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Entries for June 2011

30
I asked a friend who works up in Washington for a Congressman, What’s going to happen on the debt ceiling?
 
They’re all, he said, all the leaders, dying to raise it. The Republican leaders will agree to raise the ceiling $2 trillion in exchange for $2 trillion in spending cuts over ten years.
 
So, hypothetically, I said, they could cut $200 billion – 5% of the budget – right now, then multiply it by 10 and say they’ve cut $2 trillion – but all government spending drops is 5%?
 
Heck no, he said, They’ll defer the cuts to the end of the ten years and they’ll probably never happen.
 

 

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30
Maybe it’s congenital. Democrats love complexity – and loathe simplicity.
 
So it is with state Democrats’ message about the Republican budget.
 
Yes, Governor Perdue has pulled up her polling numbers by standing up to the legislature – and saying the Republican budget hurts education.
 
But it’s hard to prove: that education was “hurt.” And the Republicans say they protected teachers and the classroom from cuts.
 
There’s an easier argument: It’s a job-killing budget. (As in President Obama’s “job killing health care plan.”)
 
Former Speaker Joe Hackney captured a whiff of this in a Fayetteville Observer op-ed: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools are laying off 500 people. Cumberland, hundreds more. Wake County, at least 200. Kannapolis, 114. Harnett, 88. Duplin, 210. Lee County, 50. N.C. Central, 107.
 
That’s a thousand jobs. How many thousands more will there be?
 
But Hackney got off track. His message was that the GOP’s “right-wing social agenda” is hurting North Carolina.
 
Too complicated.
 
Make it simple: “We’re in the worst economy of our lifetime. Thousands of North Carolinians are looking for jobs. So what did the Republicans do? They put 7,000 (or whatever it is) MORE people out of work.”
 
The kicker: “Want to put more people to work? Put Democrats to work for you.”
 

 

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29
Richard, the Intellectual, sat down at breakfast and out of sheer devilment looked across the table at Mike the Democrat and said, Well, I see in the newspaper this morning Obama’s now gotten the United Nations to officially go ‘gay, lesbian and transgender’  friendly.
 
Ole’ Will Patton, the lawyer, looked up and said, How’s that? and Richard explained how Obama, along with our Western European friends, passed a pro gay rights resolution in the U.N.  
 
Mr. Patton frowned, then grunted. Who opposed it? and Richard said, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Pakistan. China abstained.
 
Mr. Patton is now past ninety but back in his prime no one was a more staunch Cold Warrior – a World War II veteran and a Southern Democrat he switched parties when Lyndon Johnston lost the Viet Nam War and he’d worked tirelessly to elect Ronald Reagan from the moment he’d heard him declare he meant to win the Cold War. He said:
 
It’s been a long time since I agreed with the Russians on anything.
 

 

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29
Robin W. Smith, Assistant Secretary for Environment in the Department of Environment & Natural Resources, took issue with an earlier blog (“Chicken Littles”) about environmental regulation in North Carolina. Smith’s response follows:
 
“I read your recent post  about environmental regulation [Chicken Littles]  and  wanted to provide another perspective. I don’t believe the sky is falling, but I have to disagree with the other premise of your post – that the DENR programs that have delivered acknowledged improvements in air quality, water quality and natural resource protection  are now out of control. That suggests both that earlier improvements in environmental quality  came without controversy and that DENR in recent years has pushed an unreasonable regulatory agenda. No organization can claim to get it right all the time, but a fair assessment of the state’s environmental regulatory programs would need to consider a few more things:
 
1.      “Most environmental rules in North Carolina are adopted by citizen commissions (like the Environmental Management Commission and Coastal Resources Commission) that are made up of people from a wide range of backgrounds and appointed by the Governor or legislative leadership. DENR provides staff support to the commissions, but does not have rule-making authority for the major environmental protection programs. Rules adopted by the commissions are, in turn, subject to legislative review and disapproval.
 
2.      “Every major environmental rule adopted in the last 10-15 years has been shaped by  significant input from  local governments, business, and industry as well as  environmental organizations and concerned citizens.  None of our agencies and commissions rely on just the minimum public notice and comment required by state law. In  many cases,  these have been multi-year negotiations. Probably no one of the participants  has gotten exactly what they wanted; but of necessity the final rules have reflected a balance of conflicting interests as well as the need to comply with state and federal law.
 
3.      “The  most significant changes in environmental standards in recent years have been directly influenced by the General Assembly. The Clean Smokestacks Act (which put stronger air quality controls on large power plants) was initiated by a coalition of environmental organizations and power companies and put in place by legislation.  Most of the major new water quality rules (like the Jordan Lake watershed rules) went into effect by session law following legislative review of rules adopted by the Environmental Management Commission. In each case, the General Assembly made some changes, but accepted the core of the EMC’s rule package.
 
4.      “Major changes in state environmental standards have tended to fall into three categories --  Rule changes  needed to be consistent with new federal rules (this would cover nearly all state air quality rules in recent years);  rules that manage competing uses of the state's natural resources;   and rules  required to meet a goal set in federal or state law. The Jordan Lake and Falls Lake watershed rules are good examples of  rules that both responded to a specific direction from the General Assembly and  required a balancing of competing uses. Upstream communities send wastewater and stormwater into the streams and rivers that feed into the lakes;   those discharges affect drinking water supplies for downstream communities as well as fish and other recreational uses. The Jordan Lake and Falls Lake rules had to balance those competing uses and  also comply with state and federal water quality mandates.
“The General Assembly's recent request for public comment on regulatory reform actually resulted in surprisingly few recommendations for changes in state environmental rules. Of the few specifically mentioned for repeal, some had been in place for many years -- such as the air quality rules developed under the administration of Gov. Jim Martin  to address toxic air pollution.
 
“There is certainly room for disagreement over environmental policy and rulemaking. We will not all balance competing interests in the same way. But I can say that the process for developing environmental rules has been open, diverse and responsive to a wide range of concerns.  Thank you for considering these comments.”
 

 

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28
Americans have celebrated the killing of Osama bin Laden. Now we’re debating how quickly to leave Afghanistan. But is there a chance bin Laden is still going to get what he wanted all along?
 
A week or so ago, I picked up a biography ("Osama bin Laden") written before his death by Michael Scheuer, the oft-quoted former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit. I don’t agree with Scheuer’s viewpoint on a lot of things, but he raises a powerful point.
 
Bin Laden’s real goal in the 9/11 attacks, he writes, was to lure the United States into a unwinnable war in Afghanistan – one that would alienate us from the Muslim world, divide us internally and, most important, do to America what war in Afghanistan did to the Soviet Union: cause it to collapse economically.
 
So here we are 10 years later: two (or three wars) started and not finished, thousands of lives lost, trillions of dollars spent, bitterly divided politically, paranoid about immigrants and Muslims, in an uproar over the loss of our civil liberties (not to mention our physical privacy when we fly on an airplane) and, worst of all, in the worst economic shape in decades.
 
Bin Laden may be in Hell, but he may also be laughing at us.

 

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28
Before it went home the legislature passed Representative George Cleveland’s bill to require employers to use the federal government’s E-verify program to avoid hiring illegal immigrants. Which sounded fine. Until I figured out I’ll have to use E-Verify. Which I’m guessing (since this is the government) may be like figuring out hieroglyphics. Irritated, I thought, I have two people working with me. I’ve known one 34 years and known the other’s family almost as long. So who the devil’s George Cleveland to tell me I’ve got to get the government to tell me they’re not illegal immigrants?
 
Later, thankfully, I found out some great American amended Representative Cleveland’s bill to let employers with less than 25 employees off the hook.
 
At the end of the session Thom Tillis and Phil Berger also gave big corporations a tax break, allowing them to shuffle income from state to state to avoid paying taxes, then after passing a few dozen more bills to help their contributors and whack their foes the legislators went home and quiet settled over Raleigh and exhausted lobbyists sighed, Whew, that was quite a war.
 
But the real war has barely started. Because soon the legislature is coming back. And they face an issue a lot bigger than taxes or illegal immigration. In three weeks in Raleigh 170 politicians are going to lock horns to redraw their own districts.
 
And it will be no holds barred.
 

 

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27
The way I see it, Richard said putting down the newspaper, those Greek fellows have been living high-on-the-hog and paying for it with borrowed money for years and now half the country’s on the public payroll and the other half’s getting lifetime government pensions and now they can’t borrow anymore so they don’t have the cold hard cash to go on paying all those people.
 
There’s one more problem, ole’ Will Patton grunted. Those bankers they owe mean to get paid and they’ve dragged us into it.
 
Back when the United States bailed out Greece the first time the International Monetary Fund told the Greek politicians, You’re going to have to pass some big tax increases and spending cuts. And the Greek politicians agreed. Which led to riots in Athens.
 
Anyway, the tax increases and spending cuts didn’t turn out to be big enough.
 
So, now, a second bailout’s underway only this time Germans announced with Teutonic stubbornness it was time for the banks to step up and help straighten out this mess by giving Greece seven years to repay its debts.
 
Of course that didn’t sit well with the banks (who have their hearts set on getting bailed out) so they wailed, Panic will spread. The financial markets will be rocked. Chaos will reign – and, like always, it worked. The gnomes of Zurich routed the German politicians. So, now, the bankers are getting paid off by us (and the Europeans) and the Greeks are getting their taxes raised and pensions cuts and up in Washington we’ve been borrowing and living high-on-the-hog for years too.
 

 

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27
A friend asked who the winners were in the legislature: Governor Perdue or the Republicans?
 
My answer: both.
 
Thanks to the legislature, Perdue got herself back in the reelection game. By taking on the legislature and wielding some big vetoes, she put some steel into what had been her mushy public image.
 
But the Republicans won, too. They passed their budget, and they did what they had promised: cut spending and the size of government.
 
Now, the question is: Who was right?
 
Did the Republicans cut too much? Will voters conclude that public education has been irrevocably damaged? Or will they decide that the Governor and the Democrats overstated their case?
 
As all fine newspaper editorials conclude, time will tell.

 

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25

James Carville is still one of the smartest and most perceptive people in politics. Most of all, he knows how to get the hay down to where the goats can get it. So it’s worth sharing his advice to President Obama about the economy, courtesy of CNN:

Sir, I'm sure the last thing that you want is some unsolicited advice from a pundit, particularly a pundit who comes out of the Clinton camp, but CNN has an unspoken policy of publish or perish and with a daughter entering the 11th grade and college costs being what they are, I can't afford to perish just yet.

First of all, to quote one of your predecessors, "I feel your pain."

I know you sit and think, "Not only have I inherited a collapsing economy, I've saved the world from a financial meltdown, saved two-thirds of the American automotive industry and passed heath care reform, which no one from Roosevelt to Truman to Johnson, Nixon or Bill Clinton was ever able to do. I've also made what even my Republican secretary of defense said was 'a very gutsy call' in ridding the world of Osama bin Laden. And I accomplished all of this in spite of the fact that, when I took office, the Fed was unable to use monetary policy to boost the economy because the interest rate was already at ¼%, not to mention the skyrocketing deficits and unfinished wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were staring me in the face. Despite all of this, it seems that every time I try to take credit for something, James Carville and Stan Greenberg post some snide memo from their Democracy Corps polling group, criticizing the way I'm framing my message." Like I said, I feel your pain, sir.

As I see it, this is the problem:

First, for many Americans their problems didn't begin with the financial crisis of September 2008 or even the start of the recession in December 2007 (funny how the Republicans blame that on you). It had been going on for some time with stagnant and declining wages that became the hallmark of the so called "Bush recovery." They've seen such little improvement in their lives over a sustained period that when you talk about the economy getting better it indicates to them that you don't get it, because it is so contrary to their own experience.

So when your advance people set up an event, you should instruct them that, as opposed to scouring the country to find economic success stories, you want to spend more time with the people who are having a tough time. Just like I feel your pain, you gotta feel their pain.

Second: As much as this really is Bush's fault, you can't say that. Why? Because if 100 focus groups say that blaming him doesn't have anything to do with fixing the problem it is probably a good idea to pay attention to them. But don't worry, those focus groups also tell us they already do blame Bush.

If you need more evidence of this, watch one of those Republican debates where the candidates never mention his name. Or consider that, in spite of the current economic situation, the fact that your approval ratings are in the high 40s signals that voters are cutting you a pretty good bit of slack here. I suspect they know what a bad hand you picked up.

Third: With all due respect but to put it bluntly, Mr. President, the White House lacks what political consultants (whom I know are not your favorite people) call message discipline. In your State of the Union address, you talked about investment in innovation leading to our generation's "Sputnik moment."

I'm not too sure about the Sputnik thing; it sounds like something drummed up at Washington cocktail party, but then again, unlike you I am old enough to remember Sputnik. I do think people could warm to the idea of investment in innovation, but frankly we haven't heard a lot of follow-up since then.

Fourth: Have your staff be mindful of wonderful political opportunities as they present themselves. Case in point, the main criticism of your Nobel Prize-winning appointment to the Fed board, Peter Diamond, was that he was too knowledgeable about employment and not schooled enough in the intricacies of finance, which strikes me as rather absurd considering the current state of unemployment in this country. My suggestion is to reappoint him, then take him down and reintroduce him to the Senate committee to make it clear that you're more than willing to accept a 2% increase in inflation if it means a 4% drop in the unemployment rate.

In other words sir, when you're opponents make idiotic assertions, feel free to point them out. Mr. Diamond strikes me as just the sort of appointment a Democratic president should make.

This all leads me to conclude that you can say that you're fighting every day against a wretched recession caused by irresponsible actions in the financial sector and a corrosive culture in Washington that is resistant to any change that threatens those at the very top of our economy.

Cite chapter and verse your struggles with theses powerful forces to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the top 1% or to squeeze costs out of our ridiculously expensive health care system and your fight to keep teachers and police officers on payrolls. But whichever of these messages you choose to present, be sure above all to be disciplined and follow up. And part of that follow-up has to address not just the things that you're proposing but also things that your opponents are opposing.

So feel free to gleefully talk about how Republicans want to reinstate the policies that got us into this mess in the first place while you're fighting to implement policies that will get us out of it.

Oh and BTW (my kids tell me that's text for "by the way"), thanks for doing a good job on the oil spill.

 

 

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24
“To the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write…thou art neither cold nor hot…”
 
Lukewarm seems to be a political watchword up in Washington when it comes to the war in Libya.
 
The House just voted down legislation giving President Obama the authority to continue the war – so the House is now officially anti-war. So, what happens? Nothing.
 
Because next the House voted not to cut off funding for Obama’s war in Libya.
 
So the House is against the war but for paying for it.
 
One of the mantra’s of Washington Politics is the best place to be on a tough issue is in the middle where you can do a little something for everyone and not make anyone too mad.
 
Up in Washington the politicians figure the voters opposed to Obama’s war in Libya will look at their ‘He doesn’t have the authority to bomb Tripoli’ resolution and say, Well, that told him. And some politicians figure the voters who support the war will look at their voting to pay for bombing in Tripoli and say, Well, they gave Obama the green light to go ahead.
 
What the politicians miss is folks on both sides are now looking at them and saying, Can you believe these guys?
 

 

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