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