Mojo - May 2010

See Goldline's FTC Complaints Here

| Thu May 20, 2010 1:05 PM EDT

As MoJo's Stephanie Menicmer reports in "Glenn Beck's Golden Fleece," Beck's favorite gold company, Goldline International, is getting a reputation for using aggressive sales tactics to push overpriced products. As part of her investigation, she used the Freedom of Information Act to unearth a small trove of consumer complaints about the company filed with the Federal Trade Commission. If you're curious, here's a PDF of the complaints.

As Stephanie writes, here's what you'll find in them:

One customer, whose name was redacted by the FTC, filed a complaint in February, writing, "Not knowing anything about buying gold, I called Goldline International, Inc. because of their advertisement on Fox News and the fact that Glenn Beck endorses them." Like Richardson, this customer originally wanted bullion, but the sales rep "absolutely insisted" on 20-franc coins, and the customer relented. Unable to get a refund, the customer reported paying $369 apiece for coins that could be bought elsewhere for as low as $208. A Washington state couple nearing retirement invested $31,812 in foreign coins after calling to inquire about gold bullion "as a hedge against the falling dollar." Once they realized they'd overpaid, it was too late for a refund. Another customer complained that a sales rep "insisted" on selling French 20 franc coins: "He would not relent. He told me lies." A quadriplegic Californian described being persuaded to pay $5,000 for $3,000 worth of gold coins after disclosing a recent inheritance to a Goldline rep.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who has set his sights on Goldline and Beck for conspiring to "cheat consumers" with the M.O. detailed in our story, has asked the FTC to investigate the company. Beck, meanwhile, has fired back at Weiner, accusing him of being a modern-day McCarthy, and asking his fans to send him images of the congressmman with "his nose as a wiener."

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Obama's HAMP and Goldman's Abacus: Doomed to Fail?

| Thu May 20, 2010 12:55 PM EDT

Was the Obama administration's $75 billion homeowner rescue program doomed to fail? Is it the federal government's version of Goldman Sachs' now-notorious Abacus deal, the complex financial product Goldman allegedly peddled to customers knowing it was destined to implode? That's what the Wall Street Journal's Evan Newmark asked in a Wednesday column—a question sure to rile up folks at the Treasury and White House. But as someone who's covered Obama's housing relief efforts, in particular the flailing Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), I think Newmark makes a clever connection here about a program that's left millions of struggling homeowners out to dry.

Newmark notes that he all but predicted HAMP's demise back in February 2009, when Obama first unveiled his housing rescue; that from the outset, he knew HAMP wouldn't at all work. Likewise, a few months into the program, I cited housing experts who'd identified major flaws in the design of the program, which was intended to help millions of homeowners by lowering their monthly mortgage payments and keeping them in their homes. These experts also ripped the Treasury for rushing a program that mortgage servicers—on whom the brunt of the program's responsibilities fell—were woefully under-equipped and unprepared to handle. The result was long delays, mass confusion, disorganization, and measly success rates. That logjam continues more than a year later, suggesting that HAMP never recovered after stumbling out of the gates. And as I recently wrote, the pace of trial modifications—a test run for homeowners entering the program—is slowing considerably, signaling a slow death for the initiative.

Mexico's Absymal Immigration Record

| Thu May 20, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

President Obama has placed Arizona’s immigration law at the forefront of his talks with visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon, with both leaders sharpening their criticism of the harsh enforcement policy. But missing from the entire discussion is Mexico’s own terrible record on immigration, with human rights violations of a different order altogether.

In a recent report, Amnesty International details some of the worst abuses that Central American migrants endure in Mexico en route to the US. According to Amnesty, as many as six in 10 women are raped as they pass through Mexico—the victims of both criminal gang members and local authorities. Other violations abound:

[M]any Central American migrants to Mexico accuse Mexican officials of demanding bribes or flat-out stealing their cash.

"Migrants in Mexico are facing a major human rights crisis leaving them with virtually no access to justice, fearing reprisals and deportation if they complain of abuses," Rupert Knox, Mexico Researcher at Amnesty International, said. "Persistent failure by the authorities to tackle abuses carried out against irregular migrants has made their journey through Mexico one of the most dangerous in the world."

Lately, as drug violence has soared, migrants have also been increasingly the victims of kidnapping.

To point out such abuses isn’t to say that the concerns about Arizona’s new law are illegitimate. But if Mexico is going to criticize Arizona’s law—the country has even issued a travel warning for residents headed to the state–it must be willing to look in the mirror. The systemic corruption that feeds the drug violence at the border is also victimizing the migrants who are headed there. And having prioritized immigration and border security issues in his talks with Calderon, Obama needs to press these human rights issues directly with the Mexican president.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 20, 2010

Thu May 20, 2010 6:55 AM EDT

 

US Army Soldiers and Afghan national police officers walk down a path while on their way into the village of Sequala, Jalrez District, Wardak province, Afghanistan, on May 11, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Sgt. Russell Gilchrest.

Ayn't True: Rand Paul Not Named After Novelist

| Wed May 19, 2010 7:18 PM EDT

Who is Rand Paul? 

a) Messianic pretender to Kentucky's US Senate seat whose unofficial campaign slogan evokes the search for John Galt.
b) The son of 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul, whose libertarian views were shaped by reading Ayn Rand.
c) Randal Paul
d) A & B

Answer: All of the above. Having fooled the Los Angles Times, and just yesterday, Newsweek, Rand Paul explains the trick question behind his political identity. . .

 

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Did The BBB Give Goldline an Easy A?

| Wed May 19, 2010 7:09 PM EDT

When Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) released a report yesterday accusing Glenn Beck's favorite gold company and sponsor of ripping off consumers, the company sent out a press release disputing the charges. Among the defenses it raised was Goldline's "A+ rating" from the Better Business Bureau. Beck, too, has highlighted the BBB endorsement in his defense of Goldline. But does that rating really mean anything?

After all, a Mother Jones investigation found that more than 40 people have filed complaints against Goldline with that very same BBB, and seven of those people reported back that Goldline refused to make them whole. Goldline also engages in a few practices that don't seem like they quite fit in with the BBB's stated ideas about good consumer practices. For instance, Goldline requires people to sign a nondisclosure form promising never to complain publicly about the company as a condition of getting a refund. It also aggressively uses caller ID to identify incoming callers so it can call them back and pitch them more stuff just like any telemarketer. And it presses people into making "investments" in European gold coins that lose a third of their value the minute they are purchased. Does that sound like an A+ kind of business?

Beck Wants "Weiner Nose" Photos of NY Congressman

| Wed May 19, 2010 5:34 PM EDT

In a sign of just how much class the guy has, talk show host Glenn Beck has lashed out against Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) by making fun of his name, in a campaign that drips with veiled anti-Semitism. Tuesday, the Jewish congressman had the gall to release an investigation into one of Beck's biggest sponsors, Goldline International. The report claimed that the company has violated federal law by using misleading and deceptive practices to sell unwitting consumers overpriced gold coins. Weiner has asked both the FTC and the SEC to investigate. Since then, Beck has been on something of a rampage. Beck has accused Weiner of engaging in McCarthyism and conspiring with the Obama administration to shut him down. And on Wednesday during his radio show, Beck asked his listeners to send in doctored photos of the congressman showing him with "his nose as a wiener." He said he welcomed any "Weiner facts" or photos of the congressman "in front of the wienermobile in front of his house, with his wiener dog, with his little wiener children." (Media Matters has the clip here.) Submissions could be sent to a new website Beck just set up, www.weinerfacts.com, which seems to have crashed almost immediately after he called for the photos.

Reid Dealt Setback on Wall St. Bill

| Wed May 19, 2010 4:58 PM EDT

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) effort to end the floor debate on financial reform and move to a full vote on the bill just failed. This doesn't threaten the bill's ultimate passage. That's because the key senators who voted against cloture—Democrats Russ Feingold and Maria Cantwell, both avid reform supporters—did so because they want tougher amendments to still be considered. They voted against cloture to get a vote on those amendments, and there's no doubt they'll ultimately back the bill.

Here's Ezra Klein's take on the failed cloture vote:

[Reid] lost because he lost Democrats. Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins actually voted for cloture. Their votes were canceled out by Democrats like Maria Cantwell and Russ Feingold, who aren't ready to give up on their amendments.

Before getting to what that means, it's worth saying why Reid wants to move to a final vote. The answer is floor time. Next week, the Senate is scheduled to take up the next war supplemental, which will have funding both for Iraq and Afghanistan and also for various disaster-relief efforts, and it will take up a bill to extend economic supports for the jobless. If the Senate doesn't finish financial regulation this week, it probably can't do those bills next week because the GOP's routine filibusters mean that each vote will require days of floor time. And the plan, as of now, is for the Senate to adjourn come Memorial Day. Of course, the Senate could just choose to work past memorial Day, which would solve the problem of floor time.

As for what happens now, debate on financial regulation will continue. More amendments will be considered, at least if Democrats and Republicans can come to an agreement on whether to consider them. And another cloture vote will have to be called. That might be bad for the Senate schedule, but it's probably good for the bill. This is the rare process in which the amendments are making the legislation substantially better. If the Senate has to work over Memorial Day to accommodate that process, so be it.

WikiLeaks Gets A Facelift

| Wed May 19, 2010 4:58 PM EDT

There's a lot of people who'd like to shut down WikiLeaks, the now-famous whistleblower site that recently posted video of two journalists being gunned down by a US helicopter in Iraq. But so far, the only group that's ever taken down WikiLeaks is WikiLeaks itself. Earlier this year, the site's giant repository of leaked documents (and most of its mirror sites) went dark as part of a $600,000 fundraising drive. It was a bit ironic, considering that one of WikiLeaks' claims to fame is that once it posts a document, "it is essentially impossible to censor." For more than five months, if you wanted to peruse its exclusive stash of Scientology tracts, Sarah Palin's hacked emails, or Guantanamo detainee manuals, you were out of luck.  

Now the fundraiser is over and WikiLeaks' main site has emerged from hibernation. All the old documents appear to be there. But there are some notable changes. When MoJo contributor David Kushner was profiling WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, he contacted some of the people named as advisors on the previous version of the WikiLeaks site; they said they didn't know why they'd been listed there. The new site does not list any advisors.