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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

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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30
As much as I admire the Old Bull Mooses’ single-minded pertinacity, I’ve been unkind lately to the State Senate but at dinner last night Conor, who may be the last of the Jessecrats, set me straight.
 
I’d written – a couple of days ago – how the Democratic political wizards around Raleigh believe the Senate Republicans have captured the state Chamber of Commerce, turning it into a political appendage of their campaign committee, and the proof is the state and national Chambers contributing $800,000 to a couple of Republican organizations to pay for ads to defeat Democratic Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson.
 
As soon as Conor – who has a photographic memory and a penchant for shedding light on obscure pieces of history – set down the menu last night he leaned back and said, You got it ass-backwards – or haven’t you ever heard of Stigler’s theory of ‘Regulatory Capture’?
 
I had to admit I hadn’t and grinning Conor explained how George Stigler an Economics Professor at the University of Chicago had won a Nobel Prize for his theory of Regulatory Capture – which works like this:
 
The government, with the best of intentions, sets up an agency to regulate, say, coal ash ponds and immediately the corporations who’re being regulated focus on the new agency, wining, dining, lobbying, wooing, cajoling, and making contributions to politicians to influence the new regulations.
 
At the same time, on the other side of the ledger, the average citizen (who personally has very little or no stake at all in the regulations) does nothing.
 
Time passes and all the flattering and wooing and contributing (in hopes of getting their friends appointed to the agency’s staff) bears fruit and, suddenly, instead of regulating the corporation the agency’s been captured by it.Then a worse thing happens: The agency starts passing regulations to help the corporation by giving it an edge over its competitors.
 
According to Professor Stigler it’s a problem there’s no avoiding and ‘Regulatory Capture’ is a threat every regulatory agency faces by its very nature – protecting an agency from external pressure may be a palliative but in the end, Stigler warns, no regulator at all is better than a captured one.
 
Conor began ticking off examples of regulatory capture – explaining how the Securities and Exchange Commission was set up to protect the public from Wall Street but now protects Wall Street from the public – then rolled through a list of bills the State  Senate had passed which the local Chamber of Commerce supported and said: So wouldn’t you say instead of the Senate capturing the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber captured the Senate?

 

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27
The other day while I was having lunch with one of Raleigh’s Democratic wizards he said, You know a lot of people believe the Senate Republican Caucus has captured the Chamber of Commerce and turned it into an appendage of its political committee.
 
I said, How’s that? and he explained the Democrats, rooting through contribution reports, had discovered Senate President Phil Berger’s on the board of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC) in Washington, and that the National Chamber had given Berger’s group’s sister group the Republican State Legislative Committee (RSLC) $600,000, then a NC insurance company had given the sister group another $100,000, then, finally, the RSLC had given $900,000 to Justice for All NC a Republican group that ran ads to defeat Democratic Supreme Court Justice Hudson by saying she’d sided with child molesters in a Supreme Court case. I asked:
 
So did you find any proof Senator Berger was behind that ad?
 
He said the ad had been made by the same folks who make ads for the Senate Republican Caucus then added the NC Chamber had contributed $200,000 to still another group that ran ads to defeat Hudson and, after the primary, Senator Bob Rucho sponsored a bill to give Chamber members like pharmaceutical companies legal immunity when they sell bad drugs. I asked:
 
So you don’t think that was simply good policy?
 
Do you think, he said, it was sheer coincidence?

 

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26
Mike, a young down-the-line rock-ribbed Republican partisan who sees eye to eye with Senator Bob Rucho (who once tweeted ‘Obamacare has done more damage than the Nazis’) but is too smart to say anything that foolish within earshot of a reporter, and Jim who would like Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for President because Hilary’s too conservative were arguing across the table when Conor, a small town lawyer and, by my reckoning, the last of the Jessecrats, interrupted and said:
 
Alright. If Bob Rucho’s not the most powerful Old Bull in the Senate he’s pretty close to it so when he woke up one morning and in a flash of revelation saw there were too many frivolous lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies (when they sell a fellow a drug that’s supposed to cure his high blood pressure but instead lands him in the ER with a stroke) it was just a matter of time before he pulled the pin on the grenade and – Conor waved both hands – kaboom.
 
Well you have to admit, Mike said, there are way too many lawsuits, and Conor said one frivolous lawsuit was too many but there’s a simple way to stop that: Punish the people who file them. After all, nothing stops foolishness like a big fine or jail time but Senator Rucho’s hadn’t done that so now a lot of folks were wondering whether he’d  had a different goal in mind all along and all his talk about frivolous lawsuits was just a fig leaf.
 
Don’t get me wrong, Conor added, I’m not saying Bob Rucho’s malicious, a politician finding the wrong cure for a problem’s nothing new – it happens every day. But giving a guilty pharmaceutical company immunity from practically all lawsuits has to be some kind of a first.
 
Mike was trying to come up with a way to derail Conor but before he could say a word Conor struck again saying Republicans like to say people ought to work and stand on their own two feet and take care of themselves and when they get in a jam the government shouldn’t bail them out but for some strange reason when it comes to pharmaceutical companies (in Senator Rucho’s eyes) personal responsibility doesn’t apply – when a pharmaceutical company screws up the government ought to step in and take it off the hook.

 

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25
When the ‘anti-frackers’ launched their million dollar ad campaign to defeat Chad Barefoot and three other Republican State Senators the Senate Republican Caucus returned fire, calling on Barefoot’s opponent to denounce the flood of “special interest money” pouring into the district then added, “Who knows what Sarah Crawford (Barefoot’s opponent) has promised these people.”
 
That night gathered around the dinner table with an eclectic collection of Democratic and Republican partisans, lawyers, and political consultants, Conor, a small-town lawyer who may be the last of the Jessecrats said, In the simple black and white world of Republican heroes and Democratic villains what the ‘anti-frackers’ are up to is pure villainy but there’re two sides to every coin.
 
Mike, who greatly admires the work of the Republican State Senators, leaned forward, braced himself on both elbows and said, I expect I’ll probably regret this – but how’s that? and Conor explained how the ‘pro-frackers’ have been contributing pretty steadily to Republican Bob Rucho who’d just passed their bill to jump-start fracking and give the fracking companies a million dollar government subsidy and how, back in April, the local Chamber of Commerce and its cousin the US Chamber of Commerce had given $800,000 to Republican groups to pay for ads to defeat Democratic Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson and how, after the election, Senator Rucho had introduced a bill to give Chamber members (like pharmaceutical companies) immunity when they sell a fellow a drug that’s supposed to cure his diabetes but, instead, lands him in ER with a stroke.
 
Mike didn’t like where the conversation was heading – so he said: So you don’t think fracking means more jobs? and Conor said, We’re not talking about jobs. We’re talking about your Republican kettle calling my Democratic pot black.

 

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24
For years they’ve been the best of buddies. Soul mates. Like peas and carrots.  But, now, they’ve had a falling out…followed by blows being struck.
 
Reaching into the treasury in Washington and pulling out a wad of other people’s money to give to your friends is as old an American tradition as apple pie. 
 
Back before the Civil War, Congressmen in the Western and Northern states got together to take money from people in the South (with tariffs) to build ‘internal improvements’ (like roads) in the West and protect textile mills in New England.
 
During the Gilded Age, Congressmen from just about everywhere voted to give cash and land and subsidies to railroad tycoons.
 
Today, Democrats, like Obama,  give cash to their friends like Solyndra and Republicans do the same with their friends. More prickly, no matter how much you love Social Security and Medicare there’s no avoiding the awkward fact that, in all likelihood, mom’s going to get more money back from Social Security than she ever paid in and the difference is going to be paid with other people’s money.
 
The same malady – corporate subsidies – led to the ultra-right-wing-Koch Brothers-Art Pope-funded-Americans for Prosperity’s falling out with the ultra-right wing Republican State Senate led by Phil Berger.
 
The rumbling started when the Senate voted to take hard cash out of the state exchequer and hand it to movie production companies.
 
The first blow was struck when Americans for Prosperity branded the plan ‘Hollywood handouts.’
 
Of course, that was bound to rile the Old Bulls in the Senate: AFP running ads calling Republican Senators scoundrels six months before the election was not a happy development.

 

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23

Each year hospitals pay the state $135 million which, through some mysterious alchemy, morphs into the federal government paying the state a second $135 million (to care for Medicaid patients).  Trying to decipher the magic a newspaper described a circular flow of money that seems to work like this:

1)     The hospitals pay the state $135 million;
 
2)     The hospitals then send the state $135 million in bills for caring for Medicaid patients;
 
3)     The state then sends Washington the $135 million in bills;
 
4)     Washington then sends the state a check for $90 million – its share of the Medicaid bills;
 
5)     The state then returns the original $135 million to the hospitals;
 
6)     And, finally, the state and the hospitals figure out how to divvy up the $90 million (from Washington) that’s left in the pot. 
 
That arrangement rolled along fine (for everyone but Washington) until this year when Governor McCrory proposed the hospitals send the state another $15 million without getting their money back – which didn’t sit well with the hospitals whose lobbyist announced they were in such dire need of cash the Governor’s plan might leave ERs with no choice but to, with deep regret, turn away patients.
 
A Democratic legislator also jumped into the melee accusing the Governor of taxing ‘sick people’ – which was pretty much the end of any illuminating debate.
 
I asked a friend who’s served on his local hospital board, Are the hospitals really broke?  and he said many rural hospitals – like his – are having a tough time making ends meet but the big urban hospitals – like Carolina’s Medical Center in Charlotte – own airplanes and helicopters and pay executives seven figure salaries (and don’t have to pay taxes on profits or pay property taxes). 
 
Of course, it wouldn’t be correct to say not taxing a hospital is the same as subsidizing it but, still, being tax free is helpful – so can the hospitals afford to do as the Governor asks and pay another $15 million?
 
What we need is a little clarity.
 
If a hospital’s strapped for cash I doubt the Governor (or even the State Senate) would mind lending a helping hand but, if, on the other hand, a hospital owns an airplane or helicopter, maybe it ought to provide a bit of proof it’s broke as a church mouse.

 

 

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20
The Old Bull Mooses in the State Senate had seen enough so they went on a rampage to repair Medicaid and, before they were done, they’d gored hospitals, doctors, the Governor and  just about everyone in sight except the people who’d written the budget that made them mad in the first place.
 
Surveying the carnage a reporter, respectfully, asked one of the Young Bulls, It appears to me you just passed a plan that ends care to 12,000 old and blind and disabled people – do I read that right?
 
The best answer the Young Bull could have given would have been to stop to explain why those blind people don’t need Medicaid.
 
A less happy (but still reasonable) answer would have been to explain why, even though they do need Medicaid, there wasn’t money to pay for it.
 
Instead, he said candidly, We didn’t cut care to 12,000 old, lame and disabled people – we only cut care to 5,300.
 
It was unfortunate.  It’s a safe bet every Republican Senator fighting a tough re-election campaign this fall is going to see that line again.
 
A moment later, the Young Bull must have felt a twinge of unease because he tried to put things in a better light but, instead, tripping over his own feet he turned a somersault head over heels, legs, hooves and tail flying.
 
A lot of the folks we’re cutting, he explained, won’t have a problem getting care because they can go on Obamacare.
 
That, of course, raised eyebrows.
 
Because the Old Bulls in the Senate are the most dead-set against Obamacare folks around. They voted down the Obamacare exchange. And killed President Obama’s Medicaid expansion, so the Young Bull’s answer didn’t quite ring true.
 
They’ve had a long and happy run ruling the roost in Raleigh but, this time, going on a rampage simply made the Old Bulls look ornery.

 

 

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19
It turns out there’s a three member state commission (named the ‘Board of Review’) – where each Board member is paid $120,000 – for working part-time.
 
Of course, three appointments of that magnitude had to be a temptation to any keen-eyed politician – so, as might be expected, a month ago a committee of legislators suggested taking two of the appointments from the Governor and giving one to the Speaker of the House and the other to the Senate President.
 
That didn’t sit too well with Dale Folwell, the head of the Employment Security Commission, where the ‘Board of Review’ is located, so he attended a House Finance Committee meeting where he explained the legislature’s idea was not just unkind but dead-wrong.  When that appeal didn’t turn the tide, voice sharpening, Folwell told legislators the way he saw it his agency was being bullied.
 
That, normally, wouldn’t have ruffled many feathers but this time the legislators in the room knew Folwell was talking about one particular legislator who was sitting right there in the room too.
 
Now the General Assembly is a small, insular place – not unlike a sewing circle – where rumors fly back and forth like wildfire and most legislators had heard the rumor that Representative Julia Howard last fall, had wanted the Governor to appoint her to the ‘Board of Review’ but Dale Folwell had said, No way.  No how.  No time
 
When Folwell fired his broadside at her in the committee, Representative Howard, who’s no shrinking violet, wasn’t intimidated one bit.
 
She shot back Dale Folwell’s outburst was ‘totally out of place’ then Folwell shot back that Howard ‘just wanted to get herself appointed to the best part-time job in NC’ and then Howard shot back Folwell was just spinning a tall tale because she’d never sought that appointment and never would.
 
House of Cards is a big hit about the conniving that goes on in Congress.  But, if they make a sequel, they might take a look at politics in Raleigh.

 

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18
Kay Hagan didn’t put it quite this bluntly but, basically, what she said was Thom Tillis is a Neanderthal.
 
Now, no one, except for State Senators, believes being called a relic of the Stone Age is a compliment so, understandably unhappy, Tillis blasted Hagan right back saying the environmental regulations she supports (to end global warming) will cost jobs.
 
The press then asked Tillis if it was true – as Hagan said – that he didn’t believe in global warming.  And Tillis dodged.
 
Then the press asked Hagan which environmental regulations she supported and she not only dodged but added saving the planet might have to wait because new regulations might cost jobs.
 
That, of course, left Hagan in a fix.
 
But it left Tillis in a fix, too, because disagreeing with Al Gore (about saving the planet) means opening the newspaper and reading that all the scientists and every intellectual and every sensible person walking around on two legs believes the icecaps are melting – except that troglodyte Thom Tillis.
 
And lying in the dust, nursing his wounds, after being trampled by scientific infallibility what could Tillis say?
 
There are possibilities.
 
Like the words: Malthusian Catastrophe.  Piltdown Man.  And Population Bomb.
 
Back in 1798 an English scientist-economist, Thomas Malthus, produced a study that proved beyond a doubt the population was growing so fast doom was unavoidable. And just about every scientist and intellectual agreed.  The coming Malthusian Catastrophe was a fact. It was just a matter of time.
 
In 1912 an English scientist dug up a skull and jawbone from the Pleistocene Era buried in a pit in Piltdown, England, rushed back to London and announced he’d found the missing link – ‘Piltdown Man’ – and that was accepted as scientific fact, too, until, years later, carbon testing proved he’d found the skull of a man and jawbone of an ape.
 
In 1968 Paul Ehrlich, a scientist at Stanford University, wrote The Population Bomb and prophesized, ‘The battle to feed humanity is over…  In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.’
 
Ehrlich’s book sold 2 million copies and the intellectual community went wild – it was required reading at UNC.  Only Neanderthals disagreed.
 
All those scientific facts turned out to be fads.
 
Of course, ‘Piltdown Man’ doesn’t mean Al Gore’s prediction of doom is wrong but on the other hand it is cause for a reasonable man to cast a discerning eye on scientific infallibility – without being a Neanderthal.

 

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