Political MoJo

A Stampede Near Mecca Killed More Than 700 People Taking Part In the Hajj Pilgrimage

| Thu Sep. 24, 2015 9:05 AM EDT
A view of the camp city at Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, September 24, 2015.

RIYADH (Reuters) - More than 700 pilgrims were killed in a crush at Hajjj on Thursday, the deadliest such incident since 1990.

Here are some other fatal events at Hajjj in past years.

December 1975 - A cooking gas cylinder explodes in the pilgrim tent city, causing a fire that kills over 200 pilgrims.

July 1987 - Iranian protesters clash with Saudi police, leading to the death of more than 400 Iranian pilgrims.

July 1990 - Inside the al-Muaissem tunnel near Mecca in Saudi Arabia, 1,426 pilgrims are crushed to death. The accident occurs on Eid al-Adha (The Feast of Sacrifice), Islam's most important feast at the end of the Hajj and the day of the "stoning of the devil" ritual.

May 1994 - A stampede near Jamarat Bridge in Mina, near Mecca, kills 270 in the area where pilgrims ritually stone the devil.

April 1997 - 343 pilgrims are killed in a tent fire at the Hajj camp at Mina, prompting the government to construct a permanent, fireproof tent city there.

April 1998 - One hundred and nineteen Muslim pilgrims are crushed to death in Saudi Arabia at the Hajj.

February 2004 - A stampede kills 251 Muslim pilgrims in Saudi Arabia near the Jamarat Bridge during the stoning of the devil.

January 2006 - Some 362 Muslim pilgrims are crushed to death at the eastern entrance of the Jamarat Bridge during the stoning ritual.

September 2015 - A crane crashes into the Grand Mosque days before Hajj begins, crushing 111 people to death. +

September 2015 - A crush of pilgrims traveling from the camp at Mina to the Jamarat bridge kills at least 310, Saudi civil defense says.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Congress Is About to Find Out Just How Expensive Unintended Pregnancies Are

| Thu Sep. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

On Thursday, Senate Republicans will have their second chance in as many months to block federal money for Planned Parenthood. But defunding the country's largest women's health care network would come with a big price tag for taxpayers: According to a report released this week by the Congressional Budget Office, the move would end up costing an additional $130 million over the next decade.

What's the biggest way banning funding for Planned Parenthood could come back to haunt the budget? More babies.

While the organization's contraceptive services now help prevent an estimated 516,000 pregnancies each year, the CBO suggests that number would drop if funding were cut: As many as 25 percent of Planned Parenthood users would face reduced access to care, and some of those patients might effectively be forced to go without birth control.

"The people most likely to experience reduced access to care would probably reside in areas without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations," wrote Keith Hall, director of the CBO, adding that his agency projects the bill would initially cause a yearly boom of several thousand new pregnancies that would have otherwise been prevented.

Forty-five percent of births in the United States are paid for by Medicaid. Beyond that cost, the CBO predicts that some of the children resulting from the additional pregnancies "would themselves qualify for Medicaid and possibly for other federal programs." All told, the CBO says the cost of the unintended pregnancies would be $650 million over the next 10 years.

While a ban would save the federal government much of the $450 million that Planned Parenthood is slated to get from Medicare and other programs next year, and up to a total of $520 million over the next decade, the CBO projects that many former patients would seek help at other Medicare-funded providers—in effect, merely shifting the cost. 

The CBO's report was completed at the request of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who introduced a bill this summer to defund Planned Parenthood. That bill made it out of the House but died in the Senate in August, though Republican representatives will get a second chance at defunding on Thursday: The Senate's continuing resolution bill to keep the government funded also includes an amendment to cut ties with the health care organization.

Fiorina Super-PAC Makes Its Own Abortion Video

| Thu Sep. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina at the GOP primary debate on September 16

During the latest GOP primary debate on September 16, Carly Fiorina described a video that shows "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain." Many news reports have pointed out that no such video seems to exist—it's not among the heavily edited Center for Medical Progress videos released this summer, nor is it anywhere else.

On September 19, the super-PAC backing Fiorina's candidacy, Carly for America, posted a video to its YouTube page that appears to be a home-brewed version of the previously nonexistent video. The clip is called "Character of Our Nation," a quote from Fiorina's statements during the debate, when she said defunding Planned Parenthood "is about the character of our nation."*

In an email sent out yesterday, Planned Parenthood pointed out that the video appears to be a heavily edited selection of five separate audio and video clips, spliced together "to try to concoct the video that she claimed existed" during the debate. Several of the clips, Planned Parenthood said, come from the doctored Center for Medical Progress sting videos released this summer that purport to show Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal organs for profit—a criminal allegation that state after state has found to be false.

One of the clips comes from the Grantham Collection, an anti-abortion archive that has been discredited by pro-choice advocates, in part for making false allegations about the content of benign photos. For instance, the group claimed that a photo of basic medical tongs is an image of the tool used to pull apart the limbs of an aborted fetus.

Planned Parenthood wrote a letter to the Fiorina campaign yesterday, asking it to take down the composite video.

In response to a request for comment on the veracity of the video, Fiorina campaign spokeswomen Sarah Isgur Flores wrote in an email, "Carly is a cancer survivor and doesn't need to be lectured on women's health by anyone. Over their long and factually incorrect letter, Planned Parenthood doesn't and can't deny they butchering babies and selling their organs [sic]. This is about the character of our nation."

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the group that posted the video.

Trump Dumps Fox News for "Treating Me Very Unfairly"

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 1:24 PM EDT

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has a sizable lead in most state and national polls, but remains displeased by the way that the media have covered his campaign. Instead of choosing to ignore or rebut negative press, Trump has decided to simply boycott it altogether.

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that because of the way that Fox News had covered his campaign, he would no longer participate in any Fox shows "for the foreseeable future." The relationship between Fox and The Donald has been a tumultuous one for some time now, but it is unclear what exactly was the final straw for Trump.

So let this be a lesson to everyone in the media: If you get on Donald Trump's bad side, he just might do the worst thing possible for your ratings—disappear.

Volkswagen CEO Quits As Pollution-Cheating Scandal Envelops Automaker

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 11:23 AM EDT

On Wednesday morning, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn announced that he will be stepping down from his position as chief of the German automaker. His departure comes in the wake of a scandal that forced the car company to admit it violated US law by using software to cheat on pollution tests. Winterkorn has been the company's CEO since 2007.

"I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group," Winterkorn said in an announcement. He maintains he was not aware of the piece of software that allowed cars to evade emissions controls.

This is a breaking news post. We will update as more information becomes available.

Pope Francis Forcefully Urges America to Save the Planet

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 10:12 AM EDT

President Barack Obama welcomed Pope Francis to the White House Wednesday morning to loud cheers from thousands gathered to greet the leader of the Catholic church—in a city that has virtually shut down for the historic event. The ceremony marks the first time that Pope Francis has visited the United States and kicks off a much anticipated three-city tour that includes Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City.

During his first address in the United States, Francis pulled no punches when talking about one of the defining issues of his leadership, calling on Americans to protect our "common home" and act on climate change with a sense of urgency—a stance that many Republicans have criticized.

"It seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation," Francis said, in slow but forceful English.

"We know by faith that the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home."

He is scheduled to speak before Congress on Thursday, where he is expected bring his climate agenda directly to lawmakers.

President Obama also took the opportunity to praise Francis's stance on climate change, telling the pope: "you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet—God's magnificent gift to us." Watch below:

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Solitary Confinement Coffee May Be the Worst Branding Idea Ever

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 5:23 PM EDT
Jailhouse Coffee

Do prison cells sell? That seems to be the idea behind Solitary Sumatra, an organic, fair trade coffee blend sold by Jailhouse Coffee, a newish small-batch roastery in New York City. The coffee is not made by prisoners or ex-felons and the company's only connection to incarceration is that, according to its website, "there is a 'bighouse' just near the roastery" in Queens.

The 83 marks scratched into the coffee bag far surpass the 15 days the United Nations specifies as the maximum amount of time anyone should spend in solitary confinement. Anything beyond that "constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than 80,000 prisoners are in isolation at a given time in the United States. Some of these are the "worst of the worst," but many are not. In New York, prisoners have been thrown in the hole for "wasting food" or having an "untidy cell or person." On Rikers Island, not far from Queens, 16-year-old Kalief Browder spent long stretches in solitary confinement during the three years he spent in pretrial detention for allegedly stealing a backpack. Two years after his release, he committed suicide. Nearly two out of five suicides in prison happen in solitary confinement. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, President Obama, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy have spoken out against the excessive use of solitary confinement in this country.

So who thought solitary confinement would make a good branding idea? Is it just hipster irony that makes our prison system's most extreme aspects somehow cute? Perhaps it's the Orange Is The New Black effect, a consequence of the popularization and romanticization of prison life. (Like the woman who dressed a girl in an orange jumpsuit and blackface for Halloween last year.)

I couldn't reach anyone at the company to explain their marketing strategy. So far, they seem to have gotten little flack for their brand, though one person has taken it upon himself to circulate a petition asking the company to change its name. Jailhouse Coffee's blends also include Solitary Peru, Good Behavior Organic Blend, and Chain Gang Espresso, which harkens to the time when black prisoners were used as free labor across the South.

Pope Francis Just Arrived For His First Visit to the United States

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 4:21 PM EDT
Pope Francis waves while riding through Santiago de Cuba

By Scott Malone and Philip Pullella

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (Reuters) - Pope Francis arrived on his first visit to the United States on Tuesday, bringing to Washington a message that its power and wealth should be made to serve humanity, and not the other way around.

An Alitalia plane carrying the Argentine-born leader of the world's 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic church touched down at Joint Base Andrews after a flight from Cuba.

Schoolchildren who gathered on the tarmac to welcome Francis cheered as the plane descended. "We love Francis, yes we do. We love Francis, how about you?" they chanted.

In a sign of the importance that the White House gives to the visit, President Barack Obama took the unusual step of traveling to the air base with his family to welcome Francis.

The two men meet again on Wednesday at the White House, after which the 78-year-old pope will parade past Washington's major monuments before a crowd expected to reach tens of thousands.

The pontiff has electrified liberal-leaning U.S. Catholics with his shift in emphasis towards forgiveness and concern for the poor. He has dismayed some conservative followers with comments of concern over climate change and a pivot away from messages focused on the church's ban on birth control and opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Francis was also expected to talk about immigration during his six-day visit, a top issue for him since his first days as pope in 2013.

He will make the first address by any pope to the U.S. Congress on Thursday, a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Friday and an open-air Mass in Philadelphia where 1.5 million people are expected to attend.

Francis spent four days in Cuba, where he urged a continued reconciliation between the Communist-run island and its superpower neighbor, building on a new detente he helped to broker earlier this year.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton at Joint Base Andrews and Laila Kearney in Philadelphia; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

Sexual Violence on Campus Is Even Worse Than We Thought

| Tue Sep. 22, 2015 2:52 PM EDT

The Association of American Universities released findings Monday from one of the largest-ever surveys on college sexual violence—comprising more than 150,000 students across 27 colleges—and they paint a bleak picture of sexual assault on college campuses. 

The survey asked students whether they had experienced events ranging from sexual touching to forcible penetration. If they answered affirmatively, they were asked follow-up questions about the circumstances and the event's aftermath, including whether they reported the incident to law enforcement or a campus authority. Some scenarios that appeared in the survey fit the legal definitions for rape and sexual battery, while others involved incidents that universities typically consider to be sexual misconduct. Other questions measured attitudes toward campus sexual assault and how often students intervened when they observed potentially risky situations.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • More than 1 in 5 undergraduate women are victims of sexual assault. The AAU's findings suggest sexual-assault rates are slightly higher than the widely cited yet disputed statistic that 1 in 5 college women are victims of sexual assault. According to the survey, 23 percent of female respondents said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact due to physical force, under the threat of physical force, or while they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Among seniors nearing graduation, that number rises to 1 in 3.
  • In the last academic year alone, 11 percent of respondents said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. That's around 16,500 students across the 27 institutions.
  • First-year students are are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. Sixteen percent of freshman women said they experienced sexual contact under physical force or incapacitation. 
  • The vast majority of students don't report sexual assault or misconduct. While most victims said they confided in a friend, family member or someone else, only 26 percent of students who experienced forcible penetration filed an official report. More than half of those victims said they didn't consider the event serious enough to go to the authorities, while one-third of said they were "embarrassed, ashamed, or that it would be too emotionally difficult." Others said they "did not think anything would be done about it." Students were much more likely to report certain kinds of events than others, with reports filed by 28 percent of stalking victims but only 5 percent of those who experienced unwanted sexual touching while they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.​
  • Transgender and gender-nonconforming students experience sexual assault and misconduct at higher rates than their peers. These students comprised 1.5 percent of survey respondents, but nearly 40 percent of seniors identifying with this group said they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact in college, compared to a third of senior women. They're also less likely to believe the university will conduct a fair investigation or take their reports seriously.
  • Response rates were low. About 19 percent of students across the 27 universities chose to respond to the online survey, which was conducted during a three-week period in April. The survey notes that nonvictims may be less likely to participate, skewing incidence rates slightly upward. Still, final participation rates were well below the the rates of similar studies.

At least 12 of the colleges that released results on Monday are currently facing federal scrutiny from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights for their handling of sexual-assault cases under federal Title IX standards. Several universities on the list have been found in violation of Title IX, including the University of Virginia, Harvard University, Yale University, and Michigan State University.

Given a range of responses across institutions, the study's authors caution against generalizing the results on a national scale. As Slate points out, the researchers declined to explain the variation in sexual-assault rates or students' attitudes at different institutions. "The analyses did not find a clear explanation for why there is such wide variation," the authors write. "Some university characteristics, such as size, were correlated with certain outcomes. But the correlation is not particularly strong."

This post has been updated.


Fired Scott Walker Aide Is Tweeting Up a Shitstorm About What He Did Wrong

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 5:20 PM EDT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will announce at 6 p.m. Monday that he is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The move is surprising—Walker was, until recently, a favorite among major Republican donors—but not unforeseeable. In the past two months, Walker's support in the Iowa caucuses, the first voting contest of the race, has plummeted, from first in the polls to seventh. His campaign has already racked up six figures in debt to campaign vendors. And he clocked the least amount of time out of the 11 Republicans who shared the stage in the latest GOP presidential debate.

Immediately after the announcement, Liz Mair, a digital strategist for Walker's bid who was fired for tweeting negatively about Iowa, began spouting her thoughts about why Walker's campaign failed to attract enough money and momentum to keep it afloat. For example, "Hiring people who spent a lot to build out a massive operation that would not be sustainable unless financing remained amazing forever." Here's a selection:

Read the rest here.