Political MoJo

Watch Nancy Pelosi Explain Why Questions About Her Stepping Down Are Blatantly Sexist

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 4:35 PM EST

Yet again, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was forced to defend her decision to remain in leadership following the disappointing midterm elections, a position she says she would not have to uphold if it weren't for being a woman.

Speaking at her weekly press conference on Thursday, Pelosi schooled reporters with the following:

"What I said to the most recent person who asked 'Well you’ve lost now three times. Why don’t you step aside?' And I said, "What was the day that any of you said to Mitch McConnell, when they lost the Senate three times in a row, lost making progress in taking back the Senate three times in a row, ‘Aren’t you getting a little old, Mitch? Shouldn’t you step aside?’ Have you ever asked him that question?"

This is far from the first time Pelosi, who at the age of 74 is just two years older than McConnell, has been the target of sexist inquiries from the media. In 2012, Luke Russert asked Pelosi the very same question about stepping down to make room for younger leadership, to which Pelosi slammed as "offensive."

Pelosi's defense today comes in the the midst of similar jabs aimed at Hillary Clinton, after Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested in a Politico interview Clinton may be too old to run for president.

Watch below:

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Justice Scalia Goes to Conservative Legal Event, Gives Boring Speech

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 2:04 PM EST
Justice Antonin Scalia

The Federalist Society kicked off its national convention Thursday in Washington, DC, with a speech from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who is one of two justices headlining the event. The other is Justice Samuel Alito, who is on tap for the conservative legal group's big dinner Thursday night.

For years, liberal good-government types have been criticizing Scalia and the other conservative justices for participating in Federalist Society functions. The events also serve as fundraisers for the organization, which promotes conservative positions in the nation's ongoing legal debates. Critics contend that the involvement of Scalia et. al. violates various legal ethics codes. In 2011, for instance, Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas attended the annual dinner associated with the Federalist Society's national convention—hours after the Supreme Court decided whether to take up the main challenges to the Affordable Care Act. And it just so happened that the law firms representing the Obamacare challengers were sponsors of that dinner and that lawyers from those firms were among the guests rubbing shoulders with Scalia and Thomas.

Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, said at the time, "This stunning breach of ethics and indifference to the code belies claims by several justices that the court abides by the same rules that apply to all other federal judges. The justices were wining and dining at a black-tie fundraiser with attorneys who have pending cases before the court. Their appearance and assistance in fundraising for this event undercuts any claims of impartiality, and is unacceptable."

But such complaints have not caused Scalia and his conservative brethren to rethink their cozy relationship with the Federalist Society, and this morning the group could once again boast a big get—the often fiery justice who is a hero within conservative legal circles. But if any of the conventioneers were hoping for fireworks from Scalia, they were sorely disappointed. Rather than opine on Hobby Lobby and religious freedom or the Affordable Care Act and government overreach, Scalia spent 30 minutes at the dais lecturing on the history of Magna Carta—"No definite article!" he insisted—and its influence on American law.

Scalia mostly stuck to legal issues from the 13th century. He might well have been a curator from the Library of Congress, where the Magna Carta is currently on exhibit (sponsored, incidentally, by the Federalist Society). Scalia ended his speech by urging everyone to go see the 800-year-old document.

In years past, the conference has drawn an all-star lineup of firebrand conservative politicians and aspiring presidential candidates: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). But this year, the only politician of note on the schedule is Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R). The rest of the usual suspects are basking in the glow of the GOP's Election Day victories and preparing for their takeover of the Senate. As for Scalia, if attendees want to see him let loose, they might have to wait for his next Supreme Court opinion.

US Police Brutality Is Bad. This Giant Western Country's Is Way Worse.

| Wed Nov. 12, 2014 6:34 PM EST
Sao Paulo police officers confront student protesters during a strike in August.

The high-profile killings of figures like Ferguson, Missouri's Michael Brown have stirred a national conversation about police brutality as of late. But it turns out the Americas' second biggest economy struggles with this issue on a much greater scale: Brazil's police killed more than 11,000 civilians between 2008 and 2013; on average, a staggering six people every day. This jaw-dropping number was released today in a Brazilian Public Security Forum (BPSF) report which rounds up statistics illuminating the country's struggles with public safety. To put the figure in context, it took police in the United States 30 years to kill the same number of civilians, despite the fact that there are at least 50 percent more people in the US.

Sao Paulo in particular has seen an increase in civilian deaths at the hands of the authorities. Between January and September of 2014, officers killed 478 people during confrontations, twice as many victims as during that same period last year. The uptick parallels an increasingly lawless criminal culture, say authorities. "Rather than turn themselves in to the police, criminals prefer to open fire," Sao Paulo police department's Jose Vicente da Silva told the AP. "That is what is causing the increase."

"Unfortunately, we are a country where police kill more and die more."

Many of Brazil's police killings happen in the predominately black favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where there's been a heightened military presence, in part to try and pacify the area for the World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Brazilian journalist Juliana Barbassa, who's writing a book on the issues feeding Brazil's massive national protests, described this tension when she spoke with my colleague Ian Gordon in July. When more police entered Rio's slums, "at the beginning there was this real hope that they could do something," Barbassa said; for one, break up the drug rings controlling the community. But then "you've got military police fully armed, in your community 24/7, regulating things like when you can have parties—it's not without its serious problems." Barbassa explained that the city has seen some "very ugly cases of abuse of power," including authorities torturing and killing civilians and then hiding the bodies. "To see these things happen, with this freshly trained, specifically chosen group of officers, really helped unravel a little bit the expectations and hopes that people had."

While the BPSF report paints a grim portrait of police use of force in Brazil, it also reveals how officers themselves suffer at the hands of the country's rampant violence. While fewer officers died on duty in 2013 than in 2012, many more were killed (from non-natural causes) on their off-hours: In 2013, 369 policemen perished while off-duty, compared to 191 just two years earlier. BPSF researchers note that it's tricky to pinpoint exactly why officers are being targeted outside of work, but in some parts of the country, killing a cop is a gang rite of passage.

"Unfortunately, we are a country where police kill more and die more," BPSF's researchers write. They later conclude: "Death should be understood as taboo, and not an acceptable outcome of security policy."

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)

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.

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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.

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.