Political MoJo

Top Campaign Watchdog Petitions Her Own Agency to Do Its Job

| Mon Jun. 8, 2015 6:02 PM EDT

The Federal Election Commission should just do its job already.

That's not a #hottake. It's the formal opinion of the chairwoman of the FEC itself.

In a sign of how bad things have gotten at the government watchdog tasked with keeping federal elections clean, chairwoman Ann Ravel and fellow Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub filed a petition with their own agency this morning pleading for campaign finance rules to be enforced this election cycle. The move is not likely to have earth-shattering consequences, but it's a sign of desperation—when even the officials who are supposed to be enforcing the law throw up their hands and file a complaint about themselves, to themselves, because there's no one else to complain to, things are officially off-the-rails.

"People will say: 'You're the chair of the commission. You should work from within.' I tried," Ravel told CNN Monday. "We needed to take more creative avenues to try and get public disclosure."

Petitions are almost always filed by outsiders hoping to change policy. The FEC chief now counts herself as one of those outsiders.

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The Cop Caught on Video Shooting Walter Scott Was Just Charged With Murder

| Mon Jun. 8, 2015 2:05 PM EDT

On Monday, a South Carolina grand jury indicted former North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager on a murder charge for the April shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man whose death, caught on video, sparked national outcry over police conduct.  

The New York Times reports:

The former officer, Michael T. Slager, had been jailed on a murder charge since April 7, when the video became public. Mr. Slager's lawyers have so far made no request for bail, and his indictment in Charleston County had been widely expected. The North Charleston Police Department fired him after the shooting, which city officials criticized in stark and unsparing terms.

Despite the intensive publicity surrounding the shooting, Scarlett A. Wilson, the local prosecutor, said Monday that she believed a local jury could be impaneled and would be able to arrive at an unbiased verdict. A trial date has not been set.

Slager became one of at least three white officers to be charged in the shooting death of an unarmed black man in South Carolina over the past year. As Mother Jones has previously reported, Slager's indictment is rare, given how few cases result in charges.

A Federal Appeals Court Just Denied Birthright Citizenship to American Samoans Using Racist Caselaw

| Fri Jun. 5, 2015 3:55 PM EDT

American Samoans are the only people born on United States soil but denied birthright citizenship. And so it will remain—at least for now.

On Friday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship does not apply to island territories including American Samoa. Agreeing with the Obama administration's lawyers, the DC Circuit relied on and even expanded the scope of a set of racially-charged, Colonial-era cases that refer to "savages" and "alien races" to reach their decision.

(Mother Jones covered this case back in February; on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver subsequently included the issue in a segment on rights in US territories.)

Opposing a group of American Samoans seeking birthright citizenship, the US government based its argument on a set of cases legal scholars have denounced as racist and imperialist. Known as the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court in the early years of the 20th century created a distinction between the rights of newly acquired island territories such as American Samoa and Puerto Rico and territories such as Arizona that they assumed would one day become states—and which were increasingly populated by white people. As Mother Jones reported back in February:

Justice Henry Brown—famous as the author of Plessy v. Ferguson, which gave the court's blessing to segregation—refers to the inhabitants of the new territories as "savage" and "alien races" in the Insular Cases. Brown contended that Congress would treat the territories well because it was guided by "certain principles of natural justice inherent in the Anglo-Saxon character." His colleague, Justice Edward White, hypothesized in one case that granting citizenship to an "uncivilized race" in a new territory would "inflict grave detriment on the United States" from "the immediate bestowal of citizenship on those absolutely unfit to receive it."

The DC Circuit's unanimous opinion attempts to distance itself from this controversial history before ultimately relying on the Insular Cases to rule against the American Samoans. Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel of the court—comprised of the three most conservative justices on the DC Circuit—Judge Janice Rogers Brown first denounced the Insular Cases as "without parallel in our judicial history" for the "manner in which the results were reached, the incongruity of the results, and the variety of inconsistent views expressed by the different members of the court." Brown also acknowledged, in the politest way possible, that "some aspects of the Insular Cases' analysis may now be deemed politically incorrect."

Nevertheless, the DC Circuit found them "both applicable and of pragmatic use in assessing the applicability of rights to unincorporated territories." In fact, the court expanded the scope of the Insular Cases, becoming the first court to explicitly apply the Insular Cases to the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That wasn't the only way the DC Circuit's opinion broke ground in this case. As Neil Weare, the civil rights lawyer who argued the case in February on behalf of a group of American Samoans, noted in a statement Friday, "Today marks the first time a federal court of appeals has ruled that citizenship by birth on US soil is not a fundamental right."

Though the group of American Samoans lost on Friday, their chances of winning an appeal to the entire DC Circuit—which is more liberal than the three conservative judges randomly selected to hear this case—could be higher.

Most of the Suspects Accused of Attacking Malala Yousafzai Were Secretly Acquitted

| Fri Jun. 5, 2015 3:28 PM EDT
Malala Yousafzai

Eight of the ten men accused of shooting of education rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai were secretly acquitted, according to reports released today by the Pakistani government. Following a trial at a military facility in April, news spread that the 10 Taliban gunmen who were accused of involvement in the 2012 attack on Yousafzai had confessed and were sentenced to 25 years in prison—the longest possible sentence in Pakistan.

But after reporters from the British newspaper the Daily Mirror were unable to locate the 10 in Pakistani prisons, the court published new findings that revealed only two had in fact been convicted and the rest had been quietly released due to "lack of evidence."

The Pakistani officials who failed to correct the initial reporting now deny confirming the convictions, and the New York Times reports that the government will likely seek an appeal for the decision.

Yousafzai was 15 at the time of the attack and has since become a global voice for girls' education rights. In 2013 she published a memoir, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, and the following year, at the age of 17 she became the youngest Nobel Peace Peace Prize winner. She is currently attending school in Britain, where she and her family have relocated.

Edward Snowden Celebrates NSA Reform as the "Power of an Informed Public"

| Fri Jun. 5, 2015 10:50 AM EDT

Now that both Congress and President Obama have approved the USA Freedom Act, Edward Snowden finally has something to celebrate.

In a Times op-ed published on Friday, Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who exposed the government's massive phone collection tactics exactly two years ago, applauded the new limits on government surveillance as an example of the "power of an informed public." He writes:

In a single month, the N.S.A.’s invasive call-tracking program was declared unlawful by the courts and disowned by Congress. After a White House-appointed oversight board investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack, even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure has now ordered it terminated.

Though he notes more work needs to be done in order to ensure the freedom and privacy of American lives, Snowden believes this week's passage of the USA Freedom Act provides a glimpse of what life is like in a "post-terror generation, one that rejects a worldview defined by a singular tragedy."

Ending the mass surveillance of private phone calls under the Patriot Act is a historic victory for the rights of every citizen, but it is only the latest product of a change in global awareness.

Snowden also criticizes Russia, where he has been on the run for the past two years, for expanding their own surveillance capabilities. He noted that in countries such as Australia, France, and Canada, similarly invasive laws are being implemented.

Read Snowden's op-ed in its entirety here.

Woman Alleges Dennis Hastert Sexually Abused Her Brother

| Fri Jun. 5, 2015 9:55 AM EDT

On Friday, an Illinois woman alleged in an interview with ABC News that Dennis Hastert sexually abused her late brother while the former House speaker worked as a teacher and wrestling coach at her brother's high school.

Jolene Reinboldt, who contacted ABC and other news outlets with the same allegations nearly ten years ago, said she first learned about the abuse when her brother, Steve, revealed he was gay eight years after graduating high school in Yorkville, Illinois.

"I asked him, when was your first same sex experience," she said in the interview. "He just looked at me and said, 'It was with Dennis Hastert.' I was stunned."

Jolene said when she asked why he never told authorities about the abuse, Steve responded, "Who is ever going to believe me?" Steve passed away in 1999 of AIDS.

Last week, Hastert was indicted on federal charges for lying to the FBI and trying to conceal secret payments to cover up "past misconduct." Soon after, the Los Angeles Times reported the misconduct was "about sex" and large payments to a former male student, identified only as Individual A, to stay silent about the alleged abuse.

Jolene said FBI officials showed up at her house two weeks ago to inform her of Hastert's imminent indictment and to ask her about Steve.

Friday's interview marks the first time a possible victim has been publicly named.

Watch the interview below:


ABC News Videos | ABC Entertainment News

 

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Could This Bill Prevent Another "Gamergate"?

| Thu Jun. 4, 2015 4:23 PM EDT

The United States government has a pretty poor track record when it comes to tackling violent online threats: Between 2010 and 2013, federal prosecutors pursued only 10 of some 2.5 million estimated cases of cyber-stalking, according to Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.). With new legislation introduced on Wednesday, Clark aims to step up the fight against trolls and protect victims of internet threats, particularly women. The Prioritizing Online Threats Enforcement Act would beef up the Department of Justice's capacity to enforce laws against online harassment and fund more investigations of cyber-crimes.

As my colleague Tim Murphy has reported, Clark first started looking for ways to curb internet harassment after learning that her district was home to Brianna Wu, a video game developer targeted with a flood of rape and death threats from "Gamergate" trolls. Since September, Wu has reportedly received 105 death threats after tweeting her opposition to Gamergate, an online movement that led to the harassment of women involved with video gaming. "All I am asking is for law enforcement to go and get a case together and prosecute," Wu told Wicked Local. "Because law enforcement has basically treated online threats as if they don’t matter, they have unintentionally created this climate."

"It's not okay to tell women to change their behavior, withhold their opinions, and stay off the internet altogether, just to avoid severe threats," Clark told members of Congress on Wednesday. "By not taking these cases seriously, we send a clear message that when women express opinions online, they are asking for it."

"By not taking these cases seriously, we send a clear message that when women express opinions online, they are asking for it."

Women are significantly more likely to face internet bullying than men. In one study by researchers from the University of Maryland, fake online accounts with feminine usernames faced 27 times more sexually explicit or threatening messages in a chat room than accounts with masculine usernames did. Over the past several months, women across the country, from actress Ashley Judd to feminist commentator Anita Sarkeesian, have raised the alarm about this type of abuse.

The federal government has the authority to prosecute individuals who send violent threats over the internet thanks to the Violence Against Women Act. But just one day before Clark's appeal to Congress, the Supreme Court on Monday may have made it more difficult for prosecutors to go after trolls. In a 7-2 decision, the justices reversed the earlier conviction of a man in Pennsylvania who had used intensely violent language against his estranged wife, including saying he wanted to see her "head on a stick," despite the fact that she testified that his postings made her feel "extremely afraid for her life."

Rick Perry Kicks Off Presidential Campaign With a Rap-Country Song No One Needed to Hear

| Thu Jun. 4, 2015 4:19 PM EDT

Two felony counts for abuse of power and coercion charges by an Austin grand jury aren't the only new features of Rick Perry's second run for the White House. His official launch today also debuted quite the campaign song, adding a little bit of country and a little bit of rap to his bid. The lyrics, captured by Buzzfeed, below:

Rick Perry supporter, let's protect our border. To hell with anyone who don’t believe in the USA, Rick Perry all the way.

I won't back up, I don’t back down. I been raised up to stand my ground. Take my job, but not my gun. Tax my check till I ain't got none. Cept for the good lord up above, I answer to no one.

Give me my right to vote, my right to tote. The weapon of my choice, don't censor my voice.

As our own Kevin Drum recently asked, "Why do so many obvious losers think they can be president?"

Watch below:

 

This Is What the FBI Really Thought About LBJ's Top Civil Rights Lawyer

| Thu Jun. 4, 2015 12:12 PM EDT
John Doar (right) escorts James Meredith to his first class as the first black student at the University of Mississippi in 1962.

Few people in the federal government did as much for the civil rights movement as John Doar. As a lawyer in the Department of Justice, he rode through the South with the Freedom Riders in 1961, investigated the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964, and at one point in Jackson, Mississippi, put himself between police and demonstrators to defuse a violent situation using only his reputation. As the New York Times recounted in his obituary last year:

"My name is John Doar—D-O-A-R," he shouted to the crowd. "I'm from the Justice Department, and anybody here knows what I stand for is right." That qualified as a full-length speech from the laconic Mr. Doar. At his continued urging, the crowd slowly melted away.

The FBI's files on Doar, which was released to Mother Jones this week under the Freedom of Information Act, included a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of how J. Edgar Hoover's FBI viewed this civil rights crusader. When he was promoted to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, for instance, agents noted that Doar had been "straightened out" after complaining about the bureau's slow response to civil rights violations in the Deep South:

 

 

His file also contained an interview with a former colleague of Doar's which revealed a persistent character flaw—he cared way too much about civil rights and prioritized such cases over other issues:

 

 

All was not forgiven, despite what the memo to Hoover suggested. In 1967, after Doar had resigned from the Civil Rights Division and taken a new job in Brooklyn, an agent proposed using the former adversary as a liaison in handling racial unrest in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Hoover and his deputy, Clyde Tolson, gave the proposal an emphatic rejection:

 

 

You can read the FBI's full file on Doar here.

Listen to a Honduran Coyote Tell You All About Last Year's Child Migrant Crisis

| Thu Jun. 4, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

"You think the gringos are going to block that border? They're not going to block it, man."

So says "Carlos," a Honduran smuggler interviewed in the latest story from Radio Ambulante, the Spanish-language podcast created by novelist and journalist Daniel Alarcón. In the fascinating "El Coyote," Carlos discusses his own past as an undocumented immigrant in the United States, his road into the smuggling business, and how much money people like him actually make. (As he puts it: "You only keep 25 percent. If you charge $7,000, you are only left with $1,800.")

But what struck me about Carlos' monologue was how he describes last year's child migrant crisis, when nearly 70,000 kids—mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—were apprehended at the US-Mexico border, many without even trying to evade Customs and Border Protection agents. His goal, he implies, was just to get kids across the border; parents wanted them to be caught by CBP because, as minors traveling without a guardian, they'd have a chance to apply for different forms of deportation relief and potentially stay in the United States for good.

Here's what he had to say (emphasis mine):

What there was was an avalanche of young people, kids running away from our countries. We could tell you it was a wonderful time. You got the Central American kids, made them cross the Rio Bravo, and they were caught by Immigration…It's less money but it's safe money, because the parent wants you to hand the kid off to Immigration. So it's a safe bet. Now, ask me, what do the governments in our countries do about that? Nothing.

Meanwhile, the number of unaccompanied child migrants caught at the border this year is down 48 percent compared to the same time last year, thanks in large part to Mexico's new, US-influenced crackdown on Central American migrants.

Check out the entire "El Coyote" segment, updated Tuesday with English subtitles, above.