Thursday, December 20, 2012
Deep in Wednesday's Observer was a notable comment that we need to amplify. Ken Rinkor is the vice president of Tactical Arms Manufacturer Inc. in Huntersville. The family-owned company makes AR-15s, the kind of semi-automatic rifle Adam Lanza used in Newtown. Rinkor worries that his company could go out of business if assault rifles are outlawed.
Yet Rinkor supports a ban on sales to the public of high-capacity ammunition magazines. Lanza used large-capacity magazines to fire multiple rounds without having to reload.
"Frankly, I think there's no need for anybody to have such ... magazines, 20 or 30 rounds. It makes no sense at all to have that large of a magazine, even for personal protection," Rinkor told the Observer.
Doesn't that just about settle it? It's a common-sense step. And if one of the nation's biggest defenders of the AR-15 rifle says high-capacity magazines should be banned, who is to argue with him?
One other note on the gun control debate: How lame is it that one of North Carolina's U.S. senators, Republican Richard Burr, won't make any comment about it? The Observer interviewed members of the N.C. congressional delegation about how to respond to the Newtown tragedy. Republicans Richard Hudson, Robert Pittenger, Renee Ellmers and Patrick McHenry weighed in, as did U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat. Burr did not respond to a request for comment. North Carolinians are used to Burr being less than visible, but is it asking too much for him to tell his constituents his thoughts on one of the most horrifying tragedies in U.S. history?
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
As Democrats and Republicans come closer to a last-minute deal on the fiscal cliff, the voices from La-La Land intrude to remind Republicans that no compromise is acceptable.
Theteaparty.net, which bills itself as the nation's largest tea party advocacy group, sent out a press release today vowing to "primary" -- yes, they use it as a verb -- any Republican who supports House Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" legislation. That bill would raise taxes on people making more than $1 million a year. The Club for Growth and the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation have also come out against "Plan B."
"Not one dime in new taxes, not one nickel in new spending, and for the love of God and the future of our country, not one red cent in new debt," blustered spokesman Bob Adams. "What's at stake here is nothing less than the future of the Republican party as a viable conservative political force."
Adams and spokesman Niger Innis say they'll try to dethrone Boehner and recruit candidates to run against any Republican who votes for Boehner's plan.
We don't want to give these folks any more credit than they deserve and it's entirely possible that congressional Republicans will ignore them and their silly petitions. They should, since Adams and Innis appear to be living in another world. They missed that tax rates are going up for everyone on Jan. 1 absent a deal. Boehner's plan to raise taxes only on those making more than $1 million a year prevents tax hikes on more than 99 percent of America. Besides, the Boehner plan is going nowhere; there's no indication President Obama and Democrats will agree to the $1 million threshold.
The tea party, which cost Republicans control of the Senate, continues to marginalize itself.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
After four days of near silence on the Newtown shootings, the National Rifle Association announced moments ago it will have a news conference Friday "to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
The full statement:
The timing allows for passions to calm and funerals to finish, which helps prevent the NRA's words from appearing side-by-side with the grief from Newtown. But the announcement of a "major" news conference is an acknowledgment that the NRA needed to catch up to the gun debate, that Newtown is having a greater impact on the country - and therefore Washington - than previous mass killings.The National Rifle Association of America is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters – and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown.Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting.The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.The NRA is planning to hold a major news conference in the Washington, DC area on Friday, December 21.Details will be released to the media at the appropriate time.
Peter St. Onge
We try to steer clear of media critiques here at O-pinion; our readers are more than capable of sorting out which news outlets serve them best. But New York Magazine had a fascinating item Monday on an interesting divide between News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch, who has taken to Twitter to call for stricter gun control, and his television network, which apparently was trying its very best not to talk about it.
Says writer Gabriel Sherman:
According to sources, David Clark, the executive producer in charge of Fox’s weekend coverage, gave producers instructions not to talk about gun-control policy on air. "This network is not going there,” Clark wrote one producer on Saturday night, according to a source with knowledge of the exchange. The directive created a rift inside the network.A few folks didn't get the memo to shush, including FOX News Sunday host Chris Wallace, who talked about the issue on his program with guests. Murdoch, too, felt compelled to say something. “Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons?" he tweeted over the weekend. But at the network, Clark's weekend dictate seemed to have ruled.
The divide shows the raw, powerful impact Newtown initially is having on the gun control debate. It's possible, as Sherman diplomatically speculates, that FOX was trying to keep its coverage focused on the human tragedy until after the victims were buried. (A courtesy the network didn't apply to the September deaths of four U.S. officials in Libya.) It's also possible that FOX honchos, like so many quiet gun advocates right now, preferred not to entertain a debate on guns with passions so hot against them right now. (The NRA has gone "on lockdown," Politico reports.)
But a news organization is obligated to report on the big news of the day, not what its heart thinks the news should be. Each day, media outlets try to sift through all that's happening and make those choices - and each of us sometimes gets it wrong. But willfully denying your viewers coverage of the debate everyone was having? Even the boss knew better.
Update: According to Politico's Dylan Byers, Murdoch's other outlet on the gun issue might be the New York Post, where the editorial board opines today that weapon technology has rendered the Second Amendment "obsolete."
Peter St. Onge
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Flying is hard. Harder than ever, maybe. There are longer, more invasive security checks. There's the 3 oz. rule. The fees. Add to that the uncertainty of winter weather, and you might begin wondering if a really long Skype to Grandma might be sufficient for the holidays this year.
(No, Grandma, we don't really wonder that.)
Now, US Airways has added one more peeve to the pile: The Empty Overhead Bin. In an effort to streamline the boarding process on fuller flights, the airline is telling some passengers they must check carry-on bags and leave them in the jet way because the overhead bins are full. But when passengers arrive at their seat, they find overhead bins with plenty of room, even after everyone has boarded.
Travelers are seething, quietly and not so quietly. Some are filling the friendly skies with frustrated tweets. Some are offering helpful, detailed suggestions on how US Airways can end the Empty Overhead Bin annoyance. A member of the O-pinion family, who's experienced EOB a few times this year, watched once as a woman snapped pictures of the empty bins and angrily posted them on Facebook.
So what's going on? We asked US Airways spokewoman Michelle Mohr, who helpfully explained:
US Airways has created a formula based on extensive study that takes into account the aircraft type, number of customers booked on the plane and average number of carry-on bags that our customers bring along to determine at which point during the boarding process we should begin checking bags at the gate.So as passengers hand over their boarding passes at the gate, the agents begin counting down. There's also supposed to be communication about the overhead bins between those agents and flight attendants on board, Mohr says. "It's not an exact science, but works well in helping our agents know when to check bags," she says.
Mohr says the airline receives few complaints about EOB, but an informal, unscientific O-pinion poll of air travelers shows it's probably more of an issue than the airline thinks. It's also a problem that airlines brought upon themselves by charging fees for checked bags, which in turn encouraged more passengers to stuff belongings into carry-ons that fill those overhead bins. That, of course, led to passengers wandering up and down aisles looking for a whiff of bin space to cram their roll-away, which led to departure delays, which brings us back to that whole air-travel-is-hard thing.
So understand this: US Airways isn't intentionally trying to irritate its customers with the overhead bin formula. (Although, we should note that it might yield yet another revenue stream - the airline is offering priority early boarding, for a fee.) Our plea, on behalf of all passengers: Keep refining. Free the overhead bin space. Make travel easier. Grandmas everywhere are depending on it.
Peter St. Onge
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
An intriguing new Brookings Institution report on school choice gives Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools a middling grade in its Education Choice and Competition Index for 2012. In the report released Tuesday CMS came in 47th of 107 districts nationwide. That ranking earned CMS a C-.
Coming in at No. 1 was Louisiana's Recovery District, the school district system set up in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina obliterated many of its school districts that had been failing. It is composed of 113 autonomous schools in 14 districts across Louisiana. Given the charter school characteristics of the Recovery District, it's no surprise that it tops this index, and gets the only A. New York City is second with a B+, followed by Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Houston, Orleans Parish (in New Orleans), Milwaukee, San Diego, Baltimore City and Dade County (Fla.) rounding out the top 10 and getting either a B or B-.
But there's something striking about that list of top performers. Most of them tend to be laggards academically. On the National Assessment of Education Progress, NAEP, also known as the "nation's report card," several of the school districts lanquish near the bottom in terms of academic performance or progress. And on NAEP, CMS is considered a stand-out for its students' academic progress.
At grade 4, NAEP math scores released this year for Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Hillsborough County (FL), Houston, Jefferson County (KY), Miami-Dade, and San Diego were higher than for large cities nationally. At grade 8, scores for Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Hillsborough County (FL), Houston, and San Diego were higher than the scores for large cities nationally. Only Houston and San Diego made the school choice top 10. Jefferson County and Boston both came in at 41 with a C-; Austin came in at 89 with an F.
But the aim of the school choice list was not to find districts with good school choice options that were also good academically. There are some, to be sure. Wake County comes in 16th. But the authors note explicitly that low scores don't "necessarily mean these are bad districts... they vary in how well they are managed and the performance of their students on achievement tests." The criteria for scoring well on this index places more weight on the availability of choice options than on academic performance. Those options include charter schools, magnets, vouchers, virtual learning and the like. The authors, including senior Brookings fellow Grover Whitehurst, the principal author, who worked in education policy in President George W. Bush's administration, are upfront about their advocacy for school choice. Through this index, they say they want to identify "areas in which policies can be changed to expand choice and competition." "A fundamental rationale for school choice is its effect of creating a vibrant marketplace for better schools," they say. "There is evidence tha it presently does so but its effects are muted by administrative and legislative requiremens that reduce choice and buffer schools from the effects of competition."
Interesting notion. I'm not so sure based on this index that the evidence is clear on that score. But take a look, and do some comparisons with studies that focus on academic achievement and progress, and judge for yourself.
Speaking of academic achievement, check out the new Trends in Mathematics and Science Study released this week that looks at international achievement in math and science. In a breakout of several states in this country, North Carolina makes a good showing in comparison to other countries and the United States as a whole. In 4th grade math, only education systems in Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Japan did better. Students in Finland, Northern Ireland and Belgium didn't do mesurably better than N.C. fourth graders. And N.C. students bested a slew of countries including the U.S., Russia, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Australia and so on. Eighth grade N.C. math students were only bested by korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan and Massachusetts (in the U.S.). N.C. 8th graders bested Florida, Colorado and Connecticut in the U.S. and several other countries including Finland,England, Italy, Israel, Norway, Chile, etc.
Asian countries still dominate but U.S. students, particularly in N.C. are making gains. See the whole list at the TIMSS site.
Posted by Fannie Flono
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx stopped by the Observer this afternoon to talk with the editorial board about the streetcar and his capital improvement plans. Foxx is clearly frustrated with a City Council that he says has 11 members who know with great certainty what they don't want but includes almost no one who knows what he or she does want. Foxx says he's worried that Charlotte is following "a recipe to become Atlanta" if it doesn't pull off a robust long-term transit plan.
Check back here later tonight for the editorial board's full take on the plan and the debate surrounding it.
In the meantime, a couple other Foxx nuggets:
- He looks forward to people coming uptown to watch "the Charlotte Hornets." The NBA's Bobcats are considering taking back the name that flew to New Orleans with former owner George Shinn.
- Asked to describe his relationship with Gov.-elect, and former Charlotte mayor, Pat McCrory, Foxx said: "Well, I'll send him a Christmas card." Foxx later allowed that he was perhaps not the best envoy to bring Charlotte's biggest concerns to McCrory, but that other leaders in Charlotte are equipped to do that. Will McCrory send Foxx a Christmas card back? "That's a good question," Foxx said.
North Carolina has its budget problems, and some folks want to cut state workers or their pay. But at least we're not California.
A new Bloomberg News report out today analyzes payroll data of 1.4 million public employees in the 12 most populous states, including North Carolina. It found that California "has set a pattern of lax management, inefficient operations and out-of-control costs." Bloomberg details how California employees' salaries, overtime and lump-sum payouts for things like accrued vacation have spiraled into the stratosphere compared with other states.
One example Bloomberg cites: "While more than 5,000 California troopers made $100,000 or more in 2011, only three in North Carolina did, the data show."
So where does North Carolina rank? Among the 12 most populous states, North Carolina is right in the middle, ranking 7th for average pay per state employee ($41,878). That puts it behind California, New York, New Jersey and the union-heavy Midwestern states of Illinois and Ohio, as well as Michigan. North Carolina's average pay is a good bit higher than southeastern counterparts Virginia, Georgia and Florida. North Carolina's overtime pay is the second lowest in the Bloomberg study.
North Carolina appears to have a lot of state employees for a state our size. I crunched the data on the number of state employees per capita in the 12 largest states. North Carolina has one state worker for every 117 residents (using 2010 Census data and Bloomberg's job totals). That ranks North Carolina fourth highest among the 12 most populous states, behind only New Jersey, Virginia and New York.
Bloomberg tells of a California employee who got $609,000 for accrued vacation, a state psychiatrist who made $822,000 and a trooper who collected $484,000 in pay and pension benefits.
Nothing like that in North Carolina. Check out the Observer's database of state employees' pay here. It lists North Carolina's highest-paid employee as Larry Wheeler, the director of the North Carolina Museum of Art. His salary is listed as $289,432. (The Bloomberg study and the Observer database do not include university employees.)
-- Taylor Batten
Monday, December 10, 2012
We think this is funny, but we're not sure it's supposed to be:
A Public Policy Polling survey of South Carolina voters shows that comedian Stephen Colbert tops the wish list of who South Carolina voters would like Gov. Nikki Haley to appoint as a replacement for the departing Jim DeMint.
Haley, with an appropriate wink, already has nixed that possibility.
The PPP survey had no such tongue in cheek. Colbert, who got 20 percent of the nods in the PPP survey, was followed by Tim Scott at 15%, Trey Gowdy at 14%, Jenny Sanford at 11%, Henry McMaster and Mark Sanford at 8%, Jeff Duncan and Joe Wilson at 5%, and Mick Mulvaney at 4%.
Haley, who ranks 35th in popularity among the 43 sitting governors PPP has polled, might want to consider appointing a potential threat to her job. Says PPP's Tom Jensen: "Jenny Sanford ...really could probably get elected to office if she wanted to. 44% of voters have a favorable opinion of her to only 25% with a negative one and her popularity holds true across party lines. She's at 48/21 with Republicans, 43/31 with Democrats, and 39/26 with independents."
Peter St. Onge
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Rodney Monroe will explain today to Charlotte City Council his department's plans to use more than 500 wireless cameras, license plate readers and advanced sound technology, some of which were purchased with the $50 million the city received to enhance security for the Democratic National Convention.
We called on CMPD in October to explain to the council and the public how it will use the technology. At the time, council members told the Observer they hadn't even been briefed on CMPD's plans for all the gadgetry it had. Today's meeting, at 4 p.m. at the Government Center, is a good first step.
There are two issues here. First - are the cameras and other equipment worth the price? Until recently, most of the evidence was anecdotal, but the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute studied three cities that used cameras in downtown and high-crime areas. The results: In two of the cities, Baltimore and Chicago, the analysis found enough crime reduction from the cameras to declare them worth the investment. In the third, Washington, the conclusion was maybe - there was significant crime reduction in areas that had surveillance, but researchers weren't certain how much other factors might have contributed.
The second issue is more delicate: The cameras are most sensibly used in areas that have high-crime, but civil rights leaders worry that means they will be concentrated in low-income, high-minority neighborhoods. That's probably true, and that's a good thing. Police already devote a higher level of resources to those communities. Surveillance technology is one more crimefighting tool for the places that need them most.
Monroe's job today is to calm legitimate concerns about the technology by outlining a policy that addresses the cameras' potential to peek into private spaces and encourage racial profiling. The City Council shouldn't be a passive participant in this process. In Washington, the council designed guidelines on technology use after consultation with the public, the ACLU and the American Bar Association.
The cameras are a promising tool, but they will be most effective if everyone has a voice in how they are used - and an understanding of how they will not be.
Peter St. Onge
Thursday, December 6, 2012
That line has been attributed to the late longtime U.S. senator for many years by many sources. John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, says it is "a fabrication."
I included the reference in a column last Sunday opposing the idea of naming a federal courthouse in Raleigh after Helms. Dodd called and emailed me to say the quote "has zero basis in reality." Dodd says he can find no evidence that Helms ever said or wrote it.
"It's one more in a long, false list of made-up 'quotes,' out of context half-truths and deliberate mischaracterizations that have entertained the Senator's enemies over the years," Dodd wrote.
Many sources that have cited the quote over the years attribute it to an editorial or editorials Helms delivered on WRAL-TV in Raleigh, where he opined on-air in the 1960s. WRAL included the reference in its obituary of Helms, which has been on its website for more than four years. Monday, the station removed the reference after Dodd complained.
The quote and its attribution to Helms has been around for decades. Among those who have included it in their reporting on Helms: CBS News, Newsweek, The Nation, syndicated columnist Richard Reeves, the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, conservative commentator Michael Graham, the Observer (by many different reporters and columnists), Yahoo!, Mother Jones, the Florida Times-Union, the South Bend Tribune and countless blogs. Some citations say Helms "once called" UNC that. Others say Helms "repeatedly" or "frequently" used that moniker.
Some references cite Helms' on-air editorials. Others say the phrase emerged years earlier, in fliers circulated in the race-tinged 1950 U.S. Senate race between Willis Smith and Frank Porter Graham. Helms was Smith's publicity director.
For many long-time North Carolinians and Helms observers, the phrase, and Helms as its author, is something they've heard for as long as they can remember. But no one seems to be able to point to the original source material.
Did Helms say it? Or did someone make it up long ago and it took on a life of its own? At this point, we can't say, and more research is required. What is not in question: Helms repeatedly used race to divide his constituents and the country. His bigoted comments and actions inflamed racial tensions for decades, and he never apologized for that.
-- Taylor Batten
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
There's actually something called the Corruption Perceptions Index, and the United States ranks 19th. And that's good. In fact, the U.S. is perceived as even less corrupt this year than last year when it ranked 24th, notes the Weekly Standard.
Transparency International, a nonpartisan group made up of members worldwide, compiles the rankings of 176 countries released this week. The U.S. scored 73 out of 100 - with 100 being the least corrupt. The rankings take into account public sector behavior such as bribery, fraud, cronyism and perceived levels of corruption in countries. It also takes into account perceptions about public sector leadership, government transparency and accountability, and the effectiveness of public institutions and agencies.
The U.S. made the top 20 but trails many of the leading developed countries. In the survey it falls behind, in order, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, Norway, Canada, Netherlands, Iceland, Luxembourg, Germany, Hong Kong, Barbados, Belgium, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Coming in 20th is Chile; 22nd is France. Spain is 30th , Italy is 72nd, and China is 80th.
Bringing up the rear as the most corrupt are Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia. Iraq is at 169th. Syria is 144th.
"While no country has a perfect score (Denmark and Finland came close with scores of 90), two-thirds of countries score below 50, indicating a serious corruption problem," Transparency International notes. "Corruption destroys lives and communities, and undermines countries and institutions. It generates popular anger that threatens to further destabilise societies and exacerbate violent conflicts," the group says.
Politicians in the U.S. might be tempted to feel smug that across the world this country is perceived as among the least corrupt. But here at home the public's view of politicians and others working in the public sector is not so rosy. Many citizens say they don't trust public officials. A Gallup Poll taken last week showed that only 10 percent of respondents said Congress has very high or high honesty and ethical standards, second only to car salespeople. An Elon University poll a couple of years ago showed that here in North Carolina, 65 percent thought elected officials look out more for their own interests than the public’s interest, 73 percent thought corruption is common among elected officials, and 67 percent thought corrupt behavior among N.C. public officials was becoming more common.
Those are not good findings. And 19th internationally shouldn't be good enough either. On a corruption scale, being No. 1 as least corrupt surely is the goal.
Posted by Fannie Flono
Enough about the fiscal cliff, Benghazi, Susan Rice and drone strikes. What Americans really want to know is will Hillary run in 2016.
In a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll, a majority of Americans say she should. According to the Post, overall, 57 percent of all Americans say they would back a Hillary Clinton candidacy, with support peaking among younger women. Among all women, 66 percent say they would support Clinton as a candidate for president in 2016; it is 75 percent among those under 50 and 54 percent among those aged 50 and up. Forty-nine percent of men back a Clinton bid, regardless of their age.
The poll attributes some of the enthusiasm for another Clinton run to her popularity as Secretary of State: 68 percent approve of the job she's doing as the nation's top diplomat. None of the fallout from the embassy deaths in Libya seems to have touched her though diplomats' security clearly comes under her department's purview.
Republicans, not surprisingly, aren't so keen on another presidential bid from the former first lady: in the poll, 23 percent of Republicans would support a run in 2016; 73 percent would oppose it. Some 82 percent of Democrats would back her candidacy, with most saying they would do so “strongly.” A majority of independents, 59 percent, also support another Clinton run.
Republicans, of course, already have their eyes on recapturing the White House after a loss in November that stunned some: How could their man, Mitt Romney, lose to a sitting president who presided over a lagging economy and in whom many Americans are disappointed, they lament?
Two possible GOP candidates are already out of the blocks, some say, trying to become the party's frontrunners. Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), Romney’s running mate and the chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). Both spoke at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner - Rubio was the foundation's Leadership Award recipient and Ryan was the keynote speaker. The foundation is a charitable nonprofit organization named for the late GOP congressman and Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Both spoke about the party putting emphasis on inclusion and a renewed focus on growing the middle class. It was a stark contrast to John Sununu's comments at a GOP forum on Tuesday. The former New Hampshire governor and Romney adviser atributed Romney's loss to President Obama's ability to turn out his base - people dependent on the government. Interestingly, Ryan's speech later that night seemed to repudiate such comments, noting: "Both parties tend to divide Americans into 'our voters' and 'their voters... Republicans must steer far clear of that trap. We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American. I believe we can turn on the engines of upward mobility so that no one is left out from the promise of America."
As for 2016, it's way too early to be scoping out the next presidential election just weeks after the 2012 race ended. Yet if there's speculating, what about the specter of another Clinton-Bush face-off - meaning Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who many Republicans wanted to run this time? Could happen, though the Republicans and maybe even the Democrats might be looking to go younger the next time around.
In any case, we'd like a breather from presidential campaigning. What's needed now is some governing. A lot of critical work awaits.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
So Bob Costas appears at halftime on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" telecast to talk about the biggest news in football last weekend - the murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Costas begins by rightfully ridiculing the "mindless sports cliche" that "something like this really puts it all in perspective." He then quotes extensively from a piece by FOX Sports columnist (and Charlotte Observer alum) Jason Whitlock. That piece includes this line, which Costas reads: "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would still be alive today."
Cue the outrage. Not at the substance of what Costas said. At the fact that he dared soil a sports event with his gun commentary.
"You tune in for a football game and end up listening to Bob Costas spewing sanctimonious dreck," tweeted former presidential candidate Herman Cain. On Fox's Morning Show "Fox & Friends," the hosts read letters from viewers critical of Costas. On the network's afternoon show, anchor Megyn Kelly led a debate about whether Costas should be fired for his out-of-place monologue.
Except that this is what Costas has been doing for years now, including on Sunday nights at halftime. He's talked about Jerry Sandusky and child molestation. He's criticized the International Olympic Committee for failing to honor the 11 athletes killed at the Summer Games in 1972. He regularly examines topics at the intersection of sports and society, sports and culture, sports and law. Often, it's worth a listen.
The uproar this time, of course, is about Costas and gun control, not Costas having an opinion. But just in case, a tip for future viewing: Costas might talk again Sunday about an issue that's not strictly sports-related. If you don't like it, take that time to tuck your kids in, refill your beverage, whatever. The game will be back on soon enough.
Peter St. Onge
That’s not nearly enough, and three weeks won’t likely get us much more in the way of deficit reduction. But the foundation might be built for something more, so long as neither side decides that a win is more important than a compromise.
Peter St. Onge
Thursday, November 15, 2012
While President Obama and congressional Republicans negotiate toward a Dec. 31 deadline, North Carolina faces its own fiscal cliff.
The state owes the federal government about $3 billion that it borrowed to pay unemployment benefits. That's a big chunk of change -- it's the fourth biggest unemployment debt of any state in the nation -- and the number grows daily because the feds assess penalties until it's paid off.
The problem has been bubbling for a while (to read my column on it from last May, click here), and has finally gotten bad enough that it should be near the top of the legislature's to-do list when it convenes in a couple of months.
Lew Ebert, CEO of the North Carolina Chamber, stopped by the Observer editorial board Wednesday to talk about it. Ebert said the unemployment debt -- not taxes, not regulations -- was the single biggest cloud hovering over the state's economy. Those other issues can't really be tackled until state leaders deal with the debt, he said.
Ignoring it, Ebert said, is actually a tax hike, because the federal penalty on businesses keeps accruing -- to the tune of $400 million this year, he said.
The Chamber, representing businesses, advocates a three-step approach:
-- First, bond out the debt. That means issuing bonds to pay off the feds. The debt's still there, but then is owed to the bondholders, not the federal government, erasing the federal penalties. It also puts all N.C. taxpayers on the hook. Ebert says Treasurer Janet Cowell, a Democrat, indicated she would be open to the bonding. The Treasurer's office has not returned my call asking about that today.
-- Raise rates on employers.
-- Cut benefits to the unemployed.
Ebert acknowledged that businesses enjoyed generous tax cuts in the good times, and those cuts contributed to the system's insolvency. So do people getting benefits who shouldn't and, of course, the Great Recession.
For more detail on the Chamber's approach, click here.
Everyone will have to share in the pain to fix the problem. It's good that Ebert recognizes that higher rates have to be part of the solution. No one's getting rich off their unemployment benefits, but as part of the fix, liberals will have to acknowledge that millions are paid out improperly.
-- Taylor Batten
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Seceding from the United States? One pundit wise-cracked, "Hasn't that been tried before?"
Yes, but a story Monday pointed out that North Carolina had collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition introduced by Randy Dye of Pittsboro to secede from federal government as a separate and sovereign entity. On that day, it was said to be one of 24 states with petitions on the White House website website
established by the Obama administration to allow citizens to take their
concerns directly to the White House. If the petitions get 25,000 signatures the Obama administration will issue a formal response to them.
As this week nears an end, reportedly all 50 states have now secession petitions on the website. Some like South Carolina have two or more, worded slightly differently but with the same intent.
The media is exhausting every angle and absurdity. The Week has "The 7 strangest details of the David Petraeus Affair" including that "Kelley's twin sister dated a governor" and that the New York Times Magazine Ethicist Chuck Klosterman "did not counsel Scott Broadwell - maybe." Apparently the Times ethicist wrote about a reader seeking advice of how to deal with a spouse cheating on him with a high-ranking "government executive" who sounds a lot like Petraeus. The Times says the writer wasn't Scott Broadwell — Klosterman himself isn't sure — "which begs the question: What other top-level government official is having a Petraeus-style affair?" The Week inquires.
The New Republic has an interesting twist in Noam Scheiber's "Paula Broadwell, a Hanger-On in King Petraeus's Court". It's all about how meritocracy gone awry is the culprit. Maybe this is a bit over-thought. I doubt being among the best and brightest would have helped entice the nation's top spy to stray if she'd been unattractive or plain. It's no coincidence that the women involved are beauties in great shape.
There's also the Daily Beast's Ken Sepkowitz writing "Doctors as Doormats in the David Petraeus Scandal" about the physician husbands of Broadwell and Kelley.
And in a lonely category of media commentary comes The Daily Beast's Allison Yarrow's, "A Scarlet Letter - the Monica Lewinsky-ing of Paula Broadwell." For those with short memories, Monica Lewinsky was the woman President Bill Clinton had an affair with while he was chief executive after lying to the American public - and to wife Hillary - about it. Notes Yarrow: "The more things change: one of the world’s most powerful men stepped out on his marriage, yet much of the public attention and opprobrium has focused on the far-less-powerful woman who was drawn to him..."
That many in the media and other onlookers see the women involved as mata-haris from which strong, decent men are being lured into illicit sex (or inappropriate flirtations) is hardly surprising. That's how we as a society view the "other woman" - she's trash while the man involved is somehow suckered in.
But it takes two to tango. And there's a simple way to avoid the "traps" of these beautiful, often obsessive women. It's sad to have to tell spies and generals this - they should know better after all. But when these black-widow spiders try to lure you in bed (and I'm oh-so sure they must be doing the luring - right?), be flattered but just say "no".
Try it sometime, men. It works.
Posted by Fannie Flono
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Kelley is the Tampa woman who complained to the FBI after receiving harassing emails from, it turned out, Charlotte's Paula Broadwell. The ensuing FBI investigation ultimately led to Gen. David Petraeus' resignation as CIA director.
The Washington Post reported that Kelley's brother, David Khawam, said his sister called him Sunday and said, "I've done nothing wrong. I'm the victim here."
Maybe, maybe not. News reports this morning say that Kelley exchanged thousands of "potentially inappropriate" emails with Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the four-star commander of the war in Afghanistan. Politico reports that the FBI on Sunday gave up to 30,000 pages of emails between the two to Pentagon lawyers. Allen was based in Tampa, where Kelley lives, before taking over Afghanistan operations from Petraeus in July 2011.
Earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI agent who first took Kelley's complaint and started the investigation allegedly sent shirtless photos of himself to Kelley prior to any of this. The agent is now under investigation by the internal affairs unit of the FBI, the Journal reported.
Kelley quickly became a mainstay in Tampa's social scene, mostly in military circles, after moving there from Pennsylvania. The mansion she shared with her husband, oncologist Scott Kelley, was the frequent site for parties featuring top generals and politicians. The Tampa Bay Times reports that the Kelleys were foreclosed upon and in 2011 a judge ordered the property sold.
Kelley has described Petraeus as being like a grandfather to her family, the Tampa Bay Times reports. But her relationship with the general was close enough to prompt emails from Broadwell telling her to back off. And CNN reports that Broadwell's emails warn Kelley about leaving a number of generals alone, not just Petraeus.
Maybe Kelley really is a victim here. But there sure is a lot of smoke. Stay tuned; we have a hunch there's more to come.
-- Taylor Batten
Monday, November 12, 2012
It's a topsy turvy world in North Carolina. While Democrats cheer and Republicans moan over election results in Washington, it's the other way around in the Tar Heel state. Democrats are moaning over election results here from the governor's office through the N.C. General Assembly, and wondering how to resurrect a state party that's on its knees. Meanwhile Republicans are cheering their big wins, which include a majority on the state's high court, and looking with confidence on pushing the state farther right on policy and governing.
Barry Smith of the John Locke Foundation publication Carolina Journal lays out "the magnitude of the dramatic gains made by the Republicans in the Nov. 6 election." He said a postelection briefing by the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation showed:
"Republicans picked up three congressional seats in the state, with one seat (the 7th District) still in doubt. In that district, incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre holding a razor-thin 411-vote lead over GOP state Sen. David Rouzer. The GOP also picked up seats in the 8th, 11th, and 13th Districts... The gains for the Republicans mean that they will enjoy a nine-to-four advantage in the states congressional delegate. Currently, Democrats hold a seven-to six advantage.
"Republicans also padded their majorities in the General Assembly. When lawmakers convene in Raleigh in January, Republicans will have a 32-18 advantage in the Senate (currently it’s 31-19) and a 77-43 majority in the House (currently it’s 68-52)."
The foundation also found:
• The new Senate will have 13 freshman members, five Democrats and eight Republicans.
• Thirty of the 50 senators next year will be serving in either their first or second term.
• Half of the members of the Democratic Senate caucus — nine of 18 —will be African-American.
• There will be 43 freshman members of the House next year – 12 Democrats and 31 Republicans.
• Sixty-nine of the 120 representatives will be serving in either their first or second terms.
• Twenty-two of the 43 House Democratic caucus members will be African-American.
Key reasons for N.C. GOP gains are no secret: Republican lawmakers redrew district lines in the state to give GOP candidates in several districts an advantage, and Republicans outspent Democrats to help get their candidates elected. That's politics. It's what Democrats did in the past to Republicans.
Progressives bemoaned the outcome, with Chris Fitzsimon, director of N.C. Policy Watch, calling the N.C. Democratic Party a "party in shambles, marred by internal scandals and open feuds between party leaders and top elected officials that made fundraising almost impossible."
That's our new moniker now that allegations have emerged that author Paula Broadwell who's lived in the Queen City since 2009 with her family had an affair with CIA director David Petraeus (or "betray us" as some disillusioned fans of the general are now calling him). He resigned as director last week.
The other mistress residing in the city - in case you forgot - is Rielle Hunter, once the paramour of presidential candidate and former U.S. senator from North Carolina, John Edwards. The outing of Edwards caused him to drop out of the 2008 presidential race.
Diane Diamond in the Daily Beast notes that the two women live within blocks of each other. "Perhaps the two spotted each other at the Dilworth Gardens Shopping Center just off Scott Avenue," she writes. Ummm.
While you're pondering that, take a gander at some of the conspiracy theories swirling around the handling of the Petraeus affair. The New Republic's Eileen Shim outlined several of them, with these two being leading theories: "that Petraeus delayed his resignation to avoid hurting President Obama on Election Day, and to hide the “truth” about Ambassador Chris Stevens’ death in Benghazi."
The Petraeus affair still fought with fallout from the elections for news coverage however. Here's some more of what pundits were saying.
From Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard:
"The white vote is a Republican stronghold - and not because of racism. In 2008, Obama fared better with white voters (43 percent) than Democrat John Kerry had in 2004 (41 percent). In 2012, Obama’s white support fell to 39 percent. He won 55 percent of the women’s vote overall, but only 42 percent of white women. Republicans shouldn’t feel guilty about their white support. Nor should they apologize for winning the male vote again this year (52 percent). Whites, particularly white men, are simply more conservative than African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans. Their natural home is the Republican party. This is also true of the middle class, no matter where you set its parameters. The largest body of voters (31 percent) have family incomes between $50,000 and $99,000 a year. Romney won this bloc, 52-46 percent.
"Best of all, the Republican bench of potential presidential candidates is young, deep, and impressive. Here’s the short list: Senator Marco Rubio (41), Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (41), Paul Ryan (42), Senator Kelly Ayotte (44), South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (40), Senator-elect Ted Cruz (41), and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (45). Democrats don’t come close to matching this group...With Pat McCrory’s election in North Carolina, Republicans hold 30 of the 50 governorships. This is no small feat. Governors invariably are the strongest political leaders in their states... They’re important players in national politics."
In the Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell tags the Obama win as a triumph of values - the wrong ones - in "Values Voters Prevail Again." He writes:
"In January, the Obama White House set out to pick a fight with the Catholic church over contraception. A Health and Human Services directive ordered that all insurance plans cover contraception, morning after pills, and sterilizations with no exceptions for religious conscience. This looked like an act of folly. Not only was it an affront to the free exercise of religion, but Catholics are the largest group of swing voters in the country... [But] The Obama campaign understood that 'reproductive rights' are similar to 'gun rights.' Even if the number of people who care about protecting them is small, all of them vote on the issue. And in a country that now has as many single women as married women, the number is not small. President Obama won the Catholic vote on the strength of a landslide among Hispanics. (Non-Hispanic Catholics opposed him 59-40 percent.)
Caldwell criticized Romney for not being firm on his beliefs, comparing his views on abortion to an old Groucho Marx line: "These are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." Caldwell noted of the presidential race: "The values were different, but structurally the outcome was the same one that we have seen decade after decade. Where two candidates argue over values, the public may prefer one to the other. But where only one candidate has values, he wins, whatever those values happen to be."