Mojo - January 2012

Tom Engelhardt on Moyers: Supersized Politics in the 2012 Election

Tue Nov. 6, 2012 11:23 AM PST

On Bill Moyer's PBS show, Tom Engelhardt discusses our "supersized" American election: longer, more expensive, and full of more hot air. Even as every second our candidates' actions are scrutinized on TV, Twitter, and beyond, the election has been stunningly devoid of substance.

Tom Engelhardt is the founder of TomDispatch.com and author of The End of Victory Culture and co-author, with Nick Turse, of Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare.

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Paranoid Right-Wing Email of the Day (Maybe)

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 11:02 AM PST
President Barack Obama (D) laughs after reading the latest insane conspiracy email about him.

Wondering how the far-right might handle an Obama victory on election night? Here's a clue, in the form of a fundraising pitch from something called the American Conservative PAC. It features "busloads" of Somalis and Facebook postings from North Carolinians, so you know it's legit:

From Ohio to Nevada (and who knows where else), voting machines are selecting "Obama" when early voters cast their vote for Romney -- and it happens repeatedly when voters catch the error before submitting their ballot and try again only to wind up with Obama, again.
A North Carolina Democrat bragged on Facebook about voting four times already and planning to vote a fifth time tomorrow.

Early voting Somalis -- with their TRANSLATORS -- are arriving at polling stations by the busloads courtesy of Obama supporters. (Now, we don't know about you, but we don't know any U.S. CITIZENS that do not either speak or read English well-enough to vote...)
In Florida, conservative voters are receiving bogus letters falsely informing them that he or she will be unable to vote in this election due to miscellaneous (and non-existent) voter registration issues.

And if all that wasn't bad enough, the Obama-bots even have the help of an international body condemning our states trying to stand up to the infiltration of our polling booths!

Of course, giving a PAC money on election day wouldn't really accomplish very much. And American Conservative PAC hasn't really raised very much money—according to FEC filings, it has raised just $8,100 this cycle. But these conspiracies have gained traction on the far right. The Somali voter concern—notwithstanding that Somali-Americans are obviously allowed to vote—was parroted most notably by prominent anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, who notably helped jumpstart the career of Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). The Facebook post in question was a joke, but that hasn't prevented the man who posted it from receiving death threats. People are terrible.

Polling Woes Emerge in Key States; Watchdogs Report "Thousands" of Calls

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 10:16 AM PST
Volunteers man a voter-protection hotline.

People all over the country are having trouble exercising their right to vote, the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights said Tuesday morning.

"We are seeing a manifestation of a new Jim Crow in America...I don't think that's an overstatement," said Wade Henderson, who runs the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (a different group from the Lawyer's Committee). "You are seeing lines longer than those in Baghdad or Kabul."

To combat poll problems, the Lawyer's Committee has teamed with half a dozen other civil rights and voting rights groups to operate an election protection hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Dozens of volunteers with legal backgrounds are taking calls from voters encountering obstacles to casting a ballot. The Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights says it fielded thousands of calls Tuesday morning from voters who were turned away from the polls because they lacked photo ID, voters facing polling places with inadequate staff and equipment, and voters whose polling stations opening late.

Despite these ominous reports, Nicole Austin-Hillery of the Brennan Center for Justice struck an optimistic note. "The system is working for the vast majority of Americans," she said.

Voting problems are particularly acute in some key states, according to the Lawyer's Committee's Barbara Arnwine. In Pennsylvania, she said, voters are showing up to polling stations and seeing signs that say photo ID is required to vote, when state law says it's only necessary for first-time voters. Some voters, Arnwine said, are being turned away by poll workers who mistakenly believe that all voters need government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.

"This is the fault of the Pennsylvania state government, we lay it at their foot that voters are having problems in that state," Arnwine said at a press conference held Tuesday morning. "The state of Pennsylvania ought to be ashamed." Pennsylvania passed a voter ID law, but the court blocked it from being enforced for this election. The judge ruled that poll workers could ask for ID, but voters will still be allowed to cast regular—rather than provisional—ballots even if they can't provide one. A judge in Pennsylvania ordered Republicans outside a polling place in Allegheny to stop demanding ID from voters outside the polls.

Pennsylvania isn't the only state facing problems. The Lawyer's Committee has received calls from Ohio saying that voting machines in Dayton, Toledo, and Cleveland are non-functional. Some voters in Ohio complained of regular ballots being placed in provisional ballot boxes—provisional ballots are less likely to be counted. At one polling station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Arnwine said, 300 voters were standing in line to vote because only one voting machine was working, while other polling stations were critically understaffed. The voting situation in New Jersey, which is still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, Arnwine said, was a "catastrophe." 

Linda McMahon Pulls Out Dirty Tricks on Election Day

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 10:14 AM PST

Trailing in the polls going into election day, Connecticut GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon is trying something new: Pretending she's a Democrat. The Connecticut Mirror reports that McMahon, the former World Wrestling Federation executive, has dressed supporters hanging out at the polls today in "I Support Obama and McMahon" t-shirts designed to resemble those worn by Democrat-backing Services Employees International Union organizers:

"It clearly is a rip off of our shirts," said Paul Filson, the political director of SEIU, which represents many minority health care workers. "It definitely is confusing."

The shirts are part of an effort by McMahon to blunt the urban vote Murphy needs in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, where her workers also have left literature urging a vote for Obama and McMahon.

Here's a photo of said literature, which identifies McMahon not as a Republican, but as the nominee of the Independent party. It may be too late to make a difference. The New York Times' Nate Silver gives Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy a 95.5 percent chance of winning the seat being vacated by retiring Independent Joe Lieberman.

This wouldn't be the first time a blue-state Republican has mimicked a Democrat. In 2006, then-Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele depicted himself as a Democrat at campaign events and in sample ballots handed out in Prince George's county.

If McMahon really does support Obama, she should call her bank. According to FEC filings, she and her husband have given $150,000 to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super-PAC.

Update: Here's the a McMahon "sample ballot," via Murphy communications director Ben Marter:

@ChrisMarter/Twitter@BenMarter/Twitter

Senate Challenger Josh Mandel: Washington "Created" The Financial Crisis

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 9:21 AM PST
Josh Mandel.

Is Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel of Ohio a bailout truther?

Mandel went on a Cleveland radio station Tuesday morning and suggested that the financial meltdown of 2008 was created by Washington politicians—not predatory mortgage lenders, lax regulators, incompetent ratings agencies, too-clever-by-half bankers, or delusional homeowners—seemingly as a way to pass the bank bailout.

Mandel's interviewer with station WMMS remarks that the US "would be in real financial ruin if some of those banks were allowed to collapse." But Mandel doesn't buy it. He fires back: "This is what happens in Washington: These politicians, they create a crisis and then they come in and try to take credit for solving the crisis. And it's exactly what's wrong with Washington."

Here's the clip of Mandel's remarks, provided by Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown's campaign, with a transcript to follow:

Transcript:

Host: Those banks, I mean, we would be in real financial ruin if some of those banks were allowed to collapse. You know, the credit markets were frozen. We were in a huge disaster. Now, I don't like it. I don't think anyone likes it. But to say that it was—look, we're still here. We still have money in the bank. People can go in and get their checkings [sic] and get a check and use their debit card and that kinda stuff. That was a real possibility—that that may not happen if we didn't do some of those things.

Mandel: You know, I think there were a lot of scare tactics used to pressure congressmen and senators to support [the financial bailout]. And this is what happens in Washington: These politicians, they create a crisis and then they come in and try to take credit for solving the crisis. And it's exactly what's wrong with Washington.

Sheldon Adelson Is Partying With Mitt Romney on Election Night

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 8:37 AM PST
Sheldon Adelson.

It's the least Mitt Romney could do for his biggest backer.

Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, will attend Romney's election night party in Boston Tuesday evening, CNN reports. The Adelsons are the largest donors of the 2012 election cycle, giving more than $53 million in disclosed donations to candidates and super-PACs. That includes a staggering $20 million (that we know of) to Restore Our Future, the record-setting super-PAC devoted solely to electing Romney president.

The Adelsons' entire record of giving in this election cycle is likely far greater. In April, Sheldon Adelson said that he planned to give millions more to dark-money nonprofit groups that don't disclose their donors. Adelson later said in June he could give as much as $100 million to defeat Obama, and insiders familiar with Adelson's giving told CNN that the Adelsons will come "very close" to meeting that goal.

Forbes puts Adelson's net worth at $20.5 billion, making him the 14th-richest American. Ironically, no other American has gotten richer during Obama's first term in office than Sheldon Adelson.

To better understand Adelson's influence on the 2012 elections, check out these nifty charts.

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9 Incredible Campaign Money Stats

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 4:08 AM PST

We're about to wrap up the most expensive election in US history—and also the first presidential election awash in unrestricted super-PAC cash and dark-money. Some stats (read on, Bieber fans):

1. Estimated amount of disclosed spending in the 2012 election: $6 billion

2. Amount of dark money (money with no donor disclosure) spent in the 2008 election: $70 million

Minimum amount of dark money known to have been spent on the 2012 election: $213 million

3. Amount super-PACs, dark money groups, and other outside groups spent in October: $526 million

4. Percentage of all super-PAC money from just 163 people who gave $500,000 or more: 70 percent

5. Percentage of outside spending coming from disclosed donors in 2004: 96.5 percent

Percentage in 2012: 40.5 percent

6. Amount the Koch brothers are known to have donated to candidates and parties in 2012: $411,000

Amount of dark money they have pledged to spent to defeat Barack Obama: $60 milion

7. Percentage of dark money spent on federal elections that went to electing Republicans and defeating Democrats: 80 percent

8. Percentage of the 1 million-plus ads run by the Obama and Romney campaigns and their allies between April and October that were negative: 87 percent

9. Number of news segments about outside spending groups on Milwaukee stations in the two weeks before Wisconsin's June recall election: 0

Number of news segments about Justin Bieber during that time: 53 

Romney Closes Dirty

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 1:52 AM PST

Mitt Romney had a choice this election: He could surf the bubbling froth of right-wing rage against the president all the way to the White House, or he could discard the racialized narrative of the Obama presidency put forth by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich.

Throughout the campaign, much of his party was pushing him in one direction: Some Republicans still believed the president was not born in the United States; conservative media figures presented everything from Obama's economic policy to the Affordable Care Act as seeking racial vengeance, accused him of lying about his religion, and argued that he secretly sympathizes with America's enemies. As National Journal's Ron Brownstein dubbed it, the 2012 election is a battle between the gray and the brown, the GOP's aging white base versus the Democrats' increasingly diverse coalition. Relying almost exclusively on the white vote, however, is a strategy with an expiration date. It's a move that cuts against the demographic tide. As one Republican adviser put it to Brownstein, "This is the last time anyone will try to do this."

In a weak but growing economy, mobilizing the base would not be sufficient for Romney to eke out a win; he couldn't alienate voters with fond feelings towards the president who nonetheless might be open to voting Republican this year. And this is not 1970s, when Ronald Reagan could get away with invoking "strapping young bucks" buying "T-bone steaks" with food stamps. If Romney wanted to harness that rage at all, he had to take a more subtle approach for most of the campaign, never fully embracing the racialized narrative pushed by Limbaugh, Beck, and others.

Unlike Gingrich, Romney never called Obama the "food stamp president" or insisted that Obama could only be understood as an adherent to "Kenyan anti-colonialism," which is just a fancy way of calling the president a scary black foreigner. But Romney did embrace reality TV star Donald Trump, who fixated on conspiracy theories about Obama's birth certificate and promoted the notion that the president, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, is a simpleton who coasted through the Ivy League thanks to affirmative action. Instead of the "Kenyan anti-colonialism" shtick, Romney asserted that America was somehow beyond Obama's understanding. He falsely charged that the president was "gutting" Bill Clinton's welfare reforms, updating Reagan's old racial code. One of his chief surrogates, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, alternately called the president "lazy," "not that bright," and asserted that Obama needed to "learn how to be an American." Sununu then accused former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell of endorsing Obama just because they're both black. When four Americans were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Romney accused Obama of sympathizing with their killers, a rationale that could have come straight from conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza, who argues the president sees "Muslim jihadists" as "freedom fighters." 

It's true that Romney eschewed the more explicit racialized attacks offered by some of his allies. His campaign sprinted away from a third-party group's attempt to revive the Jeremiah Wright controversy, and it elected not to amplify a similar attempt by Tucker Carlson and Matt Drudge to mischaracterize (for the second time) a widely reported Obama speech from 2007 as an endorsement of racial violence. He never said the word "Obamaphone."

A different Republican candidate might have tried to persuade the relevant sections of the right to shake off its vision of the Obama presidency as a bleak racial dystopia—in Limbaugh's words, a place where "the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering." Sen. John McCain made an attempt to do so four years ago. In 2008, the temperature at some McCain-Palin rallies reached a boiling point, alarming veterans of the civil rights movement like Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga). McCain memorably corrected a supporter who called Obama an "Arab," with the shamefully attendant insinuations. There have been no such scenes from Romney's 2012 campaign. When a questioner at a rally accused Obama of treason, Romney simply answered the question.

In the waning days of the campaign, Romney chose to come closer to owning fully the far right's race-influenced effort to deligitimize Obama as not a true American or legitimate leader, deliberately exploiting Republican obsessions with the president's background. Romney revived his bogus charge of Obama gutting welfare work requirements in ads airing in Ohio. The ad also paraphrased Gingrich's attack on Obama as the "food stamp" president. His campaign made robocalls starring Trump. Romney's vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, told evangelical supporers the president was a threat to "Judeo-Christian" and "Western" values. After Obama tried to silence a group of booing college students by telling them "voting is the best revenge," Romney began telling his supporters that Obama was advocating "revenge"—a line many conservatives understand as having the Limbaughian racial subtext—and that they should vote for "love of country." Limbaugh certainly picked up on it. "One month into his presidency," Limbaugh said Monday, "I told you it was about revenge."

Obama can dish it out too of course. But the forces Romney has at times invoked shape not only perceptions of the man he is seeking to defeat Tuesday, but those who share his background. Conversely, while some on the left have shamefully tried to raise Romney's Mormonism as an issue, the Obama campaign has never, even subtly, attempted to do so.

If Romney wins the presidency, he will have done so embracing watered-down manifestations of an explicitly racial anti-Obama narrative popular in corners of the right: that the president is not merely wrong but practically foreign, a traitorous neophyte whose rise to the highest office in the land will be soon rectified. If Obama loses, the narrative of Obama as the affirmative-action president will prevail widely among Republicans, even as they use his first term as proof that America has transcended its ugly racial past. It's not a narrative Romney wrote himself, but it's one he refused to reject. 

Given the privileged perspective history assigns to victors, how Romney wins matters. If he loses, well, let's hope that Republican consultant was right that this is the last time anyone tries to win an election this way.  

8 Candidates We Can't Believe Are Actually Going to Win

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 1:35 AM PST

Certain things are generally to be considered to be deal-breakers in electoral politics—reading a letter in defense of a radical who murdered two FBI agents, for instance, or sleeping with your patients and then asking them to get an abortion. Or going AWOL for almost one-third of an entire congressional term. Except for these guys:

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.)

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) Michael Grimm/FlickrMichael Grimm/FlickrStaten Island could really use an effective congressman right now. Instead, New York's 13th congressional district is poised to reelect Grimm, an embattled freshman whose 2010 campaign is now the subject of an FBI investigation into whether Grimm knowingly allowed a fundraiser and an Israeli rabbi to solicit illegal cash donations from foreign nationals. That's not the only stain on his short record: In 2011, Grimm went on a privately funded trip to Cyprus, which he neglected to report in his congressional disclosures until 2012, when his host was arrested on corruption charges. And per the New York Times, Grimm's business partner, Bennett Orfaly, with whom he started a restaurant, allegedly "has ties to a member of the Gambino organized crime family, Anthony (Fat Tony) Morelli, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for racketeering and extortion in an elaborate tax fraud." 

As you'd expect from a congressman who is just two degrees of separation from someone named "Fat Tony," Grimm's campaign has, at times, been somewhat nasty. Grimm attacked his opponent, Democrat Mark Murphy, for "liv[ing] in his father's basement" (true), and for being a failed actor. See below:

And again:

Grimm's ethics woes were enough to get him booted from his role as a Romney surrogate, but he's held steady in the polls in New York City's most conservative district.

 

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)

Jason Moore/ZumaPress.comJason Moore/ZumaPress.com That a well-connected Democrat in a safe-blue South Side district would cruise to reelection virtually unopposed isn't especially surprising. But Jackson has been AWOL from Congress for much of the last year. He went missing for a month last summer and hasn't held a constituent event or a campaign rally since winning the Democratic primary in March—an absence friends and advisers attribute to a severe case of depression. (In October, he announced he was returning to the Mayo Clinic for a second bout of rehab.) He's under FBI investigation for possibly using campaign funds to renovate his Chicago home, and by the House Ethics Committee for possibly attempting to purchase Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat in 2008. He voted by absentee ballot and isn't holding a rally on election night. But after beating back a Campaign for Primary Accountability-backed challenge in the primary, Jackson doesn't have much incentive to show up: He's all but clinched a victory.

 

Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.)

John Barrow/FlickrJohn Barrow/FlickrThis was supposed to be the year white Democrats from the Deep South officially went extinct. After redistricting, Barrow, a 57-year-old Georgia Blue Dog, found himself in a district that gave 56 percent of the vote to John McCain in 2008—despite record African American turnout that year. But Barrow outspent his Republican challenger, state Rep. Lee Anderson, by a more than 2-1 margin, and managed to put together a patchwork coalition of black voters and white gun-owners (he's a rare Democrat with NRA backing). Ads like this one probably didn't hurt:

 

Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.)

Kerry Bentivolio/FacebookKerry Bentivolio/FacebookWhen Rep. Thaddeus McCotter resigned abruptly last summer after he failed to make it on the ballot (because his campaign apparently forged most of the signatures), it created an opening. Unfortunately for Michigan Republicans, the only GOPer who appeared on to the primary ballot was Bentivolio, a former high school teacher (more on that in a second), reindeer farmer, Santa impersonator, and co-star of a low-budget 9/11 truther film. He raised virtually no money, but got a boost from $500,000 in spending from a Texas-based super-PAC, and easily beat the establishment-backed write-in candidate. In August, the Detroit Free-Press reported that Bentivolio had been reprimanded at his Michigan high school for, among other things, telling students that they were "just a paycheck to me" and pledging to make them cry. In October, Bentivolio's brother told the Michigan Information and Research Service, "I believe that if he gets elected, he'll eventually serve time in prison." With national Democrats making little effort to back Bentivolio's challenger, Syed Taj, Bentivolio will likely get the chance.

 

Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.)

Raul Ruiz/FacebookRaul Ruiz/FacebookGOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack is the incumbent. Her southeastern California district has an R+3 partisan voting index. And Ruiz, her Democratic opponent, is basically the Matt Drudge version of Barack Obama. Per the Palm Desert Desert Sun: "Officials with Rep. Mary Bono Mack's campaign, at a press conference Thursday, released an audiotape in which her Democratic opponent, Raul Ruiz, can be heard reading a letter of support for Leonard Peltier, a Native American convicted in 1977 of murdering two FBI agents on an Indian reservation in South Dakota…Ruiz can be heard reading a letter to Peltier written by 'Subcomandante Marcos,' a Marxist leader of the Zapatista liberation movement for indigenous people centered in the rural Mexican state of Chiapas." But through it all, polls show Ruiz to be a slim favorite to pull off the victory on election day.

 

Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R-Tenn.)

Scott Desjarlais/FlickrScott Desjarlais/FlickrWho among us hasn't had extramarital affairs with multiple female patients at our medical practice and then pushed one of them to get an abortion before later advancing policies that would curtail women's reproductive rights? Oh, hmm, seeing a lot of hands raised. This is awkward. Despite being guilty of that exact scenario, Desjarlais is still the favorite to hold onto his Middle Tennessee seat. A poll commissioned after the ethical lapses/insane hypocrisy was exposed put the freshman up by 4 points.

 

Paul Broun (R-Ga.)

Jackie Ricciardi/Augusta Chronicle/ZumaPress.comJackie Ricciardi/Augusta Chronicle/ZumaPress.comThis man is running unopposed:

 

Roy Moore (R-Ala.)

Roy Moore/FacebookRoy Moore/FacebookYou may know Moore as the man who, after being removed from his post as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to take down a granite monument of the Ten Commandments, proceeded to travel around the country in a flat-bed pickup truck with the slab in the back. Now, after two failed runs for governor—and a very brief flirtation with running for president—he wants his job back. Moore hasn't mellowed much with age—he said as recently as October that same-sex marriage could bring about the end of the United States—but has benefited from the near-total collapse of the Alabama Democratic party. His original general election opponent, Harry Lyon, had called for illegal immigrants to be hanged and, per ThinkProgress, was "once shot in the neck after a neighbor caught him pouring Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup on the neighbor's car." (He was replaced by the party in August.) Per the Montgomery Advertiser, Moore leads in the polls going into Election Day. Also: Chuck Norris endorsed him.

Karl Rove: For Romney to Win "Some Polls Have to Be Wrong"

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 9:50 PM PST

Even Karl Rove, the political genius of the Republican Party, admits it: For Mitt Romney to win the presidential election on Tuesday, "some polls" have to be wrong. That's because those polls, especially in key swing states, show President Obama headed for victory, albeit a very narrow one.

Rove went on Fox News Monday night to give his final assessment of the Obama-Romney showdown. His prediction was that Romney would scrape together a win with 285 electoral votes, all but sweeping the president in the key swing states of Colorado, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Iowa. And while Rove's own analysis of recent presidential polls put the presidential race at a dead heat, he conceded to Fox's Bret Baier that "some polls have to be wrong a little" for Romney to win.

FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver is far less charitable toward Romney: He predicts Romney will claim a miserly 224 electoral voters, and stands only an 8.6 percent chance of winning the election. The right-leaning RealClearPolitics says the race is a statistical tie at 48 percent for both candidates.

Here's the video of Rove (the segment starts at the 3:30 mark) followed by a transcript of the moment in question:

Baier: Bottom line: For Romney to win Tuesday, these polls have to be wrong.

Rove: Some polls have to be wrong a little, because the race is that close. Remember, take a look at the national polls. Just simply in the last week, 23 polls, you average them all together, 48.3 [percent] for Romney, 48.1 for Obama. That's as of 10 o'clock this morning. So it is dead even, knife's edge, long night, exciting outcome.

The way all the polls look, Rove's likely to be right about one thing: It's going to be a long night on Tuesday.