Mojo - October 2012

Serbia, Belarus, Kazakhstan to Monitor US Elections

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 1:29 PM EDT

Last week, President Hamid Karzai got snippy with reporters about the possibility of Westerners monitoring his country's election process: "Afghanistan is not interfering in their election, and we are hoping they don't interfere in our election," he said. 

Karzai's right that folks from Afghanistan won't be monitoring US elections. But people from Kazakhstan will.

On November 6, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a United Nations affiliate, has already deployed a team of 57 observers from 23 countries, including Serbia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, to monitor voter suppression and learn about election administration, campaign finance, new voting technologies, and even our media environment.

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The 1980s Called, and They're Jealous of Mitt Romney's Defense Budget

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 1:17 PM EDT

During last night's foreign policy debate, Barack Obama shot a hard zinger at Republican challenger Mitt Romney: "The 1980's called; they want their foreign policy back." Throughout the night, the president argued that Romney treats defense spending as if the US were still in a neck-and-neck arms race with Russia. But in fact, Romney's military budget puts Cold War spending to shame: It's the kind of plan that Gen. Buck Turgidson, the ultranationalist hawk in Dr. Strangelove, could only dream about.

"Romney's plan to spend 4 percent of the GDP on defense sends the budget skyrocketing north of Cold War levels. It's amazingly unprecedented," says defense-budget expert Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate aide who now directs the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight. Obama doesn't seem to have any new ideas on how to modernize the military, but at least "he's spending the same amount of money," Wheeler says. "If Romney is elected, he'll quickly realize his plan is completely unaffordable."

Wheeler put together the chart below (using sources from the Department of Defense Greenbook, the OMB 2013 budget, and the Romney website as interpreted by Travis Sharp of the Center for New American Security), to show exactly how the Obama and Romney plans compare. The numbers are in billions of dollars, adjusted for 2012 inflation:

    US Military spending: comparing obama, romney and the cold war (in 2012 dollars)

Winslow Wheeler, Straus Military Reform ProjectWinslow Wheeler, Straus Military Reform Project

According to Romney's website, the US should spend freely to update "aging" weapons like tanker aircrafts, strategic bombers, and Navy ships. But instead of proposing new ways to do so, Romney is relying on existing designs. For example, he wants to reopen production of the F-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter jet in human history, even though the plane has faced numerous technical problems. Romney also would continue production of the $120 billion Littoral Combat Ship, which has its own troubles: One version is corroding, has serious equipment failures, and can hardly stay afloat.

"We certainly need to modernize the inventory with affordable, effective airplanes," Wheeler says. "But Romney's alternative is business as usual: throwing more money at the problem without investing in competition and smart contracting."

The Romney plan, Wheeler adds, should keep one election-year constituency happy: "Defense contractors are drooling."  

Romney Super-PAC Will Carpet-Bomb Swing States With Biggest Blitz Yet

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 11:32 AM EDT

Paging all TV-watching swing state voters: The campaign ad blitz clogging up your airwaves is about to get worse.

The pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future on Tuesday launched a $17.7 million ad campaign targeting 10 swing states around the country—the super-PAC's single largest buy yet. Restore Our Future's latest campaign will consist of two ads: one featuring a wounded Iraq veteran hailing Mitt Romney as a man who "cares deeply about people who are struggling"; and another spot slamming President Obama for high unemployment, "crushing debt," and declining incomes.

The two ads will run throughout the next week in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Restore Our Future's pro-Romney ad can be viewed above. Here's the anti-Obama ad:

Restore Our Future—run by former Romney aides Carl Forti, Charles Spies, and Larry McCarthy—is arguably the king of the super-PACs. Restore Our Future's sole purpose is to help Romney win the presidency, and the super-PAC has raised a staggering $111.5 million to do that. The super-PAC's donors include casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, Houston Texans owner Robert McNair, and Oxbow Carbon, the energy company run by Bill Koch, brother to Charles and David Koch.

Who Knew? Romney Agrees With Obama on Foreign Policy

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 10:57 AM EDT

For a presidential election where the choices between two approaches to the economy, health care, and the role of the federal government couldn't be wider, Monday night's final presidential debate featured an unusual amount of agreement between the two candidates. This was in part because Mitt Romney, having taken positions to Obama's right during the Republican primary and in the run up to the election's final weeks, moderated his positions during the debate. It was a startling shift from Romney, who a month ago implied that the president sympathizes with people who kill Americans, and it undermined Romney's argument that recent foreign policy challenges have been little more than the result of the Obama administration displaying "weakness."

Down with Mubarak!
For all Romney's criticism of Obama's handling of the Arab Spring and its aftermath, he emphasized his agreement with the president in ultimately pushing former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down. "I believe, as the president indicated, and said at the time that I supported his—his action there," Romney said. "I felt that—I wish we'd have had a better vision of the future."

Let's help the rebels in Syria—but no American boots on the ground.
The Washington Post's Max Fisher has a detailed rundown of how both candidates offered almost exactly the same approach to the ongoing civil war in Syria: Help organize the opposition, arm "responsible parties," and try to turn the new Syria into a US ally—all without direct military intervention. Romney for his part, said he did not intend to invade Syria if elected, saying, "I don't want to have our military involved in Syria."

Sequestration is bad.
Romney and Obama both promised to prevent the forthcoming "fiscal cliff" scenario, in which large cuts in social and defense spending will be triggered in the absence of Congress reaching a deal on the debt. They both pledged not to allow the cuts, known as "sequestration," to happen. "I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is a combination of the budget cuts the president has, as well as the sequestration cuts," Romney said. "That, in my view, is making—is making our future less certain and less secure."  Though Romney wants to spend more on defense than Obama, pegging military spending to 4 percent of the overall economy, Obama similarly pledged not to allow sequestration to occur. "It will not happen," Obama said.

Israel is our BFF.
Obama and Romney both took pains to emphasize their support for Israel, with Romney actually hitting Obama from the left for the absence of a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Obama never once mentioned the occupation, even when prompted by Romney, but he did promise to back up Israel in the event of war with Iran. "I will stand with Israel if they are attacked," Obama said. "I want to underscore the same point the president made which is that if I'm president of the United States, when I'm president of the United States, we will stand with Israel," Romney said.

Diplomacy can work with Iran; force is a last resort.
Romney's biggest departure from his prior stated positions on foreign policy was on Iran. At his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney said, "We must make clear to Iran through actions, not just words, that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated." Obama hit Romney on this during the debate, saying that "I always understand that that is the last resort, not the first resort." Romney responded by striking a less belligerent tone. "[O]f course, a military action is the last resort," Romney said, praising Obama's implementation of "crippling sanctions" against Iran and simply saying he'd "tighten them." Both candidates pledged to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon by any means necessary, including force.

It's time to leave Afghanistan.
Romney has previously implied that he could leave troops in Afghanistan past 2014 if military advisers recommended he do so. In his VMI foreign policy speech, he promised to "evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders." Last night, however, his tone was different, with Romney saying emphatically that "we're going to be finished by 2014, and when I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014." In doing so, he affirmed what the Obama administration is already planning to do.

China has to "play by the rules."
Obama and Romney, despite actually holding similar views on the inevitability of outsourcing (if not how to deal with it) both emphasized that China has to "play by the rules," a platitude that projects toughness but doesn't mean much. "[W]ith respect to China, China is both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules," Obama said. "They have to understand we want to trade with them," Romney agreed. "We like free enterprise, but you got to play by the rules."  

Let's keep killing people with drones.
Moderator Bob Shieffer started the discussion on drones with a startlingly shallow question—simply asking the candidates' positions on drones without contextualizing their use with the very public criticism of human rights advocates and intelligence experts that their use results in the deaths of innocents or leads to more people being radicalized. While Obama dodged the question (technically the targeted killing program is America's worst-kept secret), Romney praised Obama's use of drones. "We should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world," Romney said. "And it's widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely." Romney did acknowledge that "we're going to have to do more than just going after leaders and—and killing bad guys, important as that is." What about the part where we're not just killing "bad guys?"

It was a heated debate, mostly because the president kept knocking Romney for having shifted his positions over the course of the election. The president basically summarized Romney's approach when he said, "You know, there have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign, where it sounded like you thought that you'd do the same things we did, but you'd say them louder and somehow that—that would make a difference." But despite Obama's attacks, there's an unusual degree of consensus on major issues—something that should probably give both sides pause.

Romney's pitch Monday night was, in a nutshell: If you like Obama's foreign policy, vote for me and you can have it. But you'll also have a job. It's a smart pitch, especially because Romney's lackluster performance at the debate may be overshadowed at the polls by the sluggish recovery.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 23, 2012

Tue Oct. 23, 2012 10:42 AM EDT

Texas National Guard Spc. Isaac Gomez provides security as Provincial Reconstruction Team Kunar engineers conduct a quality assurance check at the Narang Girls School Oct. 13, 2012. US Army photo.

Mitt Romney, Defender of Spanking?

| Tue Oct. 23, 2012 6:08 AM EDT

Mitt Romney is a man of many pledges. He's pledged to sign a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He's pledged to appoint a presidential commission to investigate the intimidation of gay marriage foes. He's pledged to "look at every government program and ask this question: Is this so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?" But over the last few weeks, as he's tried to move to the center and reneged on many of his most contentious past promises, there is one pledge he hasn't backed away from. It involves spanking.

In July, the GOP presidential nominee wrote a letter to Virginia conservative activist Michael Farris, an evangelical power broker in the critical swing state, outlining his opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which commits ratifying nations to protect children from discrimination. "My position on that convention is unequivocal: I would oppose Senate approval of the convention, and would not sign the convention for final ratification," Romney wrote. "I believe that the best safeguard for the well-being and protection of children is the family, and that the primary safeguards for the legal rights of children in America is the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the states."

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That Time George McGovern Hosted "SNL"...

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 7:34 PM EDT

Early Sunday morning, George S. McGovern, the former Democratic senator from South Dakota, died in a Sioux Falls hospice at the age of 90. In his decades of public service McGovern cultivated a reputation as one of American liberalism's heavy-hitters: A decorated WWII veteran who raged against nuclear "overkill," fought global hunger, and fervently opposed American military intervention in Vietnam. But history has a tendency to reduce figures to single sentences, so he remains best known for his epic, idealistic dud of a presidential run against Richard Nixon in 1972.

Here's a round-up of footage and photos taken during the late progressive icon's long career:

The campaign ads

This video compiles some pro-McGovern ads from his 1972 campaign, and a couple from his 1984 run in the Democratic primaries. In his longshot (and mostly symbolic) '84 campaign, he implored liberal voters not to "throw away [their] conscience," and to reaffirm commitment to center-left values in the Reagan era. Click here to watch a Nixon attack ad that uses children's toys to illustrate how a President McGovern would slash the defense budget and cut "into the very security of [America]."

The concession speech

In which he cites Adlai Stevenson, the poet W. B. Yeats, and Isaiah 40:31.

"Saturday Night Live" hosting gig

A month after he ended his '84 presidential campaign, McGovern showed up at Studio 8H to host an episode of Saturday Night Live. (This was back when Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus were still cast members.)

Hanging With JFK

Served as  /Na McGovern served as the first director of the Food for Peace program, earning major props from President Kennedy, before hitting the Senatorial campaign trail in 1962. National Archives

In vietnam

In Vietnam /wikiThis photo was snapped during Sen. McGovern's first trip to South Vietnam, in November 1965. After three weeks in the war zone, he returned to the US more devoted to peace efforts than ever before. Ending the war would become his signature issue.  USOM

Debating Barry Goldwater

Just weeks before Election Day 1988, McGovern sat down with Barry Goldwater (another ex-senator and party icon who lost a presidential election in a historic landslide) on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour to discuss the state of both their parties, as well as what it means to be a "liberal."

Chilling With Gore VIDAL

Gore Vidal /FlickrThe controversial, iconoclastic author joined McGovern for a panel discussion at the Richard M. Nixon Library and Museum during the ex-senator's 2009 book tour. Scott Clarkson/Wikimedia Commons

When Hillary Lost George

In May 2008, McGovern withdrew the endorsement he had given then Senator Hillary Clinton in October 2007, and switched over to team Obama. He believed the Clinton campaign was doomed, and said he did not want to see the Democratic Party go through a "repeat of what happened to [him] in 1972" when a protracted primary battle left him bloodied for his general election contest with Nixon. If Clinton held a grudge for this pragmatic move, it didn't show when she shared the stage with him during her acceptance of the George McGovern Leadership Award from the World Food Program in October 2010.

Mcgovern's advice to obama

From May 2009: "I have a very deep concern about President Obama putting in another 21,000 troops into Afghanistan with the promise of more to come. I think if we continue to send troops in there, it could be the Vietnam of this present administration."

Hollywood And Labor Unions Pony Up for Obama Super-PAC's Record Month

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 11:40 AM EDT

Dreamworks executive Jeff Katzenberg, left, and Steven Spielberg both gave $1 million to the pro-Obama super-PAC in September. Rose Palmisano/The Orange County Register/ZUMAPRESS.comDreamworks executive Jeff Katzenberg, left, and Steven Spielberg both gave $1 million to the pro-Obama super-PAC in September. Rose Palmisano/The Orange County Register/ZUMAPRESS.com

In the beginning, the super-PAC fighting to reelect President Obama, Priorities USA Action, couldn't catch a break. Priorities was raising paltry sums each month compared to super-PACs backing Republican candidates. After one particularly negative story about Priorities' struggles, co-founder Bill Burton wrote to one journalist, "If you didn't read the story and just looked at the pictures…I feel like I came out pretty good."

How times have changed. Last month, Priorities hauled in $15.2 million, a new monthly record for the group. Big donations came in from Hollywood director and producer Steven Spielberg ($1 million), Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeff Katzenberg ($1 million), hedge fund manager James Simons ($1.5 million), Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner ($2 million), and attorney David Boies ($1 million).

The United Auto Workers, of which I'm a member, also waded into the super-PAC wars for the first time, giving Priorities $1 million. United Association, the plumbers and pipefitters union, chipped in $673,100, and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association gave another $250,000. Rob Walton, chairman of Walmart, a decidedly anti-union company, gave $300,000 to Priorities as well.

Since its inception in April 2011, Priorities USA Action has raised $50.8 million. The group will need a stellar October fundraising haul to reach its goal of $75 million for the 2012 election cycle. (Priorities also has a shadowy nonprofit affiliate which has yet to disclose how much money it's raised.)

Restore Our Future, the super-PAC backing Mitt Romney, turned in a strong September as well. The group raised $14.8 million. ROF's donor list is filled with familiar faces in the world of big-money Republican fundraising. With his $2 million donation last month, Texas homebuilding king Bob Perry has given a total of $9 million to Restore Our Future. Oxbow, the energy company run by Bill Koch, brother to Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, gave another $1 million, as did Robert McNair, who owns the Houston Texans, and Stan Herzog, a Missouri businessman.

Nearly $4 million of Restore Our Future's September donations came from corporations, such as airline interior supplier Greenpoint Technologies and rental company Penske Corporation. Restore Our Future has raised $111.5 million since its creation in March 2011.

Restore Our Future last week announced one of its biggest ad blitzes of the 2012 campaign. The super-PAC said it will spend $12 million on a nine-day ad spree in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Nevada, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

2 Minutes With David Corn: The Foreign Policy Debate

| Mon Oct. 22, 2012 11:22 AM EDT

On Monday night, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will face off on foreign policy. Some pundits say that the election is so close, the outcome could very well pivot on this debate, where the candidates will grapple over issues like the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. But according to Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn, Obama's strong advantage on foreign policy probably won't move voters one way or the other: 

Here's an excerpt:

As we get closer to the election there are a lot fewer undecided voters. So there's less room to move [and] fewer people to persuade. This is now the third debate. In some ways you could see it as the rubber match. Mitt Romney did quite well in the first one, Barack Obama did better than Romney in the second one. But I don't think people are looking at this like a play-off series, 2 out of 3 wins the day.  I think each candidate has given their supporters what they needed to give them in the first two debates, and [because] the third one is about foreign policy, supposedly exclusively, [it's] going to be something that may not move a lot of voters who have yet to be moved.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 22, 2012

Mon Oct. 22, 2012 10:20 AM EDT

Staff Sgt. Wayne Plew, an operations chief with Bridge Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, directed by Staff Sgt. Timothy Liners, a combat engineer with Bridge Company, drives across a newly constructed non-standard bridge during a field training exercise at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Oct. 15. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joshua Young.