Political MoJo

Marijuana Research Just Got a Green Light From the Obama White House

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 3:25 PM EDT

The White House today lifted a longstanding restriction on medical marijuana research, giving a green light to a growing group of mainstream scientists who are interested in investigating the potential health benefits of pot. Such research will no longer have to undergo review by the Public Health Service, a process that is ostensibly meant to ensure the use of scientifically valid clinical trials, but in practice has served as a barrier to launching studies. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, and even opponents of legalization, had called for the requirement to be lifted.

"This announcement is a pretty big deal," says Christopher Brown, a spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a group that advocates for access to pot for medical research. "You have a lot of interest in experimental research on medical cannabis and this shows that you are starting to see policies aligned with that."

The announcement comes a few months after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy signaled the federal government's shifting thinking on medical pot, telling CBS This Morning that preliminary data shows that "marijuana can be helpful" for some medical conditions.

Still, Americans for Safe Access is calling for the feds to loosen restrictions even more. Numerous startup companies are interested in capitalizing on the medical benefits of pot, but scientists who want to use marijuana for research currently must obtain it from a DEA-approved grow facility, a process that can take a year or longer if they need specific cannabis strains. And marijuana remains classified under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, a category reserved for drugs that supposedly have no medical benefit.

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Mexican Piñata Maker Takes Revenge on Donald Trump

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 3:12 PM EDT

Dalton Javier Avalos Ramirez has given people a way to beat up on Donald Trump, and receive candy as a reward.

Ramirez, a craftsman from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, told The Independent that after hearing Trump announce his candidacy for presidency—during which he alleged that Mexican immigrants were rapists bringing drugs and crime across the border—he was inspired to create a Donald Trump piñata. He completed the task in a single day.

Ramirez told The Independent he's received more than 10 orders since Friday. According to Fox News Latino, the piñatas are priced at 500 pesos apiece, or roughly $33.

 

Yep, Obama Said the N-Word. Here Are the Other Candid Things He Said.

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 2:04 PM EDT

Appearing on comedian Marc Maron's WTF podcast on Friday, President Obama shared his views on gun violence and racism in America—two topics that have been thrust to the forefront of a national conversation following the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina last week. The interview, which was posted online today, featured a number of candid moments for the president, including a rare moment in which he said "nigger" to underscore the reality that the country's enduring legacy of racism is far from over.

"The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on," Obama said. "We are not cured of it and it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination."

On the issue of gun violence, he expressed his continued frustration with how little legislative action has been taken on gun control.

"I have done this way too often," he said. "During the course of my presidency, it feels as if a couple times a year, I end up having to speak to the country and to speak to a particular community about a devastating loss. The grieving that the country feels is real, the sympathy, the prioritizing, the comforting of the families, all that's important. But I think part of the point that I wanted to make was that it's not enough just to feel bad. There are actions that could be taken to make events like this less likely. And one of those actions we could take would be to enhance some basic, common sense gun safety laws—that by the way, the majority of gun owners support."

In his remarks shortly after Dylann Storm, the suspected gunman who killed nine people in the Charleston church, was captured Thursday, the president said that most other advanced countries don't see the kind of mass killings that have become all too familiar in America. He reiterated this point to Maron on Friday, telling him gun violence is "unique to our country."

Listen to the incredible hour-long interview here.

Huckabee Says the Confederate Flag Shouldn’t Be a Campaign Issue—Except That Time He Made It One

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 11:15 AM EDT

On Sunday, just days after a gunman killed nine African American parishioners at a Charleston church, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee argued on Meet the Press that presidential candidates should not need to answer questions about the Confederate battle flag:

For those of us running for president, everyone's being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is it most certainly does not.

Where could anyone have gotten the impression that the flag is a presidential campaign issue?

Maybe from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who did everything short of actually firing on Fort Sumter in an effort to court white South Carolina voters during his 2008 presidential campaign:

You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do.

Evidently, Huckabee's pandering on the flag issue was deemed a successful strategy. In that same campaign, the New York Times noted, an independent group ran radio ads attacking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for criticizing the Confederate flag, and boasted that "Mike Huckabee understands the value of heritage."

Justice Elena Kagan Had Some Fun Writing About Spider-Man

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 11:05 AM EDT

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court didn't issue any of the highly anticipated rulings on the remaining marquee cases of the session (including the cases on same-sex marriage and Obamacare). But the first opinion issued by the court this morning carried an eye-catching name: Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, a.k.a. the Spider-Man case.

The case revolved around the narrow—and let's be honest, snooze-inducing—question of patent licensing fees. But the majority opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan is full of delightful zingers.

Here's how Kagan describes the toy at the center of the case:

In 1990, petitioner Stephen Kimble obtained a patent on a toy that allows children (and young-at-heart adults) to role-play as "a spider person" by shooting webs—really, pressurized foam string—"from the palm of [the] hand."

The problem was that Marvel never set an expiration date for when the royalties Kimble was owed would expire, with Kimble wishing to still collect after the patent had run out. "The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can)," Kagan wrote, referencing the Spider-Man theme song. That contradicted prior case law, and a lower court ruled that Kimble was no longer owed royalties. The Supreme Court agreed because, as Kagan writes, "patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time."

In the end, Kagan wrote, the court had to stand by prior precedent. "[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility," she wrote, letting Uncle Ben's famous words from Amazing Fantasy No. 15 close out her verdict.

Finally, Conservatives Begin To Back Away From the Confederate Flag

| Fri Jun. 19, 2015 5:38 PM EDT
The Confederate flag with the dome of the South Carolina capitol in the distance.

The death of nine innocent worshippers may achieve what decades of civil rights activism failed to do: Force South Carolina to remove the Confederate battle flag from grounds of its capitol building.

The Confederate battle flag flew over the capitol dome in Columbia, S.C., from 1962, when the legislature hoisted it as a symbol of defiance against integration, to 2000, when huge protests convinced state lawmakers to move it elsewhere. But it didn't go far: The flag has flown over a Confederate soldiers' memorial on the capitol grounds ever since.

The shooting in Charleston is leading to new calls to take down the Confederate flag for good, including one from the mayor of Columbia:

Now we've also seen some tentative hints that figures on the right may actually be willing to let that happen:

 Nikki Haley

The South Carolina governor infamously called a non-issue during her re-election campaign last year because she "had not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag" during calls with business leaders. She also rejected at least one previous call by the NAACP to remove the flag.

But during an interview on Friday with Reuters, Haley seemed open to re-examining the deal that moved the Confederate flag to its current spot

"If they want to have this conversation again, they will," Haley said of the state legislature. "They had it 15 years ago. They came to [a] consensus, that's where it was. I think they'll have another conversation, and we'll bring people together."

Lindsey Graham

Many people, including us, blasted the South Carolina senator and Republican presidential candidate when he told CNN on Friday morning that the flag is "part of who we are" in his state. But he also said he was open to changing the capitol's awkward compromise on the flag.

"It's time for people in South Carolina to revisit that decision," he said. "It would be fine with me."

During the 2012 GOP primaries, Graham called the use of the flag at the Confederate War Memorial a "bipartisan" solution and advised candidates to avoid the topic altogether. “Any [candidate] who brought that up wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors," he said to The Hill.

The National Review

Writers at the conservative magazine—which firmly backed the South's mantra of states' rights during the civil rights era—debated the use of the flag on Thursday. Executive Editor Reihan Salam came out firmly against it:

It could be that the Confederate battle flag has come to mean something entirely different in 2015 than it did in the mid-1950s, when it was closely tied to resistance to federal desegregation efforts. But is its value such that we ought to continue giving it quasi-official status, even when doing so alienates the descendants of enslaved southerners, who have just as much claim to deciding which symbols ought to represent southern heritage as the descendants of Confederate veterans? I don’t believe so.

Others were more skeptical: Ian Tuttle argued that "objections to [the flag] are not raised in good faith" but rather for political gain. But even he then acknowledged that the flag can cause serious harm and offense.

One can recognize, understand, and sympathize with the revulsion symbols of the Confederacy occasion in some quarters, particularly among black Americans — and a compromise should be possible. If reducing the visibility of these symbols would offer relief to those genuinely hurt, and would remove an object of contention keeping persons of different races from cooperating to advance true racial justice, that is something supporters of Confederate symbols should be able to do.

Charlie Baker

The pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Massachusetts governor is hardly an arch-conservative, but his experience on Thursday shows how the shock of the shooting may be acting on politicians. Baker told Boston's WGBH early on Thursday afternoon that while he was against the flag personally, it was a "tradition" of South Carolina. "My view on stuff like this is that South Carolinians can make their own call," he said.

Within hours, Baker was backtracking hard. "What were you thinking?" was the message he received from friends, he told the Boston Globe that evening. “I just want to be clear: I abhor the symbolism and the history of that flag as much as anybody, and I am more than cognizant of the fact that literally millions of Americans died over what it represents in the Civil War,” he said. “I think they should take the flag down."

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Families of Charleston Shooting Victims: "We Forgive You"

| Fri Jun. 19, 2015 4:50 PM EDT

As Dylann Roof, the gunman accused of killing nine people inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina, appeared in court on Friday to formally hear the charges against him, representatives of the victims' families came forward to deliver a powerful message of forgiveness.

"You took something very precious away from me,"  a family representative for Ethel Lance, the 70-year-old grandmother who died in Wednesday's massacre, told Roof on behalf of Lance's loved ones. "I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you."

Some of the victims' family members also invited Roof, who attended his bond hearing through a video conference, to join them in bible service to repent and to "change your ways no matter what happened to you."

Felicia Sanders, who survived the shooting by pretending to be dead, also spoke about losing her son in the attack. "Tywanza was my hero….May God have mercy on you.” Another family member, Bethane Middleton-Brown, whose sister was killed on Wednesday, told Roof, "For me, I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I’m very angry. We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul."

On Thursday, Chris Singleton, the son of victim Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, responded to the tragedy by expressing gratitude for those who reached out to him since his mother's murder.

"Love is always stronger than hate, so if we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won't be anywhere close to where love is," Singleton said. "We've come together as a community to try to get past these things. A tragedy has happened, but life is going to go on and things are going to get better."

"This church is such a family," he continued. "'ve been going there since sixth grade when I moved here. Feels like they're all older than me, but it's like I'm everybody's grandson."

Roof, who appeared emotioneless during the hearing, was charged with nine counts of murder. His bond is set at $1 million.

Allen Ginsberg Wrote a Poem for Bernie Sanders and It's Pretty Great

| Fri Jun. 19, 2015 11:44 AM EDT

The Guardian's Paul Lewis wrote a great profile of Sen. Bernie Sanders' years as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, including excerpts from Sanders' correspondence with foreign heads of state, but let's cut right to the chase: Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem for Bernie Sanders in 1986.

It goes like this:

Socialist snow on the streets

Socialist talk in the Maverick bookstore

Socialist kids sucking socialist lollipops

Socialist poetry in socialist mouths

—aren't the birds frozen socialists?

Aren't the snowclouds blocking the airfield

Social Democratic Appeasement?

Isn't the socialist sky owned by

the socialist sun?

Earth itself socialist, forests, rivers, lakes

furry mountains, socialist salt

in oceans?

Isn't this poem socialist? It doesn't

belong to me anymore.

I think we know James Franco's next movie.

Lindsey Graham: Confederate Flag Is a "Part of Who We Are"

| Fri Jun. 19, 2015 11:15 AM EDT

Following the mass shooting inside a black church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, one flag was conspicuously not lowered to half-mast in tribute to the nine lives lost in the deadly attack—the Confederate flag, which regularly flies on the grounds of the state capitol, despite countless calls for its removal because of its racist roots.

The rebel flag's presence in Columbia was especially disturbing this week after images surfaced showing the suspected gunman's embrace of the flag, which was on his license plates. (Dylann Roof also wore patches baring the flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, the racist symbolism of which was evident.)

While other GOP politicians, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, are criticizing the flag's enduring presence, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who hails from South Carolina and is now running for president, has come to the rebel flag's defense. According to Graham, the Confederate flag is an integral "part of who we are."

This isn't exactly surprising, considering Graham appeared on "The View" yesterday to promote his new e-book and brushed aside the obvious racial overtones of the attacks, suggesting that suspected shooter Dylann Roof was seeking to massacre Christians. "This guy's just whacked out," he said. "It's 2015—there are people who are looking for Christians to kill them."

Although Graham acknowledged to CNN the flag has been used to push racist agendas in the past, he said "the problems we have in South Carolina and throughout the world" do not stem from symbols, but because of "what's in people's heart."

"How do you go back and reconstruct America?" he asked hopelessly.

Actually, here's one solution: remove the damn Confederate flag.

 

The Recent, Hateful History of Attacks on Black Churches

| Thu Jun. 18, 2015 8:22 PM EDT

Update, June 29, 11 a.m. PT: Fires have been reported at six black churches in five southern states since the mass shooting in Charleston. Two of the fires are thought to have been from electrical or other unintentional causes, but at least two other are being investigated as arson. (See timeline below.) According to BuzzFeed, the FBI and ATF are investigating the incidents. For more, including an interview with a pastor at a church that burned in South Carolina, see this NPR story.
 

Churches have long been hubs of organizing and advocacy in the black community, which was one reason they were so often attacked during the civil rights movement. But the violence didn't end there—attacks and threats against black churches and institutions still take place at a greater frequency than you might think. Here is a partial list of church incidents in the past two decades alone:

1996

January 8: Eighteen Molotov cocktails are thrown at Inner City Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The phrases, "Die N----- Die" and "White is Right" are painted on the church's back door.

Rep. Larry Hill looks over the remains of Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church. Chuck Barton/AP Photo

January 11: Mount Zoar Baptist Church and Little Zion Baptist Church, two black churches within six miles of each other, are burned to the ground on the same night in rural Alabama.

February 8: The Department of Justice launches an investigation into a string of arsons at black churches in rural Tennessee and Alabama.

June 7: Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church is set on fire in Charlotte, North Carolina.

1997
 

March 22: Two men burn down Macedonia Baptist Church in Ferris, Texas. Asked why they did it, according to the US Attorney General's Office, one of the men responded, "because it was a n----- church."

June 30: Five white men and women, all between the ages of 18 and 21, burn down St. Joe Baptist Church, a small church of 21 worshippers in Little River, Alabama.

2004

January 12: Two white men in Roanoke, Virginia, cause $77,000 worth of damage to the inside of Mount Moriah Baptist Church after breaking into and vandalizing the premises.

2006
 

July 11: A cross is burned outside a predominantly black church in Richmond, Virginia.

2008
Firefighters work at the scene of a fire at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ. Mark M. Murray/AP Photo

November 5: The morning after President Obama's first election, three white men set alight Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Massachusetts. The church was under construction.

2010

December 28: A white man firebombs Faith in Christ Church in Crane, Texas, in an attempt to "gain status" with the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang.

2011

June 23: The FBI investigates a cross burning on the lawn of St. John's Baptist Church in Sapulpa, Oklahoma.

November 17: Vandals break into Cedar Hill AME Zion Church in Ansonville, North Carolina. They throw chairs through the stained glass windows, burn a cross, defecate on an alter, and dig up the tombstone of a child buried in the church's historic slave cemetery.

2013

February 25: Vandals break into a day care center housed within a church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; spray paint swastikas on the inside; and set the building alight. One church member said that, several weeks earlier, the church had received a call saying, "We need these n----- to get out of here."

2014
Members of the destroyed Flood Christian Church hold service in a tent in Country Club Hill, Missouri. J.B Forbes/AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

November 26: Federal officials open an investigation into the arson of Flood Christian Church, the church attended by Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The fire was set the same night the prosecutor in the case announced he would not bring charges against officer Darren Wilson for killing Brown.

July 22: A cross is burned in the parking lot of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee.

2015
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. David Goldman/AP Photo

June 17: Dylann Roof kills nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

June 24: Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., went up in flames in the early morning. A wing of the church used as an education center was nearly completely destroyed, and the sanctuary and gymnasium sustained extensive smoke damage, with damages totaling an estimated $250,000. The fire is being investigated as arson.

June 28: Bales of hay and bags of dirt were set on fire and left against the front doors of College Hill Seventh Day Adventist church in Knoxville, T.N. Separately, a church van was also set on fire and destroyed. The fires are being investigated as arson.