Journalism, Me Myself and Ty

In Kinston, a city’s anxiety crests with its river

 

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National Guard vehicles staged at the intersection of Herritage and King streets on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2016.

The parking lots adjacent to the Chef and the Farmer and the Lenoir County Office Complex on Herritage Street have gradually evolved into an unofficial center of operations for emergency management officials this week in the wake of Hurricane Matthew and horrific flooding that’s displaced thousands across Eastern North Carolina.

Tiffany West Park, where Gov. Pat McCrory addressed the public just a day earlier, was completely underwater across the street from where emergency response vehicles from across

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National Guard vehicles staged at the intersection of Herritage and King streets on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2016.

the state are staged. In post-Matthew Kinston, the area around the Lenoir County Farmers Market gives first responders maximum mobility, with National Guard humvees and swift water boats staged nearby to transport aid should an emergency arise anywhere along the river basin that was once the U.S. 70 Corridor.

With most storm prep finished Thursday, Friday was a day of waiting and worrying for residents and business owners from Herritage Street downtown to Cedar Lane in East Kinston. Continue reading

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Journalism, Me Myself and Ty

Neuse River edges into areas untouched by Floyd

It’s been nearly six days since Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Charleston County, S.C. and the tropical storm’s atmospheric  remnants have long since dissipated into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving blue skies across Eastern North Carolina for the better part of the week.

In some cities across the east, displaced residents are beginning to get an idea of their losses as the river levels ease off, but in Kinston officials, business and homeowners are bracing for the riverside city’s toughest test in recorded history.

Preparations for flooding events along the Neuse River began even before the rain arrived, as crews cleared storm drains in anticipation of the first October hurricane to strike the Carolina coast since 1954. Every day this week volunteers have gone door to door in neighborhoods expected to flood to warn about the rising water, but it was clear Thursday morning that time was beginning to run out for those evacuating.

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More than 150 community members stood within feet of the rising Neuse River waters at Tiffany West Park during a prayer gathering and call to action. “Where you’re standing is going to be underwater,” Mayor B.J. Murphy told those gathered.

The Neuse crept up during the group prayers of more than 150 community members gathered at Tiffany West Park Thursday morning before Mayor B.J. Murphy and council members Felicia Solomon and Robert Swinson gave the latest update: 29 feet.

Flood stage is 14 feet for the Neuse, which begins in Durham County and empties into the Pamlico Sound near New Bern. “Floyd stage” — the record set during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 — is 27.7. By 9 p.m. Thursday the river was at 27.92 and still expected to pick up another foot before finally cresting, although levels are expected to stay near 26 feet through at least Monday, Oct. 17. Continue reading

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Journalism, Me Myself and Ty, Sports

Values & disaster-stricken North Carolina

Gov. Pat McCrory broadcast his press conference live on Facebook Tuesday night from Raleigh as he laid out the state’s continued response to Hurricane Matthew.

With flood waters along the Neuse River still advancing on hundred-year flood records, McCrory assured that the state’s disaster relief funding will last into 2017 while vowing to call a special session as early as next week if more money is needed to aid displaced residents from affected counties, which stretch from Edgecombe County near Rocky Mount to Robeson County on the South Carolina state line.

McCrory then opened up for questions, but in the end only had to answer two, both from the same reporter: Kirk Ross of the Washington Post.

The first: “I wanted to see if you have any numbers or estimates on the livestock
and what are some of the concerns while you’re trying to get them buried as soon as possible?”

It may sound odd that the first question from the national press about a major weather event that has, as of this writing, claimed the lives of 20 North Carolinians would be about livestock, but Eastern North Carolina is the the production engine of the state’s poultry and pork industries.

The N.C. Farm Bureau Federation reported in July that the state ranks second in the nation in hog & turkey production and fourth in the production of broiler chickens & trout.

How McCrory would have an estimate of livestock lost while the waters in some areas were still rising is beyond me, but make no mistake that the general consensus here in Kinston is that we, too, are very concerned about the animals throughout Eastern North Carolina. Continue reading

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Journalism, Politics

The Truth Is Out There (But Not In TIME)

Perhaps the best explanation of the ideological shift of “objective” journalism is made in “The Truth Is Out There In 2016. Way Out There” from the Oct. 17, 2016 issue of TIME.

In post-birtherism America, our “truthiness” is weaker than our gluten tolerance.

In the article, Stephen Colbert himself says the reality of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is “completely divorced” from the one you and I reside in.

It seems truthiness doesn’t have enough wiggle room to allow for thousands of applauding Muslims. Continue reading

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Journalism, Me Myself and Ty

Eastern North Carolina deserves better journalism

Hurricane Matthew 147.JPGThe City of Kinston ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents living near the Neuse River Monday beginning at 2 p.m. as the river and others across Eastern North Carolina  are expected to crest at record levels not seen in the region since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Some residents began evacuating over the weekend, spurred to action by rumors that the mandatory evacuation was already in effect. Facebook posts claimed the National Guard was knocking on people’s doors to get them out of flood zones even while the rain was still coming down.

Most of the confusion, it appears, stemmed from a single media report from Wayne County, where the Goldsboro Daily News was reporting on flood conditions in its listening area. (GDN is the Curtis Media Group news division of its Eastern North Carolina cluster of radio stations.) Continue reading

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Journalism, Me Myself and Ty, Politics, Sports

Swinging for the fences

First off, I submitted the Kinston Wholehogs.

I don’t believe anyone ever relishes naming a new team. All selecting a mascot did for the Rio Grande Valley was stir up regional hostilities amidst the already tumultuous merger of two University of Texas branch campuses into a single research institution. the_university_of_texas_rio_gande_valley_athletics_logoThe mascot and team name they settled on — the Vaqueros — still angers alumni who graduated as Broncs, Scorpions or Ocelots and those who see the Spanish word for cowboy as an unnecessary homage to the population of the Valley, which is 90 percent Hispanic but 100 percent in the United States.

Culturally, the regional disdain for the mascot was over my head, but when the Texas Rangers organization last week released its slate of five name options for its new Carolina League affiliate in Kinston, I knew resistance would quickly follow.

While others have dug in on why “Down East” isn’t a true reflection of the team’s locale, I see the organization reaching out with a clear compromise in its five-team offering: the Eagles, which pays homage to Kinston’s first minor league team in 1925 in the Class B Virginia League.

A handful of people I’ve talked to about the team names have suggested the vote is a stacked deck designed to coalesce local support around the Eagles since it’s harder to build a voting bloc behind any of the more outlandish names. Hamhawks and Hogzillas will split the barbecue vote, while Eagles seem to be a more natural fit over the Wood Ducks due to the historic connection I mentioned.

And that is exactly why we must unite behind the Shaggers. Continue reading

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Vela’s opposition to fence not new

velaU.S. Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) made headlines earlier this week when he penned a heated open letter to Donald Trump, but it’s not the first time Vela has been vocal about his opposition to the border fence.

Vela, whose father was a long-serving federal judge led a Congressional visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2013 while the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” bill was still on life support in the U.S. House of Representatives. He and U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (Arizona) filed a bill to resurrect the immigration reform effort before the end of the session, but Syria and mounting Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act ultimately derailed any chance at governance, culminating with a fortnight-long government shutdown.

Vela’s proposed bill sought to eliminate the conditions in the Senate immigration bill which required border security benchmarks be met before the creation of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country.

“We’re talking about the 11 million that are already here,” Vela said in 2013. “For sure we need to put in place security measures and they can take many shapes.

“But it shouldn’t be conditional.”

President Barack Obama has said it was the inaction of Congress that led him to issue executive orders allowing temporary visas for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. That program has been held up by the courts.

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Journalism, Me Myself and Ty, Politics

Wayne County legislators eye budget, coal ash ponds

RALEIGH — Local lawmakers say the session is winding down as the General Assembly turns toward the state’s spending plan and response to coal ash ponds.13257107_1361718950521951_1677449429_n
Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Wayne) said legislators are set to make short work of the budget next week and are not likely to take up any other bills until the new legislature takes office in January.
“When we get through with the budget, it’s going to be a rapid closing down,” Dixon said Wednesday.
Last year it took the legislature until September to pass a budget, but Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne) said much of the hammering out of the budget was done last week in a stretch that kept him in Raleigh for three days straight. Both houses are calling for $22.5 billion in spending next fiscal year.
Bell said things were already wrapping up smoothly before the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality released its classification of the state’s coal ash ponds, five of which are located in Wayne County and classified for closure by 2024.
Bell said he aims to find a better use for the ash, perhaps selling it to be used to make concrete, but said even if that plan falls through his district should see some action concerning the ponds.
“If we can get something done, our area is really going to benefit,” he said.

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Me Myself and Ty, Politics

It’s not just about bathrooms

 

When the N.C. General Assembly passed House Bill 2 last month in an hourslong special session, it effectively nullified an anti-discrimination policy put into place by the Charlotte City Council and a handful of similar policies across the state.

Much ado has been made about the law and its requirement that visitors to bathrooms in North Carolina use facilities assigned to the gender they were assigned at birth.

There is good reason for this kerfuffle. It wasn’t long ago when “separate but equal” bathrooms, schools and water fountains in this state existed solely as a reminder that our state was somehow heterogeneous; that we weren’t all equal.

There are other troubling parts of the law besides the bathroom rules, however, as it prohibits cities from creating minimum wage policies or anti-discrimination policies on their own, limiting local control of municipal governments.

It is not solely the fault of news agencies that they have come to focus solely on the bathroom rules within the law, however. It has been Gov. Pat McCrory and his homophobic partners who have put watchful eyes on the bathroom stalls.

But that’s precisely the point: Making North Carolina a spectacle over this law does more than cancel Bruce Springsteen; it gives McCrory a national stage for his re-election battle.

So what else is House Bill 2 about? Continue reading

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$Texas, Journalism, Me Myself and Ty, Politics

Cruz, Cornyn await report from VA

Revelations from Inspector General reveal culture of fear led to wait time manipulation

The Department of Veteran Affairs Office of the Inspector General has released reports from 49 investigations into whether patient appointment wait times were being manipulated throughout the VA Health Care System.

Photo by Ty Johnson

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) talks to reporters ahead of a rally near Raleigh, North Carolina on March 8, 2016. Cruz is seeking the Republican nomination for president.

The release of the reports has led to additional pressure from Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas, who together passed an amendment last year requiring VA Secretary Robert McDonald to report to Congress on any corrective measures and share a timeline for remedying the problems, which surfaced first in Phoenix, Arizona in April 2014.

“Veterans in San Antonio deserve better than long waits and barriers to care after selflessly putting their lives on the line to serve this nation,” Sen. Cornyn said in a statement last November.

“Our veterans deserve the very best care our nation can provide,” Cruz said in a statement on the amendment, which became law in December 2015. ” Unfortunately, veterans in South Texas often do not receive timely access to health care.”

Cruz, Cornyn and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott authored a joint letter to McDonald last week asking for an update on the department’s progress in the wake of the reports.

“We remain troubled that the VA continues to fail to provide timely health care to our nation’s veterans, despite receiving enhanced authorities and funding from Congress to hire new employees and address additional problems facing the VA,” the letter reads.

There were 12 investigations into Texas facilities from Dallas to El Paso, all of which can be accessed online through the VA IG website.
“The IG reports indicate that improper training, lack of supervision and non-centralized scheduling are the primary causes of the data manipulation,” the letter reads. “However, some employees reported feeling pressure to change wait times or risk getting fired.”

In their letter, the senators and Abbott call for McDonald to make “more robust use” of his power “to remove any individual from the VA Senior Executive Service whose poor performance or misconduct warrants such removal.”

“These ongoing scheduling problems clearly evidence failures of leadership at senior levels of these Health Care Systems in Texas and, more broadly, within the Veterans Health Administration,” the letter continues.

The investigations were based on complaints filed by employees and former employees. One such investigation into Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio found that schedulers based patient’s desired dates on clinic availability to manipulate the system into recording shorter wait times for care.

While investigators at the Harlingen VA facility found no evidence that employees had been threatened with termination for not following the schedule manipulation policy — as one complainant claimed — the report did note a culture of fear that contributed toward the manipulation of wait times.

“There was evidence that the employees felt pressure from the TVCB Health Care System management official, which led to the manipulating of VistA in order to keep scheduling numbers within standard,” Quentin Aucoin wrote in his report.

Larry Smith, a U.S. Army veteran living in South Texas, said in 2014 that three veterans reportedly died while waiting for treatment at the Harlingen clinic. At least 40 veterans in Phoenix were died while enduring artificial wait times.

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