Political MoJo

Finally, Obama Denounces America's Standardized Testing Obsession

| Mon Oct. 26, 2015 2:06 PM EDT

On Saturday, the Obama administration announced that its push towards high-stakes standardized testing had gone too far and urged schools to limit tests to those that were meaningful indicators of progress. Specifically, the administration called for a cap so that no student would spend more than two percent of classroom time on standardized tests, and called on Congress to "reduce over-testing."

"Learning is about so much more than filling in the right bubble," the president said in a speech posted on the White House Facebook site.

The announcement represents a significant change in course for the Obama administration, which had been facing mounting bipartisan criticism for focusing too much on tests at the expense of a focus on creativity and critical thinking. According to a report by the Council of Great City Schools which reviewed the country's 66 largest school districts, students are required to take about 112 standardized exams between kindergarten and 12th grade.

It's unclear how much a two percent cap on tests will truly affect students; according to the Council of Great Schools report, the tests fall most heavily on eighth graders, who spend 20 to 25 hours, or about 2.3 percent of classroom time, on standardized tests. Furthermore, the announcement didn't address the amount of time spent preparing for tests.


If our kids had more free time at school, what would you want them to do with it? A) Learn to play a musical...

Posted by The White House on Saturday, October 24, 2015

Still, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the announcement a victory. "The fixation on high-stakes testing hasn’t moved the needle on student achievement," she said in a statement. "We need to get back to focusing on the whole child—teaching our kids how to build relationships, how to be resilient and how to think critically."

Outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged that "At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation." Duncan is meeting with Obama today to discuss how to limit redundant and low-quality testing.

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Ole Miss Finally Ditches State Flag from College Campus

| Mon Oct. 26, 2015 12:56 PM EDT

The University of Mississippi permanently lowered the state flag from its campus grounds on Monday, in a historic decision to distance itself from the flag's controversial Confederate emblem.

The flag's removal follows a 33-15 vote with one abstention by student senate members and faculty last week. Mississippi has been the only state to fully include the Confederate symbol in its flag.

"This is one small step in the structure change we want to see at the University,” the state's NAACP chapter president Buka Okoye said. "I'm positive for the future because of how quickly the administration acted."

The decision comes more than four months after a gunman opened fire inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina killing nine people. Once law enforcement officials identified the suspected gunman, photos of him embracing the Confederate flag surfaced, sparking a national debate over the emblem and its racist roots.

Weeks after the shooting, South Carolina finally removed the battle flag from flying above the statehouse grounds—more than 50 years after it was first raised to protest the civil rights movement.

Despite calls from Mississippi lawmakers, including two Republican senators, to do away with the Confederate symbol on the Mississippi state flag in the wake of the Charleston mass shooting, the move to do so likely faces an uphill battle in a state that has flown the symbol for more than a century. 

"As Mississippi's flagship university, we have a deep love and respect for our state," the university's interim chancellor Morris Stocks said in a statement on Monday. "Because the flag remains Mississippi's official banner, this was a hard decision. I understand the flag represents tradition and honor to some. But to others, the flag means that some members of the Ole Miss family are not welcomed or valued."

Donald Trump Just Accidentally Gave His Opponents an Attack Ad

| Mon Oct. 26, 2015 9:59 AM EDT

On Monday morning, GOP front-runner Donald Trump inadvertently gave his opponents a ready-made attack ad. During an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer on Today, the billionaire, who often gives the impression that he built his fortune from scratch, even though he hails from a wealthy background, explained the challenges of building his real estate empire. "It has not been easy for me," he said. "It has not been easy for me." He said his father, real estate developer Frederick Trump, had given him a "small loan," which he repaid with interest, and which enabled him to begin buying properties in Manhattan. The size of the loan? It was for a paltry $1 million.

Congress Just Created a Benghazi Committee for Planned Parenthood

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 5:16 PM EDT

The three congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood this year have all turned up nothing, but that hasn't stopped House Speaker John Boehner from yet again attempting to take down the nation's largest women's health care organization. On Friday, he announced that Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn will chair a select panel charged with investigating the group—and that she'll be joined by seven other anti-abortion Republicans, all of whom cosponsored a recent bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

"Recent videos exposing the abortion-for-baby parts business have shocked the nation, and demanded action. At my request, three House committees have been investigating the abortion business, but we still don't have the full truth," Boehner said in a statement on the new panel, which will report to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and which he hopes will have more success than the others in defunding the organization. "Chairman Blackburn and our members will have the resources and the subpoena power to get to the bottom of these horrific practices, and build on our work to protect the sanctity of all human life."

In the wake of the series of deceptively edited videos that showed Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation, Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, spent hours in September answering Congress' questions about her organization's use of taxpayer dollars. Described as a "partisan attack based on ideology" by committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the hearing turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. State investigations into local Planned Parenthood providers have similarly turned up no wrongdoing.

Blackburn, one of four women selected to serve on the panel, has a record of opposing abortion. Earlier this year she teamed up with Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) to push forward a measure that would ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks. She's also an advocate for the argument that women wouldn't be hurt by Planned Parenthood's closure because there are community health centers that provide the same services, despite evidence to the contrary. Earlier this month, Blackburn said, "There are still many questions yet to be answered surrounding Planned Parenthood's business practices and relationships with the procurement organizations. This is exactly why the House is investigating abortion practices and how we can better protect life."

Democrats, meanwhile, have drawn comparisons between the Planned Parenthood investigations and the House committee on Benghazi, which this week heard testimony from Hillary Clinton.

"After my experience yesterday I am just amazed they are talking about setting up another special investigative committee, this time to investigate Planned Parenthood," Clinton said early Friday morning. "And I think we all know by now that is just code for a partisan witch hunt. Haven't we seen enough of that?"

Mitt Romney Admits Obamacare Was Based on Romneycare—and That It Worked

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 3:23 PM EDT
Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney answers questions following an address in Starkville, Mississippi, on January 28.

Mitt Romney spent much of his campaign for president in 2012 battling "Obamneycare": the claim that President Barack Obama's health care initiative was based on Romneycare, the health care system Romney put in place as governor of Massachusetts.

Yet on Friday, Romney appeared finally to admit the obvious—that the Affordable Care Act was based on the Bay State’s successful health care initiative. What's more, the man who ran on a platform of repealing Obamacare seemed to concede that the national health care law is working.

"Without Tom pushing it, I don’t think we would have had Romneycare," Romney told the Boston Globe for an obituary of his friend, Staples founder Tom Stemberg, who passed away Friday. "Without Romneycare, I don't think we would have Obamacare. So without Tom, a lot of people wouldn’t have health insurance."

That was some admission, and a tremendous flip-flop for Romney. But then came—wait for it—another Romney flip-flop on this matter. On Friday afternoon, Romney took to Facebook to declare that he still opposed Obamacare:

Getting people health insurance is a good thing, and that's what Tom Stemberg fought for. I oppose Obamacare and believe it has failed. It drove up premiums, took insurance away from people who were promised otherwise, and usurped state programs. As I said in the campaign, I'd repeal it and replace it with state-crafted plans.

I Can't Stop Reading This Politician's Terrible Puns

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 1:10 PM EDT

Louisiana Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is one of four major contenders in Saturday's gubernatorial election. He has also received international recognition for his terrible puns.

Beginning in 2003, when he was a state senator, and continuing through his tenure as Louisiana secretary of state, Dardenne has regularly submitted original, single-sentence works of prose to the Bulwer–Lytton Fiction Contest, "a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels." The contest, hosted by San Jose State University, takes its name from the opening sentence of Edward George Bulwer–Lytton's 1830 novel, Paul Clifford—the first, but mercifully not last, usage of the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Dardenne's crowning literary achievement, noted on his campaign website, was his 2005 entry, which was a winner in the "vile puns" division. It went like this:

Falcon was her name and she was quite the bird of prey, sashaying past her adolescent admirers from one anchor store to another, past the kiosks where earrings longed to lie upon her lobes and sunglasses hoped to nestle on her nose, seemingly the beginning of a beautiful friendship with whomsoever caught the eye of the mall tease, Falcon.

He can really Hammet up when he wants to.

Dardenne has also twice received a "dishonorable mention" for his submissions. Like his 2003 entry:

The final auction item in the estate was the electric home in the frozen tundra, often referred to as "the top of the world," even though the world doesn't really have a top (or a bottom for that matter), and it was expected that Mrs. Claus, a pleasantly plump lady who smelled of cookie dough, would again have to outbid the jovial fat man’s former employees to purchase his assets, that is until the gavel fell and the auctioneer announced solemnly, "The elves have left the building."

And 2008:

"Dimwitted and flushed, Sgt. John Head was frustrated by his constipated attempts to arrest the so-called 'Bathroom Burglar' until, while wiping his brow, he realized that each victim had been robbed in a men's room, thereby focusing his attention on the janitor, whose cleaning habits clearly established a commodus operandi."

The judges weren't exactly bowled over by that.

In Louisiana's jungle primary, the top two vote-getters advance to a November runoff election if no candidate wins a majority. Dardenne has cast himself as a scandal-free alternative to fellow Republican, Sen. David Vitter.


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Why We're Stuck With $650,000 in Legal Fees, Despite Beating the Billionaire Who Sued Us

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 9:46 AM EDT

Ever since we wrote about MoJo's major victory in court against a billionaire political donor, you’ve been asking us: Can you recover your attorney's fees? The answer, unfortunately, is pretty much:

Here's why.

Under what is known as the American rule, everyone involved in litigation in the United States is responsible for his or her own legal fees, unless a specific state or federal law says otherwise. One exception involves anti-SLAPP statutes—state laws designed to prevent powerful people from shutting down critics by tying them up with expenses and paperwork, often via defamation lawsuits. (SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.) Twenty-nine states have laws against SLAPP suits, and there's a push—championed by a Republican congressman from Texas—to pass one at the federal level as well.

Idaho, where Frank VanderSloot is based, and where he filed the defamation case against Mother Jones, does not have an anti-SLAPP law. What’s more, in her order granting victory to Mother Jones, the judge specified that VanderSloot's was not a "frivolous" lawsuit. Under existing Idaho law, we would have to show, in front of the same judge, that the lawsuit was pursued "frivolously, unreasonably or without foundation" in order for her to let us recover attorney's fees. Not very likely.

So that's why we’re stuck with the $650,000 in out-of-pocket costs we incurred. Readers have pitched in more than $160,000 to help us cover that hole in just the past week. You can join them here. With you at our back, we can keep standing tall.

UPDATE: First Look Media's Legal Defense Fund has agreed to match $74,999 in reader contributions to help us defray the cost of the litigation. Hooray!

Lincoln Chafee Drops Out of Presidential Race

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 8:22 AM EDT

Lincoln Chafee announced on Friday that he is ending his bid for the White House.

"As you know, I have been campaigning on a platform of prosperity through peace," the former Rhode Island governor and US senator said during a Democratic National Committee event in Washington. "But after much thought, I have decided to end my campaign for president today."

From the very start, Chafee's campaign failed to gain traction, both in the polls and in fundraising. Earlier this week, NPR reported that only 10 donors had contributed to his long-shot campaign.

In his speech on Friday, Chafee urged Democrats to fight for peace.

"I would like to take this opportunity one last time to advocate for a chance be given to peace," he said.

Just three days prior to Chafee's announcement, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb also said he would no longer be seeking the Democratic nomination, though it remains unclear whether he will mount an independent bid. Martin O'Malley, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders are the only remaining Democratic contenders in the race.

Things That Were Shorter Than Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Hearing

| Thu Oct. 22, 2015 8:40 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton's hearing on Benghazi lasted more than 11 hours on Thursday. Here are some things that were shorter:

  • The Hobbit trilogy
  • Pickett's Charge
  • The administration of Pedro Lascuráin, the 34th president of Mexico
  • The lifespan of a female mayfly
  • Phish's set at Big Cypress in 1999
  • The Anglo-Zanzibar War
  • The Pawtucket Red Sox's 33-inning victory over the Rochester Red Wings in 1981
  • The Goldblum Challenge (in which one watches this 10-hour video of Jeff Goldblum laughing)

Texas Subpoenas Records of Planned Parenthood Patients Who Donated Fetal Tissue

| Thu Oct. 22, 2015 7:31 PM EDT
Anti-abortion activists rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol on July 28, 2015.

On the heels of Texas stripping Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funding on Monday, the state's Health and Human Services Commission issued a subpoena on Wednesday for the Medicaid records of Planned Parenthood patients who have donated fetal tissue in the past five years.

Investigators with the department are seeking to obtain information from clinics in Brownsville, San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas including patient records as well as billing and personnel information related to the donations, according to Planned Parenthood. On Wednesday, investigators arrived at those clinics to serve the subpoenas and demand compliance within 24 hours.

Ken Lambrecht, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said the move was "unprecedented."

"We will make every effort to comply with the state's request but see this is an excuse to take healthcare away from thousands of women and men who rely on Planned Parenthood for preventive care," Lambrecht said in a statement. "We comply with all state laws and regulations. Protecting the confidentiality of our patients and employees is paramount. We will do everything we can to ensure their confidentiality as we cooperate with the state's request."

Planned Parenthood also issued a statement about Wednesday's raids: "Underscoring the political motivations behind these raids, officials in San Antonio showed up at Planned Parenthood’s health center at the same time as a reporter, in what appeared to be a coordinated move. Reporters received notice of the contract termination prior to Planned Parenthood affiliates. It seems that, after the fact, the state raided Planned Parenthood's health centers looking for an excuse to justify its politically motivated actions."