The Locker Room

June 24, 2010

So will Meeker be suing his wife?

Posted by Rick Henderson at 4:52 PM

Another oddity about Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker's scheme to drum up support for a lawsuit against the Wake County School Board: his wife, Anne McLaurin, is a member of the board.

Sounds like a conflict of interest to me, but then again, I'm no lawyer.

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How do you prefer Armadebton?

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 4:36 PM

Straight, no chaser

Currency inflation is another way of creating a default. In the end there are only two choices: debt is paid or it is defaulted upon. There are implicit defaults and explicit defaults. We are all headed for implicit default--that is my summary of the situation.

Or with humor

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Re: The Politics of Losing at Soccer

Posted by Jenna Ashley Robinson at 4:34 PM

I agree 99% will Bill's post about the consequences of losing (or winning) at soccer in a liberal democracy vs. a dictatorship.

However, there's one small inaccuracy: in spite of his tendency to score goals, Landon Donovan is a midfielder, not a forward. (As is Clint Dempsey--another frequent goal-scorer for the U.S.)

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Poll has N.C. Rep. Nelson Dollar crushing challenger

Posted by David N. Bass at 3:10 PM

Another Civitas poll has three-term state Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, leading his Democratic opponent Robin Anderson by 22-percentage points:

According to the poll of 350 registered voters in that district, 52 percent of voters said if the election for state representative were held today, they would vote for Dollar while 30 percent said they would vote for Anderson. Eighteen percent of voters said they were undecided.

Among voters who said they were most likely to vote in 2010, Dollar’s lead expands 26 percentage points – 56 percent to 30 percent.

“Dollar’s incumbency and fairly high name identification have pushed him out to a large early lead over his unknown challenger,” said Civitas Senior Legislative Analyst Chris Hayes. “However, this is another one of those suburban swing districts that Obama carried in 2008 where voters care less about party and more about the issues in who represents them.”

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The Politics of Losing at Soccer

Posted by Bill Flanigen at 3:10 PM

Win or lose, you can be sure that the US Men's National Team, which just advanced into the World Cup's Round of Sixteen after forward Landon Donovan's clutch goal in overtime (er, "stoppage time"), will come home to a reasonably hospitable reception - millions in corporate endorsements, millions in lucrative contracts, and the undying love/hate of America's small but committed soccer fan community.

That has a lot to do with America's liberal democracy. Our government doesn't - can't, really - take it personally if the team does poorly. The same applies to almost every other team competing in South Africa. 

Almost. Meet the North Koreans. They went winless in two matches against group competitors Portugal and Brazil, so they'll be headed home to the peninsula soon. (At least the ones that actually live in North Korea.) After that, no one is really sure what's going to happen to them.

Deadspin:

The North Koreans beat a hasty retreat to the team hotel after their 7-0 gubbing at the hands of Portugal on Monday. However, when they find out what mental leader Kim Jong-Il could have in store for them once their World Cup dream is over, they'll probably be taking the short journey back home verrry slowly indeed.

Despite winning round skeptical fans with a spirited performance against Brazil (and still having a chance to pick up their first points of the tournament against Ivory Coast tomorrow), one former North Korean coach is claiming when the players get home they'll be given new occupations. Shoveling coal for the rest of their lives.

That "former North Korean coach" is Moon Ki-Nam, who defected to South Korea in 2004. Even North Korea's present coach, Kim Jong-Hun, wasn't inspiring confidence during his statement to the press:

"We failed to reach our goal. I want to apologise for this to our people. I do not think that we will be punished."

A lot of talk about the abuse or murder of defeated athletes may just be talk. For sure, a lot of people deny the persistent rumor that the 1966 North Korean soccer team - which blew a 3-0 lead to Portugal in the quarterfinals, ending the best World Cup performance in North Korea's history - did years of hard labor in a prison camp. But it's not like totalitarian countries have an unblemished record of magnanimity toward their defeated sons. Remember what happened to the Iraqi competitors who returned home unsuccessful to face the Hussein family? Uday, son of Saddam and President of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, was not kind.

Coal mines or no, the North Korean squad probably shouldn't bet on a ticker-tape parade in Pyongyang, anyway.

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RE: Nice to know Raleigh is flush with cash

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 1:51 PM

Pro-busing strategy: "Fire everything!"


Nero, Romulan miner and captain of the mining vessel Narada.

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Nice to know Raleigh is flush with cash

Posted by Rick Henderson at 1:35 PM

The N&O reports that Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker is "organizing people for a potential lawsuit against the Wake County school board for eliminating the socioeconomic diversity [sic]."

As school board members Ron Margiotta and Debra Goldman, noted, since the district's new school assignment plan is in the initial stages, nowhere near completion, on what grounds could Meeker and his allies sue? That the majority has malice in its hearts?

The local NAACP says it may also file suit. And if the NAACP wants to waste its donors' money on frivolous court action, fine.

But if I were a Raleigh taxpayer, I'd demand that Meeker finance any legal action from his own pocket.

Unless the city happens to be sitting on a pile of cash it's not telling us about.

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Keynesians and Statists, Please Pay Attention

Posted by George Leef at 1:17 PM

Government spending does not stimulate the economy. All it does it to divert resources from the private sector, where incentives lead people to make generally wise use of them, to the hands of politicians, whose incentives usually mean wasting them. Robert Higgs explains in this Christian Science Monitor piece.

Big government does not add to prosperity. It subtracts from it.

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Duke Basketball at the General Assembly

Posted by Amanda Vuke at 12:49 AM

This morning the House and Senate convened to honor the 2010 Duke Men's Basketball Champions.

It took an hour. 

 

Now, I'm a die-hard Duke fan and appreciate the gesture and sentiment, but really, guys? Really? When I was told about this event this morning, my first thought was, "That's nice, but is that really supposed to be what the government spends its time doing?"

 

After sitting and listening to a number of people sing praises, and after listening to Coach K express his appreciation, I came up with the following Point/Counterpoint.

 

POINT: Government inefficiency Exhibit A.

Aren't there better things for the General Assembly to discuss? Why is this the item that prompts a Joint Session? I'm pretty sure honoring this team's excellence is going to actually do nothing to promote the well-being of North Carolina or North Carolinians.

 

COUNTERPOINT: Government inefficiency Exhibit A.

Who's complaining? As long as they keep spending an hour or so on the floor honoring people for notable achievements, I can rest easy. At least then I know they're not talking about taking away more of my freedom.

 

So sure, there are other things that the government ought to be doing. But passing resolutions of this kind is also keeping the General Assembly from doing things they ought not be doing.

 

Choose your side. Pick your poison.

Maybe not all government inefficiency is that bad.

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Quick take on SCOTUS 'honest services' ruling and Easley investigation

Posted by Rick Henderson at 12:44 AM

Today's decision (PDF) by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting the federal "honest services" law that's so popular in corruption cases may have implications for the ongoing investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley. But maybe not.

The honest-services law says that employees and public officials have a duty to provide honest services to their employers or the public and it may be a crime if they don't. Justice Antonin Scalia, who's no fan of the law, said it's an abuse of the criminal code.

Today, the justices unanimously vacated the convictions of former Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling, publishing magnate Conrad Black, and onetime Alaska lawmaker Bruce Weyhrauch, ordering appeals courts to reconsider the convictions. The reason? The honest services law is too vague, and should not be used in federal prosecutions unless evidence is presented that defendants received bribes or kickbacks. (Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy went further, saying the entire law is unconstitutional.)

I've only skimmed the opinion, and I'm no lawyer, but my initial take is that today's decision will have little impact on the Easley probe. For one thing, he has not been indicted, so prosecutors can modify any planned indictment with the ruling in mind.

Next, it's hardly a reach to consider the 25-percent discount Easley received on his purchase of a lot at the coastal Cannonsgate community — not to mention the sweet deal he seemed to get long before the closing document was publicized — a kickback, particularly if it can be shown that developers were using Easley's purchase as a marketing tool to attract other buyers. (And the developers had asked state officials to fast-track their environmental permits.)

The free cars and flights Easley and his family received also are potential kickbacks so long as the donors had business before the government.

So today's ruling may not affect Easley at all. It will make it tougher to go after other corruption cases unless prosecutors have tangible evidence — as they should, anyway.

For Carolina Journal's full archive of Easley scandal stories, go here.

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Rasmussen: Burr-Marshall race knotted

Posted by David N. Bass at 12:33 AM

Rasmussen Reports has North Carolina's U.S. Senate race between Richard Burr and Elaine Marshall tied.

A poll from before the June 22 runoff between Marshall and Cal Cunningham gave Burr a comfortable lead over both opponents. Marshall is enjoying a post-runoff bounce, Rasmussen says:

The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Burr picking up 44% support while Marshall picks up 43%. Seven percent (7%) of voters would choose some other candidate and six percent (6%) are undecided.

These results mark the highest level of support for Marshall and the lowest support measured for Burr in surveys going back to February. Prior to the latest poll, Burr’s support ranged from 48% to 51%, while Marshall’s support fell in a 32% to 40% range.

Earlier this month, Burr held a 50% to 36% edge over Marshall.

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Unethical Ethics Bill now more ethical

Posted by Becki Gray at 11:04 AM

Taxpayer Financing of Campaigns was stripped out of the (Un)Ethics bill (HB 961) this morning. The remainder of the bill will be re-visited next Tuesday.  For details on the debate, check out my twitter feed.

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2010 not like 1994 after all?

Posted by Rick Henderson at 10:52 AM

UVa. political guru Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball publishes an analysis by Wall Street Journal columnist Rhodes Cook comparing the political landscapes in 1994 (when Republican landslides flipped the majorities in the House and the Senate) and 2010.

Based on presidential votes in the elections leading up to both midterms, Cook says Democrats are in a lot better shape this year than they were in '94.

Defining a "red" district as one that voted Republican in the previous two presidential elections, a "blue" district as one that voted Democrat, and a "purple" as one that split the vote, Cook finds fewer Democratic seats at risk. He says:

the playing field looks much friendlier for House Democrats in 2010 than it did 16 years ago. The number of “Blue” districts they hold has risen by 43, from 128 in 1994 to 171 today, while the number of “Purple” districts they must defend has dropped by 39 (from 77 to 38). Meanwhile, the total of “Red” districts occupied by House Democrats is down this year by four from 1994 (from 51 to 47).


That's relevant, but I'm not ready to buy it. For one thing, the economy in 1994 was in much better shape than it is today.

A few numbers: The U.S. unemployment rate in May 1994: 6.1 percent (and falling; it was down to 5.5 percent by year's end). Today: 9.8 percent, and likely to rise when census workers lose their temporary jobs. And while I haven't taken the time to sort out the unemployment rate in red and purple districts represented by Dems, it hardly would surprise me if quite a few of them are experiencing double-digit joblessness. (Nevada, home of Senate Majority Leader, now has the nation's highest unemployment rate. And potentially two vulnerable Democratic House members in a state that gave Barack Obama a 12-point win in 2008 and barely backed Bush in 2004.)

Economic growth in the first quarter of 1994: 4.0 percent; 1Q 2010: 3.0 percent.

Budget deficit/debt: FY 1994: $203 billion/$3.4 trillion
FY 2010: $1.42 trillion/$14 trillion (not inflation-adjusted, but still ...)

In other words, there's more to the landscape than Cook suggests. Also, Cook ignores the Perot phenomenon, which jumbled the presidential vote in 1992.

So I hardly think it's party time for the GOP, still, if Dems use Cook's analysis as an excuse for complacency, they're probably mistaken.

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Watch Out, McDonald's!

Posted by Jenna Ashley Robinson at 10:05 AM

One of my favorite food blogs, Serious Eats, has discovered the nanny-staters' next target: Happy Meals.

According to the blog, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has threatened to sue McDonald's if it doesn't stop using toys as a "marketing tool targeting young consumers."

What will they think of next?

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Population growth in NC

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 10:02 AM

New Census estimates show Cary was the second fastest growing municipality with over 100,000 residents last year. Raleigh was 14th, Durham 21st, and Charlotte 28th.

Over the decade, growth hasn't been as fast. Cary ranks 19th, Raleigh 20th, Durham 44th, and Charlotte 38th

This should still provide greater sense of the population shift in the state. And yet income growth has lagged for the state.

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Federal bailouts and state fiscal distress

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 09:36 AM

John Hood joins the chorus against the latest Medicaid bailout, which could leave North Carolina with a $500 million budget gap to fill immediately (not to be confused with the potential $3 billion gap next year).

Robert Inman, in a new working paper, adds two more reasons to oppose the bailout. First, the overall stimulus bill passed last year directed $0.77 of every dollar to new programs. Extending this argument, federal Medicaid payments give the greatest boost to states with the biggest Medicaid programs, such as New York. Second, "states will only have the incentive to save ... if Congress can credibly commit to no future bailouts in times of fiscal distress." The only way to make that commitment credible is to stop the bailouts at a time of fiscal distress, like now.

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Poll: Republican leading in N.C. House District 103

Posted by David N. Bass at 09:35 AM

A new Civitas poll gives Republican Bill Brawley a six-percentage point advantage over Democrat Ann Newman in N.C. House District 103:

According to the poll of 350 registered voters in that district, 45 percent of voters said if the election for state representative were held today, they would vote for Brawley who is looking to replace retiring Rep. Jim Gulley (R). Thirty-nine percent said they would vote for Newman, and 16 percent said they were undecided.

Among voters who said they were most likely to vote in 2010, Brawley’s lead expands to 49 percent to 39 percent.

“House District 103 is one of those suburban swing districts that has been trending more Democratic over the past few years and, in fact, was carried by President Obama in 2008,” said Civitas Senior Legislative Analyst Chris Hayes. “However, the growing number of unaffiliated voters that swept Obama into office last year are now going solidly for Republican candidates.”

State Rep. Jim Gulley, R-Mecklenburg, has represented the district seven terms but is retiring this year. Civitas' House Partisan Index ranks it R+3, meaning it leans slightly Republican.

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The ACLU v. The Taxman

Posted by Bill Flanigen at 09:27 AM

The ACLU objects to North Carolina's Department of Revenue for attempting to snoop too deeply into Amazon.com's customer records. The snooping was in order to enforce the sales tax on internet purchases, but the ACLU and Amazon.com argue that the retailer shouldn't have to hand over the names of its North Carolinian customers along with detailed product descriptions.

 The Charlotte Observer reports:

The ACLU, a public interest group, raised the privacy issue in Amazon.com's federal lawsuit against the N.C. Department of Revenue, which was filed in Seattle. The retailer is challenging the state's attempt to force the company to turn over customer information.

Amazon has provided the state with product descriptions, but is balking on revealing customers' names.

"These product descriptions reveal highly expressive and private information about consumer choices: for example, whether a person has received a book on alcoholism or home workshop weaponry, a movie like 'Brokeback Mountain,' or 'sexual wellness' items such as sex toys," the ACLU said in a letter to the Revenue Department in May.

The ACLU is not taking a stand on the state's attempt to tax online retailers; instead, it is challenging the nature of personal information the Revenue Department is requesting.

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Bill of Rights Institute Survey

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 09:19 AM

The survey is based on the top 3,000 essays in the 2009-2010 Being an American Essay Contest sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute.

The top "civic values" cited by students included,

1. Perseverance
2. Courage
3. Equality and Respect
4. Entrepreneurialism
5. Responsibility
---
6. Liberty
15. Activism
18. Progress/Common Good
The top heroes/historical figures included,
1. Thomas Jefferson
2. Abraham Lincoln
3. Martin Luther King, Jr.
4. George Washington
5. Thomas Paine
---
7. John Adams
8. Barack Obama
15. FDR
Which civic values are most important to you? Who are your heroes, past and present?

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Latest dispatches from the campaign trail

Posted by David N. Bass at 09:05 AM


  • Johnson-Kissell race in the 8th Congressional District will be competitive, but Kissell will end up re-elected by a healthy, if not overwhelming, margin, says the left-leaning Public Policy Polling.

  • The Hill reports that the Republican Party got what it wanted in Tuesday night's runoffs, for the most part.

  • Elaine Marshall quick on the draw to ask for campaign contributions. It’ll be a challenge to overcome Burr’s multi-million dollar war chest.

  • Democratic strategist Gary Pearce comments on Marshall’s win, credits her campaign manager.

  • PPP has bad news for Democrats: Only 24 percent of independents think the economy is better today than it was a year ago, compared to 49 percent who think it’s worse and 27 percent who say it’s about the same.

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Throwing out the baby with the (oily) bath water

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 08:05 AM

In the latest Fortune, Allan Sloan warns us to expect an overreaction to the big Gulf oil spill.

Yeah, I may sound a little over the top. But as someone who used to write about regulated utilities for a living, I can't help but remember the damage we did to ourselves as a nation because of the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear generating plant near Harrisburg, Pa., in 1979. It was a terrifying incident, but it turned out that there was only minimal damage to the environment and probably none to the local citizenry -- other than scaring them half to death.

The only economic damage of consequence was to the plant's owner, General Public Utilities. But there was huge collateral damage to our country. The environmental and regulatory fallout (pun intended) from TMI led us to shun new nuclear plants for almost 30 years. Although some of the nukes under construction at the time were completed, it wasn't until 2007 -- that's 28 years after the incident -- that we got our first post-TMI application to build a new one.

Meanwhile, we grew increasingly dependent on coal, oil, and natural gas to generate electricity.

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New Carolina Journal Online features

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:53 AM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features Sarah Okeson's report on a recent N.C. Supreme Court decision in a public records case involving state employees and former State Treasurer Richard Moore.

John Hood's Daily Journal pans a plan for Congress to bail out state governments, including North Carolina.

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Quick take on SCOTUS 'honest services' ruling and Easley investigation

Posted by Rick Henderson at 00:25 AM

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court limited the breadth of the federal "honest services" law that is so often used against public officials and even corporate executives in corruption cases.

The gist of the honest services law is that, as Justice Antonin Scalia put it last year, "officeholders and employees owe a duty to act only in the best interests of their constituents and employers," and that intentionally failing to provide those services is a crime. (Scalia isn't a big fan of that law, as you'll see.)

The court ruled on three honest services cases today: two involving corporate heavyweights Jeffrey Skilling (Enron) and Conrad Black (publishing) and one involving Alaska lawmaker Bruce Weyhrauch, who was convicted because he failed to disclose that he was negotiating for a job with an oil company at the same time the state legislature was considering a bill that would affect that company.

In today's decision (PDF), the court ruled unanimously that the honest-services law is not appropriate in federal prosecutions unless evidence is presented that the defendants were offered (or received) bribes or kickbacks. The justices vacated all three convictions and ordered them to be heard again in appellate courts. (Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy said they would declare the entire honest-services law unconstitutional.)

I've only skimmed the opinion, and I'm no lawyer, but my quick take on its relevance to the ongoing investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley: It probably makes no difference, especially because Easley has not been indicted. Prosecutors can recast any potential indictment with an eye on today's decision.

The 25-percent discount Easley received at closing for the lot he purchased at the coastal Cannonsgate development easily could be portrayed as a kickback to developers who were reportedly using Easley's name as a marketing tool to sell lots.

The governor's access to free cars and flights also could be seen as kickbacks if the donors had business before state government.

So while today's ruling may make it more difficult to prosecute corruption cases where there's little obvious evidence of shenanigans, it hardly means that the Easley team has reason to relax.

Read Carolina Journal's full archive of all things Easley here.

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