Saturday, May 29, 2021

9-year-old shot on a trampoline

 No other country "lives" like this. 

Today an American nine-year-old lost her life while innocently bouncing on a trampoline. 

Just another murderous day in the gun-totin' US of A.

Jesus wept.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Trump's abuse of another office

The focus on President Trump's abuse of his presidential office for personal and political gain risks overlooking his admitted gargantuan abuse of his "charitable" foundation.

This week, a New York judged slammed Trump with $2 million in damages for his foundation's skeevy grifting. The judgment was part of a settlement agreement in which Trump stipulated that his foundation:

  • Provided improper political help to his presidential campaign and another political campaign;
  • Improperly paid more than a quarter million dollars in different legal settlements for Trump's businesses;
  • Paid $47,000 for advertising, artwork, and other expenses for Trump's businesses;
  • Had a sham Board of Directors--the Board did not meet from 1999 through November 2018, provided no oversight, and did not adopt a required conflict of interest policy.
By converting his foundation into his personal piggy bank, Trump corruptly turned taxable activities into tax-free activities, cheating the federal and New York state governments and passing his bill to other taxpayers.

As part of the settlement, Trump had already agreed to dissolve the Foundation, pay its remaining $1.7 million in holdings to genuine charitable causes, pay other penalties, and adhere to strict rules and monitoring if he ever serves on the board of another charity.

Trump is now prohibited from running a charity without a host of guardrails, yet somehow his Republican enablers see him as qualified to run the country.

For any other president, these penalties for mismanagement and self-dealing would be an all-consuming scandal. For Trump, it's just more of the same.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Petty" allegations

Why do some people insist on describing the Sen. Al Franken's alledged sexual misconduct as "petty" or minor?

The latest example is Michelle Cottle's article, "What Does 'Sexual Misconduct' Mean?," in The Atlantic. the public outrage over sexual misconduct gains force, it is swallowing up an increasingly diverse range of allegations, from the relatively petty (such as those lodged against Franken) to the truly monstrous (such as the claims regarding Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes).
To be clear, Cottle roundly criticizes Sen. Franken's behavior. She also correctly points out that his behavior wasn't as horrendous as some other recent cases.

But "petty?"

The picture he gleefully staged during a 2006 USO tour prior to running for the Senate is both horrible and demeaning. Worse, it was on a CD of photos that were distributed to multiple people, so the victim's shame was compounded.

Sen. Franken subsequently wrote,
There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture.
Inappropriate, disgusting, a violation, but definitely not petty. And that's the offender's take.

In short order, four other women (two named, two anonymous) accused Sen. Franken of groping their backsides. Another woman accused him of groping her breast. His original accuser and another woman described unwanted open-mouth kisses, and yet another woman described an attempted open-mouth kiss.

Would other accusers have come forward if Sen. Franken hadn't announced his resignation? Who knows. But aren't eight accusations of sexual assault--a serial pattern of misbehavior--enough?

Sen. Franken's behavior is disappointing on many levels, not least of all because he was an effective advocate for women's issues. He has taken some important remedial steps by apologizing (sort of) and announcing his resignation.

However, his behavior by any objective standard was beyond the pale. It was not a petty offense; it wasn't flirty unwanted attention; it wasn't even close to the line.

It's regrettable that President Trump and others seem to have gotten away with worse behavior--for now. But none of that changes the objective awfulness of Sen. Franken's behavior.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Can't keep their lies straight

On Friday Donald Trump denied that he was even aware of intelligence evidence proving that his disgraced national security adviser and Russian toadie, Michael Flynn, discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador--"I don't know about that. I haven't seen it. What report is that? I haven't seen that. I'll look into that." 

Today he wants us to believe that he has been on top of the situation for weeks, determined that the discussions were legal, but pushed him out this week because of a lack of trust.

Wouldn't the lack of trust be a firing offense when it was discovered, not weeks later? If Trump was aware of the nature of Flynn's discussion weeks ago, doesn't this mean that he and his administration have covered it up in the meantime? 

Nothing that Trump says is believable. Watch for the fake explanations to change in the coming days.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The rantings of this so-called president

A so-called president who fell three million votes short in the popular vote, whose election was tainted by Russian meddling and possible Russian collusion, and who is daily violating Constitutional prohibition against foreign payments questions the legitimacy of a federal judge.

That takes some brass.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Trump TPP Two-fer Hurts Greensboro and Helps China

An ill-considered stroke of Donald Trump's pen on Monday removed the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and in the process dampened prospects for jobs and growth in Greensboro but brightened the prospects for Chinese hegemony in the Pacific.

The TPP, which included 11 other countries but excluded China, would have eliminated those countries' tariffs on all U.S. manufactured goods and farm exports and greatly lowered tariffs on other goods. By doing so, it would have increased trade between countries that account for 40 percent of the world's output AND given the U.S. a trade advantage over China within that huge block.

The TPP would have also strengthened intellectual property protections to allow the U.S. to better benefit from its thought capital and would have bolstered environmental regulations, labor standards, and human rights in the partner countries in ways that would have leveled the playing field for U.S.

A substantial portion of Greensboro's economy, including emerging high-tech manufacturers like HondaJet and RFMD, involves exports. Figures from the International Trade Administration show that the Greensboro-High Point metropolitan area exported $3.3 billion worth of goods in 2015 (the latest year for which figures are available) of which $1.6 billion went to TPP countries. Other important Greensboro employers, including FedEx and UPS, provide services that support this trade. Good-paying jobs at all of these companies are put at risk by the withdrawal from the TPP, and Greensboro is hurt.

At the same time, China benefits. Without the TPP, China's exports to the other partner countries will remain relatively competitive. With Trump making the U.S. unreliable and unsteady, the other countries have an incentive to look elsewhere. And to the extent that Trump's action and other "America First" rhetoric signal a withdrawal from the Pacific, our partners have less support to stand up to China. China couldn't be happier about this.

It really makes you wonder who Donald Trump is working for.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Homeowner stands his ground, kills his wife

Senseless gun tragedy in Goldsboro, as a quick-draw homeowner stands his ground and kills his wife.

WRAL reports
A Goldsboro man accidentally shot and killed his wife early Friday morning when he mistook her for someone trying to break into the home.
...Billy Williams then got a gun from a safe, opened the front door and fired one shot, authorities said. The front porch light was not on.
There are so many other things the homeowner could have the police, turn on the outside lights, yell out that he was about to shoot. Instead, he fired blindly into the dark.

More guns = more carnage.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Orange may be the new black for Fletcher Hartsell

Justice delayed is, well, sadly all too typical of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBOE), which also punches above its weight in the justice-denied part.

Nevertheless, the news about State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, Jr. now facing federal as well as state charges for using his campaign funds as a personal piggy bank is a relief. WRAL reports
State Sen.Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, faces charges of mail fraud and money laundering in connection with his campaign spending under a federal indictment handed down Tuesday.

Although Sen. Hartsell's self-dealing was pointed out in news articles (and other places) in January 2012, it took the SBOE until July 2015 to issue findings that this was actually a bad thing. A state indictment FINALLY followed in June of this year, and a federal indictment was issued on Tuesday.

In the meantime, guess who has continued to be a sitting state senator? Good 'ol Fletcher Hartsell, Jr. Not only that, his ethically challenged Republican peers kept him on as a chair, vice-chair, or co-chair of numerous committees, including the Finance Committee (presumably because he was so good with keeping track of finances).

Well, at least they got the "vice" part right.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Murderous weekend in North Carolina

Melbourne, Australia has been my beautiful and peaceful home for just over a year now, but I've continued to follow the news from North Carolina and the U.S. closely. And too much of that news from my old home has been unfathomably tragic.

This Sunday's news stories from the tar heel state would give any caring person pause.
  • A Statesboro father guns down his two preschool sons and tries, but fails, to gun down himself.
  • A teenager in Raleigh is randomly and inexplicably gunned down
  • A retired law officer in Gastonia is gunned down, another Gastonia resident wounded, and other law officers and an innocent bystander are subsequently wounded in a gun battle.
  • A Winston-Salem man is gunned down and another man is wounded at a party.
During this awful, gory, bloody weekend, the state of North Carolina with its population of 9.9 million people--and its millions of guns--murdered more people with those guns than the nation of Australia with its population of 23.1 million people murders with guns, knives, hands, pipes, pills, and whatever in a typical week (source).

While this weekend's gun victim body count in North Carolina is higher than usual (thankfully there are more peaceful weekends), the average number of murders in NC on a given day (1.4) is twice the average number in Australia (0.7). Adjusted for the differences in population size, North Carolina's murder rate is almost five times Australia's.

One of the things my wife and I have come to appreciate in our new home town is the ability to walk out of our urban apartment (flats here), walk down streets and alleys (laneways here), and hang out in crowded, noisy bars (pubs here and the laneway pubs are the absolute best) with no worries about gun-toting idiots (idiots here too!).

North Carolinians don't have to live (and die) the way that they do, and maybe someday they will escape the thrall of the NRA and its lies about more guns and more guns and more guns making people safer.

In the meantime, if you want a drink in a dodgy but safe laneway pub, look us up. We'll shout you a round.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Farewell Greensboro, Hello Melbourne

Well, it's done.

After eight years blessed with the opportunities to work for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, work with many students and good colleagues, and make many great friends, I've left to pursue a new opportunity in a new country at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne. My first day was Monday.

Moves involve some disruption, but this one comes at a good time. My two sons completed great educations in Greensboro's public schools. The oldest has gone on to graduate from UNC Chapel Hill, and the youngest is pursuing a joint degree that will take him to Scotland for the next two years. Neither is home, and so the disruption is mostly limited to my wife and me.

And it's for a tremendous opportunity at a top university in a fantastic city. My research (my actual job) focuses on quantitative analyses of household outcomes, and the Melbourne Institute is home to a tremendous survey that has followed each member of about 7,000 Australian families yearly since 2001 as well as a newer survey that has followed about 2,000 people who were either homeless or at high risk of homelessness semi-annually for three years. These are data resources that just can't be beat, and the chance to work with them and the 40-odd researchers who are part of Institute is exciting. Over the past few years, I've been lucky to be able to collaborate with researchers in the Institute, and now I'll be able to work with them full time.

Melbourne itself is also gorgeous, with wonderful restaurants, theaters, and museums. It's also right up against several great Australian wine regions. When I get a break from work, there is a lot to explore.

I'll miss Greensboro but hope to visit.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Licenses to kill

The gun apologists argue that lawful concealed carry gun holders pose no risk to the general public. However, 644 people (at least) would likely disagree if they were around to tell their side of the story.

The Violence Policy Center reports that since May 2007, 644 people have been killed by private citizens authorized to carry concealed handguns. These include 28 incidents of mass shootings and 14 deaths of law enforcement officers. About five out of six of the incidents were murder-suicides.

And none of the incidents involved self-defense.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

NC tax fairness RIP

Remember all those very serious explanations from Gov. Pat McCrory and the radical Raleigh Republicans regarding how their massive tax shifts and tax cuts were intended to make taxes fairer and flatter and to broaden the tax base.

Part of the deal, such as it was, was that in exchange for lower and flatten marginal personal income tax rates that would provide an enormous windfall for the wealthy, the state would also eliminate and cap a few tax loopholes.

Oh sure, those changes had the effect of erasing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax liabilities for the Governor's wealthy contributors and raising taxes on the poor and elderly, but hey, you have to break a few modest nest eggs to make a fairer, flatter, and broader tax omelet.

How long did Gov. McCrory's fidelity to fairer, flatter, and broader taxes last? Less than a year.

One of set of tax credits that was going to expire was the personal income tax credits on rehabilitating historic buildings and mills. The NC Department of Revenue estimates that the credits, which largely go to the wealthiest tax filers, depleted state coffers to the tune of $34 million in FY 2012 and will cost about $25 million per year in the next two years before their scheduled expiration.

Gov. McCrory announced yesterday that he wants to replace those expiring tax breaks with new ones.

Besides being a give-away to the rich (currently you need to pony up at least $3 million in repairs to claim the mill rehabilitation credit), the breaks re-introduce complications into the tax code and reduce state revenues.

To be fair, the credits have some worthwhile features. However, the Governor's rote response when asked about other worthy expenditures, like the Earned Income Tax Credit for the poor or raises for teachers and state employees, is that the state can't afford them.

Similarly, there don't appear to be any plans to repeal the new tax hikes the Governor and Republicans imposed on trailer homes and modular homes. Historic homes owned by the rich get some nice tax candy; modest shelters for struggling, working families, not so much.

As this latest episode shows, fairness was never really part of the Governor's tax plans. However, his fidelity to tax cuts for the rich at the explicit expense of the poor remains intact.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ACA succeeding despite Republicans' scorched-earth tactics

A number of reports this week document notable successes of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) despite Republicans' scorched-earth attempts at nullification.

On Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast that government expenditures for the ACA would be $5 billion lower than anticipated this year and $109 billion lower than anticipated for the next decade.

The budgetary news is good in and of itself, but the principal reason behind it--that private health insurance premiums would be much lower than expected (thus requiring fewer subsidies)--was even better. The lower expenditures also come despite other good but potentially costly news--higher than expected enrollments in the health insurance exchanges.

The CBO now forecasts that 12 million more Americans will have health insurance coverage in 2014 (and 19 million more in 2015) than they would have in the absence of the ACA.

Health insurance coverage would be higher still were it not for Republicans' cynical strategy to undermine the ACA for purely partisan purposes. Indeed, Gallup estimates that between 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 the proportion of uninsured non-elderly adults dropped three times faster in states that set up their own health insurance exchanges and accepted the federal government's fully-paid offer to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income working families than in states that rejected these policies.

The truly despicable aspect of Republicans' nullification strategy is its cynical use of low- and moderate-income workers. These are Americans who "play by the rules" by working, even though their wages are incredibly low. They are also the Americans that Republicans say that the non-working poor should emulate.

Unfortunately, they are also the Americans that Republicans have thrown under the bus, by denying many access to Medicaid.

How perverse are these policies? Consider North Carolina, where a working single mother with one child loses eligibility for Medicaid once her countable income reaches $434 per month. A single mother in a minimum-wage ($7.25/hour) job would lose her eligibility after working 83 hours per month (20 hours per week). Talk about cruel incentives and a horrible choice--work more than part-time or have health insurance!

In other Republican-led states, governors and legislators have undermined the ACA (and their own constituents) by going after organizations that helped to sign low- and moderate-income families up for federally-subsidized insurance.

And these actions have been compounded by Republican actions to underfund the ACA's implementation and to sow as much uncertainty and confusion as possible.

In all of this, who gets hurt? Low- and moderate-income working families without insurance.

And despite this, the law is working.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Aussies laughing all the way to the Ex-Im Bank

U.S. taxpayers just turned over a whole bunch of loot to Australia's richest person.

The Age reports
How Australia's richest person, mining heiress Gina Rinehart, secured a $US694 million ($764 million) loan from American taxpayers is surely one of the great ironies of the capitalist system, reports The Australian Financial Review.

The case is the latest example of a flaw in the United States political economy: what some see as crony capitalism.

...The Ex-Im Bank's loan to an Australian billionaire, who is worth $22 billion according to the 2013 BRW Rich 200 list, is symptomatic of a broader malaise in the US system. American policymakers and lawmakers appear captured by big business rent seekers, lobbyists and political donations.

Hancock Prospecting is not the only Australian company to benefit from America's, at times, peculiar capitalism.

QBE Insurance, the second-largest crop insurer in the US, has been a big recipient of federal crop insurance subsidies, which have tripled to about $US9 billion a year for the industry over the past decade.
The rich, as they say, get richer.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Disarming logic

A biology professor at Boise State University asks for some practical advice and pens one of the best op-ed columns of the year.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How to make the health system worse

Republicans' crocodile tears over people losing their health insurance coverage appear to have dried.

The House is preparing to take up H.R. 2575, which would alter portions of the Affordable Care Act to allow more businesses to avoid providing providing health insurance to their employees.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Howard Coble and other members of the Republican NC delegation.

An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office gives the easily predictable result--lots of people (about 1 million by the CBO's estimate) will lose their employer-based insurance each year.

On top of that, the CBO estimates that the legislation would
  • swell Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program rolls by 500,000 to 1,000,000 people,
  • increase the number of uninsured people by up to 500,000, and
  • add to the federal debt by $73.7 billion over the next ten years.
Because costs of Medicaid and SCHIP are shared by the federal and state governments, the changes would add to state government costs as well.

Less private insurance, more public insurance, bigger deficits, and more costs for states--that's the Republican recipe for "reform."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Casting blame far and wide

When something goes wrong, do we need to blame someone?

Yes, according to an article in the Journal of Political Economy by researchers from Boğaziçi University, Bocconi University, and the University.

The researchers ran experiments that paired subjects. One subject had to make decisions about how money would be split between a risky and safe investment in an uncertain environment. After the uncertainty was resolved and the payout was determined, the second subject decided how much to reward (or punish) the first.

There were four possible outcomes from the first subject's decision:
  1. The person chose the risky outcome and the risky outcome made money (also more than the safe outcome),
  2. The person chose the risky outcome and the risky outcome lost money,
  3. The person chose the safe outcome and the risky outcome made money (and would have paid more than the safe outcome), and
  4. The person chose the safe outcome and the risky outcome lost money.
Although the first subject chose the investment, s/he did not have any influence over how the uncertainty would be resolved.

The researchers set things up so that under some circumstances
  1. the risky investment was the better bet (even though there was still a small possibility of a loss),
  2. neither the risky investment nor the safe investment was a better bet, and
  3. the safe investment was the better bet (even though there was still a small possibility that the risky investment would pay more).
In this set up, there was some scope for blame-worthy decisions. For example, choosing the safe investment when the risky investment had a higher expected pay-off or choosing the risky investment when the safe investment had a higher expected pay-off would each be "bad" decisions a priori.

What was interesting, however, was that the second subjects paid the first subjects less (punished the first subjects) even when they made the appropriate decisions a priori but the luck of the draw led to bad outcomes. For instance, subjects were often punished when they chose the risky investment, even though it had a higher expected pay-off, but the realized pay-off was a loss. That is, the second subjects appeared to shift blame for bad outcomes that were beyond anyone's control onto the first subjects.

Need someone to blame? Chances are you'll find someone.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What Sheila Salter isn't telling you

Today's News & Record includes an op-ed by Sheila Salter, a 61-year-old self-employed marketing consultant from Chapel Hill, describing the cancellation (later rescinded) of her NC Blue Cross Blue Shield policy. provider (Blue Cross Blue Shield) suggested a new policy that would roughly replace my canceled one. They recommended a "bronze" plan--the cheapest plan I could buy. It cost a whopping $584 per month. My current plan, by comparison, cost me only $202 per month.

I could hardly contain my shock. My new Obamacare-compliant plan would cost me 189 percent more. It also increased my deductible from $3,500 to $5,000 and increased my co-pays from $25 to $45.
Ms. Salter made similar claims in testimony to the House of Representatives in November and in ads produced by the Koch-funded American's for Prosperity.

The (eventual) cancellation of Ms. Salter's insurance may be costly. However, Ms. Salter misrepresents some parts of her story and omits some others. The cancellation, regrettable as it is, is not nearly as costly as she makes it out to be.

The most important misrepresentation is that a $584 per month "bronze" plan is the cheapest she could buy. In fact, the $584 plan is the most expensive "bronze" plan she could buy. There are seven other "bronze" plans in Chapel Hill; the least expensive costs $150 less per month.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Good for thee but not for me

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson's affection for fracking is a sometimes thing.

ThinkProgress explains.
As ExxonMobil’s CEO, it’s Rex Tillerson’s job to promote the hydraulic fracturing enabling the recent oil and gas boom, and fight regulatory oversight. The oil company is the biggest natural gas producer in the U.S., relying on the controversial drilling technology to extract it.

The exception is when Tillerson’s $5 million property value might be harmed. Tillerson has joined a lawsuit that cites fracking’s consequences in order to block the construction of a 160-foot water tower next to his and his wife’s Texas home.
Maybe this experience will give Mr. Tillerson some appreciation of how fracking and its infrastructure affect surrounding properties.

But probably not.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

160,000 NC residents enrolled thru health exchange--so far

There's good news to report about the new individual health insurance exchanges that are now operating under the Affordable Care Act.

Nationally, just under 3.3 million people enrolled in individual insurance plans through the state- and federally-run exchanges during their first four months of operation, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In North Carolina, just over 160,000 people had selected an individual plan.

Although NC is 10th among states in population, it was 5th among states in private, individual health insurance enrollments during the first four months of the insurance exchanges. An additional 48,000 people were assessed as being eligible public insurance for Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

To put the figures in context, approximately 1.7 million North Carolinians lacked health insurance prior to the exchanges opening.

The high levels of enrollments aren't the only good news.