Monday, December 9, 2013

Not exactly data-driven people

Quote of the day: "Among some of the most critical Republicans, let me say politely that they are not exactly data-driven people--” Jared Bernstein, commenting on Republicans' unfailingly failed predictions regarding the effects of Fed stimulus policies.

Politico has more
Republicans will use the expected vote this month on the nomination of Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve as one more chance to slam the Fed’s easy money policies.

But there’s one big rub to their argument: Their predictions about the impact of these policies since they first began in late 2008 have been wrong so far.

Inflation has not spiked, and the value of the dollar has not collapsed. At this point, in fact, there are more worries about deflation than inflation.

But thanks to the tea party influence in the GOP — in particular the Fed-bashing Rand and Ron Paul wing of the party — ripping the Fed and the bigger role it is playing in the economy has become more a litmus test for party loyalty, regardless of whether the dire predictions have come true.
It's hard to tell with this crowd whether they're kooks, pandering to kooks, or both. Either way, their policy prescription--restricting the money supply--would be disastrous.

Naturally, this is the same crowd that believes that extended unemployment benefits are a "disservice" to the unemployed and that defaulting on the debt is a worthwhile colonic for the economy.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Failing NC's children

Republican-led budget slashing is crippling North Carolina's public schools and setting the stage for an entire generation to fail.

WRAL reports
Almost 17,200 additional students packed into North Carolina schools this year while the number of teachers dropped, according to new payroll data, leading to what some say are larger class sizes that inhibit learning.
The article goes on to point out that the total number of public school teachers fell by 60. The losses would have been about 10 times that level if local school districts hadn't paid for replacement teachers out of their own funds. Overall, the number of state-funded teachers fell by 589.

Not only have teacher positions been cut, but the legislature has allowed the rising cost-of-living to erode teacher salaries. Just a few years ago, NC teacher salaries were near the average for the country. Now, average salaries are lower than almost every state.

The predictable result is that more teachers are racing for the exits. The WRAL article indicates that about one out of every seven NC teachers left their jobs last year, which was up from an already high one out of nine leaving two years ago. The losses include high proportions of experienced teachers. Many of the teachers are taking jobs in other states.

More students, fewer teachers, worse-paid and more dissatisfied teachers, less-experienced teachers, and cuts in other resources--they're all ingredients for educational failure.

Children get one shot at an effective education, and NC legislators are dooming this generation. Is it any wonder why Republicans are scrambling to dismantle student testing and standards? No sense documenting your own failure.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nullification all in a twist

As if we needed more evidence that congressional Republicans lack any agenda or principles whatsoever except opposing the President, The Hill reports that they may now sue to enforce all of the temporarily suspended parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Republican lawmakers bashed the Obama administration at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday for opting not to enforce core parts of the Affordable Care Act, such as minimum requirements for individual healthcare plans.

Rep. Trent Franks (Ariz.), the chairman of the Judiciary panel’s Constitution and Civil Justice subcommittee, said Congress should sue the administration to spur Obama to enforce the healthcare law as written.
This would be the same ACA that Republicans aver to oppose stem to stern. The same ACA that House Republicans have voted nearly four dozen times to repeal in its entirety. The same ACA that they describe as a job-killer. The same ACA that they shut down the government to, well, suspend.

Now they propose suing to enforce it in its entirety.

As former President Bill Clinton quipped last year, that takes some brass.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Gun claims the life of another NC preschooler

Guns do kill people.

Just a few weeks after a NC two-year-old was killed while handling an unattended gun, another small child has died. reports
A 4-year-old child died early Saturday after accidentally shooting himself inside a home in west Fayetteville home, police said.

...According to investigators, the boy found the loaded gun on top of the refrigerator before accidentally shooting himself. Emergency crews attempted to treat him, but he was pronounced dead at the home.
Tragic, sad, and unnecessary.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lesson learned?

You would think that after nominating a host of too-extreme-for-prime-time candidates that failed to knock off vulnerable, "damaged-goods" Democrats, including Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Claire McCaskill, and now Va. Gov.-Elect Terry McAuliffe, Republicans would wise up.

You would be wrong. National Review's Maggie Gallagher explains
Would another $3 million have swung 50,000 votes? The Republicans, starting with Bill Bolling, who undercut Cuccinelli as unelectable have egg all over their faces.

This was a winnable election. How did we give this away to Terry McAuliffe? Some serious soul-searching should be taking place among the anti-tea-party faction.
The implied prescription--doubling down on bad Tea Party bets--is music to Democrats' ears.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

11-year-old with 400 rounds of ammo

More evidence that the U.S. has more guns than it can responsibly handle. CNN reports
A Washington state middle school boy was arrested Wednesday and faces an attempted murder charge, after he brought 400 rounds of ammunition, multiple knives and a handgun to his school, police said.

The 11-year-old was booked into a juvenile detention facility after the incident that caused the lockdown of Frontier Middle School, Vancouver Police said.
The NRA should be along any moment now to tell us that the only thing that stops a bad 11-year-old with a gun is a good 11-year-old with a gun.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Irresponsible gun ownership

This week's news featured a trio of stories of irresponsible gun ownership that so far have led to the deaths of two children and one adult and the woundings of two other children. The words "so far" have to be emphasized because the gun from one of the incidents is still out in the community and because the week is only half over.

On Saturday, a two-year-old in North Carolina died after finding her father's loaded semi-automatic pistol. Besides being irresponsibly stored, the gun was irresponsibly provided to the father, a convicted teenage felon.

On Monday, a Nevada 12-year-old child killed a teacher, wounded two other middle-school students, and shot himself after taking a semi-automatic pistol from his parents' home.

And still later this week, we discovered that an AR-15 rifle was stolen from the home of NC Rep. Renee Ellmers after her family left it and other gear "out in plain sight" in an unlocked garage. To make it easier for thieves, the Congresswoman's teenage son had earlier advertised the availability of the gun in a tweet. Heaven knows where or how the stolen weapon will be used.

Rep. Ellmers' spokesperson expressed the Congresswoman's concerns, "As you can imagine, the Ellmers family is shaken by these events and is working with law enforcement to make sure those responsible are found and brought to justice."

We already know who was irresponsible, and it's highly doubtful that Congresswoman's community, which is also shaken by the availability of another gun, will see any justice.

Ironically, Rep. Ellmers co-sponsored legislation calling for a special prosecutor to investigate gunwalking.

Update (10/23/13, 2:30 p.m.): The week's tragic toll includes the death of a third child. CNN reports
A woman who was babysitting a 5-year-old who fatally shot himself Monday with her gun has been charged with abandoning or endangering a child, a felony, and jailed in Orange County, Texas, police said Wednesday.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Good fight?" Good grief

In the end, the Republicans accomplished nothing, and to hear House Speaker John Boehner describe it, the Republicans learned even less.

In a radio interview yesterday following his and his party's capitulation on their latest extortion attempt, Speaker Boehner said that he was "doing good" because "we fought the good fight; we just didn't win."

Give him credit for recognizing orange-tinted failure when he looks in the mirror. The "good fight" part, however, is delusional.

While Speaker Boehner's "good fight" accomplished nothing, it cost Americans a whole bunch.

The needless government shutdown hurt the economy. Bloomberg reports
Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services yesterday said the shutdown has shaved at least 0.6 percent off of fourth-quarter 2013 gross domestic product growth, or taken $24 billion out of the economy.

IHS Inc. of Lexington, Massachusetts, reduced its fourth-quarter GDP growth estimate to 1.6 percent, from 2.2 percent in September.
That $24 billion works out to about $200 per American household.

And that's not all, the latest damage to the economy can be added to the costs from previous extortion efforts.
Macroeconomic Advisers LLC said in a report prepared this week for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation that the recurring budget battles in Washington have lowered U.S. economic growth by about 0.3 percentage points a year since 2009. It has also added more than a half-point to this year’s unemployment rate, or the equivalent of about 900,000 jobs, the report said.
Republicans' extortion strategy and default nihilism are also damaging America's credit rating and will increase our borrowing costs going forward. Their "good fight" is the gift that keeps on giving.

The shutdown was also wasteful. Although the furloughed government employees will be repaid and made whole, taxpayers won't be compensated for the work that couldn't be performed while the workers were idled (as well as the needless work that was required to prepare contingencies for the shutdown). The GOP rails against waste and abuse yet singlehandedly caused billions in foregone government production.

Worse, the Speaker has promised that "the fight will continue."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Games but not so much fun with Speaker Boehner

Referring to the government shutdown that he caused, House Speaker John Boehner petulantly cried, "This isn't some damn game"--an odd statment given all of the games that Speaker Boehner has played leading up to and during the shutdown.

Here are just a few of the games.

Games with the shutdown. The first and biggest game was loading a temporary, short-term continuing resolution for spending with a poison-pill amendment to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This only 11 months after promising that he would stop with these games.
Asked whether he will make another attempt to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, Boehner said "the election changes that" and "Obamacare is the law of the land."

Games with lawmaker subsidies. After the Senate approved the continuing resolution but rejected the defunding amendment (and another delaying the ACA), Speaker Boehner insisted on including an amendment that removed an "exemption" that would have provided subsidies to Senators, Representatives, and their staffs to help cover the costs of mandated health insurance.

However, as Politico reports, Speaker Boehner had earlier worked to provide the same subsidies.
Yet behind-the-scenes, Boehner and his aides worked for months with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and others, to save these very same, long-standing subsidies, according to documents and e-mails provided to POLITICO.
Games with the conference committee. When Speaker Boehner lost that game, he next moved a resolution with an amendment calling for a conference committee to "negotiate" the terms of the House's extortion.

However, over the previous seven months, Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected 18 requests for conference committees for the Senate-passed budget.

Games with piecemeal legislation. When that gambit also failed, Speaker Boehner moved on to a new game. Instead of his original ploy of passing a single continuing resolution that omitted funding for the ACA, he pushed for a series of piecemeal funding bills. Taken together, these bills would have accomplished exactly what his original legislation proposed--funded what the Tea Party liked but dropped the funding for the ACA and other things that it didn't.

Games with an up-or-down vote. And Speaker Boehner continues to block the House from voting up-or-down vote on any of the versions of the continuing resolution that the Senate has passed, saying "That's not going to happen." A so-called "clean" continuing resolution appears to enjoy the support of a majority of House members, not to mention a majority of Americans and plurality of Republicans.

Sadly, the Speaker's games have had real consequences for the 800,000 idled federal workers, for citizens who depend on or enjoy government services, and for the economy as a whole.

As my parents used to say, "it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt."

The country is hurting, Mr. Speaker, and it's long past time to end your games.

Update (10-4-13, 4:25 p.m.): More games: Roll Call retrieves a previous Republican plan from the memory hole.
Senior Republicans were for “clean” CRs before they were against them.
Conservative Republicans have been pushing “automatic” continuing resolutions going back at least to the 1995-96 government shutdown era. The idea was popular on the right because an automatic freeze of government spending would take a shutdown off the table, lessening the leverage appropriators had to increase spending or include extraneous items.

Friday, September 27, 2013

No jobs from the new coliseum contract?

What strange alchemy at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.

The News and Record and other sources have reported that Wake Forest University, the owner of the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and several other venues in nearby Winston-Salem, has contracted with Matt Brown's Greensboro Coliseum Complex to run events at its venues.
Greensboro Coliseum Director Matt Brown’s empire is spreading across the county line.

Wake Forest University has hired the coliseum’s staff to book and manage events at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and three other athletics venues here.

The university will pay Greensboro $115,000 a year for the next five years, plus a share of Ticketmaster fees earned from events.
The News and Record article and an editorial tout the many potential benefits from regionalizing the management of the major venues in Greensboro and Winston-Salem--most importantly, the ability for the combined operation to compete more effectively with other major venues in North Carolina and beyond.

It's also a testament to Mr. Brown's and his staff's skills that Wake Forest decided that outsourcing the management of its venues to his shop was more cost-effective than using the university's own staff.

However, a sentence in the second-to-last paragraph of the News and Record story begs some questions.
Greensboro doesn’t plan to hire new staff because of the agreement, said City Manager Denise Turner Roth.

Wake Forest is hiring the Coliseum staff to perform $115,000 worth of services that it wasn't performing before and wouldn't be performing otherwise.

It's alchemy to suggest that these new services don't have any staffing implications.

Without staffing changes, the Coliseum's staff will either make room in their existing work schedules for these services by performing fewer services for the taxpayers of Greensboro, OR the staff currently have a considerable amount do-nothing time that's available for hire.

Greensboro taxpayers should be concerned if its staff will perform fewer services on behalf of the city. Taxpayers should also be concerned if the Coliseum is currently over-staffed and has workers with extra potentially billable time on their hands.

If the current staffing is appropriate, the Coliseum should either add workers or perhaps add hours for some part-time workers. The contract should mean either new jobs or better jobs in Greensboro.

Another possibility is overtime pay for the existing workers, but this seems inefficient, especially given the enormous number of unemployed people in the city.

Is Mr. Brown about to perform alchemy? Or will he find a way to add to Greensboro's job base?

Mr. Speaker are jobs still your "number one priority?"

Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner, has repeatedly said that jobs are his "number one priority"--a statement that's hard to square with his and House Republicans' current actions. From Bloomberg
A shutdown of the U.S. government would reduce fourth-quarter economic growth by as much as 1.4 percentage points depending on its length, economists say, as government workers from park rangers to telephone receptionists are furloughed.

Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics Inc. estimates a three-to-four week shutdown would cut growth by 1.4 points. Moody’s projects a 3 percent rate of growth in the fourth quarter without a closure. A two-week shutdown starting Oct. 1 could cut growth by 0.3 percentage point to an annualized 2.3 percent rate, according to St. Louis-based Macroeconomic Advisers LLC.
If the number one priority truly is creating jobs, the economic hostage-taking must end.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Job-killing in Raleigh continues

Chalk up another self-inflicted job wound by Gov. McCrory's administration.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is reporting that the state's Division of Water Resources has just turned down two federal grants totaling $583,000.
Saying they don’t need the money to meet their new mission, state environmental officials recently turned down almost $600,000 in federal grants. The money would have been used to set up a network of sites to begin testing streams in the Piedmont where natural gas production is likely to occur and to establish a long-term planning and monitoring program to protect wetlands.
One grant would have paid state researchers to collect baseline water quality data in the economically depressed central Piedmont region. The other grant would have paid for public employees to plan for and monitor the protection of wetlands.

The grants would have provided valuable outputs, especially given the possibility of natural gas fracking in the central Piedmont and the need to protect sources of water flowing into Jordan Lake. Both grants would have supported the goals of advancing economic development while simultaneously improving the environment.

More prosaically however, both grants would have funded well-paying jobs in a state that needs every job it can get its hands on.

The decisions are also wasteful given that valuable state resources went into the effort to apply for the grants.

But nevermind those considerations. The general economic interest of the state is no match for the narrow special business and political interests of the Governor.

It's little wonder that North Carolina trails the nation in job growth.

Another jobless month in North Carolina

Another month, another no-growth jobs report for North Carolina. On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the state lost 1,700 non-farm jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis in August.

While the state added 5,100 private sector jobs, it shed 6,800 public sector jobs (Dr. Aldona Wos' efforts to employ under-qualified McCronies notwithstanding). Since January, North Carolina has lost 12,600 public sector jobs. The current number of public sector jobs is the lowest its been since June 2007.

The Department of Labor estimated that 8,700 fewer North Carolinians were unemployed on a seasonally-adjusted basis in August than July. However, the drop off occurred because just over 12,000 fewer North Carolinians were in the labor force.

Gov. McCrory's approval ratings have taken a similar dip. Maybe it's because there are so many more idled North Carolinians available to take pollsters' calls.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Our failing public charter schools

A struggling charter school in Kinston, NC fails spectacularly and leaves taxpayers, students, teachers, and two local school systems holding the bag. NC PolicyWatch reports
State education officials want to know what happened to more than $600,000 in public education funding a Kinston charter school spent this school year despite only holding classes for 10 days.

Kinston Charter Academy, which opened in 2004 with the goal of educating low-income children in and around Lenoir County, voluntarily shut its door on Sept. 6, a few days into the new school year. The state Board of Education had been poised to try and close the charter school after hearing numerous complaints about financial instabilities at the school.

The sudden closure, two weeks into the school year, left the families of the 230 students in the K-8 school only a few days to enroll in nearby public schools in Lenoir and Pitt counties.

But it also brought up questions about what the school did with the $666,818 state education funding it received in July that was supposed to last through October. The school was also overfunded, receiving money to educate 366 students when only 230 students enrolled.
Two-thirds of a million state tax dollars to provide almost no education, while throwing numerous students back onto the local school systems at the last minute.

Where's the accountability?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Misplaced concerns

Reflecting their deep and genuine concern about women's health, South Carolina legislators in recent years have enacted a host of regulations to increase the "safety" of abortions, including requirements that only licensed obstetrician/gynecologists be allowed to perform abortions after the first trimester and that only licensed physicians be allowed to prescribe medication to induce abortions.

Terminating a pregnancy carries some health risks, but completing a pregnancy and delivering a child have much, much higher risks (U.S. women are almost 15 times more likely to die in childbirth than to die from an abortion). Given those relative risks, you would think that the concerned legislators in South Carolina would also require that OB/Gyns be present at delivery.

They don't, and sometimes the results are tragic.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Greensboro's little white school houses

The charter school movement in North Carolina is intended to provide educators with flexibility to innovate and to open doors for all children to learn. However, many charter schools use this flexibility to subtly keep some children from finding those doors.

In Greensboro, this has led to one publicly-funded charter school--Greensboro Academy--being the whitest public school in all of Greensboro. Figures from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction indicate that in the 2012-13 school year, 81.7 percent of Greensboro Academy's students were white. By way of contrast, just under 38 percent of public school students in Guilford County are white. Greensboro Academy's current composition represents progress of a sort; a few years ago just over 90 percent of its students were white.

Another publicly-funded charter school--Cornerstone Academy--isn't far behind with 74.0 percent of its students being white, essentially double the proportion of white students in Guilford County's public schools.

How do these publicly-funded schools achieve these remarkable numbers? The biggest factor is location. Public schools, including both charter and district schools, draw largely from their surrounding neighborhoods. Patterns of racial segregation in housing are reflected in racial segregation in school composition.

Greensboro Academy and Cornerstone Academy are both located near the northwest fringes of Greensboro (they're less than four miles driving distance apart), a section of the city that is predominantly white. For example, the district elementary school for children who live very near Greensboro Academy is Claxton Elementary, which is 59.7 percent white, and the district middle school is Kernodle, which is 64.5 percent white.

However, these locational choices are compounded by another factor--the lack of general school bus transportation to the schools. Parents at these schools are responsible for transporting or arranging transportation for their children. This makes it much harder for low-income parents, especially those who lack cars. The schools assist parents who want to locate car-pool partners, but this would still be a substantial barrier for those without cars in the first place. Additionally, neither school is especially walkable.

Charter schools are allocated a share of the state and local transportation funds, but part of their academic "flexibility" includes being able to use those funds for other purposes.

Put the schools' location and transportation barriers together and you have a dandy recipe for racial exclusion--all on the public dime.

Another publicly-funded charter school--Summerfield Charter Academy, the Howard Coble Campus--has just opened a few miles further out in this "underserved" area. Look for it to generate even more skewed demographics.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Americans participating in the labor force like it's 1978

The U.S. Department of Labor reported this morning that the national unemployment rate fell from an estimated 7.4 percent in July to 7.3 percent in August, on a seasonally adjusted basis. At first blush, a falling unemployment rate looks like good news, but upon closer examination, the supporting survey data suggest that the labor market actually weakened in August.

The unemployment rate is calculated from a large, national, monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households. Among other things, the survey asks whether adult members of the households were participating in the labor force (meaning they were either working or available and looking for work) and whether they were employed. The unemployment rate is calculated as the ratio of people who are in the labor force but not working (the numerator) and all people who are in the labor force (the denominator).

By these definitions, the August survey indicates that nearly 200,000 fewer Americans are unemployed, which should be very good news--except that all of this decline (and then some) came from a reduction in the labor force. Overall, the government estimated that the number of Americans in the labor force fell by just over 300,000, and the number of Americans who reported that they were working fell by just over 100,000.

The percentage of non-institutionalized, adult civilians who were in the labor force fell from 63.4 percent in July to 63.2 percent in August, the lowest that figure has been since 1978. The percentage of non-institutionalized, adult, civilians who were working fell from 58.7 percent in July to 58.6 percent in August. That number is little changed since the depths of the Great Recession (the rate bottomed out at 58.2 percent in 2010).

Some of the change seems likely to be sampling error. The Department of Labor cautions that monthly changes in the survey estimates that are smaller than 400,000 aren't statistically meaningful. Thus, we can't rule out the possibility that the numbers of people in the labor force and who are employed actually grew. Indeed, preliminary estimates from the establishment survey, which counts jobs at firms rather than counts of people who report employment, indicate that the number of non-farm jobs grew by 169,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis (plus or minus 100,000 given the sampling error).

Nevertheless, we can conclude with certainty that jobs aren't being added quickly enough to make meaningful improvements in the economic lives of Americans. That's disappointing and sadly, not news.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Arming teachers, what could possibly go wrong?

This for one thing.
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, is interested in exploring whether state law allows school districts to make decisions on school safety. If a legal avenue does not exist, he hopes the Legislature will change the law.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Hutchinson became interested in arming school personnel, he said. He was invited to attend an "active shooter" training and—using a rubber bullet-loaded pistol—he mistakenly shot a teacher who was confronting a "bad guy."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Who says that the Carolinas have lost their exporting edge

The Carolinas might not be the export powerhouse they once was when it comes to useful goods, but they're finding new markets for exporting mayhem.

The New York Times explains
“A lot of firepower,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg mused as he paused to look at some of the 254 guns — large-caliber pistols and military-grade weapons modified to improve aim and avoid detection — that were bought by the police during the yearlong undercover investigation.

In a 264-page indictment announced on Monday, prosecutors said 19 people in two separate but loosely connected rings brought the guns to the city from North and South Carolina for one simple reason: they could buy low where regulations were loose and sell high on the city streets.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Just a hopeless dreamer

Republicans have strange dreams. Buzzfeed reports
Michigan Republican Rep. Kerry Bentivolio said Monday it would be a “dream come true” to submit a bill to impeach President Obama. Bentivolio also said he had meetings with lawyers asking them to “tell me how I can impeach” the President of the United States. Bentivolio was speaking at the August 2013 Birmingham Bloomfield Republican Club Meeting.
So what's the hold up on that impeachment bill? The article continues
“Until we have evidence, you’re going to become a laughing stock if you’ve submitted the bill to impeach the president because number one you’ve got to convince the press,” he said. “There are some people out there no matter what Obama does he’s still the greatest president they’ve ever had. That’s what you’re fighting.”
Well, at least he got the laughing stock part right.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gov. McCrory develops soft spot for some liberal arts majors

It wasn't that long ago that North Carolina's governor was disparaging liberal arts majors.
"I'm looking at legislation right now – in fact, I just instructed my staff yesterday to go ahead and develop legislation – which would change the basic formula in how education money is given out to our universities and our community colleges,” McCrory told radio host Bill Bennett, who was education secretary under President Reagan. “It's not based on butts in seats but on how many of those butts can get jobs."

The Republican governor also called into question the value of publicly supporting liberal arts majors after the host made a joke about gender studies courses at UNC-Chapel Hill. "If you want to take gender studies that's fine, go to a private school and take it,” McCrory told the radio host. “But I don't want to subsidize that if that's not going to get someone a job."
But today comes news that Gov. McCrory has found an innovative way to make liberal arts degrees pay handsomely--become a McCrony.
Young Republicans who helped elect North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory have been rewarded with big salaries in his new administration.

Matthew McKillip was named this week as chief policy adviser to Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos. Records show the 24-year-old McKillip received a $22,500 raise in April, bringing his taxpayer-supported salary to $87,500.

Records show 24-year-old DHHS Communications Director Ricky Diaz got a $23,000 raise in April, boosting his state salary to $85,000.
What were Mr. McKillip's qualifications before assuming a position that pays more than many liberal arts faculty make?
Before joining state government in January, McKillip worked less than a year for McCrory's 2012 campaign and transition team. Before that, he spent 11 months as a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, according to his page on the business networking site LinkedIn. He graduated from Georgetown University with an English degree.
Apparently, subsidies for some liberal arts majors are okay, so long as the profess sufficient fidelity to Gov. McCrory.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

North Carolina posts its highest increase in continuing unemployment claims in a decade

Did the bottom just fall out of the North Carolina labor market?

Weekly data on unemployment insurance (UI) claims reported by North Carolina to the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) of the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that the number of continuing UI claims in its regular state program skyrocketed 52 percent from 84,699 for the week ending June 29 to 128,739 for the week ending July 6. The increase of 44,040 continuing claims is the largest in North Carolina in more than a decade.

The week covered by the data is the same week that ill-conceived changes in state law led to the elimination of federally-funded extended UI benefits for the state's long-term unemployed. However, claims for those extended benefits are not included in the regular state figures.

Continuing UI claims are seasonal and tend to grow in the weeks right around holidays when unemployed people are less likely to accept work. This is especially true of the Christmas and New Year holidays, which have the highest seasonal spikes, but also true of the July 4 holiday, which has a modest spike. For instance, this year continuing claims increased 10.5 percent in the rest of the country over the same week.

However, changes like North Carolina just reported are exceedingly rare. Data from the ETA go back to 1987. Over that 26-year period, there were only five other weeks in which the number of continuing claims increased more, and all but one of those increases were associated with Christmas or New Years. You have to go back to January 2002 to find a larger increase for the state.

By Occam's razor, the most likely explanation for an unbelievably large change in the UI numbers is that the numbers are indeed unbelievable. The information technology systems for North Carolina's social service agencies have suffered a number of embarrassing setbacks, including problems paying Medicaid claims and problems processing food stamp benefits, so the possibility of a processing glitch can't be ruled out.

As mentioned, this was also the same week as other changes in North Carolina's UI system took effect; something peculiar to those changes could have contributed to an artificial spike.

However, if the numbers are accurate, things just got horribly worse for North Carolina's workers.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

NC legislature would give a gun to John Hinckley Jr.


Both houses of the NC legislature have voted to strike the provision that "No individual who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity may petition a court for restoration under this section" from the NC statute regarding the restoration of gun rights (see Section 9 of HB 937).

Under this provision, if John Hinckley Jr. were a NC resident, he could petition to get his gun "rights" restored.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

US Airways' contribution$ to the Charlotte airport grab

The sudden and fierce determination of North Carolina Republicans to snatch the seemingly well-functioning Charlotte airport away from the city of Charlotte has been something of a head-scratcher.

However, a detailed story by the Charlotte Observer helps to fill in the background.
In early 2012, an executive with US Airways, the airport’s largest tenant, had a tense meeting with then-City Manager Curt Walton over how much say the airline would have over (Charlotte Aiport Aviation Director Jerry) Orr’s eventual successor.

Planning consultant Michael Gallis, who has worked with Orr, heard about the tensions and raised concerns with Stan Campbell, a former member of the City Council and Airport Advisory Committee. At the same time, developer Johnny Harris was warning of the politicization of the airport by city leaders he saw as “paralyzed” over a dispute about building a streetcar. US Airways forwarded a draft of possible authority legislation to Campbell. In December, Campbell approached Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican.

But the prospect of an authority only became public in February, shortly before Rucho filed legislation. He said lawmakers and still-unidentified business leaders thought the city was about to stop managing the airport “wisely.”
Got that? US Airways--an out-of-state corporation--wrote draft legislation to change Charlotte's airport authority. That draft was passed to Sen. Bob Rucho who then submitted legislation to carry out US Airways' bidding.

But draft legislation wasn't US Airways' only contribution to the airport grab (or to Sen. Rucho).

US Airways' political action committee followed up the delivery of the draft legislation in December with a $1,000 contribution to Sen. Rucho and $8,000 in contributions to other North Carolina politicians. Senator Rucho's campaign finance report indicates that his committee received the check on January 30, 2013.

Two weeks later on February 13 (time enough for the check to clear, you never know given the sorry financial state of air carriers), Sen. Rucho filed the authority-change legislation in the Senate. Sen. Tom Apodaca, who was also the recipient of a $1,000 contribution in January, was a co-sponsor on the legislation. Rep. Bill Brawley, who was a primary sponsor of a companion House bill, received $500.

Previous to its contributions in January, US Airways had not taken an especially big interest in North Carolina elections. In 2012 (an election year), its PAC only reported $1,000 in contributions. Similarly, the PAC appears to have only made $1,000 in contributions in 2011. However, with draft legislation under review by Sen. Rucho, its contributions in a non-election year jumped to $9,000.

The suspect timing and unusually generous size of the contributions strongly suggest a quid pro quo. They also suggest that a criminal investigation may be in order.

NC politicians have taken dim view in recent years toward tenants' rights, but maybe some well-timed contributions from Charlotte airport's largest tenant are changing that.

Gov. McCrory unleashes another "nightmare" on the poor

Gov. McCrory, who has enacted legislation to strip unemployment benefits from more than 70,000 long-term out-of-work North Carolinians and cut earned income tax credit payments for low-income working families, has now unleashed a new "nightmare" on poor families and children--a malfunctioning Medicaid payment system.

The News Observer reports
The state Department of Health and Human Services warned providers to expect a few bumps after the new Medicaid billing system came online July 1. For many, the bumpy weeks have been worse than they imagined, and they have not been told when the frustration will end.

...“This change with NC Tracks has been anything but successful,” said Susan Walsh, office manager at the Purcell Clinic, a pediatric practice in Laurinburg. “They have serious defects . Practices aren’t getting paid, which is very serious for all of us financially.”

Doctors, dentists, pharmacists, in-home care providers and medial equipment companies say the new software system is riddled with problems. Pharmacists cannot get approval to fill some prescriptions for medicine. Companies submit bills only to learn that they’ve vanished into the system. Doctors’ offices do not have at the ready information they need to know which patients they should treat or whether they need to collect copayments – information the old payment system provided.

...NC Tracks is “really a nightmare,” said Beth Bowen, executive director of the N.C. Association for Medical Equipment Services.

“We were expecting glitches,” she said. “We weren’t expecting complete failure of the system here, and that’s what happened.”
The problems were foreseen. In May, the state auditor reported that results from more than one-third of 834 critical system tests were missing. The auditor also reported numerous other problems, including the lack of formal "go/no-go" criteria to determine whether the system would be ready to operate on July 1. The auditor further recommended that "the Department should re-evaluate its current 'Go' decision for July 1, 2013."

No matter, Gov. McCrory unleashed the NC Tracks system anyway.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What's Greensboro got to do to get a little love?

Bloomberg profiles the development of the new HondaJet (a.k.a. the "Flying Acura") but fails to mention where the darn thing is being built.

North Carolina employment stuck in neutral

The latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) show that North Carolina's employment situation remains stuck in neutral.

The DOL's establishment figures indicate that the state added just under 6,000 payroll jobs in June on a seasonally-adjusted basis. While this reverses the last three months of job declines, it's hardly cause for celebration, as the total number of payroll jobs in June remained lower than the levels from February and March.

The DOL's household figures were worse. The estimated number of unemployed people was essentially unchanged, but the estimated size of the labor force shrank by 10,000.

The state's employment trends stand in sharp contrast to the national trends, which have been pretty solid for several months running.

Two years ago Republicans promised that tax cuts and government downsizing would accelerate the economy. Instead, they appear to have broken the clutch.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Some good national job numbers but a sobering bottom line

The U.S. Department of Labor reported this morning that the country added nearly 200,000 non-farm jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis in June. It also revised its estimates of job growth in April and May up to about 200,000 in those months.

The most recent figures continue a trend of solid, though hardly overwhelming (marginally whelming?) job growth. Overall, the U.S. has added 182,000 non-farm jobs per month over the past year.

Job growth certainly beats job decline. However, the growth figures are just barely exceeding the growth in the working-age population, which gives rise to the following sobering graph of the percent over time of the civilian, non-institutionalized population aged 16 and over that is working on a seasonally-adjusted basis:

At the start of the Great Recession, the percent of the adult population that was employed was around 63 percent. The rate plummeted during the recession, and since late 2009 has been mired at or below 58.7 percent. Despite solid job growth in the last two months, the June employment percentage was only able to creep back up to that 58.7 percent high-water mark.

The U.S. has been steadily adding jobs since early 2010, but there will be little cause for celebration until it consistently adds jobs fast enough to raise the employment-to-population ratio.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Economic Roundup®

North Carolina's total economic output, its state gross domestic product (GDP), was $456.0 billion last year, a $19.8 billion improvement over its output the year before.

I mention these figures to provide context for a big pile of money that North Carolina is about to send back to the U.S. Treasury.

In their fever to reward their big business benefactors, North Carolina's Republican legislature and governor earlier this year enacted draconian cuts in the state's unemployment insurance system. Among other things, the cuts reduce the maximum benefits that jobless people can receive from $500 per week to $350 per week, reduce the maximum weeks of state-funded benefits from six months to just under five months, and make jobless people wait an additional week before receiving benefits.

Since 2008, the federal government has paid Extended Unemployment Compensation (EUC) to jobless people who have exhausted their state-funded benefits. At one point, the federal government was covering up to a year and a half of extra benefits; currently it is covering just under a year of extra benefits in states, like North Carolina, with extremely high unemployment rates.

The federal benefits have always been intended to extend state-funded unemployment insurance benefits, not to replace them. Accordingly, the federal government conditions its payments on the state holding up its end of the bargain and continuing to fund its own program.

As North Carolina's legislature and governor fully knew when making their changes, the cuts in benefits and duration ran afoul of this federal provision. As a result, when the cuts are implemented, starting after this weekend, the federal government will end its EUC payments in the state.

As WRAL reports
Because North Carolina leaders cut average weekly benefits for new claims, about 170,000 workers whose state benefits expire this year will lose more than $700 million in EUC payments, the U.S. Labor Department said.
The loss of EUC funding will be devastating to the hardest hit North Carolinians--170,000 former workers who have already been without jobs for six months or more.

The loss of funding will also hurt the broader economy, which brings me back to those original GDP figures. At a time when the state's economy is only growing slowly, unevenly, and actually shedding jobs; the legislature and governor are about to pull $700 million directly out of the state's economy. That figure represents 3.5 percent of all of the economic growth that the state experienced last year.

In addition, jobless people spend the benefits that they receive. This puts money into the pockets of other North Carolinians, who in turn spend some of that money, putting money into the pockets of yet more North Carolinians, and so on. Mark Zandi has estimated that each dollar of EUC spending contributes a further $1.55 in economic growth (in fact, Zandi testified, "There was arguably no more effective form of government support during the recession."). If you add in the multiplier effect, the hit to the state's GDP from the loss of the EUC increases to 9 percent of 2012's total growth.

Instead of fertilizing economic growth, the legislature and governor have effectively doused the state's economy with the policy version of Roundup®.

Friday, June 21, 2013

More job losses in North Carolina

Remember how the last round of Republican-led cuts in personal, corporate, and sales tax in North Carolina in 2011 were supposed to lead to extraordinary job growth? Well, it's been nearly two years, and we're still waiting.

The U.S. Department of Labor released its latest estimates of state employment figures. For the third month in a row, North Carolina lost jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis. The Department of Labor estimates that the state lost about 400 jobs in March, 700 in April and another 5,900 jobs in May. Those losses occurred despite modest employment growth in the country as a whole.

The number of unemployed people is down in the state by about 30,000 over the last three months, lowering the unemployment rate from 9.4 percent to 8.8 percent. However, all of that decline (and then some) has come from a decrease in the number of people in the labor force. The number of people working or looking for work has shrunk by about 45,000 over the same period.

What should we expect if Republicans follow through with their current plans to cut taxes again for the wealthy corporations and people?

More of the same.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The unemployment rate ticked up, and that's okay

The U.S. Department of Labor released establishment and household employment estimates for May this morning, which indicated that the country gained 175,000 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis but that the unemployment rate ticked up slightly from 7.5 to 7.6 percent.

The payroll jobs figure is modestly good news and is consistent with the slow and uneven growth in the economy. As in previous months, the loss of jobs from government austerity continues to be a drag on job growth. The sequestered federal government shed 14,000 jobs in May (on top of 31,000 jobs lost in the previous two months); state governments dropped another 2,000 employees. Job growth in the goods producing sector (manufacturing, construction, and mining) was flat. Over the last year, goods producers have only added 250,000 jobs, while service providers have added nearly 2 million.

There is also some good news in the higher unemployment rate. The number of unemployed people rose by 101,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis, which seems bad until you consider that the increase was due to a surge in the number of people who entered the labor force and were looking for work. The survey data indicate that 420,000 people joined the labor force in May.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Killer taxes on the poor

As North Carolina Republicans prepare to steam-roll their sweeping, regressive tax changes through the House and Senate, it's worth considering the terrible harm that could result.

In their 2011 book, Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged, Katherine Newman, a Professor and Dean at Johns Hopkins University, and Rourke O'Brien, a graduate student at Princeton University, found that increasing the regressivity of state and local taxes--as NC Republicans are proposing--led to to
  • higher mortality rates--"for every $100 increase in taxes on the poor, the mortality rates increased by 6.6 per 100,000" (p. 102),
  • increased violent and property crime rates--"the same dollar increase in taxes is associated with an increase in the state property crime rate of 78.3 per 100,000" and "an increase in the state violent crime rate of 12.3 per 100,000" (p. 103),
  • lower high school completion rates--"for every $100 increase in taxes on the poor...the state high school completion rate decreases by 0.26 percentage points" (p. 103), and
  • greater proportions of out-of-wedlock births--"a $100 increase in taxes on the poor is associated with a 0.07 percentage point increase in the percentage of births to unmarried mothers" (pp. 103-4).
Newman and O'Brien's estimated multivariate statistical models that accounted for the ethic make-up of states, poverty rates, GDP, unemployment, government expenditures and revenues, and inequality; thus, they controlled for indirect effects of the tax system on these other outcomes. For instance, states with regressive tax systems also tend to have lower expenditures and revenues; the effects that Newman and O'Brien found would be on top of any expenditure effects.

Also, the researchers considered changes within states in these outcomes and in tax regressivity over time; thus, their analyses accounted for unique permanent characteristics of the states, like the health or legal systems, that could give rise to spurious correlations.

Newman and O'Brien also looked specifically at grocery taxes (one of the taxes that would be raised under the Senate leadership's plan). Besides the harmful effects listed above, Newman and O'Brien found that higher food taxes led to increased rates of obesity, as poor people substituted from high-cost healthy foods to lower-cost unhealthy foods.

Rank-and-file Republicans who profess to respect life, be tough on crime, and promote family values would do well to consider the deaths, crimes, high school drop-outs, out-of-wedlock births, and worse health that their leaders' tax policies will deliver.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Paying the wealthy on the backs of poor and middle-class families

The North Carolina legislature is now considering three different tax schemes that each increase taxes on poor and middle-class families while lowering taxes for corporations and the wealthiest families.

All three plans would expand the sales tax base and increase tax revenues from consumption. This would increase taxes for everyone but would disproportionately affect poor and middle-class households because they spend a higher proportion of their income on consumption.

All three plans lower taxes on corporate profits. Currently NC's corporate tax rate is close to the median for the country, and the proportion of tax revenue that comes from corporate income is similarly near the middle for the country.

All three plans also adopt flat proportional taxes on personal income that slash tax rates for households that receive more than $100,000 but also make changes that could make more of lower-income and elderly households' income taxable.

Two of the plans also eliminate taxes on multi-million dollar estates. Those same two plans would also require further cuts to government services, which would fall disproportionately on the poor.

Poor and middle-class households have suffered the most from the economic downturn. The Pew Research Center reports that from 2009 to 2011, households in the top 7 percent of the wealth distribution saw their wealth increase by 28 percent, while all other households saw their wealth decline by 4 percent. The Census Bureau reports that the share of income going to the top 20 percent of households passed 51 percent in 2011, up from about 50 percent at the start of the recession. Increasing the tax burden for poor and middle-income households compounds this misery.

Any tax reform is going to increase taxes for some people while reducing them for others. However, there are ways to reform and simplify taxes that are less harmful to the poor. For example, an expansion of the sales tax base could be coupled reductions in the sales tax rate. Reductions in personal income tax deductions and exemptions could be coupled with reductions in all rates, leaving the progressivity of income taxes in place.

Friday, May 10, 2013

NC Republicans hurting most to benefit a few

You have to ask yourself, who exactly does North Carolina's Republican legislature represent? They certainly don't represent the majority of NC households, if their grossly misnamed Tax Fairness Act is any guide.

The News & Observer got its hands on an analysis by the the legislature's Fiscal Research Division, which shows that even though the plan will reduce revenues overall, it will nevertheless result in higher taxes for most NC households.
The majority of taxpayers likely would see a tax increase after the plan is fully implemented, according to early long-term projections from legislative fiscal researchers who analyzed the potential legislation – not a tax break as Senate Republican leaders suggested when announcing the plan this week.

A taxpayer with a federal adjusted gross income below $51,000 could pay an average $100 to $200 more in the 2017 tax year. Based on current tax brackets, 2.3 million taxpayers would fit that category, according to the analysis, while 1.8 million taxpayers could expect an average $300 to $3,000 tax cut that year.
Enormous tax cuts for the wealthy few will be financed by higher taxes and slashed protections for the middle- and low-income majority.

Put simply, Sen. Phil Berger and the Republicans have simply stopped caring about who is hurt by their reactionary rampage through Raleigh.

Friday, May 3, 2013

What a difference a month makes

Last month's moaning and groaning about slowing job growth will and should be quickly forgotten. The latest national jobs report shows that the job market continues to improve.

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) made its preliminary estimate that non-farm jobs increased by 165,000 in April on a seasonally-adjusted basis. As importantly, the BLS also reported that last month's preliminary estimate of job growth (the source of the aforementioned moaning and groaning) undershot the mark by 50,000 jobs -- instead of adding 88,000 jobs in March, the BLS now estimates that the U.S. gained 138,000 jobs. The BLS revised February's growth number even more from 268,000 to 332,000. The figures for March and April are still subject to revision, so there's a good chance that the final growth figures will be stronger still.

The headline seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate continued to inch down, reaching 7.5 percent. The most encouraging thing in the unemployment figures was that the lower unemployment rate resulted from growth in both the number of workers and the number of people in the labor force.

The economy is still battling strong headwinds, especially from the expiration of stimulus tax breaks and the decrease in spending from the sequester. Some of these headwinds show up in the job numbers themselves. Overall job growth occurred despite the loss of 11,000 public sector jobs last month. Overall, the public sector has shed 89,000 jobs since last year.

It's gratifying that the rest of the job market continues to plod forward, even under such trying circumstances.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Another accidental shooting

CNN is reporting another accidental shooting tragedy.
A Kentucky mother stepped outside of her home just for a few minutes, but it was long enough for her 5-year-old son to accidentally shoot his 2-year-old sister with the .22-caliber rifle he got for his birthday, state officials said.

Little Caroline Starks died Tuesday in Burkesville, in southern Kentucky, according to Cumberland County Coroner Gary White.

"The little Crickett rifle is a single-shot rifle and it has a child safety," White said of the weapon. "It's just a tragic situation."
It's hard to comprehend how a rifle, even the "little" Crickett rifle, would be appropriate for a 5-year-old. But Crickett marketing materials (pictures are shown below) encourage putting guns in the hands of even younger children.

The company also has testimonials that encourage giving the guns to small children. Two examples
Thank you for supporting the next generation of recreational shooters. My 4 1/2 year old daughter thought the "pink one" was far superior to a black synthetic stock,who am i to argue? I never would have thought that a pink rifle would be sitting in the rack in the gun room.

Just wanted to drop you a note, to let you know what a great product you offer. I just recently bought two Crickett .22's, one pink and one black. They are exceptionally accurate, and just the right size for my 5 and 7 year olds. They are awesome and we couldn't be happier. Thanks So Much!!!!!"

Monday, April 29, 2013

More than 1 million shot in the U.S. in the last decade

A disturbing coda to the figures on gunshot injuries and fatalities that I posted on Saturday.

The post focused on trends in U.S. shootings and how they have increased over the last decade. The post only briefly touched on the enormous scale of the carnage.

If you add the figures together, they indicate that more than one million people were shot in the U.S. in the last decade (2002-11) for which numbers are available. About 310,000 of these shootings were fatal.

One million people exceeds the combined populations of Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

310,000 people exceeds the population of Greensboro.

Put another way, if a service was held to read the names of each of the decade's million-plus U.S. shooting victims, the speakers took just three seconds per name, and the speakers read continuously day and night, it would take more than a month to read the names. While the last decade's victims were being remembered, more than 10,000 additional people in the U.S. would be shot.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The increasing chances of being shot

Americans' risks of being shot by a gun were higher in 2011 than a decade earlier.

The figure below shows figures from the Centers for Disease Control WISQARS database supplemented with preliminary mortality data for 2011 on people in the U.S. who either suffered a non-fatal firearms injury (the blue bars) or were killed by a firearm (the red bars). The sum of the figures indicates the total number of people who were shot.

In 2011, just over 106,000 people were shot in the U.S., or about one out of every 2,940 Americans. Just over 32,000 of these shooting injuries were fatal. A decade earlier just under 93,000 people were shot (about one out of every 3,080 Americans) with just under 30,000 fatalities. When you adjust for the increase in the population and average the changes across all 11 years, the chances of being shot rose by 0.8% per year.

Nearly two-thirds of these shootings were assaults and homicides; figures appear below. In 2011, there were just under 67,000 firearms assaults and homicides compared to just over 52,000 a decade earlier. Adjusting for population growth and averaging changes across years, the chances of an American suffering a homicide or an assault injury at the end of a gun climbed by 1.7% per year.

Accidental shootings were down over the decade, falling from 18,500 in 2001 to 15,500 in 2011. Adjusting for population size and averaging the changes over the decade, the chances of being accidentally shot fell by 2.3% per year. While the gun accident figure might seem encouraging, it is worth considering that the chances of being accidentally cut or stabbed fell even more (2.6% per year).

More guns, more shootings, more misery.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Toughest milk monitor this side of the Pecos

The Charlotte Observer reports more evidence that the flood of guns puts all of us at risk.
A 7-year-old brought was taken into custody after allegedly bringing a gun to school Thursday, the Alexander County Sheriff’s Office says.

Sheriff Chris Bowman says the gun was seized around midday by staff members at Sugar Loaf Elementary School, on N.C. 16 a few miles north of Taylorsville. Students told teachers about the gun, authorities say.
Thank goodness the school staff was able to secure the gun before a bigger tragedy unfolded.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

McCrony Capitalism

North Carolina's prohibition against corporate political contributions to state candidates are abundantly clear, "No candidate, political committee, political party, or treasurer shall accept any contribution made by any corporation, foreign or domestic, regardless of whether such corporation does business in the State of North Carolina, or made by any business entity, labor union, professional association, or insurance company."

Nevertheless, as much as $235,000 in funds from an electronic sweepstakes software company, International Internet Technologies, may have made its way into the 2012 NC state elections, including into donations that were mailed and hand-delivered by the lobbying firm that employed then-candidate McCrory and that included the business card of Senate majority leader Phil Berger's former deputy chief of staff.

These are the same funds that are tied to the indicted sweepstakes operator, Chase Burns, who is alleged to have participated in running a veterans charity as a means of hiding sweepstakes profits from the the IRS.

Despite Burns' large contributions and his enlistment of the lobbying firm that employed McCrory, the governor has denied meeting with him or other electronic sweepstakes lobbyists. However, the governor's spokesperson is now parsing that comment, saying "the governor was clearly referring to Chase Burns, Florida clients and no one else in his answers."

The Democratic chairman and ranking Republican member of the State Elections Board think that the matter should be investigated. Such an investigation could involve subpoenas and requirements to testify under oath. However, Republican-initiated legislation might conveniently knock them off the board.

Altogether, Gov. McCrory received over $82,000 in contributions from sweepstakes operators, including Burns; House Speaker Thom Tillis received over $87,000; and Senate Leader Phil Berger received $60,000. Despite this, the governor and legislative leaders don't indicate seeing any conflict of interest in fiddling with the State Elections Board.

Were the contributions illegally made? Were they illegally accepted? Were they illegally coordinated? If the governor didn't meet with Burns or other "Florida clients," which lobbyists or operators did he meet with and what did they discuss?

Don't look for the governor or his McCronies to provide answers or facilitate an investigation.
ad more here:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Guns do kill people

Gun apologists are fond of saying that "guns don't kill people -- people kill people." How then to explain this story from the Charlotte Observer.
Nearly two years after a Charlotte teenager died and two others were wounded in a mysterious shooting in eastern North Carolina, the Columbus County district attorney has determined a gun malfunction is to blame.

The bullet that struck and killed Jasmine Thar, a 16-year-old Ardrey Kell High student, over Christmas break in 2011 was fired from a rifle that accidentally discharged, District Attorney Jonathan David said in a Monday news conference with Thar’s family.
The story goes on to describe a well-known defect in the model of rifle that would have cost "pennies per gun" to fix.

The gun lobby's strategy of putting more dangerous and malfunctioning guns into the hands of more people increases the odds of these tragedies.

Jasmine Thar never had a chance, and arming her, her friends, or anyone else wouldn't have helped.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What could possibly go wrong?

Greensboro's year started with a gun tragedy. On the morning of January 7, as her family was preparing for work and school, Sandra Palmer shot her 14-year-old middle-school son five times, killing him, and shot her live-in boyfriend and her 18-year-old daughter multiple times. The boyfriend escaped to get help when Palmer's first gun jammed. Palmer grabbed a second gun and turned it on herself, ending her own life.

This morning's News & Record reports that Palmer obtained the gun permit from our friendly sheriff's office two days before the slaughter, despite:
  • suffering from a history of psychiatric problems,
  • being on five separate medications for psychiatric and emotional issues, and
  • suffering through a host of financial hardships, including the recent loss of her job, a recent bankruptcy, and the ongoing foreclosure of her house.
Palmer did not disclose any of these problems on her permit application, and even if she had, none of them would have disqualified her. This litany of problems didn't even raise a speed bump along the path to a gun purchase.

Sandra Palmer might not have technically been crazy, but irresponsible policies that quickly put a gun in the hands of someone with her problems and circumstances surely are.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sen. Hagan lost my vote today

Senator Hagan (aka "Kowardly Kay") lost my vote today by repeatedly standing with the gun lobby and against sensible gun safety and a majority of her constituents. Kowardly Kay

  • Voted against the Lautenberg amendment to restrict large capacity ammunition feeding devices.
  • Voted against the Feinsten amendment to restrict assault weapons.
  • Voted for the Cornyn amendment to require states to accept every other state's concealed weapons permits and allow a "race to the bottom" for gun safety.
  • Voted for the Burr amendment to make it easier for crazy people to get guns.
Kowardly Kay had earlier voted in favor of the Inhofe amendment to prevent the United States from entering into the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty.

So you have a job

The Great Recession has taken a toll on the labor market. Unemployment remains stubbornly high; job creation and job-holding rates have been tepid. As if this isn't enough terrible news, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has released a new report on poverty among workers up through 2011. The results are sobering.
In 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 46.2 million people, or 15.0 percent of the nation’s population, lived below the official poverty level. Although the poor were primarily children and adults who had not participated in the labor force during the year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10.4 million individuals were among the “working poor” in 2011; this measure was little changed from 2010.
The BLS definition of working poor includes all adults 16 and over who were working or looking for work for at least half the year. Thus, the total is affected by the number of unemployed. However, 40 percent of the working poor were adults who usually worked full-time and were in the labor force for the entire year.

As with other poverty statistics, poverty rates among the working poor are higher for blacks, Hispanics, women, and people with less education.

A primary culprit in poverty among workers is extremely low wage rates. The BLS defines "low earnings" as weekly earnings that are less than what a person working 40 hours per week at the average inflation-adjusted minimum wage from 1967-1987; in 2011, the threshold was $331 per week. The BLS found that two-thirds of full-time working poor adults had wages that were lower than this.

Sadly, these are exactly the people and families that North Carolina's Republican legislature have targeted in their spending plans. Starting in July, workers who lose their jobs will see the amounts and duration of their unemployment compensation cut. Low-income workers in NC will also see a reduced earned income tax credit this year. And the Republicans have decided to turn down federal funds to extend Medicaid benefits to these families. Republicans may also soon shift more of the tax burden toward the working poor.

Outcomes for many workers have been miserable for the last few years. Shamefully, NC's legislature and governor are compounding that misery.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Guns don't kill people; 4 year-olds with guns kill people

Two heart-rending stories in the last few days show the tragic consequences of a country that is awash in guns.
A 6-year-old New Jersey boy has died after being shot in the head by a 4-year-old playmate as their parents stood in the yard nearby, a local police chief said.

..."The 4-year-old ... retrieved a rifle within the house, a .22-caliber rifle, came outside," Mastronardy told reporters earlier Tuesday. "... A shot went out and the 6-year-old was struck in the head."
The news report continues
This eastern New Jersey incident follows another fatal shooting days ago that also involved a 4-year-old boy, this time in Tennessee.

Josephine Fanning had gone into a bedroom, along with the boy, where her husband -- Wilson County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Fanning -- was showing a relative some of the lawman's guns.

At some point, the boy picked up a loaded pistol from a bed and shot Josephine Fanning dead, said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm.
Two lives lost; two others, scarred. Tragic, senseless, needless.