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Capital Confederacy Confusion in Charleston

FlagofSouthCarolinastateflag

In the wake of the Charleston shootings, the imagery of the Confederate flag has stirred passions because of its alleged influence on the motives of the shooter. Of particular interest for some rabble rousers is the Confederate flag that flies on the grounds of the SC State House. I have been perplexed as to how something that has been flying at the state capital since 1962 (when the flag was first raised at the behest of the Democrat governor and his allies in the legislature) would come to be associated with the Charleston shooting. What does a shooting in Charleston have to do with a flag flying 120 miles away in Columbia (the city, not the country – confusing, I know)?

This is Charleston. Where the shooting happened.

This is Charleston. Where the shooting happened.

But then it dawned on me! The reason people are so upset about the flag at the State House and believe that it had some influence on the shooter is because they think the State House is in Charleston. Of course, anyone even vaguely familiar with the history and geography of South Carolina knows that the state capital is in Columbia and that Charleston hasn’t been the capital since colonial times (1786 to be exact). So, I would posit that the reason everyone is all in a hullabaloo about the Confederate flag is because they think that it’s flying over the State House, which they erroneously assume to be in Charleston. It’s a simple case of mistaken identity.

It’s understandable how such confusion could arise. After all, I suppose Albany frequently experiences the same problem. Between Charleston and Columbia, Charleston is the better known city, with all the fancy restaurants and beaches that everyone’s heard of, the cool history sites, etc. Columbia has more of a diamond-in-the-rough quality to it. Though, as a certified former Columbia resident, I can attest to the quality of the Columbia food scene.

This is Columbia. Where the evil Confederate Flag is.

This is Columbia. Where the evil Confederate Flag is.

But this confusion is really the only logical explanation for the recent uproar. Because it’s simply ridiculous to suggest that a flag 120 miles away from the scene of the shooting (and that doesn’t sit atop the actual building or even the Confederate memorial itself – it actually stands next to it) would have anything to do with that shooting. Sure, maybe some people find it offensive. But such a display is hardly unique, nor is it likely to be even the most offensive thing sitting on the grounds of the State House. I would think that the memorials to Strom Thurmond or John C. Calhoun would provoke more ire from these people then a dinky little flag that is (literally) overshadowed by a giant memorial to the Confederate dead.

Though, given leading politicians’ apparent inclination to appease the mob, perhaps it’s best, lest anyone be offended, to simply bulldoze all of the monuments at the state house (including the memorial to Black South Carolinians, since that was clearly intended to be ironic) and rename all the streets in Columbia. Even the palmetto should go, because, you know. Slaves.

This is the memorial to Black South Carolinians. Which you literally have to walk by every time you enter the State House.

This is the memorial to Black South Carolinians. Which you literally have to walk by every time you enter the State House.

Then we can have a giant flag burning on the grounds of the state house, genuflect before the likes of William Barber, and maybe write a big check (courtesy of the local taxpayers of course) to the liberal grievance group of your choice. Of course that strategy will only work until the great, unwashed masses decide to get offended again. So, perhaps it’s better from a long-run perspective to simply ignore them and let them burn themselves out. Because these people will never be appeased, they will never be happy, and they will continue to look for ways to embarrass and humiliate you. So, don’t engage with them. Pretty simple.

But in the meantime, please try to remember that the state capital is in Columbia, not Charleston.

Why Do Roads Suck?

Let’s talk about roads. To start, why does it take so long to build a road? For example, planning for the I-485 loop in Charlotte first began in 1975. Construction didn’t begin until 1988. It’s still not done. Or consider I-540 in Raleigh. Planning for that road first began in the early 1970’s. Construction did not begin until 1992. It, too, remains unfinished. Even your run-of-the-mill road widening project takes an eternity to complete. When it is completed, the widening of the southern stretch of I-485, which adds all of one lane in each direction along a 9.2 mile length of highway, will take nearly three years to complete (assuming it is completed on time). Repaving 11.5 miles of I-440 in southern Wake County (the so-called “Fortify” project) is projected to take at least 3 years.

Not only do roads take forever to build, they are also prohibitively expensive. Take the I-485 expansion noted above. Simply adding one lane in each direction for 9.2 miles (or a total of 18.4 miles or road surface) is projected to cost $83.3 million. With an average daily volume of approximately 50,000 vehicles, that works out to about $1700 per car for just this project. The amount of money the government spends on just roads is obscene. Last year, the NCDOT’s budget for new construction and maintenance was $2.72 billion, which works out to about $2710 for every man, woman, and child in the state.

Even this is not enough to satisfy the voracious appetite of the state’s road-builders. The state is claiming that it no longer has enough money to pay for new construction and maintenance. So what is the solution? Toll roads! Toll roads are really quite a creative government funding mechanism, because instead of just paying for the road once at its initial construction (and some follow-up maintenance later), state tax payers get to pay all of those upfront costs plus a user fee every time they roll down the road.

A not-unusual scene of North Carolina's roads

A not-unusual scene of the chaos of North Carolina’s roads

The latest twist on toll roads is to add tolled “Guaranteed Speed Lanes” alongside existing lanes. These new tolled lanes take advantage of the waste and inefficiency of the current road design and charge you a toll (which varies by time of day and volume) to use the lane which guarantees a minimum speed limit. So, while all of the poor commuting schlubs are stuck rolling down an alleged high-speed highway at 10-15 mph, you get to blow on by them going at least 55-60 mph.

Rather than correcting the failings of the current system, the state government is increasingly looking at using these types of tolled lanes throughout North Carolina’s urban areas. Of course, this type of tolling does little to encourage more innovative roads better designed to handle daily traffic volumes. Instead, it actually encourages further waste and inefficiency in road construction, as slow-moving traffic may induce more people to use the toll lanes. Except what usually ends up happening (if the I-540 expansion is any indication) is that no-one uses the new toll roads. So, the state gets to dump a bunch of money into a road no one uses and, traffic continues to get worse. Yay!

Given the disaster that is the public highway, it’s hard to believe that this is the best we can do. Is there not a better way? After all, it would likely be pretty difficult to do much worse.

Pineville, NC – Aspiring Police State

They’re Watching You

The Charlotte Observer is reporting that the town of Pineville (which sits on Charlotte’s southern edge) is planning to install a town-wide camera monitoring network in order to “deter crime”. The first cameras are already up in the town’s center, and the police are already claiming that this is not a “covert” system designed to monitor citizens’ private lives (they swear!).

This is curious for several reasons. Most strikingly, the Observer’s report (which was published after the first cameras were already installed) is the first mention of this program from any town official. There is no mention of the program in the town council’s meeting minutes, and the town has yet to even disclose the cost of such an ambitious undertaking. Considering the privacy violations inherent in this type of blanket-coverage surveillance program, the public officials in charge of this project should be more open about its means, goals, and ends. There is also no evidence that a discussion about the legality of such program ever took place. Can the town simply film every person that happens to wander through town, or is such surveillance an illegal search prohibited by the Fourth Amendment? Or does the Pineville Police Department just expect us to trust them when they promise not to use the cameras to peer into our living rooms?

Another question that needs to be answered is whether this (possibly illegal) surveillance is even necessary. A quick perusal of the Mecklenburg County crime statistics suggests not. In the last 6 months, there has been exactly 1 crime within a one-mile radius of the town center (Pineville isn’t exactly a large town).

Pineville, NC Crime Map

Pineville, NC Crime Map

So is all of this time, effort, and invasion of privacy necessary to prevent one crime? Probably not.

The final wrinkle in Pineville’s effort to put Orwell to shame is the town’s audacious “request” (bullying is probably a more accurate description) that the town’s businesses buy these cameras (at their own expense) and hook them up to the police department’s surveillance network. So, it’s bad enough that the town is (secretly) buying and installing these cameras, but now they want local businesses to bear the cost of this government spying. Their brazeness is simply stunning.

These cameras are an unnecessary and potentially dangerous idea. Pineville doesn’t have a crime problem, and even if it did, that wouldn’t justify obtrusive, warrantless government spying. If the town is truly concerned about crime (given Pineville’s history, it shouldn’t be), it should either hire more police or encourage local businesses to take their own security precautions. Of particular concern is the town’s almsot uniform silence on the matter and the lack of input from the citizens who live there. There is no need to transform this quiet little suburb into a First World police state.

Is North Carolina Getting Schooled?

Let’s suppose a program of education funding exists that is only given to students who

  • Currently attend school
  • Plan on attending school next year
  • Are “low-income”

Let’s also suppose that this novel form of educational funding

  • Is entirely funded by the government
  • Is capped at approximately $5000 per year per student
  • May be used at any school (public or private) of the recipient’s choice

Is this some sort of backdoor attempt to re-segregate schools? Is it a nefarious plot by a bunch of closet racists in the legislature to drive poor, black children into inner-city ghettos? Or is it a sneaky attempt by the government to funnel public money to legislators’ business partners in the education industry?funny-racist-quotes

Actually, what I have just described is the Federal Pell Grant Program, a federal voucher program (of sorts) that has been used by millions of students to pay for college since its creation as part of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Pell Grants bear more than just a passing resemblance to North Carolina’s newly-enacted Opportunity Scholarship Program. Yet, what is apparently not even remotely controversial when applied to colleges is now the subject of several lawsuits seeking to end the scholarship program. Why is it non-objectionable for federal tax dollars to flow to public and private (and God forbid- religious) universities, but it is the re-establishment of Jim Crow to send state tax dollars to public and private elementary, middle, and high schools? No one accuses Pell Grants of segregating the nation’s colleges and universities. No one accuses Pell Grants of violating the Establishment Clause. No one accuses Pell Grants of draining funds from the public education system. Yet, the Opportunity Scholarship Program has been accused of all these things and worse. Why?

I would posit that the reason for such a visceral reaction is that the scholarship program threatens to upset the power dynamics of public education in North Carolina. Fundamentally, the public schools would have to compete on a (relatively) more equal footing with their private-sector competitors. Competition is generally a good thing, unless you’re an entrenched special-interest whose results are mediocre at best. The teacher’s union is (rightly) worried that many parents will leave their local low-performing public school and send their children to the private school just up the road, and that private school, will, among other things, actually provide an education to its students. The NAACP is worried that the success of the scholarship program will enable more (colored) children to escape the clutches of their local inner-city hell-hole and go on to live bright, happy, and successful lives. Their concern is understandable. After all, it’s hard to run a grievance industry if you have no grievances.

What's more oppressive: Scholarships or his pin stripes?

What’s more oppressive: Scholarships or his pin stripes?

Notice who comes out ahead though: the students (i.e. the supposed concern of the aforementioned special interest groups). What the scholarship program does is provide parents with a choice. If they’re happy with the local public school, nothing is making them leave. However, if another school is better suited to enable their children’s success, then the scholarship program gives them an option. The competitive pressures that the program introduces will also provide existing public schools with a reason to innovate and improve their programs. So, even children who do not take advantage of the scholarship will see benefits from the program. In the end, the only people who will be hurt by this scholarship will be those who are desperately clinging to their old ideas of power and influence. The children win.

Leadership on Cruz Control

The various responses to Ted Cruz’s Defund ObamaCare campaign are as enlightening with regard to their content as they are for who’s responding. For example, take Senator Richard Burr’s (R-NC) March 13th endorsement of the defund strategy and compare it to his more recent suggestion that “it’s the dumbest idea [he’s] ever heard of.” Also consider McCain aides leaking the fact that their boss “f-ing hates” Cruz. But note that McCain doesn’t hate Cruz for his policies, but rather for his “style” (read: the freshman needs to learn his place). Top Republicans also sent opposition research to Fox News host Chris Wallace in advance of his Sunday interview with Cruz so that he could “hammer” Cruz.

After their performance in the last election, it was easy to believe that the GOP didn’t have any fight left in it. It turns out that wasn’t quite true. They really know how to roll out the big guns when the target is one of their own. Think about it. When was the last time John McCain really went after somebody who didn’t have an R after his name? The reason for this isn’t so much a clash between the more liberal and more conservative wings of the party, but rather because the party lacks leadership.Ted Cruz Smile AP

The current “leaders” of the Republican Party have been in office for 20, 30, 40 years. Tenure in office isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes detrimental when it causes the office-holder to become complacent. You fall into a rut. You run a token campaign every two or six years, get your cushy office with a staff to attend to your every need, lots of people like you, and every now and then you get to sit for a TV interview. Not a bad life. Maybe you’re not in the majority party, but that’s ok because it means you don’t have any actual responsibility for anything. You can just put your life on cruise control, and ride off into the sunset a wizened, old statesman who never really accomplished much but was able to live pretty comfortably.

But then along come these new kids who actually want to do something. You don’t necessarily disagree with their policy aims, but accomplishing those aims would involve doing some actual work. You would actually have to take a stand on something (rather than just taking a series of meaningless symbolic votes whose only purpose is to provide content for your auto-pilot re-election campaign) There’s even the possibility that some people may not like you if you stake out a position. You might not get as many TV interviews and a couple angry people might call your staffers (your staffers would actually bear the brunt of whatever decision you make, but receiving their reports would make you really uncomfortable). There’s also the fact that most of your other Senator friends feel exactly the same way you do (the fact that Cruz is basically doing this by himself is often presented as a reason not to do it). So, even if you do decide to do something, you’ll likely be doing it alone (and who wants to do that?). In short, you’re afraid to lead. So what do you do? Take down the kids (or “wacko birds” to borrow McCain’s parlance) that are rocking the boat. Publicly oppose their efforts in Congress. Leak incriminating evidence to the press. Have your aides run around and say lots of nasty things about them. Then you can go back to living your dull, safe, comfortable life.

In his defense, McCain probably meant "Angry Birds"

In his defense, McCain probably meant “Angry Birds”

There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way, but then you probably should have thought about that before you signed up for a job where the only job requirement is to be a leader. You were elected to make hard decisions. You were elected to stand alone. You were elected to bear the burdens that elected representatives must often carry. Ted Cruz understand this. Mike Lee understands this. Rand Paul understand this. Most of the rest of the party does not. To put it in context, the Founding Fathers risked everything they had (“[their] lives, [their] fortunes, and [their] sacred honor”) for an idea that had a significantly smaller chance of success than today’s Defund movement. Today’s representatives are simply being asked to make a vote that makes them a little uncomfortable. Is that really asking too much?

The core of the Republican Party’s problems do not involve its outreach efforts to Hispanics or its stance on social issues. Its problem is that it doesn’t know how to lead. Until the party is willing to take bold, principled risks, it won’t win another election. Having members of the party running around sabotaging each other does nothing but reinforce the image of the GOP as a ship without a captain. It wouldn’t be that hard to change this and, the effect would be more powerful than the millions of dollars Crossroads sank into its really effective 2012 ad campaign. The old guard simply has to let those who want to lead, lead. The irony is that the harder the GOP tries to make people like it, the faster they will abandon it. If the party wants to become electorally viable again, it must stake out controversial positions and be willing to take risks. Moderates don’t make history.

North Carolina’s Ban on Bans

By now, everyone is likely familiar with Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to ban super-sized soft drinks in New York. Banning is all the rage in government these days. A simple Google search for “government bans” turns up more than 91.5 million results. Everything is banned: shark fins, guns, light bulbs, even the word “citizen”. It seems like there’s nothing the government won’t ban.

This is what makes recent legislation passed by the good people at the North Carolina General Assembly and recently signed by Governor Pat McCrory all the more interesting. The Commonsense Consumption Act (or Big Gulp Bill, as it’s more commonly known) prohibits local governments from limiting soft drink sizes and prohibits consumers from suing food and beverage makers, distributors, or advertisers for the obesity that results from over-indulgence in their products. It is, in effect, a ban on bans.Coca-Cola_Glas_mit_Eis

While most of the commentary surrounding the new law has focused on its relationship to the New York City ban, this misses the most important aspect of the law. It is an important reversal in the way that the state government views its relationship with the people. Most people have grown accustomed to the government telling them what they cannot do. However, this law exudes a more classical American sensibility in telling the government what it cannot do. This is a refreshing trend and one that will rehabilitate the relationship between the government and the citizen. This law recognizes that government attempts to micro-manage the lives of the citizenry are both futile and offensive to the right of self-determination. Particularly given the slew of recent scandals, a move towards empowering the citizenry rather than nameless, faceless bureaucrats will help restore the public’s confidence in their system of government after its botched attempts to direct everything from health care to energy consumption.

You will rarely hear a politician say that the people should not be free to make their own choices (in this case whether to drink a child-sized soda or not). However, politicians frequently argue that people should not be allowed to fail and should, in effect, be protected from themselves.

child sized soda

They do not trust the people to make their own decisions (though, they apparently trust the people to make the decision to re-elect them every few years). However, this does nothing but handicap people’s ability to succeed. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne’s father asks his son, “Why do we fall?” He then answers his own question, “So we can learn to get back up.” Government policy, like this law, should reflect this attitude.

North Carolina’s ban on bans is a shining example of that oft-quoted phrase, “The government that governs least, governs best.” Banning bans is not something that should be controversial because it recognizes the free agency of the individual. This law recognizes the proper ordering of the relationship between government and citizen and ought to be a template for future legislation.

The IRS and the Politicization of Health Care

The fact that the IRS is targeting conservative groups for additional scrutiny and audits, while disturbing, is not particularly surprising. After all, this is the same administration that has used its power to bestow taxpayer dollars on political allies and is currently attempting to cover up its cover up of the Benghazi fiasco. In light of all of this, the fact that the administration would use the IRS as its personal goon squad is simply par for the course.

However, this does raise some troubling questions about the IRS’ role in administering ObamaCare. As the IRS is the primary means of enforcement in the law, can we expect the agency to politicize the administration of healthcare as it has apparently politicized the administration of our nation’s tax laws? Some reassurance in this regard would be particularly helpful. Will I be required to staple a copy of my voter registration card and proof of political affiliation to my insurance claim? Or will simple proof of a donation to the Obama 2012 Campaign be enough? I think this illustrates the danger of centralizing the distribution of medical care within a government. A person is at his most vulnerable when either he or someone he cares about is sick or injured. The temptation for someone to use that situation to his advantage is simply too great. Particularly when the IRS has already proven it cannot be trusted to administer the tax law fairly, how can we expect them to do any better with health care?

Guns are Merely Illegal Aliens

I think few things better demonstrate the ridiculous nature of current gun laws and their subsequent enforcement than the recent episode involving a NC student who is facing expulsion and a felony charge for inadvertently leaving a (locked) shotgun in the trunk of his car. Of course, the only reason that anyone knows that there was a gun in his trunk was that a school administrator eavesdropping on his phone conversation heard him ask his mother to come retrieve the gun from his car. Privacy issues aside, it’s not as if he walked into the school with it slung over his shoulder.

Aside from the question of whether school officials should be listening on conversations between children and their parents, it should have been fairly obvious that the student was attempting to rectify the situation. One can’t help but notice the double standard here. If the student had been an illegal immigrant discussing his green card issues with his mother, he would have gotten a wink and a nod (and maybe some food stamps), and off to math class he would go. But he’s a white male (and Eagle Scout) with a gun, so of course there’s no room for “compassion” or “understanding”. You immediately throw the entire penal code at him and slap him with a felony charge, effectively ruining his life at 16.

This raises several issues. First, the fact that it’s a felony to have a gun locked in the trunk of your car while you attend class is absurd. The General Assembly is currently in the processing of amending this particular law (as it applies to colleges and universities), but the thinking behind such a law is bizarre. If safety is the primary concern behind such laws, they shouldn’t be banning the guns. They should be banning the cars the guns are locked in. But safety isn’t the concern here. If it were, the school wouldn’t react so violently to an incident in which no one was hurt and no one was in danger of being hurt. Indeed, the same school merely gave a slap on the wrist to a teacher who both managed to lose her gun on school property and allow it to come into the hands of her students, a situation significantly more dangerous than the current one.

The other issue of concern is the reaction of the school administrators. Aside from their blatantly hypocritical method of dealing with the situation, their response is clearly inappropriate. The student was in the process of solving the problem with as little disruption to the school as possible, but some do-gooder felt it necessary to go call the cops. Technically, these people were following “procedure,” but when does following procedure require you to give up the ability to think? There was clearly no danger and, if the school had kept its nose out of it, no one would have even known that it happened. Looked at another way, the gun was simply an illegal immigrant to the school and had been brought to the school without its knowledge or consent. Where is the compassion? Where is the love? All it wanted to do was go home. It didn’t even want amnesty. Maybe this student should have just invoked Obama’s DREAM amnesty, and maybe the school would have been a little more understanding. But this is the problem with gun laws today (and the law in general). Those laws that the enforcers like are enforced ruthlessly and without regard for mitigating circumstances. Those laws that the enforcers don’t like are ignored, circumvented, and forgotten.

Mark Sanford’s Congressional Affair

Things are going well for would-be-ex-former-Congressman Mark Sanford. Despite his campaign having one of the most predictable collapses in the history of American politics, the former governor still trudges on. Fresh off his debate with Nancy Pelosi (whose responses were as enlightened as ever), Sanford finally managed to debate his actual opponent last night. In between discussions of Sanford’s decision to abandon his gubernatorial duties to run off to another country with his mistress, his subsequent divorce, and his more recent trespassing charge (filed by the same ex-wife who was dropped in favor of “foreign relations”), the candidates managed to discuss issues of real importance. Such things as whether Mr. Sanford flip-flopped on his support for a harbor dredging project in Charleston 20 years ago and what Ms. Colbert-Busch hoped to accomplish by writing a check for Sanford’s gubernatorial campaign are of prime importance to the voters and really serve to demonstrate how the two candidates would represent the district on such matters as immigration reform, taxes,  and ObamaCare.

But never fear! Sanford nearly has the election clinched. Only half of the district’s voters hate him and, he’s only down by nine points, in a district that gave former Rep. Tim Scott 62.4% of the vote. Luckily, Sanford has the situation completely under control. He’s even managed to drum up some support from local businesses that have started buying billboards for him, like this one:

 

Have an affair, and you, too, can be a congressman.

Have an affair, and you, too, can be a congressman.

With such impressive polling numbers and unmatched local support, the local GOP establishment has really picked a winner this time. It’s clear now what the GOP’s path forward should be. The base should just sit down, shut up, and let the party elites pick the winning candidates.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Given the beating the GOP took in the last election, you’d think the party would have learned a few things, namely that running damaged candidates for Congress doesn’t usually work out so well (looking at you, Todd Aiken). However, the lesson doesn’t appear to have sunk in and, South Carolina Republicans appear ready to nominate someone (to fill Tim Scott’s old seat) with so much baggage that he gets nailed with those excess luggage fees every time he hops on a plane down to Argentina. I am, of course, referring to disgraced former governor, Mark Sanford, whose most distinguishing act in office was inspiring a state-wide game of Where’s Waldo for a week while he engaged in some foreign relations in Argentina. The only redeeming feature of a Sanford candidacy is that he’s already on-board with the GOP’s new Hispanic outreach plan, that is if the GOP’s idea of outreach is abandoning your wife and children to go have a sexual romp on the other side of the world. forrest-gump_40570

However, despite Sanford’s questionable moral and ethical choices, he appears ready to coast to an easy primary victory. For reference, in November 2012, Tim Scott won his election with 62% of the vote. Recent polling suggests that Sanford will defeat Curtis Bostic in the April 2 primary 53-40. However, in a hypothetical match-up, Sanford is currently losing to the Democrat’s nominee, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch (yes, that Colbert) 47-45, while Bostic ties Colbert 43-43. Meanwhile 58% of the district’s voters have an unfavorable view of Sanford. So, in much the same way that the GOP nominated perhaps the only candidate who could lose to Barack Obama (i.e. Romney), they appear ready to nominate the only candidate who could quite possibly lose a solidly red district in solidly red South Carolina. Why? Because the same base voters (Evangelicals and other Social Conservatives) who are currently fueling Bostic’s campaign will simply stay home on Election Day if Sanford wins, the same factor (if you’ll recall) that cost ol’ Mittens the election. Their options will be between a typical, toe-the-line Democrat and a (possibly insane) scandal-plagued former governor who cheated on his wife. So, they’ll just opt to sit this one out. And you can hardly blame them.

I think what’s really amusing about this whole situation is that the Democrats don’t really have to do anything to win elections anymore. They just have to wait for the Republicans to nominate the least inspiring candidates they can find, and otherwise unwinnable elections for the Democrats suddenly become wide-open. There are a lot of Republicans in South Carolina. Is Mark Sanford really the best person the party can put forward? Forget all this minority outreach baloney. The party needs its base to turnout in order to win elections. And the longer the GOP thumbs its nose at the base by nominating buffons like Mark Sanford for Congress, the faster it will slide into irrelevance.