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19
Off and on the last month I’ve been uncharacteristically uninterested in blogging or even talking about politics. It generally happened after I sat in on the trial of the man who murdered Jamie Kirk Hahn, tried to murder Nation Hahn and in a real sense took the lives of many people in their families.
 
If you want to know what a murder like this does to a family, take an hour or so off from March Madness or whatever, watch this morning’s sentencing hearing and listen to the statements by Nation and Jamie’s parents. Your heart will break, but you also will be thankful for all that you have in your life right now.
 
You will see what they’ve gone through since April 22, 2013. You will see what they face for the rest of their lives.
 
You can imagine what they’ve gone through the four weeks of this trial.
 
First off, the courtroom’s spectator seats are not built for comfort. Imagine sitting in a hard church pew six or seven hours a day. Some family members sat there every single minute for every single day.
 
Imagine seeing the autopsy photos and the stab wounds.
 
Imagine seeing the bloody, brutal kitchen knife that the murderer bought at Harris-Teeter, brought to the Hahns’ home and used to stab Jamie 24 times.
 
Imagine listening to her voice, the 911 call and the murderer’s confession.
 
Imagine sitting through the painstaking presentation of what Jamie and Nation suffered that evening and what Jamie suffered in the 30 hours before she died.
 
Imagine spending every night for almost a month away from your home, staying at a friend’s house or at a hotel, including every weekend for some family members for whom home was too far away.
 
Imagine sitting through – and, in Nation’s case, going through – the plodding, maddening, repetitive and sometimes offensive cross-examination by Public Defender Joe Arbour. Not to mention Arbour barking “Note my objection!” when the calm, even-keeled Judge Paul Ridgeway sustained a prosecution objection or ruled against the defense.
 
Imagine then sitting through Arbour’s often-angry and even antagonistic closing argument, shouting several times of the prosecution’s case, “It stinks! It stinks!”
 
Assistant District Attorney Doug Faucette’s closing argument was calm, methodical and merciless. He quietly reviewed the evidence. He explained what the law means when it says a first-degree murder conviction requires “premeditation,” “deliberation” and “malice.” He closed with a picture taken of Jamie and Nation walking together on the beach, unaware they were being photographed, unaware they would never again walk together on the beach.
 
The jury got it. They came back with a verdict in about an hour and a half. Court veterans said they had never seen a first-degree murder jury decide so quickly.
 
Imagine, finally, the strength and the courage it required as the family stood around Jamie’s father, Chris Kirk, with Nation beside him, as Chris read this statement from the family:
 
“We are gratified by the jury’s verdict, and we are grateful to so many people: the members of the jury; Doug Faucette, Karen Scott, Abbie Lefever, Lorrin Freeman and the entire staff of the District Attorney’s Office; Judge Paul Ridgeway; Detective Zeke Morse and the entire Raleigh Police Department; all of the State’s witnesses; and the many, many friends and family members who have supported and sustained us through the difficult weeks of this trial and these terrible twenty-three months.
 
“We know that difficult times still lie ahead. We will never be able to fill the hole left in our lives by the death of Jamie. We would give all that we have to have Jamie with us, to see her grow older and become a mother, and to witness the difference she would have made in the world.
 
“Jamie’s death is a loss not just for our present and future, but for so many who were robbed of so much – the children Jamie and Nation would have parented, the lives that she would have changed for the better, the causes that she would have worked for, and the strangers who would have been greeted by her essential kindness, laughter and smile.
 
“We will strive to keep her smile, her service and her spirit alive through the work of the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation.”

 

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17
Yes, the Republicans’ Wake County power grab is raw, cynical politics. But it could help Democrats win legislative seats, the Governor’s Office, the U.S. Senate race and even a U.S. Senate majority and the Presidency next year.
 
Wake is the biggest-voting county and the biggest swing-vote county in a big state that could decide elections up and down the ballot, all the way to the White House. Note that last year Republicans nearly lost several Wake County legislative races, even in gerrymandered districts and even in a good Republican year. And a presidential-year turnout in Wake County would have reelected Kay Hagan.
 
The Republicans did lose all four Wake County commissioners’ races. So now they want to gerrymander the commissioners. You know their scheme stinks when an even-handed old hand like Rob Christensen feels moved to observe, “This bill is about rigging the Wake County elections, just as the legislature has previously rigged legislative and congressional elections through gerrymandering.”
 
If legislative Republicans pass the election-rigging bill, they might awaken the Wake County electoral giant and suffer the consequences, both for gerrymandering and for what looks like a war on cities and urban areas.
 
By the way, Governor McCrory could use this bill to separate himself from an unpopular legislature, instead of fighting over his appointments (as a former Duke employee) to a coal ash commission. Speaking out against the Wake bill (he can’t veto it) would help him in precisely the areas where he could lose the election to Roy Cooper. Of course, if the Governor speaks up and the legislature ignores him, he’ll look even more impotent. In the meantime, we’ll assume silence is consent.
 
Democrats may not have made their best case against the scheme yet. They should tell Wake County voters – not just those in Raleigh and Cary, but ALL Wake County voters: The legislature is taking away your right to vote. Last year you voted for all seven commissioners. But Republicans don’t like how you voted. So next year you get to vote for only two commissioners.
 
Republicans are betting voters won’t get mad about gerrymandering and raw politics. Want to bet they get made at politicians taking away their votes?
 
Christensen also captured this gem from Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican: “Let’s get down to it. We’re talking rural vs. city.”
 
You wonder why Republicans want that war in a fast-growing and urbanizing state. But they got it.

 

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16
Back when Navy Seals evened the score with Osama bin Laden, the Secretary of Defense proclaimed “defeating al-Qaeda” was within our grasp. Victory was at hand.
 
Then the wheel came off the cart.
 
And now up in Washington the Director of National Intelligence is telling Congress the threat of ‘terrorism is worse than at any point in history.’
 
How did we wind up in this train wreck?
 
The answer is harsh: We deceived ourselves.

We were never on the verge of victory.
 
And – no matter what we were promised when we invaded Iraq – there was never going to be a limited war with a quick and painless victory.
 
And after the fighting was done in Iraq we were never going to be able to quickly pack up and come home – because if we failed to lay a foundation for peace (with a successful occupation) we’d end up with… ISIS.
 
We’re also learning there’s no substitute for a leader (in the White House) who can explain the wickedness of ISIS. Politically-correct talk rationalizing beheadings (by saying they are the result of poverty or political alienation) doesn’t cut it – and neither do euphemisms (like calling ISIS simply a new kind of ‘Violent Extremism’) that infer ISIS selling infidel women as slaves has nothing to do with its peculiar version of Islam.  
 
We’ve spent over a decade learning the hard way: One mistake at a time.
 
The American people arenow (according to a new poll) ready to fight ISIS. And send troops into combat.
 
And what about the President? He says we can defeat ISIS with one more quick, painless, limited war.
 


 

 

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16
A TAPster alerts us to another potential April surprise for taxpayers:
 
Republicans in the legislature left a little bag of stink on the doorsteps of millions of self-employed North Carolinians who’ll step in it when they calculate their state taxes in the next month.
 
The Repubs proudly boast of reducing state tax rates. They are unlikely to boast about their elimination of the exemption for the first $50,000 earned by a self-employed person.
 
Surprise! In the eyes of our friends at the Department of Revenue, it’s like you got a $50,000 raise that you have to pay taxes on.
 
Except you didn’t get a raise. And your state tax bill is going up dramatically.
 
It stinks to fool people like this.

 

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13
The Internet, social media and cable TV may make us more informed, but they also make us more inflamed. And more apt to go down in flames.
 
Frat boys sing a racist song, it goes viral and they are expelled, their parents humiliated and their reputations irreparably ruined. A corporate executive posts a racist joke before she boards a plane, and by the time she lands she is out of a job and the target of online and cable outrage.
 
The angry virus infects politics, too. It inflames our divisions and disagreements. No, there is nothing new about hateful, divisive and racist statements in politics. Joe McCarthy called people communists. JFK, LBJ and Nixon had their share of haters. The nation was bitterly divided over Vietnam and civil rights.
 
The difference today is how much of all that is constantly in our faces and at our fingertips.
 
Your Facebook friends and those you follow on Twitter make sure you see the latest outrageous statement or action by a deranged right-winger or bitter left-winger or degenerate racist or professional big-mouth or fool politician. Your blood pressure soars, your bile rises and you fire off your own angry rant. You feed the fire.
 
Unfortunately, what we say when we have no filter doesn’t always reflect our better selves.
 
Here is some advice from a wise gentleman we call Yoda, given to a friend who had just watched something online that disturbed his Force:
 
“I want you to take 10 deep breaths. Breathe in, breathe out, 10 times. Then I want you to go out to a meadow somewhere. And I want you to say ‘dammit,’ or something even stronger, 10 times. ‘Dammit, dammit, dammit,’ 10 times. Then I want you to drink a Fat Tire beer. Or maybe two. Then I want you to get seven and a half or eight hours sleep, a good night’s sleep. You will feel better in the morning.”
 
Works like a charm.

 

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12
Claude Sitton was, indeed, forceful and fearless. But not without flaws, flaws that show what is great and what can be dangerous about journalism.
 
Sitton’s forcefulness shaped a controversy that rages more than two decades later: Did the N&O unfairly railroad Jim Valvano? Many State fans neither forgive nor forget. One said this week, “Roy Williams is lucky Sitton isn’t around today.”
 
It’s not just rabid Wolfpackers. Several old N&O hands now say Claude’s crusade against Valvano was a mistake.
 
Jay Price’s obituary of Sitton didn’t ignore the issue: “There was nothing unusual about Sitton’s two hats, running opinion and news pages….But Sitton was the last editor at the N&O to have both roles, and that sacred separation between the two worlds was sometimes too flimsy to stand up to his vigorously held views.”
 
That wasn’t the only time. I was at the N&O from the time Sitton arrived in 1969 until I left in December 1975. I saw his strong opposition to a medical school at East Carolina University drive not only editorials but also news coverage.
 
You like that forcefulness when you agree. But what about when you don’t? Watch Fox News.
 
All that said, Sitton was an extraordinary newsman. When he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1983, many regarded it as a makeup call. He should have won it for his coverage of the civil rights movement for The New York Times in the ‘60s.
 
He inspired fear and loyalty from people who worked for him and, often, fear and loathing from those he covered. He set high standards, and he was demanding. He wasn’t the kind of guy you sat around and shot the breeze with.
 
He once said, “Popularity is not a legitimate goal of a newspaper.” He didn’t chase popularity. He chased the story. He usually got it, and got it right.
 
Pat Stith, one of few reporters who could match Sitton’s chops, said it best: “He was a great man to have on your side, a man of tremendous personal courage, and I was honored to work for him. And lucky to work for him.”

 

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11
Over a decade ago some genius up in Washington – I think it may have been Donald Rumsfeld – figured we could conquer Iraq with 150,000 soldiers; that we could fight a little war with a little pain and have the troops home by Christmas – so we rolled straight into Baghdad then found out occupying a nation of 30 million people with 150,000 soldiers wasn’t such a good idea.
 
The occupation turned into a quagmire. The roof fell in. We ended up with ISIS.
 
It was the repeat of an old story: If you go to war use overwhelming force. It hurts more in the short run but pays off in the long run. You don’t get sunk by the inevitable surprises and miscalculations.
 
Now we’re facing another war and President Obama’s sent a bill to Congress – called an “Authorization to Use Military Force” – and it’s like déjà vu all over again.
 
We fought one limited war to whip Saddam and got ISIS.
 
And now we’re about to fight another to whip ISIS and Lord knows what we’ll get next.
 
There’s not much doubt we need a leader with conviction (and, maybe, meanness) to whip ISIS but even more, to avoid another quagmire, this time we need a leader with the courage to tell the hard truth – rather than promising he can get the job done with a little war with a little pain.


 

 

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10
There’re two sides to every coin.
 
Last year, when the State Senate took away Governor McCrory’s appointments to the Board of Review, the Governor vetoed the bill. Then the Senate overrode his veto. Then the Governor  sued the Senate. Then, this year, as soon as the Senate got back to town it passed another bill to do the same thing.
 
So now, I guess, if the court throws out the Senate’s first bill the Governor’s still stuck with the second one – which sounds a lot like an old fashioned political power play. A battle over appointments.  But there’re two sides to this coin.  
 
The ole Bull Mooses in the Senate believe in their bones less government is right. They look out across Raleigh and want to shrink every program from Medicaid to the ‘corporate incentives’ the Department of Commerce gives away and, since they don’t have much faith in the Governor to get the job done, they figure if it takes a bit of bare-knuckle politics to shove him aside, well, so be it.
 
And that’s the one side of the coin.
 
The other side – the side the Governor’s staring at – is a bit different.
 
He’s more practical. He wants to fix problems. But to do that he needs more corporate incentives not less. And the ole Bull Mooses keep getting in his way. He’s accommodating. They’re power hungry. He’s open-minded. They’re pig-headed. He’s even-handed. They’re heavy-handed. And, even if his own popularity is sagging, the State Senate’s is worse so the Bull Mooses look like a useful foil.
 
So the fight over the Rules Review Commission isn’t just another petty political spat. It’s two sides of a coin: With less government on one side. And fixing government on the other.    


 

 

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09
Before any 2016 death match, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush face a death march through the media and their own parties’ chattering crowds.
 
Last week’s crisis was Clinton’s email while Secretary of State. The DC media pounced and some Democrats went into a frenzy of fretting: The Clintons are their own worst enemies! They think they’re above the rules! They can’t handle the media! Hillary can’t get her own campaign organized!
 
While the rest of us wondered: Who cares?
 
(The most interesting development was Lindsay Graham saying he has never sent an email. Really? Never? Isn’t that a Constitutional requirement to be President?)
 
Bush faces his own media/party critique: He’s too moderate! Conservatives in Iowa don’t like him! Even Republicans have Bush fatigue! His charter school in Florida failed!
 
This is all gripping chatter to those who like to chatter. But now is a good time to remind yourself that no real votes will be cast for nearly 10 months.
 
You can breathlessly follow all this all year if you want. After all, either Clinton or Bush, or other candidates, could chase a rabbit off a cliff any time.
 
Or you could save your breath. There’s a long way to go.

 

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09
President Obama held a summit up in Washington about terrorism but decided not to say the words ‘Muslim terrorist.’
 
Instead, he announced, he was leading a crusade to stop ‘Violent Extremism’ and, then he put his finger on the root cause of the villainy: Violent Extremism, he said, is caused by political disenfranchisement and poverty.
 
Then he spelled out the cure: Human Rights. Religious tolerance. And peaceful dialogue.
 
Which sounded sensible and ecumenical and logical except for one obvious contradiction: Our own nation was founded in war by revolutionaries disenfranchised by a corrupt King but they didn’t go around chopping off innocent people’s heads.


 

 

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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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