Mojo - November 2012

These Guys Want to Buy Up Your Debt and Set You Free

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 6:02 PM EST

Going viral today almost as fast as a good pepper spray video is the latest idea from Occupy Wall Street: the Rolling Jubilee, a project to buy up and zero out people's debts. David "How To Sharpen Pencils" Rees explains:

Now OWS is launching the ROLLING JUBILEE, a program that has been in development for months. OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you're a debt broker, once you own someone's debt you can do whatever you want with it—traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We're playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)

Over at Slate, Matthew Yglesias offers limited praise:

That said, almost all charitable undertakings are organized around some gimmick or other that serves as a focal point and helps get people interested. If the pecularity of the distressed debt situation and the concept of a jubilee happens to inspire people and motivate them to be more generous with their time and money than would otherwise be the case, this is a perfectly good idea.

But ultimately, the Rolling Jubilee could do much more than inspire charity. Spending $500 to cancel $14,000 in debt is an amazing bang for the buck—or, seen differently, an amazing illustration of how the financial system that we all bailed out now enslaves many of us. Even if the Rolling Jubilee becomes wildly successful, it probably won't cancel out more than a tiny fraction of our trillions worth of personal debts. Its value is as a devastating political statement: Debt is cheap, except when it's owned by the banks.

Watch...

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Supreme Court Appears Ready to Nuke the Voting Rights Act

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 4:46 PM EST
President Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.

A key pillar of American civil rights law is now in danger of being nullified by the Supreme Court. 

Shelby County, Alabama, is seeking to have Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the law that first guaranteed the right of blacks in the South to vote, declared unconstitutional. Section 5 forces areas of the country with a history of discrimination—mostly, but not entirely in the South—to ask the Department of Justice for its approval before making any changes to election rules. The DOJ is then supposed to ensure any changes protect Americans' voting rights. The law has a provision allowing jurisdictions to "bail out," but conservatives have repeatedly challeged the law as unconstitutional federal overreach that is no longer necessary because America has transcended its history of racial discrimination. The Supreme Court announced Friday that it would take up the case.  

The last time conservatives challenged Section 5, in 2009, the Supreme Court handed down a very narrow 8-1 ruling (Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter) that did not declare the law unconstitutional. 

The fact that the court is taking up a Section 5 case again so soon suggests strongly that the intent is to strike down part or all of the Voting Rights Act.

Although Section 5 survived in 2009, conservative justices appeared to believe that the law was discriminatory—against Southern white people. "Is it your position that today Southerners are more likely to discriminate than Northerners?" Chief Justice John Roberts demanded of the attorney defending the Voting Rights Act at the time. Despite the 8-1 vote, the 2009 decision was widely seen as leaving Section 5 hanging by a thread. The justices hinted very strongly that Congress, which had just reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in its entirety in 2006, should change the law soon or risk it being declared unconstitutional next time around

Now it looks like the conservatives on the court will get their chance. A cursory review of recent Republican shenanigans with voting rules should put the notion that the VRA is obsolete entirely to bed. With voting growing more racially polarized, the temptations to alter voting rules to disenfranchise particular constituencies is obvious. Indeed, the Department of Justice successfully challenged Texas' redistricting map because it diluted the voting power of Latinos. If the court strikes Section 5 down, one of the most effective and important powers the federal government has for ensuring that the right to vote is not abridged on the basis of race will be destroyed. 

 

Coal Exec Blames Obama As He Lays Off Miners

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 4:11 PM EST

Throughout the presidential campaign, Republicans repeatedly accused the Obama administration of waging a "war on coal." This despite the fact that the number of coal jobs is actually higher now than it was when President Obama took office, and that many of the reasons the industry has lost jobs in the past year have nothing to do with Obama—like the lower demand for coal because of cheap natural gas or declining quality in reserves.

Now that Obama won, at least one mining executive is aiming to make the "war on coal" real by laying off a bunch of workers. In Carbon County, Utah (yes, that's really its name), UtahAmerican Energy Inc. announced on Thursday that it has laid off 102 employees in response to Obama's reelection. It is a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corp., which is, as you may recall, the same company that told Ohio miners that they had to attend a Romney rally in August and that reportedly threatened employees' jobs if they didn't support the company's conservative-aligned political action committee.

The Deseret News reported on the layoffs, citing a statement from the company:

In its statement, UtahAmerican Energy blames the Obama administration for instituting policies that will close down "204 American coal-fired power plants by 2014" and for drastically reducing the market for coal.
"There is nowhere to sell our coal, and when we can, the market prices are far lower," the statement said. "Without markets, there can be no coal mines and no coal jobs."

Murray Energy also laid off 54 miners that worked for its American Coal subsidiary in southern Illinois on Wednesday. A Reddit poster says that he was among the workers laid off at one of those mines (he doesn't mention which). He posted a link to a press release that he says the company distributed to the laid off workers, as well as this statement:

I worked at a coal mine that decided today to layoff over 40 employees and the only reason that was given was that "America has betrayed coal miners" by re-electing President Obama. Despite the fact that nothing has changed in the two days since the election they decide to lay off employees. I've seen how corrupt the company can be over the years and am fairly certain the layoffs are just a way to make the President look bad.

The Washington Post reported today on the layoffs, which came directly from CEO Robert Murray, who read a prayer to staffers on the day after the election that said, "Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build." Murray has been very clear about his political views. He doesn't like Obama. It's hard not to see the layoffs as political—especially since others in the coal industry aren't predicting quite the gloomy outlook that Murray is.

And in an ironic twist, one of the reasons coal demand is down in the US, according to the CEO of another coal company, is because warmer weather means people don't need to heat their homes as much.

CIA Director David Petraeus Resigns

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 3:47 PM EST

On Friday afternoon, four-star general and CIA director David Petraeus resigned, saying he had cheated on his wife of 38 years. Petraeus was widely respected for his involvment in managing the later years of the Iraq War, earning the beltway nickname of "King David," among others. More recently, he has been under fire for this year's Benghazi embassy attack controversy.

Sources tell NBC News that deputy CIA director Mike Morrell would likely be asked to assume the role as acting director, with the possibility of making the promotion more long-term. Petraeus became director of the CIA in September 2011 after his appointment by President Obama.

Read Petraeus' resignation letter here:

HEADQUARTERS Central Intelligence Agency

9 November 2012

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA.  After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair.  Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.  This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation's Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard.  Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life's greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.  I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.
Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.

With admiration and appreciation,
David H. Petraeus 

Here's the statement by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:

DNI STATEMENT ON THE RESIGNATION OF CIA DIRECTOR DAVID PETRAEUS:

Today, CIA Director David Petraeus submitted his letter of resignation to the President. Dave's decision to step down represents the loss of one of our nation’s most respected public servants. From his long, illustrious Army career to his leadership at the helm of CIA, Dave has redefined what it means to serve and sacrifice for one's country.

Since he took over as Director in September of last year, he and I have worked together to tackle some of the most challenging issues faced by the Intelligence Community in more than a decade. Under his leadership, the CIA remained instrumental in providing our policy makers decision advantage through the best possible intelligence. I'm particularly thankful for Dave's unwavering support and personal commitment to my efforts to lead the Intelligence Community and integrate our intelligence enterprise.

Whether he was in uniform leading our nation's troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or at CIA headquarters leading the effort to generate intelligence used to keep our nation safe, Dave inspired people who had the privilege of working with him.

I have spent more than five decades serving our country–in uniform and out–and of all the exceptional men and women I have worked with over the years, I can honestly say that Dave Petraeus stands out as one of our nation's great patriots.

On behalf of the entire Intelligence Community, I thank Dave for his service, his support and his continued friendship.

James R. Clapper

And here is the White House:

November 9, 2012

Statement by President Obama on the Resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus

David Petraeus has provided extraordinary service to the United States for decades. By any measure, he was one of the outstanding General officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges, and leading our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end. As Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he has continued to serve with characteristic intellectual rigor, dedication, and patriotism. By any measure, through his lifetime of service David Petraeus has made our country safer and stronger.

Today, I accepted his resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I am completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission, and I have the utmost confidence in Acting Director Michael Morell and the men and women of the CIA who work every day to keep our nation safe. Going forward, my thoughts and prayers are with Dave and Holly Petraeus, who has done so much to help military families through her own work. I wish them the very best at this difficult time.

Obama Raised $300 Million With Big-Dollar Bundlers

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 2:25 PM EST

President Barack Obama decisively won a second term thanks to what he called "the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics." A critical part of Obama's cutting-edge political machine was the vaunted fundraising operation assembled by Obama's allies. Fueled by millions of small individual donations and big-dollar gifts from wealthy supporters, Obama's reelection effort raised north of $1 billion this election.

A tremendous, unprecedented grassroots fundraising effort accounted for a large chunk of this take. But Obama also pulled off a major big-money operation. He raised a staggering $300 million in top-dollar donations through an extensive network of so-called "bundlers," according to campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan. These volunteer fundraisers gathered donations from friends, family, colleagues, and more, each collecting between $50,000 and millions of dollars for the campaign. At last count, the Obama campaign had 758 bundlers working on its behalf; the list included Vogue editor Anna Wintour, pop star Gwen Stefani, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Presidential candidates are not required to disclose their bundlers. The Obama campaign did so voluntarily throughout the 2012 campaign. The Romney campaign never revealed its bundlers.

Several Obama bundlers say the campaign's big-dollar fundraising was so successful that the campaign revised its goal upwards at least once. Hogan notes that "it is accurate to say the goal was increased, but I don't have more details about that."

The president raised money at a blistering, historic pace during the 2012 campaign. He attended a total of 220 reported fundraisers—more than any presidential candidate before him—between the launch of his reelection campaign launch in April 2011 and Election Day. At one point, in August of this year, Obama was attending, on average, one fundraiser every 60 hours.

Dick Harpootlian, an Obama bundler and the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, says Obama's fundraising operation was like nothing he'd seen in 40 years of politics. Matthew Barzun, the former US ambassador to Sweden who oversaw Obama's bundler network, was "extraordinary," Harpootlian says. "I can't overstate how effective his focus was on fundraising and the staff that he put together."

Harpootlian added: "This was better than [the] '08 [Obama campaign], and many of the people involved in '08 were involved in this. They've learned and grown."

A Midwest-based bundler says the campaign's fundraising operation made smart investments in staff and technology early in the campaign. "There was never a moment on the campaign that I recall where it felt like they were panicked about how they were fundraising," this bundler says.

Harpootlian echoes that sentiment. He says the campaign's fundraising team succeeded in raising big money early, knowing that smaller donations wouldn't flood in until later in the campaign when more people tuned into the race.

On the weekend before the election, the president's top fundraisers joined a conference call with Barzun and Obama. The two men offered their thanks for all the help raising this vast sum of money.

But Obama had another message for this elite group of supporters, according to Harpootlian. "A number of you are coming to Chicago" for Election Day, Obama said. "But we've got doors to knock in Wisconsin." Shortly after, an email went out to fundraisers with information about buses taking supporters into Wisconsin, and with phone numbers to call to get out the vote in key states.

"You know what?" Harpootlian says. "Everybody loved it."

And indeed, Harpootlian says, some bundlers did end up in Wisconsin on Election Day—before making their way to the celebration.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 9, 2012

Fri Nov. 9, 2012 1:37 PM EST

Troopers from 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Opposing Force at the National Training Center, go on the offensive to conduct a force on force engagement with the 4th Infantry Division in Fort Irwin Calif. November 5, 2012. Photo by Capt. Chad Cooper, 11th Armored Cavarly Regiment Public Affairs Officer. 

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Koch-Backed Group Warns Chris Christie

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 1:30 PM EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Conservatives are peeved at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a GOP favorite, for praising President Barack Obama response to Hurricane Sandy days before the election. Some right-wingers even blame Christie for boosting the president's prospects at the last minute. (Christie hugged Obama! How could he?!) Now, in the aftermath of the election, a powerhouse conservative outfit partly funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers is coming after Christie on another front, sharply questioning whether the governor will sell out conservatives in the latest battle over Obamacare.

The New Jersey Legislature passed a bill on October 18 creating a state-based online health insurance marketplace; it did so because under Obamacare a state must either create its own insurance marketplace or let the federal government do it. Christie vetoed a similar state-based insurance exchange bill in May, but he said last month he wouldn't decide what to do about the new bill until after Election Day.

Enter the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed conservative grassroots group. AFP-New Jersey is pressuring Christie to reject the state exchange bill and rebuff Obamacare's requirements before November 16, the date by which states must submit its health insurance plans to the federal government. Here's what AFP-New Jersey Steve Lonegan had to say about Christie in a press release zapped out two days after the election:

Barack Obama has been re-elected. Congress will not be able to repeal the law so now the burden is on the states to thwart it. That means these bureaucratic and costly exchanges must be stopped, along with the tax increases that come along with them.

Other conservative governors across the country like Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, and others have already taken a principled stand. Where is Governor Christie? Will he stand with them? Will he prevent New Jerseyans from having their health care choices controlled by federal bureaucrats? Will he allow our state’s struggling businesses to be hammered by Obamacare's tax penalties with unemployment hovering around 10 percent? Or will he continue to go along to get along with Barack Obama?

AFP-New Jersey seems suspicious about Christie. And that last line, of course, is a jab at Christie's buddying up with Obama during Sandy's aftermath. AFP-NJ is urging its supporters to lean on Christie by calling his office and signing an online petition demanding Christie say no to Obamacare.

This preemptive chastising of Christie is an odd turn in the Koch-Christie tale. The Koch brothers have long been fans of the governor. On June 26, 2011, as Mother Jones first reported, Christie delivered the keynote speech at Charles and David Koch's ultra-exclusive seminar at the Ritz-Carlton resort near Vail, Colorado. At the event, David Koch hailed Christie as a "true political hero." He noted,

Five months ago we met in my New York City office and spoke, just the two of us, for about two hours on his objectives and successes in correcting many of the most serious problems of the New Jersey state government. At the end of our conversation, I said to myself, "I'm really impressed and inspired by this man. He is my kind of guy."

David Koch praised Christie for pushing legislation that took away the right of public workers to bargain collectively for health benefits and for pulling New Jersey out of a regional cap-and-trade market created by 10 Northeastern states to curb industrial greenhouse gas emissions. He expressed his hope of seeing Christie "on a larger stage where, God knows, he is desperately needed."

That meant the 2012 presidential race. A September 26, 2011, New York Times article cited David Koch as part of a "small but influential group of Republican-leaning donors and activists" trying to coax Christie into the contest. The following month, though, Christie announced he wouldn't run in 2012.

Might Obamacare cause a split between Christie and Kochworld? Christie has yet to say, post-election, what he will do regarding the health insurance battle underway in his state. But the Koch-funded AFP has certainly warned him that there will be a price to be paid for any further pro-Obama apostasy.

Post-Shellacking, Republicans Begin to Shift On Immigration

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 11:31 AM EST

After watching Barack Obama get reelected with a whopping 75 percent of the Latino vote, including about half of the historically Republican-leaning Cuban-American vote in Florida, Republicans are beginning to warm to the idea of comprehensive immigration reform.

During Obama's first term, Republicans successfully blocked attempts at comprehensive immigration reform and filibustered the DREAM Act. But during an interview with ABC News yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said it was time to tackle the issue:

It’s an important issue that I think oughta be dealt with. There's– this issue has been around far too long. And while– I'm– believe it’s important for us to secure our borders and to enforce our laws– I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue. And I’m confident– that– the president, myself, others– can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.

Some leading conservative pundits have also come around on the issue. Sean Hannity said on his radio program Thursday that undocumented immigrants who are "law-abiding" should be able to have a "path to citizenship" as long as the feds "secure the border." Charles Krauthammer stopped short of supporting citizenship, but said that some sort of "amnesty" had to be considered

The backlash is already manifesting. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has referred to illegal immigration as a "slow-motion holocaust," tweeted yesterday that "Obama voters chose dependency over Liberty. Now establishment R's want citizenship for illegals. You can't beat Santa Claus with amnesty." Republicans foiled George W. Bush's attempts at comprehensive immigration reform, and the party has only moved right on the issue since. Not do Republicans exactly have a spectacular record of compromise with the Obama administration. 

Republicans who believe their problems with Latino voters can be completely resolved with a shift on immigration are probably mistaken. Immigration isn't the only issue that Latinos care about, but Republican opposition to immigration reform is frequently expressed in terms that suggests blanket hostility to Latinos as a whole. Taking the issue off the table might help the GOP in that respect, but more importantly it would spur economic growth and provide a real solution for the roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US, most of whom are working hard, taking care of their families, and minding their own business. 

Corn on MSNBC: The Fiscal Cliff Fight

Fri Nov. 9, 2012 10:53 AM EST

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn joined the Guardian's Ana Marie Cox and economist Jared Bernstein on MSNBC's Martin Bashir Thursday to discuss the impending "fiscal cliff" battle between Democrats and Republicans. How will Congress reach a compromise if House Speaker John Boehner and House Tea Party members are still resistant to tax increases? Watch:

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

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 6:03 AM EST

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

 

quote of the week

"The billionaire donors I hear are livid. There is some holy hell to pay."
—A Republican operative speaking to the Huffington Post about Karl Rove, who "has a lot of explaining to do." Rove's super-PAC American Crossroads and dark-money group Crossroads GPS spent at least $175 million, but just nine of the 30 candidates that Crossroads supported won. Rove, who claimed that Obama won reelection "by supressing the vote" and with the help of Hurricane Sandy, reportedly held a phone briefing with top donors on Thursday to explain Crossroads' lack of success.

 

chart of the week

Rove wasn't the only operative with a lot of explaining to do. Other conservative super-PACs and dark-money groups that spent a lot did not see great results at the ballot box. Meanwhile, some smaller liberal and labor groups saw respectable returns on their investments.

 

stat of the week

More than $57 million: The amount of disclosed donations from casino magnate and Gingrich-Romney supporter Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam. The Adelsons' money got more mileage than Rove's, but about 58 percent of the candidates it supported still lost. Asked by a Norwegian journalist how he thought his money had been spent, Adelson replied, "Paying bills. That's how you spend money. Either that or become a Jewish husband—you spend a lot of money."

 

attack ad of the week

Conservative super-PACs had the clear money advantage throughout the 2012 election, but in the end it was an ad from the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action that became the most effective campaign spot, according to TV analytics company Ace Metrix. The ad, "Stage," was part of a nine-spot, $50 million buy in contested states hitting Romney's record at Bain Capital. During the campaign, Republican pollster Frank Luntz told the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman that "that ad alone has killed Mitt Romney in Ohio."

 

more mojo dark-money coverage

Will Republican Mega-Donors Say Sayonara to Super-PACs? Liberal bankrollers soured on partisan politics after the 2004 elections. Will Adelson and co. follow suit after 2012?
Sen. Sherrod Brown Fights Off the Dark-Money Machine to Win in Ohio: Brown's win puts Democrats that much closer to keeping their slim Senate majority.
Sheldon Adelson Is Partying With Mitt Romney on Election Night: It's the least Adelson could expect for his $53 million in pro-GOP donations this election cycle.
9 Incredible Campaign Money Stats: Some quick Election Day stats on Super-PACs, dark money, and…Justin Bieber?!
California's Biggest "Campaign Money Laundering" Scheme, Revealed—Kinda: A bitter fight in California to unmask a secretive donor ends with more questions than answers.
Charts: How Much Have the Kochs Spent to Sway the Vote?: See how much the billionaire brothers have spent in your state—and why the size of their campaign to beat Obama is a mystery.
A Dark Money Group's Sketchy Origins Emerge: More details trickle out about the big donors behind a Montana-based nonprofit that's fighting election spending limits.

 

more must-reads

• Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, who unsuccessfully challenged the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, was elected governor despite a last-minute outside-money assault. Center for Public Integrity
• The US Chamber of Commerce was another major outside-spending loser this election. Washington Post
• And Sheldon Adelson wasn't the only megadonor to back a score of losing candidates. Center for Public Integrity
• Even the anti-incumbent super-PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability had better luck than Karl Rove on Tuesday. Slate