Political MoJo

Hobby Lobby's Hypocrisy, Part 2: Its Retirement Plan STILL Invests in Contraception Manufacturers

| Fri Oct. 10, 2014 4:04 PM EDT
Hobby Lobby president Steve Green

When Obamacare compelled Hobby Lobby to buy employee health insurance plans that covered emergency contraception, the Green family, who own the national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court. So what happened when Mother Jones reported that Hobby Lobby contributed millions of dollars to employee retirement plans with stock in companies that make emergency contraception?

According to Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, nothing.

That revelation came on Friday, when MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon published parts of an interview with Green, whose Supreme Court case resulted in the partial dismantling of Obamacare's contraception mandate.

Carmon asked Green for his response to the Mother Jones report, which noted that Hobby Lobby's employee retirement plans had stock holdings in companies manufacturing the very drugs and devices at the center of the Supreme Court case: PlanB, Ella, and two types of intrauterine devices. Green doesn't often speak to the press, so it was the first time he had publicly responded to this information since I first reported it in early April.

In the interview with Carmon, Green dismissed the idea that it mattered where his employee's 401(k) plans had indirect investments, telling her it was "several steps removed."

Of course, the Greens were also several steps removed from any emergency contraception Hobby Lobby's female employees may or may not have obtained through the company's insurance plan. And as I pointed out in April, divestment from certain companies does matter to many Christian business owners, who have fueled a cottage industry of mutual funds that screen for morally objectionable stocks.

But Green indicates he wasn't troubled enough by Mother Jones' report to investigate for himself or make any changes to Hobby Lobby's employee retirement plan:

Whether they do or not [invest in these drugs and devices], I couldn't confirm or deny it. I don't know if it's even true. Of course, the other question I would ask is, do those companies also provide a lot of life-saving products that our employees are dependent on? I don't know that either. But we've not made any changes.

Carmon also confronted Green with the overwhelming scientific evidence that using emergency contraception does not cause abortions. The Greens' contention that emergency contraception was a form of abortion was key to their argument that Obamacare violated their free exercise of religion. Read Carmon's whole story here.

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If Wendy Davis Thinks She Can Win an Election by Pointing Out Her Opponent's Disability, She's Wrong

| Fri Oct. 10, 2014 3:39 PM EDT

Wendy Davis just released an ad attacking Greg Abbott, her opponent for governor in Texas, which is, to be blunt, bullshit. It's offensive and nasty and it shouldn't exist. She's basically calling Abbott a cripple.

There are a lot of good reasons not to like Greg Abbott. The fact that he's in a wheelchair isn't one of them.

UPDATE: I want to go deeper into this than I originally did because this post has obviously touched a nerve. As a lot of you have pointed out, the ad makes the point that Abbott won a tort reward, but that he supports making it harder for other people to do the same. That is a good and decent point to make. It is not, in my opinion, what the ad is about.

This ad says to me—and to a lot of other people—that Greg Abbott is unfit to serve because he is handicapped. The Davis campaign may not have intentionally attempted to play into people’s historic prejudice against the disabled, but that’s how the ad reads to me. Abbott shouldn’t be off limits to criticism because he’s in a wheelchair. And this may just have been an inartful attempt at a trenchant criticism. But there are ways to make a point and ways not to make a point and this ad is not the way to make that point.

What the Hell Is Going On in North Korea? Here Are the 5 Best Rumors About Kim Jong-Un

| Fri Oct. 10, 2014 2:50 PM EDT
Kim Jong-Un with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, in 2012

North Korea's Kim Jong-Un—known as "Supreme Leader," or "Fatty the Third," depending on where you are—has been conspicuously absent over the past month. At a July event, he was seen walking with a limp, and he hasn't made a public appearance since September 3rd. That's unusual for Kim, who made 25 public appearances in July alone. North Korean State media was forced to admit he'd been suffering from "discomfort."

Most observers figured Kim was sidelined with gout, which might as well be a Kim family tradition. Today, Kim was expected to make a comeback for a deeply important annual event—the anniversary of the founding of North Korea's Workers' Party. He was, shockingly, a no-show. No one ever knows what's really happening in North Korea, but the rumor mill, abuzz for weeks, has gone wild with speculation. Here's some of the craziest rumors the world's come up with to explain Kim's extended absence:

1. Kim is being phased out as leader of North Korea. Some version of this is fast becoming a popular take on the situation. The Daily Beast's Gordon C. Chang posited that Kim may have been "politically weak" this whole time and kept around as a pawn because of the cult of personality surrounding his family. Chang suggests that a shadowy group of army officials—led by Gen. Hwang Pyong So—could be moving to take power, rendering Kim nothing more than a figurehead.

2. There was a straight-up coup, and Kim fled. In a more extreme version of Rumor 1, some are saying that Kim did indeed exercise total control, and that a coup was staged to get rid of him. People are even saying his wife was executed. Super-credible "Pyongyang watchers" point to tightened security in the capital, an odd shuffle of party leaders and dissatisfaction with Kim's violent rule to back this one up. So who'd want to take him out? The army is a candidate, as is Kim's powerful but little-known younger sister, who could've made a play. If you're wondering how seriously to take these rumors, consider that some people thought a particular general—Vice Marshal Jo Myong-Rok—overthrew Kim. That guy is dead.

3. Kim was addicted to cheese. Judging from state media coverage, Kim has steadily put on weight since taking power. His alleged cheese addiction—he's rumored to have sent out officials to procure rare, expensive cheese in Europe—may be the culprit. An Indian newspaper reported that cheese-induced gout didn't strike Kim: apparently, his ankles broke because he got too fat. So, he may be recovering in a hospital, or cheese rehab.

4. Kim got too excited in a military drill and injured himself. A British tabloid alleged, among other things, that Kim walked with a limp after involving himself in a military drill. After "crawling" and "rolling around," he's said to have "injured his ankle and knee... because he is overweight."

5. Kim is fine! North Korean officials insist there's no problem—health-related or otherwise. "We must firmly establish the monolithic leadership system of Kim Jong Un," North Korea's state-run newspaper said. Guess that settles it.

Scott Walker Is Bragging About a Pro-Life Endorsement He Didn't Receive This Year

| Fri Oct. 10, 2014 1:41 PM EDT
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been caught again playing fast and loose with the facts on the issue of abortion. Earlier this week, as I reported, Walker's campaign released a new ad about a bill he signed that restricted abortion rights for women in Wisconsin. In the ad, Walker says, "the bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor"—a statement that falsely implies that Walker supports a woman's right to choose an abortion, when in fact he wants to ban all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.

Now, the Capital Times of Madison, Wis., reports that Walker's campaign website touts an endorsement from a pro-life group that Walker didn't actually receive this year. On his 2014 campaign website, Walker touts an endorsement by the group Pro-Life Wisconsin. Under the "Walker on Values" section, it reads:

In my campaign for governor, I am proud to have been endorsed by Wisconsin Right to Life, which recognized my long commitment to right to life issues and noted that my election "would greatly contribute to building a culture of life where the most vulnerable members of the human family are welcomed and protected."

I was also endorsed by Pro-Life Wisconsin which said that a Walker Administration "will have far-reaching, positive effects for Wisconsin citizens who value the dignity of all innocent human life."

Here's the problem: That's not true. Pro-Life Wisconsin endorsed Walker during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign and the 2012 recall election. But the group did not endorse him in this year's gubernatorial race, as the Capital Times reported:

Pro-Life Wisconsin evaluates political candidates by their responses to a 10-question survey sent during each election cycle. In order to receive an endorsement, a candidate must answer "yes" to every question—giving them a "100 percent pro-life" rating—and complete an interview with members of the political action committee board.

"Scott Walker did not complete our 2014 candidate survey and therefore is ineligible for an endorsement," wrote Matt Sande, director of the Pro-Life Wisconsin Victory Fund PAC, in an email. "His campaign manager stated in a letter that 'our campaign will not be completing any interest group surveys or interviews.'"

That didn't stop Walker's website from listing Pro-Life Wisconsin as an endorser. Neither the Walker campaign nor Matt Sande, who runs Pro-Life Wisconsin's Victory Fund PAC, responded to requests for comment.

The Supreme Court Just Blocked Scott Walker's Voter ID Law

| Fri Oct. 10, 2014 10:51 AM EDT
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Update, Sunday, October 19: On Saturday, the Supreme Court upheld Texas' "discriminatory" voter ID law, potentially disenfranchising some 600,000 largely minority voters ahead of the midterms.

Update, Wednesday, October 15: After a federal trial court struck down Texas' "discriminatory" new voter ID law last week, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the state can enforce the restrictive law after all in November. Opponents of the law may file an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court.

On Thursday evening, two separate courts blocked restrictive voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas that could have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of mostly black and Latino voters in the upcoming November midterm elections.

Both states' laws would have required voters to provide photo identification before casting their ballots. Such laws reduce minority and youth turnout, according to a Government Accountability Office study released Wednesday.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued an emergency order blocking a voter ID law Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed in 2011. The court cited no reason for its move, which is common for emergency orders. Voting rights advocates challenging the law had charged that if it were in effect in November it would "virtually guarantee chaos at the polls," the New York Times reported, as the state would not have enough time to issue IDs and train poll workers before the election. There are about 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin who lack an ID. Most of them are black or Hispanic.

Also on Thursday, a federal trial court in Texas struck down that state’s voter ID law, ruling that it overly burdened minority voters, who are less likely to have a government-issued ID, and as such violated the Voting Rights Act. More than 600,000 registered voters in Texas lack appropriate IDs.

The move by the Supreme Court reverses a recent trend by the high court upholding voting restrictions. The court upheld a law in Ohio that cut down on early voting, as well as a measure North Carolina enacted in 2013 eliminating same-day registration and banning the counting of ballots accidentally cast at the wrong precinct.

Both Texas and Wisconsin had claimed their laws would crack down on voter fraud. Confirmed instances of in-person voter fraud are rarer than UFO sightings.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 10, 2014

Fri Oct. 10, 2014 9:31 AM EDT

US Army paratroopers transported over 2,500 pounds of medical supplies and food to their comrades on the ground. (Photo by Sgt. Juan F. Jimenez, 1BCT, 82nd ABN DIV PAO)

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Sen. Inhofe Blocks Funds for Ebola Intervention

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 7:17 PM EDT

Update: On Friday, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement that "after careful consideration," he would be lifting his hold on $750 million in emergency Ebola funds.

House legislators have approved the transfer of $750 million toward the fight to contain Ebola, which continues to rapidly spread across West Africa. The figure is still below the $1 billion request from the Department of Defense—and the budget battle is not over. It is currently holed up in the Senate dependent on Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to give his approval.

After Sen. Inhofe and Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee initially raised concerns, a limit of $50 million was put on the transfer until the DoD provided details on how the money would be spent to address the crisis. Now, with plans to deploy 4,000 troops to the region, $750 million to fund a six-month mission has been approved by both the House Armed Services Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee. According to The Hill, however, a spokesperson from Inhofe's office confirmed the Senator would not change his mind even in light of approval from other committees because the expense "would add demands on a defense budget already stretched thin." The money would come from an account currently funding the war in Afghanistan.

There has already been one fatality from the virus in the US, heightening concerns that more could follow, and health officials are saying the epidemic in Africa is spiraling out of control. Last week a top US health official said the Ebola epidemic could have been contained and suggested sequester budget cuts disabled early response efforts. This week ranking members of the Congressional Subcommittee that oversees the budgets for the National Institutes of Health and The Centers for Control Disease and Prevention called for a hearing into the matter.

A statement from Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J) confirms that Congress understands the urgency required:

“The world is facing a severe global health crisis emanating from West Africa. The United States is stepping up to lead the international response to the Ebola outbreak and Congress will ensure that the President’s request is fully and quickly funded," Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said in a statement.

Committemembers are hoping to convince Inhofe to change his mind:

"We understand that the administration has provided information to answer some questions that Sen. Inhofe had, and that they are hoping he will sign off soon so that they can go forward," said a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee staff.

Did Obama Just Signal That the FCC Will Preserve Net Neutrality?

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 6:54 PM EDT
Obama speaks at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, California.

Did President Obama just signal that the Federal Communication Commission will preserve net neutrality? Speaking this afternoon at Cross Campus, a tech incubator in Santa Monica's Silicon Beach, he had this to say (emphasis mine) about the FCC's proposed changes to net neutrality rules:

I made a commitment very early on that I am unequivocally committed to net neutrality. I think that it is what has unleashed the power of the internet and we don't want to lose that or clog up the pipes...I know one of the things that people are most concerned about is paid prioritization, the notion that some folks can pay a little more money and get better service, more exclusive access to customers though the internet. That's something I am opposed to. I was opposed to it when I ran, I continue to be opposed to it now. Now, the FCC is an independent agency. They came out with some preliminary rules that I think the netroots and a lot of the folks in favor of net neutrality were concerned with. My appointee [to the FCC], Tom Wheeler, knows my position. I can't...call him up and tell him exactly what to do. But what I've been clear about, what the White House has been clear about, is that we expect whatever final rules to emerge to make sure that we're not creating two or three or four tiers of internet. That ends up being a big priority of mine.

Expecting the preservation of net neutrality is not the same as guaranteeing it. But this is the strongest indication yet that Obama won't allow the FCC to push through its deeply unpopular plan to limit open access to the internet.

Millennials Love Hillary Clinton Now

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 2:56 PM EDT

The young'uns just love Hillary Clinton these days. A new poll from television network Fusion found that, should Clinton run for president, she's already got the support of 58 percent of 18-24 year-old Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren trail far behind, garnering 13 and 9 percent, respectively.

If Hillary makes it to the general election, 50 percent of 18-24 year-olds say they would support her. Just 33 percent would back a hypothetical Republican nominee. White millennials split 41-41 percent on backing Hillary in a 2016 general election, but she crushes that hypothetical Republican among minority voters: 72 percent among black voters and 63 percent from Hispanics prefer the former secretary of state.

Clinton struggled with college-aged and other young voters when she last ran for president in 2008. But as I explained in April, Ready for Hillary, the super PAC paving the way for her eventual run, has been busy this year recruiting volunteers on college campuses across the country to beef up the Clinton machine and avoid the mistakes she made last time:

The group brought in former Obama campaign youth vote coordinator Rachel Schneider to oversee outreach to voters ages 16 to 30, with a particular focus on those still in school. Schneider has spent the last few months traveling around the country to set up satellite organizations on college campuses with the goal of attracting all of the best student organizers to Clinton's side before any other Democrat launches a presidential campaign.

...

"I've been focused on identifying students on campuses who are interested in being part of this movement from the ground floor," Schneider says. For Democratic-leaning students interested in a career in politics it's a no-brainer: leading a Students for Hillary group will position them as prime contenders for low-level jobs in Clinton's actual campaign.

Ready for Hillary has continued to ramp up its college efforts since the spring, sending the Hillary Bus crisscrossing the country. Over the course of three weeks in late August and early September, the group sent the bus of staffers to about a dozen schools in the south and west, including Clemson, South Carolina State, Claflin University, the University of Arkansas, UNLV, and the University of Colorado–Boulder, to setup pro-Clinton campus groups.

Another Black Teenager Fatally Shot by Police, Just Miles from Ferguson

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 10:53 AM EDT
Crowds confront police near the scene in in south St. Louis where a man was fatally shot by an off-duty St. Louis police officer on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. St. Louis.

Nearly two months to the day after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, another black teenager was fatally shot by a white officer in nearby St. Louis on Wednesday.

According to police, the yet-to-be named off-duty officer was chasing the teenager, later identified by family as Vonderrick Myers Jr., when the two began firing at each other. Police say Myers got off at least three rounds before the officer returned fire. They also say that a weapon was recovered at the scene, but witnesses including Myers' family are disputing the police account.

"He was unarmed,” said Teyonna Myers, apparently the victim's cousin. “He had a sandwich in his hand, and they thought it was a gun. It’s like Michael Brown all over again.”

The officer, a 6-year veteran, fired at Myers 17 times.

The news triggered fresh riots in St. Louis, where roughly 200 people took to the streets overnight in protest. Police chief Samuel Dotson said several police cars were damaged.

The latest shooting comes as Ferguson prepares for renewed unrest in the case a grand jury chooses not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Brown in early August.