The Locker Room

February 10, 2010

The impact of the latest Supreme Court campaign-finance ruling

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 8:56 PM

Check out Anthony Greco's latest lead story, which examines the North Carolina impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.

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New CJ Exclusive

Posted by Rick Henderson at 5:50 PM

Another new Carolina Journal Online exclusive features David Bass' report on Wednesday's hearing in federal court scheduling the April trial of former Gov. Mike Easley's right-hand man, Ruffin Poole.

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New Carolina Journal Online exclusive

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 4:10 PM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features Don Carrington's report on the federal sentencing of two men in a bribery scheme involving ethanol plant environmental permits.

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Compare your premium

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 3:54 PM

The friendly folks who want government to take over health care will have 20 percent higher insurance premiums this year. The John Locke Foundation switched to consumer-driven policies with health savings accounts (HSAs) and no increase in premiums. The Locke Foundation is part of a national trend.

Anybody else with similar experience can send their stories to

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Raleigh's Unified Development Ordinance public comments

Posted by Dr. Michael Sanera at 1:02 PM

Raleigh has posted the 150 page Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) for public comment here. This ordinance puts in law much of the new Comprehensive Land Use Plan. You can post comments on each paragraph in the ordinance at the city website.  You must register and each entry is limited to 2,000 characters.   Comment period ends March 31st. Please visit the site and post comments. Here is my comment on the introductory paragraph.  

This introductory statement fairly characterizes the document that follows. As such it is a microcosm of the major flaws in the entire document. 

First, what does the “commitment to sustainability” mean? Those who use this term often fail to define it and for good reason.  Any meaningful definition reveals the absurdity of the term. For example, the term is often defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” This definition ignores the principles of resource economics and assumes that we can know today the needs of future generations.  Thus, sustainability is most often used as a political weapon by those who want to control development and the use of natural resources. See the report: Sustainable Growth: Principles and Policies here.

Second, this introduction argues that UDO rules and regulations will “ensure that the growth takes the right form and occurs in the right locations.” The authors are using “right” in order to cover-up the fact that they mean correct. In other words, Raleigh city government will use governmental force to require the correct form at the correct locations. This represents a presumption of knowledge. Who in city government knows the “correct” form and location? In reality this represents government planners and powerful special interest groups imposing their values on the rest of the community.  Once approved, the city uses force to impose its plan on the thousands of individual plans. City residents have invested and saved in order to implement their plans based on their values only to find their plans and values superseded by the values of planners and special interest groups.  Make no mistake; this is not about the “right form” and the “right locations.” It is about a small minority in the community using governmental force to impose its values on the rest of the community.

HT Jenna Robinson 

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Form based land use codes

Posted by Dr. Michael Sanera at 12:19 AM

I am starting to study the latest fad coming out of the planning community: form based land use codes.  I received an email from Kurt Gaertner at the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and he referred me to the Massachusetts Smart Growth Toolkit.  It was just a wild guess, but I thought that a “Smart Growth Toolkit” would not provide me with criticisms of FBCs. So I decided to use a different research technique.  I asked Mr. Gaertner, an obvious supporter of FBCs, to refer me to the critics of FBCs.  Here is my request:

Mr. Gaertner:

Thank you for your note.  I am aware of the basics of FBCs.  I am specifically looking for criticisms of FBCs.

For example, it appears that FBCs lead to a lack of architectural diversity.  In my travels around the country, I note that most new urban and suburban construction prescribed by FBCs is uniformly boring because it all looks the same.  I have patronized outdoor cafes in Denver, suburban DC, Phoenix, Raleigh and LA and, for the life of me, once I sit down I cannot tell where I am.  There seems to be little or no distinctive architecture associated with FBCs.

Also, it seems that FBCs violate fundamental property rights.  Given the Constitution’s protections of property, homeowners, businesses, etc. should be able to use their property in ways they see fit not as prescribed by some planner who has lobbied a city council to adopt a FBC.  This assumes that the landowner does not create an identifiable harm (externality).  FBC advocates seem to argue that since the public can “see” a building or house from the street, it makes it within the “public realm.”  Thus, they justify legal restrictions on the use of other people’s property.  I suggest that the Founders would find this absurd.  Your ugly building is my work of art. While the courts have ruled that zoning and other land use restrictions are “legal,” I would ask are they moral or just?  What conception of justice supports giving a small minority in a community the power to dictate the way I use my property? James Madison might argue that this is the definition of tyranny.

Additionally, FBCs seem to raise the price of development harming low-income residents, minorities, and entrepreneurs.  Mom and pop businesses that want to expand are at a disadvantage when they need a new building because FBCs drive up costs. FBCs also drive up the price of rental property that entrepreneurs need to expand their businesses.  It is my personal observation that FBC developments are populated by major national chains that have driven local mom and pop entrepreneurs out of business.  

As a political scientist, it seems that FBCs are a way for a small minority in a community (usually a high-income elite) with the help of planners and thousands of dollars of tax money to use governmental force to impose their values on the rest of the community.  

Are you aware of published papers or reports that make these or similar arguments?

Thank you for your assistance.

Michael Sanera 

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"Progress toward equity"

Posted by George Leef at 11:09 AM

Thomas Sowell's column today digs into a recent controversy in Berkeley, where the "racial achievement gap" (that is, white and Asian students doing substantially better than black and Latino students) is to be attacked by reducing the amount spent on science education so as to spend more on social work and remediation.

What makes this particularly interesting is the fact that this plan is enthusiastically supported by the educational theorists. Sowell writes that a University of San Francisco professor of education praised it because it's vital to "narrow the achievement gap." Moreover, Sowell continues, "In keeping with the rhetoric of the prevailing ideology, our education professor refers to 'privileged' parents and 'privileged' children who want to 'forestall any progress toward equity.'"

Welcome to the bizarre world of education experts, where families that encourage children to work hard in school are "privileged" as though they were our equivalent of European nobility, and where the primary educational goal is "equity" among designated groups rather than assisting all pupils to progress to the best of their ability.

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Garbage in, garbage out

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 10:06 AM

Mecklenburg County Commissioners endorsed a venture to create green jobs out of garbage, among other green energy plans. Mecklenburg already tried burning garbage for energy once, but had to close the incinerator. New Hanover County's waste-to-energy incinerator continues to live on subsidies from the county landfill. Maybe ReVenture Park is a good idea, but it should be able to prove that in the market with private money, not with taxpayer dollars.

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We're replaying the Carter administration

Posted by George Leef at 09:35 AM

This Wall Street Journal editorial looks at Obama's "jobs plan" of a $5,000 tax credit for small businesses that hire workers. Jimmy Carter did the same thing as unemployment rose during his regime and the results were predictably dismal. Even leftist groups like the Tax Policy Center think that hiring subsidies are bad policy, doling out money mainly to firms that would have hired anyway.

Comparing Obama's silly notions with the Kennedy and Reagan policies of across-the-board tax cuts, the editorial states, "That's the opposite of Mr. Obama's strategy, which is to dole out special tax credits and loopholes for favored behavior or industries -- hybrid cars, buying a new house, wind power -- and then paying for these by raising tax rates on anyone making more than $200,000 starting next year. The result will be higher tax rates paid on a shrinking base, with a misallocation of capital toward projects chosen by politics rather than by prices or potential return on investment."

That point is vital. The more heavily politicized a nation becomes, the more its resources to directed by political fiat (that is by officials who don't have their own money at risk) and the less they're directed by profit and loss conscious individuals who will gain if they're right but lose if they're wrong.

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Barone describes the danger of one-party rule

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 08:12 AM

How could a man who mounted such a masterful presidential campaign offer such a mediocre record in office during his opening year? Michael Barone has some ideas. He shares them in The Washington Examiner:

A truly wise Washington analyst, National Journal's Jonathan Rauch, says the problem is one-party government. Presidents lead better, he argues, when they are constrained by the need to get bipartisan support.

There's something to that. Obama's three predecessors all had bipartisan initiatives: the 1990 tax package for George Bush 41, North American Free Trade Agreement approval for Clinton, the 2001 education bill and the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit for George Bush 43. Obama has had no bipartisan initiatives of his own.

The fact that Democrats, from last July until last week, had a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate to go along with Nancy Pelosi's strong majority in the House seems to have tempted Team Obama to go the all-Democratic route on health care, cap and trade and fiscal policy. But even strong temptations should sometimes be resisted.

I think the problem is more basic and helps to explain why the people who put together a successful campaign have not, so far at least, provided successful governance.

Obama campaigned as someone who would rise above partisan divisions. He first attracted national attention in 2004, when our politics was a kind of culture war, by stressing what red-state America and blue-state America had in common. He campaigned in a similar vein in 2007 and 2008.

But when he came to office in 2009, the cultural issues that had occupied so much of the political landscape for a dozen years had been eclipsed in importance by the financial crisis and the deepening recession.

So Obama was faced with a fundamental choice. He could either chart a bipartisan course in response to the economic emergency, or he could try to expand government to Western European magnitude as Democratic congressional leaders, elected for years in monopartisan districts, had long wished to do.

The former community organizer and Chicago pol chose the latter course.

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Mayor Obama

Posted by Rick Henderson at 08:05 AM

This stunning takedown by Andrew Malcolm of the Los Angeles Times (linking to several other recent accounts of the Obama collapse) explains how the Chicago political model has failed the 44th President.

A taste ...

It's always useful for Chicago pols to have White House connections if, say, they'd like to dispatch someone famous to fly off to Copenhagen to lobby the International Olympic Committee for their city's 2016 summer games bid.

But the Chicago Daley machine, which is actually a ruthless coalition of urban Democratic factions united by the steel reinforcing rods of self-interest, didn't much care about this Barack Obama fellow before, as long as he was quiet, obedient and headed on a track out of town. How he acquired a reform label coming out of that one-party place is anyone's guess.

But now that the sun has risen on the 386th day of the Obama White House, many political observers are coming to see that the ex-state senator from the South Side is running his federal administration in Washington much the way they run things back home: with a small claque of clout-laden people from the same school who learned their political trade back in the nation's No. 3 city, named for an Indian word for a smelly wild onion.



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N&O sticks to story, should thank Fox News

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 07:35 AM

The News & Observer is still trying to turn the debate about the new social studies standards into a left-right issue. It isn't. Both liberals and conservatives have been critical of the changes. (See the 2,200 member "History Did Not Begin in 1877!" Facebook group, for blatant examples of bipartisanship.)

In an editorial today, the N&O references a "hyperbolic Fox News report," a report, by the way, that made thousands of citizens aware of major changes proposed for North Carolina's social studies curriculum. That is more than I can say for the johnny-come-lately newspaper that ignored the issue for months.

In fact, it is ironic that the editorial begins with the phrase "Who knew that high school history had such a vocal constituency?" The answer is Fox News. Some media outlets know news when they see it. The N&O knows news when they see other media outlets report it, e.g., shady Mike Easley.

But, in the end, the editors of the N&O call upon the Department of Public Instruction make some changes to the proposed curriculum. If DPI listens, then we'll have to give credit where credit is due - Fox News.

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This will depress you

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 07:08 AM

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute forwarded a link to this video, demonstrating Americans’ vast knowledge of our system of government.

My favorite answer? “The man” is the element within our government empowered to declare war.

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Yes, Evan Thomas, the problem is spending

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 07:07 AM

Evan Thomas expresses in his latest Newsweek piece the concern that President Obama has not yet decided to tell the truth about unpopular policies that would fix our federal government’s budget mess.

Thomas’ solution, of course, involves tax hikes, though he admits that raising taxes “dramatically” would “truly stifle economic growth.” He calls for a mix of tax hikes and cuts.

But here’s the most interesting statement to this reader:

When the debt is piled too high, when the economy threatens to sink under the weight of accumulated obligations that have been put off too long? There are more than a few signs that those times are not so far away for the federal government, and that in some big (and big-spending) states, the day of reckoning is now.

President Obama's new federal budget proposal projects, with unusual clarity, that the trillion-dollar-plus federal deficits piling up during the current recession are not just a temporary condition necessitated by hard times, soon to be cured by a return to prosperity. Rather, the red ink threatens to drown us. For many years, federal spending remained about 20 percent of the overall economy. But under Obama it's now a quarter of the economy. The national debt has grown to more than 50 percent of GDP, and according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, it could plausibly approach 100 percent of GDP by 2020—a figure not reached since World War II. Unless something drastic happens—like significant tax increases and cuts in those sacred entitlement programs—the cost of the government will continue to outrun revenue by staggering margins.

Why do we find ourselves in such a predicament, you might ask? Government spent — and continues to spend — too much. Fix that problem, and you’ll be much closer to a long-term solution.

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Re: ‘Every socialist is a disguised dictator’

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 07:06 AM

Jacob Weisberg of Newsweek is the latest mainstream-media scribe to pick up the theme that President Obama’s woes are due largely to the fact that Americans are … well, too dumb to influence political decision makers:
In trying to explain our political paralysis, analysts cite President Obama's tactical missteps, the obstinacy of congressional Republicans, rising partisanship in Washington, and the Senate filibuster, which has devolved into a super-majority threshold for important legislation. These are large factors to be sure, but that list neglects what may be the biggest culprit of all: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.

Weisberg also makes the claim that “our national-characterological ambivalence about government” stems from our dislike of government “in the abstract” but love for government “in the particular.”

I suspect Mr. Weisberg’s assessment falls a bit short of the mark. Once people know more about the “particulars” of government policies that raid their wallets or limit their freedoms, they’re less likely to support those policies. Support for government is highest when the details about the potential costs of its efforts remain fuzzy.

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New Carolina Journal Online features

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:57 AM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features David Bass' report on Wake County commissioners' pending decision about whether to continue covering elective abortions in employee health insurance plans.

John Hood's Daily Journal uses a dispute over the Charlotte Regional Partnership to present an argument for limited government.

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