Political MoJo

US Officially Removes Cuba From List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

| Fri May 29, 2015 11:45 AM EDT

On Friday, the State Department announced the decision to drop Cuba from a list of states sponsoring terrorism. The official press release:

In December 2014, the President instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, and provide a report to him within six months regarding Cuba's support for international terrorism. On April 8, 2015, the Secretary of State completed that review and recommended to the President that Cuba no longer be designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

Accordingly, on April 14, the President submitted to Congress the statutorily required report indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including the certification that Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six-months; and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. The 45-day Congressional pre-notification period has expired, and the Secretary of State has made the final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, effective today, May 29, 2015.

The rescission of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission. While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation

The decision is a major step toward normalizing diplomatic relations with Havana. Among other activities, Friday's announcement will allow Cuba to do banking in the United States. However, the move does not lift the trade embargo, which requires congressional approval. 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Editor of Leading Conservative Magazine: "BlackLivesMatter Is a Lie"

| Thu May 28, 2015 4:45 PM EDT

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review magazine, has a plan for restoring stability to America's currently troubled inner cities: Arrest and imprison more black people. It's basically a long-running conservative argument, but can we get real for a minute about how he's making it?

Here's the profoundly cynical and callous way that he's decided to tweak some social media language to argue in Politico that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is "a lie." Its supporters, he suggests, are opportunistically anti-police and don't otherwise care about inner city deaths that don't make national news:

That high-octane trolling is accompanied by an equally cynical take on the underlying problem. Baltimore reportedly saw an uptick in murders in recent weeks, which Lowry blames on police "shrinking from doing their job" in the wake of upheaval over Freddie Gray's death in police custody. The city's "dangerous, overwhelmingly black neighborhoods," he writes, "need disproportionate police attention, even if that attention is easily mischaracterized as racism. The alternative is a deadly chaos that destroys and blights the lives of poor blacks."

Never mind that a rising awareness of policing problems in America may also have something to do with acute socioeconomic ills, which, you know, destroy and blight the lives of poor blacks.

Lowry's theme ignores the reality of what many Americans have found so outrageous about the cases that have drawn national media attention. Say, the fact that the white cop who instantly shot a 12-year-old black kid and then watched him bleed out on the pavement without providing first aid still hasn't been questioned by investigators six months after the killing. Or the fact that a black woman whose family called 911 in need of mental health assistance for her ended up dead from police use of force less than two hours later.

Perhaps Lowry should spend a little time watching these 13 videos from the past year that show mostly white cops killing mostly black men who were mostly unarmed. They are a kind of vivid, disturbing evidence that may well bring some different hashtags to mind.

Nebraska Becomes First Conservative State in 40 Years to Repeal the Death Penalty

| Wed May 27, 2015 5:59 PM EDT

Nebraska legislators on Wednesday overrode the Republican governor's veto to repeal the state's death penalty, a major victory for a small but growing conservative movement to end executions. The push to end capital punishment divided Nebraska conservatives, with 18 conservatives joining the legislature's liberals to provide the 30 to 19 vote to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto—barely reaching the 30 votes necessary for repeal.

Today's vote makes Nebraska "the first predominantly Republican state to abolish the death penalty in more than 40 years," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, in a statement shortly after the vote. Dunham's statement singled out conservatives for rallying against the death penalty and said their work in Nebraska is "part of an emerging trend in the Republican Party." (Nebraska has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature, so lawmakers do not have official party affiliations.)

For conservative opponents of the death penalty, Wednesday's vote represents a breakthrough.  A month ago, overcoming the governor's veto still looked like a long-shot.  Conservatives make a number of arguments against the death penalty, including the high costs and a religion-inspired argument about taking life. "I may be old-fashioned, but I believe God should be the only one who decides when it is time to call a person home," Nebraska state Sen. Tommy Garrett, a conservative Republican who opposes the death penalty, said last month.

"I think this will become more common," Marc Hyden, national coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a statement following the repeal vote. "Conservatives have sponsored repeal bills in Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Missouri, and Kentucky in recent years."

But conservative opponents of the death penalty have a tough slog ahead. Though support for the death penalty has reached its lowest point in 40 years, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey, 77 percent of Republicans still support it.

 

Scott Walker Says Mandatory Ultrasounds Are "Just a Cool Thing" for Women

| Wed May 27, 2015 3:23 PM EDT

After months of keeping a low profile for a man very likely running for president, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is back in the headlines today with quite the outrageous quote. Walker, who was speaking in defense of a controversial abortion bill he signed into law that forces women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound, said in an interview on Friday the mandatory exams are "just a cool thing" for women.

I'll give you an example. I'm pro-life, I've passed pro-life legislation. We defunded Planned Parenthood, we signed a law that requires an ultrasound. Which, the thing about that, the media tried to make that sound like that was a crazy idea. Most people I talk to, whether they're pro-life or not, I find people all the time who'll get out their iPhone and show me a picture of their grandkids' ultrasound and how excited they are, so that's a lovely thing. I think about my sons are 19 and 20, you know we still have their first ultrasound picture. It's just a cool thing out there.

He went onto say Republicans shouldn't solely focus on abortion, but also embrace other key conservative issues. Nevertheless:

It certainly is a part of who we are and we shouldn't be afraid to talk about it, and we shouldn't be afraid to push back. When you think about Hillary Clinton, and you think about some others on the left, you say, I think it's reasonable, whether you're pro-life or not to say that taxpayers dollars shouldn't be spent to support abortion or abortion-related activities. Most Americans believe in that. There are many candidates on the left who don't share that belief.

Seriously, ladies. Why keep fighting for autonomous control over your bodies, when clearly mandatory ultrasounds are just so darn neat? Put down the pitchfork and embrace the red wave!

Listen to the Walker's interview, recorded by Right Wing Watch, below:

Your City Is Probably Not Going to Be Hit By A Terrorist Attack

| Wed May 27, 2015 2:32 PM EDT
Paris, France jumped 100 spots in the list of cities at risk for terror attacks after the January Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Americans are understandably terrified of terror attacks. But good news! These fears have nothing to do with actual data. According to a new tool released last week, no US cities are among the world's 50 most at risk of terror attacks.

The index, designed by UK based Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk assessment firm, calculates the risk of terror attacks in "1,300 of the world’s most important commercial hubs and urban centers" using historic trends. By logging and analyzing every reported attack or event per 100 square meters and calculating the frequency and severity of those incidents, Maplecroft's tool establishes a baseline for the past five years. Then, it compares that data with the number, frequency, and severity of attacks for the most recent year. Depending on the most recent statistics, cities move up or down on the list of cities at risk for terror attacks.

What cities are in danger? Cities near ISIS. Baghdad is the most terror prone city, followed by five other places in Iraq—including Mosul, an ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq, and Al Ramadi, ISIS's most recent hostile takeover. In just one year, as of February, over 1,000 residents of Baghdad lost their lives in one of the almost 400 terror attacks the city endured.

A total of 27 of the 64 countries at "extreme risk" are located in the Middle East, and 19 are in Asia. Residents living in the capital cities of Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Tripoli face some of the strongest risks of terror attacks as well. Maplecroft points to the risk of terror incidents in high-ranking countries like Egypt, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan as major threats to US commercial interests.

And, recent events have triggered some cities to climb in the rankings. Prior to the Charlie Hebdo attack, Paris didn't even make the top 200 most at risk cities. But according to the current index, the French capital jumped over 100 spots, now coming in at 97. Increasing violence purported by African militant groups, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Somalia, have heightened the risk of terror incidents in African nations, landing 14 countries in the top 64.

So stop freaking out about terror attacks, America.

Texas Wants Its Own Fort Knox

| Wed May 27, 2015 1:00 PM EDT

Texas independence—or paranoia—strikes again. In recent years, some Lone Star officials, including former Gov. Rick Perry, have flirted with secession. Last month the new Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, asked the state national guard to monitor a US military exercise that some residents fear is cover for a federal takeover of the state that will use Walmarts as staging areas. And now the state is on the verge of seizing the gold owned by the state that is stored in New York City and building a massive bunker to hoard this booty.

Per the Houston Chronicle:

AUSTIN — Texas could get its own version of Fort Knox, the impenetrable depository for gold bullion, if the Legislature gets its way.

Under House Bill 483, approved unanimously on Tuesday by the state Senate, Comptroller Glenn Hegar would be authorized to establish and administer the state's first bullion depository at a site not yet determined.

No other state has its own state bullion depository, officials said.

The state government has about $1 billion in gold bullion stored outside the state, mostly in the basement of the Federal Reserve building in Manhattan. The gold has been there for years—because it's so annoying to move, it's easier to keep everyone's gold in the same place, and the financial center of the world is the most obvious place. When bullion changes hands, it's mostly on paper. So why does Texas now need to grab all its gold? Is it just because Texans don't trust New Yorkers? Is it really that simple?

Yes:

"New York will hate this," [state sen. Lois] Kolkhorst said of the bill that now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed into law. "To me, that and the fact that it will save Texas money makes it a golden idea."

The cost-cutting bit refers to the storage fees Texas has to pay to keep its gold offsite, although Texas would still have to shell out money for upkeep and security if it went the DIY route. Incidentally, Perry supported the Texas Bullion Depository when it was first proposed in 2013, telling Glenn Beck, "If we own it, I will suggest to you that that's not someone else’s determination whether we can take possession of it back or not."

But building a giant vault to house all the state's gold will be the easy part. The tough task? Safely and securely moving 57,000 pounds of gold from Gotham to Texas. Perhaps we now know the plot for the eighth Fast and Furious movie.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bernie Sanders Has the Most Glorious 404 Error Page Ever

| Tue May 26, 2015 4:38 PM EDT

Think you've landed on the wrong page of Bernie Sanders' campaign site? Fear not. In order to help guide you back to the page you were trying to reach, Sanders, who just announced his presidential bid, created the most terrific error page of any 2016 candidate. Just take a look:

Follow his directions: "Just scoot down to the bottom of the page and you'll find your way back home to where you should be!" The site is further enhanced by the perfect URL: berniesanders.com/wtf.

Bravo, Bernie. The broken links may have turned into your first big win.

Hillary Clinton Store Features Pantsuit T-Shirt of Your Nightmares

| Tue May 26, 2015 11:12 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton's campaign store is open for business! The online store, stocked with coffee mugs and items emblazoned with Clinton's official 2016 logo, appears to feature the usual swag expected from a political campaign. But one piece of merchandise stands out. That's the "pantsuit t-shirt," which looks like this:

Love seeing Clinton continue to embrace the pantsuit jokes! But for $30, will supporters put their sartorial reputations on the line by wearing what is essentially an awful tuxedo t-shirt? As for the store's adorable "Future Voter" onesie? Nailed it.

Kansas Republicans Have Come Up with a Disgraceful New Way to Screw the Poor

| Fri May 22, 2015 12:19 PM EDT

Starting in July, a new law in Kansas will restrict the amount of cash a welfare recipient can take out of ATM's to just $25 a day—a move that critics say introduces a whole new host of financial burdens—including high ATM fees and travel costs—when they access cash.

Max Ehrenfreund at the Washington Post explains:

Since most banking machines are stocked only with $20 bills, the $25 limit is effectively a $20 limit. A family seeking to withdraw even $200 in cash would have to visit an ATM 10 times a month, a real burden for a parent who might not have a car and might not live in a neighborhood where ATMs are easy to find.

The law, backed by a GOP-dominated Kansas legislature and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, will benefit the pockets of large banks while taking money from poor families who rely on food stamps.

In Kansas's system, every withdrawal incurs a $1 fee, and if the beneficiary doesn't have a bank account, they will have to pay the ATM fee, too. Those fees might be worth it for some families, though, because the card issued by the state of Kansas isn't like a debit card from an ordinary bank. Ordinary debit cards allow their holders to make purchases for free in stores. In Kansas, beneficiaries get two free purchases a month. After that, they pay 40 cents every time they use the card to buy something.

The ostensible rationale for this redistribution of wealth is to minimize waste and prevent low income residents from spending their money on non-essentials like alcohol and the much-feared lobster feast. This is the demonizing-the-poor trope that Republican lawmakers frequently deploy to justify punitive control over how low income people spend their money. In addition to the limit on withdrawals, the state's new law carries restrictions to ludicrous levels by prohibiting spending on items such as swimming pools and fortune telling sessions.

As Mother Jones has written in the past, such concerns are wildly misplaced and seriously hurt the poor. President Obama recently addressed this conservative characterization, calling out Fox News for portraying the poor as lazy "leeches" eager to waste government funds.

Fortunately, Kansas' controversial new provision may actually turn out to be illegal, violating federal law that mandates welfare recipients "have adequate access to their cash assistance" without enduring high fees.
 

Josh Duggar Resigns From Family Research Council Amid Molestation Allegations

| Thu May 21, 2015 10:56 PM EDT

On Thursday, Josh Duggar resigned as head of the Family Research Council's lobbying arm amid allegations from a sealed police report obtained by In Touch Weekly that he sexually molested multiple underage girls when he was a teenager.

Duggar, the eldest son of the reality TV family on TLC's 19 and Counting, expressed regret for his actions in a statement on the Duggar family's Facebook page:

Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.

Josh's parents Jim Bob and and Michelle Duggar reportedly knew about the alleged sexual misconduct, which began in 2002, for more than a year before reporting it to the authorities. After the Springdale Police Department received an anonymous tip in 2006, they investigated, but Duggar was never charged with anything. You can read the partially redacted police report here

The Duggars emerged as political players for the social conservative right in 2007, when Jim Bob, a one-time state representative, endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president. After the 2012 election, when the family backed Rick Santorum, Josh Duggar catapulted into conservative circles in Washington as the executive director of FRC Action.

The family remains an influential force among social conservatives due to its pro-life views and strong Christian faith. In December, Michelle Duggar pushed for the repeal of a measure in Arkansas that would have prevented housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In May, Jim Bob and Michelle endorsed Huckabee, calling him "a man of faith." As of Thursday night, Jim Bob's endorsement is still on Huckabee's presidential campaign site. Mother Jones has reached out to the Huckabee camp for comment.

mikehuckabee.com