Mojo - September 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 28, 2010

Tue Sep. 28, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

Sgt. 1st Class William Pegler, the battalion fuel handler for 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group at Camp Montrond, Afghanistan still wears an Americal Division combat patch he earned while serving in the Vietnam War. His unlit cigar is a staple for the 58-year-old grandfather. Photo via U.S. Army.

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Earth to the SF Chronicle: Yes, Votes Matter

| Mon Sep. 27, 2010 2:23 PM EDT

The San Francisco Chronicle penned a brutal editorial on Sunday on why the paper isn't endorsing anyone in the California Senate race. But while the slight to incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer has gotten all the attention, the commentary should tell you more about the paper's inability to understand politics than it does about the race itself.

The paper makes it clear that they don't have much nice to say about Fiorina, nor do the editors think she'd make a good senator for the state. They acknowledge that her positions are "outside of the state's mainstream values and even its economic interest." They also note that hers is an "agenda that would undermine this nation's need to move forward on addressing serious issues such as climate change, health care and immigration." Indeed, the paper spends most of the column expounding on the litany of reasons Fiorina is not qualified for the job.

Most would assume that this then leads them to endorse Boxer, whose policies do seek to move forward in those areas and generally align with the state. But their main complaint about Boxer? No one likes her all that much:

Boxer, first elected in 1992, would not rate on anyone's list of most influential senators. Her most famous moments on Capitol Hill have not been ones of legislative accomplishment, but of delivering partisan shots. Although she is chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, it is telling that leadership on the most pressing issue before it—climate change—was shifted to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., because the bill had become so polarized under her wing.

It's fair to say that Boxer had a limited ability to break through partisan bickering over the climate issue—the Chronicle is certainly not the first to make that point. But the paper ignores that Boxer is working within one of the most polarized committees on this issue (Republicans wouldn't even show up to vote on the measure). John Kerry couldn't get a bill on the issue passed this year, either.

The paper justifies its non-endorsement by noting, "[W]e believe Californians deserve more than a usually correct vote on issues they care about." But that's not an option here. There are two choices in this Senate race, one who will vote in line with what citizens in the state want (even if they don't particularly like her), and one that won't. It's a choice between someone who would surely vote for climate legislation and someone who, despite once claiming to care about the issue, now dismisses it as a petty concern and attacked policies to deal with it.

In a hyper-partisan Senate, and one that will likely be even more partisan next year, every single vote is immensely important. To pretend otherwise, as the Chronicle seems to be doing here, is a disservice to voters.

HUD: Mills? What Foreclosure Mills?

| Mon Sep. 27, 2010 2:15 PM EDT

"Why is Fannie Mae using lawyers that are accused of regularly engaging in fraud to kick people out of their homes?" asked three Democrats in the House of Representatives, including Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the financial services committee, in a recent letter to Fannie Mae, the government-owned housing corporation. As of late, Fannie, its twin Freddie Mac, and big banks have come under fire for hiring controversial law firms to handle foreclosures, also known as "foreclosure mills." (You can read my investigation into the mills, including one Grayson cites, the Law Offices of David J. Stern, here.)

Given all the uproar surrounding these foreclosure firms, and the fact that they've been doing business for decades, you'd think they'd be on the radar of the government's main housing agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Well, think again.

In July, a West Palm Beach, Florida-based legal analysis company, Legalprise, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with HUD, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission, asking for all records pertaining to regulation of these firms. A pretty wide net, in other words. Yet one of Legalprise's principals, Michael Olenick, today emailed me HUD's response letter, which surprisingly says they have nothing: "A search of Headquarters' records by knowledgeable staff failed to locate any documents at HUD Headquarters that would be responsive to your request," the letter reads.

Hmm, that's odd. Does the agency that for so long oversaw Fannie and Freddie, each of which retain a stable of handpicked law firms (some facing heavy criticism) to litigate foreclosures as fast and cheaply and efficiently as possible, have no records at all concerning these firms? Not a single memo or email? That's hard to believe.

Below are Legalprise's initial FOIA request and HUD's response.

Legalprise HUD FOIA

HUD-FHA Response Legal Prise

Election Primer with David Corn: MoJo Event in NYC

Mon Sep. 27, 2010 1:44 PM EDT

Attention New Yorkers! Join us next Tuesday, October 5, in New York City for a rousing political discussion with David Corn, Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief, moderated by MoJo publisher Steve Katz.

Is this the Washington we were hoping for? With midterm elections around the corner, will Republicans, in a replay of 1994, ride a wave of popular unease and resentment to take control of the House? Get an inside take on the potential outcomes and what comes next at this gathering of Mother Jones supporters. Space is limited so RSVP soon!

Details:
Tuesday, October 5, 2010, 6:30pm - 8pm
Broadway at East 19th St (we'll send you the exact address when we get your RSVP)

RSVP by September 30 to adehkan@motherjones.com or (973) 222-5413
Space is limited.

 

3M Jumps onto Citizens United Bandwagon

| Mon Sep. 27, 2010 11:24 AM EDT

When Target and Best Buy decided to take advantage of the new political spending rules under Citizens United, they were wading into uncharted territory—and ended up stirring a tremendous backlash as a result. Another Minnesota-based corporation, 3M, has witnessed the fallout over Target and Best Buy's Citizens United-empowered donations, but the company has decided take the plunge anyway. The Minnesota Independent reports that the paper products giant has donated $100,000 to an independent group, Minnesota Forward, to run ads supporting conservative Minnesota candidates for state office.

Over the summer, Target and Best Buy came under fire from progressive activists for making contributions to the same group: both retail giants had developed a reputation as LGBT-friendly companies, and activists branded them as hypocrites for funding ads that supported GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, an opponent of gay rights and gay marriage. The Minnesota Independent explains that 3M has a similarly positive track record with the gay community, receiving 100 percent ratings on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index. But the company has apparently decided that the donation was worth the risk of potential blowback.

What's more, there are signs that activists might be less inclined to raise the same ruckus with 3M, according to the Independent.:

[s]o far, response from progressive organizations has been muted compared to the reaction against Target’s donation. Some have called for boycotts, and a petition was started on Change.org, though it has only garnered around 200 signatures at the time this article was posted….A spokesperson for the HRC said the organization reached out to 3M to inquire about the donation; HRC declined to comment until 3M responds. MoveOn did not respond to the Minnesota Independent’s request for comment.

There are some signs that corporations are, in fact, thinking twice about whether to take advantage of Citizens United. But while some have vowed restraint, there are growing signs that others are clamoring on board. And if the backlash is indeed waning, the stigma of embracing the Supreme Court ruling is likely wear off, and heavy corporate involvement in political ads could become the new norm.

A Michele Bachmann/Bill Clinton Smackdown

| Mon Sep. 27, 2010 9:20 AM EDT

Michele Bachman seems particularly happy—now that she's running for reelection against Bill Clinton.

The Minnesota Republican, who heads the House Tea Party Caucus, has been sending out fundraising emails to conservatives, asking them to help her "defend herself against Bill Clinton." What's Clinton got to do with it? In mid-September, he spoke at a Minneapolis fundraiser for state Sen. Tarryl Clark, who is challenging Bachmann. According to Bachmann, Clinton attacked her and the tea party movement by calling her "stupid." Hitting up the right-wingers for campaign cash, she decries "the despicable Clinton attacks on my character," and declares, "Clinton, Pelosi, Obama, and the rest of the liberal establishment are in panic mode as Tea Party candidates across the country rise up against their socialist government. We must continue to fight!"

Clinton sure did take a swipe at Bachmann at that fundraiser, but how tough was it? Journalist Joe Conason was there, and it's his account that started the fuss. Here's what the ex-president said, with Clark standing by him, according to Conason:

Your opponent is the ultimate example of putting ideology over evidence…I respect people with a conservative philosophy. This country has been well-served by having two broad traditions within which people can operate. If you have a philosophy, it means you’re generally inclined one way or the other but you’re open to evidence. If you have an ideology, it means everything is determined by dogma and you’re impervious to evidence. Evidence is irrelevant That’s how I see Rep. Bachmann. She’s very attractive in saying all these things she says, but it’s pretty stupid.

To parse Clinton's words (!), he didn't call Bachmann stupid, just the ideas she's promoting. But that was enough for her to self-righteously portray herself as a Clinton victim--and to do so in melodramatic terms. "Bill Clinton will stop at nothing to raise money to defeat me," she insists in one of the fundraising emails she sent out. And she claims that in the first five days of her anti-Clinton contributions-collecting effort, she bagged over $117,000 in online donations. "The liberal left loves Bill Clinton," Bachmann maintains. And the conservative right still loves bashing him.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 27, 2010

Mon Sep. 27, 2010 7:50 AM EDT

U.S. Army Capt. Sungmin Kim, a civil structural engineer with the Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team and a Willowbrook, Ill., resident, greets the Parwan Director of the Ministry of Higher Education in the city of Charikar here Sept. 20. Kim and members of the Civil Military Support Team and the Republic of Korea Provincial Reconstruction Team visited the school to inspect a newly constructed building that will be used as a teachers training college. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Kristina L. Gupton, Task Force Wolverine Public Affairs, 982nd Combat Camera)

Obama, Bush, and the Judicious Use of Hellfire Missiles

| Sat Sep. 25, 2010 6:00 PM EDT

This article has been updated since it was originally published.

When it comes to vaporizing Americans with Hellfire missiles, what's the difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration? The Bush administration fretted about the legal implications.

More accurate.

One major revelation to come out of Bob Woodward's new book, "The Obama Wars," is the news that "many Westerners, including some U.S. passport holders," were killed by a CIA-operated drone strike in Pakistan in November 2008. It remains unclear whether the victims were specifically targeted or collateral damage. (See the Washington Post's Jeff Stein for more.) 

If Bush was having Americans killed in Pakistan in 2008, then it's not surprising that President Barack Obama is ordering the CIA to kill American cleric and accused terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2010, right? Not really—the cases are pretty different. From Woodward's account, it seems clear that the Bush administration was sincerely worried about the potential legal ramifications of killing Americans abroad—"the CIA would not reveal the particulars [of the attack] due to the implications under American law."

Much has changed since the Bush administration left office. Two years ago, the CIA was worrying about legal issues surrounding the killing of Americans at an alleged terrorist training camp in Pakistan. Now the Obama administration has apparently put American citizens on a "targeted killing" list. 

The drone strikes described in Woodward's book aren't even the first example of the Bush administration worrying about the propriety of something the Obama administration seems comfortable with. Kamal Derwish (aka Ahmed Hijazi), a US citizen and alleged terrorist, was killed by a missile strike in Yemen in November 2002. At the time, US officials were quick to emphasize to reporters that Derwish was not the target of the attack.

By contrast, the Obama administration makes no bones about targeting Al-Awlaki or other US citizens. Dennis Blair, the former Director of National Intelligence, admitted that citizens are targeted for killing in a public congressional hearing in January. On Friday, the government responded to a lawsuit intended to obtain an injunction against killing Al-Awlaki without due process. The lawsuit, which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Al-Awlaki's father, Nasser, has little chance of success.

Before Colbert, There was Twain

| Fri Sep. 24, 2010 4:47 PM EDT

Long before Stephen Colbert added congressional witness to his resumé, Samuel L. Clemens—better known as Mark Twain—testified before a congressional committee. He did so in 1906 not within character, but as an author, for the topic at hand was copyright legislation. And as one of the most successful best-sellers of his day, he (and his heirs) had a direct interest in this bill. Clemens played it straight, noting his fondness for copyright and contending that ideas are property. But he could not help but be witty and amusing, and the lawmakers reportedly roared with laughter when he veered from the serious to the comic. Here are his  remarks. By the way, congressional testimony is not covered by copyright laws.

I have read this bill. At least I have read such portions as I could understand. Nobody but a practised legislator can read the bill and thoroughly understand it, and I am not a practised legislator.

I am interested particularly and especially in the part of the bill which concerns my trade. I like that extension of copyright life to the author's life and fifty years afterward. I think that would satisfy any reasonable author, because it would take care of his children. Let the grand-children take care of themselves. That would take care of my daughters, and after that I am not particular. I shall then have long been out of this struggle, independent of it, indifferent to it.

It isn't objectionable to me that all the trades and professions in the United States are protected by the bill. I like that. They are all important and worthy, and if we can take care of them under the Copyright law I should like to see it done. I should like to see oyster culture added, and anything else.

I am aware that copyright must have a limit, because that is required by the Constitution of the United States, which sets aside the earlier Constitution, which we call the decalogue. The decalogue says you shall not take away from any man his profit. I don't like to be obliged to use the harsh term. What the decalogue really says is, "Thou shalt not steal," but I am trying to use more polite language.

The laws of England and America do take it away, do select but one class, the people who create the literature of the land. They always talk handsomely about the literature of the land, always what a fine, great, monumental thing a great literature is, and in the midst of their enthusiasm they turn around and do what they can to discourage it.

I know we must have a limit, but forty-two years is too much of a limit. I am quite unable to guess why there should be a limit at all to the possession of the product of a man's labor. There is no limit to real estate.

Doctor Hale has suggested that a man might just as well, after discovering a coal-mine and working it forty-two years, have the Government step in and take it away.

Making Palestine Happen

| Fri Sep. 24, 2010 3:38 PM EDT

If you build them, it will come—so says Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The "them": institutions of governance and civil society. And the "it"? Palestinian statehood.

Fayyad, who's in the United States for a host of U.N.-related events, spoke at the New America Foundation on Thursday about his plan (the optimistically named the "Homestretch to Freedom") to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "We Palestinians are not going to get to where we're going... being idle, submissive or belligerent," he said. The "Homestretch" will move "Palestinians from... being just reactive to things to being proactive," Fayyad added.

Building the trappings of statehood is a necessary prerequisite for making statehood a reality, Fayyad argues. Under Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority has built a slew of new government and municipal offices, schools, and hospitals. They've assembled a police force and devised a functional central bank and stock market.