Mojo - May 2009

The Real Sotomayor Gamble

| Fri May 29, 2009 9:13 AM EDT

The New York Times reports:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s lucky streak is apparently at least six months long.

A financial disclosure report for the judge, released on Thursday, included this nugget: income of $8,283 for a “Jackpot Game Winning” on Nov. 23, 2008, almost exactly half a year before President Obama tapped her to be on the Supreme Court.

A spokeswoman for the White House said Judge Sotomayor hit it big while gambling with her mother at a casino in Florida.

Impressively lucky, but anyone can win a jackpot game. I'd be more interested to learn whether Judge Sotomayor is any good at poker. President Barack Obama has been known to play.

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On "The Ed Show": Rain, Sotomayor, and Me

| Fri May 29, 2009 8:36 AM EDT
From the Thursday's night edition of MSNBC's "The Ed Show." I don't know if you can tell, but I was being rained on, as we discussed the SCOTUS nominee. You can follow my postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

Growing Up Border Patrol

| Thu May 28, 2009 7:59 PM EDT

The United States Border Patrol turned 85 this week. What better way to celebrate than by indoctrinating American youth?

Below, four examples of kid-friendly border patrol fun:

Pentagon and White House Deny Taguba Allegations About Rape Photos

| Thu May 28, 2009 3:24 PM EDT

Unreleased photos of US soldiers abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan "show rape," Major General Antonio Taguba told Britain's Telegraph. Not so, say the White House and the Pentagon. The paper displayed "an inability to get the facts right," a Defense Department spokesman said Thursday. "That news organization has completely mischaracterized the images. None of the photos in question depict the images that are described in that article."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs also denied the report and took a harsh tone towards the British press in general. "Let's just say if I wanted to look up, if I wanted to read a write-up of how Manchester United fared last night in the Champions League Cup, I'd might open up a British newspaper," Gibbs said. "If I was looking for something that bordered on truthful news, I'm not entirely sure it'd be the first pack of clips I'd pick up."

A spokesperson for the ACLU, which is suing for the release of the photos, told Mother Jones the organization couldn't confirm or deny the Telegraph's report. "The government has not provided us with a description of all of the photographs, and we do not have first-hand knowledge of what the photographs show. As a result, we don’t have enough information to comment on these reports," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

We'll continue to monitor this story.

Weirdest Sotomayor Endorsement Ever

| Thu May 28, 2009 11:56 AM EDT

The White House is in hard-sell mode. It's been pushing the case for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. It held a conference call on Wednesday for White House correspondents, during which various legal scholars praised her "judicial modesty." White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has been deriding rightwing opposition at his daily briefings. And his press shop has been emailing reporters various statements supportive of Sotomayor--including what could be one of the oddest endorsements to be circulated by a White House in recent years. Or ever.

One email from the White House listed a slew of positive comments about Sotomayor. They came from former and current judges who have worked with her, Republican Senator Olympia Snow (who has called the nominee "well qualified"), New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, a bunch of legal scholars, and Larry Klayman. Yes, Larry Klayman. Ring a bell? He's best known--or infamous--for having been an overly litigious conservative crusader who, through his Judicial Watch outfit, hurled numerous lawsuits against Clintonites during the 1990s.

Globe Staffer Not Amused By Size of Tom Friedman's Expense Account

| Thu May 28, 2009 11:49 AM EDT

Sandwiched in the New Yorker's profile of Carlos Helu Slim, the Mexican billionaire who's bailing out the New York Times, is this dreadful item:

Thomas Friedman, the Times’ chief foreign affairs columnist, lauded the efforts that Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., has made to keep the newsroom intact, saying, "I just have a great deal of admiration for him." He told me that since taking his current post, in 1995, he has never been asked by Sulzberger what he was planning to write, or how high his travel expenses would be. "To be able to say what I want to say and go where I want to go—other than a Sulzberger-owned newspaper, you tell me where that exists today." (Of course, star reporters like Friedman live in a special universe, even at the Times.)

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Unreleased Torture Photos "Show Rape." Why No Prosecution?

| Thu May 28, 2009 10:03 AM EDT

Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama abruptly changed course and refused to release photos that allegedly show American servicemen and servicewomen torturing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we have a better sense of exactly how horrible those photos might be. Major General Antonio Taguba, who was in charge of investigating the abuses at Abu Ghraib, told the British paper the Telegraph that the photos "show rape" of prisoners by Americans:

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Gen. Taguba says he supports President Obama's decision to withold the photos, arguing that "The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it." Fine—the debate over whether to release the photos is legitimate. I have a more immediate question. If the government is in possession of photographic evidence of an American soldier raping someone, has that soldier been prosecuted? The relevant section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is here:

(a) Any person subject to this chapter who commits an act of sexual intercourse with a female not his wife, by force and without consent, is guilty of rape and shall be punished by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.

It would take a pretty incompetent prosecution to fail to convict someone of a rape for which there is clear photographic evidence. But I can't find any public reference to such a court martial, let alone a conviction. Earlier this month, ex-soldier Steven Green was convicted for raping and killing an Iraqi girl and killing her family, but that pretty clearly didn't happen in prison, and there's no mention of photographic evidence of it. So either the photos don't show what Taguba says they show, or there's something else going on here. People not identifiable in the photos, maybe? I'm looking into this.

Great Acts of Student Activism

| Wed May 27, 2009 3:30 PM EDT

Recently, Harvard students protested the university's decision to stop offering anonymous HIV testing. According to the Harvard Crimson, the students staged their demonstration with  signs bearing slogans like "My right to privacy includes my right to anonymity."

But the signs were Plan B. Plan A would have been really cool:

Protestors had originally planned to request HIV tests en masse in order to demonstrate the demand for anonymous testing. But a majority of protesters were turned away by UHS because they did not have an appointment or an actual medical ailment, according to Craig B. Colbeck, a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student.

It's a great idea—and we know today's students activists have plenty more where that one came from. MoJo, Campus Progress, and WireTap would like to hear about all feats of student activism (the more creative the better) from the past school year in time for the Hellraisers, our first annual student activism awards.

Here's how it works: You tell us about your favorite activism antics. Selected nominees will be featured in the September/October 2009 issue of Mother Jones.

Anyone can nominate any current student activists (and we're not just talking college here! High schoolers, grad students, kindergartners—all okay).

Nominating is quick and easy. Do it here.

When Jeff Sessions Voted for Sonia Sotomayor

| Wed May 27, 2009 3:12 PM EDT

On October 2, 1998, the full Senate voted on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed her nomination 67-29; all of the nay votes came from Republicans. That's not much of a surprise.

But just a few months earlier, in March 1998, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-2 in favor of Sotomayor's nomination, with only Jon Kyl and John Ashcroft, both Republicans, voting against her. The Republican committee members who voted for Sotomayor included Strom Thurmond, Orrin Hatch and Jeff Sessions, but each of whom flipped his vote when Sotomayor's nomination went to the full Senate. (And when President George H.W. Bush nominated her for an open distict court spot in 1992, the Judiciary Committee—then chaired by Joe Biden—and the full Senate unanimously approved her nomination.)

So what happened between March and October 1998?

Republican senators have been blocking Judge Sotomayor's elevation to the appeals court for a highly unusual reason: to make her less likely to be picked by Mr. Clinton for the Supreme Court, senior Republican Congressional aides said in interviews.

[...]

Senate Republican staff aides said Trent Lott of Mississippi, the majority leader, has agreed to hold up a vote on the nomination as part of an elaborate political calculus; if she were easily confirmed to the appeals court, they said, that would put her in a position to be named to the Supreme Court. And Senate Republicans think that they would then have a difficult time opposing a Hispanic woman who had just been confirmed by the full Senate.

In other words, politics happened.

Rod Dreher Generously Acknowledges the Blindingly Obvious

| Wed May 27, 2009 1:40 PM EDT

Conservative blogger and columnist Rod Dreher was initially bothered by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's comment that she "would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Then he read the context.

Dreher and other conservatives had been aghast at those 30-odd words ever since Stuart Taylor, Jr. pointed to them in a National Journal column over the weekend. At issue is the accusation that Sotomayor is, in Rush Limbaugh's words, "a reverse racist" who thinks that Latina judges have some special insight that they can and should use that makes them better than white male judges.

Sotomayor, who said those words in a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2001, was actually making a very different point. Sotomayor said that, "Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences... our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging." She hoped that, in cases about "race and sex discrimination," a wise Latina's background and experiences might help her produce a better result than a white man who "hasn't lived that life." In context, it's clear Sotomayor is simply acknowledging that personal experiences inevitably affect judges' outlooks and hoping that they affect judges' decisions for the better. Having read the whole speech, Dreher explains what the broader point was: