children in poverty and facing hunger, homelessness, and uncertainty, real believers in the tenets of Christ do not adhere to exclusionary practices; they attack the source of the problems like income inequality and equitable resources.

When health care costs are rising at vast rates, real believers in the tenets of Christ do not neglect the sick and ill. They certainly would not decide to withhold Medicaid expansion from the very people, especially children, who need it most just to make a political statement.

When coal ash deposits are allowed to poison drinking water sources people, real believers in Christ would not still call for deregulation and not punish those companies involved. Simply changing the criteria for what is considered clean water does not make the water any cleaner for children to drink. That’s like changing the definition of water so that it can be called wine, and none of these legivangelical politicians could ever really change water into wine.

Tears for “repentance” have been shed many times by televangelists with or without gobs of mascara, and people like Jim Bakker were eventually found out and served time in jail or were disgraced in the court of public opinion. There was a judgment day, so to speak, for all of these people who misguided their followers for profit.

However, a judgement day for North Carolina’s legivangelists comes every election cycle when people have the opportunity to vote.

The book of James states (1:27), “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Jesus did not discriminate, God has no grandchildren, and those who profess a true adherence to Christ’s teachings let their actions speak louder than their spun words.

Just watch how they treat all children.