Thursday, August 30, 2012

Paul Ryan: An engaging fibber

Updated, 2:30 p.m.: Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan gave the most energizing speech thus far of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it was filled with fibs and misleading statements.

Ryan was unquestionably an effective attack dog. "They've run out of ideas. Their moment came and went. ... With all their attack ads, the president is just throwing away money. And he's pretty experienced at that," Ryan said to an awakened crowd.

The most notable thing about Ryan's speech, however, was how free he felt to stretch the truth and leave out obvious context. We've seen that tactic in 30-second TV ads from both sides, but for a party's vice presidential nominee to do so on the biggest stage of the campaign was stark.

The web is filled today with analyses breaking down Ryan's speech. We'll save you some time and effort and just summarize a handful of the most misleading things we heard (and we'll do the same when the Democrats come to Charlotte next week):

  • The stretch: Ryan said Obama promised to keep a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin open, but that plant is now closed. The truth: GM decided to close the plant in December 2008, when George W. Bush was president. And Ryan opposed Obama's GM bailout, which is now widely credited with saving the company and the industry.

  • The stretch: Ryan said the Bowles-Simpson debt reduction commission sent Obama "an urgent report" that he then ignored. The truth: Obama certainly ignored Simpson-Bowles. But Ryan himself was on the commission and voted against the Simpson-Bowles plan. The lack of support by Ryan and others on the commission relieved Congress of having to act on it.

  • The stretch: Ryan referred to "$716 billion, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama," saying it came "at the expense of the elderly." The truth: Obama's cuts to Medicare do not reduce benefits to seniors. They reduce future reimbursement rates to hospitals and insurance plans. And they haven't happened; they take place over 10 years. Ryan included the same cuts in his budget plan. In fact, Ryan's Medicare plan reduces spending on the program more than Obama did.

  • The stretch: Ryan blamed Obama for the S&P downgrade of America's credit rating. The truth: The downgrade happened because Republicans in Congress took the nation to the brink over raising the debt ceiling. In its downgrade after that showdown, S&P blamed Republicans in Congress, like Ryan, who "continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues."

Neil Newhouse, a pollster for the Romney campaign, this week said: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” And Paul Ryan proves it.

-- Taylor Batten

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The best convention speech ever (behind you know who)

It's easy to forget given what she's become, but four years ago at the Republican National Convention, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin delivered a jolt to the 2008 election with a speech that had Republicans and Democrats quaking for very different reasons.

It was one of the best convention speeches ever - behind, perhaps, America's introduction to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in 2004 and N.Y. Gov. Mario Cuomo's fiery "Tale of Two Cities" speech that he gave as keynote speaker to the 1984 Democratic convention.

In St. Paul, Palin was everything you want a vice presidential candidate to be in that moment - attack dog, character reference, values voice - but she also brought a dynamic that was new to national politics. She was a mom, small-town and sharped-tongued, and her audience ate up that fresh voice. Plus, for all the folksiness in her speech, she had an exquisite sense of timing and inflection.

Now, of course, Palin is a caricature of herself, tapping at the window but dismissed by many in her party. Still, her speech endures, setting a high bar for future vice presidential candidates. That brings us to Paul Ryan, who will step on stage in Tampa tomorrow for the speech of his political life. Republicans already are tamping down expectations - and with good reason. Ryan is smart and eloquent, but he's a white guy political wonk from Wisconsin, not a hockey mom from Alaska.

Ryan does, however, have speechwriter Matthew Scully, who also happened to be Palin's RNC speechwriter four years ago. According to the New York Times, Scully has been getting to know him and soaking up his speaking style on the campaign trail. That collaboration could produce something memorable, especially given the switchblade feel to the campaign thus far. But it's likely not going to reproduce Palin's electricity from four years ago. No one could, really.

It's worth remembering why:

Peter St. Onge

The not quite official beer of the DNC

Ah, American opportunism. Charlotte will be seeing a lot of it in the next couple weeks as people take in the Democratic National Convention, one of the most important events our city will experience, and think: "How can I make a buck off that?"

That's not a bad thing in itself, although we're sure to see a couple entrepreneurial headshakers before the convention leaves town. There will be some gouging, but also some things that leave a not-so-bad taste. To that end, we bring you beer.

The folks at Kinston's Mother Earth Brewing have repackaged a popular brew in their lineup as a DNC collector's item. The brew is Endless River, and the bottle features a red, white and blue label that's very reminiscent of the Charlotte in 2012 logo. We're checking to see if Mother Earth founders and Kinston natives Trent Mooring and Stephen Hill got permission for the label. Let's just say for now that we hope the DNC's honchos aren't litigious types.

Your O-pinion blogger today also happens to review beers for the Observer. Is Endless River worth opening? It's a Kolsch-style beer, a light-bodied brew that's terrific for beer drinkers who haven't tried craft brews. Mother Earth has put together a solid version of the genre that has a backbone of sweet malts and finishes with a hint of citrus hops.

It's what craft beer drinkers call a "session beer" - light enough that you can have more than one as you ponder the important political questions of the day, such as "If Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were beers, what kind would they be?" (careful now, commenters) or perhaps "do I vote for the candidate who hasn't revived the economy or the candidate who hasn't offered a detailed plan to do so?"

Nah - too sobering. Just enjoy your beer.

Peter St. Onge

Monday, August 27, 2012

RNC and DNC have their political turncoats

Ah, the turncoats. Don't you love 'em? Oh, maybe it's just us media types who love 'em. They tend to spice up things with their disaffection. And they're becoming almost an expected part of a presidential season. Remember former Democrats Joe Lieberman, who spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2008 (click here for his speech) and Zell Miller, who spoke to the RNC in 2004 (click here for his speech)?

This season's incarnations are Artur Davis and Charlie Crist. Former Democrat Davis, once an up-and-coming African American U.S. Congressman from Alabama, is now siding with the Republicans. He's been scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday (with Hurricane Isaac wreaking in Tampa and causing some streamlining of convention activities that could change).

Charlie Crist, a former Florida governor who was a rising star in the GOP and seemed to have locked up a U.S. Senate nod until he got run over by the far right in the party who considered him too moderate. On Sunday, Crist wrote an oped that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times giving his public support to President Barack Obama. The Obama campaign now says he will speak during the Democratic National Convention next week.

In both cases, there's more than a little hurt pride involved in these switcheroos. Both felt pushed aside in their parties by views that neither their party leaders nor their constituents were drawn to.

In Davis' case, some observers said in making a run for Alabama governor in 2010 he sought to broaden his appeal to some Alabama whites by opposing policies the Democratic base stood with including Obama's health care law. Davis was soundly trounced in the Democratic primary, and some say he was very bitter about it.

Crist had his own Achilles Heel as a moderate in the Republican Party. He reportedly was so hounded and out of step with party activists that he became an independent during his run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by his friend Mel Martinez. But he lost to now Sen. Marco Rubio, who was supported by the tea party.

Predictably, both are feeling the sting of criticism from their former party associates. Of Davis, former Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.), who was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus during his time in Congress, had this to say in the Huffington Post recently: "Very few principles are involved in this opportunistic Judas conversion," Owens wrote. "To clinch his thirty pieces of silver Artur Davis has now openly placed himself on the auction block."


Of Crist, Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry called the Obama endorsement “a repugnant display from a self-centered, career politician.” In a press release, Curry also pointed out past instances in which Crist disagreed with Obama’s policies. He also said: ”For Crist to pull this Obama stunt while Florida faces a hurricane only proves Charlie Crist cares about just one thing: Charlie Crist.”

Ouch! Ouch!

In truth, most people will take these endorsements and speeches from candidates so clearly disaffected with their parties with a grain of salt. But it makes for good entertainment. And the convention speeches are guaranteed to get press coverage.

- Associate Editor Fannie Flono

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The socialists are coming, the socialists are coming!

This just in: Socialists are trying to take over the town of Cornelius and the United Nations will soon try to take over Lubbock, Texas.

Terrifying, we know. But remain calm. The Cornelius town commissioners and an elected official in Lubbock have your back.

Here's the deal: A group of socialists, cleverly disguised as the Centralina Council of Governments, are hatching a nefarious plot. They want Cornelius to -- gasp! -- join a regional partnership to look at planning and growth. They cling to this crazy notion that the fates of the towns in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region are intertwined, and that Cornelius and others can't effectively address all their challenges alone.

But they couldn't sneak past Cornelius Mayor Pro Tem Lynette Rinker. Rinker sniffed it out before the town commissioners voted. "It really is an insidious, creeping, socialist agenda couched in apple pie," she said. "This is our one chance to stand up and say, 'no, not here.'"

Rinker linked the effort to UN Agenda 21, a global United Nations plan for sustainability, reported. The United States got duped into signing on to that plan -- along with 178 other countries -- in 1992.

Thank goodness Cornelius has Rinker. Alerted to the plot, the town board voted unanimously not to participate. That oughta keep the socialists out. It remains to be seen whether it can keep out the growth and all the attendant traffic, environmental, housing and other pressures that come with it.

Meanwhile, a similar eagle-eye is protecting the good people of Lubbock, Texas, the Huffington Post reports. Tom Head, a county judge there, warned that President Obama in a second term will give American sovereignty to the UN, leading to UN troops rolling into Lubbock and inciting civil war.

“He's going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N., and what is going to happen when that happens?” Head asked. “I'm thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. And we're not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we're talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy."

"Now what's going to happen if we do that, if the public decides to do that? He's going to send in U.N. troops. I don't want 'em in Lubbock County. OK. So I'm going to stand in front of their armored personnel carrier and say, 'You're not coming in here,'" the judge said.

Because of this impending invasion, Head argued for a property tax hike to prepare the local authorities to defend the town from a foreign invasion instigated by Obama.

Paging Joe McCarthy! Paging Joe McCarthy!

-- Taylor Batten

Bill Clinton still has his mojo

Love or hate Bill Clinton -- and a lot of people do -- you gotta admire the guy's staying power.

He cheated on his wife multiple times. He looked the American public in the eye and lied. He was impeached. He launched bitter exchanges with Barack Obama during the last presidential election.

So who, besides Obama himself, is on center stage for Democrats this presidential campaign? The one and only.

First, Obama gave Clinton the premier speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, bouncing his own vice president from Wednesday's primetime spot. Clinton will officially put Obama's name up for nomination during the most-watched pre-Obama speech of the convention. Joe Biden was reduced to introducing the president Thursday night.

Now, Obama is using Clinton in a new TV ad that will air in North Carolina and seven other, mostly swing, states (including Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Nevada). Clinton says in the 30-second spot that the Obama-Romney battle offers voters "a clear choice."

"The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That's what got us in trouble in the first place," Clinton says in the ad. "President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up. ... It only works if there's a strong middle class. That's what happened when I was president."

President Obama clearly believes Clinton is still popular and can effectively persuade voters. And who can question that? Gallup found in a July poll that two-thirds of all Americans have a favorable opinion of Clinton, tying his record high from the time of his first inauguration in 1993. Democrats love him -- 90 percent to 8 percent. And as important, independents like him too: 62 percent have a favorable opinion to 30 percent unfavorable. Even Republicans are divided about Clinton: 50 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him and 44 percent have a favorable opinion.

How about you? What do you love -- or hate -- about Bill Clinton, and what do you predict for his performance in Charlotte?

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

N.J. school funding case has lessons for N.C.

By now, you've read about a N.C. Appeals Court ruling affirming state lawmakers violated the state Constitution when they slashed funding for the state's preschool program and reduced poor children's access to it. You've also read no doubt that those same lawmakers plan to appeal this ruling to the N.C. Supreme Court.

It's a waste of time and money. Just a look at a similar New Jersey case that I wrote about last year around this time. In that school funding case, state lawmakers - pushed by their governor, Republican favorite Chris Christie - slashed money from the public schools in the New Jersey budget. But like North Carolina their state constitution contained a specific mandate to provide for its students.

In New Jersey's case, it is described as a "thorough and efficient" education system. A New Jersey superior court judge - someone akin to North Carolina's superior court judge Howard Manning - declared in March of 2011 that the state had violated the state's constitutional mandate. Not satisfied, lawmakers appealed to the state's Supreme Court, who in May of last year affirmed the lower court judge's ruling, and went him one further and ordered the state to provide $500 million more to the state's public schools. The money was to go to districts whose school children were part of a school funding lawsuit 30 years ago.

Sound familiar? Tuesday's ruling in North Carolina was also the result of changes that violated court decisions in a school funding case. The 18-year-old Leandro case
established that the state had not fulfilled its mandate in the N.C. Constitution to provide a "sound, basic education" to poor students. To comply with those court rulings, N.C. lawmakers and the governor agreed to establish the state's prekindergarten program.

Judge Manning has been overseeing the state's compliance for several years and when the legislative changes were made last year, he ruled the state had violated the court orders and the state's constitution.

The state challenged the ruling and Manning's authority. The appeals court ruling Tuesday affirmed both Manning's decision and his authority. In the meantime, the state restored some preschool funding. But the budget cuts meant that this year 9,000 fewer students got into the prekindergarten program.

Shame on N.C. lawmakers for that. And shame on them for abdicating their responsibility and continuing to fight this fight. It's wasting time and money, and hurting N.C. children.

Posted by Fannie Flono

To Akin: Get out, please, with honey on top

Welcome to O-pinion. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host today.

While Republicans are loudly berating U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin for saying out loud what far too many believe, Bill Kristol, who some view as the party's intellectual power has some interesting advice about how to get him to leave the race - some Lincolnesque honey. "You've made your point," he wrote in this morning's Weekly Standard, referring to "conservatives and Republicans desperate"to see Akin off the ballot in Missouri. By the way, a new Public Policy Polling flash poll from Monday evening is creating quite a stir. It shows Akin with a slim 44-43 percent lead over Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Kristol writes in his entreaty, "You've bewailed and denounced and threatened. Now it's time to hearken to the words of Lincoln, in his great Temperance Address."

In that address, Lincoln counseled "unassuming persuasion" was the order of the day.

Said Lincoln: "It is an old and a true maxim, that a 'drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.' So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause."

Kristol goes on to say that Akin has "given plenty of indications he remains open to leaving the field. Now is the time for kind, unassuming—and private—persuasion by conservatives, by pro-life and pro-marriage advocates, by serious people who've worked with Akin and by his fellow Missourians... I suspect by the Democratic convention, by Labor Day, Akin will have stepped aside."

But to get to Kristol's destination, Akin will have to travel a long way from his knuckle-headed belief that he only made a slip of the tongue with "one word and one sentence on one day" and that his staying in the race will "strengthen our country... and ultimately, the Republican Party" because he is "standing on a principle of what America is."

Those words sound almost as nonsensical as his contention that bodies of women who are raped can shut down and prevent pregnancy. He's back-tracked on the words but not very convincingly, noting to conservative broadcaster and FOX television show host Sean Hannity that he had heard a medical report which led him to believe that the female body rejects unwanted pregnancies. Hannity should have pressed him on where he could have heard such crazy talk. But he may already know.

It's the center piece contention of Dr. Jack Willke, founder of the International Right to Life Federation, a supporter of Akin's who came to his defense this week. Willke pointed reporters to his book, "Abortion, Questions and Answers," noting that "there is a full chapter on this issue, fully documented, which completely exonerates [Akin]."

The book, first published in 1971, asserts that "assault rape" rarely results in pregnancy because the assault traumatizes the woman and makes her body less habitable. It's "just downright unusual" for a woman to get pregnant from a rape, Willke said this week to the LA Times. He contends that there are only about one or two pregnancies for every 1,000 women who are raped every year.
But those statements are directly contradicted by statistics from the Journal of American Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found more than 32,000 women experience rape-related pregnancy every year.

Unfortunately, some conservative antiabortion activists prefer Willke's theory to scientific fact. Akin is one. So this was no slip of the tongue. It's an ideological position that is playing a big role in conservative policy-setting. In that arena, medical science and women's needs are taking a secondary role.

That's wrong, whether Akin pulls out of the Senate race by Labor Day, as Kristol predicts, or by September 25, the last day his name can be taken off the ballot. Democrat or Republican, male or female, we all should be troubled by it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rape, stupidity and N.C.

(Updated, 2 p.m.) Missouri Rep. Todd Akin isn't the first politician to grab hold of a national news cycle or two by suggesting that victims of "legitimate rape" don't get pregnant. That honor resides closer to home, in Raleigh, where 17 years ago, N.C. Rep. Henry Aldridge decided to play doctor during a debate over abortion funding.

As the Observer's Carol Leonnig reported in a front page story on April 21, 1995:
First-term lawmaker Henry Aldridge stunned the statehouse in a debate on abortion funding Thursday when he made this startling claim: Women can't get pregnant when they're raped.

"The facts show that people who are raped - who are truly raped - the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work and they don't get pregnant, " said Aldridge, 71, a Republican representative from Pitt County.

He made the remark at a morning budget meeting, while arguing that the state didn't need its $1.2 million abortion fund for rape victims.

And that statement sent several legislators and lobbyists - especially women - into a daylong fuming session. Some stalked out of the committee room after he finished speaking. Others sidestepped Aldridge on the House floor.

Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, scoffed on the elevator: "He's a dentist. He shouldn't be talking below the belt."

The news cycle is different now, and the digital universe is quicker to display and fillet the dumb things people say. But Aldridge, a first-termer from Pitt County, saw his remarks beamed from coast to coast. It took a couple of days - an eternity in response time now - for him to apologize. He called his remarks "stupid," but then made the mistake of talking some more. "I think all the girls were offended - well not all the girls - just the ones who would have taken issue with me anyway," he said.

The nationwide reaction, for the most part, was a bemused shake of the head. Part of that, for sure, was the perpetually low bar of expectations the country had for the South (and Southern politicians.) Part of it was that, unlike Akin, Aldridge was merely a state rep from a rural county.

Akin, on the other hand, could win or lose a Senate majority for the GOP, which is why he has been denounced so thoroughly from Republicans, who are pushing hard for him to drop out of his race against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. (Update, 2 p.m.: He says definitively that he's staying in.)

But Akin's comments are weightier for a bigger reason. His characterization of "legitimate" rape echoes many who wrongly believe that there are distinctions to make between forcible rape and statutory or date rape - and that those who endure the latter are somehow less of a victim. That thinking has found its way into recent anti-abortion legislation, in which Republicans have argued against exceptions for rape because they might be abused by women who didn't suffer "legitimate" rapes.

Akin is against any exceptions for rape in abortion legislation. So is vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. According to the New York Times, the two worked together in the U.S. House on a bill that would narrow the definition of rapes so Medicare would pay for fewer abortions for poor women.

Henry Aldridge was reelected in 1996, by the way, and left office two years later. He died in 2002. Todd Akin, thus far, has shown little inclination to leave his Senate race, although party leaders usually get their way in these situations. But whether Akin stays or goes, the dangerous thinking behind his words remains. Not the foolish stab at physiology that will fade from memory, as Aldridge's did, but the extremism that is very much alive in abortion legislation.

Peter St. Onge

The story behind the statue

If you frequent the intersection of Providence and Queens, you've surely noticed that a Charlotte landmark, the statue of Hugh McManaway, was knocked off its pedestal last week. Those who frequent know that the statue will be repaired, perhaps at the expense of the driver charged Tuesday for knocking it down.

But what's the story behind the statue? It's been up almost a dozen years now, and it's not only a tribute to a Myers Park eccentric, but a reminder of a different Charlotte. Here's the Observer article from Dec. 10, 2000, written by (young) reporter Peter St. Onge.

Statue recalls a gentle Myers Park Era

In her day - before she left the city and so many others arrived - she drove her parents' Chrysler around this neighborhood, past the old Park Road Pharmacy toward the stoplight at Providence and Queens. "Right here, " Kitty Gaston said, shivering in the cold of a December morning. "That's where he stood."

His name was Hugh McManaway, and in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, he stood short and stocky at the Myers Park intersection, waving a white dish towel during morning and afternoon rush hours, directing the day's traffic. He was embraced by most in the neighborhood, tolerated by some, taunted by too many.

On Saturday, he was honored with a 4-foot bronze statue placed in the median where he stood, a reminder not only of a Charlotte eccentric, but of a city once small enough to embrace them.

The idea was conceived a few years back, when Gaston and her sister, Charlotte's late Anne McKenna, talked one day of their childhood and McManaway, who died in 1989 at age 75. Gaston soon called down to New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where sculptor friend Elsie Shaw agreed to produce a statue in McManaway's memory. The cost: more than $60,000, which Gaston raised with the aid and deep pockets of Bank of America Chairman and Chief Executive Hugh McColl Jr.

With the money has come memories - about how McManaway adeptly played the musical saw, about how he often spoke in rhymes. At least one contribution came from a woman who felt shamed that she and her teen-age friends ridiculed the odd man.

"I'm sure all of us have pangs of guilt for not being as kind as we should have been as children, " said Gaston, who moved from Myers Park to Belmont in 1962. "But adults in the neighborhood loved him."

She wonders if that would be as true today. Would drivers at the now-busier intersection tolerate him less? Would parents warn their children away from him?

"I don't know if it's innocence on my part, " she said, "but I think he'd be treated the same now."

On Saturday, drivers tried to prove her right, waving as they watched Tim Shaftner and his crew from Dimensional Concepts drill holes in a granite base for the statue. One driver rolled down the window of his gray Oldsmobile. "Is that for Hugh?" he asked, then smiled when Gaston nodded.

Another, in a station wagon, said: "I'm so proud of y'all."

Another, in a truck: "Who is that for?" The answer. A laugh.

"I should've known, " he said.

At 10:20, the granite was ready, and workers hooked the bronze Hugh McManaway to a crane, then watched him lifted and lowered to the granite. He will face the intersection in his tie and tennis hat. His right index finger will permanently point toward the cars that drive through.

Nearby stood Skipper Beatty, Gaston's brother, who still lives just down Queens Road. "Hugh was a wonderful man, " he said, and he cried softly. "If you can't remember people like him ... " He didn't finish the thought.

At 10:25, the statue was secured, and Kitty Gaston lifted her disposable camera toward Hugh.

"It looks perfect, " she said.

Traffic, appropriately, was heavy.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The worst political ad (so far) in 2012?

In the deep and wide muck of political advertising, a few ads have caught our attention as particularly misleading or slimy, including this one from Mitt Romney and this beauty from Robert Pittenger's 9th District Congressional primary. There are other headshakers out there, certainly, but a new ad from the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action might be the worst yet of the election season.

In the ad "Understands," a former Kansas City steelworker suggests Mitt Romney shares some blame for his wife dying of cancer. The man, Joe Soptic, worked at a plant bought and closed by Bain Capital, and he lost his health care as a result. His wife became ill "a short time later," he says in the ad, and she was subsequently diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and died.

"I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone, and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned," Soptic says.

It's a powerfully damning - but misleading - ad. A CNN report revealed that Soptic's wife died more than five years after Soptic's plant closed, and she had health insurance from her job after he lost his.

The Obama camp spent Wednesday stumbling over itself to get as far away from the ad as possible. Administration and campaign officials rightly noted that by law, they don't get to tell super-PAC's what to put or not put in their ads. They also lamely noted that Romney also is running misleading ads, including a recent one on Obama "gutting" the welfare-to-work law.

What the Obama camp didn't do, however, is the one thing that might actually earn it some political capital. That is to say, simply, that the Priorities USA ad went way over the line, and no matter what anyone else might be saying in their ads about the president, Obama doesn't want his supporters saying Mitt Romney helped kill someone.

Yes, we know: That's politically naive, a possible display of weakness, and all that. But such a denunciation from either candidate might be the kind of candor a fatigued voting public finds refreshingly, and uncharacteristically, credible.

Peter St. Onge

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Harry Reid's birther moment

We think Mitt Romney should release years of his tax returns. We've said so here - and also here. It's far from the most important issue facing Americans this election, but voters deserve more insight into how a man who wants to be president earned his money and participated in the tax process. For better or worse, disclosing those things is part of running for the White House these days, as candidates including Barack Obama have understood.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took the call for transparency to an inappropriate place this week. On Tuesday, he told the Huffington Post that Romney may be hiding his tax returns because he didn't pay any taxes for a decade. Reid didn't have evidence of this, of course, but he supposedly has a source - a Bain investor who said he had the inside scoop.

"He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," Reid said. "But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?" ...

On Wednesday, Reid dug in while talking to reporters. "I am not basing this on some figment of my imagination," Reid said. "I have had a number of people tell me that." (Update, 2:40 p.m.: He tripled down by repeating the 10-year claim on the Senate floor Thursday.)

Who might those people be telling Reid about Romney's taxes? Reid declined to say. "I don't think the burden should be on me," he said.

Actually, yes, it should. What Reid is doing goes beyond merely wondering why Romney is stubbornly secretive. It's an accusation of specific behavior. Even if Romney's campaign denies the 10-year claim - which it has - the charge feeds the narrative that the candidate must really have something bad to hide.

Reid, meanwhile, gets to play the messenger, not the accuser. But we recognize this "I'm not saying it's true, but let's find out for sure" ploy. It's the same maneuver Republican candidates use to appease and stoke extremists about President Obama's birth certificate. It's clumsy, shameful politicking.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

UndocuBus on its way to Charlotte: Good idea?

What is being called the "UndocuBus" got on the road Sunday, with plans to wend its way through Arizona and several other states with strict immigration policies targeting illegal immigrants - Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia among them - and ending up here in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention that's about a month away.

On the bus, if you haven't heard, will be young people who are in the U.S. illegally - most fitting the criteria President Obama outlined in a directive that would prevent their deportation. The directive says the government will not seek deportation for those who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

A story in today's Observer illustrates how precarious that distinction can still be. A Raleigh-based activist says she handed herself over to border patrol in Florida and told them she was undocumented. An youth immigration advocacy group says federal immigration officials have not made any changes since Obama's directive and are still detaining people who are eligible to stay under the directive. The detained activist, Viridiana Martinez, said she had turned herself in to document that a Florida center was still detaining dozens of young people who are low-priority and by the directive's criteria should be able to stay.

The UndocuBus is being billed as a modern-day version of the Freedom Rides, in which African Americans and whites rode buses from the North into the South where segregation and Jim Crow laws were enforced with violence, too often deadly violence. The "undocubus" riders won't have to face the risk of bodily harm - something that became a reality for the young Freedom Riders of the '60s. The Freedom Riders were most brutally attacked in Alabama but they got their first beatings during their first stop in South Carolina in our neighbor city of Rock Hill. Civil rights activist John Lewis, now a U.S. congressman, and another black man stepped off the bus at Rock Hill, they were beaten by a white mob that was uncontrolled by police. The event drew national attention.

We've progressed in this country since that time and hopefully no violence will meet the UndocuBus riders. But the threat of being detained - and maybe even deported - still exists despite Obama's directive. So this is no small symbolic thing.

The New York Times in a Sunday editorial echoes the feelings of many: "Their civil disobedience should not have been necessary. Hopes for [immigration] reform were high in 2006, a year of huge, peaceful pro-immigrant marches in cities across the country, after which Congress entertained comprehensive reform that had strong bipartisan support. But Republicans killed the bill, and the years of inaction that followed crushed immigrants’ hopes while reinforcing the broken status quo — to the benefit of border vigilantes, the private-prison industry, the engorged homeland security apparatus and hard-right ideologues who started planting neo-nativist laws in legislatures across the land, starting in Arizona."

Others of course echo the sentiments of Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio who has demonized undocumented immigrants and has engaged in aggressive racial profiling to find them and get them deported. The racial profiling and discriminatory practices have put him in a courtroom this week defending himself against federal charges.

The New York Times has an online debate today about whether the UndocuBus is a good idea. What do you think?

Most people, no matter how they feel about undocumented immigrants, agree that the country's immigration system is badly broken. Congress needs to stop procrastinating and do something about it. Maybe the UndocuBus can open more eyes about what's at stake.

Fannie Flono