Monday, October 30, 2006

A pre-Halloween walk through the graveyard

Not everyone wants to go tiptoeing through an old cemetery just before Halloween. But for the past 10 years in Chapel Hill, Bland Simpson has led an increasingly popular public tour of one of the most remarkable burying grounds in the state.
Simpson – associate professor at UNC Chapel Hill, head of the creative writing program, author, songwriter and flat-out ace pianist and vocalist with the Red Clay Ramblers -- created the tour of the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery a decade ago as part of an American studies class on the university’s history. It’s always a few days before Halloween, perhaps heightening the tenuous link between this world and The Other Side as All Hallow’s Eve approaches.
The cemetery – its first burial was in 1798 – contains the earthly remains of some prominent figures in North Carolina history, including university presidents Edward Kidder Graham and Frank Porter Graham, newsman Charles Kuralt, Cornelia Phillips Spencer, who legend says rang the bell atop South Building when the university reopened during Reconstruction; big band leader Kay Kyser and Pulitzer Prize author Paul Green.
It also includes the gravesites of some less-well-known but equally important folks: Harriet Morehead Berry, a key figure in the development of North Carolina’s large state-maintained road system; Isaac Hall Manning, dean of medicine and founder of what eventually became Blue Cross/Blue Shield (and grandfather of Leandro school-funding case Judge Howard Manning Jr.), and Frederick and Adeline McCall, two founders of the N.C. Symphony.
One part of the cemetery is walled off by a low rock wall – a line demarking the old segregated part of the cemetery, Simpson said. An obelisk that once marked the on-campus grave of university president Dr. Joseph Caldwell now marks the grave of ex-slave Wilson Swain Caldwell, who started the first school for blacks in Chapel Hill.
The grave of Edward Kidder Graham, Simpson noted, was unusual for its simplicity and modesty. Graham, who died in the worldwide influenza epidemic in 1918, occupies “a modest spot but his thoughts were very grand indeed,” Simpson said. It was Graham who once suggested that the boundaries of the university and of the state itself be regarded as the same.
There’s the grave of William Meade Prince, an illustrator and writer who popularized the description of Chapel Hill as “the Southern Part of Heaven.”
And there was the grave of Nell Pickard, Simpson went on, a woman who was a good friend of his mother. Nell Pickard died and was buried in her family plot just a few weeks before the death of Charles Kuralt in 1997, Simpson said. UNC President Emeritus Bill Friday arranged with the Pickard family for Kuralt to be buried in its plot. Nell Pickard “would have been most amused if she had known she would spend the rest of eternity lying next to Charles Kuralt,” Simpson said.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Will Dan Blue stir up a House fight?

One surprising non-development in the state House of Representatives is the lack of an organized challenge to embattled House Speaker Jim Black. A former Black aide has been found guilty of failing to register as a lobbyist, one of his appointees to the N.C. Lottery Commission has been found guilty on federal charges of wire fraud, a fellow optometrist and fundraiser has been charged with perjury and a former lottery company official has been convicted in state district court for his role in passage of the lottery law. Meanwhile, a former Black ally, ex-Rep. Mike Decker, has pleaded guilty in federal court of accepting $50,000 from an unknown Democrat to switch parties and keep Black in power.
You’d think House Democrats running for reelection might turn on their leader and find a new speaker – or an alternative candidate for speaker in 2007, assuming (1) that Democrats retain control of the House this fall and (2) that Black wins reelection and still intends to run for speaker again, as he has said he will.
But only a few House members have dared call for him to step down. Democratic Reps. Alice Graham Underhill of New Bern, Lorene Coates of Salisbury and Pricey Harrison of Greensboro are the only ones to have gone on record earlier this year suggesting a change. And while others such as Reps. Jim Crawford of Oxford, Joe Hackney of Chapel Hill and Hugh Holliman of Lexington would be interested in the job, so far a public campaign to replace Black hasn’t developed.
Why is obvious. Black has helped most of the Democrats either win office or stay in it. And the Democratic caucus is pretty happy about a successful legislative session this past summer. So no real challenge to Black has emerged.
Until now. As the Observer’s Mark Johnson reported in today’s paper, former Rep. Dan Blue of Raleigh – the state’s first African American speaker of the House – appears to have an inside track on a House vacancy caused by the death of the late Rep. Bernard Allen of Raleigh. He was recommended by the local Democratic executive committee Wednesday, and Gov. Mike Easley by law has to appoint him. And former Rep. Bob Hensley of Raleigh is doing what he can to push Blue as a candidate to replace Black as speaker.
Black and Blue have tangled before, Black prevailing both times. Blue was a candidate when Black first won the post in 1999, and for a time was promoted as an alternative in 2001. Blue has found ways to work with Republicans in the past. He galvanized Democratic support to win the speakership in 1991 after an unusual bipartisan coalition in 1989 threw out the late Speaker Liston Ramsey and elected Joe Mavretic speaker.
Who knows what chances Blue has now. He’s been out of office for a while now. But he has demonstrated one absolutely key test of leadership: he has recognized a leadership vacuum in the House and evidently has given his blessing to his allies to begin contending for it. Will that wake up the House Democratic caucus and produce other candidates as well?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Swift justice on military commissions

Several career military officers say it’s unlikely Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, a Navy war crimes lawyer, was passed over for promotion – and thus forced out of the service – just because he took on a tough war crimes case in 2003 and opposed the Bush administration’s plans for prosecuting Salim Hamdan, once a driver for Osama Bin Laden.
I wrote about Swift – a North Carolina native – because it reminded me of the World War II case when another Tar Heel officer essentially bucked his president. Then-Col. Kenneth Royall, a Goldsboro native, represented eight Nazi saboteurs who came ashore on Long Island and were bent on mayhem. They were quickly caught, and President Roosevelt wanted them tried quickly and put to death. He ordered Royall and several other lawyers to stay away from civilian courts.
But Royall thought the president didn’t have the authority to convene secret courts and appealed to the U.S. District Court, and eventually the Supreme Court. That court ruled Roosevelt did have the authority to order a secret tribunal, though the court did recognize that constitutional safeguards for those charged “are not to be disregarded.” (Royall later became Secretary of War and then Secretary of the Army.)
Swift, who grew up in Franklin, bucked his president, in effect, by challenging the military tribunals to try Guantanamo detainees. The Supreme Court ruled against Bush and in Swift’s favor on a 5-3 vote this summer – but two weeks later the Navy advised Swift that he was being passed over for promotion for the second time. Being passed over twice means you leave the service. It also sent a distinct message, many analysts believe.
The news media took it to mean the Navy was punishing Swift by halting his career. The New York Times, The Miami Herald and many others saw a direct connection between the two events, as did I. The Herald quoted Eugene Fidell, president of the national institute of Military Justice, as calling Swift “a no-brainer for promotion” to full commander. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, noted that Swift had been named one of American’s top 100 lawyers by the National Law Journal and observed, “It is a bit peculiar for the Navy not to retain and promote Swift.”
Not so, wrote retired Army Lt. Col. Stephen Honaker and Air Force Col. Morris Davis, chief prosecutor in the Office of Military Commissions at the Department of Defense, in separate e-mails.
Both noted that the promotion of officers to the level of commander in the Navy turn on a number of factors, including whether officers have had experience in combat situations and whether they have had other levels of experience required for the job.
It’s a highly competitive process, and excellent officers often get passed over for higher rank. And Honaker noted that Swift himself doesn’t believe retribution was involved. In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Swift said, “In taking the Hamdan case, I took myself out of the normal progression path.” That meant he didn’t get all the experience an officer would need for the next step up. The NPR interview with Nina Totenberg is on the web.
Swift will go on to a job in a prestigious law firm where, no doubt, he will earn more than he ever could in the Navy. He understands that much of this conflict is about the rule of law. On “Hardball” with Chris Matthews, this is what Swift said about taking what appears to be an unpopular stance involving the nation’s enemies: “It’s not whether they deserve it or not. It’s how we conduct ourselves. It has to do where if we say that our opponent can cause us not to follow the rules anymore, then we’ve lost who we are.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was in Raleigh the other day to talk about the new law governing military interrogations and trials, and said much the same about taking an unpopular stance: “Because it’s about us, not about them... We’re about to show the world in a couple of months how we’re different.... You will be part of a country that has chosen to give rights and privileges to a group of people who would give you none. That makes us stronger, not weaker.”

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sen. Graham: What makes us different

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was in Raleigh the other day to speak at N.C. State University’s Millennium Seminars series. He gave a fascinating account of how the Senate campaign to insist on a new interrogation bill that Graham, a Republican who succeeded the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, believed necessary to safeguard certain rights even of those we believe are out to kill us all. Graham is no limp-wristed appeaser – he’s a conservative politician who served in the Air Force and S.C. Air National Guard, was called up for the Gulf War and is now a Reserve Judge for the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.
But, he said, he opposed the Bush administration’s military tribunal and interrogation plan “Because it’s about us, not about them... It’s to show the rest of the world the difference between us and the rest of the world... The high ground here is the moral high ground.”
The interrogation bill means the Bush administration can’t use secret evidence unavailable to defendants to convict them. And the excesses of interrogation at Abu Ghraib was “a huge setback in the war on terror” because it put America on the same plane as our enemies. “If we change who America is in trying to win this war,” he said, “we will lose. But we are not going to lose becasue the stakes are too high.... “
“We’re about to show the world in a couple of months how we’re different.... You will be part of a country that has chosen to give rights and privileges to a group of people who would give you none. That makes us stronger, not weaker.”
He also had one pithy comment about the tenor of the current election campaign: “By the end of the election, you vote for the person who sucks the least.”
Audio files of the senator’s remarks should be available soon at the Mellennium Seminar website, N.C. State says. Here’s an audio link to the start of his speech.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Deep in the heart of Texas

At a kickoff breakfast for the 2007 Emerging Issues Forum on creativity in higher education one day last week in Raleigh, the discussion briefly turned to the pressure on major universities to hire a winning football coach.
Former University of Texas Board of Regents Chairman Charles Miller was introduced as a man who once told a wealthy and powerful University of Texas fan that if he wanted to complain about the coach, he should call the coach, not Miller.
So when Miller got up to speak, he casually mentioned that Texas had come to North Carolina to hire a successful coach – an obvious reference to former UNC Chapel Hill Coach Mack Brown, now the Longhorns’ head coach.
Former Gov. Jim Hunt, chairman of the Emerging Issues Forum at N.C. State and a rabid Wolfpack fan (decked out in a bright red N.C. State tie), immediately sang out, “And we’re glad you got him.”
At the other end of the table from Hunt, UNC System President Erskine Bowles, an avid Tar Heels fan, sang right back, “Send him back!”

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Carolinas and 'Hurricane Alley'

No wonder they call us ‘Hurricane Alley’
The worst-kept secret of anyone who lives in this part of the South is that we’re a target for hurricanes – coastline as well as inland. That’s one reason folks began calling this area “Hurricane Alley” half a century ago after a devastating series of storms hit the Carolinas coast.
This season hasn’t been so bad. But in the longrun, we know we’ll get hit again and again. Now the New York Times’ Tuesday section on science – Science Times – reports on a study that ranks two North Carolina sites among the top 10 at greatest risk from hurricanes.
New Orleans and Lake Okeechobee, Fla. are ranked 1 and 2, but North Carolina's Cape Hatteras ranks 7th and Wilmington ranks 9th on the list of 20 areas at greatest risk. And Charleston, S.C. ranks 13th on the list of 20 places at greatest risk.
The study was done by the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University. Follow this link to see a summary of the study.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nation's "10 dirtiest political races"

Wouldn’t you know it? North Carolina figures in two of “The 10 Dirtiest Political Races in U.S. History,” according to the magazine reason: Free Minds and Free Markets in its November issue. The upcoming issue doesn’t appear to be online yet, but readers can find it eventually at this site.
The magazine, in an article by David Mark, assesses the worst ads in more than two centuries of U.S. politics, beginning with the 1800 campaign for president in which opponents of Thomas Jefferson called him “a fraud, a coward, a thief and ‘a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.’” Whew.
The two N.C. races cited were the 1984 campaign between Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican, and Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat. Helms taunted Hunt “as a liberal flip-flopper” and asked, “Where do you stand, Jim?” Hunt proved capable of nastiness, too, showing an ad with “right-wing death squads in El Salvador.”
The magazine also cited the 1990 Senate race of Helms versus challenger Harvey Gantt. The Helms campaign showed the notorious “hands ad” of a white person tearing up a job application as the announcer describes how the job went to a minority.
One N.C. race the magazine missed – or perhaps didn’t think was so bad: the 1950 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate between Frank Porter Graham and Willis Smith. One anti-Graham campaign flyer that year blared, “White People Wake Up.”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Prosecutors ask Black 'The Question'

House Speaker Jim Black has said for a long time he thinks his political adversaries are out to destroy him and his political organization, but he has also said federal investigators have not targeted him in their probe of corruption about the creation and startup of the N.C. Education Lottery in 2005.
Maybe not, but the tenor of federal prosecutors’ questions in the trial of former Lottery Commissioner Kevin Geddings, on trial on eight counts of mail and wire fraud, seem aimed right at Jim Black. Geddings has even joked about the direction of the trial, at one point telling reporters, "I hope you enjoyed the first day of the Jim Black trial."
Jim Black has not been charged with any violation by federal authorities. But in Wednesday’s testimony, it seemed clear they think Black did something wrong in his choice of Geddings for the Lottery Commission. Geddings’ defense lawyers called Black to testify that his choice of Geddings was pretty much a last-minute decision and not part of a scheme concocted with former Black aide Meredith Norris, an unregistered lobbyist for a lottery company Geddings had done work for, and others. That gave prosecutors the opportunity to ask Black a question many in the Capital City had long anticipated. Here’s how Observer reporters David Ingram and Mark Johnson reported that exchange, starting with a question from Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bruce:
“Is it true that during that time you also had a close, personal relationship with Meredith Norris?” Bruce asked.
Black quickly shot back: “What do you mean ‘close, personal relationship’? I like to think I’ve had a close, personal relationship with every employee I’ve had over the years.”
When pressed, Black added, “It does vary with all the employees. Some of them I hardly ever see and some of them, their duties require that I see them more.”

Black has told reporters he did not have an inappropriate relationship with Norris. But evidently federal prosecutors continue to look at that question. In a hearing in the courtroom Wednesday without jurors present, they argued they should be allowed to pursue the question because, Bruce said, it bore on the speaker’s motive and bias and “impacted governmental decisions, including this one.”
Yet after Black answered that he had a close, personal relationship with all his employees, prosecutors soon dropped the line of questioning, leaving spectators to wonder why they had brought up the question if they didn’t plan to press Black for a more definitive answer – or a flat denial.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Easley on the stand in Courtroom 1

More history in Courtroom 1
Another episode in state history played out Tuesday afternoon in Courtroom 1 of the Terry Sanford Federal Building in Raleigh, when Gov. Mike Easley testified in the criminal trial of former N.C. Lottery Commissioner Kevin Geddings.
Defense lawyers for Geddings called Easley as their first witness after federal prosecutors rested their case against Geddings. The governor testified about 15 minutes, and reporters were scrambling to determine if a sitting N.C. governor had ever testified in a criminal trial.
In fact, for a few moments it also appeared that House Speaker Jim Black, who appointed Geddings to the Lottery Commission last year, might follow Easley to the witness stand. Lawyers might ask him to explain why he chose Geddings for the post and whether he knew that Geddings had done work for Scientific Games, a major national lottery vendor, before joining the commission. Geddings did not disclose that work and resigned after 40 days on the commission. He quit hours after Scientific Games disclosed it paid Geddings $24,500 for work earlier in 2005. But defense attorneys did not call Black to the stand Tuesday and the judge sent the jury home for the day. The speaker could be called to testify Wednesday or later.
Easley testified about his discussions with Black about appointing Charlotte attorney Robert Cordle to the Lottery Commission. Cordle was willing to serve, but if he took the lottery appointment he would have had to leave his appointment to the State Board of Elections. So Black considered other appointees – including, Cordle said when he was called to the stand, Charlotteans Larry Dagenhart and Jim Babb.
Earlier in the day, N.C. Lottery Commission Chairman Charles Sanders testified – which added another footnote in N.C. history. Both Sanders and Easley ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate – Easley in 1990 and Sanders in 1996 – and both lost to the party’s eventual nominee, former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt. In the general election both years, Republican Sen. Jesse Helms won, as usual.