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On heels of thaw, U.S. ambassadors head to Cuba

On heels of thaw, U.S. ambassadors head to Cuba

Cuba is getting an American ambassador.

Actually, a dozen of them.

Charlotte businessman Mark Erwin, a former U.S. ambassador to Mauritius, the Seychelles and Comoros, will join a group of retired ambassadors on a weeklong tour of the island nation.

Last month President Barack Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba, though stopped short of lifting the half-century old embargo.

The trip this month was arranged by the Council of American Ambassadors, a group of retired envoys. In 2012 Erwin was among 29 members who visited Cuba in an effort to improve relations.

“We had a great, great, great visit,” Erwin says. “I’m kind of excited about going back.”

On their earlier visit the ambassadors played tourist, visiting the home of Ernest Hemingway and one of his favorite cocktail bars, El Floridita. They also met with government officials though a tentative meeting with Raul Castro was abruptly canceled.

This year’s trip will include meetings with Cuban diplomats, trade officials, academics and the country’s Roman Catholic cardinal. It will also include a visit to the Bay of Pigs, site of an ill-fated 1961 invasion attempt. Jim Morrill

S.C. senator: Women ‘a lesser cut of meat’

Valentine’s Day must be special at the home of S.C. Sen. Thomas Corbin.

According to FITSNews, a South Carolina political website, the Greenville County Republican was at a public dinner last week when he began needling GOP Sen. Katrina Shealy of Lexington County, the state’s only female senator.

Witnesses said the conversation quickly grew heated. They said Shealy asked Corbin where he “got off” attacking women.

“Well, you know God created man first,” Corbin reportedly said. “Then he took the rib out of man to make woman. And you know, a rib is a lesser cut of meat.”

As one lobbyist at the dinner told FITS: “We thought we were going to have to hold her back.” Jim Morrill

N.C. Courts, again, come begging

As those legal scholars of yesteryear, Herman’s Hermits, once put it: “Second verse, same as the first.”

Which means, it’s time for the N.C. Courts to ask the N.C. legislature for more money. Consider:

• The courts say its budget is at its lowest point in a decade, having been cut 41 percent since 2008. That rollback has stymied innovation, led to a 10 percent cut in the workforce and has made it hard for the courts to pay jurors. Statewide, the court says it needs $40.6 million (about 10 percent of its current budget) in additional employees.



•  The cuts have also slowed the pace of justice. The age of pending civil cases in District Court has grown by 74 percent; child support by 203 percent. In Superior Court, the wait times have increased by 203 percent for contract disputes; 194 percent on motor vehicle negligence.



• North Carolina ranks third from the bottom among all states in judges per capita; 46th in the amount of justice system money spent on the courts.



Legislators say they know there’s a problem. They also will tell you that most state agencies lost blood during the recession and are calling on the General Assembly for major transfusions of cash that the state cannot afford.

The courts, though, say they’ve been low-balled for decades. Today, the courts’ share of the budget – which officials estimate at 1 cent on every tax dollar – is lower than it was at the height of the recession.

There’s no way to go but up. Or is there? Michael Gordon

Battle ahead between DOT and legislators?

As an Army officer in Kosovo, the Philippines and Afghanistan, former Gen. Tony Tata has seen his share of battle. What he hasn’t seen he has written about in a series of thrillers under the name A.J. Tata.

Now North Carolina’s transportation secretary, Tata may be gearing up for another battle – with state legislators.

A bill passed last week in the Senate and headed to the House calls for a cut of 500 jobs– and 50 vacancies – from the N.C. DOT. Republican Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport, one of the bill sponsors, said that’s because DOT has been “dragging their feet” about outsourcing mandated by the legislature.

Tata said in a statement that DOT has cut more than 2,100 positions in the past five years and “must be careful” about further cuts. He told The Insider that the agency need the right number of employees “to deliver the safest and best transportation infrastructure for the state of North Carolina.”

The cuts would come in a year Gov. Pat McCrory plans to ask lawmakers to approve $1.2 billion in transportation bonds. Jim Morrill

Locke Foundation celebrates anniversary

The conservative John Locke Foundation, one of Raleigh’s first think tanks, celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. Agree or disagree with its positions, the organization has made its mark on public policy in the state.

One of the main avenues has been through its Carolina Journal and executive editor Don Carrington.

It was Carrington’s enterprise that first exposed several scandals that the mainstream press followed.

In 2006, for example, he published a photo of Democratic Gov. Mike Easley’s coastal lot near Emerald Isle, a lot on which he’d gotten a sweetheart deal.

That cracked the door to a series of other stories by the (Raleigh) News & Observer and others that ended with Easley’s conviction of a felony in 2010.

And in 2007 Carrington took to the air to photograph John Edward’s new 28,200-square-foot house on 102 acres in Chapel Hill. The photo quickly went national.

At the time Edwards was gearing up for a second run for the White House as a champion of Americans stuck in poverty. Jim Morrill

Mulvaney takes on Senate

U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina wants the Senate to change its rules to make it easier to advance a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. Not going to happen, Senate Republicans say.

The disagreement emerged last week at a news conference where conservative House and Senate Republicans sought to put up a united front against Senate Democrats and pressure them to end their resistance to a House-passed bill that would fund DHS and undo President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

But even in that setting, apparently designed to show some GOP unity in a week filled with discord between Republicans on opposite ends of the Capitol, not everyone was on the same page.

“If the rules are being used to undermine the Constitution, if the rules are being used to deny the ability to govern, then the rules should be changed,” said Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican. “The 60-vote rule is not in the Constitution.”

Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to advance legislation. Three straight times, Democrats have blocked Republicans by keeping them short of 60 votes on the DHS bill.

Mulvaney suggested forcing senators to wage talking filibusters if they want to block legislation. But the Republican senators at the press conference disagreed.

“I don’t think that’s an option we are looking at right now,” said GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska. Washington Post

WBTV’s Crump to present ‘Selma’ docc

WBTV journalist Steve Crump will present his documentary, “Strength from Selma” this month at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s main library.

The 2005 film will be shown just before the 50th anniversary on March 7 of the historic “Bloody Sunday” march, where 600 marchers were attacked by state troopers at Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Crump will show his documentary 2 p.m. Feb. 21. That’s the day before the 87th Academy Awards presentation, where the feature film “Selma” is up for best picture. Jim Morrill

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