Tag Archives: Gawker

Wikileaks 2.0

http://bankofamericasuck.com/

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

A member of the activist collective Anonymous is claiming to be have emails and documents which prove “fraud” was committed by Bank of America employees, and the group says it’ll release them on Monday. The member, who goes by the Twitter handle OperationLeakS, has already posted an internal email from the formerly Bank of America-owned Balboa Insurance Company

The email is between Balboa Insurance vice president Peggy Johnson and other Balboa employees. (Click right to enlarge.) As far as we can tell, it doesn’t show anything suspicious, but was posted by OperationLeaks as a teaser. He also posted emails he claims are from the disgruntled employee who sent him the material. In one, the employee says he can “send you a copy of the certified letter sent to me by an AVP of BofA’s [HR department] telling me I am banned from stepping foot on BofA property or contacting their employee ever again.”

OperationLeaks, which runs the anti-Bank of America site BankofAmericasuck.com, says the employee contacted the group to blow the whistle on Bank of America’s shady business practices. “I seen some of the emails… I can tell you Grade A Fraud in its purest form…” read one tweet. “He Just told me he have GMAC emails showing BoA order to mix loan numbers to not match it’s Documents.. to foreclose on Americans.. Shame.”

An Anonymous insider told us he believes the leak is real. “From what I know and have been told, it’s legit,” he said. “Should be a round of emails, then some files, possible some more emails to follow that.” The documents should be released Monday on Anonleaks.ch, the same site where Anonymous posted thousands of internal emails from hacked security company HBGary last month. That leak exposed a legally-questionable plot to attack Wikileaks and ultimately led to the resignation of HBGary CEO Aaron Barr.

Katya Wachtel at Clusterstock:

Anonymous said late Sunday evening, however, “this is part 1 of the Emails.” So perhaps more incriminating correspondence is to come. And to be honest, these messages could be incredibly damaging, but we’re not mortgage specialists and don’t know if this is or isn’t common in the field. The beauty is, you can see and decide for yourself at bankofamericasuck.com.

But for those who want a simple explanation, here’s a summary of the content.

The Source

The ex-Balboa employee tells Anonymous that what he/she sends will be enough to,

crack [BofA’s] armor, and put a bad light on a $700 mil cash deal they need to pay back the government while ruining their already strained relationship with GMAC, one of their largest clients. Trust me… it’ll piss them off plenty.

The source then sends over a paystub, an unemployment form, a letter from HR upon dismissal and his/her last paystub and an ID badge.

He/she also describes his/herself:

My name is (Anonymous). For the last 7 years, I worked in the Insurance/Mortgage industry for a company called Balboa Insurance. Many of you do not know who Balboa Insurance Group is, but if you’ve ever had a loan for an automobile, farm equipment, mobile home, or residential or commercial property, we knew you. In fact, we probably charged you money…a lot of money…for insurance you didn’t even need.

Balboa Insurance Group, and it’s largest competitor, the market leader Assurant, is in the business of insurance tracking and Force Placed Insurance…  What this means is that when you sign your name on the dotted line for your loan, the lienholder has certain insurance requirements that must be met for the life of the lien. Your lender (including, amongst others, GMAC… IndyMac… HSBC… Wells Fargo/Wachovia… Bank of America) then outsources the tracking of your loan with them to a company like Balboa Insurance.

The Emails

Next comes the emails that are supposed to be so damaging. The set of emails just released shows conversational exchanges between Balboa employees.

The following codes pertain to the emails, so use as reference:

  1. SOR = System of Record
  2. Rembrandt/Tracksource = Insurance tracking systems
  3. DTN = Document Tracking Number. A number assigned to all incoming/outgoing documents (letters, insurance documents, etc)

The first email asks for a group of GMAC DTN’s to have their “images removed from Tracksource/Rembrandt.” The relevant DTNs are included in the email — there’s between 50-100 of them.

In reply, a Balboa employee says that the DTN’s cannot be removed from the Rembrandt, but that the loan numbers can be removed so “the documents will not show as matched to those loans.” But she adds that she needs upper management approval before she moves forward, since it’s an unusual request.

Then it gets approved. And then, one of the Balboa employees voices their concern. He says,

“I’m just a little concerned about the impact this has on the department and the company. Why are we removing all record of this error? We have told Denise Cahen, and there is always going to be the paper trail when one of these sent documents come back. this to me seems to be a huge red flag for the auditors… when the auditor sees the erroneous letter but no SOR trail or scanned doc on the corrected letter… What am I missing? This just doesn’t seem right to me.

We suspect this is the type of email that Anonymous believes shows BofA fraud:

leak one

Image: Anonymous

Click here to see why these emails prove nothing interesting, and to see what what Bank of America says about the emails >

Chris V. Nicholson at Dealbook at NYT:

A Bank of America spokesman told Reuters on Sunday that the documents had been stolen by a former Balboa employee, and were not tied to foreclosures. “We are confident that his extravagant assertions are untrue,” the spokesman said.

The e-mails dating from November 2010 concern correspondence among Balboa employees in which they discuss taking steps to alter the record about certain documents “that went out in error.” The documents were related to loans by GMAC, a Bank of America client, according to the e-mails.

“The following GMAC DTN’s need to have the images removed from Tracksource/Rembrandt,” an operations team manager at Balboa wrote. DTN refers to document tracking number, and Tracksource/Rembrandt is an insurance tracking system.

The response he receives: “I have spoken to my developer and she stated that we cannot remove the DTNs from Rembrandt, but she can remove the loan numbers, so the documents will not show as matched to those loans.”

According to the e-mails, approval was given to remove the loan numbers from the documents.

A member of Anonymous told DealBook on Monday that the purpose of his Web site was to bring attention to the wrongdoing of banks. “The way the system is, it’s made to cheat the average person,” he said.

He had set up a Web site to post bank data that WikiLeaks has said it would release, and was subsequently contacted this month by the former Balboa employee. It has been speculated that the documents, which have yet to be released, would focus on Bank of America. The spokesman for Anonymous said he had no direct ties to WikiLeaks, which is run by Julian Assange.

Nitasha Tiku at New York Magazine:

WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, has threatened to leak damning documents on Bank of America since 2009. And Anonymous has backed WikiLeaks’ mission as far as the free flow of information. But these e-mails date from November 2010. Plus, they don’t exactly amount to a smoking gun. Whether or not the e-mails prove real, it’s clear Bank of America should have expanded its negative-domain-name shopping spree beyond BrianMoynihanSucks.com.

Naked Capitalism:

The charge made in this Anonymous release (via BankofAmericaSuck) is that Bank of America, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Balboa Insurance and the help of cooperating servicers, engaged in a mortgage borrower abuse called “force placed insurance”. This is absolutely 100% not kosher. Famed subprime servicer miscreant Fairbanks in 2003 signed a consent decree with the FTC and HUD over abuses that included forced placed insurance. The industry is well aware that this sort of thing is not permissible. (Note Balboa is due to be sold to QBE of Australia; I see that the definitive agreement was entered into on February 3 but do not see a press release saying that the sale has closed)

While the focus of ire may be Bank of America, let me stress that this sort of insurance really amounts to a scheme to fatten servicer margins. If this leak is accurate, the servicers at a minimum cooperated. If they got kickbacks, um, commissions, they are culpable and thus liable.

As we have stated repeatedly, servicers lose tons of money on portfolios with a high level of delinquencies and defaults. The example of Fairbanks, a standalone servicer who subprime portfolio got in trouble in 2002, is that servicers who are losing money start abusing customers and investors to restore profits. Fairbanks charged customers for force placed insurance and as part of its consent decree, paid large fines and fired its CEO (who was also fined).

Regardless, this release lends credence a notion too obvious to borrowers yet the banks and its co-conspirators, meaning the regulators, have long denied, that mortgage servicing and foreclosures are rife with abuses and criminality. Here’s some background courtesy Barry Ritholtz:

When a homeowner fails to keep up their insurance premiums on a mortgaged residence, their loan servicer has the option/obligation to step in to buy a comparable insurance policy on the loan holder’s behalf, to ensure the mortgaged property remains fully insured….

Consider one case found by [American Banker’s Jeff] Horwitz. A homeowner’s $4,000 insurance policy, was paid by the loan servicer, Everbank via escrow. But Everbank purposely let that insurance policy lapse, and then replaced it with a different policy – one that cost more than $33,000. To add insult to injury, the insurer, a subsidiary of Assurant, paid Everbank a $7,100 kickback for giving it such a lucrative policy — and, writes Horwitz, “left the door open to further compensation” down the road.

That $33,000 policy — including the $7,100 kickback – is an enormous amount of money for any loan servicer to make on a single property. The average loan servicer makes just $51 per loan per year.

Here’s where things get interesting: That $33,000 insurance premium is ultimately paid by the investors who bought the loan.

And the worst of this is….the insurance is often reinsured by the bank/servicer, which basically means the insurance is completely phony. The servicer will never put in a claim to trigger payment. As Felix Salmon noted,

This is doubly evil: it not only means that investors are paying far too much money for the insurance, but it also means that, as both the servicer and the ultimate insurer of the property, JPMorgan Chase has every incentive not to pursue claims on the houses it services. Investors, of course, would love to recoup any losses from the insurer, but they can’t bring such a claim — only the servicer can do that.

Note there are variants of this scheme where insurance is charged to the borrower (I’ve been told of insurance being foisted on borrowers that amounts to unconsented-to default insurance, again with the bank as insurer; this has been anecdotal with insufficient documentation, but I’ve heard enough independent accounts to make me pretty certain it was real)

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Just because something has a lot of anecdotal evidence behind it doesn’t necessarily mean the specific case is true. But the forced-place insurance scam has been part of other servicer lawsuits, so it definitely exists. Whether this set of emails shows that taking place is another matter. Apparently this is just the first Anonymous email dump, so there should be more on the way

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic

Parmy Olson at Forbes:

Yet however inconclusive the e-mails may be, the leak may have wider implications as Anonymous gradually proves itself a source of comeuppance for disgruntled employees with damning information about a company or institution. Once the domain of WikiLeaks, the arrest of key whistleblower Bradley Manning suggested the site founded by fellow incarcerate Julian Assange could not always protect its sources. “A lot depends on the impact of this week,” says Gabriella Coleman, a professor at NYU who is researching Anonymous, who added that “Anonymous could go in that [WikiLeaks] direction.”

Anonymous is not an institution like WikiLeaks. It is global, has no leader, no clear hierarchy and no identifiable spokespeople save for pseudo-representatives like Gregg Housh (administrator of whyweprotest.net) and Barrett Brown.

It has some ideals: Anonymous tends to defend free speach and fight internet censorship, as with the DDoS-ing of the web sites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal after they nixed funding services to WikiLeaks, and the DDoS-ing of Tunisian government Web sites. It is also great at spectacle. The group’s hacking of software security firm HBGary Federal not only gained oodles of press attention, it inadvertently revealed the firm had been proposing a dirty tricks campaign with others against WikiLeaks to Bank of America’s lawyers.

That hack led, rather organically, to the establishment of AnonLeaks.ru, a Web site where the Anonymous hackers posted tens of thousands of HBGary e-mails in a handy web viewer. While it took just five supporters to hack HBGary, hundreds more poured through the e-mails to identify incriminating evidence, leading to more press reports on the incident.

Such is the nature of Anonymous–global, fluid, intelligent, impossible to pin down–that it is could become an increasingly popular go-to for people wishing to vent damaging information about an institution with questionable practices.

The collective already receives dozens of requests each month from the public to attack all manner of unsavoury subjects, from personal targets to the government of Libya, from Westboro Baptist Church to Facebook. It rarely responds to them–as one Anonymous member recently told me, “we’re not hit men.”

Yet for all its facets as both hot-tempered cyber vigilantes and enlighteners of truth, Anonymous is becoming increasingly approachable, as the latest emails between OperationLeakS and the former BoA employee show. Assuming this particular employee doesn’t end up languishing in jail like Manning, more people may now be inclined to follow suit.

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Filed under Economics, New Media, Technology, The Crisis

The Dean Is Dead

Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post:

David S. Broder, 81, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post and one of the most respected writers on national politics for four decades, died Wednesday at Capital Hospice in Arlington of complications from diabetes.

Mr. Broder was often called the dean of the Washington press corps – a nickname he earned in his late 30s in part for the clarity of his political analysis and the influence he wielded as a perceptive thinker on political trends in his books, articles and television appearances.

In 1973, Mr. Broder and The Post each won Pulitzers for coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. Mr. Broder’s citation was for explaining the importance of the Watergate fallout in a clear, compelling way.

As passionate about baseball as he was about politics, he likened Nixon’s political career to an often-traded pitcher who had “bounced around his league.”

He covered every presidential convention since 1956 and was widely regarded as the political journalist with the best-informed contacts, from the lowliest precinct to the highest rungs of government.

Joel Achenbach:

If there were a more decent and generous journalist in our business than David Broder, I’ve never met the person.

Broder (“David” to everyone in the hallway, the elevator, the campaign filing center, of course) remained the consummate collegial figure long after — decades after — earning the status of “dean of the Washington press corps.” He had no pretense in him. He was a big-name pundit, but, most of all, he was a thing we used to call “a newspaper reporter.” He knocked on doors to the very end of his career, interviewing voters, getting to know the local political organizers, never promoting himself to a rank too exalted to conduct shoe-leather reporting or pound out a deadline story in a cold gym in some remote corner of New Hampshire or Iowa.

Who am I kidding: He loved those gyms! And the tighter the deadline, the better.

He could turn his analytical eye on his own reporting: Read this story by Broder, in which he expresses doubts about his influential report of Ed Muskie becoming tearful in the snow outside the Union-Leader office in the 1972 New Hampshire primary. Maybe it was just melting snow!

Steve Benen:

Regular readers know that I was often critical of Broder’s columns, but my critiques were driven in part by high expectations — the man was a giant of political journalism.

And even when I disagreed with his analysis, it was impossible not to respect his tenacity and his decency.

Best wishes go out to his family and friends.

David Weigel:

Last September, I traveled to Delaware to interview Rep. Mike Castle and his challenger, Christine O’Donnell, about a soon-to-be-infamous primary election. Castle and I talked for a long while he shook hands with voters outside the Arden Fair.

“This is becoming a pretty big deal,” Castle said. “You just missed David Broder. He came up here to interview me about the race.”

Broder, at that point, was about to turn 81 years old. He hadn’t just beaten me to the story, he’d beaten me by a month, traveling up to Delaware to interview Castle and introduce readers to Chris Coons, a “worthy match” who could actually win. After Castle lost the primary, the political press — myself included, reluctantly — spent countless pixels covering O’Donnell. But Coons won. If you had read Broder’s reporting, you would have expected that.

I can think of nothing more satisfying than doing what you love, doing it well, and making your readers more informed about the world because of the information you’re gathering. I’m deeply grateful to Broder for doing that for so many people over such a long time.

Philip Klein at American Spectator:

Broder was working up until the very end, and anybody who covers politics for a living has probably bumped into him at one point or another. I remember covering the Rudy Giuliani campaign during a cold weekend in New Hampshire in November 2007, and Broder, then in his late 70s, was touring along. I noticed him at one event, standing in the back, his hand slightly shaking as he took notes the old fashioned way while younger reporters were running around with digital recorders and scrambling to upload video on their laptops.

I wondered whether I’d still find the campaign trail so alluring when I reached that age.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

A few quick facts about David Broder:

  • He was only a car or two behind President Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1963. He was proud of his ability to show no human emotion during this traumatic episode for the country. This is probably how he secured “dean” status, by preventing himself from writing with any sort of sadness or sympathy during the assassination of a golden-boy president several yards away.
  • He hated the Clintons and led the moralistic Beltway howl against President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was the angriest he’d ever been in his life, when he heard about Bill Clinton getting a hummer from Monica Lewinsky.
  • He liked compromise and bipartisanship as ends in themselves, had no real interest in analyzing specific pieces of legislation, and was an original proponent of many other familiar Washington media traits, like “both sides do it.” For more, google High Broderism.
  • He was an important figure in 1972’s The Boys on the Bus, one of the earliest media-centric books showcasing the depravity of “pack journalism” on the campaign trail.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

The phrase “Broderism” became a signifier in the blogosphere for a certain type of self-regarding faux-centrism which always seemed to side with deficit peacocks over everyone else, and defaulted to the position that the midpoint between any two issues was always the wisest course.

Broder’s book “The System,” about the failure of the Clinton health care plan in the 1990s, is actually a highly regarded work. But for many years, he seemed to have been writing the same column over and over, attacking the extremes of political debate in favor of the sensible center.

Nevertheless, Broder had a very strong pull on national politics, and was considered within Washington as the dean of the national press corps. So his death changes that landscape, however subtly

 

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Lara Logan, Nir Rosen… Nothing Funny Here

CBS News:

On Friday, Feb. 11, the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a “60 Minutes” story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy.

In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently home recovering.

There will be no further comment from CBS News and correspondent Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time.

Doug Mataconis:

Best wishes to Logan for a speedy recovery, physically and emotionally.

Allah Pundit:

Logan wasn’t the only reporter in danger while covering the protests. Katie Couric and Brian Williams ended up leaving Egypt early because of the risk and Anderson Cooper freely admitted to being scared despite sticking it out for a few more days. Couric later told Howard Kurtz about an episode where she too was surrounded and shoved by an enraged lunatic. I wonder how close she came to Logan’s fate.

In an ideal world the army would have shot the attackers on the spot, but you can imagine the chaos that would have broken out in the Square if Egyptian soldiers suddenly started firing on people. As it is, were there even arrests made? And why does CBS’s statement feel compelled to note that the mob had been “whipped into frenzy”? Crowds at all sorts of events get pretty frenzied, but good luck trying that with a judge if you use it as a pretext to join in on a mass sexual assault.

Needless to say, the way journalists cover these events is going to change dramatically. And even more needless to say, America will never see those protests the same way again.

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

The news from CBS about correspondent Lara Logan’s assault in Egypt is awful beyond words.

At a time like this, we all feel helpless. And angry. The perpetrators, anonymous men in an angry mob, may never see justice.

Perhaps we can channel that frustration and anger towards righting a wrong closer to home. To some other outrage… say… the reaction to Logan’s assault from a fellow at the NYU Center for Law and Security, Nir Rosen.

Nir Rosen deleted some of his worst comments about Logan on his Twitter feed, but… it’s the Internet. It’s never gone forever.

I’m sure Rosen will apologize at some point, and perhaps we’ll get some tut-tutting statement from NYU about the need for “civility” and “restraint” and “sensitivity.” Brows will be furrowed. Maybe they’ll hold a seminar about technology and emotional reactions to breaking news events.

But let’s just remember one thing going forward: Nir Rosen believed this was the right moment to let the world know that he “ran out of sympathy for her” and that we should “remember her role as a major war monger” and that we “have to find humor in the small things.”

Your move, NYU.

UPDATE: Nir Rosen has departed Twitter. Your reaction to this development probably depends on whether you think the offense in this circumstance is the ability to broadcast that type of reaction to the crime to the entire Internet, or whether the problem is the reaction itself.

Debbie Schlussel:

So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows. Or so we’d hope. But in the case of the media vis-a-vis Islam, that’s a hope that’s generally unanswered.

This never happened to her or any other mainstream media reporter when Mubarak was allowed to treat his country of savages in the only way they can be controlled.

Now that’s all gone. How fitting that Lara Logan was “liberated” by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the “liberation.”

Hope you’re enjoying the revolution, Lara! Alhamdilllullah [praise allah].

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Nir Rosen, the far-left journalist who joked about the sexual assault on Lara Logan, has company: Debbie Schlussel, the extreme right-wing commentator. Rosen calls for the elimination of Israel, and is a pro-Hamas Hezbollah apologist; Schlussel is a racist anti-Muslim commentator. They come from radically different places on the political spectrum, and yet they share a common inhumanity.

Colby Hall at Mediaite:

Tragic news broke yesterday that CBS News’ Lara Logan was victim to a sustained a brutal sexual attack at the hands of a dangerous element amidst the celebration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The news brought universal condemnation and empathy from Logan’s media peers, but it also seemed to also bring the worst out in some people as well. Take for example now former NYU Fellow Nir Rosen , who took to his Twitter feed to make inappropriate jokes that he soon deleted. In the firestorm of controversy that followed, Rosen offered his resignation, which NYU readily accepted.

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

What can we learn?

1. Twitter is dangerous.
2. Some things aren’t funny.
3. Even if you don’t like the person they happened to.

Useful lessons for all of us.

Suzi Parker at Politics Daily:

A 2007 article in the Columbia Journalism Review exploring the threats to female foreign correspondents singles out Egypt: “The Committee to Protect Journalists, for example, cites rape threats against female reporters in Egypt who were seen as government critics.”

The CJR article states, “Female reporters are targets in lawless places where guns are common and punishment rare.” They face more sexual harassment and rape than their male counterparts. They are subjected to unwanted advances and “lewd come-ons . . . especially in places where Western women are viewed as promiscuous.”

Such risk is nothing new to Logan. A South African native, she entered Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, by begging a Russian Embassy clerk in London to give her an expedited visa for travel there. She followed up that stint with one as an embedded journalist in Iraq.

Earlier this month, Logan and her crew were detained overnight by the Egyptian army and interrogated. She told Esquire’s “The Politics Blog” that during the ordeal her captors blindfolded her and kept her upright. She vomited frequently. They finally gave her intravenous fluids and released her and her crew.

Logan’s desire to venture into danger zones mirrors the brave actions of female war reporters who came before her. During World War II, many female correspondents had to write under male pseudonyms. They were banned from press briefings and had to submit stories after their male counterparts.

Dickey Chapelle was a World War II photojournalist, posted with the Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima. She cultivated a signature look of fatigues, an Australian bush hat, dramatic Harlequin glasses and pearl earrings, but loved the grittiness of war. In 1956, the petite photographer covered the Hungarian Revolution, where she was captured and jailed for seven weeks.

In her forties, Chapelle covered the Vietnam War. In 1965, she was the first American female war correspondent killed in action. Famed war photographer Henri Huet photographed Chapelle receiving last rites. She was given a full Marine burial with six Marine honor guards.

Not much has changed in the way of training for such work. In the early days of war reporting, women wrote their own rules for covering conflict — and for surviving. Surprisingly, even in the 21st century, many women travel to war zones with little training. The BBC is the only major news organization that offers special safety instruction for female journalists that is taught by women, according to CJR.

But training or precautions noted in the Handbook for Journalists may not have prepared Logan for the situation she faced on Friday. A mob of 200 abruptly surrounded her crew, from which she quickly became separated. Such tragedies are common during chaotic events.

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We Just Broke The Land Speed Record For Sex Scandals

Maureen O’Connor at Gawker:

Rep. Christopher Lee is a married Republican congressman serving the 26th District of New York. But when he trolls Craigslist’s “Women Seeking Men” forum, he’s Christopher Lee, “divorced” “lobbyist” and “fit fun classy guy.” One object of his flirtation told us her story.

On the morning of Friday, January 14, a single 34-year-old woman put an ad in the “Women for Men” section of Craigslist personals. “Will someone prove to me not all CL men look like toads?” she asked, inviting “financially & emotionally secure” men to reply.

That afternoon, a man named Christopher Lee replied. He used a Gmail account that Rep. Christopher Lee has since confirmed to be his own. (It’s the same Gmail account that was associated with Lee’s personal Facebook account, which the Congressman deleted when we started asking questions.)

By email, Lee identified himself as a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist and sent a PG picture to the woman from the ad. (In fact, Lee is married and has one son with his wife. He’s also 46.)

David Weigel:

“Days Since a Sex Scandal” Sign Outside Congress Set Back to Zero

Not the best of days for Rep. Chris Lee, R-NY, a second-termer from a relatively safe seat. He did not sleep with a woman he sent a shirtless picture to, after seeing her Craigslist ad. He merely lied about his job, age, and marital status.

Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic:

Married Rep. Chris Lee resigned Wednesday afternoon three hours after the publication of allegations in Gawker that he sent flirtatious photos — including one where he was naked from the waist up — to a Washington-area woman he contacted through the Craigslist personals section.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness,” Lee said in a statement.

“The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately.”

He earlier declined to comment on the story, telling Fox News Wednesday afternoon, “I have to work this out with my wife.”

Allah Pundit:

Here’s Gawker’s post laying out the evidence, replete with shirtless pics and the obligatory nod at “hypocrisy” because Lee supports DADT and opposes federal funds for abortion and is therefore guilty of “publicly scrutinizing others’ sex lives.” If you’re wondering whether this means the seat will flip to the Democrats, probably not: His district has a Cook PVI of R+6 and has been represented by a Republican for all but 16 years dating back to … 1857.

Between this, the “revolt” over Paul Ryan’s spending proposal, and last night’s Patriot Act debacle, this hasn’t been Boehner’s best week, huh? And guess what: It gets worse.

Update: Why did Lee resign when more prominent Republicans, like Vitter, have survived infidelity scandals? Did he simply feel duty-bound? Or was it the fact that that photo of him with his shirt off is so goofy that it would follow him around forever if he hung on?

Ann Althouse:

There must be a lot more below the surface, and the quick resignation was to get us to move on. I’d like to know what inspired the desperation. Or was it that he got no support from his GOP colleagues in Congress. Perhaps he was told, quite clearly, that they didn’t want to burn any political capital defending him. If so, I think that was probably an excellent choice. They can’t want him as the torso face of the party for the next month.

Steve Benen:

The developments were more than a little surprising, not only because of Lee’s spectacularly dumb actions, but also because he resigned so quickly — Republicans, especially those caught up in sex scandals, generally don’t step down.

Indeed, if we’re measuring controversies on the Scandal Richter Scale, Lee’s story doesn’t seem nearly as serious as some of his Republican colleagues. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) got caught with prostitutes, refused to resign, sought re-election, and won. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) carried on a lengthy extra-marital relationship with one of his aides, who happened to be married to another one of his aides. Ensign’s parents tried to pay off the mistress’ family, and the senator arranged lobbying work for his mistress’ husband. He refused to resign, and he’s running for another term, too. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) got caught seeking sex in an airport bathroom, and even he didn’t resign.

Lee’s story is certainly sleazy, but based solely on what we know so far, it pales in comparison to some of these other Republicans’ scandals.

So, why’d he resign while the others didn’t? It’s speculative, of course, but it’s possible there was far more dirt, and Lee quit to avoid further humiliation. Maybe Republican leaders who tolerated the previous controversies didn’t want any distractions, so they demanded Lee’s resignation.

Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that we live in an era when images have more of an impact than than anything else. Vitter, Ensign, and the like were at the center of ugly controversies, but there’s no single photograph to be aired over and over again, the way there is with Lee’s topless photo of himself.

Visuals, in other words, resonate.

As for the month-old 112th Congress, David Dayen had this eye-opening observation: “Number of House resignations this year: 2. Number of pieces of legislation signed into law: 0.”

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One Stop For All Your Marty Peretz News

The New Republic:

Today, The New Republic announces that Marty Peretz, who has been editor-in-chief of the magazine for 37 years, will become editor-in-chief emeritus. In addition, he will move from writing his blog, The Spine, to writing a column for the website. Marty’s stewardship of The New Republic has been the liveliest and the most intellectually consequential in the long history of the magazine. Though he will no longer be at the top of the masthead, he will remain in the thick of things. Below are some thoughts from Marty:

I have been with The New Republic going on 37 years, almost all of them with the title of editor-in-chief. The truth is that I hardly ever actually edited an article for the magazine. But, frankly, it was my vision—and the vision of my compatriots—of what was needed for a serious journal of opinion in American society that defined what TNR has become since 1974.

The editors and staff we assembled constitute a marvel of American journalism, a long magic moment of intelligence, moral seriousness, responsible politics … and, forgive me, a deep concern for the national interest. Sometimes we quarreled with our readers and often amongst ourselves. And the truth is that there were a few occasions—very few, actually—in which, as proprietor of the publication, I exercised the prerogative of firing someone. But there was only one occasion when I kept an article from being published. From today’s perspective my reluctance to print something on Ted Kennedy’s sex life may seem too precious or finicky. Still, I think it was the correct judgment. Let others traffic in such trash.

So I endured hundreds and maybe thousands of pieces which I believed to be ethically flawed, historically wrong, politically foolish. History, in whatever ways history does these chores, will ultimately sort it all out. I dare say that I have tested the patience of some of my staff with more than a few of my articles and perhaps The Spine almost in its entirety. As errants go, however, they’ve flourished at least as much as I have.

Alex Pareene at Salon:

For those still wondering about the fate of Muslim-hating erstwhile New Republic owner and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz, they’ve finally made an official announcement: He is now the “editor-in-chief emeritus.” Marty never actually edited the magazine — though he hired and fired editors — but his title and ownership of the magazine allowed him to write first his regular columns and then “The Spine,” his dyspeptic blog. It is the blog that got him in trouble, which just revealed that no one ever read his print column.

And so, according to a recent New York magazine profile of Peretz, they were going to make him stop blogging. Except he kept blogging. And that is because, according to a slightly more recent New York Times Magazine profile of Peretz, he just refused to stop.

Multiple New Republic staff members told me that The Spine would soon be replaced by a rigorously edited weekly Peretz column. In Tel Aviv, Peretz laughed at the thought.

“That’s not going to happen,” Peretz said.

Now, that is going to happen. Sort of. Mostly. “In addition” to the new column, anonymous New Republic editors write, “he will move from writing his blog, The Spine, to writing a column for the website.”

Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine:

New Republic owner Marty Peretz, who has been much-profiled of late, has admitted he really hasn’t been editing the magazine for years now. (He lives in Israel, for one thing.) And now he’ll officially pass his editor-in-chief title on to Richard Just, who has been serving as editor since Franklin Foer left last month. “I have been with The New Republic going on 37 years, almost all of them with the title of editor-in-chief,” Peretz wrote in a farewell note, according to Keith Kelly. “The truth is that I hardly ever actually edited an article for the magazine. But, frankly, it was my vision and the vision of my compatriots of what was needed for a serious journal of opinion in American society that defined what TNR has become since 1974.” Peretz will continue to write a column for the website, which means his departure as titular E-i-C may not actually be a relief for anybody at the magazine.

John Cook at Gawker:

Martin Peretz is an obscenely wealthy moral cripple who owns the New Republic. His penchant for spouting ethnic slurs against Arabs recently earned him two lengthy and intense magazine profiles. Neither one saw fit to report that he is gay.

It’s an open secret in Washington, D.C., that Peretz, who came to own the New Republic after marrying Anne Labouisse, an heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, is sexually attracted to men. We’ve spoken to several people who have direct (though not intimate) knowledge of Peretz’s sexual preference and say that he makes no effort to hide it. We’re told that his children have spoken openly of their father’s life as a gay man. This is not a closely guarded secret or fleeting rumor; it’s a commonplace among members of the Washington politico-media power axis.

Peretz’s life has sort of fallen apart over the last year. Though he has been an avowed bigot for most of his adult life, he has only been held to account for his ethnic hostility to Arabs and Persians recently, when he wondered aloud on his New Republic blog “whether I need honor these people and pretend they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” The “these people” were Arabs, for whom Peretz also said “life is cheap” (he later apologized for the First Amendment line). The naked racism of the sentiment caused even some of Peretz’ oldest friends to hang their heads in shame, and served as an ignominious cap to his career. He and his wife divorced in 2009 (they had been separated since 2005), and late last year he stepped down as the New Republic‘s titular editor-in-chief and moved to Tel Aviv, where he teaches high school students and is active on the social circuit (he still maintains residences in New York City and Cambridge, Mass.).

A late-life crisis for such an eminent figure—not to mention Peretz’s defiance in the face of critics that included longtime supporters—is catnip for magazine editors. So in December, New York published Benjamin Wallace-Wells‘ 5,500-word profile, “Peretz in Exile.” The piece delved into all manner of details of Peretz’s personal life—”theirs was a complicated union,” Wallace-Wells wrote of his marriage, quoting Peretz saying “our values—and our lifestyles—sundered us apart.” The piece noted that some of Peretz’s closest friends and family members viewed him as “more compartmentalized than ever-open, almost to a fault, and yet also hidden.” And it noted—with a wink to insiders so Wallace-Wells wouldn’t appear clueless—that Peretz’s “friendships with younger men were sometimes so intense that they could seem to border on the erotic.” As for Peretz’s actual erotic relationships with men, or the role they may or may not have played in the dissolution of his marriage—they apparently didn’t merit inclusion.

And now this week comes another 5,000-plus-word profile, this time in the New York Times Magazine. Stephen Rodrick‘s “Martin Peretz Is Not Sorry About Anything” covers much of the same ground—though it includes the rather insane story of Peretz testifying on behalf of notorious New Republic fabulist-turned lawyer Stephen Glass at a California Bar Association hearing last year. Like Wallace-Wells, Rodrick aimed squarely at Peretz’s personal romantic life but chose not to mention the most salient fact about that life. “His wife cited his infidelities and explosive temper as problems in the marriage,” Rodrick writes, “but Peretz pre-empted any discussion of his romantic world, declaring, ‘My sexual life is too complicated for one word, and not complicated enough for 15.'” Unless he is an idiot, Rodrick knew precisely what Peretz was talking about, but chose to leave readers with a blurry evasion—just as he chose to write without further clarification that Peretz “lives part of the year in a high-rise apartment tended by his assistant, a 26-year-old former I.D.F. officer.” More winks for those in the know.

Both pieces purport to be attempts to understand Peretz’s psyche, and their deliberate elisions of one of the most foundational aspects of that psyche is fundamentally dishonest. We are given to understand that Peretz is important to know, and that in order to know him we must know about his wife, his marriage, his infidelities—but not his sexuality.

Eric Alterman at The American Prospect:

Well, it’s finally over. Martin Peretz, who, according to David Horowitz’s Frontpage webzine, “has been a pillar of responsible liberalism since buying The New Republic magazine in 1974,” has finally been shown the door. He did not go quietly. You can find his parting remarks here and also here and here. Peretz left TNR as he inhabited it: in a splendid (and splenetic) fit of pique, pessimism, and personality-driven politics.

No one who knew Peretz or his magazine will doubt that it was full of sound and fury. But what did it signify? It’s no easy task to sum up 37 years of anything, much less the tenure of a magazine editor who prided himself on being described as “schizophrenic.” For some, the fact that right-wing zealots like Horowitz, his Sancho Panza, Ronald Radosh, and National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg were the only people willing to come to Peretz’s defense as he was pilloried as a racist crank tells you all you need to know about the man. (It does, after all, take one to know one.)

But then there is the matter of the magazine itself. It’s long been a cliché to point out that Peretz hired editors who were both more liberal, and usually, more intelligent than he was. And many of them went on to become among the brightest stars of the American journalistic firmament. One of them, Leon Wieseltier, stayed and stayed. (The Times piece hints of the possible gift of a house from his patron.) Allowing for a few personal obsessions of his own, Wieseltier has managed week after week, for a quarter century, to publish the most stimulating and erudite “back of the book” available anywhere in America. No matter what egregious attacks Peretz sent forth against Arabs, blacks, Mexicans, or (no less frequently) liberals, Wieseltier never had any trouble attracting top-tier reviewers whether in politics or literature and eliciting what was often their best work.

So the plus side of Peretz’s tenure was that the magazine was mostly liberal, mostly well-edited, and easily dismissible when it wasn’t. But while it is true that under Mike Kinsley, Rick Hertzberg, and to lesser extent, Peter Beinart and Frank Foer, TNR lived up to its reputation as a lively, contrarian read on the week’s news with a strong liberal voice, its net effect — even in its best years — was to weaken liberalism and comfort conservatives. The primary problem was the fact that unlike say, Commentary, which after a few years of claiming that it had been “mugged by reality” owned up to its conservative conversion, TNR continued to insist that it spoke for American liberalism. And people who did not pay too close attention — or had their own reasons for indulging this conceit — played along. And so the virus of liberal self-hatred infected the entire bloodstream of liberalism — particularly with regard to Israel and the Palestinians — and bore at its body from within.

The old “even the liberal New Republic” line that dates back to the Reagan era was no joke. Kinsley and Hertzberg could write the most brilliant eviscerations of Reaganite nonsense available anywhere, but the fact that elsewhere in the magazine, these same endeavors were receiving the enthusiastic endorsements not only of Peretz but of Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke — even on occasion, the likes of Jeane Kirkpatrick and Richard Perle — counted for far more in the context of contemporary debate. The sad fact of political life in Washington is that “liberals” are never so influential as when they are throwing in the towel on their own team and endorsing the arguments of the other side. (The punditocracy tends to call this “moderation.”) The New Republic “mattered” when it endorsed the contras, the U.S. war in El Salvador, the MX missile, Charles Murray’s racist pseudo-science, Republican lies about the Clinton health-care-reform plan, the Iraq War, and pretty much everything the Israeli government has said and done for the past 37 years; other times, not so much. Liberals making liberal points, however eloquently, might make other liberals feel better. They might help to inform their arguments. But they do not make news; they do not get their authors invited on Sunday shows or invited to the White House.

Doug J.:

I think Peretz’s corruption of liberalism within the media went even deeper. He hired a lot of TNRers when they were young, just out of some Ivy League school. I knew a lot of the type of the kids he would hire and they are the most affirmation-craving people you could possibly imagine. A few years of getting patted on the head by a millionaire for churning out contrarian Harvard-dining hall bullshit leaves its mark on such souls. I don’t think Michael Kinsley ever recovered from it, though I agree he can be very sharp when he’s not basking in the brilliance of his own counterintuitive ironies. With nearly all of these TNRers, the desire to bust out “how genocide is good for your 401K” remained long after they were no longer in Peretz’s employ.

There’s no question that prominent so-called “liberals” in the media have wanked around “spreading freedom”, bashing unions, doing triple-backwards contrarian reverses, musing about IQs and school uniforms, while the American middle-class has languished on life support. That’s not right.

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The Party Of No?

Nick Baumann at Mother Jones:

Rape is only really rape if it involves force. So says the new House Republican majority as it now moves to change abortion law.

For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.

With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to “forcible rape.” This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. (Smith’s spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.)

John Cole:

I’m curious if Conor F. will call me shrill or over the top or accuse me of using vile rhetoric if I point out that this makes the GOP objectively pro-rape, to borrow some warblogger terminology from years gone by. That’s right, ladies- the only way you are allowed any say in a pregnancy resulting from rape is if the rapist roughed you up a bit. Otherwise, the fetus rules

Jim Newell at Gawker:

The fact that “forcible rape” has no real meaning as a federal legal term makes this all the more obnoxious.

Oh, and what about the incest exception? “As for the incest exception, the bill would only allow federally funded abortions if the woman is under 18.” You figure out the rationale on that one.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs

Vanessa Valenti at Feministing:

So what’s your damage, guys? Boehner? Smith? Because all this does is make it all the more obvious of exactly how anti-woman your agenda is. Shame on you all.

James Joyner:

While I’m rather queasy about the whole thing, but am not convinced it’s as bad as all that.

First, as Benen acknowledges, this is simply a sop to the social conservative base.  It has zero chance of being passed into law, given that it’s not going to make it through the Senate, much less with enough votes to secure an override of President Obama’s inevitable veto.

Second, the rape exception was never logical but rather a concession to an emotional issue.  That is, if one believes a fetus at a given stage of development is a human life worthy of protection by law, the events leading to the pregnancy are irrelevant.  We don’t, after all, countenance the murder of post-birth children conceived pursuant to rape. But the idea that a woman should be forced to bear the emotional trauma of carrying a constant reminder of a violent, awful crime for nine months — and then be forced to either look at the child every day or bear the alternative trauma of giving up the baby — is just so emotionally wrenching that we’ve carved out an exception.  The fact that rape cases account for an infinitesimal fraction of abortions in this country also helps.

But does this really hold in the case of a statutory rape which, despite the name, frequently isn’t really a rape at all?   Again, this is a queasy subject.   We can all agree that a 9-year-old lacks the emotional maturity to give meaningful consent to sex with an adult and that an adult who violates a child is a rapist.   But we’ve raised the bar on childhood in recent years, extending it well into puberty. Within living memory, it was common, at least in rural areas, for girls to marry and start having children in early puberty.  Generally, with men significantly older than they were. Now, though, most states make it a crime for a 19-year-old to have consensual sex with their 16-year-old girlfriend.

Is a pregnancy arising from that circumstance really comparable to one arising from being jumped in a dark ally by a stranger and violated under threat of death?  Really?

But here’s the thing:  the sponsors of this bill aren’t proposing that we do away with statutory rape laws.  Indeed, they’re in common cause with those who made and enforce those laws. So, they’re in the bizarre position of both supporting the criminalization of teenage sex and yet arguing that the girl who the law says lacks maturity to consent to sex nonetheless has the maturity to have a child arising from said sex.

Furthermore, they’re undermining their own case here.   Abortion is already legal under most circumstances in America, a position that’s not going to change.  And government funding for abortion has been withheld almost as long; that’s also not going to change.    So, why attempt to move the bar ever-so-slightly in a direction that most Americans — including your core supporters — are going to find uncomfortable?   Especially when you know damned well that you can’t actually succeed?

Steve Benen:

In all likelihood, this bill, like the ACA repeal measure, wouldn’t stand much of a chance in the Senate, and would surely draw White House opposition.

But the fact that the bill actually reflects Republican priorities, and will almost certainly pass the House with overwhelming GOP support, speaks volumes.

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Filed under Abortion, Crime, Legislation Pending

In The Future, All Our Politicians Will Have Battle Hymns

The Daily Caller:

An elderly couple performs the “Sarah Palin Battle Hymn” sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic.”

Set to the tune of the Civil War-era “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” this Sarah Palin Battle Hymn is credited to Tom Dempsey and Gary McVay. The lyrics compliment Palin on everything from her common sense to her lack of a Harvard Law degree.

Complete with a slide guitar solo and spoken-word monologue, the song asserts that “with God and the tea party,” Palin is going to take back Washington. It appears the video was recorded in a church, but the exact location is uncertain.

I was going to respond to Ross Douthat’s insistence that Sarah Palin doesn’t matter (he wishes!) but then felt this fantastic nugget of hathos would rebut him more directly

Doug Mataconis:

Honestly, I’m not even sure what to say about this.

Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing:

Hold me. Hold me tight, internet.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

Want to hear old people sing Sarah Palin‘s praises to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”? Well, enjoy this clip of “Sarah Palin Battle Hymn” anyway! It will be our national anthem when Palin becomes president.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Say what you will about pro-Obama kitsch, but it had high production values. This is what happens when the entire cultural elite is affiliated with one party. There has to be somebody out there who can write a better song about Sarah Palin.

Wonkette:

Did you love those creepy old people just cold doin’ Kountry Karaoke in the metal-building church with super-fine new lyrics all about how Sarah Palin has the hottest ass in the Grandma Department? Yah bay-bay us 2, also Wonkbot got its sex on & dropped this summer jam about how she want to get with Sarah, oh lawd, and her daughter, think her name is Bristol.

Sorry.

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Filed under New Media, Political Figures