To the Republican Victors Go the Tax-Dollar Spoils

Tues., June 29: Hannah-Jones finally gets a vote + GOP budget rewards GOP counties + NC State’s actions have consequences + Juul pays up + NC’s weird drug tax + America’s scary authoritarianism

+6 BIG STORIES

1. UNC Trustees Will Finally Vote on NHJ

The long, embarrassing saga of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s tenure application appears likely to be resolved at a special meeting of the UNC Board of Trustees tomorrow, NC Policy Watch scoops.

Last week Lamar Richards, UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President and board of trustees member, petitioned for a special meeting of the board to discuss Hannah-Jones’s tenure.

Late Monday, UNC Media Relations confirmed a special meeting on Wednesday at 3 p.m. in the Hill Ballroom at the Carolina Inn.

The meeting is anticipated to go into closed session pursuant to North Carolina Open Meetings Law provisions, according to the announcement.

Hannah-Jones has said she won’t teach at UNC-Chapel Hill without tenure, and her attorneys have threatened a federal lawsuit if the BOT denies her application.

  • The BOT evidently punted on her application because the Republican powers-that-be in the General Assembly and on the Board of Governors—same thing, really—along with j-school megadonor/objectivity cop Walter Hussman Jr. aren’t fond of the 1619 Project.

  • In a thread on Sunday, Durham attorney, minor Twitter celebrity, and former BOG member T. Greg Doucette—who is very well-sourced on UNC matters—said, among other things, that NHJ has the votes.

He also said that a (maybe-drunk) member of the UNC BOG called the chairman of the UNC Board of Trustees and told him to offer “the 1619 girl” $5 million to go away. (The UNC BOT chair later denied talking to the BOG guy.)

Read the thread here.


2. NC Senate Budget Gives to R Counties, Stiffs Dems

Of the 216 earmarks included in the NC Senate budget, totaling at least $765 million, less than 10% go to counties represented by Democrats—and half of the Dems’ share goes to counties repped by two of the four Dems who voted with Republicans for the budget.

  • Budget writer Sen. Brent Jackson, whose three-county district netted almost $66 million in earmarked projects—$20 million more than any other Republican—told the N&O the state’s biggest needs are in rural areas, which is true.

  • However: “The budget has no direct appropriations for nine counties in northeastern North Carolina represented by Sens. Toby Fitch, D-Wilson, and Ernestine Bazemore, D-Bertie. Those counties are some of the state’s poorest by N.C. Department of Commerce rankings, and five have majority Black populations.”

  • Senate Majority Leader Dan Blue said when Republicans asked Democrats to send over their priorities, “Democrats submitted our requests on behalf of all North Carolinians, not just on behalf of our districts.”


3. The Politicization of Bad Decisions

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I played baseball in high school. I wasn’t destined for the majors or anything, but the team was pretty good. And due to a well-timed hot streak and a bit of good luck, during my senior year, we made it to the state final four.

A few days before the finals, on our last day of class, a bunch of seniors, being 17 or 18 and stupid, started a pretty epic/dumb food fight during lunch. The school wasn’t amused and suspended maybe a half-dozen people—it should have included me, but I escaped—which, since we were done with classes, effectively meant they couldn’t go on the senior class trip (to Europe; it was a private school) and couldn’t walk during graduation.

For the ones on the baseball team, it also meant they couldn’t play in the finals. So we played the semi-final down four starters and lost a game we should have won in extra innings. Winning would have meant playing the Miami baseball factory that produced Alex Rodriguez and won its semi like 26-0, so we probably just spared ourselves humiliation. Still, having worked toward the Final Four all year, and knowing that was the end of my baseball career, the whole thing felt damned unfair.

I thought about that story when I saw that N.C. State had been kicked out of the College World Series because too many players had tested positive for COVID. It’s not the same thing, obviously. But I’m sympathetic to their misfortune, especially those who won’t get another chance.

Then again, [age redacted] me is more aware than 18-year-old me of a simple fact of life: actions have consequences.

  • Wolfpack players chose not to get vaccinated. The coach didn’t think it was his place to force the issue. They knew players would be tested in Omaha.

  • Actions. Consequences.

To various degrees of absurdity, state Republicans immediately turned the Wolfpack into the World’s Biggest Victims.

  • Rep. Dan Bishop: “The pandemic is over. This arbitrary decision to end the Wolfpack’s season off the field was wrong on every level.”

  • Sen. Thom Tillis: “The NCAA has once again embarrassed itself. The players, coaches, students, and fans deserve so much better.”

But no one has beclowned himself more than Pat McCrory, who is trying to rebrand himself as a culture warrior en route to what I’m fairly certain will be a third-place, 11% finish in next year’s Senate primary.

  • “The NCAA may have tried to cancel the NC State Wolfpack, but we won't let their nonsense continue. Sign our petition to DEMAND the NCAA President be FIRED and that NC State be able to compete for a championship!” he tweeted.

  • He told the N&O: “If they had some consistency in the application of rules, maybe they would be credible. But they don’t, which [makes] you wonder: how much of this is for appearance and nothing more?”

  • Then: “They boycotted North Carolina over a political issue. And yet, they continue to have relationships with other states and China and Nike. They’re in bed with Nike, who is in bed with China. It’s amazing inconsistency.”

  • McCrory is referring to HB2, which he brushes aside as a “political issue.” But the Nike = China thing has some real Glenn Beck’s Chalkboard vibes going, no?

This isn’t to say the NCAA is faultless, or that it has ever done anything for student-athletes’ well-being beyond mouthing platitudes while exploiting their free labor for billions of dollars. There are few things the NCAA manages not to screw up, and a vague 2 a.m. press release announcing N.C. State’s disqualification from Saturday’s game—but no explanation of why the team was allowed to play on Friday—wasn’t a break from the norm.

But that doesn’t change the basic equation, as Luke DeCock pointed out:

  • “So if more N.C. State players were vaccinated, more would be available to play. If they all were, the Wolfpack would almost certainly still be playing.”

OTHER COLLEGE SPORTS NEWS

With more than 20 states enacting laws to allow student-athletes to profit from the use of their name, image, and likeness, the NCAA Division I Council recommended that the organization end its rules against benefiting from talent and fortune.

  • “The 24-member NCAA Division I Board of Directors will review that historic recommendation Wednesday.” (WaPo)

Faced with the prospect of athletes playing under different sets of rules depending on the state in which they attended college, the 40-member NCAA Division I Council, comprised largely of athletic directors from various universities, sought to even the playing field by suspending the policy that prohibited athletes from benefiting financially in such a way. It said that the athletes could employ “a professional services provider for NIL activities,” and that athletes should report all such endeavors “consistent with state law or school and conference requirements to their school.”


4. Juul Settles E-Cig Suit for $40M

In May, Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ruled that e-cig maker Juul had destroyed documents and ignored court orders, eviscerating Juul’s defense in the case brought against the company by Attorney General Josh Stein and leaving Juul vulnerable to an $80 million judgment.

On Monday, the state announced a settlement for $40 million.

In the lawsuit, the first filed by a state, Stein accuses Juul Labs Inc., which at one time had 75% of the e-cigarette market, of unlawfully marketing and selling its products to youth.

The lawsuit contends that Juul used a sleek device and sweet flavors that deliver a substance that is highly addictive and sold products to youth, reversing a historic decline in teen tobacco use. (N&O)

Stein, plotting his run for governor, scored the first judgment against Juul.

  • Stein: “Juul sparked and spread a disease, the disease of nicotine addiction. They did it to teenagers across North Carolina and this country, simply to make money. Their greed is not only reprehensible, it is unlawful and that is why I took action.”

  • Stein has sued eight other e-cig makers, but Juul was by far the largest.

  • Nine other states have also sued. A coalition of 39 additional states is investigating, a precursor to a lawsuit.


5. TIL: North Carolina Has a Trap “Drug Tax”

Let’s say you buy 1.5 ounces of weed. Let’s say the cops bust you—that’s a felony amount, but just barely—and you plead down to a misdemeanor, pay a fine, and go about your life. Or maybe the DA doesn’t press charges for some reason. It doesn’t really matter.

And then, a year or several years later, you discover that you owe the state $148.75 in back taxes—plus penalties and interest. Welcome to the Unauthorized Substances Tax, the weirdest damn thing I’ve seen in a minute.

From NC Policy Watch:

Since its passage in 1989, the Drug Tax has legally required anyone who comes into possession of designated amounts of certain drugs to, within 48 hours, buy stamps from the North Carolina Department of Revenue and affix them to the drug’s packaging. Mind you, this won’t save anyone from criminal charges. The stamps, in theory, will only prevent someone from having the deeply unpleasant experience (which thousands of North Carolinians endure every year) of discovering, sometimes years after the fact, that they owe tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes, penalties, and interest on the unpaid stamp tax. 

Yet, not only has North Carolina failed consistently over the past three decades to actively inform the public of the tax’s existence, the state outright precludes people from purchasing the stamps at all. The state waits until an unsuspecting person is found with a couple ounces of marijuana, a handful of unprescribed pills, or maybe even a flask of moonshine. 

Then, regardless of whether that person is convicted of a crime, NCDOR starts charging them back taxes, penalties and interest. The state can then garnish that person’s wages, repossess her car, her home, her jewelry, any valuables at all, and auction off her belongings until her “debt” is paid in full. …

Bottom line: North Carolina does not want you to follow the law. Only about 0.02% of the total revenue generated from the tax (approximately $35,000 out of $175 million) has come from people actually buying stamps. The state seems to have deemed entrapment a much more lucrative practice. The state collects about $6.5-$11.5 million from this scheme every year, 75% which goes to the police departments responsible for reporting the drugs (yes, you read that correctly) and 25% goes to the state. 

This is a drop in the bucket for the state budget, but it is a devastating cost to the low-income communities. People are returning to their communities under the weight of Drug Tax debt that can range from the tens of thousands of dollars to as high as five million dollars. This burden falls squarely on the shoulders of families of color, people suffering from substance abuse disorders, and neighborhoods that for decades have been segregated, economically isolated, and largely left to fend for themselves. 

Needless to say, this is insane.

Also insane: Unless I’m reading this wrong (see page 28), Clarence Thomas—yes, that one—thinks the federal government’s quasi-ban on marijuana is unconstitutional.

Once comprehensive, the Federal Government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana. This contradictory and unstable state of affairs strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary. …

This disjuncture between the Government’s recent laissez-faire policies on marijuana and the actual operation of specific laws is not limited to the tax context. Many marijuana-related businesses operate entirely in cash because federal law prohibits certain financial institutions from knowingly accepting deposits from or providing other bank services to businesses that violate federal law. Cash-based operations are understandably enticing to burglars and robbers. But, if marijuana-related businesses, in recognition of this, hire armed guards for protection, the owners and the guards might run afoul of a federal law that imposes harsh penalties for using a firearm in furtherance of a “drug trafficking crime.” A marijuana user similarly can find himself a federal felon if he just possesses a firearm. Or petitioners and similar businesses may find themselves on the wrong side of a civil suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

I could go on. Suffice it to say, the Federal Government’s current approach to marijuana bears little resemblance to the watertight nationwide prohibition that a closely divided Court found necessary to justify the Government’s blanket prohibition in Raich. If the Government is now content to allow States to act “as laboratories” “‘and try novel social and economic experiments,’” then it might no longer have authority to intrude on “[t]he States’ core police powers … to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens.” A prohibition on intrastate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the Federal Government’s piecemeal approach.

The case was Standing Akimbo LLC v. United States. In short, the IRS was auditing a medical marijuana dispensary because it might have taken deductions that every other type of business can but cannabis business cannot. Standing Akimbo objected, arguing that the info the IRS wanted could expose it to federal criminal charges. 

  • The Court declined to hear an appeal of a decision from the 10 Circuit, which ruled that Standing Akimbo had to turn over the documents.

OTHER SCOTUS NEWS

The Supreme Court also refused to hear an appeal in Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, letting stand lower-court rulings that allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that accord with their gender identity.

NC Policy Watch:

Justices on the top court offered no comment in declining to take up the case of Gavin Grimm, who was required to use alternative bathroom facilities while a student at Virginia’s Gloucester High School in 2014.

With help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Grimm, who is now an adult, sued the school board. The Supreme Court was expected to review the case in 2017, but sent it back for reconsideration after the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students’ rights.

Since then, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit have both ruled in favor of Grimm, whose case has drawn national attention.

  • Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito wanted to hear the appeal.


6. The American Right Is Off-the-Charts Authoritarian

I write a lot about authoritarianism not because I think the word is a clever epithet—it’s not a winking synonym for “fascist,” though fascists were extreme right-wing authoritarians—but because it defines modern American politics. Authoritarianism has consumed one political party, and (fecklessly) responding to authoritarianism has consumed the other.

New data from Global Morning Consult shows just how authoritarian the American right has become compared to the rest of the world. The answer: a lot.

  • “[Authoritarianism researcher Bob] Altemeyer defines authoritarianism as the desire to submit to some authority, aggression that is directed against whomever the authority says should be targeted and a desire to have everybody follow the norms and social conventions that the authority says should be followed.”

Look at this:

The U.S. as a whole is more authoritarian than every other compared country, in part because its purported centrists are authoritarian—the U.S. “middle” is everyone else’s right-wing—but mostly because its right is off-the-charts.

  • “The test found a number of other striking results: The 39-point gap in right-wing authoritarian scores between America’s left and right was more pronounced than it was in any of the other countries included, though the test also revealed a 30-point gap between the right and left in Canada and 28-point differences between the two groups in Australia and the United Kingdom.”

People with high levels of right-wing authoritarianism are likely to be older, white, live in rural areas, and have comparatively low education levels. They’re also more likely than the general population to think Joe Biden won via fraud and discount the value of vaccines and masks.

These divides all seem to stem from the same dynamic: leaders in the political and media spaces exacerbating tensions and differences for political gain. That’s a difficult problem to stop, especially when the political incentives and inertia of the moment suggest that voters may just move on to “the craziest son of a bitch in the race,” as dubbed by conservative Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) in a March 2017 Washington Examiner article.

Thomas Costello, a psychological scientist at Emory University who studies authoritarianism, said “it seems like there is just a small minority of the population that is really sensitive” to alienation and fear toward people of different ethnicities and political and religious views, and “it exacerbates latent authoritarian tendencies.”

“I don’t know if you can change that in the same way that I don’t know that you can change someone’s height, or their level of extraversion,” he said. “But what you can do is try to mitigate the sense of the threat and the sense of difference that exacerbates authoritarianism.”