MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Prosecutors Dealt a Setback in Trial of Rand Paul Aides <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>An Iowa judge dealt a setback to prosecutors who have <a href="" target="_blank">accused several Paul family political operatives of breaking campaign finance laws</a> during Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign. The judge ruled on Friday that all of the charges filed against John Tate, a longtime Paul family operative who worked for both Ron and Rand Paul and for<strong> </strong>groups tied to the family's political causes, should be dismissed. During the 2012 election, Tate was in charge of America's Liberty PAC, a pro-Rand Paul super-PAC endorsed by the Kentucky senator. Several of the charges against Jesse Benton, who is married to Ron Paul's granddaughter and also involved with America's Liberty PAC, were also dropped. But Benton and a third Paul lieutenant, Dimitri Kesari, are still both scheduled to go to trial next week<strong>.</strong></p> <p>This case focuses on these operatives' <a href="" target="_blank">roles running the 2012 Ron Paul campaign and an apparent plan to pay an Iowa state senator</a> to switch his endorsement from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul. The state senator, Kent Sorenson, initially denied there was a scheme to pay him to back Ron Paul, but eventually he admitted that he took money from the Paul campaign through a third party (to cover the campaign's tracks). He pleaded guilty last year to federal campaign finance charges and is awaiting sentencing. On Friday, Federal Judge John Jarvey, <a href="" target="_blank">dismissed</a> all of the charges against Tate and all but one of the charges against Benton, saying that in presenting charges to the grand jury, prosecutors improperly included accusations that Benton and Tate lied about their involvement in the case during meetings with investigators and prosecutors.</p> <p>The judge's decision was apparently based on complaints by Benton and Tate's respective lawyers that the government convinced a grand jury to indict them by using statements the men made when they were under the impression that prosecutors wouldn't use these remarks against them. According to court documents, last summer, before a grand jury was convened, the two men met, separately, with investigators and prosecutors in what is known as "proffer sessions"&mdash;meetings in which the subject of the interview is usually given some immunity and a promise the government won't use what they tell investigators against them. The one instance in which statements made during a proffer session can be used to prosecute the interviewee is when the government prosecutes the person directly for making false statements to federal investigators. The charges against Tate and Benton that were dismissed today were related to conspiracy and campaign finance violations. The judge ruled it was improper for prosecutors to bring up what Benton and Tate said in the proffer sessions when accusing them of those crimes.</p> <p>Benton is still charged with making false statements to federal investigators and Kesari still faces six charges relating to the case, including conspiracy and campaign finance charges. Prosecutors also claim he tried to convince Sorenson to not cooperate with investigators.</p> <p>Neither Benton nor Tate's attorney responded to requests for comment, but Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said new charges may still be filed against Tate and Benton.</p> <p>"The government is free to proceed to trial&mdash;and informed the court today that it will proceed to trial&mdash;on the remaining counts pertaining to Benton and Kesari," Carr said. "The decision regarding the dismissed counts will be made at a later date post trial."</p></body></html> Politics 2016 Elections Rand Paul Fri, 09 Oct 2015 20:40:47 +0000 Russ Choma 286621 at Shock Jock Who Wants to Be Trump's Top Medical Researcher Once Told a Caller to "Get AIDS and Die" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Three days ago, Donald Trump <a href="" target="_blank">called in</a> to Michael Savage's radio show for a 12-minute lovefest. As the chat wrapped up, Savage made a modest proposal to The Donald:</p> <blockquote> <p>When you become president, I want you to consider appointing me to head of the NIH. I will make sure that America has real science and real medicine again in this country because I know the corruption. I know how to clean it up and I know how to make real research work again.</p> </blockquote> <p>"I think that's great," Trump responded to the right-wing talk-radio fixture. "Well, you know you'd get common sense if that were the case, that I can tell you, because I hear so much about the NIH, and it's terrible."</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>So what are Savage's qualifications to head the nation's premier biomedical research organization, which oversees <a href="" target="_blank">$30 billion worth</a> of medical research annually?&nbsp;</p> <p>As he is fond of reminding his listeners, Savage does have some scientific credentials. He grew up revering Charles Darwin, got a biology degree and a master's in medical anthropology, and then earned a doctorate in nutritional ethnomedicine from the University of California-Berkeley. In the 1970s, he took several trips to the South Pacific to study medicinal herbs and soak up "ethnic wisdom." (Along the way, he is said to have skinny dipped with Allen Ginsberg in Fiji.) He published dozens of books on herbs, plants, and health under his real name, Michael Weiner.</p> <p>As I discovered when I perused his body of work <a href="" target="_blank">while profiling him</a>, some of his writings veered into serious woo territory:</p> <blockquote> <p>In <em>The Way of the Skeptical Nutritionist</em>, he ventured that a person's ideal diet should be determined by his or her ethnicity. <em>Getting Off Cocaine: 30 Days to Freedom</em> promised blow addicts "an alternative plan for getting 'high'&mdash;legally and naturally!" The treatment involved ingesting a daily cocktail of Sudafed, vitamins C and E, and amino acids, as well as self-administering the occasional coffee enema. "Use a good quality coffee," Weiner advised. "Not decaffeinated or instant."&nbsp;</p> </blockquote> <p>In his 1986 book, <em>Maximum Immunity</em>, Savage insisted on mandatory nationwide AIDS testing and suggested that vitamin C might stop the disease. He said that gays should "accept the blame" for the spread of AIDS and sneered that "those who practice orgiastic sex, with many partners, and use street drugs are not likely to respond to reason."</p> <p>Beyond that, Savage has boasted of a serious academic r&eacute;sum&eacute;, including affiliations with Harvard, the University of California-Santa Cruz, and the University of Heath Sciences at Chicago Medical School. He's also claimed to have conducted "important research" for the NIH's National Cancer Institute.</p> <p>Ever since he changed his name and hit the airwaves in the early 2000s, Savage has moved on from his days as a "World Famous Herbal Expert." But his biggest breakouts from the AM-radio echo chamber have involved his comments on science, medicine, and infectious disease. In 2008, he described <a href="" target="_blank">autistic kids</a> as "a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out" and said "here is no definitive medical diagnosis for autism." (The NIH, which sponsors autism research, has a definition <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.) Earlier, in 2003, the would-be NIH director told a caller to <a href="" target="_blank">"get AIDS and die"</a> and was promptly canned by MSNBC, which had just given him his own cable program. One of the NIH's main goals is to make sure people <a href="" target="_blank">don't get AIDS and die</a>.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="473" src="" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> Politics 2016 Elections Media Science Fri, 09 Oct 2015 20:15:37 +0000 Dave Gilson 286616 at Congressional Republicans Are in Total Chaos <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>GOP-land went crazy on Thursday when Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) abruptly pulled out of the race to replace Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) as House speaker. Tweets and headlines frequently employed the word "chaos" to describe what happened after McCarthy withdrew. The news caused major reverberations throughout the political world, yet much of the rest of the country was probably wondering why everybody was freaking out. Here's a quick primer:</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/politics/2015/10/gop-speaker-congress-chaos"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Politics Fri, 09 Oct 2015 20:12:28 +0000 AJ Vicens 286591 at Friday Cat Blogging - 9 October 2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Hmmm. What happened here? There is no documentary record, so perhaps if Hopper hides no one will connect her with it. Worth a try! Meanwhile, Hilbert hangs around absentmindedly, not realizing that his sister is doing her best to pin the rap entirely on him. That's family values, folks.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_hopper_2015_10_09.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 18:55:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 286631 at The "Gig Economy" Is Mostly Just Silicon Valley Hype <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>How big is the "gig economy"? An Uber driver is the archetypal gig worker, but more generally it refers to anyone who works independently on a contingent basis. This means, for example, that an old school freelance writer qualifies.</p> <p>Still, it's tech that's driving the gig hype, and if the hype is true then the number of gig workers should be going up. Lydia DePillis takes a look at this today and <a href="" target="_blank">recommends two sources:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Freelancers Union, which advocates for self-employed people of all kinds, recently came up with the 53 million number Warner mentioned. MBO Partners, which provides tools for businesses that use contractors, put it at 30.2 million. But for lawmaking purposes, <strong>it's probably a good idea to get your information from a source that doesn't have a commercial interest in the numbers it's putting out.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>True enough, but let's start with these folks. <a href="" target="_blank">The Freelancers Union</a> reports that in 2015 the gig economy "held steady" at 34 percent of the workforce. <a href="" target="_blank">MBO Partners</a> reports that it "held firm" at 30 million. They additionally report that it's increased 12 percent in the past five years, which is <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gig_economy.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">not especially impressive considering that total employment has increased 9 percent over the same period.</p> <p>The government does not track this directly, and I assume that these two sources are generally motivated to be cheerleaders for the gig economy, which means their numbers are about as optimistic as possible. If that's true, it looks as though the gig economy is almost entirely smoke and mirrors. After all, if it were a big phenomenon it would be getting bigger every year as technology became an ever more important part our lives. And yet, both sources agree that 2015, when the economy was doing fairly well, showed no growth at all in the gig economy. What's more, as <a href="" target="_blank">Jordan Weissman</a> and others have pointed out, what little government data we have isn't really consistent with the idea that the gig economy is growing.</p> <p>So be wary of the hype. Maybe the gig economy will be a big thing in the future. Maybe the tech portion is growing, but the growth is hidden by a decline in traditional freelancing. Maybe. For now, though, it appears to be mostly just another example of the reality distortion hype that Silicon Valley is so good at.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 18:22:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 286626 at Monsanto's Stock Is Tanking. Is the Company's Own Excitement About GMOs Backfiring? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Pity Monsanto, the genetically modified seed and agrichemical giant. Its share price has <a href=",%22allowChartStacking%22:true%7D" target="_blank">plunged 25 percent</a> since the spring. Market prices for corn and soybeans are in the dumps, meaning Monsanto's main customers&mdash;farmers who specialize in those crops&mdash;have less money to spend on its pricey seeds and flagship herbicide (which recently got named a "<a href="" target="_blank">probable carcinogen"</a> by the World Health organization, <a href="" target="_blank">spurring lawsuits</a>).</p> <p>Monsanto's long, noisy attempt to buy up rival pesticide giant Syngenta <a href="" target="_blank">crumbled into dust last month</a>. And Wednesday, Monsanto reported quarterly revenues and profits that <a href="" target="_blank">sharply underperformed Wall Street expectations</a>. For good measure, it also sharply <a href="" target="_blank">lowered its profit projections for the year ahead</a>.</p> <p>In response to these unhappy trends, the company announced it was slashing 2,600 jobs, <a href="" target="_blank">12 percent of its workforce</a>, and spending $3 billion to buy back shares. Share buybacks are a form of <a href="" target="_blank">financial</a> (as opposed to genetic) engineering&mdash;they magically boost a company's earnings-per-share ratio (a metric closely watched by investors) simply by removing shares from the market. And buybacks <a href="" target="_blank">divert money from things like R&amp;D</a>&mdash;or keeping a company's workforce whole&mdash;and into the pockets of shareholders.</p> <p>In a conference call with investors (<a href="" target="_blank">transcript</a>), Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant put a positive spin on the company's prospects. "Our germplasm performance has never been better, our trait technology has continued to leap and our market position and pipeline remains strong," he <a href="" target="_blank">declared</a>. But later, he hit upon a theme that became obvious when Monsanto was stalking Syngenta: that Monsanto's leadership feels the company is too invested in high-tech seeds, and under-invested in old-fashioned pesticides (the market for Syngenta owns the globe's leading position).</p> <p>In the call, Jeff Zekauskas, an analyst with JP MorganChase, <a href="" target="_blank">asks</a> Grant whether Monsanto is still interested in boosting its pesticide portfolio by buying a competitor. Grant's <a href="" target="_blank">answer</a> was essentially yes: "We still believe in the opportunity of integrated solutions," i.e., selling more pesticides along with seeds. He added:</p> <blockquote> <p>We've got a 400 million acre seed technology footprint. We've seen time and time again that we can increase revenue and improve grower service by bringing chemistry up on that footprint.</p> </blockquote> <p>Translation: Our patented seeds and traits are sown on 400 million acres worldwide (about for times the size of California), and if we could sell more pesticides (chemistry) to the people who farm those acres, we could make more money. Later, he noted:</p> <blockquote> <p>We continue to see duplication in R&amp;D in the sector. We continue to see the low effectiveness of R&amp;D with some of our competitors and we continue to think that consolidation in this space is inevitable.</p> </blockquote> <p>Translation: Research-and-development investments in the ag-biotech/agrichemical sector aren't paying off&mdash;not enough blockbuster new products&mdash;so the few companies remaining in the field (there are <a href="" target="_blank">six</a>) are going to start swallowing each other up.&nbsp;</p> <p>Massive layoffs, share buybacks, dreams of buying up the pesticide portfolios of competitors&mdash;these aren't characteristics of a company confident in the long-term profitability of its core technology: the genetic modification of crops.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Fri, 09 Oct 2015 18:08:24 +0000 Tom Philpott 286576 at Here's Why Sea World in San Diego Can't Breed Killer Whales Any Longer <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_sea_world_map.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">You may have seen the news that Sea World in San Diego will <a href="" target="_blank">no longer be allowed to breed killer whales:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>After an all-day meeting that drew hundreds of supporters and critics of the park, the California Coastal Commission moved to ban captive whale breeding and drastically restrict the movement of whales in and out of the park.</p> </blockquote> <p>The California Coastal Commission? Why do they have any say over Sea World's orca breeding? One of the charmingly idiosyncratic aspects of governance in California is that the Coastal Commission regulates all construction done within about 1000 yards of the coastline. As you can see, Sea World is well within that boundary, and it so happens that they wanted to build a bigger tank for their killer whales. But they could only do this if the Coastal Commission approved it.</p> <p>Still confused? Well, the initiative that created the Coastal Commission didn't really put any boundaries on the commission's power. They can pretty much cut any deal they want, which is why they're so furiously hated by every gazillionaire who lives near the coast. In this case, their deal was this: you can build the bigger tank, but only if you stop breeding whales and don't bring any new ones in. And that was that.</p> <p>This has been today's California Explainer for all you poor folks who are forced to live in less desirable parts of the country and don't understand our tribal customs. You're welcome.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 17:37:39 +0000 Kevin Drum 286611 at Ben Carson Is Wrong About Hitler and Guns <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">More guns, fewer holocausts?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Ben Carson said Thursday that Adolf Hitler&rsquo;s mass murder of Jews "would have been greatly diminished&rdquo; if German citizens had not been disarmed by the Nazi regime&hellip;"But just clarify, if there had been no gun control laws in Europe at that time, would 6 million Jews have been slaughtered?" Blitzer asked.</p> <p>"I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed," Carson said&hellip;"I&rsquo;m telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first."</p> </blockquote> <p>This got me curious: <em>Did</em> Hitler take away everyone's guns? As you can imagine, I know zilch about the history of gun control in Germany, so I surfed <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hitler_nuremburg.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">over to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, for a quick refresher course. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's what they say:</a></p> <ul><li>In 1919, the Treaty of Versaille disarmed Germany. "Fearing inability to hold the state together during the depression, the German government adopted a sweeping series of gun confiscation legislation." This was long before Hitler came to power.</li> <li>In 1928 this legislation was relaxed. "Germans could possess firearms, but they were required to have [] permits&hellip;Furthermore, the law restricted ownership of firearms to '&hellip;persons whose trustworthiness is not in question and who can show a need for a permit.'" Again, this was before Hitler came to power.</li> <li>In 1938, Hitler relaxed the law further. Rifles and shotguns were completely deregulated, permits were extended to three years, and the age at which guns could be purchased was lowered to 18.</li> </ul><p>Now, Hitler <em>did</em> effectively ban Jews from owning guns in 1938. However, this is highly unlikely to have affected the fate of the Jews even slightly. The Nazis were considerably better armed and organized, and if Jews had taken to shooting them it would have accomplished nothing except giving Joseph Goebbels some terrific propaganda opportunities. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is a good example of this: Jews fought back, and the result was a few dead Germans and 13,000 dead Jews.</p> <p>The bottom line is familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of history: Hitler was popular. He didn't need to take away anyone's guns. Whatever you think about gun control, using Hitler to defend your position is a bad idea.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 16:16:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 286601 at Hillary Clinton Wants to Cut Mega-Banks Down to Size <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Bring back Glass-Steagall! This is a popular cry among lefty populists, but it's probably not a very good idea on the merits. Glass-Steagall is a New Deal law that split up commercial banks and investment banks, and it was repealed in 1999. Ten years later Wall Street went up in smoke. But commercial banks and investment banks both had problems, and so did combined banks. The repeal of Glass-Steagall really had nothing to do with it.</p> <p>On the other hand, the repeal of Glass-Steagall did allow banks to get bigger, and that increased size <em>was</em> a problem. When small banks go bust, we just clean up the mess and get on with things. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_big_banks.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">When gigantic banks go bust, Wall Street goes up in smoke.</p> <p>So rather than turning back the clock and reinstating Glass-Steagall, a better idea is to address bank size directly. The Fed approved one approach to this a couple of months ago by requiring the very biggest banks to hold <a href="" target="_blank">larger capital reserves than smaller banks:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As well as making the big banks safer, <strong>the rules may also persuade them to get smaller.</strong> Capital is an economically expensive funding source for a bank. As regulators demand that large banks have more capital, their overall expenses rise. In turn, the banks may decide to pare down their less profitable businesses and shrink over time. Previous regulatory initiatives that increased capital already seem to have had that effect, and the Fed may want to see that continue.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hillary Clinton wants to go even further by directly taxing big banks, and taxing them even more if their capital structure is relatively risky. <a href="" target="_blank">Matt Yglesias runs down her plan for us:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Clinton doesn't spell out precise numbers for her fee, perhaps recognizing that in the real world this would all be subject to negotiation in Congress anyway. But the key pillars are:</p> <blockquote> <ul><li>The fee would be assessed on banks with more than $50 billion in assets (34 banks fit the bill as of today, though two of them are very close to the line) as well as on a handful of other institutions that the government has already flagged for extra regulatory scrutiny.</li> <li>The fee rate would be higher on short-term debt than on long-term debt.</li> <li>The fee rate would be higher on banks with more debt in their financing structure.</li> <li>FDIC-insured bank deposits would be exempt from the fee.</li> </ul></blockquote> <p>The upshot of all this would be to <strong>nudge the banking system toward institutions becoming either smaller or else more boring,</strong> because risky activity would be more profitable in a smaller institution than in a larger one. The result would be to push risk out of the kinds of institutions whose failure would be catastrophic, without impeding banks' ability to become big per se.</p> </blockquote> <p>So wonky. So boring. But, as Yglesias says, also a pretty good idea. That's often the case with well-thought-out plans.</p> <p>In any case, the Fed plan affects the eight biggest banks in the country. Hillary's plan would affect 34 banks. And of course, the eight mega-banks would have to abide by the Fed's higher capital requirements <em>and</em> Hillary's tax.</p> <p>All of these plans, by the way, are roundabout methods of reducing the amount of leverage that big banks can engage in. As a purist, I'd prefer to just pass rules that directly regulate leverage levels. But that's easier said than done, and higher capital requirements are a close substitute. Hillary's plan is even more indirect, but it also reduces risk by nudging banks to get smaller. Lots of leverage is still bad, but a smaller bank that goes bust is less catastrophic than a bigger one that goes bust.</p> <p>More details are <a href="" target="_blank">here,</a> part of the Clinton campaign's <a href="" target="_blank">rather startling array of detailed policy statements.</a> It's enough to make you think she might be a wee bit more serious than anyone on the Republican side.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 15:24:27 +0000 Kevin Drum 286596 at Ted Cruz's Wait-It-Out Strategy Could Prove Successful—or a "Colossal Mistake" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Ted Cruz's run for president has gotten off to a rough start. He's currently in <a href="" target="_blank">sixth place</a> in the polls. The thirst for an outsider candidate that was supposed to propel his campaign has instead been quenched by Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and now Carly Fiorina. But Cruz has a strategy for overcoming his lackluster performance thus far, one that's drawn strong reviews from some party insiders. Republican consultant Doug Heye praised his "smart" campaign to the <a href=""><em>Hill</em> newspaper</a>, and the conservative <em>National Review Online</em> <a href="">reported</a> on "growing chatter" among Republicans that Cruz "is likely to be one of the last men standing."</p> <p>The problem is that his strategy is a long shot. It basically calls for Cruz to muddle through the early contests and then kick into gear a month later when Southern states head to the polls in March. And by then, it might be too late for a Cruz surge.</p> <p>"If it works, everyone will say it's brilliant," says Craig Robinson, a Republican strategist in Iowa. "But if it fails, I think this could be looked back on as the colossal mistake his campaign made."</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/politics/2015/10/ted-cruz-has-strategy-stick-it-out-gop-primary"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Politics 2016 Elections Ted Cruz Fri, 09 Oct 2015 14:50:30 +0000 Pema Levy 286421 at