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19
It was a simple question but back in February after the big coal ash spill it needed a quick answer:  Were the coal ash ponds a ticking time bomb or nothing to worry about?
 
A few days ago the State Official in charge of the coal ash cleanup told the Environmental Review Commission, “We don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on under these coal ash ponds.”
 
How can that be?
 
Government is slow and cumbersome and moves like a herd of turtles but you’d have thought this once the herd would be charging but, alas, turtles are turtles – ten months later we still don’t know if coal ash ponds are leaking microscopic vermin into groundwater and who is – or isn’t – drinking it.   


 

 

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19
Two things are for sure here: First, it’s never good to be linked to Mark Sanford in a Page One story. Second, if Bev Perdue had done it, McCrory and the Republican Party would be howling for her investigation, indictment and impeachment.
 
But there are two big questions: First, how bad, and how politically damaging, is Governor McCrory’s $185,509 stock payout from Tree.com/Lending Tree? Second, is his Defcon 5/massive nuclear retaliation smart or stupid?
 
Clearly, the deal smells. And, clearly, the Governor told us as little as possible about it before now. He knew that people might question their Governor getting a post-election sweetheart deal that paid him more than his state salary.
 
Especially since Lending Tree has been accused of violating state and federal laws. And paid $3 million to South Carolina in 2012 after regulators said it hadn’t disclosed that it was being paid by the lenders it recommended as having the best mortgage rates.
 
McCrory and Sanford weren’t exactly serving on the board of a corporate citizen like Red Hat or First Citizens.
 
But what McCrory did pales beside how he has reacted. The blitz he launched against AP and its reporters was breathtaking.
 
In one statement, he said of the story, “It was written with malice and the intent to do harm without any factual consideration given.” In an interview, he said, “I almost call it the new Rolling Stone type of Journalism."
 
The N&O called the response “an assault on the AP.” Several reporters expressed amazement on social media – and defended the AP reporters. One non-media post said something you always hear in these situations: “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” One PR veteran said, “If this is what works, I need to retire.”
 
McCrory critics said it’s just another sign of the Governor’s prickliness and over-sensitivity, an overreaction cooked up in the heat of anger and frustration.
 
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s cold political calculation. And maybe it will work.
 
No, it’s not PR 101. The conventional approach is to argue the facts, but not attack reporters’ integrity. This is a whole new barrel of ink.
 
Team McCrory, as they call themselves, may figure he can’t survive two years of ethics stories like this and the 60 Minutes story on Duke and coal ash. Maybe it’s easier to destroy the messenger than defend the Governor.
 
This all comes just as AP announced that it is “doubling down on state government coverage.” On AP’s website, one editor says, “...(W)e are really pushing our state bureaus to focus their time and effort on content that is exclusive to AP and that our members and subscribers can’t get anywhere else. That needs to be our guiding principle. We do that exactly as we always have: by developing sources and breaking stories, being fastest on big breaking news, and by providing explanation, analysis and depth on the stories that have the biggest impact on peoples’ lives.”
 
They sure started with a bang. And McCrory fired back with an even bigger bang. Now it’s war.

 

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18
About a week ago the Governor went on a tear about 60 Minutes, saying Leslie Stahl had done him wrong; that he’d sat sweating under the hot lights for an hour answering questions but she hadn’t even blamed Democrats once for the coal ash spill – all his work had been for nothing. Worse than nothing.
 
Then, next, he went on a tear against the Associated Press saying they’d treated him worse than Leslie Stahl – that they’d smeared him with innuendo and that no matter what AP said the payments he’d received from Lending Tree (where he’d served as a Director) were 100% legal and he’d earned every penny of the money and he didn’t appreciate getting whacked by “drive-by journalism.”
 
Now the AP story said the Governor’s stock bonus was unusual and raised red flags but about the worse fact in the story was the Governor had been paid $185,000 by Lending Tree, an online loan company that’s a cut above a pay day lender and got fined $3 million by South Carolina for misleading consumers. The AP didn’t say the Governor had done anything illegal. Or that he’d done anything unethical (as Governor ) to help Lending Tree.  
 
So here’s an odd fact: While the AP story wasn’t exactly flattering it didn’t amount to much until the Governor stood up and did something I haven’t seen in 40 years: He announced, I’m not a crook.


 

 

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17
He’d been through, he said, the ordeal of sitting for a whole hour and fifteen minutes under hot lights, sweating, answering questions but then, he added, when he saw the interview on TV he had been shocked.
He sounded – not in the TV interview but, later, when he described the interview to a reporter – like a well-meaning boy saying, I was good, I behaved, and I got punched.
 
Wondering, What did he expect? next I watched the 60 Minutes program about Duke Energy’s coal ash spill – and he was hardly in it:
 
Leslie Stahl asked: Tell us how much the fine was?
 
Pat McCrory said: I don’t have the list but…
 
Stahl interrupted: It was $99,111.
 
And McCrory said: That’s correct. It wasn’t a big fine.
 
That was the only tough question Leslie Stahl asked Pat McCrory.
 
Still boyish at fifty-eight, Pat McCrory’s run head on into a mountain of coal ash, a posse of reporters and a battalion of cold-hearted lobbyists with no respect for boyish charm.     

 


 

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16
The talk shows and newspapers were full of stories last weekend about riots and protests about white policemen killing young black men – people opined about our country’s ‘systematic racial problems’ and how Michael Brown was killed for stealing a box of cigars and Eric Garner died for selling tax free cigarettes on the street but no one mentioned a third crime.
 
Cigars and cigarettes didn’t trigger the violence that led to Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths – their unfortunate decisions to resist arrest did.
 
That was the crime that brought mayhem in its wake and it’s the crime no one mentioned.


 

 

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15
Democrats in Washington are squabbling about torture, a $1.1 trillion budget bill and regulations on Wall Street and big banks. Democrats in North Carolina are squabbling about – I kid you not – Charles Brantley Aycock.
 
Specifically, the squabble is in part over whether the wife of a descendant of North Carolina’s governor from 1901 to 1905 should be state Democratic Party chairman in 2015.
 
Aycock was both a racist and a pro-education (for whites) governor. For years, the state party had an annual Vance-Aycock weekend in Asheville, since renamed the Western Gala because of Aycock’s racial policies. One of his modern-day descendants apparently opposed the name change, feeling that the good Aycock did should outweigh the bad. For this heresy, some Democrats believe that said descendant’s wife, Patsy Keever, should not be party chair.
 
As a long-time Democratic activist asked this weekend, “If my great-grandfather was a horse thief, do I have to leave the party?”
 
This would be of great concern. If it mattered. But, in today’s world of creative campaign financing and myriad political committees, the state party doesn’t matter.
 
In fact, this squabble is a good thing. It gives the people who fight about things like this something meaningless to tear each other apart over. Which frees up everybody else to get about the work of winning elections in 2014.
 
Next up: Given their records on slavery, do we rename Jefferson-Jackson Day? This should keep the Goodwin House busy through November 2016.

 

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15
A little known prairie lawyer got up and gave a speech at the Democratic Convention in 1896 and the next day was nominated for President.
 
Last weekend, a conservative posted a link to this speech on Twitter with a one word comment: Wow.
 
It’s Elizabeth Warren’s talking about Citigroup and it’s as close to William Jennings Bryan talking about a ‘Cross of Gold’ as anyone’s heard in a long time.  

 

 

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12
The months right after an election are, as James Carville once said, “when you stop screwing your enemies and start screwing your friends.”
 
That’s true of winners and losers. The winners fight over the best jobs and nicest offices. The losers fight over who’s to blame. And they jockey for positions in the next campaign.
 
It’s the nature of people in politics – candidates, consultants and staffers alike. They spent the last year ripping apart people in the other party. After the election they keep doing the same thing, just to somebody else.
 
It can be one of the most disheartening and discouraging things about politics. But there’s an upside. If you watch closely, you’ll spot who is sincerely examining what went right and what went wrong and figuring out how to do better next time – and who is trying to climb to the top over somebody else’s dead body.
 
Then it’s simple: You hire the former and avoid the latter like the plague.

 

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10
Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post used to say: “I come in every day with an empty bucket, and somebody fills it up.” Some days I come in with an empty blog, but TAPsters (readers, commentators and contributors) fill it up. Here’s a guest blog that’s timely in light of Senator-elect Andy Wells’ letter to the N&O today. The writer is no government bureaucrat; he’s a long-time warrior in the corporate world who recruited companies to North Carolina:
 
“North Carolina continues to wander aimlessly in its efforts to recruit new business to the state.
 
“Sadly, the biggest economic prize so far was won by the new CEO of the state’s shiny new economic development organization. He’s coming from Missouri, makes a cool $225k annually and will need a map to find his way from Raleigh to Garner.
 
“C’mon people, was not a single person in North Carolina qualified for this job? 
 
“Actually, it doesn’t matter if the new CEO is from Missouri or Middlesex. As long as Republicans oppose big-time incentives to recruit big-time manufacturers, we can forget an auto manufacturer or other big employer.
 
“The mind-numbing hypocrisy and brain-dead philosophical confusion of our state’s leaders was never more evident than in the final hours of the forgettable legislative session. Legislators killed incentive payments because they don't believe in giving tax dollars to private businesses. Then, within hours, those same people voted overwhelmingly, enthusiastically and without shame to give $12 million of the state’s money to a privately owned paper mill in the mountains that threatened to close if help to pay for pollution controls wasn't forthcoming.
 
“Good luck.”

 

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10
The Taliban’s on a tear and ISIS is selling women as slaves and it looks like Limited Wars have turned out to be a gift that keeps on giving and we’re about to fight one more.
 
ISIS has reconquered half of Irag but to whip ‘em we’re not sending in the Marines or the paratroopers or the Big Red One – we’re going to whip ‘em with the Air Force alone which even the Air Force says won’t work.
 
One thing you have to say about World War II: From Guadalcanal to Hiroshima total war was pure hell but it ended. Hitler was dead. Germany crushed. Japan crushed. And, after that, we occupied Germany just long enough to make sure there weren’t enough Nazis left to make a comeback.
 
Iraq on the other hand is a classic limited war – we went in with too little, bungled the occupation, didn’t crush much of anyone, and ten years later ISIS has re-conquered half the country and we’re in a tarbaby – so the President’s diddling with fighting another limited war.


 

 

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