2012 - %3, September

The Colbert Report Takes on Video-Gate Again

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 5:23 PM EDT

On Wednesday, Stephen Colbert took on video-gate again. This time, the satirist focused on the "secret" Obama video that has surfaced in the wake of the Romney fundraiser videos Mother Jones released earlier this week.

Colbert notes that Republicans are jumping the Romney ship left and right, but that "there is a new video that strikes a crushing blow to the Obama campaign—and it is everywhere, from Fox News to Fox Business News."

The video of Obama, which is from 1998, reveals that he favors "redistribution" and thus is... a Democrat. "He dropped the R-bomb! Redistribution! Which is just fancy talk for a black guy is coming for your stuff."

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Why I Remain Skeptical That Democrats Will Take Back the House

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 4:40 PM EDT

The chart on the right shows the current state of polling for the generic congressional ballot. By "generic," we're talking about polling questions that don't ask about specific candidates, but just ask which party you plan to vote for. For example: "If the election for the U.S. House of Representatives in November were being held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate in your congressional district?"

At of today, Democrats lead the generic ballot by a little over four points. My initial reaction when I saw this was a shrug. My longtime understanding is that Democrats almost always do well in these polls, but on election day Republicans typically outperform the generic ballot by four or five points. So this result suggests that Republicans might lose some House seats but retain their majority.

That's why I'm skeptical of Sam Wang's most recent projection that Democrats have a 74% chance of retaking control of the House. In a post that's gotten a lot of attention today, Sam basically says two things:

  1. The generic ballot predicts the eventual national House vote.
  2. The national House vote predicts the margin of House seats.

I'm sold on #2: the national vote really does correspond pretty closely to the actual number of seats won. But I'm not sold on #1 unless I see more evidence. It's possible that my rule of thumb (Republicans outperform the generic ballot by four or five points) is only true for early polling, and by September that systematic edge goes away. Or maybe it goes away once the pollsters start consistently applying their likely voter screens. Or something. But one way or another, I'd like to see some evidence that generic ballots do a good job of predicting the eventual House vote. Until then, I remain skeptical that Democrats are really in the lead.

Climate-Related Disaster Coming Your Way? Your Insurance Could Bail

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 4:22 PM EDT

Not a pretty picture.

When it comes to grappling with the effects of climate change, insurance companies could be on the verge of failing the very people they're meant to protect.

According to a new report from Ceres, a sustainability-minded business nonprofit, the insurance industry has been relying on deflating financial reserves while being struck with record catastrophe damages—last year, the United States suffered an estimated $55 billion economic loss due to severe weather damages alone, and the $44 billion paid in insured losses for weather and catastrophes was the highest since the year Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, the industry's pricing models still follow outdated risk assessments, lacking plans for more extreme scenarios. The report argues that insurance companies' inability to adapt to current climate reality could result in unaffordable rates, loss of coverage where it's needed most, or force government into the role of last resort insurer, which would place more burden on taxpayers.

Sharlene Leurig, one of the report's co-authors, believes the insurance crisis that's plagued hurricane-prone Florida, for example, could play out on a national scale. When private insurers hiked their rates or simply pulled out of the area due to frequency of disaster, state-run insurance stepped in, providing cheap, subsidized premiums that encouraged development in vulnerable coastal areas. "The only way Florida was able to fuel its real estate boom was because of cheap insurance," Leurig told Mother Jones. But, "when the next Hurricane Andrew hits Florida, is there actually going to be insurance waiting for them?

It's an anxiety-inducing scenario, especially when the National Flood Insurance Plan—though newly-reformed as of this summer—is already $18 billion in debt. But, as extreme weather is demonstrating, floods aren't the only problem, and most insurance companies aren't jumping at the opportunity to model new risk assessments with this in mind.

"If insurance companies continue to pursue the risk management strategies that they have in recent years, where they either move out of certain geographies because they're too risky, or if insurers start cutting out sources of losses that their policies will cover, then what you have is either effectively the loss of any kind of insurance coverage, or you have the potential for risk pools to start expanding," Leurig explains. "And that's a very significant risk—to taxpayers, to customers, to consumers, and to the industry itself."

One of the report's more troubling hypotheses is already playing out. With more than half the US experiencing severe drought, breadbasket crops are shriveling up. For the majority of farmers who take out federal weather insurance, the government subsidizes those premiums—and for the insurers that provide private policies, the government provides reinsurance. That means that with this year's droughts, which scientists tie to climate change, public payout in taxes could be upwards of $9 billion, more than quadruple what it was a decade ago.

Leurig argues that in this critical moment, the insurance industry should be aggressively lobbying for updated building codes, better federal policies, and reducing carbon emissions.

Yet in some legislatures, policy-making seems headed towards the exact opposite: This past summer, North Carolina made it illegal to anticipate accelerated sea level rise when setting insurance rates and planning development. The good news is that this policy comes free—until an extremely rainy day.

Comedy Central Reveals Obama's True Feelings About Romney's "47 Percent" Video

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 4:15 PM EDT

On Comedy Central's Key & Peele Wednesday, Obama (Jordan Peele) and his "Anger Translator" Luther (Keegan-Michael Key) reacted to Mother Jones' release of the videos from a private Romney fundraiser.

Obama, in deadpan professorial mode, says Romney "raise[d] questions about the fairness of our tax code." Luther screams: "Did you say that half the country doesn't pay income taxes? What about you, Mitt? What about you though? Did you pay income taxes? I mean, I don't know because a brother ain't seen nothin yet! You know what I'm sayin'? Can you give us a little peak?"

Later, talking about the unrest in the Arab world, and the need for diplomacy and honest dialogue, Obama says, "In these tumultuous times, clear communication is our best ally." Translation? "Yeah, that and Mother Jones releasin' a video of your dumb ass, Mitt! Yeah, I ball so hard motherf*ckers wanna fine me!"

Obama Official Says No Evidence Gitmo Detainee Behind Benghazi Attack

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 4:02 PM EDT
Christopher Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya, was killed in Benghazi earlier this month.

The Obama administration is pushing back on a Fox News report that the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador to J. Christopher Stevens. was lead by former Gitmo detainee.

Fox News reported Wednesday that, "U.S. intelligence sources say Sufyan Ben Qumu may be behind the attacks." Qumu was transferred into Libyan custody in 2007. His detention file describes him as a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and a "probable member of al Qaeda."

But a US national security official tells Mother Jones that "that report is wrong, there's no intelligence suggesting that he was leading the attack on the consulate that evening." The official insisted there was no evidence that Qumu "directed, coordinated, or planned" the attack. 

The administration has come under fire, particularly from Republicans, for saying it does not yet have evidence the attack on the US consulate, which occurred on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was preplanned. Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee yesterday, Matthew G. Olsen, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that "a number of different elements are thought to be involved in this attack, including individuals involved in militant groups that are prominent in the Benghazi area," but that "there was no specific intelligence regarding an imminent attack prior to September 11th on our post in Benghazi." 

Whether or not there was intelligence warning of an imminent attack, Republicans have balked at the administration's statements saying the attack may not have been planned in advance, in part because Libyan officials have said local security forces may have been involved. During the hearing, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) expressed skepticism at the idea the attack was not premeditated. "I just don’t think people come to protests with [rocket-propelled grenades] and other heavy weapons," Collins said. 

Former Bush-era Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tweeted the Fox News article Thursday, calling it "A sad reminder of why Guantanamo was - and remains - necessary to keep terrorists from killing Americans." 

The extent to which intelligence or security failures lead to the ambush at the embassy is still unclear, but Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reports that the State Department will convene a bipartisan panel to investigate both the Libya attack and attacks on US embassies in Egypt and Yemen.

Corn on DemocracyNow!: The Backstory to Our Romney Fundraiser Video

Thu Sep. 20, 2012 3:45 PM EDT

David Corn talks to DemocracyNow! about how he and James Carter IV, President Carter's grandson, got in touch with the video's source. He discusses his past reporting on Romney's dealings at Bain as well as how the Romney campaign is dealing with this latest bombshell. In Corn's words? "Trying to make llemonades from turds." 

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

Advertise on MotherJones.com

WATCH: Why Do They Hate Us? [Fiore Cartoon]

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 3:30 PM EDT

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

Bachmann Ads Blast Stimulus, Tout Stimulus Projects

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 2:45 PM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Rep. Michele Bachmann is in trouble. Despite the fact that her newly redrawn Minnesota congressional district is even more conservative than it was when she was re-elected by 12 points two years ago, a recent internal poll shows the tea party icon leading Democratic hotel magnate Jim Graves by just two points. With that in mind, she's on the airwaves with her first television and radio ads of the cycle. The television spot is an extended dig at Graves' support for the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As the narrator puts it, "Big spendin' Jim supported the wasteful, trillion-dollar stimulus!"

The stimulus wasn't $1 trillion as the ad suggests; it was $831 billion. But that's not what's interesting. In a radio ad, Bachmann takes a much different approach. As Dump Bachmann points out, most of the ad's 60 seconds is spent discussing all of the awesome things that have been built in her district because of federal funding Bachmann helped secure. The kicker: Bachmann sought hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funding for one of the projects she touts in her ad, and another project was completed thanks to an ARRA grant.

"Congressman Bachmann helped re-open the St. Cloud airport," one narrator says. "Working together with local leaders, Michele helped save the airport and keep our area open for business and commerce." The St. Cloud airport, which had been shuttered for a few years after a major carrier left, did reopen for commercial flights in 2012. But it had some help from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Bachmann voted against and knocks Graves for supporting. As the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a conservative group, noted, "St. Cloud received $750,000 in federal stimulus funding to assist with a portion of the renovation..." With Bachmann's help, it received another $750,000 through a Small Community Air Service Development Program grant—this despite being panned as wasteful by conservatives in Bachmann's own state.

Bachmann's signature legislative accomplishment, which is likewise touted in the ad, is the congressional authorization of a new bridge connecting her hometown of Stillwater to Houlton, Wisconsin, pop. 386. (Critics have compared the proposed bridge to the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," noting that Stillwater and Houlton are already connected by a bridge, and there's an interstate bridge 10 minutes south.) As the ad puts it, "Michele worked with both parties to cut Washington's red tape to build the new St. Croix bridge. Once built, Michele will have helped every person using the bridge to get to work and to school and to get home." Bachmann sought $300 million in federal stimulus funding for the the new bridge, which has a $700 million price tag. The project was one of six projects Bachmann wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to request funding for (her request was denied).

But lest you think Bachmann has undergone some sort of miracle transformation, here's an excerpt from a fundraising email she just blasted out:

In 10 days, we must close our financial books and report our fundraising numbers and, unfortunately, we are still short of our fundraising goals by more than $376,000. This is a deficit that we MUST overcome—in the face of senseless attacks from a ruthless opponent, we can't afford to leave any stone unturned.

Senseless!

7 Highlights You Missed From the Romney Video

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 2:23 PM EDT
Romney speaking in Los Angeles on September 17

By now you've probably heard about the secret video we published exposing a bunch of real talk from Mitt Romney as he dined with rich Republican donors. But the hour-plus footage, which left the Romney campaign reeling and provoked a full-blown eruption of "chaos on Bullshit Mountain," is a real embarrassment of riches, as it were. Here are some telling moments that you may not have seen yet from Romney's unvarnished Q&A behind closed doors at the $50,000-per-plate fundraiser in Boca Raton on May 17:

  • Mocking immigration in the United States: "I'd like to staple a green card to every Ph.D. in the world and say, 'Come to America, we want you here.' Instead, we make it hard for people who get educated here or elsewhere to make this their home. Unless, of course, you have no skill or experience, in which case you're welcome to cross the border and stay here for the rest of your life."
  • Pondering how he'd exploit a pre-election foreign policy crisis: "…in the Jimmy Carter election, the fact that we have hostages in Iran, I mean, that was all we talked about. And we had the two helicopters crash in the desert, I mean that's—that was—that was the focus, and so [Reagan] solving that made all the difference in the world. I'm afraid today if you said, 'We got Iran to agree to stand down a nuclear weapon,' they'd go hold on. It's really a, but…by the way, if something of that nature presents itself, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity."
  • Falsely claiming that the Fed is buying "three-quarters" of America's debt: "Yeah, it's interesting…the former head of Goldman Sachs, John Whitehead, was also the former head of the New York Federal Reserve. And I met with him, and he said as soon as the Fed stops buying all the debt that we're issuing—which they've been doing, the Fed's buying like three-quarters of the debt that America issues. He said, once that's over, he said we're going to have a failed Treasury auction, interest rates are going to have to go up."
  • Predicting easy dividends from his anticipated election victory: "…if we win on November 6th there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We'll see capital come back, and we'll see—without actually doing anything—we'll actually get a boost in the economy."
  • Cracking jokes about Latino voters and Elizabeth Warren: "And had [my dad] been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this…[Donor: "Pull an Elizabeth Warren!"]…That's right I could go out and say—for those who don't know Elizabeth Warren, she is the woman who's running for US Senate in Massachusetts who says that she is Cherokee…"
  • Making enemies on the late-night talk show circuit: "I've done the night, the evening shows. I've been on Letterman a couple of times. I've been on Leno more than a couple times, and now Letterman hates me because I've been on Leno more than him." (Untrue, says Dave.)
  • Joking about media strategy and his reputation as a "rich, rich guy": "You know that I'm as poor as a church mouse."

The GOP candidate's biggest moments, which we first exposed in our exclusive coverage:

  • On the 47 percent of Americans he regards as moochers: "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."
  • On the "almost unthinkable" prospects for Mideast peace: "And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way."

Romney's closing line that night, with regard to campaigning and fundraising, seemed fitting. It was a veritable let-us-eat-cake moment: "One of the benefits I get is eating the world's best dessert, which I will. [Audience laughs.] Thank you. [Applause.]"

Read the full transcript here, and watch the full video here.

Update: As several readers have pointed out, also noteworthy was Romney recounting the time he traveled with Bain Capital to buy a factory in China that employed "about 20,000" young women.

Memo to Chuck Todd: There Is No Missing Context

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 2:05 PM EDT

I like Chuck Todd, but he missed the mark this morning when he tweeted:

Guess what politics needs now: instant replay reviews. Both Romney and Obama had their leaked videos missing important context

Immediately folks on Twitter, including yours truly, challenged Todd to specify what he meant regarding the Romney video. (The recently disseminated Obama video showed the president in 1998 supporting "redistribution at a certain level," but it left out the next sentence in which he talked about the need for fostering competition in the marketplace.) Todd later clarified his tweet a bit: "The only missing Romney context to video I was referring to was on his Mideast remarks. Doesn't disqualify tape itself folks." And he referred to an item in NBC News' First Read tip sheet that noted, "Republicans yesterday jumped all over a Politico piece, noting that a portion of Romney's comments in that Mother Jones video on Middle East peace (where Romney acknowledges that there could eventually be peace) had been omitted." First Read noted that the absence of these few sentences did not "negate what Romney also said about the Middle East (that Palestinians don't have an interest in peace and that a two-state solution isn't feasible)," but it added that the "whole story" wasn't told.