Political MoJo

"This Is The Era of The Empowered 'One Percenter'"

Fri Mar. 21, 2014 11:06 AM PDT

The Koch brothers. Citizens United. "Dark money." Billionaire sugardaddies. A Republican takeover of Congress.

These are a few of the 2014-themed issues that Mother Jones senior reporter Andy Kroll and ProPublica's Kim Barker discuss on the latest episode of Moyers and Company, the popular weekly show hosted by the acclaimed journalist Bill Moyers. They talk about the 2014 midterms, which could be the most expensive off-year election cycle in history; the influence of big-money politics on Congress and the White House; and the upcoming Supreme Court decision that could obliterate yet another campaign law and send even more money rushing into our elections.

As Kroll says in the interview, this is a great time to be a fired-up millionaire or billionaire. Today, these individuals have the ability to pump unlimited sums of cash into our elections through super-PACs and anonymously funded nonprofit groups. As they do, the center of gravity in our political system shifts from the political parties to these mega-donors spending big on the Democratic and Republican side. "This is the era of the empowered 'one percenter,'" Kroll notes. "They're taking action and they're becoming the new, headline players in this political system."

What's the effect of all that money on our democracy? Watch the entire episode above or over at BillMoyers.com to find out. Throughout the weekend, you can catch the interview on your local PBS affiliate.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 21, 2014

Fri Mar. 21, 2014 7:16 AM PDT

An U.S. Soldier of Easy Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, prepares to conduct a low-cost, low-altitude airdrop during a mission rehearsal exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, March 16, 2014. The MRE was conducted at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Commands Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels Training Areas in order to prepare subordinate battalions of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade to deploy to Afghanistan to provide medical evacuation and combat support to the NATO International Security Assistance Force mission. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tyler Kingsbury/Released)

US Lawmakers Fight Russia on Twitter: "I Guess This Means My Spring Break in Siberia Is Off"

| Thu Mar. 20, 2014 12:09 PM PDT

On Thursday, shortly after President Obama expanded sanctions against Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis, the Russian Foreign Ministry released its own list of nine US officials and lawmakers who will be targeted by sanctions. The list includes three White House aides—deputy national security advisors Ben Rhodes and Caroline Atkinson, and senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer—as well as six US lawmakers: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)​, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)​, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)​, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)​, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)​, and Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)​.

Many of the Sanctioned 9, none of whom will be allowed to visit the Russian Federation or attend Valdimir Putin's birthday party (assuming it is held in the Russian Federation), took to Twitter to win the morning show their strength and solidarity.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)​

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)​

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)

Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), to senior White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer

"What did you do during the war, daddy?"

"Twitter, mostly."

Progressive Groups Take Obama to Task for Violating Voting Rights Law

| Thu Mar. 20, 2014 9:45 AM PDT

After months of quiet lobbying, civil rights groups and progressive organizations are now coming out publicly against the Obama administration for failing to enforce a voting rights law that applies to the Obamacare health insurance exchanges. 

The 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), commonly known as the "Motor Voter" law, requires DMVs and other state agencies that provide public assistance to also help voters register. The Obama administration has acknowledged that Obamacare exchanges are covered by the law. But the federally-run exchange, which serves residents of states whose Republican governors refused to establish their own insurance marketplaces, isn't doing much to fulfill its Motor Voter obligations, beyond embedding a link to the federal voter registration site in the online insurance application.

The law requires covered agencies to go much further and treat voter registration the same as the application process for other services. In the case of Obamacare, this means the navigators hired by HHS to walk uninsured Americans through the insurance sign-up process should also offer to guide applicants through the voter registration process. But Republicans have decried plans to apply the Motor Voter law to exchanges, saying it would create a "permanent, undefeatable, always-funded Democrat majority," since the uninsured are disproportionately low-income people and minorities—groups that tend to vote Democratic. Following the outcry by the GOP, the Obama administration decided last year to hold off on full implementation of the Motor Voter provision. But now 32 progressive organizations and unions—including the NAACP, United Auto Workers, and the National Council of La Raza—are calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to start requiring navigators to help register voters immediately.

"There is no question that the ACA [the Affordable Care Act] must meet the requirements of the NVRA, as your administration has acknowledged," the groups said in a letter to the HHS last week. "As staunch supporters of voting rights, we believe that it is critical for the ACA to meet these legal requirements now and offer voter registration to the millions of Americans who will be shopping for insurance on the exchanges in the coming months and years."

The letter comes on the heels of a public campaign in January led by the voting rights organizations Demos and Project Vote to get HHS to fall in line with Motor Voter.

The 24 million mostly low-income and minority Americans who are expected to buy insurance through the exchanges by 2017 are far less likely than other citizens to be registered to vote, although Motor Voter has helped lessen the disparity. Some 140 million people have registered to vote through the program since it was enacted. Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, told Mother Jones in January that the reason HHS "has really dropped the ball" on the Motor Voter issue is likely quite simple. "This looks like [the administration is] running from a political fight," he says.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 20, 2014

Thu Mar. 20, 2014 7:10 AM PDT

A Norwegian helicopter lands near a dock in Soreisa, Norway, to deliver inspectors from Belarus during Cold Response 14, March 17, to evaluate the U.S. Marine component of the exercise. The inspection during Cold Response 14 is conducted under the auspices of the Vienna Document, which obligates signatories from more than 50 nation States to exchange information in regards to size, structure, training and equipment of its armed forces as well as related defense policy, doctrines to build multilateral transparency, trust, cooperation and confidence. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tatum Vayavananda/Released)

Flashback: GOP Senate Candidates's Anti-Gay Diatribe

| Thu Mar. 20, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has some competition in the race to take on New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in November. In late February, former Sen. Bob Smith—who represented the Granite State in the Senate from 1990 until 2003 before losing a primary, moving to Florida, and twice running for Senate unsuccessfully there—threw his hat into the ring. Smith has vowed to debate Brown "in 10 towns he's never heard of," and offered him a map in case he got lost.

Notwithstanding the fact that Smith himself moved to Florida to start a real estate company after losing his primary, or that he once gave a 45-minute floor speech on why circus elephants shouldn't be allowed on the Capitol grounds, there are plenty of reasons why Brown's opponent may not be palatable to swing voters in a state that went to President Obama in 2008 and 2012. As a senator in the 1990s, Smith spent much of his time pushing back against the "gay agenda" and supposed attempts by LGBT radicals to indoctrinate children into their ranks. The propaganda campaign, according to Smith, was being pushed into public schools in the form of AIDS education literature and sex ed materials. In 1994, he joined with arch-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) to introduce an amendment that would strip federal funding from any school that promoted homosexuality as a "positive life style alternative"—or that directed students to organizations that did. Because when you're trying to raise awareness about sexually transmitted diseases, the point is to be as vague as possible.

In an impassioned floor speech, Smith warned colleagues that he was prohibited by decency standards from displaying most of the materials he was hoping to de facto ban. Then he read aloud from the children's book Heather Has Two Mommies:

When Smith was finished, he began reading from another book, Daddy's Roommate:

The kicker: In 2010, 14 years after Smith last won an election, New Hampshire made it legal for Heather's two mommies to get married. Sure, Smith can tell voters he represented New Hampshire in Washington before, but it was a Granite State he'd need a road map to navigate today.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 19, 2014

Wed Mar. 19, 2014 7:05 AM PDT

Pfc. Xavier Grace, Mad Dog Platoon, 4th Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, leads the wedge formation during the non lethal weapons training, riot control formations at Ft. Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Penny Zamora)

The House GOP's Obamacare Alternative Won't Curb Health Care Costs—But It Will Enrich the Insurance Industry

| Wed Mar. 19, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported in an "exclusive" front-page story that House Republicans are at long last promoting their alternative to Obamacare. According to the Post, the new plan, roundly panned, is really just a compilation of the same old health care proposals that Republicans have been floating for years, including allowing the sale of insurance plans across state lines, high-risk insurance pools, and, notably, restrictions on medical-malpractice lawsuits.

Like so many of the Republicans' health care reform proposals, capping damages in and otherwise restricting malpractice lawsuits isn't likely to have a big impact on health care costs, or on expanding coverage to the uninsured. Just ask the state of Florida, whose Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a law similar to the one House Republicans are pushing.

Florida passed its version of the House GOP plan in 2003, when doctors in the state were loudly proclaiming the existence of a "malpractice crisis" in which the state was plagued with an epidemic of frivolous lawsuits that were driving doctors' insurance premiums sky-high and forcing them to leave the state. But last week, Florida's Republican-dominated Supreme Court poked a giant hole in that hysteria. It declared that not only was that "crisis" a fiction, but that the alleged cure—caps on lawsuit damages, which are also favored by the House GOP—had done nothing but enrich insurance companies at the expense of doctors and patients, in violation of the state constitution.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 18, 2014

Tue Mar. 18, 2014 7:10 AM PDT

Cpl. Marcus Chischilly, from Phoenix, Ariz., takes a plunge underwater during the 2014 Marine Corps Trials at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 5, 2014. The Marine Corps Trials enables wounded, ill, or injured Marines to focus on their abilities and to find new avenues to thrive. Athletes compete in archery, cycling, shooting, swimming, track, field, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michael V. Walters/ Released)

Guinness and Other Beers Pull Out of St. Patrick's Day Parade Over Ban on Openly Gay Marchers

| Mon Mar. 17, 2014 8:54 AM PDT

Three beer giants—the manufacturers who bring you Heineken, Sam Adams, and Guinness—have pulled their sponsorship of Saint Patrick's Day parades in New York City and Boston over the events' policy of anti-LGBT discrimination. (The Boston parade took place on Sunday, while the NYC one is on for Monday.) Both parades technically allow gay groups to march but ban signs and placards regarding sexual orientation. The withdrawals came following pressure from gay rights activists over the ban. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also skipped their respective parades.

Sam Adams pulled its sponsorship of the Boston parade last week. Here is their statement, via Boston Beer Company spokeswoman Jessica Paar:

We have been participating in the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade for nearly a decade and have also supported the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast year after year. We've done so because of the rich history of the event and to support veterans who have done so much for this country.

We were hopeful that both sides of this issue would be able to come to an agreement that would allow everyone, regardless of orientation, to participate in the parade. But given the current status of the negotiations, we realize this may not be possible.

We share these sentiments with Mayor Walsh, Congressman Lynch and others and therefore we will not participate in this year’s parade. We will continue to support Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and her St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. We wish her all the best in her historic stewardship of this tradition.

Here is Heineken's statement, given on Friday, regarding the New York parade:

We believe in equality for all. We are no longer a sponsor of Monday's parade.

Guinness, which is part of Diageo, weighed in on Sunday:

Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all. We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year's parade. As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy.

Responses from LGBT activists have been generally positive. "Heineken sent the right message to LGBT youth, customers and employees who simply want to be part of the celebration," Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, said, for instance.

Parade organizers did not immediately respond to Mother Jones' requests for comment.