N. Carolina GOP candidate owes $34K to scrutinized consultant
By JONATHAN DREW
Friday, December 7
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Republican candidate in North Carolina’s unresolved congressional race has acknowledged owing $34,310 to a political consultant subpoenaed in a ballot fraud probe, according to a federal campaign filing that refers to work at the heart of the investigation.
The Mark Harris campaign listed its debt to the Red Dome Group in a late Thursday filing with the Federal Election Commission. The form said the nature of the debt included “Reimbursement Payment for Bladen Absentee” and “Reimbursement Door to Door.”
Bladen County’s absentee ballots are at the center of a fraud probe that has prompted the North Carolina Elections Board to refuse to certify Harris as the winner over Democrat Dan McCready. The board cited allegations of “irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities” involving mail-in ballots, and subpoenaed both the Harris campaign and Red Dome for documents.
The board could order a new election after meeting later this month to consider the evidence. For now, the vote count remains unofficial, with Harris leading McCready by 905 votes.
Some Bladen County voters have said strangers came to their homes to collect their absentee ballots, whether or not they had been fully completed or sealed in an envelope to keep them from being altered, according to affidavits offered by the state Democratic Party. State law allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter.
Red Dome hired Bladen County contractor McCrae Dowless, whose criminal record includes prison time in 1995 for felony fraud and a conviction for felony perjury in 1992.
According to documents released by the elections board, Dowless seems to have collected the most absentee ballot request forms in Bladen County this fall. A copy of the Bladen election board’s log book shows Dowless turned in well over 500 applications.
The FEC report also lists two other debts totaling nearly $20,000 to Red Dome for digital advertising, robocalls and mailings for Harris. The filing says those mailings were in Robeson County, another area where the state board has sought information as part of its probe. The details were part of a wide-ranging post-election report on the campaign’s finances.
McCready, expressing outrage over what he called a shameful attack on democracy, withdrew his concession in a video released late Thursday. He’s demanding that Harris explain what he knows about the absentee ballot allegations.
“He hired a criminal who was under investigation for ballot fraud to do his absentee ballot work, and it looks like he got what he paid for,” McCready told CNN on Friday.
Harris didn’t respond to a message seeking comment late Thursday. He issued a statement last week saying he supports a voter fraud investigation, but that the race should be certified in the meantime because there didn’t appear to be enough questioned votes to erase his lead. His campaign lawyer said this week the organization wasn’t aware of any illegal conduct during the race.
Dowless declined comment when visited by an Associated Press reporter this week at his home, and didn’t immediately respond to a phone message Friday. The head of the Red Dome Group, Andy Yates, also didn’t immediately respond to an email Friday.
Could a recession be just around the corner?
December 6, 2018
Amitrajeet A. Batabyal is a Friend of The Conversation.
Arthur J. Gosnell Professor of Economics, Rochester Institute of Technology
Amitrajeet A. Batabyal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Rochester Institute of Technology provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The U.S. economy is growing at the fastest pace in five years, American companies are earning record profits and unemployment is at the lowest level in almost half a century.
So why are Wall Street and some economists suddenly worried about a recession?
Financial markets in particular have been signaling that trouble is brewing. The Standard & Poor’s 500, which tracks the biggest U.S. companies, has plunged as much as 6 percent since Dec. 4 because of worries about trade and slowing global growth. And a key bond metric that has presaged every recession since 1960 is warning another may be on the way.
As an economist who teaches and conducts research in international trade and finance, I see three credible concerns driving the worries.
Trouble in trade land
One major issue is the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.
The U.S. has imposed tariffs on about US$250 billion of Chinese imports – almost half of all trade with the country – in what I consider a misguided effort to get Beijing to buy more American goods and grant greater market access to U.S. companies. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to apply duties to all imports if his demands aren’t met.
In turn, China has put tariffs on $60 billion of American goods.
This is bad for the U.S. economy because tariffs tend to reduce trade, slowing growth and making goods more expensive for consumers. A just-released study from the right-leaning Tax Foundation, for example, found that Trump’s tariffs have so far lowered incomes by an average of $146 a year for taxpayers who earn $27,740 to $43,800 and have reduced U.S. hiring by the equivalent of 94,300 full-time jobs.
On Dec. 1, markets initially breathed a sigh of relief after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached a 90-day truce in the war, giving the two countries time to try to work through their differences. The optimism faded quickly, however, after conflicting reports emerged about what the two leaders actually agreed to and Trump called himself a “tariff man” in a threatening tweet.
The arrest of a Huawei official in Canada on a U.S. request further risked disrupting the tentative ceasefire, showing how fragile the Trump-Xi deal is and how easily the situation could return to a war footing.
A second worry is slowing global growth.
In Europe, the combined economies of the 19 countries that use the euro barely grew in the most recent quarter – the lowest in four years – and economists are warning recession may be coming to the continent. At the same time, Britain’s impending and potentially chaotic exit from the European Union is expected to hammer its economy.
And Trump’s trade war and tariffs – which are not only squeezing the Chinese economy but many other countries such as Canada, Mexico and members of the EU – are making matters worse.
All these challenges convinced the International Monetary Fund to lower its global growth forecast for 2019 from 3.7 percent to 3.5 percent and warn of increasing “downside risks” as a result of the tariffs and other problems.
A global growth slowdown means foreigners will buy less American-made stuff, which ultimately hurts the U.S. economy.
The Fed’s fears
These problems are serious enough that they’re even rattling the Federal Reserve.
Until now, the U.S. central bank has been on a deliberate path of gradually raising interest rates on the premise that the American economy was fundamentally strong and would continue to grow. As recently as October, Fed Chair Jerome Powell described the economy’s low unemployment and subdued inflation as sustainable and “not too good to be true.”
That may no longer be the case. Wall Street traders, who previously had some faith that the Fed will follow through on its plan to raise rates several times in both 2019 and 2020, increasingly don’t expect even a single rate hike next year. Since the central bank typically raises rates when the economy is strong, that suggests they believe it has serious concerns about its trajectory.
The resulting unpredictability over what the Fed’s going to do next has shaken investors and markets and contributed to fears about an impending recession, which is typically defined as two straight quarters of declines in overall economic activity. We may learn more on Dec. 19, when the Fed is expected to raise interest rates for the ninth time since 2015.
So is a recession imminent?
The current expansion has lasted since the official end of the Great Recession in June 2009, or almost nine and a half years. If it lasts seven months more, it’ll be the longest expansion in at least 160 years.
Because of the cyclical nature of business activity, there is no question that a recession will inevitably occur at some point in the future. Whether it’ll happen next year or further down the road is hard to predict. But you could argue, perhaps we’re due.
Have we reached Peak Car?
Updated December 4, 2018
Assistant Professor, Queen’s University, Ontario
Barry Cross does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Queen’s University, Ontario provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation CA. Queen’s University, Ontario provides funding as a member of The Conversation CA-FR.
General Motors has announced it’s shuttering five production facilities and killing six vehicle platforms by the end of 2019 as it reallocates resources towards self-driving technologies and electric vehicles.
The announcements should come as a surprise to no one, as they echo a similar announcement made by Ford earlier this year that it will exit all car production other than Mustang within two years.
Why the sudden attitude adjustment toward cars? Well, both firms cite a focus on trucks, SUVs and crossovers. OK, sure — that’s what more people are buying when they buy a vehicle today. But there is a broader and more long-term element to this discussion.
Have we reached Peak Car?
Many may remember the dialogue associated with Peak Oil, or the idea that we had reached or would soon reach the peak production levels of oil around the globe.
Such forecasts and predictions were likely related to price run-ups on commodity and investment strategies in the oil industry. However, new exploration discoveries and extraction technologies ultimately mean we are a long way from running out of oil. While we may still hit peak production in the near future, it is more likely due to a decreasing need as society moves to alternative energy sources.
But what about cars? North American car production hit 17.5 million vehicles in 2016, and dropped marginally to 17.2 million in 2017. Interesting, but perhaps not significant.
More telling are changes in driver behaviour. In North America, for example, fewer teens are getting driver’s licences. In 1983, 92 per cent of teens were licensed, while by 2014, that number had dropped to 77 per cent. In Germany, the number of new licences issued to drivers aged 17 to 25 has dropped by 300,000 over the last 10 years.
The future is driverless
Factor in ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, the comprehensive cost of vehicle ownership and more effective public transportation (everywhere but Canada) and we get a sense of some of the reasons for these evolving automotive strategies.
Most significant, however, is the evolution of self-driving technology. Picture this scenario:
Julie is an ER doctor at the local hospital, on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. She jumps in the family car at 6:30 a.m. and is at the hospital by 6:50 a.m.
After dropping Julie off, the car then heads home, arriving in time to take Julie’s two children to their high school; one of them tosses their hockey equipment in the back of the car. The car then returns home to take Julie’s husband to the law office where he starts work at 9 a.m.
The car then swings by the school to take Julie’s daughter to hockey practice at 2:30 p.m., and then returns to the hospital to pick Julie up. And so on.
A Range Rover self-driving car on display during a demonstration of connected and autonomous cars that will park, emergency brake and show other emergency vehicle and warning features for the first time on open public roads in Milton Keynes, England in March 2018. Frank Augstein/AP
The technology to support the scenario above exists now, and will result in reduced car ownership through a more economical and efficient approach to managing cars, whether accessed through independent household ownership or fleet membership.
As it is today, a family like Julie’s would need two or possibly three vehicles, and those vehicles would largely sit still most of the day. Tomorrow, the family could be down to one vehicle, possibly an SUV for the hockey gear. What happens when families or groups of people further pool their assets for more ride-sharing or increased capacity?
Fewer cars on the road within a decade
We are moving from a do-it-yourself (DIY) transportation economy to a sharing or do-it-for-me (DIFM) economy. Many of us won’t like it — I honestly like to drive — but the numbers and the technology are there.
As safety technologies improve and societal paradigms shift, this evolution will gather momentum. Based on the young driver statistics above, it seems reasonable to anticipate a reduction in cars per capita of 20 to 30 per cent in the next decade.
Unions at GM and Ford are justifiably unhappy, but they shouldn’t be surprised. It is quite possible that we have reached Peak Car in North America and Europe.
Companies that want to succeed in this new environment will need to be different, and especially better in some way. If car volumes drop by 30 per cent over the next 10 years, there better be something special about the car company that hopes to survive, let alone prosper — like better technology, better comfort or better service.
If current trends continue, we can anticipate more shutdown announcements — like GM’s — from car companies and parts suppliers, as there won’t be room for all of them.
The John Birch Society is still influencing American politics, 60 years after its founding
December 6, 2018
Assistant Professor of Political Science, California State University, Sacramento
Christopher Towler previously received funding as a Ford Foundation Fellow.
The retired candy entrepreneur Robert Welch founded the John Birch Society 60 years ago to push back against what he perceived as a growing American welfare state modeled on communism and the federal government’s push to desegregate America.
Although Welch’s group has never amassed more than 100,000 dues-paying members, it had garnered an estimated 4 to 6 million sympathizers within four years of its 1958 formation.
As a scholar of political history and social movements, I find many parallels between today’s far right and its predecessors. Just as the John Birch Society emerged in the midst of the civil rights movement, today’s far-right movements formed as a reaction to the election of Barack Obama – a milestone for racial equality.
The original “Birchers,” as John Birch Society supporters are known, were Republicans who believed their party had grown too moderate. Like the tea party movement that arose half a century later while the nation debated expanding health care coverage, same-sex marriage and immigration reform, they objected to the federal government’s growth, and ardently opposed federal intervention into what they considered to be state and local affairs.
Birchers expressed a belief in domestic communist conspiracies. They went so far as to accuse President Dwight Eisenhower and Chief Justice Earl Warren of being communist dupes and agents – building on the legacy of Sen. Joseph McCarthy whose movement of predominantly Midwestern Republicans found the society’s agenda appealing.
Although these allegations relegated Welch to fringe status as a political leader, the John Birch Society amassed a national base among staunch conservatives.
In their heyday, far-right groups that subscribed to “Welchian” conspiracy theories propagated their views on over 500 radio broadcasts each week – with the John Birch Society alone producing a program on 100 stations – and a widely circulated newsletter.
A string of Birch bookstores doubled as local headquarters for meetings and distribution centers for fliers, films, rally tickets and bumper stickers, spread its influence.
Even though Welch understood racism and bigotry would hurt his cause, the John Birch Society’s opposition to the civil rights movement attracted Americans sympathetic to racist paranoia. For example, it consistently published reports accusing civil rights leaders of communist subversion and alleging that people of color were plotting to divide the country and control the world.
In 1964, backing from the John Birch Society in Republican primaries, such as California, secured the right-wing-backed candidate Barry Goldwater’s Republican presidential nomination.
“All those little old ladies in tennis shoes that you called right-wing nuts and kooks,” Goldwater’s organizational head reportedly told him about the campaign volunteers who appeared to be Birch sympathizers, “they’re the best volunteer political organization that’s ever been put together.”
Despite Goldwater’s loss to incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson in a landslide, many political scientists and conservatives believe that Goldwater’s failed bid made way for the modern conservative movement by passing the torch to Richard M. Nixon’s “silent majority,” ending decades of liberal dominance.
The John Birch Society is also directly linked to conservative politics today.
Most notably, Fred Koch, the father of David and Charles Koch, was among the Birch Society’s first 11 members and its main financial backers. The billionaire Koch brothers have pumped massive amounts of money into libertarian causes and conservative political campaigns for decades.
As investigative journalist Jane Mayer explains in her book “Dark Money,” Fred Koch strongly encouraged his sons to follow in his political footsteps, something Charles and David did in general. For a time, both brothers belonged to the Birch Society, but they had moved on by the 1970s.
Additionally, in their exhaustive examination of the tea party movement, political scientists Christopher Parker and Matt Barreto argue that Obama’s election instigated the rise of today’s far right. Much like how the John Birch Society arose as a rejection of progress on civil rights, tea party supporters felt anxious about what they saw as the “real” America slipping away when the country chose a black man to be its president.
Just as Birchers called Justice Warren a communist for overruling state and local segregation laws, the tea party labeled President Obama a socialist because of his plan to expand health insurance coverage. And, similar to Birch Society claims that the civil rights movement was a treasonous ploy to divide the country, Trump and his surrogates paint the Black Lives Matter movement as a force working toward the collapse of social order.
Moreover, in 2017, as the Trump administration got underway, violent incidents involving white supremacists and mass shootings were becoming more common. Yet, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general at that time, tasked the FBI with compiling a report on so-called “black identity extremists” with the “potential to incite irrational police fear of black activists.”
From the start, Trump’s incessant and loud questions about whether Obama was born in the U.S. and his attacks on immigrants echoed the Birch Society’s obsessions.
By openly courting voters who had been tea party supporters, Trump mobilized enough of the Americans who were anxious about their country’s future to make it to the White House.
Since taking office, Trump’s far-right supporters have tolerated his efforts to delegitimize many political institutions, including the intelligence community and the judiciary – taking after the reactionary right 60 years earlier. By abandoning a traditionally conservative need for institutional stability, I believe that Trump echoes the John Birch Society’s willingness to oppose uncomfortable change in society at any cost.
Today, while much of the John Birch Society exists online and through its bimonthly magazine, The New American, some conservatives are trying to reboot local chapters of the nonprofit corporation.
The society, which does not divulge how many current dues-paying members it has, maintains it is not a political, but rather an educational organization. However, it welcomed the tea party with open arms in 2011.
And, in a 2016 interview, the group’s CEO argued that Trump “captured” a movement built on the political causes the Birch Society had championed for decades.
Farm Bureau officers and trustees elected
COLUMBUS, Ohio (OFBF) – Ohio Farm Bureau’s officers and trustees were elected Dec. 7 during the organization’s 100th annual meeting. Below are links to individual news releases on the election results.
President Frank Burkett, III
Vice President Bill Patterson
Treasurer Cy Prettyman
District 2 trustee Wade Smith: Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky and Wood Counties
District 12 trustee Jesse Whinnery: Coshocton, Holmes, Knox and Licking Counties
District 16 trustee Matt Bell: Guernsey, Morgan, Muskingum and Perry Counties
District 21 trustee Wyatt Bates: Jackson/Vinton, Pike and Scioto Counties
District 22 trustee Karin Bright: Athens/Meigs, Gallia and Lawrence Counties
Northeast regional trustee Michael Boyert: Ashland, Ashtabula, Carroll, Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Erie, Geauga, Harrison, Huron, Jefferson, Lake, Lorain, Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, Trumbull, Tuscarawas and Wayne Counties
Northwest regional trustee Rose Hartschuh: Allen, Auglaize, Crawford, Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Logan, Lucas, Marion, Mercer, Morrow, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Richland, Sandusky, Seneca, Shelby, Van Wert, Williams, Wood and Wyandot Counties