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Entries for October 2010

31
During my childhood my grandmother used to tell me ‘appearances matter. Julius Caesar, I learned later, felt the same way.  One night his wife, Pompeia, found herself in a awkward encounter with a Roman gentleman bent on seducing her. By most accounts Pompeia was innocent but nonetheless her encounter with young Publius Clodius led to a scandal, and – declaring, “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” – Caesar divorced her.
 
In the 1960’s I learned my grandmother was dead wrong – that judging people by how they looked or dressed was pure meanness. After that I managed to stay enlightened for about two decades, until my youngest daughter began wearing skirts that gave me a new understanding of the importance of appearances.
 
When it comes to appearances our Governor, Beverly Perdue, is completely fearless. Apparently, the way she sees it worrying over appearances is for the faint of heart.
 
She has let cabinet secretaries give no-bid state contracts to their former clients and, now, according to the newspapers one of her contributors has been selling voting machines all over North Carolina – which went along fine until folks started going to the polls and an odd thing happened: If they tried to vote ‘straight Republican’ the machine counted their votes for the Democratic candidates.
 
That naturally set the Republicans – who were already mad at Obama – on fire and it didn’t help when Governor Perdue’s Election Board, explaining that Republican votes being counted for Democratic candidates was no big deal, said, “That sort of comes with the territory with touch-screen technology.”
 
The Republicans couldn’t get to court fast enough.  They petitioned Judge Malcolm Howard to order the Board to pass out written instructions to voters to help solve the problem and watched open mouthed as the lawyer for the Board stood up, smiled at the Judge, said, Ho, hum, and declared the whole thing was a waste of time and that the judge ought to let nature take its course. 
 
Beyond that, why on earth is a contributor to Governor Perdue selling voting machines to Election Boards (that Perdue appoints) in the first place?
 

 

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29
There’s more bad news from Afghanistan.  The “backbone of President Obama’s plan to start withdrawing troops” has hit a wall.  Literally.  Right now, over in Afghanistan we’re spending millions to build police stations so the Afghan Army and National Police can take over from our Marines next July.
 
But, the newspaper reports, the Police Stations in Kandahar (and other provinces) have been built so shoddily they’re falling apart and can’t be used without risking the life and limb of the policemen inside.
 
In Afghanistan we’ve spent nine years fighting to defeat the terrorist and they’re stronger than ever;  we’ve spent billions building schools, roads and dams to win ‘the hearts and minds’ of the people and that hasn’t worked; and, now we’ve decided the way to win the war – or, at least, to get out of it – is to build police stations.
 
In one province we paid one Afghanastani construction company $5 million to build a local police station and when it was finished the inspectors found “electrical wires strung through windows, cracks in walls, gas lines hanging in the open, tilted windows and shoddy roofing.”  It sounded like if a strong wind came along the whole thing would topple over.
 
Somebody ought to take a picture of the darn thing and hang it in the Smithsonian with a sign that says, This is how not to fight a war.
 
 

 

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29
WRAL released a new poll the other day.  Senator Richard Burr leads Elaine Marshall by fifteen points but Marshall shouldn’t take it personally as the reason Burr leads has little to do with her.
 
54% of the voters are Unfavorable to President Obama – and it’s no coincidence Senator Burr is getting 53% of the vote.  Obama’s in trouble which spells trouble for Marshall too.
 
Overall, Obama’s 54% Unfavorable to 34% Favorable.  A sea change from two years ago.  But who’s even more unpopular than Obama (or Marshall for that matter) is Governor Beverly Perdue.
 
51% of the voters are Unfavorable to Perdue while only 21% are Favorable.  How bad is that?  President Obama’s popularity has vanished among Independent voters, but Democrats still support him 61% Favorable to 26% Unfavorable.  By comparison, only a third of the Democrats still support Perdue.  The Governor is 34% Favorable to 34% Unfavorable among members of her own party.  The only demographic group sticking with her is liberals – who’re only 15% of the voters.
 
There’s only one varmint in politics more unpopular than North Carolina’s Governor:  Congress.  On one fact Americans stand united:  77% of us disapprove of Congress. While only 15% approve.  Men, women, young, old, Black, White, rich, poor, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, conservatives, liberals and moderates all disapprove of Congress.
 

 

 

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29
In North Carolina, the most in-demand Democrat on the campaign trail is my old boss Governor Jim Hunt.
 
Nationally, the most in-demand Democrat is President Obama’s old nemesis Bill Clinton.
 
In California, the next governor may be Jerry Brown, who was elected California’s youngest governor ever in 1974.
 
In Iowa, the next governor may be long-ago boy governor Terry Branstad.
 
Never count out an old warhorse.

 

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28
For nine years we’ve been pouring billions into Afghanistan to prop up our hand-picked rascal-President Hamid Karzai.  But it turns out our arch-enemies the Iranians have one upped us.   For $2 million a year in cash – which they’ve been secretly delivering to Karzai’s office in bulging canvas sacks – they’ve bought our puppet. 
 
In other words, while we’ve been buying the whole country to help Karzai, Iran’s been buying Karzai out from under us.
 
Karzai, for his part, unabashedly sees nothing wrong with secretly taking cash from the same Iranians who last month blasted us at the UN claiming 9/11 was a CIA plot.  As Karzai explained to the New York Times, “Cash payments are done by various friendly countries to help the presidential office – to help with expenses in various ways.”  You bet.
 
Meantime, over in Iraq, the newspapers report since we’re pulling out our hand-picked Prime Minister there, Nouri al-Maliki, is also having a change of heart.  We spent even more treasure buying goodwill in Baghdad than in Kubal but, suddenly, since we’re leaving the Iraqi Shiites and Iranian Shiites are singing cum-bay-ya. 
 
This could be a bitter pill to swallow.  We’ve fought wars, shed blood, spent untold fortunes and now it looks like when the dust settles all we may have accomplished is giving Iran two more allies.  The whole thing may give a new meaning to incompetence. 
 
 

 

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28
Time’s Joe Klein puts his finger on President Obama’s problem in an engrossing
essay “Encountering Anguish and Anxiety Across America:”
 
“Even among his most passionate supporters, Obama is something of a political mystery. He doesn't challenge the Republicans; he doesn't fight back; he doesn't even tout his accomplishments….The Obama mystery is compounded by the president's lack of visibility, and passion, on the No. 1 issue, by far, throughout the country: jobs.”
 
For all the self-serving ideological spinning about this election, it comes down to one thing: job worries and the sorry state of the economy.
 
The conservative Republicans who can barely wait to get their hands on the government they profess to hate believe that Tuesday’s vote will be ideological: a repudiation of government activism and an embrace of cut-taxes, cut-spending.
 
Worry not. They’ll soon overreach.
 
Progressives whine that Obama hasn’t pushed through enough reforms. Baloney. He’s pushed through more progressive change than any president since Lyndon Johnson. And the Republican drive to repeal those changes could end up alarming Americans.
 
Klein is right. Obama hasn’t convinced people he’s putting them – their jobs and their financial futures – first.
 
And he hasn’t reminded people about the source of this mess.
 
The Republican mantra seems to be that our economic crisis started January 20, 2009. They conveniently forget how Wall Street and big banks nearly wrecked us in the fall of 2008 – a crisis so severe that Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Kaufman literally got on his knees and begged Nancy Pelosi to help pass a bailout bill.
 
Their memory lapse may end up giving Obama another chance to do what Bill Clinton once promised to do: focus like a laser beam on the economy

 

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27
The election is slowly bumping and grinding to a close and it’s been a lot tougher ordeal for Democrats than Republicans – while Republicans have been cruising along riding the headwinds of Obama-disapproval, the same national tides have been pulling Democrats downward like a remorseless undertow.  Plus, since Democrats control almost everything that moves in Washington they’ve hardly been able to find anything they can blame on Republicans.
 
The Democrats’ basic problem is they spent a trillion dollars to straighten out the economy and it didn’t work – so, now, to escape the peril facing them they’ve turned to a time-honored political strategy: They’re getting personal. Very personal. By painting their opponents as kooks and wild-eyed extremists and malcontents.  For example, at the end of the election just about every Democratic Congressman  in sight is running ads saying his opponent is a villain who wants to privatize social security (whether there’s a word of truth in it or not).
 
The Democrats’ political logic goes like this:  They figure, The stink is on us this election and there’s no getting it off, so there’s just one thing to do: Make the other fellow stink too.
 
Two years ago, when President Bush was unpopular and Obama was riding high the Democrats swept to victory saying what the country needed was ‘change;’ now Obama’s in the ditch and the Democrats are saying no matter how much they’ve blundered don’t change because their opponents are nuts and kooks and incompetents who will make it worse.  That’s a pretty good picture of how politics works – in a nutshell.
 

 

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27
Clerk of Court races generally don’t generate a lot of sound and fury but the other day in Raleigh Republican Jan Pueschel sent out an email about her opponent – Democrat Lorrin Freeman (the incumbent) – that set sparks flying.
 
Almost everyone knows the story of Demario Atwater, who murdered UNC student Eve Carson two years ago. Well, it turns out, two days before Demario killed Carson he appeared in Wake County Court for a hearing – only the hearing went awry right at the start.  Because Ms. Freeman’s office lost Demario’s file. Next, to make matters worse, instead of simply printing a duplicate file the clerk on duty dropped the ball a second time.  No file.  No hearing.  So Demario Atwater walked out of the courtroom – then two days later killed Eve Carson.
 

 

 

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27
I wish I had a dollar for every time a Democrat has told me over the last decade: “We need something like a John Locke Foundation.”
 
Democrats don’t, because they don’t have an Art Pope: somebody who puts his money – big money – where his convictions are.
 
You know he’s made it big when the N&O anoints him on Page One as a one-man Republican equalizer. Wrote Rob Christensen:
 
“Pope's influence is omnipresent this election season, with groups tied to Pope spending $2.1 million so far to influence the legislative races, according to state and federal campaign records filed in recent days.”
 
Pope’s network of organizations – the Locke Foundation (and its various publications and events), the Civitas Institute and Real Jobs NC – may deliver control of the legislature to the Republican Party.
 
It’s the most powerful political organization the state has seen since the Congressional Club that Carter, Tom Ellis and Jesse Helms built.
 
Democrats are whining about Pope. As Christensen wrote, “For Democrats, this is a case of one of the richest men in the state trying to buy the legislature.”
 
But there are plenty of rich Democrats who could counter Pope. They haven’t.
 
I don’t like Pope’s politics. But I respect what he’s done. Maybe – just as we woke up in the 1990s to the need to counter the Congressional Club – Democrats will wake up now and get to work.
 

 

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27
A friend of mine who has done well as a lobbyist in Washington told me this story about the unintended consequences of campaign-finance reform.
 
Congress decided that the integrity our democracy is threatened by lobbyists buying meals – even a cup of coffee and a sandwich – for members.
 
So a lobbyist now can’t spend $7 for coffee at Starbucks to chat with a Senator.
 
But there’s another way.
 
The Senator, you see, has a “leadership PAC.” To which my friend’s company gave $5,000. Which enabled him to attend a recent golf outing. Counting flights, hotel, golf fees, etc., the company spent $7,000 for the lobbyist to chat with the Senator.
 
But democracy is safe from the $7 coffee chat.
 
And which can the average person afford?

 

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