Political MoJo

This Chart Will Make You Even More Pissed Off About Your Ballooning Student Debt

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Many universities spend way more managing their investment portfolios than they do helping students with tuition.

For the tens of thousands of college students who are taking out another year's worth of debt in preparation for the start of classes, here's a rage-inducing data point: Many universities spend way more managing their investment portfolios than they do assisting students with tuition.

A New York Times op-ed published Wednesday by Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego, lays out this disparity. Fleischer cited Yale University, which paid its fund managers nearly $743 million in 2014 but gave out just $170 million in scholarships. He also noted that many universities, large and small, public and private, show the same imbalance in spending. "We've lost sight of the idea that students, not fund managers, should be the primary beneficiaries of a university's endowment," he writes. "The private-equity folks get cash; students take out loans."

Fleischer provided Mother Jones with more of his data, which is gleaned from tax forms, financial statements, and annual reports. Here's how the numbers shake out at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. On average, these four wealthy, elite universities spend 70 percent more on managing their investment portfolios than they do on tuition assistance. (Complete scholarship data for 2014 was not available, and some investment management fees are estimated.)

That disparity is even more glaring when you consider the tax benefits fund managers derive from working with universities. Fleischer notes that investors typically pay their fund managers about 20 percent of their investment profits. That money, called carried interest, is taxed at a lower rate for fund managers, who can claim it as capital gains instead of income.

Some universities justify the high management fees by arguing that they ensure top financial performance for their endowments. It's true that these portfolios have done quite well: Harvard's endowment is nearly $36 billion, and Yale's is more than $25 billion, a 50 percent increase since 2009. But, writes Fleischer, a little less endowment hoarding and a little more spending, both on financial aid and other educational goals, would still allow universities' money to grow generously while eliminating the hefty tuition increases that force students to take on burdensome debt.

Fleischer proposes that when Congress moves to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this term, lawmakers should require universities with assets greater than $100 million to spend 8 percent of their endowment each year. Even doing that, universities would likely continue to get exponentially richer. As he notes, the average endowment has grown 9.2 percent annually for the past 20 years (after accounting for 4 percent annual spending), a more than respectable rate of return.

Elite schools do offer need-blind admission and some of the best financial aid for low-income students. But for many students, tuition increases still mean more loans: On paper, many middle-class students often don't qualify for large scholarships, but their families also can't afford more than $50,000 in annual tuition. More generous allocation of endowments could help to roll back that trend while also funding more teaching and research. As Fleischer writes in the Times, "Only fund managers would be worse off."

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2 Brothers Inspired by Donald Trump Allegedly Attack Homeless Hispanic Man

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 3:18 PM EDT

Boston police believe two brothers are responsible for a brutal attack Wednesday evening that left a homeless Hispanic man with a broken nose and covered in urine. One of the men, 38-year-old Scott Leader, told police he was inspired by presidential candidate Donald Trump's message on immigration. 

"Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported," Leader allegedly told cops when he was arrested with his brother, 30-year-old Steve Leader.

The Boston Globe reported that a witness saw the brothers beating the 58-year-old victim with a pole three or four times as he attempted to defend himself.

This isn't the first time the Leader brothers have been charged with a crime. After the attacks on September 11, Scott Leader was convicted with a hate crime after he assaulted a Muslim man and called him a "terrorist."

When Trump heard about the assault, he told the Globe, "It would be a shame…I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate."

Trump, who is currently leading the GOP presidential field, set the tone for his campaign in June when he said that Mexican immigrants were criminals and rapists. 

Since launching his bid, Trump has continued to issue offensive comments about Latin American immigrants. Earlier this week, he offered a glimpse at his immigration plan, which promotes mass deportations and an end to birthright citizenship.

Jimmy Carter: Cancer Has Spread to My Brain

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 11:03 AM EDT

On Thursday morning, former President Jimmy Carter revealed he will begin radiation treatment for four spots of melanoma that were detected on his brain. He will start the first round of four radiation treatments this afternoon. 

Carter made the announcement at a scheduled news conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Speaking to reporters, he said that even though he initially thought he only had a few weeks left to live, he was "surprisingly at ease" with his diagnosis.

"I've had a wonderful life," Carter added. "I've had a wonderful life, thousands of friends. I've had an exciting and adventurous and gratifying existence. But now I feel that it's in the hands of the God, whom I worship."

Carter said doctors first discovered the lesions when he underwent surgery to remove a small mass in his liver earlier this month.

When asked if there was anything in his life he wish he could have done differently, Carter expressed regret over the Iran hostage crisis.

"I wish I had sent one more helicopter to get the hostages and we would have rescued them," he said. Then in a lighthearted joke, Carter added, "Maybe I would have been reelected."

The 90-year-old former president first revealed he had cancer last Wednesday.

Investigations Prove the Planned Parenthood "Sting" Videos Were a Bust

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 6:05 AM EDT

Since undercover videos that captured Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donations were released last month, GOP officials in more than 10 states have clamored to launch investigations into the organization. On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley joined that group, ordering her state's health department to review the policies and practices of all abortion clinics in the state, including the three operated by Planned Parenthood.

"These practices are not consistent with the laws or character of our state," Haley wrote in her letter to the state agency tasked with regulating abortion clinics, adding that it "cannot allow an organization with broken internal oversight and a flawed corporate culture to behave the way Planned Parenthood has in other states."

In the videos, recorded surreptitiously and released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, Planned Parenthood officials talk frankly about the organization's tissue donation program and the costs associated with donating fetal tissue from an abortion. Though fetal tissue donation is a long-standing and legal practice in the United States, and has contributed to medical advancements like the polio vaccine, conservatives have used the videos to attack the health care organization, saying they provide evidence that Planned Parenthood illegally profits from the sale of aborted fetuses. And they've pushed for investigations to unmask this purported criminal wrongdoing.

But so far, those investigations are falling flat. Completed probes in GeorgiaIndianaMassachusetts, and South Dakota have spent thousands in taxpayer money but turned up no evidence that Planned Parenthood is trafficking in the sale of fetal tissue. And in most of the other states that have launched investigations—including OhioArizonaTexas, and Kansas—Planned Parenthood affiliates don't even have fetal tissue donation programs, making it hard to believe the states will find any illegal activity related to the practice. In Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered an investigation in mid-July, Planned Parenthood does not even operate a single abortion clinic.

"In every state where these investigations have concluded, officials have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing," Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation, told the Huffington Post. "We've said all along that Planned Parenthood follows all laws and has very high medical standards, and that's what every one of these investigations has found."

Not every governor has taken the bait. Democratic governors in Minnesota and Virginia have rejected state legislators' pleas to look into the group, saying they won't waste time investigating programs that don't exist in their states.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's no basis for an investigation at taxpayer expense into a private nonprofit organization that has stated they don't engage in those practices," Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton told local reporters after he received a letter from GOP lawmakers asking him to take action.

Other states have taken another approach since the release of the videos: Governors in Alabama and Arkansas, along with Louisiana's Jindal, have moved to block Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, which they may not be able to do under federal law. Meanwhile, public opinion of the organization remains high. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that despite weeks of bad news, Planned Parenthood is still more popular than every major 2016 presidential contender, the NRA, and the Supreme Court.

This article has been revised.

Sorry, California Is Not Winning the Drought

| Wed Aug. 19, 2015 6:54 PM EDT

As the epic California drought drags through its fifth year, researchers are now saying the agricultural sector's increased reliance on groundwater could lead to an economic decline that affects all sectors statewide. 

A new economic analysis conducted by a team from the University of California-Davis shows that as the drought continues, the overtapped groundwater reserves will become increasingly expensive and inaccessible: Water shortages in the famous Central Valley could cost the state $2.74 billion in 2015, as well as nearly 21,000 jobs, which would amount to $1.3 billion in losses from California's gross domestic product and a decline of $720 million in statewide labor income.

The study claims these numbers are expected to get worse as the drought continues and more acres are fallowed, more crops lose earnings, and revenue from livestock and dairy farms declines due to dry pastures and increasing feed costs. The net water shortage is now expected to increase by 2.9 million acre-feet each year (that's more than 945 billion gallons); the researchers estimate that economic costs will grow by 6 percent by 2017.

The researchers called for better data collection on water use and drought impacts, and policies that will provide support for areas where drought-caused unemployment is severe, but they emphasized the importance of new state groundwater laws to slow the depletion of reserves—which are now relied on to make up 70 percent of water shortages.

"The transition will cause some increased fallowing of cropland or longer crop rotations," Jay Lund, director of the UC-Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, said in a statement, "but will help preserve California's ability to support more profitable permanent and vegetable crops during drought."

Donald Trump: The 14th Amendment Is Unconstitutional

| Wed Aug. 19, 2015 10:57 AM EDT

After launching his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants "rapists," Donald Trump is now following up on his nativist rhetoric by taking aim at the Constitution.

On Tuesday, when Bill O'Reilly challenged the presidential hopeful's proposal to end birthright citizenship in light of the 14th Amendment, Trump hit back: "Bill, I think you're wrong about the 14th amendment and frankly the whole thing about anchor babies."

"I can quote it, you want me to quote you the amendment?" O'Reilly responded. "If you're born here you're a citizen. Period!"

But Trump insisted he and his lawyers have found some disturbing holes in the amendment, which unequivocally states that anyone born in the United States is in fact an American citizen.

"What happens is, they're in Mexico, they're going to have a baby, they move over here for a couple of days, they have the baby," Trump said, while trying to break down his legal take. "Bill, [lawyers are] saying, 'It’s not going to hold up in court, it’s going to have to be tested.'"

"I don't think they have American citizenship, and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers, some would disagree," Trump added. "But many of them agree with me—you're going to find they do not have American citizenship. We have to start a process where we take back our country. Our country is going to hell. We have to start a process, Bill, where we take back our country."

O'Reilly pointed out that if Trump wanted to end birthright citizenship he could push for an amendment to the constitution—a position held by the former reality TV show star's fellow GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker—but in a slight capitulation, Trump acknowledged that that would probably "take too long" and said he'd rather use his potential presidency to "find out whether or not anchor babies are citizens."

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The White House Just Hired Its First Openly Transgender Official

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 4:30 PM EDT
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan is the first openly transgender official to work in the White House.

The White House has hired its first openly transgender staff member, a former activist who started working in the West Wing on Monday. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who previously served as a policy adviser at the National Center for Transgender Equality, will work as a director of outreach and recruitment for the White House personnel office, the Wall Street Journal reports. Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior adviser, said in a statement that Freedman-Gurspan "demonstrates the kind of leadership this administration champions."

The Obama administration has taken recent steps to promote transgender rights. Last month, President Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, while the Department of Defense announced that transgender people would be allowed to serve openly in the military by early next year.

But the White House has also faced criticism for not doing enough, as transgender women face disproportionately high rates of violent crime as well as abuse in prisons and immigration detention centers. In June, just two days ahead of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on marriage equality, Obama was heckled by Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented transgender activist, during his speech at a gay pride event. "I am a trans woman!" she yelled at the president, denouncing the treatment of transgender women in immigration detention centers. "No more deportation!"

Gutiérrez was promptly escorted from the room. "I am just fine with a few hecklers, but not when I'm up in the house," Obama said with a smile. "Shame on you, you shouldn't be doing this," he added, before the crowd began chanting his name. Some LGBT activists did not approve of his response, with one onlooker describing his treatment of Gutiérrez as "heartless."

Freedman-Gurspan, who was adopted from Honduras and raised by a single mother in Massachusetts, has also criticized Obama's immigration policies in the past. Following the gay pride event, immigration officials issued new guidelines calling for better treatment of transgender detainees. "This is all interesting on paper, to say the least, but we need to see how this actually plays out," Freedman-Gurspan told the Associated Press of the new guidelines. "We don't think these folks should be in detention centers, period."

Here's How Hillary Clinton's Meeting With Black Lives Matter Activists Went

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 1:57 PM EDT

After being shut out of a scheduled campaign event in New Hampshire last week, Black Lives Matter activists engaged in a candid and, at times, tense conversation with Hillary Clinton on racial issues and criminal justice reform. Footage of the conversation, released on Monday by GOOD, appeared to show Clinton sympathizing with activists' calls for candidates to bring forth more concrete policy proposals.

"You can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it who are going to say, 'We get it, we get it. We are going to be nicer,'" Clinton said. "That’s not enough, at least in my book."

But the discussion took an awkward turn when activist Julius Jones rejected Clinton's suggestion that the movement formalize a more specific plan for its next steps. "I say this as respectfully as I can," Jones told Clinton. "But if you don't tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what you all what you need to do."

Jones also accused Clinton of engaging in victim-blaming.

"I'm not telling you," Clinton shot back. "I'm just telling you to tell me. Respectfully if that is your position then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems."

She then offered a more personal perspective on how to address the deep-seated racism in America.

"Look, I don't believe you change hearts," Clinton said. "I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You're not going to change every heart. You're not. But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential."

Following the video release of the encounter, Jones and fellow activist Daunasia Yancey told Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC that Clinton's responses were not enough.

“What we were looking for from Secretary Clinton was a personal reflection on her responsibility for being part of the cause of this problem that we have today in mass incarceration," Yancey said. "So her response really targeting on policy wasn’t sufficient for us."

Bernie Sanders: Donald Trump Is a National Embarrassment

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 11:18 AM EDT

In an interview with the New York Times published on Monday, Bernie Sanders offered his views on the always entertaining presidential campaign of Donald Trump. And he didn't mince words. When asked what he thought of the Republican front-runner's continued surge in the polls, Sanders responded, "Not much," and hit back at Trump's racist rhetoric.

"I think Donald Trump's views on immigration and his slurring of the Latino community is not something that should be going on in the year 2015," Sanders said. "And it's to me an embarrassment for our country."

Sanders' comments come on the heels of several recent op-ed's attempting to draw similarities between Trump's and Sanders' policy proposals, specifically on immigration. Judging from Sanders' latest remarks, however, we're guessing the Vermont senator isn't exactly thrilled to be compared with the inflammatory real estate mogul.

Just last week, Trump took a shot at Sanders, calling him "weak" for sharing the stage with Black Lives Matter organizers at a campaign stop in Seattle. Trump assured his audience that unlike Sanders, he would have taken charge, and he even insinuated that he would have been prepared to get violent.

"I don't know if I'll do the fighting myself or if others will, but that was a disgrace," he said.

This Pro-Gun Researcher Wrote a Viral Op-Ed As a Young Woman Who Really Wants a Gun

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 6:15 AM EDT

Last fall, a first-person narrative by Taylor Woolrich, a student at Dartmouth and a stalking victim, went viral. In the article, which appeared on FoxNews.com, Woolrich wrote that her stalker of several years would soon be let out of jail, yet the college wouldn't let her carry a gun. The headline read, "Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun to protect myself." The article went on:

I feel that I have no control over my life. My family was forced to move. I have had stay indoors [sic], keep drapes closed, avoid posting on social media sites, and even change my car. It’s almost like being held hostage.

Should myself and other female victims just have to put up with this? The answer, hopefully, is "no." Women must be able to defend themselves. The most effective way of doing this is by using a gun. When police arrive to enforce a restraining order, it is usually too late.

But Woolrich didn't write the article. Instead, it was penned by John Lott, a Fox News columnist, economist, and gun advocate whose research claiming that guns reduce crime has been repeatedly challenged and dismissed. Now, Woolrich believes that her experience was repurposed to promote a cause that she never intended to support. "I wanted to talk to the media, if it could mean something positive," Woolrich recently told BuzzFeed. "But I wanted to talk to the media about stalking. I didn't realize I was being turned into an NRA puppet."

Woolrich's interactions with Lott go back to last summer, when he asked her to speak on a panel at the Students for Concealed Carry conference. She agreed, admitting in her presentation that she didn't particularly identify with the pro-gun movement but wanted to help stalking victims. Around the same time, Lott and Woolrich shared a byline for an article for the Daily Caller about her experience. Woolrich says Lott wrote it, but she agreed to share the credit with him to make the piece "more reputable." Afterward, Fox News asked her to write a first-person op-ed. She said she didn't have time, so Lott offered to write it.

According to BuzzFeed,

The piece incorporated elements of her talk at the conference, but otherwise it was essentially the same article written by Lott, which is still online at the Daily Caller. "It's his op-ed," she says. "Word for word, except the chunks that match what's said in my speech." The references to Lott's disputed research? Not hers. The link to the Amazon sales page for his book? Not hers. The headline? "Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun to protect myself."

"I think his first priority was his cause," she says. "He saw me as a really great asset."

So did Fox News. "THANK YOU for putting this in the first person," wrote a Fox editor to Lott. "Here's hoping this piece might go viral."

It's unclear if the Fox editors were aware of the extent to which Lott was involved in writing the piece. An editor's note at the bottom mentions that Lott "contributed to this story." But Fox News executive editor John Moody told BuzzFeed that FoxNews.com "published what was characterized to us as a first person account of Ms. Woolrich's experiences."

This isn't the first time that Lott has written in the voice of a young woman seeking safety from a gun. In 2003, Lott was forced to admit he had posed as an active online commenter named Mary Rosh, who presented herself as his former student at the University of Pennsylvania and fiercely defended his research. "Even if I am not wearing heels, I don't think that there are many men that I could outrun, especially over a short distance. Unfortunately, women are not as fast as men on average," Rosh/Lott wrote. "You obviously don't know what it is to be seriously threatened by someone who is much stronger than you are." Lott later explained that "on a couple of occasions I used the female persona implied by the name in the chat rooms to try to get people to think about how people who are smaller and weaker physically can defend themselves."