Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 24, 2014

Thu Apr. 24, 2014 10:11 AM EDT

Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, watch as MV-22B Ospreys take off from the flight deck of the USS Makin Island during Amphibious Squadron Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration Training (PMINT) off the coast of San Diego, April 15, 2014. PMINT is a two-week predeployment training event focused on the combined capabilities of the MEU and Amphibious Ready Group, conducting amphibious operations, crisis response, and limited contingency operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Laura Y. Raga/Released)

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Koch-Linked Firm Devoted to Grooming "Electable" Candidates Signs Up Arkansas GOP Leader

Aegis Strategic, the Koch-affiliated candidate-training shop, is helping Bruce Westerman get elected to Congress.

| Thu Apr. 24, 2014 6:06 AM EDT
Arkansas Congressional candidate Bruce Westerman

In January, Mother Jones broke the story of one of the newest affiliates of Charles and David Koch's sprawling political machine, a consulting firm named Aegis Strategic created to identify, recruit, and groom free-market-minded candidates for elected office. Aegis bills itself as a one-stop shop for aspiring politicians, able to handle general consulting, fundraising, direct mail, social media, and more. The firm is run by Jeff Crank, a radio host and two-time congressional candidate who previously ran the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers.

When we reported on the firm earlier this year, Aegis Strategic had only one client: Marilinda Garcia, a New Hampshire state lawmaker running for Congress. But new campaign filings show that Aegis has since signed up at least one more congressional hopeful: Bruce Westerman, the former Republican majority leader of the Arkansas state House.

Westerman is running to replace Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas' 4th Congressional District. (Cotton is now running for Senate and hoping to oust the incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor. Americans for Prosperity has spent millions of dollars attacking Pryor on the airwaves.) Westerman's campaign paid Aegis $4,000 for strategy consulting in March, campaign records show. (In January, Westerman also tweeted a photo of himself with Brad Stevens, Aegis Strategic's director of candidate identification, with the message, "Caught up with part of campaign team.")

According to Westerman's campaign website, he was the first GOPer to lead the Arkansas House in 138 years. And he wouldn't have been in that position without the help of the Kochs' political network, especially Americans for Prosperity. During the 2012 election cycle, AFP reportedly spent upwards of $1 million in Arkansas on mailers, a bus tour (featuring Cliff from the TV show Cheers), phone banking, and grassroots canvassing. That effort helped flip both the state House and Senate from Democratic to Republican control. AFP figured so prominently in the 2012 cycle that the Arkansas Times named the Koch brothers "Arkansans of the Year."

Both of Aegis' two congressional clients also have received financial support from Kochworld. Garcia received a $2,500 donation from Koch Industries' political action committee, two $2,500 checks from AFP-New Hampshire's Greg Moore, and $250 from Alan Philp, whom Aegis lists as its chief operating officer. Westerman also got a $250 check from Philp.

Now, after AFP helped Westerman succeed in Arkansas, another offshoot of the Koch political operation is working to send him to Washington.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 23, 2014

Wed Apr. 23, 2014 10:07 AM EDT

Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, convoy their light armored vehicles across the beach as a Navy landing craft, air cushion with Assault Craft Unit 4 departs the beach of Sierra del RetÌn, Spain, during Spanish Amphibious Bilateral Exercise 2014 Feb. 24, 2014. Spanish PHIBLEX is an annual exercise designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and develop professional and personal relationships between U.S. forces and participating nations. The MEU is deployed to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force capable of conducting amphibious missions across the full range of military operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Hazard/Released)

How Taxpayers Subsidize the Multi-Million Dollar Salaries of Restaurant CEOs

Restaurant corporations are fighting minimum wage increases—while using a tax loophole to lavish their CEOs with excessive compensation.

| Tue Apr. 22, 2014 3:35 PM EDT
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz raked in $236 million in taxpayer-subsidized compensation over the past two years.

As the fight to raise the minimum wage has gained momentum, the restaurant industry has emerged as the biggest opponent. This is no surprise, since the industry claims the highest percentage of low-wage workers—60 percent—of any other business sector. Front-line fast-food workers earn so little money that about half of them rely on some form of public assistance, to the tune of about $7 billion a year. That hidden subsidy has helped boost restaurant industry profits to record highs. In 2013, the industry reaped $660 billion in profits, and it in turn channeled millions into backing efforts to block local governments from raising pay for low-wage workers and to keep the minimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13 an hour (exactly where it's been for the past 22 years). But public assistance programs aren't the only way taxpayers subsidize the restaurant industry.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies finds that the public has been contributing to excessive CEO compensation as well, helping to widen the gap between the lowest-paid workers and their bosses. Thanks to a loophole in the tax code, corporations are allowed to deduct unlimited amounts of money from their tax bills for executive compensation, so long as it comes in the form of stock options or "performance pay." The loophole was the inadvertent result of an attempt by Congress to rein in CEO compensation by limiting the tax deduction for executive pay to $1 million a year. That law exempted pay that came in the form of stock options or performance pay. This loophole has proven lucrative for CEOs of all stripes, but it is particularly egregious in an industry that pays its workers so little that it is already heavily subsidized by taxpayers. 

According to IPS, the CEOs of the 20 largest companies that belong to the National Restaurant Association personally reaped more than $660 million over the past two years in performance pay—compensation that collectively ended up cutting their companies' tax bills by more than $230 million. That hefty subsidy is enough to cover the average cost of food stamps for 145,000 families for a year, according to IPS.

Topping the list of executives raking in big bucks with help from the taxpayers is the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, who was paid $236 million in performance pay and other deductible compensation over the past two years, an outlay that saved the company $82 million in taxes. That $82 million tax subsidy could easily translate into a living wage pay raise for more than 30,000 baristas, who now make on average $8.79 an hour.

There's also Yum! brands CEO David Novak, who over the past 14 years has been the beneficiary of a special tax-deferred retirement plan not available to ordinary workers. His subsidized retirement assets now top more than $232 million. Meanwhile, his employees at Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC earn so little money that they're estimated to rely on $650 million in public assistance every year. IPS figures that Novak's retirement benefits alone could save taxpayers $61 million in public assistance costs annually if they were instead used to raise the pay of 16,000 of Yum!'s low-wage workers to $15 an hour, a move that would take about 9 percent of the company's employees off the public dole. Instead, though, Yum! officials have been working behind the scenes to fend off legislation that might give their workers a paid sick day now and then. No wonder fast-food workers are going on strike.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 22, 2014

Tue Apr. 22, 2014 10:04 AM EDT

Marines with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Battalion Landing Team, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, participate in a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise during Exercise Ssang Yong 14 at Su Seung-ri Range, Pohang, Republic of Korea, April 4, 2014. SY 14 is conducted annually in the Republic of Korea to enhance interoperability between U.S. and ROK forces by performing a full spectrum of amphibious operations while showcasing sea-based power projection in the pacific. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Kuppers/Released)

Can the Democrats Mobilize Voters Without a 47% Video Moment?

David Corn discussed the Democrats' strategy for the upcoming midterm elections on MSNBC's Hardball.

Tue Apr. 22, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

David Corn joined guest host Joy Reid on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the Democrats' prospects in the upcoming midterm elections. Historically the Democratic coalition doesn't show up for midterm elections. Can the Dems use the Koch Bros to galvanize voters? How can the party attach the general issue of inequality to specific state races?

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

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READ: Conspiracy Theorist Dick Morris Blasts Clinton Conspiracy Theorists in Unsealed '95 Memo

"How dare you say that the government is in a conspiracy to take your freedom," wrote the strategist who now believes government wants to take your freedom.

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 1:15 PM EDT
Dick Morris.

Dick Morris, the one-time adviser to President Bill Clinton, has carved out a strange, multi-faceted career in recent years, engaging in questionable political dealings, pitching misguided punditry (he predicted Mitt Romney would win in a landslide in 2012), and peddling conspiracy theories. On his website, Morris argues that the CIA, FBI, and the mob were behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He co-wrote a book pushing right-wing conspiracy theories about the United Nations, international agencies, and the like. ("Black helicopters is the crazy word for the UN invading the United States," Morris said in previewing the book. "But it's really going to happen.") He's banged the IRS-scandal drum, insisting that Obama was secretly behind the agency's supposed scrutiny of conservative groups. He pushed anti-Obama Benghazi theories. He backed Donald Trump's birther talk.

Morris wasn't always this, uh, unconventional. In fact, in a newly released memo from Clinton's presidential archives, Morris advised the president to call out the conspiracy theorists of the 1990s and to combat the widespread right-wing paranoia of that time—the same sort of paranoia that Morris now exploits to make a buck.

Morris' May 1995 memo offered comments on a speech Clinton was to give at Michigan State University. It was just two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, and Morris urged the president to take a tough line against the right-wing militia crowd and those conservatives who had been asserting that the federal government was encroaching on their lives and eviscerating their civil liberties. Such incendiary rhetoric had been on the rise for several years, and the Oklahoma City attack was seen by some political observers as the culmination of this anti-government campaign.

"I'd propose tougher language," Morris wrote. He suggested these lines: "How dare you say that the government is in a conspiracy to take your freedom. This is the government you helped elect and you can change... How dare you appropriate to your paranoid ways, our scared national symbols... How dare you invoke the Founding Fathers who created the elective government you claim as you persecutor."

Clinton ended up using several of Morris' suggestions in his speech. "How dare you suggest that we in the freest nation on earth live in tyranny?" Clinton asked. "How dare you call yourselves patriots and heroes?"

Read the full memo:

 

Cardinal Defends Hobby Lobby: "All You Have to Do Is Walk Into a 7-11" for Contraceptives

"Or any shop on any street in America."

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 10:47 AM EDT

On Sunday, New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, culture warrior extraordinaire, made a curious argument for why the Supreme Court should allow Hobby Lobby to eliminate the morning-after pill from its employee health care plan: if you want contraceptives, "all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them."

The East Coast's top Catholic made his comments Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation. "I think they're just true Americans," he told host Norah O’Donnell of Hobby Lobby's owners, who claim that providing emergency contraceptive pills violates their religious beliefs. "Is the ability to buy contraceptives, that are now widely available—my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them—is that right to access those and have them paid for, is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience?"

Couple of things:

  • The owners of Hobby Lobby are proposing to eliminate one kind of contraception from the company's employee health care plans: the morning-after pill. The Greens, who own the company, do not have a problem with all contraception. In fact, the company plan still covers birth control pills.
  • Birth control pills are a form of contraception that isn't available without a prescription. They are not sold on any shop on any street in America.
  • If Dolan is talking about emergency contraception, we would note that only one type of morning-after pill for sale in the US without a prescription: Plan B One Step and its generics.
  • These are also not sold on any shop on any street in America.
  • These are not sold at 7-11.

It's almost as if Dolan doesn't know very much about the contraceptives he opposes. Either that, or he hasn't been to a 7-11 since giving up Go-Go Taquitos for Lent.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 21, 2014

Mon Apr. 21, 2014 9:58 AM EDT

FORT CARSON, Colo. - A fireball engulfs a mortar round, March 19, 2014, during a mortar live-fire exercise. Soldiers of the 4th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, conducted mortar training as part of gunnery training and certifications executed by units across 3rd ABCT. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Grady Jones, 3rd ABCT Public Affairs, 4th Inf. Div.)

GOP Senate Candidate Endorses a 9/11 Truther's Questions: "Things Like This Have to Be Asked"

Asked if he was a truther, Greg Brannon, who has Rand Paul's endorsement for Senate, called for more investigation into 9/11.

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

In 2012, Greg Brannon, who is now a North Carolina Republican Senate candidate, wouldn't say whether he thought the attacks on September 11, 2001, were an inside job—but, he said, "Things like this have to be asked."

Brannon, an OB-GYN endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a leading contender in the GOP primary to challenge Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), made that comment as a guest on a local conservative talk show. At the time, Brannon was running Founder's Truth, a North Carolina tea party organization. A caller offered up a conspiracy theory about September 11, and as the host, Bill LuMaye, tried to redirect the conversation, Brannon answered:

John, caller: I'm a 9/11 truther. And I had a friend of mine…tell me, look on the internet, Google "the Pentagon" and show me where the plane hit the Pentagon. Where is the plane? There's all kinds of pictures of that building smoldering, and fire trucks everywhere. There's no plane. So I did research on the size of planes, of the engines that ran this plane. These things are 12,000 pounds, these engines that would have flown off—that's six tons—and put a hole in something. There's nothing there.

Bill LuMaye: Well, without getting into—

John: There's a hole in the building and there's no broken glass.

LuMaye: Well, I'd rather not get into a discussion on whether 9/11 was an inside job or not. I really, I mean, we can save that for another day, I have no problem with that, it's just—

Greg Brannon: These questions, again, actually, that's what [9/11 commission vice-chair] Lee Hamilton said. And he just said, there's other questions that need answering. The guy who got all the information…a Democrat and a Republican, were the co-chairmen of the 9/11 commission, and when they got done, they did not put their stamp of approval on the commission. They said, 'There's data that we did not put in there.' So things like this have to be asked.

LuMaye: Well, I appreciate your call, John.

Brannon: Thanks, John.

It's true that Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 commission, said that the commission's investigation of the September 11 plot was incomplete. But their complaint was that government agencies blocked the commission from assessing how badly prepared the United States was for the attacks, and which US agencies were responsible for failing to prevent the attacks—not that the US was hiding its own involvement.