A high-profile game sure brings out the politicians. Super Bowl winners often get face time with presidents (or voice time with them), for example. Sometimes politicians even want to be seen with athletes who've just disgraced themselves in front of the entire planet: In 2006, after Zinedine Zidane notoriously headbutted Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final, French politicians eager to be seen with a French-Arab hero rushed to Zidane's side.
Still, it doesn't always benefit the politician to be at the ballgame, of course. Especially when the team is the Philadelphia Flyers. Just ask Sarah Palin.
The stakes are a little lower down here on Tobacco Road, to put it very mildly: According to a press release issued today from the Chapel Hill mayor’s office, Kevin Foy and his counterpart in Durham, Mayor Bill Bell, will stimulate one or the other's municipal economy after the outcome of Wednesday night's battle royale in Cameron Indoor Stadium between the sixth-ranked Blue Devils of Duke and the third-ranked Tar Heels of UNC.
If Duke loses, Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy will receive tickets to a show at the Durham Performing Arts Center, the newly opened largest performing arts theater in the Carolinas. If UNC loses, Durham Mayor Bill Bell is invited to a night on Franklin Street and Asian cuisine at the Lantern Restaurant, which the News and Observer ranked as the 2008 #1 restaurant in the Triangle.
If every loser won such sweet deals, we should all be losers, right? Ahh, not really. Far more difficult than accepting defeat is the second part of the wager - if UNC wins, Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy will supply Durham Mayor Bill Bell with a Carolina blue sweatshirt which he will wear at the next Durham City Council meeting. If Duke wins, Durham Mayor Bill Bell will supply Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy with a Duke blue sweatshirt which he will wear at the next Chapel Hill Town Council Meeting.
Mayor Bell wasn't reached for comment.
Perhaps Mayors Bell and Foy—and you, dear reader—will consider joining our crack Triangle Offense contributors Wednesday night as they live-blog the game, which starts at 9 p.m.
State regulators have approved a private developer's survey that significantly re-draws the boundaries of Jordan Lake, and the protected areas that surround the drinking-water supply reservoir. In a letter to the Durham City-County Planning Department (PDF, 580 KB) dated Feb. 4, 2009, the N.C. Division of Water Quality announced that it "accepts and approves your proposed revisions to the critical and protected area boundaries around Jordan Lake."
Julie Ventaloro, the state watershed program coordinator at DWQ, told the Indy that changing the maps is now "in Durham's hands." The County must conduct a public hearing, and vote to adopt the state-approved survey, which was commissioned by a private developer who owned land within the affected area. Adopting the change would effectively move a 164-acre tract that was owned by the developer--and now slated for dense, mixed-use development--out of Jordan Lake's critical watershed area, which severely limits development within one mile of major water supplies.
Neal Hunter, a minority partner in the company that currently owns the property, was the principle owner when he commissioned the survey and submitted it to the Durham Planning Department for approval. He also is listed as an owner of the property in a pending request to re-zone the property from low-density residential and rural-residential, to mixed-use development. (The proposed development, known as the "751 Assemblage," calls for 1,300 residential units, and 600,000 square feet of mixed commercial and office space.
Following a November 2008 decision by the Board of County Commissioners, Durham requested state approval to re-draw the boundaries of Jordan Lake, based on Hunter's survey. In 2006, former planning director Frank Duke accepted the changes without informing the board, or state regulators.
The Center for Responsible Lending reports that just since January 1, more than 240,000 new foreclosures have begun in America -- or one every 13 seconds. If anybody really wants the economic bleeding to stop, CRL says, they should start by cauterizing this open wound. CRL is a Durham-based organization with national expertise and clout. Check out their report -- and their up-to-the-second count of new foreclosures in '09 -- at their website.
Employees at The News & Observer started feeling the pain of the financial downturn early on, with layoffs and buyouts that began last spring and have so far amounted to 233 lost jobs.
Today, the paper announced more layoffs are coming, though it's unclear how many.
"We had hoped that previous cuts would be sufficient to see us through the sharp revenue declines affecting our industry," N&O publisher Orage Quarles III said in a statement e-mailed to employees this morning.
"Unfortunately, we have seen an unprecedented loss in advertising revenue with many of our retailers and auto dealers either going out of business or leaving the area, and employment advertising dropping to all time lows," he said. "Instead, we must continue to respond to the deepening financial crisis that is threatening not only our industry but all kinds of businesses in almost every sector of the economy."
The N&O also has to respond to the more than $2 billion in debt and tanking stock price of its parent company, McClatchy, which risks being de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange.
In a recent conversation, N&O Executive Editor John Drescher told me he'd freed business reporter Jonathan Cox from his regular news duties to work for two months on a project to find alternate streams of revenue for the newspaper. Cox, who has a business degree, came to Drescher with the idea of selling content the company has already created -- its bank of photos, for example -- to bring in an additional $100,000 in revenue. That's not much when you consider The News & Observer Publishing Company is a $100 million a year operation. But as Drescher pointed out, $100K is enough to save a couple newsroom jobs. No word yet on the details of that plan.
Finding new streams of revenue seems to fit with McClatchy CEO and Chairman Gary Pruitt's thinking.
Pruitt recently told investors the company isn't just sitting idly by, but plans to push for more revenue from the Web.
That could include experimenting with charging readers for some online features, instead of giving it all away. "Our costs of delivery online is lower, so the distinction between ‘print is pay and online is free’ is wrong," Pruitt was quoted as saying. "We’ll experiment with paid content online. But most experiments show that you lose more online revenue than you gain per subscriber."
Most major newspapers did away with paid online subscriptions following the lead of the The New York Times which in 2007 abandoned the TimesSelect service that put its columnists and archives behind a pay wall. In a Q&A with readers this week, NYT Editor Bill Keller defended the basic idea behind paid content, saying it was one concept the paper is looking into along with micro-payments (an iTunes for news, as NYT media columnist David Carr recently imagined) and selling content to reading devices like the Kindle. There's also been a lot of talk lately of creating endowments for newspapers, which would allow them to operate on a nonprofit model.
I doubt anybody's going to crack the big question of how to pay for journalism between now and the next MNI earnings report. So meanwhile, what does it all mean for the worried and demoralized employees on South McDowell Street?
The North Carolina Criminal Procedure Act, subject to the the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, guarantees that all defendants accused of non-capital crimes can post bail, and be released, pending their trial. A bill introduced today by two first-term state representatives would remove this protection for illegal immigrants convicted of any one of a wide range of criminal and misdemeanor offenses, including moving traffic violations.
The only other non-capital offenses for which defendants are not guaranteed bond in North Carolina are drug trafficking and street-level gang charges, as defined by the N.C. Gang Suppression Act. However, in order for bond to be denied in these cases, defendants must also have been convicted of similar charges (or released from prison) within the past five years, and committed the most recent offense while on pretrial release for another charge. H.B. 84 (No Bail for Certain Illegal Immigrants) would require no such stipulation.
The bill is sponsored by two first-term Republicans: Justin Burr, a bail bondsman from Stanly County, and Pearl Burris Floyd, a Gaston County commissioner who in 2008 became the first black Republican woman elected to the state Legislature. Reps. John Blust (Guilford Co.), David Guice (Transylvania Co.), Efton Sager (Wayne Co.) and Edgar Starnes (Caldwell Co.), all Republicans, have signed on as co-sponsors.
According to the bill, illegal immigrants convicted of a moving traffic violation; a sex, drug or gang-related offense; or a violent felony, would face a "rebuttable presumption" that they be denied bond. (In other words, defense attorneys would have to prove with "reasonable assurance" that their client will appear for trial, and that their release would not pose "an unreasonable risk" to the community, a burden that no other criminal defendant faces--with the exception, in North Carolina, of defendants who face capital charges, or who have committed multiple drug-trafficking or gang-related offenses.
(One other rare exception to guaranteed bond in North Carolina is defendants whose charges occurred while in involuntary commitment at a mental-health facility, or who have recently escaped from such a facility. These defendants are not guaranteed pre-trial release, but instead ordered returned to the mental-health facility.)
In addition, according to the bill, illegal immigrants accused of committing any misdemeanor or non-violent felony offense would be subject to a presumption of bond denial if U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement has "guaranteed that, in all such cases in this State, it will issue a detainer for the initiation of removal proceedings and agree to reimburse the State for the cost of incarceration from the time of the issuance of the detainer."
Presumably, ICE could guarantee such retainers for any crime, at any time; the bill lists no additional provisions for which crimes the federal agency could agree to cover.
More updates to follow.
Indy freelancer Marc Maximov spent the last two weeks of January where he always does: at Park City, Utah, volunteering with the Sundance Film Festival and taking in films. Lots of films.
Every year, he sends an e-mail to his friends with the skinny on the films--especially the documentaries, which he finds to be the festival's most consistently rewarding offerings. With any luck, Triangle residents will have the opportunity to see some of them at Durham’s Full Frame documentary fest in April.
Marc's note follows:
City Council was abuzz Monday night, as Mayor Bill Bell told Durhamites to "prepare for the worst" in his annual State of the City address (read the Indy write-up here), and a standing-room-only crowd stuck around to lend their support for a code amendment that would allow backyard chickens within city limits.
After Bell's dire forecast for the city--including a projected shortfall of "between $24 and $40 million" in the fiscal year 2009-10--council members returned to the issue of whether to allow city dwellers, with a permit, to house female chickens (hens) in backyard coops for the purpose of producing eggs and meat (and, also, companionship). It would seem a small issue, compared to making up $40 million, but the council, yet again, delayed a vote on the measure. Previously, a vote was delayed at a Jan. 5 meeting. Bell admitted to not having read the most recent language in the proposed amendment, which the Council received Monday from Planning Director Steve Medlin.
In his report, Medlin recommended the Council approve the urban-chickens amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance, citing a "growing interest in local, non-industrial food supplies and concern about rising food prices." In a 10-4 vote, the Durham Planning Commission--a citizen-led advisory panel--also recommended adopting the ordinance. Bell said his initial concerns about health and safety had been "vetted," but he said he was holding onto the issue of neighbors' complaints. However, Medlin said that the current amendment would allow adjacent property owners to initiate a complaint process that would account for unique health concerns, and the distance and appearance of the offending coop.
Bell announced at the beginning of the meeting that the vote would be delayed, but that didn't stop 17 people--including Raleigh Councilor Rodger Koopman--from speaking in favor of chickens as a resourceful, and environmentally friendly, food source.
If you would have asked legislators whether they would have preferred to hear the news from today’s budget briefing or have had a cavity filled, some may have saddled up to the dentist’s chair.
Preliminary estimates place the budget shortfall for fiscal year 2009-2010 at $2.1 billion, possibly more. This hardship comes on the heels of this year’s $2 billion deficit.
Assuming there is no revenue growth—likely a safe assumption—the ’09-‘10 starting budget point is $18.8 billion. That sounds like a good chunk of change until you consider the recurring portion of the budget—basic yearly expenses—is $20.9 billion.
“This is the hole we start with,” said Evan Rodewald, a legislative fiscal analyst on the budget development team. He acknowledged while there is no budget or revenue estimate for ’09-‘10, “we have to start somewhere.”
The deficit includes a $400 million shortfall in the state health plan, assuming current benefit levels. And as more people lose their jobs and consequently, their health insurance, Medicaid funding will continue to be tapped—and will need extra cash.
“We don’t know what the problems are going to be,” Rodewald said. “While we have people needing more state assistance, the state has fewer resources to make assistance available.”
Each 1 percent increase in the Medicaid budget is equivalent to $30 million. Rodewald said the a 5 percent increase in funding demand is to be expected and that “10 percent is not completely absurd.”
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the federal economic stimulus package, which, among other financial injections, would appropriate $2.2 billion to North Carolina for Medicaid for 27 months.
Medicaid funding is the most reliable part of the stimulus package, Rodewald said.
Another $717 million in federal funds would come to N.C. for “fiscal stabilization,” money geared toward education and public safety. It’s less clear how money can be used,
Rodewald said, “but we think that these funds could be used to replace state funds.
The state has a savings reserve worth $787 million over the next two years. However, part of that money will likely be siphoned to handle this year’s shortfall, including funding for the state health.
Barry Boardman, a legislative fiscal analyst with expertise in taxation, told legislators that a year ago, the conventional wisdom was “we’d be coming out of an economic downturn. We thought we wouldn’t see recession-like conditions in North Carolina. Boy, were we wrong.”
An extraordinary investigative report in the February issue of the magazine Fast Company tells the story of how the plastics industry has managed to prevent federal regulation of the chemical Bisphenol A by backing scientific studies that debunk concerns about cancer, infertility and other health problems.
Reporter David Case shows how scientific research firms offer their services as "product defense" consultants, with practices that date back to the days of Big Tobacco and Agent Orange.
Of the more than 100 independently funded experiments on BPA, about 90% have found evidence of adverse health effects at levels similar to human exposure. On the other hand, every single industry-funded study ever conducted -- 14 in all -- has found no such effects.
"The largest and most influential industry studies," Case writes on page 3 of the story, "have been conducted by Rochelle Tyl of the Research Triangle Institute, a private lab in North Carolina."
Tyl is listed on RTI's web site as a Distinguished Fellow of Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology, with more than 40 years of experience in developmental and reproductive biology and toxicology.
Case writes that Tyl's first BPA study in 2002, funded by the plastics industry, used a rat strain that has been shown to be insensitive to synthetic estrogens like BPA.
As of early 2007, of the 29 studies that have shown no harm due to BPA, 13 have used the CD Sprague-Dawley rat. Nonetheless, when the FDA declared BPA "safe" this fall, it relied almost exclusively on Tyl's work -- a shortcoming that the agency's science board publicly criticized in October.
Tyl told Case, "It doesn't matter who pays for my studies" and denied any industry influence over her work. "It offends the living bejesus out of me, that I'm going to alter a study design or a result."
The American Chemistry Council funded Tyl's recent follow-up experiment using mice. That study also found no adverse effects from low doses of BPA.
However, the study's details indicate that the mice were fed a type of animal chow that has been shown to mask the effects of estrogens like BPA. Moreover, according to Tyl's own data, the prostates in both her experimental and her control mice were enormous, suggesting that her study had, in fact, shown effects from BPA, or that there were significant flaws in her team's lab practices.
Thought the Food and Drug Administration has not taken a position against BPA, public pressure has caused major retailers like Toys "R" Us (which owns the baby-bottle bonanza Babies "R" Us) to pull BPA bottles from their shelves.
But as Case's article explains, BPA is in a lot more than baby bottles. It lines nearly every soda can and canned good on the market.
Long was a progressive thinker and battler. And a regular guy -- not a bit of self-importance from what I saw. The N&O has an early story on his death. Gov. Perdue ordered state flags flown at half-staff.