Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 27, 2014

Wed Aug. 27, 2014 10:33 AM EDT

The Class of 2015 at West Point receive their class rings as they enter their final academic year. (US Army Photos by John Pellino/ USMA DPTMS VI)

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 26, 2014

Tue Aug. 26, 2014 9:16 AM EDT

US Marines conduct a Helicopter Support Team exercise. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Sarah Fiocco)

Charts: Kids Are Paying the Price for America’s Prison Binge

| Tue Aug. 26, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

As students return to the classroom this fall, one large group of children will be more likely than their peers to suffer learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, behavioral problems, chronic school absence, and a host of other health concerns. These are the 2.7 million US children coping with the stress of parental incarceration.

In a new study, University of California-Irvine sociologist Kristin Turney analyzes data from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH) to determine the mental and physical health effects of having a parent in jail or prison. The results are striking:
 

The NSCH surveyed 95,677 children. Turney's analysis found that children with a parent in jail or prison had worse health across all but three tested health outcomes. They were more than three times as likely to suffer depression (6.2 percent vs. 1.8 percent) and behavioral problems (10.4 percent vs. 2.6 percent), compared to kids without an incarcerated parent. Perhaps more surprisingly, parental incarceration was related to higher levels of asthma, obesity, speech problems, and overall poor physical health.

Factors that affect health are often interrelated, making it difficult to isolate and study just one: Families already in poverty are more likely to be affected by incarceration, but incarceration can also destabilize family finances. Even when Turney controlled for a host of other factors—including parental employment and income, ethnicity, parents' relationship status, safety of neighborhood, and parental health—the relationship remained between parental incarceration and health concerns like learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, and developmental delay.

Children with a parent in jail or prison were more than three times as likely to suffer depression and behavioral problems.

In fact, Turney found that children with parents behind bars are as likely to suffer certain health problems—including learning disabilities and developmental delay—as children who experience divorce or the death of a parent, witness parental abuse, or share a home with someone with a drug or alcohol abuse problem.

"Results suggest that children's health disadvantages are an overlooked and unintended consequence of mass incarceration," Turney writes, "and that incarceration, given its unequal distribution across the population, may have implications for population-level racial-ethnic and social class inequalities in children's health."

One study found that a quarter of black children born in 1990 saw a parent go to jail or prison by age 14, as opposed to 3 percent of white children.

Parental incarceration introduces significant stress into a child's life, Turney tells Mother Jones, which "leads to negative health effects, especially mental-health conditions." But on top of inherent psychological stress, incarceration can hit a family from all directions: The destabilization of family finances, relationships, and other elements of daily life can cause indirect stress that further impacts a child's health, Turney explains.

The NSCH data does not make clear the extent to which direct and indirect stress contribute to poor health, but Turney says she hopes future research will help figure that out: "Because that's really important for where to best invest, in terms of intervening in these kids' lives and where we might be able to develop public policies."

She says children can be overlooked as policymakers focus on the health of the inmates themselves. "And while there are certainly a host of negative things that go along with that, we should be thinking about how these consequences can really have spillover effects on families and on children."

Incarceration's impact on family life is made worse by facilities located far from cities, exploitative phone rates, lack of official policies to address children's needs, and excessively long sentences. Two-thirds of incarcerated parents are nonviolent offenders.

Turney has previously studied the way in which teachers' perceptions of children with incarcerated fathers can make it more likely for these children to be held back a year in school. She says there is a growing interest in studying parental incarceration, but that researchers are stymied by a lack of good data.

Its not just academics who are starting to think about this issue: Sesame Street recently reached out to children coping with parental incarceration by introducing a puppet whose father is in jail. As one little girl says in the clip, it gets hardest "when I see children with their mothers, and playing and everything, and I just wonder how it feels to be like that."

GOP Congressional Candidate Apologizes for Calling Female Senators "Undeserving Bimbos"

| Mon Aug. 25, 2014 10:05 AM EDT

On Friday, we reported on Minnesota Republican congressional candidate Jim Hagedorn's history of incendiary comments about women, American Indians, gays, people he suspected of being gay, and President Obama's family. Two days later, Hagedorn took to Facebook to issue an apology...of sorts:

Over the years I have written political satire and commentary, most of which defended conservative ideals and took aim at national politicians I felt were failing the American people and hurting our country.

Even though most of my writings were composed more than 10 years ago, national and DFL liberals are determined to attack me personally, mostly by exhibiting snippets of out-dated, misunderstood or out-of-context material and calling me derogatory names.

In this case, the rather worn and tired Democrat tactic of personal destruction and demonization is designed to deflect attention from the serious problems confronting our nation and the failed big government record of President Barack Obama and devoted liberal followers like incumbent DFL Congressman Tim Walz.

Of course, these same politically correct liberals remain undeterred by the offensive writings authored in the past by Al Franken. In spite of this hypocrisy, I do acknowledge that some of my hard-hitting and tongue-in-cheek commentary was less than artfully constructed or included language that could lead to hurt feelings. I offer a sincere and heartfelt apology.

Rather than dwell in the rigged game of political correctness, my campaign will forge ahead and continue to engage with the people of southern Minnesota and address the issues that will decide our country’s future during these critical times.

A better way to avoid the "rigged game of political correctness," would be to not disparage all American Indians as "thankless" welfare recipients. You can read more about Hagedorn's past comments here.

10 of the Worst Congressional Acronyms Ever

| Mon Aug. 25, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Ten of the worst (or possibly greatest) congressional backronyms—intentional acronyms created by attention-seeking lawmakers, or more likely, their poor staffers:

CHOMP: Consumers Have Options for Molar Protection Act, sponsored by former Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.)

STALKERS: Simplifying The Ambiguous Law, Keeping Everyone Reliably Safe Act, sponsored by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.)

HELLO: Help Eliminate the Levy on Locution Act, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

SWEETEST: Saccharin Warning Elimination via Environmental Testing Employing Science and Technology Act, sponsored by former Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.)

CHURCH: Congressional Hope for Uniform Recognition of Christian Heritage Act, sponsored by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)

DRONES: Designating Requirements On Notification of Executive-ordered Strikes Act, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

PROSTATE: Prostate Research, Outreach, Screening, Testing, Access, and Treatment Effectiveness Act, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)

STOP SMUT: Special Taxation On Pornographic Services and Marketing Using Telephones Act, sponsored by former Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.)

CAN SPAM: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act, sponsored by ex-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.)

DAIRY: Dairy Augmentation for Increased Retail in Yogurt Products Act, sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

HONORABLE MENTION
SAFETEA-LU:
Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) in honor of his wife, Lu

For many more wonderfully bad backronyms, check out Noah Veltman's "congressional acronym abuse" tracker.

Iowa GOP Official Warns That Child Migrants Might Be Highly Trained "Warriors"

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 4:25 PM EDT

Iowa Republican National Committee member Tamara Scott has a special theory about the flood of child migrants entering the United States: What if they're secretly ninjas?

Republican congressmen have previously argued that the 70,000 youths who will come across the border in 2014 are being brought over to bolster Democratic voter rolls at some point in the distant future, or that they are carrying a deadly disease that does not actually exist in their home countries. Scott, in a Thursday radio segment flagged by Right Wing Watch, sought to outdo them all:

For us just to open our borders it's chaos we don't know orderly who's coming in, who's not. When we see these kids, you and I think young kids, we think maybe 12-year-olds, maybe even…middle-schoolers. But we know back in our revolution, we had 12-year-olds fighting in our revolution. And for many of these kids, depending on where they're coming from, they could be coming from other countries and be highly trained as warriors who will meet up with their group here and actually rise up against us as Americans. We have no idea what's coming through our borders, but I would say biblically it's not a Christian nation when you entice people to do wrong.

This is a terrible idea for a Red Dawn sequel.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 22, 2014

Fri Aug. 22, 2014 1:47 PM EDT

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, performs a live-fire exercise to prepare for future deployment. (US Navy Photo)

Compton to District Security Guards: Go Ahead, Bring Your AR-15s to School

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

When students in the Compton Unified School District return to classrooms on Monday, some of them will have new pencils or notebooks. Their teachers will have new textbooks. But this year, the district's campus police will be getting an upgrade, too: AR-15 rifles.

The board of the Los Angeles-area school district approved a measure to allow the campus cops to carry the new guns in July. The district's police chief, William Wu, told the board that equipping school police with semi-automatic AR-15s is intended to ensure student safety.

"This is our objective—save lives, bottom line," Wu told the board.

Crime is a serious problem in Compton, an independent jurisdiction south of downtown Los Angeles. In the 12 months preceding July, the city of nearly 100,000 experienced 28 murders, making it the 11th-deadliest neighborhood in the county, according to a data analysis by the Los Angeles Times.

But the choice to make Compton school police the latest local law enforcement agency to adopt military-style weapons was less about dealing with street crime than it was about preventing more exotic incidents like mass shootings. At the board meeting, Wu cited an FBI report released in January that found that 5 percent of "active shooters"— or shooters which are conducting an ongoing assault on a group of people—wore body armor, which can stop most bullets fired from handguns. To make his case, Wu cited a range of examples, including the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the University of Texas shooting in 1966, in which a student killed 16 people from the campus clock tower, out of range of police sidearms. (The student was eventually killed when a group of police climbed the tower and shot him at close range.)

"They will continue until they are stopped," Wu said, at which point a board member interjected.

"No, they will continue until we stop them," he said. "Compton Unified School Police…holding it down."

"These rifles give us greater flexibility in dealing with a person with bad intent who comes onto any of our campuses," Wu said in a statement. "The officers will keep the rifles in the trunks of their cars, unless they are needed."

Compton is not the first district in the Southern California to allow AR-15s on its campuses. At the meeting, Wu said that Los Angeles, Baldwin Park, Santa Ana, Fontana, and San Bernardino all allow their officers to use the same weapons. 

Compton school police last made news in May 2013, when a group of parents and students filed a suit against the department, alleging a pattern of racial profiling and abuse targeting Latino students. The complaint said that officers beat, pepper-sprayed, and put a chokehold on a bystander who was recording an arrest with his iPod. The group also claimed that Compton school police used excessive force against students and parents who complained that English-as-a-second-language programs were underfunded. (The case is ongoing.)

Wu said at the board meeting that seven officers have already been trained to use the new weapons. He said all officers would be purchasing their own weapons. The guns will be the officers' personal property, but they could be bringing them to work as early as September.

Another GOP Candidate Says Migrant Kids Might Have Ebola. (They Don't.)

| Thu Aug. 21, 2014 5:01 PM EDT
Arizona speaker of the house Andy Tobin

Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin is the latest Republican politician to suggest migrants from Central America might bring the Ebola virus with them to the United States. Tobin, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the state's 1st Congressional District in Tuesday's primary, made the connection in an interview published in the Tucson Weekly on Thursday.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) started the GOP Ebola fearmongering trend last month when he wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that "[r]eports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning."  In August, Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) leveled the same charge.

Although allegations of disease-ridden migrants are common throughout history, vaccination rates in Central America are higher than in Texas. And Ebola, which is difficult to contract, is not found in Central America. But Tobin was undeterred.

Per the Weekly:

…Tobin says he's hearing about worries from constituents that the recent wave of undocumented youth from Central America could cause an Ebola outbreak in the United States.

"Anything's now possible," Tobin said last week. "So if you were to say the Ebola virus has now entered (the country), I don't think anyone would be surprised."

Tobin acknowledged that Ebola has been limited to outbreaks in Africa, "to the extent that they're really aware of that. I think there is a reason we should be concerned about it and say, 'Hey, can you assure us the people crossing the border are not from the Middle East?'…So I use that as an example, that the public would not be surprised to hear about the next calamity at the border."

But even if there were lots of people crossing the border from the Middle East, they still wouldn't be bringing Ebola, because Ebola is still confined to sub-Saharan West Africa. Here's a useful map:

Central America is on the left. Google Maps

Fortunately for Tobin, though, the bar for misinformed comments on migrants is high in Arizona's 1st District. State Rep. Adam Kwasman, Tobin's chief rival for the nomination, became a late-night punch line in July when he protested a YMCA camp bus he mistakenly believed was filled with undocumented youths.

The American Correctional Association Ushered Me Out of Its Convention With Armed Guards

| Thu Aug. 21, 2014 12:54 PM EDT
Vgm8383/Flickr

I've dealt with surly, armed prison guards in my reporting career, but Tuesday was the first time the encounter involved a PR man kicking me out of a convention I had personally requested to attend, paid for, and traveled across country to attend. On Tuesday, the director of government and public affairs of the American Correctional Association (ACA), a prison trade group, pulled me out of a seminar at their conference in Salt Lake City, which I'd been attending for several days. Flanking him were two men in Utah Department of Corrections uniforms, with pistols and tasers on their hips.

The convention is a twice-yearly affair, and I've been to it before. Hundreds of prison staff and members of the vast industry surrounding corrections touch down on an American city to discuss all things prison related. This week, Salt Lake City laid out the red carpet. Downtown restaurants posted signs welcoming the prison industry. Hotels printed the ACA insignia on their keys. Bars hosted parties sponsored by corrections companies. The local prison had inmates press an "ACA 2014" license plate for each convention guest.

The ACA is the largest and oldest correctional association in the world, and their conventions offer a rare glimpse into the world of US prisons. Vendors in the exhibit hall openly discuss their increasing sales of SWAT-style equipment to prisons. Visitors can check out the new tech like drone-detection devices, surveillance systems, and shank-proof e-cigarettes. People hold workshops on issues like sex between prison guards and inmates and the problem of drug-dealing staff. Serious topics like suicide among transgender inmate populations are often revealingly discussed in terms of liability and cost.

But in attending ACA conventions, I've also been surprised at how many reformists there are. When I attended an ACA convention in Tampa six months ago, the main plenary was composed of wardens and mental-health workers discussing the need to reform the use of long-term solitary confinement (called "restrictive housing" in ACA jargon). In Salt Lake City, prisoner mental health and the rampant problem of hepatitis C (affecting 40 percent of inmates) were major topics.

For someone who writes about prisons and is accustomed to being stonewalled at every turn, the ACA conventions have felt refreshingly transparent. After workshops or at company-sponsored meet-and-greets, most people are very willing to speak to a journalist, and I have always identified myself as such.

While in Salt Lake City, I was live-tweeting throughout the convention, posting revealing tidbits from workshops and notes on a visit to a local jail. This may have had something to do with why, on the fourth day, a man named Eric Schultz, the ACA's director of government and public affairs, came into a workshop and asked me to step outside. Standing at each side of him was an armed Utah correctional officer. He told me I was going to have to leave.

The guards ushered us into an empty room. The reason for my dismissal changed as Mr. Schultz and I talked. First, he told me I wasn't registered as media. I explained to him that when I called to register, I was told there were no media passes, and that I should register through the normal channels. He then told me the problem was that I wasn't displaying my Mother Jones credentials, which was required by policy (I still have not been able to find that policy). I told him that could easily be remedied. "It's nothing against you or Mother Jones," he said. "But you are just going to have to leave." The burly guard stepped in closer.

After I left the convention center, I called the main ACA office in Virginia to ask again whether media were allowed to attend the convention. The man who answered told me yes, they were.

"Any media?" I asked.

“Yes,” he said. My editor, Monika Bauerlein, called Eric Schultz several times to discuss the matter, leaving voicemails and receiving no return calls. I later called up Schultz to ask whether he wanted to comment for this post. He hasn't responded.

The ACA functions as the de facto oversight organization for our prison system. They set the professional standards and conduct audits. I've been told by many that their accreditation carries weight in court. What are we to infer when an institution whose purpose is to make sure our prisons are up to par doesn't allow the public to see what it's doing?