2012 - %3, July

Quote of the Day: Romney's Small Business Problem

| Fri Jul. 20, 2012 8:38 AM PDT

From Brian Maloney, owner of a trucking company that Mitt Romney visited yesterday, explaining how he built his business:

The government didn’t help — at all. No tax breaks. No “Good guy, Brian.” Just hard work did that and a few other dedicated people that came along with me.

I probably don't need to finish this story, do I? In the same way that Joe the Plumber wasn't named Joe and wasn't really a plumber, it turns out that Maloney once took advantage of an industrial revenue bond to move his business to Roxbury, and much of his early success was due to a contract to overhaul city buses.

None of this is a big deal. I imagine Maloney worked his ass off to build his company. Mainly it's just a warning to Romney: when he flits around the country embracing folks who have never relied on the government for a single dime, his team better do a good job of vetting them. Because most likely, all he's going to do is provide the librul media with a lovely, prepackaged set of stories that demonstrate how virtually every small business in America benefits from government programs in one way or another. And that includes one particular small business called Bain Capital. I'll bet someone is working on that story already.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 20, 2012

Fri Jul. 20, 2012 8:34 AM PDT

U.S. Soldiers with Combined Task Force Arrowhead use mine detectors to clear a school in Sperwan, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Photo by the US Army.

Why People Hate Liberals

| Fri Jul. 20, 2012 8:16 AM PDT

From Alex Pareene:

Aaron Sorkin is why people hate liberals.

There's a (potentially) very good essay to be written called "Why People Hate Liberals." Short answer: we're annoying! We're always telling you that you're destroying the planet, contributing to oppression, killing people halfway around the globe, or just not caring enough about poor people. And you don't want to hear it. You just want to turn on American Idol and relax after a tough day at work.

This essay can't be written by a conservative. (And it really really really can't be written by David Brooks.) It needs to be written by an honest-to-goodness liberal who spends a few months talking to actual people — and then tries to figure out why they hate liberals even though they don't really hate liberal ideas all that much. Somebody get on this, OK?

No One Wants to be the Second Barclays Bank

| Fri Jul. 20, 2012 7:50 AM PDT

Apparently the shitstorm that engulfed Barclays Bank after it paid a big fine for rigging LIBOR rates has put the fear of God into everyone else on Wall Street. So now they're hoping to avoid the spotlight by teaming up to pay a gigantic joint settlement and hoping that no one pays too much attention to the individual banks who are walking the plank:

The sources told Reuters that none of the banks involved now want to be second in line for fear that they will get similarly hostile treatment from politicians and the public. Bank discussions about a group settlement initially took place before the Barclays agreement, and picked back up in the aftermath.

It is unclear which banks are involved in the potential settlement talks. More than a dozen banks are being investigated in the scandal, including Citigroup, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase. They all declined to comment.

....While Barclays received a 30 percent "discount" on the fines for cooperating fully with authorities, it sustained far more serious damage with the subsequent loss of its top management and a public pillorying at the hands of politicians.

The specter of severe penalties from regulators and the possibility of multi-billion dollar class action suits has hung over more than a dozen banks being investigated worldwide since the extent of attempts to rig Libor became clear in CFTC and FSA documents released with the Barclays settlement.

I suppose this is smart. They all know they're guilty, and they all know they're going to pay up eventually. And the document dumps are likely to be hugely damaging. So why not just avoid all that, fess up (sort of), and avoid the public disclosure of damning emails? It's only money, after all, and they can make that up by furtively raising overdraft fees on all their debit card holders. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Jul. 20, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money

 

The Money Shot 

Numbers current as of July 12.Numbers current as of July 12.

 

Quote of the Week

"I would tell them: 'He is brilliant. Sometimes, like the emperor, he is brutal.'"
—William Weidner, former president of the Las Vegas Sands casino, recalling his struggle to properly explain casino magnate and super-PAC megadonor Sheldon Adelson to Chinese officials. Adelson's business activities in Macau are the subject of a federal investigation for potentially violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Attack Ad of the Week

This anti-Romney ad from Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super-PAC, came out last month. This week, In These Times labor reporter Mike Elk tracked down the star of the spot, Donnie Box, who had some surprising things to say about President Obama. Box appeared in the ad because he used to work as a steelworker at GS Technologies in Kansas City, which was shuttered by Bain Capital in 2001, and Box told Elk that Mitt Romney is "an asshole" who played a major role. But Box revealed to In These Times that he's no Obama fan either—"I think Obama is a jerk, a pantywaist, a lightweight, a blowhard. He hasn't done a goddamn thing that he said he would do"—and plans to sit the election out.

Stat of the Week

$6 million: The June fundraising haul of pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, including $2 million from former Qualcomm director Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan, and $1 million from actor Morgan Freeman. While conservative outside-spending groups continue to enjoy a big money advantage over their liberal counterparts, a Politico Influence analysis found that liberal super-PACs actually spent more money than conservative ones on election ads in the first half of July.

Disclosure Evasion of the Week

Earlier this year, a federal district court ruled "that Congress did not delegate authority to the FEC to narrow the disclosure requirement" that has kept anonymous the funders of "social welfare" nonprofits' issues ads, which mention candidates without telling viewers how they should vote. In response, US Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donahue decried the ruling as "all about intimidation." The decision will likely be challenged, but  the Chamber is now sidestepping the court anyway by spending more than $1.1 million on "express advocacy" ads, which do encourage viewers to vote for specific candidates, supporting Republicans in Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Dakota. Here's a boxing-themed spot that attacks Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada:

 

More MoJo Dark-Money Coverage

Senate Republicans Stand Up for the Rights of Secret Donors: GOPers vote to keep dark money in the shadows by blocking the DISCLOSE Act.
Republicans to Secret Donors: We've Got Your Back (Yet Again): GOP senators who once talked up dark-money disclosure kill off the DISCLOSE Act.
Democratic Super-PACs Bank $25 Million—But Lag Karl Rove and Co.: A quartet of Democratic super-PACs hauled in more than $25 million in April, May, and June of 2012.
Anti-Obama Group Caught Using Military Logos Without Authorization: "Special Operations for America" must stop politicizing military insignia, US officials tell MoJo, or face possible legal action.
 

More Must-Reads

• Matt Bai argues that reporters have exaggerated the impact the Citizens United ruling has had on the 2012 election. New York Times Magazine
• Election law expert Rick Hasen, who is criticized in Bai's article, disagrees. Election Law Blog
• A new iPhone app developed by students at MIT will tell you if ads playing on your TV are funded by super-PACs. Forbes
• Has anti-Citizens United sentiment dissuaded Democrats from giving to super-PACs? Politico
• The descendants of America's first Mormons are giving big to pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. New York Times

This is Possibly the Stupidest Bit of Faux Outrage of All Time

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 9:40 PM PDT

Dave Weigel explains that "you didn't build that" is a whole new kind of gaffe:

Call it a magic word gaffe—a statement that reveals not what a politician believes, but what you already feared, in your bone marrow, that a politician believes. Democrats still can’t understand why Obama’s speech is supposed to offend anyone. Republicans know that he’s a closet socialist, and that this sentiment only comes out when his energy is flagging.

Yep. The proposition that Barack Obama was actually saying — literally — that business owners don't build their own businesses doesn't make a lick of sense. Unless, that is, you're already convinced that he believes this, and only now has he finally tripped up and admitted it. In that case, it makes all the sense in the world. And what does this contempt for business owners translate into, policy-wise? An increase in the top marginal tax rate from 35% to 39.6%. Apparently this is the rallying cry of today's socialist revolutionaries:

What do you want?

Higher marginal tax rates on income over $250,000!

When do you want it?

At the beginning of 2013, or possibly phased in over time if that's not feasible!

This whole affair is so mind-numbingly stupid that I can only barely stand to keep reading my RSS feed while it's still going on. But I'm a professional, and the show must go on. I hope you all appreciate what I'm doing for you.

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Romney's Big Problem: People Just Don't Like Him Much

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 1:39 PM PDT

This is from the latest YouGov poll, and it shows Mitt Romney's big problem in a nutshell: people just don't like him much. He's doing OK among Republicans, and he'll probably do better as the election draws closer, but among independents he's 24 percentage points behind Obama in likeability. You may or may not believe that Americans should vote for the guy they'd rather watch the Super Bowl with, but they do. And right now, they really, really don't want to invite Romney into their living rooms.

Romney's New Spanish-Language Ad Says Absolutely Nothing

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 1:15 PM PDT

Before Mitt Romney was dodging questions about his tax returns and his role at Bain Capital, he was was trying to squirm out of stating a coherent immigration policy. In a new Spanish-language ad, Romney carefully avoids taking an actual position on immigration policy, substituting gauzy platitudes about bipartisan solutions and America being a "nation of immigrants" instead of saying what he'd actually do. That's probably because most Latino voters wouldn't like it if Romney said what he'd actually do. 

The ad, which is narrated by Romney's son Craig, also touts the fact that Mitt Romney's father was born in Mexico:

The spot isn't only vague—it's also misleading. As Huffington Post's Elise Foley notes, Craig Romney says, "As president, my father will work on a permanent solution to the immigration system, working with leaders of both parties." Typically that has meant comprehensive immigration reform, which Romney has opposed or supported over the years based on which part of the Republican base he's trying to appeal to.

During the GOP primary, Romney campaigned as an immigration restrictionist, hammering his colleagues for supporting "amnesty" and talking up "self deportation." He promised to veto the DREAM Act, though he won't say where he stands on Obama's decision not to deport the undocumented immigrants who might benefit from it. Now he's attempting to soften his record on immigration—not by shifting from his hardline positions, but by moderating his rhetoric. It's easy to understand why—the latest Latino Decisions poll shows President Barack Obama with 70 percent of the Latino vote to Romney's twenty-two percent. Romney doesn't have to win the Latino vote to make it to the White House, but those kind of numbers certainly hurt his chances. 

Why Pot Is Illegal Everywhere in the World

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 10:38 AM PDT

Matt Yglesias says that legal marijuana would be amazingly cheap:

One key but little-appreciated fact is that, according to persuasive research by Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, Beau Kilmer, and Mark Kleiman in their new book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know, is that legal pot would be amazingly cheap. In fact, midgrade stuff would be so cheap that it might make sense for businesses to give it away like ketchup packets or bar nuts.

....This would make pot far and away the cheapest intoxicant on the market, absolutely blowing beer and liquor out of the water. Joints would be about as cheap as things that are often treated as free. Splenda packets, for example, cost 2 or 3 cents each when purchased in bulk.

Probably nobody cares about this, but there's a reason marijuana isn't legal anywhere in the world: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, an international treaty adopted in 1961. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under this treaty, which means it's flatly, totally forbidden. Countries can decriminalize marijuana use, but no signatory to the treaty can legalize either use or cultivation.

So it's not just a matter of getting either Congress or a state legislature on board for legalization. You'd have to get the United States to withdraw from the 1961 treaty, and that just isn't in the cards. Decriminalization and wink-wink-nudge-nudge lack of enforcement are about the best we can hope for anytime in the near future.

How Agribiz Bought the Farm Bill

| Thu Jul. 19, 2012 9:50 AM PDT

So, how's the farm bill going? Well, the Senate's version of it "could have been worse," I concluded after it passed, straining for positive things to write about it. The House Agriculture Committee's, though, was a full-on disaster, offering harsh cuts to food aid at a time of high unemployment, fat handouts to big ag, and gratuitous gifts to the biotech/pesticide industry.

The bill is now stalled in the House, in danger of being buried by right-wing backbenchers intent on even deeper food-aid cuts. If the House doesn't vote on it before the August recess, the most likely outcome is an extension of the 2008 bill—and the 2013 Congress will have to start the farm bill process from scratch. Let's be blunt: If that scenario plays out, no matter how the November elections go, we're quite likely to see an equally or more dismal bill emerge next year.

This is tragic. The farm bill, a once-in-five-years piece of legislation, lays out federal food and agriculture policy. At a time of accelerating climate change and other ecosystem crisis, including agriculture-related dead zones in two of our most important fisheries (the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay) the time has come to reassess our food system. Meanwhile, a robust sustainable-agriculture has arisen over the past two decades, developing alternative styles of farming that are highly productive, less polluting, and more resilient to climate change. You might think farm policy would be primed to adjust to these developments. Instead, our legislative process is pushing agribusiness as usual.