Economic pain. Tea Party demagogy. Torture. And from my notes, this advice from Andrea Harris, president of the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development in Durham: "Hope," Harris said, "is believing in spite of the evidence."
Jobs and Gov. Perdue
At the North Carolina People's Summit on Jobs and the Economy in Raleigh last Wednesday, progressive leaders like Harris were signing up to row in Gov. Bev Perdue's budget lifeboat—if and when she launches it. "Thank you, Governor, for holding the helm in a hard time," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the NAACP's state chapter, as Perdue listened. Speaker after speaker described the joblessness and despair that exists throughout the state, but especially in minority communities and rural counties. Perdue, nodding and hugging, made it clear: She knows people are hurting, but there's only so much she can do.
Thanks to Perdue, said Bill Rowe, general counsel at the N.C. Justice Center, North Carolina was one of a handful of states to apply "a balanced approach" to its budget woes of a year ago—some spending cuts, some tax increases. Rowe hoped she would exert similar leadership this year, limiting program cuts that hurt the needy while seeking new revenues (taxes).
There were no new taxes proposed, however, when Perdue unveiled her budget six days later. With state revenues still sagging, it featured almost $1 billion in cuts (on top of last year's $2 billion), including some $315 million from the anticipated budget for public schools. Perdue did offer a small ($86 million) package of tax credits and other subsidies aimed at helping small businesses do some hiring, including a "back to work" incentive fund offering $1,000 per job to small (25 or fewer employees) companies hiring folks who've been out of work at least 60 days. She also proposed a small-business tax credit of $250 per employee for company-paid health insurance.
Perdue issued her budget early, a month before the General Assembly officially reconvenes and 10 weeks before the start of the fiscal year. Democratic leaders in the Legislature could add some tax hikes to it, but in an election year the increases would almost certainly be tiny, if they happen at all. Republicans, meanwhile, will call for more cuts, which leaves progressives agreeing with N.C. Budget & Tax Center Director Elaine Mejia's instant analysis of Perdue's plan: "It's about as good as it can be without new revenues."
Wake schools and Gov. Tedesco
You laugh, but two years before she was elected governor, Sarah Palin was the mayor of a town of 7,000 in Alaska. It's a fact not lost on John Tedesco, an aspiring Republican who was an unknown before his election to the Wake County school board last fall but who has since become the new school board majority's mouthpiece and one of the Triangle's best-known politicians.
Like Palin, who was too busy to be governor of Alaska, Tedesco resigned his day job as head of the local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter to devote himself full-time to school politics. He's making "school visits" across the state, including to private and charter schools, he says.
And Thursday, the day Tea Partiers everywhere celebrated the April 15 tax day, Tedesco spoke to the Tea Party rally at the State Capitol and ripped Gov. Perdue for expressing concern about the possible resegregation of Wake's schools. "You better get your priorities straight," Tedesco warned her. Tedesco excoriated liberals for "wanting to control the hearts and minds of our children." He went to say that "our values is what's important, and our values need to be instilled in public education in America ... values that were rooted in the original movements in our Tea Parties."
Speaking of priorities, nearly five months into his term, Tedesco has yet to convene the Wake school board's student assignment committee, which he chairs, to work on the new majority's scheme for "community assignment zones."
Tedesco has a plan in his pocket (actually, in his car) for 18 zones in five "regions," which he's shared with a few people in recent days. It's left them with more questions than answers.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on Tedesco's own 9-to-15 month timetable for developing a new system of school assignments with broad public participation—one that Tedesco insists can be based on neighborhood schools, spread magnet schools around, ignore diversity as a factor in assignments and yet avoid the re-segregation that many think would inevitably occur.
By the time Tedesco's committee meets, the Wake Education Partnership, a civic group headed by former Durham Schools Superintendent Ann Denlinger, is expected to unveil its own assignment plan. Denlinger promises it will honor diversity while also recognizing that families in Wake's fast-growing suburbs deserve stable assignments for their kids.
Torture and North Carolina
After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration built the maximum-security prison at Guantánamo to hold up to 800 high-level al-Qaida and Taliban leaders. But just as we let Osama bin Laden slip away from our troops in Afghanistan, Bush officials (in particular, Vice President Dick Cheney) made decisions that allowed every other top terrorist to get away as well.
Thus, the Guantánamo prison and other secret prisons around the world were filled with "nobodies" handed over by Afghan warlords and Pakistan's pro-Taliban intelligence agents—and it wasn't long before the American military and the CIA knew it. It's journalist Scott Horton's theory, based on his own reporting and that of other investigators and journalists, that the Bush administration ordered many of these prisoners tortured not to extract information from them (because they had none) but rather to get them to sign "confessions" so they could be passed off to the world as what they weren't: dangerous.
For more on the conference at which Horton spoke (previewed in the Indy April 7) and the important role being played by North Carolina activists, see the Citizen blog at indyweek.com.