The Locker Room

August 31, 2010

Watauga voters turn down sales-tax hike today

Posted by John Hood at 8:50 PM

It wasn’t even close, reports the Watauga Democrat:

Enough is enough."

That was the theme of opponents of a proposed quarter-cent sales-tax increase, who cited the recession and $70 million in new high school debt in mounting their argument against a new tax increase.

With all precincts reporting, the Watauga County sales-tax referendum was defeated, with 4,428 against and 2,705 for, with 62 percent in the majority. That includes early voting, when 1,599 were against and 988 were for the quarter-cent sales tax increase for an indoor recreation center and community center.

Opponents made extensive use of the findings of a John Locke Foundation study of the proposed Watauga tax hike.

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What about this summer's weather?

Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 3:43 PM

Recently the United Nation’s World Meteorlogical Organization put out the following statement about extreme weather events that have occurred this summer:

Several regions of the world are currently coping with severe weather-related events: flash floods and widespread flooding in large parts of Asia and parts of Central Europe while other regions are also affected: by heatwave and drought in Russian Federation, mudslides in China and severe droughts in sub-Saharan Africa. While a longer time range is required to establish whether an individual event is attributable to climate change, the sequence of current events matches IPCC projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming. The Monsoon activity in Pakistan and other countries in South-East Asia is aggravated by the la Niña phenomenon, now well established in the Pacific Ocean.

This claim has been challenged by several different experts. Here is a response by Professor Roger Pielke Jr. from the University of Colorado. Pielke essentially claims the IPCC makes no such projections. The comments below Pielke's blog post are also worth reading.

Also, over at the blog Meteorlogial Musings there is a very good graph showing the relationship between extreme weather events and global temperatures. What the author shows is that such events are just as likely to occur when such temperatures are relatively cool as when they are warm. Another point to note in this blog is that in that while the northern hemisphere is experiencing a warmer than normal summer the southern hemisphere is experiencing a brutally cold winter.

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More ethics woes for Butterfield

Posted by David N. Bass at 3:40 PM

Accepting, and then refusing to return, campaign cash from Charlie Rangel isn't U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield's only ethical hurdle as the fall campaign season gets under way.

The Democrat from North Carolina's 1st Congressional District also faces an ethics probe for potentially misusing taxpayer funds on foreign travel, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Butterfield is one of a half-dozen House lawmakers in hot water over the travel:

The investigation follows a Wall Street Journal article in March that said lawmakers had used daily cash stipends, meant to cover certain costs of official government travel overseas, to cover expenses that appeared to be unauthorized by House rules. An independent ethics board has referred the matter to the House ethics committee.

Congressional rules say the daily travel funds, called a per diem, must be spent on meals, cabs and other travel expenses. But when lawmakers travel, many of their meals and expenses are picked up by other people, such as foreign government officials or U.S. ambassadors.

That can leave lawmakers with leftover money. Lawmakers routinely keep the extra funds or spend it on gifts, shopping or to cover their spouses' travel expenses, according to dozens of current and former lawmakers.

In January, Carolina Journal reported on Butterfield's pricy travel to Copenhagen for climate-change talks. The total bill was $4,406 for food and lodging at the five-star Copenhagen Marriot Hotel.

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NC Supreme Court: State Doesn't Have to Reduce "Life" Sentences

Posted by Daren Bakst at 3:25 PM

The North Carolina Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in a case called Jones v Keller.  In a 5-2 opinion, the Court held that a prisoner (Alford Jones) serving a "life" sentence (defined as 80 years) was not unlawfully imprisoned regardless of the good behavior credits he earned.


- Life sentences between April 8, 1974 and June 30, 1978 were statutorily defined as 80 years. This is the sentence applicable to Jones.

- Department of Correction (DOC) regulations define good time, gain time, and merit time (for simplicity sake, "good behavior") credits as (according to the Court):

"[t]ime credits applied to an inmate's sentence that reduce [] the amount of time to be served" and state that "[g]ood time is sentence reduction credits awarded, at the rate of one day deducted for each day served in custody for good behavior and/or without an infraction of inmate conduct rules."


There's nothing confusing about this.  Jones was sentenced to serve 80 years and the length of his sentence was supposed to be offset by these "good behavior" credits.

So how did the Court conclude otherwise: through the use of judicial activism.

1) The DOC argued that the credits were never meant to determine unconditional release dates, but to calculate parole eligibility, and other matters.

Where exactly does it say that in the plain language of the DOC's own regulations?  It doesn't.

2) Even if the law does say that Jones should be released, the Court argued that the state has a compelling reason not to release him because he would endanger public safety (he was convicted of first-degree murder).

The fact that they are even weighing his rights to the public safety is an indication of how weak the Court's argument is regarding the proper applicability of the credits.

The Court apparently believes we can take away fundamental rights if it is in the greater good--a scary proposition. In this case, Jone's liberty interests are being violated (even though he is a prisoner) and the actions amount to an ex post facto law. See Weaver v. Graham 450 U.S. 24.*

In this balancing test, the Court presumes that Jones is having his rights violated and is entitled to be released but the state interest is more compelling. What about other prisoners? Does this mean a criminal sentence is subject to change whenever a government agency thinks it would be best not to release that individual?

Since I don't want to write a law review article on this, I highly recommend reading Justice Timmons-Goodson's dissent.

She sums up the case well when she wrote:

This case arises out of a mistake of law by the DOC that it now seeks to rectify through unwritten, retrospective policy pronouncements some thirty-five years after the fact.

One more excerpt:

Today’s decision offends common notions of fundamental fairness.  For thirty years, Jones has behaved well, participated in prison work release and study programs, and otherwise performed the conditions necessary to earn sentence reduction credits.  Now the State refuses to grant Jones the benefit of his efforts. And although the majority claims the DOC does not have “carte blanche” over the administration of prisoners’ sentences, the rejection of Jones’s fundamental liberty interests in favor of the DOC’s “interpretation” of an unwritten and heretofore unarticulated practice is a departure from established principles. One wonders what other unwritten policies the DOC operates under and whether they, too, are supported by law. Today’s decision condones spontaneous rule-making by the DOC that targets individuals retroactively, thereby abdicating this Court’s role as a protector of Constitutional liberty rights.

This decision may be politically popular but it is precisely the type of case that undermines the legitimacy of the judiciary. The Court is supposed to interpret laws, no matter how ignorant they may be.

Note: Don't read this note unless you want to get into the weeds: An ex post facto law applies to laws enacted after a crime has been committed--it is not absolutely clear how these good faith credits applied when Jones committed his crime.  I didn't find anything in the opinion to suggest that such credits didn't apply at the time of the crime (although the regulations had been changed several times according to the Court). If however the credits didn't apply, then it would make the ex post facto law argument more difficult (if not inapplicable).

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Final spending increased $250 million in FY2010

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 2:32 PM

The final report on fiscal year 2010 revenue and spending only tells part of the story. It does not count $1.4 billion in federal bailout funds for the state. The bailout funds were counted in fiscal year 2009 when $680 million rained down on Raleigh.

Counting bailout money for FY2009 but not for FY2010 makes it look like the governor and legislature were frugal and made tough decisions to save $1.1 billion, though no such thing happened.

With the bailout, the state spent $250 million more in FY2010 than in FY2009, or $19.9 billion of $20.1 billion it had available. It would be nice if the Controller's office recognized this and stopped comparing apples and oranges.

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New Carolina Journal Online exclusive

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 2:14 PM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features David Bass' report about the N.C. Republican Party's news conference today launching the GOP's 2010 election campaign. 

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New Carolina Journal Online exclusive

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 1:36 PM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features Anthony Greco's report on Gov. Beverly Perdue's controversial decision to grant a state award to the most high-profile opponent of Wake County school board policy changes.

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Re: A correlation vs. causation problem

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 1:22 PM


Just to be clear, I'm not saying that all politicians who have pushed for increased homeownership have bought into the line that the TIME story seems to suggest — that magical properties transform a new homeowner into a responsible person.

But I do suspect that many who have pushed for homeownership haven't thought very clearly about the links between homeownership and those other worthwhile goals (civic engagement, low crimes rates, etc.)

If you think homeownership is good, you could lower the standards for homeownership. Or you could pursue policies that help promote the conditions that will lead more people to qualify for market-based homeownership standards.

It shouldn't be too hard to guess which option appeals more to the politician looking for a simple solution.

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Fox and Friends' Gretchen Carlson takes Robert Gibbs to the woodshed

Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 12:43 AM

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Re: A correlation vs. causation problem

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 12:39 AM

Mitch, didn't Jack Kemp kind of take the "home ownership leads to good things" line? That was why he wanted to turn public housing over to the residents.

Jack Kemp ... continues to advocate the expansion of home ownership among the poor through resident management and ownership of public and subsidized housing

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Go ahead and drink that adult beverage

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 11:44 AM

Courtesy of

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables — socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on — the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.
Always drink responsibly.

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Good teachers in LA and beyond

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 11:18 AM

According to a follow-up analysis of value-added scores for Los Angeles Unified (LAUSD) teachers, the district's best elementary school teachers share few common traits.

The [Los Angeles] Times found that the 100 most effective [LAUSD] teachers were scattered across the city, from Pacoima to Gardena, Woodland Hills to Bell. They varied widely in race, age, years of experience and education level. They taught students who were wealthy and poor, gifted and struggling.

In visits to several of their classrooms, reporters found their teaching styles and personalities to differ significantly. They were quiet and animated, smiling and stern. Some stuck to the basics, while others veered far from the district’s often-rigid curriculum. Those interviewed said repeatedly that being effective at raising students’ performance does not mean simply “teaching to the test,” as critics of value-added analysis say they fear.
Do you mean to tell me that the most successful teachers in Los Angeles are not white men and women working in suburban schools with white/Asian boys and girls from wealthy families? Do tell!

By the way, NC DPI keeps value-added data on the state's teachers in a computer system called EVAAS. But education officials refuse to release the data...even to reward the state's best teachers with the pay they deserve.

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Sowell's sayings strike gold

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 10:29 AM

One of the best things about reading a collection of Thomas Sowell's short essays and columns is running across a great sentence that captures the essence of an important truth.

One of my favorites from a previous collection was this one:

Economists may say that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but politicians get elected by promising free lunches.

Now, in the new book Dismantling America, we read:

Whoever called politics "the art of the possible" must have had a strange idea of what is possible or a strange idea of politics, where the impossible is one of the biggest vote-getters.

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This is a must read

Posted by Dr. Michael Sanera at 09:46 AM

Thanks to the guys at Cafe Hayek, "where orders emerge," for this gem from the UK.  I will send this to my favorite liberal, left-wing, but very funny mechanics, PBS's Car Guys, and see if they "get" it. It is the car owner's version of I, Pencil.

I had to buy a new brake caliper for one of my cars the other day. I ordered it online, it came in the post, I took it to the garage and it went straight on with a few bolts.

Nothing remarkable about that. The car is an old 911, the caliper was for a 911 of the same year, so obviously it was going to fit.

But at the same time, it's a matter for extreme wonderment. At least, I think it is, and I think you should too, because if it weren't true, none of us but the very rich would own cars.

Anyone who has ever done any proper metalwork will know that, theoretically, a 10mm diameter rod won't go into a 10mm diameter hole. Either the hole must be a bit bigger or the rod a bit smaller, or maybe a bit of both. But by how much? Fettle away a bit at each part and eventually they'll go together.

In reality, of course, nothing can be exactly 10mm; it will always be 10mm plus or minus something. So your hole might in reality be 10.03mm, and your rod might be 9.92mm, so they will  go together. But that may be the other way around, and then they won't.


That something as complex as a car can be owned by ordinary people is, I think, one of the greatest achievements of humanity. It can be attributed to improved standards of living and the relative price of Mars Bars, but it's mainly because the caliper fits the 911.

Bloody marvellous, isn't it?



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Ed Schultz, jilted lover

Posted by David N. Bass at 08:05 AM

Ed Schultz is mad. Not because the MSNBC host’s ratings are in the garbage disposal compared to anyone on FOX News. And not because of those evil Republicans and “tea baggers.” It’s because of President Barack Obama and Democrats.

Philip Klein enlightens us in the latest dead tree version of The American Spectator. Klein attended the annual Netroots Nation convention this year, and brought away some fascinating anecdotes from Big Ed:

“I know all of you on the campaign trail busted a** for Democrats,” Schultz hollered, clenched microphone in hand, pacing around the stage like a stand-up comic. “And I know you were told that all we need is 60 votes. Then you got introduced to Ben Nelson.”

The crowd booed loudly.

“Then you got introduced to Joe Liberman.”

More boos.

“Let’s not forget Mary Landrieu.”

Another round of boos.

“And let’s not forget Blanche Lincoln.”

As the crowd continued to boo, Shultz screamed: “Bulls**t! Bulls**t!”


Schultz’s critique of the Democrats extended all the way up to Obama himself.

“They must have a war room at the White House,” he mused. “I think they’ve got a sissy room, too.”

His grip of the moment was that the Obama administration had ousted Shirley Sherrod, panicking after Andrew Breitbart had posted an edited video of her speaking that portrayed her as a racist. But a broader grip was that President Obama didn’t give interviews to MSNBC in general and him in particular [David Bass' take: Obama doesn’t want to be associated with a foul-mouthed blowhard who erupts in illogical tirades at whim. But maybe it’s just me.].

“I busted my a** for Obama,” he sadly recounted, like a jilted lover. “President Obama, he don’t come to Ed. He comes to Bret Baier on Fox News — in my time slot.” [DB's take: That's because he wanted someone to be watching].

Attendees of the convention should’ve been thankful that Big Ed didn’t threaten to torch the [bleep]ing place.

In his closing paragraph, Klein makes a poignant observation about the convention and the state of progressivism in general: if they’re not happy with what Obama has given them now, they’ll never be happy, because this is the best it’s going to get for them.

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Latest dispatches from the campaign trail

Posted by David N. Bass at 07:40 AM

  • Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr has 39-32 lead over Democrat Elaine Marshall among independents, according to a new Civitas poll.

  • Some Tar Heel candidates are taking advantage of social media.

  • Independent candidate George Shaeffer talks to The Daily News about his bid in state House District 15.

  • U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-7th, challenges Republican Ilario Pantano’s position on free trade in new ad.

  • The Hill: Republicans are getting increasingly optimistic about their chances of re-taking Congress in the fall.

  • Will U.S. Attorney George Holding, the federal prosecutor in the Mike Easley and John Edwards investigations, take on Roy Cooper for N.C. Attorney General in 2012?

  • Burr stays positive in his first ad of the General Election campaign.

  • Former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt stumps for Democratic House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman in Lexington.

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TIME writer not sticking to the script

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 07:01 AM

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — the stimulus bill — was supposed to be about jobs, we’ve been told.

TIME’s Michael Grunwald must have missed the mainstream media memo that suggested avoiding any mention of other motivating factors behind the stimulus bill:

[T]he battle over the Recovery Act's short-term rescue has obscured its more enduring mission: a long-term push to change the country. It was about jobs, sure, but also about fighting oil addiction and global warming, transforming health care and education, and building a competitive 21st century economy. Some Republicans have called it an under-the-radar scramble to advance Obama's agenda — and they've got a point.

Yes, it is precisely this aspect of the stimulus bill — along with skepticism about its short-run job implications — that has caused a public backlash.

Linkable Entry

A correlation vs. causation problem

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 07:00 AM

This week’s TIME cover story makes the case that “owning a home may no longer make economic sense.”

Early in Barbara Kiviat’s piece, we learn:

A house with a front lawn and a picket fence wasn't just a nice place to live or a risk-free investment; it was a way to transform a nation.

Houses owned by the people who lived in them, we believed, created social and financial stability — more involved citizens, safer neighborhoods, kids who did better in school. No wonder leaders of all political stripes wanted to spend more than $100 billion a year on subsidies and tax breaks to encourage people to buy.

What strikes me most about the quotation is the notion that homeownership could “create” all of those laudable byproducts. Did any thoughtful person ever believe that idea? Owning a home will magically transform a person into a responsible member of society?

Think carefully about this topic, and you’re much more likely to come to the conclusion that the characteristics that used to be required to buy a home — including having enough money to make a down payment and a livelihood that would enable you to cover monthly bills — tend to correlate well with civic involvement, parental engagement, and a law-abiding lifestyle. In other words, homeownership reflects (or at least reflected) positive character traits; it doesn’t bring them into existence.

That’s why it seems so clear that government efforts to boost homeownership rates artificially were destined to fail.

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Stein pokes fun at ‘Net neutrality’

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:58 AM

In his latest column for TIME, Joel Stein tackles the concept of government-mandated Net neutrality:
Senator Al Franken, at the Netroots Nation conference in late July, talked about a dystopian future without Net neutrality: “How long do you think it will take before the Fox News website loads five times faster than Daily Kos?” Hopefully, this will be happen right away. Fox News should load 20 times faster than Daily Kos, because far more people read it. It’s better for society that millions of people get someplace a little faster while the relatively few Daily Kos readers wait a few seconds. This is why not all roads are the same width. And more people go to the Fox News site because it’s got tons of people reporting, balancing and fairing, whereas two of the contributing editors at Daily Kos are named DarkSyde and Angry Mouse.

Later, Stein captures the essence of the debate:

I believe that as great as the Internet is, it can be better. And we shouldn’t create laws that prevent companies from making it better.

Linkable Entry

New Carolina Journal Online features

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:48 AM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features Hal Young's report about the increasing use of comic books and graphic novels to boost literacy. 

John Hood's Daily Journal explains that disasters occasionally can lead to positive reforms, as in the case of post-Katrina education policies in Louisiana.

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