Political MoJo

GOP Candidate: Mitt Romney's "47 Percent" Remarks Are Even More True Today

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 11:10 AM EDT

A GOP House candidate in Nevada has been caught on tape telling a crowd at a fundraiser that Mitt Romney was right to say that 47 percent of the country mooch off the government. Cresent Hardy, the Republican candidate for Nevada's 4th district, added that since 2012, when Romney made his remarks, the "47 percent" has only grown.

"Can I say that without getting in trouble, like Governor Romney?" Hardy said, at a fundraiser held last Thursday at the Falcon Ridge Golf Club. "The 47 percent is true. It's bigger now."

Hardy's remarks refer to the leaked video of Mitt Romney telling donors, behind closed doors, that 47 percent of the country are people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." The video was released by Mother Jones.

At last week's fundraiser, Hardy reportedly blamed the country's troubles on women, minorities, and young voters, since those groups voted for the president in large numbers. Jon Ralston, a top Nevada political commentator, reported Hardy's comments on his show last night.

This is not the first time Hardy has disparaged voters on the campaign trail. A video posted by the Nevada Democratic Party in February shows Hardy claiming that people in "welfare districts" drive Escalades—a callback to the "welfare queens" trope of the 1980s.

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"This Is What America Is Prepared to Do": Watch President Obama Speak to the UN

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 10:45 AM EDT

On Wednesday, President Obama delivered remarks before gathered world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Here are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: we come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.

Around the globe, there are signposts of progress. The shadow of World War that existed at the founding of this institution has been lifted; the prospect of war between major powers reduced. The ranks of member states has more than tripled, and more people live under governments they elected. Hundreds of millions of human beings have been freed from the prison of poverty, with the proportion of those living in extreme poverty cut in half. And the world economy continues to strengthen after the worst financial crisis of our lives.

Today, whether you live in downtown New York or in my grandmother’s village more than two hundred miles from Nairobi, you can hold in your hand more information than the world’s greatest libraries. Together, we have learned how to cure disease, and harness the power of the wind and sun. The very existence of this institution is a unique achievement – the people of the world committing to resolve their differences peacefully, and solve their problems together. I often tell young people in the United States that this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, and to be free to pursue your dreams.

And yet there is a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers, and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces. As we gather here, an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa, and threatens to move rapidly across borders. Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.

Each of these problems demands urgent attention. But they are also symptoms of a broader problem – the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world. We have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries. Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe.

Fellow delegates, we come together as United Nations with a choice to make. We can renew the international system that has enabled so much progress, or allow ourselves to be pulled back by an undertow of instability. We can reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront global problems, or be swamped by more and more outbreaks of instability. For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort. We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs; we choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.

There is much that must be done to meet the tests of this moment. But today I’d like to focus on two defining questions at the root of many of our challenges– whether the nations here today will be able to renew the purpose of the UN’s founding; and whether we will come together to reject the cancer of violent extremism.

First, all of us – big nations and small – must meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms.

We are here because others realized that we gain more from cooperation than conquest. One hundred years ago, a World War claimed the lives of many millions, proving that with the terrible power of modern weaponry, the cause of empire leads to the graveyard. It would take another World War to roll back the forces of fascism and racial supremacy, and form this United Nations to ensure that no nation can subjugate its neighbors and claim their territory.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine challenge this post-war order. Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled. Against the will of the government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed. Russia poured arms into Eastern Ukraine, fueling violent separatists and a conflict that has killed thousands. When a civilian airliner was shot down from areas that these proxies controlled, they refused to allow access to the crash for days. When Ukraine started to reassert control over its territory, Russia gave up the pretense of merely supporting the separatists, and moved troops across the border.

This is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.

These are simple truths, but they must be defended. America and our allies will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. We will reinforce our NATO allies, and uphold our commitment to collective defense. We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.

Moreover, a different path is available – the path of diplomacy and peace and the ideals this institution is designed to uphold. The recent cease-fire agreement in Ukraine offers an opening to achieve that objective. If Russia takes that path – a path that for stretches of the post-Cold War period resulted in prosperity for the Russian people – then we will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges. That’s what the United States and Russia have been able to do in past years – from reducing our nuclear stockpiles to meet our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to cooperating to remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons. And that’s the kind of cooperation we are prepared to pursue again—if Russia changes course.

This speaks to a central question of our global age: whether we will solve our problems together, in a spirit of mutual interests and mutual respect, or whether we descend into destructive rivalries of the past. When nations find common ground, not simply based on power, but on principle, then we can make enormous progress. And I stand before you today committed to investing American strength in working with nations to address the problems we face in the 21st century.

As we speak, America is deploying our doctors and scientists – supported by our military – to help contain the outbreak of Ebola and pursue new treatments. But we need a broader effort to stop a disease that could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific suffering, destabilize economies, and move rapidly across borders. It’s easy to see this as a distant problem – until it isn’t. That is why we will continue mobilizing other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this outbreak, and enhance global health security for the long-term.

America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them. This can only happen if Iran takes this historic opportunity. My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.

America is and will continue to be a Pacific power, promoting peace, stability, and the free flow of commerce among nations. But we will insist that all nations abide by the rules of the road, and resolve their territorial disputes peacefully, consistent with international law. That’s how the Asia-Pacific has grown. And that’s the only way to protect this progress going forward.

America is committed to a development agenda that eradicates extreme poverty by 2030. We will do our part – to help people feed themselves; power their economies; and care for their sick. If the world acts together, we can make sure that all of our children can enjoy lives of opportunity and dignity.

America is pursuing ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions, and we have increased our investments in clean energy. We will do our part, and help developing nations to do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every major power. That’s how we can protect this planet for our children and grandchildren.

On issue after issue, we cannot rely on a rule-book written for a different century. If we lift our eyes beyond our borders – if we think globally and act cooperatively – we can shape the course of this century as our predecessors shaped the post-World War II age. But as we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail such progress: and that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.

Of course, terrorism is not new. Speaking before this Assembly, President Kennedy put it well: “Terror is not a new weapon,” he said. “Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example.” In the 20th century, terror was used by all manner of groups who failed to come to power through public support. But in this century, we have faced a more lethal and ideological brand of terrorists who have perverted one of the world’s great religions. With access to technology that allows small groups to do great harm, they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels – killing as many innocent civilians as possible; and employing the most brutal methods to intimidate people within their communities.

I have made it clear that America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism. Rather, we have waged a focused campaign against al Qaeda and its associated forces – taking out their leaders, and denying them the safe-havens they rely upon. At the same time, we have reaffirmed that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no us and them – there is only us, because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country.

So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.

This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment. Moreover, this campaign against extremism goes beyond a narrow security challenge. For while we have methodically degraded core al Qaeda and supported a transition to a sovereign Afghan government, extremist ideology has shifted to other places – particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where a quarter of young people have no job; food and water could grow scarce; corruption is rampant; and sectarian conflicts have become increasingly hard to contain.

As an international community, we must meet this challenge with a focus on four areas. First, the terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed.

This group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria. Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded, with videos of the atrocity distributed to shock the conscience of the world.

No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.

In this effort, we do not act alone. Nor do we intend to send U.S. troops to occupy foreign lands. Instead, we will support Iraqis and Syrians fighting to reclaim their communities. We will use our military might in a campaign of air strikes to roll back ISIL. We will train and equip forces fighting against these terrorists on the ground. We will work to cut off their financing, and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region. Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition. Today, I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build – not those who destroy.

Second, it is time for the world – especially Muslim communities – to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL.

It is the task of all great religions to accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world. No children – anywhere – should be educated to hate other people. There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim. It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology.

That means cutting off the funding that fuels this hate. It’s time to end the hypocrisy of those who accumulate wealth through the global economy, and then siphon funds to those who teach children to tear it down.

That means contesting the space that terrorists occupy – including the Internet and social media. Their propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars, and turned students into suicide bombers. We must offer an alternative vision.

That means bringing people of different faiths together. All religions have been attacked by extremists from within at some point, and all people of faith have a responsibility to lift up the value at the heart of all religion: do unto thy neighbor as you would have done unto you.

The ideology of ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed, confronted, and refuted in the light of day. Look at the new Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies – Sheikh bin Bayyah described its purpose: “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace.” Look at the young British Muslims, who responded to terrorist propaganda by starting the “notinmyname” campaign, declaring – “ISIS is hiding behind a false Islam.” Look at the Christian and Muslim leaders who came together in the Central African Republic to reject violence – listen to the Imam who said, “Politics try to divide the religious in our country, but religion shouldn’t be a cause of hate, war, or strife.”

Later today, the Security Council will adopt a resolution that underscores the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism. But resolutions must be followed by tangible commitments, so we’re accountable when we fall short. Next year, we should all be prepared to announce the concrete steps that we have taken to counter extremist ideologies – by getting intolerance out of schools, stopping radicalization before it spreads, and promoting institutions and programs that build new bridges of understanding.

Third, we must address the cycle of conflict – especially sectarian conflict – that creates the conditions that terrorists prey upon.

There is nothing new about wars within religions. Christianity endured centuries of vicious sectarian conflict. Today, it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery. It is time to acknowledge the destruction wrought by proxy wars and terror campaigns between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East. And it is time that political, civic and religious leaders reject sectarian strife. Let’s be clear: this is a fight that no one is winning. A brutal civil war in Syria has already killed nearly 200,000 people and displaced millions. Iraq has come perilously close to plunging back into the abyss. The conflict has created a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists who inevitably export this violence.

Yet, we also see signs that this tide could be reversed – a new, inclusive government in Baghdad; a new Iraqi Prime Minister welcomed by his neighbors; Lebanese factions rejecting those who try to provoke war. These steps must be followed by a broader truce. Nowhere is this more necessary than Syria. Together with our partners, America is training and equipping the Syrian opposition to be a counterweight to the terrorists of ISIL and the brutality of the Assad regime. But the only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war is political – an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or creed.

Cynics may argue that such an outcome can never come to pass. But there is no other way for this madness to end – whether one year from now or ten. Indeed, it’s time for a broader negotiation in which major powers address their differences directly, honestly, and peacefully across the table from one another, rather than through gun-wielding proxies. I can promise you America will remain engaged in the region, and we are prepared to engage in that effort.

My fourth and final point is a simple one: the countries of the Arab and Muslim world must focus on the extraordinary potential of their people – especially the youth.

Here I’d like to speak directly to young people across the Muslim world. You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder. Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it.

You have demonstrated that when young people have the tools to succeed –good schools; education in math and science; an economy that nurtures creativity and entrepreneurship – then societies will flourish. So America will partner with those who promote that vision.

Where women are full participants in a country’s politics or economy, societies are more likely to succeed. That’s why we support the participation of women in parliaments and in peace processes; in schools and the economy.

If young people live in places where the only option is between the dictates of a state, or the lure of an extremist underground – no counter-terrorism strategy can succeed. But where a genuine civil society is allowed to flourish – where people can express their views, and organize peacefully for a better life – then you dramatically expand the alternatives to terror.

Such positive change need not come at the expense of tradition and faith. We see this in Iraq, where a young man started a library for his peers. “We link Iraq’s heritage to their hearts,” he said, and “give them a reason to stay.” We see it in Tunisia, where secular and Islamist parties worked together through a political process to produce a new constitution. We see it in Senegal, where civil society thrives alongside a strong, democratic government. We see it in Malaysia, where vibrant entrepreneurship is propelling a former colony into the ranks of advanced economies. And we see it in Indonesia, where what began as a violent transition has evolved into a genuine democracy.

Ultimately, the task of rejecting sectarianism and extremism is a generational task – a task for the people of the Middle East themselves. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds. But America will be a respectful and constructive partner. We will neither tolerate terrorist safe-havens, nor act as an occupying power. Instead, we will take action against threats to our security – and our allies – while building an architecture of counter-terrorism cooperation. We will increase efforts to lift up those who counter extremist ideology, and seek to resolve sectarian conflict. And we will expand our programs to support entrepreneurship, civil society, education and youth – because, ultimately, these investments are the best antidote to violence.

Leadership will also be necessary to address the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. As bleak as the landscape appears, America will never give up the pursuit of peace. The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home. And the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. But let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable. We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza. So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just with two states living side by side, in peace and security.

This is what America is prepared to do – taking action against immediate threats, while pursuing a world in which the need for such action is diminished. The United States will never shy away from defending our interests, but nor will we shrink from the promise of this institution and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the notion that peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of a better life.

I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within our own borders. This is true. In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.

But we welcome the scrutiny of the world – because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect. America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals, and are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. Because we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and independent judiciary. Because we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and countries for the better.

After nearly six years as President, I believe that this promise can help light the world. Because I’ve seen a longing for positive change – for peace and freedom and opportunity – in the eyes of young people I’ve met around the globe. They remind me that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what God you pray to, or who you love, there is something fundamental that we all share. Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the UN and America’s role in it, once asked, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places,” she said, “close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”

The people of the world look to us, here, to be as decent, as dignified, and as courageous as they are in their daily lives. And at this crossroads, I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done. We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.

These Maps Show How Ebola Spread In Liberia

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Last Tuesday, the White House announced plans to send 3,000 US troops to Liberia to coordinate medical care and deliver humanitarian aid to combat the spread of Ebola there. The troops' command center, and much of their work, will be in Monrovia, the nation's capital. But as the maps below show, controlling the disease in and around the sprawling city will not be an easy task.

This first map shows the spread of the disease in the capital region as of September 11 (areas colored in darker shades of blue have reported more Ebola infections):

Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare

This second map shows the spread of the disease in the capital region as of September 20—just nine days later. Note the spread of the dark blue:

Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare

When the current outbreak of Ebola first reached Liberia, there were only two known cases of the disease anywhere in the country. Both infections were far from Monrovia. But the virus spread rapidly. In mid-June, health workers discovered the first evidence the disease had spread to the capital: the bodies of seven people, including a nurse and four of her family members.

As of Sunday, 1,232 people are believed to have been infected in Monrovia's Montserrado County— more than a third of Liberia's total cases to date, according to Liberia's health ministry. The disease is believed to have killed 758 people in the county, including 33 health workers. Conditions will almost certainly get worse. On Tuesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report stating that a worst-case scenario for the disease could bring the number of infected in Liberia and Sierra Leone to 1.4 million by January 2015.

Chart: Big Gains for the 1 Percent of the 1 Percent

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

We'll be posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day for the next couple of weeks. Yesterday's chart looked at how the richest Americans bounced back from the Great Recession. Today's chart: How the richest of the rich have enjoyed massive income gains for decades.

Since 1980, the average real income of the 1 percent has shot up more than 175 percent while the bottom 90 percent's real income didn't budge. But as this chart shows, the vast majority of gains have gone to the tippy-top—the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

rise of the megarich

Source: Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel)

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

Labor's New Attack on Iowa Senate Candidate Joni Ernst: She's An ALEC Shill

| Tue Sep. 23, 2014 5:17 PM EDT
Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst.

The battle between Democratic congressman Bruce Braley and Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst to be Iowa's next US senator couldn't be closer. In an effort to fire up voters in a race that could decide which party controls the Senate in 2015, the AFL-CIO—the labor federation representing 56 unions and 12.5 million workers—is blasting out mailers this week attacking Ernst for her membership in the American Legislative Exchange Committee, the so-called bill mill in which corporations and state lawmakers get together in private to draft industry-friendly legislation.

The new mailers, which are going out to tens of thousands of union households in Iowa, say that Ernst, who has been an ALEC member, "works for corporate interests, not yours" and is "already in the pockets of big corporations." The mailers also criticize Ernst for supporting "huge corporate tax breaks," refusing to support an increase in the minimum wage, and accepting $200,000 in contributions from donors who've supported ALEC, such as the tobacco company Altria, oil companies, and billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and members of Koch's immediate family. "Hardworking Iowa families are struggling," the mailer says, "but Joni Ernst just keeps voting with ALEC, the corporate special interest group that is taking over our state by giving free trips and expensive meals to politicians." (Ernst's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)

Here's the first anti-Ernst mailer:

 

Here's the second anti-Ernst mailer:

 

Michael Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO's political director, says the anti-Ernst mailers are intended to hurt Ernst's image as well as motivate Democratic voters, who tend to be less enthusiastic in non-presidential years. The mailers, in other words, aren't geared toward swinging undecided voters but rather mobilizing the Democratic base to vote on Election Day. "These mailers are part of an effort to dramatize to people just how stark the choice is and how consequential their vote is," Podhorzer says. "We hope this will motivate people to turn out and motivate people who are undecided to think about the race in economic terms."

The AFL-CIO also plans to target two other Republican Senate candidates—Colorado congressman Cory Gardner and Michigan's Terri Lynn Land—with anti-ALEC mailers. A spokesman says the AFL-CIO will attack Gardner for being an "ALEC alum" (he was a member when he served in the state legislature) and Land for accepting contributions from ALEC donors.

This week, ALEC received some unwelcome news when Google board chairman Eric Schmidt said the company's decision to fund ALEC was a "mistake." Schmidt singled out ALEC's anti-climate-change stance as the reason for Google's regret over its ties with ALEC. "Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place," he said. "And so we should not be aligned with such people—they're just literally lying."

These Are the Regions Where Americans Are Most Likely to Favor Secession

| Tue Sep. 23, 2014 1:40 PM EDT

Inspired by the events surrounding the recent Scottish independence referendum, a new poll reveals an alarming number of Americans think a similar splintering of the union is a fine idea.

The poll, organized by Reuters, found that 23.9 percent of Americans would favor their state seceding from the rest of the country. Residents of the Southwest and the Rockies were the most likely to voice support, polling at 34 percent and 25 percent respectively. A plurality of would-be secessionists reported an annual income of $25,000 or less.

A shock to no one, more Republicans than Democrats want to break free.

Among reasons for secession, a disillusionment with Washington, coupled with a strong hatred for Obamacare ranked high. All this despite the fact these Americans are in need of healthcare expansion the most and studies continue to show states that have embraced the Affordable Care Act have seen the sharpest drop in uninsured rates.

Texas in particular, which has a history of secessionist sentiment and makes up a large portion of the Southwest, is the one determined state that might actually have a chance at surviving without the American whole. But let's keep in mind Texas has relied heavily on their much deplored Washington.

Turns out Texas was the state that depended the most on those very stimulus funds to plug nearly 97% of its shortfall for fiscal 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Texas, which crafts a budget every two years, was facing a $6.6 billion shortfall for its 2010-2011 fiscal years. It plugged nearly all of that deficit with $6.4 billion in Recovery Act money, allowing it to leave its $9.1 billion rainy day fund untouched.

"Texas has everything we need. We have the manufacturing, we have the oil, and we don't need them," one Texan still told Reuters.

But don't be too concerned. The same poll found 53.3 percent understand secession is a no good, bad idea.

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Chart: Happy Days Are Here Again—for the Superwealthy

| Tue Sep. 23, 2014 6:45 AM EDT

With Washington paralyzed on bread-and-butter issues and the midterms ahead, we put together a primer on the state of America's frozen paychecks. We'll be posting a new chart every day for the next couple of weeks. Today's chart: How the recovery left most Americans behind.

The Great Recession officially ended five years ago, but that's news for millions of Americans: A stunning 95 percent of income growth since the recovery started has gone to the superwealthy. The top 1 percent has captured almost all post-recession income growth. Compare that with how they did during these historic booms:

Sources: Boom and recovery gains, 1% gains: Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel); average household income: Census Bureau.

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

Photos: Warner Bros; Peter Morgan/Reuters; Christoph Dernbach/DPA/ZumaPress; Steve Jennings/Wireimage/Getty Images; Bo Rader/Witchita Eagle/MCT/Getty Images; Kimberly White/Reuters

Stop Everything And Let This 11-Year-Old Boy Give You Hope For the Future

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 5:58 PM EDT

Last month, in the midst of nightly protests over the killing of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, an 11-year-old boy named Marquis Govan approached the podium at a meeting of the St. Louis County Council, pulled the mic down to his height, and calmly delivered an incredibly well-informed, thoughtful, and stirring set of remarks.

"The people of Ferguson, I believe, don't need tear gas thrown at them," he said. "I believe they need jobs. I believe the people of Ferguson, they don't need to be hit with batons. What they need is people to be investing in their businesses." He wasn't reading from notes, and the clearly stunned adults in the room gave him a round of applause when he finished.

If all this sounds surprising from a sixth-grader, Govan, a politics junkie who lives with his great-grandmother in St. Louis, drops more adult-sized portions of knowledge in this interview with CBS Sunday Morning. Don't miss it.

This Afghan Policewoman Died Fighting the Taliban. Now Right-Wingers Are Desecrating Her Photo.

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Malalai Kakar was a police officer in Afghanistan. She was also a mother of six, a feminist, and a fearsome threat to the Taliban, who gunned her down in 2008. You would know some of Kakar's story if you'd come across Lana Šlezic's captivating photography of women in Afghanistan in Mother Jones and other publications. But the right-wing Britain First party recently co-opted a photo of Kakar—taken in 2005 just before she headed out on a raid to free a kidnap victim—using it as propaganda in the online "ban the burka" campaign. Its August 30 Facebook post using the image has been shared more than 44,000 times. The photo didn't make headlines though until Friday, when Australian senator Jacqui Lambie of the Palmer United Party (created in 2013 by mining magnate Clive Palmer) shared the photo on her Facebook page, prompting news outlets to ask Šlezic whether she was aware how her photograph was being used.

Šlezic's original image as it appeared in the July/August 2007 issue of Mother Jones
 

Šlezic was appalled. "The way her image has been misused for inflammatory purposes has left me, well, somewhat speechless," she says. She immediately contacted both Britain First and Lambie asking them to remove the photo, but neither has complied. Lambie told the Sydney Morning Herald that she "absolutely stands by it" and won't take the photo off her page. On Saturday she posted a "Letter to the Editor" on Facebook calling Šlezic's response a "gross over-reaction," adding that "Malalai Kakar would have been the first to agree with my call to ban the burka."

Šlezic told the Independent, "It's a complete misrepresentation of the truth. It insults everything she stood for, it insults her and her family and suggests a story that is opposite of the truth. It is also an infringement of intellectual property." She has filed a copyright complaint with Facebook.

Šlezic spent two years in Afghanistan documenting the plight of women and girls, and her Mother Jones photo essay including Kakar's image was a National Magazine Award finalist in 2008.

During my two years in Afghanistan, I spent time with Malalai and her family on several trips to Kandahar. I spent time with her in her office while she consoled and helped women who were victims of domestic violence, rape, and forced marriage. I went out on a kidnapping raid with her, witnessed her apprehending a kidnapper and freeing the young teenage girl from his home. She really was a heroine for me, the light at the end of a very dark two year tunnel. Because of her, I believed there was hope for Afghan women and girls. When she was assassinated by the Taliban in September 2008 in front of her home and child, that hope, that light was extinguished.

Šlezic adds a plea to the public:

I'm asking you to lend your voice, your thoughts, your tweets and whatever else you can to send a message back to these people who without consent, without thought, without pause posted such a vulgar misappropriation of Malalai and everything she stood for. She was an extraordinary human being who fought for the rights of Afghan women and girls. Her memory should be respected.

Malalai Kakar
Lt. Colonel Malalai Kakar (left) counseling a woman in her office Lana Šlezic

How Can The Atlantic Give Us 5,000 Words on Prison Life Without Interviewing Prisoners?

| Sun Sep. 21, 2014 1:34 PM EDT

As someone who writes about prisons, and who two spent years behind bars, I devour nearly everything written about it, especially the long-form stuff. So I was excited when I saw that The Atlantic’s latest issue had a major story called “How Gangs Took Over Prison.”

Then I read it. Anyone who has ever survived anything traumatic—domestic abuse, rape, torture, war—knows the particular jolt that happens in the body when someone makes light of that thing that you once thought could destroy you. I am a former prisoner—I was held captive in Iran from 2009-2011—and a survivor of solitary confinement. In my experience as a reporter who writes about prisons, it is surprisingly rare that I come across people outside of the prison system who justify long-term solitary confinement. Even within the world of prison administrators many are against it. The last two times I’ve attended the American Correctional Association conferences, there have been large, well attended symposiums on the need to curb the use of isolation.

Graeme Wood, the writer of the Atlantic story, gives a different impression of the practice. He visits Pelican Bay State prison, which probably has more people in solitary confinement for longer periods than any other prison in the world. He goes to the Security Housing Unit, or SHU, where people are kept in solitary confinement or, as he gently puts it, are “living without cellmates.” When he enters, he says it’s “like walking into a sacred space” where the silence is “sepulchral.” The hallways “radiate” and the prisoners are celled in the “branches of (a) snowflake.” Beautiful.

It’s difficult to understand why Wood does not find it worth mentioning that the cells in those snowflakes are each 7x11 feet and windowless. Men literally spend decades in those cells, alone. I’ve been to Pelican Bay, and wrote a story about it in 2012. I met a man there who hadn’t seen a tree in 12 years. Wood tells us categorically that everyone there is a hard-core gang member. This is what the California Department of Corrections consistently claims, but if Wood did a little digging, he would find that number of the prisoners locked away in the SHU are jailhouse lawyers. There are people like Dietrich Pennington who has been in the SHU for six years because, in his cell, he had a cup with a dragon on it, a newspaper article written by another prisoner, and a notebook filled with references to black history, which a gang investigator counted as evidence of gang ideology. People get locked away in the SHU based on all kinds of flimsy evidence that doesn’t involve violence. I won’t say it’s a breeze to get ahold of the documentation of this stuff, but it’s not anything a seasoned reporter like Wood couldn’t handle.

Keep in mind that the UN considers solitary confinement for anything more than 15 days to be torture or cruel and inhumane treatment. University of California-Santa Cruz psychology professor Craig Haney did a review of psychological literature and found that there hasn't been a single study of involuntary solitary confinement that didn't show negative psychiatric symptoms after 10 days. He found that a full 41 percent of SHU inmates reported hallucinations. The corrections department’s own data shows that, from 2007 to 2010, inmates in isolation killed themselves at eight times the rate of the general prison population.

Wood, on the other hand, makes the experience of living in one of those cells sound transcendental. It is as if everyone is “on one of those interstellar journeys that span multiple human lifetimes.”

It’s hard to know where that impression came from because, in his story on prison gangs, Wood doesn’t interview prisoners. Well, that’s not completely true. He does go to the doors of several inmates’ cells—with prison staff—to ask them about prison gangs, then tells us breathlessly that almost no one would talk to him. Wood travels to England to interview a scholar on prison gangs, but there is no indication that he attempted to conduct a single serious interview with a prisoner. Not that California makes this easy—since 1996, the state has given prison authorities full control over which inmates journalists can interview in person. But still, you can write to anyone. Nearly every one of the dozens of people I’ve written in the SHU have eagerly written back.

Wood tells us that no prisoner can talk about gangs because doing so would mean death. Yet there are plenty who do. I’ve had inmates break down gang culture to me in letters, and I didn’t even ask them to. There are whole wards in prisons for gang dropouts, many of which are eager to talk about the life they left behind. There are former prisoners like Andre Norman who used to be in gangs and now make their living by exposing gang culture. These people are primary sources that could have given Wood intimate details and a nuanced understanding. They’d also tell him about what it’s like to live in a place like Pelican Bay, though chances are he wouldn’t find anyone who would describe living in the SHU as “interstellar.”

It’s remarkable that a publication as reputable as The Atlantic would run such a thinly sourced story. Its 5,000 words are based almost entirely on four sources: an academic, the spokesperson of Pelican Bay, the warden, and the gang investigator. Wood prints their claims straight away. At the beginning of the story, for example, Wood is standing with the prison’s spokesperson, Lt. Chris Acosta, and together they are looking out onto the yard, observing prisoners and their behavior. Then he quotes Acosta saying, “There’s like 30 knives out there right now. Hidden up their rectums.”

Well hold on a second. How did Acosta know that? Did Wood verify this? How did his editor let that one slide?

Claims like this make what could be an interesting story hard to trust, and the piece is full of them—the size of the bar of soap on an inmate’s sink indicates what kind of phone he shoved up his ass; requests for halal food are a way to “create work for the staff” rather than a sign of religious conviction. Since when does this pass as acceptable journalism? Prison reporting is tricky, sure. When I reported on Pelican Bay, I had to take pains to verify every claim a prisoner made through extensive documentation or verification by prison officials. No good journalist would print a claim made by an inmate about a guard, for example, without carefully corroborating it. Many prisoners have an agenda. But so do guards and wardens. Prison officials have a long record of trying to stymy public inquiry. I was recently booted from a prison convention—for which I was registered—for my reporting. When you have two sets of people, like inmates and prison administrators, who each have interests in misrepresenting each other, you make every effort to verify their claims about each other. Those are the ground rules of journalism.

One last thing. Jokes about things in prisoners’ asses are not funny. In a presentation for Wood, a gang investigator likens gang leaders to 1980s Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca. As an aside to us readers, Wood quips, “I have found it impossible to look at a picture of Iacocca without imagining him stuffing his cheeks and rectum with razor blades.” It sickens me that I am meant to laugh at this.