Leading from the Left

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dog Fighting's NC connections

A friend sent the following link to a dog-fighting article in a Belleville, Illinois paper. The article mentions connections between an Illinios case and Orange County resident Tommy Garner and former OC Tethering Committee member Alane Koki.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Regressive vs. Progressive Taxation

What are our values? When it comes to tax policy are we willing to adopt methods of taxation that are progressive rather than regressive?

Regressive taxes, like the sales tax for example, bear a heavier burden on the poor than the wealthy. Progressive taxes, such as the income tax, spread the burden out based on one's ability to pay. Thus, we have different tax rates based on income level: the wealthy pay a higher percentage of their income than the poor or middle class.

Orange County will shortly be faced with an interesting dilemma. The new state budget, which is to receive final approval today in both the State House and State Senate, give county governments the option of putting on the ballot either a referendum to increase the sales tax OR a referendum to increase the land transfer tax to .6%. Today's Chapel Hill Herald has an article on this subject.

I strongly support placing the land transfer tax before the voters and oppose increasing the sales tax. As a progressive, I believe in progressive, not regressive, means of taxation.

As a friend of mine said this morning, the instrument really does matter. ALOT.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Letter to Board of Elections

A couple of days ago, I posted about the recommendation to move Chapel Hill's early voting site from UNC's campus to the new Senior Center. Below is a copy of the letter that I've sent Barry Garner the Director of the Board of Elections. I've also written letters to the editor of the local papers.

If you're so inclined, the Board of Elections needs to hear from you about this topic.

Dear Barry,
I am writing to express my strong support for an on campus early voting site.

I first got involved in local politics more than 20 years ago as an undergraduate at UNC. There is no doubt that voting is the easiest gateway to getting involved in local issues, and I think we need to do everything that we can to empower students to feel more like they’re part of the broader community.

Making voting as easy as it can be for our student population should be a top priority of the Board of Elections. I am very excited about the new same day voter registration bill that has been passed, and I think continuing an on campus precinct is vital to that legislation having its intended effect of increasing voter participation in Orange County.

It’s not just about students though. Since UNC is by far the county’s largest employer, it only makes sense to have a one stop voting site where it is easily accessible for faculty and staff.

I completely understand the potential of there being an issue with parking but in that case folks can go vote early at Carrboro Town Hall, which makes more sense geographically than the Senior Center for a large number of Chapel Hill voters anyway.

I strongly support the UNC Student Union for the Chapel Hill early voting site and hope you will take my comments in strong consideration and pass them onto the Board.

Thank you,

Mike Nelson

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Barry Jacobs on Dog-fighting

My colleague Barry Jacobs posted an excellent essay on dog-fighting on the WRAL-TV website. It's worth a look since this topic has been in the news alot recently. Here's the link.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New Obstacle to Early Voting

I have just been told that the Director of the Orange County Board of Elections is recommending that the one-stop, early voting site in Chapel Hill be moved from UNC to the Senior Center.

I'll be checking into this. If true, this decision needs to be revisited. In the recent past, the UNC site has been extraordinarily popular with students, staff and folks who live and work near downtown Chapel Hill. It would be a real shame to make it harder for these folks to vote.

I understand that there has been some problem with finding a suitable location for the UNC early voting site this year. But we need to continue to search for a viable option. Moving it away from downtown isn't the right thing to do.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Farm Worker Rights

There is an important bill in the legislature which would help protect farmworkers from exposure to harmful pesticides. Please contact your state house member and ask him/her to support H1818, "Agricultural Family Protection Act."

Co-sponsored by Representatives Grier Martin and Dan Blue, both Wake County Democrats, the "Agricultural Family Protection Act" will close a number of loopholes in NC pesticide law--loopholes that currently leave farmworkers open to exposure to harmful chemicals. You may recall reading last year about a suspiciously high number of birth defects in babies born to farm workers in Eastern North Carolina. This bill is, in part, an attempt to address the conditions that lead to harmful exposure.

H1818 is being heard tomorrow in the House Agri-business Committee which is chaired by Orange County Rep. Bill Faison.

Here's what Agricultural Resources, a Raleigh non-profit has to say about the issue and about this bill;

"Pesticide exposure can pose health risks for everyone in North Carolina, but farmworkers are at greatest risk because they work with pesticides and live close to application sites. The workplace protections in place for farmworkers are minimal, and the result can be serious harm to the health of workers and their families - as tragically illustrated in the Ag-Mart case.

Lawmakers in North Carolina are considering changes to the NC Pesticide Law that would close some important loopholes that increase the risks to farmworkers and their families. Click here to contact members of the House Agribusiness Committee to and urge them to support H 1818, the Agricultural Family Protection Act.

Important: The House Agribusiness Committee will hear this bill on Wednesday, July 25 at 1 PM. Please take action before then!"

Friday, July 20, 2007

Blood Sport

By now you've heard about or read about the indictment of pro-footballer Michael Vick on dog-fighting charges.

Until recently, I knew nothing about this "sport." Like most of you, I thought it was a thing of the past. Maybe it still happened in places like Mississippi or the Louisiana bayous, I thought, but surely not here.

This spring as I worked with a group of Orange County residents to craft recommendations for tethering dogs, I had an opportunity to be educated on dog-fighting as well as the breeding and training of dogs to fight. It is rumored that we have some of this going on right here in Orange County. While I can't prove it exists here, I've come to believe strongly that it does.

Here's a link to an article in Newsweek about dog-fighting. This will make you sick to your stomach...the reference to a 'rape box' at the end of the article is particularly disgusting.

You might also find Senator Byrd's recent speech in the Senate about dog-fighting interesting.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Today's lead editorial in the N&O says exactly what needs to be said about the sordid Black affair. They're right, the lobbyist who loaned Black $500,000 should be revealed. We have a right to know.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Black Day for North Carolina Politics

Yesterday, former State House Speaker Jim Black was sentenced to 63 months in prison, a punishment he surely deserves for breaking the law, violating the public trust, and besmirching the reputation of the NC State House. The N&O had excellent coverage; read their lead story here.

Yesterday's sentence was handed down by a federal judge, and Black is still waiting to be sentenced by a state court judge. That sentence could add as much as 2 years to his sentence.

Black made a series of bad decisions--taking cash contributions, bribing Michael Decker, and taking what amounted to bribes himself in bathrooms in chain restaurants. It's pathetic that a man of such talent and political prowess chose to plunge into a cesspool of dirty politics. More so for the state than the man, it is a black day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Statement from Jim Warren on the GAO Study

Here is the statement from Jim Warren on the GAO Study. I thought you all might find it interesting....

NC WARN: Waste Awareness & Reduction Network

PRESS STATEMENT Contact: Jim Warren

July 11, 2007 919-416-5077

GAO Will Study Enforcement of Nuclear Plant Fire Regulations

Statement from NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren:

Today, Congressman David Price announced that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has accepted his request to study the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s enforcement of fire safety standards at U.S. nuclear power plants.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, will now assemble a team for the study, which is expected to begin in September. This is a very important juncture in the years-long campaign by public interest groups to force nuclear power plant owners to stop cutting corners on vital safety issues. Fire represents a leading risk factor for meltdown at nuclear plants.

NC WARN encourages the people of North Carolina to thank Representative Price, and the many local and state officials who sought his involvement in this issue due to particular concerns about violations at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in Wake County.* When federal agencies such as the NRC protect corporate profits instead of public safety, it is reassuring to know that many elected officials take seriously their responsibility for public safety.

Since last fall, the regional public has increasingly voiced concern to public officials and Progress Energy management based on reports by NC WARN and others about 14 years of violation at Harris, and the company’s plans to delay compliance for years longer.

We especially wish to thank our technical experts and legal co-petitioners Dave Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Paul Gunter of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service. Also, thanks to co-petitioners NC Fair Share and SURGE, Students United for a Responsible Global Environment.

GAO study of the NRC to proceed

This just in...

Jim Warren at NCWARN just sent an email letting me know that the GAO is proceeding with a study of the NRC's lack of enforcement of fire protection regulations at nuclear power plants. As you may recall from an earlier blog post, several months ago I joined a group of local elected officials who met with Rep. David Price about Shearon Harris nuclear power plant.

We expressed our concerns regarding a number of issues at Shearon Harris, one of which being potential problems with fire safety. In response to the issues we raised, Congressman Price agreed to seek a GAO study of the NRC. The study will determine if the NRC is doing its duty in enforcing the laws that govern nuclear power plants.

Thanks to Congressman Price to seeing this through!

One of the great concerns I have with the current administration in Washington is their insistence on filling oversight bodies, like the NRC, with ideologues who consistently undermine the agencies and rules they're charged with overseeing. Perhaps this GAO study will help jerk a not in their chain. The citizens of NC deserve to know that Shearon Harris is safe.

Realtors vs. Education

This will get your blood pumping. At least it did mine. I can't remember when I was angrier at a special interest group...or more disappointed in the State Senate.

The NC Association of Realtors single-handedly managed to scuttle an agreement between the State House and State Senate that would have allowed county's to vote to establish a real estate transfer tax of .4%. The proceeds of this tax would have been used for the schools.

According to legislative insiders, the Realtors' threatened to defeat Democratic Senators who represent swing districts if the Senate supported a transfer tax. Cowardice won the day, and the Senate caved into these blackmail threats. Check out Chris Fitzsimon's essay on this situation here.

It's disappointing, to say the least, that the Senate couldn't stand up to this kind of threat for two reasons. First, an individual county ought to have the power to decide to tax themselves as they see fit. If a county, like Orange, has significant school needs that would benefit from implementing a transfer tax, then what's the harm in allowing that county to exert self-determination? Over a half dozen counties in NC already have transfer taxes and the sky has not fallen. This option should be extended to the rest of the state.

Second, the Senate shows its weakness when they so quickly cave into threats such as those made by the Realtors. The Realtors proved they have the power to stop legislation in the Senate; and the Senate proved they will bend to the whims of a special interest lobby. It's not a good week for the people of North Carolina.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

It's "Toot Your Own Horn" Day

The Chapel Hill News ran a good editorial on Sunday supporting my concerns with the county's budget process and, specifically, commissioners not getting information in a timely manner.

Also on Sunday, the Herald ran my op-ed on Hog Farms in North Carolina. I can't find the link on their website (arggghhh!) so here's the text in full.

What does summer smell like to you? Honeysuckle on your front porch? Sunscreen and salt water at the beach? Burgers cooking on an outdoor grill? These scents bring back memories for most of us, reminding us of some of the best summers of our lives. However, for many people in eastern North Carolina, summer smells like a sewer.

For these unfortunate souls in eastern NC, many of them African-American and nearly all poor, the torpid days of summer only intensify the odors from hog lagoons that they have to live with year round. We have an opportunity this summer to change that if the General Assembly passes legislation to address the environmental effects of hog waste lagoons and sprayfields. Legislation currently being considered will, if passed, go a long way to address the ecological impacts and environmental justice concerns caused by the swine industry.

North Carolina has the second-largest hog industry in the nation and the largest in the South; currently, over ten million hogs are raised in North Carolina, mostly on major corporate farms. While hog farming is vital to the state’s economy, it also creates massive amounts of hog waste. Currently, that waste is dumped into hog “lagoons,” or huge clay-lined cesspools, some up to 120,000 square feet in area and thirty feet deep. These pools are open to the air, releasing hundreds of tons of ammonia, bacteria, and other pollutants into the air as the waste decomposes. Live downwind from one of these pits, like many people in eastern North Carolina do, and a light breeze can turn into an awful stench.

But the problem doesn’t end there. Imagine having hog waste sprayed on your home, on your car, even on your clothes and in your water supply. Many hog lagoons are accompanied by “sprayfields,” where decaying hog waste is sprayed on nearby agricultural fields as cheap fertilizer. This spraying can take place just a few yards from people’s homes and businesses, making it impossible for them to invite friends over, hang their laundry out to dry, or even sit outside.

Lagoons and sprayfields have deeper environmental repercussions as well, ones that affect the entire state. Because lagoons are open to the air, they are extremely vulnerable to rupture or leakage. Many North Carolina residents remember Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which devastated the coastline and caused severe flooding over much of eastern NC. Hog lagoons in the path of the hurricane flooded and overflowed into rivers, lakes, and other water sources, causing massive pollution as over 120 millions gallons of ammonia, methane, giardia, salmonella, and cyanide—all contained in hog waste—entered the water supply.

However, it doesn’t take a natural disaster like Hurricane Floyd for hog cesspools to do major harm to the environment. Even minor rainfall can cause lagoons to overflow, creating runoff into nearby lakes and streams. Many hog lagoons don’t have liners or any sort of protective barrier, so hog waste seeps unchecked into nearby groundwater and wells. In addition to this, excessive use of sprayfields is a constant source of runoff—hog lagoons create more waste than can be used as fertilizer on fields, so the unabsorbed waste makes its way into local water supply. Simply put, hog lagoons are an ongoing environmental and public health disaster.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, the North Carolina General Assembly imposed a moratorium on the creation of new hog lagoons. That moratorium is set to expire in August, and the legislature has yet to pass a comprehensive plan for dealing with the problem of hog lagoons. North Carolina needs decisive action, and soon, to prevent some of the state’s biggest polluters from expanding even further, causing untold damage to our rivers, lakes, and wells. Currently, there are several bills attempting to address the environmental problems of lagoons. The most comprehensive of these, Senate Bill 1465, would permanently ban creation of new lagoons and sprayfields, forcing the hog industry to find new ways of dealing with the staggering amounts of waste created in factory swine farms. SB 1465 passed the Senate and currently awaits action in the House.

Years of experience with the hog industry have shown North Carolina that lagoons and sprayfields have catastrophic effects on public health, safety, and our environment. For the good of the state, please urge our delegation to the state House of Representatives to support SB 1465 and ban hog lagoons and sprayfields. Perhaps this will be the year that North Carolina finally deals with the filth caused by hog waste in the Eastern half of our state.

If we do, our eastern neighbors will breathe a sigh of relief. Only this time, they’ll be able to smell the sweet aroma of summer.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Unchained Melody

Here's an article from today's News & Observer about a local group that advocates for more humane treatment of animals. Not only do they advocate, but they put their money where their mouths are and build fences for families that otherwise would have to chain their dogs 24-7.

Amanda Arrington and her fellow volunteers take donations and are always grateful for assistance from those so inclined. When I moved into my new house last month, I donated the existing chain link fence to the group. Amanda, her husband, and two volunteers came and removed it in a matter of days, saving me the hassle of doing it myself while at the same time recycling a fence for other families. Amanda told me that my fence might help as many as 3 other families. It was a good bargain for all.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cowell to Run for Treasurer

Senator Janet Cowell has confirmed that she will be running for State Treasurer. Janet is serving her second term in the Senate after serving 5 years on the Raleigh City Council. Sharp, hard-working, and progressive, Cowell's widely viewed as a rising star in state politics. She'll make a fantastic Treasurer, and I'll be supporting her campaign.

Cowell's move opens up her State Senate seat, and I'm hoping Raleigh politico Nina Szlosberg files. Nina is Chair of the Board of Directors of the Conservation Council (for which I work as Director of Government Relations), serves on the Triangle Transit Authority Board, and serves on the Dept. of Transportation where she has spear-headed efforts to make DOT more environmentally accountable. Haven't heard anything from Nina about running for the State Senate today, but I know she's expressed interest in this seat if Janet were to step aside. No time like the present, Nina!

Frustration with the Process

Check out this thread on orangepolitics.org.

Yesterday, the Chapel Hill News published an email that I sent our staff several weeks ago regarding my frustration with the BOCC's budget process. It was a strongly worded email, reflecting the depth of my frustration, and was sent only after politely raising similar concerns on several prior occassions.

Those concerns hadn't been heard and sometimes you have to be very forceful to get folks to pay attention.