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Things that make me go 'Hmmmm ...'

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Time once again for a column on the things in life that confound, baffle and surprise me.

Government Health care for Me but Not Thee: An amendment sponsored by Charlotte-area Rep. Sue Myrick would have automatically enrolled the president, vice president and members of Congress in the "public plan" or public co-op or whatever they are calling the government-run part of the health care bill this week to make it sound, well, less government-run. This government-run or quasi-government-run system will supposedly compete with private sector health care plans to keep them "honest" and provide "competition," never mind that there are already more than 1,500 private sector plans.

On July 27, Rep. Barney Frank explained that the purpose of the co-op or public health care option was to lead to a socialized health system. (Government-run systems, like those they have in Canada and the UK, are called "single payer" because the government is the only payer.)

"I think if we get a good public option, it could lead to single payer, and that's the best way to reach single payer," Frank explained on video to Single Payer Action, a liberal group that wants a socialized health care system. "I think the best way we're going to get single payer, the only way is to have a public option and demonstrate its strength and its power."

If the government-run option is going to have so much "strength and power," wouldn't members of Congress be eager to give up their current health care plans and enroll? Oddly, they are not.

Myrick's amendment was ruled "not germane" to the health care legislation in committee along a party-line vote, with 36 Democrats voting against it and 22 voting for it. In the process, Democrats missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate the magnificence of a plan many Americans will have no choice but to enroll in.

Suburban beat-down: Depending on which economic indicators you like best, the economy is either getting better or worse. Whatever the case, Charlotte-area residents are still feeling the worst of it. In most recessions, urban and low-income workers take the biggest unemployment hit, but not in this one, says the Brookings Institute.

"In contrast to the last recession, unemployment has increased at nearly equal rates in cities and suburbs during this downturn," Brookings analysts wrote in a recent report.

Urban workers were only 0.9 percentage points more likely to be unemployed than suburban workers in May 2009, Brookings reported, and the Charlotte area is taking one of the toughest beatings in the nation. While overall unemployment in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord area in May was 11.9 percent, suburban unemployment for the same area was 13.5 percent, according to a Brookings study. That's the fourth worst among the country's 100 largest metro areas. Only Modesto, Bakersfield and Fresno, all cities in California, did worse. Suburban unemployment in the perpetually economically depressed Detroit area was a mere 12.5 percent, ranking it 10th and ahead of the Charlotte area. So if you can't find a job, don't get down. It's no reflection on you. Others can't either.

Hide the Kids: Earlier this year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman took a victory lap after stunning test score gains at some of Charlotte's most troubled schools. Ann Doss Helms at The Charlotte Observer recently wrote a bang-up exposé explaining what really happened. Bureaucrats are simply side-tracking kids who won't test well into alternative classes so they don't qualify to take tests. Thus they won't produce test scores that embarrass bureaucrats. As an added bonus, teachers and administrators get to meet their test score goals and qualify for bonus money. Helms put it more diplomatically.

"Garinger International actually had more students passing last year but saw pass rates soar because the pool was so much smaller," Helms wrote. "Last year, for instance, 88 took biology exams and 47 passed. This year, 40 took the test and 36 passed."

Bingo! A jump from a pass rate of 45 percent the year before to an 82-percent pass rate in a single year. And all this with fewer kids passing the test!

Your average eighth grader at a private school where they still teach math could have figured out how this miracle occurred with a quick glance at the numbers, but Gorman insisted to the Observer earlier this year that nothing was amiss, the paper reported.

"I can't give you the headline you want, that these numbers are wrong," Gorman told the paper when pressed about the sky-high test scores.

That means one of three things: Either Gorman can't do eighth-grade-level math, had so little interest in these kids that he didn't bother to review test data after what ranks as an educational miracle or he was hoping to deliberately deceive the public or cover up for principals who attempted to deliberately deceive the public.

Either way, CMS is once again slipping into old habits of hiding and obfuscating failure rather than attacking what isn't working head-on, which requires first admitting something isn't working. The big losers, as usual, are the kids, who get stuck in failing schools and failing programs.

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