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Friday, April 29, 2011

Tata on student assignment, budget: Stay "between the ditches"

Posted by on Fri, Apr 29, 2011 at 1:28 PM

Our Tata cover in January
  • Our Tata cover in January
Friday mornings at 9, Tony Tata briefs the press about the Wake County school system in a format much like, I imagine, a military press briefing from his olden days in the Army. Topics this morning included Tata's progress toward a new student assignment plan and his assessment of the damage in store for the schools if the House Republicans' budget should prevail in the General Assembly.

Discussing student assignment, Tata let loose with an old military metaphor — he's trying to position his plan "between the ditches." In the middle of the road, in other words.

Discussing the budget, Tata hewed to a center line as well, urging GOP House leaders to cut less from K-12 education but turning aside the question of whether the Wake County Commissioners, also under GOP control, should consider putting more $$$ into the county's schools.

***

On the budget, Tata said he will meet with Wake legislators next week, perhaps accompanied by some school board members, to ask that the 8.8 percent cuts to K-12 education contained in the House Republicans' budget be pared back. Tata's own budget, which he's recommending the school board adopt for the time being, assumed a 5 percent cut in state funding — the number in Gov. Bev Perdue's budget plan. Round numbers, a 5 percent cut equals $40 million less from the state for Wake; 8.8 percent would push the total reduction to more than $70 million.

However the House budget comes out, Tata said, the Senate may change it and/or it could change in negotiations with Perdue.

Hey, the Senate's cut might be just 2 percent, Tata said, only semi-facetiously. "That'd be nice, right?"

Interesting take from a guy who, before he arrived here from Washington, said Sarah Palin was better-qualified than Barack Obama to be president. Gotta be a right-winger, yes? So far, on education issues anyway, he isn't. "These budget cuts [are] very severe" and may require cutting teachers, "not a place we want to be," Tata said. "We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our children."

Tata, in fact, made a compelling case for the importance of teaching assistants in the early grades. The House budget would lop $26 million from TA funding on top of a 25 percent cut to TA aid from two years ago. The Republicans' idea, if you can call it that, is that TA's aren't needed in second grade, only in kindergarten and first grade. Tata said, on the contrary, they fill three important roles: (1) remedial time with students who need it, and extra attention for students who are ahead of the class and need a challenge; (2) helping kids bond with their teachers and the school system itself, which if you think about it is the prerequisite for kids to do well in school whatever their grade; and (3) help with clerical duties so teachers can concentrate on the professional end of their job — the teaching.

He also gets it that drivers education is not some frill or extra that should be parsed out to teenagers on the basis of their parent's wallet size. Learning to drive — with focus, no distractions, defensively — is fundamental to becoming a teenager, he said. Not to mention that the rest of us are out there driving with them.

The House budget would cut chop $1.1 million from Wake's driver-ed funding with a recommendation that the kids pay $75 each to make up for it. Tata said if the cuts to driver-ed stick, Wake's school board should consider absorbing the cost rather than making kids — or their parents — dig for the money.

Tata also noted that the county commissioners have given the same amount of money to the school board for two years running and plan to do the same for 2011-12, notwithstanding the steady growth in student enrollments. The result is that per-student funding from the county is nose-diving. Time for the commissioners to do better by the kids? "I don't know that there's additional funding to be had from the county," Tata side-stepped.

There is, of course, if the Paul Coble-led commissioners could bring themselves to utter the words "property tax increase." But the four Republicans ran on the ditty that "Coble-Bryan-Gurley-Matthews ... would not raise taxes." (Leaving us humming the tune, "Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio Bryan?")

***

On his forthcoming student assignment plan, it's not quite as forthcoming as I thought. Tata's been sharing concepts with school board members in closed-door meetings, which led me to think he was about to roll out a plan. Not quite. It will be two more weeks at least before we see his proposal, he said, and when we do, it's going to take the form of two or three options.

That mid-June date he's been giving for recommending a plan to the school board may, in fact, be a starting point for the formal consideration of options, Tata said, not the finish line for a particular plan.

Tata said his working group is still looking at nine options and ranking them according to 18 criteria. He plans to share all nine, and the rankings, on a website that will go live in mid-May. Public comment to follow, plus stakeholder meetings, public meetings — and there is an election coming in October.

Best case, from what I heard, is that a public consensus forms in favor of a single plan (or a single concept, anyway, with variations on the details) over the summer and is ratified, in effect, by the election of school board candidates who support it too.

Here's the salient point from what Tata said today. He's looking for a plan in the center of the road. The "center stripe," he said, is stability of student assignments. Minimize reassignments, in other words.

The plan should also stay out of the ditches, he said. The ditches are:

* On the one side, a plan that torpedoes student achievement by — well, one way it could that is by creating high-poverty schools; Tata says his working group has looked deeply into the research showing that high-poverty schools are a recipe for bad results;

* On the other side, the plan could be too expensive — it could leave some schools unfilled, for instance, or run up busing costs by giving parents too many far-flung choices.

The nine plans under consideration range from pure neighborhood schools, with base assignments, at one end; and at the other, pure choice — no assignments. Given those two extremes, Tata said, "where we are right now ... is right in the middle." And they're still, he emphasized, at a conceptual "powerpoint level" — details TBD.

A successful plan, Tata added, needs to be acceptable to the community and consistent with the school board's revised Policy 6200 — the longstanding student assignment policy minus (courtesy of the new school board majority) its formal diversity standard.

Bottom line: Don't even think about taking the summer off.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

(Update) McFarlane jumps in for mayor: Who's on her team?

Posted by on Tue, Apr 26, 2011 at 3:17 PM

City Councilor Nancy McFarlane
  • courtesy MMI Public Relations
  • City Councilor Nancy McFarlane
[Update 2, 4/27] City Councilor Nancy McFarlane did announce her candidacy for mayor this morning at City Hall, promising to build on Raleigh's strengths with "careful planning." Exactly, she made no stunning policy moves today.

The most interesting thing about McFarlane's announcement was the group that showed up in support. It included Councilor Russ Stephenson, an at-large Council member of the progressive (and Democratic) stripe, and such leading Raleigh Democrats as Nina Szlosberg-Landis, Sig Hutchinson, John Burns, Cynthia Ball and Charles Malone. They mixed with a group of neighborhood activists including Bill Padgett, Octavia Rainey and Will Allen. The campaign team includes Democrats Perry Woods and Tim McKay and Patty Brigulio, whose Republican leanings were revealed when she challenged President Barack Obama's health care policies in this memorable exchange at Broughton High School. Brigulio's public relations firm works for McFarlane's specialty pharmacy business, MedPro Rx Inc.

McFarlane is a registered independent, but she's obviously counting on attracting Democrats as well as independent and moderate Republican voters. So far, no Democratic opponent has emerged — and indeed, Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin took herself out of the race yesterday (see below) while Stephenson's been clear for months that he preferred to see McFarlane seek the job (a $15,000 a year, 40-hours a week gig) rather than run for it himself. Councilor Thomas Crowder, the leading neighborhoods advocate on Council and its longest-serving member, didn't come out for McFarlane today, but he says he's not going to run against her either.

On the other hand, Dan Coleman, a Southeast Raleigh leader, sent an email to some of his political allies last night lamenting Mayor Charles Meeker's decision not to seek a sixth term and decrying the apparent willingness of most Raleigh Democrats to accede to McFarlane's independent campaign.

From Coleman:

Having shared my reticence about our Mayor retiring I am asking that each of you take the time to evaluate where we are headed. I am awfully suspicious of the Democratic Party’s willingness to not recruit solid Democrats for this very public position though it is indeed non-partisan. The mere idea that there will be a push to elect solid Democrats to the Wake County School Board while positioning a non-Democrat to be the next Mayor of Raleigh portends to be an awfully funky ‘dog and pony show’ that will ultimately, in my humble opinion, leave our base rudderless and just a mere pawn in the re-shaping of Raleigh and Wake County politics.

The rest of Coleman's email questions whether Southeast Raleigh will be well-treated when it comes to future transit planning and the uses of a possible 1/2-cent sales tax for transit in Wake County. Count him as not on the McFarlane team, though Rainey — another longtime Southeast Raleigh leader — is.

On the question of what happens if a capable Democrat does enter the race, Cynthia Ball said the party leadership presumably would be called on to endorse him/her. But Ball added that, as far as she's concerned, McFarlane is allied with progressive causes in Raleigh, and besides, the Raleigh City Council is officially non-partisan. "We have our candidate," Ball said.

Stephenson, too, said he's excited about McFarlane's candidacy. "She's soft-spoken," said Stephenson, "but she's a very thoughtful, common-sense person."

***

This was yesterday:


True, her press release doesn't say so. Maybe her "discussion" of the 2011 mayoral race will focus on — oh, never mind, of course she's running now that Meeker isn't.

[Update: The N&O reports that Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin won't run for mayor. She wasn't expected to run, to my knowledge.]

Who is Nancy McFarlane? She's an unaffiliated voter — neither Democrat nor Republican. Further, according to her statement:

About Nancy McFarlane:
Nancy McFarlane is a Raleigh city councilor, a pharmacist and the president of MedPro Rx, Inc., an accredited specialty infusion pharmacy that provides infusion medications and services to clients with chronic illnesses. Passionate about maintaining and improving the quality of life in Raleigh, Nancy has served on the Council as representative of District A since 2007. As chair of the Council’s Comprehensive Planning Committee and a member of the Budget and Economic Development Committee, she is active in campaigning for responsible development that protects not only the quality of life in Raleigh but also the environment. Nancy is also a liaison to the following organizations: Wake County Elected Officials Transit Work Group, Raleigh Arts Commission and United Arts Council, Upper Neuse Rivers Basin Association, Substance Abuse Advisory Council, Storm Water Management Utility Commission, Triangle J Council of Governments, Water Advisory Committee, Sister Cities, and Wake County Schools. For more information about Nancy McFarlane, visit http://www.nancymcfarlane.com.

The rest of the press release is below.

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(Updated) Meeker era to end: Mayor won't run for a 6th term

Posted by on Tue, Apr 26, 2011 at 10:04 AM

meekerjpg.jpg
Mayor Charles Meeker has a press conference this morning at 10. He'll announce that five terms as mayor is enough and he won't seek a sixth. Meeker was first elected in 2001, defeating incumbent Paul Coble and ending a decade of conservative leadership in Raleigh under ex-mayor Tom Fetzer and then, for two years, Coble. Meeker's motto was to "lead from the middle." During his tenure, downtown Raleigh came back to life with the reopening of Fayetteville Street and construction of the new Raleigh Convention Center. The opening next weekend of the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM Raleigh) on West Martin Street in the warehouse district is another feather in Meeker's cap and evidence of his steady, if quiet support for the arts. Meeker was also a reliable pro-developer vote, backing such ill-fated schemes as the 42-story Soleil Center at Crabtree Valley along with winners like the North Hills redevelopment.

Meeker supported bus and rail transit alternatives for Raleigh, but during his 10 years in office, transit advanced very little due to conservative opposition at the county level. He did help initiate the downtown R-Line.

When he steps down in December, his 10 years in the post will tie him with Avery Upchurch (1983-93) for longest-serving mayor of Raleigh.

We've reported previously that City Councilor Nancy McFarlane, an independent (unaffiliated voter) who's been a Meeker ally during her two terms in office, will seek the mayor's post. No Republican candidates have emerged as yet, nor Democrats for that matter. McFarlane is hoping to do what Meeker did — run from the middle but be an acceptable choice for most Democratic voters. We'll see. Her launch is in two weeks, I'm told.

(Update 4: Things are moving — one Randy Stagner has a Council candidacy website; he doesn't say, but I believe he's looking to be McFarlane's replacement in District A.)

(UPDATE: McFarlane isn't making a formal announcement yet. But I'm hearing that it won't be two weeks — more like a couple of days. Without a party base to run from (or run on), she needs to fill the vacuum before someone else does. Meeker was asked if he'll endorse someone in the mayor's race. Not yet, he said, but once the field is set, he may make his preference known. I didn't attend the press conference, but a good source took notes; I'll follow up with a bit more in a few minutes.)

(UPDATE 2: OK, the bells are ringing. Two sources say McFarlane will announce tomorrow morning. A major fundraiser is on tap for mid-May.)

(UPDATE 3: Meeker, ordinarily a study in self-control, "was as emotional as I've ever seen him," a friend says. He said his favorite moment as mayor was watching the old civic center get blown up and, as it was leveled, the wonderful view opened up again on Fayetteville Street from Memorial Auditorium to the State Capital. Yeah, that was a good one. Regrets? The Lightner Center; the issue of a new public safety center must be addressed soon by City Council, Meeker said. He'll be remembered by the press for downtown revitalization (true—see above), he said, but Meeker thought his most enduring work was in the planning area (new Comp Plan, new zoning code in the works, greenways expanded, parks bonds passed and executed) and in sustainability — with Raleigh named recently by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the best mid-sized American city for sustainable environmental practices. His advice to a successor: The mayor has no real powers except through consensus on the City Council — ergo, you have to find the middle and bring other councilors to it.)

***

(Update 5) And the city staff loved him. Official press release is below the fold. Before you look, how many mayors has Raleigh had under its current form of government?

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tea Party for Two: Losurdo follows in Tedesco's footsteps

Posted by on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 5:55 PM

How many Tea Party members does it take to screw up the Wake school board? Just jokin' with ya, Papa Ron.

But seriously, last year it was Johnny Tedesco on the TP circuit. This year, school board hopeful Heather Losurdo took the stage to declare that the Wake school system is keeping kids from reaching their full potential by, uh — well, she didn't say how, but I know she didn't mean that it's because they go to school with "those" kids.

"Picture you, upon my knee/Just tea for two, and two for tea."

Still, I can't argue with Losurdo's platform, "Strong communities equal strong schools." In fact, isn't that what the other side is saying when they argue that, without diversity in student assignments, "Impoverished communities equal impoverished schools?"

Watch:

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NC Appeals Court raps knuckles of Wake school board majority

Posted by on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 4:56 PM

March 23, 2010: No admission to the school board without a ticket

At the tumultuous March 23, 2010 meeting when the "new" Wake school board majority voted to strike diversity from Policy 6200, the student assignment policy, did the board violate the Open Meetings Act?

Yes, it did. But a three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals today ruled unanimously that, while the act was violated, there's no need for the school board to reconsider the actions it took that day. The full ruling can be read here. It upholds Superior Court Judge Bill Pittman's decision in the trial court that the school board done the public wrong by messing with people's rights to be in attendance at a public meeting ... but not so wrong as to require a do-over of the meeting itself.

The Open Meetings challenge was raised by a coalition of groups and parents who argued that the board majority deliberately excluded the public from its Committee of the Whole session that day by gathering in its usual cramped conference room space even though hundreds of interested citizens were on hand to listen. The committee could've met in the board's meeting chamber down the hall.

Later the same day, the board did use the meeting chamber for its regular public session, but it limited admission by forcing folks to show up hours ahead of time to get in line for tickets. No tickets, no admission — and no leaving and coming back on the same ticket.

Both decisions, limiting attendance at the COW and issuing tickets for the public meeting, violated the public meetings law, the Appeals Court panel said.

Plaintiffs in the case included the UNC Center for Civil Rights, the NC Justice Center, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and the NC NAACP. They won on the merits but not on their argument that the violations were serious enough to merit more than the slap on the wrist that Pittman gave the school board. Still, the plaintiffs issued a statement today in victory:

“Community engagement is critical to democracy,” said Swain Wood, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “This ruling is an important stand against public officials who attempt to ignore and shut out opposing viewpoints by violating the law.”

***

Judges Donna Stroud, Bob Hunter and Sam Ervin IV joined in the ruling, which concludes:

Plaintiffs argue that there is a need for a declaration by the court that a violation occurred, even if no relief is granted, so that defendants will not repeat the violations in the future. We agree, but we also find that the trial court did just that. Plaintiffs may have wished for the order to be worded differently, but the determinations were made and there is no need to remand the order to the trial court to restate its findings or conclusions more artfully. In fact, we have fully considered these findings and conclusions as to the violations and we have affirmed the trial court’s conclusions of law as to two violations of the Open Meetings Law. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying additional relief.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Jimmy Creech, author of "Adam's Gift": An authentic hero

Posted by on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 9:47 AM

Jimmy Creech at Quail Ridge Books. Thats Peter Rumsey at right, whos giving Adams Gift to each of his four grandchildren.
  • Jimmy Creech at Quail Ridge Books. That's Peter Rumsey at right, who's giving "Adam's Gift" to each of his four grandchildren.

"Hero" is an overused word in our vocabulary today. When I think of heroes, I think of men and women who've risked everything for a cause they believed in, not for pay, not because they were conscripted, and not because it was popular, but because — despite the public ridicule and the certainty that what they were doing would cost them dearly — they followed their conscience.

Or in the case of Jimmy Creech, followed their understanding of what Christianity was all about.

Creech has written a memoir, "Adam's Gift," about the tumultuous years in his life when, as a Methodist pastor, he was called — in the words of his subtitle — "to defy the Church's persecution of lesbians and gays."

It begins in 1984, when Creech was the pastor of a small church in Warsaw, N.C. and was blissfully unaware of the plight of gays in society. It ends in 1998, when Creech, having followed his conscience, has been forced out of leadership in Raleigh's Fairmont United Methodist Church, recruited to lead the biggest Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska and then actually de-frocked as a Methodist minister by the UMC governing body — all because he fought the Church over its discriminatory policies towards gays.

At the center of the book is a trial — not a civil trial, but a religious one in which Creech is charged with the "crime" of having married gay couples in Nebraska. Church "law" is against him. Creech's reading of the Bible and Methodist traditions of social justice compel him to go against that law and do what he believes God would want him to do.

The drama is every bit as real as if Creech had been put on trial for his life, for indeed, being a Methodist pastor was his life — and he risked it, and lost it, having eschewed all the readily available excuses that he might've offered for side-stepping the issue.

If you don't know Creech's story, or even if you do — and many in Raleigh will remember some of it — the book is a page-turner from the day Creech arrives in Nebraska to the guilty verdict that sends him back to North Carolina.

The power of the book, though, derives from its very first pages. Creech, in 1984, isn't a young activist looking for a place in the gay rights movement. Until "Adam," a congregant, comes out to him in the spring of that year, he didn't know, as he puts it, any "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" of the kind the General Conference of the UMC has just voted to bar from ordination.

But if Creech is no gay rights activist, he is dedicated to civil rights, and having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he's all too familiar with the way religious doctrine can be misused to keep people down — black people.

When Adam comes to him, he pours out his soul about the misery he's felt in his own church and the self-loathing that the church encouraged him to feel before, finally, he decided to leave it.

Creech is distraught. "As a pastor," he writes, "my mission was to help people overcome whatever damaged them spiritually; whatever diminished their capacity to trust God's love, to love others, and to love themselves. I'd never imagined sexuality to be an issue of justice, much less a spiritual one. In fact, I knew no clergy who did see it that way. Although I didn't realize it immediately, Adam's visit that Wednesday set the rest of my life and ministry on a new course. Adam launched me on a journey with no clear destination and with no guide or maps to follow, other than an intuitive sense of what was right, just, and compassionate."

It would easy to say that Creech was confronted with a choice that day of taking refuge in church doctrine or seeking his own spiritual path. But what the book makes clear is that Creech never thought to take refuge. He thought to do what was right. Soon, having come to Fairmont in Raleigh, he was one of a trio of pastors leading the Raleigh Religious Network for Gay and Lesbian Equality (RRNGLE — "Ringle"), stepping out at the head of the '88 Gay Pride parade and conducting a marriage ceremony with a gay couple. In 1990, he talked to the Indy's Melinda Ruley for a cover story that made him a national figure. It led to his ouster from Fairmont and a stint with the N.C. Council of Churches. Then Nebraska.

Today, Creech lives in Boylan Heights. He speaks all over the country on gay rights issues and bears, no scars, but a smile.

As a friend told him on Sunday, "I've been a Methodist all my life, and today I'm ashamed of that. But one day, they'll call you blessed."

On the way out, I saw Peter Rumsey carrying four copies of "Adam's Gift" to the table where Creech was signing. Four? "I'm giving one to each of my grandchildren," he said.

Good idea. Great book.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

(Updated) Wake GOP fields a school board candidate against Kevin Hill

Posted by on Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 8:42 PM

from the Losurdo campaign
  • from the Losurdo campaign

{Update: Video of last night's meeting is below.]

It's Heather Losurdo, erstwhile head of the newly potent Northern Wake Republican Club. She's ready to take on Kevin Hill, whose District 3 seat on the Wake school board is considered the one most vulnerable to a GOP challenger — of the four seats not currently controlled by the Republicans.

(The other members who aren't Republicans: Anne McLaurin, Carolyn Morrison and Keith Sutton.)

And if Hill's seat is vulnerable now, wait until GOP lawyer Kieran Shanahan's done redrawing all the districts.

Who "likes" Losurdo? Well, Ron Margiotta does, and John Tedesco, Chris Malone and Deborah Prickett. Not Debra Goldman? Oh, that's right, she wasn't invited.

Anyhoo, this just in from the Losurdo camp:

Wakefield community activist and mother of two, Heather Losurdo will be a candidate for the District 3 seat on the Wake County Board of Education in the election scheduled for October 11, 2011. Mrs. Losurdo announced her candidacy at a meeting of the Northern Wake Republican Club [tonight] in Raleigh.

On hand at the meeting were School Board President Ron Margiotta, as well as members Chris Malone, Debra Prickett and John Tedesco, all of whom have indicated they will support Losurdo.

Kevin Hill, who has indicated his plans to seek re-election, currently represents the Third District. It is anticipated that new redistricting boundaries will be drawn in the near future, which could affect the candidacy of either or both of the candidates.

Losurdo said when elected she will focus on improving student achievement. “Achievement First,” she said. “We need to help all students to do the best they can to achieve their full potential and be prepared for life in the 21st Century.” The Wake County School Board that I want to be a part of is one that focuses on the students. The ‘product’ of the Wake County Schools is the students. The universities that they will attend and the businesses that will hire them are counting on us to prepare them. I will be responsive to their needs and represent their concerns. I know I will have an excellent working relationship with the rest of the board and I will use my relationship building skills and abilities on behalf of the students and parents in District 3.”

Losurdo also said she would be active in seeking to provide greater engagement for the stakeholders in the Wake education community, particularly parents and businesses, whom she feels have a greater role to play. “By getting parents more involved and by partnering with businesses in creative and innovative new ways, we will be able to demonstrate that strong communities equal strong schools,” she said. “In the past year and a half, Wake County schools have been moving by leaps and bounds in the right direction, and I want to ensure we keep pushing those goals forward. I want the North Raleigh area I live in to help lead the way.”

Heather and her husband Craig, a tile installation contractor, have two middle school girls attending Wake County Public Schools. She has been active in the Wake Schools Community Alliance, and has been serving as President of the Northern Wake Republican Club, a post she will leave in order to pursue her candidacy. She is also a veteran of the United States Air Force. Following her service, she worked in the small business banking field, but later chose to stay at home to raise her children.


Heather fans are invited to visit www.StudentAchievementFirst.com — obviously a work-in-progress.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

(Updated) Extortion worked in Washington, so GOP tries it out in Raleigh

Posted by on Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 4:39 PM

300px-Extortion_for_Dummies.png
(Update: Did I say extortion? Governor says so too — see below.)

Congressional Republicans were ready to shut the federal government down if they didn't get their way on the budget. So President Obama let them have their way — shutdown averted.

Lesson learned by Republicans leaders in the General Assembly. They announced today they won't extend unemployment benefits for some 37,000 jobless North Carolinians unless Gov. Perdue gives them their way on the state budget.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis spelled out their surrender terms to the press this morning — a short video is on the Progressive Pulse blog (go to the comments), the full 20:00 presser is on WRAL.

PB & TT didn't quite put it that way, of course. But the only thing that stands between legislative Republicans and their goal of deep cuts to public programs — including the schools and universities — is a potential Bev Perdue veto.

So here's the deal: Just in case Perdue does veto their budget and there is no budget signed by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, the Republicans want her to agree now that beginning July 1, state spending would be reduced by 13% — a cut that would remain in place until a budget is signed.

Why would Perdue agree to such a thing? Because the Republicans have tied it to the unemployment benefits extension — in the same bill. Either Perdue caves in to their demands or no benefits for the unemployed.

The bill could be on Perdue's desk tomorrow, apparently. The Republicans, not ones to miss the chance at a good joke, said their goal is to take the politics out of the budget issue.

But hey, Obama caved. And from what I read, in order to get the Republicans to increase the federal debt ceiling this summer and avert a catastrophic fiscal meltdown, Obama's already signaled that he'll cave again to Republican demands for spending cuts.

So you can't say the N.C. Republicans have no reason to think they'll succeed.

***

Harsh reaction from the N.C. Justice Center is below:

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Let's negotiate over whether the country is worth it. Not!

Posted by on Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 1:39 PM

The United States Treasury
  • The United States Treasury

I admit it, I'm weary and too blase about ridiculous Republican politics and the failure of the Democratic Party to stand for anything. Obama gives the Republicans $38 billion in spending cuts when their opening bid was $33 billion? Par for the course. Perdue says hey, we don't need that whole 1-cent sales tax to balance the state budget, how about 3/4th's of it? (And we don't need that income-tax surcharge on the rich at all because, uh, er, Obama just gave them an enormous tax cut? Right, it makes no sense whatsoever ... but I digress.)

So Obama has caved in once again, and we're all wringing our hands. But here's one thing he can't cave in on: Paying U.S. Treasury obligations — bonds, notes, the debts of the country. And to do so going forward, Congress must vote quickly to increase the U.S. debt ceiling.

Now, did it occur to Obama to say to the Republicans last week that, yeah, I'll cave in again, but only on your solemn promise that you will do the right thing and increase the debt ceiling and NOT subject the country to the incredibly destructive spectacle of the United States threatening to — and maybe actually — defaulting on our debt?

Apparently not.

And naturally, the Republicans believe they can roll Obama again and get even more budget cuts in return for not destroying the country. They not only believe it, they're brazen enough to say it out loud: WE Will DESTROY THE COUNTRY'S FINANCIAL STANDING UNLESS WE GET OUR WAY ON _____. (Fill in the blank, but making the Bush tax cuts for the rich permanent will be part of it, as will deeper cuts to programs that low-income people need.)

I agree with Josh Marshall, the Republican position is equivalent to "make me an offer, or I'll kill your kid."

A fellow said to me Saturday night that never has an articulate person (Obama) said so little that registered with people. It's true. Obama is eloquent, but his eloquence is never in service of anything except whatever it is he's just given away.

Let's see if he can get eloquent about this: THERE MUST BE NO NEGOTIATIONS ABOUT INCREASING THE DEBT CEILING. REPUBLICANS IN THE HOUSE HAVE A MORAL OBLIGATION TO SUPPORT THIS MEASURE, AS DO DEMOCRATS IN THE HOUSE, AS DO DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS IN THE SENATE. THERE MUST BE NO DEBATE. NO ONE WHO CARES ABOUT THIS COUNTRY WOULD TRY TO DEBATE THIS ACTION OR ATTACH THEIR DEMANDS TO IT.

Negotiations about the fiscal 2011-12 budget can begin the day after the debt ceiling is increased. Not before.

If you, too, are blase — read this, from Think Progress:

THE NEXT FIGHT: Over the weekend, Republicans reiterated that the short-term funding negotiations were only a dress rehearsal for the looming fight over an increase in the debt ceiling. Boehner insisted on Saturday that there is "not a chance" Republicans will deliver a "clean bill" to raise the debt ceiling and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) predicted that "the White House and the president will actually capitulate" and agree to "spending caps, entitlement reforms, budget process reforms " in the debt limit increase. It is widely understood, however, that failing to raise the debt ceiling on schedule could have immediate and dire consequences for government services and the global economy. As the Center for American Progress' David Min has pointed out, it would force an immediate cut of approximately 40 percent to all activities of the federal government — a severe blow to our already struggling economy. It could also erode confidence in U.S. Treasury bonds, causing interest rates to spike and the possible destabilization of global financial markets. If investor confidence is eroded and Treasury rates go up, the higher costs of debt maintenance would counteract (and potentially could even be larger than) any spending cuts at issue. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has acknowledged as much, as has Boehner, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and conservative columnist George Will. This has not prevented many GOP lawmakers from threatening to vote down an increase in the debt limit if their partisan demands are not met. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said there can be no increase without entitlement cuts and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) demanded an implicit 44 percent cut in all government programs in exchange for an increase.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

(Update) Art Howard's excellent photographic adventures; PBS show on global warming premieres Sunday, Tuesday

Posted by on Fri, Apr 8, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Art Howard on the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand
  • "Earth: The Owners' Manual," Geoff Haines-Stiles Productions
  • Art Howard on the fast-melting Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand

Raleigh photographer-videographer Art Howard's work (we have some examples below) is at the heart of a major new project on global climate change called "Earth: The Operators' Manual." I wrote about it this week in the Indy (link coming when the story goes online, with a slideshow.). ETOM is a public television series, a book, a school curriculum and a website, all underwritten by the National Science Foundation. Its goals: 1) To show why climate change (global warming) is is real and worsening problem with potentially catastrophic consequences for mankind; 2) To illustrate that solutions to the problem are within our reach, technically and financially, if we can muster the political will to act on them — now.

The first hour of the ETOM television series will air on PBS stations this week. UNC-TV will show it Tuesday, April 12 at 8 p.m. (If you get the UNC-EX channel on cable or satellite, you can watch it Sunday, April 10 at 10 p.m.)

Five science museums around the country are participants in the ETOM project, including our own N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. The museum will host a special preview showing of the television program tomorrow (Thursday, April 7), with a panel discussion to follow. Howard will be on the panel along with N.C. State's Walt Richardson, professor of atmospheric sciences, and Jeff Brooks, a Progress Energy executive.

The program starts at 7 p.m. (doors and refreshments at 6), which means the panel will begin around 8.

[Note: The show, re-edited since I saw a work-in-progress awhile back, is excellent, with Art's videography a key — the key — ingredient. Catch it if you can. The Museum of N.S. is selling the book and DVD in their gift shop — $27 and $24, respectively.]

ETOM pairs Howard's videography with a star turn by Richard Alley, a renowned Penn State geoscientist who was part of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Together, they show "how we know" that the earth is warming — using the science of ice cores — and "why we know" that the problem is due to the fossil fuels we burn for energy that are filling the atmosphere with ruinous amounts of carbon dioxide.

This is not a doomsday project, however. Alley and Howard also show the great efforts underway all over the planet to free ourselves from fossil fuels and move instead to power generation from clean, renewable sources — solar, wind, biofuels and hydropower.

Nor is this Art Howard's first effort in the field — far from it. He's been principal videographer and photographer on a series of National Science Foundation-funded projects that have taken him in recent years to the Arctic, all seven continents including Antarctica, and 3,000 feet down to the ocean floor. I should say that Art is a good friend, so I can also say from first-hand observation that he is incredibly hard-working, unduly modest and although basically strong and fit, from time to time he's endangered his health hauling camera equipment up and down mountains, over deserts and across polar ice.

Art was good enough to share some of his images with us. Indy staff are making them into a slideshow to go with the online story. In the interim, I've posted these:

FROM THE BERING SEA, NEAR ALASKA, WHERE THE LOSS OF SOLID ICE ENDANGERS A WAY OF LIFE:

Howard captured this view of once-solid ice on a 2008 trip through the Bering Straits
  • Copyright: Art Howard
  • Howard captured this view of once-solid ice on a 2008 trip through the Bering Straits

***

30 YEARS AGO, TASMAN LAKE, IN NEW ZEALAND, DIDN'T EXIST — BUT TASMAN GLACIER IS MELTING.

Glaciers like this one in New Zealand contain 400,000 years of atmospheric history

***

ICE CORES TAKEN FROM GLACIERS ARE STORED AND STUDIED IN A U.S. LAB IN DENVER

The layers in these ice cores are like rings in a tree -- if the tree was 400,000 years old
  • Copyright: Art Howard
  • The layers in these ice cores are like rings in a tree — if the tree was 400,000 years old

***

AN URBANIZING PLANET IS BURNING MORE AND MORE FUEL

Fast-growing Sao Paulo, Brazil, the 6th largest city in the world in a metro of 20 million people
  • Copyright: Art Howard
  • Fast-growing Sao Paulo, Brazil, the 6th largest city in the world in a metro of 20 million people

ANOTHER VIEW OF SAO PAULO

The city of Sao Paulo, Brazil

WHAT ARE THE BRAZILIANS DOING TO GENERATE CLEAN POWER

Transmission lines carry hydropower 100 miles to Sao Paulo

***

THE RAIN IN SPAIN FALLS ON AN ENORMOUS SOLAR PANEL ARRAY OUTSIDE OF SEVILLE

Solar arrays in Spain power the city of Seville

***

WIND POWER CAN TAKE THE PLACE OF FOSSIL FUELS AND HEAD OFF GLOBAL WARMING

These turbines are in Brazil but could work anywhere the wind blows

***

SUGAR CANE IS A FAR MORE EFFICIENT OF ETHANOL THAN CORN — AND HELPS BRAZIL PROSPER

Brazilian sugar cane produces 8X the fuel it takes to make it

***

THE EARTH IS IN JEOPARDY —

Arctic ice is cracking 100 miles from the North Pole

THE CHINESE GET IT AND ARE INVESTING HUGE SUMS IN TRANSIT, WIND, SOLAR AND CARBON CAPTURE

Chinas investments in mass transit dwarf the U.S.

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