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Monday, March 29, 2010

PPP: Wake voters are split on new school board's performance

Posted by on Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 1:11 PM

  • Photo by Art Howard
The first question in Public Policy Polling's survey of Wake County voters: Do you approve or disapprove of the actions of the new school board majority since it took office in December? Interestingly, just 10% said they're not sure. 47% disapproved to 42% who approved. Similarly, 48 percent think the new board majority has not been "fair, open and respectful" to people with different ideas than theirs; again, the number saying the board's been respectful was 42 percent.

PPP's analysis and a copy of the poll itself, with breakdowns by partisan registration (Dems, GOP, independents) can be read on their blog. Overall, says PPP's Tom Jensen, neither side in the school board wars is in a position to claim a mandate just yet.

Key findings: Democrats (69%) and independents (65%) think the school board majority should figure out how much its policy changes will cost before plunging in. Republicans? Not as many (49%). In other words, only half of the normally tight-fisted GOP crowd want a pricetag on these changes they like so much.

And if, indeed, these changes DO cost more? Well, Democrats would be opposed (56-26%), and independent split (33-32% opposed). But Republicans would be OK with spending more of the taxpayers' money for what they want — by 43-27%.

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Charlotte Observer to Wake School Board: Segregated schools cost "a ton of money"

Posted by on Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 11:01 AM

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system went down the road to resegregation after it scrapped diversity for "neighborhood" assignments. If that's where Wake County wants to go, the Charlotte Observer editorialized on Sunday, at least know that it won't save Wake's taxpayers any money.

Far from it, the newspaper advises in a piece headlined "Wake schools turmoil hauntingly familiar." If Wake really cares about the performance of economically disadvantaged students after they're caught in high-poverty schools (and the Wake school board's Majority Five is nothing if not insistent that they care so much), know that it will cost the county some very big bucks:

But it's not as though Wake school board leaders don't know what they need to do. They'll have to persuade county commissioners to raise a ton of money through new taxes in a difficult period to provide instruction, resources and support for the students they're about to assign to new high-poverty schools if they really hope to help those students. How they'll raise that money is another question, but they'll have no excuse for arguing they didn't know what they were facing in their headlong enthusiasm for social engineering.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wake schools: It's not over; the battle is just beginning

Posted by on Wed, Mar 24, 2010 at 4:50 PM

Photo by Art Howard
  • Photo by Art Howard

The screaming headline ("Tumultuous session ends diversity policy") in the N&O suggests otherwise, but the fact remains that what the Wake school board majority did yesterday does not end diversity. Rather, it begins a process in which the board, unless it changes course (or is itself changed in the 2011 elections) will try to do away with Wake's diversity goals over the next nine to 15 months.

That's what it says in the resolution that the Board, by a 5-4 vote, adopted.

(On the other hand, the N&O stories and photos, and Art Howard's photo (above), capture the police-state quality of yesterday's meeting very well. The Majority Five is trying hard to squelch public debate; but the harder they try, the more people are showing up to push back against them.)

Thus far, however, the Majority Five has not amended the Student Assignment Policy (Policy 6200) which includes diverse student populations in every school as one of its goals.

The point is, the battle isn't over. In fact, it's just beginning.

At the Great Schools in Wake forum on Saturday, diversity supporter Richard Kahlenburg (senior fellow at the Century Foundation) suggested that Wake County could be divided into a small number of soft assignment zones and still retain diversity as a goal for all of them. Kahlenberg, when I quizzed him on that idea, didn't want to be pinned down to a specific number of zones, nor did he profess to know the county well enough to say where, exactly, the lines should be drawn.

Still -- there are zones, and then there are zones.

A plan could be developed, as Kahlenberg says, to divide Wake into two or three or perhaps four zones while also respecting the need for some rough balance among them (i.e., "diversity") on the numbers of low-income and low-performing students in each zone. Indeed, the current assignment plan, while it lacks "zone" lines, isn't far from doing just that.

On the other hand, if John Tedesco has his way, Wake would be split up into about 20 zones, one for each high school, without any regard for diversity. The more zones, the smaller each one will be, and the greater the likelihood that several -- in Southeast Raleigh and eastern Wake -- will contain only high-poverty neighborhoods.

And of course, once the "have" and "have-not" zones are identified (by realtors, and then by home buyers -- and sellers), folks with money will desert the have-not zones and they will become even higher-poverty ... and eventually, they'll be all-poverty. That's how it works everywhere in America where hard-zone lines are used.

It's been my theory from the moment I heard that the Majority Five wanted Raleigh attorney Tom Farr as their "special counsel" that Farr would have two jobs:

1) Redraw the lines for the nine school board districts (using the 2010 census data) in time for the 2011 elections.

2) Draw the lines for the school assignment zones.

Farr is an employment lawyer, but his sideline specialty is in legislative apportionment, Republican-style. He's the man with a computer, the census software, voter-registration software, and making the lines come out so they maximize the number of districts the Republicans can win and minimize the number the Democrats can win. (This usually involves "packing" African-American voters into as few districts as possible.)

I'm not saying the Democrats don't do the same thing. They do, if they control the redistricting process. But in the case of the school board elections, the school board itself -- the Majority Five, in other words -- controls it UNLESS ...

... UNLESS the General Assembly, in 2011, should decide that the composition of the school board needs a makeover.

If the General Assembly were to determine, e.g., that the board ought to have more districts -- 11, say, instead of the current nine -- or should have some districts elected at-large, then the General Assembly itself would do the redistricting job.

Something to think about.

In the meantime, though, Farr's skills may be used (I asked him the question; he declined to answer) on the crafting of community assignment zones per Tedesco's and the Majority's Five's instructions. But that process must be done in public, presumably by Tedesco's student assignment committee, and will be subjected to intense scrutiny and debate.

It's in that sense that the process, then, is just starting. It is so not over.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Health care reform: What a lousy bill ... but it's a great day nonetheless.

Posted by on Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 12:29 PM

Obama in Raleigh last August
  • Obama in Raleigh last August

Health care reform? I can't do better than Dickens. It is the best of times, even though -- on the merits -- this is the worst possible bill. But it is a bill, which means it's a start. Paul Krugman, who likes it, is exactly right. So is Firedog Lake, where they hate it and tell us everything we must do now to fix it.

I go back to the Kennedy for President campaign. Ted Kennedy, that is, in 1980. He lost. No HCR. In 1991, running on an all-out platform of universal health care/HCR, Democrat Harris Wofford won a special election for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania against the popular former Governor and U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh (and Wofford won it easily). Bill Clinton was elected president the following year promising to introduce HCR on "day one" of his administration. He didn't, and long story of Hillaryycare short, no HCR. You will note, perhaps, that in between and following these episodes, long periods of Republican ascendance occurred, producing -- no surprise -- no HCR.

Which brought me to last year, when I rode to Washington with the '09 crop of HCR'ers and, once again, breathed deeply the air of freedom. HCR. With a public option. Yes, We Can! That's when I met Rhonda Robinson, the Durham woman who was out of a job and, because of that fact, off the insurance rolls and living in fear with her epilepsy.

I've never forgotten that, whatever else HCR was about, it was about the Rhonda Robinsons whose lives were literally in peril because the United States, alone in the industrialized world, links health care to earnings. Good earnings, good health care. Bad earnings, or none? Your health care line is around the back.

Of all the ways we could've chosen to reform health care, we've chosen the worst. Control remains firmly in the hands of the medical-pharmaceutical industrial complex, which overcharges for everything it does in the manner of the military-industrial complex of Dwight Eisenhower fame. On top of that, we not only didn't put a nick in the health care insurance industry, we're now going to require that everybody buy access to the overpriced health care system through the monopolistic and overpriced health insurance industry, adding 20 percent or so to our otherwise out-of-control health care spending. Oh, I know, every good idea for controlling health care costs is in the HCR legislature. Yeah, right.

And yet.

The reality is, this is all we could do. It was the worst, or nothing at all. From the get-go, the Republican Party made the decision to obstruct, oppose and attempt to destroy the Obama presidency by defeating whatever version of HCR that it brought forward. The fact that Obama brought forward a Republican version of HCR, the same kind that Mitt Romney enacted in Massachusetts, was irrelevant.

And on the Democratic side, there was no appetite, in 2009 or now, for using reconciliation to enact a bill with 51 Senate votes, avoiding the need to deal with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson et al. There were, I believe, 53 votes in the Senate for a progressive version of HCR with a public option. But there were not 53 votes, or 50, for putting an end to the ridiculous Senate system of requiring 60 votes to end fake filibusters or the equally absurd system of letting every senator blackball, anonymously if so desired, any provision of any bill. (So to this day, a certifiably unbalanced senator like the gentleman from Kentucky, Jim Bunning, can stop a major bill extending unemployment benefits all by himself.)

So, short of Obama calling them out and staking his presidency on the Senate's willingness to reform itself, the Liebermans and the Nelson retained their vetoes, and HCR needed to be reduced to the least common denominator they would accept, which was -- is -- this bill.

And yet.

And yet this bill does establish, for the first time in American history, that everyone has a right to good health care, and that taxes will be used to assure that everyone gets it. Expensively. Crazily, even. Yes, Obama cut a deal and the pharmaceutical industry was paid off. Yes, Obama cut another deal and the AMA was paid off. Yes, Obama cut yet another deal, and the health insurance industry was paid off. (And do read Glenn Greenwald on all this: He, too, is exactly right that it's a dream bill for the lobbyists and special interests.)

I hate it that Obama, right here in Raleigh, lied about being for the public option. Lied, that is, unless being for it meant that it was a nice idea he had no intention of trying to get.

What an awful way to enact universal health care. And yet, it was the only way possible.

For 30 years in my experience, and many more years before that I mercifully don't remember, HCR was impossible because we had no platform of universal health care from which to proceed.

This legislation is the worst possible platform. But it is a platform. From here, progress is possible. Until last night, it wasn't. And until last night, the Rhonda Robinsons of the world were in terrible peril. This morning -- or, at least, no more than six months from now when the first provisions of the bill check in -- their world is better. That's reason to cheer.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Elon Poll: N.C. voters are pro-public option; half like single-payer idea

Posted by on Fri, Mar 19, 2010 at 2:10 PM


(Update: But the Ghost of Public Option still inhabits the land.)

Even in a swing/conservative state currently under bombardment by anti-health care reform ads from the Americans for Prosperity bunch, the Elon Poll finds broad support among North Carolinians for 1) reform of some kind; 2) reform that goes farther than what's on the table in Washington; 3) a public option insurance plan as part of the current reform package, and 4) a single-payer system of health care, i.e., one run by or at least paid for by the federal government. You mean, the Tea Party crowd isn't a vast majority?

Weirdly, at least to me, the results of this poll were sent to the media by the Democratic National Committee (as well as by Elon).

I say weird because the poll indicates that only about 39 percent of N.C. voters back reform along the lines of the Obama-Congressional plan due for a vote in the House on Sunday. But our voters would get behind adding a public option to the plan by a 53-37 percent majority.

Too bad, because with President Obama's blessing, congressional Democrats dropped the public option, a big reason IMHO why their plan isn't very popular.

Earlier, of course, the President backed the public option -- or said he did -- in preference to a single-payer plan that many Democrats would favor but he, Obama, and such alleged Democrats as Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln, didn't.

And, btw, how would N.C. feel about single-payer? Pretty good, apparently. Elon's respondents split 47-47, with the rest having no opinion, on the question: Would you [support or oppose] a national insurance plan paid for by the federal government that pays most medical and hospital costs for all citizens?

On such a supposed hot-button question, I think you could fairly add the "no opinions" to the supporters as a gauge to public acceptance of the single-payer concept. So, bottom line, 53 percent would be OK with either a government-run health care system or, failing that, a system that includes a government-run option in the mix with private insurance products.

That's 53 percent in North Carolina, folks. We're not talking Vermont here.

But instead of these popular ideas, congressional Democrats are campaigning for "reform" that will require everyone to own over-priced private insurance, like it or lump it. Raise your hand if you think that's a good idea. (Not you, Tea Party folks. The last good idea you guys remember was secession.)

The poll results are here (scroll down past the initial question on a different subject). Elon's press release is below the fold.

Continue reading…

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Wake Commissioners vote 4-3 to restore abortion coverage to employee insurance

Posted by on Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 4:40 PM


With Democrat Harold Webb joining in by phone to break the deadlock, the Wake Commissioners today voted 4-3 to restore coverage for elective abortions to the county's employee health insurance package, overturning County Manager David Cooke's decision to drop it. The background on the issue is here.

Webb's prior absences -- he's recovering from a stroke -- led to a 3-3 deadlock when the Commissioners considered Cooke's action a month ago. Thus, Cooke's move was neither affirmed nor overruled -- until today. Webb voted with his three Democratic colleagues (Lindy Brown, Stan Norwalk and Betty Lou Ward). They out-voted Republicans Joe Bryan, Paul Coble and Tony Gurley.

Gurley was elected chairman in Webb's absence when Ward went on an "unexcused" bathroom visit and the Republicans took advantage.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Don't miss this story --

Posted by on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 1:20 PM

What goes around ...

(Update: The link I put up first doesn't work. This one should: click on the "Woman Donates Secret Millions" story).

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Live, from New York, it's -- well, see for yourself ...

Posted by on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 at 2:18 PM

You can rely on the wisdom of Elizabeth Warren, I suppose, when it comes to the subject of banking reforms. Or you listen to Slick Willie, W. and ol' 41 himself:  "We gotta regulate that thing or we're gonna get more bubbles, then pop -- money goes to the weasels."

It's reform presented by all your favorite  current and ex- presidents from Saturday Night Live, with a cameo by the late, great Gipper himself.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wake school board: the usual 5-4 for "community assignment zones"

Posted by on Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 7:45 PM

(Update: State NAACP's statement: Intentional resegregation is still illegal -- and we will sue. Letter from the Rev. William Barber to Board Chair Ron Margiotta is below the fold.)

You know, there's a good way to make public policy, and then there's just ram it through and the hell with anybody who doesn't like it. That the new school board majority just voted, by the usual 5-4 split, to establish "community assignment zones," before a student assignment committee has even been named, let alone met, just takes the damned cake, doesn't it?

Just sayin' -- the Tea Party is in session in Raleigh.

Developing, as they say.

One more thought: I didn't understand Debra Goldman's statement that this "directive" for community assignment zones was necessary before her policy committee could move on a new student assignment policy. She said community schools and diversity "can work in tandem ... in a holistic policy." Absolutely right, they can. But not if you draw hard lines, a.k.a, assignment zones.

What puzzles me, listening to Tedesco and Goldman in particular, is what they really envision for the schools and whether, at the end of the day, they have any intention whatsoever of avoiding the resegregation effects of zones. Since they continue to make policy on the fly, without full discussion (let alone thoughtful consideration of what the board minority might think), it's impossible to tell whether they actually care about diversity but can't articulate how it might be preserved in a community-schools plan ... or whether they're willing to let it slip away and can't quite bring themselves to admit it.

If they really want to balance community schools and diversity, they need to get busy with the kind of countywide stakeholders process that Tedesco talked about during and after the election campaign, but which he somehow hasn't managed to get started in the four months since.

Continue reading…

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Lightner: It's a loser. Plan B?

Posted by on Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 4:16 PM


That was one unhappy Mayor Charles Meeker today when he called for a vote on the proposed Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center ... knowing it would lose. And lose it did, 4-4, as Councilor John Odom joined the trio (Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord, Russ Stephenson) who've questioned it for weeks. So the Lightner plan stalls. But Meeker refused to call it dead; it goes on the shelf, he said, until one of the opponents changes his mind or there's a new Council.

And just to be sure no one puts a stake in it, Meeker blocked any consideration of the trio's ideas for a Plan B, which could be better and/or cheaper than Lightner, who knows? But Meeker knows, and just to be sure he's not wrong, nobody's going to price any alternatives if he has anything to say about it.

The idea of a Plan B: Split the Lightner project into two parts:

Part 1, the Emergency Operations part, is the one that's needed immediately, requires expensive "armoring" to protect critical equipment and personnel against any and all threats, and should therefore be in a remote location, probably underground. It's also the much smaller part, at about 34,000 sf out of the 300,000-sf total included in the Lightner plan. It's needed immediately because the existing EO facilities are (I'm told, and no one on either side of this debate says anything else) ridiculously old and inadequate.

Part 2, the Administrative Part, is needed as well, everyone says, though not with the urgency of Part 1. It would house the police and fire departments' top brass. The police have already departed their old building on Nash Square in anticipation of Lightner replacing it. But in the interim, they've moved into two other buildings--one downtown, one on Six Forks Road--that are not bad given the fact that they've been extensively renovated for the purpose. It may be that Part 2, whittled down to say, 10 stories instead of Lightner's 17, should be built on the Nash Square site in the near future. It may be that a better site can be found, and the Nash Square land put to a different, more active use. Postponing it allows time to consider the alternatives.

I'm not saying Plan B is better than the Lightner plan. What I would say is that enough good questions were asked about the Lightner project that it made sense to pull back and answer them and weigh the alternatives. Meeker didn't want that when it was still possible that Lightner would be approved. OK. But now that's it been voted down, what's the harm in thinking about a different approach? It would seem, from what everyone's saying, that moving ahead on Part 1 is imperative.

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