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So much is happening so fast. So let’s fire away at several juicy targets – er, topics.

Just when you think he can’t get worse, he does. His 77-minute tirade in Phoenix was True Trump. The estimable Economist pegged him for who and what he is: “politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.”

That sums it up pretty good.


Hillary’s creepy feeling

In her new book, “What Happened,” Hillary Clinton said “my skin crawled” when Trump loomed behind her in the debates. She went on, “Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly, ‘Back up you creep, get away from me?’”

Right there, she tells us why she lost. If she had told the creep to back off, she would have shown Americans the real person beneath her ever-cautious, carefully calibrated mask. She would have rallied women to her side. She would have won. And spared us this national nightmare.

Sometimes in politics – and it’s always the most important times – you go with your gut.


Bannon abandoned

Democrats celebrated Steve Bannon’s ouster from the White House. But he’s not going away. He could build a Breitbart media empire that out-Foxes Fox. He’ll take his economic-nationalist agenda to war against what he calls Democrats’ “identify politics.” And it may be a winning strategy.

Bannon’s banishment means the Trump White House is in the hands of the Jared- Ivanka-Goldman Sachs-Generals junta. Their agenda is wildly different from Bannon’s. He wants to get out of Afghanistan. He wants to start an economic war on China. He says there’s no military solution to North Korea. He wants to raise taxes on the rich and launch a $1 trillion infrastructure program.

But he and Trump clearly agreed on race. That was enough to win the election. Then Bannon committed the cardinal sin: He eclipsed the Sun King.


Speaking of eclipse, Trump stared straight at it Monday afternoon. That night, he stared straight at the war in Afghanistan – and blinked. He abandoned his promise to get out.

He said “his” generals changed his mind. With all due respect to the generals, neither he nor they answered a question that lingers after 16 years of war. And lingers 50 years after Vietnam: How do we win a war when we can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys?



Thom Tillis regrets that Trump’s “tone” on race, Nazis and Charlottesville is a “distraction” from the real Republican agenda – that is, cutting taxes for the rich, abolishing regulations on polluters and taking away health insurance and any other help for Americans struggling in an often-cold and cruel economy.

Some Democrats also shy away from debating Confederate statues. They worry it will hurt Democrats, like Governor Cooper.

Is it a “distraction”? Or is it The Issue – capital T, capital I?

America is still atoning for the Original Sin of slavery. We’re the land of the free, and we were the home of the slaves. The South fought a Civil War to keep slavery. For generations after, white Southerners brutally suppressed blacks. Today, Republicans disenfranchise African-American voters.

Racism, like a cancer, still infects the body politic. That’s why we need to debate Confederate statues. And that’s why it’s hard.

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A plump boy wearing a hand-made Confederate soldier’s uniform stood by himself alone at the foot of a statue of General Lee, standing straight at attention like a guard – surrounded by protestors waving their fists, index fingers raised, in his face.

Immobile, expressionless, without making a sound, his lip quivered and leaning towards him the protestors waved their fingers closer to his face.  

It was a picture of anger and meanness but there was a glimmer of redemption: The boy never said an unkind word to the protestors and, outnumbering him ten to one, the protestors never tried to lay a hand on him.

Posted in: General, Issues
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Bob Havely, who died August 9 at age 65, was a Jim Hunt alumnus, a multi-faceted political and public affairs consultant, and a good friend to many of us.

Bob was the rare player who could hit from both sides of the plate: He could do both policy and politics. He was issues director for Governor Hunt’s 1984 race against Jesse Helms. He was smart and tenacious, intense and painstaking. Sometimes he drove me crazy. But he cared about and worked for good candidates and causes.

Some he helped: David Price, Bob Etheridge, Tim Valentine; Rufus Edmisten, Mike Easley, Tony Rand, A.B. Swindell, Elaine Marshall, Robin Hudson, Wanda Bryant, Linda McGee, Mark Davis, Sam J. Ervin, IV, Ken Lewis, Britt Cobb, Mickey Michaux, Jim Slattery (KS), Mel Carnahan (MO), Bill Dolan (VA), Joe Checota (WI) and Joe Kohn (PA).

He was a healthcare policy advisor for President Jimmy Carter. During the 1980s, he was director of government relations for Duke University, and he worked with a number of other North Carolina colleges and universities, including High Point University. He was also a lobbyist for Prevent Blindness North Carolina.

We’ll have a gathering to remember Bob from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Player’s Retreat, where he was a regular.

You can also remember him by donating to Common Cause of North Carolina. Common Cause’s Bob Phillips said, “From serving in the White House, to working as director of government relations at Duke University and advising a wide variety of elected officials, candidates and nonprofit organizations, Bob dedicated his life to the democratic process and education in our state.”

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The General Assembly is redrawing State House and Senate Districts and it’s like the circus came back in town: Six years ago, last time they drew districts, Republican legislators used ‘race’ as one criteria and Democrats sued them. This time Republican legislators said they wouldn’t even look at or go near ‘race’ and the Democrats said, That’s wrong too.  

What kind of sense did that make?

This time, Republicans said they were going to draw districts strictly based on ‘politics’ – which means Republicans are going to look at how well Republican candidates like Trump did in each precinct then draw districts that will elect Republicans: Which means Republicans are going to end up, pretty nearly, in the exact same place where they started out, six years ago. Because packing a district full of Hillary Clinton voters means packing the district with Democrats and African-Americans.

Do Democrats object to ‘political’ redistricting? Yes. But only when Republicans do it. Then they complained loud and long.

But did you hear one legislator – in either party – say politicians ought not to be drawing their own districts?

It’s an old story: Both sides said the other’s the villain. But no one had clean hands.

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In these Trumped-up times, we need good journalism more than ever. Which is why readers of The News & Observer paid careful attention to the recent column by Executive Editor John Drescher on changes there. What he wrote told us three things:

• How much journalism and The N&O are changing,
• How much readers are concerned about the changes, and
• How much editors are concerned about readers’ reactions to the changes.

Readers are concerned that the old wall of separation between news and ads is being replaced by a chart measuring how many clicks stories get and, thereby, how many ads get sold.

Drescher’s column, “On the new N&O menu: Less spinach, more reader-focused coverage,” reassured us that the changes will be positive:

“Starting this week, we’ll be working harder to answer your questions and present the news in a way that is more relevant, with more video and more focus on topics that we know you care about.

“When most of our readership was of the print paper, we never knew with precision how much each story was read. Now we know how much digital readership each story has, and we’ve used that as a guide for which stories we will cover.

“While measuring readership is important to us, it’s not the only factor we’ll consider when deciding what to cover.”

Drescher vowed that the pursuit of digital clicks won’t imperil quality.

“Our core values remain the same. We’ll continue to provide the kind of watchdog reporting that has distinguished The N&O. Check out ‘Jailed to Death,’ our new report on deaths in county jails….We want to give you the news and information that means the most to you in the form and at the times you want it.”

He chided “ink-stained traditionalists” who “worry that we’ll publish nothing but click-bait stories about cats. They (the traditionalists, not the cats) underestimate the intelligence of the readers in this region.”

Well, call me an ink-stained traditionalist. I do worry. Not so much for now, because I know the editors at The N&O today. They are serious, committed journalists.

But they’re under a lot of pressure from business people, bean-counters and click-counters who live on the West Coast. While I trust John Drescher and his colleagues, I don’t know who or what will come after him and them.

Like other ink-stained traditionalists, I’m concerned by stories like this one in The Atlantic, “When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism: The pursuit of digital readership broke the New Republic—and an entire industry.”

Franklin Foer wrote about a click-checking device called Chartbeat and its impact:

“Data have turned journalism into a commodity, something to be marketed, tested, calibrated. Perhaps people in the media have always thought this way. But if that impulse existed, it was at least buffered. Journalism’s leaders were vigilant about separating the church of editorial from the secular concerns of business. We can now see the cause for fanaticism about building such a thick wall between the two….

“Journalism has performed so admirably in the aftermath of Trump’s victory that it has grown harder to see the profession’s underlying rot. Now each assignment is subjected to a cost-benefit analysis—will the article earn enough traffic to justify the investment? Sometimes the analysis is explicit and conscious, though in most cases it’s subconscious and embedded in euphemism. Either way, it’s this train of thought that leads editors to declare an idea ‘not worth the effort’ or to worry about whether an article will ‘sink.’ The audience for journalism may be larger than it was before, but the mind-set is smaller.”

PS: Drescher’s column did answer a question that the N&O previously had ducked: Why was Barry Saunders let go Drescher wrote:

“We’ve let go of some features that had a limited digital readership. We’ve dropped the weekly news quiz; the Thumbs Up youth achievement page; the Past Times column from our archives; and Barry Saunders’ column. We’ve eliminated the metro columnist job because those columns weren’t resonating with our digital readers.”

In other words, ol’ Barry wasn’t getting enough clicks. The signal to other N&O writers is clear: A popular columnist lost his job because he didn’t embrace digital. You’d better get clicking.

Posted in: General
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The threats landed bam, bam, bam: Kim Jong-un was facing ‘fire and fury,’ we were ‘locked and loaded and ready to go’ and – if Kim uttered one more threat – he’d ‘regret it fast.’

It was pure Trump pyrogenics – and melodrama – but it’s getting old: When Trump walked onto the debate stage two years ago his swagger was funny. He stood out. He wasn’t just another Washington politician. But now watching Trump is like watching a teenager hoping up and down, pointing fingers, calling other students in his 8th grade class ‘goofy,’ ‘kooky,’ ‘wacky,’ and ‘dumb as a rock.’ And people are worn out. They’re ready for a break.

But Trump’s a law unto himself. Irrepressible and mercurial last night in Arizona the boy from Queens was back, pointing fingers and mocking, ‘Little George’ Stephanopoulos.’

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The protests just keep getting crazier: Friday morning the attorney for the eight ‘Antifa’ protestors arrested for toppling a Confederate statute in Durham tweeted: First appearances are done. White supremacists arrive at noon.

Hundreds of anti-Klan counter-protestors rushed to Main Street in Durham, blocking traffic, chanting, No KKK! No Fascist USA!

At five minutes past noon a Durham City Councilwoman tweeted: Have received information that there are armed white supremacists in downtown. Several trucks have been seen as well. #DefendDurham.

Businesses closed. Government buildings shut down. The Courthouse closed. Duke University sent its workers home. The YMCA and the bank closed. And the Klan never showed up.

There was no Klan rally. It was a false alarm. But the protestors took it in stride: As the newspaper reported, they burned a Confederate flag, chanted, declared they’d won ‘a people’s victory,’ and as the sun set a ‘carnival air’ descended.

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The media may be in worse shape than we thought: Most of us have never laid eyes on a Neo-Nazi and who’d ever heard of an ‘Antifa’ before last week? So, can either be a deadly threat to America? Can CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times be right when they paint a picture of Armageddon unfolding on the streets of Charlottesville?

Were the clashing protestors a microcosm of the real America – or two handfuls of nuts?

And which is crazier? A Neo-Nazi waving a swastika flag in a park in Charlottesville? Or the media howling that bizarre Neo-Nazi is so mighty his presence spells doom for the Republic? And that one man is to blame: Donald Trump?

Close the newspaper, switch the channel, shut down the computer. Turn off the howls. Take a deep breath. Trump is going to be Trump. The media is going to pour gas on the fire. Politics is going to remain crazy. But have a little faith. The planets still sail in their orbits. America is safe to the last night.

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President Trump wanted Mexico’s President to stop saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for the wall so he called him but when Pena Nieto came on the line he told Trump the last thing Trump wanted to hear: He said he could never agree for Mexico to pay for the wall.

Trump purred, told Pena Nieto he’d stated his position “beautifully,” then made his first move: He said the U.S. had a $60 billion trade deficit with Mexico and he wanted to put a border tariff on Mexican imports. A lot of factories, Trump said, in Ohio and Michigan had closed and a lot of people had lost their jobs and he’d won both states and after he won people had been dancing in the streets.

No one gets people to rallies like I did, Trump said.  

That sounds like Trump’s vanity getting the better of him but, I expect, there’s more to it than that: Donald Trump is a rare American archetype, a chief in a tiny tribe of men who live atop New York skyscrapers and make deals and share a code and Trump had just repeated a formula that had worked for years: Schmooze, threaten, and boast.

Trump made his next move: He told Pena Nieto he had to stop saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for the wall – instead, Trump said, We should both say, ‘We will work it out.’ As opposed to you saying, ‘We will not pay’ and me saying, ‘We will not pay.’

It didn’t work. Pena Nieto didn’t blink. He said: This is what I suggest. Let us stop talking about the wall. Period. Otherwise, Nieto added, he’d go right on saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for the wall.

That wasn’t what Trump wanted to hear: You cannot say that to the press. I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press, he said – then he repeated the formula: Schmooze, threaten, boast.

But Pena Nieto didn’t budge.

Seven hours later Trump picked up the telephone to make another call to tell Australia’s Prime Minister he wanted to cancel the agreement – Obama had made – that required America to take 1,250 refugees from Australia.

Repeating the formula he told Malcolm Turnbull how he loved Australia and how he loved the Australian people but then hammered home one point: Over and over Trump told Turnbull ‘this deal is going to kill me’ – the deal, he said, would make him look ‘stupid,’ ‘terrible,’ ‘foolish’ and like a ‘dope.’  

He didn’t argue the deal was wrong or wicked instead he said over and over it would make him look bad which sounded vain too but that wasn’t the whole story: To dealmakers living atop New York skyscrapers mistakes are a problem but looking bad is worse. Looking bad is a cardinal sin. And Trump knew it in his bones. It was part of the code. And he wanted Turnbull to understand what he was asking Trump to do was an outrage.

But Turnbull didn’t budge.

He bluntly told Trump ‘a deal is a deal’ and Trump, vexed, told Turnbull, I’ve had it. I’ve been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.

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Yesterday I described how Gary and I met in 1984 (to negotiate the Helms-Hunt debates) and how I didn’t lay eyes on Gary again for eight years – until the morning he walked into the boardroom of a law firm downtown to negotiate a debate between Lauch Faircloth and Terry Sanford, saw me sitting there, and said, We’ve got to stop meeting like this.

Gary sat down and the Broadcasters Association’s attorney handed everyone an agreement – setting out the debate rules – then started ticking through the points to see if anyone disagreed.

Point one, fine.

Point two, fine.

Point three, fine.

Then he came to a provision that said neither Lauch Faircloth or Terry Sanford could use footage from the debate in their TV ads – in the past I had always deleted that paragraph but Lauch, for all his attributes, was not a world-class debater. As soon as the lawyer finished reading the provision Gary stared straight at me – waiting. Then he said, I guess, this time, neither of us wants the other candidate using debate footage in his ads.

I said, Amen.

Sitting in opposite camps, still not trusting one another, without expecting it, we’d landed on common ground.

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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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