Political MoJo

Jeb Bush Made Millions But Gave Little to Charity

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 7:45 PM EDT

Jeb Bush released 33 years of tax returns on Tuesday evening. So how much did he give to charity over the years?

Not that much. Between 2003 and 2013, Bush gave 1.5 percent of his income to charity, according to the lists of charitable deductions in the tax returns. That's about half the national average of 3 percent, according to Charity Navigator.

In a letter posted on his website, Bush says he has given $739,000 to charity between 2007 and 2014, which indicates that he increased his annual rate of giving substantially last year. (His 2014 tax return will be released in the fall, according to his campaign.) "Since I left the governor's office I have tried to give back—and even though all of us strive to do more—I'm proud of what Columba and I have contributed," he wrote.

Bush's charitable donations as a percentage of his income is substantially less than the 13.8 percent given by Mitt Romney in the year before he launched his last presidential campaign. Bill and Hillary Clinton gave away about $10 million in the years leading up to the 2008 election, with much of that money going to the family's foundation. That was about 10 percent of their income. The Obamas gave 15 percent of their income to charity in 2014. (The Bidens' charitable giving was far lower: 2 percent.)

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The NSA Just Got Six More Months of Unlimited Snooping in Your Phone Data

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 2:34 PM EDT

Almost as soon as Congress passed the USA Freedom Act earlier this month, which ended the National Security Agency's mass collection of phone records under the Patriot Act, the government moved to keep that program around for as long as it could. Administration lawyers went before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees government surveillance requests, and argued that because the new law gives the NSA six months to shut down the program, the NSA should be able to keep vacuuming up this metadata until then—even though the Patriot Act had briefly expired, ending the legal authorization for such bulk collection.

Today we learned the government won that argument: the National Journal obtained a ruling from the FISA court saying this bulk collection can continue for the next six months.

"Congress deliberately carved out a 180-day period following the date of enactment in which such collection was specifically authorized," wrote Judge Michael Mosman in the ruling. "For this reason, the Court approves the application."

The good news for privacy advocates is that there was, for the first time, actually an argument at the FISA court on the issue. I wrote earlier this month about how the USA Freedom Act is meant to open up the court, and one of the ways it does so is by giving federal judges who sit on the FISA court the option of bringing in what's called an "amicus panel," a group of outside experts who can advise the court on privacy concerns. That panel hasn't yet been appointed, but Mosman allowed former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to join the proceedings and argue against restarting bulk collection. Cuccinelli and FreedomWorks, the tea party-aligned conservative group, already tried to block the program earlier this month.

But judges can also decline to use an amicus panel or a stand-in. Dennis Saylor IV, another federal district judge who sits on the FISA court, chose this path in a case two weeks ago because he considered his pro-government ruling one in which "no reasonable jurist would reach a different decision."

That, civil liberties advocates say, is exactly why the amicus panel is needed. "His decision does not even acknowledge the existence of any other interpretation of the law," Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, notes in an email. "That’s simply bad judging.…Congress may need to consider whether to make amicus participation mandatory rather than leave it to the court’s discretion."

A footnote in Saylor's decision revealed another potential basis for the FISA court to reject the privacy panel: money. "There may be other circumstances, as well, where appointment of an amicus curiae is not appropriate," Saylor wrote. "For example, such an appointment would in most instances result in some degree of additional expense and delay."

Saylor didn't rule on whether time and cost are sufficient grounds not to appoint an amicus. But as Steve Vladeck of American University's Washington College of Law points out, "Judge Saylor tries hard to say he’s not saying that, but he is surely suggesting it. That makes no sense to me, since there’s no other context in which courts pay for amici." The footnote still leaves open the prospect that the FISA court could choose not to appoint outside experts simply because finding them could be a pain in the ass.

Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Landmark Bill Requiring Childhood Vaccinations

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 1:50 PM EDT

Amid heavy pushback from anti-vaccine groups, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation today officially putting an end to the personal belief exemptions that let parents opt out of vaccinating their kids for reasons of philosophy or conscience. California is now just one of just three states that does not allow nonmedical exemptions.

The bill, introduced in February by Sen. Sen. Richard Pan (a pediatrician), came in response to the Disneyland outbreak, which infected more than 100 people across the US and Mexico at the beginning of this year. Measles, a preventable but dangerous disease, has been on the rise in recent years due in large part to the increase in people claiming the exemption. Many of those infected were too young, or medically unable to get the vaccine. Public health officials expressed concerns that measles could become endemic again—putting everyone at risk—if vaccination coverage continued to fall.

The new law should close those vaccination gaps by requiring that all children enrolled in school be up to date on shots against 10 childhood diseases, unless a doctor determines they are medically unable to receive vaccines. Parents who decide against these mandatory vaccines would be forced to homeschool.

Vaccines are extremely effective at preventing illness and are championed across all health agencies, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the World Health Organization. Still, there's still a large contingent of anti-vaxxers, and the legislation was hotly contested. The LA Times reports that Sen. Pan has received death threats and his foes have even filed for his recall.

Gov. Brown acknowledged how divisive the issue has become, but stressed how important vaccination is to keeping people healthy: "The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community."

Here's his full statement:

 

Bree Newsome Explains Why She Tore Down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina

| Mon Jun. 29, 2015 6:29 PM EDT

On Monday afternoon, Bree Newsome, the woman who scaled the flagpole at the South Carolina statehouse on Saturday and took down the Confederate flag, made her first public comments since her arrest, which were published on the progressive website Blue Nation Review. She detailed her recent history of activism and described her motivation:

The night of the Charleston Massacre, I had a crisis of faith. The people who gathered for Bible study in Emmanuel AME Church that night—Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson and Rev. Clementa Pinckney (rest in peace)—were only doing what Christians are called to do when anyone knocks on the door of the church: invite them into fellowship and worship.

The day after the massacre I was asked what the next step was and I said I didn’t know. We’ve been here before and here we are again: black people slain simply for being black; an attack on the black church as a place of spiritual refuge and community organization.
I refuse to be ruled by fear. How can America be free and be ruled by fear? How can anyone be?

So, earlier this week I gathered with a small group of concerned citizens, both black and white, who represented various walks of life, spiritual beliefs, gender identities and sexual orientations. Like millions of others in America and around the world, including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and President Barack Obama, we felt (and still feel) that the confederate battle flag in South Carolina, hung in 1962 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, must come down. (Of course, we are not the first to demand the flag’s removal. Civil rights groups in South Carolina and nationwide have been calling for the flag’s removal since the moment it was raised, and I acknowledge their efforts in working to remove the flag over the years via the legislative process.)

We discussed it and decided to remove the flag immediately, both as an act of civil disobedience and as a demonstration of the power people have when we work together.

Explaining why she worked together with fellow activist James Ian Tyson, she continued:

Achieving this would require many roles, including someone who must volunteer to scale the pole and remove the flag. It was decided that this role should go to a black woman and that a white man should be the one to help her over the fence as a sign that our alliance transcended both racial and gender divides. We made this decision because for us, this is not simply about a flag, but rather it is about abolishing the spirit of hatred and oppression in all its forms.

Read Newsome's whole statement here.

The Supreme Court Just Stopped Texas From Closing Almost All Of Its Abortion Clinics

| Mon Jun. 29, 2015 4:13 PM EDT

The Supreme Court on Monday halted key portions of Texas's anti-abortion law from going into effect that would have shutdown all but nine abortion clinics in the state. The stay will remain in place while abortion rights advocates prepare to take their case seeking to overturn portions of the Texas law to the Supreme Court.

The court's four most conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas, dissented from the order, indicating they would have let the clinics close.

From the New York Times:

The case concerns two parts of a state law that imposes strict requirements on abortion providers. One requires all abortion clinics in the state to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers,” including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Other parts of the law took effect in 2013, causing about half of the state’s 41 abortion clinics to close.

Read the order:

 

Supreme Court Justice Calls Death Penalty Drug "Equiva­lent of Being Burned at the Stake"

| Mon Jun. 29, 2015 10:45 AM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld the use of the drug midazolam for lethal injections in a 5–4 decision that pitted the five conservative justices against the four liberal ones. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote her own dissent, argued that the use of the drug, which prolongs the execution process and sometimes doesn't work at all, was in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment." Then she went a step further, comparing the drug to a more notorious form of punishment—the burning of heretics at the stake:

[T]he Court today turns aside petitioners’ plea that they at least be allowed a stay of execution while they seek to prove midazolam’s inadequacy. The Court achieves this result in two ways: first, by deferring to the District Court’s decision to credit the scientifically unsup­ported and implausible testimony of a single expert wit­ness; and second, by faulting petitioners for failing to satisfy the wholly novel requirement of proving the avail­ability of an alternative means for their own executions. On both counts the Court errs. As a result, it leaves peti­tioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equiva­lent of being burned at the stake.

Later in her dissent, Sotomayor added a few more comparisons for good measure. "Under the Court's new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake."

Justice Stephen Breyer, in a separate dissent, went a step further, arguing that the death penalty itself might be unconstitutional.

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The Supreme Court Just Struck Down Obama Regulations on Power Plants. Read the Opinion Here.

| Mon Jun. 29, 2015 10:45 AM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled against EPA regulations to limit mercury emissions and other pollutants at power plants. Read the opinion in its entirety below:

 

Watch Badass Woman Scale Statehouse Flagpole, Take Down Confederate Flag

| Sat Jun. 27, 2015 12:18 PM EDT

A woman named Bree Newsome just scaled the flagpole in front of the South Carolina state capitol and took down the Confederate flag. She was then arrested. Badass. Too bad state workers promptly put it back up.

Texas County Clerk Refuses to Issue Marriage Licenses to Gay Couples

| Fri Jun. 26, 2015 2:38 PM EDT
Supporters of gay marriage celebrate outside the US Supreme Court.

Despite this morning's landmark Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage across the country, at least one county clerk in Texas has refused to issue marriage licenses to two same-sex couples.

The Denton Record-Chronicle reports:

Denton County Clerk Juli Luke issued a statement that she would defer to guidance from Denton District Attorney Paul Johnson before issuing any marriage licenses in Denton County today to same sex couples.

"It appears this decision now places our great state in a position where state law contradicts federal law," Luke wrote.

A sign posted at the clerk's office stated that it would not issue licenses until it addressed "a vendor issue." But county officials may also be waiting for guidance from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who criticized the high court's ruling in a statement on Friday, calling it "a dilution of marriage as a societal institution." The Austin American-Statesman reported that at least two other counties are holding off issuing licenses, but that three—Travis, Bexar, and Dallas—had already done so following the ruling.

Tod King and Casey Cavelier, who visited the Denton County clerk's office on Friday morning to obtain a license after being together for 19 years, told the college newspaper North Texas Daily: "We were really excited this morning...We took a rainbow flag and hung it on the house. Then we came down here and got a little disappointed that they weren’t prepared for this."

Other couples were disappointed as well:

Obstacles to same-sex marriage weren't just remaining in Texas. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said in a statement on Friday that clerks would have to wait until the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts a stay on a federal judge's order to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage.

Genius Conservative Compares Gay Marriage to 9/11, Pearl Harbor

| Fri Jun. 26, 2015 12:18 PM EDT

So, you're a conservative and you're upset that every state is going to be forced to be nice to gay people, so you take to Twitter to share your outrage and you reach for a simile. Not just any simile but, like, a good simile—one that has a strong tradition and is emotionally evocative and will let everyone know you mean business. Ding! Ding! Ding! You've got it!

Now you're getting those faves, you're getting those retweets, you're getting those hateful replies. You're liking this feeling. You're flying high. You're on a cloud. You're on the moon, my love. You are a starship leaving this goddamned solar system! You want to chase the feeling. You want more. You want to never stop feeling like this. Why would anyone ever want to not feel like this? But how can you top Pearl Harbor?

You know what to do, baby. You know what to do:

Bryan Fischer, ladies and gentleman.