Political MoJo

Ken Cuccinelli Denies Rumors He's Distancing Himself From Running Mate Who Thinks Yoga Leads to Satan

| Mon Sep. 16, 2013 12:38 PM EDT
Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli (R).

Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli just can't quit E.W. Jackson. When Jackson, a conservative activist and minister, won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Virginia, his running mate Cuccinelli made a point of keeping his distance. Each candidate, he emphasized, should be considered "on an individual basis." The reasons why were obvious: Jackson, a conservative activist and minister, got his start fighting AIDS prevention efforts during the height of the AIDS epidemic, wrote a book about how yoga is a gateway to Satan and rap music and death metal are "eggs of destruction," and, more recently, expressed his adult opinion that gays are "ikky."

But now, as the race enters its home stretch, whatever divide there was between the two arch-conservative candidates is more or less gone. Per the Washington Post:

Cuccinelli, the sitting attorney general, and Jackson, a Chesapeake minister, sounded a message of unity and cooperation at a breakfast event Saturday near Roanoke. State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), who is running for attorney general, also attended.

"Would you please greet a man who I have the utmost faith in and honor for," Jackson said as he introduced Cuccinelli, according to audio posted on YouTube. "We are friends. We are working together. Don't believe the rumors. We're working together."

Cuccinelli told the audience, "It's great to be here with the whole ticket. As E.W. said, we're running together. We're running hard."

One reason for the reunion may just be that there's not too much of a difference between the two social conservative politicians. Cuccinelli, who recently launched a website to defend the state's anti-sodomy law, has come under fire from Democratic challenger Terry McAuliffe more recently for his opposition to no-fault divorce. And as a state senator, he launched a personal investigation into a so-called "Sextravaganza" at George Mason University that he feared would promote "libertine behavior."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 16, 2013

Mon Sep. 16, 2013 11:18 AM EDT

US Army Capt. Steven Pyles, of Fort Washington, Md., troop commander, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, speaks with local residents during a counter indirect fire patrol near Lalmah Village, Chapahar District, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 1, 2013. US Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Chad Carlson, 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Republican Senator: War in Syria Increases Chances for Keystone XL Pipeline Approval

| Fri Sep. 13, 2013 5:14 PM EDT

The Syrian civil war has resulted in more than two years of misery, a body count of roughly 100,000, too many war crimes to count, and talk of yet another American war effort. It might also boost the chances for approval of the Keystone pipeline, says a Republican senator.

"I believe it does," Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) told the Dickinson Press on Thursday. "Right now, we're determining how to respond in the Middle East, specifically Syria, and it shows, with the volatile situation there, how important it is that we can produce our own energy in North America and not have to get it from the Middle East."

On Thursday morning, Hoeven and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced a resolution supporting the construction of the controversial Keystone pipeline, which would transport Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast in Texas. Syria isn't a big producer of oil, and the Middle Eastern country's exports have been severely restricted by sanctions imposed by Western powers. But it's located near important pipelines and sea routes, and the Syria crisis and talk of US airstrikes have sharply affected oil prices.

Hoeven isn't the only Republican tying Keystone to intervening in Syria. In late August, former House speaker and current Crossfire co-host Newt Gingrich recommended that House Republicans should link the two hot-button issues. "House GOP should combine Keystone Pipeline and Syria into one up or down vote," Gingrich tweeted. "[Let's] see who wants war while opposing American energy." Right now, it seems that both decision are being put off. It is likely President Obama's final decision on the Keystone XL project will be made next year, and this week the president asked Congress to delay a vote on authorization of military force against the Assad regime.

 

h/t Ben Geman

Rand Paul Slams John McCain Over...MoJo Map?

| Fri Sep. 13, 2013 12:04 PM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

Last week my colleague Tasneem Raja and I published a map highlighting Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's long, loud history of proposing American military interventions in foreign countries. (His 2000 "rogue-state rollback" strategy, for instance, called for American-backed regime change in North Korea, Iraq, and Libya.) Apparently, it struck a nerve with McCain's colleagues. On Friday, in an interview with Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of the party's loudest anti-war voices, highlighted our guide while taking a dig at McCain's push for military intervention in Syria:

"There was a funny article the other day in Mother Jones—did you see it? About one of my colleagues?" he asked.

He was trying to do the polite, senatorial thing by not mentioning his "colleague" by name. But when his vague prompt was met with a blank look during an interview with BuzzFeed, he scrapped the pretense of diplomacy and charged forward.

"It ranked the different countries on how eager Sen. [John] McCain wanted to be involved [militarily]," he explained, not even attempting to contain his amusement. "So, like, for getting involved in Syria, there's five Angry McCains. For getting involved in the Sudan, there's two Angry McCains. And there's a little picture of him. You know, he was for getting involved to support [former Libyan president Muammar] Gaddafi before he was for overthrowing Gaddafi. He was for supporting [former Egyptian president Hosni] Mubarak before he was for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood before he was for supporting the generals."

You can read Coppins' full piece here.

The Illegal Vodka Pipeline You Never Knew Existed

| Fri Sep. 13, 2013 11:07 AM EDT

On Monday, a pipeline transporting molasses from a storage tank to a ship burst, spilling 233,000 gallons of sugary syrup into Honolulu Harbor. The disaster has devastated marine life and sent local agencies scrambling to clean up. But there was another obvious takeaway: Really, molasses moves in pipelines?

Yes, and it's not alone.

 

Molasses

BW Folsom /Shutterstock

Length: Unknown

Where: Honolulu

Used by: Shipping company Matson Navigation

Status: Still active.

 

Vodka

kaband/Shutterstock

Length: .3 miles

Where:  Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan

Used by: Smugglers

Status: Shut down by Kyrgyz customs officials in August.

 

Vodka

Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock; Aaron Amat/Shutterstock

Length: 1 mile

Where: Russia to Estonia

Used by: Smugglers

Status: Shut down by customs officials in 2008.

 

Moonshine

Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Length: 2 miles

Where: Belarus to Lithuania

Used by: Smugglers

Status: Shut down by customs officials in 2004.

 

Fried chicken

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Length: 650 feet

Where: Egypt to Gaza City

Used by: Smugglers, charging $27 for a 12-piece bucket of KFC.

Status: Still open. Maybe.

(Ed: This is more of a pipeline in a metaphorical sense, but it does pass through a tunnel.)

 

Beer

Darren J. Bradley/Shutterstock; Valentyn Volkov/Shutterstock

Length: 3.1 miles

Where: Gelensekirchen, Germany

Used by: Veltins Arena, home of the soccer club Schalke 04

Status: Still active.

 

Whiskey

Tim Stirling/Shutterstock

Length: Unknown

Where: Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Used by: Canadian Club founder Hiram Walker, to transport mash from his distiller to his farm.

Status: No longer active.

 

Orange juice

Sfocato/Shutterstock

Length: 1.2 miles

Where: Brazil

Used by: Cutrale, a Coca Cola subsidiary, to transfer fresh-squeezed juice from storage silos to pasteurization facility.

Status: Still open.

 

Grain

David Rose/Shutterstock

Length: TBD

Where: Montana to Minneapolis; Portland; or Lewiston, Idaho

Used by: Proposed by Montana legislature in the 1970s in response to rising freight transportation costs.

Status: Never built.

Chart: Washington Gridlock Linked to Income Inequality

| Fri Sep. 13, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

To the long list of problems linked to income inequality, you can now add another: political gridlock. As illustrated above, the dramatic fall and rise of income inequality over the past century correlates remarkably closely with the level of political polarization in the US House of Representatives.

On its face, this correlation seems incredibly counterintuitive. As a greater share of wealth concentrates in the hands of the top 1 percent of income earners, you'd expect the other 99 percent of Americans to act as a more-unified voting block, electing politicians who'd level the economic playing field.

But that hasn't happened. And nobody really knows why.

The creators of this chart, which accompanied a paper in the most recent issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, float a laundry list of explanations: the ideological influence of free market capitalism, falling rates of voter turnout among the poor, higher standards of living, gerrymandering, and the influence of money in politics.

Of course, correlation isn't causation—we can't say whether inequality fuels political polarization or vice versa. The widening ideological chasm in Congress has certainly prevented Washington from correcting the sort of policy mistakes—tax cuts, financial deregulation, "free trade" deals—that continue to enrich the few at the expense of everyone else. The question is whether the further growth of inequality will eventually change that, or, as it has in countries such as Egypt, fuel a politics ever more defined by extremes.

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Sports Illustrated Exclusive: College Students Smoke Pot

| Thu Sep. 12, 2013 12:01 PM EDT
Have you ever seen the spread offense? I mean really seen the spread offense?

On Thursday, Sports Illustrated published the latest in its five-part investigation into the Oklahoma State University football program, whose rise in the national rankings has tracked closely—the story alleges—with a culture of academic cheating and allegations of cash payments to athletes. (Paying players is forbidden by the NCAA, the sport's governing body, even though many of the players who allegedly received cash were broke and incapable of holding down a paying job because they spend most of their free time providing unpaid labor for a multi-billion dollar cartel.)

The report also uncovered a disturbing trend at Oklahoma State: some college students smoke pot:

As the Cowboys have risen from Big 12 cellar-dweller to one of the nation's elite teams, widespread marijuana use by players and even some drug dealing has gone largely unexamined, unchecked and untreated.

"Drugs were everywhere," says Donnell Williams, a linebacker on the 2006 team who says he didn't use drugs but observed other players who did. Other players echoed that, saying it was common for some players to smoke weed before games. "[Against] teams we knew we were going to roll, a couple of guys would get high," says Calvin Mickens, a cornerback from 2005 to '07. "Some of the guys [it] didn't matter what game it was, they were going to get high." In the weeks leading up to the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, running back Herschel Sims says that so many of his teammates were smoking marijuana regularly that if the school had suspended those who had the drug in their system, "we probably would have lost about 15-20 people who actually played." (According to the school, 18 of the team's more than 100 players were randomly tested by the NCAA before the game; one tested positive and was suspended.)

In other words, college student-athletes at Oklahoma State are a lot like unathletic college students at Oklahoma State, except that they're forced to undergo drug tests on a regular basis and have their recreational pursuits scrutinized. The fact that widespread marijuana use seems to have such little effect on the football team's performance would seem like an angle worth pursuing, given the story's premise that marijuana use is a malignant problem facing the Cowboys program. But that goes unexplored. Nor is there any attempt to explain why, exactly, recreational marijuana use is a problem worthy of lengthy investigation from a major national magazine. And it's not the first time either.

Previously in "OMG college athletes smoke pot": ESPN's 2012 examination of the "cloud of pot busts" that threaten to tarnish the sport's image.

College football players smoking marijuana is nothing new. Coaches and administrators have been battling the problem and disciplining players who do so for decades. Still, "I believe it's becoming more and more frequent on campuses," says Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon. One Football Bowl Subdivision coach says that athletes of today seem to treat marijuana as players from previous generations treated alcohol and that many of his players prefer smoking pot to drinking because weed leaves no hangover.

NCAA statistics show a bump in the number of stoned athletes.

Back in the world of peer-reviewed studies and public polling, marijuana is increasingly accepted and increasingly legal. And unlike, say, football, no one who uses it is going to die as a result. You'd never know it from reading the sports pages.

Louisiana Senator Wants to Shut Down Nation's Oil Supply Until Congress Funds Levee Project

| Thu Sep. 12, 2013 11:44 AM EDT
This is a map of the levee project.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Wednesday that Louisiana ought to shut down all of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico until the House of Representatives agrees to fund a much-needed levee project in her state designed to protect against Katrina-type storms.

"If I could, I’d shut down every rig in the Gulf of Mexico until this United States Congress gives the people of Louisiana the money we need to keep ourselves from drowning, from flooding, and I’d turn the lights off in Washington, and in New York and in Maine," Landrieu said on the Senate floor after Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a water infrastructure bill stripped of funding for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee project.

The Morganza levee system is a planned state-federal project designed to shield 98 miles of Louisiana coast from furious storms and rising sea levels. But when the committee introduced its version of the Water Resource Development Act on Wednesday, it didn't include the $10.3 billion Morganza program that the Senate approved in May.

The extra dollars that House Republicans don't want to spend could end up saving taxpayers money in the long-run. As climate change drastically increases the risk of coastal flooding, the cost of damage will be severe.  A recent FEMA report found that Hurricane Katrina put the $16 billion in the hole; Sandy cost us $25 billion. The Morganza project would cost an average $716 million a year to build and maintain but would prevent an estimated $1 billion a year in flood-related damage, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Louisiana produces a huge portion of America's domestic oil supply, but Landrieu's proposal to cut Americans off at the gas pump is not going to work. She acknowledged that she personally does not have the power to "shut down every rig in the Gulf of Mexico until Washington [gives] us what we're asking for." Her suggestion came out of exasperation: "I am tired of begging for nickels and dimes," she said. "The people in our state cannot survive without levees."

Landrieu faces a tough reelection fight in 2014.

The bill is expected to get a vote on the House floor in October. But there's still hope. After the Senate and House iron out the differences between their dueling versions of the legislation, Morganza funding could be forced into a final bill.

"We Made Them Suck Their Own Blood off the Floor:" Assad's Other War Crimes

| Thu Sep. 12, 2013 11:38 AM EDT
A sketch of a detainee being hung from the ceiling by his wrists and beaten, a common torture technique in Syria.

For the last month, Washington has been tying itself in knots over how to respond to the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons. The Syrian people, meanwhile, are being subjected to ever-graver atrocities, most having nothing to do with poison gas. A new report from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria illuminates the increasingly brutal tactics that the country's government—and, to a lesser degree, rebels—are deploying against civilians, from electrocution and rape to enlisting medical professionals to help torture hospitalized detainees. Significantly, while the report focuses on the commission's findings from mid-May to mid-July and doesn't cover the August chemical-weapons attack near Damascus, it concludes that both sides are guilty of war crimes and also accuses pro-government forces of crimes against humanity.

Whether the international community will do anything to curb the escalating brutality is an open question, though Thursday's meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov may provide some answers. If the two sides can come together and craft an agreement to secure Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile, perhaps the international community can also find common ground on other measures to protect civilians—and hold Syria's war criminals to account.

Below is a roundup of atrocities laid out in the UN report.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 12, 2013

Thu Sep. 12, 2013 10:13 AM EDT

An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank assigned to Delta Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, patrols during an operation near the village of Saban, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 10, 2013. The operation was a joint mission with Marines from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 2nd Tank Battalion, and the Afghan National Army, 3rd Mobile Strike Force Kandak. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Trent A. Randolph/Released.