Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Roberts vs. Cogdell: Tale of the tape

Most years, we wouldn't spend much energy contemplating who might be the next chair of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. It's largely a ceremonial gig - the chair leads commission meetings, smiles at the most public appearances and is usually the first person the cameras and notebooks turn to for quotes.

But in 2012, ceremony is a little more important, with the Democratic National Convention coming to town. That kind of potential exposure might be why we have a battle for board chair on our hands. Current Chair Jennifer Roberts, who announced she won't be running for a commission seat in 2012, would nevertheless like to remain chair before a likely run for a higher public office. Fellow Democrat Harold Cogdell, who briefly made a run at Roberts before backing down last year, wants the job for real this year.

In a letter to his fellow commissioners this week, Cogdell touted his pragmatism, communication skills and willingness to compromise - all traits that might convince Republicans on the board to throw their support his way. Roberts says she and Cogdell aren't much different in approach or policy, and she hopes Republicans remember that she got more votes than Cogdell in the 2010 election, which often is how the board chair is decided.

How do Roberts and Cogdell compare? Here's a brief breakdown of three critical roles of the job, plus what we think the commissioners will decide when they vote next week.

First up: Cheerleader.

Curt Walton's raise: An annual study in tone deafness

Good morning, and welcome to O-pinion, the Observer's home for opinion and discussion on the issues of the day. I’m Peter St. Onge, associate editor of the O's editorial page, and I’ll be your host today.

What are people talking about this morning? The City Council debated City Manager Curt Walton's annual pay Tuesday, deciding ultimately that because the city's economy and budget continue to face harsh challenges, it would be a powerful gesture if Walton received no more of a pay bump than the average city employee.

No, of course not, silly. He got a nice raise.

The council actually considered a range between 1-6 percent, we're told.

He could've received 2 percent, the average that was given to city employees last fiscal year.

He could've received 1 percent, which is what city employees are getting this coming year.

Instead, he got 3 percent, which means that yet again his salary continues to rise at a faster clip than other city employees . And yet again, council members exhibited a remarkable tone deafness with the public and public workforce.

The vote on Walton's salary was 9-1, with Democrat Patsy Kinsey voting no only because she wanted Walton to receive more. Walton's total compensation is $243,654, and council members say they want him to keep pace with other city managers.

Last year, you might remember, Walton's salary was part of a bigger controversy. During a closed session of a council meeting last September, Mayor Anthony Foxx and council members were discussing compensation for Walton and City Attorney Mac McCarley. Foxx had publicly and rightfully frowned on giving Walton a raise or bonus in a difficult budget year, but about halfway through the discussion, he was surprised to learn that he wouldn't get to vote on the matter.

That news came from McCarley, who told Foxx the city charter said the mayor's official responsibilities didn't include voting on those salaries. Problem was, the previous mayor, Pat McCrory, had voted on the city manager's pay at least twice, and Foxx was understandably peeved. But he let the pay increases pass.

This year, the talk went smoothly - perhaps too much so. Walton said his biggest strength in the past year was proposing a revenue-neutral budget, the Observer's Steve Harrison reported. That budget lowered the property tax rate, Harrison writes, but it raised the same amount of revenue as the prior year thanks to the county revaluation of property. Which is great. But it's also, you know, his job.

We don't really blame Walton here. It would be easy to call for him to reject his salary bump - or at least accept the average raise given to others as a gesture to the public and the public workforce. But most of us probably wouldn't do so in his position.

But we're told by someone close to the process that the council doesn't give Walton explicit goals at the beginning of the year that are tied to pay raises, instead just kind of making it up at the end. That means that when it's time for the pay raise to come each year, the council has no precise criteria on which to evaluate Walton, and no good way to explain to the public and other city employees exactly why it is that the city manager is immune once again from the same budget pain so many others are feeling.

Tell us what you think.

Other stuff

Our editorial today says that Gov. Bev Perdue has a better alternative than vetoing a watered down Racial Justice Act that the N.C. House and Senate sent her.

Observer columnist Mark Washburn says Charlotte lured Chiquita because it's a vibrant, terrific place with a lot ... ok, it was the incentives.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chiquita a strong player in the community?

The people who know Chiquita best -- Cincinnati residents -- say their loss is Charlotte's considerable gain.

Some in Cincinnati had been trying to portray the departure of the banana company as no big deal. But The Cincinnati Enquirer bemoaned the move, calling it "deeply disappointing."

"Through the years, Chiquita has been a good corporate citizen, contributing to many civic efforts, and we will miss them," the Enquirer's editorial board wrote. "We may understand their decision, but we still regret it..."

The Enquirer seemed undecided on whether the $22.7 million in state and local incentives are worth landing the Chiquita headquarters and its 400 jobs. At first blush, it doesn't seem outlandish to us, given the realities of economic development these days. The Enquirer also rightly pointed to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport and its 700 daily departures -- more than triple Cincinnati's -- as key to the deal.

We welcome Chiquita (and its well-paying jobs) to Charlotte, and hope it will be an active corporate citizen here as well, working for the good of this community beyond its office doors.

-- Taylor Batten

Democrats are spinning like teacups

Good morning, and welcome to O-pinion, the Observer editorial board’s home for opinion and discussion on the issues of the day. I’m Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten and I’ll be your host today.

Politics is bubbling this morning. Herman Cain’s presidential campaign is dead, Gov. Bev Perdue’s supporters are in full-blown damage control and Mecklenburg County commissioner Jennifer Roberts’ tenure as board chair is on life support.

Start with Cain. One measure of how far and how quickly his campaign has fallen is that when an Atlanta woman alleged that she had a 13-year affair with the married Cain, it was like stabbing a dead man in the back. Cain denies the allegation at the same time that his lawyer says it should be a private matter. But does anyone care? Cain is done, and the latest allegations are whatever comes after the final straw.

Closer to home, the Democrats are spinning faster than the teacups at Disney World after three of Gov. Perdue’s associates were indicted on campaign-related felonies Monday. Walton Robinson, the state party spokesman, sent out a press release highlighting Republican Tom Fetzer’s failure to file a campaign report 29 years ago, as well as the 2004 indictment of a field coordinator for Rep. Patrick McHenry. As if those have anything to do with Perdue’s troubles. This morning Robinson re-sent a statement from the Democratic Governors Association backing Perdue’s 2012 reelection. Earlier he sought to discredit N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes by digging up a clip from last year about one of his staffers being indicted. And Democratic Chairman David Parker sent out a statement focused on Perdue’s supposedly robust reelection chances.

Obviously the Democrats are missing the point. Instead of trying to dismiss the felony charges as unimportant, focusing on others’ flaws from 30 years ago and talking about how they’re going to win an election a year from now, they should sympathize with what the majority of voters see: That the whole episode is yet another blow to public confidence in North Carolina’s elected officials. It’s especially disappointing because Perdue ran on a pledge of ethical behavior and openness. Yet members of her inner circle are just the latest instances of alleged public corruption.

Here was our take on the whole affair on this morning’s editorial page and cartoonist Kevin Siers draws a mean do-do bird.

A week from now, Jennifer Roberts may be ousted as chairman of the county commissioners. Fellow Democrat Harold Cogdell is attempting a coup, and it appears he’ll have the backing of the board’s four Republicans to pull it off. Roberts has been an ineffective leader at times but we don’t have tremendous faith that Cogdell will be any better. Whoever is chair will be the face of Mecklenburg County government when the Democratic National Convention comes to town next
year.

And don’t miss today’s stellar letters from readers, including one reader not quite in the Christmas spirit, and one who wrote an epitaph for hunters who shoot ducks in the wrong person’s yard.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Perdue's ethics pledge takes another stumble

Tuesday's Observer editorial:

There was a time not too long ago, believe it or not, when North Carolina was regarded as having an unusually clean government. Then came Meg Scott Phipps and Jim Black and Michael Decker and Frank Ballance and Thomas Wright and Gov. Mike Easley, felons all.

Gov. Bev Perdue doesn’t belong on that list, at least based on what the public knows so far. Her campaign, though, must surely be added to the record of those that have brought shame on this great state. Authorities have said Perdue is not a target of their probe. But a Wake County grand jury on Monday indicted three of her associates with felonies, and the responsibility for her campaign’s actions ultimately rests with her.

Perdue’s campaign finance director, Peter Reichard, crafted a felonious scheme to have a wealthy campaign donor give $32,000 more than the law allows to Perdue’s campaign to help pay the salary of campaign worker Julia Leigh Sitton, the grand jury says. The indictment also says Trawick Stubbs, a partner at the law firm of Perdue’s late husband, obstructed justice by paying for more than $28,000 in free flights for Perdue’s campaign without reporting them as such.

Federal investigators have been looking into Perdue’s campaign as well, so the public may not yet know the whole story. Here’s what we do know: After running on a pledge of honesty and openness, and amid Easley’s conviction, Perdue had an opportunity – a responsibility, actually – to ensure that her campaign was beyond reproach. She failed.

Her backers will point to the fact that authorities have not accused her of any wrongdoing. They will also remind residents that Perdue initiated efforts to uncover her campaign’s failures to obey the law on reporting flights.

That’s true, but it omits that Perdue’s zeal on this coincidentally emerged just as Easley was getting in increasingly hot water over his illegal campaign flights. And it does nothing to assuage voters’ concerns over how Reichard, a member of the governor’s inner circle, could possibly be committing felonies under her nose.

N.C. Democratic Party Chairman David Parker’s full focus Monday was on the next election. He expressed no concern or outrage that some prominent Democrats were, according to authorities, breaking the law. Instead, he accused Republicans of trying “to score cheap political points.”

He said “it’s time to move on.” No, it’s not. It’s time for public corruption in North Carolina to stop. It’s time for Perdue to keep her campaign pledge of complete transparency. It’s time for the emergence of leaders who can be trusted to care more about the public than about raising campaign cash.

The courts’ interpretation of the First Amendment has helped let America’s elections become poisoned by many hundreds of millions of special-interest dollars. The 2012 elections will surely be more awash in cash than ever. All the more reason, then, for voters to demand that candidates fully reveal who is funding them, and that those who try to skirt the system face a punishment others will never forget.

The most conservative N.C. lawmaker is ...

Which lawmakers are the true conservatives and liberals of the N.C. General Assembly?

Two conservative organizations released their ratings of North Carolina's legislators this morning. Civitas has been ranking N.C. legislators for three years, while The American Conservative Union, already renowned for its annual Ratings of Congress, is giving state legislators a try this year. Each set of ratings are based on selected votes taken in the N.C. House and Senate.

Enough with the intro. Your most conservative N.C. legislator is ... Sen. Harris Blake of Moore County.

Blake was the only lawmaker in the General Assembly to get a perfect 100 score from Civitas. ACU set the bar a little lower in handing out perfect scores to 60 "Defenders of Liberty," including House speaker Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg.

The most liberal N.C. legislator? There's some dispute over that title. Civitas says the most liberal was Democratic Rep. Alma Adams of Guilford, but she was not one of the 10 N.C. lawmakers who received a zero from ACU. None of those 10 were from the Charlotte area, but don't fret: ACU had Mecklenburg Democrat Charlie Dannelly as the second most liberal senator; Civitas had him fourth.

The best (and worst) of the rest, according to Civitas.

N.C. House, highest ranked:

1. Rep. John Blust (R - Guilford) - 98.0; Rep. Tim Moffitt (R -
Buncombe) - 98.0 (tied for number 1 ranking).

N.C. House, lowest ranked:

118. Rep. Alma Adams (D - Guilford) - 12.2 - ranked 118

119. Rep. Earline Parmon (D - Forsyth) - 10.8 - ranked 119

N.C. Senate, highest ranked:

1. Sen. Harris Blake (R - Moore) - 100.0
2. Tie of 17 senators with a conservative score of 97.67.

N.C. Senate, lowest ranked:

49. Sen. Charlie Dannelly (D - Mecklenburg) - 26.8.
50.
Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D - Orange) - 20.9.

You can find Civitas' complete ratings, including which bills the lawmakers were judged on, at www.civitasaction.org. ACU will have its N.C. rankings available later today at conservative.org.



Newt's big endorsement: How big is it?

Good morning, and welcome to O-pinion, the Observer's spot for perspective and discussion. I'm Peter St. Onge, associate editor of the O's editorial board, and I'll be hosting today.

I'm also a New Hampshire native, so I have a different perspective than many about the political news of note this weekend. Newt Gingrich nabbed the endorsement Sunday of New Hampshire's biggest and most politically influential newspaper, the Manchester Union-Leader.

This is big for Gingrich, as you'll hear today, for all the obvious reasons: The endorsement affirms Gingrich as the party's conservative choice heading into the primaries. It's one of few endorsements he's received thus far from establishment sources, and it comes in a critical early primary state in which Romney has comfortably led most polls.

That primary is January 10, and given New Hampshire's reputation for embracing surprising candidates, we could be looking at the kind of upset that gives Gingrich significant momentum heading into conservative South Carolina soon after.

Except for this: New Hampshire's reputation is undeserved. The notion that N.H. is a maverick state that follows the lead of its maverick conservative newspaper is largely based on one primary. In 1996, the state gave its primary nod to conservative candidate Pat Buchanan, endorsed by the Union-Leader instead of eventual nominee Bob Dole.

In other years, despite prodding from the Union-Leader, N.H. has been stubbornly mainstream. We voted for Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George W. Bush. We've voted for decidedly moderate candidates like George H.W. Bush and John McCain, the 2000 version. In short, we vote for frontrunners.

This year, that frontrunner also happens to be a moderate who was governor of a neighboring state, Massachusetts. The border is critical, because most of New Hampshire's population lives in the southern half of the state - less than an hour from Boston. Much of that population emigrated from Massachusetts, and most get their news from Boston TV, radio and media. They are unafraid to vote for moderates, and they remember Romney's successful stint as governor.

All of which wasn't enough to help Romney beat McCain in New Hampshire's 2008 primary, in which Romney finished a strong second. The Union-Leader endorsed McCain in that race, as well, but that synergy between N.H. residents and the state's biggest newspaper was the exception, not the rule. Romney is still the man to beat in the state that once called him neighbor.

Closer to home

The Observer's editorial lauds a new venture that puts Charlotte in a new role: home to food innovation.

In our letters to the editor, writers ask if we need tragedy to change hunting rules - and we get a solution to our unsophisticated clapping at the symphony.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Inmate conditions at N.C. prison troubling

Tomorrow's Observer editorial:

The findings of an internal review of conditions for mentally ill inmates at North Carolina’s Central Prison – conditions made public last week – are stomach-churning, no matter what excuses or reasons officials offer. Gov. Bev Perdue rightly called them unacceptable.

We echo the comments she made when told of the neglect and unsanitary situations an internal review documented: “Nobody expects really luxurious treatment for any prisoners; they’re there for a reason. But we also expect there to be very decent, humane, healthy conditions for the prison population.”

What were those conditions?

Inmates with serious mental disorders were often isolated for weeks, sometimes naked, strapped to their bunks in an improper manner that allowed them to bang their heads against the concrete wall.

In some cells, inmates were left in filthy conditions with urine and feces on the floor and roaches and ants.

Staff failed to maintain up-to-date records, track medications or sometimes respond to calls for medical help.

Chronic understaffing led to sick patients sometimes going untreated and suicidal inmates going unmonitored.

Alvin Keller, outgoing N.C. Secretary of Correction, was in full “explain” mode last week after an Associated Press story made public the findings from the review his division requested. He said the report completed in May “generated great concern” and that within “one business day,” officials began to take corrective action.

But Keller also sought to minimize media descriptions of the report, calling some of them “exaggerations” and “mischaracterizations.”

That’s possible. Yet even Keller admitted there were serious issues raised in this review that demanded attention.

Warden Gerald J. Branker retired this month in wake of the report after a meeting with officials about it in July. Branker will be replaced by Kenneth Lassiter, the warden at Charlotte Correctional Center.

In a statement last week, Keller said the facility is now clean and staffing is appropriate. He said that conditions are expected to improve when the system opens a $155 million medical complex and mental-health facility just west of downtown Raleigh.

Perdue too believes the new facility will help. She blamed prison staffing cuts for creating the environment for the problems. To coincide with the opening of the new prison medical facility, funds to hire “more staff, especially nurses and doctors, were added to the budget for the current fiscal year,” she said.

But more than a change of address may be needed. Vicki Smith, executive director of the advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina, said there are systemic problems in how N.C. officials provide care for “these very ill prisoners.”

If that’s so, officials must devote attention to addressing those systemic issues. As state Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-Wilmington, who co-chairs the Senate appropriations committee for Justice and Public Safety, rightly noted: “We punish people for their crimes but… not helping people, not seeing that they get their medication and are treated like human beings is just wrong in every sense of the word.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Politics beats progress as debt committee fails

Tomorrow's Observer editorial:


Let’s get the blame out of the way.


There’s plenty to pass out, now that the bi-partisan congressional supercommittee meekly conceded Monday that it was unable to do its job of trimming $1.2 trillion from the deficit over 10 years. That failure has markets dipping, credit agencies stirring and citizens wondering if our lawmakers could agree at this point on the color of the White House.


Republicans will take most of the public scorn for the failure, and rightly so. Although GOP moderates signaled a late willingness to peek out of their no-tax trenches and consider some revenue possibilities, they ultimately were unwilling to propose what most Americans said they wanted – an agreement with a blend of serious spending cuts and higher taxes.


Democrats contributed to the failure, too, shamefully disregarding a last-minute path to possibilities offered by Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania. Toomey proposed raising $250 billion over the decade by reducing many itemized deductions and adjusting tax rates so that tax increases would fall on the top two brackets. The $250 billion was barely a start, but it was certainly a breakthrough for the conservative side of the supercommittee. Democrats, apparently confident they will win the PR battle that comes with failure, ignored it.


Finally, let’s not spare President Barack Obama, who characteristically chose to cluck his tongue disapprovingly at the two sides, rather than taking the political risk of leading them toward a solution.


Where does that leave lawmakers? When their arms are worn out from finger pointing, they have important and urgent work to do. Among the other items the supercommittee didn’t accomplish was extending a 2 percent payroll tax cut and continuing unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work for more than six months. Both are set to expire at the end of the year.


Neither item is popular with Republicans, but most economists agree that extending both would add a percentage point or two to economic growth next year. Given the economic instability in Europe, that percentage point or two could be what prevents us from another recession next year, some economists warn.


There’s murmuring in Washington that Republicans might hold the payroll tax and unemployment extensions hostage by linking them to a bill that would exempt defense from the $1.2 trillion in cuts that are automatically triggered by the supercommittee’s failure. That would be a mistake. Although that $1.2 trillion “sequester” is an indiscriminate chop that doesn’t address our underlying entitlement and tax rate problems, the cuts are at least an acknowledgment of the pain that will only worsen if we run away.


That’s what happened Monday with the supercommittee’s demise. Politics again beat progress. Ideology again trumped what was best for our country. Meanwhile, U..S. debt topped $15 trillion last week, and the problem grows frighteningly larger, as does the gap our leaders must bridge to solve it.

"I am the 53 percent"

A former Marine writes nine sentences, holds them up to a camera and becomes the face of a movement. For better or worse, this is how our political conversation moves forward, sometimes.

The unidentified Marine was participating in the We are the 53% movement, a collection of similar photos started by CNN personality and conservative blogger Erick Erickson to counter the "We are the 99 percent" cry of the Occupy movement.

The 53 refers to the percentage of Americans who pay federal income taxes - an assumption that the Occupy movement is home to people in the other 47 percent. If that swipe isn't clear, the line that appears in many of the photos, including the Marine's, is more direct: "Suck it up, you whiners."

The rest of the Marine's note:

I am a former Marine.
I work two jobs.
I don’t have health insurance.
I worked 60-70 hours a week for 8 years to pay my way through college.
I haven’t had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years.
But I don’t blame Wall Street.
Suck it up you whiners.
I am the 53%.
God bless the USA!

We are the 53% co-founder and fellow conservative Josh Trevino acknowledged that the site is a "reaction against the hippies" of Occupy. But, he told the Washington Post, there's a larger message going on:
“Even if you’ve had a difficult time, that this is America, and there is still value in hard work, and individual self-reliance...times are hard, we are in the worst economic crisis since Great Depression, but nonetheless, the same American values are really the way out of it.”
The counterpoint includes a letter to the Marine by Max Udargo, a member of the liberal web site Daily Kos. Udargo argues that he and the Marine want the same thing - for hard work to be valued and rewarded. "I don’t want you to 'get by' working two jobs and 60 to 70 hours a week. If you’re willing to put in that kind of effort, I want you to get rich." That's become nearly impossible now, Udargo says:

"Even though you and I had nothing to do with the bad decisions, blind greed and incompetence of those guys on Wall Street, we were sure as hell along for the ride, weren’t we? And we’ve all paid a price.

All the "99%" wants is for you to remember the role that Wall Street played in creating this mess, and for you to join us in demanding that Wall Street share the pain."

Take a look at the 53 percenters, even if you don't agree. There's an intriguing similarity to the Occupiers - a frustration with our circumstances and, implicitly, our country's direction. That similarity ends, of course, with the choice of where to place blame - and perhaps, the debate over who has earned the right to.

Peter St. Onge

Friday, November 18, 2011

5 things we learned this week in politics

We began this week with one Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry, reeling from a brain freeze. Another Republican candidate, Herman Cain, was fighting sexual harassment allegations and himself. That left some Republicans turning their lonely eyes to a new/old name, Newt.

What are five things we learned five days later?

5) Perry is in the final stage of campaign irrelevance

This is the stage where the candidate starts making what he thinks are bold proposals to refocus the cameras his way - but which instead are so nutty that they affirm why people have moved on. This week, Perry proposed a part-time citizen Congress, then wrote Democrat Nancy Pelosi a letter that challenged her to a debate.

Said Pelosi: "Well, he did ask if I could debate here in Washington on Monday. It is my understanding that the letter has come in. Monday, I’m going to be in Portland in the morning. I’m going to be visiting some of our labs in California in the afternoon. That’s two. I can’t remember what the third thing is.”

Ouch.

4) Cain's campaign will be remembered as one of the worst in modern political history

As the week began, Cain actually seemed to have a chance at weathering allegations of sexual harassment when he was president of the National Restaurant Association. But this week, America got a look at a painful (and therefore viral) video in which he floundered when answering a question on Libya in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board. Then he inexplicably blew off the editorial board of the politically powerful and conservative Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire's largest newspaper.

Together, the incidents illustrate most everything that's wrong with this candidate. He doesn't know policy, and he doesn't know how to run a campaign.

3) Gingrich might have more staying power than people think

Unlike Perry and Cain, Gingrich might not flounder when the attention turns his way. Voters already know that he has ethical issues at home and the office. They know he's a grouch. But those who've heard him on policy panels and in longer-form debates also know he is likely the smartest Republican in the field - no matter what someone would like you to believe.

Gingrich will go through the ringer this coming week as the media reminds everyone why we didn't used to like him much. It's a right of passage for every serious candidate - if you think Obama got a pass in 2008, you just weren't reading - but if he survives and can get into one-on-ones with Mitt Romney, watch out.

2) Barack Obama might have a bigger "who is he?" problem than Mitt Romney

The most scathing political essay this week was penned by a liberal writer at the New York Times - about the President.

Drew Westen, a frequent political writer and professor of psychology at Emory University, is unhappy that Obama put off a decision on plans to lay a high-pressure oil pipeline from Canada. But that decision, Westen says, is one of many perplexing choices Obama has made.

The money sentence:

No modern American president has ever managed to make it through nearly three years in the White House with so few people really having any idea what he believes on so many key issues — let alone what his vision for the country is.
Don't dismiss this as a liberal who feels Obama isn't liberal enough. Independents, who propelled Obama to victory in 2008, are collectively shrugging, too. That's not the emotion you want from supporters come November, especially if the economy continues to drag along.

1) It's Mitt as the nominee. Deal with it.

He's got the money. He's got the organization. He's got the intellectual chops. And right now, he's doing a brilliant job of staying in the political conversation while staying out of everyone else's political messes. That's what you get to do when you're one of the front-runners. You let the process sift the others out.

Republicans are running out of candidates to put next to Romney at the top of the polls, and if Gingrich also flames out, we'll finally land where most people thought we would all along - Obama vs. Romney.

True, Romney still hasn't connected to the electorate, in part because of those nagging flip-flopper issues. But if he ends up the GOP nominee, voters will get to pick from the candidate who might not be who you think he is, and the candidate that you already know isn't.

Peter St. Onge

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Major protests are coming; Charlotte needs a plan

The modest clan of protesters that comprise Occupy Charlotte pose little more than a horticultural threat to our city at this point. There’s just a dozen or two of them now, exercising free speech while tromping on the grass at the Old City Hall and annoying local Republican leaders.

But in less than a year, that handful of overnight campers is sure to become a larger spectacle – and probably in spots beyond uptown. The Democratic National Convention will bring an onslaught of protest next September – not just local Occupiers, but groups from around the country and across the ideological spectrum. Charlotte and Mecklenburg County need a plan for their land.

This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave officials here a framework from which to build when he barred overnight camping from Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the Occupy movement. Bloomberg argued that health and safety concerns outweighed protesters’ rights to free speech, and a state Supreme Court judge agreed. In his ruling Monday, Judge Michael D. Stallman reminded all of what the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1985: “Even protected speech is not equally permissible in all places and at all times.”

Yet in that same 1985 Supreme Court case, the court said we also must measure whether “Government’s interest in limiting the use of its property to its intended purpose outweighs the interest of those wishing to use the property for other purposes.” That means officials need to be reasonable about the restrictions they place on public land.

Currently, Charlotte and Mecklenburg don’t have ordinances that prevent what Occupiers are doing at Old City Hall. City and county officials should be proactive by specifying how land can be used uptown and elsewhere, but any plan they develop should be based on two simple principles: Respect the free speech of protesters, and protect the public’s safety and interests of local businesses.

In New York, Bloomberg’s ban showed that public officials can accomplish these seemingly contradictory objectives. NYC didn’t ban protesters from parks, but they eliminated camping by banning tents and sleeping bags along with lying down on the ground or a bench and snoozing.

Other cities have been clumsier. In Denver in 2008, the city girded for demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention by creating a large security zone around the convention site and designating a parade route for rallies so far away that it was an unfair quieting of free speech. Denver also paid $200,000 to settle a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union after city police arrested 100 people downtown for not obeying a dispersal order that didn’t exist.

Like Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul, which hosted the 2008 Republican convention, Charlotte will get the help of thousands of federal agents. Those cities were spared any large-scale disturbances, but the nature of protesting has changed in four years. The tea party has demonstrated the political impact that comes with sizable rallies, and Occupy has shown that novel approaches to protesting can win the attention of media and the public.

On Thursday, Occupy tried a troubling new strategy, clashing with police near Wall Street and tearing down barricades at Zuccotti. It’s a reminder that demonstrators don’t always follow the choreography that governments set out for them. Our public officials should plan for those possibilities next September, but they should do so without stifling the freedoms that the convention nearby will celebrate.

This pizza tastes a little ... Republican?

How about a side of politics with your pizza?

Herman Cain's presidential run and sexual harassment allegations against him are affecting public perceptions of Godfather's Pizza -- even though Cain hasn't been the restaurant chain's CEO for 15 years.

A company called YouGov BrandIndex, which tracks brand perception, finds that consumers split on Godfather's quality based on political party. During Cain's campaign, Democrats' perception of the brand has dropped significantly, while Republicans' perception has gone up. Independents have stayed neutral.

Who knew that your political opinions could affect a pizza's taste?

YouGov BrandIndex's website spells out the company's methodology.


Taylor Batten

Pearls of wisdom from a best-selling author

Best-selling author Jeannette Walls spoke in Charlotte today, dispensing pearls of wisdom gleaned from a lifetime that has taken her from homeless child to national gossip columnist to inspirational speaker.

Walls’s memoir “The Glass Castle” spent 100 weeks on the New York Times’ Best Seller list. She was a gossip columnist for MSNBC.com from 1998 until 2007.

More than 1,000 people gathered at the Westin uptown to hear her speak at the Urban Ministry Center’s “True Blessings” lunch. She told stories about her hard-luck childhood, her shame as an adult in having a homeless mother and what she has learned from her journey.

A few of her stories:


  • Her father, an alcoholic who never fared too well, always promised her and her siblings that some day he would build them a glass castle. She could look at that as just another of his unfulfilled promises. Instead, she’s grateful that her father provided something more valuable than the castle itself: Hope. She always had that hope and a dream, more than other kids in her situation had.

  • One night she told her father she was scared of the monster under her bed. Instead of reassuring her, he told her to come hunting with him for it. He got a knife and she got a toy weapon and they went searching everywhere for it. Never found it. It must have run away. The lesson: “Dad told me to face my fears. If you look your demon in the eyes he really can’t hurt you.” Later, her demon was her own past. “Put a harness on your demon and make it work for you,” she said.

  • Her mother fell off a horse one day and told her how great that was. Walls was confused. Anyone can ride, her mother said. It’s when we fall that we find what we’re made of. “There’s no shame in falling,” Walls said. “You have to get up.”
The lunch benefited the Urban Ministry Center. UMC is helping people get up when they fall. Next month, UMC will open Moore Place, a home for 85 chronically homeless men and women. It’s a big moment for Charlotte. Rather than just comforting the homeless, UMC will be tackling the root causes, and saving taxpayers millions in the process. To help them, go to http://www.urbanministrycenter.org/.

Taylor Batten

Jai alai uptown, paid for by taxpayers?

Good morning and welcome to O-pinion, the editorial board’s home for opinion, perspective and debate. I’m Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten, and I’ll be your host today.

Anyone up for spending millions of taxpayer dollars to build a jai-alai stadium uptown? For those of you who didn’t grow up in Miami like I did, jai-alai is an exciting, fast-paced sport kind of like raquetball but with giant wicker scoops on the players’ hands instead of racquets. Now county commissioner Bill James raises the specter that Mecklenburg taxpayers could be on the hook for an uptown jai-alai joint.

He’s kidding, of course. But he’s raising some serious – and good – questions about what will become of Memorial Stadium on the edge of uptown. The Observer’s April Bethea is reporting that county officials are considering the future of the stadium, including whether to study tearing it down and building a new professional sports stadium for some unknown, future professional sports franchise. They’ll convene a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Grady Cole Center to talk about different options.

The stadium, built in 1936, clearly needs attention. Home to Shrine Bowl football games, the occasional Johnson C. Smith game and other events, the stadium of about 20,000 seats has been closed twice in recent years, including when a portion of the bleachers caved in. But replacing it with a brand new facility fit for some undetermined professional sports team is nutty. In a sluggish economy that has an extremely uncertain near-term future, those millions don’t exist; if they do, they should be spent on a higher use than dramatically upgrading Memorial Stadium.

James thinks the whole discussion could be a “back-door” way to build a stadium for AAA baseball’s Charlotte Knights. The Knights have been trying to move uptown from Fort Mill but haven’t lined up the financing to do so. The possibilities, James suggests, are endless.

“Maybe next we can build a jai alai facility on spec after that?” James writes in an email to the Observer’s editorial board. “We did build a whitewater center on spec with phony numbers.”

OK, so Charlotteans will continue to have to go to south Florida to see the cestas. But they should stay tuned to make sure county commissioners and staff have their priorities straight.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CMS made mistake in banning reporters

Tomorrow's editorial tonight:

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials have a recurring communications problem. Last spring, then-superintendent Peter Gorman acknowledged his administration had done a poor job explaining to teachers its plans and philosophies involving how they should be evaluated and paid. In previous years, parents have felt excluded from decisions about important issues like student assignment.

CMS has made progress with both groups, because officials seem to understand that with all the short- and long-term difficulties the system is confronting, it’s better for the community to approach issues with a shared understanding rather than a bewildered resentment.

But CMS took a step backward Tuesday night when officials banned reporters from a meeting between Harding High School parents and CMS staff and school board members. In doing so, CMS also broke the law.

“We screwed that up,” school board chair Eric Davis told the editorial board Wednesday.

The meeting was a previously scheduled PTSA event at Harding – a “gallery crawl” designed to kindle more parent participation at the school, which this year added hundreds of new students from now-closed E.E. Waddell High School. In the wake of academic and discipline issues involving that transition, event organizers invited Davis to the crawl to offer a brief message to parents and interact with them later. The Observer wrote Monday about the impending gathering.

But when reporters arrived, organizers said they wanted the meeting to be between parents and CMS staff only. The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause, however, forbids school officials from excluding some members of the public, but not others, from such a meeting – even if it is a PTSA-type event.

Davis acknowledged that mistake, and he expressed regret that while CMS staff chose to have reporters escorted off campus, it allowed other non-Harding members of the public to attend the event. Also, a CMS staffer tweeted news from the “private” meeting from the system’s Twitter account.

“It will not occur again,” interim superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said of the ban, “and we’ll make sure everyone knows that.”

We share Davis’ lament that what’s been lost in the incident is how parents came away from the night with enthusiasm and optimism about Harding’s future. That, said Davis, is something he wished media were there to see and cover.

We feel the same, but we remind CMS that it’s just as important for reporters and the public to be present for the difficult moments. It’s easy for officials to see the media as nosy notebooks and cameras that want to intrude on sensitive events. But excluding reporters breeds a mistrust that has long plagued the school system.

Instead, CMS should remember that media give the public access to important conversations, and while those discussions sometimes can be uncomfortable, the public benefits from facing those difficulties together – or at least with that shared knowledge. That’s what good communication brings. CMS owes it to the public to try harder.

GOP now flirting with Gingrich?

In the New Republic, contributing editor John McWhorter says Newt Gingrich speaks well, but asks: Is he smart? Part of McWhorter's answer:

"Gingrich may be a master of academic exercises -his ability to make bookish references and formulate long sentences demonstrate as much — but that does not mean he knows what he is talking about. . . . Take a close look at what he's saying, and you'll find that he's using artfully constructed rhetoric to cloak ideas that are simply wrong."

McWhorter says "the Republican Party should not mistake his communication skills with evidence of real knowledge, or even of good reasoning. "

He may be too late in that warning. Gingrich is rising in the polls on the strength of his performance in the debates alongside other candidates - with some of the frontrunners making high-profile gaffes. That would be Rick "oops" Perry and Herman "Libya?Libya?" Cain.

In a McClatchy-Marist Poll released this week, a surprising Gingrich was the strongest GOP candidate when matched head to head with President Obama. The former U.S. House speaker is just 2 percentage points behind Obama, 47 percent to 45 percent, survey results released Tuesday indicated.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, presumed by many to be the eventual Republican nominee, was 4 percentage points behind Obama, 48 percent to 44 percent. Obama was favored 49 percent to 39 percent over Cain and outpolled Texas Gov. Perry, 51 percent to 40 percent.

The Republicans are in a bind in their search for a more ideologically pure candidate than flip-flopper, wherever-the-wind-blows candidate Mitt Romney. For a while, they've been flirting with Cain, the former Godfather's pizza chief who wowed them with his 9-9-9 tax plan. But his gaffes and past sexual harassment charges that are making headlines now have cooled their ardor.

Now it seems it may be Newt's turn. The latest polls now indicate Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich all have a chance to win the Iowa caucus in January.

But already Gingrich is finding the spotlight hot. Bloomberg News reported today on his ties to Freddie Mac. Bloomberg said Gingrich was paid "between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees" by Freddie Mac. Gingrich was asked about $300,000 from the mortgage company during the recent GOP presidential debate in Michigan. Since he stopped working for them in 2008, Gingrich has been a frequent critic of Freddie Mac, whose housing loan practices have been implicated in the housing debacle in the U.S.

And a group identifying itself as Iowans for Christian Leadership in Government circulated a flier about Gingrich's extramarital affairs. Politico reported on an e-mail that was making the rounds citing some of Gingrich's quotes about topics such as illegal immigration and Medicare.

Gingrich's "baggage has baggage," says the headline on a column this week by Joan Walsh of Salon.

Read more about it all at:
http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2011/11/newt-gingrich-freddie-mac-presidential-scrutiny-/1

This GOP flirtation could be short lived.

Fannie Flono

Charting joblessness, big banks getting bigger


A group called Remapping Debate, which aims to broaden public policy discussions, released an interactive chart today that shows interesting changes in unemployment and underemployment rates nationwide. "Using 'Alternative Measures of Labor Force Underutilization for States' produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics," the group said their chart, "shows the average annual percentage of the civilian labor force that falls into each of four categories of unemployment and underemployment in each of the 50 states for the years 2003 to 2010."

North Carolina moved down in the rankings of the unemployed and underemployed in the nation from 2009 to 2010. It was 10th in 2009 and is 14th in 2010. That means more state's had higher unemployment and underemployment than North Carolina did in 2010 than in 2009. South Carolina also moved down in the rankings from 4th in 2009 to 9th in 2010.

Take a look at their chart, and see how unemployment and underemployment has changed in each state since 2003. Move the slider in the upper left-hand side of the chart and you can see the figures change dramatically over the years. We can only wistfully look back at 2003 and wish for a 6.5 percent unemployment rate in North Carolina. South Carolina's rate was 6.8 percent that year.

The chart includes includes the unemployment rates, the percentage of the civilian labor force that is working part-time for economic reasons — meaning individuals who want to be working full-time but are unable to find full-time employment, marginally attached workers — workers who had looked for a job sometime in the prior year, but who had not searched for a job anytime in the prior month, and discouraged workers — a subset of marginally attached workers that who, when asked why they had not searched for work in the prior month, gave the specific reason that they believed no jobs were available for them.

On the whole, the chart is discouraging to look at.

EVEN BIGGER? TOO, TOO BIG TO FAIL?

The group used info from the Financial Stability Board at the Bank of International Settlements to release another chart listing the 29 financial institutions the board deemed to be “globally systemically important.” Eight of those banks are in the United States, and of course one, Bank of America, is headquartered right here in Charlotte. These are the banks worldwide that are, ahem, too big to fail. Royal Bank of Scotland tops the list. BofA comes in at No. 12. Wells Fargo, which absorbed Wachovia, comes in at No. 20. Turns out these banks are even bigger than they were in 2008 when the shenanigans of some helped push the U.S. into a recession. Are they now too, too big to fail?

Fannie Flono

Occupiers = 'freaks, socialists, nincompoops'?

Good morning. Welcome to the O-Pinion blog on this Wednesday. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, hosting today.

Much of the big news today is a continuation of stories that have held our attention for the last few weeks. The Occupiers in New York got the boot - at least their tents did. And critics of the movement are getting in their jabs as the NYC protest site loses its high visibility. Here in North Carolina, the conservative John Locke Foundation's John Hood had some pointed things to say in a column today: " The suddenly inconvenient fact, you see, is that the Occupy movement was a creation of freaks, socialists, and assorted nincompoops. Some of us recognized this fact from the beginning. We’d seen it reflected in the anti-republican rhetoric of “occupation” and the anti-libertarian tactics employed by those who sought not simply to argue their point of view but to shut up those who disagree."

On the Penn State front, Mike McQueary, who we took to task for not going to the police after seeing Jerry Sandusky sexually assault a boy at the school, is reportedly saying he did indeed go to the police. The Washington Post reported that McQueary, who was a graduate assistant but is a receivers coach now, e-mailed a friend, according to the Associated Press, that he stopped the assault and went to police. The e-mail, dated Nov. 8 and written from McQueary’s Penn State account, was given to the AP by the friend. “I am getting hammered for handling this the right way ... or what I thought at the time was right,” McQueary wrote. “I had to make tough impacting quick decisions.”
On Monday, he e-mailed ex-teammates. “I did the right thing,” McQueary wrote, according to NBC’s Peter Alexander. “. . . you guys know me . . . the truth is not out there fully . . . I didn’t just turn and run. . . . I made sure it stopped . . . I had to make quick tough decisions . . . ”
If he did, good for him. But the next question is - what did police? Clearly not enough was done since Sandusky's alleged behavior continued. Who dropped the ball ?

In some new news, an interesting report concludes that people are looking for a place to live, rather than a place to work. States that have experienced employment losses since the Great Recession started are still growing in population. The fastest population growth was in the South and West, continuing a long-term migration trend out of the Northeast and Midwest. Adding to the population growth of the top ten states was the influx of immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NYC gives Occupy a better ending

Breaking news: N.Y. state Supreme Court judge Michael D. Stallman ruled against Occupy Wall Street protesters this afternoon, upholding New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on overnight camping in Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the Occupy movement.

"The court is mindful of movants' First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and peaceable assembly," Stallman wrote in his ruling, the New York Times reports. But he added: "Even protected speech is not equally permissible in all places and at all times."

-

In banning protesters from camping overnight at New York City's Zuccotti Park, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given the Occupy movement a better ending than the one it was likely headed toward.

Until today, there seemed to be two competing conclusions to Occupy. First, winter in Manhattan and other cities across the country would bring a cold decline to the movement by shrinking the number of protesters while Occupy's message continued to suffer from atrophy. Protesters had never taken the step of transforming complaints to coherent proposals, and even before today, the message was getting stale without a next step to take it somewhere.

Or, the movement would continue to lose its message to internal and external disturbances - specifically, the violence and drug use from protesters and hangers-on that already plagued Occupy in some cities, most notably Oakland.

Instead, the narrative changes, at least temporarily, to this: A billionaire mayor has waved his hand and scattered the 99 percent from his park. It's an affirmation of sorts for Occupy, and as long as protesters don't blow it by turning to violent protest in the coming hours and days, it's an apt message to go out on.

And that's likely what will happen to Occupy, which doesn't have the cohesiveness to work within the political structure in a way that creates agenda and power, a la the tea party. Expect instead that protests will continue - overnight only in lenient cities, and perhaps in bigger rallies at important moments like the Democratic National Convention.

It won't be enough to survive, however, because overnight camping was critical to the movement. It gave Occupy an identity that attracted participants and prompted initial and continued media coverage. Take that away, and the larger movement goes with it.

That's not a bad thing, necessarily, because Occupy already has had its success. The disparity between affluent and poor has become part of the national political discussion, and polls show Americans largely agree with the roots of the Occupy message, even if they've grown weary of the Occupiers. That message will play a role in the 2012 election.

And now, with Bloomberg's ban, the movement has an ending that affirms why it began - a final win, possibly, even as it loses.

Peter St. Onge

In NYC, a turning point for Occupiers everywhere


Update, 3 p.m.: A New York state supreme court judge has heard oral arguments on NYC's ban on protesters camping overnight at Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the Occupy movement. A ruling is expected soon.

NYC officials argued in its brief to the court that Occupy might be stockpiling weapons at Zuccotti, and also that allowing protesters to camp again would bring back the safety issues that caused more than 50 arrests and prompted the park's closing.

The latter argument, if successful, gives Charlotte's leaders a framework from which they can impose restrictions on overnight protesters in advance of the Democratic National Convention. We don't advocate shutting down public speech, but establishing a plan dictating where and when those protests occur gives the city and county the opportunity to balance free speech, public safety and the interests of local businesses when the world arrives in 2012.

Earlier:
The Occupy protests are in the news again today with a big development: New York City police cleared the movement's birthplace, Zuccotti Park. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the after-midnight sweep was conducted because of health and safety concerns. More than 150 people have been arrested, including some who chained themselves together. (Update: The AP is reporting that at least 200 have been arrested by late morning.)

In a written statement this morning, Bloomberg said that the protesters can return to the park, but not camp out overnight.

Said the mayor:
The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out - but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others - nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. There is no ambiguity in the law here - the First Amendment protects speech - it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.

Protestors have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments.


This seems to conflict with a court order the National Lawyer's Guild says it obtained that allows the protesters to return to the park.

While protesters wait on their court-ordered future at Zuccotti Park, some took over the grounds of a nearby church by cutting the fence with wire snippers, the New York Times reports. This is a fast way to turn public opinion against you.

The New York Daily news is reporting that there are skirmishes around Zuccotti, and that protesters are "openly taunting the NYPD." Police who have not responded thus far.

Also, lots of footage available of the overnight raid. Here's some dramatic video from AP:



Cities like Charlotte will be watching the developments closely. In emails to county commissioners last month, county attorney Tyrone Wade said protesters camped out at Old City Hall were not violating any county or city laws (the city owns the land) simply by staying there overnight. We'll watch how NYC officials argue the legality of Bloomberg's edict, without an apparent ordinance backing them up. Could Charlotte and Mecklenburg officials argue something similar?

Meanwhile, expect the Occupiers to head right back to Zuccotti and challenge Bloomberg and police tonight. They'll be followed by a horde of media chronicling this potentially critical moment for the movement.

Do you care?

We've been hearing from readers lately about the amount of attention the media has given Occupy, especially locally. One regular emailer complained that the Observer gave a front page story Monday to the Charlotte protesters, despite their unimpressive numbers. We have another today about UNC Charlotte granting campus space to an Occupy offshoot. The Observer also has written about the fight for portable bathrooms for the protesters, and we've editorialized about local Republicans wanting the protesters off the Old City Hall lawn.

Never have a couple dozen scruffy folks gotten so much ink.

Is it too much? That's for readers to decide, but there's a case to be made that media locally and nationally are following the natural evolution of a story that continues to be relevant - but for different reasons. Initially, Occupy was somewhat of a novelty - newspapers wrote somewhat superficially about the young men and women blocking streets and bridges and taking over Zuccotti. As the movement gained momentum, the media began examining it in more depth - why did these populist protests resonate with the rest of America, according to polls, in a still-harsh economy? How did they compare to the tea party in message and potential?

Now, the story has shifted to public and government response to protests that, in some places, are losing their ideological traction to violence and health issues. Locally, that took the form of Republicans perhaps overplaying their concern for the Old City Hall lawn, but with legitimate worries about how the city would handle the protests that might come next year with the Democratic Convention. Nationally, some Occupy movements are becoming health and safety hazards, including Oakland, where one protester shot and killed another and police now have cleared the encampment there twice in three weeks.

Today we have Zuccotti in Manhattan. Expect the day's narrative to focus not only on the future for that one park, but whether the clearing of Occupy's birthplace signals the beginning of the end of the movement - or at least the end of America's patience with it.

Tell us what you think in the comments below.



Closer to home

The Observer's editorial today examines why county commissioner Jennifer Roberts, who announced she's not running today, might make a better state legislator than county commission chair.

And if you haven't seen Kevin Siers cartoon on Roberts, you really should.

Nationally

The Cain Campaign: RIP. After butchering his answer to question on Libya at a meeting with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Cain is watching conservatives head for the door.

The Weekly Standard called a video of the question/answer "painful to watch."

The Washington Post's conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, says Cain has become an embarrassment.

As with Rick Perry's debate brain freeze, campaign chroniclers will point to Cain's sexual harassment allegations as dooming his campaign, but both candidates may already have been doomed - Perry by weak debate performances and Cain by a startling lack of domestic and foreign policy knowledge.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Teens who use electronics too much hurt grades?

Participants in the Young Voices forum weighed in today on whether young people use electronic devices too much, affecting their grades and their behavior negatively. That's what some studies are showing. One Kaiser Family study said the "average" young person - those aged 8-18 - spent 7 hours a day using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device - and that's not counting texting and talking on a cellphone. Heavy use is associated with behavior problems and lower grades. Charlotte-area students were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with that. Here's a sampling of their responses show. For complete responses of all who participated, go to www.charlotteobserver.com/Opinion.

From Laney Smith, 14, North Stanly High School , New London: I do agree. The average teen spends a lot of time on smart phones, texting and computers. However I do think this is just the way of our society and how we communicate. Years ago people talked on the telephone, wrote letters and visited with neighbors. But now this is how we express our feelings and communicate.

From Joseph Morgan, 13, Community House Middle School, Charlotte: I think it is true that heavy electronic use can result in lower grades and behavioral problems. It is bad because it takes out time you can be spending with friends, doing homework, exercising, etc. It is also bad if a young person were to play a violent game such as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. This can cause behavioral problems if they take the game seriously.

From JosuĂ© Valle, 14, E.E. Waddell Language Academy, Charlotte: I am a gamer with good grades, and great behavior. I know about the recent studies about the “average” young person spending more than 7 hours on an electronic device. You could say that I am not the “average” young person. I spend most of my free time watching TV, but I love computer games. For Christmas, because of my grades, I am getting an X-box 360.

George Will's wife works for Perry; Chelsea Clinton at NBC

Washington Post columnist George Will might be one of many pundits who' ll have to come clean about their ties to presidential candidates as the season heats up. Politico reported Saturday that Mari Maseng, Will's wife, has signed on to work for Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a consultant, and helped prepare him for the GOP presidential debate in Michigan.

Sounds like Perry's still in the race despite many pundits (was Will one?) writing his obituary last week when he couldn't remember the third of the three agencies you would shut down if elected. Oops. Good luck to Maseng. With Perry's numerous gaffes, he needs all the help he can get.

Elsewhere, Politico also tracked down a source who said Maseng worked for Michelle Bachmann earlier in this election cycle, and had previously sought work with the Mitt Romney campaign itself.

Will plans to disclose his wife's work for the Perry campaign in a regularly scheduled appearance on ABC and in future columns, The Post's editorial page editor told Politico. ...

But Will has written extensively about Romney, including the column on Oct. 30 (which the Observer ran) when he blasted Romney as a "pretzel candidate" without meaningful convictions and conservative principles. Ouch!

here's what the Atlantic wire ran:
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2011/11/should-george-will-have-disclose-his-wifes-clients/44917/
Here's the Politico story:
http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1111/For_columnist_Will_a_family_tie_to_Perry.html?showall
and here's the link to Will's piece on Romney that ran on the Observer's Viewpoint page:
http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/10/30/2733705/mitt-romney-the-pretzel-candidate.html#storylink=misearch

Chelsea Clinton, Reporter?
NBC announced today that it has hired Chelsea Clinton to become a full-time special correspondent for NBC News, said the New York Times.

The appointment is immediate. Clinton will show up at the news division offices today, said Steve Capus, president of NBC News, and will begin work on stories that NBC expects to use as part of its “Making a Difference” series, which runs on “NBC Nightly News.”

Clinton has been a national figure since her father won the presidency in 1992, but she has remained — first by her parents’ request and then by her own choice — largely out of the public eye.

Well, George Bush's daughter Jenna Bush Hager, also works for NBC as a correspondent for NBC’s “Today” show, and Meghan McCain, daughter of 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain, is a contributor to MSNBC. So the Democrats are joining the club, it seems.

'Legal issues' in McQueary's fate at Penn State

Good morning. This is the O-Pinion blog for Monday. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, hosting the blog today, and providing some commentary from near and far that's getting some buzz.

The horrific sex abuse scandal at Penn State is still lighting up the boards. A judge who ordered former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, accused of raping and other sexual abuse of young boys who were associated with a charity he ran, to be freed on $100,000 unsecured bail worked as a volunteer for Sandusky' charity, The Second Mile, Deadspin reported Sunday. Prosecutors had asked for $500,000 bail and that Sandusky be required to wear a leg monitor, but District Judge Leslie Dutchcot ruled he be freed without having to post any money unless he failed to show up for court, according to various news reports. Geez. The reports also said Sandusky continues to receive a hefty pension from Penn State.

President Obama weighed in on the Penn State scandal after being asked a question by ABC's Jake Tepper in Hawaii, where he is attending a Asia Pacific conference. He talked about the obligation of people to step up when sexual abuse of children happens: "When you think about how vulnerable kids are, for the alleged facts of that case to have taken place and for folks not to immediately say, nothing else matters except making sure those kids are protected, that's a problem." That larger issue - the obligation of anyone who knew of sex abuse in this case or any other case to report it to law enforcement - should become much more a part of this discussion.

In that regard, it's good to hear that we're glad to hear that Penn State has at least put Penn State receivers coach Mike McQueary on administrative leave. McQueary was a graduate assistant when he allegedly witnessed sex abuse at the school in 2002, and took it no further than reporting it to athletic officials. In an editorial Saturday, our editorial board asked why McQueary was still employed and said: "We don’t understand how McQueary could bear seeing Sandusky in the hallways of Penn State’s football building in the weeks, months and years after the alleged incident with the 10-year-old boy. The alleged victims deserve an answer why he never chose to go to police, and why the trustees feel he is less culpable than those fired or suspended from their duties for similar silences." New Penn State president Rodney Erickson said on this morning's Early Show that McQueary wasn't fired last week because "legal issues" are in play. He didn't elaborate.

Internationally, it's Italy that's claiming the spotlight after its long-time president Silvio Berlusconi resigned Saturday under pressure as economic woes dogged Italy, bringing it to the brink of financial ruin and affected the rest of Europe's economy as well. Italians were singing in the streets in celebration. But Italian pundits had this one right in noting that Italians left it to Europe and American pressure to do what they should have done years ago. Berlusconi has been a disgrace for years, involved in numerous sex scandals including being charged with having sex with an under-age prostitute, and a wave of salacious revelations from police wiretaps about alleged orgies at his luxurious Milan villa. He also faces two ongoing fraud court cases, the latest in more than 30 prosecutions by magistrates he accuses of being communists bent on perverting democracy, notes Reuters. "The perma-tanned media tycoon, once a cruise ship crooner, was always unrepentant about a notoriously off-color sense of humour and a series of diplomatic gaffes which led many foreign leaders to try to avoid being photographed near him," the Post said. Italians should have given him the boot years ago.