Little things that say a lot

No ordinary citizens pay attention to things like laws about unclaimed insurance policies.  Thus, it is actually a good venue to see what legislators really think, or at least who’s influence they are really willing to listen to.  And if the choice is insurance companies or ripped-off consumers, I’m sure you can guess which way the NC legislature is going to go.  At least the N&O and Thomas Mills are paying attention.  Mills:

If you had any doubt whose side the GOP is on, you shouldn’t after readingthe N&O’s story about unclaimed insurance policies. The Senate has passed a bill that would essentially allow large insurers to keep the money from unclaimed life insurance policies. Many were not paid out because survivors of the insured didn’t know the policies existed. In other words, the Senate wants to let insurers scam people.

A lot of these policies were taken out years ago and the insurance companies were never notified of the death of the policy holders. However, with computers, that’s not hard to track down these days. The insurance companies point out  that prior to the computer age a lot of records were kept on index cards and often didn’t have social security numbers or birth dates. That, though, seems to be their problem, not the beneficiaries.

With some of the these policies, the policy holders stopped paying. However, instead of finding out why, the companies just used the principal to keep paying the premiums until the balanced was drained. In essence, the companies stole these people’s hard earned money…

This is the same GOP which ended an estate tax on multi-millionaires. They want to make sure that rich families get to keep all of their money after they die but they want poor folks to give up theirs. They’re ready to enshrine an inherited class but they’re not willing to protect the working class.

Fortunately, Treasurer Janet Cowell is trying to force the insurance companies to pay what they owe. She’s called the Senate bill exactly what it is–a “money grab.” Her office is in charge of unclaimed assets. She wants the insurance companies to go through their records, find unclaimed policies and turn the money over to the state where notice will be put on a website so beneficiaries can find the money they’re owed. Cowell knows whose side she’s on.

Other states have made the insurance companies live up to their end of the bargain. We should, too.

Yep.  Pretty clear whose side the NC GOP is on.  And if you are not quite rich or a large corporation, it’s not you (unless you vow preventing abortion and trying to prevent gay marriage above letting large companies take advantage of you as a matter of law).

I’m famous!

I always enjoy getting on a public affairs show where I get to have something to say for more than 5 second sound bites.  Here’s this week’s WRAL’s “On the Record” on the voter law trial underway in North Carolina.

[If you bother watching, you will note that I was not at all expecting a provisional balloting question to start this off.  Also, next time I’m sitting at a table I’m going to have to use my hands less when I talk– very distracting].

There was a nice Atlantic article on the matter earlier this week:

“The history of North Carolina is not on trial here,” Butch Bowers, a lawyer for Governor Pat McCrory, told a court in Winston-Salem on Monday.

Pace Bowers, that’s precisely what’s on trial over the next two weeks. A group of plaintiffs—including the Justice Department, NAACP, and League of Women Voters—are suing the state over new voting laws implemented in 2013, saying that they represent an attempt to suppress the minority vote.

The new laws were passed shortly after the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act that required some jurisdictions to seek approval from the federal government before altering voting laws. All of those jurisdictions had been found to have voting practices that disenfranchised minorities; most of them were in the South…

In many ways, this case is similar to other ones around the country over the past few years. There’s little serious dispute that these tools were more heavily used by black voters than white ones. The arguments have been rehearsed over and over: Minority voters tend to be poorer and less educated; it’s more difficult for them to take time to wait in long polling lines, making early voting necessary; they’re more likely to miss a registration deadline or changes in voting spots.

But McCrory and his fellow Republicans in the legislature argue that the rules apply equally to everyone in the state, and that they’re necessary to guarantee the sanctity of the vote. The argument offers an appealing simplicity, but the problem is that repeated efforts have failed to find evidence of widespread, or even somewhat common, voter fraud. As a result, the laws seem to be solving a problem that doesn’t exist—while going out of their way to make it more difficult for people, and especially people of color, to vote.

We’ll have to see how it gets decided, but I’m intrigued by this possibility:

A second option would be for Schroeder to find that while the law is not a deliberate attempt to discriminate based on race, it still violates the Voting Rights Act by abridging minority voters’ ability to vote. In June, the Supreme Courtupheld federal housing laws that ban practices that have a “disparate impact” based on race, even when there’s no intent to discriminate. That could offer some precedent in this case, even though it concerns a different statute, Gerhardt said.

Oh, and the fun part of being on a reasonably widely-seen TV show?  Emails like this:

Disparate impact on minority voters in NC with the Voter ID law changes – ?  And why do you think minorities ‘become’ Democrats?

Because they are consistently told and led to believe they are VICTIMS!  And VICTIMS get handouts.
But look at the destruction Govt policy has had on the American Black family unit since the ‘60s ……..
 
 
AND IS IT TRUE PROFESSORS ALSO THINK THEY ARE victims ………
end tenure now ….
End tenure and welfare and solve the country’s problems.  Sounds great.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Bill Ayers on Greece:

I don’t see a similar discussion with regard to Greece. There is plenty of agreement that the Greeks have borrowed way too much money, and plenty of finger-pointing at them for having done so. But who lent them that money? At what point did those lenders cross the line between responsible and irresponsible lending? The IMF apparently figured out that Greece will never be able to repay all of its debts; where were the other lenders when that calculation should have been done? It’s easy to point fingers as the “lazy” Greeks, but somebody (mostly Germany, by most accounts) lent them the money. What responsibility do lenders have to do their homework and lend responsibly?

2) John Oliver talks and New York listens.  Okay, not really the causal chain, but great to see NY embracing much-needed bail reform.

3) Jimmy Carter is done with oppressing women in the name of Christianity.

4) There’s been a lot of attention in NC to whether magistrates would have to marry same-sex couples.  According to Republicans, to do so would violate their religious freedom.  Now that they can opt out, only 14 of nearly 700 have done so.

5) Not that they can do much but complain, but the Louisiana Supreme Court is not happy about same sex marriage.

6) Seth Masket on why Bernie-mentum is not all its cracked up to be:

This doesn’t mean that Sanders can’t actually make a difference in this contest. He may well win a few important primaries and caucuses, and he may play an important role in the nominating convention next summer. But everything we know about the way presidential nominations work says that Hillary Clinton has a bigger advantage than anyone ever has who wasn’t an incumbent president.

7) Drum points out that not only are we willfully ignorant as a society about GMO food; the same goes for irradiated food.  This could do wonders to reduce food-borne pathogens, but everybody is too freaked out about “radiation!”

8) Baltimore police– not so great even if you are a white Baltimore resident. These guys need to try harder.

9) This is not anything new for the Catholic Church, but it is nice to see Pope Francis state it so plainly:

Francis explained that both scientific theories were not incompatible with the existence of a creator – arguing instead that they “require it”.

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said.

10) Really interesting piece on the rising concern over “micro-aggressions” and how this reflects differing views of “moral culture.”

We can better understand complaints about microaggression and the reactions to them if we understand that each side of the debate draws from a different moral culture. Those calling attention to microaggressions have rejected the morality dominant among middle-class Americans during the 20th century — what sociologists and historians have sometimes called a dignity culture, which abhors private vengeance and encourages people to go to the police or use the courts when they are seriously harmed. Less serious offenses might be ignored, and certainly any merely verbal offense should be. Parents thus teach their children to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

Microaggression complaints make clear that this is no longer settled morality. Those who see microaggressions as a serious problem and who bring up minor and unintentional slights reject the idea that words can’t hurt, that slights should be brushed off, that even overt insults should be ignored. This attitude reveals the emergence of a new moral culture, one we call victimhood culture, since it valorizes victimhood.

Put me on the side of dominant middle-class culture.

11) Can’t say I was really all that surprised on the massive failure of American efforts to build schools in Afghanistan, but it is depressing.  And some surprisingly strong reporting in Buzzfeed, of all places.

12) Onion on the pros and cons of flying the confederate flag– pure awesomeness.

13) Just in case you didn’t know, that whole crack babies thing is a myth.  A great example of spurious correlation.

14) Paul Krugman on how Republicans want to bring all the policies of the Greek disaster to America.

15) The piece on autism in the last quick hits led me to this older, but better, look at understanding the rising prevalence of autism (short version: whatever environmental factors contribute, they are a small part).

16) I loved this eulogy for the epistolary email, as it so reflects my own personal experience.

17) New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe on El Chapo’s latest escape.

18) If somebody suggested a story about two sets of identical twins that were switched at birth and raised as two sets of fraternal twins, chances are you would say it is too outlandish to be believed.  But it happened and it’s an amazing story.  It’s long, but I guarantee you won’t regret reading it.

Quick hits (part I)

Didn’t blog much at the beach, but still read lots of good stuff.  Many quick hits coming at you.

1) Really liked this perspective on Galileo— he was not as right as you think nor his critics as wrong.

2) Nice N&O Editorial on the latest example of NC Republicans deciding that local government is best– except when it is electing Democrats.  When Jesse Helm’s chief adviser says you’ve gone too far, you’ve probably gone too far.   And Thomas Mills on the travesty that is the NC Senate:

House Speaker Tim Moore came to power promising to show that the GOP could govern. Unfortunately, it’s not to be. The ideologues in the Senate are too busy micromanaging local governments and sticking square pegs into round, free-market holes to pay attention to what’s working and what’s not. They don’t seem to care whether policies are good for the people or the state. They only care that they fit into their narrow ideological box.

3) On the science behind “Inside Out.”  And seriously, if you haven’t yet, see this movie.

4) Nice piece from Bill Ayers on using the language of religious rights to deny rights:

As one lawmaker put it in North Carolina, “Just because someone takes a job with the government does not mean they give up their First Amendment rights.” A cake baker has apparently also decided to take his case to court, lest he be sanctioned for discriminating against gay couples in the making of wedding cakes.

I find this argument deeply troubling on many fronts. It strikes me as a species of other arguments people make which use the trappings of commonly-held values (in this case, the language about rights and freedom) to advance the opposite

5) Enjoyed this Slate piece on how Carli Lloyd and other US women soccer stars were rejected from youth teams and how that helped lead to their greatness.

6) I hate felony murder charges.  No, you should not rob somebody trying to sell you marijuana.  But when that goes wrong and the marijuana dealer falls off the truck and dies as it pulls away (and you are sitting in the back seat!) in no way are you a murderer at all.  Except, of course, under felony murder laws.  If I were on a jury for this case there would damn well be some juror nullification.  (Interesting that it happened at the park I visit every week with Sarah while Evan has his piano lessons).

7) A urologist argues in NYT that we need to bring back more prostate screenings.  This was a great example of smart commenters that you actually see in the NYT as they were all over the problems in this argument.

8) Apparently Amy Schumer’s jokes really are racist.  I, however, am not persuaded.

9) The best stuff I read on Germany and Greek debt last week.  Thomas Piketty on how the Germans are hypocrites. NYT’s Eduardo Porter makes a similar point.   And Harold Myerson.  Not like Greece doesn’t have plenty of blame to go around, of course.  For example, their crazy pension system.

10) I hate the tendency towards over air-conditioning in the summer.  I’ve been known to run my space heater in my office in the summer.  What a waste of energy.

11) I think I’m going to have to read this book on how over-parenting is ruining our kids.  I’m definitely no helicopter parent, but I fear I am not doing enough to make my kids learn tough life lessons on their own.

When parents have tended to do the stuff of life for kids—the waking up, the transporting, the reminding about deadlines and obligations, the bill-paying, the question-asking, the decision-making, the responsibility-taking, the talking to strangers, and the confronting of authorities, kids may be in for quite a shock when parents turn them loose in the world of college or work. They will experience setbacks, which will feel to them like failure. Lurking beneath the problem of whatever thing needs to be handled is the student’s inability to differentiate the self from the parent.

12) I’m glad I don’t have to rely on public schools in Texas to teach my kids history:

THIS FALL, Texas schools will teach students that Moses played a bigger role in inspiring the Constitution than slavery did in starting the Civil War. The Lone Star State’s new social studies textbooks, deliberately written to play down slavery’s role in Southern history, do not threaten only Texans — they pose a danger to schoolchildren all over the country.

On a related note, here’s some excerpts from a 1970’s Alabama history text.

13) Maybe autism is so more prevalent now because earlier clinicians actively worked to not diagnose it.

14) John Oliver on bail is, of course, excellent.

15) The most common reasons behind unfriending on FB:

In a 2014 study, Christopher Sibona, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Denver, actually pinpointed the four types of content that are most likely to prompt an unfriend:

  1. Frequent/unimportant posts
  2. Polarizing posts (politics and religion; liberals are, for what it’s worth,more likely to unfriend over political views)
  3. Inappropriate posts (sexist, racist remarks)
  4. Everyday life posts (child, spouse, eating habits, etc.)

Also, HS friends are most likely to get unfriended.

16) Iron Giant is going to be re-released on the big screen.  So going to take all the family to that.

17) I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but it never hurts to mention how near-useless the BMI is for addressing the health of individuals (there is some value as a population statistic).

18) A nearby public library that is actually inside a local HS is set to close.  Why?  People are worried about security:

The school system and Wake County partnered in the early 1980s so the Athens Drive High School library served students while also doubling as a public library.

But times have changed in terms of security at schools, said Ann Burlingame, assistant library director in Wake. High schools need to monitor who comes on their campuses, she said.

“We need to have a regard for the children and their safety,” Burlingame said…

No major security issues have been reported at the west Raleigh school. But Simmons said some parents have complained that it’s easy for library visitors to access the main part of the building.

Got that?  No actual issues in decades of use, but parents are worried.  So frustrating when the overly-fearful get to make public policy.

19) I had no idea about putative father registries.  Pretty interesting account of the laws and one disturbing case in South Carolina–yes, there are racial overtones (and the author was a friend of mine back at Duke).

 

Quick hits (part I)

Happy 4th of July, my fellow Americans.

1) Say what you will about MLS, but, wow, is this one hell of a goal.

2) Can the bacteria in your gut explain your mood?  Of course they can.

Given the extent to which bacteria are now understood to influence human physiology, it is hardly surprising that scientists have turned their attention to how bacteria might affect the brain. Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers like Lyte have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These, in turn, appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety. Last year, for example, a group in Norway examined feces from 55 people and found certain bacteria were more likely to be associated with depressive patients.

3) A little appreciation for the public defenders who push back against our incarceration nation.

4) Tenured LSU professor fired for using bad language.  I’m not big on bad language (as you have probably realized), but by these standards I would definitely not want to be working at LSU.

I have long thought decrying “political correctness” was a politically-correct way of saying I wish to be unimpeded in my racism and sexism, and it infuriates me when this isn’t the case. Now I’m not so sure.

5) I especially enjoy reading about the ordinary-guyness of Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) because he spent his HS years in my hometown of Springfield, VA.

6) John Cassidy on Chris Christie.

7) Supreme Court looking to completely eliminate race in college admissions next year?  And all for a white student who probably would not have gotten in anyway.

8) How television won the internet.

9) Companies keep using drug testing despite any evidence it leads to a safer or more productive workforce.

10) Expect plenty of Republicans attacking the Supreme Court (and really, the legitimacy of the entire judiciary) in 2016.

11) I’m all for using more insect-based protein in our diets, so long as it is finely ground-up like in Wayback Burgers milkshakes.  As picky as I’m, so long as it did not affect the taste, I’d happily have this.  When one considers the huge cost to the environment that comes from our dependence on meat protein and the abundance insect protein, we really need more of this.  Count me in.

12) Scalia has really just become an anti-intellectual embarrassment.  Jon Stewart gives him the treatment.

13) Bill Ayers on the false dichotomy presented in pro-gun, self-defense arguments.

14) David Frum on how Obamacare should be modified to make it work better.  Reasonable suggestions, of course, Frum has been tossed out of the conservative movement for choosing to live in the real world and say things like:

Yet it’s simultaneously true that the Affordable Care Act meets some real national needs. It did provide insurance to millions who lacked it. It did put an end to some outrageous practices by health insurers. It does seem to be slowing the growth of per-person healthcare costs. If it vanished tomorrow, potentially as many as 23 million people would lose their coverage: the 11.2 million added to the Medicaid program since 2010, the 10 million in the state and federal exchanges, and the 5.7 million young adults under age 26 enrolled in parental healthcare plans.

15) I had never heard of “p-hacking” until I came across a mention last week.  Alas, it turns out I am very guilty of engaging in it.

16) James Surowiecki on why the future of Obamacare is now secure.

17) Who needs clean air anyway?  Certainly not NC Republicans.

18) Should we really be making it so hard just for female prisoners to attend their monthly hygiene?  And, as long as I discovered attn, we really shouldn’t make it so damn expensive for prisoners to make phone calls.

They charge up to $17 for a 15-minute phone call (although the FCC recently voted to limit rates to 25 cents per call for interstate calls). prisoners families’ only option is to pay the rate or not speak to their loved one.

Here’s why that’s totally backwards: Studies show that prisoners who are able to maintain a connection with friends and family are less likely to commit crimes while in prison and less likely to end up back in prison after release.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Nice Krugman column on slavery’s long-lasting impact on American society and politics.

2) Loved this Vox piece on how the voice for Siri was created (by a human) and on how voice artists work.

3) Some days I hate how much email I get.  Definitely some good suggestions in here.  Some I already use (Doodle!).  And my favorite piece of advice:

“If we email each other three times over the same issue, it’s time for one of us to pick up the phone.”

4) Why North Carolina lawmakers just back-tracked part way on the state’s Voter ID law.

5) Enjoyed Toobin’s take on King v. Burwell.

For writing the opinion upholding the law, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., is being hailed (and denounced) as a latter-day Earl Warren—a Republican appointee who turns out to be a secret liberal. This is hardly accurate. Roberts is still the author of the Shelby County case, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, and an eager member of the court majority in Citizens United and all the other cases that undermined our system of regulating political campaigns. But as his restrained and cogent opinion in King demonstrated, he is not a partisan ideologue. Quoting liberally from opinions by Justice Antonin Scalia, Roberts made the commonsensical observation that a law must be interpreted as a whole, not by the analysis of a few stray words here and there. And the context of the full A.C.A. compelled the obvious conclusion that the subsidies were intended to go to individuals on both the federal as well as state exchanges. The law would otherwise make no sense.

Meanwhile, George Will writes that this is all part of the liberal project to overthrow the Constitution.  Seriously.  It’s just amusing to me that so many still seem to see Will as a more reasonable, sober conservative.  If only.

6) Really enjoyed this essay on why “white privilege” is not the problem.  Does not explicitly mention John Roberts, but certainly akin to his idea that the best way to get past racism is to stop talking about race at all.  I don’t necessarily agree with all this,  but it is very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

7) Also enjoyed Reihan Salam’s same-sex marriage take:

Back in 2005, Peter Berkowitz, a conservative political theorist, made the case that the triumph of same-sex civil marriage was all but inevitable. The reason he gave was that arguments that can be made in the language of individual freedom almost always win out in the constitutional realm over those grounded in other considerations. One could argue that the debate over abortion is a clash between two interpretations of what individual freedom demands. Do we protect the autonomy of women or do we protect the rights of unborn children? The fact that both sides of the abortion debate can be rooted in the language of individual freedom has kept the debate alive.

But the debate over same-sex marriage is different. Advocates of same-sex marriage insist that the organization of intimate relations should be left up to the individuals in question, an idea that has become an article of faith among modern Americans. Proponents alone are rooting their arguments in individual freedoms. Critics of same-sex marriage, in contrast, tend to emphasize the potential harms children might experience as society moves away from traditional marriage.

8) Got in a huge argument on FB about the problem of sexism in Jurassic World.  I really don’t like the way this essay seems to suggest every dumb thing a female character does or every poor writing choice is inherently “sexist.”  Sure there’s some valid points here, but I would argue that when you are alienating the likes of me from your feminism, you are doing more harm than good to the feminist cause.

9) Do conservatives have more self-control than liberals?  At least one study says so.

In a series of three studies with more than 300 participants, the authors found that people who identify as conservative perform better on tests of self-control than those who identify as liberal regardless of race, socioeconomic status and gender.

They also report that participants’ performance on the tests was influenced by how much they believed in the idea of free will, which the researchers define as the belief that a person is largely responsible for his or her own outcomes.

10) Your big long read for the week– an interesting take from a British science journalist arguing that climate science is way politicized, alarmist, and harming scientific credibility.  There’s definitely some important ideas in here worth really thinking about and considering, but the author (a genuine science journalist, but also a Conservative MP in Parliament), is clearly very political in his take, which very much undermines his credibility.  As for me, on the whole big picture thing, I would say that if chances of catastrophe are not likely, but simply non-trivial, that’s still a damn good reason to try and do something about it.

Do they think we’re stupid

The arrogance mendacity of the NC Republican legislature truly is breathtaking.  They have taken to lying about their education cuts by pretending things like inflation-adjusted (and population-adjusted) calculations simply don’t exist.  Here’s Mark Binker’s fact check:

As he debated an amendment to the $21.5 billion proposal, Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, the chamber’s senior budget writer, called attention to the fact that, in terms of raw dollars, the Senate budget would spend more on K-12 education than any of its predecessors. House and Senate budget writers still need to come to a compromise deal before a final budget bill will be sent to Gov. Pat McCrory.

“This budget spends more on K-12 education than ever in the history of this state – ever,” Brown said.

That paved the way for Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, to huff and puff and blow down the notion that lawmakers should be considering anything other than what they’re actually spending.

“It always kind of makes me nervous when someone stands up that probably never made a payroll in their life, probably is not too used to signing the front of a check, but they want to start talking about real dollars, adding inflation, arbitrary figures, this and that,” Apodaca said. “This is dangerous because we deal in actual dollars. That’s what the world deals in – actual dollars.”

Saying that the Senate shouldn’t deal in “fairy tales,” Apodaca continued, “I feel like I’m in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ with some of the terminology coming out of that back row,” a reference to Democrats who occupy the back row of seats in the Senate chamber.

Seriously?!  Just wow.  If you are going to talk about “most ever” or any such formulation and not take into account inflation (much less population growth), you are either a complete moron or completely nefarious in trying to fool people.  As if “real dollars” or “inflation-adjusted” is some sort of craziness?  WTF!!!  Apodaca is literally an embarrassment to the human race.  And, hooray, he’s a key figure in making policy for my state.

Given that most of my readers surely have beyond a middle-school education, I’m not going to bother with the rest of Binker’s fact check or any further explanation on just how wrong the Republicans are here.  Though, I will mention the facts that show just how much of a cut we’ve had to K-12 education:

Figures produced by the General Assembly’s nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division show that, in constant 2008 dollars, education spending has dropped from $8.1 billion in the 2007-08 budget year to $7.3 billion starting July 1 if the Senate budget were enacted.

Put another way, North Carolina K-12 system has roughly 10 percent less buying power at its disposal than it did 10 years ago…

Using raw, unadjusted dollars, the state Senate budget would spend $5,386.44 per student next year. That’s more per pupil than was spent during the heart of the recession in 2010 but less than pre-recession years of 2007, 2008 and 2009. Those numbers look worse when adjusted for inflation, showing that, in 2008 dollars, North Carolina would spend $4,736.71 per pupil under the Senate budget proposal versus $5,511.08 10 years ago.

I’m going with stupid and evil to explain this.

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