Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 11, 2014

Tue Mar. 11, 2014 7:09 AM PDT

Sgt. Scott Hulsizer (left), a team leader with second platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, based in Okinawa, Japan, fires an M136 AT-4 rocket launcher after breaking away from the firing line as part of a weapons training package on the Kaneohe Bay Range Training Facility, March 4, 2014. 3rd Recon Bn. fired multiple weapon systems, such as the .50 caliber M2 Browning heavy machine gun, MK-19 automatic grenade launcher and M136 AT-4 rocket launchers, as part of a two day weapons package for Exercise Sandfisher. The weapons package focused on increasing the platoon’s proficiency with each system on the battlefield. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg/Released)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Here Is President Obama's "Between Two Ferns" Interview With Zach Galifianakis

| Tue Mar. 11, 2014 6:02 AM PDT

Tuesday morning, comedy website Funny or Die released an episode of Zach Galifianakis' satirical interview show Between Two Ferns featuring Barack Obama. The 44th president came on to promote the Affordable Care Act. (At the end of the six-and-a-half-minute video, there is a link to Healthcare.gov.)

The whole thing is pretty funny. To be clear, it isn't going to set the world on fire or anything, but there are definitely some amusing bits. ("What is it like to be the last black president?" "Seriously?") Funny or Die has a very good relationship with the Obama administration, which includes creating a recent batch of pro-Obamacare videos, and even pitching the president a sketch idea directly. Galifianakis is himself an Obama supporter.

Here is the whole bit for your viewing pleasure:

 

Or as the White House describes it:

Ugh: Cheney and Palin Call For Military Involvement in Ukraine

Mon Mar. 10, 2014 7:02 PM PDT

Washington bureau chief David Corn joined Chris Matthews and Huffington Post's Howard Fineman on Hardball to discuss the push by far-right conservatives like Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, and Ted Cruz for US military involvement in Ukraine.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Alabama DA Drops Effort to Send Man Who Raped 14-Year-Old to Prison

| Mon Mar. 10, 2014 12:56 PM PDT

Facing an uphill battle in the state supreme court, an Alabama district attorney has dropped his effort to put a man convicted of raping a 14-year-old behind bars. The News Courier reports that Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones has decided not to challenge the state appeals court ruling that allowed Austin Smith Clem to avoid prison time for his three rape convictions. "After consultation with the victim and her family, we have decided not to pursue a petition for writ of mandamus to the Alabama Supreme Court," Jones told the News Courier. "Courtney Andrews has shown immense courage and tenacity during this ordeal. My hope is that, through her example, other victims of sexual offenses will find the courage to speak out and to come forward with these crimes."

Read our earlier coverage of the Clem case here and here.

 

Dems' Anti-Koch Campaign Heats Up

| Mon Mar. 10, 2014 10:38 AM PDT

Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been bounding onto the Senate floor with a new vocation of late, one unrelated to passing legislation. The Senate majority leader has made it his personal mission to call out David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who have bankrolled a massive infrastructure of conservative groups. He's termed the brothers "un-American." He's accused his Republican colleagues of being bought and paid for by the Kochs. He's said they are trying to rig the political system to benefit the wealthy. "The Koch brothers and other moneyed interests are influencing the politics in a way not seen for generations," he said during one recent speech. (A spokesman for the brothers, meanwhile, has fired back at Reid.) Last week, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unveiled a website that denounces the brothers and blasts the GOP for being "addicted to Koch."

What brought Reid to denounce two political donors on the Senate floor? The vast sums of money they and their political network are spending to unseat his Democratic colleagues and overturn their Senate majority, paving the way for a Republican takeover of Congress in 2014. For months, Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded and partly bankrolled by the brothers, have blitzed vulnerable Senate Democrats with ads, spending some $30 million since last fall. Among the lawmakers in the advocacy group's crosshairs are Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

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

Mon Mar. 10, 2014 7:02 AM PDT

U.S. Special Forces Soldiers attached to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, practice combat marksmanship skills training on a range, near Kabul province, Afghanistan, Feb. 24, 2014. USSF members maintain their skills for continued efficiency while assisting in operations with Afghan forces. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Connor Mendez)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Liam Neeson Warns Vladimir Putin About Taking Things, Such as Crimea

| Sun Mar. 9, 2014 3:22 PM PDT

During the cold open for this weekend's Saturday Night Live, actor/UNICEF ambassador/fierce Bill de Blasio critic Liam Neeson delivered a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin: "Crimea had been taken," Neeson growled. "I hate it when things are taken." (The "taken" line is an obvious reference to Neeson's role in the Taken films, in which he plays a loving family man and CIA torturer who massacres ethnic stereotypes who have kidnapped his daughter and ex-wife.)

Here's video of the sketch, where Neeson appears with Jay Pharoah, who plays President Barack Obama on SNL:

Vladimir Putin did not respond to a request for comment on what he thought of Neeson's attempted deterrent.

CPAC Celebrates Free-Market Entrepreneurship With CEO Whose Company Was Built On Federally Backed Loans

| Fri Mar. 7, 2014 1:31 PM PST

The conservatives who organize the annual Conservative Political Action Convention are big on touting free-market solutions and sticking to their ideals of smaller government and lower taxes. They believe that if the government would just get out of the way, enterprising entrepreneurs and other businessmen would create wealth that would in turn trickle down to even the poorest of the poor. But when it comes to finding business leaders who embody that spirit, the conference organizers seem to have come up a little short this year.

Donald Trump, of course, is in the house. The Koch brothers have been there in spirit, with Koch Industries underwriting the conference's "Radio Row." But for a panel this afternoon called "And Entrepreneurship Shall Set You Free: How to Celebrate Free Market Capitalism in the Popular Culture," CPAC organizers managed to scare up a think-tank fellow, a couple of unknown state legislators, and Gary Heavin, the former CEO of Curves, the fitness clubs for women.

Heavin is not exactly a great example of the virtues of free-market capitalism. He first started running a chain of gyms in his early 20s that ultimately failed. He filed bankruptcy and ended up so broke that he ended up going to jail for failing to pay child support. While incarcerated, he reportedly became a born-again Christian, and went on to later found Curves. The company got off to a pretty good start by catering to overweight women in small towns with strip-mall gym outlets. The chain took off and expanded so rapidly that by 2005, it had about 8,000 outlets worldwide.

But within just a few years, the chain tanked. It was plagued with bad publicity when news broke that Heavin had been donating large sums of money to an anti-abortion group, a move that troubled members of gyms that had been touted as a sort of girrl-power outfit. Some of the franchises cut their ties to the company because of the donations. By 2011, half of its franchises had closed. (Heavin, meanwhile, did a stint on ABC's "Secret Millionaire" that year.)

In stark contradiction with the self-reliant, anti-government principles CPACers tout, much of the Curves' early success was built using federally-guaranteed loans from the US Small Business Administration, which were given to franchise buyers. By 2010, Curves franchisees were bailing on those federal loans in droves, with 16 percent of the loans going into default, the fourth-highest rate of any franchise in the country.

Franchisees complained that the company had abandoned them and was bilking them in ways that hurt their outlets, such as forging partnerships with General Mills to sell lucrative Curves snack bars that franchisees had to purchase at inflated rates. Heavin became a billionaire, but his company faced lawsuits from hundreds of franchisees who alleged that the company deceived them about the potential profits from a Curves franchise and who were ruined financially after buying into the concept. (When a Curves franchise failed, the parent company often sued the owner to recoup lost royalties.) Franchisees alleged that the company had engaged in deceptive business practices, fraud, and that it had violated a host of state consumer protection laws in marketing its outlets. The cases eventually settled quietly for undisclosed sums, and Heavin was personally dismissed as a defendant from one of the larger ones, but the complaints and bad will didn't help the company's prospects.

Heavin was sued for $20 million by former business associates who claimed that they had sacrificed deeply to help him launch Curves—mortgaging their houses, going into debt, even sleeping in their cars—only to have Heavin stiff them on profits they were owed once the company took off. Heavin called the suit frivolous and it eventually settled for an undisclosed amount, but it didn't paint a pretty picture of his business practices. In 2012, with the company floundering, Heavin sold it for an undisclosed sum and moved on to, well, doing panels at CPAC apparently.

For a movement so devoted to promoting the free market, you'd think CPAC organizers could do better.

"Bloody Sunday" Was 49 Years Ago Today

| Fri Mar. 7, 2014 12:46 PM PST

On February 18, 1965, a young man named Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by a member of the Alabama State Police during a non-violent civil rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama.

Seventeen days later, 525 civil rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in protest of that killing. They were attacked by state and local police armed with billy clubs, whips, and tear gas.  (You can read the New York Times' entire horrifying account here.) That day—March 7, 1965—would come to be known as "Bloody Sunday."

Here is President Obama's statement marking the 49th anniversary:

Forty-nine years ago, a determined group of Americans marched into history, facing down grave danger in the name of justice and equality—walking to protest the continued discrimination and violence against African Americans.  On a day that became known as “Bloody Sunday”, these brave men and women met billy-clubs and tear gas with courage and resolution.  Their actions helped set an example for a generation to stand up for the fundamental freedoms due to all people.  We recognize those who marched that day—and the millions more who have done their part throughout our nation’s history to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.  

Ralph Reed Compares Barack Obama to George Wallace

| Fri Mar. 7, 2014 9:50 AM PST

Top social-conservative strategist Ralph Reed compared President Barack Obama to segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. 

"Fifty years ago George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and said that African-Americans couldn't come in," said Reed, the founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, in response to the Department of Justice's attempt to block Louisiana's school voucher program. "Today, the Obama administration stands in that same door and says those children can't leave. It was wrong then and it was wrong now and we say to President Obama, 'Let those children go.'"

Remarkably, Reed wasn't the first speaker at CPAC to compare the Obama administration's policies to the Jim Crow South.

On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made the same comparison in his address to the conference. "We've got Eric Holder and the Department of Justice trying to stand in the schoolhouse door," he said.

But as I reported in a new profile of Jindal, Louisiana isn't exactly a pillar of inclusiveness. Some schools that receive state funding under the voucher program promise to immediately expel any student who is found to be a homosexual—or to be promoting homosexuality in any form.