Monday, October 31, 2011

Fix the N.C. auto inspection sham

The Observer's editorial for Tuesday's print edition:

We won’t say that state auto inspections are unnecessary. Staunch supporters include the safety-conscious N.C. Highway Patrol and AAA Carolinas. But we will say – based on an investigation by this newspaper and The (Raleigh) News & Observer – that North Carolina’s inspection system provides no proof or assurance that such inspections are needed or helpful.

In fact, the N.C. system is so mired in corruption – bribery, cheating, falsifying documents – that the auto inspection process has become a sham. It is providing a false sense of safety to the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who drive. These disturbing findings should prod state policymakers to give the auto inspection system an overhaul immediately.

Officials don’t have to look far for recommendations. In 2008, the N.C. legislature’s watchdog agency – the N.C. Program Evaluation Division – examined the program and found that inspectors performed inconsistent work with inadequate state enforcement. The watchdog agency recommended eliminating safety inspections or exempting newer cars from safety and emissions tests because they rarely fail.

Proponents of eliminating inspections cite the fact that all but 17 states no longer do them because of studies that show safety checks do little to improve highway safety. A 2009 Pennsylvania study, however, did show a safety value for inspections. It found fewer fatal crashes involving vehicle failures in states with inspection programs that those without. But the higher numbers of fatal crashes was for vehicles three years old and older.

Given Pennsylvania’s findings and some experts who say owners of older vehicles are more likely to ignore auto maintenance and allow problem vehicles to stay in service during a struggling economy, exempting newer cars and trucks from state-mandated auto inspections is a good step. State Sen. Stan Bingham, a Davidson County Republican who last spring had recommended exempting newer vehicles, is right to push for it again.

But that’s not the only change needed. Right now, the N.C. program is a waste of time and money. Motorists spend $106 million a year on inspection fees. The private garages that perform the auto inspections rake in about $99 million. The investigation by the Observer and the N&O showed rampant fraud by workers at several of those garages – some gouging customers with unnecessary services and others taking bribes to falsify results to pass vehicles that actually fail.
And the state provides insufficient oversight to prevent or curtail such practices. Even when cheaters get caught, a long appeals process guarantees they can stay in business and continue to cheat for years.

More rigorous state monitoring is critical for there to be any faith in the inspections system. The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles has already started cracking down on inspection sites and employees suspected of cheating. That’s good. Officials say they would be greatly aided by a more efficient data collection system. They should push for it.

Because auto inspections are a multimillion-dollar business, there are a lot of people who want to protect the status quo. But influence should not be allowed to hold sway. This sham of a system needs to be fixed. State officials need to get to it.

Fannie Flono, on behalf of the editorial board

Herman Cain ... sings?

Didn't your grandma ever tell you to sing your worries away?

Herman Cain, at the end of his appearance Monday at the National Press Club, was asked by questioner and Press Club president Mark Hamrick if he might like to close in song.

Why, yes he did.

Turns out, he's quite good.

Peter St. Onge

Cain: Harassment claims "a witch hunt"


After denying earlier in the day that he knew of any paid settlements to women claiming harassment at the National Restaurant Association, Herman Cain acknowledged to FOX New's Greta van Susteren that he remembered a payment made to one woman when he was CEO, according to the Washington Examiner's Byron York.

York provides the details, including Cain's recollection of what caused the sexual harassment accusation:
"She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture saying -- and I was standing close to her -- and I made a gesture saying you are the same height as my wife. And I brought my hand up to my chin saying, 'My wife comes up to my chin.'" At that point, Cain gestured with his flattened palm near his chin. "And that was put in there [the complaint] as something that made her uncomfortable," Cain said, "something that was in the sexual harassment charge."
The complaint involves more than one charge, according to Politico, but Cain did not remember any other incidents.

Expect the reporting on this to continue to unfold.

From 3:00 PM:

Herman Cain is forcefully denying a Politico report that two women said he harassed them when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Now he might have a potential campaign financing issue to confront, too.

From the original Politico report on the harassment allegations:
The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. The agreements also included language that bars the women from talking about their departures.
At an appearance before the National Press Club this afternoon, Cain called the accusations "a witch hunt" and said that he was unaware of any payments to accusers. Politico reports that those payments were in the five-figure range for each of the accusers - and adds these details about the allegations, from "a half-dozen sources":
The sources — including the recollections of close associates and other documentation — describe episodes that left the women upset and offended. These incidents include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other officially sanctioned restaurant association events and at the association’s offices. There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.

Cain, who initially told FOX News late this morning that the allegations were false - and that an investigation found them to be baseless.

Said Cain:
"I have never sexually harassed anyone, and yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association. I say falsely because it turned out, after the investigation, to be baseless."
Also today, Cain told CBS News that he knew nothing about his campaign skirting campaign finance laws, as reported in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. That report said two of Cain's top officials started a Wisconsin charity that helped pay $40,000 of expenses to get the Cain campaign off the ground.

All of which had Cain ... singing? Yep.

Our take, from this morning (it hasn't changed):

This story certainly has some playing out to do as other news organizations do their own reporting on it, and Cain will appear on FOX today to presumably rebut the allegations again. Cain's credibility is hurt by his initial non-denial, and his candidacy, which rose quickly to fill the Not-Mitt-Romney vacuum left by Rick Perry's poor debate performances, is fragile for a frontrunner. It won't take much to deflate Cain's rise.

Also, part of Cain's appeal has been his different-ness. He is blunt and quirky, and in a political era where we sometimes judge our candidates for persona as much as politics, that maverick sense has helped him shoot to the top of the polls. If true, these allegations steal most of that away. He'll be, simply, a bad boss who engaged in ugly behavior.

Also from earlier:

The Poynter Institute breaks down the factors that will determine whether the Cain allegations become a full-fledged scandal.

The Washington Post draws a parallel to the sexual harassment allegations surround Clarence Thomas before his confirmation hearing in 1991 and wonders if Cain will use a similar defense - that the allegations amount to what Thomas called a "high tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves."

Politico also asks political experts how this will impact Cain's campaign.

The Washington Post's Fix speculates that while Cain might combat the allegations with a detailed account of what happened, the story could go in directions Cain can't control.

MSNBC has video of Cain's chief of staff Mark Block denying the allegations with a somewhat wishful "Period. End of Story."

And a bad sign for Cain: Right-leaning Concerned Women for America wants an explanation.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

One way to get a free Brooks Brothers suit

Need a personal slush fund? Run for office. It worked for Justin Burr and – perhaps – for John Edwards.

Burr, a Republican state representative from Stanly County, is being criticized for spending campaign funds for his personal use. He spent $857.42 at Brooks Brothers in Raleigh for suits, the Stanly News and Press reports, and hundreds more on rent for his apartment and some office supplies.

Turns out, there might be nothing wrong with that. Campaign finance laws don’t put many restrictions on how campaign funds are spent. State Board of Elections chief Gary Bartlett told the (Raleigh) News & Observer that buying suits isn’t necessarily against the law. “We give them the benefit of the doubt as long as they don’t seem to abuse it,” he said.

At least Burr reported his expenditures. In a higher profile case, Democrat John Edwards, the former U.S. senator and presidential candidate, didn’t report millions given on his behalf to help cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter during his presidential run. Now, Edwards will go to trial on charges that he violated campaign finance law by accepting such large donations and not reporting them.

Kudos to federal judge Catherine Eagles, who today refused to throw out the charges against Edwards. That means Edwards, who spent his life in courtrooms as a trial lawyer, will now be in one as a defendant.

“What I know with complete and absolute certainty is I did not violate any campaign laws,” Edwards said outside court today.

Given Edwards’ distant relationship with the truth in recent years, that’s not good enough. Tell it to the judge.

-- Taylor Batten

Six more school board candidates make their cases

Fourteen people are listed on the Nov. 8 Mecklenburg County ballot seeking one of three at-large seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. The Observer editorial board asked them to submit an essay on why they should be elected. Twelve responded.
We published the first six responses online Wednesday and in print today. Go to to read their responses. Here are the other responses.
Ken Nelson
My name is Ken Nelson, and I want to restore trust between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the community. I want to open up our meetings, our processes, our budget and our decisions to the community at large.
Currently, the board tends to make decisions based upon the will of outside groups, rather than for the good of our students and community. Our schools and our children are being used as experiments by outside foundations. The board talks about reform, but it seems to be reform for the sake of reform, rather than for the betterment of the schools.
Our schools are failing. The dropout rate is abysmal. The teacher retention rate is terrible. Yet all we do as a board is throw more tests at children and use the results to grade our teachers. This model needs to end.
We need to challenge our students. We need to demand excellence, not by a score on a standardized test, but by encouraging all children to strive for success in life. We also need to reinstate effective disciplinary action to mitigate safety issues. If children are scared to come to school, it stands to reason that they will not do well.
Thank you.
Hans Peter Plotseneder
At this point in my life, I feel I must serve my community and give back by sharing 25 years of worldwide business experience with IBM and Bank of America plus 11 years of current teaching in CMS as well as my academic background.
My vision, insight and knowledge along with the desire to make a difference led me to run for school board.
My intention is to put our students and teachers first and provide real opportunities by improving the curricula for all children. This will prepare our youth for the job market or college and to be globally competitive.
With establishing a “Parent Advisory Council” grounded in empowered PTSAs, I plan to involve all relevant groups to improve the graduation rate and close the achievement gaps.
I shall specifically request to improve teacher compensation, reinstate teacher pay increases, reward excellent performance, appoint the right superintendent, and empower teachers in a professional environment as well as increase local partnerships.
To achieve these goals, I commit to putting 14 strategies in place within the first 180 days in office that are outlined on my website
drplots7and7plan.html. It is time to focus on “Students and Teachers First.”
Aaron J. Pomis
Over the past 10 years as a teacher, administrator and board member, I have closed the achievement gap in my classroom, worked shoulder to shoulder with teachers across CMS, and built bridges in the community while making smart budget choices for our students.
I have woken up every day at 5:30 a.m., ready to work for students because I absolutely believe that we can do a better job fulfilling the promises we make to our children. It’s one thing to make grand campaign promises, but for the past decade I have been living these promises for our children, and I will continue to live these promises for the next four years and beyond.
I am driven to this commitment because I know the students in our community can learn and want to learn. It’s up to us, the adults, to give them the opportunity.
My plan is simple: Provide our teachers with the resources and support they need to succeed, create a strategic budget focused on what works best for students, and galvanize our community to stand behind each and every student.
Vote for Aaron Pomis for school board on November 8th, to unite our community around one mission: student achievement.
Darrin Rankin
The focus of our campaign is 1) to improve the quality of education for all children, 2) increase the level of parental/community involvement in CMS and 3) support principals, teachers and staff.
I will hold meetings in the community to seek input from students, parents, teachers and others in an effort to learn of specific needs for specific schools.
We have to end the cycle of hiring teachers, firing teachers, and hiring teachers. We have to reduce the amount of testing taking place in the classrooms and get back to the task of educating our children.
Too many children are graduating from CMS and they do not have the skill set required to enter the workforce, or to go on to a vocational school or university. We have to do a better job of educating our children.
I have a son in third grade in CMS so I understand how decisions made as a board member trickle down to the classroom level. I understand “how children learn,” the “business of education” and the “politics of education.” I will be a thoughtful decision maker. Vote Rankin for School Board At Large!
Lloyd Scher
I was always supportive of CMS as a county commissioner. I helped raise thousands of dollars from private resources for school projects.
We must change how we prepare school budgets in Mecklenburg and North Carolina. The budget process is very lengthy and messy, and timing issues cause a hardship for teachers, staff and community.
Legislators should prepare an education spending bill before April 1. The county should do the same by April 15. That would allow the school board to complete its budget before May 15, preventing unnecessary layoffs of teachers.
We must rescind House Bill 546, which was written, amended and passed behind the backs of teachers. It has caused an erosion of trust and morale among teachers and community.
We must look at new ways of teaching: for example, Continuity of Education, where a child has the same teacher for K-2 and another teacher for grades 3-5. Teachers would not have to spend time learning individual students’ issues each year, instead deepening their understanding of each child from year to year. Students would benefit from teachers’ deeper understanding. Teachers could plan for the long term based on students’ ability.
Jeff Wise
We offer public education to our children hoping they’ll become thoughtful, engaged adults who will strengthen our community. Our responsibility is providing a quality education to all students. At times, we do this well. Too often we do not. This is our problem: how do we reach all our students successfully?
Let’s develop a strong teacher support system and a robust peer review system that more effectively assesses teacher quality. We must lessen the reliance on standardized testing and let our teachers do what they do best – teach.
Let’s allow every school to tailor its curriculum to engage each student. Let’s continue reaching out to parents and the community to foster an environment of collaboration – if our students are excited about education, our parents and community will be too.
Let’s have our students pursue educational paths that work best for them and teach them critical thinking skills instead of bubbling in circles on tests. A 90 percent graduation rate is meaningless if those students cannot function successfully in the marketplace.
Let’s instead create problem solvers and watch them flourish in our community.
I am a problem solver. I’m running for school board because I understand and will help solve our problems.

Early voting information
Weekdays: Vote early through Nov. 4 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hal Marshall Annex, 618 North College Street.
Weekends: Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 (Saturdays) 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; Oct. 30 (Sunday) 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Several libraries are also early voting sites. For times and places, go to

About that liberal media...

The New York Times' enjoyable FiveThirtyEight blog examined political newspaper endorsements this week, finding that U.S. newspapers as a group have trended in recent years toward an equal balance of nods for Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

That makes sense, given that newspapers generally have been more attentive to offering voice that reflects all of their readership. But you might be surprised at which way the imbalance previously tilted.

The visual evidence, courtesy of Editor & Publisher:

From 1972-1988, editorial pages endorsed the Republican presidential candidate a vast majority of the time - 84 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight's calculators. In 1992, Bill Clinton gathered 57 percent of the nominations, but Republicans Bob Dole and George W. Bush each grabbed about 60 percent in the next two elections. The 2004 election was the closest in endorsements, while the most recent had the widest endorsement spread in 20 years.

Add it up, and in the last 10 elections, the "liberal" print media endorsed Republicans in seven of them.

Editor & Publisher notes that the Democratic share of circulation is larger than the Democratic share of endorsements, which means that newspapers with higher circulations are a little more likely to support Democrats. That corresponds with most larger Metro areas tending to vote more Democrat than Republican.

Neither FiveThirtyEight nor Editor & Publisher offered stats for endorsements in state and local elections. The Observer has endorsed Democratic presidents in recent memory - we endorsed no candidate in the 1972 race between Richard Nixon and George McGovern - but editorial page veterans tell me that state and local endorsements run about 60-40 for Democrats (including Republican Pat McCrory for N.C. governor and Republican Jim Pendergraph but not Democrat Jennifer Roberts in last year's county commission election).

That 60-40 figure is a guess, however, because we don't count. Each race is judged on the candidates and issues, not on evening things out on the D vs. R ledger. The final caveat: The goal of endorsements is to be informative more than persuasive. We're not telling you how to vote - just offering a perspective and some background that might assist you when you reach for the voting touchscreen.

Our endorsements for November are scheduled to begin Sunday with Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board races, followed next week by our picks in the mayoral and city council races.

Peter St. Onge

Occupy turns violent; will Charlotte clamp down?

Good morning, and welcome to O-pinion, the Observer’s home for opinion and debate on the issues of the day. I’m editorial page editor Taylor Batten, and I’ll be your host today, bringing you perspectives from the Observer’s editorial board and pundits from around the nation.

In the spotlight today: Dramatic new developments in the Occupy movement, both nationally and in Charlotte. What started out as an unorganized faction seems to be reaching a crucial juncture: Are the protests about to fizzle, turn violent or start winning momentum in public opinion?

A rare thing in recent American history happened in Oakland: Police used violence to disperse unarmed protesters. Iraq veteran Scott Olsen, one of the protesters, was critically injured by a police projectile and suffered a fractured skull. Hundreds of others were injured by police or sickened by tear gas. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan issued a statement expressing “deepest concern for all of those who were injured last night, and we are committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”
In Atlanta, more than 50 protesters were arrested by police in riot gear after ignoring warnings to leave Woodruff Park, including a state senator.

The three dozen or so protesters in Charlotte haven’t been so notable, but Mecklenburg County commissioners are now talking about whether and how to clamp down on them. They’re doing so with an eye on the Democratic National Convention here next year.

Republican commissioner Bill James worries that the current ordinance governing protesters in county parks isn’t strong enough. He wants to ensure that police can arrest protesters violating the county ordinance and impose a harsh enough penalty to deter them.

“There will be a lot of folks willing to pay a ‘deferred’ citation for a night’s accommodation in a Mecklenburg greenway or park that they have 72 hours to resolve,” James wrote in an email this morning. “The existing ordinance is adequate for a non-convention environment but it is wholly inadequate for a national convention process with large masses of people unable to find housing whose intent is civil disobedience.”

Stay tuned to see how Mecklenburg commissioners handle this one. We believe James is right, to a point. The city and county need stiff enough policies and staffing to maintain order, while not violating protesters’ very real constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of assembly.

Ronald Reagan’s son Michael says the protesters should go home. Nicolas Kristof says crony capitalism is to blame.

Other news that has folks buzzing

A hugely important school board election is taking place in Mecklenburg County. With voters already going to the polls early, the Observer’s editorial board invited the 12 active candidates to make their case. The first six do so today; the other six will be posted here this afternoon.

In our letters to the editor, one reader explains why the middle class better hold on to its wallet with all this talk of a flat tax. Another writer says Ron Paul has the answers.

The NCAA meets today to talk about paying college athletes $2,000 a year on top of their scholarships. The (Raleigh) News & Observer says former UNC president Bill Friday was right when he warned years ago that college athletics were spiraling out of control.

Halah Touryalai says BofA CEO Brian Moynihan needs a better PR manager.

A good question

Finally, the Christian Science Monitor explores an interesting question: If Herman Cain is near the top of all the polls, why do so few people think he actually has a chance to win?

Photo:  24-year-old Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen lays on the ground bleeding from a head wound after being struck by a by a projectile during an Occupy Wall Street protest in Oakland, Calif. AP

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Their turn: School board candidates make their case

Fourteen people are on the ballot Nov. 8 seeking one of three at-large seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. The Observer’s editorial board asked each to submit an essay on why voters should choose them.

(We asked the same question in September of City Council candidates.)

Twelve school board candidates replied. Here are the responses, alphabetically, of six. We'll publish the other six on Friday.

Larry Bumgarner

Have we not advanced in our society well enough to our present 2011? Yes 2011, the year where everything should be on the table that will educate our kids – charter schools, vouchers, hybrids of charter and public schools, treating teachers like professionals/assets, schools of one, etc.

If you agree, then I am worth the gas it will take to drive to the polls to cast a yes vote. Go to,, or if you live in Charlotte. Or if you live in Mecklenburg County, go to,, or See why I do not want your kids to learn how to use technology but create technology and we average citizens can make our system just a system of education and no longer an agenda-driven mess which has taken the focus off achievement and success.

Whatever the focus of your vote or if you are not even voting at least come up with some ideas to help our teachers. Go to Give your ideas on how we can reward our great teachers, and help keep them in the classroom as well as entice them into the more challenged schools.

Elyse Dashew

I am passionate about strengthening our public education system, and improving opportunities for all children. We face huge challenges in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. We can only meet these challenges by working together, and including all voices in the process. We must collaborate to solve these problems – our community’s well-being and economic prosperity depend upon raising our graduation rate and narrowing our achievement gap. I have the skills and the commitment to help bring this about.

I am a Brown University graduate, a businesswoman, the mother of two CMS students, and a nine-year CMS volunteer, School Leadership Team chair, and public school advocate. Most recently I co-founded MeckFUTURE, which unified families from 40 schools and many different zip codes, backgrounds, and world views. This coalition appealed to our elected officials to restore funding and avoid teacher layoffs. Our effort was successful because we communicated clearly and respectfully, worked hard, held each other accountable, and focused on solutions. This is exactly the approach that I intend to bring to the school board.

Ericka Ellis-Stewart

I am running for school board because we are facing challenges that require great leadership in the boardroom. I have served as a committed advocate within our schools for the past 17 years, working to improve student achievement and rallying parents to get engaged in education.

My efforts have always focused on the needs of children and families. My experience as a nonprofit executive and community advocate give me a unique perspective on the issues facing our children, our schools and our community. Professionally, I bring real world experience in the areas of drop-out prevention, on-time graduation and gang intervention. My primary goals are:

Provide each child with a quality education. Prepare students to graduate on time, successfully pursue higher education or compete in the global marketplace and become productive citizens.

Ensure that every school is equipped to become a school of excellence that’s desirable to students and parents regardless of its location.

Equip each classroom with a well- trained, highly-effective teacher. Provide every school with a team of prepared and engaged administrators.

Require efficient, equitable and transparent budget decisions that meet the operating/capital needs of a large urban/suburban district.

Vote for great leadership on November 8. Cast your ballot for Ericka Ellis-Stewart.

Keith W. Hurley

On July 1st of 2011, I announced as one of the first candidates that I was running for the CMS board. What moved me to run was that I care for my public education community, am concerned about the direction and business decisions CMS has taken, am capable of the position with my 25-year background as a community leader, and am committed to advancing the quality of our public education system. We are deemed a “world-class city with a mediocre public education system at best.” This needs to change.

The board has let itself be influenced by numerous outside interest groups that have not helped. The Broad Foundation, Gates Foundation and Spangler money have all found their way into CMS pockets. A little of it is good, but a lot of it is paybacks for influence. We have added over testing and extended the school days, which resulted in negative results across CMS. A new topic has come out recently with school board taxing authority which I strongly oppose! We need to go back to basics. Neighborhood schools and supporting teachers will lead to success. Reduce busing kids all over the county will allow our children to learn more. Stop closing the schools.

I plan to earn the community’s trust back with HONEST communication with the public about the issues we face. It won’t be easy. We have to find the best superintendent we can that will move forward with a strategic plan. My SMART plan (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results & Timely Manner) is a proven strategy for success.

Mary McCray

During the past three years, our students, employees, and community have suffered undue stress and uncertainty in regards to the sometimes indecisive direction of our school board and district. I want to become the catalyst which mends the fences that have been broken and restore trust and integrity where it’s needed most.

I will capitalize on my many years of classroom experience and knowledge of educational policy to fight for what’s best for children and families in all sections of this county to ensure a high-quality, stabilized public school experience. I recognize the stress and upheaval in the lives of CMS families caused by the lengthening of the school day, closings of schools, grade configurations in some schools, the rush to Pay for Performance and the over-emphasis on standardized testing.

I sounded the alarm with the former superintendent’s backdoor attempt with HB546, which in its present form, would jeopardize the livelihood of educators here in the district. My voice was not only heard here but also in Raleigh against this bill which demoralizes the teaching profession and places too much dependency on testing in grades K-12.

The people need a champion on the school board who will never let their voices be silenced again. I am capable and willing to be that voice.

Tim Morgan

For the last two years I have had the opportunity to serve on the Board of Education. For that honor I would like to thank the citizens of District 6. During that time, our community has faced the most difficult economic times since the Great Depression. We have made budget and operational decisions that were unthinkable several short years ago. Yet through it all, one item has been at the heart of every major decision we have made: increasing student achievement by following our Strategic Plan.

My wife and I can remember where we have been. When she graduated from North Mecklenburg and I from Independence, our principals told us only 60 percent of us would graduate. We have made tremendous strides toward giving EVERY child a great education with our reform efforts and I am proud my children will graduate from CMS.

In order to keep up this positive momentum, as your next at-large CMS board member I will focus on:

  • Hiring a superintendent with a track record of supporting reform measures.
  • Continuing efforts to place an effective teacher in every classroom.
  • Identifying cost-savings through privatization and directing savings back to teachers and the classroom.

Top 5 most surprising things Condi Rice said in Charlotte

Condoleezza Rice, who served as national security adviser and then secretary of state for President George W. Bush, can’t be pinned down with a neat ideological label. Here are the top 5 surprising things she told a crowd speaking at an event put on by the Queens University of Charlotte’s Learning Society:

5. Being commissioner of the National Football League is no longer her dream job. It used to be. She told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently that when she was in the middle of fights with the Iranians and the Russians, his job looked pretty good. But now that she’s back in northern California as a professor at Stanford, Goodell’s battles don’t look as enticing.

4. China has little chance of taking world supremacy away from the United States. China has made great strides incredibly quickly. But it’s not a free society and won’t achieve greatness until it is. China executed its head of product safety after a string of incidents. “Not a long-term solution,” Rice said. The government hacks into computers across the country, she said, hunting for any lone human rights advocate. The Arab Spring, which started with the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, has been fueled in part by the Internet and social networking, Rice said. But in China, three words that cannot be found on the Internet, she said, are “Jasmine, Revolution and Egypt.”

3. The Arab Spring is up there with 9/11 and the global financial crisis as great shocks shaping the world. The average American knows the movement against Middle East dictators is important, but few, we bet, would put that up with 9/11 and the recession.

2. America is wrong to be so anti-immigrant. Immigrants have made this country great, and can continue to do so, she said. A top Russian official boasted to Rice that it had the best minds in technology. “Yes,” Rice said, “unfortunately, they’re all working in Palo Alto and Tel Aviv.” She told the Observer earlier that her biggest regret from her time in the Bush administration was the failure of comprehensive immigration reform to pass. “Sometimes I don’t understand the conversation we’re having about immigration,” she said Tuesday. “When did immigrants become the enemy?”

1. The greatest national security crisis facing the United States? Not al-Qaida. Not Iran. Not North Korea. It’s the crisis in K-12 education. In all her travels around the world, she found that America was admired because of the “Log Cabin” idea: that you can rise from humble beginnings to do great things. Her own parents convinced her that even though she couldn’t order a hamburger at Woolworth’s, she could grow up to be president of the United States, or secretary of state. She wants to tell kids today that it’s not where you come from, it’s where you’re going that matters. Unfortunately, Rice said, she can tell most kids where they’re going just by looking in which ZIP code they grow up.

-- Taylor Batten

Drop the abortion ultrasound mandate

It wasn't difficult to predict that North Carolina's new abortion law would take a rocky and costly journey through the courts.

The first such bump came yesterday, when a federal judge blocked a part of the law that required abortion providers to place an ultrasound image next to the pregnant women, as well as describe its features and offer a chance to hear a heartbeat.

It's a mandate that's callous, intrusive and costly - not only to the pregnant woman, but to all of us. The state should drop it from the abortion law.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles said that North Carolina officials haven't provided evidence to support their assertions that the law would promote childbirth, and she rightly ridiculed the notion that the provision would protect pregnant women from distress, saying that forcing an ultrasound on them would "harm the psychological health of the very group the state purports to protect."

Plus, Eagles said, there's a bigger issue: The Supreme Court historically frowns upon the government compelling content-based speech. In other words, freedom of speech means having the right not to say something.

It's important to note that Eagles upheld the bulk of the abortion law, which also mandated that a woman wait 24 hours before having an abortion performed so that she can contemplate information about abortion risks and alternatives. The waiting period, which is similar to laws in 20 other states, is a reasonable pause to contemplate a critical decision, but the N.C. law requires that physicians use that 24 hours to inform the patient about items such as risks, alternatives, the age of the baby on the day of the abortion, and that the father would have to pay for child care if she kept the baby. As with the ultrasound, forcing doctors to say these things may run against freedom of speech principles.

If information is what lawmakers want women to have, however, they should also help efforts to educate women on abortion and alternatives. Instead, N.C. legislators approved a bill this summer that targeted Planned Parenthood by attempting to block federal funds for its family planning and teen pregnancy programs. A federal judge said whoa to that piece of spiteful legislation, too.

Eagles has scheduled another hearing on the ultrasound provision for December, and the N.C. attorney general's office said Tuesday that attorneys were reviewing the ruling. We think the attorney general should stop wasting taxpayer dollars defending a flawed regulation, and lawmakers should focus their efforts toward preventing abortions through legitimate counseling and education, not by bullying their way into a doctor's office.

Peter St. Onge

A new depth to our discontent

Good morning, and welcome to O-pinion, where we'll bring you perspective from the Observer and others all day, including our thoughts on a federal judge blocking a controversial ultrasound viewing mandate in N.C.'s new abortion-restriction law. Look for that later today.

I'm Peter St. Onge, associate editor of the O's editorial board, and I'll be hosting today.

What are people talking about this morning?

The latest New York Times/CBS temperature-taking of our country yielded some interesting nuggets late yesterday. Americans, as expected, are distressed about the economy and willing to hand out blame to most every politician with a Washington, D.C. address. Two-thirds of those surveyed also don't want to ease taxes on corporations, and about the same liked the idea of increasing taxes on millionaires. Said the Times: "Almost half of the public thinks the sentiment at the root of the Occupy movement generally reflects the views of most Americans."

The most startling number of all, perhaps: American's approval of Congress dropped to single digits in the poll, an historic low at 9 percent. That figure is the product of the economic non-recovery, of course, but it also reflects the culture of protest our struggles have spawned, beginning with the successful tea party and now including the burgeoning Occupy movement. Americans have, across all demographics, become less inhibited about expressing our dissatisfaction loudly.

The question, however, is will that translate to another historic shift - the way we vote? Democrats and Republicans in Washington continue to bet no, believing that voters ultimately will choose party over protest, that we will pick a side to blame rather than vote against those in either party who chose to block progress for the sake of ideology.

If, a year from now, we're still mired in unemployment and stagnant growth - or worse, another recession - will voters finally act on the oft-stated and never-realized sentiment of voting as many of the bums out as we can? Despite numbers that say we're readier than ever, probably not.

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments...

Opinion closer to home

A judge says that the N.C. Department of Transportation checked all the appropriate boxes for the Monroe Bypass to be built, but today's Observer editorial says that doesn't make the new road a good idea.

Our letters to the editor explain why the Panthers don't fill the seats with more home fans (blame Northeasterners) and why we should celebrate the Jeff Gordon Expressway.

The Greensboro News & Record says N.C.'s Fall Furniture Market offers hope for a revival of American manufacturing.


The blog Red State takes a conservative look at Rick Perry's flat tax plan.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank says House Democrats have become irrelevant.

And finally, one to chew on...

Time's Josh Sanburn says it might be time to kill the dollar bill.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Legal or not, Monroe Bypass not a good move

The Observer's editorial for Wednesday:

A federal judge ruled that the N.C. Department of Transportation can build the $800 million Monroe bypass. That doesn’t mean it’s a smart thing to do.

In fact, it says so right there in U.S. District Judge James Dever III’s opinion. Dever had to decide whether N.C. DOT had followed all the rules in assessing the environmental impact of building the 20-mile road through Mecklenburg and Union counties. Dever concluded that DOT did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act.

But as Dever pointed out, “NEPA merely prohibits uninformed – rather than unwise – agency action.” In other words, the law makes DOT jump through hoops, but doesn’t require that the road be a wise thing to build.

It’s not. Building a bypass to bypass a bypass will lead to more congestion, not less. Monroe and Union County allowed U.S. 74 to be gummed up with strip shopping malls and other sprawl. So the road is not only ugly but congested. There’s every reason to think the new road – with interchanges every three miles or so – will suffer the same fate. The only reason it wouldn’t is if the toll the state charges scares drivers away. But then it won’t serve its purpose of relieving congestion on 74.

The DOT mismanaged the process, leading to the legal challenge from environmental groups. The N.C. Turnpike Authority was required to conduct a “build vs. no-build” study, comparing the impact of building the road with that of not building it. But the authority used data with the highway in place in its “no-build” projections. The state defended that, and Dever approved. But the whole episode raised questions about how interested the state was in doing a thorough environmental analysis.

The Charlotte region has pressing transportation problems, and they’ll only get worse as the region grows over the next couple of decades. But effective solutions will require smarter approaches than dumping $800 million laying asphalt around Monroe. It will demand better land-use decisions by local governments, more regional collaboration and a more holistic approach that includes both pavement and transit.

College athletes: Give us cash

The NCAA on Thursday will consider allowing college athletes to be paid $2,000 a year on top of their scholarships.

NCAA President Mark Emmert wants the NCAA Division I Board of Directors to support the proposal at its meeting in Indianapolis on Thursday. He argues that even with “full-ride” scholarships, players incur out-of-pocket costs and – because of the demands of their sport – can’t work a part-time job to cover those costs.

One study conducted by Ithaca College researchers last year found that the typical Division I athlete winds up paying almost $3,000 a year for costs not covered by scholarships.

Emmert’s proposal doesn’t go far enough for hundreds of players who have signed a petition demanding a piece of the TV revenue pie, worth billions to the big conferences.

Both sides of the paying-players debate make good arguments. On the one hand, conferences, colleges and coaches make millions on the backs of athletes, who are paid nothing. On the other hand, these athletes are already getting a free education, free room and board and other benefits to play the sports they love. Should they get bigger grants while schools are cutting budgets and professors are being denied raises in tight times?

Under Emmert’s propsal, the $2,000 grants to players would be allowed but not required. The biggest conferences could afford to do it, while some of the smaller ones might not be able to. That could further separate the haves from the have-nots in college athletics.

We’re OK with players getting the extra $2,000, a relatively small amount for many schools. The student-athletes don’t have time to work jobs, and their talents benefit their schools. We also think players should continue to receive their full scholarships even if a career-ending injury keeps them from playing. Giving them a cut of the TV contracts, though, professionalizes amateur sports and is a step too far.

What do you think? How much is too much when it comes to paying college athletes?
-- Taylor Batten

Rick Perry winks at the birthers

Maybe it was his lunch with America's richest birther, Donald Trump. Or maybe Rick Perry is already at the point of grabbing at any opportunity to revive his presidential campaign. But the Texas governor is pandering to the conservative fringe about President Barack Obama's birthplace, and he's doing himself and his party a disservice.

Perry, in an interview published in Sunday's Parade Magazine, declined to say that he was sure Obama was born in the United States. "I have no reason to think otherwise," he said, but when pressed, he said, "Well, I don't have a definitive answer."

The White House, of course, released Obama's long-form Hawaii birth certificate in April after Donald Trump brought new energy to speculation the president was born elsewhere. Trump's skepticism helped him enjoy a brief stay at the top of the polls before everyone remembered he was Donald Trump, and Perry, who said he had lunch with Trump recently, now seems to like the possibilities of dabbling in that strategy.

Yes, Perry distanced himself from the birth certificate speculation by calling it "a distractive issue" in his interview. That's the smart play - you frown soberly about our not spending time talking about substantial issues, and you wink at the birthers by saying that, well, Obama kinda seems to be one of us, maybe.

It's a tactic his fellow Republicans should condemn, not only because it steals from the real, legitimate criticisms to be made about the Obama presidency, but because each time a serious candidate takes a turn on the dance floor with birthers, the extreme becomes more of the party's brand. That might briefly help a Rick Perry this October and November, but it won't help the GOP a year from now.

Peter St. Onge

Obama's new, smaller bailout?

Welcome to O-pinion, the Observer's place for argument - and to the Morning Buzz, our roundup of opinion close to home and far away. I'm Peter St. Onge, associate editor on the O's editorial board, and I'll be hosting this morning before handing off to editorial page editor Taylor Batten later.

This morning, an old debate is brewing about a new plan - the Obama administration's announcement that it will expand an earlier housing program and provide refinancing to as many as two million homeowners whose homes are financially underwater.

The Washington Post says it's not really a terribly new plan.

The Wall Street Journal says the plan highlights a sharp partisan split.

The Atlantic's Molly Ball says it's a risk for Obama, because voters don't like helping the irresponsible.

The Weekly Standard wonders why the administration still hasn't released numbers that would show how the big stimulus worked.

The debate is a simple one: Should the government help Americans in trouble with their houses by letting them refinance at lower rates?

Republicans and conservatives say that it's an unnecessary intrusion into the market - another bailout, albeit on a much smaller scale. One of those Republicans, presidential candidate Mitt Romney, went where few of his colleagues have gone on the issue by suggesting earlier this month that for the housing crisis to end, foreclosures need to run their course and new investors can then rent out the homes. Translation: the markets need to do their own work.

"Let it run its course and hit the bottom," Romney told a Nevada newspaper. He was, of course, excoriated by Democrats as being out of touch with struggling homeowners.

The Obama administration and Democrats say that helping homeowners helps everyone by keeping foreclosures from devastating neighborhoods and property values, along with giving people more money to spend and put back in the economy. (Although the money households gain likely comes out of the pockets of investors who hold securities backed by Fannie and Freddie.)

This program seems to be low risk: the homeowners being bailed out are those who have been paying their loans, and the loans already are guaranteed. Plus, as those homeowners might say: banks who contributed to this mortgage mess have already been bailed out - why not the little guy, too?

One certainty: The lowest risk of all is that this will hurt Obama politically. People who don't like the idea of bailouts big or small aren't likely voting for him anyway in 2012. But the move fits Obama's narrative of being the man in Washington trying to help Americans, and the places most hurt by foreclosures happen to include swing states like Nevada and Florida.

Opinion closer to home

The Observer, in its Tuesday editorial, says the supercommittee has been not-so-super thus far.

In today's letters to the editor, what the Republicans want from the courts, and a new coined word for the Obama administration.

With NCAA sanctions imminent, The Raleigh News & Observer says "The Carolina Way" was sacrificed by University of North Carolina officials in their desire to field a powerhouse football program.


A corporate tax holiday. The gift that doesn't really give at all, says the New York Times.

Here's Rick Perry's flat tax plan, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

And finally, one to chew on...

Slate asks: Could climate change steal the beauty from autumn?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stocks rise; Turkey digs out of rubble - What a day!

Today's "good-day" nod goes to Wall Street. Stocks reached their highest level since August, fueled by some big corporate takeovers and Europe's larger than expected bailout fund. Those of you who winced recently when you got a report on your 401-K losses after Congress heedlessly made the markets skittish with their brinkmanship over the debt ceiling can breathe a bit easier.
As for the bad day, Turkey has it in spades as the death toll and the number of injured continues to mount from Sunday's powerful earthquake. Nearly 300 so far have been declared dead and more than 1,300 injured. The world rightly stands ready to help.

A not-so-super committee so far

Editorial for Tuesday's Charlotte Observer:

We’re one month and counting from the day a 12-member deficit “supercommittee” is scheduled to save Congress from itself. The outlook seems bleak, if you believe reports from inside and outside the committee huddle, but as veterans of dispute deadlines know, there’s plenty of time for things to get better. Or, perhaps, worse.

The supercommittee, comprised of 12 Senate and House members, has until Nov. 23 to produce legislation that reduces the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Problem is, the group is reportedly having difficulty even agreeing on some basic foundations to build on, and members are unproductively sniping at each other over personality, not policy. (Newsflash: committee member and Mass. Sen. John Kerry can be kind of long-winded.)

Adding to the pressure is an unsurprising swarm of lobbyists – nearly 200, according to Politico this week – each of them attempting to preempt any supercommittee proposal that might put a hurt on the bottom line of industries ranging from health care to transportation to education. If the committee manages to overcome such love and stagger from the room with meaningful legislation, it still has to be approved without amendments by Congress.

For now, Republican leaders say that won’t happen for any legislation that includes a tax increase. Democratic leaders say it won’t happen for anything that doesn’t.

Pessimistic yet?

So are we. Employers large and small are reluctant to hire workers and rev the economy until they see deficit collaboration that promises a stable future. Standard & Poor’s, which temporarily jarred Washington by downgrading the U.S.

government’s credit rating in August, has hinted that a similar move might come again. All of which would likely keep the economy stagnant, experts say, and might nudge us toward a second recession.And those are just the short-term problems, as the Congressional Budget Office reminded us this month when it reported a third straight fiscal year of deficit spending over $1 trillion. That’s unsustainable.

But it’s too early to say the committee is doomed. Congress, in its desperation to kick the can down the road without seeming to, imposed $1 trillion-plus in budget cuts this summer that trigger if the supercommittee is unsuccessful. Those cuts include damage to defense budgets that will have conservatives howling, along with cuts to entitlement programs that will prompt liberal wailing.

That potential pain prompted supercommittee member and U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of Columbia
to speculate last week that the committee has a better than 50-50 chance to produce an agreement that includes both cuts and revenue increases. “We all know there’s a sword over our head,” he said.

We think still the committee has a blueprint – recommendations from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, otherwise known as Bowles-Simpson, that called for modifications to Social Security along with tax code changes that included eliminating several popular deductions.

That type of framework is what most Americans say they want, which should remind committee members and Congress that an additional sword hangs over their heads. Voters aren’t necessarily choosing which side they agree with in 2012. They’re remembering who chose to send us to – or save us from – ruin.

Candidates, here's what matters to young people

Adults may be focused on jobs, light rail and taxes in the upcoming elections. But young people are teed off about overcrowded classes. That topped the list for many of the 35 students who responded to this week's Young Voices question: "What are the urgent needs that you think the candidates for school board, city council and mayor on the November 8 ballot should be focusing on.

They also put school discipline, paying teachers better, jobs for youths more supplies on their list. Read more of their comments online on the Observer's Opinion page.

GOP's 'American Idol', Viagra candidates

Reason's Nick Gillespie takes a look at columnist Ron Harper's take on the Republican presidential race, a process he says is "is like the first rounds of 'American Idol,' yet no one ever gets sent home and the bad singers and train wrecks are drowning out the good singers." Ouch!

Former Godfather Pizza chief Herman Cain gets compared to soggy pieces of pizza. Of Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, he says they "are starting to waste our time. We are not looking for a Bible school teacher, but rather a minimal-government executive who will get the size and scope of government under control instead of codifying the Bible into law. Bachmann is Sarah Palin without the marksmanship. I think her campaign should be fined if she mentions all her foster children one more time. I don’t want to see her birth certificate, but I would like to run a background check on her college degree." Slap, slap!

He says "Rick Perry has been so beaten up by his debate performances that even going back to Texas and executing three folks didn’t cheer him up."
And he says Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney look like the guys in the Viagra commercials.
Ok. Now that hurts!

Speaking of Mitt Romney, we have to go back to something he said last week about China because it was too bizarre to ignore. In last Tuesday's GOP debate, the former Massachusetts governor had a new foreign policy proposal. He wants China take over the U.S.’s humanitarian aid responsibilities around the world. He said: "Part of [the foreign aid budget] is humanitarian aid around the world. I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are taking borrowed money today.

Sure. Romney was highlighting our strange present economic circumstances - that the U.S. is deeply in debt to the Chinese even while we continue to provide economic support to countries around the world in need. The U.S. needs to tackle aggressively that debt to get out of this ignoble position. Ahem, supercommittee, are you listening?

But c'mon. Abdicating our responsibilities in global leadership to the Chinese? As Eli Clifton of ThinkProgress notes, China already has an active foreign aid policy, and its giving often advances authoritarian governments who abuse and steal from their people.
The U.S. wants to be silently complicit in that? Surely not.

Fannie Flono

Obama and the Iraq troop pullout

Good morning. Welcome to O-pinion, the Observer editorial board's opinion blog.

I'm associate editor Fannie Flono and I'm your host today. Our itinerary, as it is every weekday includes a roundup below of opinion we see locally, regionally and around the country. You'll see tomorrow's print editorials here as they're written, and we'll tell you at the end of each afternoon who we thought had a good day or bad day.

They're still talking about the troop pullout from Iraq in the Opinion blogosphere. And President Barack Obama didn't score any points with conservatives, especially the Republicans who want his job, when he announced Friday that, yes indeed, the United States would pull out of Iraq by the end of the year. Jennifer Rubin who writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering opinion from a conservative perspective said it was "hard to know which is worse: the irresponsibility of a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq or the sheer dishonesty with which it was presented."

Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy said the withdrawal was a result of bungled U.S. negotiations with Iraqis over immunity for U.S. military involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal and other abuses in Iraq.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney picked up on that theme and got in a good lick, saying “President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women." In a statement. "The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government."

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came riding to Obama's rescue on talk shows on Sunday, expressing support for Obama's decisions. She said the president came through on his commitment to get troops out of Iraq, and pointed out that the plan for leaving began during the Bush Administration, citing that the goal all along was for the Iraqi’s to be able to stand on their own. “The point of our involvement in Iraq stated over and over again by people on both sides of the aisle was to create the opportunity for the Iraqis to have their own future without the oppression of a dictator like Saddam Hussein.”

Andrew Malcolm of Investor's Daily provides an apt reminder that Clinton has come a long way to confidence in Obama's foreign policy leadership. Remember that scare ad when Clinton ran against Obama for the Democratic nomination three years ago - the one about who you would trust to answer that red phone in a foreign policy crisis? How things change.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Will U.S. linger in Libya?

Welcome again to O-pinion, the Observer's new place for argument.

I'm Kevin Siers, the Observer’s editorial cartoonist, and I, along with the rest of the editorial board, will be bringing you a round-up of opinion from around the country and region.

The world’s attention this morning is still focused on Libya, following the news of Moammar Gadhafi's death, wondering what it means for the region, and what happens next.

President Obama has announced “Our NATO mission will soon come to an end.” But he provided no timetable for when U.S. aircraft, drones and warships will actually pull out of the NATO-led campaign. The Guardian reports that NATO military commanders are urging a decision by today.

Spencer Ackerman, over at, agrees, but says that two propositions are warring with each other. Even without its key leader, it’s possible the opposition to Libya’s transitional government will go on, and the Libyan people will still need protection. On the other hand, NATO is exhausted.

The Observer editorial board said Obama's actions were the right ones. And around the web today, it's hard to find anyone unhappy with the result.

The New York Times applauds the U.S. and NATO efforts, and the $40 million pledged to help Libya track down and secure the opposition’s weapons. The Washington Post endorses this effort as well, but calls it “modest” beginning and suggests that the U.S. must take the lead in the hard work of rebuilding the country.

New Republic ex-editor, now columnist, Martin Peretz says, rather than protection, what’s really behind the Libyan intervention is oil:

“But let’s not miss the obvious truth. What Italy, France, Great Britain, and our own country are interested in fundamentally is Libyan oil. The ex-imperial powers are clearly hoping for a humane and representative polity that will be more open to market trade than the vagaries of authoritarianism and pan-Arabism.

“Which is why Libya was the easiest of interventions. In the end, Qaddafi was just an armed screwball with gunmen. Okay, a very well-armed screwball.”

Don’t expect such quick action in Syria, he says, where the stakes are higher and deeper.

Another reason things won’t change in Syria, writes Mark Steyn at the National Review, is that America is very good at getting rid of her allies, but not her enemies.

“Bernard Lewis said a few years ago that, in the Middle East, America risks teaching the lesson that she is harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend. So far the score in the Arab Spring is pretty consistent: On the CIA rule, Gaddafi, Ben Ali and Mubarak were SOBs but perceived, to one degree or another, as the west’s SOBs. Baby Assad wasn’t our SOB, and he’s still in business, and getting aid and comfort from a supposed US client regime in Iraq. And the two most assiduous ideological exporters, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have vastly increased their influence. So has the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Other analysts are evaluating Obama’s efforts in the region and finding his approach contrasts with that of Bush. David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy says that the success of the Obama Doctrine in this case vindicates the phrase “leading from behind.” The Washington Post points out that technocratic approach may work well in foreign policy, it doesn’t seem to help with domestic issues.

Many others seem reluctant to give any credit to Obama for the situation in Libya. The Atlantic Wire reports: A lot of people on Twitter are saying things like this: "I swear to god if Obama gets praised for #Gadhafi I will leave the United States."

And finally, not everyone is celebrating the demise of Gadhafi. Over at the Daily Beast is this headline:

Gaddafi’s former Ukrainian nurse tells The Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova she’s devastated by his death and considers him a “brave hero.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Good Day/Bad Day: School board forum gadgetry

At the risk of entering Fogeyville, we were a bit skeptical about the novel use of technology at the Mecklenburg County school board candidates forum Wednesday night.

The event was held at Central Piedmont Community College, but attendees and those following online from home used their cell phones to help decide the first two topics of discussion. Later, a couple of candidates answered questions submitted through social media.

That kind of gadgetry is fine and all, and our corner of the newsroom has its share of smartphones and iPads. But did the use of technology add anything to the meeting, or would it have rolled along just as well or better without the electronic hand-raising and smartphone gazing?

Turns out, one possible byproduct of the technology was participation by students. Certainly, some were there because of class assignments, but young questioners seemed to embrace the techy format and brought a different perspective to the questions. One student asked about the adoption of a 10-point grading scale instead of the 7-point structure currently in place. Incumbent school board member Tim Morgan said he'd never been asked that. (He'd also never been asked about dirty high school restrooms, but hey, the questions can't all be gems.)

We'll call it a good day for the students and candidates. Morgan told the editorial board Thursday that he appreciated the freshness students brought to questions, and he wouldn't mind seeing at least one candidate forum a year be student-only.

We think students might benefit just as much from a question-and-answer forum each year with the elected board. One thing we've heard often from candidates and board members over the years is how it's all about the kids. So let's hear more about what they want to know.

How one man reshaped region's health care

The Observer's editorial for Friday:

Any list of the visionaries who transformed the Charlotte region in recent decades can’t end with Hugh McColl, Ed Crutchfield or Bill Lee. Harry Nurkin’s ability to build one of the largest and most respected public hospital systems in the United States from one struggling Charlotte outfit puts him in that pantheon as well.

Nurkin, who died last week of pancreatic cancer at age 67, was just 37 years old when he took over Charlotte Memorial Hospital in 1981. The hospital was in bad shape, physically, financially and qualitatively. Nurkin wasted no time turning it around, then setting a vision for growth.

He cut spending, improved bill collection, set high standards and held employees accountable. By 1983, he produced the hospital’s first long-range plan. It included incredibly ambitious goals, and Nurkin and his board and staff accomplished them: Creating a major medical center with a heart institute, a doctor’s office building, a new tower of private patient rooms and more.

During his 22 years as CEO, Nurkin grew the single hospital of 3,400 employees into a system with 27,000 employees. The organization’s budget grew 342 times larger, from $76 million to $2.6 billion. Today, Carolinas Healthcare System owns, leases or manages more than 30 hospitals, in addition to physician practices, nursing homes, urgent care centers and other facilities.

It wasn’t just about size. Nurkin also dramatically boosted the quality of care. His leadership helped attract doctors in a number of specialties. And he blended the ability to see the big picture with meticulous attention to detail. Under Nurkin, mats in the elevators were changed at midnight every night to say “Happy Wednesday,” or whatever day it was.

Nurkin was a competitor and a fighter, and made plenty of enemies. He found ways to punish those he thought had crossed him and his pugnacious style fueled a fierce rivalry with cross-town rival Presbyterian Hospital. That competition made Presbyterian stronger over the years, and it’s fair to say that Nurkin provoked improvements in health care across the Carolinas. Even those who sparred with him recognize him as a giant who benefited the industry and the Charlotte region.

Nurkin’s early and quiet departure from Carolinas Healthcare, amid questions about a relationship he was having with Libby Drury, then the system’s general counsel who became his second wife, prevented him from getting the acknowledgment he was due at the time. So let it be said now: Harry Nurkin was a genius and a visionary in the hospital field, and Charlotte and the region are a far better place because of his work.

Taylor Batten, on behalf of the editorial board

Goodbye and good riddance, Gadhafi

We don't relish anyone's death, but for Moammar Gadhafi passing we'd be tempted to make an exception. The long-time dictator of this Arab country got his just desserts after holding his people in virtual bondage for most of his four-decade long reign, slaughtering thousands of his citizens over that time and pledging to slay even more when Libyans rose up in rebellion earlier this year as the Arab Spring in other countries boosted their confidence.

Back in March, when President Barack Obama joined with other leaders and countries to push for a United Nations no-fly zone, airstrikes and "all means necessary" to halt the dictator's bloody assault against his own people, our editorial praised those moves as necessary and humane. They proved to be a great aid to the rebels’ success.

But even after Gadhafi's regime was toppled in late summer, he continued fighting back from outpost to outpost. We were reminded of something that Duke University political science professor Peter Feaver said when the no-fly zone was put in place. He said the wily Gadhafi was "not without options." Feaver, who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said Gadhafi could consolidate forces and halt rebel advances. "It could take months to really bring him to his knees, " Feaver said.

It did. But it didn't take U.S. troops on the ground, as some feared, or loss of U.S. lives.
The U.S. can't and shouldn't intervene in every humanitarian crisis. But where it can, working in collaboration with other countries and with minimal U.S. footprint, if possible, it should. Obama had the right arguments for intervention last March: there was the capacity to prevent imminent harm to Libyans with little risk to U.S. forces; there were willing international partners, including Arab nations; and there were possible negative spillover effects of inaction, including encouraging other dictators to conclude that repression is the best strategy.

Moammar Gadhafi's death isn't the end of the story in Libya. What happens next - who the new leaders are, how the country comes together now that Gadhafi is dead, and what the country's relationships are with others in the region and the world - is vital. But today, it's welcome news that Gadhafi is gone - for good.

Fannie Flono