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24
It sure looks, Richard said politely, like John Boehner could have found something else to sue President Obama over.
 
Fifty-four times John Boehner and the Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare so it seemed odd to Richard, a retired businessman, that Boehner was about to sue Obama for not enforcing the Obamacare Employer Mandate.
 
It didn’t strike Mike, who’s thirty years younger than Richard and a Republican with a unique talent for seeing one side of every issue, as odd at all: He said. What’s wrong with that?  The President should enforce the laws that are on the books – even the bad ones.
 
Vic, who like Mike, has a talent for seeing one side of every issue (only from the opposite direction) said, Think of the ads we Democrats can run: Republicans say Obamacare is bad. But they’re suing Obama for not enforcing Obamacare; Mike snorted, That’s about what I’d expect, and Vic grunted, There’s as much truth in that as saying ‘Robin Hudson sided with child molesters.’
 
Welcome to a modern political debate.
 

 

 

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22

No one’s explained why a Malaysian airliner was flying over a war zone but when it was shot down Senator John McCain had no doubt who to blame: Obama.

It was, McCain adamantly told Fox News, Obama’s fault because he hadn’t given the Ukrainians more guns.
 
I reckon McCain figures if the Ukrainians had more guns they’d have shot (months ago) the varmint who pushed the button to launch that missile but, of course, that’s a lot like saying General Lee would have won Gettysburg if the stars had aligned differently.
 
President Obama has turned out to be Republicans’ worst nightmare. The Uber-Villain of all time.  But, still, you can’t blame one fellow for everything.

 

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21
They’re not highway numbers, or ages. They are the two big numbers driving North Carolina’s education debate this year.
 
When you take an eight-miles-high view of the legislature, setting aside the partisan debates and vitriol, the most striking thing is that Republicans are arguing this year over whether to raise teacher pay 5-6 per cent (the House and Governor McCrory) or 11 percent (the Senate).
 
Now, set aside for a moment Democrats’ objections that neither 5,6 or 11 is real, as all the pay raise proposals come with big holes and big cuts in other education areas. The point is that, one year after freezing teacher pay, Republicans are competing to claim they raised teacher pay.
 
Enter this story and map by Dave Dewitt and Keith Weston from WUNC radio: “Why is a teacher raise suddenly so important?...In 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, a local school system is the largest single employer. A local school system is the second-largest employer in 24 other counties. In only 12 counties a school system not in the top two.”
 
These numbers recall what a long-time lobbyist predicted last year: “The legislators are going to go home and find out that a lot of school teachers and school employees are Republicans.”
 
And so they did.
 
Which leads to the other number: 48. That’s where education advocates say North Carolina ranks in per-pupil spending, and they say we’re in race to the bottom.
 
Behind all this, you can be sure, is another set of numbers that has caught Republican’s attention: the polls on their approval ratings.

 

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11
What on earth do you do when a eight-year-old lands on your doorstep?
 
I heard two spokesmen on the radio today with answers – the first told a story of a lone girl, one of the border children, who after being repeatedly raped by gangs in Honduras, trudged or rode on the tops of trains, clinging to boxcar roofs, 500 miles across Mexico to arrive in Texas hollow-cheeked with hunger.
 
The other spokesman explained half the border children hadn’t trudged across Mexico alone at all – they’d been carried by smugglers paid by families who were desperate to get their sons and daughters out of El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala.
 
Of course, up in Congress, Republicans say Obama’s to blame for the whole mess.  He  threw open the door to the border children when he decided not to deport the “Dream Children.”
 
And the Democrats, of course, say Republicans are ogres with no hearts.
 
And, finally, President Obama wants Congress to give him $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis – which comes to $74,000 per child. 
 
So with all this passion and all these political agendas clouding the rhetorical air who can we believe?  And how do we figure out what we ought to do?
 
In a way the answer’s simple: If a weary, bedraggled eight-year-old turned up on your doorstep one night would you turn him away? 
 
No.  Lord willing, you’d lend him or her a helping hand.
 
Beyond that, since there are 50,000 children on our doorstep, there’s one other question to ask we have to answer: Are these children refugees or illegal immigrants?
 
Because if a child’s fleeing in terror – whether it’s from gang rapes or other sins – well, to put it bluntly: In America we help refugees.  We may not make them citizens.  But we don’t turn them away either.
 
And if these children are illegal immigrants? If they’re not fleeing from violence or abuse?
 
Well, then, like all runaway children, we return them to their parents.

 

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08
Locked in a wrestling match with the Governor over Medicaid (and how much it will go over budget) the Old Bull Mooses invited Art Pope (the Budget Czar) over to the Senate for a cordial visit then added if he didn’t come along peacefully they’d send him a subpoena.
 
Pope, responding like a gentleman, took the affront politely saying there’d be no need for fisticuffs then trooped over to the Senate, explained patiently how Medicaid had $70 million in cash (to pay its outstanding bills) so the Bull Mooses’ fear of a $250 million deficit was unfounded then added soothingly,  ‘There is good news but there are still many uncertainties.’
 
Now it must be said the Old Bull Mooses had history on their side: Last year Medicaid was $457 million over budget and the year before it was $375 million over budget so, naturally, the word uncertainties got the Senators’ attention – and they began to explore.
 
How many new people, they asked, had enrolled in Medicaid?
 
The answer was not what they’d hoped: No one knew because the computer system was broken.
 
How much, they asked, were doctors and hospitals owed that they hadn’t been paid?
 
The answer was equally disconcerting: Another computer system was broken so no one knew the answer to that either.
 
A Senator said Medicaid spending had been increasing by 5% each year and asked, How much will it increase this year?
 
Less, Pope said.
 
Then, leaving broken computer systems behind, Pope got down to brass tacks.
 
Senator," he asked, "what is the cost of overfunding Medicaid?” and then explained – in the Budget the Bull Mooses had proposed – the cost was firing 7,000 teacher assistants and removing 5,200 aged, blind and disabled people, including 1,600 patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia, from Medicaid.
 
Of course, that didn’t sit too well with the Senate’s budget writers.
 
Senator Bob Rucho turned to the head of the Hospital Association, who was sitting in the audience, and asked if there was enough money in Pope’s plan to pay all the bills the hospitals were owed.
 
The Hospital Chief said he didn’t know so Rucho next fired a tougher question at him: If it turned out the Governor hadn’t budgeted enough to pay the hospital’s bills would they eat the difference?
 
That didn’t sit too well with the Hospital Chief but, at least, when the smoke cleared Rucho’d established the hospitals weren’t about to risk putting their money where their mouth was when it came to verifying the exactitude of Medicaid budgets.
 
At the end of the day the Bull Mooses were still dead-set on cutting Medicaid to the aged, blind and disabled to balance a budget the Governor’s budget director says doesn’t need balancing except for the fact there are some uncertainties and two broken computer systems which mean no one is sure of the real numbers.

 

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04
There’s a lit stick of dynamite – and one unanswered question – being blithely passed from hand to hand in the backrooms of Raleigh: Who will the State Senators and Representatives make pay to cleanup Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds – which Duke says is going to cost $10 billion and which, Duke also says, in fairness ought to be added to its customers’ electric bills. 
 
Attorney General (and not one to look a gift horse in the mouth) Roy Cooper, who’s running for Governor, promptly disagreed, saying Duke ought to pay every penny which inspired Cooper’s Democratic allies to add an amendment to the Senate Republicans’ ‘Coal Ash Cleanup’ bill to make Duke pay. 
 
The old Bull Mooses promptly quashed the Democrats’ amendment then fell cryptically silent which oddly – given the murky waters of Senate politics – sent a crystal clear message: The Bull Mooses, after they’d just kiboshed Duke paying the $10 billion, faced a tough choice: Either tell consumers their electric bills would be going up or lay low and say nothing.
 
Silence spoke volumes.
 
Which attracted the attention of Conor (the Jessecrat) who grunted, What we have here is half-baked politicians coming up with the wrong cure for a problem.
 
Conor explained both Cooper’s and the Republicans’ solutions had more to do with politics than fixing the problem then added, The real question here is how much can Duke afford to pay?  If it has $10 billion, fine, let it pay it all.  But if Duke can only pay $1 billion then some poor soul’s got to find the backbone to tell people their electric bills are going up $9 billion.
 
Of course, even for our finest politicians, that would be just plain treacherous – imagine a Bull Moose, running for reelection, looking voters straight in the eye and saying, I voted to increase your electric bills, while at the exact same moment his opponent’s looking the exact same voters in the eye saying, Duke should pay it all.

 

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02
The news from Iraq was puzzling.
 
West of Baghdad, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) was whipping our allies the al-Maliki government.
 
At the same time, next door in Syria, President Assad was bombing our enemy ISIS.
 
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Obama was asking Congress for $500 million to send guns to Syrian rebels so they could attack Assad.
 
Which was wise, the President said, since the rebels are moderates who’ll attack ISIS too.
 
Only, up until now, the President has said we shouldn’t send arms to Syria because it’s too hard to tell a moderate from an immoderate rebel and the guns might end up in the hands of the wrong people – like ISIS.

 

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02
Governor McCrory acts like a man who had a serious health scare and now vows to eat right and exercise.  His main exercise is running away from the state Senate as fast as he can.
 
Clearly, the Governor has seen the Senate’s poll numbers on education. He doesn’t want to catch that bug.
 
Too late. He’s got it all over him, and there’s no escape.
 
Believe me. I’ve been there. Governor Hunt froze teachers’ pay during the 1982 recession. Teachers didn’t forgive. Some of them even sat on their hands when he ran against Jesse Helms in 1984. And remembered it when Hunt ran again in 1992.
 
McCrory’s latest effort to get immunized is “the Governor’s Teacher Network,” which promises $10,000 bonuses to 450 teachers for creating professional development, teaching, and assessment plans for other teachers.
 
But there’s a big catch, according to one teacher expert: The plans have to be approved from on high. It’s “basically a covert way for the administration to carefully select what 'innovation' they want to see, and continue to punish the rest of experienced teachers who collaborate and innovate on a daily basis, without bonuses. He's saying ‘Yeah, here's a $10,000 bonus if you can do exactly what I want and convince your colleagues to do the same’."
 
Here are some other teachers’ reactions: “Everyone has their price….This (is an) obvious divide and conquer ploy….”
 
And: “This is not a bonus or reward. This is pay for another job added to their normal teaching duties….Teachers are already sharing their expertise at their schools….”
 
And: “Just great. We’re headed into the last quarter and McCrory wants to distract 100s if not 1000s of teachers in the next four weeks as they scramble to compete for $10,000 when they should be focusing on getting their students ready to end the year at or above grade level.”
 
And: “This is so far removed from what really improves teaching. When I was in the classroom, I learned far more from hallway conversations with experienced teachers than I ever did from planned CE programs offered by the ‘system’.”
 
And: “Are we supposed to do this before, after or during benchmark and EOG/EOC prep? Can we take a “short session” and use, oh say, a week of personal leave to accomplish this? Nope, I forgot, we can’t find subs and we can’t use personal leave. I guess we could pull this off between 11 and 3 AM – about the only time most of us sleep.”
 
And: “As a teacher, this is a slap in the face. As if we are not doing this already???This is not going to encourage collaboration among teachers. It is going to create animosity and the loss of more good teachers. I have been teaching since 1987. I will most likely retire in NC making under 50,000.”
 
The moral: You can run, Governor, but you can’t hide.

 

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01
Last year (after their big victory in the 2012 election) as soon as Republican State Senators and State Representatives got to Raleigh they went to work to cut spending and it was almost like a competition:
 
The House would announce it had cut a hundred million dollars.
 
And the Senate would top that and announce it had cut two hundred million.
 
It went on like that for months until, in the end, they’d cut more than any legislature anyone could remember but, of course, all that cutting came with a price: After they got home Republican Senators and Representatives got hammered for not giving teachers raises, for cutting the unemployment benefits, and for denying care to the poor, halt, sick and lame – Reverend William Barber even blamed them for hurting little children.
 
For awhile none of that seemed to faze legislators but a year’s a long time to listen to people saying you’ve hurt little children and the other day when I received the House Caucus newsletter (about the House’s new budget) the wind had changed. The legislator who’d sent the newsletter explained how he’d just voted to:
 
  • Raise teachers’ salaries;
  • Raise all other state employees’ salaries;
  • Give veterans in-state college tuition rates;
  • Increase Pre-K funding;
  • Hire more people to provide child welfare;
  • Hire more bureaucrats to battle coal ash;
  • Give $3 million to the Biotechnology Center;
  • Give $190 million for the Information Technology Fund;
  • And put more money for the highway fund.
 
The only cut he mentioned was a cut in ferry tolls.
 
I reckon if anyone doubts the efficiency of attacking a state legislator – they ought to read the list.

 

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01
This is one of the oldest battles in our Republic. And you ain’t seen nothing yet.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision ignites a battle over women’s health care, which will command center stage. But it’s really just part of the long-running battle over the proper relationship between corporations and the government/the people. (See Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people, my friend.”)
 
Corporations as we think of them today didn’t exist when the Constitution was written. They appeared In the early 19th Century, according to one history, as “bridge companies, water companies, transportation companies, banks, and insurance companies…essentially public service corporations or public franchises.”
 
After the Civil War came the first trusts: oil, steel, finance, cigarettes and the like. They dominated politics and government through the Gilded Age and into the 20th Century. Then came Trust Buster Teddy Roosevelt, who characteristically had a pretty clear view on the subject:
 
“We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs”.
 
The anti-corporate wave ebbed in the Roaring Twenties, then came roaring back in the New Deal and Square Deal. From the 1950s on, corporations and big business worked their way back into the driver’s seat.
 
Now, the Supreme Court has held that corporations, like citizens, have the right to spend unlimited funds to influence elections and the right to religious views that overrule the law of the land.
 
Oy!
 
So here’s a safe prediction: The wheel will turn, as it always does in the cycles of history. There will be a turn against corporate power, especially given the growing economic gap between the top (CEOs, owners, mega-billionaires) and the rest of us.
 
Politics is like physics. For every action, there is (or will be) an equal and opposite reaction. It may start in the Democratic presidential contest next year. (Hillary Clinton, are you listening?) And it may dominate politics for decades to come.
 
But it’s coming.

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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