On Wednesday morning, ABC News ran a story on one of the "Romney party yachts," a 150-foot yacht hosting an exclusive event in Florida for donors who raised more than a million bucks for the Romney campaign. The article (video report and all) highlights the irony that the yacht flies under the flag of the Cayman Islands.

But that's not even the funniest or most tone-deaf thing about the boat. Check it:

The exclusive event, hosted by a Florida developer on his yacht "Cracker Bay," was one of a dozen exclusive events meant to nurture those who have raised more than $1 million for Romney's bid...The Cracker Bay is owned by Gary Morse, developer of the Villages retirement community...Registered in the Caymans, the Cracker Bay has an impressive art collection and can seat 30 for dinner. 

Yes, you read all that correctly: Team Romney threw a party at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina, where extraordinarily rich people fraternized aboard a boat called "Cracker Bay."

If you need a refresher on exactly why this is odd, click here now.

For the record, the colloquial term "Florida cracker" refers to the colonial English settlers of what is now the Sunshine State, as well as their descendants. The Democratic 41st governor of Florida, "Walkin'" Lawton Chiles (a now-deceased buddy of the Clintons), famously quipped about winning the "cracker vote"—meaning down-home white voters. Chiles also praised Bill Clinton's ability to fluently "speak cracker."

Cracker Bay is also the name of a road in South Africa.

So there you go.

Newt University, the former speaker of the House's eight-hour, one-week Tampa lecture series on why America is really great, is a collaborative effort in which a host of GOP luminaries, businessmen, and industry groups talk about awesome things about America.

Gingrich is here today at the Wyndham Hotel in Tampa to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Harold Hamm, the billionaire oil baron who gave almost $1 million to the pro-Romney and—no hard feelings here—anti-Gingrich super-PAC Restore our Future, is here to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Sen John Hoeven (R-N.D.), is also here to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is here to talk about how North Dakota is…no, he's actually here to talk about energy independence.

The awesomeness of North Dakota isn't really why I'm here, though. I'm curious what Gingrich, the architect of the 1990s welfare reform push and more recently the man who accused Barack Obama of being a "food stamp president," thinks about the Romney campaign's roundly debunked attack on the president's welfare policies. Given that the charges are false, and Romney has followed up on his charge by accusing the president of wanting to "shore up his base" with handouts, some people think Romney is hoping to stir up historic animosity among white working-class voters.

There's a hitch, though. "There's no way in hell I'm letting you talk to him," says Gingrich's spokesman, R.C. Hammond.

So I asked West, the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, for his thoughts. No dice here, either. "You guys says there's a racial component for everything except when y'all attack me," he tells me when I ask about the welfare attacks. Twice, actually. "No, no, you guys say there's a racial component for everything except when you attack me. So don't even ask me about that silliness."

When Illinois Rep. John Shimkus (most famous for suggesting that God would protect the United States from climate change) finished his presentation at Newt U., I asked him what he thought about the racial implications of the welfare ads. "WHAT!? There's no increasing racial tone of this campaign." I asked him about the false claim, repeated in a recent ad, that Obama had eased welfare work requirements to "shore up his base."

"Does welfare only go to a racial population?" Shimkus asked. "I don't think so." At this point, Hammond, Gingrich's aide, piped in. "What's up with the Chris Matthews racism there?" he asks, a nod to the MSNBC host whom Gingrich has accused of being a racist for discussing the racial implications of the welfare attack.

"Come on, give me a break!" Shimkus said with a laugh, and turned away to greet an admirer.

The GOP's welfare evolution is Gandhi in reverse: First they fight you, then laugh at you, then they ignore you. No word yet on who wins.

Relatedly, here's my interview from Tuesday with Herman Cain, who is also adamant that there are no racial overtones in the welfare attack:

David Koch, right, at the 2012 Republican National Convention. David WeigelDavid Koch, right, at the 2012 Republican National Convention. David Weigel

David Koch, one-half of the hugely influential Koch brothers duo, was not hard to miss on the floor of the Republican National Convention. A former collegiate basketball player at MIT, Koch stands six-foot-five, a giant among the party faithful. He looks identical in person to the hundreds of photos of him just a Google search away. Koch is one of New York's 95 delegates, all Romney supporters, and his presence here at the GOP convention has caused a stir. Koch's private dinner with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Monday night ended up plastered all over Twitter, breeding rumors and speculation about who else dined with the man the liberal blogosphere loves to hate.

Koch—who with his brother, Charles, and their extensive donor network, reportedly plans to direct some $400 million toward defeating President Obama in November—doesn't want the attention, and has tried to maintain a low profile in Tampa. I spotted him Tuesday afternoon on the convention floor looming over the rest of the crowd. He wore a navy suit, red-and-blue checkered tie, and a couple of fancy-looking convention passes sure to open doors that we reporters couldn't dream of entering. I chatted with Koch's three aides, and their messages were the same: No interviews, please. Mr. Koch wants to blend in, be just another delegate. One aide handed me and a few other reporters a printed-out statement with Koch Industries' logo. Here's what it said:

I'm deeply honored and humbled to be chosen as one of 95 delegates representing the great state of New York at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Americans, we all have a role to play in the Democratic process. From learning about the issues to participating in campaigns and voting, this is an opportunity—and a right—to help chart the course of the nation.

The 2012 election may be the most important of our lifetimes. Profoundly different political philosophies are competing for our hearts and minds—and our votes. I have made no secret about which philosophy I support—the one that provides the greatest economic and personal freedom possible.

As I read the statement, a few pink-cheeked convention pages approached Koch, asked him for some life advice. "I'm the evil billionaire Koch brother," he quipped. "You're not afraid of me?" They weren't. As best as I could hear over the convention floor din, Koch, leaning down so the pages could hear, urged them to specialize in something they enjoyed and then work like hell to master their craft. Be the best at whatever it is you choose to do. The pages nodded in unison. Koch looked happy.

The New York delegation was seated next to Wisconsin. That meant Koch and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who famously took a call from a fake "David Koch" during Wisconsin's 2011 uprising ("thanks a million!"), stood just 10 or 15 feet apart for much of the evening. I never saw Koch or Walker exchange words. But then Walker is a celebrity at this convention, in demand from anyone within arm's reach.

Koch's aides—Bill O'Reilly, a New York politico and Newsday columnist; Cristyne Nicholas, a Manhattan-based political communications consultant; and Nancy Pfotenhauer, a DC political strategist and former Koch Industries lobbyist who worked on John McCain's 2008 campaign—politely shielded their man from reporters. On stage, New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu took the mic to officially nominate Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential candidacy. Koch and his entourage took their seats with the rest of the New York delegation as each state proudly rattled off the number of delegates it had elected for Romney. (Delegates for other candidates, such as Rep. Ron Paul, were not recognized.) Then, when it was New York's turn, New York GOP chair Ed Cox stepped up to the mike and committed all 95 of New York's delegates to Romney.

A pack of photographers encircled Cox as he stood at the New York delegation's designated microphone. Koch stood just behind Cox's left shoulder, clapping, smiling, and looking on approvingly like a proud brother or father. It was unclear whom the photographers cared about most—Cox or Koch.

Next up was North Carolina. New York's delegates returned to their seats. But Koch lingered on his feet a bit longer, gazing toward the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired convention stage. Then he, too, sat back down, just another face in the crowd.

The Republican Party platform for 2012 proclaims itself "a statement of who we are and what we believe as a Party and our vision for a stronger and freer America." It's also got some pretty strange things in it. Here are five of the weirdest:

Anti-Shariah. The right-wing conspiracy theory that American Muslims are engaged in a "stealth jihad" meant to replace the Constitution with Taliban-style Islamic law isn't mentioned explicitly in the Republican platform. But the document does refer to it obliquely. "There must be no use of foreign law by US courts in interpreting our Constitution and laws," the platform reads. "Nor should foreign sources of law be used in State courts; adjudication of criminal or civil matters." This language is the result of the efforts of Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who has helped author many of the country's restrictive immigration laws. "[S]ometimes defenses are raised that are based in Shariah Law," Kobach warned while explaining his support for this section. The Constitution prevents any religious law from superseding civil or criminal law, and this language wouldn't just impact Muslims—Orthodox Jews in the US often resolve civil matters according to Jewish law

See Wah/FotopediaSee Wah/Fotopedia

The UN is coming! The GOP platform treats the United Nations as a sinister force encroaching on American sovereignty. Though some of this is mere disagreement on policy, elements of the platform incorporate nods to conspiracy theories, like language that says the party "reject[s] the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty, and we oppose any form of UN Global Tax." As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer reported in 2010, Agenda 21 is a two-decade-old toothless international commitment to sustainable development ("smart-growth communism") that has roused the imaginations of tea partiers everywhere. Meanwhile, as Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating notes, the UN does not have the authority to impose a "Global Tax." I suppose that's a great reason to oppose it!


Bring back the gold standard? Invoking a Ronald Reagan-era commission convened to "consider the feasibility of a metallic basis for U.S. currency," the GOP platform calls for "a similar commission to investigate possible ways to set a fixed value for the dollar." For some reason, going back to the gold standard is believed on some corners of the right to be a panacea for economic instability, but we'll just let the New York Times' Paul Krugman explain why this isn't true: "[U]nder the gold standard America had no major financial panics other than in 1873, 1884, 1890, 1893, 1907, 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1933."

 Mykl Roventine/Fotopedia Mykl Roventine/Fotopedia

No more race-based governments in the US. At first glance, it might seem strange that the GOP platform states that the party opposes "the creation of any new race-based governments within the United States." But this language isn't referring to hundreds of years of slavery, oppression, and racial discrimination—it's referencing a dispute over legislation that would grant Native Hawaiians the same kind of status as Native American tribes in the continental United States. 

Tomas Del Amo/ShutterstockTomas Del Amo/Shutterstock 

Banning Bibles on military facilities. In the interest of protecting the US military from imminent communist subversion, the GOP platform proclaims that "A Republican Commander in Chief will protect religious independence of military chaplains and will not tolerate attempts to ban Bibles or religious symbols from military facilities." This ominous language refers to an embarrassing mistake at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where hospital officials, in an attempt to prevent people from proselytizing to wounded service members, seemingly banned visitors from giving religious items to those receiving care at the facility. Though officials say the policy was never enforced, Republicans quickly pounced on this as proof the Obama administration was trying to purge Christianity from the armed services. Now it's part of the GOP platform. 

  Dulce Rubia/Shutterstock Dulce Rubia/Shutterstock

Read the full text of the GOP's 2012 platform below.


PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 27, 2012) Sailors assigned to USS George Washington's (CVN 73) Crash and Salvage team prepare to retrieve a simulated casualty during a general quarters drill on the flight deck. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Alexander W. Cabrall.

According to its platform, the Republican Party wants to reinstate Don't Ask Don't Tell, prevent same-sex marriages from being recognized by the federal government, and stop efforts to prevent gays and lesbians from being persecuted in Africa.

But that's okay, they're being super-polite about it. 

The GOP platform for 2012 calls for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and affirms the party's support for the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in the states. (The Obama administration has ceased to defend the law, arguing that part of it is unconstitutional.) Unironically railing against "government control over the lives of its citizens in all aspects," this section of the platform also states that "the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard" through "laws governing marriage." However, at the end of the paragraph explaining the party's position, the platform states, "We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity." So instead of same-sex marriage rights, same-sex couples will get "respect and dignity," which is apparently not something they're supposed to expect normally. 

Likewise, in the section on "Supporting Our Troops, Standing By Our Heroes," the platform authors use the phrase "respect and dignity" before decrying "social experimentation," in the military. For anti-gay activists, "social experimentation" is a euphemism for allowing gay and lesbian servicemembers to serve openly without fear of being discharged because of their sexual orientation. "The members of our military should be treated with the utmost respect and dignity," the GOP platform reads, "We reject the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation and will not accept attempts to undermine military priorities and mission readiness." Part of the GOP's extension of "utmost respect and dignity" for servicemembers includes preventing the government from acknowledging gay and lesbian servicemembers. "We affirm the cultural values that encourage selfless service and superiority in battle, and we oppose anything which might divide or weaken team cohesion, including intra-military special interest demonstrations," the platform states, an apparent reference to the Department of Defense's decision to recognize LGBT pride month this year and allow some servicemembers to participate in LGBT pride events in uniform. Because of current law, military families headed by same-sex partners are denied the same benefits as heterosexual couples. Retaining this disparity is another part of the GOP's "respect and dignity" agenda for gay and lesbian servicemembers, as the party's support for the Defense of Marriage Act is reiterated in this section. 

As I reported yesterday, the GOP platform also decries efforts by the Obama administration to oppose laws in African countries that criminalize homosexuality. Some of the legislation being proposed would include prison time and even execution as punishment for homosexuality, but the GOP platform says the Obama administration of "imposing" the "homosexual rights agenda" on "the peoples of Africa" by trying to change them. The GOP's "respect and dignity" agenda for gay people apparently doesn't include preventing them from being executed or imprisoned outside of the US. 

That's not to say the GOP platform completely ignores civil rights in the context of the LGBT rights movement. On the contrary, it expresses deep concern for the rights of anti-gay rights groups. "We condemn the hate campaigns, threats of violence, and vandalism by proponents of same-sex marriage against advocates of traditional marriage and call for a federal investigation into attempts to deny religious believers their civil rights," the platform reads. 

In the Republican platform, opponents of same-sex marriage have civil rights that must be defended. Gays and lesbians on the other hand, get "respect and dignity," and little else.

In 2011, the United States experienced its biggest year ever in weapons exports: According to an annual study by the Congressional Research Service [PDF] released earlier this week, the US overseas weapons sales jumped to $66.3 billion last year (77.7 percent of the $85.3 billion global market in 2011), from $21.4 billion in deals in 2010. 

In just one year, the US more than tripled its revenue in arms deals with foreign countries. The $66.3 billion also sets a new cash total record, easily surpassing the previous record of $31 billion in sales in fiscal year 2009.

If you're having trouble putting those hefty sums in perspective, $66.3 billion is amounts to an extra $9.50 in lunch money for every man, woman, and child alive today. And if you're still having some trouble putting this in perspective, here's a pie chart that shows just how much our global share in arms deals with developing countries ticked up in that one year:


Yep. That's us, on the right, doing a reverse-Pac-Man-death on overseas arms transfer agreements between 2010 and 2011.

The uptick was mostly fueled by demand in developing countries, which accounted for over $56 billion in sales from the US. Here are two more charts illustrating in constant dollars how America definitively pwns all others in flooding the arms market in the developing world:


Illustrations by Dave Gilson


Much of the surge was driven exclusively by the ongoing freak-out over Iran: Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (all Persian Gulf allies or partners of the United States) in particular started buying missile defense systems, fighter jets, and other hardware from the US at record levels, just in case Iran ever goes nuclear and tries to throw its weight around West Asia and the Gulf. Saudi Arabia's $33.4 billion deal included dozens of F-15 fighter jets and Black Hawk helicopters. The UAE threw down $4.5 billion for a missile shield and other toys.

And in case you were wondering: In arms sales to both developing and developed nations, our closest competitor is Russia, which came in at a total of $4.8 billion in 2011—roughly 7 percent of what the United States hauled in that same year:

David Corn and Joy Reid joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Ann Romney's speech 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.

At the Republican national convention on Tuesday, nearly every speech invoked—in an unfair, out-of-context manner—President Obama's statement that successful small business owners benefit from government investment in roads, bridges, and education. Republicans have repeatedly used Obama's line "you didn't build that," excluding the crucial context, to imply that Obama believes that entrepreneurs didn't build their own businesses.

One small business owner tapped by the Republican National Committee to speak at the GOP's "I Built That"-themed convention Tuesday was Phil Archuleta, owner of P&M Signs in New Mexico. "President Obama talks like he supports small businesses, but his actions are destroying us," Archuleta told the thousands in attendance Tuesday night. "His administration is putting us out of business. It is our turn to put them out of office!"

But Archuleta's business, like those of several other business owners at the GOP convention, benefited greatly from government help. Through the Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency, Archuleta secured an $850,000 Small Business Administration loan guarantee to build an 11,700-square-foot building for his company.

The Minority Business Development Agency's website also says that Archuleta worked with the US Forest Service, to which he supplies signs, and a Department of Energy laboratory to develop environmentally friendly sign materials. So not only did Archuleta build new infrastructure for his business with a government loan, he collaborated with government agencies to improve the quality of his product.

Archuleta's small business, in other words, directly contradicts the GOP's "I built that" nonsense. The Republican National Committee has trotted out business owners to highlight Obama's and the government's supposedly harmful effect on businesses. In Phil Archuleta's case, government has had the opposite effect.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte was reading from the GOP script on Tuesday when she told a mostly-full Tampa Times Forum that President Obama "never even ran a lemonade stand." It was a point the Republican party chairman, Reince Preibus, had made just a few hours earlier: "President Obama's never run a company," Preibus told the assembled delegates. "He hasn't even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand."

It's a compelling line designed to hammer home Mitt Romney's core message—the President has never worked a real job and he doesn't know anything about business. The problem is it's entirely false.

As Politifact detailed in 2009, in response to a similar allegation from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, Obama held a number of retail and food service jobs as a teenager in Hawaii—including scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, which technically doesn't serve lemonade but it does have a pink rasberry lemonade sorbet: 

1975 or 1976 — ice cream scooper, Baskin-Robbins — Honolulu — Obama claims to have lost his taste for ice cream during this, his first job, the duration of which is not publicly known.

Date unknown — deli counter clerk, business name unknown — Honolulu — Obama had a summer job at a deli counter in Hawaii, making sandwiches, his spokesman said during the presidential campaign.

1980 — gift shop sales clerk, business name unknown — Honolulu — Obama worked at a gift shop in Hawaii selling island souvenirs the summer after his freshman year at Occidental College in California.

As Politifact noted, Obama held private-sector jobs as an adult as well, including posts at a Chicago law firm and a New York City company that helped American companies do business abroad—exactly the kind of experience Romney is accusing Obama of lacking. It's a myth that hasn't received as much attention as Romney's debunked charges about Obama's welfare policies, but in accusing the President of being coddled and oblivious, it's no less pernicious.