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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

10
It’s tough to stay a step ahead of a smart bureaucrat.   
 
About a week ago I wrote an article explaining how what a bureaucrat wants (for himself) and what’s best for public education isn’t always the same thing – and used Senator Phil Berger’s ‘Read to Achieve’ bill as an example.
 
What Senator Berger wanted was to teach third graders to read – so he passed a bill to end social promotions, saying a third grader had to learn to read before being promoted to fourth grade. Which sounded simple. But didn’t sit too well with the bureaucrats who run education. 
 
Because what bureaucrats love is job security – which means they avoid making controversial decisions like the plague.  And Senator Berger’s bill said one thing loud and clear: They were going to have to make a lot of tough decisions – like making third graders attend summer reading boot camps.
 
Well, the bureaucrats side-stepped the whole problem.   It was sheer brilliance.  They couldn’t repeal Senator Berger’s law – so they gutted it. By simply making the tests easier.
 
As a result, overnight, 11,000 third graders – who couldn’t read under the old standard – can now read!
 
Tammy Howard, the head of testing at the Department of Public Instruction, even told newspaper reporters with a straight face “This is not lowering standards.
 
Of course, that’s a non-sequitur. But, still, it’s worth remembering the next time the bureaucrats at DPI troop over to the legislature asking for more money.

 

 

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05
These days just about every politician in Raleigh is saying (as often as he can) how he wants to spend more money on schools and give teachers raises. 
 
But what if the root of the problem with schools isn’t money. 
 
This is a bit simple but the prime movers in public education are: Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Teachers Union. 
 
Now, the politicians have so many problems on their hands – budgets, Medicaid, Obamacare, and coal ash spills – that education only gets a piece of their time. 
 
A politician’s also got to fret over getting reelected, so if giving public school teachers tenure is popular he’s likely to be for it regardless of whether it’s good or bad education policy. 
 
On the other hand, bureaucrats in Raleigh and at local school boards work on running education day in and day out. And the teachers union wouldn’t even exist if there weren’t public schools.
 
Now, like most groups, bureaucrats have their own goals. A bureaucrat aims to keep his job, earn a comfortable wage, receive a raise or promotion now and then, and retire with a state pension.  A bureaucrat does not like making decisions.  Making decisions can cause controversy.  Which gives birth to risk. Which can land a bureaucrat in the soup.
 
The teachers union also has its own goals:  The union has members. And it wants to get them raises. Now, raises for teachers sounds fine but it turns out there’s a glitch there too. 
 
Republican legislators support ‘Merit Pay’ – a plan that pays good teachers more than not-so-good teachers. That sounds fine too.  But it doesn’t fit in with the teachers unions’ goal. Because poor teachers pay the union dues just like good teachers do .
 
Not long ago the State Legislature passed a bill so every local school board could give 25% of its teachers – the best teachers – bonuses.
 
You might think that would have been greeted with joy – but, instead it was greeted with horror.
 
Suddenly education bureaucrats were faced with making thousands of decisions – they had to choose who were the best teachers. And making those decisions didn’t appeal to them at all. It was going to be controversial.  And risk was sure to follow.
  
The teachers union wasn’t happy either.  Some of its members – the best teachers who got bonuses – would be happy.  But 75% of its members were going to be unhappy and the union couldn’t very well support a plan that left most of its members mad.
 
Awhile back Senate Leader Phil Berger passed a bill that said third graders had to learn to read before they could be promoted to fourth grade.  He also provided funds to help students who were struggling and, to insure flexibility, he left implementing the plan to local school boards. 
 
Again, the bureaucrats reacted with horror.
 
Deciding whether 3rd graders could read properly entailed more decisions and this time those decisions were bound to make parents unhappy.  
 
The local bureaucrats bucked the plan up to the state bureaucrats (at the Department of Public Instruction) who twisted and turned and created a plan so unwieldy that, when their first battery of tests landed on 3rd graders heads with a thud, parents’ screams could be heard all the way to Raleigh. 
 
The Superintendent of Public Instruction got so rattled she announced Senator Berger had made a terrible mistake and declared 3rd graders should be promoted whether they could read or not.
 
So it looks like – to improve schools – we’ve got to get the bureaucrats and unions out of the business of deciding policy – because their goals and what’s best for schools are two different things. 
 
Otherwise, we’ll simply end up running in circles.

 

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03
The other day I was feeling a little down and blue about Republicans’ foibles then thanks to Democratic Chairman Randy Vollmer the sun broke through the clouds.
 
Awhile back, the Democratic Party had to replace its Executive Director after he was accused of sexual harassment. Last week, Chairman Randy Vollmer fired the replacement and offered the job to a gentleman who’s been accused of sexual harassment not once but twice.
 
Mr. Vollmer’s choice, Ben Chavis, settled the first sexual harassment case while serving as Executive Director of the NAACP; he settled a second case, later, while serving as a Nation of Islam minister at a New York mosque.
 
Of course, the more astute Democrats saw right off Vollmer was on the wrong track – but they were rebuffed by a broadside claiming they were ‘disrespecting’ Ben Chavis’ Civil Rights legacy – which usually trumps anything in Democratic Party politics. But not this time. Wiser heads scuttled Vollmer’s choice and, in the end, all the Chairman accomplished was proving an old bit of political folk wisdom:  No matter how many mistakes Republicans make, if we just have a little patience, the Democrats will screw up worse.

 

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28
The other day when one of the bureaucrats over at the Department of Health and Human Services slipped up and made a mistake, the blame landed squarely on Secretary Aldona Wos’ shoulders. And Wos landed back on the front page of the newspaper again.
 
Secretary Wos had a tough year. And Governor McCrory ought to cut her a break. She’s suffered enough.   Out of old-fashioned kindness the Governor ought to give her his blessing to return home to the happy life she led before she accepted the worst job in North Carolina.
 
Then, when he replaces her, the Governor ought to pick the person he likes least on earth – and allow them the pleasure of heading the Department of Health and Human Services.

 

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25
Immigration, the newspaper says, is ‘bedeviling” Congresswoman Renee Ellmers. It’s also bedeviling Speaker John Boehner. And half the Republicans in Washington. 
 
It’s a knotty problem.
 
Part of the politicians have decided it’s best to send every single illegal immigrant back to where they came from – but no one’s quite sure how to go about rounding up 10 to 20 million people. 
 
Another group of politicians, who’re mostly Democrats, want to make all the illegal immigrants citizens. 
 
And, as  a sort of compromise, a third group of politicians propose to let the illegal immigrants stay here but not make them citizens.
 
It gets more complex.
 
Groups like the Farm Bureau say they desperately need workers and without illegal immigrants the crops won’t get picked.
 
And, to make it more complex still, amid all this hollering, no one’s answered a couple of questions.
 
For instance, how, in the middle of a recession with high unemployment, is there a lack of workers? Is there really no one to hire? Or are the farmers simply looking for cheap immigrant labor?
 
Farmers have given their answer to that question loud and clear.
 
But isn’t there an independent study by Harvard or North Carolina State that proves it’s a stone cold fact unemployed workers won’t touch a job on a farm with a ten foot pole?
 
There’s another question.
 
Out of the ten million or so illegal immigrants living here now there must be at least one who’s a saint. Or genius. 
 
Should we deport saints and geniuses?  Or let them stay here?
 
There’re also bound to be some thugs and gang members among the illegals. If we make everyone a citizen, what do we do about them?
 
The politicians are treating illegal immigrants as a class which is a lot simpler than treating people as individuals – but wouldn’t it be more practical to ship the ne’re-do-wells home and allow the saints and geniuses to stay?
 
Sorting out the good guys and bad guys would be another complex problem but, instead of answering tough questions, all we hear is politicians howling: Keep ‘em all here. Send ‘em all home.

 

 

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21
The number floated up off the page and hung shimmering in the air in front of my eyes: 580,834.
 
Surprised, and curious, I clicked on the computer, then stared at another number that looked dreary in comparison: 345.
 
580,834:  The number of people who have watched Clay Aiken’s video since he announced for Congress.
 
345:  The number of people who have watched Congresswoman Renee Ellmers’ last video.
 
Of course, Republicans are reeling in the face of this phenomenon.
 
How many, one said to me, of those 580,834 people live in the 2nd District? Those are people who read the Hollywood Reporter – not the News and Observer.
 
That’s fine – but, politically, that’s not the end of the story.  
 
What if a fraction (1%) of those 580,834 people send Clay Aiken a contribution of $100 – that’s $580,834?
 
When a celebrity abandons fame and fortune to run for political office the normal rule book flies out the window.  For example:   
 
38 years ago, next month, Ronald Reagan (an underdog running against Gerald Ford) flew into Greensboro, climbed onto a bus and for two weeks before the Republican Primary rolled through the small towns and rolling foothills of the Piedmont.  And each time that bus stopped in town squares, farmers and housewives and mill workers turned out in droves not to hear a candidate for President but to see the first movie star ever to roll into Wilkesboro or Morganton or Gastonia.  And an hour later, after Reagan finished speaking and he climbed back onto the bus, they’d been converted.
 
Of course, today a fellow doesn’t have to roll through town squares – we’ve invented this little widget they didn’t have back in 1976 called the Internet with little add-ons like YouTube so people can sit at home and watch videos. 
 
The Internet’s also the greatest rumor mill ever invented and the other day the gossip was flying with people claiming The National Enquirer’s in Raleigh doing a expose on Aiken. There’s a video of Aiken in a Kasbah.  In a bordello.  In a gay-chat room.  Aiken’s broke.  His records don’t sell.  He’s a washed up singer running for Congress.
 
Four years ago, Democratic Congressman Bob Etheridge handed Renee Ellmers a victory in a district a Democrat should have won. Then the State House handed her a district where a Republican should win. But now, she’s landed in a different world where the old rules no longer apply – which doesn’t mean she will lose but does bring a litany of earthshaking new realities.
 
This isn’t going to be a normal political race.  Old-standards – like the advantages of incumbency – no longer hold.  Just consider one change:  Clay Aiken is going to receive more press attention and scrutiny than any Congressional candidate ever in North Carolina. And so will Renee Ellmers.  No stone will be left unturned. 
 
580, 834 means this race is going to be on the front page of the newspaper – day after day.


 

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20
John Drescher down at the News and Observer hit the nail on the head last week when he wrote:  ‘Steve Beam needs a boss.’
 
What’s happened to Mr. Beam (the Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority) isn’t unusual. He’s got a government job and a political board with political goals.  No one spends his own money. No one pays for his mistakes.  Instead the bills land on the taxpayers’ doorstep.
 
That’s one glitch.  Here’s another:  After over a decade in office, like Billy Ray Hall of the Rural Center, Mr. Beam runs his board – it doesn’t run him.  He takes eleven weeks of vacation a year – which is more than Mr. Hall.  State auditors reported to Hall’s board that his $221,000 salary was ‘unreasonable’ – Mr. Beam makes $280,000 and his board thinks that imminently reasonable.
 
John Drescher’s point is simple:  Mr. Beam needs a boss – and he suggests Beam’s boss ought to be Raleigh’s City Manager.
 
That would be a step in the right direction. But it may come up a bit short.  So why not get the question out of the hands of the bureaucrats and politicians entirely.  And put it to a vote.  Let’s hold a simple referendum on the ballot this fall and let voters decide: Should Raleigh’s Housing Authority Director earn $280,000 a year and receive eleven weeks vacation?
 
That should settle it.

 

 

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19
Governor McCrory walked into Reid’s Fine Food and ran head on into a cook who proceeded to tell him what he thought of the Governor’s politics; then, the way the cook tells it, the Governor started yelling, saying he was a customer and shouldn’t be treated that way – then the Governor’s security detail complained to the owner and the cook was fired.
 
Years ago, when ole Joe Hunt (who was Jim Hunt’s uncle) was running for re-election to the State House, as he walked down the street in Greensboro, a lady came up to him and chewed him out, cussing him up one side and down another, saying she wouldn’t vote for him if her life depended on it.
 
When she was done Joe doffed his hat and said, Well, ma’am, I never reckoned it would be unanimous.

It was a better response.

 

 

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18
The other day down at the News and Observer ole Rob Christensen wrote about how Republicans in Raleigh are cocksure there’s not a chance they’ll lose their majorities in the State House and State Senate – because of redistricting.
 
Then he pointed out a not-so-good thing:  When politicians get the idea they’re so powerful they’re invulnerable it leads to mischief. 
 
Now, the way Republican legislators see the next election they’re safe in their castle, manning the battlements, with the drawbridge pulled up.  It’ll take a mighty horde to whip them.  And no horde’s in site. 
 
But just as it was true three thousand years ago in the time of King Solomon, so it may be true today: Pride goeth before a fall.
 
The other morning out of a clear blue sky rumors started flying that former Governor-for-life Jim Hunt has started a mega-million-dollar Democratic Super-PAC – to whip Republican legislators.  Which just might be a horde on the horizon.

 

 

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17
It’s got to be a temptation – but it may not have a happy ending.
 
Lately, President Obama’s taken to running the country by Executive Order – for  instance, the other day he found a part of Obamacare wasn’t going to work so he simply announced he wouldn’t enforce that part of the law.   
 
Which, in a way, sounded pretty good – even Republicans agreed that part of Obamacare was broken.  So, by not enforcing the law, the President avoided a train wreck.
 
On the other hand, there is a right way and wrong way to do things.  
 
Years ago, if a President believed we should go to war, he had to get Congress to pass a Declaration of War.  That system worked out pretty well.  During the first half of the last century we only fought two wars:  World War I and II. 
 
Then, in the second half of the century Presidents dispensed with the legal formalities and started sending troops to attack other countries on their own – without a Declaration of War.  Since then we’ve landed in six wars.  Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
 
The old traditional way of doing things – Congress passing the laws and the President enforcing them – wasn’t a foolproof way to run the country.  But it led to less mischief than giving one politician the power to say, This is what I want to do – and now that’s the law
 
Naturally, President Obama wants to see his agenda succeed but changing laws he doesn’t like is a step down a dangerous road. Today he may be changing laws to avoid a train wreck.  But tomorrow he (or another President) may use the same power to open Pandora’s box.

 

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