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The rhubarb had a keystone cops air but what started it was deadly enough: A combination of a bully and power.

By nature he wasn’t particularly unkind and, in the past, he hadn’t enjoyed bullying but he had the power and he’d used it before to punish Congressmen who’d crossed him and he’d gotten away with it so, now, when he had a bone to pick with Mark Meadows, he figured Meadows would sulk quietly away like the others.

But this time he misjudged.

Meadows didn’t sulk away.

Instead he stood up and punched back and said the way he saw it John Boehner punishing a Congressman for voting his conscience was flat-out wrong.

It turned out to be the spark that lit the powder-keg.

The unexpected happened: Forty Congressmen, led by Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, closed ranks behind Meadows.

That stopped John Boehner dead in his tracks.

He blinked.

And the second blow fell.

After Boehner had punched Meadows – and taken away his chairmanship – he’d given his allies the green-light to do the same thing to another Congressman – Ken Buck of Colorado. But it turned out he’d misjudged again. Because Buck punched back too.

Bullying had backfired a second time and, by sundown, John Boehner was in full retreat.

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As even Southern Republicans retreat from the Confederate flag, and as the inevitable counter-reaction begins, I’m reminded of a battle over the battle flag almost 40 years ago.

It was in 1977, the first year of Governor Hunt’s first term. One fine spring day, as we arrived at the Capitol in Raleigh, we were startled to see the now-infamous banner flying over the dome in place of the American flag.

In turns out it was Confederate Memorial Day, and flying the flag was the practice on that occasion.

Even today, there is something viscerally startling about the Confederate flag’s very appearance. It was even more so then, not far removed from the bitter battles of the 1960s.

Maybe the flag means history and heritage to some people. But when those of us raised in the South see it, we see civil rights activists being beaten, governors standing in schoolhouse doors and Ku Klux Klansmen marching down the street.

Nobody was more struck than Ben Ruffin, Governor Hunt’s minority-affairs assistant. He looked like he was going to have a stroke on the spot.

The Governor was travelling that day and not immediately reachable. So several staffers went in to talk with Joe Pell, the Governor’s senior adviser. Joe was a direct, no-nonsense man of immense common sense and decency.

When we told him about the situation – and after Ben expressed his feelings – Joe said simply, “Tell them to take it down.”

The Capitol staff did so.

Then Thad Eure, the long-time Secretary of State who had an office in the Capitol, erupted: “The Confederate flag has flown over the Capitol every Confederate Memorial Day, and it must not come down.”

(As a sidelight, Rob Christensen wrote last week about how Eure liked to wave the Confederate flag at Carolina football games – and authored the infamous Speaker Ban Law.)

Somehow, Joe Pell calmed Eure down, and the flag stayed down. Then came the inevitable protests from pro-flag partisans who accused us of desecrating the Confederate dead.

Eventually, a compromise was reached under which the battle flag was replaced by the national flag of the Confederacy, the so-called Stars and Bars. Now there’s controversy over that.

As for the flag, President Obama summed it up during his remarkable speech in Charleston last week, which is worth watching in full: “It’s true a flag did not cause these murders, but as people from all walks of life — Republicans and Democrats — now acknowledge… the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag is a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.”


Posted in: General
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His father was a carpenter and his mother a five foot blonde with hair down to her ankles and they’d divorced three years before he was born.

His father remarried, abused his second wife, and divorced again when he was fourteen.

After the second divorce he dropped out of school in the 9th grade, drank vodka, smoked marijuana and turned into an Internet recluse. He announced – on a website – he was ‘The Last Rhodesian’ and posted a picture of himself holding a Confederate Flag and a glock pistol. Eight weeks after his twenty-first birthday he walked into an African-American church and murdered nine people.

In an earlier, more religious era people would have seen those nine murders as the fruit of a litany of sins and of devils weaving webs and if the cure – in those days – brought peace it also came after a fair amount of heartbreak: Sinners had to walk the Road to Golgotha, shoulder the Cross, repent and pray for Grace to be healed.

But, today, our new Secular Religion has a simpler cure: You just ignore the sins and blame that Confederate flag.

Posted in: General, Issues
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He’d been doing business for thirty years and if what he’d been doing wasn’t illegal like selling moonshine it also wasn’t quite the same as being President of the local bank or owner of the corner drug store: When someone got into a bind he’d pay them cold hard cash on the barrel head for their gold jewelry or silver flatware or other precious metals.

What landed him in a fix was buying gold from a stranger who turned out to be not just a burglar but a burglar from Southern Pines who was charged with 91 counts; all the police had to see was his business card in the burglar’s wallet to head for his home in Raleigh.

The search left his house a shambles but the detectives didn’t find so much as one single stolen gold coin: In the end, the worst crime they could charge him with was doing business without a city permit. So, after he cleaned up the mess, he probably figured the worst was behind him until his bank called and told his wife she needed to deposit $18,000 to cover checks that were about to start bouncing.

That’s when he found out the government had done something he’d never dreamed was possible: Take every penny he had. $115,000.

Now it’s troubling his business was more a pawn shop than the First National Bank, and the worrisomeness is compounded by the fact he paid a burglar cash for gold, but that’s beside the point: The point is when a federal agent can walk into your bank and take every penny you have – without charging you with a crime or giving you a chance to stand in front of a jury – the days when a man was innocent until proven guilty are gone.

It’s sort of like finding out they’ve taken the stars and stripes out of the flag.

Posted in: General
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We love to “have a national conversation” at times like this.

We talk about race and hate.

We talk about the church and faith.

We talk about the Confederate flag.

We talk about politicians talking about the Confederate flag.

We talk about gun control – or not.

We talk about mental illness.

We talk about how dark Internet sites grab hold of desperate young men and women and turn them into jihadists and racists and maybe even cold-blooded murderers.

But, in the end, what can you say about a young man who goes into a church, sits in Bible study for an hour and then stands up and murders nine human beings because of the color of their skin?

And what you can say about family members who then stand up in a courtroom in grief and agony and somehow forgive him?

All you can say is that some human beings are capable of doing unimaginably evil, cowardly and terrible things.

And some human beings are capable of doing unimaginably strong, brave and good things.


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The death of former UNC Chancellor Bill Aycock reminds us that today’s legislature isn’t the first to ram through bad laws, that today’s attacks on higher education aren’t the first and that today’s athletic scandals aren’t the first.

As John Murawski noted in the N&O, Aycock was Chancellor in 1963 when the legislature passed the Speaker Ban Law in a single day, with little debate. Aycock took on the legislature. He said, “It would be far better to close the university than to let a cancer eat away at the spirit of inquiry and learning.”

Sounds familiar.

In 1957, right after Aycock was named Chancellor, legislators tried to cut UNC finding, saying professors didn’t work hard and carried light loads. He fought back.

Sounds familiar.

In 1961, the UNC basketball team was put on probation for recruiting violations. There were allegations of bribes for point-shaving. Aycock said, “Unfortunately, there are some…who seem to entertain a misguided notion that in athletics the means are not too important if the end result is victory on the scoreboard.”

It all sounds all too familiar.


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Roy Cooper can go two ways against Governor McCrory in 2016: call him “wrong” or call him “weak.”

“Wrong” says McCrory hurt the economy, hurt the schools, hurt health care and hurt the environment. It blames him for taking the state in the wrong direction, including on social issues.

But Cooper might look negative and pessimistic. Nobody likes an angry Governor.

Which is why “weak” may work. “Weak” says the legislature has hurt North Carolina and McCrory is powerless to stop it: “The Governor, bless his heart, knows they’re wrong. He tried to stop them sometimes. But he just couldn’t. It’s time for a Governor who knows how to fight.”

“Fight,” you might remember, was the key word in Hillary Clinton’s announcement.

“Weak” incorporates “wrong,” in a kinder, gentler – and more lethal – way.

Cooper can smile all the way, and shake his head sadly. Like Reagan.


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It’s remarkable how a pet can become a member of your family.

Our house feels empty today because we had to let go of Annie, a 13-year-old rescue mutt of mixed and mysterious lineage who captivated us with a fierce independence, a sweet but often confounding quirkiness and a bottomless appetite for treats, especially red jelly beans and Bojangles ham biscuits.

We never really owned her. She owned us from the day we took her home from an SPCA adopt-a-thon at Lake Crabtree when she was less than a year old.

“We’re just going to look. We’re not bringing home a dog today,” I sternly instructed our son and daughter on the way over. Sure enough, they fell for her and, sure enough, I fell in line.

On the ride home, she looked up at me with an expression that I thought said, “Thank you so much for rescuing me.” Later I realized she was thinking, “I can roll you, sucker.”

Her life before us must not have been happy. Storms bothered her, and she hated being in the rain. Years later, when she began developing arthritis, an X-ray found a BB in her hip. She had been shot as a puppy.

Well, that explained a lot.

She became my companion on beach trips. She rode happily in the back seat. She knew a Bojangles when we stopped there, and she expected her ham biscuit. At the beach, she enjoyed sitting in the sun and letting the wind ruffle her long black coat. When we walked to the sound, she liked to wade in up to her chest and indulge in a long and, I’m sure, satisfying pee.

Lately she began suffering doggy dementia. She would sleep all day, then spend much of the night wandering aimlessly around, staring at walls and doors. What was she thinking?

We knew the end was near, but you’re never ready for it. The vet told us our options, and the choice was clear.

She died the way all of us would like to – peacefully and surrounded by the people who loved her.


Posted in: General
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Since a reprehensible rogue like Donald Trump has zero chance of being elected President, or even nominated, we should all sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Especially Democrats.

If Trump gets on the debate stage, the GOP contest becomes a clown-car demolition derby.

His announcement was a triumph of untrammeled egomania. “I’m really rich,” he boasted. Unlike the “losers” who run the country.

He called himself the “most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far.” Mitt Romney? Trump bragged that he owns a “Gucci store that’s worth more than Romney.”

Obviously, The Donald doesn’t see success as something like, say, commanding the Allied military forces that conquered Germany. Or winning the American Revolution.

All of which is why he is the most unpopular man ever to run for President. One poll found that seven in 10 voters view him unfavorably. So do 52 percent of Republicans.

It’s the Republican candidates who stand to lose. Trump might attack them all at a debate. Yesterday, none of them had the guts to stand up to his bullying.

An RNC spokesman called Trump “a successful businessman.” He added, “We’ve got a number of high-caliber candidates running in this cycle.”

Rand Paul’s campaign said, “He’s clearly been a successful businessman, and the more the merrier.”

Mike Huckabee gushed, “I personally like him and I’m glad that he joins me in pointing out that we need to hold China accountable for their end of trade deals and currency manipulations.”

Ted Cruz praised “his experience as a successful businessman and job creator.”

This is going to be rich, really rich. Just like The Donald.


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Hillary Clinton’s and Jeb Bush’s campaign kickoffs were notable not so much for what they said, but for what their campaign logos did NOT say – “Bush” or “Clinton.”

Jeb’s logo is “Jeb!” Hillary’s is an “H” with an arrow. Pointing right.

So you know that both campaigns’ polling has found real concern about political dynasties.


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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
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The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
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