Mojo - November 2010

Wells Fargo Dumps Foreclosure King

| Mon Nov. 15, 2010 6:00 AM EST

The bleeding just won't stop for David J. Stern, the South Florida foreclosure baron and attorney who built an empire within the foreclosure industry, only to see it crumble. The subject of an eight-month investigation by Mother Jones published in August, Stern and his companies learned this past week that Wells Fargo was the latest bank cutting ties with Florida's foreclosure king, who handled thousands of foreclosures for the bank. Wells said it will instead send cases to other Florida foreclosure firms, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Wells Fargo's dumping of Stern comes a week after the twin government housing corporations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, severed ties with Stern's firm and went so far as to seize documents from inside the firm. The two housing giants, who until recently counted Stern among their go-to law firms in Florida, previously ranked among the attorney's top clients; so tight were Stern, Fannie, and Freddie that he called them his "babies," according to a former employee of Stern's. In addition to Wells, Fannie, and Freddie, Wall Street heavyweights Citigroup and GMAC have stopped doing business with Stern, who's also under investigation by the Florida attorney general's economic crimes division.

The fallout for Stern has been massive. He himself wrote in a letter to terminated employees that he's lost more than 90 percent of new business in the past six months. In the same letter, he wrote that 70 percent of employees will be laid off due to the company's downturn; so far, more than 400 employees have lost their jobs within Stern's operation. Meanwhile, his publicly traded real estate processing company, DJSP Enterprises, has seen its stock plummet, from $6 in June to $0.71 on Friday.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 15, 2010

Mon Nov. 15, 2010 5:30 AM EST

Soldiers from 82nd Airborne prepare for a reintegration jump. Photo via U.S. Army.

Cory Booker: The Art of Slashing Government Waste

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 10:08 PM EST

-Mark Madeo/Courtesy of the Redford Center-Mark Madeo/Courtesy of the Redford CenterNewark Mayor Cory Booker pulls out a dazzling number of personal stories, quotes, and poems that make you feel like a selfish whiner who just hasn't pushed hard enough. "Social change is not about one big election, or one big speech," he said Thursday to an audience of about 300 Bay Area folks who came to "The Art of Activism" event at San Francisco's Sundance Kabuki Cinema. America has to move from "sedentary agitation" to "small, daily acts of love and kindness that people do when no one is watching," Booker argued, clad in a black suit and tie, at times closing his eyes like a charismatic preacher at the height of a spiritual moment.

How many times have you heard about the power of small acts of kindness? Yeah, one too many. But the cliche takes on new meaning when Booker makes the point through his almost-too-good-to-be-true autobiographical sketches. The media love Booker, so his story is well known: Shortly after going to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar—as well as Stanford and Yale—he started a stint as a Newark city council member at 29 and moved into a troubled public housing complex, where he lived—often without hot water and heat—from 1998 to 2006. "My parents told me I will always learn more form a woman on the fifth floor of a public housing complex than my fancy professors," he said.

Bobby Jindal, Reborn to Run

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 6:00 PM EST

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's debut book, Leadership and Crisis, comes out on Monday, and Politico's preview makes it sound like the one-time-and-potentially-future GOP golden boy spends a significant part of it criticizing President Obama for playing politics with the Gulf oil spill. Jindal highlights this as evidence of the greater state of affairs in Washington, where, he writes, "Political posturing becomes more important than reality."

But wait—doesn't using your first book as a 39-year-old first-term governor and presidential hopeful to accuse the Obama administration of playing politics…amount to playing politics, too? During the crisis it was clear that Jindal saw the spill as a way to regain some national attention.

After his disastrous State of the Union rebuttal last year, his first foray into the national spotlight, Jindal laid fairly low. But in the wake of the spill, he spared no effort when it came to lobbing rhetorical bombs at the administration, including accusing it of "making excuses for BP" and lambasting the lack of "detailed plans" for response.

Jindal's criticism ignored the fact that, as a member of Congress, he himself played a major role in efforts to open vast new areas offshore for drilling—without doing anything in the way of improving regulations.

Jindal clearly saw his battles with the administration over the spill response as political opportunities. He hammered the White House on issues like building sand berms along the coast, even after the federal government gave the state permission to build them and even when the state was flagrantly violating the permits it was granted. Jindal's berm war was little more than political grandstanding, at the cost of long-term protection of his state's coastal ecosystems.

So it's little surprise that Jindal makes a big deal of this issue in his new book. Nor is it surprising that his supporters are already planning fundraisers for this "eventual presidential contender."

How Not to Win Friends in Washington, Tea Party Edition

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 2:20 PM EST

Watching the tea party movement try to take on the Washington establishment over the coming months may be one of the best forms of entertainment to be had this year, as the political novices try to match wits with people who've been playing the influence game for decades. Consider the latest:

In the wake of their big election "victory," the Tea Party Patriots (TPP) hastily organized an orientation session for newly elected members of Congress in DC. The national tea party umbrella group rented space at the swank Ronald Reagan building, arranged for more than 100 of its local coordinators to be flown in for the event, and even pulled Reagan-era attorney general Ed Meese out of the mothballs and signed him on as a keynote speaker. After shelling out more than $100,000, the group discovered that it wasn't the only one interested in getting to those newly elected freshmen. The Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, had also organized a similar event. Worse still, it was scheduled for the same day and time as the tea party orientation. 

The tea partiers responded by lobbying the newly elected lawmakers to come to their event instead of the one organized by the Claremont Institute. TPP sent out an indignant email blast suggesting that Claremont was simply hosting a GOP event in disguise, and that the competing "orientation" was an attempt by lobbyists to get first crack at the freshman class. "DC insiders, the RNC, and lobbyists are already trying to push the Tea Party aside and co-opt the incoming Congressmen," the group wrote. TPP even asked its members to call the soon-to-be members of Congress and lobby them personally to come to the tea party event. This turned out to be a pretty bad idea. The email TPP circulated contained the personal cell phone numbers of some of the freshmen, who for a 24-hour stretch, received non-stop calls from tea partiers. Those calls did not, of course, go over well with their intended targets. On Friday, TPP sent out another email to activists urging them to stop calling the freshman, writing:

We listed the contact information we had for these freshmen and we now know that some of it was personal cell phone numbers or fax numbers. This list was the best information we had at the time. We also understand that sometimes members of Congress find it annoying to receive numerous calls from voters. But we encourage them to remember it is part of the job and they asked to be hired. This will not be the last time.

Not only that, but TPP included a few people on its list who hadn't actually won their elections, so the likes of Virginia's Keith Fimian and a few others also got assaulted with phone calls, prompting the group to acknowledge its bungling:

We need to offer our sincere apologies to a John Koster, Jesse Kelly, and Keith Fimian who ran for office and did not get elected but we had them listed on our list of people to call. These are people who stepped up and were willing to serve the public. They lost their elections and need to be able to get back to their lives. We offer our most sincere apologies to you for having melted your phone lines.

Meanwhile, the initial tea party hysteria over the Claremont Institute event proved to be, well, hysteria. Both Claremont and the RNC have said that the Institute's shindig had nothing at all to do with the GOP, and that it was actually proposed by the freshmen themselves. Given the JV nature of TPP's organizing effort in DC, it will be interesting to see just how the tea partiers are going to "orient" the incoming congressional freshman. It sounds like it's the tea partiers themselves who could use the tutorial on the ways of Washington.

Should Eric Holder Resign?

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 2:14 PM EST

barack obama and eric holderPresident Barack Obama with Attorney General Eric Holder. | White House photo.

Everyone should read Wil Hylton's GQ piece on the almost total failure of Eric Holder's Justice Department to live up to the ideals that he and President Barack Obama professed before the 2008 election. The Obama administration was supposed to bring a new era of accountability, transparency, and rule of law to the Justice Department. Here's Hylton:

During the 2008 campaign, no other issue defined Barack Obama like his promise to restore America's commitment to international law. Other items may have topped his domestic agenda, but as a symbol of what Obama's candidacy meant, of what his election signified to the world, nothing conveyed his message of "change" like the pledge to repair American justice.

"Obama promised change on a variety of fronts, but the central front was the rule of law," says Georgetown law professor and civil-liberties scholar David Cole. "He promised to restore our standing in the world by restoring our commitment to constitutional and international law."

That hasn't happened: Guantanamo is still open, terrorist suspects are still being held indefinitely without charge, no one has been prosecuted for crimes related to abusive interrogations (odds are that no one will be), and despite the much-touted prospect of an independent DOJ, Holder seems to have consistently toed the White House line.

Many insiders blame all this on Rahm Emanuel, the recently departed White House chief of staff. But the buck stops with the President. The real question, Hylton writes, is this:

If anything, Emanuel's departure brings into focus the more elusive question that has surrounded the Obama White House since day one: how much Emanuel actually drove administration policy, and how much he only reflected it. I had come to Holder's office to find out: Did Rahm's departure signal a new opening, or was the problem never with Rahm at all?

Spoiler Alert: Rahm probably wasn't the problem.

As Marcy Wheeler writes, Hylton's story is "rich in capturing Holder’s self-denial, his attempts to ignore that his actions directly violate principles he laid out before he became Attorney General." Then there's the devastating conclusion:

As we went back and forth [over the case of Anwar Al-Awlaki, the radical cleric (and US Citizen) the Obama administration wants to kill without due process], I began to realize that it was impossible to know how much of Holder's argument he really believed, and how much he was merely willing to say. Like any good political appointee, he was prepared to defend the policy whether he liked it or not. And in that case, maybe it didn't matter what he supported; promoting the policy was supporting it. I was reminded of something one of his friends had told me, a former DOJ official who has known Holder since the beginning of his career: "Eric has this instinct to please. That's his weakness. He doesn't have to be told what to do—he's willing to do whatever it takes. It's his survival mechanism in Washington."

And then I remembered another moment, months earlier, sitting in his office on the heels of the KSM decision. Holder seemed deflated and tired, and in an attempt at humor, I pointed to the painting of Bobby Kennedy and made a joke about the independence of the attorney general. Holder bristled. "Some people say Bobby was pretty independent," he snapped.

I nodded, and he seemed to relax. "But yeah," he said, pointing at another painting across the room. "By contrast, Elliot Richardson."

As Nixon's third attorney general, Richardson lasted only five months, resigning in protest when the president ordered him to fire the Watergate prosecutor. "He has just one year under his name," Holder mused. "There's no dash. There's no hyphen. He lasted just a number of months, but he did the job. He did the absolute right thing. When asked to do something he felt was inconsistent with his oath as attorney general, he resigned."

Holder paused.

"So," he said quietly. "He's a hero."

If Holder really believes in the ideals he promoted before the election, he should resign. It's hard to think of anything that would draw more attention to the Obama administration's failures and broken promises on civil liberties. With John Durham's investigation wrapping up (and neutered anyway), something dramatic like Holder's resignation is the only thing that could really strike a blow for accountability and justice. Anyway, read Hylton's whole piece. It's a barnburner.

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GOP Energy Committee Fight Gets Ugly

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 1:57 PM EST

I reported recently that Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.)—famed of late for his apology (and later apology for that apology) to BP—is seeking a term limit waiver so he can again serve as chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Well, there's been plenty of action recently when it comes to GOP jockeying for top spot on this key panel.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) still looks like the frontrunner for the post. Republican caucus rules state, "No individual shall serve more than three consecutive terms as chairman or ranking member of a standing, select, joint or ad hoc committee or subcommittee," which preclude Barton, currently the ranking member, from taking the post. That is, unless he can convince fellow Republicans to give him a free pass for another turn.

Meanwhile, someone—allegedly team Barton—has been circulating a detailed, 22-page record of Upton's voting history, an attempt to prove that he doesn’t have the conservative bonafides to serve in the top spot. Barton told The Hill yesterday that he's not behind the oppo report. Meanwhile, he is circulating a letter signed by three Republican committee chairmen supporting his bid.

“We believe he deserves that second term now, and that neither the spirit nor the letter of the rule was ever intended to prevent it," wrote Bill Archer (R-Tex.), Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) in a letter to the House GOP Transition Team this week.

Upton, for his part, has been flexing his conservative credentials in the media, with recent columns in the Washington Times and Human Events highlighting his plans to badger the Environmental Protection Agency and White House Energy and Climate Adviser Carol Browner.

Meanwhile, there's still an outside chance that someone else on the committee could take the top spot—someone like Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). Shimkus, in an interview with Politico this week, reaffirmed his belief that the climate change isn't happening because it's not in the Bible. Yes, you read that right. Shimkus has said for some time that the basis for his disbelief that climate change is an urgent concern is the book of Genesis. Now he could potentially end up in charge of the committee that takes the leading role on this area of policy. If that's the case, God help us all.

GOP's Earmark War Heats Up

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 1:23 PM EST

That GOP earmark war Mother Jones has been reporting on? It's heating up.

On Wednesday, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe came out in staunch opposition to South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint's proposed two-year ban on earmarks. So far, DeMint has managed to bring at least a dozen fellow Republicans on board, including tea party-backed freshmen like Utah's Mike Lee and Florida's Marco Rubio. The (non-binding) ban is scheduled to come to a (secret) vote on Tuesday, and would apply only to Republicans.

But events of this week have done little to quell the speculation that the GOP is in serious crisis over the issue, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell mounting a quiet effort to counter DeMint. His reasoning: that banning earmarks doesn’t do enough to curb government spending. And if Congress gives up its right to earmark, it places the power of the purse squarely in the hands of the president (and, of course, Democrats, who aren't subject to the moratorium).

In solidarity with DeMint, the Tea Party Patriots sent out a letter to their followers, backing DeMint's moratorium. Inhofe, though, is determined to show them the light. Late yesterday, Politico's Manu Raju reported that the Oklahoma senator spoke on the phone with one of the group's national leaders, Mark Meckler, to convince him that earmarks can be a force of fiscal good. From Politico:

It was a brief conversation, in which Inhofe said he wanted to provide Meckler’s group with an essay titled "The Secret About Earmarks." It argues that eliminating them "won't save taxpayers a single dime." ... Meckler said in an interview that the phone call was "bizarre," adding that "we normally don't have a lot of direct contact with senators."

Inhofe claims he can change the minds of those who have been "brainwashed," likening the misinformation on the evil of earmarks to that whole global warming hoax.

Inhofe spokesman Matt Dempsey says the senator has been a big supporter of the tea party. He characterized the senator's outreach drive as a series of simple exchanges with old friends in conservative circles, like FreedomWorks leader and former House majority leader Dick Armey. "He's working closely with friends," Dempsey said of Inhofe. "This is really zeroed in on folks that he's worked with for a number of years."

Dempsey suggests that the perceived gulf between Inhofe and DeMint isn't as wide as the media has portrayed it. "They may not be as far apart as the media might be characterizing it," he says. "We feel like [DeMint's] resolution may go too far, and cede too much authority to the Obama administration. So we probably are a lot closer than lot of these articles are suggesting."

Guest-blogging at the Washington Post's Plum Line, The American Prospect's Adam Serwer writes that:

Conservatives target earmarks because, in isolation, they're often hard to defend, and they're an easy symbol of Washington greed to rail against. The problem is that while they are frequent fodder for political rhetoric, they account for less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Republicans remain steadfastly committed to preserving the Bush tax cuts for the rich and they've been laughably demure on what federal programs they would actually cut. But they've managed to get into a heated argument among themselves over whether or not to cut a miniscule part of the federal budget.

Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's vote, the brewing storm's climax presents an early, perhaps unwanted showdown between the party's ruling class and its incoming band of tea party insurgents.

Jon Stewart vs. Rachel Maddow: The Uncut Interview

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 1:21 PM EST

Daily Show host Jon Stewart went on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show Thursday night to talk about the criticism of his rally—specifically the charge, made by Bill Maher and others, that Stewart was drawing a false equivalence between left and right, MSNBC and Fox News. The "Interview to Restore Sanity" was lengthy, contentious, and thought-provoking, but (as is always the case with Maddow's interviews) remarkably civil. Here's the uncut version:

There's a lot in there to think about—really too much to easily react to in a short blog post. But this, from Maddow's follow-up interview with Lawrence O'Donnell, is a good summary of the points she was trying to make:

The criticism is not Daily Show-specific. It is more broad... There isn't a mirror image between left and right either in hyperbole, propensity to shout, propensity to say unkind things—or, I guess, indefensible things. I don't think there's a mirror image, and I certainly don't think there's a mirror image between what we do at MSNBC and what Fox does.

It shouldn't be surprising to anyone that Maddow, as a liberal, thinks that her side "plays nicer" than the other side. Stewart would probably point out that many people on the right feel the same way. That's true—and as Stewart argues, it's a good reason for people to not think of their ideological opponents as "evil" or "bad." Most people have good intentions. Sometimes good people do bad things—but that doesn't necessarily make them "evil."

There's a level of analysis that has to come after you acknowledge that both sides sincerely believe they are right and they are playing nicer than the other side: deciding what the truth is. Either one side is nicer and/or more correct than the other, or the two sides are equivalent. This is something that is knowable. People will of course disagree over the answer. But people like Maddow shouldn't come in for criticism simply because they've decided that, in fact, their side is right and "nice." She believes what she's saying. She's passionate. She's open about her biases and opinions. Is that so wrong?

Utah Conservatives vs. Arizona-Style Immigration Laws

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 12:18 PM EST

While some states have vowed to embrace Arizona's harsh approach to cracking down on illegal immigrants, others are running in the other direction. In Utah, a coalition of political, business, and religious leaders have joined forces to back a declaration of principles called "the Utah Compact," which highlights the economic contributions of illegal immigrant workers in the state and emphasizes that immigration enforcement is predominantly a federal issue. Utah's Republican Attorney's General, a conservative Utah think-tank, and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce are among those that have signed onto the compact. The Mormon Church has also come out in favor of it, and Democrats such as the Salt Lake City mayor have also signed on. The Salt Lake Tribune lays out the agreement's core principles:

The compact was set up as an immigration policy document designed to reduce angry rhetoric and emphasize empathy and economic contributions made by undocumented workers within the state. The compact declares immigration a federal issue, not one that should be handled by Utah. It also says scarce law enforcement resources should focus on crime, not on civil violations, such as illegal immigration.

The Church of Latter-Day Saints makes the moral case for supporting immigrants:

Though not an official signer of the policy statement, the LDS Church threw its support behind the compact and said it is “consistent with important principles” within the faith…."We recognize an ever-present need to strengthen families,” the statement read in part. “Families are meant to be together. Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Salt Lake Chamber, Marty Carpenter, argues that harsh immigration laws could drive crucial contributions to the economy out of the state:

Carpenter said the Salt Lake Chamber has some "serious economic concerns" about policy decisions that put immigrants in a precarious position. "If we have a mass self deportation, if immigrants decide 'Utah's not the place I want to be,' our economy will suffer," he said. Immigrants pay taxes and shop at Utah stores. While Utah's economy is on the rebound, he said, "it's not a decision-proof rebound. This really isn't the time to mess with the number of consumers."

Not all Utah conservatives are on board. A GOP state legislator is still planning to introduce an enforcement-heavy bill to combat illegal immigration in Utah, albeit a proposal that's comparatively less harsh than Arizona's. But the Utah Compact is a sign that the Bush-era coalition that stood behind immigration reform has a chance of being revived, even at a time when conservative lawmakers are comparing illegal immigrants to rats and livestock. Bush managed to unite the business community, religious leaders, and center-right Republicans behind his immigration plan, which ultimatley failed. Though partisan-fueled gridlock will make it unlikely for those groups to re-unite in Washington, state leaders who've been left to deal with the issue will be increasingly compelled to act.