Video of the day

Where American football means the rest of the world’s football.  Maybe not for everybody, but I thought this was hilarious:

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Judicial elections in NC

Among the really, really bad ideas passed by the state legislature this year has been the attempts to further politicize the judiciary in NC (as if that could possibly be a good thing).  I’m not sure I’ve written about it all– not because it is not an important issue, but damn, there’s only so much outrage and energy to go around.  Therefore, let me encourage you to read this excellent N&O Op-Ed (I think I inspired them) by my colleagues Mike Cobb and Jim Zink that summarizes a number of the key issues:

Republicans voted to end public financing of candidates running for seats on N.C. Appellate Courts. Since 2004, judicial candidates who demonstrate electoral viability – that is, candidates who have raised between $10 and $500 from at least 350 registered voters, totaling at least $39,450 – have been given access to public funds for the purpose of financing their campaign activities.

The motivation behind this election reform was straightforward: Judges are uniquely entrusted to be fair and impartial in their decisions, and their impartiality is threatened when they depend on campaign contributions from private donors who someday could have an interest in the outcome of a case that comes before them.

Even if private campaign donations do not actually affect a judge’s decisions, the mere appearance of undue influence can undermine trust in the judicial system. An electoral system in which judges routinely court moneyed interests to fund their campaigns sends a message to the public that justice is for sale. Public financing offers a way for prospective judges to publicize their candidacy without weakening public confidence in the judiciary.

It is not obvious why Republicans voted to end public financing. Until now, North Carolina’s public financing system has been widely hailed as a model of judicial election reform, and it is popular among N.C. residents across the political spectrum. For example, a recent 2013 survey shows that 68 percent of state voters support the judicial financing program, which included support from 67 percent of Republican voters.

[nice summary of their related research here]

Altogether, our findings suggest that a public financing system will confer greater legitimacy to even unpopular or controversial judicial outcomes, just as its supporters predicted…

Finally, since our research shows that public confidence in the courts is bolstered by awareness that judges rely on public, not private, money, we believe it important that the state also spend money to explain public financing rules if they are restored in the future.

All of this adds up to a simple conclusion: If the goal of Republicans’ recent reforms was to instill greater public faith in a fair and impartial judiciary, all indications are they got it backward.

Yet again, it seems that virtually every “reform” Republicans have undertaken is actually against the public interest.

On smoking marijuana

Found this latest Gallup data on marijuana usage to be quite interesting.  It’s gone up a bit, but not nearly as much as public opinion has changed:

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It should be noted that’s ever tried.  Currently using is only 7%.  Now, public opinion on legalization:

1969-2011 Trend: Support for Making Use of Marijuana Legal

Now, I would not want to infer too much from this, but as public attitudes towards marijuana usage seem to have become dramatically more tolerant, actual marijuana use has increased a fairly modest amount.  Now, when it comes to attitudes, it doesn’t really get much more tolerant than “legal.”  One of the big unanswered questions is just how much marijuana usage would go up if use were no longer criminal.  Now, admittedly, the actual law is presumably more powerful than social sanction, but this data in combination suggests that full legalization would probably only lead to a fairly modest increase in marijuana usage.  And just because marijuana may not be as bad as alcohol does not mean we want a lot more marijuana usage.

Photo of the day

Now, if only that were a scorpion instead of a praying mantis.  Still awfully cool.  From the Telegraph’s Animal Photos of the Week:

Praying mantis and frog
….The creature even appeared to point the way as the unusual duo made their way across the water. According to the photographer, the pond crossing took 10 minutes, with the frog depositing the mantis safely on the other side.Picture: SOLENT NEWS

It’s the small stuff, too

You know, there’s been so much big-picture craziness that it’s easy to overlook some of the small picture craziness the legislature has wrought upon this state.  For example, being completely in the pocket of the billboard industry and stripping away local control to make the billboard industry happy.  Totally outrageous, yet there as so many bigger outrages stuff like this gets lost.  Nice Op-Ed on it, though in the Charlotte Observer (which, by the way, won’t actually let me view the page anymore, but I was able to grab the key text):

While the people of North Carolina pay serious money to maintain the beautiful roads of our state, our legislators are giving a large corporate subsidy to billboard companies. Subsidizing ad sales for publicly-traded corporations makes little sense when North Carolina has a backlog of requests to maintain the roads that generate the ad revenue, but North Carolina’s General Assembly has caved to pressure from the billboard lobby once again.

For two legislative sessions in a row, the billboard industry has asked for favors from Jones Street and gotten them. This year, the favors are tucked into HB 74, a bill containing two provisions which attempt to make a giveaway of state resources to the billboard industry permanent…

The General Assembly’s enactment of HB 74 gives billboard companies the right to completely rebuild aging billboards with new steel structures, even in areas that are not zoned for billboards. This creates a permanent monopoly for the holders of current permits. The price for this privilege is too low to be believed. The company must pay a $60 permit renewal fee to the state each year, as well as property taxes on the value of the sign structure. In the case of one sign west of Winston Salem on I-40, the billboard advertising company paid a whopping $9.84 in county property taxes, while the typical North Carolinian pays more than $1,000 per year in property taxes. In 2012, the company paid $69.84 to the county and the state for using I-40. Using a conservative estimate of billboard revenue at $3,000 per month, the annual cost to billboard companies is less than its revenue for a single day.

Last session, our legislature passed a bill to permit the billboard advertising companies to clear cut the right-of-way for 425 feet at each sign face, 850 feet for a two-sided billboard. For this additional privilege, the billboard advertising company pays a whopping $200, less than the cost of administering the program.

As our roads become more congested, only one user group profits more without paying more-billboard companies. There are more than 7,000 permitted billboards on North Carolina’s state roads. The current fee structure is not sufficient to cover the costs of administering the programs, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Any typical driver will pay more to the state for using our roads than a typical billboard will.

We should be tolling the billboard companies for every person that passes by and sees the signs. Service station owners in North Carolina have to absorb some of the cost of the state’s gas tax to remain competitive with stations in neighboring states. N.C. drivers already pay far more in taxes and fees to support the roads than drivers in surrounding states. Subsidizing billboards is unfair to North Carolinians whose tax dollars support the traffic that give the billboards value. All who use the roads of the “Good Roads” state should pay their fair share. Toll the billboards, not the people.

Again, pretty small stuff in the larger scheme, but unfortunatey indicative of the bad policy that has come pervasively from this legislature.  Government for business by (business-owned) legislators.  Ugh.

Stupid budget cuts are stupid budget cuts

Rene Ellmers, the Representative for NC’s 2nd district was a nurse before her surprise tea-party-backed victory in 2010.  She’s since been re-districted to within a mile of my house, but I still have the good fortune to be represented by David Price (a former PS Professor at Duke and awesome Congressman).  Anyway, before Congress, Ellmers was a nurse, so it’s not surprising that she’s concerned about the sequester hurting cancer patients:

WASHINGTON — Rep. Renee Ellmers voted for across-the-board budget cuts and likes that they are chipping down federal spending.

But she’s trying to fix what she says is an unintended consequence: Senior citizens fighting cancer must pay more and often travel farther for their chemotherapy.

The Republican congresswoman from Dunn, a former nurse, has been drumming up support for a bill she wrote that would exempt cancer treatments from the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.

Ugh– I just hate stuff like this!  The sequester is blunt, dumb cuts to government.  It’s 100% unintended consequences.  Ellmers cares about the cancer patients because she was a nurse.  Had she been a lawyer or an exterminator or a tool and die manufacturer I’m sure she would have found some compelling stupid cuts that she felt personally invested in.  This is just no way to run a government.  Has it crossed Ellmers mind that the sequester might actually be full of similar “unintended consequences” that really hurt the lives of ordinary Americans?

“We needed to make the cuts at the federal level to the budget. But at the same time, now we’re seeing this is impacting negatively a very vulnerable population,” Ellmers said.

Hmmmm.  Just maybe there’s other vulnerable populations who are negatively impacted because the Republicans cannot agree to a responsible budget (i.e., sensible cuts plus tax increases).  It’s like those Congress members who realize that gay people are people too once they have one in their family.  I just hate this utter failure of imagination that seems to be universal among Republican members of Congress.

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