Category: The Daily Tar Heel


State drunken driving program makes over 600 arrests Halloween…

The ghouls, ghosts and goblins were not the only scary thing out on Halloween weekend.

N.C. Police and Highway Patrol arrested 605 people during the Halloween weekend for driving while impaired, a slight increase from last year when 601 people were arrested.

557 of this year’s DWI arrests were alcohol related and 48 were drug related. Police made 53 arrests in Wake County, 42 in Guilford County and 27 in Forsyth County.

The arrests were made by police departments participating in the Governor’s Highway Safety Program’s Halloween BOO-ze It Lose It campaign to reduce drunken driving and educate the public about its risks.

Don Nail, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, said the program was a response to the number of fatalities and crashes occurring in the state over Halloween weekend.

“Nationally, (Halloween) is known to be a weekend when folks tend to go out and drink a little bit more and, unfortunately, sometimes get behind the wheel impaired,” he said. “So two, we let anyone who might (drive while impaired) know that there will be an extra emphasis from the enforcement perspective to back up our educational efforts.”

LaRonda Scott, national senior manager of field fundraising for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said they support McCrory’s efforts to crack down on drunken driving during the Halloween weekend.

“(McCrory) has been a big supporter of eliminating substance-impaired driving … ,” she said. “For the communities, they can feel confident that officers are out there making sure that we are safe, our families are safe.”

Nail said the program was more successful this year because of greater involvement from law enforcement.

He said 65 percent of state Sheriff’s Departments and 75 to 80 percent of other state law enforcement agencies participated in the program.

“We are very encouraged that we had more law enforcement agencies engaged and out there on the lookout for folks that might be impaired,” He said. “We were also encouraged by the fact the number of DWIs wasn’t a lot higher, even though we had a lot more enforcement going on.”

Nail said he encourages anyone who intends to drink to have a plan to get home.

“I would really encourage everyone not just during Halloween or Christmas, New Year’s, any of these holidays to plan ahead,” he said. “If they are going to be drinking, make sure they are not behind the wheel.”


Affordable Care Act rates increase in 2017

Customers on Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina’s Affordable Care Act plans might see a hike in their insurance premiums next year.

The insurer plans to increase the rates for Affordable Care Act plans by an average of 24.3 percent in 2017. This follows a May filing in which Blue Cross Blue Shield estimated the plans would increase by an average of 18.8 percent.

Brian Tajlili, director of actuarial and pricing services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C., said in a statement the rate increase is due to rising costs of medical care.

 “On average, ACA customers tend to require more medical services than most other customers, and have more chronic conditions that are costly to treat,” he said.

Tajlili said the lack of young, healthy people enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans fails to balance out the price of higher-cost customers.

The statement also said about 72 percent of Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C. customers with ACA plans will pay either less or the same for their insurance due to the act’s federal subsidy program.

The rate increase follows insurer Aetna’s decision to suspend their 2017 ACA plans in North Carolina. Tajlili said Blue Cross Blue Shield, as the only insurer in North Carolina, estimates they will enroll 260,000 people who were dropped by other insurers.

Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Gary Claxton, vice president for the foundation, said in a statement released in May insurers had been warning of cost pressures increasing and therefore health plan rate increases might be higher in 2017 than the previous year.

Blue Cross Blue Shield has also faced problems related to its customer handling. The insurer is currently under investigation by the N.C. Department of Insurance due to a large volume of complaints about insurer issues.

“I’m going to hold Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina accountable for fixing its problems and doing right by consumers,” Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said in a statement released in February.

Presidential candidates have used rate increases to show the ACA needs to be fixed.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said in a rally in Fletcher, N.C. Friday “Obamacare” is failing and he would repeal and replace it. In a statement on his website, he said he would provide block grant Medicaid to the states for health care.

Hillary Clinton said in a statement on her website she would defend the ACA as president, and would attempt to bring down co-pays and deductible costs by reducing costs of health care.

Tajlili said the current plan is not viable in the long term on the current path.

“We must continue to seek improvements to the ACA to make it more sustainable.”


Law to limit public access to body camera footage

Starting Saturday, members of the public will have to obtain a court order to access North Carolina police body and dash camera footage.
House Bill 972 amends public records to not include body camera footage making them inaccessible by public request.

Under the new law, police departments can choose to reveal footage of incidents at their discretion upon request from the individual in the recording or their representative.

Any member of the public, a video subject or their representative whose request was denied will be required to obtain a court order from a judge in order to access the footage.

HB972’s implementation comes after recent protests in Charlotte concerning the shooting of Keith Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. Police did not release body camera footage until four days after the incident.

Jeff Welty, associate professor at the UNC School of Government, said under current law, police camera recordings are considered public records, and the new law will be unique.

“One aspect of our law that’s going to be unique is that I don’t think there is any other state in which there is no way to get access to a recording like this except through a court order,” he said.

Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said in a statement Wednesday the law is problematic because it lacks transparency and sets back relations between the police and the community.

“Under this shameful new law, North Carolinians will have to spend time and money seeking a court order if they want to obtain police footage they themselves are in — and even then, they could still be denied,” she said. “The law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from releasing footage in the public interest … without a court order, which is why it has been criticized by police chiefs in Burlington, Fayetteville and Greenville and people across the state.”

Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the bill into law on July 11, said in a statement HB972 is designed to protect law enforcement and increase transparency.
“This legislation fulfills our commitment to protect our law enforcement and gain public trust by promoting uniformity, clarity and transparency,” Gov. McCrory said in a statement.

Ford Porter, campaign spokesperson for Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper, said in a statement the new law does not do enough to foster transparency.

“Attorney General Cooper has consistently said he supports the use of body cameras in law enforcement, but that the law signed by Gov. McCrory doesn’t do enough to ensure transparency,” he said. “Transparency is vital to building trust and respect between law enforcement and the communities they protect.”


Cyberattack prompts questions about election security

Cybersecurity has become an increasingly important concern in the 2016 election due to a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee over the summer and the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has even questioned whether the election could be rigged.

 “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest,” Trump said in a speech in Ohio on Aug. 1.

Jacob Smith, a UNC Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science, said if the election were to be rigged it would most likely be by an outside actor.

“Outside actors are a much greater concern,” Smith said. “Russia is the concern, especially after the DNC hack.”

Recently, Russian-backed hackers used various digital methods to infiltrate the DNC network system. Michael Reiter, a professor in the UNC Department of Computer Science, said there are many methods of hacking, including keylogging malware to record typed information, backdoors to allow access to a system and denial of service attacks which deny service to the original user.

“I think there’s no doubt that Russia and Putin prefer Donald Trump in the election,” Smith said. “I think they probably feel that Donald Trump would be less tough on them — also displeasure with Clinton as Secretary of State and to the extent to which in term of the ways she dealt with Russia — they feel that they will get a more fair hearing from Donald Trump.”

Reiter said there are a wide variety of cyber threats that could affect voting and the election including physical methods. Individuals could threaten voting machines not connected to the internet by gaining physical proximity to the voting facility, he said.

“It’s very difficult to scale that kind of attack,” Reiter said. “If I really wanted to influence the election I would have to change a lot of these machines presumably or I would have to manipulate the computers where the votes are collected — some central database or something like that.”

Hillary Clinton has a technology platform on her website which outlines her positions on cybersecurity. The platform said Clinton would support expanded investment in cybersecurity technologies.

“Cybersecurity is essential to our economic and national security, and it will only become increasingly important as more commercial, consumer and government devices are networked,” the platform said.

Donald Trump does not have an official platform which outlines his stance on information security or personal privacy.

Yadavan Varatharajah, a network engineer for Cisco, said it is generally dangerous for the public not to care about cybersecurity.

“I think cybersecurity is something that people shouldn’t just be carefree about,” he said. “With every network you have you should be making sure it’s secure.”

Cybersecurity is a big issue due to people not having properly secured networks, Varatharajah said.

“You are not going to be able to stop (hackers),” he said. “It’s like stopping a robber. You’re not going to stop them from stealing.”


Duke energy requests delay for Duke power plant

Duke Energy’s plan to put a plant at Duke University might be powering down—at least for a little while.

The energy company is seeking a delay until early summer for its proposal to put a 21-megawatt combined heating and power plant at Duke University after pushback from the public. Duke Energy said the plant will reduce its carbon footprint and provide additional backup power in case of a power emergency.

Randy Wheeless, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, said the energy company is still optimistic about the project.

“But I think when you look at the needs of the university this project makes a lot of sense and no one is really offering a better alternative,” he said.

Some of the controversy was over whether or not the plant will cut or increase greenhouse gas emissions. Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN, a climate justice nonprofit organization, said Duke Energy’s claim that the plant will cut emissions is misleading.

“The actual use of gas on the campus would increase 61 percent from current amounts and thus the greenhouse emissions would also increase 61 percent,” he said. “To pretend that somehow it makes a difference Duke Energy would be owning the plant and burning the gas on campus for the campus that somehow that should alleviate the university’s responsibility just doesn’t pass the straight face test.”

Duke University President Richard Brodhead said in an open letter to The Duke Chronicle the university is pursuing the plant because of its effectiveness.

“By using the waste heat produced by electrical generation to create the necessary steam and hot water our campus buildings demand, the (combined heating and power) plant will reduce fuel consumption and emissions, both on campus and throughout the Duke Energy system …” Brodhead said.

Wheeless said he believes the protests are more about dislike of Duke Energy and natural gas than about the plant itself.

“But you have to think the university was already using natural gas. Natural gas is part of the growing energy mix of this nation. It’s one of the fastest growing energy fuels being used, especially because so much comes from America,” he said.

Wheeless said campuses across the country use these types of plants, including UNC-Chapel Hill. He said UNC’s plant is powered by natural gas and coal.

“Right now the price of natural gas is low,” he said. “All projections say it will remain low. It’s probably the most cost-effective fuel out there, more effective than coal and in fact, in some parts of the nation, it is better than nuclear power.”

Warren said Duke University should move to the use of battery or solar power instead of utilizing natural gas, which may be collected using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“The overarching concern is that (the plant) would perpetuate the fracked gas boom at the expense of the climate crisis …” Warren said. “The most innovative and a good way they should (proceed) is adding battery storage by itself or combined with PV (photovoltaic) solar.”

Wheeless said solar or battery power would not adequately address the university’s needs.

“We are very familiar with solar and battery technology, which sometimes gets talked about, but when you look at the energy needs of the university and that 24/7 need for hot water and heat solar and a battery is just not going to do it.”