Political MoJo

Volkswagen CEO Quits As Pollution-Cheating Scandal Envelops Automaker

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 10:23 AM EDT

On Wednesday morning, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn announced that he will be stepping down from his position as chief of the German automaker. His departure comes in the wake of a scandal that forced the car company to admit it violated US law by using software to cheat on pollution tests. Winterkorn has been the company's CEO since 2007.

"I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group," Winterkorn said in an announcement. He maintains he was not aware of the piece of software that allowed cars to evade emissions controls.

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

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Pope Francis Forcefully Urges America to Save the Planet

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 9:12 AM EDT

President Barack Obama welcomed Pope Francis to the White House Wednesday morning to loud cheers from thousands gathered to greet the leader of the Catholic church—in a city that has virtually shut down for the historic event. The ceremony marks the first time that Pope Francis has visited the United States and kicks off a much anticipated three-city tour that includes Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City.

During his first address in the United States, Francis pulled no punches when talking about one of the defining issues of his leadership, calling on Americans to protect our "common home" and act on climate change with a sense of urgency—a stance that many Republicans have criticized.

"It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation," Francis said, in slow but forceful English.

"We know by faith that the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home."

He is scheduled to speak before Congress on Thursday, where he is expected bring his climate agenda directly to lawmakers.

President Obama also took the opportunity to praise Francis's stance on climate change, telling the pope: "you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet—God's magnificent gift to us." Watch below:

Solitary Confinement Coffee May Be the Worst Branding Idea Ever

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 4:23 PM EDT
Jailhouse Coffee

Do prison cells sell? That seems to be the idea behind Solitary Sumatra, an organic, fair trade coffee blend sold by Jailhouse Coffee, a newish small-batch roastery in New York City. The coffee is not made by prisoners or ex-felons and the company's only connection to incarceration is that, according to its website, "there is a 'bighouse' just near the roastery" in Queens.

The 83 marks scratched into the coffee bag far surpass the 15 days the United Nations specifies as the maximum amount of time anyone should spend in solitary confinement. Anything beyond that "constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than 80,000 prisoners are in isolation at a given time in the United States. Some of these are the "worst of the worst," but many are not. In New York, prisoners have been thrown in the hole for "wasting food" or having an "untidy cell or person." On Rikers Island, not far from Queens, 16-year-old Kalief Browder spent long stretches in solitary confinement during the three years he spent in pretrial detention for allegedly stealing a backpack. Two years after his release, he committed suicide. Nearly two out of five suicides in prison happen in solitary confinement. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, President Obama, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy have spoken out against the excessive use of solitary confinement in this country.

So who thought solitary confinement would make a good branding idea? Is it just hipster irony that makes our prison system's most extreme aspects somehow cute? Perhaps it's the Orange Is The New Black effect, a consequence of the popularization and romanticization of prison life. (Like the woman who dressed a girl in an orange jumpsuit and blackface for Halloween last year.)

I couldn't reach anyone at the company to explain their marketing strategy. So far, they seem to have gotten little flack for their brand, though one person has taken it upon himself to circulate a petition asking the company to change its name. Jailhouse Coffee's blends also include Solitary Peru, Good Behavior Organic Blend, and Chain Gang Espresso, which harkens to the time when black prisoners were used as free labor across the South.

Pope Francis Just Arrived For His First Visit to the United States

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 3:21 PM EDT
Pope Francis waves while riding through Santiago de Cuba

By Scott Malone and Philip Pullella

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (Reuters) - Pope Francis arrived on his first visit to the United States on Tuesday, bringing to Washington a message that its power and wealth should be made to serve humanity, and not the other way around.

An Alitalia plane carrying the Argentine-born leader of the world's 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic church touched down at Joint Base Andrews after a flight from Cuba.

Schoolchildren who gathered on the tarmac to welcome Francis cheered as the plane descended. "We love Francis, yes we do. We love Francis, how about you?" they chanted.

In a sign of the importance that the White House gives to the visit, President Barack Obama took the unusual step of traveling to the air base with his family to welcome Francis.

The two men meet again on Wednesday at the White House, after which the 78-year-old pope will parade past Washington's major monuments before a crowd expected to reach tens of thousands.

The pontiff has electrified liberal-leaning U.S. Catholics with his shift in emphasis towards forgiveness and concern for the poor. He has dismayed some conservative followers with comments of concern over climate change and a pivot away from messages focused on the church's ban on birth control and opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Francis was also expected to talk about immigration during his six-day visit, a top issue for him since his first days as pope in 2013.

He will make the first address by any pope to the U.S. Congress on Thursday, a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Friday and an open-air Mass in Philadelphia where 1.5 million people are expected to attend.

Francis spent four days in Cuba, where he urged a continued reconciliation between the Communist-run island and its superpower neighbor, building on a new detente he helped to broker earlier this year.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton at Joint Base Andrews and Laila Kearney in Philadelphia; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

Sexual Violence on Campus Is Even Worse Than We Thought

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 1:52 PM EDT

The Association of American Universities released findings Monday from one of the largest-ever surveys on college sexual violence—comprising more than 150,000 students across 27 colleges—and they paint a bleak picture of sexual assault on college campuses. 

The survey asked students whether they had experienced events ranging from sexual touching to forcible penetration. If they answered affirmatively, they were asked follow-up questions about the circumstances and the event's aftermath, including whether they reported the incident to law enforcement or a campus authority. Some scenarios that appeared in the survey fit the legal definitions for rape and sexual battery, while others involved incidents that universities typically consider to be sexual misconduct. Other questions measured attitudes toward campus sexual assault and how often students intervened when they observed potentially risky situations.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • More than 1 in 5 undergraduate women are victims of sexual assault. The AAU's findings suggest sexual-assault rates are slightly higher than the widely cited yet disputed statistic that 1 in 5 college women are victims of sexual assault. According to the survey, 23 percent of female respondents said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact due to physical force, under the threat of physical force, or while they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Among seniors nearing graduation, that number rises to 1 in 3.
  • In the last academic year alone, 11 percent of respondents said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. That's around 16,500 students across the 27 institutions.
  • First-year students are are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. Sixteen percent of freshman women said they experienced sexual contact under physical force or incapacitation. 
  • The vast majority of students don't report sexual assault or misconduct. While most victims said they confided in a friend, family member or someone else, only 26 percent of students who experienced forcible penetration filed an official report. More than half of those victims said they didn't consider the event serious enough to go to the authorities, while one-third of said they were "embarrassed, ashamed, or that it would be too emotionally difficult." Others said they "did not think anything would be done about it." Students were much more likely to report certain kinds of events than others, with reports filed by 28 percent of stalking victims but only 5 percent of those who experienced unwanted sexual touching while they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.​
  • Transgender and gender-nonconforming students experience sexual assault and misconduct at higher rates than their peers. These students comprised 1.5 percent of survey respondents, but nearly 40 percent of seniors identifying with this group said they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact in college, compared to a third of senior women. They're also less likely to believe the university will conduct a fair investigation or take their reports seriously.
  • Response rates were low. About 19 percent of students across the 27 universities chose to respond to the online survey, which was conducted during a three-week period in April. The survey notes that nonvictims may be less likely to participate, skewing incidence rates slightly upward. Still, final participation rates were well below the the rates of similar studies.

At least 12 of the colleges that released results on Monday are currently facing federal scrutiny from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights for their handling of sexual-assault cases under federal Title IX standards. Several universities on the list have been found in violation of Title IX, including the University of Virginia, Harvard University, Yale University, and Michigan State University.

Given a range of responses across institutions, the study's authors caution against generalizing the results on a national scale. As Slate points out, the researchers declined to explain the variation in sexual-assault rates or students' attitudes at different institutions. "The analyses did not find a clear explanation for why there is such wide variation," the authors write. "Some university characteristics, such as size, were correlated with certain outcomes. But the correlation is not particularly strong."

This post has been updated.


Fired Scott Walker Aide Is Tweeting Up a Shitstorm About What He Did Wrong

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 4:20 PM EDT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will announce at 6 p.m. Monday that he is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The move is surprising—Walker was, until recently, a favorite among major Republican donors—but not unforeseeable. In the past two months, Walker's support in the Iowa caucuses, the first voting contest of the race, has plummeted, from first in the polls to seventh. His campaign has already racked up six figures in debt to campaign vendors. And he clocked the least amount of time out of the 11 Republicans who shared the stage in the latest GOP presidential debate.

Immediately after the announcement, Liz Mair, a digital strategist for Walker's bid who was fired for tweeting negatively about Iowa, began spouting her thoughts about why Walker's campaign failed to attract enough money and momentum to keep it afloat. For example, "Hiring people who spent a lot to build out a massive operation that would not be sustainable unless financing remained amazing forever." Here's a selection:

Read the rest here.

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Scott Walker Is Reportedly Dropping Out of the Presidential Race

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 3:23 PM EDT

Scott Walker is preparing to announce that he is dropping out of the race for the White House. The New York Times reports three Republicans confirmed the decision:

“The short answer is money,” said a supporter of Mr. Walker’s who was briefed on the decision. “He’s made a decision not to limp into Iowa.”

The Wisconsin governor, who is polling at less than one-half of 1 percent, will hold a press conference at 5 p.m. central time.

A perfect time for Walker to start focusing his attention on this other little problem.

Donald Trump Talked to Twitter Today and It Wasn’t Insane. His Campaign May Be Doomed.

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 2:14 PM EDT

In an attempt to showcase a bit of social media savvy—which thus far has been astonishingly lacking—Donald Trump's campaign stopped by Twitter today to give voters an opportunity to freely query the Republican front-runner using the hashtag #AskTrump.

While the resulting responses didn't exactly match Trump's usual penchant for offensive, unfiltered candor, the poorly lit videos did provide a closer glimpse at what a Trump White House and its policies could look like. Take a look at what your future with President Trump may have in store:

But don't let these videos fool you—#AskTrump was roundly ridiculed by the internet. Here are some of the best takes:

Overall, the chat was remarkably unremarkable. Does this newly tame Trump signal that his momentum is finally dwindling? Stay tuned.

"Jaywalking" Video Shows 9 Police Officers Tackling 16-Year-Old Boy

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 3:25 PM EDT

Police in Stockton, California, are under scrutiny after a disturbing video emerged online this week showing nine officers roughly forcing a 16-year-old black teenager to the ground.

The teenager, who has not been identified, was asked by a police officer to walk on the sidewalk, Stockton Police Officer Joseph Silva told VICE News. Bystanders in the video can be heard saying the boy was "jaywalking."

The video of the Tuesday confrontation begins with one officer screaming for the teenager—who is sitting in the fetal position—to stop resisting arrest, as the officer presses his baton forcefully against the teenager's legs. In the background, bystanders can be heard screaming, "He's a goddamn kid! Get off of him."

"He didn't do nothing wrong," one woman tells the officer. "That is a child who was jaywalking."

At one point during the struggle, the officer appears to hit the boy in the face with the baton, and the boy can be heard crying. Later, eight back-up officers arrive at the scene and can be seen tackling the boy to the ground.

The video, recorded by bystander Edgar Avendaño, who uploaded it onto his Facebook page this week, describes the violent incident. Here's an accompanying note from Avendaño's Facebook page.

The kid got stopped for "jaywalking" when he barely stepped out of the bus he was 2 feet away from the sidewalk when the cop stopped him for "jaywalking". The cop was telling him to take a sit but the teen kept walking to his bus but the cop kept grabbing his arm & the kid took off the cop's hand off his arm so the cop took out his baton & that's when I started recording because everything happened too quick. He didn't have to hit the kid with the baton & no need to call about 20 cops. And as you can see his body cam is on the floor. Smh

"For safety reasons, the officer told the young man to get on the sidewalk," Silva, the Stockton police officer, told VICE News. "After the teenager refused to comply and used obscene language, the officer went over and a [sic] there was a scuffle."

The boy's family has filed a complaint. The police are reviewing the incident, which is customary, but an early review showed the officers' actions were within department policy, officials have said.

As the video has gained publicity, people have flocked to the police department's Facebook page to condemn the incident.

Here's an Amazing Video of Presidential Candidates Dancing. You're So Welcome.

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 3:13 PM EDT

Did you know there are more than 400 days to go in the race for the White House? But don't forget about the dance for the White House! Who's winning that? We've compiled some of the candidates' best moves, from the past and present, so you can judge for yourself. Hillary Clinton's life in the spotlight has obviously afforded her many opportunities to dance her heart out. But you can't miss Donald Trump's bizarre cameo at the 2005 prime-time Emmy Awards in overalls singing the theme song from Green Acres with actress Megan Mullally from Will and Grace. I mean, wow.