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The Opinion Shop

Welcome to The Opinion Shop, where members of The N&O’s editorial board offer an eclectic array of their individual opinion products and give you an opportunity to offer your own.

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Why Wake's school bond issue is a win for the economy AND students

We always get a lot of election-related submissions after it's really too late to consider them for publication. Here's a piece on behalf of the four major associations representing the North Carolina design and construction community.

NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata talks public service, customer service and DMV triage

NC DOT Secretary Tony Tata met with the editorial board and some newsroom folks this week just to update us on the goings-on his department. Things are good: wait times are down dramatically at DMV locations, refrigeration is headed to the Wilmington port and his employees are all about customer service.

Tata began by talking about his tight-knit family. His father is the third-longest-serving member of the Virginia General Assembly. His sister is an educator and former track star who just had a stadium named after her. His daughter is at the Sorbonne in Paris, getting a Ph.D. in genetics. His son is playing baseball at a junior college. “Public service is ingrained in my family values,” he said.

Here are my notes from the meeting. They are NOT verbatim.

The Obamacare gamut: tearfully grateful to be included or angrily fed up with higher rates

Getting lots of letters on Obamacare as information about the exchanges gets up and running – and as letters from current insurers detailing huge premium hikes land in mailboxes. Here's a sample.

1380745268 The Obamacare gamut: tearfully grateful to be included or angrily fed up with higher rates The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Raleigh, take yet another bluegrass bow!

Journalist David Morris writes for Bluegrass Today that Raleigh blew him away as the site for the International Bluegrass Music Association awards show last weekend. He wasn't sure about the choice initially. At all.

But he writes in a post titled "Who needs Nashville?":

"The move to Raleigh was a great one. The city has treated bluegrassers like royalty all week. Not just the stars, who get the red carpet rolled out for them wherever they park their buses, but lesser-known bands and fans, too. City officials even closed part of the main street for the weekend’s Wide Open Bluegrass festival (formerly known as Fan Fest).

"There was a carnival-like atmosphere in the city on Friday and Saturday, with vendors hawking food and souvenirs and a seemingly endless stream of bands setting up on multiple stages, indoors and out.

"And fans came, by the thousands. There are some reports, not yet verified, that this was the largest convention ever in Raleigh. Some estimates put the crowd for Saturday (pairing IBMA with the North Carolina Barbeque Championships) close to six figures – far more than ever came to IBMA in Nashville. That’s probably an inflated number, but the weekend’s paid shows were sold out and the free shows were mobbed. There were even scalpers! Yes, scalpers. That never happened in Nashville. And there was so much foot traffic, city cops had to direct traffic through intersections."

Read the rest of his glowing review here.

What's happening in NC? It's worse than you think

Such is the state of politics in North Carolina that the General Assemby's goings-on have already become fodder for scholarly exploration. In Southern Spaces – "an interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the U.S. South and their global connections" – Dan T. Carter, a University of South Carolina professor, offers up "North Carolina: A State of Shock."

In it, Carter assesses the current tumult in North Carolina government and the "hijacking of the state's political system." Yes, that's a reference to Art Pope. Carter says that he's frequently asked what's going on in North Carolina and that he responds that it's worse, much worse, than you think.

Some excerpts:

With almost no consultation from other groups, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce wrote the bill "reforming" the state's unemployment insurance program. While employers saw a modest increase in payments to the reserve fund ($3.40 per worker per month), three-fourths of the cost of restoring solvency came from cuts to the unemployed. In a series of measures eliminating or reducing benefits for 170,000 workers, the legislature slashed unemployment eligibility standards, cut benefit payments by more than a third, and reduced the length of eligibility to twelve weeks, the shortest time period in the nation. These measures caused North Carolina to become the only state in the nation to lose assistance from the federal Emergency Relief Program, payments that would have poured $780 million federal dollars into the hands of the unemployed and from there into the state economy.

What is unnerving is the willingness of large numbers of voters in North Carolina and across the nation to embrace the very policies which cause them so much pain. If there is any lesson to be learned from the last thirty years, it is the failure of trickle-down economic policies that benefit only the wealthiest Americans. Over the last twelve years, median income, a key indicator of middle class well-being, has declined seven percent.23 That growing inequality and insecurity seems to have strengthened the forces of hyperindividualism while weakening any sense of the possibility for collective action. But not entirely.

The payoff to Pope's long-range plans came in the off-year 2010 election when he and other wealthy donors spent $2.2 million targeting twenty-two Democratic incumbents in the state legislature. A modest sum in today's high-rolling political sweepstakes, these funds financed a barrage of slick, negative mass mailings that distorted and frequently misrepresented the positions of the targeted lawmakers. At least two were flagrantly racist. Only four of the incumbents survived and the Republicans, aided by a fired up Tea Party base and a lethargic Democratic turnout, took control of the legislature.

Read the rest here

Inside the health care trenches: understanding costs, relying on ERs

Two health-care-related items crossed my field of vision today that seemed worth sharing.

The first is a video of John Green (writer, YouTube vlogger and educator) explaining why U.S. health care costs are so high. It's 7 minutes long, but so worth the time. Startling numbers in here.

Find it here

The second is a blog post by my conservative childhood friend, Dr. Edwin Leap, an emergency room physician in a small South Carolina town. He explains why ERs will continue to carry the U.S. health care load, with or without Obamacare.

It begins:

Former South Carolina Senator, and current Heritage Foundation President, Jim DeMint recently angered supporters of the Affordable Care Act by stating that uninsured patients will ‘get better healthcare just going to the emergency room,’ than they will receive through Obamacare.

That’s a sweeping assertion. However, the ACA supporters offended by Sen. DeMint need to understand the supreme irony that without America’s emergency departments and their dedicated personnel, the ACA will fall apart even if it is adequately funded and enacted.

Find the rest here

Russian President Putin objects to American 'exceptionalism' in Obama's Syria speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin had an oped in The New York Times today that takes issue with American "exceptionalism."

THE PIECE BEGINS:

By Vladimir V. Putin

MOSCOW — Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

AND ENDS:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

READ THE REST l here

Letters to the editor: Voter ID, Roy Cooper and feeding the homeless

Here's a batch of letters that got overrun by other issues before they could see print:

Love Wins director: If feeding the homeless makes you "feel good," you're doing it wrong

On his own blog, Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries responded to the letter we posted from a Raleigh educator (read it below or here) that criticized his group's efforts to feed the homeless in Moore Square as a futile "feel-good" exercise.

He writes: "But the truth is this: if you are serious about this work and the real lives of the people you will meet, you cannot feel good. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you do this work and it makes you feel good for pretty much any extended period of time, you are doing it wrong.

"Because if you can come out week after week and watch George wither away from meth addiction or see that Sheli has a new black eye from the (current) abusive partner or hear how the police arrested Frankie for sleeping under an awning to get out of the rain or know that the sandwich you just handed Pablo is the last thing he will get to eat until the soup kitchen opens tomorrow at 11 a.m. and that makes you feel GOOD?

"Then you are a monster."

Read the rest of his excellent post here.

I like how the ministry describes itself on its website :

At Love Wins Ministries,

We feed people…

But we are not a feeding ministry.

Sometimes, we help people get jobs…

But we are not a job training program.

Maybe 10-12 times a year, someone leaves homelessness with our help…

But we are not a housing ministry.

Yet, at any given moment, we may be doing any of those things.

But what we really are is a ministry of presence and pastoral care for the homeless and at-risk population of Raleigh, NC.

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