Mojo - October 2012

Texas, Iowa Threaten to Arrest Election Observers

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 5:42 PM EDT

When news broke last week that the United Nations-affiliated Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was dispatching election observers from 23 nations to the United States, conservative groups went up in arms, claiming that liberal activists had sought international assistance to fight Republican-led voting reform efforts. Soon afterward, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatening the observers with arrest if they got within 100 feet of a polling place and complaining that OSCE officials had met with a group formerly affiliated with ACORN. Yesterday, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who has made voter fraud a central theme of his time in office, followed suit, saying that there would be "no exception" made for OSCE members to enter polling stations.

As a member of the OSCE, the United States has invited outside observers into the country since 2002 without incident. The State Department dismissed Abbott's complaint, saying that the election observers are simply observers (and would be eligible for immunity if they are arrested). "[T]he mandate of the OSCE is designed to be absolutely and completely impartial, and that's what we plan on when we participate and that's what we'd expect here," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the Washington Examiner. The OSCE expressed willingness to meet with both liberal and conservative voter groups and has acknowledged the controversy over GOP-led voter ID efforts in a report released earlier this month.

In any case, any role the OSCE plays on November 6 will probably be minimal. A list of election observers uploaded by conservative attorney J. Christian Adams suggests that only two observers will be in Texas, both in Austin; two others are scheduled to be in Des Moines, Iowa. But the OSCE, which sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling Abbott's threat of arrest "unacceptable," also responded to Abbott, saying that it plans to follow state laws and wouldn't need to enter polling places in order to observe the election. In addition to monitoring potential voter suppression, the OSCE also plans to research campaign finance, new voting technology, and the media. Meanwhile, many more American election monitors will be at polling stations, ranging from impartial observers to labor union members and recruits from a tea party group.

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Montana Dems: Denny Rehberg Is Such a Drunk

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 4:09 PM EDT

The all-important Montana Senate race has gotten pretty nasty. How nasty? The Montana Democratic party is now attacking Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg as a drunk. Here's the video, which was tweeted out by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester's communications director, Aaron Murphy, and the MDP ("@DennyRehberg trick or treats early—for vodka") on Wednesday:

The context here is important: Democrats have made a concerted effort to paint Rehberg as, well, a bit of a boozer. As evidence, they cite the Rehberg's 2004 congressional delegation to Kazakhstan, where he fell off a horse after downing six shots of vodka. (Allegations that he had consumed an additional 14 shots, and mocked his hosts by making "meep meep" noises a la Coneheads were unsubstantiated.) And in 2009, Rehberg broke his ankle in a boat crash on Montana's Flathead Lake. (Both he and his the boat's pilot had been drinking.) Tester, who won his seat by less than 3,000 votes in 2006, trails Rehberg by 0.3 percent in the Real Clear Politics average, in a race Republicans desperately need to win if they have any hope of recapturing the Senate.

One of Romney's Final Campaign Rallies Is at a Stimulus-Funded Ohio Company

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 3:55 PM EDT

On Friday, Mitt Romney will hold one of the final rallies of his 2012 presidential campaign at Screen Machine Industries, a heavy machinery manufacturer in central Ohio. The company also happens to be the recipient of nearly $220,000 in federal stimulus funds.

Romney and his Republican allies have blasted the president's stimulus program on the campaign trail and in TV ads. Romney says the stimulus hasn't created jobs, quipping that "the only thing President Obama's stimulus has produced is a series of broken promises." The powerful nonprofit group Crossroads GPS, cofounded by Karl Rove, calls the stimulus "wasteful"; another conservative nonprofit, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, said in one ad that the stimulus "failed to save and create jobs." (Economists say that, in fact, the stimulus created or preserved up to 3.3 million jobs.)

Screen Machine's president, Steve Cohen, is no stranger to the Romney campaign. He hosted a Romney rally at his company in July, and spoke at the Republican National Convention the next month. "We need a Romney administration," he said then, "to ensure our country's competitiveness and give our companies the opportunity to expand and hire again." He, along with two other speakers at the RNC's "We Built It"-themed bash, received big chunks of government money to grow or maintain their businesses.

Screen Machine Industries received its stimulus money via four federal contracts awarded through the Department of Veterans Affairs in the fall of 2009. Cohen told the Associated Press in September 2011 that it would "irresponsible for an American manufacturer not to go after their fair share." He added, "The question is whether it was a wise investment. That's for someone else to answer."

This isn't the first time Romney held a campaign event at a stimulus-backed business. In August, Romney held a rally at the Watson Truck and Supply company in New Mexico, which received $400,000 in stimulus funds. And for an economic speech Romney gave last week in Iowa, Romney's campaign chose a construction company that'd received a $1.25 million Small Business Administration loan as part of the stimulus.

Video of Small, Crying Child Truly Epitomizes the Mood of the 2012 Election

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 12:52 PM EDT

This little girl speaks for a weary nation:

RUSH TRANSCRIPT:

Abigael Evans (daughter): [uncontrollable sobbing] "Just because…I'm tired…I'm tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney."

Elizabeth Evans (mother): "That's why you're crying?

AE: [sad nods of acknowledgement]

EE: "Ohhhh, it'll be over soon, Abby, okay? The election will be over soon, okay?"

AE: [a sad nod of acknowledgement] "K!"

EE: "Ohhh."

(No word yet on where she stands on Gary Johnson or Virgil Goode.)

Abigael, 4, resides in Fort Collins, the most populous city in Larimer County, Colorado. Larimer has been blanketed with campaign ads, and is one of the six counties in the swing state of Colorado that could actually decide the election. No wonder she's overwhelmed.

The fact that Abigael's weeping is nonpartisan is in itself a surprise, given that until now Mitt Romney has held the monopoly on making tiny children cry during the 2012 election:

Via theVia Evan Vucci at the Associated PressVersus this from June 2011:

Up until today, the president has held a statistically significant 6-point advantage in the polls among children who can't vote, including those living in swing states like Colorado, Ohio, Florida, and Nevada. But perhaps Abigael Evans' condemnation of both campaigns will tighten the contest. We'll be keeping a close watch on how how this plays out between now and Election Day.

For Politicians, an Ounce of Disaster Preparation Is Worth Nothing

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 12:45 PM EDT
New York's flooded Lower East Side in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Political science research shows that natural disasters can be a boon or an albatross to incumbent politicians. It all depends on how they react. Strangely enough, however, there's evidence that politicians don't get credit for spending money preparing adequately for a potential disaster—just for spending to alleviate disasters' effects. 

That dynamic sets up some "perverse incentives," according to Stanford professor Neil Malhotra, who co-authored a 2009 study with Loyola Marymount professor Andrew Healy on the politics of natural disasters. "The government might under-invest in preparedness measures and infrastructure development in exchange for paying for disaster relief, since there are no electoral rewards for prevention," says Malhotra. "Since 1988, the amount of money the U.S. spends on disaster relief has increased 13 times while the amount spending on disaster preparedness has been flat."

The worst part is that preventative spending, Malhotra says, reinforces the old Ben Franklin saying that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." It really is more effective to spend money on getting ready for a natural disaster than trying to mitigate its effects after the fact. "We estimated that $1 in preparedness spending is worth $15 in relief payments in preventing future disasters," Malhotra says. 

That's something to keep in mind as Mitt Romney hastily rebrands his campaign events as "hurricane relief" rallies and Barack Obama sends out photographs of himself coordinating the federal government's hurricane response: Politicians get much more credit for their reaction to disasters like Sandy than they do for trying to ensure disasters don't cause so much damage in the first place. 

 

Video: Romney Locks Up 1980s Lying Car Salesman Vote

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 12:36 PM EDT

It's an October surprise—October 1988, maybe: Reagan-era TV pitchman "Joe Isuzu" has endorsed Mitt Romney!

In a series of iconic commercials, Joe Isuzu was the Japanese car company's ballyhooed on-air spokesman through the late '80s, as well-known and zeitgeisty as later ad stars like "the most interesting man in the world" and the "Can you hear me now?" guy. Played by longtime character actor David Leisure (you know, the Hare Krishna in Airplane), Joe was an amusingly upbeat liar, making ever-more mendacious claims about Isuzu vehicles and capping them off with the tagline "You have my word on it." (Relive shaky YouTube clips of his greatest hits at the bottom of this post.)

Apparently, Joe Isuzu finds a lot to like in Mitt Romney's fast-and-loose approach to political truthiness. Thanks to Leisure and comedy producer Martin Lewis, the car salesman is back to endorse the GOP presidential candidate with some more Joe-like promises:

Of course, this isn't the first time Joe Isuzu has penetrated the American political consciousness. The pop-culture character inspired this line of attack against Vice President George H.W. Bush's pie-in-the-sky fiscal plan by Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in a 1988 presidential debate:

Given how that race turned out for Dukakis, Joe Isuzu's political influence was as effective as an underpowered compact pickup truck.

For some blasts from the past, check out these vintage Joe Isuzu ads:

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Anti-Obama Texts From Last Night

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 12:26 PM EDT

On Tuesday night, many people in the DC area received anti-Obama text messages from a cryptic email address. Here's what came to my phone, from sms@voteett.com: "If Obama is re-elected, taxes on the middle class will be raised significantly."

Other people took to Twitter to report the messages they received, which included: "Re-electing Obama puts Medicare at risk," "Obama denies protection to babies who survive abortions," and "Obama endorses the legality of same-sex marriage. Say No to Obama at the polls on Nov 6!" The Atlantic has a good run down of messages. Clearly, the group or groups behind the spam isn't targeting very well; a bunch of reporters in the DC metro area don't seem like the best audience for poorly sourced and outrageous claims.

IT World reported Wednesday morning on the company that owns the domain names tied to the spam texts:

According to GoDaddy, these domains belong to a Centreville, Virginia, company called ccAdvertising. According to its Web site, "ccAdvertising uses unique interactive technology to conduct personalized telephone surveys and messages with great results and service."

Our own Daniel Schulman reported on ccAdvertising—which also operates under at least eight of other names—in February 2007. Its president, Gabriel Joseph III, is one of the "kings of the political robo-call," and he has done work on behalf of a number of Republican candidates and causes. The Hill reported Wednesday morning that GoDaddy has suspended the domains tied to the texts.

The Los Angeles Times had a good piece last month explaining why this type of text spam is technically legal, since the companies behind it are using a loophole:

Although the Federal Communications Commission has clearly stated that unsolicited automated text messages are against the law, some political advertising firms have found a way around the ban.
Instead of sending text messages the traditional way -- from one phone number to another -- these firms send emails to people's cellphones, which produce messages that appear much like text messages.

Plus, you still have to pay for them like any other text message.

If you received a similar anti-Obama text, you can submit the info here, where reporter Philip Bump is attempting to track them.

Hope no one paid the company too much money to send the spam texts, considering their targeting doesn't seem to have been very, er, targeted.

The Inside Story of MoveOn's Secret "Silver Bullet" to Deliver Victory for Obama

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 11:41 AM EDT

The Orange County Register/ZUMApress.comThe Orange County Register/ZUMApress.com

Danny Oran knows a bolt of inspiration when it strikes. As a Microsoft designer in the early 1990s, he thought up the Windows "Start" menu after seeing a test subject—a rocket scientist from Boeing, no less—struggle with an early version of Microsoft's ubiquitous operating system. Oran also created the handy taskbar at the bottom of every Windows screen, stopping users from opening ten versions of the same program and crashing their PCs. After decades in tech and entrepreneurial circles, Oran moved to MoveOn.org, the massive progressive organizing network. This summer, he set his mind to tackling a glaring problem he'd observed in American elections: registered voters who don't vote. In 2008, for instance, 38 percent of registered voters didn't cast a ballot in the presidential election.

So Oran cast around for ideas. One day in August, he found his solution—in an unlikely place.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 31, 2012

Wed Oct. 31, 2012 9:25 AM EDT

Lance Corporals Jon Wiseman and Sean Nearing, with Company L, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, provide security from a rooftop during Military Operations in Urban Terrain training, at Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz. Oct. 22, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman.

Corn on MSNBC: Mother Jones' New Romney Tape

Tue Oct. 30, 2012 7:44 PM EDT

On Monday, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn revealed a new Romney tape, in which Mitt says Obama regards businesspeople as "a necessary evil," and Ann Romney implies Obama isn't a "grown up." Corn joins MSNBC's PoliticsNation host Al Sharpton, and Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino, to discuss the latest malarky.

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