Doer-in-Chief

While corrupt media outlets such as CNN promote their “White House in crisis” narratives 24/7, basking in the Mueller “investigation”, cheering Jared Kushner’s reduced security clearance status and Hope Hicks’ resignation, and staging town halls to exploit grieving and angry high school students from Parkland, Fla., Heritage Foundation staffers have been following an undeniable trend.

Working with Congress when possible (on tax cuts, principally), or through regulatory guidance, the Trump administration “had an extraordinarily successful first year.” That is the assessment of the Foundation’s Thomas Binion, director of congressional and executive branch relations.

The Heritage Foundation, a public policy think tank with a well-deserved reputation for holding politicians accountable, sets a high bar for incoming Presidents. It is known as the “Mandate for Leadership”, and it debuted in 1981 when Ronald Reagan launched his two-term presidency.

The Trump mandate is comprised of 334 unique policy recommendations, nearly two-thirds of which (64%) already have been adopted by Trump and his administration. Reports The Washington Examiner:

At this stage of his presidency, Reagan had completed 49 percent of the Heritage policy recommendations. “We’re blown away,” Binion said in an interview. Trump, he said, “is very active, very conservative, and very effective.”

While not all of the adopted policies received the fanfare of across-the-board tax cuts, or the successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States, they are squarely on Heritage Foundation’s radar. These are the major achievements, according to the Foundation:

  • Leaving the Paris Climate Accord: In August 2017, Trump announced the U.S. was ending its funding and membership in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
  • Repealing Net Neutrality: In December 2017, Trump’s Federal Communications Commission chairman proposed ending the 2015 network neutrality rules.
  • Reshaping National Monuments: Heritage’s recommendation to prohibit Land Acquisition (Cap and Reduce the Size of the Federal Estate) was adopted by Trump when he issued two executive orders effectively shrinking the size of national monuments in Utah.
  • Reinstating the Mexico City Policy: This executive order prevents taxpayer money from funding international groups involved in abortion and ending funding to the United Nations Population fund. On Jan. 23, 2017, in his first pro-life action, Trump signed an executive order today reinstating the Mexico City Policy.
  • Increasing Military Spending: Trump’s budget calls for a $54 billion increase in military spending to improve capacity, capability, and readiness of America’s armed forces.
  • Reforming Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF):The Trump administration adopted and is in favor of strengthening existing work requirements in order to receive benefits.
  • Allowing Development of Natural Resources: The Trump administration opened off-shore drilling and on federal lands. Executive Order 13783 directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to commence federal land coal leasing activities.
  • Reforming Government Agencies: Trump tasked each of his Cabinet secretaries to prepare detailed plans on how they propose to reduce the scope and size of their respective departments while streamlining services and ensuring each department runs more efficiently and handles tax dollars appropriately.
  • Withdrawing from UNESCO: In October 2017, Trump announced he was putting an end to U.S. membership in the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

These are but a few examples of what former Trump deputy assistant and strategist Sebastian Gorka characterizes as the Trump “revolution” playing out before our eyes. If Republicans will continue to embrace Trump’s ambitions to steamroll reform through Congress and deliver for his supporters, Gorka forecasts a dismal November 2018 for Democrats in the mid-term elections. Writing for The Hill, Gorka opines:

If Republicans understand just how revolutionary and system-smashing an event like the election of Trump was, and they hitch their future to his brand of anti-establishment leadership, there will be no hope for the Democrats come November.

Donald Trump has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to learn at the wheel. Now the question is, have the professional politicians learned and internalized just how revolutionary the times we are living in actually are?

 

Courting judicial overreach

North Carolina is one of six states facing uncertainty as to how federal court influence could change traditional procedures through which district maps — Congressional and state legislative — are drawn or re-drawn.

The outlook for 2018 is that no significant upheaval looms in our state, owed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s restraint in weighing in on lawsuits related to map redrawing with a mid-term election approaching. Yet, in three other states, SCOTUS rulings are expected to complicate voting dynamics in the short term.

This is but the calm before the storm. Writes NPR’s Domenico Montanaro: “By June, the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to decide three major redistricting cases — out of Wisconsin, Maryland and Texas — that will lay some of the foundation for what the maps will look like, not just this year, but after the 2020 census that could affect control of Congress for the next decade.”

Democrats are convinced that activist judges can help them dominate gerrymandering into perpetuity. Courts are increasingly seen as willing policymakers by the left.

The Wall Street Journal, in a February 21 editorial, forecasts the ominous trend:

While the U.S. Supreme Court has held that partisan gerrymanders may violate the U.S. Constitution, it has been unable to articulate a precise legal standard. Democrats are now trying to tempt the Supreme Court into intervening in the intrinsically political redistricting process with social-science methodology that purportedly measures proper representation.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently not only was tempted, but defiantly struck down, with a 5-2 liberal majority, a Congressional map drawn by that state’s GOP legislature in 2011. “With the help of Stanford University law professor Nathan Persily they drafted their own new map (Feb. 19) for use in the May primaries after (Democrat) Governor (Tom Wolf) and the legislature failed to agree,” The Wall Street Journal explained.

And what does Pennsylvania portend? Writes the Journal editorial board:

Pennsylvania will be the future in every state if the Justices decide that judges should be redistricting kings.

 

 

Hudson vs. 60 Minutes

Hudson on 60 Minutes

It was just a matter of time before last December’s passage of H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, by the U.S. House of Representatives sparked left-wing media outrage. Leave it to none other than CBS’ 60 Minutes Sunday prime time program to unleash correspondent Steve Kroft on the topic, which 2nd Amendment antagonists distill as follows: far right, gun packing rural hicks versus reasoned, intellectual elites who desire a permanent ban on firearm possession by our citizens and confiscation of previously registered guns.

Enter our Congressman, Richard Hudson (NC-8), who authored and championed the bill all the way to the finish line. It passed in the House 231-198 last Dec. 6 and is in the U.S. Senate pipeline. During a tense moment in their taped interview, Kroft barely contained himself while scolding Hudson’s comparison of a reciprocal concealed carry permit to a driver’s license, which is valid in every state.

“It’s not like a driver’s license!” Kroft shouted, insisting that licensed drivers must demonstrate minimum proficiencies. Kroft is unaware, apparently, or deliberately ignores that H.R. 38 would grant concealed carry reciprocity exclusively to legally registered firearm owners who “would have to follow the laws of the state, county and municipality in which they are carrying concealed.”

Remarkably, Hudson’s retort was not edited out of the segment. He did not blink. “But, driving is a privilege,” he said. “Owning a firearm is a Constitutionally protected right. So there is a difference.”

Make no mistake, this was a hit piece from beginning to end, but not merely an attack on Rep. Hudson’s bill, or Tim Schmidt, founder in 2003 of the U.S. Concealed Carry Association (also interviewed by Kroft). The objective of 60 Minutes producers and Kroft was obvious: to demean and belittle the “folks” in the red(neck) states who, unlike their educated blue state fellow citizens, are trapped in a time warp in which guns, as Kroft put it dismissively, “are woven into the culture.” They are, in other words, dangerous, exceeded only by the Constitution itself as a threat to society.

Kroft’s segment was not so much a “report” on an issue of the day as it was a televised op-ed. Two examples. In the first, he characterizes a Constitutional right as an idea:

The central tenant of Concealed Carry Reciprocity is that the 2nd Amendment gives people the right to carry guns anywhere they want. But that idea is more aspirational than factual.

In the second, Kroft despairs that he and his New York-based arbiters of 21st Century America can not disenfranchise an enormous swath of our population (the inference being that the people who elected Donald Trump are alive and well):

Whether people like it or not, that world (where guns are carried and concealed) already exists in many parts of the country, where people are quite happy with it. And so are their representatives in Congress.

Kroft’s parting shot at Rep. Hudson was to dismiss the core assertion behind the necessity of concealed carry as having been “refuted by numerous studies”, but without detailing these so-called “studies”, or who conducted them. Hudson stood his ground, which is not easy to do amid the glare of the famously intimidating 60 Minutes entrapment sessions.

I can tell you that in the last 20 years you’ve seen a huge uptick of gun ownership, you’ve seen a huge uptick in concealed carry, and, at the same time, you’ve seen violent crime drop. If you look at states with concealed carry, you’ve seen violent crime drop.

 

 

 

NC: A pension fund model

The North Carolina Retirement Systems, the nation’s tenth largest public pension fund, experienced a 13.5 percent gain in assets in 2017. Those assets were valued at $98.3 billion, reports State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell. The performance of the fund’s investments exceeded projected annual growth of 12.8 percent.

On its face, this is great news. But the real strength of the state’s pension system is the extent to which these burgeoning assets cover pension liabilities. Literally dozens of states find themselves drowning in pension liability, and continue to spiral in the wrong direction despite years of dire warnings.

The fact that North Carolina is largely excluded from studies exposing the looming pension crisis across the country is a point Republican candidates for state legislative and U.S. House seats should hammer home on the trail in 2018. It is a tribute to sound fiscal policy, spending restraint and the absence of money starved unions.

Consider the alternative, outlined in this nearly incomprehensible report by The Rand Corporation’s Dan Grunfeld:

California leads the nation in pension underfunding. The numbers are staggering. Currently, the state government has approximately $464.4 billion in unfunded liabilities — the difference between resources that will be available in the state’s pension fund and what will be owed to retiring employees. … Nationally, state and local governments are carrying $4 trillion to $6 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities. That exceeds the combined military expenditures for every war, save World War II, fought by the U.S. since 1775.

Another way to gauge the financial health of a state’s pension fund is by examining funding ratios, the gap between funds on hand and projected pension payments. The higher the ratio, the lower the gap. North Carolina ended 2017 with a 45% funding ratio, fifth best in the nation, according to data gathered by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The national average is a woeful 33.7%. Wisconsin is the runaway leader with a 61.5% ratio; New Jersey (25.7), Mississippi (24.2), Illinois (23.3), Kentucky (20.9) and Connecticut (19.7) bring up the rear. New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut have been governed by Democrat majority rule for decades, while Kentucky and Mississippi have had divided legislatures with a gradual shift toward Republicans since 2000.

According to ALEC’s December 2017 report:

The funding ratio is the most important measure of a pension fund’s health. Applying the estimated risk-free rate of return to the actuarial assets and actuarial liabilities reported by pension plans generates a more realistic estimate of each state’s funding ratio.

Another instructive way to understand a state’s fiscal health relative to its public pension liabilities is as a measure of per-capita liability. North Carolina also ranks highly in this category. An individual taxpayer in North Carolina technically is “on the hook” for $10,944. That’s the amount each taxpayer would owe if and when the state’s pension funds come up short. NC ranks fifth behind Wisconsin, Nebraska, Indiana and Tennessee, according to ALEC’s analysis. The dubious distinction club on the opposite end is made up of Illinois ($30,336 per taxpayer), Ohio ($30,538), Connecticut ($35,731) and Alaska ($45,689).

Population size skews these numbers, which is why California, despite owning the largest collection of unfunded liabilities, has its citizens on the hook for less than the cellar dwellers at $25,166, but still the 39th highest per-capita liability.

It is hardly a coincidence that states where pension funding negligence is most acute are the same states from which folks are fleeing and finding refuge in North Carolina.

 

A joyful place

Peggy Grande is keynoting the annual Ronald Reagan dinner, hosted by the Moore County Republican Party, on Tuesday, February 6, President Reagan’s 107th birthday.

Who is Peggy Grande? She arguably experienced the best first-job-after-college in American history. After earning her undergraduate degree at Pepperdine University, the Los Angeles-area native applied for and was granted an internship in the Office of Ronald Reagan, whose second term as U.S. President ended in January 1989. By 1990, Peggy was employed as a member of the President’s post-White House era staff and became his Executive Assistant from 1993 to 1999.

Just last year she published the incredible stories and memories of those years working for and traveling with President Reagan. The President Will See You Now is must-reading for Americans who remember the Reagan era as one of the greatest chapters in our nation’s evolution. Peggy remembers the Reagan post-White House office as “a joyful place”, where the President’s optimism and curiosity uplifted all with whom he crossed paths. She marveled at his inclination to read and understand ideological positions that differed from his own. She remembers how meticulously he prepared for engagements with world leaders, but how he also was well equipped to make a brief interaction with an ordinary citizen personal and memorable.

Today, Peggy tours the U.S., sharing her behind-the-scenes memories of an American icon, all the while looking forward to heading home to her husband and their four children.

Recently, we recorded an interview with Peggy and recommend these audio clips as a preview of her speech next month in Pinehurst:

A $5.7m windfall

Christmas is arriving early in 2018. About 11 months early, to be precise. On Thursday, January 25, North Carolina retirees began receiving their monthly state retirement benefit payments.

According to the office of North Carolina State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, payments to retirees have increased by a total of $5.7 million this month. The windfall was triggered by two developments. One is the very well publicized federal tax reform signed by President Donald Trump after Congressional Republicans came through with a bill late last year.

The other development flew under the radar. An obscure state entity, the Retirement Systems Division (RSD), simply did its job beating the clock on an IRS deadline that was set after Trump signed sweeping tax cuts into law.

Among those cuts are federal taxes deducted from 2018 benefit payments to North Carolina retirees and benefit recipients. The RSD Operations Team within the N.C. Department of State Treasurer was able to update the tables ahead of the IRS’s deadline.

“I’m very proud of our team for taking the initiative so quickly after the new tax law was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump. While we are in the check delivery business, it involves more than just buying ink and stamps,” said Treasurer Folwell. “This is a testament to the outstanding job that our career public servants do to serve government workers.”

More than $500 million is paid out each month to more than 312,000 retirees and benefit recipients.

“Our team, led by Tom Causey and Susan Fordham, decided not to wait until February to enact this increase in our members’ benefit payments,” explained Steve Toole, Executive Director of RSD. “By updating these tax schedules sooner, our members will see larger January benefit payments.”

Supreme timing

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday (January 18) suspended a lower court ruling that should eliminate drama and confusion leading to this November’s U.S. House of Representatives races across North Carolina.

Reports North State Journal, the SCOTUS’s decision “reduces the chance that the current district lines will be altered ahead of the November mid-term Congressional elections.”

The action voids a ruling earlier this month by a three-judge federal panel that imposed a January 24 deadline on North Carolina. This was the date by which legislators would have had to submit re-drawn maps for U.S. House districts. The lower court’s panel alleged that the state’s existing maps were unfair to “non-Republican” voters.

Re-districting committee chairmen Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) thanked the SCOTUS for giving potential candidates clarity as to filing and campaigning in the months ahead.

“We are grateful that a bipartisan U.S. Supreme Court has overwhelmingly halted the lower court’s 11th-hour attempt to intervene in election outcomes, restored certainty to voters, and ensured that, in the coming days, candidates for office can file in the least gerrymandered and most compact Congressional districts in modern state history.”