Civil Rights Division head Thomas Perez.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama nominated Thomas Perez, the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, to run the Department of Labor. Now, with Republicans scrambling to find any excuse block Perez' appointment, the civil rights division has issued a report detailing its accomplishments over the past four years. 

"For more than 50 years, the Division has enforced federal laws that prohibit discrimination and uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all who live in America," the report reads. "Over the past four years, the Division has worked to restore and expand this critical mission." The report has been in the works since prior to Perez' nomination as labor secretary.

The word "restore" is a backhanded critique of the Bush administration, during which enforcement of civil rights laws dropped and the leadership of the civil rights division was found to be deeply politicized. Under Perez, the division claims to have worked on more voting rights cases, agreements with local police addressing misconduct, and hate crimes convictions than ever before, while acquiring the highest fair housing discrimination settlements in history. Civil rights advocacy groups tend to share the leadership of the division's view that things have improved tremendously since the Bush years.

Here's the division's fact sheet touting its record:




Perez himself has been under fire from Republicans because of a recent Department of Justice Inspector General report that found lingering partisan divides in the voting section while knocking down almost all of the criticisms the GOP has leveled in the division's direction. Republicans are also angry that Perez helped cut a deal that prevented the Fair Housing Act being gutted by the Supreme Court. But given the modern GOP's hostility to many civil rights laws as unjust federal infringement on state's rights, a strong record of enforcement in the civil rights division may just be another reason for Republicans to oppose his nomination.

As I reported in a piece for the print magazine last summer, Florida has emerged as sort of the Thunderdome of the anti-Shariah movement, with a host of lawmakers at the municipal, state, and federal level working hand-in-hand with a dedicated group of activists to combat the invisble spectre of Islamic law. Shariah isn't coming to South Florida, but that hasn't stopped the state legislature from trying—again—to ban it from being used in state courts.

On Friday, the South Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations blasted out this video, in which state Sen. Alan Hays, the bill's Republican sponsor, compares stopping Shariah to getting a polio vaccination:

When you were a child, did your parents have you vaccinated against different diseases? That was a preemptive gesture on their part for which I would hope you're very thankful. And this is very similar to that. Your mom and dad would not want you to get sick from one of those dreadful diseases, and I don't want any American to be in a Florida courtroom and have their constitutional rights violated by any foreign law. That's it. It's not that complicated.

By all accounts, Hays considers the threat posed by Islamic law quite dire. The Miami Herald reported earlier in March that the senator had distributed anti-Shariah literature in the halls of the state capitol. Per the Herald, the fliers "present Islam as a threat to the United States," and invoke lawmakers to pass legislation to "save us from an internal attack" and "protect our freedom."

That is, if the pythons don't get us first.

Read more here:

U.S. Marines with 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, conduct a demolition operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 17, 2013. The EOD Marines properly disposed of unserviceable ammunition and other military items.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz.


Last year, we noted that HBO's hit show Game of Thrones—which features dragons, sword fights, and zombie armies—is at its core a tale of intense political intrigue. Alliances are forged and broken; backroom deals are cut; principles are sacrificed. It's a dirty game—and not just because there's no indoor plumbing. And we imagined what might happen if super-PACs and dark-money outfits existed in the Seven Kingdoms. The result: political attack ads that went viral. With the third season starting this week—and the show (according to our spies) becoming even bleaker—here are those ads once again. They remain a fitting commentary, for as in the real world, politics in Westeros is not getting any less sleazy.

Daenerys Targaryen: Wrong for Dragons, Wrong for the Realm

Joffrey Baratheon: What a Bastard!

Robb Stark: The Biggest Celebrity in the North

Created, written, and directed by David Corn, Dan Schulman, Nick Baumann, Adam Serwer, Tim Murphy, and Asawin Suebsaeng. Videos edited by Ethan Elliott-Williams and David Mullins. Narrated by Jason Williams. Actors: Jennifer Cutting, Patrick Plunkett, and Stephen Winick.

Read our interview with Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss. And click here to check out other TV and movie features from Mother Jones.

Cory Booker, Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Christie discuss Zukerberg's $100 million donation to Newark, September 2010.

Reports are surfacing that Mark Zuckerberg and other technology leaders are planning to launch a new, yet-to-be-named advocacy group that will push for immigration and education reform. The move is a big deal for Zuckerberg, who has mostly avoided politics in the past, but has a reported $13.3 billion to put into the game if he chooses to.

What would this influence look like? There could be clues from Zuckerberg's last foray into advocacy work, the high-profile $100 million he donated to Newark public schools in the fall of 2010. That September, Zuckerberg appeared with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker to announce the donation on the Oprah Winfrey Show. This was right before the premier of The Social Network, which portrayed Zuckerberg as a narcissist who stole the idea for Facebook.

News of the donation captured national attention for a moment, then faded. In Newark, a local foundation established by Zuckerberg and the state have spent more than two years deciding how to best create a schoolyard revolution with $100 million dollars. At first, the "Facebook money," as it's called in Newark, helped the state hire consultants and establish several new charter schools. But the reform effort has floundered at moments: The first million dollars went towards a poorly conducted community survey that had to be re-worked by Rutgers and New York University, and criticism was fierce when a foundation board established to decide how the Facebook money was spent included only one Newark resident: Cory Booker. ("Yes, it's their money. But it's Newark's kids," an op-ed that ran in the Star-Ledger read.)

Then last November, nearly $50 million of Zuckerberg's money went to pay for a new teacher's contract, the first in New Jersey to offer performance pay for teachers who are deemed as "highly effective." The contract offers up to $12,500 in bonuses for the teachers rated as the best in the district. It's the first contract in New Jersey to offer performance-based pay, a policy that's been instituted in a few cities such as Washington, DC. In DC, the plan was so controversial that it might have cost Mayor Adrian Fenty his job. "I think it helped—I know it helped—to be on our side of the table and have deeper pockets," one school district official said about the Newark negotiations.

By a slim five-vote margin, New Hampshire's House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill to repeal the state's Stand Your Ground law, the controversial self-defense statute that essentially allows anyone who feels threatened by someone else to shoot first rather than retreat.

No one in New Hampshire has claimed Stand Your Ground as a legal defense since the law was enacted in 2011. The proposed repeal will likely face an even tougher fight in the state's Republican-controlled senate. 

Florida became the first state to adopt Stand Your Ground in 2005. By 2011, with a boost from the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council, 24 more states, including New Hampshire, had passed similar laws.

Meanwhile, study after study shows SYG laws don't deter crime and are associated with more murder and manslaughter. Between 2005 and 2010, justifiable homicides by civilians using firearms doubled in Stand Your Ground states, while falling or remaining the same in others. And they're not applied equally to white and black shooters, as MoJo's Hannah Levintova pointed out: "homicides involving white shooters and black victims are 11 times more likely to be deemed 'justifiable" than those where the scenario is reversed."

The interactive map below shows how Florida kicked off a campaign to spread Stand Your Ground nationwide.

As Mississippi continues its efforts to close the state's last remaining abortion clinic, the governor's office is also trying to stack the Board of Health. On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) nominated Terri Herring, the national director for the Pro-Life America Network, to serve as the newest board member.

This news, via Robin Marty at RH Reality Check, is perhaps unsurprising, given Bryant's previous promise to "end abortion in Mississippi." But it's also worth noting that Herring, a pro-life lobbyist, "apparently has no medical background," according to the Jackson Free Press.

Almost a year ago Bryant's lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves, blocked the nomination of Dr. Carl Reddix to the Board of Health. Reeves' office argued that Reddix was not "a qualified doctor" because he had been associated with Jackson Women's Health, the state's lone abortion provider. Reddix has never provided abortions there; he was only affiliated as the "physician of record" who could admit women to the hospital in case of an emergency.

The reality in Mississippi, he said, is that anyone even remotely associated with abortion gets marginalized.

I met with Dr. Reddix while I was in Jackson last year. Former Gov. Haley Barbour, who is a strident abortion opponent, had nominated Reddix to the board before leaving office. If he'd been confirmed, Reddix would have been the only black doctor on the board, in a state that is 37 percent African American, and the only obstetrician-gynecologist.  "It was the only reason I even agreed to serve, was that voice needed to be present," Reddix, a middle-aged man who exudes a certain Southern calm, told me.

Reddix wasn't mad, just frustrated. "I was just a sacrificial lamb for him to earn some political points with his perceived base constituency," he says. The reality is Mississippi, he said, is that anyone even remotely associated with abortion gets marginalized.

It was also rather interesting to bar Reddix's nomination because of his relationship with JWHO, given that the state had just passed a new rule requiring all doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Anti-abortion lawmakers insisted that this was not a back-door means of shuttering JWHO, and it was about women's safety. But there was already a law on the books requiring the clinic to have a doctor on-call to admit women in the rare event of complication, it just did not previously have to be the doctor who provided the abortion. Reddix served as that doctor for the clinic, and he was pushed out of the board doing so. 

Adding Herring to the board of health instead leaves little doubt about the governor's motivations. 

Barack Obama and Joe Biden attend an event in January to discuss proposals to reduce gun violence.

With the Senate continuing its attempts to reach a bipartisan compromise on a gun-control package, President Barack Obama held a press conference at the White House Thursday morning urging strong action.

Surrounded by mothers "whose children were killed as recently as 35 days ago," Obama touted the work of Vice President Joe Biden's gun violence task force, which produced 23 executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence. The task force also recommended that Congress pass a package of new laws that includes universal background checks, a new assault weapons ban, and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

Obama mentioned recent polls that show as many as 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks. "How often do 90 percent of Americans agree on anything?" he asked, eliciting a laugh from Biden, who stood beside him. "It never happens!"

"None of these ideas should be controversial," Obama continued. "What we're proposing is not radical. We're not taking away anybody's gun rights."

Gun advocates, of course, see things differently. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to allow the Senate to vote on the assault weapons ban introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as an amendment, after leaving it out of the main gun-control package in fear that it would prevent the larger bill from passing. Pro-gun Republicans have threatened to filibuster any bill they think "will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions," and there is limited bipartisan support for strengthening background checks.

Obama's conference was a brief, emotional appeal for common-sense gun reforms. He was introduced by Katerina Rodgaard of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a mother and dance instructor whose former student Reema Samaha was one of the 32 people killed by a gunman in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. Families of Newtown victims also sat in the audience.

After the nation's recent string of mass shootings, "I felt it was no longer safe to raise a family in America," Rodgaard told the crowd.

While there will always be gun violence, Obama said, "we can make a difference." He mentioned a recent article that suggested Washington is missing its opportunity to seriously reform gun laws as the public's memory of Newtown fades away.

"Let me tell you, the people here don't forget," Obama said. "Shame on us if we've forgotten."

During oral arguments over the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage, Justice Samuel Alito offered a novel reason not to find a constitutional right to same-sex marriage: It hasn't been around that long. 

"You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cellphones or the internet?" Alito said to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. "We do not have the ability to see the future." The framers presumably left the "no ruling on things younger than cellphones or the internet" clause on the cutting room floor while they were putting together Article III of the US Constitution.

As it happens, the mobile phone, which was invented in 1973, predates Alito's bachelor's degree, and the Internet dates back to the 1960s (although the World Wide Web came into being in 1993). And Alito hasn't always been so reluctant to rule on things "newer than cellphones or the internet." Here are a few examples:

  • McCain-Feingold: The 2010 Citizens United decision striking down restrictions on outside political spending by corporations and unions also overturned portions of the bipartisan campaign finance law that passed in 2002.
  • Bush's military commissions: Alito sided with the minority in the 2006 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which struck down Bush's military commissions. Not only were the military commissions younger than cellphones or the internet, they're also younger than legalized same-sex marriage.
  • Bans on crush videos: Alito was the lone dissenter in a Supreme Court case ruling that a 1999 ban on the creation, sale and possession of materials depicting cruelty to animals violated the First Amendment
  • Arizona's harsh anti-immigration law: Arizona passed its harsh anti-immigration law in 2010, but only two years later Alito sided with the conservative minority who wanted to uphold part of the law that had been struck down by a lower court.
  • Obamacare: The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Two years later, Alito voted with most of his conservative colleagues on the court to strike it down.
  • Warrantless wiretapping: Early in 2013 Alito wrote an opinion in Clapper v. Amnesty dismissing a challenge to the 2008 FISA Amendments Act that retroactively legalized Bush's warrantless wiretapping program on the grounds that the plaintiffs couldn't prove they had been spied on by the government. 
  • Fake Military Honors: Last year Alito joined two of his conservative colleagues in dissenting from a decision that a 2005 law making it illegal to lie about receiving a military medal was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment.
  • Speech as material support for terrorism: Alito sided with the government in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, a case in which the court held that under the PATRIOT Act, which passed in 2001, anyone providing any kind of "assistance" to terrorist groups—even say, posting an extremist video online—could be charged with material support for terrorism.

Either restricting people's fundamental rights based on sexual orientation is unconstitutional or it isn't. This list is by no means exhaustive—it's just a handful of cases in which Alito has been able to figure out how to interpret the Constitution without an egg timer. 

Pitch Interactive, a California-based data visualization shop, has created a beautiful, if somewhat controversial, visualization of every attack by the US and coalition forces in Pakistan since 2004. It doesn't fit on the blog, so we created a full-width page for it. You can look at it here.