Civitas Review

The Knock Out Game – Should the Behavior of Some Be Condoned Because of Age?

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Nov
26

We have all seen it in the news — the sick new fad called the “Knockout Game.”  An innocent person becomes a victim of someone who just takes a punch at someone who isn’t expecting it. How do we punish the people who are playing this “game” — and should we differentiate between juveniles and adults?

One state is looking into punishing everyone the same regardless of their age. New York —  which is often compared to North Carolina because both states consider 16-and 17-year-olds as adults when it comes to crime — is taking an approach to “Knockout” that both adults and juveniles will be punished the same way if found guilty.

The bill has been introduced by Jim Tedisco (R) a representative in the New York State Assembly.  Tedisco’s Facebook http://www.jimtedisco.com/?p=740 page looks at the issue:

Tedisco’s bill, which is being drafted, would amend New York State’s penal law to make any person regardless of their age who is convicted of knock out game individual assault or gang assault to face up to 25 years in prison (currently it’s between 4-15 years depending on the age of the defendant). The legislation would ensure that youth who “play the Knockout Game” are sentenced as adults. Those who are there and take part in the action also would be held liable.

“Killing or injuring a person with one punch is no game and the state’s criminal penalties to prosecute these dastardly individuals should not be a joke. These twisted and cowardly thugs are preying on innocent bystanders and they don’t care if the victims are young, old, a man or woman. Life isn’t a video game. These are real people whose lives are not only being put in jeopardy but in many cases destroyed,” said Tedisco.

“What’s shameful is not only that these punks are knocking out innocent people but they’re trying to rack up knockouts to impress their friends. What’s even more dangerous is they’re trying to rack up the most number of knockouts because it becomes a status symbol in the gang. The youthful cowards who think they’re some kind of ‘Big Man’ for playing this barbaric ‘Knockout Game’ should be prepared to face the long arm of the law like men,” said Tedisco.

“This bill is a deterrent because it will ensure that juveniles who commit these vicious adult crimes are tried as adults. It also ensures that any gang member who is part of a ‘knockout game’ assault – even if they don’t lay a hand on the victim – could face a long prison sentence,” said Tedisco.

“Violence like this should not be condoned no matter the age of the offender. Youth should not be an excuse for this kind of behavior and young people, as well as adults, who do this should be counted out,” said Tedisco.

When we think of legislation, should the behavior of some be condoned because of their age?

Time to Move on State Pension Reform

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Nov
25

The N&O offers up this editorial highlighting the findings of their recent series examining some eye-popping compensation packages of state government workers. Among the issues examined in the series was the practice of "spiking" – employees gaming their compensation packages to maximize their pension payouts in retirement.

Last week The News & Observer revealed this bloated upper edge of public pay in the series  “Checks Without Balances: Big pay in tough times.” The three-day series was based on the analysis of data for more than 435,000 employees from 1,216 state and local agencies.

While the agencies are public, they often are obscure. In some of those agencies, insular arrangements have allowed pay to balloon and the state pension system to be abused

Worse yet, some boards have allowed perks such as car allowances and housing allowances to be converted to salary for purposes of pension calculations.

The several community college presidents who were allowed the conversion never paid into the pension fund based on the perks’ value. Letting the value of the perks become salary in their final years of service means others in the system must subsidize their inflated pension payments.

State Treasurer Janet Cowell, who oversees the state pension fund, said the perk-to-salary conversions are legal, but suspect. She has unsuccessfully sought legislation to curb the practice. Her opposition is appropriate, but she should have been making more noise about the conversion practice.

Growing concern from Cowell and state legislators is a good first step, But merely trimming around the edges is not enough. Last year I examined NC's ailing state pension system and determined that real pension reform calls for a transformation from the current defined benefit system to a defined contribution system. Under a defined contribution system (like 401k programs most in the private sector are familiar with), the employee owns and controls their own retirement funds, and the taxpayers are no longer at risk to cover massive unfunded liabilities.

Did Hagan Just Admit to Lying About Keeping Your Plan Under Obamacare?

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Nov
21

With the Obamacare train wreck serving as a heavy anchor dragging her approval ratings down, Sen. Kay Hagan is growing ever more desperate. Now she is attempting to shift blame for her and Obama's repeated lies about people being able to keep their insurance plan if they like it onto the insurance companies.

“It wasn’t clear – and it’s very disappointing – that for the last three years insurance companies continued to sell plans that didn’t meet the basic standards of the law and didn’t tell consumers that those plans would be canceled,” Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in a statement. (emphasis added)

The first-term Democrat has declined to respond to questions about when she knew that policies would be canceled.

Huh.

So according to Hagan's office, the insurance companies should have been telling their customers that their plans were going to be cancelled – at the same time Hagan and Obama were repeatedly telling the American people that if they liked their plans, they could keep their plans, period.

How could this be so?

Is Hagan's office busted? Are they admitting that it was common knowledge among lawmakers and insurance companies three years ago that people would have to lose their plans? Is this statement proof that Hagan has been lying?

For this not to be the case, one has to believe that the insurance companies knew that people would lose their plans three years ago, but Hagan somehow did not. Or, Hagan's office is lying now about the insurance companies knowing three years ago that people would lose their plan.

Feds to NC: If You Like Your Medicaid Program, You Can Keep Your Medicaid Program. Period.

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Nov
21

Shouldn't someone holding a major statewide office, and running for higher office, understand the basics of finance and politics?

From the N&O:

State Attorney General Roy Cooper said the state should reconsider its decision to not expand Medicaid, saying Republicans “put politics over policy” to deny the state financial benefits and working poor people health insurance. … Cooper, a Democrat planning a run for governor in 2016, hit many of the pro-expansion talking points: the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion in the first three years, expansion would add jobs, and more people would have health insurance. After three years. federal support would drop gradually to 90 percent by 2020.

Memo to the AG: We do not know the future. We cannot control it. We can't control Congress. And the Federal coffers are awash in IOUs. Taking of the federal government on its "promise" to fund Medicaid is like responding to an email that promises you millions, if only you'll supply your birthdate and bank account number.

Here's a North Carolina story that illustrates this reality in miniature. According to the Associated Press:

Jo Ann Freeman says her father told her before he died to hold on to the family's Bertie County farmland because she could always live off of it, and besides, "God's not making any more." So tobacco was still growing there in 2004 when Congress ended the allotment system that gave people the right to farm and sell the golden leaf under a Depression-era price support program. In exchange, more than 400,000 right holders and farm operators nationwide would receive annual payments through 2014 for each pound of flue-cured, burley or other tobacco they were allowed to grow.

But ….

Today, people like Freeman might not benefit fully from the last annual payments. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say the payments are subject to the next round of automatic budget cuts that take effect in mid-January. The department announced Friday that sequestration cuts are poised to result in a 7.2 percent reduction — unless Congress changes its mind.

That is just one of the first foretastes of what is to come. The federal government is, officially, $17 trillion in the red. It is on the hook for tens of trillions of dollars more. More and more, Washington won't be able to meet its obligations. It's broke. It's going to renege on many, many of its promises.

Here's how it plays out with Medicaid: Budget crises will keep coming. Congress will realize that to save billions  it merely has to trim its Medicaid payments to the states. When the states howl, Congress will say: The states have to start paying their fair share. Don't you state legislators care about the poor?

 Meanwhile, there is solid proof showing that Medicaid fails to help the poor. As a new book puts it: "The medical literature reveals a $450 billion-a-year scandal: that people on Medicaid have far worse health outcomes than those with private insurance, and no better outcomes than those with no insurance at all."

North Carolina must avoid further entanglement in Medicaid until the health program's finances and practices are thoroughly reformed, and until Washington gets its own budget in order.

I'm mindful that might be a very long wait.

Arne Duncan's big brain cramp is instructive

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Nov
20

He stepped in it. Big Time. That's what U.S.Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is realizing a  few days after saying some of the pushback on Common Core was coming from "white suburban moms who — all of a sudden  – their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."

His remarks have set social media ablaze and even spawned the founding of a new group, Mothers Against Duncan (M.A.D.).  Yesterday Valerie Strauss, education columnist at the Washington Post listed an open letter from Ali Gordon,  titled "White Suburban Mom Responds to Arne Duncan.

Gordon's comments confirm a few things I had long thought:

1. Those who developed Common Core, have no idea of the problems it is creating in the lives of students and their parents.

2. The opposition to Common Core is broad and deep and defies political categories.

3. Don't mess with a mother's children.

One of Gordon's last paragraphs' is particularly poignant.

 The rest of the country is watching what we ‘suburban moms’ do now, so thanks for the shout out. One more thing you should know about me — I’m incredibly stubborn. I assure you, I won’t back down. I will not stop advocating for my children. I will not let you, or Commissioner King experiment with my child’s education because Bill Gates has lots of money to throw away. He said himself it would take a decade to see if his “education stuff” works. My kids don’t have a decade to waste on your hunches or his money.

Well said.   Although we have differences on politics, we both know Common Core is not good for our kids. Welcome to the fray, Ali.