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Entries for 'Carter Wrenn'

03
In the desert land where the Lord struck St. Paul blind then showed him a vision, a pair of skunks are fighting a Civil War and five-thousand miles away in the world’s oldest democracy a great hue and cry has arisen to bomb one of the skunks. 
 
Now in the oldest democracy politics is a bit underhanded so hardly a politician calls bombing another country a war – they call it a ‘limited military action’ with ‘no boots on the ground.’
 
The Viking-helmeted war-hawks – like John McCain and Lindsey Graham – are telling anyone who’ll listen that one of the two skunks (the Assad-skunk) is the worst, lowest, meanest varmint to walk the earth since Hitler. It’s the vile puppet of our bitter enemies the Iranians. And thinks nothing of gassing innocent women and children.
 
And the powerful voices of cable TV, with the prospect of bombs falling and evening news ratings soaring, have raised their voices from the usual howl to a thundering chorus of outrage spiced with devilment. But hardly a soul’s asked: What about the other skunk? Has it slaughtered innocent women and children too?
 
And no one – from the President to the Secretary of State to the leaders in Congress – seems to have given a thought to how not long ago, in the land of the pyramids, when a pair of skunks were fighting we abandoned the 'Mubarak-skunk' to side with the ‘Muslim-Brotherhood-skunk’ – which didn’t work out too well. Or how before that, in the land of the Barbary pirates, we helped the ‘Libyan-rebel-skunk’ by bombing the ‘Gaddafi-skunk’ – which ended with our embassy being blown up.
 
War’s a deadly business. Limited military actions spin out of control. Skunks strike back. People get killed. And no matter what our over-heated politicians in Washington declare – this time someone ought to stop and remember: Replacing one skunk with another is not a grand plan.

 

 

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27
Republicans have been riding high since the 2010 elections but, now, there’s a bushel basket full of polls – by both Democrats and Republicans – floating around Raleigh that tell a sad tale.
 
At their zenith, last fall, Governor McCrory was the most popular political leader in the state. Better still for Republicans, the Governor was unusually popular with Independents – the voters who decide elections.
 
Now, in the blink of an eye, the good times are gone.
 
Suddenly, the Governor’s job approval numbers have turned upside-down which, translated into plain English, means more people think the Governor is doing a poor job rather than a good job.
 
Compounding the problem the Governor’s friends, despite their good intentions, aren’t doing him any favors. Last Sunday, one McCrory supporter wrote the newspaper defending the pay raises and government salaries the Governor’s paying two of his former campaign workers and actually compared the young men to Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson – which was just plain silly.
 
Republicans have been on top of the world. They won in 2010 and won again in 2012. But now there’s been a sea change. The halcyon days are gone, the tides are shifting, and an ill-wind is rising.

 

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22
Last Thursday a tiny cloud appeared on the horizon, and instead of dissipating, by Friday it was hovering right over Governor Pat McCrory’s head.
 
If you want to see how Democrats’ morale is fairing, just read Gary’s or Thomas Mills’ commentaries. This week they’re happy folks.
 
Because last week Governor McCrory said it would be age discrimination to oppose giving two twenty-four year old, former McCrory campaign staffers (who now work for state government) pay raises of $22,500 and $23,000, raising the young men’s salaries to $87,500 and $85,000 respectively.
 
As soon as the Governor finished speaking that tiny cloud grew darker and emitted a streak of lightning and, as newspapers reported, one of the two young men, who serves as Chief Policy Advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services, had “no educational background or experience in health care policy on his resume.”
 
Then lightning struck again: WRAL-TV reported that, back in March, the Governor had asked state agencies to freeze pay raises to help cover the state’s Medicaid shortfall but, since then, Secretary Aldona Wos – whose department is home of the billion dollar shortfall – had given out $1.7 in pay raises.
 
Then lightning struck a third time: The newspapers published a list of former campaign aides for the National Republican Party, the State Republican Party and the California Republican Party – who are now working in the McCrory administration.
 
By sundown Friday night email chains were flying across the Internet saying when Albert Einstein was 24-years-old he was working in a patent office in Bern – and wasn't earning $87,500.
 
The upcoming veto session may be interesting in ways no one anticipated. It’s a safe bet Democrats are about to ask how much a 24-year-old campaign worker knows about Medicaid policy – including neuro-medical treatments, triple disability ADLs, or managing a half-billion dollar IT system.
 

 

 

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20
It’s a bleak landscape.
 
A nightmare vision of a counter-revolution roaring down the tracks, turning back the hands of the clock, rolling back progress to the days before indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and daylight savings time.
Republicans, Reverend William Barber howls, are turning back the clock to the days of Jim Crow.
 
Republican tax cuts are turning back the clock to the wasteland of the 19th Century.
 
Republican education cuts are turning back the clock to the age of illiteracy.
 
Teachers are reeling, public schools are tottering, red-shirted bigots are running wild suppressing voters – all because Torquemada-like Republicans rule the roost in Raleigh.
 
Political hyperbole? Or sad truth?
 
Take a breath and consider this.
 
Republicans did not cut the state budget. Government spending went up. They only limited how fast spending went up.
 
Republicans did not cut Education spending. It went up $400 million. They only limited how fast spending went up.
 
No doubt limiting spending increases is a change. But is it a revolutionary change?
 
And what about the terrible Republican election laws? Well, ask yourself, in the year of our Lord 2013, is it within Republicans’ – or any other mortal’s –  grasp to turn back the clock to the days of Jim Crow? Or does the threat of Klansmen running wild only exist in the imagination of Reverend Barber?
 
If Democrats chose to argue increasing education spending $400 million was not enough, that would be a real difference between them and Republicans. If they argued no one should have to show an ID to vote, anymore than they should have to show an ID to exercise their right to free speech, that would be a real difference between them and Republicans.
 
But to argue Republicans want to turn back the clock to the Dark Ages while ‘Progressives’ want to march forward into sunlit uplands – that’s a narrative so far-fetched it is bound to rebound against Democrats.

 

 

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19
This isn’t a story of sin begetting sin but of foolishness begetting foolishness.
 
Years ago, somewhere, some Democratic political guru sat in a room with reams of demographics of people who never had voted and when he finished studying those pages of statistics one fact was clear as a bell: If those folks started voting more Democrats would be elected.
 
Next, over in the state legislature, the Democratic  politicians went to work and passed motor-voter laws to register people when they applied for a driver’s license.
 
Of course, the Democrats didn’t say they passed those laws to elect more Democrats – they dressed them up in fine sounding rhetoric about the importance to Democracy of more people voting.
 
Voter registration soared – but the new voters didn’t vote.
 
So the Democratic legislators went back to work passing laws to increase voter turnout – like allowing early voting, same day registration, and Sunday voting.
 
But that didn’t make much difference either.
 
Then, in 2008, Barack Obama ran for President.
 
Now, some Democrats will argue that election was when all their years of labor finally paid off – and that Barack Obama running for President was a coincidence. Turnout soared. But, for instance, did African-American turnout rise in 2008 because voters suddenly discovered early voting – or because the first African-American in history was on the ballot.
 
Two years later, in the 2010 election, when President Obama was not on the ballot African-American turnout dropped again. Then, in 2012, when he was on the ballot it went back up. All that seems to indicate Barack Obama, himself, was the prime impetus behind turnout rising and falling – not early voting.
 
Then Republicans came to power.
 
Now, let’s concede, for arguments sake, that when Republicans took office they looked at all those Democratic election laws and reached the exact same conclusion Democrats had years ago – that they’d helped elect Democrats. And they figured turnabout – and repealing those laws – was fair play.
 
Of course, like Democrats years before, Republicans couldn’t very well say they were changing the laws so fewer Democrats would be elected – so, dressed their new laws up in a lot of fine-sounding rhetoric about stopping voter fraud.
 
The new Republican laws elicited a howl from Democrats, led by the formidable Reverend William Barber, so fierce that by the time the Republican plan passed it was all but neutered – there would be seven less early voting days but the number of early voting hours per day would increase so in the end the total number of hours would remain exactly the same.
 
There was a new voter ID requirement but, in the age when a campaign (a Democratic friend actually told me this story about the Obama campaign) can text message three female Obama supporters in North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Alabama, and ask them each to call an undecided female voter in Colorado, how long can getting a voter ID slow a campaign down?
 
Governor McCrory signed the new legislation into law and put out a YouTube video saying how, now, elections would to be clean and safe – but before the ink was dry on the page Reverend Barber sued him, held a press conference, and landed on TV with a 53 minute video of his own.
 
The Governor, the Reverend explained, had landed NC right back in days of Jim Crow. He had trampled on the blood of Civil Rights martyrs, and the combination of the new laws and the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Voting Rights Act made for the worst day in North Carolina history since the union troops left the state after Reconstruction.

There is the kind of irony here that can only happen in politics: The Democrats pass laws to elect Democrats – that don’t work. Then Republicans undo the Democratic foolishness that didn’t work – to elect Republicans. None of which – on either side – will make a tootles worth of difference when it comes to electing anyone but has led to a political howl so earthshaking you’d think the greatest threat to North Carolina today is whether a precinct has 100 hours of early voting over 17 days or 100 hours of early voting over 10 days.

 

 

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07
All I can say about Gary’s column on D.G. Martin is – “Amen.”
 
In the fourteen years I’ve known D.G., I’ve never heard him say an unkind word about anyone – so Claude Pope claiming he’d called Republicans Nazis just didn’t pass the smell test.
 
Here’s the column D.G. wrote. Take a look at it. Ole Claude, out of paranoia, foolishness, or a plain mean streak, indulged in a fact twist.
 
A political pundit had said Republicans ‘overreaching’ in the legislature was natural for folks who'd been out of power for a long time, and D.G. pointed out that, in his book, In the Garden of the Beasts, Erik Larson reported Joseph Goebbels had used pretty much the same explanation for Nazi excesses back in the 1930’s.
 
It’s a subtle but straightforward point: Comparing the pundit’s explanation to what Goebbels said eighty years ago was not calling Republicans Nazis. But Claude wasn’t about to let anything as fragile as a fact stand in his way.
 
Here’s my point: There’s not much difference between Rev. Barber twisting a fact so he can howl Republicans are turning back the clock to the days of Jim Crow and Claude Pope twisting a fact so he can howl at D.G. 

 

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05
Some fellow up in the mountains decided it would be a cute idea to drop a possum in a tinsel draped cage twenty feet onto a stage on New Year’s Eve at a party.
 
To the possum’s chagrin, the State Wildlife Resources Commission agreed it was a cute idea and gave the fool a license.
 
PETA (the liberal People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) rushed to the terrified possum’s rescue and filed a lawsuit.
 
A pro-possum judge ruled the Wildlife Resources Commission had overstepped its bounds, slammed down his gavel and said, No more possum drops.
 
An anti-possum state legislator immediately introduced a bill to make possum drops the law of the land. It passed. And the Governor stopped battling several real crises to sign it.
 
Then the judge awarded PETA’s attorneys $75,000 in legal fees (all to be paid by taxpayers).
 
And some people believe government is rational.
 

 

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02
An old friend who now lives in Maryland wrote the other day and asked, What in blazes is going on in the North Carolina legislature?
 
Well, right now, thankfully, nothing. The legislators have decamped.
 
But what kind of devilment went on in the legislature before the peace of August southern afternoons was restored?
 
Not exactly what you’d think.
 
One group of politicians has been howling that legislators (of the Republican stripe) laid waste to the ‘old ways’ of North Carolina – that, like Viking helmeted Vandals, Republicans descended on Raleigh in hordes and sowed mayhem on the poor, children and women – on everybody but old rich white men and corporations.
 
Answering the howlers, the other group of politicians say after a long hegira in the wilderness they’ve restored North Carolina’s true path, revived our struggling fortunes, and, now, we are walking down the road to the Promised Land.
 
Let’s take one issue at a time.
 
State Spending – There was a reduction in the rate state spending increases. There was no spending cut. State spending actually increased. Just less than Democrats thought was proper.
 
State Tax Revenues – The same is true of tax revenues. There was a reduction in the rate state tax revenues increase. More taxes will be paid to the state this year than last year and next year than this year.
 
Neither of those changes is particularly revolutionary. Or radical. Government is going to continue to grow and get bigger. But it will grow and get bigger more slowly.
 
And, my guess is, politically, most people will be happy with government growing a bit slower – if they ever get beyond the howling and figure out that’s what happened.
 
Tax Reform – Republicans ‘reformed’ the tax code. The income tax is an example. North Carolina has had a progressive income tax (where the wealthy paid a higher tax rate than the unwealthy) for years. The legislature replaced that with a ‘Flat Tax.’ The new rate is so low everyone’s income taxes will go down but, my guess is, politically, opposing a progressive tax code is going to be a heavy load to bear at the ballot box next election.
 
Unemployment Benefits – The state ‘owes’ Washington $2.5 billion for unemployment benefits – so Republicans cut benefits and did it in such a way that 170,000 people lost their federal unemployment benefits. They argue that will create jobs. Let’s hope so.
 
Medicaid Expansion – President Obama wanted to expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to uninsured people. It was government run healthcare – so Republicans voted it down. But, on the other hand, I wouldn’t want to bet on denying insurance to 500,000 people being popular.
 
Education – To hear Reverend William Barber, the ‘star’ of the Moral Monday protests  tell it, Republicans ruined North Carolina’s public schools (which were not in all that great shape to start with). In fact, Republicans increased spending on education by $400 million this year. Again, that’s not as much as some folks felt was necessary – but it’s not exactly ruining education.
 
Abortion – Republicans set out to limit abortions (not a bad or even unpopular idea) but then slipped into a political hedge, claiming their real goal was to protect women’s health. No one was fooled. Republicans took it on the chin.
 
Voter Laws – Republicans changed a number of election laws and Reverend Barber howled they were turning back the clock to the days of Jim Crow and branded everything Republicans did as voter suppression.
 
In a way, Democrats have a point. The changes impact Democrat demographics more than Republican demographics. But, that said, it’s a stretch to call it suppression.
 
For instance, Republicans ended ‘Straight Party’ voting. I guess a Democrat can say denying a voter the opportunity to go into the polling booth and mark one block to vote a Straight Party Ballot is suppression. But it’s hardly taking away anyone’s right to vote. They just have to mark more blocks. Beyond that, how many Democrats are likely to sigh, Well, if I can’t go to the polls and vote a straight party ballot I won’t go at all.
 
If Republicans’ goal was voter ‘suppression’ – that was a pretty inept way to go about it.
 
All in all, the election law changes won’t make much difference. They won’t do what (some) Republicans hope. Or what Democrats fear.
 
The actual devilment spawned by the General Assembly was more intangible. Legislative politics made a kind of unexpected quantum leap, going overnight from old-fashioned backroom deal-cutting skullduggery to modern age politics and the howl. The ‘howl’ now rules state politics. And it may be years before we have another sensible political debate in North Carolina.
 
 
 

 

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01
It was a frozen moment in time, a sort of thirty-second epiphany revealing the compounded double griefs of fading courtliness and ascending Yankeedom (I say Yankeedom because most Yankees never experienced the good fortune of having a maiden aunt whose sole purpose in life was to indoctrinate – by force if necessary – wayward nieces and straying nephews into the propriety of good manners). Here’s what happened:
 
One July morning the Governor strolled out of the Governor’s Mansion, crossed the street, stopped in front of a group of women demonstrating against his stand on abortion, and handed one of the ladies a plate of cookies.
 
The surprised women stared down at the plate, watched the Governor saunter back across the street toward the Governor’s Mansion and, recovering their wits, began chanting, “Hey Pat, that was rude! You wouldn’t give cookies to a dude.”
 
The Governor disappeared into the mansion; the ladies laid the plate of untouched cookies at the foot of the gate then pinned a sign to the gate explaining precisely what they thought of his new abortion law.
 
I still remember, years ago, my grandmother telling me (about a hundred times), Carter, when somebody you don’t like is nice to you, just say ‘Thank you.’
 
Now, would you say folks have gotten better – or worse – since those days?

 

 

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31
No sooner did the state legislators vamoose out of town than the pundits begin publishing post-mortems and obituaries.
 
Republicans, they opined, had a ‘breathtaking session,’ marched right off the right end of the earth, passed bills that hurt everyone from the poor to the lame, halt and maimed, and got pounded for their wicked ways by the new ‘star’ of the Democratic Party, Reverend William Barber.
 
Reverend Barber turned out to be an unexpected phenomenon.
 
His flamboyance propelled him into the spotlight and, overnight, he became the voice of the Democratic Party. He’s been in the newspaper more than the Governor and ten times more than any Democratic legislator.
 
In an editorial, Ned Barnett over at the News and Observer wrote, ‘Republicans became villains’ during the session of the legislature – and to the extent that’s so, in no small part is it due to Reverend Barber’s rhetorical fireballs.
 
After the election last fall there was a yawning vacuum in the North Carolina Democratic Party. It had no leader. Reverend Barber stepped forward and filled the vacuum. He’s now the most prominent Democrat in North Carolina politics. What he says on taxes, spending, education, and justice matters. He has invigorated Democratic activists beyond what was imaginable last fall. But when all’s said and done, for Democrats, will he turn out to be a two-edged sword?
 
For instance, his ‘Letter from the Wake County Jail’ was a demagogue’s pale mimic of Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham jail. And compare what President Obama said about the Trayvon Martin verdict to what Reverend Barber said. President Obama calmly explained why the verdict had a special – historical – meaning to African-Americans. He also made the point both sides had their say at a fair trial decided by a jury. Obama shed light. He explained African-Americans’ angst toward whites. And reminded African-Americans juries deserve respect.
 
What did Reverend Barber do? He stepped to a microphone at a Moral Monday demonstration and, milking the moment for all it was worth, bellowed Trayvon Martin was ‘lynched’ by Southern justice.
 
He shed no light.
 
Reverend Barber’s a force unto himself. Donning the vestments of the church before each demonstration – painting a self-portrait of himself as the voice of a higher ‘moral’ conscience – he steps to the microphone hurling rhetorical fireballs. But he is also an old-fashioned demagogue who is as radical to the left as he accuses to Republicans of being to the right. The Democratic faithful are hoping his fireballs will give birth to a tidal wave of indignation that will sweep them to victory next election – but beware, in the end, instead they may scorch the earth beneath Democrats’ feet.
 

 

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