Mojo - October 2010

Who You Calling a Print Magazine? MoJo Wins Online News Association Award

| Sun Oct. 31, 2010 2:32 AM EDT

Just in case the grins on the faces of reporter Kate Sheppard and news editor Dan Schulman don't tell you everything you need to know—yes, we are  honored and proud today to have won the Online News Association award for Online Topical Reporting/Blogging for our team coverage of the BP spill. For much of the summer, Mother Jones actually had more reporters covering the disaster than most dailies or TV news operations around the country: Our human-rights reporter Mac McClelland was on the scene for four months while Kate in Washington kept up the heat on agencies and politicians, and environmental correspondent Julia Whitty explored the stunning new science that shows the true impact of BP. It was an amazing endeavor, involving literally everyone at MoJo at one point or another and drawing on major effort from many (reporters, editors, factcheckers, tech crew—you know who you are). You can read the results here.

Fun fact: As far as we can tell, Mother Jones was the only magazine (that doesn't publish exclusively online, a la Salon) honored at the ONA awards last night; the event has long been dominated by daily newspapers, broadcasters, and online-exclusive news sites, which makes sense given that much of the magazine industry has not exactly stampeded into digital news. Here at MoJo, though, we pretty much tore down the distinction between print and digital several years ago, and now aim to bring you sharp, sassy investigative reporting 24/7 via the Interwebs as well as in our award-winning print magazine (you do take advantage of our dead cheap subscriptions, right?). So hooray for an award confirming that that's working out okay—and an extra hooray for all the other great journalism shops honored last night, including our fellow nonprofits at NPR, ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and California Watch. (Bonus hooray for these last two, fellow Bay Area operations. Now back to the World Series already in progress.) 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

San Francisco's Liberal Tea Party

| Sat Oct. 30, 2010 5:47 PM EDT

Photo: Tim MurphyPhoto: Tim MurphyThe most dedicated progressive activist of the 2010 election cycle might be a 63-year-old hippie from Dayton named "Ganja Santa." Ganja (needless to say, a stage name), spent Saturday's Sanity Rally in San Francisco alternatively posing for pictures in a pot-green Santa suit, and riding around Civic Center Plaza on a beer cooler that's been retrofitted with handlebars and four wheels (a nifty contraption he calls "the cruiser cooler").

He moved to California earlier this year solely to help rally support for Proposition 19, the California ballot provision that would legalize Marijuana. "I was in Dayton, and I just thought, 'Man, if I'm sittin' here and Prop 19 fails, I'll never forgive myself," he said. On Wednesday, win or lose, Ganja Santa will pack up his belongings and return to Ohio.

It's the kind of commitment, if not necessarily the kind of outfit, Democratic campaigns wish they had more of in 2010. By now, you've probably read about yesterday's big Comedy Central rally on the Mall (or as MoJo's Suzy Khimm put it, "Ironypalooza"). Like any half-decent Tea Party-spinoff, though, the DC rally was only a part of the story; statellite viewing parties sprang up in dozens of cities, from the usual suspects (Seattle, Chicago) to the less so (Rapid City, South Dakota, home of the world's most sinister Richard Nixon statue).

In San Francisco, the crowd of about 700 that showed up to watch the main event on the big screen left as soon as it ended, opting not to stick around in the drizzle for the scheduled stand-up comedians, mime troupe, costume contest, and lecture on the virtues of "non-violent communication."

Live Tweeting the Rally to Restore Sanity

Sat Oct. 30, 2010 10:00 AM EDT

MoJo's Washington bureau chief David Corn and DC based reporters Suzy Khimm, Kate Sheppard, Nick Baumann, and Andy Kroll are tweeting furiously on the scene at the Rally to Restore Sanity. The last time we did this it was for Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally, which turned out to be just a barrel of fun.

Front page image courtesy of the Rally to Restore Sanity and the March to Keep Fear Alive.

McDonald's Accused of Voter Intimidation

| Sat Oct. 30, 2010 10:00 AM EDT

Nearly all the allegations of voter intimidation flying around have been directed at Republican official or conservative activists. But now it looks like businesses, too, are pushing their will on voters. A McDonald's franchise in Ohio was accused of intimidation after telling its employees that their raises and benefits would go down unless they voted for Republicans. "If the right people are elected, we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above our present levels. If others are elected we will not," the employer wrote in a handbill enclosed in a recent paycheck envelope. Who are "the right people"? According to the handbill, they are gubernatorial candidate John Kasich, Senate candidate Rob Portman, and Jim Renacci for House Rep. in Ohio's 16th District.

Allen Schulman, an Ohio lawyer who submitted the handbill to local prosecutors, accused McDonald's of violating election law. "When a corporation like McDonald's intimidates its employees into voting in a specific way, it violates both state and federal elections law," Schulman said in a statement. He goes on to characterize the handbill as "the logical extension of the Citizens United decision, which unleashed corporate arrogance and abuse." The handbill has no direct connection to the Supreme Court decision, which liberated corporate campaign ad spending. But the store's conduct suggests that business are also convinced that the stakes are higher in a polarized political environment—and are willing to push the envelope to see the outcomes that they want.

David J. Stern, Captain Foreclosure?

| Fri Oct. 29, 2010 4:20 PM EDT

Courtesy of Legalprise.

Courtesy of Legalprise

Mother Jones readers have lately read a lot about David J. Stern, the powerful Florida lawyer who over decades built one of the most powerful foreclosure law firms in the nation—and a lavish lifestyle for himself. (Think waterfront mansion, beachfront condo, Ferraris and Porsches, and an Italian jet-powered yacht.) However, as I reported in a long investigative story in August, there's plenty of evidence suggesting that, as the housing market imploded and foreclosures mounted, Stern and his firm repeatedly cut corners and even allegedly broke the law all in the name of ramming through foreclosures and profiting as much as possible. Now, as the foreclosure crisis rears its ugly head again, Stern has faced criticism in the press and in private; this month, he lost several major clients that once fed him foreclosure cases, including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Citigroup.

What remains a question mark is Stern himself. He almost never gives interviews (he and associates declined multiple requests of mine), and there's scant public information out there about him. That said, a photo obtained on Friday by Mother Jones offers a small but illuminating peek at Stern's personality.

At the start of this year, Stern spun off the non-legal pieces of his foreclosure empire into a separate, publicly traded company called DJSP Enterprises. He was so bullish on DJSP and the prospects of the foreclosure business that he handed out t-shirts depicting him as Superman (or Captain DJSP, or Foreclosure Man, or whatever) to top-tier investors in the new company. Yep—the guy on the t-shirt stopping two New York City buses with his bare hands is Stern. I'm not going to read too much into what the t-shirt means, other than to say it takes real chutzpah to dish out shirts suggesting your new foreclosure company somehow makes you a superhero. Stern's public company, DJSP, hasn't turned out to be so super. In January, the stock debuted on the NASDAQ at $9.25; today, it's trading at a buck.

Texas Republicans' Looming Immigration Civil War

| Fri Oct. 29, 2010 12:21 PM EDT

Some of you may remember Texas state senator/shock-jock Dan Patrick as the man who once proposed curtailing abortion by encouraging women to sell their babies giving $500 tax credits to women who choose adoption instead. Yesterday, Patrick announced the formation of the state senate's Tea Party Caucus, a sort of Lone Star State answer to the group Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann formed in July.

It's more or less what you'd expect: Caucus members are required to sign the "Pledge With Texans" (pdf), a Contract with America-style agreement that blends the impossible, the absurd, and the absurd once more: Balance the budget...while cutting taxes; selectively assert Texas' 10th Amendment rights; fight voter fraud by making it harder to vote. All well and good—up until the last plank: "I pledge to advance, support, and vote for legislation that lawfully protects Texas and Texans from the fiscal and social costs of illegal immigration."

That's really what this is about. Conservatives are going to win a lot of seats in a lot of different places this year by making promises—like repealing the Affordable Care Act and slashing the deficit—that they simply won't be able to make good on, either because it'd be extraordinarily unpopular, or because it's just bad for business. Immigration, as Texas Monthly's Nate Blakeslee explains quite well (subscription), is the fight Texas Republicans really don't want. Or rather, it's the fight the party's ultra-influential donors, like homebuilder and Swift Boater Bob Perry, really, really don't want. But Patrick and his frustrated allies are crashing toward a confrontation with his party's establishment. From Blakeslee:

[Top lobbyist] Bill Miller said the party's big moneymen were watching closely, however quiet they may seem. "If they see this thing getting any traction," he said, "they'll pick up the phone and they'll make it unmistakable where they're coming from on this issue, which is, Are you guys out of your mind?"

Advertise on MotherJones.com

A Prayer for Tom Perriello

| Fri Oct. 29, 2010 12:18 PM EDT

It's never easy for Tom Perriello (whose travails were chronicled recently by David Corn). The embattled Virginia Democrat voted for President Barack Obama's stimulus bill, cap-and-trade, and health care reform—the three-lipped kiss of death for many Dems in this year's midterms. Strategists of all political stripes have long-since written him off, and recent polling puts Perriello down by 9 points against his Republican challenger, state Senator Robert Hurt. But despite the Battle of Bull run scenario awaiting House Democrats on Tuesday, the pugnacious and populist Perriello, who has criticized the Obama administration for being to Summersish (as in Larry Summers), refuses to go down without swinging hard. Perhaps recognizing that Perriello has gone to bat for him on key votes, Obama is heading to Charlottesville on Friday to help him close the gap with Hurt.

As reported by the AP, Democrats and Republicans alike have been keeping close tabs on the race:

To the GOP, seeking to make the election a referendum on Obama's policies as they push to seize control of the House, Perriello is Exhibit A. They argue that Democrats like him have arrogantly ignored the will of voters and pushed a big-government agenda — earning themselves a drubbing at the polls.

But for Obama and Democrats, Perriello is the poster boy for supporting policies that have gotten a bad rap — proof that it's possible to cast politically tricky votes, defend them unapologetically, stand next to an increasingly unpopular president, and survive.

Unpopular indeed, with an approval rating of 46%. What possible difference could Obama make for Perriello? Again, the AP:

It's something of a gamble for the president, who could end up sharing the blame if Perriello loses. If Perriello wins, though, Obama's help could position him to counter the finger-pointing that's sure to follow next week's elections. If a steadfast ally of the president's marquee policies can survive a tough race in a conservative district, it would undercut the notion that the contests are purely a referendum on Obama.

Maybe the White House views this as a winnable race. Or maybe it sees this face-off as a chance to assure progressive Virginians that delivered the state to Obama in 2008 that they haven’t been forsaken or forgotten. Either way, it's a dramatic move at the end of a rather difficult campaign—for Obama and Perriello.

Complaint: Elderly Black Voters Intimidated at Home

| Fri Oct. 29, 2010 12:00 PM EDT

A voting rights lawyer has filed a complaint with the Department of Justice that elderly black voters are being harassed and intimidated at their homes in eastern Texas. Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, submitted a complaint on Thursday to the DOJ claiming that at least seven elderly black voters "were being harassed by two unidentified white women" who visited their homes in Bowie County to question them about their mail-in ballot applications. The women are described as middle-aged, local Republican activists who had accessed publicly available information about which voters had requested mail-in ballots.

The complaint claims that the women showed up unannounced this week at the home of 78-year-old Willard Wherry, of Dekalb, who had voted by mail. The pair proceeded to grill Wherry about who had helped him to fill out his mail-in ballot, repeatedly questioning whether anyone had showed up at his home to assist him. "We are just trying to be sure no one is trying to coax someone to vote," one of the woman said, according to Hebert's complaint.

Lisa Murkowski's Write-in War

| Fri Oct. 29, 2010 11:30 AM EDT

In a last-ditch attempt to derail Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski's write-in campaign, upwards of 100 Alaskans have registered as write-in candidates for Tuesday's midterm election. The effort, called "Operation Alaska Chaos," originated on conservative blogs and websites like Breitbart Media's Big Government, Ace of Spades, and Just One Minute. (For the full story on how that happened, read this post by Dan Riehl.) Eventually, a conservative radio host in Anchorage, Dan Fagan, got wind of what was going on and began encouraging listeners to get their name on the ballot as a way to stir confusion and peel votes away from Murkowski. Despite widespread skepticism of Murkowski's decision to run as a write-in candidate after her primary loss to tea partier Joe Miller, recent polling indicates that she's leading the three-way race. Meanwhile, Miller's popularity has plummeted in the wake of revelations about lies he told about a past ethics violation.

"Operation Alaska Chaos" was born out of the Alaska Supreme Court's decision to allow election officials to distribute lists of write-in candidates at polling stations. The high court's ruling was a boost to Murkowski, who's crafted her campaign around slogans such as "Fill in the bubble! Write in the name!" But, the thinking goes, if a hundred more names appear on that write-in roster, with some possibly spelled similar to Murkowski's, the Alaska senator could lose votes due to confusion or errors by voters.

Although the Miller campaign has said it has nothing to do "Operation Alaska Chaos," Fagan, the radio host, is a self-proclaimed Miller supporter. And according to a recent survey, Miller needs all the support he can get. A Hays Research poll, commissioned by an Alaskan union chapter that supports Democratic candidate Scott McAdams, found that those who felt "somewhat negative" or "very negative" about Miller had spiked to a whopping 68 percent. That same poll showed Miller in third place in the race, with 23 percent of the vote, with Murkowski out front with 34 percent and McAdams with 29 percent.

Energy Interests Drop $247 Million on Ads in 2010

| Fri Oct. 29, 2010 7:47 AM EDT

Fossil fuel companies and interest groups that represent them have spent $247 million so far this year on ad campaigns, according to data complied by the marketing research group Kantar Media. The Alliance for Climate Protection, the group started by Al Gore, compiled data on both national and state-level ad buys these companies have made this year.

While other studies have looked at advertisements specifically aimed at legislation or candidates, it's also worth pointing to how much these companies have spent on general advertising and PR, just to keep their brands or products in the public consciousness. These have included more than $16 million spent on advertising this year by the coal front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity to promote, as the name would imply, the idea of "clean coal."

Then there's BP, which has spent $125 million this year on ads, including its ubiquitous "We will make this right" series in response to the massive oil spill they unleashed on the Gulf of Mexico. BP's efforts to win back the public and counter the brand damage in the wake of the spill accounted for more than half of all the spending by energy companies and related interest groups included in this study.

The figures certainly provide a good sense of how much money these companies have on hand just for efforts to shape public opinion. "Big oil pollutes the Gulf, pollutes the air and now is polluting our airwaves," said Giselle Barry, a spokesperson for the Alliance for Climate Protection. "The public has the right to know it’s these same people funding many of the worst political attack ads."

On a similar note, the Center for American Progress Action Fund also posted an update to its recent report about ad buys by energy interests more specifically geared toward this year's election.