2012 - %3, June

The Sketch-y Dude on Our Latest Cover

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 5:20 PM EDT

The July-August cover for Mother Jones

This could have been titled "Never Say Die". Last year I did a job for the inimitable Tim Luddy at Mother Jones that turned out to be popular with some of the more esteemed art competition juries. In the batch of sketches for that job were a couple of candidates that were close, but not quite right at that moment. Usually when that happens it's lights out for those sketches and they go to the Landfill Museum. As it turns out, when Tim called a little while back for a cover he requested a few sketches and mentioned that a runner up from our previous encounter would be in the running. I thought the ideas for all the sketches were strong. After a weekend of what I imagined to be a barstool throwing, plate glass shattering discussion of just which doodle was the most brilliant, word came from Tim (did he sound a little weary?) that the white smoke had risen and the decision was to go with this sketch. It's a bit of a shame that all those sketches I did about our country's political process being sold to the highest bidder are evergreens.

Dale StephanosDale StephanosI needed to redraw and reshoot reference since the first guy wasn't available. So, making a huge sacrifice I decided I'd be the cover model for this. This guy is much more type A than I, he has more hard miles on his face, and hopefully he comes off as sleazier too. I imagine he's probably a better conversationalist, knows his mixed drinks, and is familiar with blackjack dealers at all the fancy casinos. The trick with this was to make sure he didn't look like a flasher. Me, I'm happy to draw my little pictures, skateboard with my daughter, throw baseballs at my son, and try to make my wife laugh.

Midway through finishing this piece someone who is smarter than I realized that I was trampling all over proper flag etiquette by hanging it in the reverse of what you see here. That is, with the star field on the right as you view it. Well, it's okay to show a guy selling the flag like it's a fake Rolex or a ten dollar bag of "Oregano", but we certainly weren't going to go down the rabbit hole of improper flag hangery. Really though, I appreciate it when I learn little things (NOT THAT FLAG ETIQUETTE IS A LITTLE THING) during the course of a job. After I finish writing this I'm going to spot check my neighbors to make sure they're in compliance. If not, I'll report them to Sean Hannity.I look like Bela Lugosi's grownup kid. I could do worse. Dale StephanosI look like Bela Lugosi's grownup kid. I could do worse. Dale Stephanos

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GOP Rep. Joe Walsh: Obama Is Dumb And a "Tyrant" for Stopping Deportations

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 3:58 PM EDT
Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.).

Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a tea-party-backed freshman lawmaker, recently branded President Barack Obama "a tyrant" for announcing that the Department of Homeland Security would stop deporting certain young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children. Then, doubling down on his criticism of the president, Walsh took back his use of the word "tyrant"—because, he said, Obama "really isn't smart enough to know what that means."

Walsh's remarks were captured by Credo Super-PAC, a political arm of the phone company Credo Mobile. The Huffington Post first reported Walsh's "tyrant" rant.

Here's the video and text of Walsh's comments, which he made last weekend at a town hall meeting in Elmhurst, Ill.:

"And again, fair is fair, you want a debate on the law, fine, have that debate. But right now it's a law on the books and you just told your law enforcement people don't enforce it. I was on one radio station and I said my god he's a tyrant. I don't know what else you call him. I don't want to give him that credit because I don't think he's smart enough. I think he's only doing this because he's campaigning, that's all the guy knows. So I don't want to call him a tyrant, because he really isn't smart enough to know what that means. But in one fell swoop he just made 800,000 illegal immigrants, let's call it legal, and gave them the ability to work here legally."

Walsh is one of ten tea-party-affiliated members of Congress that Credo Super-PAC has targeted in this election year. Credo volunteers are following and recording the remarks of the "Tea Party Ten" in their districts.

This isn't the first time Credo caught Walsh stuffing his foot into his mouth. Last month, Walsh was caught on camera saying that the Democratic Party wants Hispanics to be "dependent on government just like African Americans. Activist and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson," Walsh said, "would be out of work if [African Americans] weren't dependent on government."

Study: Media Used Conservative Memes To Cover Obamacare

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 3:48 PM EDT
Then-House Opposition Leader Rep. John Boehner holds a press conference in 2009 mocking the length of the Affordable Care Act.

The latest study from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism found that, despite the conservative perception that the mainstream media has a liberal slant, coverage of the Affordable Care Act was dominated by rhetoric used by the law's opponents. According to Pew, "the concepts used by opponents were nearly twice as common as those used by supporters."

The report comes with a chart illustrating the discrepancy:

The Pew study found that, as with most public policy issues, matters of "strategy" dominated, making up 41 percent of coverage of the Affordable Care Act. "Descriptions of plans" and the "state of health care" combined took up only 31 percent. Yet the substantive message of the law's opponents clearly seeped through: Americans heard from the media that the law was bad.

Unsurprisingly, views on President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement have been mixed to negative. A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press and GFK Roper Public Affairs found that only 33 percent of respondents supported the law, while 47 percent opposed it. Nevertheless, 77 percent believed Congress should get to work on a new health care law immediately if the current one is struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The consequences of a Supreme Court decision scrapping the law would be drastic for the people it is already helping—especially the quarter of Americans who continue to struggle with health care costs.

Pew describes the situation here as the White House having lost the "messaging war." It's also possible that most Americans don't like the Affordable Care Act, and that more favorable coverage wouldn't have convinced them otherwise. The phrase "messaging war," however, seems like a deeply shallow way of saying that most Americans, who are neither health care wonks nor constitutional scholars, believed what they were hearing from the media. Journalists are supposed to separate truth from falsehood, but instead spent the bulk of their resources speculating about "politics and strategy." This is the result.

Surprise! Paul Ryan Wants to Cut Taxes on the Rich

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 3:45 PM EDT

UPDATE: This post originally said that the analysis in the linked report came from the Tax Policy Center. That was an error on my part. It's actually a report from the chairman's staff of the Joint Economic Committee, which relied in part on a previous analysis from TPC. I've corrected the post throughout. Apologies to all, especially TPC, for the mistaken attribution.


The Joint Economic Committee released an analysis today of the tax implications of Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity," based partly on work from the Tax Policy Center, and you will be unsurprised at their conclusions. The chart on the right, a rough conversion from JEC's raw numbers into percentages, tells the tale: if you're part of the middle class, your taxes will probably go up. If you're rich, your taxes will go way, way down.

Ryan and his fans will say that this analysis is unfair because they've never released any details about which tax expenditures they plan to eliminate to make up for their reductions in the base tax rate. And it's true: they haven't. But that's pure politics: they know perfectly well that eliminating deductions and tax credits is wildly unpopular, and if they actually fessed up to these details, even the most ardent tea partier would suddenly become a pitchfork-wielding foe of Ryan's plan.

Still, Ryan's reduction in tax rates costs about $4.5 trillion over ten years, and there are only so many places you can make up that kind of dough. So JEC made some educated guesses about what deductions would have to be cut, and then gamed out the net effect of the whole thing. If Ryan had the courage to release his own plan, it would differ in detail from the JEC estimate, but probably not by a lot. The JEC numbers are almost certainly in the right ballpark.

In any case, if Ryan thinks this is unfair, all he has to do is release a plan of his own that can be scored in the normal way. The fact that he consistently refuses to do so tells you all you need to know about how serious he really is about this stuff. Answer: not at all.

The Best Protest Signs from Michigan's "Vaginagate" Scandal

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 2:41 PM EDT

On Monday night, more than 2,500 people joined eleven state legislators and playwright Eve Ensler for a special performance of Ensler's The Vagina Monologues on the steps of the Michigan state capitol. It was a fitting culmination to "Vaginagate"—the scandal that's brought national attention to an anti-abortion bill passed by the Michigan House last week.

Here's the backstory: Last Wednesday, during debate on a slew of anti-abortion provisions, Democratic state Rep. Lisa Brown was reprimanded by the Republican Majority Floor Leader for violating the decorum of the House and banned from speaking the next day. Her offense? After saying that the legislation would go against her Jewish religious beliefs and that abortions should be allowed when required to save the life of the mother, Brown ended with, "Finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but 'no' means 'no.'"

Another Democrat, Rep. Barb Byrum, was also silenced when she proposed an amendment that would apply the same regulations required by the bill to vasectomies as well—which, as MoJo has reported, is a popular new tactic by cheeky state lawmakers who support abortion rights.

House GOP spokesman Ari Adler eventually claimed that the kerfuffle "has nothing to do with the word vagina." Instead, Brown was deemed out of order for implicitly comparing the legislation to rape by saying "no means no."

A Conservative Suggests We Raise the Capital Gains Tax

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 2:33 PM EDT

James Pethokoukis asks:

Should we eliminate corporate income taxes and raise capital gains taxes?

Hmmm. I'm guessing he thinks the answer is no. But wait! Maybe not:

I have already suggested that Mitt Romney propose axing the corporate tax. Combining that with an increase in the capital gains tax—a tax hike on Romney himself—might be a doable compromise....How about this: A top tax of 28%—back to where it was in 1986 under bipartisan tax reform and close to Obama’s Buffett Rule—on all income along with an elimination of corporate income taxes? Any takers? Any suggested modifications?

Although I'm not ready to jump on this specific bandwagon quite yet, I'd be willing to talk. There are a bunch of practical problems with eliminating the corporate income tax, but it's possible they could be overcome. As for the 28% top rate — well, let's just take that as an opening bid. I doubt you could lower it that much. In fact, I'm not sure you could lower it at all, since higher taxes on investment income might not make up for the loss of corporate income tax revenue. What's more, capital gains and dividend taxes are going to be raised automatically at the end of the year if the Bush tax cuts aren't extended, so offering to raise them now isn't really much of a concession.

Despite all that, I continue to think this has possibilities. The corporate income tax isn't just insanely complicated, it's also impossible to prevent it from becoming an endless honeypot of corporate subsidies and payoffs. Getting rid of it entirely is probably the only way to put an end to this.

Politically, the biggest problem with this proposal is that once the corporate income tax is gone, it would be gone forever. It's just too hard to bring it back to life. Conversely, reducing the capital gains tax is simplicity itself. So a likely outcome of all this is that the corporate income tax would go away, and ten years from now we'd be back to the same old low rates on capital gains and dividends because — oh, you know the drill. High investment taxes are hurting capital formation, punishing the job creators, stifling investment, crushing the economy, blah blah blah.

Still, it's worth a conversation even if it is pie in the sky. I'd be pretty interested in seeing some neutral revenue and distributional analysis of the whole thing.

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3 Companies, 1 PO Box, and a $1 Million Super-PAC Gift

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 2:01 PM EDT

Pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future released its June monthly filing on Wednesday. The final tally: $4.96 million, including notable contributions from Texas fracking billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones ($100,000), multilevel marketing mogul Frank Vandersloot ($100,000), and conservative publisher Richard Scaife ($67,500).

But the largest chunk of donations came from what, at first glance, look like three separate companies: CRC Information Systems, Inc.; Fairbanks Properties, LLC; and Waterbury Properties, LLC. Although the latter two companies don't even have websites, they all ponied up nearly identical sums—$333,333, give or take a dollar—and listed the same address: PO Box 2608, Dayton, Ohio 45401.

It's not a coincidence. All three companies are controlled by one man: Texas millionaire Robert T. Brockman, CEO of Reynolds and Reynolds, a former printing company which now advertises itself as a "[p]rovider of automotive retailing solutions for car dealers and automakers." (He's listed as the CEO of CRC Information Systems, operating manager of Fairbanks Properties, and an operating officer at Waterbury Properties.) As the Sunlight Foundation notes, PO Box 2608 is also the same address for Brockman's charitable foundation. This isn't the first time Brockman appears to have given to a conservative super-PAC via a corporate back-channel—in 2011, Dealer Computer Services Inc., a subsidiary of Universal Computers, gave $50,000 to the pro-Rick Perry "Restoring Prosperity Fund."

Tom Schwartz, a spokesman for Reynolds and Reynolds—which is headquartered in Dayton—said that he could only confirm that CRC was a subsidiary company, and that he had never heard of Waterbury Properties LLC or Fairbanks Properties LLC "until I started getting calls today." "Mr. Brockman's a private investor and we're a private company," he said. "I did connect with him and he declined to comment beyond the donations themselves."

Brockman has given generously to Republican causes in the past, but never in the seven-figure range. (All told, he's given $281,127 to Perry's campaigns for Texas governor.) A 2006 article at Wards Auto presented Brockman as a secretive millionaire who keeps his considerable business network under wraps:

Meanwhile, Brockman quietly is amassing several companies that serve dealers. UCS is a private firm and information is difficult to come by, but Brockman reportedly has acquired four of the six key security companies that exhibited at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in February.

Employees may not even be aware of who owns their companies. They compete as if they have different owners. The secret got out only because the four each listed a UCS address in the NADA convention handbook.

In the wake of the Citizens United and Speech Now decisions that overhauled the campaign finance landscape, donors have tried to circumvent disclosure requirements by funneling donations through shell companies and effectively wiping their fingerprints off the check. But if that's what's happening here, Brockman doesn't seem to have tried too hard to cover his tracks. It's also unclear why he would split the donations up among three separate companies.

Fast and Furious Inanity Reaches New Heights

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 12:53 PM EDT
GOP attack dog and media hound Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

I'm pretty sure I've never blogged anything about the Fast and Furious program, which has long struck me as a fairly ridiculous invented controversy that Republicans care about only because (a) it involves guns, and (b) it involves the Obama administration. Darrell Issa, one of the GOP's star attack dogs, more or less admitted the fever swamp origins of tea party outrage over Fast and Furious when he told Sean Hannity that Obama was using the program to "somehow take away or limit people's Second Amendment rights."

Sigh. Nonetheless, the latest round of responses from Attorney General Eric Holder is troublesome. Issa has been demanding piles of documents from Holder for months, and Holder has been declining for months to produce them. Issa is now threatening to hold Holder in contempt of Congress, and yesterday Holder met with Issa to make one last offer, which Issa declined:

Holder said after the brief session that Issa rejected his proposal to allow the committee to "review" the documents first, predicting that it would persuade them to not go ahead with the contempt vote.

Today, the White House asserted executive privilege to justify withholding the documents. Is this legitimate? It might be, but if the documents are truly covered by executive privilege, it's a little hard to believe that Holder was willing to let the committee "review" them yesterday. Something doesn't add up.

On the flip side, of course, it's a little hard to understand why Issa wouldn't take him up on the deal if he was sincerely interested in understanding what happened. After all, he could always restart the contempt proceedings if the review didn't convince him to back down.

Conclusion: This whole thing is completely ridiculous, just a pointless piece of political theater. I shall now try to return to my previous policy of ignoring it. Anybody got a problem with that?

Needed: Development Reform in California

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 11:47 AM EDT

The Los Angeles city council has unanimously approved a plan to allow higher density construction around metro stations and bus routes in Hollywood, and wealthy residents in the nearby Hollywood Hills aren't happy about it. So naturally they're threatening to sue the city for "failing to conduct an adequate environmental review." As Matt Yglesias points out, this has become sort of an all-purpose vehicle for halting any development that happens to personally annoy people with the money to bring long and expensive court cases:

This is a splended example of a serious and growing problem in California—spurious bad faith environmental review. There's no real environmental issue here at all except for the fact that at the margin building a denser urban form in LA will reduce pressure to sprawl outward. Landowners in an adjacent neighborhood just don't want to allow more people to enjoy the virtues of Southern California living. It's their perogative to be jerks about this if they want to, but it's disastrous to have environmental regulations become a free-floating pretext for anyone to stop anything. You can't build a greener economy without building some stuff—new sources of power, new transmission lines for the electricity, different kinds of transportation infrastructure, houses and shops near that infrastructure—but too many states' environmental policies are just generically supportive of the status quo.

This affects ordinary development, of course, but it goes beyond that. Solar and wind installations face the same problem. The LA-San Francisco bullet train is facing the same problem. A new subway extension through Beverly Hills is facing the same problem. I don't know for sure about other states, but in California at least, this reached epidemic proportions years ago. It's all but impossible to build anything that's opposed by rich people or rich interest groups.

The flip side of this, though, is that buried inside all of the nonsense, the complaining groups sometimes have some legitimate beefs. Without access to a sympathetic court, builders would routinely run roughshod over perfectly sensible rules, submitting environmental reviews that merely go through the motions and fail to address genuine problems. This is most common in poorer areas of the city that don't have the resources to fight back against sandbagging developers.

I don't know enough about this stuff to offer up any kind of solution, but it sure seems like we need one. These fights can last years and kill off valuable development right along with the crap. Can anybody point to some reasonable reform proposals that might streamline development in California and elsewhere without turning the state over to development interests lock, stock, and barrel?

How Americans Feel About Foreign Policy

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 11:13 AM EDT

Dan Drezner points us to a new poll on American attitudes toward foreign policy conducted by Dartmouth professor Benjamin Valentino. It's got plenty of fodder in it, but Dan points in particular to question 25:

A full 80% of Republicans think we face worse threats today than we did during the Cold War. Hell, even 60% of Democrats agree with this. I submit to you that American foreign policy has no chance of regaining its sanity until those numbers turn around.

In other news, there's also question 64:

I submit to you that the conservative movement in America has no chance of regaining its sanity until these numbers turn around.