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26

The aging UNC professor who met Miss Bikini World on the Internet then flew to Bolivia to meet her in the flesh but, instead, came face to face with a man standing in front of his hotel in La Paz holding an empty suitcase who said, ‘She left this. Take it to her in Buenos Aires. She’ll meet you there’ – is back in the newspapers.  

After the professor landed in Buenos Aires the police found four pounds of cocaine in the lining of the suitcase and, after that, he landed in an Argentinian prison.

Meantime, back in Chapel Hill, the Deans, concluding the professor couldn’t very well teach his classes form a prison in South America, suspended his pay; then the professor, after telling the Deans teaching his class from prison wasn’t going to be a problem, sued the University.

The verdict was peculiar: The judge didn’t show much empathy for the professor’s pursuit of Miss Bikini World but explained the way he saw it, after reading the law, UNC had violated its own policies when it came to paying tenured professors: He then ordered UNC to pay Paul Frampton $263,000 which has to leave you shaking your head wondering who on earth could have written a policy that said a tenured professor could go on getting paid while he was in prison for drug smuggling.

Anyhow, the University paid Frampton, regrouped, fired him outright, but now he’s out of jail, demanding his tenure back.

Which leads to a second tale: At the professor’s trial the prosecutor produced a series of text messages the professor had sent Miss Bikini World which, the prosecutor told the jury, proved Professor Frampton knew that suitcase was full of cocaine. Back then, the professor admitted he’d written the texts – but he told the New York Times they were just jokes he’d sent to his ‘loved one’ to amuse her.

Now the Professor’s changed his story: He says he didn’t write a single one of those texts – that the prosecutor wrote them to frame him. And what’s more, he says, he can prove it. How? He explained to the newspaper he’d paid a scientist in London called a ‘forensic linguist’ and the scientist has no doubt those texts were written by someone who speaks Spanish.

So how does this chapter end?

Today Professor Paul Frampton is teaching at a university in Italy – while arguing a university in North Carolina (that paid him $263,000 while he was in prison) has a ‘moral obligation’ to give him back his tenure.

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25

So Bob Corker fired a broadside at Trump calling the White House an “adult day care center” and Trump fired back at Corker calling him ‘Liddle Bob Corker’ but that wasn’t unusual – this was: Next President Trump claimed Corker had begged to endorse him for reelection and, when Trump told him no, Corker had high-tailed it out of the race.

But Corker told a different story: He claimed Trump had not only asked him to run for reelection but had also, repeatedly, promised to endorse him if he did.

So, somebody’s lyin.’ But who? And what’s the harm?  

A Senator telling tales about a President can create do a lot of mischief. Fake news stories. Mean tweets. Fodder for click factories.  

But a President telling tales can be worse: The President’s the keeper of the public trust – when Americans don’t see eye to eye with a President it leads to spats and grumpiness but democracy stumbles along as long as the public trust is intact. But when a President loses the public trust – as Nixon did – every time he opens his mouth people think he’s trying to hoodwink them. And the ship of state sinks like the Titanic.  

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24

Gene Nichol, who’s the former Dean of the UNC Law School, and who may be the most politically correct man in North Carolina, tore into the new UNC Board of Governors saying right wing politics is taking over the university and the Board is to blame.  

It’s difficult to tell whether Dean Nichol’s broadside was a political eruption or an old-fashioned case of paranoia but, either way, it doesn’t seem likely UNC is on the verge of turning into a bastion of conservatism.

The bruhaha – that lit Dean Nichol up – began when students at Chapel Hill, protesting, demanded ‘Silent Sam’ be taken down; then the professors, miming the students, chimed in the statue should have been taken down long ago; and, next, University President Margaret Spellings and Chancellor Carol Folt, with the Boards’ blessing, wrote Governor Cooper asking him for help so they could take down the statue.

Then, unexpectedly, the wind changed – a new member of the Board, Tom Fetzer, circulated a letter saying President Spellings and Chancellor Folt had made a big mistake – and a majority of the Board co-signed Fetzer’s letter.

The Board members then introduced three more motions – one to cut tuition, another to cut President Spellings’ staff, and a third to move the UNC Board out of Chapel Hill – and all three passed.

And then Dean Nichol lifted his pen and let-fly in the News and Observer.  

But, for just this once, politics may not be the villain: Over in Chapel Hill diversity is like a sacred grail but, on the other hand, when it comes to ideas they don’t like Chancellor Folt and Company are not very diverse at all. Complicating the problem, over the years, Chapel Hill has become like an island isolated from its neighbors – surrounded by impenetrable ivy walls the Deans and professors have evolved into a kind of elite so out of touch that the common working man, scratching his chin, watching their protests, thinks, ‘Ole Roy and the basketball team are okay but I’ve got doubts about the rest of those folks.’

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23

I’ve heard men say for years that the West’s Christian heritage is the root of our freedoms but I’d never seen anyone point to one Bible verse and say, See. Read that. That’s how it began – until William Bennett did it in Tried by Fire.

From prison St. Paul the Apostle wrote to the new Christian churches “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” and, as Bennett explains, as Christianity spread St. Paul’s idea that every man (because he’s made in the image of God) possesses worthiness permeated Western thought giving birth to “values.”

From there, it’s a straight line to Thomas Jefferson writing, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”  

Bennett then told a second story: The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was ordered to do a study to answer one question: What made Western Civilization so powerful? Chinese scholars spent years pouring over our history, politics, economics and culture and when they were done one scholar said, “At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

Christianity’s decline now leaves us facing a devilish question: Does the soil beneath our feet turn dry so the root withers – and all that’s left are rants by politicians on Facebook?  

Posted in: General, Issues
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23

Only Trump can turn what should have been a sympathetic call to a fallen soldier’s widow into a week-long (so far), racially charged brouhaha over who said what to who and who can say what to a four-star general.

Americans may not be tired of winning yet. But many, even Trump voters, are getting tired of Trump’s act – and his character. Or lack thereof.

Ultimately, the most important quality in an elected leader is likeability. Likeability is about more than looks, charm and a smile. It’s about qualities like grace and empathy, which Trump totally lacks. His inability to even feign empathy probably is what upset the widow and the congresswoman in the first place.

Trump’s instinct, of course, was to pick a fight with the congresswoman, Frederica Wilson. You can hear him thinking: “She’s black. She’s brash. She wears funny hats. She’s a perfect target! Twitter, here I come!”

Then, of course, he had to attack President Obama. Trump apparently never got over Obama making fun of him at the White House Correspondents Dinner. We pay an ugly price for those jokes.

Then Trump dragged General John Kelly into the mess. Kelly demeaned himself by claiming the Congresswoman said something in a speech that, in fact, the tape showed she never said.

Then Trump’s press secretary suggested that no one has the right to debate a four-star general. Well, yes we do. There’s this thing called the First Amendment, you know. And we could have avoided a lot of deaths and tragedy if somebody had debated generals like William Westmoreland during the Vietnam War.

It was refreshing when George W. Bush and John McCain spoke out against Trumpism, even if they didn’t call him out by name. Some Democrats got whiplash praising (1) the ex-President who plunged us into never-ending Mideast wars, busted the budget and wrecked the economy and (2) the man who gave America Sarah Palin. But we’ll take hope and decency wherever we find them these days.

The question is how long we’ll take this from Trump. Many Trump supporters will never give him up. They love him for picking fights with people they hate – the media, the Washington establishment, and black NFL players and black Congresswomen who get uppity. Not to mention the first black President.

But most Americans are good, kind and decent people. An optimist believes that their goodness, kindness and decency will win in the end.

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19

Some Republicans have the annoying habit of calling us “the Democrat Party.” It’s an old slur, dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.

Maybe “slur” is too strong a word. “Democrat Party” is more an insulting, annoying, derisive epithet. It conjures up “autocrat” or “bureaucrat” or just plain “rat.”

When he was Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich used it a lot. Which tells you all you need to know.

But it’s clear now there is more significance to Republicans’ use of the term. It says far more about them than about Democrats. In fact, it betrays the true nature of many Republican politicians – and especially the moneyed people pulling their strings: They don’t want America to be Democratic, because they damn sure don’t want it to be democratic.

Webster defines democracy as “government by the people, directly or through representatives.”

In North Carolina, that’s the last thing the Republican politicians who run the legislature want. They want government run by them and them alone, with no interference from the pesky people.

That explains voter suppression, gerrymandering, vote-rigging, encroachment on the Governor’s Constitutional powers and – now – their determination to rig, pack, politicize, intimidate and ultimately control the courts.

It’s happening across the country, in state after state after state. It’s not happenstance. It’s part of a decades-long strategy hatched by academics (especially economist James McGill Buchanan, who got his start resisting school desegregation in Virginia in the 1950s), financed by a handful of billionaires (like the Kochs) and carried out with cold, relentless precision by politicians willing to sell their souls for money and power (you know who they are).

A new book, “Democracy in Chains” by Nancy MacLean (the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University) traces what she calls “the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America.” Her bottom line is that, while it masks its goal as “liberty:”

“…what this cause really seeks is a return to oligarchy, to a world in which both economic and effective political power are to be concentrated in the hands of a few. It would like to reinstate the kind of political economy that prevailed in America at the opening of the twentieth century, when the mass disenfranchisement of voters and the legal treatment of labor unions as illegitimate enabled large corporations and wealthy individuals to dominate Congress and state legislatures alike, and to feel secure that the nation’s courts would not interfere with their reign.”

In light of this, here’s the question for Democrats today – the Democratic Party: Is the better strategy to battle Republicans on policy – or on politics? Policy is complicated. Witness health care. Politics is much simpler. Just show that your opponents are corrupt, crooked, power-hungry, ruthless political hacks who care far more about their stupendously wealthy financiers than the people they were supposedly (but unconstitutionally, through illegal gerrymandering) elected to serve.

Fight for democracy, Democrats.

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17

Back in the 1950s, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev boasted that “We will bury you.” Vladimir Putin figured out that if he just gave us the right tools, we’d bury ourselves.

A spate of news stories explores how Russian misinformation (fake news) combined with Americans’ own rage and with our addiction to social media to affect the 2016 election. One article demolishes the myth that Democrats are way ahead on social media and that the Trump campaign was clueless online.

The New York Times reported (“How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics”):

“…one of the most powerful weapons that Russian agents used to reshape American politics was the anger, passion and misinformation that real Americans were broadcasting across social media platforms.”

The Guardian (“How Russia used social media to divide Americans”) said:

“What has now been made clear is that Russian trolls and automated bots not only promoted explicitly pro-Donald Trump messaging, but also used social media to sow social divisions in America by stoking disagreement and division around a plethora of controversial topics such as immigration and Islamophobia.”

Black members of Congress have their own beef (“Black Lawmakers Hold a Particular Grievance With Facebook: Racial Exploitation”):

“As black activists tried last year to focus attention on police brutality, unfair treatment before the law, inequality and white supremacy, social media giants like Facebook were being commandeered by Russian intelligence agents to turn white voters against them.”

The most sweeping article ran in The Atlantic (“What Facebook Did to American Democracy – And why it was so hard to see it coming”). Alexis C. Madrigal pulls together all the threads about Facebook’s electoral impact, including the Russian role, and adds a new one:

“Before Trump’s election, the impact of internet technology generally and Facebook specifically was seen as favoring Democrats….Democrats were light-years ahead of Republicans when it came to digital strategy and tactics, and Republicans had serious work to do on the technology front if they ever hoped to win back the White House….

“University of North Carolina journalism professor Daniel Kreiss wrote a whole (good) book, ‘Prototype Politics,’ showing that Democrats had an incredible personnel advantage….”

Not so fast. As it turns out, the Trump campaign had a digital front. And it was, in every sense of the word, dark.

“The Trump campaign was working to suppress ‘idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans’…with targeted, ‘dark’ Facebook ads. These ads are only visible to the buyer, the ad recipients, and Facebook. No one who hasn’t been targeted by then can see them. How was anyone supposed to know what was going on, when the key campaign terrain was literally invisible to outside observers?”

Steve Bannon, for one, “was confident in the operation,” saying, “I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine. Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”

Madrigal concludes:

“The truth is that while many reporters knew some things that were going on on Facebook, no one knew everything that was going on on Facebook, not even Facebook. And so, during the most significant shift in the technology of politics since the television, the first draft of history is filled with undecipherable whorls and empty pages. Meanwhile, the 2018 midterms loom.”

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16

The good news: Democrats are fired up and ready to vote. The bad news: They’re fired up at each other and ready to start a civil war.

Nancy McFarlane says Charles Francis’s decision to call a runoff will “divide those who share progressive values.” And her supporters say Francis has been known to consort with Republicans.

Francis says calling a runoff is “democracy, not divisive.” And his supporters say McFarlane is registered Unaffiliated and has been known to consort with Republicans.

At this rate, the runoff will be divisive.

My blog last week noted how the Republican legislature and Trump have energized Democrats. This is their first chance to vote and vent since Trump won a year ago.

Along with energy comes emotion. And emotions are spilling over here.

McFarlane obviously didn’t want a runoff. She fell just short of 50 percent and led by 12 points. But Francis’s supporters didn’t want him to give up after they worked hard and kept the incumbent Mayor from winning outright.

And when African-Americans hear someone say – or read an editorial that says – calling a runoff is “divisive,” they hear: “Stay in your place. Don’t stir things up. Wait your turn.”

Runoffs in North Carolina have a racial history. Black candidates in Democratic primaries (Howard Lee for Lieutenant Governor in 1976 and Harvey Gantt for Senate in 1990) led the first primary but fell short of 50 percent. They didn’t want the (white) second-place finishers to call runoffs. Both did.

What you see here are the fault lines among three groups of Democrats: Obama voters (many of them African-American), Clinton voters (many of them women) and Sanders voters (many of them liberals and millennials). These fault lines could cost Democrats in 2018 and 2020.

For sure, a runoff could be divisive. McFarlane and Francis both have to make a strategic calculation about how to win: Sharpen the differences, or bridge them? Fire up your base, or cast a wider net? Appeal to people’s fears – or to their hopes?

Republicans have the market on fear. Democrats should give hope a chance.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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11

Trump puts the “bully” into Teddy Roosevelt’s “bully pulpit.”

Trump has 40.3 million Twitter followers. Every morning, he gets up, picks up his cell phone and picks a fight with somebody.

This week it’s “Liddle Bob Corker.” Last week it was his own Secretary of State. All the time now, it’s (black) NFL players.

His fans love it. They love it when he picks on people they don’t like. It’s entertaining. It’s like kids in the schoolyard – happy that the bully is picking on somebody else.

It drives the news cycle. It enables Trump to dictate the agenda, dominate the debate and divert us from things he’s doing – or not doing – that could make a difference in Americans’ lives.

It’s also intimidating. Trump is the quintessential smart-ass New Yorker, quick with an insult that cuts you to the quick. A lot of politicians, cautious to a fault and programmed to the max, are terrified of being a Trump Twitter target.

It’s easy to dismiss this as “Reality TV.” But it’s reality today. It’s how we communicate. And Trump has mastered it.

It’s probably not what TR had in mind.

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11

The Meeker-McFarlane Era of Good Feelings in Raleigh politics ended Tuesday. It had a good run for 16 years, but it’s over.

Not since the days of Tom Fetzer and Paul Coble, who lost to Charles Meeker in 2001, has Raleigh politics been this hot and heavy.

Why?

First, race. The contest between Nancy McFarlane and Charles Francis split the city down racial lines. Clearly, many Raleigh residents feel shut out of and shunted aside by Raleigh’s growth and gentrification. They see Dix Park and luxury condos, but they don’t see affordable housing and bus-stop rain shelters.

Second, party. Specifically, the Democratic Party. Democrats split because Francis is a registered Democrat and McFarlane, though she and her husband Ron have been reliable supporters of and donors to Democratic candidates, is registered Unaffiliated.

Some big-name Democrats endorsed McFarlane, and they got an earful from Democrats supporting Francis.

Why is party suddenly so important here?

Like with everything else, blame Trump. He’s made all politics more partisan, polarized and angry. Then add in the Republican legislature. Since 2011, Raleigh has been ground-zero for to the legislature’s power-grabbing, election-rigging and progress-reversing. The reaction naturally is stronger here. When a tribe is threatened, it pulls together, resists invaders and burns heretics.

Another factor: Elections usually come down to Change Versus Status Quo. Francis was change, and McFarlane was status quo. Change voters are always more motivated.

It was all enough to keep McFarlane from winning outright, though she led Francis 48-36 percent.

The party factor probably also hurt City Councilman Bonner Gaylord, who is registered Unaffiliated. Plus, his race against Stef Mendell reflected another, more familiar political divide in Raleigh, one that dates back to the 1970s, between “development” candidates and “neighborhood” candidates. Every so often, Raleigh’s growth spawns a counter-reaction.

If there are runoffs, anything can happen. One thing is certain: Even in prosperous, progressive Raleigh, politics ain’t so polite anymore.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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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. 
 
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