Political MoJo

Ohio Gubernatorial Candidate's Group Compared Obama to Hitler, Stalin

| Mon Jan. 6, 2014 12:24 PM EST

On Tuesday, Ohio businessman Ted Stevenot will announce he would challenge Gov. John Kasich in May's Republican primary. Stevenot is, by his own admission, a relative newcomer to state politics and has not run for a major office before. His main credential prior to entering the race was his 10-month stint as president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, a statewide network of tea party groups. The OLC's agenda tracks closely with similar tea party groups in other states: It opposes the Common Core natural curriculum standard, it worries that the state's elected Republicans are too soft on President Obama, and it likes guns.

But the group has a habit of expressing its views in inflammatory ways. A photo posted to its Facebook page (see above) last January, shortly before Stevenot took over, compares Obama to a collection of notorious dictators, including Fidel Castro, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler, because of their shared habit of occasionally appearing in photos with children. Another image recommends using assault rifles against "the people who try to take them away"—in this case, the federal government:

Ohio Liberty Coalition/Facebook

And here's the president of the United States, after being punched in the face:

Ohio Liberty Coalition/Facebook

Stevenot has accused Kasich of being too close to Obama, because the governor used federal funding to expand the state's Medicaid program. He's not leaving himself open to a similar charge.

Update: Stevenot has dropped out of the race, leaving Ohio tea partiers without a candidate.

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NYC's Unsolved Murder Victims Are Disproportionately Minorities

| Mon Jan. 6, 2014 10:24 AM EST

Justice comes slower for homicide victims killed in New York's poorer outer boroughs than it does for the denizens of rich, relatively homicide-free Manhattan.

That's according to a New York Daily News investigation analyzing the number of homicide detectives the city assigns to assist local precincts during the critical first hours following a murder. The investigation also looked at how the city allocates the scarce resources of its cold case squad. Reporters found that there are 10 homicides detectives serving Manhattan South, an area where only 10 murders were reported in all of 2013—one homicide detective per case. By contrast, Brooklyn North, where 86 New Yorkers were murdered in 2013, has 17 homicide detectives—each handling an average of five cases.

The result is a staggering number of unsolved murders in Brooklyn, Queens, and Bronx precincts, the majority of which involve Latino or black victims. The News tallied 77 open murder investigations in Brooklyn, 39 in the Bronx, 26 in Queens, 15 in Manhattan, and two in Staten Island. The precincts with the most open murder cases are in Brookyln's East Flatbush (10 out of 12 unsolved), Crown Heights, (nine out of 13 unsolved), and East New York (eight out of 17 unsolved) neighborhoods. The News found that 86 percent of last year's homicides involving a white victim have been solved, compared with 45 percent of murders with a black victim and 56 percent of murders involving a Hispanic victim.

It's not hard to figure out why such a disparity exists. "Manhattan is treated differently than the outer boroughs because that's where the money is," Joseph Giacalone, who retired last year as commanding officer of the Bronx Cold Case squad, told The News.

The scarcity of resources for murder investigations is partly explained by cuts and retirements that greatly reduced the number of detectives serving New York's homicide and cold case squads. For example, there are roughly 1,500 unsolved homicides on the books in New York City. But the number of detectives working to make arrests in cold cases has plummeted, from 50 when the squad formed in 1996 to just eight today.

Still, the city's clearance rate—the number of homicide arrests detectives make each year compared with the number of new homicides reported in the same time period—has averaged about 70 percent since the 1990s. Yet it's the precincts in the poorer areas of outer boroughs have lagged behind badly. Manhattan homicides, Giacalone said, "get probably double the amount of cops that you see in Brooklyn…It’s just part of the deal."

That is cold comfort to a person like Donna Rayside, whose son, Dustin Yeates, was killed in May in Brooklyn's Flatland neighborhood. Police in that precinct, the 63rd, have not made an arrest in his case. "With eight killings in 2013, the [63rd] precinct has among the fewest detectives per homicide in the entire city at 1.5, compared to most Manhattan precincts that have anywhere from five to 26 detectives per murder," The News explains.

"It just seems like his case got swept under the rug," Rayside told the Daily News. She is offering $8,000 of her own money for information that leads to the arrest of her son's killer—as she fears police have dismissed her son's slaying as merely "one black guy against another."

NSA Won't Say If It's Spying on Members of Congress

| Mon Jan. 6, 2014 9:54 AM EST
US Army General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) posed an intriguing—and potentially damaging—question to the embattled National Security Agency: "Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials?"

Sanders, in his letter to the NSA, defined spying as collecting lawmakers' phone metadata (information on phone numbers called, where calls are made to and from, how long the call lasts), information about website and email traffic, and "any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business." As the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have revealed, the NSA has hoovered up personal information on just about everyone else on the planet—elected leaders of foreign countries, diplomats, allies and enemies overseas, and millions of American citizens. Although none of the Snowden documents published thus far mention NSA spying on American elected officials, it was only a matter of time before an angry member of Congress asked if Capitol Hill, too, had been a focus of the agency's surveillance.

The NSA quickly responded to Sanders' letter, and as the Guardian reports, it includes no denial of spying on members of Congress. Here's the statement:

NSA's authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons. NSA is fully committed to transparency with Congress. Our interaction with Congress has been extensive both before and since the media disclosures began last June.

We are reviewing Senator Sanders's letter now, and we will continue to work to ensure that all members of Congress, including Senator Sanders, have information about NSA's mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties."

In other words, we treat members of Congress like all other American citizens. Whom the NSA spies on by collecting vast stores of metadata on phone calls and other communications. A fact that James Clapper, the top intelligence official in Obama's cabinet, lied about under oath before Congress last year.

Based on the NSA's statement, the agency apepars to be preparing a fuller response to Sanders' letter. Perhaps that might put to rest any worries about domestic spying on our nation's most powerful lawmakers. If it doesn't, and if concerns about spying on Congress fester, we might see the House or Senate haul Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, back to Capitol Hill to testify. That'll make for exciting daytime television.

Read Bernie Sanders' letter to the NSA:


Above the Law: Steven Seagal Considers Run to Be Arizona's Governor

| Mon Jan. 6, 2014 9:49 AM EST

Steven Seagal has a lengthy resume: real-life martial arts expert, action star of 40-some movies, one-time director, nine-time nominee and one-time winner of a Golden Raspberry award, reserve deputy sheriff, namesake of an energy drink, musician with two full-length albums, and Mother Jones endorsed Joe Biden look-a-like. Now he wants to add politician to the mix.

Last Friday Phoenix TV station ABC15 published an interview with Seagal ahead of the new season of his reality TV show, Steven Seagal: Lawman. The first two seasons of the show, aired on A&E, featured Seagal working alongside police units in the suburbs of New Orleans. But for the latest season, now airing on Reelz, Seagal has transferred to Arizona, where he is a deputy for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, one of the country's leading anti-immigrant zealots. That could springboard Seagal, a Republican, toward a career in politics.

"Joe Arpaio and I were talking about me running for governor in Arizona," Seagal said in the interview, "which was kind of a joke, but I suppose I would remotely consider it, but I probably would have a lot more other responsibilities."

When ABC15 asked Seagal what topic he viewed as the most pressing political problem for the country he turned to one of Arpaio's favorite topics: open borders. "I think that this is a tremendous oversight by the current administration," he said. "I think that it's a crime."

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

Mon Jan. 6, 2014 9:48 AM EST

UH-60 Blackhawks from A Co., 3-142nd Assault Helicopter Company, 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade, air drop soldiers from A Co., 1-67th Infantry (Heavy), 2-4th Infantry Division during a training exercise on Dec. 28th, 2013, outside of Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

The 42nd CAB, New York Army National Guard, is currently deployed overseas to operate rotary winged aircraft in suport of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Harley Jelis/Released)

H&M Plans to Pay Garment Workers Fair Wages. Here's Why That's Probably BS.

| Mon Jan. 6, 2014 5:55 AM EST

I recently wrote about the Indian sumangali scheme, wherein girls from poor, rural families are recruited to work in clothing factories, on the promise that they will earn enough money for a dowry. Instead, many toil in exploitive conditions, earning far less than recruiters told them they would. Many of these factories sell to American companies. H&M has been accused by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations of using sumangali labor in the past, but the company is trying to rid its factories of the scheme by 2014. Shortly before Black Friday, H&M announced that it also plans to start paying 850,000 workers at 750 factories—out of its some 1,800 total factories around the world—a fair wage by 2018.

Fair-trade experts say that the announcement is a step in the right direction, but some point out that the plan has major holes. Most notably, the factories that will be covered under the fair-wage program produce just 60 percent of H&M's products, and the company did not say whether it would eventually extend the plan to its other factories, as well. Here are a few other red flags:

H&M won't say how much it will pay workers in each country. Anna Eriksson, a spokesperson for H&M, told me that that the company does not believe US buyers should dictate a minimum wage to its factories; instead, it expects factory employees and factory owners to work together to come up with a fair wage. Wages will depend on the country and the factory, and must meet the Fair Wage Method, which was developed by Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, who oversees wage policy at the United Nations' International Labour Organization. This standard is based on a number of factors—such as promoting "acceptable living standards" and being "comparable to wages in similar enterprises in the same sector." H&M also plans to support unions that empower workers to negotiate for wages, and encourage governments to identify a living wage level.

But Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, criticizes the company's plan to rely on governments and factories to set wages. Nova told the Washington Post, "Just saying 'we're for a living wage, in 5 years we're going to pay an undefined amount in a subset or our factories,' that's not credible." Jefferson Cowie, the chair of the Department of Labor Relations, Law, & History at Cornell University, echoed those concerns. "It is hard to see governments taking a strong role in boosting wages in the short run," he told me. Fair wages can also be hard to enforce. I saw this firsthand while reporting my sumangali story: In India, the government does have a minimum wage for textile workers—but many of the female workers I spoke with were not being paid that wage, and didn't have access to a union.

H&M claims that increasing wages somehow won't raise prices consumers pay for its clothing. Eriksson says that the company will keep its clothing prices steady for Western consumers by using in-house designers, buying clothing in large volumes, and finding other efficiencies. But Elizabeth Cline, the author of the 2012 book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, says that she doesn't believe that H&M can pay garment workers a living wage without raising retail prices. "How can that be true?" she says. "It makes me think that the company is just riding on unsustainable expansion [and] will just continue to sell more and more low-quality clothes to make up for this increased cost." However, Joel Paul, a law professor and expert in trade policy at the University of California-Hastings, speculates that the claim could, in fact, be true: Because foreign garment factory labor accounts for a tiny percentage of a shirt's total cost, he says, increasing workers' hourly wages from 15 cents to a $1.50—an estimated living wage in Bangladesh—wouldn't substantially undercut profits.

The wage increase won't affect any of H&M's spinning mills. H&M's fair-wage promise does not extend to all of its subcontractors, which include the factories that spin the cotton into thread (also known as spinning mills). In India, most sumangali schemes take place in spinning mills. That the plan doesn't include subcontractors could be a big problem: If some factories in the supply chain are not required to pay a fair wage, garment factories can simply outsource more of their labor to those cheaper operations. When I asked H&M how the company plans to address the challenge of factories outsourcing labor to subcontractors with potentially exploitive conditions, spokesman Håcan Andersson said, "We are not able to assist you further in this matter." 

Despite the plan's significant problems, Cornell's Cowie says he believes that H&M deserves some credit for taking baby steps toward fixing a notoriously exploitive industry. "Do they have the perfect solution?" he says. "Absolutely not. If they wanted to pay the highest wages, they wouldn't be shopping for labor in Cambodia and Bangladesh in the first place. But making an open commitment to workers matters—as long as it does not end up being just a cover for their old practices."

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WATCH: George Zimmerman's Girlfriend Reveals Disturbing New Details in Police Video

| Fri Jan. 3, 2014 10:27 AM EST

Last November, after a heated domestic dispute and a frantic call to 911, George Zimmerman's girlfriend told police that he had threatened her with a shotgun. The allegations were eerily similar to those lodged by Zimmerman's ex-wife following his acquittal on charges of murdering unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, and they seemed to signal a pattern of uncontrolled violence.

Zimmerman's girlfriend, 27-year-old Samantha Scheibe, later recanted the accusations, saying in a sworn statement that she was "intimidated" during police questioning and believed investigators had "misinterpreted" her words. But a recently released video of Scheibe's police interview casts doubt on her disavowal. It also adds credibility and violent new detail to Scheibe's original account.

The officer who questioned Scheibe, Stephen LaGuardia of the Seminole County Sheriff's office, did not come across as intimidating. And Scheibe's description of events was detailed and vivid—not the kind of thing most people concoct on the fly. Having broken off the relationship, Scheibe said she told Zimmerman to leave her house. He began packing his belongings, including his AR-15 assault rifle. As he removed the clip and shoved it in his rifle bag, a bullet fell on the floor. Zimmerman then grabbed and cocked his shotgun, apparently so that there was a shell in the chamber, and stuffed it in the rifle bag, too.

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

Fri Jan. 3, 2014 9:59 AM EST

An MV-22 Osprey flies over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 25, 2013. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, his wife Bonnie, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal P. Barrett and Sgt. Dakota Meyer traveled around Regional Command (Southwest) to visit troops for the holiday season. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Tammy K. Hineline/Released)

Report: Hype Over Canceled Plans Under Obamacare Was Overblown

| Thu Jan. 2, 2014 2:36 PM EST

It's been more than 24 hours since insurance kicked in for early adopters of the Obamacare exchanges and somehow, magically, the health care system has yet to collapse. That might come as a surprise if you've listened too closely to the warnings from Republicans over the past several months. Conservative legislators devoted the end of 2013 to bemoaning the raft of cancellation notices sent to people enrolled in shoddy insurance plans, juxtaposing those letters to President Barack Obama's claim that "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it," a line that earned Politifact's Lie of the Year dishonor. Republicans claimed that millions would now go without insurance once Obamacare went into effect.

The truth turns out to be a tad more complicated. On New Year's Eve, the Democratic minority on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report examining exactly how many people will lack health insurance under the new regime. The report uses an Associated Press estimate that 4.7 million people received cancellation notices as their baseline. But out of that group, according to the Democrats, only a small sliver of Americans—just 10,000 people—who lost their 2013 coverage won't have access to affordable insurance.

"Previous false claims have included the assertion that the law requires death panels, that the law represents a government take over of health care, and that law has caused millions to lose their jobs," the report says. "The assertion that the law will cause five million individuals who currently have coverage in the individual market to go without coverage in 2014 is similarly baseless."

Ohio Republican Gov. Expands Medicaid, Gets a Primary Challenge

| Thu Jan. 2, 2014 12:20 PM EST

Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio).

Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the federal government is covering the vast majority of the cost of expanding Medicaid, the joint state-federal health insurance program for poor people, pregnant women, and infants. But conservatives in 24 states have blocked the program's expansion—and taken aim at anyone who breaks with the party line. Their newest target: Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, who went around the state legislature last year to cover 275,000 more Ohioans. On Thursday, Ted Stevenot, the former president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, a tea party group, announced he would take on Kasich in the May gubernatorial primary, provided he can collect 1,000 signatures by the end of the month. Per the Huffington Post:

Stevenot sent out a release late Wednesday night saying he would hold a press conference Jan. 7 in Columbus to make a "major announcement" concerning his candidacy. The announcement also noted that Brenda Mack of Canfield, Ohio, will be his running mate as lieutenant governor. She is the former president of the Ohio Black Republicans Association and the current president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation Ohio Chapter.

As my colleague Andy Kroll noted in May, conservative unrest over Kasich has been brewing for a while, with tea partiers even going so far as to threaten to form their own party to oppose him. But President Barack Obama won Ohio twice, and Kasich's signature anti-union legislation was soundly defeated at the polls. That puts the governor in a bind as he heads into what was already expected to be a tough re-election fight next fall.

Still, Stevenot isn't exactly Grover Norquist. The tea party leader has no political experience and only a very short history of political activism. At last count, had just 17 followers on Twitter. The big news here might not be that Kasich finally got a primary challenge—it's that the primary challenger is (at first glance, at least) so underwhelming.