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, http://blogs.wsj.com/marketbeat . 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, FoxNews.com, it asks in a big headline, "YOU DECIDE: Should Gov. Mark Sanford resign?" http://foxforum.blogs.foxnews.com/2009/06/24/youdecide_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 www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/breakingthebank/.

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.