Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 2, 2014

Wed Apr. 2, 2014 7:17 AM PDT

FORT CARSON, Colo. – Pfc. Justin Jones, infantryman, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, gets into position as an enemy sniper, March 13, 2014. Jones was playing a member of the opposition force to help his unit train on various infantry tactics and techniques to enhance combat readiness. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Grady Jones, 3rd ABCT Public Affairs, 4th Inf. Div.)

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Obama: "The Affordable Care Act Is Here to Stay"

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 5:39 PM PDT

On Tuesday afternoon, President Barack Obama announced in a speech at the White House that more Americans than predicted had signed up for health coverage through the insurance exchanges during the first six months of enrollment. "7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through these marketplaces," the president said. "Seven point one. Yep." And Obama slammed Republicans who haven't let up trying to gut the law. "This law is doing what it's supposed to do," he said. "It's helping people from coast to coast, all of which makes the lengths to which critics have gone to scare people or undermine the law or try to repeal the law without offering any plausible alternative so hard to understand.... The debate over repealing this law is over," Obama added. "The Affordable Care Act is here to stay." Watch:

Google Bus Protest the Most San Francisco Thing Ever

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 2:39 PM PDT

This morning, a few dozen housing and inequality activists from Heart of the City surrounded a Google shuttle at 24th and Valencia Street in the Mission District of San Francisco. The purpose: to draw attention to a proposed tax hike on San Francisco's Municipal Railway (Muni) public transportation system and to get the Bay Area's technology companies to pay more for using public bus stops to pick up shuttle riders. It was the latest in a series of attempts to raise awareness about the tech industry and its effect on the city. What followed was a unique bit of performance theatre that might just be the most San Francisco protest ever.

As an April Fool's day parody, protesters announced that Google would unveil a "Gmuni" program. They handed out fake bus passes to bystanders, set up a microphone for a Gmuni spokesperson, and surrounded the Google bus with a dancing team of colorful acrobats—one dressed as a Google surveillance camera on stilts, while six others in futuristic clown costumes toted yoga balls emblazoned with a logo fashioned from the search engine's omnipresent typography.

Clad in a pinstripe suit and fake Google Glass, Judith Hart, the acting President of Gmuni, took over the loudspeaker.

"The Gmuni program is here today to offer free privatized bus service to the citizens of San Francisco. The Muni program is in decline because of underfunding. They've been cutting lines. We thought, you know what, let's try a pilot program and see if we can use our customary bus service to go ahead and provide service to all the citizens of San Francisco."

After a round of cheering, she added:

"Everyone in the entire Mission—in the quad, really—should be able to get on the bus with one of these passes. As you can see," she announced, pointing to a stranded bus, "the Muni is not adequate enough to stop at their own stop—the Google bus got here first, so we're just trying to let people on."

The crowd then jokingly asked questions about the program, "Excuse me, will there be regular coffee or gourmet coffee?" "Gourmet coffee, absolutely--it's all Blue Bottle." "Will there be yoga?" "Will there be yoga on the bus? Currently, there is no plan for on-bus yoga practice; however, we have been looking into a development study about what we can do with the luggage compartment."

Throughout Hart's speech, several people tried to board the real Google bus with their fake passes, but were quickly stopped by the driver and police. After about a 20 minute delay, the police pushed back protestors far enough to allow the bus to roll along its way.

Following the speech, organizer Amanda Ream dropped the tongue-in-cheek circus act to explain the move. This afternoon, the Board of Supervisors are considering a series of transportation changes, including a Muni fare hike and a proposal to generate $1.5 million by charging tech companies $1 a day per stop. Ream and the other activists would like tech companies to pay more. "While we appreciate [the proposal] and that Google funded the free Muni for Youth program, we want to see that the tech industry in San Francisco pays their fair share and actually pays taxes so the people of San Francisco can fund Muni." 

Deepa Varma, a housing rights attorney and spokesperson for the protest, elaborated. "Today, there are hearings about Muni increasing their fares and that's happening at a time when wages aren't going up for most people in the city, but they're going up for the people riding the free buses. To pay even more for transportation to just get to and from work is not viable and it's not fair." As a result, she says, many people are being displaced.

She went on to explain that the Google bus is largely a symbolic stand-in for issues of gentrification and fare hikes, and that the protests aren't directed at employees of Google or any other tech giant. "It's absolutely not a housing activist against tech worker dynamic. It looks like that right now, but it's more about trying to draw attention to the fact there is this disparity in terms of how people are treated and in terms of what people have access to at city hall."

Ream agrees, "We want to stop the gentrification, and the displacement, and the Ellis Act. We believe that all these issues are tied together. The tech industry has an opportunity to show real leadership and be a good neighbor and make it possible by paying taxes for Muni to actually be affordable and accessible to people all year round—not just with their gift to the city."

According to polling by EMC Research on behalf of the Bay Area Council, San Franciscans are generally positive about tech buses, although 48% of those surveyed do believe employee shuttle buses are contributing to gentrification and 38% think they're causing the growing gap between rich and poor.


For more on the protest, our friends at Mission Local have a great video of the demonstration here.

Arizona Is the Latest Front in the War on Abortion Drugs

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 11:51 AM PDT

On Tuesday, the nation's toughest law on abortion drugs took effect in Arizona. The measure—which passed the state legislature in 2012 but was temporarily blocked by a federal lawsuit—requires doctors to prescribe the most common abortion pill, RU468 or mifepristone, exactly as called for on its FDA label, which was approved 14 years ago. Studies by the World Health Organization and independent scientists have since found that the drug works equally well at a third the original dose. It can also be safely used nine weeks into pregnancy, rather than just seven, as the label states. Both the WHO and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have updated their guidelines accordingly, with lower doses and fewer doctors' visits than suggested by the FDA.

By compelling healthcare providers to stick to the outdated label, Arizona will make medication abortions—which can be performed earlier than other readily available options—more expensive and difficult to access. The Arizona law also requires that a doctor be present when the pills are taken. Women's health advocates say this will make it impossible for some women in rural areas, where doctors and abortion clinics are scarce, to access abortions at all.

Arizona is hardly the only state to clamp down on abortion drugs. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in recent years at least 39 states have passed bills limiting access. Below is a state-by-state breakdown.

 

A state-by-state LOOK AT abortion drug restrictions

Hover over a state to see a breakdown of restrictions in place there. Source: Guttmacher Institute.  

GOP Gov. Rick Scott Raising Big Bucks With Founder of Abusive Teen Boot Camps

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 11:16 AM PDT

This Thursday, a who's who of Florida big shots will hold a private, $1,000-a-head fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott's reelection effort, led by a host committee that includes Mel Sembler, the founder of a notorious substance abuse rehab program that folded after allegations of extreme abuse were lodged against several of its facilities.

The program, Straight Inc., was founded in 1976 by Sembler, a developer, and his wife, Betty. In the 17 years that it operated drug treatment centers, Straight Inc. was plagued by news reports and at least one civil suit claiming that its staff kidnapped its adult patients and mentally, physically, and sexually abused their underage charges. Two state investigations substantiated reports of abuse.

Straight Inc. officials consistently denied these allegations. Sembler's biography on the Sembler Company website hails Straight Inc. as having "successfully graduated more than 12,000 young people nationwide from its remarkable program." Sembler, it adds, "is nationally recognized as an activist in the anti-drug campaign." Sembler could not be reached for comment.

Critics paints a much darker picture. "Children had to flap their arms like chickens or else face shaming as 'sluts' and homosexuals," John Gorenfeld reported in the May 2006 issue of Mother Jones. "Hundreds of Straight alums now claim they were scarred for life, among them Samantha Monroe, who was enrolled in 1980…and claims she was starved, raped, and confined in a closet."

Sembler is a longtime Republican fundraiser. He's already donated $25,000 to Scott's reelection PAC. And even after abuse allegations against Straight Inc. were widespread, the program enjoyed public support from many high-profile GOP figures. In 1985, Nancy Reagan brought Princess Diana to a Straight Inc. facility in Virginia—two years after a jury found that staff from that facility had kidnapped a college student. In his inaugural address, President George H.W. Bush celebrated Straight Inc. as one of a "thousand points of light" that exemplified stewardship. In 1993, the year that Straight Inc.'s last drug treatment facility closed, Sembler was serving as a US ambassador; he had been appointed by the elder Bush.

Straight Inc. staffers were alleged to have abused clients at a number of clinics. After Monroe escaped a Straight Inc. program in Florida at age 13, she says, Straight Inc. staff hog-tied her, brought her back to the facility, and placed her in a "timeout room." "Monroe had no choice but to soil her pants with urine, feces and menstrual blood," a 2002 St. Petersburg Times article reported. "She says Straight staffers called this punishment 'humble pants.'" Soon, a staffer began raping her, the Times reported, and she became pregnant at age 14.

In 1989, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse released a damning report of Straight Inc.'s Dallas-area Straight Inc. clinic. "The report said that clients were tied up with rope and with an automobile towing strap to prevent escape, that clients were physically restrained for minor infractions such as 'failure to sit up properly,' and that bedrooms were overcrowded and furnished with 'containers to be used for urination,'" the Times reported. Citing the huge need for drug treatment facilities in Texas, the commission allowed Straight Inc. to remain open, pending oversight and changes to its program.

In 1990, the California Department of Social Services ordered Straight Inc.'s Yorba Linda facility to close after investigators said they substantiated several complaints of abuse. According to these complaints, Straight Inc. staff had subjected children in their care to "unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse…and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting."

In 1983, Straight made undisclosed financial settlements with two Florida women, Arletha Luann Schautteet and Hope Yvonne Hyrons, who claimed that they had been kidnapped by employees of a Straight Inc. facility in Florida and imprisoned there. In a sworn statement, Hyrons, 19, said she was abducted from a gas station, physically prevented from leaving the Straight Inc. facility, and strip-searched. That same year, a judge awarded 20-year-old Fred Collins $220,000 after a jury found that he had been detained against his will at a Straight Inc. facilities in Virginia and St. Petersburg in 1982. An appellate court later denied Straight Inc.'s appeal. Schautteet and Hyrons testified on Collins' behalf, according to the Washington Post, repeating the allegations they made against Straight Inc. prior to their financial settlements.

Straight Inc. repeatedly denied allegations of abuse and kidnapping. A Straight Inc. clinical director told the St. Petersburg Times that Hyrons "has a history of pathological lying…the girl is just playing scapegoat kind of games." After complaints about the Yorba Linda program led to its closing, a Straight counselor told the Los Angeles Times that he had "never seen anyone tormented." "Some kids get very upset and lie and some parents believe them," he said. Reacting to the jury verdict for Collins, a Straight Inc. clinical director told the Washington Post that the outcome was "unfair" and "really scary…It means that every time I or any other staff member tries to help a young person, we'll have to be frightened of the legal consequences."

In 1991, after Virginia state officials stripped that Straight Inc. facility of its license, the operation moved to Maryland. State officials in Maryland spent hundreds of hours investigating abuse allegations before licensing Straight Inc., in an agreement which noted that investigators "found no truth to any of the allegations." In response to the Texas commission report, staff at the Dallas-area Straight Inc. program pointed out that they had fired at least one offending staff member whose actions were highlighted in the report, who had gagged a patient with a Kotex pad. By the time that Monroe made allegations against Straight Inc., the program no longer existed.

After Straight Inc. closed, the education arm of Sembler's organization lived on as a new program named the Drug Free American Foundation, which still exists today. Sembler, after serving as ambassador, continued to fundraise for prominent Republicans, including Mitt Romney. He also hosted an event to raise money for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's legal defense fund when the former Bush White House aide was on trial for perjury.

Read the Devastating Letter by a Harvard Sexual-Assault Survivor

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 8:00 AM PDT

On Monday, the Harvard Crimson, the university's student newspaper, posted an anonymous letter written by a student and sexual-assault survivor. The student details the aftermath of the alleged assault that occurred last year, and discusses how Harvard University administrators profoundly failed her. (This sort of thing is hardly unique to Harvard; rape and sexual assault on college and university campuses across the country is a huge problem, as is too often the administrative response to such cases.) The letter, titled "Dear Harvard: You Win," was published one day before the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.

Here is an excerpt (read the whole thing—which is obviously tough to get through—here):

More than anything, I'm exhausted from living in the same House as the student who sexually assaulted me nine months ago.

I've spent most of 2013 fighting the Harvard administration so that they would move my assailant to a different House, and I have failed miserably. Several weeks ago, in a grey room on the fourth floor of the Holyoke Center, my psychiatrist officially diagnosed me with depression. I did not budge, and I was not surprised. I developed an anxiety disorder shortly after moving back to my House this fall, and running into my assailant up to five times a day certainly did not help my recovery.

[…]

Dear Harvard: I am writing to let you know that I give up. I will be moving out of my House next semester, if only—quite literally—to save my life. You will no longer receive emails from me, asking for something to be done, pleading for someone to hear me, explaining how my grades are melting and how I have developed a mental illness as a result of your inaction. My assailant will remain unpunished, and life on this campus will continue its course as if nothing had happened. Today, Harvard, I am writing to let you know that you have won.

[…]

The last time I met with my resident dean, I told my dean about my depression, and how I thought it had been caused by the lack of validation and empathy I had received from the Harvard faculty. I said that it would be immensely helpful for me to know that my dean, not as a school official but as a human being, understood my pain and empathized with it. I asked my dean to take a step back from the situation and to admit that I had not been served well by the Harvard system. My pleas were met with a refusal to comment and an argument that it was not an administrator's role to criticize Harvard's sexual assault policy.

If my resident dean refuses to question the current policy we have in place, then I will. Dear Harvard: You might have won, but I still have a voice. And I plan on using it as much as I can to make things change.

In response to this letter, the Undergraduate Council, Harvard College's student government, announced the formation of a task force to involve students in discussion of Harvard's sexual assault policies.

Harvard University public affairs did not respond to Mother Jones' request for comment.

UPDATE, April 3, 2014, 4:48 p.m. EST: A Harvard alumnus forwarded Mother Jones an email from Drew Faust, president of Harvard, announcing a presidential task force. The president's statement was sent out to the Harvard community on Thursday. Here's an excerpt:

After consultation with deans and others over recent weeks, I have asked Steven E. Hyman, Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology as well as our former provost, to chair a task force that will develop recommendations about how Harvard can improve efforts to prevent sexual misconduct and develop insight into these issues based on input from both within and beyond our community.

[...]

I believe that anyone in our community who hears the reports of those who have experienced sexual assault must share my sense of urgency to do all we can to address this issue. We must do better.

(h/t Jessica Testa)

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GOP Sens. Cruz and Kirk Solicit Americans' Obamacare Horror Stories, Get Success Stories Instead

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 7:42 AM PDT

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a huge Obamacare foe, took to Facebook to ask Americans how the president's healthcare law is treating them. But the responses he received didn't line up with his own claim that "millions of people... are hurting because of Obamacare." When Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) made a similar call for Obamacare fail stories, he had bad luck too. Perhaps they shouldn't have been surprised. This week, support for the Affordable Care Act hit a new high of 49 percent. And on Tuesday, following the deadline for Americans to enroll in health insurance on the exchanges during the first six month window, the administration announced it is on track to achieve its original goal of providing coverage to 7 million Americans.

Here is Cruz's call for Obamacare tales:

Here are some of the responses. (There are 47,904, so I couldn't read them all, but of the first few dozen, only one response was negative.)

Here's what Kirk tweeted over the weekend:

Here are some of the responses:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 1, 2014

Tue Apr. 1, 2014 7:20 AM PDT

Republic of Korea Marines with 7th Marine Regiment participate in a mock amphibious landing during exercise Ssang Yong 2014 March 29, 2014. Exercise Ssang Yong is conducted annually in the Republic of Korea (ROK) to enhance the interoperability of U.S. and ROK forces by performing a full spectrum of amphibious operations while showcasing sea-based power projection in the Pacific. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Master Sgt. Michael Schellenbach/Released).

How About a Dolores Huerta Day?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 4:38 PM PDT

March 31 is Cesar Chavez's birthday and a national holiday honoring his pioneering activism (which is the subject of a new feature film) around farm-workers rights. He is perhaps best known as a founder of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), now the United Farm Workers, a labor union. His cofounder Dolores Huerta, though still alive, is not nearly as well known. So who is she? Born in 1930 and raised in Stockton, California, Huerta, who is portrayed by Rosario Dawson in the Chavez film, has been arrested more than 20 times during peaceful protests, and is still out on the front lines taking part in civil rights actions. Here are five things you should know about her.

1. She's the mother of the farm-workers movement.
After quitting her teaching job in 1955, Huerta helped register people to vote and became an organizer in the Community Service Organization, a Mexican-American association in California where Cesar Chavez was the statewide director. The pair eventually branched off, in 1962, to found the NFWA, and the rest is history.

2. She was instrumental in winning key protections for workers.
Only a year after launching the NFWA, Huerta secured disability insurance for California farm workers, and was central in the creation of the Aid for Dependent Families, a federal assistance program that stayed in effect until 1996.

3. She led a historic boycott against the grape industry.
In 1965, a group of Filipino workers went on strike for better working conditions, a cause that became known as the "Delano Grape Strike." Huerta suggested to Chavez that the National Farm Workers Association boycott all California table grapes in support of Filipino workers. In 1970, the grape industry signed an agreement that increased wages and improved working conditions.

4. She originated the phrase, "Si se puede."
Translated as "Yes we can," this expression should be familiar to anyone who's ever attended a labor protest in California. Although it is often misattributed to Chavez, Huerta told Makers that she came up with it. "It's important for women to be able to take credit for the work that they do," she said.

5. She helped put Latinas in power.
After a life-threatening assault by a police officer at a protest rally when she was 58, Huerta took a leave from the union to focus on the women's movement. She campaigned across the country for two years as part of the Feminist Majority's project to encourage Latinas to run for office. According to Huerta's website, it had a significant affect on the number of women in government.

So, Happy Cesar Chavez Day, and don't forget to give Huerta her due! Here's a trailer for the film:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 31, 2014

Mon Mar. 31, 2014 7:55 AM PDT

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Justin A. Green rappels down 50-foot tower March 18 during the first day of the three-day Mountain Warfare Training Course at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Pohang, Republic of Korea. During the training, ROK Marines instructed U.S. Marines in Australian rappelling which is used as a military assault technique where the Marine faces down the descent and is positioned to fire a weapon downwards. Green is a field radio operator with 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cedric R. Haller II/Released)