Mojo - October 2011

Why Romney Slammed Perry So Hard

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 9:47 PM EDT
Mitt Romney.

You can always tell what a campaign thinks by whom it attacks.

At the Republican cluster-smackdown in Las Vegas on Tuesday night, the fists were flying. The evening started with Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum pouncing on Herman Cain. Then the others piled on in a Cain-bang. This was natural, given that Mr. 999er had vaulted over all the other second-tier candidates into first place in recent polls. They bashed his 999 scheme on various fronts, and, no doubt, Cain, though he took the blows good-naturedly, left with more chinks than when he arrived.

But the most interesting assaults of the night came from Mitt Romney—and they were aimed at Rick Perry. Again and again, he manhandled the Texas governor, who is in single-digits in recent voter surveys. Every time, Perry toke a poke at Romney—on jobs in Massachusetts, on using a gardening firm that hired undocumented immigrants, on whatever—Romney was ready for him and slammed him in response much more effectively.

This showed a few things.

  • The Perry campaign's opposition research operation was lame. Perry was not well-prepped. The material it handed Perry was weak. And he bobbled the oppo research he had been fed.
  • You can't discount experience and professionalism. Romney was ready to rumble. He had the facts (or semi-facts) at his finger tips when he needed to defend himself or go on the offense. This was a sign he has a top-notched crew behind him and that he has grown into a better debater after campaigning for several years. Practice does work (except, it seems, for Perry, whose debate outings have gotten worse).
  • Romney is worried about a Perry comeback. I didn't clock it, but it sure felt as if Romney spent more time with Perry in his sights than Cain. This would suggest that Team Romney considers Cain still the flavor of the nanosecond who will eventually flame out. And if Cain is sucking up the oxygen that would otherwise fuel another anti-Mitt candidate, that's fine by Romney. In all likelihood, Cain won't have the money, organization, or staying power to threaten Romney.
  • Perry, though down and out (and downer and outer after this debate), could still revive—if only because he has the bucks to rebuild. He does have the money to wage a monumental ad campaign against Romney. While you can't buy a good debate performance or talent for the candidate, you can buy a good ad team and talented strategists. Perry has the resources to inconvenience Romney greatly. And when the voting starts, the anti-Romney support will have to settle somewhere. If Perry is at all viable at that point, Romney will have to worry.

Consequently, Romney aimed to kick the Texan while he was down. He did a pretty good job of it. It demonstrated that the former CEO has a strategy and the ability to execute it—which, so far, cannot be said of Perry.

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Michele Bachmann Takes on the National Park Service

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 8:58 PM EDT

On Saturday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) became the first GOP presidential candidate to sign a pledge from an anti-immigration group Americans for Securing the Border. Per the group's website, the pledge compels Bachmann to complete a 2,000-mile-long fence, from San Diego to Brownsville, by December 31, 2013—or 11 months into her hypothetical first term in office. It would be a double-fence, because sometimes one fence just doesn't cut it, and it will be, Bachmann says, contiguous: "It will be every mile, it will be every yard, it will be every foot, it will be every inch of that border, because that portion you fail to secure is the highway into the United States." On Tuesday at the GOP presidential debate in Nevada she doubled-down on the pledge.

Bachmann's talking a good game for the conservative primary electorate. The problem for her is that building such a fence in such a short period of time is logistically impossible—and even if we could build it, we probably wouldn't want it. Bachmann's plan is intended to serve as a counter to the actual border wall being constructed, initiated under President Bush and nearing completion under President Obama, which is a mix of both physical and virtual (involving a network of cameras and drones, among other things). In some places, the fence looks like the kind of intimidating edifice that always finds its way into campaign ads. But in some stretches, it's a lot different.

Rick Santorum Slams Cain on 9-9-9—And He's Right!

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 8:08 PM EDT
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R).

Since when did Rick Santorum become the champion of the middle class? At Tuesday's GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas (the eighth in four months, if you're scoring at home), the former Pennsylvania senator led the charge against newly crowned front-runner Herman Cain, alleging that Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan was the last thing middle-class Americans need. Prefacing his attack with the obligatory, "Herman, I like you," Santorum stated that the tax plan, which replaces the entire tax code with a 9-percent national sales tax, 9-percent income tax, and 9-percent payroll tax, would significantly raise taxes on all but the highest earners.

From there, the rest of the field piled on. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) called the plan "regressive" because of the impact it has on low-income earners. Texas Gov. Rick Perrry, happy to see someone else become a punching bag for a change, chided Cain for adding a national sales tax on top of existing state sales taxes. And Mitt Romney, pretending not to know the answer to the question, asked Cain if the federal tax would replace all state sales taxes. When Cain told him no (that video clip will come in handy), Romney announced he was against it.

So who's right? Santorum—and it's not even close. Just check out this chart, from the non-partisan Tax Policy Institute (via Kevin Drum).

Data from Tax Policy InstituteData from Tax Policy Institute

Santorum went on to call for a renewed focus on a lack of "income mobility" in the United States, noting that it's easier to pull yourself up by the bootstraps in Europe than in the United States. So there you have it: Rick Santorum is the Zucotti Park candidate.

Watch: Andy Kroll Explains the OWS Protests on MSNBC

Tue Oct. 18, 2011 6:11 PM EDT

Mother Jones' reporter Andy Kroll joins the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart and Chris Jansing on MSNBC to discuss who the Occupy Wall Street protesters are, and how the movement started.

Want to know more? Explore MoJo's updated map of protests and arrests worldwide, and check out all the rest of our #OWS coverage.

Is Obama Keeping His Promise to Reprioritize Deportations?

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 4:15 PM EDT
President Barack Obama meets with members of Congress for a roundtable discussion about immigration reform.

So here's an interesting wrinkle in the record deportation numbers the Obama administration announced Tuesday. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement stats show that the administration had 164,245 criminal removals through July 31st. The total number of criminal removals for fiscal year 2011 was 216,698, which means that ICE had 52,353 criminal removals in August and September. That means that nearly a quarter of the total criminal removals for 2011 happened in the last two months.

Why does that matter? If the numbers are correct, then the numbers show that the Obama administration was serious when it announced in August that it would focus immigration enforcement resources on unauthorized immigrants it believes pose a threat to public safety. Again, the numbers are still new, and who exactly fits in the category of criminal removals bears more scrutiny. But if accurate, it suggests that, despite the record near 400,000 removals the administration racked up for 2011, Obama's declared shift towards a more discerning deportation policy was genuine.

Open-Borders Obama Sets New Deportation Record

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 3:23 PM EDT

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced Tuesday that it has reached a new record number of deportations for Fiscal Year 2011: 396,906 removals of unauthorized immigrants.

The numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Last year ICE miscounted the number of deportations, and the number was revised down to 387,790, still a record. Or at least it was a record, until today. ICE has previously stated it has the resources to deport about 400,000 people a year, which means that Tuesday's number puts ICE around 3,000 people shy of the total number of people the agency says it has the capacity to deport.

ICE Director John Morton boasted in a statement that "These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before." Specifically, ICE says that of the 396,906 number, a full 55 percent were "convicted of felonies or misdemeanors."

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The Tea Party's Hatfield and McCoys

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 2:42 PM EDT

Amy Kremer is the co-chair of the Tea Party Express, a fairly successful tea party enterprise created by a couple of California GOP political consultants. Jenny Beth Martin is a co-coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, a large tea party umbrella group which Kremer helped found. Both women are from Georgia. They were once friends. Today, though, it's safe to say that they basically hate each other.

US Pays 18 Percent of Israel's Military Budget

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 1:55 PM EDT

Leave it to the Washington Post's award-winning national security reporter, Walter Pincus, to put things in perspective. In a new column, Pincus points out a remarkable inequity: While the US faces a fiscal crisis and debates the need for defense cuts, it's footing the bill for one-fifth of Israel's military budget—even as that country cuts its own defense spending to tackle domestic economic ills. You know, the way we always talk about changing our country's budget priorities. Pincus writes:

Nine days ago, the Israeli cabinet reacted to months of demonstrations against the high cost of living there and agreed to raise taxes on corporations and people with high incomes ($130,000 a year). It also approved cutting more than $850 million, or about 5 percent, from its roughly $16 billion defense budget in each of the next two years.

If Israel can reduce its defense spending because of its domestic economic problems, shouldn't the United States—which must cut military costs because of its major budget deficit—consider reducing its aid to Israel?

First, a review of what the American taxpayer provides to Israel...

Pincus then raps off an impressive list of the ways in which US dollars, considered so precious these days by politicians on both sides of the aisle, are peeled off to keep the Israeli economy and military machine afloat. Among those revelations is an account of Congress' "qualitative military edge" requirement, which mandates that any US sale of arms in the Middle East must not adversely affect Israel's advantage over its enemies in the region. "The formula has an obvious problem," Pincus writes: "Because some neighboring countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are US allies but also considered threats by Israel, arms provided to them automatically mean that better weapons must go to Israel. The result is a US-generated arms race."

And, of course, Israel gets favorable terms on its US arms purchases. I'd criticize this scheme, but conservatives and US-based weapons manufacturers would probably just reframe the debate: "The Israel Defense Forces: America's Real Job Creators!"

Ala. Immigration Law Update: Farm Work Is Hard

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 10:50 AM EDT
Gov. Robert Bentley

Last week, a federal appeals court blocked the part of Alabama's new immigration law—one of the harshest in the nation—that required public schools to check on their students' immigration statuses. A win for immigration advocates? Not so fast. The court preserved a section of the law that allows police officers to check a person's immigration status during traffic stops, and another making it a felony for illegal immigrants to conduct state business (like getting a driver's license).

But those victories are ringing pretty hollow for farmers. In response to the new law, much of Alabama's migrant workforce is expected to leave the state, the AP reports. Part of Republican Gov. Robert Bentley's thinking: That unemployed American citizens will step in to fill the breach, in exchange for free transportation and steady pay.

So far, not so good:

After two weeks, [Jerry Spencer, a chief executive at Grow Alabama, a company that markets Alabama-grown produce] said Monday, the experiment is a failure. Jobless resident Americans lack the physical stamina and the mental toughness to see the job through, he said, and there's not much of a chance a new state program to fill the jobs will fare better.

Lana Boatwright, another tomato farmer near Steele, said many of the people she has tried to hire since the law went into effect were concerned about losing their government disability payments if they worked in the fields. . . .

Spencer said that of more than 50 people he recruited for the work, only a few worked more than two or three days, and just one stuck with the job for the last two weeks.

"It's pretty discouraging," said Spencer, chief executive of the Birmingham-based Grow Alabama, which sells and promotes produce grown in the state.

According to Spencer, a member of a four-man tomato-picking crew can earn about $150 a day during the peak harvest time. But, at the lower, more realistic end, the figure is much closer to $25 a day, apparently not making it worth many Americans' while.

It might not have been a bad idea for Gov. Bentley to float his idea past Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who signed a similarly harsh immigration law earlier this year, with similar results. As the AP reports, that law was also blamed for scaring off over 11,000 workers during the spring and summer harvest. The jury is still out on Deal's plan to fill the gap with people on probation.

None of this is to say that unemployed Alabamians aren't grateful for an opportunity to work, or that they're not capable of doing work traditionally reserved for migrant labor. But it's important to occasionally remind anti-immigrationistas that planting and picking tomatoes 20 hours a day, seven days a week, is really hard work. No one does it because they want to. 

The Tea Party's Debt Commission

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 10:38 AM EDT

The congressional "supercommittee" is due to produce a report next month recommending ways to reduce the federal budget deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade. But the tea party movement looks like it's going to try to preempt the committee by not only releasing its own report of budget cutting recommendations, but by having Congress hold hearings on its plan a week earlier.

The tea party-associated group Freedomworks, which is headed up by former House Minority Leader Dick Armey, has created its own "Tea Party Debt Commission," the New York Times reports. Freedomworks' commission held a series of hearings around the country and also crowd-sourced some ideas through a web site. None of its ideas, of course, involve actually raising revenue.