Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Health care for 988,000 more in N.C.?

One nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer group is in the thick of the fray over health-care reform with a new report saying the Senate Health Care Bill will expand coverage to 988,000 North Carolinians by 2019. The Families USA report, based on Congressional Budget Office data, also says that, without health reform, 254,000 people in North Carolina will lose health care coverage by 2019.

In 2007 and 2008, the average number of uninsured in North Carolina was 1,466,000, but the total will rise to 1,720,000 if the bill fails to pass, the report said. Nationally, the number of uninsured will reach 54 million in 2019 in the absence of comprehensive health insurance reform.

Each state stands to gain from the passage of health reform, the report said. Passing the Senate’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will not only extend coverage to millions of Americans, but it will also help bolster the economy, increase the stability and security of coverage, and moderate the rise of health insurance premiums.

To read the report, “At a Crossroads: Is health Coverage Ahead for America?”, go to

Monday, December 14, 2009

Foxx names new City Council committees

Mayor Anthony Foxx today announced his assignments of City Council members to the council's eight committees, and a few things stand out.
First: The Democrats are in charge, in a big way.
With an 8-3 majority on the council, that may be expected. But even with a 7-4 majority, Democrats were in the minority on some council committees under Pat McCrory. Foxx has named Democrats as chairmen of six of the eight committees, and Democrats hold a majority on all eight. In fact, on a majority of the committees, Democrats hold four of five seats.
These committees study and debate policy before making recommendations to the full council.
Other notable changes: Foxx made economic development its own committee and joined planning with transportation. Democrat Susan Burgess replaces John Lassiter as economic development chairman, and four of its five members are Democrats.
Republican Edwin Peacock chairs the Environment committee, and Republican Warren Cooksey chairs the Restructuring Government committee.

The full lineup:

Housing and Neighborhood Development: This committee provides comprehensive initiatives designed to foster economic development and improve quality of life issues in Charlotte's neighborhoods and business areas.
Committee members: James Mitchell (Chair), Warren Turner (Vice Chair), Michael Barnes, Warren Cooksey, and Patrick Cannon.

Community Safety: This committee focuses on initiatives to proactively identify and address issues related to crime, disorder, and personal safety to ensure citizens feel safe in the areas where they live, work, and spend their leisure time.
Committee members: Patrick Cannon (Chair), Patsy Kinsey (Vice Chair), Susan Burgess, Andy Dulin, and Edwin Peacock.

Transportation and Planning: This committee focuses on the City and region's transportation network including roads, mass transit, pedestrian and bicycle connections as well as planning to address our region's transportation infrastructure.
Committee members: David Howard (Chair), Michael Barnes (Vice Chair), Warren Cooksey, Susan Burgess, and Patsy Kinsey.

Economic Development: This Committee works to provide direction that supports development of an educated and trained work force, fosters partnerships to aid local economic growth, retains and attracts quality businesses, supports business development and contributes to the economy.
Committee members: Susan Burgess (Chair), James Mitchell (Vice Chair), Nancy Carter, Patsy Kinsey, and Andy Dulin.

Environment: This Committee focuses on City policies for air and water quality, land preservation, and energy and resource conservation by adopting best practices and delivering public services in a manner based on sound environmental practices.
Committee members: Edwin Peacock (Chair), Nancy Carter (Vice Chair), Susan Burgess, David Howard, and Andy Dulin.

Budget: This Committee works with City staff to review and prioritize issues affecting the City's budget.
Committee members: Michael Barnes (Chair), Andy Dulin (Vice Chair), David Howard, Edwin Peacock, and Nancy Carter.

Restructuring Government: This Committee examines policies and programs in order to provide citizens the best service at the lowest cost and highest efficiency.
Committee members: Warren Cooksey (Chair), Patrick Cannon (Vice Chair), James Mitchell, Patsy Kinsey, and Warren Turner.

Government Affairs: This Committee discusses opportunities and initiatives to pursue with State and Federal government in support of City priorities.
Committee members: Nancy Carter (Chair), Warren Turner (Vice Chair), Susan Burgess, Andy Dulin, and Patrick Cannon.

- Posted by Taylor Batten (with an assist from Mary Newsom)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hagan pushed for North Carolinians on 4th Circuit

The Observer editorialized in this morning's paper on the nomination of two North Carolinians to the U.S. Court of Appeals' Fourth Circuit. We lauded President Obama's choices of Jim Wynn and Albert Diaz for seats on the Richmond, Va.,-based court. Wynn, an N.C. Court of Appeals judge, and Diaz, a superior court judge specializing in business cases, are both well-qualified for the federal bench. And their confirmation would mark an end to 15 years of petty partisanship that has deprived North Carolina from adequate representation on that court.

What the editorial did not mention, but perhaps should have, was Sen. Kay Hagan's role in getting two nominations for North Carolina. The court has traditionally had two seats for North Carolinians, with one vacant for years. If Wynn and Diaz are confirmed, they would join Allyson Duncan on the court and North Carolina would have three judges there.

We'll let Hagan's communications director, Stephanie Allen, take it from here. She e-mailed us to say:

"Senator Hagan, of course, completely agrees with the premise of the editorial. However, it neglects to mention the reason President Obama nominated two North Carolinians. When she came to the Senate, Senator Hagan was told flatly that there was no way North Carolina would get two additional seats. After months of pushing the White House – numerous meetings and phone calls with the White House counsel, a call to President Obama, a packet given to the White House making the case that North Carolina was underrepresented on the court -- they came around to her point of view. She will now be working to make sure the confirmation process for the two North Carolinians, both of whom are highly qualified, goes smoothly. "

-- Posted by Taylor Batten

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

McCrory still popular, but not so much for guv's race?

Public Policy Polling has detected a seemingly contradictory popularity finding in Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory's departure. He's still popular. But Charlotte voters don't find him so popular that they want him to run for governor again.

McCrory, a Republican who never lost a bid for mayor of Charlotte, was narrowly defeated in Mecklenburg County by Democrat Bev Perdue in the 2008 race for governor and is evidently thinking about another run in 2012.

Tom Jensen, PPP's chief analyst, has this to say about the findings:

Pat McCrory is leaving office as Mayor of Charlotte with his popularity intact. But that doesn't mean voters in the city are yearning for him to run for Governor again.
McCrory's final approval rating is 59%, with only 26% disapproving. He has the approval of 81% of Republicans and 62% of independents and his 39% approval rating with Charlotte Democrats is actually better than Bev Perdue's 38% approval with Democrats statewide in our most recent poll.
Despite his good overall numbers only 51% of voters in the city want him to challenge Perdue again in 2012, with 40% opposed.
The party breakdown on those numbers speaks to the trouble McCrory had with voters in the city last fall. Most Republicans who like the job he's doing want him to run again- but only 46% of independents would like to see him make a bid despite his 62% approval with them and just 27% of Democrats want him to even though 39% think he's a good Mayor.
McCrory's popularity as Mayor didn't translate to support for Governor in 2008 at the sort of level that he needed, and it looks like he might continue to be plagued by that problem with a repeat bid in 2012. Given the strong unhappiness many Charlotte residents express with their treatment by the rest of the state this is somewhat curious, but for most voters in the city party still trumps province.
This analysis is also available on our blog:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mr. Fetzer, meet Mr. Lassiter

Tom Fetzer (right), the chairman of the state Republican Party, today touted Tuesday's election results as a rejection of Democrats and President Barack Obama. There was an odd omission, though: Fetzer didn't mention the mayoral race in Charlotte, where Democrat Anthony Foxx beat Republican John Lassiter and Democrats took three of four at-large seats on the City Council.

In a meeting with The Observer editorial board in September, Fetzer talked about how closely the state GOP was watching the Foxx-Lassiter race. He said a Lassiter loss would be a real blow to the Republican Party. He said then that a Lassiter loss, following Pat McCrory's loss in Mecklenburg County in the 2008 governor's race, would be an indication that Charlotte had become solidly Democratic and would be hard for Republicans to crack in future elections.

Today, though, Fetzer mentioned nothing about Lassiter or Charlotte.

“Yesterday, Americans rejected the President’s and the Democrats’ policies of higher taxes and bigger government and elected conservative leaders who will put the nation back on the road to prosperity,” Fetzer said. “The conservative comeback has commenced.”

He cited the success of conservative candidates for the Wake County school board, and the Republican mayoral victories in Greensboro and Kinston.
“Their elections are unmistakable signs that most North Carolinians are turning to Republicans to get their localities back on the right track.”

Not in Charlotte.

-- Posted by Taylor Batten

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lassiter getting a bounce from McCrory's coattails

A new poll shows Republican John Lassiter is being helped in his bid for mayor against Democrat Anthony Foxx by current Mayor Pat McCrory's popularity across party lines.

Here is the take from Tom Jensen, an analyst with Public Policy Polling in Raleigh:

Charlotte's a Democratic city but John Lassiter is hanging in there and one person he really owes for that is Pat McCrory.
Last year George W. Bush was an anchor on Republican candidates across the country as he left office but McCrory's continuing popularity seems to be helping Lassiter secure the crossover support from Democrats and independents that he needs to be competitive. McCrory's approval rating is 60%. For the occasional grumbling from the right over the years he has the support of 85% of Republicans. His 69% approval with independents is one of the best we've measured for any politician in the country this year and even Democrats are pretty evenly divided with 37% giving him good marks to 44% disapproving.
Let's put Lassiter's Democratic support in perspective- only 14% are voting for him but that's still a lot better than the 6% of Republicans Foxx is getting. 80% of the Democrats who support Lassiter approve of the job McCrory's doing. That speaks to the fact that McCrory has shown a moderate Republican can be a reasonable Mayor, even across party lines, and there is at least some segment of the Democratic electorate that's content to keep on that way.
79% of the independents who think McCrory's doing a good job are voting for Lassiter. Only 42% of the rest are. It's safe to say Lassiter's 20 point lead with that group would be considerably more narrow if not for McCrory's popularity with them.
Let me put it simply: if Pat McCrory's approval rating was only 50%, still well above average for politicians these days and particularly in North Carolina, this race would be over. The only question would be Foxx's winning margin. But with him at 60%, this contest is a dog fight. In this tossup there's not much doubt Pat McCrory is John Lassiter's best friend.

This analysis is also available on PPP's blog.

-- Posted by Jack Betts and Taylor Batten

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More teacher cuts nationwide next year?

Still angry at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for cutting teachers and popular programs this recession year? Well, CMS wasn't alone. A nationwide study released this week shows hundreds of school districts did the same thing - and will likely have to make cuts next school year too.

The report from the American Association of School Administrators called “One Year Later: How the Economic Downturn Continues to Impact School Districts,” shows that even federal stimulus funds couldn't stop the layoffs and cuts. The report says data suggests that's because states engaged in a "shell game" where state budgets were cut after it was known what stimulus money was included for education. So the federal money was used to fill holes, not provide additional money after cuts were made.

A survey of 875 school administrators conducted in September and October 2009 showed districts in every part of the nation were forced to make cuts that directly affected student learning. Among the highlights of the survey:

- Two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents reported having to eliminate personnel positions for the 2009-10 school year, and 83 percent anticipate having to eliminate further positions in 2010-11.

- Stimulus funds allowed districts to save some of teacher positions slated for elimination, but many still had to make cuts. One-quarter (26 percent) of respondents were able to save all of the core-subject teaching positions slated for elimination in their district. One-third (33 percent) were able to save some. Another third (35 percent) were unable to save any of those core-subject teaching positions.

- The percentage of districts increasing class size, eliminating field trips and cutting bus transportation routes increased from 2008-09 to 2010-11.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Foxx-Lassiter race is close, two new polls show

A week before Election Day, the race for Charlotte mayor is all tied, according to two new polls.
Republican John Lassiter and Democrat Anthony Foxx are tied at 45-45, according to a poll from Public Policy Polling in Raleigh. A poll from Cornerstone Solutions shows Lassiter with a 42-37 lead, but that is within the margin of error, meaning the poll shows "essentially a dead heat," said Chris Sinclair, a partner with Cornerstone.
The PPP poll broke down largely along racial lines. White voters back Lassiter 63-29 while Foxx leads among black voters 80-9. That suggests that the outcome could hinge on turnout, particularly the racial breakdown of people who go to the polls.
"If excitement about the possibility of the city having its first black Mayor since the 80s results in African Americans turning out at a higher rate than whites Foxx will win. But black turnout has tended to lag in local elections and if that turns out to be the case Lassiter is the likely winner," PPP's Tom Jensen says on his organization's blog.
PPP has done work for Democratic candidates, but was not hired by the Foxx campaign and has had one of the better track records among polling organizations over at least the past year.
A lot more information and analysis is available at PPP's blog.
Cornerstone, a GOP-leaning firm in Raleigh, has not been hired by either campaign either. Its poll showed Lassiter winning about 25 percent of likely black voters. More on that poll is available here.
Posted by Taylor Batten

Friday, October 2, 2009

Triage for high school 'dropout factories'

The nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education called this week for policymakers to do "legislative triage" on low-performing schools they dub dropout factories. Those are schools that represent slightly more than 10 percent of the nation's high schools, yet they produce more than half of the nation's dropouts, the Alliance said.

In a brief released Thursday, the Alliance said data from Johns Hopkins University and calculations by the Alliance show there are 79 dropout factories in North Carolina alone, representing 21.2 percent of high schools and educating 20.1 percent of high school students. With the nation in the midst of a dropout crisis that costs more than $335 billion in lost wages for each class of dropouts nationwide, the Alliance says lawmakers must devote attention to the lowest-performing high schools and immediately improve or replace the most severely “injured” schools.

“When emergency medical personnel arrive at an accident scene, they immediately deliver treatment to the most severely injured, said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Similarly, the nation must focus its attention on the lowest-performing schools with the largest number of ‘victims’ in the national dropout crisis. The fact that these schools are so widespread and contribute so greatly to the national dropout crisis dictates making them an essential focus of any federal effort to improve the graduation rate.”

Contrary to a common misconception, not all dropout factories are located in urban areas - half are located outside of city limits in suburbs, small towns, or rural areas. There are nearly 2,000 dropout factories in the United States, which educate 15.7 percent of all high school students. The brief, Prioritizing the Nation’s Dropout Factories: The Need for Federal Policy That Targets the Lowest-Performing High Schools, calls on federal lawmakers to take every available opportunity to address this issue. It specifically cites three upcoming opportunities to address this national problem:

1) The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Federal policymakers should distribute stimulus funds in a way that would enable and support states’ and districts’ efforts to address schools with abysmally low graduation rates;
2) The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Federal policymakers should make reauthorizing ESEA a priority and ensure that it targets needed resources and attention towards the improvement of dropout factories in a way that the current version does not; and
3) The Budget and Appropriations Process: Federal policymakers should ensure a steady and significant stream of federal funding that is targeted towards improving these schools

Census: N.C. household income takes a hit

It's bad enough that the recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans nationwide, according to Census data released this week. But the nonprofit N.C. Public School Forum gleaned these additional troubling N.C. tidbits from the info:

"Median household income in North Carolina has declined more than $3,500 over the past eight years, according to newly released census figures. The data also indicate the percentage of households below the poverty line increased by 2.3 percent during that period. The Office of Management and Budget defines the poverty threshold based on the Consumer Price Index.

"In 2008, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four was $22,025; for a family of three, $17,163; for a family of two, $14,051; and for unrelated individuals, $10,991. More than 12 percent of North Carolina residents are living in poverty, the figures show.

"The U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey includes social, housing demographic and select economic data collected throughout 2008 for areas with populations of 65,000 or more. The median household income statewide in 2008 was $46,549, down from $50,155 in 2000. Both figures are in 2008 dollars."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Poll: N.C. split on 'Obamacare', Obama

North Carolina's conservative Civitas Institute had an interesting flash poll released today on what they called "Obamacare". In a survey of North Carolinians, it found that about the same percentage of people - about 47 percent - strongly or somewhat favor the Democrats' plans for health care reform as those who strongly or somewhat oppose it. The strongly oppose have about a 5 percentage point edge over those who strongly favor - 40.6 percent versus 35.4 percent. The somewhat favor have about a 6 percentage point edge over the somewhat oppose - 12.2 percent versus 6.4 percent. Those with no opinion stood at 5.4 percent.

But North Carolinians in this poll were mostly pessimistic about the cost and quality result of such reform. Forty-five percent said health care quality would get worse if a plan passes, 27.3 percent said it would get better, and 20.3 percent said it would stay the same. On cost, 45.7 percent said it would go up, 20.5 percent said it would go down, and 23 percent said it would stay the same.

Town hall meetings had mixed impact: 32.7 percent said it made them more sympathetic to plans, 29.3 percent said less sympathetic, and 38.8 percent said they had no opinion.

Opinions of President Obama were split:44.3 percent approve of his performance; 46.3 percent disapprove, and 9.4 percent had no opinion.

Gov. Bev Perdue didn't fare as well: Only 29.1 percent approve while 49.6 percent disapprove; 21.3 percent had no opinion.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BofA gets working moms' thumbs up

Bank of America might have some other problems, what with the SEC taking bank officials to trial over the Merrill Lynch deal and howls from some about overpaid executives, but it got a thumbs up from Working Mother magazine on how it treats mothers. The Charlotte–based bank was named one of the 100-best companies for its "commitment to family-friendly policies that allow mothers to succeed at work and at home."

Among the policies cited were $5,000 college scholarships for kids of workers and $8,000 in adoption assistance. It's also increased paid maternity, paternity and adoption leave to 12 weeks from eight and provided $600 to $1,200 health-care accounts for associates to use on copays, vitamins, prescriptions and other health extras. Parents who earn up to $55,000 in salary (formerly $34,000) and use the bank’s nine on-site child-care centers are now eligible for subsidies and scholarships. And executive moms who want to take one to three years off can tap a new Career Connections program, which keeps them in the loop with career development opportunities while they’re on break.

Two other N.C.-based companies made the list: Durham-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville.

No S.C. companies made the list. Find the complete list at

What companies do you think should make the list of "best to work for" - for anyone?

Giving a cop the finger?! Uh, it's not illegal

So if South Carolina's Joe Wilson can get reprimanded by the House of Representatives for yelling "You lie" to President Barack Obama as he gave a televised speech to a joint session of Congress, what should happen to David Hackbart who flipped off a cop?

OK. The two situations aren't that similar, except that both offenses were rudeness. But in Hackbart's case, the cop in Pittsburgh wrote him a ticket, citing the state's disorderly-conduct law, which bans obscene language and gestures.

Turns out though that Pennsylvania’s law is unconstitutional, so said a federal judge. Time magazine reports on the case this week and notes that the Supreme Court and other courts have consistently ruled that foul language, including exercising the middle finger, is a constitutionally protected form of expression. The judge threw out the citation and the $119 .75 in court costs. The ACLU though sued to prevent further episodes and require training for police so they’ll stop charging people with crimes they know aren’t crimes. The group said there were 188 instances from 2005 to 2007 in Pennsylvania in which police charged people under similar circumstances including one where an off-duty cop charged his neighbor he overheard cursing at her overflowing toilet. Say what?!!

Experts say many of these disorderly conduct charges are the result of police getting upset about being disrespected. The ACLU calls it "contempt of cop." Harvard prof. Henry Louis Gates' arrest is an example, they cite.

The Hackbart case was set for federal court last week but was postponed to allow the parties to settle out court, the judge said.

Interestingly, Hackbart never intended to flip off the cop. He’d gotten angry when a driver wouldn’t let him back up to get into a parking spot. He gave the driver the finger. A driver passing by said he shouldn’t do that in public, and Hackbart reflexively flipped him off too. Turns out that was a Pittsburgh cop, who promptly turned around and gave him a ticket.

Ouch! But Hackbart is a paralegal, and knew the citation was illegal and challenged it.

What do you think? Should flipping off someone be a crime, even a cop?

Monday, September 21, 2009

A question of media bias

Dozens of people responded to my column in Sunday's paper about media bias. Some of them even appeared to have read it, and I thank them for their thoughtful and thought-provoking replies.
Many, though, e-mailed to say that I was blind to the media's (liberal) bias.
Here's a typical excerpt from one reader: "I was crest fallen after your assurance that journalist motives were as pure as the driven snow and that media's performance is not to blame for low public trust. There you have it folks, the problem is not us (media) but them."
And here I thought the column might upset fellow journalists because I said that there is bias in the news pages.
To wit, from my column: "That doesn’t mean there’s not bias, and it doesn’t mean journalists can discount Pew’s findings. There is some bias, intentional or not, and perception is as important as reality. We can’t control all the causes, but when 80 percent of the public doesn’t trust us, that’s our problem, like it or not."
Half the column spelled out facts about how we are seen as snakes by a majority of the public, and the other half pointed out that journalists need to recognize that and do something about it, by striving to be more objective.
You'd think more critics would have welcomed that idea.
So let's try this again, with a goal of The Observer getting valuable feedback. If you see something specific in the news pages (not the opinion pages) that you consider biased, let us know. E-mail me about it, with the story headline, the page number and the date it ran. We want to know.
-- Posted by Taylor Batten

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Government spending per person drops

This just in from the North Carolina Justice Center: North Carolina government spending per person has fallen to its lowest rate in 13 years, a report the center released today finds. Without the tax increases adopted this year, state appropriations per person would have dropped even further, to the lowest level since fiscal year 1992-93.

"Merely scaling back the increase in spending of the past few years would not have been sufficient to cover the budget shortfall," the report from the North Carolina Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center concludes.

The $4.6 billion state budget shortfall - 22 percent of the state's General Fund for fiscal year 2009-10 - forced state lawmakers to make significant service cuts, such as deep cuts to mental health services and cuts in funding to local school districts.

Rather than allowing the quality of public services to retreat to such an extent, lawmakers opted to take a balanced approach, filling the budget gap with spending cuts, federal assistance and $1 billion in higher taxes.

The study, "Down in the Valley: General Fund Appropriations Per Person Lowest in 13 Years," examined inflation-adjusted General Fund appropriations - the primary portion of the state budget that is funded by income and sales taxes, which pays for education, health and human services, justice, public safety and other public needs - over the past several decades.

The report is available online at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hagan touts financial literacy: "It's not rocket science"

While President Obama was on Wall Street trying to pump up his efforts to get an overhaul of the nation's regulatory system, North Carolina's junior senator was calling for changes of her own - on Main Street.

Sen. Kay Hagan was touting legislation she authored this summer to get students financially literate so they wouldn't find themselves at the mercy of their own ignorance or unscrupulous financial services people. She said Tuesday:

"We are facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, in large part because of irresponsible financial practices that led to the subprime mortgage market’s collapse. To help protect our families from future crises, we need to empower people to make intelligent financial decisions. The key is financial literacy education before students enter the workplace or college. Financial literacy is not rocket science; we just don’t teach it."

Hagan has introduced the Financial Literacy for Students Act of 2009, her first bill. She says it "will incentivize states to incorporate personal financial literacy into their curriculums, beginning in the sixth grade and continuing until high school graduation." It will also help young people better understand the major financial decisions they are regularly asked to make, such as applying for credit cards, securing student loans, taking out a mortgage or managing a budget, she said.
Hagan is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Find her entire statement at

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Economic stimulus? High school diplomas

The Alliance for Excellent Education has a new brief out documenting the costs of high school dropouts, and it has some intriguing statistics about the Carolinas. For instance, if the nearly 46,700 students who didn't graduate from N.C. high schools in 2009 had gotten that diploma, the state could have benefitted from more than $12 billion in income they would receive over their lifetime.

Not only that, North Carolina would save more than $491.6 million in health care costs over the lifetimes of each class of dropouts had they earned their diplomas. If North Carolina’s high schools graduated all of their students ready for college, the state would save almost $97.4 million a year in community college remediation costs and lost earnings. Also, North Carolina’s economy would see a combination of crime-related savings and additional revenue of about $233 million each year if the male high school graduation rate increased by just 5 percent.

South Carolina had fewer dropouts this, about 21,900 students, with lost lifetime earnings of nearly $5.7 billion. But the cost of dropouts is still significant. South Carolina would save more than $320.1 million in health care costs over the lifetimes of each class of dropouts had they earned their diplomas. If South Carolina’s high schools graduated all of their students ready for college, the state would save almost $54.3 million a year in community college remediation costs and lost earnings. And South Carolina’s economy would see a combination of crime-related savings and additional revenue of about $151 million each year if the male high school graduation rate increased by just 5 percent.

“As these findings show, the best economic stimulus is a high school diploma,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Given the tremendous financial drag these dropouts will have on North Carolina’s economy, it is imperative that the state, as well as the federal government, focus attention on students most at risk of dropping out if it is to achieve long-term economic stability. In an Information Age economy, education is the main currency.”

Nationwide, more than seven thousand students become dropouts every school day. Annually, that adds up to almost 1.3 million students who will not graduate from high school with their peers as scheduled.“Unless America’s high schools significantly improve their graduation rates,” Wise noted, “nearly 13 million students will drop out over the next decade with a massive loss to the nation of $3 trillion.”

Sounds like a wake-up call, doesn't it?
"The High Cost of High School Dropouts: What the Nation Pays for Inadequate High Schools" is available at Info about the high school dropout crisis in individual states is at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Charlotteans don't think much of Gov. Perdue

The gist of PPP's latest poll is that voters in Charlotte don't think Gov. Bev Perdue has paid them enough attention. Here's Tom Jensen's latest:

Bev Perdue opened an office in Charlotte and has made a point of visiting the city, but voters there still don't think she's been attentive to them since taking office.

58% of voters feel she's been inattentive to the city's needs so far, while just 25% think she has been. It's no surprise that 77% of Republicans and 63% of independents feel that way but even among Democrats 42% think she should be doing more for Charlotte while only 37% feel like she's done a good job so far on that front.

Perdue's overall rating with Charlotte voters, at 32% approval and 52% disapproval, is actually better than her statewide numbers. That may not be saying much though given what a Democratic city it is. 48% of Democrats, 28% of independents, and 11% of Republicans give her positive marks.

Perdue has a long way to go if she hopes to replicate her surprise victory in the city last year in 2012.

Much more popular with Charlotteans is Barack Obama, who has a 52% approval rating with 42% disapproving of his job performance in the city. 84% of Democrats, 48% of independents, and 9% of Republicans give him good reviews.

Obama's basically been pursuing a swing state strategy in the places he's visited since taking office, so who knows, maybe we'll see him in Charlotte for Anthony Foxx sometime during early voting. Given that his approval runs 17 points ahead of Foxx's vote share with independents, a visit from him could prove to be decisive in what's shaping up as a very close race.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Charlotte mayor's race: 'close right to the end'

Public Policy Polling, which does a lot of work for Democratic candidates, says the race for Charlotte mayor is a virtual dead heat and will remain close right up until the end. Republican John Lassiter has a razor thin lead of 44-43 over Democrat Anthony Fox, says PPP analyst Tom Jensen.

Here's his analysis:

The race to be the next mayor of Charlotte is a statistical dead heat, with Republican John Lassiter leading Democrat Anthony Foxx 44-43 in the contest to replace Pat McCrory.

Both candidates are pretty popular with the city's electorate. 53% have a favorable opinion of Lassiter, with only 22% viewing him negatively and 48% have a positive one of Foxx with 22% holding an unfavorable opinion of him as well. It's unusual in the increasingly polarized world of partisan politics to see both candidates in a race sporting a better than 2:1 positive favorability ratio.

There are two key groups of voters who may well decide this race: independents and the Democratic voters whose crossover support of Pat McCrory has allowed the Republican to remain mayor of the Democratic city for over a decade. Lassiter has a 47-31 lead with independents, but Foxx has the 59-30 advantage with Democrats who approve of McCrory's job performance, indicating that he will do a better job of locking up his party's vote than recent Democratic nominees have.

Voters send conflicting messages about the direction of the city. On one hand McCrory has an excellent 57% approval rating, something that should aid Lassiter, who likely would be an extension of the current administration. On the other hand 59% of voters say that it's time for change in how the city is led with only 34% saying they're happy with how things are going currently, a sentiment that Foxx's campaign should be able to successfully tap into.

So far in the campaign Lassiter has put a heavy emphasis on his experience, while Foxx has been more focused on his vision for the city. By a 60-28 margin voters say that they are more concerned about a candidate's vision when deciding who to vote for than his experience.

Here are two things each candidate needs to focus on to win:

Anthony Foxx

-One very good piece of news for Foxx is that black voters appear to be motivated to come out this fall- we expect them to make up at least 30% of the electorate. Right now Foxx has a 70-17 lead with them. If he can push that up closer to Obama levels- 90% or more- he's going to be very difficult to beat.

-Although he's certainly doing a better job than most Democratic candidates for mayor have done lately of locking up the white Democratic vote, he's still losing 25% of it to Lassiter at this point. Getting his party more unified around him would go a long way.

John Lassiter

-Right now he's only getting 62% of the vote from people who approve of Pat McCrory's job performance. If he can do more to convince those folks happy with the current leadership that he'll provide continuity his numbers will improve.

-Do a better job of earning support from voters who have a favorable opinion of both him and Foxx- right now the Democrat has a 57-36 lead with their mutual admirers but conceivably those are folks who could go either way- Lassiter needs to get more of them to go his way.
This race looks like it will probably be close right to the end.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hagan - and Helms - support Sotomayor

North Carolina's Democratic senator Kay Hagan voted for Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation today to the U.S. Supreme Court. But in an acknowledgment of conservative leanings in the state, Hagan's statement pointed out an interesting past Sotomayor supporter - former Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, who died last year. Said Hagan:

“With 17 years on the federal bench, Judge Sonia Sotomayor has more federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in 100 years. Judge Sotomayor said in her confirmation hearing that her underlying judicial philosophy is ‘fidelity to the law.’ She has an established record as a moderate judge whose decisions show a respect for precedent.

“In 1998, Sen. Jesse Helms voted for her confirmation to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Based on her record and testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was proud to support her historic confirmation to the United States Supreme Court.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No big-name Democrat wants a U.S. Senate seat?

Are top-tier Democrats afraid to take on Richard Burr? Burr (left), a first-term Republican U.S. senator from Winston-Salem, is looking stronger each time a notable Democrat announces he won't run.

The latest was Mike McIntyre, a congressman from North Carolina's 7th district. He said this week that he feels he can be more effective by running for an eighth term in the House.

So add McIntyre to a list of prominent Democrats who are taking a pass. That list includes Attorney General Roy Cooper and U.S. Reps. Heath Shulter, Brad Miller and Bob Etheridge. State Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte has also said he won't run.

This fact is being touted by the national Republican Party, which is probably confused but relieved. Polls suggest that Burr could be vulnerable to a well-funded challenge from a prominent Democrat next year.

You may think there's plenty of time for someone to step up, given that the election is more than 15 months away. But Burr has a very respectable $2.5 million in the bank. So unless a Democrat plans to spend millions of his own money, no time like the present to get moving.

On the other hand, was anyone giving Kay Hagan a shot in July 2007?

- Posted by Taylor Batten

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lassiter is winning big! No wait! Foxx is!

Isn't it fun how you can make numbers say whatever you want?

Republican John Lassiter's campaign sent out an e-mail today touting Lassiter's commanding lead over Democrat Anthony Foxx in the race for Charlotte mayor. Lassiter is leading Foxx 42-26, with 32 percent undecided, according to a poll from Cornerstone Solutions.

But wait! Six hours later, Foxx's campaign sent out an e-mail saying that Foxx is actually leading, 48-34, with 17 percent undecided, in a poll from Anzalone Liszt Research.

No, we're not sure what to make of that either. One thing that stood out to us: Blacks made up just 13.8 percent of respondents in Cornerstone's poll. We figure they are likely to make up a much larger number than that on Election Day. And one surprising finding: even though the Cornerstone poll had Lassiter comfortably ahead, it showed that Foxx had more support than Lassiter among voters for whom the economy was the most important issue.

On the other hand, the Anzalone poll showed the race pretty much dead even until the pollsters gave information about both candidates. That's when Foxx pulled ahead in that poll. So the pollsters' wording could be crucial there.

In any case, we have a hunch: poll numbers in July might not stand up all the way to November.
-- Posted by Taylor Batten

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Higher taxes for everyone!

So after months of negotiations, state Democratic lawmakers today agreed on a plan: raise taxes by nearly $1 billion to avoid further spending cuts in the state budget -- and do it in a way that hits everyone.
The plan raises taxes by $982 million by hiking the sales tax rate by a penny, adding a 2 percent "surcharge" to state income tax bills and imposing small tax increases on cigarettes (10 cents a pack) and alcohol (about a nickel a six-pack, and 5 percent on liquor).
The plan is badly flawed. It hikes taxes on everyone, including hitting the poor disproportionately, while doing little to address the problems that got us into this situation in the first place. It relies on the same taxes that, this crisis shows, fluctuate too wildly to be a reliable revenue structure for a growing state.
Lawmakers should have cut the income tax rate, not put a surcharge on it. They should have cut the sales tax rate, not increase it. They should have closed loopholes on business taxes. And they should have applied the lower sales tax to more services.
Senate Democrats have been pushing to overhaul the tax system. But it appears the House put doing the right thing on the back burner and just relied on the higher taxes they could get passed.
Which means, we'll be in a budget mess even after this passes. And if you think some of these increases will be "temporary," you haven't been paying attention.
- Posted by Taylor Batten

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Charlotte history unfolds!

The history of Charlotte development in 9 minutes, "Metropolis" is a fun, stop-motion animation video by artist Rob Carter. Click the link to view:

As described on his web site:

is a quirky and very abridged narrative history of the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. It uses stop motion video animation to physically manipulate aerial still images of the city (both real and fictional), creating a landscape in constant motion. Starting around 1755 on a Native American trading path, the viewer is presented with the building of the first house in Charlotte. From there we see the town develop through the historic dismissal of the English, to the prosperity made by the discovery of gold and the subsequent roots of the building of the multitude of churches that the city is famous for. Now the landscape turns white with cotton, and the modern city is ‘born’, with a more detailed re-creation of the economic boom and surprising architectural transformation that has occurred in the past 20 years.

"Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, primarily due to the continuing influx of the banking community, resulting in an unusually fast architectural and population expansion that shows no sign of faltering despite the current economic climate. However, this new downtown Metropolis is therefore subject to the whim of the market and the interest of the giant corporations that choose to do business there. Made entirely from images printed on paper, the animation literally represents this sped up urban planners dream, but suggests the frailty of that dream, however concrete it may feel on the ground today. Ultimately the video continues the city development into an imagined hubristic future, of more and more skyscrapers and sports arenas and into a bleak environmental future. It is an extreme representation of the already serious water shortages that face many expanding American cities today; but this is less a warning, as much as a statement of our paper thin significance no matter how many monuments of steel, glass and concrete we build."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Graham to Sotomayor: Elections matter

Leave it to South Carolina's senior senator, Lindsey Graham, to call it like he sees it. During his opening statement at Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing this morning, Graham said what everyone was thinking but wouldn't say:

"Unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed."

Graham, a second-term senator from Oconee County, left open the possibility that he would vote to forward her confirmation to the full Senate, the first Republican at the hearing to suggest that. If he does, he could well be the only Republican on the committee to do so.

Graham made clear that he disagreed with Sotomayor on many issues, and he was troubled by her "wise Latina" remark. But he wisely said that was not a reason to vote against her confirmation. President Obama won the November election, Graham pointed out, and "that ought to matter. It does to me."

In other words, Supreme Court nominations have become too politicized. Senators should be judging her intellect, her honesty and her credentials, not whether they agree with her on every issue. Just as most Democrats did when they voted for George W. Bush's nominee for chief justice, John Roberts (78 yes votes).

- Posted by Taylor Batten

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One year, or 50, to help Mecklenburg's needy?

It's only talk, but Willie Ratchford takes it as a good sign.

Mecklenburg County commissioners this afternoon launched the beginnings of a conversation about the cliff Mecklenburg's nonprofits face.

A panel discussion among nonprofit leaders and others last week drew more than 200 people. Carol Hardison of Crisis Assistance Ministry suggested that the community needed a human services strategic plan to tackle the growing woes of the poor.

Today, commissioners discussed what a process would look like to devise such a plan. They agreed to try to convene a meeting next month of all of Mecklenburg's elected bodies to get community-wide buy-in. That's smart, since the problem goes way beyond county government.
Commissioner Harold Cogdell raised eyebrows when, talking about how complicated the problem is, he referred to striving to have a better community "in 30 years, or 50 years."

Commissioner Vilma Leake didn't like that. "Someone said 50 years. I hurt when I hear that," she said. "We need to act right away."

(Cogdell later emphasized that he shares the desire to get something done immediately.)

Commissioner Dan Murrey said the process needs to involve businesses, foundations, hospitals, nonprofits and others, along with government. He said it would take at least a year to devise a comprehensive strategic plan.

Ratchford, executive director of the city's Community Relations Committee who helped organize last week's forum, said he had hoped the forum would spark a conversation about the problem.

"It's starting to happen," he said.

- Posted by Taylor Batten

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mark Sanford: 20 Questions (or maybe 13)

What we wonder:

– Who was waterboarding Mark Sanford and forcing him to keep giving interviews to reporters?

– Is it possible that the continual string of embarrassing interviews was related to the campaign- and media-savvy Jenny Sanford having kicked her husband out of the house?

– How long will it take before the rest of us can announce plans to hike the Appalachian Trail without provoking snickers or eye-rolling?

– How long since Sanford was actually on the Appalachian Trail in mid-June – a spot about as secluded as Myrtle Beach on Fourth of July weekend?

– Who clings more tightly, a drowning man to a raft or a besmirched public official to a job?

– Which shows worse character – having meaningless anonymous sex, or only having sex with someone you love?

– Which shows worse character – having meaningless anonymous extramarital sex or having extramarital sex with someone you love?

– Is “crossed lines” anything akin to “hiking on the Appalachian Trail”?

– How much difference is there between having sex and lying about it if you’re Bill Clinton, and having sex and lying about it if you’re Mark Sanford?

– Is there a “sex line” and if so, where – really – is it?

– Might Cabarrus County commissioner Coy Privette have some tips to share?

– Has Jenny Sanford called Bill Diehl yet?

– What does it say that carrying two pooping piglets into the State House was only your second goofiest moment as governor?

– Posted by Mary Newsom (with an assist from Lew Powell)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shut up already, Mark Sanford!!!

Can somebody shut Gov. Mark Sanford up? Put a sock in his mouth and tape it?!!! Or just keep his hand over his mouth, as he's doing in this photo?
Here's the latest on the S.C. governor who left his state a couple of weeks ago to visit his mistress then lied to his staff, his wife and state officials about where he was.

Turns out he's had other liaisons, and he's ready to blab about them. He told the Associated Press Tuesday that he “crossed the lines” with a handful of women other than his mistress – but never had sex with them.

He “never crossed the ultimate line” with anyone but Maria Belen Chapur, the Argentine at the center of a scandal that has derailed his once-promising political career.“This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story,” Sanford said. “A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.”

Sanford said Chapur is his soul mate but he's trying to fall back in love with his wife.
He said that during the encounters with other women he “let his guard down” with some physical contact but “didn't cross the sex line.”
Ugh!!! TMI! TMI! Too much information!!!! Way to win the wife back, Mark.

Friday, June 26, 2009

BofA and Michael J: The Connection

Yes, Bank of America had ties to "King of Pop" Michael Jackson. A money connection. The Wall Street Journal's Matt Phillips wrote about it online today for its MarketBeat section, . Here's part of what it said:

"Mounting debts eventually forced Jackson to the brink of default on a reported $270 million in loans held by Bank of America. Bank of America eventually sold off the loan package — some that package was secured by his stake in Sony/ATV, his Neverland ranch and a separate music publishing firm that owns the rights to Jackson’s own songs — to Fortress Investment.
After reading this story, it’s easy to see why Bank of America would want to wash its hands of a borrower like Jackson. But did they make the right call by backing away from collateral like part of the Beatles catalog? Fortress obviously liked what it saw in that collateral, and Goldman Sachs was reportedly interested in it too."


Joblessness up; public investment needed?

A new report says nearly three-fourths of N.C. counties have hit double digit unemployment, with Hickory, Rocky Mount and Greenville hit especially hard. 82 of the state's 100 counties saw an increase in unemployment during May, said the Employment Security Commission. Five counties joined the list of those with double-digit joblessness, bringing the number to 72.

Greenville saw the highest month-to-month jump - from 10.1 percent to 11 percent unemployment. The highest unemployment rates were found in Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, followed by Rocky Mount. Accordint to the N.C. Justice Center, "Significantly, loss of government jobs began to play a role in growing unemployment. With cuts in state and local spending, more government positions are frozen or eliminated, contributing to the rise in joblessness."

Notes the Justice Center's Elaine Mejia, as more and more working families are thrown out of work, public investment is absolutely necessary. Government programs don't just stimulate the economy, they provide essential support for people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves jobless."It's particularly important, Mejia, said, for people to have access to the NC Health Choice program, which provides health insurance for the children of working families who do not have health insurance through their employer. Another way the state can help, she said, is by keeping doors to community colleges open for workers who seek retraining after being thrown out of work.

Gov. Perdue robo-calls to get votes for her budget plan

You thought you were through with those annoying robo-calls you're deluged with during election time? Well, filing hasn't even started for this year's election cycle, and one politician is already dialing folks up - and it's not even about winning a seat in November.

No, the pol calling is Gov. Bev Perdue, and she wants a win for her budget plan in the current session of the N.C. legislature. Many residents got her call this week, and some were not too happy. Here's part of what one Observer reader said:

"Normally, I would hang up immediately, but she mentioned education, so I listened. I'm glad I did, and I need to publicly disagree. She said that she was asking for support in raising taxes, which is a normal thing for a politician to do. The thing that grabbed my attention was her comment that she was asking for money along with teachers and PTA.
I am a public school teacher, and I have not attended any teacher's meeting where we voted to ask the public to raise taxes. I have heard of no PTA meetings where they voted on it, either. I cannot and would not claim to represent other teachers, but as for myself, I do not support raising taxes when so many people can't make ends meet as it is. I feel lucky that I have a job, and do not want to get laid off, but I don't think raising taxes is the answer. I think the money can be found in the salaries of upper administration, in out-of-state trainings that are useful but unneccessary, and in construction projects that are not necessary.
I think it was unethical of our governor to say that all teachers and PTA members want the general public to put out money that, frankly, very few of us have. It is a misrepresentation and it was sneaky. She didn't get on national tv, but sent out a phone call that millions of people will quietly listen to. This is the second time she has used education as a way to make money. She just took a chunk of every teacher's paycheck through an executive order, with no public or congressional vote."

In the robo-call, Perdue doesn't actually call for a tax increase (some of us on the editorial board got a call too). She says that like most states, North Carolina faces a severe budget crisis due to the "global" economic situation. She acknowledges the state must cut expenses but says "we can't undermine" schools and education "even if it means raising taxes".

She then asks for citizens to join her "and teachers and the PTA" in urging their legislators to "raise the revenue needed to protect our schools."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

OK, Ben and Ken, Who's lying?

Enough about that philandering governor to the South. It's time once more for the continuing saga of the banking debacle in the Queen City.
On Thursday, it was Ben Bernanke's time to sit on the hot seat before Congress to explain his role in the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch smash-up that masqueraded at first as a BofA takeover. Lawmakers grilled Bernanke over the details of the deal. But what they really wanted to know was this: Was it true what BofA CEO Ken Lewis said? Did federal regulators (meaning the Federal Reserve, meaning you, Ben Bernanke) threaten to oust Lewis and the bank's board members if BofA backed out of the Merrill deal after learning of mounting losses?
Nope. “I never said that I would replace the board and management” if Lewis decided to invoke a clause in the acquisition contract to try to stop the deal, Bernanke told the committee.
Bernanke also denied that he or any other Fed official urged Bank of America to keep quiet about Merrill Lynch's financial problems. Failing to divulge what he knew about Merrill's troubles would violate Lewis' fiduciary duty to Bank of America's shareholders.
“Neither I nor any member of the Federal Reserve ever directed, instructed or advised Bank of America to withhold from public disclosure any information relating to Merrill Lynch, including its losses, compensation packages or bonuses or any other related matter,” It was Bernanke's first public response since the committee launched an investigation into whether he or other government officials bullied Bank of America to stick with its plan to combine the two financial powers.
Republicans weren't buying it, all but saying Bernanke, a Republican, was lying. But Democrats seemed to be in his corner, saying the investigation revealed that Fed officials thought Bank of America failed to properly review Merrill Lynch's finances.
Ummm. Who do you think is lying - Ben or Ken? Vote here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Roving S.C. governor ought to step down

Don't get us wrong. Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, known as the Paris of Latin America. And for the record, we believe hiking the Appalachian Trail is an excellent way to clear your head and unwind after you've been used as a punching bag by state legislators from your own Republican Party.

But even if S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford had been hiking – instead of visiting a paramour in Buenos Aires, as he confessed at a Wednesday news conference – he'd still be in a heap of trouble.
If you're a governor, you do not go off without staying in touch with your office – whether you're backpacking on the trail or bawling in Buenos Aires. You do not turn off your cell phone, and you make sure your staff knows where you are and how to reach you. Always.

Forget, for now, the extramarital affair. For a chief executive of a state to remain unreachable for days – and apparently neither his staff nor the State Law Enforcement Division knew where he was or how to reach him – is a serious breach of duty. What if the Catawba Nuclear Plant had a meltdown? What if a terrorist bombed the S.C. State House?

On Wednesday, at his extraordinary news conference, Sanford said he is resigning as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Good. It's time for him to resign the S.C. governorship as well.

Sanford's secret, six-day assignation in Argentina betrayed not only his family and friends but the people of his state.

Whatever credibility he might once have had is shredded. His much-touted principles have unraveled. “I've spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina,” Sanford said. “I am committed to trying to get my heart right.”

We wish him well in that endeavor. Maybe he'll reconcile with his family and they can forgive him. Maybe he'll decide to tango into a new life in Latin America. Whatever he chooses, he should face his future as a private citizen, not as South Carolina's governor.

Sure, Gov. Sanford's a liar; but should he resign?

OK. So Mark Sanford lied to his wife, his staff, his state. Sure he had an affair, and had his security detail and the top levels of South Carolina government scrambling to find out where he disappeared to without even letting his wife and kids know - even though he skedaddled over Father's Day weekend. Is that enough to call for a governor to resign?

His enemies sure think so - even the Republican ones. They're already calling for his head.

And the media friend of conservatives, Fox News, didn't waste anytime asking its fan base what they thought. On its web site,, it asks in a big headline, "YOU DECIDE: Should Gov. Mark Sanford resign?"

We'll ask too. Should he? Vote here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Painful UW cuts slice into good services

It’s one thing to know, in the abstract, that United Way member agencies will be getting less money. It’s something else to learn that a Boy Scout outreach program that got half a million dollars from United Way of Central Carolinas this year will get 60 percent less for 2009-10.

Today the United Way board approved its disbursements to member agencies for the upcoming year. Anyone paying attention knew the sums would be painful. The recession would have shriveled donations during the fall campaign regardless, but community outrage also lashed the nonprofit agency after publicity about the salary and benefits it was paying its now-fired CEO, Gloria Pace King.

Board chair Carlos Evans described the inevitable result: “There’s a lot of pain here for very good people.”

As you learn of reduced budgets for so many excellent human services programs, two things are important:
Look at the big picture. The cuts weren’t punitive. United Way officials note they reflect priority-setting that tried to put proportionately more money into what they deemed “crucial” services: food, shelter and medical care.

Support programs you believe in with your money and your time. The Salvation Army’s Boys & Girls Club programs, for instance, will lose 45 percent of their United Way allocation, or some $311,000. Big Brothers/Big Sisters’ allocation is down more than 40 percent.
Even agencies that did better – and understand that “better” is merely a relative term – are seeing severe cuts. Crisis Assistance Ministry will lose “only” 22 percent of its United Way funds – in a year when the overall funding available for United Way to give out to its 90-some agencies was 35 percent less.

Times are hard, and our neighbors are suffering. We can’t say this enough. It’s up to each of us to help each other, with our money, our time and our caring.

If guns don't kill, why not send soldiers to war without them?

Just in time for the June 26th first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s DC v. Heller decision, a new book is coming out that challenges the gun ruling. In the Heller decision last June, the high court held in a 5-4 decision that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to have a gun, at least in one’s home. The ruling struck down a District of Columbia ban on handgun possession.

In "Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy," author, Dennis Henigan, who founded the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project 20 years ago to represent gun violence victims in lawsuits against the gun industry, takes issue with gun advocates' slogans. and other relentless opponents of sensible gun laws, and dismantles them one by one. Here's one: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Henigan says: “If that’s the case, why do we give people guns when they go to war? Why not just send the people?”
Here's another: “An armed society is a polite society.” Gun advocates cite Switzerland as Utopia. But Henigan says Switzerland has high gun ownership because of mandatory militia service, and that citizens in mandatory militia service face government inspection of the guns in their homes and must account for all their bullets. “Can you imagine the fury of the NRA’s opposition to any suggestion that guns in the homes of U.S. citizens be subject to government inspection?”
“Dennis Henigan has long been one of the nation’s leading thinkers on the gun violence issue,” said Sarah Brady, the Chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the sister organization of the Brady Center. “In Lethal Logic, he has given us a clear roadmap toward destruction of the ‘any gun, any time, any place’ arguments of the gun lobby.”

That's what gun opponents think. But we're betting that's not what gun supporters think. Is it?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ken Lewis and BofA's shotgun marriage

Missed PBS's Frontline piece, "Breaking the Bank", primarily about the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch shotgun marriage, and starring BofA CEO Ken Lewis? Check it out online at

The hour-long program is a nifty behind-the-scenes look at how the two entities got joined, and how Lewis tried to un-join them at the 11th hour. Former BofA chief Hugh McColl gets some face time on the program too. But it's Lewis and his counterpart at Merrill, John Thain, (with Then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson) who are the central characters in this drama.

There are quite a few moments to relish, including a pivotal one where officials of the top banks were summoned to Washington and "forced" to take TARP money. The hierarchy of seating arrangements even came into question, with Lewis wondering why he was seated at the end of the table (he said he finally determined it was alphabetical). Interestingly at the meeting, Lewis was agreeable to taking the money as a patriotic move; leaders of Wells Fargo, which now owns Wachovia, were adamant they wouldn't. Eventually, everyone did. And some economists said that was the beginning of nationalizing the banks.

It's an intriguing piece, and an interesting character profile of Lewis. Even his ability to smile (or rather his difficulty in doing so) was spotlighted. It's worth a watch.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Work for free? Me???? Are you crazy?

Times are tough where a lot of us work but not as bad as they are at British Airways it seems. The airline is urging its staff to work for nothing to save the company money.

You read that right - WORK FOR NOTHING.

British Airways PLC is struggling to come up with ways to save cash after reporting its biggest full-year loss since the former national airline was privatized in 1987. BA chief Willie Walsh has said he would not draw a salary for the month of July, and urged other employees to work for blocks of time without being paid.

Right. Let's see how many takers he gets.

Of course, some critics of layoffs at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have said Superintendent Peter Gorman should work for free too.

Umm. Who do you think should help the bottom-line (CEO or otherwise) by working for free?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Princess and the Caricature

Cartoons often rely on the shorthand of stereotypes to convey their messages. So obviously, cartoons and race are a volatile combination. That's one reason animators have been so reluctant to produce films starring minorities. This December, though, Disney is slated to release a new animated movie featuring their first black princess, the next addition to their line-up of such heroines as Cinderella, Snow White, the Little Mermaid and Belle of "Beauty and the Beast."

William Blackburn, a 2007 Charlotte Observer community columnist, was one of the first upset with Disney's plans. He wrote in April of that year:

"Recently the Walt Disney Co. announced it has started production on a film featuring a new animated princess named Maddy. After some 80 years creating a collection of princesses that have represented Middle Eastern, American Indian and Chinese cultures, Disney finally has seen fit to develop an African American princess.

This endeavor may seem like a long-overdue step in the right direction, but Disney should be ashamed of what it is trying to pass off as its first black princess. . . .

For one, this princess' story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community. And then they throw in the voodoo theme and an alligator sidekick. When you put New Orleans, alligators and voodoo together, there's no beauty there.

And what's in a name? I have no desire to see my daughter play with a Maddy doll. Maddy? Say it five times real fast, and it'll start to sound like Mammy.

After all of this time, Disney owes us better than this ill-considered fairy-tale. Black consumers especially must implore Disney to go back to the drawing board. In 2009, Disney will bring this character to the big screen, and you'll see posters, trailers and other PR advertising this black princess as something glamorous. But the movie is called 'The Frog Princess.' Enough said."

Disney must have heard him, or others with similar concerns. Since then, the heroine's name has been changed to Tiana, and the movie's name has been changed as well, to "The Princess and the Frog." Others complained that Tiana originally worked as a chambermaid to a white debutante, which smacked of slavery. As it summerizes the plot, The New York Times says that concept has been rewritten as well:

"The film, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, two of the men behind 'The Little Mermaid,' unfolds against a raucous backdrop of voodoo and jazz. Tiana, a waitress and budding chef who dreams of owning a restaurant, is persuaded to kiss a frog who is really a prince.

The spell backfires and — poof! — she is also an amphibian. Accompanied by a Cajun firefly and a folksy alligator, the couple search for a cure."

Blackburn's 2007 column is the main opposition voice to the Disney movie in both the New York Times story and a similar piece in the London Telegraph. While others are said to be upset that the male lead in the new movie doesn't appear to be black, many other folks are quoted in the stories as being excited about Disney's efforts.

One of the most enthusiastic voices thus far is the Manhatten Institute's John McWorther. He says the hand-drawn film" reveals one of the deftest, most soulfully accurate renditions of a black American in the history of animation."
"Look at that configuration of the eyebrows, the lower lip, and the angle of the shoulders pulled back. This is not merely a look of skepticism--it is a perfect rendition of a facial expression and bodily posture local to black American women expressing the kind of skepticism one would have about kissing a frog (or sampling fried grasshopper, or having a shag rug installed, or being gifted with a PT Cruiser).
Yes, it is a 'black' demeanor. Picture Beauty and the Beast's Belle in the same pose with the same expression, or even the warmer, realer Jasmine in Aladdin (whose facial expressions were some of the sexiest ever drawn for a cartoon character). The animators here actually did some thinking and feeling--Tiana is going to be not just painted brown but identifiably black in the cultural sense. "
Not only Disney, but many cartoonists as well, are banking on the movie's success. As the Times says, "The movie also marks a return by Disney to traditional hand-drawn animation. A failure could be the final nail in the coffin of an art form pioneered by Walt Disney himself."

Granted almost no one's seen it yet. But what do you think?

-- Kevin Siers

Friday, June 5, 2009

Teachers flee black schools - study shows they did in Charlotte

The best teachers tend to leave their schools when the schools see an an influx of black students, a new Cornell University study shows. And the study, published in the Journal of Labor Economics, was based on what happened in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools when CMS ended its long-running policy of busing to keep schools racially diverse. That policy ended after a parents sued CMS over race-based policies, and a federal judge in 1999 ruled they should no longer be used. In 2001, an appeals court largely upheld that ruling. In 2002, CMS launched a plan that assigned most students to schools near their homes - creating several schools that were overwhelmingly black.

Between 2002 and 2003, Cornell labor economics professor C. Kirabo Jackson studied patterns of teacher movement in CMS, and found that the best teachers - whites and blacks - left schools in response to a large influx of African American students. Jackson didn't say his research showed the teachers didn't like black students, but that when the make-up of the school changed, "teachers reacted in this way." He said teachers could have been moving for convenience to be closer to their homes, for higher salaries, or for a particular type of student such as high achievers.

But he said the impact was the same as researchers have found in other studies - that high-minority schools (which are also often high-poverty schools) have a harder time attracting and keeping the best teachers. That, he said, has impact on how well students are taught and how much academic progress they make. And it should factor into discussions of policy issues such as vouchers, school choice, district consolidations and busing changes that reshuffle students across schools.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sotomayor not playing well in N.C.

North Carolinians appear cool to Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. A new poll from Public Policy Polling in Raleigh shows that just 39 percent say Sotomayor should be confirmed. Forty-three percent say she should not be confirmed and 18 percent are unsure.

That's a less-friendly reception than she's getting around the country. A Gallup poll released last week showed that 47 percent of respondents called President Obama's pick excellent or good, 20 percent rated it only fair and 13 percent called it poor. Among Republicans in that poll, 29 percent said she was excellent or good, a number that almost matched Democrats' 31 percent rating of John Roberts when he was nominated by President George W. Bush.

In polls by Quinnipiac University, Gallup and The Associated Press, half or more of respondents backed Sotomayor's confirmation.

In North Carolina, just 59 percent of Democrats back Sotomayor, compared with 81 percent of Democrats nationwide in the Quinnipiac poll. That poll showed 59 percent of women supporting her confirmation, compared with just 38 percent in North Carolina.

The numbers overall bode well for Sotomayor. Absent a loud backlash by voters, senators aren't likely to block her.

- Posted by Taylor Batten

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

To the rescue: Raleigh looks to Charlotte

Retired Johnson C. Smith University president Dorothy Cowser Yancy is coming to the rescue of Shaw University in Raleigh. Shaw's president, Clarence Newsome, is taking a one-year, paid sabbatical as the school faces a multitude of problems, including growing debt, decaying dorms and a graduation rate of about 36 percent. Conditions at the private school so disturbed alumni that in March, some stopped donating or raising money for their alma mater.

It's no surprise Shaw is looking to Yancy for help. She became the first female president of JCSU in Charlotte in 1994, and left a legacy of fundraising and academic progress. While she was president, Smith's endowment grew from $13.8 million to $57 million - exceeding its goals for two capital campaigns (the second one going more than $5 million over its $75 million goal), admission applications rose 300 percent, historic Biddle Hall was restored, and the campus was wired for Internet access. In 2000, JCSU also became the first historically black university to be labeled a "laptop" campus, issuing IBM Thinkpads to all its students. The school was ranked among the top tier comprehensice Southern Colleges for most of her tenure, and one of the best values among Southern colleges in 2004.

When she retired in 2008, Patty Norman, former chair of the university's board of visitors lauded her: "She's probably one of the more effective fundraisers I've ever encountered. Aside from her incredible passion for the school, she's willing to go after and ask anyone for help."

That and an academic boost are no doubt what the folks at Shaw are counting on.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Can new conductor save symphony?

The old Groucho Marx joke was that he wouldn't want to join a club that would have him as a member. So, does Charlotte's symphony want a music director who's willing to take such a shaky job?

The symphony announced Tuesday that Christopher Warren-Green will replace Christof Perick as its next conductor. Warren-Green has led the London Chamber Orchestra (not the city's main symphony) since 1988.

Musically, this appears to be a big step up for Warren-Green. But with the symphony's financial problems threatening its existence, Warren-Green may have the warmth and public face the symphony lacked in Perick and badly needs.

Warren-Green will live in Charlotte and search committee members say he has the personality the orchestra craves. First-chair violinist Calin Lupanu told The Observer's Steven Brown that Warren-Green is "a charmer. He knows how to talk to people. He's very convincing." Said violinist Emily Chatham: "It makes you smile to see him." (Read Steven's full story here.)

A convincing charmer who can talk to people and make them smile. Sounds like another step in the Charlotte symphony's ongoing rebirth.

- Posted by Taylor Batten

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ain't ain't a word, Mr. Jones

There "ain't" no way Harry Jones just said what we think he just said, some in the crowd thought Tuesday night.
Jones, the Mecklenburg County manager, was presenting his recommended $1.39 billion budget to county commissioners Tuesday night when he interrupted his officious delivery with slang.
"We are faced with a new revenue reality," he told the crowd. "And we ain’t got enough money to fund services and programs at current or expanded levels."
We ain't got? Dang, guess we're SOL.
Who knows what Jones was thinking. Did he stumble into saying that accidentally?
We'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant to say that, as some sort of colloquialism. It was written in his prepared remarks, after all.
If so, bad idea. Our kids and our society have enough problems speaking proper English without the county's highest ranking government staffer saying "ain't" in his budget presentation.
What do you think? Inappropriate? Or get off his case as he has a little fun?

- Posted by Taylor Batten

Thursday, May 14, 2009

County's DSS deal was excessive

Compassion is one thing.

But a county-funded, $168,000-a-year think tank job – complete with car – wired up to keep someone on the county payroll for years until he's eligible for full retirement benefits goes way beyond simple compassion.

That's the deal the county made in 2007 with then-Department of Social Services chief Richard “Jake” Jacobsen. The county agreed to pay Jacobsen's salary at UNC Charlotte's Institute for Social Capital until his retirement, at age 66, in February 2010.

And get this: It will be Jacobsen's second state pension. Turns out that when he left the San Diego County Department of Social Services, after a flap about its child-protection agency, he negotiated a retirement date that allowed him to receive a pension for 20 years' government service.

Jacobsen, hired here in 1994, won praise as an innovative leader. But after a 2004 stroke had him out of work for months, things got messy. In 2007 two former employees sued the county, saying they were forced out after questioning his health and performance. Their lawsuit said he had been forgetful, erratic and racially insensitive. (A judge dismissed that suit in 2008.) But in September 2007, County Manager Harry Jones, UNCC and Jacobsen agreed to the UNCC arrangement.

What's done is done. It would be difficult legally for the county to go back on the deal now. But with the county facing a $79 million shortfall in next year's budget, and as up to 400 teachers prepare for potential layoffs, there's no question about this deal. Although it appears it was set up with compassionate motives, it is – simply – excessive.

-- Posted by Mary Newsom

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

'Obama bucks,' 'stimulus truck' and Gauvreau

First it was the "stimulus truck." Now, it's "Obama bucks." That's how Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Larry Gauvreau derisively tags the federal stimulus dollars that CMS is getting.

In February, Gauvreau derided school officials for saying staff cuts and program reductions would be needed because of the economic collapse, though he noted that CMS was already bloated and should have been cutting the fat anyway. But he said the lamenting was all a smokescreen because a federal "stimulus truck" was going to drive up with a load of cash for CMS.

On Tuesday, school officials did announce they'd gotten about $28 million in stimulus money, targetted for high-poverty schools, special education and pre-school. Gauvreau dubbed them "Obama bucks," as he blasted the proposed school budget for next year as, you guessed it, bloated and fat.

Though most of the other school board members disagreed about the budget, many smiled at the "Obama bucks" tag - which made Gauvreau keep repeating it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Birth control? It's your turn, guys

Birth control for men that doesn't come in a wrapper or require surgery? Yep.
And it's just around the corner from being on the market, a new study suggests.

It's injectable testosterone, and Chinese researchers say a test of 1,045 healthy, fertile men aged 20 to 45 years shows it's 98 percent effective. The pill is about 99 percent effective (when taken correctly) for women.

Said Dr. Yi-Qun Gu, of the National Research Institute for Family Planning in Beijing, China: "For couples who cannot, or prefer not to use only female-oriented contraception, options have been limited to vasectomy, condom and withdrawal, our study shows a male hormonal contraceptive regimen may be a potential, novel and workable alternative."

Could this new development finally bring equality to the responsibility for birth control? Only if men can be convinced to go for it. That could happen. After all, the injection is giving men more testosterone! And the procedure is more insurance against "slip-ups".

Former presidential candidate John Edwards (and probably wife Elizabeth too) might be wishing it was on the market some months ago.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How would you cut CMS budget?

So pretend for a moment that you are CMS superintendent Peter Gorman. You are told to cut $34 million from your budget, or almost 10 percent. What would you do?
As April Bethea reported today, CMS is looking at cutting 1,300 jobs, including more than 400 teaching positions.
Commissioner Bill James suggests eliminating Bright Beginnings, a pre-K program.
One big question still lingers: how much federal stimulus money is coming to CMS, and how much of it could or should be used to save teacher jobs?
One retired CMS teacher, Dan Faris, sends an open letter to President Obama, pleading for help:

Dear President Obama,
I am a retired public school teacher, 30 years in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system in NC. Since January our local newspaper has been reporting that Governor Perdue has told all of the school systems in the state to cut expenses by 10%. At the same time you have been assuring the country that firefighters, police and teachers will not have to worry about losing their jobs. Many times in the past few months our CMS superintendent, Peter Gorman, has said that a 10% cut in funding WILL result in job losses for teachers. In today's Charlotte Observer, and I quote: "The school district was already planning to cut 534 jobs, but had planned to spare classroom teachers unless the county asked for cuts. Now, about 1,300 school employees-- including more than 400 teachers-- could lose their jobs."
Mr. President, this is unacceptable. It is not what you have been telling the country. What you have been saying is correct-- our children are the future of our country, and, economic recession or not, we will not make them face the future with inadequate education.
Call Governor Perdue, get more stimulus money involved, and do whatever else needs to be done to make sure our children have the teachers they need.
As with most Americans, I am proud you are our president, and I support your agenda. At the same time I know things change, and strategies must change with them. In this instance, however, you must stand firm and fulfill the promise you made.
Yours truly,
Dan F. Faris
Retired Teacher
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

What do you think?
-Posted by Taylor Batten

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We wrote the caption

We couldn't resist playing with the photo that ran with today's story about Elizabeth Edwards' interview with Oprah Winfrey, scheduled to air on Thursday.

Other ideas?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

School bullies beware!

The N.C. Senate passed a strong and sensible anti-bullying bill today. The Senate should give final approval and the N.C. House should do the same.

The bill includes gender identity and sexual orientation as characteristics that motivates bullying and that's upset some people. But the language is no endorsement of a particular lifestyle or ideology. It is simply an acknowledgement that specific kinds of bullying and harassment are a huge problem.

Nationally, at least three suicides this year, two involving 11-year-olds, have occurred because of anti-gay taunts and bullying. General policies haven't provided adequate protection for targets of anti-gay slurs and harassment. Studies show detailed policies and laws are taken more seriously, and are more effective.

Contrary to what some opponents contend this legislation does not advance special protections for gay people. Nor would it be a precursor or mandate for same-sex marriage, which a group of N.C. Catholic bishops allege it has been in other states. In Massachusetts, for instance, where same sex marriage was legalized in 2004, lawmakers have yet to approve a school anti-bullying law. And the bill the N.C. senate approved specifies that “nothing in this act shall be construed to create any classification, protected class, suspect category, or preference beyond those existing in present statute or case law.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board adopted a strong anti-bullying policy last year. At least seven states have adopted strong, detailed anti-bullying laws.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards' tryst with the public

John Edwards had a tryst with Rielle Hunter, but now Elizabeth Edwards is using that to have a tryst with the public. Going through a private hell because your husband is one of the most high-profile cheaters in the nation? Go public! Write a book about it, go on Oprah, invite America into your bedroom. You might even make a few bucks off of it.

Elizabeth Edwards for a long time was a hugely sympathetic character on the U.S. political scene: her son died in a car accident, she suffered from cancer and her husband two-timed her. We still feel sorry for all that pain for her.

But she loses some of her public reputation when she keeps mum while her husband threatens the future of the Democratic Party by running for president with the Hunter affair lurking. Then she writes a memoir and schedules an Oprah visit to tease out some of the details. Elizabeth, we wish you had done us, yourself and your children a favor by staying above the fray.

- Posted by Taylor Batten

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The 'poor choice' of Virginia Foxx

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is making North Carolina famous, for uttering wacko things in Congress.

In March Foxx (right) opposed the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, fuming that “We are teaching our people to go to work for the government. What a shame! Shame on us.” Don't forget: Foxx has worked for government agencies all her career, at UNC Chapel Hill, Appalachian State University, Mayland Community College, the N.C. Senate and now Congress.

Her latest: She said the killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay man beaten and left for dead in Wyoming in 1998, is being used as a “hoax” to push legislation to expand the definition of hate crimes to those motivated by sexual orientation.

Foxx said that “the Matthew Shepard Bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay. The bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but it’s really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”

One of the two men tried and convicted of killing Shepard cited a “gay panic” defense: He was uncontrollable because of a homosexual advance.

Foxx later said she had used “a poor choice of words” and made a mistake believing some news accounts that speculated the motivation for the killing was drug use. Shepard's death, she said, was “nothing less than a tragedy and those responsible … deserved the punishment they received.”

Her explanation suggests Foxx is less concerned about the killings of gay citizens and more concerned about limiting the ability of authorities to consider a victim’s sexual orientation as a motive. It raises this question: did voters in her congressional district also make "a poor choice"?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Facebook will make you dumb!

Well, that's not exactly what a new study found. But it did connect some dots between the use of Facebook and academic performance, and some folks are paying attention to the results.

According to the study by doctoral candidate Aryn Karpinski of Ohio State University and her co-author Adam Duberstein of Ohio Dominican University, college students who use the 200 million-member social network have significantly lower grade-point averages (GPAs) than those who do not.

This week, Time magazine reported on the study, which was a relatively small, exploratory study with just 219 undergraduate and graduate students surveyed. It found that Facebook users in the study had GPAs between 3.0 to 3.5 for users while non-users in the study had GPAs between 3.5 to 4.0. Also in the study, Facebook users said they averaged one to five hours a week studying, while non-users said they studied 11 to 15 hours per week.

Karpinski said she wasn't suggesting in the study that Facebook directly causes lower grades, only that there's some relationship between the two factors. "Maybe [Facebook users] are just prone to distraction. Maybe they are just procrastinators," she told TIME.