Mojo - February 2012

Mind-Blowing Charts From the Senate's Income Inequality Hearing

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 4:35 PM EST

In another sign that Democrats have embraced income inequality as a cause célèbre, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the subject today. The committee's ranking Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, managed to look concerned during two hours of testimony about the kneecapping of the Middle Class—not that it should have been all that difficult. Here are some of the hearing's most striking charts:

Mother Jones readers have seen this one:                      The Philippe Dauman chart:

    

The 1 percent hasn't controlled such a large share of the economy since the eve of the Great Depression:

But as the rich have earned a larger share, they've paid a smaller and smaller share in taxes:

A major source of inequality in the tax code comes from how it treats investment income. Just ask Mitt Romney, who paid 13.9 percent of his income in taxes in 2010. Most of his earnings came from capital gains, which only get taxed at 15 percent. Proponents of the loophole argue that it helps spur investment, but it also disproportionately helps the rich:

Though America's wealthy are supposed to pay a higher tax rate than the poor (what's known as a "progressive tax code"), they now benefit from so many loopholes that the tax code has, in practice, become increasingly regressive (the Gini Index is a common measure of income inequality):

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CPAC: Attack of the Anti-Multiculturalists!

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 2:33 PM EST

The hottest piece of swag at the Conservative Political Action Conference in DC is the beer koozie. You can pick up upwards of a dozen varieties wandering through the massive exhibit hall in the basement of the Marriott Wardman Park. You can even get a koozie from the anti-multiculturalist student group, Youth For Western Civilization. But it wasn't the knick-knacks that drew me over to the group's table in the basement exhibit hall, though—it was their logo, a black-and-white image of a flexed arm grasping some medieval piece of weaponry.

It looks like a battle axe, but I'm quickly corrected—it's actually a war hammer. "It's supposed to represent Charles Martel," a volunteer tells me. That's a reference to the eighth-century French leader and father of Charlemagne who turned back the Muslim invaders at the Battle of Tours. Martel is something of a hero to the group because they believe the same thing is happening today—American civilization (Western Civilization) is slowly being watered down into something unrecognizable. We don't just need less illegal immigration; we need a lot less immigration, period.

"Mitt Romney is a soulless automaton with no principles—which is why he's good," says Kevin DeAnna, the American University graduate who founded the organization, suggesting that the GOP front-runner's malleable core values might make him easily persuadable. "He's not a closet leftist like George W. Bush." No group benefits more from immigration than the 1-percent, another volunteer chips in, and Kevin quickly agrees. "When Occupiers come up to us—and I'm sure you can imagine they do—this is what we say to them," he says. The 99-percent should be vehemently opposed to illegal immigration—as proof, he cites the early 20th-century labor organizer Samuel Gompers, who called for limits to immigration out of concern for the domestic workforce. Of course, Youth for Western Civilization's alliance with the Occupy Wall Street crowd is probably short-lived; the same group has also posted articles on its website denouncing Nelson Mandela as a "bloodthirsty terrorist" who should have been hanged in the 1980s. (DeAnna tells me he wishes the Occupiers weren't so caught up in political correctness.)

After wandering through the exhibit hall, I dashed upstairs, where an overflow crowd was gathered for a breakout session called "The Failure of Multi-Culturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Weakening American Diversity." As one speaker put it, "Europeans and their trans-Atlantic cousins are literally an endangered species." Another speaker, Rosalie Porter, chairwoman of the anti-bilingualism group ProEnglish, lamented that the Civil Rights Act had ushered in an era of multiculturalism, in which Americans were distinguished by made-up terms like "Hispanic."

Which isn't to say that the entire conference is dominated by White Nationalists. But in a year in which the CPAC's organizers blocked the LGBT group GOProud from co-sponsoring the event, their inclusion is a jarring reminder of the deep-seated biases preventing the conservative movement from actually becoming the Big Tent Republicans say they want.

House Dems Blast Gitmo "Reengagement" Report

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 2:00 PM EST
Service members go jogging at Guantanamo Bay in 2010.

House Democrats blasted their Republican colleagues on the armed services committee Wednesday, following the release of a report criticizing the Obama and Bush administrations over their transfer of detainees out of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. 

"Rarely in the history of the House Armed Services Committee has so much time and money been spent with so little result," said Rep. Jim Cooper, a conservative Tennessee Democrat in a statement. Cooper said the quality of the report was a direct result of Republicans on the committee attempting to exploit fears of terrorism for political gain in November. "Reports on terrorism should not further the terrorists’ goal of spreading fear." 

None of the Democrats on the committee signed onto the report, which was the result of an 11-month investigation by the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that began last March. Instead, they released an eight page dissent

The chief point of contention is the report's conclusion that 27 percent of the about 600 former Gitmo detainees who have been transferred "were confirmed or suspected to be presently or previously reengaged in terrorist activities." The report pegs the "reengagement" rate under the Obama administration at 7.5 percent, but like the 27 percent figure, this combines detainees who are "confirmed or suspected" of "reengaging." This is problematic measurement since it not only assumes the detainees were guilty in the first place, but it assumes that those who are merely "suspected" of "reengaging" have actually done so. Of the five detainees released under Obama who are on the "confirmed or suspected list," two were ordered released by the courts. The Democrats argue that the actual "reengagement rate" under Obama is three percent, not 7.5 percent. A Defense Intelligence Agency report published by McClatchy last year identified the rate for detainees transferred or released during the Bush administration at almost 15 percent. The report asks the administration to produce its own report on "rengagement" and calls for restrictions on transfers of detainees out of Gitmo to remain in place. 

While the administration took on a comprehensive evaluation of all the remaining detainees at Gitmo when Obama took office, the Republican majority is critical of the task force that reviewed their cases on the basis that they were predisposed towards the president's goal of closing the facility. Despite the lesser "reengagement rate" under Obama, however, the report concludes that "the threat of reengagement may not be lessened in the long term" by more robust review procedures adopted during the Obama administration. 

Human rights and civil liberties groups are also critical of the report, which ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Zachary Katznelson called a "rehash of old allegations, long on accusations, short on facts." 

The number of former detainees who have committed terrorist acts post-release or transfer has been a point of controversy since Obama took office, having promised to close the Gitmo detention facility within a year. But Congress balked, and beginning in Decemeber 2010, Congress has maintained restrictions on transferring detainees out of Gitmo that, according to the Pentagon, are nearly impossible to satisfy. Public opinion has shifted markedly, with seventy percent of Americans in favor of keeping Gitmo open, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll. In 2009, a majority of Americans wanted Gitmo closed. So the report is unlikely to make the effort to close Gitmo any deader than it already is, or lessen the already abysmal chances that the dozens of detainees who have been cleared for transfer or release will taste freedom anytime soon.

Pentagon to Let Women in Combat, Kinda Sorta

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 1:30 PM EST

Female Marines on foot patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan: Marine Corps PhotoFemale Marines on foot patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan: Marine Corps PhotoThe Department of Defense is expected to release a report on Thursday urging Congress to let women serve in more frontline combat-related jobs, signaling a possible death knell for male-only military units.

The recommendations are part of a department-wide "Women in Service" review that was scheduled to be released last April but has been held up for nearly a year by DOD officials. Military representatives will hold a Pentagon press conference Thursday afternoon to announce the changes.

Although the new rules aren't expected to allow women into all combat roles currently held by men, such as infantry, artillery, and special operations, they will certainly boost the case for full equality in the ranks. According to DOD officials who have briefed journalists on the report, it will recommend that women be allowed to fill essential non-combat roles—medics, cops, intelligence and communications specialists—in small, frontline combat units where they were previously forbidden.

Second White Nationalist Appearing At CPAC

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 12:25 PM EST

Though gay conservatives aren't welcome at the Conservative Political Action Confrence this year, at least two white nationalists are appearing at the yearly conservative confab. 

One is Peter Brimelow*, founder of the nativist site VDARE which publishes the works of white nationalists like Jared Taylor, and the other is Robert Vandervoort, who runs a group called ProEnglish and according to the Institute for Research on Education and Human Rights, "was also the organizer of the white nationalist group, Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance," which is affiliated with Taylor.

They'll be appearing on a panel titled "The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening the American Identity" alongside National Review's John Derbyshire, who believes "that racial disparities in education and employment have their origin in biological differences between the human races," differences that are "facts in the natural world, like the orbits of the planets." I'm not sure whether there's really any daylight between Derbyshire, who is a long-time writer at American conservatism's flagship magazine, and the two other men he's appearing with. 

*An earlier version of this post wrongly identified "Peter Brimelow" as "Jay Brimelow."

Catholic Bishops Want Entire Birth Control Rule Repealed, Not Just the Religious Exemption

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 12:11 PM EST
"Now close your eyes and think of Rome."

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the national political lobby for the Catholic Church in America, has been waging war on President Barack Obama's new rule requiring health insurers to cover birth control at no cost to women. The religious exemption in the Obama rule allows churches an exemption to birth control coverage, but still requires religiously affiliated schools and hospitals to provide insurance to their employees that includes contraception without a co-payment.

The bishops claim that exemption is too narrow. But they don't just want the religious exemption widened. They want the whole policy repealed. (Never mind that most employers have been required to cover birth control for years.) This USA Today story sort of buries this fact, but at least it acknowledges it:  

The White House is "all talk, no action" on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular," Picarello said. "We're not going to do anything until this is fixed."

That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for "good Catholic business people who can't in good conscience cooperate with this."

"If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I'd be covered by the mandate," Picarello said.

So in short, the bishops want your Catholic boss to be able to decide whether or not you have to pay full freight for your birth control. Not coincidentally, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has a bill that would do just that.

The problem with this argument is that if taken to its logical extreme, your boss could claim religious exemptions for all sorts of health care issues, whether you worked at Catholic Charities, Taco Bell, or anywhere else. Christian Scientists generally don't believe that people need pharmaceutical medicine at all. Scientologists don't believe in psychiatry. If individual employers are allowed exemptions to the birth control coverage mandate, the law could quickly be rendered meaningless.

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DeMint at CPAC: Compromise Is the Enemy

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 11:18 AM EST

The first major speaker at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of right-wing advocates, grassroots activists, and politicians (including 2012 contenders), was Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who had a fundamental message for the base: compromise sucks.

GOPers on Capitol Hill should not be looking to work with Democrats to develop common solutions to the nation's woes, he proclaimed. Not at all. Not ever. And DeMint, with an I'm-so-clever smile, offered what he obviously thought was a killer analogy: the Super Bowl.

Referring to last Sunday's game, he said, "I can guarantee you that coach Tom Coughlin did not tell his Giants to go out on the field and work with those other guys....They weren't cooperating with Tom Brady."

DeMint explained that the New York Giants and the New England Patriots had "different goals." Consequently, compromise would not work. Continuing with this trenchant observation, DeMint noted that "compromise works well in this world when you have shared goals." You can compromise with a wife or with a business colleague. But not with Democrats: "We don't have shared goals with the Democrats."

DeMint, of course, is ignoring the efforts of other conservative Republicans to forge agreements with the other side, most notably the Gang of Six in the Senate. This band of Republican and Democratic senators put together a deficit-reduction framework that drew signs of support from about 40 Democratic and Republican members of the upper chamber last summer. But this compromise failed. Why? Not because Democrats were unwilling to work toward a shared goal with the GOPers. It collapsed because Tea Party-whipped Republicans (such as House Speaker John Boehner) could not accept any increase in tax revenues—and this package included about $1.5 trillion in boosted revenues over ten years.

The problem was not that the shared goal of deficit reduction could not yield a bipartisan compromise. The Gang of Six showed that it could. The issue was that Republican extremists would not accept even an agreement devised by fellow Republicans. They just wouldn't play ball—and that's hardly a course of action that Tom Coughlin would advise his players.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 9, 2012

Thu Feb. 9, 2012 6:57 AM EST

US Army Sgt. Aaron Sweeny and Staff Sgt. Robert Novak, both with 3rd Platoon, Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Spartan, watch explosions from a mountain top near Forward Operating Base Salerno during a call for fire exercise on February 3, 2012. US Army photo by Spc. Ken Scar, 7th MPAD.

Your Daily Newt: Gingrich Shoots a Pig. Sort of.

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 6:50 PM EST

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

In early February, Newt Gingrich launched a new website attacking GOP front-runner Mitt Romney for his less-than-distinguished record as a hunter. The site, romneyguns.com, mocks the former Massachusetts governor for once claiming to have hunted "small varmints," and depicts Romney in an Elmer Fudd-style cap holding a rifle, standing inside a silver cup. It's funny because Romney has been hilariously uncomfortable when he's asked about hunting. It's also funny because the man attacking him is Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, as my colleague Andy Kroll reported in January, has never owned a gun in his life. His comment that "males are biologically driven to go out and hunt giraffes" notwithstanding, he does not hunt. Instead, Gingrich's passion for wildlife is on the complete other side of the spectrum—he once told a reporter that he'd like to spend 6 to 12 months in the Amazon staring at tree sloths. When it comes to big-game-hunting bona fides, the former speaker gives Romney a run for his money. Newt's affinity for firing a gun in anger at an animal was captured in this scene from a 1995 Vanity Fair profile:

Carter tells a down-home kind of story from the 1970s. Newt and Carter, who was then his campaign treasurer, used to barbecue hogs in the Gingriches' driveway in Carrollton, Georgia. They would go to a friend's farm and pick out a hog --and shoot it.

"One day, Newt says to me, 'I need to be the one to kill the hog. It's only right, just morally.'"

Carter showed Newt how to use a Walther P-38, a W.W. II German pistol. "I said, 'Put some corn in your left hand. When the pig comes over to get it, put the pistol against his head and shoot him between his eyes.'"

"So the pig comes over and he starts eating," says Carter. "Newt flinches as the round hits the pig on the side of the head and ricochets down." But the shot only stunned the hog and sent it fleeing back into the pen. "Newt keeps trying to get this pig to come back to him. Newt's getting madder and madder. I said to him, 'You just shot the son of a bitch in the head, Newt, why do you think he's gonna come to you?'"

Carter recalls urging his comrade-in-arms, "'You gotta get in there, in the hogpen, and go get him.' But Newt wouldn't do it. So I ended up going in the pen and killing the hog."

Boehner Pledges to Reverse Free Birth Control Decision

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 4:44 PM EST

House Speaker John Boehner joined the battle on contraception coverage on Wednesday, vowing to overturn the new regulation that requires health insurers to provide birth control at no cost. The Obama administration's decision has roiled some anti-contraception religious groups and conservative members of Congress.

"This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand," said Boehner on the House floor. He said that if the Obama administration doesn't reverse the decision—which would exempt churches but not universities or hospitals affiliated with religious organizations—then Congress will. The Obama administration's decision was made as part of the reform measures put in place under the new health care law. The Institute of Medicine recommended that birth control be provided without a co-payment as one of a number of preventative care measures.

Boehner's promise drew a quick response from pro-choice Democrats in the House and reproductive rights groups, who held a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon. "Some have decided to again use women's health as a political football," said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.). "Most Americans believe that women, not their bosses, should decide what health care services they have access to."

"The opponents of birth control in Congress are trying to take health benefits away from working women," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). She predicted, however, that the move would cause "a backlash from the women of America." "I think it would be at great peril if they were going to do this."