Monday News: Public corruption does not pay


JUDGE ORDERS FORMER BUNCOMBE MANAGER TO START SERVING TIME: Multiple media organizations report that U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad on Friday denied a request by both prosecutors and lawyers to delay the sentence for former Buncombe County manager Wanda Greene. Conrad says the 68-year-old Greene was at the heart of a corruption scheme by local officials dating back to 2007, and it's time for her to go to prison. Prosecutors said they wanted Greene nearby as she helps with the investigation and prosecution of other county officials and contractors. Three other county officials are charged with accepting gifts in exchange for awarding government contracts to a Georgia engineering contractor.

NORTH CAROLINIANS APPEAR TO BE BETTER PREPARED FOR RECESSION THAN 2008: North Carolinians have, along with Americans overall, reduced the amount of debt they carry, compared with the amount they had at the onset of the 2008 recession, said Michael Walden, the William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and extension economist at N.C. State University. “Household debt carrying charges – that is, how much you have to pay monthly on the mortgage and auto loan – is at a 35-year low,” Walden said. “These are very good numbers. Those numbers were not like that in 2008. Then, people loaded up on housing debt. We’re seeing the exact opposite now.” For instance, though home values continue to increase across the state – by 7.1% in the last year, according to real estate data and listing site Zillow – residents here are in line with the national norm by not borrowing against their home equity, say economists. Even as they let home equity accumulate, consumers still juggle considerable credit card debt – $8,000.63 for North Carolina households that maintain balances – and have thin savings.

WE MAY FINALLY SEE LEGISLATION CONTROLLING WHAT PATIENTS PAY FOR DRUGS: There’s significant overlap among the major approaches. Trump, the Senate bill, and Pelosi would all limit what Medicare enrollees pay annually in prescription copays. That would be a major change benefiting more than 1 million seniors with high costs. Pelosi and the Senate bill would require drugmakers to pay rebates if they raise their prices to Medicare beyond the inflation rate. Long-available medicines like insulin have seen steep price hikes. Pelosi and the administration would use lower international prices to determine what Medicare pays for at least some drugs. Pelosi is echoing Trump’s complaint that prices are unfair for Americans. “If they wanted to do a deal, it’s sitting right there in front of them,” said John Rother, president of the National Coalition on Health Care, an umbrella group representing a cross-section of organizations.

DEM PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES NOW HAVE TO INCLUDE IMPEACHMENT IN STUMP SPEECHES: The eruption of impeachment proceedings against President Trump has thrown the Democratic presidential campaign abruptly off track, as the candidates scramble to respond forcefully on the scandal while simultaneously focusing on the bread-and-butter policies they have touted for months. The response has sometimes been awkward. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently delivered impassioned remarks on unions, but tacked on a statement about impeachment beforehand after consulting with aides. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) fielded questions about Medicare-for-all at a town hall last week, then faced inquiries from reporters on impeachment. Former vice president Joe Biden spent a few minutes discussing impeachment at a recent stop before turning to an abbreviated version of his usual speech. While prominent Democrats increasingly demand forceful statements on Trump’s actions, voters and activists are urging candidates not to stop talking about how they would provide health insurance to more Americans, shrink the gap between rich and poor, and combat climate change. Some bluntly warn that devoting too much attention to impeachment could be a costly mistake.

ADVISORS TRIED TO STOP TRUMP FROM FOLLOWING UKRAINE CONSPIRACY THEORY, BUT HE WOULDN'T LISTEN: President Trump was repeatedly warned by his own staff that the Ukraine conspiracy theory that he and his lawyer were pursuing was “completely debunked” long before the president pressed Ukraine this summer to investigate his Democratic rivals, a former top adviser said on Sunday. Thomas P. Bossert, who served as Mr. Trump’s first homeland security adviser, said he told the president there was no basis to the theory that Ukraine, not Russia, intervened in the 2016 election and did so on behalf of the Democrats. Speaking out for the first time, Mr. Bossert said he was “deeply disturbed” that Mr. Trump nonetheless tried to get Ukraine’s president to produce damaging information about Democrats. Mr. Bossert’s comments, on the ABC program “This Week” and in a subsequent telephone interview, underscored the danger to the president as the House moves ahead with an inquiry into whether he abused his power for political gain. Other former aides to Mr. Trump said on Sunday that he refused to accept reassurances about Ukraine no matter how many times it was explained to him, instead subscribing to an unsubstantiated narrative that has now brought him to the brink of impeachment.