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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

24
50 years ago we declared war on poverty, spent $20.7 trillion, and lost. So now the President is trying again. Only this time he’s calling it a war on income inequality because a war on poverty only appeals to folks who are poor while a war on income inequality appeals to just about everyone except, maybe, Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.
 
Now you’d think the President would start by attacking the root causes of the income inequality. But politics doesn’t work that way. Because what politicians are interested  in is votes – and taking money from one group of folks and giving it to another is a proven plan that works at the ballot box.  But like a lot of modern politics it does little to fix the root of the problem.
 
The other day in the newspaper Robert Rector reported there are now 80 means-tested welfare programs that take $916 billion from one group of folks and give it to 100 million other folks. Despite that poverty rates haven’t dropped but, on the other hand, poverty is not what it used to be. Today, our typical poor soul lives in a house or apartment in good repair with air-conditioning and cable TV that is larger than the house of an average non-poor soul in France, England or Germany. He has a car, TVs and a DVD player. There’s a fifty-fifty chance he has a computer. A one in three chance he has a big flat screen TV. And, thankfully, a big majority of today’s poor are not undernourished and didn’t endure a day of hunger over the previous year.
 
Still, no one doubts there are still people who need a helping hand – which led Mr. Rector to a surprising fact: Fifty-one years ago, the year before we declared war on poverty, 6% of America’s children were born out of wedlock. Today 41% of our children are born out of wedlock. Now, why on earth should a child’s mother and father not marrying make a farthing’s difference when it comes to how much a child earns when he (or she)  grows up?
 
The answer’s a mystery but statistics don’t lie and they say children raised in single parent homes are four times more likely to be poor, and children who grow up without a father at home are 50% more likely to be poor when they grow up.
 
It sounds illogical but the numbers say more traditional families mean less poverty. But for a politician in pursuit of votes that turns a simple political opportunity into a knotty intellectual problem.
 
One more fact: Today when a mother on welfare has the good fortune to fall in love with a man who has a job and marries him she loses her benefits. Now, in a way, that’s logical. But if you’re a single mother who may be losing, say, $10,000 in benefits it’s also 10,000 reasons not to marry the man of your dreams.

 

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21
Back when General Washington whipped King George the old saying ‘A penny saved is a penny earned’ was a bit of folk wisdom hardly a soul disagreed with – but these days modern economists have determined that kind of old-fashioned virtue is really a vice and that the true path to prosperity is borrowing – which is why the economists were tickled pink when they saw the headline the other week that read: ‘Consumer borrowing rose $18.2 billion in October.'
 
At last the long moribund ‘consumer-driven economy’ was showing signs of life.
 
Of course, this new modern idea of virtue is a little odd – after all, it leaves American families $18 billion deeper in the hole. But the masters of economics have no doubt they’re right – even though their turning virtue upside down hasn’t worked out too well over the last few years.

 

 

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17
The newspaper reporter asked if North Carolina’s Senate Primary was going to be the next litmus test of the Tea Party’s political muscle – and as fast as he could Greg Brannon’s campaign spokesman said ‘Yes’ then added the Primary was just like Senator Rand Paul’s election in Kentucky in 2010 and Senator Ted Cruz’s election in Texas in 2012.
 
“In those races, he said, you had a candidate that was handpicked and heavily supported by the DC establishment up against a Tea Party candidate supported by the grassroots. In both instances the grassroots candidate won big.”
 
Now, of course, you can’t fault Greg Brannon’s spokesman for wanting to get a step ahead of Thom Tillis – but what landed in the newspaper was only part of the story.
 
It’s true Rand Paul and Ted Cruz both won.
 
But on the way to winning they also raised a lot of money. Rand Paul with the help of his father’s supporters across the country. And Ted Cruz with the help of Senator Jim DeMint, who all but adopted him.
 
Here in North Carolina, so far, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris, who’re challenging Thom Tillis, have both been noticeably short of cash.
 
And that’s the big fact in the Senate race: No one, or at best only a handful of voters,  knows Greg Brannon. They don’t know he’s the next Ted Cruz. And he hasn’t had the money to change that. So the real fight in the Republican Primary isn’t between the Establishment and the Tea Party – it’s between Greg Bannon and his empty cash box.

 

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16
A couple of weeks ago the News & Observer  published a story that got folks stirred up over how the head of the Raleigh Housing Authority was making $280,000 a year and wining and dining his board of directors for $3,000 at a Christmas banquet at Raleigh’s elegant Second Empire Restaurant – all paid for by taxpayers.
 
The story caused a ripple which passed but then just before Christmas the News & Observer published a second story reporting the board had given the director nearly eleven weeks of paid vacation last year and the year before and the year before that.
 
The director, defending himself, said that wasn’t quite fair because part of his vacation was ‘comp time’ (which means if he worked 8 hours in a day instead of 7.5 then 30 minutes got added to his vacation time).
 
The Board of the Housing Authority – who’re all political appointees – stood foursquare behind the director. In fact, it just voted to give him an additional six days of vacation this year.
 
Meantime, up in Washington, the government’s borrowing a day to avoid cutting spending.

 

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15
Back before Christmas when Congress struck its ‘big budget deal’ the newspapers were running stories left and right telling everyone how Round 2 of the Sequester was going to be aw-ful and terr-ible and croo-el.
 
In one story a lady in Fayetteville told how the army was going to be so decimated by the next round of Sequester cuts that landscaping at Fort Bragg would grind to a halt. Another lady lamented how over in Durham Head Start was serving forty-two fewer children now than a year ago and Lord knows where it would all end.
 
In story after story pundits predicted coming tribulations that sounded eerily like the tribulations the same pundits predicted last spring: The homeless would go without shelter. The army would be crippled. The White House would never reopen for tours.
 
In fact, back last spring, during the first Sequester there was so much wailing and gnashing of teeth that just about everyone got into a dither but, then, the cuts came and went and the sky didn’t fall and life went on pretty much as usual. So this time when the same pundits  begin roaring Armageddon was at hand most folks just sort of shook their heads, thought, I’ve heard all that before, and went on about their business.
 
One group of folks who did get the dithers this time – in a big way – were Republican Congressmen. House Speaker John Boehner got such a bad case of the willies he got into a name calling contest with the Tea Party groups who liked the cuts, calling them varmints and villains then (to the Republicans’ surprise and Obama’s delight) whipping a bill through Congress that killed the cuts stone-cold dead.
 
Which sounded like the end of laments.
 
But wasn’t.
 
Because President Obama waited a few days then announced he wanted the Speaker and the Republicans in Congress to spend another $25 billion to extend unemployment benefits for another year.
 
And what did Speaker Boehner say?
 
He said he reckoned that, first, they ought to cut spending.

 

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13
John Ledford, from up in the mountains, was a leader in local Democratic politics for years, then ran for sheriff of Madison County and won. Then, after a few years as sheriff, he got Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue to appoint him head of the Division of Alcohol and Law Enforcement, a job where he earned $110,000 a year.
 
Then Republican Pat McCrory was elected Governor and, since Ledford was a political appointee, it was clear to just about everyone else his days as head of A.L.E. were numbered.
 
So John Ledford pulled a hat trick – and he demoted himself into a job as a career state employee. Where he couldn’t be fired.
 
Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds.
 
First, the job Ledford wanted to demote himself into was in Wilmington - while he lived on the other side of the state in Asheville. And the job only paid $39,000.
 
But Ledford found a simple solution: Before he resigned as head of A.L.E. he recommended to the higher-ups in the Perdue Administration (who were also political appointees) that they move the job from Wilmington to Asheville and raise the salary to $65,800 – which his fellow Democrats happily did.
 
Of course, none of that set too well with the Republicans after they took office.
 
They more or less decided the whole thing was a scam. And fired Ledford. Who then sued and said with a straight face he was a career state employee who couldn’t be fired.
 
Then Ledford hired a lawyer, headed to court, and, in an odd twist of fate, landed in front of a judge who, by sheer coincidence, had been former Democratic Governor Bob Scott’s legal advisor.
 
The judge declared Ledford had been “a marked man, politically” after the election of a Republican Governor, added he’d been fired because he was a Democrat, and ordered the state to reinstate him, pay him $44,000 in back pay, and pay his lawyer another $50,000.
 
And that’s Democracy in Action: A Democratic nabob waves a magic wand and declares himself a career employee; the Republicans say that’s not magic it’s voodoo; and a judge (who worked for a Democratic Governor forty years ago) rules taxpayers have to fork over $94,000 so justice can be done.

 

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10
In a speech a couple of weeks ago the President urged Congress to get moving and pass his bill to extend unemployment benefits then, climbing up on his rhetorical high horse, he added that paying unemployment benefits “is one of the most effective ways to boost the economy” – which sounded a little odd, like the President was saying to boost the economy we need more unemployed.
 
Of course, the President didn’t mean it that way at all – but still, in another way, it shows how much faith the President has in the government spending money.
 
No doubt, most folks would agree Congress spending $25 billion to pay unemployment benefits to help needy families keep body and soul together is a necessary but unfortunate burden. But the President goes a step further:  The way he sees it, if unemployment goes down we win – but if it goes up we win too. Because paying more benefits will boost the economy.
 
That kind of thinking could land a fellow in the poor house.
 
Instead, it looks like paying unemployment benefits is like providing life support to a fellow who’s in the hospital. Keeping the respirator going keeps him alive. But it isn’t curing him. And any doctor who tells him he’s in a win-win situation missed the boat.

 

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09
The surprise wasn’t Governor McCrory’s Cabinet Secretaries ripping into the liberals over at the Southern Environmental Law Center, calling them ‘do-gooders sitting in ivory towers in air-conditioned offices in Chapel Hill sipping lattes’;--- the surprise was the cost of the two bridges the Governor’s camp and the environmentalists  were battling over.
 
The Governor’s folks want to build to a new three-mile long bridge to Cape Hatteras which will cost $215 million.
 
The SELC adamantly disagrees and, instead, wants the department to build a seventeen-mile bridge (because the longer bridge will protect the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge).
 
The longer bridge, according to the state, will cost a cool billion dollars.
 
Curious, after doing a little math, I looked up the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge to see what kind of varmints the SELC was protecting: The Wildlife Refuge is a way station for migratory birds like ducks, geese, and swans, and home to alligators, wolves, and turtles (which are endangered species).
 
Now, I don’t have a bit of use for alligators or wolves but it’s hard not to admire a creature as noble as the Snow Goose though, still, the idea of spending $785 million more so a goose doesn’t have to fly around a bridge seems a bit odd.

 

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07
Years ago a doctor asked my mother her definition of happiness and without batting an eye she said: Love and money.
 
When it came to fundamentals mother got right down to brass tacks.
 
A while back up in Washington a piece of the federal government – the National Academy of Sciences – decided Congress needed to figure out what makes people happy so it could pass bills to bring more joy to their lives – so the NSA did a study asking folks questions like how often they smile or laugh every day.
 
When the study was done the scientists carefully analyzed and weighed the data, intending to share the secret to happiness with Congress but the scientists ran head on into a roadblock.
 
The data showed 87% of the American people were already happy.
 
Which left the scientists in a pickle: Because if Congress didn’t need to get into the happiness business the scientists could be out of a job.
 
So the scientists went to work to find a solution to their problem and they did: 87%, they announced, wasn’t good enough.
 
In fact, the scientists reported, sadly, that America only ranked a measly 17th on the world happiness index – while tiny Denmark, the home of Hamlet, ranked first – and, of course, the scientists had hit a nerve: No red-blooded American Congressman could let himself be outdone by a nation no bigger than Rhode Island.
 
Next the scientists announced they’d also discovered another startling fact: My mother was dead-wrong about money.
 
Folks get happier, the scientists reported, up to the exact point where they earn $36,000 a year (or $144,000 for a family of four).
 
After that, they get unhappier or, at best, their happiness flat lines and stays the same.
 
Finally the scientists reported the worst news of all: The USA, income-wise, has already passed the ‘bliss point.’
 
Americans are already making too much money to be happy.
 
Now, there’s a problem Congress can solve.

 

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03
When I saw the headline I thought it must be a hoax but it turned out to be true: Congress, which hasn’t passed a budget in memory, had held a dead-serious, high-level, official hearing to establish whether there is extra-terrestrial intelligence in the universe.
 
As one wit quipped on the Washington Post’s website, First, they need to determine if there is intelligence in the Republican leadership in Congress.
 
Now this may all just sound like normal political foolishness as usual and you may say, Ho hum – but think about it: This bit of foolishness may have teeth.
 
Now, anytime a Republican Congressman slams a Democrat Congressman (who has a sense of humor) about the Obamacare meltdown the Democrat can simply look back at him, smile sweetly, and say, Well, I’m not the one who believes E.T. may be real.


 

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