Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Order: CPA license 'permanently revoked'

The N.C. State Board of Certified Public Accountant Examiners has announced that the license of Jerry Blanchard, 49, has been permanently revoked because his felony conviction violates state CPA regulations.

Click here to read the order.

The Indian Trail man pleaded guilty earlier this year to threatening President Obama, according to a state board.

Blanchard was charged in August 2008 on two felony counts of "knowingly and willfully … threatening to kill, kidnap, and inflict bodily harm upon U.S. Senator Barack Obama," then a Democratic candidate for President, according to a federal complaint.

- Steve Lyttle

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lawyer: Belk hasn't paid legal bills

Charlotte Attorney Marshall Basinger, who represented Judge Bill Belk at the first part of his hearing this month, says Belk not only hasn't paid him for all his work but hasn't paid the travel expenses for he and three clerks.

Basinger has asked the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission for permission to withdraw as Belk's attorney.

In an email to the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission, Basinger described the scene Monday afternoon when Belk arrived at his office just as he prepared to step out to notarize his withdrawal request.

“In the few minutes I was gone,” he wrote, “Judge Belk removed our ‘box' that contains virtually all of our materials and files used in this hearing and did so without my knowledge nor the consent of anyone in my office.”

Here is Basinger's motion to withdraw.

Click here to read the motion.

Belk could not be reached. If he doesn't consent to Basinger's request, there will be a hearing by the Judicial Standards Commission on the lawyer's withdrawal Wednesday morning before the start of Belk's own hearing.

- Jim Morrill

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Agent: Microchips inside smuggled fish

Authorities scanned live endangered fish allegedly smuggled from Vietnam and detected internal microchip numbers 182821222 and 1828021031, according to court papers.

An affidavit says those numbers corresponded with numbers written on black plastic bags which contained the popular aquarium fish Asian bonytongue. The price of the fish in Vietnam is about $400. In the United States, the fish can be sold for $1,000 to $3,000.

Click here to read the affidavit.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent said the chip, called a Passive Integrated Transponder Tag, contains numbers "significant in the commercial trade of species."

The numbers are used to identify specific specimen of species, the agent says, which correspond "to a Certificate of Authenticity which accompanies the specimen, to confirm the fish's identity and breeding, which is then used to establish the fair market price for the fish."

Bich Phuong Truong Phan of Charlotte was charged with violating the Endangered Species Act by attempting to import the two fish inside bottles of fish sauce.

Phan appeared in court on Wednesday. The smuggling charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Savage told the federal magistrate during the hearing that Phan's two brothers operate pet stores, one in Charlotte, the other in Atlanta.

- Gary L. Wright, Doug Miller

Read Obama's speech at the U.N.


Following is a text of President Obama's speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, as released by the White House.

Good morning. Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to address you for the first time as the 44th President of the United States. (Applause.) I come before you humbled by the responsibility that the American people have placed upon me, mindful of the enormous challenges of our moment in history, and determined to act boldly and collectively on behalf of justice and prosperity at home and abroad.

I have been in office for just nine months -- though some days it seems a lot longer. I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations are not about me. Rather, they are rooted, I believe, in a discontent with a status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences, and outpaced by our problems. But they are also rooted in hope -- the hope that real change is possible, and the hope that America will be a leader in bringing about such change.

I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust. Part of this was due to misperceptions and misinformation about my country. Part of this was due to opposition to specific policies, and a belief that on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others. And this has fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for collective inaction.

Now, like all of you, my responsibility is to act in the interest of my nation and my people, and I will never apologize for defending those interests. But it is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 -- more than at any point in human history -- the interests of nations and peoples are shared. The religious convictions that we hold in our hearts can forge new bonds among people, or they can tear us apart. The technology we harness can light the path to peace, or forever darken it. The energy we use can sustain our planet, or destroy it. What happens to the hope of a single child -- anywhere -- can enrich our world, or impoverish it.

In this hall, we come from many places, but we share a common future. No longer do we have the luxury of indulging our differences to the exclusion of the work that we must do together. I have carried this message from London to Ankara; from Port of Spain to Moscow; from Accra to Cairo; and it is what I will speak about today -- because the time has come for the world to move in a new direction. We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and our work must begin now.

We know the future will be forged by deeds and not simply words. Speeches alone will not solve our problems -- it will take persistent action. For those who question the character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months.

On my first day in office, I prohibited -- without exception or equivocation -- the use of torture by the United States of America. (Applause.) I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law. Every nation must know: America will live its values, and we will lead by example.

We have set a clear and focused goal: to work with all members of this body to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies -- a network that has killed thousands of people of many faiths and nations, and that plotted to blow up this very building. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, we and many nations here are helping these governments develop the capacity to take the lead in this effort, while working to advance opportunity and security for their people.

In Iraq, we are responsibly ending a war. We have removed American combat brigades from Iraqi cities, and set a deadline of next August to remove all our combat brigades from Iraqi territory. And I have made clear that we will help Iraqis transition to full responsibility for their future, and keep our commitment to remove all American troops by the end of 2011.

I have outlined a comprehensive agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In Moscow, the United States and Russia announced that we would pursue substantial reductions in our strategic warheads and launchers. At the Conference on Disarmament, we agreed on a work plan to negotiate an end to the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. And this week, my Secretary of State will become the first senior American representative to the annual Members Conference of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Upon taking office, I appointed a Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, and America has worked steadily and aggressively to advance the cause of two states -- Israel and Palestine -- in which peace and security take root, and the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians are respected.

To confront climate change, we have invested $80 billion in clean energy. We have substantially increased our fuel-efficiency standards. We have provided new incentives for conservation, launched an energy partnership across the Americas, and moved from a bystander to a leader in international climate negotiations.

To overcome an economic crisis that touches every corner of the world, we worked with the G20 nations to forge a coordinated international response of over $2 trillion in stimulus to bring the global economy back from the brink. We mobilized resources that helped prevent the crisis from spreading further to developing countries. And we joined with others to launch a $20 billion global food security initiative that will lend a hand to those who need it most, and help them build their own capacity.

We've also re-engaged the United Nations. We have paid our bills. We have joined the Human Rights Council. (Applause.) We have signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals. And we address our priorities here, in this institution -- for instance, through the Security Council meeting that I will chair tomorrow on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and through the issues that I will discuss today.

This is what we have already done. But this is just a beginning. Some of our actions have yielded progress. Some have laid the groundwork for progress in the future. But make no mistake: This cannot solely be America's endeavor. Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone. We have sought -- in word and deed -- a new era of engagement with the world. And now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.

Now, if we are honest with ourselves, we need to admit that we are not living up to that responsibility. Consider the course that we're on if we fail to confront the status quo: Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world; protracted conflicts that grind on and on; genocide; mass atrocities; more nations with nuclear weapons; melting ice caps and ravaged populations; persistent poverty and pandemic disease. I say this not to sow fear, but to state a fact: The magnitude of our challenges has yet to be met by the measure of our actions.

This body was founded on the belief that the nations of the world could solve their problems together. Franklin Roosevelt, who died before he could see his vision for this institution become a reality, put it this way -- and I quote: "The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation…. It cannot be a peace of large nations -- or of small nations. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world."

The cooperative effort of the whole world. Those words ring even more true today, when it is not simply peace, but our very health and prosperity that we hold in common. Yet we also know that this body is made up of sovereign states. And sadly, but not surprisingly, this body has often become a forum for sowing discord instead of forging common ground; a venue for playing politics and exploiting grievances rather than solving problems. After all, it is easy to walk up to this podium and point figures -- point fingers and stoke divisions. Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles, and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actions. Anybody can do that. Responsibility and leadership in the 21st century demand more.

In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War.

The time has come to realize that the old habits, the old arguments, are irrelevant to the challenges faced by our people. They lead nations to act in opposition to the very goals that they claim to pursue -- and to vote, often in this body, against the interests of their own people. They build up walls between us and the future that our people seek, and the time has come for those walls to come down. Together, we must build new coalitions that bridge old divides -- coalitions of different faiths and creeds; of north and south, east, west, black, white, and brown.

The choice is ours. We can be remembered as a generation that chose to drag the arguments of the 20th century into the 21st; that put off hard choices, refused to look ahead, failed to keep pace because we defined ourselves by what we were against instead of what we were for. Or we can be a generation that chooses to see the shoreline beyond the rough waters ahead; that comes together to serve the common interests of human beings, and finally gives meaning to the promise embedded in the name given to this institution: the United Nations.

That is the future America wants -- a future of peace and prosperity that we can only reach if we recognize that all nations have rights, but all nations have responsibilities as well. That is the bargain that makes this work. That must be the guiding principle of international cooperation.

Today, let me put forward four pillars that I believe are fundamental to the future that we want for our children: non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security; the preservation of our planet; and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people.

First, we must stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of a world without them.

This institution was founded at the dawn of the atomic age, in part because man's capacity to kill had to be contained. For decades, we averted disaster, even under the shadow of a superpower stand-off. But today, the threat of proliferation is growing in scope and complexity. If we fail to act, we will invite nuclear arms races in every region, and the prospect of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can hardly imagine.

A fragile consensus stands in the way of this frightening outcome, and that is the basic bargain that shapes the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It says that all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy; that nations with nuclear weapons have a responsibility to move toward disarmament; and those without them have the responsibility to forsake them. The next 12 months could be pivotal in determining whether this compact will be strengthened or will slowly dissolve.

America intends to keep our end of the bargain. We will pursue a new agreement with Russia to substantially reduce our strategic warheads and launchers. We will move forward with ratification of the Test Ban Treaty, and work with others to bring the treaty into force so that nuclear testing is permanently prohibited. We will complete a Nuclear Posture Review that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces the role of nuclear weapons. And we will call upon countries to begin negotiations in January on a treaty to end the production of fissile material for weapons.

I will also host a summit next April that reaffirms each nation's responsibility to secure nuclear material on its territory, and to help those who can't -- because we must never allow a single nuclear device to fall into the hands of a violent extremist. And we will work to strengthen the institutions and initiatives that combat nuclear smuggling and theft.

All of this must support efforts to strengthen the NPT. Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations must face consequences. Let me be clear, this is not about singling out individual nations -- it is about standing up for the rights of all nations that do live up to their responsibilities. Because a world in which IAEA inspections are avoided and the United Nation's demands are ignored will leave all people less safe, and all nations less secure.

In their actions to date, the governments of North Korea and Iran threaten to take us down this dangerous slope. We respect their rights as members of the community of nations. I've said before and I will repeat, I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations.

But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East -- then they must be held accountable. The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future does not belong to fear.

That brings me to the second pillar for our future: the pursuit of peace.

The United Nations was born of the belief that the people of the world can live their lives, raise their families, and resolve their differences peacefully. And yet we know that in too many parts of the world, this ideal remains an abstraction -- a distant dream. We can either accept that outcome as inevitable, and tolerate constant and crippling conflict, or we can recognize that the yearning for peace is universal, and reassert our resolve to end conflicts around the world.

That effort must begin with an unshakeable determination that the murder of innocent men, women and children will never be tolerated. On this, no one can be -- there can be no dispute. The violent extremists who promote conflict by distorting faith have discredited and isolated themselves. They offer nothing but hatred and destruction. In confronting them, America will forge lasting partnerships to target terrorists, share intelligence, and coordinate law enforcement and protect our people. We will permit no safe haven for al Qaeda to launch attacks from Afghanistan or any other nation. We will stand by our friends on the front lines, as we and many nations will do in pledging support for the Pakistani people tomorrow. And we will pursue positive engagement that builds bridges among faiths, and new partnerships for opportunity.

Our efforts to promote peace, however, cannot be limited to defeating violent extremists. For the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is the hope of human beings -- the belief that the future belongs to those who would build and not destroy; the confidence that conflicts can end and a new day can begin.

And that is why we will support -- we will strengthen our support for effective peacekeeping, while energizing our efforts to prevent conflicts before they take hold. We will pursue a lasting peace in Sudan through support for the people of Darfur and the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, so that we secure the peace that the Sudanese people deserve. (Applause.) And in countries ravaged by violence -- from Haiti to Congo to East Timor -- we will work with the U.N. and other partners to support an enduring peace.

I will also continue to seek a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world. (Applause.) We will continue to work on that issue. Yesterday, I had a constructive meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. We have made some progress. Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security. Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians. As a result of these efforts on both sides, the economy in the West Bank has begun to grow. But more progress is needed. We continue to call on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.)

The time has come -- the time has come to re-launch negotiations without preconditions that address the permanent status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem. And the goal is clear: Two states living side by side in peace and security -- a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people. (Applause.)

As we pursue this goal, we will also pursue peace between Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and a broader peace between Israel and its many neighbors. In pursuit of that goal, we will develop regional initiatives with multilateral participation, alongside bilateral negotiations.

Now, I am not naïve. I know this will be difficult. But all of us -- not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us -- must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we will only lend it lip service. To break the old patterns, to break the cycle of insecurity and despair, all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. (Applause.) And -- and nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks against Israel over constructive willingness to recognize Israel's legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security. (Applause.)

We must remember that the greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us. It's not paid by politicians. It's paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the middle of the night. It's paid for by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own. These are all God's children. And after all the politics and all the posturing, this is about the right of every human being to live with dignity and security. That is a lesson embedded in the three great faiths that call one small slice of Earth the Holy Land. And that is why, even though there will be setbacks and false starts and tough days, I will not waver in my pursuit of peace. (Applause.)

Third, we must recognize that in the 21st century, there will be no peace unless we take responsibility for the preservation of our planet. And I thank the Secretary General for hosting the subject of climate change yesterday.

The danger posed by climate change cannot be denied. Our responsibility to meet it must not be deferred. If we continue down our current course, every member of this Assembly will see irreversible changes within their borders. Our efforts to end conflicts will be eclipsed by wars over refugees and resources. Development will be devastated by drought and famine. Land that human beings have lived on for millennia will disappear. Future generations will look back and wonder why we refused to act; why we failed to pass on -- why we failed to pass on an environment that was worthy of our inheritance.

And that is why the days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over. We will move forward with investments to transform our energy economy, while providing incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy. We will press ahead with deep cuts in emissions to reach the goals that we set for 2020, and eventually 2050. We will continue to promote renewable energy and efficiency, and share new technologies with countries around the world. And we will seize every opportunity for progress to address this threat in a cooperative effort with the entire world.

And those wealthy nations that did so much damage to the environment in the 20th century must accept our obligation to lead. But responsibility does not end there. While we must acknowledge the need for differentiated responses, any effort to curb carbon emissions must include the fast-growing carbon emitters who can do more to reduce their air pollution without inhibiting growth. And any effort that fails to help the poorest nations both adapt to the problems that climate change have already wrought and help them travel a path of clean development simply will not work.

It's hard to change something as fundamental as how we use energy. I know that. It's even harder to do so in the midst of a global recession. Certainly, it will be tempting to sit back and wait for others to move first. But we cannot make this journey unless we all move forward together. As we head into Copenhagen, let us resolve to focus on what each of us can do for the sake of our common future.

And this leads me to the final pillar that must fortify our future: a global economy that advances opportunity for all people.

The world is still recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In America, we see the engine of growth beginning to churn, and yet many still struggle to find a job or pay their bills. Across the globe, we find promising signs, but little certainty about what lies ahead. And far too many people in far too many places live through the daily crises that challenge our humanity -- the despair of an empty stomach; the thirst brought on by dwindling water supplies; the injustice of a child dying from a treatable disease; or a mother losing her life as she gives birth.

In Pittsburgh, we will work with the world's largest economies to chart a course for growth that is balanced and sustained. That means vigilance to ensure that we do not let up until our people are back to work. That means taking steps to rekindle demand so that global recovery can be sustained. And that means setting new rules of the road and strengthening regulation for all financial centers, so that we put an end to the greed and the excess and the abuse that led us into this disaster, and prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again.

At a time of such interdependence, we have a moral and pragmatic interest, however, in broader questions of development -- the questions of development that existed even before this crisis happened. And so America will continue our historic effort to help people feed themselves. We have set aside $63 billion to carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS, to end deaths from tuberculosis and malaria, to eradicate polio, and to strengthen public health systems. We are joining with other countries to contribute H1N1 vaccines to the World Health Organization. We will integrate more economies into a system of global trade. We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year's summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.

Now is the time for all of us to do our part. Growth will not be sustained or shared unless all nations embrace their responsibilities. And that means that wealthy nations must open their markets to more goods and extend a hand to those with less, while reforming international institutions to give more nations a greater voice. And developing nations must root out the corruption that is an obstacle to progress -- for opportunity cannot thrive where individuals are oppressed and business have to pay bribes. That is why we support honest police and independent judges; civil society and a vibrant private sector. Our goal is simple: a global economy in which growth is sustained, and opportunity is available to all.

Now, the changes that I've spoken about today will not be easy to make. And they will not be realized simply by leaders like us coming together in forums like this, as useful as that may be. For as in any assembly of members, real change can only come through the people we represent. That is why we must do the hard work to lay the groundwork for progress in our own capitals. That's where we will build the consensus to end conflicts and to harness technology for peaceful purposes, to change the way we use energy, and to promote growth that can be sustained and shared.

I believe that the people of the world want this future for their children. And that is why we must champion those principles which ensure that governments reflect the will of the people. These principles cannot be afterthoughts -- democracy and human rights are essential to achieving each of the goals that I've discussed today, because governments of the people and by the people are more likely to act in the broader interests of their own people, rather than narrow interests of those in power.

The test of our leadership will not be the degree to which we feed the fears and old hatreds of our people. True leadership will not be measured by the ability to muzzle dissent, or to intimidate and harass political opponents at home. The people of the world want change. They will not long tolerate those who are on the wrong side of history.

This Assembly's Charter commits each of us -- and I quote -- "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women." Among those rights is the freedom to speak your mind and worship as you please; the promise of equality of the races, and the opportunity for women and girls to pursue their own potential; the ability of citizens to have a say in how you are governed, and to have confidence in the administration of justice. For just as no nation should be forced to accept the tyranny of another nation, no individual should be forced to accept the tyranny of their own people. (Applause.)

As an African American, I will never forget that I would not be here today without the steady pursuit of a more perfect union in my country. And that guides my belief that no matter how dark the day may seem, transformative change can be forged by those who choose to side with justice. And I pledge that America will always stand with those who stand up for their dignity and their rights -- for the student who seeks to learn; the voter who demands to be heard; the innocent who longs to be free; the oppressed who yearns to be equal.

Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside. Each society must search for its own path, and no path is perfect. Each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its people and in its past traditions. And I admit that America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy. But that does not weaken our commitment; it only reinforces it. There are basic principles that are universal; there are certain truths which are self-evident -- and the United States of America will never waver in our efforts to stand up for the right of people everywhere to determine their own destiny. (Applause.)

Sixty-five years ago, a weary Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the American people in his fourth and final inaugural address. After years of war, he sought to sum up the lessons that could be drawn from the terrible suffering, the enormous sacrifice that had taken place. "We have learned," he said, "to be citizens of the world, members of the human community."

The United Nations was built by men and women like Roosevelt from every corner of the world -- from Africa and Asia, from Europe to the Americas. These architects of international cooperation had an idealism that was anything but naïve -- it was rooted in the hard-earned lessons of war; rooted in the wisdom that nations could advance their interests by acting together instead of splitting apart.

Now it falls to us -- for this institution will be what we make of it. The United Nations does extraordinary good around the world -- feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, mending places that have been broken. But it also struggles to enforce its will, and to live up to the ideals of its founding.

I believe that those imperfections are not a reason to walk away from this institution -- they are a calling to redouble our efforts. The United Nations can either be a place where we bicker about outdated grievances, or forge common ground; a place where we focus on what drives us apart, or what brings us together; a place where we indulge tyranny, or a source of moral authority. In short, the United Nations can be an institution that is disconnected from what matters in the lives of our citizens, or it can be an indispensable factor in advancing the interests of the people we serve.

We have reached a pivotal moment. The United States stands ready to begin a new chapter of international cooperation -- one that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations. And so, with confidence in our cause, and with a commitment to our values, we call on all nations to join us in building the future that our people so richly deserve.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Watch CMS boundary talks online

The topic was controversial, the crowds huge and the discussion complex. With parents across the city doing a postmortem on Tuesday night's school board meeting, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has posted video of the meeting online. (Oops -- due to technical problems with the archiving company CMS is using for its first-ever online viewing of meetings, these postings were delayed. The first segment went up around 3:30 p.m.; others will link up throughout the afternoon.)

The board spent more than three hours hearing presentations on options for shifting students from Myers Park to East Mecklenburg high schools, and for reducing crowding at Eastover Elementary using boundary changes and/or building swaps with nearby magnets.

Board members had plenty of comments and questions. They took no formal votes, but a majority agreed not to pursue a proposal that would have reassigned the Cotswold Elementary zone from Alexander Graham Middle and Myers Park to McClintock Middle and East Meck.

Administrators say they'll quickly launch community meetings to discuss the remaining proposals.

-- Ann Doss Helms

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Report: No engine trouble in Beck plane

Charlotte businessman and philanthropist William "Skipper" Beck set out to practice takeoffs and landings the morning he died when his Cirrus SR-22 crashed at Rock Hill-York County Airport, his wife told investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Beck, 49, normally flew with a copilot, who was also a certified flight instructor, Lynn Beck told investigators, according to the NTSB's preliminary report on the Sept. 11 crash. The NTSB released the report this week.

The report also says investigators found no evidence of an engine malfunction. A final report will take months.

Click here to view the report.

The Becks flew with the instructor to Teterboro, N.J., on Sept. 7, according to the report. Skipper Beck and the instructor returned to the Rock Hill airport on Sept. 9 and planned to return to Teterboro on Sept. 13.

- Joe Marusak

New affidavits allege Mayfield meth use

Three friends of Jeremy Mayfield, who know the suspended driver from Kentucky, all testified to witnessing Mayfield use methamphetamine, The Associated Press reports.

Barry Lee said he first witnessed Mayfield use methamphetamine in 1999 in a garage at his home on Lake Norman and on his boat. Lee also said he saw the driver use meth at least 50 more times through 2000.

His affidavit said Mayfield was driving him to Lowe's Motor Speedway in 1999 when he pulled over, said, "You want to hit one?" and snorted methamphetamine off a mirror.

Click here to read Lee's affidavit.

On Monday, NASCAR asked a federal judge to order a mental and physical examination on Mayfield to determine if he has a substance-abuse problem and/or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The filing in U.S. District Court includes three affidavits and one deposition from four different people who claim to have witnessed Mayfield using methamphetamines multiple times since 1999.

Meanwhile, Mayfield's attorneys have filed papers listing more than a dozen friends and aquaintances of Mayfield's who will testify that he does not do drugs and speak to his character.

Click here to read the filing.

NASCAR suspended Mayfield for failing a random drug test collected May 1 and said he twice tested positive for methamphetamines. Mayfield has denied using the illegal drug.

He is now suing NASCAR, alleging his positive test result from May 1 came from the mix of the prescription drug Adderall for ADHD and the allergy medication Claritin-D.

- Associated Press, Doug Miller

Read Obama's speech on climate change


Following is the prepared text of President Obama's speech Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly, as released by the White House.

Good morning. I want to thank the Secretary-General for organizing this summit, and all the leaders who are participating. That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation's response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it – boldly, swiftly, and together – we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.

No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent drought and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. The security and stability of each nation and all peoples – our prosperity, our health, our safety – are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

And yet, we can reverse it. John F. Kennedy once observed that "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man." It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond to or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country as well. We recognize that. But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history.

We're making our government's largest ever investment in renewable energy – an investment aimed at doubling the generating capacity from wind and other renewable resources in three years. Across America, entrepreneurs are constructing wind turbines and solar panels and batteries for hybrid cars with the help of loan guarantees and tax credits – projects that are creating new jobs and new industries. We're investing billions to cut energy waste in our homes, buildings, and appliances – helping American families save money on energy bills in the process. We've proposed the very first national policy aimed at both increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas pollution for all new cars and trucks – a standard that will also save consumers money and our nation oil. We're moving forward with our nation's first offshore wind energy projects. We're investing billions to capture carbon pollution so that we can clean up our coal plants. Just this week, we announced that for the first time ever, we'll begin tracking how much greenhouse gas pollution is being emitted throughout the country. Later this week, I will work with my colleagues at the G20 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies so that we can better address our climate challenge. And already, we know that the recent drop in overall U.S. emissions is due in part to steps that promote greater efficiency and greater use of renewable energy.

Most importantly, the House of Representatives passed an energy and climate bill in June that would finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy for American businesses and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One committee has already acted on this bill in the Senate and I look forward to engaging with others as we move forward.

Because no one nation can meet this challenge alone, the United States has also engaged more allies and partners in finding a solution than ever before. In April, we convened the first of what have now been six meetings of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate here in the United States. In Trinidad, I proposed an Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas. We've worked through the World Bank to promote renewable energy projects and technologies in the developing world. And we have put climate at the top of our diplomatic agenda when it comes to our relationships with countries from China to Brazil; India to Mexico; Africa to Europe.

Taken together, these steps represent an historic recognition on behalf of the American people and their government. We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations.

But though many of our nations have taken bold actions and share in this determination, we did not come here today to celebrate progress. We came because there is so much more progress to be made. We came because there is so much more work to be done.

It is work that will not be easy. As we head towards Copenhagen, there should be no illusions that the hardest part of our journey is in front of us. We seek sweeping but necessary change in the midst of a global recession, where every nation's most immediate priority is reviving their economy and putting their people back to work. And so all of us will face doubts and difficulties in our own capitals as we try to reach a lasting solution to the climate challenge.

But difficulty is no excuse for complacency. Unease is no excuse for inaction. And we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of progress. Each of us must do what we can when we can to grow our economies without endangering our planet – and we must all do it together. We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global fight against climate change.

We also cannot allow the old divisions that have characterized the climate debate for so many years to block our progress. Yes, the developed nations that caused much of the damage to our climate over the last century still have a responsibility to lead. And we will continue to do so – by investing in renewable energy, promoting greater efficiency, and slashing our emissions to reach the targets we set for 2020 and our long-term goal for 2050.

But those rapidly-growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part as well. Some of these nations have already made great strides with the development and deployment of clean energy. Still, they will need to commit to strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own. We cannot meet this challenge unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution act together. There is no other way.

We must also energize our efforts to put other developing nations – especially the poorest and most vulnerable – on a path to sustainable growth. These nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do, but they have the most immediate stake in a solution. For these are the nations that are already living with the unfolding effects of a warming planet – famine and drought; disappearing coastal villages and the conflict that arises from scarce resources. Their future is no longer a choice between a growing economy and a cleaner planet, because their survival depends on both. It will do little good to alleviate poverty if you can no longer harvest your crops or find drinkable water.

That is why we have a responsibility to provide the financial and technical assistance needed to help these nations adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue low-carbon development.

What we are seeking, after all, is not simply an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. We seek an agreement that will allow all nations to grow and raise living standards without endangering the planet. By developing and disseminating clean technology and sharing our know-how, we can help developing nations leap-frog dirty energy technologies and reduce dangerous emissions.

As we meet here today, the good news is that after too many years of inaction and denial, there is finally widespread recognition of the urgency of the challenge before us. We know what needs to be done. We know that our planet's future depends on a global commitment to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution. We know that if we put the right rules and incentives in place, we will unleash the creative power of our best scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to build a better world. And so many nations have already taken the first steps on the journey towards that goal.

But the journey is long. The journey is hard. And we don't have much time left to make it. It is a journey that will require each of us to persevere through setback, and fight for every inch of progress, even when it comes in fits and starts. So let us begin. For if we are flexible and pragmatic; if we can resolve to work tirelessly in common effort, then we will achieve our common purpose: a world that is safer, cleaner, and healthier than the one we found; and a future that is worthy of our children. Thank you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Myrick warns of dangers in health overhaul


On Saturday, Rep. Sue Myrick, a Republican from Charlotte, delivered the GOP's weekly radio and Internet address. She said the Democratic health care overhaul plans could mean life-threatening delays in treatment. Read her remarks below, as provided by the Republican Conference:

Hi, I’m Congresswoman Sue Myrick from North Carolina’s 9th District.
Nine years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I knew something was wrong with my body – but it took six doctors, three mammograms and one ultrasound before they finally they found my cancer. This process took only a few weeks.

Under the government-run healthcare system they have in Canada and the United Kingdom, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get those tests so quickly. One international study found that three times as many citizens in those countries wait longer than a month to see a specialist. When it comes to life-threatening diseases like cancer, delay could mean death.
Every family that confronts a serious illness should have access to the highest-quality care at the lowest possible cost – with no delays.

Replacing your current healthcare with a government-run system is not the answer.

These so-called healthcare reform bills have different names: a public option, a co-op, a trigger. Make no mistake, these are all gateways to government-run healthcare.

For small business owners, these proposals mean higher taxes at a time when unemployment is nearing 10% and analysts are predicting that any kind of recovery will be a jobless one.

As a former small-business owner, I can tell you from experience, that this is the worst possible time to be imposing new, job-killing taxes. In fact, the nation’s largest small business association found the health care tax increases being proposed would lead to the elimination of more than 1.6 million jobs.

And for seniors, expect massive cuts to Medicare; which is unacceptable under any circumstances. Doing this now, without implementing significant reforms to make the program more efficient, would leave seniors susceptible to the rationing of care.

All of this comes at a price tag of roughly $1 trillion in the midst of a year in which the government continues to set new records for red ink.

It’s time we heed the American people’s frustrations with the increased spending and big government growth going on in Washington. There is another way to reform healthcare – and options we can agree on to move forward. Please go to healthcare.gop.gov to learn more. I’m Congresswoman Sue Myrick. Thank you for listening.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Gilchrist: 'No charges will be filed'

Here is the statement released today by District Attorney Peter Gilchrist in the shooting death of Marcus Fluker:

"THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE HAS DECIDED THAT NO CHARGES WILL BE FILED AGAINST C.L. MCCLURE IN THE SHOOTING DEATH OF MARCUS FLUTER


The investigation into the shooting death of Marcus Fluker by Mr. C.L. McClure has been completed and turned over to the District Attorney’s Office. The investigating officers utilized a procedure established by this office which allows departments to request that we make the charging decision. This procedure can be followed when investigation indicates probable cause to arrest is present but officers have questions and request we review the evidence they have gathered in order to determine whether charges should be brought.

On August 22, 2009, 76 year old C.L. McClure was sitting in his basement room cooling off after cutting his yard. At approximately 12:30 in the afternoon, he saw a young black male walk past the door of this room. He thought it was his grandson coming by to see him. When he didn’t come into the room, Mr. McClure walked to the door to see what he was doing. He was greeted by a young man with his face covered and armed with a weapon.

Mr. McClure was told to get on the ground. He was duct taped and robbed of cash and jewelry. Another man entered into the basement as well. Mr. McClure was asked who and what was in the main house. Mr. McClure told them his wife was upstairs and to please not hurt her. One man left the other stayed. Mr. McClure’s wife was also a victim of this home invasion when they entered the home and took items from there as well.

After a brief period, the other man left and Mr. McClure got off the ground, retrieved a gun he had in the basement, and went to check on his wife. He saw a number of young men running from his house into the woods. From previous break-ins at his residence he believed that the robbers were running to a vehicle on the other side of the woods. His wife told him she was okay and he got into his vehicle. His intention at that time was to get to their car before they did and to shoot out the tires to immobilize their car until the police arrived.
As Mr. McClure approached the area where he thought a car might be parked, there was no car, and instead he saw all the young men running towards him. At this point he fired a shot in the air in an attempt to scatter them away from him and his vehicle and back into the woods. Instead, they kept running towards him. Some passed in front of his car and some behind. As Marcus Fluker passed his car he began to turn towards Mr. McClure. McClure, an Army veteran, had identified the weapon pointed at him at his house as some type of automatic weapon. When Fluker turned towards him he thought he was about to get “sprayed” by fire from this automatic weapon. He fired at him. McClure did not know if he struck him because Mr. Fluker turned back around and continued to run. At this point, McClure no longer felt in danger and did not fire his weapon again.

After the police arrived they went with Mr. McClure into the apartment complex where the individuals had been last scene. At this point, it was learned that Marcus Fluker had been struck by a single gunshot wound. At the place where he was found there was no gun. This location was not secure until the police arrived.

The investigation of this case recovered two firearms taken from Mr. McClure’s home and it is clear that Mr. Fluker was one of the individuals involved in the home invasion robbery. As a result of these events, Mr. McClure’s 70 year old wife suffered a heart attack.

In making a decision as to whether to charge Mr. McClure in this case, the District Attorney’s Office has considered all of the above facts as well as the law of self defense.

The only eyewitness to this shooting is Mr. McClure. The physical evidence corroborates what he told detectives. His idea to find the vehicle and try to delay the escape of those who invaded his home did not make him the aggressor nor did that take away his right of self defense. Mr. McClure believed that his life was in danger and fired in self-defense. It is the burden of the State in a criminal case to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a charged individual did not act in self defense. The State cannot meet that burden in this case as it appears from all the credible evidence that Mr. McClure feared for his life."

- Doug Miller

Keep up with the CMS numbers

Families in east and central Charlotte are scrutinizing plans that could change boundaries for Myers Park and East Mecklenburg high schools and Eastover and First Ward elementaries. Some of the options also involve changes to several high school International Baccalaureate magnet programs and building swaps for traditional and arts magnets in elementary school.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools just updated some of the Myers Park/East projections at board member Trent Merchant's request. Other additions or revisions may come between now and Tuesday's board meeting.

The data is all available to the public online, but it's tucked pretty deep inside the district's Web site. Click here to see the latest documents. (Items on the Myers Park/East and Eastover plans appear at the top of the list.)

Another update: Tuesday's meeting (set for 6 p.m. at the Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.) has been moved from a meeting room with limited public seating to the main meeting chamber to handle anticipated crowds. -- Ann Doss Helms

Where should Charlotte 49ers stadium go?

As UNC Charlotte leaders continue to hash out plans over a proposed new football stadium on the campus, new renderings reveal another element to the debate: where exactly to put the facility?

The stadium is slated to be built near the university's Charlotte Research Institute off the North Tryon Street entrance and near the baseball stadium. But the renderings from architects Jenkins-Peer Architects and the DLR Group show leaders still must decide how to orient the stadium.

The options are included in a presentation -- click here to view it-- given to university trustees on the football stadium. The renderings are on pages 5-7 of the presentation.

Chancellor Phil Dubois notes there advantages to each option. For example, putting the stadium between and behind Duke Centennial and Grigg halls -- or option B -- would make the football field more visible from North Tryon street. Meanwhile, many college football stadiums generally follow a north-south orientation, or option C.

Which option do you prefer?

Meanwhile, as an article in today's Observer notes, the architects recently suggested that the campus build a temporary football stadium in the same location it would put the permanent facility. - April Bethea

List of delinquent taxpayers

View the names of property owners who have escaped paying taxes for eight years or longer. The list also includes addresses of the delinquent properties.

Click here to read the list.

The Mecklenburg tax collector's office compiled the report, which details $6.6 million in uncollected taxes, after complaints that bills were going unpaid for years.

The total reflects only a small percentage of the more than $1.3 billion the county collects annually. But some city and county officials say tax collectors should more vigorously try to collect the money.

The report shows 1,299 properties and more than 1,000 names of owners.

You can help us review the report.

Tips, questions, concerns?

Send us an e-mail.

- Doug Miller

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Report back taxes to credit agencies?

Mecklenburg County Tax Collector Neal Dixon says he is considering reporting delinquencies to credit agencies if the tactic is found to be legally viable.

The idea is among several outlined in a newly released memo addressing concerns that more than 1,000 property owners have unpaid tax bills at least eight years old.

Click here to read the memo.

Among the other proposals to collect the unpaid $6.6 million in back taxes:

- Equipping tax collectors with more mapping software to locate properties.

- More marketing to raise awareness of delinquent taxpayers.

- Streamlining how the county identifies bidders for foreclosed properties.

Dixon notes the county's tax collection rate exceeds 99.35% for one-year delinquencies, and 99.90% within 10 years. (Each year, the county collects more than $1.3 billion.)

But County Commissioner Bill James asked for the report on back taxes after someone complained about an uptown condominium owner who hadn't paid property taxes for 12 years.

Click here to see a map of properties deliquent more than eight years.

- Doug Miller

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What do you think of the Baucus health care bill?

Sen. Max Baucus
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, released the first draft of the committee's legislation to overhaul the country's health care system today.

You can download Baucus' bill, the "America’s Healthy Future Act," here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Read the resolution against Rep. Joe Wilson

Rep. Joe Wilson
The text of the resolution disapproving of the outburst by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., during President Obama's speech:
Whereas on September 9, 2009, during the joint session of Congress convened pursuant to House Concurrent Resolution 179, the President of the United States, speaking at the invitation of the House and Senate, had his remarks interrupted by the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson; and whereas the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House:
Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on September 9, 2009.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Are retests a waste of $500,000?

CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman says retesting kids who fail state exams may bump up scores for schools, but students aren't really learning much when they cram for a week.

He also estimates the state spent $500,000 in a tight budget year printing and mailing extra tests.

Here's his letter to the N.C. Board of Education urging them to drop the mandatory retesting, which began last school year:

August 24, 2009

NC State Board of Education
c/o William C. Harrison
6302 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699

Dear State Board of Education,

We would like to share our serious concerns around the use of retesting for accountability purposes in North Carolina. After one year of retesting all students who performed at a Level II on any EOG test or its alternates, we have reviewed the data. We believe it raises serious questions about the process, outcomes and the impact of this testing.

In reviewing our test results, we found that almost two-thirds of our students who passed on the retest originally had scores within one standard error of measurement on the first test administration. We only have 180 instructional days to teach our students. Therefore, the less testing we do for summative assessments (which the state tests are), the more time we have to actually teach students.

We had to suspend generalized instruction after the first EOG test so we could provide a week’s worth of remediation to the students who scored a Level II. Can one week of remediation really advance students in a measurable way? Our percent passing went up around nine percentage points, mostly due to students who scored in the range where they may have actually known enough to pass in the first place. This year, we will need to test earlier to provide more remediation. We would much prefer to spend the time teaching instead of remediating.

Even in an optimal situation, the level of feedback from the state tests does not lend itself to use for remediation. We were left wondering what can we do in one week to move a child from:

“Students performing at this level demonstrate inconsistent mastery of knowledge and skills that are fundamental in this subject area and that are minimally sufficient to be successful at the next grade level.” –SBE policy GCS-C-018

to

“Students performing at this level consistently demonstrate mastery of grade level subject matter and skills and are well prepared for the next grade level.” –SBE policy GCS-C-018

If the point of the retesting is to give a better read on student abilities, we think it makes sense to either use a more accurate test (the 4 points that make up the 1 SEM, is in many cases, over 55% of the Level II range), or simply count the students who score within 1 SEM as proficient so we can focus on teaching instead of preparing for a second test.

Our Exceptional Children educators are concerned about the appropriateness of the NCEXTEND1 for a first administration. This issue is compounded when the state regulations require us to put these students through the ordeal again if they only score a Level II score. Several parents have questioned whether retesting hurts the child.

We are also concerned about the validity of retesting students on the NCCLAS assessment. Since this assessment requires materials collection and review, teachers often were asked to re-enter student scores without any real ability to collect new work samples. While we want to be sure student performance is properly assessed, it is hard to justify requiring teachers to rekey the same score.

Another concern was on NCEXTEND2 and the lack of varying test forms. The students who scored a Level II on the first administration were given the same form of the test about a week later, due to schedules and our attempts to maximize instructional time. This gives retested students an advantage due to previous exposure to the test.

Given the statewide budget issues, we think it would be wiser to save the resources for actual instruction. CMS administered almost 50,000 retests in the 08-09 school year. In 09-10 we expect that number to increase. Using an estimate of $1 per test (as NCDPI did when calculating the cost savings from the elimination of the third grade pretest) the printing and shipping costs across the state would approach $500,000. This does not include the staff effort for delivering, administering, scoring and reporting on these tests. Nor does this count the lost educational value of the time required for additional testing and the remediation process which interrupts school activities.

We prefer a test that measures accurately enough that a week of tutorial will not move a child to proficiency, if that is not an achievable goal, we would suggest that the state use the SEM in measuring proficiency rather than retesting. Our data and experience this year suggest that retesting is expensive and not effective.

Sincerely,


Peter C. Gorman
Superintendent

C: CMS Board of Education
Robert Avossa
Christopher Cobitz

- Ann Doss Helms

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Billy Graham group sued over race

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association says it never discriminated against a black employee and argues in court papers that the lawsuit she has filed should be dismissed because of “church autonomy,” The Associated Press reports.

Click here to read the motion to dismiss.

Attorneys for the association argued Wednesday that the lawsuit filed by former employee Kimberly McCallum fails to contend that the job she lost remained open or was given to another person.

McCallum said in her lawsuit she was fired in 2007 after complaining to her superiors that the organization was not reaching out enough to black churches.

Click here to read McCallum's lawsuit.

A spokesman for the organization has said the association does extensive outreach and works extensively with African-American and other diverse churches.

McCallum said in the lawsuit that she was the only black employee working in the executive offices in Charlotte when she started in February 2007.

She complained to her superiors later that year when she was asked to recruit congregations to a camp program but found that a list of 635 prospective churches had only three memberships that were primarily black. McCallum said it was apparent that black churches were excluded.

- Associated Press

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Excerpts from Obama's health care speech

Read excerpts of President Obama's address to Congress about health care reform tonight, as provided by the White House.

You can watch the speech live at 8 p.m. at the White House Web site.

Update: Click here to read the full text of Obama's speech.

–––

“I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every president and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.

Our collective failure to meet this challenge – year after year, decade after decade – has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can't afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover.”

–––

“During that time, we have seen Washington at its best and its worst.

We have seen many in this chamber work tirelessly for the better part of this year to offer thoughtful ideas about how to achieve reform. Of the five committees asked to develop bills, four have completed their work, and the Senate Finance Committee announced today that it will move forward next week. That has never happened before.

Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses; hospitals, seniors' groups and even drug companies – many of whom opposed reform in the past. And there is agreement in this chamber on about 80 percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.

But what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and countercharges, confusion has reigned.

Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

The plan I'm announcing tonight would meet three basic goals:

It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. It's a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge – not just government and insurance companies, but employers and individuals. And it's a plan that incorporates ideas from Senators and Congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans – and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.”

–––

“Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan:

First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.

Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime.

We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies – because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.

That's what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan – more security and stability.

Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange – a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It's how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it's time to give every American the same opportunity that we've given ourselves.”

–––

“This is the plan I'm proposing. It's a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight – Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed – the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town hall meetings, in e-mails, and in letters.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Report: 'Chaos' at Burke County schools

The nation's major school accreditation organization has placed Burke County's four high schools on probation, saying school board members have created an atmosphere of “chaos” that makes teaching and learning difficult.

Click here to read the full report.

Among the findings by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement:

"There was no evidence of an Ethics policy. The Board was not following its own policies as demonstrated by the hiring of staff for positions that have not been posted or interviews conducted. Additionally, the student transfer policy is being totally ingored as Board members are interviewing parents and students individually who are requesting transfers. One Board member had to be sanctioned for sending racial e-mails across the system e-mail. Although this sanction aoccurred on May 18, 2009 , he has yet to fulfill the requirements of the sanction."

Accreditation from SACS CASI is a key for students who wish to attend college.

Interim Superintendent Rick Sherrill said the report's findings would be discussed at today's school board meeting.

The critical report follows months of bickering between school board members and the community, mostly over the board's highly controversial decision in April to remove longtime Superintendent David Burleson. That decision, which came in a 5-2 vote, led to lawsuits and a court decision blocking the ouster.

The board, which asked for police protection at several of its meetings, responded to the court ruling by buying out Burleson's contract in late June.

- Steve Lyttle

Monday, September 7, 2009

Read Obama's speech to schoolchildren

On Monday, the White House posted the text of the speech President Obama is expected to deliver to students in Virginia on Tuesday. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The speech — which has proved controversial, with several conservative organizations and individuals accusing Obama of trying to pitch his arguments too aggressively in a local-education setting — will be broadcast live at noon Tuesday on C-SPAN and on the White House Web site.

The White House has also enlisted NASCAR stars to help promote the speech. See the video here:



Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event

Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Friday, September 4, 2009

CMS: All schools showing Obama speech

With Obama's speech to schoolchildren stirring up a political fury among adults, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced today that Superintendent Peter Gorman and other top officials will visit schools to watch the historic webcast.

Click here to see the news release.

Some who oppose the speech have been buzzing over whether the district's official "encouragement" for schools to participate means whole schools can opt out.

The answer is no: All schools will show the speech live, but parents who object can contact their child's school and another "instructional opportunity" will be provided.

School board member Larry Gauvreau responded to the announcement by e-mailing his own proposed alternative: "I call on students, staff and Mecklenburg citizens to reject the Obama administration's pandering and any attempt by CMS to legitimize the Sept 8th event. Instead, teachers and students should consider reading a good book during that time period."

- Ann Doss Helms

Thursday, September 3, 2009

CMS supports Obama school speech

Here are some suggested questions for teachers to ask following next week's presidential address to schoolchildren:

What resonated with you from the President Obama's speech?
What is President Obama inspiring you to do?
Are we able to do what President Obama is asking us to do?

Click here to read the preK-6 teacher guide.
Click here to read the grade 7-12 teacher guide.
Questions like these, from the U.S. Department of Education's guide for teachers, have some parents and pundits worrying that the president's Sept. 8 speech to students across the country reeks of political indoctrination.

Others say it's hard to argue with a message of each child taking responsibility for his or her educational success.

In Charlotte, Associate Superintendent Ann Clark e-mailed CMS principals this week, encouraging them to make sure all students can watch the speech. She forwarded Department of Education suggested activities.

You can also find the guides, keep up with White House updates and figure out how to watch the speech by clicking here.

- Ann Doss Helms