Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 12, 2014

Wed Nov. 12, 2014 2:24 PM EST

US Army soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas pose for a photo with the Prime Minister of Estonia as a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ray Boyington)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Richest 0.1 Percent Is About to Control More Wealth Than the Bottom 90 Percent

| Tue Nov. 11, 2014 2:50 PM EST

While a complex web of factors have contributed to the rise in income inequality in America, a new research paper says most of the blame can be largely placed in the immense growth experienced by the top tenth of the richest 1 percent of Americans in recent years. From the report:

The rise of wealth inequality is almost entirely due to the rise of the top 0.1% wealth share, from 7% in 1979 to 22% in 2012, a level almost as high as in 1929. The bottom 90% wealth share first increased up to the mid-1980s and then steadily declined. The increase in wealth concentration is due to the surge of top incomes combined with an increase in saving rate inequality.

So, who are the 0.1 percent among us? According to Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the paper's researchers, the elite group is a small one, roughly composed of 160,000 families with assets exceeding $20 million, but their grip on America's wealth distribution is about to surpass the bottom 90 percent for the first time in more than half a century.  Today's 0.1 percent also tend to be younger than the top incomers of the 1960's, despite the fact the country as a whole has been living longer—proving once again, that there has truly never been a more opportune time to be rich in America:

rise of the megarich

Tennessee Voters Just Made It Easier to Restrict Abortion—And the GOP Isn't Wasting Any Time.

| Tue Nov. 11, 2014 10:15 AM EST

For years, as lawmakers in other conservative states passed onerous restrictions designed to limit abortion access, deep-red Tennessee stood out as an exception—because the state's constitution forbade many of the harshest anti-abortion measures.

But that changed on Election Day. Last week, 53 percent of Tennessee voters approved Amendment 1—a change to the state's constitution that will allow lawmakers to pass a slew of new abortion restrictions. And Republicans, led by Beth Harwell, the speaker of the state house of representatives, are already working on three abortion restrictions to debate in 2015: One measure would set up a mandatory waiting period between a woman's first visit to an abortion clinic and the time of the procedure. A second would force women to undergo mandatory counseling, known as informed consent, before an abortion. And a third would add new, unspecified inspection requirements for abortion facilities.

As I reported in September, Amendment 1 was aimed at overturning a 2000 court decision that struck down a 48-hour waiting period, an "informed consent" law, and a requirement that all second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital. Amendment 1 reads: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion," including for pregnancies "resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother."

Supporters of Amendment 1 argued that the new language was necessary because Tennessee was barred from inspecting abortion clinics. (In fact, the Tennessee Department of Health inspected several of the state's clinics within the past year before renewing their licenses.)

Amendment 1 detractors, on the other hand, warned that the measure was actually aimed at using strict new regulations to close some of Tennessee's seven abortion clinics. This tactic is popular with Tennessee's neighbors. It's part of why nearly 1 in 4 women who receive an abortion in Tennessee live in another state, such as Alabama and Mississippi, where highly restrictive abortion laws have closed all but a handful of abortion providers.

Abortion rights advocates also worried that the amendment would allow abortion opponents to spread misinformation about abortion through an informed consent law; South Dakota, for example, compels doctors to tell women that abortion can lead to an increased risk of suicide—an assertion that mainstream medical organizations say is false. All told, both camps poured $5.5 million into the fight over Amendment 1.

It's not as though Tennessee was abortion-friendly to begin with. Before Amendment 1 came along, Tennessee passed anti-abortion laws that limited insurance coverage for abortion, outlawed the abortion pill, and caused two abortion clinics to close because they could not gain admitting privileges with local hospitals.

The real danger of Amendment 1 is that the measure "will basically just open the floodgates for the General Assembly to pass any kind of restriction if the amendment passes," Jeff Teague, the president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said in the run-up to the election. "We think they probably have a long list of things they're going to pass."

Turns out he was spot-on.

Obama Just Announced His Full Support to Preserve Net Neutrality

| Mon Nov. 10, 2014 11:05 AM EST

In a move strongly backing net neutrality regulations, President Barack Obama announced his plan to reclassify the internet as a utility in order to preserve the web's "basic principles of openness and fairness."

Net neutrality has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted. We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas.

In the announcement, Obama urged the FCC to implement four "common-sense steps" to help protect net neutrality, including increased transparency and the prohibition of paid-priority gatekeeping by internet service providers.

The decision, however, remains up to the FCC, which has thus far proposed new changes to allow content providers to pay cable companies for so-called "fast lanes" of service. Net neutrality advocates say the proposed rules are a threat limiting access to the open internet.

"Simply put: No service should be stuck in a 'slow lane' because it does not pay a fee," Obama said in the Monday morning statement. "That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth."

Unsurprisingly, the GOP is not happy with the president's plan:

Watch Obama's announcement in full below:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 10, 2014

Mon Nov. 10, 2014 9:30 AM EST

US Marines patch up holes after close-range shooting practice. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Timothy Parish)

Why Rand Paul Was the Only Kentucky Republican to Lose on Tuesday

| Mon Nov. 10, 2014 8:00 AM EST
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Republicans had a pretty good night last Tuesday. They won control of the Senate and added to their already-sizable House majority. They now hold 33 governors' mansions and 69 of the 99 state legislative chambers. But even as they solidified their grip on state governments, they came up short in one red state they'd trained their sights on—Kentucky. And that's bad news for Sen. Rand Paul.

While the national GOP's resources primarily targeted the state's Senate race, Paul focused his attention on winning control of the Democratic-controlled Legislature in Frankfort. His reasons went beyond mere party loyalty—he wanted a GOP statehouse majority to pass a bill, written with him in mind, that would allow a politician to run for Senate and president in the same year. He's up for reelection in 2016, and is also seriously considering a White House bid. But given the depth of the GOP presidential field that year, he doesn't want to bet the house on winning the nomination.

For Paul, a.k.a. the best-dressed man in Washington, this is hardly a deal-breaker. He got some good news on Wednesday, when Sen. Mitch McConnell, whom Paul dutifully backed in the face of a tea party primary challenge, all but endorsed his presidential bid. And if Paul were to drop out of the race early (say, in the face of an unstoppable Mitt Romney wave), there'd be plenty of time to get back into Senate reelection mode. But the longer he stays in the hunt, the more difficult things will become on the home front.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Why Don't We Make Election Day A Holiday?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 5:12 PM EST

An estimated 37 percent of eligible voters cast ballots during Tuesday's midterm elections—the lowest voter turnout since 1942. It wasn't that much of an anomaly, however: For decades, voter turnout in non-presidential election years has hovered far below what it was in the mid-19th century, when it peaked at around 70 percent. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ranks the United States 120th out of 169 countries for average voter turnout.

Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a way to reverse this trend: Make election day a national holiday. "Election day should be a national holiday so that everyone has the time and opportunity to vote," Sanders said in a press release announcing the Democracy Day Act. "While this would not be a cure-all, it would indicate a national commitment to create a more vibrant democracy."

Sadly, Congressional Republicans, who've made voter suppression a key part of their electoral strategy, are about as likely to support a voting holiday as they are to declare war on Christmas.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 7, 2014

Fri Nov. 7, 2014 1:39 PM EST

US Navy Sailors deploy a MK 18 MOD 2 Swordfish camera to survey the ocean floor. In this operation, designed to promote maritime security, a quarter of the world's navies are participating. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Blake Midnight)

Surprise! This GOP Senator's Theory About Volcanoes and Climate Change Is Totally Wrong.

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 10:49 AM EST

When the 114th Congress convenes in January, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski will likely take over as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee—one of several committees whose work deals directly with climate and energy policy.

Unlike many of her GOP peers in the upper chamber, Murkowski doesn't deny that the climate is changing. She's even referred to Alaska as "ground zero for climate change." But as we've pointed out, in recent years it's become increasingly difficult to distinguish her legislative record on the issue from that of the rest of her party.

On Election Night, Murkowski told NPR that Alaskans are experiencing warmer temperatures and thinner ice and said that "this is something that we must address." But it's difficult to know what she means by that, because, as NPR reports, Murkowski's "apparently not so sure what the cause is—or whether mankind is to blame." For some reason, she brought up a volcano in Iceland.

"The emissions that are being put in the air by that volcano are a thousand years' worth of emissions that would come from all of the vehicles, all of the manufacturing in Europe," she said.

That position isn't exactly in line with the latest science. NPR quoted a climate scientist who called Murkowski's statement "untrue," "wrong," and "highly deceptive":

"What can I say?" wonders Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, a leading expert on climate change. "It's simply untrue. I don't know where she gets that number from."

Oppenheimer says it's actually the other way around: Annual emissions from Europe are 10 times bigger than the annual emissions of all volcanoes put together. And he says the argument misses a bigger point: Humans are adding carbon dioxide to what was a balanced system.

"So not only is the number wrong, but the context is highly deceptive," he says.

I asked Murkowski's office to comment on this. They haven't responded, but it looks like she was probably referring to the Bardarbunga volcano, which has been erupting for the last two months—spewing 35,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere every day. Sulfur dioxide is toxic, but it's not responsible for global warming. In fact, it actually cools the planet, Oppenheimer explained in an email to Mother Jones.

The 35,000 tons of SO2 Bardarbunga has spewed out daily may be a lot—on par with a large power plant's monthly output, he says—"but against all the other natural and manmade sources of SO2, it's not that much."

"So no matter how you slice it," concludes Oppenheimer, Murkowski's comments were "nonsense."

Since entering office in 2002, the oil and gas industry has been the largest contributor to Murkowski's reelection bids. In 2004, her campaign committee and leadership PAC accepted $204,063 from oil and gas industry sources, about 3.6 percent of all the money she raised, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. Both the amount of oil money and its proportion of her total fundraising have steadily increased since then. This year, the industry contributed $568,581 to her campaign and PAC, about 8.7 percent of all the money she's raised so far. The volcano industry hasn't contributed anything.

A Federal Appeals Court Just Ruled Against Gay Marriage. This Judge Just Issued An Epic Dissent.

| Thu Nov. 6, 2014 6:40 PM EST

On Thursday, a federal appeals court upheld bans on gay marriage in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Michigan. In a 2-1 vote, the 6th Circuit reversed lower courts' rulings which had found the bans unconstitutional and sets up a likely Supreme Court showdown. Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey issued a scathing dissent. Here are her five best lines.

1. "The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy."

2. "For although my colleagues in the majority pay lip service to marriage as an institution conceived for the purpose of providing a stable family unit 'within which children may flourish,' they ignore the destabilizing effect of its absence in the homes of tens of thousands of same-sex parents throughout the four states of the Sixth Circuit."

3. "Because the correct result is so obvious, one is tempted to speculate that the majority has purposefully taken the contrary position to create the circuit split regarding the legality of same-sex marriage that could prompt a grant of certiorari by the Supreme Court and an end to the uncertainty of status and the interstate chaos that the current discrepancy in state laws threatens."

4. "Even more damning to the defendants’ position, however, is the fact that the State of Michigan allows heterosexual couples to marry even if the couple does not wish to have children, even if the couple does not have sufficient resources or education to care for children, even if the parents are pedophiles or child abusers, and even if the parents are drug addicts."

5. "...they are committed same-sex couples, many of them heading up de facto families, who want to achieve equal status—de jure status, if you will—with their married neighbors, friends, and coworkers, to be accepted as contributing members of their social and religious communities, and to be welcomed as fully legitimate parents at their children’s schools."

It's important to note the author of the majority opinion was Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who was appointed by former president George W. Bush. Thursday's development demonstrates yet another example of Bush's conservative legacy carrying on in federal courts long after his presidency ended.