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Friday, December 19, 2008

The N&O's Wachovia interview: heavy on predictions, light on context

Posted by on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 3:44 PM

The News & Observer ran a one-source news story in today's business section that reported on a meeting between "executives and journalists" at the paper and Mark Vitner, a Wachovia economist. The piece essentially consisted of Vitner's prediction that the recession would last until mid-2009 (really?), and his admission that banks "fishtailed a little bit" due, in the reporter's words, to "troubles that caused credit markets to stop functioning in the first place."

The Progressive Pulse, the blog of NC Policy Watch, notes that the N&O story failed to mention that Wachovia played a significant role in those "troubles," focusing instead of the ensuing credit crunch. As The New York Times reported in a story that ran pre-bailout, Wachovia was a key player in the housing bubble that went bust:

Wachovia has a $120 billion portfolio of mortgages loaded with adjustable interest-rate loans that allow borrowers to skip part of their monthly payments, much of which it inherited from its ill-timed acquisition of Golden West, the big California lender, at the end of the housing boom in 2006.

The Progressive Pulse is none too pleased that this bit did not make the N&O story, noting that it would be to Wachovia's advantage to leave the phrase "subprime loans" out of the picture:

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N.C. economy: Worst in 25 years

Posted by on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 12:12 PM

North Carolina's unemployment rate is 7.9 percent; almost 36,000 people lost jobs in November; the number of unemployed workers seeking jobs is at an all-time high. Commentary from the N.C. Justice Center (Budget & Tax unit) is below:

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The fog is lifting

Posted by on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 11:38 AM

For the past week, it's felt like we were inhabiting Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic highway in "The Road" (and not just because of the canned pears). Now, it seems, the fog is lifting: the sun is showing signs of its existence, and the temperature may reach 70 today.

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Smile! Al Franken's gonna be a U.S. senator!

Posted by on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 11:20 AM

Is this a great pretty good redeemable country or what? Al Franken, SNL's erstwhile one-man mobile uplink unit reporter and the author of "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations," has taken the lead in the Minnesota U.S. Senate recount, with various outlets projecting that he'll win by 80 votes or more. As another of Al's characters said of himself: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

(Weekend Update: Can't find any video of the uplink unit, which was in my top 10 funniest SNL bits ever. There's a picture of Al "reporting" from the scene of the '88 Florida primary here. And another, from the New Hampshire primary, here. [look under full summary--they're in "Weekend Update" segements.)

(Weekend Update 2: At mid-day break in Minnesota, Franken has pulled ahead by 266 votes -- gaining 271 this morning as Coleman challenges are serially tossed out. Yes, there remain contested absentee ballots (1,500 of them?) and Coleman's in court contesting some sort of "duplicate" ballots, but the folks who are following this think it's pretty much in the bag for Franken. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which apparently calls itself the Strib, has strib-streaming coverage online here.)

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

N.C. Department of Correction shuns Durham

Posted by on Thu, Dec 18, 2008 at 1:07 PM

The News & Observer's recent investigative series on North Carolina's failed probation system reserved particular blame for the Division of Community Corrections, the state agency in charge of hiring local probation officers and overseeing probationers. Since 2000, 580 probationers under the watch of the Division were convicted of murder or manslaughter, the series found. Meanwhile, due to persistent vacancies and heavy caseloads in probation offices, nearly 14,000 probationers--including nearly 20 percent of all of Durham's probationers--have gone missing:

[Robert Guy, head of the state probation system, and Correction Secretary Theodis Beck] allowed vacancies to pile up in urban areas with heavy caseloads without using all available options to recruit replacements. And they failed to convey to legislators the growing difficulties of keeping track of dangerous probationers.

When they did ask for more help, the General Assembly usually said no. This year, legislators said yes, but nearly five months later, no new officers have been hired.

Yesterday, the N.C. Department of Correction--which oversees the Division of Community Corrections--announced that it had found locations for 26 new probation officers--and none of them are in Durham.

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Indy's Coleman on WUNC

Posted by on Thu, Dec 18, 2008 at 11:13 AM

Indy staff writer Vernal Coleman will be on WUNC's State of Things today to discuss either his story on Durham's faulty police surveillance camera system or the state of labor unions; it's a little unclear. Listen anyway: It airs at noon at 91.5 FM, or via live stream on WUNC.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Duke's endowment down 19 percent

Posted by on Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 11:30 PM

Duke University President Richard Brodhead sent an email to students, faculty and staff Wednesday evening letting them know some unsettling news about how the financial crisis has affected the university: Its endowment is worth 19 percent less than it was on July 1.

It could be worse. Just ask Yeshiva University.

Below is a copy of Brodhead's email.

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Regulators green-light Shearon Harris--for another 38 years

Posted by on Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 2:18 PM

Those of you within striking distance of the Shearon Harris nuke plant, don't toss those potassium iodide pills. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved Progress Energy’s request to extend the plant's operating license of through 2046, according to the Triangle Business Journal.

The Indy has long reported on the problems at Shearon Harris, from fire safety violations to security guards who cheated on qualifying tests. Nonetheless, the NRC inexplicably has given the plant glowing reviews.despite studies that show there's no safe level of radiation that comes out of nuke plants.

Read more on the fire issues, the guard training and legal action take by environmental watchdogs.

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A per-therm rate change we can believe in

Posted by on Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 1:20 PM

PSNC Energy, the only natural-gas provider in the Triangle, has submitted a request (PDF) to the N.C. Utilities Commission asking for a 14-percent decrease in the consumer rate from $1.43 per therm to $1.22 per therm, effective Jan. 1.

What does that mean, for the average man? It would have saved this reporter approx. $11 last month. That would have been awesome.

UPDATE: According to a Public Staff report (PDF) of the N.C. Utilities Commission, average winter therm usage is roughly 78 therms/mo., meaning the proposed PSNC savings would be about $16 a month.

To see for yourself, look at your last heating bill, and multiply therms used by 0.20179 (the proposed change). E.g. 54 therms used x 0.20170 = $11.23 savings.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Never mind Kenny Rogers, here's Morrissey

Posted by on Tue, Dec 16, 2008 at 9:23 PM

The Durham Performing Arts Center announced today that Morrissey will play March 11, 2009.

Short notice to get your money together, though: Tickets go on sale Friday, Dec. 19, at 10 a.m., at the DPAC box office, by telephone, on its Web site and at Ticketmaster outlets.

Prices are a reasonable $25-$42. This should sell out fast.

The official press release is after the jump.

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