Blogs

The Supreme Court's McCutcheon Decision Nuked Campaign Laws In These 11 States (Plus DC)

| Thu Apr. 3, 2014 9:53 AM PDT

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court's five conservative justices struck down the so-called aggregate limit on campaign contributions—that is, the total number of donations within federal limits an individual can make to candidates, parties, and committees during a two-year election cycle. Before the court's decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, there was a $123,200 ceiling on those legal donations; now, a donor can cut as many $2,600 checks to candidates and $5,000 checks to parties as he or she wants. (The $2,600 and $5,000 figures are the maximum direct contributions a donor can give.)

The court's decision specifically dealt with the federal aggregate limit, but legal experts say McCutcheon will also void similar campaign finance laws in 11 states and the District of Columbia. "The McCutcheon opinion is right from the Supreme Court and what the Supreme Court said is state aggregate limits on top of the federal limit are unconstitutional today, unconstitutional yesterday, unconstitutional 20 years ago," says David Mitrani, an election lawyer who specializes in state campaign finance law.

Mitrani says the impact of McCutcheon on state-level laws will vary depending on how low a state's aggregate limit was. Rhode Island and Wisconsin, for instance, limited donors from giving more than $10,000 per calendar year to state political committees. "There are going to be pretty big changes in how money flows into those states," Mitrani says. In New York State, however, Mitrani says he doesn't expect as big of an impact when the existing aggregate limit was set at $150,000 a year.

Here are the 11 states (plus DC) where aggregate limits are now likely gutted thanks to the Supreme Court's McCutcheon decision:

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Fast Food Workers Will Protest Again Today. Here's What They're Up Against.

| Thu Apr. 3, 2014 8:44 AM PDT

On Thursday, New York McDonald's workers will stage a protest for better pay. It's the latest effort in what has become a national movement aimed at increasing fast food wages—which average $8.69 an hour—to $15 an hour. The odds are steep, because the restaurant industry is dead set against it. A new report released Thursday details just how much power the restaurant lobby wields in Washington.

The National Restaurant Association (the other NRA), which lobbies on behalf of the $600 billion industry, has been fighting minimum wage hikes, paid sick leave, and food safety rules for decades. But over the course of the slow economic recovery, which has been characterized by a disproportionate increase in low-wage service sector jobs, the NRA sharpened its knives, more than doubling its lobbying force on the Hill. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of NRA lobbyists pushing the industry's interests in Washington jumped from 15 to 37, according to the report, which was put together by the Alliance for a Just Society (AJS), a network of social justice organizations, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROCUnited), an organization that pushes for better conditions for food workers.

"The NRA has super-sized its investment in insider influence since 2008," the report notes.

In addition to the lobbyists working on behalf of the NRA, nine of the association's biggest members—including McDonald’s, Marriott, Walt Disney, and YUM! Brands—were represented in Washington by another 127 registered lobbyists in 2013, according to the report. That's up from 56 in 1998.

The NRA, which represents 52,000 member companies, including KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, has spent $2.2 million on lobbying since November 2012, and over $400,000 in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The industry group has lavished much of its money on Republicans, who are digging their heels in against President Barack Obama's calls for a federal minimum wage hike from $7.25 to $10.10. So far, in 2014, 73 percent of the NRA's campaign donations have gone to Republicans. Since 1990, the NRA has given $10.5 million to GOP candidates, and $2.1 million to Dems.

Today, fast food workers in New York will attempt to counter that money with protest signs. And congressional Dems, including Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), will hold a "Give America a Raise" rally on the Hill.

Housekeeping Note

| Thu Apr. 3, 2014 8:17 AM PDT

I'll be off this morning, maybe back this afternoon. Depends on how I feel. Tomorrow for sure, I hope.

The Worst Genocidal Tweet of the Year, Brought to You by This Former Breitbart Contributor

| Thu Apr. 3, 2014 7:42 AM PDT

On Wednesday, a gunman went on a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas—the site of a mass shooting in November 2009—killing three people and injuring at least 16 others before taking his own life. The soldier was being treated for depression and anxiety. His motive remains unclear, and the Fort Hood commanding general told reporters that "there is no indication that this incident is related to terrorism."

When awful things happen, people sometimes express themselves on Twitter. Here's how conservative filmmaker Patrick Dollard, who on Twitter identifies himself as a "contributing journalist" at Breitbart, chose to respond to the news:

Pat Dollard tweet
@patdollard/Twitter

Following this genocidal tweet, Dollard also wrote, "Yeah, Obama's 'heartbroken' over Ft. Hood because it wasn't Muslim terrorism."

Dollard is a former Hollywood agent who has since embedded with US Marines in Iraq and become an aggressive right-wing presence online. "In 2004, having made his name as Steven Soderbergh's agent, Pat Dollard was the stereotypical Hollywood operator: coked-up, Armani-sheathed, separated from his fourth wife, and rapidly self-destructing," according to a 2007 Vanity Fair profile.

We asked the editor of Breitbart, Alex Marlow, and the site's publisher, Stephen Bannon, for a comment on Dollard's slaughter-Muslims tweet. Within minutes, Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Breitbart News, called and said, Dollard "was not a paid contributor and has not contributed for three years. He should not call himself a contributor." Asked if Breitbart would consider publishing future articles submitted by Dollard, Bardella replied, "We have no plans to accept anything. We haven't ruled anything out. But he is not a Breitbart contributor."

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

Thu Apr. 3, 2014 7:29 AM PDT

Marines with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 4th Marine Regiment, execute an amphibious assault simulation for Ssang Yong 14 at Dogue Beach, Pohang, South Korea, April 1, 2014. Exercise Ssang Yong is conducted annually in the ROK 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 Cpl. Sara A. Medina/Released)

In Cargill's Chicken Factories in China, Workers "Live on the Farm" and "Can't Leave"

| Thu Apr. 3, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
Mornin', neighbors.

In a wide-ranging interview with the India-based Economic Times, Cargill CEO David MacLennan talks about how the globe-spanning agribusiness giant managed to turn the 2008 economic crisis into a "record year of profits"—a remarkable performance, given that that year's food-price spikes pushed 115 million people into hunger, as the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization estimated. And then MacLennan drops this nugget on his company's poultry operations in China:

So we are building a facility in Shuzou, Nanjing, which will have 45 farms and it's a chicken facility that will process 1.2 million chicken every week. That's 60 million chicken a year. We have a hatchery, where we hatch the eggs and one-day old chicks, DOCs, get transported to the farms. The employees live on the farm. They can't leave because then you increase the risk of disease. So you grow the chicken for 44 days. The chicken goes to the plants, get processed, might be for KFC and McDonald's, might be for retail. They can count on us because they know where every one of their chicken came from. It came from us because we're fully integrated as opposed to other companies. [Emphasis added.]

I should note that US meat giant Tyson, too, is rolling out fully integrated and vast chicken facilities in China. But wait, back up: like employees at Foxconn, the company that manufactures Apple products, Cargill's poultry workers will live on-site. But rather than reside amid the production of iPhones and whatnot—apparently, not the most pleasant place to call home—Cargill's workers will live amid the growth and slaughter of 1.2 million chickens per week—and all the blood, guts, and vast stores of chickenshit that implies.

MacLennan doesn't mention whether the live-in requirement the company imposes on its Chinese workers also applies in its poultry operations in other developing countries. But he does boast that the company runs "very big" chicken operations n Nicaragua and Costa Rica, adding that it plans to "develop fully-integrated poultry breeding, hatching, growth and processing" in other countries around the world.

I am reaching out to Cargill to hear more about this innovative chicken factory/worker-housing mashup in China. Kind of gives new meaning to the industry habit of calling its large livestock-raising facilities "confinements."

Update: Cargill's assistant vice president for corporate responsibility has responded: 

We can understand how that might have been confusing. The workers at our chicken plant in China come and go as they please. What our CEO was talking about was a few specialized jobs at the farm where the chickens are raised. In a chicken barn, two or three people go into the barn with the chicks when they’re a day old and stay with them as they grow for 45 days. This is to prevent germs from getting into the barn. The workers have their own quarters, with kitchens and television, etc. When the chicks have grown, the workers leave for about three weeks. -Mark Murphy, Asst. Vice President for Corporate Responsibility, Cargill

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Wall Street Journal Needs to Find Some New Clip Art

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 7:19 PM PDT

Wait a second. Did the Wall Street Journal editorial page really use the Daily Kos logo to illustrate an op-ed by billionaire arch-conservative Charles Koch? Sure, it's an out-of-date logo, but even so, do they not have any idea that this piece of clip art has long been associated with the Great Orange Satan? Color me amused.

Is it Time to Replace the Cult of Finland With the Cult of New Jersey?

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 5:04 PM PDT

Vikram Bath takes on the cult of Finland today. What's that? You didn't realize Finland had a cult? Well, it does in the education community, where Finland's consistently high scores on the international PISA test make it the go-to destination for education writers looking for agreeable junkets they can turn into long-form thumbsuckers about how American schools are doing everything wrong.

But Bath points out that Finland isn't actually the world's top performer on the PISA test. Shanghai does better. So does Hong Kong. Now, maybe those are cherry-picked examples that owe their success to government authorities who game the tests, and therefore deserve to be ignored. But Japan does better too. And South Korea. And Taiwan. So why have they fallen out of vogue lately in the popular press? Why do we hear endless tributes to Finland instead? Bath suggests the reason we like Finland is fairly obvious:

“Be like Shanghai” is for the Wall Street Journal crowd. Shanghai is rote memorization and beating your kids and no bathroom breaks and pretending you aren’t numbed by classical music. Finland is culture and castles and liking classical music because you’d be a better person and maybe windmills.

Fine. Asian countries are culturally different. Maybe it makes sense to look instead at countries that are more similar to America. The problem is, Finland isn't really much like America either. It's ethnically pretty homogeneous and has extremely low rates of poverty. Obviously tackling poverty would be great, but facts are facts: we're not likely to reduce our poverty rate to 3 percent anytime soon. So does that mean we're stuck with no place to aspire to at all?

No. There is still a much, much better non-Asian model. It’s Massachusetts.

14% of children in Massachusetts live in relative poverty. That’s still below the US average, but much more American-like than Finland.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has already figured out how to deal with all the existing regulations imposed by the US government.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has figured out how to cooperate productively with US teachers unions.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has demonstrated how to get results from US-trained teachers rather than masters holders from Finnish research schools, of which the world only has so many.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has experienced success teaching real American students who go home every day to be subjected to American parenting styles.

I'd add a fairly large caveat to this: When you disaggregate scores, Massachusetts still does well, but not spectacularly well. Judging from the latest NAEP scores for eighth graders, Massachusetts does a great job with its white students, a good job with its black students, and a fairly mediocre job with its Hispanic students. Overall, they perform pretty well, but part of that is due to the fact that Massachusetts has a very high proportion of white students and apparently does a superb job of teaching them.

Nevertheless, Bath's point is well taken. But you might want to choose a different state: New Jersey, which has a high composite score not because it's mostly white (it's about 60 percent white), but because it does an outstanding job of teaching kids of all colors. Judging by NAEP scores, it ranks among the top four states in both math and reading for whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

Of course, New Jersey's poverty rate is pretty low, and we know that poverty is a prime cause of poor educational outcomes. This helps account for New Jersey's high scores, and also acts as an object lesson in not fetishizing particular countries, states, or programs. This stuff is complicated, and there's no point in just substituting one simplistic analysis for another. That said, I'd say Bath is worth listening to. We should take good ideas from wherever we can find them, but there's not much reason to go haring around the world looking for educational lodestars to emulate. We have 51 laboratories of democracy right here at home, all of which are more culturally similar to each other than any foreign country is. And some of them do pretty well, already working within the framework of American culture, American laws, American ethnic makeup, and American parents. Why not study them instead?

Fox News Sends Reporter to Cover Spring Break in Florida. But What About Benghazi?

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 5:04 PM PDT

Fox News host and prominent knockout-game-myth purveyor Sean Hannity announced this week an investigation into spring break. Here's the first installment, in which Fox correspondent Ainsley Earhardt heads to Panama City. (For the second installment, click here). The Hannity segment covers binge-drinking, twerking, premarital sex, public drug use, and other things young hooligans perpetrate while on spring break:

"Ainsley recalled that some people were actually having sex on the beach, while girls were flashing the crowds for Mardi Gras-style beads," the Fox News blog reads. (Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel has some of the segment's money quotes here, including, "I have vodka and Red Bull and I'm getting crunk than a mug!")

Well, at least it isn't another Fox segment on Benghazi.

Also, you can compare the quality of the very real and outraged Fox coverage of spring break to the very fake and outrage coverage carried out by KHBX—the fictional news team in Comedy Central's short-lived, Zach Galifianakis-starring satire Dog Bites Man. Enjoy:

Nun Reportedly Tells Catholic School Kids That Masturbation Makes Guys Gay

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 1:56 PM PDT

A Catholic nun has caused a firestorm after she allegedly told teens at Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina last month that masturbation can turn boys gay, and gay men have up to 1,000 sexual partners. Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, an assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, reportedly has a history of anti-gay rhetoric. In one of her online lectures, she called oral sex an abnormal act that's "imported from the homosexual culture," according to the Charlotte-based LGBT publication, QNotes. A Charlotte Catholic student described the lecture to the news outlet:

She started talking about how gays [sic] people are gay because they have an absent father figure, and therefore they have not received the masculinity they should have from their father ... Also a guy could be gay if he masterbates [sic] and so he thinks he is being turned on by other guys. And then she gave an example of one of her gay 'friends' who said he used to go to a shed with his friends and watch porn and thats why he was gay. … Then she talked about the statistic where gay men have had either over 500 or 1000 sexual partners and after that I got up and went to the bathroom because I should not have had to been subject to that extremely offensive talk.

In one of her online videos Laurel reiterates that "a man's desire for instance, for his father's love, his father's affection, what happens to it? It can become sexualized. And he can begin to think he has a sexual desire for another man, when in fact, he doesn't." She adds that boys who have been sexual abused also use "homosexual acts" as revenge. When reached by phone, Laurel said she hadn't seen all the reports yet, and could not immediately provide comment.

Aquinas College President Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith defended the school presentation in a statement to the Tennessean, maintaining that, "the presentation was given with the intention of showing that human sexuality is a great gift to be treasured and that this gift is given by God." But some North Carolina students didn't agree, starting a Change.org petition that's culminated in a Wednesday meeting to address the concerns, according to the Huffington Post. The students said in their petition: "We reject the suggestion that homosexuality occurs mainly as a result of a parent’s shortcomings, masturbation or pornography."

It's not only private school students that are subject to strange claims during sex-ed lectures. As we reported last year, public schools also invite religious abstinence speakers to talk to students about sex—and sometimes spread misinformation in the process.

Pam Stenzel, an abstinence lecturer who claims to speak to over 500,000 young people each year, allegedly told public school students at George Washington High School in Charleston, West Virginia, last year, "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you." Shelly Donahue, a speaker for the Colorado-based Center for Relationship Education, told students in a training video posted by the Denver Westword in 2011 that if a guy gets sperm near a girl's vagina, it will turn into a "little Hoover vacuum" and she will become pregnant. Jason Evert, who has scheduled some visits to public schools on his 2014 calendar, advises girls that they should "only lift the veil over your body to the spouse who is worthy to see the glory of that unveiled mystery." To see our full list of abstinence speakers who have given talks in public schools, click here. Good luck, America.