Political MoJo

GOP Senator: Lindsey Graham Is a "Bro With No Ho"

| Thu Jun. 11, 2015 4:40 PM EDT

After announcing he'd have a "rotating first lady" if elected to the White House, forever bachelor Sen. Lindsey Graham is taking some heat from fellow Republicans. But not for the reasons you might think.

"Did you see that?" Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said on Thursday, caught forever by a hot mic. "He's going to have a rotating first lady. He's a bro with no ho."

Kirk's comments, recorded by Huff Post's Sam Stein, are relatively innocuous. What could possibly be wrong with two male Republican senators in their fifties using words like "rotating" and "ho" to describe their non-game. Compared to them, Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" looks positively respectful.

Meanwhile in the real world, Graham is "dying" for the debate on abortion rights with his push for a 20-week abortion ban. Slaying it with the ladies, Lindsey.

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Bernie: Hillary's Iraq War Vote Is Fair Game

| Thu Jun. 11, 2015 3:25 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton has yet to live down the vote she cast to back the Iraq War as a senator in 2002—a vote that helped President Obama beat her in the 2008 democratic primaries. On Thursday, her 2016 rival Bernie Sanders stopped short of saying that her vote should disqualify her from being president. But there was a "but."

"I'm not here to criticize the vote she cast years ago," Sanders, the most progressive candidate in the democratic field, told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington, DC. "But what does that mean in terms of your judgment in assessing information?"

His answer didn't go as far as another 2016 Clinton challenger, former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, who doesn't believe that "anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake." Sanders' take was more forgiving: "Everybody makes bad votes in their lives and I don't think anyone is 'disqualified.'"

Sanders did throw down the gauntlet for his Democratic rival on another issue: trade. Clinton has been conspicuously silent on Congress' imminent vote on a trade promotion authority bill that would allow President Obama to move forward with a big Pacific Rim trade agreement. Sanders and many other progressive Democrats—along with tea party Republicans—oppose both the so-called "fast track" legislation and the trade deal waiting around the corner. The candidate said Thursday he is working with progressive House Democrats to defeat the legislation.

"If she's against this, we need her to speak out, right now. Right now," Sanders said. "Be for it or against it, but I don't understand how on an issue of such huge consequence you don't have an opinion."

"My own very strong view is that when you try to understand why the middle class in this country is disappearing, trade has got to be one of the issues you look at for an explanation," he said.

Jamie Dimon Doubts Elizabeth Warren "Fully Understands" Global Banking

| Thu Jun. 11, 2015 11:03 AM EDT

Jamie Dimon, the billionaire CEO of JP Morgan Chase, is concerned about Elizabeth Warren. He worries that the former Harvard Law bankruptcy professor and the senate's loudest Wall Street critic might not grasp the complexities of high finance.

"I don't know if she fully understands the global banking system," Dimon said at an executive luncheon in Chicago on Wednesday.

Although he acknowledged that Warren had a few "legitimate complaints," he ultimately doubts the Massachusetts senator understands his business.

This isn't the first time the two have clashed. In her book "A Fighting Chance," Warren wrote about a tense 2013 meeting in which Dimon expressed unhappiness with her ongoing work to strengthen financial regulations. When she eventually told him, "I think you guys are breaking the law," Warren writes Dimon suddenly got quiet and responded, "So hit me with a fine. We can afford it."

That's for sure. JP Morgan Chase was one of five of the world's largest banks hit with a total $5.7 billion fine after pleading guilty to global currency manipulation charges. Add to that, the $13 billion settlement it paid because of its funding of bad mortgages. Nonetheless, in the fourth quarter of 2014 alone, the company reaped in a $4.9 billion profit.

But Dimon proves to be far more benevolent than Warren may realize. On Wednesday, he kindly offered to sit down with the senator whenever she wants so he could explain Global Banking 101 to her—one transaction at a time.

Michelle Obama Delivers Powerful Call for Chicago Students to Rise Above City's Tragedies

| Wed Jun. 10, 2015 1:49 PM EDT

More than two years after the death of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old student who was fatally shot in a Chicago park just a week after participating in a march in Washington to celebrate President Obama's second inauguration, Michelle Obama delivered a powerful speech to the girl's graduating class on Tuesday.

In her commencement speech at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory, the first lady, who attended Pendleton's funeral in 2013,  honored the girl's memory and urged students to rise above the city's rampant gang violence. An empty chair decorated with flowers and Pendleton's favorite color purple sat as a tribute to Pendleton in Tuesday's ceremony.

"I know the struggles many of you face, how you walk the long way home to avoid the gangs; how you fight to concentrate on your schoolwork when there's too much noise at home; how you keep it together when your family's having a hard time making ends meet," Obama said. "But more importantly, I know the strength of this community."

Obama grew up in Chicago's south side where the school is located and she spoke about being raised in the neighborhood because she wanted "people across this country to know that story; the real story of the South Side." She described the "quiet majority of good folks—families like mine and young people like all of you who face real challenges but make good choices every single day." Obama told the graduates, "I'm here tonight because I want you all to know, graduates, that with your roots in this community and your education from this school, you have everything you need to succeed."

"Hadiya's memory is truly a blessing and an inspiration to me and to my husband, and to people across this country and around the world, and we are so grateful for her family's presence here tonight," she added. "Love you all. Love you so much."

Honduran President Decides That Going to an Event Called "Disrupting Democracy" Isn't Such a Good Idea

| Wed Jun. 10, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
A protester outside the Disrupting Democracy event, where the Honduran president had been scheduled to speak.

On Monday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was expected to appear in San Francisco to talk about his efforts to cede a chunk of his impoverished Central American nation to an international group of investors who want to create an autonomous, self-governing, libertarian paradise. There was one problem, however: His talk was part of a speaker series called Disrupting Democracy, which may be a better venue for someone like Rand Paul than the beneficiary of a military coup who won office using funds allegedly embezzled from the national social security system.

Hernández and his deputies skipped Disrupting Democracy due to "civil unrest," according the event's organizers. On Sunday, 8,000 protesters had marched through the capital city of Tegucigalpa calling for his ouster.

"Before we begin, I would like to apologize for some confused messaging," said panelist Randy Hencken, who directs the Seasteading Institute, which promotes the creation of floating technoutopian nation-states and cosponsored the event. "Here in Silicon Valley, when we want to improve something, we say 'disrupt,'" Hencken continued. "Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."

At least a dozen anti-Hernández protesters showed up oustide the event, which was held at the South of Market headquarters of Lincoln Labs, a tech incubator cofounded by a former Mitt Romney campaign staffer.

"Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."

The first Disrupting Democracy event, held in May, featured Paul discussing the growth of "a new generation of voter engagement." Any subject that appeals to both libertarians and techies appears to interest Lincoln Labs, which was founded in 2013 to serve "liberty advocates living in Silicon Valley"—"a forgotten community that felt ostracized with no home." Other Lincoln Labs events include its Reboot conferences and hackathons focusing on the technology of political campaigning.

Everyone at Monday's event seemed to agree that the Honduran scheme, known as Zones for Employment and Economic Development, or ZEDEs, now seemed imperiled—a discouraging turn, given Hernández's close cooperation with antitax crusader Grover Norquist and high-ranking representatives of the libertarian Cato and Hayek Institutes.

Yet the seasteaders were undeterred, even emboldened. If Honduras didn't want to create a Hong-Kong style city on its coast, maybe it would host a floating city in its territorial waters. "That gets rid of complaints of ceding over large portions of land," noted Seasteading Institute member Mike Doty, who had a long gray beard and a pirate-skull-patterned bandanna. "On the Pacific side, there's a large bay there…They've done the engineering studies, the feasibility studies. We're pretty far along."

One thing that can never be disrupted, it seems, is the vision of a technolibertarian.

Israel and Palestine Would Make $173 Billion If They Stopped Fighting Today

| Tue Jun. 9, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

There are many reasons to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to a recent study, there might even be 173 billion reasons.

Researchers at the Rand Corporation's Center for Middle East Public Policy recently mounted a study to determine the net economic costs and benefits of various alternatives in the Middle East over the next ten years. They looked at five possible scenarios: a two state solution; a coordinated unilateral withdrawal of 60,000 Israelis from much of the West Bank, with 75 percent of the cost covered by the international community and 25 percent of the bill footed by Israel; an uncoordinated unilateral withdrawal, in which only 30,000 Israeli settlers leave the West Bank and Israel bankrolls the withdrawal completely; nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israel through boycotts of Israeli products in the region, and diplomatic efforts in the UN; and a violent Palestinian uprising beginning Gaza, with the potential to spread to the West Bank and involve players like Hezbollah.

The study asserts that the two-state solution is most profitable, and could allow Israel to gain $123 billion by 2024. Assuming that an agreement is reached and Israel retreats to the 1967 borders (save for agreed-upon swapped territories), 100,000 Israeli settlers relocated from the West Bank to Israel, Palestinian trade and travel restrictions are lifted, and up to 600,000 refugees are returned to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza, the changes in "direct and opportunity costs"—among them a projected 20 percent increase in tourism and a 150 percent increase in Palestinian trade—would be immediate boons. The peace would bring the cessation of Arab country trade sanctions and with it, a raise of Israel's GDP by $23 billion over what it would have been under the status quo. Palestine would pocket over $50 billion under these conditions. Palestinians would see an average per capita income increase of approximately 36 percent. Under such a peace accord, Israelis would experience a 5 percent increase in income.

Conversely, the study found that "a return to violence would have profoundly negative economic consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis." Specifically, it estimates that per capita GDP would fall by 46 percent in Gaza and the West Bank, and by 10 percent in Israel.

The study was posted with an interactive calculator that allows users to estimate GDP increases and decreases with changes in the Israeli defense budget or an influx of Palestinian workers in Israel.

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Top Campaign Watchdog Petitions Her Own Agency to Do Its Job

| Mon Jun. 8, 2015 6:02 PM EDT

The Federal Election Commission should just do its job already.

That's not a #hottake. It's the formal opinion of the chairwoman of the FEC itself.

In a sign of how bad things have gotten at the government watchdog tasked with keeping federal elections clean, chairwoman Ann Ravel and fellow Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub filed a petition with their own agency this morning pleading for campaign finance rules to be enforced this election cycle. The move is not likely to have earth-shattering consequences, but it's a sign of desperation—when even the officials who are supposed to be enforcing the law throw up their hands and file a complaint about themselves, to themselves, because there's no one else to complain to, things are officially off-the-rails.

"People will say: 'You're the chair of the commission. You should work from within.' I tried," Ravel told CNN Monday. "We needed to take more creative avenues to try and get public disclosure."

Petitions are almost always filed by outsiders hoping to change policy. The FEC chief now counts herself as one of those outsiders.

The Cop Caught on Video Shooting Walter Scott Was Just Charged With Murder

| Mon Jun. 8, 2015 2:05 PM EDT

On Monday, a South Carolina grand jury indicted former North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager on a murder charge for the April shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man whose death, caught on video, sparked national outcry over police conduct.  

The New York Times reports:

The former officer, Michael T. Slager, had been jailed on a murder charge since April 7, when the video became public. Mr. Slager's lawyers have so far made no request for bail, and his indictment in Charleston County had been widely expected. The North Charleston Police Department fired him after the shooting, which city officials criticized in stark and unsparing terms.

Despite the intensive publicity surrounding the shooting, Scarlett A. Wilson, the local prosecutor, said Monday that she believed a local jury could be impaneled and would be able to arrive at an unbiased verdict. A trial date has not been set.

Slager became one of at least three white officers to be charged in the shooting death of an unarmed black man in South Carolina over the past year. As Mother Jones has previously reported, Slager's indictment is rare, given how few cases result in charges.

A Federal Appeals Court Just Denied Birthright Citizenship to American Samoans Using Racist Caselaw

| Fri Jun. 5, 2015 3:55 PM EDT

American Samoans are the only people born on United States soil but denied birthright citizenship. And so it will remain—at least for now.

On Friday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship does not apply to island territories including American Samoa. Agreeing with the Obama administration's lawyers, the DC Circuit relied on and even expanded the scope of a set of racially-charged, Colonial-era cases that refer to "savages" and "alien races" to reach their decision.

(Mother Jones covered this case back in February; on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver subsequently included the issue in a segment on rights in US territories.)

Opposing a group of American Samoans seeking birthright citizenship, the US government based its argument on a set of cases legal scholars have denounced as racist and imperialist. Known as the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court in the early years of the 20th century created a distinction between the rights of newly acquired island territories such as American Samoa and Puerto Rico and territories such as Arizona that they assumed would one day become states—and which were increasingly populated by white people. As Mother Jones reported back in February:

Justice Henry Brown—famous as the author of Plessy v. Ferguson, which gave the court's blessing to segregation—refers to the inhabitants of the new territories as "savage" and "alien races" in the Insular Cases. Brown contended that Congress would treat the territories well because it was guided by "certain principles of natural justice inherent in the Anglo-Saxon character." His colleague, Justice Edward White, hypothesized in one case that granting citizenship to an "uncivilized race" in a new territory would "inflict grave detriment on the United States" from "the immediate bestowal of citizenship on those absolutely unfit to receive it."

The DC Circuit's unanimous opinion attempts to distance itself from this controversial history before ultimately relying on the Insular Cases to rule against the American Samoans. Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel of the court—comprised of the three most conservative justices on the DC Circuit—Judge Janice Rogers Brown first denounced the Insular Cases as "without parallel in our judicial history" for the "manner in which the results were reached, the incongruity of the results, and the variety of inconsistent views expressed by the different members of the court." Brown also acknowledged, in the politest way possible, that "some aspects of the Insular Cases' analysis may now be deemed politically incorrect."

Nevertheless, the DC Circuit found them "both applicable and of pragmatic use in assessing the applicability of rights to unincorporated territories." In fact, the court expanded the scope of the Insular Cases, becoming the first court to explicitly apply the Insular Cases to the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That wasn't the only way the DC Circuit's opinion broke ground in this case. As Neil Weare, the civil rights lawyer who argued the case in February on behalf of a group of American Samoans, noted in a statement Friday, "Today marks the first time a federal court of appeals has ruled that citizenship by birth on US soil is not a fundamental right."

Though the group of American Samoans lost on Friday, their chances of winning an appeal to the entire DC Circuit—which is more liberal than the three conservative judges randomly selected to hear this case—could be higher.

Most of the Suspects Accused of Attacking Malala Yousafzai Were Secretly Acquitted

| Fri Jun. 5, 2015 3:28 PM EDT
Malala Yousafzai

Eight of the ten men accused of shooting of education rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai were secretly acquitted, according to reports released today by the Pakistani government. Following a trial at a military facility in April, news spread that the 10 Taliban gunmen who were accused of involvement in the 2012 attack on Yousafzai had confessed and were sentenced to 25 years in prison—the longest possible sentence in Pakistan.

But after reporters from the British newspaper the Daily Mirror were unable to locate the 10 in Pakistani prisons, the court published new findings that revealed only two had in fact been convicted and the rest had been quietly released due to "lack of evidence."

The Pakistani officials who failed to correct the initial reporting now deny confirming the convictions, and the New York Times reports that the government will likely seek an appeal for the decision.

Yousafzai was 15 at the time of the attack and has since become a global voice for girls' education rights. In 2013 she published a memoir, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, and the following year, at the age of 17 she became the youngest Nobel Peace Peace Prize winner. She is currently attending school in Britain, where she and her family have relocated.