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Exploris is a non-profit museum in downtown Raleigh “dedicated to promoting global understanding” (News & Observer, 11-14-05).

How is it doing that? By showing “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

And who paid for Exploris’ IMAX movie theatre? Well, taxpayers. By giving the museum $11.9 in tax money to build it and an annual subsidy of $1.7 million.

That’s our tax money at work.

Meantime, local theatres will be promoting ‘global understanding’ at no cost to the taxpayers by showing “Harry Potter and the Circle of Fire” on their own nickel.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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You’ve got to love a beaver. According to the News and Observer (11-14-05) the pesky little critters are causing a problem for the environmentalists who care for the scenic Eno River – by building dams.

For some reason I don’t pretend to understand this has provoked a ‘dam war’ between the environmentalists and the beavers. The newspaper described – in lurid detail – how environmentalists donned knee high waders and tramped into the Eno River to obliterate two beaver dams.

But you’ve got to give the beavers credit. It turns out they’re more than a match for the environmentalists. The next morning they’d built both dams back.

Posted in: General
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Lottery commissioners are dropping like flies. Gordon Myers of Asheville became the third commissioner to resign. Three of the original seven appointees have now bitten the dust.

Myers cited conflicts of interest because he owns stock in Ingles Stores which may want to sell lottery tickets.

Myers is also director of the North Carolina Economic Development Group. Last week federal authorities subpoenaed the groups correspondence with Meredith Norris, who apparently lobbied for Scientific Games which wants to bid on the N.C. Lottery Contract.

And finally, a federal grand jury began to meet yesterday in Raleigh to start hearing testimony in a criminal investigation that has included subpoena’s of lottery related documents.

If nothing else, so far, the lottery has been entertaining.

Posted in: General
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State legislators receive a $104 per diem for expenses (in addition to their salaries). According to the News &Observer, this per diem is supposed to pay for legislators’ board, meals and other costs while they are in Raleigh
But it turns out that’s not how Republican Representative Harold Brubaker sees it.

Rep. Brubaker – who missed more than 10% of the days when the legislature was in session – took per diems for 25 days when he was not in Raleigh. He says he was “working on legislative business or attending conferences,” so it’s okay. Convenient.

Rep. Steve LaRoque of Kinston was more blunt. LaRoque missed 20 days and part of five other days and still took his per diems. He said: “It cost me money to serve – bottom line.” He added, “I hired somebody to help run my business while I’m in Raleigh, and I pay her more than I get paid to serve.”

Maybe Representative LaRoque would like to run for reelection on that platform next year: that taxpayers should pay him enough so he can pay someone to run his business while he’s in Raleigh.

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I don’t know Ms. Betsy Kane – who was the only member of the Raleigh Planning Commission to vote against the Glen-Tree Westin Hotel at Crabtree Valley – but I give her kudos for honesty.

Just before the city council voted to approve the hotel Ms. Kane set forth her views in an opt-ed in the News & Observer.

Unlike the politicians – like Mayor Meeker – who criticized the hotel (but then voted for it) Ms. Kane did not pussy-foot around. She said flat out in her view the hotel should be built downtown: “Landmark buildings, including any extraordinarily tall ones, should be located downtown.” And she added even more bluntly that downtown “will suffer if the Glen-Tree Tower is approved” at Crabtree Valley.

Now, why is it ‘landmark buildings’ can’t be built in North, West, South, or anywhere else in Raleigh? Why are they only to be built downtown?

I’m afraid what Ms. Kane had the honesty to say – right out loud – is, in fact, pretty close to exactly how Mayor Meeker and some of his close allies on the City Council really feel. That downtown merits special treatment.

If not, why are they spending a billion dollars – as the city boasts – of taxpayers’ money on downtown rehab? And $190 million on a downtown convention center that appears ready to join a long list of convention centers across the nation that lose money? And $20 million to build a hotel downtown? It also looks like we may spend close to a billion dollars if the Triangle Transit Authority ever gets its Light Rail project (that goes downtown but not, say, to North Raleigh) off the launching pad.

No doubt a booming downtown would be fine. But what sense does it make to subsidize building a hotel with taxpayers’ money because it apparently can’t make enough money to pay for itself?

Mayor Meeker’s law firm received $75,000 in legal fees for work related to the new convention center but I suspect the mayor’s focus on downtown goes deeper than that. I suspect Mayor Meeker – and Ms. Kane – with all their talk of promotion and investment downtown have the best of intentions.

But it’s the taxpayers’ money they’re spending and they’re spending a lot of it. They wouldn’t be the first people to make a mistake with good intentions.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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The News & Observer (11-14-05) headline blared: “Democrats: Jesus Wouldn’t Cut Aid to Poor”

The story told of a curious development: it seems politics has brought three Democratic Congressmen to Jesus. In fairness to Congressmen David Price, Bob Etheridge and Brad Miller they probably found the Lord years ago and I expect that what they might say is that the federal budget just led them to decide it was time they started talking about it. ‘After all’, I can hear them saying, ‘Republicans have been doing that for years and the current political wisdom is it’s worked out pretty well for them in elections.’

So this sudden eruption of religious fervor may have more to do with politics than theology.

Which brings us to an interesting question. Why now?

For years, Democrats have generally taken the stand that Republicans introducing religion into politics is a bad thing. They have generally praised the virtues of ‘pluralism’ and denounced the vices of ‘theocracy.’ Why the sudden change?

Now you may or may not agree with Democrats about where to draw the line when it comes to the separation of church and state. But where to put that line is a legitimate debate that’s been going on for a couple of hundred years. And it’s an important debate.

My suspicion is that some Democrats have concluded they’re arguing the short end of the political stick – and they’d rather switch than fight.

So now we have the spectacle of one set of politicians saying they’re as sincere – or more sincere – as Christians than another set of politicians. (I can hear David Price saying, ‘But, Carter, that’s what you Republicans have been doing for years,’ and my answer is, ‘Yes, David, there’s some truth in that.’)

But what’s worrying me is not politicians ‘getting religion’ – it is them ‘using religion’ to get elected.

What Democrats really need to decide is where they want to draw the line between church and state. Then they ought to take their stand and make their case.

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My dictionary defines “vacuous” as “empty, stupid, senseless.” By that definition, Raleigh’s city elections this year were pretty vacuous. And politics abhors a vacuum.

Events in the month since the election make me think we’re about to get a real debate for the next two years – and into the next election.

One debate will be over who decides the shape of the city: government or the market?

As a proud liberal Democrat, I once would have said government. But not now.

I like the vision Sanjay Mundra and Dicky Walia have for the new Soleil Center at Crabtree Valley. I like what John Kane has done at North Hills.

That’s what the market is doing.

But I’m not sure I like what city government. Especially using my tax money to subsidize the Marriott hotels and the light-rail boondoggle instead of better schools and better roads.

Raleigh didn’t have a debate on that issue this year. But I’ll bet we do now.

Sanjay Mundra answered his 42-story tower’s critics this way in the N&O’s front-page article Sunday: “If we’re wrong, there’s no need to punish us. The market will punish us.”

If the politicians and bureaucrats are wrong, the political market will punish them.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Speaking of mistakes, former Senator, candidate for Vice President and anti-poverty poster boy John Edwards is admitting he made one when he voted for the war in Iraq.

Confession is good for the soul and it’s always a pleasant surprise to see a politician admit he made a mistake. But former Senator Edwards’ contrition may deserve a second look. The political winds were blowing in one direction when he cast that vote in 2002 to go to war – and they were blowing in the opposite direction when he decided that vote was a mistake three years later. The fact is both times Mr. Edwards voted the way the wind was blowing and if you’re suspecting his latest change of heart might have something to do with polls and running for President in 2008 – you may have a point.

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President Bush’s national secretary adviser, Stephen Hadley, and Republican members of Congress have launched an offensive declaring allegations that the President manipulated intelligence “are flat wrong.”

Alright, let’s agree President Bush didn’t mislead anyone.

Where does that leave us? It leaves us with one troubling question.

Now, let me get this right, Mr. Hadley, we’re in a war in Iraq not because President Bush misled anyone but because someone made a mistake and believed a false intelligence report?

Well, everyone makes mistakes and being President is a pretty big job but blundering into a war by mistake – that’s a helluva admission.

Posted in: General
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Last week, the News and Observer reported (11-07-05), “Preaching democracy in the largest country in South America, President Bush urged leaders in the region to pursue his ‘vision of hope…’ The newspaper also reported, “The President did not name names. But his remarks appeared unmistakably aimed at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez…”

Now, I’m no expert in foreign policy and when all this talk about spreading democracy started it sounded pretty good to me. But now I’m beginning to suspect it may be like what Professor Walter Williams once said about Lyndon Johnson’s ‘The Great Society’ welfare programs. ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ And I’m beginning to ask myself, if we’re going to set our sights on spreading democracy all over the world where are we going to stop?

China could use a little democracy. Are we going to give it to them? Spreading democracy sounds good, and it probably polls pretty good too. But as a practical matter it seems to be a stickey wicket in places like…Iraq.

I guess any politician who wants to get elected to anything higher then dog catcher who says he’s not for spreading democracy hasn’t got a chance. But I’m also beginning to think if we try one or two more experiments in spreading democracy…that may change.

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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