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20
 
When I was a boy I had a wire-haired terrier, a stray who showed up on the farm and made himself at home; one day walking past a woodpile the terrier spotted a barn rat and in the blink of an eye charged, ears tucked back, hair bristling; now, far as I know, that terrier had never laid eyes on a rat before but in that one glance knew he’d come face to face with his blood enemy.
 
With the same instinct Sarah Palin seems to have taken one glance at Washington Republican Political Establishment (WRPE) and spotted her blood enemy.
 
The WRPE is a strange beast. Its lineage is hereditary and, over the last thirty years, entwined with the fortunes of the Bush dynasty. You can’t separate the WRPE and the Bushes. President Bush the Senior’s father was a Wall Street banker and Republican Senator from Connecticut – so it was natural when George H.W. Bush landed in Washington he was appointed to one of sinecures of the WRPE – Chairman of the National Republican Party.
 
George H. W. Bush survived Watergate and went on to lead the Washington Republican’s losing fight against Reagan in 1980. Then the Gipper either slipped or got hood-winked in a weak moment and picked George H.W. Bush for Vice President. For awhile after that the WRPE more or less laid low – until Bush was elected President then it re-ascended to supremacy.
 
Next the torch passed to Bush the Younger and with Karl Rove pulling the strings the WRPE took control of just about everything in the Republican Party in Washington and a good bit of it outside Washington – for instance, handpicking candidates (like Liddy Dole).
 
Now the Establishment Republicans are good at flying conservative flags but when it comes right down to it they have no real interest in ideology. They can take it or leave it, depending on whether or not it works politically; to them conservativism isn’t a creed it’s a political tool to be used or discarded as needed.
 
They’re also a company of politicians who’ve learned they can make a lot more money lobbying Republicans than electing them (for instance, five of the six Republican Party Chairmen picked by George Bush have been lobbyists) and, by and large, while they’re world champion lobbyists their record of winning political campaigns is checkered.
 
After Clinton’s impeachment, even with Democratic fortunes at a low ebb, they lost the popular vote in the 2000 election (but had the good fortune to be saved by the Electoral College). They did defeat liberal John Kerry in 2004 but then got walloped by Pelosi and Obama in 2006 and 2008. And then there’s what just happened in the Special Congressional Election in New York’s 23rd District this year.
 
Just as Rove and company have been doing for years, the WRPE handpicked a Republican candidate, arranged for her to get the nomination (without a primary), then ran her campaign. Their political theory this election (which explains their choice of Albany Assemblywoman Deidre Scozzafava) seems to be ‘inclusion’ – that the key to winning elections for Republicans post-Obama is running ‘inclusive’ candidates who lead ‘inclusive’ campaigns and if that sounds a bit like Republicans imitating Democrats – well, it is.
 
If you want a firsthand example of ‘inclusiveness’ take a moment to go to the Republican National Committee’s website and click on the link to their Facebook. You’ll land on a page called ‘Heroes.’ Then click again to look at the gallery of Republican heroes. The first four pictures that pop up are Lincoln, two African-Americans and a Hispanic. The second four pictures are Reagan, a woman and two African Americans. It’s a perfectly politically correct gallery of “Republican Heroes’ carefully selected to meet quotas for women, African-Americans and Hispanics. For instance, Jose Barbosa (a Hispanic leader from Puerto Rico) is on the official Washington Republican hero list while Teddy Roosevelt failed to make the cut.
 
Deidre Scozzafava, the Assemblywoman the WRPC picked as their candidate in New York, was the soul of ‘inclusion.’ She was so inclusive she supported President Obama’s ‘Stimulus Bill,’ gay marriage and voted for a hundred and ninety tax increases. The National Republican Party spent over a million dollars to elect her and the result was a meltdown. Scozzafava started out leading in the polls, collapsed, and didn’t make it to the finish line – instead she withdrew at the 11th hour then in a final act of ‘inclusion’ endorsed the Pelosi Democrat to help him defeat the Conservative Party nominee by 3000 votes.
 
It’s hard to imagine a more bungled political campaign – or one more devoid of principle.
 
Which brings me back to Sarah Palin.
 
There are times – like when she’s ‘tweeting’ – when Governor Palin sounds like the Yukon Gold Rush version of a Valley Girl. But it also looks like the first time she sat down in a room with the lobbyist politicians running the John McCain’s campaign – right off she spotted her blood enemy.
 
At first the fight between Palin and the Washington politicians was a simmering feud, then it was a guerilla war and now it’s an outright war with neither side asking for or offering quarter. And if you think Palin is overmatched consider this: The official RNC Facebook page has 100,000 members. Sarah Palin’s Facebook page has over 900,000.
 
As long as the Washington Republicans are hanging around its neck the conservative movement is at best treading water and at worst sinking and Sarah Palin is the one national Republican leader standing up to them. That may not be the savviest political move and it doesn’t mean she’s qualified to be President but, right now, it does make her the one essential woman in conservative politics.
 

 

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19
Laura Leslie of WUNC-FM – who does a great political blog - told a panel during last year’s campaign that she was sick and tired of men who liked Sarah Palin because she is “hot.”
 
Sorry, Laura, but how else can someone so clearly unprepared for national office be taken seriously as a candidate for national office?
 
Maybe we’ll learn one day that this is all some elaborate reality-TV concept. Some manic producer in New York said:
 
“Okay, here’s the idea. We’ll take this good-looking babe. We’ll have her come from someplace crazy – like Alaska! And she’ll have a family full of nut cases. Then we’ll throw her into the middle of national politics and see what happens.”
 
Charisma – call it “hot” – has always been part of politics. Witness John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
 
What’s new with Palin is her true believers’ fervent faith that her lack of intellectual depth is a qualification – not a disqualification – for high office.
 
In the end, Palin’s appeal is more like that of Richard Nixon and George Wallace: the politics of resentment.
 

 

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18

Over the last several months Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Lanier Cansler at DHHS has handed out a couple of hundred million dollars in contracts – many of them no bid contracts – to his former clients from the days when he was a lobbyist.

 
But, now, he’s done something really strange.
 
He’s given Prodigy Diabetes Care an exclusive no bid contract to be the state’s sole corporation providing supplies to Medicaid diabetes patients. That means if you’re on Medicaid and need a syringe or test strip you have got one choice – you’ve got to get it from Prodigy.
 
So who is Prodigy?
 
It’s owned by two brothers, Rick Admani Abulhaj and Ramzi Abulhaj. Before they owned Prodigy the Abulhaj brothers owned a corporation named VitalCare in Miami – which more or less did the same thing as Prodigy. VitalCare was sued for stealing another company’s patent, lost the case and went bankrupt. (Even odder, during the trial a federal magistrate ordered the Abulhaj brothers jailed for contempt of court – for what sounds like agreeing to a settlement then ignoring it.)
 
Anyway VitalCare lost and went bankrupt and the Abulhaj brothers moved to North Carolina and started Prodigy. One last fact: The Abulhaj brothers make a lot of their medical products in China, and when the FDA toured their plant in Shanghai it promptly hit them for violating Food and Drug safety regulations.
 
And, believe it or not, these are the folks Secretary Cansler has decided North Carolina Medicaid patients with diabetes must buy their medical supplies from.
 
Now, maybe, over the last few years Prodigy has straightened out all its problems and it’s smooth sailing ahead. But Secretary Cansler hasn’t mentioned, addressed or offered one word of explanation about why he chose a company with Prodigy’s checkered past for an exclusive contract – or why he’s confident a diabetes patient using a syringe made in China by a company cited by the FDA for violating safety regulations doesn’t have anything to worry about.
 

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18
It sounded like The New Martin Nesbitt after Democrats picked him for majority leader:
 
"I saw '94 up close and personal. I saw how things can get out of control. There are very few things that I'm the most qualified for, but getting us through this election is one of them."
 
Anxious Democrats remember 1994.
 
Nesbitt and then-Speaker Dan Blue were running the House. For weeks, they resisted Governor Hunt’s crime package. Too conservative, they maintained.
 
Hunt’s legislative team suspected the House Democratic powers had grown used to ignoring Republican Governor Jim Martin – and effectively running the state. They didn’t appreciate Hunt acting like the governor mattered.
 
The Republicans then took the House in 1994. Much of that – but not all – was the national tide.
 
Democrats hope things go better this time.

 

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18
 
Here’s another odd story about how the Department of Health and Human Services works.
 
Early in the Easley Administration, when Lanier Cansler was Assistant Secretary, the department decided to ‘Reform Mental Health’ in order to save taxpayers money and provide better care.
 
About the same time Assistant Secretary Cansler was handling bidding out a $265 state contract for DHHS. Later, after the ‘Mental Health Reform’ plan got rolling, he decided to leave the department to go to work lobbying for one of the firms bidding on the $265 million contract.
 
That left the folks in the Mental Health Department carrying out the reforms, including Deputy Director of Mental Health Tara Larson – then Ms. Larson landed in hot water for running up 6951 minutes of cell phone charges making personal calls on her state phone. The department’s solution was to move her into the backwaters of DHHS where she spent the next few months lying low.
 
Next, after Cansler and Larson departed the scene, ‘Mental Health Reform’ turned out to be a disaster. It left the state’s mental health care programs in a shambles and cost taxpayers a whopping $400 million.
 
Now you might have thought that might leave the ‘Reformers’ – including Cansler and Larson – behind the eight-ball. But it didn’t.
 
When Governor Perdue was elected she promoted Ms. Larson to Deputy Director of DHHS $12 billion Medicaid department and made Cansler Secretary of the whole department.
 
So now the folks who reformed ‘Mental Health’ are running Medicaid and, on top of that, three months after the Governor made him head of DHHS Cansler’s department awarded the $265 contract to his former client.
 
Now the question you might ask is: Does anyone in state government have a lick of common sense?
 
And the answer is: Well, yes. If you look at it from their perspective.
 
If you’re the Director of a state Agency and another director or deputy Director – like Ms. Larson – gets in trouble common sense comes into play real quick and what it says is: The same thing could happen to you. So to Ms. Larson’s peers Governor Perdue rescuing her with another state job has a soothing feeling about it.
 
And what if you’re Secretary Cansler? Well, with Governor Perdue looking like an odds on favorite to be a 1-term governor common sense may be whispering to him, You’d better stay friendly with your old clients – because he may be back in the lobbying business sooner than he anticipated.
 
In fact, the only person who’s not showing much common sense is Governor Perdue – who’s got a problem her deputies and Cabinet Secretaries don’t. She’s got to face voters in three years. And what common sense may be whispering to them is, We’ve had enough of running state government like a three-ring circus.
 
 

 

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17
Back in August in her rush to pass the budget and get the legislature out of town, it looks like Governor Perdue slipped up and pulled a number out of thin air. What the Governor did to balance the budget (at least on paper) was tell legislators she was going to cut the Department of Health and Human Services budget $400 million.
 
Only she missed one fact: DHHS runs entitlement programs: Like Medicaid. And by law if someone’s poor and sick and needs help the state can’t just cut their care. The only way to cut Medicaid is to change the law to take away the entitlement.
 
But the Governor (and legislators) didn’t do that.
 
Which leaves Medicaid Director Craigon Gray wrestling with the knotty problem and it looks like he’s come up with sneaky solution.
 
Director Gray has decided thousands of Medicaid patients – who his department’s been saying for years are entitled to care – are not actually eligible.
 
Now, in the real world, discovering ten or twenty thousand Medicaid patients don’t need care would be a welcome savings – except this revelation isn’t the result of welfare reform. Instead it’s the result of the Governor’s $400 million mistake and the poor folks on Medicaid just happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time – and eligible or not they’re about to get cut.
 
Worse, what’s going to happen when Gray executes his plan is going to be a huge train wreck – at taxpayers’ expense.
 
To put a fig leaf on his cuts Director Gray’s paying $24 million – to a former client of Secretary Cansler’s – to review every patient in one program, Medicaid Home Care. What’s odd is that even before the first patient’s been examined Director Gray’s already announced the results: The study will find 40% of the patients are ineligible. And he’ll cut, he says, exactly $138 million.
 
And here’s what is going to happen then: Every patient Director Gray cuts – by law – has a right to appeal. There’ll be appeals and lawsuits out the wazoo and when there’re done there’ll probably be the same number of patients on Medicaid as there are now – except taxpayers will be out the $24 million Director Gray paid for his study, plus untold millions in legal fees.
 
Oh, yes, and while Director Gray is telling folks he’s got to cut care to patients with diseases like Muscular Dystrophy – Secretary Cansler spent $140,000 to fly 16 bureaucrats to sunny San Diego for two weeks for a conference.
 
 
 

 

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16
 
Back in 1984 when Governor Hunt fessed up to making political trips on the state airplane and reimbursed the state $180,000, Tom Ellis, the attorney running Jesse Helms’ campaign to defeat Hunt told me, You know, give a politician a free airplane and he’ll hang himself every time.
 
It turns out – for Secretary Lanier Cansler – a state automobile is pretty deadly too.
 
Secretary Cansler has been moaning about how his department is strapped for cash and telling folks how he hates like the dickens to cut medical care for elderly Medicaid patients and children but what can he do – there’s no money.
 
Cansler’s department’s so strapped for cash the other day one of his employees called the mother of a child with Muscular Dystrophy (who gets in-home nursing care through a Medicaid program) and asked her to voluntarily agree to cut her daughter’s care 50%. When the mother said it didn’t look to her like that was possible Secretary Cansler’s aide bared her fangs and let fly saying either the mother ‘voluntarily’ accepted the 50% cut or she (Cansler’s aide) was going to ‘officially’ recommend a deeper cut. The mother got that message: She had to either say yes or hire a lawyer and fight the entire Department of Health and Human Services by herself.
 
So to hear Secretary Cansler tell it DHHS is broke – except for one problem. A story on WRAL-TV the other night that revealed Secretary Cansler has 1,023 automobiles under lease for his department and just paid a whopping million dollars for unused mileage. In other words DHHS leased the cars, didn’t use them and still had to pay for them.
 
Which leaves Lanier Cansler facing a mess – because now he’s got to explain why he’s cutting nursing care to a child with muscular dystrophy while paying a million dollars for cars sitting in a parking lot doing nothing.
 

 

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13
The famous Boss Plunket of Tammany Hall, explaining his singular talent for getting the most out of politics (and what he called “honest graft”), told his biographer, ‘I just seen my opportunities and took ‘em.
 
At first glance Boss Plunkett, who was a colorful New York Irish politician, and DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler, a buttoned down Raleigh lobbyist, don’t appear to have much in common. But consider this:
 
March, 2009: Secretary Cansler’s Department awards CSC Corporation a $265 million  state contract, and CSC announces Cary’s SAS Corporation will be joining its team to work for Cansler’s department.
 
The former lobbyist for both CSC and SAS: DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler.
 
August, 2009: Cansler’s department awards Med Solutions of Nashville, Tennessee a no-bid contract to manage $230 million in Medicaid business;Med Solutions announces Dataflux – a SAS subsidiary – will help with the state work.
 
SAS current lobbyist – Secretary Lanier Cansler’s wife’s law firm.
 
August, 2009: Two years ago CCME Corporation paid Secretary Cansler’s lobbying firm $93,000. On August 27 of this year CCME re-hired Cansler-Fuquay Associates, Secretary Cansler’s old firm.
 
October 27, 2009: Two months later CCME receives $24 million in no-bid state contracts from Cansler’s department.
 
Boss Plunket would be proud.
 
 

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13
I’m all for having regular guys and gals in high office. But this is too much.
 
The New York Times reported this anecdote in a story about Federal Research Chair Ben Bernanke lobbying against bills aimed at the Fed:
 
“At one recent meeting, Senator Sherrod Brown challenged Mr. Bernanke’s bona fides as a regular guy by giving him a pop quiz on baseball statistics. Mr. Bernanke, a passionate fan, passed.”
 
I like baseball. I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch the Yankees win the series. But I don’t care if the chairman of the Fed knows the first thing about baseball. Instead, I hope he knows something about the economy and interest rates.

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13
 
It turns out Craigan L. Gray, the MD and JD (lawyer) and newly appointed Director of Medicaid is pretty thin skinned.
 
When Tim Rogers – head of the Association for Home and Hospice Care – asked Secretary Lanier Cansler to reconsider Gray’s cuts in a tiny Medicaid program that provides nurses to care for 350 patients who have MS, Cerebral Palsy and other crippling diseases Gray erupted and fired off an email to Rogers reprimanding him, saying he found it just plain difficult for him to hold ‘constructive conversations’ with Rogers because of ‘constant background chatter and threats of lawsuits.’
 
What Gray means by ‘background chatter’ is he doesn’t like Rogers publically criticizing his policies.
 
But Rogers has a point – Gray’s cuts are going to make life harder for a lot of sick and frail people. And Rogers had a point last summer when he threatened to sue Gray’s Department because it failed to respond to his freedom of information act requests.
 
What happened back then is instructive: Rogers asked for information about a state report (which later turned out to be inaccurate) Gray had given State Senator Doug Berger. In response, one of Dr. Gray’s top aides said her emails had somehow ‘migrated’ out of her computer, so she couldn’t provide them. The emails have never been seen again.
 
Later, when State Senator Doug Berger tried to cut Medicaid home care (a program that actually saves taxpayers money by keeping patients out of Nursing Homes) 60% based on Gray’s inaccurate report, Rogers spoke up and said, Wait a minute. Those statistics are inaccurate and the Department ought to set the record straight.
 
And, in fact, it later came out that Secretary Lanier Cansler had actually warned Berger about the problems with the report.
 
But, in the end, none of that mattered. Gray wrote his buddy Berger and said he and Berger had both been ‘slurred’ by Rogers and Berger went ahead and made the cuts.
 
Follow the logic: Director Gray gives Berger an inaccurate report. Tim Rogers proves the report is inaccurate. Then Gray says Rogers has ‘slurred him.’ And Berger cuts 15,000 patients’ home care.
 
And here’s what’s even more incredible: Right now, today, Gray is using the same inaccurate report to cut care again. As I said, DHHS has to be the looniest Department in State Government.
 

 

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