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altered-state-bannerIn case you missed it, the lead editorial in Sunday’s News & Observer touts the new N.C. Policy Watch special report, “Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina.”  To quote:

“The close of 2015 brings North Carolina to a significant anniversary: It has been five years since the Republicans took full control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century.

The new majority stormed in with an agenda developed during long years in the minority, and the opportunity to make that agenda law was enhanced by the 2012 election of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Assessing how the consolidation of Republican power has shaped North Carolina depends on how one sees the role of government.

McCrory talks about a ‘Carolina Comeback’ as the state economy has recovered from a deep and scarring recession. He and GOP legislative leaders say the recovery has been spurred by limiting state spending, cutting taxes and reducing regulation. But those who think government should solve problems, protect the vulnerable, assist the needy and expand opportunity for all see the years of conservative rule as a ‘Carolina Setback.’

That latter perspective is documented in a report published by N.C. Policy Watch, a division of the progressive advocacy group, N.C. Justice Center. The report, published in print and online, is called ‘Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina.’”

If you haven’t yet checked out the report, we sure hope you will make it a part of your end-of year reading list. Click here to check it out.

Commentary

unemploymentVeteran Raleigh News & Observer political reporter Rob Christensen, a confirmed centrist who has sometimes frustrated progressives down through the years with his extremely high tolerance for conservative policy blather, is right on the money this morning with a new and powerful takedown of the state’s Scrooge-like unemployment insurance policies.

In addition to explaining and dissecting the state’s U.I. system and the recent conservative-designed changes that have made it the “stingiest…in the country” in succinct terms, Christensen takes an important  extra step and speaks from the heart in the conclusion to his essay:

“So why are our political leaders behaving this way when most of their constituents punch a clock or fill out a time card?

Here are several thoughts. Businesses bankroll most of the legislator’s campaigns and finance a battery of lobbyists on Jones Street. There is almost no one to speak for people who get laid off.

There is also a view among some conservatives that unemployment insurance is, in the words of the Civitas Institute, “paying people not to work.’’

This view, I might add, is contrary to my life experience. Three of my grandparents worked in a textile mill. My father was a factory worker. I worked in a textile mill and other manufacturing plants in my early years.

I have known lots of hard working people – family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues – who have been laid off. It is a terrifying experience. You don’t know how you will take care of your family or meet your mortgage payments. Often your self-esteem takes a beating. The modest amount of unemployment insurance doesn’t even begin to cover living expenses.

There are apparently some people who believe the American worker is a slug just waiting for a chance to sit on his or her duff. I think they are wrong. I believe most Americans just want a chance to earn a decent living.”

Click here to read and share the entire column. It deserves it.

Commentary

In case you missed it, the lead editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer does a fine job of summarizing the new and disturbing report from the good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation: “On Trial for Their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital prosecutions in North Carolina.”

As the editorial notes:

“District attorneys who choose to bring capital charges often do so as an expression of the public’s outrage over a heinous crime. But a new report suggests that putting a defendant on trial for his life also can involve another sort of outrage – the pursuit of flimsy cases at high cost to taxpayers and great damage to the accused.

The report from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina looked at problems with death penalty cases from an unusual perspective. Instead of focusing on defendants who were wrongly convicted, the center studied 56 North Carolina capital cases brought between 1989 and 2015 that ended with an acquittal or dismissal of all charges

The finding of 56 cases is a remarkably high number over the past quarter-century given that the state’s death row population is 148. Presumably, prosecutors would not pursue costly, extended death penalty cases unless there was a high probability of a conviction. But the report found shoddy cases derailed by serious errors or misconduct, including witness coercion, evidence not properly disclosed and bungled investigations.”

The editorial concludes this way:

“In North Carolina, there have been no executions since 2006 because of concerns about the drugs used and the refusal of doctors to participate in a process that by law requires a doctor’s presence. Some in the North Carolina General Assembly are trying to streamline the path to execution by proposing a change that would allow medical personnel other than doctors to fulfill the required medical role.

This report adds another chapter to the evidence that the death penalty and the pursuit of it can border on being crimes in themselves. The record demands that the wrongs wrought by this pursuit of vengeance be ended by the pursuit of justice.”

NC Policy Watch will host a Crucial Conversation luncheon today at noon with the authors of the report. We’ll post the video of the event in the very near future.

Commentary

090309-1854-memotodeath1.jpgThe global and national trend is unmistakable and, let’s hope, irresistible: the death penalty is on the way out and increasingly confined to authoritarian/theocratic states and lawless regions controlled by criminal bands.

In case you missed it, yesterday’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully lauds Nebraska’s courageous repeal vote from last week and urges North Carolina to get on board with this encouraging and fast-growing bandwagon. Here’s the excellent conclusion to the N&O essay:

“The death penalty also smacks of revenge punishment, something to give satisfaction to the family and friends of a murder victim. That’s not what the court system is about. It is about justice, not revenge.

And to argue, as many politicians have over many decades, that the death penalty is important because it is a deterrent to crime is simply disingenuous. It’s political convenience, because there’s little evidence to show a connection between the establishment of the death penalty and a decrease in crime. States without the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it.

Sadly, North Carolina’s Republicans continue to lead the state away from enlightened thought on the issue. Legislators now are moving to restart stalled executions in the state by eliminating the requirement that a doctor be present.

North Carolina’s People of Faith Against the Death Penalty offered a good summation here: “It is no longer conservative to support the death penalty – it’s just outdated. The legislators in Nebraska voted their consciences. They voted their values. They value life and creation and justice for all and recognize that the death penalty is, in fact, contrary to these values.”

It has been more than 40 years since a state acted to abolish the death penalty. Let us hope Nebraska’s action will be followed by other states sooner than that.”

Also, be sure to check out this op-ed from Fridays’ Asheville Citizen-Times in which a contributor explains his own evolving views on the death penalty.

Commentary

In case you missed it, be sure to check out Ned Barnett’s column from Sunday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he explains why the myth of runaway Medicaid spending is just that — a myth.

“Refusing to expand Medicaid may look reflexively anti-Obama and hardhearted, but Republicans say it’s a matter of fiscal responsibility. They say that Medicaid’s annual costs are prone to unpredictable surges and that its overall rate of increase means it will soon crowd out the state’s ability to meet its other obligations.

But the Medicaid monster is a myth. A new analysis by the nonprofit Medicaid management organization Community Care of North Carolina found the health care program to be a steady expense. It’s expensive, yes, but it does a lot to improve the health of a vulnerable population and may well head off more expensive medical costs that would inflate premiums for everyone.

John Alexander, Community Care’s vice president for Medicaid financial performance and analysis, sat in a conference room last week and presented the reality behind the illusion. ‘We found that spending on Medicaid isn’t broken, it isn’t unpredictable, it isn’t out of control,’ he said.

Indeed, he said, year-over-year spending on Medicaid is consistent, its administrative costs are relatively low and the cost per patient is going down, falling 9 percent in the last four years.”

The essay goes on to explain how supposed spikes in Medicaid spending in recent years are really just a result of the end of federal stimulus spending in response to the Great Recession:

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