Political MoJo

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Undergoes Heart Surgery

| Wed Nov. 26, 2014 11:14 AM EST

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is "resting comfortably" after undergoing a coronary catheterization procedure, a press release from the nation's highest court announced Wednesday morning.

Ginsburg, who at 81 is the Supreme Court's oldest member, is expected to be discharged in the next 48 hours. From the release:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent a coronary catheterization procedure this morning at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center to place a stent in her right coronary artery. The coronary blockage was discovered after Justice Ginsburg experienced discomfort during routine exercise last night and was taken to the hospital. She is resting comfortably and is expected to be discharged in the next 48 hours.

Ginsburg has pushed back against suggestions she step down while President Barack Obama is still in office. In an interview with Elle last September, she defended her resistance to such calls. "Anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam…. I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer. But now I can."

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Media Goes Wild Over Hagel Firing But Not Obama's Secret Afghanistan Reversal

| Mon Nov. 24, 2014 11:03 AM EST
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

There's little the Washington-centric political-media universe loves more than the story of a fallen star. The defenestration of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has reporters and pundits in a schadenfreude-driven tizzy. Was he fired? Was he in over his head? OMG, look at how the White House is dumping on him, as he departs! Who's passing nasty notes in class about him?

The presumably forced resignation of Hagel is indeed big news. The Obama administration is confronting a host of new national security challenges: ISIS, Ukraine, Ebola. So the guy (or gal) in charge of the Pentagon has to be nimble and able to handle this expanding and shifting to-do list. And Hagel, ever since his underwhelming performance at his confirmation hearing, has not been (at least in public) a confidence-inspiring Cabinet member. So perhaps President Barack Obama can do better—though the elbowing Hagel is receiving on the way out seems poor manners.

Yet here's a useful exercise. Compare the red-hot media reaction to Hagel's bye-bye to the response to the New York Times' eye-popping report that Obama signed a secret order to expand the US military mission in Afghanistan next year. The story about one man—yes, one of the cool kids in DC—is at least an order of magnitude higher on the MediaReax-ometer. Any tidbit from an anonymous source about de-Hagelization gets immediate attention from tweeting journos. But the story about this significant policy shift has prompted mostly a yawn.

In case you missed it—the story was posted online on Friday but appeared in Saturday's dead-trees edition—the Times revealed that Obama, who last May said the United States would have no combat missions in Afghanistan in 2015 (and only train Afghan forces and hunt Al Qaeda "remnants"), had secretly authorized American forces

to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

Chuck Hagel Resigning as Secretary of Defense

| Mon Nov. 24, 2014 10:36 AM EST

President Barack Obama is expected to announce the resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday. The New York Times reports that the president's decision to ask Hagel to step down follows a series of meetings, which concluded that a change in leadership was needed in order to deal with international threats including the Islamic State.

Candidates for Hagel's replacement reportedly include former Undersecretary of Defense Michelle Flournoy, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) Hagel, the only Republican in the president's national security team, is expected to remain until a successor is named.

Less than two years on the job, this is the first major resignation from Obama's cabinet following the Democrats' disappointing midterm elections. From an administration official:

Over the past two years, Secretary Hagel helped manage an intense period of transition for the United States Armed Forces, including the drawdown in Afghanistan, the need to prepare our forces for future missions, and tough fiscal choices to keep our military strong and ready. Over nearly two years, Secretary Hagel has been a steady hand, guiding our military through this transition, and helping us respond to challenges from ISIL to Ebola. In October, Secretary Hagel began speaking with the President about departing the Administration given the natural post-midterms transition time.

Earlier this month, Hagel announced the country's nuclear weapons program would be undergoing a massive overhaul after the Pentagon released a review citing antiquated equipment and poor leadership plaguing the nuclear forces. 

The Ohlone People Were Forced Out of San Francisco. Now They Want Part of Their Land Back.

| Sat Nov. 22, 2014 6:00 AM EST

"There are only three ways to get land," said Tony Cerda, chairman of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe, in 2010. "You can buy it, have it given to you, or steal it." It's clear which one of those applies to his people, the Ohlone, who lived in the central California coastal region for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the 1700s. The Ohlone once numbered as many as 15,000 on lands stretching from the San Francisco Bay to Big Sur. But following years of enslavement under the Spanish mission system and, later, persecution by settlers, they are now largely a people in exile.

Cerda's tribe—about 2,000 people living in the Pomona area east of Los Angeles—are now the largest contemporary Ohlone group in the state. They're leading the push for cultural recognition in the city of San Francisco. Specifically, they're asking the city for land to build a cultural center as part of a proposed shoreline redevelopment project in the Hunters Point Shipyard area. The area was once the location of a historic Ohlone village and burial site—one of over 425 in the San Francisco Bay region.

Ohlone leaders say a cultural center would highlight the oft-overlooked history of California's native people while serving as a permanent place for today's tribes to continue their song, dance, language, and art traditions. And they're also hoping to rebuild their cultural presence through community events like the annual Big Time Gathering, which took place in October in San Francisco's Presidio National Park. This year's gathering was the biggest yet, drawing more than 100 Native Californians from seven different tribes. Their goal is to honor their roots, says Neil Maclean, one of the event's organizers: "Through hearing them sing, seeing them dance, and joining with them in ceremony, the Ohlone will tell their side about what it is like to survive."

Native Children Have the Same Rate of PTSD as Combat Veterans

| Fri Nov. 21, 2014 3:22 PM EST

Here's the most sobering statistic you'll see today: American-Indian and Alaskan Native children experience PTSD at the same rate at veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a new report from a Department of Justice advisory committee, 22 percent of American-Indian and Alaskan Native juveniles have PTSD—three times higher than the national rate. Among other proposals, the committee recommends Congress grant tribes the ability to prosecute non-Indians who abuse children. Under the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Congress empowered tribes to prosecute non-Indians who commit domestic violence, but left other crimes, like sexual abuse, untouched.

You can read the full report here:

 

President Obama Acted Unilaterally on Immigration and the Right Is Predictably Outraged

| Fri Nov. 21, 2014 12:25 PM EST

President Barack Obama, who has issued fewer executive orders than any president since Grover Cleveland, issued a set of directives this week to protect 5 million undocumented residents from deportation. The new executive actions will allow undocumented parents of US citizens to stay in the country, and allow children who were brought to the United States by their parents to apply for employment visas. It also, according to various Republican critics, cements Obama's status as a dictator, a king, an emperor, and maybe even a maniac bent on ethnic cleansing:

Obama is a king. "The president acts like he's a king," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said. "He ignores the Constitution. He arrogantly says, 'If Congress will not act, then I must.' These are not the words of a great leader. These are the words that sound more like the exclamations of an autocrat."

This will lead to anarchy. "The country's going to go nuts, because they're going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it's going to be a very serious situation," retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told USA Today. "You're going to see—hopefully not—but you could see instances of anarchy. ... You could see violence."

He could go to jail. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told Slate that the president might be committing a felony: "At some point, you have to evaluate whether the president's conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America. That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it."

Is ethnic cleansing next? When asked by a talk-radio called on Thursday if the new executive actions would lead to "ethnic cleansing," Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach said it just might:

What protects us in America from any kind of ethnic cleansing is the rule of law, of course. And the rule of law used to be unassailable, used to be taken for granted in America. And now, of course, we have a President who disregards the law when it suits his interests. And, so, you know, while I normally would answer that by saying, 'Steve, of course we have the rule of law, that could never happen in America,' I wonder what could happen. I still don't think it’s going to happen in America, but I have to admit, that things are, things are strange and they're happening.

Kobach is hardly a fringe figure. He was the architect of the self-deportation strategy at the core some of the nation's harshest immigration laws.

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Watch Obama Announce His Immigration Executive Action Right Here

Thu Nov. 20, 2014 7:46 PM EST

While you're waiting for the speech to start, read about the three expected takeaways from President Obama's executive action on immigration, or about how some prominent conservatives are already calling for his impeachment.

Al Franken Questions Uber Over Privacy

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 11:46 AM EST

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has taken a keen interest in tech policy since coming to Congress. As chairman of a Senate subcommittee that focuses on privacy, technology, and the law, Franken has been one of the more vocal advocates for net neutrality, fought against a proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner, and wondered about the privacy implications of fingerprint scanners on iPhones.

Now Franken has set his sights on Uber, an on-demand car service that uses smartphone technology to match passengers who need rides with available drivers. On Wednesday, Franken wrote a letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick posing a series of questions about how the company handles its users' information and how it plans to treat journalists.

Jim Webb Wanted to Punch George W. Bush. Now He Wants His Old Job.

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 11:44 AM EST

Jim Webb is running for president. The former secretary of the Navy and Virginia senator launched a presidential exploratory committee on Thursday, becoming the first Democrat to formally dip his toe in the 2016 waters. Webb explained his candidacy in a video that looks like it was filmed by the people who make commercials for personal-injury attorneys:

A Republican for most of his life, Webb endeared himself to Democrats when he switched parties and beat incumbent GOP Sen. George Allen in 2006 by just a few thousand votes. Webb ran that campaign on an anti-Iraq War message, touting his own experience in Vietnam, but may have been pushed across the finish line by Allen, who called a Democratic volunteer "Macaca" (an obscure North African racial slur) at a campaign event.

As a senator he was a bit of an iconoclast, defined mostly by his disdain for Washington (something most senators espouse but rarely act on). His first meeting with President George W. Bush ended with the senator walking away furiously, reportedly on the verge of throwing a punch, after Dubya asked Webb about his son serving in Iraq. He sought to carve out a niche for himself by working for criminal justice reform, but left office before any political momentum developed on the issue. And then he left, after one term, leaving Democrats to defend a purple seat against Allen. His most impressive resume item may be his Navy Cross citation:

On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb's platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.

Webb has at least a few bumps to smooth over, though. He defended the Confederate flag and "the venerable Robert E. Lee" in his book Born Fighting, about the Scots-Irish, and in 1979, he wrote an essay for Washingtonian titled "Why Women Can't Fight"—a spirited case against admitting women into service academies. As a senator from a major coal-producing state, he opposed proposals to combat climate change. And only last month expressed his support for same-sex marriage. Beating an entrenched Republican in Virginia as a centrist in 2006 is one thing—but winning a Democratic presidential nomination requires winning Democratic primary voters.

Exclusive: Jay Leno Cancels Performance at Gun Lobby Trade Show Following Pressure from Newtown Group

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 3:03 PM EST

Update, 7:10 p.m. ET: Late Wednesday, Jay Leno said in a brief phone interview that he had called the National Shooting Sports Foundation to cancel his scheduled performance at the SHOT Show. He also said that he'd spoken with Po Murray of the Newtown Action Alliance to let her know. "I understand it's Newtown, and of course I get it," Leno told Mother Jones. "It's just sometimes, mistakes get made." (Read the original story below):

Gun control advocates aren't laughing about Jay Leno's next move.

On Tuesday, several gun violence-prevention groups called on the comedian to cancel his appearance at January's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT), an annual event put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is based in Newtown, Connecticut. A petition posted by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence accuses Leno of "helping to legitimize a crass commercialism which values profit over human lives" by speaking to this group, which lobbied against the background checks bill in Congress following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The drive is backed by the Campaign to Unload, which pushes for divestment from gun companies, and the Newtown Action Alliance, founded by residents of the Connecticut town who support gun-safety legislation. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which has pushed corporate restaurants and retailers to take a stand against open-carry activists in their stores, has also launched a social media campaign against Leno.

"I'm not sure if Jay Leno has done his research and understands that NSSF is the corporate gun lobby and they spend a significant amount of money to lobby congressional leaders to not pass significant gun reform legislation," says Newtown Action Alliance chairman Po Murray, whose children previously attended Sandy Hook. "It's a disheartening as a Newtown resident to see him make this appearance at the SHOT Show. So we're urging him to cancel his appearance."

Seats for the event, held at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, go for $135 apiece. Leno's publicist did not respond to a request for comment.