Political MoJo

Rand Paul's Latest Attention-Grabbing Ploy: Shooting the Tax Code

| Wed Sep. 16, 2015 3:04 PM EDT

Sen. Rand Paul really doesn't like the tax code, and presumably also isn't thrilled about his performance in the polls. Evidently, the Republican presidential candidate from Kentucky figured it would be best to kill two birds with one stone and tweeted this video this afternoon.

We've seen Paul take a chainsaw to the tax code before, but the day of the second GOP debate calls for an upping of the ante. Does it matter that those boxes he's emptying clips into appear to be just unopened packs of printer paper and not the tax code? Or that this is a cry for attention from someone who is polling at a meager 3 percent, according to recent CBS polling data? Of course not. I mean, just look at him:

With any luck, next week he'll move on to pyrotechnics.

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President Obama Comes Out in Support of Teen Arrested for Homemade Clock

| Wed Sep. 16, 2015 1:19 PM EDT

On Monday, a 14-year-old high school student in Texas was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. School and police officials sprung into action after they became convinced that Ahmed Mohamed's clock was a hoax bomb, and actually arrested him—despite the teenager's repeated insistence that his invention was just a clock. Many have taken to social media to lend their support to Mohamed, who remains suspended.

Joining the wave on Wednesday was none other than President Barack Obama, who just tweeted the following:

Obama's comment joins a chorus of supporters, including Hillary Clinton, who earlier today tweeted for Ahmed to "stay curious and keep building."

Republican presidential hopefuls, however, remain silent. So please, Jake Tapper, broach the topic during tonight's GOP debate. As our own Kevin Drum explains, it might even give GOP candidates a shot at demonstrating that unlike their party's current front-runner, "occasionally they care about obvious bigotry like this." 

This Talented 14-Year-Old Made a Clock. So His School Got Him Arrested and Suspended.

| Wed Sep. 16, 2015 10:17 AM EDT

Update, September 16, 2:15 p.m.: President Obama weighed in on the controversy, lending his support to Ahmed Mohamed by inviting him to visit the White House.

The hashtag #IStandWithAhmed was the No. 1 trending Twitter item in the United States on Wednesday morning, after a 14-year-old student at Irving MacArthur High School in Texas was arrested on Monday for bringing a homemade clock to school. School officials said they suspected that Ahmed Mohamed's clock was a bomb.

This is despite the fact that the ninth grader repeatedly told both teachers and the police that his project was not, in fact, a weapon. That didn't stop the police from arresting him anyway. The Dallas Morning News reports that the police were even contemplating charging Mohamed with bringing a hoax bomb to school.

Mohamed, who has long had a strong interest in science and robotics, was led out of school in handcuffs and suspended for three days.

"An officer and the principal came in and took me up, and they took me to a room filled with five officers," Mohamed explains in the video below, posted by the Dallas Morning News. "They interrogated me and searched through my stuff and took my tablet and my invention."

"Later that day, I was taken to a juvenile detention center, where they searched me, they took fingerprints and mug shots of me, and they searched me until my parents came and I got to leave the building," he added.

Police spokesperson James McLellan said that although the student repeatedly maintained to officials that the clock was just a clock, not a bomb, "there was no broader explanation" for it.

But as his father tells the Dallas Morning News, Mohamed "just wants to invent good things for mankind, but because his name is Mohamed and because of September 11, I think my son got mistreated."

The newspaper reports, "He's vowed never to take an invention to school again." Hours after #IStandWithAhmed started trending on Wednesday, Mohamed appeared to weigh in on social media to express gratitude for the outpouring of support.

Going to Prison Is Really Expensive—for You and Your Family

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 5:02 PM EDT

For felons, a stint behind bars is financially costly. But, as a new report suggests, those costs often extend to the families they leave behind. 

Roughly two-thirds of families of convicts had trouble meeting their basic needs as a result of their relatives' time behind bars, according to a new national survey of 1,080 family members and former inmates. The survey was conducted by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an Oakland-based nonprofit focused on racial and economic justice issues, along with a coalition of advocacy groups. 

Incarceration, the report states, "reinforces economic stress on impoverished families and limits the economic mobility of both formerly incarcerated people and their families."

Families of convicts spent an average of $13,607 on court-related costs.

It turns out that the financial burden of incarceration disproportionately falls on women in the family—from spouses to grandmothers. Nearly half of the people surveyed who went to prison contributed at least half of the total household income before their conviction. What's more, the report found that household incomes generally didn't return to their previous levels once the family member returned home. Ex-convicts often have trouble finding work, leaving them to resort to low-paying jobs to support families. At least 60 percent of former inmates remained jobless a year after their release, and 26 percent could not find work five years after their release.

Former inmates often struggle to find housing, since a criminal record bars them from government-subdsidized housing, forcing them to rely on family members. And while 67 percent of former inmates surveyed hoped to return to school after their release, only 27 percent actually did.

The high costs associated with the legal system put a considerable strain on low-income families, especially those of color. Forty-four percent of black women are related to someone in prison, and black men are more than six times as likely as white men to be imprisoned. Families on average spent $13,607 on court-related costs, such as attorney fees and court fees—one-third of the median household income nationwide and just above the poverty line threshold for a single person. That doesn't account for the costs of maintaining contact with the family members behind bars, whether through phone calls or visits. All told, the report found, these costs helped drive more than one-third of the families surveyed into debt. 

Survey respondents also reported experiencing "negative health impacts" because of their family member's incarceration and described moments of "depression, anxiety, chronic stress, and other chronic health issues," according to the report.

"One interaction with the criminal justice system can snowball into leaving you in debt that you can't get out of," said Azadeh Zohrabi, a national campaigner with the Baker Center. "Everything just keeps adding on and adding on."

More Americans Have Been Shot to Death in the Last 25 Years Than Have Died in Every War

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

On Monday, yet another deadly shooting—this time at Mississippi's Delta State University—made national news. At least one person was killed, and as of Monday night, the suspect had not been apprehended.

This chart, pulled from an unrelated Center for American Progress report published on Monday, provides timely context on the prevalence of gun deaths in the United States. The chart tallies gun accidents, suicides, and murders, and shows that the number of gun deaths in the United States since 1989 exceeds the number of American combat fatalities in 239 years of US history—from the Revolutionary War to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Note: The military total pictured in the chart below represents only the number of American military killed in battle. The absolute total of US military killed in wartime since 1776 is higher, at more than 1.1 million, according to estimates from the Department of Veterans Affairs.)

Here's how the numbers shake out:

Center for American Progress

The report does not just focus on gun violence, but looks at the positions of the current group of Republican presidential hopefuls on a number of conservative mainstay issues, such as immigration, climate science, and taxes. Titled "Right of Reagan," the report uses former President Ronald Reagan, considered by many to be a model of conservatism, as a benchmark for measuring the extremism of many of the candidates. It notes that while Reagan opposed the National Rifle Association on several issues, including background checks and an assault weapons ban, many of the top GOP contenders have been highly rated by the NRA for their unwavering opposition to gun control.

Most GOP candidates oppose closing loopholes in the background check system—loopholes that "enable criminals to evade the system and purchase guns online, at gun shows, in parking lots, and just about anywhere else," write the report's authors. Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, the current GOP front-runner, said this summer that he opposes expanding background checks, though in his 2000 book he wrote that he supported an assault weapons ban and longer waiting periods for gun purchases. Siding with the NRA is a common strategy among the candidates, the report notes: The powerful gun lobby group is one "that many Republicans dare not cross."

This post has been updated.

These Schools Saddling Students With Tons of Debt Aren’t the Ones You Expected

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 6:16 PM EDT

The student loan crisis may bring to mind 22-year-old graduates from four-year colleges trying to figure out how to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And while this image may have been accurate before the recession, today's reality is more complicated: According to a recent report released by the Brookings Institution, the rise in federal borrowing and loan defaults is being fueled by smaller loans to "non-traditional borrowers," or students attending for-profit universities and, to a lesser extent, community colleges.

As Mother Jones has reported in the past, compared with four-year college graduates, nontraditional borrowers are poorer, older, likely to drop out, and, if they do graduate, unlikely to face bright career prospects. The median for-profit university grad owes about $10,000 in federal loans but makes only about $21,000 per year.

The report, based on newly released federal data on student borrowing and earnings records, shows just how much the economics of higher education have transformed since the recession. In 2000, the 25 colleges whose students owed the most federal debt were primarily public or nonprofit, with New York University taking the lead. By 2014, 13 of the top 25 were for-profit universities. In the same period, the amount of student debt nearly quadrupled to surpass $1.1 trillion, and the rate of borrowers who defaulted on loans doubled.

So what happened? During the recession, students poured into colleges to make themselves more marketable in a crummy economy. Community colleges, depleted from plunging state tax revenues, couldn't expand to account for this exodus from the job market, so many students—and their loans—ended up at the quickly expanding for-profit universities, which promise short courses in tangible skills.

But students graduating from these colleges have notoriously dim job opportunities—some of the colleges have shut down in recent years after Department of Education probes found them to target low-income students and misrepresent the likelihood of finding a job post-graduation. So with the subsequent influx of students back into the job market—and, for many of them, into low-wage work or unemployment—thousands are stuck with debt.

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Does Donald Trump Send His Own Tweets? An Investigation

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 2:51 PM EDT

Donald Trump tweets a lot. He's pretty good at it too! Personally, I love his Twitter account. It's a mix of insanity and self-promotion and insanity and, well, self-promotion. But it's endearing!

I've always assumed that Trump sends his own tweets. This is not because Twitter is a holy place and everyone sends their own tweets, but his account tweets so many weird things that I figured he couldn't have a professional ghost tweeter at the helm. That person would never let him send half the things he sends. But then a few weeks ago my colleague Ian Gordon pointed me to a Washington Post profile of his media handler, Hope Hicks, which had me in tears:

On his plane, Trump flips through cable channels, reads news articles in hard copy, and makes offhanded comments. He's throwing out his signature bombastic, sometimes offensive tweets. Hicks takes dictation and sends the words to aides somewhere in the Trump empire, who send them out to the world.

Dictating is still tweeting in a sense, but it really isn't the same. This means he's not scrolling through his timeline, checking his mentions, having the full Twitter experience. He's broadcasting.

Last night, however, the Wall Street Journal said that Trump is, in fact, tweeting:

Mr. Trump doesn't use a computer. He relies on his smartphone to tweet jabs and self-promotion, often late into the night, from a chaise lounge in his bedroom suite in front of a flat-screen TV.

Now it's possible that it's a combination of both: Sometimes he dictates, and sometimes he tweets.

While this is an answer, it begs a new question: How much of his tweets are his? To figure this one out, we put on our social-media detective hats and took a trip to Twitonomy.com.

Since April 23, @realDonaldTrump has tweeted 3,197 times. (Twitter's API limits how many tweets analytics tools can access, so we can't go further back than that.)


A majority of those tweets (1,707) have come from Twitter for Android. Another 1,245 have come from Twitter.com. Ninety-nine have come from a BlackBerry, and another 99 have come from an iPhone.


From the above WSJ article, we know Trump doesn't use a computer, so Twitter.com is out. Those are being done by someone else. The question is: What smartphone is Trump using? Once upon a time, Trump made his dissatisfaction with the iPhone very clear when he demanded that Apple manufacture a larger screen. This is something Apple ended up doing with the iPhone 6 and the still larger iPhone 6+. It's unclear if this enticed Trump back into the fold. There are some massive smartphones out there! Maybe he has a Galaxy Note 5.

An email to the Trump campaign was not immediately returned. But a second Washington Post article tells us that Trump does in fact tweet from an iPhone.

So, if that is accurate, only 3 percent of Donald Trump's last 3,197 tweetsat mostactually came from his fingers. (Possibly less if one of his aides also uses an iPhone.) The rest were apparently dictated or, in the case of the Nazi image, sent out by an intern. He's obviously a busy person (and old, at that), so I understand why he doesn't send all his own tweets. But still, it takes some of the magic away.

Below are some more charts from Twitonomy about Trump's tweets:


Rick Santorum Doesn't Know What to Focus on During Wednesday's Debate

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 1:16 PM EDT

Today, Rick Santorum sent me an urgent email. He needed my advice! So of course, I had to open the email to see how I could help. It turns out that Santorum, one of the back-of-the-pack 2016 GOP contenders, was soliciting suggestions on what he should focus on during the GOP presidential debate on Wednesday. Oddly, this seemed to indicate he doesn't have a strategy of his own.

He wrote:


I clicked on the links and found that Santorum was offering a poll giving his supporters a chance to tell him what he should concentrate on when it's his time to speak during the debate. The list of possibilities included "fighting radical Islam," dissing Common Core, and combatting "immoral government spending." (The website incorrectly stated that the debate is Thursday.)

I picked stopping radical Islam, hoping that once I'd voted, I could see the results of the poll. Alas, I was immediately directed to a donation page. I'll have to wait until Thursday—er, Wednesday—to see if Santorum takes my advice. But for now he deserves credit for a new campaign tactic: crowd-sourcing debate planning.

Shooting Reported at Delta State University

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 1:02 PM EDT

Update: September 15, 2015, 8:10 a.m.: Authorities say the suspected shooter, Shannon Lamb, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Update: September 14, 2015, 3:30 p.m.: The victim has been identified as history professor Ethan Schmidt, according to Bolivar County Deputy Coroner Murray Roark.

One person is dead after a shooting at Delta State University in Mississippi, the school confirmed on Monday. The Clarion-Ledger reports the victim is a professor of the school. Approximately 4000 students attend the school in Cleveland, Miss.

As of this time, the shooter remains at large and the school is under lockdown.

This is a breaking news post. We will update with more information as it becomes available.

California Is About to Fix Democracy

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 12:59 PM EDT

On Thursday, California's Senate advanced a new reform bill that would automatically register all state residents to vote when they apply or renew their driver licenses.

Residents will also be able to opt out of automatic registration.

The 24-15 vote, which follows the Assembly's approval in June, now awaits the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to adopt the measure. If signed, California will become the second state in the country to have automatic voter registration, after Oregon.

Supporters of the bill say it would dramatically increase voter turnout in the state. Secretary of State Alex Padilla reminded his fellow lawmakers on Thursday that nearly 6.7 million California residents remain unregistered, despite being eligible to do so.

"We ought to do anything and everything possible to ensure that people participate," Padilla said ahead of the vote.

In March, Oregon became the first state to pass an automatic registration law. Soon after that, lawmakers in 17 states proposed similar measures. While speaking to an audience in Texas back in June, Hillary Clinton announced her support for universal automatic registration.

California Republicans voted against the bill, citing warnings of potential voter fraud. However, such claims have been overwhelmingly disproved. Restrictive voting laws, as demonstrated in the last midterm elections, have been found to create significant obstacles that prevent minorities and the poor from voting.