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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

04
A year ago when my health insurance went up I grumbled and blamed Blue Cross. Then, this year, my new bill arrived and the premium went up again even more. But this time I didn’t blame Blue Cross. I laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of one man: Barack Obama.
 
In bygone days, when George Bush wanted to invade Iraq Colin Powell warned, Sure, you can whip Iraq, but that’s not the problem – the problem is after you whip Iraq you own it. What happens then?
 
Back in 2009, someone should have warned President Obama, Sure, you can pass Obamacare, but the problem is after you do you ‘own’ healthcare – every premium increase is going to be your premium increase.  
 
The President moved heaven and earth and won but now, five years later, it hasn’t turned out the way he expected: Every time a premium goes up he gets blamed. Which proves the old proverb, Be careful what you wish for…

 

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01
A doctor is a simple creature. He measures achievement by a straightforward standard – the Hippocratic Oath.
 
A businessman also measures success by a simple standard – money, income and outgo.
 
But a bureaucrat has the misfortune of breathing and walking in the murky world of insider politics. Which is like no other world on earth.
 
Take Medicaid.
 
State Bureaucrats who work for state government run the program, but Washington pays most (roughly 2/3rds) of the bills. 
 
And, awhile back, some well-intentioned soul, I guess in Congress, decided if the bureaucrats in Raleigh mismanaged Medicaid and wasted Washington’s money the state should pay the money back. 
 
Which sounded fine.  It sounded like ‘accountability’ in the normal world.
 
But, in politics, ‘accountability’ led to an unintended consequence. 
 
The other day the News & Observer reported the State Auditor had reviewed a sample of 280 Medicaid claims and found $439,000 in overpayments.
 
That doesn’t sound too bad – but, in fact, last year the state paid 88 million Medicaid claims. So if an audit of 280 claims turned up $440,000 in waste – what on earth would an audit of all the claims turn up?
 
The answer is no one has a clue. Not the State Auditor. Or the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Or the Governor. 
 
And there’s a simple reason why:  That well-intended law someone in Washington passed years ago.
 
Follow the math.
 
If an audit (of the entire Medicaid program) found, say, $500 million in waste the state would be out its third of the money – $167,000 million. And it’d probably never see that money again.
 
But, in addition, the state would have to repay Washington for its 2/3rds of the money – $333 million.
 
So, in all, the state’s out a total of $500 million.
 
On the other hand, if the state does nothing, and doesn’t look for any waste, it doesn’t have to repay Washington a penny. It’s still out $167 million. But that beats being out $500 million. And that’s where the law of unintended consequences comes into play.
 
Naturally, no bureaucrat in state government is set on rooting out the waste in Medicaid.

 

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31
I don’t know why but I’ve become absorbed by the machinations of bureaucrats – it’s a bit like watching Alice in Wonderland: Down is up, and up is down.
 
Take hard work.
 
Businessmen work hard to get ahead.
 
Students work hard for better grades.
 
But who joins a bureaucracy to work hard?
 
The most prominent bureaucracies in North Carolina are the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. DHHS has the most problems. Because it’s biggest. But lately, with the Duke coal ash spill, DENR’s been in the most trouble.
 
For several years, on behalf of a client, I’ve been studying how DENR works with corporations (in this case Alcoa) and it’s not as dull as it sounds.
 
DENR’s supposed to protect the environment but how the bureaucrats go about it depends on their individual wants and needs which brings us back to hard work.
 
The bureaucrats, basically, don’t go out and find pollution. Instead they tell a corporation like Alcoa or Duke Power, File a report, tell us if you’ve polluted, and what you’re doing about it.
 
The corporation hires lawyers who file hundreds or thousands of pages of reports that primarily say, We haven’t polluted very much and none of the pollution is a threat to anyone, so we simply propose to monitor it.
 
After that, corporate lawyers go on filing reports for years saying, We’re still monitoring – and DENR bureaucrats stamp the reports and file them and that’s it.
 
No one breaks a sweat.
 
Of course, sometimes, an unfortunate bureaucrat runs into a trickier problem.
 
A couple of years ago a group of corporations who own dams on rivers had to renew their ‘State Water Quality Certificates,’ so they all got together with the bureaucrats at DENR and more or less said, Let’s all agree this isn’t going to be a hardship for anyone.
 
That was civil enough but the bureaucrats looking at the businessmen, right off, spotted an unspoken undercurrent. Duke Energy and Progress Energy had plenty of friends in places like the Governor’s office and the legislature and, of course, no bureaucrat in his right mind wants to get on the wrong side of a powerful politician – everyone of those corporations got their ‘Water Quality Certificate.’
 
And that’s, more or less, how DENR’s worked for years.
 
The bureaucrats survived peacefully by not offending powerful politicians and, beyond that, avoided over-exertion. It all worked out happily until, as almost always happens, there was a day of reckoning.
 
The coal ash spill.
 
Suddenly the bureaucrats found themselves being slammed in newspapers and on the six o’clock news and found themselves answering awkward questions at press conferences. They were in a media maelstrom.
 
Then a worse blow fell: Subpoenas started arriving on their desks from the U.S. Attorney.  
And, in all likelihood, an even worse blow is in the works: The politicians, who they’ve been accommodating for years, are going to say, Don’t blame us. If the bureaucrats had done their job we wouldn’t have had a spill.

 

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28
About a month ago Greg Brannon, dead-set on getting elected to the Senate,  was trying to build momentum and gain ground on front-runner Thom Tillis then, out of a clear blue sky, two investors sued Brannon for flamoozling them out of $250,000 and a jury ruled he had to repay the money.
 
That opened a window for Reverend Mark Harris, who promptly released a poll showing he’d surged past Brannon and was now the one gaining on Tillis then a reporter pointed out a flaw in Harris’ claim – he’d polled the wrong voters.  
 
Everything looked rosy for Thom Tillis until the roof fell in on him too: The press reported he’d claimed he’d graduated from the University of Maryland – when he hadn’t.     
 
Tillis’ campaign changed two websites, changed his official legislative page, and the front runner told voters where he went to college didn’t matter but, then, before the smoke cleared, former Representative John Rhodes slammed Tillis with a broadside:  Tillis, he said, had violated state ethics laws by appointing political donors to the UNC Board.
 
Politicians appointing donors to the UNC Board is nothing new – but Tillis had made an unusual mistake.  Trying to smooth out a rough patch that had landed one of his appointees in the soup, Tillis had emailed House Republicans explaining just how much money his nominee had donated. You don’t see that every day.
 
Then Rhodes (who Tillis had defeated in a primary back in 2006) fired another broadside:  Tillis, he said, was a paintballer.
 
Holding a canister of green paintballs, Rhodes passed out two letters to reporters:  One from a farmer near Cornelius, asking Tillis to reimburse him $200 for paintballing his barn. And the other from Tillis back to the farmer, saying, Yes, he was a paintballer but he was innocent in this case.
 
It was better than a reality show.

 

 

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26
Charlotte minister Mark Harris, who’s running for Senate, hit a rough patch when he released a poll showing him trailing Thom Tillis by 11 points – an inconvenient fact his political aide, Tom Perdue, brushed aside by saying, “The fact that we are down actually means we are way up.”
 
Saying down is up may sound odd, but in politics, when the news is bad, spreading a little confusion can’t make it worse and may make it better.
 
Of course, Harris also had a subtler reason for releasing his poll.  He’d asked voters a series of questions about Thom Tillis’ ‘foibles’ like the “sex scandal”  in Tillis’ office (when his Chief of Staff had an affair with a lobbyist) and Tillis appointing his donors to the UNC Board. Then Harris had asked voters a second time whether they’d vote for him or Tillis.
 
Naturally, Harris’ prospects brightened:  For one moment, at least in that poll, he was soaring with the wind beneath his wings.
 
But then the ground shifted beneath his feet: The press had spotted a peculiar number in the poll – according to Harris, 12% of the folks who vote in Republican primaries are African-Americans and that’s never (or, at least, never in memory) happened. 
 
The Reverend had polled the wrong people.
 
It was a tough day for Mark Harris but look on the bright side: There’re better ways to run for office. He doesn’t have to learn one mistake at a time.

 

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10
It’s tough to stay a step ahead of a smart bureaucrat.   
 
About a week ago I wrote an article explaining how what a bureaucrat wants (for himself) and what’s best for public education isn’t always the same thing – and used Senator Phil Berger’s ‘Read to Achieve’ bill as an example.
 
What Senator Berger wanted was to teach third graders to read – so he passed a bill to end social promotions, saying a third grader had to learn to read before being promoted to fourth grade. Which sounded simple. But didn’t sit too well with the bureaucrats who run education. 
 
Because what bureaucrats love is job security – which means they avoid making controversial decisions like the plague.  And Senator Berger’s bill said one thing loud and clear: They were going to have to make a lot of tough decisions – like making third graders attend summer reading boot camps.
 
Well, the bureaucrats side-stepped the whole problem.   It was sheer brilliance.  They couldn’t repeal Senator Berger’s law – so they gutted it. By simply making the tests easier.
 
As a result, overnight, 11,000 third graders – who couldn’t read under the old standard – can now read!
 
Tammy Howard, the head of testing at the Department of Public Instruction, even told newspaper reporters with a straight face “This is not lowering standards.
 
Of course, that’s a non-sequitur. But, still, it’s worth remembering the next time the bureaucrats at DPI troop over to the legislature asking for more money.

 

 

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05
These days just about every politician in Raleigh is saying (as often as he can) how he wants to spend more money on schools and give teachers raises. 
 
But what if the root of the problem with schools isn’t money. 
 
This is a bit simple but the prime movers in public education are: Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Teachers Union. 
 
Now, the politicians have so many problems on their hands – budgets, Medicaid, Obamacare, and coal ash spills – that education only gets a piece of their time. 
 
A politician’s also got to fret over getting reelected, so if giving public school teachers tenure is popular he’s likely to be for it regardless of whether it’s good or bad education policy. 
 
On the other hand, bureaucrats in Raleigh and at local school boards work on running education day in and day out. And the teachers union wouldn’t even exist if there weren’t public schools.
 
Now, like most groups, bureaucrats have their own goals. A bureaucrat aims to keep his job, earn a comfortable wage, receive a raise or promotion now and then, and retire with a state pension.  A bureaucrat does not like making decisions.  Making decisions can cause controversy.  Which gives birth to risk. Which can land a bureaucrat in the soup.
 
The teachers union also has its own goals:  The union has members. And it wants to get them raises. Now, raises for teachers sounds fine but it turns out there’s a glitch there too. 
 
Republican legislators support ‘Merit Pay’ – a plan that pays good teachers more than not-so-good teachers. That sounds fine too.  But it doesn’t fit in with the teachers unions’ goal. Because poor teachers pay the union dues just like good teachers do .
 
Not long ago the State Legislature passed a bill so every local school board could give 25% of its teachers – the best teachers – bonuses.
 
You might think that would have been greeted with joy – but, instead it was greeted with horror.
 
Suddenly education bureaucrats were faced with making thousands of decisions – they had to choose who were the best teachers. And making those decisions didn’t appeal to them at all. It was going to be controversial.  And risk was sure to follow.
  
The teachers union wasn’t happy either.  Some of its members – the best teachers who got bonuses – would be happy.  But 75% of its members were going to be unhappy and the union couldn’t very well support a plan that left most of its members mad.
 
Awhile back Senate Leader Phil Berger passed a bill that said third graders had to learn to read before they could be promoted to fourth grade.  He also provided funds to help students who were struggling and, to insure flexibility, he left implementing the plan to local school boards. 
 
Again, the bureaucrats reacted with horror.
 
Deciding whether 3rd graders could read properly entailed more decisions and this time those decisions were bound to make parents unhappy.  
 
The local bureaucrats bucked the plan up to the state bureaucrats (at the Department of Public Instruction) who twisted and turned and created a plan so unwieldy that, when their first battery of tests landed on 3rd graders heads with a thud, parents’ screams could be heard all the way to Raleigh. 
 
The Superintendent of Public Instruction got so rattled she announced Senator Berger had made a terrible mistake and declared 3rd graders should be promoted whether they could read or not.
 
So it looks like – to improve schools – we’ve got to get the bureaucrats and unions out of the business of deciding policy – because their goals and what’s best for schools are two different things. 
 
Otherwise, we’ll simply end up running in circles.

 

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03
The other day I was feeling a little down and blue about Republicans’ foibles then thanks to Democratic Chairman Randy Vollmer the sun broke through the clouds.
 
Awhile back, the Democratic Party had to replace its Executive Director after he was accused of sexual harassment. Last week, Chairman Randy Vollmer fired the replacement and offered the job to a gentleman who’s been accused of sexual harassment not once but twice.
 
Mr. Vollmer’s choice, Ben Chavis, settled the first sexual harassment case while serving as Executive Director of the NAACP; he settled a second case, later, while serving as a Nation of Islam minister at a New York mosque.
 
Of course, the more astute Democrats saw right off Vollmer was on the wrong track – but they were rebuffed by a broadside claiming they were ‘disrespecting’ Ben Chavis’ Civil Rights legacy – which usually trumps anything in Democratic Party politics. But not this time. Wiser heads scuttled Vollmer’s choice and, in the end, all the Chairman accomplished was proving an old bit of political folk wisdom:  No matter how many mistakes Republicans make, if we just have a little patience, the Democrats will screw up worse.

 

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28
The other day when one of the bureaucrats over at the Department of Health and Human Services slipped up and made a mistake, the blame landed squarely on Secretary Aldona Wos’ shoulders. And Wos landed back on the front page of the newspaper again.
 
Secretary Wos had a tough year. And Governor McCrory ought to cut her a break. She’s suffered enough.   Out of old-fashioned kindness the Governor ought to give her his blessing to return home to the happy life she led before she accepted the worst job in North Carolina.
 
Then, when he replaces her, the Governor ought to pick the person he likes least on earth – and allow them the pleasure of heading the Department of Health and Human Services.

 

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25
Immigration, the newspaper says, is ‘bedeviling” Congresswoman Renee Ellmers. It’s also bedeviling Speaker John Boehner. And half the Republicans in Washington. 
 
It’s a knotty problem.
 
Part of the politicians have decided it’s best to send every single illegal immigrant back to where they came from – but no one’s quite sure how to go about rounding up 10 to 20 million people. 
 
Another group of politicians, who’re mostly Democrats, want to make all the illegal immigrants citizens. 
 
And, as  a sort of compromise, a third group of politicians propose to let the illegal immigrants stay here but not make them citizens.
 
It gets more complex.
 
Groups like the Farm Bureau say they desperately need workers and without illegal immigrants the crops won’t get picked.
 
And, to make it more complex still, amid all this hollering, no one’s answered a couple of questions.
 
For instance, how, in the middle of a recession with high unemployment, is there a lack of workers? Is there really no one to hire? Or are the farmers simply looking for cheap immigrant labor?
 
Farmers have given their answer to that question loud and clear.
 
But isn’t there an independent study by Harvard or North Carolina State that proves it’s a stone cold fact unemployed workers won’t touch a job on a farm with a ten foot pole?
 
There’s another question.
 
Out of the ten million or so illegal immigrants living here now there must be at least one who’s a saint. Or genius. 
 
Should we deport saints and geniuses?  Or let them stay here?
 
There’re also bound to be some thugs and gang members among the illegals. If we make everyone a citizen, what do we do about them?
 
The politicians are treating illegal immigrants as a class which is a lot simpler than treating people as individuals – but wouldn’t it be more practical to ship the ne’re-do-wells home and allow the saints and geniuses to stay?
 
Sorting out the good guys and bad guys would be another complex problem but, instead of answering tough questions, all we hear is politicians howling: Keep ‘em all here. Send ‘em all home.

 

 

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