A biting 60-second cartoon and a controversial 28-minute movie are just two reasons South Carolina is no place for thin-skinned presidential candidates this week.
Ahead of Saturday’s primary, the state’s airwaves are packed with attack ads not only from the official campaigns, but also – and especially – from super PACs that have spent millions of dollars for South Carolina alone.
Attack ads aren’t novel, but South Carolina combines a narrowed GOP field – front-runner Mitt Romney is now battling just four major rivals, all furiously trying to keep him from winning his third straight primary or caucus – with the relatively new super PACs.
The super PACs, created after federal court decisions in 2010, are allowed to receive unlimited campaign contributions from corporations, labor unions and individual donors. Traditional political action committees and candidates’ campaigns may receive only limited contributions.
Super PACs, which according to federal records have spent at least $6 million on South Carolina’s primary so far and $26 million on the 2012 presidential race overall, aren’t allowed to coordinate with candidates’ campaigns. This has sometimes led candidates to shrug their shoulders at rivals’ complaints about the ads’ accuracy, asserting that they have no control over the super PACs that support them and can’t legally tell them directly to make any changes.
Here is just a sampling of the attack ads that South Carolinians are seeing this week:
Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.
One story about Mitt Romney's estimation that he has an effective tax rate of about 15% drew more than 13,000 comments. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a supporter, has called for Romney to release his tax returns, and the South Carolina GOP race is heating up. Romney mentioned that he made about $375,000 in speaker fees, which he called "not very much." Commenters debated whether current tax policies are fair, and they also discussed Romney's views about perceived income disparities.
Romney's money comes from mostly investment-related sources, so his tax rates are somewhat lower than the rate on wages. Fortune's Dan Primack says such lower tax rates (like capital gains rates for profits on investments) are intended to reward taking on the risk of investment and being in business, but also suggests there are loopholes that give some people tax breaks without assuming enough risk to justify it. Readers debated the finer points of taxation policy.
black743: "This isn't a loophole. You invest, you pay 15% on the capital gains. What's so hard to understand about that? He doesn't get a paycheck anymore, he's retired. This is a 15% tax on capital gains of investments. Why can't you people get that through your heads? I would love to see one of you suddenly come into wealth. I'm sure you would just give 35% to the IRS out of the goodness of your hearts, right? I'm so sick of this wealth envy in this country. If we keep raising capital gains taxes on investments, then it's quite easy for folks to just invest in other countries and leave America high and dry."
terre08: "You are wrong. Almost all of his income from Bain was taxed at 15% due to lax regulations when it comes to equity firms. He has a 'pension' as well from Bain where he pays 15% as well for the same reason. It is obviously not called a pension."
The following reader argued capital gains taxes could be raised, since the rates have been higher in the past. (Some are proposing to raise these rates in the future, while others seek to lower them or eliminate the tax entirely.) FULL POST
Gravel quarried inside Japan's Fukushima nuclear evacuation zone has turned up in construction projects in the city of Nihonmatsu, including an elementary school and a condominium, according to Japanese media reports.
The Mainichi Daily News, citing government investigators, reports Thursday that the radioactive gravel has been shipped to more than 200 companies and may be in everything from bridges to homes for evacuees from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The disaster left more than 15,000 people dead and damaged the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, causing radiation leaks when three nuclear reactors suffered meltdowns.
The government established a 20-kilometer (12-mile) evacuation zone around the damaged plant on April 22. The suspect construction material came from a quarry in Namie, within the evacuation zone, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. But it was originally shipped to 19 companies between the time of the quake and the establishment of the zone, according to a Mainichi report.
One of Mitt Romney's top GOP supporters urged the former Massachusetts governor on Wednesday to release his tax returns as soon as possible, arguing that full and rapid disclosure is the best strategy for the Republican front-runner.
"I would say if you have tax returns to put out, you know, you should put them out sooner rather than later, because it's always better in my view to have complete disclosure, especially as the front-runner," New Jersey Gov. Christie said on NBC's "Today Show."
"The most relevant information is the most recent," Christie argued.
On Tuesday, Romney caved to mounting pressure from both Democrats and Republicans, agreeing to release his returns after the Internal Revenue Service's April filing deadline. Romney, a former venture capitalist believed to be worth as much as $250 million, said he would provide voters with his most recent tax information.
Romney told reporters he "probably" paid a tax rate of 15% last year, since his income is derived primarily from investments. Most Americans' income is generated from workplace wages, requiring them in many cases to pay a much higher percentage of their income to the federal government.FULL STORY
You probably woke up this morning to realize the Internet is totally screwy.
Is it the online apocalypse? Not so much. Google, Wikipedia, Boing Boing and others have gone dark, along with thousands of others, who are protesting two anti-piracy bills that are up for debate in the U.S. Congress.
It's a debate that's pitted the Web against Washington. And if the goal of these protests was to get people talking, that sure seems to have worked, with every media organization on the planet talking about piracy today.
Many of these sites are using creative techniques to bring attention to the two bills – one called SOPA, the other PIPA – and making very clear their viewpoint on it.
Before you panic, read our quick-and-dirty guide to these online protests.
So, what are these piracy bills about?
With all of these sites going dark, it is important to know why this topic has become the center of a heated debate.
CNNMoney has a genius explainer on this topic, for those interested in all the gritty details. The gist is this: Media companies are upset that their copyrighted content gets stolen and given away for free by some websites. Two bills aim to crack down on this piracy by restricting access to U.S. websites that potentially could link to this pirated content. Tech companies in Silicon Valley say the bills have unintended consequences that could tamper with the way the Internet functions.
You can learn about it here: █████████████████, here: █████████ here:██████ and here:█████████.
Kidding! That blackout technique is part of the point these sites are trying to make today as they fully go dark.
The Obama administration will likely announce its opposition to the controversial Keystone pipeline project as early as today, according to a Democratic source briefed on the matter.
The pipeline would run from northern Alberta in Canada down to Texas's Gulf Coast. Republicans and some unions want to push approval through for the project in favor of the job creation prospects. The administration points to environmental reviews still underway and opponents express concerns about the nation's oil dependency being further embraced in regards to not rushing a decision.FULL STORY
Snow was pelting Seattle and accumulating on roads early Wednesday as the city was poised to see what could be one of its largest-ever snowfalls in more than 70 years.
The Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area may see between 4 and 8 inches of snow as the second of twin storms moves across the Pacific Northwest, according to the National Weather Service.
The southwest interior of Washington state, including the capital, Olympia, could see 5 to 10 inches of snow, the weather service said.FULL STORY
The U.S. Supreme Court has given an Alabama death row prisoner another chance to appeal his conviction after a mailroom mistake initially left him unable to pursue further claims in court.
Cory Maples' case now goes back to lower courts.
Maples was convicted in the 1995 murder of two companions, Stacy Alan Terry and Barry Dewayne Robinson II, with whom he had been drinking heavily. Court records showed that Maples took a .22-caliber rifle in his Decatur, Alabama, home and shot both men twice in the head, execution-style. He later confessed to police but offered no explanation for the crimes. The defendant was convicted, and the jury recommended the death sentence by a vote of 10-2.FULL STORY
The European Union is planning further sanctions against Syria, spokesman Michael Mann said Wednesday, as Syria continues its crackdown on anti-government protesters.
The union will place restrictions on 22 more individuals and eight more companies starting on Monday, said a source familiar with the decision who asked not to be named talking about an announcement that had not yet been made.
European nations have been pushing for tough measures against Syria, where more than 5,000 people have been killed since demonstrations began in March last year, according to the United Nations.
Pakistan's government, embroiled in tensions between civilian and military leaders, has declined a visit from a U.S. envoy, a senior Pakistani government official told CNN.
It was unclear if U.S. Special Envoy Marc Grossman had a previously scheduled visit or if he was planning one, but regardless, Pakistan told him not to come at this time.
"His visit could fuel anti-American sentiments and create trouble for the government, which is already surrounded by storms," the official said Wednesday.
The official asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media on this subject.FULL STORY
The South Carolina GOP presidential primary is just three days away, and CNN.com Live is your home for all of the latest political news and views from the Palmetto State.
Today's programming highlights...
10:00 am ET - House considers debt ceiling - House lawmakers are expected to vote today on President Obama's request to increase the nation's debt ceiling.
Indonesia's state railway, Kereta Api Indonesia, has begun stringing concrete balls over rail lines to prevent people from hitching free rides on top of its trains, according to local news reports.
The devices are called Goal Bola-bola , or goal balls, as they resemble soccer goals with the grapefruit-sized concrete balls strung from chains, according to a report in the Jakarta Post.
The railway said it resorted to using the concrete balls after previous anti-roof-rider efforts – including greasing the roofs, spraying roof riders with colored water, and detentions and fines – didn't stop the practice.
But a human rights group says the balls expose violators to a punishment as severe as death for a minor infraction.
“Picture this: If a student has to take the train, he or she would face the threat of being killed by the concrete balls. Now his right to get to school safely is simply violated,” Yosep Adi Prasetyo, a spokesman for the National Commission on Human Rights, told the Jakarta Globe.
The balls will only be used on lines that run locomotives, according to the Globe report. Lines with electric trains will use swinging doors that will allow the electrical connectors through, but not roof riders.
Adi told the Globe the real problem isn't freeloading riders, but that there aren't enough trains to accommodate demand.
An Iranian non-profit company says it will honor U.S. President Barack Obama's request that Iran return a drone that crashed there last year.
But instead of the actual drone, the company says it will send miniature toy versions. A lot of them.
"We plan to send a full squadron of 12 to the White House for President Obama as a present," said Reza Kioumarsi, a spokesman for the Aaye Art Group, a Tehran-based non-profit, non-governmental company that makes novelty items.
The company is trying to determine what Obama's favorite color is before sending the drones, which are 1/80th the size of the real drone, Kioumarsi said.
In December, Obama said the United States has asked Iran to return the highly classified RQ-170 Sentinel drone.
"We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said at the time.
This is probably not the response Obama was seeking.FULL STORY
With bitterly cold temperatures and frigid waters, the chances of finding more survivors appeared to dim early Wednesday as about two dozen people remain missing from the doomed Italian cruise ship.
At least 11 people have died since the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized Friday off a Tuscan island. As rescuers continued to search in the dark waters around the island of Giglio, many questioned the actions of Capt. Francesco Schettino.
Experts say chances of finding survivors are slim.
"I think you have to look at several issues. One of is just the hypothermia. If a compartment is flooded, even if there was air, at this point, most of them would have succumbed to the hypothermic problem of the water temperature," said Butch Hendrick, president of the diving safety company Lifeguard Systems.FULL STORY
Wikipedia was one of several websites to shut down at midnight in protest of anti-piracy bills that critics say could amount to censorship
Instead of the usual encyclopedia articles, visitors to Wikipedia were greeted by a message about the decision to black out its English-language Web page for an entire day.
"Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge," a stark message in white letters on a black and gray background read.
"For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia."
The protest is in response to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill, a piece of proposed legislation that is working its way through the Congress. A similar bill called the Protect IP Act (PIPA) was approved by a Senate committee in May and is now pending before the full Senate.FULL STORY
Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi registered Wednesday to run for a parliamentary seat in the military-run country.
Suu Kyi will contest for a seat in Kawhmu, where supporters clapped and gave her flowers after she turned in her paperwork for the April election.
The move by the Nobel Peace Prize winner comes after the regime pledged to pursue a peace deal with an ethnic rebel group and pardoned hundreds of political prisoners as part of national reconciliation.