Mojo - August 2012

Why the Romney VP App Wasn't a #Fail

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 12:25 PM EDT

Gawker's Louis Peitzman makes a claim I've seen a lot, especially from progressives, in the wake of Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate: The campaign kind of blew it. Not on the substance, mind you, but on the rollout. "I'm not saying this was a complete fail on the Romney campaign's part, but to pretend that they announced Paul Ryan exactly as they'd said they would — via smartphone app, and then in a joint public appearance — is just silly," Peitzman writes. "Instead of admitting they botched their plan to obfuscate, the Romney campaign is pushing a Hardy Boys narrative..."

Peitzman is missing something really important. The real purpose of the Romney VP app wasn't to break the VP announcement. Sure, that's how they pitched it. But the Romney folks (probably) aren't so delusional as to think they'd be able to keep a secret all the way up to the roll-out.

The VP app served the same purpose the Obama campaign's 2008 promise to text its supports its VP pick did: It was an excuse to collect your data. Although it was predictably scooped by the New York Times and CNN, Team Obama was able to collect 2.9 million phone numbers using this gimmick. Those numbers were used for fundraising and organizing efforts later in the campaign. (The downside: A glitch prevented half of Obama's text-message subscribers from receiving the announcement text.) Download the Romney VP iPhone app and it informs you that "By using this application, you may be placed on Romney for President Inc.'s contact list to receive campaign updates… Romney for President's regular Privacy Policy shall apply." Romney doesn't want you to be the first to know about his personnel moves; he wants your email and mailing address.

Since we don't know how many people signed up for the VP app—70,000 people have downloaded Romney's other app—it's too early to call it a rousing success for Romney. But it's not right to call it a #fail.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 13, 2012

Mon Aug. 13, 2012 12:11 PM EDT

Completing 60 years of service, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, known as the 'Ugly Angels,' completed a memorial flight over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 9, 2012. The squadron was created in 1952 and holds the distinction of being the first Marine helicopter squadron to arrive in country during the Vietnam War. Photo by Cpl. Isaac Lamberth.

Bloggingheads: Adamize

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 11:35 AM EDT

Bloggingheads asked me to start doing a regular show for them. Yahoo contributor (and Jezebel Founder) Anna Holmes is my first guest:

Holmes and I discuss race, gender and the Olympics, why Lolo Jones was getting some much attention/hate, Mitt's tax returns, and broader 2012 election stuff. Hope you enjoy it! 

Romney Super-PAC Set to Unload Its Biggest Ad Buy Ever

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 11:01 AM EDT

Restore Our Future, the weirdly named super-PAC devoted to electing Mitt Romney president, will spend $10.5 million on ads this week attacking President Barack Obama in 11 battleground states—Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Restore Our Future has raised $82.2 million this election cycle, the most of any super-PAC, and this latest ad buy is its largest.

The ad, "Another Month," rips Obama for the economy's sluggish recovery and lackluster job creation in recent months. The ad rehashes several minor flubs by the president—his 2011 quip that "Shovel ready was not as shovel ready as we expected" regarding stimulus-created jobs and, last month, his line that the "private sector is doing fine"—and then ends by claiming Obama has no record to run on.

Here's the ad:

Spending by presidential super-PACs is spiking as the candidates enter the final stretch of the campaign. Earlier this month, the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super-PAC announced it was buying $30 million in ads in Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia this fall.

Ryan and Romney's Really Awkward Moment

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 10:53 AM EDT

Awkward. On 60 minutes, Ryan talks eliminating tax shelter loopholes as Romney tries not to look horrified. 

Mitt Romney and his newly anointed running mate Paul Ryan didn't make much news in their first joint interview of the campaign on Sunday on 60 Minutes. But one exchange stood out: When asked about the fairness of his tax plan by CBS's Bob Schieffer, Romney fought back against the suggestion that his policies would disproportionately favor the most wealthy. Here's what Romney said:

Fairness dictates that the highest-income people should pay the greatest share of taxes, and they do. And the committment that I've made is we will not have the top income earners in this country pay a smaller share of the tax burden. The highest-income people will continue to pay the largest share of the tax burden, and middle income payers under my plan get a break. Their taxes come down. So we're not going to reduce taxes for high income people and we are going to reduce taxes for middle income people.

Ryan went on to explain that he and Romney would make the system more fair by shutting down tax loopholes that exclusively favor the rich. (In other words, the kind of tax loopholes Romney has taken advantage of.)

There's a nugget of truth in Romney's claim that high-income earners won't pay a smaller share of taxes. He has not proposed replacing the progressive income tax with a flat tax (say, 20 percent for everyone), nor has he proposed giving the highest-income people a lower income tax rate than middle-class people. Under Romney's plan, many rich people will still pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than poorer Americans will.

But the larger point is way off. Contrary to Romney's assertion on 60 Minutes, Romney's tax plan would amount to an enormous tax cut for the highest earners while raising taxes on the middle class, the working poor, and everyone else in the bottom 95 percent. That's according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Here's how it works:

Tax Policy Center dataTax Policy Center data

Those changes are on top of current policy, which includes the Bush tax cuts. (Ryan's budget, as I noted earlier, would likewise raise taxes on the lowest earners while disproportionately boosting the uber-rich and cutting Romney's personal tax rate to just 1 percent of his income by phasing out capital gains and dividend taxes.) If Romney's new message is that he's still going to make top earners pay their share, it might be his most audacious spin yet.

19 Wacky Presidential Candidates You've Never Heard Of

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

Mitt Romney has been the Republican Party's presumptive nominee since April, but the 2012 presidential field is still more crowded than you might think: More than 400 candidates have filed statements of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. You've probably heard of some of them, like comedian Roseanne Barr, Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones, and anti-abortion activist Randall Terry. But you probably haven't heard of these wacky would-be presidents:

Lester Byerley, hydrogen peroxide drinker

Lester Byerley MySpaceLester Byerley MySpaceA fan of FDR who nevertheless filed as a Tea Party candidate, Byerley warns that Obamacare will "put people in jail for not buying insurance." He recommends regularly consuming hydrogen peroxide to cure cancers, colds, and other viruses. By reducing the need for doctors and hospitals, Byerley's cure-all would kill jobs, he conceded to the Philadelphia Weekly. "But human health should supercede everything, including the economy." Byerley also said that as president he would "hand out Federal Reserve debit cards to anyone earning under $50,000 a year, and it'll start off with $12,000."


Warren Ashe, Time Traveler

While working for the Reagan administration, Ashe claims, he developed a "program of time travel communications" that reached out "at least and no less than 500 years into the future." He says he has transported sperm and DNA into the 24th century and has built flying saucers "that are capable of going to another solar system at high warp speed." Ashe, a Democrat who has done stints in the Air Force, Army, and Navy, and owns the Jyperonix Astrophysics company, has been running for president since 2000. His hobbies include computers, pool, tennis, listening to "Snoops Dog," and "inventing electromagnetic hover devices."


Douglas "Dutch" Van Raam, roller derby fan

Douglas "Dutch" Van Raam VoteSmart.org "Dutch" Van Raam Project Vote SmartThe all-but forgotten Free Soil Party lives on through Van Raam, who says the party's 1848 nominee, Martin Van Buren, is his favorite president. Unlike Old Kinderhook, Van Raam rides a Harley, loves nachos and Heather Graham, and has been a roller-derby referee. Other modern-day Free Soilers have questioned Van Raam's claim to the mantle of the mid-19th century antislavery party, accusing him of being "a pirate with no honor." 

 
Rutherford B. Hayes, EX-Beauty Pageant EXEC

In an earlier age, Rutherford B. Hayes served as our 19th president. Today, Hayes (no relation) has ambitions to return his name to its former glory, vowing to rid Washington of "socialists, communists, and marxists, as well as sensatiable [sic] condescending egos." He'd also reestablish the gold standard and get the country out of Afghanistan and the UN. Hayes is the former CFO of Miss Liberty America, in which contestants are judged in swimsuit, founding-father trivia, and marksmanship competitions. He says he responds to all of his prospective supporters' Facebook messages, "even if someone's being a turd."

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Paul Ryan in Six Charts: How He'd Bring Romney's Taxes Close to Zero

| Sun Aug. 12, 2012 1:27 PM EDT

Paul Ryan loves charts. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, the Wisconsin GOPer has cultivated a reputation as the consummate policy wonk, ready to wage ideological battle at the drop of the dime with an arsenal of tables and graphs. But Ryan's numbers don't always add up. And when they do, the results can be stunning. When Democrats tested arguments about his budget in focus groups, they found it difficult because voters refused to believe that a politician would actually propose, say, gutting Medicare to cut tax for the rich. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says it's "the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history."

Here's a guide to Paul Ryan's balance sheet, by the numbers.

1.) Ryan's public image is that of a "deficit hawk," constantly looking for inefficiencies and unnecessary programs. But that's a recent invention. As a congressman, Ryan has played a key part in the ballooning federal deficit over the last decade. He voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare Part D, the implementation and extension of the Bush tax cuts, the 2008 stimulus, the auto bailout, and TARP:

Center on Budget and Policy PrioritiesCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities2.) The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn writes that under the 2011 Ryan budget, "[g]overnment would be so starved of resources that, by 2050, it wouldn’t have enough money for core functions like food inspections and highway maintenance." That sounds like hyperbole, but it's not. The Ryan budget pledges to reduce non-entitlement expenditures from 12 percent of GDP to just 3.5 percent—all while somehow increasing defense spending:

Based on Congressional Budget Office estimates3.) What specifically would get axed under the Ryan budget? He doesn't say. That allows him to sidestep charges that, for instance, he would eviscerate funding for popular programs like Pell Grants. But the CBPP's analysis suggests that whatever route Ryan takes, it's a guarantee that the discretionary cuts would mostly hurt the poor:

CBPPCBPP4.) As Suzy Khimm explained in MoJo last year, the Ryan budget curbs Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) spending "not by finding efficiencies but by slashing benefits, cutting payments to providers, and reducing access to the program." According to an Urban Institute study commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the number of people eligible for the federal health care program could be cut by more than 50 percent:

Kaiser Family FoundationKaiser Family FoundationHere's what that means as a percentage of overall GDP:

Congressional Budget OfficeCBO5.) Political pundits have already expended gallons of ink pondering the impact of the Ryan pick in states with high numbers of senior citizens, like Florida, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. But the Ryan budget leaves today's elderly voters mostly unscathed; it's everyone else who gets the axe. The Congressional Budget Office calculated that under the 2011 Ryan plan, the government's contribution to health care would not keep up with the increase in health costs and increases in insurance prices. That means seniors would be responsible for almost twice as much of the tab:

Put another way:

Congressional Budget OfficeCongressional Budget Office6.) As Alec MacGillis notes, Ryan's 2012 budget "promotes saving by eliminating taxes on interest, capital gains, and dividends," in addition to repealing the estate tax ("death tax," in GOP parlance). That's on top of the proposed permanent continuation of the Bush tax cuts. Interest, capital gains, and dividends don't mean much to low-income earners. But it's a huge boost for the one percent—and more specifically for Mitt Romney, whose tax rate would drop to close to zero. (He still gets fresh income from book sales and speaking fees.) Here's the breakdown on how much after-tax income would increase, percentage-wise, for each quintile, under the Ryan Budget: 

Tax Policy Center dataTax Policy Center dataThe only people paying more are those who afford it least.

The Romney campaign has already signaled that its candidate intends to distance himself, at least rhetorically, from the Ryan budget. But given Romney's previous embrace of the proposal—and his new, literal embrace of the man behind it—you can see why the Obama campaign seems to be licking its lips at the chance to run against Romney–Ryan.

With Paul Ryan, Romney Makes the VP Pick Obama Wanted

| Sat Aug. 11, 2012 9:10 AM EDT
Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney

In a way, Paul Ryan is exactly whom President Barack Obama wanted on the Republican ticket with Mitt Romney. By selecting the Republican congressman from Wisconsin, whose name is synonymous with the GOP's cut-taxes-for-the-rich and slash-programs-for-the-middle-class-and-the-poor, Romney has helped Obama in his No. 1 mission: shape the election not as a referendum on the sluggish economy but as a sharp clash between opposing sets of values and programs for the future.

Ever since the Democrats' clock was cleaned by the tea party-ized Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, Obama has pursued a grand political strategy of setting up his reelection contest as a choice between archly different visions. Long before Romney had vanquished the midgets of the GOP pack, Obama began using the Ryan budget proposal as his chief foil. In April 2011, he gave a speech at George Washington University that was a tongue-lashing of the Ryan's budget plan, which would end Medicare as a guaranteed benefit and throw more tax breaks at the well-to-do than George W. Bush could imagine. Ryan, who attended the speech, was insulted and immediately blasted the president.

Romney Picks the Man With the Plan to End Medicare

| Sat Aug. 11, 2012 12:59 AM EDT
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Late Friday, NBC News and the Huffington Post reported that Mitt Romney had chosen Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his vice presidential nominee. The two will hold a joint campaign appearance in Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday morning aboard the USS Wisconsin, before hitting the trail together in advance of the GOP convention in Tampa in late August. The appeal for Romney is obvious: Ryan is telegenic (he's 42) with an impeccable reputation among conservatives as not just a policy wonk but a once-in-a-generation visionary. (For what it's worth, he also catches catfish with his hands.) As New York's Jonathan Chait explained in a profile of Ryan in April, Ryan, more so than Romney himself, has become the face of the Republican party over the last two years.

But that's also what makes Ryan's choice such a wild card for the GOP and a potential gift for President Obama and downballot Democrats. His signature legislative accomplishment, an eponymous budget proposal that was passed by the House but died in the Senate, would gut the social safety net and then some. Over the next three months, expect to hear a lot of variations on this analysis, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Chairman Ryan’s sweeping budget plan has been labeled “courageous,” but it’s a cowardly budget in a crucial respect. It proposes a dramatic reverse-Robin-Hood approach that gets the lion’s share of its budget cuts from programs for low-income Americans — the politically and economically weakest group in America and the politically safest group for Ryan to target— even as it bestows extremely large tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. Taken together, its proposals would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history.

Mitt Romney had already offered his tacit support for the Ryan budget. Now, he's basing his campaign on it.

We'll have more on Ryan in the next few days. In the meantime, read Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile of Ryan from last week, David Corn on the unseriousness of Ryan's budget, Suzy Khimm on Ryan's union soft spot, and check out Charlie LeDuff on the struggles of Ryan's hometown of Janesville.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 10, 2012

Fri Aug. 10, 2012 12:56 PM EDT

US Army Soldiers and US Navy sailors assigned to a provincial reconstruction team fire a .50-caliber machine gun during night weapons qualifications at Camp Atterbury as a part of pre-deployment training. Ten PRTs are preparing for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. Photo by the US Army.