Political MoJo

Watch the Ads Obama Is Airing in Central America to Keep Kids From Coming to the US

| Thu Jul. 10, 2014 5:59 PM EDT

Preparing for his dangerous trip north, a Central American teen stops to pen a letter to his uncle in the United States. He writes that his mom is telling him to think hard about the risks: the gangs on the trains, the cartels that kidnap migrants, the days of walking through the desert. But those roadblocks, he writes, are worth it: "I see myself earning a bunch of money in the United States, and my mom here without any worries."

So begins a new public service announcement aimed at keeping Central American kids from joining the tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants who have been apprehended by US authorities in the last year. The PSA soon turns dark, though: After the teen says goodbye to his mother, and his uncle puts down the letter he's been reading, the camera pulls back from a close-up of the boy, dead on the desert floor. A narrator urges viewers: "They're our future. Let's protect them."

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) developed the TV ads, as well as posters and marimba-infused radio spots, as part of its million-dollar Dangers Awareness Campaign. Rolled out shortly after Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Guatemala in June, the campaign is an attempt to counter rumors that unaccompanied kids will be allowed to stay in the United States. The ads emphasize that the journey is extremely dangerous and that children won't get legal status if they make it across the border.

The campaign will run for 11 weeks, CBP spokesman Jaime Ruiz told the Associated Press. "We want a relative that is about to send $5,000, $6,000 to a relative in El Salvador to see this message and say, 'Oh my God, they're saying that the journey is more dangerous,'" Ruiz said. "We try to counter the version of the smuggler."

Here's the other televised PSA, in which two silhouettes—a would-be migrant and a smuggler—discuss heading north, the smuggler turning increasingly aggressive and his shadow occasionally turning into that of a coyote, the slang word for a smuggler:

(Notably, CBP created slightly different versions of each of the stories for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the three countries that have sent the most unaccompanied minors to the US. Watch them all here.)

This type of campaign isn't anything new. For years, the Mexican government has produced ads about the dangers of walking through the Arizona desert, and several years ago the Department of Homeland Security, as part of CBP's Border Safety Initiative, distributed CDs to Latin American radio stations with sad songs aimed at slowing immigration from the south. With so many variables at play, it's virtually impossible to measure their effect.

But with more than 57,000 unaccompanied kids apprehended in the United States since October—a situation that CBP head R. Gil Kerlikowske called "difficult and distressing on a lot of levels" when speaking to members of the Senate homeland security committee on Wednesday—the government seems willing to try anything.

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40 Percent of Colleges Haven't Investigated a Single Sexual Assault Case in 5 Years

| Thu Jul. 10, 2014 1:46 PM EDT

According to the results of a national survey commissioned by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, nearly half the country's four-year colleges haven't conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years. The survey was completed by 236 four year-institutions across the country—private and public, small and large—but in order to encourage candid reporting, the names of the schools surveyed were not released.

Here's what scores of survivors of sexual assault in college have to deal with, according to the results:

  • Simply not receiving an investigation: Forty-one percent of schools hadn't investigated a single sexual assault in the past five years, despite the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the White House, one in five undergraduate women experience sexual assault during college. Meanwhile, more than 20 percent of the country's largest private schools conducted fewer investigations than the number of sexual assault incidents that they reported to the Department of Education.
  • Having no clue what to do: One in three schools don't train students on what constitutes sexual assault or how to respond to it. Among private, for-profit schools, 72 percent don't provide students with any sexual assault training.
  • Untrained, uncoordinated law enforcement: Though in general colleges work with a number of parties to keep campuses safe—like campus police, security guards, and local law enforcement—30 percent don't actually train the school's law enforcement on how to handle reports of sexual assault, while a staggering 73 percent of institutions don't have protocols on how the school should work with local law enforcement to respond to sexual assault.
  • The athletic department deciding if you were raped: Yes, you read that correctly. Thirty percent of public colleges give the athletic department oversight of sexual violence cases involving athletes.
  • Your peers deciding if you were raped: Experts agree that students shouldn't be part of adjudication boards in sexual assault cases—friends or acquaintances of the survivor or alleged perpetrator face a conflict of interest, and those involved in a sexual assault likely don't want to divulge the details of the assault to, say, someone they recognize from chemistry class. Still, 27 percent of schools reported students participating in the adjudication of sexual assault claims.
  • Untrained faculty, staff, and medical professionals: Often, the first person to whom a student reports sexual assault is a member of the college's faculty or staff. But 20 percent of schools don't provide any sexual assault response training to faculty and staff, and only 15 percent of schools provide access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners—nurses who are trained to provide medical and other services to survivors of sexual assault.
  • Knowing that the perpetrator still plays sports and goes to frat parties: Only 51 percent of schools impose athletic team sanctions against student-athletes who have been deemed perpetrators of sexual assault, and 31 percent impose fraternity or sorority sanctions.
  • Seeing the perpetrator on campus, even if you don't want to: Nineteen percent of institutions don't impose orders that would require the perpetrator of the assault to avoid contact with the survivor.

McCaskill says that the results of the survey demonstrate failures at "nearly every stage of institutions' response" to sexual assault. Together with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), she plans to unveil legislation addressing the campus assault later in the summer.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 10, 2014

Thu Jul. 10, 2014 9:48 AM EDT

US Navy sailors navigate the USS Kidd in the waters of the Indo-Asia Pacific Region. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes.)

Todd Akin Is Not Sorry for His Insane Rape Comments

| Thu Jul. 10, 2014 9:38 AM EDT

Former GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin is not sorry for saying that women don't usually get pregnant from rape.

Akin tanked his 2012 Missouri Senate campaign by claiming that there is no need for rape exceptions to abortion bans because "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." In his new book due out next week, titled Firing Back: Taking on the Party Bosses and Media Elite to Protect Our Faith and Freedom, Akin says he regrets airing a campaign ad apologizing for the statement, Politico reported Thursday.

"By asking the public at large for forgiveness," Akin says in the book, "I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said."

He adds that the media misconstrued his words and explains why he's still right about rape and pregnancy. "My comment about a woman's body shutting the pregnancy down was directed to the impact of stress of fertilization. This is something fertility doctors debate and discuss. Doubt me? Google 'stress and infertility,' and you will find a library of research" on the impact of stress on fertilization, he writes.

And Akin doubles down on the term "legitimate," which he says refers to a rape claim that can be proved by "evidence," as opposed to one used "to avoid an unwanted pregnancy."

Akin's comments two years ago perpetuated what Democrats have dubbed the GOP "war on women," which refers to Republican attempts to limit abortion coverage, contraception, and workplace rights for women.

The release of Akin's book comes just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that family-owned companies—which employ more than half of all American workers—do not have to provide contraception coverage for women as mandated by Obamacare if their owners have a religious objection to doing so. The decision is expected to open the floodgates to further assaults on contraceptive access for women.

The Legacy of the Hobby Lobby Case: Protecting Anti-Gay Discrimination?

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 6:49 PM EDT
A protester patiently awaits the Hobby Lobby decision outside the Supreme Court

In his majority opinion in the recent Hobby Lobby case, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito took pains to frame the ruling, exempting companies from complying with Obamacare's contraceptive mandate if it violated the religious beliefs of their owners, as a narrow one. But gay and civil rights groups have long warned that a decision permitting such a religious exemption could have broad ramifications, potentially allowing employers to discriminate against gays. Now, their fears may be coming to pass.

"What we've seen since last week's decision came down is that opponents of LGBT equality have pushed a misreading of that decision as having broadly endorsed discrimination against people, including LGBT people in the workplace," says Ian Thompson, a legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told Mother Jones that the Hobby Lobby ruling "opens the door for corporations to discriminate against anyone that doesn't look, sound, or share the religious beliefs that they do. This isn't a business agenda; it's an extreme social agenda and it is deeply unpopular with the American people."

Is Montana More Corrupt Than Miami?

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 12:44 PM EDT

For such a sparsely populated state, Montana has managed to generate some outsize headlines lately. There's the GOP Senate candidate who made news by suggesting that creationism should be taught in public schools. Then there's Missoula's reputation as the "rape capital" of the world, thanks to, among other things, serious allegations of sexual assault committed by University of Montana football players. And continuing that theme, there's also the Justice Department's investigation of the Missoula County Attorney's office alleging that prosecutors had been systematically discriminating against female sexual-abuse victims.

Now comes new data showing that Montana is leading the country in public corruption prosecutions, suggesting that the state's reputation for graft (dating back to the days of the Copper Kings) hasn't changed much. Clocking in with 18 active cases, the federal judicial district of Montana has had more public corruption prosecutions in 2014 than those in South Florida, Southern California, and even New Jersey, according to data crunched by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

How is it that such a small state has so many prosecutions? "Why prosecutors do what they do is a mystery," says TRAC's David Burnham. But the prosecutors in Montana have a good explanation: They've recently organized a major crackdown on corruption on American Indian reservations, of which the state has seven. 

A recent AP investigation concluded that, nationally, tribal governments are five times more likely to have "material weaknesses" in their administration that make corruption possible, and reporters for years have been sounding alarms that federal prosecutors have largely turned a blind eye to these problems. Montana decided to change that trend, at a time when millions in additional federal dollars have flowed into tribal governments thanks to the federal stimulus package enacted after the financial collapse in 2008.

In 2011, the US Attorney's office launched a task force, dubbed the Guardians Project, with the FBI, the IRS, and inspectors general of various federal agencies, to target corruption on American Indian reservations. The results have been telling: In 2012, Montana had only one official corruption prosecution, but by August of last year, the Guardians Project had netted 25 indictments against people who'd allegedly done all sorts of devious things to keep federal money from reaching those it was supposed to help.

Prosecutors promised there would be more to come, and there have been. Just last month, four members of the Blackfeet tribe were sentenced to prison for involvement in a scheme to steal federal mental-health and substance abuse treatment funds from a $9 million contract. More than $225,000 intended for the program ended up being spent on travel and gambling, among other things.

Six people have pleaded guilty to embezzling federal dollars from a $361 million pipeline project designed to bring freshwater to the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Another seven people from the Crow reservation were indicted for stealing at least a half-million dollars from the tribe in a double-billing scheme operated out of the tribe's historic preservation office. One of the people convicted in the scheme allowed a coal company to take a backhoe to a 2,000-year-old sacred bison burial site. The corruption investigations have already ensnared a former state representative and Chippewa Cree tribe official, Tony Belcourt, who in April pleaded guilty to bribery, theft, and tax-evasion charges related to the water project, as well as construction of a multimillion-dollar clinic.

Overall, though, Montana itself probably isn't more scandal-plagued than New Jersey or Miami. Montana's US attorney has just taken a harder line on prosecuting the abuses on its reservations, and all those cases have added up to boost Montana to the top of the rankings in terms of public corruption prosecutions. "These figures from Syracuse reflect only a portion of our effort," US Attorney Mike Cotter said in a statement Tuesday. "Many of the public corruption indictments brought in Montana were initiated before last October. Relatively speaking, Montana is a small office; a David among Goliaths. But the Guardians have done truly remarkable work. Their efforts have unearthed widespread criminal activity and flagrant abuses of trust with regard to federal programs and grants designed to provide for the common good of our Indian communities."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 9, 2014

Wed Jul. 9, 2014 11:31 AM EDT

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Paratroopers participate in a ceremonial rotation of forces in Latvia. (US Army National Guard Photo by Spc. Cassandra Simonton, 116th Public Affairs Detachment)

This Is the Democratic Plan to Reverse the Hobby Lobby Decision

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 11:02 AM EDT

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised "to do something" about the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision. Now two members of his caucus say they are preparing a bill that would reverse some of the controversial aspects of last week's decision.

Take it away, TPM:

The legislation will be sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO). According to a summary reviewed by TPM, it prohibits employers from refusing to provide health services, including contraception, to their employees if required by federal law. It clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the basis for the Supreme Court's ruling against the mandate, and all other federal laws don't permit businesses to opt out of the Obamacare requirement.
...

This bill will restore the original legal guarantee that women have access to contraceptive coverage through their employment-based insurance plans and will protect coverage of other health services from employer objections as well, according to the summary.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately this bill will never survive a cloture vote in the Senate; even if it did, it would be dead on arrival in the House of Representatives. The only way that Hobby Lobby stands even a chance of being overturned legislatively is if John Boehner is forced to hand over the Speaker's gavel to a Democrat. That's probably something someone at the DCCC should remind people of as we head into the midterms.

Here's How Obama Wants to Spend $3.7 Billion on the Child Migrant Crisis

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 3:01 PM EDT

On Tuesday, President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to address the rapidly growing number of unaccompanied Central American children attempting to enter the United States. The Border Patrol apprehended 38,833 unaccompanied kids in fiscal year 2013, and it already has caught more than 52,000 in fiscal 2014.

The requested appropriations include:

  • $1.8 billion to the HHS's Administration for Children and Families: to provide more stable, cost-effective arrangements and medical care for unaccompanied children.
  • $1.1 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): for the detention, prosecution, and removal of undocumented families, as well as transportation costs for unaccompanied children.
  • $432 million to Customs and Border Protection: for operational costs, an expanded Border Enforcement Security Task Force, and increased air surveillance in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.
  • $295 million to the State Department's (and other international programs') Economic Support Fund: for the repatriation and reintegration of deported migrants, and to address the root causes of migration in Central America.
  • $62 million to the Department of Justice: for additional immigration judges and legal representation for the children.

Notably, Obama's letter to House Speaker John Boehner did not include a request to alter the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. That law requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to turn over unaccompanied children from countries other than Canada and Mexico to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which temporarily houses them in shelters while it locates US-based family members or sponsors. (The kids are in removal proceedings throughout.)

Here's the full letter:

 

New Conservative Meme: Migrant Children Aren't Children

| Tue Jul. 8, 2014 11:04 AM EDT

Conservatives have found a new line of attack on the ongoing refugee crisis along the southern border: The children who are migrating en masse from Central America and crowding into detention centers are not children.

"I realize that in Barack Obama's America we now classify anyone under the age of 26 as a child eligible for their parent's healthcare insurance," writes Red State's Erick Erickson. "But I'm pretty sure a normal person would not classify these men as children." He links to this tweet:

Erickson's analysis is correct—the people in this photo are not children. The way immigration detention works is that children are separated from adults and then sorted by age and gender. This is noted in nearly every single story on the subject. Just because more than 48,000 minors have been detained crossing the border in 2014 doesn't mean adults have simply stopped coming over.

Lest you think that the administration is inventing this influx of young migrants, here is a photo of migrant children crowded into a single room. I found it on Breitbart:

You could also read my colleague Ian Gordon's wrenching story for the magazine on 17-year-old Adrián's flight from Guatemala City to the United States.