Political MoJo

Texas Wants Its Own Fort Knox

| Wed May 27, 2015 1:00 PM EDT

Texas independence—or paranoia—strikes again. In recent years, some Lone Star officials, including former Gov. Rick Perry, have flirted with secession. Last month the new Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, asked the state national guard to monitor a US military exercise that some residents fear is cover for a federal takeover of the state that will use Walmarts as staging areas. And now the state is on the verge of seizing the gold owned by the state that is stored in New York City and building a massive bunker to hoard this booty.

Per the Houston Chronicle:

AUSTIN — Texas could get its own version of Fort Knox, the impenetrable depository for gold bullion, if the Legislature gets its way.

Under House Bill 483, approved unanimously on Tuesday by the state Senate, Comptroller Glenn Hegar would be authorized to establish and administer the state's first bullion depository at a site not yet determined.

No other state has its own state bullion depository, officials said.

The state government has about $1 billion in gold bullion stored outside the state, mostly in the basement of the Federal Reserve building in Manhattan. The gold has been there for years—because it's so annoying to move, it's easier to keep everyone's gold in the same place, and the financial center of the world is the most obvious place. When bullion changes hands, it's mostly on paper. So why does Texas now need to grab all its gold? Is it just because Texans don't trust New Yorkers? Is it really that simple?

Yes:

"New York will hate this," [state sen. Lois] Kolkhorst said of the bill that now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed into law. "To me, that and the fact that it will save Texas money makes it a golden idea."

The cost-cutting bit refers to the storage fees Texas has to pay to keep its gold offsite, although Texas would still have to shell out money for upkeep and security if it went the DIY route. Incidentally, Perry supported the Texas Bullion Depository when it was first proposed in 2013, telling Glenn Beck, "If we own it, I will suggest to you that that's not someone else’s determination whether we can take possession of it back or not."

But building a giant vault to house all the state's gold will be the easy part. The tough task? Safely and securely moving 57,000 pounds of gold from Gotham to Texas. Perhaps we now know the plot for the eighth Fast and Furious movie.

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Bernie Sanders Has the Most Glorious 404 Error Page Ever

| Tue May 26, 2015 4:38 PM EDT

Think you've landed on the wrong page of Bernie Sanders' campaign site? Fear not. In order to help guide you back to the page you were trying to reach, Sanders, who just announced his presidential bid, created the most terrific error page of any 2016 candidate. Just take a look:

Follow his directions: "Just scoot down to the bottom of the page and you'll find your way back home to where you should be!" The site is further enhanced by the perfect URL: berniesanders.com/wtf.

Bravo, Bernie. The broken links may have turned into your first big win.

Hillary Clinton Store Features Pantsuit T-Shirt of Your Nightmares

| Tue May 26, 2015 11:12 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton's campaign store is open for business! The online store, stocked with coffee mugs and items emblazoned with Clinton's official 2016 logo, appears to feature the usual swag expected from a political campaign. But one piece of merchandise stands out. That's the "pantsuit t-shirt," which looks like this:

Love seeing Clinton continue to embrace the pantsuit jokes! But for $30, will supporters put their sartorial reputations on the line by wearing what is essentially an awful tuxedo t-shirt? As for the store's adorable "Future Voter" onesie? Nailed it.

Kansas Republicans Have Come Up with a Disgraceful New Way to Screw the Poor

| Fri May 22, 2015 12:19 PM EDT

Starting in July, a new law in Kansas will restrict the amount of cash a welfare recipient can take out of ATM's to just $25 a day—a move that critics say introduces a whole new host of financial burdens—including high ATM fees and travel costs—when they access cash.

Max Ehrenfreund at the Washington Post explains:

Since most banking machines are stocked only with $20 bills, the $25 limit is effectively a $20 limit. A family seeking to withdraw even $200 in cash would have to visit an ATM 10 times a month, a real burden for a parent who might not have a car and might not live in a neighborhood where ATMs are easy to find.

The law, backed by a GOP-dominated Kansas legislature and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, will benefit the pockets of large banks while taking money from poor families who rely on food stamps.

In Kansas's system, every withdrawal incurs a $1 fee, and if the beneficiary doesn't have a bank account, they will have to pay the ATM fee, too. Those fees might be worth it for some families, though, because the card issued by the state of Kansas isn't like a debit card from an ordinary bank. Ordinary debit cards allow their holders to make purchases for free in stores. In Kansas, beneficiaries get two free purchases a month. After that, they pay 40 cents every time they use the card to buy something.

The ostensible rationale for this redistribution of wealth is to minimize waste and prevent low income residents from spending their money on non-essentials like alcohol and the much-feared lobster feast. This is the demonizing-the-poor trope that Republican lawmakers frequently deploy to justify punitive control over how low income people spend their money. In addition to the limit on withdrawals, the state's new law carries restrictions to ludicrous levels by prohibiting spending on items such as swimming pools and fortune telling sessions.

As Mother Jones has written in the past, such concerns are wildly misplaced and seriously hurt the poor. President Obama recently addressed this conservative characterization, calling out Fox News for portraying the poor as lazy "leeches" eager to waste government funds.

Fortunately, Kansas' controversial new provision may actually turn out to be illegal, violating federal law that mandates welfare recipients "have adequate access to their cash assistance" without enduring high fees.
 

Josh Duggar Resigns From Family Research Council Amid Molestation Allegations

| Thu May 21, 2015 10:56 PM EDT

On Thursday, Josh Duggar resigned as head of the Family Research Council's lobbying arm amid allegations from a sealed police report obtained by In Touch Weekly that he sexually molested multiple underage girls when he was a teenager.

Duggar, the eldest son of the reality TV family on TLC's 19 and Counting, expressed regret for his actions in a statement on the Duggar family's Facebook page:

Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.

Josh's parents Jim Bob and and Michelle Duggar reportedly knew about the alleged sexual misconduct, which began in 2002, for more than a year before reporting it to the authorities. After the Springdale Police Department received an anonymous tip in 2006, they investigated, but Duggar was never charged with anything. You can read the partially redacted police report here

The Duggars emerged as political players for the social conservative right in 2007, when Jim Bob, a one-time state representative, endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president. After the 2012 election, when the family backed Rick Santorum, Josh Duggar catapulted into conservative circles in Washington as the executive director of FRC Action.

The family remains an influential force among social conservatives due to its pro-life views and strong Christian faith. In December, Michelle Duggar pushed for the repeal of a measure in Arkansas that would have prevented housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In May, Jim Bob and Michelle endorsed Huckabee, calling him "a man of faith." As of Thursday night, Jim Bob's endorsement is still on Huckabee's presidential campaign site. Mother Jones has reached out to the Huckabee camp for comment.

mikehuckabee.com

 

Could LA's $15 Minimum Wage Sweep the Nation?

| Thu May 21, 2015 4:46 PM EDT
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti after announcing his support for a $15 minimum wage.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles became the third major West Coast city to pass a $15 minimum wage ordinance. Though the law won't fully go into effect until 2020, it's a huge deal. LA is larger than San Francisco and Seattle, the two other $15-an-hour cities, combined. It also has a much larger contingent of low-wage workers. The ordinance will give a raise to an estimated 750,000 Angelenos, or about 46 percent of the city's workforce.

LA's wage hike points to the potential for a major minimum wage boost to sweep the country. Although experts disagree about the LA measure's impact on growth and employment, the City Council passed it by a 14-to-1 margin. The $15 wage polls well in LA and nationally, despite a dearth of national politicians pushing for such a large increase. If organizers play their cards right, this suggests a $15 wage could gain traction in other cities.

"The facts and campaign brought to bear in LA were in many ways only a next step in the move to address income inequality."

So how did it happen? The original proposal, after all, was a more modest one. The measure's backers attribute their success to a combination of grassroots and national organizing. The umbrella group leading the push, the Raise the Wage Coalition, includes more than 260 local organizations from labor, business, entertainment, and the civil rights movement. It marshaled economic studies to justify a $15 wage and delivered more than 100,000 petition signatures in favor. But it also benefited from what organizers call "air support"—the national campaign to pressure Walmart and McDonald's into implementing a $15-an-hour base wage.

"It created a narrative that made it really hard for council members to simply look past the realities of what hard-working people are experiencing," says Rusty Hicks, executive secretary treasurer of the LA County Federation of Labor. "The facts and campaign brought to bear in LA were in many ways only a next step in the move to address income inequality."

The organizers are already eyeing other SoCal cities. "It is not our intention to just stop in LA," says Laphonza Butler, president of the Service Employees International Union in California and co-organizer, with Hicks, of Raise the Wage Coalition. "We need to raise the wage all across the region."

The group's next most likely contenders are Pasadena and West Hollywood.

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Job-Seeker Hillary Clinton Posts Resume on LinkedIn

| Thu May 21, 2015 10:38 AM EDT

Have you heard the news? Hillary Clinton is on the hunt for a new gig.

And in an effort to attract prospective employers, the former secretary of state just joined LinkedIn with her very own profile. She even dressed up her page with an article on how to "jump-start small business." 

Enjoy the imminent deluge of spammy messages, Hillary! Everyone deserves a distraction from "sensitive but unclassified" emails.

Here's What Osama bin Laden Wrote About Climate Change

| Wed May 20, 2015 12:59 PM EDT

On Wednesday morning, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a trove of newly declassified documents discovered during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. Among the many letters, videos, and audio recordings is an undated document apparently written by bin Laden discussing the "massive consequences" of climate change, a phenomenon he describes as having more victims than wars.

The newly released document is very similar in content and language to a recording released in 2010, in which the Al Qaeda leader expounded on climate change and criticized the international community's lackluster relief efforts in response to flooding in Pakistan. The speech, about 11 minutes in length, was accompanied by a video compilation that included images of natural disasters and Bin Laden.

In the document, Bin Laden calls attention to the fate of Pakistani children, who, he says, had been "left in the open, without a suitable living environment, including good drinking water, which has exposed them to dehydration, dangerous diseases and higher death rates." He also laments that "countries are annually spending 100 thousand million euros on their armies" while failing to address the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan.

This was not the only time Bin Laden spoke about climate change. In a different letter between Bin Laden and senior Al Qaeda leaders—also seized during the 2011 raid and written about by Foreign Affairs in March—Bin Laden remarked on a study about climate change and asked his associates to send it Al Jazeera. In 2010, Al Jazeera obtained an audio recording of Bin Laden criticizing the "industrial states," the United States among them, for contributing to climate change.

Read the full text of the undated letter below:

 

Obama Finally Joins Twitter

| Mon May 18, 2015 12:44 PM EDT

After years of being bound to the occasional "-bo" sign-offs on the official @barackobama Twitter account (run by his political group Organizing for Action), President Barack Obama finally got his own personal account today!

The official word from the White House informs us the new account will serve as a  way for the president to "engage directly with the American people, with tweets coming exclusively from him."

The shiny new @POTUS handle describes Obama as a "Dad, husband, and 44th President of the United States." One probable mistake, though: He left his DM's wide open.

 

Obama Just Announced a Plan to Restrict Police Use of Military-Style Equipment

| Mon May 18, 2015 8:42 AM EDT

On Monday, the White House announced a plan to set new restrictions on local police departments from obtaining military-style equipment from the federal government. The limitation on military gear is part of an ongoing effort to rebuild trust between community members and law enforcement officials following the unrest seen in Ferguson, Missouri, particularly the police response to protesters there.

The announcement is in response to a report put forth by a task force created by the president in December to address broken police relations, especially in minority communities, across the country. Banned items include wheeled-armored vehicles, battering rams, grenade launchers, and more.

"We are, without a doubt, sitting at a defining moment in American policing," Ronald Davis, head of the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, told reporters on Monday. "We have a unique opportunity to redefine policing in our democracy, to ensure that public safety becomes more than the absence of crime, but it must also include a presence for justice."

For a deeper look into how local police departments became so militarized, check out our in-depth report, "The Making of the Warrior Cop," here.