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There are several contenders this week for most egregious recent example of conservative hypocrisy when it comes to the role and value of government.

There’harry browns the phenomenon of ultra-conservative lawmakers from rural areas (like state Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown) who deride government day after day and then, suddenly, when faced with a debate over divvying up state sales tax revenue, turn passionate about the critical role that public investments play in supporting the economy and growth.

And then there’s the spectacle of longtime anti-government ideologues like Raleigh’s Paul Coble who never met a public program they didn’t want to slash being only too happy to swap their private industry lobbying gigs for six-figure government jobs.Paul Coble

For my money, though, this week’s most aggravating example comes once more from the office of Gov. Pat McCrory. Gov. McCrory, as  you will recall, has been helping to deny decent and affordable health care to hundreds of thousands of struggling North Carolinians for almost three years now by refusing to expand Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.

His oft-statPat McCrory 4ed excuse: the supposed unreliability of federal money and desire not to grow the size of a supposedly broken government program. Add to this his absurd refusal to acknowledge the huge stimulus impact that adding billions in federal dollars would have on the state economy and you’ve got a complete, far right, market fundamentalist case of denial.

Now, contrast all of this with McCrory’s big announcement yesterday touting the huge, beneficial impact of federal spending on the military in North Carolina. Here’s the lead from the press release:

“The military supports 578,000 jobs in North Carolina and more than two thirds of those jobs are in the private sector, demonstrating the impact of the military ripples across the state’s economy and not just concentrated near military installations. Those are the key findings of a new report released today by the North Carolina Military Affairs Commission and the North Carolina Department of Commerce.”

You got that? The same administration which has devoted years to blasting the idea of federal dollars helping the economy and spurring growth by supporting loads of good jobs in the health care industry is…wait for it…celebrating the idea of federal dollars helping the economy and spurring growth by supporting loads of mostly so-so jobs in the U.S. military. Read More

Commentary

President Obama 3Looking for something to restore your faith in our government? Then check out the new rules adopted yesterday by the Obama administration to clamp down on predatory lenders who take advantage of American servicemen and women.

The new Department of Defense rules, which were announced Tuesday by the President in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, update the Military Lending Act—a 2006 law that capped interest rates and add-on fees to members of the military and their families at 36 percent.

Unfortunately, the original 2007 regulations implementing the law capped rates for just a small number of loan types, such as payday loans of 91 days or less and so-called “car title loans” of 181 day or less. Since that time, sharks have evaded the rules by simply extending the terms or restructuring the loans — thus allowing them to continue to target service members (something that often impacts their security clearances and even jeopardizes their careers).

Happily, the new rules take big step toward putting an end to these evasions in that they:

  • Apply market-wide to all high-cost credit products that target service members, including payday, auto title and installment loans designed to evade the 2007 protections;
  • Cap interest and add-on fees at 36 percent for loans issued to service members and their dependents;
  • Prevent lenders from using junk fees such as credit insurance, debt cancellation or debt suspension to circumvent the 36 percent interest and fee cap.
  • Preserve service members’ access to the courts by prohibiting forced arbitration agreements;

Research by the Department of Defense released last year found that as many as one out of every ten enlisted serviceman and woman continued to be targeted by high-cost credit designed to evade the Military Lending Act. DoD estimates that the final rule will reduce involuntary separation caused by financial hardship, resulting in a savings of $14 million a year or more.

The rules come as a particular boon to North Carolina, home to tens of thousands of active military personnel and one of the nation’s largest military populations.

Of course, the obvious next step for federal regulators in the years ahead is to extend the protections now afforded to active military personnel to all individuals affiliated with the military and, eventually, all American consumers period. Let’s get to work.

Commentary

Thom Tillis 2The Fayetteville Observer has an interesting story today that seems to indicate that Senator Thom Tillis has brought a bit of his special brand of “that was then, this is now” governance to Washington.

According to the Observer, Tillis is speaking out vigorously against proposals to close the Air Force’s 440th Airlift Wing. While this kind of turf protection is probably to be expected from any politician, two things are rather striking about the story:

#1 – Tillis speaks out strongly in the story against federal “sequestration” cuts — i.e. the spending cuts that his fellow conservatives imposed on all kinds of essential public services and the country at-large a few years back. “Sequestration is a great threat to our readiness, to our capabilities,” the Senator said.

And wasn’t it Tillis who forever lectured us during his tenure as State House Speaker about the vast quantity of waste, fraud and abuse in government and how we needed to slash public spending to create jobs? Now, apparently, he sees the wisdom of public spending to create jobs.

#2 – Tillis went to Washington promising to help end the gridlock in Congress. But according to the story, the senator has announced that he will place a “hold” on all civilian appointments within the Department of Defense and the Department of the Air Force until he “get some answers” as to why the Air Force is closing the wing. Guess this goes to show that there is “that was then” gridlock and “this is now” gridlock.

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.”

Uncategorized

Another sobering report from the good folks at the ACLU:

ACLU Report on police militarization finds weapons and tactics of war used disproportionately against people of color – Report shows injustice, suffering caused by SWAT teams deployed for low-level police work, not crises; Investigation looked at many N.C. law enforcement agencies

RALEIGH – After obtaining and analyzing thousands of documents from police departments around the country, today the American Civil Liberties Union released the report War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. The ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states, including North Carolina, and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.

“We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs,” said Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice. ”Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy. This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death.” Read More