PRIORITIES VOTERS SHOULD DEMAND FROM THE CANDIDATES WHO SEEK THEIR SUPPORT: Here’s what voters should demand and candidates – no matter the political party – should embrace: Support implementation of the recommendations outlined in the report recently released by Superior Court Judge David Lee, so the state meets its constitutional mandate to provide EVERY student with an opportunity for a sound basic education in public schools – no matter where they live. In the more than two decades since the Leandro ruling North Carolina has, according to the report, lost ground in meeting the court order and our constitutional requirement rather than moving closer to it. Expand Medicaid to the 650,000 working North Carolina citizens who are currently denied access to health care. It is no exaggeration that this is a life-and-death matter. Studies estimated that failure to expand Medicaid has cost between 516 and 1,740 North Carolinians their lives for lack of access to care. Adopt non-partisan criteria and a non-partisan system for creating congressional and legislative election districts.
MAKE BAIL REFORM A 2020 PRIORITY: Defendants who cannot afford to pay bail or a bail bondsman sometimes plead guilty to lesser charges, not because they are guilty, but because being locked up for weeks will cause them more problems. They may lose a job, or there are children or other relatives who need care, or they may have a medical condition that will get worse in jail. “Many prosecutors use high bail as a means to sweat a plea deal,” Jones says. That’s an abuse of the system. Jones says, “You have to make it an amount that (defendants) can make and still have skin in the game.” North Carolina law encourages judges not to put a price on pretrial freedom for lesser offenses and instead release defendants under supervision or on a promise to appear. But judges often abide by a prosecutor’s recommendation for bail set beyond the defendant’s reach out of fear that lowering it could result in a defendant committing a serious crime while free.
BURR'S JUDICIAL VOTES REVEAL POLITICAL MOTIVES: “I am committed to seeing that our judicial vacancies are filled with qualified judges.” That’s what Sen. Richard Burr promised, in a Feb. 3, 2014 letter to his North Carolina constituents. Those hollow words were part of his defense for using his authority – withholding the so-called blue slip and blocking HIGHLY qualified nominees from even being considered – by the Senate Judiciary Committee for federal judicial posts in North Carolina. It was over a political feud Burr had with President Barack Obama. One of the nominees he blocked Jennifer May-Parker, was someone he recommended the president nominate! Since President Donald Trump came into office, the Senate has voted on seven judicial nominees rated unqualified by the American Bar Association. Burr along with his North Carolina colleague Thom Tillis, has voted for every one of those nominees. Statements from colleagues presented during his non-blue slip hearing from the ABA evaluation described VanDyke to be “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice.” The scathing letter from the chair of an ABA committee was the result of 60 interviews with lawyers, judges and others who worked with VanDyke when he was a Justice Department attorney.
CONGRESS'S SPENDING BILL IS FEEDING THE ALREADY COMFORTABLE UPPER MIDDLE CLASS: Not even the imperative of getting $1.4 trillion worth of funds approved by a Dec. 20 deadline could move Congress to meet an urgent need of the working poor: an expansion of the earned-income tax credit (EITC) for single, childless adults. The EITC is essentially a wage supplement, delivered as a tax refund, that boosts the take-home earnings of low-wage workers. It favors those with children, which is an understandable policy goal but no reason to omit single adults who are willing to work their way out of poverty. Democrats pushed measures to nearly triple the maximum EITC for such workers from $529 to $1,464 per year and to make workers under age 25 eligible, but such proposals got left on the cutting-room floor. Meanwhile, Congress found room for puzzling new benefits for the relatively well-off minority of Americans who put money into tax-free 529 college tuition savings accounts. Henceforth, savers will be able to withdraw 529 funds tax free not only for tuition and other expenses but to pay off up to $10,000 in student loans — even though the whole point of 529s is to promote saving over borrowing, not to lower the cost of borrowing. However, it probably does meet one of Congress’s needs — for a talking point on what lawmakers are doing about student debt.
BIG MONEY AND AMERICA'S LOST DECADE: The first thing you need to know about the very rich is that they are, politically, different from you and me. Don’t be fooled by the handful of prominent liberal or liberal-ish billionaires; systematic studies of the politics of the ultrawealthy show that they are very conservative, obsessed with tax cuts, opposed to environmental and financial regulation, eager to cut social programs. The second thing you need to know is that the rich often get what they want, even when most of the public want the opposite. For example, a vast majority of voters — including a majority of self-identified Republicans — believe that corporations pay too little in taxes. Yet the signature domestic policy of the Trump administration was a huge corporate tax cut. Why do a small number of rich people exert so much influence in what is supposed to be a democracy? Campaign contributions are only part of the story. Equally if not more important is the network of billionaire-financed think tanks, lobbying groups and so on that shapes public discourse. And then there’s the revolving door: It’s depressingly normal for former officials from both parties to take jobs with big banks, corporations and consulting firms, and the prospect of such employment can’t help but influence policy while they’re still in office.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
MARC SEGRE: TRUMP IS CREATING DIVISIONS WITH TITLE VI CHANGE: Recently President Trump extended Title VI civil rights protections to Jews to combat anti-Semitism. This order will divide and silence. Jews will be included, but not Muslims or any other religion. In January a stolpersteine (stumbling stone) will be placed at my grandmother’s house. The stones are slightly raised to catch our attention and honor Holocaust victims like my grandmother. Stumbling stones are a reminder that defining people is the first step in creating us vs them. Soon we see others as different, inferior, taking what we deserve, even dangerous. They must be deported, their homes taken, or in my grandmother’s case murdered at Auschwitz. As a Jew, Trump expects my gratitude and vote. I offer neither. Besides being Jewish, I am Christian, American, Italian and Canadian. I celebrate each part of who I am and don’t want Trump defining me. Picking one religion for special treatment is dangerous.
PAUL GRENDLER: UNC'S SILENT SAM DEAL WAS AN ATTACK ON LIBERALS: The decision concerning Silent Sam is the latest example of the UNC Board of Goverors’ hostility toward the faculty and students of UNC-Chapel Hill for alleged liberalism. Remember that the Board shut down the poverty institute, forbade law school faculty from acting on behalf of poor people, and forced out Chancellor Carol Folt. Now it has decreed that the UNC-Chapel Hill campus must pay $2.5 million to Sons of of Confederate Veterans. The Board has also damaged the credibility of new Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, because it appears that he had to agree to endorse the Silent Sam agreement in order to become chancellor.
KRISTEN POWERS: ALAMANCE COUNTY NEEDS LEADERS WHO WILL ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE: The climate crisis is here: Devastating hurricanes, low crop yields and terrifying floods are destroying our way of life. It is past due for our government leaders to recognize this reality. At the last Alamance County Board of Commissioners meeting, David Andes expressed the urgency of addressing climate change. He stated: “The U.N. Panel on Climate Change is giving us 10 to 11 years for reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before we reach a point of significantly worse environmental events and poverty for a lot of people and that includes Alamance County, North Carolina.” He stated that solar energy is an “easy thing to do” to limit the impact of the climate crisis. Not only is it easy, it makes business sense. Solar prices in North Carolina have fallen 36% over the last five years. Localities like Maiden and Walnut Cove are investing in solar, leaving places like Alamance County in the dark. Unfortunately, one of our commissioners did not take well to this comment. Not only did this elected official reject the overwhelming scientific evidence of the climate crisis, but the person also minimized the fear young people have of inheriting a planet that is beyond repair. Instead of patronizing our fears, government leaders should recognize why young people are speaking up globally: We want a world that is healthy and safe for our loved ones. To achieve that, we believe government needs to step up to the plate so that we can thrive just like the generations before us. While the federal government has abandoned my generation when it comes to climate leadership, local governments have not. Communities all over North Carolina are investing in solar and wind, upgrading their homes and places of business, and investing in electric vehicle fleets. Alamance County can do the same. Instead of electing government officials who refuse to do something for the next generation, we must elect people who are willing to do what they can to prepare Alamance County for the climate crisis and ensure no people, especially our young people, are left behind.