Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Men's Journal, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndyKroll.

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Anti-Poverty Assistance Soars

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 9:35 AM EDT

Compiling state and federal data, USA Today reports today that one in six Americans (and counting) receives some kind of government anti-poverty assistance, a new national record. That financial support includes programs like Medicaid, which serves more than 50 million people, an increase of 17 percent from nearly three years ago.

The number of food stamp recipients is equally staggering: Upwards of 40 million people, a 50 percent increase since the economy began to crumble several years back. Unemployment insurance now goes out to nearly 10 million Americans, a 400 percent increase from 2007, and welfare's national rolls include 4.4 million people, up 18 percent during the downturn.

All this growth in federal and state support, while crucial to support those out-of-work or suffering from reductions in hours and wage, costs ever more to operate. Here's more from USA Today's Richard Wolf:

As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36% in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80%, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24%, to $22 billion. Taken together, they cost more than Medicare.

The steady climb in safety-net program caseloads and costs has come as a result of two factors: The recession has boosted the number who qualify under existing rules. And the White House, Congress and states have expanded eligibility and benefits.

Conservatives fear expanded safety-net programs won't contract after the economy recovers. "They're much harder to unwind in the long term," says Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Other anti-poverty experts say the record caseloads are a necessary response to economic hardship. "We should be there to support people when the economy can't," says LaDonna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank.

At the same time we're seeing record levels of government assistance, lawmakers have sought to slash away at these same programs to save money. This month, for instance, the Senate proposed cutting the federal food stamps program by $14.1 billion over a decade. On a per family basis, that would come out to a decrease of $59 a month beginning in November 2013. As one legal expert told the Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney, "there's no precedent" for such a massive cut to a program more Americans than ever need to get by.

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Glenn Beck's Great Whiteout

| Sat Aug. 28, 2010 5:34 PM EDT

As we passed the Washington Monument this morning and waded into the growing crowd of thousands at today's "Restoring Honor" rally, my friend, Chris, surveyed the turnout and then leaned in toward me. "Other than that guy back back there selling flags," he said somewhat discreetly, "I've got to be the only black person out here today."

He had a point. There were people of all shapes and sizes, young and old (though mostly old), from near and far at the rally on the Washington Mall—and, truth be told, they were almost all white. Despite the impressive turnout surrounding the Lincoln Memorial and the reflecting pool, I needed only two hands and maybe a few toes to tally the number of non-white attendees. You couldn't miss the irony: On the same day and at the same location as Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech—when conservative icon Glenn Beck would repeatedly invoke King's memory and message on a stage featuring a portrait of Langston Hughes and a relative of King Jr.'s as a speaker—there were few, if any, black people in sight. "I've seen more people who're black onstage than at this whole thing," Chris said at one point.

We pushed onward into the crowd, trying to get closer to the front, where Beck was. But before we could get there, a middle-aged woman suddenly reached out and grabbed Chris' arm. She pulled him close. The woman, as sweaty as the rest of us, asked Chris if he planned on attending the NAACP's rally later in the afternoon. Without waiting for Chris' response, she told us, "I kinda want to go, but I feel like I wouldn't be welcome." Hard emphasis on the wouldn't be welcome. A bit surprised, Chris looked at me and then replied, "You mean kind of like I feel right now?"

A bit later on, after the rally had ended, Chris told me he didn't mean to respond to the woman quite like he did. He didn't feel any animus from the crowd, he said. Nonetheless, we agreed that for an event whose central figure, Beck, preached the importance of faith, hope, and charity, and drew heavily on King Jr.'s legacy, the paucity of non-whites in the crowd was startling. Not that it's any big surprise, though. The tea party, whose followers made up a good percentage of today's attendees, tend to be white, wealthier, male, and married, polls have shown. A racially diverse turnout at a Glenn Beck rally? In your dreams.

Angle: Congress' Enemies of the State Still There

| Fri Aug. 27, 2010 1:30 PM EDT

At least Nevada conservative Sharron Angle isn't a complete flip-flopper.

As Greg Sargent over at The Washington Post's Plum Line reported this week, when an interviewer suggested in 2009 suggested that there were "domestic enemies" in the US Congress, Nevada conservative Sharron Angle responded, "Yes. I think you're right." Now, that alone is quite an inflammatory statement, claiming elected lawmakers here in DC are actively threatening the safety of this country.

Well, as ThinkProgress points out today, Angle was given a second chance to weigh in on this domestic-enemies-in-Congress claim in an interview with conservative radio host Heidi Harris. Here's the exchange:

HEIDI HARRIS: He said that we have domestic enemies and he thinks some of them are in the walls of the Senate and Congress, and you agreed with him. Did you agree with him?

ANGLE: Well, we were talking about what’s going on in Congress, of course, and the policies that have come out of Congress, and those policies as we’ve all seen over the last 18 months have definitely hurt our country.

HARRIS: Yeah, well I agree with you by the way, but I wanted to make sure you got you a chance to clarify that, because I’ll tell you the truth, Sharron. I do think we actually do have folks in Congress who truly want to do us harm and see us change from the nation we are now.

ANGLE: There is no doubt that the policies that have been coming out in the last 18 months have injured us, and injured us most specifically here in Nevada.

So not only does Angle stand by her domestic enemies position, but she belives the problem is actually spreading! Harris, the transcript shows, agrees with Angle's position.

In response to Angle's original comment, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Angle's opponent in Nevada's US Senate race, issued a direct challenge to Angle: Name which senators she considered domestic enemies. "If she is going to use such rhetoric, she has an obligation to name names and explain to the American people exactly who she thinks is a domestic enemy," Reid said. Then again, you can't take seriously most anything Angle has to say. After all, this is the candidate who called the unemployed "spoiled," who suggested "Second Amendment" remedies to fix our problem in Congress, and stated that a teenage girl who'd been raped by her father should turn "a lemon situation into lemonade."

(h/t ThinkProgress)

Marco Rubio's Debate-apalooza!

| Fri Aug. 27, 2010 10:56 AM EDT

Marco Rubio, the GOP's candidate in Florida's US Senate election, must be feeling pretty good about his chances right now. So good, in fact, that he's throwing down one hell of a gauntlet. Rubio recently announced that he wants not just one or two or three major candidate debates this fall—no, he wants seven different occasions to duke it out with his opponents, Democrat Kendrick Meek and independent Charlie Crist

Rubio announced his debate barrage, the St. Petersburg Times reports, soon after agreeing to an October 24 debate with Crist hosted by CNN and the St. Pete Times. It's a pretty canny move by Rubio, giving him ample time to bash the lifelong-Republican-until-I'm-not Crist. Here's the Times on the political calculus behind Rubio's gambit:

Charlie Crist is almost always good on TV, but this poses a real problem for him. In a three-person debate, it would be Rubio and Meek each taking turns hitting Crist and pressing him on flip-flops and inconsistencies. It's hard to stay above the fray when you're the main target.

But skipping most of the debates is equally problematic. If Meek agrees to these debates and the networks agree to televise them with or without all three candidates, Crist would be letting Meek raise his profile as the Democratic alternative to Rubio.

"I am the only candidate for Senate who has outlined specific ideas and proposals as a clear alternative to the wrong direction that Washington politicians are taking our country," said Rubio in a statement. "I enthusiastically accept these opportunities to debate my opponents and present Floridians with the clear choice they have between a faithful loyalist of Washington’s agenda, a say-and-do anything opportunist who only cares about winning, and the clear, idea-based alternative I am offering."

Rubio proposed the following dates to debate Crist and Meek. As you can tell, some of these are primetime settings.

  • Sunday, September 5, NBC’s Meet The Press, Moderated by David Gregory, Washington, DC
  • Friday, September 17, WLTV-Univision 23 Debate, Miami, FL
  • Tuesday, September 28, WTVT-FOX 13 Tampa Bay Debate, Tampa, FL
  • Wednesday October 6, ABC News, WFTV-ABC 9 Orlando & WFTS-ABC 28, Tampa, Moderated by George Stephanopoulos and two local media panelists Orlando, FL
  • Wednesday, October 20, Leadership Florida Debate, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Sunday, October 24 CNN/St. Petersburg Times Debate, Moderated by Candy Crowley, Tampa, FL
  • Tuesday, October 26, NBC News & WESH-NBC 2 Orlando Debate, Moderated by David Gregory, Orlando, FL

Dems to Lose 7 Senate Seats?

| Thu Aug. 26, 2010 10:23 AM EDT

That's the latest prediction from wunderkind pollster Nate Silver, who just made the move over to his new perch at The New York Times' website. A loss of six or seven Senate seats would leave the Democrats with a slim majority of 52 or 53 seats, nowhere near the filibuster-breaking supermajority of 60. And you can all but rule out the passage of any new, comprehensive legislation—i.e., health insurance reform, financial regulatory reform—if Silver's projection becomes reality this fall. After all, Democrats, with a near-supermajority, could barely scrape together two or three GOP votes on major legislation this spring and summer; there's no chance they'll find seven or eight votes if Silver's right.

It could be even worse for Dems. There's a 20 percent chance, Silver found, that the Dems will lose 10 or more seats, possibly putting them back in the minority. 

When it comes to watching the ongoing Senate elections, Silver writes that it's not the headline-grabbing campaigns—Harry Reid vs. Sharron Angle in Nevada, Barbara Boxer vs. Carly Fiorina in California—worth watching. Instead, he suggests keeping a close eye on some of the less-covered races:

Of late, the source of the Democrats’ problems has not necessarily been in high-profile Senate races where the Republicans have nominated inexperienced but headline-grabbing candidates, like Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky (although the model regards both Ms. Angle and Mr. Paul as slight favorites). Instead, it has been in traditional swing states like Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The last time the Democratic nominee in Ohio, Lee Fisher, held the lead in any state poll, for example, was in June. Representative Joe Sestak, the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania, has not led any poll there since May, and Robin Carnahan of Missouri has not held a lead since January. The Democratic nominee in New Hampshire, Representative Paul W. Hodes, has not led in any of 17 public polls in New Hampshire against his likely Republican opponent, Kelly Ayotte.

The Democratic candidate lags by single digits in each of these states, and victories there remain entirely possible (perhaps especially so in New Hampshire, where the Republicans have yet to hold their primary). But, at a time when they need to be drawing closer to their opponents as the clock ticks toward Nov. 2, these Democrats instead find themselves falling somewhat further behind. We are now close enough to Election Day that a deficit of as few as 5 percentage points may be difficult to overcome, especially in races where relatively few undecided voters remain.

The odds of the Democrats adding a Senate seat, even regaining their 60-vote majority, according to Silver? Three percent. As we head toward the Labor Day holiday, after which general-election campaigning hits high gear and voters really start to tune in, the Democrats need a pitch-perfect strategy, some good economic news, and a lot of luck if they're going to avoid the kind of result Silver's predicting.

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