Political MoJo

What's Happening in Ukraine, Explained (Updated)

| Tue Feb. 18, 2014 4:08 PM PST

This article is being updated as news breaks. Click here for the latest.

At least 26 were killed and several hundred were injured Tuesday and Wednesday in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, as police cracked down on the protest movement that has gripped the Eastern European nation for months. Several local news outlets—including Ukraine's Espreso TV—are live streaming the swelling crowds, large-scale fires, and numerous explosions at the opposition camps. The harrowing video feed is below:



The EuroMaidan protests, which started on November 21 in response to President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a European Union trade deal, have been going on for nearly three months. Early Tuesday, the US Department of State released an emergency message warning about escalating violence and potential "extraordinary measures" by the Ukrainian Security Services.

As the Washington Post's Max Fisher explains, the conflict is fueled by sharp political and ethnic divides. A significant portion of the population wants closer ties to Europe, but Putin has been pressuring Yanukovych's government toward closer economic integration with Russia.

The protests turned violent in late November, with police deploying batons, tear gas, and even attacking journalists. In mid-January, the government enacted a series of anti-protest laws restricting freedom of assembly and speech. Though Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned and many of these laws were later repealed, the damage was already done. Yanukovych, who had previously been linked to vote-rigging during the infamous 2005 Orange Revolution, has also been accused of corruption, mismanagement, and human rights violations. To many citizens, the laws only reinforced that view. Allegations of torture and disappearances continued throughout January as the protests spread.

Protesters in Kiev have occupied city hall and other government buildings for the last two months. This weekend, after officials promised to give them amnesty if they ended their occupation, the demonstrators agreed and partially dismantled their barricades, making Tuesday's crackdown all the more ironic.

As with any uprising, it's too early to call which direction the protests could go, but some analysts are warning a civil war is possible. Here are a few recent images of the scene in Kiev:

Ukrainian Demonstrator

Jacob Balzani Loov/ZUMA

Ukrainian Police
Maxim Nikitin/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Truck Explosion
Yevgeny/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Clashes
Yevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Protestor
Yevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA
 

Ukrainian Protestor

Nikolai Nikitin/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Car ExplosionYevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Riot PoliceYevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

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New Ads Push the Supreme Court to Broadcast Oral Arguments

| Tue Feb. 18, 2014 11:43 AM PST
The Roberts Court

The US Supreme Court is often called on to rule on matters involving political advertising (see, of course, Citizens United). But it's rare for the court itself to be the target of political advertising, especially on TV. But a new coalition is about to unleash a torrent of ads in the Washington DC media market aimed squarely at the nation's high court—to demand that the court itself go on TV.

The US Supreme Court is one of the last places in the federal government where recording devices are expressly prohibited, despite efforts by members of Congress over the past 15 years to change that. (Broadcasting oral arguments is perhaps one of the few issues that both Republicans and Democrats tend to agree on.) Virtually all state supreme courts allow some degree of recording, and 14 federal courts have been involved in a three-year pilot project to study the use of cameras in those courthouses. Yet the US Supreme Court has remained stubbornly resistant to moving into the 21st century, despite overwhelming public support for footage of its arguments.

So a new group of professional media and legal transparency organizations have created the Coalition for Court Transparency to try to lean on the court in new and more public ways to insist that everyone deserves a chance to see how the court conducts its business. One of the biggest arguments in the coalition's favor: The court itself holds only 250 spectators, meaning that for big and important cases, virtually all the people camping outside the court to get a seat won't be able to get in.

"When you think about the most widely followed cases of the last year, litigants hailed from California (Hollingsworth v. Perry), Oklahoma (Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius), and Alabama (Shelby Co. v. Holder)," said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a coalition member. "The idea that these individuals, and other concerned parties from across the country, would have to fly to Washington, find a hotel, and stand in line for hours—or pay someone to do so—just to see justice in action shows how far the Court needs to come to get more in step with technology and transparency today." Here's the ad:

 

 

Bringing oral arguments to the people by video is a noble cause, but also probably a lost one. There was a brief window of hope back in 2009, after Justice David Souter announced he was retiring from the bench. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. had been guardedly open to the idea of cameras in the courtroom, a position embraced by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer. Justice Samuel Alito allowed cameras into his appellate courtroom while serving on the Third Circuit. And Justice Anthony Kennedy has said cameras are "inevitable." But Souter was a major obstacle to a more open high court. He was a notorious technophobe, whose New Hampshire farmhouse was full books but not a TV screen. He eschewed computers, emails and answering machines, writing his opinions with a fountain pen. He famously announced his views on oral argument broadcasts by saying, "I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it is going to roll over my dead body."

Souter was replaced by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who at the time of her confirmation had indicated that she was supportive of cameras in the courtroom, which she'd had a positive experience with as a judge in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Alas, her position changed quickly once she joined the high court. Last year, she said she believed that basically, the public wouldn't understand the proceedings. "Oral argument is the forum in which the judge plays devil's advocate with lawyers. I think the process could be more misleading than helpful,” she said.

Losing Sotomayor pretty much dooms the cause of cameras in the Supreme Court, given the staunch opposition from Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. But perhaps the ads targeting the court's transparency might have some other beneficial effects, like forcing the justices to experience some of the same sorts of political tactics they're often called on to regulate.

 

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 18, 2014

Tue Feb. 18, 2014 8:02 AM PST

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force aviators light night-time smoke signals as part of their mandatory, semi-annual Life-Saving Survival Training aboard Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 28, 2014. Night-time smoke signals use grey smoke with a flashing red light, while day-time smoke signals are bright red in color. The signals burn for approximately 70 seconds. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. D. A. Walters/Released)

Why There's an Even Larger Racial Disparity in Private Prisons Than in Public Ones

| Mon Feb. 17, 2014 4:00 AM PST

It's well known that people of color are vastly overrepresented in US prisons. African Americans and Latinos constitute 30 percent of the US population and 60 percent of its prisoners. But a new study by University of California-Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella addresses a fact of equal concern. Once sentenced, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to serve time in private prisons, which have higher levels of violence and recidivism (PDF) and provide less sufficient health care and educational programming than equivalent public facilities.

The study compares the percentage of inmates identifying as black or Hispanic in public prisons and private prisons in nine states. It finds that there are higher rates of people of color in private facilities than public facilities in all nine states studied, ranging from 3 percent in Arizona and Georgia to 13 percent in California and Oklahoma. According to Petrella, this disparity casts doubt on cost-efficiency claims made by the private prison industry and demonstrates how ostensibly "colorblind" policies can have a very real effect on people of color.

Chart- people of color

The study points out an important link between inmate age and race. Not only do private prisons house high rates of people of color, they also house low rates of individuals over the age of 50—a subset that is more likely to be white than the general prison population. According to the study, "the states in which the private versus public racial disparities are the most pronounced also happen to be the states in which the private versus public age disparities are most salient." (California, Mississippi, and Tennessee did not report data on inmate age.)

Chart- inmates over 50

Private prisons have consistently lower rates of older inmates because they often contractually exempt themselves from housing medically expensive—which often means older—individuals (see excerpts from such exemptions in California, Oklahoma, and Vermont), which helps them keep costs low and profits high. This is just another example of the growing private prison industry's prioritization of profit over rehabilitation, which activists say leads to inferior prison conditions and quotas requiring high levels of incarceration even as crime levels drop. The number of state and federal prisoners housed in private prisons grew by 37 percent from 2002 to 2009, reaching 8 percent of all inmates in 2010.

The high rate of incarceration among young people of color is partly due to the war on drugs, which introduced strict sentencing policies and mandatory minimums that have disproportionately affected non-white communities for the past 40 years. As a result, Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows that in 2009, only 33.2 percent of prisoners under 50 reported as white, as opposed to 44.2 percent of prisoners aged 50 and older.

So when private prisons avoid housing older inmates, they indirectly avoid housing white inmates as well. This may explain how private facilities end up with "a prisoner profile that is far younger and far 'darker'... than in select counterpart public facilities."

Private prisons claim to have more efficient practices, and thus lower operating costs, than public facilities. But the data suggest that private prisons don't save money through efficiency, but by cherry-picking healthy inmates. According to a 2012 ACLU report, it costs $34,135 to house an "average" inmate and $68,270 to house an individual 50 or older. In Oklahoma, for example, the percentage of individuals over 50 in minimum and medium security public prisons is 3.3 times that of equivalent private facilities.

"Given the data, it's difficult for private prisons to make the claim that they can incarcerate individuals more efficiently than their public counterparts," Petrella tells Mother Jones. "We need to be comparing apples to apples. If we're looking at different prisoner profiles, there is no basis to make the claim that private prisons are more efficient than publics."

He compared private prisons to charter schools that accept only well-performing students and boast of their success relative to public schools.

David Shapiro, former staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project, agrees. "The study is an example of the many ways in which for-profit prisons create an illusion of fiscal responsibility even though the actual evidence of cost savings, when apples are compared to apples, is doubtful at best," he says. "Privatization gimmicks are a distraction from the serious business of addressing our addiction to mass incarceration."

But in addition to casting doubt on the efficacy of private prison companies, Petrella says his results "shed light on the ways in which ostensibly colorblind policies and attitudes can actually have very racially explicit outcomes. Racial discrimination cannot exist legally, yet still manifests itself."

Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News, calls the study a "compelling case" for a link between age disparities and race disparities in public and private prison facilities. "The modern private prison industry has its origins in the convict lease system that developed during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, as a means of incarcerating freed slaves and leasing them to private companies," he says. "Sadly, Mr. Petrella's research indicates that the exploitation of minority prisoners continues, with convict chain gangs being replaced by privately-operated prisons and jails."
 

*The study draws on data from nine states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas—selected because they house at least 3,000 individuals in private minimum and medium security facilities.

The Beauty of Music, Visualized

| Fri Feb. 14, 2014 2:03 PM PST

The beauty of great data visualization is that it renders wildly complex information into easily digestible pieces. What was once complicated still is, but now it's much easier to understand. Music does that in its own way, taking individual notes that fit together via incredibly complex patterns and stringing them together to make a rich and nuanced flow that gets past the complexity. When the two come together, you get something like this. Prepare to be mesmerized and blow part of an otherwise productive day with Igor Stravinksy's The Rite of Spring, visualized, from the people at The Music Animation Machine.

[h/t Flowing Data]

Guns Are for Shooting "All Black People" and Other Horrifying Quotes From the NFL's Dolphins Investigation

| Fri Feb. 14, 2014 12:50 PM PST
From left: Dolphins linemen Mike Pouncey, Richie Incognito, and John Jerry. While Incognito was identified as a bullying leader, all three took part, according to the report.

In November, after Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team due to bullying from teammate Richie Incognito, the NFL commissioned an independent investigation to look into the matter. The results of that investigation, released today, reveal a pattern of racist, homophobic, and generally awful instances of harassment that took place inside and outside the Dolphins' locker room. Read the lowlights—which are vulgar and graphic—below.

Incognito leaves a racist voicemail for Martin (page 10):

"Hey, wassup, you half-nigger piece of shit. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. I'll shit in your fuckin' mouth. I'm gonna slap your fuckin' mouth, I'm gonna slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. Fuck you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."

Incognito and others taunt and harass an Asian American trainer (page 22):

Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey admitted that they directed racially derogatory words toward him, including "Jap" and "Chinaman." At times, according to Martin, they referred to the Assistant Trainer as a "dirty communist" or a "North Korean," made demands such as "give me some water you fucking chink," spoke to him in a phony, mocking Asian accent, including asking for "rubby rubby sucky sucky," and called his mother a "rub and tug masseuse." Martin and others informed us that Incognito and Jerry taunted the Assistant Trainer with jokes about having sex with his girlfriend. Incognito admitted that these types of comments were made to the Assistant Trainer.

On December 7, 2012 (the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor), Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey donned traditional Japanese headbands that featured a rising sun emblem and jokingly threatened to harm the Assistant Trainer physically in retaliation for the Pearl Harbor attack. Martin reported that the Assistant Trainer confided to him that he was upset about the Pearl Harbor prank, finding it derogatory and demeaning.

Incognito and an anonymous teammate exchange text messages joking about shooting black people (page 103):

Player B: Fuck yea! That what I'm doin my .338 in. Badass

Incognito: That's gonna be sick

Player B: Especially if u plan living in Arizona in the future, that's exactly what you want

Incognito: Yea. For picking off zombies

Player B: Lol isn't that why we own any weapons!?

Incognito: That and black people

Player B: Mmm def all black ppl

Incognito and others, including a coach, engage in homophobic taunting (page 19):

Incognito and others acknowledged that Player A was routinely touched by Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey in a mockingly suggestive manner, including on his rear end, while being taunted about his supposed homosexuality. Incognito specifically admitted that he would grab Player A and ask for a hug as part of this "joke."

Martin said that on one occasion, Pouncey physically restrained Player A and, in full view of other players, jokingly told Jerry to "come get some pussy," and that Jerry responded by touching Player A's buttocks in a way that simulated anal penetration. Pouncey and Jerry both denied this allegation. Given the seriousness of this allegation and the conflicting recollections, we decline to make any findings about this particular alleged incident.

The evidence shows that [offensive line coach Jim Turner] overheard and participated in this behavior toward Player A. During the 2012 Christmas season, Coach Turner gave all of the offensive linemen gift bags that included a variety of stocking stuffers. In each gift bag except for Player A's, Turner included a female "blow-up" doll; Player A's bag included a male doll.

Incognito tries to get teammates to get rid of evidence—a "fine book" that lists financial penalties for offenses like wearing "ugly ass shoes" or being a "pussy" (page 42):

"They're trying to suspend me Please destroy the fine book first thing in the morning."

Martin tells his parents about the taunting and his struggles with depression (page 15):

"I care about my legacy as a professional athlete. But I'm miserable currently. A therapist & medication won't help me gain the respect of my teammates. I really don't know what to do Mom."

"People call me a Nigger to my face. Happened 2 days ago. And I laughed it off. Because I am too nice of a person. They say terrible things about my sister. I don't do anything. I suppose it's white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek"

Martin texts a friend with the pros and cons of continuing to play football (page 112):

-Football games are fun

-I can make a lot of money playing football and be set for life

-I have a legacy that will live after I die

-not many people get to live their childhood dream

-I am the left tackle for the Miami dolphins

-if I quit, I'll be known as a quitter for the rest of my life

-my legacy at Stanford will be tarnished

-I will never be able to look any coach from my past in the eye

-I hate going in everyday.

-I am unable to socialize with my teammates in their crude manner

-I already have a lot of money. I could travel the world, get my degree. Then get a real job

-I could lose 70 lbs and feel good about my body

-I won't die from CTE

-Maybe I'll start to LIKE myself

-I don't need to live lavishly. I could live very frugally

-why do I care about these people? All I need is my family

Read the full report here:

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 14, 2014

Fri Feb. 14, 2014 8:35 AM PST

Sgt Jason O. Lucas, an infantryman assigned to Predator Company, 4th Squadron "Longknife", 3d Cavalry Regiment, kisses his wife Emily during a redeployment ceremony held Jan. 30 at the West Fort Hood Gym. Lucas returned from a nine-month long deployment in Afghanistan with III Corps. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Dator, 3d Cavalry Regiment Public Affairs)

Read the Incredibly Moving Opinion From the Judge Who Just Struck Down Virginia's Gay-Marriage Ban

| Fri Feb. 14, 2014 1:39 AM PST

On Thursday night, a federal court in Virginia struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling follows similar decisions in Oklahoma and Utah, but it stands out for its celebratory tone and its stirring portrayal of marriage equality as a fundamental right. US District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen found that allowing same-sex marriage, like abolishing slavery and extending suffrage to women, was part of American’s ongoing expansion of constitutional rights to people who had been unjustly excluded. In her words, "We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect."

Below is an excerpt from her opinion:

The plaintiffs [two same-sex couples] ask for nothing more than to exercise a right that is enjoyed by the vast majority of Virginia's adult citizens. They seek simply the same right that is currently enjoyed by heterosexual individuals: the right to make a public commitment to form an exclusive relationship and create a family with a partner with whom the person shares an intimate and sustaining emotional bond. This right is deeply rooted in the nation's history and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty because it protects an individual's ability to make deeply personal choices about love and family free from government interference.

Virginia's Marriage Laws impose a condition on this exercise. These laws limit the fundamental right to marry to only those Virginia citizens willing to choose a member of the opposite gender for a spouse. These laws interject profound government interference into one of the most personal choices a person makes…

Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships. Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices—choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference…

Ultimately, this is consistent with our nation's traditions of freedom. [According to United States v. Virginia:] "The history of our Constitution is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded." Our nation's uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: We the people. "We the People" have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined.

Justice has often been forged from fires of indignities and prejudices suffered. Our triumphs that celebrate the freedom of choice are hallowed. We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect….

Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: "It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just. . . the same thing—fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have. "

The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court's power, they and all others shall have.

Wright Allen—whose ruling is stayed pending appeal—also addressed arguments from Virginia officials that gay marriage broke with tradition. "Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so," she wrote. "However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia's ban on interracial marriage."

The Virginia case now joins the Oklahoma and Utah cases in the race to the Supreme Court, which may have the final word on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

Read Wright Allen's entire opinion below:

 

Corn on "Hardball": John Boehner Moves Forward With Clean Debt Ceiling Extension, Angers Tea Party

Thu Feb. 13, 2014 12:33 PM PST

Mother Jones DC Bureau Chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Chris Matthews about John Boehner's decision to move forward with a clean debt ceiling extension and the "inevitable clash between two wings within the Republican party." Watch here:

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

This Map Is Not the Benghazi Smoking Gun Conservatives Think It Is

| Thu Feb. 13, 2014 11:53 AM PST
Department of the Navy

This map of the location of US Navy ships during the 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch, is the latest purported smoking gun in what Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has called "the worst tragedy since 9/11." The implication: The White House was in a position to intervene while the attack was ongoing but, for some reason, chose not to. "Map Shows Dozens of U.S. Military Ships Stationed In North Africa Waters During Benghazi Attack," wrote Katie Pavlich at Town Hall, a headline that was picked up by the esteemed Fox Nation.

But that's not quite right. Most of the "dozens" of ships were nowhere near Benghazi, and the list includes many vessels that wouldn't do much good in a rescue situation. For instance, the Lewis and Clark is a cargo vessel, and it was somewhere off the coast of West Africa. The map features eight minesweepers and a tug boat in Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, a very long way from Benghazi. The Laramie, an oiler, was off the coast of Yemen. Per the Navy, the nearest aircraft carrier was 128 hours away. Only a handful of ships were even in the same body of water as Benghazi, and given the small window in which the attack unfolded, mobilizing a destroyer from the Iranian coastline probably wasn't going to fix the problem.

Still, with Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state at the time, mulling a presidential bid, expect even more Benghazi "smoking guns" in the years ahead.