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22

No one’s explained why a Malaysian airliner was flying over a war zone but when it was shot down Senator John McCain had no doubt who to blame: Obama.

It was, McCain adamantly told Fox News, Obama’s fault because he hadn’t given the Ukrainians more guns.
 
I reckon McCain figures if the Ukrainians had more guns they’d have shot (months ago) the varmint who pushed the button to launch that missile but, of course, that’s a lot like saying General Lee would have won Gettysburg if the stars had aligned differently.
 
President Obama has turned out to be Republicans’ worst nightmare. The Uber-Villain of all time.  But, still, you can’t blame one fellow for everything.

 

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11
What on earth do you do when a eight-year-old lands on your doorstep?
 
I heard two spokesmen on the radio today with answers – the first told a story of a lone girl, one of the border children, who after being repeatedly raped by gangs in Honduras, trudged or rode on the tops of trains, clinging to boxcar roofs, 500 miles across Mexico to arrive in Texas hollow-cheeked with hunger.
 
The other spokesman explained half the border children hadn’t trudged across Mexico alone at all – they’d been carried by smugglers paid by families who were desperate to get their sons and daughters out of El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala.
 
Of course, up in Congress, Republicans say Obama’s to blame for the whole mess.  He  threw open the door to the border children when he decided not to deport the “Dream Children.”
 
And the Democrats, of course, say Republicans are ogres with no hearts.
 
And, finally, President Obama wants Congress to give him $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis – which comes to $74,000 per child. 
 
So with all this passion and all these political agendas clouding the rhetorical air who can we believe?  And how do we figure out what we ought to do?
 
In a way the answer’s simple: If a weary, bedraggled eight-year-old turned up on your doorstep one night would you turn him away? 
 
No.  Lord willing, you’d lend him or her a helping hand.
 
Beyond that, since there are 50,000 children on our doorstep, there’s one other question to ask we have to answer: Are these children refugees or illegal immigrants?
 
Because if a child’s fleeing in terror – whether it’s from gang rapes or other sins – well, to put it bluntly: In America we help refugees.  We may not make them citizens.  But we don’t turn them away either.
 
And if these children are illegal immigrants? If they’re not fleeing from violence or abuse?
 
Well, then, like all runaway children, we return them to their parents.

 

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09
It is a well-known fact that the not-so-great state of South Carolina has only two things going for it: the coast and the city of Charleston.
 
The coast is there by the grace of God and the gifts of nature. But it turns out that much of what makes Charleston a great place – the arts, the historic preservation, the restaurants – is there thanks in part to a liberal Democrat who has been Mayor for nearly 40 years.
 
A New York Times column Sunday about Mayor Joe Riley called him “America’s Best-Loved Mayor.” He pushed for the Spoleto arts festival as a way of making the city aim higher, and he sees the arts as vital to a great city. He has concentrated on concrete accomplishments: public safety, parks, housing and the beauty and vibrancy of the city’s historic streets.
 
Most amazing, he stayed in office in South Carolina’s rabidly red-hot Republican politics despite being an early supporter of a Martin Luther King holiday, hiring a black police chief in 1982 and leading a five-day, 120-mile march to Columbia calling for removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol in 2000.
 
Maybe it’s that Riley is accessible and personable. Maybe it’s that he’s Old Charleston; he looks like we walked right out of the famous (and famously expensive) Ben Silver men’s store downtown.
 
Maybe it’s that some cities – like Raleigh with Mayors Meeker and McFarlane – take to progressive mayors who push policies that attract bright, creative people who transform the quality of life downtown. And maybe that’s a sign that government can work.

 

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02
The news from Iraq was puzzling.
 
West of Baghdad, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) was whipping our allies the al-Maliki government.
 
At the same time, next door in Syria, President Assad was bombing our enemy ISIS.
 
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Obama was asking Congress for $500 million to send guns to Syrian rebels so they could attack Assad.
 
Which was wise, the President said, since the rebels are moderates who’ll attack ISIS too.
 
Only, up until now, the President has said we shouldn’t send arms to Syria because it’s too hard to tell a moderate from an immoderate rebel and the guns might end up in the hands of the wrong people – like ISIS.

 

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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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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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24
A lot of Democrats are “Ready for Hillary,” but is she?
 
The doubts erupted after talked – and talked again – about whether she and Bill really are rich.
 
The Washington Post headlined: “Some Democrats fear Clinton’s wealth and ‘imperial image’ could be damaging in 2016.” It quoted “multiple Obama campaign advisers” saying anonymously that “they fear Clinton’s financial status could hurt her as it did Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whom Obama portrayed in 2012 as an out-of-touch plutocrat at a time of economic uncertainty.”
 
Today the N&O’s Barry Saunders jumped in. He put his finger on the real concern here: not wealth per se, but that elusive political quality of “touch.” He wrote, “Clinton is already one of the most polarizing political figures out there, so every word she utters is going to be parsed for ways to demean, denigrate or disqualify her. With her at-best imprecise language, she is merely providing ammo to those of her detractors who claim she is imperial and out of touch.”
 
This all harks back to 2008. After the fact, a strategist for John Edwards said research showed that Democratic voters had clear ideas about their three then-candidates. They agreed with Edwards on the issues (“Two Americas”), and they agreed that Hillary was best-qualified to be President (and that was pre-Secretary of State), but they just felt good about voting for Obama.
 
Yes, that was partly because voting for an African-American was making history. But so is electing the first woman President. Obama also had a cool charisma that voters responded to.
 
Being likable can take you a long way in politics. And vice versa. Obama himself presaged today’s “rich” kerfuffle in the 2008 debates when he famously snarled, “You’re likeable enough, Hillary.”
 
For all her strengths and experience, Clinton has something of a distant and forbidding aura about her. People who know her say the reality is far different, that she is warm, funny and down-to-earth. But few people get that face-to-face experience. And she suffers by comparison to politicians who exude that “touch” – say, Bill Clinton.
 
She is no doubt ready for the job. But is she ready for the campaign? Are Democrats ready, as they often do, to fall in love with a charismatic challenger (see JFK, RFK, McGovern, Carter, Hart, Clinton, Dean, Obama)?
 
It’s hard to imagine a stronger candidate for Democrats in 2016 than Hillary Clinton. It’s just as hard to imagine Democrats sitting still for a coronation. This is her first test, and they’re watching.

 

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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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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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