Archive for Local

Jan
19

The courts: Targets of opportunity

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An acquaintance asked Saturday what happens if the Supreme Court rules this summer to lift gay marriage bans across the country. It seems unlikely the Roberts court will overturn rulings in 36 states, he said. He worried that, since so many of the shifts on gay marriage across the country originated in the courts, that the right will not simply use the decision to energize their base in 2016, but to further colonize and control the courts. In fact that has already been occurring, according to Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies:

Today, special interests are spending record amounts of money on court elections in the 38 states that elect justices to the bench. As a Facing South/Institute for Southern Studies report showed, more than $3 million poured into races for North Carolina’s higher courts in 2014, the first election since state lawmakers — with the help of millionaire donor and political operative Art Pope — eliminated North Carolina’s judicial public financing program.

The controversy over Big Money’s attempted takeover of the courts is now coming to a head. Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing Williams-Yulee vs. The Florida Bar, a case involving a challenge to Florida’s law barring judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

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Jan
10

Defend our water

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We seem to have created a political environment in which for some reason our communities can no longer afford to maintain public infrastructure. Oh, right. That requires taxes. (That’s 5 letters. Hmmm, I was sure it was a four-letter word.)

Now that We the People have seen fit to ensure we no longer have the revenue to do on a not-for-profit basis the things a Great People once did to create a Great Nation, companies that lobbied long and hard to reduce their taxes (and public revenues) are stepping up, eager to do them for us. For a profit. Go figure.

One of the first public properties that goes into the carts at the Chop ‘N Shop is water. Right now, Portland is fighting to retain control of its water system:

A simmering water war is about to come to a boil over the fate of historic, well-loved public reservoirs in Portland, Oregon. At the heart of the controversy is a breakdown in public trust that reflects the dangers of corporate-led water privatization schemesin the United States and around the world.

A 2006 EPA ruling (called LT2) to protect systems against Cryptosporidium precipitated the fight over modifications to reservoirs on the National Register of Historic Places.

At Truthout, Victoria Collier details alleged cronyism in the water project involving contracts with CH2M Hill. (Full disclosure: I did some engineering for them on a factory some years back.) Furthermore, it seems the firm is involved in a coordinated effort to privatize infrastructure on the west coast (emphasis mine):

The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange (WCX)was launched collaboratively by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and CH2M Hill, though the corporation has since recused itself from an official partnership position.

Now comprised of governors and state officials from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, the WCX is quietly developing a regional “public-private partnership” (PPP) model to fast-track private financing and development of infrastructure – everything from schools, bridges and highways to energy, waste and fresh water systems.

Citing the crippled tax base of so many US states, the WCX notes with regret that crumbling public infrastructure and future development needs can no longer be met by the public sector.

You bet your assets, they regret it. That “crippled tax base” just happened, of course. It just happened to coincide with the interests of international corporations that want to get their hands on public infrastructure across the planet. They want to buy it for a song from tax-starved cities and then sell it right back at a profit. It makes the payday loan industry look benign. As I observed:

Privatizing water supplies is a growth industry. Whether it’s American Water, Aqua America, Suez, Veolia Water, or Nestle, private water companies are competing to lock up water resources and public water systems. If not for you, for the fracking industry. As with charter schools and vouchers in public education, public-private partnerships are one of business’ favorite tactics for getting this particular camel’s nose under the tent.

This is a theme you see repeated with P3s across the country from Michigan south to Georgia and west to California as corporations lobby hard to gain control of public utilities and infrastructure. From schools to prisons to water and sewer. We have already discussed how that is working out for highways.

When Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder placed Detroit under receivership and appointed Kevyn Orr in March 2013 as emergency manager – effectively negating citizen control of their own city government – the first items considered for privatizing were the water and sewer systems. (Receivership ended in December 2014.)

When the GOP took control of North Carolina’s legislature in 2011, removing airports and water systems from control of the cities was top of the ALEC agenda. Where cities have fought the state takeovers in court, judges have sided with the cities.

But that’s just Round One. Because for the GOP, privatization is a twofer: it lines their corporate donors’ pockets and it weakens cities where the remaining large blocks of blue votes are. It’s the next phase of Defund the Left.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Dec
12

I-26 Questions Remain

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From the AC-T today:

Construction of a new I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange on the southwestern side of the city would begin in fiscal year 2021 and run through FY 2024, according to the proposed long-range plan released by the state Department of Transportation earlier this month.

Work on a new crossing of the French Broad River would start in FY 2024 and continue beyond FY 2025.

The plan shows no funding over the next 11 years for the third component of the I-26 Connector, a proposed widening of Interstate 240 through West Asheville.

Heads up, Asheville City Council. Don’t fall for this:

A project’s benefit/cost can be improved if funding is provided during the project submission phase through local entity contributions or tolling approved by the local planning organization. In addition, a bonus allocation of up to 50% will be returned to the contributing area for a subsequent project scored through STI.

Rep. Nathan Ramsey was out promoting a local sales tax earlier this year:

“State Rep. Nathan Ramsey, R-Farview, interjected, “On the local component, the community has the possibility to put local dollars into these projects. . . . For instance, Buncombe County has the authority to enact sales tax to raise the score. What we’re told from Raleigh is this will score pretty well, but we won’t know ‘til the scores are released.”

Just so’s you know.

Dec
11

Protestus Interruptus

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The Army of Mumpower decided late last night to cancel today’s rally in support of local police. (A #BlackLivesMatter counter protest had been planned.) While acknowledging that local protests have been peaceful, former Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower said obliquely that he was cancelling his rally so as not to provide “the opportunity” for that to change (emphasis mine):

“I try to be direct and honest,” Mumpower said. “To me, we have been far too tolerant in this community. There are a lot of aggressive minority voices who have come here not to uplift our culture, but kidnap it. That doesn’t call for silence or passivity in my view,” he said.

Outside people have come here with a broad insensitivity to the traditional culture and values of our community and that merits challenge.”

The challenge is how to do that without dismantling the local tourism-dependent economy. Unless, of course, one proposes ceasing all advertising and new home construction, rolling up the streets, and erecting gates at the county line.

Don’t like outside people? Stop inviting them!

Categories : Carl Mumpower, Local, News
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Dec
03

“A very unsubtle threat”

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The North Fork Watershed

The North Fork Watershed

Buncombe County’s legislative delegation (new and old) and city council met at the Civic Center for a breakfast this week scheduled to discuss the city’s draft legislative agenda. Henderson County’s Rep. Chuck McGrady attended as well. Since his GOP colleagues, Nathan Rep. Ramsey (NC-115) and Rep. Tim Moffitt (NC-116) lost their reelection bids this fall, the dynamic between Buncombe and Raleigh has shifted, although Democrats will still find themselves outnumbered and powerless. Just less so thanks to John Ager and Brian Turner.

On Asheville FM’s Making Progress Monday, Asheville city councilman, Cecil Bothwell commented on the future of the city’s lawsuit over control of the Asheville water system. McGrady had joined Moffitt and Ramsey in passing the bill stripping the city of control of its water system and transferring control to a regional commission. McGrady delivered what Bothwell describes as “a very unsubtle threat” [timestamp 37:50] to the city and the county’s new, all-Democrat House delegation, essentially, to play ball if they expect to get anything from the GOP-controlled legislature [timestamp 37:50]:

Depending on how that lawsuit occurs will really determine what happens next. But I will tell you — I want to very clear, I’ve talked to again Senator Apodaka about this — if the lawsuit is decided adverse to the position the General Assembly took last time, he and I do anticipate filing legislation to correct whatever the mistake might be. … I’m quite prepared to come back with a different approach to the same issue.

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Dec
02

That Time of Year

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People choosing between food and heat? It’s that time of year:

This past holiday week, those fortunate enough celebrated with family and friends around their Thanksgiving tables. But for those in our communities who are struggling to make ends meet, winter can be the toughest part of the year. According to the North Carolina Association of Feeding America Food Banks, about 160,000 people statewide receive emergency food assistance weekly and 75 percent of those individuals live in households who choose between buying food and heating their homes.

Times are tough around here as well. Please donate to Manna FoodBank. (See link in sidebar.)

Categories : Action, Local, Poverty
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Nov
28

The #Ferguson #fail

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Eugene Robinson this morning does more criticism of the #Ferguson #fail. Robinson calls out the police, for treating the citizens of Ferguson more like “subjects,” and Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch for not acting like one:

The way McCulloch conducted the grand jury probe was anything but ordinary. Evidence is usually presented in the light most favorable to the prosecution; the idea is to seek an indictment and then figure out guilt or innocence later at trial. McCulloch presented both sides of the case in great detail, essentially asking grand jurors — not trial jurors — to be adjudicators of the facts. He put Brown on trial, not Wilson.

In his rambling, self-justifying news conference announcing the no-indictment decision, McCulloch made clear that he believed the eyewitnesses who supported Wilson’s version of events and disbelieved those who did not. Moreover, he questioned the motives of those who disputed Wilson’s story, as if they could not be relied on to participate in an honest search for the truth.

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Categories : Local, National, News, Race
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Nov
28

Black Friday Open Thread

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Just say no.

What’s Cecil Bothwell gotten into this week?

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Nov
26

Asheville responds

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At the Vance Monument, downtown Asheville. A response to Ferguson.

Categories : Events, Local, National, News, Race
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Nov
22

Hang On Tight

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Just because Rep. Tim Moffitt lost his reelection bid doesn’t mean the fight over Asheville’s water system is over. And guess what? There’s still time for more mischief before January.

The case is still in the courts. So stay tuned.

But as some of us have observed, the push to wrest control of water from cities is not a local phenomenon. Others without any connection to the Sullivan Acts are having the same fights around the country. Detroit, for example. Some, like St. Louis, are winning:

A new report from Corporate Accountability International, “Troubled Waters: Misleading Industry PR and the Case for Public Water,” addresses the privatization juggernaut to describe how some cities have dealt with corporate pressure, especially since some of it is predicated on the needs of U.S. water systems for as much as $4.8 trillion in investment in the next 20 years, as private companies, such as the French multinational Veolia Water North America, hinting that privatization would help create the needed capitalization.

The report describes elements of Veolia’s strategy in St. Louis. One example is their offer of consulting services (through Veolia’s Peer Performance Solutions) that would cut public water system costs, but in reality would be a foot in the door toward privatization. After years of pitching, Veolia got the city, including Mayor Francis Slay, to approve a Peer Performance Solutions contract with Veolia, but community activists and nonprofits challenged the idea. Activists formed the St. Louis Dump Veolia coalition to oppose the contract. The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center did its own analysis of the proposed contract, finding that the “contract will have the effect of privatizing the city’s Water Division, and will make city residents captive to Veolia.” According to the Corporate Accountability International report author, Emanuele Lobina, the terms of the Veolia contract would make Veolia “the private owner of all ideas for improving the St. Louis Water Division.”

Ultimately, Veolia failed. withdrew. Perhaps because 33 U.S. cities that went down the privatization path have already “re-municipalized” their water systems. Sometimes the glossy sales pitch is the only thing that shines about these deals.

Categories : Local, Tim Moffitt, Water
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