Political MoJo

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.

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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."

Trump Supporter Shouts For Black Lives Matter Protester to be Lit "On Fire"

| Tue Dec. 15, 2015 9:15 AM EST

As a Black Lives Matter protester was forcibly removed from a Donald Trump rally on Monday, supporters of the Republican frontrunner were heard yelling "kick his ass" and "light the motherfucker on fire."

The demonstrator, identified by Buzzfeed as Ender Austin III, was one of several people who attempted to interrupt Trump's Las Vegas event. In another incident, a supporter reportedly yelled, "He's a Muslim guy!" as a protestor was escorted out.

The presidential hopeful appeared to dismiss the disruptions, even suggesting to the crowd they should be organizing their own protests.

"We should have been doing what they’re doing for the last seven years because what's happening to our country is a disgrace," he said.

Last month, Trump defended a supporter who beat up a Black Lives matter activist, telling Fox & Friends "maybe he should have been roughed up."

Monday's rally comes a week after Trump announced a plan to bar all Muslims from entering the country. The plan, condemned by both Democrats and Republicans alike, prompted comparisons of Trump to Adolf Hitler.

When asked if he was disturbed by that, Trump responded, "No. Because what I'm doing is no different than FDR."

Bowe Bergdahl Ordered to Face Court Martial

| Mon Dec. 14, 2015 3:31 PM EST

Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant whose 2014 release by the Taliban prompted a firestorm of controversy over the nature of his five-year captivity, was ordered by a high-ranking Army commander on Monday to face a court martial on charges of desertion and endangering his fellow soldiers.

If convicted of leaving his post in Afghanistan without permission, the New York Times reports, Bergdahl could face a life sentence. The date of the hearing will be announced at a later time.

An Army lawyer had previously recommended Bergdahl face lesser charges for his alleged offenses. The decision on Monday also comes just days after the popular podcast Serial launched its second season, which will investigate Bergdahl's divisive story.

In 2014, five Taliban leaders were released in exchange for the Taliban's release of Bergdahl.

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Trump Blames Obama for His Hair Problems

| Mon Dec. 14, 2015 1:57 PM EST

Donald Trump's hair is not as clean as he would like, and he says it's the president's fault.

At a campaign event in Aiken, South Carolina, the Republican presidential front-runner was asked about the Environmental Protection Agency's "Waters of the United States" rule, issued earlier this year. That regulation "clarifies the scope" of the kinds of bodies of water—wetlands, waterways, streams, lakes—that should be protected under the Clean Water Act. Trump expressed his displeasure at the rule, which he says has interrupted his ability to lather, rinse, and repeat.

"So I build, and I build a lot of stuff," Trump said. "And I go into areas where they have tremendous water...And you have sinks where the water doesn't come out. You have showers where I can't wash my hair properly. It's a disaster."

The rule does not introduce any new regulations or regulatory requirements, but rather specifies the bodies of water in the United States covered under the Clean Water, which was introduced in the 1940s and then reorganized and expanded to its current form in 1972. It is unclear whether Trump's hair-washing problems stretch back that far.

Trump Soars to New Heights in Poll After Proposing Muslim Ban

| Mon Dec. 14, 2015 1:19 PM EST

A week after proposing to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, Donald Trump has reached new heights in the polls.

The real estate tycoon has 41 percent nationally in the Republican presidential contest, according to a survey released Monday by Monmouth University—27 points ahead of the rest of the field. Ted Cruz comes in a distant second at 14 percent, followed by Marco Rubio at 10 percent and Ben Carson at 9 percent. No other candidate exceeds 3 percent.

Monmouth's findings are based on interviews with 385 registered Republican or Republican-leaning voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Among that sample, 67 percent responded that they would feel either "enthusiastic" or "satisfied" if Trump became the GOP nominee, while 28 percent reported that they would be "dissatisfied" or "upset." Trump is also enjoying his peak favorability among these voters: 61 percent have a favorable impression of him, 29 percent are unfavorable, and just 10 have no opinion.

While continuing to gain in nationwide polls, Trump's only recent bad news comes out of Iowa, where Cruz, the tea-party-aligned senator from Texas, has recently gained on him and now holds a small lead over Trump in most recent polls.

What We've Learned About America's Many Mass Shooters

| Mon Dec. 14, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Just a few days before the third anniversary of the Newtown massacre, Terry Gross interviewed Mother Jones national affairs editor Mark Follman on NPR's "Fresh Air" about his extensive reporting on America's mass shooters—including a growing effort to stop them. Listen to the full show here:

 

Ohio Attorney General Accuses Planned Parenthood of Illegally Dumping Fetal Remains

| Fri Dec. 11, 2015 6:19 PM EST
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has accused local Planned Parenthood affiliates of improperly disposing of fetal tissue.

Ohio officials on Friday accused Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state of disposing of fetal tissue in violation of state law, saying that the health care organization sent the remains to companies that dumped the tissue in landfills.

The accusation was the result of the Ohio attorney general's investigation into Planned Parenthood over the organization's donation of fetal tissue from abortions. Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement on Friday that his office concluded its investigation of Planned Parenthood and found that the organization had not illegally sold fetal tissue.

But DeWine said his office did find that Planned Parenthood had violated an Ohio regulation requiring that a "fetus shall be disposed of in a humane manner." According to the attorney general's investigation, the health care organization sends fetal remains to disposal companies, which then dump the tissue in landfills.

Stephanie Kight, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, has denied all wrongdoing and says her organization handles fetal tissue legally and in the same manner as other health care providers. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio is one of the state affiliates mentioned by DeWine.

"We take our responsibility as a health care provider seriously, and if we ever thought that one of our vendors wasn't handling fetal tissue properly, we would take swift action," Kight told reporters on Friday.

DeWine's new accusations are the result of his failed investigation into the sale of fetal tissue, she added. "He has dug up another set of accusations that are equally false."

Ohio is one of a handful of states that launched investigations into Planned Parenthood following the series of widely debunked sting videos purporting to show the organization's staff discussing fetal tissue donation. None of the investigations have found evidence that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue.

This post has been updated.