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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

04
Any Southerner worth his salt, at some point, has come face to face with William Faulkner’s story “The Bear” – about a mammoth, faster than a locomotive bear who roams and rules the last 100 square miles of pure wilderness in Mississippi where the final vestiges of ancient virtues like endurance and sacrifice have not yet been corrupted by the tentacles of civilization.
 
Each fall, every year, the same troop of hunters – a farmer, an aging Confederate General, a banker, a half-breed Indian, an incorrigible redneck and a boy – climb into wagons and roll into the wilderness for a rendezvous with the legendary bear none of them actually expect (and may not even want) to kill.
 
In those days bear hunting required hunting dogs, but no dog in his right mind wanted to go anywhere near that mammoth bear – until, at last, one of the hunters found a fyce with more gumption and courage than good sense.
 
The first time the little dog laid eyes on the bear he lowered his head and charged and the bear, more surprised than alarmed, stopped and turned at bay rising onto his hind legs.
 
The fyce, a paw slap away from doom, was saved.
 
Then, as the giant bear lumbered away, one hunter glanced at the man next to him, nodded down at the still yipping fyce, and grunted, We ain’t got the dawg yet – h’it aint big enough.
 
Up in Washington, President Obama’s the territorial equivalent of that old bear. Two Presidential Elections ago no one thought he’d whip Hillary – who was a Democratic legend in her own right.
 
Then, though no one said it much, a fair amount of folks figured the odds were pretty long against a black man getting elected President – but Obama whipped a war hero and landed in the White House.
 
When 2012 rolled around, just about every Republican guru and savant on TV was prophesying Obama, with his huge disapproval rating, was doomed. Instead Obama whipped Mitt Romney and since then he’s whipped John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in just about every fight with Congress without hardly breaking a sweat.
 
Of course just about everyone has an explanation for why Obama’s whipped every Republican in sight. It’s demographics. Urbanization. Culture. Technology. But in the end, let’s give Obama credit – Republicans failure may be as simple as ‘we ain’t found a dawg big enough yet.’  

 

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28
The judge, after I asked about Eric Holder’s lawsuit, grunted and said, Whatever gave you the idea that law and justice are the same thing – the law can be a darn peculiar beast.
 
Not long ago the Attorney General of the whole United States sued the whole state of North Carolina to put a stone cold stop to the state’s new ‘voter laws.’
 
Republican legislators, outraged at being accused of trampling on the Constitution, but also unintimidated, shot back their new laws were not only 100% legal but, what’s more, were urgently needed to stop the state’s rampant voter fraud (which, oddly, hardly a soul seems to have seen or heard a word about before the new law passed).
 
The Attorney General didn’t flinch: He declared all that talk about voter fraud was a ruse hiding what legislators were really doing – scheming to make it harder for African Americans to vote.
 
Which was a pretty unkind thing to say.
 
It sounded more like Reverend Barber on a rant than a distinguished jurist solemnly defending the constitution.
 
But that’s not what’s odd about Eric Holder’s case.
 
It seems, according to the newspapers, the law is crystal clear on one fact: Making it harder for African Americans to vote because they’re African Americans is taboo. That’s discrimination. Pure and simple. And it’s illegal.
 
But, and this is the odd fact, passing a law to make it harder for Democrats to vote because they’re Democrats is fine. That’s not racial discrimination. It’s just hardball politics. And, strange as it sounds, it’s perfectly legal.
 
That’s odd, you say.
 
Well, I thought so too – but the newspaper gave an example it’s hard to get around: Redistricting.
 
For the better part of a century Democrats redistricted to make it harder for Republican voters to elect Republican candidates then, when the shoe was on the other foot, Republicans did the same thing (only the other way around). And every bit of that political-advantage-grabbing by one party over the other was perfectly legal.
 
In fact, a three judge panel just bluntly told a group of Democrats who’d sued because they didn’t like being on the receiving end of the Republican redistricting plan: Political losses and partisan disadvantages are not the proper subject for judicial review.
 
So there it is.
 
Which in the inerrant logic of the law means: Republicans requiring voters to have IDs, because they figured out that Democrats are less likely to have them, is fine. That’s perfectly legal.
 
Now, of course, like most logic there’s a limit to how much light it can shed. And that’s where the high-minded workings of law and logic run afoul of a murky kind of devilment in the form of a series of shoal-like facts, including: a) African Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates; and b) African Americans are less likely to have IDs; so c) targeting Democrats without IDs also means targeting African Americans.
 
So here’s how the law works: If you want fewer African Americans to vote because they’re African Americans, it’s illegal. But if you want fewer Democrats to vote because they’re Democrats, and as a result fewer African Americans vote, it’s legal.
 
Which was the judges’ point about the law: It’s a peculiar beast.
 
 
 

 

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24
The Pachyderms, or Supreme Republican Leaders in Washington, have a natural animus to Democrats – but, these days, who they dislike even more is Ted Cruz and Tea Partiers.
 
It’s time Ted Cruz, one Pachyderm snorted in the newspaper, started acting like an adult.
 
Talking about Senator Mike Lee, another added, He’s so immature.
 
Now the Pachyderms feel about the Grand Old Party the same way Eskimos feel about totem poles – that it’s a lofty and, in some ways, sacred institution. And their heart’s desire boils down to making the GOP more powerful. By electing more Pachyderms. And Ted Cruz is no blind-loyal-party-firster.
 
Even worse, Cruz has a pesky creed. He just plain loves spending cuts. And he actually believes if Washington keeps on running up debt the economy is going to flip over and tank.
 
But to Pachyderms, after a fortnight of getting out-foxed by President Obama on government shutdowns and debt ceiling votes, Cruz’s infatuation with spending cuts is spawning storm clouds with alarming swiftness.
 
To a Pachyderm cutting spending’s a fine sentiment. And saving the economy is a lofty goal. But electing Republicans comes first.
 
So, post-shutdown, Pachyderms are out for Ted Cruz’s scalp. But, for all their guile and cunning,  they’ve missed an important fact: Miles from the Pachyderms’ homeland in Washington, in the hamlets and small towns out in Republican Primaryland, Ted Cruz is Horatio at the Bridge – battling the villains on Capitol Hill single-handedly.

 

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23
Every now and then Gary and I venture out of our respective sanctuaries to journey out into the broader world and, just the other day, we meandered all the way across Raleigh to speak to a very nice group of folks about politics (from our different perspectives).
 
And, sure enough, during the meeting a hand went up and someone asked: With all these polls showing the Republican Party at its lowest popularity ever – how many Republican candidates could lose next election?
 
Gary, gentleman that he is, felt it was only fair I answer the question.
 
Now there’s no doubt a fair amount of people are unhappy with Republican politicians. They’re not in love with Democrats either. But the polls do show they’re more unhappy with Republicans.
 
I said, Imagine, off the shores of Africa a hurricane’s forming. Then imagine you could put all the Republican candidates on the tip of the beach in Wilmington. Now that hurricane may dissipate. It may roar across the ocean and turn north and swamp Boston. Or it might roar straight ashore in Wilmington.
 
And if you’re a Republican candidate standing on the beach, the same person asked, what do you do?
 
I said, Prepare for the worst.
 

 

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21
The post-mortem’s are rolling in from the wise heads in Washington over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling votes and their verdict is unanimous: Ted Cruz was crushed. The Tea Party was annihilated.
 
But all these Washington pundits may be sailing right past one subtle fact.
 
Heritage Action and Club for Growth and the Tea Party weren’t just battling Obama and they weren’t just battling for spending cuts – they were battling the Supreme Leaders of the Washington Republican Party and their goal wasn’t just to win two votes in the House Republican Caucus – it was to win Republican primaries.
 
It’s no secret the Tea Partiers have their hearts set on cutting government. And cutting spending. And cutting debt. But they can’t accomplish those goals as long as the Washington Republican Establishment is standing in their way.
 
Instead history will repeat itself and what happened on the Continuing Resolution and Debt Ceiling votes will happen again and again – in the end the Republican Establishment will vote with Democrats to raise the Debt Ceiling without spending cuts.
 
So the Conservatives have to get the Republican Establishment out of the way. Which means one simple fact: They have to win primaries. Which is why they chose to make the Continuing Resolution a fight about Obamacare.
 
After all, drawing a line in the sand on the debt and saying to Obama, We won’t take more of the same-old same-old – if you want to borrow more, you’re going to have to agree to cut spending first – would have been a fine battle to fight with Obama. It would have appealed to Independents.
 
But about the worst thing you can tell a Republican primary voter about a Republican Congressman is that he supported Obamacare. And now Mitch McConnell and a whole troop of Republican Congressmen have done just that. And that’s going to be a pretty hard vote to defend in a Republican primary.
 
To the wise heads in Washington President Obama came out of the Debt Ceiling fight as the winner – but, when it comes to winning Republican primaries, Conservatives were big winners too.
 
 

 

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16
Back in the throes of winter the State Auditor audited the North Carolina Medicaid Department and reported it had the highest administrative costs of just about any state Medicaid Department around – which sure sounded right because, as just about everyone knows, North Carolina’s Medicaid program has been a bollixed mess for years.
 
But it turned out the auditor had made a mistake.
 
For instance, she’d reported Arizona Medicaid’s Administrative costs were 2% when, in fact, they were closer to 13% -- which were higher than North Carolina’s.
 
The Perdue Administration (which was in charge of the Medicaid program back then) promptly drafted a rebuttal letter to the auditor pointing out the error, but before the letter was sent Governor Perdue left office and Governor McCrory was sworn in – which dropped the problem in new Medicaid Director Carol Steckel’s lap.
 
Mrs. Steckel looked at the audit, looked at the Perdue folks’ rebuttal, and deleted the correction – so the audit went to legislators who hit the roof when they saw North Carolina’s Medicaid administrative costs were through the roof.
 
Now there’re a lot of reasons Mrs. Steckel may have done that. But they’re mostly conjecture. No one really knows. She may have simply figured it wasn’t her responsibility to defend her predecessors. Or she may have figured high Medicaid administrative costs would be a good argument for privatizing Medicaid – which she favored.
 
At any rate, North Carolina’s high administrative costs became an accepted fact – until a reporter, plowing through stacks of public documents, turned a page and up popped the Perdue Administration’s rebuttal with Mrs. Steckel’s edits (or deletions) on it.
 
The reporter published her story the morning the legislature’s Joint House-Senate Health Care Committee met for a hearing with DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and, of course, in no time, a Democratic Senator asked Secretary Wos, Is it true – that we don’t have the highest Medicaid costs around?
 
A Republican legislator, trying to help Wos, pointed out the reporter hadn’t published that article the morning of the hearing by accident and added it sure looked like the reporter was on a witch hunt. Democratic Senator Martin Nesbitt then quipped, if the reporter was a witch hunt, it sure looked like she may have found a witch.
 
The next morning the Vice Chairperson of the Republican Party tore into Martin Nesbitt calling him a no-good misogynist who’d insulted every young girl in North Carolina by slurring one of North Carolina’s most prominent female leaders, calling her (Secretary Wos) a witch.
 
That broadside provoked a rambling denial from a flustered Nesbitt, saying he’d never, ever, ever, once called Aldona Wos a witch.
 
So the auditor made a mistake, the head of Medicaid deleted the correction, a reporter dug up the truth, a Republican attacked the reporter, a Democrat made a joke, and the Vice Chairman of the GOP called the Democrat a sexist.
 
Back in my youth we had this antiquated idea that when we landed in a political soup, fibbing would land us deeper in the soup. But these days Reverend William Barber can stand up and say Republicans are dead-set on taking North Carolina back to the days of Jim Crow or folks can start hollering about witches and witch hunts and, in the blink of an eye, the howl rises, vision fails, and the blind lead the blind astray.
 

 

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15
In the 2006 election voters gave Republicans the boot.
 
In 2010 they turned around and gave Democrats the boot.
 
Now, according to a new poll, 60% of voters would vote to remove all the politicians in Congress. Democrats and Republicans.
 
A sign of sanity?
 

 

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14
There’s been a lot of screeching and howling coming out of Washington about who shut down the government. Respected economist Thomas Sowell lays out his opinion pretty calmly below:
 
Who Shut Down the Government?
By Thomas Sowell
 
Even when it comes to something as basic, and apparently as simple and straightforward, as the question of who shut down the federal government, there are diametrically opposite answers, depending on whether you talk to Democrats or to Republicans.
 
There is really nothing complicated about the facts. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted all the money required to keep all government activities going — except for ObamaCare.
 
This is not a matter of opinion. You can check the Congressional Record.
 
As for the House of Representatives’ right to grant or withhold money, that is not a matter of opinion either. You can check the Constitution of the United States. All spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives, which means that Congressmen there have a right to decide whether or not they want to spend money on a particular government activity.
 
Whether ObamaCare is good, bad or indifferent is a matter of opinion. But it is a matter of fact that members of the House of Representatives have a right to make spending decisions based on their opinion.
 
ObamaCare is indeed “the law of the land,” as its supporters keep saying, and the Supreme Court has upheld its Constitutionality.
 
But the whole point of having a division of powers within the federal government is that each branch can decide independently what it wants to do or not do, regardless of what the other branches do, when exercising the powers specifically granted to that branch by the Constitution.
 
The hundreds of thousands of government workers who have been laid off are not idle because the House of Representatives did not vote enough money to pay their salaries or the other expenses of their agencies — unless they are in an agency that would administer ObamaCare.
 
Since we cannot read minds, we cannot say who — if anybody — “wants to shut down the government.” But we do know who had the option to keep the government running and chose not to. The money voted by the House of Representatives covered everything that the government does, except for ObamaCare.
 
The Senate chose not to vote to authorize that money to be spent, because it did not include money for ObamaCare. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that he wants a “clean” bill from the House of Representatives, and some in the media keep repeating the word “clean” like a mantra. But what is unclean about not giving Harry Reid everything he wants?
 
If Senator Reid and President Obama refuse to accept the money required to run the government, because it leaves out the money they want to run ObamaCare, that is their right. But that is also their responsibility.
 
You cannot blame other people for not giving you everything you want. And it is a fraud to blame them when you refuse to use the money they did vote, even when it is ample to pay for everything else in the government.
 
When Barack Obama keeps claiming that it is some new outrage for those who control the money to try to change government policy by granting or withholding money, that is simply a bald-faced lie. You can check the history of other examples of “legislation by appropriation” as it used to be called.
 
Whether legislation by appropriation is a good idea or a bad idea is a matter of opinion. But whether it is both legal and not unprecedented is a matter of fact.
 
Perhaps the biggest of the big lies is that the government will not be able to pay what it owes on the national debt, creating a danger of default. Tax money keeps coming into the Treasury during the shutdown, and it vastly exceeds the interest that has to be paid on the national debt.
 
Even if the debt ceiling is not lifted, that only means that government is not allowed to run up new debt. But that does not mean that it is unable to pay the interest on existing debt.
 
None of this is rocket science. But unless the Republicans get their side of the story out — and articulation has never been their strong suit — the lies will win. More important, the whole country will lose.
 
 

 

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10
A government shutdown’s turned out to be a peculiar sort of beast.
 
First, before a shutdown, every politician – in both parties – declares the government shutting will be terrible. Awful. Armageddon. And every politician swears they want the government to stay open.
 
Then the government shuts down.
 
Next one group of politicians proposes to reopen the government one agency at a time – and passes bills to fund half a dozen agencies. The other group of politicians declares it wants every one of those agencies open too.
 
Then refuses to vote to open even one of them.
 
Next both groups of politicians agree to pay every furloughed government employee every penny of their back pay when the shutdown ends – which turns furloughs into vacations with pay but doesn’t open a single government office and costs millions.
 
Now, how on earth, you might wonder, would a Democrat be all for opening government – but then vote against opening half a dozen parts of government?
 
Or how on earth can a Republican vote for furloughing people and paying them not to work – instead of simply paying them to go on working?
 
It turns out the President, the Senate, and the House work like a three way firing squad. Not one of them can spend a penny the other two don’t agree to. Now, fortunately for the elderly, long ago another Congress agreed to pay Social Security benefits. But, legally and constitutionally, the President and the Senate can’t fund their heart’s desire (Obamacare) as long as the House says, No Way.
 
Which leaves the Democrats with three choices: Bribery. A swap. Or coercion.
 
The President ruled out a swap declaring, I won’t negotiate. Period.
 
Bribery’s out because any Republican Congressmen taking a bribe (say an earmark) to pass Obamacare wouldn’t have to worry about winning the General Election – because he’d never make it out of the primary.
 
Which leaves coercion and, say what you want about Obama, you have to admit for all his suaveness and soft-spoken words the President’s a warrior of the first order. He didn’t come from behind and whip Mitt Romney by being Caspar Milquetoast. Plus, he’s endowed with a true believer’s faith. And a riverboat gambler’s nerve.
 
So, when the Republican House offered him everything he wanted except Obamacare, he figured, To heck with it – I’ll double down and bet the pot to win it all.
 
And, just like in a poker game, that left the Republicans with two choices: Fold their cards or take a big gamble too.
 
The prospect of calling Obama (and betting  the house) made the Pachyderms  plenty nervous – a lot of them figured the safe move was time to walk away from the table. In the end they made their bet but, right away, so as not to offend Independent voters, they immediately set about reopening as much of the government as they could – everything from national monuments to cancer research.
 
That made life complex for President Obama and the Democrats. Who wanted voters mad at Republicans. To do that, the shutdown had to hurt. So reopening parts of government didn’t fit into their plans. So they refused to even fund cancer research.
 
So how does all this end? Does Obama blink? Or the Republicans?
 
Here the President has one big advantage. He’s never going to run for office again. He’s done. But in two years a lot of Republican Congressmen are going to be up for reelection.  And more than a few of them have a nervous eye peeled toward next November.
 

 

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07
Houston, we have a problem.
 
Last weekend, in Asheville, Roy Cooper threw down the gauntlet. He’s running for Governor.
 
This isn’t quite a tsunami or earthquake. But Democrats now have a bona-fide candidate (with name identification and money) standing eyeball to eyeball with Governor McCrory – pouring gas on the fire of the Democrats' campaign to 'Stop the Nasty Republicans.'
 

 

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