Political MoJo

The Boston Globe Really, Really Wants Elizabeth Warren to Run for President

| Mon Mar. 23, 2015 12:47 PM EDT

On Sunday, the editorial board of the Boston Globe published a four-part argument urging Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. The editorial, which touted Warren's commitment to reducing income inequality, warned Democrats that allowing "Clinton [to] coast to the presidential nomination without real opposition" would be a big mistake.

"Unlike Clinton, or any of the prospective Republican candidates, Warren has made closing the economic gaps in America her main political priority, in a career that has included standing up for homeowners facing illegal foreclosures and calling for more bankruptcy protections," the Globe's editorial board argued. "If she runs, it’ll ensure that those issues take their rightful place at the center of the national political debate."

The paper went onto argue that even on issues, such as strengthening financial regulations, on which Clinton and Warren agree, it was difficult to imagine a "President Clinton enforcing the Dodd-Frank legislation with as much vigor as a President Warren" at a time when income inequality remains a high priority for many Americans.

Although Warren has repeatedly said she is not interested in running for president, Sunday's editorial comes at somewhat of a vulnerable moment for Clinton, who's still dealing with the controversy surrounding her exclusive use of a personal email account while serving as secretary of state. Although the controversy doesn't appear to have damaged Clinton's popularity with top Democratic donors, it has further underscored the serious lack of viable challengers to her nomination.

"Fairly or not, many Americans already view Clinton skeptically, and waltzing to the nomination may actually hurt her in the November election against the Republican nominee," the Globe argued.

If Warren were to remain uninterested in a run, the editorial board said she should continue her efforts to reduce income inequality and "help recruit candidates" to advance her signature cause.

To read the editorial in its entirety, visit the Boston Globe.

 

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Ted Cruz's First Campaign Stop: the Birthplace of the "Clinton Body Count"

| Mon Mar. 23, 2015 11:29 AM EDT

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launched his presidential campaign on Monday at Virginia's Liberty University, a private Christian college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Liberty has become a mandatory stop for aspiring Republican candidates—and it's not just for the campus museum exhibit of the taxidermied bear that Falwell's father once wrestled. Liberty is perhaps the premier academic institution of the religious right, and Cruz's choice of venue sends a clear message that he's trying to position himself in 2016 Republican field as a social conservative crusader—and that he's counting on evangelicals for support.

But Liberty University and its controversial founder have additional significance to the 2016 presidential race. During the 1990s, the anti-gay pastor did more than anyone to popularize the so-called "Clinton Body Count"—the notion that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been responsible for dozens of murders during and after their time in Arkansas. This conspiracy theory was the centerpiece of a 1994 film called the Clinton Chronicles, which Falwell helped distribute to hundreds of thousands of conservatives across the country.

Despite Falwell's best efforts, though, President Bill Clinton won his 1996 re-election campaign, and the episode helped reinforce the pastor's reputation as a bigoted crank. Republican candidates will find it hard to avoid Falwell's institution as the 2016 campaign heats up. We'll see if they've learned from his mistakes, too, when it comes to taking on the Clinton political machine.

"That Tree Is So Perfect For Lynching": NC State Frat Suspended Over Alleged Link to Outrageously Offensive Pledge Book

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 3:36 PM EDT
The Court of North Carolina, North Carolina State University

Update: The Associated Press reports that North Carolina State University will temporarily ban alcohol from social events at more than 20 fraternities. The ban would not apply to historically black Greek organizations or the Multicultural Greek Council.  

Amid ire over racist activity at the Sigma Alpha Episilon chapter at Oklahoma University that led to its shut down, a pair of fraternities at North Carolina State University are under investigation this month—one for sexual assault and drug allegations, the other for its relationship to a book containing derogatory and racially charged language. 

A student who had reported she was sexually assaulted at the Alpha Tau Omega frat house said she saw at least one of the fraternity's members dealing cocaine, ecstasy and LCD at the house.

On Thursday, according to a search warrant obtained by The News & Observer, campus police seized drug paraphernalia, white powder and an orange liquid at the Alpha Tau Omega house after a student, who had also reported she was sexually assaulted at the house, said she saw at least one of the fraternity's members dealing cocaine, ecstasy and LSD at the house. No arrests or charges have been made in connection to either the drug or sexual assault inquiries.

The fraternity was suspended two days after the student filed the sexual assault complaint with campus police. Alpha Tau Omega CEO Wynn Smily told WTVD the drug paraphernalia belonged to a pledge and that he had been kicked out of the house. "It's devastating for the organization's reputation," Smiley said. "It's very unsettling and it's too bad this has all happened." He went on to accuse the alleged victim in the investigation of lying. 

"What she claims was happening in the chapter house was not happening. This woman's claims to police that she saw all kind of drug activity going on in the house, we believe that to be at best wildly exaggerated and in many cases, fabricated. Her credibility throughout this whole process has been certainly in question."

Meanwhile, the discovery of an apparent pledge book linked to the Pi Kappa Phi chapter at NC State has led to a school probe. WRAL reported that the book, found at a restaurant near campus, contained disturbing racial and sexual commentary. Some of the handwritten comments included: 

"It will be short and painful, just like when I rape you."

"If she's hot enough, she doesn't need a pulse."

"That tree is so perfect for lynching." 

The chapter has been temporarily suspended as a result of the inquiry. In a statement on the fraternity's national website, CEO Mark Timmes said it would cooperate with the school's investigation. "The written comments and quotes reported earlier this evening are offensive and unacceptable. These statements are inconsistent with the values of Pi Kappa Phi and will not be tolerated."

The investigations follow a string of behavioral misconduct at fraternities across the country. The Kappa Delta Rho fraternity at Penn State University was suspended for a year on Tuesday after a former member told police about two private Facebook pages in which members shared photos of nude and partially nude women, drug sales and hazing, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer. The pages included photos of nude and partially nude women, some of whom appeared asleep or passed out. The fraternity could face criminal charges under the state's "revenge porn" law that went into effect in September. 

After Mother Jones Report, University of Arkansas Pulls Diary Critical of the Clintons

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 3:19 PM EDT

On Tuesday, I reported on the newly public diary of retired Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), the longtime Clinton ally, which is included in the 89-year-old's personal papers at the University of Arkansas. In entries penned during the 1980s, Bumpers was highly critical of the Clintons, dishing on the future First Couple's "obsessive" qualities and alleged "dirty tricks" by Bill Clinton's gubernatorial campaign. Bumpers, who gave the closing argument for the defense in President Clinton's impeachment trial, became a close friend and confidante of the president later in his career. But the previously unreported entries revealed a more tense relationship in the early going, as Clinton vied for political elbow room with the Democratic icon.

In response to the Mother Jones piece, the University of Arkansas library has pulled the diary from its collection at the request of Bumpers' son, Brent. Per the Arkansas Democrat–Gazette:

Brent Bumpers of Little Rock, son of the former senator, said he was "shocked" by the diary. He has questioned its origin and authenticity, saying nobody in the family had ever heard anything about Dale Bumpers keeping a dairy.

Brent Bumpers said his father, who is 89 years old, doesn't remember keeping a diary. He said Dale Bumpers always admired the Clintons and wouldn't have written the things the diary contains.

Brent Bumpers said he wants to review the diary, but he won't have the opportunity for several days.

Although Dale Bumpers hasn't personally requested that the diary be pulled, Laura Jacobs, UA associate vice chancellor for university relations, said Brent Bumpers is speaking and acting on behalf of his father regarding the Dale Bumpers Papers.

But the Bumpers diary could not have been written by anyone but Dale Bumpers. When not commenting on the various politicians he interacted with, it is filled with personal musings on his wife, Betty, and three kids; the strains of the job; can't-miss events such as the annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival; and the trials of a first-time candidate at an Iowa presidential cattle call—all interspersed with the thoughtful reflections of a lawmaker who was generally regarded as such.

This is the second time in the last year that the University of Arkansas has made news by restricting access to a political archive in its special collections. Last year, the university's library blocked the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet, from accessing its collections because of a dispute over publishing rights. (The library ultimately backed down.)

With Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush both running for president, reporters (and opposition researchers) will have more access to archival records than perhaps ever before. The two candidates have nearly a century of public life between them; that's a heck of a paper trail. This may not be the last time a little-noticed archive makes news.

This Declassified CIA Report Shows the Shaky Case for the Iraq War

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 1:31 PM EDT

The United States began its invasion of Iraq 12 years ago. Yesterday, a previously classified Central Intelligence Agency report containing supposed proof of the country's weapons of mass destruction was published by Jason Leopold of Vice News. Put together nine months before the start of the war, the National Intelligence Estimate spells out what the CIA knew about Iraq's ability to produce biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. It would become the backbone of the Bush administration's mistaken assertions that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and posed a direct threat to the post-9/11 world.

The report is rife with what now are obvious red flags that the Bush White House oversold the case for war. It asserts that Iraq had an active chemical weapons program at one point, though it admits that the CIA had found no evidence of the program's continuation. It repeatedly includes caveats like "credible evidence is limited." It gives little space to the doubts of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which found the CIA's findings on Iraq's nuclear program unconvincing and "at best ambiguous."

This isn't the first time the report's been released in full: A version was made public in 2004, but nearly all the text was redacted. Last year, transparency advocate John Greenwald successfully petitioned the CIA for a more complete version. Greenwald shared the document with Leopold.

Here's the full report:

 

 

Facebook Is Being Sued for Gender and Racial Discrimination. Here's Why.

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 3:59 PM EDT

In a lawsuit filed against Facebook on Monday, former employee Chia Hong accused the company of gender discrimination, racial discrimination, and sex harassment.* She is represented by Lawless & Lawless, the same law firm representing Ellen Pao in the high-profile gender discrimination case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. (And yes, Lawless really is the last name of the two sisters who head the firm.)

Hong, who worked as a product manager at Facebook until October 2013, alleges that she suffered from discrimination by her boss, Anil Wilson, and dozens of other coworkers during her three years at the company. She also claims that she was wrongfully terminated after complaining about the harassment and discrimination.

The complaint states that Facebook employment policies were "neutral on their face" but "resulted in a disparate impact" on Hong, due to her gender:

The harassment included, but was not limited to, ANIL WILSON regularly ignoring or belittling plaintiff's professional opinions and input at group meetings in which she was the only woman or one of very few; asking plaintiff why she did not just stay home and take care of her child instead of having a career; admonishing plaintiff for taking one personal day per month to volunteer at her child' s school, which was permitted under company policy; ordering plaintiff to organize parties and serve drinks to male colleagues, which was not a part of plaintiff's job description and not something that was requested of males with whom she worked; and telling plaintiff he had heard she was an "order taker," by which he meant that she did not exercise independent discretion in the execution of her job duties.

It also alleges racial discrimination against her:

The discrimination included, but was not limited to, plaintiff having her professional opinions belittled or ignored at group meetings in which she was one of the only employees of Chinese descent; plaintiff being told that she was not integrated into the team because she looks different and talks differently than other team members, and plaintiff being replaced by a less qualified, less experienced Indian male.

This latest case comes as various Silicon Valley companies are struggling to diversify their conspicuously white, male workforces. According to a report issued by Facebook last June, 69 percent of its employees are male—including 77 percent among senior staff and 85 percent among its tech workers. The report also found that Facebook's overall workforce was 57 percent white and 34 percent Asian.

In a statement to TechCrunch on Wednesday about the lawsuit, a Facebook spokesperson refuted Hong's allegations: "We work extremely hard on issues related to diversity, gender and equality, and we believe we’ve made progress. In this case we have substantive disagreements on the facts, and we believe the record shows the employee was treated fairly."

Correction: The initial version of this post misstated the allegation as "sexual harassment."

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UVA Student's Violent Arrest Sparks Outrage and Calls for #JusticeForMartese

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 11:06 AM EDT

Images and footage capturing the arrest of Martese Johnson, a University of Virginia student who needed 10 stitches after being arrested by state liquor police for allegedly having a fake ID, prompted large protests at UVA's Charlottesville campus on Wednesday, with hundreds of students gathering to demand justice.

Johnson, 20-years-old and a member of the school's Honor Committee, was arrested on Tuesday by officers from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control as bystanders recorded the bloody encounter. In one video, Johnson's head appears covered in blood, and he screams "you fucking racists." According to Johnson's lawyer, he was charged with "obstructing justice without force" and public intoxication.

After footage of the arrest emerged online, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe launched an investigation into the incident.

"Governor McAuliffe is concerned by the reports of this incident and has asked the Secretary of Public Safety to initiate an independent Virginia State Police investigation into the use of force in this matter," his office said in a statement.

It is unclear what led to the arrest. A statement from the state's liquor agents said that "a determination was made by the agents to further detain the individual based on their observations and further questioning." On Wednesday night, Johnson joined the demonstrators and appeared with a gash wound to the head.

"His head was slammed into the hard pavement with excessive force," UVA officials said in a released statement. "This was wrong and should not have occurred. In the many years of our medical, professional and leadership roles at the University, we view the nature of this assault as highly unusual and appalling based on the information we have received."

As images of both the protest and Johnson's arrest flooded online with the hashtag #JusticeForMartese, demonstrators chanted "black lives matter" and "shut it down."

Even Life Insurance Actuaries Are Coming Around on Pot

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 12:48 PM EDT

A copy of Contingencies—the official magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries—came in the mail on Monday. I don't know why—I'm not an actuary; I'm not even in a celebrity death pool. But there's some interesting stuff in there. AAA president Mary D. Miller, in a column titled "It Takes an Actuary," boasts that "our world will be more vital than ever" in the era of drones and Big Data, as people find more and more innovative ways to die; the puzzle columnist is retiring.

But I was mostly struck by the cover story:

Contingencies! Tim Murphy

Weed!

With the legalization movement racking up victory after victory, the writer, Hank George, seeks to correct a misunderstanding among his actuarial colleagues—that marijuana "conferred the same relative mortality risk as cigarette smoking." To the contrary, he writes, "recreational marijuana users enjoy better physical fitness and get more exercise than nonusers" and "have even been shown to have higher IQs." He concludes: "The tide is turning—life underwriters would be wise to be at the front end of this curve, and not stubbornly digging in their heels to the detriment of their products."

For now, at least, life insurers are still holding the line on pot smoke as a vice on par with cigarettes. But it's a testament to how far the legalization movement has grown beyond its hippie roots that even the actuaries are starting to fall in line.

Obama Just Officially Decided White House Emails Aren't Subject to the Freedom of Information Act

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 1:14 PM EDT

Civil liberties advocates are adding another strike to the Obama administration's record on transparency: on Monday, the White House announced that it is officially ending the Freedom of Information Act obligations of its Office of Administration. That office provides broad administrative support to the White House—including the archiving of emails—and had been subject to FOIA for much of its nearly four-decade history.

In 2007, the George W. Bush administration decided that its OA would reject any FOIA requests, freeing it from the burden to release emails regarding any number of Bush-era scandals. When President Obama took office in 2009, transparency advocates were hopeful that he'd strike down the Bush policy—especially after he claimed transparency would be a "touchstone" of his presidency. In a letter that year, advocates from dozens of organizations urged Obama to restore transparency to the OA.

He never did, and Monday's move from the White House makes the long-standing policy official. Coincidentally, March 16th was Freedom of Information Day, and this week marks the annual Sunshine Week, which focuses on open government. 

If You Own a Pitchfork, You Will Grab It When You See This Chart

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 3:50 PM EDT

This statistic provides a pretty compelling snapshot of the severity of our income gap: In 2014, Wall Street's bonus pool was roughly double the combined earnings of all Americans working full-time jobs at minimum wage. 

That sobering tidbit came from a new Institute for Policy Studies report by Sarah Anderson, who looked at new figures from the New York State Comptroller and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average bonus for one of New York City's 167,800 employees in the securities industry came out to $172,860—on top of an average salary of nearly $200,000. On the other side of the equation were about one million people working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25. 

In a recent New York Times article, Justin Wolfers, a senior fellow for the Peterson Institute for International Economics, picked apart some of the uncertainties that go into creating such a calculation, and ultimately came up with a similar result:

The count of workers at federal minimum wage includes only those who are paid hourly, and so omits those paid weekly or monthly. On the flip side, the B.L.S. count is based on income before tips and commissions, and so may overstate the number of people with low hourly earnings. And while my calculation assumed that all minimum wage workers earn $7.25 per hour, in fact many earn less than this, including wait staff and others who rely on tips, some students and young workers, certain farmworkers, and those whose bosses simply flout the minimum wage law.

For all of these uncertainties, the broad picture doesn’t change. My judgment is that we can be pretty confident that Ms. Anderson's estimate that the sum of Wall Street bonuses is roughly twice the total amount paid to all full-time workers paid minimum wage seems like a fair characterization.