Mojo - March 2011

FBI: Foreclosure Crisis Helping Anti-Government Groups

| Mon Mar. 7, 2011 11:45 AM EST
Courtesy of the FBI

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on the hottest new trend in suburban real estate: With thousands of properties in suburban Atlanta currently sitting unoccupied, members of a movement with ties to domestic terrorism are moving in. Here's Tammy Joyner:

The Riverdale incident is among at least two dozen area incidents of home takeovers by the sovereign citizens, including a $1 million home in south DeKalb County seized by the sect last year. Authorities say the sect has taken over 20 metro Atlanta properties, including a shopping center. The group believes banks can't own land or property and that any home owned by a bank—including the thousands of foreclosed properties throughout Georgia—are theirs for the taking. Emmett said he also knows of cases where sect members have taken over homes being refurbished.

Sovereign Citizen ideology, as Justine Sharrock explained back in January, was central to Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner's worldview, and has long been a staple of the far-right militia movement. Fear of an encroaching New World Order are a common cause for sovereign citizens, but the ideas have also been embraced as a way out of entangling debt—or, as the case may have it, a little bit of both. In recent years the ideology, which has its roots in the white supremacist community, has increasingly been embraced by black prison gangs and black supremacist groups like the Nuwaubians.

In less depressing foreclosure news, my colleague Andy Kroll reports that foreclosure king David J. Stern is finally out of a job, after banks stopped doing business with his law firm. You can check out Andy's full report on Stern and the rise of the foreclosure mills here.

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Mitt Romney Unveils Mitt Romney 3.0

| Mon Mar. 7, 2011 10:31 AM EST
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday night, Mitt Romney gave his first major speech of the 2012 presidential campaign at a Lincoln Day dinner in New Hampshire. Romney discussed health care, the economy, and President Obama, but mostly the speech was an attempt at something the former Massachusetts governor has become quite adept at: re-branding. MSNBC's First Read nails it:

This, in short, is Romney 3.0. Romney 1.0 was the socially moderate businessman who won election as Massachusetts governor in 2002. Romney 2.0 was the socially conservative presidential candidate who ran to John McCain's and Rudy Giuliani’s right on abortion, stem cells, and illegal immigration in 2007-2008. And Romney 3.0 appears to be the repeat presidential candidate who will focus more on the economy and his business record than on social issues. Yet as the New York Times' Zeleny writes, Romney's transformation also applies to his appearance. "Mr. Romney is trying to present a more relaxed image to combat impressions that he is unapproachable and stiff. He has not been seen in a necktie for months... He turned up in the pit area of the Daytona 500 last month, mingling with race car drivers while wearing a Bass Pro Shops shirt. And last week, Mr. Romney, who put his wealth four years ago around $200 million, walked into Tommy's Barber Shop in an Atlanta strip mall for a haircut."

...

Romney 3.0 is how we all thought he was going to run at the beginning of the 2008 cycle. And it's closer to his true political identity (though we still don't know about some of his social policy stances which have, um, evolved over the last two decades). But this could be a constant theme of the 2012 campaign: Where was this Romney in 2008? Could this Romney have won in '08? Etc. As we -- and others -- have pointed out, the challenge for Romney will be if he can sell yet another political re-invention. "During a weekend speech to New Hampshire Republicans, Mitt Romney delivered what will likely be his most durable rejoinder to critics of the universal health care program he signed into law while governor of Massachusetts," the Boston Globe's Glen Johnson reported. "Still remaining, though, is a lingering, fundamental question about his authenticity that has only been perpetuated by recent appearances."

What's Happening in Iran Explained

| Mon Mar. 7, 2011 9:00 AM EST

The uprisings in TunisiaEgypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya set off a maelstrom of political unrest throughout the greater Middle East that continues to set the Muslim-majority world ablaze. But two years earlier, it was Iran that was teetering on the brink of a revolution, with reformers seeking to bring down the hardline, conservative government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

After losing to Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections held in June 2009, former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi accused him of rigging the vote—a charge backed up by the overwhelming majority of international opinion—and called on the youth of Iran to take to the streets. Thus was born the the Green Revolution, as thousands of young, determined protestors filled the streets for days, harnessing the tools of social media to plan rallies that decried their government and its religious overlords. The country seemed to be teetering on the brink of a democratic revolution.

But the revolution never came. Thanks to the brutal repression of civilian militia forces and the Revolutionary Guard, Ahmadinejad reasserted his stranglehold on power. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran estimated that 500 Iranians are serving jail terms for political protests and 500 more are detained and waiting to be processed. And 120 have been executed since the beginning of 2011.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 7, 2011

Mon Mar. 7, 2011 5:30 AM EST

Engineers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team tie in a time fuse to a detonating-cord firing system during explosives training Feb. 23, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Explosives are a primary tool used by U.S. Army combat engineers. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

The Week in Sharia: America Dodges a Bullet

| Sat Mar. 5, 2011 2:08 PM EST

What just happened:

  • Nearly 20 states have considered legislation to ban Sharia since the start of 2010—and more than half of those bills were based on the work of one man: Arizona-based attorney David Yerushalmi. So who is Yerushalmi? And how did his work spread so widely? Read my story here.
  • Meg Stalcup and Joshua Craze have your long-read of the week over at Washington Monthly. It's called "How we Train Our Cops to Fear Islam," and it's about exacty that. I have nothing snarky to say about it; just read the piece. While you're at it, check out Justin Elliott's explainer on what Sharia law actually is.
  • This footage from an anti-Islam protest in Orange County is the most disturbing six minutes of video you'll see all week.
  • Congratulations to Missouri and Alabama, which became the 16th and 17th states to consider a ban on Islamic law. When asked to explain his legislation, the sponsor of the Missouri bill referred reporters to Google; the author of the Alabama bill lifted language from Wikipedia. Stay tuned next week, when Iowa considers a bill it found on 4Chan.
  • Florida also got in on the action, introducing a bill to ban the only scary thing that's not actually happening in Florida. A similar effort in the Sunshine State failed last year.
  • Pamela Geller's organization, Stop Islamization of America, was officially designated as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Geller, in typically non-linear fashion, responded by posting the divorce papers of the SPLC's founder on her blog, and then called the label a "badge of honor." Geller's group joined the ranks of other illustrious groups like the United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and Independent Skins Southwest.
  • The Muslim Terry Jones, British cleric Anjem Choudary, was supposed to hold a rally in front of the White House this week calling for a global Caliphate under strict Sharia law. Also scheduled to attend: the Christian Anjem Choudary, Orlando pastor Terry Jones, who organized a counter-rally. Choudary ultimately cancelled, much to the dismay of Glenn Beck, who had argued that the event would be "the moment that I've been saying for five years." It wasn't.

Corn on "Hardball": Will Birther Lies Hurt Huckabee?

Fri Mar. 4, 2011 7:19 PM EST

David Corn and Ron Reagan joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the political ramifications of Mike Huckabee's lies regarding President Obama's childhood.

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

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Do Liberal Viewers Keep Glenn Beck on the Air?

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 4:52 PM EST

[Update: Friday afternoon, I spoke with Angelo Carusone of the @StopBeck effort, who has serious misgivings about some of this post. Click here to read the excellent points he made.]

Over at his corner of the site, Kevin Drum today discusses what he calls the "Glenn Beck Vortex," which has a couple of premises: that America's favorite bonkers TV entertainer has seen his day come and go; that he's scraped the bottom of the barrel in terms of producing Byzantine conspiracy theories; and that journalists who cover him do so at the risk of their own sanity. Can't argue with any of that. But coming on the heels of Beck's latest abysmal ratings report, it got me thinking: Is it actually concerned liberals who are keeping the Beckapalooza afloat? The numbers suggest it may be so.

Consider this:

In January, [Beck's] FNC show averaged 1.76 million total viewers during the 5 p.m. hour, according to Nielsen estimates—down 39 percent compared to January 2010.

And he scored just 397,000 viewers in the coveted 25-to-54-year-old demographic, a 48 percent slide.

February did not show much improvement. Through Feb. 27 his Fox show is down 26 percent in total viewers for the year (2.06 million compared to 2.89 million last year) and off 30 percent in the demo, averaging 501,000 25-to-54-year-olds vs. 760,000 last year.

Here's the salient fact: Less than one-quarter of Beck's viewers are ages 25 to 54. Assuming the number of youngs who watch him is negligible—a pretty safe assumption, I think—that means that dang near to 80 percent of his viewership is in or around senior-citizen territory. Perhaps it's no surprise that the olds like Beck. But it gets me wondering: Who exactly makes up that 25 to 54 demographic?

LSE Director Who Took Money From Qaddafi Steps Down

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 3:12 PM EST

The moral of this story is don't accept money from a ruthless dictator, especially one whose son recently got his PhD at your school. Sir Howard Davies, the director of the London School of Economics, learned that lesson the hard way. Today, he announced he's stepping down from his post amidst an investigation into money the school—and he personally—received from the Libyan government.

In 2009, under Davies' watch, the Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation—headed up by Saif "I <3 Democracy" Qaddafi, who earned a PhD from the school in 2008—gave LSE's Global Governance Research Unit a grant of £1.5 million (about $2.4 million). After word of the donation got out last month, student protests broke out on campus. In response, the school announced that it would return most of Saif's money, and that it has commissioned an independent inquiry to look into the school's relationship with Libya. The commission will also look into why the LSE accepted the donation, a $50,000 payment Davies received for advising Libya's sovereign-wealth fund in 2007, and the authenticity of Saif's PhD dissertation.

Davies originally offered to resign when news of the grant first surfaced. But the LSE council stood by him. As the controversy mounted, Davies ultimately decided it was time to go. In his resignation letter to chairman of the court of governors of LSE Peter Sutherland, Davies is careful to note that, at present, there's no reason to think that there's any connection between Saif's degree and the grant money. Davies also accepts full blame for the school's epically poor judgment:

[H]owever laudable our intentions, in the light of developments in Libya the consequences have been highly unfortunate, and I must take responsibility for that. I advised the council that it was reasonable to accept the money, and that has turned out to be a mistake. There were risks involved in taking funding from sources associated with Libya, and they should have been weighed more heavily in the balance. Also, I made a personal error of judgment in accepting the British government's invitation to be an economic envoy, and the consequent Libyan invitation to advise their sovereign wealth fund. There was nothing substantive to be ashamed of in that (modest and unpaid) work, and I disclosed it fully, but the consequence has been to make it more difficult for me to defend the institution than it would otherwise have been.

Circumstances being what they are, Davies' resignation was all but inevitable. And his penitent letter seems genuine enough. But it's hard to believe that he was the only one at LSE to show such poor judgment. As our story on the Monitor Group and prominent academics' ties to the Qaddafi regime showed, there's no shortage of institutions who are willing to hold their noses and accept fat checks for autocratic leaders. Which begs the question: who else is still out there, hoping to avoid notice? 

Newt Gingrich's Awkward Prom Photos

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 1:37 PM EST

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich launched his presidential exploratory effort yesterday, joining a GOP field that also includes pizza mogul Herman Cain and former one-term Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer. Because it's 2011, the media coverage of his announcement focused on his new website, and more specifically, its very obvious use of a stock photo to make it seem as if Gingrich and his wife, Callista, were standing in front of an adoring—and multi-cultural—flag-waving crowd (see relevant Tumblr here). As the Wall Street Journal noted, the photo is called "Large Crowd of People Holding Stars and Stripes Flags," and had previously been used by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

But what about the photo of Newt and Callista that was photo-shopped on top of the cheering throng? We tracked down the original on Gingrich Productions. It was from a photo shoot for his Citizens United-funded documentary about radical Islam, America at Risk—and there are plenty of others. Here's one, which we'll call "Unhappy Couple Standing in Front of Saplings."

Courtesy of Gingrich ProductionsCourtesy of Gingrich Productions

They look pissed!

This one's called "Couple Standing on Wooden Board":

Courtesy of Gingrich ProductionsCourtesy of Gingrich Productions

More photos here; relevant Tumblr here.
 

Whoops! Alabama Anti-Sharia Bill Lifted From Wikipedia

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 1:21 PM EST

Earlier this week, we told you about the Missouri state legislator who instructed reporters to "Google" Sharia law, because he couldn't think of any real-life examples that would justifiy his proposal to ban it. It's part of a trend: In Tennessee, the author of the state's proposed ban on Islamic law confessed that the bill could probably be phrased a little better; two weeks ago, a South Dakota lawmaker tabled his anti-Sharia proposal after learning that beheading one's wife was already illegal in the Mount Rushmore State.

But this story from Alabama, via the Anniston Star, trumps everything. State senator Gerald Allen introduced a bill to ban Islamic law from state courts, making his state the 17th to consider such a proposal since the beginning of 2010. Just one problem:

[The] definition is the same, almost word for word, as wording in the Wikipedia entry on Shariah law as it appeared Thursday. Allen said the wording was drafted by Legislative staff. A source on the staff at the Legislature confirmed that the definition was in fact pulled from Wikipedia.

Allen could not readily define Shariah in an interview Thursday. "I don't have my file in front of me," he said. "I wish I could answer you better."