July 16, 2009
Video of Jim Black hearing
Posted by David N. Bass at 3:31 PM
WRAL.com has video of Judge Donald Stephens' reaction to criticism of the Jim Black fine settlement.
RE: Smoke pot to grow government
Posted by David N. Bass at 3:18 PM
To judge from the way elected officials have run California's economy into the ground, I'd say they've already been smoking pot -- and for years.
Smoke pot to grow government
Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 2:57 PM
Some in the state of California want to legalize marijuana. Unfortunately, while it might be the right thing to do, the reasons are wrong. Do the advocates want to legalize pot because it is in unwarranted restriction on individual freedom and the natural right of self-ownership? Not at all. In fact the sole reason for doing this would be to grow not shrink California state government. Tax officials in the state have estimated that $1.4 billion in additional revenues could be transferred from the state’s private sector to political control if pot were legalized and then heavily taxed. In other words, the entire point of expanding freedom in the area of the consumption of marijuana would be to enhance the state’s abilities to reduce freedom in other areas.
Some thoughts about today's Jim Black developments
Posted by Mitch Kokai at 2:28 PM
At least a couple of items in today's coverage of the Jim Black case merit follow-up remarks.
First, much as I admire Rob Christensen's work, he's being far too charitable when he describes the former speaker as "getting caught up in a fund raising scandal." No, Jim Black orchestrated the scandal. He paid off Michael Decker to help keep his position of power and thwart the will of North Carolina's voters. Black accepted an illegal campaign payoff in an IHOP bathroom, urging the payer never to say anything to anyone about the deal. Black sat at the top of the pyramid of players in this shady fundraising scheme.
Second, and more important, Judge Stephens' comments suggest that complaints about Black's payment of his fine are "idiotic" because those making the complaints are looking a gifthorse in the mouth. But that's not the full story.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I'm not a stickler about the size of the $1 million fine. Stephens set the fine. He was not bound to set it; he was not bound to set it at a particular dollar amount.
But Stephens obviously thought the size of the penalty was important when he sentenced Black on July 31, 2007:
The citizens of North Carolina — each one of them is the victim of Dr. Black's crimes. The institution of the North Carolina legislature — and specifically the North Carolina House of Representatives — is the victim of Dr. Black's crime. And his conduct has certainly shaken the public's confidence, if they ever had any, in the integrity of that institution. And his legacy leaves just an absolutely defacing stain upon that institution.
So do I simply impose a sentence that runs concurrently with the federal sentence, so he's really not punished at all by the state for a crime for whom the victims are the people of the state? Even though his punishment is appropriate and already very severe? ...
I do believe that the way you punish a person who has abused political influence and has abused money and has abused power is by taking away that influence and that power and also by taking away that money. I think the federal government has taken care of the taking away the power and taking away the influence. Thus the purpose of my sentence: to take away the money. [Emphasis added.]
I don't have a big problem with Stephens deciding — two years later — that $500,000 and some property are good enough.
But let's be honest about it. Let's not suggest that property valued at $150,000 has magically morphed into property valued at more than $600,000 at a time when the economy is in the tank.
Stephens and Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby should admit that they're willing to accept this as the best deal they're likely to get from Black. Willoughby said as much during an interview with David Bass for Carolina Journal. (Check out the last couple of paragraphs here.)
Willoughby and Stephens should explain why the state isn't going to go after Black's other property or make him sell enough property to pay the rest of his fine in cash. Why make the Wake County school system the owner of Mecklenburg County property of questionable value? Those are legitimate questions. Public officials ought to have legitimate answers for them.
By being open and honest about it, Willoughby (and Stephens, for that matter) could shed some light on the difficulties the state faces in collecting fines from criminals. Perhaps changes in state law might make that process easier.
Another reason why the complaints about this deal are more than valid is the link between the fine and the ongoing efforts to free Black from federal prison. If Black's lawyers are going to sell a story to the feds about the debt he's paid to society, the feds and public need to know that he never really paid $1 million.
Local government energy loans courtesy of the taxpayer.
Posted by Becki Gray at 1:41 PM
The House takes up House Bill 1389, which authorizes local governments to loan money to private property owners for renewable energy or energy efficiency improvements that are permanently affixed to real property. The loans would be repaid through assessments. They claim the public interest is served because these loans would be used to meet the renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standard (REPS) set out in Senate Bill 3. They also claim this loan program will "contribute to the creation of green jobs." See notes from committee discussion here.
Local government officials, both city and county, can designate which area(s) within the city the loan program will be available, will decide what kind of improvements may be financed, give written consent for the property owner to buy the equipment, and determine which property owners are eligible to participate which MAY include considering the property owner's credit-worthiness. The loan documents would be filed with each counties' Register of Deeds.
Seems like a lot of decisions regarding the loans are up to the discretion of local government officials - and all with taxpayers' money. Federal stimulus money will used to finance the program. Is this what we are going into trillions of dollars of debt for? Yep.
Bill sponsor, Rep Susan Fisher, D Buncombe, asks for support. With no debate, the bill passes 105 - 13 (all voting no are Republicans). It goes to the Senate next.
PETA encourages people to pretend like they're eating meat
Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 1:33 PM
Does anyone think it's strange that PETA is protesting the eating of meat by handing out veggie hotdogs? Isn't the whole reason for making "hotdogs" out of vegetable products to allow people to pretend that they are eating meat? PETA should be ashamed. It is a short step from pretending to eat meat to actually eating meat. If PETA really cared it should view veggie hot dogs the way the rest of society views candy cigarettes. These pretend hotdogs should be called a "gateway food."
Posted by Rick Henderson at 1:15 PM
So what is the judge saying? He picked the $1 million figure out of a hat? He enforces criminal fines on the honor system?
Seems to me that any corporate CEO convicted of a white-collar crime of similar magnitude would have been dragged through the streets naked had he so blatantly tried to stall his way out of a criminal fine.
More on Obama versus small business
Posted by George Leef at 1:12 PM
Writing in today's New York Post, Michael Tanner of Cato shows that the result of the Obamacare plan of forcing businesses to provide health insurance or else pay a penalty will lead to substantially higher unemployment. Read his piece here.
More from Stephens
Posted by David N. Bass at 12:58 AM
The judge said he was disappointed with the complaints, noting the school district should be pleased to get an extra $1 million.
"Criticism from those receiving the gift really kind of puts a chilling effect on judges and the courts system that are working really hard for their benefit," Stephens said. "It is not appreciated. I don't even understand it, quite frankly. In my 25 years on the bench, I have never seen anything quite like that."
1:23 p.m. update: The N&O is also reporting on the sentence, and Stephens remarks about the fine:
State fines and forfeitures go to the Wake County school system. One member of the Wake County School Board, Ron Margiotta, criticized the land transaction, saying that Black should have been required to provide cash. Margiotta questioned the appraisal, noting it was commissioned by Black’s family. He noted that the tax value of the property in 2003 was $149,000.
"We’ve got an appraisal done for a criminal," Margiotta said. "Give me a break."
Stephens was livid at the remarks, and summoned a Wake County school board attorney to his court room to be chewed out. The judge called the remarks "idiotic" and noted that he had not been obligated to levy any fine against Black.
"It's like giving your daughter a Toyota and her saying, 'Dad, I'd rather have a BMW," Stephens said. The judge said he would have to give serious thought to whether he would levy fines in the future that would benefit the Wake County school system. [Emphasis added]
Brad Miller's Health Care Survey
Posted by Jenna Ashley Robinson at 12:31 AM
Brad Miller's office just emailed me a survey entitled, "Fixing Healthcare in America." After submitting the survey, I was surprised that of individuals on Brad Miller's email list, only 12.7% think the government should "create a public health insurance option that will encourage innovation and competition among private insurers."
You can see the full results here.
Stephens: Complaints about Black fine settlement 'idiotic'
Posted by David N. Bass at 11:59 AM
Calling complaints about how a criminal fine was paid "idiotic," a Superior Court judge on Thursday sentenced former House Speaker Jim Black to 11 to months months [sic] in prison on an obstruction of justice charge.
Judge Donald Stephens said the sentence would run at the same time as the 63-month federal sentence for public corruption Black is currently serving.
Stephens withheld sentencing on the charge two years ago until Black paid off a $1 million fine imposed in the case.
Black paid $500,000 of the fine in cash last summer. Two months ago, Stephens signed off on an agreement to transfer the title of property owned by Black in Matthews, N.C., to settle the balance of the fine.
By law, the $1 million fine goes to the Wake County school district because that is where Black was convicted.
At least one school board member expressed opposition to using a land deal to settle the fine, but Stephens discussed the matter with a school board attorney Thursday morning and decided to proceed with imposing sentence to close out the case.
The judge said he was disappointed with the complaints, noting the school district should be pleased to get an extra $1 million.
Read Carolina Journal's coverage of the controversial fine settlement here and here.
12:20 p.m. update: Judge Stephens says that Black will have to serve all of his state prison sentence, even if his federal sentence is cut.
The truth about Obamacare
Posted by Jon Ham at 11:51 AM
The Obama health care plan effectively outlaws private insurance retroactively from the first day of the year that the bill becomes law:
Under the Orwellian header of "Protecting The Choice To Keep Current Coverage," the "Limitation On New Enrollment" section of the bill clearly states:
"Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day" of the year the legislation becomes law.
So, once you change jobs after Obamacare becomes law, you're in the government's socialized medicine, single-payer, Cuban-inspired health care plan, whether you like it or not.
Will Sotomayor be another Scalia?
Posted by Dr. Michael Sanera at 10:45 AM
The Heritage Foundation comments on the Sotomayor hearings here by quoting her answers to tough questions from conservative senators. Her answers could have come from Scalia or Thomas. In fact on the use of international law, she does agree with them.
“I have actually agreed with Justice Scalia and
Thomas on the point that one has to be very cautious even in using
foreign law with respect to the things American law permits you to. And
that’s in treaty interpretation or in conflicts of law because it’s a
different system of law.”
She rejects the "living Constitution" doctrine so dear to the heart of liberals. She even rejects Obama's "empathy" standard for judging cases. Accusing her of telling them what they want to hear is a gross understatement.
Heritage concludes with this:
Was Sotomayor being honest with the Senate Judiciary
Committee with these answers? We don’t know. That is a decision each
Senator will have to make on their own. At bare minimum though,
Sotomayor’s testimony proves that the left is unwilling to defend the
core of their judicial beliefs in a public forum. As the New York Times
reports: “By forcing Judge Sotomayor to retreat from Mr. Obama’s desire
for justices with “empathy,” Republicans have effectively set a new
standard that future nominees will be pressed to meet. … Several legal
experts said Judge Sotomayor’s testimony might make it harder for Mr.
Obama to name a more liberal justice next time.”
Obama versus small business
Posted by George Leef at 10:22 AM
In his column today, Victor Davis Hanson puts his finger on one of the main reasons why the economy continues to fizzle, namely the many ways in which the regime's agenda hurts small businesses. More taxes, more mandates, a green light for vexatious litigation, and so on.
Historian Robert Higgs has written that one of the chief reasons why the economy remained flat for so long during FDR's reign was his constant hostility to business. Under Obama, we don't have the rhetorical hostility ("economic royalists" and such blabber) but we have an abundance of policies that, as Hanson puts it, try to produce wool by skinning the sheep.
The one element Hanson doesn't include is the pro-labor stance Obama takes. Unions impede efficiency, but since they funnel a lot of their money haul into Democratic campaigns, they're getting the red carpet treatment.
All in all, this is a time when investment looks increasingly unattractive.
GOP chairman questions Hackney trip to Philadelphia
Posted by Mitch Kokai at 10:07 AM
State Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer held a brief morning news conference to raise concerns about N.C. House Speaker Joe Hackney's plans to head to Philadelphia next week.
Hackney, an officer in the National Conference of State Legislators, is scheduled to participate in that group's legislative summit July 19-25. Fetzer questions Hackney's decision to take the trip as legislators continue to haggle over a state budget deal.
Click play below to view Fetzer's 6:32 news briefing. 11:30 a.m. update: The speaker responds here.
How did Les Merritt ever get elected in first place?
Posted by Paul Chesser at 09:50 AM
Just what got into North Carolina voters in 2004? I mean, why would they detour from their usual pattern of electing corrupt career politicians -- mostly Democrats -- who cover up the misdeeds of one another? Obviously they recognized their foolishness last year, and corrected their mistake.
Companion restaurants for the Cuban Revolution
Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 09:35 AM
Yesterday's News and Observer reviews a new restaurant in Durham called The Cuban Revolution. The reviewer, Greg Cox, points out, in a way that suggests it is somehow charming, that the walls are adorned with posters of "Castro and Che." I would like to suggest to the owners, Ed and Mary Morabito, some companion chains in honor of other 20th Century state terrorists. I think they should start with a restaurant called "The German Election of 1933" with posters of Hitler and Mussolini on the walls. A second might be the "Russian Revolution" where he could feature life size cut outs of Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev. And oh yes the Morabitos definitely need to have the "Cambodian Victory" with maybe a statue of Pol Pot. Finally I have a suggestion to make the ambience in their Durham establishment a little more realistic. Once the restaurant is full, have steel bars come down on all the windows and doors and threaten to shoot anyone who tries to leave.
N&O reports on Black fine settlement
Posted by David N. Bass at 09:25 AM
The N&O is reporting on Jim Black's controversial fine settlement.
The story also mentions that a superior court judge is expected to rule in Black's favor today and allow him to serve his state sentence while he's in federal prison.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby again defended the settlement in his comments to the N&O:
"If they had not acquired the property they would have had to go out and spend legal expenses to collect the fine," Willoughby said. "This was a really low-cost way to get property."
The Wake County School Board is expected to discuss the issue at a meeting this Tuesday.
Not as many jobs as promised? Shocking!
Posted by Mitch Kokai at 08:03 AM
Like a favorite Casablanca character, I'm shocked — shocked! — to learn that the targeted tax breaks offered to Apple might not produce as many jobs as previously promised.
Today's Carolina Journal Online features
Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:53 AM
Today's Carolina Journal Online exclusive features Hal Young's report about the possible role of politics in decisions about closing North Carolina auto dealerships.
John Hood's Daily Journal explores key issues in this year's municipal election campaigns.
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