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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

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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02
You would think by now out of sheer boredom Congressmen would be looking for new ways to fool voters but, undeterred at using the same old worn-out trick again, just before Christmas eager-beaver Paul Ryan rolled out his new budget, saying how he’d made a deal with the Democrats to cut spending and cut the deficit – which sounded pretty good until it turned out he hadn’t done any such thing.
 
Ryan’s new deal didn’t cut spending this year, or next year, or the year after – it increased it. So where are the cuts? Well, they’re promises Ryan is sure will happen a decade from now – if Congress doesn’t change its mind.
 
It’s hard to tell which is worse – Ryan increasing spending or Ryan saying he cut spending when he didn’t.
 
But give Paul Ryan credit for one thing – he’s proven Congressmen, like pickpockets, are not just sneaky – they’re predictable.

 

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02
The newspaper headline read: Dome, full of cracks. And the newspaper reported: The aging iron dome ‘is slowly crumbling…riddled with hundreds of cracks and rust.’
 
The dome is the Capitol Dome. But the newspaper could just as easily have been writing about Congress itself.

 

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31
Up in Brasstown deep in the Smoky Mountains, on every New Years Eve a local merchant holds a ‘Possum Drop’ – a western North Carolina version of the Yankees’ ball drop in Times Square.
 
What the mountain folks hadn’t counted on was PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) taking umbrage at the whole idea of celebrating New Years at a possum’s expense and suing and stopping the festival dead in its tracks.
 
So, one year, instead of watching a live possum in a glass box ‘drop' the festival’s organizer (Mr. Logan)  ‘dropped’ a dead possum he’d found on the side of the road to appease PETA.
 
Then the politicians got into the act and passed a bill reinstating Mr. Logan’s right to drop a live possum but, then, PETA filed a second lawsuit and Mr. Logan found himself back in court.
 
Possums, PETA explained to the judge, are shy creatures who’re scared of human beings and all the noise and rhubarb and flashing lights at Brasstown’s festival could cause a possum to keel over dead or leave the tiny varmint emotionally scarred for years.
 
If I thought, Logan explained, there was anything to traumatize that possum, I wouldn’t do it.
 
PETA said, What about the fireworks? The fireworks are too loud for a little critter like a possum to hear.
 
Logan explained he’d moved the fireworks so far away from the festival that most of his guests couldn’t even hear them.
 
What about the muskets? PETA asked, The antique muskets you fire during the celebration.
 
Well, Logan said, he’d moved the musket firing to the front of the celebration so it was over before the possum arrived on the scene. It’s not, Logan added, that I’m being stubborn – and pointed out to get a permit from the State Wildlife Commission he had to have the possum examined by a veterinarian and its diet had to mimic its natural diet and it had to be kept in a box six feet long by three feet wide by three feet tall.
 
That’s, Logan added, a motel for a possum.
 
Undaunted PETA’s lawyer Martina Bernstein told the judge, Think of it from the possum’s point of view: In its perception, it will be surrounded by predators. They will be all around it. It will smell them, it will hear them, it will know they’re there.
 
Well, the judge thought it over and ruled the possum could drop at midnight and Logan announced he was happy common sense had finally prevailed and added, ‘Common is the most unused sense of all the senses.’
 
Which all sounds like a silly if unkind (to possums) story except for one fact: The state had to reimburse PETA $74,446 after one of the lawsuits to pay for the cost of its lawyers.

 

 

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31
Years behind schedule, millions of dollars over budget, and riddled with 3,200  computer programming errors NC Tracks – the state’s new $486 million computer system for processing Medicaid checks – landed in the newspaper again.
 
The News & Observer reported the Department of Health and Human Services still has no plan to right the ship and clean up all the errors in the coming year.
 
And what did the head of IT at DHHS have to say?
 
He calmly congratulated his staff on NC Tracks’ ‘successful launch’ and announced their work is done.
 
It’s like Alice in Wonderland: Up is down, down is up, and the IT shop has disappeared down the rabbit hole – and it’s all a great success.

 

 

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13
Every child knows just before Christmas is the time to be ‘as good as you can be’ – so you might think after the mischief it’s been up to this year Congress would be rolling up its sleeves and planning to work straight through the holidays to pass the farm bill, a jobless benefits bill, the defense budget and confirm a new Federal Reserve Chairman – but you’d be dead wrong.
 
The House stops work tomorrow to head home and the Senate (which already took a week off earlier this month) will follow a few days later. In all, the two chambers will have worked 10 days each this month.
 
What are the chances they’ll be receiving ashes and switches for Christmas?

 

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11
So, according to the newspaper, a varmint in Fayetteville shanghaied two teenage girls, held them hostage for months, beat them, threatened to kill their families, raped them, turned them into prostitutes, videotaped them having sex then a high judge gave him 45 years in prison.
 
These days we’re civilized and enlightened but given some varmints’ meanness it sure makes you wonder whether folks in less enlightened times (when they held public hangings) understood varmints better than we do. 

 

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27
It wasn’t exactly subtle the other morning when the newspaper ran two stories side by side: One about a single mother who works all day and then works three additional jobs nights and weekends to make ends meet – and a second story about the Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority.
 
It turns out every year the Housing Authority’s board meets to set the director’s pay for the coming year – only there’s an odd fact: Going back years, there’s no record in the board’s minutes of how much the board voted to pay the director – so there’s no public record of the salary some pesky reporter might lay his hands on and publish in the newspaper.
 
Once, according to the News and Observer, the board ran into a problem because Congress put a limit on how much it could pay the Housing Director – a limit the board had long ago exceeded. But, somehow, the board sidestepped Congress and everything worked out fine until the other morning when a reporter showed up and asked why the head of the Raleigh Housing Authority was being paid more than the head of the Chicago Housing Authority.
 
That question must hit the director like a dose of cold water but it turned out the cat was out of the bag – the legislature had changed the law and the News and Observer had come across his salary in records in the state Treasurer’s office.
 
Of course the Chairman of the Board defended the director, saying the director was a wonderful, brilliant, exemplar of civic virtue who earned every penny he made – even if he was making more than the Governor. 
 
This is another chapter in a very old story:  A reasonable man will be a model of frugality for years when spending his own hard-earned money, but the moment he gets appointed to a board where he’s spending other people’s money frugality flies right out the window. The Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority is making $272,000 a year.
 
 
 
 

 

 

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22
Farmers are saying they’ve tried and tried but there’s no way on earth they can hire enough workers to pick the apples and cucumbers and sweet potatoes germinating in the fields so Congress had better get in gear and pass immigration reform jack-rabbit-quick to legalize undocumented immigrants (which is the farmers’ polite way of saying illegal immigrants).
 
Now it’s not clear whether there are just flat out no farm workers, period, or if there are just no farm workers as cheap as undocumented immigrants. But, either way, here’s an interesting fact: The big stick – the big argument – farmers laid on Congress to get it moving had nothing to do with wages.
 
The farmers said, pretty bluntly, to the Congressmen, Hispanics now outnumber African-Americans and you Republicans can either pass this bill or lose their votes. Which comes pretty close to saying, You can pass this bill and buy a lot of votes.
 
Which isn’t exactly Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
 
Ronald Reagan once joked, Watching politics behind the curtain is like watching civilization with its pants down.
 
They ought to carve the words in stone over the doorway Congress.
 
 

 

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