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Political Rundown: Obama's Openness, McConnell's Memes And Hanaway's Headway

via White House video stream

Politics can be a 24/7 occupation, as anyone with a cell phone, computer or cable subscription knows. It's not hard to find political news, commentary or just plain rants. They are everywhere. Sometimes it takes a little more digging to find the context, perspective or background on major issues of the day.

Once a week, our political team would like to share stories that gave them insight into the news of the day or perhaps just some pleasure to read.

Seeing Through Transparency

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama promised to make his administration "the most transparent administration in history."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, his record doesn't live up to his pledge. In an Associated Press analysis, the organization found that "the Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them last year."

The administration cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy. Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests, the analysis found.

Here are a few things they found.

  • 36 percent of all requests were either censored or fully denied.
  • National Security was cited as an exemption 8,496 times (57 percent increase).
  • The Pentagon has a pending request from 10 years ago. The CIA has four made more than 8 years ago.

(Chris McDaniel)

Here we go McConnelling

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell might have unexpectedly started a revolution since the Kentucky Republican has taken over the internet. 

It all started when McConnell’s campaign uploaded a video known as “McConnell Working for Kentuckians” to YouTube. It features McConnell working in his office, talking with people and making speeches – but with no sound other than some background music.

It’s what’s known as B-roll – imagery for campaign advertisements. Such innocuous images wouldn’t have gotten a second look if it wasn’t for Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show."

The Comedy Central news-guy commanded his fans to sync the imagery of the video with popular music. That sparked an overflow of hilarious videos, a trend that’s affectionately known as “McConnelling.”

But this is more than just the meme of the moment.

Some – including the Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan – have realized for years that candidates in competitive electoral races post soundless videos onto YouTube. Sullivan and others have noted that the videos have a specific purpose: to provide imagery for third-party television ads.

It’s against the law for candidates to coordinate with third-party organizations, such as the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But if those committees take the imagery off of YouTube, they’re in the clear. This type of maneuver occurred in 2012 with Bill Enyart, the Democrat who won a competitive race for Illinois’ 12th congressional district. 

(Third parties use more than just soundless B-roll produced by candidates. A couple of years ago, Senate Majority PAC used footage I shot of then-Senate candidate John Brunner in one of their commercials. Perhaps not surprisingly, that third-party group didn’t ask for my permission to use the imagery – which I would never have granted.)

If anything, McConnelling should perhaps provide some pause to the corporations, wealthy individuals and congressional officials that fund third-party groups. They’re essentially shelling out millions of dollars so some high-priced staffer can do what thousands of Americans just did for free – overdub videos off of YouTube. Maybe it’ll spur some third party groups to get more creative with their ads – or least buy an intern a camcorder and a plane ticket.

But most likely, McConnelling will be remembered for allowing people with too much time on their hands to pair Mitch McConnell doing things with Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.” You’re welcome, St. Louis. (Jason Rosenbaum)

Hanaway snags key supporter
Although the next election for Missouri governor is more than two years away, the two announced candidates in both major parties – Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Catherine Hanaway – are already hard at work.

Hanaway, a St. Louis lawyer and former state House speaker, scored a significant coup this week when state Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, announced that he was supporting her for governor.

The Missouri Times, a publication that focuses on the state Capitol, featured an interview this week with Dempsey, who explained why he was supporting Hanaway – although not why he opted to announce his decision so early.

Hanaway’s potential GOP rival, state Auditor Tom Schweich, is running for re-election this fall. He has said he won’t discuss the contest for governor until after that election. However, a number of prominent area Republicans already have made clear their support for Schweich.

And if candidate filing closes March 25 without Schweich collecting any opposition, he may be tempted to make his 2016 intentions sooner that expected – in part, to discourage more early declarations for Hanaway from major GOP players like Dempsey. (Jo Mannies)

The great divide

America is getting poorer. At least that's what Frank Rolfe thinks -- and he's made millions of dollars banking on this country's downward mobility. Rolfe, who lives about an hour south of St. Louis, makes his money off trailer parks (and introducing others to this gold mine) as chronicled in "The Cold, Hard Lessons of Mobile Home U." in the New York Times:

"By making what Rolf calls a 'contrarian bet on a poorer America,' they have posted an annual return of roughly 25 percent, a rate at which they and their investors are doubling their money about every four years. By catering to those living on the economic margins, their parks generated more than $30 million in revenue last year. More than half of that was profit."

In his seminars to prospective trailer park owners, Rolfe recommends steady but small rent increases (and keeping rents lower than market-rate apartments); not planting trees (their roots can interfere with sewage systems); and chucking people out the first time they miss a payment (and don't buy parks in tenant-friendly states like New York or California).

But for those living in Rolfe's trailer parks, he's no slum landlord. He spends money fixing up the parks he buys and making sure that they're well run -- in the process giving people a relatively clean, safe and decent place to live. Especially in rural areas or small towns, where public housing isn't available or an option, it may be the best choice available.

We all know that poverty limits opportunities. According to "Income Gap, Meet the Longevity Gap," it can limit lifespan as well. The article compares Fairfax County, Va., and McDowell County, W.Va., where "men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq.:

This discrepancy in lifespan is hardly new:

"The link between income and longevity has been clearly established. Poor people are likelier to smoke. They have less access to the health care system. They tend to weigh more. And their bodies suffer the debilitating effects of more intense and more constant stress. Everywhere, and across time, the poor tend to live shorter lives than the rich."

The question is: Will it widen as inequality in the United States widens? (Susan Hegger)

Economic border wars

The current economic border war between Missouri and Kansas, in which Kansas City-area companies on both sides of State Line Road have been enticed by tax breaks to cross over, is not the first or the only one of its kind.  A similar standoff erupted a few years ago between Virginia and Maryland over businesses in the Washington DC metro area, as detailed by a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that was picked up by the website littlegreenfootballs.com. Blogger and commentatorJames A. Bacon also weighed in on the Virginia/Maryland economic clash.  

Meanwhile, a wider border war between Wisconsin and Illinois was “declared” three years ago by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, after the Illinois legislature voted to raise personal and corporate state income taxes, as detailed by the Wisconsin State Journal’s Clay Barbour (Marshall Griffin)



Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.