Mitt Romney, displaying the political courage we've come to expect from him, has declined to take a public stand on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. So does that mean we're doomed to simply guess what he thinks? Steve Benen says no: "There's ample evidence that the Romney campaign and its surrogates strongly oppose the pay-equity bill."

Steve runs down the recent evidence, but can I just add the obvious? We actually held a vote on this bill in 2009. A grand total of eight Republicans out of 219 voted in favor. Romney may not feel like admitting it during an election in which he needs women to vote for him, but Steve is right: I think we have a pretty good idea of exactly what he and his fellow Republicans think about this.

One of the key scapegoats of the right-wing outrage machine in the wake of last month's assault in Benghazi has been UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Why? Because four days after the attacks, she taped interviews with several Sunday talk shows in which she falsely suggested that the attacks had been inspired by the "Innocence of Muslims" YouTube video. This charge has since been repeated 24/7 on Fox News and picked up over and over by mainstream news outlets as well.

It's outrageous, all right, but not because Rice really did anything wrong. She didn't. At this point, the known facts are pretty simple:

  • The CIA's collective judgment on Saturday the 15th, when Rice taped her interviews, was that the protests earlier in the week in Cairo — which had been inspired by the video — had also inspired protests in Benghazi. Later, extremist elements hijacked those protests to storm the consulate. The CIA subsequently backed off its belief that there had been protests in Benghazi, but that only happened later. On Saturday, the CIA told Rice there had been protests, and that's what she said on TV.
  • The evidence to this day suggests that, in fact, the YouTube video did play a role in the attacks. It's simply not true that Rice invented or exaggerated about that.
  • Rice was, in fact, properly cautious in her TV appearances. The transcripts here are crystal clear. On Face the Nation, for example, she carefully told Bob Schieffer that she couldn't yet offer any "definitive conclusions," but that "based on the best information we have to date" it appeared that there had been a spontaneous protest in Benghazi "as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where [...] there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video." She then immediately added: "But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent." When Schieffer pressed her on whether the attack had been preplanned, or whether al-Qaeda was involved, she said directly that we simply didn't know yet.

So how is it that mainstream reporters have managed to repeat the right-wing attacks on Rice so endlessly and without any apparent pushback? Bob Somerby suggests that four factors allowed it to happen:

  • Death by lack of certainty. The press wants a simple story and just won't accept statements of uncertainty at face value.
  • Death by complexity. Rice told a multi-part story that the press insisted on simplifying into submission. 
  • Death by submission to power. The right wing outrage machine yelled loudly about Rice's perfidy, and the rest of the press followed along.
  • Death by liberal silence. Liberals did nothing to fight back. Rice was on her own.

Susan Rice has been made into a bizarre caricature of herself. The transcripts of what she said are easily available, and by now it's plainly obvious that her comments were careful, considered, and accurately represented the collective assessment of American intelligence at the time she offered them. It's time to stop the lynching.

Dreamworks executive Jeff Katzenberg, left, and Steven Spielberg both gave $1 million to the pro-Obama super-PAC in September. Rose Palmisano/The Orange County Register/ZUMAPRESS.comDreamworks executive Jeff Katzenberg, left, and Steven Spielberg both gave $1 million to the pro-Obama super-PAC in September. Rose Palmisano/The Orange County Register/

In the beginning, the super-PAC fighting to reelect President Obama, Priorities USA Action, couldn't catch a break. Priorities was raising paltry sums each month compared to super-PACs backing Republican candidates. After one particularly negative story about Priorities' struggles, co-founder Bill Burton wrote to one journalist, "If you didn't read the story and just looked at the pictures…I feel like I came out pretty good."

How times have changed. Last month, Priorities hauled in $15.2 million, a new monthly record for the group. Big donations came in from Hollywood director and producer Steven Spielberg ($1 million), Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeff Katzenberg ($1 million), hedge fund manager James Simons ($1.5 million), Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner ($2 million), and attorney David Boies ($1 million).

The United Auto Workers, of which I'm a member, also waded into the super-PAC wars for the first time, giving Priorities $1 million. United Association, the plumbers and pipefitters union, chipped in $673,100, and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association gave another $250,000. Rob Walton, chairman of Walmart, a decidedly anti-union company, gave $300,000 to Priorities as well.

Since its inception in April 2011, Priorities USA Action has raised $50.8 million. The group will need a stellar October fundraising haul to reach its goal of $75 million for the 2012 election cycle. (Priorities also has a shadowy nonprofit affiliate which has yet to disclose how much money it's raised.)

Restore Our Future, the super-PAC backing Mitt Romney, turned in a strong September as well. The group raised $14.8 million. ROF's donor list is filled with familiar faces in the world of big-money Republican fundraising. With his $2 million donation last month, Texas homebuilding king Bob Perry has given a total of $9 million to Restore Our Future. Oxbow, the energy company run by Bill Koch, brother to Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, gave another $1 million, as did Robert McNair, who owns the Houston Texans, and Stan Herzog, a Missouri businessman.

Nearly $4 million of Restore Our Future's September donations came from corporations, such as airline interior supplier Greenpoint Technologies and rental company Penske Corporation. Restore Our Future has raised $111.5 million since its creation in March 2011.

Restore Our Future last week announced one of its biggest ad blitzes of the 2012 campaign. The super-PAC said it will spend $12 million on a nine-day ad spree in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Nevada, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

On Monday night, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will face off on foreign policy. Some pundits say that the election is so close, the outcome could very well pivot on this debate, where the candidates will grapple over issues like the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. But according to Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn, Obama's strong advantage on foreign policy probably won't move voters one way or the other: 

Here's an excerpt:

As we get closer to the election there are a lot fewer undecided voters. So there's less room to move [and] fewer people to persuade. This is now the third debate. In some ways you could see it as the rubber match. Mitt Romney did quite well in the first one, Barack Obama did better than Romney in the second one. But I don't think people are looking at this like a play-off series, 2 out of 3 wins the day.  I think each candidate has given their supporters what they needed to give them in the first two debates, and [because] the third one is about foreign policy, supposedly exclusively, [it's] going to be something that may not move a lot of voters who have yet to be moved.

Ed Kilgore examines Mitt Romney's options in the foreign policy debate tonight:

Consider the advice offered to Romney for tonight's debate by the New York Times' Bill Keller. Here are the headlines: (1) Go easy on Benghazi; (2) Say Something nice About the Palestinians; (3) Extend a hand to Mohamed Morsi; (4) Concede that the war in Iraq was a mistake; (5) Don't rush into Syria; (6) Open the door to a deal with Iran; (7) Apply some Bain rigor to defense; and (8) Cool it on China.

....But how does a presidential candidate who has repeatedly and heatedly and redundantly defined America's interests in the Middle East as identical with those of Bibi Netanyahu do (2) and (6)? How does the nominee of a party whose base is for the most part quite happy with the idea of American foreign policy being organized around a straight out war against Islam going to do (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), or (6)? Can a candidate who's been running around Hampton Roads telling voters that they'll all starve if the defense budget is allowed to decline an iota suddenly get Bain-ish on Pentagon spending?

Ed, Ed, Ed: where has your right and proper cynicism gone? Of course Romney will do most of these things. How? Why, he'll just open his mouth and say the words. He'll be careful not to phrase any of this stuff in the form of concrete promises, but Romney is obviously dedicated to his Moderate Mitt persona when he's on a national stage, and I don't doubt that he'll find a way to extend this tonight. For the record, I don't think he'll go as far as #4, and I don't think he needs to rein in his instincts on #8, which is a fairly popular position. But the rest of them? With the proper nuances and caveats, none of them should cause him a problem. I'm not quite sure what strategy he'll pursue on Benghazi (I suspect that cooling it would be a good idea, but I'm hardly 100% sure of that), but that's the only question mark. The rest of this stuff is easy to fudge.

Staff Sgt. Wayne Plew, an operations chief with Bridge Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, directed by Staff Sgt. Timothy Liners, a combat engineer with Bridge Company, drives across a newly constructed non-standard bridge during a field training exercise at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Oct. 15. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joshua Young.

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with CBS Sunday Morning's Rita Braver this week about the role of fact-checkers in the 2012 campaign. Instead of having the last word on what is or is not a fact, Corn writes in his recent Mother Jones piece on the subject, the truth-seekers have become "merely participants in the ever-roiling political tussle." Here's the video:

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

Gwen Stefani in the video for her 2004 single, "Rich Girl."

There's no doubt about whom pop singer Gwen Stefani wants running our tragic kingdom come 2013: Barack Obama.

Stefani, according to a list of bundlers released by the Obama campaign, is among the most effective fundraisers the president has. Stefani raised half a million dollars for the Obama campaign, more than heavy hitting politicos like former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Madeline Albright. Here's the breakdown from the Center for Public Integrity:

Notable additions to the list include Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state under former President Bill Clinton and has raised at least $200,000; pop singer Gwen Stefani, who raised at least $500,000; fashion designer Tom Ford, who has raised at least $500,000; and Warner Brothers CEO and Chairman Barry Meyer and his wife Wendy, who raised at least $500,000.

Other new bundlers include former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, who raised at least $200,000; Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy, who raised at least $200,000; and former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, who raised at least $100,000 and spoke at the Democratic National Convention last month.

That's bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. The Romney campaign might have interesting bundlers as well, but unlike previous Republican campaigns they don't release their names. So it's hard to tell, underneath it all, who is raising funds for Romney.

Titus Andronicus
Local Business
XL Recordings

The New Jersey-based indie punk band Titus Andronicus has never shied away from big themes: It's named after a Shakespearean tragedy, after all, and its last LP, The Monitor, was a Civil War concept album complete with period sound bites. In light of their tendencies towards the grandiose, then, the band's third full-length, Local Business, is a surprisingly straightforward affair, an album of punk-ish rock without all the bombast—or at least, without any more bombast than you might expect from any young Jersey rockers, which is to say still quite a bit. 

With "Ecce Homo," the album's first song, Titus would seem, if anything, to be upping the ante from the Civil War as metaphor to crucifixion—especially given its opening lines: "Okay I think by now we've established / Everything is inherently worthless / And there's nothing in the universe / With any kind of objective purpose." But the song's hopefully earnest guitar is congruent with the stark lyrics, and it works simultaneously as a send-up of self-serious, Nietzsche-quoting, angst-ridden punks and a reification of the same—it's both self-aware and earnest, and it's all the better for it. 

Likewise, on the rollicking, hipster-baiting "Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter," singer Patrick Stickles yelps about himself and the "other relevant dudes" with an air that can best be described as facetious—which makes it a bit jarring when the tone suddenly takes a turn for the serious with "My Eating Disorder," a wrenching song about Stickles' struggles with what he's described as "selective eating."

But despite the potential for plodding earnestness and occasional forays into glibness, the song packs a punch, especially when it gets to the heavy, portentous riffs that kick in around the five-minute mark, and the intensely repetitive refrain—"spit it out/spit it out." Stickles is howling by the time he's done, which makes for a good segue into the next song, "Titus Andronicus Vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)," which consists of two minutes of Stickles screaming "I'm going insane" over furious guitars. "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape With the Flood of Detritus" opens with the narrator watching a motorist die on the road and describing the road rage of the drivers stuck in the resulting traffic; an early chorus rousingly declares "built to last/built to last," but by the end of the song, the refrain has changed to "thrown away/thrown away." 

For all its bleak content, Local Business is a remarkably peppy album, and at times even a light-hearted one. "Food Fight!" is a rambunctiously silly tune in the great punk tradition of fucking around; the lyrics never get more complex than the titular words, but harmonica and guitar solos round the track out. "Tried to Quit Smoking," on the other hand, meanders through emotionally fraught terrain for six minutes before riffing off into bluesy territory for another four. That interplay between short bursts and long epics, basic chords and intricate solos, simple beats and complex melodies, repetitive phrases and clever witticisms, brash broadsides and angsty deep-dives makes for an album that's much deeper than it initially seems. It reflects the band's genuine appreciation for both punk and classic rock, a heritage equal parts the Boss and the Ramones. Titus Andronicus may have downsized the scope of its conceptual framework, but it's still giving its all to the fight. 

Click here to read our past interview with Patrick Stickles—and here to browse all of our music coverage.

Earlier this month, two Iowa felons were arrested and charged with felony and aggravated misdemeanor counts of election fraud because they had registered to vote when they picked up their new driver's licenses. One, Stacy Brown, told an investigator from the Major Crimes Unit of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation that she'd registered because "she was in a hurry and wasn't paying attention [to] what she was signing." The other, Jason Rawlin, told the investigator that he believed his voting rights had been restored following his release from prison.

Two years ago, both of them would have been in the clear. Yet on the day that he reclaimed the governor's mansion in January 2011, Republican Terry Branstad overturned a 2005 executive order that had automatically restored the franchise to released convicts. Branstad hailed the reversal as a "major priority" of incoming Secretary of State Matt Schultz, a Republican who'd been elected on a platform of smoking out voter fraud in the swing state. 

The now-defunct executive order, signed by former Gov. Tom Vilsack, restored voting rights to an estimated 100,000 Iowans. Branstad's new order, by contrast, has made Iowa one of just four states where felons' voting rights are rarely restored. Few Iowa felons have tried to win back the vote since 2011; only about a dozen have succeeded, but only after submitting time-consuming applications that require a criminal history check and full credit report. Critics have slammed the process as part of a broader policy of voter suppression and intimidation that disproportionately targets minorities and the poor. But Schultz has said the new rules will "send a message to Iowa's voters that their voting privilege is sacred and will not be compromised."

The October arrests came on the heels of three noncitizens in Council Bluffs being charged with felonies for registering to vote. Both were small victories for Schultz's ongoing effort to track down ineligible voters. In January, he proposed a new voter ID bill intented to allay concerns about a bill based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council that had first passed in the Iowa House in 2011. Though he acknowledged that voter fraud hadn't been much of a problem in the state, he said he wanted to close a loophole, pointing to provocateur James O'Keefe's undercover "investigation" of voter fraud in New Hampshire. A Republican-backed voter ID bill died in the state Senate.