Political MoJo

Prison Guards Can't Pepper Spray Just Any Schizophrenic Inmates in Arizona Anymore

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 1:52 PM EDT

Arizona prisons just got a little better. A class action lawsuit by the ACLU, the Prison Law Office, and others reached a settlement with the Arizona Department of Corrections today to improve health care and solitary confinement conditions in the state.

"This is one of the largest--if not the largest--prisoner settlements in recent years," said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU's National Prison Project.

The lawsuit, which has been going on for two years, won concessions that would seem to be common sense. Prison guards, for example, now can’t pepper spray severely mentally ill prisoners unless they are preventing serious injury or escape. And while these types of inmates were previously let out of their solitary cells for just six hours a week, the settlement requires Arizona to let them out for at least 19 hours a week. With some exceptions for the most dangerous, this time will now be shared with other prisoners, and will include mental health treatment and other programming.

People like this—the schizophrenic, the psychotic, the suicidal—are not a small portion of the 80,000 people we have in solitary confinement in the US today. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45 percent of people in solitary have severe mental illnesses. The country's three largest mental health care providers are jails.

The Parsons v. Ryan settlement also requires the Arizona prison system to make more than 100 health care improvements. Prison staff now has to monitor people with hypertension or diabetes. Pregnant women have to get more care. Prisoners whose psych meds make them sensitive to heat now have to be kept in cells that are no hotter than 85 degrees. Those not on anti-psychotic meds though, can keep baking.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 14, 2014

Tue Oct. 14, 2014 9:53 AM EDT

Marine Infantry Officer Course students stand by before a helicopter drill in Arizona. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James Marchetti)

Vatican to Cohabitators and Gays: You're Kind of Okay. (Update: Actually, Never Mind.)

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 6:04 PM EDT
Bishops at the synod on family issues at the Vatican.

Update, Saturday, October 18, 2014: Never mind: "A final statement agreed to on Saturday by a summit of Catholic Church leaders to discuss teachings on family retreated from groundbreaking language on “welcoming homosexual persons” included in an interim draft released on Monday."

A preliminary document released by the Vatican today suggests a possible easing of the Catholic Church's strict stances on premarital cohabitation, homosexuality, and divorce and remarriage. Summarizing the first week of discussion at a worldwide meeting of bishops, the document stresses the need for church leadership to listen "with respect and love" and "appreciate the positive values" of members "rather than their limitations and shortcomings."

The document is not an indication of change in doctrine, but more of a recap of what has been discussed so far at the two-week long synod on family issues, and what's on the agenda in the second week of meetings. The synod was both convened and attended by Pope Francis. Among the topics mentioned in the document are the "positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation," and the importance of including Catholics who are divorced or remarried while "avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against."

The document also encourages churches to welcome and accept gay people, who "have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community." This "welcoming" has its limitations: The document maintains that "unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman."

Overall, however, the document's tone contrasts with statements from Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who called gay marriage a "threat to world peace" and damaging to "the essence of the human creature." And not once does it refer those who are divorced or living together before marriage as sinners.

The document quotes previous writings by Pope Francis, stating: "The Church is called on to be 'the house of the Father, with doors always wide open…where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.'"

The Vatican's baby steps toward discussion and inclusion appear to reflect the frustration among many Catholics toward the church's traditional stances on family issues and gay rights. Last week, a poll of American Catholics found 40 percent believe the church should drop its opposition to premarital sex and cohabitation (33 percent say it should not), and 42 percent believe the Church should recognize same-sex marriage (40 percent disagree). The poll also found Pope Francis has an 85 percent favorability rating among American Catholics.

South Dakota Senate Candidate Boasted of "African American Friends," Mulled Run for DC Mayor

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 5:45 PM EDT
South Dakota Senate candidate Larry Pressler

Larry Pressler, who's running as an independent in South Dakota's three-way race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, has averaged around 23 percent of the vote in polls of the contest, which could determine control of the Senate in 2015. With Election Day less than a month away, former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds and Democrat Rick Weiland are both hoping to siphon off support from the third-party entry. And Pressler, who represented South Dakota in the Senate as a Republican from 1979 to 1997, is beginning to take his lumps. On Friday, Politico reported that he lists his primary residence in Washington, DC. But Pressler isn't just a casual DC resident—he's a self-described townie who briefly floated a run for mayor. Here's the Associated Press in 1998, on Pressler's bid to replace Democrat Marion Barry:

Pressler, now a lobbyist, was not immediately available for comment.

But he told Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, that he has written a three-point agenda, including a private-school voucher program and a "real tax cut" to stimulate economic development in Washington.

"I have lived in DC since 1971, longer than anyone else who's running," Pressler said.

Despite hailing from a state that has relatively few blacks, Pressler told the newspaper said he could connect with Washington's blacks. The district is 65 percent black.

"I have a lot of African American friends," he said.

That's sort of the Trinity of archival dirt—a lobbyist epithet, an affirmation of DC residency, and an awkward boast about black friends. You don't see it very often.

Pressler quickly gave up on the idea of running for mayor, but not before the Washington City Paper's Michael Schaffer dug up this exquisite anecdote about the former senator:

Marching out of a committee hearing a couple years ago, Pressler mistook a closet door for the exit. After initially trying to wait out his colleagues, he finally realized that the hearing wasn't going to end any time soon. He walked back out of the closet, waved as if he'd been talking to someone inside, and left the chamber.

h/t Daily Kos Elections

"Duck Dynasty" Congressional Candidate Says Godlessness Will Cause "Mass Carnage and Mass Death"

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 3:49 PM EDT
Zach Dasher (left) and his cousin, Duck Dyansty's Willie Robertson

Godlessness is leading the United States down a path toward "tyranny and death," according to Louisiana Republican congressional candidate Zach Dasher. A nephew of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, Dasher is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. Vance McAllister in the November election. He made the comments in a 2012 episode of his personal podcast, Willing to Think.

Teasing a discussion of political correctness, Dasher asked, "Am I going to talk about the entitlement mindset of nearly half of our country that is really going to end in utter despair if we don't do something about it? Am I going to talk about how this swift drift away from God will usher in tyranny and death? Well, I probably will talk about that today."

He returned to the subject at the end of the episode:

We will only regress if we shut our mouths. Tyranny will get its foothold—if it already doesn't have it—and in the end, there will be mass carnage and mass death. It's inevitable. 'Oh, Zach, you are such an overreactor; you're like Alex Jones.' Look: I'm here with a philosophy. This is no conspiracy theory; this is a philosophy rooted in historical fact. Every society that has shut down people from discussing things about politics God, faith, when you silence people, every time that happens in a society, you know what happens? Tyranny and death. Every single time.

In another episode of the podcast, Dasher blamed rejection of God for a rise in anxiety disorders. "I know it's not politically correct, but there is a huge element of depression and anxiety disorders that is wrapped up in what I'm saying today," he said. In September, BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski reported on comments Dasher made in other episodes of Willing to Think, in which the candidate blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on atheism. (He also argued that the popular millennial acronym "YOLO" is corrosive because it promotes an atheistic disregard for the afterlife.)

Dasher has put his faith front and center during the race. The campaign headquarters in West Monroe features an envelope taped to the outside of the glass door, instructing supporters to "leave your your prayers or scriptures." In an appearance on Fox News in June, he told Sean Hannity, "My platform begins with God."

Robertson, who supported McAllister during the special election for the seat in 2013, jumped ship after McAllister was caught on tape kissing a female staffer and now backs his kin. At a Lake Charles fundraiser, he referred to the first-time candidate as "my little nephew who came from the loins of my sister."

Elizabeth Warren: The Obama Administration Chose to Protect Wall Street, Not Families

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 2:20 PM EDT

In a new interview with Salon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) leveled a bit of harsh criticism towards President Barack Obama's administration, charging his financial advisors with routinely favoring big banks following the financial crisis, rather than looking out for ordinary Americans.

"They protected Wall Street," Warren said. "Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. Not young people who were struggling to get an education. And it happened over and over and over."

But the senator, who was responding to columnist Thomas Frank's question regarding Democrats' mounting disappointment since the 2008 election, stopped short of issuing a scathing rebuke, largely pointing the finger at Obama's economic team for deregulation failures. She also made sure to credit the president with the creation of the Consumer Financial Bureau.

"If Barack Obama had not been president of the United States we would not have a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Period," Warren said. "I’m completely convinced of that...He was the one who refused to throw the agency under the bus and made sure that his team kept the agency alive and on the table."

As for continued confusion regarding the bureau's name itself, Warren jokingly blamed Republicans for the head-scratching.

"It was named by Republicans to be as confusing a name as possible. I used to think of it as the four random initials. I just call it my consumer agency. So that’s it, just the consumer agency."

Warren also noted that in light of Attorney General Eric Holder's recent resignation announcement, she would work to confirm a successor who will fully prosecute banking executives.

Warren's remarks follow last week's meeting at the White House between Obama and financial regulators to propose additional regulatory measures.

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And the Prize for Ebola Fearmongering Goes to Louisiana

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 12:40 PM EDT

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has a plan to stop Ebola: File a restraining order. Caldwell, a Republican, called the proposal to dispose of Dallas Ebola victim Eric Duncan's incinerated belongings at a Lake Charles landfill "absurd" and pledged to use the legal process to stop the transfer. WBRZ Baton Rouge reports:

"We certainly share sadness and compassion for those who have lost their lives and loved ones to this terrible virus, but the health and safety of our Louisiana citizens is our top priority. There are too many unknowns at this point," Caldwell said. The Louisiana Attorney General's Office is in the process of finalizing the application for temporary restraining order and expects it to be filed as early as Monday morning.

Additionally, the office is sending a demand letter to Texas state and federal officials, along with private contractors involved seeking additional information into the handling of this waste.

Caldwell, whose decision was quickly supported by GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, didn't offer any details on how burying the incinerated materials would affect the people of his state. It's hard to see any risk—Ebola is transmitted only through bodily fluids, and Chemical Waste Management Inc., which operates the storage facility, sees no problem. And it's not as if the ashes are going particularly far, anyway—Lake Charles is just a quick jaunt over I-10 from Port Arthur, Texas, where Duncan's belongings were burned.

But Caldwell's stance is especially bizarre in light of the great lengths Louisiana lawmakers have gone to position the state as a repository for every other kind of waste. Fracking waste disposal, for instance, has become a $30 billion industry nationwide over the last decade. Much of that wastewater has been dumped into old wells in Louisiana. Louisiana may also soon begin accepting thousands of tons of other states' shale wastewater, which will be shipped down the Mississippi on barges. In Louisiana you can even store radioactive materials in an abandoned salt cavern, and then, after the salt cavern collapses, creating a massive sinkhole and forcing hundreds of people to permanently relocate, pour wastewater directly into the sinkhole. Just don't try to truck the ashes of an Ebola victim's belongings across the Sabine.

This Anti-Gay Candidate's Message Is Bigger in Moscow Than Massachusetts

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 9:28 AM EDT
Scott Lively in the new Russian film "Sodom"

Even though he's running to be the governor of Massachusetts, Scott Lively makes no secret of his extreme anti-gay views. The evangelical pastor, who's being sued by gay-rights groups for his involvement in Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill, has gotten flack on the campaign trail for his beliefs, even encountering some raucous booing at a gubernatorial forum earlier in the year.

Lively knows that his focus on traditional values makes him an unpopular choice in the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. "The only way Scott Lively is going to become governor of Massachusetts is by a miracle of God," he told MassLive last month.

While Lively's views can't find much domestic audience, they play well in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Lively's anti-gay zeal is on display in Sodom, a new documentary that aired on Russian television last month, to much acclaim. The film was produced by famously anti-gay TV host Arkady Mamontov, who once implied that the Chelyabinsk meteorite explosion was caused by the gay rights movement. The film aired on Rossiya-1, Russia's main government-funded TV channel.

"For American homosexuals, this man, Scott Lively, is public enemy number one," intones the film's narrator. On camera, Lively speaks about the gay "agenda," which seeks "anti-discrimination policy" in the name of ultimate "societal conquest." Lively insists that "The average American is not in favor of homosexuality. But they are afraid to speak publicly about it, because the gays have so much power and they can do harm to those people."

"The average American is not in favor of homosexuality. But they are afraid to speak publicly about it, because the gays have so much power."

Lively brings the film's producers to the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, DC. Set against a dramatic soundtrack, Lively paces outside. "This organization, instead of focusing on the true needs of people around the world, they are trying to declare that homosexuality is a human right," Lively says. "They spend vast amounts of money to promote this agenda around the world instead of defending genuine human rights."

This is just the latest entry on Lively's anti-gay résumé, as my colleague Mariah Blake has reported. In 1995, Lively coauthored The Pink Swastika, a book that argues that gay Nazis inspired the Holocaust because Judaism forbids homosexuality. In 2007, Lively went on a 50-city tour of Russia and other ex-Soviet republics to warn of the "homosexual agenda." In 2009, he gave a five-hour presentation on Ugandan national television calling homosexuality a disease and claiming that gays aggressively recruit children.

It's unclear if Lively's segment in this film was shot before he declared his candidacy for governor in September 2013. Yet it's a revealing comment on the state of American (and Russian) politics that a candidate can find more traction for his extreme anti-gay views in Moscow than Mattapan.

Take a look at the video below. (The Lively segment starts at 8:17; he arrives at HRC at 12:00.)

Second US Patient Tests Positive for Ebola

| Sun Oct. 12, 2014 1:55 PM EDT
Dr. Tom Frieden in the process of undergoing a protocol-required decontamination procedure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that a hospital worker who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian patient who died of Ebola last Wednesday, has tested positive for the Ebola virus. This is the first case of Ebola being transmitted in the United States. Officials blame a "breach of protocol" during treatment of Duncan—and although all healthcare workers who came into contact with Duncan were wearing protective clothing, Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC director responsible for overseeing agency action against the Ebola crisis, said additional cases are possible because of the breach.

Frieden did not disclose the specifics of the breach, but he did stress the importance of following isolation protocol. "The bottom line is we know how Ebola spreads," he said a morning press conference. "We know how to stop it from spreading. But it does re-emphasize how meticulous we have to be on every single aspect of the control measures—from rapid diagnosis, to effective isolation, to effective care, with infection control, to scrupulous contact investigation."

Frieden also said that "while this is bad news, it is not news that should bring about panic." Health officials emphasize that the virus is not contagious during the incubation stage, which typically lasts 8-10 days. Ebola can only be contracted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

The Texas Department of State Health Serviced announced in a statement Sunday that, after the patient reported a fever Friday night, she was put in isolation and officials began the process of interviewing those with whome she had come into contact. One additional person has already been placed in isolation and another 18 are being closely monitored.

"We knew a second case could be a reality, and we've been preparing for this possibility," said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. "We are broadening our team in Dallas and working with extreme diligence to prevent further spread."

Kids, Obama Is Going to Close Gitmo And This Time He Means It.

| Fri Oct. 10, 2014 4:46 PM EDT
"Don't make me pull this prison camp over. Because I will."

Scene: President Obama, driving slowly toward the White House, announces yet again that he wants to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp. A clamor erupts in the back seat.

Kids, I've already told you a million times—I'm going to close Guantanamo.

This time I mean it. And no bellyaching.

Listen, I know you don't like it, but it's time we behaved like civilized human beings.

I don't care who started it. That doesn't make it right.

Will you please quiet down? I can't even hear my own executive order over all that racket!

I'm serious now. End of discussion.

Because I am your president, that's why!

Don't make me pull this prison camp over. Because I will.

Just wait until your next president hears about this. Hoo boy is she gonna be mad.

Keep it up and you won't be extralegally detaining anyone for a solid month, mister!

We've been over the drone thing. When you're a president you can do whatever you want with a drone.

Don't you "habeas schmabeas" me, young lady!

That's it! I am so drafting a new, even stronger statement as soon as we get home.

And stop asking if we're there yet! We'll end this War on Terror when we get there!