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10

The election proved just about everyone’s fed up with Washington politics but the first day of the new Congress the Washington Politicians proved they didn’t get the message: Foolishness usually starts at the top in Congress but this time it started at the bottom with the Republican back-benchers who, out of a clear blue sky, decided to gut the Independent Ethics Committee.  

The Democrats were both surprised and delighted: Nancy Pelosi cherupped, Ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress. But, of course, Pelosi’s barb didn’t faze the Republicans.

Then, unexpectedly, reaching for his Twitter machine a lion roared: Donald Trump tore into Republicans tweeting, With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog…their number one act and priority.

Trump then repeated it’s time to ‘Drain the Swamp.’

Next a mad scramble broke out: The Republican Caucus re-caucused, the back-benchers about faced, the Independent Ethics Committee was saved – but, of course, the harm was already done. There was no way to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

But, at least, the clash made one fact clear as the sun set over the Potomac: A new Bull Moose rules in the Republican Caucus in Washington. And it’s not Paul Ryan or Kevin McCarthy.

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09

When North Korea said it was going to test an intercontinental ballistic missile that would reach the U.S. Donald Trump grabbed his Twitter machine and roared, ‘North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!’

Reading Trump’s tweet I scratched my head, wondering exactly what he meant: Did Trump mean North Korea’s missile test was never going to happen – or did he mean that no nuclear weapon (fired by North Korea) was ever going to reach U.S. soil?

You could read what he’d written either way – but the New York Times didn’t care.

Gripped by the frenzy that seizes the Times whenever Trump tweets, the newspaper declared Trump had said the missile test would never happen and ABC, CNN and a bevy of other news media chimed in singing ‘Amen.’

Of course, the Times’ goal was to harpoon Trump. But more often than not the Times swings and misses which helps Trump. The unkindest thing the Times could do to Trump would be to never mention his name. But hammering Trump sells newspapers so every morning the Times wakes up hungry for another story. It’s not going to stop. And, I expect, Trump doesn’t want it to.

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08

At Friday night’s SnowBall, a young woman bemoaned all that had happened to Governor Cooper since the election two months ago: McCrory’s month-long refusal to concede, the legislature’s power grab and, now, a winter storm disrupting his inaugural.

“Poor Roy,” she said. “He can’t catch a break.”

Saturday morning, as I alternated between watching the snow and the television, I realized how wrong she was.

In fact, all three things the ball-goer cited are breaks for Cooper. Especially the storm.

He got more free media coverage Saturday morning than any new Governor ever got. First was his 8:30 storm briefing. Then came his 10:30 inaugural speech. Then his afternoon briefing. Plus news clips all day long.

All on a day when millions of North Carolinians were vegging out in front of the TV.

They got to know the new Governor in a way no amount of campaign money could buy. They saw him in command in an emergency, and they heard what he intends to do the next four years.

And they saw it after two months of watching McCrory whine and the legislature do all it could to hurt the new Governor and the state, including not repealing HB2.

Politics is all about adapting to crisis and change, making decisions on the fly, and seizing opportunities when they present.

Cooper and his team rose to the occasion. His start may have been stormy, but it was strong. And it should warm Democrats’ hopes and hearts on a cold day.

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06

The other morning laying in bed, opening John’s Gospel I read: Truth is the road to light.

Later that morning in my office opening the newspaper I read a new poll (by The Economist) said half of Donald Trump’s voters believe President Obama was born in Kenya (even though Trump now says that’s not so) and half of Hillary’s voters believe Russia tampered with vote tallies to elect Trump (even though the Obama Administration says that’s not so).

The math’s unavoidable: 1) Half Trump’s voters + half Hillary’s voters = half of all voters and 2) darkness is bi-partisan.

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06

With snow in the forecast, this is my annual reminder – for the sake of our feathered friends and in memory of my father.

First, the birds. Snow covers up the seeds, bugs, worms and other delicacies they eat.

So, Feed the Birds!

When you stock up on bread, milk, toilet paper, wine and brownie mix, or when you go to the hardware store for sleds and shovels, get bird seed. Or just crumble up bread, crackers and cookies.

When it stops snowing, toss out a feast. Be sure it’s in a place you can watch from indoors. You’ll be rewarded with the sight of flapping, flocking cardinals, bluebirds and…well, I’ve exhausted my knowledge of avian species. You get the point.

Now, for my Dad. And why I do this in his honor.

Jim was a printer. He worked for many years in the N&O composing room, back when newspapers used metal type. To close up empty spaces on pages, printers kept on hand little “fillers,” one- or two-paragraph news briefs or “house ads,” promoting subscriptions or want-ads.

An aside: Want-ads, or classified ads, used to fill page after page of the newspaper. They were a big profit center. They paid for big news staffs that got laid off when the Internet killed want-ads.

Whenever it snowed, my Dad would make up dozens of filler ads, of all sizes and shapes. All of them read: Feed the Birds!

He’d scatter the fillers throughout the paper. In the morning, you’d pick up the paper, which your dedicated delivery person had hauled to your house through the snow. You’d read through it. On almost every page, you’d be reminded: Feed the Birds!

Another aside: Jim was active in the printer’s union. He became president of the local chapter, and he negotiated union contracts with management. Later, the company made him foreman of the composing room, a management job. I always suspected that was so they wouldn’t have to negotiate with him anymore. Frank Daniels Jr. once told me, “Jim’s idea of negotiating was to talk to you until you agreed with him.” I told Frank, “Believe me, I know.”

My Dad died 15 years ago this month. Someone told me then that I would hear his voice in my head every day for the rest of my life. That happens if you’re lucky enough to have had a good father in your life.

On days like this, I hear Jim clearly:

“Feed the Birds!”

 

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05

The weather forecast this weekend is the Universe’s way of preparing North Carolina for the next four years: Big storms are coming, nobody can predict what will happen and there is maximum risk to life, limb and political futures.

And, just to squeeze the last drops from this metaphor, any slip-ups can be fatal, only the sure-footed will survive and, as a now-gone Governor once famously said, don’t put your stupid hat on.

Governor Cooper’s speech Wednesday drew a clear line in the sand – or snow. He took the legislature head-on. Last month, they tried to gut his power. He saw their bid, raised the stakes and, in effect, said: I’ll show you the power I still have.

He picked three fights. (There is great cosmic meaning in the number three: The Holy Trinity. Three Musketeers. Three Stooges. Three-point shot. Three strikes you’re out, three outs in an inning.)

First fight, of course, is HB2. Second, not unexpected: Raise teacher pay to the national average. (Didn’t Republicans in swing districts campaign on raising teacher pay?) And the bombshell: expand Medicaid. Whether the legislature wants to or not.

Republicans, predictably, went apoplectic. They screamed “raising taxes” and “Obamacare.”

Cooper framed his Medicaid move as good for the economy, not just for saving lives and keeping people healthy (although that’s a good reason in itself).

And, he noted, we’re already paying the taxes. Our money is just going to other states. We’re actually double-taxed, because we pay higher medical bills and higher insurance premiums to cover people who don’t have insurance or Medicaid. That’s a “sick tax” on all of us.

Cooper’s move is good policy, and it’s good politics. He picked three issues that not only poll well, but also energize a Democratic base that needs to turn out in legislative elections this fall.

There’s a real difference between what the legislature did last month and what Cooper did this week. The legislature focused on what’s good for their party, their patronage and their power. The Governor focused on what’s good for the people of North Carolina.

He schooled the legislature on the power that an aggressive Governor has – to dominate the debate and define the battleground.

So bundle up and buckle down. Stormy times are coming.

 

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30

Along with other protestors the professor was evicted from the State Senate gallery by the police. Then, a day or so later, he published an op-ed but he didn’t argue the legislature stripping Roy Cooper of his power was illegal – he called it a breach of trust.

Since the majority of people had voted for Roy Cooper, he said, that majority could no longer trust the people in the legislature.

The professor went on to say the root of the problem was redistricting: That legislators had used redistricting to shift the balance of power away from people to themselves so they were no longer accountable, as a practical matter, to voters.  

Now, of course, a Republican legislator would probably answer, I didn’t ignore the will of the people. The majority of the people in my district – who elected me – wanted to strip Roy Cooper of his power.

Then the Professor would probably say, You’re saying a majority in a Republican district matters more than a majority of the people statewide – who voted for Cooper? How is that right?

Years ago, Theodore White wrote a book about Watergate. Nixon wasn’t impeached, he wrote, because his campaign burglarized the Democratic Party’s headquarters. Nixon was impeached because two years later, when the cover-up unraveled, he was caught red-handed lying to the American people.

The way White saw it there are laws and Constitutions that govern how Democracies work but, beyond that, there are also unwritten codes and traditions that make up what he called the ‘public trust.’ White said that trust was key because it allowed the man in the street to accept Nixon in the White House even when he didn’t like Nixon or agree with him.

And when Nixon shattered those unwritten codes he destroyed that public trust and had to go.

Of course, that all happened over forty years ago. Times have changed. Unwritten codes may not matter anymore.

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29

On Christmas Day an editor at Buzzfeed News contacted Sean Spicer the RNC spokesman and Spicer tweeted back: “When you asked me if that Trump/”new King”/Jesus comparison was intentional: I hope you were kidding.”

It was too late.

A brawl had already broken out on Twitter with a legion of tweeters – like ‘Sentient Space Sushi’ and ‘Not a Babadook’ – roaring about Reince Priebus’s Christmas message, “The GOP is comparing Trump to Jesus and calls Trump our ‘new King.’”

The brawl rolled onto Politico, Raw Story, CNN and Fox News and ‘France4Hillary’ tweeted, Reince Priebus just compared Trump to Jesus. Trump’s only common point with baby Jesus is his tiny hands.

Pouring oil on troubled waters Spicer tweeted, “Christ is the King” – not Trump.

But it hardly mattered.

The nomadic tribe on Twitter – bound together by loathing of Donald Trump – enjoying themselves thoroughly, each trying to outdo the other, tweeted away into the night.

And that tribe had real power: Its loathing sailed down the tentacles of Twitter, CNN, Fox News, Politico, Buzzfeed and the News and Observer to people across the land.

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29

Some pundits, clearly suffering from too much holiday cheer, have strained to say kind things about Pat McCrory in his final days.

Not me. I’m taking one more shot on his way out.

Earlier in his one (blessedly) term, McCrory took a stand against legislative overreach. The legislature’s appointments to a coal ash commission, in his view, improperly encroached on the executive branch’s powers. McCrory sued. He enlisted Governors Hunt and Martin to support his suit.

Then came this month’s legislative power grab. This time, McCrory supinely signs the bills – and meekly hands over to the legislature significant powers that should be exercised by the executive.

Perhaps this is fitting. McCrory will go down in history as the first Governor of North Carolina to lose reelection. He may as well also go down as the Governor who surrendered the office to the legislature.

So let us say, as Winston Churchill in 1940 paraphrased Oliver Cromwell’s speech in 1653 dissolving the Long Parliament:

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

Roy Cooper can’t take the oath of office a minute too soon. North Carolina can’t take another minute of Governor McCrory.

 

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28

Even with four degrees behind him Eric remains untouched by either pretension or the wonders of the Internet – so it came as a surprise when I asked, Did you buy the book about Hitler? and he said, I looked it up on the internet. It said the book compares Trump to Hitler.

Hitler wasn’t a ‘National Socialist’ by accident – he loathed capitalism and, no one, not even Donald Trump’s worst enemy, has ever accused Trump of that.

And Hitler: The Ascent – published in 2013 – never mentions Trump.

And that, I’m guessing, is how fake news works. A Trump-basher posts a blurb; the blurb germinates, metastasizes, sails through the ether and, with the click of a mouse, lands in Eric’s computer and turns a book about Hitler into an attack on Trump.  

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Carter & Gary
 
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The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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