Political MoJo

This Prosecutor Gave the Perfect Answer to People Defending the Anti-Abortion Activists Behind Those Deceptive Videos

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 4:01 PM EST

On Monday, the district attorney in Harris County, Texas, announced that a grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood had instead issued indictments against two anti-abortion activists, David Daleiden and Susan Merritt, who released a series of doctored Planned Parenthood videos last summer. Since the indictments, district attorney Devon Anderson has faced an onslaught of criticism from the anti-abortion movement about both the severity of the charges—one is a felony—and a department employee's affiliation with Planned Parenthood.

Today, in a video on KHOU, a Houston TV network, Anderson explained why her office indicted David Daleiden and Susan Merritt. Even though the decision goes against her opinions on abortion, she says, it follows the law.

"An inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn't always lead where you want to go," Anderson says at the start of the video. "Anyone who pays attention knows that I'm pro-life. I believe abortion is wrong. But my personal belief does not relieve me of my obligation to follow the law."

Anderson dispels some of the misconceptions that have sprung up about her office's decision. For example, defense attorneys have argued that charging both Daleiden and Merritt with a felony for using fake driver's licenses is too extreme because young people caught with fake IDs often receive a misdemeanor charge. But Anderson explains that in Texas, using a fake ID from another state is a felony. "That's the law," she says.

Anderson also addresses the allegation—repeatedly emphasized by the anti-abortion news site LifeNews—that a prosecutor in her department who is involved with the Planned Parenthood board actively participated in the presentation of this case to the grand jury. "That is simply not true," she says. She noted that soon after the lieutenant governor asked her department to review this case in August, this particular prosecutor made her relationship to Planned Parenthood known, and the department issued a press release saying she would not be involved in the case. 

Some defense attorneys have asked for another grand jury to review the case. Anderson says she won't do that because it constitutes "grand jury shopping."

"That violates the integrity of the whole system," she says. "Twelve Harris County citizens have spoken, and I respect their decision."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Adele Has the Perfect Response to Mike Huckabee's "Hello" Parody

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 3:44 PM EST

Update: The audio on the video has since been un-muted. It seems the copyright issue may have been resolved. We'll update with more information as we learn it.

In addition to her Grammys, Academy Award, and charting-topping albums, pop sensation Adele can add "getting Mike Huckabee to shut up" to her long list of accomplishments.

The former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate posted a cover of Adele's song "Hello" on Twitter and YouTube yesterday, featuring lyrics about Iowa and his rivals. Now, due to a claim from the copyright holder of the song, the audio for the post has been muted. So though you can still watch Huckabee engage in a roadside phone conversation and exchange fake text messages with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, you are fortunate enough to do so without a questionable Adele cover playing in the background.

Watch Mike Huckabee Cover Adele in a Campaign Ad

| Wed Jan. 27, 2016 11:06 AM EST

On Wednesday morning, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign tweeted its latest campaign video—and it's a cover of pop superstar Adele's hit song "Hello."

Instead of talking about strained relationships, Huckabee's "Hello" focuses on Iowa's highlights and idiosyncrasies. "Amish chairs, Casey's jerky, Quad Cities has quite a port," sings the unnamed, unseen vocalist. 

The ad includes dramatizations of text message exchanges with Hillary Clinton and Sen. Ted Cruz—with the latter sending Huckabee a text claiming he is Canadian. There's really a lot to unpack here. It's probably best to watch it for yourself.

Maine's Governor Wants to Cut Drug Dealers’ Heads Off in Public

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 2:48 PM EST

Adding to his impressive record for unpredictable, oftentimes offensive statements, Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday suggested the state bring back the use of guillotines to publicly execute drug traffickers.

"I think the death penalty should be appropriate for people who kill Mainers," LePage said during his weekly radio address on WVOM.  "We should give them an injection of the stuff they sell."

As the host attempted to wrap up the interview, LePage went further.

"What we ought to do is bring the guillotine back.”

This isn't the first time LePage has called for punishment in the form of public executions. In June, LePage allegedly told a local developer that state lawmakers should be "rounded up and executed in the public square."

Tuesday's bizarre guillotine endorsement comes just weeks after he made racially charged remarks at a town hall event, warning residents about out-of-state drug dealers with names like "D-Money" and "Smoothie." LePage said these drug dealers come to Maine, where state officials are grappling with a growing heroin epidemic, to sell narcotics and to impregnate young white women.

Those controversial comments sparked national outrage, but LePage dismissed accusations that his comments were racist and blamed the media for the backlash.

Ted Cruz Trumpets Endorsement From a Man Who Thinks God Sent Hitler to Hunt the Jews

| Tue Jan. 26, 2016 11:28 AM EST

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas proudly announced the latest endorsement of his presidential bid. It came from Mike Bickle, the founder and director of the International House of Prayer of Kansas City. Bickle is a controversial pastor who has attacked same-sex marriage as a sign of the End Times and seemingly blamed the Jews for the Holocaust.

Here's Bickle on how the legalization of gay marriage would tear the United States apart:

He's more explicit in this sermon, in which he calls gay marriage "a unique signal of the End Times":

Cruz's new backer had some unique observations about celebrity talk show host and billionaire Oprah Winfrey. Bickle said Oprah is charming, kind, and reasonable but, unfortunately, also a forerunner of the Antichrist:

In a 2011 speech, Bickle suggested that millions of Jews were killed during the Holocaust because they didn't accept God's gift of Jesus. At this event, he read from Jeremiah 16:16 and used this passage from the Bible to explain why Hitler executed millions:

The Lord says, "I'm going to give all 20 million of them the chance to respond to the fishermen. And I give them grace." And he says, "And if they don't respond to grace, I'm going to raise up the hunters." And the most famous hunter in recent history is a man named Adolf Hitler.

Cruz publicly thanked Bickle for his endorsement. "Through prayer, the Lord has changed my life and altered my family's story," Cruz said in a statement on his website. "I am grateful for Mike's dedication to call a generation of young people to prayer and spiritual commitment. Heidi and I are grateful to have his prayers and support. With the support of Mike and many other people of faith, we will fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith."

Obama Just Announced Sweeping Reforms To The Prison System

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 9:17 PM EST

President Obama announced a set of sweeping prison reforms on Monday night, ending solitary confinement for juveniles and prohibiting the practice for punishment of those who've commited low-level infractions. The reforms, adopted from recommendations by the Justice Department, will also expand treatment for mentally ill prisoners. About about 10,000 people in the federal prison system will be affected.

While the announcement is a significant step in Obama's criminal-justice reform agenda, the new policies won't affect the overwhelming majority of US inmates, who are imprisoned for state-level crimes.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Obama outlined the argument against solitary confinement

How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.

(...)

The Justice Department has completed its review, and I am adopting its recommendations to reform the federal prison system. These include banning solitary confinement for juveniles and as a response to low-level infractions, expanding treatment for the mentally ill and increasing the amount of time inmates in solitary can spend outside of their cells. These steps will affect some 10,000 federal prisoners held in solitary confinement — and hopefully serve as a model for state and local corrections systems. And I will direct all relevant federal agencies to review these principles and report back to me with a plan to address their use of solitary confinement.

While solitary confinement is a "necessary tool" under some circumstances, according to the op-ed—though terribly inhumane, according to people who have actually experienced it—the practice has been subject to "overuse."

There are as many as 100,000 people held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons — including juveniles and people with mental illnesses. As many as 25,000 inmates are serving months, even years of their sentences alone in a tiny cell, with almost no human contact.

Research suggests that solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences. It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior. Some studies indicate that it can worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones. Prisoners in solitary are more likely to commit suicide, especially juveniles and people with mental illnesses.

The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance. Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society. Imagine having served your time and then being unable to hand change over to a customer or look your wife in the eye or hug your children.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Texas Probe of Planned Parenthood Indicts Anti-Abortion Videographers Instead

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 5:40 PM EST

The Harris County, Texas, grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood announced today that it has cleared the women's health provider of breaking the law. Instead, the grand jury has indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. Last summer, their group released a series of secretly recorded and deceptively edited videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue—which would be illegal. Houston Public Media reports on today's grand jury indictment:

David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt have been indicted for Tampering with a Governmental Record, which is a felony. Daleidan was also indicted for Prohibition of the Purchase and Sale of Human Organs, meaning he illegally offered to purchase human organs in the video recording. A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.

Following the release of the CMP's videos, six states tried to defund Planned Parenthood, 11 states have investigated the women's health provider (none found evidence of fetal tissue sales), and three congressional committees launched their own inquiries.​

The grand jury's review was extensive and lasted more than two months, noted Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson in a press release. "We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast," Anderson said in the statement. "As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case."

Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit against Daleiden and other activists that worked with the CMP. The lawsuit accuses the CMP of racketeering, illegally creating and using fake identification, and illegally recording Planned Parenthood staff.

"These anti-abortion extremists spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, lying, and breaking the law," said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an emailed statement. "When they couldn't find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up."

This is a breaking story. We are updating this post as the story develops.

The Supreme Court Just Rejected the Country's Most Extreme Abortion Ban

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 4:28 PM EST

On Monday, the US Supreme Court permanently laid to rest North Dakota's controversial "fetal heartbeat" law that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

The law, approved by North Dakota's state Legislature in 2013, was widely cited as the strictest abortion ban in the country because it would have effectively outlawed abortion after the first detection of a fetal heartbeat, which often occurs at six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant. Six-week bans are so extreme that in many conservative states, which have passed large numbers of abortion restrictions, they have failed to gain traction.

In 2013, after the measure was passed, North Dakota's sole abortion clinic, the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, sued the state, and a judge blocked the law just a month before it was set to take effect that summer. After a series of appeals, a federal judge again ruled the law unconstitutional in July. Once more the state appealed the ruling and it went to the Supreme Court. But the court on Monday refused to review the lower court's ruling, effectively overturning the ban.

Arkansas is the only other state that has banned abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. That ban, which outlawed abortion after 12 weeks, was also struck down in court last year. The Supreme Court last week decided not to hear the state's appeal.

Abortion rights advocates are now turning their attention back to the Texas case headed to the Supreme Court this spring. "This utterly cruel and unconstitutional ban would have made North Dakota the first state since Roe v. Wade to effectively ban abortion—with countless women left to pay the price," said Nancy Northup, whose group the Center for Reproductive Rights is behind both the North Dakota and Texas cases. "We continue to look to the nation's highest court to protect the rights, health, and dignity of millions of women and now strike down Texas' clinic shutdown law."

Oral arguments for the Texas case are scheduled to take place on March 2.

 

The Supreme Court Did Something Great for 1,000 Kids Who Were Sentenced to Life in Prison

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 2:49 PM EST

Juvenile offenders serving a mandatory sentence of life without parole may have a shot at release, following a Supreme Court ruling made on Monday. The case, Montgomery v. Alabama, is the fourth in a string of Supreme Court decisions since 2005 that reduce the harshest penalties imposed on kids, including a 2012 ruling that mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences violated the Eight Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."

The decision will affect at least 1,000 people across the country, according to data collected by the Phillips Black Project. This group of inmates disproportionately includes black and Hispanic offenders who committed their crimes as teens.

That includes Taurus Buchanan, a ninth grader who was locked up for life automatically after he threw one punch, killing a younger boy in a neighborhood fight.

Montgomery v. Alabama expands the impact of a 2012 US Supreme Court ruling that banned mandatory life sentences for offenders who committed their crimes as minors. While some states allowed eligible offenders to apply for resentencing after the ruling, lower courts in other states held that the Supreme Court's decision did not affect old cases. In Montgomery, the high court ruled that the 2012 decision was a "new substantive rule" that states were required to apply retroactively.

The petitioner, Henry Montgomery, was convicted of murder at age 17 after killing a deputy sheriff in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, in 1963. Montgomery was sentenced to death, but a Louisiana Supreme Court finding allowed him to be resentenced to life in prison without parole. In his opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:

The sentence was automatic upon the jury's verdict, so Montgomery had no opportunity to present mitigation evidence to justify a less severe sentence. That evidence might have included Montgomery's young age at the time of the crime; expert testimony regarding his limited capacity for foresight, self-discipline, and judgment; and his potential for rehabilitation. Montgomery, now 69 years old, has spent almost his entire life in prison.

Prisoners will not be granted automatic release—some face the prospect of receiving another life sentence when their cases are reheard. However, the court indicates that states could comply with the decision by simply making juvenile lifers eligible for parole:

This would neither impose an onerous burden on the States nor disturb the finality of state convictions. And it would afford someone like Montgomery, who submits that he has evolved from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community, the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition—that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.

This New Yorker Cover Perfectly Explains the Problem With Donald Trump

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 11:58 AM EST

For the third time since he entered the presidential race last summer, Donald Trump is the subject of a New Yorker cover:

That's Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln looking on in disbelief at the mess Trump is making of the American presidential election. It's pretty funny, at first glance, but the problem with this cover is that the only thing many of those ex-presidents would find confusing about Trump is the television he's on.

Where to start? Teddy Roosevelt backed a racist imperial war and said white women using birth control were committing "race suicide" by turning their country over to less-fair-skinned hordes. FDR, the architect of Japanese internment, actually did the thing that people are calling Trump a fascist for defending—and kept the internment camps open long after they'd been deemed unnecessary in order to win a presidential election. I don't know what else to say about JFK other than that his personal life makes Trump look like Ned Flanders, and he started a land war in Asia we're still recovering from. George Washington owned people and bought an election by getting people drunk. All four were born into privilege. And Abe Lincoln—okay, let's not speak ill of the dead; that man slayed vampires.

The point here is that what is distasteful about Trump is not that he offends old-fashioned American values; Trump is distasteful because he taps into certain old-fashioned American values—nativism, brash tough talk, slow-burning authoritarianism; family dynasties—that have played a not-inconsequential role throughout our history.

The worst-case scenario for a Trump presidency is that he will do the very things those horrified ex-presidents did.