Monday, December 03, 2007

New blog site

My blog will be moving to a new address to make it more compatible with the others in the newsroom. Check it out at:

Moore's Machines incentives deal

This morning, at the Lee County Board of Commissioners meeting, I found myself in a very peculiar position - one which I had not been in before.
I was in total agreement with conservative Commissioner Linda Shook on an issue.
I am not saying that Shook's points are never valid. I have always found her to be a well-researched and articulate steward of the county taxpayers' money. It's just that, as somewhat of a leftist on most spending issues, I just don't find myself agreeing with her.
This morning, thought, that changed. As the only commissioner to vote against a $166,950 incentives package for Moore's Machines, which plans to bring 125 new jobs and a $12 million property investment on McNeill Road, I think she was right with her vote.
According to a report from county manager John Crumpton, the county has paid out a total of $7.2 million in incentives since 1996. Most of that money has gone to good causes. To bringing in high-paying jobs at companies like Caterpillar and Wyeth.
And I think a lot of credit needs to go to the Lee County Economic Development Corporation for the hard work they have put in on those packages, which have benefitted the county greatly.
And I am not saying that Bob Heuts and John Daniel were wrong to ask for the incentives package. Moore's Machines came to them with a query on what the county could do, and it is their job to put to gether a package for the commissioners. If EDC had turned them away, no other company would ever want to work with them.
And I'm not saying that the 125 new jobs are not welcome here from Moore's Machines. Kudos to them for bringing badly needed jobs to the county.
But, as Shook pointed out in the meeting, the company had already invested $1.5 million in purchasing the building before they ever asked EDC for the incentives deal. They likely were going to bring the jobs here without the deal.
The county could have made $166,950 off the company instead of giving it back to them in tax breaks, which would have been very useful for a county that is already very strapped for cash.
Maybe, as my parents and several other older people have told me I would, I have become more concervative in my old age. As I see more and more of my paycheck being consumed by taxes, I have started to pay more attention to where that money is going.
And I just can't see the virtue in this particular incentives package.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Go Tar Heels (off campus to smoke, please)

My alma mater has gone too far. Normally I love everything Carolina Blue. I love the crisp autumn nights in Polk Place and Kenan Stadium. I love watching a Carolina victory in the Dean Dome. Heck, I even loved going to class, at least the times I went, when I was there.
I especially loved buying a pack of cigarettes at the Campus Y and smoking between classes when I knew my girlfriend at the time would not catch me, and taking a smoke break on long nights at the Daily Tar Heel.
I read last night in Carolina Alumni Review about the school's new smoking ban, and I have to say I am offended, not only as a smoker but as a North Carolinian and former student.
If you haven't heard, the school essentially banned smoking on campus by saying there is no smoking within 100 feet of a public building. Every building on campus is a "public building," meaning there is just a small strip down Polk and McCorkle that where you can light up.
Here are three reasons why this is a bad policy:
1. Universities are supposed to be the last bastian of free thought. Why not let students make their own minds up about smoking. Sure, smoking is bad for you. It causes Cancer. It stinks and litters up the campus. But kids are always going to be kids unless you allow them to make their own minds up about what is good and bad.
2. That campus was built on tobacco (well, at least the parts that weren't built by slave labor.) This is the tobacco state, and since the 1970s, it has been turning its back on the very farmers and industrialists who paid for most of the state buildings here.
3. There are always going to be exams and drinking on campus. Therefore, there is always going to be smoking. Does the school need to invest its money into enforcing a ban that essentially meant to keep people from killing themselves? Why not save that money to build another building and name it for some rich person that no one knows?

Friday, November 23, 2007

More on SiCKO, Wal-Mart, etc.

You ever type a word and it not look right? That is what I just did with the word "nugget." Just looks funny to me. It probably is misspelled, but anyways...
So I watched SiCKO again last night, and though it makes me madder and madder about our current system with each viewing, I also found a few more holes...
First off, the clinics and hospitals Moore visited in other countries were always in major cities. It would be interesting to see if the same quality care was available in the country towns like Sanford...
Secondy, the reason countries like Canada, the UK and France can afford to have such a sophisticated system is that for the last 60 or so years, they have not had to have a strong military. We have one. They are our friends.
I think Moore's broader point still stands, though I don't think a nationalized health care system would work here. People get mad when you try to raise taxes for the slightest thing...
Instead, how about a nationalized insurance system. Let doctor's and pharmaceutical companies charge what they want, but the government will pay for it...At least that way there would be an incentive for doctors to work hard and drug companies to innovate.
Another nugget - I went to the new Wal-Mart last night to beat the holiday rush with a little shopping, and was disappointed to learn that there are no self checkout aisles. What's up with that? Ain't that the wave of the future?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Farm City Banquet

I find terms like "salt of the earth" condescending and offensive. Because usually, those terms are meant for people like myself - small town people whom most others think are simple-minded.
So I am not going to use that term to describe the group of good people whom I had the pleasure of eating eggs and country ham with last night at the annual Lee County Farm City Banquet.
Let me just say, for the record, that I love interviewing farmers more than anyone else in this town. I usually jump at every farming story we run.
The reason? Simple. Farmers are always straight shooters. Whether you ask them about migrant workers or the tobaccco buyout or the drought, they'll tell you the truth. At least with all the ones I have ever dealt with - from Gary Thomas in Broadway to Tim Thomas and Duane Jackson, I always get the truth.
I am the first to admit that while I technically grew up on a farm (my dad leased most of his land to hay growers), I know very little about it. But every farmer I have ever spoken with, once you set aside some time in the evening, has been very helpful in teaching me what I need to know to write a story.
The major thing I have learned is that farming is not nearly as easy as it looks. Sure, it takes a lot of manual labor, but it also takes a wealth of knowledge on issues as diverse as legislation, finance, chemistry, biology, geograpy and about a million other topics. Farming has to be one of the most well-rounded, sophisticated professions out there these days. I spent nearly a whole Saturday with Tim Thomas in the Spring learning the ins and outs of how tobacco legislation will effect his income - not exactly your average plant-and-grow, Farmer Brown topic, and one they taught me nothing about as a Political Science major at UNC.
In this business, we deal a lot with PR people and leaders who have been coached to say scripted answers to whatever you ask them. It is so frustrating sometimes. Working with farmers helps you appreciate them a lot more than you already should every time you sit down to a meal.
And, by the way, the eggs, grits and ham were great, but the highlight for me was the red-eye gravy! Growing up that was the one thing my dad was good at making. Last night took me back.

Monday, November 19, 2007

DVD of the Week: SiCKO

Before I launch into my review of Michael Moore's latest documentary, SiCKO, I must first give you a little background on my watching Moore films.
I first saw Roger and Me as a teenager, before I even knew who Michael Moore was or what left and right really meant. This forced me to take the documentary on its on merits. So I watched it with no preconceived notions of what it would be about or where it came from, and what I saw made a huge impact on me. It was a great, inspiring movie, and actually caused me to take a deeper look at the world around me.
I watched Bowling for Columbine in college, and left the theater with an expanded mind as well. Although it did not have the same fire of Roger and Me, it was nonetheless well worth my $8.
Fahrenheit 9/11, though it had some good points, was more or less a "don't vote for Bush" diatribe, which was very disappointing. I could have done without it, and so could Moore's career.
In SiCKO, Moore's study of the flaws of the American healthcare system (or lack thereof), he returned to his roots as a brash filmmaker. Of course there are several not-so-subtle jabs at the Bush Administration, but they are well overshadowed by an in-depth comparison between the socialized health systems in Canada, Europe and Cuba and the free-market Darwinism that is United States health care.
Moore does get a little liberal with his facts, though. Several Web sites have been created to debunk many of his assertions -- most notably that the socialized systems are just as efficient as the American system. That simply cannot be the case. It's simple economics 101 - of course a free-market system is more efficient. The market makes it that way. There are no outside forces on a socialized system (such as competition) to make it work efficiently.
Also, it is a fact that people in countries with socialized systems have a longer average life expectancy than us. But just how much of that can be attributed to their health care systems is debatable. You must also figure that more younger Americans die each year than their peers in other countries, mostly due to traffic and other accidents that are not preventable by health care.
Moore's broader argument, though, that the market often leaves out large sections of society - like the poor or uninsured - is much more salient. And this is the major reason why I agree that we need some sort of reform in this country.
The sad fact is, that big insurance companies do run this country's health care system, and they often dictate who gets care and who doesn't. I'll give you an example. My father, who has worked hard all his life as a self-employed businessman, has no insurance, and couldn't afford it if he wanted it. He had a heart attack last year, and, at nearly 60 years of age, will likely be paying for his stint insertion for the rest of his life.
Is that fair? Luckily, my dad can afford to pay the monthly payments. But there are millions of people in this country who can't. And most of those people, including my dad, often decide not to go to the doctor for check-ups because they can't afford it.
I'll give you another example. My friend had a kidney stone last year, so he goes to the doctor for treatment, and the doctor tells him he needs a CAT scan to determine if the stone is his only problem. His insurance was supposed to cover it, but this year when he went to buy a house, his application was turned down because of a medical lean on his credit report. It seems the insurance company turned him down, but he never got a letter about it. The hospital, not receiving any payment for a year, turned it over to a collection agency.
My friend will be renting a home for at least another seven years, until the $2000 lean is gone, although he has already paid it.
This is the richest country in the world. But we didn't get that way by being nice to our own people. There is a reason that 80 percent of this countries wealth is owned by one percent of its population.
It's because we don't really care. The insurance companies don't care about your illness. Businesses don't care about their employees, but rather the bottom line, and the people don't care enough to vote in ways that influence your leaders to change things.
Imagine if we invested all the money that is currently going to pay for an unnecessary war into our own infrastructure. Our own hospitals and health care systems. Our own schools and education systems. Our own police and fire departments, here at home. We could have the healthiest, smartest, safest population in the world -- not just the richest one percent in the world.
I think that is what Moore was saying, at least.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Let's map the world!

I stumbled upon this site last week during a bout with insomnia:

It's similar to Wikipedia, an open encyclopedia that anyone can update. Only it is a satellite image of the entire world. You can pick any spot on earth, like your hometown, your elementary school or the Eiffel Tower, and write your own description of it that place, complete with links.

Imagine the possibilities...

It's pretty cool and a little addictive. I have already filled in Sanford proper, and someone else added the Herald, the Temple Theatre and Carolina Trace. Have at it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tooth filling

I went down to my dentist, Dr. Moretz, today to get two teeth filled. Just before I fell asleep in the chair she walked in with the needle. I hate needles, and I hate the sound of those drills even more. But it had to be done.

So I'm chatting with Dr. Moretz just before she started drilling, and she said she gets about two patients a day that won't let her numb them before she fills a tooth. She said they either don't like needles or they don't like walking around with a numb mouth all day.

Call me a pansy, but I would never do this. Oh my God. Just the sound of those drills alone is enough to make me cringe.

That would be worse than open heart surgery with no anesthetic. Which, apparently, I will have to do one day if my ticker ever gives out. When I was seven, I had an allergic reaction to anesthetic during a tonsilectomy, and my mom said I can never be put to sleep again.

Let me know, Sanford. Have you ever had dental work done without anesthetic? If so, why? What did it feel like? Are you crazy?