Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 4, 2014

Tue Mar. 4, 2014 7:53 AM PST

A CH-53 from VMM-163 reinforced supports the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's maritime raid force during visit, board, search and seizure training off the coast of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 26, 2014. Both units are training for the 11th MEU's upcoming deployment later this summer. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Joshua Diddams/Released)

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Here Is A Truly Wonderful Video of the US Military's "First Drag Show"

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 4:22 PM PST

Happy Monday! Here is something wonderful.

On Saturday, six US servicemen put on what may have been, according to Stars & Stripes, the first drag show ever on a US military base.

The event was held at the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan to raise money for OutServe-SLDN, a non-profit that supports the military's LGBT community. Organizers initially only expected to sell 75 tickets, but according to Navy Lt Marissa Greene, ended up selling 400.

The video of US troops lip syncing in drag to "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" as the crowd goes wild is amazing.

Once upon a time, gay and lesbian Americans who wanted to serve their country had to live in the closet thanks to a stupid policy called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In the more than two years since DADT's repeal, the US military has somehow not fallen into chaos and disrepair.

Tech. Sgt. Kristen Baker put it best to Stars & Stripes: "Everything is just accepted. It makes me really proud to watch it. We are all brothers and sisters no matter what."

Watch:

(via Jezebel)

Paul Ryan's Superficial Critique of Federal Poverty Programs

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 3:46 PM PST
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) at the 2012 Republican National Convention

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House budget committee, has apparently decided that by pretending to volunteer in a soup kitchen during the 2012 presidential campaign he didn't do enough to prove he's serious about anti-poverty policy. So he and his aides spent about a year examining federal anti-poverty programs and the congressman issued a report on their findings. The study, heralded in the Washington Post as a document likely to inform the GOP budget proposal expected later this month, is hefty, weighing in at more than 200 pages. It seems designed to bolster Ryan, a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, as his party's top dog on policy. But as any student who's padded a paper knows, length doesn't equal depth. And in this case, Ryan's report is essentially an overview of existing federal poverty policies, itemized with a few citations to some research indicating how well they may or may not work. It's a little like Federal Poverty Programs for Dummies, without any policy alternatives to be found. Instead, the report relies on cherry-picked data points to justify slashing entitlements. 

Take the report's description of the Child Care and Development Fund, a federal program that provides a miniscule amount of money to help low-income people afford child care so they can go to work. On the work part, Ryan seems to approve. He notes that data show that single mothers who get a childcare subsidy are—surprise!—more likely to go to work or go back to school. However, the data show that the childcare subsidy also encourages married women to go to work, and here, it's clear, the GOP does not approve. The report suggests that when poor, married women get jobs thanks to the childcare benefit, their kids get totally neglected. Not only that, it asserts that such programs can cause "lower-quality parental relationships." Of course, the the kids of single moms are also supposedly harmed by the subsidy, according to the report, which warns that childcare subsidies are related to increased health and behavioral problems in children, poor school performance—and it makes them fat.

It's hardly a sophisticated analysis of the impact of childcare subsidies on poor families that might come from a real investigation of a federal poverty program—there are no voices from actual program users—but given the source, that's no surprise. Ryan has been trying to convince the public for a while now that he really cares about the poor, and that, driven by his Catholic faith, he's genuinely interested in trying to tackle entrenched poverty. But the proposals he's offered up in the past—big budget cuts to poverty programs, block-granting Medicaid—have almost universally promised to make the suffering of the poor much worse, not better. His anti-poverty proposals have been so severe that he even earned the wrath of the conservative US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which found his ideas in direct conflict with the church's teachings on social justice.

In his latest offering on the subject of poverty, Ryan does champion a few federal programs, namely the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. That's the modern version of the old cash entitlement system for low-income single moms that was "reformed" in 1996 by turning federal assistance money over to the states to administer. The welfare reform bill made it much more difficult for low-income families to access the safety net by putting sharp limits on benefits and imposing stiff work requirements as a condition of receiving help. The Ryan report credits the 1996 welfare reform bill with bringing down child poverty rates and increasing workforce participation rates of single mothers, at least up until 2001, when poverty rates started to spike again. But again, he's writing in a vacuum: The report fails to mention that the main reason for the big drop in poverty and employment rates during that time was a major economic boom that by 2000 had brought the unemployment rate down to 4.0 percent, one of the lowest rates in recorded history, which made it a lot easier for welfare moms to find work.

In addition, even as Ryan champions welfare reform as a poverty killer, he fails to mention that though some measures of poverty went down after the welfare reform law was passed in 1996, the number of households living in deep poverty—on less than $2 per day—has more than doubled since then. So has welfare reform really alleviated poverty? It's complicated. One thing it did do, however, was slash the amount of federal money spent on the program. The welfare budget hasn't increased since 1996, meaning that the $16 billion program has lost a third of its value thanks to inflation.

Meanwhile, the report blames Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the federal disability program that's recently become a favorite target of GOP budget hawks, for preventing people from joining the workforce. It cites a decade-old report suggesting that the program reduces the labor supply—but only of people between the ages of 60 and 64. The Ryan report contends that the program is full of scammers, particularly the parents of disabled children who have an incentive to keep them out of the workforce to keep the disability checks flowing. It claims that SSI permanently prevents children who receive disability payments from joining the workforce after they hit 18, without considering the possibility that these people are on SSI because they're actually disabled and can't work, even if they want to. And critically, Ryan doesn't explain how anyone gets by on $535 a month, the average monthly SSI payment, or how that teeny bit of government money would be preferable to taking even a minimum-wage job.

These are fairly small oversights compared to the report's biggest and most obvious omission, namely any discussion of the current economy and its relationship to poverty. Even as it knocks various poverty programs for discouraging labor force participation, Ryan's study fails to mention the single biggest reason people don't work: not enough jobs. Today, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (which Ryan cites with some regularity in his report), if every last job available in this country were filled tomorrow with an unemployed worker, three out of every five unemployed people would still be out of work.

Without acknowledging this basic economic fact, Ryan's superficial review of federal poverty programs looks suspiciously like a move to help his party justify big cuts to social welfare programs. It doesn't offer any new ideas that might improve programs to help the poor. It's a cheat sheet for GOP budget cutters looking for easy targets.

Pregnant? Your Boss May Have It In For You

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 8:05 AM PST

Employers who illegally fire workers for being pregnant often attempt to skirt discrimination laws by smearing the employees as tardy, poor performers, or by chalking up their termination to company restructuring—even in cases where worse-performing employees, who were not pregnant, were allowed to remain on staff, and "company restructuring" turned out to be code for replacing pregnant workers.

That's according to a new study by sociology professor Reginald Byron of Southwestern University in Texas and Vincent Roscigno, a professor at Ohio State University. Their research, which will be published in the June 2014 issue of Gender & Society, is a major investigation into the phony justifications that employers who discriminated against pregnant workers gave to employees before firing them.

Byron and Roscigno examined 85 confirmed cases of pregnancy discrimination processed by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission for most years from 1986 to 2011. They found that pregnancy accounted for 40 percent of gender-related terminations. In around 30 percent of those cases, employers told the pregnant women that they were being fired for performing poorly; another 15 percent were let go for tardiness.

But a closer look at their workplaces found that pregnant employees were placed under greater scrutiny than their non-pregnant coworkers. Many pregnant women in Byron's sample, he writes, "identified other non-pregnant workers in their workplaces who had, for instance, more absences, less seniority, lower job performance or more workplace infractions, but who were not sanctioned or pushed out at all." But even in those cases, he says, pregnant women who had been fired were typically unable to win back their employment.

Byron notes,

Pregnant women, in these employer accounts, are presented as undependable workers because of physical limitations or violations of attendance and tardiness policies. Such concerns may, at face-value, seem legitimate in a business sense. However, the same policies and rationales were not invoked in the case of non-pregnant employees (including those with worse records of performance, attendance, tardiness etc.). Employers also contend that their decisions really have little to do with the pregnant employee herself and, instead, mostly concern workplace restructuring, cost savings and/or the inability to bear financial cost relative to accommodating particular employee needs.

In another 10 percent of cases, pregnant women were told that they were let go for business reasons unrelated to their performance. That, too, often turned out to be demonstrably false. In one case Byron and Roscigno write about, employers fired a pregnant assistant restaurant manager, saying that the company needed to reduce its assistant managers from three to two for cost-cutting reasons. But the company quickly hired a man to fill her position after letting her go.

Stories like these lead Byron, who is conducting a similar study of four other states, to conclude that pregnancy-related firings can stem from stereotypes about the abilities of pregnant workers. "Without attending to such cultural and structural power imbalances and the relational processes that undergird them, pregnancy discrimination will remain a significant problem," he writes.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 3, 2014

Mon Mar. 3, 2014 7:52 AM PST

Paratroopers with Chaos Troop, 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, move to their assembly area after parachuting into Deadhorse, Alaska, Feb. 25, 2014, as part of the Spartan Brigade's training for rapid insertion into any environment in the Pacific. This is the first time the Spartan Brigade has conducted operations north of the Arctic Circle. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric-James Estrada)

A Giant Union Is Planning to Protest the Oscars

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 6:00 PM PST
SEIU protests at the Academy's Nominees Lunch

The Oscars air Sunday, but this year, the stars of the silver screen will be faced with picket lines and protesters.

That's because the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 2.1 million service workers around the world, plans to protest the Academy's decision to hire Security Industry Specialists (SIS)—a company the union accuses of sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and worker intimidation—to provide security for awards night. (The company denies the allegations.)

"We don't think [the Academy] should be using a company that has this kind of record," SEIU campaign director Sam Kehinde explains. "All we are trying to do is make sure the public knows about it and the client knows."

SEIU activists bearing banners and signs voiced their concerns at last week's Nominee Lunch in Beverly Hills, but they were unable to relay their concerns to Academy representatives. Now, Kehinde says, the union is back for round two.

Over 100 SEIU activists—including current and former SIS employees—will converge near the Dolby Theatre on Friday afternoon in the hope of attracting attention from the public and entertainment industry officials who will be on site preparing for Sunday's event, Kehinde says. The protesters plan to follow up with a smaller protest on Sunday, when it will be more difficult for a large group to gain access to the area.

Daivon Young, an SIS security specialist assigned to Amazon, is traveling all the way from Seattle to participate in the protest. He says he is scared about his job security and how he will be treated after speaking out against SIS, but "it is the right thing to do."

Young has been an SIS employee for a year and a half and works at the high-security buildings. Though he is considered a specialist, he makes $15.50 an hour and is given 36 hours a week. He says he thinks the wage is good but many employees are only offered part-time work.

As the sole breadwinner supporting his three-month-old son, Malachai and his wife, Lavicy, Young's concerned. "It is important for me to be able to provide for my family," he says. "Me, growing up, I didn't have a mom. I didn't have my dad. Putting a roof over my son's head—it means everything to me."

Young describes the pressure he feels at work and says the simplest mistake will result in termination. He is often fearful about being penalized and says he feels belittled by his employers. Provoked by these concerns, he turned to the internet. "I wanted to look up reports about SIS," he explains, "to see if the same things were going on somewhere else." He landed on their "Union Facts" page, meant to derail and disprove the accusations SEIU laid against SIS. "It started naming all these things and, in my head I am thinking, 'You do do that!" Young exclaims.  

Daivon Young (Left) with his wife, Lavicy, their son, Malachai, and former SIS worker Richell Banks Courtesy SEIU

He says he had never considered the union before then and had been told explicitly as an employee he should not become involved with SEIU. "I understand now why we need a union," he adds. This is why he hopes his participation in the protest will make a difference.

Tom Seltz, copresident and CFO of SIS, says the union's allegations are unsubstantiated. He sees the Oscar protests as a form of harassment—a ploy for union officials to collect more money.

"I think the union is looking for dues and I don't think there is much they can promise our employees that they aren't already getting," he says. "I don't think there's anything they can promise."

Seltz says unions are unnecessary and says he sees no need for his employees to join. He emphasizes that it is still up to workers to make up their minds and denies claims that his company has used intimidation tactics to deter union involvement.

SIS pays employees higher than the average hourly wage for the industry, but only half of SIS workers are full time and receiving benefits. Seltz says this has more to do with the nature of the work and client needs than company policy, and that many SIS employees are off-duty police officers who can only work part-time or are hired to work temporarily for specific events. 

But Steve Amitay, the executive director of the National Association of Security Companies, says the industry norm is to employ workers full time. "Currently the majority of security officers at most contract security companies are full-time employees," he explains via email. Though Amitay acknowledges that there are instances when part-time work is warranted, he says that "some companies believe that the offer of part-time employment may deter the best job candidates and work against creating a dedicated and experienced workforce." 

Daivon Young says he hopes his presence at this weekend's protest will help convince his company to be more supportive of unionization. "All I want done is for SIS to allow us to have a union," he says. "We aren't asking for extra mayonnaise and extra pickles. We just want to be treated right."

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Media Adviser to Hillary Clinton in 1999: "Be Careful to Be Real"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 12:41 PM PST

In 1999, as former First Lady Hillary Clinton was preparing to run for US Senator in New York, she was coached by Mandy Grunwald, a public relations consultant who also served as media adviser for Clinton's subsequent presidential campaign, before a speech. Back then, Grunwald had some words of wisdom for Clinton, who is now considered front runner for the Democrat's 2016 presidential nomination: "Be careful to be real." This is one of eight pieces of advice included in a July 1999 letter released today as part of a trove of documents from the Bill Clinton Administration.

Some of these tips could still be applicable for Clinton in 2016, if she chooses to run: "Don't assume anyone knows anything about you...New Yorkers generally know about healthcare, your work for children, and then a lot of tabloid junk." Here are the other tips: 

 

Hillary Clinton in 1993: Individual Mandate Is a "Much Harder Sell"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 12:36 PM PST
Hillary Clinton speaking before a Senate panel in 1993.

The individual mandate has been one of the most controversial aspects of Obamacare since Congress passed the law in 2009. Conservatives have railed against the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance or face tax penalties. And the 2012 Supreme Court case that decided the fate of Obamacare centered around Republicans' objections to the mandate.

But the individual mandate originated as a conservative goal—first proposed by the Heritage Foundation, later adopted by Senate Republicans as an alternative approach to President Bill Clinton's efforts to reform in the health care system during his first term.

New documents unsealed Friday by the Bill Clinton's presidential library show that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton wasn't a fan of the individual mandate back when it was a Republican idea. In September 1993, Hillary traveled to Capitol Hill and explained White House's health care plan to a gathering of Democratic leaders from the House and Senate. During Clinton's remarks, which spelled out the details of the proposal before they were released to the public, she dismissed the concept of the mandate with a prescient knowledge of how tricky it would be to sell to the public:

But if the Republican alternative, as it appears now to be shaping up, at least among the moderate Republicans in the Senate, is an individual mandate, we have looked at that in every way we know to to (inaudible). That is politically and substantively a much harder sell than the one we've got—a much harder sell.

Because not only will you be saying that the individual bears the full responsibility; you will be sending shock waves through the currently insured population that if there is no requirement that employers continue to insure, then they, too, may bear the individual responsibility.

Unfortunately for Clinton, if she runs for president in 2016 (as widely predicted) she'll likely have to defend Obama's implementation of that mandate.

Rahm Emanuel on Charlton Heston: "Shove It up His Ass"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 12:31 PM PST

On Friday, after a one-year delay, Bill Clinton's presidential library posted thousands of pages of previously unreleased documents. It's mostly inside baseball stuff, but there are some useful nuggets. For instance, a 1998 memo written by White House speechwriter Jeff Shesol recounts a proposal by then-Clinton-aide Rahm Emanuel (who went on to be President Barack Obama's chief of staff and is now mayor of Chicago) for dealing with National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston, in a speech heralding a new bulletproof vest law: "Shove it up his ass." 

 
William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library

Hilarious White House Memo In 1995: "Hillary Could Speak To Young Women Through Internet"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 11:46 AM PST

On Friday, Bill Clinton's presidential library released 4,000 previously secret documents from his time as president. An August 31, 1995, memo titled "HRC Media Possibilities" written by Lisa Caputo, an aide to Hillary Clinton, discusses the various venues through which to promote the First Lady. They include meeting with the editors of women's and liberal magazines, sitting for interviews pegged to the Clintons' 20th anniversary and the birthday of Eleanor Roosevelt, and even making an appearance on the popular ABC sitcom Home Improvement. ("I know this may sound like a wild idea, but I think it is an interesting one to discuss.")

The otherwise sober memo takes an unexpectedly funny turn, however, when the Internet comes up. Or, as Caputo refers to it, "Internet." As in: "As Karen has said, Internet has become a very popular mode of communication. Hillary could speak to young women through Internet."

Here's an except from the memo: