Under the Dome

Those federal funds buy jobs and research

From staff reportsMarch 8, 2010 

Monkeys are getting high for science in North Carolina.

An analyst at the Civitas Institute seized on that image when selecting a cocaine addiction study at Wake Forest University Medical School as No. 1 on a list of the "10 worst federal stimulus projects in North Carolina." Civitas' Brian Balfour takes swipes at projects, writing that they "seem completely unrelated to avoiding an economic 'catastrophe,' but rather an ad hoc satisfaction of countless dubious wish lists."

So, what is the $71,623 federal stimulus grant paying for?

Well, a job, said Mark Wright, a spokesman for the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

"It's actually the continuation of a job that might not still be there if it hadn't been for the stimulus funding. And it's a good job," Wright said. "It's also very worthwhile research."

The study is examining the effects of cocaine on a particular neurotransmitter among monkeys who have had a long-term addiction to cocaine.

The medical school boasts a significant body of work studying addiction. Ultimately, the study could lead to better treatment for recovering cocaine addicts.

Balfour also cited another Wake Forest study. This one is studying whether yoga and other non-pharmaceutical therapies such as wellness classes can help alleviate hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.

"How does this study help revive the economy?" Balfour asked.

Well, again, jobs, said Nancy Avis, a professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Health policy at the medical school. The funding, more than $147,000 over two years, will contribute to the salaries of six people.

N.C. reps at the edges

An annual list of how members of Congress stack up, ideologically speaking, has U.S. Rep. Mel Watt as the most liberal member of the state's House delegation while U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry is the most conservative.

National Journal studied 97 roll-call votes that it used to establish where House members ranked in terms of liberal or conservative.

Watt, a Charlotte Democrat, was among eight House members who were tied for the most liberal in the chamber. Watt was the 423rd most conservative House member.

McHenry, a Cherryville Republican, was the 17th most conservative member of the chamber and the 413th most liberal. Virginia Foxx, a Banner Elk Republican, was the 19th most conservative member and the 411th most liberal.

No other members of the state's delegation cracked the Top 20 as either conservative or liberal.

Probation jobs

N.C. Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer said state residents should be angry that the administration of Gov. Bev Perdue hasn't filled probation officer jobs.

Fetzer was speaking at a rally Thursday in Pittsboro, the same day a memorial garden was dedicated to Eve Carson, the slain UNC-Chapel Hill student body president. The men accused of killing her were on probation at the time and had scant, if any, supervision.

When Perdue, a Democrat, took office, she promised to improve the probation system, Fetzer noted.

In December 2008, just before Perdue took office, there were 109 unfilled probation officer jobs. Officials have been hiring, but there are still 118 vacant probation officer positions, an N&O story noted last week. Hiring has been slow in part because the jobs require a minimum of two years of related experience such as law enforcement, social work or military.

Fetzer said in a state where unemployment is 11.2 percent, there is no reason why the jobs should be unfilled.

"This is an abomination, and every citizen in North Carolina should be outraged about this," Fetzer said.

Compiled by staff writer Ben Niolet.

ben.niolet@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4521

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