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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

31
Years behind schedule, millions of dollars over budget, and riddled with 3,200  computer programming errors NC Tracks – the state’s new $486 million computer system for processing Medicaid checks – landed in the newspaper again.
 
The News & Observer reported the Department of Health and Human Services still has no plan to right the ship and clean up all the errors in the coming year.
 
And what did the head of IT at DHHS have to say?
 
He calmly congratulated his staff on NC Tracks’ ‘successful launch’ and announced their work is done.
 
It’s like Alice in Wonderland: Up is down, down is up, and the IT shop has disappeared down the rabbit hole – and it’s all a great success.

 

 

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13
Every child knows just before Christmas is the time to be ‘as good as you can be’ – so you might think after the mischief it’s been up to this year Congress would be rolling up its sleeves and planning to work straight through the holidays to pass the farm bill, a jobless benefits bill, the defense budget and confirm a new Federal Reserve Chairman – but you’d be dead wrong.
 
The House stops work tomorrow to head home and the Senate (which already took a week off earlier this month) will follow a few days later. In all, the two chambers will have worked 10 days each this month.
 
What are the chances they’ll be receiving ashes and switches for Christmas?

 

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11
So, according to the newspaper, a varmint in Fayetteville shanghaied two teenage girls, held them hostage for months, beat them, threatened to kill their families, raped them, turned them into prostitutes, videotaped them having sex then a high judge gave him 45 years in prison.
 
These days we’re civilized and enlightened but given some varmints’ meanness it sure makes you wonder whether folks in less enlightened times (when they held public hangings) understood varmints better than we do. 

 

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27
It wasn’t exactly subtle the other morning when the newspaper ran two stories side by side: One about a single mother who works all day and then works three additional jobs nights and weekends to make ends meet – and a second story about the Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority.
 
It turns out every year the Housing Authority’s board meets to set the director’s pay for the coming year – only there’s an odd fact: Going back years, there’s no record in the board’s minutes of how much the board voted to pay the director – so there’s no public record of the salary some pesky reporter might lay his hands on and publish in the newspaper.
 
Once, according to the News and Observer, the board ran into a problem because Congress put a limit on how much it could pay the Housing Director – a limit the board had long ago exceeded. But, somehow, the board sidestepped Congress and everything worked out fine until the other morning when a reporter showed up and asked why the head of the Raleigh Housing Authority was being paid more than the head of the Chicago Housing Authority.
 
That question must hit the director like a dose of cold water but it turned out the cat was out of the bag – the legislature had changed the law and the News and Observer had come across his salary in records in the state Treasurer’s office.
 
Of course the Chairman of the Board defended the director, saying the director was a wonderful, brilliant, exemplar of civic virtue who earned every penny he made – even if he was making more than the Governor. 
 
This is another chapter in a very old story:  A reasonable man will be a model of frugality for years when spending his own hard-earned money, but the moment he gets appointed to a board where he’s spending other people’s money frugality flies right out the window. The Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority is making $272,000 a year.
 
 
 
 

 

 

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22
Farmers are saying they’ve tried and tried but there’s no way on earth they can hire enough workers to pick the apples and cucumbers and sweet potatoes germinating in the fields so Congress had better get in gear and pass immigration reform jack-rabbit-quick to legalize undocumented immigrants (which is the farmers’ polite way of saying illegal immigrants).
 
Now it’s not clear whether there are just flat out no farm workers, period, or if there are just no farm workers as cheap as undocumented immigrants. But, either way, here’s an interesting fact: The big stick – the big argument – farmers laid on Congress to get it moving had nothing to do with wages.
 
The farmers said, pretty bluntly, to the Congressmen, Hispanics now outnumber African-Americans and you Republicans can either pass this bill or lose their votes. Which comes pretty close to saying, You can pass this bill and buy a lot of votes.
 
Which isn’t exactly Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
 
Ronald Reagan once joked, Watching politics behind the curtain is like watching civilization with its pants down.
 
They ought to carve the words in stone over the doorway Congress.
 
 

 

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21
The train wreck hit so unexpectedly and with such force that, after standing his ground through the opening chaos, the President retreated which turned out to be like pouring gas on the fire – the partisan bickering soared. And Obama’s poll numbers tanked. And now listening to the wise men in Washington that was all that mattered: The President’s poll numbers dropping and Republican poll numbers rising.
 
But beyond the ruins of Washington politics the demise of Obamacare may be a sign of a subtler miscalculation: Not too long ago, from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, Utopian (or, yes, Communist) governments filled rooms with geniuses who dutifully gave birth to Five-Year Plans and Ten-Year Plans and Great Leaps Forward which grey-faced apparatchiks, without pity or remorse, promulgated to build a workers' paradise – then they learned a terrible lesson: Government-run economies didn’t work. Geniuses, even with the best of intentions, were frail vessels when faced with the unexpected, the unseen, and the ghost in the machine.
 
President Obama, with all good intentions, started out with a vision of a kind of health care paradise and had his own rooms filled with geniuses who dutifully plan the first step down the yellow brick road – and now he finds himself scrambling to turn back the hands of the clock.
 
So perhaps the lesson to be learned from Obamacare’s rollout isn’t a three-point swing in a generic ballot question in a poll – it’s humility. And a reminder that geniuses are still no match for the ghost in the machine.
 

 

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20
The other night Gary and I were invited to dinner with a dozen learned scholars who for some unfathomable reason were curious to hear us trace the roots of the demise of modern politics.
 
And, of course, it was only a matter of time before I said the word ‘poll’ and as soon as I did one of the learned gentlemen politely but firmly allowed it sure sounded like I was describing an unsavory practice used by sleazy politicians to hoodwink the unsuspecting.
 
And, of course, he had a point.
 
But on the other hand, like a bottle of whiskey or a pistol, a poll is only as wicked as the hand of the man holding it.
 
Now the hard truth is a poll won’t tell you or me or Congressmen a single word about Truth. Not about the Risen Lord. Or Satan. Or the national debt blowing the economy to smithereens.
 
Like the rest of us sinners, each Congressman or Senator has to find the answers to those questions himself – though prayer is more helpful than most folks dream of.
 
Then Good Lord willing, after he’s found the answers, when he runs for office a Congressman only needs a poll to tell him one thing – how much Truth other people see so he can carry a torch into the shadows gripped by darkness and confusion.
 
That’s the theory.
 
But, of course, we live in a fallen world where politicians and murderers labor under the same curse – so more often than not the moment the pollster says, People want a balanced budget but they don’t want to cut spending on much of anything except foreign aid – temptation whispers.
 
And right then Truth flies out the window and the aspiring Congressman looks back at the pollster and smiles and says, Well, that’s exactly what I’m for.
 
 
 

 

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18
Up in the gilded halls of Congress the Tea Partiers went on a tear last month voting against Debt Ceiling increases and budgets that didn’t cut spending but the whole proposition of fighting it out with Obama seemed altogether too risky to the Pachyderm Republicans so after a fortnight they gave up the ghost and passed Obama’s bills. 
 
Then, suddenly, the pillars of Republican Washington – like Mitch McConnell – found themselves facing primaries where folks like the Senate Conservatives Fund (which was founded by Senator Jim DeMint) were on the other side.
 
That was a serious problem.
 
So the Pachyderms ran up the distress flag and Big Business, loaded with millions of its own, charged to the rescue.
 
We want, the President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, a “more manageable Republican Party.”
 
Translation: We like Congressmen who vote for corporate subsidies and these Tea Partiers don’t look too ‘manageable.’
 
Then the Grand Vizier of the National Republican Senatorial Committee piped up and added ‘getting a General Election candidate who can win is the only thing we care about.’
 
Translation: Forget virtue. Principle. And spending cuts. We mean to win. And the end justifies the means.
 
Now the Tea Partiers may get buried under an avalanche of big business cash but, judging by their enemies, not being ‘manageable’ may not be a vice.
 

 

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15
The row started, oddly enough, with a single email. Which got answered. And counter answered. Then, boom, there was a full scale war of emails going on (with me watching copies flying back and forth) that lasted two days.  
 
At first I thought my two friends were arguing over who to support in the Republican Primary for U.S. Senate – but then it struck me what they were really arguing over was two different wars – and which war was more important.
 
Friend #1 figured the war that matters is whipping Obama while Friend #2 figured before whipping Obama the Tea Party had to, first, whip the Pachyderm Republicans in Washington who keep making deals with Obama.
 
Now, make no mistake: Friend #1 doesn’t like deals with Obama. And he wants to cut spending too. But not bad enough to shut down the government and risk losing the next election.
 
Friend #2’s view is simpler. To him all that spending is wrong. Period. Just like adultery or bank robbery is wrong. And he’s not about to go along with adultery just to win an election. He’s also a bit like Davy Crockett standing on the wall at the Alamo – he figures he’s dead right and doesn’t mind taking on a whole army to prove it.
 
In a way this whole argument’s the return of a very old fight I saw the first time back in the mid-1970s when we were trying to elect Ronald Reagan.
 
Back then, in all of Washington, we could only find two Republican Senators who’d endorse Reagan for President. Two. That was it. The rest of Republican Washington lined up behind Gerald Ford. So, in a way, the Tea Party – which, with Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, has three Senators – is way ahead of where we were then.
 
Also, back then, everybody from liberal Democrats to mainstream Republicans let fly saying Reagan was too radical and too uncompromising and too unbending and if he ran he’d sink the Republican Party. And, in a way, that was partly right: He did run. And didn’t win. And Gerald Ford did lose to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But, then, it turned out we weren’t in the Alamo at all. Four years later, Reagan ran again and started winning elections faster than General Sherman tore through Georgia.
 
Who knows if history will repeat itself with a Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, but the Tea Party is a legitimate political movement – its ideas are popular within the Republican Party. And it may have to whip the Washington Republicans first.
 
Reagan did.

 

 

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14
 
The poor Tea Partiers have been getting pounded from pillar to post by the Washington political bosses and reporters and I’ll grant there’s a streak of oddness in the Tea Partiers but they also possess virtues like fighting for lost causes and having the courage of their convictions and besides, when you get right down to it, the idea Americans could do with a few trillion dollars less government over the next decade isn’t really all that unusual or radical.
 
But, that said, according to the bosses the Tea Partiers lack the one big virtue that trumps all the lesser virtues like courage and sincerity: Pragmatism.
 
Now that is a very old form of devilment.
 
The bosses don’t say the Tea Partiers are wrong. They don’t even say they disagree with the Tea Partiers. They just say they’re impractical. Which, in the end, means pretty much the same as wrong – because it means the Tea Partiers should stop fighting for spending cuts. Because, otherwise, Republicans risk losing the next election – which is impractical.
 
Now there was a time in America when we admired politicians who stood up for what they believed in and let the chips fall where they may. But, today, that’s no longer practical. When Obama says, I won’t negotiate on spending cuts – practical means saying, Yes, sir. And passing a budget with no spending cuts.
 
And that’s it in a nutshell.
 
When a Washington Republican says he’s practical he’s saying, Boys, talking about spending cuts is fine. Heck, I agree with you. But having a fight with President Obama over cuts? Forget it. I like serving in Congress and I might not get reelected.

 

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