Mojo - August 2012

This Single Chart Explains a Lot About the GOP Convention

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 12:04 PM EDT

Via Dan Amira at New York magazine, who polled 50 RNC delegates—it's not scientific, but when your margins are this big, they mean something:

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Sharron Angle Is Happy the GOP Followed Her to Crazytown

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 10:51 AM EDT

She's baaaaack.

Back in the heady tea party days of 2010, it seemed even a wet noodle could have beaten Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the beleaguered Senate majority leader and perennial butt of conservative jokes. But then the Republican Party nominated Sharron Angle, a maverick "Oath Keeper wanna-be" and anti-fluoride activist who stood up for BP, called unemployed Americans "spoiled," and railed against "an unscientific hysteria over the man-caused global warming hoax." Fox News laughed at her, she lost the race, and it seemed the GOP had finally found a heap of crazy that even they couldn't carry.

But she's back, baby. Ducking into a ladies' room at the Republican convention in Tampa Wednesday, Las Vegas Sun reporter Karoun Demirjian ran headlong into a chipper Angle, who exulted in the party's continuing embrace of her brand of crazy wisdom. Demirjian reports:

"In 2010, when I was running, everybody said 'No, you're too extreme,'" Angle said. "But now look, it's where everybody is going."

She mentioned specifically the push to audit the Fed, a rallying cry for the pro-Paul camp that they managed to get on the Republican platform last week. Angle had called for it in her 2010 campaign.

Beyond that, the new GOP platform also calls for the United States to study a return to the gold standard, and Angle has long advocated "making a basket of commodities (metals, oil, etc.) as a basis for maintaining the value of the U.S. currency"—call it the "gold, pork bellies, and frozen concentrated orange juice standard."

Angle—a longtime Ron Paul sympathizer—supported Rick Santorum in the primaries and is a lukewarm Romney backer now, according to Demirjian. She was joined in the bathroom by two organizers of a group called Tea Party and Republicans Uniting Nevada Conservatives, and at this convention, it seems they're realizing their dream of one party, under Sharron. Said one of the organizers: "She was ahead of her time."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 30, 2012

Thu Aug. 30, 2012 10:06 AM EDT

U.S. Army Pfc. Sean Serritelli, with Legion Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, provides security during a combat operation outside Combat Outpost Charkh, Logar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 23, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alexandra Campo.

Charts: Republican Platforms, Then and Now

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 5:02 AM EDT

On Tuesday, the Republican Party released its 2012 party platform, a 62-page, 32,000-word treatise on its agenda, which includes priorities such as reconsidering a return to the gold standard, bringing back Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and ignoring climate change.

Platforms' planks come and go: For instance, accusing Democrats of "work[ing] unceasingly to achieve their goal of national socialism" (1952), increasing federal arts funding (1976), or calling for biodegradable plastics (1992). But some core themes remain the same. For a quick look at how Republican platforms have changed in the past seven decades, I examined some of the party platforms kept on file with the University of California-Santa Barbara's American Presidency Project. A few things that stood out:

Platforms are getting longer: The 1948 GOP platform clocked in at a tidy 2,739 words. By 2004, it had bloated to more than 41,000 words. This year's is a little slimmer, but it's hardly a quick read.

Heroes and foes come and go: George W. Bush has received more love (relative to the length of party platforms) than even Ronald Reagan, yet he went from being mentioned 250 times in 2000 to being mentioned 3 times in passing this year. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have been popular bogeymen. Barack Obama, however, is mentioned only 9 times this year, usually in the phrase "Obamacare." Reagan is also mentioned 9 times this year.  

 

Complaning about taxes never grows old: The Republican party seems more tax-obsessed than ever, yet unfair taxation has been a constant theme in its platforms for decades. Debt and God also get regular mentions. Communism, once a top international and domestic concern, is all but forgotten. 

How Google Mixed Up Sherrod and Scott Brown

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 5:01 AM EDT

When Lynn Raskin googled Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, she ended up clicking on an ad for Republican Senator Scott Brown.  Screenshot: GoogleWhen Lynn Raskin googled Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, she ended up clicking on an ad for Republican Senator Scott Brown. Screenshot: GoogleLynn Raskin, a Washington D.C. realtor, and her husband, Marcus, a cofounder of the Institute for Policy Studies, have routinely contributed to progressive candidates in tight congressional races during this election cycle. They've donated to Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat running for Senate in Massachusetts. They've also given money to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Late Saturday evening, Raskin typed "Sherrod Brown" into Google to make another campaign contribution. She clicked the first link populating her search results, a Google ad that took her to an innocuous-looking campaign fundraising page. She entered her Visa digits, hit submit, and just like that, she'd forked over $50 to a Republican in one of this season's most hotly contested Senate races: Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

Raskin realized her mistake the next day when she read the automated thank-you email from Scott Brown's campaign. She says she takes "full responsibility for not paying attention" when she clicked on Scott Brown's Google ad, but she still feels like she was duped. After all, why should a search for Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, bring up an ad for Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican?

When I told Sherrod Brown's communications director Justin Barasky about Raskin's story, he says he'd never heard of anything like it before, though it seemed "pretty shady." Raskin also found it shady. "Obviously, it’s a way to try to get mistaken contributions from people like me who are not paying attention," Raskin theorizes. "It's a way to divert money from people who are supporting progressive candidates."

But is it?

Google's algorithms, not a sneaky Scott Brown operative, are likely to blame. Scott Brown spokesperson Alleigh Marré says that the campaign did not pay to have the keyword phrase "Sherrod Brown" trigger its Google ads. She declined to comment further on the campaign's online strategy.

But Clay Schossow, a cofounder of web-development firm New Media Campaigns, has a pretty good idea of what happened. "You can see where the mix up is," Schossow says. "They both have the same last name and the same first letter of their first name...As someone who has been there, I have seen our political clients get traffic to their website based on specific terms we don't want to target."

That's because most advertisers who sign up for AdWords, Google's flagship pay-per-click advertising platform, target specific keywords (e.g. "Scott Brown") and allow Google to run their ads around searches loosely related to those words (e.g. "Massachusetts senator") in order to reach as many eyes as possible. AdWords uses a sophisticated algorithm to match ads with search terms based on the amount of money advertisers are willing to spend, as well as the ads' relevance to users' searches. But the Google gods aren't infallible, so not all queries generate pertinent ads, as Schossow pointed out. It's important, he says, for advertisers "to keep a close eye on what terms they're paying for and how those terms are converting folks."

On Tuesday, a Scott Brown ad popped up when I googled "Sherrod Brown." (See image above.) But as of yesterday, a search for Sherrod Brown no longer called up a Scott Brown ad. 

Scott Brown's use of Google ads is not new. In his 2010 Senate bid, Brown, a long-shot candidate with a shoestring budget, defeated state Attorney General Martha Coakley in part because he ran "one of the most aggressive" Google AdWords campaigns ever. The Scott campaign reportedly used AdWords to reach users searching for both his and Coakley's names. So impressed was Google that the search engine behemoth invited Brown's chief web strategist to give a talk at its Washington, D.C. headquarters.

Ordinarily, online ads funded by political candidates must state that they've been paid for by the candidate. Two years ago, the Federal Election Commission voted to permit Google to run short text-based politcal ads without disclaimers. However, there's nothing about the Scott Brown ad that suggests it might be an ad for another candidate. 

In the aftermath of the mix-up, the Scott Brown campaign has issued Raskin a full refund and she has donated successfully to her preferred Sen. Brown.

Corn on "Hardball": The Neocons Come Out in Tampa

Thu Aug. 30, 2012 2:15 AM EDT

David Corn and Eugene Robinson joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss John McCain's comically hawkish speech, Condoleezza Rice's terrific speech, and the rest of the Bush era neocons in attendance at the Republican national convention.

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

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Obama: "We Need to Seriously Consider" A Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 6:05 PM EDT
President Obama answering question during his "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit.

President Obama set the internet aflame Wednesday with his "Ask Me Anything" Q-and-A on Reddit, the massive web aggregator and online community.

Given Mother Jones' obsession with super-PACs, dark money, and the mad dash for campaign cash in 2012, one particular question stood out to us: "What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?"

Obama responded by decrying the "no-holds barred flow of seven- and eight-figure checks" into super-PACs' war chests. He worried that these outside groups "threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens."

And the president made actual news in his response by personally pressing for an amendment to the US Constitution reversing the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited company funds on independent political spending. Citizens United also helped pave the way for the SpeechNow.org v. FEC decision that ushered in super-PACs. (Members of Obama's inner circle have previously made similar statements.)

Here's Obama's full response:

Jonah Minkoff-Zern, an organizer for group Public Citizen's "Democracy Is For People" campaign pushing for a Citizens United amendment, hailed Obama's statement. "We're incredibly excited at Public Citizen that Obama has called for an amendment. We see every day that we organize the passion that people across the political spectrum have for a constitutional amendment to prevent the voices of the many from being drowned out by the money-fueled megaphone of the few."

It's no secret that Obama, despite shunning public campaign funds and blessing the super-PAC created to support his re-election effort, dislikes the current big money politics in this country. Indeed, before endorsing the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action, Obama blasted super-PACs—which can accept and spend unlimited sums of money, but ostensibly can't coordinate with candidates—as a "threat to democracy."

Hate for the Citizens United decision is common among the higher-ups in Obamaland. David Axelrod, an senior campaign strategist and longtime Obama confidant, told New York magazine back in June that, during a second term, the Obama administration "will use whatever tools out there, including a constitutional amendment" to reverse Citizens United. "I understand the free speech argument," Axelrod said, "but when the Koch brothers can spend $400 million, more than the McCain campaign and the Republican Party spent last time, that's very concerning."

Obama and Axelrod's constitutional amendment comments aren't welcomed by all Democrats. Fundraisers, especially those working for outside groups, say these types of comments make their job more difficult. This public anti-Citizens United sentiment "still raises in people's minds an adverse view at the highest levels [about super-PAC giving] even though the president has said grudgingly said, 'I hope people will participate in this,'" says one Democratic fundraiser. "If David Axelrod is saying that, donors wonder, 'Is giving to super-PAC something I'm gonna be appreciated for?'"

Condi Rice to Rescue Romney on National Security?

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 5:04 PM EDT

On Wednesday night, Republicans are hoping to burnish Mitt Romney's and Paul Ryan's national security credentials by trotting out one of George W. Bush's top lieutenants, Iraq war hawk Condoleezza Rice, who was Bush's national security advisor and then his secretary of state. She's got her work cut out for her. Neither Romney nor Ryan has ever worked in foreign policy, or served in uniform—a veritable rarity among Republican executive nominees.

In a preemptive strike Wednesday, three top Obama campaign supporters and foreign-policy pros blasted the GOP ticket for being weak on defense. Though they're probably not the Biden, Roemer, and Wilson you expected to hear from, the three Democrats—speaking to reporters on a conference call hosted by the progressive Truman Project—pulled no punches in criticizing the GOP ticket as neoconservative, incoherent, and anti-veteran. "On defense and national security, what we are hearing out of Romney and Ryan is an example of the hollow force," said retired Assistant Defense Secretary Douglas B. Wilson. "All sound bites and theory with no grounding in reality and nothing substantive to back it up."

"The Republicans have a very long history of experienced candidates" on military and veterans' issues, said Tim Roemer, a former Indiana congressman and ambassador to India from 2009 to 2011, but "Governor Romney does not have that experience."

Beau Biden, who served in Iraq in 2009 and is Delaware's attorney general and the vice president's son, said the Romney-Ryan ticket wants it both ways on defense spending: Supporting costly wars and expensive weaponry provided by contractors, while undermining benefits for those who serve in uniform, even as vets are getting hard with disabilities and unemployment. Citing a Veteran's Day 2011 campaign appearance by Romney in South Carolina, Biden said, "He chose that day to propose his voucherization of the [Department of Veterans Affairs], which is a not-so-elegant euphemism for privatization of the VA." (Here's a video of Romney's privatization speech.)

Governor Roemer cast the Republicans' security policy as trading on tax cuts for the rich. "Romney has threatened to turn health care for veterans into coupons for veterans," he said. "You cannot put a pricetag on a veteran who has served overseas." Wilson hit Ryan's unpopular budget proposals: "Ryan's plan cuts everything from defense that isn't a gun," he said. "I think you have some quesions from returning vets and their families on just what that means for them."

Read President Obama's Reddit "Ask Me Anything" Q's and A's

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 3:31 PM EDT
President Obama on Reddit

NOTE: This post is being continuously updated. Scroll below to read Reddit users' questions for Obama—and his answers—as they come in real time.

An official for the Obama campaign confirmed to Mother Jones that the president ran a live "Ask Me Anything" feature on Reddit, the user-generated news link site. He took questions for a half-hour starting at 4:30 p.m. EDT on August 29.

The thread amassed more than 13,000 comments, ranging from how Obama feels about teenagers killed in drone attacks to how he plans on furthering rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender citizens.

MoJo's own Nick Baumann asked a question, based on the magazine's years of reporting the drone wars:

So far, Obama hasn't responded.

Commenter "The AtomicPlayboy" said, "Welcome to Reddit, Mr. President." And commenter "KoreanTerran" pointed out, "Good luck Obama. You're going to need it."

UPDATE: Obama wrote, "Hey everybody - this is barack. Just finished a great rally in Charlottesville, and am looking forward to your questions. At the top, I do want to say that our thoughts and prayers are with folks who are dealing with Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf, and to let them know that we are going to be coordinating with state and local officials to make sure that we give families everything they need to recover."

 

 

Question 1:  Are you considering increasing funds to the space program?

Answer: Making sure we stay at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority for my administration. The passing of Neil Armstrong this week is a reminder of the inspiration and wonder that our space program has provided in the past; the curiosity probe on mars is a reminder of what remains to be discovered. The key is to make sure that we invest in cutting edge research that can take us to the next level - so even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight.

 

Question 2: We know how Republicans feel about protecting Internet Freedom. Is Internet Freedom an issue you'd push to add to the Democratic Party's 2012 platform?

Answer: Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too. We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody - from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business. And although there will be occasional disagreements on the details of various legislative proposals, I won't stray from that principle - and it will be reflected in the platform.

 

Question 3: Who's your favorite Basketball player?

Answer: Jordan - I'm a Bulls guy.

 

Question 4: How are you going help small businesses in 2013 and 2014? and what if any bills are you going to impliment for small businesses, in 2013, and 2014?

Answer: We've really focused on this since I came into office - 18 tax cuts for small business, easier funding from the SBA. Going forward, I want to keep taxes low for the 98 percent of small businesses that have $250,000 or less in income, make it easier for small business to access financing, and expand their opportunities to export. And we will be implementing the Jobs Act bill that I signed that will make it easier for startups to access crowd-funding and reduce their tax burden at the start-up stage.

 

Question 5: What is the first thing you'll do on November 7th, win or lose?

Answer: Win or lose, I'll be thanking everybody who is working so hard - especially all the volunteers in field offices all across the country, and the amazing young people in our campaign offices.

 

Question 6: What was the most difficult decision that you had to make during this term?

Answer: The decision to surge our forces in afghanistan. Any time you send our brave men and women into battle, you know that not everyone will come home safely, and that necessarily weighs heavily on you. The decision did help us blunt the taliban's momentum, and is allowing us to transition to afghan lead - so we will have recovered that surge at the end of this month, and will end the war at the end of 2014. But knowing of the heroes that have fallen is something you never forget.

 

Question 7: What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?

Answer: Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. We need to start with passing the Disclose Act that is already written and been sponsored in Congress - to at least force disclosure of who is giving to who. We should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists. Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.



Question 8: What's the recipe for the White House's beer?

Answer: It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty.

 

Question 9: I am recent law school graduate. Despite graduating from a top school, I find myself unemployed with a large student loan debt burden. While I'm sure my immediate prospects will improve in time, it's difficult to be optimistic about the future knowing that my ability to live a productive life -- to have a fulfilling career, to buy a house, to someday raise a family -- is hampered by my debt and the bleak economic outlook for young people. I know that I'm not alone in feeling this way. Many of us are demoralized. Your 2008 campaign was successful in large part due to the efforts of younger demographics. We worked for you, we campaigned for you, and we turned out in record numbers to vote for you. What can I say to encourage those in similar situations as I am to show up again in November? What hope can you offer us for your second term?

Answer: I understand how tough it is out there for recent grads. You're right - your long term prospects are great, but that doesn't help in the short term. Obviously some of the steps we have taken already help young people at the start of their careers. Because of the health care bill, you can stay on your parent's plan until you're twenty six. Because of our student loan bill, we are lowering the debt burdens that young people have to carry. But the key for your future, and all our futures, is an economy that is growing and creating solid middle class jobs - and that's why the choice in this election is so important. The other party has two ideas for growth - more taxs cuts for the wealthy (paid for by raising tax burdens on the middle class and gutting investments like education) and getting rid of regulations we've put in place to control the excesses on wall street and help consumers. These ideas have been tried, they didnt work, and will make the economy worse. I want to keep promoting advanced manufacturing that will bring jobs back to America, promote all-American energy sources (including wind and solar), keep investing in education and make college more affordable, rebuild our infrastructure, invest in science, and reduce our deficit in a balanced way with prudent spending cuts and higher taxes on folks making more than $250,000/year. I don't promise that this will solve all our immediate economic challenges, but my plans will lay the foundation for long term growth for your generation, and for generations to follow. So don't be discouraged - we didn't get into this fix overnight, and we won't get out overnight, but we are making progress and with your help will make more.

 

Question 10: How do you balance family life and hobbies with, well, being the POTUS?

Answer: It's hard - truthfully the main thing other than work is just making sure that I'm spending enough time with michelle and the girls. The big advantage I have is that I live above the store - so I have no commute! So we make sure that when I'm in DC I never miss dinner with them at 6:30 pm - even if I have to go back down to the Oval for work later in the evening. I do work out every morning as well, and try to get a basketball or golf game in on the weekends just to get out of the bubble. Speaking of balance, though, I need to get going so I'm back in DC in time for dinner. But I want to thank everybody at reddit for participating - this is an example of how technology and the internet can empower the sorts of conversations that strengthen our democracy over the long run. AND REMEMBER TO VOTE IN NOVEMBER - if you need to know how to register, go to Gottaregister.com. By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience - NOT BAD!

WATCH: Paul Ryan's Brother Calls Him a "Career Politician"

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 2:50 PM EDT

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has railed against the Washington political class and pitched his outsider status as a selling point. Romney hit on this theme in May when he said that "someone who's never spent a day in the private sector, like President Obama, simply doesn't understand" the economy and how jobs are created. Romney's in line with much of the tea-partyized GOP, which hails a lack of experience in Washington as a virtue.

Yet Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Mitt Romney's pick for vice president, has worked in Washington nearly all of his adult life. He did stints at a conservative think tank and as a staffer for Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). He first ran for Congress at the tender age of 28.

In fact, Ryan is such a Washington insider that his own brother, Tobin, describes him as a "career politician." And Tobin Ryan doesn't mean that as a compliment.

Here's Tobin Ryan calling his brother a "career politician" on Fox News Wednesday morning at the GOP convention site in Tampa, Florida, in a video clip that has received little notice:

Transcript:

Megyn Kelly: Let's get to know him. He's from Wisconsin. He's married. How many kids?

Tobin Ryan: He has three kids.

Kelly: How old are they?

Ryan: They are 10, 8, and 7.

Kelly: Lifelong politician? I mean, 28 years old, he runs for Congress, been there 14 years.

Ryan: You know, it sounds like that. I never actually thought he was going to be a career politician. And I kept expecting him to come back and start a real job.

So Ryan's brother sees him as a Washington guy who hasn't held a "real job." But don't expect this to stop the Republicans from denigrating Obama and other foes as career politicians. It's too good a talking point to subject to the test of reality.