Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hillary: Ready! . . . for irony

Hillary Clinton's campaign has put out a new ad that uses Osama bin Laden and other frightening images of war and disaster to make the point that she's the person you want in the White House.

Hubby Bill had something to say about that sort of campaigning back in 2004:

"Now one of Clinton's Laws of Politics is this: If one candidate's trying to scare you and the other one's trying to get you to think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears and the other one's appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Discriminate? Who, me? Never!

Most adults in North Carolina care more about personality, religion and sexual orientation when choosing a candidate for public office than they do about race, gender and age. So found the latest Elon University poll.
Yet when respondents were asked if they knew someone who would not vote for a candidate based on race, gender and age, most said they did. Here's how the numbers broke down:

  • A presidential candidate who is a woman: 63 percent
  • A presidential candidate who is black: 54 percent
  • A presidential candidate who is “too old”: 44 percent.
Those obviously conflicting results raise an equally obvious question: Are people telling the truth about their own attitudes? Are they more apt to admit to others’ prejudices than their own?What do you think?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Obama in 'land of guns and God'

Wonder whether bitterness, guns or anti-immigrant sentiment will come up when Barack Obama visits North Carolina today on the campus of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.?

That’s the heart of small-town N.C., and his visit comes just days after he put his foot squarely in his mouth with a remark describing people in small-town Pennsylvania:
"It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion
or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or
anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Greenville is some 245 miles from Charlotte, in northeastern N.C., a region among the most rural in the state. Its small towns and crossroads wrestle with the same economic challenges and changes Obama confronted in Pennsylvania.
Guns and God are both important to many people there. There’s also nervousness at the pressure Latino immigrants put on local resources and their impact on a limited job market.
But is small-town N.C. the land of guns and God? Are Obama’s remarks about turning to bitterness and xenophobia on target? Or are they out of touch and a slap in the face?
(To see what he says to small-town North Carolina today, read this live blog of his speech from Reflector.com, beginning at 4 p.m.)
What do you think? Does Obama know enough about small towns and the people who live in them to accurately understand their plight, their lives and their concerns? What should he have said?

Friday, April 11, 2008

We don't want no stinkin' Chapel Hill

Order up! We’d like one re-do on University City, please. Make it over easy with a college-town feel. Not in the image of some clique, mind you, such as (dare we say it?) Chapel Hill or Madison, Wis.

Instead, let’s break away and be distinctive. How about a place that’s not afraid to be both urban and suburban, a place with new history that’s walkable, safe and hip?

That’s the central vision offered by readers of this blog for making the area around UNC Charlotte feel and function more like a university community. Currently, it’s sterile and congested. You’d hardly know the fourth largest campus in the state is there.

What would change that? Readers recommended the following:

  • Sidewalks and bike lanes

  • A light rail line through campus.

  • Redo John Kirk Road with stores and nightlife.

  • Bulldoze apartments and replace them with neighborhoods.

  • A campus radio station (hey, that would be cool.)

This post sums it up:

“I think it is simple, stop building developments with giant parking lots around them so no one wants to ride or walk and build wide highways around the university. Get the light rail line through the campus and build some Southend type development around it. Also, fix the roads that surround the university with landscaped medians, bike lanes and wide sidewalks. Create pedestrian refuges and bulbouts (sic) to slow down traffic rather than trying to get traffic out to Cabarrus County as fast as possible."

(To read other thoughts on what makes a college town a college town, check out Get Schooled).

Here’s the question: What will it take to get additions such as sidewalks and bicycle lanes done? Should the university or the city take the lead?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

UNCC: College, but no college town

Charlotte is home to a 22,000-student public university, North Carolina’s fourth-largest campus. But you’d never know it.

UNC Charlotte is tucked away off N.C. 49 and North Tyron Street, and it’s lovely, with wooded paths and crisp, new brick buildings. But University City, the area of Charlotte around the campus, looks and feels nothing like a collegte town or university community. It’s commercial strip-mall, chain-restaurant, big-box-store hell, complete with horrendous traffic, no accommodations for pedestrians or bicycles and very little that’s distinctive.

Sterile. Congested. And that’s a shame.

UNCC, a young university still struggling to find its identity and nurture vibrant campus life, suffers along with University City. This is no Chapel Hill or Athens or even Columbia, S.C.

That holds UNCC – and Charlotte – back. But there are things that can be done to change it, both on campus and off.

What do you think the perfect college town ought to look like and include? What kind of changes would it take to give University City a college-town feel and appearance? Do you think it can be done?:

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Economy got you blue? You're not alone

It's the economy, stupid! That's what the middle-class yelled loudly in a new Pew Research Center poll. According to the Associated Press, middle-class Americans say they aren’t better off than they were five years ago, reflecting economic pressures amid growing personal debt, the study released Wednesday found. Their short-term assessment of personal progress is the worst it’s been in nearly half a century.

About 53 percent of adults in the country define themselves as “middle class,” with household incomes ranging from below $40,000 to more than $100,000. A majority of all Americans said they haven’t progressed in the last five years. One in four, or 25 percent, said their economic situation had not improved, while 31 percent said they had fallen backward. Those numbers together are the highest since the survey question was first asked in 1964.

Among the middle class, 54 percent said they had made no progress (26 percent) or fallen back (28 percent). Asked about their financial experiences in the past year, 53 percent of middle-class people said they had to cut spending because money was tight. Nearly one in five, or 18 percent, said they had trouble getting or paying for medical care, while 10 percent reported they had been laid off or otherwise lost their jobs. Half of the middle class surveyed said they expected to have to cut more spending.

By contrast, from 1983 to 2004, the median net worth of upper-income families – defined as households with annual incomes above 150 percent of the median – grew by 123 percent. The median net worth of middle-income families rose by just 29 percent. Two-thirds, or 67 percent, of middle-class Americans say their standard of living is better than the one their parents enjoyed at the age they are now. In contrast, 80 percent of richer people said they exceeded their parents’ standard of living. Among the lower class, only 49 percent reported better conditions. For more results from this poll go to: http://pewsocialtrends.org/

What about you? Feeling pinched financially? What would you tell the presidential candidates they should do about it?

Longer in Iraq, more lost lives

Emanuel Pickett, 34, worked as a police office in Wallace, in Duplin County, N.C., for 13 years. He died Sunday in Baghdad. The Wilmington Star News reported he was married and had three children. His fellow officers described him as a tireless worker and someone who loved Atlantic Coast Conference basketball.

The loss of Picket’s life shows why talk about slowing the pullout of troops in Iraq hits North Carolina squarely in the chest. Thousands of other men and women in this state are similarly in harm’s way, either with the guard or troops deployed from Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, two of the largest military bases in the nation.

Here's how Gen. David Petraeus put it in his testimony on Capitol Hill.

“We and our Iraqi partners recognize that improving security for the Iraqi
people is the first step in rekindling hope. The upward spiral we all want
begins with Iraqi and coalition forces working together and locating in the
neighborhoods those forces must secure.” But the operation “will take months,
not days or weeks, to fully implement,” and “will have to be sustained to
achieve its desired effect.”
Petraeus’ testimony “indicated no letup in deployments to Iraq for a weary Fort Bragg community,” wrote Henry Cunningham, military editor of the Fayetteville Observer.

Keeping more soldiers in Iraq longer inevitably will mean more North Carolinians such as Pickett will die - a loss that families and communities will never recoup.
It’s been more than five years. More than 4,000 American lives have been lost. Is it imperative to keep troop levels up? Is it fair to troops and families to slow the pullout? Or would a slowdown be an unneccesary risk of more valuable lives?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Conserve? Us? Why?

In a recent interview with the Observer’s editorial board, Doug Bean, the director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities, had this to say about water use, and conservation:

"I do not believe we will ever go back to our old habits (before the drought). I think this experience has brought about a change in thinking for many people."
He was talking about the exceptional heat and drought last year that forced tough water restrictions on Charlotte (and most of the Catawba River Valley, too.) Even with recent above-normal rains, the area remains more than a foot below normal precipitation since January 2007.

Is Bean dreaming? Or is he dead-on? Can one year of conservation persuade an affluent community to adopt a new way of thinking about water? Will a big scare and higher prices curtail waste, or will we just pay more and continue to irrigate, flush and spray at will?

Already the utility has eased restrictions on lawn watering in the face of a budget shortfall due in part to conservation. So has Raleigh, where the water crunch was even worse than in Charlotte before rains helped out and refilled reservoirs serving the capital.?

What do you think? Have we learned a hard lesson and become conservers? Will our elected leadership make different policy choices about water from now on? Or will all those good intentions evaporate quicker than raindrops on a 100-degree day?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Trust politicians? How do you decide?

North Carolinians want to trust their president. They rank that as the top consideration for which candidate they support, according to a new Observer/WCNC Poll. Nearly nine out of 10 of likely voters surveyed said trust would play a big role in determining their vote.

Most of those surveyed (54 percent) give John McCain the highest marks for trust. Close behind is Barack Obama, at 48 percent. Only 25 percent think Hillary Clinton can be trustedIt makes sense that we Tar Heels value honesty. The state motto is “Esse Quam Videri.” That means “To Be Rather Than to Seem.”

But how to define trust? And how to gauge whether you can trust a presidential candidate? With local (and some statewide) candidates it’s easy: Chances are, you know their reputation, their business and even their families. Not so for presidential politics.

How do you identify honesty and trustworthiness in a political candidate? And who has it this time around and who doesn’t?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Is western culture respectful of women?

With a woman running for president, and, in North Carolina, for governor, we look like a culture where women are men’s equals. But do we just talk the talk? What about the relentless sexual exploitation of women in the popular culture in the United States? What about our high rates of domestic violence? Does that make us any better than repressive cultures on the other side of the world?

Here’s the take of Susan Diane Paige of Charlotte:

“I would like to offer anecdotal responses to the letter about Western cultures that disrespect women by local citizen Mohammad Ismail, based on personal experiences. As a former Georgia high school classroom teacher, my colleagues and I noticed that male students who were immigrating from Moslem cultures frequently had trouble in deciding to obey female classroom teachers and principals, even though it was in their best interest to do so. Unfortunately, somebody had taught them that women were not to be listened to. What a shame, and how disrespectful of the brains our Creator gave half of the human race!

Once I accompanied a group of Georgia high school students with two other educators to the Soviet Union. My diary entry from July 17, 1987, reads as follows: ‘In every hotel where we’ve been, the Syrians in the hotel have tried to give all of our women trouble. In Leningrad, they thought ... the only adult male was the group leader and asked him how much he wanted for (one of the women) a foreign language coordinator, DeKalb County School System, now retired. (The man) was also supposed to explain to (her) that this arrangement was not a marriage, only short-term. If (she) were not willing, then they wanted me. If I weren’t willing, one of the young students would do. They were very stubborn about their demands. Dislike of Syrian men is one prejudice I share with Russian women!’ Never in my life, up until that point, had anybody tried to purchase my services as a sex slave. Who taught those men disrespect for women?

In the United States, we do not stone prostitutes to death. We pray for them and work to rehabilitate them and get them counseling. Why we don’t stone them to death has to do with the traditional mooring of Western culture in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who had Mary and Martha, two sisters, spending as much time with him as the 12 apostles, and who did not turn away women who wanted to hear Women in Western culture, since colleges and university educations were opened to them in the 19th century, have more choices than most of their Moslem counterparts the world over.”

Do we respect women in this country? Or are we hypocrites who criticize other cultures where women have fewer rights?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Seven is not a lucky number

He ate bologna when the State of North Carolina let him out. It was his first meal on the outside. But he had been served bologna by the state for nearly 14 years, as he sat on death row, an innocent man.
Glen Chapman, 40, was released from Central Prison this week after Catawba County District Attorney James Gaither Jr. dismissed murder charges against him. The state, which prosecuted and convicted Chapman, fouled up.

Here’s what the News & Observer reported:

“A lead investigator, Dennis Rhoney, lied in his testimony about Chapman’s
involvement. Rhoney withheld evidence from prosecutors that would have proved
Chapman’s innocence.

Chapman’s trial lawyers did not investigate the case
thoroughly, overlooking key evidence that pointed to Chapman’s innocence.

A forensic pathologist’s report strongly suggested one of the
victims might have been a victim of a drug overdose instead of homicide.”

Chapman is the seventh innocent death row prisoner in North Carolina to be released, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. In almost every case, prosecutors made key mistakes or omissions – or overlooked conflicting evidence that later proved significant. Those who oppose the death penalty say that’s evidence of its fatal flaws. Proponents say the death penalty works, but the mistakes are the result of an overworked system.

What do you think? Is the death penalty jinxed in North Carolina? Or is the system that administers it simply making too many mistakes? Do we need to halt executions and study reforms? What would those reforms be?

What do you think ought to be done to stop a run of potentially deadly errors?

Race talk in Vogue

A story in today's Observer talks about the recent controversy over the cover of the latest issue of Vogue magazine:

When Vogue announced its April cover starring LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen, the magazine noted with some fanfare that James was the first black man to grace its cover.

But the image is stirring controversy, with some commentators decrying the photo as perpetuating racial stereotypes. James strikes what some see as a gorilla-like pose, baring his teeth, with one hand around Bundchen's tiny waist.

It's an image some have likened to "King Kong" and Fay Wray.

"It conjures up this idea of a dangerous black man," said Tamara Walker, 29, of Philadelphia.

Photographer Annie Leibovitz shot the 6-foot-9-inch NBA star and the 5-foot-11-inch Brazilian model for the cover and an inside spread.

"We think Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen look beautiful together, and we are honored to have them on the cover," Vogue spokesman Patrick O'Connell said.

James told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer he was pleased with the cover, saying he was "just showing a little emotion."
What do you think? Does the image peddle the same old racial stereotypes? Is it not racist -- simply a picture of two beautiful, successful people having fun? Or is it, as some have suggested, "post-racist": Vogue and photographer Annie Leibovitz obviously knowing the image's connotations, but winking at them, using them for some kind of playful, avant-garde statement? Or is Vogue's and Leibovitz's effort just a tired cliché trying to be hip? -- Kevin Siers

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

North Carolina's education contrasts

The annual U.S. News & World Report ratings of graduate schools is out. As usual, North Carolina schools were ranked among the best. The magazine rated the top 50 schools of business, education and engineering and the top 100 law schools. Here's a summary:

Business: Harvard and Stanford were 1 and 2. Duke's Fuqua tied for 14th, with Cornell and U.Va.. UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan Flagler was 19th.

Education: Stanford and Vanderbilt were 1 and 2. UNC-Chapel Hill tied for 22nd with Kansas.

Engineering: MIT and Stanford were 1 and 2. N.C. State was 30th. Duke was 35th.

Law: Yale and Harvard were 1 and 2. Duke tied with Cornell for 12th. UNC-CH tied for 38th with George Mason and the universities of Arizona and California. Wake Forest tied for 42nd with Maryland. (South Carolina tied for 95th with Marquette, St. Louis and University of the Pacific.)
North Carolina is among the nation's best states for undergraduate and graduate education but still struggles with elementary and secondary education. As Sen. Richard Burr, an N.C. Republican, noted recently, “80 percent of high school dropouts are concentrated in only 15 states, including North Carolina,” and "over 30% of North Carolina’s public high school students never graduate. This is unacceptable."

Burr joins a chorus of voices at the local, state and national level calling for ways to ensure that young people get the education they need to be productive workers and informed citizens. This is North Carolina's -- and our nation's -- greatest challenge. -- Ed Williams

To endorse, or not: It's tricky

News accounts say Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s endorsement Monday of Sen. Barack Obama compared Obama to former vice president Hubert H. Humphrey. But the Obama campaign’s news release of her endorsement didn’t seem to include that reference.

According to the AP, she said: “The Democratic Party is blessed this year with two candidates with many excellent leadership qualities, and I believe either of them would be very good presidents... I am endorsing Barack Obama today, because he has inspired an enthusiasm and idealism that we have not seen in this country in a long time... Minnesota’s own Hubert Humphrey once talked about his vision for the politics of happiness, the politics of purpose and the politics of joy. That is what we have in Barack Obama.”

Uh, did Klobuchar forget that Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon in 1968? Uh oh, those endorsements can be tricky.

On the other hand, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (pronounced FREE’-den-thawl) – also one of those pesky superdelegates – said he today he too was supporting Barack Obama for president. Former President Bill Clinton named Freudenthal U.S. attorney for Wyoming in 1994, and he held that job until 2001.

Freudenthal said Obama struck him as “incredibly smart” and someone who gave honest answers instead of scripted responses. He also said he was impressed by the large, enthusiastic crowds that turned out when Obama visited Wyoming ahead of the state’s caucuses last month. Ah, now that’s the way to do an endorsement. Good senator, take notes.

What do you think? Do endorsements even matter?

What's up doc? Support for national health care!

Chances are your doctor supports national health care. Check out a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study shows a majority – 59 percent – of physicians support national health insurance.

“The findings reflect a leap of 10 percentage points in physician support for national health insurance (NHI) since 2002, when a similar survey was conducted,” according to officials of Health Care For All North Carolina. “At that time, 49 percent of all physician respondents said they supported NHI and 40 percent opposed it,” the group said.

Here’s more info from Health Care For All North Carolina: The study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday said that a survey conducted last year of 2,193 physicians across the United States showed 59 percent of them “support government legislation to establish national health insurance,” while 32 percent oppose it and 9 percent are neutral.

Support among doctors for NHI has increased across almost all medical specialties, said Dr. Ronald T. Ackermann, associate director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research at Indiana University’s School of Medicine and co-author of the study.“

Across the board, more physicians feel that our fragmented and for-profit insurance system is obstructing good patient care, and a majority now support national insurance as the remedy,” he said.

Support for NHI is particularly strong among psychiatrists (83 percent), pediatric sub-specialists (71 percent), emergency medicine physicians (69 percent), general pediatricians (65 percent), general internists (64 percent) and family physicians (60 percent). Fifty-five percent of general surgeons support NHI, roughly doubling their level of support since 2002.

The study by the Indiana University researchers is the largest survey ever conducted among doctors on the issue of health care financing reform. It is based on a random sampling of names obtained from the American Medical Association’s master list of physicians throughout the country. The nation’s largest medical specialty group, the 124,000-member American College of Physicians, endorsed a single-payer national health insurance program for the first time in December.
Want to see more on the survey results? Go to http://www.pnhp.org/docsurvey/annals_physicians_support.pdf Area doctors and patients, what do you think?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Chancellor John Edwards?

Bloggers and pundits have been speculating on whom and when John Edwards will endorse in the presidential primary. Some have said he's waiting to see who will more strongly push his poverty agenda. Others speculate that he's angling for a cabinet post, such as Attorney General. But Jason Zengerle of the New Republic has another suggestion:

Given Elizabeth's health, and the fact that he's got his (much-mocked) dream house in North Carolina, would Edwards really want to take a cabinet position that would move him to Washington? I could see him being willing and eager to go to Washington as president, but I'm not sure he'd want to do it for any other job. In other words, maybe Edwards's endorsement decision is being governed by idealistic motives.

As for what Edwards does next beyond the more immediate question of his endorsement, I'm assuming he's going to want to do it in North Carolina. Which doesn't give him that many options. It's too late for him to get into this year's gubernatorial race. And, like I said above, I don't see him wanting to return to Washington for anything less than the White House, which would rule out his returning to the Senate. So here's my idea: He should become the chancellor of the University of North Carolina--which, conveniently enough, is a job that's currently open.

Becoming a university president would certainly be a counterintuitive move on Edwards's part; but it would give him a public platform, and if he used that platform to continue to talk about poverty (and worked to make UNC a leader among educational insitutions in dealing with that issue), it would be a very impressive and admirable thing. And it would certainly be idealistic. He'd also probably get some pretty choice seats to watch Carolina basketball. What more could he want?

-- Kevin Siers