Mojo - August 2010

A Gay Cadet's Sense of Honor

| Tue Aug. 10, 2010 1:53 PM EDT

Katherine Miller, a junior at the US Military Academy at West Point, outed herself yesterday while also filing her resignation. In her letter to West Point administration, Miller writes that the current military policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) had caused her to undermine her own integrity:

Specifically, I have created a heterosexual dating history to recite to fellow cadets when they inquire. I have endured sexual harassment for fear of being accused as a lesbian by rejecting or reporting these events. I have been coerced into ignoring derogatory comments towards homosexuals for fear of being alienated for my viewpoint. In short, I have lied to my classmates and compromised my integrity and my identity by adhering to existing military policy.

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Florida AG Unveils Foreclosure Mills Probe

| Tue Aug. 10, 2010 1:16 PM EDT

The Florida Attorney General's office announced today new investigations into three of the state's biggest law firms handling foreclosure cases, otherwise known as "foreclosure mills"—including the law firm run by multimillionaire David J. Stern, the subject of a Mother Jones investigation last week. The probes, led by the AG's Economic Crimes Division, are examining whether "improper documentation may have been created and filed with Florida courts to speed up foreclosure processes, potentially without the knowledge or consent of the homeowners involved," according to a press release. The other two firms targeted by the AG are the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson and Shapiro & Fishman, who, together with Stern's firm, handle a vast number of the foreclosure cases now clogging Florida's courts system.

As I reported last week, foreclosure mills like Stern's are well-greased, assembly line-like operations that try to squeeze profits from every step of the foreclosure process, from the filing of the legal complaint (in states where foreclosures are a judicial matter) to litigating the foreclosure to the selling of repossessed homes—or as they say in the industry, from "cradle to grave." As a result, the mills' economic interest arguably runs to counter to the well-being of your average homeowner. Stern himself admitted so much, in an investor presentation earlier this year: "When people say, 'Oh, my god, the economy is bad,' I'm like, 'Oh, my god, it's great.' I hate to hear people are losing homes, and credit isn't available, and people's credit is such that they can't [refinance]. But if you are in our niche, it's what we want to do, and it's what we want to see." 

Of the Stern law firm, I further reported:

Over the past decade and a half, Stern has built up one of the industry's most powerful operations—a global machine with offices in Florida, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines—squeezing profits from every step in the foreclosure process. Among his loyal clients, who've sent him hundreds of thousands of cases, are some of the nation's biggest (and, thanks to American taxpayers, most handsomely bailed out) banks—including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup. "A lot of these mills are doing the same kinds of things," says Linda Fisher, a professor and mortgage-fraud expert at Seton Hall University's law school. But, she added, "I've heard some pretty bad stories about Stern from people in Florida."

Stern's firm and Stern himself have, over the years, faced an array of damaging lawsuits. They include blithely foreclosing on homeowners who'd never defaulted (pdf), gouging homeowners who were trying to get out of default (pdf), and even sexual harassment (pdf). I began my story, titled "Fannie and Freddie's Foreclosure Barons," with an anecdote about a foreclosure defense employee, Ariane Ice, who'd discovered a number of backdated documents. Stern's firm, she realized, had used the documents to foreclose on Florida homeowners. And these weren't minor documents, either: They were "assignments of mortgage," a crucial piece of evidence showing who owns the mortgage and thus has the legal right to foreclose on it. From reading the AG's press release, it looks like they've clued into that assignment funny business:

Because many mortgages have been bought and sold by different institutions multiple times, key paperwork involved in the process to obtain foreclosure judgments is often missing. On numerous occasions, allegedly fabricated documents have been presented to the courts in foreclosure actions to obtain final judgments against homeowners. Thousands of final judgments of foreclosure against Florida homeowners may have been the result of the allegedly improper actions of the law firms under investigation.

The AG's office is also investigating foreclosure mills' use of offshore affiliates to pump out legal filings. Again, this sounds like Stern's firm, which maintains an offshore operation described in an SEC filing as "a scalable, low-cost operation in Manila, Philippines that provides data entry and document preparation support." In other words, a paper mill on the other side of the world that churns out legal documents.

Sounds similar to me. The AG's office sent me copies of the subpoenas for each of three investigations, which are embedded below. I'll add more on the subpoenas' content when I get done reading through them.

Read the Florida AG's subpoenas sent to three major foreclosure mills as part of a new investigation:

David J Stern AG Subpoena



Marshall C Watson Subpoena AG



Shapiro Fishman Subpoena AG

Is the Tea Party Express Alaska Poll Real?

| Tue Aug. 10, 2010 12:46 PM EDT

On Monday, the Tea Party Express sent out an email blast touting a supposed surge by Joe Miller, the group's preferred candidate in the Alaska Republican senate primary. Miller, the email said, was quickly narrowing the gap with incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski.

The last public poll had Murkowski crushing Miller by 32 points. But the Tea Party Express says this latest, unnamed poll in Alaska finds Miller within just 9 points a few days before the August 24 primary.

There's one glaring problem, however: outside of the Tea Party Express email, I can't find any evidence that the latest poll even exists. I called Miller's campaign, and his spokesman couldn't tell me who conducted the poll. It's not even linked to on Miller's own website. I would try to contact the Tea Party Express, but every link on the group's website takes you back to the homepage where you're asked to donate, including the link for "Contact" information.

Miller, an attorney with little name recognition, recently got the stamp of approval from former half-term Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, which may account for a jump in the polls. On Monday, he also gained the backing of former Arkansas governor and one-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, which may give him an additional boost in certain conservative circles (and, as Politico points out, it's not often that a candidate gets an endorsement from both Palin and Huckabee). The Tea Party Express has made Miller their top priority candidate, along with Nevada candidate Sharron Angle. The group is already running ads in the state attacking "liberal" Lisa Murkowski, and have pledged to spend "hundreds of thousands of dollars" backing Miller in the race.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that the Tea Party Express is using this new "poll" to ramp up the fundraising push for Miller. From the email they sent out yesterday, which is also reprinted here:

During this year the Tea Party Express has helped boost a lot of conservative constitutionalists in key races across the country.

Thanks to your support that looks to be happening once again. One month ago polls showed Liberal RINO, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, with a lead of 32-points over her conservative challenger, tea party hero Joe Miller.

This past weekend we learned of a new poll of 1,223 Alaska voters that showed Joe Miller has now jumped 23-points, and now trails Sen. Murkowski by only 9%.

The election is just 15-days away (August 24th) and we have a chance to win this race and replace a Liberal U.S. Senator (Murkowski) with a conservative patriot (Joe Miller). We need your help now more than ever as we're going to give it everything we've got. We're going to launch a massive radio and TV advertising campaign but we've got to raise $150,000 more in the next 4 days to pay for it.

The poll could be legit, and if it is, perhaps Murkowski has something to be concerned about in the coming primary. But I'll remain skeptical until I see some sort of evidence the poll actually exists.

Target and Best Buy Money Flows to Dems After Citizen United Backlash

| Tue Aug. 10, 2010 7:14 AM EDT

Target and Best Buy have recently endured withering criticism from liberal activists for indirectly supporting an anti-gay Republican's gubernatorial campaign. Spurred on by the Citizens United ruling, which opened up elections to unlimited corporate spending, Target, Best Buy, and other companies gave more than $700,000 to Minnesota Forward, a conservative group. Minnesota Forward went on to back GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, a right-wing conservative who once supported a fringe Christian education group that condoned putting gay people to death. That led gay activists and grassroots groups, including MoveOn.org, to threaten to boycott the stores—both of which prided themselves for supporting gay rights. (Target insisted that it supports candidates on both sides of the aisle who agree with their business views.)

Now Minnesota Forward seems to be hedging its bets, endorsing three conservative Democratic candidates for the Minnesota state house. Last week, Minnesota Forward decided to support the three incumbents—Sen. Terri Bonoff, Sen. James Metzen, and Rep. Gene Pelowski—after having previously backed only Republicans.

Can Romanoff Topple Bennet and the Obama Machine?

| Tue Aug. 10, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Like a gambler with nothing to lose, Andrew Romanoff, the Colorado Democrat running for US Senate, has gone all in.

A few weeks ago, the 43-year-old sold his Denver bungalow and loaned $320,000 of the proceeds to his campaign. Soon after, he unleashed a stinging attack ad, simply titled "Greed," on his primary opponent, Sen. Michael Bennet. The ad accuses Bennet, who previously worked for conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz, of pushing a movie-theater chain into bankruptcy and in the process looting it to the tune of $1 billion. And this past weekend, Romanoff latched onto the New York Times' probe into a controversial financial deal brokered in 2008 by Bennet, then the head of the Denver Public Schools. (Bennet denied many of the newspaper's claims; his response is here.)

So far, Romanoff's offensive has worked. After trailing Bennet by as many as 17 percentage points in mid-June, Romanoff staged a late-summer surge. By the end of July, he'd shrunk Bennet's lead to 4 points, according to a Zata3 poll, and even led by 3 points in a Denver Post-Survey USA poll. (The primary's latest poll, by Public Policy Polling, shows Bennet ahead by single digits.) Either way, Romanoff's push, boosted by an endorsement from Bill Clinton, has transformed a no-contest race into one of the most closely watched primaries of the month, pitting an liberal career politico against the Democratic Party's anointed candidate.

But will Romanoff's mettle, creativity, and willingness to attack be enough to topple the deep-pocketed, Obama-backed Bennet operation?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 10, 2010

Tue Aug. 10, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

The 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers trying out for the 2nd Battalion, 38th Cavalry Regiment, Long range Surveillance, Airborne unit here at Fort Hood, Texas gut out the last mile of a two and a half mile buddy run, on July 27. Photo via the US Army photo by Spc. Adam Turner.

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And Now, Erick Erickson

| Mon Aug. 9, 2010 4:00 PM EDT

Flickr/rodrigot | Creative Commons).

I would like to draw your attention to this post by Erick Erickson, the managing editor of RedState:

Convinced beyond reason and data that the American people find delicious the sandwich of socialism being force fed down their throats, the left does not understand what is happening in this country and what is coming.

In fact, the media does not understand what is happening either. Largely socializing with the same elites and liberals who are fomenting unrest in the country, the media is missing warning signs that revolutionary conduct amongst middle class conservative and independent voters is at hand.

Mind you, it is not revolution with bayonet, but revolution with ballot and advocacy. But it is building. It will come. And if left unsatiated by November’s elections, something worse will come.

There is a growing disconnect in this country between average Americans and the largely center-left political elite. That disconnect is what will destroy the Democrats in November and, should the Republicans offer no better, cause potentially cataclysmic change in the republic.

The whole thing is here, and leads into a discussion of the potential for a constitutional convention to consider one amendment (perhaps to ban gay marriage.) But I'm interested in the intro. Erickson's careful to point out that he's not talking about a "revolution with bayonet"—but isn't that exactly what he's referring to when he warns ominously that "something worse will come" and "cause potentially cataclysmic change in the republic"? Surely Erickson isn't referring to a constitutional convention as "something worse"—he seems to be advocating for one. So what's he talking about? 

Anyway, I'd love for Erickson to elaborate on all this.

Flickr/rodrigot | Creative Commons).

Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Their Weird Conspiracy Theorist Doctor Friends

| Mon Aug. 9, 2010 2:18 PM EDT

GOP Senate candidates Rand Paul and Sharron Angle are both associated with a radical group of right-wing, conspiracy-theorist doctors, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Angle, who's running against incumbent Democrat Harry Reid in Nevada, headlined a rally for the group in San Diego on August 7. And TPM relays that Paul, the opthamologist who's running against the Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway in Kentucky, is a full-on member of the group. Here's a clip of Paul talking about his affiliation with the AAPS:

Last year, our own Stephanie Mencimer reported on the AAPS' association with the tea parties and the bizarre beliefs of its members. The archives of the group's main publication, the Journal of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, "present a kind of alternate-universe scientific world, in which abortion causes breast cancer and vaccines cause autism, but HIV does not cause AIDS," Mencimer wrote. Here are some highlights:

Yet despite the lab coats and the official-sounding name, the docs of the AAPS are hardly part of mainstream medical society. Think Glenn Beck with an MD. The group (which did not return calls for comment for this story) has been around since 1943. Some of its former leaders were John Birchers, and its political philosophy comes straight out of Ayn Rand. Its general counsel is Andrew Schlafly, son of the legendary conservative activist Phyllis. The AAPS statement of principles declares that it is "evil" and "immoral" for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and its journal is a repository for quackery. Its website features claims that tobacco taxes harm public health and electronic medical records are a form of "data control" like that employed by the East German secret police. An article on the AAPS website speculated that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to "neurolinguistic programming"—that is, according to the writer, young people, educated people, and possibly Jews.....

...Documents released as a result of the tobacco litigation the 1990s and early 2000s show that Philip Morris officials worked with AAPS executive director Jane Orient to help the company's "junk science" campaign that attacked indoor smoking bans. The tobacco company also relied on AAPS to generate "third party press releases" in support of its agenda, according to documents in the tobacco archives. In this fall's edition of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, an economist who has previously received funding from Philip Morris wrote an article arguing that a tobacco tax "leads to deterioration in public health"—because it leads people to switch to cigarettes with more nicotine so they can smoke fewer of them.

For the AAPS journal, however, this is tame stuff. The publication's archives present a kind of alternate-universe scientific world, in which abortion causes breast cancer and vaccines cause autism, but HIV does not cause AIDS. Cutting carbon emissions represents a grave threat to global health (because environmental regulation would make people poorer and, consequently, sicker). In 2005, the journal erroneously claimed that illegal immigration had caused a leprosy epidemic in the US, a claim that was reported as fact in more mainstream outlets such as Lou Dobbs' show.

The group also thinks Medicare is "evil" and "immoral," and, as Stephanie notes, they're behind the whole "Obama hypnotized the US into voting for him" conspiracy theory. Anyway, read Stephanie's whole piece.

TOP GUN's Gay-Hating Legacy?

| Mon Aug. 9, 2010 2:12 PM EDT

Consider for a moment TOP GUN, that shirtless-volleyball-and-locker-room-celebratin' Tom Cruise vehicle of the '80s. Even before Kenny Loggins and Berlin laid down the glitzy soundtrack, TOP GUN was possibly the gayest military movie ever made. And yet it's beloved by naval aviators the world 'round.

Part of its legacy is the celebration of the aviator's call sign, the nickname bestowed on him (or, since May 1991, her) by squadron mates. Sure, call signs were around before TOP GUN, but by the '90s, thanks to the naval aviation community's filmic opus, they'd really become a point of pride, both initiation rite and operational moniker. (In the movie, this is taken to a point of absurdity, where even Anthony Edwards' wife calls him "Goose" instead of his Christian name. Creepy.)

But combine it with the testosterone-charged atmosphere in a fighter squadron, and the call-sign tradition can have a truly ugly side—one that Ensign Steve Crowston discovered firsthand when he joined the pilot fraternity last year. According to Navy Times:

...when the new admin officer walked into the ready room for Strike Fighter Squadron 136 in Virginia last year, he claims he found dozens of aviators—including the squadron’s commanding officer—openly mocking him as an alleged homosexual.

"Fagmeister" was one of the proposed call signs scrawled in the white erase board, he said.

"Gay boy" was another.

The squadron ultimately chose "Romo's Bitch"—an apparent reference to his love for the Dallas Cowboys and their quarterback, Tony Romo.

"I was like, wait a minute? What the hell? You think I’m gay? What a way to tell me that," said Crowston...

....Crowston said his command was dismissive about his complaints. He said other officers believed it was "a joke and meant to funny."

Crowston, who'd served a fair amount of time before making it into the naval air community, declined to tell the paper his sexual orientation, but he did call the call signs "workplace harassment" and filed a formal complaint with Navy lawyers.

Beyond the obvious homophobia and DADT overtones here, there's a deeper problem that goes all the way back to Tailhook: The men and women we entrust to fly these $60 million weapons platforms off aircraft carriers and into harm's way, they share the collective sense of humor and propriety of a Jerky Boy:

Crowston's complaint underscores concerns in the aviation community that call signs—a deeply entrenched but unofficial custom—are often inappropriate, bawdy or outright offensive.

The Naval Safety Center's websites lists the "best all time call signs," including Lt. Chuck "Dingle" Berry and Lt. Tom "Butts" Tench. The Navy recently posted a photo of Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Myers with his call sign "Taint" painted on his F/A-18E Super Hornet on the carrier George H.W. Bush.

You smell that, civilian? That's the taint of freedom! No wonder we're No. 1!

More Mud Flies in Florida's Senate Race

| Mon Aug. 9, 2010 11:36 AM EDT

Down in Florida, not a day goes by without some good ol' mudslinging and accusations of corruption and graft by the Sunshine State's two Democratic nominees for US Senate, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and billionaire Jeff Greene. In the race's latest twist, Greene, trailing in the polls, is linking Meek with Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), the veteran congressman under investigation for multiple ethics violations. Greene recently called on Meek to return $5,500 in contributions he received from Rangel or donate the money to a charitable cause.

Greene is also bashing Meek for his ties to a real-estate developer named Dennis Stackhouse, who received a $72,000 earmark from Meek for a biopharmaceutical office park in Miami. But here's the rub: The facility never got built. Stackhouse has also been accused of ripping off a county agency to the tune of $1 million for the same office park, PolitiFact reports. Stackhouse also paid Meek's mother $90,000 for consulting and bought a Cadillac Escalade for her to drive. (Meek has said he didn't know about his mother's ties to Stackhouse.) Not surprisingly, Greene has repeatedly criticized Meek for the connection, saying he "is protecting the culture of corruption and bribery."

Greene's criticism comes after weeks of fending off accusations of flip-flopping about a visit to Cuba he made in his yacht, according to PolitiFact. First, Greene said he obtained a visa to go to Cuba and "visit the Jewish community." Soon after, the candidate tweaked his story, claiming he'd gotten the visa as part of a humanitarian trip to Cuba through the Jewish Federation. Then, a Greene spokesman changed the story altogether, saying Greene hadn't gone to Cuba for humanitarian works, PolitiFact finds, but because his yacht had suffered some hydraulic problems.

Deckhands on Greene's yacht, meanwhile, said none of the above are true. Instead, they claim Greene's trip to Cuba on his 145-foot-yacht was of the party-boat variety. One deckhand told the St. Petersburg Times, "Mr. Greene's yacht is known to be a party yacht. When it went to Cuba, everybody talked about the vomit caked all over the sides from all the partying going on." (Greene has denied the party boat story.)

Either way, with Meek and Greene trading blows daily, the race for the Democratic nomination in Florida has descended into one big and ugly attack spree. That doesn't inspire much confidence in voters, at a time when Congress' confidence ratings are already abysmal. For Democratic voters in Florida, their pick for the party's nomination could mean choosing the least-worst candidate on August 24.