Political MoJo

Trump's First TV Ad Embraces His Most Controversial Ideas

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 12:14 PM EST

A week after promising to open his ample war chest and start spending on television ads, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump unveiled his campaign's first TV advertisement on Monday morning. Trump has previously aired ads on his personal Instagram account, but a mere month before the Iowa caucus, his campaign decided it was time to make the move to the airwaves.

The ad focuses on ISIS and immigration, and doesn't shy away from the more controversial positions Trump has staked out. A voiceover from an ominous narrator promises that Trump will temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, "quickly cut the head of ISIS and take their oil," and build a wall along the southern border of the United States that Mexico will finance.

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Deadly Missouri Flooding Forces Town Evacuations as Water Continues to Rise

| Wed Dec. 30, 2015 1:13 PM EST

At least 20 people have been killed by severe flooding in Missouri, where several towns along the Mississippi River have been forced to evacuate due to rising floodwaters that are predicted to break records in the next few days. Such catastrophic, widespread flooding hasn't been seen in the region in over two decades.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. He has warned residents to avoid traveling throughout affected areas. Many who were killed were reportedly driving into flooded zones.

The St. Louis Dispatch reports several major highways have been shut down throughout Missouri. Untreated sewage from a nearby treatment plant was also spotted flowing into the Meramec River. On the other side of the Mississippi, in Illinois, inmates at a state prison were also transferred.

As of Wednesday, federal officials were continuing to monitor 19 levees in the region.

This Chart Shows America Has a Unique Problem With Gun Violence

| Mon Dec. 28, 2015 4:16 PM EST

On Christmas Day, in a bitter reminder that, unlike stores and offices, gun violence in America doesn't stop during the holidays, 27 people were killed and 63 others were injured by firearms, according to the Gun Violence Archive

As the Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham notes, as many people were killed by firearms in the United States on Christmas day this year as in all of Austria, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Estonia, Bermuda, Hong Kong and Iceland combined, in one year. That's 27 people out of nearly 29 million people in a given year, compared to 27 people out of a possible 320 million in one day. Granted, no one was killed from guns in Bermuda, Hong Kong, or Iceland at all, and the fatalities and injuries on Christmas Day in the United States are actually fewer than on a typical day this year. But the comparison is a stark reminder that gun violence in America is a unique health crisis.

Christopher Ingraham/Washington Post

 

Kentucky's New Governor Wastes No Time in Revoking Ex-Felons' Right to Vote

| Mon Dec. 28, 2015 1:41 PM EST

Two weeks before leaving office, the outgoing governor of Kentucky, Democrat Steve Beshear, set up an application process to restore voting rights to the state's ex-felons. Kentucky is one of three states today that permanently disenfranchise everyone with a felony conviction unless the governor expressly restores the right to vote, a system that disproportionately affects African Americans. The most recent data shows that 5.5 percent of Kentucky's voting-age population is disenfranchised due to a past conviction—but for African Americans, the number is 16.7 percent.

Beshear's announcement was expected to give 140,000 disenfranchised ex-felons in Kentucky the right to vote. But only a small number of them were able to take advantage of the new system before Beshear's successor, Republican Matt Bevin, undid it.

Last week, just before Christmas, the governor issued a series of executive orders scrapping the work of his predecessor, including the restoration of ex-felon voting rights. Bevin's stated reason for undoing the executive order was that the former governor did not have the authority to change the rules. "While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, for example, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people," said Bevin, a tea party favorite. That's an unusual interpretation of the state constitution, which gives the executive sole power to restore voting rights without any restrictions on how it is done.

The Bevin administration is not shy about claiming executive authority on other matters. On the same day that he ended Beshear's streamlined process for restoring ex-felons' rights, he also ended the requirement that marriage licenses bear the name of the presiding county clerk—a concession to Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

"The requirement that the county clerk’s name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor," William Sharp, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said last week in response to Bevin's order. "Today, however, a new administration claims to have that authority."

The NBA Just Joined the Gun Control Fight With This Moving Video

| Wed Dec. 23, 2015 2:56 PM EST

Top players from the National Basketball Association have partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety in a new 30-second advertisement urging an end to gun violence in the United States. The New York Times reported that the collaboration is the brainchild of Spike Lee, who first broached the idea to ESPN president John Skipper, who then connected the director with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

In the video, stars like Steph Curry and Carmelo Anthony are featured along with gun violence survivors and victims' families to discuss how the issue has affected them personally.

"I heard about a shooting involving a three-year-old girl over the summer," Curry says in the clip. "My daughter is that age."

"We know far too many people who have been caught up in gun violence in this country," NBA president of social responsibility Kathleen Behrens told the Times. "And we can do something about it."

The NBA's entry into the gun debate is especially noteworthy given that pro sports leagues tend to avoid weighing in on controversial or political debates. It also comes at the end of another year that witnessed several high-profile mass shootings, including the Charleston rampage inside a historic black church in June and the San Bernardino shooting earlier this month.

Was New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez Drunk at Rowdy Hotel Party?

| Wed Dec. 23, 2015 12:30 PM EST

A new audio recording released by Santa Fe police on Tuesday suggests that New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, once a rising star within the Republican party, appeared to be "inebriated" inside a hotel room where a party for her friends and staff was taking place. Hotel employees were forced to call police during the evening of December 14th, after guests complained about loud noises and bottles being thrown from the room's balcony.

In the recording, a security guard at the Eldorado Hotel can be heard talking to Sgt. Anthony Tapia about the disturbance. A segment of the audio, recorded on Tapia's police belt, below:

"I never expected the first time it would be the governor," the guard said. "I can tell she is..."

"Inebriated," Tapia said.

"Yes."

Martinez could also be heard saying:

"Five hours ago, there was somebody that we said, 'Get out of the room, do not be doing what you're doing.' There were bottles being thrown over. We said, 'Get the hell out and stop.'"

The audio sharply contrasts to a previous statement made by Martinez's spokesman last week, claiming that snowballs, not bottles, were thrown off the balcony. In a statement apologizing for the incident on Friday, Martinez also returned to the snowball version of the story.

"There was apparently a party in a hotel room earlier in the night that was disruptive," Martinez said. "Someone was also throwing snowballs from a balcony. None of that should have happened and I was not aware of the extent of the behavior, until recently. And that behavior is not acceptable."

During a public appearance on Tuesday, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports Martinez refused to answer questions about the recording.

The recording's release comes at a particularly inopportune time for Martinez, who is reportedly being investigated by the FBI for alleged fundraising violations during her first run for governor in 2009.

Her landslide reelection victory last year brought her national attention and she has been raised as a strong contender for vice president in 2016. But Martinez's latest gaffe and unflattering comparisons to Sarah Palin are likely to have dampened such enthusiasm.

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Surprise! Donald Trump's Tax Plan Helps Donald Trump

| Tue Dec. 22, 2015 3:28 PM EST

Back in September, Donald Trump put forth a tax plan that pledged to help middle-class Americans and take aim at the "hedge fund guys." That four-page proposal was criticized for being vague on the details. It also raised eyebrows with its promise to be revenue-neutral.

On Tuesday, an independent think tank weighed in and called bullshit on Trump's populist guise.

The analysis, released by the Tax Policy Center, found that the Republican frontrunner's proposal would largely benefit only the wealthiest Americans by giving the top 0.1 percent an average of $1.3 million a year in tax cuts. Middle class Americans would see their taxes reduced by just $2,700 annually.

The plan would also wipe out revenue by a staggering $9.5 trillion over the next decade, according to the TPC.

"The revenue losses from this plan are really enormous," Len Burman, director of the TPC, said. "Basically it would negate all the economic benefits if we were running deficits anywhere near as large as we’re projecting here."

This latest analysis proves, once again, Trump's tax plan and his insistence that it would cost billionaires like him a "fortune" is, as our Kevin Drum noted, the Lie of the Year.

It's 2015 and a Woman Is Being Charged With Attempted Murder for Using a Coat Hanger for an Abortion

| Tue Dec. 22, 2015 2:39 PM EST
Rutherford County Courthouse, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Anna Yocca, who made national headlines last week for trying to self-induce a miscarriage with a coat hanger and was arrested for attempted murder, pled "not guilty" today to charges of first-degree murder.

A little more than a dozen abortion rights advocates showed up to the Rutherford County courthouse in support of Yocca, holding signs and chanting, "Free Anna Yocca!" Yocca pled via video conference and she was appointed a public defender.

Yocca, 31, was arrested nearly two weeks ago, but she attempted the abortion in her bathtub last September. She was 24 weeks pregnant at the time. When she began to bleed uncontrollably, her boyfriend drove her to the hospital. Physicians delivered a 1.5 pound boy, who remains in the hospital with severe medical problems resulting both from the premature delivery and the attempted termination of her pregnancy.

Yocca is being held at Rutherford County Detention Center on a $200,000 bail.

Tennessee has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, and the state legislature plans to propose more. In 2014, an amendment to the state constitution clarified that it would not protect a woman's right to an abortion, and prohibited public funding for abortion—despite that fact that state and federal dollars cannot legally be used to fund abortion. The average cost of an abortion in the state has been calculated to be $475-$680. Clinics in Tennessee don't perform abortions after 16 weeks.

The amendment, which was one of the most expensive ballot measures in the state's history, gave state lawmakers more power to restrict abortion access. A law implementing a 48-hour waiting period was enacted in July. The state also has a "fetal homicide law," meaning prosecutors can charge women for any behavior, such as taking drugs, that might harm or kill a fetus. So far, Yocca is not being charged under this law. Because she is being charged with attempted homicide, the case could open the state up to a constitutional challenge.

Yocca faces a possible life sentence if she is convicted of attempted murder. So far, a hearing date has not been set.

Update, 12/23/2015, 6:11 p.m. EST: Yocca is scheduled appear in court next for a discussion hearing on Jan. 5.

"Gay Conversion Therapy" Group in New Jersey to Permanently Shut Down

| Fri Dec. 18, 2015 3:05 PM EST
Chaim Levin, left, and Michael Ferguson, right, sued a New Jersey organization that offered gay conversion therapy.

A so-called "gay conversion therapy" group in New Jersey has agreed to permanently close its doors after losing a landmark court battle this summer.

As Mother Jones reported, a jury determined in June that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, had violated state consumer fraud law by claiming it could help change clients' sexual orientations from gay to straight. It was the first case in the nation to challenge conversion therapy as consumer fraud.

The plaintiffs—including three of the organization's former clients—said therapists recommended by JONAH had subjected them to humiliating treatments, including stripping in front of a therapist and reenacting scenes of past sexual abuse during group therapy sessions.

On Friday, Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. granted a permanent injunction after both sides reached a settlement requiring JONAH to cease operations, permanently dissolve as a corporate entity, and liquidate all its assets.

"The end of JONAH signals that conversion therapy, however packaged, is fraudulent—plain and simple," David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement. The center filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Michael Ferguson, one of the plaintiffs, added, "Gay conversion therapy stole years from my life, and nearly stole my life. My hope is that others can be spared the unneeded harm that comes from the lies the defendants and those like them spread."

Conversion therapy has been rejected by major health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, which in 1973 removed homosexuality from the list of disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Last year, a transgender teen committed suicide in Ohio after participating in conversion therapy, inspiring a campaign for a federal ban on the practice. New Jersey, California, and Washington, DC, have laws banning licensed conversion therapists from working with minors.

In a pretrial decision in February, Judge Bariso wrote, "The theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel—but like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it—instead is outdated and refuted."

Sanders Threatens to Sue Democratic Party in Data Breach Dustup

| Fri Dec. 18, 2015 2:41 PM EST

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Jeff Weaver, Bernie Sanders' campaign manager, threatened legal action against the Democratic National Committee for cutting off the Sanders' presidential campaign from critical voter data, such as addresses and phone numbers of potential supporters. The DNC took this step after a Sanders campaign staffer on Thursday accessed private voter data belonging to the Hillary Clinton campaign in a breach that the Sanders campaign has denounced.

“We will be in federal court this afternoon seeking immediate relief,” Weaver said. Our data "has been stolen by the DNC.”

Weaver's threat was the latest move in a serious—and complicated—digital dustup involving the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, the DNC, and a contractor hired by the Democratic Party to maintain voter data for various campaigns. This contractor, NGP VAN, is supposed to keep data for different campaigns separate. But on Thursday, news broke that at least one member of the Sanders campaign accessed Clinton campaign data when a firewall temporarily went down. Evidence surfaced Friday that more than one staffer of the Sanders campaign had access to the Clinton campaign voter data, and that some of the information had been downloaded.

The Sanders campaign immediately fired a staffer responsible and is undertaking an internal review into what happened and who else was involved. But the Sanders campaign insists that fault also belongs to the DNC and NGP VAN for the firewall failure. "Given that it is the DNC's responsibility to secure the voter data file, the DNC failed in this regard," the campaign said in a statement released Friday.

In response to the breach, the DNC revoked access for the Sanders campaign to this database—which includes crucial voter data collected by the campaign itself—until the campaign can prove it has destroyed any Clinton campaign data that it downloaded. The Sanders campaign needs this information in order to maintain contact with voters and reach out to supporters, especially as the initial voting and caucusing approaches. The lawsuit threat is an indication of how serious the situation is for the Sanders campaign.

The incident has given the Sanders campaign an opportunity to bolster its long-running claim that the DNC favors Clinton, though the party insists that is not true. "This is taking our campaign hostage," Weaver said of the DNC's action.

As of Friday afternoon, the Clinton campaign had said nothing about the breach or the threatened lawsuit. Saturday is the third Democratic debate, and it may well be that Sanders and Clinton address this issue there.

Update: The Clinton campaign commented on the situation.