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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

17
In May as soon as the Notables and Honorables who serve in the State Senate arrived in Raleigh and settled into their seats, they glanced at Governor McCrory’s Budget, flipped it into the waste bin, and substituted their own budget.
 
What happened to Medicaid’s an example. With their usual delicacy, the Old Bull’s in the Senate discarded the Governor’s plan then, after a few moments debate, passed their own plan.
 
Now one problem with Medicaid is the darn thing always ends up over budget – no one in the Department of Health and Human Services (or in the legislature) can figure out how to write a budget that’s accurate – so at the end of each year Medicaid’s awash in red ink and, to their chagrin, at the last minute Senators have had to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to plug the holes. 
 
Finally, the Old Bulls had had enough and came up with their own plan – they decided to dump the whole train wreck on Managed Care Organizations (corporations that manage state Medicaid programs for a fee) which didn’t sound too bad except no cure is perfect and this one had a glitch the Old Bulls hadn’t fixed: The more care the Managed Care Organizations deny sick people the more money they make.
 
Now Senator Phil Berger’s as nice a guy as you’ll ever meet.  He’s soft-spoken. Polite.  Courteous to a fault.  But when it comes to passing legislation the State Senate – where he rules the roost – is like a dyspeptic elephant wielding a blunderbuss.
 
It’s either shooting something or stomping someone all the time.
 
But when the Honorable Senators fired both barrels at the Governor an odd thing happened – the Governor showed a flash of temper and said a nasty four letter word: Veto.
 
It was like zapping the elephant with a cattle prod.
 
The Senate and Governor were eyeball to eyeball with the Old Bulls betting the Governor wouldn’t have the temerity to make good on his threat – but, in a way, they’d also handed the Governor an opportunity.
 
For the last year, every time they’ve had a disagreement with the Governor, the Senate Republicans – who have a veto-proof majority – have marched in lock-step and rolled right over him. 
 
The Older Bulls pointed the way and Younger Bulls dutifully fell in line.
 
But it’s a hard truth that, in fact, the Governor has more power than the Old Bulls. He has a bigger soap-box.  He’s more popular with Republicans.  Has more supporters.  More money.  And, this fall, the Governor can do a lot more to help a struggling Senator – facing a tough campaign – than the Old Bulls in the Senate.
 
And if the Governor had a handful of loyal Republican friends in the Senate who’d work with him (instead of marching in lock-step when the Old Bulls point the way) there would be an earth-shaking shift in the balance of power in Raleigh.
 
And Governor Pat McCrory wouldn’t be watching his budgets land in the waste bin.

 

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17
Thirty years ago it sounded fine when Democrats set out to save North Carolina from the wickedness of a Republican Governor firing Democratic state employees – they were ridding state government of nasty old politics.  
 
But it didn’t turn out quite the way they expected because, when all was said and done, they’d created a new tribe that had never been seen before in North Carolina. 
 
Back then, the new tribe began its journey in unchartered territory but its first members quickly adapted and prospered, learning a wise bureaucrat avoided controversy (like the plague) and with a modicum of common sense could happily avoid the strain of long hours and hard work.
 
When Governor McCrory arrived in Raleigh the seeds planted three decades earlier had flowered and flourished like kudzu. 
 
After he was sworn in, the Governor learned the state’s bureaucratic elite had been steadily working on NC Tracks (a $500 million computer program) for a decade and, a little shocked so much time had passed, he told them, No more delays. Let’s get it done.
 
Six months later the bureaucrats reported the program was ready to launch so the Governor pushed the go button – and there was a meltdown.
 
The same thing happened when he launched another computer program, NC Fast.
 
Then the Coal Ash spill hit him right between the eyes and, by then, the Governor must have begun to suspect what he needed most were not people to set policies but people who could fix things and, maybe in the next breath, he figured out he was caught between a rock and a hard place – because the people he’d just ordered to fix the coal ash ponds were the same people who’d failed to fix them for decades.
 
A less patient man would have proposed getting shed of the state personnel laws so he could get shed of bureaucrats who’d mismanaged a $500 million computer program but, instead, the Governor made a milder request: He simply asked the legislature to make it a little easier to replace a neglectful bureaucrat.
 
It’s hard to tell what he expected but his proposal was greeted with a howl of outrage.  The press let fly.  The Democrats let fly.  The bureaucrats let fly.
 
Giving the Governor more power to fire bureaucrats, the State Employees Association said, would lead to corruption.
 
Now, even in a fallen world that’s a bleak picture: Because Democrats set out to prevent wickedness thirty years ago, today, to avoid corruption we have to protect bungling.

 

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13
When it comes to avoiding another coal ash spill, the problem may not be (as the environmentalists believe) the villainy of Governor McCrory.  The problem may be more subtle. 
 
Going back decades, the career state employees over at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have told Duke Energy it was handling coal ash just fine.   
 
That seems odd now.  But it really wasn’t all that unusual then.
 
Back in 1917, before Duke Energy ever built the first coal ash pond, Alcoa Corporation was smelting aluminum down on the Yadkin River and in those days – since the EPA didn’t even exist – it simply loaded the waste (which is more toxic than coal ash) onto trucks and dumped it in the woods around Badin. Later, after the EPA came along, Alcoa began dumping the waste in unlined landfills and, over the years, regular as clockwork, state bureaucrats would write Alcoa and ask, Send us a report about your pollution. 
 
And Alcoa would send a long report back which basically said, As you know, there’s been pollution (in the past) but none of it is an immediate threat to anyone so rather than cleaning it up we propose to leave it as is and go on monitoring.  
 
Then the state bureaucrats would write back, Fine, and stamp the report and file it in a warehouse full of other state documents.
 
 Apparently no one stopped to wonder if it made sense to ask the folks who’d have to clean up the pollution whether it was a problem.
 
Then Duke’s coal ash pond ruptured and Governor Pat McCrory found himself face to face with another unusual fact: The folks he had to put to work (at DENR) cleaning up the mess were the same folks who’d been telling Duke Energy – for years – it was doing just fine.
 
Now the environmentalists aren’t fond of the Governor and they’ve got their reasons but maybe, this once, the Governor’s not the villain.

 

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12
The unexpected almost always happens – but who’d have expected this: Down in Mississippi the Tea Party has been battling it out with the Republican Establishment, trying to whip Senator Thad Cochran and when all the votes were counted the Tea Party candidate led Cochrane by an eyelash 49.6% to 49%. 
 
The surprise?
 
On Election Day African-American Democrats ‘crossed over’ to vote in the Republican Primary – for Thad Cochran.  Helping him make the runoff.
 
Which is about as unexpected as it gets.

 

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11
I’m very, very nervous… Democratic State Representative Marcus Brandon said.
 
Disagreeing, Republican Representative Michael Specialecountered, What’s the price of selling our souls?
 
When it comes to keeping ‘Common Core’ the politicians in Raleigh have divided into two armed camps.
 
Rep. Michael Speciale is dead-set against it. Rep. Marcus Brandon is for it.
 
Thom Tillis is against it. Kay Hagan is for it. 
 
Governor McCrory is for it (with reservations). Lt. Governor Dan Forest is against it without reservations.
 
In the News and Observer one Common Core opponent declared it ‘violates the Constitution’ – while the Chamber of Commerce declared it’s great and killing it will kill jobs.
 
A lady from New Bern declared, Common Core is anti-American. The readings teach kids to hate America – and I stopped reading right there, thinking, Governor McCrory anti-American?
 
Curious, I went online to find out exactly what about Common Core was un-American but finding an answer wasn’t as easy as it sounded. A search turned up hundreds of muddled rants scattered across websites from Raleigh to Timbuktu, none clearly explaining how Common Core was ‘anti-American.’ I was about to give up, thinking, This is just another political howl – when I spotted a nugget.
 
According to The Daily Caller, the experts at Common Core have perfected a sophisticated formula to rate the complexity of books so they can assign each book to the appropriate grade level – using the formula they rated The Sun Also Rises too simple for 4th graders and assigned it to third graders to read along with Curious George Gets a Medal
 
Which settles it. 
 
They ought to shut the whole thing down

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11
Everybody knows Republicans, and especially conservative Republicans, don’t like government subsidies. They’re corporate welfare. They’re government picking winners and losers.  And interfering with the free marketplace. 
 
That’s why Republicans opposed Obama’s solar energy subsidies like Solyandro – a solar business ought to be able to stand on its own two feet and if it can’t government handing it cash is bad false economics.
 
That’s logical.
 
But even if you’re a saint it’s a struggle to avoid temptation – and politicians have the added burden of being able to use other people’s money to help their friends.
 
Bottom line: Just a few days ago, in Raleigh, Republican State Senators voted to give fracking companies a million dollar subsidy.

 

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09

 

Horrified by the vision of legions of fired Democratic state employees, back when Jim Martin was elected Governor, Democrats changed the law so Martin couldn’t fire much of anyone – then announced (with a show of virtue) they’d gotten nasty old politics out of the state government.
 
But the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray: One day the typical state employee had a boss and the next he didn’t, then he figured out in place of a boss he had not a person but a set of rules (called the ‘Personnel Act’): He didn’t have quite the same job security as a tenured professor but he wasn’t far from it as long as he didn’t do anything egregious like larceny. 
 
Which turned out to be a temptation no self-respecting man should have to bear. 
 
The typical state employee’s day subtly changed.  He fell into a rhythm, eating, sleeping, tending to his wants and needs, and placidly spending eight hours in his office receiving and filing reports on, say, coal ash ponds.  Then, as the years rolled by, placidness compounded and compounded again and deepened into somnambulance until, one fine day, reality reared its head: A coal ash pond ruptured.
 
Pat McCrory had run for governor in 2008 and lost, toiled three years preparing to run again, built a new and stronger campaign, whipped Walter Dalton, and arrived in Raleigh full of new ideas but, when that coal ash pond ruptured, found himself face to face with an unforgiving fact: He had no one to clean up the mess except the same bureaucrats who’d spent decades blissfully asleep at the switch ignoring what had turned out to be a ticking time bomb.
 
Worse, wherever he looked he had the same problem. Over in the Department of Health and Human Services, they’d spent eight years and $500 million working on a new computer program but the minute the Governor pressed the go button there was a meltdown.
 
The program sputtered then settled into a smoking heap and the only people he had to fix it were the people who’d told him to press the button.
 
It seemed the Governor could set policy (and had plenty of well-meaning people like State Senators telling him what his policy ought to be) but what he really needed were people who could do things – who could fix problems.  Like coal ash ponds. 
 
So he tried a logical step: He asked the legislature to give him not the kind of unlimited power Jim Hunt had during his first two terms but a bit more power so he could replace somnambulant bureaucrats but as soon as the words were out of his mouth the State Employees Association and Democratic Legislators started hollering, accusing him of putting nasty old politics back into state government.

 

 

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08

 

Everyday emails float in out of the ether about miracle cures and hot stocks and how to meet the woman of my dreams in Moscow – it’s like having a swamp on my doorstep.  
 
But even in swamps virtue has a way of showing up now and then and the email below (part of a chain of emails that flew across the country) landed in my friend Richard’s inbox, who sent it along to me with a two-word note: Good quotes.
 
Email
Subject: About Government
In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a government. – John Adams

If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed. – Mark Twain

Suppose you were an idiot.  And suppose you were a member of government. But then I repeat myself. – Mark Twain

I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. – Winston Churchill

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. – George Bernard Shaw

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. – Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. - P.J. O'Rourke, Author

Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. – Frederic Bastia, French economist (1801-1850)

I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. – Will Rogers

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free! – P.J. O'Rourke

In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other. – Voltaire (1764)

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you! – Pericles (430 B.C.)

No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session. – Mark Twain (1866)

Talk is cheap...except when government does  it. – Anonymous

The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. – Ronald Reagan

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin. – Mark Twain

There is no distinctly Native American criminal class...save government. – Mark Twain

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians. – Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995)

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. – Thomas Jefferson

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. – Aesop


 

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04

 

The Brasstown possum’s landed back in court.
 
Up in the mountains, in Brasstown, there’s a gentleman who celebrates each New Year’s Eve by putting a possum in a box, suspending the box from the top of a general store, then, as the clock ticks down to midnight, dropping the possum to the town square just like the Yankees drop a crystal ball from atop a skyscraper above Times Square.
 
Only using a live possum instead of a crystal ball landed him in hot water with PETA which sued, saying he was abusing the poor nocturnally shy critter, which led to the politicians getting into the act (against the possum).
 
State Legislators passed a law saying the Wildlife Commission, no matter how unkind PETA felt it was, could grant the fellow a license for his ‘possum drop’ so last New Year’s Eve Brasstown celebrated again but PETA caught ’em in a mistake: The fellow put the possum in the wrong box or, at least, in a different box from the box his state license required.
 
This time PETA sued the Wildlife Commission for dereliction of duty and the whole thing landed back in court only, this time, with the Attorney General battling PETA.
 
And that’s when things took a bizarre turn.
 
The Attorney General asked the judge to dismiss PETA’s lawsuit as foolishness but the judge said no.
 
Then PETA asked the judge to make a ‘Declaratory Judgment’ in the possum’s favor – but the judge said no a second time. 
 
So now there’s going to be a full-blown trial over not the possum or the possum drop but the box the possum was dropped in – with taxpayers footing the bill for the Attorney General’s lawyers.
 
All in all it’s a pretty good example of the old-fashioned out of favor idea we’re all better off when the government does less not more – if the state legislature hadn’t gotten into the business of licensing ‘possum drops’ then PETA and the fellow from Brasstown could be battling it out to their hearts’ content while the rest of us peacefully watch the ball fall in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

 

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28
On Election Day my cousin Winifred who’s pure steel magnolia walked into the voting booth, stared at the names of the three judges running for Supreme Court, remembered the Republican ad saying Judge Robin Hudson was for child molesters, thought, I’ve seen enough of that kind of nastiness, and did something she’d never done before – voted for a liberal Democratic judge.
 
More recently, calling itself a ‘Civil Rights Group’ (for Hispanics) the old liberal shibboleth People for the American Way is trying its own brand of nastiness, running radio ads on Spanish-speaking stations saying, Thom Tillis is against everything that’s important for Hispanic families.
 
Everything.
 
Not a few things. Not some things. Everything.
 
Now it’s a stone cold fact Thom Tillis is for sending murderers to jail. Isn’t that important to Hispanic families? And it’s a stone cold fact Tillis is for throwing drug dealers in jail. Isn’t that important?
 
I could go on but you understand my point – there’s a long list of fundamentally important things Thom Tillis, Hispanics and just about everyone agree on.
 
So why on earth would People for the American Way run an ad telling Hispanics something that is obviously untrue?
 
The most obvious answers that come to mind are arrogance and cynicism.
 
Either they’re so arrogant they believe they can say anything and get away with it – or so cynical they think they can say anything and people will fall for it.
 
Of course, there is one other possible explanation – that the ones who’ve made a dumb mistake are People for the American Way because they’ve now given Cousin Winifred a rock-solid reason to vote for Thom Tillis.
  

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