Political MoJo

Court Strikes Down Arkansas Voter ID Law

| Thu Oct. 16, 2014 9:39 AM EDT

On Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state's restrictive voter ID law, ruling that it violated the state's constitution. The unanimous decision, which comes just days before early voting begins in the state, could impact a Senate race considered key to a Republican takeover of the Senate.

Arkansas' law, enacted in 2013 after the Republican-controlled legislature overrode the Democratic Gov. Mike Beebee's veto, would have required voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Studies have shown that photo ID laws disproportionately burden minority and poor voters, making them less likely to vote. The state Supreme Court ruled that the voter ID law imposes a voting eligibility requirement that "falls outside" those the state constitution enumerates—namely, that a voter must only be a US citizen, an Arkansas resident, at least 18 years of age, and registered to vote—and was therefore invalid.

The court's ruling could help swing in Democrats' favor the tight Senate race between Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and his opponent, Republican Rep. Tom Cotton.

After the Supreme Court gutted a section of the Voting Rights Act last year, Republican state legislatures around the country enacted a slew of harsh voting laws. Since the 2010 election, new restrictions have been enacted in 21 states. Fourteen of those were passed for the first time this year.

Arkansas was one of seven states in which opponents of restrictive voting laws filed lawsuits ahead of the 2014 midterms. Last week, the US Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin's voter ID law. A federal court last Thursday struck down a similar law in Texas—only to have its ruling reversed this week by an appeals court. The Supreme Court recently allowed North Carolina and Ohio to enforce their strict new voting laws.

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Texas College Rejects Two Nigerian Applicants Because of Ebola Panic

| Wed Oct. 15, 2014 4:43 PM EDT

At least two college applicants from Nigeria received rejection letters from a Texas community college because of Ebola panic. Let's note: Nigeria has had only 20 cases of the disease since July 20. The country has been so successful in containing the outbreak, the Centers for Disease and Prevention dispatched a team to learn its methods.

Ebola has, however, killed more than 4,400 people in neighboring Liberia. Perhaps Navarro College confused Nigeria with Liberia? African countries do look and sound so similar! The story:

Kamorudeen Abidogun, a medical engineer in Richmond, Texas, told CNBC that five family relatives in Nigeria were applying to Navarro College using Abidogun's mailing address. At least two of the applications were denied.

"With sincere regret, I must report that Navarro College is not able to offer you acceptance for the Spring 2015 term. Unfortunately, Navarro College is not accepting international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases," the letter explained.

An official has since apologized for any "incorrect information" that may have been dispersed to applicants—their rejections were actually due to a restructuring of the college's diversity priorities:

"Our focus for 2014-15 is on China and Indonesia. Other countries will be identified and recruitment efforts put in place once we launch our new honors program fall 2015."

Should the Military Treat Ebola Patients in Africa?

| Wed Oct. 15, 2014 4:42 PM EDT
US Marines arrive in Monrovia to provide support to Liberians in the fight against Ebola.

At the request of the Liberian government, American troops have set up shop in the country to help deliver aid and build treatment centers. It's all part of an effort to slow the disease's spread and, hopefully, mitigate some of the outbreak's more pernicious side effects, such as hunger.

So far, US military doctors and nurses are not actually treating patients. But three members of Congress—Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) believe they should be.  

"Our capable military medical and technical personnel have unique skills, resources, and experience working in similar environments to West Africa," the three wrote in a letter to President Obama. "They responded to the Cholera outbreak after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the aftermath of the tsunami in Indonesia. We must stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and protect Americans from the spread of the virus."

Pentagon officials have said that US troops will be proving logistical support and that there are no current plans for them to provide direct care. "We are not anticipating that military personnel will be treating the people," General David Rodriguez, head of the military's Africa Command, said at an October 3 press briefing. "There's no intention right now that [service members] will be interacting with patients or in areas where they would necessarily come into contact with patients."

Still, Rodriguez left open the possibility of military doctors treating patients at a later date. "That will be a decision made in the future if that ever gets to that point," he said. "But the international community has said 'Not right now. That's not what we need.'"

Ebola would certainly present a risk for any military personnel treating patients. Of the more than 4,000 people who have been infected in Liberia so far, 207 have been health care workers, according to Liberia's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare

The Marines are already warning their personnel to take precautions, even though they're not currently working with patients. "You must be aware of the risks," the Corps' top doctor says in an instructional video. "Understand what to do if you come into contact with someone suspected of having Ebola, and what to do if you become ill."

Many conservatives were outraged that Obama sent troops to help fight Ebola. Chances are, a sick service member would give new life to that debate.

Jeb Bush: "What's the Paycheck Fairness Act?"

| Wed Oct. 15, 2014 2:01 PM EDT

Jeb Bush, one of the GOP's top 2016 presidential prospects, campaigned Monday for Terri Lynn Land, the Republican running for Senate in Michigan. At an event in the Detroit suburbs, a staffer for Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group, asked Bush whether he thought Land should support the Paycheck Fairness Act.* Bush appeared not to know what the proposal is.

The high-profile legislation, much touted by Democrats, aims to close the wage gap between men and women. It would beef up legal protections for workers who ask about the wages of co-workers or share information about their own earnings while directing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to gather information on wages from employers. In September, the bill died in the Senate after Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), filibustered it.

The bill has been part of a national debate about the GOP and women, and it has played a prominent role in this Senate campaign, in which Land is running against Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Land, who served as Michigan's secretary of state from 2003 to 2010, has been criticized by Democrats—including President Barack Obama—for saying she did not support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Yet Bush didn't seem to know anything about this bill when the Democratic tracker asked about it:

Progress Michigan: Do you think Secretary Land should support the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Jeb Bush: Excuse me?

Progress Michigan: Do you think Secretary Land should support the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Bush: What's the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Progress Michigan: The Paycheck Fairness Act is a piece of legislation that would ensure women receive the same pay as men...equal pay for equal work.

Bush: Equal pay for the same work, not for equal work—I think that's the problem with it. I think there's a definition issue.

Progress Michigan: So you don't think Secretary Land should support it?

Bush: I don't know. You'd have to ask her.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that the tracker who questioned Bush worked for American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic oppo research outfit.

Liberia Says It's Going to Need a Lot More Body Bags

| Wed Oct. 15, 2014 5:15 AM EDT

If you need any more evidence that the Liberian government is overwhelmed by the worsening Ebola outbreak (or you're still wondering why President Barack Obama committed American troops to help coordinate the relief effort), just look at the table below. The numbers, which come from Liberia's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, show the huge gap between the supplies the Liberian government has and the supplies it needs.

As we reported last month, Liberia's entire national budget for 2013-14 was $553 million, with just $11 million allotted for health care—about what Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are believed to have spent on their house in Bel Air. The country allocated another $20 million in August specifically to fight the virus, but that still represents just a fraction of the resources needed.

The rest of the world has so far been unable to close the gap. In September, the United Nations asked member states for almost $1 billion to fight Ebola. On Friday, UN officials reported that they've only raised a quarter of that.

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)