Political MoJo

GOP Rebel Justin Amash Just Beat a Guy Who Called Him "Al Qaeda's Best Friend"

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 10:35 PM EDT
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.)

The GOP's business establishment talked openly about making conservative hardliners pay for pushing Washington toward a debt ceiling crisis last fall. But that wave of Chamber of Commerce-funded primary challengers to conservative incumbents never materialized. The Chamber settled on trying to take out Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a second term congressman and Ron Paul disciple famous for voting on no on pretty much everything—even the Paul Ryan budget—and for cobbling together a bipartisan coalition to rein in the NSA's domestic surveillance programs. It was the first part that drew the ire of business interests in his district, and the second part that made him the villain in one of the year's nastiest campaign ads. Amash, challenger Brian Ellis warned, was "Al Qaeda's best friend" in Congress.

Ellis received a rare primary endorsement from an incumbent member of Amash's Michigan delegation, GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, an NSA defender. But we're not in 2002 anymore; it turns out Amash's civil libertarianism plays pretty well in the western Michigan district that gave America Gerald Ford. Boosted by deep-pocketed donors of his own (including the DeVos family), Amash eased past Ellis, making him a sure-thing to win a third term in November.

Update: After the results were in, Amash reportedly let the challenger's concession call go to voicemail, and then ripped into him his victory speech: "You owe my family and this community an apology for your disgusting, despicable smear campaign. You had the audacity to try and call me today after running a campaign that was called the nastiest in the country. I ran for office to stop people like you."

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Michigan GOP Primary Results: "Foreclosure King" Beats Santa Impersonator

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 9:44 PM EDT

The War on Christmas seems to comes earlier every year: Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.), a Santa impersonator who was elected to Congress by accident in 2012, was defeated in a 30-point landslide on Tuesday, becoming this year's first (and probably only) victim of the Republican establishment's dissatisfaction with congressional tea partiers.

Bentivolio won his party’s nomination two years ago in a fluke after the incumbent, Rep. Thad McCotter, failed to qualify for the ballot and abruptly resigned. (A high school teacher and reindeer rancher, Bentivolio was the only Republican left on the ballot.) Bentivolio never fully sold himself as a serious congressman—he once promised to hold a hearing on chemtrails, the conspiracy theory that airplanes are brainwashing Americans with poison—making him an obvious target, despite winning the backing of Speaker of the House John Boehner.

More interesting than Bentivolio, who always had a placeholder feel to him, is the man who trounced him the primary—David Trott, a high-powered Republican donor whose law firm happens to process most of Michigan's foreclosures. As one registrar of deeds in southeast Michigan put it in December, Trott & Trott "made a living off of monetizing human misery." A big donor to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, and a member of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee's Michigan finance committee, Trott is an archetypal establishment Republican.

But he'll still have his work cut out for him: Romney won the 11th district by just four points in 2012. He'll take on the winner of the Democratic race between former CIA analyst Bobby McKenzie (backed by national Democrats) and urologist Anil Kumar.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 5, 2014

Tue Aug. 5, 2014 9:42 AM EDT

US Navy Lt. Audrey Koecher talks with Guetemalan children at a community relations event. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Wojciechowski)

Three-Quarters of Mexican Child Migrants Have Been Caught at the Border Before

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mexican child migrant map
Pew Research Center

While the focus of the recent border crisis has been on unaccompanied child migrants from Central America, thousands of Mexican kids also have been apprehended trying to cross into the United States since last fall. According to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center, the vast majority had been caught several times before—and 15 percent of them reported having been previously apprehended six times or more.

The US Border Patrol made more than 11,300 apprehensions of unaccompanied Mexican child migrants from October 2013 to May 2014. Among the kids picked up, 76 percent said they'd been caught "multiple times before," according to the Pew report, which is based on data provided by Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the map above shows, 64 percent of Mexican minors crossing alone came from six states: Tamaulipas, Sonora, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Guanajuato, and Michoacán.

Currently, child migrants from Mexico (and Canada) can be deported shortly after apprehension, unlike kids from elsewhere, who are reunified with US-based family while their immigration proceedings are pending. As I wrote last month in a post about why the federal government shouldn't change the law to more easily deport Central American kids:

When an unaccompanied Mexican child is apprehended by the Border Patrol, agents are supposed to screen him within 48 hours. Specifically, they are supposed to determine three things: (1) whether the child has been the victim of trafficking; (2) whether the child has a fear of returning to Mexico; and (3) whether the child is able to voluntarily make the decision to return home. If the screening reveals that the child hasn't been trafficked, isn't afraid to go back, and can make the decision by himself, then he can be sent back.

In practice, says the ACLU's Sarah Mehta, "when they're happening, the screenings are inconsistent, but often they're not happening." Some agents don't speak Spanish; in other cases, Mehta says, kids have reported not being asked any questions at all, or being told by agents that they can't get deportation relief for whatever they experienced at home or along the way to the United States.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a UN Refugee Commission report claimed that more than 95 percent of Mexican children caught at the border by themselves in fiscal 2013 were returned to Mexico. If Mexican kids do have legitimate asylum claims, they're likely not being heard, advocates claim. And when these kids do get sent back, many try to cross again.

Here's another Pew chart, this one showing the numbers of unaccompanied child apprehensions by country of origin since 2009:

child migrants over time
Pew Research Center

Did the NRA Know About Robert Dowlut's Reversed Murder Conviction?

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
The Webley Mark VI revolver that police said Dowlut dug up in the South Bend City Cemetery

For all its bluster, the National Rifle Association also knows how to maintain a disciplined silence in the face of uncomfortable questions. Most notably, it went to ground in the wake of the Newtown school shooting in December 2012, resurfacing after a few days with bland talking points, followed by Wayne LaPierre's assertion that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that in the week since I published an investigation into the complicated past of the NRA's top lawyer, the gun lobby has not responded. 

The subject of my article, NRA general counsel Robert J. Dowlut, is a low-profile yet influential legal expert who has spent more than 35 years pushing for an aggressively broad interpretation of the Second Amendment. In 1964, he was sentenced to life in prison for shooting his girlfriend's mother in South Bend, Indiana. Several years later, the conviction was reversed due to bad police work, and Dowlut eventually walked free.

Before I reported on Dowlut's background, I contacted him 10 times by phone, email, and registered mail, explaining what I was writing about and inviting him to share his side of the story. When I did not hear from him, I asked the NRA and its public affairs head, Andrew Arulanandam, for comment multiple times. I also sent registered letters directly to NRA leaders, including executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, president Jim Porter, and lobbying head Chris Cox. None responded.

If Dowlut or the NRA do decide to talk, here are the four questions I'd most like them to answer:

1. Did Dowlut ever disclose his past to his colleagues or the NRA? So far, none of Dowlut's colleagues and friends have come forward to talk about what they did or didn't know. David Hardy, a prominent gun rights writer who's known Dowlut "longer than I can remember" told me he had "no idea" about Dowlut's previous conviction and reversal. Other gun rights groups and bloggers have also been conspicuously silent since the story ran.

2. How did Dowlut's experience influence his career? Dowlut's writings strongly suggest that his legal odyssey played a role in shaping his philosophy. In a 1983 article, he disapprovingly cited Supreme Court Justice Byron White's dissent in Miranda v. Arizona, a case very similar to his own. White had predicted that protecting criminal suspects' rights "will return a killer, a rapist or other criminal to the streets." Did Dowlut's position—that gun rights are another essential defense against official overreach—stem from his time as the accused? Did this stance put Dowlut at odds with the NRA's tough-on-crime talking points? (Consider that the NRA's president from 1992 to 1994 was Robert Corbin, the prosecutor who made a point of retrying Ernesto Miranda after the landmark 1966 Supreme Court decision bearing his name. Corbin also served as the vice chairman of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund; Dowlut is the fund's longtime secretary.)

3. Did Dowlut ever disclose his past to the bar? Several readers have asked if Dowlut disclosed his experience as a criminal defendant while applying for admission to the bar. (He was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1980 and is also a member of the Virginia Bar.) I don't know: Bar applications are confidential, and it's not clear what was asked on the character and fitness sections of the DC and Virginia Bar applications four decades ago. Currently, the DC Bar asks applicants to disclose all previous arrests, charges, and convictions, even for matters that have been dismissed or expunged. The Virginia Bar asks applicants to disclose any involvement in criminal proceedings (including juvenile cases and traffic offenses). Assuming that Dowlut faced similar questions when he became a lawyer, how did he respond?

4. What really happened 51 years ago in South Bend? The South Bend police still consider the murder of Anna Marie Yocum on the night of April 15, 1963, to be an open case. Most of the main characters involved in Dowlut's murder trial are dead; the victim's daughter is alive, but refused to speak with me. The court records I obtained, while voluminous, offer competing narratives that leave a trail of nagging questions: The police interviewed several other potential suspects—what were they asked, and why were they released? If Dowlut had no knowledge of the crime, how was he able to lead detectives to a buried gun allegedly linked to it? Whom did the gun belong to? And finally, what does Dowlut think actually happened on that night?

Anti-Immigrant Activist Says Influx of Migrants Will Lead to "Ethnic Replacement"

| Mon Aug. 4, 2014 2:42 PM EDT

In Texas, a resurgent tea party movement has trained its sights on the ongoing crisis at the US-Mexico border, where some 70,000 unaccompanied minors will arrive this year alone. At a July 16 press conference at the state capitol in Austin, tea party leaders ripped Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott, both Republicans, for not doing more to keep undocumented immigrants out of the US. The activists said they wanted a special legislative session devoted to the migrant crisis and urged Perry to deploy the Texas National Guard to the border. (Days later, Perry announced he would deploy up to 1,000 guardsmen.)

One of the speakers at the event was Thomas Korkmas, who runs an anti-immigrant group called Texans for Immigration Reduction and Enforcement. In his remarks, Korkmas drew a comparison between the current border crisis and the horrific ethnic cleansing that occurred in eastern Europe after the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. That Serb-led campaign of ethnic cleansing saw the creation of concentration camps, widespread rape and murder, and a death toll that reached an estimated 100,000. The way Korkmas sees it, where the Serbs systemically eliminated Bosnian Muslims and Croatian civilians, the influx of undocumented migrants to the US is diluting the population of white Americans via "ethnic replacement."

You can watch Korkmas' comments in the above video. Here's what he said:

We have an invasion. It has to be stopped. About 20 years ago when Bill Clinton was in office, there was an issue over in what had been Yugoslavia. And it was called at that time ethnic cleansing. What is going on right now in this country could be called ethnic replacement. Because what is happening right now is we are seeing the eradication of our Constitution and its rule of law. We're seeing the elimination of our borders, our language, and our culture. And anyone who does not think that a culture that embraces lawlessness will not become our dominant culture within a few years, I hate to tell you you're wrong. It will be because it already has.

Korkmas seems to have borrowed the term "ethnic replacement" from the right-wing talk radio host Michael Savage. Recently, Savage accused President Obama and his administration of engaging in ethnic replacement—a term Savage claims he coined—by allowing illegal immigrants to "flood America" and replace white Americans.

This isn't Korkmas' first controversial comment on the issue of immigration. Last year, he claimed that the Boston Marathon bombings resulted in part from an insecure US-Mexico border. Every politician who has served in Washington and failed to "close the border" since the Boston attacks, Korkmas went on, "is guilty, as far as I’m concerned, as an accessory to homicide."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 4, 2014

Mon Aug. 4, 2014 10:45 AM EDT

A US Marine climbs a rope ladder from the flight deck of the USS San Diego.  ( US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan R. Waldman)

Arizona Executioners Had To Use 15 Doses of Lethal Drugs Before Inmate Finally Died

| Sat Aug. 2, 2014 6:30 AM EDT

Documents released Friday afternoon in the case of Arizona's  botched execution of Joseph Wood—who gasped for air and struggled, according to witnesses, repeatedly during the two-hour process—show that  executioners used 15 separate doses of a new drug cocktail before Wood finally died. Lawyers had warned that the combination of 50 milligrams hydromorphone (a pain killer) and 50 milligrams of midazolam (a sedative) was rife with potential problems. (The state also has a long history of failing to follow its own protocol.) The documents suggest they were right.

"Instead of the one dose as required under the protocol, ADC injected 15 separate doses of the drug combination, resulting in the most prolonged execution in recent memory," said Dale Baich, Wood's lawyer. "This is why an independent investigation by a non-governmental authority is necessary.”

Ohio  used a similar drug cocktail in January to execute Dennis McGuire, who gasped and snorted for 25 minutes before finally succumbing, the longest execution in Ohio history. Arizona apparently increased the dosage of midazolam from what Ohio had used, but it doesn't seem to have gotten any better results.

When officials in Ohio and elsewhere first expressed their intent to experiment with the midazolam/hydromorphone combination, experts predicted, as Mother Jones' Molly Redden reported, that little was known about how the new drug combinations would work in executions. She wrote:

Jonathan Groner, a professor of clinical surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine who has written extensively on the death penalty, says effects of a hydromorphone overdose include an extreme burning sensation, seizures, hallucination, panic attacks, vomiting, and muscle pain or spasms. [David Waisel, an associate professor of anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School], who has testified extensively on capital-punishment methods, adds that a hydromorphone overdose could result in soft tissue collapse—the same phenomenon that causes sleep apnea patients to jerk awake—that an inmate who had been paralyzed would be unable to clear by jerking or coughing. Instead, he could feel as though he were choking to death.

Because hydromorphone is not designed to kill a person, Groner says, there are no clinical guidelines for how to give a lethal overdose. "You're basically relying on the toxic side effects to kill people while guessing at what levels that occurs," he explains.

The new Arizona documents suggest that these assessments were dead on.

State officials are using new drug combinations because pharmaceutical companies have been refusing to sell or export the drugs traditionally used in executions. The US has seen a shortage of those drugs for several years now, and death penalty states have gone to increasingly desperate measures to kill their condemned, everything from illegally importing the old drugs to buying them from dubious compounding pharmacies. Arizona illustrated the latest gambit—using new combinations of other available drugs, something critics have called an unethical human experiment.

States have also gone to great lengths to hide information about the drugs they're using in executions and how they're getting them. In Arizona, Wood was just the latest of many death row inmates who have tried and failed to force states to be more transparent. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Wood in late July and agreed that he had a right to know how he was going to die. But the US Supreme Court overruled that decision and allowed the execution to go forward.

 

 

 

Obama: "We Tortured Some Folks"

| Fri Aug. 1, 2014 4:58 PM EDT

On Friday, President Obama said that some of the things the United States did after 9/11 were indeed acts of torture. National Journal has the full quote:

Obama also addressed post-9/11 America in remarks about the Central Intelligence Agency. "We tortured some folks," he said. "We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it's important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and a plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this."

This isn't the first time Obama has said that the US tortured people but the usage of "folks" immediately set tongues wagging. Presumably it's because "folks" is far more humanizing than "detainees" or "enemy combatants".  The US did torture people (real flesh-and-blood human people) after 9/11, and it's good that Obama says so—even if he was just trying to get off the topic of his CIA admitting to spying on Congress.

For a long time it was incredibly controversial to call "enhanced interrogation" torture. It's a sign of progress that no one batted an eye at the "torture" bit and instead focused on the "folks" part. To their credit, even conservatives have come around to using the dreaded T word. Just kidding. Conservatives are freaking out:

Barack Obama is an inexperienced "celebrity" community organizer/campaigner-in-chief who won't stop apologizing for America and was only elected president because of The Decemberists.

Feds Say Big Banks Are Still Too Big to Fail

| Thu Jul. 31, 2014 8:06 PM EDT

Six years after the financial crisis, the largest US banks are likely still too-big-to-fail, according to a study released Thursday afternoon by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). That means that these massive financial institutions are still so important to the wider financial system that they can expect the government to bail them out again if they are close to collapse.

Even though the GAO study found that this advantage banks enjoy dropped off significantly in 2013, "this is a continuing issue," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who has introduced legislation aimed at ending bank bailouts, told Bloomberg Thursday. "Too-big-to-fail is not dead and gone at all. It exists."

During the financial crisis, the government forked out $700 billion to bail out the nation's biggest banks. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act imposed new requirements on Wall Street designed to prevent this from happening again. The law gave federal Wall Street regulators more authority to dismantle failing financial institutions, mandated that banks hold more emergency funds on hand, and required banks to submit to yearly stress tests to ensure that they can withstand another crisis.

How effective these measures have been in ending too-big-to-fail is still an open question, and subject to heated debate in the halls of Congress. Other reports have found that even after Dodd-Frank, big banks still enjoy a huge advantage over smaller, community banks in terms of lower borrowing rates, thanks largely to the perception that they can't fail. Many investors believe the government will still bail out large, systemically important banks if they are again faced with collapse, whereas the economy can afford to lose a local bank or two. As a result, the biggest US banks benefited from a $70 billion too-big-to-fail subsidy in 2012, according to a March report by the International Monetary Fund.

Sen. Vitter, as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and John McCain (D-Ariz.) have introduced legislation that attempts to truly end big bank bailouts by forcing banks to hold larger emergency reserves and shrinking the size of massive Wall Street firms.