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The other night – a few days before President Bush’s speech on Iraq – I spoke to a group of Republicans; a man there stood up and said, ‘I’m a navy veteran, I was in Vietnam. And what I don’t understand is why the politicians can’t just get out of the way and let the soldiers win the war.’

It’s an old but still valid sentiment.

The next day I read a quote by President Bush in the newspaper about the war on terrorism: “…we will accept nothing less than complete victory.” And last night I listened to President Bush’s speech.

Americans have a pretty simple standard – given to us by General Ulysses Grant – for complete victory. It’s called ‘unconditional surrender.’ That is the standard we applied to the Germans and Japanese in World War II. But complete victory is not easy to achieve. To win a total victory you must destroy your enemy’s ability to fight back.

That has not happened when our leaders – for political reasons – have told our soldiers to fight ‘limited’ political wars. It has happened when the political leaders have said to our armed forces, ‘Go win the war. Period.’

Which have we done in the war on terrorism?

I have no problem making war on people who cut innocent hostages’ heads off on television, or people who support terrorists, or people who tolerate terrorists in their country.

But what is the cost of ‘complete victory?’ Have we paid it in this war? Are we willing to pay it?

What if we can’t win the war on terrorism with the roughly one hundred and sixty thousand men we have in Iraq? And – more sobering – what if the roots of terrorism run through Syria or Iran or half-a-dozen other countries? What will ‘complete victory’ cost then? What if it means we need an army of 500,000 men? What if it means we need a draft?

And that, of course, is a question no politician dares to face. Because no politician in the United States thinks a draft is going to fly. And if that’s what it takes to win ‘complete victory’ – then for political reasons ‘complete victory’ may be beyond our grasp.

My point is simple: We are in the fifth year in the war on terrorism. We have now been fighting this war for months longer than World War II. And we have not destroyed our enemies’ ability to resist as we did with the Germans and Japanese. The terrorists are still fighting back. Every day.

The argument over Iraq has come down to President Bush and the Republicans saying we should keep on doing what we’re doing and the Democrats saying we should pull out.

But what if neither strategy will lead to victory in the war on terrorism?

Of course, no one – no political leader – has dared to stand up and ask, ‘Do we need to do more? Is the price of complete victory higher than we thought and, if so, do we have any choice but to pay it?’ Because no politician thinks the American people are going to look on him kindly if he does that. But ultimately, we may not be able to escape that question. We may be forced to answer it.

That is unless the whole threat of terrorism is an illusion and there was never any need for a war on terrorism at all.

Posted in: General
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We may not have a bird flu epidemic in America yet, but it looks like there is an outbreak of mea culpas in Raleigh and Washington lately.

This week Speaker Jim Black apologized for mistakes in judgment. His statement didn’t solve all his problems, but it gave him some badly needed political breathing room.

But that’s nothing compared with the deluge of apologies that has come out of the Bush White House lately. The Bushies so far have apologized for:

· Going to war in Iraq on flawed intelligence;

· Being asleep at the switch when Katrina hit;

· Opposing John McCain’s ban on torture. (By the way, what kind of fool tries to debate John McCain about torture, anyway? Dick Cheney, apparently.)

As I said in this space yesterday, in politics as in life, a little apology goes a long way.

Posted in: General
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Mayor Meeker now wants the City to help build a grocery store downtown. The City Council has voted to loan $300,000 to a real estate company to build an upscale ‘Fresh Market’ type grocery store downtown (News and Observer, 12-08-05).
Now, as far as I can tell there have been several hundred grocery stores built around Raleigh without one penny of taxpayers’ money. So why is a government loan necessary this time?
This is speculation but according to the News and Observer, ‘grocery stores tend to open in sites where at least 10,000 people live within a two-mile radius.’ The city says only 2,200 people live downtown. So the Mayor may have arranged a little helping hand with this loan to get this grocery store downtown.
There’s something else shocking about that number – that only 2,200 people live downtown. The city’s been boasting a lot about its billion dollar ‘renaissance’ and ‘revitalization’ downtown. A billion dollars and 2,200 people. That’s $450,000 each.
Posted in: Issues, Raleigh
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Ronald Reagan used to say the closest thing to eternal life on earth was a government program. I’m beginning to think the Triangle Transit Authority is may prove his point.

The News and Observer reports that yesterday Senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr wrote the TTA that the Federal Transportation Administration had “thoroughly examined” the TTA’s light-rail project and “the initiative does not meet the current required standards, nor the former standards.” The bottom line: TTA will not be eligible for federal funding. The Senators added, “the rail project is likely not an option for the region; we therefore believe it is time for TTA to explore other possibilities.”


Did that please the TTA?

Not one bit. It rolled-out old warhorse (and now TTA’s legal counsel) Wib Gulley for a late-night news conference to respond. Gulley said: Not so.

According to Gulley the TTA has discovered it left 132,000 commuters out of it’s computer model – and the new model will give a better chance of getting its hands on federal money. The problem is we’ve heard that before. It’s almost become TTA’s standard response to a no – we have to redo the computer model.

The TTA has been going on for ten years and its proposal has grown from $100 to $800 million. It is a bureaucracy fighting for the government equivalent of eternal life – so that whatever happens it can keep on keeping on at taxpayers’ expense. And it’s got politicians like Raleigh Major Charles Meeker – who is apparently heart-set on light-rail whether it’s needed, justified, and no matter what it costs – helping them.

These folks have been burning through taxpayers’ money for ten years and it’s time they stopped. Senator Dole and Senator Burr gave the TTA some good advice: Move on.

When the federal government – which normally has never seen a pork-barrel project it doesn’t like – says your project is a waste of money, it’s time to give up.

Washington never blinked at $10,000 commode seats or bridges to nowhere. But how Washington says Raleigh’s light-rail project doesn’t make financial sense.

Mayor Meeker, it’s time to give it up. Spend the money where it will do some good – like the Outer Loop or new schools.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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In the 70s and 80s, Brent Hackney was a familiar figure in Raleigh political circles.

Yesterday, I got the bad news that he had died – at 57 – at his home in Moore County.

Brent came here in the mid-70s as a capital reporter for The Greensboro News & Record.

He was about the only reporter who ever flummoxed Hunt at a press conference. The Governor was famously sure-footed in those settings.

Once, Hunt was dancing around a question about why he wouldn’t fight against a bill in the legislature that he obviously didn’t like. Everyone knew why: the bill was sponsored by a powerful Senator, and Hunt didn’t want to make him mad. But Hunt wouldn’t admit it, and it was driving the reporters crazy.

Suddenly, Brent jumped in with a short, sharp question: “Governor, if you had veto power, would you veto the bill?”

Caught by surprise, Hunt said yes. And all hell broke loose. It took days to straighten out the mess, as I recall.

Brent taught me then that a short question was often better than a long-winded one.

So, in 1979, I hired him to work with me in Governor Hunt’s press office.

He was a great writer and a wicked wit. For more than five years, we worked together every day. He was especially good at getting me to lighten up when I got too wound up about some story or another.

Anyone who knew Brent knew he struggled with inner demons. Cigarettes and alcohol were his crutches.

After the Raleigh years, Brent moved back home. We talked every few months. He called me in 2004 to ask if I held it against him that he was working for a Republican candidate for Governor.

No, Brent, I didn’t. Even on the days when you frustrated me the most, I didn’t hold it against you.

I hope you’ve found peace now.

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Five Wake County Mayors have “asked the North Carolina Turnpike Authority Tuesday to figure out how fast it could build the western and southern arcs of the Outer Loop by making them toll roads.” (News and Observer, 12-14-05)

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker was not one of them.

Now it may just be Mayor Meeker is opposed to toll roads and if so, he should say so.

But Metro Magazine editor, Bernie Reeves, has also raised the question that some mass transit supporters are dragging their feet on building more roads because it may conflict with the Triangle Transit Authority’s billion dollar ‘Light Rail” project.

Could it be finishing the Outer Loop is not one of Mayor Meeker’s priorities because he prefers mass transit?

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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The Turnpike Authority apparently wants to build the last two portions of the Outer Loop as toll roads (News and Observer, 11/28/05).

Here’s an alternative. Put a tollbooth in front of Mayor Meeker’s Convention Center. Then put another one in front of the Exploris Museum (which is showing the new Harry Potter movie to fulfill its non-profit mission to promote international understanding).

Use the tolls to pay for the Convention Center, the new downtown hotel and the Museum. And take the $200 million City Council and the County Commissioners are spending on those things and use it to complete the Outer Loop.

Crazy, you say? Well, yes. But is it any crazier than building the Convention Center or giving $500,000 (more) to Exploris when we can’t afford to build the Outer Loop?

Unfortunately, the folks who want the Hotel and Convention Center and the Exploris Museum are working full time to keep taxpayers’ money flowing in their direction – and the folks who will be paying those tolls – by and large – aren’t.

So, the Convention Center’s getting built, the Hotel is on track, and Exploris is happy (because it just got another $500,000 from the County Commissioners) and the Outer Loop is on hold until 2012 – unless it’s a toll road.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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I know Gary is all for the lottery and it’s probably foolish of me to even bring it up since every poll shows 70% of voters agree with him. But there’s something about the lottery – besides the highly entertaining scandal it brought us – that is troubling.

It’s this: with the lottery the politicians have found a way to make the people want to give the government money. That’s why the lottery is a truly awe-inspiring – and frightening – idea.

Most of the time, when the politicians make you give the government your money it hurts. Like taxes hurt. And that’s good because that pain of seeing money come out of your paycheck is the best brake to stop the politicians from spending more and more of your money.

For the politicians, the lottery is a brilliant solution to that problem. They get another $400 million (or so) to spend and no one is angry at all. It doesn’t hurt. For the politicians the lottery is an even better way to increase government spending than borrowing.

I know all the self-serving rhetoric from lottery supporters. It’s voluntary. You don’t have to help pay for it if you don’t want to. And all the money is supposed to go to education. But that’s just the old shell and pea game. The lottery money will just free up money somewhere else for the politicians to spend on something else.

The bottom line in the lottery is the politicians get $400 million more to spend – and nobody (or at least 70% of the people) is mad about it.

Posted in: General
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Republican State House Leader Richard Morgan says Republican Representative Ed McMahan is a skunk. (Those weren’t Richard’s exact words; he actually said McMahon “is about the most hypocritical person I know. I don’t like him. I don’t like his character. He has no business being National Committeeman or being Republican nominee for a legislative seat of anything else.”)

Republican Representative John Blust then said, in effect, that Morgan is a polecat (not his exact words either but close enough).

Then Republican State Chairman Ferrell Blount defended McMahan (the skunk) and said, in effect, Morgan is a Republican Benedict Arnold because he formed a coalition with Democrat House Speaker Jim Black. Then the State Party voted to spend money to defeat Morgan in his Republican Primary.

Morgan’s retort to that was: “It should not be that Republicans who are elected to office in their districts should have to check their brains at the door and plug up a machine that tells you how to vote.”

That’s a relief. I was beginning to worry that none of so-called Republican leaders in the State House had anything to hook up to that machine.

This feud started three years ago when the election (and Mike Decker’s party switch) sent exactly 60 Republicans and 60 Democrats to the House. A tie. Fifty-five (or so) of the Republicans voted to elect Rep. Leo Daughtry Speaker. But Richard Morgan – and four Republican allies – refused to vote for Daughtry. No way. No time. Ever. Morgan had an ax to grind with Leo and he all but emasculated him. And Democrat House Speaker Jim Black – who must have been amazed at his good luck – was more than willing to do his share to help.

What major issue did Richard Morgan and Leo Daughtry disagree on? Taxes? Spending? The Lottery? No. Before the 2002 election Morgan was Republican Leader in the House. Then Daughtry, rather unceremoniously, deposed him and Richard isn’t a man who takes rejection well. When Leo ran for Speaker, Morgan got even in a big way. He made a deal with Black, parlayed those five votes into a Co-Speakership with Black and relegated Daughtry to the back row – which in the legislature is the equivalent of Siberia.

Since then, Morgan and Jim Black have been, as Forest Gump would say, “like peas and carrots.’ Morgan has continued his alliance with Black, who’s only too glad to keep Morgan propped up in order to keep Republicans in the House divided.

Now, some Republicans have figured out what Black must have known a long time ago. There probably won’t be a Republican majority in the House as long as Black can count on Morgan’s five votes.

So, what’s the solution?

Blust and McMahan and Ferrell Bount all say the solution is to beat Morgan in his Republican primary in Moore County. That’s their right, but you can bet Morgan won’t take that lying down. He may just decide to try to defeat Blust and McMahan in their primaries.

If he does, Blust and McMahon and Morgan may all be out of the General Assembly next fall – which might not be so bad. Some new faces in the State House might be a blessing.

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Follow this logic:

A. Mayor Meeker’s law firm has received $75,000 for work on the downtown Convention Center.

B. Mayor Meeker’s law firm has – for years – represented the Triangle Transit Authority.

C. As Mayor, Meeker supports spending $190 million to build the Convention Center and $800 million to build the TTA’s Light Rail Project.

Sometimes, politics really isn’t that complicated.
It’s as easy as A + B = C.

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. 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
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