Good news for NC voters

Amid the pervasive news out of Washington, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appellate case that ruled the North Carolina Voter ID unconstitutional. This is excellent news for all voters, but in particular African-American, older and college student voters.

Within the law were highly discriminatory provisions designed with “surgical precision” per the US Court of Appeals in the 4th District to infringe upon African-Americans. It was designed to “kick Democrats butts,” so said a Buncombe County GOP leader on The Daily Show, a tape of which was shown during the court case. It should be noted the leader resigned the next day.

When I made reference to this law as “unconstitutional and Jim Crow-like,” to members of the NC General Assembly before it was passed, one of its authors strongly disagreed. My response was simple, “as a 56 year-old white man and former Republican, we both know what this law is about.”

It also attempted to solve a problem that is not significant. Voting fraud is not pervasive as some would let you believe. Numerous studies do not support the claim of more than very small numbers of voting problems. It should be noted that the attempt to discredit our Presidential election through claims of voter fraud was a key part of Russian meddling in October to create doubt.

And, a final key comment is important. The problem we face in our country is not enough people voting. To be such a significant democracy, we don’t have enough citizens participating in the process. We should be doing everything in our power to encourage not discourage voting. And, if voter fraud is such a concern, why did the NC General Assembly not include absentee voting in the law, where there is more fraud (still not a lot) than at the polling sites? The answer is who tends to vote in larger numbers as absentees.

Right now, my strong advice to the NC General Assembly is to not do what they are thinking about, trying to rework the law. The General Assembly has now had four laws passed in the last few years ruled unconstitutional. The solution is stop passing laws that are unconstitutional, not trying to see what you can sneak through.

Advertisements

Bigotry is a lousy money-maker

I have written before how coexisting and capitalism are not at odds with each other, in spite of the attempts of some through bumper stickers to show you should pick one or the other. History has shown, it is far more economical to coexist. Why? More customers. And, more customers means more jobs.

In my home state of North Carolina, we have forgotten this equation. In early 2016, our General Assembly rammed through a discriminatory law called HB2 in a special session taking just ten hours. I recognize fully the transgender bathroom portion of the law gets most of the press, but the piece which has caused the most consternation in the eyes of businesses looking at our state and ruling bodies of the NBA, NCAA and ACC, is the elimination of LGBTQ people as a protected class who should not be discriminated against.

The transgender portion was sold on fear without much data to support its issues. So, it is hard to back away from something its supporters made people scared of. But, let’s set that part aside and focus on the LGBTQ part. While there are proponents of HB2 who will argue the bathroom law should remain, the denial of protection to LGBTQ folks is flat out unconstitutional.

The proponents of the law said it is only the cities that are impacted by this law due to larger populations of LGBTQ people. Legislators in rural NC say what does it matter if Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro don’t get sporting events or new businesses? The economic dilemma for the rural parts of the state is this concept of revenue sharing. A portion of sales taxes from larger cities are distributed throughout the state to help finance smaller investments and pay for services.

The less money in the big cities means less money for the state. And, our entire state has damaged its reputation not just around the country, but around the world. I have read that some members of the General Assembly say they had no idea there would be such a backlash. The answer to these legislators is you did not take the time to know passing the law in ten hours.

I firmly believe HB2 should be fully repealed. Its treatment of transgender people using a sledgehammer approach to legislation is unjust. There could have been a more surgical answer. So, short of a full repeal, let me offer a compromise.

  • eliminate the LGBTQ discrimination feature in its entirety before you are made to by the courts. This feature is unconstitutional. Period.
  • eliminate the feature on restricting a city from having a higher minimum wage; cities who have larger economic competition and cost of living should have the right to allow a higher minimum wage than the national one. This feature needs to be vetted more than it was by itself.
  • change the transgender portion of the law to do the following; if a person has a formal document indicating a gender different from his or her birth certificate, he or she should legally have the right to use the bathroom he or she identifies with.

Again, I believe the whole law should be repealed. Yet, this compromise should help the state move forward before these business decisions not to move, expand or hold events here are more recognizable in our economic growth. The scary part, as shared by Chamber of Commerce recruiters, is we have no idea how many organizations did not consider North Carolina.

Jesus told us to treat others like he we want to be treated. It is the right thing to do as well as the economical thing to do. Bigotry is not much of a money-maker.

 

Wise men say…

If you are any semblance of an Elvis fan, you know the next phrase of this song is “…only fools rush in.” While this song is about not listening to your head and what others say, but rushing ahead with what your heart says, it does apply well to legislation. When legislators rush into anything, they will make mistakes. You can take that to the bank.

I cite four examples, two at the federal level and two at the state level. In North Carolina, our legislators called a special session last spring to pass the HB2 Law, henceforth known as the Bathroom Bill, in ten hours. They did not ask what others thought of this legislation. The transgender discrimination part of the bill was sold on fear, and when that is done, it is hard to back off. Yet, the part that ruffled the feathers of the NCAA, NBA and ACC as well as businesses and musicians, was the part that denied protection for LGBT members under the law. This is flat out unconstitutional, but since they passed it so quickly, they did not take the time to know this.

You would think our General Assembly would learn this lesson, but last month after it was official the new governor would be a Democrat, this impatient and power-hungry assembly met to address something more than hurricane assistance, which was the purpose for the gathering. They decided to strip powers away from the new governor. Mind you, the General Assembly already had a super-majority, but they had to flex their muscles and use a coup to grab more power. Even Republican voters thought this was poor form. Yet, our leaders in the General Assembly seem to not care what people think. As an Independent, I find this to be horrific legislation, an abuse of power and poor stewardship.

Not to be out done, the first measure our Republican friends in Congress wanted to change was the nonpartisan Ethics Committee. Over the chagrin of their leaders and after meeting in secret, they decided to restrict this ethics review process. After backlash from the public and with the President-elect piling on, they repealed the bill in less than 24 hours. When the President-elect, not known for his ethics, calls you on the carpet for ethics, you really screwed up. In my view, this may have been one of the more idiotic bills ever passed. The fact that this measure was the first thing that was done is outrageous and sets a tone of poor governance.

Which brings us to the rush to repeal Obamacare. This law is imperfect and complex, but is working pretty well. It does need to be improved and there are ways to do that leaving the framework in place. The administration is already built to accommodate some needed changes, so it is only for political reasons that it must be repealed first. I have written many posts, including the previous one, which shows how we got to this place, adds some needed truths, and asks for a data-driven change. Yet, if you govern off rhetoric, you suffer the consequences. The President-elect said he’s going to make benefits more generous and cheaper at the same time – that sounds like a TV ad for a new product, so good luck with that.

Wise men say, only fools rush in. These are four examples of foolish behavior that led to or are leading to poor legislation. The sad part is there are many more. Legislation is hard enough without rushing into it. When you do, mistakes will happen. I also believe, legislators don’t want citizens to take the time to see the real story. And, if you govern by tweet without input from advisors, you are being foolish.

 

Genghis Khan – Beyond his Brutality

My oldest son and I attended a traveling Genghis Khan museum exhibit on Sunday which is on our city for a few months. He is fascinated by Khan and his legacy that brought his Mongols to the doorsteps of Europe and conquered most of Asia, including China. He listens to a podcast with an avid and knowledgeable historian about Khan.

Khan first consolidated the nomadic tribes of Mongolia who tended to fight amongst themselves. He then turned his sights on other lands and was quite brutal in his quest. Yet, the story that cements his rule is he was a great leader that understood merit hiring over nepotism and allowed certain freedoms. More on this later.

The Mongols were a formidable fighting force for three principal reasons. They were superior horsemen where the entire battalion would attack on horseback overwhelming superior numbers. And, what amazed me is each rider would travel with two to three horses. Their army could move 75 miles in contrast to an opponent’s ten.

They were prolific archers with self-made and unusually shaped bows, which could shoot as far as 350 yards, much longer than other bows. And, they could shoot them accurately off horseback, even backwards. Often, the Mongols would pretend to retreat to lure their foes out and then reverse course and attack.

Finally, Khan organized them into a fighting force in numbers of ten. Each battalion had multiple groups of ten, who picked their own leader. And, the group of ten would be punished as a group for the failures of the one. These tens would be multiplied to a battalion of a thousand or ten thousand, which would be a potent and organized force.

Once a group was conquered, after certain leaders would be killed, the subordinate troops would swear allegiance and fight with the Mongols. They would not rule as harshly as they conquered, as they wanted the civilians to support the conquering enemy and new leadership. Plus, there were several governing principles that last to this day.

  • Religious freedom was provided where people would worship their religion of choice. Several religions were readily available even in the capitol city.
  • Civil service officials came from a wide swath of people based on merit. So, civil service officials were more proficient than if they were hired on relationships..
  • Diplomatic immunity was afforded any envoy traveling from another kingdom to visit. Kings do not kill envoys was a stated rule.
  • People could move around with some limits as a passport system offered organized travel. One passport we saw had three languages on it.
  • Environmental mandates were given for communities to protect their water sources.
  • Taxation was often lowered on the conquered lands and exemptions afforded teachers and religious figures.
  • Communication and organization were key. Some say Khan brought an organized purpose to previous rivals to fight together. The same held true in his governance.

These principles can be found in many societies today. The empire lasted for several hundred years, but what caused its retrenchment, in my view, are the vast distances to govern, but also the infighting of the Khan siblings and offspring. HIs grandson Kublai Khan was the last of the great Khan leaders, so after his demise, the empire started a slow wane.

If this exhibit comes to your city, I would encourage you to go see it. I am certain their are people more knowledgeable than me who can offer more specifics about the Mongolian empire, its rise, its governance and its decline. I would welcome any and all comments, especially if I am off base.

 

A few pertinent quotes on climate change

In the book, “When Climate Change Hits Home,” by Diogo Castro Freire, the impact of climate change on all of us is defined. It ranges from preparing for less ski business in Aspen to lifting houses by two feet in Norfolk to holding back the sea water in Miami as it seeps through the porous limestone to depleted fishing in New England waters to more severe forest fires and droughts.

A few quotes will help speak to the lessening number of doubters that still remain as well as show the severity.

Per the International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), 195 countries approved this summary position in November, 2014 in Paris:

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen….Anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas emissions….are extremely likely (95% probability) to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Ben van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell said at a speech at Center for Global Energy Policy in September, 2014:

“Meeting energy demand is a massive challenge. But, so too is the need to tackle the real and growing threat that climate change poses.”

Ken Cohen, VP of Public and Government Affairs, ExxonMobil wrote in “ExxonMobil Perspectives” in May, 2015:

“ExxonMobil takes global climate change seriously and the risks of rising greenhouse gas emissions warrant thoughtful action.”

Katharine Hayhoe, a renowned climatologist working at Texas Tech University said at a conference in DC in the summer, 2015:

“Seven billion people now live on the planet and two-thirds of the world’s largest cities are within two feet of sea level.”

The World Health Organization estimates in 2015:

“There are at least 150,000 annual deaths worldwide that can be attributed to climate change, but most people fail to see the connection.” 

Not included in the book, which is a quick read given the subject, are three meaningful quotes from our leading US Presidential candidates

Former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a speech at the League of Conservation Voters in December, 2014,

“The science of climate change is unforgiving, no matter what the deniers may say. Sea levels are rising; ice caps are melting; storms, droughts and wildfires are wreaking havoc. … If we act decisively now we can still head off the most catastrophic consequences.”

Real Estate Developer Donald Trump has referred to climate change or global warming as a hoax on several occasions. Here are just two:

In a tweet on November 6, 2012, Trump wrote “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”

On December 30, 2015, Trump told the crowd at a rally in Hilton Head, S.C., “Obama’s talking about all of this with the global warming and … a lot of it’s a hoax. It’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, okay? It’s a hoax, a lot of it.”

It should be noted per Politifacts that Trump has backed off, then doubled and tripled down on the hoax issue quite often depending on who is talking with. But, when it comes to money, Trump’s golf development in Ireland petitioned the Irish government in writing for permission to build a sea wall to hold back the rising sea levels due to climate change.

I have purposefully ended with these quotes from the two leading Presidential candidates. In addition to all of the reasons that make Trump a dangerous candidate, what is not talked about enough is we can ill-afford a President who does not see climate change and its man-made influence as a serious matter and who will take further steps to ameliorate its impact.

And, it is not just Trump. Sixteen of seventeen GOP Presidential candidates would not support climate change as a major issue that we need to address. Two Republican governors, Rick Scott of Florida and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, told staffers to not use the words climate change or global warming in public speeches or papers. George W. Bush had his White House Council on the Environment alter any papers that crossed his desk to delete references to climate change or global warming.

In this case, party matters. There are four candidates running for President, but only one who does not recognize climate change for the problem it is – Donald Trump. Let me close with a key reason why I left the Republican Party in 2006 – if they cannot recognize one of the greatest issues facing our planet, then why should I trust them with any other issue. And, that was ten years ago.

 

Governor McCrory may want to consider Flint

A few months ago, the state of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality said the water was safe to drink near a coal ash site, only one year after saying it was not. I think many of us were puzzled by this reversal and I am sure that affected residents were in some disbelief.

Apparently, they would have been wise to not believe this reversal per the testimony of Ken Rudo, a state toxicologist. In his testimony, he chastised the leadership of the Department for its reversal saying they were endangering the public and made criticisms of the governor for at least being aware of the change in position.

Last week, the state epidemiologist, Megan Davies, resigned due to the Governor McCrory administration’s “false narrative.” The McCrory administration said Rudo lied under oath and both the state health director and assistant secretary in the Department of Environmental Quality fired off a public statement saying “Rudo’s unprofessional approach…does a disservice to public health and environmental protections in North Carolina.”

Really? I am having a hard time reconciling how being precautious does a disservice to public health. We only need to look north to Flint, Michigan and see what happens when state officials mask the risk of toxic water to a population. Nine current and former state of Michigan officials have been now been criminally charged because of hiding a problem which caused lead poisoning in a number of children and adults. As of yesterday, the problem is still being remedied with an increase in non-lead exposed homes from a low of 9% last fall to 45% as announced by Virginia Tech who is monitoring the progress.

Let’s break this issue in North Carolina down further. A toxicologist testifies under oath to inform the court that people living near the coal ash sites have remained at risk to dangerous toxins in their water. If he is lying, he will go to jail for perjury. His boss, an epidemiologist, resigns in support of the toxicologist’s claims. She left her job at a personal financial cost to protest the misrepresentation to the public. And, we are supposed to ignore these scientists and believe the governor’s administration? It should be noted the governor used to work for and remains a friend of the company whose coal ash is causing the issues.

So, my recommendation would be to believe the scientists who have risked so much to tell the story that the public may have been lied to about the safety of their drinking water. I would also recommend the governor’s administration take this seriously and revisit the issue. Because if they don’t and it turns out that Rudo and Davies are indeed correct, some folks in the McCrory administration may be censured, fired or worse. And, that might include the man running to keep his office, whether he wins or not.

For more on the story prior to Davies’ resignation, please refer to the attached link to a PBS Newshour report.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/state-health-director-may-covered-toxic-water-north-carolina/

Voter suppression is an ugly art form

Before the North Carolina General Assembly signed off on the Voter ID Law a couple of years ago, I wrote an email to members of the General Assembly. The thrust of my email is the law is unconstitutional and Jim Crow-like and should not be passed. I received a very ridiculing retort from a legislator who took offense that I dare use the term “Jim Crow-like” to describe the law. My response to him was much more straightforward – as a white man who used to be a Republican, you and I both know what this law is all about.

After its passing, Aasif Mandvi, as a member of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show interviewed the Republican Party  precinct leader of Buncombe County which includes Asheville, NC. The GOP leader responded to questions in a comically racist manner then added the line defining what the law is all about. He said the law is designed to “kick the Democrats’ butts.” To some of his racist comments, Mandvi responded, “you do realize we can hear you?” The leader resigned the next day, with the State Republican leadership saying the Buncombe County leader’s remarks did not represent the party’s position. Based on my opinion, he resigned because he told the truth and it embarrassed the party (a link is below).

Last summer, to thwart off a negative court decision, the General Assembly softened the law trying to appease the judge. The leaders of the General Assembly recognized fully they had overplayed their hand. Yet, the unconstitutional elements remained. The appellate court ruling last week that the law is unconstitutional added some severe language to their ruling. The judges said the drafters “surgically” devised the features of the law to suppress votes of African-Americans by specifically focusing on racial voting data. The court even cited this interview as part of the evidence.

The General Assembly’s attorneys could not cite one example of voter fraud when asked in court, even though voter fraud is their stated reason for the law. Yet, while a miniscule amount of fraud might exist, per The Washington Post in an October 13, 2014 article called “The disconnect between voter ID laws and voter fraud,” most voting fraud occurs in the absentee ballots. However, most Voter ID laws, like the NC one, do not address this exposure. So, in my view, the only voter fraud occurred with the drafters of the Voter ID Law itself. And, when people focus only on the ID part of the law, that is only one part of the law that discriminates. The elimination of same day registration, fewer early voting days, fewer precincts for early voting and restrictions on students voting on campus all add up to voter suppression.

It took 100 years for African-American voters to be able to vote as promised following the Civil War. Jim Crow and voter suppression got in the way. After the Supreme Court foolishly decided certain aspects of the 1965 Voters Rights Act were no longer needed, these Voter ID laws were passed in multiple states using cookie cutter language. Four states just had their laws ruled unconstitutional, including North Carolina’s. It is time for we citizens to say enough to this General Assembly and stop using our tax dollars to pay for attorneys to allow discrimination.

http://www.businessinsider.com/daily-show-interview-don-yelton-racist-resign-2013-10