Political MoJo

Judges Give NSA More Time to Suck Up Your Data

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 3:18 PM EDT

A federal appeals court in Washington, DC, on Friday tossed out an injunction over the National Security Agency's bulk collection of millions of American's phone records, but left open the question of whether the program itself is legal.

From Politico:

The three appeals court judges assigned to the case splintered, with each writing a separate opinion. But they overturned a key ruling from December 2013 that critics of the NSA program had used to advance their claims that the collection of information on billions of calls made and received by Americans was illegal.

That ruling, issued by Judge Richard Leon in Washington, sent shockwaves across the legal landscape because it was the first in which a federal court judge sided with critics who questioned the legality of sweeping up data on vast numbers of phone calls--nearly all of them completely unrelated to terrorism.

The new decision Friday from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit did not kill the lawsuit brought by conservative gadfly Larry Klayman. The appeals court voted, 2-1, to allow the lawsuit to proceed in the district court, but the judges left doubts about whether the case will ever succeed.

In June, Congress phased out the NSA's controversial program with the passing of the USA Freedom Act. The new law forced the NSA to obtain private phone records for counterterrorism investigations on a case-by-case basis through a court order. After the law mandated a six-month transition program for the new program, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the NSA could continue its existing bulk collection program through November.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also filed an injunction to block the program, arguing that the surveillance court should not have reinstated the program after a federal appeals court in New York found it to be illegal


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"They Would Have Killed You All"

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Protesters block demolition equipment from entering a portion of the B.W. Cooper public housing complex in New Orleans in December 2007.

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina displaced 40,000 people in New Orleans, opinions about the recovery can be traced along racial lines. A pair of new studies underscores that African American women, particularly those who lived in public housing, faced some of the biggest hurdles after the storm.

Nearly four in five white residents in New Orleans say their state has "mostly recovered," while nearly three in five African American residents say it has not, according to survey results released Monday by the Louisiana-based Public Policy Research Lab. More than half of all residents, regardless of race, said the government did not listen to them enough during the recovery, but African American women struggled more than any other group to return to their homes in the months and years after the hurricane, PPRL noted.

On Tuesday, a study by the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research found that recovery policies in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina largely ignored the needs of African American women who lived in four of the city's largest public housing complexes. These women were forced to move into more expensive housing, and some had to relocate to areas where they faced racial intimidation.

The study, based on interviews with 184 low-income black women, offers a look at how redevelopment efforts affected some of the city's most vulnerable residents. A majority of the women interviewed said they wanted to move back to their homes but were unable to do so because city and federal officials demolished the buildings in the years after the storm.

The demolition plan, announced in 2006 by the Housing Authority of New Orleans and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), aimed to deconcentrate poverty in the city by replacing the public housing complexes with mixed-income housing. However, the new developments included fewer low-income apartments, which meant many people had to pay more for housing.

The decision to raze the public housing complexes seemed odd to some former residents because HUD had found them to be structurally sound after the storm, the IWPR reported. Here's what a 70-year-old retired grandmother told the research group:

The buildings were good, strong buildings. Now, if they say they couldn't be renovated, well, that's a different story, but they had some buildings in worse shape and they're doing them over…I'm very disappointed with our elected officials. They turned their backs on us.

Many of the women interviewed by the IWPR said that even though public housing hadn't been ideal, they felt safest in their former homes. There, they had known all their neighbors, and the brick apartment buildings had withstood the hurricane's winds and subsequent flooding. There had even been a saying among poor residents in the city that if a storm ever came, you should "get to the bricks."

One woman who had lived in the C.J. Peete housing project believed the razing of her building was unjustified.

Bad as the waters were, it did not go into our houses. That was one of the projects that I think they just wanted to tear down. They could have left that project there…They had people coming from other places to come stay in the projects, but they never came down because they are brick.

After nearly three decades living in the C.J. Peete complex, another elderly woman with diabetes and arthritis told researchers that she was forced to move temporarily to a community known for Ku Klux Klan activity.

In Baker [where the emergency trailer park for displaced people was], [the crosses] was all over. Ah, Baker was the main headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan…This white man walked up and he said, ah, "If you all would've came here in the '60s…I'm so glad you all didn't come…Oh, you all would've been dead…They would've killed you all." They put us in a pasture where the cows and horses was living. That's where the trailer was.

To read more of of these stories, check out the report by the IWPR here.

Trump: "This Isn't a Gun Problem, This Is a Mental Problem."

| Thu Aug. 27, 2015 2:24 PM EDT

A day after two journalists in Virginia were fatally shot on live television, Donald Trump is rejecting calls to strengthen gun control laws. Instead, he told CNN's Chris Cuomo today that mental health issues are to blame for gun violence in America. This isn't a gun problem, this is a mental problem," the presidential hopeful said.

"You're not going to get rid of all guns," Trump added. "I know one thing: If you try to do it, the bad guys would have them. And the good folks would abide by the laws but be hopeless." The real state mogul defended the Second Amendment, which he said he was "very much into."

Trump's opposition to stricter gun legislation in favor of focusing on mental health problems is not new. But many experts argue such thinking is flawed. "Consider that between 2001 and 2010, there were nearly 120,000 gun-related homicides…Few were perpetrated by people with mental illness," psychiatry professor Richard A. Friedman wrote in the New York Times after the Newtown shooting in 2012.

Trump is just one of the 2016 candidates to weigh in following the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward on Wednesday morning. Speaking at a press conference in Iowa, Hillary Clinton told reporters that she was "stricken" by the shooting. "We have got to do something about gun violence in America," Clinton said. "And I will take it on."

Speaking to Fox News' Megyn Kelly on Wednesday night, the father of one of the victims vowed to fight for increased gun control measures. "Whatever it takes to get gun legislation, to shame people, to shame legislators into doing something about closing loopholes and background checks and making sure crazy people don't get guns," Andy Parker said.

This GOP Presidential Candidate Is Trying to Destroy Planned Parenthood. Now Planned Parenthood Is Fighting Back.

| Wed Aug. 26, 2015 6:23 PM EDT

Planned Parenthood in Louisiana is asking a federal judge to halt presidential candidate and state Gov. Bobby Jindal's efforts to cut Medicaid funding for the health care organization, arguing that the cut would hurt nearly 6,000 low-income women, men, and teens who access the group's services each year.

Referencing the series of attack videos that depict Planned Parenthood officials in California and other states discussing fetal tissue donation, Jindal earlier this month directed the state's department of health to terminate Planned Parenthood's contract with Medicaid, saying the organization was not "worthy of receiving public assistance from the state."

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which operates clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, does not offer abortion services in Louisiana. It does, however, provide physical exams, breast cancer screenings, and testing for sexually transmitted infections to 10,000 people each year, 60 percent of whom are enrolled in Medicaid. 

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, lawyers for the health care organization wrote that those patients will be cut off from health care access as early as next week, causing them "significant and irreparable harm," unless the court blocks Jindal's decision. Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood, which totaled nearly $730,000 last year, are set to end September 2 unless the court steps in. 

A key issue is whether cutting off Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding is legal. This month, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) warned Louisiana that terminating Medicaid provider agreements likely violates a federal rule requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to be able to obtain services from any qualified provider.  

The point of that provision, according to CMS, is to "allow [Medicaid] recipients the same opportunities to choose among available providers of covered health care and services as are normally offered to the general population."

Louisiana isn't the only state to cut funding for Planned Parenthood: Alabama, Arkansas, New Hampshire, and Utah have taken similar steps. And Republicans in Congress tried, but failed, to push through a bill to slash $500 million in federal funding. 

Jindal is also one of a handful of Republican governors who have launched investigations into state Planned Parenthood affiliates in the hopes of finding criminal activity related to the sale of aborted fetal tissue. Those investigations, many of which are taking place in states that don't have fetal tissue donation programs, have so far turned up nothing. The investigation in Louisiana, however, has put on hold the construction of a third Planned Parenthood clinic, which was approved by the department of health earlier this year after months of pushback.

But coming out swinging against the country's largest women's health care organization hasn't translated to a more successful presidential campaign for Jindal. He was one of two sitting governors who did not get to participate in the first prime-time Republican debate this year because the forum was limited to the top-polling candidates. National polls have consistently put him in the low single digits.

Two Journalists Shot During Live Television Broadcast

| Wed Aug. 26, 2015 10:03 AM EDT

Update, August 26, 2015, 2:25 p.m. EST: The suspected gunman, Vester Flanagan, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Sheriff Bill Overton announced in a press conference.

Update, August 26, 2015, 1:00 p.m. EST: Following a police chase, authorities found Flanagan suffering from a gunshot wound. It appears to have been self-inflicted.

Two members of a Virginia news crew were shot and killed during a live news segment on Wednesday morning. Authorities have identified the suspected gunman as Vester Lee Flanagan, according to multiple sources. He reportedly went by the name Bryce Williams professionally. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told a local radio station that the suspect was believed to be a "disgruntled employee" of the news station, WDBJ.

The shooting occurred at Bridgewater Plaza, a shopping center in Moneta, Virginia, where reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were both killed. WDBJ confirmed their deaths. The head of the local Chamber of Commerce, Vicki Gardner, who was being interviewed by Parker at the time, was also injured in the attack. She is out of emergency surgery and in stable condition.

The Augusta County Sheriff's Office couldn't immediately be reached for confirmation of the suspect's identity.

Part of the shooting was recorded on video and posted to social media accounts. It was later taken down. 

Below is a live newscast of the outlet's coverage of the shooting:

This is a breaking news post. We will update as more information becomes available.

Donald Trump Just Had Univision Anchor Jorge Ramos Thrown Out of a Press Conference

| Tue Aug. 25, 2015 7:11 PM EDT

At a press event in Iowa Tuesday, Donald Trump had Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos removed by security after the Trump critic challenged the GOP front-runner for his positions on immigration.

"Sit down, go back to Univision," Trump said, before Ramos was removed.


Ramos reportedly returned some time later.

Also, via Brandon Wall, this is apparently how Trump calls for security:

GIF: Brandon Wall


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Here's What Sexperts Think About "Female Viagra" and Why You Shouldn't Call It That

| Sun Aug. 23, 2015 3:05 AM EDT

When news broke on August 18 that the Food and Drug Administration approved Addyi, the pill that is being incorrectly referred to as the "female Viagra," it might have seemed like an obvious feminist win. Viagra has been around since 1998, but there hasn't been anything remotely comparable on the market for women. Addyi is supposed to alleviate female hypoactive sexual desire disorder (or lack of sexual desire). But as we've reported, women on Addyi experienced an increase of only one sexual event per month during clinical trials.

So what's really going on with the little pink pill? And what's the latest science on low libidos? We asked Rachel Hills, author of the The Sex Myth, and Emily Nagoski, sex educator and author of Come As You Are, to weigh in:

What is female sexual dysfunction? Hills points out that when Viagra went on the market, it aimed to treat a very specific disease: erectile dysfunction. Viagra works by increasing blood flow to the penis to get an erection hard enough for sex; it does not cause arousal. Addyi targets the brain, and it does aim to increase arousal by stimulating the brain in a way that's comparable to antidepressants. Hills says this is where it gets tricky, because "female sexual dysfunction" is not well-defined medically, and she thinks the term is being used too broadly. "It's more amorphous than erectile dysfunction because the 'disease' is basically not wanting to have sex enough," she says.

Do we need Addyi? According to Nagoski, there are two types of desire: spontaneous desire, which occurs without any physical prompting from a partner, and responsive desire, which comes from being in a sexual situation (think foreplay or dirty talk). Nagoski says it's pretty normal for women to only experience responsive desire. But, maybe because men's bodies work a little differently, women are led to believe that something is wrong with them if they don't crave sex every day. Nagoski, who has worked as a sex educator for almost a decade, often hears women say, "Once [my partner and I] got started, everything was fine. It's getting me started that's the problem." She thinks a lot of the hype surrounding Addyi is due to a lack of readily available information surrounding female sexuality.

Is this simply a pharmaceutical company trying to tap into a profitable market? A lot of the hype surrounding Addyi stemmed from good marketing, not a scientific breakthrough. "The most generous possible interpretation of the FDA responder analysis is that, of the thousands of women who were on the drug, a few experienced minimal benefit," says Nagoski. Hills is also suspicious of the motives behind treating female sexual desire with a pill: "The entire question of female sexual dysfunction was motivated by the fact that there's potentially a lot of money to be made in that." There is certainly a lot of money at stake—Sprout Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Addyi, announced that Valeant Pharmaceuticals International acquired the pill for $1 billion.

"I worry about the desire for sex becoming an imperative."

Let's talk about pleasure. Nagoski says the problem with Addyi is that it's purpose is to create desire, but the point of desire falls flat if women aren't experiencing pleasure. Hills and Nagoski believe the conversation about Addyi is too focused on how much sex women are having, regardless of whether the sex is good or not. For this reason, Hills says she doesn't buy that Addyi is a feminist victory. "It’s certainly not that I think women should not have the right to sexual desire; it’s just that I think everyone has the right to desire as much sex as they want," Hills says. "I worry about the desire for sex becoming an imperative." Nagoski adds that framing a lack of desire as a medical problem reinforces the idea that there's something wrong, which creates additional pressure that can impede libido. A focus on pleasure rather than desire could break that cycle.

So what's the key to female sexual arousal? Nagoski details an interesting theory about this in Come As You Are. The way she sees it, the brain has what's called a "dual-control model," in which there is a sexual "accelerator" and a sexual "brake." For the most part, men have more sensitive accelerators and women have more sensitive brakes—it's easier for them to lose sexual arousal. The key is figuring out what's hitting the brakes. Nagoski says it could be as simple as being distracted by grit on the sheets, or being worried someone will walk in. Or maybe it's literally cold feet—a study by Dutch scientists found that wearing socks increased a woman's chance of having an orgasm. Of course, if the sensitivity is trauma-related, Nagoski says seeing a sex therapist might be the best way to go. But for others, try to "take control of the issues you can take control of," she says.

The Head of a Major Law Enforcement Group Described Nonviolent Drug Offenders As "Peddlers of Death"

| Sat Aug. 22, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Last month, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders detained in federal prisons. Given that 35,000 nonviolent inmates had applied for reduced sentences, some activists said the clemency grant did not go far enough. Apparently, not everyone agrees.

In an opinion piece Thursday, Jon Adler, the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), blasted Obama's decision by describing these nonviolent offenders as "peddlers of death." Arguing that Obama ignored the risks of drug traffickers and instead chose to "perpetuate a narrative that these felons are harmless hippies," Adler went so far as to compare the offenders to lions in an overcrowded zoo:

With limited space, rising labor, and lodging costs, which animals would the president let go? Using the president's methodology, the lions would likely be set free. Why? They eat the most food and therefore cost the most to maintain. During the 10 years of their captivity, they haven't eaten anyone or attacked their handlers. They have no known affiliation to any violent lion groups. They are totally safe to release into the public. The president's rationale for release of these federal prisoners does not benefit the American public, nor keep it safe.

Adler's FLEOA provides testimony at congressional hearings and represents more than 25,000 federal law enforcement officers from some 65 agencies. But his description of nonviolent drug offenders seems unfair for people like Antonio Bascaro, an octogenarian grandfather in a wheelchair who has been incarcerated for 35 years because he worked on a fishing boat used by Cubans to smuggle cannabis to Florida. Or what about John Knock, a first-time offender serving life in prison for conspiracy to traffic large quantities of weed that the government never even seized? (Neither man was granted clemency.)

In an investigation of weed lifers, my colleague Bryan Schatz writes:

Every year, more people are arrested for pot possession than violent crimes. Around 40,000 people are currently serving time for offenses involving a drug that has been decriminalized or legalized in 27 states and Washington, DC. Even as Americans' attitudes toward pot have mellowed, the law has yet to catch up, leaving pot offenders subject to draconian sentences born out of the war on drugs. As David Holland, a criminal-defense attorney in New York City who filed a presidential clemency petition for marijuana lifers in 2012, puts it: "The world has changed, but these poor bastards are still sitting in jail."

It's important to note that the war on drugs has disproportionately affected black and Latino men. And Obama's clemency last month went to a group of nonviolent inmates who had served more than 10 years in prison with good behavior, and who would not have received such severe sentences under today's sentencing rules. "These men and women were not hardened criminals," the president said, adding that 14 of the 46 nonviolent offenders had been given life sentences. "So their punishments didn't fit the crime."

Trump Blasts O'Malley: "Disgusting, Little, Weak, Pathetic Baby"

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 11:58 AM EDT

Back in July, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley apologized for saying "all lives matter" to a group of Black Lives Matter activists who had interrupted one of his speeches.

"That was a mistake on my part, and I meant no disrespect," the Democratic presidential hopeful said. "I did not mean to be insensitive in any way or communicate that I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment, and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue."

Great, a well-spoken, sincere apology from a white guy who, if given the benefit of the doubt, probably just didn't know any better. Problem solved, right?


In an interview on Fox News that is set to air Saturday night, Donald Trump blasted O'Malley's apology.

"And then he apologized like a little baby, like a disgusting, little, weak, pathetic baby," Trump said. "And that's the problem with our country."

Though many will groan at an adult hurling insults at another adult for realizing he made a mistake and attempting to correct himself, O'Malley may be loving the Trump exposure, considering he has been known to participate in some good old-fashioned trolling of the real estate tycoon himself.

Mother Jones has reached out to the O'Malley campaign, and we will update if it responds.

UPDATE, {8/21/2015 4:59 PM}: Lis Smith, Mr. O'Malley's deputy campaign manager responded with the following comment:

"Governor O'Malley stands with those who have the guts to stand up to Donald Trump's hate speech. It speaks volumes about the Republican Party today that this is their frontrunner. Unlike the rest of the Republican field, we're not interested in engaging in a race to the bottom with Mr. Trump."

This Chart Will Make You Even More Pissed Off About Your Ballooning Student Debt

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Many universities spend way more managing their investment portfolios than they do helping students with tuition.

For the tens of thousands of college students who are taking out another year's worth of debt in preparation for the start of classes, here's a rage-inducing data point: Many universities spend way more managing their investment portfolios than they do assisting students with tuition.

A New York Times op-ed published Wednesday by Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego, lays out this disparity. Fleischer cited Yale University, which paid its fund managers nearly $743 million in 2014 but gave out just $170 million in scholarships. He also noted that many universities, large and small, public and private, show the same imbalance in spending. "We've lost sight of the idea that students, not fund managers, should be the primary beneficiaries of a university's endowment," he writes. "The private-equity folks get cash; students take out loans."

Fleischer provided Mother Jones with more of his data, which is gleaned from tax forms, financial statements, and annual reports. Here's how the numbers shake out at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. On average, these four wealthy, elite universities spend 70 percent more on managing their investment portfolios than they do on tuition assistance. (Complete scholarship data for 2014 was not available, and some investment management fees are estimated.)

That disparity is even more glaring when you consider the tax benefits fund managers derive from working with universities. Fleischer notes that investors typically pay their fund managers about 20 percent of their investment profits. That money, called carried interest, is taxed at a lower rate for fund managers, who can claim it as capital gains instead of income.

Some universities justify the high management fees by arguing that they ensure top financial performance for their endowments. It's true that these portfolios have done quite well: Harvard's endowment is nearly $36 billion, and Yale's is more than $25 billion, a 50 percent increase since 2009. But, writes Fleischer, a little less endowment hoarding and a little more spending, both on financial aid and other educational goals, would still allow universities' money to grow generously while eliminating the hefty tuition increases that force students to take on burdensome debt.

Fleischer proposes that when Congress moves to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this term, lawmakers should require universities with assets greater than $100 million to spend 8 percent of their endowment each year. Even doing that, universities would likely continue to get exponentially richer. As he notes, the average endowment has grown 9.2 percent annually for the past 20 years (after accounting for 4 percent annual spending), a more than respectable rate of return.

Elite schools do offer need-blind admission and some of the best financial aid for low-income students. But for many students, tuition increases still mean more loans: On paper, many middle-class students often don't qualify for large scholarships, but their families also can't afford more than $50,000 in annual tuition. More generous allocation of endowments could help to roll back that trend while also funding more teaching and research. As Fleischer writes in the Times, "Only fund managers would be worse off."