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Friday, August 31, 2012

RNC Day 5: Tossed from the Art Pope-David Koch cocktail party

Posted by on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 3:06 PM

Keenan Steiner, staff writer with the Sunlight Foundation - BARRY YEOMAN
  • Barry Yeoman
  • Keenan Steiner, staff writer with the Sunlight Foundation

When I learned that Americans for Prosperity was hosting a cocktail party honoring Art Pope and David Koch during the Republican National Convention, it seemed like a natural event for me to cover. I used to write about Pope for the Independent, back when he was a state legislator from Raleigh and often the smartest (and nerdiest) Republican in the room.

Since then, Pope has made a national name for himself by working committedly to move the American political landscape to the right. Along with his family and its organizations, Pope has spent tens of millions of dollars on conservative causes, including efforts to weaken unions, relax environmental standards, and fight limits on campaign spending.

Pope has been credited with engineering the GOP takeover of the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010. As the Independent Weekly and the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies have documented, this was accomplished in large part by attack-ad blitzes in a handful of key districts.

Republicans now control both chambers of the legislature for the first time since 1870. This new majority is responsible for the anti-gay Amendment 1, attacks on sea-level science, deep cuts to public education, and a green light for fracking.

But Pope’s national visibility comes primarily from his chairmanship of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a nonprofit that advocates for deregulation, low taxes and cuts in government spending. Co-founded by David Koch, an oil billionaire, APF is often cited as the behemoth behind the tea party movement. Pope and Koch are friends, and this week they were both delegates at the Republican convention in Tampa.

Yesterday’s reception was free and open to the public. Advance registration was required. Before the convention, I registered online. I heard nothing back. Figuring my name was probably on someone’s list, I decided to show up.

I wasn’t, in fact, on anyone’s list.

Nor was I alone. Arriving at the same time was Keenan Steiner, a staff writer with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes transparency in government information. Steiner was hoping that attending the event would offer a rare glimpse of Koch in action.

“He’s the most important individual behind the Republican outside-money machine,” Steiner told me. “He and his friends are pledging to raise $400 million to help elect Republicans. He’s very secretive with the media. The public knows very little about him.”

Knowing who has access to Koch during the convention is important, the writer said: “Journalists should be interested in following him wherever he’s going.”

Steiner had successfully registered for the reception as a member of the public. The invitation was rescinded after he wrote an Aug. 17 blog post about AFP’s plans to spend $25 million on a media campaign criticizing President Obama. Steiner reported that AFP had spent $6.4 million in a single week’s advertising, including $741,030 in North Carolina. He based this on a document AFP filed with the Federal Election Commission, then amended five days later with the state-by-state details deleted. Steiner wrote that AFP had “accidentally” filed an initial document that was more specific than the law required.

After he posted his article, Steiner received a message from AFP’s director of public affairs, Levi Russell, rescinding his invitation. “Based on recent experience,“ Russell wrote, “you’re willing to write articles that are filled with inaccuracies, and not interested in making corrections.” Contrary to the blog post, Russell insisted, the initial filing was not a mistake.

Russell told Steiner to reapply as a reporter. His application was not approved.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

RNC Day 4: In his speech, Paul Ryan doesn't let facts get in the way

Posted by on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 2:51 PM

Bob Palisin
  • Bob Palisin

In 2009, I was researching an article for AARP The Magazine about the impact of factory closings on older employers. Traveling around the country, I talked with unemployed workers who had skimped on food, lost health insurance, even suffered strokes because of the stress. During that time I kept a thick file of newspaper clippings, including stories about the 2008 closure of a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wis., that threw 4,000 people (including those who worked for suppliers) out of work. The New York Times interviewed one 24-year employee, Andy Richardson, who planned to move away to find a job, leaving his wife and daughters behind in Janesville. “I’ll miss my family,” he said, crying.

Manufacturing jobs were already hemorrhaging at the end of the Bush administration, when the Janesville plant was a poignant symbol. That’s why I took a doubletake when I heard GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan place the blame for the Wisconsin closure on President Obama.

“A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant,” Ryan said in his acceptance speech at last night’s session of the Republican National Convention. “Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said, ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another 100 years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.”

I watched Ryan’s speech from the seats where North Carolina’s alternate delegates were sitting. They were cheering and waving signs, more energized than I had seen them this week. “Electric,” said Vinnie DeBenedetto, a real-estate broker and former town council member from the Wake County suburb of Holly Springs. “It was just captivating. He hit the heart and soul of the delegates and guests. I think he’s the future of the Republican Party.”

“Paul Ryan’s speech was awesome. Paul Ryan is awesome,” said Zan Bunn, a computer consultant from Cary.

By the time I got back to my hotel, the Internet was buzzing about the speech. The nonpartisan fact-checking site PolitiFact, run by the Tampa Bay Times, had caught the inaccuracy about the Janesville plant—but there was more. I reviewed both PolitiFact and, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. I also read analyses by major news organizations such as the Associated Press and Washington Post. It turns out Ryan’s speech was studded with errors. Even Fox News called it “an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a political speech.”

Among them:

• Ryan said that Obama’s health-care reform law “funneled” $716 billion from Medicare services: “The biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly.” In fact, notes the National Journal, none of the cuts come from benefits. What’s more, the Affordable Care Act makes it easier for seniors to afford preventive health services and prescription drugs. quotes Medicare’s chief actuary as saying the reform law “substantially improves” the system’s finances. Besides, Ryan supported those cuts too.

• Ryan blamed Obama for last year’s downgrade of the United States’ credit rating. In reality, the rating agency Standard & Poor’s faulted both major parties for creating a political environment that was “contentious and fitful.” At the time, congressional Republicans were refusing to raise the country’s debt ceiling unless Democrats slashed social programs and investments. Ryan told CNBC then that he believed “lots of bond traders [and] economists” would accept a default of “a day or two or three or four.”

• Ryan said household incomes increased in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor. In real dollars, they went down, according to PolitiFact.

• The candidate chastised Obama for failing to follow up on the “urgent report” of a bipartisan debt-reduction commission. That’s true. But Ryan neglected to mention that he had sat on that commission and voted against the recommendations. So did all the panel’s Republicans.

• Like many convention speakers, Ryan referred disparagingly to Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment. “At the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores—these didn’t come out of nowhere,” Ryan said. “A lot of heart goes into each one … After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn’t help to hear from their president that government gets the credit. What they deserve to hear is the truth. Yes, you did build that.”

Obama’s quote has been the bull’s-eye of this convention—the president has been characterized repeatedly as trying to snatch credit from small business people. But PolitiFact,, and The Washington Post’s The Fact Check all agree: When Obama said “that,” he was referring to infrastructure like roads and bridges that help support businesses. The president was advocating for more taxes on the wealthy to pay for these public investments. “We succeed because of our individual initiative,” Obama said in that July speech in Roanoke, Va., “but also because we do things together.” The biggest problem with Obama’s statement was its mangled grammar.
“Facts matter,” wrote National Journal’s editor-in-chief, Ron Fournier, last night. When it comes to budget matters, “Ryan ignored them and thus loses moral authority on his signature issue.”

When I arrived at the North Carolina delegation’s breakfast this morning, there was still considerable buzz around Ryan’s speech. I sat down next to Bob Palisin, a retired Presbyterian minister and former congressional candidate from Concord, near Charlotte. He was wearing his trademark green-and-red plaid jacket and a button with a Republican elephant and a Democratic donkey. “This is your brain,” it said next to the elephant. Alongside the donkey it said, “This is your brain on drugs.” Around his hat was a yellow paper band that said, “Ponzibamus Destruerus,” faux Latin for “Obamacare must be destroyed.”

He was excited about the speech. “It shows a bringing-back into the party, a youthful transition,” he said.

I told him about the factual errors. He was skeptical. “I know different fact-check groups have their own biases,” he said. “Various fact-check groups themselves should be fact-checked. I do not believe all fact-check groups are equal.”

I explained that the sites I had consulted were nonpartisan.

“I’m a history major, so I look into facts myself, rather than what you get from fact-check reports.”

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    The vice presidential nominee's speech was rife with errors

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

RNC Day 3: Preparing for armed revolution

Posted by on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 12:23 PM

North Carolina delegate Richard Littiken - BARRY YEOMAN

I’ve covered national political party conventions since 1980. I know how amped-up the rhetoric can get on both sides. But I have never heard so much fear of an incumbent as I’ve witnessed during this week’s Republican National Convention.

“Every election we hear that this is the most important election in our lifetime,” Sharon Day, who co-chairs the Republican National Committee, told delegates last night. “This election is more than that. It is the most important election in our nation’s lifetime.”

She compared GOP activists to the United States’ Founding Fathers: “What they started, what they believed in, we must defend.”

At breakfast this morning, David Rouzer, a state senator and congressional candidate from Johnston County, warned the North Carolina delegation, “The United States is turning toward socialism. We’re not going to let that happen.”

In one-on-one conversations, party activists describe the prospect of President Obama’s reelection in apocalyptic terms, predicting something approaching doom.

Trying to understand the roots of that fear, I’ve been asking North Carolina Republicans how they imagine a second Obama term would play out. Nobody put it more starkly than Richard Littiken, a delegate from Sanford, 35 miles south of Chapel Hill, and the vice president of a family-run heating and air-conditioning company. I had been following the 43-year-old Littiken on Twitter (@Pyr8Pyr8), reading about his recent support for Pussy Riot, school vouchers and Todd Akin. (The latter is striking because Littiken is pro-choice. “But I definitely believe that the media people jumped on him in an effort to put forth their preferred candidate,” he said.)

So what does Littiken fear from four more years of an Obama presidency?

In short: He believes he will die prematurely if the president wins. And he fears he’ll be stripped of the weapons he might need to help wage an armed revolution.

Littiken has a type of cancer called medullary thyroid carcinoma. He describes it as “terminal.” Doctors have told him there are limited medical treatments. “So the idea of Obamacare, a fairly controlled medical bureaucracy, is absolutely frightening,” he told me.

It’s worth noting that the Affordable Care Act—which places tougher rules on insurance companies and provides for small-business tax credits, rebates for seniors to buy prescription drugs, and permission for states to expand Medicaid if they choose—does not create a government-run health-care system. (There’s also considerable academic contention about whether national systems fare worse than our own when it comes to cancer care.) But Littiken nonetheless worries about stories he has heard. “I met a lady in D.C. who had breast cancer,” he said. “She’s from Canada. She had to come to America to get treatment because she would have had to wait so long that she would have been dead by the time she received treatment in Canada.”

According to a 2011 study by the non-profit Canada Institute for Health Information, 98 percent of residents who need radiation for cancer receive it within a clinically appropriate time frame.

Still, this is not about statistics for Littiken; it’s about his greater sense—a sense that many Republicans have expressed—that Obama doesn’t care about his welfare. Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” a distortion of the president’s vision for more deliberative end-of-life care, nonetheless maintains a hold on many conservatives.

Littiken told me that Obama once told a voter that perhaps her 105-year-old mother should be euthanized with a pill rather receiving a pacemaker. That comment, Littiken worries, portends what would happen to him. “He would kill me off,” the delegate says of Obama. “I wouldn’t be treated, so he’d basically kill me off sooner. That got me pretty fired up.”

The story, if true, would have been horrifying, so I decided to fact-check it. The woman is real; he name is Jane Sturm. During an ABC News broadcast, she asked Obama whether priority could be given to patients like her mother who displayed “a certain joy of living.”

“I don’t think we can make judgments based on people’s spirit,” the president responded. “That would be a pretty subjective decision.” He stressed that end-of-life decisions are difficult. “I don’t want bureaucracies making those decisions,” he said, and stressed that the current system sometimes does that by default. “We often make these decisions by just letting people run out of money or making the deductibles so high or the out-of-pocket expenses so onerous that they just can’t afford the care.”

Obama told Sturm that patients, families, and physicians need to make more informed choices: “At least we can let doctors know and your mom know that, you know what? Maybe this isn’t going to help. Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller.”

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Former Liberty Warehouse Tenants Sue Greenfire

Posted by on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 5:07 PM

Five one-time tenants of the Liberty Warehouse in Durham are taking building owner Greenfire Development to court in what may be the most predictable lawsuit ever.

The plaintiffs—Andrew Preiss of ARP Design Studio, Donna Sutton of Southern Portico Inc, Deborah Pratt, Adelaide Banks of Read Seed Inc. and James Nuss—were all renting space in the converted tobacco warehouse in May 2011 when a portion of the roof caved in during heavy rains. On Tuesday afternoon, all five filed separate lawsuits against the beleaguered development company for alleged negligence related to the collapse.

The court documents themselves read like an abstract of the Warehouse's most recent history. Purchased by Greenfire in 2006 for $3,500,000. Inspected in March of 2011 by the Durham Department of Neighborhood Improvement Services after numerous complaints from tenants about the failing roof. In the span of the next two months: Condemned. Declared unsafe. Crash.

Now the plaintiffs want compensation for their alleged losses. In court documents, each now claims that Greenfire officials, in their capacity as landlord, failed to take "reasonable care" in the maintenance of the the warehouse roof. All five are asking for compensation in excess of $10,000, plus punitive damages.

Calls to Greenfire Development officials for comment were not immediately returned. As for the Liberty Warehouse, Greenfire Managing Partner Paul Smith had previously told the Indy that the company is committed to finding a viable use for the 2.6 acre property. The Durham City-County Planning Department declared the southern portion of the building in a state of "demolition by neglect" eaerlier this year. The company has until October 15 to complete repairs. The northern portion of the property is currently being rented out as storage space.

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RNC Day 2: "All the laws we have today came from Judeo-Christian views"

Posted by on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 8:25 AM


Forty years ago, when she was a teenager, Miriam Aikens had an abortion. Then she had another. “I was young,” she says. “I was uninformed.”

She was raised a devout Christian, and still “in the church” when she terminated the two unwanted pregnancies. Describing the aftermath, she mostly avoids the first-person pronoun. But the pain in her voice, even as she talks to a new acquaintance, is palpable.

“Woman was built to carry children, and to bear children,” says Aikens, a 55-year-old minister from Reidsville, N.C., about 60 miles northwest of Durham.

We are sitting in the lobby of the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront, where the North Carolina delegation to the Republican National Convention is headquartered. A rowdy bar is behind us, but Aikens’ mind is decades away. “Once life is conceived, it’s a spiritual connection. And once that connection is disrupted, there’s an emptiness there. And that’s felt, whether it’s covered up by excuses or by someone else saying, ‘Well, it’s OK, it’s all right.’ That emptiness is there because there’s a part of you that just died. I would always cover it with other things—we won’t get into those things. But during that period of time, I could still hear God calling me.”

It would be another decade—she remembers the date: Dec. 27, 1982—before Aikens’ born-again experience. With that came a sense of redemption. “God has forgiven me,” she says. “But I know the haunting that can be there when a woman recognizes after the fact what she has done. And I know the pain that can be there—personally know the pain.” Abortion, she has come to believe, is no different from murder.

I had been interviewing North Carolina’s delegates all evening. Most of those pledged to Mitt Romney (as Aikens is) had listed economic issues—industry bailouts, health-care reform, the stimulus package—as their key concerns. But millions of citizens also share Aikens’ priorities, and not all of them vote. Some GOP leaders believe an ambitious registration and get-out-the-vote effort among religious conservatives could help swing this election in Romney’s favor.

At a rally Sunday afternoon sponsored by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, founder Ralph Reed ticked off a list of complaints against President Obama, from his support of gay marriage to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance companies cover no-cost contraception.

“How in the world did we get to this point?” he asked. “Speaking candidly, we can’t point our finger at anyone else, because the church had allowed this to happen. Did you know that, in 2008, there were 17 million evangelical Christians who didn’t even bother to go to the polls?” (Nine million of those, he said, were registered but stayed home.) “I vowed after the 2008 elections that, as long as I have breath in my body, that was never going to happen in America again.”

Later, Reed told me that evangelicals can't shift the electoral map alone; rather, they need to part of an electoral strategy that includes moving more Hispanic, female and independent voters into the Romney camp. He said North Carolina is one of eight states his organization is targeting in a massive campaign to register conservative Christians.

Aikens needs no moving. She and her husband Norris are the pastors at Living By the Word Ministries, a nondenominational evangelical church in Reidsville. They have nine children, 27 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. “We have a love for them all that is unspeakable and full of joy, “ she says. “I cannot imagine any one of those children not being born into this world.”

I ask Aikens what matters to her besides abortion. No. 1, she says, is same-sex marriage. “It is my heart,” she explains. “God knew what he was doing when he ordained marriage, and it is the foundation of our society. If those that choose the lifestyle of homosexuality, if they choose to unite, I don’t see that it can validly be called marriage. They can call it what they want to. I’m not restricting them.”

I wonder aloud if the word “marriage” is really the sticking point, as she seems to imply. “If there was a mechanism by which same-sex couples could get all the same rights as married couples, but not call it marriage, would you support that?” I ask.

“No,” she quickly says.


“Although marriage may be a civil union, that civil union erupted from the spiritual union that is defined in the word of God. All the laws that we enjoy today, even the setup of our government, came from Judeo-Christian views that our founders established. And those views have lasted and they have endured, and they are the lifeblood of the prosperity of this nation.”

“Do you think that same-sex marriage would disrupt the prosperity of this nation?”

“I won’t speak to that.”

Aikens goes on to talk about how America’s leaders should look to the Bible to guide their policy in the Middle East. “The Word of God tells us that we should always bless Israel,” she says. “I believe that America has enjoyed the blessing of the Lord upon us because of our past relationship with Israel.”

“My [knowledge of] eschatology is not as good as it used to be,” I admit. (Eschatology is belief about the end times.) “But do I remember correctly that Israel looms large in the conditions that need to be set for the Second Coming?”

She smiles. “It does,” she says. “Eyes will always be set upon Israel for the Second Coming of Jesus. We should not be convincing Israel to divide the land that God has promised to them.”

Aikens won’t say who she supported originally for president. But she is fully on board with Romney today. She has no doubt that he and running mate Paul Ryan are Christians who share her social values. When I ask what might happen to the country if Obama wins reelection, she waves off the question. Romney and Ryan will win, she says, and “take this nation into a place of recovery, a place of prosperity. I’m not afraid at all.”

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    Religious conservatives could a key to Romney-Ryan win

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Republican National Convention, Day 1: red meat at the tea party

Posted by on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 2:49 PM

Volunteers wearing plastic rain ponchos steered drivers into the sprawling parking lot of River Ministries International, a campus on the outskirts of Tampa that includes an evangelical church, a worship school, and a “Holy Ghost training center.” There were food trucks and merchandise tables, including one man selling “Anybody but Obama” sticky notes. (He gave me a sample, telling me to slap it onto the windshield of any car sporting an Obama bumper sticker. “Hey Voter!” it said. “I’ll pay for your contraceptives if you pay for my ammo.”)

A mortgage and real estate broker named Marshawn Hogans was selling anti-Obama T-shirts. He told me that the president and congressional Democrats posed a double threat to Christian businessmen like himself: First, they cut into his income with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which gave federal bank regulatory agencies more regulatory authority over financial institutions. Then they sanctioned “perversion” with their support for gay marriage.

People arrived in groups, tickets in hand, backpacks open for inspection. They carried posters decrying “Obamacare.” Some wore colonial garb. (One carried a musket.) The approaching rains weren’t going to keep them away from last night’s Unity Rally, a showcase for Tea Party favorites like Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, who were denied speaking slots at this week’s Republican National Convention.

Once Tropical Storm Isaac blows through Tampa, the week will belong to Mitt Romney. (This assumes the RNC actually begins tomorrow, which National Journal now calls an iffy proposition.) But the weekend definitely belonged to the Republican Party’s more spirited voices: the Tea Party, the evangelical right and libertarian supporters of Ron Paul. As the Romney camp tries to evoke a unified GOP during the convention, the more party’s more ideological wings want to make sure their voices don’t get lost in the kumbaya.

“We are not an unwanted second-class political party,” said Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman who dropped out of the presidential race after finishing sixth in the Iowa caucuses. “We are the conscience of the United States Constitution. We don’t apologize for that.” She ticked off a list of complaints about President Obama, including a stimulus package that amounted to “one boondoggle project after another” and a health-care reform law that she called “failed socialized medicine.” Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, she said, “there’s only one option left for America to remain free, and that’s at the ballot box this November. We’re not going to stand by and see socialism implemented in our country.”

Obamacare made for good applause lines over and over. But the real cheering and stomping came when the language grew more visceral. It’s hard to imagine President Obama as anything close to a socialist—this is the man who appointed Timothy Geitner as his treasury secretary—but that message was sounded over and over through the night. “Friends, we are not going to go quietly into that dark night of socialist tyranny,” declared Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation. “We are not going to let the lamp of liberty be extinguished by those who believe in government of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites.” (Ironically, Phillips has spoken in favor of restricting voting rights to landowners.)

“We have one simple message for the Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis of fiscal evil: You shall take my freedom, you shall take my liberty when you pry it from”—and here the crowd joined in—“my cold, dead hands.”
If Obama’s alleged embrace of socialism weren’t enough, Phillips also questioned the president’s patriotism: “For the first time, we have a leader in America who is committed to diminishing the United States of America,” he said. “We’ve got a leader up there who thinks that America is not the greatest nation in the world.” The sanctuary erupted into boos.

In the world view of last night’s speakers, the United States is divided: those who want to keep their hard-earned money and those who believe in what President Obama has called “shared prosperity.”

“You drive to work in the dark,” said radio host Neal Boortz. “You work yourself to the bone. You drive home in the dark. You make good decisions. You work 80 hours a week. You become prosperous. Obama takes your money and gives it to somebody else who is more likely to vote for him than you are. And that is shared prosperity.”

Boos from the audience. “I won’t share my wealth!” a woman behind me shouted.

“The Democrats—the looters, the moochers, the parasites—they’re going for access to your pocket. You’re going to vote to put a zipper on your pocket, to the extent that you can … Our republic is on the edge, and we have a president who’s dedicated to what he calls a fundamental transformation and what I call destruction.”

The star of the night, hands down, was former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who warned of a deep recession, maybe even a depression, if Obama is reelected. “Stupid people are ruining America,” he said to a sustained applause. “I’ve had some people say, ‘Listen, don’t you think that’s being insensitive?’ If they’re stupid, they’re just stupid. That’s not being insensitive. Somebody needs to tell them. They need to know the facts.”

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    Marginalized at the RNC, Michele Bachmann and Hermain Cain light up the Unity Rally

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Paul Ryan in North Carolina

Posted by on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 12:07 PM

August 22, 2012. Raleigh, North Carolina.. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan held a campaign rally at SMT, Inc., a metal fabrication factory, where he railed against the Obama economic plan and spelled out how his and Gov. Romney's plans would differ if elected in November.
  • August 22, 2012. Raleigh, North Carolina.. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan held a campaign rally at SMT, Inc., a metal fabrication factory, where he railed against the Obama economic plan and spelled out how his and Gov. Romney's plans would differ if elected in November.

Generally speaking, vice presidential candidates are thought of as the presidential ticket's attack dog.

GOP Congressman Paul Ryan, controversial architect of deficit-reducing federal budget plans, was just that when he made a campaign stop in Raleigh Wednesday, taking shots at President Obama on the economy, healthcare and Medicare. His stop comes days after presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney tapped the Ayn Rand devotee as his running mate.

"The president inherited a difficult situation when he came into office," Ryan told a crowd of several thousand fired-up conservatives—mostly white, mostly graying—at the Raleigh facility of sheet-metal fabrication company SMT. "Here's the problem, he's made things much worse."

Ryan used the afternoon stop in the Tar Heel state, one of many key swing states in the upcoming presidential election, to highlight the differences between the Romney and Obama camps, touting Romney as a business-savvy, bipartisan leader and the president as a bitterly partisan, irresponsible spender.

Most North Carolina polls, aside from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, show the GOP nominee holding an ever-so-slim lead on Obama prior to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next month.

Catch the full story of Wednesday's Ryan rally in next week's Indy.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Xscape Lounge escapes the rent

Posted by on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 5:39 PM

The nightclub’s official Twitter account hints at the story: The Xscape Lounge, one of just a handful of nightclubs in downtown Durham, has changed hands. “So to all the new followers of the @TheXscapeLounge, we appreciate y’all and value your business. #UnderNewManagement,” reads a recent entry.

Frank White, owner of the building at 119 W. Main St. in Durham, also home to the MarVell Event Center, has, via court order, seized the business from his former tenant because of tardy rent payments.

That tenant, Parker Holdings of Carolina LLC, was ordered evicted from the building in August by a Durham district court judge. Court documents allege Xscape Lounge owner Anthony Parker failed to submit the monthly $3,500 rent payment.

A sign on the door reads that the building has been padlocked by order of the Durham County Sheriff. According to court documents, it wasn’t the first time Parker had issues with the rent. In May, White, who owns the club property and the attached space that houses the MarVell Event Center, complained that Parker had missed a previous monthly rent payment, the court documents state. But at that time, White rescinded the order to lock Parker’s group out of the premises after Parker later paid the rent in full, plus court fees.

As for the latest eviction, neither Parker nor White could not be reached for comment.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

NRC issues two "apparent" violations against Shearon Harris

Posted by on Thu, Aug 16, 2012 at 1:46 PM

A wimpy air-conditioner and a question over acceptable amounts of unfiltered air entering a building have prompted the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue two apparent violations against Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant, according to the NRC.

The NRC has scheduled an enforcement conference at the agency’s Region II office, 245 Peachtree Center Ave. NE, Ste. 1200, in Atlanta on Friday, Aug. 24, at 8 a.m. The conference is open to the public.

Duke Energy operates Shearon Harris, which is near New Hill, about 20 miles southwest of Raleigh.

The NRC outlined the violations, which were detected during an inspection, in a press release today. They include the company’s failure to maintain the ventilation systems at one of the plant’s Emergency Operations Facilities (EOF) and its Technical Support Center (TSC); the former ventilation problem happened for extended periods over two years.

Neither violation posed an immediate safety concern, the NRC said.

The NRC classified both violations as “white,” or a low-to-moderate safety signifcance in its color-coded system. From lowest to highest, the range is green, white, yellow and red.

Julia Milstead, Duke Energy spokesperson, said the air-conditioning system at an EOF wasn’t operating at full capacity. The facility in question is two miles from the plant and located at the visitors’ center. In case of an emergency, Harris employees, including technical workers, would be evacuated to one of five EOFs to coordinate emergency procedures.

“It’s like if the air-conditioning wasn’t working well in your house and instead of 69 degrees it would be 79 degrees,” Milstead said.

(That's pretty chilly. Duke Energy’s website recommends that residential thermostats be set at 76—78 degrees while you’re home.)

The second violation is related to changes in calculating the amount of unfiltered air that can enter the Technical Support Center. The NRC was concerned Duke Energy didn’t have adequate technical basis for its calculations, Milstead said.

The TSC has filtered air to prevent unacceptable levels of airborne radiation from entering the building, should such levels be present outside. When the plant was designed, engineers calculated how much “in leakage” of unfiltered air could flow into the building.

At the time, engineers calculated 60 cubic feet of unfiltered air per minute could enter the building.
Beer drinkers, think about it this way: If you were to fill 60 cubic feet with PBR, you would need 28.6 kegs.

(Math haters skip this paragraph: 1 cubic foot = 7.4 gallons. 60 cubic feet = 444 gallons. 1 keg = 15.5 gallons. 444/15.5= 28.6. If only the SAT had been this enjoyable.)

Milstead said recent tests and recalculations showed even less “unfiltered in-leakage” was entering the building than previously believed—15 cubic feet per minute. (Or seven kegs.)

“The NRC will determine if it meets the standard,” Milstead said. “We feel like we have adequate in-leakage rates.”

In addition, Duke Energy failed to inform the NRC about the ailing air conditioning system at the EOF, also a violation.

“We didn’t understand the reporting criteria for the EOF,” Milstead explained. “We’ve learned from it. If there is maintenance going on, our control operators will communicate it to the plant and the NRC.”

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    NRC issues three violations against Shearon Harris

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Will new Pit push out food trucks?

Posted by on Tue, Aug 14, 2012 at 4:02 PM

About food trucks, and what the future might be for them in Durham’s Rigsbee street corridor, Greg Hatem isn’t sure. Earlier this month, Hatem’s Raleigh-based development company, Empire Properties, announced its purchase of the old 7UP bottling plant on the corner of Rigsbee and Geer streets, property that includes Fullsteam brewery.

Hatem, through Empire, owns multiple restaurants in downtown Raleigh. The plan is to convert part of the building into restaurant space, he says. The company will open a second location of popular Raleigh barbecue joint the Pit at the site.

What that means for the food trucks that often park on the property remains an open question. On any given evening, patrons of Fullsteam, Motorco Music Hall and other neighborhood bars can balance their alcohol intake with pizza. Or Asian-style dumplings. Or any other dish served from one of the various food trucks parked on the sidewalk just in front of the brewery’s entrance.

The food trucks, and the arrangement Empire’s future tenants have with them, aren’t something the company is currently preoccupied with, says Hatem. “I know its what everyone is worried about, but right now we’re focusing on how to improve on the original Pit,” he says. “We don’t view them [food trucks] as competition.”

That may or may not bode well for the food truck vendors. Hatem says he's currently unaware of the details of food truck regulations in Durham. The decision could ultimately come down to what, if any, changes the Durham City Council approves this fall.

Food truck regulations in Durham are, in comparison with other cities in the Triangle, lenient. But city officials have recently indicated it could tighten certain regulations on where mobile vendors can operate. Controversy erupted last month when the city announced proposed changes to the Mobile Vending Provision. Among the more controversial amendments was a proposal that would bar food truck operators from parking on public property in Durham Central Park during special events. Another proposed change would exempt vendors who park on private property located outside of the downtown design district for less than four hours from obtaining a temporary-use permit from the city. Grace Smith, Durham City-County planning supervisor, says the proposals are still under review and should be finalized for the city council’s consideration by fall.

As for Fullsteam and its own relationship with mobile food vendors, owner Sean Lilly Wilson says that the brewery’s agreement with those hosted on the property is informal. That means Empire could change it if so inclined. But it's too early for speculation, says Wilson.

“As far as them wanting to make changes, I just don’t know right now,” Wilson says. But Hatem and his group are coming to the downtown Durham for a reason, he adds. "They are coming here because they like this neighborhood, so I can’t see why they would want to change; in the end, I’m sure we’ll all find a way to balance the needs of restaurants and food trucks," he says. The new Pit is scheduled to open next summer.

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