Political MoJo

After Judge Gives Rapist Probation, Alabama Rape Crisis Center Pushes to Change Law

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 3:14 PM EST

The Alabama state house.

In the wake of an Alabama judge's decision to give Austin Smith Clem probation for three felony rape convictions, a network of rape crisis centers in Alabama is pushing to change state law so judges are prevented from handing down such lenient punishments in the future.

In an email to Mother Jones, Janet S. Gabel, the executive director of Crisis Services of North Alabama, says that her organization is "appalled by the judge's decision to not send Mr. Clem to prison."

"We are concerned about the message this sends to rapists and victims in Limestone County," she notes. "I will be asking the Alabama Coalition Against Sexual Violence and the District Attorney's Association to join us in changing the wording of the state statute so that in the future, a convicted rapist will not be sentenced to community corrections but instead will receive an appropriate sentence for such a heinous crime."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 18, 2013

Mon Nov. 18, 2013 11:48 AM EST

Staff Sgt. Juan Fisher, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarkation chief, re-enlists during a hike on Oct. 25, 2013. For most of the hike, the Marines wore Mission Oriented Protection Posture, or MOPP gear. The Marines wore the gear because during the hike, they were exposed to CS gas as part of their annual Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear training. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Rome Lazarus/Released.

Liz Cheney Heartlessly Disowns Her Sister on National TV

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 9:41 AM EST

It's become a tired but true trope for the LGBT rights movement: As more people come out of the closet, the country increasingly tolerates different sexual orientations and identities. It's easy to casually gay bash when you've never met someone who isn't straight. It's much harder—and socially unacceptable—when you have to sit across from your niece and her girlfriend at Thanksgiving dinner.

This has certainly been true in politics. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) wrote an op-ed endorsing same-sex marriage after his college-aged son came out as gay. President Barack Obama cited LGBT members of his staff when he explained his decision to back gay marriage last year. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney began to break GOP orthodoxy during the 2004 campaign. His acceptance can be attributed to his daughter Mary Cheney, a lesbian who married her longtime partner Heather Poe last year. The elder Cheney began to publicly support same-sex unions after he left the White House, pushing Maryland legislators to pass marriage equality in 2012.

But some members of the Cheney family don't seem so tolerant. Mary's older sister Liz is challenging Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) in next year's Republican primary, running on a socially conservative platform. Liz's early poll numbers are dismal, thanks in part to a barrage of outside attack ads that claim she's "wrong for Wyoming" because she "supports government benefits for gay couples." (The fact Liz is a novice candidate who just moved back to the state earlier this year hasn't helped matters either.)

Liz, who's trailing by more than 50 points, couldn't let an attack like that stand pat, so she went on Fox News on Sunday to correct the record, clarifying that she's still dislikes same-sex marriage and doesn't approve of her sister's lifestyle. "Listen, I love Mary very much. I love her family very much," Liz said. "This is just an issue on which we disagree."

That prompted Mary to go public with her objections to Liz's outdated views. "Liz—this isn't just an issue on which we disagree—you're just wrong—and on the wrong side of history," Mary wrote on Facebook.

Poe also critiqued her sister-in-law. "Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children," Poe wrote on Facebook, "and when Mary and I got married in 2012—she didn't hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us. To have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least."

Wyoming is behind the national curve when it comes to same-sex marriage. As of July, only 32 percent of voters in the state support it. But Liz Cheney's opposition to full LGBT equality might not play so well; it's hard to campaign on "family values" when you're publicly criticizing your sister's marriage. The two sisters are no longer on speaking terms, with Mary telling the New York Times on Sunday that it is "impossible" unless Liz recants her statements. The Cheney family is scheduled to gather in Wyoming for the most awkward Christmas imaginable. "I will not be seeing her," Mary said.

House Passes GOP Bill That Could Curb Civil Rights Lawsuits

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 7:00 AM EST

Last week, the House passed a GOP bill that would slap fines on people who file "frivolous lawsuits"—like that one against the Weather Channel for failing to predict a storm. Except that the bill could also discourage Americans from filing civil rights lawsuits, according to Democrats who oppose the bill.

The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which was introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), passed the House 228 to 195, with only three Democrats voting in favor. It would require courts to fine attorneys for bringing suits that are intended to harass the defendant, or whose claims are not based on fact or existing law, or are not backed by a legitimate argument for establishing new law.

"Lawsuit abuse is common in America because the lawyers who bring these frivolous cases have everything to gain and nothing to lose," Smith said when the bill passed. He and fellow Republicans say that frivolous lawsuits waste thousands of court hours and cost companies billions of dollars each year.

But Democrats say the bill would have dangerous side effects. Smiths' bill could also make it harder for people to successfully bring civil rights lawsuits, they say, because these cases often hinge on new types of legal issues—such as transgender rights—making them more vulnerable to being shot down as invalid by a court. (Earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner called discrimination lawsuits brought by LGBT individuals "frivolous".) Victims of discrimination may be less likely to file suit if they know they could be penalized for doing so.

The bill "will turn the clock back to a time when federal rules of civil procedure discouraged civil rights cases [and] limited judicial discretion," House judiciary committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) told The Hill after the bill passed, adding that the legislation would "have a disastrous impact on the administration of justice."

So, it's a good thing Smith's bill isn't going anywhere. The White House opposes it, and the Senate is unlikely to take the legislation up for a vote.

Vaginas Are Like "Little Hoover Vacuums," and Other Things Abstinence Lecturers Get Paid to Tell Teens

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 7:00 AM EST

I went to public high school in Montana, where at least once a year we were shuffled into the gymnasium for lectures from abstinence-only educational speakers on how to make "good choices." Young, sprightly twentysomethings, who often resembled Ken and Barbie, would dance around the auditorium playing Christian rock and trying to convince us that having sex wasn't cool. In between all the jokes and music, I learned that condoms cause cancer and that sex is a bad deal for women. Turns out, I wasn't alone. Across the the United States, public schools—even ones that teach comprehensive sex education—invite religious abstinence speakers to come in to talk to students about sex, and sometimes spread information that is factually inaccurate in the process. Here are five such speakers, many of whom have generated local headlines for their controversial presentations. And they might be coming to a school near you—they're all still active on the sex-is-bad circuit.

Justin Lookadoo: "God made guys as leaders." 
Lookadoo is a spiky-haired Christian lecturer who bills himself as a "professional Speaker who CONNECTS with the audience." He is on the road 200 days a year and on his website, he lists his age as "legal in every state." Lookadoo's presentations can be paid for "under many federal programs, including Safe and Drug Free Schools, Campus Improvement, Title I [and] Title IV." Last week, he caused controversy at Richardson High School in Texas when he gave a presentation for teenagers in which he said: "Girls, the reason it's so hard for you to succeed these days is not because of guys…You're doing it to yourselves," according to the Dallas Morning News. His online dating recommendations have also drawn ire from students and parents: "Men of God are wild…They keep women covered up" and "dateable girls know how to shut up." The Richardson High School principal apologized to students and parents, promising that "we will not invite this speaker back to RHS." Responding to the widespread media criticism, Lookadoo wrote on his Facebook page that "the complaints are based on relationship stuff [posted] on a website that I don’t even talk about in schools." 

Lookadoo.com


Jason Evert: "Girls...only lift the veil over your body to the spouse who is worthy."
Evert has two theology degrees and tours the country promoting abstinence with his wife, Crystalina Evert, with whom he runs the Chastity Project. According to Evert's bio, he speaks to over 100,000 teens each year. Evert tells Mother Jones he speaks to "lots of public schools" and his upcoming schedule shows that he's speaking next month at several in Texas. He says, however, that he removes all religious content from his public school presentations and is not paid personally for these events. Half of his honorarium for each event is spent on giving the students free copies of his pro-abstinence books and CDs.

Evert is passionate about women dressing modestly (or as he puts it, "Girls...only lift the veil over your body to the spouse who is worthy to see the glory of that unveiled mystery.") In this 2008 YouTube video, he says: "A culture of immodest women will necessarily be a culture of uncommitted men." He elaborated on those remarks for Mother Jones, saying that "true feminine liberation isn't about having the 'freedom' to dress like Miley Cyrus"​ and that that his views "could be judged as misogynist, but I think this would be an unfair assessment." He adds, "It's a joke to think the girl needs to be the chastity cop...but to reach [a] level of mutual respect in society, I don't think Daisy Duke shorts are going to expedite the process." Evert also maintains that birth control pills cause abortions. (In reality, they prevent conception, and if an egg is fertilized, they make the uterine lining inhospitable for implantation. The Code of Federal Regulations and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists define pregnancy as beginning at implantation.)


Pam Stenzel: "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you."
Stenzel is a lecturer who, according to her bio, "provide[s] a structured and unambiguous message of abstinence that will mobilize and empower adolescents to make responsible choices​" and claims to speak in-person to about 500,000 young people annually. She makes about $4,000 to $6,000 per appearance and has an extensive line of DVDs. She was also consulted for President George W. Bush's abstinence programs. This April, at George Washington High School in Charleston, West Virginia, a public school, she allegedly made some female students cry by "slut-shaming" them. According to the Charleston Gazette, she said, "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you" and claimed she could tell which teenagers are promiscuous by looking at them. Stenzel told LifeSiteNews that she never said those things, but acknowledged that her presentation was "a little tough." In her YouTube videos, Stenzel tells students that sex is worse for girls (because they "are much easier to infect and easier to damage"). She also asserts that the HPV vaccine "only works on virgins," and that chlamydia—even when treated—is likely to make women infertile, with a 25 percent chance of infertility the first time it's contracted and a 50 percent chance the second time. Her HPV claim is 100 percent false, and her chlamydia statement is mostly false. (Of women with chlamydia who go untreated, about 10 percent will develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which in some cases may cause infertility.)


Joi Wasill: "According to your health textbook, and all of the medical textbooks, and science textbooks, and biology texts, conception is when life begins."
Wasill is the founder and executive director of Decisions, Choices & Options, Inc., a Tennessee-based organization with strong Christian and Republican ties that has provided educational programs that have reached about 40,000 high school students (her organization is currently available for public school bookings.) For speaking gigs outside of the Nashville area, the organization charges for travel fees and a per diem. In May, she spoke at Hillsboro High School, a public school in Nashville, Tennessee, along with Beth Cox, a presenter for Wasill’s organization. One student recorded her presentation and leaked it to the press. RH Reality Check, a daily publication covering sexual health, noted the talk included a host of inaccurate information.

The speakers claimed that condoms have holes in them and a failure rate of 14 percent (it's actually less than 3 percent); that first-trimester abortions can cause infertility (the National Abortion Federation says they're one of the "safest" medical procedures); and that the morning-after pill is a "chemical abortion" (nope, it delays and prevents ovulation). They also said that "according to your health textbook, and all of the medical textbooks, and science textbooks, and biology texts," life begins at conception. Wasil tells Mother Jones that her curriculum is "based upon information obtained from the Center[s] for Disease Control, SEICUS [Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States], National Center for Health Statistics, the health textbooks adopted by the state, and other sources such as these." Teaching "sexual risk avoidance" is in accordance with the law, she says, adding, "the avoidance of the risky behavior that leads to infection, disease, and teenage pregnancy is the best outcome for all students and enables them to live healthy, productive and successful lives."

Pro Life in TN


Shelly Donahue: "Girls are more feelings-oriented, and boys are more facts-oriented."
Donahue is a speaker for the Colorado-based Center for Relationship Education, an abstinence-only education program that works with students in 42 states and has received millions in federal funds. In 2006, Donohue caused controversy at Natrona County High School, a public school in Casper, Wyoming, when she gave a religious-themed abstinence presentation. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, she asked students, "Do you get closer to your God or do you get farther away when you have sex?" (The answer she wanted: "Farther away.") She also said that boys are "wired" to like math, science, and numbers, and girls are wired to be more feelings-oriented. She held up a bag of noodles to indicate that girls "are like spaghetti, with their feelings about parts of their lives entangled," according to the Star-Tribune. (She told the paper: "The outpouring and the positive was so much greater than this one kid's complaint.") In a training video posted by the Denver Westword in 2011, Donahue tells students that if a guy gets sperm anywhere near a girl's vagina, it will turn into a "little Hoover vacuum" and she will become pregnant. (No. Vaginas don't vacuum sperm off the couch.) In another 2011 video, she says, "the boys want to love and respect these girls, and the girls won't let them. The girls are backing up the booty, the girls are being assertive, these girls are emasculating these boys." She continues to conduct sex-ed training programs for teachers on public Title V funds and is holding one this month in Greeley, Colorado.

Walmart Ads Target "Low Income" Consumers With Junk Food

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 7:00 AM EST

In 2011, Walmart pledged to offer healthier grocery options by reducing the sugar and sodium content of packaged foods, rolling out a "Great for You" food label, and making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable. It has done that to an extent, but those are not typically the products that it markets to its "low income" shoppers.

A November 13 advertising circular specifically aimed at low-income customers included discount coupons for a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola, a 10-pack of Kool-Aid Jammers drinks, and a 9.5-ounce bag of Cheetos. Only 3 of the 36 discounted items in the ad were labeled "Great for You," while 10 of them touted high-sugar, high-sodium, or high-fat junk foods. The ad did not include any coupons for fresh fruits or vegetables.

By contrast, coupons appearing at the same time in a separate, more broadly targeted "Grocery" advertising page included yellow onions, whole carrots, and Bartlett pears.

At some point after November 13, Walmart changed the name of its "Low Income" coupon page to "Stretch & Save." Walmart did not respond to questions about why it changed the name and why its Stretch & Save customers don't deserve healthier options.

Early this year, Michele Obama appeared at a Walmart store in Springfield, Missouri, to tout the retail giant's move toward healthier offerings. "For years, the conventional wisdom said that healthy products just didn't sell," she said from a podium set up in the produce section. "Thanks to Walmart and other companies, we are proving the conventional wisdom wrong."

But Walmart's advertising strategy seems to suggest that the retail giant still isn't willing to market fresh fruits and vegetables to the shopping demographic that most needs them. It's hard to say why. Maybe Walmart has figured out that ads for Bartlett pears won't get the poor through the doors. Or maybe its mediocre and low-margin produce just isn't profitable enough.

Either way, one would hope Walmart, as a corporate citizen, could see value in marketing healthy foods to low-income shoppers, given that those shoppers are also its workers. Then again, controlling its employees' health care costs typically hasn't been a big part of Walmart's business plan.

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Alabama District Attorney Seeks Prison Time for Rapist Sentenced to Probation

| Sat Nov. 16, 2013 7:04 PM EST

An Alabama district attorney filed a motion today seeking prison time for Austin Smith Clem, who was convicted of repeatedly raping a teenager—twice when she was 14—but was given only probation and a stint in community corrections as punishment.

Brian Jones, the Limehouse County district attorney, told Mother Jones on Friday that his office was reviewing its options to "achieve a sentence that gives justice to our victim." This afternoon, Jones emailed reporters a copy of a motion he filed to stay Clem's sentence and incarcerate him.

Jones has also filed a petition for a writ of mandamus for the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals. The petition argues that Clem's current sentence is illegal, and it asks the appeals court to order the presiding judge in Clem's case, Circuit Court Judge James Woodroof, to "vacate his sentencing order…and re-sentence the defendant according to the provisions of Alabama law."

In September, a jury convicted Clem of two counts of second-degree rape and one count of first-degree rape. Woodroof sentenced Clem to 10 years in prison for each of the second-degree rape charges and 20 years for first-degree rape. But Woodroof "split" the sentence so that Clem would serve two years in Limestone County community corrections program, a program aimed at nonviolent criminals, and three years of probation.

Jones' petition asks the appeals court to consider whether Woodroof, in doing so, violated the Alabama split-sentence statute and the Alabama Community Punishment and Corrections Act. The petition argues that Alabama law prohibits a sentence for a felony—such as forcible rape—from being served in a community corrections program. "Rape by force or compulsion must be treated by the criminal justice system as a violent offense," the petition states. "To suggest otherwise runs afoul of thousands of years of both sound jurisprudence and experience."

On Friday, in response to his punishment, Clem's victim said she was "livid."

In an interview with Mother Jones, Clem's defense attorney, Dan Totten, defended the sentence, saying, "[Clem's] lifestyle for the next six years is going to be very controlled…If he goes to a party and they're serving beer, he can't say, 'Can I have one?' If he wanted to go across the Tennessee line, which as the crow flies is eight or nine miles from his house, and buy a lottery ticket, he can't do that." Totten noted to Mother Jones that he has been friends with Woodroof since childhood. He did not call any witnesses in defense at Clem's trial.

 
 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 15, 2013

Fri Nov. 15, 2013 11:03 AM EST

Members of the Utah Army National Guard 2-211 Aviation Battalion assist members of the 19th Special Forces Group with freefall and static line parachute jumps near Camp Williams, Utah, Oct. 30, 2013. The 2-211 assisted the 19th SFG with maintaining airborne qualification as well as jump master qualifications. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt.Tim Chacon.

Obama's Obamacare Fix Doesn't Put Out the Fire on Capitol Hill

| Thu Nov. 14, 2013 5:33 PM EST

On Thursday morning, President Barack Obama announced a fix for the millions of Americans whose insurance plans are being canceled that will allow them to keep their plans for an extra year. But the president's proposal did not go far enough for many congressional Democrats, who are increasingly worried Obamacare's mounting problems are harming the party as a whole.

"There's lots of support for additional changes," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters Thursday when asked if he thought Senate Democrats would back further legislative fixes to Obamacare's cancellation notice problem.

Last week, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who is up for reelection in 2014, introduced a bill that would allow Americans with plans that are noncompliant with the Affordable Care Act to keep those plans indefinitely; since then, five other Senate Dems have joined as cosponsors. One of them, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), told reporters Thursday that Obama's plan is a "good intermediate fix, but we still need the Landrieu bill."

Nominee to Run Federal Reserve Unsure When It Will Curb Its Powers to Bail Out Banks

| Thu Nov. 14, 2013 4:59 PM EST

Janet Yellen.

On Thursday morning, the Senate banking committee held a hearing on Janet Yellen's nomination to chair the Federal Reserve—the US central bank charged with keeping unemployment low and inflation in check. A telling moment in the hearing came when Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) asked Yellen, the Fed's current vice chair, when the central bank would wind down its powers to bail out banks, as required three years ago by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act. Yellen wasn't sure.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Fed doled out $16 trillion in cheap loans to big banks that were reeling from the global financial crisis. To prevent Wall Street from expecting this type of cash infusion in the future, Dodd-Frank restricted the kinds of emergency lending the Fed can do. But the Fed still hasn't crafted these general provisions into specific regulations limiting its powers—and until it does, it's free to do as it sees fit.

At the hearing, Yellen told Vitter that regulations limiting the Fed's bailout powers are still "in the works" and that she'd "try to get it out soon," but said she was "not certain what the time frame is." During questioning at a financial services committee hearing in July, Fed chair Ben Bernanke said the Fed had "made a lot of progress" on in crafting enforceable limits on its bailout powers, and that he hoped to have the final regulations out by the end of the year. Yellen's lack of an answer for Vitter's question suggests that year-end deadline may be off the table.

As I reported in July, financial reform experts think the reason the Fed is dragging its feet is obvious: the central bank doesn't want to cede any powers it may want to use in the future. It's easier for the Fed to hand out money than to upend the way it operates, Marcus Stanley, the policy director at Americans for Financial Reform, told me at the time.

The Fed could be busy with other matters, of course. But Yellen's lack of an answer suggests that limiting its own powers isn't "a high priority for the Federal Reserve," says Mike Konczal, a financial reform expert at the Roosevelt Institute.