2012 - %3, September

VIDEO: Kentucky Congressional Ad Features Dismembered Fetuses, Hockey Hair

| Fri Sep. 28, 2012 11:43 AM EDT

Viewer beware.

A long shot Kentucky House candidate with deep ties to a radical anti-abortion leader is broadcasting a campaign ad like no other: It purports to show images of dismembered fetuses and murdered Jews and Christians while comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and mass-murderer Ted Bundy. The ad touts the candidacy of the long-haired self-described tea partier Andrew Beacham, who is running as an independent against Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie in Kentucky's 2nd District.

The New York Times reports:

[The ad] opens with images of Hitler and Bundy as the candidate narrates. "Would you vote for a murderer?" he asks. "Would you vote for a man who paid others to murder for him? Would you vote for a man who stole from others to pay for his murders?"
Then a picture of an aborted fetus appears on screen. The candidate continues, "Well, Obama gives your money to Planned Parenthood to murder babies, and to the Muslim Brotherhood, who murders Christians and Jews."

Beacham is a longtime guerrilla-theater disciple of anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, whose strategy involves running for office and getting other people to run for office so that they can exploit loophole in the Federal Communications Commission's indecency regulations. As my colleague Tim Murphy has reported, the loophole allows candidates to run graphic political ads that would otherwise be banned by the FCC.

Terry, who ran this year for president as a Democrat (and is still running as a no-chance independent for Congress in Florida's 20th District), says the candidates he's enlisted will spend between $250,000 and $1 million to run ads in seven races, according to the AP.

Possibly the weirdest part of Beacham's ad—aside from the viscera and disregard for Godwin's Lawis the candidate himself, wearing an undersized mesh cowboy hat and puffing on a cigar. "If you vote for Obama, the real question is what are you smoking?" he asks, before blowing smoke into the camera.

Full video (warning—contains extremely graphic images):

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Chart of the Day: The Afghanistan Surge Didn't Work

| Fri Sep. 28, 2012 11:20 AM EDT

On purely military terms, the 2007 surge in Iraq was pretty successful. But as a lot of people pointed out at the time, that success was due to more than just the surge itself. A lot of it was due to specific local conditions, which I usually added together and called The Four S's (Surge, Sadr, Sectarian cleansing, and Sunni awakening). Those additional conditions never existed in Afghanistan, which made the surge there a lot more difficult.

So with the Afghanistan surge now over, how did it work? As Spencer Ackerman reports, by the military's own metrics, it hasn't. Insurgent attacks are down slightly compared to last year, but they're still way up compared to 2009, the year before President Obama doubled our troop presence there:

The chart [below, with red line added] measures the various attacks the Taliban and associated insurgents launched against NATO forces, month by month. In August 2009, the peak of the fighting season and the height of the internal Obama administration debate over a troop surge, insurgents attacked U.S. and allied troops — using small-arms fire, homemade bombs, mortars and more — approximately 2,700 times. In August 2012, they attacked just shy of 3,000 times.

In August 2009, insurgents used just under 600 homemade bombs on U.S.-aligned forces. They used just over 600 homemade bombs on U.S.-aligned forces in August 2012.

The same trend holds for every other month in 2009 compared to every month in 2012 for which there is data: The insurgency launched more attacks this year. In some cases, substantially more: insurgents attacked about 2,000 times in July 2009 and a shade over 3,000 times in July 2012. ISAF registered about 475 attacks from homemade bombs in July 2009; and about 625 in July 2012.

Perhaps Obama should take a hint from Apple CEO Tim Cook, who said today that he is "extremely sorry" for subjecting his customers to a new, bug-ridden maps app. Obama ought to be sorry too.

Romney's Plan to Win Virginia: Lyme Disease

| Fri Sep. 28, 2012 10:53 AM EDT

On Thursday evening, Anahita Nemat, a conservative PR specialist living in Northern Virginia, tweeted out this photo, with the description: "Received my first mailer from @MittRomney & @PaulRyanVP today. It talks about Lyme Disease. Huh? I'm confused! Why?"

@AnahitaNemat/Twitter@AnahitaNemat/Twitter

We were confused too. But it turns out that Romney has, over the last few months, actually made Lyme disease—the bacterial disease transmitted to humans from deer ticks—part of his pitch to suburban Virginia voters. It started back in August, when he sent a public letter (paid for by the campaign) to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) commending him for his push to create a "Tick-Borne Diseases Advisory Committee." "More needs to be done," Romney wrote. "As president, I will work to ensure that more attention is focused on this important issue ... We need to ensure that all scientific viewpoints concerning this illness can be heard."

 

 

Incidentally, the letter, which was sent out on August 4th, wasn't picked up by the press until this Thursday, when the Washington Examiner reported on it as part of a "bid for worried moms in the outer suburbs populated with whitetail deer and other wildlife."

As it turns out, Romney is actually injecting himself into an intense dispute within the medical community, pitting the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) against the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). IDSA believes there is "no convincing biological evidence" that Lyme is a chronic infection, while ILADS thinks there are flaws with the current testing system. Wolf and Smith have aligned themselves with ILADS, which is reflected in their bill and other public statements.

Here's the problem, though. That Lyme disease epidemic Romney is so concerned about? The spread of the disease is aided and abetted by climate change. Lyme Disease already costs the US $2.5 billion annually, is expected to double in geographic scope over the next 70 years. But Romney has said government should do nothing to stop man-made climate change—if it's even happening at all. "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet," he said at a debate last October. "And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us."

I won't pretend that I know exactly what the Romney campaign is doing here, except to note that it's tough to micro-target any deeper than a mailer talking about ticks. An obscure subsection of Virginia law requires that I ask University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato about all such Old Dominion issues, but in an email, the campaign guru professed ignorance: "VA is home to some Lyme disease, but I would never have guessed that it was a presidential level issue!"

Perhaps the campaign has some data that shows that this kind of targeted mailing will drive up his favorables among, say, middle class, politically moderate moms who like to hike. Or maybe they're just trying to get under Obama's skin.

Update: The Weekly Standard's John McCormack has the full mailer.

Find an unusual political pamphlet in your mailbox? Give us a shout: tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

Correction to George Soros Story

| Fri Sep. 28, 2012 10:29 AM EDT

On Friday morning, Mother Jones briefly published a story containing details about liberal financier George Soros' decision to donate $1 million to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, and $500,000 to two other super-PACs focusing on House and Senate races. The story was based on information provided by a source; the source contacted us after the story was published and said the information was incorrect. We have removed the story.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 28, 2012

Fri Sep. 28, 2012 10:29 AM EDT

U.S. Army Cpl. Daniel Thornton, a security force member of Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah, pulls security during a mission to the director of information and culture's office in Farah City, Farah province, Afghanistan, Sept. 25. U.S. Army photo.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Sep. 28, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"The scarcity of honest information about the misleading political ads invading our airwaves has knocked viewers and voters for a loss."
—A new report from the media reform group Free Press, criticizing local TV stations in swing states for failing to report on the influence of outside-spending groups. According to Free Press's research, more than 85 percent of ads from outside spending groups relay misleading information, yet swing-state stations "devoted little to no air time to fact-checking claims made in the ads, and the stations spent no time investigating the organizations that paid for the ads."

 

ATTACK AD OF THE WEEK

Karl Rove's dark-money nonprofit Crossroads GPS has entered the Massachusetts Senate fight between Democrat Elizabeth Warren and incumbent Republican Scott Brown with robocalls attacking Warren. The state's Democratic Party obtained audio (below) of one of the calls, which hits Warren for supporting Obamacare, misleadingly claiming that the program "will cut over $700 billion from Medicare spending." Another call criticizes the work Warren did as head of the watchdog panel overseeing the federal government's bank bailouts.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK

$1.5 million: Billionaire philanthropist George Soros has committed $1.5 million to liberal super-PACs—$1 million to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action and $500,000 total to two groups focused on congressional races. Previously, the right's favorite big-money bogeyman gave $1 million to the American Bridge super-PAC, $175,000 to House Majority PAC, and $75,000 to Majority PAC. After his previous donations, Soros had hinted that he might not give to Priorities.

 

CHART OF THE WEEK

In August, for the first time this year, liberal super-PACs outraised their conservative counterparts. Liberal super-PACs took in $19.7 million compared to conservative super-PACs' $18.3 million. All told, super-PACs have raised $390.6 million during the 2012 election cycle.

 

 

MORE MUST-READS

David Corn's Reddit AMA: The Full Questions and Answers: MoJo's DC bureau chief, who broke the Mitt Romney donor-video story, met the 'net Friday afternoon.
• The Koch-affiliated dark-money group Americans for Prosperity struggles to turn out voters despite all its cash. Slate
• Super-PACs get into the lobbying business. Politico
• Billionaire George Soros drops another $2 million into Democratic super-PACs. New York Times
• Former presidential candidates' "ghost PACS" sputter on. Center for Responsive Politics
• Take part in a collaborative effort to reveal political TV ad spending. ProPublica

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As Appeal Trial Approaches, Pussy Riot Asks the World for Help

| Fri Sep. 28, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

UPDATED October 10, 2012, 1:00PM EDT:

In a surprising turn of events during the Pussy Riot appeal trial today, one of the band members was set free, while the two-year sentences of the other two were upheld by the Moscow City Court.

The court reaffirmed the guilty verdict against all three women on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," but freed Yekaterina Samutsevich. The three-judge panel accepted the argument by her newly hired lawyer, Irina V. Khrunova, that her role in the church protest was not parallel to that of the other two women, because she was seized and taken out of the cathedral before she had time to sing or jump around, according to the New York Times.

As the Times reports, however, the court failed to address the procedural problems with the initial trial:

The judges did not address the numerous concerns that the women and their defense lawyers raised in August — what they called the arbitrary disqualification of defense witnesses, the testimony by so-called victims who were not in the cathedral for the Pussy Riot stunt, the bizarre conflation of alleged moral offenses and violations of the state penal code.

Putin said the three women "got what they asked for," in a documentary that aired on Sunday.

The other two band members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Maria Alyokhina, are headed to prison colonies, but their lawyers will continue to appeal, according to the Times, which also notes that the verdict is sure to "intensify, rather than quiet, any debate."

In a speech during the trial Tolokonnikova predicted the fallout from the Pussy Riot case in wider society: "What is happening now, what is happening during the third Putin presidential term — it unfortunately leads to growing instability," she said. "I will go away for one and a half years, and a civil war will erupt in the country, because Putin is doing everything to achieve it."

Here is blow-by-blow live text coverage of the trial from the Russian Legal Information Agency.

-----

UPDATED October 1, 2012, 2:00PM EDT:

Pussy Riot's appeal trial, which was scheduled for today, has been postponed until October 10, after one of the women requested a new defense lawyer. The AP reports:

As the hearing began Monday, band member Yekaterina Samutsevich unexpectedly announced that she has fired her three lawyers over an unspecified disagreement. Samutsevich said she had found another lawyer but had not yet signed a contract. Her fellow band members said they supported Samutsevich's choice but would still retain the services of their lawyers.

Olga Mefodyeva, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, told the AP the decision may be a way to draw waning international attention to the trial again.

Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, downplayed the move. The defense team says the women are "under tremendous pressure, with the government threatening to take away their children," and Verzilov says Samutsevich's decision "was simply caused by a change of mood," according to the AP.

-----

The riot grrrls who walked into Christ the Savior cathedral on February 21st, screamed, danced and asked the Virgin Mary to “put Putin away,” are now locked up in a medieval castle-style detention center in Moscow. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years in prison on August 17 on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” for their performance protest. An appeals trial is scheduled for October 1st, but no one is holding their breath. Instead, the Pussy Riot team is turning to the international community to try and put pressure on Putin.

The whole world, including Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev and Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin, has condemned the absurd sentence. But that doesn’t matter, says Mark Feygin, one of the Pussy Riot defense attorneys, since, as Mother Jones' Sydney Brownstone reported, the verdict was basically phoned in by Putin. In court on Monday, the lawyers will point to the breaches of law that occured in Pussy Riot's initial trial, including barring key witnesses and experts from testifying and preventing defense lawyers from having confidential discussions with the three band members. Alisa Obraztsova, a legal assistant for the defense team, says the court may reduce the sentence by a few months, "just to show that the appeal is working. But we cannot be sure even in this."

Are Super-PACs Overhyped?

| Fri Sep. 28, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

With six weeks until Election Day and Barack Obama's polling advantage holding steady, a new narrative is emerging about the first presidential election of the super-PAC era. It goes something like this: All the hue and cry about outside interests buying the election has been misguided; in fact, about the only thing super-PACs have been good for is blowing their rich backers' money. "A summer of vast campaign spending and dark warnings about sinister, secret donors is on the verge of being replaced by a fall in which rich men spend a lot of time explaining to their wives why they wasted millions of dollars," Buzzfeed's Ben Smith wrote last week. In July, the New York Times' Matt Bai made a similar case that the impact of the Citizens United decision that made super-PACs possible had been overstated.

We won't know the full story until after the election, but it's too early to completely write off super-PACs. A few reasons why:
 

1) Super-PACs may have helped keep Romney in the game: The Obama campaign has raised $150 million more than Romney's. However, the $143 million already spent by outside groups opposing Obama has tilted the money game in Romney's favor. "We helped leave this race a statistical dead heat," Steven Law, president of Karl Rove's American Crossroads super-PAC, told the Wall Street Journal. "Obama has gotten almost nothing for all the money his campaign has invested." Likewise, Gary Bauer, the former GOP presidential candidate who runs the anti-gay marriage super-PAC Campaign for American Values, told the Journal, "If Romney didn't have the help from the outside groups that he's had, this race would be over."

However, this reliance on super-PACs could also hurt Romney. Campaigns and super-PACs aren't allowed to coordinate (at least not too obviously), which can make message discipline tough. The Romney campaign "has to guess at what it thinks other people are going to say and where they are going to say it, and then has to deploy its resources where it thinks there will be gaps, and that's a hard guessing game to play," Brad Todd, a GOP ad man, told the Los Angeles Times. And as Romney's fortunes wane, groups like American Crossroads appear ready to shift more resources to down-ballot candidates, and could withdraw their support for him altogether—what Washington Post's Ezra Klein calls "Romney's nightmare scenario."
 

2) Super-PACs have amplified megadonors' influence: Wealthy donors love to get up close and personal behind closed doors with the politicians they fund, as our reporting on the Koch brothers' secret confabs and Mitt Romney's 47 percent gaffe show. Super-PACs have given this elite group a new avenue for catching lawmakers' attention. As casino magnate Sheldon Adelson told Politico, "I don't believe one person should influence an election. So, I suppose you'll ask me, 'How come I'm doing it?' Because other single people influence elections."

As Bai noted, superdonors already had ways to write big checks before Citizens United. Yet unlike 527 groups, super-PACs can advocate for specific candidates, and there's little chance that candidates are ignoring the donors using super-PACs to sidestep limits on campaign donations. And even after the election, super-PACs will remain on the scene to infuence policy and politicians' votes. They're already getting into the lobbying game.

On the other hand, megadonors aren't exactly expert strategists. No one has made this more clear than Adelson himself, who along with his wife Miriam has poured $36 million into super-PACs—including $10 million to Newt Gingrich as his primary campaign was imploding. Money may guarantee that a donor's voice is heard, but money can't always save a loser.
 

3) Super-PACs are shaking up state races: Even those who argue that the impact of Citizens United has been overstated, like Bai, have pointed to congressional races as an exception. Super-PACs like the antitax Club for Growth Action have poured millions into state races, from Arizona to Wisconsin, typically influencing the outcome. In Texas, a 21-year-old millionaire helped a Rand Paul-backed House candidate win his GOP primary. And super-PACs aren't limited to spending on federal races: Rich out-of-state donors helped push its total cost of June's recall election in Wisconsin beyond $60 million.
 

4) Super-PACs are flooding the airwaves: Analysts predict that more than $3 billion will be spent on political ads in this election cycle (including twice what was spent in 2008 on cable ads). According to a recent Sunlight Foundation study, Citizens United is directly responsible for 78 percent of spending from outside groups this election.
 

5) Dark money still matters: Even if super-PACs have been overhyped, there's still no denying that outside money is playing a bigger role than ever before in this election. That's especially true when you figure in 501(c) "social welfare" nonprofits, which have spent more money on ads than super-PACs. We may not appreciate their influence until the election is over. As the IRS has gotten more aggressive in determining whether 501(c)s have violated their tax-exempt status, the groups have become more adept at skirting new rules to keep toothless regulators at bay. And if that trend continues, reformers predict, outside spending in the future will dwarf 2012's numbers.

Tom's Kitchen: Quick and Easy Zucchini Fritters

| Fri Sep. 28, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

September in Austin is a slightly awkward time at the farmers market. Months of brutal heat has finished off most of the summer harvest, but the fall goods like kale, collards, and winter squash aren't quite ready yet. One thing you can still get in abundance is zucchini, which I love—but at this point, I can't do any more grilled, sauteed or roasted zucchini slices. So when I picked up a few beautiful ones recently, all I could think to do with them was grate them into fritters.

Fritters sometimes strike me as too fussy. But doing it this time reminded me just how quick and easy they are—and delicious, too. Served over a salad—even a kale salad—with a glass of white wine or lager, they're a great late-summer light dinner.

Zucchini Fritters
2 medium zucchini
2 eggs
1 teaspoon sea salt
A fistful of parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed, peeled, and minced fine
A good lashing of freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of red-hot chile clakes
1/2 cup flour (hippie that I am, I used whole wheat)
Olive oil, for pan frying

Belle of the September market: zephyr zucchini Belle of the September market: zephyr zucchini Using a box grater, grate zucchini into a large bowl. Move the shredded zucchini to one side of the bowl, tilt the bowl, and give the zucchini a squeeze to press out excess water. Discard the water. Put the zucchini back to the bottom of the bowl and spread it to the edges, creating a hollow in the middle. Crack the eggs into the hollow, add the rest of the ingredients except for the flour and cooking oil, and whisk the eggs with a fork, roughly incorporating everything, until the egg is uniformly yellow. With a wooden spoon, gently stir everything together. Spread the flour over the mixture evenly—to a avoid lumps—and gently stir in to combine.

Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat and add enough oil to generously cover the bottom. When the oil is very hot, using a table spoon, drop in mounds of the zucchini mixture, pressing gently. Avoid letting them touch. Cook until they're well browned, and flip. When they're browned on both sides, they're done.

The Republican Brain: Constructing an Alternate Polling Reality for 2012

| Fri Sep. 28, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

One of the odder little subplots of the 2012 election has been the growth of poll denialism among Republicans. As Mitt Romney's chances have grown ever dimmer, a cottage industry has sprung up on the right claiming that presidential polls suffer from liberal bias and Romney is really doing better than they say. "When the published poll shows Obama ahead by, say, 48-45," explains conservative pundit Dick Morris, "he's really probably losing by 52-48!"

Now, this is hardly in the same league as climate denialism or evolution denialism. What's more, it's perfectly understandable. It's human nature to cast around for reasons to stay optimistic about a political contest that you feel deeply about. I remember a milder version of the same thing happening in 2004, as liberals dug deep into the October poll numbers trying to convince themselves that John Kerry had a better chance to beat George Bush than the topline numbers suggested. One poll had a small sample size. Another one had a bad likely voter screen. A third one suffered from a known house effect. Etc.

But it's what happened next that's instructive. A couple of years after the 2004 election, a guy named Nate Silver started deconstructing polls in minute detail and explaining exactly what made some polls good and others bad. His approach was unsparingly rigorous and his overarching message was: don't kid yourself. The numbers are what the numbers are, and they don't care if you're a liberal or a conservative. Week after week, Silver dug deep into the minutiae of how polls are put together and how they're conducted, writing lengthy, table-laden posts that often meandered through several thousand words. Liberals loved it. Before long he was, for all practical purposes, the liberal patron saint of polling.

So far at least, the conservative approach has been....different. Their patron saint going into the last few weeks of the 2012 campaign is Dean Chambers, a blogger who runs a site called UnSkewed Polls. Chambers does not dig deep into the numbers. He doesn't explain sample sizes and cell phone biases. He does just one thing: he reweights all the polls so they have the same proportion of Democrats and Republicans estimated by Rasmussen Reports, a pollster with a longstanding Republican house effect. Then he announces what the numbers are after his reweighting is done. Romney is a big winner every time.

Chambers doesn't even pretend that his approach has any rigor. He adopted it, he told BuzzFeed, after seeing a poll that "just didn't look right." After a closer look, he decided that none of the others looked right either. And what does he think accounts for this widespread blundering among the nation's pollsters? Not simple incompetence, Chambers says. It's all quite deliberate. "Any poll that says NBC, CBS, or ABC is going to be skewed and invested in trying to get this President re-elected," he explained.

This is, to put it bluntly, nuts. And it suggests a fundamental difference between left and right, one that Chris Mooney wrote about earlier this year in The Republican Brain. Neither side has a monopoly on sloppy number crunching or wishful thinking, but liberals, faced with a reality they didn't like, ended up accepting reality and deciding to learn more about it. That's the Nate Silver approach. Conservatives, faced with a reality they didn't like, invented a conspiracy theory to explain it and then produced an alternate reality more to their liking. It's a crude and transparently glib reality, but that's apparently what the true believers want.