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Archive for August, 2011

CLT – Bogota flights?

As promised, the DOT has announced the transition to an Open Skies aviation agreement with Colombia.

The basics: US airlines are currently allowed to fly 91 flights a week (= 13 flights a day) to Colombia’s largest cities. (Barranquilla is already Open Skies and thus doesn’t count against that limits.) Charlotte is US Airways main hub for flights to points in Central and South America. When the U.S.-Colombia air service agreement was last liberalized in 2007, US Airways applied for the authority to fly Charlotte – Bogota daily. It did not win any of the then available frequencies.

Under the new agreement, an additional 21 weekly frequencies (flights) are available immediately and another 21 weekly will be available as of January 1, 2012 for use in the following city pairs that already have service: Atlanta-Bogota, Ft. Lauderdale-Bogota, Ft. Lauderdale-Cali, Ft. Lauderdale-Medellin, Houston-Bogota, Los Angeles-Bogota, Miami-Bogota, Miami-Cali, Miami-Medellin, New York/Newark-Bogota, New York/Newark-Medellin, Orlando-Bogota, and Washington-Bogota. (The practical differences between an immediately and Jan. 1, 2012 start date given the lead times involved is whether airlines could begin service before or after Christmas.) All limits disappear in these markets as of January 1, 2013.

Restrictions are eliminated effective immediately for all other city pairs including Charlotte – Bogota.

So if US Airways wants to start flying to Bogota, as it indicated it did in 2007, it is now free to do so. Whether it decides to offer the route and can make it work if it does fly it is a huge test of the airline’s ability to expand into non-beach markets in Central and South America. If it works, that is very encouraging. And if US Airways chooses not to try, it’s an indication that its previous interest was exactly because flights to Colombia were limited by treaty and the prospect for CLT – South America flights beyond the current Rio de Janerio and the planned Sao Paulo flights are limited indeed.

Bonus observation: Avianca, Colombia’s leading airline, is joining the Star Alliance, in which US Airways is already a member. That could open up some interesting codeshare possibilities should US Airways offer Bogota service.

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More Boobies in Asheville

The boobie drama in Asheville continues. In response to a rally where female protesters went naked from the waist up a few weeks ago, anti-boob bearing forces held their own counter-rally.

Things hit rock bottom quickly.

A rally to protest a recent topless event in Asheville included two women baring their breasts.

One of the women was arrested Sunday when she stripped naked.

About 50 people who were upset about an Aug. 21 rally in Asheville in support of the right for women to go topless staged their own event Sunday.

But two women bared their breasts and 21-year-old Molly Sarah Rosch of Asheville was arrested when she stripped completely.

Rosch said she was exercising her religious rights and her legal rights shortly before she stripped. She was charged with indecent exposure.

One of the organizers of Sunday’s event, Carl Mumpower, says city leaders should be held accountable for allowing the earlier topless rally. Mumpower says he considers the topless protest a form of child abuse.

This is just the beginning. Look for these rallies and counter-rallies to start busting out all over the country.

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Simple Lessons I Learned in the Hood

Just about every suburban home invasion story starts the same way in Charlotte.

“The doorbell rang and she opened the door …”

And yes, it is almost always the woman who does it.

Years of living in the hood while renovating homes cured me of that. No one ever opens the door for someone they don’t know in the hood. They slide an extra bolt, grab a gun and talk through the door. Good life lesson. We still practice it today at my house. Though we live in a safer neighborhood now, I still get an adrenaline rush when someone knocks on the door. Everyone should.

Here’s what happens when you don’t:

The couple says late Saturday night, their doorbell rang.  The wife opened the door to the three men and was greeted with a gun.

“He put a gun to my forehead, and pushed me down onto the stairs,” she said.

The husband, who was upstairs at the time, ran to his wife’s aid, but quickly realized he was also helpless.

“Seeing my wife on the floor at gunpoint, I just wanted to do what they wanted.”

The three men bound the couple with tape, and proceeded to steal money, a computer, a television, and keys.  The couple says at that point they were worried they would be killed.

A curious neighbor came out to his front yard, startled the men, and they ran off.

“If my neighbor didn’t come out of his door, everything would be gone, and we’d probably be lying in there dead,” the husband said.

The couple both suffered cuts and bruises from the attack.

Suburban life numbs people to the reality of exactly what kinds of monsters share the streets of a city with you. There are no walls or barriers that will keep them out of your neighborhood, or any other.

Bonus Observation: Don’t be fooled by people selling stuff. The most creative home invasion in my neighborhood was done by two guys dressed in suits with copies of the Charlotte Observer tucked under their arms. They claimed through the window that they were selling subscriptions. She opened the door and a life and death struggle ensued.

They had the wrong house, by the way. They were actually looking to rob the drug dealers in a similar looking house one street over.

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Get Out of Jail Free

Another repeat felon has cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and is on the run.

The problem is not with the monitoring program, which attempts to keep these thugs in line, but with our court system, which doesn’t. The problem is bond amounts that haven’t kept up with inflation, or sanity.

Reginald Martin got a total $20,000 bond on three felony charges for robbery with a dangerous weapon ($10,000) , conspiracy to commit robbery ($5,000) and assault with a deadly weapon resulting in serious injury ($5,000). For kicks I googled “bond” and “armed robbery” to see what today’s enterprising young criminals are bonding out for elsewhere. Here are the first three that came up:

In this one, the bond ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 for the suspects involved. In another one, a judge reduced the robber’s bond amount to $60,000 — from and initial amount of $300,000. In the third robbery, a young robber is sitting in jail on a $100,000 bond.

Unlike in Reginald Martin’s case, in all three of the random Google cases, no one was seriously injured by those charged. But hey, like I’ve always said, life is cheap here.

It is a common misperception that bail amounts can only serve to insure the appearance of the defendant. That is the main purpose of bail, but judges in Mecklenburg County can consider several additional factors, including the danger of the defendant to the community and the defendant’s criminal history. That is actually a written part of the court system’s operational rules.

It’s time for the county judicial system to revamp its bond guidelines, with bond amounts for serious crimes directed on a steep upward trajectory. If the system would just do this, and if judges wouldn’t side-step it, repeat offenders like Martin wouldn’t commit felony after felony while on bond. (Martin committed the armed robbery in question while on bond.) This would probably cut the courthouse case load by a double digit percentage.

 

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A Bailout for Andrew Segal

There’s no other rational way to spin this. CATS is throwing $771,150 at Andrew Segal of Boxer Property as part of the city’s efforts to do something with Eastland Mall. OK, to be technical, CATS is buying the land on which its transit station at Eastland sits. The lease is for $55,000 a year, which means the move pays for itself in 14 years if you assume the time-value of money is zero. Which it isn’t. If you assume a time-value of money of 5 percent per year, this pays for itself in more like 25 years.

And this is CATS we are talking about. Spending $771,150 to save $55,000 per year is its best use of funds when it’s trying to build a billion dollar light rail extension to UNCC? Really?

Bonus observation: You know the fix is in when everyone talks about how good a deal this is for CATS but pretty much ignores how long it will take for the purchase to pay for itself.

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Is a lion prowling the Piedmont?

Black bears have been turning up in Charlotte and Gastonia with higher frequency than usual this spring and summer.

But we’ve got nothing on Kernersville, NC, about 90 miles down the road. Check this out. In December, a doctor who lives there photographed and filmed a big cat crossing the frozen pond in her back yard.

Terry Webb, the curator of mammals at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, is convinced that based on the shape and color of the animal, it’s not a house cat, but is more likely an African lion released by a pet owner.

Chris Kreh, the district biologist for the State Wildlife Authority, says he thinks the animal is a regular house cat.

Here are some more pictures. In one of these, the cat is a dead ringer for an African lion. In others, it looks more like some kind of cheetah to me. I don’t know what it is, but as an owner of a house cat I’d say its not a house cat.

What does it look like to you? Lion or house cat?

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The Unbelievable, Jaw-Dropping Story of the True Extent of the Wall Street Bailout

This is the best synopsis I’ve seen so far of what went on behind the scenes to “save” the economy after TARP and it will rattle your cage. Start with the fact that the Federal Reserve now apparently has carte blanche check writing ability and made $1.2 TRILLION in secret loans backed by taxpayers to big Wall Street firms that it got permission from no one to make. Then try to process what happened to the money.

While we were being told the 10 largest financial institutions had borrowed about $160 billion from the Treasury Department, we weren’t being told that the same firms were also borrowing $ 669 billion in emergency funds from the Fed. Those borrowers included Morgan Stanley ($ 107 billion), Citicorp. ($99.5 billion) and Bank of America ($ 91.4 billion).

Several big American financial institutions who were trumpeting their liquidity at the time of the crisis (we’ll let you dig their names out yourself, rather than call them liars in print), were, in fact, relying on secret federal borrowings to keep afloat and avoid insolvency. At times, and in some instances, the Fed money provided all of an institution’s available cash …

The total amount lent to the private banking sector by the federal government, Bloomberg notes, was about the same as the current amount of 6.5 million delinquent or foreclosed mortgages. Those borrowers haven’t gotten any meaningful government help …

And the true shocker:

… what sustained the viability of America’s financial system during the Crash of ’08 was a total lack of transparency as to how the liquidity was being funded. Several of our ten largest financial institutions (as well as several in Europe) were illiquid for extended periods of time and would have failed, but for the secret, low interest government loans.

 

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Pray.

Warren Buffett is investing $5 billion in Bank of America:

Bank of America Corp. said this morning that investor Warren Buffet is buying preferred shares in the company worth $5 billion, sending the stock soaring 24 percent to $8.66 in early trading.

The investment comes after a roller coaster month in which the bank’s shares have threatened to fall below $6. They closed Wednesday at $6.99 after an 11 percent jump.

At 11:30 a.m., the bank’s shares had fallen back some, trading up 13 percent at $7.92.

Some of the debate on the BofA situation on this website among posters has been about whether the bank will fail in some way. The critical question for Charlotteans to ask is whether the bank succeeds here. Again, this is what we are up against. And this.

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Political Correctness Leaving State School Kids Unprepared for Job Market

Billions of tax dollars later, the geniuses in state government finally figure out that our state public school system, which attempts to put all students on a college track, utterly fails a large number of students and the market.

The South has a shortage of workers to fill middle-skills jobs such as medical technicians and computer support workers, even as many four-year graduates struggle to repay student loans, according to a study released Sunday.

The report released by the National Skills Coalition during the Southern Governors Association meeting in Asheville shows that 51 percent of all jobs in the American South fall into the “middle-skills” category, requiring education and training beyond high school but less than a four-year degree …

In North Carolina, 51 percent of available jobs fall into the middle-skills category. The study says 43 percent of job seekers are able to meet those qualifications.

Panelist James Wiseman, of Toyota Motors Corp., said his company struggles to find qualified workers for jobs as electricians, maintenance, and tool and die technicians – jobs that often pay between $50,000 and $75,000 a year.

This, like many other easily solvable problems in our society, is the creation of political correctness. It is politically incorrect to believe that some students simply aren’t intellectually suited for college — and maybe don’t even have a personal desire to go.

Everyone has to be pounded into that mold or it would simply be unfair. And if some students can’t be pounded into that mold, we obsess about where we as a society have failed them, that it must be discrimination or something. Then we spend billions trying to close educational and intellectual gaps between students that won’t budge … or some idiot judge orders us to spend billions trying to close educational gaps that won’t budge. And after all that, students emerge from the public education system largely unqualified for many of the jobs that exist.

Why can’t we track capable kids into these sorts of technical professions from a young age? Instead of all that teaching to the test, and the endless rounds of testing to assess the teaching, why not use some of that time and money to test kids to see where their capabilities lie? If we’ve got to pay for their education for 12 years, why not teach those who will never be college material the tool and die trade for two years starting in high school?

And speaking of college, Bill Gates is on to something. The days of middle class families paying $200,000 to send their kid to a brick and mortar college so that every feminist studies wacko professor can have tenure must end. Colleges have become little more than a welfare state for those churning out liberal propaganda.

Gates wants most kids of the future to go to to college online — for $2,000 a year, not $20,000. The brick and mortar college system shouldn’t end completely of course. Those on a science track will still need some sort of place to show up physically for labs. The scientific research that colleges and universities churn out is critical. But for liberal arts?

Those classes should be available from and taken online. Parents must demand — and given the shape of the economy soon will demand — that more college degrees be offered online as on option by serious institutions like our state schools. Taxpayers must demand it, too. We just can’t afford this educational mess anymore. Gates says it is terribly inefficient. I agree.

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JP Morgan May Take Over Bank Of America

It’s 9:09 am Wednesday, and the fact that this has not appeared on the Charlotte Observer website yet is a testimony to the deep level of denial/blind sightedness in this community about Charlotte’s current economic situation — and the very real possibility it will get much worse.

I have to go to the Fox News site to find out about this? This rumor about Bank of America possibly being taken over by JP Morgan is no surprise to MeckDeck readers, of course, who read this and this on MeckDeck in the last week.

Whether a take over happens or not, the fact that these rumors are being published at such a high level in the media shows how cooked BofA’s goose is.

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