Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 24, 2013

Tue Sep. 24, 2013 9:46 AM EDT

Sgt. William Loughran encourages recruits from Kilo Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, to give 100 percent during physical training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Sept. 18, 2013. About 600 Marine Corps drill instructors train about 20,000 recruits who come to Parris Island annually. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caitlin Brink/Released.

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AIG CEO Says People Angry Over Wall Street Bonuses Are Like a Lynch Mob

| Tue Sep. 24, 2013 9:30 AM EDT

Is a public upset about big bonuses at bailed-out Wall Street firms akin to a lynch mob? The CEO of the insurance giant AIG thinks so. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Benmosche talks about the outrage that erupted in March 2009, when AIG—which had just received a $170 billion bailout—announced it would pay up to $450 million to employees in the financial products unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse.

Here's what Benmosche said:

"That was ignorance…of the public at large, the government, and other constituencies. I’ll tell you why. [Critics referred] to bonuses as above and beyond [basic compensation]. In financial markets that's not the case… It is core compensation.

"Now you have these bright young people who had nothing to do with [the bad bets that hurt the company]…They understand the derivatives very well; they understand the complexity…They’re all scared. They probably lived beyond their means…They aren’t going to stay there for nothing.

The uproar over bonuses "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that–sort of like what we did in the Deep South. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.

"We wouldn’t be here today had they not stayed and accepted…dramatically reduced pay…They really contributed an enormous amount [to AIG’s survival] and proved to the world they are good people. It is a shame we put them through that."

Interestingly, the main interview with Benmosche ran in the Journal Friday, but as the Columbia Journalism Review notes, this particular clip only showed up on the website's MoneyBeat blog two days later.

NRA's Wayne LaPierre: "There Weren't Enough Good Guys With Guns" During Navy Yard Shooting

| Mon Sep. 23, 2013 11:57 AM EDT

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It was déjà vu all over again. On Sunday, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, told Meet the Press host David Gregory that one cause of last week's shooting at Washington, DC's Navy Yard was that "there weren't enough good guys with guns."

Sound familiar? It should. LaPierre trotted out the same talking point in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December. At the NRA's first press conference after gunman Adam Lanza killed 27 people at Sandy Hook, ​LaPierre singled out a host of supposed ills—other than guns themselves—to explain Lanza's spree: violent video games, violent movies, violent music, and more. Then he said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

On Meet the Press, LaPierre not only called for more "good guys with guns," but he also blamed "the mental health situation in the country" which he described as "in complete breakdown." News reports in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting revealed that 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people and was shot and killed himself at a Navy Yard facility, had exhibited erratic behavior for months. He told police in Rhode Island earlier this year that he heard people talking to him through walls and transmitting microwave vibrations into his body to keep him awake at night.

As for LaPierre's claim that more good guys with guns would've stopped mass shootings like those at Sandy Hook and Navy Yard, the evidence does not back this up. As Mother Jones has reported, not one of the 67 mass shootings in America in the past three decades was stopped by an armed civilian. Those who've tried have been badly injured or killed. And law enforcement officials don't want "good guys with guns" trying to play cop.

Sean Eldridge—Investor, Democratic Donor, and Husband of Facebook Cofounder Chris Hughes—Is Running for Congress

| Mon Sep. 23, 2013 9:51 AM EDT

When I first met Sean Eldridge last summer, at a Ritz-Carlton lobby bar that doubled as a see-and-be-seen salon for Democratic bigwigs attending the party's national convention in Charlotte, he seemed to fit in just fine. Eldridge, who runs a small investment fund in New York State's Hudson River Valley, met with me to discuss his latest effort, a political group called Protect Our Democracy that planned to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to support replacing the state's lax campaign finance system with publicly funded elections. It was clear, though, that Eldridge had far loftier political aspirations than campaign finance activist.

On Monday, Eldridge finally unveiled his candidacy for New York’s 19th Congressional district. I say "finally" because it's been an open secret for months now that Eldridge, who is married to Facebook cofounder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes, wanted to run for Congress. In a July 10 story titled "Young, Rich, and Relocating Yet Again in Hunt for Political Office," the New York Times told of how Eldridge and Hughes had first bought a house in the city of Garrison, an hour north of New York City, but when it became clear Eldridge had little chance of winning in that congressional district, the couple purchased a $2 million home further north in Ulster County.

The 19th congressional district voted for Barack Obama by six percentage points in last year's election. Rep. Chris Gibson, a two-term Republican and a 24-year Army veteran, currently represents the district. Gibson declined to comment for the Times' July story about Eldridge's political aspirations, except to say: "There are some things money can’t buy."

Eldridge will not lack for campaign cash. Hughes, Eldridge's husband, pocketed upwards of $500 million from his time at Facebook, and even before he announced his candidacy, the donors to Eldridge's exploratory committee included liberal financier George Soros and Napster founder Sean Parker.

Despite Eldridge having zero experience in elected office, he's pretty savvy about money and its role in politics. Here's an excerpt of my profile of Eldridge from the November/December 2012 issue of Mother Jones magazine:

Eldridge backed into New York's political money wars. In 2009, he dropped out of Columbia Law School the day after the state Senate defeated a same-sex marriage bill. He joined Freedom to Marry, a national organization backed by gay philanthropist Tim Gill, which helped oust three unfriendly New York lawmakers and whose pressure on Albany proved crucial in passing same-sex marriage on the second try in 2011. Freedom to Marry and other outside groups also rallied the public behind the cause, creating a groundswell that helped lift the bill to passage.

While in the trenches of the marriage equality fight, Eldridge had an epiphany: Money influences every policy fight, large and small. Control the spigot of campaign cash and you can get the policies you want. "Voters will list the 10 issues they care about most, and none of them is campaign finance," he told me. "But what I realized is that campaign finance underpins every one of those issues."

In June, Eldridge took a cue from the marriage equality fight by launching Protect Our Democracy, a PAC/nonprofit focused on promoting the issue of political money reform. Protect Our Democracy's main goal: introducing publicly financed matching campaign contributions to New York state. It plans on working with a coalition of progressive groups to replicate New York City's practice of matching every dollar given by small campaign donors (up to $175 each) with $6 in taxpayer money. By supersizing small-dollar gifts, the thinking goes, candidates will listen to ordinary supporters more than corporations, unions, lobbyists, and trade groups. Such a plan would also encourage candidates who aren't wealthy or well connected. According to an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute, New York City's system works as intended: The number of small donors to competitive candidates has spiked by 29 percent, and the overall share of small donations (not including public matching funds) has jumped 26 percent.

The annual cost to taxpayers for a statewide version of this public financing system, Eldridge says, would be negligible—$3 or $4 per New Yorker. That's central to his pitch: For the cost of a latte, citizens can curb big-money politics.

New York could use the overhaul, critics say. Between 1976 and 2010, more public officials in the Empire State were convicted for corruption than anywhere else in the United States, according to researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Reformers blame this rampant sleaze on the state's lax campaign laws: Individuals can give candidates up to $150,000; corporations and their subsidiaries can give up to $5,000. The State Integrity Investigation project recently gave New York a D- for campaign finance on its Corruption Risk Report Card. Albany, for many New Yorkers, is shorthand for dysfunction and graft.

Reform advocates have long advocated a small-donor matching system. What makes Eldridge's campaign different is the unlikely coalition of supporters he has cobbled together. He hired former Karl Rove protégé Bill Smith to lead Protect Our Democracy's political team, and the effort's supporters include economist Jeffrey Sachs, former Securities and Exchange Commission chair (and George W. Bush appointee) William Donaldson, and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. Media executive Barry Diller and gay philanthropist Jon Stryker, both high-profile Democratic donors, have also contributed to Protect Our Democracy.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 20, 2013

Fri Sep. 20, 2013 9:50 AM EDT

US Army Spc. Kevin Jackson, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pulls security during a reconnaissance mission in a village south of Forward Operating Base Fenty, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 8, 2013. US Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Margaret Taylor, 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Watch: Rep. Jim McGovern Calls GOP Food Stamp Bill "Heartless"

| Thu Sep. 19, 2013 11:34 PM EDT

Earlier today the House of Representatives approved a bill 217-210 that would cut funding for food stamps by nearly $40 billion over ten years. No Democrats voted for it and only 15 Republicans voted against it. If the measure were to become law, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, nearly 4 million Americans would lose their benefits in 2014. Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern voiced concern prior to the vote, calling out Republicans not only for the "heartless" bill itself, but the lack of hearings prior to the vote. Watch:

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VIDEO: David Corn on Why the GOP's Obamacare Fight Is Like Game Of Thrones

| Thu Sep. 19, 2013 7:42 PM EDT

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Martin Bashir and the Washington Post's Dana Milbank this week about why the GOP is in a state of anarchy as they threaten a government shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded. Watch here:

Elizabeth Warren's Consumer Watchdog Forces JPMorgan to Pay $329 Million

| Thu Sep. 19, 2013 4:10 PM EDT

During last year's Massachusetts Senate race, the banking giant JPMorgan Chase heaped more than $80,000 on Sen. Elizabeth Warren's opponent Scott Brown. And for good reason. The consumer watch dog agency that she conceived of and helped get running announced Thursday that it has ordered JPMorgan Chase to pay $309 million to more than 2.1 million Americans it scammed, plus a penalty of $20 million.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that between 2005 and 2012, Chase charged customers monthly fees ranging from $8 to $12 for services they didn't ask for and didn't receive. The bank collected money from customers for credit card products such as "identity theft protection" and "fraud monitoring," even when the consumer hadn't given consent.

The refund the CFPB ordered the bank to issue includes the total fraudulent fees charged, plus interest, and amounts to about $147 a person.

"At the core of our mission is a duty to identify and root out unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices in financial markets that harm consumers," CFPB director Richard Cordray said Thursday.

The bureau is also forcing the bank to send out the refund checks in a simple, convenient way, so that consumers don't have to take any additional action to get their money, and to submit to an independent audit of the refund process.

Thursday was not a good day for for JPMorgan. In a rare admission of fault, the bank was also fined some $920 million for a bad trade out of its London office last year that resulted in a $6.2 billion loss.

Read George Clooney and Don Cheadle's Letter Asking Obama To Block an Alleged War Criminal's US Visit

| Thu Sep. 19, 2013 3:48 PM EDT

Actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle (co-founders of Not On Our Watch), actress/UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow, and a bunch of non-movie-star activists have signed a letter urging President Obama to shoot down the visa request of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity related to the conflict in Darfur.

Bashir is planning on attending the United Nations General Assembly's fall session next week, and is required to submit a request for a visa to enter the United States. The Obama administration hasn't announced how it will handle the request. "We would say that before presenting himself to UN headquarters, President Bashir should present himself to the ICC in The Hague to answer for the crimes of which he's been accused," Marie Harf, State Department spokeswoman, told reporters. ICC judges have asked US officials to arrest Bashir if he makes the trip to New York City. (The US, however, is not a member of the ICC, and is thus not legally bound to cooperate with the court.)

Clooney, Cheadle, and Farrow are among Hollywood's more active anti-genocide campaigners. Clooney, in partnership with human rights activist John Prendergast's Enough Project, organized the Satellite Sentinel Project, a network of spy satellites that actually helped the ICC investigate possible war crimes in southern Sudan. "We are the anti-genocide paparazzi," Clooney told Time. Cheadle has co-authored two books with Prendergast. And Farrow is a "Twitter Nazi hunter" in her spare time.


h/t Hayes Brown

Here Are the News Orgs That Won't Name DC's [Redacted] Football Team

| Thu Sep. 19, 2013 2:22 PM EDT
ESPN columnist Rick Reilly [redacted]

ESPN's Rick Reilly—onetime Sports Illustrated great, 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year, and all-time GIF magnet—doesn't think Washington, DC's pro football team should change its name. Why? For starters, there's this 2004 poll, in which 90 percent of Native Americans surveyed said they didn't find the name offensive. On top of that, Reilly reports that his father-in-law, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, doesn't think there's anything wrong with it, and nor do people at three majority American Indian high schools whose sports teams play under the same name.

But there's another reason gnawing at Reilly: He doesn't like that paternalistic white journos are trying to cram change down Americans'—and Native Americans'—throats. As he wrote yesterday:

The 81-year-old Washington Redskins name is falling, and everybody better get out of the way. For the majority of Native Americans who don't care, we'll care for them. For the Native Americans who haven't asked for help, we're glad to give it to them.

Trust us. We know what's best. We'll take this away for your own good, and put up barriers that protect you from ever being harmed again.

Kind of like a reservation.

That's right: Kind of like a reservation. For a thorough takedown of Reilly's argument, take a look at this response by The Nation's Dave Zirin. (We're just glad Reilly didn't write his piece in verse.)

In the meantime, here's a list of folks who have decided to no longer refer to the Washington [Redacted] by name. We'll update it as more publications and journalists sign on. 

UPDATE, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2013: In a column for the Indian Country Today Media Network, Rick Reilly's father-in-law, Bob Burns, says Reilly misquoted him:

You can imagine my dismay when I saw my name and words used to defend the racist Washington Redskins name. My son-in-law, ESPN's Rick Reilly, completely misunderstood the conversation we had, quoting me as saying "the whole issue is so silly. The name just doesn't bother me much. It's an issue that shouldn't be an issue, not with all the problems we've got in this country."

But that’s not what I said.

What I actually said is that "it's silly in this day and age that this should even be a battle -- if the name offends someone, change it."

…Let me be clear: The racial slur "redskins" is not okay with me. It's never going to be okay with me. It's inappropriate, damaging and racist.

In the memory of our Blackfeet relatives, it's time to change the name. That would honor us.