Political MoJo

Most Senators Overseeing the Comcast-Time Warner Deal Have Taken Money From Both

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 4:35 PM EDT

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Comcast and Time Warner executives about their extraordinarily controversial merger proposal. A recent poll found that 52 percent of respondents believed mergers like it lead to reduced competition and poorer service for consumers. 

At today's hearing, a number of the senators expressed concern about the deal which, if approved, would result in a single company serving slightly less than 30 percent of the US paid television market and up to 40 percent of American broadband subscribers. Chairman Leahy (D-Vt.) started the proceedings, saying that "thousands of Americans have flooded the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] in recent weeks with comments supporting the restoration of open-internet rules. Their voices on this issue should be heard."

But Leahy and most of his colleagues have already "heard" from both Comcast and Time Warner—in the form of generous campaign contributions. Out of the committee's 18 members, 15 have accepted donations from at least one of the two media giants since the 2010 election cycle; 12 have received money from both. The average contribution over that time: $16,285. Democrats were the biggest recipients, taking an average of $18,531 from the two cable and internet giants, nearly twice as much as their Republican counterparts. Here's the breakdown: 

Senator Comcast Time Warner
Chris Coons (D-Del.) $57,200 $10,200
Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) $41,600 $21,300
Orin Hatch (R-Utah) $36,750 $6,000
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) $28,373 $23,575
Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) $22,500 $62,650
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) $21,831 $20,275
Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) $20,600 $0
Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) $17,000 $2,333
Al Franken (D-Minn.) $14,750 $11,600
Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) $13,000 $4,000
Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) $12,025 $25,780
Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) $8,500 $5,000
Ted Cruz (R-Texas) $7,500 $0
John Cornyn (R-Texas) $6,000 $3,500
Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) $0 $3,000
Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) $0 $0
Mike Lee (R-Utah) $0 $0
Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) $0 $0

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

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WATCH: GOP Lawmaker Compares Getting Abortion to Buying a Car and Picking Carpeting

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 2:12 PM EDT

A bill is making its way through the Missouri House of Representatives that would require women seeking abortions to undergo mandatory ultrasounds and increase the waiting period for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours—measures that are necessary, in the words of the bill's sponsor, because women should have as much information about pregnancy as he seeks out when he's shopping for a car or picking out carpeting for his house.

Republican Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger made the comparison between cars and pregnancy while taking questions on the bill before the Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities. In his remarks, captured on video, Gatschenberger noted that he has many sisters and daughters who put ultrasound images of their children on the fridge. An off-camera committee member then asked him, "Do you not trust your sisters to make their decisions for themselves?"

Gatschenberger replied:

"Well, yesterday, I went over to the car lot over here. I was just going to get a key made for a vehicle. And I was looking around because I'm considering maybe buying a new vehicle. Even when I buy a new vehicle—this is my experience, again—I don't go right in there and say I want to buy that vehicle, and then, you know, you leave with it. I have to look at it, get information about it, maybe drive it, you know, a lot of different things. Check prices. There's lots of things that I do, putting into a decision. Whether that's a car, whether that's a house, whether that's any major decision that I put in my life. Even carpeting. You know, I was just considering getting some carpeting or wood in my house. And that process probably took, you know, a month, because of just seeing all the aspects of it."

In a later exchange between Gatschenberger and Rep. Stacey Newman, a Democrat on the committee, Newman called his remarks "offensive to every woman in this room." Gatschenberger replied to her that he wasn't comparing reproductive health decisions to buying a car—and then went on to compare reproductive health decisions to buying a car.

Here's part of the exchange:

Newman:  Your original premise, that a woman who is receiving any type of care with her pregnancy, regardless of what decisions are involved, is somehow similar to purchasing a key for an automobile—

Gatschenberger: If you were listening to my explanation, it had nothing to do [with] that…In making a decision—not making a life-changing decision—but making a decision to buy a car, I put research in there to find out what to do.

Newman: Do you believe that buying a car is in any way related to any type of pregnancy decision?

Gatschenberger: Did I say that?

Newman: That's what I'm asking you.

Gatschenberger: I did not say that. I'm saying my decision to accomplish something is, I get the input in it. And that's what this bill does, is give more information for people.

Newman: So you're assuming that women who are under care…for their pregnancy, need additional information that they're not already receiving?

Gatschenberger: I'm just saying they have the opportunity, it increases the opportunity. If you want to know what this bill does, [it] increases the opportunity.

See the whole video here:

GOP Chairman: Let's Get Rid of ALL Donation Limits

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 10:54 AM EDT

Last week, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, hailed the Supreme Court's recent decision in McCutcheon vs. FEC, which eliminated the cap on the number of contributions a donor can make to candidates, parties, and political action committees. Of course he would: The cash-starved parties now stand to rake in bag-loads more cash than they did before the decision.

But Priebus wants to go further. On Hugh Hewitt's radio show Tuesday, Priebus called for eliminating all limits on campaign contributions. All of 'em. The $2,600 limit on candidate donations, the $5,000 limit on PAC donations, the $32,400 limit on party committee donations, and so on. "I don't think we should have caps at all," he said.

Priebus says he wants the RNC to get behind any effort to demolish those limits, just as it joined Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon in his recent legal fight. "Absolutely, I would" look to get the RNC involved in future deregulation lawsuits, Priebus said. "And I would look to cases that allow us to raise soft money, and I would look to cases that allow us to raise money for the conventions, and—but disclose it all. That's kind of where I'm at personally."

If Priebus gets his way—and don't forget, he already has one major ally; Justice Clarence Thomas, in his separate opinion in McCutcheon, called for gutting all donation limits—we're looking at a pure free-for-all when it comes to money in politics. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who gave nearly $93 million to outside groups during the 2012 campaign, or movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave and raised more than $30 million to reelect President Obama, wouldn't need outside groups like super-PACs. Hell, they wouldn't need political parties. They could donate $1 million, or $10 million, or $100 million directly to their candidate of choice.

Priebus might even go further. In the wake of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich's ouster over his $1,000 donation to an anti-marriage equality ballot proposal, the RNC chairman suggested he was losing interest in disclosure laws, too. "Even [campaign finance laws] that I want to agree with are getting to be very difficult," he told Hewitt.

No limits, (maybe) no disclosure: If Priebus gets his way, this is the shadowy, cash-drenched future of American politics.

UMass' Derrick Gordon Is First Openly Gay Man In Major College Basketball

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 10:48 AM EDT

University of Massachusetts shooting guard Derrick Gordon came out as gay to the rest of his team last week, making him the first openly gay player in Division 1 men's college basketball, according to OutSports and ESPN.

"I was thinking about summer plans and just being around my teammates and how it was going to be," Gordon told ESPN. "I just thought, 'Why not now? Why not do it in the offseason when it's the perfect time to let my teammates know and everybody know my sexuality?"

Gordon averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds a game this season for the Minutemen, who were bounced from the first week of the NCAA Tournament in March. He said he had had private conversations with prominent gay sports figures before coming out, including Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay active player in the NBA when he was signed by the Brooklyn Nets this season.

Gordon posted this photo on Instagram after the announcement, expressing his relief:

This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living...No more HIDING!!!...Just want to live life happy and play the sport that I love...Really would love to thank my family, friends, coaches, and teammates for supporting me....I would also like to thank my support team Wade Davis, Jason Collins, Brian Sims, Micah Porter, Anthony Nicodemo, Patrick Burke, Billy Bean, Gerald McCullough, Kirk Walker...You guys are AWESOME!!! Ready to get back in the gym with my teammates and get on the GRIND and get ready for next season!!!! #BETRUE #BEYOURSELF #HONEYBADGER

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 9, 2014

Wed Apr. 9, 2014 9:47 AM EDT

Marines with Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Marine Regiment, 3rd Battalion, perform a simulated Vertical Assault Exercise during Ssang Yong 14, at Old Army Tank Battalion, Pohang, South Korea, April 2, 2014. Exercise Ssang Yong is conducted annually in the ROK to enhance interoperability between U.S. and ROK forces by performing a full spectrum of amphibious operations while showcasing sea-based power projection in the Pacific. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Sara A. Medina/Released)

Watch Elizabeth Warren Go After Paul Ryan for Blaming Unemployment on the Unemployed

| Tue Apr. 8, 2014 5:03 PM EDT

Last month, Paul Ryan generated a minor media storm for a racially tinged comment lamenting the supposedly weak "culture of work" among "inner city" men. "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work," Ryan told conservative radio host Bill Bennett. "There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with." Ryan later said that he had been "inarticulate" and forswore any racial meaning in his comments. He was, he promised, referring to our entire culture; not "the culture of one community."

Now, you either buy that or you don't. If you don't think there is something racially loaded about decrying the lack of work ethic among inner city men, then I'm probably not going to be able to convince you that there is. (But there probably is.)

Either way, Ryan's defense could be interpreted as amounting largely to, I was not saying black people are lazy. I was saying poor people are lazy. This is a myth about poverty. It is not true. (Really.)

Enter Elizabeth Warren. "Paul Ryan looks around, sees three unemployed workers for every job opening in America, and blames the people who can't find a job," the senior Senator from Massachusetts said in a speech at the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor’s Humphrey-Mondale Dinner on March 29th.

Paul Ryan says don’t blame Wall Street: the guys who made billions of dollars cheating American families. Don’t blame decades of deregulation that took the cops off the beat while the big banks looted the American economy. Don’t blame the Republican Secretary of the Treasury, and the Republican president who set in motion a no-strings-attached bailout for the biggest banks – Nope. Paul Ryan says keep the monies flowing to the powerful corporations, keep their huge tax breaks, keep the special deals for the too-big-to-fail banks and put the blame on hardworking, play-by-the-rules Americans who lost their jobs. That may be Paul Ryan’s vision of how America works, but that is not our vision of this great country.

Warren is an increasingly popular figure and is set to play a large role in the Democratic fight to maintain control of the Senate in November.

Here's the whole speech:

(via The Huffington Post)

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As UConn Celebrates, State Legislators Look to Help Players Unionize

| Tue Apr. 8, 2014 3:37 PM EDT

The University of Connecticut men's basketball team may have beaten Kentucky in the national championship last night, but star guard Shabazz Napier immediately turned his attention to a bigger foe: the NCAA. Napier used his postgame interview to take the NCAA to task for banning the Huskies from postseason play last season due to poor academic standing. Two weeks ago, after calling the Northwestern unionization efforts "kind of great," he said players sometimes don't have enough money for food.

Connecticut legislators were listening. Some state lawmakers are exploring ways to make it easier for athletes at public schools to unionize, in response to the regional labor board ruling in favor of Northwestern football players as well as Napier's comments. "When you look at the issues, they really look like employees," Democratic state Rep. Pat Dillon said. "And employees have the right to unionize."

The NCAA banned UConn from the 2013 postseason when the team's academic progress rate—a measure of academic eligibility that predicts graduation rate—from 2007 to 2011 did not meet league standards. Dillon said it's hypocritical for the NCAA and others to ban a team for academic reasons while defending the billion-dollar system that has players practicing and playing full-time. "You work them like horses and then you bad mouth them if their academics aren't any good," she said. "The team is punished if they try to make sure these kids get a good education. Of course, they’re punished if they don’t either."

UConn responded to Napier's comments about not having enough to eat with a statement saying that all scholarship athletes are "provided the maximum meal plan that is allowable under NCAA rules." An athletic department spokesman said the university has no comment about potential unionization.

This wouldn't be the first time Connecticut legislators took on NCAA athletics—the state passed a law in 2011 requiring schools to fully disclose all athletic scholarship terms, including expected out-of-pocket expenses for athletes, details about who's responsible for medical expenses, and the renewal process for scholarships that only last one year. A step forward on unionization, though, might be harder to pass, Dillon said. "Starting to do the right thing can actually hurt you with the NCAA," she said. "[Lawmakers] would be worried it would hurt UConn’s recruitment. They wouldn’t say it, but I’m sure they would."

Fox News Confuses NAACP and NCAA 2 Days After SNL Joked About It

| Tue Apr. 8, 2014 12:25 PM EDT

On Tuesday morning, Fox & Friends First host Heather Childers referred to the UConn Huskies as "NAACP national champs." This is funny, because what she meant was "NCAA national champs." The NAACP is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which, among other things, mounted anti-lynching campaigns in the United States. The NCAA is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which didn't.

So we all had a brief chuckle at Childers' expense, and were ready to move on—until we noticed that her on-air mix-up was predicted by a Saturday Night Live sketch that aired just last weekend.

In SNL's latest lampooning of Fox & Friends, the cohosts start by blasting the Obamacare enrollment numbers. "It's tough to sign up for things, I've tried for years to join the NAACP," Brian Kilmeade (played by Bobby Moynihan) says. "Brian, why would you do that?" Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Vanessa Bayer) responds. "Well, I just loved college basketball," Brian says.

The SNL writers room is full of time travelers. Watch the sketch here:

(H/t Ben Dimiero)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 8, 2014

Tue Apr. 8, 2014 10:11 AM EDT

Sgt. Michael Nygaard, a drill instructor for Platoon 3044, India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, roams the barracks moments before waking his recruits for their first official training day March 25, 2014, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Recruits spent the morning getting dressed, experiencing their first incentive training session, cleaning their barracks, and, finally, eating a nutritious breakfast. The formal 70-day training schedule begins about one week after recruits arrive. Nygaard, 29, is from Cape Coral, Fla. India Company is scheduled to graduate June 13, 2014. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caitlin Brink/Released)

There Are 10 Times More Mentally Ill People Behind Bars Than in State Hospitals

| Tue Apr. 8, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are brain diseases—biological conditions like heart disease or epilepsy. Yet in this country, the institutions most likely to be treating people with these illnesses are not hospitals, but rather jails and prisons.

According to a new report from the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), a nonprofit advocacy organization, the United States has fully returned to the 18th-century model of incarcerating the mentally ill in correctional institutions rather than treating them in health care facilities like any other sick people. In 2012, there were roughly 356,268 inmates with severe mental illnesses in prisons and jails, while only 35,000 people with the same diseases were in state psychiatric hospitals.

Chart: mentally ill hospitals vs prisons
Brett Brownell

The numbers of incarcerated mentally ill have been growing, and TAC reports that their treatment in the corrections system is nothing less than abominable. Mentally ill inmates are more likely to become the victims of sexual assault and abuse. They're also overrepresented in solitary confinement, and they are much more likely than other prisoners to commit suicide.

Putting the mentally ill in jails instead of hospitals isn't saving the government any money. In Washington state, for instance, in 2009, the most seriously mentally ill inmates cost more than $100,000 a year to confine, compared with $30,000 for others. One reason for the disparity: According to the report, mentally ill people tend to stay in jail longer than other prisoners because they aren't likely to get bail and also because they are often chronic rule-breakers. For example, according to the report, in Florida's Orange County jail most inmates stay an average of 26 days, but mentally ill inmates are there for 51 days on average. Even worse is New York's Rikers Island jail, where last month a homeless, mentally ill veteran, who'd been arrested for sleeping on the roof of a public housing project, "basically baked to death" in his cell. The average stay for an inmate at Rikers is 42 days. Mentally ill inmates get stuck there for an average of 215 days.

Map: more mentally ill in prisons
Brett Brownell

The costs of housing mentally ill inmates don't include the eventual lawsuit payouts when prisons and jails fail to treat them, and they get killed, assaulted, or hurt themselves—which seems to be happening more frequently. Last year, Mother Jones chronicled the story of Andre Thomas, a schizophrenic man on Texas's death row who gouged out his eye while in prison, and then later gouged out the other one and ate it. His story, horrific as it is, isn't especially rare.

The TAC report has a laundry list of horror stories of self-mutilation by mentally ill inmates, many of whom were in jail for minor offenses. Take the story of Florida jail inmate, Mark Kuzara, who cut open his abdomen in 2007. After it was stapled back together, Kuzara took out the staples with his mouth and ate them. "Inmates gave Kuzara pen caps, bolts, and paper that he would shove into the open wound. Kuzara also made himself vomit up meals, throwing up into the open wound," the Lakeland Ledger reported.

For the report, researchers surveyed sheriffs, police chiefs, and other corrections officials about the shift of the mentally ill from hospitals to prisons. They describe a horrific and unmanageable job of managing hundreds of mentally ill inmates cycling in and out of jail, taking up space and also getting sicker because of the lack of proper medical care.

One Mississippi deputy at the Hinds County detention center described his facility: "They howl all night long. If you're not used to it, you end up crazy yourself." An inmate in the jail "tore up a damn padded cell that's indestructible, and he ate the cover of the damn padded cell. We took his clothes and gave him a paper suit to wear and he ate that. When they fed him food in a Styrofoam container, he ate that. We had his stomach pumped six times, and he's been operated on twice.”

The failure to treat the mentally ill properly in hospitals is directly related to recent violent crimes. Take the case of Virginia, where the largest mental institution is the largest state prison and the state's jails hold three times more people with serious mental illnesses than the state hospitals do. The problem is so bad that in 2011, a Virginia Beach sheriff offered to transfer part of his jail budget to the mental-health system to try to get some of the sick people out of his institution and into proper care. Last year, the son of Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) stabbed his father before killing himself. Barely 24 hours earlier, he'd seen mental-health professionals under an emergency custody order due to his deteriorating mental state, but he was released because no hospital beds were available.

Charts: mental health spending
Tim Luddy

The obvious solution is to create more hospital beds for treating the mentally ill, but the TAC recognizes that in the current political climate, this isn't going to happen any time soon. So they've offered some sensible interim recommendations. Among them is allowing jails and prison staff to treat mentally ill people with medication against their will. It sounds awful and in the context of a prison, potentially a tool for abuse, and TAC's recommendation is that involuntary medication should be heavily regulated. But many of the sickest mentally ill jail inmates don't recognize that they're sick, and thus, they're unable to seek the help they need to get better. Forcing medication to help people get better seems like a more reasonable alternative to letting them gouge their eyes out.

Another more creative solution is to expand the use of Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), a court-ordered outpatient treatment that keeps people out of jail in the first place. AOT allows the mentally ill to live in the community—so long as they stay on their meds. Violating the court order can result in a participant's being involuntarily committed to a hospital. The results in some states have been promising. A pilot project in Nevada County, California, cut jail time for mentally ill people in the program from 521 days to 17; a North Carolina study of people in AOT found a reduction in arrests from 45 percent to 12 percent. These programs seem a lot more sane, and cost-effective, than putting every homeless person hearing voices in jail.