2012 - %3, February

Mitt Romney Notches Early, Expected Victory in Arizona Primary

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 7:37 PM PST
Mitt Romney.

Minutes after polls closed in Arizona, Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the state's Republican presidential primary by multiple media outlets. The win adds 29 delegates to Romney's tally, bringing him to 159 overall. That's a lead of 118 delegates over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 119 over Romney's closest competitor, Rick Santorum. Exit polls in Arizona put Romney far ahead of Santorum, 43 percent to 28 percent.

Romney's win in Arizona comes as no surprise. He entered the primary with a 15 percentage point lead over Santorum, a gap that Santorum never came close to narrowing in recent days. Fighting on Romney's behalf was the super-PAC Restore Our Future, which spent $206,337 on ads attacking Gingrich and $452,712 bashing Santorum. The pro-Santorum super-PAC Red, White, and Blue Fund did not spend any money in the state.

Romney's Arizona win could help to quiet the growing chorus of critics questioning his conservative bona fides and broader appeal to the Republican base. But the more crucial test on Tuesday is Romney's performance in Michigan, his home state, where he faces a much tougher challenge from Rick Santorum.

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Your Daily Newt: Romney Would Have Fired Columbus!

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 7:16 PM PST
Are callous disregard for human life and general ineptitude fireable offenses?

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich was speaking to supporters in Georgia on Tuesday when he decided to relay to the audience an exchange he'd had just a few hours earlier: "I was describing the other week some ideas and Romney said, you know, boy if someone came in to see him with ideas like that, he'd have fired him!" he said. "And somebody in Chattanooga said to me this morning, they said, you know, 'Romney was the kind of guy who would have fired Christopher Columbus.'"

It's a provocative charge. But is it true?

The Facts: In his remarks in Georgia, Gingrich explained that Columbus' value rested in the power of his ideas. As he put it: "Lincoln had a vision of a transcontinental railroad. The Wright Brothers had a vision that they could fly. Edison had a vision that we could have electric lights…Henry Ford had this idea you could build a low-cost car with mass production."

Christopher Columbus had a vision that if he sailed southwest from Spain for 3,000 nautical miles, he would reach Asia. Instead, he got lost, landed on a small island approximately one-sixth of the way to Asia, enslaved all of the inhabitants, set about searching for gold, did not find gold, falsely informed his supervisors—then in the act of purging their kingdom of Jews and Muslims—that he had reached Asia, and promptly ruled over his newfound land so poorly he was sent back to Spain in chains.

As a candidate, Romney has expressed zero tolerance for insubordination, firing debate coach Brett O'Donnell after arguably his best debate because Romney felt O'Donnell had taken too much credit. At Bain Capital, Romney likewise demonstrated a knack for stripping new companies of their nonessential parts—a euphemism, really, for firing people.

Our Ruling: Romney's actions at Bain Capital have drawn from immense scrutiny from the press and his fellow candidates. But there's no hard evidence that he's ever illegally seized someone else's company and enslaved its employees. Given Romney's quick hook, it's hard to think he would have tolerated such behavior for very long.

Besides, Mitt Romney likes being able to fire people who provide services to him.

We rate this claim "True."

The Filibuster, Sadly, Will Be Around for a While

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 4:11 PM PST

Jon Chait thinks Republicans are following an inevitably disastrous long-term electoral strategy because they've given up on their future and just want to win two more years in office — years they can use to move America so far to the right it will take Democrats a generation to move it back. I think that sounds entirely unlikely because (a) there's little reason to believe that Republicans buy the idea of their impending demographic doom in the first place, and (b) Republicans know that Democrats could just use the filibuster to prevent them from moving the needle all that far anyway. So the strategy wouldn't even work. Matt Steinglass displays excellent judgment by agreeing with me:

But I disagree with Mr Drum on one point. If the Republicans retake the Senate next year and have the opportunity to pass major legislation, I think it very likely they'll get rid of the filibuster, or pare it back in some complicated way that pertains to the issues they consider important. There's nothing in the constitution about needing to have 60 votes in the Senate. Democrats would have been better able to accomplish their agenda in 2009 and 2010 if they'd scrapped the filibuster, but they're too fragmented and hesitant to make those kinds of aggressive rule changes. Republicans have tighter party discipline, and the tea-party wing hates complex Washington rules that prevent the people's will from being done. I don't really see what's going to stop the GOP from making the changes they need to pass their agenda with a simple majority, if that's what they need to do.

I decided not to make a long post longer by addressing this yesterday, but long story short, I don't think Republicans will do this. If they really did believe they were demographically doomed, and had only two years to save America from an apocalyptic Euro-secular future of moral decay and economic disintegration, then maybe they'd think about it. But I don't think they believe this. They believe that politics will continue pretty much the way it always has, and they're going to need the filibuster in the future.

Besides, this doesn't even make sense on its own terms. If Republicans really do believe that their party is demographically doomed and 2012 is their last stand, this means they also believe that Democrats will take back control of the government in 2016. And if the filibuster has already been mowed down, the jig is up. We'll have single-payer healthcare, abortion clinics on every corner, and gay marriage at gunpoint by 2017.

Either way, then, the filibuster is safe. If politics continues as normal, Republicans will need the filibuster. If Democrats are going to sweep to power in 2016, Republicans will need the filibuster. It's not going anywhere.

Wild Parrots Crash the 'Burbs

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 3:46 PM PST

Feral parrots in San Francisco.

San Francisco's famed wild—actually, feral—Telegraph Hill parrots are fleeing the overcrowded flighways of the city for the gentler skies of suburbia, reports the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Approximately 100 of the conures have been seen about 10 miles south on the slopes of San Bruno Mountain in Brisbane feeding on juniper and hawthorn berries. 

Or maybe it's the reverse of a fascinating study of wild crows in Seattle a few years back, which found that young suburban-raised birds moved into the city when they reached sexual maturity, joining large flocks of single birds looking for mates.

Maybe San Francisco's mated birds are looking for a quieter 'hood to raise the kids. 

 

 

Vote on Blunt Amendment Expected Soon

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 3:38 PM PST

The proposed amendment from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would allow employers to have broad "moral" control over health benefits may come up for a vote as early as Thursday, according to sources on the Hill.

The "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act" was spurred by the fight over contraception coverage, but it would grant employers significant discretion in deciding what kind of health care they want to provide workers. That could include things like maternity care, screening for diabetes, or HIV testing, as my colleague Adam Serwer reported earlier this month. The measure is expected to come up as an amendment to the transportation bill.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats circulated data from the Department of Health and Human Services indicating that 20.4 million women around the country are already benefiting from the preventative health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—the measure that spurred the Blunt amendment.

Meanwhile, over at RH Reality Check, Annamarya Scaccia has an interesting analysis of whether the measure is constitutional.

Quote of the Day: Romney Being Outplayed at His Own Game

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 1:05 PM PST

From Mitt Romney, in a rare appearance before actual reporters who got to ask him questions:

It's very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments. We've seen throughout the campaign if you're willing to say really outrageous things that are accusative, attacking of President Obama, that you're going to jump up in the polls. I'm not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.

Say what? I mean, Romney is basically right here, but he's talking about himself. His strategy from the first day has been to deflect questions about his conservative bona fides by quickly pivoting to the wildest, most over-the-top applause-line condemnations of President Obama imaginable. And it's a smart strategy: until recently it's allowed him to show the Republican base that he's one of them ("I hate Obama as much as you do!") without tacking so far right that he ruins his chances in the general election.

Of course, Romney has since seen that strategy fizzle. His whole apology tour schtick, his claims that Obama wants to turn America into China, his claims that America is on the edge of a socialist precipice — well, that was pretty good stuff in its day, but Rick Santorum has upped the ante. Obama has declared war on religion! Obama wants you to go to college in order to indoctrinate you! He supports prenatal testing because he wants to rid America of the disabled! Suddenly, if you want to prove that you really hate Obama, the stakes have gone up. Romney has been outplayed at his own game, and he's not happy about it.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent tells me to get my demagoguery straight: "Romney says Obama wants to turn America into Europe, not China." I guess that's right. Maybe I was thinking of something Newt Gingrich said? Or perhaps Romney's claim in the Sioux City debate: "This is a president who fundamentally believes that the next century is the post-American century. Perhaps it will be the Chinese century. He is wrong." Or maybe his WSJ op-ed claim: "President Obama came into office as a near supplicant to Beijing." I dunno. It really is hard to keep track.

By the way, Greg has a pretty good rundown of Romney's Big Lie strategy here. It's a couple months old, so there's a lot of more recent stuff missing, but it still gives you a pretty good sense of Romney's rhetorical method.

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Scott Walker Loses to Top Democrats in New Recall Poll

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 12:25 PM PST
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

New poll numbers are out for Wisconsin's gubernatorial recall rumble. They're not pretty for Gov. Scott Walker.

Overall, Wisconsinites are split on whether to Walker, 49 percent to 49 percent. In a hypothetical general election, Walker trails Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 49 percent to 46 percent, and lags behind former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk 48 percent to 47 percent, according to a new survey by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling. The last time PPP surveyed Wisconsinites, Walker led Falk by 8 percentage points and Barrett by two.

PPP's margin of error is 3.3 percent, which means these match-ups are essentially dead even right now. But PPP president Dean Debham said the numbers are encouraging news for Wisconsin Democrats in their push to oust Walker. "These are the most encouraging numbers we've found for Democrats in Wisconsin related to the Walker recall since last August," Debnam said in a statement. "Walker's numbers had been seeing some recovery, but now it appears they've turned back in the wrong direction. The big question now is whether Democrats can find a candidate to take advantage of Walker’s vulnerability."

Even among lesser-known Wisconsin Democrats, including some who've given no indication that they would challenge Walker, the match-ups are close. US Congressman Ron Kind leads Walker 46-45 is the other Democrat who leads Walker, 46-45. Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, former US Congressman David Obey, and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout all trail by just one or two percentage points.

Among the Democrats, the winner in these latest poll numbers is arguably Tom Barrett. Not only did he open up a lead on Walker, but he would cruise to victory in a hypothetical Democratic primary, beating Kathleen Falk 45-18. A January PPP poll showed Barrett ahead of Falk 46-27.

PPP also found that more Wisconsinites dislike Walker than like him, 52 percent to 47 percent. That means Walker's fate could very well rest in the hands of independent voters. Problem is, independents don't think that highly of Walker—55 percent dislike him compared to 43 percent who support him. What remains to be seen is whether tens of millions of dollars in TV ads, direct mail, and other messaging funded by mega-donors such as David Koch and Bob Perry can win over those independents in time for the spring election.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 11:49 AM PST

The Washington Post reports on another budding source of outrage:

On Tuesday, a new Defense Department review of the mortuary operations at Dover [Air Force Base] revealed that “several portions of remains” recovered from the Sept. 11 attacks at the Pentagon and at Shanksville [] ended up in a landfill. The review, led by retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, did not quantify how many human remains from Sept. 11 were disposed of in this manner. It said the remains “could not be tested or identified,” apparently because they were too small or charred to allow for DNA analysis.

Those remains were cremated first, but then handed over to a “biomedical waste disposal contractor”....for incineration. Dover mortuary officials assumed at the time that “after final incineration, nothing remained,” Abizaid’s report stated. In fact, there was still residual material left over from the incineration, which the contractor then took to a landfill.

The mortuary changed its policy in 2008 and since then has buried unclaimed or unidentified cremated remains at sea.

Can we please please please just collectively decide not to care about this? If I'm reading this right, we're talking about perhaps half a dozen "portions" so small they couldn't be analyzed. In other words, maybe an unidentifiable few grams or so? Which were cremated and then incinerated. And then taken to a landfill instead of being tossed over the side of a ship.

Let's all get a grip. This just isn't a big deal. All we have to do is decide not to pop a gasket and get on with our lives. We can do that. We can.

Are the Rich Bigger Pricks Than the Rest of Us?

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 10:20 AM PST

A study that suggests the rich are bigger pricks than the poor got a lot of attention yesterday, and I agree with Tyler Cowen that we should all take it with a bigger grain of salt than we have. I wasn't wildly impressed with the quality of the results, though some are interesting and suggestive. But what's up with this?

Let’s view these results in light of the literature as a whole (I haven’t seen any journalistic source do this). Very often in studies the highest trust, lowest corruption societies in the world are the relatively wealthy Nordic countries, not poor countries. There is plenty of evidence that it is low and falling incomes — not wealth — which helped to explain voter support for fascism. Consumers are eager to buy products from companies such as Apple, and they regard the wealth of the shareholders, and the high profit margins, as a sign they will get a high quality product, not a reason to fear a rip-off.

Wait a second. We all love Apple products because Apple charges wildly high prices for them? Where did that come from? Wal-Mart and McDonald's are pretty big companies too, and obviously nobody buys from them because of their high margins and wealthy shareholders. We buy from all three companies because they sell highly standardized products/services and have a reputation for being customer-centric.

That said, I agree with Tyler's advice to read this study carefully. High-status people can afford to take more risks (like breaking traffic laws); they engage in negotiations more routinely and therefore come to consider them mostly amoral exercises; and they're accustomed to not being questioned — either because they're surrounded by people who work for them or because they're surrounded by people who want to sell them stuff. All of this is likely to make them more imperious, more demanding, and more likely to believe they won't get caught if they cheat (and more likely to get off if they are caught). What's more, the rich are certainly far more likely to get their way than the poor. All of this is common sense, and it makes us more likely to believe a study that confirms our intuitions about the rich. But the study relied an awful lot on simulations (i.e., games) and on asking people to "imagine" they were upper class. Neither of those necessarily maps well to what real people would do in real situations. Be careful with this one.

Iran War Watch: Israel Might Keep US Out Of The Loop On Preemptive Strike

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 9:57 AM PST
F-15I Ra'am fighters with the Israeli Air Force.

Are the United States and Iran on a collision course over the Middle Eastern country's controversial nuclear program? We'll be posting the latest news on Iran-war fever—the intel, the media frenzy, the rhetoric.

If Israeli leaders end up greenlighting a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear installations, there's a decent chance American officials would be kept in the dark, a US intelligence official tells the AP. According to the source, Israeli officials said during private high-profile meetings that they would likely refrain from warning the Americans in order to "decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel's potential attack":

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors...including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu delivered the same message to all the Americans who have traveled to Israel for talks, the U.S. official said.

[...]

[T]he apparent decision to keep the U.S. in the dark also stems from Israel's frustration with the White House. After a visit by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in particular, they became convinced the Americans would neither take military action, nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran. The Israelis concluded they would have to conduct a strike unilaterally — a point they are likely to hammer home in a series of meetings over the next two weeks in Washington, the official said...The behind-the-scenes warning belies the publicly united front the two sides have attempted to craft with the shuttle diplomacy to each other's capitals.

This is hardly the first time Israeli officials have indicated that an air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities might be carried out without notifying Washington. This latest "behind-the-scenes warning" could be little more than the standard diplomatic posturing and leverage; nevertheless, the uneasy narrative of plausible deniability is already being established. But, as the AP story notes, American officials are getting a bit creative about keeping themselves in the loop:

U.S. intelligence and special operations officials have tried to keep a dialogue going with Israel, despite the high-level impasse, sharing with them options such as allowing Israel to use U.S. bases in the region from which to launch such a strike, as a way to make sure the Israelis give the Americans a heads-up, according to the U.S. official, and a former U.S. official with knowledge of the communications.