Political MoJo

Did Budget Cuts Hamper Response to Ebola and Enterovirus? Democrats Push for Hearing

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 11:25 AM EDT

Yesterday the Ranking Members of the Labor, Heath and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee called for a hearing to examine how budget cuts may have led to not only the Ebola epidemic, but also the proliferation of Enterovirus D68, a rapidly spreading pediatric respiratory disease that has sickened 500 children in 42 states across the US.

Members of the subcommittee, which oversees the funding for two primary federal public health agencies—the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health—penned a letter to the subcommittee chairman, Congressman Jack Kingston, detailing the effects budget cuts have had on response efforts:

"As you know, our subcommittee has been forced to make difficult choices due to our constrained budget environment over the past four years. That has resulted in the purchasing power of the NIH being reduced by 10 percent over the last four years. Our public health infrastructure at the CDC and HHS has also been forced to make do with less. CDC's program that supports our state and local public health professionals who are working on the front lines to contain this current Ebola epidemic has been cut by 16 percent over the last four years after adjusting for inflation. The program at HHS that helps hospitals be ready to contain deadly epidemics like Ebola and prepare for patient surges from outbreaks like Entereovirus D68 has been reduced by 44 percent over the same period."

Congress is currently in recess, not scheduled to reconvene until after the November elections. But, with one confirmed death from Ebola in the US and new reports about potential diagnoses coming in, they are calling for answers now.

"While we may disagree on the merits and the necessity of these cuts we have a responsibility to ensure that CDC, NIH and the other public health agencies under our jurisdiction have sufficient resources to protect the public health and are taking the appropriate actions today to address it. When Congress returns from the November elections we will have to determine the funding necessary for these agencies to respond to these public health cruses before the Continuing Resolution expires. Therefore, we urge you to convene a Subcommittee hearing this month to gather the information we need to make informed decisions for the remainder of the fiscal year.

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

Thu Oct. 9, 2014 10:57 AM EDT

US Navy sailors wield hoses during a fire and mass casualty drill in preparation for future deployments. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian Flood)

Supreme Court Rules to Keep North Carolina's Extremely Restrictive Voting Law

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 10:12 AM EDT

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled to block an appellate court's effort to reinstate same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in North Carolina, two elements of the state's controversial voting law.

The law was passed soon after the Supreme Court's decision last year to gut crucial elements to the Voting Rights Act of 1965–freeing North Carolina from Justice Department oversight and clearance requirements to institute any voting changes.

A number of key political races are taking place in North Carolina next month, including a close Senate race between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis.

As previously reported by Mother Jones:

This state's recent voting law is among the most restrictive in the nation. It's obviously aimed at keeping black and low-income people from voting. Last summer, Republican legislators took virtually every one of the different individual measures other states have used to obstruct minority voting and packaged them into a single bill. The legislation included a voter ID provision and restrictions on early voting and voter registration drives. It ended same-day voter registration and expanded opportunities for outside "poll watchers" to hassle voters about their eligibility.

More than half of the state's residents and 70 percent of African American voters in North Carolina used early voting in 2008 and 2012. In the last midterm election, 200,000 people voted during the seven days of early voting that have now been eliminated, and 20,000 used same day registration.

“We are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling today,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, in a statement responding to the decision. “Tens of thousands of North Carolina voters, especially African-American voters, have relied on same-day registration, as well as the counting of ballots that were cast out of precinct, for years.”

Republicans tend to support voting laws like the one in North Carolina as a means to ostensibly prevent election fraud. But studies have shown such measures disenfranchise voters, specifically amongst minorities and low-income voters, thus suppressing support for Democrats.

This is as good as time as any to remind you, UFO sightings are more common than voter fraud:

Mother Jones
 

One Weird, Nobel Prize-Winning Trick That Could Halve America's Lighting Bill

| Wed Oct. 8, 2014 3:10 PM EDT

On Tuesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics. In the first of the prestigious awards to be handed out this week, Japanese scientists Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura were honored for their invention of the blue light-emitting diode commonly known as an LED. The $8 million prize "rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind"—and LEDs have crossed the bar.

Invented just twenty years ago, blue LEDs paved the way for many now-common devices, like television LCD-screens, Blu-ray discs, and laser printers. But more importantly, they give off white light in a new, more efficient way, reducing energy consumption the world over.

Blue LED
Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

"I (was) not too sure whether I could win a Nobel Prize," Shuji Nakamura said in a telephone interview after he was informed of the award. "Basically physics, it means that usually people was awarded for the invention of the basic theory. But in my case, not a basic theory. In my case just making the device, you know?"

In traditional electric lighting, most of the energy is lost when it is converted to heat. But LEDs convert electricity directly to light.

The invention was based on over three decades of work and research. And since their discovery in the early '90s, the technology has rapidly improved: state of the art LEDs are now over four times more efficient than florescents and almost 20 times more efficient than regular light bulbs. Because they last so much longer, LEDs are also less wasteful.

Lighting accounts for about a quarter of the world's energy consumption. The Climate Group, a nonprofit pushing LED use worldwide, reports that illumination is responsible for over 1,900 million tons of CO2 emissions every year. They calculate that number could be reduced by up to 70 percent, just by replacing traditional streetlamps with LED powered versions.

Created by The Climate Group

Last year, the US Department of Energy released a report saying LEDs could halve the country's usage of electricity for lighting by 2030. The savings would equal the output of fifty 1,000 megawatt power plants, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as taking 40 million cars off the road—not to mention cutting energy bills by $30 billion.

Of course there are still technical developments and obstacles to be overcome before this vision is realized. But it is not far fetched or far off, thanks to the latest Nobel laureates. To learn more about the science behind their world-changing invention (or to send them a quick congratulatory note!) you can head to the prizes' site.

How Conservative Judges Are Using Jimmy Carter To Screw Over Minority Voters.

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 5:30 PM EDT
Former president Jimmy Carter

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals—all Republican appointees—paved the way for Wisconsin's controversial voter ID law to take effect in time for this year's midterm elections. Civil rights groups had sued the state to block the law, saying that it would likely disenfranchise more than 300,000 voters who didn't possess the proper ID to vote—a disproportionate number of whom were likely to be minority and low-income people. But in justifying the decision, Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that essentially, critics were overhyping the potential for the ID requirement to keep people from voting. After all, he said, the idea has been endorsed by none other than former democratic president Jimmy Carter, a man who has made election integrity the centerpiece of his post-presidential life.

But does Jimmy Carter really support voter ID laws?

The ex-president and former peanut farmer has become a familiar reference point for Republicans looking to shore up support for voter ID laws. Conservative outlets such as Breitbart News frequently invoke Carter as the cheerleader-in-chief for voter ID laws by insisting that even Jimmy Carter supports them.

The Carter riff dates back to 2005, when he co-chaired a bipartisan commission on election reform. One of the many measures proposed by the commission was a requirement for a voter ID. That tidbit from the commission report has wended its way into conservative talking points—and on up to the Supreme Court, which approvingly cited Carter in the 2008 Crawford v. Marion County Election Board 6-to-3 decision upholding Indiana's voter ID law, thereby freeing other states to create their own such laws: “The electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters," the majority opinion stated. Yesterday, Judge Easterbrook—appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan—referenced Carter and that 2008 Supreme Court decision in upholding Wisconsin's ID law.

But what Carter's commission proposed, and what GOP-controlled states have actually passed, diverge greatly. That's one reason why Carter no longer seems to supports voter ID—a fact that Judge Easterbrook missed.

In 2008, while the Supreme Court was considering Crawford, Carter co-wrote a New York Times op-ed with the election commission's co-chair, former Reagan chief of staff, James A. Baker III. The pair recognized the arguments on both sides of the debate, saying that Republicans' concerns about fair elections were valid and that Democrats' fears that ID requirements would disenfranchise voters also had basis in fact. But they reiterated that the 2005 commission had recommended a special voter ID card based on the REAL ID Act of 2005, one that would be issued free by the states and distributed through mobile units that would ensure everyone would get one, even if they didn't drive. Carter and Baker's op-ed also emphasized that any voter ID requirement needed to be phased in slowly. "The Supreme Court can lead the way on the voter ID issue," they concluded. "It can support voter ID laws that make it easy to vote but tough to cheat."

Virtually none of that's happened. For one thing, the REAL ID Act, which would have created something like a national ID card, became hugely controversial and was aggressively opposed by virtually everyone: states, libertarians, evangelical Christians, and even the ACLU. From that point on, however, voter ID became something pushed almost exclusively by Republicans who weren't interested in implementing any of the other recommendations of the bipartisan commission that would have also expanded access to voting. Carter lamented back in 2008, before a flurry of new ID laws took effect, that "the current crop of laws are not being phased in gradually and in a fair manner that would increase—not reduce—voter participation." That's one reason why he seems to have changed his tune on voter ID.

Last year, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Carter spoke on the National Mall and addressed the reality of the voter ID laws that have materialized since he first suggested that they might be a good idea. "I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new ID requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African Americans," Carter said. Today, there isn't much doubt about how Carter feels about voter ID laws like the one in Wisconsin, but that doesn't seem to keep conservative judges from continuing to claim his endorsement for their opinions upholding them.

 

Wisconsin's Strict Voting Law Requiring Photo ID Upheld

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 12:42 PM EDT

On Monday, a federal appeals court upheld Wisconsin's harsh voter ID law, which requires voters to provide specific types of government-issued photo identification at the polls.

A district court judge had struck down the law in April, deeming that it unconstitutionally violated the rights of minorities and low-income voters. The appeals court panel disagreed, ruling that the law, one of the strictest in the country, did not amount to racial discrimination.

The AP has more:

State elections officials are preparing for the photo ID law to be in effect for the Nov. 4 election, even as opponents continue their legal fight. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project asked the U.S. Supreme Court last week to take emergency action and block the law.

Opponents argue that requiring voters to show photo ID, a requirement that had, until recently, been on hold since a low-turnout February 2012 primary, will create chaos and confusion at the polls. But supporters say most people already have a valid ID and, if they don't, there is time to get one before the election.

The ruling gives Republican incumbent Scott Walker a major lift in his fight against Democratic challenger Mary Burke. As The New Republic explains, Republican voters are much more likely to have the required identification.

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Scott Walker Wants to Totally Outlaw Abortion. In This Sneaky New Ad, He Pretends He Doesn't.

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 12:09 PM EDT

In one of the nation's most hotly contested campaigns, incumbent GOP Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has recently been slammed by a new ad blitz highlighting his staunch opposition to abortion rights. He and his campaign consultants are obviously worried about this line of attack: On Monday, they issued one of the slyest ads of the campaign season. Titled "Decision," the ad attempts to depict Walker as a reasonable fellow on this issue. It's a brazenly misleading spot—almost a flip-flop—that is designed to create the false impression that Walker respects a woman's right to choose. The ad is camouflage for the fact that Walker has supported outlawing all abortions, even in cases of rape of incest.

In the ad (seen above), Walker, talking straight into the camera, starts off by saying, "I'm pro-life." He then defends the bill he he signed in 2013 that required women seeking abortions to first obtain an ultrasound and that required abortion providers to possess admitting rights at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. This law—which remains tangled in legal challenges—could greatly restrict abortion access in Wisconsin. But in the ad, Walker characterizes the legislation as a measure "to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options." Then comes the whopper: "The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor." With that statement, a viewer could easily conclude that Walker is personally opposed to abortion but supports the right of a woman to decide (in consultation with a doctor) to choose an abortion.

But Walker is as hard-core on abortion as a conservative anti-choice politician can be. In 2010, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board that he wants to ban abortion entirely—no exceptions for rape or incest. Here's that exchange:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: You oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

Scott Walker: (Nods)

MJS: Tell me if I got that right.

SW: That's correct.

For some reason, Walker neglects to mention this absolutist stance in his new ad. The ad is a clear sign that Walker and his strategists believe that this position won't help him get reelected and that his best shot at winning depends on the most sophisticated of campaign craftiness.

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

Tue Oct. 7, 2014 10:52 AM EDT

Soldiers in the US Army National Guard compete in the Best Warrior Competition in Arkansas. (US Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Maj. Danette Rodesky-Flores)

Here Are All the Dumb Ways Conservatives Are Freaking Out About Ebola in the US

| Tue Oct. 7, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

When a Texas hospital confirmed last week that it was treating a patient for Ebola, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dispatched teams to trace any people the patient had contact with, vowing to stop the disease "in its tracks." But conservative politicians rushed to overreact. Here are a few of the lowlights:

Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and current host of Huckabee: "When the government says it can't keep people out of the US, it means it won't keep people out. And why should we be surprised? We've seen our borders routinely ignored, so if someone with Ebola really wants to come to the US, just get to Mexico, and walk right in."

Bill O'Reilly, host, The O'Reilly Factor: "Thinking ahead, and taking precautions is simply responsible policy. Time and again, the Obama administration has failed to do that...There is no reason on earth, on this earth, that right now we should be accepting anyone in this country with a West African passport."

Donald Trump, conservative gadfly: "Let's not kid ourselves. I mean with the five billion dollar website for Obamacare, which is still not working, frankly, and it's a disaster. And so many other things: Benghazi, wars...IRS."

Rush Limbaugh, host, The Rush Limbaugh Show: "The people in Liberia only went there because they had to get out of here 'cause they were slaves...Therefore if Ebola ends up here, it's only payback, folks...Unfortunately we have elected people in positions of leadership who think this way. The president is one of them."

Mark Levin, host, The Mark Levin Show: "Of course we should profile! It doesn't have to be based on race or anything of that sort. We have a right as a people in this country— it's our right...our country! We have a right to say 'No' temporarily— or permanently— to people coming into this country from certain parts of the world, so that our families, our children, our grandchildren, our society, isn't at risk. That's just natural...and yet the opposite goes on here." 

Michael Savage, host, Savage Nation: "There is not a sane reason to bring infected children into a nation other than to infect the nation. There is not a sane reason to take three or four thousand troops into a hot Ebola zone, without expecting at least one of them to come back with Ebola, unless you want to infect the nation with Ebola.... This actually exceeds any level of treason that I've ever seen."

Michelle Malkin, syndicated columnist: "In the wake of the Ebola scare (not to mention renewed jihadi threats from abroad), worried Americans are heading to the drugstore to stock up on face masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves. New vaccines are in the works for emerging global contagions. Unfortunately, there is no antidote for our government’s blind and deadly diversity worship. Political correctness is a plague on us all."

Glenn Beck, host, The Glenn Beck Program: "You want a reason to have food storage? You want a reason to have gold? You want a reason to have guns? You want a reason to have God? It's called 'Ebola.'"

This Mime Laughing With Refugee Children On The Run From ISIS Is Surreal, Beautiful, And Starkly Human

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 5:06 PM EDT
 
 

As ISIS raises its menacing black flags to the East of Kobane, a Syrian city on the northern border with Turkey where Kurds are battling ISIS and hordes of civilians are evacuating, a mime puts on a show for Syrian refugee children in a scene straight out of Life is Beautiful. The mime, like Robert Benigni as Guido with his son Joshua in a Nazi concentration camp, makes light of a war-torn zone and the ultra-violent killers practically right outside the door by making a few practical jokes.

Reporters on the ground, including Jenan Moussa, have tweeted about ISIS's "booby trapped cars" which exploded in Kobane, street fights, constant shelling and explosions, and the atmosphere of pure terror as night falls in Syria. But just outside the city, children watch and play along with a mime's hand gestures, enraptured. In a second video, the mime plays with a puppet of a small child, and a member of his audience takes the puppet's hand.

A screenshot of Kazim Kizil's video of the mime and puppeteer in Kobane. Kazim Kizil/Facebook

The videos were posted by a Turkish Facebook user, Kazim Kizil, who has been watching and posting about the border area for several days. Kizil's videos give a rare touching, lively insight into a land seized by blood, war, and terror.