Political MoJo

FBI: Background Check Failure Allowed Dylann Roof to Get His Gun

"We are all sick this happened. We wish we could turn back time."

| Fri Jul. 10, 2015 1:37 PM EDT

In a statement on Friday, the FBI said a background check flaw allowed Dylann Roof, the suspected gunman behind last month's fatal shooting in Charleston, to purchase the gun that killed nine people inside a historic black church. From the Times:

A loophole in the check system cleared the man, Dylann Roof, to buy the .45-caliber handgun despite his having previously admitted to drug possession, the bureau said. Those conducting the background check did not have access to that police report.

"We are all sick this happened," said the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey. "We wish we could turn back time."

Speaking to reporters about the loophole, Comey said Roof had admitted to previous drug possession charges, but the background check flaw failed to alert authorities and thereby prevent Roof from obtaining a weapon. According to NBC News, "unlawful users" of controlled substances are prohibited from buying a gun.

The vast majority of mass shooters over the last three decades have obtained their weapons legally, according to a Mother Jones data investigation.

Following the massacre on July 17, President Obama expressed his continuing frustration with Congress' inaction on gun control, reminding reporters, "This kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries."

Earlier this week, Roof was indicted on nine counts of murder, one count of weapons possession, and three counts of attempted murder.


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Watch the Exact Moment South Carolina Finally Lowered the Confederate Flag

After more than 50 years flying on state grounds, the battle flag is history.

| Fri Jul. 10, 2015 10:36 AM EDT

In a short, historic ceremony on Friday morning, the Confederate battle flag was finally lowered and removed from South Carolina's statehouse grounds, three weeks after nine black parishioners were murdered at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church. The removal comes more than 50 years after the state first raised the battle flag to protest the civil rights movement.

The removal of the flag, which quickly emerged as a national issue following last month's massacre, was met largely with praise during Friday's brief ceremony, where chants of "take it down" could be heard, though protestors were also present.

On Thursday, Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill into law calling for the flag's removal.

"Twenty-two days ago, I didn't know that I would ever be able to say this again, but today, I am very proud to say that it is a great day in South Carolina," she said during the bill's signing ceremony, where family members of the people killed in Charleston were in attendance.

South Carolina's House of Representatives voted to take it down on Thursday by a 94-20 vote.

Info About the Sex Lives and Medical Histories of Millions of Federal Workers Is in Hackers' Hands

The Office of Personnel Management hack just got much worse.

| Thu Jul. 9, 2015 5:26 PM EDT

Update (7/10/2015): OPM director Katherine Archuleta resigned on Friday morning. "I believe it is best for me to step aside and allow new leadership that will enable the agency to move beyond the current challenges," she said in statement. Archuleta insisted on Thursday that she would not step down, but news that the OPM hack had affected millions more people than previously stated led a growing number of members of Congress to call for her firing. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush even released an ad slamming Archuleta on Friday.

The federal government announced on Thursday that—yet again—the huge hacks of sensitive government personnel records revealed last month are even bigger than previously thought.

Officials now say that information on 21.5 million people was stolen—more than 19 million security clearance applications, plus other sensitive data such as fingerprint records from another 2 million people who know or are related to the applicants. They told the Washington Post it's now "highly likely" that the hackers, likely working for China, stole every such application submitted since 2000 to the Office of Personnel Management, which conducts security clearance investigations for almost all government agencies. Intelligence agencies like the CIA and National Security Agency do their own checks into potential clearance holders.

Even before Thursday's announcement, current and former government officials were calling the stolen applications, which include highly personal and  potentially damaging data such as medical histories, records of drug use, and the names of foreign contacts, an intelligence goldmine for China or other potential perpetrators. "That they have all this clearance information is a disaster," Joel Brenner, a former top U.S. counterintelligence official, told the Associated Press last month. FBI director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that the hack is a "huge deal."

Officials previously admitted the hackers had taken up to 18 million of the applications, in addition to 4.2 million social security numbers that were stolen in a separate data breach. But even with the new, higher numbers revealed on Thursday, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta told reporters that she would not resign her post.

Martin O'Malley to Wall Street: "I Will Not Let Up on You"

The former governor tries to out-Sanders Bernie Sanders' economic populism for the 2016 race.

| Thu Jul. 9, 2015 1:00 PM EDT

Martin O'Malley amped up his effort Thursday to win over the Democratic Party's left wing—to out-Sanders Bernie Sanders—and become the progressive alterative to presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, releasing an antagonistic open letter to "Wall Street's Megabanks."

The former Maryland governor's desired niche in the Democratic field is currently occupied by Sanders, the Vermont senator and a self-described Democratic socialist who is drawing massive crowds and surging in the polls. Sanders and O'Malley have been duking it out with a series of policy proposals aimed at outflanking each other on the political left, with O'Malley the underdog in this two-man face-off.

Yesterday, in response to Sanders' pitch for tuition-free college, O'Malley came out for debt-free college. Today, O'Malley's brandished his aggressively worded missive to Wall Street.

"So here’s the bad news—for you: As President, I have no plans to let up on you," O'Malley wrote in his open letter, circulated to supporters and reporters, along with his plan for financial reform. "I’ll work tirelessly to eliminate the unique danger posed by the handful of too-big-to-fail banks. And while I’m doing that, I’ll finally bring real enforcement and oversight to the federal government—to agencies and departments like the Department of Justice, Securities Exchange Commission, Federal Reserve, Commodity Futures Trading Commission—so that they start doing the job the American people expect them to do and stop sitting on their hands."

O'Malley's confrontational approach to Wall Street isn't just about Sanders. It's also a challenge to Clinton, who has longstanding ties to Wall Street and a history of taking large speaking fees from big banks. And though Clinton praises Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, she hasn't adopted that progressive champion's favorite Wall Street reform policies.

Read the full O'Malley letter below:

Open Letter to Wall Street’s Megabanks

As you may have read, I’ve expressed grave concern about the state of our national economy, especially as it relates to the behavior of a select group of financial institutions on Wall Street—the institutions that you work for and represent. I have called for significant structural and accountability reforms to prevent another economic crash and protect hard-working families from losing their jobs, homes, and life savings once again.

Most of our financial system works quite well. Of the almost 6,500 banks in our country, most of which work hard every day to serve their communities, just 29 have more than $100 billion in assets and only four have more than $1 trillion in assets. The high-risk, reckless, and illegal activities of your megabanks were the primary cause of the 2008 crash, which caused the worst recession since The Great Depression, and cost the American economy an estimated $14 trillion to $22 trillion.

I know that many of you have tried to dismiss and undermine my calls for stronger reforms as “anti-capitalist.” Let me be clear- the ongoing reckless behavior of your megabanks isn’t capitalism—it’s the antithesis of it. True capitalism requires a level playing field on which everyone plays by the same set of rules. True capitalism requires competition. True capitalism means that just as businesses and banks can succeed—they can also fail.

Today, your—too-big-to-fail, too-big-to-manage, and too-big-to-jail—megabanks pose an enormous risk to the financial system, the economy, and American families. They are so big and so interconnected with the entire financial system that the failure of one or more of them could cause the collapse of the entire U.S. economy.

After several misguided deregulatory measures taken in the 1990’s, your handful of megabanks went from having assets of approximately 15% of our country’s GDP to now having assets of nearly 65% of our GDP. As your megabanks grew in size, who gained from it? Credit card fees didn’t get smaller. Mortgage rates didn’t go down. The median wages of Americans certainly didn’t increase. The only tangible gain we’ve seen from your institutions’ explosion in size is your ability to concentrate unprecedented power and wealth in the hands of your executives and to acquire the guarantee that all of your risky bets will be covered by taxpayers.

Now, because your institutions are so large, so leveraged, and pose such a grave threat to our economy, you don’t face the same rules of the free market that apply to everyone else. If your bets go bad, you don’t face bankruptcy—taxpayers bail you out. When things go well, the upside is all yours and you get to cash in exorbitant bonuses. This violates the very principle of free market capitalism.

For similar reasons, both your megabanks—and your executives—have been somehow classified as too big to prosecute and too big to jail. Exacerbating the problem, our financial regulation system is defined by conflicts of interest and a lucrative revolving door. Former financial executives are hired to regulate their former colleagues and, when they leave for government, they’re given golden parachutes. Then, they turn right around and return to the firms they were supposed to be regulating.

All of this explains why, when laws are broken, you and your institutions get off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist—fines paid by shareholders that you can write off as nothing more than business expenses. No admission of guilt, no one faces jail time, everybody keeps their jobs — back to bonuses as usual.

As President, I would end this double standard of justice. It is bad for our economy, and it is bad for our country.

A strong American economy depends on a strong, financial industry that plays by the rules. And among the greatest victims of your megabanks have been the thousands of community banks that are the backbone of our economy. These banks provide the financing for the American Dream of homes, businesses, educations, and secure retirements. Yet they’re forced to compete on an un-level playing field—one where they bear the brunt of declining credit and wages—and where megabanks are rewarded with subsidies and bailouts.

So here’s the bad news—for you: As President, I have no plans to let up on you. I’ll work tirelessly to eliminate the unique danger posed by the handful of too-big-to-fail banks. And while I’m doing that, I’ll finally bring real enforcement and oversight to the federal government—to agencies and departments like the Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Reserve, Commodity Futures Trading Commission—so that they start doing the job the American people expect them to do and stop sitting on their hands.

If you—and your megabanks—which we, the American taxpayer, saved want to begin to restore the confidence in your leadership, you need to start by saying two things: “we’re sorry” and “thank you.”

Then, you have to do the right things: stop your war on financial reform, start following the law, and end your highest-risk, most dangerous activities so that your megabanks are in fact no longer too-big-to-fail.

South Carolina Approves Bill to Remove Confederate Flag

"It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of."

| Thu Jul. 9, 2015 8:42 AM EDT

Early Thursday morning, South Carolina's House of Representatives voted to approve a bill to permanently remove the Confederate flag from flying on the state Capitol grounds. The historic 94-20 vote followed hours of impassioned debate on Wednesday, including an emotional address by Rep. Jenny Horne (R), who reminded her colleagues she was a descendant of Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

"I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday," Horne said. "If any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring this flag will fly beyond Friday. And for the widow of Sen. [Clementa] Pinckney and his two young daughters that would be adding insult to injury and I will not be a part of it."

The bill moves now to the desk of Gov. Nikki Haley's, who has promised she would sign it quickly. Once signed, the state has 24 hours to remove the flag from the capitol grounds. It will then be moved to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum nearby.

"It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state," Haley said in a statement after the House's vote.

The renewed push to remove the battle flag was sparked by the massacre in Charleston last month that killed nine people, including Sen. Pinckney, inside a historic black church. Soon after the shooting, photos surfaced of the alleged gunman posing with the flag.

You're About to Hear a Lot More "Death Panels" Talk. Here's Why It's Nonsense

Medicare's plan to reimburse docs for end-of-life conversations will prevent a lot of suffering.

| Thu Jul. 9, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

You'll probably be hearing a lot about death panels these next few days.

That's because Medicare, the federal insurance program for elderly Americans, wants to start reimbursing doctors for having conversations with their elderly patients about death. Those talks might cover things like how much medical treatment a person is willing to endure in exchange for the chance of a few more months on the planet, and the circumstances under which a person would prefer to let go.

Similar ideas were stripped out of the the Affordable Care Act after that great medical intellect Sarah Palin started using the provocative term "death panels" to describe them. It was picked up by Obama-haters everywhere and the end-of-life counseling notion was soon declared DOA. A lot of media outlets used the language to describe Medicare's announcement Wednesday:

You can pretty much count on the death-panel trolls crawling back—some of them might even be running for president.

Times have changed, and we've probably gotten smarter on this, but you can count on some of the old death-panel trolls to come crawling back—and some of them might even be running for president. We'll see. In any case, they will be profoundly and tragically wrong. The proposed conversations will not only save the healthcare system a bundle, they will improve the quality and duration of people's final days. Even tea partiers will benefit from the policy, which, if it survives its critics, will almost certainly be adopted by private insurers. (Some are already doing it.)

It's worth reviving an exchange I had with the author, surgeon, and New Yorker staff writer Atul Gawande, whose best-seller "Being Mortal" covers this very topic. Here we're discussing the short-sightedness of hospitals (given the aging Boomer population) for cutting back on doctors who specialize in elder care.

Mother Jones: The fact that hospitals are cutting geriatrics programs now just seems insane.

Atul Gawande: It's total insanity! And hospitals are doing it because we're not valuing those capabilities in society. No one is clamoring for geriatricians. You know, if we took away the ability to put defibrillators in people in their last years, people would be shouting in the streets. But take away the capacity to see a geriatrician and there isn't a murmur. Because it requires admitting that we have mortal lives. The second part of it is that these are the lowest paid people in the profession and the fact that we value those skills so poorly. It's foolish: These are folks that keep people out of hospitals, out of emergency rooms, out of nursing homes. And not only that, they help people achieve more fulfilling lives. We've clearly got the priorities wrong.

MJ: There's also hospice, which we see as this program you go into when you're about to die. But it turns out that's kind of ironic, right?

"The group who had those conversations chose to stop their chemotherapy sooner. They had fewer days in the hospital. They were less likely to die in an ICU. They lived 25 percent longer."

AG: Yeah. The evidence is that people who enter hospice don't have shorter lives. In many cases they are longer. I kept a series of studies that really help bring it out. One looked at lung cancer patients who were at stage four and lived on average only 11 months. Half of them were randomized to usual oncology care, the other half randomized to oncology care plus early discussions with palliative care physicians who would discuss the patients' aims and goals for the end of life. The group who had those conversations chose to stop their chemotherapy sooner. They had fewer days in the hospital. They were less likely to die in an ICU. They started hospice earlier, and they lived 25 percent longer. And that's largely because, you know, that fourth round of chemotherapy or that last ditch operation is vastly more likely to be causing you harm than it is to be providing you benefits. So over and over again we end up sacrificing people's lives and making them more miserable—which is just bad decision-making all around.

MJ: You'd think insurers would be clamoring for more geriatricians. I think the way you put it in the book is that, if these end-of-life discussions were an experimental drug, the FDA would immediately approve it.

AG: Yeah. You know, we had this difficult time politically where the notion that these conversations are really important got polarized. Part of the reason I wrote this book is to try to pave a path beyond that polarized discussion. I think we can easily value having these conversations, but the question is, what kind of conversation? If the conversation people think is coming is the "death panel" conversation, like "Yeah, you can't have the kind of care that you want," that's a total failure. If the conversation that we reward doctors to take the time for are conversations about, "What are your priorities in life, and how do we make sure that we're not sacrificing them as we go along this course of care?" That's what the evidence indicates will make a huge difference.

You can read the rest of the interview here. In the meantime, maybe we could all just put aside our political differences for once, think about our moms and pops, and start calling these conversations what they actually are: wise and compassionate.

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Ron Wyden Just Used Rap Genius to Troll the FBI Director

The Oregon senator took to the annotation site to shred James Comey's argument for weakening encryption.

| Wed Jul. 8, 2015 3:00 PM EDT

FBI Director James Comey says encryption is hurting national security and helping ISIS. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is calling BS—and using a rap lyrics site to do it.

Comey spent Wednesday in front of Congress, arguing that law enforcement agencies face a growing threat from people who use encrypted messages—even though the government couldn't say how big the threat actually is now. He also gave a preview of his argument in a post on Monday at Lawfare, an influential blog on national security law. "There is simply no doubt that bad people can communicate with impunity in a world of universal strong encryption," he wrote. "Part of my job is make sure the debate is informed by a reasonable understanding of the costs."

Donald Trump Just Gave the Most Insane Interview to NBC

The presidential candidate insists Mexican immigrants "love me, I love them."

| Wed Jul. 8, 2015 2:09 PM EDT

In a new interview with NBC News, Donald Trump lashed out at his critics, specifically shooting back at Hillary Clinton's comments yesterday expressing her disappointment in the real-estate mogul.

"Hillary Clinton ‎was the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States," Trump said. "On top of that, she is extremely bad on illegal immigration. Despite anything you may hear to the contrary, I do not think she is electable."

Clinton's remarks on Tuesday were responding to Trump's controversial presidential speech back in June, in which he called Mexican immigrants drug-peddling "rapists." The incendiary characterization has since caused a firestorm of criticism, even moving several businesses and television networks long associated with Trump, including NBC, to cut ties with the Republican presidential candidate.

Speaking to his now infamous "rapist" characterization, Trump dismissed the notion he has lost favor with Latino voters.

"I'll win the Latino vote because I'll create jobs," he told NBC. "I'll create jobs and the Latinos will have jobs they didn't have, I'll do better on that vote than anybody, I will win that vote," he said. He double-downed on his reassurance, insisting Mexican immigrants "love me and I love them."

Throughout the interview, Trump also appeared to insult the female interviewer, journalist Katy Tur, telling her she was a "very naive person" and she didn't know what she was talking about. Charming.

The New York Stock Exchange Just Halted Trading and No One Is Sure Why

What is going on?

| Wed Jul. 8, 2015 12:07 PM EDT
Screenshot of the New York Stock Exchange status webpage

This is crazy:

Trading in all symbols was temporarily halted on the New York Stock Exchange floor Wednesday due to an apparent technical issue.

"NYSE/NYSE MKT has temporarily suspended trading in all symbols. Additional information will follow as soon as possible," the NYSE said in a statement on its status page.

The exchange was investigating the issue that caused the halt, Reuters reported, citing a source. Trading stopped around 11:30 a.m. ET.

The NYSE said all open orders would be cancelled, according to Reuters. The NYSE is having some sort of technical problem and all trading has been halted.

The Nasdaq appears to be fine.

UPDATE, 12:18pm ET: Law enforcement officials tell CBS "no indication of any threats":

UPDATE 2, 12:34pm ET: NYSE says it's not "a cyber breach."

UPDATE 3, 1:13pm ET: And answers begin to trickle in…

UPDATE 4, 2:10pm ET: The stoppage is almost over.

UPDATE 5, 2:57pm ET: Our national nightmare is almost over...

Thanks to Obamacare, Women Are Saving Nearly $1.4 Billion on Birth Control Pills

"When you have free contraception, it's going to affect pregnancy and abortion as well because money matters."

| Wed Jul. 8, 2015 10:11 AM EDT

Following the Affordable Care Act's mandate for insurance companies to provide free contraceptives, individual spending on birth control pills plummeted by almost half in the first six months the landmark healthcare law went into effect.

This is according to a new study published by the Health Report on Tuesday, which found the sharp decline in contraceptive spending saved women a startling $1.4 billion in 2013 alone. Out-of-pocket spending on intrauterine devices (IUD's) also declined by 68 percent.

The study comes in the same week as the results of a public health program in Colorado that provides free contraceptive methods to low-income women revealed that the rate of unintended teen pregnancies dropped by 40 percent and abortions by 35 percent.

"We have no doubt that the cost makes a difference," president of the National Center for Health Research Diana Zuckerman told the Times. "When you have free contraception, it's going to affect pregnancy and abortion as well because money matters."

But why are women still paying for their own birth control at all, when the law requires insurance companies to cover all birth control methods approved by the FDA? According to a report published in April, many insurance plans continue to skirt the law by failing to comply with the birth control mandate and charging women for costs illegally. Many women are also still under plans not covering contraception that that were established before 2010 and that have since been "grandfathered" into the healthcare law.

Think your plan might be in violation of the Affordable Care Act? Here's a handy guide for what steps to take, provided by the National Women's Law Center.