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Friday, November 22, 2013

The assassination of John F. Kennedy: What I remember

Posted by on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 11:25 AM

I believe I'm the only Indy writer who is old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination. I was in the 8th grade in 1963, in Fair Haven, NJ, and I was vice president of my class. I mention that because I recall feeling that, as an elected leader, I ought to rise to the occasion in some way, though I don't believe I did. A black-and-white television was wheeled into the cafeteria and we watched in silence, taking in the news.

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Thinking back, I don't believe I was surprised. By the eighth grade, I'd become quite the student of American history. The first significant book I read was Teddy White's The Making of the President 1960, which came out in 1961 and was a first of its kind — or so I thought — in reporting how politics really worked. The takeaway from White, as I read it at 11 or 12, was that a very smart team of Harvard-educated fellows had set out to elect one of their own as president; they'd succeeded by producing brilliant speeches and applying sharper analysis and tactics than their somewhat slow-witted opponents (Johnson, Symington, Humphrey and Stevenson on the Democratic side) to the possibilities of the early primary elections, a fairly new phenomenon in American politics.

In other words, Kennedy's victory was a triumph of brain-power which resulted in the smartest candidate with the smartest team becoming president. And indeed that seemed to be the objective: Rather than any specific policy goals, the point of electing Kennedy — his campaign said — was that the U.S. was in a Cold War with the Russians, and we needed the smartest guy possible in the Oval Office to be making the critical calls day-to-day.

This struck me as proper since, again, I was in grade school, and I was studying to be smart.

After I read White, I plunged into the history of president elections, which taught me that prior to Kennedy, the best (smartest) candidate usually didn't win. For every Washington and Roosevelt, there'd been a Taylor, a Buchanan, a Hayes, two Harrisons and a McKinley. And a Hoover. We'd been lucky with Eisenhower. Everybody liked Ike, and he was smart enough, but by the end he didn't seem to be functioning all that well.

Another thing I learned was that assassinations and attempted assassinations were a regular event in the American presidency. Most of American history, it seemed, was about warfare and guns. So as I say, I wasn't surprised to hear that Kennedy'd been shot. No, what I thought was, "they've taken him out."


I don't know that I've ever tried to put in words the impact the assassination had on me. But it occurs to me as I write this that the elevation to the presidency of Lyndon Johnson has caused me to see in every political situation since then the question of whether the candidate/officeholder had earned the position, as Kennedy did, or was unworthy, as Johnson was.

And, yes, you can argue that Kennedy was the unworthy beneficiary of daddy's money, while Johnson was the skillful Senate majority leader who, as president, pushed through all the Great Society legislation that Kennedy couldn't. But what I experienced is that the nation chose Kennedy to be president and not Johnson (or Nixon) for good reasons, and those good reasons were validated by Johnson's insane prosecution of —and lying about — the Vietnam War.

But someone with a gun, in Texas, reversed the electorate's decision and put Johnson in charge. I never subscribed to any of the conspiracy theories about Lee Harvey Oswald. I do subscribe to the idea that in America, political hatreds are in the water and it's a short step from there to a rifle.

Since Kennedy, we've elected a series of presidents who were not the brightest lights on the tree. Nixon, Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush weren't dummies, but they didn't win on their brains, put it that way. Worse, intelligence as a desired quality in our political leaders has been steeply devalued, and if you doubt that statement, look no further than our very own governor, Pat McCrory.

I will stipulate that the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, our three book-smart presidents since Kennedy, have done little to elevate the public's desire to put the brightest people in office.

I will also stipulate that, as smart as Kennedy and Ted Sorenson and the rest of the Kennedy team were, they bungled the Bay of Pigs before getting the Cuban Missile Crisis right; and it's not clear what they would've done about Vietnam, though I think they'd have figured it out enough to avoid the quagmire Johnson put us in.

All that said, I believe that what was lost when Kennedy died was not so much a political direction as it was the basic possibility of a nation governed by people of intelligence who are trusted by the voters because of their intelligence to do the best job possible, understanding that nothing turns out perfectly and you can't get everything right.

The promise of the Kennedy Administration — Camelot, in the re-telling — was that the United States would figure out how to fulfill its mission as the land of the free and leader of the free world, and that the best way we could help that happen was to elect smart people who were committed to make the best decisions possible and then trust them through thick and thin.

After Johnson and Nixon — Vietnam and Watergate — we decided that we can't trust anybody in high office, and the thing to look for is candidates who pledge to do nothing except reduce the size, scope and ambition of government. We make exceptions in a crisis or when the economy's in recession (Carter, Clinton, Obama), but we don't cut them much slack. In general, we're looking for people unworthy of leadership because we don't want leaders any more — we haven't seen a good one for 50 years.

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    I was in the eighth grade. I wasn't surprised. At some level, I may even have known what was lost that day in Dallas.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

[Updated] Losing Jamie Hahn: Raleigh and the power of passionate people

Posted by on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Jamie and Nation Hahn (left and center) at an Obama rally last year
  • Photo by Gerda Stein
  • Jamie and Nation Hahn (left and center; the person at right is unidentified their friend David Blair) at an Obama rally last year

[Update, Friday, 11 a.m.: Visitation tonight at Pullen Baptist has been extended to accommodate an expected large turnout. The time is now 5-8 p.m. Also, Jamie was on the board of the Hope Center at Pullen, a ministry aimed at aiding the homeless, and she was helping to organize their annual fundraising dinner Sunday night. The family has established a memorial fund for the Hope Center and asks that, in lieu of flowers, folks contribute money to the fund. Designate the contributions to the "Raising Hope Dinner." Separate from that, friends are raising money to help the Hahn family pay for medical expenses from this tragedy via a website. Jamie's obituary is here.]

My original post from yesterday follows:

It's a tribute to Jamie Hahn and to Nation Hahn how many people in Raleigh are grieving her death. I just saw, on social media, that some folks are raising money to help pay the medical bills by making RaleighNation t-shirts. (And now they've added JamieNation t-shirts.)

Jamie and Nation are the social media—they epitomize its promise and very best possibilities—so this strikes an exact right note. Another thing: Will Hardison, who signed the t-shirt pitch, knows Nation only slightly and I gather from what he wrote that he didn’t know Jamie; but he clearly was touched by them, and by the fact that so many others in Raleigh were touched by them. That’s how the world’s supposed to work, yes?

As I read his piece, I heard the Joni Mitchell song in my head: Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?

I say that for myself. Others knew what they had with Jamie and still have with Nation. Gary Pearce, who worked with them, said it well on his blog yesterday:

“Together, Jamie and Nation had a unique quality that people responded to. They liked people. Their home was a familiar gathering place. People had fun.

Jamie liked politics, and she was good at it. She exemplified all that is good in politics.”

Funeral services are Saturday at 11 a.m. at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, their home church, 1801 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh. There's visitation at the church Friday evening, 6-8.


I knew Jamie to say hello and chat about politics. She was always smiling, always welcoming, and not because we were close; it was because—I realize now—that’s the way she was with everyone. I know Nation better, and he’s helped me connect to some stories. We’re friends, but I wouldn’t have said we were close friends before. Only in this tragedy do I register what I knew before, had I been more aware, that Nation makes close friends easily—Jamie was his soul mate in that—and they have many, many of them, young and old. They never met a stranger.

The news that Jamie was attacked and critically injured — and that Nation was injured — just rocked me when I learned of it Tuesday morning. The violence of the attack … against two of the nicest, most positive people you could imagine. Why would anyone … ?

But there’s never a good answer to questions like that. I was grateful for the prayer service at Pullen Baptist Church that evening and for the Rev. Nancy Petty, as I always am. I went to WakeMed later and was one of a hundred or more people who came to the hospital over the course of the night until Jamie died just before 2 a.m. I was grateful to be there, too, and for the fact that Nation welcomed our desire to be part of a community-family supporting him—while he supported us.

Politics can be a nasty business. It can also be an uplifting, wonderful one. At its best, it’s about making connections, building networks, and gathering power, not for power’s sake and certainly not for self-advancement, but for the chance to make the world a better place and help people to find their way in it. Especially people in need.

If this sounds trite, it’s only because ours is a cynical time and we’ve seen so many people grasp for political power only to do the wrong things with it—and so few do right.

Jamie and Nation are two who're in it to do right. Were in it? No, she’s still in it, through him.

And among that too-small group of idealists, Jamie and Nation are two who were blessed with a rare combination of talent, warmth, insight and energy—and blessed with each other.

They’re naturals at connecting to people, and at helping people connect to one another, which is why politics so suited and the tools of the social media fit so well in their hands: Nation, the director of engagement at New Kind, the consulting firm, and Jamie, the fundraiser.

They're helpers. You didn't really even need to ask.


And, of course, they’re under 30. Knowing that they’d be on the job helped me—I'm twice their age—believe the future could be better, and that I could look forward in my declining years to watching them in their prime, rising to the challenges my generation is leaving behind.

I know now, I was counting on getting to know them better.

But Jamie's gone.

So I’m grieving for Nation, for myself and, yes, it's a big loss for Raleigh.

Nation will go forward, of that I have no doubt. He’ll draw on Jamie’s memory. He’ll draw on us, and we'll need to be there for him. As the New Kind slogan says, "Nothing is more powerful than a community of passionate people."

A RaleighNation, indeed.

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    What she meant, and means, to our Raleigh Nation.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

5 p.m. at Pullen Church: Vigil for the Newtown victims and for an end to gun violence

Posted by on Sun, Dec 16, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Pullen Memorial Baptist Church and Martin Street Baptist Church will co-host the service at Pullen. It will be brief, about 30 minutes, and give us a chance to grieve together.

I look into the faces of smiling children, and I tear up. I don't want to lose this feeling. I want to keep it and act on it with others who feel the same.

Our country can be better in so many ways. The children show us how.

And a brave school principal and teachers.

Pullen Church is at 1801 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, just east of the N.C. State Bell Tower.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

9-11 ceremonies on Sunday in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill

Posted by on Fri, Sep 9, 2011 at 11:09 AM

  • Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Sunday will mark 10 years since the deadly events of 9-11, Sept. 11, 2001. How many days in American history have had a greater impact on our sense of what America is, or should be, than 9-11? A few, perhaps. But not many. Does the United States matter, and if so, why? Are we confident? Afraid? Whatever your answers, there's no doubt that the last decade was a time of decline for the country and for the world. 9-11 is seared in our minds, as it must be. Ten years later, we bring those memories forward and look to the future.

Commemorative events are scheduled across the Triangle to help us find solace in tragedy. Here are some of them:

** In Raleigh, NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson will lead a 9-11 Memorial Service, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Bell Tower on Hillsborough Street at the northeast corner of the old campus.

** Earlier, and also in Raleigh, Mayor Charles Meeker will join Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy for a Peace and Solidarity event, including a walk to downtown Raleigh from the Long Acres neighborhood. Start time is 8:30 a.m. The address is 515 Parnell Drive, the location of a house built by co-sponsor Habitat for Humanity of Wake County.

** In Durham, Duke University invites the community to a commemoration concert beginning at 4 p.m. Sunday in Duke Chapel. Rodney Wynkoop will conduct the Duke Chapel Choir, the Duke Chorale, the Choral Society of Durham, and the Orchestra Pro Cantores in a performance of Mozart's Requiem. The music is symbolic of mourning and consolation.

** In Chapel Hill, the Fire Department, Police Department and the Chapel Hill Firefighters Association will host a commemoration ceremony, including a ringing of bells, from 9:45-10:30 a.m. at “The Fire Place”, 301 Meadowmont Village.


Also on Sunday, panels at UNC-CH and NCSU will consider the impact of 9-11 on our politics, culture and sense of national security. The taalks and panel discussions — free and open to the public — are the work of the Triangle Institute of Security Studies and the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

** At the UNC FedEx Global Education Center, Arif Alikhan, former assistant secretary for policy development in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will speak beginning at 5 p.m. A panel discussion will follow, including UNC and Duke experts and a representative from the Islamic Association of Raleigh.

** At NCSU, at 2 p.m. in the Brown Room (4114) of NC State’s Talley Student Center, faculty from UNC, NC State and Duke will participate in another panel discussion, “How Did 9/11 Impact the National Security Establishment?” The center is at 2610 Cates Ave; parking is available nearby in the Reynolds Coliseum deck.

Details of the UNC and NCSU events can be found here.

For other events at Duke, visit

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Reports: Elizabeth Edwards is gravely ill

Posted by on Mon, Dec 6, 2010 at 6:04 PM

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Sen. John Edwards, is gravely ill, according to the Associated Press and other reports. She may have just weeks to live. John Edwards is among those who are at her side, the AP says.

Mrs. Edwards was diagnosed with cancer as the 2004 presidential campaign was ending. John Edwards was the Democratic candidate for vice president that year.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sad news: Hon. Officer Will Bunn, 8, died today

Posted by on Thu, Jul 1, 2010 at 11:14 AM

Will Bunn's cancer ended his life three weeks after the Raleigh P.D. made him an honorary officer. From a WRAL report:

"I like all the handcuffs and how they go check out the jail and stuff," he said at the time. "I really like it how they do all that stuff."

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Health care reform: What a lousy bill ... but it's a great day nonetheless.

Posted by on Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 12:29 PM

Obama in Raleigh last August
  • Obama in Raleigh last August

Health care reform? I can't do better than Dickens. It is the best of times, even though -- on the merits -- this is the worst possible bill. But it is a bill, which means it's a start. Paul Krugman, who likes it, is exactly right. So is Firedog Lake, where they hate it and tell us everything we must do now to fix it.

I go back to the Kennedy for President campaign. Ted Kennedy, that is, in 1980. He lost. No HCR. In 1991, running on an all-out platform of universal health care/HCR, Democrat Harris Wofford won a special election for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania against the popular former Governor and U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh (and Wofford won it easily). Bill Clinton was elected president the following year promising to introduce HCR on "day one" of his administration. He didn't, and long story of Hillaryycare short, no HCR. You will note, perhaps, that in between and following these episodes, long periods of Republican ascendance occurred, producing -- no surprise -- no HCR.

Which brought me to last year, when I rode to Washington with the '09 crop of HCR'ers and, once again, breathed deeply the air of freedom. HCR. With a public option. Yes, We Can! That's when I met Rhonda Robinson, the Durham woman who was out of a job and, because of that fact, off the insurance rolls and living in fear with her epilepsy.

I've never forgotten that, whatever else HCR was about, it was about the Rhonda Robinsons whose lives were literally in peril because the United States, alone in the industrialized world, links health care to earnings. Good earnings, good health care. Bad earnings, or none? Your health care line is around the back.

Of all the ways we could've chosen to reform health care, we've chosen the worst. Control remains firmly in the hands of the medical-pharmaceutical industrial complex, which overcharges for everything it does in the manner of the military-industrial complex of Dwight Eisenhower fame. On top of that, we not only didn't put a nick in the health care insurance industry, we're now going to require that everybody buy access to the overpriced health care system through the monopolistic and overpriced health insurance industry, adding 20 percent or so to our otherwise out-of-control health care spending. Oh, I know, every good idea for controlling health care costs is in the HCR legislature. Yeah, right.

And yet.

The reality is, this is all we could do. It was the worst, or nothing at all. From the get-go, the Republican Party made the decision to obstruct, oppose and attempt to destroy the Obama presidency by defeating whatever version of HCR that it brought forward. The fact that Obama brought forward a Republican version of HCR, the same kind that Mitt Romney enacted in Massachusetts, was irrelevant.

And on the Democratic side, there was no appetite, in 2009 or now, for using reconciliation to enact a bill with 51 Senate votes, avoiding the need to deal with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson et al. There were, I believe, 53 votes in the Senate for a progressive version of HCR with a public option. But there were not 53 votes, or 50, for putting an end to the ridiculous Senate system of requiring 60 votes to end fake filibusters or the equally absurd system of letting every senator blackball, anonymously if so desired, any provision of any bill. (So to this day, a certifiably unbalanced senator like the gentleman from Kentucky, Jim Bunning, can stop a major bill extending unemployment benefits all by himself.)

So, short of Obama calling them out and staking his presidency on the Senate's willingness to reform itself, the Liebermans and the Nelson retained their vetoes, and HCR needed to be reduced to the least common denominator they would accept, which was -- is -- this bill.

And yet.

And yet this bill does establish, for the first time in American history, that everyone has a right to good health care, and that taxes will be used to assure that everyone gets it. Expensively. Crazily, even. Yes, Obama cut a deal and the pharmaceutical industry was paid off. Yes, Obama cut another deal and the AMA was paid off. Yes, Obama cut yet another deal, and the health insurance industry was paid off. (And do read Glenn Greenwald on all this: He, too, is exactly right that it's a dream bill for the lobbyists and special interests.)

I hate it that Obama, right here in Raleigh, lied about being for the public option. Lied, that is, unless being for it meant that it was a nice idea he had no intention of trying to get.

What an awful way to enact universal health care. And yet, it was the only way possible.

For 30 years in my experience, and many more years before that I mercifully don't remember, HCR was impossible because we had no platform of universal health care from which to proceed.

This legislation is the worst possible platform. But it is a platform. From here, progress is possible. Until last night, it wasn't. And until last night, the Rhonda Robinsons of the world were in terrible peril. This morning -- or, at least, no more than six months from now when the first provisions of the bill check in -- their world is better. That's reason to cheer.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Elon Poll: N.C. voters are pro-public option; half like single-payer idea

Posted by on Fri, Mar 19, 2010 at 2:10 PM


(Update: But the Ghost of Public Option still inhabits the land.)

Even in a swing/conservative state currently under bombardment by anti-health care reform ads from the Americans for Prosperity bunch, the Elon Poll finds broad support among North Carolinians for 1) reform of some kind; 2) reform that goes farther than what's on the table in Washington; 3) a public option insurance plan as part of the current reform package, and 4) a single-payer system of health care, i.e., one run by or at least paid for by the federal government. You mean, the Tea Party crowd isn't a vast majority?

Weirdly, at least to me, the results of this poll were sent to the media by the Democratic National Committee (as well as by Elon).

I say weird because the poll indicates that only about 39 percent of N.C. voters back reform along the lines of the Obama-Congressional plan due for a vote in the House on Sunday. But our voters would get behind adding a public option to the plan by a 53-37 percent majority.

Too bad, because with President Obama's blessing, congressional Democrats dropped the public option, a big reason IMHO why their plan isn't very popular.

Earlier, of course, the President backed the public option -- or said he did -- in preference to a single-payer plan that many Democrats would favor but he, Obama, and such alleged Democrats as Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln, didn't.

And, btw, how would N.C. feel about single-payer? Pretty good, apparently. Elon's respondents split 47-47, with the rest having no opinion, on the question: Would you [support or oppose] a national insurance plan paid for by the federal government that pays most medical and hospital costs for all citizens?

On such a supposed hot-button question, I think you could fairly add the "no opinions" to the supporters as a gauge to public acceptance of the single-payer concept. So, bottom line, 53 percent would be OK with either a government-run health care system or, failing that, a system that includes a government-run option in the mix with private insurance products.

That's 53 percent in North Carolina, folks. We're not talking Vermont here.

But instead of these popular ideas, congressional Democrats are campaigning for "reform" that will require everyone to own over-priced private insurance, like it or lump it. Raise your hand if you think that's a good idea. (Not you, Tea Party folks. The last good idea you guys remember was secession.)

The poll results are here (scroll down past the initial question on a different subject). Elon's press release is below the fold.

Continue reading…

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Don't miss this story --

Posted by on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 1:20 PM

What goes around ...

(Update: The link I put up first doesn't work. This one should: click on the "Woman Donates Secret Millions" story).

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Live, from New York, it's -- well, see for yourself ...

Posted by on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 at 2:18 PM

You can rely on the wisdom of Elizabeth Warren, I suppose, when it comes to the subject of banking reforms. Or you listen to Slick Willie, W. and ol' 41 himself:  "We gotta regulate that thing or we're gonna get more bubbles, then pop -- money goes to the weasels."

It's reform presented by all your favorite  current and ex- presidents from Saturday Night Live, with a cameo by the late, great Gipper himself.

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The mayor can and should point to Dix Park as a tangible accomplishment that will have lasting ramifications for Raleigh. …

by Protect Falls on McFarlane fundraiser kicks off 2015 Raleigh election year (Citizen)

As is Chavis Park, Doug. But both are relatively small compared to Umstead, NCMA and, when it happens, Dix Park.

by Bob Geary, INDY Opinion Columnist on Dix Park: The Deal is Done (Citizen)

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