Political MoJo

This Extremist Group Vows to Picket the Charleston Funerals. Anonymous Vows to Stop Them.

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 4:43 PM EDT

Westboro Baptist Church, the notorious group of religious extremists that is basically just one family, has said it will attempt to picket the funerals of people killed in the Charleston shootings. In recent tweets, Westboro has suggested the shooting was God's punishment for late pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pickney's having supported Hillary Clinton.

Protesting at funerals is a tactic the group has also tried (unsuccessfully) at burial services following other mass killings, including for victims of the Tucson shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing. But before the Kansas-based hate group can wave its familiar "God Sent the Shooter" signs for the TV cameras, it may have to overcome opposition from the hactivist group Anonymous.

"While it is doubtful these idiots will show up, it is critical that Anonymous have a well-prepared presence on the ground in Charleston," the group said in a press release announcing "Operation Shut Down Westboro Baptist Church." Coordinated by the Anonymous faction Operation Ferguson, which got its start with the Black Lives Matter protests, the effort will reportedly involve surrounding the Westboro protesters and blocking their signs.

Anonymous has periodically targeted Westboro since around 2011, when it hacked the group's website during a televised media interview. The following year, Anonymous helped block Westboro protesters who had shown up at the funeral of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In 2013, Anonymous garnered significant media attention when it "brandjacked" Westboro, creating a fake Facebook site for the group.

So far this week, Operation Ferguson has tweeted out links to personal information of Westboro members. One Anon also posted what could be construed as death threats against members of the church, though he has often drawn rebukes from other members of Anonymous, which tends to disavow violence.

On Tuesday, the Charleston City Council passed a temporary ordinance restricting all protests to at least 300 feet away from funerals.

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What Is Going On With This Bobby Jindal Announcement Video?

Wait, is that a hidden camera?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 2:06 PM EDT

Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal launched his presidential campaign on Wednesday by releasing a video—a very strange video. In it, he and his wife, Supriya, break the news to their three kids that he'll be spending much of the next six months (at least) in Iowa. What makes it so unusual is that it appears to have been filmed with a camera hidden in a tree. Jindal himself is partially obscured by a large branch. His kids don't sound particularly excited about their father's presidential bid. Maybe they've seen the polls.

Watch:

 

I had to tell a few people first. But I want you to be next. I’m running for President of the United States of America. Join me: http://www.bobbyjindal.com/announcement/

Posted by Bobby Jindal on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

 

Mississippi's Republican Senators Say the State's Confederate Symbol Has Got to Go

Yet another Southern conservative calls for the flag to go.

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 11:42 AM EDT

Update: Sen. Thad Cochran, the state's senior senator, has joined his colleague in appealing to the state legislature to change the Mississippi flag. "it is my personal hope that the state government will consider changing its flag," he said in a statement. The original story is below:

When Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was asked on Sunday about removing the Confederate cross from his state's flag, he demurred. That decision "should be up to the Mississippi legislature and the people of the state," he argued. But 48 hours later, he has changed his mind. On Wednesday, he released a statement calling for the current incarnation of the flag to be "put in the museum" and replaced with something else:

After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians. As the descendant of several brave Americans who fought for the Confederacy, I have not viewed Mississippi’s current state flag as offensive. However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others.

In I Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul said he had no personal objection to eating meat sacrificed to idols. But he went on to say that "if food is a cause of trouble to my brother, or makes my brother offend, I will give up eating meat." The lesson from this passage leads me to conclude that the flag should be removed since it causes offense to so many of my brothers and sisters, creating dissention rather than unity.

This is an issue to be decided by the legislature and other state government officials and not dictated by Washington. If I can be part of a process to achieve consensus within our state, I would welcome the opportunity to participate.

Wicker joins the chancellor of the University of Mississippi, the nephew of former Gov. Haley Barbour, and the state's Republican speaker of the House among other prominent Mississippians who have called for the Confederate symbol to go after the murder of nine African American parishioners at a church last week in Charleston, South Carolina.

Strom Thurmond's Son Just Called for the Removal of the Confederate Flag

"I am proud to be on the right side of history regarding the removal of this symbol of racism and bigotry from the statehouse."

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 10:18 AM EDT

On the floor of the South Carolina Senate Tuesday, the son of longtime US Senator and segregationist Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond made an impassioned call to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse.

Republican State Sen. Paul Thurmond looked past his own ancestry—and at least two of his colleagues in the Senate who have told the Post and Courier they would vote to keep the flag. He told his colleagues that the "time is right" to remove the symbolic flag from above the statehouse one day after Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Lindsey Graham called for its removal. Thurmond eulogized his friend and colleague state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was leading Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Church when he was killed, alongside eight other black churchgoers, in a mass shooting on June 19. Authorities have charged 21-year-old Dylann Roof.

Reflecting on the June 19 shooting, Thurmond said:

I cannot comprehend the hate that was visited upon the Holy City, but I can respond with love and unity and kindness and maybe show others that their motivation for future attacks of hate will not be tolerated, will not result in a race war, will not divide us, but rather will strengthen our resolve to come together as one nation, one state, and one community under God.

Though he said nothing in his speech about his father, who is arguably most famous for his day-long filibuster against civil rights legislation in 1957, the longest in US history, Thurmond discussed his ancestors' place along General Robert E. Lee when the Confederate army surrendered at Appomattox Court House and said he could not fathom how "anyone could fight a civil war based, in part, on the desire to continue the practice of slavery."

Here's an excerpt from his speech:

I think the time is right and the ground is fertile for us to make progress as a state and to come together and remove the Confederate battle flag from prominent statue outside the Statehouse and put it in the museum. It is time to acknowledge our past, atone for our sins and work towards a better future. That future must be built on symbols of peace, love, and unity. That future cannot be built on symbols of war, hate, and divisiveness.

I am aware of my heritage. But my appreciation for the things that my forebearers accomplished to make my life better doesn’t mean that I must believe that they always made the right decisions and, for the life of me, I will never understand how anyone could fight a civil war based, in part, on the desire to continue the practice of slavery. Think about it for just a second. Our ancestors were literally fighting to continue to keep human beings as slaves and continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of this heritage. These practices were inhumane and were wrong, wrong, wrong.

Now we have these hate groups and the symbols that they use to remind African Americans that things haven’t changed and that they are still viewed as less than equal human beings. Well, let me tell you: Things have changed. Overwhelmingly, people are not being raised to hate or to believe that they are superior to others based on the color of their skin. My generation was raised to respect all people, of every race, religion, and gender.

I have often wondered what is my purpose here, in the Senate. I’ve asked God to guide me and strengthen me. I have prayed that I will be able to make a difference for this state. I have prayed that I will leave this place better for the future generations. I am proud to take a stand and no longer be silent. I am proud to be on the right side of history regarding the removal of this symbol of racism and bigotry from the statehouse. But let it not satisfy us to stop there. Justice by halves is not justice. We must take down the confederate flag, and we must take it down now. But if we stop there, we have cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to start a different conversation about healing in our state. I am ready. Let us start the conversation.

America Sucks at Affordable Housing. The Supreme Court Might Make It Even Worse.

Not a single county in the US had enough affordable housing for its poorest residents.

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
The Iberville Projects in New Orleans, Louisiana.

In the coming days, the Supreme Court will hand down a decision that could weaken the Fair Housing Act's ban on racial discrimination in housing. The timing couldn't be worse: The nation's housing affordability crisis is growing, according to research from the Urban Institute published last week.

Researchers found that in 2013, the last year for which data is available, no county in the US had enough affordable housing for its "extremely low-income" households—those making less than 30 percent of their county's median income. Nationwide, just 28 out of every 100 extremely low-income households had housing considered affordable by government standards, renting at less than 30 percent of their income. The report also found that the affordability gap is widening: Between 2000 and 2013, the number of extremely low-income households seeking to rent increased 38 percent nationwide, from 8.2 million to 11.3 million, while the supply of affordable housing increased only 7 percent, from 3 million to 3.2 million.

Every county in the US had a large gap between the renting needs of its extremely low-income population and available affordable housing. Ben Chartoff/The Urban Institute

The Urban Institute produced a handy interactive showing the affordability gap for low-income renters, county-by-county, using data from the Census and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The report also breaks down some of the key issues contributing to the housing affordability crisis:

1. Market-rate affordable housing is dwindling, putting pressure on federal assistance programs.

Federal housing assistance—in the form of public housing, rent vouchers, and other subsidies—has grown modestly since 2000, but now makes up a far greater share of the affordable housing stock, the Urban Institute found. That's in part due to low vacancies and increasing rents nationwide, which have lifted market-rate units that were once affordable beyond the reach of low-income families. But others have been completely wiped from the market: The report notes that 13 percent of unassisted units with rents at or below $400 in 2001 had been demolished by 2011 and weren't replaced. "Nearly half of the remaining units were built before 1960, putting them at high risk of demolition," the researchers add.

Medical Examiner Rules Freddie Gray's Death a Homicide by Fatal Blow to the Neck

The leaked report points to officers' "acts of omission."

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 3:56 AM EDT

A leaked autopsy report shows that Freddie Gray suffered a fatal "high-energy" blow to the neck, the Baltimore Sun reported late Tuesday.

From the Sun:

The state medical examiner's office concluded that Gray's death could not be ruled an accident, and was instead a homicide, because officers failed to follow safety procedures "through acts of omission."

Though Gray was loaded into the van on his belly, the medical examiner surmised that he may have gotten to his feet and was thrown into the wall during an abrupt change in direction. He was not belted in, but his wrists and ankles were shackled, making him "at risk for an unsupported fall during acceleration or deceleration of the van." The medical examiner compared Gray's injury to those seen in shallow-water diving incidents.

Gray's death in police custody in April sparked protests in Baltimore and throughout the country. Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby decried the leak of the report on Tuesday, saying in a statement, "I strongly condemn anyone with access to trial evidence who has leaked information prior to the resolution of this case." In May, a grand jury indicted the six officers involved in Gray's arrest. Though a sealed court document at one time suggested a prisoner in the van heard Gray "banging against the walls," assistant medical examiner Carol Allan cast doubt on that possibility in the autopsy report, noting that Gray "may have been suffering a seizure at the time," according to the Sun

After Gray's death, several former victims came forward to speak out against "rough rides," a practice in which police allegedly drive erratically with an unrestrained, cuffed prisoner so as to cause injury or pain.    

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Watch the First Black Woman Who Served in the US Senate Go Off on the Confederate Flag

"It is an outrage. It is an insult."

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 3:14 PM EDT

With South Carolina poised to remove the flag from its statehouse, and with momentum growing toward the removal of the Confederate emblem from state flags in Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia, the symbol's enduring official status in the American South may finally be winding down. The current backlash against the rebel flag, sparked by the massacre of nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is the latest round in a fierce long-running debate.

On July 22, 1993, an impassioned Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois—the first African-American woman to serve in the US Senate and its sole black member at the time—took the floor to rebuke conservative legislators including the late Jesse Helms, who were backing an amendment to secure the Confederate flag as the official design for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Moseley-Braun said: "The issue is whether Americans such as myself who believe in the promise of this country, who feel strongly and who are patriots in this country, will have to suffer the indignity of being reminded time and time again that at one time in this country's history we were human chattel. We were property. We could be traded, bought, and sold."

She added with regard to the amendment: "On this issue there can be no consensus. It is an outrage. It is an insult."

Rand Paul Super-PAC Slams "Bailout Bu$h" in Bizarre Web Ad

The season of zany attack ads is officially upon us.

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 1:05 PM EDT

Here come the crazed attack ads. More than seven months out from the first votes in the 2016 presidential primaries, America's Liberty, a super-PAC backing Sen. Rand Paul's bid for the Republican nomination, has put out an online ad attacking Jeb "Bailout" Bush. It is…strange.

The video, which had more than 10,000 views as of Tuesday afternoon, is framed as an infomercial, with an exuberant, wild-bearded speaker named Max Power (perhaps borrowed from Homer Simpson, who took the same name from a hair dryer) serving as the pitchman. The ad offers a Bailout Bu$h action figure—which sadly does not actually seem to be for sale, probably because it appears to be a different action figure with an image of Bush's face pasted on—as Power shouts about how Jeb worked for Lehman Brothers right before the crash and supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program. "This offer guarantees a presidential candidate cannot win a single primary state, let alone the general election," a voice-over says at the end of the ad as Power bathes in a tub of money.

Per the Washington Times, America's Liberty is spending in the five figures to run the ad online in early primary states, though it is also clearly running in DC, since I encountered it when it popped up before a music video on YouTube.

America's Liberty has close connections to the Paul camp. The super-PAC's founder and president is John Tate, who worked as Ron Paul's presidential campaign manager in 2012 and currently also serves as president of Campaign for Liberty, a longtime Ron Paul organization.

Watch the ad:

How a Mediocre Football Team Helped Mississippi Evolve on the Confederate Flag

With an assist from Admiral Ackbar (sort of).

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 11:47 AM EDT
In 2010, the University of Mississippi replaced its old Colonel Reb mascot with a black bear. The Care Bear above didn't make the cut.

On to Mississippi. Just hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked the state legislature to pass a law removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn issued a call for his state to follow suit. The Confederate battle flag is embedded in the upper left corner of the official state flag, but "as a Christian," Gunn wrote on Facebook, "I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed." Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and a well-connected politico himself, echoed Gunn's call.

How did white conservatives in Mississippi—the deepest of the Deep South—get to this point, not long after Haley Barbour, as governor, kept a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office? It helps that the state has gone through a process like this one before.

For decades, the University of Mississippi's identity was intertwined with that of its football team, the Rebels. In 1962, Democratic Gov. Ross Barnett waved the Confederate flag in the bleachers in support of the school's all-white team the night before a white mob attacked National Guardsmen assigned to protect the school's first black student, James Meredith. The team's mascot, Colonel Reb, wore a Confederate uniform and rode a horse called Traveler—the same name as the steed owned by Robert E. Lee. Over time, the mascot evolved into a less militant figure, a Colonel Sanders-esque old white man with a red suit and a cane, but the antebellum (or just bellum) nostalgia was evident. At games, students waved Confederate flags. They called the place "Ole Miss."

But the team was also—to use what I think is the appropriate term—a lost cause. It was losing out on top-flight talent, and its leaders had an inkling why. In his 2013 memoir, the school's former chancellor, Robert Khyat, recalled the pivotal moment, in the locker room after a shutout loss to the team's archrival, Mississippi State. When Khyat walked in, the Rebels' head coach told him, "We can't recruit against the Confederate flag."

The team stopped flying the flag at games in 1997. A few years later, again citing the impossibility of recruiting African Americans to the program, along with broader concerns about rebranding, it jettisoned Colonel Reb.

Colonel Reb and his die-hard supporters have not gone away quietly. An unsanctioned zombie Colonel Reb mascot continued to haunt campus on game days until 2009. A state legislator tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill restoring Colonel Reb. Last November, a state tea party leader launched a signature drive for a ballot initiative in the 2016 election that would bring back Colonel Reb once and for all. The old mascot has a small army of devoted fans who believe its absence is a direct assault on their heritage. It's a lot like the Confederate flag.

Other aspects of the school's makeover have faced a backlash. A new statue of Meredith on campus was vandalized in 2014. A white student placed a noose around the statue's neck, attached to an old Georgia flag that included the Confederate symbol. (In March, the alleged perpetrator was charged with federal civil rights crimes.)

But the school is moving on. In 2010, after a seven-year spell without a mascot, it asked students to submit their own ideas for a new one. A group of students, real-life American heroes, launched a grassroots campaign to make Admiral Ackbar, the meme-friendly squid commander from Star Wars, the new face of Ole Miss:

Ultimately, the school went with a black bear (inspired by a William Faulkner short story), who wears slacks, a blazer, and a Panama hat. It also began phase three of its image rehabilitation campaign, scaling back the usage of the nickname Ole Miss.

Momentum notwithstanding, the campaign to change the Mississippi flag is still in the germination phase. But if the state government wants to follow its flagship university's lead, we can think of a certain alien admiral who'd look great on a flag.

Mississippi House Speaker: Time to Remove Confederate Symbol from State Flag

"We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us."

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 8:59 AM EDT

On the heels of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's call to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state's capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker, Philip Gunn, announced his support to remove the Confederate symbol from his own state's flag. In a Facebook post, he wrote:

 

We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us. As a Christian, I believe our state's...

Posted by Philip Gunn on Monday, June 22, 2015

As of Tuesday morning, one petition calling for the symbol's removal had attracted over 7,700 signatures. But Gunn's proposal, as the Clarion-Ledger notes, will face an uphill battle: Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday he didn't expect other lawmakers to "supersede the will of the people on this issue," referring to a 2001 ballot measure that failed to garner enough support to do away with the emblem.

The top Facebook comments below Gunn's statement since Monday night have been largely critical of his announcement, echoing similar defenses of the Confederate emblem seen in South Carolina and other parts of the south since the mass shooting that killed nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last Wednesday.

"Leave the flag alone. Hatred and racism lives in the heart not in a cloth flag," one Facebook user wrote.

Debate over the Confederate flag's racist legacy quickly emerged as central to the national conversation following the Charleston massacre, particularly after photographs surfaced online showing alleged gunman Dylann Roof holding the flag and embracing other racist symbols.

After initially appearing to defend the flag as merely a "part of who we are," South Carolina senator and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham eventually backtracked his support, and stood by Haley on Monday to announce his support in removing the flag from flying in Columbia.