Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 16, 2014

Mon Jun. 16, 2014 9:41 AM EDT

Paratroopers journey to France for a commemorative jump on June 8th for the anniversary of D-Day. (Photo by US Air Force Staff Sgt. Sara Keller)

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Autopsy Shows Just How Royally Oklahoma Screwed Up Clayton Lockett's Execution

| Fri Jun. 13, 2014 3:26 PM EDT
Oklahoma's death chamber.

In April, when Oklahoma tried to execute Clayton Lockett, everything went wrong. The execution team spent more than an hour trying to find a useable vein. And after officials administered drugs that should have rendered him unconscious, he raised his head, writhed on the gurney and mumbled, appearing to be in pain. The proceeding was eventually halted, but Lockett reportedly died of a heart attack a few minutes later. Corrections officials insisted at the time that Lockett's vein had "blown" or ruptured, causing the drugs to leak into surrounding tissue rather than into his blood stream. Now preliminary findings from an independent autopsy of Lockett suggest an unsettling explanation of what really happened: The people charged with carrying out the execution had absolutely no clue what they were doing.

Oklahoma officials initially claimed that Lockett's executioners had been forced to insert an IV line into the inmate's femoral vein—a painful place for the insertion and also a risky one that requires serious medical expertise—after running into difficulty finding another suitable vein. They also suggested that dehydration or another medical condition might have led to Lockett's botched execution.

Lockett's lawyers retained a medical examiner, who performed an autopsy on the prisoner. Dr. Joseph Cohen's findings, which were released today, raise serious questions about the official account. The autopsy indicates that Lockett's vein never blew—because the IV was never inserted there in the first place. Instead, the needle punctured the vein. Cohen also determined that there was nothing wrong with the veins in Lockett's arms that would have justified using a femoral vein, nor was he dehydrated. Yet he found "skin punctures on the extremities and right and left femoral areas," and proof that the execution team had tried to set lines in both of Lockett's arms and both sides of his groin. Cohen also found more evidence of inept handiwork in hemorrhages around the places the team had tried to access a vein, as well as other injuries related to "failed vascular catheter access."

As with other botched lethal injection executions, the autopsy provides compelling evidence that the people handling what is supposed to be a medical procedure, albeit a gruesome one, have little or no medical training. Oklahoma corrections officials, as well as the governor, said athat a phlebotomist had inserted Lockett's IV. Phlebotomists are fairly low-level health care workers whose primary training and work involves drawing blood for testing. Leaving aside the fact that, in Oklahoma, phlebotomists aren't licensed, regulated, or trained in inserting catheters or IVs, the state's own protocols require a paramedic or EMT to inert an IV. After the Tulsa World started asking about this discrepancy, the state changed its position and claimed that the work had been done by an EMT. State law makes this almost impossible to verify, shrouding the identities of execution team members in secrecy.

Executioner jobs don't necessarily attract the best and brightest. The oath doctors take to "first do no harm" renders them ethically prohibited from participating in executions, so often the people who carry out lethal injections are just ordinary prison officials or, in some cases, employees with checkered pasts. In Arizona, for instance, where execution team members are supposed to receive background checks, one of the primary execution team members had a criminal record, including arrests for drunk driving and drinking in public. Even when doctors participate, they're not always at the top of their profession. In Missouri, dyslexic surgeon Dr. Alan Doerhoff, who admitted to improvising drug mixtures, oversaw 54 executions before a judge banned him from performing any more. Doerhoff was the subject of more than 20 malpractice lawsuits during his career, and he was disciplined by the state medical board for concealing lawsuits from a hospital where he worked. Two Missouri hospitals banned him from practicing in their facilities.

Cohen is still seeking more information from Oklahoma about its procedures, test results from the coroner's office, and other details about the day Lockett died. Corrections officials tasered Lockett in the process of removing him from his cell to take him to the death chamber, and Cohen is seeking more information about that, too, due to other injuries he found on Lockett's body.

In a statement, Dr. Mark Heath, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University and an expert in lethal injection executions who has been aiding defense lawyers challenging state protocols, explained, "Dr. Cohen has begun a critically important inquiry into the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. However, to complete this inquiry, Dr. Cohen will need the state to provide extensive additional information beyond what the body itself revealed. I hope that Oklahoma provides everything he asks for so that we can all understand what went so terribly wrong in Mr. Lockett’s execution."

More Than 100 Migrant Kids Detail Abuse by US Border Patrol

| Thu Jun. 12, 2014 3:12 PM EDT

This year, more than 70,000 unaccompanied immigrant children are expected to show up at the US border.

A complaint filed Wednesday with the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 116 unaccompanied minors gives a glimpse of the sort of treatment the kids may receive if they are taken into custody. Prepared by the ACLU and four other civil rights organizations, the complaint details claims of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse directed at children—some as young as five years old—at the hands of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), often after the children fled violence or threats in their home countries.

 
 

The complaint is not an exhaustive accounting, but rather, the organizations note, a "representative sample" based on interviews conducted this spring. About a quarter of the children reported some form of physical abuse by CBP officials, including "sexual assault, beatings, and the use of stress positions." More than half reported verbal abuse and denial of medical care. The children are not guaranteed legal counsel after being apprehended.

Below are some excerpts from the full complaint (PDF), divided by categories of abuse:

Physical and sexual abuse: "D.G. is a 16-year-old Central American girl. Shortly after CBP arrested her, officials mocked her and asked her why she did not ask the Mexicans for help. When they searched her, officials violently spread her legs and touched her genital areas forcefully, making her scream. D.G. was detained with both children and adults. She describes the holding cell as ice-cold and filthy, and says the bright fluorescent lights were left on all day and night."

Inhumane conditions: "C.S. is a 17-year-old girl who was apprehended after crossing the Rio Grande. CBP detained C.S. in a hielera [a cold cell, or "freezer" in Spanish] in wet clothes that did not dry for the duration of the three and a half days she was there. The only drinking water available to C.S. came from the toilet tank in her holding cell. The bathroom was situated in plain view of all other detainees with a security camera mounted in front of it. C.S. could not sleep because the temperature was so cold, the lights were on all night, and officials frequently woke the detainees when they tried to sleep."

Verbal abuse: "K.M. is a 15-year-old girl who was detained in CBP custody for four days...In the hielera, CBP officials woke K.M. and the other children every 30 minutes as they tried to sleep, and K.M. could not keep track of the time because the lights were always left on. CBP officials called her and the other children 'sluts,' 'parasites,' and 'dogs.'"

Due process concerns: "K.H. is an orphan who was apprehended at the border when she was 17-years-old. K.H. fled to the safety of her extended family in the United States after a gang tried to force her into a sexual relationship with one of their members...Because she is an orphan, K.H. would have been eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a defense to removal which must be initiated prior to a child’s 18th birthday. However, because CBP officials confiscated her identity documents and did not return them, K.H. was unable to file an application for SIJS before her 18th birthday."

Similar complaints have been filed over the past few years, to little or no response from the Department of Homeland Security: Earlier this year, the American Immigration Council found that 97 percent of the 809 abuse complaints against CBP between January 2009 and January 2012 resulted in the classification of "no action taken." Sixty percent of those complaints involved the abuse of migrant children.

This week did bring a bit of good news for migrant children: the Obama administration announced the launch of a legal aid program that will enroll about 100 lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services to the "most vulnerable" children. However, the program is only expected to help a fraction of the 74,000 kids who could arrive this year.

Industry Says Car Insurance Obviously Affordable for Poor Because They Buy Booze

| Thu Jun. 12, 2014 12:04 PM EDT

Poverty in America remains stuck at record levels. But people who are poor aren't that bad off—because they can afford booze, cigarettes, and TVs, the car insurance industry said Monday.

The odd rationale was included in a letter to the Federal Insurance Office, an insurance industry watchdog, in response to a request for comments on whether auto insurance is affordable for low-income Americans.

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), which represents half of the nation's car insurance companies, asserts in its letter that households in the lowest two-fifths of the income spectrum spend nearly as much on alcohol and cigarettes as they do on car insurance, and even more on "audio and visual (A/V) equipment and services." Therefore, the industry group says, "it seems implausible to suggest that automobile insurance is not 'affordable' for these consumers."

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a consumer advocacy group, calls the trade group's comments not only "offensive," but "factually incorrect." Here's why: Only about 19 percent of all low-income households spend any money on cigarettes in a typical three-month period, and only 22 percent spend any money on alcohol. When you average all low-income household spending, you find that these households spend about $102 more a year on car insurance than on cigarettes and alcohol, according to the most recent numbers from the federal government’s Consumer Expenditure Survey.

"Many households spend nothing on these products and this abuse of statistics reveals the underlying disrespect that many auto insurers have for low-income drivers," CFA's director of insurance J. Robert Hunter said Tuesday.

Car insurance companies often charge higher rates to blue-collar workers and people with less education. Low-income and moderate-income drivers with insurance spend about $1,000 a year on coverage.

It's About Time for Obama's First Visit to American Indian Land

| Wed Jun. 11, 2014 3:39 PM EDT
President Obama signing the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010.

This Friday, President Obama will step on American Indian land for his first time as president. He'll be visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles one million acres of the Dakota plains, to meet with leaders and discuss issues facing American Indians. The last sitting president to visit reservation land was Bill Clinton in 1999, so this week's visit is a big deal.

In a June 5 op-ed in Indian Country Today, the president promised to do more for American Indians. But he also argued that his administration has already delivered great progress. Is that the case?  

When Obama visits Standing Rock, he will find a community where 86 percent of residents are unemployed. That's only the sixth–worst unemployment rate among Indian reservations: the worst is 93 percent, at the Sokaogo Chippewa Community in Wisconsin.

On top of unemployment, the American Indian community faces a number of other challenges: sky-high rates of adolescent suicide, rape, obesity, alcoholism, drug use, physical abuse and even post–traumatic stress disorder.

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

Wed Jun. 11, 2014 10:00 AM EDT

The Marine Corps Logistics Command performs a flag folding ceremony in Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Cody Haas)

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Eric Cantor Loses GOP Primary. Wait, What!?

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 9:26 PM EDT

Buckle your seatbelts, K Street: Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is looking for work.

On Tuesday, in the biggest political upset of recent memory, Cantor, the House majority leader who was considered next-in-line to be House speaker, lost his Republican primary by double digits to David Brat, a college professor he'd outspent down the stretch by a factor of 12.

It was never supposed to be close. After Cantor flooded the district with nearly $1 million in advertising and direct mail, a leaked internal poll showed the incumbent with a 34-point lead over Brat. Cantor became the first majority leader to lose a primary in 115 years.

So who is Brat?

  • A libertarian economist—but not a Randian. Per Betsy Woodruff's January profile in National Review:

He chairs the department of economics and business at Randolph-Macon College and heads its BB&T Moral Foundations of Capitalism program. The funding for the program came from John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T (a financial-services company) who now heads the Cato Institute. The two share an affinity for Ayn Rand: Allison is a major supporter of the Ayn Rand Institute, and Brat co-authored a paper titled "An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand." Brat says that while he isn't a Randian, he has been influenced by Atlas Shrugged and appreciates Rand’s case for human freedom and free markets.

According to his Rate My Professors page, he is "SOLID," "humorous," and "hot":

  • An immigration hardliner. For months, the only interesting thing about the race was its impact on Cantor's public comments on immigration reform. Brat considered Cantor a sellout for tepidly supporting some sort of comprehensive immigration reform, and Cantor responded by taking credit for killing the entire thing and alleging that Brat secretly had the support of "liberal" reform advocates. Voters received mailers bragging that "CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN ERIC CANTOR IS STOPPING THE OBAMA-REID PLAN TO GIVE ILLEGAL ALIENS AMNESTY." With Cantor's defeat, you can bet Republicans who so much as hinted at supporting an immigration overhaul are hearing footsteps.
  • A debt-ceiling denialist. A top Brat critique of Cantor is that he supported raising the federal government's debt ceiling—however reluctantly. As Brat told Slate's Dave Weigel last month, "My commitment is not to increase spending; to have a spending bill where you don’t increase it. Cantor’s voted for 10 of the last 15 debt ceiling increases. I just don’t buy the idea that you are truly put in the position of backing the debt ceiling increase the last minute, that you had no choice."
  • A dragon slayer. With the primary victory, Brat will almost certainly head to Congress next fall representing a deep-red central Virginia district. Cantor is prohibited by Virginia's "sore loser" law from appearing on the ballot as an independent candidate in November. Brat just needs to get past Democrat Jack Trammell, a colleague at Randolph-Macon College who runs the school's disability services and, according to his Amazon author page, is currently writing a vampire novel.

Cantor, who has been dubbed a "rising star" going back to 2001, will almost certainly land on his feet. There's already a helpful Craigslist posting for "Experienced House Republican Seeking New Opportunity." Serious offers only.

Big Surprise: Vicious Anti-Hillary Attack Ad Coincides With Her Book Release

Tue Jun. 10, 2014 5:19 PM EDT

Washington bureau chief David Corn and Kiki McLean joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" to discuss a new attack ad accusing Hillary Clinton of joining in the "slander" of Israel. Once you're done watching, check out our definitive guide to every Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory so far.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

New White House Program Will Provide Legal Aid to Unaccompanied Migrant Kids

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 3:51 PM EDT

Last Friday, the Obama administration announced the launch of "justice AmeriCorps," a new program that will provide legal support to unaccompanied migrant children facing deportation. As Mother Jones has reported extensively, the number of undocumented children caught illegally entering the US without a parent or guardian has more than doubled in recent years, to nearly 39,000 in 2013.

The new initiative is sponsored by the the Department of Justice's Executive Office of Immigration Review and the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS), which runs AmeriCorps. According to a CNCS statement, around 100 lawyers and paralegals will be recruited to provide legal services and representation for unaccompanied kids under 16 facing removal hearings. Nonprofits in 29 cities with high immigrant populations will enlist and supervise the legal volunteers, who will commit to one year of service as AmeriCorps members. Attorney General Eric Holder called the program "a historic step to strengthen our justice system and protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society."

This marked the administration's second major recent announcement regarding the influx of unaccompanied children. Last Monday, the White House announced the creation of a task force to ensure that federal agencies are "unified in providing relief to affected children," as well as plans to relocate 600 kids from border holding cells to an emergency shelter at Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California.

In his statement, Holder noted that many of the children and teens who will be assisted by the new AmeriCorps program "are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse, or trafficking." This description of the circumstances under which children migrate alone matches the findings of a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Of 400 unaccompanied migrant children interviewed, 58 percent "had suffered, been threatened, or feared serious harm" that might merit international protection.

As Wendy Young, executive director of KIND, a nonprofit that helps unaccompanied immigrant kids find pro bono legal support, told Mother Jones' Ian Gordon, "This is becoming less like an immigration issue and much more like a refugee issue. Because this really is a forced migration. This is not kids choosing voluntarily to leave." Deported children often return to the same dangerous or desperate situations they attempted to escape, further burdened with smuggling debt. The new initiative will attempt to curb this problem by training its members to identify signs of human trafficking and abuse in the children they serve.

Kimi Jackson, director of ProBAR, which provides legal services to detained children in South Texas, said in an email that "this initiative is a good step. Currently, the majority of kids appear in court and represent themselves without a lawyer. Attorneys for released kids are urgently needed."

Although the program aims to serve the "most vulnerable" unaccompanied children, the 100 funded lawyers and paralegals will only be capable of providing assistance to a fraction of the 74,000 children anticipated to be apprehended by Border Patrol this year. CNCS estimates that 10,000 unaccompanied kids will appear in immigration court in the 29 participating cities in the 2015 fiscal year.

Hillary Clinton Picks Miami Heat Over San Antonio Spurs, Is Clearly Running in 2016

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 1:31 PM EDT
Tim Duncan has a sad.

Former Secretary of State and potential 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton has finally weighed in on the most pressing political issue of the day: which team she's rooting for in this year's NBA Finals. During an interview touting her new book with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts Tuesday, Clinton pledged her allegiance to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat over the San Antonio Spurs. Why? Does she love Chris Bosh's newfound ability to hit the corner three? Is she a fan of Chris "Birdman" Andersen's impressive array of body art? Is she hoping for LeBron to get his three-peat so that he's on equal footing with Jordan during GOAT conversations?

Roberts posed the question to Clinton as simple electoral math. "Heat or Spurs," she asked. "So you have to go with Texas or Florida. That's tough." No trouble for Clinton, though. Without hesitation, she responded "Florida, when you pose it like that," with a sly laugh. That answer has to hurt for the Obama alums who founded Battleground Texas in effort to turn the Lone Star State blue for future presidential elections.

The series is currently tied 1-1, with Game 3 scheduled for tonight in Miami. Perhaps the support of the next Democratic president will mend Dwyane Wade's knees and crush Tim Duncan's spirit (he'll never robocall for a Democrat again). But by siding with the Heat, Clinton might have betrayed her party's interests: Spurs head coach Greg Popovich donated $5,000 to Barack Obama for the 2012 election, while Heat front-office guru Pat Riley supported Republican Mitt Romney to the tune of $2,500.

Watch Clinton's GMA interview (most of which focuses on sexism in politics) below, with her NBA fandom coming at the tail end of the chat: