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30
The other morning at breakfast my friend Richard the intellectual laid down his newspaper and said, ‘I thought you told me you and Jack Betts were friends?’
 
I looked up.  ‘We are.’
 
‘Have you read his article in the newspaper this morning?’
 
I looked at the headline.  ‘Well, Jack supports the Ground Zero mosque.’
 
‘He says the ad you helped Renee Ellmers make isn’t true – that the mosques in Cordova and Jerusalem and Constantinople weren’t victory mosques.’
 
“Okay.  What’s Jack’s case?”
 
‘He says the mosque in Jerusalem was built 50 years after the Moslems conquered it, the one in Cordova was build 73 years after they conquered it, and the one in Constantinople was built 150 years after they conquered it.’
 
Jack had gotten that piece of wisdom from Michael Bieseker, the News and Observer’s resident historian. I said:  ‘We built the World War II Memorial in Washington 59 years after the war ended; we built the Lincoln Memorial 57 years after Lincoln died; and we built the Yorktown Victory Monument 110 years after the battle.’
 
‘Jack also quotes a Duke Professor who calls victory mosques a sheer flight of fantasy.’
 
 ‘Well, those three mosques weren’t average everyday mosques – they weren’t like the local Baptist church down on the corner. They were among the biggest churches in the world. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem was built on the rock where Muslims say Mohammed ascended into heaven but it was also built to show the Byzantine Empire a monument to the power and glory of Islam.’
 
‘Anderson Cooper said Catholics have done the same thing – that they built the Vatican as a victory church after they conquered Rome.’
 
‘Well, there’s one problem with that – no Catholic army ever conquered Rome or the Roman Empire.’
 

 

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30
That was a flash of steel Governor Perdue showed, firing Kenneth Lay. And there may be more to come.
 
John Hood of the John Locke Foundation said at the John Locke Luncheon Wednesday that a Republican legislature could be the best thing to happen to the Governor.
 
She would no longer have to dance with the legislative donkey. She could throw darts at the elephant – and delight the peanut gallery.
 
That could shore up shaky Democrats. And sharpen her image.
 
Firing Lay (nobody calls it a firing, but clearly it was) was a good move. So was bringing in David Hoyle.
 
Here’s another good idea, Governor: Fire the nitwit who’s running the Employment Security Commission.

 

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30
I thought it was my job to be the skunk at the garden party: yesterday’s John Locke Foundation “Headliners Luncheon.” Then Mr. Herbert Hoover Rosser (yes, his real name) stood up.
 
I was the token Democrat on the panel. The other panelists and audience members were savoring the prospect of big Republican wins come November 2.
 
They reminded me of the football player who, about to score after a dazzling run, spikes the ball on the five-yard line.
 
It was a sleek, well-fed, well-dressed crowd. They were meeting at the sumptuous Sisters Garden of Eating in Raleigh, a setting designed for wedding receptions and fancy cocktail parties. They were in a good mood, so they took my partisan jibes in good spirits.
 
But the temperature in the room changed when Mr. Rosser stood to ask a question. Or, rather, make a somewhat lengthy statement.
 
In a room full of people in nice suits and tasteful luncheon dresses, Mr. Rosser stood out. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt in a bold American flag pattern.
 
He proceeded to denounce the luncheon’s organizers for not opening the session with a prayer. Further, as a veteran born in 1932 (hence his full name) he was dismayed that they didn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance.
 
He then began discussing the Founding Fathers and Tea Party. It soon became too much for the crowd. “What’s the question?” called one woman across the room. Moderator Mark Rotterman prompted the man to move along.
 
I missed the question. But not the tension. And I sensed that I had witnessed what lies ahead post-election for the Republicans between the Tea Party crowd and the country club crowd.
 
No one thanked Mr. Rosser for his advice, nor apologized for the program, nor promised to right this wrong at future events.
 
And I regret to say that Mr. Rosser apparently left before the session ended. I wanted to tell him that I recently attended a meeting of the Wake County Democratic Men that began with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.
 
Mr. Rosser, there is always a place for you in the party that is not afraid to show its love for God and country.

 

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29
Carter, if you and I are going to start being all reasonable with each other, we’re going to lose our readers!
 
Your response poses a question I can’t begin to answer: How will Muslims around the world interpret it if we let the Islamic community center go up?
 
(Though I would be happy to share with you the commission on a poll to find out.)
 
Amid all this rancorous debate, I read a perfectly reasonable statement recently – and I unfortunately can’t recall the source – about why we should let them build it: “Because most Muslims aren’t terrorists.”

 

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29
Today’s N&O story by Jay Price and Mandy Locke captured a telling vignette from the competing political rallies by the “Spending Revolt” bus tour and Organizing For America: Both featured videos of President Obama.
 
It reminded me of a conversation I had with a thoughtful Republican. He opined that the anger driving this year’s election is, yes, based partly on concerns about the economy and federal spending. But he also sees a “cultural divide” in the nation.
 
He said many Republicans feel, like he does, that “this isn’t the America I grew up in.”
 
He’s right. It isn’t. And Barack Obama angers many Americans simply because he is the walking, talking manifestation of that change.
 
Change, after all, is what he ran on in 2008.
 
But it’s more than a change in policies and national priorities, more than health-care reform. And it’s more than whatever racial and religious hostilities lurk in some dark, disturbed souls.
 
It’s about a deep social, cultural and demographic transformation that we are undergoing. America is becoming younger, more educated, more diverse (that is, less white) and more secular.
 
That kind of voter drove the 2008 election by turning out in huge numbers and electing Obama in a landslide. Those are the voters Obama and OforA are trying to energize this year.
 
But, as of now, the angry voters on the other side are driving the election.
 
Whatever happens this year, these two opposing forces – the people who were at yesterday’s two rallies – will be battling for years to come.
 

 

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29
A few years ago the Department of Health and Human Services set out to reform mental care and wrecked it. 
 
Next it set out to reform in-home care for Medicaid patients and wrecked it. 
 
And, now, it’s got another – $265 million dollar – train wreck on its hands.
 
Back before he was Secretary, Lanier Cansler was a blue chip lobbyist for a Computer Sciences Corporation which was out to land the state’s biggest contract.  The way Cansler and the folks at  ‘CSC’ told it their new system – for processing Medicaid claims –  was going to be fantastic and wonderful and would save the state millions, so when the bids came in the state dumped the old vendor and switched horses.
 
But the new computer system hasn’t turned out to be so fantastic and wonderful.  In fact it hasn’t turned out to be anything at all.  Because it doesn’t work. 
 
So CSC has asked the state for another year to straighten out the mess, which sounds a lot like déjà vu all over again because four years ago Cansler’s Department had exactly the same problem.
 
Back in 2005 they hired ACS Corporation to put together a mammoth new computer system to process Medicaid claims.   About a year later ACS was over budget and getting nowhere and the whole thing fell apart costing taxpayers a bundle.
 
After that the state turned to CSC and now that’s falling apart too. Think about it a moment:  This is a $265 million contract.  It’s big, serious business. So how does the state miscalculate (by a year) how long it will take to write the computer program? It’s almost like Cansler’s Department gets a proposal, sniffs it, says, Hey, this one smells good, and hits the go button. 
 
Anyhow, now, Cansler’s former client’s in the soup, that state’s in the soup, and Cansler’s got his PR machine cranking out press statements saying the price of the $265 million contract isn’t going up (even if it is a year late) and if you believe that would you like to buy a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge?  A battalion of state bureaucrats will now be working on this project for another year – isn’t that a cost increase?
 
 

 

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28
Now, Gary, that’s what I call a reasonable response. And you’ve raised a good question: Does building the mosque at Ground Zero make it easier or harder to win the War on Terrorism?
 
The theory that building the mosque takes us a step closer to victory, it seems to me, goes like this: By showing what good open-minded folks we are we’ll win the hearts and minds (or at least the goodwill) of millions of Muslims. That may be so. But, on the other hand, millions of Muslims may not appreciate our Western idea of enlightenment.
 
The Islamic terrorists don’t have laser guided bombs or drones or helicopters or even tanks, so let’s assume they’ve figured out they’re never going to put more weapons or soldiers on a battlefield than we are – so how do they figure they can win a war with us? The answer may be they figure winning the war comes down to conviction and, the way they see it,  they’re fighting for a Holy Cause and they’re willing to suffer and sacrifice and bleed more for victory than we are. In their view Americans don’t love anything as much as money and self-indulgence – we’re rich beyond imagining and hedonistic beyond belief and hollow to the core so we have no real conviction.
 
Now, a French philosopher might see building a mosque by Ground Zero as proof of pure enlightenment but an Islamic terrorist (who figures he’s got his hands around the one true faith) might see our multi-cultural open-mindedness as proof we don’t believe in much of anything at all and tell the good Muslims, See, we told you. There’s the proof. America is a paper tiger. Americans have no conviction.
 
And who will the good Muslims believe? Will our good will win them over? Or will they think building the mosque by Ground Zero (after Al Qaeda attacked us) proves the terrorists have a point: That we are corrupt, hollow hedonists with no conviction stronger than our desire for gas guzzling automobiles and Super Bowl Tickets?
 
So will building the mosque be seen as ‘proof of our goodwill’ or ‘proof of our weakness’?
 
Most Americans, I suspect, believe it is a sign of weakness or, worse still, proof we do lack conviction – that when our dedication to pluralism morphed into a blind faith in multi-culturalism we lost the conviction that saw us through World War II and The Cold War.
 
And, Gary, the tension behind these two views of mosque building leads to an equation you understand very well: Is it more important to be liked? Or to be respected?
 
You raised a valid point in your blog but, as long as we’re fighting a war, put me down in favor or respect.
 

 

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28
For the fourth consecutive decade, Republicans are “pledging” to cut taxes and cut spending.
 
Ronald Reagan made the pledge in the 1980s. Newt Gingrich made it in the 1990s. George Bush made it in the 2000s. And now it’s back in the 2010 “Pledge to America.”
 
Jon Stewart did a masterful job of using the Republicans’ own words from before to mock the pledge – including John Boehner saying basically the same thing he said 10 years ago.
 
Here’s the problem: Republicans keep only half of their promise. They are good at cutting taxes. But they never cut spending.
 
Reagan never did. Neither did Gingrich, though he did work out a balanced budget with Erskine Bowles and President Clinton. George W. Bush exploded spending.
 
The only time we had a real balanced budget, then, was under a Democratic President.
 
Here’s the real hypocrisy: While promising to cut spending, Republicans are decrying Obamacare’s alleged cuts in Medicaid, cuts they used to support.
 
Of course, Republicans can’t get away with this if they win in North Carolina. Because we have a balanced budget, they will really have to cut spending.
 
That will be fun to watch.

 

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27
The school board down in Johnston County has a problem:  Every time fourteen-year-old Ariana Iacono walks through the door of her school with her ‘stud’ in her pierced nose she gets suspended – but she simply won’t give up.  She goes home, serves out her suspension then demurely returns to school with the stud in place and gets suspended again.
 
And in addition to being stubborn Miss Iacono’s creative:  She’s filed a petition asking the school board to stop suspending her because, she says, nose piercing is part of her religion because she’s a member of the Church of Body Modification – which must have left the school board members shaking their heads thinking, Ah, teenagers!
 
But, now, the board has a bigger problem. One might have hoped the ACLU would pass on battling for the religious rights of nose piercers and told Miss Iacono, Look, we’re sorry but we have more important battles to fight – like preserving the rights of terrorists.  But it turns out to the ACLU the Church of Body Modification is every bit as real a church as Lutherans or Presbyterians, so its Legal Council has fired off a missive to the school board announcing nose piercing is protected by the Constitution.
 
Now, this is a more vexing problem than you’d think.  You’d think any judge sitting on a bench looking down at an ACLU lawyer arguing nose piercing is a religion would just laugh and say, Go on.  Get out of here.  But it turns out if a judge determines Miss Iacono’s  claim she’s  a  devotee to the Church of Nose Piercing is sincere (rather than a scam to fool the School Board) she’s got a case. 
 
Which seems to defy common-sense but, logic aside, any ACLU lawyer worth his salt knows to argue, Look, judge, when James Madison wrote the First Amendment he told government to keep its nose out of religion.  He said he didn’t want government deciding what a religion and what’s not because he figured government would get it wrong, and even if he never dreamed one day folks would be worshipping nose piercing, if you can tell Miss Iacono her religion’s not a religion what’s to stop some other judge from telling Presbyterians the same thing.
 
Which in a bizarre way sounds logical too, unless you’re the judge sitting there thinking if you rule nose-piercing is an act of piety it’s the same as saying any fool thing an over-heated brain can dream up is a religion.
 

 

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27
Well, Carter, to be fair, I didn’t call you “a bigoted skunk.” I’ve grown more mellow these days, and I try to avoid name-calling.
 
Instead, I said your ad for Renee Ellmers was “an appeal to anti-Muslim prejudice.” I think that is a fair statement.
 
“Sixty Minutes” had an interesting piece about the mosque last night.
 
Imam Rauf did strike me as a moderate fellow, and he said he would disclose all the sources of his money. But, Carter, you and I probably will never agree about that.
 
It seems that your argument boils down to saying this community center you call a “victory mosque” shouldn’t be built because it offends some number of people.
 
But I thought the Imam had a good answer to that: It should be built because it’s a signal that America understands that not all Muslims are terrorists and suicide bombers.
 
And I thought that a fundamental principle among conservatives is that America should do what’s right, not politically popular.
 
As I recall, back in the 1950s and 1960s, the great objection to integration is that it would upset people. That didn’t make segregation right.
 
The question here is what’s best for our national interest: To bully this imam into retreating, which makes us looks hostile to all Muslims? Or to embrace a moderate Muslim – maybe even taking a risk by taking him at his word – in the hope that we will make a dangerous world a bit safer for us?
 
And, on top of that, which course is more in keeping with America’s principles?
 

 

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