Political MoJo

Watch Live: David Corn on the 2014 Elections

Tue Oct. 14, 2014 4:44 PM EDT

Event live stream starting on Tuesday, October, 14, at 6:30 p.m. Eastern 

As the midterm elections approach, issues like money in politics, voter suppression, and income inequality will shape the political landscape just as much as who wins control of the Senate. What difference will November 4 make? And what are the critical issues that will shape the concluding years of the Obama administration and beyond? Please join the Brennan Center and Mother Jones Tuesday, October 14, for a pre-election primer on the state of our democracy, featuring Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn, New York Post editorial writer Robert A. George, and Brennan Center president Michael Waldman in conversation with Alex Wagner, host of MSNBC's Now With Alex Wagner. For more MoJo coverage of the 2014 midterm elections, click here.

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Watch This California Republican Candidate Pretend to Save a Drowning Kid

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 3:21 PM EDT

Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for California governor, is out with a new ad attacking incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown's record on education. He has chosen to represent Brown's alleged "betrayal" of the Golden State's kids with a tasteful visual metaphor: a child drowning in a swimming pool.

With three weeks to go until election day, Kashkari is running far behind Brown. Most polls have found him trailing by at least 20 points for months against the generally popular Democratic governor. It's hardly Kashkari's first desperate-ish PR move: in the spring, he ran an ad in which he smashed a toy train in half with an ax to represent his opposition to California's bullet train project.

In July, a camera crew trailed him for a week as he attempted to live on $40 as a homeless person. And in August, Kashkari made a campaign issue out of a ruling that the nosebleed-causing emissions from the Southern California Sriracha hot-sauce factory were a "public nuisance."

But Kashkari's latest spot makes Texas gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis' controversial "wheelchair" ad look downright subtle. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the ad was produced by Something Else Strategies, which has made spots this election cycle for Republican Senate candidates like Iowa's Jodi "I grew up castrating hogs" Ernst.

Gov. Scott Walker on the Minimum Wage: "I Don't Think It Serves a Purpose"

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 2:06 PM EDT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is no fan of the minimum wage, and on Tuesday, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker made that plenty clear. Asked about Wisconsin's $7.25-an-hour minimum wage and whether he supported it, Walker said, "I'm not going to repeal it, but I don't think it serves a purpose." Here's the exchange with Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice:

Bice: You were asked [in Monday's debate] if you thought someone could live on the minimum wage in the state, and you said we should be trying to come up with jobs that pay more than that. And then you said, "The way you do that is not by setting an arbitrary amount by the state." That sounds like you're not a particular fan of the minimum wage. What is your position on the minimum wage? Should we have it?

Walker: Well, I'm not going to repeal it, but I don't think it serves a purpose because we're debating then about what the lowest levels are at. I want people to make, like I said the other night, two or three times that.

The jobs I focus on, the programs we put in place, the training we put in place, is not for people to get minimum wage jobs. It's the training—whether it's in apprenticeships, whether it's our tech colleges, whether's it our [University of Wisconsin] system—it's to try and provide the training, the skills, the talents, the expertise that people need to create careers that pay many, many times over. [emphasis mine]

Walker has repeatedly arguing against raising the minimum wage, saying that doing so would kill jobs. (The Congressional Budget Office has found that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would eliminate 500,000 jobs but also lift 900,000 people out of poverty and boost earnings for 16 million people. Cities with higher minimum wages have also seen strong job growth in recent years.) Walker opposes increasing the federal minimum wage and said in January that "the best thing we can do to help people who are unemployed or under employed is to fix Obamacare."

The most recent Marquette University Law School poll found that 59 percent of Wisconsinites support increasing the minimum wage while 36 percent do not.

Prison Guards Can't Pepper Spray Just Any Schizophrenic Inmates in Arizona Anymore

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 1:52 PM EDT

Arizona prisons just got a little better. A class action lawsuit by the ACLU, the Prison Law Office, and others reached a settlement with the Arizona Department of Corrections today to improve health care and solitary confinement conditions in the state.

"This is one of the largest--if not the largest--prisoner settlements in recent years," said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU's National Prison Project.

The lawsuit, which has been going on for two years, won concessions that would seem to be common sense. Prison guards, for example, now can’t pepper spray severely mentally ill prisoners unless they are preventing serious injury or escape. And while these types of inmates were previously let out of their solitary cells for just six hours a week, the settlement requires Arizona to let them out for at least 19 hours a week. With some exceptions for the most dangerous, this time will now be shared with other prisoners, and will include mental health treatment and other programming.

People like this—the schizophrenic, the psychotic, the suicidal—are not a small portion of the 80,000 people we have in solitary confinement in the US today. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45 percent of people in solitary have severe mental illnesses. The country's three largest mental health care providers are jails.

The Parsons v. Ryan settlement also requires the Arizona prison system to make more than 100 health care improvements. Prison staff now has to monitor people with hypertension or diabetes. Pregnant women have to get more care. Prisoners whose psych meds make them sensitive to heat now have to be kept in cells that are no hotter than 85 degrees. Those not on anti-psychotic meds though, can keep baking.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 14, 2014

Tue Oct. 14, 2014 9:53 AM EDT

Marine Infantry Officer Course students stand by before a helicopter drill in Arizona. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James Marchetti)

Vatican to Cohabitators and Gays: You're Kind of Okay. (Update: Actually, Never Mind.)

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 6:04 PM EDT
Bishops at the synod on family issues at the Vatican.

Update, Saturday, October 18, 2014: Never mind: "A final statement agreed to on Saturday by a summit of Catholic Church leaders to discuss teachings on family retreated from groundbreaking language on “welcoming homosexual persons” included in an interim draft released on Monday."

A preliminary document released by the Vatican today suggests a possible easing of the Catholic Church's strict stances on premarital cohabitation, homosexuality, and divorce and remarriage. Summarizing the first week of discussion at a worldwide meeting of bishops, the document stresses the need for church leadership to listen "with respect and love" and "appreciate the positive values" of members "rather than their limitations and shortcomings."

The document is not an indication of change in doctrine, but more of a recap of what has been discussed so far at the two-week long synod on family issues, and what's on the agenda in the second week of meetings. The synod was both convened and attended by Pope Francis. Among the topics mentioned in the document are the "positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation," and the importance of including Catholics who are divorced or remarried while "avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against."

The document also encourages churches to welcome and accept gay people, who "have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community." This "welcoming" has its limitations: The document maintains that "unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman."

Overall, however, the document's tone contrasts with statements from Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who called gay marriage a "threat to world peace" and damaging to "the essence of the human creature." And not once does it refer those who are divorced or living together before marriage as sinners.

The document quotes previous writings by Pope Francis, stating: "The Church is called on to be 'the house of the Father, with doors always wide open…where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.'"

The Vatican's baby steps toward discussion and inclusion appear to reflect the frustration among many Catholics toward the church's traditional stances on family issues and gay rights. Last week, a poll of American Catholics found 40 percent believe the church should drop its opposition to premarital sex and cohabitation (33 percent say it should not), and 42 percent believe the Church should recognize same-sex marriage (40 percent disagree). The poll also found Pope Francis has an 85 percent favorability rating among American Catholics.

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South Dakota Senate Candidate Boasted of "African American Friends," Mulled Run for DC Mayor

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 5:45 PM EDT
South Dakota Senate candidate Larry Pressler

Larry Pressler, who's running as an independent in South Dakota's three-way race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, has averaged around 23 percent of the vote in polls of the contest, which could determine control of the Senate in 2015. With Election Day less than a month away, former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds and Democrat Rick Weiland are both hoping to siphon off support from the third-party entry. And Pressler, who represented South Dakota in the Senate as a Republican from 1979 to 1997, is beginning to take his lumps. On Friday, Politico reported that he lists his primary residence in Washington, DC. But Pressler isn't just a casual DC resident—he's a self-described townie who briefly floated a run for mayor. Here's the Associated Press in 1998, on Pressler's bid to replace Democrat Marion Barry:

Pressler, now a lobbyist, was not immediately available for comment.

But he told Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, that he has written a three-point agenda, including a private-school voucher program and a "real tax cut" to stimulate economic development in Washington.

"I have lived in DC since 1971, longer than anyone else who's running," Pressler said.

Despite hailing from a state that has relatively few blacks, Pressler told the newspaper said he could connect with Washington's blacks. The district is 65 percent black.

"I have a lot of African American friends," he said.

That's sort of the Trinity of archival dirt—a lobbyist epithet, an affirmation of DC residency, and an awkward boast about black friends. You don't see it very often.

Pressler quickly gave up on the idea of running for mayor, but not before the Washington City Paper's Michael Schaffer dug up this exquisite anecdote about the former senator:

Marching out of a committee hearing a couple years ago, Pressler mistook a closet door for the exit. After initially trying to wait out his colleagues, he finally realized that the hearing wasn't going to end any time soon. He walked back out of the closet, waved as if he'd been talking to someone inside, and left the chamber.

h/t Daily Kos Elections

"Duck Dynasty" Congressional Candidate Says Godlessness Will Cause "Mass Carnage and Mass Death"

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 3:49 PM EDT
Zach Dasher (left) and his cousin, Duck Dyansty's Willie Robertson

Godlessness is leading the United States down a path toward "tyranny and death," according to Louisiana Republican congressional candidate Zach Dasher. A nephew of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, Dasher is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. Vance McAllister in the November election. He made the comments in a 2012 episode of his personal podcast, Willing to Think.

Teasing a discussion of political correctness, Dasher asked, "Am I going to talk about the entitlement mindset of nearly half of our country that is really going to end in utter despair if we don't do something about it? Am I going to talk about how this swift drift away from God will usher in tyranny and death? Well, I probably will talk about that today."

He returned to the subject at the end of the episode:

We will only regress if we shut our mouths. Tyranny will get its foothold—if it already doesn't have it—and in the end, there will be mass carnage and mass death. It's inevitable. 'Oh, Zach, you are such an overreactor; you're like Alex Jones.' Look: I'm here with a philosophy. This is no conspiracy theory; this is a philosophy rooted in historical fact. Every society that has shut down people from discussing things about politics God, faith, when you silence people, every time that happens in a society, you know what happens? Tyranny and death. Every single time.

In another episode of the podcast, Dasher blamed rejection of God for a rise in anxiety disorders. "I know it's not politically correct, but there is a huge element of depression and anxiety disorders that is wrapped up in what I'm saying today," he said. In September, BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski reported on comments Dasher made in other episodes of Willing to Think, in which the candidate blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on atheism. (He also argued that the popular millennial acronym "YOLO" is corrosive because it promotes an atheistic disregard for the afterlife.)

Dasher has put his faith front and center during the race. The campaign headquarters in West Monroe features an envelope taped to the outside of the glass door, instructing supporters to "leave your your prayers or scriptures." In an appearance on Fox News in June, he told Sean Hannity, "My platform begins with God."

Robertson, who supported McAllister during the special election for the seat in 2013, jumped ship after McAllister was caught on tape kissing a female staffer and now backs his kin. At a Lake Charles fundraiser, he referred to the first-time candidate as "my little nephew who came from the loins of my sister."

Elizabeth Warren: The Obama Administration Chose to Protect Wall Street, Not Families

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 2:20 PM EDT

In a new interview with Salon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) leveled a bit of harsh criticism towards President Barack Obama's administration, charging his financial advisors with routinely favoring big banks following the financial crisis, rather than looking out for ordinary Americans.

"They protected Wall Street," Warren said. "Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. Not young people who were struggling to get an education. And it happened over and over and over."

But the senator, who was responding to columnist Thomas Frank's question regarding Democrats' mounting disappointment since the 2008 election, stopped short of issuing a scathing rebuke, largely pointing the finger at Obama's economic team for deregulation failures. She also made sure to credit the president with the creation of the Consumer Financial Bureau.

"If Barack Obama had not been president of the United States we would not have a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Period," Warren said. "I’m completely convinced of that...He was the one who refused to throw the agency under the bus and made sure that his team kept the agency alive and on the table."

As for continued confusion regarding the bureau's name itself, Warren jokingly blamed Republicans for the head-scratching.

"It was named by Republicans to be as confusing a name as possible. I used to think of it as the four random initials. I just call it my consumer agency. So that’s it, just the consumer agency."

Warren also noted that in light of Attorney General Eric Holder's recent resignation announcement, she would work to confirm a successor who will fully prosecute banking executives.

Warren's remarks follow last week's meeting at the White House between Obama and financial regulators to propose additional regulatory measures.

And the Prize for Ebola Fearmongering Goes to Louisiana

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 12:40 PM EDT

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has a plan to stop Ebola: File a restraining order. Caldwell, a Republican, called the proposal to dispose of Dallas Ebola victim Eric Duncan's incinerated belongings at a Lake Charles landfill "absurd" and pledged to use the legal process to stop the transfer. WBRZ Baton Rouge reports:

"We certainly share sadness and compassion for those who have lost their lives and loved ones to this terrible virus, but the health and safety of our Louisiana citizens is our top priority. There are too many unknowns at this point," Caldwell said. The Louisiana Attorney General's Office is in the process of finalizing the application for temporary restraining order and expects it to be filed as early as Monday morning.

Additionally, the office is sending a demand letter to Texas state and federal officials, along with private contractors involved seeking additional information into the handling of this waste.

Caldwell, whose decision was quickly supported by GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, didn't offer any details on how burying the incinerated materials would affect the people of his state. It's hard to see any risk—Ebola is transmitted only through bodily fluids, and Chemical Waste Management Inc., which operates the storage facility, sees no problem. And it's not as if the ashes are going particularly far, anyway—Lake Charles is just a quick jaunt over I-10 from Port Arthur, Texas, where Duncan's belongings were burned.

But Caldwell's stance is especially bizarre in light of the great lengths Louisiana lawmakers have gone to position the state as a repository for every other kind of waste. Fracking waste disposal, for instance, has become a $30 billion industry nationwide over the last decade. Much of that wastewater has been dumped into old wells in Louisiana. Louisiana may also soon begin accepting thousands of tons of other states' shale wastewater, which will be shipped down the Mississippi on barges. In Louisiana you can even store radioactive materials in an abandoned salt cavern, and then, after the salt cavern collapses, creating a massive sinkhole and forcing hundreds of people to permanently relocate, pour wastewater directly into the sinkhole. Just don't try to truck the ashes of an Ebola victim's belongings across the Sabine.