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Archive for December, 2011

Harold Cogdell: Investigate me! And my Corrupt Colleagues Who Enabled Me!

Mecklenburg County Commission Chairman Harold Cogdell has now gone full Chicago on his corrupt colleagues.

Harold Ca$h Cogdell, Chicago-$tyle power broker and commi$$ion chairman

As much as I’d like to smack him at times, you’ve gotta love this.

Cogdell’s joke, I mean “job” at the C.W. Williams Community Health Center was created after Cogdell lobbied to get the non-profit health care provider an extra $110,000 in taxpayer funding during budgeting in June. That was quite a feat considering what a tough budget year it was and the fact that the county manager, who has been known to roll and dole himself to politically connected organizations, originally recommended that the group only get $280,000 rather than the $390,000 it eventually got thanks to Cogdell’s lobbying.

Commission Democrats could have cared less about Cogdell payola for months until Cogdell hacked them off this fall by knocking off a Democrat County commission chairperson using Republican votes. Now that, you don’t do. Sow now they care, and they are making a stink about it in public when just months before they could have cared less is Cogdell robbed the public blind for his own personal gain.

So they called for an investigation of Cogdell. He’s agreeing to that — and now calling for an investigation of them, including what they knew about his job and when they knew it:

Cogdell said after the Dec. 6 meeting that he would ask for the investigation, saying he did nothing wrong. But he also wants the investigation to look into whether fellow Democrats on the board knew of the arrangement –and whether they informed the public.

All of which bolsters my theory that when Dems rule a place in which voter demographics give them absolute power as a party, they quickly introduce an in-your-face, Chicago style corruption.

Which is exactly what Cogdell is doing with his yeah-I-did-it-but-they-knew-all-about-it-because-everyone-accepts-this-stuff-now approach. Very Blagojevich. And now, apparently, very Charlotte.

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Gov. Perdue Team Using Illegal Data to Spin Unemployment

Another day, another indictable offense.

That’s Governor Beverly Perdue for ya. Of course, she’ll claim she knows nothing about this. She’s just the victim of staff members and friends with a penchant for breaking the law.

Perdue’s staff has apparently been receiving “confidential employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics hours if not days before its scheduled release,” since at least January of 2011, according to a news report by the Carolina Journal.

A conviction for breaching the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 carries a fine of up to $250,000, up to five years in prison, or both, the Journal reports. Congress takes this so seriously because it is tantamount to insider trading:

There’s obviously good reason for this: someone with advanced word could place bets in financial and community markets and make lots of money. That’s why Congress provided for penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for early release of this data.

So this is all highly illegal. And sort of  bizarre, a word used a lot lately to describe Perdue and her staff. Why take that kind of risk?

All she’d gain that anyone can figure is a jump start writing her press releases, most of which spun bad economic news. But that’s not all that much of an advantage.

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McCrory’s In

No surprise there. He’d be a fool not to get into the governor’s race, given that polls for the last two years have consistently shown him beating Beverly Perdue. The latest has him up by 10 points. Her disapproval numbers are pretty solid as well, with 37 percent disapproving of the job she is doing and 47 percent well, not.

Her national press has been fabulous as well. In a piece called “Why North Carolina’s Perdue Is the Most Endangered Governor,” US News & World Report focused on Perdue’s bizarre actions and equally “bizarre” explanations her staff has been forced to make for them. And then of course there are the indictments of three of her campaign staff.

And who could forgot her bold determination to free nearly all of death row? Her veto last week of a bill to gut the disastrous Racial Justice Act could well result in upwards of 150 death row inmates getting out of the death penalty and 27 of them getting out of the death penalty and walking out of prison entirely.

How could anyone screw up the take down of this woman? You’d have to be pretty creative. But don’t count McCrory out. She narrowly beat him last time because he utterly, completely refused to go negative on her, even when she ran TV commercials trashing him.

We don’t do that in Charlotte. But to win, he must man up, or heck, at least strive to fight like a girl. With NJ Gov. Chris Christie fundraising for him, perhaps some of those cojones will wear off.

I write this not out of dislike for McCrory, but out of the sheer maddening frustration of months of watching him screw up a campaign he should have won. At one point, he was criss-crossing the state in his old Acura/Honda/whatever to events. The former mayor of Charlotte?!? At one point I suggested he was treating the campaign like a teenager treats his garage band. He was miffed.

If he wants this, he must man up this time. If he loses, she could set death row free upon innocent people. There are lives at stake here, Pat. Lives.

 

 

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Slot-swap issue: US Airways

Can’t stress enough the impact of the Delta/US Airways slot swap on US Airways. Simply put, it establishes a new baseline of service for the airline. And there will be many changes as a result, some obvious, some subtle.

• Some basic math: +42 flights at Washington Reagan National (DCA) – 132 flights at New York City’s Laguardia Airport (LGA) = which would seem to leave +90 (or so) of flights worth of capacity that US Airways could add at its other hub like, you know, Charlotte (CLT). Except, well, maybe not. Many of those flights at LGA are on 37-seat turboprops, which date back to the Reagan Administration.

Since those obviously planes aren’t going to DCA (see below), where are they going? The answer may well be “away.” The turboprops are operated by Piedmont Airlines, a wholly-owned subsidiary of US Airways, with announced plans to replace its existing fleet. So the simple solution could just be to get rid of some of the planes overtime. (Or maybe this inspires US Airways to announce a fleet renewal and fleet reduction.) Turboprops made up 54 of US Airways and its regional partner’s 624 flights from CLT in November.

• When US Airways originally announced the deal, it said it would add flights to 15 destinations from Reagan National: Birmingham, Ala.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Islip, N.Y.; Ithaca, N.Y.; Little Rock, Ark.; Madison, Wis.; Montreal, Canada; Miami, Fla.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Ottawa, Canada; Pensacola, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; and Tallahassee, Fla. Is that list still the plan?

Note in particular Des Moines, Grand Rapids and Madison. US Airways does not currently fly to Grand Rapids or Madison and only serves Des Moines from Phoenix. Hard to imagine US Airways just offering a single (DCA) flight to these destinations, so presumably the airline would link them to either Charlotte or Philadelphia. Note that Des Moines and Grand Rapids are the two largest unserved markets from CLT within 1,000 miles (Madison is 8th). So the slot swap really is the best opportunity in the foreseeable future for US Airways to add some Midwest destinations from Charlotte.

• Then there’s this line from US Airways originally press release:

[US Airways Senior Vice President, Marketing and Planning Andrew] Nocella continued, “We also plan to increase the number of seats we fly at DCA by using larger dual-class jets. This will increase capacity in a dense market, where demand continues to be brisk, without the negative effects of additional congestion.”

US Airways will operate 229 peak-day departures at DCA. Following full implementation of the new schedule, the airline anticipates its passenger enplanements at DCA will increase by 30 to 35 percent as a result of the new flights and use of larger aircraft.

The airline as a finite number of dual-class jets (those with first class). What routes from Charlotte and/or Philadelphia are seeing reduced mainline or large regional jet service so DCA can grow?

• Does having one fewer hubs north of Charlotte increase the change over time that US Airways will offer nonstops from CLT to more smaller markets in the northeast? (Islip, Elmira, etc.)

So, yes a lot of moving pieces. Will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

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These Dangerous, Low Income Kids are Slowing Down Our Children Academically …

… say concerned low-income, minority parents of high performing and gifted kids. And they want it stopped.

If these parents were white, as Peter St. Onge of the Charlotte Observer helpfully pointed out, this would be considered a racist complaint with no further thought given to whether letting academically troubled kids slow down academically advanced or gifted ones was a good educational strategy — for the kids, for Harding High School, for the school system or the country.

The school dropout story is always told by the media using the same template. It is about struggling kids needing a little extra help who didn't get it because taxpayers are stingy. Never does anyone stop to consider that we might be failing our best and brightest as well.

But most of these parents aren’t white, so they can ask these questions. And they’re right. They have hit upon the central problem in American education today — the neglect of academically advanced kids and what often amounts to discrimination against them in resources and prioritization.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has a striking history of outright discrimination against high achievers who would be nurtured in any other country. (I’ll get back to that in a minute.)

It is part of a national pattern Time magazine documented in 2007. The article focuses on geniuses, but gets at some uncomfortable truths about high achieving kids in general and how our education system is geared to neglect them in favor of a strategy of putting the majority of our resources into boosting low achievers to the middle, a strategy that bloats education spending and has yet to actually produce nationwide academic excellence. I’m convinced this is the central problem in American education, the failure to nurture more advanced kids. Here are some examples from the Time article:

-We take for granted that those with IQs at least three standard deviations below the mean (those who score 55 or lower on IQ tests) require “special” education. But students with IQs that are at least three standard deviations above the mean (145 or higher) often have just as much trouble interacting with average kids and learning at an average pace. Shouldn’t we do something special for them as well?

-American schools spend more than $8 billion a year educating the mentally retarded. Spending on the gifted isn’t even tabulated in some states, but by the most generous calculation, we spend no more than $800 million on gifted programs. But it can’t make sense to spend 10 times as much to try to bring low-achieving students to mere proficiency as we do to nurture those with the greatest potential.

-In a no-child-left-behind conception of public education, lifting everyone up to a minimum level is more important than allowing students to excel to their limit. It has become more important for schools to identify deficiencies than to cultivate gifts. Odd though it seems for a law written and enacted during a Republican Administration, the social impulse behind No Child Left Behind is radically egalitarian. It has forced schools to deeply subsidize the education of the least gifted, and gifted programs have suffered. The year after the President signed the law in 2002, Illinois cut $16 million from gifted education; Michigan cut funding from $5 million to $500,000. Federal spending declined from $11.3 million in 2002 to $7.6 million this year.

-But surprisingly, gifted students drop out at the same rates as nongifted kids–about 5% of both populations leave school early.

-Later in life, according to the scholarly Handbook of Gifted Education, up to one-fifth of dropouts test in the gifted range.

-Patrick Gonzales of the U.S. Department of Education presented a paper showing that the highest-achieving students in six other countries, including Japan, Hungary and Singapore, scored significantly higher in math than their bright U.S. counterparts, who scored about the same as the Estonians.

You can see the problem here. This isn’t discussed in this country because educators hide behind race and class to avoid discussing this issue. No one is talking about neglecting low-achieving  students. Far from it. But is making these students and their needs the primary and often only real focus of the education system a winning strategy for America? St. Onge’s piece comes close to asking these questions:

(Parents’) concerns touched on safety issues this school year, the first since Harding’s magnet program was eliminated while hundreds of students were added from now-closed Waddell High. But the parents’ primary worry was academic – many of those new students, who come from low-income minority homes, were below grade level, demanding attention from teachers that inevitably held back the progress of Harding’s traditionally higher-achieving students.

The concerns mirrored those that many Harding parents have voiced since CMS contemplated the change to Harding a year ago. Those parents, almost all of them black, predicted then that academics would suffer, and they are rightfully worried now.

And if they were white, they would be called racist for saying so.

Now back to CMS. This is a school system that partners with and backs a non-profit that hands out college scholarships to low-income black males (but not black females) simply for graduating. Yet when challenging academically gifted students is on the table, even if it doesn’t cost extra, it is shot down as discriminatory to those who don’t qualify. Here’s more on how CMS discriminates based solely on academic talent:

Last month, the school system did away with a high honors program at Bailey Middle School in Cornelius. System leaders were apparently so clueless about what’s going on around them that they didn’t realize that Bailey’s former principal, who had been given greater autonomy due to her success with student achievement by the district, had authorized it. The program had one single criterion: students had to test in the top 5 percent of their class to attend. It was income, race and gender neutral. The goal, God forbid, was to challenge these kids beyond what a regular honors course could do.

Oh, the horror. CMS administrators told both me and WBTV’s Dedrick Russell that the program had to go because it “discriminates” — yes, they actually used that word …

Everyone who tested in the top 5 percent was accepted into the program. After a long e-mail exchange with administrators and much twisting of words by the same, it became clear that the students this program “discriminated” against were those who didn’t or couldn’t test in the top 5 percent — in other words, those who didn’t qualify.

And something else became clear, too. At CMS, recognizing, rewarding and nurturing raw academic talent is considered to be discriminatory and a thing to recoil from. It was so controversial that the system pulled the plug on the program immediately once bureaucrats discovered it. (These would, no doubt, be the same bureaucrats baffled by our inability to compete academically with students in China, where they actually celebrate academic talent.)

CMS spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on programs based on students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and poor academic achievement or combinations of the two. That’s fine. But if the Bailey program discriminates, how is that programs based on lack of achievement aren’t discriminatory? Or programs based on other factors that aren’t academic at all, like income level? These programs exclude students from getting extra help if they don’t qualify. How is that fair?

These parents are right. Without extra resources or at least a strategy for advancing academically advanced kids, Harding will falter academically. Then school board and county leaders will whine about the tragic decline in scores at Harding and schools like it when they are angling for another whopping property tax increase. They will then throw more money at these schools with minimal results. Who will get the blame for those results? The taxpayer, who selfishly declined to turn over even more funds to prop up this mess. And round and round and round we go.

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Delta resumes LaGuardia flights

Five daily starting on July 11 on a mix of Bombardier CRJ700 and CRJ900 aircraft. These seat 65 and 76 respectively and have a first-class cabin. And thus we will again three three airlines flying Charlotte – LaGuardia (US Airways, Delta, and American). That was also the situation back in 2007 and 2008, but this time there’s a difference: American and Delta are using bigger planes with first class.

There’s competition to both of the other NYC-area airports as well: US Airways and Continental (soon to be United) fly to Newark while US Airways, JetBlue, and Delta fly to Kennedy.

Update: Delta has loaded their new schedules in. Kennedy goes from four flight a day down to two when LaGuardia service begins.

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Iraq War Ends with More of a Whimper Than a Bang

Nearly 4,500 American lives lost. 32,000 injured. $800 billion dollars (that’s a little less than the Dems spent in a single day on the stimulus, but still.)

We officially ended the war with more of a whimper than a bang yesterday in a simple ceremony at the Baghdad airport as Iraqis burned our flag on the city’ s streets. Iraqi leaders declined to attend.

This war took the innocence of the American people in a way Vietnam could not. It has long been buried deep in the American psyche as an absolute, unquestionable truth that all people want to be free, that that is an intrinsic part of human nature. Our nation was founded upon this premise. When they waved their purple thumbs in Iraq after they voted, we thought they were like us, that they would want to live like us, that they would value as we do the individual freedom we still (mostly) have that is the basis for our society.

In Iraq (and Afghanistan), we learned otherwise.

We thought we could win their freedom for them and that because it was freedom, they would value it.

In Iraq, (and Afghanistan) the American people learned otherwise. You can’t give someone freedom. They have to pay for it with their own blood in a determined, self-led effort to earn and keep it or it will have no real value for them.

We thought that left to its own devices, with freedom handed to them, a people would naturally value individual freedom over the collective as the basis for their society.

In Iraq, (and Afghanistan), the American people learned that you can’t impose individual freedom upon largely Islamic cultures that value one form of Islamic law or another over the life of the individual — and all else.

 What, if anything, the idiot politicians learned, I don’t know. Maybe this went exactly as they intended.

But that’s my two cents. 
 

 

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Three People Dead = Three Years, Nine Months in Prison

Fair?

This was no routine traffic accident. This was a drag race during which Tyler Stasko hit speeds of 100 mph. To give people like Stasko significantly more time behind bars, we’d have to change state law, since he pretty much got the max. Should we? How many years in prison was this crime worth?

So this isn’t all about Stasko, here are two of the three victims.

Mackie Price and Her Mom Cynthia

 

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Duke Energy: About that 17% Increase in Your Energy Bill …

 

… we’ll be back to for it. In the meantime, Charlotte-area residents should budget for the 7.2 percent increase already approved that will be coming in February, USA Today reports.

It's time to turn down your thermostat by 17 percent - and learn to like it. So grab a sweater and huddle round the fire, folks. We're going Soviet-style.

No, Duke didn’t say publicly that they’d be back for the full 17% increase they requested but didn’t get, but trust me, they’ll eventually get it. There’s just no way the state could agree to it all at once without massive backlash in this economy. So look for your energy bills to go through the roof over the next few years, blasting past inflation and all common sense.

Want to know why prices are going up? Because Obama’s EPA decided to implement regulations that will likely take up to 20 percent of the nation’s coal fired energy plants offline, which is causing rates to “necessarily skyrocket.” USA Today hedges around the reason for this, but eventually explains it kind of:

Prices are climbing, too, hitting a record 11.8 cents per residential kilowatt hour so far this year, reports the Energy Information Administration. The increase reflects higher fuel prices and the expense of replacing old power plants, including heavily polluting — but cheap to operate — coal plants that don’t meet federal clean air requirements.

“Higher bills are a huge problem for low income families,” says Chris Estes, executive director of the North Carolina Housing Coalition, which opposes a proposed rate hike in its state by Duke Energy. “Utilities are what people’s budgets start with.”

Duke Energy says the rate increase is needed to pay for replacing old power plants and making the transmission system more reliable. The Charlotte-based utility has reached a tentative agreement with North Carolina to raise rates 7.2% in February, lower than its original 17% request.

It’s a process that began under President Bush that has been put on steroids and accelerated under Obama. The plan? Shut down about a fifth of the nation’s coal plants over the next 18 months. The plants will shut down because of insanely stringent new EPA rules that make it too expensive for utilities to continue to run them.

And no, as USA Today misled readers, most of them weren’t “heavily polluting.” They had been updated again and again to comply with increasingly more stringent EPA rules over the last two decades. Our air is now cleaner than it has been at any time during the last century. What happened is that the latest set of rules regulating pollution were so stringent that they couldn’t be met at all without billions in costs to utilities. Again, our air is actually dramatically cleaner than it was a decade ago, so much cleaner that the EPA had to lower air pollution standards to justify its existence.

Here’s the easiest to understand summary I could find of what has happened up to this point:

As the stagnant U.S. economy continues to plague the country, and as regulations increase, opposition from industry leaders has sprung up. The American Legislative Exchange Council and the Edison Electric Institute, the latter an industry representative for investor-owned utilities, have tagged the developing regulations “EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck,” as they claim the new rules will cost utilities up to $129 billion and eliminate one-fifth of America’s coal capacity. The Edison Electric Institute also noted that the U.S. government’s regulatory war on coal could retire up to 90,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity generation.

Another concern is further damage to the very issue President Obama is so determined to reverse — the unemployment rate. According to a Commerce Department analysis, the regulations would cost up to 60,000 jobs, a much higher figure than the agency originally forecast.

The EPA’s new rules have also drawn criticism from House Republicans and some centrist Democrats, and many are fighting to block or delay the rules. While stumping on the campaign trail, Minnesota Representative and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann promised to have the EPA’s doors “locked and lights turned off.” GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich went further, calling for the agency to be shut down entirely. The EPA is “hostile to all new technology, hostile to local community control, hostile to the business community, [and] hostile to the marketplace,” Gingrich asserted.

 Even the Washington Post has admitted, in a piece called “Getting ready for a wave of coal-plant shutdowns” that these news regs would lead to massive plant shutdowns, but like most of the rest of the liberal media, they brushed off the issue of what this would cost consumers in their energy bills.

So what is this likly to cost you over the next few years as Duke and other utilities recoup their costs? Guarantee it will be more than 17%. Consider the case of American Electric Power, as detailed in The Hill in June.

Utility giant American Electric Power said Thursday that it will shut down five coal-fired power plants and spend billions of dollars to comply with a series of pending Environmental Protection Agency regulations …

In a statement outlining its plan to comply with EPA’s regulations, AEP said it would need to retire 6,000 megawatts of coal-fired power generation in the coming years.

The company, one of the country’s largest electric utilities, estimated that it will cost between $6 billion and $8 billion in capital investments over the next decade to comply with the regulations in their current form.

The costs of complying with the regulations will result in an increase in electricity prices of 10 to 35 percent and cost 600 jobs, AEP said.

I wonder what it will ultimatly add up to here. Obama likes to talk about the vanishing middle class. He would know. He’s done more than anyone in a remarkably short period of time to erode it, one dollar at a time.

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Slot-swap issues: Delta Air Lines

As promised, some additional thoughts on the impact of the slot swap on Charlotte and the Carolinas. Let’s start by looking at the impact on Delta’s operations.

Delta is the second-largest airline at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, from which it offers the following flights:

Atlanta (ATL): 10 times a day on mainline aircraft
Detroit (DTW): 5 times a day on a mix of mainline and large regional jets
Minneapolis-St.Paul (MSP): 4 times a day on a mix of mainline and large regional jets
New York City John F. Kennedy (JFK): 4 times a day on 50-seat regional jets
Mempis (MEM): 3 times a day on a mix of large and 50-seat regional jets
Cincinnati (CVG): 3 times a day on 50-seat regional jets
Salt Lake City (SLC): once a day on a mainline aircraft starting in March, mainly to force US Airways, which is also starting the route then, to give it up

So 29 flights a day currently, going to 30 in early March. Mainline (flown by Delta Air Lines proper and seating 125+) and large regional jets (flown by regional partners, and seat between 65 and 76) have first class. The 50-seat regional jets flown by regional partners do not have first class sections.

• As previously mentioned, Delta is acquiring 132 sets of slots at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in New York City from US Airways. The Department of Transportation made the airline auction off 16 sets of slots (winners: eight each to JetBlue and WestJet). After all is said and done, US Airways will only fly to LGA from five places: Charlotte, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Washington Reagan National. So how will Delta use the 116 slots sets it net out of the deal? US Airways has or soon will be dropping service to LGA from many airports across the Carolinas (Raleigh, Greensboro, Wilmington, Charleston, Columbia, Asheville). Delta already flies some of these routes. Will it increase frequency and/or aircraft size on those routes? Will it pick up the remainder that it doesn’t serve now?

• Or for that matter, does Delta resume CLT-LGA flights? (They flew the route in 2007 and 2008). And if so, on what type of aircraft? 50-seat regional jets or something larger with first class to better compete with the US Airways and American Airlines jets on the route? And if Delta adds CLT-LGA flights, what happens to its existing four-daily JFK flights? (Kennedy is also slot restricted but that those restrictions matter only during part of the day.)

• Delta has got to find the planes to fly those extra LaGuardia routes. Candidates for where they come from include the airline’s ever shrinking hubs in Cincinnati and Memphis. How many flights a day total will it have a year from now from CLT to these two cities? It would not surprise if a year from now, the number were lower than the current six — and the answer could even be as low as zero.

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