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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

07
Rob Christensen wrote a tribute to Jack Hawke and in it mentioned hardball politics and Jack’s run-in with the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice – there’s more to the story: During Senator Helms’ 1990 campaign, when Jack was Republican Chairman, I asked him for a favor – to work with me on a ballot security program. He did. Then I made a mistake, bungled the program, and landed both of us in a mess with a tribe of very hard-hearted lawyers from Washington.
 
Now, most folks, after doing you a good turn and landing in a mess through no fault of their own, would have been, well, unhappy.  But Jack never said one unkind word about my landing him in the soup.
 
In politics it’s business as usual for folks to take different sides in campaigns, cudgel one another, then nurse hard feelings and grudges that last decades.
 
Sometimes, when people get older, the affliction of grudges passes. But in others cases it just goes on and on.
 
Jack had no capacity for grudges at all. And it was a pretty fine virtue.
 

 

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06
In a way the Obamacare rollout is proof markets – and naked self-interest – work.
 
In the past, a lot of older, sicker people have been unable to get health insurance. Or afford it if they could. Or have had to pay through the nose for it.
 
Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, the old and ill are fearlessly wading through the snafus of Obamacare.com and signing up.
 
Who’s not signing up? The young and healthy.
 
For years the old and ill have been trapped in a small insurance pool – made up of the old and ill.
 
One of the grand theories behind Obamacare was to create one big insurance pool (even including oligarchs like Congressmen) where everyone would buy health insurance. But the dirty little secret was, while getting out of the little pool they’d been trapped in and landing in the big pool was fine for older, sicker folks, it wasn’t likely to be fine at all for the young (or relatively young) and healthy.
 
They were looking at paying more.
 
And that appears to be what’s happening. The young pay more. And they aren’t signing up. The sick pay less and they are.
 
The Obama administration is prophesying a rush of younger people, signing up for Obamacare, is coming. Maybe so. Maybe not.  But it’s hard to see youth happy either way.
 

 

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05
The poor Tea Partiers are finding the Republican Establishment in Washington harder to keep ahold of than a greased pig – they cornered the elusive rascals, trying to defund Obamacare, but then the wily Pachyderms slipped through their fingers and now Ted Cruz and the Tea Partiers are taking a pounding, being called pouty children with no respect for the time-honored traditions of Congress and common decencies – like never putting a fellow Republican Congressman on the hot seat.
 
But Ted Cruz and Rand Paul may have lost the battle but won the war.
 
Republicans who vote in primaries loathe Obamacare and, thanks to the virtues of democracy, every GOP Congressman who voted for the deal (to fund Obamacare) has to win a primary in Topeka or Toledo or wherever to continue to be a Washington Republican.
 
So the Pachyderms are taking evasive action – by morphing. They’re no longer Washington Republicans – instead, they’ve announced, they’re now ‘Pro-business Republicans.’ It’s sort of like a leopard changing his spots. Or the polecat who had a PR problem and decided the way to solve it was to declare he was a jaguar.
 
Of course, beneath the surface not much has changed.
 

 

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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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