Political MoJo

SCOTUS Delivers Good News for Abusive Trolls

| Mon Jun. 1, 2015 12:09 PM EDT

Trolls and libertarians rejoice. In a highly watched case that explored the tough question of what distinguishes protected free speech from illegal threats, the Supreme Court on Monday made it harder for the government to prosecute individuals who are making threatening statements toward others.

The court voided the conviction of Anthony Elonis, who was found guilty of issuing unlawful threats over Facebook with rants that referred to killing his estranged wife. Elonis argued that his posts, which were presented as rap lyrics, were a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. He was convicted in federal district court in Pennsylvania under the "reasonable person" standard: Would a reasonable person consider Elonis' posts threatening?

In a 7-2 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that the reasonable person test wasn't sufficient for a criminal conviction like this one. Avoiding touchy First Amendment questions, the court determined that Elonis' posts should have been evaluated under a tougher standard that takes his mental state into account. That is, did he intend to follow through on his threats or did he know that his words would be seen as a threat?

"Elonis's conviction was premised solely on how his posts would be viewed by a reasonable person, a standard…inconsistent with the conventional criminal conduct requirement of 'awareness of some wrongdoing,'" Roberts wrote. He noted that a criminal conviction could only be supported "if the defendant transmits a communication for the purpose of issuing a threat or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat."

The case presented a difficult First Amendment question pitting freedom of expression against the freedom to not be threatened with violence. But the justices ducked the matter. The ruling was predicated on a statutory interpretation.

Elonis was sentenced to 44 months in prison for threatening to harm and even kill his estranged wife in Facebook posts—threats that left his wife afraid for her safety. Elonis fought the charges, arguing that he could not be imprisoned because he never intended to hurt his wife. A criminal conviction for someone who had no intent to harm, he contended, violated the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech. But the trial court disagreed and instructed the jury to use the reasonable-person standard.

The federal government argued that the reasonable person test is the best way to determine whether a statement is a threat. Its lawyers maintained that even if there is no intent to harm, such threats can severely disrupt the lives of those people targeted.

Civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, supported Elonis, fearing an encroachment on free-speech rights. Advocates for victims of domestic violence, though, argued that victims of domestic abuse "suffer the devastating psychological and economic effects of threats of violence, which their abusers deliver more and more often via social media," according to an amicus brief. This brief, filed by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and a number of state-based anti-domestic-violence groups, argued that threats are often a precursor to actual violence.

The Elonis case was argued before the court in early December and the justices took a full six months to decide the case. Roberts was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and the court's liberal wing. Justice Samuel Alito joined in part and dissented in part. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Why Bernie Sanders Was Talking About "Fifty Shades of Grey" on "Meet the Press"

| Mon Jun. 1, 2015 11:02 AM EDT

This wasn't the way Bernie Sanders expected to conclude the first week of his presidential campaign—comparing a 1972 essay he wrote for the Vermont Freeman to E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey. But the article, first reported in Mother Jones, quickly caught fire because of its description of a woman who "fantasizes being raped," and by the weekend, Sanders had taken steps to renounce it.

Per Bloomberg:

"This is a piece of fiction that I wrote in 1972, I think," the Vermont Senator said, appearing on Meet the Press. "That was 43 years ago. It was very poorly written and if you read it, what it was dealing with was gender stereotypes, why some men like to oppress women, why other women like to be submissive, you know, something like Fifty Shades of Grey."

But if the 1972 essay ruined his media tour, it didn't do anything to suppress the enthusiasm of the progressive activists Sanders aims to make his base. Sanders spent his first week of the campaign speaking to overflow crowds across the Midwest (3,000 people in Minneapolis) and New Hampshire. And, evidently, he's turned some heads. Here's the New York Times:

DES MOINES — A mere 240 people live in the rural northeast Iowa town of Kensett, so when more than 300 crowded into the community center on Saturday night to hear Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, many driving 50 miles, the cellphones of Democratic leaders statewide began to buzz.

Kurt Meyer, the county party chairman who organized the event, sent a text message to Troy Price, the Iowa political director for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Price called back immediately.

"Objects in your rearview mirror are closer than they appear," Mr. Meyer said he had told Mr. Price about Mr. Sanders. "Mrs. Clinton had better get out here."

Clinton's strategy, to this point, has been to act as if her other prospective Democratic primary opponents don't exist. Sanders might have just changed that calculus.

Beau Biden, the Vice President's Son, Has Died

| Sat May 30, 2015 10:15 PM EDT

RIP:

Joseph Robinette “Beau” Biden III, the son of Vice President Biden and former state attorney general of Delaware, died Saturday after battling brain cancer for several years.

Biden, 46, the oldest son of the vice president and the rising star of a family dynasty, had been admitted recently to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington as he fought the cancer, a battle that his father largely kept private in the last weeks as his son clung to his life.

So sad.

Here's the Vice President's statement:

It is with broken hearts that Hallie, Hunter, Ashley, Jill and I announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life.

The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words. We know that Beau’s spirit will live on in all of us—especially through his brave wife, Hallie, and two remarkable children, Natalie and Hunter.

Beau's life was defined by service to others. As a young lawyer, he worked to establish the rule of law in war-torn Kosovo. A major in the Delaware National Guard, he was an Iraq War veteran and was awarded the Bronze Star. As Delaware’s Attorney General, he fought for the powerless and made it his mission to protect children from abuse.

More than his professional accomplishments, Beau measured himself as a husband, father, son and brother. His absolute honor made him a role model for our family. Beau embodied my father's saying that a parent knows success when his child turns out better than he did.

In the words of the Biden family: Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.

And the statement from the President:

Michelle and I are grieving tonight. Beau Biden was a friend of ours. His beloved family – Hallie, Natalie, and Hunter – are friends of ours. And Joe and Jill Biden are as good as friends get.

Beau took after Joe. He studied the law, like his dad, even choosing the same law school. He chased a life of public service, like his dad, serving in Iraq and as Delaware’s Attorney General. Like his dad, Beau was a good, big-hearted, devoutly Catholic and deeply faithful man, who made a difference in the lives of all he touched – and he lives on in their hearts.

But for all that Beau Biden achieved in his life, nothing made him prouder; nothing made him happier; nothing claimed a fuller focus of his love and devotion than his family.

Just like his dad.

Joe is one of the strongest men we’ve ever known. He’s as strong as they come, and nothing matters to him more than family. It’s one of the things we love about him. And it is a testament to Joe and Jill – to who they are – that Beau lived a life that was full; a life that mattered; a life that reflected their reverence for family.

The Bidens have more family than they know. In the Delaware they love. In the Senate Joe reveres. Across this country that he has served for more than forty years. And they have a family right here in the White House, where hundreds of hearts ache tonight – for Hallie, Natalie, and Hunter; for Joe and for Jill; for Beau’s brother, Hunter; his sister, Ashley, and for the entire Biden clan.

“I have believed the best of every man,” wrote the poet William Butler Yeats, “And find that to believe it is enough to make a bad man show him at his best or even a good man swing his lantern higher.”

Beau Biden believed the best of us all. For him, and for his family, we swing our lanterns higher.

Michelle and I humbly pray for the good Lord to watch over Beau Biden, and to protect and comfort his family here on Earth.

And this old tweet from Beau is heartbreaking:

Martin O'Malley Is Running for President. Here's What You Need to Know

| Sat May 30, 2015 10:56 AM EDT

The wait is over. Martin O'Malley is running for president. The former Maryland governor formally kicked off his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination on Saturday in Baltimore, the city he served as mayor for six years. O'Malley, who has been publicly weighing a bid for years, is aiming to present himself as a solidly progressive alternative to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. But it's going to be an uphill slog—in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, he received just 1 percent—56 points behind Clinton, and 14 points behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was an independent until he entered the 2016 Democratic contest.

Here are five things you should read about O'Malley right now:

  • He's the "best manager in government today," according to a 2013 profile by Haley Sweetland Edwards at the Washington Monthly:

The truth is, what makes O'Malley stand out is not his experience, his gravitas, nor his familiarity to voters (Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden crush him in those regards). Nor is it exactly his policies or speeches (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, both rumored presidential aspirants, have cultivated similar CVs). Nor is it that he plays in a band. Nor is it even the Atlantic's breathless claim last year that he has "the best abs" in politics. (Beneath a photo of the fit governor participating in the Maryland Special Olympics' annual Polar Bear Plunge, the author gushed, "What are they putting in the water in Maryland?") Instead, what makes O'Malley unique as a politician is precisely the skill that was on display in that windowless conference room in downtown Annapolis: he is arguably the best manager working in government today.

That may not seem like a very flashy title—at first blush, "Best Manager" sounds more like a booby prize than a claim a politician might ride to the White House. But in an era where the very idea of government is under assault, a politician’s capacity to deliver on his or her promises, to actually make the bureaucracy work, is an underappreciated skill.

  • He pursued a tough-on-crime policing strategy as mayor of Baltimore, according to a recent Washington Post article:

It was as a crime-busting mayor some 15 years ago that O'Malley first gained national attention. Although he is positioning himself as a progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton, O'Malley also touts a police crackdown during his time as mayor that led to a stark reduction in drug violence and homicides as one of his major achievements.

Yet some civic leaders and community activists in Baltimore portray O'Malley’s policing policies in troubling terms. The say the "zero-tolerance" approach mistreated young black men even as it helped dramatically reduce crime, fueling a deep mistrust of law enforcement that flared anew last week when [Freddie] Gray died after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody.

  • He's obsessed with the War of 1812 and discussed said obsession in an interview with the Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs last September, after dressing up in an 1812-vintage uniform and mounting a horse:

Win, lose, or draw, O'Malley said he is enthusiastic about the bicentennial and has read up on past commemorations to prepare. He recalled for The Daily Beast a 100-year-old Baltimore Sun editorial about the centennial in 1914 and searched excitedly through his iPad for it. PBS will broadcast the event nationwide on Saturday night, and it will feature what is planned to be the largest ever mass singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and an outdoor concert in Baltimore that will include a rock opera about the War of 1812, and O'Malley's own band, which he referred to simply as "a small little warm-up band of Irish extraction."

  • Though he was the model for the character of Baltimore Mayor Tommy Carcetti on the HBO series The Wire, he is not a huge fan of the show or its creator, David Simon, who described an awkward encounter with the governor last year on an Acela train:

This fellow was at the four-top table immediately behind me. I clocked him as we left New York, but as he is a busy man, and as most of our previous encounters have been a little edgy, I told myself to let well enough alone. I answered a few more emails, looked at some casting tapes on the laptop, checked the headlines. And still, with all of that done, we were only just south of Philadelphia.

I texted my son: "On the southbound Acela. Marty O'Malley sitting just behind me," then joking, "Do I set it off?"

A moment later, a 20-year-old diplomatic prodigy fired back a reply: "Buy him a beer."

...I stood up, noticed that Mr. O'Malley was sipping a Corona, and I walked to the cafe car to get another just like it. I came back, put it on the table next to its mate, and said, simply, "You’ve had a tough week." My reference, of course, was to the governor's dustup with the White House over the housing of juvenile immigrants in Maryland, which became something of a spitting contest by midweek.

Mr. O'Malley smiled, said thanks, and I went back to my seat to inform my son that the whole of the State Department could do no better than he. Several minutes later, the governor of my state called me out and smacked the seat next to him.

"Come on, Dave," he said, "we're getting to be old men at this point. Sit, talk."

  • Writing for the Atlantic in December, Molly Ball dubbed O'Malley, "the most ignored candidate of 2016." Another takeaway from the piece, which chronicled his trip to an Annapolis homeless-prevention center that provides job training, might be that he tries too hard:

"I love kale," O'Malley told the chef, Linda Vogler, a middle-aged woman with blond bangs peeking out from a paper toque [who was teaching a cooking class]. "Kale's the new superfood!"

"We're learning quinoa next," Vogler said.

"You're going to teach what? Keen-wa?," O'Malley asked, genuinely puzzled. "What's keen-wa?"

"It looks like birdseed," she replied, hurrying on with the lesson. As the class counted off the seconds it took to boil a tomato, O'Malley changed their "One Mississippi" chant to "One Maryland! Two Maryland!"

A New Poll Has Good News for Pro-Choicers

| Fri May 29, 2015 1:07 PM EDT

After seven years on the outs, choice is back. For the first time since 2008, significantly more Americans identify as pro-choice (50 percent) than pro-life (44 percent), according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

"This is the first time since 2008 that the pro-choice position has had a statistically significant lead in Americans' abortion views," the survey notes. In the intervening years, Americans were split fairly evenly on the issue of abortion—except in 2012, when pro-life sentiment outpaced pro-choice views 50 percent to 41 percent.

The poll found that in the past three years, women have become more pro-choice (54 percent) than men (46 percent). Since 2012, Democrats, Republicans and independents have all become increasingly pro-choice. But Democrats show the biggest long-term jump in pro-choice views, from 55 percent in 2001 to 68 percent today. By contrast, 30 percent of Republicans were pro-choice in 2001 and 31 percent identify as pro-choice today—a statistically insignificant change.

The years since the last pro-choice peak in 2008 have been rough for abortion rights advocates. Republican legislatures across the country have sought to roll back access to abortions—banning the procedure after 20 weeks (and even earlier in some cases), requiring additional doctor visits and ultrasounds, and placing onerous regulations on clinics that forced many to shut their doors. Gallup didn't touch on these issues, simply noting that "the momentum for the pro-life position that began when Barack Obama took office has yielded to a pro-choice rebound."

Gallup raised the possibility that abortion views are riding on the coattails of a "broader liberal shift in Americans' ideology of late" that "could mean the recent pro-choice expansion has some staying power."

US Officially Removes Cuba From List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

| Fri May 29, 2015 11:45 AM EDT

On Friday, the State Department announced the decision to drop Cuba from a list of states sponsoring terrorism. The official press release:

In December 2014, the President instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, and provide a report to him within six months regarding Cuba's support for international terrorism. On April 8, 2015, the Secretary of State completed that review and recommended to the President that Cuba no longer be designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

Accordingly, on April 14, the President submitted to Congress the statutorily required report indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including the certification that Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six-months; and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. The 45-day Congressional pre-notification period has expired, and the Secretary of State has made the final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, effective today, May 29, 2015.

The rescission of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission. While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation

The decision is a major step toward normalizing diplomatic relations with Havana. Among other activities, Friday's announcement will allow Cuba to do banking in the United States. However, the move does not lift the trade embargo, which requires congressional approval. 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Editor of Leading Conservative Magazine: "BlackLivesMatter Is a Lie"

| Thu May 28, 2015 4:45 PM EDT

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review magazine, has a plan for restoring stability to America's currently troubled inner cities: Arrest and imprison more black people. It's basically a long-running conservative argument, but can we get real for a minute about how he's making it?

Here's the profoundly cynical and callous way that he's decided to tweak some social media language to argue in Politico that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is "a lie." Its supporters, he suggests, are opportunistically anti-police and don't otherwise care about inner city deaths that don't make national news:

That high-octane trolling is accompanied by an equally cynical take on the underlying problem. Baltimore reportedly saw an uptick in murders in recent weeks, which Lowry blames on police "shrinking from doing their job" in the wake of upheaval over Freddie Gray's death in police custody. The city's "dangerous, overwhelmingly black neighborhoods," he writes, "need disproportionate police attention, even if that attention is easily mischaracterized as racism. The alternative is a deadly chaos that destroys and blights the lives of poor blacks."

Never mind that a rising awareness of policing problems in America may also have something to do with acute socioeconomic ills, which, you know, destroy and blight the lives of poor blacks.

Lowry's theme ignores the reality of what many Americans have found so outrageous about the cases that have drawn national media attention. Say, the fact that the white cop who instantly shot a 12-year-old black kid and then watched him bleed out on the pavement without providing first aid still hasn't been questioned by investigators six months after the killing. Or the fact that a black woman whose family called 911 in need of mental health assistance for her ended up dead from police use of force less than two hours later.

Perhaps Lowry should spend a little time watching these 13 videos from the past year that show mostly white cops killing mostly black men who were mostly unarmed. They are a kind of vivid, disturbing evidence that may well bring some different hashtags to mind.

Nebraska Becomes First Conservative State in 40 Years to Repeal the Death Penalty

| Wed May 27, 2015 5:59 PM EDT

Nebraska legislators on Wednesday overrode the Republican governor's veto to repeal the state's death penalty, a major victory for a small but growing conservative movement to end executions. The push to end capital punishment divided Nebraska conservatives, with 18 conservatives joining the legislature's liberals to provide the 30 to 19 vote to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto—barely reaching the 30 votes necessary for repeal.

Today's vote makes Nebraska "the first predominantly Republican state to abolish the death penalty in more than 40 years," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, in a statement shortly after the vote. Dunham's statement singled out conservatives for rallying against the death penalty and said their work in Nebraska is "part of an emerging trend in the Republican Party." (Nebraska has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature, so lawmakers do not have official party affiliations.)

For conservative opponents of the death penalty, Wednesday's vote represents a breakthrough.  A month ago, overcoming the governor's veto still looked like a long-shot.  Conservatives make a number of arguments against the death penalty, including the high costs and a religion-inspired argument about taking life. "I may be old-fashioned, but I believe God should be the only one who decides when it is time to call a person home," Nebraska state Sen. Tommy Garrett, a conservative Republican who opposes the death penalty, said last month.

"I think this will become more common," Marc Hyden, national coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a statement following the repeal vote. "Conservatives have sponsored repeal bills in Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Missouri, and Kentucky in recent years."

But conservative opponents of the death penalty have a tough slog ahead. Though support for the death penalty has reached its lowest point in 40 years, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey, 77 percent of Republicans still support it.

 

Scott Walker Says Mandatory Ultrasounds Are "Just a Cool Thing" for Women

| Wed May 27, 2015 3:23 PM EDT

After months of keeping a low profile for a man very likely running for president, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is back in the headlines today with quite the outrageous quote. Walker, who was speaking in defense of a controversial abortion bill he signed into law that forces women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound, said in an interview on Friday the mandatory exams are "just a cool thing" for women.

I'll give you an example. I'm pro-life, I've passed pro-life legislation. We defunded Planned Parenthood, we signed a law that requires an ultrasound. Which, the thing about that, the media tried to make that sound like that was a crazy idea. Most people I talk to, whether they're pro-life or not, I find people all the time who'll get out their iPhone and show me a picture of their grandkids' ultrasound and how excited they are, so that's a lovely thing. I think about my sons are 19 and 20, you know we still have their first ultrasound picture. It's just a cool thing out there.

He went onto say Republicans shouldn't solely focus on abortion, but also embrace other key conservative issues. Nevertheless:

It certainly is a part of who we are and we shouldn't be afraid to talk about it, and we shouldn't be afraid to push back. When you think about Hillary Clinton, and you think about some others on the left, you say, I think it's reasonable, whether you're pro-life or not to say that taxpayers dollars shouldn't be spent to support abortion or abortion-related activities. Most Americans believe in that. There are many candidates on the left who don't share that belief.

Seriously, ladies. Why keep fighting for autonomous control over your bodies, when clearly mandatory ultrasounds are just so darn neat? Put down the pitchfork and embrace the red wave!

Listen to the Walker's interview, recorded by Right Wing Watch, below:

Your City Is Probably Not Going to Be Hit By A Terrorist Attack

| Wed May 27, 2015 2:32 PM EDT
Paris, France jumped 100 spots in the list of cities at risk for terror attacks after the January Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Americans are understandably terrified of terror attacks. But good news! These fears have nothing to do with actual data. According to a new tool released last week, no US cities are among the world's 50 most at risk of terror attacks.

The index, designed by UK based Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk assessment firm, calculates the risk of terror attacks in "1,300 of the world’s most important commercial hubs and urban centers" using historic trends. By logging and analyzing every reported attack or event per 100 square meters and calculating the frequency and severity of those incidents, Maplecroft's tool establishes a baseline for the past five years. Then, it compares that data with the number, frequency, and severity of attacks for the most recent year. Depending on the most recent statistics, cities move up or down on the list of cities at risk for terror attacks.

What cities are in danger? Cities near ISIS. Baghdad is the most terror prone city, followed by five other places in Iraq—including Mosul, an ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq, and Al Ramadi, ISIS's most recent hostile takeover. In just one year, as of February, over 1,000 residents of Baghdad lost their lives in one of the almost 400 terror attacks the city endured.

A total of 27 of the 64 countries at "extreme risk" are located in the Middle East, and 19 are in Asia. Residents living in the capital cities of Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Tripoli face some of the strongest risks of terror attacks as well. Maplecroft points to the risk of terror incidents in high-ranking countries like Egypt, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan as major threats to US commercial interests.

And, recent events have triggered some cities to climb in the rankings. Prior to the Charlie Hebdo attack, Paris didn't even make the top 200 most at risk cities. But according to the current index, the French capital jumped over 100 spots, now coming in at 97. Increasing violence purported by African militant groups, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Somalia, have heightened the risk of terror incidents in African nations, landing 14 countries in the top 64.

So stop freaking out about terror attacks, America.