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.


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.


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.


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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Medicaid expansionIn case you missed it, the best editorial of the weekend dealt with the most important failure of North Carolina’s political leadership in recent years. The essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer was entitled:

NC losing funding and savings with Medicaid holdout: By balking on Medicaid expansion, N.C. forgoes billions of dollars and a chance to cut costs.”

As the editorial noted:

“In medicine, the small things can matter most. And it is the neglect of the small things that can lead to the biggest costs.

That’s why preventative care is so important and early intervention so significant. And that’s why North Carolina’s stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid is so wildly irresponsible and hugely expensive. As a result of its intransigence, the Republican-led General Assembly is struggling to find tax revenue on one end and turning away billions of dollars on the other.”

The piece goes on to explain how North Carolina’s award-winning nonprofit Medicaid manager, Community Care NC, is saving millions upon millions of dollars and thousands of lives already and to lament the toll in both categories that is being taken by the state leadership’s pigheaded refusal to close the Medicaid gap for hundreds of thousands of lower-income, working people. It also cites report which holds up the astounding amount in federal funds the state is foregoing:

“The report estimates that forgoing federal Medicaid expansion from 2013 to 2022 will cost North Carolina $39.6 billion. In addition, the state’s hospitals will lose out on $11.3 billion in federal funds intended to offset cuts in their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements as required under the Affordable Care Act, which anticipated that all states would expand Medicaid.

That’s more than $50 billion in federal funding forgone over 10 years. Meanwhile, the state would have to spend about $3 billion for its share of expansion. That is a mindboggling deal to refuse so that conservatives can express their pique over ‘Obamacare.’

Republican leaders say they’re worried about being saddled with a higher entitlement cost if the federal government reneges on its promise to pay its full share, but the design and history of Medicaid do does not support that concern. Meanwhile, there are billions of reasons to expand Medicaid now.”

Amen. Read the entire editorial by clicking here.