Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Opening Friday

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 11:48 PM

Why Did I Get Married Too?
  • Why Did I Get Married Too?

Clash of the Titans - Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson

Why Did I Get Married Too? - Tyler Perry, Janet Jackson

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'The new normal'

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 1:46 PM

First of all, I hate that our country's new mantra is "The new normal." How self-defeating.

But it's probably not too far from the truth. Counties and citizens alike have lived beyond their means for far too long. Instead of saving, we run up our credit cards. Or, at least we did before it all finally caught up with us.

So why didn't we see this coming?

Mecklenburg residents should brace for major cuts in county services and a dramatically leaner school system – possibly for years to come.

That was the assessment delivered Tuesday when County Manager Harry Jones and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman spoke jointly to a group of about 50 residents in west Charlotte.

Addressing the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, Jones and Gorman minced no words in describing the pain county residents and employees will fell.

With tax revenue down in nearly every category, Jones and Gorman said layoffs and cutback are unavoidable.

“We believe that we have a new economic reality that we’re dealing with,” said Gorman, who has proposed cutting up to $80 million from the CMS budget year that begins in July. That would include laying off about 600 teachers.

“Last year we told folks we’re going to do more with less,” he said. “This year I think we need to be upfront and tell folks we’re going to do less with less next year.”

Jones was equally bleak in his assessment, saying the county’s revenue picture is the worst he has experienced. Of all the major categories of county income, he said, only property taxes showed a slight increase.

Jones has asked county departments and agencies to come up with $95 million in cuts for 2010-11.

Read the rest of this story at Qcitymetro.com.

How did we get into this? Mecklenburg County's Budget Director, Hyong Yi, explains:

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Calorie sticker shock soon to end with HCR mandate

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 12:25 PM

Did you hear? Part of the health care reform bill includes a mandate that requires chain restaurants to include nutritional information on their menus. Hooray!

I think that's great. Yesterday, alone, I experienced calorie sticker shock twice ... but only because I researched the nutritional information of a couple of foods I planned to eat. (It's not like either restaurant offered any warning about the number of calories in their meals.)

I was in Uptown just before an event, and I was hungry. I walked around the block and made what I thought was a decent dinner decision. I stopped at Qdoba and chose a burrito off their menu. No cheese. No sour cream. No guacamole. No chips. No extras. Yes, their burritos are humongous, but I figured it couldn't be too bad. Rice, meat and vegetables in a wrapper, how bad can that be?

While eating, I used my smart phone to find out exactly how many calories were wrapped up in my flour tortilla. Guess how many? More than 800! For most people, that's almost half of their daily calorie allotment. Crazy.

Later, at Starbucks, I bought a small coffee. Into it I mixed fat-free milk and Splenda. Not so bad, right? No, but the Reduced-Fat Very Berry Coffee Cake I bought on impulse? That sucker just about cost me 320 calories. (I threw it away.)

It's easy to consume too many calories in our fast-paced world where processed foods are quick, cheap and ready to eat on every corner. That's why I'm one of the people who loves that fast food restaurants will soon post nutritional information on their menus. For those of us on a calorie budget — and who isn't? — that information will help us make better choices.

Hopefully, as people become more aware and vote for healthier meals with their hard-earned cash, restaurants will get the hint and stop adding bacon, cheese and sauce to everything.

Of course, we all know the best choices are usually found at your local farmers market and prepared at home.

Further reading: Calorie labels could lead to healthier food (Associated Press/ Charlotte Observer)

Some tips for eating healthier at fast food joints:

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'Climategate' scientists cleared

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Eat it climate change deniers. And while you're at it, stop reciting the bull shit corporate think tanks and lobbyists feed you through their Lame-Stream media outlets like Faux News. Find the off button on your squawk box, look at evidence as unbiased, humble observers and think for yourselves.

Oh, and for the record: A couple of typos doesn't negate decades of science. Stop selfishly nitpicking for political gain and start looking out for your global community.

The first of several British investigations into the e-mails leaked from one of the world's leading climate research centers has largely vindicated the scientists involved.The House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee said Wednesday that they'd seen no evidence to support charges that the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit or its director, Phil Jones, had tampered with data or perverted the peer review process to exaggerate the threat of global warming—two of the most serious criticisms levied against the climatologist and his colleagues.

In their report, the committee said that, as far as it was able to ascertain, "the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact," adding that nothing in the more than 1,000 stolen e-mails, or the controversy kicked up by their publication, challenged scientific consensus that "global warming is happening and that it is induced by human activity."

The 14-member committee's investigation is one of three launched after the dissemination, in November, of e-mails and data stolen from the research unit. The e-mails appeared to show scientists berating skeptics in sometimes intensely personal attacks, discussing ways to shield their data from public records laws, and discussing ways to keep skeptics' research out of peer-reviewed journals. One that attracted particular media attention was Jones' reference to a "trick" that could be used to "hide the decline" of temperatures.

The e-mails' publication ahead of the Copenhagen climate change summit sparked an online furor, with skeptics of man-made climate change calling the e-mails' publication "Climategate" and claiming them as proof that the science behind global warming had been exaggerated — or even made up altogether.

The lawmakers said they decided to investigate due to "the serious implications for U.K. science."

Phil Willis, the committee's chairman, said of the e-mails that "there's no denying that some of them were pretty appalling." But the committee found no evidence of anything beyond "a blunt refusal to share data," adding that the idea that Jones was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that weakened the case for global warming was clearly wrong.

In a briefing to journalists ahead of the report's release, Willis said the controversy would ultimately help buttress the case for global warming by forcing the University of East Anglia—and other research institutions—to stop hoarding their data.

"The winner in the end will be climate science itself," he said.

Read the rest of this Breitbart/ Associated Press article, by Raphael G. Satter, here.

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, one of the co-authors of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climage Change, talks about his role:

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N.C. GOP wants to 'nullify' health care reform

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 11:25 AM

Leaders of the Republican Party in North Carolina are pressuring state Attorney General Roy Cooper to join the lawsuits brought by 14 other state AG’s to stop implementation of health care reform. On top of that, some N.C. GOP leaders say they’ll introduce legislation to “exempt North Carolina from Obamacare," as N.C. Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger put it.

This isn’t the first time the GOP has tried to derail major legislation in these ways. Similar efforts were launched after Congress passed federal unemployment insurance and Social Security in the 1930s, and Medicare in the ‘60s. The same arguments being used today to dislodge health care reform were roundly rejected in those earlier cases, and there’s no real reason to think the current lawsuits, legislation and general huffing and puffing and  bluster will be any more successful.

The 14 AG’s are asking federal courts to rule that the health care reform law is unconstitutional. They claim the law’s mandates violate the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, and also violate state sovereignty by coercing states to set up insurance exchanges, expand Medicaid coverage, and so forth.

As has been ruled over and over in the courts, this particular Commerce Clause argument is nonsense. As Wake Forest Law Professor Mark Hall pointed out to NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon, the argument “is flawed because, legally, the mandate is basically a ‘tax for the general welfare.’”

As for the “state sovereignty” argument, Hall explains, the new law doesn’t technically require states to participate in either Medicaid or the new insurance exchanges, as citizens can always opt to use the federal exchange. In Fitzsimon’s article, Hall goes on to quote Harvard’s Charles Fried, who was Solicitor General for Pres. Reagan: "It's like Virginia saying we don't have to pay income tax…One is left speechless by the absurdity of it."

Several state Attorneys General have said they have no intention of joining the lawsuits, including Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who said he doesn’t believe the lawsuits “have any legal merit whatsoever,” and that pursuing one for his state “would be a waste of taxpayer resources.”

As for Phil Berger's arguments that North Carolina could “opt out” of federal laws, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but wasn’t there a civil war or something fought over that kind of thing? Even before the Civil War, South Carolina (of course) espoused the idea that any state could “nullify” a federal law within its borders; it’s an argument that didn’t sit well with Pres. Andrew Jackson, who threatened to send U.S. troops to enforce the laws if necessary. South Carolina backed down. That time. In the modern era, the nullification argument has as much credence as belief in the existence of unicorns. We knew the right is drifting farther and farther into fantasy land, but Berger seems determined to prove it.

Attorney General Cooper hasn’t indicated his intentions toward joining the lawsuit, but just in case, feel free to contact his office at (919) 716-6400, and let him know how you feel about it.

Waxhaw native Andrew Jackson wouldn't take kindly to new GOP anti-reform efforts
  • Waxhaw native Andrew Jackson wouldn't take kindly to new GOP anti-reform efforts

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Today's Top 5: Wednesday

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 8:00 AM

Here are the five best events going down in Charlotte and the surrounding area today, March 31, 2010 — as selected by the folks at Creative Loafing.

Dinner and film screening of Mean Streets at Reelworks Soundstage

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Jersey Boys at Belk Theater

Miggs at The Evening Muse

Get To Know The Show, Tao: The Martial Art of Drumming at The Atrium

Ultimate Fighting Championship Fight Night Live at Bojangles' Coliseum

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Light Factory offers dinner and a movie

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 2:25 PM

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This Wednesday, The Light Factory will host the perfect date night with dinner and a movie. Folks attending the event will enjoy a meal provided by Plate Perfect Catering and a screening of Mean Streets. The film, which is about a young man’s climb up the mafia hierarchy in New York’s "Little Italy," will be followed by a post-screening Q&A session with Jonathan Taplin (producer of Mean Streets) and MarketWatch columinist Jon Friedman. This should make for an interesting discussion. Tickets are $50 for general public; $45 for Light Factory members; $40 for Paparazzi members. Dinner is at 6 p.m. and the movie is at 7 p.m. Held at Reelworks Soundstage, which is located at 817 Hamilton St. For more information, call 704-333-9755 or click here.

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Obama signs student loan overhaul

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 12:42 PM

I take back what I said during the health care debates about Pres. Obama not being politically savvy enough in his dealings with Congress. I’m not just referring to Obama’s success in pushing health reform through Congress (after everyone but he and Pelosi had given up on it), although that was impressive, not to mention fun to watch. No, what I’m talking about is the way the health care reform bill also included another of Obama’s priorities, which slipped in under the radar: the biggest rewrite of college assistance programs in about 40 years. It was a legislative move nearly worthy of Lyndon Johnson, the ol' Master of the Senate.

The President is in Virginia today to sign the measure, which will make the government the primary lender to students and will take that power away from banks. It’s a pretty far-reaching law that should benefit students and, let’s face it, their parents. Under the new law, banks will no longer get fees for being middlemen in federal student loans, a move that will save an estimated $6 billion to $7 billion per year.

That money, says the Prez, will be used to boost the number of Pell Grants made to students; lower some borrowers’ interest rates; and make it easier for some workers to repay their student loans. When the law takes effect in 2014 (what is it about 2014 that has Congress under its spell?), student loan repayment will be capped at 10 percent of a graduate's income. Throughout his presidential campaign, Obama said one of his goals was for America to return to the days when we had the highest per capita proportion of college grads in the world. I don’t know if this one law would carry that heavy a load, but it’s nonetheless great news for college students and, yes, their parental units.

Some Tea Party leaders say the President is being unfair in his efforts to make it easier to go to college. Anse Hatfield of the West Virginia Tea Guzzlers stated, "Everbody and thur cute little cousin knows that the more college ye git, the more likely y'are to vote Demurcrat. This is just one more sneaky, underhanded move by our Kenyan overlord to drag us down into a socialist hell." OK that last part didn't really happen. But the student loan stuff is, fortunately, for real.

Um, thank ya. Thank ya ver' much. I'm glad you like the robe.
  • Um, thank ya. Thank ya ver' much. I'm glad you like the robe.

West Virginia Tea Guzzler leader Anse Hatfield
  • West Virginia Tea Guzzler leader Anse Hatfield

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'Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition'

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 11:29 AM

Well. That's nice.

For decades, women have paid more for health insurance. A lot more. But, thanks to health care reform, that trend has come to an abrupt end.

In the broadest sense, the new health care law forbids sex discrimination in health insurance. Previously, there was no such ban, and insurance companies took full advantage of the void.

Until now, it has been perfectly legal in most states for companies selling individual health policies — for people who do not have group coverage through employers — to engage in “gender rating,” that is, charging women more than men for the same coverage, even for policies that do not include maternity care. The rationale was that women used the health care system more than men. But some companies charged women who did not smoke more than men who did, even though smokers have more risks. The differences in premiums, from 4 percent to 48 percent, according to a 2008 analysis by the law center, can add up to hundreds of dollars a year. The individual market is the one that many people turn to when they lose their jobs and their group coverage.

Insurers have also applied gender-rating to group coverage, but laws against sex discrimination in the workplace prevent employers from passing along the higher costs to their employees based on sex. Gender rating has taken a particular toll on smaller or midsize businesses with many women, like home-health care, child care and nonprofits. As a result, some businesses have been unable to offer health coverage or have been able to afford it only by using plans with very high deductibles.

In addition, individual policies often excluded maternity coverage, or charged much more for it. Now, gender rating is essentially outlawed, and policies must include maternity coverage, considered “an essential health benefit.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Senator Mikulski said: “One of my hearings revealed that a woman was denied coverage because she had a baby with a medically mandated C-section. When she tried to get insurance coverage with another company, she was told she had to be sterilized in order to get health insurance. That will never, ever happen again because of what we did here with health care reform.”

Read the rest of this New York Times article, by Denise Grady, here.

Further reading:

From the U.S. Congress: How health care reform will help women:

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Stop texting and driving, before they make you

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 11:14 AM

Who is "they"? Good question. Maybe your insurance company. Maybe the manufacturer of your next car. Maybe the state. Whoever "they" become, software engineers are working to end texting and driving for good.

Of course, before "they" can enforce any laws, "we" must first determine how dangerous texting and driving is and which demographic groups shouldn't text while behind the wheel.

What do you think about this? Is texting and driving something you can do without cause for concern or are you so addicted to your smart phone and messaging services that you can't take a half-hour break to drive home?

Several software and gadget companies — many of them at the country's biggest trade show for the wireless industry last week in Las Vegas — have sprung up to address that challenge. But creating an effective, widespread solution looks a lot harder than putting in reminders for seat belts.

Furthermore, we're only just beginning to figure out what constitutes a dangerous distraction, and how best to curb it. Are hands-free conversations dangerous? What about dictating text messages to your phone? Does everyone need help staying away from the phone while driving, or just teens and employees?

Many states ban drivers from using cell phones without hands-free devices, but a recent insurance industry study found that such laws haven't reduced crashes. It's not clear why, but one reason might be that drivers flout the laws.

Read the rest of this Associated Press/ MSNBC article, by Peter Svensson, here.

What do you think about ads like this, from the U.K.? Are they effective? Do they encourage you to put your damn phone down and drive, or not?

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