Monday, March 31, 2008

What's in the ground on race, ethnicity?

Some say Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speech a few weeks ago might – or should – jumpstart a national conversation on race. In Charlotte, a conversation was already in the works.

Mecklenburg Ministries, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee and Community Building Initiative have been organizing to help the public examine issues that may be divisive in our community and discuss how to strengthen relationships. The dialogues were prompted by the rancor that occurred when a new Mecklenburg County sheriff was being selected.

“What’s in the Ground”, the first in a series of community dialogues on race and ethnicity and how to respond to each other, will be held Tuesday from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of First Presbyterian Church, 2000 West Trade St.

Confirmed panelists include Dr. Claude Alexander of The Park Ministries, Dr. Mary John Dye of Hawthorne Lane United Methodist; Rabbi Murray Ezring of Temple Israel; Reverend Jay Leach of Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte; Reverend Frank Ramos of Forest Hills United Methodist Church) and Dr. Dwayne Walker of Little Rock AME Zion. The moderator is Katie Crowe of First Presbyterian.

The sponsors want to hear from the faith community, government officials, business and nonprofit leaders, educators, the media and individual residents. What's your take on the issue?

4,000 dead: A view from Iraq

Pundits can wax eloquent about the horror of war and those who fight and die honorably in battle. But its the military men and women who do the fighting who tell the story best.
Lt. Sean Walsh who is in Iraq wrote a compelling piece for Time magazine last week.

It began: “The passing of the 4,000th service member in Iraq is a tragic milestone and a testament to the cost of this war, but for those of us who live and fight in Iraq, we measure that cost in smaller, but much more personal numbers. For me those numbers are 8, the number of friends and classmates killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 3, the number of soldiers from my unit killed in this deployment. I'm 25, yet I've received more notifications for funerals than invitations to weddings.”
It ended: “For the vast majority of Americans who don't have a loved one overseas, the only number they have to attempt to grasp the Iraq War is 4,000. I would ask that when you see that number, try to remember that it is made up of over 1 million smaller numbers; that every one of the 1 million service members who have fought in Iraq has his or her own personal numbers. Over 1 million 8's and 3's. When you are evaluating the price of the war, weighing potential rewards versus cost in blood and treasure, I would ask you to consider what is worth the lives of three of your loved ones? Or eight? Or more? It would be a tragedy for my 8 and 3 to have died without us being able to complete our mission, but it maybe even more tragic for 8 and 3 to become anything higher.”

Thoughtful and thought-provoking. To read the entire article, go to:,8599,1725642,00.html

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hillary in Bosnia, differently remembered

The folks at now bring us the actual alternate-universe true film version of Hillary's visit to Tuzla:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

McCrory takes the lead

Today's update of Public Policy Polling's weekly Republican tracking poll:

"After falling into a tie last week with Fred Smith in the Republican race for Governor, Pat McCrory is back on top, according to the newest survey from Public Policy Polling. McCrory is at 27% in the poll, followed by Smith at 24%. Bill Graham (8%), Bob Orr (7%), and Elbie Powers (1%) are further back.

A key difference for McCrory between this week and last is that he has taken the lead over Smith in the Triangle, 29-26. Besides Charlotte, that is the only area of the state where McCrory leads, and it comes on the heels of pretty intensive TV advertising in the market over the last few weeks."
The full poll results and PPP's analysis can be found here.

Have you seen McCrory's ads? What do you think of them?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The latest poll in North Carolina . . .

. . . shows Barack Obama expanding his lead here over Sen. Hillary Clinton. The poll, released today by a Raleigh group called Public Policy Polling, says Obama leads Clinton now 55 - 34. This is apparently a rebound from his numbers on March 17, a low point for the campaign, just prior to his speech on race and his pastor in Philadelphia. PPP attributes the stronger showing to both his Philadelphia speech and his one on the war delivered in Fayetteville.

In other races, the poll has Richard Moore closing the gap with Beverly Perdue in the governor's race, and in the U.S. Senate primary race Kay Hagen leads Jim Neal 19 - 9, with 61 percent of the voters still undecided.

The complete poll can be downloaded in a pdf format here.

Did Obama's Philadelphia and Fayetteville speeches change your mind about his candidacy? Just click the 'comments' link below to continue the conversation.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Yes, reporters make mistakes....

Former Observer sports writer Joe Posnanski, now writing for the Kansas City Star, wanted to make his readers feel just a little bit better about their screw-ups so he wrote about three of his in a blog. Here’s one about his work at the Observer.

It’s lengthy, but worth the journey to the end:

Screw-up 1: Magic Johnson.

I was 20 years old and had just started at The Charlotte Observer - it might have been my first day as an intern, in fact - when an assistant sports editor named David Scott said to me: “Magic Johnson is supposed to be coming to Belk to sign autographs; find out what time he’s coming.”
Belk is a department store in Charlotte and throughout the South - sort of a Sunbelt Macy’s or Dillard’s or whatever - and a huge, huge advertiser in the Observer. This will become important later.

Anyway, I had absolutely no idea how to find out what time Magic Johnson was coming. I believe it took David about two hours to explain the basic concept to me (“This is a phone … these buttons here can be pressed in a certain order that will cause a phone at Belk to ring …”). I nervously called Belk, talked to some woman who had absolutely no idea who Magic Johnson was or why I would be calling to bother her. After numerous, “Let me put you on hold” exchanges, I somehow extracted the nugget of information that Magic Johnson would be at Belk at 3 p.m.

“Magic Johnson will be at Belk at 3 p.m.,” I called across the room. I was quite proud of myself.

“Write me a note about it,” David said.

So, I took out a piece of paper - this is absolutely true - and wrote, “Magic Johnson will be at Belk at 3 p.m.” and handed it to him. David said, “What is this?” I said, “You said write you a note.” I’m pretty sure David thought I was being a smart ass. He did not know at that moment - could not know - the depths of my incompetence. This will become important later too.

“What am I going to do with this? No, you need to write me a NOTE, you know, the kind I can put in the paper.”

Oh. OK. A note. Sure. Yeah, I knew that. Well, hell, I’d read newspapers before. I knew how to write a note. Sort of. I mean, how hard could it be? I sat down at the computer and wrote something like this:

“Magic Johnson, last year’s NBA most valuable player, will appear at Belk today at 3 p.m. to sign autographs. Johnson, who is known for his fancy passing and winning personality, will sign autographs on a first-come, first-serve basis. Johnson, who led Michigan State to the NCAA Championship in 1979 and has since led the Lakers to three NBA championships, is known for his fancy passing and winning personalities. He will sign autographs," as long as he can," according to a spokesperson for Belk. The autographs will be signed on a first-come, first serve basis.”

When I sent this to David, I thought I saw his head shake slightly, but I didn’t think anything of it. He was no doubt at this point trying to figure out how to have that, “Maybe you should try another business, like something in the lawn-mowing field,” speech. In any case, he accepted the note, let me go home, it was a Friday night, and I think I had plans.

Saturday morning, 6 a.m., the phone rings. I was still living at home at the time, so my mother - not especially happy about the 6 a.m. call - handed me the phone. She said something like, “It’s your boss.” I did not even know I had a boss. I answered, and this was Gary Schwab, the sports editor of the Observer. I had not, as far as I can remember, ever spoken to Gary before. To me, now, this would be like, oh, I don’t know, working as an iPod salesman in an Apple Store in Des Moines and getting a 6 a.m. call from Steve Jobs.

“Where did you get that information about Magic Johnson?” was the first thing I remember hearing. Funny thing is, I didn’t think Gary sounded angry. Not at first. Just curious. I was so young and naive then, my first reaction was that this was just a normal call - maybe the sports editor always called young reporters at 6 a.m. to follow up on notes.

Me: Um, well, I called Belk.
Gary: You called Belk? You sure.
Me: Well, yeah.
Gary: And you talked to someone there.
Me: Um, yeah, a few people actually. I had to keep getting transferred and …
Gary: OK, I’m going to ask you an important question now. OK? What exactly did they say? I mean exactly.
Me: Well, they said that Magic Johnson …
Gary: OK …Me: That he would be there signing autographs …
Gary: Right, fine.
Me: at 3 o’clock.

And then there was a long pause on the other side. Or maybe I’m just remembering the long pause for dramatic effect. Then Gary asked me the most sickening question I’ve ever been asked, a two-word question that even now makes me shake. He asked me: “What day?”
What day? … What day? … That was a pretty good question. In retrospect - I thought as I sat on my bed and watched my entire journalism career flush down the toilet before it had even begun - this would have been a worthwhile question to ask of the anonymous Belk person.

The conversation was a touch one-sided after this:
Me: Um, I guess I didn’t ask that.
Gary: So why did you write that he was going to be there today?
Me: Well, I kind of assumed …
Gary: Because he’s not going to be there today. He’s going to be there Wednesday.
Me: Oh, um, Wednesday ….
Gary: And this is very bad because Belk is our biggest advertiser, and we need to know how to handle this.
Me: OK, well, uh
Gary: And we really cannot afford to make mistakes like these. Mistakes like these destroy newspapers.
Me: Um …Gary: Especially when dealing with the newspaper’s largest advertiser.
Me: Um, right and…
Gary: Meet me at Belk.
He hung up then. At least I think he did. I know at some point, I was listening to a dial tone for a while.

So … I threw on a T-shirt, jeans, and rushed to Belk as quickly as my Pontiac T-1000 would go, which was not especially fast. When I got there, I saw David, I saw Gary, I saw someone else (this would be the managing editor) and all of them wearing suits. I suddenly sensed that I might have been a tad underdressed for this screw-up. Well, that’s the problem with screw-ups … you never know what to wear.

Gary sent me off into the men’s department to wait while the Observer people met with Belk officials to figure out exactly how to deal with the Magic Johnson crisis. I may have gotten a few of the smaller details of this event wrong, but I remember one thing very, very clearly. I was standing there, leaning against a table with khaki pants piled on it (the sign said $19.99, which I thought was pricy) and I had this powerful thought, a thought that at that moment seemed profound to me, a motto for growing up. I wrote it down on the back of a business card that I still have somewhere. It went like this:“When I used to screw up, it mean that I put milk on top of the eggs when bagging groceries. Now when I screw up, people from all over Charlotte mindlessly come to Belk looking for Magic Johnson.”

After what seemed like roughly 30 days in solitary confinement, Gary came over, put his hand on my shoulder and said: “OK, well, here’s the deal. You obviously messed up here. I can’t make you do this. But here’s what I want you to do: I want you to stand in front of Belk this afternoon, and when you see someone who is coming to see Magic Johnson explain to them that there was a mistake in the paper and that you apologize and that Magic will be here on Wednesday.”

Maybe it was a test. Maybe it was a concession they had made to the Belk people. Maybe Gary saw it as an opportunity to teach a young kid a lesson. I don’t know. All I do know is that afternoon, I stood in front of Belk and stopped people, told them that I had screwed up, that Magic wasn’t coming, that I obviously wasn’t cut out for this newspaper business, that I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life now, that I was thinking about radio but I didn’t think I had a good radio voice … and so on. Some were very angry. Some were understanding. Some ended up trying to make ME feel better. It was humiliating, of course. And cathartic. I never made that mistake again. I learned that with reporting comes responsibility. And I found a nice polo shirt on sale.”

Interested in the rest of Posnanski's screw-ups? Go to

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Advice from Mike: Don't imitate

Speaking of hoops, the “king” had something to say on the subject to ESPN.The Magazine recently.

Not college hoops. Michael Jordan waxed wise to the NBA and its players about trying to invent the next MJ or Magic or Bird.

“One thing to learn from me is everything I’ve ever done has been me, not something that someone calculated me to be. It goes to my upbringing, my parents...

“Too many of the league’s decisions are based on the bottom line. People pick up on that. You can’t be afraid to fail. The stars you have now might not live up to the icon of a Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, but maybe they will create an image that delivers an impact for you 10, 15 years from now.

“All I know is – for the league and its players – don’t try to duplicate something that has been done before. Do it your own way, and see where it goes. It might not hit the way you want it to. You may not make as much money as you want to. But there’s value in remaining true to yourself.”

Mike, the businessman, could be talking about more than basketball.

Teachers to talk back about jobs

Gov. Mike Easley’s launch Monday of the 2008 Teacher Working Conditions Survey gives educators an opportunity to once again tell state leaders what’s hampering them in the classroom and what can help them help students succeed academically.

In announcing the survey, the governor said: “When teachers in North Carolina speak, we listen. Since 2002 when the first survey was administered, we have used their feedback to shape statewide education policies and improve schools across the state. With more than 20 other states now adopting this initiative, North Carolina is leading the nation in education innovation.”

True. But teacher working conditions remain a big problem in North Carolina. In survey results released last year, 40 percent or more said class size and school leadership were issues. In high-poverty, academically struggling schools even more teachers point to those and other concerns.

Educators can complete the survey at through April 21. Parents, teachers and community members can log on too, and track the response rates of schools across the state. Final survey results will be posted on the Web site after May 15.

So what do you think about teacher work conditions in North Carolina? How about in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools? Teachers, parents and others, tell us what you think.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Heels lose to Western Kentucky! Academically ...

Way to go, Hilltoppers! Let’s hear it for Western Kentucky! Its men’s basketball team has won the NCAA tournament ... academically, speaking, that is.

A study released Monday has put the gleaming college sports machines that power March Madness in an alternate spotlight. It focuses on the 64 schools’ graduation rates, which prove that having a big name in hoops doesn’t mean you have a great follow-through. There are troubling gaps between black and white players, and the biggest winners on the court don’t always come out on top in the classroom.

Here’s what the Associated Press reported:
“If the Final Four were determined academically, it would be Western Kentucky (100 percent graduation success), Butler (92 percent), Notre Dame (91 percent) and Purdue (91 percent). Xavier, a No. 3 seed, was close behind with a 90 percent success rate.North Carolina was the only school among the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA men’s tournament to graduate at least 50 percent of its players. Eighty-six percent of UNC Tar Heels’ players earned diplomas during a six-year period. The other top seeds were far worse: 45 percent at Kansas and 40 percent at UCLA and Memphis. The study was conducted by Richard Lapchick, head of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

Lapchick’s primary concern was the disparity between black and white players. Thirty-three schools graduated at least 70 percent of their white men’s basketball players; only 19 graduated that many black players. At least 50 percent of white players earned degrees at 45 schools, but black athletes had that much success at only 36 schools.”
What about it? Are priorities out of whack? What’s an acceptable six-year graduation rate for a college athletic team? Should a school with a poor academic success record get a bid to the prestigious NCAA tourney?

But do they know their college hoops?

Forget about fixing mental health, booting political influence from state road-building, opening up government and boosting public schools. It’s March in the Tar Heel state, and the Madness has begun. It’s also an election year with wide-open statewide races. That means the really, really important question for North Carolina candidates is (drumroll please) how well do you know your college basketball?

The News & Observer’s Under the Dome political blog has veered into uncharted territory in an admirable effort to find out. It has invited the state’s candidates for elected office to post their brackets for the NCAA tourney, and promised to report how well they do.

This is great. Now we’ll really get to see who panders (Ole Roy’s UNC Chapel Hill Tar Heels are ranked No. 1), who’s a shrewd strategist and who doesn’t have a clue.

Questions: Will any of the candidates for governor be bold enough to pick someone other than the Heels? Will anybody at all pick Duke?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Perdue's Endorsement

If you’re a Democrat or independent in North Carolina who wants to see more women in top political offices, the May 6th primary offers a double shot at success. In addition to Hillary Clinton, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, a first. Her major opponent is Richard Moore, state treasurer.

Fifty-one percent of Tar Heel residents are women, according to the 2006 U.S. Census estimate. So it’s appropriate (and about time) to have a woman among the choices for the state’s top elected office. Lt. Gov. Perdue is not shy about pointing that out. Yet this week she endorsed Barack Obama as the party nominee.

So, is North Carolina’s woman candidate a traitor to the “cause”? Is this a strategy to draw African-American votes to her campaign? Or is she an independent thinker?
What do you think?

It's not just the Lynx that's getting crowded

The American Public Transportation Association has reported that public transit ridership is at the highest level in 50 years. They cite gas prices, road congestion and better transit services as factors.

A story in Wednesday's Observer outlined the choices folks are making as gas prices reach record levels. What about you? Are you driving less, walking more or using Charlotte's public transit? And how's that working out for you?

As always, click on the "Comments" link below to continue the conversation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Speaking of Jesse's "Hands" ad . . .

Mickey Kaus over at looks at Geraldine Ferraro's recent comments about Barack Obama and wonders if Hillary Clinton's campaign is now reliving Helms' notorious TV spot. Kaus characterizes Ferraro's remarks a "Kinsley gaffe," defined by Michael Kinsley as when a politician tells the truth. He also highlights Jesse Jackson's 1988 response when Ferraro said the same thing about him: "Some people are making hysteria while I'm making history."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Who do we fear at 3 a.m.?

Hillary Clinton's "3 a.m phone" ad reportedly won her some votes in Texas, but it was also cited as one of the ways she went negative during the primary campaign, exploiting fears of an inexperienced leader in the White House. But Harvard's Orlando Patterson, writing in Tuesday's New York Times, has even harsher words about the ad than that. He says:

"Repeated watching of the ad on YouTube increased my unease. I realized that I had only too often in my study of America’s racial history seen images much like these, and the sentiments to which they allude. . . . The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat."
He goes on to compare the ad to other divisive campaign spots in recent history, such as the Willie Horton ad from George H. W. Bush's run against Michael Dukakis. He could have also mentioned the classic North Carolina contribution, Jesse Helms' "Hands" ad used against Harvey Gantt.

What do you think? Is Professor Patterson on to something? Or has he called a wrong number? Click the "Comments" link below to continue the conversation.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The war on the suburbs

During the recent transit tax debate, some light rail foes argued that CATS and City Hall were assaulting the suburban way of life, engaging in a plan to force folks out of their houses with lawns and into inner-city high-rises. But less ideological observers have noticed that it's not government conspiracies, but market forces themselves that are boosting urban living over the traditional suburban American Dream. On Saturday's Viewpoint page, Christopher Leinberger of the Brookings Institution cited changing demographics as one of those forces -- new householders and empty-nesters looking for a "walkable urbanism." (Leinberger will speak at the Civic by Design Forum today, Tuesday, March 11, at 5:30 p.m. at the Levin Museum of the New South. Contact Brenda Campbell for more info.)

And John McIlwain, in the latest issue of the Urban Land Institute's Multifamily Trends magazine, says the trends of cost, affordability, energy supply and climate change will radically re-shape America's housing market. He illustrates his arguments with 2 striking graphs, the first showing the energy use by suburban vs. urban homes, the second showing the future demand vs. the supply of housing (with a negative demand for new suburban-type development in 2025):

McIlwain's entire piece can be found here.

What do you think? Just click the "Comments" link below to continue the conversation.

Poultry plant problems? Just a bowl of Cheries!

The Observer investigation series, "The Cruelest Cuts", found, as we said in a recent editorial, "lax regulations and weak oversight have made it easy for a dangerous industry to exploit illegal workers, underreport injuries and get around a regulatory system that lets companies police themselves." In response, we heard from many readers who thought these problems didn't matter because they affected mostly those thought to be illegal immigrant workers. But N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry seems to take a different approach -- she doesn't see any problems at all! In fact, in revealing interviews with the Observer's Ames Alexander, published Sunday, she cites the decline in injury reports as proof that her partnering with business is working for the state:

"Well, I find it offensive that it seems to me you're suggesting that not keeping the proper paperwork is commonplace in our business community. I just don't find that. ... We're going to keep doing what we're doing because it's working. And, no amount of ink and paper in the world that you generate is going to stop us from doing the good job we're doing."

In other words, everything would be fine, if the Observer would just mind its own business. How safe does this make workers in other North Carolina industries feel?

Alexander's complete interview with Berry can be read here.

Your thoughts?

Friday, March 7, 2008

The cost of water conservation

First, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities officials ask us to conserve water. Now they slap us with a bill for the cost of that conservation: The expected loss of water and sewer revenues means a bigger boost in water and sewer rates. Translation - our water/sewer bills are going up even as we use less water.

Ah, sh... shucks.

One Forum writer speculates about “another fleecing of the citizens”. CMU Director Doug Bean tells City Council, which must approve the rate increase, it’s just math. With the unexpected and necessary conservation, millions of dollars the utilities plans on to meet budget will be gone. Since the utilities operates on fees and rates, not taxes, the only way to make up the difference is to raise fees. Utilities officials, who dropped by to talk to the Observer’s editorial board, also said this in an e-mail:

“One point we would re-emphasize is just how much capital costs play a role in the Utilities budget. These projects are necessary to serve our growing service area and for upgrades/reinvestment to existing infrastructure. In fact $158 million of this year’s $254 million budget is a fixed amount specifically dedicated to finance debt service for recent, current and future capital improvement projects.”

The shortfall threatens the system’s bond rating - and its ability to borrow money at low interest rates, Bean said. If the city doesn’t increase fees, it could cost the system millions of dollars in interest.

The proposed increases would mean an about $6.36 extra each month to the typical customer, beginning in May, if approved by City Council.

The proposal also would penalize heavy water users more. Customers are charged on a tiered system: The more water used, the more expensive it is per gallon. The proposal makes those tiers more aggressive, increasing the cost of water more quickly.
Bean says “water is not an unlimited, cheap commodity that can be wasted.” Sigh. Get out the checkbook.

What do you think about this water/sewer rate increase? Talk back to us.

Speaking of water . . .

. . . here’s a view from six famous writers:

Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), British poet, in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Water so clear you could
read a book through it.
Water so buoyant you could
float on your elbow.
- Anne Sexton (1928-1974), U.S. poet, “The Nude Swim.”

Water is a pioneer which the settler follows, taking advantage of its improvements.
- Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), U.S. philosopher, author, naturalist, from “The Allegash and East Branch” in The Maine Woods

What’s water but the generated soul?
- William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), Irish poet.

A little water clears us of this deed.
How easy is it then!
- William Shakespeare (1564-1616), British dramatist, poet, Lady Macbeth, in Macbeth,

All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.
- Toni Morrison (b. 1931), U.S. fiction writer and essayist, as quoted in Grace Notes by Rita Dove (1989).