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18
It must be the Governor’s nightmare – opening the newspaper and seeing the acronym ‘DHHS.’
 
The other morning one headline roared DHHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) had hired another former campaign worker (not from his campaign this time but from the Republican Party) and another headline roared it had fired a doctor, Dr. Rebecca King, who headed the Division of Oral Health.
 
Now whether Dr. King was the best or worst employee in state government isn’t the point – the point’s subtler: Governor McCrory’s own folks had landed him in the soup again.
 
Because after being fired Dr. King told every newspaper reporter who’d listen loud and clear how she’d been abused by Secretary Aldona Wos – while Secretary Wos declined to be interviewed by a single reporter.
 
The result was pretty simple: Dr. Wos may have been 100% right but nobody knows it because the only one talking is Dr. King.
 
The Department of Health and Human Services  isn’t a business. And it doesn’t run like a business. It’s a big, clunky, treacherous $18 billion hunk of government run amok and if she’s going to clean it up Secretary Wos is going to need one thing more than anything else: For the public to trust her judgment. That’s why they need to hear her side of the story.
 
That would be a big help to Governor McCrory too.

 

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17
A while back a candidate running for office for the first time sat down in my office and said, What should I do? and I said: Take a poll.
 
For a moment he didn’t say a word then he smiled and said he already knew what voters in his district thought – which is exactly what most candidates say. Of course, most of them are simply confusing what they think with what voters think.
 
So I tried to explain why a poll might be helpful, saying, I am an older white conservative male and in my world almost all my friends are older white conservative males too and, sometimes, I understand what they think but I don’t have a clue what a thirty-eight year old single working mother thinks.
 
Last Sunday my friends down at the newspaper wrote their own version of a candidate saying, ‘I know what voters think,’ and it was a great story, starting with a reporter talking to the cashier at the “Goober Pea’s Country Store” in Boone then tracking the elusive heartbeat of North Carolina politics through three State House districts.
 
But, when you come right down to it, it was a reporter telling what he thinks voters think and, of course, the tides and currents of politics are devilish varmints capable of easily eluding even the most astute journalist.
 
To trap those same varmints a pollster would tell you he’d have to take three polls – one in each district – that each interviewed 400 people who precisely reflected the exact demographics of the district (the correct number of Republicans, Democrats, young men, old women, minorities, and single working mothers).
 
The newspaper’s portrait of the heartbeat of North Carolina politics was fine storytelling – but it wasn’t really the way to trap an elusive varmint.

 

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16
“The problem with education policy is that it’s made by old white men who haven’t been in a classroom since college.” – A professor of education
 
For decades now, cycles of education “reform” have swept across America and North Carolina. Testing programs, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and now Common Core.
 
Sunday’s New York Times Magazine had more: give every student a tablet and start teaching “emotional intelligence.”
 
In North Carolina today, Republicans have their hobby-horses: have more charter schools and give tax money to private schools.
 
Here’s a wild idea: Why not just let teachers teach? Why not trust the people who know most about teaching today’s student? Why do we instead listen to people who haven’t been inside a classroom in decades and are driven by politics and ideology?
 
And let’s stop assuming that people who are successful in business – or, more accurately, have big titles in big corporations – know what to do in the schools.
 
One of the great “reformers,” Diane Ravitch, has come around. For years she rode every reform wave that came along. Now she’s admitting error in a book titled, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”
 
She’s finally figured it out, she says: “We know what works. What works are the opportunities that advantaged families provide for their children.”
 
Good luck fixing that. But there’s an alternative: provide students good teachers who can provide something approaching those opportunities.
 
I give Governor McCrory credit for getting one thing right. In his new TV ad, he says: “Let’s stop over-testing” in the schools. He should add, “And let’s stop under-paying teachers.”
 
Some years ago, when Charlie Crist was a Republican and the governor of Florida, he made a reform proposal that made sense: Pay teachers $100,000 a year.
 
Stop disrespecting them and distrusting them. Let them do the job they’re trained to do – and can do well. Pay them well.
 
Stop falling for every fad reform that comes along. Use your common sense: You know from your own days in school – no matter how long ago that was – the difference a great teacher made.
 
Let them make a difference for students today.

 

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10
Foreign policy is not my forte, so don’t ask me what America should do about Syria. But I get politics, and I don’t get President Obama’s political strategy.
 
If you want to do something, why ask permission from a Congress that has proven itself incapable of doing anything?
 
Most Republicans won’t vote for anything Obama wants. They’d rather vote for Putin. After all, they’ve voted to repeal Obamacare only 57 times. They need something new to vote against.
 
And most Democrats will use any excuse to vote against any military action ever.
 
Members of Congress are making a great show of “listening” to their constituents on Syria, which most of their constituents couldn’t find on a map, let alone understand the complexities of what is going on there and what we should do.
 
Obama can make a strong moral case for acting unilaterally. Gas and chemical weapons cross a line. Even Hitler was afraid to use gas as a weapon of war; he used it as a weapon of mass murder.
 
But it doesn’t help that Americans are war-weary after a decade in the Middle East. It doesn’t help that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. misled the nation into war in Iraq. It doesn’t help that Obama made his chops in 2008 by being the only Democratic presidential candidate who opposed that war from the start. It doesn’t help that John Kerry was famously for the war before he was against it.
 
With Iraq, Americans mistakenly believed – and maybe still believe – that Saddam was behind 9/11. Maybe tonight Obama will have evidence that Assad was behind the Boston bombing, or shingles.
 
Maybe Obama is looking for an excuse not to do anything. That, Congress can do.
 
Or maybe – wow! – he believes this is the right thing to do. Maybe he believes Congress should be consulted before America engages in acts of war. Maybe he thinks it is best to try to persuade, even if he fails, than act on his own.
 
Maybe he is doing something we see so rarely we don’t recognize it: putting a principle over poll numbers. Maybe he is counting on Americans to hear the case, look at the facts and make a thoughtful judgment.
 
What a concept.

 

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06
In the Senate of the world’s oldest democracy the Honorables sat down around a giant horseshoe-shaped table to hold a hearing to ask the Secretary of State how he figured bombing Syria was a good idea – but a strange thing happened: As soon as each Senator asked his first question the Secretary of State would talk and talk and keep on talking hardly pausing for breath.
 
Then another peculiar thing happened – not one Senator said, Mr. Secretary, I understand you figure talking and talking and talking is a pretty good way to keep me from asking more questions and there’s no doubt you’ve proved it works but I’m trying to figure out whether we ought to go to war – so could you stop your filibuster?
 
Over and over with honeyed-words Kerry urged Senators to support a limited, narrow, brief, short bombing attack on Syria, sententiously weaving a time-honored illusion.
 
I can’t remember the last time I agreed with Charlie Rangel but when he was asked how he’d vote on bombing Syria he cut right through Kerry’s chaff and said: “There’s absolutely no question I would vote no because there’re so many questions. One of them is, is this a war? And if it’s not a war, if it’s a limited war, I never heard of anything [like that] in my entire life. If you’re going to fire shells and bomb a community, that’s war, and you have to have a declaration of war, and the Congress should legally, constitutionally approve it and I haven’t seen that evidence.”
 
That’s plain English: If someone landed a cruise missile on, say, the Pentagon that would be war and, by the same token, bombing a city in Syria is war and John Kerry’s weaving illusions (to hide that fact) is how politicians land democracies in wars: By saying they’re not wars. That there’s no pain. Or risk. And no surprises. And no price for believing a fiction.

 

 

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04
Broken politics and posturing politicians present one degree of mendacity when it comes to passing a budget – but the moment a war appears on the horizon that same devilment turns lethal.
                         
A few days ago the President declared that, as leader of the oldest constitutional democracy on earth, he needs the support of Congress to go to war with Syria. Then, two days later, his Secretary of State, with inerrant political versatility charged pell-mell in the opposite direction – declaring the President may attack Syria even if Congress tells him, No.
 
The Secretary of State also said, yes, there is a civil war in Syria but then added (with a somber, straight face) that bombing one side doesn’t involve us in the civil war.
 
In the last twelve years the world’s greatest democracy has attacked Iraq, Afghanistan, bombed Libya, and supported a revolution that deposed the government of Egypt – but now, up in Washington, politicians are stamping their feet, insisting we have to bomb Syria because if we don’t our enemies the Iranians will get the idea we’re weak-kneed.
 
But there’s another fact the clamoring politicians don’t mention: If we bomb Syria then we’ve started a war with Syria and they have every right to attack back.
 
Not one overheated Washington politician has offered a word about where that may lead.
 

 

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03
In the desert land where the Lord struck St. Paul blind then showed him a vision, a pair of skunks are fighting a Civil War and five-thousand miles away in the world’s oldest democracy a great hue and cry has arisen to bomb one of the skunks. 
 
Now in the oldest democracy politics is a bit underhanded so hardly a politician calls bombing another country a war – they call it a ‘limited military action’ with ‘no boots on the ground.’
 
The Viking-helmeted war-hawks – like John McCain and Lindsey Graham – are telling anyone who’ll listen that one of the two skunks (the Assad-skunk) is the worst, lowest, meanest varmint to walk the earth since Hitler. It’s the vile puppet of our bitter enemies the Iranians. And thinks nothing of gassing innocent women and children.
 
And the powerful voices of cable TV, with the prospect of bombs falling and evening news ratings soaring, have raised their voices from the usual howl to a thundering chorus of outrage spiced with devilment. But hardly a soul’s asked: What about the other skunk? Has it slaughtered innocent women and children too?
 
And no one – from the President to the Secretary of State to the leaders in Congress – seems to have given a thought to how not long ago, in the land of the pyramids, when a pair of skunks were fighting we abandoned the 'Mubarak-skunk' to side with the ‘Muslim-Brotherhood-skunk’ – which didn’t work out too well. Or how before that, in the land of the Barbary pirates, we helped the ‘Libyan-rebel-skunk’ by bombing the ‘Gaddafi-skunk’ – which ended with our embassy being blown up.
 
War’s a deadly business. Limited military actions spin out of control. Skunks strike back. People get killed. And no matter what our over-heated politicians in Washington declare – this time someone ought to stop and remember: Replacing one skunk with another is not a grand plan.

 

 

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31
An Old Wise Lobbyist (OWL) gives me a Labor Day break by sharing this:
 
“Contributors to Rep Edgar Starnes' campaign should be disgusted and dismayed that he used their contributions to beautify his Raleigh legislative office.
 
“The Republican House leader used $7,000 of campaign money for furniture and other niceties at the legislative building. He defended his expensive upgrade by saying his constituents deserve to find him in comfortable surroundings when they visit.
 
“He forgot that his contributors supported him financially to help him and his colleagues win elections, not lounge in luxury. It's tantamount to misappropriation of funds when he uses dollars entrusted to his campaign to do a Martha Stewart on his office so he has a comfy place to park his rump.
 
“He's not the first arrogant legislator to suffer this financial brain spasm. Plenty of others used campaign funds to buy cars, clothes and other fun stuff for themselves with the best kind of money – other people's money. They forget that their contributors are largely working stiffs who have to pay for things with their own money.
 
“During the many, many years he was in the minority party, Starnes had a crap office in a dark hallway. No one visited nor cared what he thought.
 
“But he’s a leader now, and his poor judgment further erodes what's left of public trust in
legislators. If Starnes is such a poor steward of his campaign funds, can he be trusted with the people's money? Or the future of the state?”

 

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20
It’s a bleak landscape.
 
A nightmare vision of a counter-revolution roaring down the tracks, turning back the hands of the clock, rolling back progress to the days before indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and daylight savings time.
Republicans, Reverend William Barber howls, are turning back the clock to the days of Jim Crow.
 
Republican tax cuts are turning back the clock to the wasteland of the 19th Century.
 
Republican education cuts are turning back the clock to the age of illiteracy.
 
Teachers are reeling, public schools are tottering, red-shirted bigots are running wild suppressing voters – all because Torquemada-like Republicans rule the roost in Raleigh.
 
Political hyperbole? Or sad truth?
 
Take a breath and consider this.
 
Republicans did not cut the state budget. Government spending went up. They only limited how fast spending went up.
 
Republicans did not cut Education spending. It went up $400 million. They only limited how fast spending went up.
 
No doubt limiting spending increases is a change. But is it a revolutionary change?
 
And what about the terrible Republican election laws? Well, ask yourself, in the year of our Lord 2013, is it within Republicans’ – or any other mortal’s –  grasp to turn back the clock to the days of Jim Crow? Or does the threat of Klansmen running wild only exist in the imagination of Reverend Barber?
 
If Democrats chose to argue increasing education spending $400 million was not enough, that would be a real difference between them and Republicans. If they argued no one should have to show an ID to vote, anymore than they should have to show an ID to exercise their right to free speech, that would be a real difference between them and Republicans.
 
But to argue Republicans want to turn back the clock to the Dark Ages while ‘Progressives’ want to march forward into sunlit uplands – that’s a narrative so far-fetched it is bound to rebound against Democrats.

 

 

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19
This isn’t a story of sin begetting sin but of foolishness begetting foolishness.
 
Years ago, somewhere, some Democratic political guru sat in a room with reams of demographics of people who never had voted and when he finished studying those pages of statistics one fact was clear as a bell: If those folks started voting more Democrats would be elected.
 
Next, over in the state legislature, the Democratic  politicians went to work and passed motor-voter laws to register people when they applied for a driver’s license.
 
Of course, the Democrats didn’t say they passed those laws to elect more Democrats – they dressed them up in fine sounding rhetoric about the importance to Democracy of more people voting.
 
Voter registration soared – but the new voters didn’t vote.
 
So the Democratic legislators went back to work passing laws to increase voter turnout – like allowing early voting, same day registration, and Sunday voting.
 
But that didn’t make much difference either.
 
Then, in 2008, Barack Obama ran for President.
 
Now, some Democrats will argue that election was when all their years of labor finally paid off – and that Barack Obama running for President was a coincidence. Turnout soared. But, for instance, did African-American turnout rise in 2008 because voters suddenly discovered early voting – or because the first African-American in history was on the ballot.
 
Two years later, in the 2010 election, when President Obama was not on the ballot African-American turnout dropped again. Then, in 2012, when he was on the ballot it went back up. All that seems to indicate Barack Obama, himself, was the prime impetus behind turnout rising and falling – not early voting.
 
Then Republicans came to power.
 
Now, let’s concede, for arguments sake, that when Republicans took office they looked at all those Democratic election laws and reached the exact same conclusion Democrats had years ago – that they’d helped elect Democrats. And they figured turnabout – and repealing those laws – was fair play.
 
Of course, like Democrats years before, Republicans couldn’t very well say they were changing the laws so fewer Democrats would be elected – so, dressed their new laws up in a lot of fine-sounding rhetoric about stopping voter fraud.
 
The new Republican laws elicited a howl from Democrats, led by the formidable Reverend William Barber, so fierce that by the time the Republican plan passed it was all but neutered – there would be seven less early voting days but the number of early voting hours per day would increase so in the end the total number of hours would remain exactly the same.
 
There was a new voter ID requirement but, in the age when a campaign (a Democratic friend actually told me this story about the Obama campaign) can text message three female Obama supporters in North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Alabama, and ask them each to call an undecided female voter in Colorado, how long can getting a voter ID slow a campaign down?
 
Governor McCrory signed the new legislation into law and put out a YouTube video saying how, now, elections would to be clean and safe – but before the ink was dry on the page Reverend Barber sued him, held a press conference, and landed on TV with a 53 minute video of his own.
 
The Governor, the Reverend explained, had landed NC right back in days of Jim Crow. He had trampled on the blood of Civil Rights martyrs, and the combination of the new laws and the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Voting Rights Act made for the worst day in North Carolina history since the union troops left the state after Reconstruction.

There is the kind of irony here that can only happen in politics: The Democrats pass laws to elect Democrats – that don’t work. Then Republicans undo the Democratic foolishness that didn’t work – to elect Republicans. None of which – on either side – will make a tootles worth of difference when it comes to electing anyone but has led to a political howl so earthshaking you’d think the greatest threat to North Carolina today is whether a precinct has 100 hours of early voting over 17 days or 100 hours of early voting over 10 days.

 

 

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