Wednesday News: Let the sunshine in


LAW THAT SHIELDS POLICE DEATH INVESTIGATIONS TO BE REVISED: “It may not have been anticipated by some, but SB 168 appears to invite less transparency into death investigations by Medical Examiners instead of more,” said Mike Tadych, a Raleigh attorney who frequently represents news organizations on public records issues. “It’s clear that our society is demanding greater access to information about deaths occurring while people are in police custody. Thus, it’s hard to reconcile making this change now.” If an unnatural or unexpected death is deemed to be under medical examiner jurisdiction, related records are then passed to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Such records include death investigations by law enforcement. When those investigative records, which are exempt from public records law, leave law enforcement hands they become public. SB 168 would change that, mandating death investigation records remain confidential when they reach the medical examiner.

NC'S UNEMPLOYMENT WOES DATE BACK TO 2013 REPUBLICAN POLICY CHANGES: For decades, North Carolina’s program was in the middle of the pack. Then came the rise of the Tea Party and James Arthur Pope, a retail heir who’s been a major funder for the state’s libertarian movement. In 2010, Republicans took control of both houses in the legislature and in 2012, secured the governorship, putting the GOP in full command of the state for the first time since Reconstruction. Among the first items on the new administration’s agenda was an overhaul of the state’s unemployment program. In less than two weeks, the GOP supermajority passed HB 4, a bill that made the deepest cut to any state’s unemployment compensation in American history. “In terms of governing, this was the Republicans’ coming out party,” said Mac McCorkle, a former Democratic political consultant who now teaches at Duke University. The bill slashed the duration of benefits and lowered maximum weekly payment amount from $535 to $350. It also changed how benefits were calculated — from the highest quarter of a claimant’s earnings in the last year to an average of the most recent two quarters. Since many workers have their hours and pay reduced in the quarter prior to layoffs, this resulted in smaller payouts. At the end of 2019, the national average for weekly payments was $378; in North Carolina, it was $277.

CUNNINGHAM GOES AFTER TILLIS FOR BLOCKING MEDICAID EXPANSION IN NC: “Just one year ago this week, give or take, he was still proudly saying that he was the speaker who made it illegal for the governor to expand Medicaid, and then he has voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion is one of the key pieces of that important law,” Cunningham said in a video interview with McClatchy on Thursday. The Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, allowed for states to expand Medicaid eligibility as part of its effort to extend health care coverage to all Americans. North Carolina is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid. When Tillis was speaker of the House, Republicans passed a bill in 2013 prohibiting Medicaid expansion without action by the lawmakers. It also stopped the state from running its own health benefit exchange. Tillis has taken credit for being the one to stop Medicaid expansion in the state, both at the time and more recently. “We’re in the middle of a public pandemic and public health is a crisis and North Carolina has one of the highest percent of uninsured in the country because we’re one of the states that has not expanded Medicaid,” Cunningham told McClatchy.

STATES ARE CLOSING BARS AND POOLS AGAIN DUE TO SURGE IN CORONAVIRUS: Staggered by the resurgent novel coronavirus, cities and states are reinstituting restrictions on bars, pools and large gatherings days ahead of July 4 celebrations as the top U.S. infectious-disease expert warned Tuesday that the pandemic is out of control in some places and soon could reach 100,000 cases a day. Nationally, new infections have topped 40,000 in four of the past five days during an accelerating outbreak that exceeds the worst days of April. The number of people hospitalized with covid-19, the disease the virus causes, is surging in seven states, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. In Texas, Arizona, Nevada, South Carolina, West Virginia, Georgia and California, seven-day averages are up at least 25 percent from last week. Over 10.4 million coronavirus cases have been detected worldwide, with roughly 2.6 million infections reported in the United States. Almost 125,000 people have died of covid-19 in the United States, and the global death count is hovering near 510,000. The United States is leading the world in officially confirmed infections and fatalities as it continues to see surges in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in many states.

FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS PROVE RUSSIA PAID BOUNTIES TO TALIBAN: American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence. Though the United States has accused Russia of providing general support to the Taliban before, analysts concluded from other intelligence that the transfers were most likely part of a bounty program that detainees described during interrogations. Investigators also identified by name numerous Afghans in a network linked to the suspected Russian operation, the officials said — including, two of them added, a man believed to have served as an intermediary for distributing some of the funds and who is now thought to be in Russia. Afghan officials this week described a sequence of events that dovetailed with the account of the intelligence. They said that several businessmen who transfer money through the informal “hawala” system were arrested in Afghanistan over the past six months and were suspected of being part of a ring of middlemen who operated between the Russian intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U., and Taliban-linked militants. The businessmen were arrested in what the officials described as sweeping raids in the north of Afghanistan as well as in Kabul. A half-million dollars was seized from the home of one of the men, added a provincial official. The New York Times had previously reported that the recovery of an unusually large amount of cash in a raid was an early piece in the puzzle that investigators put together.



Speaking of Putin...

Russia is amending its Constitution to allow him to rule until 2036:

Nearly six months after President Vladimir Putin first suggested a raft of constitutional changes, Russians voted Wednesday on the culmination of an agenda to keep the president in power until 2036.

Russia’s parliament had already greenlighted the constitutional amendments which, among other things, will give Putin a clean slate of presidential terms, meaning he can run two more times after his current one expires in 2024. So a public vote wasn’t necessary, except that Putin insisted on it. A big turnout was just as important to the Kremlin symbolically as the expected positive result.

“Putin is using the public vote to make ordinary people his accomplices in extending his rule and sanctioning the domination of an ultraconservative ideology,” wrote Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow and the chairman of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

He will still have to run in two more elections to remain in power, but considering his opponents have a habit of finding themselves in jail and removed from the ballot...

Happy birthday

But you're nowhere near an old man, young feller.

Geremy is not happy.