Political MoJo

The Dumbest Thing You'll Read All Day About the Benghazi Suspect Capture

| Tue Jun. 17, 2014 1:08 PM EDT

On Tuesday, the Washington Post broke the news that US Special Operations forces—working alongside the FBI—captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the suspected ringleaders of the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks, during a raid in Libya over the weekend. You might remember Abu Khattala from his appearance in an October 2012 New York Times piece in which he hangs out with a reporter at a busy luxury hotel, drinking a strawberry frappe and mocking US and Libyan authorities.

This is the first time an accused perpetrator of the Benghazi assault has been apprehended, according to American officials. The raid was conducted following "months of planning," the Post reports, and Abu Khattala is now in US custody in a secure location outside Libya. There were no reported casualties in this operation. White House press secretary Jay Carney says that Abu Khattala's apprehension is not the end of the Benghazi investigation.

This seems like pretty good news. But cue some idiocy, courtesy of Joe Walsh, former Republican congressman and tea party favorite:

Really makes you think

UPDATE, June 17, 2014, 1:37 p.m. ET: Oh. Him.

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Supreme Court to NRA: No, People Can't Lie to Buy Guns

| Mon Jun. 16, 2014 3:45 PM EDT

Gun control lives! In a 5-4 decision Monday, the high court knocked down a National Rifle Association-backed challenge to elements of a 1968 statute that criminalizes lying about the intended owner of a firearm. The law—which basically says that you can't claim you're buying a gun for yourself when you're really buying it for someone else—has been used by the Department of Justice to target gun traffickers, who routinely employ third parties known as straw purchasers to bypass the federal background check system.

In the case, Abramski v. United States, the NRA and other gun groups argued that lying about who would end up with the gun shouldn't matter if the intended owner could legally own one—and more broadly, that the entire prohibition on straw purchasing was itself a "legal fiction" with no real basis in the law itself. Twenty-six states signed on in support, arguing that the law infringed on their rights to regulate gun sales.

In the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan, who was joined by the three other liberal-leaning justices and the swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, emphatically disagreed: "No piece of information is more important under federal firearms law than the identity of a gun's purchaser—the person who acquires a gun as a result of a transaction with a licensed dealer."

The challenge arose out of a case of mistaken identity. Angel Alvarez sent his nephew, Bruce Abramski, a check for $400 with instructions to purchase and deliver to him a Glock 19 handgun. Ambraksi walked into a firearm dealership in Rocky Mount, Virginia, two days later, passed a background check, and signed a form indicating that he was the intended owner of the firearm. When investigators later misidentified Abramski as a suspect in a bank robbery (he wasn't charged), federal investigators found a copy of the receipt revealing that he had purchased the Glock for his uncle—meaning he'd lied on a federal form to purchase the gun.

In lower courts, Abramski argued that his straw purchase was immaterial because his uncle was legally empowered to own a gun and could have passed a background check. But Abramski then made a far larger argument—that the 1968 gun control law really only governs the initial purchase, and had nothing to do with straw purchases. According to the NRA, federal regulators simply pulled the straw purchasing prohibition from thin air. Kagan wanted nothing of it:

The provision thus prevents remote sales except to a small class of buyers subject to extraordinary procedures—again, to ensure effective verification of a potential purchaser's eligibility. Yet on Abramski's view, a person could easily bypass the scheme, purchasing a gun without ever leaving his home by dispatching to a gun store a hired deliveryman. Indeed, if Abramski were right, we see no reason why anyone (and certainly anyone with less-than-pure motives) would put himself through the procedures laid out in §922(c): Deliverymen, after all, are not so hard to come by.

Abramski envisioned a federal gun control law that "would stare myopically at the nominal buyer while remaining blind to the person exiting the transaction with control of the gun," Kagan argued.

Monday's decision is good news for the Justice Department. The law stands. Now the government just has to find a way to enforce it.

Watch: John Oliver Destroys Washington's Racist Football Team Name With New Video

| Mon Jun. 16, 2014 1:10 PM EDT

Last week, a Native American tribe in Northern California ran a new TV ad during the NBA Finals that targeted the racist name of the Washington football team. "Unyielding. Strong. Indomitable," a narrator intones at the end. "Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don't?" The ad then cuts to a picture of a helmet with the team's logo.

On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver used President Obama's first visit to American Indian land to segue into the battle over the R-word. "For the average American," he joked, "that ad should tug at 1/16th of your heartstrings and make the rest extremely guilty." But then Oliver & Co. went a step further: They made their own anti-Redskins video. Watch the whole segment here:

President Obama Plans To Do Something For LGBT Workers That No President Has Ever Done

| Mon Jun. 16, 2014 1:02 PM EDT

President Obama is planning on signing a new executive order preventing federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees, a White House official told the Associated Press on Monday. The order is expected to be finalized in the next few weeks and is an extension of previous orders banning employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin among federal contractors and subcontractors.

"The protections will reach over one million LGBT workers across the country, making it the single largest expansion of LGBT workplace protections in our country's history," ThinkProgress reports.

The White House official would not say when Obama plans to sign the order, but confirmed that the president told his staff to prepare a measure for his signature. On Tuesday, the president will travel to New York for an LGBT fundraising gala with the Democratic National Committee.

Monday's announcement comes after years of pressure from gay rights groups calling for broader action on the issue. Last November, the Senate passed legislation banning workplace discrimination against LGBT workers, but the bill has since gone nowhere in the House.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 16, 2014

Mon Jun. 16, 2014 9:41 AM EDT

Paratroopers journey to France for a commemorative jump on June 8th for the anniversary of D-Day. (Photo by US Air Force Staff Sgt. Sara Keller)

Autopsy Shows Just How Royally Oklahoma Screwed Up Clayton Lockett's Execution

| Fri Jun. 13, 2014 3:26 PM EDT
Oklahoma's death chamber.

In April, when Oklahoma tried to execute Clayton Lockett, everything went wrong. The execution team spent more than an hour trying to find a useable vein. And after officials administered drugs that should have rendered him unconscious, he raised his head, writhed on the gurney and mumbled, appearing to be in pain. The proceeding was eventually halted, but Lockett reportedly died of a heart attack a few minutes later. Corrections officials insisted at the time that Lockett's vein had "blown" or ruptured, causing the drugs to leak into surrounding tissue rather than into his blood stream. Now preliminary findings from an independent autopsy of Lockett suggest an unsettling explanation of what really happened: The people charged with carrying out the execution had absolutely no clue what they were doing.

Oklahoma officials initially claimed that Lockett's executioners had been forced to insert an IV line into the inmate's femoral vein—a painful place for the insertion and also a risky one that requires serious medical expertise—after running into difficulty finding another suitable vein. They also suggested that dehydration or another medical condition might have led to Lockett's botched execution.

Lockett's lawyers retained a medical examiner, who performed an autopsy on the prisoner. Dr. Joseph Cohen's findings, which were released today, raise serious questions about the official account. The autopsy indicates that Lockett's vein never blew—because the IV was never inserted there in the first place. Instead, the needle punctured the vein. Cohen also determined that there was nothing wrong with the veins in Lockett's arms that would have justified using a femoral vein, nor was he dehydrated. Yet he found "skin punctures on the extremities and right and left femoral areas," and proof that the execution team had tried to set lines in both of Lockett's arms and both sides of his groin. Cohen also found more evidence of inept handiwork in hemorrhages around the places the team had tried to access a vein, as well as other injuries related to "failed vascular catheter access."

As with other botched lethal injection executions, the autopsy provides compelling evidence that the people handling what is supposed to be a medical procedure, albeit a gruesome one, have little or no medical training. Oklahoma corrections officials, as well as the governor, said athat a phlebotomist had inserted Lockett's IV. Phlebotomists are fairly low-level health care workers whose primary training and work involves drawing blood for testing. Leaving aside the fact that, in Oklahoma, phlebotomists aren't licensed, regulated, or trained in inserting catheters or IVs, the state's own protocols require a paramedic or EMT to inert an IV. After the Tulsa World started asking about this discrepancy, the state changed its position and claimed that the work had been done by an EMT. State law makes this almost impossible to verify, shrouding the identities of execution team members in secrecy.

Executioner jobs don't necessarily attract the best and brightest. The oath doctors take to "first do no harm" renders them ethically prohibited from participating in executions, so often the people who carry out lethal injections are just ordinary prison officials or, in some cases, employees with checkered pasts. In Arizona, for instance, where execution team members are supposed to receive background checks, one of the primary execution team members had a criminal record, including arrests for drunk driving and drinking in public. Even when doctors participate, they're not always at the top of their profession. In Missouri, dyslexic surgeon Dr. Alan Doerhoff, who admitted to improvising drug mixtures, oversaw 54 executions before a judge banned him from performing any more. Doerhoff was the subject of more than 20 malpractice lawsuits during his career, and he was disciplined by the state medical board for concealing lawsuits from a hospital where he worked. Two Missouri hospitals banned him from practicing in their facilities.

Cohen is still seeking more information from Oklahoma about its procedures, test results from the coroner's office, and other details about the day Lockett died. Corrections officials tasered Lockett in the process of removing him from his cell to take him to the death chamber, and Cohen is seeking more information about that, too, due to other injuries he found on Lockett's body.

In a statement, Dr. Mark Heath, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University and an expert in lethal injection executions who has been aiding defense lawyers challenging state protocols, explained, "Dr. Cohen has begun a critically important inquiry into the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. However, to complete this inquiry, Dr. Cohen will need the state to provide extensive additional information beyond what the body itself revealed. I hope that Oklahoma provides everything he asks for so that we can all understand what went so terribly wrong in Mr. Lockett’s execution."

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More Than 100 Migrant Kids Detail Abuse by US Border Patrol

| Thu Jun. 12, 2014 3:12 PM EDT

This year, more than 70,000 unaccompanied immigrant children are expected to show up at the US border.

A complaint filed Wednesday with the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 116 unaccompanied minors gives a glimpse of the sort of treatment the kids may receive if they are taken into custody. Prepared by the ACLU and four other civil rights organizations, the complaint details claims of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse directed at children—some as young as five years old—at the hands of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), often after the children fled violence or threats in their home countries.

 
 

The complaint is not an exhaustive accounting, but rather, the organizations note, a "representative sample" based on interviews conducted this spring. About a quarter of the children reported some form of physical abuse by CBP officials, including "sexual assault, beatings, and the use of stress positions." More than half reported verbal abuse and denial of medical care. The children are not guaranteed legal counsel after being apprehended.

Below are some excerpts from the full complaint (PDF), divided by categories of abuse:

Physical and sexual abuse: "D.G. is a 16-year-old Central American girl. Shortly after CBP arrested her, officials mocked her and asked her why she did not ask the Mexicans for help. When they searched her, officials violently spread her legs and touched her genital areas forcefully, making her scream. D.G. was detained with both children and adults. She describes the holding cell as ice-cold and filthy, and says the bright fluorescent lights were left on all day and night."

Inhumane conditions: "C.S. is a 17-year-old girl who was apprehended after crossing the Rio Grande. CBP detained C.S. in a hielera [a cold cell, or "freezer" in Spanish] in wet clothes that did not dry for the duration of the three and a half days she was there. The only drinking water available to C.S. came from the toilet tank in her holding cell. The bathroom was situated in plain view of all other detainees with a security camera mounted in front of it. C.S. could not sleep because the temperature was so cold, the lights were on all night, and officials frequently woke the detainees when they tried to sleep."

Verbal abuse: "K.M. is a 15-year-old girl who was detained in CBP custody for four days...In the hielera, CBP officials woke K.M. and the other children every 30 minutes as they tried to sleep, and K.M. could not keep track of the time because the lights were always left on. CBP officials called her and the other children 'sluts,' 'parasites,' and 'dogs.'"

Due process concerns: "K.H. is an orphan who was apprehended at the border when she was 17-years-old. K.H. fled to the safety of her extended family in the United States after a gang tried to force her into a sexual relationship with one of their members...Because she is an orphan, K.H. would have been eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a defense to removal which must be initiated prior to a child’s 18th birthday. However, because CBP officials confiscated her identity documents and did not return them, K.H. was unable to file an application for SIJS before her 18th birthday."

Similar complaints have been filed over the past few years, to little or no response from the Department of Homeland Security: Earlier this year, the American Immigration Council found that 97 percent of the 809 abuse complaints against CBP between January 2009 and January 2012 resulted in the classification of "no action taken." Sixty percent of those complaints involved the abuse of migrant children.

This week did bring a bit of good news for migrant children: the Obama administration announced the launch of a legal aid program that will enroll about 100 lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services to the "most vulnerable" children. However, the program is only expected to help a fraction of the 74,000 kids who could arrive this year.

Industry Says Car Insurance Obviously Affordable for Poor Because They Buy Booze

| Thu Jun. 12, 2014 12:04 PM EDT

Poverty in America remains stuck at record levels. But people who are poor aren't that bad off—because they can afford booze, cigarettes, and TVs, the car insurance industry said Monday.

The odd rationale was included in a letter to the Federal Insurance Office, an insurance industry watchdog, in response to a request for comments on whether auto insurance is affordable for low-income Americans.

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), which represents half of the nation's car insurance companies, asserts in its letter that households in the lowest two-fifths of the income spectrum spend nearly as much on alcohol and cigarettes as they do on car insurance, and even more on "audio and visual (A/V) equipment and services." Therefore, the industry group says, "it seems implausible to suggest that automobile insurance is not 'affordable' for these consumers."

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a consumer advocacy group, calls the trade group's comments not only "offensive," but "factually incorrect." Here's why: Only about 19 percent of all low-income households spend any money on cigarettes in a typical three-month period, and only 22 percent spend any money on alcohol. When you average all low-income household spending, you find that these households spend about $102 more a year on car insurance than on cigarettes and alcohol, according to the most recent numbers from the federal government’s Consumer Expenditure Survey.

"Many households spend nothing on these products and this abuse of statistics reveals the underlying disrespect that many auto insurers have for low-income drivers," CFA's director of insurance J. Robert Hunter said Tuesday.

Car insurance companies often charge higher rates to blue-collar workers and people with less education. Low-income and moderate-income drivers with insurance spend about $1,000 a year on coverage.

It's About Time for Obama's First Visit to American Indian Land

| Wed Jun. 11, 2014 3:39 PM EDT
President Obama signing the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010.

This Friday, President Obama will step on American Indian land for his first time as president. He'll be visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles one million acres of the Dakota plains, to meet with leaders and discuss issues facing American Indians. The last sitting president to visit reservation land was Bill Clinton in 1999, so this week's visit is a big deal.

In a June 5 op-ed in Indian Country Today, the president promised to do more for American Indians. But he also argued that his administration has already delivered great progress. Is that the case?  

When Obama visits Standing Rock, he will find a community where 86 percent of residents are unemployed. That's only the sixth–worst unemployment rate among Indian reservations: the worst is 93 percent, at the Sokaogo Chippewa Community in Wisconsin.

On top of unemployment, the American Indian community faces a number of other challenges: sky-high rates of adolescent suicide, rape, obesity, alcoholism, drug use, physical abuse and even post–traumatic stress disorder.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 11, 2014

Wed Jun. 11, 2014 10:00 AM EDT

The Marine Corps Logistics Command performs a flag folding ceremony in Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Cody Haas)