Friday, October 23, 2009

Morgan: Charlotte faces a 'reset'

Chamber president and self-described city cheerleader Bob Morgan this week gave a candid appraisal of Charlotte's post-boom economy.

Local stockholders suffered from declines in share prices at Bank of America and Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), but the accompanying loss of dividends, Morgan said, has been "absolutely devastating."

"There is a tremendous amount of wealth - here yesterday, gone today - and we, the community, are still dealing with that reset," he says in a SNL Financial report released Tuesday.

"You have a lot of shareholders that are employees, retirees, investors, foundations and trust funds, and nonprofits and for-profits who have invested in these two organizations and the dividends are basically gone as part of the TARP."

The report, entitled "Rattling the Hornet's Nest," lays out in stark terms what Charlotte has working in its favor, and against it.

The pros:

  • Lack of speculative run-up in home prices.
  • Favorable demographics.
  • A history of well-performing banks.

The cons:
  • Increasing bad loans at Charlotte-based banks and thrifts.
  • Decline in local wealth from hits to bank stocks.
  • High unemployment.

  • High office vacancy rate.

In a separate story published the following day, Morgan offered another sober assessment.
Under the headline "This is the bust in the boomtown that banks built," the Washington Post quotes Morgan this way:
"I think there's a new humility to Charlotte," said Bob Morgan, president of the city's Chamber of Commerce. "We didn't worry too much about the things being done in Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco," he said, when banks in those cities were swallowed by Charlotte's giants. "We are now living it ourselves."
- Doug Miller

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pay czar's letter to BofA

Top executives at Charlotte-based Bank of America will take deep cuts in compensation under determinations announced Thursday by Kenneth Feinberg (right), the independent master given the task of setting pay and stock levels for officials with companies getting the most funding from the federal government.

In a letter released Thursday, Feinberg cited the bank's initial pay proposals, which included a cash salary range of $700,000 to $950,000 for everyone but the CEO and stock-based salaries ranging from $2 million to $19 million for top employees who were at Bank of America in 2008 and 2009.

According to the letter, Feinberg capped cash salaries at "generally less than $500,000," with stock salaries reduced to $1.7 million to $9.3 million.

Read Feinberg's letter to Bank of America here (PDF).
You can read the letters to the other six "exceptional" companies here.

What do you think of the new pay rules introduced Thursday?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Suit: Palisades owes $347,288 for tournament

The company that runs the men’s senior tennis tour is suing the Palisades development over more than $350,000 in unpaid sponsorship fees, the Observer's Rick Bonnell reports.

The suit, filed Monday locally in federal court, says Rhein Palisades failed to pay any of the $347,288 owed InsideOut Champions Series for running last month’s tournament at the South Charlotte planned community.

The suit also says Rhein Palisades owes $10,250 in unpaid fees from the 2008 tournament.
Mike Boston, director of operations for the Tim Wilkison Complex at the Palisades, said via email Tuesday night he was unaware a lawsuit had been filed.

InsideOut has run a tournament at the Palisades each September since 2006 and is contracted through 2011. The eight-man fields have included Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and tour co-founder Jim Courier.

Click here to read the suit.

- Doug Miller

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Story: Lewis secretly met with Lehman exec

In the race to save Lehman Brothers, Richard S. Fuld Jr., the firm’s chairman, reached out to Bank of America as early as July 2008, according to the book "Too Big to Fail," scheduled for release today.

Author Andrew Ross Sorkin, a New York Times reporter, gives this account of a secret meeting between Fuld and Bank of America's Ken Lewis, as excerpted in today's NYT story:

"To keep the talks alive after the session at Sullivan & Cromwell, Paulson and Geithner over the course of the next week arranged a secret meeting between Fuld and Lewis.

It would take place at a previously scheduled event on the evening of Monday, July 21, in New York. Paulson was being honored at a dinner at the New York Fed in Lower Manhattan, organized by Geithner as an opportunity for the secretary to get together with top leaders from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, as well as Fuld and Lewis.

As the dinner was ending, Geithner, approached Lewis and, leaning close, whispered, "I believe you have a meeting with Dick."

"Yeah, I do," Lewis replied.

Geithner gave him directions to a side room where the two could speak in private. He had apparently already given Fuld the same instructions, because Lewis noticed him across the room looking back at them like a nervous date. Seeing Fuld start to walk in one direction, Lewis headed in the other; with half of Wall Street looking on, the last thing either of them needed was to have word of their meeting get out.

The two men eventually doubled back and found the room. Fuld explained that he would want at least $25 a share from Bank of America to buy Lehman; Lehman’s shares had closed that day at $18.32. Lewis thought the number was far too high and couldn’t see the strategic rationale. Unless he could buy the firm for next to nothing, the deal wasn’t worth it. But he held his tongue.
Two days later, he called Fuld back.

"I don’t think this is going to work for us," Lewis said as diplomatically as he could, while leaving open the possibility that they could discuss the matter again."

- Doug Miller

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Myrick: 'Muslim Mafia' infiltrating U.S.

U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, has penned the foreword for a new book, "Muslim Mafia," warning of a Muslim conspiracy to support Islamic terrorism in the United States.

The authors, former Air Force investigator P. David Gaubatz and journalist Paul Sperry, lay out their investigation of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Observer's Mark Johnson reports.

They charge that the group portrays itself as a civil rights advocate for Muslims but in reality has planted spies inside law enforcement agencies, placed staffers on Capitol Hill, arranged for its executives to meet with presidents, conspired with terrorists and placed jihadists in American mosques to preach hate.

Myrick, who has consulted with Sperry before on terrorism issues, writes that the authors provide proof through documents they uncovered and others recently declassified that radical Muslim agents of terror live among us and are "carrying out their subversive plan."

"America is asleep to the danger that confronts us," writes Myrick, a Charlotte Republican, "Since the 1960s there has been a concerted effort on the part of radical Islamists to infiltrate our major institutions. Front groups of terror now operate openly in our country, comprising a network of support for jihadists."

She concludes: "We Americans must wake up before it is too late!"

Click here for the books' link at, where it is climbing the bestseller chart.

- Doug Miller

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is 'The Last American Hero' a first-ballot Hall of Famer?

Two legends collided when author Tom Wolfe famously chronicled NASCAR driver Junior Johnson in a 1965 Esquire article entitled 'The Last American Hero.'

The piece married Wolfe, a pioneer in the literary New Journalism style of reporting, with Johnson, the South's most famous bootlegger.

With Wolfe's status long affirmed by the establishment, now it's Johnson's crack at racing's official greatest honor.

Today, NASCAR Hall of Fame voters will gather in Charlotte to pick the first five inductees. The winners will be enshrined in the new facility, scheduled to open next May.

Observers agree on three first-ballot favorites: drivers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, and NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. They are among 25 nominees, which include Johnson.

Part of Johnson's legend came from the track: Hands-down, he's one of NASCAR's most successful drivers and team owners.

But the other part comes from his story, of running moonshine along the mountain roads of Wilkes County, about 90 minutes north of Charlotte.

Johnson's tale is well-known, in books and television shows, even an outdoor drama called "Moonshine and Thunder - The Junior Johnson Story." A 1973 movie shared the title of the Wolfe article.

Wolfe's Esquire piece explored how Wilkes County came to be known as the "Bootleg capital of America." At one point, Wolfe describes Johnson standing at his family's Ingle Hollow homeplace as he "motions his hand out toward the hills and says, "I'd say nearly everybody in a fifty-mile radius of here was in the whiskey business at one time or another."

Johnson, who served time for his role in the business, could say the same thing today.

Earlier this year, state agents charged Dean Combs, a former NASCAR driver and crew chief for Johnson, with making moonshine.

Agents and Wilkes County sheriff's deputies said they found a 300-gallon still in a shop building on property owned by Combs, 57. The still was behind a go-kart track near the North Wilkesboro Speedway, not far from Johnson's home.

But that's where the parallel journeys of Johnson and Combs end.

Shortly after the raid, court records show, Combs pleaded guilty to possession of non-tax paid alcohol and making alcohol with a permit, both misdemeanors. Other charges were dismissed.

Recall what happened to Johnson, now 78. In 1956, after federal agents caught him working his father's Wilkes County still, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison in Ohio.

If Wolfe had a vote today, he might remind NASCAR's Hall why that's reason enough to pick Johnson, a man with a story from another time:

"And the Detroit P.R. men themselves come to the tracks like folk worshipers and the millions go giddy with the thrill of speed. Only Junior Johnson goes about it as if it were...the usual. Junior goes on down to Atlanta for the Dixie 400 and drops by the Federal penitentiary to see his Daddy. His Daddy is in on his fifth illegal distillery conviction; in the whiskey business that's just part of it; an able craftsman, an able businessman, and the law kept hounding him, that was all. So Junior drops by and then goes on out to the track and gets in his new Ford and sets the qualifying speed record for Atlanta Dixie 400, 146.301 m.p.h.; later on he tools on back up the road to Ingle Hollow to tend to the automatic chicken houses and the road-grading operation. Yes."

- Doug Miller

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New magnet for East, McClintock, Rama?

CMS has rolled out a new option for bolstering enrollment at East Mecklenburg High when a boundary change takes effect in 2010: Create a new science, technology, engineering and math magnet for East Meck, McClintock Middle and Rama Road Elementary.
It's the latest twist in a quest to balance enrollment that has hundreds of residents mobilized. CMS posted the new option for East Meck today, along with options to relieve crowding at Eastover Elementary that were unveiled at a community meeting last week.
Read the newest reports here.
The school board will discuss the latest round of options at its Oct. 27 meeting and plans to vote on Nov. 10.
--Ann Doss Helms

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Letter: Weight, smoking tests for state workers

State workers who say they are not obese or do not smoke "may be randomly selected to participate in a tobacco use/weight verification test at their worksite," according to a letter mailed to employees last week.

For those tested, height and weight measurements will be collected in addition to a tobacco-use screening. Exempted are employees participating in programs aimed at quitting smoking or weight loss, or those with medical conditions.

Click here to read the letter.

The Observer's Mark Johnson detailed the changes to the state health plan last week:

"North Carolina is poised to become only the second state to penalize state employees by placing them in a more expensive health insurance plan if they're obese.

Smokers will feel the drag of higher costs, too, as North Carolina and South Carolina state employees who use tobacco are slated to pay more for health insurance next year.

N.C. officials, coping with a steady uptick in health care costs for state employees each year, are aiming to improve state workers' health, which saves money in medical expenses.

"Tobacco use and poor nutrition and inactivity are the leading causes of preventable deaths in our state," said Anne Rogers, director of integrated health management with the N.C. State Employees Health Plan. "We need a healthy workforce in this state. We're trying to encourage individuals to adopt healthy lifestyles."

State workers who don't cut out the Marlboros and Big Macs will end up paying more for health insurance. Tobacco users get placed in a more expensive insurance plan starting in July and, for those who qualify as obese, in July 2011.

Some state employees, though, are criticizing the planned changes. The State Employees Association of North Carolina opposes the tobacco and obesity differentials as invasive steps that could have been avoided if the legislature had fixed the plan.

"It's my understanding they're talking about testing (for tobacco use) in the workplace which, to me, would create a hostile environment," said Kim Martin, a sergeant at Piedmont Correctional Institution in Salisbury. "And it's an invasion of privacy. This is America, the land of the free. I don't think (body mass index is) a very good measure. I know some folks who would have a high body mass index because they're muscular."

The health plan covers more than 600,000 state employees, retirees and teachers at a total cost last year of $2.6 billion. Last spring, the legislature bailed out the plan with an infusion of $250 million to pay the bills after rising costs and inaccurate projections left little money for claims. Over the next two years, the state general fund will pump about $408 million into the health plan.

While officials have not yet estimated any potential savings from the obesity requirement, the higher costs for smokers could save $13 million in the 2010-2011 budget year, Rogers said, emphasizing that the plan's priority is to improve health and save money in the process.

- Doug Miller

Friday, October 9, 2009

Biggest moonshine bust in memory

This photograph showing stacks of Mason jars filled with illegal homemade liquor was taken after N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement agents seized 929 gallons of moonshine this week in Wilkesboro, officials say.

Wilkes County man Roger Lee Nance was charged with possession of non-tax paid liquor, possession of non-tax paid liquor for the purpose of sale and possession of equipment and ingredients intended for the use in the manufacture of an alcoholic beverage, according to a state news release.

“This is one of the biggest seizures of white liquor I’ve seen come out of the mountains in my career,” ALE Director John Ledford said.

The Department of Crime Control and Public Safety spokesperson who sent Paper Trail the photo also forwarded a statement saying the arrest follows a two-month investigation by ALE agents with assistance from the State Highway Patrol.

Deputies from the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office assisted in executing the search warrant Wednesday, the statement says. In addition to the liquor, large amounts of sugar and other items were seized during a search of the property.

Jule Hubbard of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot newspaper adds these details:

"The moonshine was mostly in glass quart jars, but part of it was in 20-liter plastic containers, he said. Most of the jars of non-tax paid liquor also contained peaches, strawberries or other fruit, [ALE agent Bobby] Crumpler added.

This adds flavor to the illegal product. He said the moonshine was found stacked in the trailer from a tractor-trailer truck. The trailer, which was locked, was beside a garage near Nance's residence, said Crumpler.

The illegal liquor still or stills that produced the moonshine wasn't located, he added. Crumpler said 344 five-pound bags and 101 50-pound bags of sugar were seized, as well as a box of powder Kool-Aid mix. He said a GMC pickup, two copper condensers, and 864 empty one-quart glass jars were also seized."

- Doug Miller

Obama's reaction to winning Nobel

Text of President Obama's remarks at the White House on Friday about winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, as provided by the White House:

Obama: Good morning. Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning. After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, "Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo's birthday!" And then Sasha added, "Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up." So it's good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build — a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action — a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

These challenges can't be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that's why my administration has worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek. We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people. And that's why we've begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, because all nations have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to demonstrate their peaceful intentions.

We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever damage the world that we pass on to our children — sowing conflict and famine; destroying coastlines and emptying cities. And that's why all nations must now accept their share of responsibility for transforming the way that we use energy.

We can't allow the differences between peoples to define the way that we see one another, and that's why we must pursue a new beginning among people of different faiths and races and religions; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.

And we must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years, and that effort must include an unwavering commitment that finally realizes that the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own.

We can't accept a world in which more people are denied opportunity and dignity that all people yearn for — the ability to get an education and make a decent living; the security that you won't have to live in fear of disease or violence without hope for the future.

And even as we strive to seek a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully and prosperity is widely shared, we have to confront the world as we know it today. I am the Commander-in-Chief of a country that's responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies. I'm also aware that we are dealing with the impact of a global economic crisis that has left millions of Americans looking for work. These are concerns that I confront every day on behalf of the American people.

Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone. This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration — it's about the courageous efforts of people around the world.

And that's why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity — for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace.

That has always been the cause of America. That's why the world has always looked to America. And that's why I believe America will continue to lead.

Thank you very much.

Read the Nobel committee's release about Obama

The announcement this morning that President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize elicited gasps of surprise from the audience in Oslo. Obama, who's been in office less than a year, becomes only the third sitting U.S. president — and the first in 90 years — to win the prize.

According to The Associated Press, the secretive committee's selection of Obama from among the 205 nominees shocked Nobel observers because he took office less than two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline. It sparked immediate questions from reporters who noted that Obama so far has made little concrete progress in achieving his ambitious agenda.

The AP also notes that although the prize has often been used to recognize efforts for peace, human rights and democracy after they've proved successful, it's more often awarded to encourage those who receive it to see the effort through.

Do you agree with the committee's selection? If not, to whom would you have awarded the prize?

Read excerpts from the Nobel citation here.

Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, holds a photo of this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Barack Obama, at The Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo on Friday.

Here's the news release from the committee:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

Top photo: Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, holds a photo of this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Barack Obama, at The Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo on Friday. (AP Photo/Torbjorn Gronning)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

CBO gives Senate Finance health bill good fiscal marks

The Congressional Budget Office today released its analysis of the Senate Finance Committee's amended health care bill. The nonpartisan CBO estimated that the bill would cost $829 billion and reduce the federal deficit by $81 billion over the next 10 years. The CBO also reported that 94 percent of eligible Americans could be expected to obtain coverage under the measure, up from the current 83 percent.

The report clears the way for the Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to take a final vote on the plan, probably later this week.

Reaction to the CBO analysis split along party lines. "The report, I think, is quite promising," Baucus said. Added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "We are closer than ever before to delivering Americans access to quality, affordable health care in a fiscally responsible way."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the CBO report is "an estimate of a concept, not a formal cost analysis of an actual bill" and that a formal bill text is needed "before we begin a lengthy debate about whether it's the right direction for our country."

What do you think? Read the text of the CBO analysis of the America's Health Future Act as amended (PDF).

You can read the full text of the Finance Committee's health care bill here (PDF).

NCAA reviews Charlotte prep school

The athletic association says it will not accept core courses, grades and graduation from North Carolina Tech Preparatory Christian Academy.

Click here to read the news release.

According to the N.C. Tech web site, the goal of its football program "is to help our athletes earn higher scores and grades for college acceptance; building a vastly stronger knowledge base and better self-discipline for further success at college; and providing more time for their bodies to develop prior to playing college football."

Here is the full text of the NCAA statement:

INDIANAPOLIS --- As part of its continuing effort to ensure the integrity of academic credentials used in the NCAA initial eligibility process, the NCAA Eligibility Center will not accept core courses, grades and graduation from North Carolina Tech Preparatory Christian Academy, Charlotte, N.C.

The preparatory school recently notified the eligibility center staff it had begun using the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) program as its primary means of delivering education. NCAA membership has previously determined high schools using the ACE curriculum as their primary means of delivering education must obtain model or quality status from ACE before their grades can be used to determine initial eligibility. The eligibility center has received notice from administrators at ACE stating North Carolina Tech Preparatory Christian Academy has failed to obtain either status.

Students currently enrolled in North Carolina Tech Preparatory Christian Academy must have their individual academic records reviewed to be considered in the initial eligibility process. A determination will be made regarding their NCAA initial eligibility based upon this review.
The NCAA sets minimum academic standards prospective student-athletes must complete in high school to be eligible to compete in Division I and II collegiate sports. Ultimately, students must meet the unique admissions standards at the individual college or university they choose to attend.

The review of high schools in the initial eligibility process is an ongoing effort and more than 400 schools have been part of the review process to date. If additional information from North Carolina Tech Preparatory Christian Academy is received, the NCAA may reconsider the school’s status.

The high school review process was created after presidents from several NCAA member institutions raised concerns about the legitimacy of high school academic credentials presented by some incoming student-athletes. Those concerns centered on student-athletes establishing initial eligibility by using academic credentials through schools and courses. In response, presidents in Divisions I and II adopted legislation to provide for the review of high schools and individual prospective student-athletes records in the initial eligibility process.

The review process is collaborative as secondary educators share the NCAA’s concerns regarding the legitimacy of high school academic credentials being used during the student-athlete eligibility process.

- Doug Miller

Shelby, Kings Mountain residents named in massive ring

Federal authorities are rounding up dozens of people, including seven in Shelby and Kings Mountain, accused of being part of an international identity theft ring that stretched from California to Egypt.

Click here to read the list.

The F.B.I. says that its identified 53 Americans who worked with 47 Egyptians to steal bank account information and money from bank customers.

Here’s how it worked: The Egyptians would send emails to American bank customers which appeared legitimate and directed them to enter passwords and other information into replicas of their banks’ websites.

They then communicated by text messages, phone calls and instant messages with American conspirators who transferred money into new accounts they created.

Then, the Americans split the illegally transferred money with the Egyptians.

Those indicted in America face charges of conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, which carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence.

Ashley Ager, 21, Billy Kelly, 34, Brandon Ross, 18, Paula Sims, 44, Reggie Logan Jr., 20, and Latina Black, 24 of Shelby are indicted, as is Michael Grier of Kings Mountain.

- Ely Portillo, Doug Miller

Suit: Thompson gave stock advice on hunting trip

Wachovia CEO Ken Thompson told Cameron Harris "his stock would be okay" on a hunting trip in February 2008, according to a lawsuit filed by Harris and his relatives.

During the trip Harris, a Charlotte businessman and shareholder, was so worried about his stock in the weakening bank that he told the CEO he was thinking of selling it, the suit says.

The suit gives this account of the conversation:

"On or about February 18, 2008, Defendant Thompson visited with Plaintiffs Cameron Harris and Gary Harris during a hunting trip. In the preceding four months, the price of Wachovia's stock had declined more than $12 per share. During the visit, Mr. Cameron Harris expressed his concern to Defendant Thompson about the housing market and the decline in Wachovia's share price. Mr. Harris told Thompson that he was considering selling his stock.

"Defendant Thompson responded that at the current price Wachovia's stock was a good buy and that he expected its loan portfolio and business to do well that year. Thompson said that his stock would be okay and that Wachovia was not planning on cuting its dividend."

For the full suit, click on the following links. (We've broken the suit into parts due to its length):

- Rick Rothacker, Christina Rexrode, Doug Miller

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Scope your school

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools today released progress reports giving 2009 enrollment data, test scores, teacher credentials and survey results on safety for each school.
The Observer has also updated its School House profiles of CMS schools, which give at-a-glance school comparisons and survey results highlighting what teachers and students say about a school's strengths and weaknesses.
Both reports land as many families are data-delving in response to proposed boundary and magnet changes. School research is likely to pick up even more as people prepare for CMS's January application period for 2009-10 assignments.
Both formats provide data snapshots that can help families size up what's working and what's not, though numbers never provide a full picture of any school.
The CMS reports include a letter from the principal, and details on test-score performance and racial/economic gaps. There's information about year-to-year progress, along with explanations of the state's ABC ratings and the federal "Adequate Yearly Progress" numbers. Also included are data on teacher experience and qualifications, safety ratings, parent involvement and student/computer ratios.
The Observer reports provide a quick-scan look at how school pass rates compare, with links that break down each school's performance by gifted students, low-income students, English learners and racial groups. For instance, you can see what percent of that school's gifted students earned "above grade level" scores compared with district averages, or whether low-income students at that school fare better or worse than those across CMS.
The Observer profiles also highlight more survey data. For instance, you can see what percent of teachers said their school has effective strategies to catch students with weapons, then click on the question to see how that compares with all other schools.
In past years, both the Observer has highlighted teacher responses to questions about their school's effectiveness, their own job satisfaction and their principal's effectiveness. In 2009 CMS eliminated those questions from its teacher survey.
N.C. school report cards, which provide extensive data about all public schools in the state, haven't been updated with 2009 data yet. Those updates usually come in January.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Report: Official impeded Blackwater probe

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by SouthPark lawyers on behalf of 9-year-old Ali Kinani and other Iraqi shooting victims has renewed allegations that N.C.-based Blackwater contractors used illegal weapons overseas.

Paper Trail, meanwhile, has found a report showing the government shared such concerns as far back as two years ago, but a top official with ties to Blackwater looked the other way.

The Congressional report details allegations prior to the bloody Nisoor Square shootings that killed Kinani (right) and at least 13 other civilians on a street outside Baghdad in September 2007. Blackwater guards face federal charges.
The report alleges that former State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard impeded a Justice Department investigation into whether "a large private security contractor was smuggling weapons into Iraq." It was reported at the time that the contractor was Blackwater.
Krongard's brother, Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, served on Blackwater's advisory board, and the report also concluded that Krongard had a conflict of interest in the matter.

Critics who said the report was politically motivated offered a rebuttal defending Krongard, who has since resigned.

Questions about unauthorized weapons resurfaced in July in legal filings by former Blackwater employees. The statements, connected to another lawsuit in Virginia, are attributed to John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 because the former guards said they fear retaliation.

The suit, filed in Wake County, buffers arguments that Blackwater guards acted recklessly by referencing the former employees' statements.

They include these allegations:

"I was asked to assist with unloading bags of dog food into the Armory. As I unloaded the bags of dog food, another Blackwater employee opened the bags and pulled out weapons from the dog food. Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq." - John Doe #1

"Mr. Prince made available to his employees in Iraq various weapons not authorized by the United States contracting authorities, such as hand grenades and hand grenade launchers." - John Doe #2

Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., has said its men did nothing wrong.

- Fred Clasen-Kelly, Doug Miller

Michael Jackson autopsy details revealed

Here are some of the findings from the Los Angeles County coroner's autopsy of Michael Jackson, as reported by The Associated Press:
  • He was 5-foot-9 and weighed 136 pounds.
  • There were dark tattoos on his eyebrows and around his eyes, a pink tattoo around his lips and what appeared to be a dark tattoo on the front of his scalp.
  • He was balding and suffered from a skin disease that reduced pigment and left patches of white skin.
  • Osteoarthritis was visible in the lower spine and some fingers.
  • He had multiple scars around his body, including behind his ears, along one shoulder, at the base of his neck and near his navel.
  • His heart was strong but his lungs were inflamed. Other organs appeared normal.
  • The anesthetic propofol, four other sedatives, the pain killer Lidocaine and a resuscitative drug were found in Jackson's system. His stomach had no discernible pills.
  • No illegal drugs or alcohol were detected.
  • The manner of death was ruled a homicide based, in part, on the propofol being administered in a non-hospital setting without any appropriate medical need.
  • Consistent with CPR attempts, Jackson had a bruised chest and his sternum and several ribs were fractured.
Read more here.

BofA release on Lewis retirement

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Sept. 30 /PRNewswire/ – Ken Lewis, chief executive officer and president, announced today that he has notified the Board of Directors of his decision to retire, effective December 31, 2009. The Board will continue ongoing planning to ensure his successor is selected by that date. Lewis will retire as CEO and as a director.

"Bank of America is well positioned to meet the continuing challenges of the economy and markets," said Lewis. "I am particularly heartened by the results that are emerging from the decisions and initiatives of the difficult past year-and-a-half."

"The Merrill Lynch and Countrywide integrations are on track and returning value already," Lewis noted. "Our board of directors and our senior management include more talent, and more diversity of talent, than at any time in this company's history. We are in position to begin to repay the federal government's TARP investments. For these reasons, I decided now is the time to begin to transition to the next generation of leadership at Bank of America."

"Ken Lewis was a key architect in building a truly global financial franchise," said Walter E. Massey, Chairman of the Board of Directors. "We are on a solid path to the future. The board will be moving in a deliberate and expeditious manner to select a worthy successor to Ken Lewis."

On August 3, Lewis, 62, announced changes to his executive management committee that increased the depth, range and diversity of experience of Bank of America's leadership team. Lewis noted that "these changes also position a number of senior executives to compete to succeed me at the appropriate time."

In a message today to Bank of America associates, Lewis thanked them for the opportunity to lead. "In 1969," Lewis wrote, "I chose to come here because of the culture and the people. We believed that with trust and teamwork, anything is possible. We remain that company today."

Biographical Highlights

– Chief executive officer since 2001.
– Joined North Carolina National Bank (NCNB, predecessor to NationsBank
and Bank of America) in 1969 as a credit analyst in Charlotte.
– After serving in a variety of leadership roles across the company, he was named chief executive officer and president of Bank of America in April of 2001.
– Born in 1947 in Meridian, Mississippi. Earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Georgia State University. Graduate of the Executive Program at Stanford University.
– The only two-time winner of American Banker newspaper's "Banker of the Year" award (2002, 2008). Named in 2007 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
– Member of the Financial Services Roundtable and the Financial Services Forum; the Fifth District's representative on the Federal Advisory Council; past chairman of United Way of Central Carolinas, Inc.; a member of the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy; a director of the Homeownership Education and Counseling Institute; vice chairman of the Corporate Fund Board of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and past chairman of the National Urban League.

Bank of America
Bank of America is one of the world's largest financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small- and middle-market businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management and other financial and risk management products and services. The company provides unmatched convenience in the United States, serving approximately 53 million consumer and small business relationships with more than 6,100 retail banking offices, nearly 18,500 ATMs and award-winning online banking with 29 million active users. Bank of America is among the world's leading wealth management companies and is a global leader in corporate and investment banking and trading across a broad range of asset classes serving corporations, governments, institutions and individuals around the world. Bank of America offers industry-leading support to more than 4 million small business owners through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients in more than 150 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock (NYSE: BAC) is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.