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Entries for July 2011

31
Two recent stories make the “what were they thinking?” list.
 
First, the leaders of Peace College kept secret a plan to take the historic school coed, then sprung it as a done deal.
 
Did they really expect that to go down well?
 
Then the N.C. Department of Commerce told PCS Phosphate to keep secret a planned sulfur melting plant near Morehead City.
 
Did they really think people wouldn’t eventually get wind, so to speak?
 
Governor Perdue acted as though she had never heard of the PCS plant. Could that be? Did her own Department of Commerce keep her in the dark about something it obviously knew would be controversial?
 
I never cease to be amazed at how otherwise-smart people can convince themselves that the public will trust them to do the right thing in secret. An essential quality of leadership – especially today – is openness.
 
Actually, we know exactly what both groups were thinking. They knew they were doing something unpopular, and they wanted to slip it through.
 
The Peace trustees pulled it off, though now they have to deal with the anger and anguish of alumnae.
 
The Department of Commerce recognized that, for all people want jobs and economic growth, they don’t want to be near anything that makes anything.
 

 

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30
Are Democrats asleep? Below are two news reports that ran a week ago. They are rich fodder for North Carolina Democrats to use against Republicans. But I haven’t seen them do it:
 
State cuts push up NC jobless rate - North Carolina's jobless rate rose to 9.9 percent in June, the highest level since last fall and the first increase in more than a year. The increase, from 9.7 percent in May, reflects a bleak situation for job seekers as private businesses and governments, reacting to budget reductions made by the GOP-led state legislature, cut positions or remain reluctant to add staff. North Carolina's unemployment rate remains well above the national average, which also rose in June to 9.2 percent.”
 
“Spike in school and government layoffs forces NC jobless rate well above US mark - North Carolina's unemployment rate jumped to 9.9 percent in June as community colleges, universities and other state government employers, following severe budget reductions made by the GOP-led state legislature, cut 7,600 workers, the state Employment Security Commission said Friday.”

 

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29
“We need a third party.”
 
That’s a recurrent fantasy among citizens and commentators frustrated by the bump and grind of politics as usual, like the current debt-ceiling stalemate in Washington.
 
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times gave voice to this longing in recent columns.  

The fantasy goes like this: A heroic group of selfless and patriotic citizens – usually decorated war heroes or successful entrepreneurs – decide it’s time to free America from grubby special interests and dishonest politicians. They rise up, put aside politics, appeal to the common good and solve our national problems in a way that magically overcome our differences and divisions. Then they return to the quiet pleasures of private life, amidst the applause and appreciation of all Americans.

Dream on.
 
The fact is, we have a third party today. It’s the Tea Party.
 
Ask John Boehner how that’s working out.
 

 

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28
I’m impressed by the timing of the TAPster who contributed the item below on UNC football. I posted the blog yesterday, timed to go up this morning. Apparently, its mere presence in cyberspace got action.
 
Bill Friday told the N&O the firing of Davis ends the story. I doubt it.
 
Chancellor Holden Thorp and AD Dick Baddour will face a tough grilling at their news conference this morning: What took so long? Why now? Why did you let Butch Davis act last week like he would be coach this year?
 
Also, is this the doing of the new trustees? Did they force you into this? Or had the old trustees kept you from doing it long ago?
 
At breakfast this morning, a mixed group of UNC fans and haters agreed that Baddour may be next to go. And that Thorp has hurt himself.
 
Here’s a measure of how damaging this scandal is: It threatens the career of a gifted academic leader like Thorp, who held the promise of decades of leadership. All because, as Andy Griffith once said, “what it was was football.”

 

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28
 
A TAPster writes “there’s a case to be made that the political leadership of the state should fix the glommed up mess in the UNC football program.”
 
True, but I think the ball is now in the hands of UNC President Tom Ross. Not UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp; he climbed out on a limb too far and too fast in support of Butch Davis and AD Dick Baddour. Now Thorp’s fate is inextricably linked with theirs. He should have left himself some distance – and wriggle room.
 
But I digress. Let the TAPster continue:
 
“The university system is the state’s crown jewel, and needs to be protected from pissants, thieves and moronically texting football players who have no business being part of a dignified educational institution. They are destroying the reputation of the campus at Chapel Hill, and must be stopped.
 
“The chancellor is afraid to take control, the football coach was never in control, and the athletic director is a pitiful, sycophantic apologist for the whole calamity. This collection of irresponsible lightweights has done more to damage the reputation of the university than a century of previous underachievers. They are building a product they can sell to the highest TV bidder, following a regrettable pattern set by the commissioner of the ACC who expanded the league and destroyed the great rivalries to make a buck.
 
“We all own this university, whether we cheer for the football team or not. We invest huge dollars and, as the owners, should protest the quality of the current caretakers.
 
“Our political leaders should take a break from the meaningless crap they’re focused on to clean out the scum in Chapel Hill and protect one our most valuable investments and creations.”
 
A word to any UNC alums who dismiss the above as the ravings of a rapid Wolfpacker. Not so; the TAPster is one of you.
 
Note also that, back in the 1950s, a then-young UNC President named Bill Friday had the guts and vision to take on corrupt, point-shaving basketball programs at State and Carolina. He even shut down the popular Dixie Classic. A lot of people weren’t happy.
 
Look at how things worked out – for Friday and for the University.
 

 

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27
 
Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s that the dog days of summer always seem to fire up political passions.
 
But this debt-ceiling kabuki in Washington has everybody hot and bothered.
 
Democrats are mad at Republicans, and Republicans are mad at Democrats, of course. But conservative Republicans are also mad at Tea Party Republicans. And vice-versa. Liberal Democrats are mad at President Obama. The President is mad at John Boehner, and Boehner’s just as mad back.
 
Maybe it’s that none of us know what this is all about.
 
What is a debt ceiling, anyway? What does “default” mean, anyway?
 
And will it be a “catastrophe,” as some smart people say, or just a bump in the road, as other smart people say?
 
Worst of all, now they can’t even agree on whether August 2 is really “August 2,” as in Doomsday.
 
Cynical me, I was surprised when so many Americans heeded Obama’s call on them to call Washington that Washington’s phone lines and computers went down. Maybe people were paying attention. Maybe they are mad as hell.
 
Apparently, we have in America the ability to resolve really tough standoffs, like the NFL lockout. But when it comes to our financial future, we’re helpless.
 
Somebody hose us down.
 

 

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26
Obama’s got just about everyone convinced we’re staring economic Armageddon in the face if we don’t raise the debt ceiling.  John Boehner agrees, Mitch McConnell agrees and just about every TV pundit agrees.
 
But here’s what’s hard to figure out: Obama, Boehner, McConnell and Harry Reid could avoid Armageddon with one simple bill that says: We are going to pay the $200 billion in debt payments we owe each year first – before Congress spends the other $2 trillion flowing into the treasury. No default. No meltdown. No Armageddon. The debt holders would be safe and satisfied.
 
So why haven’t Obama, Boehner, Reid and McConnell passed that bill?
 
The answer is hard to avoid: They want to raise the debt ceiling and borrow. Because if they don’t they’re going to have to cut a trillion dollars out of a $3 trillion budget. And that has no appeal at all to Obama or Boehner or Reid or McConnell. And the best justification for borrowing is scaring the willies out of everyone by saying the only alternative is Armageddon.
 

 

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26
President Obama and Governor Perdue may have gained political yardage by contrasting themselves to unreasonable, extremist Republicans. But – in light of what has happened to both of them in recent days – they may lose even more ground by looking weak.
 
Weakness is a flaw voters will not forgive in an executive. President Reagan beat a bullet, stood down the air traffic controllers and passed his first tax cut. President Clinton beat impeachment and balanced the budget.
 
Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was held hostage by Iran. George H.W. Bush had it both ways: He beat Saddam, but the economy beat him.
 
Last night, President Obama was reduced to accepting cuts that he even described as extreme, complaining about Republicans and asking Americans to call their members of Congress. Weak stuff, that.
 
Obama looks like he’s being held hostage by the debt-ceiling debate. And he can lose two ways: Either Democrats cave on higher revenues, or there is some kind of economic catastrophe.
 
Governor Perdue had picked up in the polls by standing up to the legislature, but now she’s losing every veto battle.
 
In politics, like baseball, a losing streak is dispiriting. And it can become a self-perpetuating cycle.

 

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25
North Carolina Democrats are, truly, blue these days.
 
My unscientific survey of party leaders and activists last week found mainly gloom about next year’s legislative and congressional races in the face of new, Republican-gerrymandered districts.
 
Maybe the most telling sign is a phenomenon I haven’t experienced in all my years of politics: North Carolina Democrats hopeful that the presidential candidate will provide a boost.
 
I’m used to Tar Heel Democrats running as far away from the top of the ticket as they can.
 
Now, they’re hoping the Obama campaign will pump in millions of dollars and hundreds of paid organizers to boost turnout, reelect Governor Perdue and maybe recapture the House.
 
As for redistricting, they’re hoping for a loooooong legal fight.

 

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22
News reports this morning say President Obama and Speaker Boehner are near a deal on taxes, spending and the debt limit.
 
If it happens, the golfers among us will know why: They teed it up together a few weeks back.
 
There’s nothing like 18 holes to build a friendship – and show you the character of another golfer.
 
Now, if the deal breaks down, golfers can blame the congressional wanna-be hunks who spend way too much time in the gym toning and admiring their pecs.

 

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