D.G. Martin

North Carolina’s Scottish Connection

Did North Carolinians have a stake in the outcome of last week’s referendum in Scotland? Maybe not the same kind of stake the residents of Scotland had, but our ties to that land are so close, so important, and so contemporary that perhaps we should have been entitled to vote on the question of its independence from the United Kingdom. New evidence of our enduring ties to Scotland comes in a few days with UNC Press’s release of Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia by Scotland’s Fiona Ritchie and North Carolina’s Doug Orr. Ritchie...

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New Lessons From Old Wars

At the end of a two-day conference about World War I at UNC-Chapel Hill, I asked a leading military historian what approach he would recommend to the United States to deal with the challenge of ISIS. I will tell you about his response in a minute. The World War I conference was one of a series of planned events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that Great War and to learn what lessons might help us deal with present day challenges. There are plenty of such lessons, according to the series coordinator, UNC-CH’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities:...

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“Most Moderate” And “Kay”: Do Words Make A Difference?

First of all, a warning: I am a Democrat. You cannot trust a partisan commentator to give an objective report on a political contest such as a debate between candidates for the United States Senate. Now that you’ve been warned, here are two observations about last week’s first debate between current Senator Kay Hagan and her challenger, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis. 1. Who is the “most moderate?” Hagan’s repeated assertion that she is the most moderate U.S. senator obviously has been a theme tested by her experts in focus groups and polls. Moderation is a good approach...

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A Letter From Home

It was like the pleasure of a long letter from home. At least it was for this exile from Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. I picked up the new book, 27 Views of Charlotte: The Queen City in Prose & Poetry, to see if any of my friends were among the almost 30 contributors. But when I started reading, I could not stop until I had read every selection, beginning with Jack Clairborne’s cheerful summary of Charlotte’s efforts to become a “world class city,” concluding that the key to its success has been its openness. “You don’t have to come from a particular family or industry or religion or race to make a place for yourself. If you have ideas and the energy to put them across, you too can be a leader. That’s part of what makes Charlotte a pushy and successful place.” But if you are not from Charlotte, why should you be interested in how its writers describe the city and attempt to explain it to the reader? The answer is pretty simple. All of North Carolina is connected to that city. Think government: McCrory and Tillis. Or power: Duke Energy. Money: Bank of America. So even you might want to know more about why Charlotte is what it is, especially if you can learn from a group of talented writers. For instance, UNC-Charlotte professor David Goldfield...

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A Non-Lawyer On The Supreme Court?

President Obama plans to appoint National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg to the United States Supreme Court. Not really, of course. Totenberg may know more than most lawyers about the Supreme Court from her experience as an award-winning legal affairs correspondent for NPR. But she is not a lawyer, and you have to be a lawyer to be on the court. Don’t you? No. The Constitution sets forth no such requirement. Article Two provides simply that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme Court.” So the president could appoint Totenberg or any other non-lawyer, and he or she would take a seat on the court after confirmation by the United States Senate. But, no, President Obama has not announced a plan to nominate Totenberg. However, the possibility of a non-lawyer appointment to the court is the premise of a very believable fictional story written by Ed Yoder. His book is Vacancy: A Judicial Misadventure. Yoder grew up in Mebane and, like Totenberg, is a journalist who knows more about Supreme Court law than most lawyers. As a distinguished editorial writer and historian of American jurisprudence, he is the sort of non-lawyer who would be worthy of consideration for a Supreme Court seat. The Pulitzer Prize winner has, in retirement, recently returned to North Carolina, where he graduated...

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Remembering The Negro Leagues

“He is number 42,” I said. On a baseball outing with my daughter’s family the other night, I was trying to find the name of a player on the Durham Bulls baseball team while the Bulls were playing a doubleheader against the Buffalo Bison. The player list in the game program did not show a number 42. Then I noticed another player wearing number 42, and then another. Every player was wearing number 42. Why? I should have remembered 42, last year’s film about Jackie Robinson. Number 42 was on Robinson’s uniform when he first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. He was the first African-American to break the color barrier in major league baseball. On April 15 every year, major league baseball teams honor Robinson with a special day on which every player on every team wears number 42. You will not see that number on any major league player on any other day. All major league teams have retired Robinson’s number. Before he moved into the Dodgers organization, Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs, a part of the Negro Leagues, a term that covers several all-black professional leagues. The Bulls players were wearing number 42 as a part of the team’s Negro League Night, honoring all those who played for the all-black professional teams during the days of segregation. When the Bulls introduced...

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The Most Important Thing The Legislature Did

The most important thing the legislature did this year is what it did not do. Adjourn. Instead of adjourning and closing down as is customary shortly after the state’s budget has been revised, the legislators resolved to stay in session indefinitely, coming back from time to time to respond to emergencies, to vote on various matters, and to work out a plan to deal with Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds. Maybe that sounds like a reasonable plan to you. Here is the problem. When the legislature is still in session, government officials and workers spend much of their time looking over their shoulders and wondering what will happen next. They cannot concentrate on following the directions the legislature has already given them while still wondering what the legislators might do the next day. Until the legislature adjourns, these government officials and other people whose living depends on getting the government to do something for them will be plotting, conjuring up ways to get the legislature to take some action that benefits them. Even if the body is not meeting every day, this whole mess of people gather around the legislative building and continue to work, not unlike what one observer said, like pigs at feeding time. Until 1974, the legislature met, biennially, ordinarily for only one session in odd numbered years. If we still followed that custom, our legislature...

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Are Things That Bad?

Things are good! Sometimes, like the other day, I want to get up and shout it out. For instance, last week at a Rotary club meeting, Frank Hill, leader of The Institute for the Public Trust, was explaining his efforts to recruit and train public-spirited people to run for Congress and other political offices. In case you have not noticed, a lot of the kind of people drawn to politics in the past will not consider running for elective office today. Hill asked the group of Rotarians if any of them were serving in elective office. Nobody raised a hand. Hill, a former Morehead scholar who ran for Congress himself soon after graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that the participation of Morehead-Cane scholars at Carolina, the Angier B. Duke scholars at Duke, and Park scholars at N.C. State is dismal. Only an infinitesimal few have chosen to seek public office. Hill asked why the Rotarians themselves would not consider running for office. Then he asked whether they would encourage other talented, public-spirited people to participate in politics. The answers came back to the effect that places like Congress were just too broken, too mean-spirited, too partisan, too terrible, to be considered. That is when I wanted to jump up and say, “Things are good.” Good, at least when you compare them to the...

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Read Others’ Views, Then Decide For Yourself

“I don’t read the Washington Post. That is not where I get my ideas.” Many years ago, when there were still lots of conservatives voting in Democratic primaries, a congressional candidate pandered to conservatives by trashing a liberal newspaper. But he lost ground with other voters who thought he should keep up with congressional issues covered in that newspaper even if he disagreed with its views. More recently, a widely respected conservative political commentator also lost a little ground when asked to comment about a recent article about North Carolina in The New York Times. He responded by saying that he did not read that paper because of its liberal slant. His questioner was taken aback and wondered aloud how anyone who followed public affairs could ignore what the influential paper wrote about our state. It would be just the same, the questioner remarked later, if a liberal commentator or politician bragged about ignoring the respected reporting of the Wall Street Journal because of its more conservative editorial stance. Liberal or conservative, we want our political and thought leaders to understand and consider the facts and opinions cited by smart people on all sides. There is another good reason to read papers like the Journal and Times. When they write about North Carolina, we get to see ourselves as others see us. We learn what parts of our public...

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Where Did All The New Voters Come From?

“Voters born elsewhere make up nearly half of N.C. electorate.” So begins the latest DataNet report from the UNC Program on Public Life, directed by former journalist Ferrel Guillory. So what? What difference does it make to us that almost half of North Carolina voters were born somewhere else? To begin to show the importance of such a large number of non-North Carolina natives participating in the state’s election process, DataNet gives us a short history lesson: “One hundred years ago, when North Carolina had a population of about 2.5 million people, more than nine out of 10 residents were native Tar Heels.” Going back a little further, DataNet tells us, “During the Civil War era, barely five percent of North Carolina residents were born in another state.” That percentage stayed low, increasing only gradually: 10 percent in 1930, 13 percent in 1950, 16 percent in 1960, then marked increases to 22 percent in 1970, 30 percent in 1990, and 37 percent in 2000. “How will this change North Carolina’s electorate?” asks DataNet contributor Rebecca Tippett of Carolina Demography, and then she answers, “In-migrants to North Carolina are almost twice as likely to have a bachelor’s degree as native-born residents. They are more diverse than native-born North Carolinians. And, because many are coming for work and school, in-migrants tend to move to cities more than rural areas.” The accelerating...

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