Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 27, 2013

Fri Sep. 27, 2013 11:24 AM EDT

A Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicle passes beneath the rising sun at the outset of a combat logistics patrol launched by Marines with Combat Logistics Regiment 2, Regional Command (Southwest), in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 22, 2013. Convoy crews commonly operate from sunup to sundown during logistics missions through the province's rugged terrain. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Paul Peterson.

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CNN Flip-Flops: Newt's PAC Donations Don't Violate "Crossfire" Ethics Rules [UPDATED]

| Fri Sep. 27, 2013 11:13 AM EDT
Newt Gingrich.

This post has been updated.

On Wednesday, David Corn and I reported that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was raising money for a political action committee that so far in 2013 has raised $1.4 million—supposedly to dole out to conservative candidates—but only donated 1 percent of this haul to politicians, including $5,000 each to Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Our story raised this question: Is Gingrich's American Legacy PAC just a cash cow for his favorite consultants and associates? As it turned out, the article raised another issue: Gingrich's work for the PAC—which lists him as a founder and honorary co-chair—appeared to violate CNN's ethics rules covering his new job as a co-host of the rebooted Crossfire.

As Media Matters first reported in early September, CNN standards chief Rick Davis said that if Gingrich "is helping fund a candidate and that candidate's on the show, or being discussed on the show, of course he'll disclose that. Disclosure is important when it's relevant." On August 20, American Legacy PAC announced by email a donation of $5,000 to Rand Paul's 2016 reelection campaign. Weeks later, Paul appeared on the first episode of Crossfire. Gingrich did not disclose American Legacy's donation to Paul or his role with the PAC.

Pressed over whether Gingrich violated the network's rules, CNN changed its tune. In a statement to Media Matters, Davis, the CNN standards chief, says the network was "clarifying" its ethics guidelines and that Gingrich did nothing wrong:

We are clarifying the policy and making it clear Newt Gingrich is not in violation. The policy: If a Crossfire co-host has made a financial contribution to a politician who appears on the program or is the focus of the program, disclosure is not required during the show since the co-host's political support is obvious by his or her point of view expressed on the program.

Given that much of the critical political action these days occurs in primary elections and that the GOP is in the midst of an internal battle between tea partiers and establishmentarians, a viewer might not be able to assume that Crossfire's Republican co-hosts support all Republican candidates. Thus, it might enlighten viewers—and provide greater context—if a Republican co-host disclosed donations that revealed his or her party favorites. (The same is true regarding the Democratic co-hosts.) It would hardly be out of line to suggest that Gingrich might be even more supportive of a Republican candidate that he and his PAC finances. So the disclosure of his fundraising efforts certainly could be considered news-you-can-use for Crossfire viewers. Just not at CNN headquarters.

Mother Jones has made several requests for comment from Davis. So far, no response.

UPDATE: Via a spokeswoman, CNN standards chief Rick Davis sent this statement to Mother Jones about Gingrich's PAC fundraising and his Crossfire job:

Crossfire hosts have never been required to disclose their contributions regarding guests on the show because their political support and activism are there for all to see. It's obvious they support liberals or conservatives.

Davis' earlier statement that Gingrich would have to disclose any work "helping fund a candidate" who appears on Crossfire or is discussed on the show is no longer the case.

Charts: 4 Reasons Why the White House's Domestic-Worker Protections Matter

| Fri Sep. 27, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The Obama administration made a huge announcement last Tuesday: Starting in January 2015, the federal labor laws that currently ensure minimum wage and overtime protections will be extended to the nation's direct-care workers—some 2 million people who perform jobs like caring for the elderly and the disabled. And yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights into law, expanding the legal protections for its estimated 360,000 (PDF) domestic workers. He vetoed a similar bill last year.

Domestic-care work is largely overlooked and undervalued, and domestic workers—many of whom are women and immigrants—face grave financial hardships and exploitation. "Direct-care work," or "home care work," is a subset of domestic work, and specifically relates to people who are employed to care for the elderly, the infirm, and people with disabilities. Currently, while domestic work such as housekeeping is protected, people who care for the elderly and disabled are exempted from both federal minimum wage and overtime protections. Domestic workers living in their employer's home are exempted from federal overtime protections. Here are four reasons why these recent decisions are so important:

1. The "home care" industry is one of the fastest growing in the United States.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of home health and personal care aides—people who provide care to the disabled, chronically ill, and cognitively impaired—is expected to grow by about 70 percent between 2010 and 2020. In that time period, home health and personal aides are projected to grow faster than any other occupation, including biomedical engineers, carpenters, and physical therapy assistants.

2. Despite the industry's huge proportions, most states don't provide wage or overtime protections for home care workers.
Currently, more than half of states provide neither wage nor overtime protections for home care workers. And only three states—New York in 2010, Hawaii this past July, and most recently California—have passed a domestic workers' bill of rights, legislation that national organizations of domestic workers have been trying to pass for years. The National Domestic Workers Alliance, led by labor rights advocate Ai-Jen Poo, says that such bills ensure basic rights such as overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and adequate sleeping conditions for live-in workers. Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Oregon have all tried and failed to pass bills of rights.

3. Even with these meager protections, domestic workers face severe financial hardships.
When the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed by the federal government in 1938 (PDF), it exempted all domestic workers from minimum wage, maximum hours, and overtime protections. Later, the federal government granted protections to some domestic workers but continued to exclude many based on their categorization in "companionship services"—the same category as babysitters. As a result, domestic workers who provide services like caring for the elderly have for decades been excluded from basic employee rights. Domestic workers are also excluded from the right to collectively bargain.

Unsurprisingly, the income of domestic workers falls below the federal poverty line for families of four and five, which in 2010 were estimated at $22,050 and $25,790, respectively. In 2010, the median annual income of home health aides was $20,560. The median annual wage for personal care aides was $19,640, with the lowest 10 percent making less than $15,970.

Meanwhile, the agencies that connect domestic workers and people in need have flourished. According to the National Employment Law Project, "for-profit home care chains rake in 30 to 40 percent profits in a $70 billion industry, even as hourly wages are low enough to qualify home care workers for public assistance in 34 states."

4. The resulting economic insecurity is worst for women of color and immigrant women.
A groundbreaking study by the National Domestic Workers Alliance found that domestic workers—90 percent of whom are women, and 50 percent of whom are minorities—have little financial security, and that "20 percent report that there were times in the previous month when there was no food to eat in their homes because their was no money to buy any." The study found, moreover, that native-born women of color and immigrant women fair far worse then their white counterparts.

These numbers, moreover, contribute to a larger lack of economic security among women, particularly women of color. The chart below is based on a Wider Opportunities for Women analysis of recent Census poverty data, and it shows that 60 percent of women—as compared to 45 percent of men—are financially insecure, meaning their incomes do not meet their basic needs. The numbers are, unsurprisingly, worse for women of color. Latina women, who comprise the majority of housecleaning employment, are least economically secure.

Even though the ruling is not set to take effect for more than a year, it sheds light on the millions of domestic workers in the United States and the difficult conditions in which they work. And aside from all of the potential financial benefits to domestic workers, the expansion also has a symbolic effect: making visible what has for so long gone unrecognized as "real work."

This post has been updated.

Athletic Director Making $900K Wishes Unpaid College Athletes Would Shut Up Already

| Thu Sep. 26, 2013 5:00 PM EDT

During Saturday's college football games, 28 players at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Northwestern University wore wristbands marked with "APU"—short for All Players United—as part of a movement calling for NCAA reform, including efforts to minimize brain trauma and care for players who sustain brain injuries, as well as more money in scholarship aid for athletes.

This didn't sit well with Iowa State University Athletic Director Jamie Pollard, who is making $900,000 this year thanks in large part to the sacrifices of the Cyclones' student-athletes (that figure factors in a one-time retention payment of $400,000 he got for sticking around for eight years). He went on a Twitter rant yesterday afternoon calling out protesters:

Pollard points out the long-term value of #education, but that's a tough sell to the 38 percent of Iowa State football players (and 50 percent of Iowa State men's basketball players) who don't graduate within six years, according to the NCAA. And take note, silent majority: Using increased TV revenue to pay for medical coverage and increased scholarship aid for athletes would have no bearing whatsoever on rising student debt.

Zombie Apocalypse Drug Reaches US: This Is Not a Joke (Graphic Image)

| Thu Sep. 26, 2013 3:00 PM EDT

Krokodil, a highly addictive designer drug that aggressively eats through flesh, has reportedly arrived in the United States. A Phoenix CBS affiliate revealed this week that two cases involving krokodil had been phoned into a local poison control center and quoted one of the center's medical directors, Dr. Frank LoVecchio, saying he and his colleagues were "extremely frightened." While the US Drug Enforcement Administration has not yet received a sample of the drug for analysis, and thus cannot confirm it was krokodil, Barbara Carreno of the DEA told Mother Jones that the agency often learns about new synthetic drugs (including the infamous bath salts) through local poison-control centers. "We've been scrambling to see what we know about the cases in Arizona," she added. "This concerns us very much." 

Krokodil, technically known as Desomorphine, has a similar effect to heroin, but is significantly cheaper and easier to make. In the last few years, it's been wreaking severe havoc on the bodies and lives of Russian youth. The drug earned its nickname—the Russian word for crocodile—because of the ghastly side effects it has on the human body. Wherever the drug is injected, the skin turns green and scaly, showing symptoms of gangrene. In severe cases, the skin rots away completely revealing the bone beneath. Other permanent effects of the drug include speech impediments and erratic movement. Rotting flesh, jerky movements, and speech troubles have prompted media outlets to tag krokodil the "zombie drug." According to Time, the average user of krokodil only lives two or three years, and "the few who manage to quit usually come away disfigured." Quitting is its own nasty business. Heroin withdrawal symptoms last about a week; symptoms for krokodil withdrawal can last over a month.

Krokodil use has skyrocketed in poor rural communities in Russia in the last few years, despite the troubling side effects. The Federal Drug Control Service in Russia told Time that in the first three months of 2011, it confiscated 65 million doses of the drug. Desomorphine didn't originate in Russia; the potent painkiller was patented in the United States in 1934. It only became a recreational drug about 10 years ago, when it surfaced in Siberia. The Independent reported in 2011 that up to 5 percent of Russian drug users have used krokodil—as many as 100,000 people. Zhenya, a former user in Russia, told the Independent that when she used to inject krokodil, she was "dreaming of heroin, of something that feels clean and not like poison. But you can't afford it, so you keep doing the krokodil. Until you die."

The main ingredients in krokodil are codeine, iodine, and red phosphorous. The latter is the stuff that's used to make the striking part on matchboxes. Sometimes paint thinner, gasoline, and hydrochloric acid are thrown into the mix. Like meth, it's fairly easy to cook up in a home kitchen. You need a stove, a pan, and about 30 minutes. The drug is then injected directly into the vein, producing a high that lasts about an hour and a half. According to the Week, each injection costs about $6 to $8, while heroin is up to $25.

Carreno of the DEA says that krokodil isn't a controlled substance yet because the agency has to have more evidence that it's a public health problem. "You don't want a federal agency going around making things illegal willy-nilly…We'd have to see more than two cases before we control it," she notes. "But people are mixing codeine and gasoline, and shooting it into their veins. What do they expect?"

In the mean time, if you want to feel disgusted and never eat lunch again, look at the graphic picture below of a krokodil user. For more gruesome images, go here.



8 Reasons Defunding Obamacare Would Be More Dangerous Than You Think

| Thu Sep. 26, 2013 12:10 PM EDT

Despite all the bluster, brinksmanship, and fauxlibustering, Obamacare is not going to be defunded. But if it were, that would do a lot more damage than you'd imagine. As health care law scholar Timothy Jost pointed out in The Hill Wednesday, the massive law "contains provisions affecting nearly every aspect of our health care system." That means defunding it would not only block implementation of the individual and employer mandates, and insurance subsidies for low-income Americans; it would also cut off money for things like Medicare, preventive medicine, and programs for low-income kids.

Here are 8 additional ways that "defunding Obamacare" would hurt Americans (all via Jost):

1. It would slash funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by 70 percent. CHIP provides health coverage to nearly 8 million children in families with incomes slightly higher than the Medicaid cut off line.

2. Funds would be eliminated for the Early Childhood Home Visiting program, which sends health workers into low-income homes to help prevent child abuse and neglect, improve newborn health, and boost school readiness.

3. Defunding Obamacare would cut back preventive services under Medicare, impacting millions.

4. It could also end payments for certain private plans offered through Medicare.

5. Funding for community health centers in medically underserved areas would be cut by nearly 60 percent.

6. The ACA helps close the Medicare prescription drug "donut hole," the dollar limit on the drug costs the plan will cover each year (right now the limit is $2,970). Defunding Obamacare would leave that coverage limit in place.

7. Funds would be eliminated for scholarships and loan repayment programs for doctors who chose to practice in communities with limited access to health care.

8. Money would be slashed from the Department of Health and Human Services' anti-fraud efforts, increasing the costs of state and federal health care programs.  

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 26, 2013

Thu Sep. 26, 2013 11:21 AM EDT

Marines and Georgian Soldiers with 33rd Georgian Battalion exit an MV-22 Osprey aircraft during an operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 23, 2013. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165 provided the service members with aerial support during the operation. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ashley E. Santy.

No, the Navy Yard Mass Shooter Did Not Target a "Gun-Free Zone"

| Thu Sep. 26, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Surveillance footage from the Washington Navy Yard.

Each time another mass shooting takes place, gun rights advocates are quick to blame the attack on the prohibition of firearms in public places. Their argument claims to explain both the motive behind mass shootings and how they play out: The killers deliberately choose locations where guns are forbidden, they say, and therefore no "good guy with a gun" is on hand to stop the attack. Conservatives' response to the massacre at the Washington Navy Yard was no exception. (Never mind the heavy security at the military installation.) As Fox News' Martha MacCallum put it, "On a military base, you're not allowed to carry weapons," and "someone working or familiar with the area probably would know that."

Her speculation may have sounded vaguely plausible, but it had no basis in fact. As I explained in a piece in USA Today earlier this year, in scores of mass shooting cases over the last three decades there isn't a single one in which the killer is known to have targeted a location because it banned guns. To the contrary, evidence in the vast majority of cases shows the motive was clearly otherwise, from workplace revenge to hate crime to a killer's obsession with his former school.

We now have the same understanding of the Navy Yard mass shooter, thanks to an FBI report released on Wednesday, which includes evidence pertaining to Aaron Alexis' state of mind. Not only was he plagued by serious mental illness, as previous news reports suggested, but Alexis also had no expectation of entering a venue that was free of firearms. According to the FBI's analysis of evidence it recovered from his belongings, "There are indicators that Alexis was prepared to die during the attack and that he accepted death as the inevitable consequence of his actions."

That finding fits with a clear pattern in the data we gathered in our mass shootings investigation: The perpetrators weren't looking for a safe, gun-free place to carry out their attacks—most of them were on suicide missions.

The FBI on Wednesday also released some eerie surveillance footage of Alexis entering the Navy Yard premises and moving with stealth through the corridors of Building 197 as he stalked his victims. We'll never fully know what was going through his disturbed mind, of course, but judge for yourself whether he was acting like a person who believed he was operating in a place full of defenseless sitting ducks:

10 Ways of Saying Republicans Have Gone Nuts

| Thu Sep. 26, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

"How many different ways are there to say that the Tea Party Republicans are both crazy and stupid?" wonders The American Prospect's Paul Waldman as the defund-Obamacare-or-shut-down-the-government showdown approaches. Answering that may be like counting how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, but here are 10 colorful ways of filling in the sentence "Congressional Republicans are like…"

• "…a bunch of 3-year-olds playing with matches."

• "…skillful mechanics riding a runaway freight train with no one in the locomotive."

• "…a schoolyard bully who realizes that the kid he's picking on is smarter than he is and just humiliated him in front of the entire student body."

• "…a colony of termites, voraciously nibbling away at the foundations of Obamacare."

• "…the bride who has jilted all her previous grooms but has the audacity to be angry at the boyfriend who refuses to propose."

• "…Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

• "…the fellow who bellies up to the bar, asking for just one more round of tax breaks for his buddies, while declaring, 'Put it on my tab.'"

• "...children, taking everything personally."

• "...Charlie Brown kicking the football."

• "...a hamster on a treadmill, just keep doing the same thing over and over."

Honorable mention: "John Boehner is like a preschool teacher who can't control his class, so he's letting the class eat Play-Doh, despite the fact that eating Play-Doh is going to make them sick, and he can't do anything about it."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 25, 2013

Wed Sep. 25, 2013 9:22 AM EDT

US Army Spc. Adam L. Cayton and Spc. Sheign K. Hopson, both indirect fire infantryman with 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division Air Assault, make adjustments to a 81mm mortar system during a live fire at Afghan Combat Outpost Kaligu, in Paktya Province in Afghanistan, Sept. 12, 2013. US Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller, 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.