Monday, July 16, 2012

Romney's denial of Bain responsibility fails laugh test

By DeWayne Wickham
Is the outsourcing noose tightening around Mitt Romney’s neck, or is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee being unfairly accused of having headed a venture capital company that put profits ahead of preserving American jobs?
The Obama campaign’s charge that Bain Capital, the Boston-based firm Romney founded, controlled businesses that outsourced thousands of U.S. jobs to Australia, Asia and Europe has hurt the GOP candidate, according to polls of voters in several battleground states.

But Romney, who says that as president, he’ll be the job-creator-in-chief for Americans, claims he left Bain in February 1999 to run the U.S. Olympics Committee, before the outsourcing began. The Obama campaign has countered with a television ad that says under Romney’s leadership, Bain actually pioneered the outsourcing of American jobs. Each campaign has accused the other of lying.

What’s certain is that an odor of mendacity pollutes the air of this political season. And, with so much stock being placed in this ugly war of words, the outcome of the presidential election could turn on the exposure of the fabulist in this matter.
That might not be easily done. Though The Boston Globe has uncovered Securities and Exchange Commission documents that show that Bain said Romney was the company’s “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and president” until 2002, the GOP presidential candidate says he played no role in the running of the company after 1999. His denial comes even as the newspaper uncovered a Massachusetts financial disclosure form in which Romney reported that he earned executive compensation from the firm in 2001 and 2002.

Seizing on this issue, the Obama campaign started airing some hard-hitting television ads in battleground states that appear to have chipped away at Romney’s support.

Romney’s campaign responded with a TV ad that calls the president a liar, a claim supported by The Washington Post. Its Fact Checker column concluded after examining the documents the Globe uncovered “that Romney essentially left Bain in 1999” and played no part in outsourcing U.S. jobs.

But, the Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking column, disagreed. The “exact month that Romney stepped away from Bain makes little difference,” it concluded this month. The outsourcing decisions that came after he purportedly left his firm were “the kind of move Romney and Bain expected” when they invested in companies that sought to increase their profits by moving jobs to countries with lower labor costs, said.

On this issue, Romney should cut and run. When a company says as unequivocally as Bain did that Romney was its chairman, CEO and president until 2002, it fails the laugh test for anyone to argue otherwise.

Maybe he delegated most of his day-to-day decision-making during the years he was running the U.S. Olympics Committee, but he was the captain of Bain’s ship, even if he wasn’t on the bridge. And it’s not as though he was averse to outsourcing, since the contract to produce uniforms for the 2002 Olympics team was given to a Canadian company while he was away from Bain running that operation.

When it comes to outsourcing, Romney would do well to change the subject. The more he tries to answer the Obama campaign’s attack ads, the more damage he’s going to do to his hopes of ever getting into the Oval Office without an invitation.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A presidential candidate's shamless action

By DeWayne Wickham

It’s a good bet history will remember this presidential election as one in which a candidate, faced with polls that showed the contest was too close to call, shamelessly pandered to one of his party’s constituencies to boost their turnout and his chances of victory.

History will recall that, in a widely covered speech, this guy sounded as though he had less concern for the law of the land than the arch of his political ambition. And it will conclude that in the wake of that grossly political moment, he showed no contrition for his hurtful act.

 It’s also probably a good bet you don’t realize I’m talking about Ronald Reagan — not Barack Obama.

Though his Republican critics claim that President Obama’s decision to stop the deportation of young people — most of them Hispanics — who entered this country illegally as children was a crassly political action, what Obama did last week doesn’t compare with Reagan’s action in 1980.

In a White House Rose Garden speech Friday, Obama used his executive authority to order an immediate stop to efforts to return these young people to countries many of them left before they even learned to speak. Instead, they will get a temporary reprieve until Congress enacts a badly needed immigration reform law.

“It seems the president has put election-year politics above responsible policies,” Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement released by his office.

But while the president’s action is clearly intended to court Hispanics, whose votes in the battleground states of Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina could tilt the election to Obama, it was as much an act of compassion as politics.

The same can’t be said for what Reagan did. Shortly after the 1980 GOP convention, Reagan went to Philadelphia, Miss., scene of one of the civil rights era’s most brutal crimes, to launch his campaign to unseat President Carter. In his speech, Reagan told his audience, “I believe in states’ rights,” which, then and now, are buzzwords for those who want to undo the civil rights gains blacks made in the 1960s.

In 1968, Republican Richard Nixon used a race-baiting “Southern strategy” of appeasement of Southern racists to help him win the presidency. It also turned the party of Abraham Lincoln into the party of Strom Thurmond. But in 1976, Carter reversed that gain when he won every state of the old Confederacy except Virginia and put the White House back in the Democratic Party column.

What Reagan did in 1980 to defeat Carter far exceeds what Obama has done to court Hispanic voters in a race with Republican Mitt Romney that many analysts say is too close to call.

Obama’s suspension of the deportation of children brought into this country illegally is as much a humanitarian act as a political gesture. It doesn’t sit well with right-wingers, I suspect, because they are more concerned with who is allowed to migrate into this country than with whether they got here legally.

They want to slow the arrival of the day, projected to be around 2050, when minorities in the U.S. will outnumber non-Hispanic whites. This is what they mean when they say, “I want my country back.”

This is the view of America that Reagan emboldened with his states’ rights speech.

And it is the antithesis of the message of inclusion that Obama sent when he announced a decision that’s not only, for him, good politics — but also is good public policy in this nation of immigrants.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Connecticut could have fix for nation's ailing schools

By DeWayne Wickham
Nobody’s calling what Connecticut just did the second “Great Compromise,” but in time it might be remembered as something akin to the agreement that settled the biggest problem this nation’s Founding Fathers faced.

In 1787, Roger Sherman, a Connecticut delegate to the Constitutional Convention produced that first compromise. It settled the argument over how states would be represented in the U.S. Congress by proposing the creation of two houses. In one, states would have equal representation; in the other, representation would be based on each state’s population.

This month, Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy signed into law a compromise bill that may be a blueprint for meaningful education reform in the other 49 states. The bill, which passed with near- unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats, is a broad attack on the state’s troubled public schools.

In Connecticut, the academic achievement gap between poor kids and children from affluent families is the worst in the nation. And, as in many other parts of the country, black and Hispanic youngsters are more likely to come from poor urban households, while white schoolchildren are more likely to be part of affluent, suburban families.

Recognizing the dire consequences of failing to fix this problem, the governor and legislators overcame partisan bickering and produced a law that also won the backing of public school administrators and teachers’ unions.

The law authorizes nearly $100 million in new funding for the state’s troubled schools, 1,000 more pre-school slots for students, grants to help low-performing schools recruit new teachers and a new evaluation process for administrators, and also teachers, that for them is linked to how they receive tenure and can be dismissed.

The wakeup call for Connecticut’s lawmakers came late last year when the state failed for the third time to win a “Race to the Top” grant — from the federal government.

“Our state’s positioning has weakened to the point that we are not competitive in national grant competitions like the recent Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge,” Malloy said in a letter to lawmakers. “Worse Connecticut’s poor and minority students are less prepared for success than their peers in the vast majority of other states.”

Malloy and lawmakers from both parties understand that they cannot get a long-term reduction in the state’s unemployment rate without a better educated workforce. They know that fixing the state’s broken schools is a win-win proposition for both political parties and the constituencies they serve.

“Meaningful education reform is an issue not just in Connecticut, but across the nation. If politicians, parents, teachers and community leaders can come together in Connecticut to initiate positive change, other states may be able to profit from this example,” said William Harvey, dean of the School of Education at North Carolina A&T State University.

He’s right.

To maintain its global economic and political leadership, this nation has to fix the education “problems it has allowed to fester for too long,” a task force of the Council on Foreign Relations reported in March. Led by Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of State, and Joel Klein, an ex-head of New York City’s school system, it called for a “national security readiness audit” to demonstrate the seriousness of this problem.

And just as this nation did 225 years ago, it could find the solution to one of its most vexing problem in a Connecticut compromise.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gay Republican group attacks Obama, dithers over Romney

By DeWayne Wickham

To defend their claim to a smidgen of space in the GOP’s ideological pup tent, the Log Cabin Republicans — a gay and lesbian group — is attacking Barack Obama for doing what Mitt Romney won’t: say he supports same-sex marriage.

Under other circumstances, the president’s statement might have moved the group to respond with high praise. Same-sex marriage is, after all, a top Log Cabin goal. But in this political silly season, rational behavior is the first casualty.

“That the president has chosen today to finally speak up for marriage equality is offensive and callous,” the organization said in a press release. Obama announced his position a day after North Carolina voters amended their state’s constitution to define marriage only as a union between one man and one woman.

While the GOP homosexuals were angered by the timing of the president’s announcement, they voiced no such rage over the position of Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, who opposes legal unions between gays or lesbians.

“Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman,” Romney said Saturday during a commencement address at Liberty University, an evangelical school that teaches that his faith —Mormonism — is a cult. By siding with evangelicals on gay marriage, he seeks to weaken such concerns.

Campaigning in Colorado a few days earlier, Romney told a Denver TV station: “I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage.” But even as Romney throws gays and lesbians under his campaign bus, the Log Cabin Republicans offered only a dithering response to Romney’s opposition to any form of legal status for gay couples.

“What we said is consistent with where we’ve been on Gov. Romney for some time,” R. Clarke Cooper, the Log Cabin Republicans executive director told me. Yes, consistently tepid.

The GOP didn’t always appear to be this insensitive to the interests of gays and lesbians. Twenty years ago, the Republican’s slide to the right seemed to slow just a bit when Mary Fisher, an HIV-positive former aide to President Gerald Ford, was allowed to address the Republican convention.

“I bear a message of challenge, not self-congratulation. I want your attention, not your applause,” Fisher said in a nationally televised speech. She asked the Republican Party to treat the victims of AIDS, which was then widely thought to be a gay disease, with compassion. “We cannot love justice and ignore prejudice,” she said.

Now, as the GOP’s presidential candidate tries to do just that, the Log Cabin Republicans lack the courage to forcefully challenge him. Instead, the group bashes Obama because it doesn’t like the timing of his support of their cause. In an offering of faint praise, Cooper said Obama’s announcement “is starting to make lawmakers on my side of the aisle who haven’t done so take a position” on gay marriage.

The Log Cabin Republicans are outcasts within the GOP. The marital equality they seek is opposed by Romney and many of the right-wingers whose votes he hopes will help him defeat Obama in November.

The Republican homosexual group seems bent on subjecting its members to an unyielding brand of political flagellation.

It is apparently willing to pay any price, bear any burden and endure any insult to maintain a toehold in the GOP ranks — a political obsession that is as oxymoronic as a black joining the Ku Klux Klan, or a Jew becoming a follower of Hamas.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Political pandering, not guns biggest threat to GOP convention

By DeWayne Wickham

TAMPA - Maybe if the request to expand the no-concealed-weapons zone in this city during the Republican National Convention had come from someone less conflicted over this issue, it might have generated a different response.

Maybe if that request had gone to someone less inclined to engage in political pandering, it might have been approved.

But as it is, it was Tampa Democratic Mayor Bob Buckhorn who sent a letter to Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott asking him to ban the carrying of concealed weapons in areas of this city's downtown where protests are expected during the four-day meeting, Aug. 27-30.

In his letter, Buckhorn, who has a permit to carry his .38-caiber revolver, told the governor that people who legally carry hidden weapons usually don't "pose a significant threat to the public." But in "the potentially contentious environment surrounding the (Republican convention), a firearm unnecessarily increases the threat of imminent harm and injury to the residents and visitors of the city," the mayor said.

 During the convention, thousands of protesters will descend upon Tampa, which expects as many as 50,000 people to be drawn to the GOP's quadrennial gathering. City officials hope to herd protesters into an "event zone" where demonstrations will be limited to 90 minutes.

The City Council also is considering an ordinance that would ban people from bringing a long list of things that could be used as a weapon into this area. Among the items on this list are hammers, sticks, switch blades, nun-chucks, BB guns and containers with fecal matter, urine, blood and other bodily fluids.
But any of the more than 900,000 Floridians with a concealed weapons permit will be allowed to bring a gun into the event area.

Although the Secret Service won't allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to bring their gun inside the security zone it will throw up around the convention site, Scott rejected Buckhorn's request to expand the ban to areas of the city where local police might encounter protesters.

"The short answer to your question is found in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," which protects the right "to keep and bear arms," Scott work Buckhorn. His public response to the mayor panders to the GOP's right wing. The governor's failure to challenge the Secret Service's gun ban is a concession to good sense.

But before anyone could accuse Scott of waffling, Buckhorn issued a wavering statement of his own.

"My job as mayor first and foremose is to protect the people of my city, and the law enforcement (officers) who serve on the front lines," the mayor said. "I believe that there is no reason to have a concealed firearm in downtown Tampa that week. And, to be clear, I am far less concerned with those who have concealed weapons permits than the ones who may somehow acquire a weapon and use it to create mayhem."

No, Mr. Mayor, you are not being clear. The obvious intent of the gun ban you requested was to stop people with concealed weapons permits from bringing their guns downtown during the GOP convention. To say now that your real concern is to stop those who might "somehow" illegally posses a gun and "use it to create mayhem" is to imply that those who are intent on causing trouble would abide by a gun ban.

All of this suggests that, more than anything else, what's needed to safeguard this city during the GOP convention is a ban on pandering politicians.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Political Puritanism puts Edwards on trial

By DeWayne Wickham

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Back in 1925, a trial in Dayton, Tenn., a far-more sanctimonious part of the Bible Belt than this place, transfixed the nation. In that farce of a legal proceeding, John Scopes, a high school instructor, was convicted of teaching his students the theory of human evolution.

The so-called Monkey Trial was more a tug of war between backers of a scientific explanation of the beginning of life and fervent believers in the literal word of Genesis, than it was a search for justice.

John Edwards, the former U.S. senator and Democratic Party presidential candidate, is now on trial here ostensibly for violating federal campaign-finance rules. And as with Scopes, the charges against Edwards have the rank smell of political Puritanism. The essence of this case is undeniable, even if the charges against Edwards suggest otherwise.

The onetime golden boy of North Carolina politics cheated on his wife and tried mightily to keep that moral failing from being publicly exposed. Edwards’ dalliance with Rielle Hunter was, for a time, a syndicated secret. His wife knew about it. And so did Andrew Young, the former chief political aide to Edwards, and his wife. Young is now the star witness against Edwards.

An admitted liar and lawbreaker, Young has been granted immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony. That’s more than a bit ironic because it was Young and his wife, Cheri, who received and doled out nearly $1 million from two wealthy donors to help Edwards conceal his extramarital affair.

Some of those funds — all of which went into a bank account controlled by Young’s wife, not Edwards’ presidential campaign — were used to help build a house for Young’s family. The money that Rachel Mellon, a wealthy philanthropist, and Texas attorney Fred Baron gave Young’s wife far exceeded the $2,300 any single donor can give in federal campaigns. Using that money to keep his adultery secret during the 2008 presidential campaign meant that the funds served a political purpose , prosecutors argue, and thus constituted a violation of federal campaign-finance laws.

Still, only Edwards has been charged with a crime.

Attorneys for Edwards contend that the money was used to keep his wife from learning that he had not ended his relationship with Hunter as promised and that the relationship had produced a love child. Usually, the government leaves something this sordid to a husband and wife to resolve. It’s not a matter for a federal judge and jury to sort out. But Edwards faces charges that could send him to prison for 30 years.

The decision to prosecute Edwards makes the Justice Department lawyers look more like morality police than defenders of the American political system. The stretch they are making to link the money from Mellon and Baron to Edwards’ presidential campaign seems to be a thinly veiled effort to criminalize the adultery of a high public figure — for no good reason other than moral outrage. It’s easy not to like Edwards. Only 3% of respondents in a recent CBS News/New York Times poll said they have a favorable view of him. Thirty percent said the first thing that comes to mind when they think of him is that he cheated on his wife, who died in 2010 after a long, public battle with cancer.

But my gut tells me that the case against Edwards springs from the worst intentions of Puritanism, rather than the best values of the American legal system.