2012 - %3, September

LISTEN: Rove's Crossroads GPS Attacks Elizabeth Warren in New Robocalls

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 11:10 AM PDT
Karl Rove.

Crossroads GPS, the dark-money nonprofit group co-founded by Karl Rove, is running robocalls in Massachusetts attacking Democratic Senate candidate and progressive favorite Elizabeth Warren. The robocalls, which Massachusetts residents reported hearing on Wednesday, hit Warren for her support of President Obama's health-care reform law and for her work as the head of a bailout watchdog in Washington.

The robocalls appear to be Crossroads GPS' first serious foray into the Massachusetts Senate race, pitting Warren against Republican Sen. Scott Brown, since the two candidates agreed in January to discourage outside political spending in their race. Because it operates as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Crossroads GPS does not disclose its donors. Crossroads is one of the biggest spenders of all the independent groups pouring money into the 2012 elections.

Here's the full audio of one Crossroads robocall, hitting Warren for her support of Obamacare, provided by the Massachusetts Democratic Party:

TRANSCRIPT: Today, you can change your future by voting against Elizabeth Warren. A vote for Warren is a vote for the same type of government failures that got us into the situation we are currently in. Warren supports President Obama's health-care takeover that will cut over $700 billion from Medicare spending. The health-care law backed by Warren could limit the availability of care seniors depend on from the Medicare program they paid for. Vote no on Elizabeth Warren for Senate this November. Paid for by Crossroads GPS.

To be clear, President Obama's health-care law is not a "takeover"—four different news organizations have debunked that claim, and PolitiFact named this its 2010 "Lie of the Year." As for Obamacare cutting $700 billion in Medicare spending, PolitiFact rated that "Mostly False."

Another Crossroads robocall criticizes Warren for mismanaging the funds provided to the bailout watchdog panel she ran from December 2008 to September 2010, according to an independent Massachusetts voter who received one such call. The call also highlights Warren's pay as the head of that watchdog, known as the Congressional Oversight Panel, seeming to portray it as exorbitant for the work she did, the voter says. Warren received nearly $193,000 for work on the panel during that nearly two-year period.

Crossroads' robocalls technically do not violate Brown and Warren's pact to dissuade spending by outside groups—super-PACs, nonprofits, and so on—spend money to influence their race. That agreement applied only to TV, radio, and online advertisements. (Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio did not respond to requests for comment.)

Althea Harney, a spokeswoman for Warren's campaign, said in a statement that Crossroads' robocalls were evidence that the Massachusetts Senate race "is about whose side you stand on—and we all can see who stands with Scott Brown. Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, and national Republicans are wading into this race because they want Republican control of the Senate."

Cracks are showing in the Brown-Warren truce. As Politico recently reported, Grover Norquist's anti-tax organization Americans for Tax Reform is dropping $215,000 on mailers in the Massachusetts Senate race. The AFL-CIO, meanwhile, has sent out fliers hitting Brown for putting "party before people," and the League of Conservation Voters has also spent six figures bashing Brown.

Crossroads GPS' latest foray into the race—with ads that explicitly call for voting against Warren, no less—puts another dent in the Brown-Warren agreement. That truce, to the surprise of many politicos, has held firm for much of 2012, exempting Massachusetts voters from the negative political ads flooding states such as Ohio, Virginia, and Missouri.

That Rove's group would come to Brown's defense is not at all surprising. Rove told big-time donors in August that Crossroads GPS and its sister super-PAC, American Crossroads, intended to spend $70 million on 2012 Senate races. At that same donor meeting, Rove also screened a Crossroads ad targeting the Massachusetts Senate race. (The ad was one of two, the Boston Globe reported, that ran on TV in Massachusetts last winter, but has not run since the Brown and Warren agreed to their truce.) Brown was also spotted chatting with Rove at a Tampa restaurant during the Republican National Convention.

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WATCH: Mitt Romney's Bain Employees Gone Wild!

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 11:07 AM PDT

Our own David Corn had yet another video scoop today: Footage from a CD-ROM created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bain Consulting in which a young Mitt Romney speaks of "harvesting" companies for profit—with, of course, nary a mention of job creation. But buried way down in Corn's post was this gem featuring company employees getting wild onstage at Bain parties. Enjoy!

2 out of 3 Frackers Still Keeping Chemicals a Secret

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 11:06 AM PDT

Many states don't require companies that use fracking technology to disclose what exactly is in the fluids they inject into the ground. The fracking fluids, which combine chemicals, water, and sand, have been found to include toxic diesel-based chemicals, so there's a lot of interest in what companies are using.

Some states do require at least partial disclosure of those chemicals, as my colleague Tim McDonnell has highlighted. But as EnergyWire reported on Wednesday, even in places where companies are filing disclosures, two out of three companies are claiming exemptions for some of the ingredients as "trade secrets":

At least one chemical was kept secret in 65 percent of fracking disclosures by companies that said they needed to protect confidential business information, according to a review of PIVOT Upstream Group's D-Frac database done for EnergyWire.
Critics of drilling say the widespread use of such "trade secret" exemptions undermines the industry's assurances that drillers are being open with the communities where they are "fracking" wells and producing oil and gas.

Seeking to protect fracking fluid ingredients as proprietary information is certainly not new for the industry. Companies have previously claimed that, just like Coca-Cola, their products are safe and the special formula is top secret. Critics of the industry believe, however, that the "trade secrets" claim is used to avoid disclosing chemicals that are potentially harmful.

4 Years After Meltdown, Wall Street Still Calling the Shots

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 10:41 AM PDT

The New York Times reports today that other countries are way ahead of us when it comes to regulation of high-frequency trading. So why are we so far behind? There are "many" reasons, says the Times. Let's count them up:

There are many explanations for the slower pace of reform in the United States, including the crush of work the S.E.C. has had to deal with in completing regulations under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law. In addition, many of the largest American market participants, including the big banks, have built high-speed trading desks and dark pools and as a result have a vested interest in protecting them against new regulations.

Hmmm. That's two reasons. And while I don't doubt that the SEC is pretty busy these days, I'm going to go with Door #2 here. I think we all know perfectly well why no one is seriously trying to regulate HFT in the United States. Sure, we don't really understand HFT — just like we never really understood all those synthetic CDOs and naked CDSs — and sure, there might be a big tail risk that could someday do worse than put Knight Capital out of business. But in the meantime, there's money to be made! And who wants to get in the middle of that?

Romney Advisers: Bring Torture Back

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 10:01 AM PDT

Mitt Romney's national security advisers have quietly urged him to reverse President Barack Obama's 2009 executive order that outlawed the use of interrogation techniques that amounted to torture, according to a 2011 policy memo obtained by Charlie Savage of the New York Times.

The memo, which contains a number of factual errors and misleading statements, lays out two courses for a President Romney: Either immediately promise to rescind Obama's executive order upon taking office, or initiate a "comprehensive review" of interrogation policy that ends with Romney rescinding Obama's executive order. Though the outcome of the "review" is never in doubt, the memo states that the latter policy will make Romney appear "open-minded and empirically driven." The memo does not appear to have a single author, but Savage reports that it was the product of an 18-person policy committee packed with Bush administration lawyers. 

Strangely, the memo is somewhat agnostic in its belief about whether or not the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" actually work. "It is difficult to settle the question definitively," the memo states, adding later that "it is difficult to argue conclusively that enhanced interrogation techniques would have generated more information than the techniques in the Army Field Manual; we simply don't know what we don't know." Contrast that with the blanket assertions from conservatives that abandoning torture left the US vulnerable to terrorist attacks

Beyond these qualifications, the memo lays out an extraordinarily weak case for "enhanced interrogation," with some basic factual errors. Namely:

  • It credits the waterboarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammed for disrupting the so-called "Second Wave," a plot to crash another airplane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles. The only problem is the Bush administration publicly took credit for foiling that plot in 2002, and KSM was captured in 2003. Oops!
  • The memo states that waterboarding detainee Abu Zubayda led to the identification of KSM as the architect of the 9/11 attacks. But former FBI Agent Ali Soufan has said that he extracted that information from Zubayda before he was waterboarded
  • The memo claims that former Obama administration CIA Director Leon Panetta "confirmed" that "waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques helped extract 'useful information'" that lead to the discovery of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. Only that's not exactly what Panetta said: In the letter referred to in the memo, Panetta states that some detainees who "had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques" had provided "useful information." That's not the same as saying they provided the information while being tortured. More importantly, in the same letter, Panetta notes that detainees like KSM, who had been subject to the harshest techniques, still lied to interrogators about the identity of the courier who eventually lead the US government to Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

The last four years are a trail of broken promises on civil liberties, from warrantless surveillance to indefinite detention. However, one of President Obama's most uncompromising accomplishments was banning torture through executive order on his first day in office. Still, the administration's use of the state secrets doctrine to shield both the legal architects and corporate enablers of the Bush torture program, and its refusal to prosecute those who went beyond the "legal" torture sanctioned by the Justice Department have left open the possibility that torture could again become US policy. A future president could simply reverse Obama's executive order and bring back Bush-era coercive interrogation techniques, which is exactly what the Romney memo proposes to do. 

Today's Economic Rorschach Test

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 9:26 AM PDT

Good news today! The economy was stronger than we thought in the first quarter:

In accordance with usual practice, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is announcing the preliminary estimate of the upcoming annual benchmark revision to the establishment survey employment series....The preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision indicates an upward adjustment to March 2012 Total nonfarm employment of 386,000 (0.3 percent).

Also: bad news today! The economy was weaker than we thought in the second quarter:

The Commerce Department said Thursday that the United States economy grew at an annual pace of just 1.3 percent in the second quarter of the year, showing that the recovery came close to stalling in the spring. The revision was down from the 1.7 percent rate the government reported in August.

We can now all go about our usual practice of citing whichever statistic either (a) proves we were right all along, or (b) is best for our favored presidential candidate. Alternatively, we can shrug our shoulders and (c) accept that economic data is messy, and not draw any major conclusions from any of this. I don't expect this to be a popular option.

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Todd Akin: The Highlights Reel

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 9:24 AM PDT

Tuesday was the final deadline for Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) to drop out of the Missouri Senate race. Despite the desperate pleas of his Republican colleagues, who called on him to bow out following his August remarks claiming that women who are victims of "legitimate rape" can't get pregnant. Akin's refusal to exit the race prompted the Democratic group American Bridge to unleash all their opposition research, which documents other eyebrow-raising comments Akin has made over the years.

The "Akin Files" include quite a few doozies, on topics such as: how banning hate crimes actually increases them, how a defense spending bill authorized bestiality, and why health insurance for poor kids is like the Titanic. Here are some of the greatest hits, via Huffington Post.

On why passing anti-hate-crime legislation named for Matthew Shepard, the young gay man murdered in Wyoming in 1998, would actually increase hate crimes:

"The first major reason to vote no is because this bill increases hatred in America. I will say it again. This bill increases hatred in America," Akin argued. "It creates animosity by elevating one group over another group, and thus creates hatred. This is counter to everything American law has ever stood for, and it will increase hatred in America."

On the National Defense Authorization Act legalizing sexual relations with animals:

"The Senate version came across, a lot of Tea Party people take a good look at that bill and they’re going, 'we're worried that this may give Obama authority to bring troops in and arrest Americans and detain them for long periods of time.' Ok, so that was their concern," Akin said at a rally outside the Capitol. "They should have read it closer, because it also legalized bestiality. The Senate gets a little weird."

On the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provides healthcare for low-income kids:

"We're going to give that money to give free health insurance to children with families making more than $80,000, children of illegal immigrants," Akin said in 2007. "The Democrats are about to vote for something which will make the Titanic wreck look small."

American Bridge also released some other clips from the Akin highlight reel, including this complaint about how the Civil War took away state's rights (you know, because they could no longer enslave people):

The fact that over a period of time the federal government has taken over more and more and more authority is a major problem. I don't disagree with the premise of it. The question is how do you get the cat back in the bag. When was it that happened? Well it happened most predominately historically during wars, and the worst case was the Civil War where we lost states' rights more than any other particular situation.

And here's Akin on how President Obama is basically the Anti-Christ:

You don't have jobs if you declare war on employers. And that's essentially what's gone on. If you wanted to destroy jobs, what would you do? Just playing like you are the devil, and we have one pretty close to that. And so what would you do? The first thing is you would tax them a whole lot. That's what we've been doing, taxing them a whole lot.

Obama Campaign Unleashes Blistering New 47 Percent Ad

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 8:48 AM PDT

If you're in Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, or Colorado, expect to see a whole lot of this:

The ad features Mitt Romney's now infamous riff on the 47 percent of Americans who he claimed viewed themselves as "victims" and leeched off the government while paying no income taxes—remarks Mother Jones first unearthed last week. On Monday, the Obama campaign debuted its first television ad responding to the video, but this twists the knife. It's the harshest kind of attack, relying not on a gravelly-voiced narrator, but on the opposing candidate's uninterrupted views. With polls showing a major backlash to Romney's 47-percent statement, the odds are pretty good this won't be the last time Team Obama goes to the tape.

Voucherizing Medicare Turns Out Not to be a Brilliant Political Proposal

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 8:07 AM PDT

The Washington Post reports — surprise! — that putting a guy on your ticket who proposes to end Medicare as we know it isn't such a brilliant strategic move after all:

Voters in three critical swing states broadly oppose the sweeping changes to Medicare proposed by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and, by big margins, favor President Obama over Mitt Romney on the issue, according to new state polls by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Among seniors, the issue rivals the economy as a top voting issue, undercutting Romney’s appeal in Florida, Ohio and Virginia. Generally, the more voters focus on Medicare, the more likely they are to support the president’s bid for reelection....Sizable majorities of voters in each of these three states — as well as those across the country — say they prefer to keep Medicare as a defined benefits program, rather than moving to a system of fixed payments to seniors to buy coverage from private insurance or traditional Medicare.

Really, it's pretty amazing. Just two years ago, Republicans walloped Democrats in the midterm election, at least partly due to a tsunami of ads accusing them of taking money away from Medicare. And Republicans have been on the receiving end of Medicare attack ads too. So they know perfectly well just how sensitive this issue is and how much damage it can do. And yet, somehow they convinced themselves that Paul Ryan had some kind of magic fairy dust that would make the American public sit up and suddenly say to themselves, "He's right! We do need to turn Medicare into a voucher!"

I dunno. The entire Republican Party seems to have fallen into some kind of Svengali-like trance, convinced that Paul Ryan, alone among men, can deliver the bracing tonic that will convince voters to do away with program benefits they've loved and supported for decades. The self-delusion here is inexplicable.

Report: Americans Really Don't Like Mosques

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 8:03 AM PDT

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a great new interactive feature up today on the boom in mosque construction in the United States since 2000—and the corresponding boomlet in organized backlash to mosque construction. It's not just lower Manhattan—Pew found 53 different projects that faced resistance from their respective communities:

Courtesy of the Pew Research CenterCourtesy of the Pew Research Center

The full report is here.