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08
The Tea Party crowd is in a frenzy over rising deficits and the national debt.
 
In Asheville Friday, Republican candidates fell all over themselves at a Tea Party meeting that featured a clock tracking the debt.
 
Do these people have any memory cells whatsoever?
 
Obviously not, so let me remind them that, just 10 years ago, the budget deficit was heading toward zero. The debate in Washington was whether to spend the coming surplus on Social Security, tax cuts or paying down the debt.
 
That’s right: paying down the debt.
 
That was during the administration of a Democratic President named Bill Clinton. Before George Bush and a Republican Congress wrecked the budget.
 
And the Tea Party wants to return that crowd to power?
 

 

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04
A supporter of the new Wake school board held up a sign at this week’s hearing: “Elections matter.”
 
At the health-care summit President Obama told John McCain: “The election is over.”
 
They’re right. And Obama should ram through health-care reform just like the new school board majority is ramming through its new policies.
 
Obama needs to get something – anything – passed. Then move on to jobs and the economy.
 
And he’s better off being strong and wrong than weak and right.
 
Few people will understand what’s in his bill – or whether it makes things better or worse.
 
The Republicans will have a devil of a time overturning it, no matter how November turns out.
 
Similarly, in WakeCounty, there’s talk of a recall election of the new majority.
 
Two problems: How do you do a recall in North Carolina? And what makes you think it would turn out any different?

 

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03
WakeCounty is North Carolina’s most Democratic county. President Obama carried the state in 2008 because he racked up a 60,000-vote margin in this county alone.
 
But two big and bitter battles yesterday showed what a split county this is – and that there are no final victories in politics.
 
The votes – the City Council on Raleigh’s public safety center and the Wake school board on the diversity policy – were direct slaps at some formerly high-riding politicians: Mayor Charles Meeker and the staff and ex-majority on the school board.
 
Just last week, Meeker’s record of rebuilding downtown was toasted at a big dinner.
 
This week, he got only four votes for another downtown project. The left and the right joined hands to beat him.
 
As for the schools, the staff and the old board majority (including the mayor’s wife) had earned a reputation for turning a deaf ear to parents’ concerns.
 
You may not like what the new majority is doing, but they’re listening to the people who elected them.
 
Sometimes in politics, victory sows the seeds of defeat. That’s because, too often in politics, winners get so full of themselves they forget to listen.

 

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02
Sometimes you come across a rascal who’s got so much brazenness and old-fashioned nerve you just can’t help but admire his audacity – throw him in a briar patch and he’ll land on his feet and end up owning the place.
 
That’s why it’s hard not to keep an eye peeled to see what Lanier Cansler is up to next –like Fagan or ‘The Artful Dodger’ when it comes to chicanery Lanier’s in a league of his own.
 
Last summer, right after he got himself appointed to the Governor’s Cabinet, he ambled over to the General Assembly and told legislators he was shocked to discover thousands of seventy and eighty year old patients in the Medicaid Home care program were cheating like blazes.
 
45% of the patients, he told legislators with a straight face, were cheating and shouldn’t be receiving one dram of care.
 
And of course as soon as legislators got a glimpse at the picture Lanier painted of massive welfare fraud they cut every dram of care those patients were getting and told him to get the cheats off the rolls. Lanier nodded and said he was up to the job but that to do it he might have to hand out a few no bid contracts – and legislators gave him the green-light to go ahead.
 
Which Lanier promptly did, passing out $250 million in contracts – a lot of them to his friends and former clients.
 
The first sign Lanier had made a slip popped up when the “Independent Assessments” (to identify the Medicaid patients who were cheating) came back. It took a court case and a deposition to pull the report out of Lanier’s mitts – and the reason was simple: The report showed 3% (not 45%) of the patients were ‘cheats.’   (Another 5% of the elderly people had failed to fill out their paperwork properly – so Lanier promptly branded them cheats too).
 
Miscalculating the number of cheats tenfold would have daunted a lot of folks but not Lanier.  He had 36,000 sick patients on his hands in need of care and no money to care for them but he came up with a solution that was a masterwork of simplicity:  He simply changed the definition of sick.  With the stroke of a pen he redefined an 80 year old patient who was very sick into a patient who was barely sick and who – Lanier said – was cheating to get a lot of care he didn’t need.
 
Next he cut 87% of the patients’ care 45%.
 
That’s when a State Judge stepped in and stopped him dead in his tracks with an Injunction – a temporary problem Cansler will surely overcome in some ingenious manner none of us have imagined.
 
And what does our self-proclaimed “Jobs, Jobs, Job’s” Governor have to say about all this?  She’s got a Cabinet Secretary who’s hoo-doo’ed legislators and gotten sued twice and enjoined twice – all of which is bound to come home to roost on her doorstep. So is she having, maybe, doubts? Or second thoughts?  Nope. Lanier’s got her sold. Those two judges who enjoined him may have given him a spot of trouble but he’s got the Governor convinced he’s dead right when he says 97% (his latest figures) of the Medicaid patients are cheats – the Governor hasn’t even chirruped once in disapproval.
 

 

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26
Jesse Helms is probably rolling over in his recording studio.
 
WRAL, the station that used to run Helms’ editorials opposing desegregation, is now running editorial messages opposing resegregation.
 
That’s how much Jim Goodmon has changed the station.
 
(Does anybody remember when WRAL used to sign off at night by playing “Dixie” instead of the national anthem? Yes, children, stations used to sign off at night!)
 
More power to Goodmon for it.
 
Even better, the Wake School Board Mullahs are mad about it.
 
Which is another irony. Used to, Yankees were the ones telling us to desegregate our schools. Now it’s Yankees telling us to resegregate.

 

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25
President Obama may be setting up Republicans for a classic one-two punch.
 
First, the left jab: an open, public “discussion” where he challenges Republicans to put their ideas on the table. That’s what they said they wanted, isn’t it?
 
Then, the right uppercut: ramming a health-care bill through using something called “reconciliation.”
 
I don’t know what “reconciliation” means, but it is apparently a parliamentary term for “steamroller.”
 
Republicans will howl about the process. But who cares?
 
Obama needs a win – no matter how bloody. He needs to look strong. Then he can spend the rest of the year blaming Republicans for not doing more. And Republicans can blame him for doing too much.
 
And we’ll get a verdict in November.
 
Either way, Obama’s chances to pass a bill won’t get better.

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23
The N&O/WTVD poll on health care left me totally confused.
 
The poll, done by Mason-Dixon, “found that 51 percent of registered voters in North Carolina think Congress should not change the U.S. health care system this year. Thirty-eight percent think that lawmakers should take action.”
 
But then the story went on: “The poll asked voters how they fell along a spectrum of reform possibilities, from major overhaul to no change at all. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they wanted a major overhaul with guaranteed coverage, while 40 percent wanted to control costs and expand availability.”
 
That is, 67 percent wanted changes in the health-care system.
 
So take your choice. Either 51 percent don’t want change – or 67 percent do.

 

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22
Sometimes a story floats in over the transom that’s just too incredible to pass up; – this one came at the expense of Bank of America, which certainly doesn’t need any more headaches after being sued by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for fraud, plus a whooping $16 billion.
 
Charlie Cordosa, who used to have a job in construction but is now unemployed, lives in Boston; a couple of years ago Charlie and his wife, Maria, used their life savings to buy a retirement home in Florida, which they’ve been renting,  I guess, to make ends meet.
 
Charlie, naturally, pleaded with the Bank of America not to foreclose on his Florida home, but to no avail – the bank’s foreclosure team showed up, moved out his furniture and padlocked the door.
 
There was just one problem:  Charlie’s house was paid for free and clear.  Bank of America didn’t hold a mortgage on his house.  In fact, Bank of America’s foreclosure team had the wrong house entirely.  (It seems the address in Bank of America’s files was wrong and it should have foreclosed on a house a block away.)
 
But, as Charlie found out, explaining that to a mortgage officer bent on repossession was hard to do.  He also talked to Bank of America’s real estate agent who agreed with Charlie the bank was repossessing the wrong house. But the realtor had no more luck straightening out the mess than Charlie. The bank charged ahead and foreclosed anyway.
 
Next, Charlie drove down from Boston to Tampa and found himself padlocked out of his own home. He pried open the back door, cut the padlock and hired a lawyer. He got his house back from the bank, without a tenant, and he’s still trying to recover his papers and pictures.
 
This is a pretty odd story about what’s happened to free market capitalism in America:  The powers that be in Washington puts the thumb-screws on Bank of America to bail out Merrill Lynch; Bank of America did, then teetered on the verge of bankruptcy itself until it got bailed out itself with $45 billion from taxpayers. Next the CEO of the bank got sued for fraud (for doing just what the government wanted). Then the bank, recovering due to taxpayers’ generosity, gave the executives billions of dollars in bonuses for a job well done. Then the same executives foreclose on the wrong guy and refuse to stop even when he tells them they’ve got the wrong house.
 
Of course, now, Charlie’s suing Bank of America. Imagine sitting on the jury and listening to Charlie’s attorney tell his story, saying, ‘Last month Bank of America gave $4 billion in bonuses to its executives for their good work.   Now, let’s talk about what they ought to pay to Charlie for what they did to him.’
 
I can hear the debate in the jury room on the verdict:
 
Juror #1:  Well, Charlie’s sued for $500,000 – that sounds pretty reasonable.
 
Juror #2:  I’ve got a better idea.  Let’s give him $4 billion – the same amount those scoundrels paid themselves.
 

 

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17
Can Erskine Bowles save America? Can history repeat itself?
 
I was about halfway through the book The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President, by Taylor Branch, when I heard that President Obama will name Erskine and another Great Compromiser, former Senator Alan Simpson, to lead a national commission on the budget deficit.
 
You will remember that, in 1997, Bowles brokered a deal with Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans that balanced the federal budget.
 
You will remember that, when George Bush 43 took office, the budget was running surpluses as far as the eye could see.
 
And you will remember, if President Obama is successful in reminding you, that Bush and the Republicans promptly wrecked the car and in just eight years gave us budget deficits that – all the smart people say – will wreck America.
 
Even before I heard the news about Erskine, I was struck by the parallels in Branch’s book between Clinton’s first term and Washington today.
 
Then, as now, congressional Republicans staunchly opposed anything and everything a Democratic President supported. “The hell with the country! We need to destroy this President!”
 
Then, as now, Republicans opposed serious deficit reduction – until their stubbornness reelected Clinton and forced them to compromise.
 
(Question: Why do congressional Democrats compromise with Republican Presidents – tax cuts with Reagan, deficit reduction with Reagan and Daddy Bush, education and drug benefits with Baby Bush, etc. – even though Republicans refuse to reciprocate? Answer: Democrats are more responsible.)
 
Then, as now, a Democratic President struggled to pass health-care reform that was and is, in Clinton’s apt description, “hard to explain and easy to criticize.”
 
Maybe now, as then, Bowles can navigate Washington’s stormy seas and bring the ship of state safely to port.
 

 

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09
 
The legislature handed Lanier Cansler $200 million more to spend this year than last year and he promptly spent it all plus $250 million more – so, now, his department’s in the red and he’s pointing fingers at everyone in sight saying it’s their fault: The Obama Administration, the flu, the recession.  
 
Last summer, Cansler – who’s a former lobbyist – wanted to pass out $250 million in no bid contracts (a lot of them to his former clients), plus he had to repay hundreds of millions his department had overbilled Uncle Sam for Medicaid. But the legislature only increased his budget $200 million – which wasn’t enough.
 
Cansler had to come up with a solution. And he did. He cut spending on Home Care for elderly and disabled Medicaid patients $40 million – then gave one of his former clients, CCME Corporation, a $30 million no bid contract, ironically, to help manage Home Care.
 
And how did Cansler convince legislators to cut Medicaid care to old, sick people? He said they were welfare cheats. They weren’t sick, they didn’t need care and what’s more, he said, he had a gold-plated million dollar study to prove it.
 
Well, of course, as soon as legislators heard that they did just what Cansler wanted and cut the program.
 
What happened next was odd: Cansler didn’t cut anyone. Instead he told legislators he needed a new law before he could get rid of the skizzlers.  That wasn’t so, but no one stopped to wonder what Cansler was up to. In fact, Cansler’s gold-plated study wasn’t worth a plug nickel. It didn’t prove anyone was cheating Medicaid. And what that new law did was let him kick sick people off Medicaid.
 
That led Cansler head-on into a buzz saw.
 
His boss, Governor Perdue, didn’t have any qualms about letting him cut care to old, sick people – but President Obama did.  The Obama Administration didn’t like Cansler’s new law at all. And since President Obama was passing out ‘Stimulus Funds’ left and right the Democrats in the legislature figured it didn’t make sense to make him mad – so they about faced and nixed Cansler’s new law.
 
But what they didn’t do was nix the ‘cuts’ in the Home Care program – after all, why should they?  Cansler had told them the patients were cheats and the way legislators saw it there was no reason he couldn’t go ahead remove them under the old law.
 
That left Cansler in a mess. He’d dissembled and prevaricated himself into a trap. He’d misled legislators saying thousands of sick patients were cheats and, now, he had to figure out a way to kick fifteen thousand sick people off Medicaid.
 
What he did was lay low for a couple of months – until he passed out no bid contracts; then he dragged out that same old phony study and announced it proved almost all the Home Care patients were getting medical care they didn’t clinically need.
 
And who decided how much what care an eighty-year-old invalid clinically needed?  Not doctors. Not a panel of medical experts. But Lanier Cansler. Clinically needed was whatever Lanier Cansler said it was.
 
That left Cansler with one last problem: He couldn’t risk letting doctors physically examine those patients – so he announced the examinations were too expensive and used a mathematical formula (he called an algorithm) to cut care en masse. He promptly got sued twice – once by mental health care advocates and once by home care advocates – and two judges issued Temporary Restraining Orders stopping him dead in his tracks.
 
But in the blink of an eye Cansler turned that to his advantage too.
 
Last week, he trooped over to the legislature and in a tour de force performance hoodwinked everyone. In one breath he told the newspapers the companies who provide Home Care (who were suing him) were greedy capitalists and in the next breath he made the same folks sound like liberal do-gooders who wanted to give taxpayers money to welfare cheats. It worked like a charm.     
 
Not one reporter looked Cansler in the eye and asked:  Okay, you’ve been telling us for months these patients are welfare cheats – so let’s see your proof. You had to examine them to know they’re not sick.  Let’s see the examinations.
 
Cansler fooled one reporter so thoroughly the poor fellow wrote on the front page of the newspaper that Medicaid Home Care had exceeded its budget by a whooping $10 million a month because it was spending millions on welfare cheats – in fact, Home Care was spending $10 million less this year than last year and the only thing it exceeded was the phony cuts Cansler got the legislature to pass based on his phony study.
 
You have to give Lanier ‘The Fox’ Cansler credit. He waltzed out of the trap without a scratch. He’s fooled legislators with the same phony study twice. Convinced the press anyone who disagrees with him is either a greedy capitalist or a soft-hearted liberal. And not once has anyone (legislator or reporter) asked him for the examinations – he doesn’t have.
 

 

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