Phil Berger and The Beastie Boys

For a country kid from rural Georgia, hearing the Beastie Boys song “Fight For Your Right” for the first time was a bit of a culture shock, but whenever I hear it on the radio it brings back vivid memories of the late 1980’s.

Now, I will admit that “Fight For Your Right” was not an anthem of political power, but that doesn’t mean the Beastie Boys did not get political. They had lots to say and the strength of their musical career an iconic hip-hop group cannot be ignored even by those who disliked their brand of music. They are just the third rap group to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after Run-D.M.C. and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

I even remembered the day the Adam “MCA” Yauch died.

This past Wednesday, December 21st, the North Carolina General Assembly convened for its fifth special session of the year, reportedly to “repeal” the HB2 / bathroom bill in response to the city of Charlotte’s recent rescinding of its ordinance that supposedly started this whole mess, at least according to NCGA GOP stalwarts.

Yet, instead of any progress in repealing HB2, what happened was a waste of taxpayer money in a partisan display of undeveloped muscle mass.

Holding a super majority in both the senate and the house of the general assembly, the GOP could have easily passed whatever they may have wanted had they been united; however, Sen. Phil Berger literally could not wrangle his own party into consensus because he introduced the “split-question” and placed a provision for a “cooling-off” period.

Oh, please.

He sabotaged it. And the first song I thought of when the special session was adjourned to shouts of “Shame!” from the protesters? Yep. Beastie Boys.

beastie-boys-better-than-eminem

So queue the record. Turn up the volume.

“Sabotage”

I can’t stand it I know you planned it
I’m gonna set it straight, this watergate
I can’t stand rocking when I’m in here
Because your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear
So while you sit back and wonder why
I got this f***ing thorn in my side
Oh my God, it’s a mirage
I’m tellin’ y’all it’s sabotage

So listen up ’cause you can’t say nothin’
You’ll shut me down with a push of your button?
But yo I’m out and I’m gone
I’ll tell you now I keep it on and on

‘Cause what you see you might not get
And we can bet so don’t you get souped yet
You’re scheming on a thing that’s a mirage
I’m trying to tell you now it’s sabotage

Why; our backs are now against the wall
Listen all of y’all it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all it’s a sabotage
Listen all of y’all it’s a sabotage

I can’t stand it, I know you planned it
But I’m gonna set it straight this watergate
But I can’t stand rockin’ when I’m in this place
Because I feel disgrace because you’re all in my face
But make no mistakes and switch up my channel
I’m buddy rich when I fly off the handle
What could it be, it’s a mirage
You’re scheming on a thing – that’s sabotage

 

There’s no doubt that “He’s Crafty.” The disaster this special session was beyond “Intergalactic” and just a day of “Pass the Mic.”

The best thing for we North Carolinians to do is to “Get It Together” this next election cycle and “Make Some Noise,” “Shake Your Rump,” and get your “Body Movin’” to the polls and “Fight For Your Right.”

So “Ch Ch Check It Out” or there will be “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.”

 

P.S. – The video for “Sabotage” is a classic.

“Pro-Life” Also Means Taking Care Of Those Who Are Already Born

Since we are nearing the holiday season, I tend to think of this part of Dickens’s classic holiday novella.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

christmas-carol


The above passage from A Christmas Carol also comes to mind any time I hear elected officials talk about the role of government and the role of individuals in a nation that professes to be Christian in its founding and in its morals.

Below are three statements made directly by elected officials or posted on their official websites concerning morals and values. I am most interested in their use of the term “pro-life.”

“I believe strongly in the sanctity of life, and I have had the privilege of seeing many pro-life bills passed during my time in office. I am committed to standing up for the most vulnerable among us.” – Dan Forest, Lt. Gov. of NC

“A pro-life and pro-traditional marriage Senator who believes in religious freedom, Senator Berger has fought to protect the unborn and the rights of magistrates and government officials who choose to opt out of gay marriages or other ceremonies because of religious objections.” – philberger.org

“After 30 years of work on pro-life legislation, we were able to produce significant advances for the protection of the unborn and their mothers.  We ended tax funded abortions and sex selection abortion.  We authorized regulations to protect the health and safety of women at clinics. The Woman’s Right to Know Act with its 72 hour waiting period is reducing abortion rates by about 25%.” – Paul “Skip” Stam from paulstam.info

It is easy to confine the labels “pro-life” and “pro-choice” to the arena of unborn children. But the issue of abortion is not really the subject of this post.

Why? Abortion is too big of an issue to tackle in a personal essay and I am certainly not convinced that declaring yourself “pro-choice” automatically means that you condone abortion in any situation. Life throws too many qualifications into its equations to make all choices an either/or choice.

When my wife and I received a pre-natal diagnosis that our son had Down Syndrome, we were fortunate enough to be able to talk to a genetic counselor at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. The state of North Carolina had at the time in its laws stated that an abortion could not be performed after a certain date in a woman’s pregnancy. If we had chosen to have an abortion, we would have had to make that decision in a rather small amount of time.

We did not seek an abortion; it was not an option for us, but it was rather surreal to receive phone calls from health providers talking about that option because they had to legally inform us of our rights/options/legal restrictions. You might be shocked to know the percentage of people/couples who choose to abort with the information we had. I was.

It’s 93%. That’s right. 93%. And I am not about to judge those who did choose what is legally their right in the eyes of the law. There are too many variables in lives that I do not live to run around and make judgement calls.

I also will never carry a child in a womb. Neither will Dan Forest. Neither will Phil Berger. Neither will Paul Stam. Neitehr will Trump or whoever wins the governor’s race.

We had Malcolm and I would not trade anything for the experience of being his parent. Anyone who knows me and my family can testify to that. But he is no longer “unborn.” He is now in our world among others who need help to lead fulfilling lives.

However, I do get rather irritated when the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are used in a polarizing fashion, especially for political gain. And when I see the above three statements by prominent politicians, I do not necessarily sense a “pro-life” message as much as I sense an “anti-abortion” message.

Because “pro-life” means so much more than that.

Why are we not protecting the lives of those who are already born? I feel that being “pro-life” is not a matter reserved for the issue of abortion and the unborn, but should include those who are living and need help.

Hubert Humphrey once said in 1977, “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

If you are “pro-life” then it would make sense that you would look to the welfare of those who cannot necessarily defend themselves without help like the “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Is it not ironic that many who ran on a strict “pro-life” platform seem to be in favor of privatizing or redefining the very services that help sustain the lives of those whom they claim to champion.

Think of Medicaid that my own son has been on the waiting list for because he will need its services earlier than most people. If it becomes privatized, it may jeopardize his chances of getting the help he needs when he gets older. Within the state of North Carolina, not expanding Medicaid affects many “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Nationally speaking, think of Obamacare that insures many who would not be eligible if such a plan was not in place. While it is anything from perfect, it has insured many people who were never insured before. And have the parties in charge of the government offered anything else except “free-market?”

Think of the use of tax payer money to fund vouchers and charter schools that are actually privatizing public schools all in the name of “choice” when there should be a push to fully fund all public schools and provide for their resources because public education is a public service and not a private entity.

Dan Forest once said in reference to the HB2 debacle, “We value our women too much to put a price tag on their heads.

But hasn’t some of the “choices” that have been made by those in power been made because there was some sort of price tag on it?

It seems that many of the politicians who claim to be hardline “pro-lifers” are helping to privatize the very institutions that are giving “life” to many individuals. And they are doing it in the name of free-markets, where people are supposed to be able to choose what they want hoping that the “market” controls prices and quality.

How ironic that many politicians who proclaim to be “pro-life” become “pro-choice” when it pertains to those who are already born.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would call himself “pro-life” and allow for big banks (look at what Wells Fargo did) and pharmaceutical companies (think of EpiPens) to literally control prices and the market without a fight.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would have been willing to allow public money to fund private entities without input from the public itself.

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.

Growing up Southern Baptist in a region of the country known as the Bible Belt, I was constantly (still am) confronted with the question, “When you meet your Maker after you die, how will you answer for your actions?”

Yet the more I think of it, there might be another more important question that will require an answer from me and from all of us, especially those who have the power to positively affect the lives of people. That question is “What will you say when you meet your Maker and you are asked to answer for your lack of action?”

Back to Dickens. When Scrooge asked Marley’s ghost, who practiced an incredible amount of selfishness in life, about his afterlife, he was treated to a very terse lesson in what it meant to be “pro-life.”

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

When you become an elected official, then your business is humankind. That’s being “pro-life.”

An Open Letter to Gov. McCrory Complete With a Song Dedication – Apologies to Gerry Rafferty

Dear Governor McCrory,

Knowing that you just celebrated your 60th birthday, I thought I would send a song dedication to you.

Specifically a rewritten version of Gerry Rafferty’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” recorded with the group Stealers Wheel.

stealersstuck

It’s a classic from the 70’s and it seems to really sum up the situation that I perceive you are in with the upcoming election and the issue of HB2 casting a long shadow on your campaign.

That, and it’s a catchy tune.

Well, I don’t know why I’m promoting this law.
It’s caused more trouble than I foresaw.
I’m so scared and I publicly whine.
Cause I didn’t veto; don’t have any spine.
I claim “Charlotte’s to the left” of me,
Berger’s to the right, and here I am
Defending HB2.

Rick Rothacker’s October 18th news story in the Charlotte Observer (“In email, McCrory’s general counsel said governor fought against HB2”), you seem to insist that you may have secretly opposed HB2 during its radical adoption in last spring’s secret, special session.

Rothacker reported,

“Three days after Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2, his general counsel told a former legal colleague that the governor battled the legislature over the bill that limited protections for LGBT individuals, according to emails obtained by the Observer.

“Bob, here are the facts: We fought against this bill,” Bob Stephens said in a March 26 email to Bob Turner, a lawyer in Charlotte. “You have no idea how hard the Governor worked to limit it. He told the legislature that it went too far. We lobbied against it and even drafted our own version of the bill but it was not accepted.”

Stephens’ comments contrast with McCrory’s defense of the measure in recent months, even in the face of major sports boycotts of the state.”

That is rather eye-opening considering the effort that you have made to defend the controversial “bathroom bill” that has seen millions of dollars taken away from North Carolina’s economy through the loss of business expansion, cancellations of sports and entertainment events, and lost tourism in protest the discriminatory law.

Bob Stephens, your general counsel, later “defended” your complicit nature by stating,

“And don’t tell me the Governor should have vetoed the bill. His veto would have been overridden in a matter of days and we’d be right where we are now. If you have other ideas about what the Governor should have done, let me know.”

Actually, you should have vetoed.

Governor, in a re-election campaign that is literally becoming more of an uphill climb, you could have done more positive for your image than any commercial, political ad, website, testimonial, or explanation defending HB2 could have ever done. You could have vetoed it and shown some spine in confronting your own party.

Yes, I know that I’m vouching for HB2,
But I’m really wondering should I continue.
It’s so hard to keep this smile on my face.
Losing control, yeah, I’m all over the place.
NCAA’s to the left of me.
Tim Moore’s to the right, but here I am
Stuck with HB2.

Instead, you became a puppet for someone else’s discriminatory agenda and a mouthpiece of a fallacious and illogical argument.

If you had vetoed the bill as Mr. Stephens’s email hints at, you might have been able to show that you are not a rubber stamp for the policies of the GOP General Assembly.

You may have been able to distinguish yourself as your own person who keeps the best interests of all North Carolinians in mind, not just the ones who lead the GOP on West Jones Street.

And yes, your veto would have been overridden, but you would have made a statement and a stand that would have firmed up a rather shaky foundation of an administration.

But you willingly allowed yourself and your tenure as governor to be forever haunted with the albatross that is HB2 to go along with the Voter ID law and all of the other actions that have welcomed public education in NC.

Bob Stephens did say one other thing that seems very eye-opening in this storm of an election season.

He said,

“The Governor is always the lightning rod for these things. Not fair.”

Your blaming others for a law that cannot even be enforced and is hurting our state is not fair.

Being the lightning rod comes with the office; however, in this case you covered yourself with aluminum foil, held up a golfing putter, and climbed an even higher peak in the middle of a political and social tempest.

But no worries, if you don’t like the weather in North Carolina, just wait a while. It will change.

Hopefully on November 8th.

Trying to make some sense of it all.
But I can see that it makes no sense at all.
Can I now issue that veto?
Cause this issue won’t let me go.
Springsteen’s to the left of me,
My politics to the right, but here I am
Drowning because of HB2.

About That Letter to the Editor in the 9/1 Winston-Salem Journal Concerning “Johnny-Come-Lately Teachers” Who “Bicker”, “Complain”, “Cry”, “Whine” and Have “Little to Zero Standing”. It Deserves a Response.

I read with great interest (actually, many people did) your “Letter to the Editor” from September 1st entitled “Grateful for the raise” (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/the-readers-forum-friday-letters/article_9eef5d77-bcad-5c1b-9274-b1c01d9e45fc.html) that praised the actions of the current administration and the legislature concerning public education.

wsj

The full text follows as a reference.

“Count me in as a teacher who refuses to bicker and complain about the teacher salaries in North Carolina.

The teacher-pay issue has been paramount going back to when I was in high school over at R.J. Reynolds (class of 1987). These Johnny-come-lately teachers that cry and whine about the lack of teacher pay raises were completely silent when our pay was cut and frozen for a few years prior to the Republicans taking power in our state.

Anybody who chose teaching as a profession knowing the pay shortages that have historically afflicted the profession nationwide have little to zero standing to make these kinds of complaints. Sure, it would be nice to make more money, but it’s not as simple as snapping fingers to make it happen.

If the Democrats take power after this election I will be eager to see just how much this impacts teacher pay. My bet is it will impact teacher pay about as much as the N.C. Education Lottery has.

Thank you for the recent pay raise, Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature. Hope you can work another one in next year!”

It begs a response because there are many who are looking to teachers to inform them on what is really occurring in our public schools to help them determine whom to vote for in November.

Your missive called and labeled teachers advocating for better salaries and conditions in the current political climate as:

  • Those who “bicker” and “complain”
  • “Johnny-come-lately teachers that [sic] cry and whine”
  • Those who were “completely silent” during the Great Recession, and…
  • Have “little to zero standing”

And while the intent of such name-calling may have been to silence such individuals with an authoritarian tone, it actually confirmed that what many in the field of public education fight against most is the complete ignorance and lack of understanding of what has really happened, what is happening now, and what is allowed to take place.

You make the initial assertion that the very teachers who are confronting the current state government about teacher salaries were “completely silent” when pay was cut and frozen for a few years before the Republicans took power in NC.

First, it needs to be determined if the pay was cut or it was frozen. Those are two different actions.  My understanding (and I am not a history teacher) is that in 2009, then Gov. Perdue, a former teacher, FROZE salaries in response to the Great Recession that hit hard in that year. Revenues simply dried up. The economy was in shambles.

Couple that with more and more conservative Republicans coming into the state legislature who looked to cut taxes and what you have is an incredibly injured revenue pipeline to fund public education in a state that literally had doubled in population in the previous 30 years. In fact, in Gov. Perdue’s last two years, she literally was facing a General Assembly that was veto-proof in the Senate, and nearly veto-proof (four shy) in the House (http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/blogpost/11273413/ ).

Frankly, I don’t think many teachers were screaming for salary raises during Perdue’s tenure. I believe that many of us were fighting to keep teachers in the classroom period and at sustainable rates because there was no money really to even pay what we had. We gladly took furlough days and kept teaching when the salary schedules were also frozen because many of us understood what was at stake as teachers and in many cases parents.

We also had faith that when the economy recovered, we would experience the raises in the salary schedule identified when we signed contracts. Just look at the salary schedule from 2008 then add in longevity and the calculated inflation with the Consumer Price Index and you may be surprised. We are not even close to what was originally planned.

When recovery actually began to occur nationally, both the governor’s mansion and West Jones Street were under Republican control. And that’s when Phil Berger took the reins for policy. He said the following in a press conference right before the 2012 session,

“Higher taxes and more spending is [sic] not a solution to the problems that we have in our public schools. Until we get the policy right, I don’t think the taxpayers of this state are prepared or should be asked to put more money into the public schools.”

What that meant was that he would not allow the same rate of taxpayer money to go to public education in 2012 and beyond as it did before the Great Recession. And he kept that promise. In fact, Gov. McCrory seems to have carried the torch himself with never vetoing a budget proposal set forth by the NCGA. On the other hand, Gov. Perdue actually vetoed the budget in 2011 that you may have inadvertently made reference to. It was overridden making it hard to really pin a cut in pay or education resources on her.

No matter what recovery would happen, Berger was not going to allow funds for education to return to previous levels – levels which were originally championed by republican Governors like Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin, both of whom raised teacher salaries to ensure a strong public school system. Of course, democratic governors like Terry Sanford,  Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, and Bev Perdue also championed higher education budgets, but a couple of them did have to freeze pay during recessions. That’s just what recessions do to state budgets.

Consider that Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP-led legislature that you flatteringly thank did the following in the past three years as part of a “Carolina Comeback”:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

And that’s not even a complete list. During that time, North Carolina has been lagging behind other states in teacher compensation. Either those states have recovered economically at a quicker rate than NC or NC has nit prioritized public education in the same manner.

You complain about “Johnnies-Come-Lately?” The way things are regressing now, we won’t have “Johnnies-Become-Teachers”. And the raise you seem to be praising McCrory and the others on West Jones Street for? For about 7 out of 10 “Johnnies-Who-Have-Been-Here-Longer-Than-You “, they saw no raise at all. Some even experienced a reduction because that bonus we got last year was a one-time deal and we no longer get that longevity bonus.

And even now, we have a shortage of teachers in our own district. Imagine what that shortage is statewide.  Sounds like we have a lot of “Johnnies-Never-Came”.

The statement about teachers “knowing the pay shortages that have historically afflicted the profession nationwide have little to zero standing to make these kinds of complaints” is weak at best. Why? Because those “pay shortages” usually come during economic recession. People can’t spend as much money and therefore the tax revenues that fund public schools go through a drought.

But as Gov. McCrory claims with his latest commercials, we are in a “Carolina Comeback”. We are no longer under the oppression of a recession. Unemployment is low. Lots of jobs have come to North Carolina. We have revenue coming in. We EVEN HAD A SURPLUS last year. So what happened to it? It wasn’t reinvested in the state.

While NC still lags in teacher pay and almost a quarter of the students who come to public schools in our state live in poverty, the governor and the General Assembly are spending ludicrous amounts of money financing Opportunity Grants (over $900 million slated for the next ten years), charter schools, and other initiatives that seem to benefit speculators rather than the state as a whole. So maybe the “bickering” and “complaining” is really just some citizens actually telling their elected officials who are sworn to serve them that they have misplaced priorities.

If the democrats do take power, I will also be eager to see if they positively impact teacher pay. But be careful in comparing that impact to the effects of the NC Education Lottery. Last year alone Forsyth County received nearly $20 million dollars from the lottery, much of it to fund teacher assistant jobs in early grades. For parents of special needs children like myself, I am grateful for the lottery’s impact. In fact, since the lottery started in 2006, Forsyth County has received $131,924,952 according to figures from the official education lottery site. Go further into that report and you will see the following:

  • “Forsyth County has received more than $54,744,626 to help pay the salaries of 1022 teachers in grades K-3.
  • More than $42,863,643 raised by the lottery for school construction in Forsyth County meets needs that otherwise would have to be paid for with local property taxes. Local officials decide how to spend the money.
  • The N.C. Pre-K Program serves children at risk of falling behind their peers as they start kindergarten. More than $14,828,625 in lottery funds have paid for 3308 four-year-olds in Forsyth County to prepare for success.
  • College students who qualify for federal Pell Grants in Forsyth County have received9170 lottery scholarships. More than$10,339,776 in lottery funds have been used for tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies.
  • Lottery funds have also supplied 12780grants to college students attending state universities within the UNC system who qualify for UNC need-based financial aid. Those students have used more than$4,353,396 to help pay for the cost of their education” (http://www.nc-educationlottery.org/county.aspx?county=Forsyth).

That sounds like positive impact. And if those figures are incorrect, they would have been debunked by now.

Overall, your “letter of gratitude” reads more like a list of blanket statements laced with logical fallacies and glittering generalities offered to fit a narrative that aligns itself with partisan politics. Its timing and placement almost make it look like a rebuttal to comments made by one (or many) you claim “bickers”, “complains”, “whines”, and “cries”.

But in reality your rebuttal is weak, frail, and feeble.  It alienates those who are fighting so that the “Johnnies-Come-Lately” will become the “Johnnies-Become-Veterans” who will then provide the glue of the most important public service our state provides when the teachers of today are retired and gone.

And we will need those teachers then more than we could possibly fathom now.

“A Confederacy of Redundancies” – McCrory, Berger, and Moore’s Weak Responses to Voter ID Ruling

If you have never read the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, then do yourself a favor and get a copy. It’s exquisite. It’s about an out-of-shape anti-hero who sells hot dogs and frets over a supposed heart-condition in New Orleans who is courting a radical gal from New York and ultimately survives a parrot attack. No kidding.

A top-five all time book for me.

It’s the nonsensical element that drives this book and its ability to showcase a lot of the meaningless fodder that we as humans give so much power to.

We seem to be living in our own alternate reality here in NC as well, but maybe with the recent ruling to overturn the Voter ID law, reality may be coming back to the real.

However, if you listen to the responses from our governor and leading lawmakers in the General Assembly, then you can see why in some ways we are still in that alternate reality, one called “A Confederacy of Redundancies”.

After the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling and opinion, the governor’s office released the following statement from Gov. McCrory (http://governor.nc.gov/press-release/governor-mccrory-releases-statement-voter-id-ruling).

“Photo IDs are required to purchase Sudafed, cash a check, board an airplane or enter a federal court room. Yet, three Democratic judges are undermining the integrity of our elections while also maligning our state. We will immediately appeal and also review other potential options.”

Why is this redundant? It is the same red-herring argument that was used for the “Bathroom Bill” (HB2), when a nonexistent circumstance like transgender sexual assault in locker rooms for school children was used to validate the removal of LGBT rights across the state. In the case for this response, the governor is referring to non-existent voter fraud. If he can make people focus on voter fraud, then it takes the focus off the fact that the Voter ID law really is discriminatory.

The governor is responding with a lot of words that seemingly do not have much substance. When he shines a light on the Photo ID aspect, he tries to shadow over the fact that the law also lifted early voting, same day registration, and out of precinct voting. All of those directly affect minority voters and in this election cycle it is not a stretch to see that those citizens will primarily vote for the Democrats.

Also, there is that using an ID to buy Sudafed, cash a check, board and airplane, and enter federal court argument. Well, most of those are legal transactions that now need ID because of actual (not nonexistent) fraud committed – Sudafed for the meth problem, check cashing because of identity theft, airplanes because of terrorism threats, all of which are very real.

Entering a federal court usually means you are entering a federal building. There’s security measures used for all federal building – ALWAYS. ID would be a sensible way to enter; however, the last time I went to go vote in my precinct, I was not asked for an ID to get in the building. Security measures do not necessitate it. It is a church. God already knows my ID.

And if the governor was really worried about ID’s maybe he should see how easily it is to get a gun without an ID.

The joint statement released by Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore offers more rich redundancies. It says,

 “Since today’s decision by three partisan Democrats ignores legal precedent, ignores the fact that other federal courts have used North Carolina’s law as a model, and ignores the fact that a majority of other states have similar protections in place, we can only wonder if the intent is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians like Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper to steal the election. We will obviously be appealing this politically-motivated decision to the Supreme Court.”

“Partisan”? From these two people? Really?

North Carolina as a model? Tell that to Wisconsin and Texas. Both of those states were just ruled upon too for their Voter ID laws – by different court officials.

“Reopening the door for voter fraud?” You mean the nonexistent instances of voter fraud that occurred before you changed the laws to help “steal the election” for GOP members in NC in this election cycle?

Furthermore, Berger’s website offered more explanation of his position (http://www.philberger.org/berger_moore_respond_to_politically_motivated_ruling_blocking_voter_id).

“The voter ID law ensures any North Carolina citizen who wants to vote will have that opportunity. The law establishes a list of valid government-issued photo IDs that voters can present at their polling places, allows anyone without a photo ID to obtain one at no cost through the Department of Motor Vehicles, and allows anyone who still has difficulty obtaining a valid ID to fill out a reasonable impediment affidavit and still have their vote counted. It also brings North Carolina into the mainstream of other states on matters of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

More than 30 other states have voter ID requirements, and a similar law was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 2008.

Polls – including those commissioned by groups challenging the law – consistently show the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians support voter ID. And political opponents of the law failed to produce a single witness who would be unable to vote under the law in court. “

Isn’t it ironic that the response from these two gentlemen from rural counties would be produced after the ruling in about the same time frame as it took for them to ram through the Voter ID law after the federal courts loosened voter discrimination rulings? Hell, look at how quickly HB2 was conceived and passed.

If Berger and Moore want to cite polls, then that means they may want to get more public input in their decision making. Where was that with HB2? Would they have allowed voters to actually give input to voting? No, I think not. Besides, if you talk about polls, then allow polls to rule everything else.

Furthermore, some people cannot get one of those “ID’s” without a birth certificate, which is really the only form of
ID that shows proof of citizenry. Just ask Donald Trump with his obsessive birther scandal with Obama. Many older people do not have birth certificates. Minorities and poorer people do not have access to medical records easily.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals also took into account another item that Berger and Moore do not explain. An NPR report stated,

“The appeals court noted that the North Carolina Legislature “requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices” — then, data in hand, “enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.”

The changes to the voting process “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” the circuit court wrote, and “impose cures for problems that did not exist”(http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/07/29/487935700/u-s-appeals-court-strikes-down-north-carolinas-voter-id-law ).

That sounds more like voter fraud to me.

Oh, my valve!

Senate Bill 667 – You Need to Look at This One Because There’s a Reason It is Only 1 Digit From 666

The following is from a scene of the Tim Burton version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Veruca Salt: Daddy, I want a squirrel. Get me one of those squirrels, I want one!
Daddy Salt: Veruca dear, you have many marvelous pets.
Veruca Salt:  All I’ve got at home is one pony and two dogs and four cats and six bunny rabbits and two parakeets and three canaries and a green parrot and a turtle, and a silly old hamster! I WANT a SQUIRREL!
Daddy Salt: All right, pet. Daddy’ll get you a squirrel just as soon as he possibly can.
Veruca Salt:  But I don’t want any old squirrel! I want a *trained* squirrel!
Daddy Salt:[wearily] Very well. Mr. Wonka? How much do you want for one of these squirrels? Name your price.
Willy Wonka: Oh they’re not for sale. She can’t have one.
Veruca Salt: Daddy!
Willy Wonka:  [imitating Mr. Salt] I’m sorry, darling. Mr. Wonka’s being unreasonable.

This instance of enabling between a powerful businessman and his child is not an unreasonable stretch from reality as it is being played out every day. Take the following dialogue based on the fictional scene above and substitute real people and one can see yet another example of how art really does imitate reality.

Phil Berger, Jr.: Daddy, I want to win the election for the Court of Appeals. Get me one of those elected offices, I want one!
Phil Berger, Sr.: Junior, you have many professional accomplishments.
Phil Berger, Jr.: All I’ve been is one former district attorney with a lost bid for the state’s 6th Congressional District seat in 2014 and board position for a charter school in our home county of Rockingham! I WANT an elected office!
Phil Berger, Sr.:  All right, son. Daddy’ll get you an elected office just as soon as he possibly can.
Phil Berger, Jr.: But I don’t want any old office! I want the Court of Appeals Office!
Phil Berger, Sr.:  [wearily] Very well. Governor? How much do you want for signing Senate Bill 667? Name your price.
Gov. McCrory: Oh , well I am on vacation!
Phil Berger, Jr.: Daddy!
Gov. McCrory: I’ll sign. I always sign for you. I never veto.

veruca1veruca2

While the above script may not be word for word of what really transpired, it does seem to summarize what S667 does, which is allow for names to be listed on ballots in such a way that Phil Berger, Jr.’s name would come first on the ballot against a democratic incumbent.

Since it is not one of the higher profiled offices on the election docket, having one’s name first can create an advantage in getting elected. A WUNC.org post entitled, “New State Law Could Benefit Son Of Powerful Lawmaker”, former WFDD (Winston-Salem) reporter Jeff Tiberii reports (http://wunc.org/post/new-state-law-could-benefit-son-powerful-lawmaker#stream/0) :

Among the policies passed hastily in the final days of the legislative session is Senate Bill 667, a measure that would implement a new procedure for listing names on the ballot in the Court of Appeals race. Berger Jr. would be listed first, a placement that many experts say is advantageous. Incumbents are typically listed in that top slot on ballots.

“There are a host of studies on this and they are fairly consistent that being listed first on the ballot is an advantage,” said Chris Cooper, a political science and public affairs professor at Western Carolina, adding that the size of the advantage varies from about 0.7 percentage points at the low end to over 5 percentage points at the high end.

The effects tend to be greater in “lower information elections,” such as elections where the voters don’t know as much about the candidates, Cooper explained.

With HB2, education, and TABOR still on the table, this rapid act of nepotism and enabling could add another Berger to the rungs of the powerful, yet this time one will be in the judicial side of government with another still entrenched in the legislative side.

And this is not the first time the Berger, Sr. has maneuvered for Berger, Jr.

Sen. Berger has also been a proponent for charter schools. In 2014, there was a report that Berger, Sr. was helping his own son set up a charter school in Rockingham County (home district) while the very public schools there were suffering from lack of resources because of the very budget Berger, Sr. championed. Needless to say, that same budget was also very generous to charter school construction like the one Berger, Jr. wanted to start.

Danielle Battaglia reported that the Rockingham County school system was at the time literally having to rob “Peter to pay Paul” just to keep schools open and functioning. Classes lacked textbooks; copy paper was unaffordable; basic janitorial supplies could not be bought. You can read about that here: http://www.journalnow.com/news/state_region/rockingham-county-schools-short-on-the-basics/article_61b15a34-bcfd-5407-83a4-86a2830c5ab2.html.

That particular charter school, Providence Charter (co-founded by Phil Berger, Jr.), gained final approval from the state board in 2014 to open in Rockingham County and would have possibly enrolled 500 students. Who helps appoint the state board? The NC General Assembly of which Berger, Sr. is considered the most powerful. You can read about that here: http://www.newsadvance.com/rockingham_now/news/providence-charter-officially-approved-to-open/article_06f3390c-7976-11e3-904c-0019bb30f31a.html?mode=jqm. That article also explains how that charter school would have further hurt the ability of the traditional public schools in Rockingham County to operate.

Providence Charter in Eden, NC would have been the first charter high school in Rockingham County, but there already existed a charter middle school, Bethany Community Middle School. Who is on the board of that school? Yes, Phil Berger, Jr. In essence, Sen. Berger, Sr. was allowing and enabling his own son to weaken the very public schools in his home district.

Luckily, Providence Charter did not happen. Willy Wonka told Mr. Salt, “NO!”

But here comes Veruca, I mean, Phil Berger, Jr. again wanting something that an act of enabling and nepotism might actually create.

I just hope that Charlie and Mr. Wonka can stop this either through an actual, although rare, veto from a timid governor or a state population who will not vote for someone whose dad hoarded enough Willy Wonka Chocolate Bars to find a golden ticket to get on the ballot in the first place.

veruca3

“License Plates For Lawmakers”, Part 2

AS I have said before, North Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles allows car owners to purchase a customized license plate and personalize it with individual text and numbers – as long as it is not already taken by another motorist or it is too inappropriate. Monies collected go to the state with a donation made to the entity honored with the plate.

License plates can reflect so much of the owner’s personality, allegiance to college/pro teams or causes, and hobbies. Simply look at the DMV’s site and begin to imagine the possibilities (https://edmv.ncdot.gov/VehicleRegistration/SpecialPlate#term=Standard).

Try it. It’s fun.

However, with all of the different plates available, I did not see one that honors educators and public schools. Odd that my childhood state of Georgia does this as well as other states, but the fact that my home state North Carolina does not is a little disheartening.

So, I have made some more.

AND ALL OF THESE ARE GREEN LIGHTED. THAT MEANS I COULD ORDER THEM. WHO’S WITH ME?

  1. For Rep. Cecil Brockman who said in arguing for the Achievement School District, “If (teachers) don’t like it, good. This is about the kids. Who cares about the teachers? We should care about the kids. If they don’t like it, maybe it’s a good thing.”

hedupasd

 

2. This one is for Sen. Jerry Tillman, the champion of unregulated charter school growth.

h8pubschl

3. This one is for U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and his unrelenting stance on allowing people ot buy guns meant for military use even after the Orlando Massacre.

luvnra

4. and 5. These next two are for Gov. Pat McCrory and his inability to still explain HB2.

6. This plate is for Gov. McCrory’s hybrid that he drives to coal ash ponds that contaminate water for NC citizens.

clenh20

7. This is for Art Pope.

privatize

8. This is for Sen. Phil Berger and his attempts to spin his policies in such a way that it may appear to be beneficial to average North Carolinians.

spindr

9. For Donald Trump, since he will be in NC often in the next few months.

tinyhand

10. For Sen. Tom Apodaca and his hatred for Charlotte and its audacity to pas an ordinance protecting LBGT citizens from discrimination.

blameclt

11. This last one is for the governor. He has this on the car he uses to drive away from reporters who ask questions about his policies that he really doesn’t have answers for.

uscareme

Dammit Charlotte! You Made People Treat Sen. Apodaca Poorly – The Conspiracy Theory of a Slippery Slope

“I’ve never tried to help people in my life and be treated so poorly.” – Sen. Tom Apodaca, June 1st, 2016 in reference to SB 837.

And it is all the fault of Charlotte, NC.

Seriously. The Slip-n-Slide, slippery slope logic used in the past by Sen. Apodaca makes this easy to explain.

Charlotte passes an ordinance that protects the civil rights of the LGBT community. The General Assembly under a call from people like Apodaca is “forced” to fight that scourge of local government and convene a special session, secretly constructing HB2. Publicly saying that Charlotte “brought it on themselves,” Sen. Apodaca and other GOP members withstand a national backlash and even bring a lawsuit against the federal government to allow them to keep HB2 on the books.

But that’s when Bruce Springsteen, Maroon 5, and Cirque du Soleil started cancelling shows. Even England talked about us, as well as many governors and large city mayors.

Sensing that the negative image was hurting the reputation of the NC GOP, Sen. Apodaca, Sen. Berger, and Gov. McCrory begin crafting “feel-good” legislation trying to satiate those who have been hurt most by their lawmaking. This leads to empty teacher raises and the Access to Affordable College Education Act.

So, none of this would have happened if Charlotte had not done what it did.

Dammit, Charlotte! You made Adam Levine and The Boss force Apodaca to create SB 873 and then get his feelings hurt.

But, on a pseudo-serious note, I am sure that Sen. Apodaca does feel somewhat unappreciated after the backlash that occurred over Senate Bill 873, his attempt to “help” people get a college education while actually bankrupting some flagship HBCU’s and the largest public college campus in the western part of the state.

In what is becoming a rather intense swansong of his political career as a state legislator, Sen. Apodaca seems more intent on acting as if his heart is being worn on his sleeve.

John Hinton in his front page article on the June 2nd edition of the Winston-Salem Journal (“Apodaca to remove HBCU’s from tuition bill”) reported that Apodaca “said he was hurt by Tuesday’s comments by the Rev. William Barber II, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, who called the bill’s supporters ‘extremists’ and described the bill as an attack on the state’s historically black colleges and universities.”

Wow! That’s rich. If having someone tell you that you are wrong will get you to drop the bill, then many should have spoken out before on previous bills.

But they have, which makes Apodaca’s “excuse” childish and not genuine.

Rev. Barber has made many comments about some of the legislative actions of Sen. Apodaca. Look at reactions to HB2 or the Voter ID Bill, both of which have the senator’s fingerprints all over them. Look at the Moral Monday Movement. That’s more than a statement; that’s a moral revolution.

I wonder if the senator realized he may have hurt the feelings of the very people he hoped to “help” when he, as the “the second most effective legislator the past two sessions” according to the Henderson Lightning, led contentious votes along party lines.

Maybe it’s just kharma that his own feelings got hurt, but more than likely it’s just a lame excuse.

Sen. Apodaca was also quoted on June 1st as saying, “I’ve never had such a hard time trying to give away $70 million.” But he wasn’t trying to give it away. He was trying to create a diversion with strings attached. By allocating that $70 million for the first year the bill would be implemented, Apodaca never relayed how it would continue to be allocated after that to help the affected schools recoup revenue losses.

Just imagine if he was giving it away with good intentions.  I can’t. The timing smells of electioneering.

He seemed to be saving face in the eye of his record on public education and LGBT rights. He was wearing a crown of good intentions alongside his heart on his sleeve. And as the British Romantic poet William Blake once said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Ironically, the senator could “give away” much more money. The almost one billion dollars allotted for the Opportunity Grants over the next ten years would really be put to better use if given to the public school system. Giving back item deductions to working citizens would help. Expanding Medicaid would help.

But for someone who has shown ardent support of fracking, abortion restrictions, and election reform that is still being challenged in court, yet claims to be hurt by one person’s comments is placing false blame.

That’s because it’s still Charlotte’s fault.

 

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Syllables – Senate Budget Press Conference on Teacher Pay

 

Alex Granados of EdNC.org did a nice job of reporting on the Senate press conference on teacher pay proposal on May 26th (https://www.ednc.org/2016/05/26/senate-unveils-teacher-salary-pay-plan/).

If you go to the actual story on EdNC’s website, there is a video of the press conference. In it you will see who is present.

senatepressconference.png

Of course, Sen. Phil Berger is at the podium, but many may not recognize the others. Over Berger’s left shoulder is Sen. David Curtis. Ironic that he is on stage after his historic missive from two years ago in response to teacher Sarah Wiles when he literally bashed public school teachers (http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#stream/0).

Here is the text of that letter. If you are reading it again, then it is worth reviewing. If you have never read it, then brace yourself. He actually did a “reply all” when he sent it on his government email account which made it public property.

From: Sen. David Curtis

Date: May 12, 2014 at 9:46:57

Dear Sarah,

I have given your e-mail titled “I am embarrassed to confess: I am a teacher” some thought, and these are my ideas.  A teacher has an incredible influence on students–for good or for bad. My teachers, coaches, and Boy Scout leaders had a great influence on my decision to go to college which was not a family tradition. My concern is that your students are picking up on your attitude toward the teaching profession. Since you naturally do not want to remain in a profession of which you are ashamed, here are my suggestions for what you should tell your potential new private sector employer:

  1. You expect to make a lot more than you made as a teacher because everyone knows how poorly compensated teachers are.
  2. You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher
  3. You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old. Your employer will need to put about $16,000 per year into your retirement plan each year combined with your $2,000 contribution for the next 30 years to achieve this benefit.  If he objects, explain to him that a judge has ruled that the taxpayers of North Carolina must provide this benefit to every public school teacher. Surely your new employer wants to give better benefits than the benefits you received as a poorly compensated teacher.
  4. Your potential employer may tell you that he has heard that most North Carolina workers make less than the national average because we are a low cost-of-living- state, private sector workers making 87% of the national average and teachers making 85% of the national average.  Tell him that may be true, but to keep that confidential because the teachers union has convinced parents that teachers are grossly undercompensated based on a flawed teachers union survey of teacher pay.

I support the teacher pay raise but am very concerned that the teachers union has successfully presented to the public a deceptive view of total teacher compensation that is simply not consistent with the facts.

Sincerely,

Senator David Curtis

The backlash from teachers was intense. Dr. Diane Ravitch was kind enough to post my letter to him on her blog (https://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/20/a-teacher-in-north-carolina/ ). It was my first venture into public education advocacy that has eventually led to this blog.

And Sen. Curtis is standing up there as a crusader for the teaching profession.

If you look to the far right of the screen, you will see Sen. Tom Apodaca. His recent legislative attempt is the Access to Affordable College Education Act that was recently rolled into the very budget this press conference is about.

These are not the faces of people championing public education.

3 Negatives Do Not Make a Positive – Senator Berger’s Hiding in the Details

This past week Sen. Phil Berger and other GOP leaders announced a skeletal proposal to raise teacher salaries this summer session. Yet, while it appears to be a great gain on the outside, it lacks enough explanation to remove doubt.

The Associated Press reported in “Senate GOP would pay teachers more than House, McCrory” that,

Berger said the Senate’s entire plan would cost $538 million over two years and not require tax increases, relying instead on a stronger economy and healthy state revenues to pay for it. Pressed for what other spending changes, if any, would be needed to carry it out, he responded: “Once you see the full budget, you’ll be able to see the details about it.”

Stronger economy and healthy state revenues. Interesting use of words.

Let us not forget that there are multiple issues at work here in the GOP’s legislative landscape and they are not mutually exclusive. When people hear “stronger economy and healthy state revenues,” they should ask, “Who is it stronger for and who is healthier for it?”

That stronger, healthier economy was built on many things that were actually deleterious to working North Carolinians. Think of the tax deductions and exemptions that were eliminated for many middle-class families. While the state could now claim to have “lowered” taxes, many families were actually giving more money to the state because they could not claim item deductions as they could in the past.

Furthermore, factor in new sales tax laws because of the move to a consumer driven economy where most of the consuming is done by the very people who pay a higher percentage of their income to purchase necessities.

Healthy state revenues? How about just looking at health? Remember the fiasco of the Department of Health and Human Services under the leadership of Dr. Vos at the beginning of the governor’s term? That was just a snapshot at how much the state needed to look at the expansion of Medicaid in the state. However, instead of expanding Medicaid, the current administration chose to side with partisan political egos and refuse federal help.

In a state that has almost one in four children living in poverty how can one claim a healthy environment? Just add some coal ash ponds and an unregulated fracking industry and “healthy” becomes an antithetical word. It could almost be construed that mentioning teacher salary raises is an attempt at camouflaging how we came to have the very “strong” and “healthy” economy that was created in order to play for it.

That’s like killing two birds with one stone – downplaying how we as a state came to a surplus and proselytizing how we value teachers.

Yet, still lurking in the background is the HB2 issue. Remember the dueling lawsuits that are now active over the discrimination of the LGBT community, the people who still pay the very taxes other citizens pay and support or attend the same schools? The lost business revenue from boycotts is always up for debate, but it is happening. It has an effect on the health and strength of our economy.

But, when we are asked to focus on the great (and still nebulous) news that North Carolina wants to pay its teachers more, then we tend to forget what negative aspects of our state’s actions are still having repercussions.

Sounds like it is almost deliberate. Downplay how we changed state revenue pipelines to affect the middle-class adversely, ignore the impending legal battle over HB2 that will surely costs taxpayers much, and gloss over the fact that North Carolina has treated public education horribly and one might understand how Senator Berger’s statement in the Associated Press’s report could indeed be incredibly deliberate.

It tries to kill three birds with one stone. Or with one commode (from a public unisex bathroom).

Ignoring three negatives with a glossy positive statement does not solve problems, which makes the last part of Berger’s quote that much more important. He said, “Once you see the full budget, you’ll be able to see the details about it.”

The devil resides in the details.