Mojo - October 2012

POLL: Obama Leads Among Small Children Who Can't Vote

| Wed Oct. 17, 2012 9:17 AM PDT

If only ACORN were still around:

Obama supporters. /ShutterstockObama supporters. Morgan Lane Photography/Shutterstock

President Barack Obama won the Scholastic Student Vote by a margin of 51 percent to 45 percent over Mitt Romney. The vote polls those under 18 to weigh their preferences in a mock election. More than 250,000 did. Obama took home Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Ohio, while Romney won Virginia. 

Sadly for the Obama campaign, a certain amendment to a certain document precludes these impressionable nine-year-olds and drunk high-schoolers from casting ballots in the election. Scholastic did emphasize that their presidential poll "may not be official, but its results have often indicated who eventually wins the presidential race" since the mock poll started in 1940. The children surveyed have so far only failed to predict the future twice, with a majority voting for for Dewey over Truman in 1948 (can't really blame them on that one...), and Nixon over JFK in 1960 (one of the closest US presidential elections ever, and one that many Americans are still convinced was stolen by Kennedy cronies).

The Scholastic vote joins other inconsequential election-year indicators—including eyebrow length, tooth discoloration, and Barack/Mitt Chia Pets—that point to an Obama win in November.

The underage students ranked the most important issues in this elections as the economy, health care, and the war in Afghanistan. Actual registered voters, according to Gallup data this year, generally rank the economy, "dissatisfaction with government," and health care as their top three, with the war hovering at or below 5 percent.

No word yet on where that 4 percent of uncommitted or third-party child voters stands on Gary Johnson.

Here's a helpful chart to show you which way non-voting minors break on a state-by-state basis (check out how the candidates are doing with kids in the swing states):

As you  Via Via Scholastic.com

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Poll: Voter Fraud Paranoia Officially Bipartisan

| Wed Oct. 17, 2012 7:26 AM PDT

When it comes to passing laws that make it harder for specific constituencies to vote, Republicans have a near-monopoly. As we've detailed extensively, the last 12 months has seen a flood of voter I.D. legislation, almost all of it geared at combatting the non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud (you have a greater chance of seeing a UFO).

But paranoia about voter fraud, it turns out, is a truly bipartisan affliction. Public Policy Polling, which apart from being a reliable pollster in its own right has a knack for asking large samples of voters totally random questions we were always curious about, asked voters in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio whether they were concerned about voter fraud this November. Here's Florida:

Public Policy PollingPublic Policy Polling

And here's what happens when you ask about Republicans. The roles are mostly reversed, except interestingly self-identified moderates seem less worried about Democratic voting fraud than actual liberals:

Public Policy PollingPublic Policy Polling

Those trends hold for Ohio and North Carolina too. The takeaway from all of this, as ever, is that we're all slowly going insane.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 17, 2012

Wed Oct. 17, 2012 7:21 AM PDT

CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-262 (REIN), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepare to land and offload Marines during a helicopter raid exercise in Crow Valley, Philippines, Oct. 14.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Caleb Hoover.

Why Romney Screwed Up the Libya Question

| Wed Oct. 17, 2012 7:19 AM PDT

Mitt Romney tried to catch the president of the United States in a lie last night and ended up kicking himself in the pants. 

Sparring with Obama over Libya, Romney said that "it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror." In fact Obama had referred to the attack as "an act of terror" in a speech in the Rose Garden the day after four Americans were killed at the US consulate in Benghazi. Moderator Candy Crowley ended up fact-checking Romney in real-time, to applause from the audience, as Romney himself looked on in disbelief. 

Here's what Obama said in his Rose Garden speech:

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.

Conservatives, angry over what was an obviously embarrassing exchange for Romney, have tried to argue that somehow this reference didn't count. Some reporters have already been successfully spun on this—Slate's John Dickerson wrote that "If you look at the president's statement in the Rose Garden, he does use that phrase, but it's a throwaway cliché. Indeed, it arguably wasn't about the attack at all, just a bromide about more general acts of terror." But if you look at the above context, there's absolutely no way the president is referring to anything other then the attack in Benghazi, because his subsequent sentences refer to the victims and include a vow that "justice will be done." In context, it's impossible to read that as a reference to Dickerson's "general acts of terror." The speech was, in its entirety, a response to the attack in Benghazi.

No matter how you slice it, Romney's claim that Obama took two weeks to refer to the Benghazi attack as "an act of terror" was flat wrong. As Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin notes, Obama referred to the Benghazi incident as "an act of terror" a second time at a campaign event in Colorado just a day after the Rose Garden speech. Politico's Josh Gerstein was the first reporter to note that the conservative talking point here was false weeks ago—but his observation went largely ignored.

So how did Romney end up getting it so wrong? As the Washington Post's Erik Wemple notes, Romney was simply repeating what's been written ad nauseam in the conservative media. For conservatives, the administration's insistence—chiefly UN Ambassador Susan Rice's remarks shortly after the attack—on pointing to a widely seen anti-Islam video on YouTube as a cause was the same as claiming the attack was not an act of terror. But that's simply not true, because Obama had identified the incident as "an act of terror" even when the administration said it believed the video was the cause. The idea that blaming the video meant not acknowledging the attack as an act of terrorism is a false distinction. They're not mutually exclusive. Republicans had convinced themselves otherwise.

The larger conservative criticism is that the administration lingered on the video explanation because it didn't want to acknowledge a failure in its record on terrorism: It failed to identify and prevent a premeditated attack on American citizens. That's a fair argument for conservatives to make, but it's an argument—it's not amenable to fact-checking. Had Romney simply made that larger point accusing the administration of misleading in its accounting of events in Benghazi, it's doubtful Crowley would have said anything at all. Instead, Romney foolishly focused his attack on an easily verifiable fact that he got wrong.

Partisanship can be helpful in the search for accountability. But conservatives have been so eager to exploit the incident in Libya for political advantage that they've focused on inconsequential details like what the president said when. The facts surrounding the Benghazi attack are damning enough on their own. But thanks to their penchant for cherry-picking information, the GOP left their presidential nominee on stage with his mouth agape, struggling to understand how something he knew for a fact wasn't a fact at all. 

UPDATE: A previous version of this post mistakenly referred to Erik Wemple as "Eric Wemple."

Next on the Anti-Abortion Agenda: Spousal Consent?

| Wed Oct. 17, 2012 3:33 AM PDT

Anti-abortion state lawmakers have tried all manner of new laws to limit access to abortion in the past few years: mandatory ultrasounds, 72 hour waiting periods, scare-mongering mandatory scripts, and strict building codes, just to name a few.

But Robin Marty at RH Reality Check flags another potential new tactic: mandatory spousal notification. The National Pro-Life Alliance (NPLA) sent a questionnaire to candidates for the Kansas legislature, which Huffington Post obtained. Included in the 11 questions, most of which have become fairly typical anti-abortion fare, is this:

Will you support legislation giving spouses the right to be notified and intervene before any abortion is performed on the couple's baby?

As RH Reality Check's Marty notes, NPLA's 2008 presidential questionnaire also included that question. Republican candidates Tom Tancredo, Mike Huckabee and now-governor of Kansas Sam Brownback said "yes" to all the questions, including that one. Between that and this latest survey, it wouldn't be too surprising if something like this popped up in the Kansas legislature sometime soon.

Of course, if a woman hasn't already discussed her desire to end a pregnancy with her husband, it's probably for a good reason. And last time I checked, her spouse isn't the one who has to be pregnant and give birth.

Corn on "Hardball": Romney's Belligerence Backfires in Second Debate

Wed Oct. 17, 2012 12:20 AM PDT

David Corn and New York Magazine's John Heilemann joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the second presidential debate and Mitt Romney's tendency to get caught in testy exchanges with debate moderators. Also read David Corn's postgame analysis of the debate.

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

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Stock Photo Women Love Conservative Politicians!

| Tue Oct. 16, 2012 2:18 PM PDT

On Tuesday afternoon, I noted that the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) had endorsed Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin while at the same time promoting its "PowHER" campaign, an effort aimed at getting women to join the conservative-aligned business group. Apparently the group really doesn't have many female members, because all the lady entrepreneurs featured on its website are from stock images.

This one is from Thinkstock:

And this one is from Fotosearch:

This one is also from Thinkstock:

Bush Gitmo Prosecutor: "I Was Mistaken"

| Tue Oct. 16, 2012 2:09 PM PDT
Former Chief Military Commissions Prosecutor Col. Morris Davis (right).

Col. Morris Davis (Ret.) was the chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo Bay military commissions in 2008, when Osama bin Laden's former driver Salim Hamdan was convicted on charges of material support for terrorism. On Tuesday, that conviction was thrown out by a three-judge DC Circuit panel that ruled Hamdan couldn't be tried for offenses, like material support, that weren't war crimes when they were committed. 

I reached out to Davis, now a professor at the Howard University School of Law, for his view on the verdict, because as the military commissions' chief prosecutor he was responsible for charging Hamdan with material support for terrorism. Davis said that despite his decision at the time, he agreed with the decision to vacate Hamdan's conviction [emphasis added]:

First off, I am pleased that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld international law and the law of war. Justice O'Connor said in Hamdi that war is not a blank check for the President and it appears the D.C. Circuit said the same is true for Congress. I'm surprised that after Congress said the Military Commissions Act only codified existing law of war offenses that the Court would lift up the tent flap and take a look for themselves, but I'm glad they did.

Second, this is another body blow to the credibility of the already beleaguered military commissions. Most of the handful of cases that have been tried at Gitmo included material support for terrorism charges. David Hicks, for instance, was convicted solely of providing material support. His plea deal required him to waive all appeals, so he stands convicted of a war crime the D.C. Circuit just said was not a war crime, but he waived the right to challenge his conviction...the proverbial Catch-22.

Third, I was one of the advocates for adding material support as a chargeable offense when Congress was crafting the Military Commissions Act in the summer of 2006. I personally approved the material support charges against Hamdan and Hicks in February of 2007. I realized later on that I was mistaken on both counts. I hope this puts an end to the U.S. making up ex post facto war crimes and instead causes us to rely more on our federal courts and federal criminal code.

Davis has become a vocal critic of the military commissions since the early days of the Obama administration. He's paid a price for that—he claims he was fired from his position with the Library of Congress in 2009 for criticizing Obama's decision to revive the military commissions. Davis is currently suing the Library of Congress for violating his First Amendment rights. He tried to sue his former superviser in his personal capacity as well, but the DC Circuit—the same court that just overturned Hamdan's conviction—blocked that effort.

"Hamdan has done better before [Chief Judge David Bryan] Sentelle than I have," Davis joked.

Business Group Courts Women, Also Supports Todd Akin

| Tue Oct. 16, 2012 12:39 PM PDT

It wasn't all that long ago that Republicans were publicly begging Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin to drop out of the race following his comments about how women who are the victims of "legitimate rape" can't get pregnant. But Akin has managed to rebound, and on Tuesday scored the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), a conservative business group.

NFIB, a non-profit that bills itself as the "voice of small business," was already supporting Akin's campaign through a direct mail effort bashing incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill. NFIB had also given Akin a $5,000 donation for his House race in 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group also endorsed Wisconsin state Rep. Roger Rivard, the guy who last week recalled a this really classy chestnut from his father: "Some girls, they rape so easy."

All of this might make NFIB's current campaign to get women to join seem a little … gross. The group's "PowHER" campaign offers a variety of prizes, and NFIB pledges to make a donation to breast cancer research for each new member who joins this month. I'm sure many women might be bothered by the fact that their $180 membership fee will help support candidates who think that women are a bunch of lying liars when it comes to rape.

Meanwhile, as my colleague Josh Harkinson has reported, it's an open question whether NFIB can still legitimately say it represents small businesses. The supposedly nonpartisan group has spent nearly $2 million so far this election season—all of it either in support of Republican candidates or attacking Democrats. As a 501(c)4, the group doesn’t have to disclose its funders—but we do know that it received $3.7 million from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS in 2010 to support its work. The group also launched a new arm earlier this year, The Voice of Free Enterprise Inc., that takes donations from individuals and groups that aren't small businesses.

Following the Mystery Money Behind a Super-PAC's Attacks on Tammy Duckworth

| Tue Oct. 16, 2012 12:34 PM PDT
Tammy Duckworth, left, and Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.).

Earlier this month, Mother Jones reported on a curious turn of events in a congressional race in northern Illinois. A super-PAC called Now or Never had poured $1.7 million into ads bolstering the campaign of Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a gaffe-prone tea party favorite, and attacking Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth. One pundit called Now or Never's pro-Walsh spending "delusional." For months Duckworth has enjoyed a wide lead in the race, which happens to be in a Democratic-leaning district.

Now or Never is somewhat of a mystery itself. The strategists running the super-PAC refuse to identify themselves—spokesman Tyler Harber described them only as "a group of business owners and political operatives who have worked in Washington, DC, and across the Midwest." And at the time of their pro-Walsh spending, Now or Never had yet to disclose who was funding its attacks on Duckworth, an Army reservist and progressive favorite.

On Monday, Now or Never's latest campaign filings came out. The plot thickens.

Every penny received by Now or Never in September, when it launched its Illinois ad blitz, came from a Virginia-based nonprofit called Americans for Limited Government. ALG forked over, in two payments, a whopping $1.95 million. As a nonprofit, ALG doesn't disclose its donors.

Americans for Limited Government was co-founded in 1996 by real estate investor Howard Rich, who also serves on the boards of the Cato Institute and the Club for Growth. According to Politico, ALG has been among the recipients of funding from the extensive donor network established by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. ALG has also employed Sean Noble, according to Politico, who helped to oversee how the Koch donor network's contributions were spent.  

Ray Wotring, a spokesman for ALG, refused to say who funds his organization. "We as a practice don't reveal our donors," he says. Wotring also declined to say why ALG contributed to Now or Never. Harber, a spokesman for Now or Never, says in an email that the super-PAC discloses all of its donors. "ALG isn't our first, last, or only donor," Harber notes. "We can't compel them to disclose their donors, but we have done everything we can to be as transparent and accessible as possible."