A tale of two satires

The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz spoofs the UNC athletics/academic fraud scandal. The satire, published under the title “U.N.C. Boosters Outraged That Some Athletes Took Real Classes,” concludes with:

“As a university, it is our sacred duty to protect our athletes from education,” the university spokesman said. “We can—and we must—do better.”

With all due respect to Borowitz, it’s been done. Back in January, readers of my newsletter read “Shocking claim: Some top college students read like adults, play like kids,” which concluded:

“The issue for me is clear,” she said. “What kind of athletic institution do we want UNC to be?”

 

How High is NC’s Gas Tax? and why….

How high is the gas tax in North Carolina?  Well, for starters, lets go back to 1980 when the tax was only 9 cents per gallon.  If we adjust that for inflation, that is 26 cents today.

Today the state’s gasoline tax is 36.5 cents per gallon.  The difference between 1980 and today in real terms is 10.5 cents per gallon, that’s a real increase of 40%.

In 1986, the legislature decided to move away from a flat excise tax and add a variable portion to the tax.  Today, North Carolina’s gas tax is calculated with a flat rate of 17.5 cents plus 7% of the wholesale rate of gasoline.

While the legislature decided to cap the gas tax in 2006, it really hasn’t saved the taxpayer that much at the pump.  Since January 1st 2014, the cap has only saved taxpayers 0.03 cents per gallon at the pump.

Below is a graph showing the gasoline tax since 1980.  I point out the major legislative changes that have had an impact on the gasoline tax.  The last time the gas tax rate was changed was in 1992.  The first cap was imposed in 2006, and when it expired, the tax rate was at 29.9 cents per gallon.  By the time the next cap was enacted, the rate had risen to 37.5 cents per gallon, a 7.6 cent increase.  The gas cap that is currently in place will be a topic of debate during the 2015 legislative year because it is set to expire on June 30.

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These very rich Americans support Kay Hagan

I’m talking about trial lawyers. Timothy Carney reports that Hagan (and other Dem candidates) have raised more from them than any other group, and more than their opponents have raised from any industry.

Of course, some trial lawyers help to right wrongs, as in the Duke lacrosse case. Carney’s point is that as an interest group, the trial bar knows that it benefits from having the Democrats in control because they are more apt to expand the regulatory state and consequently create new cases for them than if the GOP is in control. What few Democratic voters realize is that the steady expansion of regulation and litigation gets in the way of their efforts at improving their lot in life.

Hagan spin team hopes TV stations can’t use a dictionary

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Remember: Businesses owned by family members of Kay Hagan received more than $400,000 in direct federal stimulus funding, tax credits, and other renewable energy payments and Team Hagan wants you to believe no one in the family benefited from the free cash.

This helps explain the latest installment in the ad war saga involving those payments and Hagan’s high-powered ethics team. Kate Sawyer Keane, an attorney with Perkins Coie LLP, the Democratic law firm that has worked for Hagan’s campaign since at least 2009 and found no problem with the Hagans’ involvement with the stimulus grant, is now strong-arming television stations with a warning letter hoping to silence a political ad on the controversy.

Dome reports that Keane is saying an ad from the Koch brothers-founded super PAC Freedom Partners Action Fund is “inflammatory and unsubstantiated,” and they’d better not run them any more. WLOS-TV in Asheville has succumbed to the pressure. “Quite simply, JDC Manufacturing could not have profited from the stimulus because the stimulus funds did not cover the entire cost of the project,” says the letter.

Let’s visit Mr. Webster, shall we? From my dog-eared Random House Websters College Dictionary (1997 edition), the first definition for profit as a transitive verb is

to gain an advantage or benefit

As I wrote earlier this week, there are many ways JDC Manufacturing, Plastic Revolutions, and Solardyne/Green State Power the companies co-owned by some combination of Kay Hagan’s husband Chip, their son Tilden, and Chip’s brothers John and David “gain[ed] an advantage or benefit” aka profited from taxpayer largess:

• JDC received $250,644 from the feds to offset the cost of making energy improvements and install a solar array at its building in Reidsville. It subsequently received an additional $137,000 in tax credits by making the upgrades.

• JDC’s tenant, Plastic Revolutions (also owned by the Hagans) expected to reduce its energy bills by $100,000 a year resulting from the upgrades. No stimulus, no energy savings.

• Solardyne/Green State Power owners Chip and Tilden performed at least some of the work at the facility; Tilden invoiced a solar company in Vermont for nearly $160,000 in equipment. No stimulus, no project, no job for Tilden.

• JDC’s building operates more efficiently and has a modern heating and cooling system, making the building more valuable to a potential tenant or potential buyer. No stimulus, no upgrades, no added capital value.

Maybe a $500-an-hour (pure guess here) lawyer can’t understand that this is profiting, but most people who aren’t being paid to think otherwise — including the general managers of television stations — might.

And if Ms. Keane or someone from her firm thinks I have this wrong, I’d be delighted to speak with her. There are a lot of questions the Hagan folks haven’t answered about this arrangement.

Leef asks Forbes readers to consider a government-funded project that’s more than wasteful

George Leef’s latest column for Forbes looks beyond typical wasteful government spending to focus on a more disturbing item within the federal budget.

[N]ow consider a research project that’s being funded by the National Science Foundation. The project purports to detect what the team of researchers label “social pollution” on the Internet. Specifically, the research focuses on Twitter use with the goal of learning how ideas spread through our culture.

Keep in mind that the mission of the National Science Foundation is to “promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare.” Putting aside the question whether there is any constitutional authority for broad brush spending for the “general welfare,” (Madison would have said there wasn’t), does this research come close to doing so?

The research team (professors at Indiana University) say that their investigation of Twitter usage will be useful in distinguishing between memes (ideas that propagate in popular culture) that arise “in an organic manner” and memes that are “manipulated” into existence. Even if we make the heroic assumption that analysis of Twitter accounts can enable them to make that distinction, how does it make anyone better off – other than the researchers themselves?

What takes this research out of the “what a waste of money” category and puts it into the “menacing government nosiness” category is the fact that the project, named “Truthy” after TV personality Stephen Colbert’s term “truthiness,” has a clear and chilling ideological slant. Truthy zooms in on tweets including hashtags like “teaparty” and estimates the “partisanship” of their senders.

This is reminiscent of the IRS’s “Be On the Lookout” words, which led to scrutiny of groups presumed to oppose the continuous expansion of the federal government. Using words like “constitution” or “tea party” led to exceedingly minute and slow review of applications for tax-exempt status by IRS officials. Similarly, in this project, only the “truthiness” or partisanship of Twitter users who aren’t on board with the reigning big government philosophy is to be examined.

Spoiling the previous Haugh-as-spoiler narrative

timehaganIt has been received wisdom for months — almost to the point of the election headlines having already been written — that Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate Sean Haugh was going to spoil the election for the Republican, House Speaker Thom Tillis. As Democrats fretted Senate races in other states, here in North Carolina there was relief, if not a bit of sniggering, at vulnerable incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s slim but persistent polling ahead of Tillis, once Haugh’s candidacy was factored in.

A not-exhaustive list: The New York Times noted it in early July. Time featured it in early August (the graph on the right is from Time). The Democratic Public Policy Polling discussed it in August. So did the Washington Examiner. WRAL focused on it in early September. Breitbart worried about it in September. CNN highlighted it last month as well.

Suddenly, however, with Hagan slipping in the polls, the notion is being floated that the (dun dun DUN-N-N-N) Koch Brothers are behind the scenes somewhere, somehow pushing the Haugh candidacy to spoil the election for Hagan. Their medium? An advertisement about how the anti-war Haugh would legalize marijuana, clearly trying to peel off the all-important Stoner Youth swing vote that has determined so many races before it isn’t funny.

Among others, The News & Observer, National JournalPoliticsNC, and even NPR featuring Haugh are totally on board with this novel take on Haugh as election spoiler.

As with the previous take on it, it has the sound of the election headlines already being written.

Epilogue

Meanwhile, a far more serious potential election spoiler is getting little discussion outside of Carolina Journal:

As early voting opens for the 2014 general election, an attorney representing the state in the lawsuit fighting state election law reforms is seeking further information regarding statements made earlier this month by the Rev. William Barber at the state NAACP convention.

The statements, according to a memo by Butch Bowers, indicate that Barber urged those attending the convention to take people who have not registered to vote to early voting sites and transport registered voters to their wrong precincts on election day. Both practices — same-day registration at early voting locations and out-of-precinct voting — were prohibited by the General Assembly’s 2013 election law. …

Bowers in his memo said the stated purpose for Barber’s request to bring unregistered people to the polls during early voting and take voters to improper precincts was to “gather evidence” that would enhance the plaintiffs’ chances of succeeding in the lawsuit. Bowers also said that doing such things also would “be disruptive to the election process and could result in voter confusion or disenfranchisement.”

Would the “moral” movement actually resort to deliberate election disruption and voter confusion, even to the point of disenfranchisement? I guess we’ll see. Unfortunately, it would be believable, given that so many other of its causes create so much harm to the people the movement pretends to speak for.

Dispatches from the campaign trail, October 23, 2014

• The campaigns of 7th District Congressional candidates Jonathan Barfield (Democrat) and David Rouzer (Republican) have new ads on YouTube.

Barfield:

Rouzer:

• Early voting opens today! Find an early voting site and the hours it will be open at your county Board of Elections site using this portal.

• Speaking of early voting, in Carolina Journal Online this morning, Barry Smith reports that the NC NAACP may have plans to cause trouble at early voting sites.

• A new WRAL poll by Survey USA finds Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan holding a 3-point lead over Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, 46-43. The first three questions survey “likely voters,” and at this stage of an election cycle, because they tend to show up at the polls, those responses are considered more valuable than the remainder of the poll, which samples either “registered voters” or “adults.”

• U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who was Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president in 2012, campaigned Wednesday with Tillis in Union County.

• In an interview with Time Warner Cable News, Democratic 2nd Congressional District candidate Clay Aiken defended charges in a recent ad he made against incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers, even though FactCheck.org said the charges weren’t true.

Stalinism was no corruption of communism

Historian Anne Applebaum reviews for The Atlantic a nearly 1,000-page book on the first 50 years of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s life. Among author Stephen Kotkin’s most interesting observations: Stalin’s murderous regime did not result from some perversion of a communist ideal.

Unlike the uneducated cynic of Trotsky’s imagination, the real Stalin justified each and every decision using ideological language, both in public and in private. It is a mistake not to take this language seriously, for it proves an excellent guide to his thinking. More often than not, he did exactly what he said he would do.

Certainly this was true in the realm of economics. The Bolsheviks, Kotkin rightly notes, were driven by “a combination of ideas or habits of thought, especially profound antipathy to markets and all things bourgeois, as well as no-holds-barred revolutionary methods.” Right after the revolution, these convictions led them to outlaw private trade, nationalize industry, confiscate property, seize grain and redistribute it in the cities—all policies that required mass violence to implement. In 1918, Lenin himself suggested that peasants should be forced to deliver their grain to the state, and that those who refused should be “shot on the spot.”

Although some of these policies, including forced grain requisitions, were temporarily abandoned in the 1920s, Stalin brought them back at the end of the decade, eventually enlarging upon them. And no wonder: they were the logical consequence of every book he had read and every political argument he had ever had. Stalin, as Kotkin reveals him, was neither a dull bureaucrat nor an outlaw but a man shaped by rigid adherence to a puritanical doctrine. His violence was not the product of his subconscious but of the Bolshevik engagement with Marxist-Leninist ideology.

This ideology offered Stalin a deep sense of certainty in the face of political and economic setbacks. If policies designed to produce prosperity created poverty instead, an explanation could always be found: the theory had been incorrectly interpreted, the forces were not correctly aligned, the officials had blundered. If Soviet policies were unpopular, even among workers, that too could be explained: antagonism was rising because the class struggle was intensifying.

Whatever went wrong, the counterrevolution, the forces of conservatism, the secret influence of the bourgeoisie could always be held responsible. These beliefs were further reinforced by the searing battles of 1918–20 between the Red and White Armies. Over and over again, Stalin learned that violence was the key to success. “Civil war,” Kotkin writes, “was not something that deformed the Bolsheviks; it formed them … [providing] the opportunity to develop and to validate the struggle against ‘exploiting classes’ and ‘enemies’ (domestic and international), thereby imparting a sense of seeming legitimacy, urgency, and moral fervor to predatory methods.”

Given the degree to which Stalin’s policies complied with communist doctrine, it’s no surprise so many communist sympathizers were duped by the brutal dictator for years.