2010 - %3, October

Fake Group Tries to Mislead Black Voters in Texas

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 12:25 PM EDT

With only a few days until the election, 'tis the season for dirty tricks at the polls. In Houston, Texas, flyers telling people not to vote straight down the Democratic ticket have been placed on the windshields of cars at a polling place in a predominantly black neighborhood. TPM has the details:

 

"Republicans are trying to trick us!" the flier reads. "When you vote straight ticket Democrat, it is actually voting for Republicans and your vote doesn't count. We are urging everyone to VOTE for BILL WHITE. A VOTE for BILL WHITE is a VOTE for the ENTIRE DEMOCRATIC ticket. We have fought too hard to let Republicans use voting machines to deny us our basic rights. We must guard the change and NOT VOTE STRAIGHT TICKET DEMOCRAT!"

 

"YES WE CAN," the flier read.

 

The flyer says that it's from a group called the "Black Democratic Trust of Texas," which doesn’t appear to exist. The name of the group, moreover, seems to be a rip-off of the Texas Democratic Trust, a prominent independent group that's helped bring the Texas Democratic Party back from the dead (and whose efforts I profiled here).

It's unclear who's behind the scheme, but Democrats are convinced that Republicans or conservative activists are responsible. "This is pretty classic in Texas," Democratic consultant Matt Angle, head of the Texas Democratic Trust, tells Mother Jones. Angle recalls a similar incident in 2008, when black activists in Houston and Dallas were receiving emails that voting for Obama would mean voting for a straight-party ticket. "They've gone back to low-tech now," he adds.

Angle says that Texas Democrats now plan to enlist African-American leaders to do robo-calls in the area "to make sure that people understand that [the flyers] are bogus." The danger of such misinformation campaigns is that they tend to crop up at the very last minute, before there's much time to get the correct information out to voters.

Reports of election shenanigans have been plaguing the Houston area throughout the early voting period. The Department of Justice is currently investigating complaints that poll watchers have been harassing and "hovering over" voters in Houston—accusations of GOP-led voter intimidation that have also cropped up in North Carolina, among other places where conservative activists have launched an all-out voter fraud crusade.

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Joe Miller's Numbers Nose Dive

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 12:21 PM EDT

Things were getting shaky for the tea party-backed Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller even before his ethics violation as a local government employee was splashed all over the news in Alaska this week. A new poll from Hays Research shows Miller's ratings taking a nose-dive in the state. Via Mudflats:

The percentage of those who feel either "somewhat negative" or "very negative" about Miller has skyrocketed in recent weeks to an unbelievable 68%. Only 8% feel "somewhat negative" and the remainder, a jaw-dropping 60%, feel "very negative" about Miller as a candidate.

It's certainly worth noting that this poll was taken before last Sunday's debate, where Miller admitted that he was suspended for three days in 2008 for an ethics violation. This was also before a court forced the release of Miller's personnel records, which included more details about the case and indicated that Miller had lied about his actions. But the poll did arrive after weeks of Miller trying desperately to dodge questions about his past—with his private security guards going so far as to handcuff a reporter who tried to interview him at a public event. [UPDATE: This wasn't included in the initial release, but it should be noted that the poll was commisssioned by the IBEW Local 1547, which has endorsed Democrat Scott McAdams in the race.]

Miller now admits that it was "naïve" to expect that he could keep the news media and the people of Alaska from asking questions about his history, which he attributed to not being a "professional politician." But operating under an air of secrecy and hostility toward the press only served to bring him a whole lot of negative attention in the final weeks before the election. Perhaps hoping to turn the trend around, Miller is hosting a "Change D.C." rally in Anchorage on Thursday, which will feature appearances by Sarah and Todd Palin. (I guess the Palins got over his awkward commments about whether she's qualified to serve as president.)

So if Alaskans are jumping off the Miller boat, where are they going? The Hays poll also asked likely voters, "If the election for U.S. Senate were held today, and the candidates were Joe Miller, Scott McAdams, Frederick Haase, Tim Carter, Ted Gianoutsos, or another candidate you have to write in, for whom would you vote, or are you undecided?" The results found Democrat Scott McAdams now ahead, at 29 percent to Miller's 23 percent. The majority of respondents, 34 percent, said they'd write someone in—the most likely option being incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Another 13 percent of voters said they are still undecided.

Meanwhile, Murkowski's write-in bid got a boost Wednesday, as Alaska's Supreme Court ruled that voters could be shown a printed list of names of write-in candidates in polling places. This could significantly improve the chances that voters not only remember her name, but that they spell it correctly.

The President and the Speaker

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 11:34 AM EDT

Compare and contrast. Here is President Obama, asked about whether he thinks he'll be able to work with Republicans after next week's election:

I’m a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to [] trying to get cooperation. I don’t give up just because I didn’t get cooperation on this issue; I’ll try the next issue. If the Republicans don’t agree with me on fiscal policy, maybe they’ll agree with me on infrastructure. If they don’t agree with me on infrastructure, I’ll try to see if they agree with me on education....I don’t go into the next two years assuming that there’s just going to be gridlock. We’re going to keep on working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible because folks are hurting out there.

And here is John Boehner, likely to be the Republican Speaker of the House next year:

"This is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles," Boehner said during an appearance on conservative Sean Hannity's radio show...."I love Judd Gregg, but maybe he doesn't get it," Boehner said Wednesday in a rebuke to Gregg, the top Republican on budget issues in the Senate who's set to retire at the end of his term in January. "We're going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can."

"It," in this case, is healthcare reform, but I think Boehner made it pretty clear that the same sentiment applies to pretty much everything else too. It's gonna be a long two years.

GOPer: Food Stamps "Too Darn Comfortable"

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 11:33 AM EDT

Three dollars and thirty-seven cents. That's the average benefit an individual on government food stamps receives each day, according to the USDA. Here in DC, it's enough to buy, say, a box of cereal or a head of lettuce or a couple cans of beans. Would you call that $3.37 a day "too darn comfortable"?

Nick Popaditch, a Republican House candidate in California and retired Marine, did just that last week in a debate with opponent Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.). As Think Progress reported, an audience member at the debate asked Popaditch how, if elected, he would ensure there were "no further cuts are made to the food stamp benefits." I'll bet the questioner didn't expect this response:

What would I do to make sure no further cuts are made to food stamp benefits? Wow. Once again, I recognize there’s a difference between an entitlement and a promise. Now that would fall under the category of an entitlement. Now I believe in a safety net, but I certainly don’t think we need to make it too darn comfortable down there on that safety net. I’m not a cruel man, but I think we absolutely need to make these systems not as comfortable as they are now.

"Too darn comfortable"? $3.37 a day? At a time when the shelves of food banks across the country are bare due to skyrocketing demand, when the country's largest food charity is helping to feed 37 million Americans (including 14 million children) each week, when more than a third of households needing food from shelters have to choose between food and other essentials including rent and health care, Popaditch's remark is as tone-deaf and off the mark as you'll hear all election season.

Here's the video of Popaditch making the remark, via Think Progress:

The Only Poll You Need to Read

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 10:48 AM EDT

Amid the reams of polling data out there, most tracking the political horse race and foretelling Tuesday's midterm election results, there's really only one you need to read—and it doesn't involve politics at all.

According to a new Washington Post poll, 53 percent of Americans surveyed said they were "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about being able to pay their next monthly mortgage bill. Not surprisingly, that especially applies to working class Americans; African Americans, too, disproportionately worried that they didn't have the money for their house payments. By comparison, the Post notes, only 37 percent of those polled felt the same way two years ago, as the subprime bubble began to burst and Wall Street teetered on the brink. And against the backdrop of a national foreclosure crisis, with allegations of wrongdoing by mortgage companies swirling around and 50 state attorneys general probing Wall Street's biggest mortgage companies, 52 percent of respondents said the Obama administration should impose a foreclosure moratorium, freezing the process until the paperwork shenanigans are fixed.

So there you have it. More than any political poll, the Post's survey shows just why anxiety and fear and anger are pervasive this election season. Yes, Americans are concerned about federal deficits; yes, they may worry President Obama is leading the country in the wrong direction; and yes, they may think Congress is doing a terrible job. But not being able to simply stay afloat—for many, mortgage payments are their biggest monthly expense—is much more immediate than those other concerns.

Despite slight improvements in the economy, more and more people are living paycheck to paycheck, stringing together a living during this non-recession recession of ours, with little or no cushion in case of emergencies financial, medical, and so on. That more than half of the country, as the Post poll suggests, fear can't even pay their bills on time, and could face foreclosure if they fall behind, is as revealing a glimpse into the American psyche as you're bound to find.

Here's more from the Post:

Julie Wharton, 37, who works at a nonprofit agency for at-risk children in Florence, Ky., near Cincinnati, said she worries she will no longer be able to pay the mortgage on her three-bedroom ranch house if she loses her job and can't find another one quickly.

"It's always right there in the back of my mind," Wharton said. "If I was out of work for any length of time, this is something that would happen to me."

Worry is twice as high among those with household incomes of less than $30,000 as it is among those with annual incomes of $75,000 or more. Fully 75 percent of African Americans are concerned, including a majority, 55 percent, who are "very concerned."

Outside Election Spending Doubles in Two Weeks

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 10:38 AM EDT

Outside spending on the election crossed a threshold on Thursday—a rather large one. Outside groups have spent more than $400 million this election season—a figure that has doubled in just the past two weeks, according to data from the Sunlight Foundation. As of Thursday morning, total outside spending was up to $424 million.

Right now, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leads the pack, with $23 million spent in the past five days. The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is in second, at $9.7 million

Leading the non-campaign committee totals is Crossroads GPS, the 501(c)4 wing of an effort led by Republican operatives (including Karl Rove), at $3.99 million. It's followed closely by its sister organization American Crossroads, a 527, at $2.37 million (here's a good explainer about the relationship between the two groups, and how they differ). The National Education Association Advocacy Fund has been the third-biggest spender in the past five days, at $2.45 million.

The race drawing the most money in the past five days, at $5.5 million, is the Pennsylvania Senate duel between Pat Toomey (R) and Joe Sestak (D). The Washington State Senate race between Patty Murray (D) and Dino Rossi (R) has drawn $4.4 million in outside spending.

Sunlight's "Follow the Unlimited Money" tracker is keeping close tabs on outside spending. It's also a good place to see just how fast that spending is ramping up in the final days before the election; the total jumped up $10 million as I typed this post.

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Foreclosuregate in 30 Seconds

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 9:20 AM EDT

"Foreclosuregate," as it's been dubbed, is a complex mess of a problem. You've got "robo signers," the mortgage servicing employees who scrawled their signatures on hundreds of thousands of crucial legal filings without knowing what they said (violating federal rules), and "foreclosure mills," the full-steam-ahead law firms that cut corners and allegedly broke the law in foreclosing on homeowners quick and dirty (and are now facing multiple investigations). There's trusts and mortgage-backed securities and securitization itself. The list goes on and on.

But if you're looking for a quick, 30-second take on why Foreclosuregate matters, want to know what's at stake with this deception of the legal process and the questions surrounding millions of foreclosures nationwide, watch the clip below. It features Damon Silvers, policy director at the AFL-CIO and member of the Congressional Oversight Panel, a bailout watchdog, giving as succinct a take on the foreclosure mess as I've heard.

(H/T Karl Denninger)

Leading Scientists Accuse Think Tanks of Being Logging Lobbyists

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

This post first appeared on the Guardian website.

Twelve leading scientists, including the former head of Kew Gardens and the biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank, have written an open letter accusing two international think tanks of "distortions, misrepresentations, or misinterpretations of fact" in their analysis and writings about rainforests and logging.

The unprecedented attack on the tactics and objectivity of the two groups who claim to be independent is contained in an open letter sent to the Guardian. It accuses the Washington-based World Growth International (WGI) and Melbourne-based International Trade Strategies Global (ITS) of having close associations with politically conservative US think tanks and advancing "biased or distorted arguments" on palm oil plantations and logging.

The scientists claim that ITS Global is "closely allied with" and "frequently funded by" multinational logging, wood pulp, and palm oil corporations and lobbies for one of the world's largest industrial logging corporations, which has has been repeatedly criticized for its environmental and human rights records.

Dispersant Maker Ups Lobbying Spending

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

One thing BP's oil spill laid bare both how little data the government has on dispersants, which were used in unprecedented volumes in the Gulf, how poorly regulated these chemicals are. Since the disaster, several bills have been floated to tighten rules on the use of the chemicals, and the Environmental Protection Agency has signaled that it plans to take a closer look at how dispersants would be used in future spills. It's probably little surprise, then, that the company that manufactured BP's brand of choice, Corexit, has been beefing up its lobbying presence in Washington.

Nalco, the Illinois-based chemical company that produces Corexit, spent $90,000 on federal lobbying in the third quarter of 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, bring its 2010 total so far up to $350,000. That brings the company's total since the BP spill to $290,000—far more than the company has spent in the past decade. Nalco's 2009 lobbying tab was just $90,000. The company spent no money on lobbying in 2008.

Of course, there's more attention being paid this year to the dispersant products Nalco sells. A draft report from the National Oil Spill Commission found that the government's lack of planning for dispersant use "handicapped" the response effort. I recently wrote about the much-needed overhaul of chemical policy, and both EPA and Congress have signaled that policy changes are coming. There have been multiple lawsuits over dispersants, most recently one from shrimpers and environmental groups calling for the EPA to stop further use of the chemicals until evaluation is completed.

The government's lax oversight of dispersants facilitated BP's unprecedented use of the chemicals in the Gulf. Over the course of the spill, 1.84 million gallons of Corexit was sprayed on the surface and injected at the spill site—despite the fact that the short—and long-term effects of the chemicals are poorly understood.

K Street's Kingmakers

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Ever heard of Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.)? No? K Street sure has. For months, lobbyists and outside spending groups have been preparing for a Republican takeover of Congress by pumping cash into GOP campaigns. But they're devoting special attention to the real centers of potential power: likely picks for key congressional chairmanships.

Count veteran lobbyists like former Senator Bob Dole and accounting giant Ernst & Young among the eager many lining up to wine and dine Rep. Camp. The New York Times reports that the congressman is poised to ascend to the chairmanship of the tax-writing House Ways & Means Committee if the GOP takes back the House, "transforming this low-key conservative Republican almost overnight into one of the most powerful men in town."

Of course, no one knows for sure that the Republicans are going to be calling the shots after November 2nd. But that hasn’t stopped military industry groups—upset over spending cuts proposed by the Obama administration—from backing Republicans like California's Howard McKeon, a possible pick for House Armed Services chair. Here's the Times on that relationship:

For his 2008 campaign, Mr. McKeon collected $86,000 from the military industry for his political action committee and re-election bid. This time, even before the two-year election cycle is over, he has pulled in nearly $400,000, and has emerged as the top recipient of money in both the House and the Senate from military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

Recognizing the enormous power Mr. McKeon could soon have in helping shape Defense Department policy and spending, military contractors are teaming up with his office to form a new association of military suppliers they are calling the Aerospace Defense Coalition of Santa Clarita Valley, to make sure he can deliver as much money as possible to his district in California, where several of the big contractors already have large operations.

Meanwhile, energy lobbyists are lining up to back Washington's Doc Hastings, a strong critic of Obama's moratorium on new drilling, for Natural Resources Committee Chair. This year, he's collected a tidy $70,000 from the energy industry.

Buying influence during a campaign is a big part of what lobbying and trade groups are built to do. Campaign donations are a great way to ensure access to candidates—and when there's a change in partisan control, the people who it's most important to have access to change, too. You can bet that if the Republicans were in power and the Dems were poised to take over, lots of lobbyist money would be flowing in the exact opposite direction that it is today.