Political MoJo

It's 2015 and a Woman Is Being Charged With Attempted Murder for Using a Coat Hanger for an Abortion

| Tue Dec. 22, 2015 2:39 PM EST
Rutherford County Courthouse, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Anna Yocca, who made national headlines last week for trying to self-induce a miscarriage with a coat hanger and was arrested for attempted murder, pled "not guilty" today to charges of first-degree murder.

A little more than a dozen abortion rights advocates showed up to the Rutherford County courthouse in support of Yocca, holding signs and chanting, "Free Anna Yocca!" Yocca pled via video conference and she was appointed a public defender.

Yocca, 31, was arrested nearly two weeks ago, but she attempted the abortion in her bathtub last September. She was 24 weeks pregnant at the time. When she began to bleed uncontrollably, her boyfriend drove her to the hospital. Physicians delivered a 1.5 pound boy, who remains in the hospital with severe medical problems resulting both from the premature delivery and the attempted termination of her pregnancy.

Yocca is being held at Rutherford County Detention Center on a $200,000 bail.

Tennessee has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, and the state legislature plans to propose more. In 2014, an amendment to the state constitution clarified that it would not protect a woman's right to an abortion, and prohibited public funding for abortion—despite that fact that state and federal dollars cannot legally be used to fund abortion. The average cost of an abortion in the state has been calculated to be $475-$680. Clinics in Tennessee don't perform abortions after 16 weeks.

The amendment, which was one of the most expensive ballot measures in the state's history, gave state lawmakers more power to restrict abortion access. A law implementing a 48-hour waiting period was enacted in July. The state also has a "fetal homicide law," meaning prosecutors can charge women for any behavior, such as taking drugs, that might harm or kill a fetus. So far, Yocca is not being charged under this law. Because she is being charged with attempted homicide, the case could open the state up to a constitutional challenge.

Yocca faces a possible life sentence if she is convicted of attempted murder. So far, a hearing date has not been set.

Update, 12/23/2015, 6:11 p.m. EST: Yocca is scheduled appear in court next for a discussion hearing on Jan. 5.

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"Gay Conversion Therapy" Group in New Jersey to Permanently Shut Down

| Fri Dec. 18, 2015 3:05 PM EST
Chaim Levin, left, and Michael Ferguson, right, sued a New Jersey organization that offered gay conversion therapy.

A so-called "gay conversion therapy" group in New Jersey has agreed to permanently close its doors after losing a landmark court battle this summer.

As Mother Jones reported, a jury determined in June that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, had violated state consumer fraud law by claiming it could help change clients' sexual orientations from gay to straight. It was the first case in the nation to challenge conversion therapy as consumer fraud.

The plaintiffs—including three of the organization's former clients—said therapists recommended by JONAH had subjected them to humiliating treatments, including stripping in front of a therapist and reenacting scenes of past sexual abuse during group therapy sessions.

On Friday, Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. granted a permanent injunction after both sides reached a settlement requiring JONAH to cease operations, permanently dissolve as a corporate entity, and liquidate all its assets.

"The end of JONAH signals that conversion therapy, however packaged, is fraudulent—plain and simple," David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement. The center filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Michael Ferguson, one of the plaintiffs, added, "Gay conversion therapy stole years from my life, and nearly stole my life. My hope is that others can be spared the unneeded harm that comes from the lies the defendants and those like them spread."

Conversion therapy has been rejected by major health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, which in 1973 removed homosexuality from the list of disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Last year, a transgender teen committed suicide in Ohio after participating in conversion therapy, inspiring a campaign for a federal ban on the practice. New Jersey, California, and Washington, DC, have laws banning licensed conversion therapists from working with minors.

In a pretrial decision in February, Judge Bariso wrote, "The theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel—but like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it—instead is outdated and refuted."

Sanders Threatens to Sue Democratic Party in Data Breach Dustup

| Fri Dec. 18, 2015 2:41 PM EST

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Jeff Weaver, Bernie Sanders' campaign manager, threatened legal action against the Democratic National Committee for cutting off the Sanders' presidential campaign from critical voter data, such as addresses and phone numbers of potential supporters. The DNC took this step after a Sanders campaign staffer on Thursday accessed private voter data belonging to the Hillary Clinton campaign in a breach that the Sanders campaign has denounced.

“We will be in federal court this afternoon seeking immediate relief,” Weaver said. Our data "has been stolen by the DNC.”

Weaver's threat was the latest move in a serious—and complicated—digital dustup involving the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, the DNC, and a contractor hired by the Democratic Party to maintain voter data for various campaigns. This contractor, NGP VAN, is supposed to keep data for different campaigns separate. But on Thursday, news broke that at least one member of the Sanders campaign accessed Clinton campaign data when a firewall temporarily went down. Evidence surfaced Friday that more than one staffer of the Sanders campaign had access to the Clinton campaign voter data, and that some of the information had been downloaded.

The Sanders campaign immediately fired a staffer responsible and is undertaking an internal review into what happened and who else was involved. But the Sanders campaign insists that fault also belongs to the DNC and NGP VAN for the firewall failure. "Given that it is the DNC's responsibility to secure the voter data file, the DNC failed in this regard," the campaign said in a statement released Friday.

In response to the breach, the DNC revoked access for the Sanders campaign to this database—which includes crucial voter data collected by the campaign itself—until the campaign can prove it has destroyed any Clinton campaign data that it downloaded. The Sanders campaign needs this information in order to maintain contact with voters and reach out to supporters, especially as the initial voting and caucusing approaches. The lawsuit threat is an indication of how serious the situation is for the Sanders campaign.

The incident has given the Sanders campaign an opportunity to bolster its long-running claim that the DNC favors Clinton, though the party insists that is not true. "This is taking our campaign hostage," Weaver said of the DNC's action.

As of Friday afternoon, the Clinton campaign had said nothing about the breach or the threatened lawsuit. Saturday is the third Democratic debate, and it may well be that Sanders and Clinton address this issue there.

Update: The Clinton campaign commented on the situation.

This Is the Most Damning and Acccurate Summary of This Week's GOP Debate We've Seen So Far

| Fri Dec. 18, 2015 11:46 AM EST

If you missed this week's Republican debate hosted by CNN in Las Vegas, don't worry. Our friends at Fusion have produced this highlights reel that pretty much sums up all the war-mongering and terror-posturing you could possibly stomach. Watch the chest-thumping as they promise such tough actions as carpet bombing (Cruz), and closing down the internet (Trump):

GOP Debate Summary

Didn't watch the #GOPDebate last night? Here's what you missed.

Posted by Fusion on Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"Most Hated Man in America" Martin Shkreli Was Just Arrested for Alleged Securities Fraud

| Thu Dec. 17, 2015 8:46 AM EST

Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old pharmaceuticals executive who landed in the news in September for price-gouging a life-saving drug by a staggering 5,000 percent, was arrested on Thursday for alleged securities fraud.

Bloomberg reports federal agents arrested the Turing CEO at his Manhattan home. He is now being accused of taking money from a previous drug company he founded in 2011, Retrophin Inc., to cover unrelated debts.

The arrest comes just months after reports first surfaced accusing Shkreli of hiking the price of Daraprim, a parasite-killing drug used to treat patients with HIV or cancer, from $13.50 to $750 per pill. Outrage over the price hike prompted multiple headlines declaring him the "most hated man in America."

Shkreli soon promised to drop the drug's price to a "point that is more affordable" and that would allow the company to make a "very small profit." It became quickly apparent, however, that he never intended to follow through on that promise:

The Most-Searched Word of 2015 Is "Socialism"

| Wed Dec. 16, 2015 3:51 PM EST

When Bernie Sanders first announced he was running for president back in April, many pundits were quick to dismiss the chances of a self-described "democratic socialist" defeating Hillary Clinton, let alone making it to the White House. But the Vermont senator quickly proved that his populist message could resonate with Democratic voters around the country.

There may be several reasons that "socialism" has become the most-searched term of the year, according to numbers put out by Merriam-Webster this week, but Sanders' long-shot presidential bid deserves most of the credit.  Merriam-Webster points to Sanders' campaign as the cause for the 169 percent increase of look-ups for the word since 2014.

"Socialism has been near the top of our online dictionary look-up list for several years," Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor-at-large, explained. "However, this year look-ups for socialism moved up even further, beginning with the July campaign events for Bernie Sanders, remaining high throughout the following months and spiking again after the first Democratic debate in October."

Last month, the presidential hopeful gave a highly anticipated speech at Georgetown University explaining his views and defending democratic socialism. For more on that, check out our highlights of his address here.

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New York Announces Plan to Overhaul Solitary Confinement System

| Wed Dec. 16, 2015 12:30 PM EST

On Wednesday, New York state officials announced a plan to overhaul policies to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement. The changes are part of a settlement deal that puts an end to a five-year New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that charged the state with abusive treatment of inmates.

The New York Times reports the state currently houses 4,000 inmates in solitary confinement—a practice that places inmates alone in small cells for 23 hours a day. The agreement reached on Wednesday will seek to transfer 1,100 inmates to more rehabilitative housing units.

Changes to New York's policies come amid increasing concerns over the inhumane effects of extreme isolation on inmates locked away for months, or years.

For more on solitary confinement, check out MoJo's deep-dive investigations here.

Finally, "Hotline Bling" Gets the Presidential Treatment It Deserves

| Tue Dec. 15, 2015 4:22 PM EST

Still reeling from the awesomeness that is Bernie Sanders dad-dancing his way through "Hotline Bling?" Well, that masterpiece just got topped with the ultimate parody video featuring President Barack Obama "singing" the hit single. We even get the president dressed in Drake's turtleneck sweaters!

To whoever managed to put in the endless hours it must take to stitch together this wonderful video, thank you.

A GOP Lawmaker Wants to Crack Down on College Athletes Who Join Mizzou-Like Boycotts

| Tue Dec. 15, 2015 2:18 PM EST

Update (12/15/15): State Rep. Rick Brattin told Columbia, Missouri-based radio station KTGR on Tuesday that his bill to revoke the scholarship of any college athlete who refused to play in games for reasons other than health was inspired by the Missouri football players who threatened to boycott games this fall.

"I’m not against people’s First Amendment rights and speaking their minds and doing what they believe is right," Brattin told hosts of The Big Show. "But they also had an obligation to play football, and they utilized their position as a football player to go on strike and put the university in a horrible situation. I don’t think that’s good conduct of a football team."

When asked whether the players should be considered employees, Brattin responded: "They have to play to continue with their scholarship...They have certain parameters they have to live by."

You can listen to the rest of the interview below.

On November 7, more than 30 football players at the University of Missouri linked arms and threatened to boycott games and practices over the university's handling of a series of racially charged incidents on campus. The players' involvement brought nationwide scrutiny to ongoing Mizzou protests, and two days later, university president Tim Wolfe and school chancellor R. Loftin Bowen resigned.

It was a huge win for the growing campus anti-racism movement. But under a new bill filed in the Missouri Legislature, the athletes who participated in the boycott could have had their scholarships revoked, based on their refusal to play.

House Bill 1743, filed by Rep. Rick Brattin on Friday, would allow colleges and universities to revoke student-athletes scholarships if they decline "to play for a reason unrelated to health." The bill's language has not yet been released, so it's unclear if the bill covers all athletes in the state or just those at public institutions.

As Steve Silver, a lawyer based out of Philadelphia, points out at Above the Law: Redline, Brattin's proposal reinforces the idea that college athletes have few, if any, rights and that public universities can use a college scholarship as "collateral for preventing athletes from exercising their First Amendment rights." But, Silver argues, the proposal acknowledges that athletes operate under a different set of rules and that it violates the state's own constitution: "Revoking a scholarship if an athlete elects to strike as a form of protest certainly seems like a strong way of the government impairing speech."

This isn't the first time that Brattin has introduced a controversial bill. Two years ago, Brattin raised a bill that would require Missouri schools to give equal textbook treatment to intelligent design and "destiny" as the study of evolution. And as we wrote last year, he brought a bill that would've forced pregnant women to obtain permission from the baby's father if they wanted to get an abortion. In January, Brattin put forward a bill protecting outdoor spaces at public colleges and universities as public forums. All three measures failed to pass.

Brattin was not immediately available for comment.

All Public Schools in Los Angeles County Shut Down

| Tue Dec. 15, 2015 10:37 AM EST

Update, 3:40 p.m. EST: Hours after officials decided to cancel school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a House Intelligence Committee member confirmed this morning's threat was a hoax.

 

Previously:

All schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District were directed to close early Tuesday morning after officials electronically received a "credible terrorist threat" affecting multiple schools in the district. It's the country's second-largest school district, serving 640,000 students. A massive operation is now underway to search campuses—900 schools, and 187 public charter schools across the network—for suspicious-looking items.

At a press conference shortly after the decision was announced, school officials called the decision "swift and appropriate given the situation that we are in."

"It was many schools, not specifically identified," LA's school superintendent, Ramon Cortines, told reporters. "But there were many schools."

"We ask for the patience and the cooperation and the support of the city," he added. "The education of our kids is incredibly important."

Officials have asked parents to "bring proper ID" when picking up students who were already at school before the decision was made.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the city had received the same threat but officials ultimately concluded it was a hoax.

"Our schools are safe," de Blasio said. "Kids should be in school today. We will be vigilant. But we are absolutely convinced our schools are safe."