Civitas Review

Greensboro to Public: 'Ashley' Emails Not Your Business

Sep
02

Imagine you own a business, and you find out one of your employees has been using his or her company email to link to Ashley Madison, the website that supposedly arranges affairs between married people.

Over at NC Capitol Connection, Matt Caulder has been looking into government emails that have turned up in a hack of the site. He encountered a startling claim by a municipal government: Email apparently sent via a City of Greensboro account to Ashley Madison supposedly is none of the public's business.

And we thought that public employees are employees of the public.

Here's the crux of the issue: The people deserve to know what their employees are doing.

Let's look at it another way: Let's say an employee is using his Greensboro city email, during business hours, to play World of Warcraft for hours on end.

If you're that employee's boss, that's your business. And we the people of North Carolina are his boss. That makes his time playing video games our business.

And if a government employee was using city resources, and perhaps time, to try to set up some hanky-panky, that's our business.

That's why Ashley Madison-connected emails are public records. It's not whether the email itself concerned official business. The whole point is that the email itself didn't concern public business — and that is a misuse of public resources (and, possibly, time).

Lady Liberty fastballs Gene Nichol

Sep
01

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For the past several years we’ve chronicled how UNC law professor Gene Nichol has used taxpayer-funded resources for political purposes and encouraged political activism (See here, here and here).

It’s always encouraging when others join in.  Yesterday Lady Liberty, wrote a blistering response to Nichol’s op-ed, NC Teachers being voluntarily exploited and points where she points the three individuals who claim to be underpaid and “just teachers” aren’t really poor at all.

Bull’s eye.  A little outrage coupled with some good research skills can go a long way.

Well done, Lady Liberty.

NC ACT scores do not measure up.

Aug
31

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Last week the College Board released ACT scores. The ACT is designed to measure how well high school graduates are prepared for college and careers.

A review of the 2015 data suggests the Tar Heel state has a lot of work to do.

While state-t0-state comparisons are always tricky, For sake of comparison, it should be noted that North Carolina is one of 13 states where all students are required to take the ACT.

When compared to the 12 other states that require the exam, North Carolina was tied with Mississippi for the lowest composite score (19.0).  North Carolina’s average composite score in 2014 was 18.9. The average composite score of states that tested 100 percent of students in 2015 was 19.9.

t. The percentage of North Carolina students meeting benchmark scores by subject area also lagged behind other states that require the ACT. The percentage of North Carolinians who met benchmark scores and national scores in each subject area include: English; 47 percent (National: 64 percent);  Reading: 34 percent (National: 46 percent); Math: 32 percent (National: 42 percent) and Science: 26 percent (National: 38 percent).

North Carolina benchmark scores  fall within the bottom quarter of results for all four subjects areas.

This is not good news. Especially when you consider North Carolina has been teaching Common Core standards since 2011 with the express purpose of improving what students learn and making students more college and career ready. The test scores show that's not happening.

N&O Slays Straw Man to Avoid Actual Arguments

Aug
26

Rob Christensen in this article takes the typical progressive debate tactic of completely mischaracterizing an opposing viewpoint, and then addressing that conjured up caricature rather than the actual arguments presented.

In this case, the topic is unemployment insurance. In an article discussing a potential bill that would require unemployment benefit recipients to make five contacts inquiring about work per week – an increase from the current mandate of two per week – Christensen yet again plays "slay the imaginary straw man." First, the conjured up caricature:

There is also a view among some conservatives that unemployment insurance is, in the words of the Civitas Institute, “paying people not to work.’’

There are apparently some people who believe the American worker is a slug just waiting for a chance to sit on his or her duff.

Notice the leap he takes. The first part is true, I have described unemployment benefits as "paying people not to work." By definition, that's what UI benefits do. But to somehow conclude that making such a true statement transfers to a belief that "the American worker is a slug" is ridiculous.

By stating that UI benefits pay people not to work, we are merely underscoring the fact that incentives matter to human behavior. The old adage goes: "the more you subsidize something, the more of that activity you will get" rings true. Lobbyists for renewable energy get paid a lot of money to exploit this fact of human action. More subsidies for solar farms means more solar farms. In turn, more subsidies for unemployment means more unemployment.

Providing someone with, say $300 a week in UI benefits for zero hours of labor makes working 40 hours a week for, say, $350 a week far less attractive, relatively speaking. The marginal benefit comes out to $1.25 an hour for taking the job.

Moreover, there is plenty of scholarly evidence to back up what is basic common sense. I guess Christensen believes that former Obama economic advisor Larry Summers simply believes the American worker is a "slug" when Summers concludes: "The second way government assistance programs contribute to long-term unemployment is by providing an incentive, and the means, not to work. Each unemployed person has a 'reservation wage'—the minimum wage he or she insists on getting before accepting a job. Unemployment insurance and other social assistance programs increase that reservation wage, causing an unemployed person to remain unemployed longer."

Christensen is either too lazy or simply intellectually incapable of refuting the actual arguments that don't fit his narrative. Instead he goes down the well-worn path of arguing against a false narrative that he himself conjures up.

Ashley Madison Fallout Hits North Carolina

Aug
26

NC Capitol Connection was the first to uncover over 100 email addresses belonging to NC state government employees that turned up in a hack of the member database of the Ashley Madison website, which aims to arrange adulterous affairs.

Reporter Matt Caulder, who broke the story last week, has spent hours upon hours manually searching this database by domain name. Caulder is currently searching the database by municipality, starting with the most populous and working down, and more addresses continue to pop up.

Included in the hack are:

  • NC Dept. of Health and Human Services
  • NC Dept. of Transportation
  • Guilford County
  • Durham County
  • City of Raleigh
  • City of Charlotte
  • Multiple NC school districts

For most, possibly all, of these employees, using their government email account for any personal use whatsoever is a direct violation of official policy. Therefore, Caulder has been contacted by officials requesting specific names of individuals whose names and email addresses he uncovered in the Ashley Madison database.

Our policy thus far has been to keep the individuals’ names private unless requested by the owners of the domains in question. It remains to be seen what the consequences will be for these state and local employees, but so far we have had requests from Moore County, Bladen Co. Schools, and Beaufort County officials for a list of their employees who were in the database.

The media have widely covered our story, as shown in the clips below, including an ABC11 interview with Civitas President Francis De Luca.

ABC11

WNCN

Note a particular point he makes: A public employee accessing such web sites is exposing a trove of private information to hackers. Every time a government worker uses a taxpayer-funded computer and government email to log on to a sleazy website, he or she is making personal information vulnerable to thieves who have no scruples about using it to commit fraud, or publishing it for the world to see.

As we have said repeatedly, this scandal is not about individuals’ behavior, but about the misuse of the resources you pay for with your taxes and how the most intimate information about you may be exposed. This is why we are cooperating with governments investigating these incidents. And, ultimately, that’s why governments can and should be smaller and should meddle less in our lives.

Demi Dowdy

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