Political MoJo

Hillary Clinton Tells Stephen Colbert: I Would Let Big Banks Fail

| Wed Oct. 28, 2015 8:25 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton appeared on the Late Show on Tuesday night, where she and host Stephen Colbert started out by discussing watching "bad TV" with husband Bill—House of Cards and the Good Wife are among the couple's favorites—and whether it's fun to run for president of the United States.

"Some days it really is fun," Clinton said. "Some days it's just very hard work. You do so many events, you do kind of lose track of where you are. But most days something happens during the day that really makes you feel like 'Yes, I know why I'm doing this, I am so committed.'"

But it wasn't all softball questions. After weighing in on topics like the middle class and Bernie Sanders—responses Colbert jokingly hit back as a "cheap trick" to say things people like—Clinton was then directly asked how she would handle an economic situation like the 2007 financial crisis and whether she'd let big banks fail.

The Democratic presidential candidate answered emphatically, "Yes, yes, yes, yes."

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No, Mental Illness Is Not the Main Cause of Mass Shootings in America

| Tue Oct. 27, 2015 4:44 PM EDT

A Washington Post-ABC News poll on gun violence published Monday included a stark finding: "By a more than 2-to-1 margin, more people say mass shootings reflect problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems rather than inadequate gun control laws." Sixty-three percent of respondents blamed a deficient mental health care system as the prime reason for America's incessant gun massacres, while 23 percent pointed to weak gun regulations.

What's most troubling about these results and the question that prompted them is that they perpetuate a dangerous stigmatization. The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent. I wrote about this in my recent Mother Jones cover story on threat assessment, a growing strategy for stopping mass shooters that relies on collaboration between mental health and law enforcement experts:

We know that many mass shooters are young white men with acute mental health issues. The problem is, such broad traits do little to help threat assessment teams identify who will actually attack. Legions of young men love violent movies or first-person shooter games, get angry about school, jobs, or relationships, and suffer from mental health afflictions. The number who seek to commit mass murder is tiny. Decades of research have shown that the link between mental disorders and violent behavior is small and not useful for predicting violent acts. (People with severe mental disorders are in fact far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.)

Then there is the role of guns. As a top forensic psychologist described it to me at a recent summit of more than 700 threat assessment professionals in Southern California, "One of the first things you focus on with this process is access to weapons." Guns obviously are no more a sole cause of mass shootings than schizophrenia or suicidal depression are. But their role in such crimes is self-evident:

Possession of a firearm, of course, is not a meaningful predictor of targeted violence. But at the conference in Disneyland, virtually everyone I spoke with agreed that guns make these crimes a lot easier to commit—and a lot more lethal. "There are so many firearms out there, you just assume everybody has one," Scalora says. "It's safer to assume that than the opposite." The presence of more than 300 million guns in the United States—and the lack of political will to regulate their sale or use more effectively—is a stark reality with which threat assessment experts must contend, and why many believe their approach may be the best hope for combating what has become a painfully normal American problem.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll furthered a misleading stereotype about a broad population of Americans by presenting a false choice between mental health and gun policy. The chart above shows that only 10 percent of respondents recognized that solving mass shootings is more complicated than checking one box or the other. Any solution deeply involves both, and a whole lot more.

Aid Group Bombed for the Second Time in Three Weeks

| Tue Oct. 27, 2015 12:42 PM EDT
Yemenis protest against Saudi-led airstrikes in their country.

For the second time in three weeks, a hospital belonging to the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders has been bombed by warplanes.

The latest attack occurred on Monday night in Yemen, where aircraft from a coalition led by Saudi Arabia attacked a hospital belonging to the aid group, which is also known as Médecins Sans Frontières. While the group said patients and staff were in the hospital at the time of the attack, they did not report any deaths. The Saudi-led coalition has been bombing Yemen for seven months in a campaign against the Houthis, a Shiite rebel group that currently holds power in the country. But Doctors Without Borders says the Saudis were aware of the hospital's location. "We provided [the coalition] with all of our GPS coordinates about two weeks ago,” Hassan Boucenine, Doctors Without Borders' Yemen director, said to Reuters.

That mirrors the attack that took place three weeks ago, when an American AC-130 gunship destroyed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing at least 30 people. The group said the US military had been given the coordinates of the hospital and should have known its location. American officials at first said they didn't know they had fired on a medical facility. "The hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility," said Gen. John Campbell, the US military commander in Afghanistan. But more recent reports claim American special operations soldiers knew the building was a hospital but believed the Taliban were using it as a base. The decision to attack the hospital anyway may mean the strike was a war crime under international law.

Boucenine did not shy away from using that language to describe the Saudi strike last night. "It could be a mistake, but the fact of the matter is it's a war crime," he told Reuters. "There’s no reason to target a hospital."

The strike is only a small part of destruction caused by the Saudi-led air campaign, which the United Nations says is responsible for most of the approximately 2,000 civilian deaths in Yemen that have occurred since strikes began in March. The bombings have also leveled historic parts of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, which had survived years of civil war and rebellion since the Arab Spring revolts hit Yemen in 2011.

Disturbing Video Shows School Cop Body Slam and Drag a Black Female Student

| Mon Oct. 26, 2015 4:58 PM EDT

Authorities in Richland County, South Carolina, are investigating a video that surfaced Monday showing a uniformed officer aggressively confronting a high school student. Local station WIS-TV reports that county sheriff's deputies are investigating the incident, which took place on Monday at Spring Valley High School, according to school officials. The video, which appears to have been recorded on a cellphone by a classmate, shows a white male officer standing over a black female student sitting at her desk; moments later he grabs the student and flips her on her back. After dragging her across the floor, the officer says, "Hands behind your back—give me your hands." The video has no additional context as to what led to or followed the altercation.

"Parents are heartbroken as this is just another example of the intolerance that continues to be of issue in Richland County School District Two, particularly with families and children of color," a local black parents group wrote in a statement responding to the video.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott told WIS-TV that the school resource officer (SRO) was responding to a student who was refusing to leave class. "The student was told she was under arrest for disturbing school and given instructions, which she again refused," Lott said. "The video then shows the student resisting and being arrested by the SRO."

The video is the latest in a series of disturbingly violent altercations involving school cops. As Mother Jones first reported in July, there have been at least 29 incidents in the United States since 2010 in which school-based police officers used questionable force against students in K-12 schools, many of which caused serious injuries, and in one case death. Data on use of force by school cops is lacking even as the number of officers on campus has ballooned over the past two decades, with little training or oversight.

Update, 6:15 p.m. EDT: Here is a statement released by the school district, via local TV reporter Megan Rivers:

Update, October 27, 2015, 1:30 p.m. EDT: US Department of Justice and FBI officials in South Carolina announced on Tuesday that they have opened a federal investigation into Monday's incident.   

Update, October 28, 2015, 1:36 p.m. EDT: Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced on Wednesday that the officer in the video, identified as deputy sheriff Ben Fields, was fired from his post. Lott and school district leaders have criticized the violent encounter. Lott said he did not think race played a role in the incident, explaining that the deputy had dated an African American woman for "quite some time." He also said the student in the video should be held responsible for disturbing the classroom, though her behavior did not justify what the deputy did.

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.

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."

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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.