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Archive for July, 2011

Charlotte: A Lost Decade

Really thought that coming up with my last entry for Meck Deck would be hard. The latest jobless numbers for Mecklenburg have taken care of that for me — 11.2 percent unemployment officially, then add in a couple more points for reality.

I started the Detroit-on-the-Catawba thing years ago as a half-joke, half-warning when it was clear that local government was assuming boom-time revenues would be the norm. Now it is not a joke. Now Charlotte is Detroit-on-the-Catawba.

Not the Dee-troit of 2011, more like the early 80s when it was obvious that things could not hold yet…local government employees still got their raises (via tax hikes), local power brokers still talked a big game (with nothing but air behind it), and the criminal justice system was failing apart in plain sight (and to point this out was considered not “progressive.”)

In retrospect, winning the arena vote in 2001 was the worst thing that could’ve happened to Charlotte’s forces of limited and sane government. The arena was built anyway — along with all arts toys and a fraudulent NASCAR HOF thrown in for good measure. Plus the Uptown crowd turned even more secretive and conniving — culminating in the orgy of lies that was the 2007 transit tax vote.

Since then deceit and denial have become the hallmark’s of official Charlotte. Last year’s reval process was nothing less than a conspiracy to milk hundreds of millions of dollars out of taxpayers in order to replace transaction taxes that will not ever deliver expected revenues. The transit plan has gone from sad joke to actively hostile to Charlotte’s quality of life. If everything goes according to plan — which likely means another half-cent for transit, as many cavemen pointed out in 2007 would be the case — one and half-billion dollars worth of Blue Line will run inside 485 with UNCC (sans additional parking) at one end and a county-owned liquor store at the other. You just cannot make that up.

Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that nothing will change until multiple members of the Uptown crowd go to jail for racketeering. Jim Black was not enough — as his fake $1m. fine proved. Black was the capo who does symbolic time while the Organization hunkers down to keep doing Bidness.

And the business of Charlotte is well and truly giving the average schmoe the Bidness. Keep your wallets in sight and your ammunition ready, friends. You are next.

So long and good luck.

Bonus UPoR: All Things Charlotte? Really? Where have I heard that before? And a countdown ticker for the DNC? Plus a glossy ad deal no doubt. So much for any objective coverage. Hopeless…

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Nurse tells patient the doctor will be by in a few, she ends up locked in building

I actually checked to see if this was my doctor. Occasionally they put you in a room and she doesn’t show up at all. Like for hours. Then they look at you like you are nuts if you complain.

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Fox News: Charlotte a Perfect Example of the Economic Great Depression Blacks Are Living Through

Fox News national discovers what I’ve been talking about for a long time. Charlotte is an economic Armageddon for African-Americans, with a black unemployment rate over 20 percent.

As Fox alludes, that makes it ironic that the Democrats want to showcase the city and the state by hosting the Democratic National Convention here:

The unemployment situation across America is bad, no  doubt. But for African-Americans in some cities, this is not the great recession. It’s the Great  Depression.

Take Charlotte, N.C., for example. It is a jewel of  the “new South.” The largest financial center outside of New York City, it’s the  showcase for next year’s Democratic National Convention. It was a land of hope  and opportunity for many blacks with a four-year college degree or higher.

According to an analysis by the Economic Policy  Institute, in Charlotte, N.C., the unemployment rate for African-Americans is  19.2 percent. If you add in people who have given up looking for jobs, that  number exceeds 20 percent, which, according to economists Algernon Austin and  William Darity, has effectively mired blacks in a depression.

“You’re looking at a community that is economically  depressed in my opinion,” Austin said. “And we need action that will address  that scale of joblessness.”

Not exactly the ringing endorsement Charlotte was looking to get out of the DNC. But as the convention gets closer, Charlotte will get its wish for more scrutiny.

Journalists nationally may begin to report things we’d never be told locally, like that the number of people employed in Charlotte shrunk by 2,600 between May and June, from 317,118 to 314,485, a devastating loss of jobs that does not bode well for local economic momentum going into the Democrat National Convention and, again, for all that national scrutiny.

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Province of Ontario now creating more jobs than the entire U.S.

The Canadian province of Ontario gained over 40,000 jobs in June, more than double the number of jobs created in the entire United States that month.

Something has gone terribly, horribly wrong here. To screw up so badly that a single Canadian province is now clocking the entire US in job creation, Washington would have to deliberately sabotage the country. I’m beginning to think that is exactly what they are doing.

Ontario has dramatically slashed taxes for corporations and individuals, which works every time it is tried. While the US languishes with what will soon be the highest corporate tax rates in the developed world at 35 percent, Canada has been slashing theirs dramatically. Companies can now do business there for a combined rate of 20% to 25%, and those rates are scheduled to continue to drop.

Of course, American companies don’t pay the full rate due to write offs and tax shelters, but having rates that high forces them to hide their money rather than investing it.

Since the new tax plan was introduced a year ago, 74,000 new jobs have been created in Ontario. Ontario’s real GDP increased by 2.8 per cent in 2010, and RBC‘s recent forecast predicts 2011 will bring the province’s highest growth rate since 2000. The unemployment rate has declined to 7.9 per cent.

As Jeff Taylor would remind us if he were writing this piece, the Charlotte region has shed over 30,000 jobs since the beginning of the recession.

The other problem? A friend of my fathers who runs a mid-size business recently told him that the biggest problem he now faces is the boatload of regulations that the Democrats passed before they lost control of the House. He says those are even more damaging than the recession and make hiring and expanding extremely difficult.

We have a long, long way to go in this country and, it often seems, no one in charge who is interested in helping us get there.


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Tick, Tick, Tick

It’s going on two and a half years now since Tyler Stasko, who was 20, and grandmother Carlene Atkinson, who was 44 at the time, decided it would be a smashing idea to rev their cars and drag race at speeds over 100 mph down York Road/Highway 49 on April 4, 2009.

In the process, they are accused of causing a wreck that killed three people. Cynthia Furr, 45, was on the way to church with her two-year-old daughter Mackie Price. Both were killed, along with Hunter Holt, 13, a passenger in Stasko’s car. Witnesses at the scene say Atkinson and two other passengers got out of the car after the wreck, surveyed the scene, which included a dying but still alive two-year-old, and drove away without bothering to call police.


Mackie Price and Her Mom Cynthia

While Steve Price, who was Furr’s husband and Mackie’s father, struggles to put his life back together after the loss of his entire family, Stasko has been out on a mere $45,000 bond (you only have to put 10 percent down) for over two years awaiting trial.

Atkinson, who collected 19 speeding tickets in the decade proceeding the wreck, is on $900,000 bond and under house arrest, although she has been allowed to leave home for family events like her daughter’s graduation. She is barred from driving.

Because cases are backlogged, the wheels of justice in Mecklenburg County grind slowly. The district attorney’s office had planned a 2011 trial, but so far no final date is scheduled.

The good news is that there will be a trial, not a plea bargain. Both Stasko and Atkinson are each charged with three counts of second degree murder. The bad news is that second degree murder convictions carry very little actual prison time in NC, especially lower level second degree murder convictions.

At the lower end of the sentencing chart, you can do as little as three years for second degree murder. Neither of these two have prior criminal records, so to get them significant prison time, as in well over a decade, they’ll have to convict them both on all three charges AND get sentences in which they serve the time for each crime separately, a tall order in our court system.

New DA Andrew Murray and his staff have yet another opportunity here to cleanse the office of its inept reputation under former DA Peter Gilchrist and show that they can take on a high-profile case and win the whole enchilada.

The last time the office tried a high-profile case under Gilchrist, that of double cop-killer Demetrius Montgomery, they made a laughing stock of themselves before getting a lesser conviction.

But before we find out how this story ends, this case will have to hit the docket.







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A Final Hurney Horror

Still have time to note that Marty Hurney is the worst GM in The Lig.

He has managed to tremendously overpay for Charles Johnson, but that is predictable as Johnson was a Marty project, so signing him to a huge deal makes Marty look smart. In Marty’s world. Also overpaid for Thomas Davis, probably DeAngelo Williams too. And $12m. for a 38-year-old kicker? Nuts.

Marty does not seem to understand that the goal is to get 25, 26 starter-quality bodies on your roster. At the end of this crazy free-agent period the Panthers will have — what? — 17, 18 starter-quality guys? 20, maybe? The OL is a wreck, need another CB (minimum), oh, and a back-up QB.

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A note to the former management

Here at the Meck Deck. Truth be told, Jeff and I do have fundamental differences. He is, as you’ve probably noticed, into metal while I’m an indie rocker. This is as about as metal as I go and I think it’s an appropriate way to wish Jeff well in all his new endeavors.

Bonus observation
: I’m guessing Jeff’s post announcing the Meck Deck Mk II was the first time that Tara has ever been likened to David Coverdale.

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Cha-Ching: CMS Flim-Flam Works Again

Ah yes. The inevitable end to the oh-so-broke shuffle. What’s so funny is that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools does this every year and gets away with it. They claim they are up a creek financially, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, in a bid to get the county to raise taxes and fork the loot over to them. Then when they get their money — or not — they later conveniently discover they were never actually broke to begin with.

This year they claimed they were probably $100 million in the hole and would have to fire up to 1,500 people and sacrifice special education programs for poor children. So the county raised taxes and handed them $26 million extra, way less than they said they needed to avoid the “cuts.” Now it turns out they will not only keep those programs, but they have enough left over dough to hire 500 new employees. In other words, they were never really broke, so we didn’t actually need that tax increase. Don’t assume this discovery will lead to the cancellation of the tax increase. It doesn’t work that way.

CMS has used this flim-flam to amass a bureaucracy so large that it is now one of the top five employers in the region, in the same size league with Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

CMS did this the year before, too, claiming the school system had massive budget shortfalls and would need shovels full of money or children would suffer, only to end up not only not broke, but with a budget $10 million larger than the year before. In other words, CMS leaders lie.

The Charlotte Observer, meanwhile, dedicates dozens of articles to convincing the community that CMS is broke, and usually about one to the shocking discovery that not only is the school system not broke, it actually is rolling in so much dough it can hire another 500 employees.

Look for the whole cycle to begin again in January, when CMS leaders make the alarming discovery that they are broke …


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Catching Up With US Airways

Busy last few days in aviation, with several major developments that effect the CLT. The highlights:

• American Airlines ordered a bunch of jets from Airbus and Boeing. What’s that all about? Simple: AA has an old fleet — lots of 767-200s and MD80s plus Boeing 757s used on relatively short routes — that are not very fuel efficient. This order address will allow the airline to replace those older planes.

CLT/US Airways impact: BTDT. You’ll hear a lot about the need for other airlines to follow American’ lead and to modernize their fleets. This is about replacing circa 1990 aircraft (MD80s, early A320s, 737-300s, 737-400s, 737-500s, 757s if used on short routes) with the more efficient aircraft available today. US Airways already has partially done this and has orders in place to replace its remaining older narrowbodies with 70 new A320s and A321 between now and the end of 2015.

Oh, while this is nice and all for American Airlines, this isn’t the key for its turnaround. (AA is expected to be the only large US Airlines to lose money in the second quarter.) Fixing American depends upon reducing its labor costs. That’s going to be tough, as it has a strained relationship with virtually all of its unions, who think their members are underpaid. Fix American, and then a merger with US Airways may be possible.

• The DOT gave tentative approval to the Delta/US Airways slot swap on Thursday. The expectation is the deal will close before the end of the year. The actual trading of slots will happen in two phases. Best guess for dates on that is April or May 2012 and with the second wave after Labor Day or possible a little later.

CLT impact: Does US Airways use the DCA slots it gains to serve places it currently doesn’t fly to? If so, do these places also get flights from Charlotte? This is the next best chance for US Airwatys to add new domestic routes from CLT. And on the Delta side, will they resume CLT-LaGuardia flights? And where do the aircraft for Delta’s increased LGA service come from? (Hint: Memphis and Cincinnati are possibilities.)

• The children in the US Airline Pilots Association — US Airway’s pilots union — are throwing safety allegations at the company. This would be a labor contract negotiating tactic. Also expect for them to oppose the slot swap though its clearly in their interest.

Continued impact: Expect this sort of noise to continue until a new pilots contract is reached. Negotiations are in a holding pattern until the underlying US Airways/America West pilot seniority integration issue is addressed in court or otherwise resolved. Good luck on that.

• Southwest Airlines put out their January and February schedules today. It includes some major route cuts from Philly to Manchester, NH, Providence, RI, and Pittsburgh, all of which are four daily, are being dropped. So is the daily Philadelphia – Jacksonville, FL flight. Philly – Boston, currently at eight flights a day, will be down to five flights a day by February. So a nice win for US Airways there.

CLT impact: Southwest still has about 40 flights a day from PHL but they are almost all to the airlines major stations or places in Florida. (The exceptions are Boston and Raleigh.) So yes, Southwest is a hub-and-spoke carrier on the East Coast. Accept it. When they get here via the AirTran merger, Southwest’s CLT offerings will be limited in scope (say 8 to 16 flights) and quite predictable.

Update: Dug out the numbers. Southwest had 71 flights a day from Philadelphia in the summer of 2008 and 67 in the summer of 2009. They’ll be down to 38 flights a day from Philly come February. Wow.

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McColl: Nuke My Transit Center, Get UNCC Students Drunk Uptown

I swear, this town wouldn’t know news if it…

Anyway, check what Hugh McColl is preaching to the Charlotte Business Journal. First on UNCC:

We need to keep pressure on them to build that (light rail) line out there, and that will bring the college kids downtown. It’s a really good thing, and it will spur investment. … We can’t undo 50 years of building suburbs. But we can quit building them and force along the light rail high-rise. And we have: We’ve forced moderate rise, and it’s happening. What you do is you drive up the price of land, and it drives up the density.


Still, McColl has a few suggestions for the city. He encouraged local leaders to expand the light rail line to UNC Charlotte and develop a better link between the campus and center city. “That might be the most important thing we can do.”

There you have it, not a damn word about traffic congestion or air quality. One billion dollars to make sure EpiCenter is full of Bud Light drinkers. “Force” high-density development with trains. And to “spur investment” — CMPD will need to buy even more TASERS to police the thugs on the expanded rail line, I guess.

OK, snark off. McColl’s about face on his transit center is pretty stunning:

He also suggested the city build a new, larger transit center off North Tryon Street, near the rail yards, and convert the existing center off Fourth Street into an open-air farmers market.

The existing transit center was created by Hugh McColl. Bus passengers cueing up in front of the new Taj McColl didn’t send the right message. In short order BAC was partnering with the city to build the transit center several blocks away. The city found the land, the bank had the $9m. in cash. Now McColl wants to kick the big bus stop several miles up Tryon Street.

Interestingly McColl echoes a certain nay-saying blog when he talks about the DNC confab and its impact on Uptown and — ta-da — the transit center:

I’ve been talking to the mayor about it. Literally, we’re going to have to shut the center city down to cars except official cars like the Olympics do. It’s not something that people don’t do. I’ve been to Barcelona and seen it, been to Atlanta and seen it, been to Sydney and seen it, so you can. But it’s going to be a strain.

No doubt about it. The transit center will have to be shuttered for the duration of the convention. I’ve been saying that for months. And if you are going to have to spend money to set up a temporary one, why not make that a down payment on a new one? A new one that is out of Uptown and does not cause image problems when it is the locus of riots and such.

Hugh has spoken. We all know what that means.

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