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Should Western newspapers act “responsibly” – as the Bush Administration has suggested – in deciding whether to publish cartoons portraying Muhammad?

My opinion: absolutely not.

In fact, it downright angers me that so many Western political leaders are so intimidated by violent Muslim protests against the cartoons – and that some papers have fired editors who published them.

The attitude seems to be: Because Muslims have such strongly felt religious beliefs, we should suspend our strongly held beliefs about the right to free speech.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you’re willing to suspend free speech in order to avoid violent protests, you’re giving up free speech. And nothing is more fundamental to our nation and our Constitution, although Bush & Co. seem to regard the right as an inconvenient obstacle to their agenda.

Europe seems to have a different attitude. After all, I understand from The Economist that in seven European countries it is illegal to say that Hitler did not murder millions of Jews.

Free speech may be offensive, it may be reprehensible and it may be just plain inaccurate, but it is supposed to be free and unfettered.

In Bush’s crusade to bring democracy to the world, he shouldn’t jettison the essence of democracy.

Posted in: General
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It is one thing for President Bush to claim the executive power to spy on Americans without a court order or Congressional approval.

It is another thing for him to claim that the American people – and their elected representatives – shouldn’t debate the issue.

But that is what I understand him to say.

According to The New York Times, Bush said this in a speech last Friday in Tampa – referring to his administration’s negotiations with Congress over the issue:

“Unfortunately, we’re having this discussion. It’s too bad, because guess who listens to the discussion: the enemy.”

I assume he believes the congressional leaders who want more oversight – including Republicans like Senator Lindsay Graham – are giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

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The News and Observer reports, “Raleigh-Durham Airport officials just approved a $257.6 million contract to replace the red-roofed Terminal C,” and the total cost of the project is “expected to reach $555 million.”

So we have taxpayers funding:

• $555 million for a terminal at the airport;
• $215 million (and still rising) for the downtown Convention Center;
• $20 million for a downtown hotel;
• $1 million for a five star downtown restaurant;
• $1 million (they call this one a loan) for an upscale supermarket downtown;
• The town of Morrisville offering a Chinese computer conglomerate a $1 million incentive;
• And the TTA (Triangle Transit Authority) still wants $800 plus million for Lite-Rail.

And the schools are broke. And if we want to finish the Outer-Loop there’s no money – so it has to be a toll road.

The local politicians – led by Raleigh Major Charles Meeker – are spending all the money the can get their hands on (and then some) – but the schools are broke. What’s the solution? The politicians want to pass a couple of billion dollars in school bonds so they can borrow the money we need for schools (and, so, they can keep on spending elsewhere).

Does that seem backwards? Why don’t they take all (or at least part) of this money and spend it on schools? And then hold a bond vote to see if voters want to borrow to pay for these other projects.

The answer is simple: Because they suspect – probably correctly – voters are going to turn down bonds for paying for things like $215 million Convention Centers. So they are not going to let them vote on that. They’re going to make them vote on school bonds instead.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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If Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker runs for reelection next year, he might face a challenge from a Democrat to his left.

Like maybe Thomas Crowder.

Meeker and other Council members aren’t happy with Crowder putting the issue of Marriott Hotel stucco on the front page. Not a team player, you know.

And word is The N&O is planning a story about Crowder. One question: Is he the Mike Regan of the left?

Crowder’s rise – if he doesn’t crash – could be a sign of an uprising by more liberal Raleigh Democrats, who have strong numbers in the city’s electorate.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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I’m sorry, but I just can’t let go of the Cheney shooting accident. And here’s why.

When a person acts like they’re hiding something, they’re usually hiding something. And I think Cheney is hiding something: drinking.

In his Fox interview Wednesday, “Shooter” (as opposed to his old aide Scooter) was asked if anybody in his hunting group had been drinking. Cheney said: “No, you don’t hunt with people who drink. That’s not a good idea.”

But a few minutes later in the interview, Cheney said he had “a beer at lunch.”

Now, maybe Cheney is the kind of disciplined fellow who attends an outdoor barbeque with old friends and stops at one beer. But, looking at his girth and knowing his health history, I’m skeptical.

I’m doubly skeptical about his explanation of why he handled the release of the story the way he did. Instead of using the White House’s vaunted and expensive press operation, he let his Texas socialite hostess release it to a local reporter she knew.

Why the long delay? Cheney said in the interview it was because “this was a complicated story.”

Well, by now it certainly is.

And here is how the designated spokeswoman, Katharine Armstrong, handled the complicated story:

• At first she tried to swift-boat the shooting victim by implying he was to blame for getting shot.

• Then she was adamant that nobody had been drinking. She said only Dr. Pepper had been served at lunch. (Although Shooter somehow found something stronger.) Asked by the “friendly” local press whether anybody had been drinking, she said: “No, zero, zippo, and I don’t drink at all. No one was drinking.”

No one except Dick. And just one beer, you understand.

It reminds me of a friend of mine, a lawyer in Greensboro. He was appointed to defend a ne’er-do-well fellow accused of public drunkenness.

On the court date, a parade of similar cases was being heard. And each defendant told the same story: He’d only had “two beers.”

Finally the judge lost his patience. “The next defendant who tells me he just had two beers is getting active time in jail,” he announced.

Sure enough, my friend’s client was called next. Asked how much he’d had to drink, he paused and said, “Well, it may have been one beer – or it may have been three beers. But it damned sure wasn’t two beers.”

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The price of Mayor Meeker’s downtown Convention Center just soared again: to $215 million.

The City Council just approved spending another $23 million on the Convention Center without a blink or hardly a nay vote. In fact, every County Commissioner and every City Councilman but one – Councilman Tommy Craven – voted for the increase.

But those same County Commissioners are telling us they don’t have the money to pay for schools – so they have to pass bonds and raise taxes.

In fact, when someone suggested using part of the Meals and Hotel tax money (which the politicians use to pay for things like Convention Centers) for the schools, Commissioner Betty Lou Ward said indignantly, in effect, You can’t use that money for schools by law that money has to be spent on tourism.

Where did she find that in the Constitution?

What’s a fact is whoever passed that law (that says the Meals and Hotel Tax can only be used to pay for Convention Centers and such) can unpass it and what Ms. Ward is really saying is she’s not about to ask them to. (By the way how about using that some of that money to build for roads – don’t tourists use roads?)

Anyway, we now have a $215 million dollar Convention Center, a $20 million dollar downtown hotel, a million dollar downtown supermarket, a million dollar white tablecloth five star downtown restaurant and the Exploris Museum – all paid for or subsidized by taxpayers and no money for schools. And on top of that the word on the street is Mayor Meeker is going to ask for something like $40 – 50 million to pay for an underground parking garage to go with his Hotel and Convention Center (he’s also against spending one penny of city money to help build schools). And by the way the Airport Authority wants to tear down a nineteen year old terminal and build a new one for $500 million.

What the City Council and County Commissioners should do is take all this money and spend it on schools and put a bond on the ballot to pay for all those other things they say are needed – and see if voters agree with them.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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How easy is it to make fun of Dick Cheney shooting a fellow hunter?

Here are just a few of the jokes and one-liners I’ve heard since his hunting mishap:

• The White House says it wants to make up with Hillary Clinton. So they’re inviting her on a hunting trip with the Vice President.

• Now we know why Dick Cheney got five deferments from the Vietnam War.

• Dick Cheney can’t find Osama, but he can nail a 78-year-old lawyer.

• Isn’t the administration carrying its attacks on lawyers too far?

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The News & Observer recently called my old boss, Jim Hunt, the closest thing North Carolina has to a “policy Pope.” (I assume they meant Benedict of Rome, not John and Art of Raleigh.)

Unfortunately, I’m afraid Pope Jim has taken on a tough crusade with tax reform.

The Institute for Emerging Issues that Governor Hunt leads at N.C. State University has put forward a sweeping tax reform plan for the state. The plan includes reducing the corporate income tax and personal income taxes for the highest-earning taxpayers – while extending the sales tax to a host of services.

Governor Easley immediately flinched. He invoked the barbershop test: How can you explain to your buddies at the barbershop that you’re going to tax them for haircuts and cut taxes for big businesses and wealthy taxpayers?

Good question.

I’m just glad Governor Hunt didn’t assign me to sell this one when I was working for him.

Posted in: General
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The downtown hotel has hit a stumbling block – but not because City leaders decided it was a mistake to stick taxpayers with a $20 million bill to build a Marriott Hotel. Instead, the problem is stucco. That’s right, stucco. Councilman Thomas Crowder is raising all sorts of cain because the builders want to put stucco on the taxpayers’ hotel.

I’m not an architect (Crowder is) and I don’t know the advantages of, say, granite over stucco and Crowder may be dead right, stucco may stink. But it seems to me the City Council has missed the whole point. It’s not the stucco we don’t need – it’s the taxpayer subsidized hotel.

Maybe a miracle will happen and stucco will torpedo the whole project. (But, I’m afraid, it’s also possible – just to get rid of the stucco – the City Council will decide to give the Marriott folks more money.)

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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When I first heard about President Bush ‘wire taping’ calls (from U.S. citizens to overseas) I thought that sounded pretty bad – that the President shouldn’t just have the power to go out and wiretap calls made by American citizens anytime he wants to. Then I thought about the pictures on the Internet of hooded terrorists standing behind hostages holding swords and changed my mind. I thought, Well, if the President says has to have those wiretaps to catch those thugs that’s fine with me.

Then I read about the secret court the President can ask to approve secret wiretaps and how it’s approved, something like, 7000 wiretaps over the last twenty years and only turned down four. So, then, I was asking myself, if President Bush could have gotten those wiretaps that way why didn’t he? After all, if wiretaps are good to catch terrorists, wiretaps with a little oversight – and a little of ‘checks and balances’ built in – would be even better.

I still want President Bush to have those wiretaps. But I would also like him to explain why he doesn’t want to use that court. And it’s troubling that – so far – he hasn’t done that.

Posted in: General
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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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