Mojo - November 2011

Romney: Indict Ahmadinejad for "Violating the Genocide Convention"

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 1:35 PM PST
Mitt Romney totally knows the definition of the word "genocide," guys.

When asked about Iran and Israel at Tuesday's CNN national security debate, on-and-off Republican front-runner Mitt Romney replied in his typically tough, unambiguously pro-Israel fashion. After chiding the Obama administration for being "disrespectful to our friends" and playing softball with our foes, Romney said that as president he would take the necessary steps to confront the Iranian regime. One of the hallmarks of his plan: indicting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "violating the genocide convention." (During the debate, Romney first said "Geneva Conventions" before backtracking and going with "genocide convention.")

You could give Romney the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he actually did mean to say the "Geneva Conventions" and that, under the pressure of a nationally televised debate, he merely misspoke. But Romney simply meant what he meant; he has been calling for this indictment since at least the end of 2007. Here's an AP report from September of that year:

"The Iranian regime under President Ahmadinejad has spoken openly about wiping Israel off the map, has fueled Hezbollah's terror campaign in the region and around the world and defied the world community in its pursuit of nuclear weapons -- capabilities that make these threats even more ominous," Romney said in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon posted on his campaign Web site, www.mittromney.com.

In New York, Romney told reporters: "I think the invitation should be withdrawn. I think instead, Ahmadinejad should be indicted under the Genocide Convention."

Because Romney has been calling for this indictment since before Iran's bloody Green Movement protests, it's safe to assume that he was specifically referring to the Iranian President's over-the-top, alleged call for Israel to "be wiped off the map."

And here's where candidate Romney again steps into the murky waters of international law: The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in the years after World War II, defines genocide as any number of "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Experts in the field cite an array of factors that would almost certainly impede Romney's proposed foreign policy initiative. "There are so many layers to [Romney's] argument that need to be explored because the implications are very serious," says Elizabeth Blackney, an anti-genocide activist and author. Blackney also argues that before any potential Romney administration can determine if Ahmadinejad's comments or threats would justify US support for an indictment, the former Massachusetts governor needs to elaborate on his plans. "US policy has been to not honor the International Criminal Court; we are not a signatory to the Rome Treaty. So is Romney signaling that he would recommend law enforcement under the [statute]... and fundamentally change American policy toward the ICC and the Genocide Convention? [His comment during the debate] was not very well thought out."

While there have been other voices arguing in favor of such an indictment, it's widely interpreted that a statement supposedly egging on genocide is not legally considered a tool of genocide, unless it can be taken into evidence as proving direct intent and premeditation. Furthermore, it would be unprecedented to indict a foreign leader for a genocide that hasn't even taken place yet.

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Student Occupiers: It's the Debt, Stupid

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 12:40 PM PST

College students have, to some extent, always been poor and hungry. But in the past few years, undergrads' plight has become truly dire. It's not hard to see why the Occupy Wall Street movement has struck a chord on campuses.

Just check out these stats: Unemployment among college grads is twice what it was in 2007. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for 16-24-year-olds is twice the national average; grads under 25 are twice as likely to lack a job than their older peers. The New York Times reports that just half of students who graduated in 2010 had a job in the spring of 2011, and even those who did get jobs were often way overqualified:

An analysis by The New York Times of Labor Department data about college graduates aged 25 to 34 found that the number of these workers employed in food service, restaurants and bars had risen 17 percent in 2009 from 2008, though the sample size was small. There were similar or bigger employment increases at gas stations and fuel dealers, food and alcohol stores, and taxi and limousine services.

Earlier this week, students from an OWS offshoot called Occuppy Student Debt pledged to refuse to pay back their student loans. Some of the members of the group have shared their stories on the group's site. Here's one entitled "Suckit Sallie":

I was one of those kids who always pushed hard and dreamed big. I skipped a grade, was in all the right AP classes, one of 2 or 3 black student on the honor roll, and went out of state for college @ 17 and had no doubts I would make it in life. I used the government and Sallie Mae to make it through grad school within 6 years, and expected to be somewhere way different than where I am now…..

I am 25 now and living back @ home. With a different phone number to avoid all of the harrassing phone calls asking me to pay back $1400 a month I just don’t have. After 10 months of searching, even with my masters from a good school, I could only find an overnight stock job @ toys r us. I get talked to crazy all for $8 an hour. I am back in school, but becuase I went into default prior to getting in school, I can’t get a deferment yet. But there is no way I can pay my way out of default on $8 an hour. 

More stats on the dire financial straits of America's college students:

 

Sticker Shock

Average tuition (in $ thousands) at private and public colleges has climbed steadily over the last decade:

 

 

Deeper in Debt

The amount that students owed quintupled between 2000 and 2011.

 

School vs. Shopping

In 2010, for the first time ever, Americans' outstanding student loans ($ in billions) exceeded their total credit card debt:

 

Plus: If you're curious about how students are making ends meet, check out the last-resort methods our readers turned to to pay for their degrees.

 

 

Democratic Reps. Rip Romney on Immigration

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 12:30 PM PST
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney

Democratic Reps. Silvestre Reyes and Charlie Gonzalez (both of Texas) ripped presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday for embracing a harsh immigration policy that panders to the Republican Party's right flank.

As Adam Serwer wrote after Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate, Newt Gingrich shocked the world by coming out as a relative moderate on immigration policy. Gingrich argued that the United States should offer an exception for unauthorized immigrants who've lived here for years, and not deport them. Romney, whose front-runner status is under attack by a more-credible-seeming-by-the-day Gingrich, struck back quickly, stating that he would not back a policy that grants amnesty to undocumented immigrants, or one that offers them tuition aid or access to employment opportunities.

In a conference call on Wednesday, Reyes, Gonzalez, and Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt accused Romney of flip-flopping on immigration policy over years. They cited his past support for a proposal from Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2005 that included a pathway to citizenship and beefed up border security. "In today's political climate, he feels the need to oppose any kind of humane policy, no matter how it betrays the legacy of our nation," Reyes said.

Romney has now effectively "placed himself in a camp that is deportation-only," Gonzales said. "We know that is not a workable solution, not practical, not pragmatic. But most of all, it just doesn’t serve the economic interests of this country." That, Gonzalez said, undermines Romney's purported business acumen. "What he's espousing sets us back as a nation," Gonzales continued.

Gonzalez said that he fully expects Romney to come out in support of the harsh, Republican-backed immigration policies enacted in Arizona, Alabama, Utah, and Indiana. "Romney is somebody who once claimed to support comprehensive immigration reform," said the Obama campaign's LaBolt. "Now...he is the most rightwing presidential candidate in recent presidential history on this issue."

Team Romney: The Media Adored Our Dishonest Attack Ad

| Wed Nov. 23, 2011 10:59 AM PST
Mitt Romney.

In a bizarre press release titled "WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT'S TELEVISION AD 'BELIEVE IN AMERICA,'" Mitt Romney's staffers pat themselves on the back for the campaign's latest commercial, claiming the pundits and the press swooned over the clarity and cleverness of their new attack ad:

Senator John McCain: "Good @MittRomney Ad – Reminder Of The President's Broken Promises." (Sen. John McCain, Twitter, 11/22/11)

The New York Times: "Moving the campaign into a more combative phase, Mitt Romney is set to show his first television commercial of the campaign on Tuesday in New Hampshire, attacking President Obama over his economic leadership on the same day the president will visit the state to discuss his plans for turning around the economy. … By focusing his message on the president, Mr. Romney is trying to show Republicans that he can take on Mr. Obama aggressively, an attribute that conservatives are seeking in a nominee.” (The New York Times, 11/21/11) ...

The Associated Press: "Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is turning President Barack Obama's own words against him in the Republican hopeful's TV first ad of his 2012 White House bid. … [Romney] said the commercial would compare Obama's message as a candidate with Romney's credentials as a businessman. 'The contrast between what he said and what he did is so stark, people will recognize we really do need to have someone new lead this country,' Romney said in an interview with Fox News Channel." (The Associated Press, 11/21/11) ...

GOP Strategist Ed Rogers: "In the Romney campaign, we may be witnessing a truly well-designed and well-executed campaign. … This ad represents more of the same from the Romney campaign. … The ad opens with grainy images of Obama, and it uses Obama's own words to highlight his administration's economic failures. … It touches all the right buttons and has all of the right images." (The Washington Post’s "The Insiders," 11/22/11)

Back in the real world, the media's actual response to Romney's ad wasn't characterized by praise. To the contrary: descriptions of the deceptive commercial ranged from "misleading" to "entirely a lie," and PolitiFact gave the TV spot its not-so-coveted "Pants On Fire" grading.

Just to recap, here's Romney's "Believe In America" ad that attempts to trap Obama using the president's "own words against him":

The offending soundbite—"if we keep talking about the economy we're going to lose"—was taken from a clip of then-Senator Barack Obama quoting a McCain campaign aide in 2008, not President Obama bemoaning the state of the economy in 2011. So, basically, what the Romney campaign did this week can be summed up accurately in the following clip...

h/t Matt Tomlinson

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 23, 2011

Wed Nov. 23, 2011 3:57 AM PST

A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division's "Devil Brigade" aims his M240-B crew-served machine gun during a machine-gun leaders' course on October 14, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The soldier is an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. (US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Romney Peddles Obama Defense Spending Lie

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 11:37 PM PST
Gov. Mitt Romney

GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney used Tuesday night's CNN presidential foreign policy debate to drag out a tired, debunked claim: that President Obama intends to cut $1 trillion from defense spending.

It's not true: $600 billion of the cuts Romney is talking about will come via the "trigger," the cuts written into the August deal to raise the nation's borrowing limit. Those cuts go into effect in January 2013, but that's thanks to the supercommittee's recent failure to come up with another $1.2 trillion in savings—not Obama's non-existent anti-military jihad. 

The other $400 billion of Romney's $1 trillion? They don’t exist, as Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reported in September:

The White House's gambit is only its latest attempts to claim savings from cutting defense when actually no cuts exist. The White House claimed it had cut $350 billion from defense over ten years as part of the debt ceiling deal, but actually there are no defense cuts in the bill.

What the bill does is set spending caps for "security" spending, which the administration defines as defense, homeland security, intelligence, nuclear weapons, diplomacy, and foreign aid. There's no breakdown that defines which of these agencies get what, so there's no way to be sure that all the cuts would come from "defense." Moreover, the spending caps are split between "security" and "non-security" discretionary spending only for fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013.

If the next five Congresses actually cut the defense budget by $350 billion and if the Congressional supercommittee fails to find another $900 billion in discretionary cuts, that would "trigger" another $600 billion cuts in defense over ten years. Added to the $350, that would total about $1 trillion in defense "savings."

The fact is that the Obama administration has made no serious attempt to curb military spending. And if Congress finds a way to renege on the sequester-mandated defense cuts (as defense hawks have been pleading), the other $600 billion worth of cuts won't materialize, either. 

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No, Rick Perry, the Border is Not Getting More Violent

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 8:30 PM PST
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Although Tuesday's GOP presidential debate was billed as foreign policy and national security debate, the candidates spent much of the night discussing domestic issues like the Super-Committee and immigration. And that led to one of the night's biggest whoppers—albeit one Republican candidates have a tendency to repeat over and over: The suggestion, from Phil Truluck of the Heritage Foundation, that the southern border has become more and more violent Texas Governor Rick Perry claimed that, under President Obama's watch, the southern border has become more and more violent.

As it happens, the Austin American-Statesman examined the numbers in-depth last month, and reported that in Texas, border violence has actually gone down:

[A] closer look at crime numbers in border counties since 2006 — the year Mexican violence began to spike in earnest — does not reveal evidence of out-of-control chaos. An American-Statesman analysis of all 14 counties that share a border with Mexico and two dozen border cities shows that violent crime along the Texas side of the Rio Grande fell 3.3 percent between 2006 and 2010.

During the same period, the combined number of murders in the 14 counties fell 33 percent, to 73 in 2010 from 97 in 2006.

Further, most counties and cities situated directly across from the worst of the Mexican violence also saw their crime rates decrease, even as thousands were slaughtered on the Mexican side.

Read the whole story.

Update: As a commenter points out, I rushed to put this up without double-checking the transript: Truluck brought up the figure, not Perry. Mea culpa. Perry didn't really answer the question or address the point, although he has made much the same point with regularity—most notably at a debate in September.

Newt Comes Out As An Immigration Moderate

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 8:27 PM PST
Newt Gingrich, immigration moderate?

Newt Gingrich came out as an immigration moderate during Tuesday night's CNN GOP foreign policy debate, urging his colleagues to consider the consequences of mass deportation of unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for a long time. Gingrich said that as the party of "the family," the GOP shouldn't be involved in breaking up families. The Obama administration has deported more than a million unauthorized immigrants, drawing harsh criticism from immigration reform advocates. 

To be sure, Gingrich is no liberal when it comes to immigration. While Gingrich suggested an exception for some unauthorized immigrants who have remained in the US for years, he still called for expelling all recent undocumented immigrants, implementing a guest worker program, and establishing an employer verification system. He also suggested that a military-only version of the DREAM Act that would provide a path to citizenship to unauthorized immigrants brought here as children. That sounds a lot like what President George W. Bush wanted to do when he proposed immigration reform during his second term in office. 

Romney at first said he opposed amnesty because it would be a "magnet" for further illegal immigration. (He supported Bush's immigration reform proposal last time around.) After Gingrich spoke rather specifically about policy, however, Romney backed down and said he wasn't going start saying who was going to be allowed to stay and who wasn't. After all, he's running for office, for pete's sake. 

Gingrich's moderation on immigration may put his newly crowned front-runner status at risk. Rick Perry's slide in the polls began after he suggested critics of his decision to extend in-state tuition rates to unauthorized immigrants brought to the US as children were "heartless." Gingrich, however, came across far more knowledgeable on the issue and managed to state his position without implying his critics were callous or racist. That may make some difference. 

"I'm willing to be tough, but I'm not willing to kid people," Gingrich told CNN anchor Gloria Borger after the debate. 

Cain and Santorum Call for Airport Profiling

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 7:47 PM PST
Herman Cain.

Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate in the Belly of the Beast (Washington, DC) began with a lengthy discussion on the Patriot Act and civil liberties. Newt Gingrich announced his whole-hearted support for the controversial law; Ron Paul, his total opposition. When it came to airport security, it was more of the same. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told host Wolf Blitzer he belived the TSA should profile Muslim passengers. Herman Cain suggested that racial profiling might be overly simplistic (this from the creator of 9-9-9), but called for "targeted identification" at airports. As he put it, "the terrorists have one objective that some people don't get, to kill all of us… we should use every means possible to kill them first or identify them first."

The problem is that it's not entirely clear what a terrorist looks like, and judging by Santorum and Cain's answers, it's not clear that they've thought too much about it.

To be sure, TSA screeners should be on the lookout for the guy in the security line with a banana clip yelling "Death to America!" But generally speaking, terrorists don't look like that. Say you wanted to screen for Muslims, as Santorum suggests—how would you know who is a Muslim and who isn't? It's not on your passport, at least not yet. TSA screeners could look at the names and take a guess—but terrorists span the ethnic spectrum and have lots of different-sounding names.  The name "Richard Reid" wouldn't set off many alarm bells. Jose Pimentel, who was arrested in New York City on Sunday on terror charges, was Dominican, and had a Hispanic surname. Are Latinos suspect? Dominicans specifically? What about African-Americans? British nationals? The four Georgia men who plotted to spread ricin inside the Beltway were old white dudes upset about the plastic bag tax. Is Walter Matthau the new face of terror?

Israel has it easy when it comes to profiling. It has one major international airport and it profiles Arabs and doesn't think twice about it. But that's an impossible model to replicate.

2003 Newt: Rein in the Patriot Act

| Tue Nov. 22, 2011 7:15 PM PST
What would 1976 Newt say about the Patriot Act?

Newt Gingrich opened tonight's CNN debate by saying he would support strengthening the Patriot Act, the controversial law that vastly expanded the reach of America's intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. 

"I think you want to use every tool you can possibly use," the former Speaker of the House said.

That doesn't exactly square with what Gingrich wrote in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003:

While I applaud the great successes of the Patriot Act in aiding law enforcement and intelligence agencies, agencies that have successfully disrupted terrorist plots and cells within the United States, I strongly believe the Patriot Act was not created to be used in crimes unrelated to terrorism. . . .

We must demonstrate to the world that America is the best example of what a solid Constitution with properly enforced laws can bring to those who desire freedom and safety. If we become hypocrites about our own legal system, how can we sell it abroad or question legal systems different than our own?

I strongly believe Congress must act now to rein in the Patriot Act, limit its use to national security concerns and prevent it from developing "mission creep" into areas outside of national security.

2011 Newt wants a robust Patriot Act; the lily-livered, 2003 Newt didn’t seem so committed. Views can change. But Gingrich's inconsistency on one of the central civil liberties questions of the post-9/11 era should give primary and caucus voters serious pause.