Political MoJo

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)

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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.

The War on Voting May Have Swung These 4 Races

| Thu Nov. 6, 2014 3:12 PM EST

In several races around the country on Tuesday, the victors won by razor-thin margins. Many of these races were in states that had recently enacted voting restrictions expected to depress turnout amongst minorities, young voters, and the poor, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Brennan Center. No one knows how many of the newly disenfranchised may have voted. Nevertheless, the report's author Wendy Weiser notes, "[I]n several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement." Here's look at the numbers in some of those elections, all via Brennan:
 

Kansas Governor: Republican Gov. Sam Brownback got 33,000 more votes than his Democratic challenger Paul Davis.

In 2011, Kansas implemented a requirement that voters provide documentation of citizenship to vote, and just before the 2012 election, the state enacted a strict photo ID law.

More than 24,000 Kansas voters tried to register this year, but couldn't because of the state's proof of citizenship law. In addition, it's estimated that the state's photo ID law reduces turnout by about 2 percent, or 17,000 voters.
 

North Carolina Senate: Republican House state speaker Thom Tillis beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by 48,000 votes.

In 2013, North Carolina enacted a law—which Tillis helped write—limiting early voting and same-day registration, which the Justice Department warned would likely depress minority turnout. During the last midterms in 2010, about 200,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during early voting days that the state's new voting law eliminated.
 

Virginia Senate: Democratic Sen. Mark Warner beat GOPer Ed Gillespie by a margin of just over 12,000 votes.

Voters this year faced a new voter ID law that the state enacted in 2013. This type of law tends to reduce turnout by about 2.4 percent, according to New York Times pollster Nate Silver. Applied to the Virginia Senate race this year, that would mean that turnout was reduced by over 52,000 voters.
 

Florida Governor: Republican Gov. Rick Scott eked out a victory over former Democratic Gov. Charlie Crist by roughly 72,000 votes.

In 2011, Florida reduced the early voting period. The same year, Scott imposed a measure making it nearly impossible to vote for convicts who have already served their time. The move essentially disenfranchised nearly 1.3 million formerly incarcerated Floridians, about one in three of whom are African-American.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 6, 2014

Thu Nov. 6, 2014 11:45 AM EST

A US Marine returns for a homecoming event after spending six months in the Pacific region. (DoD photo by Cpl. Scott Reel, US Marine Corps)

Watch Bernie Sanders Perfectly Predict Big Money's Domination This Past Election Day

| Thu Nov. 6, 2014 9:38 AM EST

"If Chevron can roll over you, they and their buddies will roll over every community in America," Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a crowd two weeks ago in Richmond, California where the energy giant was attempting to influence local elections. "You can stand up and beat them will all of their money. You're going to give hope to people all over America that we can control our destiny."

It turns out, Richmond residents were listening. On Tuesday, the town took heed of Sanders' warnings and rejected the slew of candidates backed by Chevron, an outcome many perceived as a dismissal of the energy giant's attempt to control their vote.

But unfortunately for the rest of America, big money interests came out frighteningly successful on Tuesday. In fact, this past midterm election is going down as the most expensive ever and we don't need to remind you of the bloodbath that swept through the country.

Sanders, the sole independent senator in America, sat down with Bill Moyers just days prior to Election Day to condemn billionaire interests and outline what progressives can do to squash out big money's influence for elections to come.

"I think what we have to do, Bill, is lay out an agenda which says we are going to take on the billionaire class," Sanders told Moyers. "You know what? We're going to overturn Citizens United. We're going to move to public funding of elections so these guys don't buy elections."

Watch the clip below for more:

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If Millennials Had Voted, Last Night Would Have Looked Very Different

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 5:13 PM EST

The GOP’s big Election Day victory may have a lot to do with who didn’t show up at the polls—and one of the groups that stayed home at a record rate were young people. According to an NBC News exit poll, the percentage of voters aged 60 or older accounted for almost 40 percent of the vote, while voters under 30  accounted for a measly 12 percent. Young people’s share of the vote is typically smaller in midterm elections, but the valley between age groups in 2014 is the largest the US has seen in at least a decade.

NBC News

And that valley made a huge difference for Democrats, because younger voters have been trending blue. Some 55 percent of young people who did turn up voted for Dems compared to 45 percent of those over 60.

An interactive predictor on the Fusion, the news site targeted at millennials, indicated how Democrats could have gained if young people had shown in greater numbers. Using 2010 vote totals and 2014 polling data, the tool lets users calculate the effect of greater turnout among voters under 30 in several key states.

On Tuesday, according to preliminary exit polls, young voters in Iowa favored Democrats by a slight margin—51 percent—but they made up only 12 percent of the total vote, leaving conservative Republican Joni Ernst the winner. In Georgia, 58 percent of young voters went for Democrat Michelle Nunn, but they made up 10 percent of the total who showed up to cast their ballots. In Colorado, where a sophisticated political machine delivered Democratic wins in 2010, the calculator shows that a full 71 percent of young people voted for Dems in 2010; exit polls indicate that young voters made up 14 percent of the final tally, leaving Mark Udall out in the cold.

If historical voting patterns hold, it's possible that these Democratic leaning millennials will turn out in greater numbers in the future. If so, that will bode well for Dems—as long as these voters don't also become more conservative as they age.

Felix Salmon, Fusion

California Voters Helped Kick Off the Prison Boom. They Just Took a Huge Step Toward Ending It.

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 4:29 PM EST

Voters in the birthplace of mass incarceration just gave it a major blow. With California's passage of Proposition 47, which reclassifies nonviolent crimes previously considered felonies—think simple drug possession or petty theft—as misdemeanors, some 40,000 fewer people will be convicted of felonies each year. Thousands of prisoners could be set free. People with certain kinds of felonies on their records can now apply to have them removed.

The state's Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the reforms will save California hundreds of millions of dollars annually, money that will be reinvested in school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services.

The proposition's passage represents a pendulum swing: Just two decades ago, California overwhelmingly passed a three-strikes ballot initiative that would go on to send people to prison for life for stealing tube socks and other minor offenses. Last night, the state's voters turned back the dial.

The new law requires the savings from reducing prison rolls to be reinvested into other areas that could, in the long-term, further reduce the prison population. Take dropout prevention: Half of the nation's dropouts are jobless, and according to a 2006 study by the Gates Foundation, and they are more than eight times as likely to get locked up.

The same goes for increased funding to aid the mentally ill. In California, the number of mentally ill prisoners has doubled over the last 14 years. Mentally ill inmates in state prisons serve an average of 15 months longer. Lockups have become our country's go-to provider of mental health care: the nation's three largest mental health providers are jails. There are ten times as many mentally ill people behind bars as in state hospitals. Sixteen percent of inmates have a severe mental illness like schizophrenia, which is two and a half times the rate in the early 1980s. Prop 47 will provide more money for mental health programs that have been proven to drop incarceration rates. For example, when Nevada County, California started an Assisted Outpatient Treatment program, average jail times for the mentally ill dropped from 521 days to just 17.

Keeping drug users out of prison and putting more money into drug treatment is probably the most commonsense change that will come out of the measure. Sixteen percent of state prisoners and half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses. Yet there is growing evidence that incarceration does not reduce drug addiction. And while 65 percent of US inmates are drug addicts, only 11 percent receive treatment in prison. Alternatives exist: a pilot project in Hawaii suggested that drug offenders given probation over being sent to prison were half as likely to be arrested for a new crime and 70 percent less likely to use drugs.

California's vote comes at a time when it seems more and more Americans are questioning how often—and for how long—our justice system incarcerates criminals. Last year, a poll of, yes, Texas Republicans showed that 81% favored treatment over prison for drug offenders. The passage of Prop 47 is yet another example that prison reform is no longer a partisan issue. The largest single backer of the ballot measure was Bradley Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative multimillionaire who has been a major financial supporter of Republicans and Karl Rove's American Crossroads. His donation of $1.3 million was second only to contributions from George Soros's Open Society Policy Center.

The passage of Prop 47 might inspire campaigners to put prison on the ballot in other states. It might also push lawmakers to realize they can ease the penal code on their own without voters skewering them for letting nonviolent people out of prison—and keeping them out. 

Obama Addresses Midterm Election Results

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 1:55 PM EST

Update: President Obama has concluded his press conference. It was the second longest of his presidency. Here is a transcript from the Washington Post.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to discuss the results of the midterm elections this afternoon. To briefly recap: Having seized the Senate for the first time in eight years, Republicans now control both houses of Congress. They also scored a handful of key governor races. To top it off, a new age of the McConnellsance has been all but solidified.

How will the president frame the bloodbath that was Election Day 2014? A shellackin'? A whoopin'? Tune in at 2:50 PM (EST) to find out.

2014 Bright Spot: South Dakota County Named for Judge Who Pushed Out Indians Changes Its Name

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:18 PM EST

Former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds easily won the South Dakota Senate race on Tuesday, taking advantage of a split field that included progressive Democrat Rick Weiland and an iconoclastic ex-GOP senator, Larry Pressler. Weiland had hoped that American Indian voters, boosted by expanded voting access on reservations, would push him over the top, just as they did with Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) in 2002. That didn't happen.

Shannon County, which includes much of the Pine Ridge Reservation, voted overwhelmingly for Weiland (he took 81 percent of that vote). But turnout dropped from its 2012 level, and the race wasn't close enough for votes on the reservation to matter. There was a silver lining, though: 2,161 residents voted to change the county's name. Shannon County was named for former Dakota Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Peter Shannon, whose principle accomplishment was to help kick American Indians off their land in the 1890s. The new name: Oglala Lakota County, after the tribe that calls the reservation home.

No word on how many of the no voters were named "Shannon."