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06
There was a history program on Frontline the other night about the war in Iraq and the first part was about the foibles of George Bush and Dick Cheney but I did learn something new: How General David Petraeus came up with the novel idea of buying off the opposition to the Maliki regime by paying 100,000 Sunnis $400 million in cold hard cash so they’d fight alongside rather than against the Americans.
 
After that, it was hard to fault Obama for wanting out of Iraq.  
 
But, it turned out, Obama didn’t fare much better than Bush. Granted, he had the misfortune of being President when the inevitable skedaddle took place but before, during, and after the Marines left Iraq he sounded and looked like a President waiting for a bad play to end so he could skedaddle back to the White House.
 
Next, after Frontline, the World News came on and it got worse: There in all his glory was Vladimir Putin looking tough as nails followed by Obama sounding articulate (as always) but looking  like a school boy who’d just had the misfortune of running head-on into the meanest bully on the playground.
 
Failed stimulus plans and Obamacare websites crashing are troubling problems but when you see the President of the United States face to face with a foreign varmint – and the varmint’s the one saying, Go ahead.  Make my day – a deep-seated, bone-crushing anxiety takes root.

 

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05
The Governor lined his cabinet secretaries up in a row, sat down behind a table, clenched his fist, looked straight into the cameras and said there’d been tough, tense negotiations but he’d threatened a few vetoes and everyone had come around so, to his way of thinking, the budget was fine.
 
Since May, when the Governor sent his budget over to the Senate, he’d had to deal with one brouhaha after another.
 
The ole Bull Mooses had dumped his budget in the trash can, passed their own budget and sent it to the House.
 
The House then dumped the Senate budget in the trash can and passed its own budget.
 
The Senate then let fly telling the House it looked like the legislature would be in town till Christmas, figuring sometime between now and November Thom Tillis was going to decide to leave Raleigh to campaign against Kay Hagan.
 
Next the Governor said the Republican Senate leaders reminded him of Marc Basnight and Harry Reid – which bruised Phil Berger and Bob Rucho’s feelings – and added he’d veto any budget that raised teachers’ salaries more than 6%.
 
The Bull Mooses promptly went over to the House and said they’d agree to a budget that raised salaries 7% and the House, abandoning its ally the Governor, said, Deal.
 
The Governor then announced the legislature hadn’t really passed a 7% pay raise – it was a 5.5% raise (if you didn’t include longevity pay which teachers were already getting) – and declared victory.
 
Meantime, at the same time the brawl was going on, the Senate’s popularly dropped and, perhaps coincidentally, Phil Berger, Jr.’s lead vanished in a tough runoff election for Congress in Greensboro. Thom Tillis fell behind Kay Hagan in the polls. And a poll by a conservative group said Pat McCrory is trailing Roy Cooper. So at the end of the day the real winners may turn out to be Democrats.

 

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05
A year ago I didn’t know anything about food deserts and food insecurity. I’ve learned, thanks to my dedicated young friends at the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation and at the Interfaith Food Shuttle – and WRAL’s eye-opening special HungerFreeNC.
 
A big problem right here in Raleigh is that low-income families don’t have access to grocery stores and can’t get healthy foods, fresh fruits and vegetables.
 
Now there’s a ray of hope in Southeast Raleigh. And it comes from none other than the Prince of Darkness himself, Art Pope.
 
Pope’s Variety Wholesalers bought a shut-down Kroger property on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Southeast Raleigh. Pope says the space will have a Roses store and a separate grocery, something community leaders have wanted since the Kroger closed last year.
 
“It is a way to serve our community,” Pope said.
 
So here’s a tip of the TAP hat to Art.
 
Which leads to what may be a foolishly hopeful thought. Suppose Pope and some of the young (or not-so-young) activists on food issues were to sit down together. Maybe break bread downtown at Van Nolintha’s Bida Manda or at one of Ashley Christensen’s great restaurants. And talk about how they might somehow work together on this problem.
 
No doubt some of my progressive Democratic friends will have heart lock at the very thought. But I’m reminded of the Baptist minister who was a dedicated opponent of the state lottery. Then a member of his congregation won $1 million in the lottery and said he would give a tenth of his winnings to the church. A pious worshipper asked the minister if he would take the tainted money.
 
He replied, “Indeed I will. That money has done the work of the Devil long enough. It’s time it did the work of the Lord.”
 
Amen, brother.

 

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04
A long-time veteran of the Legislative Building, one who looks at both parties with a critical eye, offers this critique of the end of the not-so-short session.
 
“Legislative Republicans treated each other last week just like they’ve treated the state’s citizens for the last two years: with meanness, impatience, and a lack of caring, respect and statesmanship.
 
“The multiple procedural failures also highlighted a desperate leadership void and lack of knowledge about how to govern. The inability to adjourn the session in an organized fashion left the process in turmoil, with no one exactly sure what’s going on. A civilized adjournment requires some communication between the House and Senate, and that apparently just doesn’t happen anymore, especially with a distracted Speaker.
 
“Meanwhile, the House and Senate lobbed hand grenades at each other over the coal ash legislation. It’s unclear whether the failure of this legislation was incompetence, a conspiracy or a last-minute desire to protect a large GOP financial contributor. None of it makes sense when House members tried to amend a conference report. Everyone knows you can’t do that.
 
“This mess would be laughable except for the dire consequences to the state.”

 

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04
The mention of the phrase ‘public schools’ conjures up a vision of nurturing teachers and faithful laboring principals but it turns out ‘Big Education’ is a kingdom teeming with ‘Big Players’ from teachers’ unions to textbook publishers to testing companies all battling for promotions, contracts and a bigger piece of the billions spent on public education – the warring camps fall into four tribes:
 
The Advocates for Social Justice are a tribe of dyed-in-the-wool multiculturalists tracing their genealogy back to a fearsome place: The 1960s Counter-Culture. They see our education system as the ill-bred progeny of capitalist exploitation, are determined to free the next generation from the shackles of our Western heritage and believe our public schools have a sacred duty to lead a crusade to cure the wrongs of social injustice.
 
The Human Potentials are against memorization, drill, rote learning, structure, discipline and routine.  This tribe believes open (and unstructured) classrooms are a step on the road to enlightenment and, more than anything else, believe schools must nurture students and build their self-esteem so they flower and fulfill their human potential. 
 
The Traditionalists favor all the things the Human Potentialists see as wicked: They’re for phonics, memorization, flash cards and teaching the virtues of Western Civilization.
 
The final group, the Structuralists, see our schools as antiquated. As an out of date monopoly. And an albatross. To them future lies in charter schools, vouchers, school choice and tuition tax credits. Their spiritual godfather is Milton Friedman.
 
‘Big Education,’ like big health care in Washington, turns out to be a swamp filled with special interests, so next time you see the teachers' union whacking a state legislator remember: You may really be watching a Structuralist slamming a Human Potentialist who’s trying to get his (or her) hands on more of ‘Big Education’s billions.

 

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01
It may still be unclear what this legislature did, but it’s very clear how they did it: with remarkable bile, bitterness and backstabbing among the forces of McCrory, Tillis and Berger.
 
Oddly, there wasn’t the usual simultaneous adjournment, with members from both houses sharing smiles and handshakes at the end. The Senate passed its budget and left town. The House was left to clean up. (And the state was left with no plan to clean up coal ash.)
 
The once-united troika of Governor, House and Senate fell apart this year. One Republican even said the Senate pushed for the so-called 7 percent pay raise just to put up a number that McCrory had said he would veto, challenging him to put up or back down.
 
Then there was the Governor comparing Berger to Marc Basnight, Tony Rand and even Harry Reid. Plus the obvious glee that McCrory and Tillis allies took in the defeat of Berger Jr.’s congressional race – and their possible involvement in that defeat.
 
In return, there was the Senate’s very public and pointed killing of the puppy-mill bill that was a pet project (so to speak) of the Governor and First Lady.
 
Certainly Democrats fought with each other when they held those positions. Jim Hunt had Jimmy Green, for Pete’s sake. But Republicans took it to a new level this year.
 
Democrats can’t be happy with what the session did. But they can learn to like the political damage it did to Tillis’ Senate candidacy, the issues they now have for the 2014 and 2016 elections and the prospect of more GOP division ahead.

 

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31
Shades of John Edwards and “Two Americas!” The state Senate seemed to channel the former Senator in the debate over how to help the state’s stagnating rural areas keep up with booming urban areas.
 
One Senator said we need to “level the playing field.”
 
There is a political angle to this, of course. Republicans tend to live in rural areas and Democrats tend to live in urban areas. This is not a trend Republicans want to see go on. It is a serious threat to their majority.
 
Beyond the politics lies a serious policy issue. Since the 1960s, as we moved from an economy built on farms and small factories to an economic built on science and technology, North Carolinians have tried to arrest the decline of rural areas. We’ve had Rural Economic Development Centers, Rural Prosperity Task Forces and a host of rural economic initiatives.
 
Notwithstanding all these studies and policy recommendations, people keep moving away from rural areas in droves and cities like Raleigh keep booming.
 
So the theory seems to be that, if the legislature makes it harder for cities to raise revenue to pay for both schools and transit, Company A will decide to locate in Onslow County rather than Wake County. Or will Company A instead go to Austin, Texas?
 
Recently Governor McCrory has announced a slew new companies coming to the state. Many of them are in Charlotte, where he and Speaker Tillis are from. That’s one of their differences with Senator Berger, a product of small-town North Carolina.
 
The unavoidable issue here is that bright young people today like urban living. They want to walk to work, stop a coffeehouse on the way and then meet their friends after hours in a downtown bar or restaurant. See downtown Raleigh any day after 5 p.m. 
 
Now, you might think that free-market conservatives would say this is the Invisible Hand at work and government shouldn’t interfere. But sometimes in politics you have to rise above principle.

 

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30
A suspicious-minded sort at breakfast wondered if there was more than coincidence behind these two stories running the same day: “N.C. voters want stronger actions from lawmakers on coal” (Weekly Independent) and “Duke deal could lower power bills in eastern NC towns” (WRAL-TV).
 
No doubt the ElectriCities deal has been in the works for a long time, long before the coal ash spill and the subsequent political spillover.
 
But the Suspicious Mind asked: “With Duke under fire from every politician you see and with the U.S. Attorney issuing subpoenas in every direction, don’t you suppose Duke needs all the friends and allies can get right now?”

 

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29
Democrats and progressives routinely decry Big Outside Money (BOM). Maybe they should recalculate. BOM has fundamentally reshaped the U.S. Senate race – in favor of Senator Hagan and against Speaker Tillis.
 
A flood of ads sponsored by pro-Hagan groups like the Senate Majority PAC have painted Tillis as the friend of CEOs, yacht-owners and polluters and the dedicated foe of the environment, education and schoolchildren everywhere. Polls show Hagan opening up a measurable lead in what inevitably will be a tight race.
 
Conventional wisdom is that Tillis has been hurt by the long legislative session. Don’t believe it. Voters aren’t following what is happening at the legislature. Here’s a political rule of thumb that will always serve you well: Voters are paying a lot less attention than you think. And they’re paying a hell of a lot less attention than you are.
 
No, the changed race is a function of the information that voters are getting on TV. And what’s happening on TV in the Senate race this summer should be a lesson to Democrats: (1) This is a big, rich country. (2) There are a lot of rich people who have Democratic views and values. (3) There is enough of that money to beat the Republicans at the game they invented.
 
There was a time when Republicans confidently thought Obamacare would carry them to an easy victory in November. They need to recalculate too.

 

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28

After President Obama bombed Libya into submission I wouldn’t have expected to hear anyone calling him an isolationist but according to Dick Cheney that’s exactly what he is.

John McCain’s not exactly happy with the President either; he’s upset with Obama for not doing more in the Ukraine.

But the isolationist who’s done the most to rile what we’ll call the ‘International’ wing of the Grand Old Party up in arms isn’t Obama – it’s Rand Paul, who got taken to the woodshed by Rick Perry after saying he had his doubts about sending his son (or anyone else’s) back to Iraq.

After a decade of wars with unhappy endings a little peace and quiet seems like a relief but, then again, Cheney says if we don’t straighten out the mess in Iraq we’ll have terrorists landing on our doorstep and McCain adds that Putin’s such a varmint if we don’t tie a knot in his tail right now in the Ukraine there’ll be hell to pay.

It’s all troubling and eerily familiar.

A decade ago when Cheney and company believed we should invade Iraq they said Saddam Hussein was such a villain we had no choice but when the smoke cleared it turned out it was something they hadn’t said that mattered: They’d promised victory would be easy and swift, that we’d whip Saddam with 150,000 men and a few smart bombs and barely break a sweat. General Colin Powel warned them that, yes, we would whip Saddam’s army but after we’d conquered Iraq we’d own it (and 30 million quarrelsome Iraqis) and then 150,000 men wouldn’t be enough.

It wasn’t.

Fast forward a decade and now we’ve got many of the same folks arguing we have to save the rebels in Syria and stop the rebels in Iraq and put the kibosh on Putin but whipping Putin’s going to be a lot tougher proposition than whipping Saddam Hussein – so next time a politician starts talking about anything like sending in the Marines and promises, This will barely hurt at all, let’s run the scoundrel out of town on a rail before he does any real harm.

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
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. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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