Mojo - February 2012

Newt: Killing Bin Laden Doesn't Count!

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 11:36 PM EST

Another Republican debate, another opportunity to call out Barack Obama's alleged softness on national security.

Toward the end of Wednesday night's presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona, when the conversation shifted to foreign policy, newly minted back-runner Newt Gingrich tossed out some tried-and-true applause bait:

As long as you're America's enemy, you're safe.

Gingrich was talking about the president's supposed proclivity for appeasing the United States' enemies abroad. Mitt Romney readily concurred.

That's one thought. Here's another:

Here are a few more:

Kim Jong Il didn't do so well during the Obama years, either, but we'll be fair and chalk that one up to coincidence.

So there you have it: A whole bunch of America's enemies, now in a terminal state of not being safe.

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Rick Santorum Misleads on Obama and Iran's Green Revolution

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 10:55 PM EST
Rick Santorum.

At CNN's Arizona debate Wednesday night, surging GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum blasted President Obama and his administration for standing idly by during the 2009 popular uprisings in Iran, better known as the Green Revolution.

Santorum, the former US senator from Pennsylvania, accused Obama of cutting funding for Iranian dissidents and failing to step in to support the revolution, which was sparked by widespread accusations of fraud in Iran's 2009 presidential election. "We did absolutely nothing to help" the protesters and activists fueling the Green Revolution, Santorum argued. That echoed earlier attacks when Santorum said Obama "turned his back" on Iranian protesters.

Santorum's off the mark here.

As FactCheck.org has pointed out, President Obama repeatedly supported the right of Iranians to protest what appeared to be widespread voting irregularities in an election that saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claim 62 percent of the vote. "I think it's important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views," Obama said three days after the election.

Days later, Obama railed against the Iranian government's "violent and unjust actions against its own people." The US, he said, "stands with all who…exercise" the "universal rights to assembly and free speech." And there were more supporting statements like these from the administration.

It's true that Obama didn't dive headlong into supporting the Green Revolution as some might have hoped, but for good reason: the president insisted he did not want to give a Ahmadinejad a "tool" to undermine the revolution. Even then, as FactCheck.org puts it, "The fact is Obama treated both cases similarly: condemning the governments’ use of violence against their own citizens and supporting the protesters right to protest."

GOP Candidates Pander to Sheriff Joe

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 10:28 PM EST
Maricopa Counta, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Presidential debates have never been particularly fertile ground for nuanced policy debates. So it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that at Wednesday's GOP presidential debate in Arizona—a state with an ever-increasing Latino population—the discussion of immigration consisted mostly of a back-and-forth on how long and how many layers the border fence should be.

Part of that blame, though, falls on the moderator, CNN's John King, who asked the candidates what they would do to satisfy Arizona's most famous sheriff, Maricopa County's Joe Arpaio, who was sitting in the audience. Mitt Romney responded by telling King, "You know, I think you see a model in Arizona." 

Rick Santorum took it a step further, singling out the sheriff by name: "I think what we need to do is to give law enforcement the opportunity to do what they're doing here in Arizona and what Sheriff Arpaio was doing before he ran into some issues with the federal government, which is to allow folks to enforce the law here in this country, to allow people who are breaking the law or suspicious of breaking the law to be able to be detained and deported if they're found here in this country illegally, as well as those who are trying to seek employment."

Arpaio is a power player in Republican politics; he endorsed Rick Perry before the Iowa caucuses and met with Santorum for 20 minutes on Tuesday. He's also using the power of his office to investigate whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States (spoiler: he was). He'll release those results on March 1, and told reporters on Tuesday that he briefed Santorum on the details on the inquiry.

As my colleague Adam Serwer reported, a Justice Department investigation in December found that Arpaio's department had consistently violated the civil rights of Latino citizens with no regard for their immigration status:

"We did not begin this investigation with any preconceived notions," said Civil Rights Division Head Thomas E. Perez at a press conference in Arizona Thursday. "We peeled the onion to its core." The conclusion? Arpaio's office "engages in a a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections."

...

The report issued by the Justice Department says Arpaio's office undertook "discriminatory policing practices" through racial profiling, including "unlawfully stop[ping], detain[ing] and arrest[ing] Latinos." Perez also said that Arpaio's office unlawfully retaliated against critics of the Maricopa County Sheriff's office by arresting or suing them, and punished Latino jail inmates for being unable to speak English by denying them basic services. The report also describes the Sheriff's Office as responding to reports of people with "dark skin" or people who "spoke Spanish" rather than people actually committing crimes, and says officials exchanged racist jokes over email. Detention officers in Maricopa jails are described in the report as referring to Latinos as "wetbacks" and "Mexican bitches." The report says Arpaio's office "implemented practices that treat Latinos as if they are all undocumented, regardless of whether a legitimate factual basis exists to suspect that a person is undocumented." 

Your Daily Newt: We the Popsicles

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 5:23 PM EST
Newt Gingrich demonstrates how to properly hold a popsicle with his right hand.

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. Daily Newt is back from a two-day sabbatical staring at the tree sloths.

Newt Gingrich's 1995 college course, "Renewing American Civilization," was a blank canvas on which the speaker of the house painted grand portraits of mountain people, forest people, and an idyllic age of family-friendly prime-time entertainment. It also gave him a chance to spin his students on the works of his favorite management consultants—among them, Daryl Connor and his theory of freezing-unfreezing-refreezing. It only sounds like a dance move:

He talks about being frozen, thawing, and refreezing. Now, this is at the heart of how you make the transition, and we'll come back later to his book Managing at the Speed of Change, which I recommend. It's a very, very useful framework for looking at this and having some sense of how you— how resilient managers succeed and prosper where others fail, and he talks about this.

Now, here's his concept. Normally you're frozen. You get up in the morning, you have a habit. The habit's fixed. Then things begin to change, and it's almost like watching—you can think about this with a popsicle. It's almost like watching—or with an ice cube. It begins to thaw, and you're changing and pieces fall apart, and it doesn't feel right. It's what Drucker means by a discontinuity. See, as long as you're frozen, it's predictable. Now it starts to change. Then you begin to figure out the future and you begin to refreeze, because people normally have to have stable conditions of effectiveness...

Okay? Everybody understand this concept of frozen, beginning to thaw out, and then refreezing? This is at the heart of thinking about how you manage change. And it allows you to now see the thawing without going, "Oh, my god, we're all going to collapse." No, we're going to find a new, more powerful, more appropriate way to refreeze.

If any of that was confusing to you, we think the film below highlights this concept quite well:

Chart: Iran Easily Tops America's "Enemies" List

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 2:45 PM EST

After conducting a poll over the course of four days in early February, with a random sample of 1,029 adults from all around the United States, the Gallup Poll has determined Americans are still freaking out over Iran.

In Gallup's annual World Affairs poll, respondents were asked to pick "the country they consider to be the United States' greatest enemy." Topping the list was Iran (32 percent of those surveyed nominated the Islamic Republic), followed by China (23 percent) and North Korea (10 percent). None of the other nations on this edition of America's enemies list crack the double digits. Here's the full chart, courtesy of Gallup Politics:

Iran's threat level jumped seven percentage points since early 2011. And as Gallup notes, the Iranian regime has enjoyed its top boogeyman status for a few years running:

The contour of responses to this "greatest enemy" question has changed substantially over the seven times Gallup has asked it since 2001. Americans most frequently mentioned Iraq as the United States' greatest enemy in 2001 -- before the U.S. invaded the country and removed Saddam Hussein from power -- and in 2005, when it tied North Korea. Iran has topped the list in each of the five surveys since.

At this point, it would be odd if Iran hadn't claimed the #1 spot. High-ranking officials in Tehran routinely make grandiose but empty statements threatening large-scale ground assaults on Western territories. Iran's nuclear program—and a potential Israeli airstrike—is the hot-button foreign policy issue of the year. Most of the Republican presidential candidates—when they're not riffing on urgent foreign policy matters like stemming the tide of Hezbollah colonization in Latin America or attacking Castro—frequently reach for "Bomb Iran!"-type rhetoric. American media has been abuzz with talk of war—some coverage has been measured and levelheaded, and some, well, not so much. And the whole covert-war-with-Iran thing hasn't exactly helped to ease tensions.

Justified or not, it isn't hard to grasp why Americans are pissed off at the Iranian government these days. What is difficult to understand is how Japan got voted on to this list.....just a single percentage point shy of Russia and Pakistan.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 22, 2012

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Col. Joseph Wawro and Command Sgt. Maj. Wylie Hutchison, the commander and senior noncommissioned officer of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Dragon Brigade), 1st Infantry Division, visit with soldiers of Company A., 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4IBCT , during a training mission at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., on February 14, 2012. The Dragon Brigade is preparing for their deployment to Afghanistan later this year. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tiffany Monnett, 4IBCT PAO)

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What Sheldon Adelson and Barack Obama Have in Common

| Tue Feb. 21, 2012 1:48 PM EST
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson

The media have jumped all over casino mogul Sheldon Adelson's remark in a new interview with Forbes that he would spend up to $100 million of his fortune to elect Newt Gingrich president. Such a donation would be unprecedented in American history and would rock the GOP presidential race. Adelson and his wife have already pumped $11 million into the pro-Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future, helping resuscitate Gingrich's campaign, and reportedly plan to give $10 million more.

But what pops out even more in the Forbes interview is Adelson's take on super-PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections so long as they don't coordinate with candidates or campaigns. Put simply, Adelson doesn't like them. "I'm against very wealthy ­people attempting to or influencing elections," he says. "But as long as it's doable I'm going to do it." That sounds an awful lot like the man Adelson is trying to defeat: President Barack Obama.

Earlier this month, Obama, who had railed against super-PACs, changed his tune, urging his donors to give to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action. Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, explained that the president's shift grew out of the realization that "we can't allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm." Obama didn't suddenly warm to super-PACs; he realized, as Sheldon Adelson has, that to compete you have to use the tools available to you.

Adelson, for his part, is unabashed about his support for Gingrich. "I have my own philosophy and I'm not ashamed of it," he says. "I gave the money because there is no other legal way to do it. I don't want to go through ten different corporations to hide my name. I'm proud of what I do and I'm not looking to escape recognition."

Adelson's beef with Obama, he insists, is not personal, but instead over what he calls "socialist" policies aimed at redistributing wealth in America. According to Forbes, Adelson's net worth has leapt by $21.6 billion while Obama's been president—more than any other person in America.

Newt's National Security Demagoguery

| Tue Feb. 21, 2012 12:27 PM EST
2012 GOP Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich.

How dangerous is President Obama? According to Newt Gingrich, the president who ordered the raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan is "incapable of defending the United States," later offering as an example the fact that the authorities "barely got a guy on Saturday who's tried to blow up the US Capitol.” 

Authorities "barely" foiled the plot only if, by "barely," Gingrich means they controlled the entire thing from beginning to end. Last Friday, an undocumented Moroccan immigrant named Amine El Khalifi was arrested in an alleged plot to suicide bomb the US Capitol—a plot that, according to the criminal complaint, was being monitored by the FBI for the past thirteen months and was planned only after Khalifi made contact with an undercover agent. When Khalifi finally showed up to carry the operation out, according to the complaint, it was with equipment he had been given by the FBI: A bomb that wouldn't detonate and a gun that wouldn't fire. This kind of sting operation, where the plot itself is never really in danger of actually coming to fruition, and which critics say amount to entrapment, has been a prevailing trend in domestic counterterrorism for the past few years. You could almost say Gingrich has a "fundamental misunderstanding" of how these things work. 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 21, 2012

Tue Feb. 21, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Pfc. Cory Miller, I Battery, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, fires the FIM-92 Stinger missile at a MQM-170 Outlaw drone plane (target practice). The FIM-92 Stinger is a personal portable infrared homing surface-to-air missile. US Army photo by Casey Slusser.

The Crazy Cost of Becoming President, From Lincoln to Obama

| Mon Feb. 20, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Barack Obama spent $730 million getting to the White House in 2008—twice as much as George W. Bush spent 4 years earlier and more than 260 times what Abraham Lincoln spent in his first election (as measured in 2011 dollars). Looking at the total costs of presidential elections over the past 150 years, it would seem that the White House is the ultimate recession-proof commodity:

So is the White House overpriced? Depends on what you're comparing it against. The increase in campaign costs (measured in real dollars) significantly outpaced the price of gold's rise over the 20th century. Yet between 1908 and 2008, real campaign costs did not keep up with real GDP growth.*

We'll see if these trends hold; 2012 could beat all records for campaign spending—and that's not counting super-PAC money.

Note: Election costs include all major candidates' spending and cost of primaries, when known; they do not include outside spending.

Sources: Center for Responsive Politics (election costs 1976-2008); George Thayer, Who Shakes the Money Tree?: American campaign financing practices from 1789 to the present (election costs 1860-1972); Bureau of Labor Statistics (CPI); Measuring Worth (pre-1913 CPI equivalents; GDP 1908-2008); World Gold Council (gold prices)

* This section and the chart beneath it previously compared real election costs with the inflation rate. To avoid confusion, it has been updated to compare real election costs with real GDP growth.