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Entries for June 2010

30
Back in 2003 two enterprising ladies from the mountains (from the Hamlet of Sparta) went into the business of providing care to Medicaid patients. Seven years later a judge in the mountains put them out of business and sent them to jail for four years – because the two ladies had hoo-dooed Secretary Lanier Cansler’s department out of $622,000.
 
But here’s what’s odd: Secretary Cansler’s Department has all kinds of auditors and investigators and independent contractors scrutinizing Medicaid providers but, somehow, for over four years the ladies managed to fool them all and bill the state for dead people and people who lived hundreds of miles away.
 
Now, it’s easy to see how a state auditor could slip and approve ten or twenty or maybe even a hundred fraudulent claims – but how about 15,833?
 
So how much trouble did Secretary Lanier Cansler have explaining this eye-popping statistic – hardly any. He barely broke a sweat. The Houdini of Cabinet Secretaries announced to the press he was “thrilled,” just thrilled two skizzlers had been brought to justice and then waxed so eloquent about the evils of Medicaid fraud no one even thought to ask how two ladies from Sparta, North Carolina fooled his department 15,833 times.
 

 

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30
These days we old-fashioned southerners in Raleigh are getting an education about Italians as the war between the Tedescos and Margiottas (who’ve taken over the School Board) and our local ‘Progressives’ (who’re livid at the Italians for ending busing) roars along.
 
About the only person in town sounding reasonable these days is the News and Observer humorist Barry Saunders who’s having a field day poking fun at both sides.
 
The other night the ‘Progressives’ got together and held a camp meeting and compared new Italian School Board Czar, John Tedesco, to the Klu Klux Klan – then in the newspaper the next morning Tedesco shot back, producing absolute proof he’s not a KKKer, saying he had ‘a few girlfriends who are African-Americans and Latinos.’
 
That tickled Saunders so much he commended Tedesco for his “rainbow coalition love life” – a touch of humor lost on a dour ‘Progressive’ lady who said Tedesco’s claim was “degrading to Black and Hispanic women.”
 
Next, somehow, a Duke University professor jumped into the fray trying to explain the history of race relations in the South, a mystery which mostly left the Italians puzzled and madder still, provoking Tedesco to send a sort of epistle to the Reverend Nancy Petty (an ally of the professor’s) of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.
 
Tedesco’s epistle had him siding with everyone from Henry David Thoreau to the ‘beloved Dr. Martin Luther King’ – then he declared he’s got a ‘heart full of love’ and invited Reverend Nancy to coffee.
 
So, suddenly, we’ve got Baptists, Progressives, the newspaper, the TV station, a phalanx of  Italians and  a Duke professor all going at it hammer and tongs and any old-fashioned southerner with a lick of sense is laying low.
 
Back when this rhubarb started I figured our local ‘Progressives’ would make short shrift of the Italians, but now I’m beginning to suspect I underestimated the Italians and, instead, they’re carrying the banner for a legion of highly militarized wanderers from New York and New Jersey who’ve settled in the Raleigh suburbs. We’ve never seen anything like this before in Raleigh; the Italians have brought a whole new kind of politics to Dixieland.
 

 

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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30
Elaine Marshall has to make a tough choice: raise money from Raleigh lobbyists or not.
 
She already took flak for it in the primary. Her defense: It wasn’t much money, and the donors were old friends.
 
Now that she’s won, it could be a lot more money. And a lot more flak.
 
If she were running for reelection, she couldn’t legally take the money. And the proposed Senate ethics bill prohibits raising money from people you regulate.  As Secretary of State, she regulates not just lobbyists, but ALL corporations in North Carolina.
 
Some people in Raleigh view this as a fundamental conflict in her decision to stay as Secretary of State and run for Senate.
 
The upside for her is that, no matter what happens in November, she has a job.
 
The downside is the scrutiny that will come.
 
She got a taste of it by attending the Democratic Party fundraiser this week. Her campaign needs to recognize there’s more trouble where that came from.

 

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30
Richard Burr better hope that debate performances have little impact on the November election – or get better fast.
 
A lawyer friend (I’m not sure if she’s a Democrat or Republican) went to the Burr-Marshall debate last week at the N.C. Bar Association.
 
Her take: Marshall was stronger than she expected – and Burr much, much weaker.
 
In fact, his performance – smiling, aw-shucking and not saying much substantive – reminded her of George W. Bush. That is, clueless.

 

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29
The Department of Health and Human Services has to be my favorite part of state government – it’s the perfect blend of bungling, chicanery and politics all built on a foundation of good intentions.
 
Over the past year Secretary Lanier Cansler – who’s sort of a combination of Fagan and Houdini – has been telling legislators that somewhere between 45% and 85% (the number seems to grow every time Cansler speaks) of the Medicaid Home Care patients are chiselers and if he cuts their care he’ll save taxpayers millions.
 
Next, Cansler parlayed all that talk of fraud and savings into a deal with legislators that allowed him to pass out a $25 million no bid contract to one of his former clients (from back in the days when he was a lobbyist).
 
 But, a year later, after pouring millions into studies and reviews and computer programs it doesn’t look like Cansler’s cut a single chiseler.
 
Now, those are examples of bungling and chicanery. Here’s where politics comes in.
 
Since no one’s been cut some folks are beginning to wonder if Cansler’s numbers are any more reliable than, say, President Obama’s projections of how many jobs his ‘Stimulus Plans’ would create and if his goal all along wasn’t to get that no bid contract past legislators.
 
Plus, money’s tight and some legislators are getting fidgety because Cansler’s department’s spending is going up not down like he promised.
 
So Cansler’s in a bit of a fix. But he’s come up with a solution. He’s gone over to the legislature and said he needs to change the definition of who is sick – which, explained simply, means he’s rewriting the rules to make fewer patients eligible for care. Which means he can deliver the cuts he promised. Which means, hopefully, legislators will stop asking him pesky questions.
 
But if, as Cansler claims, 85% of the patients are chiselers who aren’t eligible (or who are getting care they don’t need) now – why on earth does he need to change the rules (to make fewer patients eligible) to deliver the cuts he promised?
 
Anyway, Cansler baited the hook, dropped it in the water and Democratic legislators bit. Which gets Cansler out of one mess but brings us back to bungling.
 
Because Cansler ignored a key fact.
 
There are three levels of care for elderly and handicapped patients on Medicaid.
 
There is ‘In Home Care’ – where people stay in their homes and nurses’ aides come to help them for an hour or two a day, which is the least expensive form of care.
 
The other two levels are what’s called ‘institutional’ care.
 
The first are Adult Care Homes – which are what most of us think of as ‘Nursing Homes’ but aren’t; they provide care to patients in institutions whose infirmities are, comparably, less severe. Adult Care Homes are the next step up the ladder from In Home Care and, naturally, cost more than Home Care.
 
And, finally, there is full-fledged Nursing Home Care – for folks who need a lot of care which, of course, is a lot more expensive than either Home Care or Adult Home Care.
 
Now when Cansler cuts care to 22,000 In Home Care patients on the bottom rung of the Medicaid latter what happens?
 
The answer is some of those patients – who won’t be able to stay at home without care – will move up the ladder into Adult Care Homes. How can that be? Because, oddly, under North Carolina law it is easier for a patient to get into an Adult Care Home than it is to qualify for less expensive In Home Care.
 
Bottom line: Cansler promised legislators his latest plan is going to save $45 million. But if, say, half of the In Home Care patients he’s cutting move up the ladder to Adult Care Homes it’s going to cost the state $91 million; plus it’s going to cost the counties (who help pay for Adult Care Homes) a matching $91million – so to save taxpayers $45 million in one program Cansler may cost taxpayers $182 million in another, which brings us back to politics.
 
Because, at least, Cansler will have gotten himself off the hook and no pesky legislators will be asking, Why haven’t you cut those chiselers you keep telling us about?
 

 

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29
Back in the old days in political campaigns there were usually three ‘voices’ talking to voters. Today there’re more voices than anyone can count.
 
For instance, back in 1984 when Jesse Helms ran against Jim Hunt the three ‘Voices’ voters heard were Helms,’ Hunt’s,  and the press. Twenty-six years later we’re in the middle of another campaign and with the blossoming of cable TV, News Talk Radio and the Internet no one can count how many ‘Voices’ are shouting at the top of their lungs.
 
The rules of political debate have changed too.
 
Say what you will about traditional journalism – and it had it’s critics – it also had traditions and ground rules.  If, say, the News and Observer ran a story criticizing Helms – it also asked him to comment and, generally, reported whatever he said.
 
Today the new ‘Voices’ have thrown out the rules.
 
In the old days we had traditional newspapers and in big cities, like New York, a handful of more popular (and entertaining) tabloids like the New York Post owned by Rupert Murdock.
 
Then in a moment of inspiration Murdoch figured out if his readers loved tabloids in print they’d love them even more on TV and Fox News was born – with the added spice of a partisan slant which has left conservatives addicted to the ‘No Spin Zone.’
 
MSNBC – taking the opposite political slant – followed Fox and now Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Keith Olberman and Rachael Maddow  have all become prominent ‘Voices’ of  conservative and liberal politics and tabloid TV has grown so powerful it’s redefined the  standards – and language – of political debate.
 
Only when the debate rolls over onto the Internet – where folks are free to say whatever strikes them and say it anonymously – the result sounds like a million Sean Hannity’s or Keith Olberman’s gone wild, shouting at the top of their lungs.
 
For example, the other day in Congress a grandstanding Democrat stood up on the House floor and used his 5 minutes on C-Span to throw a match on a powder keg by ripping into Rush Limbaugh – that sent a shock wave rippling through the ether followed by a roar of outrage on the Internet.  Consider these responses posted anonymously on one pro-Limbaugh blog:
 
‘These S*#! for brains Democratic Congressmen can’t get beyond Rush.’
 
“Jim Moran” – another Democratic Congressman – “is getting more and more senile every day.”
 
“El Rushbo is public enemy No. 1 of the leftist socialist slime.”
 
“The Dumbocrats hate dissent almost as much as they hate our constitutional republic.”
 
And that’s a snapshot of the living, breathing world of politics today: Candidates shouting.  Voices roaring on cable TV.  And the voices of a million Americans roaring on the Internet.  It’s a no holds barred freewheeling democratic symphony of free speech.
 
And it’s also a long way from the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
 

 

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29
Conventional wisdom is that runoffs are hurtful. Not always.
 
Elaine Marshall’s runoff helped her. Helped her especially with her most important target right now: the national fundraising community.
 
If Cunningham hadn’t called for a runoff, doubts would have lingered about Marshall’s electability.
 
As in: “She couldn’t even get 40 percent against a first-time candidate.”

Instead, the story in Washington now is that she pulled off a surprising and convincing victory against an attractive challenger.
 
For now, the money race is her most important campaign.

 

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28
Thirty five years ago when our current Mayor Charles Meeker migrated from Washington to Raleigh our local “Progressive’ politicians – and the Mayor joined their camp – were laboring mightily to give birth to the ‘New South.’
 
A generation later the ‘Progressives’ had triumphed: The old fogey southern WASP’s had been routed and whatever virtues the Old South had possessed were banished and gone with the wind and General Lee, if he was remembered at all in the public schools, had been politically corrected from the hero of Appomattox to a villain living in an unenlightened age.
 
Then a few more years passed – almost another generation – and a new wave of wanderers (Italian’s with names like Margiotta and Tedesco) migrated from New York and New Jersey to Dixieland and, suddenly, today,  after his decades of toil and sacrifice the Mayor is watching the ‘New South’ passing away in front of his eyes and he isn’t happy about it one bit – so the other morning usually unflappable Mayor let fly in the newspaper blasting the “outsiders” who’ve taken over the School Board, sputtering, “We have people who are not from the area, don’t share our values, who are the majority on the School Board.”  Maybe, the next time Mayor Meeker runs for reelection his slogan, like Jesse Helms in 1972, will be: “He’s one of us.”
 
 
Meantime, over in the 13th District in their Primary Republicans just had a debate over the same question, with Raleigh native Bernie Reeves running against a newcomer who’d settled in Wake Forest two years ago.  So, curiously, we have a long-time ‘New South’ liberal and an old-line conservative voicing the same complaint – an oddity pundits in the anthropology departments at UNC and NCSU will no doubt soon be dissecting as a sign there’s some sort of mysterious new sociological force – more powerful than gravity or electro-magnetism – loose in the suburbs.
 
At one of the many demonstrations after the newly arrived Italians captured the school board and made short shrift of the hallmark of the ‘New South’ – busing – an upset lady lamented, ‘You’re turning back the clock to the days of Jim Crow.’ 
 
But Mayor Meeker seems to have put his finger on what’s really happening: The School Board isn’t turning back the hands of the clock – the clock is moving irresistibly forward and we’re watching the ‘Post New South Era’ being born with the Italians relegating the New South WASPs like Mayor Meeker to the dustbin of history…alongside the tattered memories of Pickett’s Charge.
 

 

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28
The Powers That Be on the WakeCounty school board are once again demonstrating their fatal flaw: They pick needless fights.
 
What is the sense of this fight over changing the name of EnloeHigh School?
 
Clearly, it’s payback – and spite.
 
If Margiotta and Tedesco were bigger men – and real leaders – they would let protests and criticism roll off their backs. Clearly, they are too small to do that.
 
Instead, they give their enemies more ammunition and more incentive.
 
Mark my words, again: Margiotta, Tedesco & Co. are riding for a big fall.

 

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26
General Stanley McChrystal and his hard-driving team probably didn’t say anything about their civilian bosses that military leaders haven’t always said about their civilian bosses.
 
McChrystal & Co. just said it in front of a reporter. From Rolling Stone, no less.
 
No wonder these guys can’t catch Osama.
 
McChrystal never quite hit me right. Like yon Cassus, he has a lean and hungry look. He eats one meal a day and runs seven or 10 or 12 miles a day or something.
 
Now, I’ve been a runner for more years than I want to count. But there’s a point where fitness crosses over into obsession.
 
The real surprise in reading the Rolling Stone article was that McChrystal voted FOR Obama for President. What would he have said if he hadn’t?

 

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