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Trump’s presidency is best viewed, like Trump himself, as a reality TV show.

Sometimes it’s scary. Like when Trump makes life and death decisions on the porch at Mar a Lago in full view of diners. Or anytime Steve Bannon crawls out of his cave.

Sometimes it’s weird. Like when it’s big news that Trump gave a speech and sounded like a reasonable facsimile of a President instead of a raving nut on a street corner.

Sometimes it’s mind-boggling. Like when Trump told the nation’s Governors that “nobody knew health care was so complicated.” You could almost see thought bubbles over the governors’ heads: “Maybe YOU didn’t know.”

Sometimes it’s crooked. Like when we learned that the (ex) national security adviser and the (now) Attorney General lied about talking to the Russians.

Sometimes it’s pathetic. Like when where we’re reduced to hoping the ex-CEO of ExxonMobil will keep us out of war.

Sometimes it’s maddening. Like when Trump ordered the Yemen raid, then blamed the generals for a SEAL’s death. Then said he inherited the whole thing from Obama. Then said at the State of the Union that the raid was “highly successful.”

In that case, thanks, Obama!

Sometimes it’s comical. Like Kellyanne Conway on her knees in the Oval Office. Or Sean Spicer any day of the week.

Like when Spicer chewed out his staff for leaking. And had their cell phones searched for leaks. And told them not to tell anybody about it. And it took about 10 minutes for the media to get the story.

It’s only right that the worst nightmare for this TV-show administration is a TV show: Saturday Night Live. Alec Baldwin trumps Trump, and Melissa McCarthy sliced up Spicer with one sketch.

So it’s only right that two possible opponents to Trump in 2020 are Al Franken, who was great on Saturday Night Live, and Oprah, who’s so big she’s bigger than Trump.

Judging from the polls, the American people look about ready to grab the remote and look for a new show.


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The house where I grew up came down yesterday.

It had to go. It was built some 70 years ago. A tiny box of a place, now rundown and decades outdated.

My father had bought it sight unseen. He’d come home nights from his job in the composing room of the N&O. He’d bring the first edition of the paper and comb through the real estate ads.

He spotted a place in a neighborhood called Budleigh off Canterbury Road in west Raleigh. First thing the next morning, he called the agent and made an offer.

“Don’t you want to look at it first?” asked the agent.

“No,” my father said. “I know I want it.”

He got it. Then he got a massive case of poison ivy hacking down the weeds and high grass that had taken over the yard.

My parents raised four kids there. I went to Lacy Elementary, Martin Junior High and Broughton. It was one of those idyllic ‘50s childhoods where we stayed out all day playing with friends up and down the street and exploring the creeks and woods that were still around.

We had a yard big enough for baseball, football and tag. At dinner time, our mothers called us or rang a bell.

Once we were playing baseball, my father pitching for both sides, and our friend Richard tagged one ball hard. “Run home, Richard!” yelled my father. Richard promptly ran across the street to his house.

The house had something most don’t today: a front porch. You could sit there and watch everybody go by. I loved summer afternoons when you could watch thunderstorms coming.

The place began going downhill when my dad died in 2005. A few years later my mother remarried and moved away. My sister lived in the house until her death last summer.

Over the last few months, it grew dusty and dank. We rummaged through things. We took or gave away most of the furniture. Up in the attic we found years of memories. Old report cards and school papers, ours and our parents’. Newspapers, magazines and old books. Dishes, linens and clothes. Baby things, kids’ toys and kitchen utensils.

Apparently, people who grew up in the Depression never liked to get rid of anything.

There were treasures. Family pictures. My high school commencement program. A small, crumbling Bible with my grandfather’s name: “Walter Gary Parker. Christmas 1912.”

I knew the house was coming down, so I drove by every day. This morning, it was gone. The lot looked bigger than I remembered. And so empty.

But it also looked ready for new life.

Neighbors bought it and will build their new home on the lot. Their children and ours had played together there, under the generally watchful eyes of my parents.

So there will be life and laughter again. Grandchildren playing, and grandparents watching.

For now, where the house once stood there’s a hole in the ground. And a hole in my heart.

Posted in: General
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There’re a lot of odd things going on in politics: Democrats are holding anti-Republican protests and calling them Town Hall Meetings; Republicans have been tweeting about Saturday Night Live and Meryl Streep – but even when they’re angry the people hollering on Facebook or Twitter seem to be enjoying themselves.

But, last week, a new cause so unusual popped up I wondered: Who are these people?

It turned out the new campaign was the brainchild of three men: One had joined the Marines when he was 18, retired 22 years later, and joined a local Moose Lodge; the second had also been a Marine, a drill instructor at Parris Island; and the third had been a preacher in small town churches, who’d also worked in the shipping department of a packing company.

Eventually each of the men – who lived miles apart – had gotten into politics, met, and last week they rolled up their sleeves and went to work to restore an ancient right which the first friend explained on Facebook by saying ‘the states created the federal government not the other way around’ – then adding, ‘So we should always retain the right to leave the union.’

By ‘we’ he meant North Carolina.

The roadblock the retired Marine saw standing in the way wasn’t Appomattox – it was a clause in the State Constitution added after Appomattox that said North Carolina could not secede again.

You might have expected the three comrades to take to Facebook or Twitter – along with the anti-Trump Democrats and the pro-Trump Republicans – to build support for their campaign.  

But they didn’t.

They didn’t need to.

Because all three were state legislators. 

So 151 years to the week after General Sherman – leaving Columbia, South Carolina in flames behind him – headed north toward Raleigh three Don Quixotes, standing on the floor of the State House, introduced a bill to give the people of North Carolina back their right to secede.

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Governor Cooper is right. The HB2 “compromise” is no compromise. It would make a bad deal even worse.

The referendum provision sounds good. What’s wrong with letting people vote?


First is a matter of policy and principle.

As the Governor said, we shouldn’t put minority rights up to a majority vote. That’s like putting civil rights up to a vote in the South in the 1950s.

Second is a matter of politics.

We would end up with a series of local referendums across the state on bathrooms and gender. That would mean years of bitter, highly publicized battles all over North Carolina.

You could force a referendum by getting signatures from 10 percent of the total number of votes in the last municipal election – the lowest turnout possible.

In Raleigh, that would be 3,600 signatures. A ridiculously low threshold.

This scenario may well be what Republicans want. Or think they want. They miscalculated on HB2 a year ago.

But it’s a formula for more discrimination, more divisiveness and more distraction from real problems. Plus more damage to North Carolina’s economy, more jobs lost, more business lost and more sports events lost.

The fake compromise should be flushed.


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A high-ranking FBI official (Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat) and The Washington Post took down Richard Nixon’s presidency.

FBI Director James Comey and the media echo chamber took down Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Now Trump compares American intelligence services with Nazis and declares that the media is the enemy.

Where does this lead?

A TAPster passes along this blog (“Our Praetorian guard”) from Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago:

“Intelligence officials are going after Trump with a vengeance. This has been building for weeks, but I wonder whether the last straw was the farce at Mar-a-lago, where Trump and top officials debated how the U.S. should respond to North Korea’s missile test in front of paying guests. One guest apparently posed for a picture of himself and a military officer holding a briefcase with the nuclear launch codes.

“It seems possible that the intelligence community can live with being compared to Nazis, but the Mar-a-lago debacle deeply offended its sense of professionalism. Why take so many precautions if the president takes none? Reports are circulating that intelligence officials are concealing some sensitive information from the president. Let’s face it: Trump is a bozo, and the intelligence community is trying to figure out how to contain him. This is comforting, but the question has to be asked, what price will it charge us in return?”

Intelligence agents know a lot of things. Including how to leak what they know to the media. What will they leak about Trump?


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You know things are bad when Mark Sanford is the voice of reason.

Yes, that Mark Sanford. The congressman from South Carolina. The ex-Governor who gave new meaning to “hiking the Appalachian Trail.”

Sanford is back on stage as one of few Republicans unafraid to criticize Trump. He speaks out in a fascinating Politico article by Tim Alberta (“’I’m a Dead Man Walking’: Mark Sanford has nothing left to lose. And he’s here to haunt Donald Trump.”)

Alberta writes:

“Most Republicans in Washington are biting their tongues when it comes to Donald Trump, fearful that any candid criticisms of the new president could invite a backlash from their constituents or, potentially worse, provoke retribution from the commander in chief himself.

“Mark Sanford is not like most Republicans in Washington….

“His digs at Trump cover the spectrum. The president, Sanford says, ‘has fanned the flames of intolerance.’ He has repeatedly misled the public, most recently about the national murder rate and the media’s coverage of terrorist attacks. He showed a lack of humility by using the National Prayer Breakfast to ridicule Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on ‘The Celebrity Apprentice.’ Most worrisome, Sanford says, Trump is unprepared for the presidency….”

Alberta goes on:

“I ask Sanford, in our early February interview, whether it’s fair to say Trump doesn’t impress him. ‘Yeah, that’s accurate,’ he tells me. ‘Because at some level he represents the antithesis, or the undoing, of everything I thought I knew about politics, preparation and life.’

“Sanford, an Eagle Scout, has long been renowned for a work ethic that straddles the line between tireless and maniacal. Famously brutal on staff members—his former speechwriter wrote a book documenting his workplace misery—Sanford recalls holding marathon meetings as a congressman and as governor to review every intricate detail of budgets, bills and other proposals that came across his desk.

“’And all of a sudden a guy comes along where facts don’t matter?’ Sanford asks aloud. ‘It’s somewhat befuddling. It’s the undoing of that which you base a large part of your life on….’

“’You want to give anybody the benefit of the doubt. I mean, I’ve learned that through my own trials and tribulations,’ Sanford says, one of numerous nods to the Appalachian Trail episode. ‘But if you see a pattern of over and over and over again, wherein facts don’t matter and you can just make up anything…’ He stops himself. ‘Our republic was based on reason. The Founding Fathers were wed to this notion of reason. It was a reason-based system. And if you go to a point wherein it doesn’t matter, I mean, that has huge implications in terms of where we go next as a society….’”

This sometimes happens to politicians who suffer a humbling defeat or a humiliating fall. They dare to speak the truth.


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Given how things are going with Trump, maybe we shouldn’t dismiss this secession idea too hastily.

Let Roy Cooper and Josh Stein steer the ship of state.


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Phil Berger set out to fix not one mistake but a whole row of mistakes compounded over nearly a year since the day the Charlotte City Council decided to allow gay men to use women’s restrooms; at first, it had looked like Charlotte’s ordinance would be an easy bit of wickedness to cure: After all, when most people looked at Charlotte’s politicians they shook their heads surprised and incredulous both at the same time, so all Republican legislators needed to do to kill the ordinance was pass a one-line bill.

But they didn’t do that: Instead they added two more sections – probably as a gift to business interests – to House Bill 2: One that banned discrimination lawsuits against employers and another that said gays were not a minority group and so were not protected by laws against discrimination.

Even then it all might have worked out but, when a brawl broke out with politicians hollering and finger pointing, it turned out Republicans had handed Democrats a gift – a way to oppose HB2 without ever mentioning restrooms.

Democrats roared that Republican legislators had made it clear what they really wanted to do was discriminate against gays and, fighting back, an undaunted phalanx of Republican leaders compounded one mistake by adding another: Over and over, they said, letting gays into women’s restrooms was going to mean sexual predators prowling in women’s restrooms – but the Republicans had missed a crucial fact: Even people who agreed with them had a friend or cousin or co-worker who was gay and saw putting gays in the same boat with sexual predators as a cheap shot.   

The more they railed the more it sounded like Republicans wanted to do just what Democrats said: Discriminate against gays. From then on the fight over HB2 wasn’t about men using women’s restrooms – it was about Republicans’ unkindness or meanness or unfairness to Tom’s gay friend or Sally’s cousin.

Then the newly elected Democratic Governor shocked everyone by calling Republican leaders Phil Berger and Tim Moore and offering a compromise: If he could persuade Charlotte’s City Council to repeal its ordinance, Roy Cooper asked, would Republicans repeal HB2?

Charlotte hemmed and hawed but, finally, repealed its ordinance and the same day Phil Berger stood up on the Senate floor holding a bill in his hand: Berger had no intention of letting men use women’s restrooms but he also saw a way to get Republicans out of the minefield they’d marched into: He’d repeal HB2, Berger said, but no city could pass another ‘gay ordinance’ like Charlotte’s for six months.

What Berger meant was simple: He wanted to turn back the hands of the clock (and return the law) to the exact same place it had been in before either HB2 or Charlotte’s Ordinance saw the light of day – which meant gay men could not use women’s restrooms. And Berger was giving himself six months to figure out how to prevent another city from passing a Charlotte-type ordinance.

Berger was promptly shot not just by Democrats but by the phalanx of Republicans.

Two months later, Roy Cooper rolled out another compromise – it wasn’t identical to Berger’s but it was pretty close: Let’s repeal HB2, Cooper said, and let’s also agree that no city can pass a Charlotte-type ordinance without giving the General Assembly thirty days’ notice. Which would give the legislature 30-days to stop another ordinance.

Berger’s fix and Cooper’s fix were cut from the same piece of cloth and either way it didn’t look like men – gay or otherwise – would be using women’s restrooms.

But Cooper, like Berger, was promptly shot by both sides.

His friends – like the head of North Carolina’s Gay Rights movement Chris Sgro – lit into him saying, “No member of the LGBT community is a risk to public safety in a public restroom or anywhere else” – while Republicans blasted him from the opposite direction: The problem with Cooper’s fix, Lt. Governor Dan Forest declared, was it did allow gay men to use women’s restrooms.

By sundown Roy Cooper’s proposal was dead, Republicans were still mired in that minefield, and Democrats were still railing about HB2 without ever mentioning restrooms.

So what happens now? Nothing. Nothing changes. Not until ‘the blessed silence’ returns.

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A good poll can guide you safely through the political jungle.

A bad one can lead you into a death trap.

Witness Pat McCrory.

Jim Morrill reported in The Charlotte Observer (“A day before McCrory signed HB2, he got a poll that showed it would be popular”) that:

“Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 a day after his political strategist shared a poll showing it would be popular with voters, newly released emails show.

“Strategist Chris LaCivita shared the poll with the governor on March 22. ‘Wow,’ the governor responded after seeing the poll results.”

Morrill reported that the poll, of voters in the Charlotte area, “seemed to show strong support for the bill.”

Seventy-percent of respondents opposed what the survey called the “Charlotte Bathroom ordinance.” And 61 percent agreed with overturning the Charlotte ordinance “as a matter of protecting the privacy and safety of women and children.”

But, as things turned out, the poll asked the wrong question.

HB2 came to be seen not as a “bathroom bill,” but a pro-discrimination bill. Even worse, it became a law that embarrassed North Carolina and cost the state jobs, businesses, conventions and ACC and NCAA events.

So it’s no surprise that McCrory was frustrated by – and lashed out at – media coverage and public reaction.

And it’s no surprise that Phil Berger, Dan Forest & Co. still struggle to make HB2 a Bathroom Bill, not a Bad Business Bill.


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One group of Americans watches Trump on TV, and they see their worst fears come to pass. They see a vain, boastful, arrogant, uninformed con man. They see an administration marked by chaos, cruelty, incompetence, hostility to fundamental constitutional rights and a troubling penchant for making unnecessary enemies and strange friends abroad.

Another group of Americans watches Trump, and they see their dreams come true. They see a straight-talking, no-BS, non-PC strongman. They see an administration that’s making all the right moves against all the right enemies: the media, minorities, Muslims, liberals, Democrats, the Washington establishment and all the smarty-pants know-it-alls.

Then there’s a third group of Americans. They watch Trump, and they’re alternately amused and horrified. They listen to the other groups, and they’re put off by the anger and bitterness of both. They seek the truth, and they don’t see it coming from either side.

They are left with their hopes and their fears. And they hope it will all turn out better than they fear.


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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
Gary Pearce
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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