Political MoJo

Real Talk on Cops and Race From the Head of the FBI

| Thu Feb. 12, 2015 5:15 PM EST

In a rare and candid speech on Thursday, FBI director James Comey urged police officers to begin engaging in honest conversations about broken race relations in America, saying it was time for officers to stop resorting to "lazy mental shortcuts" that have too often lead to the mistreatment of minorities.

"Those of us in law enforcement must re-double our efforts to resist bias and prejudice," Comey said in an address to Georgetown University. "We must better understand the people we serve and protect—by trying to know, deep in our gut, what it feels like to be a law-abiding young black man walking on the street and encountering law enforcement. We must understand how that young man may see us."

The speech follows the high-profile police killings of two unarmed black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the widespread anger expressed over the lack of grand jury indictments against the officers in both deaths. The fatal shootings sparked massive protests across the country, with demonstrators demanding for police reform.

On Thursday, Comey referred to both Brown and Garner, along with the two NYPD officers who were shot execution-style in their patrol car in December. Calling their deaths a "crossroads," Comey said it was time for law enforcement agencies to acknowledge that a large portion of police history "is not pretty" and rife with instances of persisting, unconscious prejudices.

Comey's rationale aligns with psychological studies indicating that even in the absence of overt racist views, individuals–particularly police officers–often act with bias, especially in instance where a split-second decision is required. 

"If we can’t help our latent biases, we can help our behavior in response to those instinctive reactions, which is why we work to design systems and processes that overcome that very human part of us all," he said. "Although the research may be unsettling, what we do next is what matters most."

Read the full speech below (emphasis ours):

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The Internet Is Freaking Out About This Video of Obama Using a Selfie Stick

| Thu Feb. 12, 2015 2:06 PM EST

BuzzFeed got Obama to use a selfie stick. Here is the video.

 
 

Why is a selfie stick news? Because when the president does it, it's news.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: America Is Ready to Accept a Pro-Gay-Marriage SCOTUS Ruling

| Thu Feb. 12, 2015 10:46 AM EST

In a new interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she believes Americans are set to accept a constitutional decision legalizing gay marriage in the country, saying it would "not take a large adjustment" for people to eventually come around on the issue. 

"I think it's doubtful that it wouldn't be accepted," Ginsburg said. "The change in people's attitudes on that issue has been enormous."

The justice's comments are yet another indication the Supreme Court will rule in favor of gay marriage this June, when justices will hear a monumental case deciding if the Constitution provides the right for same-sex marriages.

"In recent years, people have said, 'This is the way I am,'" Ginsburg added. "And others looked around, and we discovered it's our next-door neighbor–we're very fond of them or it's our child's best friend, or even our child. I think that as more and more people came out and said that 'this is who I am,' the rest of us recognized that they are one of us."

Earlier this week, President Obama said he thinks the court will make a historic "shift" in this summer's ruling and that it's time to recognize "same-sex couples should have the same rights as anybody else." 

In the court's decision not to block gay marriage in Alabama on Monday, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissent that the ruling offered another "signal" that gay rights advocates will be similarly successful this summer. Despite the decision, however, several Alabama counties still refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Even with such defiant opposition, Ginsburg maintained a positive outlook. 

"One way or another it will be decided before we leave town in June."

In the Nation's Capital, Fewer Than Half of Black Males Graduate From High School

| Thu Feb. 12, 2015 7:00 AM EST

The term "black lives matter" has become the battle cry for Americans outraged by the recent deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and other unarmed black men at the hands of police. Indeed, the folks at the Schott Foundation for Public Education aim to help make those lives matter before they come to a premature end. Black Lives Matter, its fifth annual report on the state of black youth in the public schools, looks at suspension and graduation rates and points to some alarming trends.

For example, according to the report, 15 percent of black males nationwide have been suspended from school, versus only 5 percent of white boys. Missouri, Michigan, and Florida have some of the highest suspension rates for black boys: greater than 20 percent. These findings parallel a March 2013 study by the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative, which found that black students and students with disabilities are suspended at "hugely disproportionate rates."

Of the Florida ninth graders who were suspended once during freshman year, only 52 percent ever graduated.

All of this information is presented in the context of the school-to-prison pipeline; data has shown suspensions increase the likelihood of students dropping out, and many end up in the criminal justice system. In 2013, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that about 75 percent of Florida ninth graders who were never suspended as freshman graduated from high school. Those suspended once had a 52 percent graduation rate. For those suspended multiple times, the rate was just 38 percent.

Nationally, the Schott report notes, only 59 percent of black males graduate from high school, versus 80 percent of white males. The worst rates were found in Washington, DC, and in Nevada—both had graduation rates of less than 50 percent for black males.

That's a bleak picture. But the report also aims to highlight the achievements of young black men who graduate from high school, such as the more than two million with four-year college degrees and those who have left significant marks in the world of business, finance, science, and the arts.

A new report finds that black girls are suspended six times more often than white girls."

The high suspension and low graduation rates received national attention last January: President Barack Obama rolled out his first "school discipline guidelines," which hold schools legally responsible for the disparate impact of their disciplinary actions on different races. In February 2014 the president announced his "My Brother's Keeper" initiative. With more than $200 million in foundation support, it aims to help black youths finish school and stay out of the criminal justice system. 

The Schott report comes one week after the publication of Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected, a new report from Columbia Law School that highlights an even greater disparity in the rates of punishment for black girls: Crunching data from the Department of Education, the authors found that black girls are suspended six times more often than white girls, whereas black boys were suspended three times as often as white boys.

"We must challenge the assumption," says Columbia Law School professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the report's lead author, "that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk."

Montana GOP Legislator Wants to Ban Yoga Pants

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 11:46 AM EST

Montana Republican state Rep. David Moore has a plan to guide America out of the darkness—ban yoga pants.

Moore, who is upset that group of naked bicyclists pedaled through Missoula last year, decided that what his state really needs right now is tighter regulations on trousers. His proposed bill, HB 365, would outlaw not just nudity, but also "any device, costume, or covering that gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, anus region, or pubic hair region." Per the Billings Gazette:

The Republican from Missoula said tight-fitting beige clothing could be considered indecent exposure under his proposal.

"Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway," Moore said after the hearing.

Moore said he wouldn’t have a problem with people being arrested for wearing provocative clothing but that he'd trust law enforcement officials to use their discretion. He couldn’t be sure whether police would act on that provision or if Montana residents would challenge it.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Moore said.

Merlin's pants! According to the Great Falls Tribune, Moore elaborated that he also believes Speedos should be illegal.

HB 365 continues a miraculous stretch for the Montana legislature. Just last December the Republican-controlled legislature issued new dress-code guidelines for the state capitol, advising women that they should "should be sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines."

Update: Moore's bill has been tabled.

Man Arrested for Fatal Shootings of Three Muslim Students Near University of North Carolina

| Wed Feb. 11, 2015 11:27 AM EST
Chapel Hill police officers investigate the scene of three murders near Summerwalk Circle in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Update, February 11, 2015, 11:24 a.m.: In a statement, police say the shootings may have stemmed from a parking dispute. "Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking. Hicks is cooperating with investigators," a police spokesman said Wednesday.

A 46-year-old man was arrested for the fatal shootings of three Muslim students inside an apartment complex near the University of North Carolina on Tuesday. 

Police say Craig Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. The victims are Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. The sisters were reportedly enrolled at North Carolina State University; Barakat was a student at Chapel Hill's school of dentistry.

 

Spencer turned himself into police Tuesday night "without incident," according to Chatham County Sgt. Kevin Carey. While officials are still investigating a motive behind the murders, news of the students' deaths quickly sparked alarm over concerns of racial bias. The hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter was also created.

 

On Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged police to investigate the murders as a possible hate crime. An official statement from the council specifically addressed Spencer's Facebook account, in which he allegedly called himself an "anti-theist" and spoke out against "radical Christians and radical Muslims."

"Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in the statement.

"Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the local community."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the alleged shooter's name. This has since been corrected.

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Here Is the First Lawsuit Over Concussions in Pop Warner Football

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 7:25 AM EST

In the past year, both the NFL and the NCAA have settled multimillion-dollar lawsuits over concussions and football-related trauma, and complaints have even trickled down to the high school level. Next up in the legal crosshairs? Youth football. 

On Thursday, Debra Pyka, the mother of Joseph Chernach, a 25-year-old Wisconsin man who committed suicide in 2012, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Pop Warner, claiming that cognitive damage from his three years in organized youth football was responsible for his death. The lawsuit claims Chernach suffered from postconcussion syndrome and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease most often associated with former NFL players, as a result of "numerous" concussions he sustained starting when he was 11. 

Chernach did not play football beyond high school; BuzzFeed reported in December that in a university examination of the brains of 19 people who played youth and high school football, Chernach was one of four people to test positive for CTE. 

The fatal combination altered Chernach's "cognition, behavior, and mood" in the years leading up to his death, according to the lawsuit:

 
 

Pyka's lawsuit came eight days after Boston University researchers released a study on former NFL players who'd played football before age 12. The study, published in Neurology, showed that repeated hits earlier in their careers could raise the odds of cognitive decline as adults. 

Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of Pop Warner's medical advisory committee, dismissed the BU study, telling ESPN's Outside the Lines that the effects on former professional athletes and those who never made it to that level are incomparable. The study's lead author, Dr. Robert Stern, countered that although the study does not show what happens to those beyond the professional level, it "does suggest something that I think makes logical sense. The logic is you shouldn't hurt your brain over and over and over again as a child."

This isn't the first high-profile lawsuit brought against Pop Warner over on-field injuries. Last March, the family of 16-year-old Donnovan Hill, who suffered a spinal injury in 2011 while making a tackle during a game, refiled a personal-injury complaint against Pop Warner and Hill's coaches in California. Among other things, Hill's lawyers argued that his coaches improperly taught him to tackle head-first. (Pop Warner later implemented rules limiting contact during practice and banning head-to-head contact.)

Meanwhile, participation in youth football has dwindled since 2008, in part due to the fear of on-field injuries. An espnW/Aspen Institute Project survey last September found that 82.3 percent of parents surveyed considered preventing their children from playing football as a result of those risks.  

Read the rest of the complaint below:

 

 

The Closer Republican and Democratic Senators Sit, the More They Disagree

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 7:00 AM EST

Over the years, various would-be reformers have called for the elimination of the tradition of congressional Republicans and Democrats sitting on opposite sides of the aisle. If partisan adversaries move closer together physically, the thinking goes, perhaps they'll find more common ground politically.

If only it were that easy. In fact, seating Republicans and Democrats closer together might make the situation worse, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Toronto. Published in the American Sociological Review, the paper examines how US senators' voting behavior is affected by the level of interaction between lawmakers. Specifically, how does voting behavior change when senators of different parties sit closer together on the chamber floor or join more committees with each other?

The study's coauthors, business profs Christopher Liu of the University of Toronto and Sameer Srivastava of UC-Berkeley, looked at voting behavior in the Senate from 1973 to 2009. Their findings: Senators from the same party tended to converge in their voting behavior when they interacted more. If they sat closer together or joined more of the same committees, they later voted similarly. But under the same conditions, senators from different parties who interacted more tended to vote differently. In other words, when Republicans and Democrats sit closer together, their votes move further apart.

When Republicans and Democrats sit closer together, their votes move further apart.

In a polarized setting like the Senate, the study explains, "conflicting identities will become more salient, and the normative pressure to move further apart in their thoughts and actions will intensify." Translation: "Sometimes keeping some distance is the better option."

Srivastava says these polarizing effects are stronger and statistically significant when pairs of senators sit less than 33 feet from each other. Beyond that distance, the effects taper off. And, he adds, on the committee level, greater interaction only exacerbated the ideological division between pairs of Republicans and Democrats who joined committees with a history of political divisiveness. Yet in committees where members regularly cosponsored bills across party lines, greater interaction did not drive them apart.

Inside the 52-by-85-foot US Senate chamber, each senator sits at an assigned desk. Seats are reassigned every two years. The desks are moved to new positions, with senators choosing their spots according to seniority. By tradition, Republicans sit on the left side of the main podium, and Democrats sit on the right. During the moving process, some senators shift closer toward the opposing side, while others shift farther away.

Srivastava stresses that the study is intended only to demonstrate a social phenomenon that might also hold true in high-stakes situations beyond Capitol Hill. For example, in a corporate setting, similar dynamics might be seen after a high-profile and contentious merger that brings opposing executives onto the same board.

The study does not lay out any quick fixes for a more cooperative Congress. There's no magic distance between adversaries that will foster greater compromise. But Srivastava does offer one suggestion: Since the polarizing effects described in the study only apply to situations with opposing and public identities, lawmakers may get along better behind closed doors. "Moving some of the interactions into more private settings could help, possibly," he explains. But in the end, he says, the main obstacle to compromise may not be where senators sit, but the personalities and beliefs they bring to the room in the first place.

Please Keep Asking Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "How Many Women on the Supreme Court Are Enough?"

| Fri Feb. 6, 2015 6:15 PM EST

When speaking to students at Georgetown University earlier this week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she is regularly asked when she believes there will be "enough" women sitting on the Supreme Court.

While most of us would respond with nothing more than a groan or an eye roll (Did you really just ask me that?), Ginsburg was equipped with the perfect answer, which you can watch below. (Bonus: Ginsburg also revealed that if God were to grant her any talent in the world, it would be to become a "great diva.")

California Bill Seeks to Get All Children Vaccinated

| Thu Feb. 5, 2015 2:39 PM EST

On the heels of an ongoing measles outbreak that has ignited a national debate over childhood vaccinations, California lawmakers introduced a bill on Wednesday seeking to put an end to the use of personal belief exemptions—which allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children—in the state.

The proposed legislation would essentially require all school children to get vaccinated, unless immunization puts the child's health at risk.

"We shouldn't wait for more children to sicken or die before we act," Rep. Richard Pan (D-Santa Monica) said at a press conference on Wednesday. "Parents are letting us know our current laws are insufficient to protect their kids."

The current outbreak started in Disneyland and has since spread to 14 states, with at least 102 cases reported, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California is one of 20 states that allow for such waivers, which public health officials have cited as a primary cause for the recent reemergence of the highly contagious disease. Only 92.3 percent of children in California are vaccinated, and many of the state's more affluent neighborhoods report even lower rates.

While Gov. Jerry Brown previously signed bills permitting more parental choice on the matter, a spokesperson for the governor indicated he would be open to possible changes.

"The governor believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit and any bill that reaches his desk will be closely considered," Evan Westrup said.

Also on Wednesday, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein released a joint statement calling upon California officials to consider tightening the state's vaccination policies and ending the both personal belief and religious exemptions.