Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 3, 2014

Mon Mar. 3, 2014 10:52 AM EST

Paratroopers with Chaos Troop, 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, move to their assembly area after parachuting into Deadhorse, Alaska, Feb. 25, 2014, as part of the Spartan Brigade's training for rapid insertion into any environment in the Pacific. This is the first time the Spartan Brigade has conducted operations north of the Arctic Circle. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric-James Estrada)

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A Giant Union Is Planning to Protest the Oscars

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 9:00 PM EST
SEIU protests at the Academy's Nominees Lunch

The Oscars air Sunday, but this year, the stars of the silver screen will be faced with picket lines and protesters.

That's because the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 2.1 million service workers around the world, plans to protest the Academy's decision to hire Security Industry Specialists (SIS)—a company the union accuses of sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and worker intimidation—to provide security for awards night. (The company denies the allegations.)

"We don't think [the Academy] should be using a company that has this kind of record," SEIU campaign director Sam Kehinde explains. "All we are trying to do is make sure the public knows about it and the client knows."

SEIU activists bearing banners and signs voiced their concerns at last week's Nominee Lunch in Beverly Hills, but they were unable to relay their concerns to Academy representatives. Now, Kehinde says, the union is back for round two.

Over 100 SEIU activists—including current and former SIS employees—will converge near the Dolby Theatre on Friday afternoon in the hope of attracting attention from the public and entertainment industry officials who will be on site preparing for Sunday's event, Kehinde says. The protesters plan to follow up with a smaller protest on Sunday, when it will be more difficult for a large group to gain access to the area.

Daivon Young, an SIS security specialist assigned to Amazon, is traveling all the way from Seattle to participate in the protest. He says he is scared about his job security and how he will be treated after speaking out against SIS, but "it is the right thing to do."

Young has been an SIS employee for a year and a half and works at the high-security buildings. Though he is considered a specialist, he makes $15.50 an hour and is given 36 hours a week. He says he thinks the wage is good but many employees are only offered part-time work.

As the sole breadwinner supporting his three-month-old son, Malachai and his wife, Lavicy, Young's concerned. "It is important for me to be able to provide for my family," he says. "Me, growing up, I didn't have a mom. I didn't have my dad. Putting a roof over my son's head—it means everything to me."

Young describes the pressure he feels at work and says the simplest mistake will result in termination. He is often fearful about being penalized and says he feels belittled by his employers. Provoked by these concerns, he turned to the internet. "I wanted to look up reports about SIS," he explains, "to see if the same things were going on somewhere else." He landed on their "Union Facts" page, meant to derail and disprove the accusations SEIU laid against SIS. "It started naming all these things and, in my head I am thinking, 'You do do that!" Young exclaims.  

Daivon Young (Left) with his wife, Lavicy, their son, Malachai, and former SIS worker Richell Banks Courtesy SEIU

He says he had never considered the union before then and had been told explicitly as an employee he should not become involved with SEIU. "I understand now why we need a union," he adds. This is why he hopes his participation in the protest will make a difference.

Tom Seltz, copresident and CFO of SIS, says the union's allegations are unsubstantiated. He sees the Oscar protests as a form of harassment—a ploy for union officials to collect more money.

"I think the union is looking for dues and I don't think there is much they can promise our employees that they aren't already getting," he says. "I don't think there's anything they can promise."

Seltz says unions are unnecessary and says he sees no need for his employees to join. He emphasizes that it is still up to workers to make up their minds and denies claims that his company has used intimidation tactics to deter union involvement.

SIS pays employees higher than the average hourly wage for the industry, but only half of SIS workers are full time and receiving benefits. Seltz says this has more to do with the nature of the work and client needs than company policy, and that many SIS employees are off-duty police officers who can only work part-time or are hired to work temporarily for specific events. 

But Steve Amitay, the executive director of the National Association of Security Companies, says the industry norm is to employ workers full time. "Currently the majority of security officers at most contract security companies are full-time employees," he explains via email. Though Amitay acknowledges that there are instances when part-time work is warranted, he says that "some companies believe that the offer of part-time employment may deter the best job candidates and work against creating a dedicated and experienced workforce." 

Daivon Young says he hopes his presence at this weekend's protest will help convince his company to be more supportive of unionization. "All I want done is for SIS to allow us to have a union," he says. "We aren't asking for extra mayonnaise and extra pickles. We just want to be treated right."

Media Adviser to Hillary Clinton in 1999: "Be Careful to Be Real"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 3:41 PM EST

In 1999, as former First Lady Hillary Clinton was preparing to run for US Senator in New York, she was coached by Mandy Grunwald, a public relations consultant who also served as media adviser for Clinton's subsequent presidential campaign, before a speech. Back then, Grunwald had some words of wisdom for Clinton, who is now considered front runner for the Democrat's 2016 presidential nomination: "Be careful to be real." This is one of eight pieces of advice included in a July 1999 letter released today as part of a trove of documents from the Bill Clinton Administration.

Some of these tips could still be applicable for Clinton in 2016, if she chooses to run: "Don't assume anyone knows anything about you...New Yorkers generally know about healthcare, your work for children, and then a lot of tabloid junk." Here are the other tips: 

 

Hillary Clinton in 1993: Individual Mandate Is a "Much Harder Sell"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 3:36 PM EST
Hillary Clinton speaking before a Senate panel in 1993.

The individual mandate has been one of the most controversial aspects of Obamacare since Congress passed the law in 2009. Conservatives have railed against the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance or face tax penalties. And the 2012 Supreme Court case that decided the fate of Obamacare centered around Republicans' objections to the mandate.

But the individual mandate originated as a conservative goal—first proposed by the Heritage Foundation, later adopted by Senate Republicans as an alternative approach to President Bill Clinton's efforts to reform in the health care system during his first term.

New documents unsealed Friday by the Bill Clinton's presidential library show that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton wasn't a fan of the individual mandate back when it was a Republican idea. In September 1993, Hillary traveled to Capitol Hill and explained White House's health care plan to a gathering of Democratic leaders from the House and Senate. During Clinton's remarks, which spelled out the details of the proposal before they were released to the public, she dismissed the concept of the mandate with a prescient knowledge of how tricky it would be to sell to the public:

But if the Republican alternative, as it appears now to be shaping up, at least among the moderate Republicans in the Senate, is an individual mandate, we have looked at that in every way we know to to (inaudible). That is politically and substantively a much harder sell than the one we've got—a much harder sell.

Because not only will you be saying that the individual bears the full responsibility; you will be sending shock waves through the currently insured population that if there is no requirement that employers continue to insure, then they, too, may bear the individual responsibility.

Unfortunately for Clinton, if she runs for president in 2016 (as widely predicted) she'll likely have to defend Obama's implementation of that mandate.

Rahm Emanuel on Charlton Heston: "Shove It up His Ass"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 3:31 PM EST

On Friday, after a one-year delay, Bill Clinton's presidential library posted thousands of pages of previously unreleased documents. It's mostly inside baseball stuff, but there are some useful nuggets. For instance, a 1998 memo written by White House speechwriter Jeff Shesol recounts a proposal by then-Clinton-aide Rahm Emanuel (who went on to be President Barack Obama's chief of staff and is now mayor of Chicago) for dealing with National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston, in a speech heralding a new bulletproof vest law: "Shove it up his ass." 

 
William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library

Hilarious White House Memo In 1995: "Hillary Could Speak To Young Women Through Internet"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 2:46 PM EST

On Friday, Bill Clinton's presidential library released 4,000 previously secret documents from his time as president. An August 31, 1995, memo titled "HRC Media Possibilities" written by Lisa Caputo, an aide to Hillary Clinton, discusses the various venues through which to promote the First Lady. They include meeting with the editors of women's and liberal magazines, sitting for interviews pegged to the Clintons' 20th anniversary and the birthday of Eleanor Roosevelt, and even making an appearance on the popular ABC sitcom Home Improvement. ("I know this may sound like a wild idea, but I think it is an interesting one to discuss.")

The otherwise sober memo takes an unexpectedly funny turn, however, when the Internet comes up. Or, as Caputo refers to it, "Internet." As in: "As Karen has said, Internet has become a very popular mode of communication. Hillary could speak to young women through Internet."

Here's an except from the memo:

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Obama Administration Won't Release Real Name of American It's Considering Killing Without Trial

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 1:48 PM EST

President Barack Obama and his national security team are debating whether to kill Abdullah al-Shami, an American citizen whom they say is an Al Qaeda terrorist hiding out in Pakistan.

Shami wouldn't be the first American Al Qaeda suspect to be deliberately killed by the government without charge or trial. That distinction belongs to Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al Qaeda leader who was vaporized in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011. In 2013, the government admitted that Awlaki was one of four Americans killed by drone strikes ordered by the Obama administration. Samir Khan, another American, was killed in the same strike as Awlaki. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar's 16-year-old son, was killed in a separate strike several weeks later, although government sources have told reporters that Abdulrahman's death was a mistake. And Jude Mohammed, another American, was killed in a third strike in Pakistan the same year.

The government claims that, of the four Americans killed by drone strikes under Obama, only Awlaki was deliberately and specifically targeted for death—the first and only American to receive such treatment thus far. Shami would be the second.

This time, though, there's even less public information about the man the government is targeting for death. The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt reported Friday that Shami is a nom de guerre, and the Obama administration won't even release the alleged terrorist's real name:

Interviews with American officials and outside terrorism experts sketch only the most impressionistic portraits of Mr. Shami.

Born in the United States, possibly in Texas, he moved with his family to the Middle East when he was a toddler. Obama administration officials declined requests to provide biographical information about Mr. Shami such as his real name and age—saying that the information is classified—or any specific information about where he was born or where he traveled after leaving the United States.

[...]

[Shami] came to the attention of the American authorities in 2008, around the same time that another American, Bryant Neal Vinas, was getting Qaeda training in Pakistan, one former counterterrorism official recalled. The authorities worried at the time that a surge of people with terrorism training and Western passports might be coming to the United States. Mr. Vinas was later captured and brought back to the United States, where he pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

The contrast between Vinas, who was captured, and Shami, who was not, is fascinating. Vinas was brought into the federal court system and had the opportunity to avail himself of legal representation, presumably because the Obama administration thought it was important to give someone they wanted to lock up for a long time a trial. But when the administration wants to kill, rather than imprison, an American, the courts apparently don't have to be involved at all.

Alabama Man Convicted of Raping 14-Year-Old Continues to Avoid Prison Time

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 1:17 PM EST

An Alabama man who was punished with only probation for three rape convictions in a case involving an underage girl does not have to serve prison time, a state criminal appeals court ruled Friday.

In September, a local jury found Austin Smith Clem, 25, guilty of raping his teenage neighbor three times—twice when she was 14, and once when she was 18.

Clem was convicted on one count of first-degree rape and two counts of second-degree rape. In November, a judge sentenced Clem to a mere three years of probation, touching off a national outcry and prompting Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones to make a series of legal moves to ensure that Clem would be incarcerated. Friday's order is a response to Jones' second request that the court find that Clem's sentence was illegally lenient.

Under the appeals court's Friday decision, Clem will serve the punishment he was handed by a county judge when he was resentenced December 23—five years of probation, and prison time of up to 35 years if he violates the terms of his probation.

In November, Limestone County Circuit Judge James Woodroof, the judge in Clem's case, sentenced him to a total of 40 years in prison. But Woodroof structured the sentence so that Clem would only serve three years of probation and two years in a community corrections program designed for nonviolent criminals. While on probation, Clem is free to live at home with his wife and three daughters.

"After consultation with the victim's family, we are in the process of examining our legal options," Jones wrote in an email to Mother Jones.

Clem's lenient sentence caused national outrage. His victim, Courtney Andrews, appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC show to call for a tougher punishment. Shortly after the original November sentencing, Jones filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals. In the petition, Jones argued that Clem's sentence was illegal under Alabama sentencing statutes. The appeals court agreed, and in early December, it ordered Woodroof to mete out a stiffer penalty. In response, Woodroof increased Clem's probation to five years.

After that, Jones filed a second petition calling for Clem to be sentenced to prison time.

In a response Friday to Jones' petition, presiding Judge Mary Becker Windom wrote that Jones "cannot satisfy the heavy burden" needed for the appeals court to compel Woodroof to alter his sentence of late December.

Remarks made by Clem's defense attorney in November have compounded the outrage over the lenient sentence. Clem's attorney, Dan Totten, told Mother Jones that while Clem's punishment "would seem to be relatively mild," in actuality, "it's not a slap on the wrist."

"His lifestyle for the next six years is going to be very controlled," Totten continued. "If he goes to a party and they're serving beer, he can't say, 'Can I have one?' If he wanted to go across the Tennessee line, which as the crow flies is eight or nine miles from his house, and buy a lottery ticket, he can't do that."

Although he did not call any witnesses at trial, Totten accused Andrews of inventing rape accusations as revenge against Clem for breaking off their consensual affair. Totten also noted that he and the judge, Woodroof, are childhood best friends.

"I want to applaud the courage of Courtney Andrews and her family throughout this entire ordeal," Jones added on Friday. He would not comment on his office's next course of action, saying that now, "we work on Plan C."

Florida GOP House Candidate Blasted Over Climate Denial

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 1:06 PM EST

Here's something you don't see every day: A major ad buy in a swing congressional district about...rising sea levels. A special election in Florida's 13th congressional district is scheduled for March 11, and the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club are spending $350,000 attacking Republican candidate Dave Jolly for his recent comments on climate change. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Jolly said, "I don't think the impact that humans have had on our climate is so dramatic as it requires a significant shift in federal policy."

Here's the text:

Ignore the storms. Ignore polar cold. Ignore sea levels rising all around us. Ignore climate change. That's David Jolly's view. But Gulf tides are rising, and the risk of flooding has doubled. NASA and the U.S. military agree: Pinellas needs to prepare. The Times says Jolly's wrong on climate change—that Jolly should go back to his "science books and learn some facts." David Jolly. Back to school, not to Congress.

It's not unusual to see the LCV pushing politicians to focus on climate change, but with the race a virtual toss-up, is a sign that environmental groups view it as a winning issue—even in a district that's been represented by a Republican every year since 1982.

Disney World Cuts Off Boy Scouts Funding, Allegedly Over Anti-Gay Policies

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 11:43 AM EST

Walt Disney has booted the Boy Scouts out of the Magic Kingdom, allegedly due to the national organization's discriminatory policies against gay members. Although the Boy Scouts began welcoming gay scouts in January, it dispels these members after they turn 18, banning them, as well as gay parents, from leading troops and packs. Florida-based Walt Disney World, the latest company to stop giving money to Boy Scouts in recent years, said that it cut off funding because the organization's "views" do not align with theirs, according to a letter sent from the Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to the state's scout leaders and parents. 

"In losing this grant money...we may have to cut back on activities, delay replacing aging equipment, or reduce 'high-adventure' camping. Unless the families can make up the difference, we will have reduced experiences for the boys available," said a Florida pack and troop leader, who wished to remain anonymous because of potential retaliation from the local scouting community. "My kids are losing money solely based on National BSA's moral judgment against gay people. It's not what I believe or teach my kids. Discrimination is not what we practice as a local scout unit." 

Walt Disney World did not provide financial support to the national BSA council, but it did give grants to local scouting troops through a program called, "Ears to You," in which employees do volunteer work, and, in return, the company gives money to a charity of the employee's choice. The Florida scout leader told Mother Jones that many members of the Florida scouting community participate in this program, and some units were receiving up to $6,000 per year. 

According to the letter sent by the BSA Central Florida Council, the national leadership of BSA reached out to Walt Disney World to address the dropped funding, but the company said that their "views do not currently align with the BSA and they are choosing to discontinue this level of support." Walt Disney World did not respond to comment as to whether those views specifically refer to the Scouts' LGBT policy, and BSA spokesman Deron Smith declined to comment on the rationale. But Brad Hankins, a spokesman for Scouts for Equality, which advocates for equal LGBT rights, said the group believes it's over BSA's anti-gay policy: "Beyond the membership policies, what other views does the BSA hold that are controversial?" According to its Standards of Business Conduct, Disney World permits no discrimination based on "sex, sexual orientation [and] gender identification" among its employees. 

Smith, the Boy Scouts spokesman, did confirm that Walt Disney World has suddenly stopped providing these grants. "We believe every child deserves the opportunity to be a part of the Scouting experience and we are disappointed in this decision because it will impact our ability to serve kids," he said. Many other companies have stopped funding BSA recently over its anti-gay policy, including Lockheed Martin and UPS. 
 

According to Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbian mothers, and founder of Scouts for Equality, it's not the famous theme park that's hurting the scouts—it's the Boy Scouts' discriminatory policies. "We’re never happy to see scouting suffer as a result of the BSA’s anti-gay policy," he said, "but Disney made the right decision to withhold support until Scouting is fully inclusive." The Florida scout leader agrees: "Because of the national decision to deny leadership opportunities to gay adults, my kids and other local units near Disney are penalized. If I were the decision-maker at Disney, I think I would make the same decision."