Mojo - November 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 4, 2011

Fri Nov. 4, 2011 4:57 AM EDT

A soldier from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team runs through STX lanes during the Full Spectrum Training Event being held at Hohenfels Germany. US Army Europe Public Affairs photo by Richard Bumgardner.

 

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Tax Base Broadening: Debunked

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 2:30 PM EDT
Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

Business leaders, some congressional Democrats, and almost all congressional Republicans think corporate tax rates should be lower. By closing loopholes, corporate tax-cutters argue, the government could reduce rates from the current 35 percent to 25 percent or even lower—all without losing revenue. The Tax Policy Center's Howard Gleckman, though, says that idea is bogus

The non-partisan [Joint Committee on Taxation] found that even if Congress scrubbed every single corporate preference from the code (a political fantasy if ever there was one) it could not get the corporate rate below 28 percent without adding to the budget deficit, raising taxes on individuals, or cutting spending.

The JCT study, which was requested and released by House Ways & Means Committee Democrats, comes just days after the panel’s chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), proposed a 25 percent rate as part of a major corporate reform. Camp did not say how he’d pay for his proposed changes.

My Tax Policy Center colleague Eric Toder has been making a similar point for months: It is painfully difficult to find the money to reduce rates very much. Unlike corporate breaks, there are more than enough individual tax preferences out there to pay for individual rate reduction (and have money left over the cut the deficit). The problem is merely a lack of political will. Abolish the mortgage interest deduction anyone?

According to the JCT, there aren’t enough tax breaks, in dollar terms, to lower the rate below 28 percent. 70 percent of corporate tax breaks come from breaks for expensing research and experimentation costs, and capital investment.

As Gleckman points out, a number of companies, including Google and GE, already pay an effective tax rate below 10 percent, thanks to various subsidy packages and tax breaks. In fact, a study that Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released on Thursday found that 71 of the 280 companies surveyed paid a tax rate of less than 10 percent of their pre-tax profits last year. GE, for example, paid a rate of minus 45 percent, according to the report. (The company calls the study "inaccurate and distorted," and said it has paid billions in taxes over the past decade.)

In any case, one imagines that companies that are already paying negative tax rates—i.e., getting money from the government—would have some pretty unkind words for any lawmakers daring to unwind their favorite loopholes. And that's what makes corporate tax reform so hard to execute.

Florida Tea Partiers Freak Out About Shariah, Vol. XXVIII

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 2:13 PM EDT

I have a piece up today on Florida Republican Adam Hasner, who has used his record of fighting radical Islam (in the form of university professors and interfaith lobbying groups) as a springboard for a US Senate run. Hasner's rise has been made possible by the political culture of South Florida, which has seen a boom in anti-Islam think tanks and activist groups since 9/11. You should read the piece, but as if on cue, Ashley Lopez at the Florida Independent has a good story that perfectly illustrates the landscape:

Hassan Shibly of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been disinvited by organizers of the upcoming Florida Tea Party Convention.

While tea party organizers say it was because CAIR "disrespected" one of its speakers, CAIR members say it was because an event organizer was called out for trying to shut down an upcoming CAIR convention while he was reaching out to the group.

Long story short: After originally inviting CAIR to attend the tea party convention, organizers sought to sabotage the group's own functions behind the scenes and, when called on it, disinvited CAIR. Organizer Geoff Ross tells Lopez he's upset that CAIR has criticized anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, and believes that the organization is using "Shariah" to silence its critics. That comes just a few weeks after Nezar Hamze, president of CAIR's South Florida outfit, was blocked in his bid to join the Broward County Republican Executive Committee over concerns about his loyalties. As Justin Elliott reported, the opposition to Hamze was led by Richard Swier, vice president of United West—the organization Hasner helped found to combat radical Islam in South Florida. Full circle.

The GOP's Deregulatory Christmas List

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 1:50 PM EDT

The Senate is set to take up votes on the Republican and Democratic infrastructure proposals this afternoon, but the GOP has already stuffed their proposal with regulatory rollbacks they know the Democrats will never agree to. 

The GOP proposal contains the REINS Act, which would require a separate vote on economic regulations "with an expected annual economic impact of $100 million or more," which would, as Ezra Klein noted back in February, "destroy the government's capacity to pass major regulations," by adding a major procedural hurdle that sounds like a minor change.

The bill would also restrict the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pollution under the Clean Air Act, a change which the EPA estimates would lead to 20,000 premature deaths due to adverse health effects from pollution. It also contains the Regulatory Time-Out Act, which would prevent new economic regulations from being put in place for a year, a move Senate Dems view as just a backdoor way for Republicans to forestall Wall Street reform. Obama has actually put in place fewer regulations than Bush at this point in his term, and weak consumer demand rather than excessive regulation is holding back job growth, but why not ask for a pony even if you know you're not going to get one?

While the GOP proposal contains some funds for infrastructure spending, rather than accept a minor surtax on millionaires it pays for itself by cutting spending so drastically the White House has threatened a veto. This GOP alternative is less a jobs proposal than a deregulatory Christmas list.

UPDATE: Naturally, the Democrats' bill was filibustered this afternoon.

Desperately Seeking Anita

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 12:33 PM EDT

Slate's Dave Weigel reports that Iowa Rep. Steve King doesn't see the big deal about sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain that have surfaced in recent days. For him, it comes down to one thing:

"Where’s the Anita Hill?" he said. "This is an Anita Hill issue, and from what I see, without substance, this shouldn’t have been a story."

It's funny, however, that King should mention Hill, the former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission employee who testified under oath that she had been harassed by then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, since it's not as though no Republicans have dealt with sexual scandals since then. Rather, as Jesse Taylor points out, "There haven't even been enough black Republicans of note in the past two decades to have another scandal."

King's reference to Hill may have greater meaning than merely recalling the last time a prominent black conservative was accused of sexual harassment. As it so happens, two of the women who accused Cain of harassment are bound by confidentiality agreements as part of the settlements reached over the allegations. One of them was considering coming forward but changed her mind, according to the New York Times. Why? According to her attorney, Joel P. Bennett, "She has a life to live and a career, and she doesn't want to become another Anita Hill."

Beliefs about Thomas' guilt tend to fall along partisan lines—if you're a Democrat you think he was lying, if you're a Republican you think Hill was lying. What isn't a matter of perception, however, is that when Hill came forward, the right set out to completely destroy her at all costs. David Brock, the former right-wing journalist who defected and formed the left-wing media watchdog Media Matters, wrote a book about Hill that portrayed her as a mentally unstable, promiscuous liar, a characterization immortalized by Brock's description of Hill as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." Brock's The Real Anita Hill was later eviscerated by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, and Brock himself later recanted, but Hill's reputation was destroyed and Thomas was confirmed.

I don't know whether the allegations against Cain are true—the settlements confirm the existence of the allegations and not necessarily their veracity. An accuser coming forward would provide the right with an obvious target, someone to destroy, rather than simply watching Cain helplessly try to deflect the issue by blaming other campaigns for leaking the existence of the settlements. 

Things have changed since The Real Anita Hill. Destroying someone's reputation is as simple as a selectively edited YouTube clip. Given the combined heavy artillery of the vastly expanded Republican noise machine, it's easy to understand why Republicans are looking for a "new Anita Hill," and why Cain's accusers don't want to be her. Cain aside, the only real winners in this scenario are powerful men of all political stripes who would rather keep their bad behavior secret. 

Herman Cain Sits Down With...Clarence Thomas' Wife

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 10:36 AM EDT
GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain was accused of sexual harassment by three former female employees.

When in the course of human events a long-shot presidential candidate surges in the polls and finds himself battling multiple allegations of sexual harassment, it becomes necessary for said candidate to sit down with the one woman in America who can best understand his plight: Clarence Thomas' wife, Ginni.

So naturally, that's what Herman Cain did on Wednesday, the same day a third woman stepped forward to allege that she had been sexually harassed by Cain while working at the National Restaurant Association. Thomas, who recently left a voice message for Anita Hill, the woman who accused her husband of sexual harassment, asking Hill to apologize, sat down with Cain for a Daily Caller exclusive. In the interview, Thomas peppered Cain with questions like, "Are reporters setting you up to be guilty until proven innocent?" and "Is campaigning in Washington, DC a disorienting experience?" Here's a characteristic exchange:

GINNI THOMAS: 30 congressmen are calling for A.G. Eric Holder to resign over Operation Fast and Furious. Will you join them?"

HERMAN CAIN: I'm disappointed in all of the conflicting stories. I have not followed it closely enough to say that I want to pile on, but I happen to believe that 30 congressmen can't be wrong, in terms of the determination that they have made, that suggests that it may be better for him to step down. I trust those congressmen and the analysis that they made.

To be clear: 30 congressmen can be very wrong, very easily. On any given issue, the odds are quite high that 30 congressmen are calling for something that Cain completely disagrees with. To choose a subject of concern for Cain: 220 congressmen voted for the Affordable Care Act—or to put it another way, "7.33 groups of 30 congressmen voted for the Affordable Care Act."

The bigger picture here is that Fast and Furious is another serious news story that Cain, by his own admission, hasn't paid any attention to. On Monday, he told an audience at the National Press Club he didn't have a position on student loans. It would be a lot easier for Cain to change the subject away from harassment if there was any other subject he was actually comfortable talking about.

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Mary Cheney's Shadow Group Smears Teachers Unions in Ohio Mailers

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 10:15 AM EDT

A slew of outside political groups are pumping millions of dollars into Ohio to influence the November 8th referendum on the fate of Gov. John Kasich's anti-union bill, SB 5, which curbs collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers. One of those outside groups is the Alliance for America's Future (AAF), a Virginia-based conservative outfit whose leadership includes Dick Cheney's daughter Mary. AAF has pledged to spend "over seven figures" to defend Kasich's bill, including bankrolling mailers that describe a vote to uphold Kasich's bill as a rebuke of President Obama's policies.

Mother Jones obtained copies of AAF's latest mailers, in which Cheney's group smears teachers' unions as greedy and out to protect incompetent and deviant workers. The mailers also hype up the tenuous connection between Obama and Issue 2, the ballot measure that will decide whether SB 5 survives.

One Alliance for America's Future mailer relies on dodgy statistics to portray public workers as grossly overpaid, citing an American Enterprise Institute study claiming public-sector workers earn 43 percent more than their counterparts. (Fact-check sites have repeatedly debunked AEI's conclusion.) It claims, "There's a Reason Government Unions Don't Want Good Teachers Rewarded...It Might Upset the BAD ONES."

Make no mistake, some teachers' unions are indeed hidebound, and in rare cases, end up forcing cash-strapped school districts into costly legal fights over what appear to be indefensible acts by unionized teachers. But what's far more indefensible is tarring all "government" unions as only out to shield "bad teachers."

Here's another mailer set against two photos of a stern-looking Obama, reading, "If He Wants You to Vote NO on ISSUES 2 & 3...You'll Probably Want to VOTE YES."

This is just a peek at all the mud getting thrown around in Ohio, where the fight will only get dirtier in the final days before the vote. Campaign finance experts predict as much as $40 million could be spent on the November 8 election, topping the $35 million spent in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

Mississippi Personhood: Too Extreme for Haley Barbour?

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 8:03 AM EDT
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R)

Next Tuesday, Mississippi voters will vote on a constitutional amendment, ballot question 26, to define life as beginning at the point of fertilization—a move that would make all abortion illegal, even in cases of rape. It would also ban many kinds of birth control (a spokesman for the Yes on 26 campaign calls the morning-after-pill a "human pesticide") and make in-vitro fertilization exceedingly difficult. Despite all of that, both the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor and attorney general have endorsed the measure, as has Mike Huckabee and Deanna Favre (wife of Brett).

But via Tanya Somanader, at least one Mississippi Republican is voicing concerns with the measure: outgoing Governor Haley Barbour. In an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd on Wednesday morning Barbour suggested that, although he hadn't made up his mind, he might vote against it:

"I believe life begins at conception," he explained. "Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn't say that. It says life begins at fertilization, or cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning. And I’m talking about people that are very, outspokenly pro-life." When Todd asked Barbour if he would vote for it, the Governor said, "Really I haven't decided. If you would have asked me when this was first proposed, I would've said, a.) the legislature would've passed it 100 to 1. And b.) I believe life begins at conception and therefore I would be for it. I am concerned about some of the ramifications on in vitro fertilization and ectopic pregnancies where pregnancies [occur] outside the uterus and [in] the fallopian tubes. That concerns me, I have to just say it."

Barbour's in good company, at least nationally. James Bopp, the counsel for National Right to Life, opposes Personhood amendments as a rule, on the grounds that they'll result in counterproductive court rulings.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 3, 2011

Thu Nov. 3, 2011 4:57 AM EDT

US Army Sgt. Gary Melton, Provincial Reconstruction Team Uruzgan security forces, conducts vehicle and personnel searches at a traffic control point near Kakrak, Uruzgan, Afghanistan, October 28, 2011. The TCP was set up while members of the PRT escorted a local contractor to a nearby culvert to assess damages for repair. Photo by the US Army.

 

Peaceful Occupy Oakland March Followed by Late-Night Clashes

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 2:47 AM EDT

A massive crowd snaked through downtown Oakland yesterday afternoon, eventually shutting down operations at the Port of Oakland. There was sporadic vandalism, with windows broken at bank branches and a Whole Foods, but protesters were also seen cleaning up graffiti and holding others back from destroying property. After most protesters had left, a contingent of several hundred occupied the abandoned Traveler's Aid building and barricaded surrounding streets; when police moved in, protesters set barricades on fire, and police deployed tear gas. Several MoJo reporters have been covering the protest, and MoJo's Gavin Aronsen remains on the scene (follow him on Twitter). What follows is our live blog of the events, constantly updated using Storify.

Front page image: Adam Grossberg for Oakland North/Twitter