Thursday, May 31, 2012

Abusive priests' $20K good-bye gifts

If you thought that the moral rot among the Catholic Church's hierarchy couldn't go much deeper, think again.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee confirmed Wednesday that it paid suspected pedophile priests to surrender their clerical collars, after a document surfaced in its bankruptcy discussing a 2003 proposal to pay $20,000 to "unassignable priests" who accept laicization.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests characterized the payments as payoffs and bonuses to priests who molested children, noting it was just $10,000 less than the $30,000 the archdiocese hoped to pay victims, according to the same document.
The Milwaukee Archdiocese, which was able to afford $20,000 going-away gifts for abusive priests and has bemoaned "infringement of government in the practice of (its) faith," is now using that same federal government to infringe on the legitimate claims of its victims.

The leader of the archdiocese at the time of the payments, then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan, is now a prominent cardinal.

Dolan then and archdiocese officials now have defended the practice as expedient--it got abusive priests out the door more quickly. And in a further display of moral repugnance, an archdiocese spokesperson blamed the survivors' organization, saying that it was the organization that wanted the priests thrown out. This follows Dolan's own efforts to discredit and delegitimize the organization.

BTW, can anyone explain why $20,000 is such a popular figure for making your "problem people" go away?

NC House gives a lesson in fungibility

Most introductory economics classes teach students about fungibility--the simple insight is that money is money. If you give people money for one purpose, they can easily spend it for another.

I usually teach this with an example of a grandparent's gift to a student to buy books. Suppose that a student has $1,000 in her budget at the start of the semester, which she has to allocate between books and her other expenses (Starbucks, new shoes, pizza, etc.). The student's grandmother sends $100 to be used exclusively for books. Will the student's book expenditures go up by $100? Probably not. If the student was already going to spend some money to buy books, she can use her grandmother's gift to offset those expenditures, and use the freed up money to buy other things. The student can abide by the letter of her grandmother's wishes by spending the $100 on books, but the student might go against the spirit of those wishes by increasing her overall book spending by less than $100 (or perhaps not increasing her book spending at all). At the end of the day, $1,000 in unrestricted money plus $100 in restricted money leads to choices that are similar to or the same as $1,100 in unrestricted money--$1,100 is $1,100.

The North Carolina House of Representative is offering a much better (and bitter) lesson than my dry classroom example. The Charlotte Observer reports that the House is proposing to play a similar shell game with money that the state will be receiving from the large legal settlement with mortgage companies and that was supposed to go to help homeowners hurt by mortgage shenanigans.
The North Carolina House budget, which was approved Wednesday, could use nearly $23 million from a blockbuster legal settlement with the nation’s largest mortgage servicers to plug budget gaps, joining dozens of states in redirecting money intended to help struggling homeowners.

Though law enforcement and housing advocates will still receive the millions directed to them in the settlement, the House budget also encourages state agencies to use settlement dollars to make up for cuts in other places.

In total, about one-third of the money sent to the North Carolina state government could be used to fill holes in the $20.3 billion budget introduced Tuesday.
So how does the House's shell game work? Consider the NC Housing Finance Agency. Under the terms of the settlement with the mortgage companies, $30.6 million in settlement funds was to go to this agency to help pay for counselors and legal representation to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. Under the House plan, North Carolina would technically keep its end of the bargain, adding $30.6 million to the agency's budget. However, the House has also proposed cutting $4.3 million from another part of the agency's budget and using that money for other purposes. The net result is that only $26.3 million is actually added to the budget.

Another $2.9 million was supposed to boost the ability of the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate financial crimes. However, through the magic of fungibility, the $2.9 million that is added to that part of the SBI's budget will be offset with an equal-sized cut, and the freed-up money will be used to cover a new earmarked crime lab in Henderson County. The net result will be no additional capability to go after the criminals who prey on homeowners.

Effectively, the House is proposing to tax the funds that are slated to help homeowners. Of the $49 million in restricted funds that were supposed to help homeowners, the House would claw back $7.5 million or about 15 percent of the take. And that amount is on top of $16 million that was already going to general purposes in the state budget.

The House's message to homeowners? You've been helped quite enough, thank you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Clean coal?

Ed Cone's post on the declining but still substantial demand for coal got me thinking about all of that "clean coal" that we keep hearing about.

You've seen the commercials.

If you visit the web-site, you can go to a nifty page that tells you that "Now is the time to get smart about clean coal electricity." That page provides a clickable map of all 50 states but no information whatsoever about using coal more cleanly.

You can also go to an Issues and Policy page that appears to oppose every policy that is currently proposed to clean up existing coal electricity plants.

You can also go to other pages that describe all sorts of technologies that could clean up coal if only the federal government would pony up all sorts of money. "Of course, these continued innovations require investment from both private industry and the American government."

None of it seems very clean, but they sure do use the word a lot.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Breaking news from the Edwards jury!

Evidence that the out-of-town press is getting punchy at the John Edwards trial. The Washington Post reports
Something exceedingly strange is happening at the John Edwards trial: all four alternate jurors dressed in red shirts Friday. They each wore bright yellow the day before.

Coincidence? Few here think so.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Questions about Gov. Romney being a unicorn

The presidential campaign of former Mass. governor Mitt Romney has been hit with a troublesome and quite possibly disqualifying accusation--that he might be a unicorn. is circulating an on-line petition asking the Arizona Secretary of State (who is currently investigating President Obama's birth records) to investigate Gov. Romney's non-unicorn bonafides. The petition asks
What about the persistent rumors that Mitt Romney is in fact, a unicorn?  There has never been a conclusive DNA test proving that Mitt Romney is not a unicorn.  We have never seen him without his hair -- hair that could be covering up a horn

No, we cannot prove it.  But we cannot prove that it is not the case.  And if Mitt Romney is or may be a unicorn, he is not Constitutionally qualified to be president.
Acceptable proof on this matter would consist of a DNA sample from Gov. Romney and a DNA sample from a unicorn. With those samples, establishing the dissimilarities (assuming that there are any) would be straightforward.

America is at a cross-roads, and the focus of the coming election must be on jobs and economic growth. The question about whether Gov. Romney is actually a unicorn is an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction in this important process--but it is a question that Gov. Romney should have already put to rest.

For reasons that only he can comprehend, Gov. Romney has not been forthcoming on this matter. Thank goodness there is an Arizona Secretary of State who is capable of leading a complete and impartial investigation.

Off the fiscal cliff?

Yesterday the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report on the dire economic consequences that the U.S. will face if its do-nothing government actually does nothing for the rest of this year and allows all of the temporary and sun-setted tax breaks, including the massive Bush tax breaks, to expire and follows through on the negotiated budget cuts from last year's debt deal. The CBO colorfully but aptly describes this scenario as a "fiscal cliff."

The attention-grabbing conclusion from the report was that going over the cliff would plunge the economy into recession, with growth slowing later this year and falling by 1.3 percent during the first half of 2013. Given the already weak state of the labor market, unemployment would likely soar. The only bright spots in the analysis were that the federal deficit would fall by $560 billion (the very definition of a fiscal cliff) and that deficits over the following decade would become sustainable in the sense that they would be smaller than the growth in economic output.

Less attention, however, is being given to other parts of the analysis. In particular, the U.S. is almost certainly going to adopt some fiscal "restraint" next year. Even if the Bush tax cuts are renewed, it's doubtful that all of the current stimulus measures, such as the payroll tax cut and extended unemployment insurance benefits, will be continued. Also, it's likely that some or all of the $65 billion in budget cuts from last year's debt deal will go through. The effects of these restraints will be sizable, reducing economic growth from 4.4 percent if all of the stimulus and spending were continued to 2.1 percent if just the stimulus were removed. Thus, the U.S. is facing a stiff economic headwind even with a more modest policy.

The CBO analysis also provides insights into the consequences of Republicans' calls to cut-cut-cut spending, while preserving the Bush tax cuts. Spending cuts large enough to offset the deficit impacts of the Bush tax cuts would be as much of a cliff as the do-nothing approach and would have devastating effects on the economy.

The bigger lesson is that there are no costless approaches to addressing the deficit. However, it must be addressed. The question is whether the U.S. will do this in a responsible, balanced way that maintains economic growth while addressing both revenues and spending through a transition period.

Unfortunately, our "leaders" have taken a lesson from Wile E. Coyote--going off a cliff doesn't matter if you don't look down.

Friday, May 18, 2012

NC employment becalmed

Like a schooner trapped in the doldrums, North Carolina's employment situation remains becalmed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that for the third month in a row, there was essentially no change in the number of jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis in North Carolina. Payroll employment in the state actually fell by 1,300, with a small gain in professional and business service jobs being offset by losses in manufacturing and other sectors.

The state's unemployment rate eased from 9.7 percent to 9.4 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis. However, nearly every bit of that change was due to North Carolinians leaving the labor force. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, 12,700 fewer people reported being unemployed (that is, reported being out of work but looking); however, 11,200 of that decline was due to a decrease in the number of people looking for work.

For the second month in a row, there isn't a single positive thing that you can point to in the employment report.

Becalming was a fate reserved for sailing ships that were wholly at the mercy of the wind. Our ship of state is actually blessed with a large and powerful engine in the form of state and local government employment. The Republican legislature decided last year to shut that engine off. Gov. Perdue has offered a budget that would restart that engine by putting teachers and others back to work.

This ship can and should start moving again. The ship's crew can't take much more of this.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is Speaker Boehner trying to tank the economy?

You really have to wonder whether House Speaker John Boehner is purposefully trying to tank the U.S. economy and possibly the world economy with his reckless statements.

Two days ago, Speaker Boehner poured a big steaming bowl of economic uncertainty into the U.S. markets by announcing a return to debt-ceiling brinksmanship--that Republicans would be using the specter of a U.S. bond default to enact their extremist, radical slash-and-burn budget.

Not content with the uncertainty that he had created at home, Speaker Boehner today turned to roiling markets in Europe by commenting, "What’s going in Greece, and the effect it’s having on Spain … it’s quite likely that this contagion is going to continue."

To be sure, the U.S. and E.U. economies face real challenges. Their problems shouldn't be sugar-coated and their structural deficiencies must be addressed. But to artificially inject the possibility of a default into the U.S. markets and to blithely comment that financial "contagion" is likely across Europe risks a wider financial panic.

Perhaps that's what the Speaker has in mind.

NC taxpayers give Tillis' philanderers nearly $20K

Wow, talk about an entitlement mentality.

NC House Speaker Thom Tillis has dipped into taxpayers wallets to provide $19,333 in going away gifts for two disgraced staffers, who resigned because of affairs with lobbyists. The News and Observer reports
State House Speaker Thom Tillis authorized payments equal to a month’s salary for two high-level staffers after they resigned because of inappropriate relationships with lobbyists.

The payments total a combined $19,333 to Tillis’ former chief of staff and his former policy adviser. Tillis said Wednesday the payments were made to help each staffer after they were no longer working for the state.

Tillis’ office also offered a justification for the payments that is an entry from the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, which in turn cites an employment law from the United Kingdom. The U.K. law, passed in 1996, says that workers are owed “pay in lieu of notice” if an employee is terminated without being given a minimum notice of one week.

Under North Carolina law and rules, however, high-ranking legislative employees are exempt from state personnel laws and generally work “at will,” meaning they can be dismissed for no reason and without severance.

Rep. Tillis' concern for the unemployed is touching, a concern that stretches far enough to adopt English employment protections even though we're no longer a colony and not subject to those laws.

However, that concern was absent last winter when Rep. Tillis and the Republican leadership allowed federally-funded unemployment benefits for 47,000 long-term jobless North Carolinians to lapse. He subsequently criticized Gov. Perdue when she restored those benefits through an executive order.

Similarly back in February, Rep. Tillis appointed a task force to examine unemployment insurance fraud. Maybe the task force should start by looking at Rep. Tillis' office.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tillis uses taxpayers' money to take care of his own, and the rest of us are left to muse over how a champion of the Tea Party gets away with citing English rather than American laws.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

But Gov. Romney, debt is your thing

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney professes to be really concerned about the rising federal debt. Bloomberg reports
Mitt Romney decried the ballooning federal debt, accusing President Barack Obama of contributing to a mounting deficit he said stifles economic recovery and “threatens what it means to be an American.”

“America counted on President Obama to rescue the economy, tame the deficit and help create jobs,” the presumed Republican presidential nominee told supporters in Des Moines, Iowa, yesterday before winning primaries in Nebraska and Oregon.

Criticizing the $831 billion stimulus enacted shortly into Obama’s term and other administration actions, Romney said the president “bailed out the public sector, gave billions of your dollars to companies of his friends and added almost as much debt to the country as all the prior presidents combined.” As a consequence, “we are now enduring the most tepid recovery in modern history,” Romney said.

Romney’s concerns aren’t being echoed in financial markets, where Treasuries are rallying. Yields on the government’s benchmark 10-year notes fell to 1.77 percent from this year’s high of 2.40 percent almost two months ago, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. The yield is 10 basis points, or 0.1 percentage point, above the record low and the rates are about a quarter of the 50-year annual average of 6.49 percent. 
It's hard to take those expressions of concern seriously though when Gov. Romney is also proposing a boatload of tax cuts that would knock at least a half a trillion dollars out of federal revenues.

Stranger still, wasn't piling on debt private citizen Romney's modus operandi at Bain Capital? Jesse Eisinger had a great column on this on the New York Times website back in January.
If Mr. Romney were really running as a private equity executive, how would he view what his campaign regards as one of the nation’s most pressing issues, the national debt?

Right at the top of his campaign’s home page, Mr. Romney proclaims, “We have a moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in.” The United States’ debt is such a problem, it’s like an addiction: “The first step toward recovery is admitting we have a problem and refusing to allow any more irresponsible borrowing,” his site says.

It’s almost as if Mr. Romney never worked in — what’s that other phrase for private equity? — oh yes, a leveraged buyout firm. Leverage as in debt, debt and more debt. Debt amplifies the returns of L.B.O. firms. Indeed, they often saddle companies with extra debt precisely so that their investors can cash out faster, a technique Bain deployed under Mr. Romney’s watch.

Rather than railing against the debt--a matter that neither candidate takes seriously in any case--Gov. Romney should be discussing the ways to use all of the available policy tools, including borrowing, to grow the economy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Another paranoid NC birther outed

North Carolina's 8th Congressional District is now a disgraceful two-for-two: two birthers out of two Republicans still in the race. The Charlotte Observer reports
As his competition endured criticism for questioning President Barack Obama’s birthplace, congressional candidate Scott Keadle of North Carolina took the high road last week and said he hadn’t spent “two seconds of my life thinking” about Obama’s birthplace.

But that’s not what Keadle told a tea party group last month in Rowan County, N.C., during a heated primary race for the Republican nomination for North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District.

Keadle, who’s now in a two-man runoff July 17 with former congressional chief of staff Richard Hudson, told the Rowan County Tea Party Patriots in April that he’d demand an investigation into the president’s eligibility, whatever the personal costs.

“If you’ll elect me to Congress, I will absolutely make sure that I don’t shut up until there is an investigation to find out if the president is eligible to be the president,” Keadle told the group, according to a video of the event. “That’s the end of that. And, they can do whatever they want to me.”
You can watch Mr. Keadle's remarks, which begin at the 3:30 point in this clip. You'll see that his paranoia goes well beyond the non-issue of the President's citizenship.

When caught red-handed in the lie, Mr. Keadle claimed that it was all a mistake and that he believes that the President was born in the U.S.

But then he blew the dog whistle one more time, saying "If I had the ability to revise and extend my remarks it would have been that if this continues to be a subject of debate and somebody wants me to look into it, then I will look into the process."

The instructions to NC Republican candidates this cycle seem to be: spout birther nonsense; lie about it; rinse; repeat.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A giant strawberry yields to progress

If you've traveled down US 220 in North Carolina toward Myrtle Beach (or Rockingham or Darlington), you've seen it--a giant strawberry on the side of the road.

Now that strawberry has been uprooted to make way for highway improvements.

The News and Observer reports
With wooden beams, Sheetrock and foam, Lee Berry built the world’s largest strawberry – a 20-foot monument to his homemade ice cream business, a red-and-yellow beacon so garish and eye-catching that the beach traffic couldn’t help but stop for a lick.

Then state government shut him down, took his land by eminent domain, wrote him a check for his life’s work – and evicted his 16,000-pound, fruit-shaped building for the sake a new bypass.

...He hoisted his strawberry onto a flatbed truck and hauled it one mile north, taking up both lanes of U.S. 220 along the way. He plunked it down on a new patch of land and started back churning out triple-scoop waffle cones.
But this story comes with an all-too-American twist. Berry is suing the state.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Beware the Democratic undead!

The undead walk among us--at least the Democratic undead.

Resurrecting David Parker? What was the NCDP's Executive Committee thinking?
David Parker, the besieged state Democratic Party chairman, said Saturday that he would remain in his post after the party’s ruling committee voted not to accept his resignation.

Read more here:
In the handling of allegations of sexual harassment against the party's executive director, the best you can say is that Parker botched things, spectacularly.  Parker had truly earned his departure.

In an election where jobs, education, and health care for North Carolinians should be the focus, the skeevy and secretive actions of Democratic leaders will instead command attention.

One thing that zombie and vampire movies teach us is that that the undead are nasty but effective recruiters. If you let them stick around, there will be more. Watch this fall as a host of once-promising Democratic candidates are turned into zombie office-seekers.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

$27.6 million in health insurance rebates coming to NC households and businesses

In a just-completed study of the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that health insurers will be rebating $27.6 million on nearly 300,000 North Carolina policies in August. Nationally, the foundation estimates that $1.3 billion will be rebated on nearly 16 million policies.

The MLR provisions of the ACA require insurers to spend a certain percentage of total premium revenue on actual health expenditures rather than things like advertising, administrative salaries, and profits (that the insurers refer to these health expenditures as "losses" tells you most of what you need to know about their incentives). Under the ACA, insurance plans that are offered to individuals or small groups are supposed to spend at least 80 percent of their premium revenues on health care claims and services, and plans that are offered to large groups are supposed to spend at least 85 percent of their premium revenues on health care. Insurers who fail to meet these MLR thresholds have to issue rebates to the people and firms that purchased the policies.

Although the ACA has been law for a few years, the MLR provisions are only now coming into effect. Also, North Carolina obtained a waiver for this year which sets its MLR threshold at 75 percent.

After a review of insurance company filings, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 55,072 individual enrollees in North Carolina will be issued $6.4 million in rebates from 9 insurance plans this year, 97,670 small group enrollees will be issued $4.3 million in rebates from 5 insurance plans, and 139,156 large group enrollees will be issued $16.9 million in rebates from 6 insurance plans. Overall, rebates will be due on the plans for just over one out of every five North Carolina enrollees.

The MLR provisions help consumers in two ways. First, there are the rebates themselves, which transfer money back to consumers or businesses for plans with bloated administrative expenses and excess profits. This directly lowers the effective costs of insurance for these plans. Second, the provisions provide strong incentives for insurers to avoid these rebates by either paying a higher portion of their premium revenue in claims and services or keeping their administrative expenses and profits within reasonable levels. This indirectly lowers the net costs of insurance for all purchasers.

These provisions will disappear if Republicans or the Supreme Court repeal the ACA. In addition, U.S. Representatives Coble, Ellmers, Jones, Kissell, McIntyre, and Myrick have co-sponsored legislation (H.R. 1206) to water down the provisions by excluding insurance agents' commissions from the calculation of administrative expenses.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Too big to fail bank loses $2 billion (so far) in bad trades

Bloomberg reports this morning
JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said the firm suffered a $2 billion trading loss after an “egregious” failure in a unit managing risks, jeopardizing Wall Street banks’ efforts to loosen a federal ban on bets with their own money.

The firm’s chief investment office, run by Ina Drew, 55, took flawed positions on synthetic credit securities that remain volatile and may cost an additional $1 billion this quarter or next, Dimon told analysts yesterday. Losses mounted as JPMorgan tried to mitigate transactions designed to hedge credit exposure. 
There are several stunning concerns here.

First, these colossal losses occurred within a unit that had initially been set up to manage risk but in recent years had been given the go ahead to expand into other markets to generate profits. This suggests that the bank's risk management strategy has been compromised.

Second, the episode exposes a potential counter-strategy by the big banks to restrictions on proprietary trading. Banks argue that those restrictions inhibit their ability to hedge and manage risk. However, if the banks are going to use their risk-management units as profit centers, any hedging exceptions in the proprietary trading rules would allow the banks to play a shell game where they simply move the same trading from one unit to another but call it "risk management."

Third, while the losses are huge, the underlying trades are larger still. Again from the same Bloomberg report
Bloomberg News first reported April 5 that London-based JPMorgan trader Bruno Iksil had amassed positions linked to the financial health of corporations that were so large he was driving price moves in the $10 trillion market.
Here we have a single unit within a single bank influencing prices in a $10 trillion market. It's anti-competitive--the bank has moved from a price taker to a possible price maker. Worse, the bank's actions have introduced a systemic risk. Indeed, one of the problems for JPMorgan right now is that its unit's position in the market is so large that it can't be immediately unwound.
JPMorgan risks losing more money now because other market participants will figure out what the bank has to do to unload its position, said Charles Peabody, an analyst with Portales Partners LLC in New York. Costs from the trades may affect earnings through the end of the year, he said.

“When there’s blood in the water, the sharks are going to attack that animal,” said Peabody, who downgraded his recommendation on the stock in March to sector perform. “It could make it very difficult for them to unwind a trade.”
Republicans are already attempting to eliminate the restrictions on proprietary trading and gut other provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation.

This latest episode shows that, if anything, tougher regulations are needed and that the biggest banks need to be split up.

Too big to manage? Too big to trade competitively? Too big to fail? Too big period.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tea-Party Darling and 'Anchor Baby' Critic a Dual Citizen since 1978

So it turns out that, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, the darling of the Tea Party movement, a prominent birther-enabler, and a critic of so-called "anchor babies," has held dual Swiss citizenship since 1978.

Poltico reports
Rep. Michele Bachmann tried to downplay her dual U.S.-Swiss citizenship Wednesday, releasing a statement that asserts she has actually been a dual citizen since 1978.

“I automatically became a dual citizen of the United States and Switzerland in 1978 when I married my husband, Marcus. Marcus is a dual American and Swiss citizen because he is the son of Swiss immigrants. As a family, we just recently updated our documents,” the Minnesota Republican and former presidential candidate said in a statement. “This is a non-story.”
Rep. Bachmann's dual citizenship came to light when she and her husband used a birthright technicality in Swiss citizenship law to obtain dual citizenship for their children.

Hypocritically, Rep. Bachmann has criticized the citizenship granted to children of foreign-born parents in the U.S., derisively referring to those children as "anchor babies," and she has sponsored legislation to restrict birthright citizenship in this country.

However, having Swiss "anchor in-laws" seems to be another matter altogether.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gov. Romney's indecency

Once again, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney was confronted by divisive, over-the-top rhetoric from his radical supporters, and once again, he only egged the rhetoric on.

A few months ago when Rush Limbaugh lit into Sandra Fluke, calling her a "prostitute" and a "slut," Gov. Romney refused to criticize Limbaugh, saying merely, "I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used."

Yesterday, Gov. Romney thanked an Ohio Republican official who warmed up a Romney rally thusly
Ohio state auditor Dave Yost, one of the local politicians warming up the crowd for Romney before his event Monday, said Obama claiming credit for the bin Laden raid was like "giving Ronald McDonald credit for the Big Mac you ate for lunch." Yost continued on to say "the guy at the griddle deserved credit."

Yost went on to mock the president for taking a trip to New York City with his wife, Michelle, saying Obama was "lecturing" the middle class while spending lavishly.

"Anyone get three vacations in 2009 at the depths of the recession?" he asked. "Anyone fly to New York just to have a date night with your spouse? I didn't think so. Mr. President, that's not middle class, and you stop lecturing us about our lives."
Later another supporter stated that President Obama "was operating outside the structure of our Constitution" and "should be tried for treason." Gov. Romney's response? "If you've got some specifics you'd like me to address in terms of policy, I'd be happy to."

When a reporter subsequently asked Gov. Romney whether he agreed that President Obama should be tried for treason, Gov. Romney said, "No, of course."

The decent and honorable response would have been to rebuke this extremism when it arose.

However, that kind of decency is a stranger to the former Mass. governor.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Something in the water?

There may not be enough tin foil in the world to cover the heads of all of the crazy Republican candidates running in North Carolina.

The News and Observer explains
Long after the controversy over President Obama’s birthplace seemed settled, some Republican congressional candidates in North Carolina have brought new attention to the issue as they seek advantages in hard-fought primary races.

Richard Hudson, considered a leading Republican candidate in the race to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell in the 8th Congressional District, told a Tea Party group in Rowan County recently that “there’s no question President Obama is hiding something on his citizenship.”

Dr. John Whitley, one of Hudson’s opponents in Tuesday’s primary, declared Obama’s birth certificate a “poorly reproduced forgery” after comparing it to the Hawaiian birth certificate of one of his campaign workers.
The article goes on to list George Hutchins and Ilario Pantano as fellow birthers.

Whether these folks are really this crazy or just pandering to the crazy elements in their party, birtherism should be disqualifying in the minds of sensible voters.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Brave Sir Robin makes bid to "lead" NC Democrats

Under the Dome reports that Sen. Don Vaughan has thrown his hat into the ring to "lead" the scandal-plagued North Carolina Democrats as state party chairman.

Sen. Vaughan has been effective in Raleigh, respected in his district, and would bring many great qualities to the position. However, he would also be a grievously flawed choice to lead the state party.

One of the chief duties of the party chief is to recruit good candidates to run for state offices, sometimes against long odds. Or as Sen. Vaughan has written in his self-nomination message
We need to fight the Republicans in every county and in every city from Murphy to Manteo. After redistricting the Republicans are willing to claim victory before votes are even cast. I’ll make sure that we are a 100 county competitive force and remind them why voters in our state have time and time again chosen Democrats.
Sen. Vaughan recently had the opportunity to compete in such a race, when he was re-districted into the same district as Sen. Republican leader Phil Berger.

What did Sen. Vaughan do for his constituents and party in this instance?

Well, let's put it this way...

Senator Vaughan ran away 
Bravely, ran away...away... 
When Phil Berger reared his ugly head 
Don Vaughan turned his tail and fled 
Yes, Don Vaughan bravely turned about 
And gallantly he chickened out 
Bravely talking to his feet 
He beat a very brave retreat 
Bravest of the brave, Senator Vaughan

If North Carolina Democrats need a party member to organize occasional candidate retreats, Sen. Vaughan fits the bill.

But a courageous leader to restore Democrats to electoral competitiveness,  not so much.

North Carolina Democrats need a leader who will reverse the party's recent electoral slide, not someone who simply goes in reverse.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

North Carolina'’s Constitution should confer civil rights, not revoke them

The first right declared in North Carolina’s Constitution states
We hold it to be self-evident that all persons are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.
Yet legislators in Raleigh, who swore oaths to uphold this same Constitution, have put forth an amendment that would eviscerate its most fundamental rights by removing the possibility of marriage for some in our state and the possibility of civil unions and domestic partnerships for all.

The proposed amendment carries the perverse title, a “Defense of Marriage,” but it does no such thing. No sound heterosexual marriage is put at risk by marriage among same-sex adults. Because same-sex marriages pose no risk to heterosexual marriages, prohibiting them defends nothing.

Instead, what the amendment would do would be to enshrine in North Carolina’s governing document unequal, discriminatory treatment of committed, loving adults and to deny to some adults a right and a path to happiness that other adults enjoy. Our state’s Constitution should confer civil rights, not revoke them.

Revealing the cynicism that underlies this whole sordid episode, the Republican House Speaker, Rep. Thom Tillis, who shepherded the amendment through the General Assembly, has said, "if it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years."

North Carolina citizens should not be denied their rights for a minute much less a generation.

The voters should reject Amendment One.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

North Carolina pastor says to beat the gay out of your sons

Jesus hates gays, yes we know
For this pastor tells us so.

Some of the low-lights from Sean Harris' 55-minute bigoted and hate-filled diatribe on behalf of Amendment One:
  • about 12:45: "Gender dissatisfaction is an affront to God...Transgender operations are an affront to God."
  • about 19:30: "God's plan in almost all cases is for you to get married...Only in particular cases where the spiritual gift of celibacy is given to someone are they not to marry."
  • about 35:30: "The world will never run out of people so long as there are Muslims on the planet...and the Muslims are having children at an incredible rate will take over us."
  • about 39:40: "Gays and lesbians are not prohibited from 'loving' each other; they're that already doing in the most sick and ungodly way."
  • about 52:40: "There is a due penalty for practicing homosexuality because it is unnatural."
The most despicable section, however, starts at about 45:35:
You were born white; you were born black, but you were not born gay...So your little son starts acting a little girlish when he's four years old, and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying 'man up son,' get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch cause that's what boys do, you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it . And next thing you know this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed...Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Okay. You're not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male, and you're going to be a male.

And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you rein her in. And you say 'Oh no! Oh no sweetheart. You can play sports. Play 'em. Play 'em to the glory of God. But sometimes you're going to act like a girl and walk like a girl, talk like a girl, smell like a girl. And that means you're going to be beautiful, you're going to be attractive, you're going to dress yourself up.'
If you had any doubt about whether Amendment One was motivated by bigotry, hate, and a desire for retribution against gays and lesbians, those doubts will be erased after watching Harris' sermon.

Health insurance mandates...Washington is and was the problem

Logical consistency has never been a strong suit of the Tea Party movement, what with signs saying "Government, Keep Your Hands off Medicare." Now it turns out that the Tea Party is historically inconsistent as well.

A pillar of the Tea Party movement is that the U.S. should return to a limited, originalist federal system that strictly adheres to the Constitutional principles of the founding fathers. In particular, the founders would never impose national mandates to purchase health insurance or other goods.

Except that they did.

Last month, historian Einer Elhauge wrote a fascinating piece in the New Republic, listing several purchase mandates, including health insurance mandates, that our first Congresses passed and that Presidents Washington and Adams signed.
In making the legal case against Obamacare’s individual mandate, challengers have argued that the framers of our Constitution would certainly have found such a measure to be unconstitutional. Nevermind that nothing in the text or history of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause indicates that Congress cannot mandate commercial purchases. The framers, challengers have claimed, thought a constitutional ban on purchase mandates was too “obvious” to mention. Their core basis for this claim is that purchase mandates are unprecedented, which they say would not be the case if it was understood this power existed.

But there’s a major problem with this line of argument: It just isn’t true. The founding fathers, it turns out, passed several mandates of their own. In 1790, the very first Congress—which incidentally included 20 framers—passed a law that included a mandate: namely, a requirement that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. This law was then signed by another framer: President George Washington.

...That’s not all. In 1792, a Congress with 17 framers passed another statute that required all able-bodied men to buy firearms. Yes, we used to have not only a right to bear arms, but a federal duty to buy them. Four framers voted against this bill, but the others did not, and it was also signed by Washington. Some tried to repeal this gun purchase mandate on the grounds it was too onerous, but only one framer voted to repeal it.

Six years later, in 1798, Congress addressed the problem that the employer mandate to buy medical insurance for seamen covered drugs and physician services but not hospital stays. And you know what this Congress, with five framers serving in it, did? It enacted a federal law requiring the seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves. ...And this act was signed by another founder, President John Adams.

Ayn Rand was not a founding father; George Washington, John Adams and many members of the first Congresses were.

If purchase mandates passed muster with those actual founding fathers, can the originalist underpinnings of these policies really be questioned?

Tea Party members are right to blame Washington for health insurance mandates; they've just got the wrong Washington.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Another day, another Tillis staffer gone for diddling a lobbyist

Under the Dome reports that a second aide to North Carolina House Speaker Thom (Caligula) Tillis has resigned for carrying on with a lobbyist.
House Speaker Thom Tillis says he asked chief of staff Charles Thomas earlier this year if he was having an affair with a lobbyist, but Thomas lied to him about it.

Tillis says that a review of correspondence and other records showed no favoritism from Thomas toward the lobbyist, Jessica B. Hayes of the N.C. Home Builders Association.

Tillis, in a news conference Tuesday afternoon, also said a second staffer has resigned after having an affair with a different lobbyist.
As the ancient saying goes, the fish stinks from the head down.

Or as they say in Raleigh, if the Speaker's office is rockin', don't go a-knockin'.

In other news, Speaker Tillis announced that he would soon be introducing a new constitutional amendment proposing that affairs between one staffer and one lobbyist would be the only domestic legal unions that will be valid or recognized in North Carolina.

Their master's voice

North Carolinians can thank the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for some dandy legal reform legislation and can especially thank Representative Rhyme and Senators Apodaca and Brunstetter for carrying the organization's water.

ALEC is a tax-exempt organization that provides a forum for big businesses to coordinate on legislative agendas. As its FAQ page states, "The potential solutions discussed at ALEC focus on free markets, limited government and constitutional division of powers between the federal and state governments." One of the "services" that the organization provides is to develop model legislation.

As part of a complaint challenging ALEC's tax-exempt status, Common Cause has obtained a database that ALEC used to track the progress of its legal reform legislation in various statehouses. The database shows that:

Rep. Rhyme introduced H 542, the Tort Reform for Citizens and Businesses Act, which was based on ALEC's Reliability in Expert Testimony Standards Act. ALEC's law was enacted in June.

Sen. Apodaca introduced S 33, Medical Liability Reforms, which was based on ALEC's Noneconomic Damages Awards Act and Periodic Payment of Judgments Act. ALEC's law was enacted in July.

Sen. Brunstetter introduced S 674, Civil Justice System, which was based on ALEC's Trespasser Responsibility Act and its Reliability in Expert Testimony Standards Act. Most of this bill became moot when H 542 was passed.

ALEC has drawn fire for, among other things, promulgating the "stand your ground" legislation that figures into the homicide of Trayvon Martin.

Rep. Rhyme, Sen. Apodaca and Sen. Brunstetter are supposed to represent the interests of North Carolinians; instead it appears that they are doing the bidding of out-of-state business interests.