Political MoJo

Watch President Obama's Historic Address to the Cuban People

| Tue Mar. 22, 2016 10:08 AM EDT

President Barack Obama is scheduled to address the Cuban people in a live, televised broadcast. In his speech, he is expected to make his first remarks on the explosions in Brussels. Watch it live here.

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What We Know About the Deadly Attacks in Brussels: Blasts Heard During Raids

| Tue Mar. 22, 2016 7:29 AM EDT
Firefighters and first responders stand next to blown out windows at Zaventem Airport in Brussels.

Update, March 25, 9:49 a.m. EST: Belgian media outlets are reporting multiple blasts in the Schaerbeek neighborhood of Brussels. CNN reports the blasts were heard during a large police operation.

Update, March 23, 4:20 p.m. EST: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said that one of the attackers was arrested near the Syrian border last June. After he was deported to the Netherlands, Turkey warned Belgium of his suspected ties to terrorist activities. The Guardian is reporting that he was one of the two suicide bombers who carried out the explosion inside Zaventam airport.

Update, March 23, 7:24 a.m. EST: Belgian news agencies have identified two of the bombers in Tuesday's attacks as brothers Khalid el-Bakraoui, 27, and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, 30. Both men had been sought by Belgian authorities since the March 15 raid that captured Salah Abdeslam, who is suspected of involvement in the Paris attacks. The Belgian authorities have reportedly arrested a third suspect.

Update, March 22, 1:30 p.m. EST: Belgian police have issued an arrest warrant for a man believed to have participated in carrying out the Brussels attacks. Authorities also released the following photo of three men suspected to be behind the explosions:

Update, March 22, 11:42 a.m. EST: The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels, according to an ISIS-related "news agency," reports the Associated Press. The claim said the attacks were in response to Belgium's support in the fight against ISIS.

Update, March 22, 9:34 a.m. EST: Belgian authorities have raised the death toll to at least 31 dead.

The city of Brussels is under lockdown after multiple explosions rocked its main airport and a subway station early on Tuesday morning.

Authorities believe a suicide bomber carried out the attack at the Zaventam international airport. Another bombing targeted a metro station in the Brussels suburb of Maalbeek. All flights and public transportation have been canceled in the wake of the attacks.

Tuesday's explosions come just days after Salah Abdeslam, the fugitive who is suspected of carrying out the Paris attacks in November, was shot and arrested in a terror raid in the Belgian capital.

"I express my complete solidarity with the Belgian people," French President Francois Hollande said in a press conference. "Terrorists struck Brussels, but it was the whole of Europe that was targeted."

This is a breaking news post. We will update as new information becomes available.

Bernie Sanders Walks a Tightrope in First Middle East Speech

| Mon Mar. 21, 2016 7:24 PM EDT

On Monday, Bernie Sanders did something his campaign has been toying with for months: He gave a speech laying out his vision for Middle East peace. With the other four remaining major party candidates traveling to Washington, DC, to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, Sanders opted to stay in Utah, where he is banking on a strong showing in Tuesday's Democratic caucus. Prior to addressing a packed Salt Lake City gymnasium, he spoke to a smaller crowd, offering the speech his people say he would have delivered at AIPAC.

"A lasting a peace will have to recognize Palestinians are entitled to control their own lives, and there is nothing human life needs more than water."

Consistent with his ongoing critique of economic inequality, Sanders, who is Jewish and spent time at a kibbutz after college, offered a plea for a more humane handling of the Israel–Palestine conflict. "To be successful, we have to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza, they suffer from an unemployment rate of 44 percent—the highest in the world—and a poverty rate nearly equal to that," Sanders said, according to a prepared text of his remarks.

Israel, he argued, is compounding the suffering with its own aggressive policies. Sanders called on Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to pull back settlements in the West Bank and turn over hundreds of millions of shekels in tax revenue to Palestinians. Peace, he also said, "will mean a sustainable and equitable distribution of precious water resources so that Israel and Palestine can both thrive as neighbors…Right now, Israel controls 80 percent of the water reserves in the West Bank. Inadequate water supply has contributed to the degradation and desertification of Palestinian land. A lasting a peace will have to recognize Palestinians are entitled to control their own lives, and there is nothing human life needs more than water."

As he moved on to a rehashing of his positions on ISIS and the Iran nuclear deal, Sanders hit on familiar themes, framing the failure of Middle Eastern nations to stop ISIS, in part, as a failure of wealthy elites. If Qatar could spend $200 billion on World Cup soccer stadiums, he said, it could surely spend as much fighting terrorists. Singling out Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, both of which have benefited from America's defense budget, Sanders added that, "wealthy and powerful nations in the region can no longer expect the United States to do their work for them."

"It is easy to use a war to remove a tyrant from power—but it is much more difficult to prevent total chaos afterward."

Last November, Sanders talked about his plans to fight ISIS as part of a larger policy speech on democratic socialism, but after initially hinting that a major foreign policy address would follow, his campaign backed down. During debates, he's often pivoted away from foreign policy to focus on domestic issues. But national security is one area where the differences between he and Hillary Clinton—and for that matter, the entire Republican field—are stark. Although he never mentioned Clinton by name, he acknowledged his Democratic rival in passing by taking a shot at one of their biggest areas of disagreement, military interventions.

"It is easy to use a war to remove a tyrant from power—but it is much more difficult to prevent total chaos afterward," Sanders said. "Just look at the cost we have paid in Iraq—a war I was proud to oppose. Just look at the chaos in Libya. It is my firm belief that the test of a great nation, with the most powerful military on Earth, is not how many wars we can engage in, but how we can use our strength to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful way."

You can read his speech here.

President Obama Meets With Raul Castro for a Historic Meeting in Cuba

| Mon Mar. 21, 2016 3:25 PM EDT

A day after making history by becoming the first sitting US president to visit Cuba in 88 years, President Barack Obama joined Cuban president Raúl Castro for a joint press conference inside the Palace of Revolution in Havana, where the two leaders candidly discussed the steps both countries would need to take to begin normalizing relations.

"This is a new day—es una nueva día—between our two countries," Obama said.

In their addresses, both leaders acknowledged the profound differences that remained between the two countries on subjects such as human rights and democracy. Castro urged the United States to lift decades-old economic sanctions and also called for its departure from Guantanamo.

"We recognize the position President Obama is in and the position his government holds against the blockade, and that they have called on Congress to lift it," Castro said.

Then, in the rare Q&A session that followed, Castro appeared defensive when asked about the regime's political prisoners. "Give me a list of those political prisoners and I'll release them," he said. "If we have those political prisoners they will be free before nighttime."

His frustration continued when Obama gently nudged him to answer another question, this time about human rights violations. (Castro had said he'd answer just one question.) "Human rights," he eventually said, "should not be politicized."

With such remarks, it's not exactly surprising the press conference ended on this uncomfortable note:

MORE: How did the Obama administration finally break through years of deadlock on Cuba? Read our story on the crazy back-channel negotiations here.

Trump Foreign Policy Adviser Has Ties to Brutal Lebanese Militia

| Mon Mar. 21, 2016 1:47 PM EDT

Donald Trump has finally announced the names of five of his foreign policy advisers, and at least one member of his new team is sure to raise eyebrows.

Walid Phares, a Lebanese academic who advised Mitt Romney's campaign in 2012, is one of the five names Trump gave to the Washington Post during a meeting with the paper's editorial board on Monday. As Mother Jones reported in 2011, Phares was a major player in the Lebanese Forces, one of the Christian militias that fought in Lebanon's brutal 15-year civil war. According to Toni Nissi, a colleague of Phares' at the time, Phares helped the group's leader, Samir Geagea, steep its fighters in religious ideology.

"[Samir Geagea] wanted to change them from a normal militia to a Christian army," Nissi said. "Walid Phares was responsible for training the lead officers in the ideology of the Lebanese Forces."

The Lebanese Forces are now just one of Lebanon's many political parties, but the group was responsible for one of the war's most notorious incidents, the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in Lebanon's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982.

Phares is also well known as an anti-Muslim campaigner. He's appeared on the radio show of Frank Gaffney, the conspiracy theorist who's a foreign policy adviser to Ted Cruz.

Elizabeth Warren Lists All the Ways She Considers Trump a "Loser"

| Mon Mar. 21, 2016 1:03 PM EDT

In a Twitter rampage on Monday afternoon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) enumerated all the ways in which she considers Donald Trump a loser. The liberal favorite launched a barrage of critiques at the Republican presidential candidate, tweeting about everything from the Trump University fiasco to Trump's numerous corporate bankruptcies. She repeatedly called him a "loser" and concluded, "It’s our job to make sure @realDonaldTrump ends this campaign every bit the loser that he started it." 

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Mitt Romney Announces He's Voting for Ted Cruz

| Fri Mar. 18, 2016 4:28 PM EDT

After condemning Donald Trump in a speech earlier this month, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took an all-of-the-above approach to stopping the Republican front-runner from picking up the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. He campaigned for John Kasich in Ohio last week and offered to do the same for Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida.

But although Kasich did win his home state, Romney is now jumping ship. On Friday, ahead of the potentially winner-take-all Utah caucuses, the favorite son is going all-in for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee, announced he would be supporting Cruz not just in Utah, but in all future contests as well. Lest there be any confusion, Romney offered praise for Kasich but indicated the time had come to pick just one candidate to stop Trump. Here's the statement:

This week, in the Utah nominating caucus, I will vote for Senator Ted Cruz.

Today, there is a contest between Trumpism and Republicanism. Through the calculated statements of its leader, Trumpism has become associated with racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity and, most recently, threats and violence. I am repulsed by each and every one of these.

The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention. At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible.

I like Governor John Kasich. I have campaigned with him. He has a solid record as governor. I would have voted for him in Ohio. But a vote for Governor Kasich in future contests makes it extremely likely that Trumpism would prevail.

I will vote for Senator Cruz and I encourage others to do so as well, so that we can have an open convention and nominate a Republican.

Salah Abdeslam, Suspect in Paris Attacks, Arrested in Belgium

| Fri Mar. 18, 2016 1:37 PM EDT

Salah Abdeslam, the 26-year-old fugitive suspected of carrying out the November terrorist attacks in Paris, was shot and arrested during a counter-terrorism raid in Belgium on Friday. CNN reports Abdeslam was captured alive.

"We've got him," Théo Brancken, Belgium's secretary of state for asylum and migration posted shortly after news of Abdeslam's arrest broke.

Earlier on Friday, police revealed they had recently discovered traces of Abdeslam's DNA inside an apartment in Brussels. His arrest is a major development for authorities trying to piece together the international terror network that supplied and inspired the attacks. Abdeslam is the only person among the ten individuals believed to have been directly involved in the coordinated attacks to survive, the New York Times reports.

Abdeslam's continued evasion led to a long series of anti-terror raids in the Belgian capital and surrounding areas.

The search for Abdeslam and individuals connected to the deadly November 13 attacks, which killed 130 people, sparked a massive response from law enforcement agencies throughout Europe.

Abdeslam is a French national born in Belgium.

Obama Is Privately Telling Democratic Donors Time Is Running Out for Sanders

| Thu Mar. 17, 2016 3:22 PM EDT

President Barack Obama privately told a group of Democratic donors in Austin last week that Bernie Sanders' bid for the White House was all but done, and that it was time to unite behind Hillary Clinton for the party's nomination, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The remarks, which were confirmed by the White House, even included a defense of Clinton's character and addressed criticism that she isn't authentic, particularly when compared with the Vermont senator. From the Times:

But he played down the importance of authenticity, noting that President George W. Bush—whose record he ran aggressively against in 2008—was once praised for his authenticity.

Obama's quiet exhortations came just days before Sanders' disappointing performance in the March 15 primaries. They also preview how the president may be preparing to play an active role in the 2016 election.

Obama and his advisers have reportedly been strategizing for weeks about how to ensure a Democrat defeats Donald Trump, should the real estate magnate secure the Republican nomination. According to the Washington Post, they've been specifically returning to the president's 2008 and 2012 campaigns for potential tactics.

When asked in January if Sanders' campaign reminded him of his own 2008 bid, Obama quickly rejected the comparison.

"I don't think that's true," he said in an interview with Politico, a response many perceived as a subtle jab at Sanders. His most recent discussion with donors reveals, however, that the president may be ready to abandon such restraint.

Ted Cruz Endorsed by Senator Who Joked About Murdering Ted Cruz

| Thu Mar. 17, 2016 2:28 PM EDT

Some good news for Sen. Ted Cruz today: He finally got a second senate colleague to endorse him. According to CNN, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham will endorse and raise money for the Texas conservative, as part of a last-gasp effort by Republicans in Washington to stop Donald Trump from winning the party's nomination.

Graham wasn't much help to his previous pick, Jeb Bush, though. And, given the former presidential candidate's past comments about Cruz, his endorsement doesn't carry much weight. It does, however, display the increasing desperation of the Republican establishment. Just last month, Graham told Wolf Blitzer that, "If you're a Republican and your choice is Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in a general election, it's the difference between poisoned or shot—you're still dead." In that same interview, Graham said Cruz was worse than President Barack Obama on foreign policy. A few weeks later, he'd taken an even darker turn. "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate," Graham told a group of journalists, "no one would convict you."