Thursday, December 18, 2014

McCrory Gets Exposed, Has Hissy Fit

Why is this man laughing?
This was yesterday ... the Associated Press investigation uncovering the fact that Governor McCrory took $185,000 from a company his administration is supposed to regulate after he took office, and he didn't disclose the money when he had the opportunity to do so.

Apparently, the AP story stung, because the governor's office has issued four statements/press releases in the last 24 hours, all of them attacking the press for reporting what is indisputable. One of those press releases was a particularly immature, cherry-picking assault on the AP reporter which attempted to deflect the investigation by ignoring context.

ProgressNC late yesterday issued a fact-check of the governor's self-justifying press release, which, because of its detail, we choose to reproduce in toto here:

In response to AP report, McCrory continues to mislead the public
Governor blames the media instead of himself for report of questionable six-figure payout from controversial mortgage lender, offers misleading “fact-check” of AP story

RALEIGH -- On Tuesday, the Associated Press published an investigation into Gov. Pat McCrory’s $185,000 payout from a controversial mortgage broker shortly after taking office. Just 18 days later, McCrory appointed the director of the State Banking Commission as well as eight Banking Commissioners -- which raises red flags about why the payment was not mentioned on the governor’s ethics disclosure.

In response, Gov. McCrory took the tired approach of blaming the messenger and asking for more money instead of taking responsibility for his conflicts of interest and undisclosed payouts from Tree.com. He also released a “fact-check” of the AP story which attempts to further cloud an already-complicated issue and take the blame off of McCrory. That’s why Progress NC Action is “fact-checking the fact-checkers” to give you the real story -- not just the political spin from a desperate governor facing serious allegations.

[Note: Gov. McCrory’s claims are in italics and indented]

AP CLAIM: “McCrory and Sanford deny they did anything improper by accepting the payments from Tree.com, which were not fully described in their ethics statements.”

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: Governor McCrory properly filled out his ethics statement as required by law. That source of income was previously listed in another part of the 2014 SEI form; therefore, the form is in compliance with the State Ethics Act (See NCGS 138A-24A3).

The AP Report Includes the Specific Disclosures McCrory Failed to Make in Contradiction to his Claim it was Left out: “On his forms covering 2013, McCrory didn't disclose his $14,438 in fees and cash dividends from Tree.com. The forms specifically ask officials to include stock dividends and fees exceeding $5,000.” (AP, 12/16/14) Specifically, Question #10 of the 2014 Statement of Economic Interest directs filer to list each source of income over $5,000, and the question specifically lists dividends as a separate source. McCrory does not list receiving fees or dividends from Tree.com in 2013.

McCrory has Previously Admitted to Failing to Properly Disclose Duke Energy Interests on this Form. “On April 15, the day after his sales were complete, McCrory filed an ethics disclosure covering the 2013 calendar year that said he did not own Duke stock as of Dec. 31. That wasn’t the case… This week, McCrory amended the filing to reflect what it asks for, which are his holdings as of Dec. 31. Public officials who “knowingly” do not disclose information on the ethics disclosure form can face criminal penalties. McCrory signed the form as true. He had taken the State Ethics Commission’s required training on the ethics law in July 2013, according to records.” (News & Observer, 8/14/14)

AP CLAIM: “However, more than a dozen securities lawyers and ethics experts told The Associated Press that such stock payouts are uncommon for elected officials, and raise significant concerns. These experts gave differing opinions about whether laws were broken.

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: What “securities lawyers” and what “ethics experts?” Name them. Not one “expert” was named. These same “experts” said that such stock payouts are uncommon, but it's the standing board policy of Tree.com to make these payouts. Do these “experts” know that this was Tree.com's policy? Doesn't sound like it.

Cited Sources by the AP Article Include the Chair of the State Ethics Commission that McCrory Appointed and Jacob Frenkel a former Federal Prosecutor and SEC Senior Counsel. “George Wainwright, chairman of the North Carolina Ethics Commission, said he couldn't comment because the issue may become the subject of an ethics complaint.” (AP, 12/16/14)

“But ‘there is no question (this) raises a host of red flags for prosecutors and regulators,’ said Jacob Frenkel, who handled corruption cases as a federal prosecutor and served as senior counsel in the Securities and Exchange Commission's Division of Enforcement.” (AP, 12/16/14)

AP CLAIM: “AP reported that McCrory, a Duke retiree, held stock in the company as his administration made key regulatory decisions involving his former employer. Those decisions are now the subject of a federal criminal investigation.”

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: This is an outrageous accusation and this is absolutely incorrect – it is a false statement and was printed and published with malice. The AP is saying that the governor is under federal investigation and that is 100% false. Neither the governor nor anyone he hired has been subpoenaed as part of this investigation.

Over 20 Members of McCrory’s Administration Have Been Subpoenaed for a Federal Investigation as Reported by Numerous Sources Since February of 2014. “Federal prosecutors widened their investigation triggered by a massive coal ash spill in North Carolina, demanding reams of documents and ordering nearly 20 state environmental agency employees to testify before a grand jury. The subpoenas were made public by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Wednesday. They also ordered state officials to hand over any records pertaining to investments, cash or other items of value they might have received from Duke Energy or its employees… The 20 subpoenas disclosed by the state agency follow two Feb. 10 subpoenas, which were issued the day after a story by The Associated Press raised questions about a proposed deal between state officials and Duke that would have fined Duke $99,111 to settle violations over toxic groundwater contamination at two facilities.” (AP, 2/19/14)

McCrory Administration Hired Ex-Duke Lawyer to Represent Them in Coal Ash Investigation. “The lawyer hired to represent North Carolina's environmental agency during a federal investigation into its regulation of Duke Energy's coal ash dumps once represented the utility company in a different criminal probe. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has hired Mark T. Calloway of Charlotte to help respond to 20 grand jury subpoenas the agency and its employees have received after the Feb. 2 spill at Duke's Eden plant, which coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge. Duke has been issued at least two subpoenas as part of that investigation.” (AP, 3/24/14)

Republican Lawmakers Claimed McCrory’s Agency Couldn’t Regulate Coal Ash Due to “ongoing criminal investigations.” “The House’s lead negotiator on the measure, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said the state’s environmental regulators can’t regulate coal ash directly because, ‘There’s ongoing criminal investigations right now.’ A federal grand jury is investigating DENR’s actions related to coal ash.” (News & Observer, 8/20/14)

Republican Senate Leader Sen. Phil Berger Claimed McCrory was Still Attempting to Shield Duke on Coal Ash Cleanup. “But Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, thinks McCrory’s true motive has more to do with Duke Energy. ‘The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer,’ Berger said in a statement.” (News & Record, 9/14/14)

AP CLAIM: “McCrory declined requests for an interview. In a written statement McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said the governor fully complied with state law and "continues to uphold high ethical standards."

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: The AP reporter who wrote this story had dozens of chances to interview the governor. On one single occasion after letting the governor's office know about this story, he had 15 minutes of the governor's time with 3-4 other reporters where he asked two questions that weren't related to this story.

McCrory has previously “admonished” Reporters for being “disrespectful” when asked about conflicts of interests: “During the question-and-answer period after Friday's winter storm update, McCrory took exception to a reporter's question about whether he had communicated with Duke Energy or its lobbyists about his administration's intervention into those lawsuits. ‘I have had no conversations with Duke Energy about the lawsuits or about the federal action,’ McCrory responded. ‘I think some of the premise of your question is totally inaccurate.’ Visibly irritated, he added that he would ‘have [DENR] Secretary [John] Skvarla give you a call and make some of those corrections.’ Another reporter asked the governor whether his ownership of Duke Energy stock creates a conflict or the appearance of a conflict of interest for him. ‘In my 14 years as mayor of Charlotte and my one year as governor, I separate my job as governor, and I’m very proud of the job we’ve done as governor, and that regards to any company in North Carolina,’ McCrory answered.  When a reporter attempted to follow up, McCrory shouted him down. ‘Excuse me, sir! Excuse me, sir! You have not been recognized!’ When the reporter tried again, McCrory admonished him, ‘It's no time to be disrespectful.’” (WRAL, 2/14/14)

AP CLAIM: “North Carolina officials are required to disclose their business dealings and their sources of compensation on annual ethics forms. Knowingly providing false information or concealing sources of income is potentially punishable by removal from office and up to eight months in prison.”

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: What the AP fails to mention here is that the governor did nothing wrong, nor has anyone accused him of doing anything wrong, and he fully complied with state ethics laws.

McCrory has Previously Admitted to Failing to Properly Disclose Interests on this Form. “On April 15, the day after his sales were complete, McCrory filed an ethics disclosure covering the 2013 calendar year that said he did not own Duke stock as of Dec. 31. That wasn’t the case… This week, McCrory amended the filing to reflect what it asks for, which are his holdings as of Dec. 31. Public officials who ‘knowingly’ do not disclose information on the ethics disclosure form can face criminal penalties. McCrory signed the form as true. He had taken the State Ethics Commission’s required training on the ethics law in July 2013, according to records.” (News & Observer, 8/14/14)

AP CLAIM: “In a statement, Ellis said that under state law, the governor wasn't required to disclose his cash compensation from Tree.com because he had disclosed his company stock holdings earlier on the form. As for the other omissions, Ellis said the instructions on the ethics forms were unclear.”

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: The governor answered the question (19a) correctly as it was plainly written. The State Ethics Commission recognized that the form needed to be changed and voted at the last commission meeting to rephrase the question on the 2015 SEI form.

The AP Report Includes the Specific Disclosures McCrory Failed to Make in Contradiction to his Claim it was “Left Out”: “On his forms covering 2013, McCrory didn't disclose his $14,438 in fees and cash dividends from Tree.com. The forms specifically ask officials to include stock dividends and fees exceeding $5,000.” (AP, 12/16/14)

McCrory Failed to Disclose Six-Figures in Dividends From Tree.com on Question 10 of the State Ethics Form, as Reported by the Associated Press -- it is Unclear Why he is Talking About Question 19a: Question 10 of the Statement of Economic Interest, reads, as plainly written, “List each source of income (not specific amounts) of more than $5,000 received by you, your spouse, or members of your immediate family during the preceding calendar year. Include salary, wages, state/local government retirement, professional fees, honoraria, interest, dividends, rental income, business income, and other types of income required to be reported on your federal tax return.” (NC Statement of Economic Interest, State Ethics Commission, emphasis added)

AP CLAIM: “McCrory also rebuffed calls earlier this year to disclose the full value of Duke Energy stock he owned following the Dan River coal ash spill.”

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: The governor properly disclosed what he was required to by state law.

McCrory Improperly Reported Conflicts of Interest Despite Having Completed Required State Ethics Training Explaining the Disclosures. “On April 15, the day after his sales were complete, McCrory filed an ethics disclosure covering the 2013 calendar year that said he did not own Duke stock as of Dec. 31. That wasn’t the case… This week, McCrory amended the filing to reflect what it asks for, which are his holdings as of Dec. 31. Public officials who “knowingly” do not disclose information on the ethics disclosure form can face criminal penalties. McCrory signed the form as true. He had taken the State Ethics Commission’s required training on the ethics law in July 2013, according to records.” (News & Observer, 8/14/14)

McCrory Refused to Disclose Specific Value of State or Timing of Sale. “McCrory will not say how much stock he owned. Duke Energy offers employees company stock among investment choices in its 401(k) retirement plan. The company’s top executives also receive stock grants as part of their compensation. Spokesman Tom Williams said he could not comment on how McCrory obtained his Duke stock. On Wednesday, a spokesman would say only that McCrory had sold the stock sometime between Feb. 14 and April 15. On Thursday, communications director Josh Ellis narrowed that. “The stocks were sold between April 9 and April 14,” Ellis said.” (News & Observer, 8/14/14)

AP CLAIM: “Despite his Tree.com payments, McCrory did not recuse himself from naming the state banking director in the weeks before receiving his special dividend, or from naming eight commissioners to the regulatory agency 18 days later. In addition to licensing mortgage brokers, the commission investigates complaints, which are kept secret under state law unless they result in discipline.”

WHAT THE AP LEFT OUT: The governor didn't need to recuse himself as per state law. Further, the governor re-appointed the chair, which was appointed by a previous Democratic governor, and he has over 40 years of banking experience. See what Governor Bev Perdue had to say about Ray Grace: http://www.nccob.gov/public/docs/News/Press%20Releases/Grace_nomination_press_release.pdf

“The second type of corruption that we must change however is a different type of culture is in that gray area.  But I don’t think it’s a gray area in big government.  And that’s an area in which we have a conflict – a climate of conflicts of interest.” –Pat McCrory (NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, 9/16/08)

ASU Research Centers Under Threat of Extinction

A six-person committee of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors (BOG) is weighing the fate of three research centers at Appalachian State University as part of a much larger review of some 34 centers across the entire University of North Carolina system. Savvy observers have noticed that many of the targeted centers study groups and issues that are anathema to Art Pope and the Civitas Institute.

All 32 members of the UNC Board of Governors were appointed by the Republican pooh-bahs in the General Assembly. The six-member "hit squad," drawn from those 32, are all Republicans, save one who is unaffiliated. These six people will issue recommendations next month, at which time the full BOG "could choose to validate these centers, cut their funding, roll them into existing university departments or disband them entirely."

"We have no political agenda," said the chair of the hit squad. (Dearest Mr. Chairman: We may have fallen off the turnip truck yesterday, but we didn't fall on our head.)

Three research centers at Appalachian State University are on the list of 34 for intensive review. Two are housed in the ASU College of Business: Brantley Risk and Insurance Center and the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis. The third is much more central to the disdain of the Civitas Institute: the Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics, where there's a heavy emphasis on alternative energy and "sustainability," ancient bugbears to the market fundamentalists at the Civitas Institute.

We'll know in January just how free of "political agenda" the hit squad was.

Meanwhile, at other UNC institutions, research centers that focus on women, native Americans, poverty, economic equality, civil rights -- they're also awaiting their fates. As their missions seem "counter to the agenda of the Republican-controlled state legislature," as Sam DeGrave wrote, the personnel at those research centers might best be looking at job openings in other states that haven't yet turned backward.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

McCrory Got a Big Sloppy Wet Kiss from a Crooked Mortgage Lender

This lead paragraph sums it up:
CHARLOTTE — Soon after taking office, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina accepted six-figure stock payouts from an online mortgage broker accused by regulators of deceiving its customers....
Don't you just love the smell of sweetheart deals in the morning?

But this is the "money graph":
In the months after receiving his $171,071 payout of stock from Tree.com, McCrory appointed the state's banking director and a majority of the banking commissioners who regulate mortgage brokers.
And this:
Some of Tree.com's payments to McCrory and Sanford weren't publicly disclosed until May 2014, when the company filed its 2013 year-end proxy statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
McCrory is now dodging the press. Soon we'll be hearing about how he's out stepping on toes all over the place.

It's Now Open-Season on Boone's Steep Slopes

Last night the Watauga County Commission, under a new Republican chair Jimmy Hodges, voted unanimously to impose a 90-day moratorium on the former Boone Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) for the following types of land-uses only:
Asphalt Plants
Electricity Generating Facilities
Propane or Gasoline Bulk Storage Facilities
Chip Mills
Explosives Manufacturing
Chemical Manufacturing
Chemical Storage Facilities
Fuel Oil Bulk Storage Facilities
Electric Substations
Cement Mixing Facilities
Commercial/Industrial development with aggregate building footprint 50,000 square feet or greater
Though many ETJ residents who spoke during the public hearing mentioned large college student apartment complexes as a major concern in their ETJ neighborhoods, the moratorium does not apply to large college student apartment complexes, nor to single-family and other multi-family residences.

Perhaps that's why there was no pushback at the public hearing from big developers. None of them are planning to build any of the above, when the big money is to be made from renting space to college students. Even Phil Templeton piously said he was in favor of this particular moratorium, because it clearly does not apply to what he has in mind.

Of course, this moratorium could be quickly mooted by the three-judge panel in Raleigh that is considering the town of Boone's legal challenge to Senator Dan Soucek's ETJ power-grab.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jeb Bush Comes Out of the Closet. But ... Oh My!

Jeb Bush finally 'fessing up that he's "considering" a run for president ... the great promoter of Common Core.

Wait until the folks find out about how he's been laying the groundwork to create "a borderless international society" via Agenda 21.

Friday, December 12, 2014


David Horsey, LA Times

Fat Cats Are Purring This Morning

Merry Christmas, Wall Street!

You rolled the president again, got rid of a part of Dodd-Frank in the "cromnibus" so you can once again take huge risks on derivatives and get a guaranteed government bailout when everything goes south. Sweet!

You bet that Virginia Foxx voted for The Omnibus All-the-Crap-You-Can-Eat Budget Bill. She does not buck the establishment. The rest of the Republicans in the North Carolina delegation voted "yes" too, except for Walter Jones (who does buck the establishment, regularly) and Mark Meadows, the tea-bagger from the NC-11.

Also voting "yes"-- and it's a puzzlement -- was Democrat David Price. The other three Democrats from North Carolina -- Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield, and even Mike McIntyre -- voted "no." Since the Omnibus Crap Fest needed 218 votes and barely got 219, we've decided to blame everything on David Price. Or Virginia Foxx. Yeah, Foxx is better! The wicked step-mother of woe.

Maybe Price got one of those calls from President Obama last night before the vote. The president was "whipping" Democrats to get them to vote yes, according to Rep. Maxine Waters, along with J.P. Morgan's chief executive Jamie Dimon, who was also whipping Democrats. When it comes to Wall Street, you can successfully whip some Democrats with wet noodles, let alone with CEO Jamie Dimon.

The Democrat who comes out of this colossal cluster-f**k with her integrity intact is Elizabeth Warren, who highlighted what was transpiring and tried to rally the troops. Of course, the Senate will pass this bilge later today over her objections, but as a voice for the people, Warren's standing is only enhanced.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

NC Cities: Get Ready For Another Round of Torture

It is no secret that the Republican power-base in North Carolina in mainly rural. The cities generally vote Democratic, and the Republican-dominated General Assembly has shown every willingness to punish certain cities for that sinfulness.

Boone loses its Extraterritorial Jurisdiction. Check! Asheville loses its water system without compensation. Check! Charlotte loses its airport. Check! (All of these laws are being challenged in court, and their final disposition is unclear.)

Now comes advance warning that the General Assembly intends to redistribute sales tax revenues to benefit rural counties and starve the urban. From this morning's News&Observer:
RALEIGH — A redistribution of local sales tax revenue to benefit poor counties is on the agenda for legislative leaders preparing for the session that begins in January.
At a lunch Wednesday sponsored by the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown talked about shifting local tax revenues to help rural counties.
Shades of what Nathan Miller and the Watauga County Commission did to Boone last year. There's always spite and revenge running deep under any professed concern for the plight of The Rural, and there is a plight of The Rural that needs to be addressed. It just needs to be attended to without crippling the urban economic engine that lights the lights.

A comment posted on the N&O article highlights at least one irony:
If you redistribute income tax from the wealthy to the poor that is socialism and punishing the successful. But when you take money from successful counties and give to your poor county, that is considered good tax policy? Well no one said conservatives were consistent.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Is This Woman Laughing?

MSNBC
Nicole Wallace was President George W. Bush's chief of communications, and now she's a regular panel member on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Yesterday, with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s so-called torture report still hours from public release, Wallace had an emotional tantrum at the very thought that anyone -- well, "liberals" mainly -- would object to what went on during her former boss's regime.

So Wallace led off her tantrum, waving the bloody flag of 9/11: "In the history of this country, I think months after 9/11, there were three people who we thought knew about imminent attacks and we did whatever we had to do.” Three people? Not according to the report. Wallace then did what every conservative does, invoked God on the side of torture and "American exceptionalism":  “I pray to God that until the end of time, we do whatever we have to do to find out what’s happening.” It was “asinine” and “dangerous,” she added, to claim that systematic torture “makes America less great,” because God, as we know, supports everything our exceptional nation does. 

All that matters, Wallace argued, is whether torture “help[s] us kill people who want to kill us.” But liberals, she complained, want to focus on “political correctness” — i.e., not committing war crimes.

“I don’t care what we did,” Wallace ended, thus admitting, inadvertently and unnecessarily, that she didn't know what she was even talking about.

I don't care what we did. That statement effectively sums up the public stance of her former boss, not to mention his cumulative intellectual acuity.

It also sums up, apparently and unfortunately, the limpness of the Obama administration's decision not to prosecute anything done during the previous administration, from bank fraud to "rectal feeding" of prisoners.

Let's bring I don't care what we did into the present tense: I don't care what we do. Obama pursues his drone-attack program, with all its lovely collateral damage, as though six, seven years from now another Senate Intelligence Committee report won't be detailing how heinous it all in fact was.