Commentary

Last year nearly 18,000 people died in the world from terrorism. This was a record high.

That figure includes all deaths by explosives along with every other means terrorists use to commit violence. This statistic also includes the entire world population of 7 billion people. It tracks violence in war zones, failed states and other troubled places where no real government exists, let alone regulations.

From 2000-2010, about 335,000 Americans died from firearms.

That means that the worst ever year for terrorism, which includes all terrorist violence, throughout the entire globe of 7 billion people, cost a little more than half as many lives as guns cost during an average year in one country, which happens to be the richest country in the world and an ostensibly functioning democracy.

I wrote this a few weeks back about why things have to change in America. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Commentary

Facts matter in policymaking. A growing number of data tools are available to help inform policymakers and the public of local conditions and trends so that policies to respond can be data-driven and achieve better, efficient results.  The latest tool is the Opportunity Index released annually by the Opportunity Nation and Measure of America.  This interactive website provides state and county level data on economic, education and civic factors that inform us about the levels of opportunity for residents.

North Carolina ranks 35th in the nation in terms of its level of opportunity with a total score of 50.6 below the national average of 52.8.  The good news is that North Carolina’s score has improved since 2011 when the Opportunity Nation and Measure of America first released the index but this improvement, by 3.1 percentage points, was insufficient progress relative to other states to move our state up significantly in the rankings.  NC was ranked 36th in 2011.

A few indicators were clearly moving in the wrong direction for North Carolina over this period:  poverty increased from 16.3 percent to 18 percent, median household income declined by more than $2,000 and the number of 3- and 4- year olds in public or private preschool fell from 46.7 percent to 42.2 percent. Read More

Commentary

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

FrackingAs you may have heard, North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission held the last in a series of meetings last Friday during which they considered public feedback on the draft fracking rules. Despite having received over 200,000 public comments over the last few months, the Commission only made a few little changes to the rules. They have now come up with a finalized set of rules which will eventually make its way to the General Assembly, where it is likely to be approved. Given that fracking may begin in North Carolina as early as next year, you may want to know a thing or two about these rules.

The majority of the public comments called for stricter safety rules. In response, the Commission made some of the following changes:

  • Unannounced inspections will be permitted – the rules will now allow inspections to take place without prior notice to drillers, in order to encourage the drillers to maintain ongoing compliance.
    (BUT note: the rule is just providing permission, it is neither requiring that inspections take place nor requiring that they take place with regular frequency)
  • Amount of time for permit application to be approved or denied will be increased to 180 days – this allows the public to have more notice and opportunity to comment on the request.
  • So-called “fluid pits” will be required to be larger and continuous monitoring will be required – fracking fluid is held in large open pits, which can be a huge safety hazard. The Commission did not ban open fluid pits but rather just increased their size, in order to prevent spills, and increased the frequency of monitoring for leakage into the ground, from monthly to continuous.

Among the items the rules don’t address: Read More

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