Worst book ever?

Probably not, but it is pretty clear to anybody that was actually paying attention at the time of the Duke Lacrosse case that William Cohan’s The Price of Silence is some pretty egregious historical revisionism.  Most prominently, it is a defense of Mike Nifong, the prosecutor whom all evidence indicates repeatedly lied to the public and the defense team.  This whole crazy case would have never gone anywhere if not for Nifong’s breathtaking malfeasance and abuse of his prosecutorial powers.  Anyway, I’ve heard a number of interviews with Cohan and it’s depressing (but not surprising) that such a shoddy work of journalism is getting plenty of national attention.

The N&O’s Joe Neff, who covered the case at the time, has a nice column outlining some of the many failings of the book.  E.g.,

These would be pathetic mistakes for a daily newspaper story. For an author spending months or years on a book, it’s a revealing choice to avoid interviews that contradict the revisionist narrative: that Nifong is the victim.

Cohan declares the charge that Nifong withheld exculpatory evidence a “red herring.” Let’s review that. Nifong repeatedly told judges he had produced all the DNA evidence. He hadn’t: He and a lab director conspired not to report rape kit test results showing that the accuser had DNA from four unknown men. The tests were sensitive enough to register a wisp of DNA from the lab director, and yet the rape kit produced not a single particle of DNA from those accused of a brutal gang rape.

For Cohan to suggest that witholding excuplatory evidence is simply a “red herring” is truly amazing.  As if this is just some minor mistake on Nifong’s part.  Once I heard Cohan say that, it was pretty clear this whole endeavor is utterly lacking in credibility.

The Pope on taxes

No, not the awesome one, but Art Pope, NC’s own Koch Brother and current Budget Director.  He had an op-ed in the N&O this week that was just breathtaking in its mendacity and lack of actual empirical support for any of its claims.  To wit:

Our tax code is now simpler, more uniform and fairer for everyone.

Tax reform began in 2011, when the General Assembly reduced the state sales tax rate by 17 percent, from a state rate of 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent. Tax reform continued in 2013, when McCrory and the legislature simplified the personal income tax – taking rates ranging from 6 percent to 7.75 percent to a single flat rate of 5.8 percent. They also passed a higher standard deduction starting in 2014 and a flat personal income tax rate of 5.75 percent in 2015.

Oh please!! There is nothing simpler about having fewer and lower marginal rates.  You calculate your taxable income and you pay based on your rates.  It’s that simple.  Whether your rate is 10% or 5% and having multiple marginal rates makes it not the least bit harder.  Fewer, lower rates, basically just means less taxes for rich people.  Surely Art Pope’s idea of “fairer for everyone” but not what most people would see as “fair.”

The truth is, everyone in North Carolina is benefiting from the tax reforms that began in 2011. Sales tax rates are lower, income tax rates are lower and the standard deduction is higher.

Of course, there’s myriad analyses that show that not everyone is benefiting.  And to think just a little more broadly than the incredibly narrow way that Pope is stuck in, I would argue that if you have kids in public school you are not benefiting.  If you care about the quality of education in NC at all, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the mentally ill, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the working poor, you are not benefiting.  If you care about a crumbling infrastructure– perhaps you’ve been known to drive on roads– you are not benefiting.  Okay, I’ll stop now.

If you want to follow Pope’s logic, just lower taxes to 0, we’ll all have way more take home pay, and everything will be grand.  Though, I think Hobbes had something to say about that.

The next time you buy clothes for your children, look at the receipt to see how much sales tax is charged and think of what you saved compared with the old state sales tax rate. Think of the long-term benefit in an economy that is still recovering and of employers, both corporations and mom and pop partnerships, keeping a bit more of the money they earned – money that can by reinvested to create more jobs and grow the economy.

Next time I pay $.40 less for a shirt I’ll be so glad that it won’t bother me at all that quality teachers are fleeing our state or that are universities are finding it harder than ever to compete for the top talent.

The evidence is clear. Tax reform is working, and nearly every North Carolinian is keeping more of the money earned, which is fundamental to building a stronger economy.

If the current evidence is clear, I’d hate to see ambiguous evidence.

And just to be clear, this transparent nonsense is from the single most politically influential person in the state.  Ugh.

Quick hits

1) NYT on the divisions in the NC Republican Party.  We’ll know just how divided it actually is when the Senate primary occurs next month.

2) How zebras got their stripes.   Best evidence suggest that stripes deter biting flies.

3) Charter schools are not the solution to educational inequality.

4) Forget ADHD, now we’ve got Slow Cognitive Tempo.  Seriously.

5) Chait provides a long summary of his much longer piece on Obama, race, and racism.

6) Politico on “is there a wonk bubble?”   Uhhhh, yes!  I love it.  Though sometimes I hate how much high-quality wonk content there is to read every day now.

7) The full story on the Jameis Winston rape “investigation.”  So disturbing and depressing.

8) Former MLB player gives account of being racially profiled shoveling snow in his own driveway.

9) Evan Osnos on politicians literally shooting legislation in their advertisements and what it all means.  It’s not good.

10) Short version of a man convicted of armed robbery and accidentally not sent to jail for 13 years who turned into a totally productive citizen.  Longer version.   This American Life version.  Seriously calls into question a lot about how we think about crime and punishment.

11) Research suggests students retain more when reading from “real” books than e-books.

12) Mark Kleiman on how legalized pot would change America.

13) Best thing I’ve read on the Cliven Bundy travesty.  This guy and anybody out there with a gun “defending” him needs to be in jail.  Seriously.  Timothy Egan:

Imagine a vendor on the National Mall, selling burgers and dogs, who hasn’t paid his rent in 20 years. He refuses to recognize his landlord, the National Park Service, as a legitimate authority. Every court has ruled against him, and fines have piled up. What’s more, the effluents from his food cart are having a detrimental effect on the spring grass in the capital.

Would an armed posse come to his defense, aiming their guns at the park police? Would the lawbreaker get prime airtime on Fox News, breathless updates in the Drudge Report, a sympathetic ear from Tea Party Republicans? No, of course not.

So what’s the difference between the fictional loser and Cliven Bundy, the rancher in Nevada who owes the government about $1 million and has been grazing his cattle on public land for more than 20 years? Near as I can tell, one wears a cowboy hat. Easterners, especially clueless ones in politics and the press, have always had a soft spot for a defiant white dude in a Stetson.

Truly atrocious and deplorable the support he’s been getting from the right.

14) Way too many teachers have been resigning from Wake County, NC during the school year.  Surely because the legislature has made it quite clear just how little the value educators.

Lower tax rates… lower tax revenue

Surprise, surprise, after nice tax cuts for North Carolina’s wealthiest residents, tax revenues are… down.  SMH– you mean supply-side economics doesn’t work?!!  Oh, and the supposed economic benefits of our lower tax rates were going to create a budget amount to fund teacher raises.  Oh well, so much for that.  From WRAL:

 — Tax cuts that state lawmakers passed last year have trimmed the amount of revenue North Carolina is collecting to the point where promised raises for teachers are at risk.

When lawmakers wrote the two-year budget last summer, they left about $360 million unspent for this year, which they planned to use for proposed raises for beginning teachers. That cushion might not be there when the new fiscal year starts in July, however.

Lawmakers likely will have to use $200 million or so to cover another shortfall in the Medicaid budget, and the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division has issued a gloomy forecast for tax collections.

Although collections through the end of March were $12.1 million above target, personal income tax is coming in $221 million below forecasts, according to the Fiscal Research Division…

The revenue squeeze is the result of tax cuts included in last year’s overhaul of the state tax system already taking effect [emphasis mine], while other changes meant to offset the impact of the cuts, such as the elimination of several deductions, won’t be felt until people file their 2014 tax returns next year.

Well, who could have ever seen that coming?  Gee, if only there were some evidence that cutting (already low) tax rates doesn’t lead to increases in tax revenues.  Oh, wait, there is.  Who needs evidence when you’ve got Fox News.

How the Republicans saved North Carolina’s economy

Or not.  NC Republicans like to claim that it’s there elimination of pesky environmental regulations, tax cut for the wealthy, cuts to education, etc., that are lowering the states unemployment.  Or, just maybe, we’re following the national cycle (from WSJ)

Hmmm.  Yes, we recovered faster than most states for a while, but that’s because there was more to gain.  But the worst part is we’re not actually creating jobs.  Just people who’ve given up looking for work:

North Carolina led the U.S. in job losses last month, a sign of stress for a state scaling back its support for its jobless residents.

The Tar Heel State shed a seasonally adjusted 11,300 jobs in February from the prior month as it continues to grapple with the decline of its traditional manufacturing, tobacco and textile industries, according to new Labor Department figures released Friday.

Employment increased in 33 states, while it decreased in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, payrolls rose 175,000 in February.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell 0.3 percentage point to 6.4%, one the nation’s largest declines, though the fall was primarily the result of a shrinking labor force. The number of people either working or looking for work declined by 64,000 people from February 2013, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Spin all you want, but less North Carolinians working– regardless of the unemployment rate– is not a good thing for the state economy.


Quick hits

On time this week.  Enjoy.

1) Are you really so busy?  Probably not (okay, DJC is pretty busy– though not too busy to read this blog).

2) How phthalates may be affecting male fertility.

3) Right-wing columnist says Republicans should just stop worrying about non-white people.

4) I love this study that clearly demonstrates causality (an actual experiment) on how money buys access in DC.

5) This one takes a while, but totally worth it.  How malaria keeps developing resistance to whatever we throw at it and the desperate (and very important) fight to prevent the latest resistant strain from spreading.

6) Republicans in NC continue to make it harder for college students to vote.  Just a coincidence.  They probably didn’t even know that young people are more Democratic these days.

7) Quality and profit in higher education are inversely related.

8) Body language really isn’t so great for detecting lying.  Also, a fun little test you can take yourself with it.

9) Fortunately my kids have never had lice.  But if they do, it’s good to learn that schools are becoming more rational about it.  Lice are basically harmless, it’s just that we’re grossed out by them:

Lice are not particularly contagious, they hurt basically no one, and they’re not a public health risk. Lice don’t actually matter. It’s high time that squeamish parents and school administrators stop acting like they do.

10) Probably not a good idea to get a degree in art or education from a lower-tier public university (at least economically speaking).

11) Hooray.  Now thanks to the success of the gun nuts, we’ve got a “knife rights” movement.

12) Nice Kristof column on the “takers” that conservatives never complain about.

13) I grew up right near Mclean, VA and I totally get that way too many parents are way too obsessed with their kids going to the most elite colleges and doing everything in their power to make that happen.  Personally, I went to Duke, Kim went to Duke, but we’ll be quite happy to have the kids go to NC State (or any other fine NC public institution).

14) How about a pill that increases the plasticity of your brain so you can learn things like you could when you were a kid.  It’s coming.  Brave new world.


Common core opponents vs. reality

So, at first I was just going to share the first-hand observation (via FB) of a friend who was at a hearing yesterday on Common Core in NC:

Tough call which comment at this public hearing on Common Core is the most bizarre. One contender: “My exceptional children are a blessing to North Carolina, but the schools of NC are not a blessing to my children.” Nice! Also the women who fretted that Common Core teaches pornography and read aloud from The Bluest Eye were interesting. But the guy who held up the bible and said feminism is ruining this country surely takes the cake.

And then I read this N&O story and the crazy is even worse.  Yikes:

RALEIGH — Critics of the Common Core State Standards charged Thursday that the education guidelines are doing everything from promoting abortion and globalism to causing children to hate to go to school.

Opponents of the Common Core made up the majority of the speakers Thursday at a public hearing of a state legislative research committee that is considering whether to recommend dumping or overhauling the standards used in North Carolina’s public schools. Legislators, who could draft legislation next month, heard from 60 passionate speakers, on both sides of the issue.

“I demand that you listen to the will of the people and obey Jesus Christ,” said Alan Hoyle of Wake Up Call Ministries, who held up a Bible as he charged that Common Core promotes “sodomy, abortion and feminism.”

And there’s more!

“Hear the cry,” said Rick Hopkins, chairman of the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association. “Stop Common Core now. Return our schools to a system of education, not indoctrination or social engineering. Leave the sex education, religion and political views of the children up to their parents and churches.”

The conspiracy theme was echoed by speakers from the Stokes County Tea Party, such as E.A. Timm, who charged that Common Core is a “stealth federal takeover” that will help communists gain control.

“Education is a fundamental natural right of the parents and is best handled locally,” he said. “Common Core makes that natural right untouchable by the parents and opens the door to national totalitarian control.”

Speaker Frank Livingston charged Common Core is not about federalization but about globalization, linking such parties as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the United Nations, education theorist Bill Ayers and the Muslim Brotherhood to the standards.

I only hope the majority of NC Republican legislators are half-sane enough to recognize how completely batshit crazy this stuff is (sadly, you actually get some NC legislators saying stuff this nuts).  I’d like to think the crazy speaks for itself, but I just don’t have a good feel for what passes for sanity in the Republican echo chamber.  Sure, these comments are the more extreme elements, but this is absolutely your Tea Party.

Again, Common Core is not perfect, but for the most part it is about raising standards and teaching critical thinking.  I would be so saddened if this effort in NC is undermined by a group of nutcases with such a tenuous grip on reality.   We really need the Chamber of Commerce Republicans to speak up against this embarrassment and loudly.

Photo of the day

WUNC highlights some photos from NC environmental journalists:

Outer banks, erosion

Sara Peach, from the UNC School of Journalism, photographs a rental home in Mirlo Beach. The sand underneath the home is eroding at a rate of 14 feet per year. Any method of entering the home has been washed out.
Credit Eric Mennel / WUNC

Quick hits

1) Enjoyed this book review about The Meat Racket– a harsh critique  of our modern approach to meat production

2) College– perhaps not the great leveler after all.

3) It’s our imagination that truly separates us from other animals.

In all six domains I’ve repeatedly found two major features that set us apart: our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect on different situations, and our deep-seated drive to link our scenario-building minds together. It seems to be primarily these two attributes that carried our ancestors across the gap, turning animal communication into open-ended human language, memory into mental time travel, social cognition into theory of mind, problem solving into abstract reasoning, social traditions into cumulative culture, and empathy into morality.

4) Really enjoyed this teacher’s defense of the Common Core.  It may not be perfect, but so preferable to the status quo.

5) The Supreme Court just heard a really big death penalty case, but nobody is paying attention.

6) Animated gifs (that’s a soft “g” by the way, damnit) showing cities moving from day to night.

7) What happens when a Colorado family tries to opt their kids out of standardized testing.  Damn to the school administrators freak out.

8) Unfortunately, it seems that among corporate executives only women actually care about work-life balance.

Another says:

“The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work.”

As the authors point out, most women would not brag about only spending 10 minutes a day with their children.

Personally, I find that shameful.

9) Chait on the GOP’s phony support/ actual opposition to the Earned Income Tax Credit

10) Never did get around to giving this it’s own post.  Nice job putting the current NC Democratic party troubles into the larger historical context of political party organizational power.

11) Pope Francis has changed some attitudes of American Catholics, but not their behavior.

12) Greg Sargent nicely deconstructs Paul Ryan’s intellectual incoherence about the safety net being a “hammock” for the poor.  Another nice take on Ryan and poverty from Yglesias’ Slate replacement (very excited about this) Jordan Weissman (who had been doing great work at the Atlantic).

13) And because I know DJC is reading this, Daylight Savings Time saves lives and prevents crime

Teacher appreciation

My college roommate wrote this awesome letter to his hometown (Gastonia, NC) newspaper.  Love it:

A few weeks ago, the phone rang in my office. And on the line was Larry Moore, my French teacher from Southwest Middle School. I had not heard from him since I was in high school at Hunter Huss probably 25 years ago.

He phoned to say that Southwest was having a Black History celebration on Feb. 23, and asked if I would come to participate or send an essay that could be read as part of the event. Mr. Moore also said how very proud he was of me. There are no words for what something like that means to an adult man, after so many years and miles of separation, the simple and genuine act of a teacher’s encouragement and congratulation.

Teachers are the last, best hope for our American democracy. I regret that I’ve seen in North Carolina, here in New York and also nationally, an ill-advised effort to denigrate the work of teachers and what they do for our children every day. Teaching is hard work, and it is also impactful and meaningful individually and as a whole to our society.

What I learned is important about citizenship and my role in building a great country came from fifth grade civics class, and what I still love about reading started with Mrs. Cole’s fourth grade reading challenges and library visits at Hershal H. Beam Elementary. Hershel Beam was also my principal. He was a man with a profound love and interest in children’s development and potential. I remember that kind of love, even though it was more than 30 years ago now.

I have been fortunate in my life to sit in the classrooms of some very learned professors, at Duke, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia universities. I’ve learned from some of the smartest people in the world, but I also have not forgotten where all of that learning began and also where I received the foundation to “go do what God has in store for you,” as Hershel Beam would say with such a commanding voice.

I say without reservation that the most caring educators I’ve had were all in Gastonia. So if you ever wish to know where Gaston County’s most precious resource is, look to your children’s classrooms in appreciation.

Jamie Smarr, of New York, is vice president of The NHP Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making investments that preserve and create affordable multifamily housing for low- to moderate-income families and seniors.

I wish I didn’t feel the need to check off the “politics” category for this.  But sadly, it seems that genuinely appreciating teachers and the work they do has become a partisan issue.  So far, my kids have had almost 19 combined years of public school education, and almost every teacher they’ve had has been a qualified and dedicated professional.  If we want successful education in this country it means investing in teachers and treating them like professionals.  Is that really too much to ask?

Quote of the day

Sure, I was not the biggest fan of Dean Smith back when he was coaching. It’s hard– he’s a Carolina institution and I’ve been a Duke fan for literally as long as I can remember.  But he’s not been on the opposite side for a long time and while still pretty much rooting for ABC (anybody but Carolina) I’ve come to have a begrudging respect for the great history of the program.  Anyway, a great appreciate for Dean Smith, who is sadly suffering from severe dementia, from fellow Duke grad John Feinstein.  I had never seen this quote before and it’s brilliant (in reference to Smith’s efforts to integrate restaurants in Chapel Hill):

“You should never be proud of doing what’s right. You should just do what’s right.”

Who’s the customer anyway?

Nice piece in the NYT on the political and environmental travesty that is the coal ash spill here in NC.  When business is the “customer” and the people of the state are just bystanders, this is exactly what you get.  Some good bits:

RALEIGH, N.C. — Last June, state employees in charge of stopping water pollution were given updated marching orders on behalf of North Carolina’s new Republican governor and conservative lawmakers.

“The General Assembly doesn’t like you,” an official in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told supervisors, who had been called from across the state to a drab meeting room here. “They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message.”

From now on, regulators were told, they must focus on customer service, meaning issuing environmental permits for businesses as quickly as possible. Big changes are coming, the official said, according to three people in the meeting, two of whom took notes. “If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.” …

Current and former state regulators said the watchdog agency, once among the most aggressive in the Southeast, has been transformed under Gov. Pat McCrory into a weak sentry that plays down science, has abandoned its regulatory role and suffers from politicized decision-making. [emphasis mine]

Make no mistake, this is all very political.  And how is it accomplished?

But current and former agency employees said the treatment of Duke was typical of the pro-industry bias now in place under Governor McCrory, Mr. Skvarla and the General Assembly.

Last year, the environment agency’s budget for water pollution programs was cut by 10.2 percent, a bipartisan commission that approves regulations was reorganized to include only Republican appointees, and the governor vastly expanded the number of agency employees exempt from civil service protections, to 179 from 24.

The effect, said midlevel supervisors who now serve at the pleasure of the governor, is that they are hesitant to crack down on polluters who might complain to Mr. Skvarla or a lawmaker, at the risk of their jobs. Several spoke anonymously out of fear of being fired.

“They want to have a hammer to come down on anybody who hinders developers by enforcing regulations,” said a supervisor whose department is supposed to regulate businesses under laws devised to protect water quality. “We’re scared to death to say no to anyone anymore.”

I don’t hate business.  Business is good.  But I put the health and safety of my fellow citizens first.  And that should damn sure be the job of DENR.  The fact that Republicans don’t see it that way is a damn shame.  I think the words of a former DENR engineer sum it up well:

“Business is important, but there should be a balance between the regulated community and the environment,” Ms. Wilson said. “It’s all out of balance here.”


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