Mojo - October 2010

VIDEO: Living Large on Tea Party Air

| Fri Oct. 29, 2010 3:16 AM PDT

So much for the image of tea partiers as scrappy, low-budget activists running a revolutionary "starfish" operation destined to change history with their homemade signs and political potlucks. Over the past week, national coordinators of the Tea Party Patriots, a group that claims to represent 2800 local chapters and as many as 15 million people, have been "flying for freedom" and "landing for liberty" in various states to help buck up local activists trying to get out the vote for Tuesday's election. The plane they're using, dubbed "Patriot One," belongs to a big GOP donor in MontantaMark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin have made sure that their every move during the flying "GOTV" tour has been filmed by Luke Livingston, the founder of Ground Floor Video who produced "Tea Party: A Documentary." The resulting slick, high-production value clips are posted on the Tea Party Patriots website.

Judging from the video, the tea party leaders have been much more overwhelmed by the coolness of flying on the swank private jet than on the less glamorous work of actually getting voters to the polls. The video below comes complete with a "Top Gun" soundtrack and devotes the first full minute and a half to footage of Meckler and Martin getting on the plane (in slo-mo), getting off the plane, being cool inside the plane. Martin even interviews the pilot. Whether all this jetting around will bring out a single voter remains to be seen, but the video definitely should get some laughs (though maybe not from the grassroots activists these folks claim to represent). Check it out:

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 29, 2010

Fri Oct. 29, 2010 2:30 AM PDT

U.S. soldiers and airmen set up the broadcast antenna for the American Forces Network Europe Tactical Mobile Radio and Television System during Exercise Saber Strike, a U.S. Army Europe event, in Adazi Training Area, Latvia, Oct. 18, 2010. U.S. Army photo by 1st Sgt. Chris Seaton

America's Broken Election System...in Afghanistan

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 2:56 PM PDT

The other day, on the front page of my hometown newspaper was a shocking tale of Iranian perfidy in Afghanistan headlined "Iran Is Said to Give Top Karzai Aide Cash by the Bagful." The mounds of euros reportedly being passed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff Umar Daudzai were a familiar form of influence peddling—intended, as the New York Times piece put it, "to buy the loyalty of Mr. Daudzai and promote Iran's interests in the presidential palace, according to Afghan and Western officials here. Iran uses its influence to help drive a wedge between the Afghans and their American and NATO benefactors, they say."

The Times even had a vivid account of a "large plastic bag bulging with packets of euro bills" being passed to Daudzai on a plane departing Iran. Strange, though, how few seem to remember the way American "benefactors" launched this latest disatrous chapter in Afghanistan's three-decade-old catastrophe by proudly delivering their own bag-equivalents stuffed with cash. Back in 2001, with planning for a US invasion ramping up, CIA agents reportedly appeared in Taliban-free northern Afghanistan with devastatingly convincing arguments for supporting Washington: metal "suitcases"—okay, when it comes to bribery, call us a little classier than our rivals—stuffed with millions of dollars in non-sequentially numbered hundred-dollar bills. Back then, it was called "preparing the ground" for invasion and, at the time, was considered not perfidious corruption but brilliant spycraft. Of course, in one form or another, as Karzai—who, as Juan Cole recently commented, "appears not to understand the word 'corruption'"—noted in a news conference this week, American money has never stopped flowing in staggering amounts.

Terror Trial Update: Police Minders and Pocket Change

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 1:33 PM PDT

Read Karen Greenberg's previous coverage of the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court.

Even before the trial of Ahmed Ghailani started, the role of the Tanzanian National Police has haunted the proceedings in an unsettling way. On Wednesday, these suspicions received some added weight when Ghailani's cousin, Ladha Hussein, took the stand. Ten years older than Ghailani, Hussein sat 20 feet away from the cousin he hadn't seen since 1998. As Hussein talked through a Swahili translator, Ghailani, dressed in a white button-down and tie, watched with open-eyed interest and unflagging attention.

For a while, all seemed normal. The prosecutor attempted to shed doubt on Ghailani's alleged terrorist connections by asking about the time that Ghailani, who visited Hussein and his cousin's parents several times a week, brought a friend from Mombasa. Similarly, the prosecution asked about Ghailani's announcement in 1998, a month or so before the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, that he was going to "look for livelihood" in Yemen. At first, defense counsel Peter Quijano's cross examination also took the expected road, eliciting the fact that Ghailani wore what he called "Western" garb, jeans and a T-shirt—evidence that he had not become intensely religious.

Fake Group Tries to Mislead Black Voters in Texas

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 9:25 AM PDT

With only a few days until the election, 'tis the season for dirty tricks at the polls. In Houston, Texas, flyers telling people not to vote straight down the Democratic ticket have been placed on the windshields of cars at a polling place in a predominantly black neighborhood. TPM has the details:

 

"Republicans are trying to trick us!" the flier reads. "When you vote straight ticket Democrat, it is actually voting for Republicans and your vote doesn't count. We are urging everyone to VOTE for BILL WHITE. A VOTE for BILL WHITE is a VOTE for the ENTIRE DEMOCRATIC ticket. We have fought too hard to let Republicans use voting machines to deny us our basic rights. We must guard the change and NOT VOTE STRAIGHT TICKET DEMOCRAT!"

 

"YES WE CAN," the flier read.

 

The flyer says that it's from a group called the "Black Democratic Trust of Texas," which doesn’t appear to exist. The name of the group, moreover, seems to be a rip-off of the Texas Democratic Trust, a prominent independent group that's helped bring the Texas Democratic Party back from the dead (and whose efforts I profiled here).

It's unclear who's behind the scheme, but Democrats are convinced that Republicans or conservative activists are responsible. "This is pretty classic in Texas," Democratic consultant Matt Angle, head of the Texas Democratic Trust, tells Mother Jones. Angle recalls a similar incident in 2008, when black activists in Houston and Dallas were receiving emails that voting for Obama would mean voting for a straight-party ticket. "They've gone back to low-tech now," he adds.

Angle says that Texas Democrats now plan to enlist African-American leaders to do robo-calls in the area "to make sure that people understand that [the flyers] are bogus." The danger of such misinformation campaigns is that they tend to crop up at the very last minute, before there's much time to get the correct information out to voters.

Reports of election shenanigans have been plaguing the Houston area throughout the early voting period. The Department of Justice is currently investigating complaints that poll watchers have been harassing and "hovering over" voters in Houston—accusations of GOP-led voter intimidation that have also cropped up in North Carolina, among other places where conservative activists have launched an all-out voter fraud crusade.

Joe Miller's Numbers Nose Dive

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 9:21 AM PDT

Things were getting shaky for the tea party-backed Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller even before his ethics violation as a local government employee was splashed all over the news in Alaska this week. A new poll from Hays Research shows Miller's ratings taking a nose-dive in the state. Via Mudflats:

The percentage of those who feel either "somewhat negative" or "very negative" about Miller has skyrocketed in recent weeks to an unbelievable 68%. Only 8% feel "somewhat negative" and the remainder, a jaw-dropping 60%, feel "very negative" about Miller as a candidate.

It's certainly worth noting that this poll was taken before last Sunday's debate, where Miller admitted that he was suspended for three days in 2008 for an ethics violation. This was also before a court forced the release of Miller's personnel records, which included more details about the case and indicated that Miller had lied about his actions. But the poll did arrive after weeks of Miller trying desperately to dodge questions about his past—with his private security guards going so far as to handcuff a reporter who tried to interview him at a public event. [UPDATE: This wasn't included in the initial release, but it should be noted that the poll was commisssioned by the IBEW Local 1547, which has endorsed Democrat Scott McAdams in the race.]

Miller now admits that it was "naïve" to expect that he could keep the news media and the people of Alaska from asking questions about his history, which he attributed to not being a "professional politician." But operating under an air of secrecy and hostility toward the press only served to bring him a whole lot of negative attention in the final weeks before the election. Perhaps hoping to turn the trend around, Miller is hosting a "Change D.C." rally in Anchorage on Thursday, which will feature appearances by Sarah and Todd Palin. (I guess the Palins got over his awkward commments about whether she's qualified to serve as president.)

So if Alaskans are jumping off the Miller boat, where are they going? The Hays poll also asked likely voters, "If the election for U.S. Senate were held today, and the candidates were Joe Miller, Scott McAdams, Frederick Haase, Tim Carter, Ted Gianoutsos, or another candidate you have to write in, for whom would you vote, or are you undecided?" The results found Democrat Scott McAdams now ahead, at 29 percent to Miller's 23 percent. The majority of respondents, 34 percent, said they'd write someone in—the most likely option being incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Another 13 percent of voters said they are still undecided.

Meanwhile, Murkowski's write-in bid got a boost Wednesday, as Alaska's Supreme Court ruled that voters could be shown a printed list of names of write-in candidates in polling places. This could significantly improve the chances that voters not only remember her name, but that they spell it correctly.

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GOPer: Food Stamps "Too Darn Comfortable"

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 8:33 AM PDT

Three dollars and thirty-seven cents. That's the average benefit an individual on government food stamps receives each day, according to the USDA. Here in DC, it's enough to buy, say, a box of cereal or a head of lettuce or a couple cans of beans. Would you call that $3.37 a day "too darn comfortable"?

Nick Popaditch, a Republican House candidate in California and retired Marine, did just that last week in a debate with opponent Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.). As Think Progress reported, an audience member at the debate asked Popaditch how, if elected, he would ensure there were "no further cuts are made to the food stamp benefits." I'll bet the questioner didn't expect this response:

What would I do to make sure no further cuts are made to food stamp benefits? Wow. Once again, I recognize there’s a difference between an entitlement and a promise. Now that would fall under the category of an entitlement. Now I believe in a safety net, but I certainly don’t think we need to make it too darn comfortable down there on that safety net. I’m not a cruel man, but I think we absolutely need to make these systems not as comfortable as they are now.

"Too darn comfortable"? $3.37 a day? At a time when the shelves of food banks across the country are bare due to skyrocketing demand, when the country's largest food charity is helping to feed 37 million Americans (including 14 million children) each week, when more than a third of households needing food from shelters have to choose between food and other essentials including rent and health care, Popaditch's remark is as tone-deaf and off the mark as you'll hear all election season.

Here's the video of Popaditch making the remark, via Think Progress:

The Only Poll You Need to Read

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 7:48 AM PDT

Amid the reams of polling data out there, most tracking the political horse race and foretelling Tuesday's midterm election results, there's really only one you need to read—and it doesn't involve politics at all.

According to a new Washington Post poll, 53 percent of Americans surveyed said they were "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about being able to pay their next monthly mortgage bill. Not surprisingly, that especially applies to working class Americans; African Americans, too, disproportionately worried that they didn't have the money for their house payments. By comparison, the Post notes, only 37 percent of those polled felt the same way two years ago, as the subprime bubble began to burst and Wall Street teetered on the brink. And against the backdrop of a national foreclosure crisis, with allegations of wrongdoing by mortgage companies swirling around and 50 state attorneys general probing Wall Street's biggest mortgage companies, 52 percent of respondents said the Obama administration should impose a foreclosure moratorium, freezing the process until the paperwork shenanigans are fixed.

So there you have it. More than any political poll, the Post's survey shows just why anxiety and fear and anger are pervasive this election season. Yes, Americans are concerned about federal deficits; yes, they may worry President Obama is leading the country in the wrong direction; and yes, they may think Congress is doing a terrible job. But not being able to simply stay afloat—for many, mortgage payments are their biggest monthly expense—is much more immediate than those other concerns.

Despite slight improvements in the economy, more and more people are living paycheck to paycheck, stringing together a living during this non-recession recession of ours, with little or no cushion in case of emergencies financial, medical, and so on. That more than half of the country, as the Post poll suggests, fear can't even pay their bills on time, and could face foreclosure if they fall behind, is as revealing a glimpse into the American psyche as you're bound to find.

Here's more from the Post:

Julie Wharton, 37, who works at a nonprofit agency for at-risk children in Florence, Ky., near Cincinnati, said she worries she will no longer be able to pay the mortgage on her three-bedroom ranch house if she loses her job and can't find another one quickly.

"It's always right there in the back of my mind," Wharton said. "If I was out of work for any length of time, this is something that would happen to me."

Worry is twice as high among those with household incomes of less than $30,000 as it is among those with annual incomes of $75,000 or more. Fully 75 percent of African Americans are concerned, including a majority, 55 percent, who are "very concerned."

Outside Election Spending Doubles in Two Weeks

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 7:38 AM PDT

Outside spending on the election crossed a threshold on Thursday—a rather large one. Outside groups have spent more than $400 million this election season—a figure that has doubled in just the past two weeks, according to data from the Sunlight Foundation. As of Thursday morning, total outside spending was up to $424 million.

Right now, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leads the pack, with $23 million spent in the past five days. The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is in second, at $9.7 million

Leading the non-campaign committee totals is Crossroads GPS, the 501(c)4 wing of an effort led by Republican operatives (including Karl Rove), at $3.99 million. It's followed closely by its sister organization American Crossroads, a 527, at $2.37 million (here's a good explainer about the relationship between the two groups, and how they differ). The National Education Association Advocacy Fund has been the third-biggest spender in the past five days, at $2.45 million.

The race drawing the most money in the past five days, at $5.5 million, is the Pennsylvania Senate duel between Pat Toomey (R) and Joe Sestak (D). The Washington State Senate race between Patty Murray (D) and Dino Rossi (R) has drawn $4.4 million in outside spending.

Sunlight's "Follow the Unlimited Money" tracker is keeping close tabs on outside spending. It's also a good place to see just how fast that spending is ramping up in the final days before the election; the total jumped up $10 million as I typed this post.

Foreclosuregate in 30 Seconds

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 6:20 AM PDT

"Foreclosuregate," as it's been dubbed, is a complex mess of a problem. You've got "robo signers," the mortgage servicing employees who scrawled their signatures on hundreds of thousands of crucial legal filings without knowing what they said (violating federal rules), and "foreclosure mills," the full-steam-ahead law firms that cut corners and allegedly broke the law in foreclosing on homeowners quick and dirty (and are now facing multiple investigations). There's trusts and mortgage-backed securities and securitization itself. The list goes on and on.

But if you're looking for a quick, 30-second take on why Foreclosuregate matters, want to know what's at stake with this deception of the legal process and the questions surrounding millions of foreclosures nationwide, watch the clip below. It features Damon Silvers, policy director at the AFL-CIO and member of the Congressional Oversight Panel, a bailout watchdog, giving as succinct a take on the foreclosure mess as I've heard.

(H/T Karl Denninger)