Victories in Government in Washington and North Carolina this November

December 5, 2021, Raleigh, NC—Sometimes government gets things done, despite itself, and despite the ongoing, internecine partisan bickering that marks most of the life of government in America.

This November represented such a moment for America, and for the State of North Carolina, in particular. This November marked such a moment, a time when government took care of the people’s business, a time when rare bipartisanship prevailed in North Carolina with the adoption of a new state budget after three years of partisan wrangling. This real result bodes well for the political future of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. In Washington, the story was not so much about bipartisanship, but about Democratic Party unity, following a poor showing this year for the Democrats in this year’s national election. This legislative result should bode well for President Biden’s next big legislative priority, the social spending bill, up for consideration this December, and it should bode well for the Democrats’ hopefully improved chances at putting forth a better showing in next year’s more significant mid-term national elections. Nationally and in the statehouse in North Carolina, the Democrats got things done. In North Carolina, the Republican leaders of the State legislature can claim credit, too.

Two years ago, in 2019, I wrote a post on this blog in which I excoriated Governor Cooper and the Republican leaders of the North Carolina State legislature for not agreeing to a budget to cover that year, 2019 (“North Carolina Still Without Budget, But I-77 Express Lanes in Charlotte Open,” nickpattifeatures.com, 11/18/2019).  Two more years passed, and finally, this past November, North Carolina political leaders agreed on and passed a budget. Writing in the News & Observer, of Raleigh, NC, Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan noted that it had been three years since the State had passed a budget. “In the end,” Vaughan wrote, “the spending plan had passed because after three years with no budget compromise, lawmakers of both parties and their constituents had run out of patience for any more delay, especially after the long-running coronavirus pandemic” (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 11/26-27/2021, p. 1A). She credited, also, the Democrats on the committee in 2021 who pushed for adoption and compromise, even though the budget failed to meet long-standing Democratic Party demands in North Carolina. Finally, on November 18, 2021, Governor Cooper signed the state budget into law (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 11/19-20/2021, p. 2A).

If it took that long to pass the budget, what caused the delay? What was so important that lawmakers could not agree for so long? Two issues stood out and caused disagreement. One: Medicaid expansion to cover the working poor. Two: teacher pay. On Medicaid expansion, we are talking about an estimated, roughly 634,000 people in North Carolina who have failed to gain Medicaid eligibility since 2019, according to Elizabeth Thompson, writing in the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC, 7/11/2019, on-line). Under Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, the federal government gives states the option to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor, or people who fall in what is called the “coverage gap.” That is the group of people whose income is too high for Medicaid guidelines, but too little to receive federal subsidies to help with the cost of private insurance. Without state-level Medicaid expansion, these hundreds of thousands of people in North Carolina would continue to rely exclusively on hospital emergency rooms only for all of their medical care. They generally do not have a primary care doctor, either (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 7/11/2019, on-line). Anyone can see how this situation is unacceptable for working people, or anyone, but it remains the reality. This issue was a top sticking point for Governor Roy Cooper, since the Republican leadership of the NC House would not allow Medicaid expansion to provide coverage for these people. In the final budget that was adopted in November, 2021, NC Democrats still failed to obtain Medicaid expansion. Governor Roy Cooper has said he agrees with many parts of the new state budget, but would fight on in the future for those parts not included. “I will sign this budget, because on balance the good outweighs the bad,” Governor Cooper was quoted as saying in the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC, 11/26/2021, p. 14A). “While I believe that it is a budget of some missed opportunities and misguided policy, it is also a budget that we desperately need at this unique time in the history of our state.” Furthermore, Gov. Cooper said that the budget included many things that he deemed “critical to our state’s progress as we are emerging from this pandemic” (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 11/26-27/2021, p. 14A; 11/18/2021, p. 1A).

Although Medicaid expansion was not included in the 2021 budget, the North Carolina legislature will form a committee to study the issue for the future. With one estimate at $1.2 billion in federal funding to cover Medicaid expansion in 2022, if President Biden’s social spending bill passes, this committee could lead to adoption of Medicaid expansion in the future (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/1/2021, p. 5A). Currently, North Carolina is one of only 12 states, mostly in the Southeast, which have not expanded Medicaid. North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger has already changed his mind, now supporting Medicaid expansion. Previously, he was concerned about the cost of the expansion. Now, he was quoted as saying, “I just don’t think the fiscal concerns I’ve had in the past about the cost of expansion are things to be worried about” (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/1/2021, p. 5A). Although the state failed to adopt Medicaid expansion at this time, there is hope that it will in the near future.

On teacher pay raises, the two sides compromised, and agreed on a number. This number ended up at 5% pay raises over two years, plus bonuses, and more for teachers in rural counties. Most state workers will also see a raise of 5% over two years, as well (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/1/2021, p. 6A).

The 2021 NC budget represented a compromise, but a good compromise. What is more, the Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper came together and took care of the people’s business, which on the state level, begins with the adoption of a state budget.

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Raleigh, NC © Paul Brady | Dreamstime.com

All of this bodes well for Governor Roy Cooper’s political future. The Governor is in his second and final term, thanks to term limits. His future could include becoming the leader of the Democratic Governors Association, according to Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan of the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC, 11/26-27/2021, p. 14A). Currently, Gov. Cooper serves as the vice chair of that organization.

Equally important, I would argue, is how Gov. Cooper looks, following his performance leading the purple state, North Carolina, through three years without a budget, and finally reaching agreement with the Republican leadership in the legislature this year. Actually, I think that the Governor looks pretty good. Previously, he looked awful, for not being able to reach any agreement or compromise, and for leading the State without finishing the most basic of business, adopting a State budget. This is primary on the state level throughout the United States, for any single, individual state. This is the single most important piece of the people’s business that each state in the Union must attend to. Failure to do so is failing on the most basic responsibility of the people’s business on the state level. The Governor looked pretty bad on this score, until, that is, he reached a compromise with NC Republicans, and found a budget that he and North Carolina Democrats could live with.

What is even more important, I would argue, is why it took so long for Governor Cooper to attain responsible state government, with a current budget. That reason is he was fighting for the working poor of his State, North Carolina, to achieve coverage and access to health care, as newly allowed and encouraged by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The pressure is even greater from the federal level now, with the federal government promising to fund most of the expenses for the states (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/1/2021, p. 5A). It really is an outrage that we still do not have health insurance coverage or adequate health care for the working poor of North Carolina. We still need Medicaid expansion to provide that care and access. According to a study in 2019, we are talking about an estimated 600,000-plus people in North Carolina alone who lack that coverage and access to adequate health care (News and Observer,  Raleigh, NC, 7/11/2019, on-line). This is truly a noble fight. It is about basic access to health care, especially during the pandemic and during the recovery from the pandemic. I think Governor Roy Cooper is and was justified in taking on this fight, both for himself and for the State of North Carolina. Three years without a state budget is a steep price to pay to stand up for your values. I recommended compromise two years ago, in 2019, in an earlier post on this blog (“North Carolina Still Without Budget, But I-77 Express Lanes in Charlotte Open,” nickpattifeatures.com, 11/18/2019). With the government of North Carolina finally having reached compromise and having achieved a state budget this past November, this fight for basic health care for the working poor looks much better. Governor Roy Cooper did everything in his power to fight this good fight, and although he failed to win on this score, he made significant progress toward this goal in North Carolina, and he still took care of the State’s core business, the budget, in retrospect, as well. More work needs to be done. Hopefully, this new committee, combined with a more welcoming view on the issue from at least one leading state Republican, State Senate leader Phil Berger, can lead to the ultimate adoption of Medicaid expansion. Then we can fill in that crack in the foundation with concrete, properly, and prevent hundreds of thousands of working people in North Carolina from falling through that crack, regarding basic access to adequate health care and regarding finally obtaining health insurance for themselves, where they currently still lack access, even under Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act. I think this current situation remains unconscionable. Governor Roy Cooper was right to prioritize this fight, and to continue that fight into the future.

Governor Cooper looks good, as of this past November, and he has now a political future. I wish him the best, for the remainder of his current term, and in whatever endeavor he pursues, after that.

In reaching this agreement on adopting a state budget in North Carolina, elected officials of both parties, Democrat and Republican, finally took care of the people’s business in North Carolina. Although they had been mostly squabbling over this and other issues over the past three years, this past November, they came together, reached an agreement, a compromise, and fulfilled their core responsibility in State government. This November marked a rare moment of bipartisanship in North Carolina, and it was desperately needed.

Now, both parties are returning to their former, usual, partisan ways. Just this past Thursday, December 2nd, Governor Cooper vetoed a Republican-backed bill regarding election integrity or voting rights and ballot access, depending on your perspective (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/3/2021, p. 2A). Aside from your opinion on this issue, my point is that the two parties disagreed once again on this key issue in North Carolina, and thus, basically, returned to partisan squabbling, once again. One outlook for the near future in North Carolina is that the entire NC General Assembly is up for re-election in 2022. That is 170 seats. Up in the air is the possibility that Republicans may or may not need any Democratic votes to override any of Gov. Cooper’s future vetoes, depending on whether NC Republicans win back a supermajority, or not. That is up for grabs in next year’s 2022 elections, according to Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan of the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC, 11/26-27/2021, p. 14A). I support the Democrats in 2022 in North Carolina, and I hope both parties can find it inside themselves in the State to adopt, finally, Medicaid expansion for the working poor.

In Washington, DC, the story was not so much about bipartisanship as it was about Democratic Party unity. Here, however, continued party unity into December, this month, is anybody’s guess. Similar to the bipartisanship in North Carolina, the Democratic Party unity we witnessed in November may well turn out to have been a fleeting phenomenon.

In Washington, DC, Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law. This law passed along strict party lines. Prior to the national elections on November 2nd, Democrats were divided, internally, with the progressives and the moderates at odds over the bill. After the election, in which they underperformed, Democrats found the unity to pass President Biden’s infrastructure bill. Next comes President Biden’s even larger social spending package, up for consideration this December. Although Democrats in Washington found unity to pass the infrastructure bill in November, the jury is out whether they can do the same on the social spending bill in December. For the sake of accomplishing President Joe Biden’s agenda, and for the sake of putting forth a better showing for voters ahead of next year’s mid-term elections, I hope the Democrats pass President Joe Biden’s social spending package. The Democrats’ fate next year in the mid-terms may hang in the balance (New York Times, 11/6/2021, p. A1; 11/4/2021, p.A15; “Democratic Voters See Many Losers in Party Schism, and One Winner: Trump,” New York Times, 10/3/2021).

For their part, Republicans were opposed to President Joe Biden’s and the Democrats’ national agenda, marked as it is by large amounts of new federal spending. US Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, put it this way, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal on CNN, “They [the Democrats] are in the midst of an absolutely unprecedented, very damaging spending spree on a scale that we have never seen,” he said. “And they want us to come along and authorize the borrowing to help pay for it when we are totally opposed to what they’re doing” (Wall Street Journal, 9/27/2021, p. A1).

The Democrats’ victory in Washington in passing President Biden’s infrastructure bill in November followed party lines, and was adopted over the protest of the Republican Party. More Democratic Party unity will be required to overcome Republican opposition to President Joe Biden’s social spending bill this December.

Democrats have already won in the US House. On November 19, the House passed the $2 trillion social spending bill, sending it over for consideration to the Senate. “The House on Friday narrowly passed the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, approving $2 trillion in spending over the next decade to battle climate change, expand health care and reweave the nation’s social safety net, over the unanimous opposition of Republicans,” wrote Emily Cochran and Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times (“House Narrowly Passes Biden’s Social Safety Net and Climate Bill,” 11/19/2021).

It is imperative for Democrats to pass this bill in the Senate, and for President Joe Biden to sign it into law, if they are to position themselves for not a loss, but a victory in next year’s mid-term national elections. In the above quote, Cochran and Weisman describe this $2 trillion social spending bill as “the centerpiece” of his agenda. With the poor showing in this year’s national elections, Democrats need to show the voters of the United States that they can deliver, when they control the Congress and the Presidency, as they do now. Otherwise, the Democrats will be seen as a do-nothing party, a party of squabbling factions who cannot achieve their agenda. Republicans would gain from this next year, even more than they already did in this year’s election.

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National Mall and US Capitol in Washington, DC © Victoria Shmakova Ananchenko | Dreamstime.com

Already, progressive Democrats are breaking from the President and moderate Democrats. President Biden seems unable to pass through Congress, over the unified Republican opposition, any more serious Democratic priorities. These initiatives include proposed legislation on voting rights reform, federally, criminal justice reform, defending abortion rights, increasing the federal minimum wage to $15./hour, and repairing a “broken” immigration system, according to the New York Times (“Democrats Struggle to Energize Their Base as Frustrations Mount,” 11/27/2021). Democrats are seen as falling short of some campaign promises, and “leaving their base unsatisfied and unmotivated before next year’s midterm elections,” according to the New York Times (11/27/2021).

With the Democratic base already uninspired about Democratic victories, it becomes even more imperative that Democrats, nationally, deliver on those legislative priorities that they can, in fact, deliver on. Democrats must pass the “centerpiece” of President Biden’s agenda, the social spending bill, especially if they cannot enact any of these deeper social reforms, nationally. The base is already failing to follow the Democratic Party lead. The voters beyond the Democratic base may question, also, whether the Democratic Party can achieve really anything when they have the opportunity, such as now, to do so. All of these reasons point to the political imperative for the Democrats to pass President’s Biden’s agenda, as much as politically possible, in order to prepare better for next year’s, 2022 mid-term national elections.

In November, 2021, however, we witnessed a moment of Democratic Party unity in Washington, DC. They came together and passed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which included economic and infrastructure investments, and an effort to respond to global warming (New York Times, 11/6/2021, p. A1). Time will tell if the Democrats can continue that party unity into December.

November, 2021, represented a moment of Democratic Party unity in Washington, and a moment of bipartisan achievement in the State of North Carolina. Elected officials were able to accomplish new legislation and take care of the people’s business in Washington and North Carolina this past November. Republicans in Washington would beg to differ. I understand that. The jury is out, however, on whether the Democrats in Washington can continue to deliver, and thus put forward a good face for voters next year, or not. In North Carolina, while I commend both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, for their bipartisan achievement this past November, I doubt sincerely whether that spirit of bipartisanship will continue. In North Carolina, although significant Democratic priorities will probably remain blocked, thanks largely to partisan differences, there remains some hope that one such priority, Medicaid expansion, can be achieved, after the current process of deeper reflection in committee runs its course.

Government in America continues, at this time, largely as it had, previously. We see some accomplishment, and the continued fulfillment of the basic responsibility of government, but we see, also, ongoing partisan divides, and the ongoing inability to reach any deeper level of agreement, at this time. Deeper change remains elusive, but the continuation of the current political and social context appears self-evident.

The only exception I see to this conclusion is the most recent shift in the US Supreme Court on abortion. Roe v. Wade seems as though it may be, once again, in flux. Even then, this potentially significant political shift represents the continuation of an ongoing divide and social struggle in the United States.

Perhaps, after all, in the United States today, there is nothing new under the sun. Except, that is, when something new manages to emerge.

—Nicholas Patti

Raleigh, NC

USA

 

President Joe Biden, Diplomacy, and the Working Class

New York, June 20, 2021–One thing nice about being homeless in New York City is that you can enjoy free speech.(I am not so sure about freedom of the press, however.) When one is homeless in New York, one can freely express one’s opinion about, say, the U.S. president, and still remain under the radar. I know a blog on social media is different, as I suggested a moment ago. Although I am currently homeless in New York, I will comment on the current U.S. president on my blog, as I had hoped to after he was first elected, and I wrote a blog post on the outgoing president, President Donald Trump, instead.

I was thrilled when current President Joe Biden was elected and began his term. I wanted to celebrate his victory with a blog post, but I ended up writing about the then-still-current president, President Donald Trump, instead. I would like to celebrate President Joe Biden’s victory now. Congratulations and Godspeed, I say to President Joe Biden now.

Part of the reason I voted for then-candidate Joe Biden was that I believed he would still do the job as a U.S. president, despite the fact that he was being demonized by President Trump and the right wing as politically far-left. I did not believe President Trump when he erroneously claimed that our country and the world would fall apart if Joe Biden were elected. What’s more, Joe Biden held his own against Donald Trump in the debates. As a plausibly working-class guy, candidate Joe Biden won my confidence.

President Joe Biden has borne that out, and shown his promise is true. The only problem is that, as usual with U.S. presidents, including former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden is doing too good a job as the U.S. president. Donald Trump did not do too good a job, but he did the job. President Joe Biden is doing the job, also, but I think he is doing too good a job, currently.

First, I do not remember what Joe Biden has done so far, up to this point, for the working class and the labor movement in America. I remember now. Joe Biden paid the American people with the stimulus checks, and he is trying now to stimulate the economy, albeit without the stimulus payments to the American people. I remember, also, that President Biden attempted to raise the federal minimum wage, but was blocked by the Republicans in the U.S. Senate. The federal minimum wage has not changed, therefor, at this time.

As for doing the job as U.S. president, Joe Biden has really done a bang-up job. It’s scary how well he is doing, in this regard. Micheal D. Shear said it in his article in the *New York Times* (6/18/21, p. A8). Commenting on President Biden’s poise upon leaving Europe, Shear wrote that “he left Switzerland to conclude his eight-day, three-country diplomatic tour of Europe.” That is true. President Biden shored up the G-7 in England, then NATO from Brussels, Belgium, and he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. He also met with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan along the way, and the European Union (EU) (*New York Times,* 6/18/21; *Daily News,* New York, 6/16/21, p. 10, 6/15/21, p. 18.) President Biden accomplished an entire year’s worth of diplomacy, in Europe, and he did it in just over one week.

What is truly frightening about all of this is not even the staggering pace and volume of the diplomacy, but the content. With the G-7 and NATO et al, President Joe Biden shored up global capitalism and the world economy, and re-established America’s place in the world, diplomatically and economically. That is, capitalism globally is still sound, and Europe and the U.S. are on top, to spell it out. By the time today’s paper hit the newsstands, what’s more, President Biden had already earned the ire of the East on the planet, including China and North Korea (*New York Post,* 6/19/21, pp. 9, 24). Russia had already expressed its disdain. I should note that this bad start with the East can change.

The troubling thing for me is that the working class of the world, including in the United States, was just held down under global capitalism. Unfortunately, that is part of the job of the U.S. President, in my humble opinion. Think NAFTA redux. This is the G-7, baby, and if anyone out there has any questions, that is the NATO summit. I just hope President Biden had fun, that is all.

I still think President Joe Biden’s heart is in the right place regarding the working class. (So was President Bill Clinton’s). I think he still wants to help the working class, but he, sadly, lacks the occasion to do so. President Joe Biden may be doing fine as the U.S. president, but he needs to demonstrate to the American people, and to American organized labor and the American worker, in particular, that he works in their interest and on their side, in point of fact and in this real world. President Joe Biden needs to make the occasion and prove some working-class credentials, at this time.

Otherwise, he’s doing just fine. Very fine.

—Nicholas Patti

New York, NY

USA

Trump Mob Rule

January 7, 2021—What happened yesterday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington was an outrage. The populist siege and occupation of the Capitol building during a live joint session of the U.S. Congress was reprehensible. What is more, the Congress was hard at work receiving and formalizing the outcome of the Electoral College, and thus at making official the results of the direct vote of the American people for President Joe Biden in the national election of 2020. President Donald Trump incited this riot through his overheated rhetoric, his big lie about winning the election that he in fact lost, and by directly riling up his right-wing, populist supporters in Washington, DC for an otherwise peaceful protest, and calling on them to march on the Capitol itself in a speech to them in Washington that very morning.

I feel robbed. I had hoped to write a blog post at the appropriate time celebrating the election of our incoming President-elect, Joe Biden, Democrat of Wilmington, Delaware. I wanted to congratulate Joe Biden on his win and look forward with him to a great first term. Instead, I find myself commenting yet again on President Donald Trump’s foolish antics, which rise above the level of just being able to ignore him, and hoping that he does not cause too much damage in his normal, classic-Donald-Trump sort of way. By inciting this riot inside the Capitol itself during a live session of Congress, our elected representative government in the United States of America, President Donald Trump has truly outdone himself, even by his own low standards.

In so doing, President Donald Trump won the day. He made himself, once again, the center of all attention, even as attention was supposed to be officially shifting away from him at the very end of his presidency. Trump disrupted and blocked the smooth, peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next, even if only temporarily, lasting for several hours until the Capitol Police and National Guard and local State Police were able to restore order.

It should be noted that after order was restored in the Capitol building, the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and the House of Representative acting in joint session, finished their business. Working well into the night and early hours of the next morning in a marathon session, the U.S. Congress fulfilled its constitutional duty and named Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next, incoming U.S. administration, after formally counting all of the votes of the Electoral College. In the end, justice was done, and the results of the U.S. popular election for President and Vice President were upheld.

I guess President Trump was not ready to go quietly into that good night. He wanted to go out with a bang. That he did. I think of the current pop song, “Bang!” by AJR. Although Donald Trump probably cost his Republican Party the control of the U.S. Senate by sabotaging their campaign in Georgia, and although he personally endangered his own Vice President, Mike Pence, Republican, and the Republican leadership and members of the Senate during his stunt, Donald Trump was preparing for his political life after leaving office. He has a new, rich Political Action Committee (PAC) and a fired-up and loyal, right-wing populist base, even if they are rioting against his own political party in the current U.S. Congress and government. He fed them the Congress. Donald Trump is now a treacherous Republican in his own political party with a renewed future as a demagogue in that same party once he leaves office. In this way, Donald Trump is being a classic version of his own self, Donald Trump, as he leaves office and enters life as a private citizen. Let us hope he has no more surprises up his sleeve, and he cannot ruin American democracy and government any more than he already has at this time, now at the end of his term.

It should be noted that Trump’s latest antic represents an historic attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The fact that this attack stems from the Office of the President of the U.S. is, itself, deeply ironic. Never before in the history of this Republic have the people stormed Congress and their elected representatives present at the time and hard at work as elected representatives. Only once before in the 200+-year history of this Republic has this U.S. Capitol come under fire, directly. That was in the War of 1812 when the British burned it down. It was subsequently rebuilt after the U.S. won that war. I hate to have to say it, but I feel it must be said. It is up to the U.S. Congress and the U.S. government to rebuild the U.S. Capitol once again. The dignity and honor and grace, and yes, integrity, of the United States of America, as symbolized in the U.S. Capitol Building, itself, must be rebuilt and restored.

To the extent that democracy rules in America, with our representative and direct democracy for the Office of the President, to that extent the U.S. Capitol, itself, embodies that ideal. Its dignity must be restored.

US Capitol

Unfortunately, there were injuries and even deaths associated with this riot inside the Capitol, yesterday. One woman, a rioter herself, was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer who was defending the Capitol Rotunda itself with U.S. Congressional Representatives still inside the room. She was a part of a mob attempting to invade the room. An officer discharged his weapon to defend the room and the Representatives still inside, and in so doing, he killed the woman. The invading crowd dispersed. Although the crowd later did make it into the room, the Representatives were able to be safely evacuated by the police, first. We can argue whether the shooting and the killing were justified, but the death, in any case, was tragic. It is always a tragedy when an American citizen and person dies in this way, even if the shooting could be considered necessary to defend the American representative government, and the Representatives, themselves, who otherwise would have been gravely endangered. Again, we can argue whether the shooting and killing were, in fact, justified, but the fact is that the officer was doing his job in a very immediate, personal, and direct fashion. It is a tragedy that this officer had to be put into this position, also, in the first place.

The other three deaths were reportedly medical emergencies that occurred during the course of the riots. Also tragic is the fact that several Capitol Police officers sustained injuries during the course of doing their jobs, defending, literally, the seat of American democracy, and the elected Representatives, themselves. None of this should have happened. It never should have happened in our American democracy.

I should note that had the rioters only subscribed to the value and morality of nonviolence, then none of this tragedy would have occurred. They could have protested peacefully outside, as so many have done before in our Republic, and no invasion of the Capitol itself would have happened. Trump could have had his day, and no serious consequences would have resulted.

Such was not the case. As Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said from the Senate floor later that night, January 6 will always be a day that will live in infamy in our Republic, and in our country.

Now, it is time to rebuild, and to re-assemble the dignity and honor of our Republic.

—Nicholas Patti

Charlotte, NC

USA

SourcesThe Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC: 1/7/2021, p. 1A); National Public Radio (NPR), via WFAE 90.7 FM (Charlotte, NC), 1/6/2021, 1/7/2021; WBT Radio 1110 AM (Charlotte, NC); CNN; ABC; CBS; President-elect Joe Biden, speech, televised, 1/7/2021.

The Passing of the Baton from Congressman John Lewis

August 4, 2020—Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta, Georgia fought his whole life for racial and social justice. Even in death, the civil rights leader and icon issued “marching orders,” according to former President Bill Clinton and others, speaking at his funeral in Atlanta, as reported in the Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC: July 31, 2020, p. 7A). This call to action by Lewis for the next generation could be seen in an op-ed he published in the New York Times on the day of his funeral, July 30th. In the op-ed, entitled “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation,” Lewis praised the current Black Lives Matter protests “to demand respect for human dignity,” and he called on “ordinary people with extraordinary vision” to vote and to seek out “good trouble, necessary trouble.” He continued, “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.” John Lewis died July 17 at 80 years of age, according to the Charlotte Observer (July 25, 2020, charlotteobserver.com).

Nicknamed “the boy from Troy” by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1958, John Lewis hailed from rural Pike County in Alabama, where Troy is located. After experiencing racial segregation in his youth, Lewis eventually became a civil rights leader, himself, by the early sixties. As a leader of the Freedom Riders, Lewis was jailed frequently and faced angry crowds and violence against him. In 1961, he was beaten after arriving at the station in Montgomery, Alabama, where he had met Rev. King three years earlier. In 1965, Lewis suffered a fractured skull on the notorious march across the Selma bridge in Selma, Alabama, where police officers beat marchers in what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” according to the Charlotte Observer (July 25, 2020). This protest helped garner support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, during those times. In later years, as Congressman, John Lewis would return to the same bridge to lead commemorative marches across it, in peace. After his death, Lewis’s coffin was brought in a horse-drawn carriage across the bridge, as well (Charlotte Observer, July 26, 2020, charlotteobserver.com).

John Lewis spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington in 1963, alongside Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. From 1987 until his death in 2020, Lewis served as Congressman in Washington, DC, representing Atlanta, Georgia. In 2011, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. In 2020, after Lewis’s death, he became the first African-American lawmaker to lie-in-state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, according to the Charlotte Observer (July 28, 2020, July 26, 2020, charlotteobserver.com).

After his death, Lewis’s coffin was also brought to the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. Back in Washington, DC, a memorial service was held. Then, his funeral was held in Atlanta, Georgia.

At the funeral for John Lewis, held in the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, no fewer than three former presidents commemorated him in speeches. These included former Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Obama. Current Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, also spoke. Former President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy. In the eulogy, Obama looked forward to a time in the future when “we do finish that long journey towards freedom, when we do form a more perfect union.” John Lewis, Obama said, “will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America,” according to the Charlotte Observer (July 31, 2020, p. 7A).

—Nicholas Patti

Charlotte, NC

Congressman John Lewis, from the Georgia Democratic Party

Nigeria and President Donald Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban

February 8, 2020—President Donald Trump expanded his Muslim travel ban to six additional countries on January 31, 2020, including to Nigeria, a West African nation that is Africa’s most populous country and hosts Africa’s largest economy, which I refer to as Nigerian capitalism, according to the Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC: 2/1/20, p. 7A) and the New York Times (New York, NY: 2/1/20, p. A9, via Proquest digital full-text). In this blog post, I will examine President Trump’s claim of failed security standards in Nigeria, according to secondary sources reported from the country; consider the impact on the lives of ordinary people in Nigeria; review current responses to the expansion of the policy, including from leading Democrats in the United States and from Nigerian diplomatic officials during this past week; and I will take a position on Nigeria’s inclusion on this list of pariah nations, and state my opinion on the Muslim travel ban, in general. I take a heightened interest in Nigeria, myself, since I traveled there myself in 1990. In this blog post, I feature a few photos, digitally reproduced from the prints, that I took, myself, while traveling there in 1990.

President Donald Trump’s reasoning for expanding the travel ban was that the six countries added to the list failed to meet security standards set by the United States, according to U.S. officials, as cited by Colleen Long and Nomaan Merchant in the news article, reported from Washington, DC and published in the Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC: 2/1/20, p. 7A). The new ban is not a total travel ban, but applies to immigrant visas for the U.S., and not travel visas, designed for a temporary stay. Long and Merchant described the new restrictions “as part of an election-year push to further restrict immigration.”

Let us review the security situation in one of those six nations, Nigeria, to see whether President Trump’s assertion is true, in the first place. In a New York Times article by Emmanuel Akinwotu, entitled “Deadly Lack of Security Plagues Nigeria as President Seeks Re-election,” reported from Gusau, Nigeria, and published in 2018, the writer identifies multiple security threats from the people of Nigeria against the people of Nigeria in Nigeria (8/15/2018, p. A5, via Proquest digital full-text). Among those security issues, which include a radical Muslim terrorist insurgency by the group Boko Haram, in and local to Nigeria; groups of armed bandits, who may be Christian of Muslim but do not identify by their religion as a motivator for their crimes; disputes between cattle herders and farmers; and a recent upsurge in secessionist urges in the Eastern region of Biafra. That sounds like a lot to be concerned about. Let me say, first of all, when I traveled in Nigeria in 1990, I experienced none of these supposed threats, myself. I had a very good experience in Nigeria. In 1990, however, there was no Boko Haram, the armed bandits had not grown to be as powerful as they were recently reported to have become, there were no violent disputes between herders and farmers, and Nigerians living in the Biafra region were not trying to secede, once again. Remember, there had been a vicious civil war in Nigeria at the end of the 1960s, when those in the Biafra region did in fact secede and form the Biafran Republic. The Biafran Republic was aligned with the Soviet Union, although the Soviets did not support Biafra as much as the West supported the capitalist country of Nigeria. In fact, the Soviets hardly supported Biafra, at all, thus avoiding a hot war between the United States and the USSR at the end of the Sixties, during the global Cold War between Communism and Capitalism. In Nigeria, the West won, Biafra fell, and Nigeria made peace with itself, re-united as one country, Nigeria, once again. That Nigerian Civil War was a deadly, brutal affair, with mass casualties and refugees. By all accounts, that Civil War was a humanitarian disaster. In all of the push for Nigeria to improve its own, internal security situation, as an independent nation, and as a former colony of the British, like the United States, only different; in all of this current push by the current U.S. administration to improve security in Nigeria, it is important for all of us, especially those in Nigeria, to remember the Nigerian Civil War, and to avoid a repeat of the mistakes of the past. I trust the Nigerian government, currently, knows this. Nigeria is capable of peace, and they would do well to continue to live in peace, as much as possible, regarding Nigeria, itself. Can they improve security, internally? Probably, yes, they can. They must be careful, however, above all, and they know this. They are being careful, and some would wish they would be even more careful.

In 2014, for example, Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission accused the Nigerian government of killing eight civilians in a raid on a supposed sleeper cell of Boko Haram in the capital of the country, Abuja. The Human Rights Commission disputed that those killed were terrorists, or even armed, according to a report in the New York Times (4/8/2014, p. A12, via Proquest digital full-text). The Nigerian government is prosecuting a war against Boko Haram, therefore, we can see. The Human Rights Commission in Nigeria wishes the government would be more careful in the prosecution of this effort, however, so as not to harm innocent civilians in Nigeria.

Apparently, we cannot count President Donald Trump of the United States as among these people. He is calling for simply increased security in Nigeria, in general, lest any of this violence in Nigeria were to harm Americans, in the United States.

What, then, is the state of the insurgency by the radical Muslim group, Boko Haram, not vis-à-vis the United States of America, but vis-à-vis the Nigerian government? I would like to point out, at this point, second to my first point, about what I experienced or did not experience in the recent past in Nigeria, I would like to point out here that the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, was in fact re-elected in a democratic, national election in Nigeria to another term. Although Nigeria has been, in the recent past, a military dictatorship, it is currently a civilian republic with a democratically elected regime. Nigeria is a liberal, bourgeois, capitalist, democratic country, as is the United States. The President remains Muhammadu Buhari, who was re-elected to another term by Nigerian citizens, with the current balance of power and imperfections in the Nigerian state in place, as is, now.

We will take Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election as a given, at this point. Still, what is the state of the Islamist insurgency against his government? We should note, at this point, that Nigeria is a country made up largely of Christians, Protestant and Catholic, and Muslims. Boko Haram is basically a small threat to the Nigerian state. Nigeria has a powerful Muslim characteristic in the government, itself, historically and currently. Also, Christians do have power in the Nigerian state, as well. It is important to remember this aspect of the Nigerian government, itself, when considering the extent of the threat by a radical Islamic and terrorist insurgency in Nigeria.

Let us look, once again, to a more recent report from the New York Times for further information. Remember, when I visited the country, in 1990, Boko Haram did not exist yet. There was no radical Islamic insurgency then against the Nigerian government. Let us look to this more recent report from the New York Times, however, for more current information. “After Mr. Buhari took office in 2015, he made advances in pursuing Boko Haram, but he has not delivered on his promise to defeat the group once and for all. Even as the war rages, he has repeatedly claimed victory, prompting outrage by some over exaggerated proclamations,” Akinwotu writes, from Gusau, Nigeria, in the New York Times (8/15/2018, p. A5, via Proquest digital full-text). Boko Haram, therefore, remains a threat, but the Nigerian government, to give credit where credit is due, is already on it. The government simply has not actually won, entirely, against Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is the only kind of security threat in Nigeria that could potentially impact Americans in the United States in any real way. From the looks of things from my perspective, having spent time in Nigeria, myself, and from reading more recent news reports, I think the United States is not, at this time, in any grave risk from Boko Haram, in the United States, itself. Although the Nigerian government has not stamped them out in Nigeria, as long as the Nigerian government remains vigilant, the threat from Boko Haram should not be able to reach the United States, itself. This presumed safety in the United States does extend to the air, also, including civilian airlines and civilian air traffic. The Nigerian government is already fighting Boko Haram, and is at fault, already, for abusing civilian human rights in Nigeria, in the process. As long as the Nigerian government continues to keep Boko Haram in check, as they are doing, according to recent reports from the New York Times, then the United States can breathe a sigh of relief, at least concerning Americans in the United States, itself.

The administration of President Trump, therefore, is exaggerating the security threat emanating from Nigeria against the United States, at this time. Although Nigeria does face security concerns, the Nigerian government is being somewhat careful, at this time, not to institute too much of a military state, which they have done in the recent past, since independence in 1960. After independence, also, there was a brutal civil war, which was resolved with the continuation of the capitalist, Western central government, Nigeria, which dates back to independence, itself, either as a military dictatorship or as a democratic, capitalist republic. It would behoove President Trump of the United States not to fall ill with a case of the hiccups, regarding the current state of Nigeria. That is not up to me, however. That is up to President Trump.

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Muslims walking to the mosque for Muslim prayers, Kaduna or Kano, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring or Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti

Next, let us consider the impact of the Muslim travel ban to the United States on the ordinary people of Nigeria. This is President Trump’s current, new stated policy, after all. Remember, this travel ban only applies to immigration, not short-term travel to the United States. Essentially, this U.S. travel ban would prevent Nigerians, among the citizens of the other five nations newly named to the list, from “resettling, finding work or reuniting with their families in the United States,” according to Zolan Kanno-Youngs, writing in the New York Times from Washington, DC (2/1/20, p. A9, via Proquest digital full-text). Although Nigerians can still attempt to live a better life in Nigeria, struggling to advance themselves under Nigerian capitalism, immigrating to the United States for work and a better life, here in the United States, has just been cut off by the Trump administration. This new Trump administration restriction is set to take effect on February 22 of this year, unless the U.S. President removes Nigeria from the list by that time. This last option is possible. Over the past week, Nigerian diplomats and the United States have been working to find a solution in which Nigeria could be removed from this list of pariah states, as defined by the U.S. government, and not by me (New York Times, 2/1/20, p. A9; New York Times, 2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text).

As long as there is still trade with the United States, Nigeria can rely on the United States economy to assist with bolstering Nigerian capitalism to give ordinary people in Nigeria a chance to better their lives in Nigeria. Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s foreign minister, encouraged bolstering trade between Nigeria and the United States, this past week, according to the New York Times (2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text). Some have wondered, recently, as well, whether the United Kingdom will take a renewed interest in Nigeria, also. Finally, according to Lara Jakes, Nigeria could look to China, Russia, and Turkey for increased trade, also (New York Times, 2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text). Nigerian capitalism is strong enough to continue to adapt and create opportunities in Nigeria, as long as the merchant capitalist global system remains intact, which it is, at this time. Lara Jakes even describes Nigeria as Africa’s largest economy, although I would argue that South Africa would be a contender for that title, as well, traditionally speaking.

There is one problem with this economic analysis. It fails to register the current, presumed pain in the Nigerian economy, today. Since oil exporting moved in and began to dominate the Nigerian economy, at least in terms of bringing international capital to the country, the oil sector has become crucial, according to recent conventional wisdom and the word on the street. In an earlier, academic work of political economy that I wrote, on Nigerian industrialization since independence, I found that attempts to industrialize had not, in fact, substantially transformed the nature and role of the Nigerian economy in the post-colonial world economic order. Nigeria is still dependent on merchant capitalism in the global economic order to raise capital in its own, national economy, that is. As such, it is particularly, although not entirely, dependent on oil exporting and the price of oil to bring cash into the Nigerian economy. The price of oil is currently low, and has been for a few years, now. Therefore, the simple fact would be (although I have not confirmed this) that there is substantially less capital available at this time throughout the Nigerian economy. There is less capital now, that is, as compared to when the price of oil is higher, and people in the United States, in particular, and around the world, are still buying oil. Therefore, people may be struggling, financially, at this time, in Nigeria. This would be largely, although not wholly the case. Checking on the value of the currency, the Naira, would reveal this relative economic health or unease, also, although I have not checked the current value of the Naira, the currency of Nigeria, against the U.S. dollar and other major currencies around the world, at this time and historically, stretching into the prior century.

Remember, the country became independent in 1960. The economic relations between Nigeria and the rest of the world have not changed, appreciably, since the decolonization period, under colonialism. That may change, however, as trade patterns and trading partners shift, or rather, do not shift.

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Two Nigerian boys, and cattle being herded through the city streets of Kaduna or Kano, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring and Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti

When I visited the country in person, also, in 1990, I should note that I visited auto assembly plants in Nigeria. Assembly manufacturing does occur in Nigeria, and there are cars on the roads, for example. In my earlier research, I was concerned with the mass domestic market, essentially.

Also, local markets still thrive in Nigeria. When I visited, in 1990, the price of oil was also low. Capital was rare, as compared to when the price of oil had been higher, previous to 1990. You could see this in half-finished, abandoned construction projects dotting the landscape, abandoned promptly when the money vanished with the decline in the price of oil. That said, the local markets, traditional to the Nigerian economy, were still thriving, despite this broader economic hardship. I imagine these markets continue to thrive, today.

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My friend, Wolfgang (sp.?), from Germany, with Nigerian girls and women, in the Central Market, Ibadan, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring and Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti

Nigerian capitalism is still functioning, therefore, but the economy may be experiencing less capital influx, due to the low price of oil. At times when the economy may be struggling, more people would tend to want to immigrate to a place such as the United States, where higher-paying jobs may be available. Emigration for a better life, economically, at least, would serve as a relief valve for the society and economy of Nigeria during harder times, financially. Cutting off the possibility of emigrating to the United States, therefore, would hurt the Nigerian people, especially when capital may be scarcer in Nigeria, itself.

Although Nigerian capitalism still offers some opportunities for Nigerians to do well in Nigeria, then, cutting off the possibility of emigrating to the United States for a better life, economically, would hurt the Nigerian people. It would be cold and unfeeling, and should not be done, on this basis, at this time. This is my opinion. The policy of ending immigration visas to the United States to the people of Nigeria hurts the people of Nigeria, at this time. What it essentially does is to take an unfair trading relationship, based on economic relations that date back to colonial times, and locks the people on the lower end of that unfair trading relationship to the lower end of that legitimate trade. Perhaps even more importantly, it disconnects the people from one another on both sides of this trading relationship, and hurts both sides of the relationship, socially, between the people of the United States and the people of Nigeria. If you wish to promote international peace, I think one would wish to promote cross-cultural communication and exchange. It was under this umbrella, essentially, that I traveled to Nigeria for an independent study abroad as an undergraduate student three decades ago. I promote continued cross-cultural communication and exchange, and I feel strongly about this. This exchange benefits both the people of the United States and the people of Nigeria. Although I am happy that temporary travel visas may continue, including under the new travel ban, I would hope that immigration visas would be allowed to continue, as well.

Reaction to the new policy has been quick, both by the political opposition in the United States of America, and by the Nigerian government, itself. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the U.S. House of Representatives denounced the extension of the travel ban, in a statement. “President Trump and his administration’s continued disdain for our nation’s national security and our founding ideals of liberty and justice dishonor our proud immigrant heritage and the diversity that strengthens and enriches our communities,” she was quoted as saying in the New York Times (2/1/20, p. A9, via Proquest digital full-text). In this statement, Nancy Pelosi stands up for immigrants in the United States, in general, and for more liberal immigration policies, as well.

Nigerian diplomatic channels have been somewhat different. Nigeria’s foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, told of his initial surprise and dismay at hearing his country was being placed on the list, but said he is working with President Trump and the U.S. administration to address the concerns of the United States, and for his country to be removed from the list, as soon as possible. “We were somewhat blindsided with the announcement of the visa restrictions by the U.S.,” he was quoted as saying in Washington in the New York Times (2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text). He said he was trying “to tick most of those boxes” raised by U.S. officials, and that, “hopefully, once that has been achieved, we look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list.”

Mr. Onyeama identified the sharing of personal data on visa applicants, including immigrants’ criminal histories, passport info., and any potential links to terrorism, as issues of increased cooperation with the U.S. government on potential visa applicants. He said, also, that Nigeria was already working on the security issues in his country that U.S. officials had identified.

Although I worry about international sharing of personal and criminal issues on visa applicants between countries, in general, I do hope that Nigeria and the United States can work together so that Nigeria would be removed from the list, even before February 22, when the new immigration restrictions are set to be implemented. I share the U.S. Secretary of State’s, Mike Pompeo’s hope, and the hope of the Nigerian foreign minister, that this could happen. Mr. Pompeo described his feeling as “optimistic” that an agreement could be reached, although he did not mention a timeline, according to Lara Jakes of the New York Times (2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text).

I am against the Muslim travel ban, in general. The original version of this ban was enacted immediately after President Trump took office. The ban was challenged and adjusted, but it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion argued that the ban was not in fact a Muslim ban, due to the inclusion of Venezuela and North Korea on the list, and the granting of “exemptions,” according to the New York Times (2/1/20, p. A9, via Proquest digital full-text). I think that despite the application of the travel ban to significant numbers of non-Muslims, it remains largely a Muslim travel ban. I think the original language should continue to be used so that we remember the broader import of this reactionary, anti-immigrant policy, and whom, primarily, is targeted by this restrictive policy.

Once again, I am against the Muslim travel ban, and against the recent expansion. I hope Nigeria can work with the United States to achieve removal from this list. Either way, I encourage continuing and increased trade between the United States and Nigeria. I think the new expansion of this travel ban on immigration to the United States from Nigeria does hurt the people of Nigeria. I think the Nigerian government is working to address security concerns in their country, and that they are being appropriately careful on not applying too much militarism in their society, in the process. I feel sorry for the increased pain on the people of Nigeria, especially economically, at this time, and I hope the government of Nigeria respects human rights in fighting to achieve increased security in their country.

For that matter, I call on the United States of America to mind our own human rights record in this country, inside the United States of America, as well. This is also important. It is not enough to look at the human rights record of other nations in the world, from the United States, and call them out for their human rights abuses. We must strive to end current human rights abuses in the United States, as well. We must do this as we acknowledge that the United States, and most other nations in the world, are trying to deliver security to their people, and most are doing this, especially, at this time, under capitalism.

—Nicholas Patti

Charlotte, NC

USA

 

World Book Student, 2020, was also accessed for basic facts and information about Nigeria. See Onwudiwe, Ebere. “Nigeria.” World Book Student, World Book, 2020. www.worldbookonline.com/student-new/#/article/home/ar391300. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.

 

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King tree, by the roadside, probably in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring or Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti

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The tops of trees under the African sky, probably Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring or Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti

—Nicholas Patti

Correction: I-77 Express Lanes Open, But Construction is Not Finished

November 19, 2019—It has come to my attention, from a local television news broadcast in Charlotte, NC, that although the I-77 express lanes are open, the construction on the highway, particularly, on the non-express, non-toll lanes, this construction is not finished. I cannot source the local television news broadcast.

However, after conducting some original reporting myself, I can attest that construction continues on I-77 in Charlotte, NC, although the toll lanes look to be complete. I can attest, also, that the operator of the roadway is charging tolls for use of the express lanes North of Charlotte. I rely on official statements from the North Carolina Department of Transportation regarding the toll lanes. These statements corroborate my own observations, although I have not driven these toll lanes, myself. The spokesperson for the NC DOT Communications Office did say that the toll lanes are open and that the company is charging for their use. I was unable to verify this on the highway, itself.

There is some ambiguity and confusion regarding whether the highway project itself is considered complete, or not. I can attest that the non-express lanes, the non-toll lanes, do still have active construction on I-77 in Charlotte. Spokespeople for the NC DOT did not give a clear answer on the non-toll lanes in a brief phone interview by me. The Communications Officer for this region, covering Charlotte, NC, Jennifer Thompson, has not returned my call at press time.

What I take away from all of this is that although the toll lanes or express lanes are open and charging, construction on the rest of the roadway is not complete. Therefore, the project is not finished. I must amend my conclusions from my previous blog post. Although state leadership has done something, regarding the congestion on this highway, the work remains unfinished, at this time. Driving the non-toll lanes on this highway remains difficult. The I-77 political open sore is not entirely healed, therefore. I-77 will continue to hurt the current governor, Roy Cooper, until work on the roadway is in fact complete. Headache for drivers, regardless of stated positions by the NC DOT, equals political pain for the governor.

I can say that although the NC DOT is making progress on the roadway, with the driving situation improving, the project remains unfinished. Until such time as this roadway is in fact finished, there will be political pain for the governor. I wish the Governor, Roy Cooper, all the best in finishing this project as soon as possible. I think his intentions are good, but the work remains unfinished.

A note on sources. I conducted a brief phone interview with the NC DOT Communications Office myself, after writing the previous post. The Communications Officer herself for the region covering Charlotte did not return my call by press time. Previous media reports have been misleading. These media reports include the former Governor of North Carolina, current radio host Pat McCrory, on his radio show on WBT (AM-1110), on his morning radio show on November 18, 2019. On reporting, correctly, that the toll lanes were open, he implied, incorrectly, that the entire highway was finished. He noted that the whole controversy surrounded the toll lanes, not the entire highway. I disagree. I think people are concerned with the toll lanes, or express lanes, but they are also concerned with the entire experience of driving on the highway, including the non-express lanes. I would not call his report inaccurate, but I would call it misleading.

Similarly, a print report in The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC, 11/17/2019, p. 13A) was also misleading. In this article, by reporter Joe Marusak, the Observer reported that all of the toll lanes had been opened on Saturday, 11/16/2019, according to the project contractor. The article continued in this vein, and implied that work on the roadway was finished. As I have noted above in this blog post, construction work continues on I-77 on the non-toll lanes in Charlotte. Therefore, again, although nothing in the article was factually inaccurate, the article itself was misleading to readers.

Although the toll lanes are open and finished, reportedly, and from what I can see from personal observation, construction remains a headache on the non-toll lanes on I-77. That means the company is offering a pay-for-use experience for drivers that is finished, while charging drivers to drive this section of roadway, but the highway itself, in particular the free section of the roadway, remains a work-in-progress. If you want to drive for free, deal with the construction. If you want to pay and use the express lanes, then as soon as you can get to the express lanes, enjoy your finished ride. This current situation seems insulting to drivers on I-77. Nonetheless, I hope they finish the entire roadway soon, and deliver on an overall improvement to the highway.

My sources for the other subjects in my previous blog post, on the NC State budget, medicaid expansion, and the teacher pay raises, include two articles published by The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC). These include one printed on 11/9/2019, p. 1A, and one printed on 11/1/2019, p. 1A. These articles are both written by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, from Raleigh, NC.

—Nicholas Patti

Charlotte, NC

 

North Carolina Still Without Budget, But I-77 Express Lanes in Charlotte Open

Here is my warning to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and the Legislature’s leadership: when you finish your work and fail to finish the basic business of state government in the United States of America, which is to adopt a budget for the state, voters feel vengeful. Specifically, they start to feel that “throw the bums out” may be necessary. This feeling impacts the leaders of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor, but it impacts the executive branch leadership, the governor, the most. After all, the buck stops here—at the governor’s desk, first and foremost. Just hear the sound of this: I hope that when the Legislature reconvenes in January, I hope they can adopt, with the governor’s consent, a spending plan for the current fiscal year. I know, I know, it is truly sad.

I commend the Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper, for taking all of his principled stands. Expanding Medicaid to cover the working poor, still possible under the Obamacare law, is a truly noble ideal. So, also, are granting teacher pay raises that amount to a significant percentage and annual increases. Nonetheless, the NC State Legislature was unwilling to grant either of these. They offered absolutely nothing on Medicaid expansion, and a notable compromise on teacher pay raises that could have saved face, if agreed-upon. No such compromise was available from the Governor’s office, however. Hence, we are left, this year, with nothing. No compromises, and ultimately, no NC State budget this year. We are left with, essentially, only paralysis. Total dysfunction in the halls of Raleigh. It is too bad.

North Carolina State Capitol Building
North Carolina State Capitol Building, Raleigh, NC, by JillLang, http://www.istockphoto.com

On the bright side, one past hold-up in North Carolina state politics has been resolved. The I-77 express lanes/toll lanes leading from Charlotte to the North have opened. Former Governor Pat McCrory was right, on his radio show, that this highway project helped to cost him the election for Governor. Now, under the next Governor’s watch, the I-77 lanes are open. This marks the completion of the project, one that promises to address and relieve some of the perennial congestion plaguing this road. It was wholly unpopular, but it has finished, and it is, finally, open. Therefore, despite popular opinion, the highway has been improved, and the notorious congestion will have been addressed, and hopefully, somewhat substantially relieved. State government has enacted a solution to address the problem of congestion on this important expressway. State leadership did something, and finished it.

Charlotte Skyline Sketch
Charlotte, NC, by chimpyk

The I-77 political open sore will no longer hurt the Governor. The failure to reach any agreement with state legislative leaders can hurt the Governor, however. I encourage compromise, and enacting a state budget for North Carolina. Standing up for noble ideas is all well and good, after all, but doing the state’s business is, I think, more important. I do not send out a call to “throw the bums out;” rather, I call on our good state leadership to come to their senses, to compromise, and to adopt a state budget.

You can do better than what you have done.

—Nicholas Patti

Charlotte, NC

Congratulations to UAW Members at GM, and Brexit Commentary

October 28, 2019—I would like to offer my sincere, heartfelt congratulations to the UAW members and strikers at GM who recently achieved a new, good contract at GM. It was not without sacrifice and struggle, but I think the results were worth it.

Although the new contract was not perfect, it contained significant gains for the workers. Unfortunately, three U.S. factories will be closing. The five-week strike was unable to prevent these plant closures. Still, UAW negotiators were able to obtain respectable wage increases, lump-sum payments, and a signing bonus, according to the Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC, 10/26/2019, p. 5A). Health care costs were held steady at a low level of workers’ share of costs, at 3%, according to Jamie L. Lareau, writing for the Detroit Free Press, as published on-line at the Charlotte Observer website, charlotteobserver.com, on 10/25/2019. In addition, a pathway to permanent status was introduced for temporary workers; this change marked a significant gain in terms and working conditions for the union.

Membership of the UAW at GM ratified the contract in rank-and-file voting on Friday, October 25. One worker and striker, Tricia Pruitt, at a GM transmission plant in Romulus, Michigan, said the economic gains were worth the five weeks out on the picket line. She felt “ready to return to work,” however, by the time of voting on the contract, according to Tom Krisher, Associated Press writer, in the Charlotte Observer (10/26/2019).

I congratulate Tricia Pruitt, all the workers at GM in the UAW, and the UAW itself for a job well done. You deserve the economic gains you have won for yourselves in your employment at this profitable company.

I would like to note that management at GM takes credit, also, for delivering a good contract to their workers, and for agreeing to substantial investments in U.S. operations going forward, as well, according to the Detroit Free Press article, cited above. GM management deserves credit for settling the strike with a good deal for the workers, after all was said and done, also.

Negotiations were described as “prolonged” and “sometimes-contentious,” but the final deal represented “a big win for UAW-represented workers at 55 GM facilities in 10 states” who had been out since September 16, according to Lareau, citing UAW leaders and labor experts in the Detroit Free Press article (10/25/2019).

Once again, congratulations to the UAW and to the rank-and-file who ratified the contract.

In other news, the Brexit saga continued in the U.K., in a story that refuses to end. The latest from Britain is that the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has won a vote on his re-negotiated Brexit deal, in principle, but his timetable and his call for new elections for parliament have been rejected. Meanwhile, the European Union has granted an extension until January 31st, 2020, for the U.K. to leave the EU. These facts are reported in the Wall Street Journal (10/23/2019, p. A1), and by the Associated Press in the article, “EU delays Brexit to Jan. 31; Johnson election bid fails,” published on the website of the Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC, 10/28/2019), at charlotteobserver.com. Unless Brexit politics in London become so toxic as to move from the merely dysfunctional, where they are now, to the downright nasty, then the prospects of a no-deal Brexit have dimmed, I think, in favor of the British parliament taking more time to consider and, hopefully, to approve a Brexit deal.

Three years ago, in 2016, I published my opinion on this blog in favor of Remain, not Leave, at the time of the referendum in the U.K. I acknowledged that my side lost the vote, however, and so I argued that the U.K. government should enact the results of the vote, and should deliver on Brexit. The title of my post is “The UK Votes to Leave the EU: My Perspective,” published on June 24, 2016, on this blog (nickpattifeatures.com).

Since then, there has been only delay, delay, and delay in the U.K. Parliament. Although I respect the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn’s reasons for rejecting the various attempts to enact Brexit, I think it is time to finish this work and bring parliament in line with the results of the direct vote in 2016. In the name of affirming EU labor and welfare laws, Corbyn is preventing the U.K. government from following the will of the people, as expressed in a direct vote. I think it would be wrong to hold a re-vote, but I agree with Johnson that the U.K. Parliament should deliver on Brexit. I believe that it would be worse to ignore the results of the 2016 referendum on the issue, which came out in favor of Brexit, than to stand up for the principles of workers’ rights, and then to ignore the outcome of the vote, and reject Brexit, based on the details of the actual plan. Corbyn’s position is described in an op-ed against his view, published in the Wall Street Journal (10/28/2019, p. A17). I come down against any further obstructionism, and in favor of just passing Johnson’s current Brexit plan, imperfect as it may still be.

Writing from London in the Wall Street Journal, reporters Max Colchester and Jason Douglas told of British citizens’ frustrations at too many general elections and at the prospect of a Brexit that never actually ends (10/26-27/2019, p. A8). “’I just want Brexit to be done and if push comes to shove, I will go for the Conservatives to get it done,’” Val Blatchford was quoted as saying, from Albans, England. He had voted for the Remain side in 2016, but since has changed his mind (10/26-27/2019, p. A8).

While I remain a supporter of Labour, I feel that voter’s frustration. I think parliament in the UK should deliver on Brexit, in line with the results of the 2016 vote.

—Nicholas Patti

Charlotte, NC

Endnotes to “Is There Any There There?” Blog Post

It has come to my attention that I need to reference my sources for my previous blog post, “Is There Any There There?” published on September 26, 2019, on this blog. Newspaper reports in The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), television reports on CNN, CBS, ABC, and NBC, and internet reports from Portside: Material of Interest to People on the Left form the basis of my source material. Also, I draw information on the radio from National Public Radio (NPR) over WFAE-FM, Charlotte, 90.7, and from the Pat McCrory Show on WBT-AM, Charlotte, 1110-AM. The news of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to open a “formal impeachment inquiry” of President Donald Trump can be found in The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC) on September 25, 2019, p. 1A. Candidate Joe Biden’s new position was sourced in my earlier blog post as being reported on CNN. This video is available on-line at cnn.com/videos/politics/2019/09/24/joe-biden-impeachment-inquiry-sot-nr-vpx.cnn.

The news conference by the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and President Trump on September 25, 2019, was broadcast live on CNN. The spelling of the Ukrainian President’s name can be found in The Charlotte Observer (9/26/2019, p. 1A). The definition of just what kind of transcript was made of the phone call can be found in the same Charlotte Observer article, but was also defined on various broadcast media.

The facts on the significance of the strike at GM now, as contrasted with the past, can be found in an article posted on Portside (9/22/2019) by Nelson Lichtenstein, entitled “What’s at Stake in the General Motors Strike,” originally published in Dissent magazine. The issue of temporary workers can be found in this article, and in The Charlotte Observer (9/23/2019, Charlotte, NC, p. 8A). The $8 billion profit figure for GM over the past year can be found at Portside (9/15/2019, portside.org) by NPR, entitled, “UAW Votes For Nationwide Strike To Begin Before Midnight Sunday.” The actual figure is $8.1 billion.

All of the statements of opinion in my voice in the blog post are my opinions, and not attributable to any of the news sources in general that I listen to, watch, or read for general news.

–Nicholas Patti

Charlotte, NC

Is There Any There There? The Politics of Impeachment, and Commentary on the UAW-GM Strike, this September

September 25, 2019—First it was Russia, now it’s the Ukraine. President Trump got away with it once, but Democrats would like him to know that they will not tolerate his dirty tricks this time. Maybe 2016, but not 2020. Not after Democrats won the House in 2018. Candidate Joe Biden changed his mind, as shown on CNN: an impeachment inquiry may be appropriate at this time, he said. More to the point, Speaker Nancy Pelosi changed her mind: citing the constitution, the law, the President’s oath of office, she allowed the existing hearings to widen and change into a formal impeachment inquiry into the President, which could result in articles of impeachment being introduced.

For God’s sake, let’s hope not. This impeachment inquiry embodies presidential election politics and political theater in America. It is a constitutional crisis intended to rake President Trump through the coals, once again, as usual, and to place him on notice that he’d better behave and not abuse his office in this presidential campaign. The impeachment inquiry is candidate Joe Biden and the Democrats taking a page right out of President Trump’s own political playbook: outrageous political theater for their own partisan benefit. Since President Trump is… well… President Trump, and they caught him in the act, this time, the Democrats have teeth.

Let us hope that the Democrats do not shred our Constitution and rend into tatters any vestige of unity as Americans, across the partisan divide, that we might have had, previous to this announcement. If we were already deeply divided before initiating impeachment hearings, we are several orders of magnitude more divided now. God save us and our republic from anyone actually claiming the moral high ground and introducing articles of impeachment.

Earlier today, September 25th, at the United Nations in New York, President Trump and the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, made the Democrats’ high-minded impeachment pronouncements seem utterly ridiculous, and actually funny. In answering direct questions from reporters about the so-called smoking gun phone call, the Ukrainian President flat-out denied all of it, implied that Americans are silly about our electoral politics, which he is steering clear of, and broke into his Eastern European language—Russian, Ukrainian?—in a back-and-forth with a reporter from his country for an extended, heated conversation on the subject. After a few minutes of this inscrutable debate, which an American audience, who speaks only English, and not his language, would not and could not fathom, at all, they translated it into English. During the Eastern European language segment of the interview, not translated for a few minutes, I found myself laughing out loud, especially in the context of his immediate, previous denials and intimations. Translated finally into English, his comments were in line with his previous statements on the topic in English. The whole thing looked totally ridiculous. To underscore the point, Donald Trump threw in, “No pressure,” at the end of it.

Now, it’s the Ukrainian President’s word on international television, sitting next to Donald Trump, against a paraphrased “transcript” of his phone conversation with President Trump from the NSA in what otherwise would be a routine wiretap of President Trump’s phone call with a foreign leader.

Tell me, can you impeach a President based on a transcript alone, the import of which both parties to the conversation vociferously deny? This has become ridiculous, totally silly.

I am sorry to say, President Trump has really made it seem that there is no there there, when it comes the basis of this impeachment inquiry.

The Democrats have attempted high drama as political theater with this impeachment inquiry. Unfortunately for them, they cannot beat the President at his own game. President Trump is the absolute master of political theater for its own sake, and in this case, President Trump has turned the whole thing on its head and will score a political victory in the eyes and the opinions of the American people. With the Democrats now citing high-minded political rhetoric about silliness, complete with purposely comedic elements inserted into the “discourse” from the Ukrainian president, this has become sad. Just sad.

As a supporter myself of candidate Joe Biden for the presidency, in 2020, I feel this political loss and suicide run in Congress by the Democrats is just sad. Terribly sad. President Trump will shortly make mincemeat out of the Democrats as they press on with their inquiry.

President Trump is up to no less, and no more, than President Trump usually is. As usual, also, he excels at making Democrats look silly, just funny, in spite of themselves. As of today at the UN, Republicans in Congress have all the credibility they need to brush this off, deny the significance of everything, as usual, and ultimately, to kill off any actual vote on the subject of impeachment.

As of the Ukrainian President’s flat-out denial and healthy sense of humor today, there really is no there there, regarding this inquiry and any potential introduction of any actual articles of impeachment.

Luckily, Nancy Pelosi is politically smart, and a clever politician and Democratic strategist. She can wriggle her way out of this one, I am sure. To be honest, I do not know how. She cannot just press on, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, in this case, at President Trump, to save the Republic. Luckily, Nancy Pelosi knows this, already. I trust that with her long experience in Washington and her general political acumen, she is up to the task of salvaging this fiasco, politically, for Democrats.

As for Joe Biden, he benefits in the primaries, at this early point in the campaign. After all, President Trump just handed it to him: Joe Biden is the man to beat. Joe Biden is the man. Nancy Pelosi only highlighted the importance of the current, theatrical political scene. Once again, Joe Biden is the main man.

All of the other Democratic candidates become minor players, and Joe Biden represents the past, present, and future of the Democratic Party, at this time and going into 2020. That is the effect of this impeachment scandal.

This impeachment inquiry is about politics, and only politics. And about keeping President Trump honest, or as honest as he is humanly capable of being, going into 2020. In this way, in our current presidential election, our divided nation may have a better chance at avoiding any worse constitutional crisis than this inquiry already represents.

 

Moving on (no pun intended), to bigger and better things. Namely, the UAW-GM strike. May the union win better terms and working conditions for temporary workers. I await an agreement, better for the auto workers, to come out of this strike. Let us hope the UAW leadership does not overplay their hand with this strike. GM made $8 billion in profits over the past year. Now, they are losing money each day of this strike. I am sure they hate losing money. Let us hope that the GM executives choose to share some of that $8 billion with the workers, and stop losing money in this strike. Let us hope the union leadership is ready to stop picketing and return to work, to again create the $8 billion in profits at GM, with more of a share going to the workers. Let us hope, also, that an electric pick-up actually gets introduced into the auto market. I am afraid this new electric vehicle may lack some of that torque and horsepower that Ford advertises in their F-series truck commercials. To this, I say, let Ford introduce their own electric vehicle light-duty truck, then, also. Let us help the environment regarding auto emissions while helping the unions and auto workers, as well. All of this depends, of course, on continuing billions in profits being generated by GM et al.

I understand that although this strike is important for all of us in America today, it simply does not add up to the national emergency that such a dispute in the American auto industry once represented.

I am a member of the National Writers Union, a UAW local. I care. Americans in general should care. Workers in general should care. Let us hope that the current UAW leadership can secure a respectable win without squandering the shop. Let us hope, also, that GM does not squander their whole shop, also. I have faith in the GM executives to do the right thing, keep their business profitable, and cut a better deal with their workers, collectively, through the UAW.

In the words of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the general labor movement, solidarity forever, in harmony with the Earth.

—Nicholas Patti

Charlotte, NC