Political MoJo

Al Franken Questions Uber Over Privacy

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 11:46 AM EST

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has taken a keen interest in tech policy since coming to Congress. As chairman of a Senate subcommittee that focuses on privacy, technology, and the law, Franken has been one of the more vocal advocates for net neutrality, fought against a proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner, and wondered about the privacy implications of fingerprint scanners on iPhones.

Now Franken has set his sights on Uber, an on-demand car service that uses smartphone technology to match passengers who need rides with available drivers. On Wednesday, Franken wrote a letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick posing a series of questions about how the company handles its users' information and how it plans to treat journalists.

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Jim Webb Wanted to Punch George W. Bush. Now He Wants His Old Job.

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 11:44 AM EST

Jim Webb is running for president. The former secretary of the Navy and Virginia senator launched a presidential exploratory committee on Thursday, becoming the first Democrat to formally dip his toe in the 2016 waters. Webb explained his candidacy in a video that looks like it was filmed by the people who make commercials for personal-injury attorneys:

A Republican for most of his life, Webb endeared himself to Democrats when he switched parties and beat incumbent GOP Sen. George Allen in 2006 by just a few thousand votes. Webb ran that campaign on an anti-Iraq War message, touting his own experience in Vietnam, but may have been pushed across the finish line by Allen, who called a Democratic volunteer "Macaca" (an obscure North African racial slur) at a campaign event.

As a senator he was a bit of an iconoclast, defined mostly by his disdain for Washington (something most senators espouse but rarely act on). His first meeting with President George W. Bush ended with the senator walking away furiously, reportedly on the verge of throwing a punch, after Dubya asked Webb about his son serving in Iraq. He sought to carve out a niche for himself by working for criminal justice reform, but left office before any political momentum developed on the issue. And then he left, after one term, leaving Democrats to defend a purple seat against Allen. His most impressive resume item may be his Navy Cross citation:

On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb's platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.

Webb has at least a few bumps to smooth over, though. He defended the Confederate flag and "the venerable Robert E. Lee" in his book Born Fighting, about the Scots-Irish, and in 1979, he wrote an essay for Washingtonian titled "Why Women Can't Fight"—a spirited case against admitting women into service academies. As a senator from a major coal-producing state, he opposed proposals to combat climate change. And only last month expressed his support for same-sex marriage. Beating an entrenched Republican in Virginia as a centrist in 2006 is one thing—but winning a Democratic presidential nomination requires winning Democratic primary voters.

Exclusive: Jay Leno Cancels Performance at Gun Lobby Trade Show Following Pressure from Newtown Group

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 3:03 PM EST

Update, 7:10 p.m. ET: Late Wednesday, Jay Leno said in a brief phone interview that he had called the National Shooting Sports Foundation to cancel his scheduled performance at the SHOT Show. He also said that he'd spoken with Po Murray of the Newtown Action Alliance to let her know. "I understand it's Newtown, and of course I get it," Leno told Mother Jones. "It's just sometimes, mistakes get made." (Read the original story below):

Gun control advocates aren't laughing about Jay Leno's next move.

On Tuesday, several gun violence-prevention groups called on the comedian to cancel his appearance at January's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT), an annual event put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is based in Newtown, Connecticut. A petition posted by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence accuses Leno of "helping to legitimize a crass commercialism which values profit over human lives" by speaking to this group, which lobbied against the background checks bill in Congress following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The drive is backed by the Campaign to Unload, which pushes for divestment from gun companies, and the Newtown Action Alliance, founded by residents of the Connecticut town who support gun-safety legislation. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which has pushed corporate restaurants and retailers to take a stand against open-carry activists in their stores, has also launched a social media campaign against Leno.

"I'm not sure if Jay Leno has done his research and understands that NSSF is the corporate gun lobby and they spend a significant amount of money to lobby congressional leaders to not pass significant gun reform legislation," says Newtown Action Alliance chairman Po Murray, whose children previously attended Sandy Hook. "It's a disheartening as a Newtown resident to see him make this appearance at the SHOT Show. So we're urging him to cancel his appearance."

Seats for the event, held at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, go for $135 apiece. Leno's publicist did not respond to a request for comment.

Elizabeth Warren to Banks: Prove You Can Protect Customer Data From Hackers

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 6:15 AM EST

Elizabeth Warren is off to a running start in her new leadership role with the Senate Democratic caucus. She called out Walmart for its terrible labor practices. She wrote an op-ed this week warning the president against appointing Wall Street insiders to the Federal Reserve. And Tuesday morning, she called on financial institutions to prove that they can protect customer data from cybercriminals.

Over the past year, cyber attackers have stolen roughly 500 million records from financial institutions, according to federal law enforcement officials. In a joint letter also signed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Warren asked 16 firms—including Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley—for detailed information about cyberattacks they experienced over the past year and how they plan to prevent future breaches.

"The increasing number of cyberattacks and data breaches is unprecedented and poses a clear and present danger to our nation’s economic security," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Each successive cyberattack and data breach not only results in hefty costs and liabilities for businesses, but exposes consumers to identity theft and other fraud, as well as a host of other cyber-crimes."

Warren and Cummings requested the firms provide information on the number of customers that may have been affected by breaches, data security measures the companies have taken in response, the value of the fraudulent transactions connected with the cyber attacks, and who is suspected to have carried them out. The letters also request that IT security officers at each firm brief the lawmakers on how they are protecting their data from cybervillains.

The lawmakers hope to use the information the firms provide to inform new federal cybersecurity legislation. Current cybersecurity law is unclear about when companies are required to notify the government about a data hack. Warren has previously called on Congress to give the Federal Trade Commission more power to regulate data breaches.

The American financial sector is one of the most targeted in the world, according to the FBI and Secret Service officials. The hackers who stole data from JPMorgan Chase earlier this year—compromising information from 76 million households—also targeted 13 other financial institutions, Bloomberg reported last month.

Backstabbing in Hillaryland: Here We Go Again

| Tue Nov. 18, 2014 6:00 AM EST

We've seen this movie before, and it doesn't end well.

On Friday, ABC News published a story about a email listserv maintained by two Democratic operatives: Robby Mook, a former Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton campaign aide, and Marlon Marshall, an Obama White House staffer. The story's title—"EXCLUSIVE: Read the Secret Emails of the Men Who May Run Hillary Clinton's Campaign"—promised a juicy exposé. In reality, the substance of what members posted on this 150-member "secret" listserv, dubbed the "Mook Mafia," was far from explosive. The phrases "smite Republicans mafia-style" and "punish those voters" read badly out of context. But then, who hasn't dashed off a snarky email to friends that you wished you could take back and touch up a little?

The real news isn't that Mook and Marshall had a listserv for fellow Democratic operatives. It's that someone on the listserv leaked its contents in an effort to hurt Mook's chances of becoming the manager of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. In other words, the Clinton '16 effort has yet to officially launch and already the backstabbing and infighting has begun.

It's shades of Hillary '08 all over again.

Internal battles notoriously plagued Clinton's first presidential run. A Washington Post story in March 2008 described the "combustible environment within the Clinton campaign, an operation where internal strife and warring camps have undercut a candidate once seemingly destined for the Democratic nomination."

The story went on:

Many of her advisers are waging a two-front war, one against Sen. Barack Obama and the second against one another, but their most pressing challenge is figuring out why Clinton won in Ohio and Texas and trying to duplicate it. While [chief strategist Mark] Penn sees his strategy as a reason for the victories that have kept her candidacy alive, other advisers attribute the wins to her perseverance, favorable demographics, and a new campaign manager. Clinton won "despite us, not because of us," one said.

The Post published this story after Clinton had won the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries. That is, even in victory, the Clinton camp was divided, its top aides in conflict with one another.

In response to the Post story, Clinton adviser Bob Barnett wrote an email that was later published by The Atlantic:

STOP IT!!!! I have [held] my tongue for weeks. After this morning's WP story, no longer. This makes me sick. This circular firing squad that is occurring is unattractive, unprofessional, unconscionable, and unacceptable…It must stop.

Neither Mark Penn nor Clinton's first choice of campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, lasted the entire campaign. Penn left the campaign after the Wall Street Journal reported that he had lobbied in support of a trade deal with Colombia that Clinton opposed. Solis Doyle was once so close to Clinton that she liked to say, "When I speak, Hillary is speaking." But by the time of her firing, Solis Doyle and Clinton were on such bad terms that Clinton let her go by email.

Even after Penn's departure, as the Atlantic story illustrated, the acrimony continued:

Geoff Garin, the new leader, soon encountered the old problems. Obama remained the front-runner, and Clinton's communications staff disagreed on how to turn back the tide of tough stories. Garin was appalled at the open feuding and leaking. "I don't mean to be an asshole," he wrote in an e-mail to the senior staff. "But…Senator Clinton has given Howard Wolfson both the responsibility and the authority to make final decisions about how this campaign delivers its message." On the strategic front, Garin sided with the coalition opposed to Penn's call to confront Obama, and he had numbers to support his reasoning. Polls showed that a majority of voters now distrusted Clinton.

The strategic leaking of Mook's and Marshall's listserv emails wouldn't have been at all out of place during Clinton's '08 campaign, as her aides bickered and backstabbed their way to defeat against a more cohesive—or at least functional—Obama campaign.

Over the past few years, I have interviewed a number of folks who have worked on various campaigns with Mook, dating back to Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid. I heard nothing but admiration and respect for someone routinely described to me as a smart and honest operative who kept his head down and disliked publicity. He and Obama organizing guru Jeremy Bird helped create Dean's pioneering volunteer-powered ground game in New Hampshire—a model Mook took with him to Clinton's '08 bid and Bird applied to Obama's first presidential run. And in 2013, Mook, using part of the Obama playbook, helped longtime Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe win a tough fight for governor in Virginia. This victory, which impressed the Democratic political class, got people talking about Mook helming a Clinton campaign. But obviously not everyone is keen on that.

It's not known who was behind the Mook email dump. But for Democrats this prankish move raises a troubling question: Is it possible to avoid conflict within Hillaryland? In 2008, Clinton demonstrated she could not head a cohesive, effective, and drama-free operation. Democrats who yearn for her to do better this time might be forgiven for looking at this episode and wondering, here we go again?

Elizabeth Warren's Next Target: Walmart

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 5:22 PM EST

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has it out for Walmart. On Tuesday, the freshman senator will hold an event on Capitol Hill calling out the retail giant for its low wages and terrible employment practices. The briefing will be held a week ahead of the nationwide anti-Walmart protests planned for Black Friday.

Warren will be joined by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.); members of OUR Walmart, a union-backed group helping organize Walmart workers; and representatives from other labor groups. Warren and her colleagues also plan to discuss legislation that could help Walmart employees and other low-wage workers around the country, including measures that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, forbid unpredictable irregular work schedules for part-time workers, and help prevent employers from retaliating against workers who share wage information.

Roughly 825,000 of Walmart's hourly store employees earn less than $25,000 a year. About 600,000 Walmart workers are part-time, and many rely on food stamps and Medicaid. Walmart, the largest private employer in the US, says its average full-time hourly wage is $12.83, though OUR Walmart has calculated it as closer to $9 an hour.

Walmart has retaliated against employees who have protested these low wages. In January, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the company illegally fired, threatened, or disciplined more than 60 workers in 14 states for publicly complaining about wages and working conditions.

OUR Walmart is planning on holding a wave of protests at 1,600 Walmart stores the day after Thanksgiving to call for a $15 minimum wage and more opportunities for full-time hours. Last year, the group held demonstrations at more than 1,200 stores.

"The Walmart economy—a business model where a few profit significantly on the backs of the working poor and a diminishing middle class—perpetuates the income inequality problems that are devastating our country," OUR Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement Monday.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 17, 2014

Mon Nov. 17, 2014 2:57 PM EST

Light armored vehicles fire on targets during a training mission. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan R. Waldman)

1 in Every 30 US Children Is Homeless

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 11:07 AM EST

The number of homeless children in America reached nearly 2.5 million last year, an all-time high, according to a new report released by the National Center on Family Homelessness.

The report, titled "America's Youngest Outcasts" and published Monday, concluded the current population amounts to 1 child out of every 30 experiencing homelessness. From 2012 to 2013, the number of homeless children jumped by 8 percent nationally, with 13 states and the District of Columbia seeing a spike of 10 percent or more.

National Center on Family Homelessness

"The same level of attention and resources has not been targeted to help families and children," co-author of the report and director of the center Carmela DeCandia told the Associated Press. "As a society, we're going to pay a high price, in human and economic terms."

Researchers behind the study cited several major drivers behind the recent surge including high poverty levels, insufficient affordable housing across the country, and traumatic stress experienced by mothers. Different reports have cited 90 percent of homeless mothers have been assaulted by their partners, with children overwhelmingly exposed to similar acts of violence.

According to Monday's report, youth homelessness is particularly problematic in some parts of the South, Southwest, and California:

National Center on Family Homelessness

 

3 Ways Obama's Immigration Executive Action Changes Everything (and One Way It Doesn't)

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 12:19 PM EST

The details of President Barack Obama's much-rumored, much-debated executive action on immigration have been leaked to the press, and the broad outline, according to Fox News and the New York Times, includes deportation relief for upward of 5 million people.

Republicans are already lining up to block the White House's plans, and Obama's successor could go ahead and reverse course in 2017, anyway. Still, here are three reported provisions that could have a dramatic impact on the lives of the United States' 11 million undocumented immigrants:

1. Expansion of DACA, the program for DREAMers: Back in 2012, a Department of Homeland Security directive known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) extended deportation relief to those young immigrants who came to the United States before their 16th birthday and went on to graduate from high school or serve in the US military. As Vox's Dara Lind has reported, the program has been a success for the roughly 600,000 immigrants who received deferred action by June 2014, although just as many are eligible but haven't yet applied. According to the Fox News report, Obama's executive action would move the cutoff arrival date from June 2007 to January 1, 2010, and remove the age limit (31 as of June '12); a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report details how changes to the initial plan could make hundreds of thousands of immigrants DACA-eligible:

Migration Policy Institute, 2014

2. Relief for the undocumented parents of US citizen children: According to the Times, a key part of the executive action "will allow many parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents and no longer worry about being discovered, separated from their families and sent away," a move that would legalize anywhere from 2.5-3.3 million people. The Huffington Post reported in June that more than 72,000 parents of US-born children were deported in fiscal year 2013 alone; of those, nearly 11,000 had no criminal convictions. (One 2013 report estimated that 4.5 million US-born kids have at least one undocumented parent.)

3. Elimination of mandatory fingerprinting program: Under Secure Communities, or S-Comm, immigrants booked into local jails have their fingerprints run through a Homeland Security database to check their legal status. (If they're unauthorized, they can be held by local authorities until the feds come pick them up.) The program, which began under President George W. Bush and was greatly expanded under Obama, has long come under fire for quickly pushing people toward detention and potential deportation, as well as for contributing to racial profiling and even the detention of thousands of US citizens. According to one 2013 report, S-Comm led to the deportation of more than 300,000 immigrants from fiscal years 2009 to 2013.

There are other reported parts to Obama's plan, including hundreds of thousands of new tech visas and even pay raises for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. Still, given this year's border crisis, it's notable that the president's plan seems to make little to no mention of the folks who provoked it: the unaccompanied children and so-called "family units" (often mothers traveling with small kids) who came in huge numbers from Central America and claimed, in many cases, to be fleeing violence of some sort.

The administration has been particularly adamant about fast-tracking the deportation of those family unit apprehensions, whose numbers jumped from 14,855 in fiscal 2013 to 68,445 in fiscal 2014, a 361 percent increase. Meanwhile, ICE has renewed the controversial practice of family detention (a complaint has already been filed regarding sexual abuse in the new Karnes City, Texas, facility) and will soon open the largest immigration detention facility in the country, a 2,400-bed family center in Dilley, Texas—just as Obama starts rolling out what many immigration hardliners will no doubt attack as an unconstitutional amnesty.

This post has been updated.

These 7 Conservatives Would Impeach Obama Over Immigration

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 6:00 AM EST

As early as next week, President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order that would allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country without facing deportation. Not unexpectedly, Republicans are outraged, and some have hinted that the only way to stop the plan is impeachment. Here are seven conservative politicians and pundits who have preemptively dropped the I-word in response to Obama's rumored immigration policy:

Sarah Palin: "Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, 'no mas.'"

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa): "We know there is the 'I' word in the Constitution that none of us want to say or act on… In this context, everything is on the table. We cannot have a president of the United States that believes that he can make up the law as he goes."

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.): "[Obama] either enforces the laws on the books—as he was hired and elected to do—or he leaves Congress no option… This is not our choice, this is the president's choice and I would advise him to uphold the law on the books."

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas): "Well, impeachment is indicting in the House and that's a possibility. But you still have to convict in the Senate and that takes a two-thirds vote. But impeachment would be a consideration, yes sir."

Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano: "If [Obama] tells Homeland Security and Border Patrol, 'Look the other way when illegals come in,' that is violating his oath because it's a failure to enforce the law… so if the practical effect of his executive order is the opposite of what the law requires, I hate to say this—Republicans don't want to do it, and I understand why—he's a candidate for impeachment."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.): "We've got three years to get this guy out… Hopefully he—well, let me put it this way, I think he probably has been engaged in these unconstitutional approaches that may make his own ability to stay in office a question."

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas): "For all I know, Obama is preparing to process five million illegal immigrant kids and teenagers into the United States… He wants us to impeach him now, before the midterm election because his senior advisers believe that is the only chance the Democratic Party has to avoid a major electoral defeat. Evidently Obama believes impeachment could motivate the Democratic Party base to come out and vote."

Bonus: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) says she would also move to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Jonson: "I would nominate [impeaching] the head of Homeland Security who will execute the laws on the border."