Friday, September 30, 2011

Poll: N.C. respondents oppose marriage amendment

An Elon University Poll released today once again reaffirms that North Carolinians aren't gungho about a state constitutional amendment set for the ballot in May that defines marriage as only between one man and one woman. A new Elon poll found that a majority of North Carolinians remain opposed to that amendment. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed oppose a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. That's the same as in a February Elon poll, and up 6 percentage points since a 2009 poll.

A poll by Public Policy Polling released at the beginning of September, before N.C. lawmakers met in special session to vote on putting the marriage amendment on nex year's May ballot, said virtually the same thing. It said 55 percent of those polled were against the amendment.

The Elon poll also showed opposition to legal recognition of same-sex couples had declined a percentage point from February. In this poll, 34 percent opposed were opposed; in February, it was 35 percent. But in 2009, 44 percent were opposed. So opposition has significantly declined in two years.

Support for full marriage rights for same-sex couples has gone up 5 percentage points since February - from 28 percent to 33 percent; and it's up 12 percentage points since 2009, from 21 percent to 33 percent.

The poll has a 4 percent margin of error. Find the poll at

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Retired general: Bush underestimated war cost - by a lot

Retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells the Observer editorial board that President George W. Bush vastly underestimated the financial cost of the war in Iraq.

In a visit with the board on Tuesday, Shelton recalled talking with Bush about the cost before the 2003 invasion.

"President Bush told me, '$87 billion is what it will cost, and we can make that up with Iraqi oil money,'" Shelton said.

Of course, the war in Iraq ended up costing more than 10 times that. Estimates differ, but most studies suggest the war cost well over $1 trillion. A recent report from Brown University estimated the military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have cost around $3.3 trillion so far.

Other thoughts from Shelton, who grew up in the eastern N.C. town of Speed and now lives in Morehead City:

  • He believes the military will make the repeal of the don't ask, don't tell policy work. But he worries that routine disagreements among soldiers could be wrongly cast as evidence of discrimination against gays. He told the story of a time when a black soldier and a white soldier of his got in a skirmish. The Army was going to investigate the level of racial tension in his division until Shelton told the whole story: the two were friends and the black soldier was trying to stop the white soldier from driving after drinking. Shelton hopes that isolated incidents involving gay service members aren't automatically assumed to be evidence of homophobia.

  • He notes that defense spending has doubled in the past 10 years or so and believes it can be cut. But he hopes Congress listens closely to the joint chiefs and the secretary of defense about how to do so without imperiling troops' safety. Fewer members of Congress today have served in the military, he said, and so they are less familiar with the levels and kinds of training and equipment required for a high-quality military force. One place to start with cuts, he said: Pork barrel spending that has nothing to do with defense but is hidden in the defense budget.

-- Posted by Taylor Batten for the Observer editorial board

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Expansion stall leaves ACC looking bad

It might be too soon to say that the ACC acted too quickly in expanding to 14 teams this week, but another conference sure looks more attuned to what expansion means to athletes and fans.

The Pac 12 announced Tuesday night that it has decided - for now - against expansion. The conference had been considering adding Texas and Oklahoma, along with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

Instead, said commissioner Larry Smith: "We have decided that it's in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference."

We said earlier this week that the ACC was thinking money first - and students and fans second - by accepting Syracuse and Pittsburgh into the conference. Conference expansion not only dilutes rivalries by replacing them with non-rivalry games, it sends student-athletes from all teams to far-flung places on road trips that surely cut into class time.

We're sure that the Pac 12's decision had a lot to do with money, too - reportedly, the conference couldn't persuade Texas to share the revenue from its profitable new Longhorn Network. But now, with the Pac 12 apparently standing pat, along with the Big 10, the ACC is looking a little rash in grabbing two members who don't add very much to the conference mix. And the ACC's athletes, unlike those in other conferences, suffer.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

McCrory's fuzzy math

We're as concerned about North Carolina's high unemployment rate as Pat McCrory, the not-so-secret Republican candidate for governor. But McCrory misses the mark with an email his campaign, er, committee, sent out this morning.

"North Carolina has an unemployment rate well above the national average of 10%, so we're anxious to hear what the President has to say in his economic message" in Raleigh today, McCrory writes.

Except that the national average is not 10 percent, and North Carolina's rate isn't well above that. North Carolina's rate in July, the latest numbers available, was 10.1 percent, and the national rate in August was 9.1 percent.

The rate is way too high, nationally and in North Carolina, but McCrory needs to check his numbers.

3:12 p.m. update: Speaking of misspeaking, President Barack Obama botched the job title of one of North Carolina's leading citizens during his remarks at N.C. State today. He called Tom Ross the "president of North Carolina State University." Ross, of course, is the president of the UNC system.

-- Posted by Taylor Batten, for the Observer editorial board

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why is Perdue quiet on gays?

Last week, we chided North Carolina's leading business people and organizations for their silence on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. That amendment, passed by the N.C. House and Senate, will go before voters next May.

We're not sure how the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce feels about that, nor the Charlotte Chamber or Raleigh Chamber. Those organizations hid from their opportunity to tell legislators that it's bad for business to discriminate against people they'd like to convince to live and work here.

Today, we can add one more big and very quiet fish: N.C. Gov Bev Perdue.

Perdue doesn't get a chance to veto lawmakers' action on the amendment this week, but she also declined to tell the Raleigh News & Observer's Jane Stancill how she felt about the issue. "Right now, North Carolina needs to focus on growing the economy and finding jobs for our people, not on social issues that are divisive."

We believe North Carolinians have the ability to focus on more than one issue at a time, and so should our governor. Perdue who voted for a 1996 law banning gay marriage in the state, should tell us if her opinion on the issue has changed in the past 15 years. Will she vote for the amendment in May? Why or why not?

Avoiding the question may be politically savvy, but it's cowardly at a time the state needs courageous leaders to speak out against bigotry.

Peter St. Onge

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wages of lowest paid declined most in N.C.

Just in time for President Barack Obama's big jobs speech tonight, the N.C. Justice Center has released a new report showing the lowest-paid workers in North Carolina have seen the starkest decline in wage earnings over the last decade. The report, released this morning as part of “The State of Working North Carolina” series, shows that making sure that workers are paid adequately for all of the hours they work is vital for family and community well-being, officials at the advocacy and research center said.

“An adequate wage provides the stability that allows employees to support their families, make meaningful contributions to their communities and society, and remain reliable and productive employees,” said Sabine Schoenbach, a N.C. Justice Center public policy analyst and author of the report.

According to the report, from 2000 to 2010, the inflation adjusted wages of the lowest-wage workers decreased by over 1 percent, translating to a loss of approximately $230 for families, the equivalent of twelve days’ worth of food for a family of four. The report also finds that nearly 35 percent of all North Carolina’s working families earned low incomes in 2009, meaning that they earned 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level. Due to the state’s high unemployment rate, low-wage workers rarely have the opportunity to find better-paying jobs, resulting in more and more families relying on inadequate low-wage earnings. Ensuring a family-supporting wage could significantly, positively impact North Carolina’s struggling economy, the report states. Paying workers adequate wages would boost consumer spending, as low-income working families tend to spend their wages on basic needs at local businesses. Fair wages also reduce employee turnover, which in turn saves employers money by reducing the costs of recruitment and retraining. Workers deserve the most basic protections, the report states, such as minimum wage, overtime pay, and the assurance that workers will be paid for all of the hours they work.

“Work has value, and those who work and contribute to society and the economy should be able to earn wages sufficient to meet a basic level of subsistence,” Schoenbach said. “Updating wage standards for today’s reality and ensuring that all workers are paid a fair wage are essential not only for families struggling to make ends meet but for the state’s struggling economic recovery.”