Political MoJo

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."

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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.

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.

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In Solitaire Confinement With Donald Rumsfeld

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 10:16 AM EST

At the ripe old age of 83, Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of defense under Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, just announced he's the architect of a whole new venture: a solitaire iOS game or, as he describes it in a fresh Medium post, an "incredibly devilish version" of the classic card game known as "Churchill Solitaire." He writes:

One of the best ways to stay young is to keep learning.

That's one of the reasons I've spent the better part of the past two years trying my hand at developing a mobile app. To be more precise, I've been working with a team of developers to bring into the digital age a card game that dates back to at least the Second World War, and perhaps earlier. Starting this week, I'm pleased that it is now going to have a new life thanks to modern technology.

According to Rumsfeld, the new game is a take on the version of solitaire Churchill taught his protégé André de Staercke during World War II.

Up until a few years ago, there were probably a dozen or so people in the entire world who knew how to play this game. These were mostly people I taught the game to — my wife, Joyce (the second best living Churchill Solitaire player I know), our children, and some assorted colleagues and friends. That was it. Winston Churchill was gone. André de Staercke, as well. And I knew I wouldn't be around forever. There was every chance the game Churchill so enjoyed could be lost to the ages.

Then I was approached about turning this game into an "app."

Rumsfeld himself did not contribute to any of the actual coding. Instead, he adopted his familiar role of mastermind, communicating his vision to a team of developers using "snowflake" memos—the infamous flurry of notes Rumsfeld was known for sending to his staff.  This was the same approach he employed when communicating with the Pentagon and the White House on such matters as the need to "keep elevating the threat" and "link Iraq to Iran."

Intrigued? Watch the video explainer he just released below:

Videos of Excited Snow Dogs Are the Only Things Keeping Us Happy During this Historic Storm

| Sat Jan. 23, 2016 4:16 PM EST

Here in New York City, roads are now shut down to non-emergency traffic, and authorities are telling drivers they'll get fined if they don't comply. Above-ground parts of the subway system are about to close. The storm, stronger than forecast up here in New York, will continue until late into the night and dump even more snow—making it a storm likely to earn a place in the record books (though where it will rank for snowfall we won't know until it's all over). Slate is reporting that at the time of writing Washington, D.C.'s total snowfall stands at 14.9 inches. There's coastal flooding in New Jersey (watch the footage here.) CNN is reporting that 9000-plus flights have been canceled.

Even though it may be beautiful and exciting, all this nature gets old really fast. With so little to do right now but snack and surrender to television coverage, find some relief in these amazing Instagram videos of dogs having a wonderful time in the snow. Enjoy.

 

A video posted by Appa (@appathederpydog) on

 

A video posted by Nashy Grimm (@littlemannash) on

 

A video posted by siobhan_s_ (@siobhan_s_) on

 

A video posted by Trina (@crookedtailtrina) on

 

A video posted by Aimee (@aimeeinphilly) on

 

A video posted by FOX 5 DC (@fox5dc) on

 

A video posted by Ben Dimiero (@bendi84) on

PS: A little fact-checking note from my editor: “That poor little Bichon appears to be hating it. (I have one and he is suffering too!)"

There's One Big Problem With Sanders' Promise to Overturn Citizens United

| Fri Jan. 22, 2016 12:35 PM EST

Whoa, if true! On Thursday, Bernie Sanders declared that the Supreme Court would overturn Citizens United if he is elected president.

Except that's not how the Supreme Court works. Justices don't get to pick which issues or cases come their way. Only after a case is appealed to the Supreme Court can the justices decide to hear the case. There is no way for Sanders' Supreme Court picks to decide that overturning Citizens United, the 2010 campaign finance decision that fueled the rise of super-PACs, will be one of their first acts on the bench, even if they really, really want it to be.

Update: Sanders campaign spokeswoman Symone Sanders sent the following note explaining the tweet: "That tweet was worded oddly. The senator often speaks about appointing justices that believe in overturning citizens united and who would do so if the opportunity arose. That is what this was referring to."

Clinton Opens a New Front in Her Attacks on Sanders

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 5:51 PM EST

The Hillary Clinton campaign on Thursday unleashed a new line of attack against Bernie Sanders with a video critiquing the senator from Vermont's approach to handling ISIS. The move comes as poll numbers show him closing in on Clinton in Iowa and besting her in New Hampshire.

In the video, Clinton's top foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, speaks directly to the camera and explains that Clinton disagrees with Sanders when it comes to ISIS and Iran. "I have the greatest respect for Sen. Sanders," Sullivan says calmly. Then he adds that Sanders' ideas on national security matters "just don't make sense."

With a professorial tone, Sullivan analyzes three statements that Sanders has made: that there should be more Iranian ground troops in Syria, that Iran and Saudi Arabia should form a coalition to fight ISIS, and that the United States should seek to "agressively…normalize relations with Iran." Sullivan asserts, "When you look at all of these ideas, it's pretty clear that he just hasn't thought it through."

This measured attack is a shift from the campaign's recent slam on Sanders' "Medicare-for-all" health care plan. That assault, which led Chelsea Clinton to allege that Sanders would leave millions of people without coverage, was widely criticized within the political press. Vox's Ezra Klein wrote that the Clinton campaign was "indulging its worst instincts" and had "blundered into a dumb attack." (Klein has also criticized Sanders' health care plan as policy.)

By putting Sullivan in front of the camera—and on a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon to discuss the video—the campaign frees Clinton from mounting this attack herself and coming across as excessively critical of her popular opponent. The video also plays up Clinton's strengths (her foreign policy experience and readiness for office) while zeroing in on one of Sanders' presumed weaknesses (his lack of focus on foreign policy). It also seeks to focus the foreign policy conversation on topics other than the one where she's received the most criticism from Democrats: her 2003 vote in favor of the Iraq invasion.

Up to now, the Clinton campaign's anti-Sanders efforts have focused on differences between Sanders and Clinton on health care and gun safety issues. Now, in the home stretch before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Clinton appears to be adding foreign policy to her core critique.