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Monday, July 27, 2009

Aren't you glad we said no? More bad news for NBAF

Posted by on Mon, Jul 27, 2009 at 12:00 PM

If you’re still unconvinced that the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility would have been a bad deal for North Carolina, then read today’s Washington Post story about the Department of Homeland Security’s “rushed, flawed study” to justify its decision to locate the federal disease research lab in Kansas.

The Government Accountability Office issued the study, a draft of which the Post obtained, which went on to say the department's analysis was not "scientifically defensible" in concluding that it could safely handle dangerous animal diseases in Kansas—or any other location on the U.S. mainland.

Repeat: Or any other location on the U.S. mainland. That would include Butner, one of six finalists for the federal disease research lab. Butner fell out of the running after citizen activists with the Granville Nonviolent Action Team persuaded elected local, state and federal officials to withdraw their support.

The Post quotes the GAO's draft report as saying the agency's assessment of the risk of accidental release of toxins on mainland locations, including Kansas, was based on "unrepresentative accident scenarios," "outdated modeling" and "inadequate" information about the sites. The agency's analysis of the economic impact of domestic cattle being infected by foot-and-mouth disease played down the financial losses by not considering the worst-case scenario.

Congress still has not funded the project, which is in litigation after Texas sued Homeland Security, alleging the department’s decision to site the NBAF in Kansas was politically motivated. Texas wants the facility.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Everybody out of the pool: Martin the second GOP candidate to leave school board race

Posted by on Sun, Jul 26, 2009 at 12:10 PM

Two days after Jerry Ballan dropped out of contention for Wake County School Board District 7, Ray Martin has bowed out of the District 9 race. The Wake County GOP executive committee had endorsed Ballan, but not Martin. The party has not yet decided whom to endorse in 7.

This press release from the Wake County Republican Party came over the transom this morning:

Ray Martin has withdrawn from the Wake County Board of Education race in District 9. The Executive Committee of the Wake County Republican Party had endorsed Debra Goldman, and Martin will now support her.

“The Wake GOP appreciates Ray’s decision to graciously step out of the race and endorse Debra Goldman,” said Chairman Claude E. Pope, Jr. “Ray is a committed Republican and educator, and he made this tough decision on his own, knowing that it is best to avoid a three-way race in this school board election. He stands with Debra on the need for common-sense approaches to improving the education of the students in Wake County and listening to the needs of families.”

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day 2 (Part Two): Green Party pitches single-payer health care

Posted by on Sat, Jul 25, 2009 at 3:23 PM

"Live longer; pay less."

That was the mantra offered by 2004 vice-presidential nominee Pat LaMarche during the Green Party's single-payer health care forum, held on Friday at N.C. Central University in Durham.

The former talk-radio host, and Maine gubernatorial candidate, got the crowd of roughly 100 to chant along for single-payer systems throughout the world that provide better health care, at cheaper costs, than the United States. The World Health Organization found the United States spends more per capita on health care than any country in the world, but ranks 37th in quality of care. Universal single-payer systems ranking higher include Canada and Australia, while most developed countries provide some element of single-payer insurance.

To assuage opponents of so-called "socialized medicine, LaMarche said that patients could always "opt-out," like choosing FedEx over the U.S. Postal Service.

"You can still do all the fancy rich-people stuff," she said.

Continue reading…

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Day 2: Greens take a hard look at themselves in Durham

Posted by on Sat, Jul 25, 2009 at 1:51 PM

Day Two of the Green Party's 2009 National Meeting in Durham featured a forum on single-payer health care (though "forum" may be a stretch; the consensus was that single-payer is the best, and only, option) and press conferences introducing Green Party elected officials, and candidates, to the world.

But the real action happened in workshops, where local Green Party leaders, seated in N.C. Central University classroom chairs, licked the wounds of a contentious 2008 convention in Chicago, and pondered whether the Green Party had lost its relevance in the eyes of the public.

"As I look across this room, we're old," said George Martin, former co-chair of the Wisconsin Green Party and a founder of the Green Party Black Caucus. "Not to mention [a lack of] people of color."

Martin said the Green Party had lost its "feeder system" when Campus Greens, a national student organization, folded due to organizational mishaps, including tax trouble and having no official ties to the national party.

"We've got to go back to our roots, and we've got to go young," he said. "Let's get back to our basic organization. We are activists. We are activists because we weren't satisfied with the political system."

Continue reading…

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Ballan drops out of Wake School Board race

Posted by on Fri, Jul 24, 2009 at 3:21 PM

This post was updated at 8:20 p.m. July 24.

District 7 Wake School Board candidate Jerry Ballan dropped out of the race today, according to an email he sent the Indy in response to our candidate questionnaire. Ballan declined to give a reason for his withdrawal.

The  Wake County GOP endorsed Ballan last week. According to Gail Marold of the Wake County Republican Party, the executive committee will meet again soon to endorse another candidate. The party is expected to announce its decision no later than Monday.

The Wake Schools Community Alliance has endorsed Deborah Prickett in District 7. Marold said WSCA's "support isn’t a factor" in the GOP's endorsements.

Update: the Wake GOP's executive committee is scheduled to meet again Aug. 11. Here is a press release issued this evening by the party:

WAKE COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY COMMENTS ON JERRY BALLAN'S WITHDRAWAL FROM THE SCHOOL BOARD RACE   RALEIGH, N.C. - July 24, 2009 - Jerry Ballan has announced his withdrawal from the Wake County Board of Education race in District 7.  The Wake County Republican Party had endorsed Ballan in this race.

"On behalf of the Wake County Republican Party, we respect Jerry's personal decision to withdraw from the school board race," said Wake GOP Chairman Claude E. Pope, Jr. "We appreciate all of his hard work on his campaign as well as his position on the key issues at hand.  Jerry has been a valuable contributor to the Wake GOP and we look forward to continue working with him in our voter outreach efforts."

The Executive Committee of the Wake GOP will be meeting in the near future to discuss next steps regarding the District 7 school board election.  Ballan has chosen not to endorse the remaining two candidates, Deborah Prickett and Karen Simon.

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Day 1: Green Party's 2009 National Meeting in Durham

Posted by on Fri, Jul 24, 2009 at 9:09 AM

At first glance, the Green Party's agenda for its 2009 National Meeting in Durham is a bit, well, all over the map. Major topics include single-payer health care, mountaintop removal mining, a former presidential candidate's excursions into the Gaza Strip, and--in the words of steering committee member Holly Hart--"strategic messaging workshops and planning."

"We wanted to talk about strategy, and what messages are really resonating with the American people," Hart explained.

2009 is an off-year, so the Greens can afford to try out different strategies and see what's working--and what isn't.

On the national level, last year did not work so well. Presidential Candidate Cynthia McKinney finished sixth, behind Barack Obama, John McCain, Ralph Nader, Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin, at roughly 153,000 votes (roughly one-tenth of one percent). By contrast Ralph Nader received more than 2.8 million votes (or, 2.7 percent) as a Green Party candidate in 2000.

Green Party candidates were elected to 22 local offices throughout the country in November 2008, though most of those elections were non-partisan, according to Phil Huckleberry, chair of the Illinois Green Party.

This year, Huckleberry said 132 Greens are running for office, including "What Would Jesus Buy?" author and comic preacher Rev. Billy Talen, who is running for mayor of New York City.

In Illinois, Huckleberry said no one had ever been elected to a partisan office as a Green but "we fully intend to do that in 2010."

"Just about anything can happen," he said.

Update (7/25/09): The spelling of Rev. Billy Talen's name has been corrected.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

A victory for scooters at UNC

Posted by on Thu, Jul 23, 2009 at 2:42 PM

Following a closed-session meeting of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, the university has dramatically changed its scooter regulations. However, some scooter owners have criticized the transparency of the decision, and argue it doesn’t go far enough in encouraging students and faculty to ride the fuel-efficient vehicles. (See the June 24, 2009 Indy story, “Scooter outrage could change UNC policy.”)

The old policy would have charged between $174 and $371 for a scooter permit, depending on whether the owner is an employee, faculty member or a student. Following the Board of Trustee’s decision, UNC will charge a flat fee of $24 for all scooter permits next year, and appears willing to find secure parking spots for scooters on campus.

Steven Gordon was one of the dozen scooter owners who showed up at the Carolina Inn on Wednesday night, while the Board discussed the scooter policy change behind closed doors. Though they were not allowed inside, Gordon and others spoke afterward with Chancellor Holden Thorp.

Thorp explained the policy change to the owners, and assured them that there would be enough parking on campus for scooters. Thorp provided a map of possible parking spots for motorcycles and scooters, though Gordon called the map "outdated” and criticized UNC for not involving scooter owners in the decision.

“It’s just interesting how if this is the typical way they deal with policy at UNC, maybe it’s not intentional, but they sneak things through with a minimum amount of public input,” Gordon said. “As far as we know, no scooter rider in the community was contacted before this was voted on.”

However, at a separate meeting Thursday morning, board members invited scooter owner Brian Moynihan to speak on behalf of the community. Moynihan laid out four policy demands: a fixed fee of $24 (the price could raise as early as next year, as the new policy is currently written), an increased number of scooter parking spaces, the ability for scooters to park at bike racks, and the notification of scooter owners before the board makes any further changes.

While there was no change in the final ordinance, Moynihan said he still felt progress had been made.

“Overall, it was positive,” he said. “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we did get lasting recognition that we’re here and have concerns, and that we need to be involved in the process in the long term.”

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Elections '09: Two candidates file at the last minute in Durham

Posted by on Fri, Jul 17, 2009 at 3:36 PM

At the final hour--literally--Durham's election field expanded by two candidates, before closing at noon today:

-Durham County Republican Party Secretary John Tarantino filed to run against incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden, and Donald Hughes, in Ward 1.

-Darius Little filed to run in Ward 2 against incumbent Howard Clement, and three other challengers, after the Herald-Sun ran a story in today's paper on his lengthy rap sheet (registration required).

In his campaign filing (PDF, 72 KB), Little discloses that he has been convicted of a felony, which Little also confirmed in an interview with the Indy. Public records databases indicate that in 2006, Little was convicted of obtaining property by false pretenses and obstructing justice, both felony offenses. The Indy is obtaining court records to confirm Little's criminal record.

Little says his life experience "reflects [his] ability to understand the homeless, the underrepresented, the middle class, as well as the upper class."

Meanwhile,  Tarantino told the Indy he has "specific areas of concern ... as a homeowner, regarding the image of Durham," but declined to elaborate further.

Check back for updates.

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Elections '09, the ultimate (sur)reality show: 'Worlds Apart' contestant among new candidates

Posted by on Fri, Jul 17, 2009 at 12:18 PM

If elections are the ultimate (sur)reality show, Susana L. Dancy, who filed for Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board, is qualified to at least run for office. In Season 1 of the Fox Reality TV show, “Worlds Apart,” Dancy, her husband, Jim Rogalski, and their three children, Marshall, Taylor and Helen, “are transplanted from their pristine new home in an upscale section of Chapel Hill to live in a communal longhouse with the Tinsang family of the Iban tribe in the remote jungles of Malaysia,” the show's Web site reads. It goes on:

“Emong Tinsang and his wife, Sendie, greet the Dancy-Rogalskis with a pig that Jim must sacrifice in order to ward off evil spirits – and the adventure begins. Susana, the only breadwinner at home, grapples with the domestic responsibilities expected of her, as Jim comes face-to-face with his mid-life crisis. Marshall and Taylor are thrust into the world of Iban manhood, and little Helen serves as the voice of reason when the family has a heated discussion. New rituals, animal sacrifices and a shamanist culture test the Dancy-Rogalskis both physically and spiritually, while a cockfight, a naming ceremony and an American birthday celebration bring them closer as a family and to the Iban tribe.”

Sorry we missed it.

Until yesterday, it appeared that the Carrboro Board of Aldermen contest was going to be a snoozer, with three candidates running for three seats. Well, rise and shine: Sharon Cook who serves on the planning board and ran unsuccessfully for a board seat in 2007, is vying again for an alderman seat. She lives in the Highlands neighborhood of north Carrboro, which was forcibly annexed by the town in 2006, angering many residents in that area.

In Cary, Philip Scarsella, a controller at NeoNova Network Services in RTP, has filed to run against incumbent Julie Robison for an at-large seat on the town council. Meanwhile, District A has a new candidate, Lori Bush, whose Twitter page says she has an “insatiable curiosity for intersection of technology, public good, and fun.” John Harvilla Jr., a member of the Western Wake Republican Club, is running in District C.

Bonner Gaylord has competition in Raleigh City Council District E, and will face fellow planning commissioner Waheed Raq, Haq, who also was appointed to the N.C. Ethics Commission by Gov. Mike Easley in 2003. Because we know you’re wondering, Raq was born in Pakistan, but became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2002. He received his master’s degree in engineering from N.C. State University.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Republican Leader: If Racial Justice Act passes, 'blood thirsty criminals' win

Posted by on Thu, Jul 16, 2009 at 6:20 PM

Minority House Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) was silent during yesterday's floor debate leading up the House's 61-54 vote to approve the Racial Justice Act, which would prevent the execution of defendants who can prove race was an underlying factor in the decision to seek, or impose, the death penalty at the time of their trial.

But today, Stam fired off a press release (PDF, 142 KB) saying, essentially, that the blood of future murder victims is on the hands of the 61 Democrats who voted for the bill.

Note that's future victims--meaning they do not actually exist. Nevertheless, Stam said these hypothetical victims, which he estimates to be "150+," are "primarily African American."

Stam's figure arrived, through several permutations, from a University of Houston study that claims to be able to calculate the number of likely murders that occurred as a direct result of Texas' temporary moratorium. The study's principal argument is based on the claim--in dispute among criminologists and social scientists--that the death penalty acts as a deterrent on crime. Stam prorated the study's finding of moratorium-induced deaths--90--for North Carolina's population and the comparative length of its ongoing moratorium, in place due to legal challenges since August 2006.

In a May 2009 press release (PDF, 146 KB) co-authored by Sens. Phil Berger and Eddie Goodall, Stam claimed that each year North Carolina has had a de facto moratorium, 25 additional murders have resulted, totaling 75 murders. Yet in today's press release--which carried only Stam's name--that figure doubled, to 50 murders per year, as a "conservative estimate." Without any factual basis, Stam then estimated that the Racial Justice Act would extend the state's de facto moratorium by "3 to 4 additional years," directly leading to more than 150 additional victims.

"We do not know their names, yet, and may never know their names because this is only the excess number of homicides caused by this moratorium," Stam said. "But they are real people whose families will grieve over their deaths."

Multiple studies have shown no correlation between a death penalty and a deterrent to homicide. According to FBI statistics over the past 20 years, states without a death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates than states that do—although this data does not necessarily prove or disprove any correlation.

In addition, Stam greatly exaggerated the estimated financial impact of the Racial Justice Act. In a fiscal note attached to the bill, the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) predicted additional costs would total between $2.4 million and $6.2 million within the first year, consisting mostly of defendants already on death row, who have one year to file a claim. The N.C. Department of Justice estimated the additional costs for the 163 defendants on death row to be $4 million. By contrast, Stam claimed the bill would cost "tens of millions of dollars," due to additional hearings expenses for these defendants alone.

Continue reading…

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