Political MoJo

This Republican Tried To Stop North Carolina From Apologizing For A Racist Massacre. He’d Like Your Vote, Please.

| Tue Sep. 16, 2014 4:37 PM EDT
North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis with state Rep. Ruth Samuelson.

In 1898, furious that a mixed-race coalition had swept the city's municipal elections, white supremacists burned down a black-owned newspaper in Wilmington, North Carolina; overthrew the local government; and killed at least 25 black residents in a week of rioting. It was one of the worst single incidents of racially motivated violence in American history. But in 2007, when a nonpartisan commission recommended that the state legislature pass a resolution formally apologizing for the massacre, Republican Senate nominee Thom Tillis, then a first-term state representative, rose to block it.

"It is time to move on," he wrote in a message to constituents. "In supporting the apology for slavery, most members felt it was an opportunity to recognize a past wrong and move on to pressing matters facing our State. HB 751 and others in the pipeline are redundant and they are consuming time and attention that should be dedicated to addressing education, transportation, and immigration problems plaguing this State."

But at the time, Tillis—who showed up in Wilmington on Tuesday with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in tow—offered another explanation for opposing the measure: Not all whites had participated in the riots. So Tillis pushed for an amendment introduced by a fellow state representative that would have added language to the bill commemorating the heroic white Republican lawmakers who had opposed the violence. "The proposed amendment would have acknowledged the historical fact that the white Republican government joined with black citizens to oppose the rioters," he argued. The amendment failed, and Tillis ended up voting no on the final version.

Although North Carolina has been targeted by the GOP as a top pickup opportunity, Tillis has struggled to gain traction—in part because of his leadership role in the unpopular state legislature. In the most recent poll, he trailed Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent, by nine points.

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Even Liberia's Legislature Can't Escape the Ravages of Ebola

| Tue Sep. 16, 2014 4:30 PM EDT
The chambers of the Liberian legislature

Of all the countries doing battle with Ebola, Liberia has been dealt the gravest blow. According to the World Health Organization, the impoverished West African nation now accounts for about half of all documented cases. And more than 1,200 residents are known or suspected to have died from the disease. In late August, the government quarantined an entire neighborhood for twelve days to prevent the outbreak from spreading.

Now the virus is forcing Liberian lawmakers to put their own work on hold.

On Monday, Liberia's legislature announced that the House of Representatives had canceled an "extraordinary sitting" to discuss the outbreak because its own chamber had been tainted by "a probable case of Ebola" and was being sprayed down with chlorine. The statement didn't specify the source of the infection, but it noted that one of the chamber's doormen had recently died after a "short illness."

Liberia is ill-equipped to fight off the Ebola outbreak. Its entire national budget for 2013-2014 was $553 million, with only $11 million allotted for health care—about what Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are estimated to have spent on their Bel Air mansion in 2012.

Despite its meager resources, last month Liberia's legislature allocated $20 million to battle the virus. But the nation had already burned through a quarter of that money by the first week of September. On Tuesday, United Nations officials pleaded with the international community to step up assistance to Liberia and neighboring countries, saying it will take $1 billion in aid to keep the number of cases in the region confined to the "tens of thousands."

Rand Paul to Appear at Event Featuring Neo-Confederate Aide He Had to Fire

| Tue Sep. 16, 2014 3:29 PM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (left) and former Paul aide Jack Hunter.

This week, the Ron Paul-led Campaign for Liberty hosts its fourth annual Liberty Political Action Conference, and the speaking list features a roster of well-known Republican politicians and libertarian activists. The biggest draw of this year's LPAC will undoubtedly be Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who each day inches closer to a 2016 presidential run. Slated to speak at the same event, though, is Paul's ex-aide Jack Hunter, who the senator fired after his past as a neo-Confederate advocate was revealed.

Hunter used to be the social media director in Paul's Senate office, and he co-wrote Paul's 2010 book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington. But in 2013, the Washington Free Beacon revealed that Hunter, under a different identity, had long been involved with the neo-Confederate and southern secessionist movements. For 13 years, Hunter was a South Carolina talk radio host who called himself the "Southern Avenger." In public, he wore a luchador mask bearing a Confederate flag. As the Avenger, Hunter made many a provocative remark, including arguably racist comments. He said that John Wilkes Booth's heart was "in the right place" and that he celebrated Booth's birthday every year. He claimed that Abraham Lincoln would have been romantically drawn to Adolf Hitler. He called the NAACP a "malicious hate group" on par with the KKK. He contended that a "non-white majority America would simply cease to be America."

Hunter also chaired an organization called the League of the South, which advocated "the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic." The Free Beacon reported,

"The League of the South is an implicitly racist group in that the idealized version of the South that they promote is one which, to use their ideology, is dominated by 'Anglo-Celtic' culture, which is their code word for 'white,'" said Mark Pitcavage, the director of investigative research at the [Anti-Defamation League]. The ADL said it does not necessarily classify it as a hate group.

The League of the South maintains that it is not racist and does not discriminate in terms of membership.

"When I was part of it, they were very explicit that's not what they were about," Hunter told the Free Beacon. "I was a young person, it was a fairly radical group—the same way a person on the left might be attracted in college to some left-wing radical groups."

After Hunter was unmasked, Paul said that his Southern Avenger commentaries were "stupid" and canned him. A few months later, Hunter wrote a story titled "Confessions of a Right-Wing Shock Jock" and distanced himself from his old comments. "I said many terrible things," he wrote. "I disavow them."

Now, Hunter is back in the fold and back on the speaker's list in the liberty movement presided over by Ron and Rand Paul. The Campaign for Liberty bills him as "the one and only Jack Hunter." Hard to argue with that.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 15, 2014

Mon Sep. 15, 2014 11:49 AM EDT

A US Marine carries a round back to his gun in Hawaii for a fire mission. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Victor A. Mancilla)

Unredacted Court Docs Reveal Yahoo's Name and Other Top-Secret Stuff

| Fri Sep. 12, 2014 5:59 PM EDT

Yahoo has just released 1,500 pages of previously classified documents relating to its legal challenge to the government's warrantless wiretapping program. Yahoo lost the case in 2008 and was ordered to cooperate with National Security Agency or face a $250,000 fine for every day that it withheld its customers' data. The ruling in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was released to the public only in heavily redacted form, became a legal precedent for the warrantless wiretapping program that was later revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Today, based on a successful appeal by Yahoo, a slightly less redacted version of that court ruling finally became public.

Below, I've posted the more lightly redacted version released today as well as the redacted version of the ruling released in 2008. A side-by-side reading of the two documents may offer some insight into how the government has sought to cover up the true nature of its surveillance activities, or it might just be an example of how little has changed.

The new version of the ruling is notable for what it doesn't disclose: Key evidence presented by the government. A block of text that had previously been removed from the ruling still does not fully explain why warrantless searches are necessary to thwart terrorists:

Scanning the 1,500 pages of newly unsealed documents will take a while. Here are few examples of new information contained in the partially unredacted ruling:

  • The name of the plaintiff (Yahoo) and its law firm
  • A footnote defining the term "surveillance" to mean "acquisitions of foreign intelligence information." But part of the definition of the term still remains redacted.
  • The date when the government moved to force Yahoo to comply with the order (November 21, 2007)
  • A mention of "linking procedures" (defined as "procedures that link [redacted] targets.") as a one of the safeguards against unreasonable searches

You can help us out by pointing out any other interesting tidbits in the comments; we'll note additional highlights here if we find anything worth noting.

The slightly less redacted ruling released today:

 

 

 

The original redacted court ruling:

 

 

 

The Great State Of California Will Not Be Split Into Six Mediocre States

| Fri Sep. 12, 2014 5:55 PM EDT

One day a lemming will fly. That day is not today:

Backers of a much-publicized initiative to split California into six separate states failed to collect enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot. the secretary of state's office said Friday.

Supporters of the Six Californias measure sponsored by Tim Draper, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, turned in more than 1.13 million signatures. But a statewide sampling showed that only 752,685 of them were from voters registered in California, short of the 807,615 needed to qualify for the ballot, the secretary of state said.

Happy Friday!

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See for Yourself Just How Damn Complicated the Middle East Has Become

| Fri Sep. 12, 2014 1:49 PM EDT
mid east relationship chart
David McCandless/The Information Is Beautiful Project

Behold, the Middle East! If we could just understand what all the strong countries, the falling-apart countries, the unrecognized-countries, the "non-state actors", and the outside powers all thought of each other, we might be able to chart a clear way forward, right? Don't get your hopes up, although the latest project by British data visionary David McCandless is a really valiant effort to make sense of it all nonetheless.

McCandless' charted 38 regional players— from Afghanistan to Yemen, Al Qaeda to the European Union— and connected each to its major friends and enemies. The result is a tangled ball that illustrates the enormously complicated relationships in the region. (You can parse each actor's relationships on the full, interactive version on McCandless' site, Information Is Beautiful, which you should really check out.) 

McCandless calls this work an "ongoing, evolving diagram," so it may be missing a few connections (Russia's close, getting closer relationship with Iraq, for instance). If you have more ideas, he welcomes input at the email address posted on his site.

Pennsylvania Teenager Simulates Oral Sex With Jesus Statue, Faces 2 Years in Prison

| Fri Sep. 12, 2014 1:39 PM EDT

Teenagers are prone to dumb, tasteless pranks, but one 14-year-old is facing prison time for his latest stunt. The teen, from Everett, Pennsylvania, hopped on top of a statue of a kneeling Jesus—in front of an organization called "Love in the Name of Christ"—and simulated oral sex with the statue's face. Naturally, he posted the pictures to Facebook, which made their way to authorities.

Officials in Bedford County charged the teen (whose name hasn't been released) with desecration of a venerated object, invoking a 1972 Pennsylvania statute that criminalizes "defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action." You'd think an appropriate punishment for a kid violating this seldom-invoked law might be picking up trash or, at worst, paying a fine. If convicted, he faces much worse: two years in juvenile detention.

Truth Wins Out, a LGBT advocacy nonprofit, has argued that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause—"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"—and free speech rights—"Congress shall make no law abridging the right to hump a statue of Jesus."

Pennsylvania is not the only state with a "venerated objects" law—many states have some version of it, but most define "desecration" as vandalizing or otherwise physically harming an object of civic or religious significance. Alabama, Tennessee, and Oregon have laws like Pennsylvania's, which can be interpreted to punish individuals—like this bold, dumb teenager—who simply decide to do something offensive.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 12, 2014

Fri Sep. 12, 2014 10:29 AM EDT

Nathan Mitchell, an aviation machinist airman of the US Navy, performs maintenance on a helicopter. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Oscar Albert Moreno Jr.)

News Organizations Battle Pennsylvania Over Secret Source of Its Execution Drugs

| Thu Sep. 11, 2014 1:59 PM EDT
A lethal injection chamber at the State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and four news organizations filed an emergency legal motion on Thursday, demanding that Pennsylvania reveal the source of its execution drugs.

Later this month, the state is scheduled to put 57-year-old Hubert Michael to death for raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl in 1993. While the execution has been stayed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the ACLU fears the hold could be lifted at any time, opening the way for the first execution in Pennsylvania in more than 15 years.

Since 2011, when the European Union banned the export of drugs for use in executions, Pennsylvania and other death penalty states have been forced to rely on untested drug combinations and loosely regulated compounding pharmacies, and most have become secretive about the sources and contents of their lethal injection drugs. Death row inmates around the country have sued to block their executions on the grounds that withholding this information is unconstitutional. Untested or poorly prepared drug cocktails could, they argue, create a level of suffering that violates the Eight Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. So far, they've met with little success. Clayton Lockett, who lost his bid to force the state of Oklahoma to reveal the source and purity of the drugs used to put him to death, writhed and moaned in apparent agony after being injected with a secretly acquired drug combinations in April.