Mojo - November 2010

Wall St. Bonuses Bounce Back

| Thu Nov. 4, 2010 9:47 AM EDT

The vast majority of the country is still slogging through these grim economic times, with 9.6 percent unemployment and anemic economic growth. Last week, claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly jumped by 20,000, to 457,000, and the Labor Department is projected to announce a higher unemployment rate in its monthly jobs report tomorrow. But on Wall Street, in spite of diminished trading profits, one symbol of excess has fully bounced back: bonuses.

This year's Wall Street bonuses, the New York Times' Susanne Craig reports, are expected to increase 5 percent; more specialized financiers could see bonuses rise by even 15 percent. This new data comes from a soon-to-be-released report by Alan Johnson, who studies finance compensation with Johnson Associates, a New York-based consulting firm. As Johnson told the Times, "I did not expect compensation would come back the way it has. I underestimated the industry’s resiliency."

Craig rounds up some anecdotal evidence as well to illustrate how the heady, bonus-fueled days on Wall Street are back once again:

One does not have to look far to see that Wall Street has found its stride again. Hot new restaurants are opening, and they are packed with traders and investment bankers. John DeLucie, the chef and one of the owners of The Lion restaurant, one of Greenwich Village’s newest hot spots, said business had been surprisingly strong since it opened in May.

Customers are buying vintage bottles of wine; the restaurant recently sold a 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild for $3,950. “We are seeing a lot of luxury purchases, like vintage Bordeaux, things that we haven’t seen sell well in a few years,” Mr. DeLucie said.

Which sounds an awful lot like this 2004 Times story, "That Line at the Ferrari Dealer? It's Bonus Season on Wall Street," from when the housing mania was at its peak:

While the Maybach, an exclusive line of luxury cars made by Mercedes-Benz that starts at $315,000, appears on the wish lists of many bankers, relatively less expensive models from Aston Martin, Bentley, and Maserati have also been popular. Michael Parchment, general manager for Miller Motorcars, a luxury dealership in Greenwich, said demand had been soaring.

''It's probably up 20 to 30 percent from the same time period last year,'' he said. ''Unfortunately, production isn't up.'' The result, he said, are some unhappy bankers.

One more nugget for you, a number to keep in mind: Between Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase, the amount of money set aside for bonus pay this year totals a staggering $90 billion. That's actually down about 3 percent from last year, Craig notes—but by comparison, it's also larger than the GDPs of 157 of the world's countries.

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The Billion-Dollar Batting Averages of 2010's Shadow Spenders

| Thu Nov. 4, 2010 5:15 AM EDT

The real story of the 2010 midterm elections wasn't the tea party, but instead the rise of deep-pocketed, secretive outside groups that spent nearly $300 million to influence last night's (and this morning's) results. These groups have anodyne names like American Crossroads or American Action Network or the Alliance for America's Future, and more importantly, don't have to disclose who's pumping cash into their war chests. They're mostly right-wing: conservative outside groups outspent lefty groups by a more than two-to-one margin, $187 million to $90 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But not all of the outside groups are new to politics. The US Chamber of Commerce, which has been intervening in congressional races for years, was one of the biggest independent spenders in this year's election, throwing tens of millions of dollars at races from California to New Hampshire.

California's Next Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom

| Thu Nov. 4, 2010 5:07 AM EDT

On Tuesday night, pretty much everyone who showed up at Mayor Gavin Newsom's campaign party in San Francisco told me how awesome he'll be as California's next lieutenant governor. This struck me as a funny because rather than running a major metropolitan city, the Lt. Gov. position only focuses on two main issues: the state's struggling higher education system (the Lt. Gov. sits on the University of California's Board of Regents and on the CSU Board of Trustees) and the environment (the Lt. Gov. is a member of several commissions that make offshore drilling-type environmental decisions).

Newsom's campaign party headquarters was stationed in the back room of a rustic-looking brick tequila bar called Tres Agaves, where the 125 supporters crammed inside commiserated over incoming election results, cocktails, and vats of chips and salsa. Near a flat screen TV broadcasting MSNBC's election coverage (it was changed to a local network at some point), Lowell High School teacher Ken Tray sat with three other members of the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), a 6,000 member public school teachers union.

"San Francisco is one of the best urban school districts in California," says Tray, who's also UESF's political director. "Newsom did that by creating partnerships with school unions. He’s been very good to educators in San Francisco and to us. That’s the bottom line."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 4, 2010

Thu Nov. 4, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

Spc. Edward Yakubian from Hull, Mass., a member of Combat Observation Lasing Team 4, Fire Support Element speaks with members of the Afghan uniformed police during an assessment of their facilities and infrastructure given by the Task Force Currahee Military Police Platoon, 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from Fort Campbell, Ky., on Combat Outpost Munoz, Paktika province, Afghanistan, Oct. 13, 2010. Photo via U.S. Army.

Corn on "Hardball": Can the Tea Party and the GOP Govern Together?

Wed Nov. 3, 2010 6:43 PM EDT

David Corn and Pat Buchanan joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss how the tea party victories will influence GOP leaders in Washington.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Muslimophobia: Election Roundup

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 5:48 PM EDT

First, the good news: Many anti-Muslim candidates did not get elected Tuesday. Now the bad news: Alas, several anti-Muslim candidates won—mostly in the South. Oh, and Oklahoma became the first state to ban sharia law, even though only 0.8% of the population is Muslim. Below, a (fairly) complete list of vocally anti-Islam politicos in 2010. I've tried to include only candidates who won primaries, but if you have additions, please post them in the comments.

Oklahoma

Question 755: Banning of Sharia and international law. This measure, aka "Save Our State," amends the state's constitution to forbid Oklahoma judges from "considering or using" international or sharia law when deciding cases. The bill's sponsor, Oklahoma State Senator Rex Duncan, admits that no judge in the state has ever tried to use sharia law. As he told Fox News, "we want to make sure they never will." He's called the bill a "preemptive strike" against sharia.

PASSED 70% / 30%

Delaware

Christine O'Donnell for Senate: O'Donnell worked with an aide who, as we reported, pushed the idea that Obama was secretly Muslim and would always be one, despite attending Christian churches for decades. On another note, O'Donnell said it was "refreshing" to go on a Bible-themed tour of Jordan because she found the culture more modest. She's a bit of a mixed bag (declined to endorse or condemn the mosque near Ground Zero) but with her wacky statements and fuzzy hold on separation of church and state, still probably a good thing she didn't get elected.

FAILED 40% / 56.6%

New York

Carl Paladino for Governor: Paladino said the proposed Islamic center near ground zero "makes a mockery of those who died there" and promised to stop it if elected in this campaign ad. He called it "a monument to those who attacked our country," simultaneously espousing that Muslims are not Americans and they're all terrorists. Paladino went further to propose no mosque be built where the 9/11 "dust cloud" had been.

FAILED 34% / 61.5%

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Young Voters to Senate Dems: You're Welcome!

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 5:31 PM EDT

Flickr/Momo, Creative CommonsFlickr/Momo, Creative CommonsAs I hopped on the bus Tuesday in San Francisco, I spotted only five 20- to 30-somethings with "I voted" stickers on their coats and hoodies. That's a far cry from November 2, 2008, when it seemed like every other young person in town sported an Obama t-shirt or an "I voted" sticker. But despite an obvious decrease in hype, youth voter turn out was much as MoJo blogger Kevin Drum predicted: 20%, very similar to other midterm election years.

National youth research center CIRCLE points out that youth turnout was higher—by 1 percent—in states where youth outreach groups were highly active: AZ, CA, CO, FL, OH, OR, and PA.

What, you think a 1 percent difference in a state is chump change in the larger scheme of things? Well, consider this: In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet beat Rep. Ken Buck by 1 percent. And in Washington, Sen. Pat Murray won by less than a 1 percent advantage.

So, Ezra Klein is right: Too bad Dems didn't try harder to reach out to the only constituency that favored Dems last night. And as Jamilah King over at RaceWire points out, expect them to play a lot of catch up in the next two years.

Mixed Bag for "Jack Bauer" Republicans

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 2:13 PM EDT

Meet your new congressman, America: Allen West (R-Abu Ghraib). Voters in Florida's 22nd District did what voters all over Florida did yesterday: They chose a well-financed, tea party-talking, fire-breathing right-winger. In electing West—an Islamophobic ex-Army officer who was forcibly retired from the service for his way of making Iraqi prisoners talk—voters set a so-called "Jack Bauer" Republican on Easy Street for life. And yet the GOP's other, better-educated Jack Bauer candidate—Ilario Pantano, whose anti-Islam, pro-rebellion rhetoric rivaled that of West—lost his race in an even redder district, North Carolina's 7th. How?

Olympia Snowe Better Watch Out

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 2:09 PM EDT

Republican Paul LePage managed to eek out a victory in Maine's gubernatorial race—a huge tea party triumph in one of the last outposts of moderate Republicanism. LePage had been leading for months by double-digits in the polls, but faced a stiff challenge from Independent Eliot Cutler, a former Democrat*, who closed the gap at the last minute. But LePage, who drew tremendous support from a tea party-backed grassroots movement, pulled it off—38 to Cutler's 36.7 percent—to become the state's first Republican governor in over a decade.

Cutler was emblematic of the kind of socially and fiscally moderate outlook that long characterized Maine politics—embodied in leaders like Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. LePage, by contrast, campaigned as an unapologetically right-wing conservative who bashed global warming, welfare, and taxes in equal measure. In the final months of the campaign, LePage lashed out in a series of public ragefests that threatened to derail his candidacy as his opponents tried to portray him as an unhinged extremist. But LePage had built a grassroots army from the very beginning of his campaign and successfully capitalized upon his rough-hewn appeal and rags-to-riches biography, as I explained in my recent piece on his campaign.

And LePage wasn't the only Republican upset in Maine last night: the GOP took over both the state House and Senate for the first time since in nearly three decades. The conservative revolt will not only strength LePage's hand as governor, it will also put moderate members like Snowe and Collins on serious notice. Snowe, for one, is far more popular with Democrats and Independents in the state than Republicans, half of whom think she should become a Democrat. There's growing speculation that Snowe could consider switching parties to become an Independent. Snowe's already picked up a 2012 primary challenger and, judging by last night's revolt, she's doubtlessly thinking about her own survival.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post said Cutler as a former Republican. He is a former Democrat.

Ralph Reed's Election Postmortem

| Wed Nov. 3, 2010 12:59 PM EDT

Ralph Reed, the one-time Republican whiz kid and leader of the vaunted Christian Coaltion, may have had a very public fall from grace, but he showed Wednesday that he is still one of the shrewder observers of American politics. The morning after the election he held a press conference in Washington, where he released the results of a post-election survey conducted through his new Faith and Freedom Coaltion. More on that later, but for now, a few highlights from Reed's assessment of the GOP victory:

Reed on why Sharron Angle couldn't close the deal:

The former Christian Coaltion leader posited that in Nevada, Sen. Harry Reid managed to "out-hustle" Angle on the ground. He noted that despite his group's work knocking on 72,000 doors in Nevada the week before the election in support of Angle, Reid still did one better, and that made all the difference. Reed noted that the two candidates spent so much money on advertising, which is relatively cheap in Nevada, that they were even preempting infomercials on late-night cable to find space for ads. "They fought the air wars to a draw," he said, and as people started to tune out the ads, the ground war became that much more important. It was there that Reed's activists reported, "We're getting lapped."

Reed on why Obama didn't do more:

He gave the President a lot of credit for having the "best political team I've ever seen." Which is why he said he is still puzzled why Obama didn't do more to prevent Tuesday's bloodbath, especially because the warning signs were there in 2009, when Republicans won huge victories in the Virginia and New Jersey governors' races, as well as in the race to fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts. It was in those races, he said, that consultants like him were testing messages, campaign tools and honing their strategies for 2010. But Obama, Reed said, ignored what was going on in those races and failed to counter the opposition. The result? A midterm election that was an "undisputed repudiation" of the president and his agenda. "This was an across the board electoral catastrophe" for Obama and the Democrats, he declared.

To support his assessment that the election was a direct reflection of the voters' feelings about Obama, Reed produced some exit polilng data that showed that Obama is far more hated among midterm voters than even Bill Clinton was in 1994. According to Reed's surveys, 63 percent of voters said their midterm votes were intended to send the message that they were opposed to the president and his agenda, the highest ever recorded. That figure was a bit higher than those opposed to George W. Bush in 2006 and more than 25 points higher than the voters who returned Congress to Republican control in 1994 on Bill Clinton's watch.

Reed's figures, if accurate, don't bode well for Obama, who is going to have a lot of work to do between now and 2012 if he wants to avoid becoming the next Jimmy Carter.