Mojo - June 2010

Jerry Brown Jumps On Anti-Wall St. Bandwagon

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 11:02 AM EDT

Here's a takeaway from Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln's surprise primary victory last night: Taking a tough stance against Wall Street and big banks can pay dividends on election night. It looks like California Attorney General Jerry Brown has learned a thing or two from Lincoln, sending a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on election day yesterday exhorting her to include tough consumer protections and beefed up powers for state AGs in the final financial reform bill. Yesterday, Brown won the Democratic gubernational nomination for California in a blowout, with 84 percent of votes.

In his letter, Brown identifies two keys areas of financial reform that he sees as crucial to any reform bill. First, national banks and state-based banks should be subject to the same state consumer protection laws. (Right now, national banks are not subject to those state-based laws.) And second, Brown wants state AGs to have the power to enforce their state's consumer protection laws against both national and state banks. Right now, national banks are preempted from state-based regulations, which allowed big banks in the past to escape predatory lending laws in states like Georgia. (Mike Konczal has a great post explaining this issue here.)

For Brown, prodding Pelosi to ensure strict consumer protection laws is a win-win scenario. As a veteran state attorney general, he gets to empower his position as much as possible. And as a gubernatorial candidate facing a wildly popular Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, he knows that backing financial reform is great for his optics. The question is, who'll be the next candidate to jump on the Wall Street reform bandwagon?

Here's Brown's full letter:

Dear Speaker Pelosi:

In anticipation of a compromise on the House and Senate financial services reform bills, I urge you to press for the strongest possible language to protect consumers and our economy from another debilitating crisis caused by reckless Wall Street banking practices and complicit federal regulators.

Two elements of a compromise bill are key to that protection. One, national banks should be subject to the same state consumer protection laws as state banking institutions and virtually a! ll companies operating in industries other than financial services. And, two, state attorneys general should have the authority to enforce all applicable consumer protection laws against national banks.

The House language is preferable on both points, and I recommend that you push for its adoption. It would establish a higher burden for the OCC to preempt state consumer protection laws. It also would allow state attorneys general to enforce all federal consumer protection laws against national banks, not just regulations that may be adopted by the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Sincerely,

EDMUND G. BROWN JR.

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Orly Taitz to Subpoena Pancake Painter

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Just because she's spent the past few months campaigning to become California's next secretary of state doesn't mean that "birther" queen Dr. Orly Taitz has given up her many court battles seeking to prove that President Barack Obama is not an American citizen. On May 19, Taitz filed a "motion to reconsider" in her mostly failed lawsuit against Obama in DC federal court. And one basis for the motion was none other than a Mother Jones article! Yes, Taitz told the court that she has discovered new evidence of "intimidation and harassment" against her in my story on Dan Lacey, the Minnesota "Painter of Pancakes," who has painted some nude portraits of Taitz giving birth to a pancake.

Taitz told me in May that her opponents have sent copies of the painting to her children and family along with threatening emails in what she believes was an attempt to scare her into dropping her insurgent campaign to be the GOP's candidate for California's secretary of state. She suspects that one of Obama's powerful allies commissioned the painting. I asked Lacey about that and he was cagey on the subject. So Taitz wants to subpoena him to force him to out his benefactor. She writes:

"Recent article by Washington burro [sic] correspondent Stephanie Mencimer shows that “artist” Dan Lacey, who painted despicable art work series “Birther Orly Taitz”, showing Taitz nude, with her legs spread, giving birth and holding bloody placenta, which were sent to her children, posted on the Internet and a local paper, did not work on his own accord. Dan Lacey admitted, that he was commissioned, paid by someone to do this, it was a clear attempt to intimidate Taitz and pressure her to withdraw as a candidate...Lacey refused to provide the reporter Stephanie Mencimer with the name of the person who hired him, who paid him, however during the depositions and upon subpoena this information will be available and will be provided to [the] court. At this time Taitz cannot state with certainty who paid Dan Lacey, however it is common knowledge, that Billionaire George Soros, one of the biggest backers of Obama, through his organization Moveon.org, has commissioned numerous artists to promote Obama and denigrate his opponents and critics."

Lacey, for his part, has responded with a YouTube video in which he promises to reveal the identity of the "puppetmaster" behind the Pancake Birther series, pixel by pixel, as part of his new legal defense fundraising. He promises to enter the name of anyone who donates $2.37 to the defense fund into a drawing to win the new painting, which will be awarded at a "Colors of Orly" art show fundraiser in Minneapolis on July 4th. Watch the video here:

Harry Reid vs. the Oath Keeper Wanna-Be

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 2:51 AM EDT

Sharron Angle won yesterday's primary to become Nevada's Republican candidate for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's seat. She may have never advocated bartering for health care with chickens, as her opponent Sue Lowden did, but Angle already has some issues. Beyond embracing the Tea Party, she's also reached out to the Oath Keepers, the fringe patriot group whose core membership of cops and soldiers are gearing up to resist the Obama administration's anticipated slide toward outright tyranny.

Back in April, Angle told TPM's Evan McMorris-Santoro that she was a member of the Oath Keepers. This Monday, Angle's husband Ted told TPM's McMorris-Santoro and Justin Elliott that "We support what the organization stands for" and that he and his wife "desire" to join it. Oath Keeper founder Steward Rhodes said that candidate Angle had paid a visit to the group's Southern Nevada chapter last fall. 

For the full scoop on the Oath Keepers and what they stand for, check out the in-depth investigation MoJo published about them this spring. In it, Justine Sharrock profiles Pvt. 1st Class Lee Pray, a young soldier who joined the group to prepare for the day when he might have to turn against his commander-in-chief to resist martial law and the mass detention of American citizens. Pray told Sharrock that he'd been recruiting buddies, running drills, and stashing weapons—just in case. Like all Oath Keepers, he's sworn to disobey any orders he considers unconstiutional or illegal.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 9, 2010

Wed Jun. 9, 2010 2:50 AM EDT

The rear-gunner in a Sikorsky UH-53 helicopter watches the end of the new Mazar-e-Sharif to Termez, Uzbekistan railroad stretch into the distance. When completed, the 47-mile long line will provide a valuable commercial link between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan across the Amu Darya River. Photo via the US Army by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark O'Donald.

Conlin Wins in Iowa—Is Grassley Vulnerable?

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 12:57 AM EDT

Roxanne Conlin, a former Iowa Attorney General, won the Democrats' Senate nomination there Tuesday night and will face incumbent Republican Chuck Grassley in the fall. Logic holds that Grassley should be vulnerable. Iowa has been trending blue, and is perfectly capable of sending Democrats to Washington—Tom Harkin, the Dem half of the state's senate pair, is pretty liberal and a big supporter of organized labor. Grassley has definitely been feeling some pressure from his state's increasingly blue hue—he flirted with negotiating on health care reform, for example. Most important, Conlin's a serious candidate with the ability to raise real money. The Democratic National Committee is certainly excited about her chances. DNC chair Tim Kaine released this statement Tuesday night:

As we look toward November, the contrast for Iowa voters could not be more clear. Voters will choose between Roxanne Conlin, a Democrat who will fight for middle-class Americans, or Republican Chuck Grassley, a senator who has repeatedly put special interests and the insurance companies ahead of the people of Iowa. At every turn Senator Grassley and his Republican colleagues in Congress have opposed President Obama—from the Recovery Act, to the Affordable Care Act, to relief for out of work Americans. Senator Grassley had the opportunity to do right by the American people by standing with the President on health reform, but decided instead to stand with insurance companies. We know where Chuck Grassley stands, and it is not with the people of Iowa. This November Iowans will have the opportunity to elect Roxanne Conlin, a candidate who will work hard every day for the people of Iowa.

I'm not sure Grassley is as vulnerable as Kaine hopes. Sure, one poll had Conlin within 10 points of Grassley earlier this year. But that result hasn't been replicated since. We can tell one thing from the statement, though: in Iowa, at least, the Dems are perfectly confident about running on their record. If this turns out to be an anti-incumbent, rather than simply an anti-Dem, year, look for Conlin to at least give Grassley a scare. 

Dem Joyce Elliott Will Take On Bush-Era US Atty. Tim Griffin

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 12:19 AM EDT

The Democrats have their candidate to take on former US attorney Tim Griffin, a Karl Rove protege who was a key figure in the US attorneys scandal. Joyce Elliott, the Dem majority leader in the Arkansas state senate, won a runoff against Robbie Wills, the Dem leader in the lower chamber. She will face Griffin in the race to replace retiring Rep. Vic Snyder. Elliott was the more liberal candidate, and the primary wasn't very nice. Here's one of her ads, responding to a Wills attack:

A diarist on the liberal website Swing State Project notes that Elliott is "probably not as good a matchup for Dems" as the more conservative Wills. When lefty bloggers are worried about picking the more-liberal candidate, you know they really want to beat the Republican. Here's a whole bunch of reasons why:

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Fiorina Wins: Will She Remain a Far-Right Tea Party Corporate Insider?

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 12:15 AM EDT

With the BP oil spill, the nation is currently witnessing one of the worst acts of corporate negligence—or crime—in history. This eco-nightmare is occurring during a time of economic trouble triggered by brazen corporate malfeasance in the financial sector. So it might not be a good moment for a politician to be a CEO. Yet in California, Republican voters on Tuesday flocked to two self-financing ex-corporate honchos, selecting ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman to be the party’s gubernatorial candidate (to face onetime Democratic governor and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown) and picking ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina to be the party’s senatorial candidate (to take on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer). Whitman might make some sense as a candidate, given that she left the corporate world with a solid reputation, having presided over massive growth that brought eBay from a company of 30 employees to one of 15,000 workers (though she engaged in controversial "spinning" while a member of the board of Goldman Sachs.) Yet Carly Fiorina had a controversial, if not troubled tenure, at HP. Which raises the question: what are Californian GOPers (and Sarah Palin) thinking?

Fiorina, a marketing and sales expert, took over HP in 1999, as the tech boom was ending. Her solution to the company's many problems at the time was engineering a $19 billion acquisition of Compaq—a move opposed by many HP stockholders and that ultimately was not widely regarded as a slam-dunk. On her watch, HP downsized and canned almost 18,000 employees—as Fiorina joined with other corporate execs to defend outsourcing and oppose measures that would limit this practice. After six years in the job, she was pushed out, but her departure was eased by a $21 million severance package. On the day she was dumped, the company's stock price went up 7 percent. CBS News technology analyst Larry Magin noted,

There is plenty to criticize about Fiorina's tenure at HP. At this point, the changes that Fiorina made didn't turn out so well for the thousands of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq employees that were laid off and the millions of HP stockholders who lost equity since she took over. HP stock is worth less today than it was in 1999. Dell and IBM stock has increased in value.

Fiorina ended up symbolizing not one but three excesses of the corporate elite: mergers-and-acquisition mania, outsourcing, and golden parachutes. Yet during the Republican Senate campaign, this former corporate insider re-marketed herself as an anti-establishment Tea Partier, even though one of her foes in the primary contest, Assemblyman Chuck Devore, had a stronger claim on the Tea Party label. (Fiorina was helped in the who’s-the-Tea-Partiest-of-them-all competition when Palin endorsed her.)

Is Tim Scott the Next Black Republican Congressman?

| Tue Jun. 8, 2010 11:54 PM EDT

Before adultery charges were leveled against South Carolina's GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, the Republican primary in the first congressional district was probably the state's most exciting race. Nine candidates were duking it out for the GOP nod in this deep red district, including legendary Sen. Strom Thurmond's son, Paul. But it was State Rep. Tim Scott, not Thurmond, who dominated the Republican field on Tuesday night, winning 32 percent of the vote. Since the winner of the GOP primary will stand a good chance of becoming the first district's next representative in Congress, Scott could very well become the first black Republican in either chamber since former Rep. J.C. Watts retired in 2003. 

Scott will still have to face Thurmond, who finished second with 16 percent, in a June 22 runoff. But Scott's strict conservatism earned him the endorsement of the far-right Club for Growth, and that support could help carry him through the runoff as well.

Lincoln's Surprise Win—And the Tough Road Ahead

| Tue Jun. 8, 2010 11:27 PM EDT

Despite a barrage of attack ads from labor unions, opposition from the left, and dwindling momentum in recent weeks, Sen. Blanche Lincoln bucked the year’s anti-incumbent mood and won Arkansas' Democratic US Senate run-off election Tuesday night. She claimed 51 percent of votes, while her opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, fell just short with 48 percent, according to an Associated Press projection. The odds were tilted in Halter’s favor, with Lincoln trailing by 4 points in a recent R2000/Daily Kos poll before tonight’s run-off.

So what’s behind Lincoln’s surprising win? For starters, scoring the endorsement of Bill Clinton, the rock star of Arkansas politics, turned out to be a big boost for Lincoln. It also stands as a reminder of how valuable the Clinton touch remains when it comes to election season.

Lincoln was also helped by her anti-Wall Street, populist blitz on financial reform. The Arkansas senator shocked many experts, colleagues, and the banking community by producing a last-minute, surprisingly tough proposal to crack down on derivatives, the tricky financial products that helped explode the economy—and which are a cash cow for big banks. Her measures to rein in derivatives trading and force the likes of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of American to break off their lucrative derivatives trading operations have faced attacks from all sides—Republicans, fellow Democrats, the White House, banks—yet those proposals might still make it into the final bill that lands on Obama’s desk, especially now that she’s prevailed in her primary race.

Halter wasn't the only loser in this contest—labor unions threw serious campaign muscle behind him. Indeed, as our own Suzy Khimm reported, labor took full advantage of slackened campaign finance laws, thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, to rally behind Halter. Unions deployed "express advocacy" ads—which urge viewers to vote specifically for or against a certain candidate—using their own general funds, something they couldn’t do a year ago. And even then, they couldn’t push their man over the top. As a senior White House official told Politico's Ben Smith on Tuesday night, "Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toiled on a pointless exercise...If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November."

Not that the road ahead for Lincoln is easy. Her likely opponent this fall, Republican Rep. John Boozman, commands a 20-point lead in the latest poll by R2000/Daily Kos. Other polling has put Boozman ahead of Lincoln in a hypothetical fall matchup by anywhere from 17 points to 38 points. Which is to say, Lincoln’s got her work cut out for her in the next five months to translate her surprise victory tonight into reelection.

Who Is Alvin Greene?

| Tue Jun. 8, 2010 10:59 PM EDT

An unemployed 32-year-old black Army veteran with no campaign funds, no signs, and no website shocked South Carolina on Tuesday night by winning the Democratic Senate primary to oppose Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). Alvin Greene, who currently lives in his family's home, defeated Vic Rawl, a former judge and state legislator who had a $186,000 campaign warchest and had already planned his next fundraising event. Despite the odds, Greene, who has been unemployed for the past nine months, said that he wasn't surprised by his victory. "I wasn’t surprised, but not really. I mean, just a little, but not much. I knew I was on top of my campaign, and just stayed on top of everything, I just—I wasn't surprised that much, just a little. I knew that I worked hard and did," Greene said in an interview.

Greene insists that he paid the $10,400 filing fee and all other campaign expenses from his own personal funds. "It was 100 percent out of my pocket. I’m self-managed. It’s hard work, and just getting my message to supporters. I funded my campaign 100 percent out of my pocket and self-managed," said Greene, who sounded anxious and unprepared to speak to the public. But despite his lack of election funds, Greene claims to have criss-crossed the state during his campaign—though he declined to specify any of the towns or places he visited or say how much money he spent while on the road.

"It wasn’t much, I mean, just, it was—it wasn’t much. Not much, I mean, it wasn’t much," he said, when asked how much of his own money he spent in the primary. Greene frequently spoke in rapid-fire, fragmentary sentences, repeating certain phrases or interrupting himself multiple times during the same sentence while he searched for the right words. But he was emphatic about certain aspects of his candidacy, insisting that details about his campaign organization, for instance, weren't relevant. "I'm not concentrating on how I was elected—it's history. I’m the Democratic nominee—we need to get talking about America back to work, what's going on, in America."

The oddity of Greene’s candidacy has already prompted speculation from local media about whether he might be a Republican plant. But Greene denies that Republicans or anyone else had approached him about running. "No, no—no one approached me. This is my decision," he said. A 13-year military veteran, he says he had originally gotten the idea in 2008 when he was serving in Korea. "I just saw the country was in bad shape two years ago…the country was declining," he says. "I wanted to make sure we continue to go up on the right track." But when asked whether there was a specific person or circumstance that precipitated his decision to jump into politics, Greene simply replied: "nothing in particular...it's just, uh, nothing in particular." South Carolina Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler speculated that Greene won because his name appeared first on the ballot, and voters unfamiliar with both candidates chose alphabetically.