Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 19, 2014

Wed Mar. 19, 2014 7:05 AM PDT

Pfc. Xavier Grace, Mad Dog Platoon, 4th Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, leads the wedge formation during the non lethal weapons training, riot control formations at Ft. Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Penny Zamora)

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The House GOP's Obamacare Alternative Won't Curb Health Care Costs—But It Will Enrich the Insurance Industry

| Wed Mar. 19, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported in an "exclusive" front-page story that House Republicans are at long last promoting their alternative to Obamacare. According to the Post, the new plan, roundly panned, is really just a compilation of the same old health care proposals that Republicans have been floating for years, including allowing the sale of insurance plans across state lines, high-risk insurance pools, and, notably, restrictions on medical-malpractice lawsuits.

Like so many of the Republicans' health care reform proposals, capping damages in and otherwise restricting malpractice lawsuits isn't likely to have a big impact on health care costs, or on expanding coverage to the uninsured. Just ask the state of Florida, whose Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a law similar to the one House Republicans are pushing.

Florida passed its version of the House GOP plan in 2003, when doctors in the state were loudly proclaiming the existence of a "malpractice crisis" in which the state was plagued with an epidemic of frivolous lawsuits that were driving doctors' insurance premiums sky-high and forcing them to leave the state. But last week, Florida's Republican-dominated Supreme Court poked a giant hole in that hysteria. It declared that not only was that "crisis" a fiction, but that the alleged cure—caps on lawsuit damages, which are also favored by the House GOP—had done nothing but enrich insurance companies at the expense of doctors and patients, in violation of the state constitution.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 18, 2014

Tue Mar. 18, 2014 7:10 AM PDT

Cpl. Marcus Chischilly, from Phoenix, Ariz., takes a plunge underwater during the 2014 Marine Corps Trials at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 5, 2014. The Marine Corps Trials enables wounded, ill, or injured Marines to focus on their abilities and to find new avenues to thrive. Athletes compete in archery, cycling, shooting, swimming, track, field, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michael V. Walters/ Released)

Guinness and Other Beers Pull Out of St. Patrick's Day Parade Over Ban on Openly Gay Marchers

| Mon Mar. 17, 2014 8:54 AM PDT

Three beer giants—the manufacturers who bring you Heineken, Sam Adams, and Guinness—have pulled their sponsorship of Saint Patrick's Day parades in New York City and Boston over the events' policy of anti-LGBT discrimination. (The Boston parade took place on Sunday, while the NYC one is on for Monday.) Both parades technically allow gay groups to march but ban signs and placards regarding sexual orientation. The withdrawals came following pressure from gay rights activists over the ban. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also skipped their respective parades.

Sam Adams pulled its sponsorship of the Boston parade last week. Here is their statement, via Boston Beer Company spokeswoman Jessica Paar:

We have been participating in the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade for nearly a decade and have also supported the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast year after year. We've done so because of the rich history of the event and to support veterans who have done so much for this country.

We were hopeful that both sides of this issue would be able to come to an agreement that would allow everyone, regardless of orientation, to participate in the parade. But given the current status of the negotiations, we realize this may not be possible.

We share these sentiments with Mayor Walsh, Congressman Lynch and others and therefore we will not participate in this year’s parade. We will continue to support Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and her St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. We wish her all the best in her historic stewardship of this tradition.

Here is Heineken's statement, given on Friday, regarding the New York parade:

We believe in equality for all. We are no longer a sponsor of Monday's parade.

Guinness, which is part of Diageo, weighed in on Sunday:

Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all. We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year's parade. As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy.

Responses from LGBT activists have been generally positive. "Heineken sent the right message to LGBT youth, customers and employees who simply want to be part of the celebration," Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, said, for instance.

Parade organizers did not immediately respond to Mother Jones' requests for comment.

Scott Brown Ditches "The People's Pledge" for Dark Money

| Mon Mar. 17, 2014 8:05 AM PDT
Scott Brown doesn't want to turn down money from Karl Rove and the Kochs.

Scott Brown, the former Republican senator from Massachusetts who Elizabeth Warren defeated in 2012, has decided that he wants his old job back. Well, not exactly his old job. Late last year Brown sold his Massachusetts home, packed up his belongings and inched north across the border to New Hampshire. He's been making feints toward running for awhile and on Friday made that speculation semi-official, forming an exploratory committee to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's (D-N.H.) in 2014. The last time he ran for Senate, Brown agreed to a pact with Warren that largely prevented outside campaign spending but, based on initial comments he made over the weekend, Brown appears ready to embrace the wild world of super PACs and dark money nonprofits in order to reclaim his old post at the Capitol.

Warren and Brown knew their 2012 campaign would be a hotbed of political excitement. She was a favorite of liberal activists, a YouTube sensation adored by the Netroots. Brown was the Republican heartthrob who claimed Ted Kennedy's old seat and almost squashed Obamacare. Republican commentators immediately began dreaming of him as a future presidential prospect after he won a special election to the Senate in 2010. Their match-up was sure to be a magnet for outside political spending, but neither campaign wanted to lose control of their messaging. The two sides crafted a deal: they would both publicly disavow campaign ads from outside groups and urge those organizations to save their money. Should any group go against their wishes, Brown or Warren would have to donate 50 percent of the money spent on the ad buy to a charity of their opponent's choice. They called their deal "The People's Pledge." Neither candidate hurt for money in that race—they collectively spent over $81 million in the most expensive Senate race to-date. But the pledge did the trick; outside spending played a minor role in their campaign.

Shaheen sent a letter to Brown on Saturday offering to play by those same rules in 2014. "I believe it limited the influence of outside groups and allowed the people’s voices to be heard," her letter said urging her new opponent to once again sign "The People's Pledge." But Brown scoffed at the potential for another deal. "It's hard to view Jeanne Shaheen's actions as anything other than hypocritical and self-serving," Brown responded in a statement. "The people of New Hampshire can see through the Washington-style game she is playing."

Why the change of heart? Perhaps it's as simple as a sour taste for the pledge after Brown lost in 2012. But more likely his newfound acceptance of outside groups owes to the circumstances of a 2014 campaign. Brown had nothing to gain by embracing dark money in 2012. Anything conservatives directed his way was bound to be matched by liberals who were devoted to getting Warren into office. That likely won't be the case against Shaheen. Her name carries less cachet among liberals, while Brown can count on the conservative base rallying around the cause. In light of Brown's announcement, the Karl Rove founded American Crossroads has bought $650,000 in ads attacking Shaheen that are set to run this week. Earlier in the year, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity poured $700,000 into New Hampshire on ads attacking Shaheen for her support of Obamacare. With allies like these, Brown has no reason to make any sort of pledge to rely on funding from the people.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 17, 2014

Mon Mar. 17, 2014 7:34 AM PDT

A Marine from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, conduct a foot patrol through the snow-covered fields of northern Norway during Cold Response 14 March 15, 2014. Cold Response 14 brings together nearly 16,000 troops from 16 countries to train high-intensity operations in the unique climate above the Arctic Circle and strengthen the alliance of partners and their commitment to global security in any clime and place. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tatum Vayavananda/Released)

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Listen: Radio Ads From America's Pot-Growing Mecca

| Mon Mar. 17, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

No place in America grows as much marijuana as Northern California's Trinity, Mendocino, and Humboldt counties. Backcountry pot farming isn't just a leading industry in the so-called Emerald Triangle; it's pretty much the only industry. As I discovered on a recent road trip to investigate the environmental impacts of large-scale pot farming, nowhere is this more obvious than on the radio. Here's a sampling of actual ads you're likely to hear on the way to your neighbor's bud-trimming party:

Justice Department Bad Boys: More Than 650 Cases of Misconduct Documented in 12-Year Period

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 8:24 AM PDT

Federal prosecutors, judges, and other officials at the Justice Department committed over 650 acts of professional misconduct in a recent 12-year period, according to a new report published by a DC-based watchdog group, the Project On Government Oversight. POGO investigators came up with the number after reviewing documents put out by the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). According to one little-noticed OPR document published last year, a DOJ attorney failed to disclose a "close personal relationship" with the defendant in a case he was prosecuting, in which he negotiated a plea agreement to release the defendant on bond. An immigration judge also made "disparaging remarks" about foreign nationals. POGO contends that this number is only the tip of the iceberg and OPR needs to release more information about this misconduct to the public.  

"The bottom line is we just don't know how well the Justice Department investigates and disciplines its own attorneys for misconduct when it occurs," says Nick Schwellenbach, a contributor to POGO. "The amount and types of misconduct DOJ's own investigators conclude has happened suggests more [information] should be public than is already, including naming names of offending prosecutors that commit serious misconduct."

OPR is responsible for investigating ethics complaints at the Justice Department, but the office reports directly to the attorney general. POGO argues that this insular system might not be sufficient to provide effective oversight of prosecutor wrongdoing. Last year, for example, two federal judges issued court orders complaining that DOJ attorneys had misled them about the full scale of the NSA's surveillance activities—but OPR was never aware of the complaints and didn't investigate them even though a former OPR attorney said that they should have triggered an inquiry, according to USA Today.

Between fiscal year 2002 and FY2013, of the more than 650 documented cases of DOJ employee misconduct, 400 were characterized as "reckless" or "intentional" by OPR. In OPR's latest report, from FY2012, the office received over 1,000 complaints and other correspondence about Justice Department employees (over half of these complaints came from incarcerated individuals) and opened 123 inquiries and investigations. 

In one case from 2012, a Justice Department attorney falsely told a court that the government didn't have evidence that a key witness suffered from an ongoing mental-health disorder—when the prosecutor did have that evidence, according to OPR. The attorney was suspended for two weeks and the state bar was notified. In another case, an immigration judge presiding over a case where a father and his daughter were fighting removal from the United States was found by OPR to have "engaged in professional misconduct by acting in reckless disregard of his obligation to appear to be fair and impartial" and to have made biased statements against immigrants. The judge was suspended for 30 days

OPR isn't responsible for disciplining employees; that's up to others in the Justice Department. OPR also no longer publicly names Justice Department employees found to be conducting misconduct, although it did so for a brief period during the Clinton presidency. In 2010, the American Bar Association passed a resolution asking the Obama administration to release more information about Justice Department investigations, potentially including names, but so far, not much has changed. 

"The department takes all allegations of attorney misconduct seriously, and that is why the Office of Professional Responsibility thoroughly reviews each case and refers its findings of misconduct to relevant state bar associations when the rules of the state bar are implicated," says a Justice Department spokeswoman. "OPR also regularly provides detailed information on the resolution of complaints to the defense attorneys, judges, and others who send allegations of misconduct to the department."

A bill proposed on Thursday by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) would overhaul how misconduct is investigated at the Justice Department. Right now, only OPR is allowed to look into ethics complaints, instead of the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which is widely considered to be more independent. The senators' bill would move that authority to the IG's office. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who supports the bill, says: "When Americans pledge to abide by 'liberty and justice for all,' that does not mean that those pursuing justice can creatively apply different standards or break the rules to get convictions—it means that in America everyone is held equally accountable." 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 14, 2014

Fri Mar. 14, 2014 7:12 AM PDT

MAINZ, Germany - Soldiers from U.S. Army Europe assist with the loading of rail cars during USAREUR’s Contingency Command Post (CCP) deployment operations for Saber Guardian 2014. The CCP, established as a rapidly deploying, forward command and control element in support of missions directed by USAREUR, is currently preparing for Saber Guardian 2014. The training, held in the Republic of Bulgaria, is a USAREUR-led multinational exercise designed to strengthen international government agencies and military partnering. The exercise will further strengthen interoperability between NATO and partner nations involved in foreign consequence management operations with U.S. forces and foster trust between regional partner military forces. Personnel from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Turkey and the U.S., as well as representatives from NATO, will participate in the exercise. (U.S. Army Europe photo by Spc. Joshua Leonard)

WATCH: Rand Paul's Big Flip-Flop on Russia

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 4:59 AM PDT

Earlier this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) slammed President Barack Obama for not doing enough in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's incursion into Crimea. In a Time op-ed, Paul huffed:

It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia's latest aggression.

Putin must be punished for violating the Budapest Memorandum, and Russia must learn that the U.S. will isolate it if it insists on acting like a rogue nation.

This does not and should not require military action. No one in the U.S. is calling for this. But it will require other actions and leadership, both of which President Obama unfortunately lacks.

Paul went on to outline a number of steps he would take, were he president, including imposing economic sanctions and visa bans (which Obama has already implemented), kicking Russia out of the G-8, and building the Keystone XL pipeline. (He did not explain how helping a Canadian firm export tar sands oil would intimidate Putin.) He added, "I would reinstitute the missile-defense shields President Obama abandoned in 2009 in Poland and the Czech Republic." He griped, "The real problem is that Russia's President is not currently fearful or threatened in any way by America's President, despite his country's blatant aggression."

With this article, Paul was eagerly joining the GOP chorus that in recent days has been blasting Obama for being weak and feckless regarding Putin and the Ukraine. That was not surprising. As a politician pondering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Paul has had to contend with complaints from the GOP's overlapping neocon and establishment wings that he is an isolationist "wacko bird," as Sen. John McCain indelicately put it. Here was a chance to join his party's mainstream in denouncing Obama. Yet to become a member in good standing of the GOP's Get-Obama Brigade, Foreign Policy Division, Paul had to flip-flop.

In April 2009, Paul, on the cusp of launching his Senate campaign, gave a talk to the College Republicans group at Western Kentucky University. He was asked about the large number of US troops stationed overseas by an audience member who said it was "ridiculous" for the United States to maintain permanent military bases in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Paul responded sympathetically: "We're now 60 years in Germany, 60 years in Japan, 50 years in Korea." He defended his father, Ron Paul, for having noted during the 2008 presidential race that there were foreign policy causes for 9/11: "We have to understand there is blowback from our foreign policy."

Arguing for a restrained foreign policy (and smaller military establishment), Paul immediately turned to the subject of Russia's invasion of Georgia the previous year (which these days has often been cited as analogous to the Ukraine crisis).

For example, we have to ask ourselves, "Who needs to be part of NATO? What does NATO need to be at this point?" One of the big things [for] the neocons—the people in the Republican Party sort of on the other side from where I come from—is they want Georgia to be part of NATO. Well, Georgia sits right on the border of Russia. Do you think that might be provocative to put them in NATO? NATO's treaty actually says that if they're attacked, we will defend them. So, if the treaty means something, that means all of a sudden we're at war with Russia. If Georgia would had become, Bush wanted Georgia to become part of NATO, had they been part of NATO, we'd be at war with Russia right now. That's kinda a scary thing. We have to decide whether putting missiles in Poland is gonna provoke the Russians. Maybe not to war, but whether it's worth provoking them, or whether we have the money to do it.

Here's the video:

So when Russia sent troops into Georgia (on George W. Bush's watch), Paul didn't want to provoke Russia by placing missiles in Poland. Yet today, when Russia moves into Ukraine (on Obama's watch), he's all for dispatching missiles to Poland to send a message to Putin. Does Paul care more about Crimea than Georgia? Or does he care more about keeping a foot on the GOP's anti-Obama bandwagon? Paul's office did not respond to a request for comment.

It appears that Paul, an isolationist who doesn't want to be isolated within the GOP, spotted the opportunity to develop some Obama-bashing hawk cred as the presidential campaign nears. "I stand with the people of Ukraine," Paul declares now, though that was not what he said about Georgians. What's changed in the past six years: geopolitics or Paul's own political calculations?