Political MoJo

Key Obama Adviser: "There’s Never Been a Time When We’ve Taken Progressive Action and Regretted It"

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 5:33 PM EDT

Here to jump start your weekend is a "Quote of the Week," taken from Jonathan Chait's interview with longtime Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer, who worked closely with president from the 2008 campaign until his resignation last week. Their conversation focused on the president's embrace of liberalism in the face of a staunch GOP-controlled Congress. Pfeiffer's choice quote:

Whenever we contemplate bold progressive action, whether that’s the president's endorsement of marriage equality, or coming out strong on power-plant rules to reduce current pollution, on immigration, on net neutrality, you get a lot of hemming and hawing in advance about what this is going to mean: Is this going to alienate people? Is this going to hurt the president's approval ratings? What will this mean in red states?

There's never been a time when we’ve taken progressive action and regretted it.

Happy Friday!

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This Arizona Lawmaker Bravely Revealed Her Sexual Assault to Fight a Restrictive Abortion Bill

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 2:18 PM EDT

Arizona state Rep. Victoria Steele (D) revealed during emotional testimony Wednesday that she was molested by a male relative when she was a young girl. Steele, who was speaking against a bill that would make it harder for women to elect abortion coverage in plans bought through the Affordable Care Act, hadn't planned to talk about her past abuse, she explained later. But when committee chair Kelly Townsend asked her whether she felt abortion was a medical service, she felt compelled to share her experience.

"When I was a child, I was molested for years by one particular person," Steele testified. "This is health care. Having the ability to get an abortion. This is health care. And that's why I see this as necessary."

Steele said she later found out there were multiple victims, one of whom told her their molester had told her he would "stick a pencil up there and take care of it" if she ever ended up pregnant.

After Steele's testimony, a state House committee approved the bill by a 5-3 party-line vote. The bill now faces a vote before the full House.

In an editorial for Cosmopolitan published on Friday, Steele said she expected the bill to survive further debate, but explained why she thinks it's  dangerous for women's rights:

I was sexually abused by an adult over a period of years when I was a young girl. My immediate family didn't know about this until long after I had grown up and left home. When I was a child, I thought I was the only one. Then I found out that this person had many victims.

What I want, what I'm really hoping will come of all of this is that people will realize that this bill will cause women who have been raped recently, who are now pregnant as a result of their rape, to have to tell their insurance panel, or even their insurance agent, about one of the most horrific things that can happen to a person in order to get the exception that this bill will allow.

The NYPD Is Editing the Wikipedia Pages of Eric Garner, Sean Bell

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 11:03 AM EDT

Edits to the Wikipedia entries of several high-profile police brutality cases, including those of Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell, trace back to the headquarters of the New York Police Department, Capital New York reports this morning. The pages have been edited to cast the NYPD in a more favorable light and lessen allegations of police misconduct. The edits are currently the subject of an NYPD internal review.

In the case of Garner, who died while placed in a chokehold by a NYPD officer last summer, the word "chokehold" was swapped for "respiratory distress" and the line "Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them" was added. The changes ostensibly suggest Garner's death was his own fault.

Such modifications echo the views of NYPD supporters, including Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) who adamantly declared Garner would not have died had he not been so "obese." In August, the city's medical examiner officially ruled Garner's death a homicide due to the chokehold.

The Wikipedia activity brewing at 1 Police Plaza took a distinctly more bizarre turn with edits to the pages "Ice Cream Soda," "Who Moved My Cheese?" "Chumbawamba," and "Stone Cold Steve Austin."

Following Capital New York's story on Friday, the Twitter account "NYPD Edits" was created to keep tabs on any future changes authored by the NYPD.

Joe Biden Blasts Republicans for Letter to Iran

| Tue Mar. 10, 2015 3:32 PM EDT

Joe Biden's pissed. Yesterday, 47 GOP senators sent a letter to Iranian leaders suggesting that the negotiations with President Obama over their nuclear program were essentially a waste of time, stating: "The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen...and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time." Biden, who served in US Senate for 36 years, responded with his own blistering rebuttal, writing that the senators' letter is "beneath the dignity of an institution I revere."

He wrote:

The senator’s letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger...

Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval....

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

Iran's response to the GOP letter, which was spearheaded by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton who previously argued that the US should seek "regime change" in Iran rather than conduct negotiations, was similarly dismissive. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Monday chalked it up to little more than "a propaganda ploy" that had "no legal value," adding: "I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with 'the stroke of a pen,' as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law."

Biden goes on to note that the senators have offered "no viable alternative" to the diplomatic negotiations, and the letter seeking to undermine them sends a message to the international community that is "as false as it is dangerous."

Here's Biden's letter in full:

I served in the United States Senate for thirty-six years. I believe deeply in its traditions, in its value as an institution, and in its indispensable constitutional role in the conduct of our foreign policy. The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.

The senator’s letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.

Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress. However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as Presidents and Congresses come and go.

Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval.

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.

There is no perfect solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. However, a diplomatic solution that puts significant and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program represents the best, most sustainable chance to ensure that America, Israel, and the world will never be menaced by a nuclear-armed Iran. This letter is designed to convince Iran’s leaders not to reach such an understanding with the United States.The author of this letter has been explicit that he is seeking to take any action that will end President Obama’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran. But to what end? If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones. Without diplomacy or increased pressure, the need to resort to military force becomes much more likely—at a time when our forces are already engaged in the fight against ISIL.

The President has committed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He has made clear that no deal is preferable to a bad deal that fails to achieve this objective, and he has made clear that all options remain on the table. The current negotiations offer the best prospect in many years to address the serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It would be a dangerous mistake to scuttle a peaceful resolution, especially while diplomacy is still underway.

 

Hillary Clinton Just Responded to Her Email Controversy

| Tue Mar. 10, 2015 2:26 PM EDT

On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton responded to questions from reporters regarding the ongoing controversy over her exclusive use of personal email while she was serving as secretary of state.

"I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal e-mails than two," Clinton said. "I did it for convenience and I now looking back think that it might have been smarter to have those two devices from the very beginning."

Although the email revelation, which was reported by the New York Times last week, does not appear to have affected top Democratic donors' enthusiasm for Clinton, it has prompted renewed questions about the likely presidential candidate's propensity for secrecy.

Aside from a tweet saying she requested the State Department publicize 55,000 pages of emails that she turned over, Clinton has largely avoided addressing the emails until today. 

For more on the Clintons and their relationship with the media in the wake of this latest controversy, read David Corn's analysis here. 

Her full transcript below: 

I want to thank the United Nations for hosting today's events and putting the challenge of gender equality front and center on the international agenda. I'm especially pleased to have so many leaders here from the private sector standing shoulder to shoulder with advocates who have worked tirelessly for equality for decades.

Twenty years ago, this was a lonelier struggle. Today, we mark the progress that has been made in the two decades since the international community gathered in Beijing and declared with one voice that human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights.

And because of advances in health, education, and legal protections, we can say that there has never been a better time in history to be born female. Yet as the comprehensive new report, published by the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation this week makes clear, despite all this progress, when it comes to the full participation of women and girls, we're just not there yet.

As I said today, this remains the great unfinished business of the 21st century. And my passion for this fight burns as brightly today as it did 20 years ago.

I want to comment on a matter in the news today regarding Iran. The president and his team are in the midst of intense negotiations. Their goal is a diplomatic solution that would close off Iran's pathways to a nuclear bomb and give us unprecedented access and insight into Iran's nuclear program.

Now, reasonable people can disagree about what exactly it will take to accomplish this objective, and we all must judge any final agreement on its merits.

But the recent letter from Republican senators was out of step with the best traditions of American leadership. And one has to ask, what was the purpose of this letter?

There appear to be two logical answers. Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander- in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy. Either answer does discredit to the letters' signatories.

Now, I would be pleased to talk more about this important matter, but I know there have been questions about my email, so I want to address that directly, and then I will take a few questions from you.

There are four things I want the public to know.

First, when I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.

Looking back, it would've been better if I'd simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue.

Second, the vast majority of my work emails went to government employees at their government addresses, which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department.

Third, after I left office, the State Department asked former secretaries of state for our assistance in providing copies of work- related emails from our personal accounts. I responded right away and provided all my emails that could possibly be work-related, which totalled roughly 55,000 printed pages, even though I knew that the State Department already had the vast majority of them. We went through a thorough process to identify all of my work- related emails and deliver them to the State Department. At the end, I chose not to keep my private personal emails -- emails about planning Chelsea's wedding or my mother's funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes.

No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.

Fourth, I took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work-related emails public for everyone to see.

I am very proud of the work that I and my colleagues and our public servants at the department did during my four years as secretary of state, and I look forward to people being able to see that for themselves.

Again, looking back, it would've been better for me to use two separate phones and two email accounts. I thought using one device would be simpler, and obviously, it hasn't worked out that way.

Now I'm happy to take a few questions.

QUESTION: Sorry.

Madam Secretary, Kahraman Haliscelik with Turkish Television. On behalf of the U.N. Correspondence Association, thank you very much for your remarks, and it's wonderful to see you here again.

Madam Secretary, why did you opt out not using two devices at the time? Obviously, if this didn't come out, you wouldn't -- probably wouldn't become an issue.

QUESTION: And my -- my second follow-up question is, if you were a man today, would all this fuss being made be made?

Thank you.

CLINTON: Well, I will -- I will leave that to others to answer.

But as I -- as I said, I saw it as a matter of convenience, and it was allowed. Others had done it. According to the State Department, which recently said Secretary Kerry was the first secretary of state to rely primarily on a state.gov e-mail account.

And when I got there, I wanted to just use one device for both personal and work e-mails, instead of two. It was allowed. And as I said, it was for convenience. And it was my practice to communicate with State Department and other government officials on their .gov accounts so those e-mails would be automatically saved in the State Department system to meet recordkeeping requirements, and that, indeed, is what happened.

And I heard just a little while ago the State Department announced they would begin to post some of my e-mails, which I'm very glad to hear, because I want it all out there.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, can you...

CLINTON: Andrea? Andrea, thank you, Andrea.

QUESTION: Can you explain how you decided which of the personal e-mails to get rid of, how you got rid of them and when? And how you'll respond to questions about you being the arbiter of what you release?

And, secondly, could you answer the questions that have been raised about foreign contributions from Middle Eastern countries, like Saudi Arabia, that abuse women or permit violence against women to the family foundation and whether that disturbs you as you are rightly celebrating 20 years of leadership on this issue?

CLINTON: Well, those are two very different questions. Let me see if I can take them in order. And I'll give you some of the background.

In going through the e-mails, there were over 60,000 in total, sent and received. About half were work-related and went to the State Department and about half were personal that were not in any way related to my work. I had no reason to save them, but that was my decision because the federal guidelines are clear and the State Department request was clear.

For any government employee, it is that government employee's responsibility to determine what's personal and what's work-related. I am very confident of the process that we conducted and the e-mails that were produced.

And I feel like once the American public begins to see the e- mails, they will have an unprecedented insight into a high government official's daily communications, which I think will be quite interesting.

With respect to the foundation, I am very proud of the work the foundation does. I'm very proud of the hundreds of thousands of people who support the work of the foundation and the results that have been achieved for people here at home and around the world.

And I think that we are very clear about where we stand, certainly where I stand, on all of these issues. There can't be any mistake about my passion concerning women's rights here at home and around the world.

So I think that people who want to support the foundation know full well what it is we stand for and what we're working on.

CLINTON: Hi, right here.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton?

CLINTON: She's sort of squashed, so we've got to...

QUESTION: Hi, Secretary.

CLINTON: Hi.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you think that you made a mistake either in exclusively using your private e-mail or in response to the controversy around it. And, if so, what have you learned from that?

CLINTON: Well, I have to tell you that, as I said in my remarks, looking back, it would have been probably, you know, smarter to have used two devices. But I have absolute confidence that everything that could be in any way connected to work is now in the possession of the State Department.

And I have to add, even if I had had two devices, which is obviously permitted -- many people do that -- you would still have to put the responsibility where it belongs, which is on the official. So I did it for convenience and I now, looking back, think that it might have been smarter to have those two devices from the very beginning.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton?

CLINTON: Yes? QUESTION: Did you or any of your aides delete any government- related e-mails from your personal account? And what lengths are you willing to go to to prove that you didn't?

Some people, including supporters of yours, have suggested having an independent arbiter look at your server, for instance.

CLINTON: We did not. In fact, my direction to conduct the thorough investigation was to err on the side of providing anything that could be possibly viewed as work related.

That doesn't mean they will be by the State Department once the State Department goes through them, but out of an abundance of caution and care, you know, we wanted to send that message unequivocally.

That is the responsibility of the individual and I have fulfilled that responsibility, and I have no doubt that we have done exactly what we should have done. When the search was conducted, we were asking that any email be identified and preserved that could potentially be federal records, and that's exactly what we did.

And we went, as I said, beyond that. And the process produced over 30,000 you know, work emails, and I think that we have more than met the requests from the State Department. The server contains personal communications from my husband and me, and I believe I have met all of my responsibilities and the server will remain private and I think that the State Department will be able, over time, to release all of the records that were provided.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, can you...

CLINTON: Right there.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, two quick follow ups. You mentioned the server. That's one of the distinctions here.

This wasn't Gmail or Yahoo or something. This was a server that you owned. Is that appropriate? Is it -- was there any precedent for it? Did you clear it with any State Department security officials? And do they have -- did they have full access to it when you were secretary?

And then separately, will any of this have any bearing or effect on your timing or decision about whether or not you run for president? Thank you.

CLINTON: Well, the system we used was set up for President Clinton's office. And it had numerous safeguards. It was on property guarded by the Secret Service. And there were no security breaches.

So, I think that the -- the use of that server, which started with my husband, certainly proved to be effective and secure. Now, with respect to any sort of future -- future issues, look, I trust the American people to make their decisions about political and public matters. And I feel that I've taken unprecedented steps to provide these work-related emails. They're going to be in the public domain. And I think that Americans will find that you know, interesting, and I look forward to having a discussion about that.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary?

CLINTON: Hi.

QUESTION: How could the public be assured that when you deleted emails that were personal in nature, that you didn't also delete emails that were professional, but possibly unflattering?

And what do you think about this Republican idea of having an independent third party come in an examine your emails?

CLINTON: Well first of all, you have to ask that question to every single federal employee, because the way the system works, the federal employee, the individual, whether they have one device, two devices, three devices, how many addresses, they make the decision.

So, even if you have a work-related device with a work-related .gov account, you choose what goes on that. That is the way our system works. And so we trust and count on the judgment of thousands, maybe millions of people to make those decisions.

And I feel that I did that and even more, that I went above and beyond what I was requested to do. And again, those will be out in the public domain, and people will be able to judge for themselves.

QUESTION: Okay, Madam.

Madam Secretary?

Madam Secretary, excuse me.

Madam Secretary, State Department rules at the time you were secretary were perfectly clear that if a State Department employee was going to be using private email, that employee needed to turn those emails over to the State Department to be preserved on government computers.

Why did you not do that? Why did you not go along with State Department rules until nearly two years after you left office?

QUESTION: And also, the president of the United States said that he was unaware that you had this unusual email arrangement. The White House counsel's office says that you never approved this arrangement through them.

Why did you not do that? Why did you -- why have you apparently caught the White House by surprise?

And then just one last political question, if I -- I might. Does all of this make -- affect your decision in any way on whether or not to run for president?

CLINTON: Well, let me try to unpack your multiple questions.

First, the laws and regulations in effect when I was secretary of state allowed me to use my email for work. That is undisputed.

Secondly, under the Federal Records Act, records are defined as reported information, regardless of its form or characteristics, and in meeting the record keeping obligations, it was my practice to email government officials on their state or other .gov accounts so that the emails were immediately captured and preserved.

Now, there are different rules governing the White House than there are governing the rest of the executive branch, and in order to address the requirements I was under, I did exactly what I have said. I emailed two people, and I not only knew, I expected that then to be captured in the State Department or any other government agency that I was emailing to at a .gov account.

What happened in -- sorry, I guess late summer, early -- early fall, is that the State Department sent a letter to former secretaries of state, not just to me, asking for some assistance in providing any work-related emails that might be on the personal email.

And what I did was to direct, you know, my counsel to conduct a thorough investigation and to err on the side of providing anything that could be connected to work. They did that, and that was my obligation. I fully fulfilled it, and then I took the unprecedented step of saying, "Go ahead and release them, and let people see them."

QUESTION: Why did you wait two months? Why -- why did you wait two months to turn those emails over? The rules say you have to turn them over...

(CROSSTALK) CLINTON: I don't think -- I'd be happy to have somebody talk to you about the rules. I fully complied with every rule that I was governed by.

QUESTION: Were you ever -- were you ever specifically briefed on the security implications of using -- using your own email server and using your personal address to email with the president?

CLINTON: I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.

So I'm certainly well-aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CLINTON: Because they were personal and private about matters that I believed were within the scope of my personal privacy and that particularly of other people. They have nothing to do with work, but I didn't see any reason to keep them.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: At the end of the process.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... who was forced to resign two years ago because of his personal use of emails?

By the way, David Shuster from Al Jazeera America.

CLINTON: Yeah. Right...

QUESTION: What about Ambassador Scott (inaudible) being forced to resign?

CLINTON: David, I think you should go online and read the entire I.G. report. That is not an accurate representation of what happened.

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all.

Iran's Foreign Minister Dismisses GOP Letter as "Propaganda Ploy"

| Tue Mar. 10, 2015 9:49 AM EDT

On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to a controversial letter signed by 47 GOP senators urging Iran to reject a nuclear deal with the United States, dismissing the message as "mostly a propaganda ploy" that aimed to undermine President Barack Obama's diplomatic efforts. Zarif said in a statement:

It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.

The Republican letter, which was organized by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, warned Iran's leaders that a nuclear agreement with Obama could be scrapped by any president who succeeds him. The message was clear: if you accept this deal, you could end up screwed; so don't do it. It was a brazen attempt to sabotage Obama's attempt to curb Iran's nuclear program through a negotiated accord between Iran, the United States, and other nations.

In his response, Zarif challenged Cotton and his fellow Republicans on their reading of international law:

The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.

Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran's peaceful nuclear program.

This latest attempt orchestrated by Republicans to undercut the president's negotiations with Iran angered the White House and sparked a furious response by Vice President Joe Biden, who slammed the GOP senators' letter as "beneath the dignity of the institution I revere." Several GOP senators also criticized the move, expressing concern that Cotton's letter could backfire and spur additional support for a nuclear deal.

"It’s more appropriate for members of the Senate to give advice to the president, to Secretary Kerry and to the negotiators," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said. "I don’t think that the ayatollah is going to be particularly convinced by a letter from members of the Senate, even one signed by a number of my distinguished and high ranking colleagues."

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50 Years Ago Today, "Bloody Sunday" Catalyzed The Civil Rights Movement. Are We Backsliding?

| Sat Mar. 7, 2015 6:55 AM EST

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" assault in Alabama, where on March 7, 1965, police violently assaulted hundreds of demonstrators attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the fatal police shooting of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson.

Hurling clubs and tear-gas cannisters, state and local police viciously attacked more than 500 people that day. Images and footage capturing the violence shocked the nation and left an indelible mark on the civil rights movement. The march forced a new level of public awareness of the struggles shouldered by civil rights activists and African Americans, and is credited for helping pave the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

AP
AP

James "Spider" Martin, who died in 2003, was a young photographer at the Birmingham News assigned to cover the march. NPR recently broadcast an interview he did in 1987 about the day's brutal events.

"He walks over to me and, blow! Hits me right here in the back of the head," Martin said upon recalling a moment when a police officer approached him. "I still got a dent in my head and I still have nerve damage there. I go down on my knees and I'm like seeing stars and there's tear gas everywhere. And then he grabs me by the shirt and he looks straight in my eyes and he just dropped me and said, 'Scuse me. Thought you was a nigger.'"

President Obama and many other dignitaries are scheduled to visit Selma this weekend to commemorate the anniversary. On Friday, Obama called the work of civil rights activists an "unfinished project." The president's comment came in the wake of numerous high profile deaths of black men at the hands of police, and just days after a federal investigation cleared former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown last August, of possible civil rights violations. At the same time, the Justice Department released a federal report detailing years of rampant racial discrimination, including disproportionate arrests of African Americans, carried out by the Ferguson Police Department.

Brown's death and the failure of a grand jury to indict Wilson sparked a firestorm of debate over policing policies, with violent protests demanding police reform and that Wilson be prosecuted breaking out across the country. Many say the aggressive display of force by police officials towards non-violent demonstrators in Ferguson mirrored the events in Selma nearly fifty years prior.

AP/Charlie Riedel
 

Also at the forefront of this weekend's "Bloody Sunday" anniversary is the Supreme Court's recent gutting of the pivotal Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of discrimination to seek federal authority before attempting to alter local voting laws. In 2013, the court voted 5-4 to strike down a crucial tenet of the landmark legislation. The decision ultimately allowed states, including North Carolina and Texas, to enact strict voter ID laws without automatic Justice Department review. Many say such laws make it increasingly difficult for minorities to cast ballots.

"It is perversely ironic to commemorate the past without demonstrating the courage of that past in the present," NAACP president Cornell Brooks told The Atlantic's Russell Berman last week. "In other words we can't really give gold medals to those who marched from Selma to Montgomery without giving a committee vote to the legislation that protects the right to vote today."

Tea Party Darling Ben Carson Says Prisoners Prove That Homosexuality Is A Choice

| Wed Mar. 4, 2015 10:45 AM EST

Ben Carson, the prospective 2016 presidential hopeful beloved by Tea Partiers, told CNN host Chris Cuomo on Wednesday that he believes homosexuality is "absolutely" a choice—because "a lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight, and when they come out, they're gay." 

The former neurosurgeon went on, "So did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question."

Carson, who has previously compared homosexuality to murder and bestiality, also said that states should decide the legality of gay marriage, not the Supreme Court. Watch below:

 

Obama: Netanyahu's Speech Fails to Offer "Viable Alternatives" on Iran

| Tue Mar. 3, 2015 5:27 PM EST

President Barack Obama weighed in on Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial address to Congress on Tuesday, saying the Israeli prime minister's remarks did not provide any "viable alternatives" to preventing Iran from securing a nuclear weapon.

The Associated Press reported that after reading a transcript of the speech, Obama noted that Netanyahu used essentially the same language as when the United States brokered an interim deal with Iran, a deal the president said Iran followed through on by scaling back its nuclear program. White House officials also slammed the address:

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu characterized the negotiations—which would ease sanctions against Iran in exchange for limits on the country's nuclear program—as a "bad deal" that would inevitably strengthen Iran's nuclear capabilities, rather than stopping them.

"I don't believe that Iran's radical regime will change for the better after this deal," Netanyahu said. "This regime has been in power for 36 years and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year. This deal would whet their appetite—would only whet Iran's appetite for more."

In January, House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress without consulting the White House—a move that received widespread condemnation from Republicans and Democrats as a clear attempt to undermine the president's authority. As many as 60 Democrats boycotted Tuesday's speech.

DOJ Finds Pervasive Racial Bias at Ferguson Police Department

| Tue Mar. 3, 2015 4:10 PM EST

The Department of Justice has concluded that the Ferguson Police Department engaged in racially biased practices, including disproportionately arresting African-Americans during routine traffic stops. The findings are the result of an investigation launched back in September, which found that systematic biased behavior, including "racist jokes about blacks" on police email accounts, have resulted in fractured race relations in the Missouri community and a deep mistrust of police officials. From the Times:

In compiling the report, federal investigators conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed 35,000 pages of police records and analyzed race data compiled for every police stop. They concluded that, over the past two years, African-Americans made up about two-thirds of the city’s population but accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of citations, 93 percent of arrests and 88 percent of cases in which the police used force.

The full report is expected to be released on Wednesday.

The findings are separate from an FBI investigation focused on Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown last August. According to previous reports, the Justice Department is planning to clear Wilson of civil rights charges.

Brown's shooting death and a Ferguson grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson sparked a national debate on police brutality and racist police practices.