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Heroin use is up. Way up.

As the News & Observer of Raleigh reports:

A few dozen people died of heroin overdoses in North Carolina each year since 2000, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

But in 2012, heroin deaths nearly doubled statewide, to 148, while overall deaths from all narcotics and hallucinogenic drugs ticked up only slightly. WakeMed hospitals throughout Wake County admitted 50 people for heroin overdoses in 2013, more than twice the annual average of the previous five years, said spokeswoman Kristin Kelly.

At the same time, police say the amount of heroin they’ve found in drug arrests has soared.

In Durham, police seized about 4 pounds of heroin last year, more than five times as much as in 2010, said spokeswoman Kammie Michael. In Raleigh, heroin seizures went from less than a pound in 2010 to nearly 24 pounds last year, said spokesman Jim Sughrue.

And which North Carolina county has the most heroin deaths in 2013? Yup, Mecklenburg with 14.

What’s behind the increase in heroin use? Essentially, OxyContin and the like got expensive:

“Some of these prescription medicines sell for $40 a pill,” says Robert Childs, executive director of the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, a statewide public health and drug policy reform organization based in Durham. “That’s on the extreme end. Most cost less. But if you can get a bag of heroin for $5 to $20 instead of paying up to $25 or $80, it’s really a simple choice to users.”

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The Great Cannon Corruption Hunt, Round 2

The UPoR now turns its attention to the case of whether Patrick Cannon may have corrupted how liquor permits are handled in the county. The jumping off point is what is now the Sheraton Charlotte hotel and the question of how it got and retained its liquor license. To cut to the chase: A person associated with the hotel claimed he had connections to speed up the licensing process. And Patrick Cannon’s company runs the parking for the hotel. That matters, because the hotel changed owners and thus needed a new set alcohol permits. Is there any evidence of actual corruption? Not really. Is there any evidence that the state’s liquor laws are a complex mess? Plenty, but we already new that.

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The new CLT press reality

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned… or a major metropolitan newspaper that didn’t uncover a corruption scandal before someone big got arrested. So now the Charlotte Observer is out to atone for not nailing Patrick Cannon before the FBI did, which means that anything that even to the slightest degree suggests self-dealing makes the paper in a very big way.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s curious piece on the city’s selection of taxi cab companies that would be allowed to pick up fares at the airport. Could this have possibly set off the FBI targeting Cannon? Maybe. The timeline would be about right, but there’s little that actually ties the taxi cab affair to the now former mayor — a rather inept con allegedly trying to collect bribe money for Cannon to determine who gets taxi rights at the airport is far from a smoking gun. He could easily have just been collecting money for himself, while pretending to be collecting money for Cannon. (I kind of doubt Cannon is that clumsy.)

More than anything else, what this shows is how unfortunate a piece of public policy the airport’s taxi policy is. By reducing the number of cab companies that can serve the airport from 12 to three, the city was creating a process that could easily be corrupted. At best, it’s likely to favor well-run and well-connected cab companies. Upset the wrong person for whatever reason and your company might not be able to pick up fares at the airport much longer. And even if the selection process weren’t per se corrupt, a lot of tax cab operators were and are angry about what happened, and have little faith in the outcome. Such lake of confidence is in and of itself a problem.

Bonus observation
: If this is the airport rumor that Sen. Bob Rucho claims helped push the drive to take the airport out from city control, then perhaps he should have put less effort into protecting Jerry Ore and more time into making sure local governments don’t engage in such crony capitalism.

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NCAA gets what it deserves

That’s the title of a column by Andrew Cline, editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and a Carolina Journal alum, in USA Today on new challenges to the NCAA refusing to pay “student-athletes.”. A highlight:

These legal challenges did not arise suddenly. They grew from years of frustration among athletes subjected to absurdly restrictive contracts. As the NCAA grew wealthier showcasing the talents of its “amateur” athletes, its definition of “amateur” tightened. Under the guise of safeguarding its “student-athletes,” it made certain that virtually any financial gain from an athlete’s abilities, likeness or name would go to the NCAA.

This dedication to amateurism is supposed to ensure that athletes compete purely for “the love of the game” rather than for profit. Profit, you see, is bad — except when the NCAA, its member institutions and its coaches enjoy it.

You can read the rest of Drew’s excellent piece here.

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The Cannon fallout

Couple points in no particular order:

• So who will be the next mayor of Charlotte, and the fourth within the past year? As the Charlotte Observer reports, it could come down to James “Smuggie” Mitchell or Dan Clodfelter. Both are currently running for other offices: Clodfelter to be reelected to the N.C. Senate in a safe seat while Mitchell is running for Congress. Of course, the situation is very, very fluid as to who will replace Cannon.

• Unsurprisingly, the airport control issue is back. OK, it never completely went away but now we have Stan Campbell and Sen. Bob Rucco saying “we told you so,” claiming that the push to shift the airport out from under city control was to protect it from corruption associated with city governance. Nice try but they’re ignoring two basic points. First, this issue was always mainly about keeping Jerry Orr in control of the airport. Secondly, the push for an independent airport authority comes exactly at the same time as Cannon is allegedly accepting his first bribe from the FBI. And it’s possible that the rumors touched upon the broader FBI investigation into something that generated the leads that eventually targeted Cannon.

• While on the subject: Sound public policy isn’t built upon rumors.

• Jeff Taylor theorizes that the initial tip to the FBI may have come from an ALE agent. That sounds pretty reasonable, though as he correctly states, we may never know for sure.

• Which gets us to Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee’s Thursday press conference, in which he claimed that Patrick Cannon corrupting local government decision-making was just an impossibility:

“(The mayor) doesn’t have operational responsibility for the airport or transit,” Carlee said. “It can’t be done by the mayor, it’s done by the council. The mayor is an important position, has a bully pulpit, but he doesn’t have operational control.”

Which is an argument that completely and utterly ignores how things work in the real world. Personal relationships matter. Positions of power matter. The unofficial way things are done matter. Was Cannon likely overstating his influence? Yes. Is he without influence on zoning matters? Absolutely not. I’m guessing that city and county officials do rather promptly return calls from the mayor. And if the city were to do a public/private partnership to redevelop land along the streetcar line, with competing visions from different developers, which proposal the mayor favored could matter greatly.

And Carlee also ignores that in Charlotte, the mayor has a veto, which requires an extra vote on city council to overcome.

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US Airway’s CLT-Rio flight makes a brief comeback

From December 2 to January 10 to be exact. So a little less than six weeks for very busy Christmas season after being suspended come September. And presumably January is the last time we’ll see the flight.

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What caused the Cannon investigation?

Or put another way, who else might have Patrick Cannon been taking bribes from? From the complaint against the now former mayor filed yesterday:

This investigation was initiated in August 2010 based on a tip and information received from local law enforcement. A local law enforcement officer was working in an undercover capacity on other criminal matters and learned of information that would be helpful to the FBI regarding public corruption. Although the FBI was originally investigating other individuals and other potential criminal activities, the investigators learned that CANNON was potentially involved in illegal activity.

Based on the information received from the local law enforcement officer, an FBI undercover operation was initiated. The local undercover officer introduced an FBI undercover employee (hereinafter UCE1) to certain business figures in Charlotte. At that point, the local law enforcement officer and his/her agency were no longer involved in the investigation.

While UCE1 was interacting with certain businessmen in the related investigation, he learned of specific information regarding potentially corrupt activities by CANNON, who was then a City Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem.

So it seems that Cannon did something in 2010 or 2011 that caused the FBI to specifically target him. What was this? And what of the broader ongoing FBI investigation? What is it that all about and who is being investigated?

Hopefully soon we’ll have answers to these questions.

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Breaking: Patrick Cannon arrested on federal corruption charges

The UPoR reports this involves an FBI sting operation, which dates back to August 2010. Cannon allegedly solicited bribes from undercover federal agents posing as real estate developers and investors. More details as they become available.

Update: Cannon allegedly took a $20,000 bribe in cash last month in the mayor’s office.

Update II: There were allegedly five payments to Cannon, the first to help fund the develop of a feminine hygiene product called “Hers.” OK, that’s just weird.

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Stallings comes out against the Monroe Bypass/Connector

So reports the UPoR. Not a lot of love left for this project, now is there…

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Silly alochol laws of the moment

“Of the moment” meaning that they made it into the newspaper this week.

• Tennessee, per the Associated Press:

If it isn’t fermented in Tennessee from mash of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof, it isn’t Tennessee whiskey. So says a year-old law that resembles almost to the letter the process used to make Jack Daniel’s, the world’s best-known Tennessee whiskey.

Now state lawmakers are considering dialing back some of those requirements that they say make it too difficult for craft distilleries to market their spirits as Tennessee whiskey, a distinctive and popular draw in the booming American liquor business.

Nothing like a dominate producer using its influence to bend product definitions in its favor…

• South Carolina, per the Washington Post:

Imagine the anguish of a staffer working for a losing campaign once the polls close. All those hours, all that work, for naught. That staffer sure could use a drink. But in South Carolina, the drink will have to wait. The Palmetto State is the only state in the country that still bans alcohol sales on Election Day.

Now, the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee has given its preliminary approval to a bill that would allow alcohol sales on Election Day.

Leave it to South Carolina to be the last state to boldly move into the 21st Century…

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