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mc-1Governor Pat McCrory emerged from his much-publicized meeting with a handful of other governors and President Obama at the White House  Tuesday breathlessly declaring that Obama is open to considering waivers to allow North Carolina to crafts its own version of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

But that shouldn’t be news to McCrory or anybody else.  Nine states, most of them with Republican governors, have already expanded Medicaid with waivers from the feds or have been in discussions with the Obama Administration about waivers for their own versions of the program.

Neighboring Tennessee is the latest state with Republican leadership to move forward, with Governor Bill Haslam unveiling a proposal for Medicaid expansion last month. 

Apparently McCrory had to fly to Washington to figure out that the Obama Administration was willing to work with state officials who are developing their own Medicaid plan.  Or maybe he just wanted us to know he was talking tough with Obama.

I presented a very strong argument for more flexibility if we even consider Medicaid expansion, so we can have a North Carolina plan instead of a Washington plan, and especially a plan that would encourage more people to get a job or get training before we expand another government program,” McCrory said after the meeting.

While it’s too bad it took McCrory much longer than many Republican governors to realize the Obama Administration was willing to work with the states to provide health care for people who need it, at least he seems to finally understand it.

There’s also the head-scratching logic that more people will have to get a job before Medicaid is expanded, as if only people who are working need to be able to see a doctor, not to mention the people with chronic illnesses whose lack of access to treatment prevents them from working in the first place.

But maybe now McCrory can get on with what he should have done already, following the lead of his Republican colleagues across the country by expanding Medicaid in North Carolina and providing health care coverage for several hundred thousand low-income people and creating thousands of jobs in the process. It is past time.

Commentary
Donald van der Vaart, new secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Donald van der Vaart, new secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In case you missed it over your holiday break, Governor Pat McCrory named Don van der Vaart as the new Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources to replace Secretary John Skvarla who is moving over to head the Department of Commerce.

Van der Vaart was serving as Deputy Secretary of DENR and as the state’s first “energy policy adviser” according to a press release from McCrory’s office. That means, according to the release, that van der Vaart “focuses on increasing domestic energy exploration, development and production in North Carolina as well as promoting related economic growth and job creation.”

In other words, the new secretary’s previous job was pushing drilling and fracking  and other industry objectives in a department that’s priority is supposed to be protecting the environment.

And that’s not the most disturbing part of his appointment. Read More

Commentary

The lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer hits the nail on the head this morning when it says the following about the state of the U.S. economy:

“The recovery from the Great Recession appears to be getting stronger on the eve of Christmas. Alas, politics has dampened the enthusiasm of some Scrooges, President Obama’s critics, who can’t take “yes” for an answer.

As one liberal commentator noted, if this were the second year of a Mitt Romney presidency instead of the sixth year under President Obama, there would be parades in the streets and praise for the president from some of Obama’s perennial critics.

But the facts are the facts. And they’re mostly good.

In November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated, there were 321,000 jobs created, an astounding number. Unemployment is down. The gross domestic product grew at 5 percent, on an annual pace, in the third quarter of this year, the biggest advance since the third quarter of 2003. Consumer and business spending are up.

And as Americans take off on their holiday travels, they’ll see lower gas prices.

And by the way: When the president was formulating the Affordable Care Act, Republicans predicted catastrophic consequences for the economy, with a federal deficit certain to explode. The deficit is down.”

The recovery has started to spread to North Carolina too, of course, and while things have a LONG way to go, there is cause for optimism. As was noted in this story earlier this month, however, the folks on Right-Wing Avenue have taken things to laughable extremes with their absurd attempt to blame every bad thing in the state economy on President Obama and attribute every improvement to Governor McCrory. As we noted in December: Read More

Commentary

McCrory-APThe controversy surrounding Governor Pat McCrory’s acceptance of more than $170,000 from a mortgage company with a checkered past after he took office last year may or may not turn into a legal/ethics problem for the Governor. Regardless of where this whole thing leads, however, there are at least two preliminary takeaways from the affair — neither of them very flattering to the Guv.

Number One is, to paraphrase the Bard, “the Governor dost protest too much, methinks.” McCrory desperately needs some P.R. help — preferably in the form of a smart aide who can tell him when he’s screwing up and needs to be quiet. That the Guv and his team produced a massive, 34 page rebuttal to the AP story about his questionable acceptance of a huge payout from a mortgage broker after he took office in almost a matter of hours was a ridiculous case of overreaction — especially since it never really refuted any of the story very effectively. (This from an administration that’s notorious for taking months — if not more — too fulfill public records requests.) For confirmation of this, check out yesterday’s blog post by veteran arch-conservative pol, Carter Wrenn (in which Wrenn also derided McCrory’s attack on Leslie Stahl of CBS News in the aftermath of Duke coal ash interview). As Wrenn notes:

“Now the AP story said the Governor’s stock bonus was unusual and raised red flags but about the worse fact in the story was the Governor had been paid $185,000 by Lending Tree, an online loan company that’s a cut above a pay day lender and got fined $3 million by South Carolina for misleading consumers. The AP didn’t say the Governor had done anything illegal. Or that he’d done anything unethical (as Governor ) to help Lending Tree.

So here’s an odd fact: While the AP story wasn’t exactly flattering it didn’t amount to much until the Governor stood up and did something I haven’t seen in 40 years: He announced, I’m not a crook.”

Number Two is that, regardless of the ultimate outcome, the whole thing still stinks. Read More

Commentary

Sometimes, its hard to figure where the folks on the far right are coming from in their crusade to sell off our public structures to the highest bidder. For some, plain, old-fashioned greed clearly plays a part, but with columns like this recent little doozy from the Pope-Civitas Institute, it’s clear that something else is at work.

And that something is an amazingly warped view of human society.

According to the Pope-Civitas people, the North Carolina Zoo is the “waste of the week.” And, no, it’s not because there’s been some incident of waste or graft; they simply don’t see any public value in the concept of a public zoological park. Here’s how they put it:

“Few would attempt to argue that a core service of state government is to display animals for viewing in our leisure time. The NC Zoo is still another example of something the state compels state taxpayers to subsidize that should instead be financed through voluntary support.”

To which all a body can say in response is: “Says who?”

Who says that it’s not a core service? And more to the point, who says that “to display animals for viewing in our leisure time” is all zoos are about?

Honestly, do these folks pay any attention at all? As even many fourth graders probably understand, there’s a hell of a lot more to zoos and other such institutions than “leisure.” Good lord, the list of important contributions made to human society by zoos — with respect to education, science, research, history, preserving the environment and endangered species, understanding our place on the planet and just plain making life more livable (and in dozens of other areas) — would take all day to spell out.

If anything, we desperately need more public institutions capable of such important accomplishments. What’s next on the Pope-Civitas hit list? Public libraries? Read More