Thursday, December 22, 2016

Another year (or more) of HB2?

House Bill 2 lives on, despite promises earlier this week that a deal had been reached to ditch the hastily passed legislation that has cost North Carolina millions of dollars in tourism and new jobs that went elsewhere. The law on bathroom access and civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity is still on the books because Republicans in the General Assembly backed out of what Democrats and the Charlotte City Council thought was a done deal.

Charlotte City Council on Tuesday repealed the portions of a local ordinance passed last February that were rescinded by House Bill 2. When some Republicans raised objections that Charlotte had agreed to kill the whole ordinance and not just the parts addressed by HB2, City Council met in emergency session Wednesday to complete the repeal of its ordinance. The vote also eliminated a deadline for the state to repeal HB2.

But Republican leaders saw that hesitation as a heinous plot to keep local civil rights laws on the books, and legislative opposition grew along with mutual distrust. Charlotte provided the "clean" repeal, but GOP legislators backed away from a "clean" repeal of HB2. A GOP proposal barring local civil rights ordinances for six months in return for HB2 repeal ran into Democratic opposition. Republicans shouted that Charlotte's original rescission vote, which was quickly changed to satisfy critics, had abrogated the whole deal. But the six-month ban on local laws was clearly a violation of the deal to get rid of HB2 if Charlotte got rid of its ordinance. The Charlotte ordinance as repealed, but legislators would not follow through by repealing HB2.

Fingers were pointed in all directions. Even before Wednesday's vote on the repeal died on the Senate floor, Gov.-elect Roy Cooper was being blamed for HB2 remaining on the books through the summer. A Facebook post I saw claimed Cooper had lobbied legislators NOT to repeal HB2 in July because, allegedly, he wanted to use the law in his campaign for governor. Those who posted that false report must have forgotten that it was not the legislature that killed a July deal, it was the Charlotte City Council, which voted down a repeal of its civil rights ordinance that started this whole conflict.

GOP spokesmen were quick to blame Cooper for scuttling this week's deal, but it was the GOP legislators, some motivated by sincerely held "right vs. wrong" beliefs and others only seeking political advantage, that killed the repeal of HB2.

Whatever you think of HB2 or transgender rights, you have to admit that HB2 has been costly to North Carolina in economics and prestige. With this week's inaction, more losses will come.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Reflections on a Winter Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice, the longest night and the shortest day of the year. In the "bleak December," we huddle against the cold and turn on artificial lighting to press back against the darkness. This is the deepest, darkest night of the year, but with it comes a promise. From this day forward, until the Summer Solstice, the days will grow longer, the nights will wane shorter. The shivering cold will give way to balmy breezes and then to oppressive summer heat.

The Earth still revolves on its path around the sun. The Earth still rotates from night to day. Even in the darkest night, we know we only have to wait for the light to return. This, too, shall pass.

On this longest night of the year, let us be grateful for the night, for the darkness, for the chill that shivers within us, and for the promise of the light and the warmth that is coming. Turn on the lights. Step out and see the bright constellations against the velvet winter sky. Remember that the days, weeks, months and years will spin past us. Try to remember them all if you can.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas in Charleston

For 26 years, my family has gathered in Charleston, S.C., for a Christmastime gathering. The event began as an opportunity to see my brother's new home following the devastation of Hurricane Hugo. His 19th century home had recovered from the wind and rain of that storm, but many fine old mansions wore scaffolding and broken pieces. Still, the city's charm shown through, and we made the simple gathering an annual event.

It was not a simple trip. For me, a five-hour drive at least, and it was the same length for my brother in Jacksonville, Fla., and his family. My sister in Charlotte had a shorter drive, and our parents could ride with her family.

Over the years, the little children we first took to Charleston grew up and added their own little children to the mix of guests. Our parents died, leaving empty spaces at the table and in our hearts, but the tradition continued. Then my sister-in-law died, then my brother and, three years ago, my sister. Often over the three-day weekend, I expected to see them turn a corner or call my name, but reality set in.

Nevertheless, we gathered again this year, my daughters and four of our grandchildren, my surviving brother and his children and grandchildren, a cousin and her husband, my brother's sister-in-law and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my deceased brother. Despite this continuity, some members of the family have dropped out, and we couldn't help but wonder how long this tradition would continue. We'd like to think could continue another 25 years, but that seems unlikely. The four siblings who initially gathered are down to two. Our children and grandchildren will never share the same memories and same influences we had.

My childhood Christmases were spent at my maternal grandparents' farmhouse, surrounded by 10 aunts and uncles and eight first cousins. I wanted to share that experience with my children, so I dragged them to that Christmas gathering for more than a dozen years. That farmhouse, and my aunt's mill village home that replaced it, did not have the charm of Charleston. My aunts grew too old to host those Christmases, and the tradition died. Inevitably, our Charleston trips will end, but until then, we will enjoy this beautiful city that has been proclaimed the top tourist city in the country.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Foreign influence in U.S. elections?

Reports that Russian hackers attempted to influence the U.S. presidential election through a series of stolen emails strategically released through Wikileaks are opening an unprecedented new era in U.S. politics. Never before has a foreign power been accused of meddling in U.S presidential elections.

President-elect Donald Trump dismisses the CIA and NSA report that individuals in the Russian government knew about or instigated the cyber attack on American democracy with the intention to help the Republican nominee. "Ridiculous," he says. But national intelligence professionals disagree. Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump admires and praises, is attempting to reassert Soviet-era hegemony over all of eastern Europe and former Soviet states in Asia, the intelligence specialists say.

Bipartisan members of Congress are planning to investigate the allegations of election tampering by Russia, but it's difficult to know the intentions of the cyber criminals who hacked into Democratic and Republican party email systems. Even if the break-ins to computer systems can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, finding the motivation and intentions of the perpetrators is probably beyond the ability of congressional investigators. Who put together the tactics and approved the mission may remain a mystery forever.

No matter how diligently Congress digs into this mess, some people will doubt the conclusions, and the Great Electoral Con of 2016 may forever the the subject of conspiracy theorists and doubters.

It will be telling to see what the Trump Justice Department does with the information Congress exposes. Will the new Justice Department be willing to bring charges against international actors? Will the new president recognize the seriousness of any effort to undermine a presidential election? Or will he consider it just a little practical joke among friends?

Monday, December 5, 2016

McCrory finally accepts the facts

Gov. Pat McCrory has accepted the fact that he lost the 2016 governor's race and has conceded to Attorney General Roy Cooper, the next governor of North Carolina.

McCrory's concession has relieved my worry that he and his GOP colleagues might be plotting a slick move of having the General Assembly declare an election deadlock to give McCrory another term, despite what voters did.

McCrory was the big loser on the state's ballot. Fellow Republicans won statewide elections for U.S. Senate and president, but McCrory lagged far behind his 2012 success. A pre-election hurricane gave McCrory an opportunity to be seen carrying out his responsibilities and empathizing with residents, but that wasn't enough to save him from his self-inflicted wounds. 

The moderate mayor of Charlotte joined hands with the harshest conservatives in the legislature and passed an unnecessary bill that infuriated gay rights supporters across the nation. The legislation was passed in unprecedented haste, and McCrory angrily defended the bill and denied, despite all evidence, that the legislation hurt North Carolina's economy, its prestige and its reputation. It appears obvious that House Bill 2 hurt McCrory's re-election bid, bringing out voters who might not have cared otherwise. McCrory and attorney general candidate Buck Newton, a sponsor and defender of HB2, were the only Republicans in prominent statewide races who failed to win.

The voters have unleashed their anger at McCrory, but little will change so long as the General Assembly has a veto-proof Republican minority, most of them ensconced in gerrymandered safe seats that make them immune from Democratic challengers.