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02
You would think by now out of sheer boredom Congressmen would be looking for new ways to fool voters but, undeterred at using the same old worn-out trick again, just before Christmas eager-beaver Paul Ryan rolled out his new budget, saying how he’d made a deal with the Democrats to cut spending and cut the deficit – which sounded pretty good until it turned out he hadn’t done any such thing.
 
Ryan’s new deal didn’t cut spending this year, or next year, or the year after – it increased it. So where are the cuts? Well, they’re promises Ryan is sure will happen a decade from now – if Congress doesn’t change its mind.
 
It’s hard to tell which is worse – Ryan increasing spending or Ryan saying he cut spending when he didn’t.
 
But give Paul Ryan credit for one thing – he’s proven Congressmen, like pickpockets, are not just sneaky – they’re predictable.

 

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02
The newspaper headline read: Dome, full of cracks. And the newspaper reported: The aging iron dome ‘is slowly crumbling…riddled with hundreds of cracks and rust.’
 
The dome is the Capitol Dome. But the newspaper could just as easily have been writing about Congress itself.

 

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31
Up in Brasstown deep in the Smoky Mountains, on every New Years Eve a local merchant holds a ‘Possum Drop’ – a western North Carolina version of the Yankees’ ball drop in Times Square.
 
What the mountain folks hadn’t counted on was PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) taking umbrage at the whole idea of celebrating New Years at a possum’s expense and suing and stopping the festival dead in its tracks.
 
So, one year, instead of watching a live possum in a glass box ‘drop' the festival’s organizer (Mr. Logan)  ‘dropped’ a dead possum he’d found on the side of the road to appease PETA.
 
Then the politicians got into the act and passed a bill reinstating Mr. Logan’s right to drop a live possum but, then, PETA filed a second lawsuit and Mr. Logan found himself back in court.
 
Possums, PETA explained to the judge, are shy creatures who’re scared of human beings and all the noise and rhubarb and flashing lights at Brasstown’s festival could cause a possum to keel over dead or leave the tiny varmint emotionally scarred for years.
 
If I thought, Logan explained, there was anything to traumatize that possum, I wouldn’t do it.
 
PETA said, What about the fireworks? The fireworks are too loud for a little critter like a possum to hear.
 
Logan explained he’d moved the fireworks so far away from the festival that most of his guests couldn’t even hear them.
 
What about the muskets? PETA asked, The antique muskets you fire during the celebration.
 
Well, Logan said, he’d moved the musket firing to the front of the celebration so it was over before the possum arrived on the scene. It’s not, Logan added, that I’m being stubborn – and pointed out to get a permit from the State Wildlife Commission he had to have the possum examined by a veterinarian and its diet had to mimic its natural diet and it had to be kept in a box six feet long by three feet wide by three feet tall.
 
That’s, Logan added, a motel for a possum.
 
Undaunted PETA’s lawyer Martina Bernstein told the judge, Think of it from the possum’s point of view: In its perception, it will be surrounded by predators. They will be all around it. It will smell them, it will hear them, it will know they’re there.
 
Well, the judge thought it over and ruled the possum could drop at midnight and Logan announced he was happy common sense had finally prevailed and added, ‘Common is the most unused sense of all the senses.’
 
Which all sounds like a silly if unkind (to possums) story except for one fact: The state had to reimburse PETA $74,446 after one of the lawsuits to pay for the cost of its lawyers.

 

 

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31
Years behind schedule, millions of dollars over budget, and riddled with 3,200  computer programming errors NC Tracks – the state’s new $486 million computer system for processing Medicaid checks – landed in the newspaper again.
 
The News & Observer reported the Department of Health and Human Services still has no plan to right the ship and clean up all the errors in the coming year.
 
And what did the head of IT at DHHS have to say?
 
He calmly congratulated his staff on NC Tracks’ ‘successful launch’ and announced their work is done.
 
It’s like Alice in Wonderland: Up is down, down is up, and the IT shop has disappeared down the rabbit hole – and it’s all a great success.

 

 

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23
Americans are so polarized politically, we argue about Christmas and Santa Clause’s race. I propose a truce. And I’m going first.
 
Through a blessed accident of calendar, Christmas and New Year’s Day are on Wednesdays this year. That effectively wrecks two work weeks.
 
Good riddance.
 
But let’s go farther. Like German and British soldiers in World War I, let’s declare a Christmas truce. Theirs lasted only one day; let’s go for two weeks.
 
We need a break. 2013 was a year of bitter battles – nationally and in North Carolina. And 2014 will be even worse with elections.
 
So I’m suspending blogging until Monday, January 6. No picking on Governor McCrory and the Republicans. No ridiculing Fox News and the Tea Party.
 
(Unless, of course, something or somebody REALLY provokes me. You’ve been warned.)
 
I’m also going off the grid. No surfing political sites and trolling for snark and checking who’s naughty and nice. No obsessing over today’s news.
 
President Obama is in Hawaii. Congress has gone home. Governor McCrory went to the beach.
 
Let’s all give it a break. And pick it up in two weeks.
 
So, depending on your politics and your preference: Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays.
 
To blue and red, to left and right, to Ds and Rs and Is alike, enjoy your time with family and friends, watch movies and football, savor food and drink and – hard as it is to believe – remember that what unites us as Americans and fellow travelers in this life is far greater than what divides us.

Peace.

 

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20
Governor McCrory and Republican legislators said they would do away with “pay-to-play” and “corruption” in Raleigh.
 
Then a group of lobbyists held a fundraiser in Raleigh. It’s illegal, of course, for lobbyists to contribute to legislators.
 
But the fundraiser was for a congressional candidate named Phil Berger Jr.
 
Yes, the son of State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr.
 
For the Republicans ruling Raleigh today, that apparently passes the ethics test. No pay-to-play there.
 
What do you think? And what will  voters say?

 

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18
Maybe I should apologize. But would Bob Rucho apologize? No sir! So I’ll double down, as they say.
 
My blog yesterday – warning that the next Congress might be run by people who think like Rucho – apparently ruined the Christmas spirit for some Democrats.
 
My friend Jerry Wayne Williamson of Boone (follow him at @JerryWilliamso1) wrote, “Well, Merry Christmas to you too! That's the most depressing thing I've read all morning!” Long-time colleague June Milby said, “Gary, It's the Christmas season, even Scrooge was redeemed right there at the end. Don't hit us too hard with the ghosts of Christmas past. There's plenty of time in January for that!
 
I can’t help it. And here I go again. Spoiler alert: This could really ruin your Christmas.
 
Here it is: Think about the chances that the 2014 elections could be even worse for Democrats than 2010 was.
 
Historically, second mid-term elections are disastrous for Presidents. See LBJ in 1968, Nixon/Ford in 1974 and Reagan in 1986. There are exceptions, like Clinton in 1998.
 
But here’s a disturbing poll finding from this week, a nugget that the Washington Post called “one very bad number for Obama”: The Post-ABC poll asked whether people trust Obama or the Republicans in Congress to do a better job "coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years." Forty-one percent said they trusted Obama. Forty-one percent said they trusted Republicans in Congress.
 
Let that sink in. Think about how the Republicans in Congress have done their jobs in recent years: the shutdowns, the shakedowns and the sheer nuttiness. Then tell yourself: Americans trust that crowd just as much as they trust the President.
 
This reflects, of course, the disastrous debut of Obamacare. Maybe, as some pundits predict, that will be gone and forgotten next November. Maybe not.
 
Thus far, experience tells us that when Obama is on the ballot, all goes well. Maybe it’s that people just feel good voting for him. But when he’s not on the ballot, look out.
 
And make no mistake: For better or for worse, the 2014 election will be a referendum on Obama. There is no escaping it. Even worse, there is not a lot that down-ballot candidates, from Senator Kay Hagan down, can do about it.
 
So, as Democrats enjoy Christmas and prepare for a new year, they need to plan for the worst, hope for the best and work like hell.

 

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17
Don’t underestimate the chances that people who think like Bob Rucho might control Congress a year from now.
 
Behind Rucho’s tweet and the budget battle in Washington is a death match between the Tea Party and the GOP Establishment.  If the Tea Party wins that war, and if Obamacare sinks Democrats in November, the Tea Party could end up in charge. Compared to what will come after that, the Gingrich-Clinton battles of the late 1990s will look like a, well, tea party.
 
So if you’re tempted to dismiss today’s right-wing rants and tweets, heed the warning signs.
 
Yes, Rucho’s tweet was condemned by Establishment Republicans like state Chair Claude Pope (one TAPster said: “He reads your blog!”) and Senator Jeff Tarte, who is Speaker Thom Tillis’ friend, neighbor and political ally. But Tea Party leaders leapt to Rucho’s defense, and what he said is right down the Tea Party-Fox News party line.
 
Then there is the PPP poll finding that Kentucky Republicans say they like Rand Paul (Tea Party) better than Mitch McConnell (Establishment) by a 59-27 margin.
 
Then there is Senator Richard Burr’s flip-flop on the bipartisan budget compromise. Politico reported that “North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, a close friend of (Speaker John) Boehner’s, said last week he’d vote to advance the deal, but on Monday he changed course and decided to sustain a filibuster, a spokesman said.”
 
Democrats underestimated the Republican right wing before: After the Goldwater debacle in 1964. Then Ronald Reagan came along and almost derailed Nixon in 1968. Eventually, the right wing took over the GOP and then the White House and Congress.
 
It can happen again.
 

 

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16
Sometimes all you have to do is repeat a politician’s own words. Like Senator Bob Rucho’s tweet: “Justice Robert’s pen & Obamacare has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis,Soviets & terrorists combined.”
 
(Note to grammar cops: Yes, his tweet said “has,” not “have” and “then,” not “than.”)
 
It appears from Rucho’s Twitter profile that the tweet was posted at 4:41 am Sunday. Maybe he was hacked. Or maybe 4:41 am is not a good time to be tweeting. You’re up either too early or too late.
 
This gives Democrats an opportunity. They can ask random Republicans: Do you agree with Senator Rucho?
 
First let’s ask state GOP Chair Claude Pope. He has shown he does not tolerate comparisons to Nazis.
 
Pope pounced this summer when columnist and UNC-TV host D.G. Martin made an oblique reference to Nazis in a column about North Carolina politics.
 
Pope called Martin’s column "inexcusable, disgusting and shameful." He called on UNC-TV to suspend Martin's show, lest his comments "damage the reputation of an otherwise upstanding organization.”
 
“It’s a shame that UNC-TV televises such a divisive, toxic personality with our taxpayer funds,” he went on. "We call on UNC-TV to suspend this program while they evaluate their relationship with their host who made such an outrageous and damaging comparison. Such divisive hyperbole only serves to confuse and trivialize issues that are important to North Carolinians, who all deserve a formal apology.”
 
Both Carter and I posted blogs pointing out how much of a stretch it was to say D.G. had compared Republicans to Nazis.  Carter wrote, “Ole Claude, out of paranoia, foolishness, or a plain mean streak, indulged in a fact twist.”
 
Nevertheless, D.G. stood up and said: “I'm very sorry that I offended some people, and I apologize. Period."
 
Will Claude Pope hold Senator Rucho to the same standard to which he held D.G.? Will any big-name Republican have the courage say Rucho went too far? Will Rucho apologize?
 
We’re all atwitter with anticipation.

 

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13
Every child knows just before Christmas is the time to be ‘as good as you can be’ – so you might think after the mischief it’s been up to this year Congress would be rolling up its sleeves and planning to work straight through the holidays to pass the farm bill, a jobless benefits bill, the defense budget and confirm a new Federal Reserve Chairman – but you’d be dead wrong.
 
The House stops work tomorrow to head home and the Senate (which already took a week off earlier this month) will follow a few days later. In all, the two chambers will have worked 10 days each this month.
 
What are the chances they’ll be receiving ashes and switches for Christmas?

 

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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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