Mojo - July 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 6, 2012

Fri Jul. 6, 2012 10:34 AM EDT

Members of the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry from Shilo, Manitoba, and 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, practice the Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System with a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise from June 29 to Aug. 3, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. RIMPAC 2012 is the 23rd exercise in the series that began in 1971. Canadian Forces photo by Master Cpl. Marc-Andre Gaudreault.

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A Dismal Jobs Report: What's Obama to Do?

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 9:36 AM EDT

Summers stink for Barack Obama. Last July, the jobs report noted that only 18,000 jobs had been created the previous month. The summer of 2010 saw a dramatic decline in job creation. Today, the news is that the economy only birthed 80,000 jobs last month—far below the expected (or desired) level.

For Obama and White House aides—and the rest of us—it's been like Groundhog Day. Every year (with the exception of 2009) seems to start with whiffs of economic promise, and the president's economic advisers come to believe that the economy will finally—finally!—get a real lift. But by springtime, hopes are dashed—often partly because of European economic woes. And the rest of the year is spent explaining (which didn't work too well in 2010) and exhorting Republicans in Congress to act by not blocking action (which worked only marginally in 2011).

So what's the president's game plan now? A month ago, he held a press conference about the not-great jobs report of that moment and slipped up with his doing-fine remark about the private sector. But, more important, he spent much of that press conference in his most professorial mode discussing European financial troubles, while issuing a far from full-throated cry for the GOPers to pass the leftover portions of the jobs bill he had proposed the previous September. There was nothing rousing in his remarks and not a lot to give an anxious voter reason to believe in Obama's ability to juice up the economy.

With this dismal report, the instant conventional wisdom is that Obama will have to dial up the attacks on Mitt Romney in order to render Romney an unacceptable choice for voters who might otherwise select him as a way to vent their anger or disappointment with Obama and the economy. That's probably right. But it wouldn't hurt if Obama displayed more signs of fierce economic leadership. Reminding voters that he saved Detroit and perhaps the whole frickin' economy may not be enough. Obama likely needs to present vigorously a forceful create-jobs-now plan.

It's easy to throw advice at a president. Obama and the folks running his campaign are pretty darn smart. But it's clear they're not going to get much help this campaign season from external economic conditions. They will have to maximize all lines of argument: what's wrong with Romney, what Obama has achieved, and what Obama can do for the country if granted four more years. This jobs report is a reminder that the president needs to step it up on the latter.

Ayn Rand in Space

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Ayn Rand in space (artist's rendering)

At the Atlas Summit, a conference for libertarian devotees of Ayn Rand, the question is inescapable. It is scrawled in black magic marker on the plain white T-shirt of the white-haired man I pass on the way into the ballroom. It is printed on the green button on the corduroy blazer of the man who wants to share his thoughts on "the envy-driven wizards at NASA." It is emblazoned on the limited-edition gold coins advertised in the special three-ring binder given to all attendees. It is hanging, really, over the heads of all of us who have convened at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown DC in early July to celebrate Ayn Rand's sacred scroll of objectivism. The question, parroting the catchphrase of Atlas Shrugged, is "Who is John Galt?"

The answer, apparently, is Elon Musk, the billionaire cofounder of the California-based galactic transport company SpaceX.

I've dropped by the Atlas Summit on a Sunday morning on a whim. I had a couple of hours to kill before the Euro Cup Final, and I wanted to learn about perhaps the single most out-there—and intriguing—policy proposal to emerge from the 2012 Republican presidential primary: reviving manned space flight. I had no intention of sticking around for the 3:45 panel, "The Law and Morality of Insider Trading." And, unfortunately, the Q&A with the filmmakers behind Atlas Shrugged: Part 2 had come and gone.

"SpaceX and the future of space flight," though, had promise. It wasn't a panel, really—more of a 45-minute presentation on why SpaceX, Musk's newest and most ambitious project yet, was the greatest fucking thing to hit humankind since the three-field system. And in the true fashion of Rand's hero, John Galt, Musk, the 41-year-old founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors isn't there. According to Elon's Twitter feed, he's somewhere in Hawaii. Instead, attendees are treated to an emissary: Steve Davis, SpaceX employee #14.

This has been a good decade for the private space industry. In late May, SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Musk in 2002 with the goal of making mankind "multi-planetary," became the first nongovernmental entity to ferry cargo to the international space station and back. (It also became the first entity to ever apply for an atmospheric reentry permit from the FAA.) This came four years after the company's first major breakthrough: Falcon 1, the first privately-funded rocket to orbit the Earth. Thanks to companies like Virgin Galactic, space tourism is now officially a thing. And start-ups like Planetary Resources and Moon Express (the badass sci-fi names will presumably come later) are advertising their intentions to strip-mine space. For the first time since the 1970s, America is looking to the stars, and for the first time ever, that effort is being led by the private sector. The Randites love this.

Davis was a directionless graduate student at Stanford in 2002 when he got a call from Musk. Musk had just cashed out out of PayPal, the company he'd helped found in 1998 with Peter Thiel. (Thiel is now bankrolling the Seasteading Institute, which aims to create libertarian city-states on the high seas.) Musk was looking for young engineers with no families and enough energy to put in 100-hour weeks. Davis signed up the next day.

The audience of about 50 treats Davis like a rock star. He recounts the history of the company and draws the most applause when discussing its business model. The space industry doesn't suffer for lack of ideas; the main problem is transportation costs. "If the entire moon was made of solid gold, it would be unprofitable for any company on Earth to go mine it and bring it back," he says. "If the entire moon was made of heroin, it would still be unprofitable." SpaceX's goal, which Davis analogizes to that of solar cell and personal computer manufacturers, is to drive down the cost exponentially. It will do this primarily by cutting back on waste at every level and taking one big technological leap: creating rockets that can be used over and over again.

The company's selling point is just that—they set a price and they hit it. If a project comes in over budget, SpaceX eats the difference. As a result, it is able to deliver prices that would be unheard of in the public sector. "If you want to pay us $54* million, we will give you a Falcoln 9," he says, to rapturous applause. A rocket ship, yours, for less than the price of a super-PAC! The entire presentation is a running summary of different projects that Davis and SpaceX have completed under budget, each greeted with the same ovation. One way they saved money was by making rockets that work in two stages, as opposed to NASA's six. "I think Elon probably took a day to make that decision," Davis says. Another device, used to steer the rocket, was selling on the market for $250,000. Elon thought that it didn't seem much different than a garage-door opener and set a budget of $5,000. Davis' alternative device, designed in-house, checked in at $1,800.

"From my perspective, you guys are heroic beings," says the college-age kid in the designer polo.

Davis isn't pitching his company, so much as he's hawking an ethic—one shared by the gathering of objectivists and embodied by Elon: Don't wait for someone else to solve a problem because they probably won't. Winners set benchmarks and take the initiative; bureaucracies take your money and run.

When it's over, the floor is opened to questions. They're variations on a theme—either scientific queries (how much of a risk is solar radiation?) or bureaucratic. "Obviously, I'm here so you probably know my thoughts," Davis tells the woman who asks about red tape. The sixth questioner doesn't have a question, just a comment: "I just want to say, I wish Ayn Rand could have seen this—Isaac Asimov, too." A few rows back someone pipes up: "Ayn, mine!" (Ayn as in "mine"—this is the pronunciation guide, I kid you not, offered up by none other than the Ayn Rand Institute.)

A college-age kid in the designer polo shirt and cargo shorts takes the mic next. "From my perspective, you guys are heroic beings," he says. Applause. His question: "Is Elon familiar with objectivism and Ayn Rand? What has he read? Does he like it?"

"I don't know the answer, but I'll use an example from the book to answer that," Davis says. "I know the book well. One of my favorite lines from the book is when Danagger, after he disappears and Rearden is taking advantage, says something like 'Get me that delivery, Rearden!' That's not the right quote—does anyone remember the actual quote?"

"Look here, Rearden!" someone shouts.

Davis nods. "And that was the most political thing you ever heard from him. That's been my relationship with Elon—'Look here, Davis, get this done!' And so I don't think we've ever gone beyond that. But I know he's read the book."

When it's over, the crowd swarms around Davis, peppering him with questions: How about a buy—eight seats get the ninth free deal? How do you deal with space debris? Will you sign my notes?

Finally, as the room begins to clear out, I get a chance to ask mine: Is Newt Gingrich good or bad for the space industry?

Davis draws a blank. "I know nothing about politics," he says. "I know that he's a politician. I don't know anything about it. I'm sorry."

He's reluctant, too, to discuss his personal vision of what a space colony would look like. That, Davis says, "is for the Elons of the world. I just want to see [the rocket] go up." Making it to Mars is Elon Musk's dream, and, as evidenced by questions and adulation of the people in the room, it's the dream of many of the folks attending this Ayn-as-in-mine conference. They may not know quite what to do once they get there, but they know this: building a rocket and inventing a propulsion landing system that allows you to set up shop on another planet is the ultimate Going Galt.

Correction: This article originally misstated the cost of a Falcoln 9 rocket.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

 

 

 

 


quote of the week

"If we had a Karl Rove of our own out there, we wouldn’t have had to do this."
—An Obama campaign official speaking to the New York Times' Robert Draper, expressing frustration that the campaign had to buy TV airtime to respond to an attack ad from Karl Rove's American Crossroads super-PAC. But as a Crossroads spokesman told Draper, "Outside money tends to flow toward the party out of power, and to causes to stop things rather than to promote things."

 

stat of the week

$7.2 million: The amount pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future says it plans to spend on ads in 11 swing states during the summer Olympics. The campaign gives Restore Our Future the opportunity to praise Romney for his role in managing the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The ad buy also would outpace the $6.5 million that the Obama campaign is planning during the games.



chart of the week

While super-PACs get a lot of attention, campaign fundraising is outpacing that of the primary super-PACs supporting President Obama and Mitt Romney. The Center for Responsive Politics breaks down various kinds of money supporting the presidential campaigns.



more mojo dark money coverage

Is Rick Santorum's New Dark-Money Group Breaking the Law?: Patriot Voices says its "first priority" is defeating Obama. Tax experts say that could land Santorum in hot water with the IRS.
America's Most Patriotic Super-PACs: In honor of the Fourth of July, a salute to seven groups that vaguely embody what makes us great.
An Interactive Map of the Dark-Money Universe: Have you checked out our guide to 2Red giants, blue dwarfs, and cash-sucking black holes?



more must-reads

• How nine super-PACs that poured money into state races temporarily hid their donors. OpenSecrets.org
• Broadcasters push back against a federal order that political ad info be posted online. Sunlight Foundation
• Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) ends official relationship with his Senate Conservatives Fund so that it can become a super-PAC. Politico
• Obamacare opponents spent more on ads against the law than Obama spent on campaign spots in 2008. Republic Report
 Former pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC official says that attacking Mitt Romney's Bain Capital record "could still be toxic." Slate

GOP Aims to Sink Navy's "Great Green Fleet"

| Fri Jul. 6, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Fuel speed ahead: The fleet goes green US Navy/Declan BarnesFuel speed ahead: The fleet goes green US Navy/Declan BarnesCongressional Republicans just got their battleship sunk. Even though House conservatives fought in May to prevent the Navy from spending any money on biofuel, the service last Friday launched its "Great Green Fleet"—the first-ever US flotilla to get underway with mostly nonconventional fuel. But election year jockeying may mean an epic battle over biofuel in Washington this fall.

The fleet—technically, an aircraft carrier strike group—is cruising its way to a naval exercise on more than half biofuel, which derives its brew from sustainable biomasses. It's taking place against a major backdrop: The exercise, known as RIMPAC, is a biennial tradition for 22 nations with big-time seapower. It's like a global Boy Scout jamboree for sailors with nuke subs and cruise-missile-laden warships instead of merit badges and pocketknives. "The reason we're doing this is that we simply buy too many fossil fuels from either actually or potentially volatile places on earth," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said last month. Mabus plans for the Navy to fulfill half of its energy needs using biofuel by 2020.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 5, 2012

Thu Jul. 5, 2012 10:16 AM EDT

A US Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team fires his M4 carbine at insurgents during a firefight in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. The vehicle he is using for cover is a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod, Task Force 1-82 PAO.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 4, 2012

Wed Jul. 4, 2012 10:04 AM EDT

 

US Marine Corps Sgt. Christopher Judy holds position on a beach with the Polish vessel ORP Krakow in the background during a Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2012 amphibious operation exercise in Palanga, Lithuania. BALTOPS is a joint and combined exercise designed to enhance multinational maritime capabilities and interoperability between the U.S. and European nations in the Baltic region. Department of Defense photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeff Troutman.

America's Most Patriotic Super-PACs

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

If there's one thing to count on in this election year, it's vaguely named groups cynically tapping into our patriotism with shameless appeals to the endangered values bestowed by our founders. Many of the 644 super-PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission have taken advantage of this approach. You've no doubt heard about some of them, like the pro-Rick Santorum Red, White & Blue Fund, the failed attempt to Make Us Great Again with Rick Perry, or the ongoing effort to Restore Our Future via Mitt Romney.

In honor of the Fourth of July, a salute to the most patriotic among their lesser-known counterparts:

Article II Super PAC
Here's a super-PAC so patriotic, it's named after part of the Constitution. Article II, whose name alludes to the birther theory that President Obama is not a natural-born citizen and is therefore ineligible to be president, is "a small group of fellow Americans, who are sole proprieters of blogs." That's important, because "Americans cannot rely on the mainstream media to report on candidates [sic] constitutional eligibility status. Therefore, the responsibility falls on those of us who turned off the news long ago and tuned into the blogosphere—the real American news frontier." So far, these vanguards of American blogdom have spent $0 against our Kenyan-born usurper.

Restore Our America PAC
If you're skeptical that the Constitution really says what Article II Super PAC claims, never fear: Just sign up to volunteer for Restore Our America PAC and you'll receive a free pocket-sized copy to reference for yourself. On the conservative super-PAC's bald eagle-and-George Washington-adorned website, a cautionary quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin reads, "He that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing." Which could explain why Restore Our America has only raised $21,000.

Restoring America Project
Maybe super-PACs ought to leave all the restoring to Restore Our Future. The Restoring America Project sells itself as an "aggressive new type of 'Super PAC' called a 'Hybrid PAC'" that "has launched to challenge the party establishment and the political status quo," but so far it's raised just $1,700. On the plus side, the group has thrown its support behind quintessential American Joe the Plumber (a.k.a. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher). Its website features a campaign ad of Joe telling a jobless Occupy hippie what's what.

Freedom Path Action Network
With a name like Freedom Path, what else do you need to know? If your answer is "nothing," that's good, because this super-PAC's website is comprised of little more than a splash screen with a logo of a red path leading toward a bright light—presumably Ronald Reagan's "shining city upon a hill." It's not clear what the Freedom Path Action Network has spent its $100,000 budget on, but its sister organization is the dark-money 501(c)(4) Freedom Path, which spent about $300,000 to help Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) fend off a primary challenger last month.

Super PAC for America
Speaking of Ronald Reagan, his image is just about the only thing to see on the website of Super PAC for America. Bill Clinton advisor-turned-Fox News commentator Dick Morris is the chief strategist of the super-PAC, which was "founded to advocate for a Congress that supports limited government, less taxes, free enterprise, a strong national defense and positive American values." Super PAC for America has raised, and spent, about $800,000 this election, the majority of which was donated by the conservative League of American Voters.

USA Super PAC
This super-PAC isn't just for America—it is America. So far, it's spent all of its cash on Indiana Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock, funneling $134,000 into his successful effort to knock off incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar in a May primary despite Mourdock's opposition to a constitutional amendment against flag burning.

Let Freedom Ring America PAC
Let Freedom Ring, "formed to counter the attacks of anti-conservative groups on patriotic candidates," is about as pro-America as it gets. According to its mission statement, the group promotes limited constitutional government, economic freedom, and traditional values. More importantly, the super-PAC has obtained exclusive footage of Uncle Sam, seen wandering forlornly through a mall and tent city as he begs for change, shedding a tear for the American Dream.

Corn on MSNBC: Romney's Barclays Tie-Up

Tue Jul. 3, 2012 8:46 PM EDT

David Corn joined Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson and political analyst Richard Wolffe on MSBNC's "Martin Bashir" to discuss how the Barclays interest-fixing scandal is hurting the Romney campaign. Barclays CEO Bob Diamond was set to host a fundraiser for Romney in London, before the bank was slapped with a $450 million fine and he was forced to resign.

They then discussed how the GOP message machine is misfiring on health care—and how even popular conservative pundits are complaining about Republicans as a result.

 

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Corn on MSNBC: Romney's Abortion Investment

Tue Jul. 3, 2012 11:14 AM EDT

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn joined host Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's The Last Word to discuss Mitt Romeny and Bain Capital's $75 million investment in Stericycle, a company that disposes of medical waste—including aborted fetuses. Read his investigative piece on the subject here.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.