On Tuesday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was the guest speaker on Rev. E.W. Jackson's semi-regular conference call, during which Jackson, a tea party activist, said that President Barack Obama has "Muslim sensibilities" and that gay Americans "want to destroy us."
During the call, Paul generally gave routine answers to questions on abortion, border security, and the size of the military. One caller did ask Paul if he supported Obama's recent declaration that June was LGBT Pride Month and if he believed homosexuality is an illness. The question was reminiscent of a tweet Jackson wrote in June 2009, when Obama designated June as Pride Month: "Well that just makes me feel ikky all over. Yuk!"
"I don't think that there's really a role for the federal government in deciding what people's behavior at home should be one way or another," Paul said. "It's not something the federal government needs to be involved in."
After Paul left the conference call, Jackson said he suspected the caller who asked about Pride Month was trying to harass them. "Thank god he was respectful," Jackson said. "But I just want to encourage everybody, that they are going to talk about us like [we're] dogs because all they know is hatred, because all they know is anger and bitterness, because there's something wrong with them on the inside…And by the way, they also want to destroy us…We are in a fight for our very lives, for our survival."
Jackson then discussed Obama's announcement of the release of Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier captured in Afghanistan. He said that the president "could not help but smile" when Bergdahl's father, Robert, said "allahu akbar—or whatever it is they say" at the press conference.
Jackson continued: "I have been roundly criticized for saying the president has Muslim sensibilities. That’s not my statement—that’s just a statement of fact…In this situation you would think he would have restrained himself. But he could not help but smile when that man said 'Praise be to Allah.'"
(Bergdahl actually said "Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim," which translates to "in the name of Allah, most compassionate, most merciful.")
Jackson has a history of extreme statements. In two interviews in October 2012 with Americans for Truth About Homosexuality—which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group—Jackson accused homosexuality of "killing black men by the thousands." He added that liberal activists who support gay marriage "have done more to kill black folks whom they claim so much to love than the Ku Klux Klan, lynching, and slavery and Jim Crow ever did." Of gay people, he said:
Their minds are perverted, they’re frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally and they see everything through the lens of homosexuality. When they talk about love they’re not talking about love, they’re talking about homosexual sex. So they can’t see clearly...Homosexuality is a horrible sin, it poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys societies.
In those interviews, Jackson also said that the president "seems to have a lot of sympathy for even radical Islam, unwilling to call it terrorism, unwilling to deal with it."
Paul has made controversial remarks about same-sex marriage. After the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, he said, "It is difficult, because if we have no laws on this, people will take it to one extension further—does it have to be humans?" Paul later said he was joking.
Paul's office did not reply to requests for comment on Jackson's claim Obama possesses "Muslim sensibilities."
Ken Bennett, the Arizona secretary of state best known for threatening to leave President Obama off the ballot in the state if Hawaii didn't produce verification of Obama's birthplace, is now a leading candidate in the Republican primary to become the state's next governor.
Bennett, who insists that he's not a birther, sent a request to Hawaiian officials for verification of Obama's birthplace in the spring of 2012, about a year after the White House produced a detailed copy of Obama's birth certificate. Bennett was following in the footsteps of Joe Arpaio, the controversial Republican sheriff of Maricopa County, who had launched his own investigation into the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate the year before. (Arpaio ultimately concluded that the birth certificate released by the White House was "definitely fraudulent.") Bennett asked Hawaii to provide "a verification in lieu of a certified copy of a birth certificate." (As Alex Koppelman points out in The New Yorker, a die-hard birther would never be satisfied with "verification in lieu" of a birth certificate.) At first, Bennett told CBS 5 that he looked into the issue on the request of "a constituent." (He told Mother Jones this week that he received "thousands" of emails from constituents.) Bennett told Phoenix station KFYI that if Hawaii refused to comply with his request, it was "possible" that that he would exclude Obama from the ballot.
Update 2, Friday, 8:35 AM EDT: In an interview published in the Washington Post, Edward Snowden said the NSA's email release "is incomplete and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance [or] concerns about how indefensible collection activities such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies - are sometimes concealed." He added, "The fact is that I did raise such concerns both verbally and in writing, and on multiple, continuing occasions - as I have always said, and as NSA has always denied."
Update 1, Thursday, 2:25 PM EDT: The NSA has released the email it received from Edward Snowden on April 5, 2013. In the email, Snowden posed questions regarding a training session. He asked whether presidential executive orders supersede federal laws. He also asked about Department of Defense regulations and Office of Director of National Intelligence rules, wondering which has greater precedence. This email did not refer to any concerns about NSA surveillance programs. Three days later, the general counsel's office replied that EOs "cannot override a statute" and that DOD and ODNI regulations "are afforded similar precedence." The email noted, "please give me a call if you would like to discuss further."
The National Security Agency is firing back against former contractor Edward Snowden, who insists he reported his concerns about illegal surveillance activity directly to the agency in writing before leaking his treasure trove of super-secret documents. The NSA says it will today release an email it received from Snowden that undercuts his assertion.
Snowden has maintained that he alerted intelligence officials internally more than "10 times" about his concerns about NSA activities prior to becoming a leaker. Last night, as part of its interview with Snowden, NBC reported that two US officials confirmed that Snowden had sent at least one email to the NSA's general counsel raising "policy and legal questions." The network's revelation drew attention; the Intercept's Glenn Greenwald called it the "biggest news" from the interview. After all, NSA officials have previously denied that Snowden reported wrongdoing to senior officials. In a speech on April 15 in Tampa, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that "Snowden isn't a whistleblower." He asserted that Snowden "could have reported [concerns] to seniors at NSA…he chose not to go to any of those places."
Now that NBC has confirmed that Snowden did contact the NSA legal brass—undermining the NSA's previous claims—the agency is acknowledging that it heard from the contractor before the leaks. But it is claiming that Snowden's communication with the general counsel's office does not back up his story.
On Thursday, in an email sent to Mother Jones, NSA spokeswoman Marci Green Miller said that the NSA has "found one email inquiry by Edward Snowden to the office of General Counsel asking for an explanation of some material that was in a training course he had just completed. The e-mail did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse, but posed a legal question that the Office of General Counsel addressed. There was not additional follow-up noted."
She added, "There are numerous avenues that Mr. Snowden could have used to raise other concerns or whistleblower allegations. We have searched for additional indications of outreach from him in those areas and to date have not discovered any engagements related to his claims."
She noted the NSA will make the email public later today.
Given that Clapper and the NSA previously denied that Snowden had made any contact with the higher-ups, the agency's discovery and release of this email will certainly be seen as somewhat suspicious by some. But Snowden's claim and the NSA's response are now good material for his next interview.
Seven states, all led by Republican governors, are defying a federal law aimed at cracking down on the nationwide epidemic of prison rape—and on Wednesday, the Obama administration started calling them out.
The law in question, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in 2003. In 2012, after years of study by a bipartisan federal commission, President Barack Obama's Justice Department finalized the law's requirements, and gave states about two years to start trying to comply. Forty-three states did. But today, nearly two weeks after the May 15 deadline, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, and Florida are still not complying with the law—and several GOP governors say they're ignoring the law on purpose.
So far, at least five Republican governors have notified the Justice Department that they aren't going to try to meet the new prison-rape reduction rules. The mandatory standards, "work only to bind the states, and hinder the evolution of even better and safer practices," Indiana Governor Mike Pence wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder on May 15. Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter missed the deadline, then wrote a letter to the administration complaining the law had "too much red tape." And in a letter dated March 28, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, called the law "counterproductive" and "unnecessarily cumbersome." The prison rape rules "appear to have been created in a vacuum with little regard for input from those who daily operate state prisons and local jails," Perry wrote.
Maya Angelou, acclaimed poet, author, and civil rights activist, died Wednesday at the age of 86. Mother Jones had the opportunity to interview Angelou almost 20 years ago. Our reporter, Ken Kelley, wrote that she "speaks in the lilting cadence of the dancer she was trained to be. She moves with the sure grace of the poet she was born to be." Her words of wisdom are as true now as they were in 1995. Here are seven excerpts from the interview:
1. Not everyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps:
The powerful say, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps." But they don't really believe that those living on denuded reservations, or on strip-mined hills, or in ghettos that are destinations for drugs from Colombia and Iraq, can somehow pull themselves up. What they're really saying is, "If you can, do, but if you can't, forget it." It's the most pernicious of all acts of segregation, because it is so subtle.
2. Life isn't about material things:
Somehow, we have come to the erroneous belief that we are all but flesh, blood, and bones, and that's all. So we direct our values to material things. We become what writer Beah Richards calls "exiled to things": If we have three cars rather than two, we'll live a little longer. If we have four more titles, we'll live longer still. And, especially, if we have more money than the next guy, we'll live longer than he. It's so sad. There is something more—the spirit, or the soul.
3. It doesn't matter what a woman is wearing:
I married a man once because of something he said. We were in England, and somebody said that women should always expect to be raped if they wore very short pants and low decolletage and acted "fast." So this man, whom I knew slightly, said, "If a woman has no panties on and sits with her legs wide open, no man has the right to assault her. When a guy tells me, 'I couldn't resist because she did sit in such a provocative way,' all I want to know is if four of her brothers were standing there with baseball bats, would they have resisted?"
4. America is making progress in the fight against racial discrimination, but there's more to do:
We've made a lot of progress—it's dangerous not to say so. Because if we say so, we tell young people, implicitly or explicitly, that there can be no change. Then they compute: "You mean the life and death and work of Malcolm X and Martin King, the Kennedys, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, the life and struggle of Rosa Parks—they did all that and nothing has changed? Well then, what the hell am I doing? There's no point for me to do anything." The truth is, a lot has changed—for the good. And it's gonna keep getting better, according to how we put our courage forward, and thrust our hearts forth.
5. Black children are the representatives of us all:
Those black children are the bravest, without knowing it, representatives of us all. The black kids, the poor white kids, Spanish-speaking kids, and Asian kids in the US—in the face of everything to the contrary, they still bop and bump [snaps fingers], shout and go to school somehow. And dare not only to love somebody else, and even to accept love in return, but dare to love themselves—that's what is most amazing. Their optimism gives me hope.
6. Artists and writers must fight to be heard:
What we ought to be doing is singing in the parks, talking to children, going to gatherings of parents, doing whatever it is we do—dancing, reading poetry, performing—all the time, so that people know, "These artists are my people—you can't kill them, you can't stop them." We then reestablish our footing with the people. All artists must do that, or we will be defanged.
7. Progressives must confront themselves:
We will have to confront. I don't only mean external confrontations. We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay—and rise!