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Conservative politicians whose campaigns are funded by corporate interests love to talk about the “genius of the market” and “clamping down on burdensome business regulations.” And while there are no doubt many important virtues associated with both of those concepts, here’s what the genius of the market and business deregulation produce much too often in modern America: exploitation and rip-offs.

A new WRAL news story last night explored a classic example: the targeting of military personnel by scamming, high-cost sales outlets like USA Living. As reporter Monica Laliberte explained:

USA Discounters targeted the military with its patriotic vibe by posting advertisements on a Fort Bragg website and sponsoring military events. The company sells everything from furniture and TVs to jewelry and appliances and even car rims. It promises military members are “always approved for credit.”

Trill’s contract included fees of $1,057 for a warranty and $828.84 for debt cancellation, which covers the debt if something happens to him. The finance charge was $2,065.47. All paid, the furniture that was priced at $5,000 would ultimately cost him $10,513.88.

The next time someone feeds you the line about burdensome business regulations (like next week across the Thanksgiving table, for example) tell them about scams like this in which American heroes are targeted every day. And then remind them that this is why we have to have business regulation in America; not just to protect consumers (because if companies will rip off military families, you know they won’t hesitate to do the same to anyone else), but also to level the playing filed for businesses that operate ethically and honestly. After all, as the veteran/victim in the WRAL story noted:

“Is this the world we fought for? I mean, is this really what you fought for?” Trill said. “Everybody’s scamming everybody. Everyone’s trying to dip into your pockets for a little bit extra. It absolutely makes me sick.”

Commentary

Tillis_McCrory_Berger-400It seems like a long time ago, but it was just the beginning of last year that North Carolina’s newly-elected governor promised state “tax reform” that would be “revenue neutral.” In other words, while the Guv was promising tax cuts, he was also calling for tax modernization that would enhance revenues in other areas — thus assuring that government would have the money it needed to fund core services in a fast-growing state. So, while it was always clear that a McCrory plan would enact regressive changes that favored the well-off, there was at least some hope that the state could at least avoid going backwards in the provision of basic services that undergird the middle class

We all know what happened next. Legislative leaders deep-sixed McCrory’s revenue neutrality idea in a New York minute and, instead, quickly acted to make big tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations a vehicle for slashing core services like education, environmental protection and the courts system.

Now, less than a year since the Tillis-Berger tax package went into effect (with full McCrory approval), the chickens are coming home to roost. As this Public News Service story highlights this morning, 2015 is almost certain to bring North Carolina yet another damaging and wholly unnecessary budget crisis: Read More

Commentary

It’s tragically absurd that people have been forced to resort to this, but the family, friends and advocates helping Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti have launched a petition drive to help promote his effort to gain clemency.

The following description of Mr. Panetti’s situation comes from the good folks at the Texas Defender Service:

Scott Panetti was honorably discharged from the Navy at the age of 18. Eighteen months later, he was diagnosed with “early schizophrenia.”

Scott Panetti has suffered from severe mental illness for over 30 years. It first manifested itself at least a decade Scott Panettibefore the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas. His severe mental illness has infected every stage of his capital case and although Mr. Panetti continues to be severely mentally ill, Texas now plans to execute Mr. Panetti on December 3, 2014.

This is the enduring image of Mr. Panetti’s case: a paranoid schizophrenic wearing a TV-Western cowboy costume; on trial for his life, insisting on defending himself without counsel; attempting to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ; and raising an insanity defense. Mr. Panetti’s pro se performance was an abomination and his trial was a mockery of the criminal justice system. Read More

Commentary

UNCIn case you missed it over the weekend, ECU English professor Robert Siegel made a compelling case in Raleigh’s News & Observer for a more energetic resistance from the higher education community against the sustained attack being waged by the state’s conservative political leadership. In particular, Siegel faults UNC administrators — saying they’ve “confused access with influence.” He points to the way Wake County’s public education community fought back against the hostile takeover engineered by conservatives a few years back:

“When schools were attacked in Wake County, an outraged citizenry packed school board meetings, demonstrated on the streets of Raleigh and committed civil disobedience. That public outcry translated into door to door campaigning and phone calling that resulted in defeating five out of five board members and returning the schools to a mainstream course.”

He concludes this way:

“UNC administrators all the way up to the president and Board of Governors need to get out from behind their desks and get away from their interminable meetings. Talk to the people, not just students on your campuses. That’s preaching to the choir. Get out into the smaller towns and more rural counties. Hold town meetings. Explain to citizens the importance of higher education. Many of their sons and daughters are the first in their families to attend a college or university. Explain what this state will become if higher education fails.”

Now is the time to speak truth to power. Rent a bus and, in the spirit of great civil rights activists, speak truth to power. That would be a bus we would be proud to ride.

Read the entire op-ed by clicking here.

Commentary

Tickets are going fast for two upcoming NC Policy Watch events that you won’t want to miss.

First is next week’s election post mortem Crucial Conversation: “What happened? Why? What now?” featuring Chris Fitzsimon, Dan Blue III, Tom Jensen and Carol Teal. Here are the details:

When: Wednesday, November 19, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.
Where: The North Carolina Association of Educators Building, 700 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh, NC 27601
Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.
Click here to register and learn more.

Second is our NC Policy Watch 10th anniversary celebration, which is co-sponsored by North Carolina State Senator Dan Blue, Capitol Broadcasting CEO Jim Goodmon and former Gov. Jim Hunt. Come hear from three of North Carolina’s most important leaders as our state comes to a crossroads after four years of damaging cuts to education and rolling back of progress it took a generation to make.

When: Monday, December 8, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Stockroom in downtown Raleigh.
(Click here for location information).