Mojo - January 2012

Dodd to Internet: You And Your Blackout Can Drop Dead

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 6:00 PM EST
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)

Netroots and tech industry pressure has dramatically slowed the progress of the Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA) Acts, the sweeping anti-piracy bills backed by the lobbying might of the entertainment industry. As we wrote today, both SOPA and PIPA are on the ropes, thanks in part to a recent flurry of Internet activism. Tomorrow, a number of sites, including Reddit and Wikipedia, plan to "blackout" their sites in protest—i.e., go inactive. And this isn't just some wily fringe movement: late on Tuesday, Google also got into the mix, announcing that it will voice its opposition against the bills on its homepage tomorrow.

Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), now the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, is decidedly unamused:

Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.

It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.

A so-called "blackout" is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.

It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this "blackout" to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy."

The Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez, a prominent opponent of both bills, summarized Dodd's statement via Twitter, writing, "Shorter MPAA: If you screw with us, our vassals in Congress will be holding hearings on your 'abuse of power' (aka 'speech')." 

Dodd's dismissal of the blackout as a "dangerous" "stunt" betrays one of Washington's most maddening blind spots. Huge portions of the Internet community have  embraced a genuine act of protest—one that doesn't rely on deep-pocketed lobbyists on K Street. Whatever your thoughts on SOPA and PIPA, it's clear that millions of people will be affected by the blackout. This is far more than a mere stunt.

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Gingrich Turns Food Stamp Lecture Into Campaign Ad

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 4:55 PM EST

Newt Gingrich has turned his Monday night debate exchange with Juan Williams on food stamps and the black community into a campaign ad titled "The Moment":

The ad begins with the question, "Who can beat Obama?" The ad is betting that Republicans are longing to see Gingrich lecture the first black president on how there's nothing racist about suggesting black people would rather be on public assistance than work for a living. It indulges two longstanding Republican fantasies: That Obama is an intellectual lightweight dependent on his teleprompter who would be easily dispatched by a knowledgeable conservative opponent, and that racism on the right is entirely an invention of liberals, who are the real racists

It's telling that, although Gingrich's overall performance last night was reviewed positively by political observers, this is what his campaign chose to emphasize.

The Foreign Policy Adviser Mitt Romney Threw Under The Bus

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 2:56 PM EST
2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

If you watched Monday's Republican debate in South Carolina, you might have noticed that brief moment when Mitt Romney threw one of his foreign policy advisers under the bus.

When the discussion turned to the Afghan War, one of the Fox News moderators mentioned that one of Romney's advisers had written frankly about the grim reality of negotiating with the Taliban. When asked if he believed his own advisor was wrong on the subject, the Republican front-runner responded with a definitive and dismissive "yes."

The right course for America is not to negotiate with the Taliban when the Taliban are killing our soldiers. The right course is to recognize they're the enemy of the United States. It's the vice president who said they're not the enemy of the United States...The right course for us is to strengthen the Afghan military force so they can reject the Taliban. Think what it says to the people in Afghanistan and the military in Afghanistan, when we're asking them to stand up and fight to protect the sovereignty of their people, if they see us, their ally, turning and negotiating with the...Taliban.

Romney also reassured the South Carolina audience of just how tough he would be as commander in chief, saying, "of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are. [The Taliban] declared war on us... We go anywhere they are, and we kill them."

More Than 1 Million Signatures Collected for Scott Walker Recall

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 2:47 PM EST

Gary Porter/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.comGary Porter/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com

It's on in Wisconsin.

On Tuesday afternoon, the grassroots group United Wisconsin announced that it had collected more than a million signatures in the past two months to trigger a recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker—nearly twice the 540,208 minimum. That's almost as many signatures as votes Walker received in his 2010 gubernatorial election (1.12 million), and hundreds of thousands more than the 720,000 signatures Walker predicted on Rush Limbaugh's show Tuesday. Democrats also said 845,000 signatures had been collected to recall Walker's right-hand woman, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Additionally, enough signatures were bagged to recall GOP state Sens. Pam Galloway, Terry Moulton, and Van Wangaard.

Herman Cain Returns!

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 12:54 PM EST

After dropping out of the presidential race in November amidst an avalanche of sexual harassment allegations, Herman Cain has reemerged from his self-imposed exile. On Friday, he appeared on Bill Maher's HBO show, giving one of the first TV interviews since suspending his campaign. (Cain told Maher that Americans need to "lighten up.") He recently announced that he was planning to tour the country in support for his "9-9-9" tax plan. And now, Cain is scheduled to headline a "grassroots" rally on January 28 for congressional candidate and conservative talk show host Martha Zoller, who's running for a seat in Georgia's 9th district. In a press release announcing Cain's appearance, Zoller said:

We are thrilled to have Herman Cain join us in Gainesville for this important and timely rally. Like Herman, I believe that we need to completely transform the U.S. Tax Code, restore common sense and accountability in government, and end 'business as usual' in Washington. It is an honor to have Herman support my campaign for Congress and I look forward to sharing the stage with such a remarkable leader again.

Cain's resurrection is another sign that sex scandals need not be a career-ender. (See Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Sen. "Diaper Dave" Vitter (R-La.), and...well, OK, maybe not former Idaho senator Larry Craig.) But Cain's timing is exceptionally good. His return to the political spotlight comes just as comedian Steven Colbert's SuperPac has started running ads urging voters to cast ballots for Cain in South Carolina's GOP primary. (Despite suspending his candidacy, Cain is still on the South Carolina primary ballot.) The Colbert ads may be a spoof, but as Zoller's embrace of Cain indicates, he still has some extremely loyal followers, many of whom refuse to believe any of the stories about his alleged sexual improprieties. Who knows? Maybe Colbert will manage to fully rehabilitate Cain by boosting his prospects in a primary he's not really even trying to win. You can watch the Colbert ad here:

 

Gingrich's Racial Doubletalk On Food Stamps

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 12:51 PM EST
Newt Gingrich delivers a stern lecture.

During Monday night's debate, Fox News debate moderator Juan Williams tried unsuccuessfully to get Newt Gingrich to justify his comment that black Americans should "demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps." Instead of explaining himself, as my colleague Asawin Suebsaeng wrote, Gingrich just argued that liberals hate it when people earn money. 

Here's the exchange:

WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can't you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?

GINGRICH: No. I don't see that.

(APPLAUSE)

You know, my daughter, Jackie, who's sitting back there, Jackie Cushman, reminded me that her first job was at First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Georgia, doing janitorial work at 13. And she liked earning the money. She liked learning that if you worked, you got paid. She liked being in charge of her own money, and she thought it was a good start.

I had a young man in New Hampshire who walked up to me. I've written two newsletters now about this topic. I've had over 50 people write me about the jobs they got at 11, 12, 13 years of age. Ran into a young man who started a doughnut company at 11. He's now 16. He has several restaurants that take his doughnuts. His father is thrilled that he's 16 because he can now deliver his own doughnuts.

(LAUGHTER)

What I tried to say -- and I think it's fascinating, because Joe Klein reminded me that this started with an article he wrote 20 years ago. New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union. You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They'd learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They'd be getting money, which is a good thing if you're poor. Only the elites despise earning money.

Gingrich didn't actually address the question Williams asked, which was how he justifies implying that black people would rather sit at home living on food stamps than earn money for a living, and that those traits are so ingrained that it would justify Gingrich lecturing black people collectively (in the form of a speech to the NAACP) about the virtues of working for a living. Gingrich was asked why he assumed black people were both poor and lazy (and poor because they are lazy), and he responded by shredding a strawman about how liberals don't want people to work. In all honesty, that was probably better than trying to justify his original remarks. Gingrich is actually making the argument that excessive government stops hardworking poor people from making money, which is different from arguing that poor people don't know how to work hard

Gingrich has also been slippery about saying "food stamps," denying or embracing the racial implications when convenient. Last October, he told NBC host David Gregory on Meet The Press it would be "bizarre" to read any racial implications in Gingrich referring to Obama as the "food stamp president." Then, two weeks ago, Gingrich magnanimously offered to tell black people as a whole, through a speech to the NAACP, that "I'll go to their convention and talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps." Shorter Gingrich: It's bizarre to associate food stamps with black people, who really need a stern lecture from me about their preference for food stamps rather than work. 

Historically speaking, there's nothing particularly unusual about Republicans attempting to undermine support for the social safety net by telling white audiences that their hard-earned money is being robbed by the federal government to subsidize the underserving black masses. Ronald Reagan, after all, used to tell audiences tales of "strapping young bucks" using food stamps to buy "t-bone steaks." By portraying people on food stamps as faceless leeches, one can avoid the fact that most people on food stamps are white, and that hardworking people of modest means can be shoved into poverty by economic conditions beyond their immediate control. What's new, and indicative of this unique moment in contemporary American politics, is that the man in the White House looks like the kind of people Republicans have typically used to condemn the welfare state.

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Call it the Romney Rule: Mitt Says He Pays "Close" To 15 Percent In Taxes

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 11:41 AM EST

Does Mitt Romney pay less of his income in taxes than you do?

Bloomberg's Julie Davis tweeted that Romney told reporters while campaigning in South Carolina Tuesday that his "effective tax rate is probably close to 15 percent" because "most of his income is from investments."

That means Romney—estimated to be worth between 190 million to 250 million dollars according to the New York Times—pays a lower effective tax rate than millions of Americans who aren't close to being millionaires. Last year, President Barack Obama proposed a change to the American tax code called the "Buffett Rule," named after wealthy investor Warren Buffet, who claimed that because capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than income, many of his employees paid more of their income in taxes than he did. 

How much Romney pays in taxes has long been the subject of speculation—he said that he "might" release his tax returns in April—but as Michael Scherer reported in October, the Democrats had long sought to use the Obama's "Buffett Rule" proposal to frame Romney as the candidate of the wealthy. Romney has responded by accusing Obama of being "a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy." Presumably, anyone who points out that Romney's tax plan calls for keeping his own taxes low while cutting spending on programs for the less wealthy is also just jealous. 

Romney recently said talk of inequality should be confined to "quiet rooms," but Democrats will most likely hammer the GOP front-runner for his low tax rate now that he's outed himself as the exact kind of millionaire who would be impacted by the "Buffett Rule." I wouldn't be surprised if they started calling it the "Romney Rule."

UPDATE: Greg Sargent points out that "Romney Rule" has been floating around for a while now, though until today his tax rate was still a matter of informed speculation. 

Scott Walker Banks on AIG Mogul to Fight Recall

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 11:10 AM EST

On Tuesday afternoon, Grassroots groups and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin will unveil their signature haul in the effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. They need at least 540,208 signatures to trigger recall elections for Walker and Kleefsich, but it's clear they've easily surpassed that mark.

So where will Walker be when the final signature tally is announced? In the state capital or the governor's mansion, standing his ground and defending his record? Nope. He'll be in New York City at the world headquarters of the megabank Citigroup raising money for his recall defense effort.

Tuesday's Walker fundraiser, first reported by the New York Daily News, is hosted by no less than Hank Greenberg, the former CEO of American International Group, the global insurance corporation that needed $150 billion in bailout funds in 2008 and 2009 from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. The cost of attending is $2,500 per person or $5,000 per couple.

Here's the invitation:

New York Daily NewsNew York Daily News

Thanks to a loophole in Wisconsin elections law, Walker can raise unlimited amounts of money to defend himself in a recall election (the typical limit for gubernatorial races is $10,000). Brad Courtney, chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, admitted last fall that raking in unlimited donations was central to Walker and the Republicans' defense strategy, according to audio obtained by Mother Jones. Walker began fundraising in November, and has until "a recall primary or election is ordered, or after that time if incurred in contesting or defending the order" to raise unlimited donations. In other words, Walker's unlimited fundraising window could extend well into next month.

Walker raised $5.1 million dollars between July 1 and December 10, a period that includes his recall fundraising. Out-of-state donors accounted for almost half of that money, according to campaign finance records. The biggest donor to Walker's recall defense is Bob Perry, the Texas homebuilding magnate and who bankrolled the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign that caused trouble for Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid. Perry gave $250,000 to Walker. Other top Walker backers are Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, who own the Uline shipping company and chipped in $205,000, and Foster Friess, a Wyoming-based investor and frequent GOP donor, who donated $100,000.

Your Daily Newt: Bilingualism is Bad, Bilingualism is Good

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 10:20 AM EST
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, at an MLK Day event in South Carolina.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich stepped in it in 2007 when he told an audience of conservative activists that Spanish is a "ghetto" language. In an address to the National Federation of Women, the former speaker argued that, "We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto." He later took to YouTube to issue una apologia—as they say in the ghetto—in Spanish. Now that he's a candidate for president, Gingrich has changed his tone, insisting that his quote was taken out of context. In January, he told reporters in Miami, "We didn't want any children trapped in a ghetto, it was a reference to the Middle Ages—being a historian."

The Price of Newt Gingrich's Ambition

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 6:00 AM EST

In 1976, fresh off his second failed congressional bid, Newt Gingrich did what any reasonable man in his shoes would have done: He decided that he would run for president, tentatively scheduling his future campaign for 2000 or 2004. "We were all discussing the timing, his age, working out the one-term and two-term presidencies in between," someone close to the then-political novice told Vanity Fair two decades later, shortly after Gingrich had ascended to the position of speaker of the House. "I think the plan is still going. I think he will be president."

Gingrich may have missed his deadline by eight to 12 years, but finally he has realized his plan—well, the campaign side of it, anyway. Along the way, he and his supporters have spent tens of millions in the quest to cement his status in the annals of American political legends. Here's a look at how much money Gingrich and his affiliated political groups (once known as "Newt Inc.") have gone through since the late '80s:

1987-1994: Friends of Newt Gingrich (congressional campaign committee): $6.3 million

1994-1995: GOPAC: $15 million (raised, estimated)

1997-1998: Friends of Newt Gingrich: $7.6 million

1995-1998: Monday Morning PAC: $3.1 million

1997-2000: Friends of Newt Gingrich PAC: $1.6 million

2006-2010: American Solutions for Winning the Future (527): $51.4 million

2009-2012: American Solutions PAC: $794,000

2011-2012: Newt 2012 (presidential campaign committee): $2.5 million

2011-2012: Strong America Now (super-PAC): $125,000

2011-2012: Winning Our Future (super-PAC): $4.2 million

TOTAL, 1987-2012: $92.6 million

That comes out to more than $3.6 million raised or spent annually, on average, since 1987. Which, depending how you look at it, isn't a lot to spend on one's presidential ambitions—or a whole lot to spend on a dream that now looks all but doomed. (Numbers based on data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, the New York Times, and my colleague Tim Murphy's roundup of Gingrich's shady '90s fundraising operation.)