Mojo - September 2012

Liberal Super-PAC Targets Koch Brothers With Attack Ads in Wisconsin and Iowa

| Wed Sep. 19, 2012 7:06 AM PDT
A protester in Madison, Wisconsin, in February 2011 holds a sign linking Gov. Scott Walker to the Koch brothers.

Liberal super-PAC Patriot Majority is taking the fight to Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists and conservative political giants, in the state that helped make the Kochs the bogeymen of the left: Wisconsin.

Patriot Majority is spending a half-million dollars for two weeks' worth of TV, radio, and internet ads in Wisconsin and also Iowa, slamming the Kochs and "their special interest friends" for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to "buy this year's elections." Patriot Majority's Wisconsin ad says the Kochs and their allies want to elect lawmakers who will slash taxes on the rich and cut school funding—parts of what the super-PAC calls the "Greed Agenda."

Here's the Wisconsin ad:

Here's the Iowa ad:

Patriot Majority launched its "Stop the Greed Agenda" campaign in August to push back against the influence of wealthy conservative donors. The super-PAC picked Charles and David Koch as its first targets; future targets might include casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who's spent more than $60 million this election to elect GOPers this election cycle. In response, Koch Industries spokesman Phillip Ellender criticized Patriot Majority for seeking to "attack and demonize private citizens and job creators who disagree with them on the direction this country is going."

Wisconsin is especially fertile ground for ads about the Kochs. In February 2011, a prankster pretending to be David Koch tricked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—who had previously never met Koch—into a 20-minute conversation in which Walker bragged of having "dropped the bomb" on organized labor with his controversial anti-union budget bill, and discussed planting provocateurs among protesting union members. Protesters outside and inside the Wisconsin state capital responded with signs saying "Walker Sucks Koch," calling him a "Kochead," and depicting him as a puppet of Koch Industries.

The Kochs and their company, meanwhile, have lent Walker plenty of financial and political support. Koch Industries' political action committee was Walker's number two donor in his 2010 gubernatorial election, and Americans for Prosperity, the nonprofit founded and funded by David Koch, spent almost $10 million to help Walker win his recall election this spring.

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Obama Super-PAC Uses Leaked Videos to Bash Romney

| Wed Sep. 19, 2012 7:00 AM PDT

Priorities USA Action, the super-PAC supporting President Obama, is out with a new video hammering GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for the divisive remarks he made at a Florida fundraiser as revealed by Mother Jones.

The Priorities ad opens with the image of a fancy home and hits Romney for, behind closed doors, dismissing 47 percent of American voters as "victims" who are "dependent upon government." The ad then cuts to a normal house and says: "Behind these doors, middle-class families struggle, and Romney will make things even tougher."

The ad goes on to show a clip of the leaked video, with Romney saying of the 47 percenters: "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility." To which the ad's narrator replies: "And Mitt Romney will never convince us he's on our side."

Romney's Secret Tape Reveals Obama Is a Democrat

| Wed Sep. 19, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

It took 24 hours, but Mitt Romney thinks he's found his way out of the massive hole he's dug himself. The GOP nominee appeared frazzled at a hastily scheduled, late-night press conference on Monday as he attempted to defend comments he'd made at a fundraiser disparaging 47 percent of Americans. So on Tuesday, Romney appeared on Fox News to try something new: A tape of his own. Romney told Neil Cavuto that the real scandalous recording released this week was a 1998 audio clip of then-Illinois state Senator Barack Obama explicitly endorsing the idea of using government to redistribute wealth. Here's what Obama said:

And my suggestion, I guess, would be that the trick—and this is one of the few areas where I think there are technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to just political issues—I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution. Because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody's got a shot.

Here's why Romney' argument is a dud: Everyone already knows this about President Obama. Conservatives have been saying the President is a redistributor since this time in 2008, when then-Sen. Obama told an Ohio plumber that his taxes policies would "spread the wealth." And he meant it. Obama has spent much of the last two years—and the presidential campaign—explaining why he believes affluent citizens should pay higher income taxes in order to help fund programs that often disproportionately benefit lower-income and middle-class cititizens. It's as if the Romney campaign had floated a 1998 video of Obama calling for an individual mandate for health insurance.

What makes the story even less compelling is that Republicans believe in redistributing wealth too. For instance, here's how the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities described Paul Ryan's 2011 budget:

[I]ts 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.

Redistributing wealth is also the driving force behind Medicare, in which senior citizens, many of whom have stopped paying income taxes and have limited sources of income, benefit from a massive entitlement program funded by everyone else. Non-partisan budget analysis notwithstanding, Romney and Ryan have billed themselves as the defenders of Medicare when speaking to audiences of senior citizens.

The socialism is coming from inside the campaign!

The Obama audio is here:

Corn on Hardball: More Secret Videos and Romney's True Thoughts on Israel

Tue Sep. 18, 2012 8:37 PM PDT

Is Romney just pandering to filthy rich donors or is he really speaking his mind this once? David Corn, who first broke the story for Mother Jones, talks about what this means for the downward spiraling Romney campaign. More leaked footage from the private fundraiser also reveals Romney trashing a two-state solution for Israel, in direct conflict with his previously stated opinions. 

Since Mother Jones released the secret videos, the story has been riding the wave of newspaper headlines and Twitter memes. Corn and New York Magazine's John Heilemann discuss whether Romney can recover from "two horrific weeks" on MSNBC's Hardball

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

On Fox News, Romney Stands by "47 Percent" Claims From Leaked Videos

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 2:55 PM PDT

On Tuesday afternoon, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney gave his first television interview since Mother Jones published secret videos of Romney slamming 47 percent of American voters as Obama-loving freeloaders "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."

In the interview with Fox's Neil Cavuto, Romney defended his claim that "47 percent" of the electorate was essentially government mooches whom he had no chance of winning over. Asked about his 47 percent line, Romney replied: "I'm talking about a perspective of individuals who I'm not likely to get to support me. I recognize that those people who are not paying income tax are going to say, 'Gosh, this provision that Mitt keeps talking about lowering income taxes,' that's not going to be really attractive to them. And those that are dependent upon government, and those that think government's job is to redistribute, I'm not gonna get them."

Romney also used the Fox interview to try to divert public attention to an October 1998 clip of Barack Obama saying he supports "redistribution" of government resources. But the interview focused mostly on Romney's remarks in the leaked videos posted by Mother Jones, which together have dealt the flagging Romney campaign a body blow with less than two months till Election Day. The full video from the Romney fundraiser is here.

Here's the video of Romney's Fox interview:

Scott Brown Latest GOPer to Turn on Mitt's "47 Percent" Line

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 1:06 PM PDT
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

One of the first Democrats to knock Mitt Romney for his charge that 47 percent of Americans are "dependent" on the federal government was Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, "Romney just wrote off half the people in Massachusetts and half the people in America as deadbeats." Now Warren's Republican opponent, Sen. Scott Brown, has followed suit. Here's the statement he sent to The Hill on Tuesday:

"That's not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs."

Brown's not the only Republican to back away from the remarks of the party's presidential nominee. Former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, who is running for Senate in Connecticut, said in a statement Tuesday that "I disagree with Gov. Romney's insinuation that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care."

What makes Brown comments particularly noteworthy, though, is that he and Romney are both being advised by the same guy—GOP strategist Eric Fehrnstrom. (This isn't the first time Fehrstrom's candidates have been put in an awkward situation.)

One candidate who's not running from Romney's statements: Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. So that ought to help.

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The Romney Video and the Right's Quixotic Quest for the "Real Obama"

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 12:52 PM PDT

Mitt Romney's massive parasitic moocher class encompassing nearly half of the American public does not exist. Many of you have probably already seen the stories (and the video) that are shaking up the Romney campaign. My MoJo colleague David Corn reported yesterday that Romney had told a group of wealthy donors at a May fundraiser—held by private equity manager (and sex-party enthusiast) Marc Leder—that 47 percent of Americans are "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims...who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them," and who, of course, "pay no income tax." (He said other things too, in the second installment.)

The refrain that "they pay no income tax" is so common on the right that we might as well refer to it as the Dirge of John Galt. This statistic frequently morphs into "pay no taxes," further exacerbating the right's sense of rage at the freeloaders sucking on the federal teat.

But as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein noted Monday, statistics from the Tax Policy Center tell a different story. Of those who don't pay income tax, around 60 percent percent pay their fair share through payroll and other taxes and 22 percent are elderly people on fixed incomes, while most of the remaining 20 percent make less than $20,000 a year—the kind of money Romney thinks the average person can just borrow from their parents. And a fraction of this nonpaying crowd consists of exceptionally wealthy people who can afford to find elaborate ways of avoiding income taxes.

All in all, about 80 percent of Americans pay federal income or payroll taxes. But those who don't still pay state taxes, which typically ask for a higher proportion of income from the poor and middle class than from the wealthy. Adding to the awkwardness is Romney's theory that this class of parasitic "dependents" won't vote for him—which makes little sense, since Republican voters skew elderly and make up a decent chunk of the group that pays no income tax; many of the people Romney has dismissed as moochers are actually part of his base.

Many of the people Romney has dismissed as moochers are part of his own base.

It's very bad for Romney, but it's hard to know just how damaging the video will ultimately be, and it would be absurd to declare his campaign a failure weeks before Election Day. 

Whether or not his remarks dismissing half the country as freeloading losers are his "true feelings" is impossible to know. A politician speaking to an audience at a fundraiser may speak differently than one speaking to an audience on television, but each message is crafted for its audience. The beliefs expressed by Romney in that fundraiser sound strange coming from the man who brought universal health insurance coverage to Massachusetts. And there's another irony here that I find impossible to ignore. 

Since 2007, Barack Obama's rivals have treated him almost like a monster of myth who could be defeated with the right tool. Since the apocryphal "whitey tape," an odd, false rumor about a tape purportedly showing the president's wife using a racial slur to refer to white people, conservatives have sought the holy grail that would end Obama's career, convinced that a pliant media has simply refused to unearth it—or worse, were deliberately hiding it to protect their hero. From the absurd conspiracy theories of Obama's birth and religion to the late Andrew Breitbart's website exposing the terrible truth that Obama once hugged an old man who spent much of his life fighting racial apartheid, conservatives have sought not only to obstruct Obama's agenda, but to expose him as the greatest hoax ever—American history's most terrible fraud. 

The GOP has finally seen that silver bullet. Only it's not aimed at the guy they were trying to take out.

The Obama of conservative nightmares is not merely a bad president or one who pursues policies they disagree with, but a committed radical, a racist who hates white people so much that he would deliberately drive America to ruin and submit the nation to foreign—even Islamist—domination. Those on the right knew their worst assumptions about the president were true; they felt this in their souls. And nothing—from Obama's hawkish foreign policy to his embrace of a nationalized version of Romney's own universal health care plan in Massachusetts—would persuade them otherwise. One day, they would prove it: a college thesis, video of a speech, an unguarded utterance that would reveal, for all the world to see, the True Barack Obama. 

Now fate finds Republicans, in the waning days of the 2012 campaign, faced with video of one candidate expressing his total contempt, his unfettered disdain for half of the country. Only it's not the guy they've been trying to take out. It's the guy they nominated. 

There's something poetic about that. Particularly since the Mitt Romney in the video, sincere or otherwise, is nothing if not the exact candidate conservatives wanted, a being of their own creation. They built that. 

Alabama Voters to Decide Whether to Save Poor Kids

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 10:02 AM PDT
Tengler Children, Hale, Alabama

As Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have spent the past few months tangling over whether the administration is trying to change the welfare program to give poor, unemployed single moms money for nothing, they've missed a troubling new development about the future of the US safety net. Over the past few months, the state of Alabama has been seriously considering dropping out of the federal public assistance program altogether.

Today Alabama voters go to the polls to decide whether or not to approve an amendment to the state's constitution that would allow shifting $437 million from the state's gas and oil drilling royalty trust to the state's general fund to cover a $150 million budget deficit. Alabama suggested earlier this year that if the measure is defeated it may become the first state in the country to simply quit the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare program, a move that could push more than 40,000 children in the state even deeper into poverty.

Such a move would have been unthinkable before 1996, when President Clinton signed a welfare reform bill passed by a Republican controlled Congress. Before that, welfare was a federal entitlement program whose budget grew according to need. But the 1996 reforms turned the program into a block grant which gave states a fixed amount of federal money every year, no matter how bad the economy got or how many people were in dire straits. Under the 1996 law, states were also required to spend a certain amount of their own money to receive federal funds.

Under the block grant, states could also choose not to contribute, and thereby forgo any federal cash. There are consequences to such a decision: If Alabama stops paying its share of TANF, it would lose $93 million a year in federal cash—money that Congress has allowed states to spend on things that have nothing to do with keeping kids out of poverty. Last year, for instance, only 27 percent of Alabama’s TANF program funds were even spent on direct cash assistance to families. In Alabama, TANF benefits are really hard to get. A family of three won't qualify if the parent earned more than $3,200 in annual income; that's five times below the federal poverty line. And the average payment is only $189 a month. That amount could be higher, but Alabama diverts almost a quarter of its TANF grant to other projects, like child abuse and neglect programs—initiatives that the state would have to pay for itself if it lost its federal block grant funds.

The fact that bolting from TANF has even been part of the budget debate in Alabama suggests a new willingness by cash-strapped states to simply give up on their obligations to the poor rather than raise taxes.

Obama Web Vid Hits Romney on "47 Percent" Remarks

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 8:49 AM PDT

That was quick. On Monday, the Obama campaign condemned Mitt Romney's now-infamous "47 percent" speech and capped it off with a fundraising email. By Tuesday morning, the Obama team had turned it into a web video:

It's a classic of rapid-response at its most rapid—the video appears to have been filmed in Chicago's Millenium Park, literally across the street from Obama's national headquarters. And it could just be the beginning. The Washington Post reports that Obama advisers are considering turning the clip into a television ad.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 18, 2012

Tue Sep. 18, 2012 7:31 AM PDT

A Marine assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), fires an AT-4 light anti-armor weapon during an exercise at Fort Pickett, Va., Sept. 17, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Michael K. Kropiewnicki.