2012 - %3, September

Corn on "Hardball": What's Romney's Strategy in the Debates?

Mon Sep. 24, 2012 5:39 PM PDT

David Corn and Bob Shrum joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the upcoming presidential debates and the strategies we'll see from the Romney and Obama campaigns.

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

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National Reporters Should Learn to Be a Little Bit Ruder

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 4:29 PM PDT

I was pretty unimpressed with the dueling 60 Minutes interviews with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama last night. Just for starters, any time a reporter vaguely summarizes what "your opponent" says and then asks, "How do you respond to that" — well, that deserves an immediate demotion to AA ball. It's ridiculously amateurish. And yet, that was Steve Kroft's very first question to Obama.

But I guess you could write that off as a pet peeve of mine. So instead let's take a look at a line of questioning that Scott Pelley used on Romney. This comes after he's noted that Romney is eager to explain his tax rate cuts in detail, but not so eager to explain which tax deductions he wants to eliminate to make up for the cuts:

Pelley: You're asking the American people to hire you as president of the United States. They'd like to hear some specifics.

Romney: Well, I can tell them specifically what my policy looks like. I will not raise taxes on middle income folks. I will not lower the share of taxes paid by high income individuals. And I will make sure that we bring down rates, we limit deductions and exemptions so we can keep the progressivity in the code, and we encourage growth in jobs.

Pelley: And the devil's in the details, though. What are we talking about, the mortgage deduction, the charitable deduction?

Romney: The devil's in the details. The angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs.

Pelley: You have heard the criticism, I'm sure, that your campaign can be vague about some things. And I wonder if this isn't precisely one of those things?

Pelley's heart is in the right place, but come on. Romney has given this answer before. Pelley knew he was going to say this. So why not decide beforehand to get a little tougher? At the very least, suggest that Romney claims to be a leader, and the public has a right to know their leaders' preferences even if no one expects them to get 100 percent of what they ask for. Or, since you know that Romney won't say what he will ask for, try a series of questions that makes it plain what's on the table. Maybe something like this:

Pelley: Are there any deductions that you're not willing to consider eliminating? For example the home mortgage deduction?

Romney: Well, I'd want to consult with Congress....

Pelley: How about the charitable deduction? Is that off the table?

Romney: Nothing is off the table, Scott, but....

Pelley: Would you be willing to consider eliminating the tax exemption for health care benefits?

Romney: I'm willing to consider anything, but I don't have a set list in mind....

Pelley: Retirement income? State tax deductions? Are you open to eliminating any of these?

I understand that Romney's actual answers would be longer and more filibusterish than I've suggested, but there's no law that says a reporter can't interrupt if a candidate isn't being responsive. One way or another, though, if you already know that Romney isn't going to tell you what he will do, maybe you should at least try to get him on the record about what he won't do. Would pressing him on deduction after deduction be a little bit rude? A little bit aggressive? Sure. But isn't that what a 60 Minutes reporter should be?

And before anyone asks, yes, this goes for the interview with Obama too. Kroft challenged Obama in some of the right general areas, but his questions were so broad and so timidly phrased that Obama didn't even have to try hard to evade them. We learned almost nothing from either of these interviews.

We Know How to Fight a Financial Crisis. We Should Be Doing It.

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 2:41 PM PDT

Here's an interesting chart from Josh Lerner (via Tim Duy). Instead of comparing the Great Recession to other postwar recessions in the U.S. (which have mostly been ordinary business cycle recessions), it compares the Great Recession to other financial crises. This is a better comparison since the 2007-08 crash wasn't an ordinary business cycle recession. It was a financial crisis — and by that standard we haven't done too badly. As Lerner says, this is almost certainly because "the strong policy response employed by nearly all major economies — both monetary and fiscal — helped stop the economic free fall."

We could, of course, have done even more, and we still could. And should. The fact that this recession was provoked by a financial crisis is a reason to respond more strongly, not an excuse to throw up our hands and pretend that we don't have the tools to limit the damage.

Senate Votes to Block EU Plan for Plane Emissions

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 2:40 PM PDT

The Senate voted unanimously over the weekend to block US airlines from participating in a carbon offset program for flights into and out of Europe. This might be the first issue in the past few years that enjoyed consensus support between the Senate and House, with agreement among both Republicans and Democrats. Too bad the consensus came on a measure to block the European Union's efforts to do something about climate-changing emissions.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 24, 2012

Mon Sep. 24, 2012 11:52 AM PDT

U.S. Army Spc. Geoffery Lovan, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25 Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii fires a M240L Medium Machine Gun Sept. 19, 2012, at Pohakuloa Training Area, on Hawaii's Big Island. Department of Defense photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth.

WATCH: The Romney Résumé [Saunders Cartoon]

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 11:10 AM PDT

Editors' note: Mother Jones illustrator Zina Saunders creates editorial animations riffing on the political news and current events of the week. In this week's animation, Romney applies for a real job for the first time in his life. Watch Romney explain (or try and fail to explain) his tax shenanigans and those remarks from the secret video. The animation, as always, was written, animated and acted by Zina Saunders.

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The Most Damning Line in the Secret Romney Video

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 10:24 AM PDT

In the week since I made public the secret video of Mitt Romney at a private Boca Raton fundraiser denigrating almost half of America as moochers and victims, I've been repeatedly asked what I consider the most damaging—or damning—portion of Romney's remarks. I've noted that the great thing about this story is that people can watch the video for themselves—7 million people went to this site or YouTube in the first days of the video's release and did that—and reach their own conclusions.

Yet one sentence did stand out to me. When Romney was in mid-rant about the 47 percent—simplistically and erroneously conflating three subsets of Americans: those who voted for Barack Obama, those who receive some form of government assistance, and those who pay no federal income taxes—he said:

I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Here was Romney sharing his view that Americans who don't make enough money to pay income taxes and his fellow citizens who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, or other government programs are lesser people than he and the millionaires before him. These people, Romney was saying, are not adults; they do not, and will not, fend for themselves or do what they must to feed, clothe, shelter, educate, and care for themselves and their family members. It was an arrogant insult spoken with true detachment. This was 100-percent 1-percent.

My view of this one line was reinforced this morning. I walked into a store to buy some cleaning products. The 40-something woman at the counter rang up the purchases and kept looking at me. Once I had paid, she said in a low voice, "I really don't want to bother you, but..."

Go ahead, I said.

But I know who you are, and I just want to say that Mitt Romney doesn't know what he's talking about. Not at all. I am college-educated, but look where I'm working now. I can't find a better job now. And, and….

She paused and lowered her voice more:

I'm on food stamps. I didn't have a choice. I'm making about $12,000 a year now. And I need them. I work hard. And I'm looking for other work. But just because I'm on food stamps doesn't mean I'm not taking care of myself. Doesn't he know that? Doesn't he get it?

Apparently not. Many people on food stamps, Medicaid, and the like do strive to provide for themselves and their families. The working poor…work. They may even park cars at fancy fundraisers for minimum wage. Romney all-too glibly characterized anyone receiving any public assistance as a parasitic freeloader, and he revealed an us-versus-them attitude that was tremendously ungracious, mean-spirited, and predicated on ignorance of the real world.

"Thank you, thank you," the woman said. "You showed us what he really thinks of us, what he thinks of me."

Mitt Romney built that. 

Breaking: Republicans Like to Spend Lots of Money on the Military

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 10:16 AM PDT

Stan Collender wants to shriek after reading a New York Times piece about George Allen:

Former Virginia Governor and Senator George Allen...used to campaign as someone who would make the hard choices and cut spending, that is, as a fiscal conservative. But as [Jonathan] Weisman's story definitively shows, Allen this year is campaigning against the $55 billion in military spending reductions that will occur if the sequester occurs as scheduled on January 2, 2013.

I understand: Allen is running for office in Virginia where federal spending is very important to the economy. But the former proudly self-professed fiscal conservative is now trying to run to the left of the Democrat by insisting that he would not have made the hard choices after all and that not a penny of the sequester spending reductions for the Pentagon should go into effect.

I'm not trying to pick on Stan here, but come on. Can we all stop pretending that we don't know what Republicans have always stood for? They've always been the party of cutting spending but not on the military. They've always been the party of small government except on defense. They've always been the party of keeping the government out of your life unless the subject is more cops and drug warriors.

Liberals endlessly try to score debating points on these topics, but it's kind of silly. Allen isn't running to the left. Republicans have always been the party of law and order and a strong military, and they've always been willing to spend lots of money on it. You can attack this as wrongheaded, but it's not some kind of inexplicable hypocrisy. Republicans are opposed to social spending, not defense spending. Always have been, always will be.

In Most of the Country, the White Working Class Likes President Obama Just Fine

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 9:50 AM PDT

John Sides points out an important result from a recent survey of the white working class: Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, don't really have a huge "white working class problem." What they have is a huge Southern problem.

The chart on the right tells the story. In the West, Midwest, and Northeast, the white working class vote is fairly evenly split. Romney is slightly ahead in the West and Northeast, while Obama is slightly ahead in the Midwest. It's only in the South that the white working class vote is overwhelmingly Republican, and this is what skews the national results, which show Romney ahead 48%-35%.

This is a worthwhile corrective almost anytime you see a national result for any class of voters or any trend over the past 40 years. The massive shift of the Southern vote from Democratic to Republican is, by far, the biggest electoral change in the past few decades, and it often overwhelms national survey results. It's something you should always at least think about when you read an article about big changes in the electorate: is this really a national change, or is it mostly driven by changes in the South? This is important not just academically, but because if it turns out to be primarily a Southern problem, the solution is going to be a lot different than if it's truly a broad demographic shift.

The rest of the survey is here, and it's interesting throughout. It's worth a read.

WATCH: Freak Summer Cyclone Speeds Record Arctic Melt

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 9:29 AM PDT

A freak summer cyclone churned already-weakened Arctic ice to slush, likely accelerating this summer's melt, say NASA scientists. The cyclone, which formed off Alaska and made a beeline for the North Pole in early August, severed chunks of ice and pushed them into warmer waters where some melted entirely. According to estimates by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in the last three decades only eight August storms have been this powerful.

This new visualization from NASA helps show just how far the Arctic ice has receded this summer. Strong winds colored red accelerated a record melt: Sea ice extent shrunk to 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers), or 293,000 square miles less than the previous low, set in 2007.

August's freak Arctic cyclone assisted in this year's record melt. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.August's freak Arctic cyclone assisted in this year's record melt. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Video courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
The Blue Marble data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC).