Political MoJo

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.

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"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.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 7, 2014

Fri Mar. 7, 2014 8:17 AM PST

A member of Joint Task Force-Bravo jumps from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during helocast training at Lake Yojoa, Honduras, Feb. 25, 2014. Several members of the Task Force spent the day training on helocasting, caving ladder, and overwater hoist operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Zach Anderson)

Corn on Hardball: Rep. Elijah Cummings Calls Out Bogus GOP Investigation Tactics

Thu Mar. 6, 2014 2:03 PM PST

Washington bureau chief David Corn and Rep. Elijah Cummings joined Chris Matthews on Hardball to discuss Cummings' dramatic clash of words with House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.

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

CPAC: How the IRS Scandal Is Just Like Russia Invading Ukraine

| Thu Mar. 6, 2014 1:31 PM PST

One of the issues looming large at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the movement's three-day confab held just outside Washington, DC, is the "scandal" over the IRS singling out tea party groups (and other nonprofits) for additional scrutiny during the 2012 election cycle. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who spoke first on the main stage this morning, opened his speech with a jab at Lois Lerner, the ex-IRS official at the heart of the trumped-up controversy that has yielded no evidence to back up the right-wing claim that the White House sicced the IRS on tea partiers. (Lerner appeared for a second time before the House oversight committee yesterday, where she pled the Fifth Amendment.)

But Cruz's zingers paled in comparison to what Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, said at a panel titled "IRS Targeting Scandal: Protecting the Voice of the People":

People are dying in the streets in Ukraine. People being oppressed by the political regime. That's what the IRS was doing.

To refresh, at least 75 people were killed in the protests in Kiev, the bloodiest period in the country's history since the fall of the Soviet Union. Soon after, Russian military forces invaded and essentially seized the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine. In response, Western countries have imposed sanctions against people and organizations accused of challenging Ukraine's sovereignty. In short, it's a crisis of international proportions. The IRS controversy is not. This supposed scandal has, however, briefly resuscitated the flagging tea party, which may explain the movement's continued obsession with the issue.

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The US Senate Has Very Poor Timing

| Thu Mar. 6, 2014 1:10 PM PST

The same day it was revealed that the Army's top sexual-assault prosecutor has been suspended after allegedly sexually assaulting someone at a sexual-assault conference, the US Senate rejected a bill that would have overhauled the way the Pentagon handles sexual-assault cases.

Have a nice day.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 6, 2014

Thu Mar. 6, 2014 8:32 AM PST

Marines assigned to 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) enter the well deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) on a Combat Raiding Rubber Craft (CRRC). Bonhomme Richard is lead ship of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group, and with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), is conducting joint force operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jerome D. Johnson/Released)

Study Links Frequent Facebook Use to Eating Disorders Among College Women

| Wed Mar. 5, 2014 3:37 PM PST

Facebook is a great place to catch up with your friends—or at least, the shiny, perfect versions of them. On Facebook, every day is a good hair day, and no one ever admits to staying home on weekends to eat cookie dough and watch Downtown Abbey reruns. All of this idealization might be dangerous to those at risk for eating disorders. A new study from researchers at Florida State University and published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggests that college women who use Facebook frequently are more likely to indicate disordered eating, and those who browsed the social network for just 20 minutes reported more body dissatisfaction than those who used the internet to research rainforest animals.

"Young people I work [with] say that overall, social-media platforms like Facebook have a negative impact on their body image," says Claire Mysko, who heads youth outreach at the National Eating Disorders Association, which advises both Facebook and Tumblr on these issues. "This is largely due to the way that social media fuels comparison and the pressure to present a 'perfect' version of yourself." (Their eating disorder hotline is: 1-800-931-2237)

In the first part of the study, 960 female college students, who received course credit for their participation, took a standard eating disorder test that asked them to agree or disagree with statements such as, "I give too much time and thought to food." The survey also asked the women how much time they spent on Facebook. The researchers noted that there was "a small but significant positive correlation" between duration of Facebook use and disordered eating among this group.

In the second part of the study, 84 college women from the first study who said they used Facebook regularly—and represented a random cross-section of eating habits—were then asked to get on a computer. Part of the group spent 20 minutes surfing their Facebook accounts, as they normally would. The other part spent 20 minutes on Wikipedia researching the ocelot, a type of rainforest cat, and watching a YouTube video about them. Both groups of students were told not to browse other websites. After they were done, they were then given a second set of questions regarding their eating habits and Facebook use.

In this study, college women who reported a higher risk of disordered eating were also more likely to consider receiving comments and "likes" on their Facebook statuses important, more likely to untag themselves from Facebook photos, and more likely to compare their photos with those of their female friends, according to the survey. Most significantly, the women who looked at ocelots were more likely to report a decline in preoccupation with their weight after a short period of time, while those who used Facebook maintained their preoccupation. The results also showed that women who surfed Facebook maintained physical anxiety, while internet surfers reported a decrease in anxiety.

"That these effects could be discerned after only 20 minutes of typical Facebook use in a laboratory setting raises concerns about how the use of the site throughout the day may impact eating disorder risk," the researchers concluded. They noted that their research did not address whether Facebook is any worse than say, using Twitter or reading Vogue, and suggested that further research be done. (Facebook could not be immediately reached for comment.)

This isn't the first time that Facebook has been implicated with eating disorders—researchers from American University in Washington, DC, determined last year that girls who scan Facebook photos are more likely to report body dissatisfaction. (Those researchers could not distinguish, however, whether girls with eating disorders are more likely to look at photos.) And last year, The New Yorker reported on a study done by a University of Michigan psychologist that suggested that people who used Facebook were more likely to indicate that they were unhappy. Psychologist Samuel Gosling told the magazine, "It may be that the same thing people find attractive is what they ultimately find repelling."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 5, 2014

Wed Mar. 5, 2014 8:19 AM PST

A U.S. Army Soldier from 3rd Platoon, Charlie Troop, 1/14th Cavalry, 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., prepares to fire a Javelin during Decisive Action Training Rotation 14-03 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., on Jan. 28, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Paul Sale, Fort Irwin Operations Group)