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Slate on Lance Stephenson: “The Human Red Flag”

Yup, you read that right. The article by Jack Hamilton is here, and that indeed is the title. Sample quotes:

But the most striking thing about Stephenson’s free agency was that the vast majority of NBA teams didn’t want him. By the time he signed on Wednesday, his options had reportedly dwindled to two: remain in Indiana with the Pacers, the only NBA team Stephenson has ever known and one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, or go to Charlotte, Michael Jordan’s middling vanity project, for fewer years and less money. Lance chose the latter, a strange decision from a young man who rarely makes other kinds.

The list of reasons that NBA teams might steer clear of Lance Stephenson is admittedly a long one.


In a professional sports culture perpetually terrified of “distraction”—as though we watch these games for any other reason—Lance Stephenson is a world-class disturbance, in every sense. He is the most fascinatingly flawed player in his sport, and has been since he was a teenager.

H/t: JAT

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Taken for a ride

JLF head John Hood’s column today is on transit funding. Because it’s all about Charlotte, I’ll run it here in its entirety.

RALEIGH — Critics of a just-passed Senate bill complain that it limits the ability of Wake, Guilford, and Forsyth counties to raise sales taxes to fund proposed rail transit systems in the Triangle and Triad.

What’s bad news to some can be seen as good news to others. My colleagues and I have made no secret of our skepticism concerning the wisdom of spending general tax dollars to subsidize high-cost, low-capacity forms of transportation such as rail transit. Today I commend to your attention two recent pieces that explore the issues in greater detail.

First, longtime JLF friend Randal O’Toole has just written a new policy paper for the Cato Institute that does something rather cruel to rail-transit boosters: it subjects their grandiose claims to rigorous empirical analysis. The claims don’t survive.

For example, “light” rail is actually very costly per passenger mile traveled. Unlike “heavy” systems such as subways, light rail transit isn’t even in the same ballpark as bus transit or highways when it comes to the cost of moving a large number of people in a short period of time. “Rail transit is not about moving people if cities choose low-capacity systems,” O’Toole points out. “Rail transit is not about efficiency if cities choose high-cost systems. Instead, rail transit is simply a form of crony capitalism: a way to spend large amounts of tax dollars in order to build political coalitions that have no real interest in transportation.”

Harsh words? Yes. But they reflect O’Toole’s careful analysis of the statistical trends in rail transportation. Heavy rail systems such as the New York subway, the Washington metro, and systems in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago carry an average of about 25,000 weekday passenger miles per route mile in each direction. Light rail carries an average of only about 5,000. Yet most cities, including those in North Carolina, are either unwilling or ill-suited to heavy systems that might, in some markets, make economic sense. Instead, they opt for what appears to be cheaper — light rail — that is in fact very expensive when evaluated correctly on the basis of enhanced mobility per dollar.

“In the end,” O’ Toole concludes, “building new rail transit lines, at least in the Americas, is almost always a mistake. Putting the same amount of money to use in relieving congestion for everyone by undertaking such projects as coordinating traffic signals and building high-occupancy-toll lanes adjacent to crowded highways would produce far greater benefits. Alternatively, providing the same transit capacity with buses instead of trains would cost far less.”

Your other recommended reading is “Directing Traffic,” a piece by reporter Charles Gerena in Econ Focus, the quarterly magazine of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. While providing a range of views about the effectiveness of transit investment in state such as North Carolina, the piece contains updated ridership trends for Charlotte’s existing rail line that aren’t exactly comforting. From 2007 to 2012, Charlotte’s population grew by 17 percent and the metro as a whole grew by 13 percent. But rail-transit boardings grew by only 5 percent. Despite all the hoopla, the effect of the Lynx line on the Queen City’s transportation patterns and traffic congestion is barely discernible.

In fact, its defenders rarely claim anymore that Charlotte’s rail transit was an attempt to address congestion. Instead, they claim that the primary function of the system was to revitalize commercial and residential development along the route of the line. But to the extent this represents only shifting development from one part of the city to another — and that is likely to be a very large extent — there is no net growth here. Some businesses, investors, and landowners gained at the expense of others (which is one reason why O’Toole uses the term “crony capitalism” to describe the process). As you’ll read in the piece, even researchers sympathetic to Charlotte’s transit experiment have found that its effects on urban development was rather small.

Just some things to keep in mind as you follow legislative debate about transit taxes. For most taxpayers, they represent just another cost of living, not a cool new toy.

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Asheville’s Moogfest will sit out 2015

But is scheduled to return in 2016. This shouldn’t come as a surprise — the festival had a definite coolness to it but that wasn’t enough to keep it from losing $1.5 million this year.

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Lying commies

The Economist reports on some interest research on how living under socialism influences people. A group of Germans, some formerly East German, others formerly West German, were asked to roll a die, predict the outcome, and report the results. They were paid a modest sum based upon their results. The way this was intentionally structured was to make it quite easy to cheat, rolling the dice first and then “predicting” the roll. The results:

The authors found that, on average, those who had East German roots cheated twice as much as those who had grown up in West Germany under capitalism. They also looked at how much time people had spent in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The longer the participants had been exposed to socialism, the greater the likelihood that they would claim improbable numbers of high rolls.

The study reveals nothing about the nature of the link between socialism and dishonesty. It might be a function of the relative poverty of East Germans, for example. All the same, when it comes to ethics, a capitalist upbringing appears to trump a socialist one.

H/t: JAT

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Of Slim Baucom and Patrick Cannon

The UPoR ran a long (3,000 word+) profile over the weekend of Slim Baucom, the strip-club operator that gave $2,000 to Patrick Cannon. Does this provide any new insights into the whole Cannon affair? Possibly, though thee UPoR doesn’t really seem inclined to connect the dots.

The interesting piece of information is that Baucom and Cannon were long-time friends, which included Cannon staying at Baucom’s house in 2005 after Cannon had sold his existing home but his new house wasn’t ready yet(!). Baucom also apparently bought Cannon some furniture at auction. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but consider what we know:

• The FBI targeted Cannon soon after he returned to city council based upon a tip from a local undercover cop investigating other matters. What sort of businesses do local undercover agents target? Well, if I had to draw up a list, I’d place strip clubs right at the top.

• When Cannon plead guilty, what was the only specific act mentioned besides the money Cannon took from FBI agents? That’s right, the money Cannon took from his long-time buddy Baucom for helping to keep Twin Peaks open a little longer.

Putting this all together, it’s obviously the FBI got Baucom to talk. I’m guessing that the corruption that got the FBI interested in Cannon happened during his previous term on city council, rather than his time back in office in 2010. The problem for the FBI would presumably be that they couldn’t put together a case against Cannon for whatever he did previously because the statue of limitations had run out. So instead they spent the time and money to target Cannon.

What’s very clear is that we still don’t know what Cannon did to cause the FBI to target him. And there’s still that other, ongoing, FBI investigation about which we know nothing.

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Google Fiber update

The Charlotte Observer provides an update on Google Fiber possibly coming to town. The basics: Google Fiber currently has a team assessing the viability of building a high-speed Internet network in Charlotte. Expect a decision by the the end of the year. If Google decides to come to town, construction would take about two years.

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Court: Cops Cannot Extend Traffic Stops Indefinitely

Got a new story out for Carolina Journal on a recent N.C. Court of Appeals ruling limiting the police’s the circumstances under which the police can call in a drug dog to sniff a car:

RALEIGH — In a significant ruling involving the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, North Carolina’s second highest court has limited the instances in which a police dog can be called in to perform a drug sniff in traffic stop cases.

The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that police officers making a traffic stop who have completed their initial investigation and found nothing wrong cannot extend the stop without the driver’s consent unless the officers have a “reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity.”

Shortly before midnight on May 28, 2012, officer Jordan Payne of the Winston-Salem Police Department spotted Anthony Cottrell driving a Dodge Intrepid with its headlights off. Payne pulled the car over and asked Cottrell for his driver’s license and registration.

Cottrell did not smell of alcohol or have glassy eyes, was not sweating or fidgeting, and did not make any contradictory statements. The officer ran Cottrell’s documents and determined they were valid. Payne also checked Cottrell’s criminal history and learned that he had a history of “drug charges and various felonies.”

As the officer was returning Cockrell’s documents, he smelled a strange odor coming from the car, like “like a fragrance, cologne-ish,” but “more like an incense than what someone would wear.”

Payne believed the odor was a “cover scent” used to mask the smell of marijuana. Cottrell denied that, claiming it was body oil and showed the officer a small glass bottle with some liquid in it and a roll-on dispenser.

The officer then asked Cottrell for consent to search his car. Cockrell said no. Payne then told Cottrell that he would call for a drug-detection dog to sniff his car. Cottrell said he just wanted to go home. When Payne insisted that he was going to call for a drug dog, Cottrell consented to a search of his car. Payne found in the glove compartment a handgun and a powdery substance later determined to be cocaine. Payne also found in Cottrell’s sock a small plastic bag containing marijuana.

Cottrell was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, cocaine and marijuana possession, and being a habitual felon. At trial, he moved to suppress the results of the search. After a Superior Court judge ruled against him, Cottrell pleaded guilty to the charges and received a prison sentence of between 76 months and 104 months.

On appeal, Cottrell renewed his challenge to the search, claiming again that it violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, saying the officer had no good reason to continue detaining him once the purpose of the traffic stop was completed.

The Court of Appeals agreed.

“We hold that once Officer Payne told defendant to keep his music down, the officer had completely addressed the original purpose for the stop. Defendant had turned on his headlights, he had been warned about his music, his license and registration were valid, and he had no outstanding warrants,” wrote Judge Martha Geer for the appeals court.

She said Payne needed “defendant’s consent or ‘grounds which provide a reasonable and articulable suspicion in order to justify further delay’ before” he could question Cottrell further.

That did not end the court’s analysis. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a drug sniff during an otherwise legal traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment. And the N.C. Court of Appeals has ruled that officers can extend a traffic stop for a “de minimis” (minimal) amount of time even without reasonable suspicion or consent to conduct such a drug sniff.

But the appeals court drew a key distinction between those cases and Cottrell’s.

“We do not believe that the de minimis analysis … should be extended to situations when, as here, a drug dog was not already on the scene,” wrote Geer.

Geer based her analysis on the U.S. Supreme Court’s original holding, which drew a distinction between a dog sniff during a routine traffic stop and one occurring during an “unreasonably prolonged traffic stop.” In addition, in a 2012 ruling the N.C. Supreme Court did not apply a de minimis analysis in a case much like Cottrell’s in which a traffic stop was extended by 14 minutes.

The appeals court also rejected the state’s contention that Cottrell’s consented to the search. Generally, such consent is valid if the state is threatening to do something it has the legal right to do. The Court of Appeals noted that the state offered no evidence as to how long it would take for an officer with a drug dog to arrive at the scene and conduct a search, and thus hadn’t demonstrated that it could even conduct the search in such a de minimis period.

“The state has cited no case suggesting that consent may properly be obtained by a threat to perform an act that might or might not be legal depending on how the threatened event hypothetically could unfold. The State has, therefore, failed to prove that defendant’s consent was valid,” wrote Geer.

The appeals court awarded Cottrell a new trial and excluded as evidence the drugs and gun Payne found.

The case is State v. Cottrell, (13-721).

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NASCAR as a parody of itself

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has posted this video on Youtube promoting the NASCAR race Sunday at the track. Hard to imagine how they could have come up with something more directly aimed at the lowest common denominator. Turn the volume down on the device you’re going to view the video on or your head may explode.

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A word about liquor houses

In the wake of the fatal shooting of Rashad Porter, the Charlotte Observer has a lengthy article out highlighting the danger to public safety that local official thinking liquor houses pose. Sample quotes:

The parties at the liquor house on Major Street started about 1:30 a.m, around the same time that clubs and bars across Charlotte prepared to shut down for the night. Bouncers at the front steps patted down people on their way inside, collected cash and gave patrons wristbands. Inside, people swayed to rap and hip-hop music.

“When the club lets out, you go to the after-hours spot,” said Kiesha Johnson, who had been at the uptown club Label earlier on Saturday, then went with friends to Major Street. “…We were having a good time. It was like a club inside.”


“You can have liquor houses that never have problems, but what we see is the volatile nature of these places leads to violent crimes,” said Lt. Dave Robinson, who leads Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Alcohol Beverage Control Unit.


“You can go out and buy a bunch of liquor and beer and open a liquor house tonight,” Robinson said. “It’s kind of like whack-a-mole. You shut one down and another one can open just like that.”

There certainly is a problem here, but it’s not the one that police and alcohol enforcement types would have you believe. There are plenty of people, mainly in their 20s and 30s, that don’t want to call it a night at the arbitrary time that state law sets for last call. Liquor house operators are simply the entrepreneurs that are catering to that clientele. Thus the solution to the issued posed by liquor houses is to stop playing that game of whack-a-mole that cops ultimately can’t win and instead simply allow bars and clubs to stay open later.


The UPoR on the sales tax referendum push

The Charlotte Observer knocks one out of the park — yes, really — questioning the push to increase sales taxes here in Mecklenburg County.

It started when commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller, Vice Chairman Dumont Clarke and three other Democrats on the Mecklenburg board of commissioners concocted their plan to put the quarter-cent sales tax on the ballot, largely intended for teacher raises, with little input from other stakeholders. The other commissioners learned about the initiative days before the June vote. Organizers had minimal communication with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the city of Charlotte, the business community, the legislature and the public, even though each group is directly affected by the move. That’s probably not the best way to win crucial early support.


All of this seems to be a bit premature in any case. How can the public judge the validity of having local government pick up a state responsibility before it even knows what the state itself will do? Let’s have legislators approve a teacher-pay plan first, then decide whether it’s wise for Mecklenburg shoppers to augment that pay.

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July 2014
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