Political MoJo

The Most Fascinating Thing About Donald Trump's Racist Tweet

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 11:17 AM EST

On Sunday afternoon, @realDonaldTrump, the official Twitter handle of the Republican presidential front-runner, manually retweeted a deeply racist and inaccurate chart purporting to show racial crime statistics in America. As everyone in the world knows by now, the chart—created by Nazis!—is bullshit. Here's something that is fascinating about the whole episode: Donald Trump almost certainly did not send the tweet.

As I explained in September, only a vanishingly small number of @realDonaldTrump's tweets actually come from Trump himself. He dictates many of his tweets to aides. He sends some—a very small few—himself using an iPhone. And many manual retweets are sent by one of his staffers. Retweets presumably aren't the sort of thing he would be dictating. He's probably not on his phone listening to someone read his mentions and saying, "Retweet that one!" Sunday's tweet was sent from an Android. Trump tweets—when he rarely does—from an iPhone. It's very likely Trump did not send that retweet. Someone who works for him did. This isn't the fascinating thing.

The fascinating thing is that instead of a blaming the tweet on a subordinate—something they haven't been shy about doing in the past—the campaign has chosen to stay silent about it. They have apparently made the political calculation that it would be worse for Trump to acknowledge not sending the racist tweet than to endure a few days of stories about how racist he is. 

It's 2015, and if you're running for the Republican nomination for president, saying racist things doesn't hurt your poll numbers

An email to the Trump campaign seeking clarification on the authorship of the tweet was not immediately returned. 

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Louisiana Just Voted to Give a Quarter of a Million People Health Care

| Sat Nov. 21, 2015 10:23 PM EST

Republican Sen. David Vitter lost his bid to be the next governor of Louisiana on Saturday, and it wasn't even close. The two-term senator lost the runoff election to Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards by double digits, setting the stage for the state to potentially become the first in the Deep South to accept a pivotal part of Obamacare.

Vitter was dogged by a decade-old prostitution scandal, and a bizarre spying incident at a coffee shop. Desperate to make up ground, he warned voters in one ad that President Barack Obama would release "thugs" from prison onto Louisiana streets. Vitter also sought to turn the tide by warning voters of a terrorist threat posed by the state's 14 Syrian refugees. He went as far as to allege (falsely, it turned out) that one of the refugees had gone missing. It didn't work.

Edwards, an anti-abortion, pro-gun West Point grad, became the first Democratic candidate to win a statewide election in Louisiana since 2008, and benefited from support from Republicans who were dissatisfied with Vitter's personal troubles and disappointed by the state's financial woes under outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal. (By the time Jindal dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday, the one-time rising star's approval ratings had dropped to 20 percent.)

Jindal also rejected federal funding to expand Medicaid. Edwards has pledged to sign an executive order authorizing the expansion of the program on his first day in office. That's a really big deal. Such a move would provide coverage to about 225,000 residents in one of the poorest states in the nation.

Alabama May Back Off Its Policy of Treating New Moms Like Meth Cooks

| Fri Nov. 20, 2015 6:10 PM EST

A subcommittee of the Alabama Governor's Health Care Improvement Task Force is examining proposals that aim to reform the nation's harshest "chemical endangerment of a child" statute. The law states that "knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally" exposing a child to controlled substances or drug-making chemicals is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison if a child is unharmed, and 99 years if a child dies.

The enforcement of the law, originally intended to prosecute methamphetamine users who exposed children to the drug, has been unusually broad—including, as ProPublica's Nina Martin previously reported in Mother Jones, the prosecution of pregnant women for exposing their fetuses to even small amounts of anti-anxiety medication. Nearly 500 women have been arrested on related charges since the law passed in 2006.

The law has been criticized by civil rights groups and public health experts for being harmful to those who need the most help—women who are faced with poverty and addiction—and for unfairly prosecuting women who were not drug users at all, but who might have simply taken a small dose of medication that eventually appeared in the blood test of their new babies.

At the task force meeting on Wednesday, Dr. Darlene Traffanstedt, who heads the subcommittee, announced that three proposals were under consideration. One would require prosecutors to offer drug treatment to pregnant women instead of prosecuting them, while another would protect women using drugs that have been legally prescribed to them (which has not been the case since 2006). The third option would hold the law to its "original intent"  by preventing its use against women who are using pregnancy-related medication.

The subcommittee's next meeting is in December, and a draft bill is expected by the beginning of February's legislative session. Read more about the law and its consequences here.

Gunmen Take 170 Hostages Inside Mali Hotel

| Fri Nov. 20, 2015 8:30 AM EST

Update, 11:13 a.m. EST: Multiple reports say the hostage situation is over. At least 27 people are reported dead.


At least three people are dead after gunmen—reportedly shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great"—seized control on Friday of a Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, where 170 people were taken hostage.

Security forces launched a counterassault mission, reportedly freeing 80 out of the initial 170 hostages as of this time.

The Times reports that the gunmen are also releasing Muslims but continuing to hold non-Muslims inside.

The hostage situation in Mali comes just one week after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. On Friday, French President Francois Hollande showed his solidarity with the Malian people.

"With the means we have in the area, we will do what is possible to obtain the freedom of the hostage," Hollande said. "Once again, terrorists want to mark with their barbaric presence all places where they can kill or massacre."

More Transgender People Have Been Killed in 2015 Than Any Other Year on Record

| Fri Nov. 20, 2015 6:00 AM EST
A memorial display at a vigil for India Clarke, a transgender woman killed in Tampa, Florida, in July

At vigils across the country today, people are honoring the victims of fatal anti-transgender violence as part of an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. At least 21 transgender people have been killed in the United States already this year, which is more homicides than any other year on record, according to a recent report by Human Rights Campaign. During the first six months of the year alone, more transgender people were killed than in all of 2014. Most of the victims were transgender women of color. So far, none of the attacks have been deemed hate crimes.

On Tuesday, a congressional task force launched in response to the "epidemic of violence against the transgender community." The Transgender Equality Task Force, chaired by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who has a transgender granddaughter, aims to understand the causes of anti-transgender violence and identify what the federal government can do to improve the situation.

Activists say it's hard to know exactly how many transgender people are killed every year. One problem, they say, is that police officers often refer to transgender homicide victims with names and pronouns reflecting their gender of birth, rather than their gender identity. (For example, transgender women are often described by police officers as men.) And while the FBI last year began publishing statistics on hate crimes against gender-nonconforming people, the bureau's figures only reflect cases reported to authorities. Some crime-reporting programs at the state level have also opted, for budgetary reasons, not to collect data on hate crimes against transgender people, according to an FBI spokesman. Lauren Smith, a press contact for Honda, the chair of the congressional task force, said the issue of data collection has come up in discussions among task force members, but that the group won't be meeting until shortly after Thanksgiving to hammer out specific agenda items they hope to address.

Read more of MoJo's coverage on anti-transgender violence here.

Kansas Asks Its Entire Supreme Court to Step Aside in Key Case

| Fri Nov. 20, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Kansas Republicans believe they have created a law that their own high court cannot review.

In the latest twist of the topsy-turvy constitutional showdown between the GOP-controlled state legislature and the state Supreme Court, the Kansas attorney general has asked the entire Kansas Supreme Court to recuse itself from hearing a key case.

The power struggle between Kansas Republicans and the state's highest court goes back to a years-long battle over education funding. The state Supreme Court has repeatedly ordered the legislature to spend more money on public education, a request that conflicts with Republicans' desire to cut taxes. In 2014, the legislature passed a bill stripping the Supreme Court of the administrative authority to appoint chief judges in Kansas' 31 judicial districts, a move Democrats saw as a power play by the legislature to intimidate the top court during the ongoing fight over school spending. Chief District Court Judge Larry Solomon challenged the constitutionality of the judicial administration law, arguing that it violates the state's separation of powers.

But the legislature doubled down. Earlier this year, it passed a judicial budget that would cut off funding for the entire Kansas court system if the courts struck down the judicial administration bill—a situation that would seize critical state functions such as criminal prosecutions, civil disputes, real estate sales, and adoptions. That led to the bizarre moment in September when a district court ruled the administrative bill unconstitutional, putting all the funding for the state courts in sudden jeopardy. The situation threatened to devolve into a judicial catch-22, in which no court could rule on the legality of the laws because those laws had defunded them. To avoid that situation, the judge put a hold on his ruling invalidating the law until the state Supreme Court could hear the case—except that the state of Kansas is now arguing that the Supreme Court shouldn't have its say.

Rather than let the case proceed to the Supreme Court, Attorney General Derek Schmidt argued in a brief last week that the justices should not hear the case because the law involves the court's authority. Schmidt's brief also notes that the chief justice of the Supreme Court criticized the law when it passed, betraying his bias against the law.

Under Kansas law, Supreme Court justices can appoint district court judges to sit in their place when they recuse themselves. But Schmidt argues that a district court judge shouldn't be involved either because the law involves appointing chief judges at the district court level. Instead, Schmidt proposes that judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals—just below the level of the Supreme Court and above the district courtsreview the case. (Perhaps not coincidentally, in 2013, the Republican-controlled legislature changed the selection process for appeals court judges. Before then, a commission nominated potential judges for the governor to choose from; now the judges are appointed directly by the governor, currently Republican Sam Brownback. The judges most sympathetic to the Republican legislature may be those at the appeals court level.)

Lawyers fighting the judicial administration bill believe the recusal request is frivolous. As they wrote in a brief this week, "centuries of precedent make clear that it is the province and duty of this Court to decide cases that involve the scope of the Court’s authority, jurisdiction, and duties vis-à-vis the other branches of government." In a response filed Thursday, the state held firm that the highest court should not hear the case.

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Bernie Sanders Says Qatar Should Spend Its Money Fighting ISIS, Not Hosting the World Cup

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 5:07 PM EST

Not only did Bernie Sanders defend democratic socialism in a Georgetown University speech Thursday, but he also took the opportunity to throw around some shade.

First, the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate went off script to call out Donald Trump and other Republican candidates for "using the political process to inject racism into the debate." Then, Sanders took a shot in his prepared remarks at Qatar's plans to invest upwards of $220 billion to host a four-week, sure-to-be-hot-as-hell World Cup in 2022, instead of spending that money on fighting ISIS:

It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event—$200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS. Worse still, it has been widely reported that the government has not been vigilant in stemming the flow of terrorist financing, and that Qatari individuals and organizations funnel money to some of the most extreme terrorist groups, including al Nusra and ISIS.

All of this has got to change. Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them. As we develop a strongly coordinated effort, we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need.

Reminder: Letting Qatar host the World Cup has always been a terrible idea.

Bernie Sanders Just Basically Called Out Donald Trump for Being a Racist

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 3:47 PM EST

In a fiery speech at Georgetown University outlining and defending democratic socialism on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, went off script from his prepared remarks to condemn Donald Trump and other presidential candidates for their continued use of racist tactics to shape the immigration debate.

"Let me just say a few words from what I've heard from several Republican candidates for president over recent months because people can have honest disagreements about immigration, but people should not be using the political process to inject racism into the debate," Sanders said. He then slammed Trump:

People should not be using the political process to inject racism into the debate. Donald Trump and others who refer to Latinos as peoples from Mexico as criminals and rapists, if they want to open that door, our job is to shut that door. This country has gone too far. Too many people have suffered and too many people have died for us to continue to hear racist words coming from major political leaders.

The much-anticipated speech concluded with Sanders receiving a rousing, standing ovation from students in attendance.

Read Elizabeth Warren's Heartfelt Email in Support of Syrian Refugees

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 11:54 AM EST

As more Republicans declare their opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Thursday sent out an email to her supporters, passionately urging them to stand with her in pushing back against calls for rejecting those fleeing violence in Syria and the Middle East. 

Here's an excerpt:

In the wake of the murders in Paris and Beirut last week, people in America, in Europe, and throughout the world, are fearful. Millions of Syrians are fearful as well—terrified by the reality of their daily lives, terrified that their last avenue of escape from the horrors of ISIS will be closed, terrified that the world will turn its back on them and on their children.

Some politicians have already moved in that direction, proposing to close our country to people fleeing the massacre in Syria. That is not who we are. We are a country of immigrants and refugees, a country made strong by our diversity, a country founded by those crossing the sea fleeing religious persecution and seeking religious freedom.

We are not a nation that delivers children back into the hands of ISIS murderers because some politician dislikes their religion. And we are not a nation that backs down out of fear.

Warren's letter was sent out by her Senate campaign, but it made no request for donations (which is rare when a politician zaps out an email to her list of supporters). The note follows a similar plea she made to her fellow lawmakers in the Senate on Tuesday. Warren is among only a handful of politicians who publicly support accepting a limited number of refugees in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday.

"It is easy to proclaim that we are tough and brave and good-hearted when threats feel far away," Warren said in that speech. "But when those threats loom large and close by, our actions will strip away our tough talk and reveal who we really are. We face a choice, a choice either to lead the world by example, or to turn our backs to the threats and suffering around us."

Here's the full email:

Over the past four years, millions of people have fled their homes in Syria, running for their lives. In recent months, the steady stream of refugees has been a flood that has swept across Europe.

Every day, refugees set out on a journey hundreds of miles, from Syria to the Turkish coast. When they arrive, human smugglers charge them $1000 a head for a place on a shoddy, overloaded, plastic raft that is given a big push and floated out to sea, hopefully toward one of the Greek islands.

Last month, I visited the Greek island of Lesvos to see the Syrian refugee crisis up close. Lesvos is only a few miles away from the Turkish coast, but the risks of crossing are immense. This is a really rocky, complicated shoreline – in and out, in and out. The overcrowded, paper-thin smuggler rafts are tremendously unsafe, especially in choppy waters or when a storm picks up.

Parents try their hardest to protect their children. They really do. Little ones are outfitted with blow up pool floaties as a substitute for life jackets, in the hope that if the rafts go down, a $1.99 pool toy will be enough to save the life of a small child.  

And the rafts do go down. According to some estimates, more than 500 people have died crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece so far this year. But despite the clear risks, thousands make the trip every day.

I met with the mayor of Lesvos, who described how his tiny island of 80,000 people has struggled to cope with those refugees who wash ashore – more than 100,000 people in October alone. Refugees pile into the reception centers, overflowing the facilities, sleeping in parks, or at the side of the road. Recently, the mayor told a local radio program that the island had run out of room to bury the dead.

On my visit, I met a young girl – younger than my own granddaughters – sent out on this perilous journey alone. I asked her how old she was, and she shyly held up seven fingers.

I wondered what could possibly possess parents to hand a seven-year-old girl and a wad of cash to human smugglers. What could possibly possess them to send a beloved child across the treacherous seas with nothing more than a pool floatie. What could make them send a child knowing that crime rings of sex slavery and organ harvesting prey on these children.

Send a little girl out alone. With only the wildest, vaguest, most wishful hope that she might make it through alive and find something – anything – better for her on the other side.

This week, we all know why parents would send a child on that journey. Last week’s massacres in Paris and Beirut made it clear. The terrorists of ISIS – enemies of Islam and of all modern civilization, butchers who rape, torture and execute women and children, who blow themselves up in a lunatic effort to kill as many people as possible – these terrorists have spent years torturing the people of Syria. Day after day, month after month, year after year, mothers, fathers, children and grandparents are slaughtered.

In the wake of the murders in Paris and Beirut last week, people in America, in Europe, and throughout the world, are fearful. Millions of Syrians are fearful as well – terrified by the reality of their daily lives, terrified that their last avenue of escape from the horrors of ISIS will be closed, terrified that the world will turn its back on them and on their children.

Some politicians have already moved in that direction, proposing to close our country to people fleeing the massacre in Syria. That is not who we are. We are a country of immigrants and refugees, a country made strong by our diversity, a country founded by those crossing the sea fleeing religious persecution and seeking religious freedom.

We are not a nation that delivers children back into the hands of ISIS murderers because some politician dislikes their religion. And we are not a nation that backs down out of fear.

Our first responsibility is to protect this country. We must embrace that fundamental obligation. But we do not make ourselves safer by ignoring our common humanity and turning away from our moral obligation.  

ISIS has shown itself to the world. We cannot – and we will not – abandon the people of France to this butchery. We cannot – and we will not – abandon the people of Lebanon to this butchery. And we cannot – and we must not – abandon the people of Syria to this butchery.

Thank you for being a part of this,


Louisiana Republican Stokes Fears of Syrian Refugees to Boost Struggling Campaign for Governor

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 10:31 AM EST

In the days since terror attacks roiled Paris, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who has been trailing in the race for governor against his Democratic rival John Bel Edwards, has settled on a new strategy for winning over voters: warning them about Syrian refugees entering the state. 

After Edwards released an apparently altered statement on Facebook in the attacks' aftermath noting he would help "to assist the people coming here and fleeing from religious persecution," Vitter's campaign pounced. In a robocall over the weekend, Vitter warned that President Barack Obama's "reckless policies" for allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country would turn Louisiana into a "dangerous refugee zone." (The State Department confirmed to the Times-Picayune that only 14 Syrian immigrants had settled in Louisiana since January 1.) 

On Monday, as Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order seeking to block refugees from entering the state, Vitter released an ad claiming that Obama had been "sending refugees to Louisiana" and that Edwards had vowed to work with the president to welcome them. A day later, Vitter introduced federal legislation that would halt incoming refugee admissions for at least 300 days while a review of the screening process takes place. 

An email sent from the Louisiana Republican Party on Tuesday warned supporters about the possibility of "missing" refugees in the state.  

Just yesterday, David Vitter had to notify the Obama Administration that a Syrian refugee who had been living in Baton Rouge has gone missing. What kind of accountability is that? There is an unmonitored Syrian refugee who is walking around freely, and no one knows where he is.

It turns out that the "missing" refugee in Baton Rouge hadn't disappeared at all. A day before the email went out, the New Orleans Advocate reported that Catholic Charities, the organization that aids in refugee resettlement, had helped the Syrian man for a few days before he left the state to meet with family in Washington, DC. Before he left, the man filed relocation paperwork to the federal government.

Vitter's wife, Wendy Vitter, reportedly works as a lawyer for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which is affiliated with Catholic Charities. The organization received a flood of phone calls about the supposedly "missing" refugee, according to the Advocate, and a Jefferson Parish Sheriff warned that "somebody's going to get killed" as a result of the misinformation, according to the New Orleans alt-weekly The Gambit.

Vitter, whose campaign has also been mired in reports that he may have had a love child with a prostitute, will find if his last-ditch effort to lure Louisiana voters is successful when the election takes place on Saturday.