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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

25
With thick smoke clouds billowing out of the Capitol it’s hard to see who’s winning the latest war in Washington – plus, it isn’t a simple us versus them war: It’s a three tribe melee (with two camps of Republicans fighting Obama and each other at the same time).
 
At first, a couple of weeks ago, it looked like Chief Boehner of the largest Republican tribe was about to work out a deal with Obama to fund Obamacare and avoid a government shutdown – but then the second Republican camp (a small but fearless tribe of conservatives) threw a monkey wrench into the works.
 
The Republican Chief then reversed course which, of course, didn’t sit well with the President – who, it turns out, is a match for both the conservatives in fearlessness and Boehner in cunning.
 
Suddenly, the Republican Chief found himself under attack from both sides. He’d send a trial balloon floating over toward the Obama camp which the President would shoot down, saying, I’m not budging; then the Chief would try his hand in his own Republican Caucus, explaining, Look, Obama’s not going to give an inch. He knows if the government shuts down we’ll be blamed.
 
That homily fell on deaf ears, too – showing Boehner little more empathy than Obama had, the conservatives more or less said nobody had ever won a fight by running away.
 
Now, all that said, right in the middle of this melee, there is one thing all the tribes agree on: A government shutdown is not a good idea. After all, it means Senators and Congressmen won’t get paid. And all three camps also agree paying soldiers and sailors makes sense – so, while a sergeant’s fighting in Afghanistan, back home his wife isn’t wondering how she’s going to make ends meet at the end of the month.
 
It’s not hard to understand a conservative saying, As a matter of conscience I can’t vote to fund Obamacare.
 
Or to understand Obama saying, And as a matter of conscience I can’t let you not fund Obamacare.
 
But it’s hard to see either saying, I can’t agree to pay soldiers and policemen and to care for the infirmed.
 
So why isn’t someone – anyone – in Washington saying, Let’s fund the things we agree on (which amount to trillions of dollars) then fight it out later over the rest.
 
It’s one of those odd mysteries.
 

 

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24
A few days ago I wrote how Secretary Aldona Wos, who’d landed in the briar patch, would be wise to step up and start telling her side of the story.
 
Last Friday she did.
 
Now, listening to Dr. Wos is interesting. One moment she’s skating effortlessly across a sheet of rhetorical ice using aphorisms explaining how she’s being “aggressive” tackling problems, and how she’s diligently tackling problems “head on,” and faithfully undertaking a “herculean task” – but then she can stop right in the middle of the interview, change directions, abandon abstract homilies, and explain the specific reasons behind regulating the width of a hospital room door.
 
When the reporter asked Wos why she’d hired two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign aides (and paid them salaries of $85,000 and $87,500) she pirouetted over the ice saying how both young men are wonderful and intelligent and truly gifted and how she only wished she could have paid them more.
 
But the real question here is whether the two young men are worth the salaries they’re being paid and, since Secretary Wos decided what to pay them, was her judgment correct? 
 
I don’t know how much Governor McCrory paid Ricky Diaz or Matt McKillip to work for his campaign, but let’s assume he had a similar high opinion of their talents and paid them a similar salary.
 
Secretary Wos could have explained, The Governor’s campaign paid Ricky Diaz $80,000 (or whatever the actual amount was) and I thought he did a good job. So I offered him $85,000 to work for me.
 
Or she might have said (hypothetically), After I hired Ricky Diaz, he reorganized the press office at DHHS and cut its budget $500,000 which is more than his salary.
 
Or she might have said (again, hypothetically), Ricky Diaz had three other job offers for similar salaries – so I believe the salary I paid was fair.
 
Those answers would have given people who were scratching their heads wondering about Dr. Wos’ judgment something to get their teeth into – as opposed to saying they’re wonderful boys.
 

 

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19
No matter how many hours she works each day or how hard she tries Aldona Wos can’t seem to catch a break.
 
Almost as soon as she took her job (as Secretary of Health and Human Services) she got flattened by two budget overruns. Then she got run over by two more multi-million dollar train-wrecks called NC FAST and NCTracks. Then she woke up one morning and opened the newspaper and found she’d landed right in the middle of the front page for hiring two twenty-four year-old campaign aides (to Governor McCrory) and paying them $85,000 and $87,500 each. Then she hired two consultants for $25,000 a month each and landed on the front page again.
 
All said, it looked pretty bleak.
 
But there is a subtler side to wrestling the gremlins in the Department of Health and Human Services.
 
Aldona Wos is a doctor. But, unlike modern medicine, modern government doesn’t run on logic – it runs on the antithesis of logic: Politics. To a doctor cutting Medicaid may look like an exercise in logic and reason but when you add in politics it’s the equivalent of wading into a pit of alligators.
 
Dr. Wos had her first encounter with a political alligator – and that’s when she decided to stop talking to reporters. That left Governor McCrory to step into the breach which turned out to be like sending the general into battle in front of the infantry. The Governor, and not the Cabinet Secretary, limped away from the alligator pit with sagging approval ratings.
 
Politics may not be exactly logical but common sense will avoid most problems: If you’re innocent you stand up, look your accuser in the eye, and set him straight. If you’re guilty you confess you made a mistake – and people are more forgiving than you’d expect.
 
You don’t sulk and say, I’m not going to talk to those nasty, mean ole reporters anymore.
 
Medicaid is a fiasco. Reforming Medicaid could save millions. And by now Aldona Wos has a pretty interesting story to tell about wrestling alligators. Why not, the next time a reporter calls, lend the Governor a hand by telling it?

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18
It must be the Governor’s nightmare – opening the newspaper and seeing the acronym ‘DHHS.’
 
The other morning one headline roared DHHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) had hired another former campaign worker (not from his campaign this time but from the Republican Party) and another headline roared it had fired a doctor, Dr. Rebecca King, who headed the Division of Oral Health.
 
Now whether Dr. King was the best or worst employee in state government isn’t the point – the point’s subtler: Governor McCrory’s own folks had landed him in the soup again.
 
Because after being fired Dr. King told every newspaper reporter who’d listen loud and clear how she’d been abused by Secretary Aldona Wos – while Secretary Wos declined to be interviewed by a single reporter.
 
The result was pretty simple: Dr. Wos may have been 100% right but nobody knows it because the only one talking is Dr. King.
 
The Department of Health and Human Services  isn’t a business. And it doesn’t run like a business. It’s a big, clunky, treacherous $18 billion hunk of government run amok and if she’s going to clean it up Secretary Wos is going to need one thing more than anything else: For the public to trust her judgment. That’s why they need to hear her side of the story.
 
That would be a big help to Governor McCrory too.

 

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17
A while back a candidate running for office for the first time sat down in my office and said, What should I do? and I said: Take a poll.
 
For a moment he didn’t say a word then he smiled and said he already knew what voters in his district thought – which is exactly what most candidates say. Of course, most of them are simply confusing what they think with what voters think.
 
So I tried to explain why a poll might be helpful, saying, I am an older white conservative male and in my world almost all my friends are older white conservative males too and, sometimes, I understand what they think but I don’t have a clue what a thirty-eight year old single working mother thinks.
 
Last Sunday my friends down at the newspaper wrote their own version of a candidate saying, ‘I know what voters think,’ and it was a great story, starting with a reporter talking to the cashier at the “Goober Pea’s Country Store” in Boone then tracking the elusive heartbeat of North Carolina politics through three State House districts.
 
But, when you come right down to it, it was a reporter telling what he thinks voters think and, of course, the tides and currents of politics are devilish varmints capable of easily eluding even the most astute journalist.
 
To trap those same varmints a pollster would tell you he’d have to take three polls – one in each district – that each interviewed 400 people who precisely reflected the exact demographics of the district (the correct number of Republicans, Democrats, young men, old women, minorities, and single working mothers).
 
The newspaper’s portrait of the heartbeat of North Carolina politics was fine storytelling – but it wasn’t really the way to trap an elusive varmint.

 

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17
About the last thing on earth the Governor needed when he opened the newspaper the other morning was to read the Department of Health and Human Services had hired another former political campaign worker.
 
But it had.
 
Now the young campaign worker – who’s been hired to handle the Department’s ‘branding’ – may be eminently qualified but, the fact is, the Governor was already in hot water over DHHS hiring two other former campaign aides.
 
So you have to wonder why no one at the Department had a little concern about his welfare and said, You know, maybe it’s time we gave the Governor a break. Let’s hire someone who’s never worked in politics.

 

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16
It’s hard to say exactly when the tide that landed Republicans in the soup began to whirl and eddy – maybe it was on Election Night, or when the legislature came to town, or when the Moral Monday demonstrations ignited and breathed life into the Democrats.
But no matter how or when it began, last month when the newspapers reported one of the Governor’s Cabinet Secretaries had hired two of his twenty-four year old campaign aides and was paying them salaries of $85,000 and $87,500 respectively – it was clear there was a hole in the Republican boat.
 
Next the Governor ran head on into another ambush – when the same department hired two consultants for $25,000 a month each.
 
Then, piling Pelion on Ossa, the legislature – in half an hour – overrode two of his vetoes.
 
The Governor was having a hard month and, suddenly, left and right polls were popping up showing the Governor’s popularity dropping and Democrats lining up to run against him – one Democratic poll even showed Roy Cooper, Josh Stein and Charlie Meeker all beating Governor McCrory.
 
In politics there’s an old axiom: When there’s a hole in your boat – fix it. Don’t wait. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Fix it. And that’s exactly what the Governor set out to do – his supporters put a TV ad on the air to restore his sagging approval ratings and, a month from now, we may be talking about Governor McCrory’s remarkable comeback.
 
But, then again, that depends on the Democrats. They’re saying the Governor made one big slip in his ad when he said he’d cracked down on waste and fraud in Medicaid – because that’s the department where those former campaign aides and consultants work.
 
Which leads to a million dollar question: Are Roy Cooper, Josh Stein or Charlie Meeker going to step to the plate and make the Democrats’ case in an ad of their own?
 
That could turn out to be – for Democrats – the first test of the next Governor’s campaign.
 
Because if they don’t it’s a pretty safe bet the Governor’s ad beats no ad hands down.
 

 

 

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06
In the Senate of the world’s oldest democracy the Honorables sat down around a giant horseshoe-shaped table to hold a hearing to ask the Secretary of State how he figured bombing Syria was a good idea – but a strange thing happened: As soon as each Senator asked his first question the Secretary of State would talk and talk and keep on talking hardly pausing for breath.
 
Then another peculiar thing happened – not one Senator said, Mr. Secretary, I understand you figure talking and talking and talking is a pretty good way to keep me from asking more questions and there’s no doubt you’ve proved it works but I’m trying to figure out whether we ought to go to war – so could you stop your filibuster?
 
Over and over with honeyed-words Kerry urged Senators to support a limited, narrow, brief, short bombing attack on Syria, sententiously weaving a time-honored illusion.
 
I can’t remember the last time I agreed with Charlie Rangel but when he was asked how he’d vote on bombing Syria he cut right through Kerry’s chaff and said: “There’s absolutely no question I would vote no because there’re so many questions. One of them is, is this a war? And if it’s not a war, if it’s a limited war, I never heard of anything [like that] in my entire life. If you’re going to fire shells and bomb a community, that’s war, and you have to have a declaration of war, and the Congress should legally, constitutionally approve it and I haven’t seen that evidence.”
 
That’s plain English: If someone landed a cruise missile on, say, the Pentagon that would be war and, by the same token, bombing a city in Syria is war and John Kerry’s weaving illusions (to hide that fact) is how politicians land democracies in wars: By saying they’re not wars. That there’s no pain. Or risk. And no surprises. And no price for believing a fiction.

 

 

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05
The Governor climbed into the ring with the State House Monday morning and thirty minutes later he was lying sprawled flat on his back on the canvas then, the next morning, he climbed back into the ring – this time with the State Senate – and the same thing happened again.  
 
Pat McCrory’s not down for the count and he’s probably not wobbly-kneed but getting whipped on two vetoes in less than thirty minutes each is a sign – like a low-grade fever – that somewhere beneath the surface something’s not right.
 
Of course, the Governor’s friends say sure he lost two votes but he also accomplished his bigger goal of putting some distance between himself and the smelly, cantankerous legislators – and there’s some truth in that but there’s no avoiding the bigger fact the cantankerous legislators also gave the Governor an education in who’s boss in Raleigh. 

Had the Governor lost fighting for a noble cause, redemption would be waiting down the road but this thirty minute brawl wasn’t the least bit noble – it was an old-fashioned political tug-o-war over power and the Governor lost. He’s taken a hard but not a crippling blow – now the question is: Will the Governor rise from the ashes like a phoenix or does a low-grade fever turn into a heart attack?

 

 

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04
Broken politics and posturing politicians present one degree of mendacity when it comes to passing a budget – but the moment a war appears on the horizon that same devilment turns lethal.
                         
A few days ago the President declared that, as leader of the oldest constitutional democracy on earth, he needs the support of Congress to go to war with Syria. Then, two days later, his Secretary of State, with inerrant political versatility charged pell-mell in the opposite direction – declaring the President may attack Syria even if Congress tells him, No.
 
The Secretary of State also said, yes, there is a civil war in Syria but then added (with a somber, straight face) that bombing one side doesn’t involve us in the civil war.
 
In the last twelve years the world’s greatest democracy has attacked Iraq, Afghanistan, bombed Libya, and supported a revolution that deposed the government of Egypt – but now, up in Washington, politicians are stamping their feet, insisting we have to bomb Syria because if we don’t our enemies the Iranians will get the idea we’re weak-kneed.
 
But there’s another fact the clamoring politicians don’t mention: If we bomb Syria then we’ve started a war with Syria and they have every right to attack back.
 
Not one overheated Washington politician has offered a word about where that may lead.
 

 

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