Political MoJo

Chelsea Manning Just Started Tweeting From Prison

| Fri Apr. 3, 2015 3:41 PM EDT

Chelsea Manning has joined Twitter from inside the walls of Kansas's Fort Leavenworth prison, where she is currently serving a 35-year sentence for providing classified material to Wikileaks. Using the handle @xychelsea, the account has already amassed over 12,000 followers.

"She is committed to having a voice and engaging with the public and will try to be present on Twitter as much as she is able to connect with people on the outside," ACLU attorney Chase Strangio told Politico.

In February, the military approved a request from Manning, who was born a male and formerly went by the name Bradley, to undergo hormone therapy in order to transition into a woman. That same month, the Guardian announced it had hired Manning to write from prison as a contributor on topics of gender and war.

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Obama Just Announced a Historic Nuclear Agreement With Iran

| Thu Apr. 2, 2015 3:38 PM EDT

Speaking from the Rose Garden on Thursday, President Obama addressed a preliminary agreement reached earlier in the day that seeks to limit Iran's controversial nuclear program. The deal, which includes the participation of European allies, is expected to lead to a final phase of negotiations before a set June 30 deadline.

"I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final compromise deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer," Obama said on Thursday. "This has been a long time coming."

Obama said that any "backsliding" on Iran's part would lead to the deal's collapse. In the press conference, the president also reaffirmed his commitment to protecting peaceful interests in Israel and the Middle East. Prior to Obama's address, both sides, although optimistic, noted key differences still remained.

Watch the full press conference below:

For the text on the preliminary agreement, read the document here. Here's the transcript of Obama's press conference courtesy of the Washington Post below:

Today, the United States, together with our allies and partners, has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

As president and commander in chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people, and I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer. This has been a long time coming.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been advancing its nuclear program for decades. By the time I took office, Iran was operating thousands of centrifuges, which can produce the materials for a nuclear bomb. And Iran was concealing a covert nuclear facility.

I made clear that we were prepared to resolve this issue diplomatically, but only if Iran came to the table in a serious way.

When that did not happen, we rallied the world to impose the toughest sanctions in history, sanctions which had a profound impact on the Iranian economy.

Now, sanctions alone could not stop Iran's nuclear program, but they did help bring Iran to the negotiating table. Because of our diplomatic efforts, the world stood with us, and we were joined at the negotiating table by the world's major powers: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China as well as the European Union.

Over a year ago, we took the first step towards today's framework with a deal to stop the progress of Iran's nuclear program and roll it back in key areas.

And recall that at the time, skeptics argued that Iran would cheat, that we could not verify their compliance, and the interim agreement would fail. Instead, it has succeeded exactly as intended. Iran has met all of its obligations.

It eliminated its stockpile of dangerous nuclear material, inspections of Iran's program increased, and we continued negotiations to see if we could achieve a more comprehensive deal.

Today, after many months of tough principle diplomacy, we have achieved the framework for that deal. And it is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives.

This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran will face strict limitations on its program, and Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history. So this deal is not based on trust. It's based on unprecedented verification.

Many key details will be finalized over the next three months. And nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed. But here are the basic outlines of the deal that we are working to finalize.

First, Iran will not be able to pursue a bomb using plutonium because it will not develop weapons grade plutonium. The core of its reactor at Arak will be dismantled and replaced. The spent fuel from that facility will be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor. Iran will not build a new heavy water reactor. And Iran will not reprocess fuel from its existing reactors, ever.

Second, this deal shuts down Iran's path to a bomb using enriched uranium. Iran has agreed that its installed centrifuges will be reduced by two thirds. Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordo facility. Iran will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years. The vast majority of Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium will be neutralized.

Today, estimates indicate that Iran is only two or three months away from potentially acquiring the raw materials that could be used for a single nuclear bomb. Under this deal, Iran has agreed that it will not stockpile the materials needed to build a weapon. Even if it violated the deal, for the next decade at least, Iran would be a minimum of a year away from acquiring enough material for a bomb. And the strict limitations on Iran's stockpile will last for 15 years.

Third, this deal provides the best possible defense against Iran's ability to pursue a nuclear weapon covertly, that is in secret. International inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran's nuclear program, from uranium mills that provide the raw materials to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.

If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it. Iran's past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed.

With this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world. So, this will be a long-term deal that addresses each path to a potential Iranian nuclear bomb.

There will be strict limits on Iran's program for a decade. Additional restrictions on building new facilities or stockpiling materials will last for 15 years. The unprecedented transparency measures will last for 20 years or more. Indeed, some will be permanent. And as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.

In return for Iran's actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions. Our own sanctions and international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. This relief will be phased, as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal. If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place.

Meanwhile, other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.

Now let me re-emphasize, our work is not yet done. The deal has not been signed. Between now and the end of June, the negotiators will continue to work through the details of how this framework will be fully implemented and those details matter.

If there is backsliding on the part of the Iranians, if the verification and inspection mechanisms don't meet the specifications of our nuclear and security experts, there will be no deal.

But if we can get this done and Iran follows through on the framework that our negotiators agreed to, we will be able to resolve one of the greatest threats to our security and to do so peacefully.

Given the importance of this issue, I have instructed my negotiators to fully brief Congress and the American people on the substance the deal. And I welcome a robust debate in the weeks and months to come.

I am confident that we can show that this deal is good for the security of the United States, for our allies and for the world.

But the fact is we only have three options for addressing Iran's nuclear program. First, we can reach a robust and verifiable deal, like this one, and peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The second option is we can bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, thereby starting another war in the Middle East and setting back Iran's program by a few years. In other words, setting it back by a fraction of the time that this deal will set it back. Meanwhile, we'd ensure that Iran would raise their head to try and build a bomb.

Third, we could pull out of negotiations, try to get other countries to go along and continue sanctions that are currently in place or add additional ones and hope for the best. Knowing that every time we have done so, Iran has not capitulated, but instead has advanced its program. And that in very short order, the breakout timeline would be eliminated and a nuclear arms race in the region could be triggered because of that uncertainty.

In other words, the third option leads us very quickly back to a decision about whether or not to take military action because we'd have no idea what was going on inside of Iran. Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so.

That's not how the world works. And that's not what history shows us. Iran has shown no willingness to eliminate those aspects of their program that they maintain are for peaceful purposes, even in the face of unprecedented sanctions.

Should negotiations collapse because we, the United States, rejected what the majority of the world considers a fair deal, what our scientists and nuclear experts suggest would give us confidence that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, it's doubtful that we could even keep our current international sanctions in place.

So when you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question: Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world's major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East? Is it worse than doing what we've done for almost two decades with Iran moving forward with its nuclear program and without robust inspections?

I think the answer will be clear. Remember, I have always insisted that I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and I will.

But I also know that a diplomatic solution is the best way to get this done and offers a more comprehensive and lasting solution. It is our best option by far. And while it is always a possibility that Iran may try to cheat on the deal in the future, this framework of inspections and transparency makes it far more likely that we'll know about it if they try to cheat, and I or future presidents will have preserved all of the options that are currently available to deal with it.

To the Iranian people, I want to reaffirm what I've said since the beginning of my presidency. We are willing to engage you on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.

This deal offers the prospect of relief from sanctions that were imposed because of Iran's violation of international law. Since Iran's supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, this framework gives Iran the opportunity to verify that it's program is, in fact, peaceful. It demonstrates that if Iran complies with its international obligations, then it can fully rejoin the community of nations, thereby fulfilling the extraordinary talent and aspirations of the Iranian people. That would be good for Iran, and it would be good for the world.

Of course, this deal alone, even if fully implemented, will not end the deep divisions and mistrust between our two countries. We have a difficult history between us.

And our concerns will remain with respect to Iranian behavior so long as Iran continues its sponsorship of terrorism, its support for proxies who destabilize the Middle East, its threats against America's friends and allies, like Israel.

So make no mistake, we will remain vigilant in countering those actions and standing with our allies.

It's no secret that the Israeli prime minister and I don't agree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue. If in fact Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option.

And I believe our nuclear experts can confirm that.

More importantly, I will be speaking with the prime minister today to make clear that there will be no daylight, there is no daylight when it comes to our support for Israel's security and our concerns about Iran's destabilizing policies and threats towards Israel.

That's why I've directed my national security team to consult closely with the new Israeli government in the coming weeks and months about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and make clear our unshakeable commitment to Israel's defense.

Today, I also spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia, to reaffirm our commitment to the security of our partners in the Gulf. And I am inviting the leaders of the six countries who make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain to meet me at Camp David this spring to discuss how we can further strengthen our security cooperation while resolving the multiple conflicts that have caused so much hardship and instability throughout the Middle East.

Finally, it's worth remembering that Congress has, on a bipartisan basis, played a critical role in our current Iran policy, helping to shape the sanctions regime that applied so much pressure on Iran and ultimately forced them to the table.

In the coming days and weeks, my administration will engage Congress once again about how we can play -- how it can play a constructive oversight role. I'll begin that effort by speaking to the leaders of the House and the Senate today.

In those conversations, I will underscore that the issues at stake here are bigger than politics. These are matters of war and peace. And they should be evaluated based on the facts, and what is ultimately best for the American people and for our national security. For, this is not simply a deal between my administration and Iran. This is a deal between Iran, the United States of America and the major powers in the world, including some of our closest allies.

If Congress kills this deal not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative, then it's the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy. International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.

The American people understand this, which is why a solid majority support a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. They understand instinctively the words of President Kennedy, who faced down the far greater threat of Communism, and said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." The American people remembered that at the height of the Cold War.

Presidents like Nixon and Reagan struck historic arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous adversary, despite the fact that that adversary not only threatened to destroy our country and our way of life, but had the means to do so.

Those agreements were not perfect. They did not end all threats. But they made our world safer. A good deal with Iran will do the same. Today I'd like to express my thanks to our international partners for their steadfastness, their cooperation.

I was able to speak earlier today with our close allies, Prime Minister Cameron and President Holland and Chancellor Merkel, to reaffirm that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this effort. And most of all, on behalf of our nation, I want to express my thanks to our tireless -- and I mean tireless -- Secretary of State John Kerry and our entire negotiating team. They have worked so hard to make this progress. They represent the best tradition of American diplomacy.

Their work, our work, is not yet done and success is not guaranteed. But we have a historic opportunity to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in Iran and to do so peacefully, with the international community firmly behind us. We should seize that chance. Thank you. God bless you. And god bless the United States of America.

BREAKING: Iran Nuclear Deal Reached

| Thu Apr. 2, 2015 1:43 PM EDT

Wow.

The U.S. and other international negotiators reportedly have agreed to the outlines of an understanding with Iran that would allow for a final phase of nuclear talks.

The Associated Press, citing officials, reported on the agreement, while noting that negotiators are still in a dispute over how much to make public.

A press conference is about to begin to announce the details (WATCH HERE), but according to Reuters it looks like Iran has agreed to suspend much of its nuclear program.

UPDATE: Here is the White House fact sheet on the deal:

 

 

Arkansas Governor Asks For Changes to Religious Freedom Bill

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 3:21 PM EDT

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called for changes in the state's controversial religious freedom bill on Wednesday, amid mounting criticism from businesses, local leaders, gay rights advocates, and even members of his own family. 

"This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial," Hutchinson told reporters. "But these are not ordinary times."

Hutchinson said in a press conference that he would not sign the bill as presented to his desk and asked state lawmakers to change the bill's language to "mirror" the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Twenty other states, including Indiana, have similar religious freedom legislation

"This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial," Hutchinson told reporters. "But these are not ordinary times."

In a press conference on Tuesday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, whose state has also faced a barrage of criticism from businesses, celebrities and athletes alike, called on lawmakers to clarify Indiana's religious freedom bill that "makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone."  

Though Hutchinson had once said he would approve the bill with amendments, the governor shifted his stance after receiving backlash from local leaders and businesses, including Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, who called on the governor to veto the bill. 

"Today's passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold," McMillon said in a statement. "For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation."

Hutchinson told reporters that the controversial legislation, which critics say would allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against gay men and lesbians, hit home. His son, Seth, a labor organizer with the Texas State Employees Union, asked him to veto the legislation. "I love my dad, and we have a good, close relationship," Hutchinson's son told the New York Times. "But we disagree a lot on political issues. This is just another one, but a lot of families disagree politically. But we stay close."

"The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions," Hutchinson said. "It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue."

The Arkansas General Assembly has not yet agreed to recall and amend the bill. The governor declined to say whether he would veto the bill if it returned to his desk unchanged. 

Indiana Pizzeria Says It Will Not Cater Gay Weddings

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 10:23 AM EDT

Catering pizza to your wedding guests might sound unconventional, but it does happen. Oh, does it happen.

But if you're gay and in Indiana, don't call Memories Pizzeria in Walkerton: They won't help you make your wedding memories. The owners of the family-run business say it will refuse to serve slices to gay or lesbian weddings, joining a chorus of those who cite opposition to marriage equality in support of their state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Crystal O'Connor, who runs the business, told local news outlet ABC57, "If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no," because it was not reflective of their Christian values.

In doing so, O'Connor insisted such a move would not be an act of discrimination, as many critics of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act have argued. "I do not think it's targeting gays," she said. "I don't think it's discrimination. It's supposed to help people that have a religious belief."

O'Connor's father, Kevin, also appeared in ABC's report telling the reporter being gay is a choice. "Why should I be beat over the head to go along with something they choose?"

Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana claims that outrage over the new law, which was passed last Thursday, is the product of "mischaracterization," and that the law's intent was simply to protect religious liberties. Yesterday, he acknowledged the mounting criticism and said he would be seeking a "legislative fix" to the law.

Despite the national backlash to Indiana's law, the Arkansas state legislature followed suit yesterday by passing its own religious freedom bill.

ABC57 News - See the Difference Michiana

Walmart Gave Workers a Raise—But It's Not Enough to Keep Them off the Dole

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 6:20 AM EDT
A Black Friday protest at a Walmart store in Chicago

A typical Walmart Supercenter costs taxpayers more than $900,000 a year in public assistance doled out to its low-wage workers. This fact, published in a congressional report in 2013, galvanized labor protests at Walmart stores across the country last year, leading the retail giant to announce in February that it would give some 500,000 workers a raise. (Today, McDonald's announced a similar increase). And that's something. But according to a report released today by Americans for Tax Fairness, Walmart's pay is still far too low to wean many "associates" from federal subsidies such as food stamps and Section 8 housing.

Under Walmart's new plan, full-time associates who've completed a six-month training program will earn at least $10 an hour next year. Many Walmart workers, however, are involuntary part-timers, and nearly half of the associates turn over each year. But workers who qualify for the $10 base wage by working at least 34 hours a week, which Walmart considers "full time," would still earn only $17,680 a year—well below the cutoff for many federal assistance programs, especially if a worker has children.

Americans for Tax Fairness

The four Walton heirs, who are collectively worth $144.7 billion, are Walmart's largest stockholders and constitute the nation's wealthiest family. If they wanted to stop enriching themselves at the expense of taxpayers, they could pay their workers at least $15 an hour for a 40-hour workweek. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, this would have cost Walmart about $10.8 billion in 2014, or about half of the increase in the Waltons' net worth that year.

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America Ranks in the Top 5 Globally—for Putting Its Citizens to Death

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 7:00 PM EDT

We're No. 5! We're No. 5!

America once again ranks among the top five nations in the world—in executions. Sigh. That's according to a new report from Amnesty International, which also notes that more and more nations have been opting not to kill their convicts.

Amnesty tallies at least 607 known executions in 22 countries in 2014. The good news? That's a 22 percent decline from 2013. Here at home, states dispatched 35 American citizens last year, a 20-year low—and four less than in 2013. But there's no accounting for China, which executes more people than all other countries combined but treats the data as a state secret. (Amnesty made its count by looking at a range of sources, including official figures, reports from civil society groups, media accounts, and information from death row convicts and their families.)

Amnesty also reports a drop in the number of countries that carried out executions, from 42 in 1995 to 22 last year, although many more still have the death penalty on the books. The United States is the last country in the Americas that still puts people to death, but US citizens appear to be increasingly opposed to the practice. Only seven states executed convicts in 2014, compared with nine states a year earlier. The overwhelming majority of those executions—nearly 90 percent—took place in four states: Texas, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma. (Georgia had two, and Arizona and Ohio had one execution each.)

Eighteen states have abolished the death penalty, but among those that have not, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming haven't put anyone to death in at least a decade, Amnesty noted. Oregon and Washington have moratoriums on executions, and federal authorities have not put anyone to death since 2003.

The bad news is, from 2013 to 2014, the number of death sentences jumped nearly 30 percent globally, to at least 2,466. Amnesty points in part to Nigeria, which imposed 659 death sentences last year as military courts punished numerous soldiers for mutiny and other offenses amid armed conflict with Boko Haram militants. Egypt was also to blame for the increase, Amnesty said, as Egyptian courts handed down death sentences against 210 Muslim Brotherhood supporters in April and June.

In all, 55 countries sentenced people to death last year. Here, according to Amnesty, are the most notable:

Arkansas Just Passed Its Own Indiana-Style "Religious Freedom Restoration Act"

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 5:46 PM EDT

Despite national outcry over a similar bill in Indiana, the Arkansas state Legislature on Tuesday passed its own 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act' which critics warn would allow business owners to discriminate against gay, lesbian, and transgendered people on religious grounds. 

The bill now goes to Republican state Gov. Asa Hutchinson who vowed last week to sign it. Attempts by state lawmakers to add a provision that would prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians were blocked, according to the New York Times.

"The Arkansas and Indiana bills are virtually identical in terms of language and intent," Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow told the Huffington Post. "They place LGBT people, people of color, religious minorities, women and many more people at risk of discrimination."

Like Indiana, Arkansas is already facing mounting criticism over the bill. Walmart, which is based in Bentonville, and data-services company Acxiom have openly criticized the bill. 

Backer of Indiana Law Says "It's Impossible to Satisfy the Homosexual Lobby"

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 4:16 PM EDT

Considering it seems like everyone from Tim Cook to the whole state of Connecticut is incensed by a new law that allows Indiana businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers based on "religious grounds," it seems crazy to think anyone is still out there actually defending it—at least openly. Alas, here's Bryan Fischer of "gay sex is terrorism" notoriety and head of the American Family Association, to prove otherwise:

 

Gov. Mike Pence may now be trying to play down criticism the law discriminates against gay people, support from people like Fischer make it difficult to make such an argument.
 

James O'Keefe Loses Libel Suit Over Landrieu Incident

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 3:58 PM EDT

Conservative filmmaker and provocateur James O'Keefe has lost another legal battle: on Monday, a federal court in New Jersey dismissed a libel suit O'Keefe filed against legal news website MainJustice. In August 2013, MainJustice published an article referring to a 2010 incident in which O'Keefe and his associates posed as telephone technicians to gain access to the offices of then–Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). O'Keefe and three others ultimately pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of entering federal property under false pretenses.

In its original article, MainJustice said that O'Keefe was "apparently trying to bug" Landrieu's offices. After O'Keefe complained, the website changed the sentence to read that O'Keefe and his associates "were trying to tamper with Landrieu's phones." Still, O'Keefe sued, alleging that both characterizations were defamatory because they implied he had committed a felony. MainJustice countered that the language wasn't defamatory because the substance of the article was true, and the site accurately described the legal proceedings triggered by the episode.

The court didn't find O'Keefe's case convincing. Judge Claire Cecchi wrote in her opinion:

Regardless of whether the article used the words "apparently trying to bug" or "trying to tamper," the few words challenged by the Plaintiff, taken in context, do not alter the fundamental gist of the paragraph… Therefore, the words "trying to tamper with," understood in the colloquial sense, convey the substantial truth of the Landrieu incident and do not alter the ultimate conclusion of the paragraph—that Plaintiff was guilty of a misdemeanor.

Mary Jacoby, editor-in-chief of MainJustice, writes in a statement:

This is an important First Amendment victory. It's a total, resounding defeat of O'Keefe's attempts to intimidate journalists into accepting his spin on the circumstances of his 2010 entry into Sen. Landrieu's offices under false pretenses.

In 2013, O'Keefe paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against him by a former employee of ACORN, a nonprofit the filmmaker had targeted. In a statement to Mother Jones, an O'Keefe spokesman said, "While we are disappointed in the Court's decision, it is one that we respect due to the complex and difficult nature of proving defamation. That being said, we think it is important to note that this decision in no way validates any of the false statements made against Project Veritas or James O'Keefe."