Mojo - October 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 26, 2010

Tue Oct. 26, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment prepare to conduct an airborne insertion from a C-130 Hercules aircraft assigned to Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., during a joint forcible entry exercise at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., on Sept. 12, 2010. A joint forcible entry exercise is a large-scale heavy equipment and troop movement exercise conducted by the Air Force and the Army. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Angelita M. Lawrence, U.S. Air Force.

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Las Vegas Bets on Reid for Senate

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 6:18 PM EDT

In Vegas, casino managers make sure the house always wins. So who are they betting on for the Nevada race? October FEC disclosure forms showed executives at nearly every casino on the strip backing Reid over tea party darling Sharron Angle, though they might want to go all in, and soon, if they want to win.

Angle managed to snag $50,000 from four donors from the Las Vegas Sands Corp. (Sands, Venetian, Palazzo) during the last fiscal quarter. During the same time, Reid received around $52,000 from nearly two dozen C-level execs from the MGM Resorts behemoth (Aria, Bellagio, MGM, Mirage, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, New York-New York, Circus Circus, Monte Carlo). Reid also got $11,000 from supporters at Harrah's Entertainment (Caesar's Palace, Rio, Paris, Bally's). Overall, Reid has many more casinos (and their respective employees) to draw from, but Angle's are willing to pony up $10,000 a piece while many of Reid's are still in the four-digits. OpenSecrets.org shows Reid earning a total of $22 million for his 2010 campaign, versus Angle's $18 million. It's a respectable difference, but not enough when you consider FiveThirtyEight shows the two candidates head to head: Angle 49.6%, Reid 47.6%.

It'll be interesting to see if Vegas bigwigs decide to up the ante and give more to Reid during these crucial final weeks, or if they're going to cut their losses and walk away. As any good gambler knows, you gotta know when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em.

 

Miss Liberty America Founder: I'm Not a Tea Partier

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 3:18 PM EDT

Last week I told you about "Miss Liberty America," the beauty pageant that, among other things, will evaluate contestants based on marksmanship (rifles and pistols only), CPR, fitness, and knowledge of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. I referred to it, somewhat in jest, as "the first-ever Tea Party beauty pageant." This morning I received a message from Alicia Hayes-Roberts, sister of Tea Party presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, and founder of the pageant. Her concern? Being tagged as a Tea Party operation might be bad for business.

"We don't want to be associated with that," Hayes-Roberts told me. "We're a corporation, we are a for-profit operation, and I can't have that."

For one thing, she explained, Miss Liberty America is hoping to promote diversity (the judging panel "will consist equally of African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian judges to more closely represent America"), and Hayes-Roberts is concerned that the Tea Party tag might complicate matters. For another, she just doesn't consider the event's core message to be anything out of the mainstream. "This fringe you've got fringe on the left, fringe on the right. I want to be associated with what the meat of America is."

"I'm trying to bring people together, not separate people. And there are some organizations that do nothing but segregate people."

So let me clarify: Miss Liberty America is not a Tea Party pageant; it's just a beauty pageant that awards a lifetime NRA membership to the winner, has a goal of "restoring Liberty to the United States" and promotes "personal responsibility," employs a North American Union-fearing presidential candidate as its Chief Financial Officer, and quizzes its contestants on the founding documents. For the record.

If You Can't Find a Tea Party Group, Does it Really Exist?

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 2:00 PM EDT

If a tea party group won't talk to the press, does it even exist? Activists say yes, but it's a legitimate question, and one that came to mind this weekend while I was reading this interesting story in the Washington Post. In it, the Post published the results of its attempt to get an accurate census of the tea party movement and to gauge its impact on politics. The conclusions mirrored much of what I've noticed in the past year of reporting on the movement: While there may be a lot of conservatives out there sitting around their living rooms, holding hands and singing "God Bless America" and calling themselves a tea party, not all that many of them are well-poised to affect an election.

The Chamber's Foreign Oil Money

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 12:52 PM EDT

As we reported earlier, European companies are using political action committees to spend quite a bit on lawmakers who have blocked climate legislation in the Senate. But as Wonk Room reported over the weekend, foreign oil and gas interests have also directed quite a bit of cash to the US Chamber of Commerce, which is running a $75 million campaign focused on ousting congressional Democrats.

Wonk Room notes that a number of foreign oil and gas companies pay their member dues to the Chamber of Commerce’s 501c(6) account, which is the same account that funds its political ads. Those ads have included attacks on Democratic incumbents for supporting the House cap-and-trade bill (a.k.a. the "job-killing energy tax")—folks like Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), a House member currently running for Senate, and Reps. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Betsy Markey (D-Colo.). Among the groups paying into this electoral war chest, and the interests they represent:

– Avantha Group, India (at least $7,500 in annual member dues): power plants
– The Bahrain Petroleum Company, Kingdom of Bahrain ($5,000): state-owned oil campany
– Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company, Kingdom of Bahrain ($5,000): state-owned oil company
– Essar Group, Mumbai, India ($7,500): oil & gas, coal power
– GMR, Bangalore, India ($15,000): coal power, mining
– Hinduja Group, London, UK ($15,000): the Gulf Oil group
– Jindal Power, New Delhi, India ($15,000): coal power
– Lahmeyer International, Frankfurt, Germany ($7,500): power plant engineering
– Punj Lloyd, Gurgaon, India ($15,000): offshore pipelines
– Reliance Industries, Mumbai, India ($15,000): oil and gas, petrochemicals
– SNC Lavalin, Montreal, Canada ($7,500): mining, power plant, and oil & gas engineering
– Tata Group, Mumbai, India ($15,000): power plants, oil & gas
– Walchandnagar Industries, Mumbai, India ($7,500): power plant, oil & gas engineering
– Welspun, Mumbai, India ($7,500): oil & gas exploration

The Supreme Court's decision earlier this year in Citizens United has allowed the Chamber and other interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections without disclosing their donors. Democrats have latched onto the idea that the decision has also allowed groups like the Chamber to funnel foreign money into our elections, unbeknowst to the average citizen. The Chamber says it has accounting methods in place to separate the money and ensure that these funds from other countries aren't being spent on US elections, and as my colleague Nick Baumann pointed out earlier this month, the amount of domestic money pouring through the Chamber is probably a bigger concern anyway than the relatively small total from foreign corporations. But the money flowing into the Chamber's coffers from overseas is worth pointing out, as these oil and gas interests clearly have good reason to want to sway debate over climate and energy in the US.

European Companies Spend Big to Block Climate Action in US

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 11:12 AM EDT

Some of Europe's biggest polluters are dumping money into US politics, in an effort to undermine progress on climate and energy. The oil giant BP, the chemical company BASF, the cement and concrete manufacturer Lafarge, and pharmaceutical company Bayer were among the biggest donors. Combined, European companies gave $240,200 to senators who blocked climate action, which accounted for 78 percent of their total campaign donations this year.

The figures were released in a new report from the Climate Action Network Europe on Monday, using data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The information, said CAN Europe, shows what "appears to be a coordinated effort by European polluters to influence United States climate and energy policies through targeted donations to candidates who oppose action on climate change." (Foreign companies, through their US-based subsidiaries, are able to give to candidates via political action committees—and this year their spending has soared.)

A large chunk of that money—$107,200–went to candidates who deny that climate change is a problem, like Senators James Inhofe (R-Okla.). But Democrats who acknowledge the problem yet still block action also made out well—with Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) leading the pack at $47,500. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), architect of several legislative attempts to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, also received $16,000 from the companies surveyed by CAN Europe.

Other big recipients of the EU largesse: Jim DeMint (R-SC) at $13,000, John Cornyn (R-Texas) at $11, 000, John Barrasso (R-Wy.) at $10,000, Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) at $10,000, Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) at $10,000, Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) at $9,500, Orrin Hatch (R-Idaho) at $8,000, David Vitter (R-La.) at $7,500, Richard Burr (R-NC) at $7,000, James Inhofe (R-Okla.) at $6,000, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) at $5,500, and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) at $4,500.

Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant, gave $108,100. The UK-based oil titan BP made $25,000 in campaign donations, with $18,000 of that going to senators who blocked action on climate change. This is particularly notable, as prior to the oil spill, BP was one of the companies that the bill's authors were touting as supporting climate legislation. A number of these companies have said publicly that they support action on climate, but their campaign spending actively undermines action.

As CAN Europe points out, this funding serves their purposes on multiple levels. The EU has been out ahead of the rest of the world in acting on climate change, aiming to cut emissions 20 percent by 2020. Countries have proposed increasing that target to 30 percent, but many of these companies, through groups like Business Europe and the Alliance for a Competitive European Industry have pushed back. Their big argument? The EU should wait until laggard countries like the US pass climate laws before they take more aggressive action. The failure to act in the US also handcuffed global action in Copenhagen last year. Thus, subverting US climate action serves their greater purpose of stopping tougher action in Europe, too.

“It’s appallingly hypocritical for these European polluters that are supporting anti-climate crusaders in the US to simultaneously fight against strong climate legislation in Europe, based on the false premise that the EU can’t make meaningful emissions cuts without the US on board," said Tomas Wyns, CAN Europe senior policy officer.

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AZ's Anti-Immigration Mastermind Takes Aim at Voter Fraud

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 11:07 AM EDT

Kris Kobach—the mastermind behind Arizona's sweeping immigration law—is now poised to become Kansas' next Secretary of State. As I reported a few months ago, the Republican anti-immigration lawyer has focused his entire campaign on voter fraud, playing up fears that illegal immigrants are stealing the vote and pushing for a new law that would require voters to show photo ID at the polls. Kobach now leads his Democratic opponent by 18 points.

Via TPM Muckracker, here's Kobach explaining his vote-stealing fears in full detail:

"Voter fraud is a very real problem in Kansas. Election crimes have been documented across the state--from fraudulent registrations, to vote-by-mail fraud. As the activities of ACORN have demonstrated, organizations that promote voter fraud have burrowed into every corner of our country," he writes on his web site. "In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive…Our voter rolls must be purged of thousands of deceased individuals, illegally-registered aliens, and felons."

Numerous independent studies have found that voter fraud is an exceedingly rare phenomenon. But it's a convenient target for conservative activists like Kobach, who's built his career crafting anti-immigration laws across the country.

If he succeeds in becoming Secretary of State, Kobach will have a substantive impact in the ways that votes are counted in 2012, crafting rules about how voters are registered and elections are run. In response to the rise of conservative candidates like Kobach, liberal groups like the George Soros-funded Secretary of State Project have tried to fight back by supporting Democratic candidates in swing states. That group raised the specter of the tea party in their latest fundraising letter*, warning that if conservative-backed candidates win, "vote suppression, demands for excessive ID requirements, and sheer hysteria would rule the day in 2012."

CNN, Fox Biz Spotlight Foreclosure King

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 9:20 AM EDT

David J. Stern, the Ferrari-driving foreclosure king of Florida and the focus of my recent investigation, "Fannie and Freddie's Foreclosure Barons" ("Home Wreckers" in the November/December print issue), has been getting ample attention lately. In addition to my story on him, his "foreclosure mill" law firm, and others like it, news outlets like ABC News, Bloomberg, CNNMoney, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal have all run stories on the allegations of fraud and wrongdoing, or former employees' startling recollections of the firm's operations, or the lavish gift-giving going on within the firm, according to former paralegals and staffers.

Now, even the big TV networks are getting in on the act. On CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 program, reporter Drew Griffin reported on Stern's firm and some of the more conspicuous examples of Stern's vast wealth. Here's the segment:

And on Fox Business, Gerri Willis of "The Willis Report" offered her own take on David Stern's largesse, which, as I reported, also includes a $15 million waterfront mansion and a 130-foot yacht named "Misunderstood." Below is a screenshot of Willis' offering on Stern; you can watch the full segment here.

Foggy With a Chance of Increased Unemployment

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 6:03 AM EDT

In "Will Obama Put Up a Fight?" MoJo DC bureau chief David Corn traces how Obama has struggled to connect with voters on their fears and uncertainties about the economy. By spending too much time on health care, underestimating his opponents, and banking too much on banks, Obama failed to engage his base and lost control of the narrative. "It wasn't just what Obama did, but how he did it," writes Corn. "He did not effectively present voters with the key question: How would—how could—a post-industrial, post-dot-com, post-Big Finance economy work?" The results from a recent New York Times/CBS poll reveal some of this voter confusion; 57 percent of those polled did not think Obama had a clear plan for solving the nation's problems, and 53 percent didn't think he had a clear plan for creating jobs.

Unfortunately for Democrats struggling to engage their constituents on November 2, voter confusion about the economy at election time can actually hurt the economy even more. Dennis Jacobe, chief economist for Gallup, suggests that the mere presence of the midterm elections could have a negative impact on consumer spending and employment. Jacobe points to a graph of the increasing unemployment rate (see below), and writes:

Often, political opponents disagree not only about what has caused the poor economy, but also on how best to get it going again. This political rhetoric may generate even more confusion and uncertainty as the midterm elections draw near and more Americans listen carefully to the political debates. If true, this could mean the economy will get worse in the weeks ahead as political debate exacerbates economic confusion. Of course, whether it means things will get better following the elections is a whole different discussion.

Graph courtesy of Gallup.com

 

Attack of the 50-Foot Palin

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

It's not that there aren't enough clues on the cover of the new issue of Mother Jones—the headline, for one—but since you asked: Yes, that is a full-throated homage to the B movie classic Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. If you're like us, your knowledge of American cinema doesn't extend to the full plot of this 1958 gem, but suffice to say that it involves a wealthy heiress, Nancy Archer, who after an encounter with an alien is found on the roof of her pool house and soon grows into a giantess. She goes searching for her no-good husband and his mistress, Honey Parker (!), and mayhem ensues. We liked the image because of the subtle historical echoes and... oh, who are we kidding: We liked it because the poster is awesome. WikimediaWikimedia(The echoes, though, are there: 1958 was an election year, in a recession, that dealt President Eisenhower's party a big string of defeats and launched the Senate careers of, among others, Gene McCarthy, Robert Byrd, and Edmund Muskie.) 

MoJo's creative director Tim Luddy encouraged illustrator Zina Saunders to follow the poster out the window in tone and feel, tweaking only the landscape to look more suburban. Saunders (who has cranked out a number of terrific Palin illustrations in the last couple of years) took the assignment very seriously, at one point sending a picture of Palin in her beauty-contestant days to confirm that she'd gotten the proportions right. She also made an animated version. Behold (this might take a sec to load):