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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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05
When every politician in Washington sounds like a robot reciting a predictable party line, Rand Paul sounds like a man who actually thinks. Sometimes he sounds sounds nutty and sometimes he makes sense, but he’s worth watching – and listening to.
 
Paul first caught my attention when he filibustered against drones, denounced the NSA and defended super-leaker Edward Snowden. Recently, unlike every other weasel-livered Republican, he denounced Ted Nugent, the off-his-rocker rocker, for calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.” Then Paul turned around and called President Clinton a “sexual predator.”
 
Just this week, he didn’t echo his fellow Republicans’ empty tough talk about what Obama should do to Putin and Russia. Essentially, Rand said, what Russia does in Ukraine isn’t our business, and what the hell would we do anyway? Send in troops? Plus, how do we criticize Russia for unilateral military action after we invaded Iraq?
 
Now Paul has joined with Attorney General Eric Holder to push back against extreme drug-sentencing laws that fill prisons with offenders who might be better dealt with somewhere else. He has even said convicted non-violent drug felons should be able to regain the right to vote.
 
With all this, it’s hard to see how Paul becomes the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. But it’s good to see one politician in Washington who’s not afraid to break ranks with party. And it’s refreshing to hear a politician, especially a Republican, who is thinking.

 

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04
Three eye-catching and eye-popping numbers jumped out of the paper lately – numbers that truly tell a story.
 
990. That’s how many dollars an hour the latest expert is being paid to give us the latest “final” report on the UNC academic/athletics scandal. What would it cost UNC to just ask The News & Observer what its investigative reporters found? They seem to have turned up most of the facts, and they probably make less than $990 an hour.
 
$310,000. That’s what DHHS paid a consultant for less than 11 months of work. His assignment, of course, was to show the state how to save money. 
 
132: That’s how many of the 170 seats in the General Assembly are regarded as certain to elect either a Democrat or Republican in November. That’s more than 77 percent. In other words, only one-fourth of the state’s voters get a choice.

 

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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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03
Business and industry got exactly what they wanted when Governor McCrory and DENR Secretary John Skvarla took office. Then they got exactly what they didn’t need when Duke’s coal ash spilled into the Dan River.
 
Suddenly, “customer friendly” sounds like “polluter friendly.” The U.S. Attorney raises the threat of criminal indictments. And The New York Times unearths this episode: A DENR official telling employees in charge of stopping water pollution:  “The General Assembly doesn’t like you. They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message….If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.”
 
Now, you wonder who is going to be gone. And where this will all end.
 
Now, environmental issues are odd political animals. They have a passionate, but relatively small, constituency. On most polls, they rank down the list of priorities. But that changes when people hear that poison is being dumped in rivers where they fish, boat and get their drinking water. The environment goes from zero to 90 overnight.
 
Governor McCrory is scrambling to get in front of this. He knows he can’t afford another department in scandal, on top of DHHS. But the water is, as they say, under the bridge. Now we see who drowns. And DENR may learn who the ultimate customers are: the citizens and taxpayers.

 

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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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28
The internal politics of the North Carolina Democratic Party are a mystery to me, so I’m lost when people ask, essentially, “WTF is Randy Voller up to?” So I refer you to an insightful piece by an observer I trust: Bob Geary with Indy Week.
 
Geary begins: “After a stormy year as state Democratic Party chair, Randy Voller should step down for the sake of his party's candidates and North Carolina. I say this knowing that he won't, because Voller sees himself as a visionary leader—but he can't see that he's hurting Democratic prospects for 2014.”
 
And Geary concludes with a spot-on observation about a party chairman’s duty: “In election years, the job is to elect candidates—not be the story instead of them.”
 
Amen. The future of Democratic candidates – not to mention that of North Carolina, the nation and the free world – might depend on whether the party’s executive committee remembers this admonition when it meets March 9.

 

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27
Your eyes may glaze over reading about the McCrory administration’s plan to reform Medicaid. But this may pop your pupils: It adopts a key feature of Obamacare.
 
Like the Affordable Care Act, DHHS’ new and improved Medicaid plan depends on an animal called “Accountable Care Organizations.”
 
One health expert describes ACOs this way: “One of the main ways the Affordable Care Act seeks to reduce health care costs is by encouraging doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to form networks to coordinate care better, which could keep costs down. To do that, the law is trying a carrot-and-stick approach in the Medicare program: Accountable Care Organizations.”
 
Compare that to the N&O’s description of DHHS’ Medicaid plan: “Instead of pursuing managed care, DHHS proposes that hospitals, doctors and clinics form networks called accountable care organizations, an option that state health care groups publicly supported.”
 
So a tip of the hat to Governor McCrory’s administration for recognizing the good features of Obamacare.

 

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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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25
This poll result caught the eye: “Obama at 42 percent approval in NC, McCrory at 36 percent.” Yes, the Governor’s approval rating was lower than the President’s in a High Point University poll.
 
Now, a big caveat: The poll was of all adults, not just voters. The results might be different among voters alone. Of course, McCrory probably would do even worse in a poll of grocery store cooks and clerks.
 
The point is that, GOP bluster to the contrary, North Carolinians don’t hold McCrory in much higher esteem than Obama.
 
Looks like Democrats need a massive voter persuasion and turnout program this year.

 

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