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Payday loansPayday lenders (and other short-term lenders) along with their trade associations have spent more than $13 million on lobbying and campaign donations since 2013, according to a new report put out by the Americans for Financial Reform (AFR).

The report is particularly troubling because it comes at a time when the government is finally beginning to crack down on “quick-fix” lenders, who are known for trapping vulnerable cash-strapped borrowers in cycles of debt by charging obscenely high fees in exchange for an immediate payout. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is expected to announce a set of rules next year that could bring dramatic changes to the payday lending market. Additionally, the Department of Justice has been zeroing in on banks and payment processors that knowingly facilitate fraud. The only enforcement action brought by the Justice Department in this operation (known as “Operation Choke Point”) so far has been in North Carolina. The Four Oaks Bank & Trust of North Carolina in collaboration with a Texas-based payments company was found to have processed around $2.4 billion in illegal transactions including those benefiting payday lenders. Read More

Commentary

President ObamaMake sure you check out Policy Watch’s main page for the most recent article in the Fitzsimon File, which argues persuasively that President Obama made a bigger impact on North Carolina this year than anyone else, on either side of the political aisle.

On the Republican side, one name was brought up more during the hotly contested U.S. Senate race that dominated the year, than any other and it wasn’t Tillis or Hagan.

Think about it. The Republicans made the election more about Obama than anything happening in North Carolina or anything that Tillis was proposing. They distorted Obama’s record in ad after ad that blasted Democratic Senator Kay Hagan for supporting most of his initiatives. Tillis couldn’t seem to make a public appearance without reminding voters that Hagan voted with Obama “95 percent of the time.”

For progressives, there are so many things Obama did to positively impact the lives of North Carolinians this year.

The national unemployment rate is now below six percent, down significantly from its recession of high of 10 percent. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged on the campaign trail in 2012 to reduce the unemployment rate to below six percent by end of his first four-year-term

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Commentary

Thom TillisWell, this is off to a good start. Senator-elect Thom Tillis is already staking  out a less-than-courageous profile in his new job by essentially parroting the absurd remarks of his new colleague Richard Burr on the CIA torture report and attempting to make it a partisan issue — even though people of both major parties clearly bear responsibility for the atrocities.

Tillis gets a small measure of credit for admitting the torture — what he calls “those practices” — was wrong, but then he makes the illogical assertion that releasing the information will hurt American “credibility.”

Uh, excuse us Senator-elect. but here’s what will enhance American credibility going forward: telling the truth and not torturing people. As this morning’s editorial in the Wilmington Star News correctly notes:

“We pride ourselves on our sense of morality, justice and humanity, and should feel shame that the inhumane tactics described in the report were sanctioned on our behalf.

Moreover, they didn’t work. The report, which was gleaned from more than 6 million pages of information, found that in most cases subjecting enemy combatants to brutality produced no useful information.

That is hardly a revelation. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who spent 51/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has repeatedly denounced torture and other harsh tactics as cruel and ineffective. His observations have been backed up by experienced military interrogators who said that many captives will make up stories or offer bad information just to stop the physical or mental pain….

We cannot profess to be of superior moral fiber if we embrace the same disregard for human life and dignity that compels us to label terrorists as evil.”

Unlike Richard Burr, North Carolina’s new senator has six years to worry about re-election. You’d think he could take a break from partisan demagoguery for at least the first few months of his time in D.C.

Commentary

The election may be over but the misleading claims are still coming from the politicians. Senator-elect Thom Tillis apparently couldn’t help himself in an interview recently, parroting a false talking point about the Affordable Care Act.  And the Washington Post called him out on it.

Thom Tillis is a newly-minted senator from North Carolina, having narrowly defeated the incumbent, Sen. Kay Hagan (D). But in one of his first interviews since the campaign ended, he hauled out a stale talking point that has long been debunked.

This kind of start doesn’t bode well for his time in office in Washington.

Commentary

Thom Tillis 2As was explained at some length in this post earlier this year, there are several reasons that the support voiced during the 2014 campaign by Senator-elect Thom Tillis and other conservative candidates for access to “over-the-counter” contraceptives was a disingenuous batch of baloney cooked up by GOP campaign consultants.

…the trick lies in the conservative politicians’ deceptive use of a term (“over the counter contraceptives”) that really has no practical meaning.

Currently, the main and most effective contraceptives available to women are not available without a prescription (i.e. “over the counter”). Moreover, as Planned Parenthood Vice President and occasional N.C. Policy Watch contributor Melissa Reed pointed out in a statement last week,

“…while leading women’s health experts agree that some forms of birth control should be made available OTC, there is not a single manufacturer that has submitted an application to the FDA to do so.”

In other words, to be “for” OTC contraceptives without providing any genuine specifics about how and when the government would go about effecting such a momentous change is meaningless and a downright deceptive and empty gesture.

Nonetheless, one might have thought that the GOP would at least pay lip service to the idea after the election in order to cover their tracks for a while. As this article featuring Thom Tillis  (in yesterday’s Washington Times, of all places) makes clear, however, that ain’t gonna’ happen. The article says that expanding OTC access in the upcoming session of Congress is (surprise!!) “markedly absent” from the plans of GOP leaders.

And somewhere, Karl Rove is smiling.