Political MoJo

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.

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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.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 11, 2014

Thu Sep. 11, 2014 10:50 AM EDT

The 2014 Tripler Fisher House 8k Hero and Remembrance Run, Walk or Roll on Ford Island memorializes more than 7,000 US service members who died since the September 11th attacks on this day in 2001. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan)

The New York Times Just Issued the Best Correction You'll Read All Week

| Thu Sep. 11, 2014 10:47 AM EDT
Former President Dick Cheney

On Tuesday, the New York Times ran the following correction on a story about Dick Cheney telling House Republicans to "embrace a strong military and reject a rising isolationism in his party":

Correction: September 9, 2014

An earlier version of a summary with this article misstated the former title of Dick Cheney. He was vice president, not president.

This is funny because many people believe that Cheney wielded an unprecedented level of influence over former President George W. Bush.

Does the Web Seem Way Slow Today? It May Be Soon If You Don't Get in the FCC's Face

| Wed Sep. 10, 2014 6:14 PM EDT

No, the internet isn't actually broken today. Those spinning wheels of death you may have seen on Netflix, Tumblr, Reddit, Mozilla, and hundreds of other sites are part of Internet Slowdown Day, an effort to show what might happen if the internet actually did get broken by the bureaucrats at the Federal Communication Commission. The FCC will soon vote on a proposal to essentially eliminate net neutrality, the policy that forces internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T to treat all internet traffic the same. Here are five things you should know about what's happening today:

The Participating websites aren't actually slower: Not even Netflix is crazy enough to make a political statement by throttling itself. The spinning page-load symbols on participating sites are just widgets (see below), which anyone can download here. Some activists are also replacing their social media profile pics with images like this:

In this sense, Internet Slowdown Day is very similar to the SOPA blackout of 2012, when people and major sites across the internet blackened their logos and profile pictures to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have given the federal government wide latitude to enforce copyright law. SOPA showed that when major internet companies team up with grassroots activists, politicians tend to listen.

The real story is who is not participating: Although Google claims to support net neutrality, it's conspicuously silent about Internet Slowdown Day. Last year, Wired's Ryan Singel noted that the terms of service for Google Fiber, the company's relatively new ISP division, included some of the same provisions that Google had long decried as hostile to an open internet. By prohibiting customers from attaching "servers" to its network, Google Fiber was contradicting the principle of treating all packets of information equally, prompting Singel to accuse the search giant of a "flip-flop" on net neutrality. It's not that simple, of course, but tech companies such as Google clearly have much less to gain from net neutrality now that they're multibillion-dollar behemoths. Even if they don't take on the role of actual ISPs, large tech firms can easily afford to pay cable companies for faster service, creating a competitive firewall between their services and those offered by leaner startups.

In america, every day is already an internet slowdown day: Pushing internet traffic into "slow" lanes might be more tolerable if those lanes were still really fast in absolute terms. Sadly, however, the United States ranks a pathetic 25th among nations for download speeds:

This show is bigger than the superbowl: The net neutrality debate has generated a record 1,477,301 public comments to the FCC, the commission said today. As Politico notes, that breaks the previous record of 1.4 million complaints generated by Janet Jackson's 2004 wardrobe malfunction. The number of comments to the FCC will likely continue to grow as Internet Slowdown Day encourages visitors to voice their objections.

the fcc is not your friend: There's no question that the FCC is facing a public backlash against its plan to gut net neutrality. The question is whether the outrage will be sufficient to change its course. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is a major Obama bundler and former head of two major industry groups that staunchly oppose net neutrality. He's likely to side with the cable industry unless essentially forced to do otherwise. All of which is to say that the bar is incredibly high for Internet Slowdown Day. Until "net neutrality" becomes a household term, don't count on Washington to care about it.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 10, 2014

Wed Sep. 10, 2014 10:06 AM EDT

US Marines perform a diving exit during pre-deployment training. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Todd F. Michalek)

Pentagon and Other Agencies Slammed for Police Militarization at Senate Hearing

| Tue Sep. 9, 2014 5:07 PM EDT
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) at the Senate hearing.

In a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing Tuesday, Democratic and Republican lawmakers slammed officials from the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice for their handling of federal programs that help provide military grade vehicles, equipment, and weapons to local police departments across the country. The hearing was called in response to the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, after an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a white police officer, and peaceful protests were met by a heavily militarized police force. "Aggressive police actions [were] being used under the umbrella of 'crowd control,'" noted Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

The panel grilled Alan Estevez, a Department of Defense agent dealing with logistics and acquisition of military equipment; Brian Kamoie, a federal grant regulator at the Department of Homeland Security; and Karol Mason, an attorney from the Department of Justice.

Senators questioned why certain military equipment was on the Pentagon's list of acceptable items for local police departments. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) declared that police militarization gives him "real heartburn" and wondered "how did we get to the point where we think states needs MRAPS"—that is, mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, which have been acquired by a large number of small police departments across the country. In Texas, McCaskill noted, police departments have more than 70 MRAPS, while the state National Guard has just six.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) questioned what police departments could possibly do with the 1,200 bayonets that have been issued in recent years. The Pentagon's Alan Estevez replied that he was unsure. Throughout the hearing, members of the panel underscored the point that police officers are often not adequately trained in how (and when) to use the military-grade equipment their departments acquire. The Pentagon doesn't require police departments to undergo any training before supplying them MRAPS and other military equipment.

Estevez testified that the Pentagon would reevaluate its list of acceptable equipment for police departments. But Brian Kamoie, the Homeland Security official, and the Justice Department's Karol Mason, both acknowledged that their agencies don't do much to regulate how police departments use the grant money they dole out to local law enforcement.

McCaskill condemned the Department of Defense and the other agencies for their lack of oversight over the use of military equipment by local police. "None of them know how it's being utilized," McCaskill said. She pointed out that a police department in Lake Angelus, Michigan, which employs only one police officer, has received 13 military grade assault weapons since 2011. "I think we need to get to the bottom of that," McCaskill said.

Watch the hearing here:

Ebola Is Getting So Bad That Even House Republicans Will Back New Funds to Fight It

| Tue Sep. 9, 2014 4:00 PM EDT
Medical staffers tend to patients infected with the Ebola virus in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

Despite some worries last week that spending-averse Republicans might not support additional funding to fight Ebola, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chair of the House appropriations committee, said late Monday that House GOPers will back new money to combat the spread of the disease.

Lawmakers are currently negotiating a temporary spending bill that would fund the government's operations through December. Late Friday, the White House asked Congress to add $30 million to this stopgap spending measure to pay Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff in the United States and Africa. That came on top of $58 million the administration already requested to accelerate the production and testing of new drugs and maintain the development of two experimental Ebola vaccines, bringing the total White House request for Ebola-related funds to $88 million. Rogers wouldn't say whether Republicans would agree to fund the full amount.

The House is due to vote on the bill on Thursday.

If approved, the new money will add to a slow but growing American relief effort, as government agencies steer their budgets to fight Ebola, following calls from the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders to dramatically step up their involvement. On Monday, the Pentagon announced it would deploy one $22 million, 25-person field hospital to Liberia, the current epicenter of the epidemic. The hospital—part of a wider effort coordinated by the US Agency for International Development (USAID)—will be turned over to the Liberian government as soon as it's built and will not be staffed by American government employees.

But with Liberia's medical staff stretched thin, finding the right people to staff the hospital may prove difficult. Liberia's health care system—already strained before the outbreak with one doctor for every 100,000 people—has been hit hard by Ebola. Since the outbreak began, 152 medical workers have contracted the disease in Liberia, the WHO said on Monday, about 7 percent of all suspected and confirmed patients. Seventy-nine of these medical workers have died from the disease.

A single 70-bed facility needs 200 to 250 medical personnel to staff it, according to WHO, and Liberia "urgently needs" 1,000 more beds to treat the currently infected patients.

While there's no cure or approved treatment for Ebola, hospitals and treatment centers are needed to quarantine infected patients. In its statement, the WHO said that sick people in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, were traversing town in taxis looking for a hospital bed, bringing the disease—which is spread through bodily fluids such as blood and saliva—into the city's public transit system.

In a statement to Mother Jones, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), one of the few medical groups which has been actively fighting the disease since the outbreak, said that organization had also dramatically increased its budget for the effort to almost $39 million today. Still, he said, this would not be enough to stave off the disease. 

"Much more help is needed from actors other than MSF," he said.

The most recent figures released by the WHO reported more than 2,000 people either known or believed to have been infected with Ebola, and more than 1,200 known or believed to have been killed in Liberia since the outbreak was first detected in March. More than 2,000 are believed to have been infected and more than 1,000 killed elsewhere in West Africa since the outbreak began, almost all of them in Guinea and Sierra Leone. About 49 percent of the infections in these three countries occurred in the last three weeks. 

On Monday, the WHO said infections in Liberia were increasing "exponentially." On Tuesday, the country's defense minister, Brownie Samukai, called Ebola the worst threat to the country since its last civil war ended in 2003. "Liberia is facing a serious threat to its national existence," he said of the epidemic.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 9, 2014

Tue Sep. 9, 2014 9:52 AM EDT

A US Navy sailor plots the ship's movement on a position chart in Japan. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Raul Moreno Jr.)