Political MoJo

Mexican Government: Freight Trains Are Now Off-Limits to Central American Migrants

| Sat Jul. 12, 2014 1:20 PM EDT

On Thursday, a freight train derailed in southern Mexico. It wasn't just any train, though: It was La Bestia—"the Beast"—the infamous train many Central American immigrants ride through Mexico on their way to the United States. When the Beast went off the tracks this week, some 1,300 people who'd been riding on top were stranded in Oaxaca.

How do 1,300 people fit on a cargo train, you ask? By crowding on like this:

Central Americans on the Beast, June 20 Rebecca Blackwell/AP

After years of turning a blind eye to what's happening on La Bestia, the Mexican government claims it now will try to keep migrants off the trains. On Friday, Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said in a radio interview that the time had come to bring order to the rails. "We can't keep letting them put their lives in danger," he said. "It's our responsibility once in our territory. The Beast is for cargo, not passengers."

The announcement comes on the heels of President Obama's $3.7 billion emergency appropriations request to deal with the ongoing surge of unaccompanied Central American child migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. Many Central Americans take the trains to avoid checkpoints throughout Mexico—and the robbers and kidnappers known to prey on migrants. But riding the Beast can be even more perilous. Migrants often must bribe the gangs running the train to board, and even then, the dangers are obvious: Many riders have died falling off the train, or lost limbs after getting caught by its slicing wheels.

Why, though, hasn't the Mexican government cracked down sooner? Adam Isacson, a regional-security expert at the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America, says the responsibility of guarding the trains often has fallen to the rail companies—who usually turn around and argue that since the tracks are on government land, it should be the feds' problem. (Notably, the train line's concession is explicitly for freight, not passengers.)

In his radio interview, Osorio Chang also signaled a tougher stance against Central American migrants, in general. "Those who don't have a visa to move through our country," he said, "will be returned."

For more of Mother Jones' reporting on unaccompanied child migrants, see all of our latest coverage here.

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There's New Information on What Happened in Benghazi and It Discredits GOP Claims

Sat Jul. 12, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

David Corn and Michelle Bernard joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the latest Benghazi scandal bubble burst.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 11, 2014

Fri Jul. 11, 2014 10:10 AM EDT

A group of US Marines, the Silver Eagles, say goodbye and prepare to deploy to the Western Pacific. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Sarah Cherry.)

New Study: Lobbying Doesn't Help Company Profits—But It's Great For Executive Pay

| Fri Jul. 11, 2014 3:00 AM EDT

Who really profits when companies drop millions on lobbying? A new paper by Russell Sobel and Rachel Graefe-Anderson of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University suggests a surprising answer: Corporate America's record expenditures on political influence may be doing little for the companies doing the spending, but a lot for their executives' pocketbook.

"Our main finding suggests that the top executives of firms are the ones who are able to capture the benefits of firm political connections," the paper says. The researchers mined a trove of PAC contributions and lobbying data from the Center for Responsive Politics and matched it with a variety of standard corporate performance indicators. They found that no matter how much lobbying or political contributions a company pays for, there's almost no significant rise in the company's overall performance—but executive compensation does rise significantly. The only exceptions were the banking and finance industries, where companies also appear to gain some benefits.

Regardless of who benefits, influence spending still registers in the billions of dollars: As the chart below shows, the amount of money spent on lobbying annually more than doubled to $3.3 billion between 1998 and 2013. In 2012 alone, the two leading spenders, the pharmaceuticals and insurance sectors, dropped more than $409 million on lobbying and more than $107 million on political contributions.

 

Here Are the Court Records of the Restraining Order Against Alleged Texas Murderer Ronald Lee Haskell

| Thu Jul. 10, 2014 8:45 PM EDT

On Wednesday evening, Ronald Lee Haskell, disguised as a Fed-Ex delivery man, gained entry to the home of his sister-in-law and her spouse, Stephen and Katie Stay, demanding the whereabouts of his estranged ex-wife. Haskell would go on to shoot the Stays and their five children, killing everyone except his 15-year-old niece, and only surrendering to police after a three-and-a-half hour standoff.

In July of 2013, Haskell's wife filed a protective order against him in Cache County, Utah, where they lived at the time. In October 2013, Haskell's protective order was converted to a "mutual restraining order" as part of their divorce and custody proceedings. This crucial step likely meant that Haskell was legally allowed to have guns again under both state and federal law.

Read the full docket of Haskell's protective order proceedings below. Read the full details of the case, as well our analysis of domestic-violence-related gun laws here.

 

Watch the Ads Obama Is Airing in Central America to Keep Kids From Coming to the US

| Thu Jul. 10, 2014 5:59 PM EDT

Preparing for his dangerous trip north, a Central American teen stops to pen a letter to his uncle in the United States. He writes that his mom is telling him to think hard about the risks: the gangs on the trains, the cartels that kidnap migrants, the days of walking through the desert. But those roadblocks, he writes, are worth it: "I see myself earning a bunch of money in the United States, and my mom here without any worries."

So begins a new public service announcement aimed at keeping Central American kids from joining the tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants who have been apprehended by US authorities in the last year. The PSA soon turns dark, though: After the teen says goodbye to his mother, and his uncle puts down the letter he's been reading, the camera pulls back from a close-up of the boy, dead on the desert floor. A narrator urges viewers: "They're our future. Let's protect them."

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) developed the TV ads, as well as posters and marimba-infused radio spots, as part of its million-dollar Dangers Awareness Campaign. Rolled out shortly after Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Guatemala in June, the campaign is an attempt to counter rumors that unaccompanied kids will be allowed to stay in the United States. The ads emphasize that the journey is extremely dangerous and that children won't get legal status if they make it across the border.

The campaign will run for 11 weeks, CBP spokesman Jaime Ruiz told the Associated Press. "We want a relative that is about to send $5,000, $6,000 to a relative in El Salvador to see this message and say, 'Oh my God, they're saying that the journey is more dangerous,'" Ruiz said. "We try to counter the version of the smuggler."

Here's the other televised PSA, in which two silhouettes—a would-be migrant and a smuggler—discuss heading north, the smuggler turning increasingly aggressive and his shadow occasionally turning into that of a coyote, the slang word for a smuggler:

(Notably, CBP created slightly different versions of each of the stories for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the three countries that have sent the most unaccompanied minors to the US. Watch them all here.)

This type of campaign isn't anything new. For years, the Mexican government has produced ads about the dangers of walking through the Arizona desert, and several years ago the Department of Homeland Security, as part of CBP's Border Safety Initiative, distributed CDs to Latin American radio stations with sad songs aimed at slowing immigration from the south. With so many variables at play, it's virtually impossible to measure their effect.

But with more than 57,000 unaccompanied kids apprehended in the United States since October—a situation that CBP head R. Gil Kerlikowske called "difficult and distressing on a lot of levels" when speaking to members of the Senate homeland security committee on Wednesday—the government seems willing to try anything.

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40 Percent of Colleges Haven't Investigated a Single Sexual Assault Case in 5 Years

| Thu Jul. 10, 2014 1:46 PM EDT

According to the results of a national survey commissioned by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, nearly half the country's four-year colleges haven't conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years. The survey was completed by 236 four year-institutions across the country—private and public, small and large—but in order to encourage candid reporting, the names of the schools surveyed were not released.

Here's what scores of survivors of sexual assault in college have to deal with, according to the results:

  • Simply not receiving an investigation: Forty-one percent of schools hadn't investigated a single sexual assault in the past five years, despite the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the White House, one in five undergraduate women experience sexual assault during college. Meanwhile, more than 20 percent of the country's largest private schools conducted fewer investigations than the number of sexual assault incidents that they reported to the Department of Education.
  • Having no clue what to do: One in three schools don't train students on what constitutes sexual assault or how to respond to it. Among private, for-profit schools, 72 percent don't provide students with any sexual assault training.
  • Untrained, uncoordinated law enforcement: Though in general colleges work with a number of parties to keep campuses safe—like campus police, security guards, and local law enforcement—30 percent don't actually train the school's law enforcement on how to handle reports of sexual assault, while a staggering 73 percent of institutions don't have protocols on how the school should work with local law enforcement to respond to sexual assault.
  • The athletic department deciding if you were raped: Yes, you read that correctly. Thirty percent of public colleges give the athletic department oversight of sexual violence cases involving athletes.
  • Your peers deciding if you were raped: Experts agree that students shouldn't be part of adjudication boards in sexual assault cases—friends or acquaintances of the survivor or alleged perpetrator face a conflict of interest, and those involved in a sexual assault likely don't want to divulge the details of the assault to, say, someone they recognize from chemistry class. Still, 27 percent of schools reported students participating in the adjudication of sexual assault claims.
  • Untrained faculty, staff, and medical professionals: Often, the first person to whom a student reports sexual assault is a member of the college's faculty or staff. But 20 percent of schools don't provide any sexual assault response training to faculty and staff, and only 15 percent of schools provide access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners—nurses who are trained to provide medical and other services to survivors of sexual assault.
  • Knowing that the perpetrator still plays sports and goes to frat parties: Only 51 percent of schools impose athletic team sanctions against student-athletes who have been deemed perpetrators of sexual assault, and 31 percent impose fraternity or sorority sanctions.
  • Seeing the perpetrator on campus, even if you don't want to: Nineteen percent of institutions don't impose orders that would require the perpetrator of the assault to avoid contact with the survivor.

McCaskill says that the results of the survey demonstrate failures at "nearly every stage of institutions' response" to sexual assault. Together with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), she plans to unveil legislation addressing the campus assault later in the summer.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 10, 2014

Thu Jul. 10, 2014 9:48 AM EDT

US Navy sailors navigate the USS Kidd in the waters of the Indo-Asia Pacific Region. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes.)

Todd Akin Is Not Sorry for His Insane Rape Comments

| Thu Jul. 10, 2014 9:38 AM EDT

Former GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin is not sorry for saying that women don't usually get pregnant from rape.

Akin tanked his 2012 Missouri Senate campaign by claiming that there is no need for rape exceptions to abortion bans because "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." In his new book due out next week, titled Firing Back: Taking on the Party Bosses and Media Elite to Protect Our Faith and Freedom, Akin says he regrets airing a campaign ad apologizing for the statement, Politico reported Thursday.

"By asking the public at large for forgiveness," Akin says in the book, "I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said."

He adds that the media misconstrued his words and explains why he's still right about rape and pregnancy. "My comment about a woman's body shutting the pregnancy down was directed to the impact of stress of fertilization. This is something fertility doctors debate and discuss. Doubt me? Google 'stress and infertility,' and you will find a library of research" on the impact of stress on fertilization, he writes.

And Akin doubles down on the term "legitimate," which he says refers to a rape claim that can be proved by "evidence," as opposed to one used "to avoid an unwanted pregnancy."

Akin's comments two years ago perpetuated what Democrats have dubbed the GOP "war on women," which refers to Republican attempts to limit abortion coverage, contraception, and workplace rights for women.

The release of Akin's book comes just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that family-owned companies—which employ more than half of all American workers—do not have to provide contraception coverage for women as mandated by Obamacare if their owners have a religious objection to doing so. The decision is expected to open the floodgates to further assaults on contraceptive access for women.

The Legacy of the Hobby Lobby Case: Protecting Anti-Gay Discrimination?

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 6:49 PM EDT
A protester patiently awaits the Hobby Lobby decision outside the Supreme Court

In his majority opinion in the recent Hobby Lobby case, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito took pains to frame the ruling, exempting companies from complying with Obamacare's contraceptive mandate if it violated the religious beliefs of their owners, as a narrow one. But gay and civil rights groups have long warned that a decision permitting such a religious exemption could have broad ramifications, potentially allowing employers to discriminate against gays. Now, their fears may be coming to pass.

"What we've seen since last week's decision came down is that opponents of LGBT equality have pushed a misreading of that decision as having broadly endorsed discrimination against people, including LGBT people in the workplace," says Ian Thompson, a legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told Mother Jones that the Hobby Lobby ruling "opens the door for corporations to discriminate against anyone that doesn't look, sound, or share the religious beliefs that they do. This isn't a business agenda; it's an extreme social agenda and it is deeply unpopular with the American people."