Political MoJo

An Overwhelming Majority of Americans Still Support Universal Background Checks

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 5:13 PM EDT
Students, staff, and faculty are evacuated from Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, after a mass shooting on October 1, 2015.

Following today's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that President Obama wants to see "sensible steps" to prevent gun violence, including expanding background checks to all gun purchases. While Congress has repeatedly punted on that proposal, a large majority of Americans say they are on board with it. According to a poll taken just last week by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, 93 percent of registered voters said they would support universal background checks for all gun buyers—even as nearly half said they oppose stricter gun control laws.


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Shooting at Oregon Community College Leaves 10 Dead, 7 Wounded

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 1:44 PM EDT

Update, 8:15 p.m. EDT: Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin says the fatalities are less than originally reported by the attorney general— there are 10 fatalities and 7 injured. There are still no details on the shooter.

Update, 5:03 p.m. EDT: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown confirms that the shooter was a 20-year-old male. "I know I am joined by my fellow Oregonians and Americans in profound dismay and heartbreak at this tragedy at Umpqua Community College," Brown said.

Update, 4:52 p.m. EDT: Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin confirms that the shooter is dead. "I couldn't be happier [with the officer response today]," Hanlin said.

Hanlin said the scene is still active and being investigated.

Update, 4:08 p.m. EDT: Oregon's attorney general confirms that at least 13 people were killed and 20 people wounded in today's shooting.

In response to the shooting, the White House repeated its call for increased gun control laws. "The issue of sensible steps that can be taken to protect our communities from gun violence continues to be a top priority of this administration," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Thursday.


Multiple media outlets are reporting a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

On MSNBC, Brian Williams interviewed a local firefighter who said he had been on the scene and witnessed "multiple deceased" and "multiple" injured people who were transported for emergency care. He said the campus had been evacuated.


Emergency responders are in the process of clearing buildings at Umpqua Community College now. Students are being escorted now to get off campus. Wayne Crooch building has just been secured.

Posted by Umpqua Community College Mainstream Newspaper on Thursday, October 1, 2015

As news of the shooting first broke, a student tweeted the following:

According to the gun safety coalition Everytown, today's shooting marks the 45th school shooting in 2015 alone.

This is a breaking news post. We will update as more news becomes available.

As His Rivals Tout Big Fundraising Numbers, O'Malley Vows to Take On Dark Money

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 11:37 AM EDT

As the other Democratic candidates release their third quarter fundraising numbers—$28 million for Hillary Clinton, $26 million for Bernie Sanders—Martin O'Malley has remained mum. But the former Maryland governor has seized the occasion of fundraising disclosures to put forward a campaign finance plan that seeks to rein in runaway political spending.

Like his two main Democratic rivals, O'Malley wants to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that ushered in an era of unlimited political donations, increase disclosure rules, and set up a public campaign financing system. But O'Malley goes further in calling for an overhaul of the Federal Election Commission, the agency that is intended to regulate election spending but is instead so mired in dysfunction that it barely managed to organize its own 40th anniversary party earlier this year. "The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim," the chairwoman of the agency, Ann Ravel, told the New York Times. "People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.”

Because of the FEC's structure, with an equal number of Republican and Democratic commissioners, the agency is deadlocked. One of the things that the FEC is supposed to be doing is cracking down on illegal coordination between super-PACs, political nonprofits, and campaigns. As president, O'Malley says, he would push to reorganize the agency so that it is led by one independent administrator "serving a term independent from the president who appoints them." His plan would also increase the FEC's power to punish groups that break campaign finance laws.

O'Malley's plan is unlikely to boost his barely registering poll numbers. If a strong campaign finance reform agenda were the golden ticket to success, then Larry Lessig's single-issue campaign would be atop the polls. (It's not.) But at least O'Malley can tout his plan in two weeks at the first Democratic debate—and find something to promote on a day when his rivals are showing off their big hauls.

Sanders Posts an Astounding Fundraising Haul, Nearly Matching Clinton

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 10:23 AM EDT

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign brought in $26 million in the third quarter of fundraising—just $2 million less than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. For a candidate who's eschewed super-PACs and high-dollar fundraising, it's kind of an astounding figure. The New York Times's Nick Confessore puts it in perspective:

Mrs. Clinton has relied on the full force and reach of one of the most prominent Democratic politicians in the world, rousing small donors but also investing far more time and energy than Mr. Sanders in courting those who can give the maximum $2,700 for her primary campaign.

Mrs. Clinton attended at least 58 fund-raisers during the last three months, according to her campaign schedules, and sent her husband, former President Bill Clinton, or top aides to others.

Despite all of that, her overall haul was negligible. And Sanders' reliance on small-dollar donors means he can hit them up again and again if he needs to. Consider that on Wednesday, Sanders' presidential campaign also hit its one millionth individual donation—the most, by far, of any 2016 candidate. (By contrast, then-Sen. Barack Obama didn't reach 1 million contributions until February 2008.)

The national polls still point to a comfortable Clinton lead—and an overwhelming advantage with nonwhite voters—but Sanders just guaranteed he'll have plenty of money to get his message out in the first round of primaries and beyond.

Jeb Bush Defends Racist Name of Football Team Whose Owner Backed Him With Big Bucks

| Wed Sep. 30, 2015 1:14 PM EDT

Jeb Bush weighed in on the continuing controversy over the Washington, DC, pro football team's name this week, saying he supported owner Dan Snyder's refusal to abandon it, despite years of repeated calls to do so from Native Americans activists.

Mother Jones, like some other publications, does not refer to the team by that name.

"I don't think it should change," the GOP presidential candidate said during an episode of Sirius XM's The Arena this week. "But again, I don't think politicians ought to be having any say about that, to be honest with you. I don't find it offensive. Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive."

Adding that he witnessed a similar "flap" with Florida State University's team name, the Seminoles, the former Florida governor conceded that he may not understand all aspects of the debate.

"It's a sport, for crying out loud," Bush said. "It's a football team. Washington has a huge fan base—I'm missing something here, I guess."

It's worth mentioning Snyder donated $100,000 to the Bush-supporting super-PAC Right to Rise back in June.

Bush's remarks this week align the presidential hopeful's views with a long list of Republicans who are also unable to grasp why the moniker may be an offensive term for many Native Americans. For many activists, Snyder is the unofficial face for keeping the name intact.

"We will never change the name of the team," Snyder told USA Today in 2013. "As a lifelong [redacted] fan, and I think that the [redacted] fans understand the great tradition and what it's all about and what it means."

Bush's stance on the Washington football team comes fresh off his eyebrow-raising comments about black voters receiving "free stuff," resurrecting a damaging trope that depicts African Americans exploiting welfare laws.

Watch These Dudes in Congress Tell Planned Parenthood How to Protect Women's Health

| Tue Sep. 29, 2015 4:45 PM EDT

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards appeared today before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in the most recent congressional hearing examining the use of taxpayer funds by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. This was Richards' first appearance before Congress. She had not been invited to participate in either of the two hearings conducted by the House Judiciary Committee earlier in the month, in the wake of the heavily edited and controversial videos released by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden.

Planned Parenthood receives approximately $450 million annually in federal funds, nearly all of which are reimbursements for women's health services from programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. According to Planned Parenthood, last year 41 percent ($528.4 million) of its revenue came from government health services grants and reimbursements.

"The question before us is: Does this organization—does Planned Parenthood—really need a federal subsidy?" said House Oversight chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). "Every time we spend a federal dollar, what we're doing is pulling money out of somebody's pocket and we're giving it to somebody else. What I don't like, what I don't want to tolerate, what I don't want to become numb to is wasting those taxpayer dollars."

Here are some of the recurring themes from the hearing that attempted to answer his question.

1. Her salary is too high: Chaffetz spent much of his allotted time interrogating Richards about her $590,000 annual salary, which he characterized as "exorbitant." She corrected him, saying her annual salary is actually $520,000. (Female nonprofit CEOs still make markedly less than male CEOs. In 2013, for example, Laurance Hoagland Jr., chief investment officer of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, made $2.5 million, and John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, made $2.1 million.) Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) responded angrily to this inquisition. "The entire time I've been in Congress, I've never seen a witness beaten up and questioned about their salary," she said. "Ms. Richards heads a distinguished organization providing health care services to millions of Americans. I find it totally inappropriate and discriminatory."

2. Her apology was self-incriminating: Several times, Richards was subjected to loud, often aggressive mansplaining about when it is and is not appropriate to issue an apology. Members were referring to a video that PPFA released days after the first sting video in which Richards said, "Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide. In the [sting] video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements." Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) repeatedly asked Richards to justify this. "Why did you apologize?" he asked over and over again. "You can't have it both ways. If nothing was done wrong, why did you apologize? You don’t apologize if she didn’t say anything that was wrong."

Richards explained that her apology was more about the setting of the discussion. "I spoke with Dr. Nucatola, and it was inappropriate to have a clinical discussion in a nonconfidential, nonclinical setting," Richards said. "It was that she used bad judgment to have a clinical discussion in a nonclinical setting." The conversation in the sting video was over lunch and wine.

3. Planned Parenthood doesn't provide mammograms: Republican critics of PPFA were also upset that Planned Parenthood clinics don't provide mammogram services, despite the fact that radiology centers usually offer them because Medicaid reimbursements can't come close to covering their operational costs. This point seemed to be lost on committee members who considered the lack of mammography as evidence that Planned Parenthood did not really provide women's health services. Richards explained that when she goes to see her general practitioner and she gets a breast exam, she is referred to a radiologist to get a mammogram. Centers that depend on Medicaid reimbursement are often unable to pay for the equipment and radiologists' salaries. New 3-D mammography technology is even more expensive. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) saw this as evidence that Planned Parenthood fell short in providing acceptable women's health services: "Do you acknowledge that community health centers offer a broader range of services, including mammograms?" To this, Richards replied, "I’m not an expert on what all community health centers provide."

4. Taxpayer dollars are paying for abortions: The repeated expressions of outrage by Republicans over "taxpayer dollars" being used for abortion services was, according to committee member Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), "exhausting." 

"I know my colleagues are more intelligent than this," Lawrence said. "This is not a lump sum we give Planned Parenthood. It is a reimbursement."

Under federal law, no taxpayer dollars are allocated to abortion services. PPFA has submitted its tax filings and reimbursement records, and so far there has been no evidence that it violated this law. That did not stop Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) from expressing concern that "taxpayer dollars are being used to free up services that you provide that are aberrant services in the view of many taxpayers."

5) Planned Parenthood provides too many abortions: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) does not understand how the 327,000 abortions Planned Parenthood performed in 2014 amount to only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's services. Meadows claimed it was more like 12 percent. But as Richards explained, some patients visit more than once, and for multiple services, bringing the percentage down substantially.

And as my colleague Kevin Drum reported, Chaffetz used a chart from anti-abortion group Americans United for Life that incorrectly claimed that Planned Parenthood's breast examinations have trended radically downward in recent years, while abortion services have substantially risen. In fact, cancer screenings have declined because, as Richards said, "some of the services, like pap smears, dropped in frequency because of changing medical standards about who should be screened and how often." Abortion rates for Planned Parenthood have only increased about 2 percent per year since 2006.

6) Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with President Barack Obama: Toward the end of the nearly six-hour hearing, Jordan asked Richards about the internal workings of her staff. "Since the videos, has anyone from HHS, CMS contacted you?" Richards replied that because she has a big staff, she can't answer that with 100 percent confidence. "Has the Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch contacted Planned Parenthood?" Jordan persisted. "Has anyone from the Justice Department contacted Planned Parenthood since the videos surfaced? There are potentially four federal crimes committed here, and all I'm asking is, has the Justice Department contacted you?" Richards repeated that she could not answer his questions with any certainty.

Jordan then escalated his attack. "Have you had any conversations with the president of the United States?" he asked. "Since the videos have surfaced, how many times have you been to the White House? How many times have you been to the White House since Mr. Obama's been president?" Richards again said she couldn't be sure, but Jordan was ready with an answer. "Our count shows that you, your board members, and senior staff have been to the White House 151 times in six and a half years."

Investigations are also ongoing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and in the House Judiciary Committee. So far, no wrongdoing has been found. Six state investigations that were triggered by the videos have also been closed after finding no evidence that Planned Parenthood violated law.

A subpoena has been issued to anti-abortion activist Daleiden for his investigative materials, and according to Chaffetz, they have been received but not yet opened or examined.

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The Fetus Video Described by Carly Fiorina Was Just Released in Full. It Still Means Absolutely Nothing.

| Tue Sep. 29, 2015 11:58 AM EDT

On Tuesday, an anti-abortion activist released the full recording of the video discussed by Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina during a GOP debate earlier this month. In her remarks, Fiorina memorably described the video showing a "fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain."

Time first reported the full video today, despite the fact that activist Gregg Cunningham was unable to confirm where the video was found or if it even had anything to do with Planned Parenthood.

"I am neither confirming or denying the affiliation of the clinic who did this abortion," Cunningham told Time

The video was released just hours ahead of today's much anticipated Planned Parenthood hearing before the House Oversight Committee, where Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood's president, is speaking before Congress for the first time to defend the health organization against Republican attacks. The push to defund the organization comes in the wake of an ongoing sting campaign using secretly recorded and selectively edited videos that suggest Planned Parenthood officials are discussing the sale of fetal tissues from abortions.

Fiorina's description of the abortion video during the September GOP debate was quickly praised by conservatives and her overall performance catapulted her to second place in several polls among the slew of Republican presidential hopefuls. But after the video described by Fiorina was questioned, her supporters scrambled to create their own abortion video using heavily edited footage of several different clips.

Cunningham's refusal to state the video's source on Tuesday, combined with Time's own observation that "there are no images on the full video of any attempt to harvest the brain of the fetus, and there is no sound," was ignored by many on social media who still insist the full recording lends credibility to Fiorina's initial description.

But our own Kevin Drum points out the problem:

The video was not taken at a Planned Parenthood clinic. The fetus shows some reflexive movement, but that's all. No one says the fetus has to be kept alive. No one harvests the brain.

But other than that, Fiorina was 100 percent correct!

Snowden Just Joined Twitter. Guess Who His First Follow Is.

| Tue Sep. 29, 2015 11:33 AM EDT

Fugitive leaker Edward Snowden has bunkered down in Russia, but he has remained in the public eye via media interviews, Skype chats, and the like. And now he's taken another step at increasing his profile: He's joined Twitter.

On Tuesday, he put out his first tweet.

And, in a way, he trolled the former government agency he once worked for as a contractor: His first and, initially, only follow was an NSA Twitter account.

Within half an hour of being a tweeter, Snowden had nearly 65,000 followers. As of now, the NSA has 74,000 followers.

Update: Snowden's first Twitter exchange was with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who welcomed Snowden to Twitter. Snowden replied:

There Are Thousands of Clinics That Could Replace Planned Parenthood, Right? Nope.

| Tue Sep. 29, 2015 5:00 AM EDT

This week, the Congressional controversy over Planned Parenthood could come to a head as investigations continue through the House of Representatives. Today, Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, will testify before the House Oversight Committee, one of several committees conducting an investigation in the wake of videos from anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, who is also expected to testify in the continuing discussion.

Most of the clinics listed don't even appear to have a certified OB-GYN on staff.

One of the claims they may address has been neatly presented in a map circulating on social media. The graphic claims that there are 13,540 clinics where women can find comprehensive health care, as opposed to a mere 665 Planned Parenthood locations. It has become a popular talking point in the conservative push to defund Planned Parenthood—most notably mentioned by Jeb Bush in the GOP debate earlier this month. The map in question seems to be referring to a list of clinics, organized by state, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.

But what the graphic doesn't mention is that most of the clinics listed don't even appear to have a certified OB-GYN on staff. The clinics are mostly general practice, meaning they may lack equipment and expertise to deliver reproductive health care to women. It's not clear what criteria the groups circulating the map used to define viable options to replace Planned Parenthood's services, and the groups did not respond to requests for comment.

While the clinics on this list do accept Medicaid, they are not set up to take the massive influx of patients that would result from a shutdown of Planned Parenthood. What's more, many private reproductive health care clinics—those that aren't represented on the list—don't take Medicaid at all. That's because the program pays just a fraction of what private insurers will reimburse.

The claim that community clinics could replace Planned Parenthood represents "a fundamental misunderstanding of how the health care system works."

Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, is set up to handle large numbers of Medicaid patients. Nearly half of all Planned Parenthood patients use Medicaid coverage, and more than a third of women who receive publicly funded family planning care rely on Planned Parenthood.

Mark DeFrancesco, president of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, says it's common for practitioners not to accept Medicaid patients, because the reimbursement rates can't come close to offsetting the operating costs of their clinics. "The reimbursement is such that Medicaid just by definition doesn't pay anywhere near what private insurers pay for OB-GYN visits," says DeFrancesco.

Sara Rosenbaum, a health law professor at George Washington University, agrees. In a blog post for Health Affairs, she writes that the claim that community clinics could replace Planned Parenthood represents "a fundamental misunderstanding of how the health care system works."

Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in a report issued earlier this month that if Planned Parenthood were defunded, as many as 650,000 women "in areas without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations" would lose their reproductive health care. And a survey by the Guttmacher Institute found that women often value specialized family planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood over primary care clinics for reasons such as affordability, increased confidentiality, and a greater range of contraceptive options. Guttmacher also reports that in 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only "safety net" family planning service, meaning that a large portion of their patients are either uninsured or reliant on Medicaid.

If Planned Parenthood were to lose a third of its entire budget, DeFrancesco warns, "these patients won't have anywhere else to go."

George Zimmerman Posted a Photo of Trayvon Martin's Dead Body

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 1:52 PM EDT

Over the weekend, George Zimmerman retweeted an image of Trayvon Martin's dead body. The image was first tweeted to him by a fan who wrote, "Z-Man is a one man army."

After the tweet was deleted, apparently by Twitter, Zimmerman posted a tweet directing media inquiries to the phone number of a car audio shop. When I called it, a disgruntled man said it was not affiliated with Zimmerman. I asked what he meant, and he said, "It's pretty cut and dry, dude. Do you understand English?" Then he hung up. The number, it turns out, belongs to a man Zimmerman has been waging a social media campaign against.

Twitter would not comment on why they took down the photo, but the company directed me to its policy, which states that users "may not publish or post threats of violence against others or promote violence against others."

Previously, Zimmerman's tweets have referred to black people as primates and "slime."

In August, Zimmerman teamed up with the owner of a gun store with a no-Muslims-allowed policy to sell prints of his Confederate flag art, which he says "represents the hypocrisy of political correctness that is plaguing this nation."