Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 31, 2014

Thu Jul. 31, 2014 12:12 PM EDT

US Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division participate in a training mission in Florida. (US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Callaway.)

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The Feds Are Demanding That Twitter Turn Over More User Info Than Ever

| Thu Jul. 31, 2014 11:54 AM EDT

US law enforcement and intelligence agencies are hitting Twitter with more information requests about its users than ever before, and in most cases the social network is handing over some data, according to a new report released by the company on Thursday. Twitter notes that many of the government demands, which are typically related to criminal investigations, are originating from California, New York, and Virginia. They're coming from federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence officials, a Twitter spokesman says.

Like several other tech companies, Twitter releases transparency reports disclosing information about the government requests for user data it has received. According to the latest report, between January 1 and June 30, Twitter received just over 2,000 requests for information covering about 3,100 Twitter accounts from authorities in 54 countries, with about 1,250 of those requests coming from US agencies. That's a sharp increase from the previous six months, when there were about 1,400 requests, around 830 of those from the US. According to the Twitter spokesman, US authorities have placed more information requests over the last six months than the company has ever received in a similar timeframe.

While Twitter granted zero requests to some countries that requested information recently, such as Turkey, Venezuela, and Pakistan, the social network handed over at least some information in 72 percent of the cases when US authorities requested it.

While the social network can report a tally of law enforcement-related requests, the social network is barred by the US government from publishing the specific number of national security-related requests—such as national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders—it has received. Twitter notes that it met with the FBI and the Justice Department earlier this year to push for more transparency.

Gaza Conflict Divides Congressional Progressives

| Thu Jul. 31, 2014 9:22 AM EDT
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), left, and Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) survey the rubble of the American International School in Gaza in 2009.

With the war in Gaza continuing without an end in sight, congressional leaders are rallying to condemn Hamas rocket attacks and support Israel. But members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have been divided over the conflict, with some commending Israel's military for its use of precision weapons and others outraged by the conflict’s mounting Palestinian civilian causalities. 

The division was clear on July 29 when caucus co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who has visited Gaza three times since 2009 and previously condemned the Israeli blockade of Gaza, published an op-ed in the Washington Post that highlighted recent Palestinian civilian casualties—including four children who were "blown up on a beach" by an Israeli attack. He noted that most Gaza residents "aren't rocket shooters or combatants. For the past several years they have lived in dreadful isolation. The status quo for ordinary Gazans is a continuation of no jobs and no freedom." Ellison again called for an end to Israel's blockade and urged Hamas to give up its rockets: "There is no military solution to this conflict. The status quo brings only continued pain, suffering and war."  

Yet this is not the consensus view within the 65-member Progressive Caucus that Ellison co-leads. In recent weeks, other caucus members have focused on the rocket attacks launched against Israel and lent their support to its aggressive military reaction.

Toward the start of Israel's air campaign in Gaza, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a stalwart liberal representing Manhattan's Upper West Side, issued a statement condemning Gaza's rocket attacks and calling for the public to support Israel "to take whatever measure she deems necessary to defend the population against the attempted murder by these terrorists." Nadler attended a rally in front of New York's city hall with other prominent New York Democrats to express support for Israel's actions in Gaza. Two days later, on July 16, caucus member Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) issued a statement with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) calling for solidarity with Israel.

"Israel has gone far beyond what we have seen any other country do trying to protect the civilian population of its enemy," Nadler said. Frankel and Deutch similarly praised the Israeli military for using "pinpoint technology to minimize any collateral damage." So far more than 800 Palestinian civilians, including 232 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza as of July 30.

Last week, Progressive Caucus member Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a psychiatrist by training, condemned Israel’s attacks on hospitals. "The proximity of military targets or the suspicion of hidden weapons and militants is an invalid excuse in the targeting of a hospital or ambulance," he said in a statement.

"You should not be put in danger in a medical situation by someone alleging that there's some reason they should attack a hospital or doctor," he tells Mother Jones

On July 18, Ellison and five other representatives—all progressive caucus members—signed a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry calling for the White House and the State Department to "redouble your efforts" to press for a cease fire in Gaza. Contrast that to 2009, when 54 House Democrats signed a letter drafted by Ellison and McDermott urging the president "to work for tangible improvements to the humanitarian concerns" in Gaza. 

As for Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who co-chairs the caucus with Ellison, he has not said much publicly about the current war in Gaza. Although he signed the 2009 letter, he did not lend his name to the July 18 call for a cease fire. His office did not respond to requests for comment.

Watch: UN Agency Spokesman Breaks Down In Tears While Talking About Gaza School Bombing

| Wed Jul. 30, 2014 9:07 PM EDT
Women mourn after an attack on a UN-run school in Gaza July 24.

United Nations Relief Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness has been talking to media outlets around the world about the situation in Gaza, "advocating passionately," as he puts it, "for Palestine refugees to enjoy all their rights to the full, including the right to a just and durable solution." Gunness' agency runs schools in Gaza that are being used as shelters by Palestinian families and have been attacked six times in the current conflict (the Israeli military says it has found rockets in the schools on occasion). On Wednesday he was talking to an Al Jazeera interviewer about the most recent school bombing, which reportedly left 15 dead. "The rights of Palestinians, even their children, are wholesale denied, and it's appalling," he said before breaking into tears. Watch:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 30, 2014

Wed Jul. 30, 2014 1:17 PM EDT

The USS George Washington conducts flight operations east of Okinawa. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Beverly J. Lesonik.)

Fast-Food Workers Just Took McDonald’s Down a Notch

| Wed Jul. 30, 2014 12:55 PM EDT

On Tuesday evening, the federal government dealt a huge blow to McDonald’s, which has for over a year and a half been the target of worker protests and lawsuits over its low wages and questionable labor practices.

McDonald’s has long maintained that as a parent company, it cannot be held liable for the decisions individual franchises make about pay and working conditions. On Tuesday, the general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that this is nonsense, saying that the $5.6 billion company is indeed responsible for employment practices at its local franchises. That means that the company is no longer shielded from dozes of charges pending at regional NLRB offices around the country alleging illegal employment practices.

"McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there's no two ways about it," Micah Wissinger, an attorney who brought a case on behalf of New York City McDonald's workers said in a statement Tuesday. "The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple."

The Fast-Food Workers Committee along with the Service Employees International Union has filed numerous complaints against the company with the NLRB since November 2012. Most recently, workers filed seven class action lawsuits against McDonald’s corporate and its franchises in three states alleging wage theft. The NLRB consolidated all these complaints into the case it decided on Tuesday, which focused on whether McDonald's corporate can be considered as a "joint employer" along with the owner of the franchise.

Since the fall of 2012, fast-food workers at McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC franchises around the country have been striking to demand a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. The strikes recently went global. Organizers say Tuesday's ruling will lend workers new momentum in their ongoing battle against the fast-food mega-chain.

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Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic Will Remain Open—For Now

| Tue Jul. 29, 2014 3:47 PM EDT

The last abortion clinic in Mississippi has been on the brink of closure for nearly two years. But the fight to shutter the Jackson Women's Health Organization may have ended Tuesday, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the strict anti-abortion measure that would have closed its doors forever.

The court fight to save the clinic began in 2012, after state lawmakers passed a bill requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital—or else face criminal charges. Restrictive anti-abortion bills had already closed several clinics in the state, and, had the Fifth Circuit not ruled against the state, Mississippi was poised to become the first state since Roe v. Wade without a single abortion provider.

Attorneys for the Jackson Women's Health Organization argued that admitting privileges were unconstitutional and not medically necessary for the safety of its clients. (The clinic, after all, already had a patient-transfer agreement with a local hospital for rare cases in which a patient required hospitalization.) A federal judge was receptive to this argument and blocked the law from going into effect; in response, the state of Mississippi appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit.

Take a look inside Mississippi's last abortion clinic.

Amid the legal wrangling, the Jackson Women's Health Organization attempted to obtain admitting privileges to comply with the law. As Mother Jones has reported, all seven hospitals where the Jackson Women's Health Organization was eligible for admitting privileges turned the clinic down. This was partly because its providers travel to Mississippi from out of state, and partly because hospitals refused to be associated with abortion.

As Mother Jones reported in 2012:

The doctors' applications have been rejected by every hospital they've approached. Two hospitals wouldn't let them apply at all. Five others denied the applications for "administrative" reasons, before even completely reviewing the doctors' qualifications. Their rejection letters cited their policies regarding abortion and "concern about disruption to the hospital's business within the community." The clinic wrote follow-up letters to make sure the hospitals understood that the doctors were only seeking privileges to comply with the new law and wouldn't actually be providing abortions at the hospital, but no dice.

Abortion rights advocates feared that the Fifth Circuit would be hostile to such claims. A three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit upheld a very similar Texas law in March. Appeals courts in the Fourth and Eighth Circuits have also upheld admitting privilege laws.

But on Tuesday, the appeals court ruled, "Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state." It is not yet clear if the state will appeal to the US Supreme Court. But the decision—short of intervention from high court—means the clinic will remain open for the foreseeable future.

Anyone With a Concealed Carry Permit Can Now Come Dangerously Close to the White House

| Mon Jul. 28, 2014 4:16 PM EDT

A federal judge has ordered the District of Columbia to stop enforcing its restrictions on carrying handguns on the streets of the nation's capital. The decision also forced the District government to allow out-of-state concealed carry and open carry permit holders to wield their weapons within steps of the White House.

Senior District Court Judge Fredrick Scullin Jr., ruling from his regular post in Syracuse, New York, said that the case is a no-brainer. Based on the US Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in DC v. Heller, which validated the individual right to bear arms, Scullin said the city's gun laws were clearly unconstitutional. He sided with the plaintiffs, who argued that while the city passed a law requiring a permit to carry a handgun in public, it then refused to grant them to anyone who planned to carry their weapons outside their homes, a move that violated the Second Amendment.

The Heller case, spearheaded by Alan Gura, the same lawyer who won this weekend's ruling, struck down DC's long-standing ban on the ownership of handguns. But in complying with the ruling, the city passed new laws in 2008 that were so restrictive that, the court said, they still prevented virtually anyone from getting a license to carry a handgun outside of their homes. And that, Scullin said, just won't fly.

The potential implications of the decision are enormous, should it be allowed to stand. The District of Columbia is unlike any other American city. It's filled with important federal agency buildings, monuments, courthouses, not to mention the White House. Visiting dignitaries, heads of state, and many members of Congress travel its streets on a daily basis.

DC is also home to large public events attended by all manner of VIPs, including presidential inaugurations, which are difficult enough to secure without the prospect of gun-toting citizens joining the fray. The security apparatus in DC is intense. And assassination attempts aren't unheard of. Former Mayor Marion Barry Jr. was shot in 1977 in the DC Council building. John Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan as he left the Washington Hilton. There was also the 2013 Navy Yard shooting that left 12 people dead. DC is a magnet for crazy people with guns, something law enforcement officials have long recognized.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier testified before Congress in 2008 against a bill pending in the House that would have accomplished what Scullin's ruling effectively did, overturning the city's gun laws. She noted that in order to watch the oral arguments in the Heller case, she had to leave her gun behind. No weapons are allowed inside the very building where the justices decided that the city's gun restrictions were just too restrictive.

Many of those type of restrictions in DC will remain in place, regardless of Scullin's ruling. Both DC and federal laws will still allow the government to bar the bearing of arms in certain places, including federal buildings, schools, the Capitol, etc. Traversing the District without encountering terrain that prohibits guns would be difficult. Just crossing the trendy DuPont Circle neighborhood might entail stepping foot on federal parkland, where guns are barred.

Even so, the ruling, which took effect almost immediately, could put a lot more guns into a city that's spent untold millions trying to secure and defend against terrorist and other public safety threats. The plaintiffs in the case that prompted Scullin's ruling, Palmer v. DC, argue that DC's gun laws need to be overturned for the benefit of law-abiding citizens. The plaintiffs are all described as upstanding folks just looking to defend themselves on the mean streets of DC (or at least not get arrested for having a gun in the car, as one of them did). But, as any number of recent gun-related massacres can attest, not all legal gun owners are sane, stable, or well intentioned.

The Violence Policy Center has been keeping a running tally of all the people in the US who've been killed by people legally carrying a concealed weapon. Since 2007, that figure has reached 644, and it includes 14 law enforcement officers. Fewer than 20 of those deaths were deemed lawful self-defense. There's a good reason why DC has banned the open or concealed carrying of weapons by ordinary citizens for 150 years. But thanks to the US Supreme Court, and now Judge Scullin, those common sense practices may go out the door. 

Scullin's ruling, at least in the near-term, is likely to be short-lived. The District has asked the court to stay its decision and let the city's current laws stand until it can formally appeal the ruling or until it can revise its laws to meet constitutional scrutiny.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 28, 2014

Mon Jul. 28, 2014 9:43 AM EDT

US Marines take cover behind a barrier after tossing a grenade at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii during Rim of the Pacific Exercise 2014. (Photo by Sgt. Sarah Dietz.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 24, 2014

Fri Jul. 25, 2014 9:00 AM EDT

US Navy sailors participate in a replenishment-at-sea on a scheduled deployment aboard the USS Oscar Austin guided-missile destroyer. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class DJ Revell.)