Rep. Jimmy Dixon criticizes DEQ for problems he helped create

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Slash their staff, and then blame them for getting behind:

From the get-go, the committee meeting felt contentious and at times, contradictory. Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican from Duplin County, declared there would be no discussion of the Department of Environmental Quality’s financial straits, noting that “the media and other people for political purposes have made funding part of this issue.”

But there’s no getting around the expense and future financial commitment that would be required to monitor and fix the state’s surface water and drinking water pollutions. The budget cuts inflicted upon DEQ are now legendary, although Dixon seemed unfazed by that fact. “There is a 41 percent backlog in permit reviews,” Dixon said, addressing Assistant DEQ Secretary Sheila Holman. “Does the department have an ongoing internal efficiency analysis?” Dixon: “I’m a farmer and know efficiencies.”

Uh, no. If you were that damn efficient, you wouldn't need Federal farm subsidies and fat checks from Big Ag lobbyists and lawyers. I get so tired of these Republicans dodging the questions about their de-funding of DENR/DEQ. If you want a lot of the dirty details, you'll find them in this (massive pdf) Legislative efficiency report from 2014, which explores in-depth many of the lost positions. But it's depressing as hell, so you may want to skip it.

Tuesday News: A game-changer

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GERRYMANDERING CASE IN FRONT OF U.S. SUPREME COURT COULD ALTER POLITICAL LANDSCAPE: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a Wisconsin case that could reshape Congress and state legislatures if a majority of justices embraces a new formula to identify legislative districts that unfairly favor one political party. In Gill v. Whitford, the high court will examine what constitutes partisan gerrymandering in redistricting, the once-a-decade re-drawing of legislative boundaries to reflect demographic changes revealed in the census. With redistricting looming as the 2020 census nears, statehouses nationwide will be watching the case for guidance on how to create electoral maps that pass legal muster while retaining the legislative advantage of the majority party.
http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article176145551.html

Tuesday Twitter roundup

Obfuscation has a new mascot:

It's not about security, it's about trying to minimize the political damage:

Monday Numbers: Taking care of the 1%

Chris Fitzsimon lays bare the highway robbery:

5—number of days since the White House and Republican Congressional leadership released the outline of their major tax reform proposal (“GOP tax plan would provide major gains for richest 1%, uneven benefits for the middle class, report says, Washington Post, September 29. 2017)

30—percentage of taxpayers with annual incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 who would see a tax increase under the plan (Ibid)

80—percentage of tax benefits in the Republican tax reform plan that would go to the top one percent of taxpayers (“A Preliminary Analysis of the Unified Framework, Tax Policy Center, September 29, 2017)

It's quite possible Trump actually believes this will be a net benefit for the middle class, but that's only because he has no idea what the criteria is for that category. He probably thinks the middle class are people who can afford a $200,000 membership fee at Mar-A-Lago, but can't afford more than 5-7 maids and gardeners for their own home. And once again, I find it hard to grasp why people would trust a man who has borrowed a lot more money than he's paid back, and managed to turn filing bankruptcy into an art form. The writing's on the wall with this issue:

Monday News: Beyond horrific

50 DEAD, 200 WOUNDED IN LAS VEGAS MASS SHOOTING: A Nevada sheriff says the death toll has climbed to 50 in the attack on a Las Vegas concert Sunday, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo says more than 200 people were wounded at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the Strip. Authorities have identified the suspected gunman as Las Vegas resident Stephen Paddock. Lombardo says officers confronted Paddock on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino across the street from the concert. Paddock is dead. The sheriff says they believe this was a "lone wolf" attack but said they are looking for a roommate of the dead suspect as a person of interest.
http://www.wral.com/the-latest-concert-attendees-say-gunfire-came-from-hotel/16988029/

Sunday News: From the Editorial pages

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RICHARD BURR'S OBSTINANCE MAY HELP FARR BUT DOESN'T FURTHER JUSTICE: Burr blocked two very qualified African-American judicial candidates for years. But when Trump was elected, he heartedly backed a lawyer who has defended the most racially segregated legislative and congressional districts in the nation. What does all this say about Sen. Burr’s motivations? What conclusions should we reach? He’s a career politician – 22 years in Congress -- whose profile is so below the radar that last month a quarter of the state’s voters were unable to say if he’s doing a good job or not. During the 2016 campaign Burr announced it would be his last – supposedly signaling that lame-duck status would grant him independence from partisan rigidity and the big-money right-wingers. He’s led us to expect better. But his positions on the Graham-Cassidy health bill and this critical judicial appointment don’t measure up to his own expectation.
http://www.wral.com/editorial-burr-s-obstinance-may-help-farr-but-doesn-t-further-justice/16976385/

Fight for $15? We may be about to lose $7.25 per hour

Supreme Court could make filing wage-theft claims much more difficult:

On Monday, the day that kicks off the Supreme Court’s new term, the justices will hear arguments in three consolidated cases with far-reaching implications for wage-earners. The cases—Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris, and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc.—are all about whether employers have the right to compel workers go through onerous individual arbitration proceedings in order to bring labor law claims. If the justices answer that question in the affirmative, then the affected workers will—as a practical matter—find it nearly impossible to win back pay in cases involving wage law violations.

This feels eerily similar to what has been going on in the healthcare debate. While many Democrats have been pushing adamantly for Universal healthcare or Medicare for all, fantastic ideas that have little chance of being implemented, Republicans have been scheming to repeal the ACA and deeply slash funding for Medicaid. Truthfully, we've been lucky as hell the GOP has failed to do these things (so far). By the same token, while we've been arguing over whether a moderate increase in the minimum wage (actually, $11 per hour is like a 45% increase) is a "lame" effort, and any Democrat that doesn't shoot for at least $15 per hour is a corporate stooge (or something), Republicans have been helping companies pay workers like $3-$4 per hour. And now the Gorsuch-tainted Supremes are about to give those companies a free hand in stealing from their own workers:

Saturday News: "Fixing" something that isn't broken

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COURTS COMMISSION PUSHES BACK AT BURR'S JUDICIAL GERRYMANDERING BILL: Judges who work in the court system and see the tangle of child custody cases, divorces, low-level crimes and complicated murder cases issued a common refrain on Friday as a 30-member Courts Commission reviewed a plan to overhaul election districts for judges and district attorneys across North Carolina. “If it ain’t broke, please don’t come and try and fix us,” Susan Dotson-Smith, a district court judge in Buncombe County, said. The Courts Commission was established by state law in the 1960s to evaluate proposed changes to the court system and advise the General Assembly on such issues. Comprised of members from all branches of government as well as from the public, the commission serves largely as an adviser to the lawmakers and has no independent authority of its own.
http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article176230021.html

Grand Theft Auto: Private contractors "misplace" hundreds of seized vehicles

Rep. David Lewis got a lot more 'splainin' to do, Lucy:

Private contractors responsible for towing, storing and auctioning off cars seized from impaired drivers and people accused of fleeing police cannot account for 234 vehicles, valued at nearly $634,000, according to a state audit report released this week.

Under a state program, vehicles operated by drivers who were arrested for repeat driving-while-impaired offenses or speeding to elude arrest were to be seized, maintained, stored, and sold by two contractors.

You know, aside from the apparent corruption and pay-to-play politics exposed here, I have a big problem with the seizure of private property associated with *all* criminal activity, but especially something as mundane as traffic offenses, even those as disgusting as drinking and driving. The criminal justice system is punitive and costly enough as it is, and government taking private property just seems excessive, and probably unconstitutional. But that's just me. Here's the pay-to-play part:

US DOJ argues LGBT employees can be fired for having sex when off work

Republicans sticking their noses into bedrooms, again:

Why does President Donald Trump care about what gay people do in the bedroom? The question came up this week, when a lawyer for Trump's Department of Justice argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect LGBTQ Americans from being fired because of their sexual orientation—a complete reversal of the government's position on such matters under previous presidents.

The agency inserted itself, even though the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had already sided with Zarda, arguing that LGBTQ employees are protected by Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights law.

Bolding mine, because that is a critical aspect of this issue. The DOJ should be defending the rights of citizens treated unfairly, or prosecuting those who violate Statutes designed to protect those citizens. But instead, the DOJ is acting like a private defense lawyer for a company who engaged in workplace discrimination. Exactly the opposite of what they should be doing. And even worse, this is not just an isolated incident, it's part of a pattern of legal assaults on LGBT rights:

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