Political MoJo

The Federal War on Medical Marijuana Is Over

| Tue Dec. 16, 2014 6:00 AM EST
Steven D'Angelo's Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California, was a target of the federal government.

Good news for medical pot smokers: The $1.1 trillion federal spending bill approved by the Senate on Saturday has effectively ended the longstanding federal war on medical marijuana. An amendment to the bill blocks the Department of Justice from spending money to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries or patients that abide by state laws.

"Patients will have access to the care legal in their state without fear of federal prosecution," Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), a supporter of the rider known as the Hinchey-Rohrbacher amendment, said in a statement. "And our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients."

The DOJ's earlier pledge not to interfere with state pot laws left it plenty of wiggle room.

The Department of Justice last year pledged not to interfere with the implementation of state pot laws, but the agency's truce left it with plenty of room to change its mind. Earlier this year, for instance, the DOJ accused the Kettle Falls Five, a family in Washington State, of growing 68 marijuana plants on their farm in Eastern Washington, where pot is legal. Members of the family face up to 10 years in jail—or at least, they did; the amendment may now stop their prosecution.

More broadly, the change provides some added peace of mind for pot patients in California, where the DOJ's pledge appeared not to apply. The Golden State's 1996 medical pot law, the first in the nation, has long been criticized by the DOJ as too permissive and decentralized.

Medical marijuana activists hailed the amendment's passage as a landmark moment for patients' rights. "By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws," said Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs Director for Americans for Safe Access.

The CRomnibus spending bill wasn't a universal victory of marijuana advocates, however. Another rider aims to prevent the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana; it prohibits federal funds being "used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance." But Reason's Jacob Sullum notes that the rider may be moot because DC's pot law has already been "enacted" by voters—it passed at the polls in November by a 2-to-1 margin.

Whatever the outcome in DC, the appropriations bill is an undisputed win for pot smokers. As Slate's Josh Voorhes points out, "the District is home to roughly 640,000 people; California, one of 23 states were medical pot is legal, is home to more than 38 million." In short, Congress has done a bit of temporary weed whacking in its backyard, but it's acknowledging that stopping the repeal of pot prohibitions by the states is all but impossible.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Cheney on Torture: Lying or Ignorant?

| Mon Dec. 15, 2014 2:28 PM EST

On Sunday, days after the release of the Senate torture report, former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press to defend the Bush-Cheney administration's use of harsh interrogation practices and to deny that these methods were torture. It was a typical no-retreat/no-surrender performance by Cheney. Asked by host Chuck Todd to define torture, Cheney repeatedly said torture was what happened on 9/11: "What the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans." That is, he defined torture as an act of mass violence that targets civilians.

This was a confusing, nonlogical talking point that Cheney gripped tightly. Yet on the specific matter of waterboarding—which he defended—Cheney simply resorted to false statements. He insisted that waterboarding "was not torture." Todd asked him, "When you say waterboarding is not torture, then why did we prosecute Japanese soldiers in World War II for waterboarding?"

Cheney replied:

For a lot of stuff. Not for waterboarding. They did an awful lot of other stuff…To draw some kind of moral equivalent between waterboarding judged by our Justice Department not to be torture and what the Japanese did with the Bataan Death March and the slaughter of thousands of Americans, with the rape of Nanking and all of the other crimes they committed, that's an outrage. It's a really cheap shot, Chuck, to even try to draw a parallel between the Japanese who were prosecuted for war crimes after World War II and what we did with waterboarding three individuals—

See what he did there? He denied the basis of Todd's question and then tried to make it seem silly: You can't equate what our guys did to the worst mass war crimes of World War II!

But Cheney was wrong. In 1947, the United States did charge a Japanese interrogator named Yukio Asano with war crimes, including waterboarding. In fact, waterboarding was one of the key crimes of which he was accused. Here's a portion of the indictment:

Charge: That between 1 April, 1943 and 31 August, 1944, at Fukoka Prisoner of War Branch Camp Number 3, Kyushu, Japan, the accused Yukio Asano, then a civilian serving as an interpreter with the Armed Forces of Japan, a nation then at war with the United States of America and its Allies, did violate the Laws and Customs of War.

Specification 1: That in or about July or August, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Morris O. Killough, an American Prisoner of War, by beating and kicking him; by fastening him on a stretcher and pouring water up his nostrils.

Other parts of the indictment also refer to other times Asano engaged in waterboarding. He was not indicted for the Bataan Death March. He was accused of a specific war crime: waterboarding.

Does Cheney know this? If he did, it probably wouldn't matter. During his interview, the ever-unrepentant Cheney refused to acknowledge any problems with the CIA detention and interrogation program that he and George W. Bush approved. He showed no concern when Todd noted that up to 25 percent of the detainees—some of whom were tortured—were wrongly held. Cheney insisted the extreme interrogation practices "absolutely did work," though the Senate report offers numerous examples of instances when torture did not yield pivotal information and did not contribute to thwarting attacks. Cheney asserted that waterboarding in the defense of the United States is no vice. And he kept thrashing at a straw man, accusing naive torture critics of equating these interrogation methods with the bloody deeds of Al Qaeda.

Asked about a passage of the report that clearly notes that the CIA provided Cheney with false information—that the use of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques helped the CIA stop a dirty bomb attack planned for Washington, DC—Cheney insisted that the implication that the CIA misled him "is just wrong." But he didn't say how he knew that. After all, did Cheney review the intelligence himself? (He didn't even read the full torture report—or the 528-page executive summary that was released.) And if the CIA had provided him inaccurate information touting the use of these interrogation techniques, how would he know that?

Given that the CIA screwed up regarding WMD in Iraq, Todd asked Cheney, why are you so confident that CIA officials were telling you the truth? Cheney had only this to say: I trusted them. Who's being naive now?

Finally, Todd asked if Cheney had any regrets about the Iraq War, noting that the invasion has led to chaos in the region. Big surprise: Cheney said no. He repeated the canard that Saddam Hussein "had a 10-year relationship with Al Qaeda." Once again, the 9/11 Commission found that there was no "collaborative operational relationship" between the Iraqi dictator and Al Qaeda, and the Institute for Defense Analyses, a research arm of the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command, studied a half million Iraqi documents and concluded there had been no direct connection between Osama bin Laden's gang and Baghdad.

"We did the right thing," Cheney told Todd. But for more than a decade now, Cheney has been peddling false information to the American public: Saddam was amassing WMD to use against the United States, Iraq had obtained aluminum tubes so it could create a nuclear weapon, a 9/11 ringleader met with an Iraqi intelligence officer. And now: Torture wasn't torture, and it worked. After all that—though he's still afforded elder statesman status by much of the media—he probably deserves derision more than rebuttal.

Elizabeth Warren Says Gay Men Should Be Able To Donate Blood

| Mon Dec. 15, 2014 1:39 PM EST
Elizabeth Warren marching in the 2012 Boston Gay Pride Parade

Elizabeth Warren and a host of Democratic lawmakers are demanding the Obama administration stand up for gay rights.

A coalition of 80 senators and House members spearheaded by the Massachusetts senator—alongside Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)—sent a letter Monday to Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, protesting the long-standing prohibition that bars men who have had sex with men from donating blood in the United States.

In 1983, the federal government instituted a lifetime ban for any man who has had sex with another man—even once—at any time after 1977. That rule went into effect during the early days of AIDS panic when the disease was largely unknown. Now, technology exists that can detect HIV within a few weeks of infection.

Last month, an HHS panel that handles blood policy advocated tossing out the lifetime ban—but argued for replacing it with a measure that would keep any sexually active gay man from contributing to the blood supply: a ban on donations from any man who had sex with another man within the past year.

To the Democrats in Congress, that slight improvement isn't nearly enough. The letter calls both the lifetime ban and the one-year deferral policies "discriminatory" and "unacceptable." The lawmakers urged an end to the lifetime ban by the "end of 2014," while also pushing for a less-stringent restriction than the one-year celibacy requirement.

"The recommendation to move to a one-year deferral policy is a step forward relative to current policies; however, such a policy still prevents many low-risk individuals from donating blood," the letter says. "If we are serious about protecting and enhancing our nation's blood supply, we must embrace science and reject outdated stereotypes."

The letter may have been better directed at the Food and Drug Administration. That agency's Blood Products Advisory Panel met earlier this month to consider the one-year deferral proposed by HHS, but the panel of experts seemed more inclined to let the current policy stand rather than loosen the restrictions.

Here's the full letter:

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 15, 2014

Mon Dec. 15, 2014 9:39 AM EST

US Marines conduct a static-line jump to prepare for upcoming deployment. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Anna Albrecht)

Here's a List of People to Follow on Twitter for the Latest on the Australian Hostage Crisis

| Sun Dec. 14, 2014 11:06 PM EST
Armed police close to a cafe under siege at Martin Place, in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Monday, Dec. 15, 2014.

An armed assailant is holding an unconfirmed number of hostages in a cafe in downtown Sydney. Police have evacuated the area and are locking down a pedestrian thoroughfare, Martin Place. Here is a partial list of people and organizations you can follow on Twitter to stay up-to-date on the ongoing hostage crisis:

  • Buzzfeed Australia's breaking news reporter Mark Di Stefano is on the scene.
  • Channel 9 journalist Caroline Marcus is doing a great job covering the unfolding events.
  • Guardian Australia's Bridie Jabour has been running that site's live blog and beta-testing the facts as they emerge.
  • Sydney police reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Lucy Carter, is also on the scene and tweeting.
  • Jess Hill is also doing a great job fact-checking the news as it breaks.
  • Cath Turner, a reporter for Seven News, a television company with studios within walking distance of the cafe.
  • You should already be following the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Mark Colvin for everything Australia-related.
  • For political ramifications, Fairfax reporter Latika Bourke is a great go-to.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald
  • The ABC
  • The Australian Newspaper
  • The New South Wales police, who are taking the lead on operations

I Was There When an Undercover Cop Pulled a Gun on Unarmed Protesters in Oakland. Here's How It Happened.

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 7:12 PM EST

Over the past 24 hours, photos showing a plainclothes police officer pulling a gun on unarmed protesters in Oakland have gone viral. Tens of thousands of people, and news outlets like Gawker, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, and NBC have shared them, often including outraged comments. But there have been few accounts of what exactly happened, and how the incident came to pass.

I was one of the few reporters with the protesters at that point, around 11:30 p.m., and what I saw may add some useful context.

The protest was the latest in a series that have filled the streets of Berkeley and Oakland in the past couple of weeks in response to the lack of indictments for the officers who had killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner. (I covered most of them via Twitter.) Marchers generally remained peaceful. Sometimes they overtook highways and blocked intersections. Parents pushed strollers, students kept stride with older marchers, and people from all across the Bay Area joined in. But there was also infighting among the crowds, and breakaway factions looted stores, smashed windows, and burned trash cans. Police officers responded with tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and fired non-lethal bullets*, and their actions were often met with outrage.

Protesters run after police set off flashbang grenades in Oakland, Calif. Gabrielle Canon

Wednesday night seemed as if it was going to end differently. Organizers with hoarse voices rallied the crowd of some 150 with updates on the movement that they said was building across the country. They presented a petition listing demands, including for Darren Wilson to be indicted and protesters who'd been arrested to be released without charges. Starting at the Berkeley campus, the group marched peacefully toward Oakland as a rainstorm approached.

A little girl rides along on her stroller, chanting in a march last week. Gabrielle Canon

About 10:30 p.m., a small group from within the march broke windows at a T-Mobile store and smashed Bank Of America ATMs. Protesters blocked photographers documenting the violence, pushing us and putting their hands in front of lenses.

Marching floods into the streets in Berkeley, CA early on Wednesday night Gabrielle Canon

Shortly after this, police presence increased. Squad cars and white vans full of officers followed the march slowly as announcements rang out over a police intercom informing protesters that police were there for their protection and that their right to demonstrate was being respected. They also warned that any vandalism or violence would lead to citation or arrest.

According to reporter David DeBolt, writing for Inside Bay Area, officials say it was then that two undercover officers joined the march, both wearing dark handkerchiefs and hoods that covered their faces. I had not seen them earlier, and they did not appear in any of the photos I took.

A marcher does a different take on "Hands up don't shoot" Gabrielle Canon

Suddenly, behind me, someone started to yell. A protester had discovered the undercover cops and shouted an alarm. Others began to join in, calling them pigs and telling them to go home. The two men passed me in silence, at a hurried pace. Suddenly, a scuffle erupted as one protester attempted to pull off one of the officer's hoods. The officer tackled someone involved, and was quickly surrounded by a small crowd and kicked from several directions while on the ground. (That officer, who was African American, is who you see in the ground in the photo above.) The other officer stepped in front of his partner and brandished a baton. When the crowd did not back up he drew his gun, pointing at protesters and photographers. Moments later, police flooded the area, scattering marchers and blocking others, as the undercover officers arrested the man who had been tackled in the skirmish.

Protester in Oakland, CA Gabrielle Canon

DeBolt reports the undercover officers were later identified as members of California Highway Patrol, assigned to follow the march on foot. They had been following in a vehicle providing information to stop protesters from blocking highways. Officials said in a press conference that the agency is investigating the incident, but believes the officers did what was necessary to protect themselves. They said that undercover cops had been deployed in prior protests and would be again, and that Twitter accounts had also been used to gather information.

The incident and photo have sparked anger and questions about police tactics in crowd control. Protesters are expected to resume marching over the weekend throughout the Bay Area and I will send out updates on Twitter as events unfold.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated the location from which nonlethal bullets were fired. The language has been changed to fix the error.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Dozens of Staffers Just Walked Out of Congress. This Powerful Picture Shows Why.

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 3:55 PM EST

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of congressional staffers walked out in protest of the recent grand jury decisions failing to indict the two officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The result was an incredible display of solidarity, with staffers raising their hands in the air to invoke Brown's "hands up, don't shoot" image. See the photos below:

 

Rick Perry: Running for President Is "Not an IQ Test"

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 1:59 PM EST

A lot of people think Texas Governor Rick Perry might be dumb. Perry does not think that should stop him from running for president.

"Running for the presidency’s not an IQ test," Perry told MSNBC this morning. "It is a test of an individual’s resolve. It’s a test of an individual’s philosophy. It’s a test of an individual’s life experiences. And I think Americans are really ready for a leader that will give them a great hope about the future."

Here are some clips of Rick Perry being dumb:

 

 

Back From the Dead: Soft Money Makes a Comeback in Congress

| Wed Dec. 10, 2014 5:35 PM EST

Update: Friday, December 12, 2014: On Thursday night, the House passed the so-called Cromnibus government spending bill with the soft money provision intact. The bill moves to the Senate where it's expected to pass.

Soft money—limitless donations pouring into the Democratic and Republican parties from labor unions, big corporations, and Hollywood moguls—was once all the rage in Washington. When the trickle of soft money began in the late 1980s, it was intended to fund building additions, TV studios, and other infrastructure for Team Blue and Team Red. But by the mid-'90s, soft money had exploded—the DNC and RNC raised $263 million of it during the '96 election cycle, up from $45 million in 1988. And by the time of Bill Clinton's reelection, soft money wasn't just funding brick-and-mortar projects—it was supporting campaign activities to elect candidates to office. And the parties went to great lengths to pocket more. Remember those infamous sleepovers in the Clinton White House for donors and fundraisers? All in the name of raising soft money. Soft money was at the core of the campaign finance scandal triggered by Clinton's '96 campaign, the brouhaha that spurred the 2002 McCain-Feingold law banning soft money.

Now, soft money is making a comeback of sorts. A provision added to the $1 trillion spending bill cobbled together by Congress this week to avert a government shutdown would increase by tenfold the amount of money wealthy donors could give to the national political parties. Those dollars would go to fund presidential conventions, physical building activities, and legal work by the parties—an echo of the old soft-money days.

Here's how the new math breaks down. Right now, donations to the DNC, the RNC, and their campaign affiliates (the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and so on) are limited to $32,400 per person per committee each year. If the provision becomes law, donors could give $324,000 a year—a tenfold increase—to the DNC or RNC, while also donating $453,600 a year to the other party committees. All told, that means a wealthy donor could give $777,600 a year to all these outfits, or more than $1.5 million across an entire election cycle. "This is a law for millionaires and billionaires, period," says Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a good-government group that backs limits on money in politics.

As the Washington Post notes, this move could nudge the center of gravity in the political-money world back toward the national parties, which have found themselves strapped for cash while independent super-PACs rake in seven-figure checks:

While there would be some restrictions on how parties could use those donations, the creation of new, wider lanes for money to travel into the parties would be a major boon, campaign finance experts said. The expanded avenues for giving would dramatically undercut some of the last remaining provisions of the landmark McCain-Feingold Act, which curtailed the ability of parties to raise huge, unregulated sums.

"It's always hard to predict how much more money will actually be raised when contribution limits are modified like this," said Michael Toner, a Republican election law attorney and former Federal Election Commission member. "But the opportunity is there for the national political parties to raise significantly more money. I think this could be a real shot in the arm for the national parties and it would be a further chipping away of the McCain-Feingold law."

"Money is fungible in American politics," Toner added. "Any change in the campaign finance law that allows additional funds to be raised by parties for specified purposes necessarily frees up funds to be spent electing candidates."

The ability of parties to raise huge sums could help them retake power back from super PACs and politically active nonprofits, which have emerged as major players in national politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010.

Critics of the provision say it will transport national politics back to the scandal-ridden '90s when soft money flowed freely. "This provision would open a door to a new avenue of corruption, and is one more indication that selling American democracy is a bipartisan affair," says Josh Orton, political director of Progressives United, the advocacy group founded by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

It's unclear who inserted the provision into the spending bill. The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), an avid foe of campaign finance regulations, denied involvement. But the provision appears to stand a good chance of surviving. Despite vowing to block an earlier attempt by McConnell to cut down campaign money limits, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Politico that he will not block the current provision. "If President Obama signs this law into effect, assuming it passes, he will be joining with Sen. Reid in owning this legislation and the national scandals that are bound to follow," Wertheimer says.

LA’s Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Instagram

| Wed Dec. 10, 2014 1:38 PM EST
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and a constituent enjoy a selfie.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is a busy guy. But even the mayor of America's second-largest city—and potential Senate candidate—is not immune to the relaxing, time-wasting powers of social media: he's a prolific Instagrammer.

Unlike the social media accounts of most politicians, Garcetti's Instagram clearly belongs to a real human being—one with a hobby interest in photography. Compare that to the Instagram of New York City's Bill de Blasio, whose feed is clogged with press conferences—no filters to be found. No wonder, then, that Garcetti boasts nearly 12,000 followers, easily topping de Blasio's 7,800. With artsy shots like these, it's not hard to see why:

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

Really, though. This is just great composition:

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

Beyond showcasing his artistic eye, Garcetti's not afraid to broadcast himself hobnobbing in Hollywood:

 

#MerryGrinchmas #HappyWhoYear #MayorAugustusMaywho

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

Like many LA residents, he admires an appealing coffee menu:

 

@primerataza great stop during @ciclavia

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

He can't resist the appeal of a photogenic dog. (The dog in question belongs to California Governor Jerry Brown.)

 

California's First Dog, @SutterBrown

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

He puts his frequent helicopter and plane rides to good use:

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

Dude knows how to use some borders.

 

A photo posted by Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) on

 

While some take to Garcetti's posts to complain (mostly about helicopter use), the comments on his posts are overwhelmingly positive. Representing most, one user wrote, "Mr. Mayor, I've been increasingly surprised by your photographic eye. You have a great perspective for light and color. Respect." Respect, indeed.