Political MoJo

The Latest Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Actually Good News

| Tue Oct. 6, 2015 5:00 AM EDT

A year after its controversial Supreme Court victory, Hobby Lobby found itself on the other side of a court decision—this time for denying a transgender employee access to the women's restroom.

Since she transitioned more than five years ago, frame shop manager Meggan Sommerville has been forced to either use the men's restroom in her Illinois Hobby Lobby store or wait until her lunch break, when she could slip into other businesses nearby to use a women's restroom. In a May decision made public for the first time on Sunday, a state administrative judge ruled that the chain's treatment of Sommerville violates Illinois' Human Rights Act, finding "direct evidence of sexual related identity discrimination" in the store's decision to bar her from the women's restroom until she had gender reassignment surgery.

The judge's order was a recommended ruling; a final decision from the state's Human Rights Commission is still pending. In the meantime, for Sommerville, nothing has changed: Hobby Lobby still requires her to use the men's restroom.

"If I quit, I give a right to any other company to discriminate against their employee in the hopes that they will quit so they will be done with them."

Hobby Lobby hired Somerville in 1998, and two years later, she was transferred to the company's location in east Aurora, Illinois. By 2010, she was presenting and identifying as female and had legally changed her name to Meggan Renee. When she formally approached her employer to notify them of the transition, the company altered her personnel file to reflect the change, and Sommverville changed her nametag. Yet the company denied her request to use the women's restroom, demanding that she provide documents that would compel them to do so. Still, even after Sommerville did so, Hobby Lobby continued to deny her request, going so far as to issue her a written warning for using the women's restroom in February 2011. The company later insisted that she undergo gender reassignment surgery, which would allow her to change her birth certificate, before she could use the women's bathroom in the store.

Sommerville filed a complaint, but it was dismissed by the Illinois Department of Human Rights in 2012 for lack of evidence, a decision that was later overturned.

Sommerville's bosses instructed her not to use the restroom in part because another employee expressed "discomfort," the ruling revealed. "A co-worker's discomfort cannot justify discriminatory terms and conditions of employment," Judge William Borah wrote. "The prejudices of co-workers or customers are part of what the Act was meant to prevent." Furthermore, Borah found that Hobby Lobby's decision to build a unisex restroom for Sommerville's use was an example of segregation and "perpetuates different treatment."

"Do I want to continue doing what I do? Yes," Sommerville told the Windy City Times. "I enjoy it. Why should I quit? I'm good at what I do. I love what I do. If I quit, I give a right to any other company to discriminate against their employee in the hopes that they will quit so they will be done with them. No one should be forced to quit where they're being harassed and discriminated against. This case is bigger than me."

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Bobby Jindal Sums Up His Struggling Campaign in One Chart

| Mon Oct. 5, 2015 4:15 PM EDT

Things are looking up for Bobby Jindal, according to Bobby Jindal.

The Louisiana governor tweeted this afternoon about his campaign performance: "Momentum is building in Iowa." The tweet was accompanied by a chart showing Jindal's support among Iowa voters increasing exponentially.

The poll Jindal is proudly presenting is the latest NBC/Marist survey in Iowa, which shows him with a whopping 6 percent of the vote, tied with two candidates and behind four others. That looks impressive next to the 1 percent he got in a poll from the firm in July. But it's less impressive if you consider the 4.7 percent margin of error, which could more than account for his rise from the September poll that had him at 4 percent. Likewise if you look at the polling average from Real Clear Politics, which puts Jindal at 3.5 percent in Iowa (in ninth place). A Gravis poll concluded on September 27 listed Jindal at only 2 percent (tied for eighth place).

But who cares? Just look at this chart!

Women in Texas May Have to Wait an Extra 20 Days for an Abortion

| Mon Oct. 5, 2015 2:31 PM EDT
A shuttered clinic in El Paso, Texas.

New research from the University of Texas—Austin has found that women seeking abortions in cities such as Dallas, Forth Worth, and Austin face staggering wait times of up to 20 days before they can get the procedure. The data, which researchers working for the Texas Policy Evaluation Project released Monday, provides a startling look at the effects of abortion clinic closures in Texas just as the Supreme Court is deciding whether or not to hear a case that could slash the number of remaining clinics by half.

Wait times at abortion clinics in Austin, Texas.

Researchers documented wait times for clinics in Forth Worth, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston from November 2014 to September 2015. In Austin, the average wait over the course of those 11 months was 10 days. In Dallas and Fort Worth, the annual average was 5 days. They also calculated the average monthly wait times and the range of wait times in a given month and found that average wait times within a single month reached up to 20 days in the Dallas-Fort Worth area—where there are five abortion clinics—and wait times for individual patients could reach up to 23 days.

The escalating wait times are a result of successful efforts to close more than half of Texas's abortion clinics. Most of those clinics were closed by HB 2, a 2013 anti-abortion law that many consider to be the harshest in the nation. Its provisions included a requirement that clinics must have admitting privileges with a hospital no more than 30 miles away. Before the measure, Texas had 41 clinics; four months after it took effect, there were only 22. Today, there are 19.

A final provision of the law, which may be the subject of a Supreme Court battle later this year, would close all but 10 clinics if it goes into effect. That measure requires abortion clinics to be regulated similarly to hospitals, which makes it dramatically more expensive to operate an abortion clinic. Leading medical organizations, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, maintain this level of medical infrastructure is not necessary to safely perform most abortions. Whole Woman's Health, a chain of abortion clinics with several providers in Texas, sued in federal court and succeeded in having the Supreme Court temporarily block the law. The court could make a decision to hear the full case as soon as this month.

A wait time of almost three weeks has serious consequences for women seeking abortions, ranging from her ability to afford an abortion, which becomes more expensive as the pregnancy progresses, to intensity of the procedure. In the second trimester, the cost of an abortion may go up by a hundred dollars every week. The researchers found that if the Supreme Court were to allow all but 10 clinics to close, it would almost double the number of second-trimester procedures in Texas—from 6,600 in 2013 to 12,400.

The researchers also predicted that if the Supreme Court upheld HB 2, the 10 clinics that would remain open would not have the capacity to meet demand. Those clinics today provide only one-fifth of abortions in Texas. If they were the only clinics in Texas, they would probably experience consistent wait times of around three weeks. For instance, the Houston area saw an average wait time of less than five days. But Houston has six clinics. If the law were fully in place, it would only have two clinics. And as clinics closed around the state, the number of abortions taking place in Houston would rise from 3,900 in 2013 to more than 11,000.

Clinics in states bordering Texas are already feeling the crush. Kathaleen Pittman, an official with Hope Medical Group of Shreveport, Louisiana, said in an interview that the proportion of Texans going to Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, has leapt from 15 percent of patients in 2011 to 23 percent in 2014.

And the South isn't the only region where clinic closures have sent a wave of patients looking for new providers. The problem is also pronounced in Ohio, where eight clinics have closed since 2011. Officials for Preterm, a clinic in Cleveland, say the number of patients traveling from a different part of Ohio has jumped 160 percent, and the number of patients from out of state has almost doubled.

As Mother Jones reported in a recent feature, a clinic called the Cherry Hill Women's Center in southern New Jersey is seeing more and more patients from Virginia, because clinics in Maryland and Delaware are overbooked, and from the Midwest, because many clinics there have closed. An analysis by Mother Jones found that clinics are closing at a rate of 1.5 per week. If the trend keeps up, the new data from Texas may turn out to be a bellwether for the rest of the nation.

Meet the Senate Candidate Who Sacrificed a Goat and Drank Its Blood

| Mon Oct. 5, 2015 11:05 AM EDT

Of all the scandals that have dogged political campaigns, the one threatening Augustus Sol Invictus' US Senate run may be among the most unusual: ritual goat sacrifice.*

In 2013, Invictus walked from central Florida to the Mojave Desert and spent a week fasting and praying. Upon his return home, the Associated Press reports, Invictus sacrificed a goat and drank its blood in an apparent pagan ritual.

"I did sacrifice a goat," Invictus told the AP. "I sacrificed an animal to the god of the wilderness...Yes, I drank the goat's blood."

Invictus—he changed his birth name but declined to provide it to the AP—is now running for Senate in Florida on the Libertarian Party ticket. But the party hasn't taken well to has candidacy. Its state chairman resigned in protest and called Invictus a "self-proclaimed fascist" who is "promoting a second civil war." Invictus denied these charges but said he "sees a cataclysm coming."

In 2013, Invictus wrote a letter to his classmates at the DePaul College of Law in which he seemed to say he might start a new civil war. "I have prophesied for years that I was born for a Great War; that if I did not witness the coming of the Second American Civil War I would begin it myself," he wrote. "Mark well: That day is fast coming upon you. On the New Moon of May, I shall disappear into the Wilderness. I will return bearing Revolution, or I will not return at all."

He did return. But so far the only revolution he's bearing is the one within his own party.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Invictus' role in the Libertarian Party.

Hillary Clinton Unveils Plan to Tackle Gun Violence Using Executive Action

| Mon Oct. 5, 2015 9:58 AM EDT

On Monday, Hillary Clinton plans to unveil a series of proposals aimed at reducing gun violence that includes the possible use of an executive action to close the "gun show loophole," which currently allows gun sales to proceed even if background checks on individuals are still pending.

The Democratic presidential candidate is expected to announce the plan at two town hall events in New Hampshire. In advance of the appearances, Clinton's campaign released a statement outlining her proposals that detail her push for comprehensive background checks, the tightening of loopholes and internet gun sales even if "Congress fails to act," and efforts to block individuals with domestic abuse records and the mentally ill from obtaining firearms.

In the wake of Thursday's deadly rampage at a community college in Oregon, the former secretary of state called on lawmakers to enact stricter gun control legislation and vowed to help loosen the grip of the National Rifles Association on Congress.

"I'm going to try to do everything I can as president to raise up an equally large and vocal group that is going to prove to be a counterbalance," she said in response to the latest mass shooting in America. "And we're going to tell legislators, do not be afraid. Stand up to these people because a majority of the population and a majority of gun owners agree that there should be universal background checks. And the NRA has stood in the way."

Gun control is one area in which Clinton has appeared markedly more progressive than Sen. Bernie Sanders. In the past, the Vermont senator has drawn criticism from Democrats for his more libertarian stance on the issue, including his controversial support for a 2005 law that protects gun makers against lawsuits from victims of violence. In her plan on Monday, Clinton will reportedly announce her efforts to repeal that law as well.

Following Thursday's massacre, Sanders said he agreed with President Barack Obama's statements saying prayers and condolences were not enough to tackle gun violence in America.

Read Clinton's sweeping plan here.

The CIA Is Still Refusing to Release Its Files on This Alleged War Criminal

| Mon Oct. 5, 2015 5:00 AM EDT
Salvadoran troopers graduating from artillery school, 1981

In November 1981, early in what would become a 12-year civil war, Lt. Colonel Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez led an estimated 1,200 Salvadoran troops into a rural region near the Honduran border. As part of an eight-day campaign to eliminate guerrillas in the area, the soldiers allegedly killed dozens, even hundreds, of fleeing civilians near the community of Santa Cruz.

Now, nearly 34 years later, a group of human rights experts is trying to help bring Ochoa Pérez to justice—and is taking the fight to the CIA, as well. On Friday, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA after the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of documents surrounding the Santa Cruz massacre. That includes files on Ochoa Pérez, who until recently was a member of Congress in El Salvador.

According to UWCHR project coordinator Phil Neff, the massacre was emblematic of the Salvadoran government's scorched-earth campaigns to "cleanse" areas of guerrillas while often claiming the lives of civilians. Ochoa Pérez, whom Neff calls "one of the US's top counterinsurgents during the '80s," is currently facing a criminal investigation in El Salvador in connection to the offensive. Now that Ochoa Pérez's congressional immunity has run out, the UWCHR is hoping to use CIA intelligence from that era to move the long-stalled cases against him.

Ochoa Pérez marches with supporters in a 2012 protest. Luis Romero/AP

"There have been no successful prosecutions of this kind in El Salvador," Neff says. "In comparison to Guatemala, the advances have been insignificant. So it's thought that he may be low-hanging fruit—but he's not an insignificant guy."

Kate Doyle, a senior analyst of US policy in Latin America at the National Security Archive, says the UWCHR faces an uphill battle. "The CIA has been traditionally very well protected against the efforts of citizens to gain records through the legal channels we have open to us," she says, noting that most CIA documents are exempt from FOIA thanks to a 1984 law signed by President Ronald Reagan. The declassifications that do occur, Doyle says, generally happen because the agency releases the information on its own or is forced to by presidential order. That very thing happened in 1993, when President Bill Clinton, under pressure from Congress, pushed the CIA to declassify an estimated 12,000 documents on the Salvadoran civil war, including some on Ochoa Pérez.

"The CIA has got a lot of tricks up its sleeve to protect itself from responding to something like this," Doyle says, noting that the courts rarely overrule the agency when it invokes national security. Still, she says the FOIA suit is a valuable public reminder that the US government has been knowingly sitting on records with important details of grave human rights abuses.

"The lawsuit has the tremendously positive effect," Doyle says, "of bringing that gap between the rhetoric of human rights policy in the United States and the practice into the light."

This story has been updated. For more on the Santa Cruz massacre, check out this short documentary from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights:

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Ben Carson Just Showed the Other GOP Candidates How to Talk About Clean Energy

| Fri Oct. 2, 2015 6:26 PM EDT

When asked at a Friday appearance in Iowa if he'd support 50 percent clean energy in the United States by 2030, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson replied, "I want more than 50 percent."

The 50 percent by 2030 mark comes from the advocacy group NextGen Climate, which has launched a campaign pushing candidates on the issue. And while Carson hasn't yet released any details on how he plans to accomplish this goal—and sometimes struggles to explain what climate change is, exactly—the former neurosurgeon has recently voiced his support for green issues.

"I don't care whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, if you have any thread of decency in you, you want to take care of the environment because you know you have to pass it on to the next generation," he said Wednesday. "There is no reason to make it into a political issue."

Jeb Bush on Oregon Mass Murder: "Stuff Happens"

| Fri Oct. 2, 2015 2:45 PM EDT

While speaking to reporters during a campaign stop in Greenville, South Carolina, on Friday, Jeb Bush weighed in on the latest school shooting to take place in the United States, this time in Oregon, just a day before.

"We're in a difficult time in our country and I don't think more government is necessarily the answer to this," Bush said. "I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It's very sad to see. But I resist the notion, and I had this challenge as governor—look, stuff happens. There's always a crisis. The impulse is always to do something and it's not necessarily the right thing to do."

You can watch the full video here:

When asked by a reporter if he stood by the "stuff happens" part of his quote, Bush did not back down:

The astonishingly callous summation of Thursday's deadly rampage that killed 10 people and injured seven others was buffered by Bush's criticism against renewed calls for gun control.

Senator Blumenthal to Introduce Gun Legislation After Oregon Shooting

| Fri Oct. 2, 2015 12:55 PM EDT

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) announced a plan to introduce new gun legislation in the wake of Thursday's school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon that left 10 dead and 7 others injured.

The proposed legislation, which seeks to ban gun sales without background checks pending beyond 72 hours, cites June's massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, inside a historic church, and the revelation soon after that a loophole in the background check process allowed shooter Dylann Roof to obtain a gun.

"While certain facts remain unknown, the FBI has acknowledged that a fully completed background check would have uncovered Dylann Roof’s prior arrest on a drug charge and his drug addiction, thereby barring him from purchasing the .45-caliber handgun with which he took nine lives," a statement released by Blumenthal's office said.

This is hardly the first time the senator has been front and center of the gun control debate. Following the 2012 Newtown shooting massacre in Blumenthal's state of Connecticut that killed 26 people, including 20 children, he came in out in strong support of gun safety measures. Congress, of course, failed to pass the legislation.

Back in May of 2014, he again pushed lawmakers to revive the gun legislation debate, "saying Congress will be complicit" if members fail to act again. Despite repeated calls, the introduction of new gun control legislation today will likely meet the same fate.

Oregon Sheriff Handling School Massacre Shared a Sandy Hook Conspiracy Video

| Fri Oct. 2, 2015 12:49 PM EDT

The month after the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, Sheriff John Hanlin of Douglas County, Oregon, posted a video called "The Sandy Hook Shooting - Fully Exposed" to his personal Facebook page. The video makes a number of conspiratorial claims, including about there being more than one shooter and that the grieving parents who appeared on news reports were acting.

The sheriff, who has done an admirable job in not glorifying the perpetrator from yesterday's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, is also an avid guns rights supporter and a possible member of the Oath Keepers, a group that claims to be upholding their oath to defend the Constitution from any perceived threats—such as expanded gun control.