2012 - %3, August

Corn on "Hardball": The Neocons Come Out in Tampa

Thu Aug. 30, 2012 3:15 AM EDT

David Corn and Eugene Robinson joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss John McCain's comically hawkish speech, Condoleezza Rice's terrific speech, and the rest of the Bush era neocons in attendance at the Republican national convention.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

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You Can Type This Shit, But You Sure Can't Say It

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 1:01 AM EDT

I don't have the energy to fact check Paul Ryan's convention speech because, really, who cares? It's a convention speech. It's designed to rally the troops, not get all the fiddly details right. As Dan Amira says, "Most of the millions of people who watched the speech on television tonight do not read fact-checks." So there's really not much incentive to tell the truth, is there?

(Though I will admit that his whopper about the closure of the Janesville GM plant had me looking around for something to throw at the TV set. Luckily, nothing came to hand.)

Anyway, Dan has a fact check here, Dave Weigel has one here, and Jon Cohn has one here, if you're feeling masochistic. I'll just say that my favorite part of the speech was this:

College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life. Everyone who feels stuck in the Obama economy is right to focus on the here and now....None of us have to settle for the best this administration offers — a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.

Damn! That's a helluva bleak country we live in right now. On a purely professional level, I have to admire the speechwriter who came up with this. He found a way to clearly imply grim Soviet-era socialist hellhole without actually saying the word "socialist," which would have earned him much tsk-tsking from the chattering classes. Bravo, sir! But even more, I have to admire Ryan for having the balls to deliver this kind of turgid, John Galtesque line straight. As Harrison Ford famously told George Lucas during the filming of Star Wars, "George, you can type this shit, but you sure can't say it." But he was wrong, and Ryan proved this once again tonight. You can type that shit, and you can say it. You just have to believe.

Final Apple vs. Samsung Post: There's No Patent on Pinch-to-Zoom

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 8:18 PM EDT

One final (I hope!) post on the Apple vs. Samsung patent case. Here's what I now believe about the three utility patents:

  • Patent 381 covers inertial scrolling (the faster you move your finger, the faster a list scrolls) and the "bounce," or "rubber band" effect when you reach the end of a list.
  • Patent 163 covers tap-to-zoom (on an iPhone, if you double tap a document, that section of the document is zoomed and centered; if you tap once with two fingers, that section of the document is de-zoomed).
  • Patent 915 covers the programming interface for both the bounce effect and tap-to-zoom.

That's it. The pinch-to-shrink and spread-to-zoom feature of the iPhone isn't part of the case at all. If you read through the patents you'll find descriptions of lots of things, including pinch-to-zoom, but don't let that throw you. What matters is what's in the actual claims, and the only claims at issue were Claim 19 of the 381 patent (page 58), Claim 50 of the 163 patent (page 49), and Claim 8 of the 915 patent (page 51).

As for the design patents, it's a mistake to think that Apple won a patent for "rounded corners." What they showed wasn't a single infringement, but that Samsung had slavishly copied the physical design, icon design, home page design, and packaging design of the iPhone — and then left behind an email trail showing what they'd done. That's why Samsung lost, not because their phones have rounded corners.

For more on this, Cassidy James had an interesting piece a few days ago showing how Google designed around Apple's patents. It turns out that it's not all that hard.

BOTTOM LINE: I don't think this case is nearly as important as it's being made out. (1) The bounce effect is a nonobvious invention, and something that really is unique to Apple. It's also easy to design around. (2) The tap-to-zoom patent is unfortunate. I don't think it's unique enough to deserve protection. (3) And the design patents aren't for individual design choices (like rounded corners), but for the totality of Apple's design. That kind of thing has been protectable for a long time, and isn't hard to design around.

In the end, then, tap-to-zoom is really the only part of the case that seems overbearing, and who knows? It might get overturned on appeal. But even if it's not, it's just one feature. It's not the end of the world.

Obama: "We Need to Seriously Consider" A Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 7:05 PM EDT
President Obama answering question during his "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit.

President Obama set the internet aflame Wednesday with his "Ask Me Anything" Q-and-A on Reddit, the massive web aggregator and online community.

Given Mother Jones' obsession with super-PACs, dark money, and the mad dash for campaign cash in 2012, one particular question stood out to us: "What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?"

Obama responded by decrying the "no-holds barred flow of seven- and eight-figure checks" into super-PACs' war chests. He worried that these outside groups "threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens."

And the president made actual news in his response by personally pressing for an amendment to the US Constitution reversing the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited company funds on independent political spending. Citizens United also helped pave the way for the SpeechNow.org v. FEC decision that ushered in super-PACs. (Members of Obama's inner circle have previously made similar statements.)

Here's Obama's full response:

Jonah Minkoff-Zern, an organizer for group Public Citizen's "Democracy Is For People" campaign pushing for a Citizens United amendment, hailed Obama's statement. "We're incredibly excited at Public Citizen that Obama has called for an amendment. We see every day that we organize the passion that people across the political spectrum have for a constitutional amendment to prevent the voices of the many from being drowned out by the money-fueled megaphone of the few."

It's no secret that Obama, despite shunning public campaign funds and blessing the super-PAC created to support his re-election effort, dislikes the current big money politics in this country. Indeed, before endorsing the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action, Obama blasted super-PACs—which can accept and spend unlimited sums of money, but ostensibly can't coordinate with candidates—as a "threat to democracy."

Hate for the Citizens United decision is common among the higher-ups in Obamaland. David Axelrod, an senior campaign strategist and longtime Obama confidant, told New York magazine back in June that, during a second term, the Obama administration "will use whatever tools out there, including a constitutional amendment" to reverse Citizens United. "I understand the free speech argument," Axelrod said, "but when the Koch brothers can spend $400 million, more than the McCain campaign and the Republican Party spent last time, that's very concerning."

Obama and Axelrod's constitutional amendment comments aren't welcomed by all Democrats. Fundraisers, especially those working for outside groups, say these types of comments make their job more difficult. This public anti-Citizens United sentiment "still raises in people's minds an adverse view at the highest levels [about super-PAC giving] even though the president has said grudgingly said, 'I hope people will participate in this,'" says one Democratic fundraiser. "If David Axelrod is saying that, donors wonder, 'Is giving to super-PAC something I'm gonna be appreciated for?'"

Condi Rice to Rescue Romney on National Security?

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 6:04 PM EDT

On Wednesday night, Republicans are hoping to burnish Mitt Romney's and Paul Ryan's national security credentials by trotting out one of George W. Bush's top lieutenants, Iraq war hawk Condoleezza Rice, who was Bush's national security advisor and then his secretary of state. She's got her work cut out for her. Neither Romney nor Ryan has ever worked in foreign policy, or served in uniform—a veritable rarity among Republican executive nominees.

In a preemptive strike Wednesday, three top Obama campaign supporters and foreign-policy pros blasted the GOP ticket for being weak on defense. Though they're probably not the Biden, Roemer, and Wilson you expected to hear from, the three Democrats—speaking to reporters on a conference call hosted by the progressive Truman Project—pulled no punches in criticizing the GOP ticket as neoconservative, incoherent, and anti-veteran. "On defense and national security, what we are hearing out of Romney and Ryan is an example of the hollow force," said retired Assistant Defense Secretary Douglas B. Wilson. "All sound bites and theory with no grounding in reality and nothing substantive to back it up."

"The Republicans have a very long history of experienced candidates" on military and veterans' issues, said Tim Roemer, a former Indiana congressman and ambassador to India from 2009 to 2011, but "Governor Romney does not have that experience."

Beau Biden, who served in Iraq in 2009 and is Delaware's attorney general and the vice president's son, said the Romney-Ryan ticket wants it both ways on defense spending: Supporting costly wars and expensive weaponry provided by contractors, while undermining benefits for those who serve in uniform, even as vets are getting hard with disabilities and unemployment. Citing a Veteran's Day 2011 campaign appearance by Romney in South Carolina, Biden said, "He chose that day to propose his voucherization of the [Department of Veterans Affairs], which is a not-so-elegant euphemism for privatization of the VA." (Here's a video of Romney's privatization speech.)

Governor Roemer cast the Republicans' security policy as trading on tax cuts for the rich. "Romney has threatened to turn health care for veterans into coupons for veterans," he said. "You cannot put a pricetag on a veteran who has served overseas." Wilson hit Ryan's unpopular budget proposals: "Ryan's plan cuts everything from defense that isn't a gun," he said. "I think you have some quesions from returning vets and their families on just what that means for them."

What's Next for Pussy Riot?

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 5:12 PM EDT

So, maybe Pussy Riot's guilty verdicts and grim sentences to two years in a penal colony didn't come as too much of a surprise. It's kind of what you get when the court bars multiple defense witnesses from testifying, enlists experts to diagnose all three women with personality disorders, and considers the testimonies of those deeply offended by the band's "punk prayer" at Christ the Savior Cathedral after having only watched the event on Youtube. (For full background on the case, see our explainer.)

Alisa Obraztsova, a legal assistant on the defense team and Pussy Riot's copyright and intellectual property lawyer, told Mother Jones that the riot grrrls might have gotten harsher punishments if it weren't for the international attention on their case. The question that remains is whether Pussy Riot's lawyers will be able to appeal the conviction, and in a relevant time frame. Even worse, according to the defense team, is that the grueling penal colony conditions could result in injury or death for the three women.

The first step for Pussy Riot’s defense was to file an appeal to a higher court, as their lawyers did on Monday. Obraztsova says that this could result in the sentence being softened, maybe by half a year. Vladimir Lukin, Russia's Putin-appointed human rights ombudsman, has also publicly supported a decreased sentence. "We expect [a lesser sentence], but we are not sure," Obraztsova said. "You can never be sure in Russia. This is a totally political case."

"You do not ask pardon from someone who is doing this to your family, who is trying to break you," Obraztsova says. "They tell him to go to hell."

Obraztsova refers to the case as "telephone justice"—the kind in which decisions, irrespective of criminal code, are phoned in from Putin and his elite.

"There's every ground to believe that the ruling (two year sentence) as well as the following decisions are not reached in the courthouse," notes Maria Lipman, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Moscow Center. Lipman cites another recent political trial, the second of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, as one in which the ruling was delivered by higher-ups. In 2011, the judge's assistant on the case admitted in an interview that Khodorkovsky's guilty verdict wasn't written by the judge.

"From levying exorbitant fines to signing laws that crack down on public meetings, there's a large wave of repression going on in Russia," says Alex Edwards, a spokesperson for Amnesty International USA, which has demanded the immediate relase of the Pussy Riot prisoners. "It doesn't start and it doesn't stop with Pussy Riot," he added. "It's a systematic crackdown."

If Putin and his courts don't see it fit to lessen the women's sentence (they've already served six months of it in pre-trial detention), the defense team has vowed to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. But the problem there is two-fold: First, it could take two to three years for the case even to be heard—well after the women will have been shipped to penal colonies. Secondly, it's probable, notes Lipman, that the ECHR would just fine the Kremlin for the offense while the women remained in prison.

As for what happens in the penal colonies, Pussy Riot's lawyers feel it could be a matter of life or death. Obraztsova explains that it's likely the women would be split up among several prison camps, where they would stay in 100-person barracks with women convicted for murder, or other dangerous felonies. Then there's religious and anti-Pussy Riot fervor to consider. "A man was raped [with] a bottle of champagne in a police office," Obraztsova says, referencing the gruesome case from March in which a 52-year-old man died after being detained by Russian police. "What can we expect from the penal colony?"

Still, Pussy Riot won't be asking for Putin's pardon, and the defense team told Mother Jones that even Nadia Tolokonnikova's four-year-old daughter, Gera, doesn't cede to the Russian president; when asked who put her mother behind bars, she answers "Putin." When asked who Putin is, she replies simply that he's "a bad man."

Obraztsova puts it another way. "You do not ask pardon from someone who is doing this to your family, who is trying to break you," she says. "They tell him to go to hell."

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Ann Romney and the Subversive Conservatism of ABC's 'Modern Family'

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 4:48 PM EDT
Actors Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who play Modern Family's Cameron and Mitchell, at the Human Rights Campaign national dinner in 2010.

Would-be First Lady Ann Romney's favorite television show is ABC's Modern Family, a relatively tame sitcom that features three related couples raising children. One of these couples, Cameron and Mitchell, happens to be a cohabitating same-sex couple with an adopted daughter. The Republican Platform for 2012 calls for a constitutional amendment that, in the real world, would forbid the government from legally recognizing relationships like the one Cameron and Mitchell have.

The irony was not lost on the show's co-creator, Steven Levitan, who offered Mrs. Romney a role on the show. "We’ll offer her the role of officiate at Mitch & Cam's wedding. As soon as it's legal," he wrote on Twitter. Naturally, if Mrs. Romney's husband has his way, this will never happen. Mitt Romney is not merely opposed to same-sex marriage, but legal recognition of same-sex couples of any kind.

Ann Romney however, is not alone in her fondness for the show. A 2010 survey found that Modern Family ranks as Republicans' third favorite show on television

This might seem strange, were it not for the fact that the great irony of Modern Family is that its view of "family" is tremendously conservative and traditional. There are three couples on the show: The aforementioned Mitchell and Cameron, Mitchell's sister Claire and her husband Phil, and Claire and Mitchell's father Jay and his second wife Gloria. Each of these couples features a (male) breadwinner and a stay-at-home parent whose primary responsibility is to the children. Despite their superficial differences—the noticable age and aesthetic differences between Jay (Married with Children's Ed O'Neill) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara), the fact that Mitchell and Cameron are men—the vision of family on the show is one that hews very closely to what conservatives like to call the "traditional family." The show has also been very restrained in its portrayal of Mitchell and Cameron's relationship—they did not so much as kiss until the second season. The show's subject matter is also pretty vanilla—couples' weird foibles, kids do the darndest things and so forth—with the few bawdy jokes usually being too complicated for anyone who isn't an adult to pick up on. 

Modern Family's traditionalism probably has much to do with why conservatives, including Ann Romney, like the show so much. It portrays a future in which the "modern family" exists within comforting, familiar framework.  The show is subversive in its conservatism, in its ability to make Republicans see themselves in a family arrangement that, to this day, they remain steadfastly opposed. Eventually, these Republicans will come to recognize the contradiction between their affinity for these characters on television and their opposition to equal rights for their real life counterparts. 

This is how culture wars are won. 

 

Click here for more TV and movie features from Mother Jones.

Read President Obama's Reddit "Ask Me Anything" Q's and A's

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 4:31 PM EDT
President Obama on Reddit

NOTE: This post is being continuously updated. Scroll below to read Reddit users' questions for Obama—and his answers—as they come in real time.

An official for the Obama campaign confirmed to Mother Jones that the president ran a live "Ask Me Anything" feature on Reddit, the user-generated news link site. He took questions for a half-hour starting at 4:30 p.m. EDT on August 29.

The thread amassed more than 13,000 comments, ranging from how Obama feels about teenagers killed in drone attacks to how he plans on furthering rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender citizens.

MoJo's own Nick Baumann asked a question, based on the magazine's years of reporting the drone wars:

So far, Obama hasn't responded.

Commenter "The AtomicPlayboy" said, "Welcome to Reddit, Mr. President." And commenter "KoreanTerran" pointed out, "Good luck Obama. You're going to need it."

UPDATE: Obama wrote, "Hey everybody - this is barack. Just finished a great rally in Charlottesville, and am looking forward to your questions. At the top, I do want to say that our thoughts and prayers are with folks who are dealing with Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf, and to let them know that we are going to be coordinating with state and local officials to make sure that we give families everything they need to recover."

 

 

Question 1:  Are you considering increasing funds to the space program?

Answer: Making sure we stay at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority for my administration. The passing of Neil Armstrong this week is a reminder of the inspiration and wonder that our space program has provided in the past; the curiosity probe on mars is a reminder of what remains to be discovered. The key is to make sure that we invest in cutting edge research that can take us to the next level - so even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight.

 

Question 2: We know how Republicans feel about protecting Internet Freedom. Is Internet Freedom an issue you'd push to add to the Democratic Party's 2012 platform?

Answer: Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too. We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody - from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business. And although there will be occasional disagreements on the details of various legislative proposals, I won't stray from that principle - and it will be reflected in the platform.

 

Question 3: Who's your favorite Basketball player?

Answer: Jordan - I'm a Bulls guy.

 

Question 4: How are you going help small businesses in 2013 and 2014? and what if any bills are you going to impliment for small businesses, in 2013, and 2014?

Answer: We've really focused on this since I came into office - 18 tax cuts for small business, easier funding from the SBA. Going forward, I want to keep taxes low for the 98 percent of small businesses that have $250,000 or less in income, make it easier for small business to access financing, and expand their opportunities to export. And we will be implementing the Jobs Act bill that I signed that will make it easier for startups to access crowd-funding and reduce their tax burden at the start-up stage.

 

Question 5: What is the first thing you'll do on November 7th, win or lose?

Answer: Win or lose, I'll be thanking everybody who is working so hard - especially all the volunteers in field offices all across the country, and the amazing young people in our campaign offices.

 

Question 6: What was the most difficult decision that you had to make during this term?

Answer: The decision to surge our forces in afghanistan. Any time you send our brave men and women into battle, you know that not everyone will come home safely, and that necessarily weighs heavily on you. The decision did help us blunt the taliban's momentum, and is allowing us to transition to afghan lead - so we will have recovered that surge at the end of this month, and will end the war at the end of 2014. But knowing of the heroes that have fallen is something you never forget.

 

Question 7: What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?

Answer: Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. We need to start with passing the Disclose Act that is already written and been sponsored in Congress - to at least force disclosure of who is giving to who. We should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists. Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.



Question 8: What's the recipe for the White House's beer?

Answer: It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty.

 

Question 9: I am recent law school graduate. Despite graduating from a top school, I find myself unemployed with a large student loan debt burden. While I'm sure my immediate prospects will improve in time, it's difficult to be optimistic about the future knowing that my ability to live a productive life -- to have a fulfilling career, to buy a house, to someday raise a family -- is hampered by my debt and the bleak economic outlook for young people. I know that I'm not alone in feeling this way. Many of us are demoralized. Your 2008 campaign was successful in large part due to the efforts of younger demographics. We worked for you, we campaigned for you, and we turned out in record numbers to vote for you. What can I say to encourage those in similar situations as I am to show up again in November? What hope can you offer us for your second term?

Answer: I understand how tough it is out there for recent grads. You're right - your long term prospects are great, but that doesn't help in the short term. Obviously some of the steps we have taken already help young people at the start of their careers. Because of the health care bill, you can stay on your parent's plan until you're twenty six. Because of our student loan bill, we are lowering the debt burdens that young people have to carry. But the key for your future, and all our futures, is an economy that is growing and creating solid middle class jobs - and that's why the choice in this election is so important. The other party has two ideas for growth - more taxs cuts for the wealthy (paid for by raising tax burdens on the middle class and gutting investments like education) and getting rid of regulations we've put in place to control the excesses on wall street and help consumers. These ideas have been tried, they didnt work, and will make the economy worse. I want to keep promoting advanced manufacturing that will bring jobs back to America, promote all-American energy sources (including wind and solar), keep investing in education and make college more affordable, rebuild our infrastructure, invest in science, and reduce our deficit in a balanced way with prudent spending cuts and higher taxes on folks making more than $250,000/year. I don't promise that this will solve all our immediate economic challenges, but my plans will lay the foundation for long term growth for your generation, and for generations to follow. So don't be discouraged - we didn't get into this fix overnight, and we won't get out overnight, but we are making progress and with your help will make more.

 

Question 10: How do you balance family life and hobbies with, well, being the POTUS?

Answer: It's hard - truthfully the main thing other than work is just making sure that I'm spending enough time with michelle and the girls. The big advantage I have is that I live above the store - so I have no commute! So we make sure that when I'm in DC I never miss dinner with them at 6:30 pm - even if I have to go back down to the Oval for work later in the evening. I do work out every morning as well, and try to get a basketball or golf game in on the weekends just to get out of the bubble. Speaking of balance, though, I need to get going so I'm back in DC in time for dinner. But I want to thank everybody at reddit for participating - this is an example of how technology and the internet can empower the sorts of conversations that strengthen our democracy over the long run. AND REMEMBER TO VOTE IN NOVEMBER - if you need to know how to register, go to Gottaregister.com. By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience - NOT BAD!

Yokelism Still Going Strong in the Pro-Life Movement

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 4:22 PM EDT

NRO's Kevin Williamson reports from the floor of the Republican National Convention:

The name “Akin” is a byword for disgust and anger, nowhere more than among pro-lifers, who have been fighting a 30-year campaign against both the perception of yokelism in the ranks and yokelism itself. There is no getting around the fact that Akin has set back both Republican Senate prospects and, more important, the pro-life movement itself.

I imagine that the "perception of yokelism" is just a product of the liberal media. We all know how they can be, don't we? But Williamson also tells us that actual yokelism has been a serious problem for the pro-life movement for the past three decades. Fascinating! I'm glad we got that cleared up. I imagine that fighting the perception of yokelism is hard when actual yokelism stubbornly remains the core of your movement.

WATCH: Paul Ryan's Brother Calls Him a "Career Politician"

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 3:50 PM EDT

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has railed against the Washington political class and pitched his outsider status as a selling point. Romney hit on this theme in May when he said that "someone who's never spent a day in the private sector, like President Obama, simply doesn't understand" the economy and how jobs are created. Romney's in line with much of the tea-partyized GOP, which hails a lack of experience in Washington as a virtue.

Yet Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Mitt Romney's pick for vice president, has worked in Washington nearly all of his adult life. He did stints at a conservative think tank and as a staffer for Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). He first ran for Congress at the tender age of 28.

In fact, Ryan is such a Washington insider that his own brother, Tobin, describes him as a "career politician." And Tobin Ryan doesn't mean that as a compliment.

Here's Tobin Ryan calling his brother a "career politician" on Fox News Wednesday morning at the GOP convention site in Tampa, Florida, in a video clip that has received little notice:

Transcript:

Megyn Kelly: Let's get to know him. He's from Wisconsin. He's married. How many kids?

Tobin Ryan: He has three kids.

Kelly: How old are they?

Ryan: They are 10, 8, and 7.

Kelly: Lifelong politician? I mean, 28 years old, he runs for Congress, been there 14 years.

Ryan: You know, it sounds like that. I never actually thought he was going to be a career politician. And I kept expecting him to come back and start a real job.

So Ryan's brother sees him as a Washington guy who hasn't held a "real job." But don't expect this to stop the Republicans from denigrating Obama and other foes as career politicians. It's too good a talking point to subject to the test of reality.