2012 - %3, August

Nobody Likes Mitt Romney

| Sun Aug. 5, 2012 10:57 AM EDT

This is from Obama's Last Stand, a new e-book from Glenn Thrush:

Obama [] began campaign preparations feeling neutral about Romney, but like the former governor’s GOP opponents in 2008 and 2012, he quickly developed a genuine disdain for the man. That scorn stoked Obama’s competitive fire, got his head in the game, which came as a relief to some Obama aides who had seen his interest flag when he didn’t feel motivated to crush the opposition. Obama, a person close to him told me, didn’t even feel this strongly about conservative, combative House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Hill Republican he disliked the most. At least Cantor stood for something, he’d say.

When he talked about Romney, aides picked up a level of anger he never had for Clinton or McCain, even after Sarah Palin was picked as his running mate. ‘There was a baseline of respect for John McCain. The president always thought he was an honorable man and a war hero,’ said a longtime Obama adviser. ‘That doesn’t hold true for Romney. He was no goddamned war hero.’”

Romney really does seem to inspire contempt in almost everyone he comes into contact with these days, doesn't he? I don't have the sense that this has always been true — he seems to have produced the usual range of reactions when he was governor of Massachusetts or managing Bain Capital or running the Olympics — but something about the presidency seems to have brought out the worst in him. His ambition is so naked, his beliefs so malleable, his pandering so relentless, and his scruples so obviously expendable, that everyone who spars with him comes away feeling like they need to take a shower.

I always wonder how Romney himself feels about this. Surely he knows what he's doing? It's not like he's the worst guy in the world or anything, but somewhere, deep down, he understands that in a pedestrian but still real way he's compromised his soul for a shot at the Oval Office, doesn't he? Or has he shut it all out and somehow convinced himself that he's still the hard-nosed but principled guy he's always imagined himself to be? I wonder what he thinks of all this in the small hours of the night.

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Harry Reid Doubles Down

| Sat Aug. 4, 2012 9:27 AM EDT

So what's going on with Harry Reid? When he decided, out of the blue last week, to tell a reporter that he'd gotten a call from a "Bain investor" who told him that Mitt Romney had paid no taxes for ten years, I figured he was just talking smack. He wanted to get under Romney's skin and decided this was a good way to do it. His obvious next step was to wait a day or two, then tell some other reporter that, you know, he didn't really know for sure, and then congratulate himself for winning a news cycle or two.

But now he's doubling down:

A second source, said to be "close to Senator [Harry] Reid," has told CNN's Dana Bash that Reid's original source for the claim that Mitt Romney "didn't pay any taxes for 10 years" exists, is a "Bain investor" and a "credible person."....

I did speak to one source who is very close to Senator Reid who claims to also know who the Bain investor is that Reid spoke with, and insists that it is a credible person and this person if we knew the name we would understand they would have the authority and the ability to know about Romney's tax returns.

....This was reinforced in a statement from Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson, which Bash read on the air: "Senator Reid stands by his comments. Governor Romney's continued refusal to release his tax returns raises legitimate questions about what he is hiding and whether he paid any taxes at all. Governor Romney can easily end this debate by following the precedent set by his father and releasing tax returns."

This is all pretty weird. In one sense, I suppose Reid isn't really risking much. He's not up for reelection, after all, and it would be pretty hard for anyone to prove that he's lying. And even if he is, so what? Is Mitch McConnell going to start obstructing Senate business even more? How could he?

Still, Reid isn't leaving himself any breathing room at all on this, and if he gets caught out it would still be pretty damn embarrassing. He's taking one for the team in a way that I'm not sure I've ever seen from someone in a leadership position. Is it because he's 72 and doesn't care anymore? Because of some longstanding intra-Mormon feud? Because he's just fed up with Republicans? I dunno. But if he can't back this up, it's about as sleazy a ratfuck as we've seen since the days of CREEP.

UPDATE: Eric Rauchway tweets, "Sleaziest since CREEP? Does @kdrum remember the 1990s?" Point taken. Between Willie Horton and Bill Clinton's black baby and Al Gore's earth tones and the great Swift boating of 2004, Reid's gameplaying probably doesn't make the ratfucking top ten.

Still, it's a little different when it comes straight from the Democratic leader in the Senate. Is that better or worse than conducting this kind of stuff in the shadows, or at arm's length from the campaign? I guess you could argue both ways. But I'm really not sure we should be thrilled with high-ranking party leaders openly embracing this kind of stuff.

If Reid had said, "You know, my guess is that Romney didn't pay any taxes at all in some years, and that's why he won't make his returns public" — well, that would have been fine. Just rank speculation of the kind that lots of people have engaged in. (Including me!) But when he specifically says that he has some secret source who's seen Romney's returns, that's different. That's almost certainly a lie. No matter how tempting it is, this really isn't something we should be applauding.

6 Ways California Is Planning to Adapt to Climate Change

| Sat Aug. 4, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

North Carolina is dealing with sea level rise by banning science. California is doing something else: actually making plans.

The Golden State has made itself a leader on climate change in recent years, with initiatives to slash greenhouse gas emissions and amp up renewable energy, and has now just released a hefty report on global warming's impacts on the state and how it plans to adapt to a hot new West.

The report, put out by the California Energy Commission and Natural Resources Agency on Tuesday, combines the work of dozens of research teams and will lay the foundation for a climate change adaptation strategy for the state, due out by the end of this year. Here are some of the solutions they've brainstormed:

1. Chill-out stations. Life in a hotter California is not going to be fun. The state is projected to warm up to 8 degrees by 2100, according to the report, which means more dehydration, more heart attacks, more infectious diseases floating about. The study says cooling centers in cities will be key, and the public health department is pushing to green urban areas, install "cool" roofs and pavement that reflect sunlight, and up the capacity of health centers.

Corn on "Hardball": What's Romney Hiding in His Tax Returns?

Fri Aug. 3, 2012 8:21 PM EDT

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ratchets up the clamoring for Romney's tax returns, suggesting that the Republican candidate has not paid any taxes. David Corn, DC bureau chief at Mother Jones, speculates on what could be so awful in those tax returns that Romney is not caving despite the intense pressure. Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum has a take on Romney's taxes too.

Friday Cat Blogging - On Hiatus

| Fri Aug. 3, 2012 2:06 PM EDT

I know this is going to disappoint a lot of you, but I'm afraid today is the final installment of Friday catblogging — at least for a little while.

There are actually several reasons I'm doing this, but the obvious one is reason enough: Inkblot was the original inspiration for catblogging, and he was always the real star of the show. It just doesn't feel the same without him. I might start up again someday, though not for at least a few months, I think. After that, we'll see. In the meantime, we'll always have our memories.

Mother of God, Just Rent the Old "Total Recall"

| Fri Aug. 3, 2012 1:39 PM EDT

Total Recall (2012)
Columbia Pictures
121 minutes

They remade this R-rated Paul Verhoeven sci-fi masterpiece from 1990…

…into this PG-13-rated Len Wiseman movie from 2012…

…and this split screen tells you everything you need to know about the difference in quality between the two:

"IT'S NOT A TOOMAH."  ;Courtesy of Columbia Pictures"IT'S NOT A TOOMAH." YouTube ; Columbia PicturesSo to everyone who remade Total Recall and didn't make it awesome…

To be fair, no one was actually expecting the Colin Farrell version of Philip K. Dick's story to be as good as the Ahnold classic. But something this insipid and pathetically humorless? [Click here.]

The fact that the new film preserves the storied legacy of the triple-boobed hooker doesn't make matters better one bit. Here are the five absolute most shameful things about Total Recall 2012 edition:

  1. You have Kate Beckinsale (filling in for Sharon Stone) and Jessica Biel (filling in for Rachel Ticotin) kung-fu ass-kicking in the same movie, and you only have them engage in hand-to-hand combat with each other for a combined 40 seconds!?!?!?
  2. The living, breathing regime troops are largely replaced by lame, (literally) faceless karate robots.
  3. They never travel to Mars. Colin Farrell says the word "Mars" at the beginning of the movie in what amounts to one of the cruelest teases in recent memory, but no, they never go to Mars. Much of what makes the original so great is a direct consequence of Schwarzenegger and Ticotin mass-murdering henchmen on Mars. But since the Red Planet has proved lethal at the box office in a post-Total Recall world (Rocket Man in 1997, Mission to Mars and Red Planet in 2000, Ghosts of Mars in 2001, Doom in 2005, John Carter in 2012, etc.), Colin Farrell stays put on boring, drab Earth.
  4. Whereas the original was a mean-spirited laugh-riot, this is damn-near stone-faced. The only humorous thing about the remake is the blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment that shows the future's Obama currency.
  5. The new Total Recall has dubstep in it.

I'll let New Yorker editor Ben Greenman take it from here:

For those looking for something less infuriating, stick to this video of the charming and funny Beckinsale chatting with Conan O'Brien about the bizarre fight choreography in the futuristic action flick:

The nonawesome, non-Schwarzenegger edition of Total Recall gets a wide release on Friday, August 3. The film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

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Repeat After Me: In-Person, In-Person, In-Person

| Fri Aug. 3, 2012 12:55 PM EDT

The court case against Pennsylvania's new voter ID law is wrapping up, and supporters of the law say it's necessary in order to reduce voter fraud. However, when you hear the words "voter fraud," there are three things you need to keep clearly in mind:

  • In-person
  • In-person
  • In-person

Got that? There's only one kind of fraud that voter ID stops: in-person voter fraud. That is, the kind of fraud where someone walks into a polling place and tries to vote under someone else's name. That's it.

There are plenty of other types of voter fraud, of course. There's registration fraud, where you send in forms for Mary Poppins and James Bond. There's insider fraud, where election officials report incorrect tallies. There's absentee ballot fraud, where you fill in someone else's absentee ballot and mail it in. But a voter ID law does nothing to stop those kinds of fraud. Even in theory, the only kind of fraud it stops is in-person voter fraud.

A couple of days ago, that got me thinking: are there any recent documented cases of in-person voter fraud in the United States? I figure there must be in a country with over 100 million registered voters. But I realized that I didn't really know, even though I spent quite a bit of time on the subject for my voter fraud piece in the current issue of the magazine. Luckily, though, I happen to be reading an advance copy of Rick Hasen's The Voting Wars, and just last night I got to page 61, where he addresses exactly this question. His answer:

There are virtually no recent cases of voter impersonation fraud and no evidence in at least a generation that it has been used in an effort to steal an election.

Hasen provides what few examples he can. Hans von Spakovsky, a Bush-era Justice Department appointee, claimed to have found an occurrence of impersonation fraud in a 1984 case in Brooklyn. But when Hasen finally managed to get a copy of the DA's report (von Spakovsky refused to share it), it turned out that the fraud consisted almost entirely of insiders manipulating registration books and cards. What little impersonation fraud they found was possible only thanks to collusion with corrupt election officials. Von Spakovsky also brought up a 1997 case in Miami, but that turned out to be absentee ballot fraud. In a later op-ed, he pointed to a case in Kansas, but a court ruled that, in fact, no illegal votes had been cast.

So there you have it. Hasen apparently doesn't know of any confirmed cases of in-person voter fraud, and the folks who have tried their best to find some have failed. There are several known cases of other kinds of voter fraud (though not very many, despite the Bush administration's focus on digging up voter fraud cases), and there are also cases of, for example, felons voting when they aren't allowed to. But these almost all turn out to be accidents: the state sent them registration forms, so they registered and voted, not knowing it was illegal. It was incompetent registration operations that were at fault, and anyway, voter ID wouldn't have stopped it. The felons' names were all on the voter rolls.

So we're left with this: the folks pushing the idea that voter fraud is rampant apparently don't have any examples of in-person voter fraud ever happening in the past decade or so. At a minimum, if this were a serious problem, surely you could dig up, say, one case per state per election cycle. That's not many. Maybe a few hundred since 2000. But they can't. They've passed dozens of laws, making it harder to vote for millions of people, based on a phantasm. In-person voter fraud is an entirely invented problem. What it was invented for is left as an exercise for the reader.

UPDATE: Rick Hasen emails to say that he recently came across a case that might be genuine in-person voter fraud. The allegation is something stupid (a mother taking her teenage son to vote in her husband's place), not something corrupt, but still. It's a case!

If the facts are proven as alleged, this looks like it could be one of those extremely rare cases in which a photo identification actually would have made a difference in preventing the casting of a fraudulent ballot, and for this reason I expect it to gain canonical status among those clamoring for voter ID....For reasons explained in my last post, however, the very stupidity of this action (if proven) and the fact that this kind of ham-handed fraud was so easily caught shows why this kind of fraud is so rare and why state voter ID laws are generally unnecessary.

So there you have it.

Dems Nominate Anti-Gay Conspiracy Theorist for Senate

| Fri Aug. 3, 2012 12:24 PM EDT
Tennessee Senate candidate Mark Clayton

Update, 2:55 p.m.: Via the Tennessean, the Tennessee Democratic party has condemned Clayton, saying in a statement that he is "associated with a known hate group" (a reference to Public Advocate of the United States), and blaming his victory on the fact that his name appeared first on the ballot.

Mark Clayton believes the federal government is building a massive, four-football-field wide superhighway from Mexico City to Toronto as part of a secret plot to establish a new North American Union that will bring an end to America as we know it. On Thursday, he became the Tennessee Democrats' nominee for US Senate.

Clayton, an anti-gay-marriage activist and flooring installer with a penchant for fringe conspiracy theories, finished on top of a crowded primary field in the race to take on GOP Sen. Bob Corker this fall. He earned 26 percent of the vote despite raising no money and listing the wrong opponent on his campaign website. The site still reads, "DEDICATED TO THE DEFEAT OF NEO-CONSERVATIVE LAMAR ALEXANDER," whom Clayton tried to challenge in 2008. (That year, he didn't earn the Democratic nomination.)

On his issues page, Clayton sounds more like a member of the John Birch Society than a rank-and-file Democrat. He says he's against national ID cards, the North American Union, and the "NAFTA superhighway," a nonexistent proposal that's become a rallying cry in the far-right fever swamps. Elsewhere, he warns of an encroaching "godless new world order" and suggests that Americans who speak out against government policies could some day be placed in "a bone-crushing prison camp similar to the one Alexander Solzhenitsyn was sent or to one of FEMA's prison camps." (There are no FEMA prison camps.)

In April 2008, Clayton issued a press release accusing Google of censoring his campaign website on behalf the Chinese government:

After spending the opening three weeks of the campaign ranked between first and third place on the first page for users who type "mark clayton senate" into the widely used internet search engine, Google, the Clayton campaign website has utterly vanished from rankings, and is nowhere to be found in the first ten pages.

Google is suspected to be acting in concert with the Communist Chinese government, which in past months has been extremely sensitive to global outrage at its treatment toward Tibet. As the Olympics, which are to be held in China, draw nearer, pro-humanitarian voices have increasingly exasperated and embarrassed the authoritarian Beijing regime.

Clayton has another intriguing theory. This one involves a former governor of California: "Schwarzenegger, born in Austria, wants to amend the Constitution so that he can become president and fulfill Hitler's superman scenario."

The closest thing Clayton has to political experience is his work as vice president of a Virginia-based organization called Public Advocate of the United States. The group's mission, per its website, is to restore the country to its conservative Christian roots. Public Advocate supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, opposes abortion rights, and believes the Boy Scouts are under assault from the gay agenda. The group refers to mayors Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Tom Menino of Boston as "pro-homosexual socialist dictators" for stating their opposition to the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A. (It also issued a statement condemning the "gay muppets.")

Clayton's primary victory is only the latest blow for the Tennessee Democrats in a state that's becoming redder every year. Democrats lost three congressional seats during the 2010 midterms, plus control of the governor's mansion. Corker, a rising GOP star who edged Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. by just 2.7 points in 2006, is now virtually assured of another six years in Washington. The political shift is more pronounced at the local level, where Republicans have taken advantage of their new-found dominance in Nashville to advance far-right proposals like a bill to criminalize Shariah law and to ban the discussion of homosexuality from public schools.

With a conspiracy theorist now a leader of the state Democratic party, the local GOP—a bastion of evolution and climate change denialism—has an opening: It can be the party of rationality.

Tennessee Democratic Senate nominee Mark Clayton (third from left) during his 2008 campaign. Clayton for SenateTennessee Democratic Senate nominee Mark Clayton (third from left) during his 2008 campaign Clayton for Senate

A Good Job Is Hard to Find

| Fri Aug. 3, 2012 11:52 AM EDT

Via Richard Kirsch, here's an interesting juxtaposition courtesy of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. They set out to calculate the number of workers with "good jobs," and they set a fairly low bar. A good job is one that pays $37,000 (the median wage for men in 1979), includes at least some health insurance, and some kind of retirement plan. It doesn't have to be generous health coverage or a generous retirement plan. Mediocre health plans with big copays still count, and modest 401(k) retirement plans count. The job just has to include something.

The two charts below show what's happened over the past 30 years. The chart on the left tracks education levels, and it shows that the number of high school dropouts and high school grads has gone down, while the number of workers with at least some college or a college degree has gone up. Despite that, as the chart on the right shows, the percentage of people employed in good jobs has steadily declined. It's gone down more at the bottom, but it's gone down everywhere else too. Overall, the number of workers with good jobs has declined from 27% to 24% since 1979.

The full report is here. Full-size versions of the charts are here. Bottom line: more education is better, but it's not a magic bullet for the bottom 99%. Even with educational attainment up considerably over the past three decades, good jobs are fewer and farther between.

Buzzfeed's Chemical Romance

| Fri Aug. 3, 2012 11:39 AM EDT

Voter suppression: That term doesn't mean what Buzzfeed's John Ellis thinks it means. 

In a column that combines head-desk worthy analysis with glib race baiting, Ellis asserts that President Barack Obama is conducting a campaign of "chemical warfare" meant to "suppress turnout among white voters who might vote for Romney." The words "chemical warfare" appear in quotes in the headline for some reason, even though they're the author's words. Ellis' "evidence" for this consists of Obama's negative ad campaign and a misleading Tom Edsall column in the New York Times that asserts over and over that Obama is suppressing the votes of white males without college degrees because if they make up less of the electorate, Obama has a better chance at being reelected. Based on Edsall and Ellis' own arguments, Romney needs a less diverse electorate, but I doubt Ellis would write a column asserting on that basis alone that Romney is trying to stop blacks and Latinos from voting.

Neither column actually explains what Obama is doing to "suppress" white votes beyond running negative ads against his opponent, which all presidential candidates do. "It's not a "negative campaign" they're running. It's purposefully toxic," Ellis writes. What exactly makes Obama's campaign more "toxic" than any other negative political ad campaign, so "toxic" that it need be distinguished? Ellis doesn't bother to say. 

When used correctly, the term "voter suppression" refers to erecting barriers to voting, legal or otherwise. That is, laws that restrict the franchise or otherwise make it harder to vote, or attempts to mislead voters away from the ballot box. Robocalls targeting black voters telling them they don't need to vote are one example. "Voter suppression" doesn't refer to running negative ads, which, again, are a part of any campaign.

Incidentally, what you wouldn't know from Ellis' column is that Obama is actually being outspent by Romney and his allies. In fact, the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has outraised every Democratic super PAC combined. If Obama and his allies $128 million in spending represents the "wall to end all wars," how would Ellis describe the $179 million spent by Romney and the outside groups supporting him, according to a Washington Post analysis done last month? If I were the kind of person who used over-the-top war metaphors to describe negative campaigning, I'd say that if Obama is engaging in chemical warfare, Romney and his pals are carpeting swing-states with atomic bombs (see how silly that is?).

Equating negative campaigning with voter suppression ignores the level of actual voter suppression happening in the states. Ten states have passed restrictive voter ID laws, even though UFO sightings are more common than in-person voter fraud and the laws themselves could disenfranchise more than half a million people.  In Pennsylvania, where one analysis estimates that close to ten percent voters in the state could be disenfranchised by the state's new voter ID law, Republican State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai declared the law would "allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

Unlike negative campaigning, these new restrictive voting laws represent actual voter suppression. Ellis' column blurs the distinction between what can be reasonably expected in political campaigns and actual attempts to sever Americans from their right to elect their leaders, while feeding into a ludicrous conservative narrative of white racial victimhood that has been popular in some corners of the right ever since Obama took office