Political MoJo

Ben Carson Says Prison Is So Comfy Some People Never Want to Leave

| Wed Jul. 22, 2015 1:05 PM EDT

President Barack Obama visited a federal prison in Oklahoma last week to discuss sentencing reform for non-violent drug offenses. At an event in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson revealed that he, too, had visited federal prisons—and had a much different takeaway. Federal prisons are really nice!

From the Washington Post:

"I was flabbergasted by the accommodations—the exercise equipment, the libraries and the computers," he said. He said he was told that "a lot of times when it's about time for one of the guys to be discharged, especially when its winter, they'll do something so they can stay in there."

...

"I think that we need to sometimes ask ourselves, 'Are we creating an environment that is conducive to comfort where a person would want to stay, versus an environment where we maybe provide them an opportunity for rehabilitation but is not a place that they would find particularly comfortable?'" he told reporters.

Not all federal prisons are alike, but to put his experiences in perspective, Carson may want to read up on the federal maximum-security facility in Florence, Colorado:

A federal class-action lawsuit filed in June alleges that many ADX prisoners suffer from severe mental illness that has been exacerbated or even caused by their years of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation in small concrete cells. It claims that the BOP fails to provide even a semblance of psychiatric care to these prisoners, with grisly results. According to a litigation fact sheet, "inmates often mutilate themselves with razors, shards of glass, sharpened chicken bones, writing utensils and other objects. Many engage in prolonged fits of screaming and ranting. Others converse aloud with the voices they hear in their heads. Still others spread feces and other waste throughout their cells. Suicide attempts are common. Many have been successful.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Jeb Bush Stiffs Christian Group on Poverty Video

| Tue Jul. 21, 2015 2:15 PM EDT
Jeb Bush talks about poverty. Sort of.

More than 100 Christian leaders from the right and the left working under the umbrella group Circle of Protection recently asked all of the presidential candidates to make a three-minute video answering this question: "What would you do as president to offer help and opportunity to hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world?" Ben Carson, Bernie Sanders, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Carly Fiorina each responded with videos specifically produced for this project that to varying degrees answer the question. Jeb Bush replied by sending the group a stock campaign ad.

The non-Bush videos are mostly mediocre in production value and content. The Republican candidates couch most of their rhetoric in religious terms, suggesting that they would encourage families and churches take care of their own, with no help from the government. Cruz, in an awkward video, talks directly to the camera to declare the War on Poverty an abject failure. He promises to "reward" Americans who give money to Christian ministries. Fiorina barely manages to eke out a whole minute talking about the subject, but she works in lots of references to God. Carson suggests that big US agricultural companies working in Cameroon hold the key to helping the hungry. Sanders' video is low-budget but at least presents specific proposals, including funding infrastructure improvements to put people to work. Huckabee's video shows his childhood home in Hope, Arkansas. He vows to protect Medicare and Social Security.

Jeb Bush didn't bother to cut a video for the Circle of Protection, which includes the National Association of Evangelicals. Instead, he sent in the "Making a Difference" video he released last month to "introduce himself to the nation" before officially announcing his presidential campaign. The spot has high production values, music, and lots of other people talking: the mother of a developmentally disabled child; a formerly battered woman; a kid who got a private school voucher. It's easier to watch than Cruz's. But it's just a campaign ad.

Chris Ford, media relations manager for Bread for the World, one of the founders of the Circle of Protection, says that the group is not commenting on the individual videos and is "letting the voters decide" what to think. More videos, which will be circulated to churches across the country, are expected in the next week or so from Hillary Clinton, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Martin O'Malley and Rand Paul. Ford says that the group has reached out to Donald Trump, but he hasn't responded to its requests.

You can watch the Bush video here:

 

Donald Trump Just Gave the Most Insane Campaign Speech Ever

| Tue Jul. 21, 2015 1:30 PM EDT

Speaking at his first campaign rally in South Carolina on Tuesday, Donald Trump addressed his critics and fellow Republican presidential candidates calling for him to step out of the race.

He specifically fired back at Sen. Lindsey Graham's comments calling Trump a "jackass" yesterday by giving out his personal cell phone number.

Keeping in line with his obsession over who is and who is not smart, Trump said of Graham, "He doesn’t seem like a very bright guy. He actually probably seems to me not as bright as Rick Perry. I think Rick Perry probably is smarter than Lindsey Graham."

Other low-lights included in the near 45-minute stump speech: "If you can't get rich dealing with politicians, there's something wrong with you" and "I'm the most militaristic person ever."

Watch below for the entire spectacle:

"I Like People That Weren't Captured, Okay?" Trump Pooh-Poohs McCain's Vietnam Service

| Sat Jul. 18, 2015 1:57 PM EDT

"Tinted meatball" Donald Trump attacked the Vietnam service of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at a social conservative confab in Iowa on Saturday, boasting that the 2008 Republican presidential nominee was only considered a war hero "because he was captured."

"I like people that weren't captured, okay?," he told moderator Frank Luntz.

Watch:

Trump, who missed the Vietnam War after getting a series of student and medical deferments, has now left an opening for the Republican presidential candidates who trail him in the polls (which is most of them) to get a few clean jabs in. But it's not as simple as it sounds. McCain is not a popular figure among conservative activists, and the entire appeal of Trump is that he says things like this about people that conservative activists don't like. (It certainly wouldn't be the first time conservative voters overlooked a gratuitous shot at a candidate's war record because they didn't like his politics.)

True to form, the audience in Iowa ate it up:

Update: Now the backlash from Trump's fellow contenders is pouring in. Here's Jeb Bush:

And longtime McCain bestie Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):

Ex-Congressman Michael Grimm Gets Eight Months in Prison for Tax Crimes

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 12:58 PM EDT

Former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), the Staten Islander best known for threatening on-camera to "break" a reporter "in half—like a boy," has been sentenced by a federal judge to eight months in prison for tax evasion.

The sentencing, by US District Judge Pamela Chen, comes seven months after Grimm pleaded guilty to his role in filing a false tax return. Grimm had been indicted in April 2014 on 20 counts related to accounting practices at Healthalicious, a Manhattan restaurant he owned before his time in Congress. The restaurant's co-owner, Bennett Orfaly, has previously been accused of having ties to a convicted Gambino family mobster.

Despite his indictment, last year, Grimm ran for reelection to his third term in Congress—and won. It was not until December 30—seven days after entering his guilty plea—that he announced his intentions to resign his seat.

Before Grimm was the target of an investigation by the FBI, he served for two decades as one of its agents. It was during this time that Grimm reportedly pulled a gun in a Queens nightclub, and, after a bouncer ejected him, stormed the nightclub with another FBI agent and members of the NYPD. "I'm a fucking F.B.I. agent," Grimm reportedly said. "Ain't nobody gonna threaten me."

White, Anti-Immigrant Congressman Steve King Says He's Just as Latino as Julian Castro

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 11:10 AM EDT

This retort, from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Washington's most notorious immigration hawk, is just weird.

I uh...didn't know that. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro is Mexican-American, the son of a noted Chicano political activist from San Antonio. A local newspaper profile in 2002 describes King's ancestry as Irish, German, and Welsh. Steve King is not Hispanic or Latino by any conventional definition.

We've reached out to King's office for clarification and will update if we get a response.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

BREAKING: James Holmes Found Guilty in Aurora Massacre Trial

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 6:32 PM EDT

Three years after he killed 12 people and injured 70 more in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a jury has found James Holmes guilty of first degree murder.

The jury concluded that Holmes was not legally insane at the time he committed the crimes, despite evidence of mental illness. Holmes' mental state will come into play again in the penalty phase of the trial, in which jurors will hear testimony and decide whether he is eligible for execution.

Which raises the question: How crazy is too crazy to be executed? Here's how capital defense lawyer and occasional Mother Jones contributor Marc Bookman put it in a remarkable essay with precisely that title:

There is no simple answer to this question. State courts across the country have struggled to define "intellectual disability" (also known as mental retardation) since 2002, when the Supreme Court ruled that retarded people are exempt from capital punishment. The high court has also banned the execution of anyone who was under 18 at the time of his crime, but no court has ruled that severe mental illness makes a person ineligible for the death penalty.

The Supreme Court's latest foray into the issue involved the case of Scott Louis Panetti, another Texas death row inmate. Panetti, a diagnosed schizophrenic who killed his in-laws, defended himself in court wearing a purple cowboy suit. As if that weren't enough, he asked to subpoena Jesus, John F. Kennedy, and the pope. While the justices didn't offer any clear standard on how crazy is too crazy, they suggested that severe mental illness might render someone's "perception of reality so distorted" that he cannot be constitutionally executed.

As it stands, a person cannot be put to death if he or she is deemed "insane," but that's a narrow legal distinction. Whether at trial or on the eve of execution, an insanity defense hinges on a defendant's inability to connect his crime with the consequences. Absent that connection, neither deterrence nor retribution is served by execution. As the legal scholar Sir William Blackstone put it more than 200 years ago, madness is its own punishment.

Almost every state now utilizes some version of what is known as the M'Naghten Rule. Daniel M'Naghten, an Englishman, was put on trial in 1843 for fatally shooting a civil servant he apparently mistook for the prime minister. He had delusions of persecution, and a number of doctors testified that he was unable to hold himself back. When the prosecution produced no witness to say otherwise, M'Naghten was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent most of the rest of his life at the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum in London's Bethlem Royal Hospital, which locals pronounced "Bedlam."

Thus was coined a word we associate with chaos—and it was chaos that ensued when M'Naghten was acquitted and the public took the verdict poorly. What emerged amid the outcry was the generally applied law that an insanity defense would only be available to someone who cannot understand the "nature and quality" of his act.

In a more recent piece focusing on the Panetti case, staff reporter Stephanie Mencimer digs deeper into the high court's thinking, and demonstrates in a followup analysis why it is so difficult, once a case gets to this stage, to reverse momentum toward a verdict of death.

Chattanooga Attacks Kill 5 People Including Gunman

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 3:32 PM EDT
An Armed Forces Recruitment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was attacked on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, a gunman shot and killed four Marines after opening fire at two separate military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The attacker, identified as 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez by both NBC and CBS, was also killed. Authorities are currently investigating the shootings as a possible act of domestic terrorism. 

 

The gunman reportedly first opened fire Thursday morning at a military recruitment facility. The attacker then traveled to a Navy reserve center roughly six miles away and opened fire again. A police officer was also injured.

This is a breaking news post.

President Obama Gets Greeted by Confederate Flags in Oklahoma City

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 11:48 AM EDT

On Wednesday night, demonstrators on the streets of Oklahoma City waved Confederate flags as President Obama's motorcade arrived, a stark scene captured by a New York Times photographer.

The incident comes in the midst of a renewed national push to remove the battle flag from government sites after the massacre inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month. Similar counter rallies embracing the slogan "Confederate Lives Matter" were scheduled in Oklahoma City ahead of the president's visit.

Following the attack in Charleston, Obama delivered an impassioned eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator and one of the nine people murdered, in which the president called the flag's enduring presence in the South a "reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation."

While South Carolina finally lowered the flag on state capitol grounds last week after more than 50 years, this latest scene encountered by the country's first black president is a reminder that the path to a more perfect union is still very much a work in progress.

Another Fatal Police Shooting Caught on Video—and More Questions About a Dispatcher's Role

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

On Tuesday, a federal court ordered the release of video showing a June 2013 police shooting in Gardena, California (a city in southern Los Angeles County) in which an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, was killed and another unarmed man wounded. Previously, an internal review by the Gardena Police Department had concluded that the shooting was justified, and prosecutors in Gardena decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved. In May, the City of Gardena agreed to pay $4.7 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the family of Diaz-Zeferino. But the newly released police dash cam footage, first posted by the Los Angeles Times, has raised questions about the events leading up to the fatal encounter—including the potential mishandling of a 911 call, an issue that has come up with other officer-involved killings.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there may have been a miscommunication by the police dispatcher:

The shooting occurred about 2:30 a.m. on June 2, 2013, after a bicycle was stolen from outside a CVS Pharmacy on Western Avenue. A police dispatcher mistakenly told officers that the crime was a robbery, which usually involves a theft using weapons or force, and officers headed to the area in search of two suspects.

Gardena police Sgt. Christopher Cuff saw two men riding bicycles east on Redondo Beach Boulevard. The men were friends of the bike theft victim and were searching for the missing bicycle. Mistaking them for the thieves, Cuff ordered the men to stop and put their hands up, according to a district attorney's memo written by a prosecutor who reviewed the police videos.

The Gardena killing is the latest in a string of high-profile police shootings captured on video, which have brought scrutiny on police tactics and procedures. With the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland, evidence emerged that the dispatcher who relayed the 911 call did not include potentially key details about the suspect, as Mother Jones previously reported. And according to a recent Washington Post data investigation of police shootings of mentally ill suspects, "officers are routinely dispatched with information that is incomplete or wrong."