Monday, April 30, 2012

New York Times on North Carolina's 'gratuitous bigotry'

North Carolina's marriage amendment earned the wrath of the New York Times editorial board today.
The Times calls Amendment One "gratuitous bigotry" and "obvious discrimination." It urges America to watch North Carolina next week, noting that while polls suggest the amendment will pass, that is not a foregone conclusion.
The Times' editorial:

North Carolina already has a law barring same-sex marriage, but the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature is not satisfied. It devised a measure to enshrine this obvious discrimination in the state constitution and placed it on the ballot of the state’s May 8 primary election – a test of tolerance versus bigotry that ought to be watched closely nationwide.

In their zeal, lawmakers got careless with the wording of the measure, known as Amendment One. It would constitutionally prohibit recognition not just of same-sex marriages, but of other legal arrangements like civil unions and domestic partnerships. That could harm all unmarried couples, imperiling some children’s health insurance benefits, along with child custody arrangements and safeguards against domestic violence.

The campaign against the amendment is being spearheaded by a coalition of civic, religious, business and civil rights leaders and groups. One of Amendment One’s most vocal opponents is the Rev. William Barber II, president of the state chapter of the NAACP. Barber draws a strong link between the proposed amendment and struggles against racial unfairness, an appeal with special resonance following the publication in March of memos from the National Organization for Marriage, one the most prominent groups fighting same-sex marriage, about driving “a wedge between gays and blacks.”

Polls suggest that defeating this measure remains an uphill struggle, but at least its approval is no longer an entirely foregone conclusion. Much will depend on turnout, especially by voters on college campuses, who will need to vote in larger-than-usual numbers to defeat this declaration of officially sanctioned discrimination.

The North Carolina vote is one of several statewide ballot fights over same-sex marriage the nation will see this year. But public opinion continues to move steadily toward marriage equality. In 2001, Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent. Today, 47 percent are in favor and 43 percent opposed, according to a new Pew Research poll.

Opponents of marriage equality have never been able to show any evidence that any harm is caused to heterosexual marriages by granting all American adults the right to marry as they choose – because there is no such evidence. With little more than a week to go before the May 8 contest, and early voting already under way, North Carolinians need to consider whether they really want to inflict this gratuitous bigotry on their fellow citizens and their children. 

Getting to the bottom of revaluation mess

Mecklenburg County's property tax revaluation socked a lot of residents in the wallet last year. That's not unusual, but with property values plummeting for years leading up to the reassessment, the sticker shock for many was especially surprising. The fact that property values have continued to fall since Jan. 1, 2011, has only made some residents feel even more cheated.

Some of the grousing has little basis. The point of a revaluation, required by state law, is to ensure that tax values closely resemble actual market values. That keeps the tax burden from getting out of whack. Without it, people whose home values have been stagnant since the previous assessment would be paying more than their share. People whose values have risen a lot would be getting an artificial break. Even a perfect revaluation will lead to grumbling from those who are enjoying a run-up in their property's value.

But Mecklenburg's 2011 revaluation prompted some serious questions. The effect of foreclosures on values was not treated the same across the county. There were few comparables in some areas. Pockets of the county were assessed values that seemed out of step with the market. Some individual assessments seemed way out of line. And communication around the appeals process was not what it should have been. Assessors saw a record number of appeals.

That's why we're glad the four Republicans on the Mecklenburg board of commissioners are raising the issue at the commissioners' meeting Tuesday night. Karen Bentley, with support from the board's other three Republicans, is calling for an outside audit of the entire process. As importantly, she is trying to have another revaluation done as quickly as possible, which would mean having it completed by Jan. 1, 2014.

Democrats on the board should see this as good governance, not a political fight. Maintaining faith in the tax system's legitimacy is vital, and that faith has been shaken hard. An independent audit could ascertain what went right, what went wrong, what can be fixed immediately and what should be done differently next time.

In her agenda item, Bentley says: "As Commissioners, it is our obligation to ensure the fairness of this process and to hold all involved accountable for executing this State-mandated function in a manner that is transparent, trustworthy and responsive to the taxpayer." We agree, and believe restoring faith with residents is worth the cost of the audit, which Bentley pegs as up to $50,000.

The whole affair has one party taking the opposite role of the one it usually takes. It's the Republicans who want to spend $50,000 in taxpayer money on the audit. And it's the Republicans -- a group generally wary of property revaluations as a sneaky way to raise taxes -- who want to speed things up and do another one as soon as possible. In this case, they are right on both counts.

-- Taylor Batten

Monday, April 23, 2012

An obituary for Facts - 360 B.C. - A.D. 2012

Chicago Tribune reporter Rex Hubbke has written what some folks are calling one of the best op-eds ever - an obituary for facts. The column, written late last week, has been buzzing through social media. The interviews with historians are real, Huppke told media blogger Jim Romenesko: "I told (them) that what I was writing was going to be in obituary form and would be satirical, with the hope of making a broader point."

Facts, 360 B.C.-A.D. 2012

In memoriam: After years of health problems, Facts has finally died.

A quick review of the long and illustrious career of Facts reveals some of the world's most cherished absolutes: Gravity makes things fall down; 2 + 2 = 4; the sky is blue.

But for many, Facts' most memorable moments came in simple day-to-day realities, from a child's certainty of its mother's love to the comforting knowledge that a favorite television show would start promptly at 8 p.m.

Over the centuries, Facts became such a prevalent part of most people's lives that Irish philosopher Edmund Burke once said: "Facts are to the mind what food is to the body."

To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of theU.S. House of Representatives are communists.

Facts held on for several days after that assault — brought on without a scrap of evidence or reason — before expiring peacefully at its home in a high school physics book. Facts was 2,372.

"It's very depressing," said Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of "A History of the Modern Fact." "I think the thing Americans ought to miss most about facts is the lack of agreement that there are facts. This means we will never reach consensus about anything. Tax policies, presidential candidates. We'll never agree on anything."

Facts was born in ancient Greece, the brainchild of famed philosopher Aristotle. Poovey said that in its youth, Facts was viewed as "universal principles that everybody agrees on" or "shared assumptions."

But in the late 16th century, English philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon took Facts under his wing and began to develop a new way of thinking.

"There was a shift of the word 'fact' to refer to empirical observations," Poovey said.

Facts became concrete observations based on evidence. It was growing up.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Facts reached adulthood as the world underwent a shift toward proving things true through the principles of physics and mathematical modeling. There was respect for scientists as arbiters of the truth, and Facts itself reached the peak of its power.

But those halcyon days would not last.

People unable to understand how science works began to question Facts. And at the same time there was a rise in political partisanship and a growth in the number of media outlets that would disseminate information, rarely relying on feedback from Facts.

"There was an erosion of any kind of collective sense of what's true or how you would go about verifying any truth claims," Poovey said. "Opinion has become the new truth. And many people who already have opinions see in the 'news' an affirmation of the opinion they already had, and that confirms their opinion as fact."

Though weakened, Facts managed to persevere through the last two decades, despite historic setbacks that included President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, the justification forPresidentGeorge W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq and the debate over President Barack Obama's American citizenship.

Facts was wounded repeatedly throughout the recent GOP primary campaign, near fatally when Michele Bachmann claimed a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease causes mental retardation. In December, Facts was briefly hospitalized after MSNBC's erroneous report that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign was using an expression once used by the Ku Klux Klan.

But friends and relatives of Facts said Rep. West's claim that dozens of Democratic politicians are communists was simply too much for the aging concept to overcome.

As the world mourned Wednesday, some were unwilling to believe Facts was actually gone.

Gary Alan Fine, the John Evans Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University, said: "Facts aren't dead. If anything, there are too many of them out there. There has been a population explosion."

Fine pointed to one of Facts' greatest battles, the debate over global warming.

"There are all kinds of studies out there," he said. "There is more than enough information to make any case you want to make. There may be a preponderance of evidence and there are communities that decide something is a fact, but there are enough facts that people who are opposed to that claim have their own facts to rely on."

To some, Fine's insistence on Facts' survival may seem reminiscent of the belief that rock stars like Jim Morrison are still alive.

"How do I know if Jim Morrison is dead?" Fine asked. "How do I know he's dead except that somebody told me that?"

Poovey, however, who knew Facts as well as anyone, said Facts' demise is undoubtedly factual.

"American society has lost confidence that there's a single alternative," she said. "Anybody can express an opinion on a blog or any other outlet and there's no system of verification or double-checking, you just say whatever you want to and it gets magnified. It's just kind of a bizarre world in which one person's opinion counts as much as anybody else's."

Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.

Services are alleged to be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that mourners make a donation to their favorite super PAC.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Plea to Morrison: End CMS testing madness

Washoe County (Reno, Nev.) schools' superintendent Heath Morrison, who Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools picked Thursday as CMS superintendent, got an earful last week during public interviews about CMS testing. Many parents, teachers and others at the interviews emphatically made known that they think CMS has gone testing mad (remember the 50-plus tests rolled out last year?), and they want to make sure he doesn't continue the mania.

Some observers think CMS's focus on having so many high-stakes tests - tests that some critics said were squeezing out time for actual learning - and the system's push to use high-stakes tests to evaluate teachers in a pay-for-performance plan might have hurt 30-year CMS veteran Ann Clark's chances to become superintendent. As the system's chief academic officer, she was integral to those policies.

Mecklenburg ACTS, an education advocacy group, is urging people to continue to prod Morrison on the issue. Hours after Morrison got the CMS nod - he still has to be officially hired in public on Tuesday - the group posted a rallying call on their website. It reads in part:

"What we at MecklenburgACTS find most intriguing about Morrison is his long stint in Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the most admired school districts in the nation. Montgomery County is known around the country for the quality of its schools, and for its innovative teacher evaluation program, which relies on an intensive peer review process rather than on standardized test scores.

"Montgomery County is also known for refusing to sign on to Maryland’s Race to the Top program because the testing requirements would have forced changes to their home-grown evaluation system.

“'We don’t believe the tests are reliable,' then-superintendent Jerry Weast told the New York Times last year. 'You don’t want to turn your system into a test factory.'

"When he was here last week, Heath Morrison spoke of his admiration for Jerry Weast. We will encourage him to follow in those footsteps, turning CMS away from testing madness and towards an approach that will guarantee that all of our county’s children have access to the kinds of rich and challenging educational opportunities that Montgomery County students enjoy."

Ahem. Get that, Heath Morrison?

UPDATE: Here's a link to the New York Times story where Jerry Weast made his comments about testing.

Posted by Fannie Flono

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Man bites dog in banking industry

You don't often see high-ranking business executives suggest that it should be easier for their customers to leave them. But that, in effect, is what Sallie Krawcheck argues.

Krawcheck, the former president of global wealth and investment management at Charlotte-based Bank of America, wrote a surprising opinion piece for Politico. In it, she makes a case that is unsettling to some of her former banking industry colleagues.

Krawcheck argues that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should take dramatic steps to make it easier for consumers to switch banks. Many have been tempted to do so in recent years, but didn't because it was too much trouble. Krawcheck envisions a world with short descriptions of all bank products in plain English. More radically, when switching banks, customers could transfer account numbers and their direct-deposit and bill-pay information. And they could do it all without incurring fees.

Banks should support this, Krawcheck says, even though it would cost them money in the short run.

Krawcheck writes:

For banks, these changes would represent a short-term challenge. Not only would this require investment, it would strip banks of the significant earnings they derive from customer inertia — including earnings from deposits on which they pay below-market interest rates. But such transparency and portability could unleash a significant wave of innovation benefiting the customer, as rewards for that innovation notably improve, rather than being stifled by this inertia.

Across the industry, consumer satisfaction rates probably would rise, putting the industry on more stable footing with customers. This greater trust could, in time, generate greater consumer confidence in taking out loans and taking on risks they now understand, feeding through to economic growth.

Such changes would be enacted by CFPB, a new regulator that has not been seen as a friend to banks. But, Krawcheck says, "Banks should support the CFPB’s efforts. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s in their interest." That's because over the long-term it would improve customers' relationship with their bank and their perception of the industry.

Krawcheck, once considered a potential CEO of Bank of America, was forced out last year. So maybe banking insiders could dismiss her ideas as sour grapes. But we think they have a lot of merit. The banking industry has not been known for its outstanding customer service in recent years. This kind of approach could be one way to mend its strained relationships with customers over time.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

N.C. Dems, get to bottom of harassment charges

The N.C. Democratic Party's dirty laundry over leadership of the state party and an alleged payoff to silence sexual harassment allegations is getting national buzz too.

A story about it by Nick Wing appeared in today's Huffington Post . The title, "David Parker, North Carolina Democratic Party Chair, Expected to Resign Amid Controversy." The story noted, as did ours this morning, that "Parker had previously sounded defiant, but Gov. Bev Perdue (D) on Tuesday capped off a chorus of Democratic voices that have come forward this week to express their concern that Parker's continued leadership is a distraction for the party."

Parker may indeed be planning to step aside today (if he hasn't already by the time this is posted), but he was still obstinately clinging to the job Tuesday when some Democratic leaders - Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, State Treasurer Janet Cowell, Superintendent June Atkinson, Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and State Auditor Beth Wood - imposed a noon Tuesday deadline for him to resign. He had issued a statement saying he wouldn't step down and has defended his actions - all of which publicly remain unclear.

The allegations about a cover up at the state party surfaced Friday in internal emails obtained by The News & Observer. The emails included questions from a member of the state’s executive committee about a financial settlement and nondisclosure agreement with a former staffer who left the party in November after raising concerns about being sexually harassed by a senior staff member. The emails did not identify the staffer nor discuss the actions that constituted harassment.

After the media got wind of the incident, executive Director Jay Parmley resigned Sunday but denied doing anything wrong. Parker said he didn't have grounds to fire Parmley for cause. He said “leadership calls for resisting the expedient tendencies ... to throw others under the bus.”There's been no official confirmation of the sexual harassment charges or payoff - or what role Parker may have played in it. But questions are swirling about whether party rules give Parker the authority to craft such a deal or use party money.

The deal allegedly was crafted without the knowledge of the party's executive council.Allegations of a cover-up are troubling. Yet in the midst of the fallout from that a potentially more important allegation is being lost - that sexual harassment charges weren't dealt with in a forthright manner. Sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace and deserve to addressed accordingly, not swept under the rug by throwing money at it.

Even if Parker steps down, and he should, state Democrats should get to the bottom of what happened.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mayor Foxx: Obama has America back on track

When President Obama visited the Daimler truck plant in Mount Holly last month, Republicans sent us an op-ed to coincide with the president's trip. In it, National Committee chairman Reince Priebus argued that the economy was worse on almost every measure because of Obama.

With Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Charlotte on Wednesday, the Democrats saw a chance for equal treatment. They sent an op-ed under Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx's byline. In it, Foxx argues that Obama has put America, North Carolina and Charlotte back on track.

Foxx's take:

President Obama Has Delivered for Charlotte

By Anthony Foxx, Mayor of Charlotte

Four years ago, President Barack Obama promised North Carolinians that, despite dark clouds on the horizon, he would work to turn things around and put our nation on the path of sustainable, long-term growth. To do so, he has confronted structural impediments to long-term growth and the challenge of restoring our confidence in the future. America, North Carolina and Charlotte are coming back, and it is largely because President Obama has put us on such a course. With Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in town today, I want to share just a few reasons why I believe President Obama has earned re-election.

For most of the last decade, we were told that low taxes, in and of themselves, would create a rising tide and lift all boats. We experienced something different - a period during which the real income of most working North Carolinians shrank and, then, the worst recession in more than 70 years and massive job losses.

Through decisive and effective leadership, President Obama averted a second Great Depression, took us from losing 700,000 jobs a month to 24 consecutive months of private sector job growth and saved an American auto industry that nearly collapsed. Did President Obama lower taxes? Yes, he did. In fact, small businesses received eighteen tax cuts over the last three years. His formula of targeted cuts and targeted investments has yielded 3.7 million jobs in the last two years alone, including nearly 100,000 in North Carolina and nearly 11,000 in the Charlotte metro area. For the first time in more than a decade, the manufacturing sector is also adding jobs, including nearly 7,000 in North Carolina and nearly 2,400 in Charlotte since the recovery took hold, Companies that once relied heavily on overseas labor are now bringing their operations back “onshore.”

While the rebound in American manufacturing is ongoing, the President also recognizes that the engine of our economic recovery is our nation’s small businesses, which represent 98 percent of all employers in our state. That is why his Small Business Administration has approved 476 loans to small businesses in Mecklenburg County over the last four years at a total value of over $196 million, creating and retaining over 5,000 local jobs. The Recovery Act and Jobs Act approved about $88 million in loans to over 200 Charlotte-area businesses with over 2,200 jobs created and retained. And the SBA’s efforts aren’t limited to Charlotte: last year, the agency approved the highest total volume of loans to North Carolina businesses in its history.

Even as we invest in job creation today, we must also invest in the foundations of tomorrow’s economic success, and President Obama has shown an unwavering commitment to education. Whether by incentivizing education reform through “Race to the Top,” expanding access to community colleges, or making college more affordable by creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit--which provided an average tax credit of $1,800 to an estimated 250,000 North Carolina families in 2011--the President has invested in education at all levels. We will not maintain our position as the world’s leading economy if we aren’t training the world’s brightest mathematicians, scientists, and engineers – a fact we need no convincing of here in North Carolina where our colleges and universities provide the backbone of our future growth.

It worries me, then, when Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney puts forth budget proposals that drastically cut Pell Grants and lets the American Opportunity Tax Credit expire. North Carolina has never told the farmer's son or the teacher's daughter to just "shop around" for money to pay for school. In a time of economic challenge, North Carolina needs more kids taking advantage of higher education, not fewer, and we need a President who is unafraid to stand behind them.

Finally, President Obama understands that we need an all-of-the-above energy strategy that reduces our dependence on foreign oil and helps families save at the pump. Domestic oil production under President Obama is already at an eight-year high, and his Administration is diversifying our energy portfolio to include more clean and renewable sources, from biofuels to wind energy. The President has also taken broad measures to reduce energy costs for North Carolina families, from helping build a smarter energy grid in Charlotte to implementing new fuel efficiency standards that will save families more than $8,000 per vehicle at the pump. These efforts, and others promoted by President Obama, will hasten Charlotte's rise as a national and international energy hub.

We should also acknowledge the incredible turnaround in American foreign policy - from bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice to ending the Iraq War to improving our standing around the world.

While there is still much work to be done, President Obama deserves credit for recognizing that we have to build a lasting recovery by investing in our future and ensuring that everyone gets a fair shot. North Carolina voters put their faith in President Obama four years ago and he’s gotten us through some tough times. Our unemployment rate is falling, jobs are returning to our city and state, and we’re making targeted investments that are putting the economy on sound footing for future generations. In November, North Carolina should reward President Obama with four more years to finish the job.

Should we care how officials vote on Amendment One?

How important is it to know how our elected officials will vote on N.C.’s same sex marriage amendment next month?

Mecklenburg’s Board of County Commissioners planned to discuss a resolution addressing the amendment tonight, but chair Harold Cogdell postponed the vote because commissioner Jennifer Roberts won’t be at the meeting. We think the board should cancel the vote altogether rather than wasting county time grandstanding on an issue that at this point doesn’t need their attention.

What, though, of the candidates for public office in 2012? Amendment One is fast becoming a litmus test, and at least one candidate doesn’t much want to talk about it.

In Tuesday’s Observer, reporter Tim Funk asked a clearly reluctant gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory about his thoughts on Amendment One, which would constitutionally ban same sex marriage and jeopardize benefits that homosexuals in civil unions receive. McCrory, of course, is best served talking about the topic as little as possible. You don’t want to loudly take sides on issues that will anger potential supporters - in McCrory’s case the urban and suburban moderates he’ll fight for this fall.

McCrory told the Observer he plans to vote for the amendment but didn’t want to say why. Asked what he would say to Charlotte’s business executives who have come out against the amendment, McCrory said: “Let me say this: We’re taking it to the people and let them vote. I respect the opinions that are being presented on all sides, and I’ve stated how I plan to vote.”

McCrory has a point. His vote is his own, and May 8 is about representing yourself, not potential constituents. And while that vote might tell us something about the character of a candidate, what's more critical to know is the practical application of that character. Would he or she vote individual values in office, or do the will of those constituents?

In the case of same sex marriage, that opportunity might come shortly after May 8. Should Amendment 1 pass, as polls have shown it probably will, N.C. lawmakers will likely have to confront the probability that the amendment jeopardizes the legal agreements and employment benefits of same sex couples. What we really want to know of candidates is this: Would you support protecting those benefits and interests?

McCrory has been consistent on that issue. In 2003 and 2004, he opposed providing employee benefits to same sex partners. He also pointedly declined to send a welcome letter to those attending a dinner in Charlotte for the Human Rights Campaign, which supported same sex marriage.

His most likely opponents in the fall aren’t as easy to predict, despite what they might tell you. Bob Etheridge and Walter Dalton each say they’re against Amendment One, but in 2006, then U.S. Rep. Etheridge voted for a resolution that called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have had the same potential impact on civil unions and benefits as N.C.’s pending amendment. Etheridge told the editorial board last week that while he believes marriage should be between a man and woman, his position has since changed on civil unions.

Dalton also once supported anti-gay legislation, co-sponsoring N.C.’s Defense of Marriage Act in 2005. Asked about that at Monday’s gubernatorial debate, he gave perhaps the most honest answer of this election season.

“I was running in my State Senate District then,” he said. “I need votes from a different group of people now."

Peter St. Onge

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spending money like drunken sailor? No

Hehehe. We're spending money at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport like a drunken sailor. Wait a minute. This is funny?

No doubt, that's how Charlotte Douglas Aviation Director Jerry Orr meant some remarks to be taken on Friday.

Orr was explaining why he was confident that Charlotte Douglas won't face the same fate as other hub airports that spent on expansion only to become saddled with huge debts after their hubs disappeared after mergers (US Airways has been openly considering a merger with bankrupt American Airlines). His explanation took a cocky turn: "We spend a lot of money, we're moving forward at a rapid pace, but there is no risk for the taxpayer... There is no risk in charging ahead and spending money like a drunken sailor."

Orr is known for his dry sense of humor, and no doubt the attendees at a summit on regional transportation initiatives held by the Charlotte Chamber at the Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge took them in jest. Even so, the comments sound tone-deaf and a little too blase about spending money at a time when the economy is in a recession and many taxpayers are struggling to make ends meet. The airport is self-supporting with fees but it is a public facility nonetheless.

Orr has displayed that same seemingly blase attitude in the past. Remember that airport security breach when a teen sneaked onto the wheel well of a jet and Orr didn't see the need for a security review - until some other public officials pressed for one?

This editorial board recently wrote in favor of Orr's $1 billion push for expansion at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. We said it was refreshing to hear Orr say: "You either grow, or risk withering away." We also gave Orr a lot of credit for his part in the success of the airport, noting that "Orr has been a shrewd steward of expansion money, building runways for a fraction of the cost of those at other airports. That means airlines pay less to fly here, making Charlotte an attractive place to direct their air traffic."

So, we know Orr didn't really mean the airport is spending money like a drunken sailor. At least, we hope he doesn't. In any case, he needs to stop saying such things and stop acting so blase about issues that deserve to be taken very seriously.

Fannie Flono

Emails paint image of dysfunctional state Dems

Good morning. Welcome to O-pinion. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host today.

The Observer's story this morning on the resignation of Jay Parmley, executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party, over sexual harassment claims and an alleged settlement to make them go away paints a picture of party leadership in disarray. But the chaos becomes more evident when you read some of the emails that prompted or at least led up to the resignation.

Amazingly, it wasn't even the sexual harassment allegations that got this thing started (at least from the emails we read) but a dustup over how the party was promoting (or providing news feeds to the media about) Democratic candidates for governor. In emails from nearly a month ago, Watt Jones, a state executive committee member, questioned the party's communications arm's "fairness in disseminating information concerning all Democratic candidates." Jones emailed the NC Democratic Party executive council about being "disrespected" by a staffer when the questions were raised and that the staffer, later identified as Walton Robinson, might need "anger management."

Things devolved from there with the two exchanging heated emails and party chairman David Parker getting involved to try to smooth things over, taking responsibility for any problems and calling both Jones and Robinson good people. In one email, he tried to bring them both together with the rallying cry, "Let's get on with whipping Republicans and setting our beloved state right again!"

But then came the bombshell. The matter wasn't just about fair news treatment of candidates. (By the way, it was Democrat Bill Faison who allegedly wasn't getting the fair treatment, according to the emails.) There were sexual harassment allegations and a payoff that reportedly had been covered up. "If this hits the media," Jones wrote, "the Democratic Party, our candidates and our credibility will be doomed in this election. You need to clean this mess up before it gets worse."

In resigning, Parmley blamed right-wing political enemies for "spreading a false and misleading story." If the story is false and misleading, that needs to be exposed. But the emails paint a picture more of dysfunctional state Democratic leadership, and that needs to be addressed too.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Duke's Jim Rogers tees off on marriage amendment

Updated, 12:30 p.m. with his full remarks:

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers was the keynote speaker at a business breakfast this morning. He opened it up for questions and I asked him for his take on the marriage amendment on the May 8 ballot.

Rogers hesitated, but then couldn't stop himself from telling the crowd of 300 or so how he felt.

If North Carolinians put the gay marriage ban into the state constitution, Rogers said, "You're sending a message to the world about what kind of community this is; that we're not inclusive."

Rogers emphasized that he was sharing his personal view and was not speaking on behalf of Duke Energy. He said "I believe we're all children of God," and that it's wrong to pass measures that discriminate against individuals.

"If this amendment passes, we're going to look back 20 years from now, or 10 years from now, and we're going to think about that amendment the same way we think about the Jim Crow laws" that discriminated against African-Americans. North Carolina is competing with the world for business, he said, and "we have to be inclusive and open."

Rogers' response came at Carmel Country Club, at a meeting of the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club, a business networking group. It was notable not only because of Rogers' prominence but because generally business leaders have been noticeably quiet about the amendment. The Charlotte Chamber has not taken a stand either way, for instance. Nor has the N.C. Chamber of Commerce.

It's heartening that a business leader of Rogers' stature sees the discriminatory intent of the amendment so clearly and is willing to say so in public. Now, will others in the business community join him?

Here's Rogers' full answer to my question:

"As a corporate CEO, I don't comment on social issues. But I'm going to comment on this personally.
"Our state today is known as a state that's inclusive. And any bill that we pass that basically says that we're not inclusive, we don't treat people fairly ... We live in an era now where 50 percent of the people who get married get divorced. We live in an era with (these) statistics: There are so many single households today - more than ever before in the history of our country.
"And I believe that when you pass an amendment like that, you're sending a message to the world about what kind of community this is: We're not inclusive, we don't have equal standards for all people with different points of view. You don't have to believe in them, but you have to be open to them.
"I'm old-fashioned: I believe we're all the children of God and we shouldn't have special rules for some and not for others. We have to recognize differences in people and celebrate those differences. That's just something I believe.
"And I'll go a step further - and this is going to be somewhat controversial when I say this. If this amendment passes, we're going to look back 20 years from now, or 10 years from now, and we're going to think about that amendment the same way we think about the Jim Crow laws that were passed in this state many, many years ago.
"This is the 21st century. We're competing with people around the world. We've got to be inclusive and open."

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Pittinger ad on Pendergraph: A breakdown

County Commissioner and 9th District Congressional candidate Jim Pendergraph is still steamed about a Robert Pittenger ad accusing him of receiving and hiding an illegal bonus when he retired as Mecklenburg County sheriff. The Observer’s Jim Morrill reported today that at a candidate forum last night in Charlotte, Pendergraph accused Pittenger of lying in the ad, then later reiterated his displeasure offstage after the candidates had waded into the audience.

“You said I took secret taxpayer-funded money,” Pendergraph told Pittenger. “That’s a total lie.”

Did the ad go too far? Curiously, while Pittenger’s web site and YouTube account tout other recent ads, the Pendergraph ad is absent. We found a copy here.

The transcript:

“Lifelong Democrat Jim Pendergraph. The Observer exposed his secret taxpayer-funded bonus that broke government policy. They revealed Pendergraph took your money, thousands of dollars, he didn’t deserve. His secret bonus, hidden from the public for three years. The bureaucrat who gave the huge hike? Jim voted him a pay raise right back. Jim Pendergraph, he'll fit right in, in Washington.”

The ad does what political ads do: cast an opponent’s words or deeds in the most damning light possible, complete with forboding music and unsmiling, unflattering photos. Does this ad go over the line? There’s certainly some questionable elements.

First, some background: Last year, Pendergraph was among the most ardent critics of county manager Harry Jones for negotiating a payoff settlement with departing mental health director Grayce Crockett, then misrepresenting that settlement to the public.

Jones, perhaps bristling from the criticism, subsequently revealed in an email to commissioners that when Pendergraph had retired as sheriff in 2007, Jones had granted Pendergraph pay for 150 more hours of unused vacation leave than the 240 hours county policy allowed for. Jones said he willingly granted Pendergraph an exemption, which he had the authority to do.

Pendergraph said the payment was consistent with what he understood about county policy on unused vacation, so he never questioned it. He also said he didn’t request any special treatment from Jones, who never provided any evidence that he had received such a request from Pendergraph.

Back to the ad. First, our part in it: The Observer didn’t exactly “expose” the payment of Pendergraph’s unused vacation leave. Our initial reports focused on Jones potentially retaliating against Pendergraph by calling up his personnel record, perhaps after a request from commissioner George Dunlap, then emailing his vacation pay information to commissioners. A subsequent report examined Pendergraph’s payment in context with Jones granting the same for a handful of other departing county employees.

Was the payment “secret” and “hidden,” as the ad says? That implies an active deception similar to what Jones did in negotiating a buyout for Crockett, then misleading the public about it when questioned. The O might have had a couple of questions about the payment had we learned of it, but there’s no evidence Pendergraph’s payment involved negotiation or attempts to conceal - or that Pendergraph even thought he had a reason to conceal it.

Visual note: During the ad's “secret” and “hidden” segment, a pullout quote from a Feb. 2011 Pundit House article appears on the screen: “Revelations swirling.” We found the report and sentence that contains those words, and the “revelations” referred to Crockett’s payment, not Pendergraph’s. That's a step past sloppy toward misleading.

Same goes for the implication that Pendergraph paid Jones back for his largess by later voting him a raise. The vote was part of a unanimous - and ill-advised, in our opinion - commission decision, but given that Pendergraph has never been shy about criticizing the county manager, the suggestion of some back-scratching between the two seems farfetched.

So, dirty politics or really dirty politics? We think it’s more of the latter, and we hope from this point on, Pittenger sticks with ads he’d be proud to put on his web site.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

CMS supt. candidates are all education smart

Before I dash off to the last scheduled public meeting for candidates for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' superintendent, here are some quick impressions of the candidates from the afternoon sessions:

All three are smart and know a lot about education and running an urban/suburban school system like CMS.

The most animated during the meetings I attended was Washoe County (Reno) Nevada superintendent Heath Morrison. He smiled a lot and seemed most at ease with the public, walking around, shaking hands and talking to audience members before the meetings started. He was quick to put people at ease, urging the panelists asking questions to "call me Heath... Calling me Dr. Morrison sounds like I'm likely to give you a shot and that would be bad for you and it would be bad for me." Morrison also had done his homework - he'd been to CMS observing the system before he became a candidate for superintendent - and could talk well about specific programs and previous superintendents. He also emphasized that he worked well with teacher groups.

Some critics had observed that CMS's top academic officer Ann Clark, also a candidate, was too dour and reserved. But in the meeting I attended she was lively and open, smiling and laughing, talked with passion about improving the schools. She also talked about herself, noting that her first job with the schools was as a bus driver. She said a clear failing of the school system was "missed opportunities to connect" with certain parts of the county who are "frustrated with CMS." On the testing issue, she said the schools "cannot be testing more than we are teaching," but emphasized the need to be accountable with resources.

Kriner Cash of the Memphis Schools was the least animated and the least specific in answers to questions. He also didn't seem to know as much about CMS as the other two. He focused more on the mechanics of what generally makes for a good school system - "places of joy, passion and learning." He noted that being a school superintendent is "the most difficult CEO job", adding that it took teamwork and collaboration with the public to get things done. "I won't be about ripping up the pavement," he said if he came to CMS. "I'm about improving and tweaking."

The night meeting with the begins at 7 p.m. at the Northwest School of the Arts. It ends at 8:30 p.m. See you there.

Posted by Fannie Flono

In 2006, best CMS supt. candidate was focused

Welcome to O-Pinion, the editorial board's online place for commentary and discussion. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host today.

I'll be scooting back and forth much of the day listening in on public talks with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' superintendent candidates. If you can attend any of the sessions, please do. If you think you can't make a difference just consider what happened when Peter Gorman, who resigned last summer as CMS superintendent, was one of three finalists in 2006.

At the time, there was lots of concern about Gorman's ability to lead a large school system. He was superintendent of a 20,000 student California system, although he had worked in a large Florida system. My long-time colleague Mary Newsom, who is now at UNC Charlotte, attended a public session with the finalists and came away with these impressions that she wrote in an April 8, 2006 column:

"Peter Gorman: He hit all the right notes. He shook hands with and introduced himself to all nine parent panelists. Sure, it was by-the-book, but they liked it.
"He had done his homework. (They spent a week here last summer, his wife, Sue, told me.)
"He made a point, for instance, of saying his California school system has a problem with gangs. "You admit the problems you have, " he said. CMS and the city police department have in the past been criticized for underplaying gang problems, though to be fair, in recent years the head-in-sand stance has ended.
"He said he made 200 school visits a year. 'The size of the district cannot be an excuse,' he said. Every quarter he teams with a teacher to teach a class. 'I taught art; that didn't go well,' he admitted with a (spontaneous? well-rehearsed?) bit of self-mockery.
"He talked about teachers' need to feel supported. 'They need to have faith in the district office,' he said. Many CMS teachers now lack that faith. [Some people will no doubt say Gorman failed to make good on his teacher support talking point.]
"In sum: Gorman was the best public face of the three. His speaking style was focused, coherent and appeared sincere. He didn't lapse into jargon. He didn't dodge questions. He was smooth - but not slick."

Mary also shared her underwhelming impressions of the other two candidates. Of Terry Grier, who was Guilford County's superintendent at the time, she said: "He shook my hand and kept holding it. And holding. And holding. Reminded me of a salesman who rivets you in the eye while picking your pocket. Plus his remarks weren't well-focused or concise. Several parents said he hadn't answered their questions. I think they just got bored with listening before he rambled on to an answer."

Of Frances Haithcock, who was interim CMS superintendent at the time, she said: "She's been unfairly tagged with being 'status quo' in a system she joined only six years ago and has been improving from within ever since. But she doesn't present herself as well as he [Gorman] does. Her answers weren't as focused, her syntax less clear."

The rest of the public, and the school board members who will select the next schools' leader, heard the same thing that Mary did. Those impressions and feedback from the community mattered. Mary's conclusion was that "this is a job where you need to hire someone with both substance and style," and that Gorman had both.

Only one person, Tom Tate, is among the school board members who were on the board six years ago when Gorman was chosen. How this new group of board members will factor in public impressions and feedback is not clear. But they did set up these meetings in order to get that feedback. Let's take them at their word that they will use it. Show up and hear what the candidates have to say, then tell board members what you think.

Panel discussions this afternoon will be at three locations, where the candidates - Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash, CMS's Ann Clark and Washoe County (Nev.) Superintendent Heath Morrison - will rotate between the three: St. Peter's Episcopal parish hall, 115 W. Seventh St.; the Government Center chamber, 600 E. Fourth St.; and the auditorium at the main library, 310 N. Tryon St. Appearances will be from 1 to 2:15 p.m., 2:45 to 4 p.m. and 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. Unfortunately, only one session is set when people who work will be more likely to attend. That session, with all three candidates together will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Northwest School of the Arts, 1415 Beatties Ford Road.
I hope to see you at one of these sessions.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two reactions to Santorum's departure

Two quick thoughts on the news that Rick Santorum is dropping out of the Republican presidential race:

  • This can only be considered good news for opponents of the marriage amendment that would put North Carolina's ban on gay marriage into the state constitution. The amendment will probably cruise to passage anyway, but Santorum's departure gives social conservatives one less reason to turn out to vote. Romney will be the presumed nominee on May 8. And Republican Pat McCrory faces no stiff competition in his primary for governor. Democrats, for their part, have little top-of-the-ballot excitement either, but at least have three established candidates running to replace Bev Perdue as governor. That should help amendment foes. Even so, we'd be surprised if those dynamics are enough to tilt the final tally against the measure.

  • So now it's Romney vs. Obama. Where does Mitt go from here? With Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul on his right flank, the life-long Massachusetts centrist has been insisting he's "severely conservative." Will he tack back toward the center? He should. Though it would drive conservative activists -- and many of our readers -- up the wall, it's simply smart political strategy. There aren't enough "severely conservative" voters to outnumber all the Democrats and independents. Presidential contests are won by the 10 to 20 percent of voters in the middle, not by rousing the fringes. Bill Clinton proved that in 1992 and then overcame his midterm debacle by moving even more to the center to win again in 1996. George W. Bush won on "compassionate conservatism" in 2000. Romney risks cementing his reputation as a flip-flopper, but his key to beating the president is convincing centrists that his business acumen makes him better able than Obama to turn around this stubborn economy.

-- Taylor Batten

A Catholic woman fights her Church

The rift between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration over health care reform and contraception policy is still going strong, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan telling CBS News on Sunday that "We didn't ask for the fight, but we're not going to back away from it."

Under the policy, some organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church are required to provide employees insurance that covers contraception, even though that violates Church doctrine. The debate is so intense because it goes to deeply held beliefs on all sides: Tenets of a faith versus individual liberty, not to mention women's health.

But the battle lines aren't entirely clear cut. Not all Catholics are comfortable with what they see as their own leaders' hard-line stance. Dr. Deborah S. McRoberts, a family practice doctor in Biscoe, N.C., is one of those. She has been a Catholic for 56 years, she says, but she is offended by what she sees as Church leaders' hypocrisy and lack of respect for women. She detailed her anger in a letter to Bishop Peter Jugis of the Charlotte diocese and copied it to the Observer.

Here is her letter. Does she represent the thinking of many Catholic women, or Catholics in general? Or is she an outlier in a generally unified Church?

Dear Bishop Jugis:

Show me a single bishop in the Catholic Church who has give up his insurance on the grounds that it will pay for an elective vasectomy (which if you investigate, you will discover that it would), and I would support this unjust campaign against the President's healthcare reform policy. No, bishops will not go without insurance in this discussion, only poor lay persons who donate to the welfare of the Church. It is beside the point that most bishops will never get a vasectomy - most women will never get an abortion either.

I have read your article objecting to employee healthcare coverage on the grounds that it would require coverage of women's health services, including, but not limited to abortion, contraception and sterilization. It would also include Pap smears, mammograms, routine cancer prevention and screening, routing prenatal and obstetric care which many women now go without. In the Church's fight against abortion, why can you not trust your employees to do the right thing? My health care coverage covers abortions also, but in all my life, I have never had one. Women have consciences. Ninety-nine point nine percent of Catholic women never get abortions either, and less than a third use birth control, of those who do, they frequently do not do so throughout their entire reproductive lifetime, but only for a few years. Many listen to the Church's teachings and change over to other means of natural birth control after a few years. Life is a learning experience - people make mistakes, and they have to make their own mistakes to learn from them. That's why we need to forgive sins as we wish to be forgiven.

So the Church proposes to throw out coverage for the unborn (prenatal care), the elderly (dependent care), children, all because you don't trust your own employees? After all, we are talking here about a very specific group of people, not the nation as a whole, just people who are employed by the Catholic Church. You can stand to learn something from married couples about the importance of trust in a relationship. Either you don't trust them or you just don't want to spend the money, which I believe they donated to you.

More and more I realize that the Catholic Church is a Man-made church. In fifty-six years of being Catholic, I have not yet heard one sermon about the evils of rape, or pedophilia, or fathers who rape their daughters, or of the men who abandon women after casual sex, leaving them unsupported and hopeless, feelings so helpless that they feel they have no alternative but abortion. No sermons about irresponsible sex by men, but plenty about women who get pregnant out of wedlock and then get abortions. Bishops are very quick to cast stones against women, very slow to forgive or trust.

Now you are asking me to join you in objecting to elder care, child healthcare including immunizations, prenatal care, cancer prevention programs, healthcare for mothers who have diabetes or hypertension, so that they can continue working to support their families, when they may have been abandoned by the "gentlemen" who fathered their children. I can not in good conscience agree with you. There is more to being pro-life than merely being opposed to abortion.

The thing is, as a doctor, I am going to take care of these women anyway. I, too, have taken a vow - one I take very seriously. I pledged the Hippocratic Oath twenty-four years ago, and I have been taking care of patients regardless of their ability to pay ever since. That is what doctors do. Everyone in our country gets healthcare already, but many delay entry into healthcare because they don't have the means to pay for it, since their employers refuse to insure them. Of course, it makes insurance rates go up for those who do have insurance, such as bishops. But of course their insurance is paid for by donations from Catholic women.


Deborah S. McRoberts, MD

Monday, April 9, 2012

What to expect from the new library CEO

By choosing Lee Keesler as their next CEO this morning, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library trustees selected an executive who should be able to form strong connections with partners throughout the community and continue healing the library’s relationship with its primary funder, Mecklenburg County.

Keesler, a longtime executive with First Union and the president of the Arts & Science Council for five years, will replace Vick Phillips as library CEO. He starts July 1.

Keesler is one of the more likable guys in Charlotte’s public life, and is well-suited to form and strengthen bonds with the county, with individual branches, with employees and with all the different groups that have a stake in the future of the library. His experience managing the ASC’s relationships with its dozens of affiliates should translate well to the library. He has well-established relationships already and has equity with many of the community leaders who can help make the library’s continued transition a success.

The library has been through a transformational period the past couple of years. County commissioners backed most of County Manager Harry Jones’ huge budget cut two years ago. Then library chief Charles Brown and library trustees mutually agreed to part ways. A community task force spent about a year brainstorming the library’s future in an age when public resources are scarce and technology is changing the face of libraries across the nation.

Keesler does not strike us as someone who will come in and make bold, transformational changes. One could argue that the library needs someone who will. Keesler was known as a steady hand, not a change agent, at ASC. The community should expect him to bring that same steady hand and congenial personality to the library, but not to be a catalyst for dramatic change. Trustees must have believed Keesler’s strengths were more important than those of someone who is a strategic innovator at his core.

Keesler endured his share of headaches navigating political terrain at ASC. He has either forgotten some of that pain or has missed that type of challenge after being away for a couple of years, because he’ll get those headaches and more leading the library.

We can’t let Vick Phillips leave as interim CEO without noting what a vital role he played the past year-plus. When Charles Brown left, the library was in disarray and its relationships with the county and other partners were in critical condition. Phillips quickly repaired all that and put the library back on track. He has earned this community’s deep appreciation.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Time for Augusta to pick a female golf member

The sizzling topic today is not politics, but sports - specifically whether the venerable Augusta National Golf Club will admit its first female member this year. MSNBC, USA Today's Christine Brennan and the Wall Street Journal's Jeremy Gordon are among a multitude who have chimed in. Even President Obama, when asked, offered an opinion: He thinks a woman should be admitted. Who knew?

Speculation is high that the club will. Indeed, as I write this, it might already have.

That's because the club has a long-standing tradition of inviting as members the chief executives of major sponsors of the Masters golf tournament. This year, for the first time, one of those CEOs is a woman, IBM's Ginni Rometty. IBM has sponsored the tournament for several years and the Augusta National has always extended membership to the company's officers. To decline to do so for Rometty, who does play golf, would be a public departure from its past policy.

The Augusta National is a private, members-only club, despite its very high-profile and iconic golf tournament, The Masters, which invites the public in through tickets and TV. So, members have a right to restrict membership anyway they please.

But they should take this opportunity to remove the barrier. Unlike in 2003 when Martha Burk, then president of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, brought picketers to the Masters trying to force the club's hand in admitting a female, all the club has to do now to get this monkey off its back is adhere to a policy it has followed in the past. And because Rometty would be admitted because she heads a major sponsoring organization, just as men CEOs have been, this invitation wouldn't obligate the golf club to approve any other women for membership who don't fit that qualification - if that's their fear.

The Augusta National should welcome the chance to get past this continuing controversy. It's membership discrimination based on the idea of it being a private club has been wearing thin for years. As I've said before, a private club with as much public persona as the Augusta National can't reasonably use being "private" as a shield against criticism of its refusal to admit female members. It wasn't an effective shield when the club dragged its feet about inviting a black golfer to the Masters - which didn't happen until Lee Elder participated in 1975. And it was ineffective when the club was criticized for not admitting black members, which didn't happen until 1990.

If Rometty isn't offered membership, it would be a slap in the face to IBM and its CEO. It will hard to spin the rejection otherwise. IBM should rethink future sponsorship if that happens.

But it is quite possible that the golf club has already quietly removed this last barrier against women, and by the time the green jacket is presented to the new Masters champ on Sunday this will no longer be an issue. As Billy Payne noted in his opaque statement on the issue on Wednesday, "all issues of membership are now and have historically been subject to the private deliberation of members." I hope they have privately deliberated wisely.

Augusta is my hometown. My family home, where my sister still lives, is about a 10-minute jog from the Augusta National. I grew up around golf. My grandparents worked at the Augusta National. My grandfather taught us grandkids to play golf on an improvised course on his farm. My grandmother did the seasonal hiring of grounds workers for the Masters. I worked there during the Masters a couple of times myself before I went to college. On many Easter Sundays, half the congregation of my home church could be found there working instead of worshipping.

So I'm very familiar with the tradition and history of the Masters and the Augusta National. It's a beautiful course and a great tournament. That will still be true if a woman is admitted as a member.

Posted by associate editor Fannie Flono

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Academics v. athletics: NCAA, one-and-done

Before this year's college basketball championship fades from memory, here's some news. The Kansas Jayhawks won! Not the actual basketball tourney, of course. Kentucky took the title Monday, beating Kansas 67-59.

But the Jayhawks bested the Wildcats in a place where, in my estimation, it counts more - in the classroom. Annual analysis recently of graduation success rates and academic progress of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament Teams shows Kansas graduates 91 percent of its players and Kentucky just 69 percent.

In a mock tourney, the 2012 Inside Higher Ed Academic Performance Tournament, Kansas was dubbed the winner over its opponent in this championship. That opponent? Davidson College which graduates 100 percent of its male basketball students.
Kansas and Kentucky, the last ones standing for the actual athletic contest on Monday, were both dubbed academically good enough to be part of the mock academic tournament.

Still, Kentucky coach's John Calipari's one-and-done philosophy for winning is nothing to cheer. That philosophy, used to recruit players who plan to go to the NBA in a year, is anathema to the idea of a "student athlete." There is simply no incentive to be a committed student knowing you're not staying to get a degree and will only be on campus a year.

Like Chris Stankovich, a national sport performance expert and others, I think one-and-done should be outlawed. NBA draft rules should be consistent with the NFL draft rules that say NCAA football players aren’t eligible for the NFL draft until they have been out of high school for three years. Requiring at least three years of school for basketballers as well makes sense. Steve Kerr, John Thompson and others talk compellingly about why there needs to be a change in a piece for the Arizona Republic.

The sad truth is that the men's NCAA Division 1 basketball players have one of the worst graduation rates in college sports. According to a study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, more than a dozen schools didn't graduate at least half their players in recent seasons. The study looked at how many players completed their degrees in six years. Among the more egregious big name schools were the University of Connecticut, which graduates 25 percent of its players; the University of Florida which graduates 38 percent; Michigan which graduates 45 percent, and Indiana which graduates 47 percent.

The numbers are even worse when African American players are separated out. Florida, for instance, only graduates 20 percent of its black players. The University of California at Berkeley only graduates 14 percent.

The gulf between the graduation rates of black and white student-athletes who are basketball players has narrowed a bit, said Richard Lapchick, primary author of the study. But that narrowing has been because the graduation rates of whites has gone down. Geez.

Students deserve better. The NCAA has a lot of work to do to preserve the integrity of the word, student-athlete.

Posted by associate editor Fannie Flono

Paul Ryan for Romney VP?

Welcome to O-Pinion. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host today.

With conventional wisdom continuing to anoint Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential nominee as he racks up more and more primary wins - including an expected victory in Wisconsin today, conservative columnist William Kristol has a sobering analysis in the Weekly Standard of GOP and Romney's general election chances. He says the Republican campaign is more backward-looking than forward-looking, depending on voters unhappiness with the incumbent rather than plotting a different, better path ahead for the country. In a general election, "such campaigns degenerate into endless sniping about various misstatements and gaffes by both candidates, and put great emphasis on tactical moves and get-out-the-vote trench warfare in key states. ... Obama could win such a campaign," he said. The good news, Kristol says, is "that Romney is capable of turning around an enterprise that’s likely to fail. The bad news is that it’s harder to turn one around if the failure isn’t yet obvious. The irony is that a Romney victory in the primaries will then pose the ultimate test of his ability as a turnaround artist."

Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal is already looking ahead past a Romney nomination win, and tagging possible running mates. He says House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan "merits serious consideration."

"With a victory in the Wisconsin primary tonight, Mitt Romney would be in commanding position for the nomination - and he can thank one of the state's most prominent Republicans for the help. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has been a regular on Romney's Wisconsin roadshow, and the two have bonded during their time together. It's not surprising: Both Ryan and Romney are wonks, less comfortable in the glad-handing aspect of politics. Ryan has embraced Romney's candidacy, and Romney has embraced Ryan's entitlement-reforming budget proposal... With Ryan, Romney would be getting a running mate whose policy ideas would take center stage (a risk, to be sure) but whose personality wouldn't overshadow the nominee.

Ryan's policies are set for a smackdown today, if advance notices of a speech President Barack Obama plans to give to the Associated Press' Annual Luncheon today are on point. The president is expected to call a budget proposal Ryan has released “radical” and a “Trojan horse."

“It’s a Trojan horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plan, it's really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country,” Obama is expected to say. “It's nothing but thinly veiled social Darwinism.”

Obama's getting smacked himself for his comments about the Supreme Court and its decision expected this summer on the health-care reform law. The Weekly Standard's Jeffrey Anderson calls him out for saying: "I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress... And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”

Anderson said "these comments will surely make a great many Americans scratch their heads and wonder: How can a graduate of Harvard Law School, a former part-time lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and the current president of the United States, suggest an apparent lack of awareness of the doctrine of judicial review? Contrary to Obama’s contention, however, the Court’s power to strike down unconstitutional congressional acts has repeatedly been exercised (sometimes legitimately, sometimes not)."

It's been tit-for-tat this election season, and the body blows are getting harder as the season goes on.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Santorum: North Carolina will help turn my campaign around

Rick Santorum says North Carolina will be one of the key states to turn around his flagging campaign. But should he drop out before the Republican presidential primaries get that far?

Santorum went on "Fox News Sunday" and vowed that he had no intentions of ending his bid any time soon. Sen. Mitch McConnell on Sunday became the latest Republican leader to call on him to do so. If Santorum loses in Wisconsin and Maryland on Tuesday, as expected, the volume will turn up even more. Santorum is having none of it.

"The map in May looks very, very good for us. Texas, and Arkansas and West Virginia and North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky. We've got some great states, where we are ahead in every poll in all of those states," Santorum told Chris Wallace.

He's actually tied, 30-30, with Mitt Romney in North Carolina, according to a poll last week from Public Policy Polling. But his point is the same: Romney has done poorly in the South, and a batch of Southern states hold their primaries in May. A conservative turnout could give Santorum a boost.

"If you listen to the folks across this country, we are hearing over and over again, stay in there, we need a conservative," Santorum told Wallace. "We cannot do what we have done in the past as Republicans which is: settle for something that we know is not going to be successful for us. That the establishment wants to give us."

Santorum said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday: "There’s one thing worse than … a convention fight, and that’s picking the wrong candidate, not picking the best candidate to give us the best chance to win.”

A candidate must win 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination. Romney has 568, or less than half the required number. Santorum has 273, according to the Associated Press.

There's little doubt Romney has the nomination wrapped up. But Santorum raises an interesting thought. While polls show the long Republican primary has battered the public's perception of Romney, Santorum points out that the longer the primary goes on, the shorter the general election campaign is. That could neutralize President Obama's financial advantage.

We have no doubt Romney will prevail. But Obama and Hillary Clinton went toe-to-toe for a lot longer than Romney and Santorum have, and we saw how that turned out for Obama. If nothing else, Santorum's continued viability, however slim, would spark more interest in the May 8 primary. It also would be bad news for opponents of North Carolina's marriage amendment. If social conservatives turn out for Santorum, they'll certainly pull the lever in favor of the amendment.

-- Taylor Batten