Political MoJo

Watch This Amazing Sesame Street Video About Having a Parent in Prison

| Sat May 10, 2014 12:42 PM EDT

More than three percent of children in the United States have a parent behind bars. These kids must travel hundreds of miles to visit their parents, and one in ten will end up incarcerated themselves before adulthood. But despite this reality, only six states have child welfare policies to address the needs of kids with incarcerated parents. Thank goodness for Sesame Street. Last year, the show shed some light on the challenges these kids face through a new initiative: "Little Children, Big Issues: Incarceration." Watch as Sesame Street characters discuss the difficulties of growing up with a mom or dad in prison:
 

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The Next Cliven Bundy Showdown

| Fri May 9, 2014 11:59 AM EDT
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

It looks like a new front has opened up in Cliven Bundy's war against the US government.

This Saturday, angry residents of San Juan County, Utah, plan to illegally ride their ATVs through Utah's Recapture Canyon—an 11 mile-long stretch of federal land that is home to Native American archeological sites—because they don't think that the federal Bureau of Land Management should have designated that land off-limits to motor vehicles. The protest was meant to be a local affair. But on Thursday, Bundy, the rancher who wouldn't pay the feds grazing fees and sparked a gun-drenched showdown in Nevada, called on his supporters to join the anti-government off-roading event, E&E Publishing's Phil Taylor reported. Bundy, whose crusade against the federal government became tainted by his racist comments, is looking to spread the cause from cattle to cross-country cruising.

"We don't expect any violence," San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge told the Denver Post last week.  Others aren't so sure, especially since the out-of-staters in attendance could help rile things up—which is what happened during the Bundy stand-off. "This may blow up to be significantly more than they thought," Bill Boyle, a resident of San Juan and publisher of the San Juan Record newspaper told the Post. "I think there are those who would like everyone with an AK-47 to be here."

San Juan County residents who plan to attend Saturday's event are Bundy supporters and Ted Nugent fans, according to an analysis of their Facebook pages by the Denver Post. They also hate President Barack Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, according to the newspaper, which reports that "BLM employees in San Juan County have had windows shot out of their homes and their yards torn up by ATVs in the middle of the night."

The BLM made the Recapture Canyon land off limits in 2007 because ATVs were damaging the land and folks were vandalizing Native American sites. San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who is organizing Saturday's protest, does not believe the feds have the authority to protect cultural resources. He says the goal of the ride is to reassert county jurisdiction in the face of federal "overreach," according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Federal overreach was the theme that Bundy's champions in the national conservative media repeatedly pressed—until Bundy's racist comments became news.

Local officials do not have a good estimate of how many mad-as-hell ATV riders will show up to zoom through sacred Native American land on Saturday. But the BLM has decided to stand back and avoid a conflict for now, as it did several weeks ago on the Bundy ranch in Nevada. Utah's BLM director Juan Palma, however, said there will nonetheless be consequences for the anti-government activists. "The BLM-Utah has not and will not authorize the proposed ride and will seek all appropriate civil and criminal penalties against anyone who uses a motorized vehicle within the closed area," he said in a statement.

Ted Cruz Is Attacking Obama for Relocating a Shrubbery

| Fri May 9, 2014 10:30 AM EDT

On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz released "The Legal Limit Report No. 4," a comprehensive report on the Obama administration's "persistent power of lawlessness" and abuses of power. "In the more than two centuries of our nation's history," Cruz wrote—outlining a period in which American citizens were rounded up and put in camps, deprived of habeas corpus, and routinely denied basic rights on the basis of race—"there is simply no precedent for the White House wantonly ignoring federal law and asking others to do the same."

Given those stakes, much of what's on Cruz's list is pretty trivial. Not only are many of the abuses several dozen bureaucratic rungs beneath the president's purview, but there's no real explanation of how they might be remotely classified as lawless abuses. Here are the eight silliest items on the list:

  1. "Spent $205,075 in "stimulus" funds to relocate a shrub that sells for $16." An American Recovery and Reinvestment Project in San Francisco spent big bucks to remove a patch of Arctostaphylos franciscana that was blocking a construction project in the Presidio. On the other hand, Arctostaphylos franciscana is an endangered species and the specimen in San Francisco was the very last remaining plant in the wild. Besides, people have gone to much greater lengths in pursuit of shrubberies:
  2. "Spent $7 million per household in 'stimulus funds' to connect a few Montana households to the Internet." Wow that is expensive. But fully enabled by the law.
  3. "Cancelled all White House tours after sequestration—purportedly saving $18,000 per week—even though President Obama had spent more than $1 million in tax money to golf with Tiger Woods one weekend a few weeks before." Cruz is right that some things are more expensive than other things, but the Woods golf outing occurred before sequestration was even in effect.
  4. "Actively, aided in George Zimmerman protests." Right-wingers alleged that a "little-known" Department of Justice office was helping to organize protests after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. That was false. The Community Relations Service, a program created by the Civil Rights Act, set up shop in Sanford, Fla. to ensure that the protests, which had been happening for weeks, remained peaceful.
  5. "Former 'safe schools czar' has written about his past drug abuse and advocated promoting homosexuality in schools." Although conservatives like Sean Hannity accused him (without basis) of supporting the North American Man Boy Love Association, in reality, Kevin Jenning, head of the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, "advocated promoting homosexuality" by organizing an anti-bullying program for bus drivers.
  6. "President Obama told NASA administrator to 'find a way to reach out to the Muslim world.'" This listed as an abuse of power, although Cruz, who can recite the Enumerated Powers of the Constitution from memory, doesn't specify which powers are being violated by a call for scientific collaboration.
  7. "Argued for expansive federal powers in the Supreme Court, which has rejected the Administration's arguments unanimously 9 times since January 2012." Pleading your case to the Supreme Court is the exact opposite of a lawless activity. (Ted Cruz himself did it nine times as solicitor general of Texas.)
  8. "Shut down an Amish farm for selling fresh unpasteurized milk across state lines." In 2012, a federal judge ruled that Kinzer, Penn., farmer Daniel Allgyer was acting in deliberate violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Public Health Services Act, by continuing to illegally sell raw milk after a warning from the Food and Drug Administration. Maybe Cruz thinks we should be drinking more raw milk. (We shouldn't be.) But he appears to be arguing for deliberate non-enforcement of the law, putting Cruz at odds with the author of the "Legal Limit Report No. 4," one Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who argued that "when a president can pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, he is no longer a president." Ergo, Ted Cruz is a dictator.

Corn on Hardball: At This Point the Benghazi Attack Is Basically Just a GOP Fundraising Tactic

Thu May 8, 2014 4:29 PM EDT

Washington bureau chief David Corn spoke to Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" about recent GOP fundraising emails that use the Benghazi Select Committee's investigation of the "truth" about the attack to solicit donations. Unlike previous house investigations, including the investigations into the bombings of the US embassy and barracks in Beirut during the Reagan administration, the Benghazi attack has become a political vehicle for Republicans.

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

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 8, 2014

Thu May 8, 2014 9:41 AM EDT

Spc. Brandon Bordner, infantryman, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division sweats in the Kuwaiti sun as he assembles a radio during the brigade's Soldier and NCO of the Year competition at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, April 24, 2014. The competition consisted of three days of events and will culminate with an awards ceremony on May 1. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl, 2nd ABCT PAO, 4th Inf. Div.)

Will American Pot Farmers Put the Cartels out of Business?

| Wed May 7, 2014 1:56 PM EDT

For the first time ever, many of the farmers who supply Mexican drug cartels have stopped planting marijuana, reports the Washington Post. "It's not worth it anymore," said Rodrigo Silla, a lifelong cannabis farmer from central Mexico. "I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization."

Facing stiff competition from pot grown legally and illegally north of the border, the price for a kilogram of Mexican schwag has plummeted by 75 percent, from $100 to $25, the Post reports:

Farmers in the storied "Golden Triangle" region of Mexico's Sinaloa state, which has produced the country's most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop…increasingly, they're unable to compete with US marijuana growers. With cannabis legalized or allowed for medical use in 20 US states and the District of Columbia, more and more of the American market is supplied with highly potent marijuana grown in American garages and converted warehouses—some licensed, others not.

As notes David Downs of the East Bay Express, this is a really big deal. In the past decade, Mexican drug cartels have murdered an estimated 60,000 people. The DEA annually spends more than $2 billion to deter the transport of illicit drugs across the border. "So now we have both the DEA and cartel farmers screaming bloody murder about legalization," Downs points out. "Sounds like we're on the right track."

Of course, the American pot boom is also creating problems of its own, with some Mexican traffickers moving north to California and other states to set up vast "trespass grows" on remote public lands. To be sure, the illicit market for weed will prop up criminal syndicates for as long as pot remains illegal, yet this week's news is some of strongest evidence to date that legalizing and decriminalizing pot will ultimately make everyone safer.

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CHART: The Bulk of Federal Welfare Spending Is Not Going to the People Who Need It Most

| Wed May 7, 2014 1:00 PM EDT
Johns Hopkins University

In his past several budget proposals, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has called for big cuts to the federal safety net, especially to the food stamps program. He'd like to see the food assistance program, which helps 46 million people, turned over to the states and reformed the way welfare was in the 1990s, with the imposition of stiff time limits on benefits and work requirements for recipients. But according to a new study, that focus on tying benefits to work has contributed to a major shift in federal welfare spending away from the people who need it most.

Robert Moffitt, an economics professor at Johns Hopkins University, has found that over the past 30 years federal safety net spending has increased dramatically, as Republicans often allege. But that spending hasn't gone to help the people who need it most. Instead, the additional funding has shifted to help people who aren't exactly wealthy, but who aren't doing quite as badly as those at the bottom, largely because they work for some part of the year. The resulting policy shift means that in 2014, a family of four earning $11,925 a year—50 percent of the official poverty line—likely receives less aid than a similar family earning $47,700.

That's a big change from 1983, when 56 percent of all safety net payments (all major social insurance programs except Medicaid and Medicare) went to families living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. By 2004, that figure had dropped to 32 percent. Moffitt says the data indicates that even among the poor, inequality is increasing as federal funds have been redistributed from the worst-off families to those doing somewhat better. Federal safety net benefits to single parents living below 50 percent of the poverty line have plummeted 35 percent since 1983.

Some demographic groups have fared better than others, namely the elderly and the disabled. Moffitt notes that families headed by someone over the age of 62 have seen their benefits rise by 19 percent over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, those taking the biggest hit are single mothers, who have been disproportionately affected by changes to the welfare system in 1996 that cut off most cash aid to anyone who wasn't working. Moffitt says the disparity is also the result of large increases in programs that benefit specific groups of low-income people, as the Earned Income Tax Credit does. While the credit lifted more than 3 million children out of poverty in 2012, it's largest impact is on people who earn at least $10,000 a year or more.

While he doesn't say it in his presentation, all of these trends are one reason why the number of Americans living on less than $2 a day has doubled since 1996. American politicians' obsession with helping the "deserving poor" has meant that the people who aren't so deserving or who are trying and not making it are getting more screwed than ever. "You would think that the government would offer the most support to those who have the lowest incomes and provide less help to those with higher incomes," Moffitt observed. "But that is not the case."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 7, 2014

Wed May 7, 2014 9:46 AM EDT

Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, run to security positions after offloading from a CH-53E Super Sea Stallion helicopter during a mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 28, 2014. The company's mission was to disrupt Taliban forces in Larr Village and establish a presence in the area. Five days prior to the helicopter-borne mission, the company confiscated two rocket-propelled grenades in the vicinity of the village. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan/Released)

Thom Tillis Wins North Carolina Senate Primary

| Tue May 6, 2014 9:03 PM EDT
North Carolina state speaker of the house Thom Tillis.

Bullet: dodged. North Carolina speaker of the house Thom Tillis cruised to victory in Tuesday's North Carolina Republican Senate primary, setting up a general election showdown with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) this fall. Democrats had held on to hopes that Tillis, who was endorsed at the last minute by Mitt Romney, would fall short of the 40-percent threshold needed to win the race outright and head into a runoff with Greg Brannon, a far-out tea party doctor backed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

In another election year, Tillis would have been branded the conservative crusader. As the leader of an unpopular state legislature that shifted hard to the right in 2013, Tillis sparked a protest movement and national outrage over his steep budget cuts to social services and harsh restrictions on abortions. In 2011, he told a crowd he planned to "divide and conquer" people who received government assistance and subject them to drug tests. The state's voter ID law, passed with Tillis' support, is among the nation's strictest. The legislature even banned state scientists from calculating sea level rise—just in case.

But Tillis struggled for months to win over the Republican base. At one point, tea party activists leaked audio of an angry Tillis chewing out conservative activists for having the gall to suggest that he was not wearing his "big boy pants." But while North Carolina conservatives seemed to be clamoring for a better choice, they never settled on an alternative. When Reps. Renee Ellmers and Virginia Foxx decided to sit it out, the best they could come up with was Brannon, an OB-GYN who runs a chain of crisis pregnancy centers in the state and picked up the endorsement, in October, of Paul.

But Brannon was a singularly flawed candidate (even the insurgent-friendly Senate Conservatives Fund sat this one out), which might explain why Paul never came to visit until this Monday. He endorsed the right of a state to nullify federal laws he doesn't agree with and spoke at a rally co-sponsored by a pro-secession organization, the League of the South. He called food stamps "slavery" and pledged to get rid of the Department of Agriculture. He dabbled in 9/11 trutherism. He floated a novel theory that Planned Parenthood is trying to kill newborns. He dismissed public education as a Marxist plot that "does nothing but dehumanize" kids. When a Huffington Post headline featured a "GOP Candidate:" story anytime in the last seven months, there was a fifty-percent chance that candidate was Brannon.

So it's not surprising that he lost and Tillis won. What's surprising is that anyone—especially an aspiring presidential candidate with dreams of making nice with big-time donors—thought fit to elevate Brannon in the first place.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 6, 2014

Tue May 6, 2014 9:15 AM EDT

Weighed down by heavy equipment, cadets must perform several tasks in a pool being churned by artificial wave makers amid simulated battlefield chaos. Artificial fog, rain, and deafening noise are pumped in, darkness is punctuated only by strobe lights. Since its inception, every graduating cadet has met and mastered the Survival Gate # 4 challenge. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Fincham)