2010 - %3, October

Old Stuff

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 6:18 PM EDT

After admiring an old Kalashnikov rifle that's still in active use, C.J. Chivers asks:

Can you think of tools that last this long, or that you expect to? Your pickup truck? Cell phone? Refrigerator? Television? Laptop? Do you own anything that was manufactured in the 1950s and still is in regular, active use in your life?

Yes! My beloved reading chair. Unfortunately, it's out being recovered right now, which means I don't have a reading chair at the moment. And this in turn means that I'm not reading as much as usual, because I really don't have any other place in the house that I find comfortable for extended loafing. Buying a new chair probably would have been cheaper than recovering the old one, and I thought about it, but then Marian reminded me that (a) I really like this chair and (b) I always hate new stuff because it's made like crap and doesn't last. She was right! Almost without exception, every time I buy something new, the workmanship of the new item is annoyingly shoddy (and she has to listen to me gripe about it). It doesn't really seem to matter how much I paid, either, which is why I don't bother buying expensive things. It's almost all junky, so why bother?

But this chair? Built like a rock and it has spring cushions. It'll probably collapse about the same time as the heat death of the universe.

Anything else that old? Not really. My grandfather's wristwatch still works, but I don't actually wear it on a regular basis. Maybe a few old tools that we inherited. Nothing else I can think of. How about you?

(Via Sullivan.)

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War as a Hobby

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 3:10 PM EDT

Here is David Broder proposing a way for Barack Obama to get the economy back on track in time for his 2012 election campaign:

Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.

Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

There's one bizarre idea here and one....other idea. The bizarre one is the notion that a war with Iran would cause the economy to improve. It wouldn't. War with Iran would cost us — at most — about 1% of GDP, and this would have essentially no effect on economic growth. This isn't a multi-year, two-front, full-scale national mobilization we're talking about here. On the other hand, it would cause a massive spike in oil prices as Iran's oil went off line (or traders began to fear it would go off line), and that would almost certainly be really, really bad for the economy. So everyone should just give up on the idea that even if an economic boost isn't a primary reason to go to war with Iran, it's at least an argument in its favor. It isn't.

So then: what about the idea that "Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century"? A lot of people seem to agree with this, so it's not right to call it bizarre. It is, however, a sign of the times that a major, supposedly centrist newspaper columnist can treat such a statement so cavalierly. I mean, whatever else you can say about Charles Krauthammer, he'd at least write a few paragraphs about why Iran is so dire a threat that we should go to war with them. Broder just tosses it off casually. This does not bode well for the idea that our ruling class has learned any useful lessons from our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Top Ten Lists

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 1:05 PM EDT

Here's a Twitter conversation from last night:

@kdrum: @ebertchicago's "Why I Loathe Top 10 Film Lists" doesn't actually say a word about why he loathes Top Ten lists. http://ow.ly/323Z8

@RemoteClancy: re: @ebertchicago & Top 10 lists. Not a word, just 900 of them. Re-read his response to 'Best in Film' for clearest reason.

I guess you'll have to click the link and decide for yourself who's right. As near as I can tell, Roger Ebert told us why he doesn't like being asked to participate in creating Top Ten lists for free, but that's a whole different question than why he loathes Top Ten lists in general. I realize he didn't write the headline for the piece, but I still want to know: why does he loathe Top Ten lists? He does seem to, but there's really no explanation given. Even for a serious critic, it seems like it might be sort of a fun exercise.

Who You Calling a Print Magazine? MoJo Wins Online News Association Award

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 3:32 AM EDT

Just in case the grins on the faces of reporter Kate Sheppard and news editor Dan Schulman don't tell you everything you need to know—yes, we are  honored and proud today to have won the Online News Association award for Online Topical Reporting/Blogging for our team coverage of the BP spill. For much of the summer, Mother Jones actually had more reporters covering the disaster than most dailies or TV news operations around the country: Our human-rights reporter Mac McClelland was on the scene for four months while Kate in Washington kept up the heat on agencies and politicians, and environmental correspondent Julia Whitty explored the stunning new science that shows the true impact of BP. It was an amazing endeavor, involving literally everyone at MoJo at one point or another and drawing on major effort from many (reporters, editors, factcheckers, tech crew—you know who you are). You can read the results here.

Fun fact: As far as we can tell, Mother Jones was the only magazine (that doesn't publish exclusively online, a la Salon) honored at the ONA awards last night; the event has long been dominated by daily newspapers, broadcasters, and online-exclusive news sites, which makes sense given that much of the magazine industry has not exactly stampeded into digital news. Here at MoJo, though, we pretty much tore down the distinction between print and digital several years ago, and now aim to bring you sharp, sassy investigative reporting 24/7 via the Interwebs as well as in our award-winning print magazine (you do take advantage of our dead cheap subscriptions, right?). So hooray for an award confirming that that's working out okay—and an extra hooray for all the other great journalism shops honored last night, including our fellow nonprofits at NPR, ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and California Watch. (Bonus hooray for these last two, fellow Bay Area operations. Now back to the World Series already in progress.) 

Kowtowing and Coddling

| Sat Oct. 30, 2010 7:26 PM EDT

So here's a good question. Thursday was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s birthday, so Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip Crowley tweeted the message on the right. Shane Bauer, of course, has written for Mother Jones in the past, so we have a personal interest in this case and were happy to see Crowley keeping it front and center.

Sarah Palin, though, not so much. She replied: "Happy B'day Ahmadinejad wish sent by US Govt. Mind boggling foreign policy: kowtow & coddle enemies; snub allies." That's a pretty stunning reaction, and Steven Taylor wonders if this deliberate misreading of Crowley's tweet is going to spread:

The reason I think that it is noteworthy is that I suspect that the notion that the Obama administration is “kowtow[ing]” and “coddl[ing]” Iran via sincere birthday greetings will probably become a meme on Fox News and on talk radio — the further dissemination of false information. This is unfortunate. It is one thing to have a different perspective on how to deal with a problem, quite another to make things up.

So waddaya think? Is the conservative noise machine going to pick up on this meme? I think it's a stretch even for them, but I don't plan to turn on the TV or the radio to find out. And they've certainly surprised me in the past. So if they do, let us know in comments.

San Francisco's Liberal Tea Party

| Sat Oct. 30, 2010 6:47 PM EDT

Photo: Tim MurphyPhoto: Tim MurphyThe most dedicated progressive activist of the 2010 election cycle might be a 63-year-old hippie from Dayton named "Ganja Santa." Ganja (needless to say, a stage name), spent Saturday's Sanity Rally in San Francisco alternatively posing for pictures in a pot-green Santa suit, and riding around Civic Center Plaza on a beer cooler that's been retrofitted with handlebars and four wheels (a nifty contraption he calls "the cruiser cooler").

He moved to California earlier this year solely to help rally support for Proposition 19, the California ballot provision that would legalize Marijuana. "I was in Dayton, and I just thought, 'Man, if I'm sittin' here and Prop 19 fails, I'll never forgive myself," he said. On Wednesday, win or lose, Ganja Santa will pack up his belongings and return to Ohio.

It's the kind of commitment, if not necessarily the kind of outfit, Democratic campaigns wish they had more of in 2010. By now, you've probably read about yesterday's big Comedy Central rally on the Mall (or as MoJo's Suzy Khimm put it, "Ironypalooza"). Like any half-decent Tea Party-spinoff, though, the DC rally was only a part of the story; statellite viewing parties sprang up in dozens of cities, from the usual suspects (Seattle, Chicago) to the less so (Rapid City, South Dakota, home of the world's most sinister Richard Nixon statue).

In San Francisco, the crowd of about 700 that showed up to watch the main event on the big screen left as soon as it ended, opting not to stick around in the drizzle for the scheduled stand-up comedians, mime troupe, costume contest, and lecture on the virtues of "non-violent communication."

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Ideology vs. Self Interest

| Sat Oct. 30, 2010 5:21 PM EDT

Bruce Bartlett thinks Republicans will have to start delivering the goods if they take over Congress next week. Matt Yglesias disagrees, citing research that voters always blame the president for whatever happens, not Congress. But:

Things look different in interest-group terms. CEOs do want their personal income taxes lower, do want the capital gains taxes they pay lower, and do want to be able to pollute and violate labor law with impunity. But they presumably don’t want to see the economy fall into a depression and Speaker Boehner may be “responsible” in their eyes.

You'd think so, wouldn't you? But the business community has long demonstrated a remarkable ability to value ideology over actual results. Think about it: if congressional Republicans had been in charge over the past couple of years, there would have been no TARP, no stimulus, and no auto rescue. In other words, the economy would be in truly harrowing shape and businesses would be failing left and right. What's more, simple self interest dictates that going forward the business community ought to be clamoring for monetary easing and more fiscal stimulus, something that Republicans are dead set against. But they aren't. In fact, they're planning to vote in massive numbers for Republicans. They're basically content with anemic economic growth.

I'm not quite sure what accounts for this. Opposing regulation I get. No one wants to be regulated. Ditto for higher taxes, even if they're pretty modest. But why do corporate chieftans oppose true national healthcare even though it would almost certainly make their lives easier and make them more globally competitive? Why do they oppose cap-and-trade even though its effects are modest and the alternative is more intrusive EPA regulations? Why do they oppose fiscal stimulus even though it would spur the economy and be good for business?

It's a mystery. I guess they truly don't believe that stimulus spending will help. Or, maybe they don't believe that anything the government does helps the economy. It's hard to say. But whatever happens, I'll bet they won't hold Speaker Boehner responsible for it. They'll blame it on stifling regulations or bad trade policy or too much government spending or bad currency management. Something that's Obama's fault. It'll always be Obama's fault.

Live Tweeting the Rally to Restore Sanity

Sat Oct. 30, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

MoJo's Washington bureau chief David Corn and DC based reporters Suzy Khimm, Kate Sheppard, Nick Baumann, and Andy Kroll are tweeting furiously on the scene at the Rally to Restore Sanity. The last time we did this it was for Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally, which turned out to be just a barrel of fun.

Front page image courtesy of the Rally to Restore Sanity and the March to Keep Fear Alive.

McDonald's Accused of Voter Intimidation

| Sat Oct. 30, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

Nearly all the allegations of voter intimidation flying around have been directed at Republican official or conservative activists. But now it looks like businesses, too, are pushing their will on voters. A McDonald's franchise in Ohio was accused of intimidation after telling its employees that their raises and benefits would go down unless they voted for Republicans. "If the right people are elected, we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above our present levels. If others are elected we will not," the employer wrote in a handbill enclosed in a recent paycheck envelope. Who are "the right people"? According to the handbill, they are gubernatorial candidate John Kasich, Senate candidate Rob Portman, and Jim Renacci for House Rep. in Ohio's 16th District.

Allen Schulman, an Ohio lawyer who submitted the handbill to local prosecutors, accused McDonald's of violating election law. "When a corporation like McDonald's intimidates its employees into voting in a specific way, it violates both state and federal elections law," Schulman said in a statement. He goes on to characterize the handbill as "the logical extension of the Citizens United decision, which unleashed corporate arrogance and abuse." The handbill has no direct connection to the Supreme Court decision, which liberated corporate campaign ad spending. But the store's conduct suggests that business are also convinced that the stakes are higher in a polarized political environment—and are willing to push the envelope to see the outcomes that they want.

David J. Stern, Captain Foreclosure?

| Fri Oct. 29, 2010 5:20 PM EDT

Courtesy of Legalprise.

Courtesy of Legalprise

Mother Jones readers have lately read a lot about David J. Stern, the powerful Florida lawyer who over decades built one of the most powerful foreclosure law firms in the nation—and a lavish lifestyle for himself. (Think waterfront mansion, beachfront condo, Ferraris and Porsches, and an Italian jet-powered yacht.) However, as I reported in a long investigative story in August, there's plenty of evidence suggesting that, as the housing market imploded and foreclosures mounted, Stern and his firm repeatedly cut corners and even allegedly broke the law all in the name of ramming through foreclosures and profiting as much as possible. Now, as the foreclosure crisis rears its ugly head again, Stern has faced criticism in the press and in private; this month, he lost several major clients that once fed him foreclosure cases, including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Citigroup.

What remains a question mark is Stern himself. He almost never gives interviews (he and associates declined multiple requests of mine), and there's scant public information out there about him. That said, a photo obtained on Friday by Mother Jones offers a small but illuminating peek at Stern's personality.

At the start of this year, Stern spun off the non-legal pieces of his foreclosure empire into a separate, publicly traded company called DJSP Enterprises. He was so bullish on DJSP and the prospects of the foreclosure business that he handed out t-shirts depicting him as Superman (or Captain DJSP, or Foreclosure Man, or whatever) to top-tier investors in the new company. Yep—the guy on the t-shirt stopping two New York City buses with his bare hands is Stern. I'm not going to read too much into what the t-shirt means, other than to say it takes real chutzpah to dish out shirts suggesting your new foreclosure company somehow makes you a superhero. Stern's public company, DJSP, hasn't turned out to be so super. In January, the stock debuted on the NASDAQ at $9.25; today, it's trading at a buck.