Political MoJo

Marco Rubio Uses Cecil the Lion to Shame Planned Parenthood Supporters

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 3:16 PM EDT

Today, Marco Rubio couldn't resist attempting to conflate two recent controversies—an American dentist's admission he killed Cecil the lion and a sting operation currently targeting Planned Parenthood—for the following take:

The tweet, aside from demonstrating a clear lack of grammar skills, mirrors similar statements from the likes of Rush Limbaugh asserting the same blend of crazy. Rubio should probably lay off of Twitter and get back to actually doing his job.

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Michael Bay Made a Movie About Benghazi and It Looks Insane

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 10:58 AM EDT

Anthropomorphic stick of dynamite Michael Bay, the director of The Rock, Armageddon, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, and four Transformers movies (also Pain and Gain—don't forget Pain and Gain!), has made a movie about the September 11, 2012, attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

The movie's release date is January 15, 2016—just in time for the Iowa caucuses.

The film, 13 Hours, based on a book by the same name, is sure to prompt lots of discussion—intelligent and otherwise—on the presidential candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time of the attack. Here's the trailer:

Mark Cuban Has the Dumbest Reason For Supporting Donald Trump

| Tue Jul. 28, 2015 3:36 PM EDT

Mark Cuban is a famous billionaire. He owns the Dallas Mavericks. He also appeared on a few episodes of the terrible TV show Entourage. He apparently is quite the fan of Donald Trump's presidential campaign!

Why, you ask? Let him explain:

I don't care what his actual positions are. I don't care if he says the wrong thing. He says what's on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.

He doesn't care what his actual positions are? You can never know what is in a politician's heart. Literally all you can go on are their actions and deeds.

This is bad reasoning and Mark Cuban should feel bad.

Getting a Home Loan Is Expensive—Especially for Black Women

| Tue Jul. 28, 2015 6:09 AM EDT

A recent study in the Journal of Real Estate and Finance Economics finds that black home loan borrowers are charged higher interest rates than their white counterparts—and that black women pay the highest rates of all.  

The three finance professors who authored the study analyzed the mortgages and demographic characteristics of more than 3,500 households during the height of the housing boom—2001, 2004, and 2007—using the Federal Reserve's triennial Survey of Consumer Finances. They found that on average, black borrowers were charged between 0.29 and 0.31 percentage points more in interest than whites, even after controlling for their debt and credit history.

The racial disparity was most pronounced for subprime borrowers who couldn't qualify for low-interest mortgages (the left side of the chart above), with black borrowers paying interest rates that were at least 0.4 percentage points higher than whites in the same group.

Within this group paying the highest interest rates, black women paid the highest rates of all, at an average rate of 7.9 percent. But a statistically significant disparity persisted even among those who paid lower interest rates (the right side of the chart), the study notes. In this group, black borrowers paid interest rates between 0.1 percent and 0.4 percentage points higher than their white counterparts.

Over at Quartz, Melvin Backman explains how these disparities translate into dollars: According to Freddie Mac's mortgage cost calculator, a $200,000, 30-year mortgage would cost a black man about $3,000 more than a white man over the course of the loan. A black woman getting the same loan would pay nearly $9,000 more than a white woman.

 

The study adds to a body of research showing that black mortgage applicants are more likely to be denied credit than white applicants, and are more likely to be charged higher interest rates than whites. It also appears to confirm the racial disparities identified in lawsuits against several of America's top mortgage lenders, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America's Countrywide, which faced hefty payouts in a slew of discrimination lawsuits following the housing-market crash. The lawsuits had even prompted the Obama administration to set up a new unit in the Department of Justice's civil rights division to deal with the caseload.

But the new study also suggests more granular disparities between black and white borrowers. Among black borrowers, for example, younger homeowners without a college education paid some of the highest interest rates. And among those paying higher interest rates, black women, who already face stiff obstacles to economic mobility, were likely to be charged interest rate premiums two to three times that of what black men were charged. While they do not speculate about the causes of these racial and gender gaps between borrowers, the authors conclude, "it is the more financially vulnerable black women who suffer the most."

Donald Trump's Lawyer: Marital Rape Cannot Be Rape

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 10:12 PM EDT
Donald Trump and his ex-wife, Ivana Trump at a 1991 gala in New York City.

So Donald Trump used to be married to Ivana Trump. According to an account resurfaced by Tim Mak and Brandy Zadrozny at the Daily Beast, the former Mrs. Trump once used the word "rape" during legal proceedings in connection with an event between her and her ex-husband, the current GOP front-runner:

Ivana Trump's assertion of "rape" came in a deposition—part of the early '90s divorce case between the Trumps, and revealed in the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump.

The book, by former Texas Monthly and Newsweek reporter Harry Hurt III, described a harrowing scene.

The Daily Beast has the entire "violent assault." It's indeed harrowing. Trump has denied the allegations.

"It's obviously false," Donald Trump said of the accusation in 1993, according to Newsday. "It's incorrect and done by a guy without much talent… He is a guy that is an unattractive guy who is a vindictive and jealous person."

It’s important to note that this never went to court, Trump never faced any charges, and Ivana Trump herself walked back the allegations before the book in question was published:

"As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a 'rape,' but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense."

This brings us now to Donald Trump's lawyer who The Daily Beast reached out to for comment. He went on a tirade that would make Trump blush:

Michael Cohen, special counsel at The Trump Organization, defended his boss, saying, "You're talking about the front-runner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can't rape your spouse."

"It is true," Cohen added. "You cannot rape your spouse. And there's very clear case law."

Realizing perhaps that denying the undeniable criminality of spousal rape was not the best way to kill the story, Cohen switches gears, making things worse:

"You write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it, with the word 'rape,' and I'm going to mess your life up…for as long as you're on this frickin' planet…you're going to have judgments against you, so much money, you'll never know how to get out from underneath it," he added.

Trump's lawyer continued to threaten the reporter by saying, "Tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting."

One thing is clear: Trump's lawyer has the same rhetorical style as Trump.

Shout out to my friend Nina Strochlic and former deputy Asawin Suebsaeng for helping report the story.

Boy Scouts End Age-Old Ban on Gay Leadership

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 7:31 PM EDT
Boy Scouts and their families deliver 1.4 million signatures protesting the ban on gay Scouts and scoutmasters in 2013.

The Boy Scouts of America voted today to scrap a blanket ban on gay leaders, marking the end of a policy as old as the group itself. The change will also bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in all Boy Scouts of America official facilities and paying jobs.

Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America (and former US defense secretary), called for an end to the ban in May, saying the organization should "deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be."

The end of the ban does not, however, mark complete acceptance of gay leaders: Some scout groups, particularly those with close religious affiliations, will be able to limit leadership positions to heterosexuals.

Here are some stories that demarcate turning points in the controversy:

  • An alternative group called the Navigators gained traction with families fed up with BSA policies against gay scouts, atheists, and families who wanted their daughters and sons to be in the same scouting troop. Navigators USA publicized itself as an organization that "welcomes all people...no matter what gender, race, lifestyle, ability, religious or lack of religious belief."
  • This timeline shows just how long anti-gay discrimination has been going on in the BSA. 
  • In 2013, the BSA ended its ban on kids in the program who identify as gay, but kept its ban on adults—meaning, in effect, that once a scout turned 18, he could be kicked out.
  • The Boy Scouts council threatened to kick out a Maryland pack for posting an inclusive statement on its website promising not to discriminate against gay scouts.
  • BSA funders such as UPS, United Way, the Merck Company Foundation, and the Intel Foundation fled for the hills as a direct result of the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policies.

 

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Want to Meet a 9/11 Truther? Go to a Donald Trump Event

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 5:03 PM EDT

Despite all the outrageous stunts and patently racist quotes from Donald Trump's current campaign for president, the real estate mogul continues to lead as the front-runner for the GOP nomination.

The Washington Post's David Weigel recently visited a Trump "family picnic" to take a look at the pandemonium surrounding the campaign. It's also where 9/11 Truth Activist Rick Shaddock happened to be before meandering into the press room to ask the following question:

Trump rejected the question, asking the reporters in the room, "Is this guy some kind of conspiracy guy?" But he shouldn't have been all too surprised by Shaddock's presence. After all, if you're going to peddle outrageous conspiracy theories, you're going to attract outrageous conspiracy theorists.

Anti-Abortion Hackers Claim to Have Stolen Data That Could Take Down Planned Parenthood

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 12:48 PM EDT

Update, July 27, 4:45 p.m. EST: Planned Parenthood released a statement confirming it has notified the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate the cyber attack. "Today Planned Parenthood has notified the Department of Justice and separately the FBI that extremists who oppose Planned Parenthood's mission and services have launched an attack on our information systems, and have called on the world's most sophisticated hackers to assist them in breaching our systems and threatening the privacy and safety of our staff members," Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said. "We are working with top leaders in this field to manage these attacks. We treat matters of safety and security with the utmost importance, and are taking every measure possible to mitigate these criminal efforts to undermine our mission and services."

A hacker group calling itself 3301 is claiming to have penetrated Planned Parenthood's databases and is threatening to release the personal information of employees working for the non-profit organization, along with other sensitive data. The Daily Dot spoke to one of the alleged hackers, who denounced Planned Parenthood as an "atrocious monstrosity." A senior Planned Parenthood executive tells Mother Jones that the group is investigating the alleged hack.

"Obviously what [Planned Parenthood] does is a very ominous practice," the alleged hacker, going by the identity "E," said. "It'll be interesting to see what surfaces when [Planned Parenthood] is stripped naked and exposed to the public."

The group—whose name, according to The Daily Dot, appears to be a nod to "a famous group of secretive cryptographers known as Cicada 3301"—claims it will release the names and addresses of employees "soon."

The potential breach comes amid intense controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood after an anti-abortion group released hidden-camera footage appearing to show top Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses. Though the footage was heavily edited, pro-choice groups fear the ramifications that could potentially follow from the sting operation. A slew of anti-abortion politicians, including Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have used the videos to denounce the organization and justify defunding it.

"We've seen the claims around attempts to access our systems," Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said in a statement to Mother Jones. "We take security very seriously and are investigating. It's unsurprising that those opposed to safe and legal abortion are participating in this campaign of harassment against us and our patients, and claiming to stoop to this new low."

The Americans With Disabilities Act Is Turning 25. Watch the Dramatic Protest That Made It Happen.

| Sat Jul. 25, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Eight-year-old Jennifer Keelan, left, crawls up the steps of the Capitol in Washington on March 12, 1990.

Twenty-five years ago this weekend, the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law, officially outlawing discrimination against disabled people in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and government services. The law was a long time coming: Activists had fought for decades against unequal access to jobs and exclusion from public schools. But the ADA might never have gotten to President George H.W. Bush's desk were it not for a group of activists in wheelchairs who took matters into their own hands earlier that year.

On March 12, 1990, hundreds of people with disabilities gathered at the foot of the Capitol building in Washington to protest the bill's slow movement through Congress. Dozens left behind their wheelchairs, got down on their hands and knees, and began pulling themselves slowly up the 83 steps toward the building's west entrance, as if daring the politicians inside to continue ignoring all the barriers they faced. Among the climbers was Jennifer Keelan, an eight-year-old from Denver with cerebral palsy. "I'll take all night if I have to!" she yelled while dragging herself higher and higher.

Here's some footage of the protest, via PBS's Independent Lens:

The Capitol Crawl, as it became known, made national headlines and pushed lawmakers to pass the ADA into law. When Bush finally signed the landmark bill, it was seen as one of the country's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation to date. But it was not a total cure-all, according to Susan Parish, a professor of disability policy at Brandeis University. The Supreme Court later watered it down, she says, in a series of decisions that created a narrow definition of disability.

In 2008, lawmakers passed amendments to strengthen the ADA, but Parish says people with disabilities have still struggled to gain equal access to employment, in part because employers are expected to comply with the law but do not have to follow reporting requirements. "I feel that the country needs a full-scale affirmative action program for people with disabilities," she said in a recent interview.

President Obama issued an executive order in 2010 requiring the federal government to hire more people with disabilities. In a speech earlier this week, he said the West Wing receptionist, Leah Katz-Hernandez, is the first deaf American to hold her position. But despite some progress since 1990, he acknowledged, "We've still got to do more to make sure that people with disabilities are paid fairly for their labor, to make sure they are safe in their homes and their communities…I don't have to tell you this fight is not over."

Louisiana Has Some of the Weakest Gun Laws in the Country

| Fri Jul. 24, 2015 5:29 PM EDT

On Thursday night, 59-year-old John Russell Houser of Alabama walked into the Grand Theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, with a handgun and shot into a crowd, killing two and injuring nine more. At a press conference Friday, Democratic state Rep. Terry Landry Sr. called for stricter gun laws in Louisiana, saying, "It's our job as legislators to close the loopholes in these gun laws." Indeed, according to the National Rife Association, Louisiana has one of the most open gun policies around—from its unabashedly pro-gun governor to its concealed carry law. A 2014 report by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence rated the state as having "the weakest gun laws in the country."

Here's what you need to know about gun law in Louisiana:

  • Gun owners don't have to obtain a permit to purchase guns. Buyers don't have to register their firearms, and they don't need a license to possess them. State law requires a concealed carry permit for handguns, but there is no permit required to carry rifles or shotguns.
  • State law only restricts two kinds of people from possessing guns: those 17 and under, or those convicted of certain violent crimes (until a decade has passed since the completion of the sentence, probation, parole, or suspension of a sentence).
  • The state has enacted "castle doctrine", meaning deadly force is considered justifiable in a court of law to defend against an intruder in a person's home. The Louisiana state legislature also passed a "Stand Your Ground" law in 2006, stating that anyone in a place "where he or she has a right," including public spaces, is not obligated "to retreat" if faced with a threat and "may stand his or her ground and meet force with force." (Check out our map of how quickly "Stand Your Ground" laws spread across the United States).
  • Firearms may be stored in locked, privately owned motor vehicles. Louisiana is one of 22 states with similar policies that allow guns to be left in the office parking lot.
  • Gun owners have the right to carry in restaurants.
  • According to a 2012 state constitutional amendment, "[t]he right of each citizen to keep and bear arms is fundamental and shall not be infringed" and "any restriction on this right" will be met with maximum skepticism from the courts. The amendment, which was heavily backed by Gov. Jindal, also removed language that would allow the legislature to "prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on a person." In a written statement, Jindal argued: "We are adopting the strongest, most iron-clad, constitutional protection for law-abiding gun owners. It's our own Second Amendment, if you will."

Given these laws, it's no surprise that nearly half of Louisiana households own a gun. Unfortunately, the state also sees high levels of armed violence: According to a Mother Jones investigation, the state has the country's highest gun homicide rate—9.4 per 100,000 residents. And that gun violence has cost each Louisiana resident at least $1,333 a year.