Mojo - October 2012

The Emotional Power of the "47 Percent" Comments Explained

| Tue Oct. 2, 2012 9:37 AM EDT

Looks like Mitt Romney's "47 percent" remarks—in which he said that supporters of the president didn't pay income tax and felt "entitled" to such luxuries as food and health carewill not be fading into obscurity anytime soon. A recent Obama campaign ad capitalizes on the comments, which Romney made in a fundraiser caught on video and released two weeks ago by Mother Jones. Polls show that Americans aren't fond of Romney's sentiments. That has translated into a pretty stark shift in the Republican challenger's election hopes.

Now, the Washington Post writes that Romney's comments are "taking a toll" more than other gaffes he's committed, like saying he likes "being able to fire people who provide services to me" or knows what it's like to worry about getting a "pink slip," or like the $10,000 wager he tried to make with Texas Gov. Rick Perry mid-debate:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Romney Says He Won't Deport DREAMers…Immediately

| Tue Oct. 2, 2012 9:19 AM EDT

In June, the Obama administration announced a new process that grants work permits and temporary stays of deportation to young undocumented immigrants who want to go to college or serve in the military. On Monday, after months of silence on the issue, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he will allow some of these young immigrants to stay in the country—at least temporarily.

"The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I'm not going to take something that they've purchased," Romney told the Denver Post. "Before those visas have expired, we will have the full immigration-reform plan that I've proposed."

When the Obama policy was first announced, conservatives called the move illegal and unconstitutional; Romney's own immigration adviser, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is actually representing federal immigration enforcement agents suing to block it. It will be interesting to watch Republicans try to defend Romney's extension of what National Review called a violation of "the constitutional separation of powers that defines the political architecture of our republic."

So why is Romney suddenly taking a more compassionate tone on immigration and avoiding the "self-deportation" talk he deployed in the GOP primary? President Obama, despite having his immigration reform plans blocked in Congress and presiding over record numbers of deportations, is crushing Romney among Latinos, winning more than 70 percent of the vote in the latest Latino Decisions tracking poll. Siphoning off just a few Latino voters in swing states like Colorado and Florida could mean all the difference. 

Just promising not to cancel deportation waivers and work authorization for young immigrants, however, is probably not going to be enough to put Romney over the hump with Latinos. The GOP candidates still hasn't said what he'd do if he failed to pass his hypothetical immigration reform bill, as Obama and George W. Bush did before him. He also hasn't said what he'd do with the young immigrants who benefited from Obama's plan or any of the other approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants under his "full immigration reform plan." Though unauthorized immigrants helped by the Obama policy may breathe a sigh of relief knowing that a President Romney wouldn't immediately try to kick them out of the country, Romney has also committed to vetoing the DREAM Act, which is the only permanent solution that allows them to stay in the country.  

Mia Love May Have Been Her Parents' "Ticket to America" After All

| Mon Oct. 1, 2012 4:42 PM EDT
Mia Love

Last week, Mother Jones raised questions about the story Utah GOP congressional candidate Mia Love tells on the campaign trail about her Haitian immigrant parents. She often highlights their tale of coming to the US with $10 in their pockets and making it in America without any help from the government. She has claimed they came here legally and thus, she and her parents are different from those other immigrants her party would like to see barred at the gate. Yet in 2011, Love described her birth in the US as "our family's ticket to America," because it allowed her parents to beat a deadline in the law and gain "citizenship." Her story suggested that she was what members of her party derisively call an "anchor baby."

I tried to confirm Love's story about her birth and whether it could have allowed her parents to gain citizenship, because her description conflicts with current immigration law. I interviewed a host of immigration lawyers and put the details Love had provided about her family's immigration story to federal officials at both agencies that have jurisdiction over immigration. None of them could find a specific provision in the law that matched the one Love described. After researching the subject, a spokeswoman for the US Citizenship and Immigration Service said that US policy since 1924 has been to bar minor children from petitioning for their parents' permanent residence. As a result, I suggested that Love's story might be inaccurate.

However, it turns out I was wrong on one count. There was a measure in place that would have allowed Love's birth to help her parents attain permanent resident status if they registered before 1977. The law, passed in 1976, was never codified, meaning that it was never made part of the US code, so someone looking in the US code books for the Immigration Nationality Act, of which it is part, wouldn't necessarily be able to find the provision. It often exists as a footnote in some versions of the code, according to Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer with Lane Powell in Alaska. (It's also described in this State Department manual.)

Forbes first reported on Friday that this particular law allowed residents of the Western Hemisphere to use a child born in the US to apply for resident visas. The Forbes story also suggests that despite her protestations, Love's parents were probably in the country illegally, at least for a while, after overstaying their visas—something that nearly half of all illegal immigrants in the US have done. Stuart Anderson, the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, writes in Forbes:

In discussing the parents’ path to America with Margaret Stock, we both came to the conclusion that Mia Love’s parents likely came to the United States on tourist visas and then overstayed those visas for at least a few years. Stock says it’s possible Mia Love’s parents conscientiously filed regular extensions to those visas and that those extensions were all approved. More likely, Mia Love’s parents were in the country out of legal status and, it turned out, after Mia’s birth a provision of U.S. immigration law that would expire in a year may have helped them stay legally.

Since Mother Jones first raised these issues, Republicans have rallied to Love's side, taking issue with our use of the term "anchor baby" and claiming that her family's immigration story is irrelevant to her campaign. Michelle Malkin, who has said that "anchor babies" undermine national security and the integrity of citizenship, snarked on Twitchy,

Note the question mark and quotes around “anchor baby.” The Mother Jones writer isn’t saying Love is an “anchor baby” to undermine her huge lead; she’s just “asking questions” about “what Republicans derisively call an ‘anchor baby’.” You know, by suggesting her parents “gamed the immigration system” and raising questions about Love’s truthfulness...Note to Mother Jones’ readers: Love’s parents came to the United States as legal immigrants. Not that she had much say in the matter.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright told the Salt Lake Tribune that questions about Love's immigration history should be off limits:

[T]his line of questioning is inappropriate. I think for a candidate to have to speculate on her parents’ motive during her conception and birth is outside the scope of what questions are appropriate during a campaign. The fact is her parents are U.S. citizens and if people have questions about that, then they should take those questions to the government agency that granted them citizenship.

We're Still at War, Terrifying Helmet-Cam Edition

| Mon Oct. 1, 2012 2:47 PM EDT

First-person shooter enthusiasts, eat your heart out.

One presidential candidate completely ignored Afghanistan in his nomination acceptance speech. The other has given sunny, salutary statements about the US mission there ending in 2014. But while Romney and Obama campaign on jobs jobs jobs, more than 80,000 American service members remain in Afghanistan, risking their lives for a foreign policy that could charitably be described as "adrift."

What does that war look like to its practitioners? Like this:

That's video from the helmet-mounted camera of an American soldier who took four bullets from enemy fighters in this brief hillside firefight in Kunar Province. Fortunately, he sustained only minor injuries, even though he was hit in the helmet and his eye protection was shot off.

The soldier, who has not been identified, told his story last week to a combat documentarian known online as Funker350. The soldier's unit was conducting reconnaissance of a local village when they came under fire on the hillside. "[T]he rest of the squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. I didn't start the video until a few mins into the firefight for obvious reasons," the soldier said. "I came out into the open to draw fire so my squad could get to safety."

The attackers seemed to have hit everything but the soldier's flesh. "A round struck the tube by my hand of the 203 grenade launcher which knocked it out of my hands," he said. (The launcher is visible attached to the underside of his rifle barrel.) "When I picked the rifle back up it was still functional but the grenade launcher tube had a nice sized 7.62 cal bullet hole in it and was rendered useless."

All's well that ends well. But it's worth every politican—and voterasking whether the end goal in Afghanistan, whatever that is now, is worth the risk to Americans like this one.

(h/t Alex Horton)

PHOTO: Georgia GOP Goes Full Bircher

| Mon Oct. 1, 2012 11:48 AM EDT

The choice is up to you, comrade!

Camden County, Georgia, don't need none of that smart-growth communism. That's the apparent message behind this billboard, flagged by Mother Jones reader and Camden County resident John S. Myers. "Nov. 6 You Decide America's Fate," the billboard's copy blares, with a US flag-and-Statue-of-Liberty collage pasted on its right wing... and a hammer and sickle emblazoned on the left. "VOTE REPUBLICAN," it concludes, with a smaller message below: "Paid for by the Camden County Republican Party."

Anyone who's shuttled back and forth on the byways linking North Florida to Georgia and South Carolina has probably seen dozens of billboards like this, but rarely do they come directly from the GOP. It could be another sign of the party's rightward march into Bircher and birther territory. Just last week, a Virginia county Republican party came under fire for distributing Photoshopped images depicting President Obama "as a witch doctor, caveman and thug."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 1, 2012

Mon Oct. 1, 2012 10:18 AM EDT

U.S. Army soldiers from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, "Gimlets" 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25 Infantry Division engage targets during a live fire training exercise Sept. 19, 2012, at Pohakuloa Training Area, on Hawaii. U.S. Army photo.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Drone Unknowns

| Mon Oct. 1, 2012 10:15 AM EDT

We don't know how many civilians are killed in drone strikes, but we do know the US government is almost certainly wrong about it. 

That's one conclusion you could draw from a report on the impact of the use of drones in targeted killing by the the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School and the Center for Civilians in Conflict*, released Sunday, a year to the day that radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in Yemen. While the US government has maintained that few if any non-militants are killed in drone strikes, reports about how targeting decisions are made, the realities of airborne warfare, and the basic fallibility of humankind call the Obama administration's claims of precision into question. There's also the problem that some behaviors which might seem to indicate "guilt" out of context, like carrying a gun, are common in the areas being targeted. "A civilian carrying a gun, which is a cultural norm in parts of Pakistan, does not know if such behavior will get him killed by a drone," the report notes. While "personality" strikes are aimed at specific individuals, the government also conducts "signature strikes" which hit anonymous individuals on the basis of a "pattern of behavior."

Because the government has yet to even officially acknowledge the existence of the CIA's targeted killing program or its military counterpart in the Joint Special Operations Command however, it's hard to evaluate the Obama administration's claims about avoiding civilian harm. The report notes that the dearth of first-hand information from the areas most frequently targeted by drone strikes means that determining who is a "militant" and who is not, particularly after the fact, is very difficult. That's why third-party estimates, which cast serious doubt on the government's assessments, vary so widely, and why the Obama administration itself may not even know how many civilians are being killed. Here's a chart from the report:

 

The report points out that the impact of drone attacks on civilians cannot be measured by deaths alone. "[O]ne civilian death or injury is enough to dramatically alter families' lives. In Pakistan, families are often large, and their well being is intricately connected among many members. The death of one member can create long-lasting instability, particularly if a breadwinner is killed." Even if no civilians are killed, the report states that property damage related to strikes can drastically alter the lives of those impacted. "A house is often a family’s greatest financial asset. In northern Pakistan, homes are often shared by multiple families, compounding the suffering and hardship caused when a house is destroyed." That's to say nothing of the psychological effects of living in a place where you never know if fire will rain down from the skies. The study quotes Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who says that "I have heard Pakistanis speak about children in the tribal areas who become hysterical when they hear the characteristic buzz of a drone."

The report recommends that the Obama administration empanel an "interagency task force" to "evaluate covert drone operations" with regard to civilian harm, oversight, and accountability. The ongoing popularity of drones as a method of fighting terrorism without putting American lives at risk, however, gives the administration little political incentive to publicly reevaluate its drone policy, despite the fact that its being shrouded in secrecy denies Americans the ability to make informed value judgements about whether it does more harm than good—or even how much harm or good they actually do. 

*An earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to the producers of the report as the Center for Civilians in Conflict at Columbia University.

Bloggingheads: Corn and Wright Discuss the 47 Percent Story

Mon Oct. 1, 2012 8:54 AM EDT

On Friday's Bloggingheads, David Corn and The Wright Show's Robert Wright discussed what in God's name Mitt Romney was thinking when he made his now-infamous 47 percent comments. Corn also explained how he got the scoop. Was it his biggest moment as a journalist? "There's nothing I've done that has reached this many people this fast."

P.S. Wright also compares Corn to Harriet Beecher Stowe.

New Poll: Mitt's Got a Serious Swing State Problem

| Mon Oct. 1, 2012 7:56 AM EDT

Veteran politicos and journalists who've done a few tours on the campaign trail like to say that, in a tight race, you shouldn't put much faith in national presidential polls. It's the state-level polls, especially those in the handful of fiercely fought battleground states, that really matter.

By that measure, President Obama has opened up a sizable lead over Mitt Romney with five weeks until Election Day. According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, Obama leads Romney 52 percent to 41 percent among likely voters in swing states, which include Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. Nationwide, 49 percent of likely voters say they'd vote for Obama in November, while 47 percent said the same for Romney.

Obama's swing state advantage in this latest poll doesn't appear to be a fluke. Last week, Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls showed Obama ahead by 10 points in Ohio and nine in Florida. RealClearPolitics' polling averages in the top nine swing states show Obama ahead in all of them, albeit by single-digit margins.

These latest swing state polls suggest that Romney's path to 270 electoral college votes is slimmer than ever. Romney needs to win the bulk of the top nine swing states—Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Nevada—to have a shot at prevailing on November 6.

Obama's lead could be a result of his campaign's advertising and ground-game advantage in those key states. According to a recent Wesleyan Media Project analysis, Obama's campaign and his Democratic allies out-advertised Romney and various GOP groups by more than 2-to-1 between late August and early September, running 40,000 broadcast and cable ads compared to Romney and the GOP's 18,000. That disparity is evident in battleground states. Between April and early September, Democrats ran more ads in Las Vegas, Cleveland, Denver, Orlando, Reno, Norfolk, Tampa, and Richmond—all major media markets in swing states—according to Wesleyan.

And the Obama team is outpacing the Romney campaign in the ground game as well. In Ohio, for instance, the Obama campaign has 96 field offices and the Romney campaign has 36.

Here's more from the ABC News/Washington Post poll, on the candidates and the issues:

Obama continues to hold double-digit advantages when it comes to being the more friendly and likable of the two, and as the candidate more voters trust on social issues, women's issues and terrorism. He maintains a big lead when it comes to empathizing with people facing economic problems. And he has a 10-point edge when it comes to handling "an unexpected major crisis," the first time the question has been asked this year.

He and Romney are judged more evenly on some other key issues, including the deficit, health care and Medicare. Romney does not have significant leads in any of the areas tested in the poll, but he has a numerical edge on dealing with the federal budget deficit, 48 percent to 45 percent, among all voters.

On the economy—still the dominant issue in the campaign—voters render a split verdict, with the two tied at 47 percent.

The state of the economy and dissatisfaction over the country's direction continue to be steep obstacles to the president's reelection—but Obama benefits from recent improvements in voters' moods, even if it is mainly Democrats who are feeling better about things.

More voters still give Obama negative ratings for his handling of the economy, but the number of approvers has edged up to 47 percent, its highest level in nearly two years.