Mojo - November 2010

A Ballot Initiative of Intergalactic Proportions

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 6:22 PM EDT

This election season there's been plenty of talk of about aliens—but not the kind that are the focus of a ballot initiative in Denver, Colorado, where I'm reporting from today. Initiative 300 asks voters a simple question: "Are you ready for the truth?" The only truth the backers of the initiative appear to be seeking, however, is access to information about what the government, military, etc. know about contact between humans and aliens. See, it's not just California that gets the fun ballot initiatives.

Here's what the backers of the ballot measure have to say about it: "Over 400 government, military, and intelligence community witnesses have testified to their direct, personal, first-hand experience with UFOs, ETs, ET technology, and the cover-up that keeps this information secret."

Think of it as an intergalactic Freedom of Information Act, if you will.

David Moye explains what passing the initiative would mean in practice:

Put it simply: If the measure is approved by the voters, Denver's mayor will have to select seven volunteers for a commission that will meet twice a year and gather the most compelling evidence regarding the existence of extraterrestrials and UFOs and put it on the city's website.
In addition, Jeff Peckman, the man behind the proposal, says the commission will be a place where citizens can report sightings and assess the risks and benefits of dealing with the E.T.s.

Peckman says that he doesn't expect only to learn about bad alien encounters—you know, the implanting-metal-things-in-your-brain and/or usurping- your-body-to-incubate-alien-fetuses type of stories. He notes also that there are "possible business opportunities or medical treatments that could come from them."

Anyway, back on this planet, I'm heading over to the election night headquarters of Tom Tancredo, the former Republican congressman who is making a bid for governor on the American Constitution Party ticket. Tancredo, of course, is much better known for his fearmongering about the kind of aliens that cross over the border from Mexico.

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Ouch! Four Democratic Double Whammies?

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 6:20 PM EDT

If the prospect of massive losses in the House and a thin Senate majority weren't depressing enough for Democrats, here's yet another downer of a factoid: In a handful of races, Democrats face a double whammy, with candidates losing both their Senate bids and their vacated House seats going to the GOP.

I'm talking about candidates including Reps. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), Paul Hodes (D-NH), and Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.). For the 2010 election, these three congressmen launched bids for the Senate, but facing a Democratic backlash and anti-incumbent wave, all have struggled to gain traction with voters. Melancon, challenging incumbent Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), has trailed "Diaper Dave" by double digits since August; a recent Magellan Strategies poll put Vitter ahead by 17 points. In New Hampshire, Hodes' bid to replace retiring Republican senator Judd Gregg has floundered, with GOP candidate Kelly Ayotte leading by a 16-point average, according to Real Clear Politics. It's the same story in Indiana, where Ellsworth is being trounced by GOP lobbyist and former congressman/senator Dan Coats by around 20-points.

It's bad enough that Melancon, Hodes, and Ellsworth's odds of winning are practically zilch. But to make matters worse, the campaigns of all three Democratic candidates angling to replace them are flailing, too. Raj Sangisetty, the Democratic candidate for Melancon's seat in Louisiana's 3rd district, has trailed his opponent by around 10 points for months; Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight puts Sangisetty's chances of winning at a measly 16.5 percent. Likewise, Hodes and Ellsworth's potential Democratic replacements trail their GOP opponents by healthy margins, and have little chance at keep those seats in the Democratic aisle.

Oh, and there's one other potential double whammy, this one in Pennsylvania. While the outcome of Rep. Joe Sestak's Senate race against conservative Pat Toomey is far less assured, Sestak's would-be Democratic replacement, Bryan Lentz, trails Republican Patrick Meehan by 5 points, according to FiveThirtyEight. Should Lentz lose to Meehan and Sestak lose to Toomey—FiveThirtyEight puts Toomey up by about 4 points, with a 97 percent chance of winning—we'll have a fourth Democratic double-loss on Election Day.

Minnesota: Vote Challengers Get Aggressive

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 5:32 PM EDT

Leading up to the election, Minnesota has been a hotbed of anti-voter fraud activity, and voting rights advocates have warned that activist fraud-spotters could resort to legally dubious poll-watching tactics. Tea party activists and conservative groups have spearheaded a massive anti-fraud effort in the state called Election Integrity Watch, which has recruited 8,000 volunteers statewide. The latest reports from the ground seem to confirm fears that Election Day vigilance could turn into voter intimidation: Minnesota election officials and others are reporting that overzealous poll watchers and vote challengers are overstepping their bounds.

In Hennepin County, for instance, election officials say they've been dealing with "overly aggressive vote challengers," the AP reports:

County Elections Manager Rachel Smith says precinct judges have had what she calls "very firm exchanges" with poll watchers who didn't seem to understand their role…wandering into secure areas and challenging voters for the wrong reasons.

Smith says challengers may only sit behind the registration tables and may only challenge someone's right to vote based on their personal knowledge, not the voter's behavior.

An official from Minnesota Majority, one of the groups behind the conservative anti-fraud effort, said he hadn't heard of such incidents and claimed his volunteers were trained correctly, the AP story adds. But complaints of overly aggressive Minnesota poll workers have also been reported to Election Protection, a voting rights advocacy group, which has a website for reporting election problems.

According to one complaint posted on the site by a volunteer, a poll worker in St. Paul told a Hispanic voter, "I think everyone should have to show their ID at the polls." Minnesota does not require voters to show ID cards at the polls, but conservative activists have been lobbying to push such a law by raising fears that non-citizens would try to steal elections. The voter took the complaint to a Ramsey County election official, receiving "a email apology and an assurance that it shouldn't have happened and election judges will be instructed to not ask for ID from voters who are already registered."

The conservative Election Integrity Watch has spearheaded an effort to push poll workers to ID voters, even threatening to sue Minnesota state officials for banning buttons that say "Please ID me" at the polls. And they haven't seemed to let up on their anti-fraud push on Election Day, according to another complaint about intimidation from Election Protection that was submitted to local election officials:

We received a report from Election Protection's volunteer that a van with a large "eyeball" sign and the message "Minnesota Stop Voter Fraud" or similar statement on the sign was slowly circling the building in which the polling place is located. The van was not going with the flow of traffic and was clearly targeting the polling place; it circled the building at least twice while the volunteer was monitoring the polling place.

Election 2010: What to Watch For at 6 p.m.

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 4:26 PM EDT

Election Day H-Hour is a little over an hour away. The first poll closings are in Indiana and Kentucky at 6 p.m. Here's what to watch for:

IN-9: This is the race to watch in the 6 p.m. hour. If Dem Baron Hill holds on against Republican Todd Young, his party could be in for a less painful night than expected.

KY-6: Blue Dog Ben Chandler is in a similar boat to Hill. If this one is close or goes to Republican Andy Barr, look for Republicans to win 60 seats or more.

IN-2: Joe Donnelly, a key member of the Bart Stupak's bloc of anti-abortion Dems, faces a stiff challenge in this northern Indiana district. If he loses, the Stupak bloc could end up nearly extinct in the next Congress.

IN-8: Senate candidate Brad Ellsworth's old district should be a very easy pickup for Republicans. If it's even close, Dems are doing way better than the polls predicted.

KY-3: This district, represented by Dem John Yarmuth, shouldn't even be on the radar for the GOP. If Republican Todd Lally wins here, Dems could be headed for an unprecedented rout.

Senate: GOPers Dan Coats in Indiana and Rand Paul in Kentucky should win easily. Expect these races to be called early.

Fannie, Freddie Seize Stern Documents

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 2:43 PM EDT

As part of their decision to cut all ties with the Law Offices of David J. Stern, the controversial foreclosure law firm and subject of a MoJo investigation in August, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have seized documents from the Stern firm in southeastern Florida, the Wall Street Journal reports today. "We have begun taking possessions of all files on Freddie Mac mortgages simply to protect our interest in those loans as well as those of the borrowers," a Freddie spokeswoman told the Journal, citing "concerns about some of the practices at the Stern firm."

As I've reported, the Stern firm has been at the center of the latest foreclosure debacle, facing scrutiny from not just Fannie and Freddie but also the Florida attorney general and Congress for its practices. Several major Wall Street clients, who previously sent the firm tens of thousands of foreclosure cases, have since severed ties with the firm, a multimillion-dollar, assembly line-like operation often dubbed a "foreclosure mill."

That Stern's firm faces such scrutiny isn't surprising, given the growing accusations of sloppy legal work and even alleged fraud by ex-employees, foreclosure defense attorneys, and judges. As I wrote in August,

Backdated documents, according to a chorus of foreclosure experts, are typical of the sort of shenanigans practiced by a breed of law firms known as "foreclosure mills." While far less scrutinized than subprime lenders or Wall Street banks, these firms undermine efforts by government and the mortgage industry to put struggling homeowners back on track at a time of record foreclosures. (There were 2.8 million foreclosures in 2009, and 3.8 million are projected for this year.) The mills think "they can just change things and make it up to get to the end result they want, because there's no one holding them accountable," says Prentiss Cox, a foreclosure expert at the University of Minnesota Law School. "We've got these people with incentives to go ahead with foreclosures and flood the real estate market."

Stern's is hardly the only outfit to attract criticism, but his story is a useful window into the multibillion-dollar "default services" industry, which includes both law firms like Stern's and contract companies that handle paper-pushing tasks for other big foreclosure lawyers. Over the past decade and a half, Stern (no relation to the NBA commissioner) has built up one of the industry's most powerful operations—a global machine with offices in Florida, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines—squeezing profits from every step in the foreclosure process. Among his loyal clients, who've sent him hundreds of thousands of cases, are some of the nation's biggest (and, thanks to American taxpayers, most handsomely bailed out) banks—including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup. "A lot of these mills are doing the same kinds of things," says Linda Fisher, a professor and mortgage-fraud expert at Seton Hall University's law school. But, she added, "I've heard some pretty bad stories about Stern from people in Florida."

At the same time, Stern's NASDAQ-traded company, DJSP Enterprises, a non-legal foreclosure processing company, has seen its value plummet. Today, DJSP's stock is trading at around 87 cents, down from $6 in June. The company has also been shedding employees at a rapid clip, having laid off hundreds of employees in the past few weeks.

Election 2010's Sleaziest Ad?

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 2:00 PM EDT

Politics doesn't get much nastier than this. Amidst the flurry of eleventh-hour attack ads and final pleas, there's one ad (actually, at 25 minutes in length, you might call it more of a dis-infomercial) that claims the mantle of "Worst Smear of Election 2010." Called "Breaking Point," it's the handiwork of the National Republican Trust PAC, which is headed by far right-winger Scott Wheeler. It has run on TV network affiliates in a smattering of states, including Kentucky, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Florida, Alaska, and North Carolina.

Below are parts 1, 2, and 3 of the ad:

1)

2)

3)

 

As others like ThinkProgress have noted, the 25-minute film is a mash-up of anti-Obama conspiracy theories and outright distortions. The ad name-checks Hamas, the New Black Panthers, and Mao Tse-tung, and draws on video clips from conservative outlets such as Townhall.com, WorldNetDaily, and—of course—Fox News. As ThinkProgress noted:

In addition to the false attacks on Obama advisers Van Jones and John Holdren, the propaganda film also repeats smears against Obama staff Anita Dunn, Kevin Jennings, Carol Browner, and Cass Sunstein. It makes the flat-out false claims that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “caused the entire home mortgage industry crisis,” that health care reform would allow the “government to take over one-fifth of the U.S. economy,” and that there is a “growing number of scientific scandals” that are “further discrediting manmade global warming claims.” When not playing inflammatory clips of angry black people, the ad also comes to defense of the billionaire Koch brothers who fund the Americans for Prosperity, claiming “Obama has repeatedly attacked a group of private citizens simply because they wanted their voices heard."

The video explicitly encourages citizens to vote against the Democratic Party. “As if to validate the very need for a citizens revolt, the establishment responded by alienating, undermining, and attacking their own voters,” the paid program electioneers, also mentioning the “midterm elections” and people “going to vote on November 2nd” in the context of defeating Democrats.

The National Republican Trust PAC's last-ditch sleaze attack is hardly a new tactic. In the final days before the 2008 presidential election, the group cut an ad, backdropped by an image of 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta, claiming Obama wanted to "give illegals Social Security" and had a "plan" to give illegal immigrants driver's license. Factcheck.org called the ad "a pile of false claims" and "one of the sleaziest false ads of the campaign." 

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Tea Partiers Allegedly Harass Black Student Voters in SC

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 1:53 PM EDT

Tea party activists in South Carolina are allegedly intimidating black college students and other black voters at the polls, according to the South Carolina Democratic Party. Early this morning, self-identified tea party activists showed up at a polling station near Benedict College in Columbia, "basically harassing students—telling people not to vote and generally making voters feel uncomfortable," says Keiana Page, press secretary for the state Democratic Party, who said that the party's legal team is currently investigating the reported incident at the historically black college.

A writer for JackandJillPolitics.com, a site run by black bloggers, also said that she had gotten a call this morning from a local resident that tea party activists were harassing students. "They are protesting student votes and making them vote with provisional ballots," Cheryl Contee reports. "Benedict is one of our proudest HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] and these kids don’t deserve this as one of their first experiences voting in America." Page tells Mother Jones that Benedict College has been "a favorite harassment spot for Republicans in 2006 and 2004," claiming that Republicans have a history of challenging student voters who registered using their college address. It's unclear whether any student voters were kept from voting due to the alleged intimidation or how many were forced to fill out provisional ballots.

The South Carolina Democrats are also investigating a separate series of incidents in the North Hope Center precinct in Sumter, South Carolina, where tea party activists have also allegedly been harassing black voters. They have been "shouting at the hard working people who have taken time from work or school and are telling them not to vote. Apparently this is happening at more than one location in Sumter," writes Tubman.

Allen Olson, a coordinator for the Columbia Tea Party, says that tea party groups throughout the state had recruited poll watchers—and one group had focused efforts in the Sumter area. Olson notes, however, he had not heard about the alleged incidents of voter intimidation. "If they're intimidating anyone I don’t condone that—I think it's appalling," he says. "As long as they're legitimately registered and legitimately voting, I have absolutely no problem with it." Depending on what's confirmed, the allegations could make it harder for tea party activists to dispel the accusation that their members are racist

The South Carolina Dems have yet to find direct evidence of Republican involvement or identified any specific tea party groups, and the state GOP did not reply immediately to a request for comment. Calling the alleged intimidation "disgraceful," Page says that these incidents are an outgrowth of this year's high stakes elections in South Carolina, where Nikki Haley's tightening race for governor, among others, have been in the national spotlight. "The tea party recognizes importance of all voters—and especially minority voters. They know minority voters will hold a great stake. They are using every trick in the book."

*Update: Kim Hunter, a spokeswoman for Benedict College, said that she hadn't received reports from students about problems at the polls. Hunter explained that students who registered on campus but didn't have their voter registration cards had to travel to the main elections office. She noted there were two white Republican poll watchers at that polling station but hadn't heard of any wrongdoing, adding that she planned to follow up with the SC Democratic Party about the allegations.

Election Chat

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 1:27 PM EDT

I'm a panelist on an Election Day live chat over at PBS MediaShift. Check it out—and come back here later for our own live election chat (and full coverage).

The Turnout Game

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 1:05 PM EDT

I'll never forget watching Mary Matalin, a George H.W. Bush operative, on television on Election Day 1992 in the late afternoon or early evening, saying that Bush was sailing toward reelection, with postivie GOP turnout being reported in key areas. She said this with a straight face, though every political professional in Washington and elsewhere already had access to the exit polls showing a Bill Clinton victory. Matalin knew that her guy was toast, but she was soldiering on. Which is what political ops do on E-Day. One way they do that is hyping turnout indicators that are—big shocker—favorable to their side. Consequently, the email I just received from the Democratic Party is not surprising. It notes:

The Ohio Democratic Party reports that they've already exceeded the number of volunteers they had hoped to deploy for Election Day GOTV activities.

   * In last 3 Days alone Ohio Democratic volunteers filled more than 9,000 volunteer shifts, made 2.1 million calls and knocked n nearly 400,000 doors

   * In the Democratic stronghold of Mahoning County, turnout for the last day of Early Voting surprised even Board of Election Director Tom McCabe, who said "We had lines all day long, 40 people deep at times. It's amazing. It was our busiest day yet for voting at the counter."

   * Students at universities across Ohio did literature drops until 1:00 am and then woke up at 5:00 am to begin their door-hanger shifts.

It also says:

* There was "a late Democratic surge in early voting in Florida, particularly among AfricanAmericans."

* "Poll workers are reporting “shocking” turnout in Democratic Strongholds in the Lehigh Valley" in Pennsylvania.

* "Dozens of students launched canvasses and 'dorm storms' from the Indiana University student union in Bloomington, where Democrats already lead in early voting."

* "Election judges are reporting long lines, greater than expected turnout in Dem stronghold Prince George's County" in Maryland.

So much good news? In the intelligence field, they call this "cherry-picking." It's what pols do before it's time to count the pits.

UPDATE: A new DNC email reports:

ILLINOIS
   * A disproportionately high number of  Cook County voters cast early vote ballots—44.2% of early vote ballots cast statewide came from this county despite representing only 38.5% of all registered voters in Illinois.
MISSOURI
   * Election judges in St. Louis say lines this am as long as 2008 in St. Louis: http://bit.ly/cyw7Gn
INDIANA
   * Strongly democratic South Bend Indiana is seeing very high voting turnout http://bit.ly/dwpTcI
PENNSYLVANIA
   * Reports in from Pittsburgh. High volunteer turn out and lots of folks out on the doors now: http://bit.ly/dne7Jn
   * In Philadelphia, local election officials are reporting strong turnout for an off-year election: http://bit.ly/bDI1Za
GEORGIA
   * 45 plus minute waits reported in heavily African American area of DeKalb County in the metro Atlanta.  Delays not caused by anything at polls, but rather people in line.
CONNECTICUT
   * Long lines in Bridgeport, a key community for many of the competitive races in CT: http://bit.ly/dwGvLC
NEW JERSEY
   * We’re getting a report that a parking lot at a polling station is so full, people are having to driving home and walking to the polls. No irregularities have been reported, just high turnout in the Garden State.  
NORTH CAROLINA:
   * There are several reports of big turnout in urban areas across North Carolina. Voters and elections officials report a steady turnout at the polls Tuesday morning on a day that some political experts say could be turf-changing for the country. http://bit.ly/cPgxqh

Another DNC update:

OHIO
   * In the first two hours of calling, Dem volunteers have made 246,343 phone calls to targeted voters – that’s a blistering 2,052 calls per MINUTE or 34 calls per SECOND.
   * More than 1,550 canvassers are now going door-to-door through our targeted communities, making sure that these voters cast their ballots today for Democrats.
PENNSYLVANIA
   * In the Lehigh Valley, election officials say they've seen three times the number of voters they're used to at this time of the day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYndhPYvHMc
   * According to NBC Philly, reports from around the state indicate that voter turnout is higher than expected: http://bit.ly/dnVKJa
ILLINOIS
   * Voters are reporting that there is heavy turnout in voting locations in the Chicago and the suburbs– even before 7:00 AM: http://huff.to/aiZTZL
KENTUCKY
   *Turnout in Democratic heavy Louisville is higher than expected according to local elections officials. http://bit.ly/cAXchu. VIDEO: http://bit.ly/adoTcX

The Teachers' Union's Election Day Push

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 1:03 PM EDT

The National Education Association, the largest teachers' union (actually, the largest union, period) in America, has long been closely tied to the Democratic Party. This election year is no different: this cycle, the union has spent some $40 million to elect (mostly) Dems around the country. (That's up from 2006, but down from 2008, a presidential election year.) 

About a third of that money—$17 million—was funneled toward independent expenditures to support three incumbent senators: Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as well as Joe Sestak, the Dem candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania. The NEA is also targeting a number of House districts the Dems stand a very good chance of losing: AZ-05 (Harry Mitchell), CO-03 (John Salazar), FL-22 (Ron Klein), IL-17 (Phil Hare), NY-01 (Tim Bishop), NC-08 (Larry Kissell), OH-13 (Betty Sutton), PA-08 (Patrick Murray), VA-05 (Tom Perriello), and TX-23 (Ciro Rodriguez). In a real GOP wave, all of those targeted candidates could lose. But the union thinks it made its targeting choices wisely: "We've been very strategic about how we spend our resources," Karen White, the NEA's director of campaigns and elections, told me last week. "We targeted [these candidates] because they need a lot of help and they're in marginal races. That's where we have the greatest ability to make an impact."

So what's happened to the rest of the NEA's investment? About a third of it was spent on ballot measure campaigns in Massachusetts and Washington, and another third went to member-to-member outreach and get-out-the-vote efforts. That last bit is what will really have an effect today.