Political MoJo

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."

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GOP Congresswoman Asks Hillary Clinton If She Spent the Night Alone on Day of Benghazi Attacks

| Thu Oct. 22, 2015 6:49 PM EDT

The congressional interrogation of Hillary Clinton by the House Special Committee on Benghazi had dragged on into its ninth hour—and counting—when Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) provided an inadvertent moment of levity, prompting a hearty chuckle from Clinton and the lingering crowd of reporters and politicos.

Roby wanted to know what Clinton was up to on September 11, 2012, the night that terrorists attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. "Who else was at your home—were you alone?" Roby asked. Yes, Clinton responded. "The whole night?" Roby followed up.

"Well, yes, the whole night," Clinton said, a wide smile dawning on her face as she laughed.

"I don't know why that's funny," said Roby. 

Everyone else in the hearing room clearly did.

The Government Just Made Prison a Little Less Terrible

| Thu Oct. 22, 2015 4:14 PM EDT

For the families and friends of inmates, hearing the sound of a loved one's voice can be an unaffordable luxury, with phone companies sometimes charging up to $14 per minute for calls from correctional facilities. The Federal Communications Commission took a step to change that today, voting to approve new rules on the rates companies can charge for inmates' in-state calls.

The rules close a loophole created in 2013, when the FCC limited rates on interstate calls to 21 cents per minute but did not regulate in-state calls. The commission will now cap the cost of prepaid in-state calls from state and federal prisons at 11 cents a minute. County jails will use a tiered system, with calls from the smallest jails costing the most (22 cents a minute) and calls from the biggest jails costing the least (14 cents a minute).

The new rules also ban companies from charging a flat rate for calls, phase down collect call rates, and eliminate most of the add-on charges like payment and billing fees, which right now can bump up the cost of a call by 40 percent. Additionally, the rules increase the access to calling services for people with hearing or speech disabilities.

Industry giants like GTL and Securus have fought the move, and many have introduced exorbitantly priced video visitation services that have replaced in-person visits in some places.

"This system has preyed on our most vulnerable for far too long," FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn told the Washington Post. "Families are being further torn apart and the cycle of poverty is being perpetuated."

Marco Rubio Uses Benghazi Committee to Boost Presidential Campaign

| Thu Oct. 22, 2015 2:28 PM EDT
Marco Rubio speaks during a campaign rally on Monday in Salt Lake City.

Ever since House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) blurted out on Fox News that the House Benghazi Committee had the political purpose of hurting Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, Republicans have spent weeks insisting that the committee’s task is not political.

But on Thursday, as Clinton testified before the committee, GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio certainly seemed to be using the committee for political purposes.

The tweet links to a petition on Rubio’s website that asks people to “Stand with [committee chairman] Trey Gowdy as he uncovers the truth about Hillary Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State.” To sign, you just submit your name, email, and zip code. That information, of course, is very useful to a campaign as it raises money and tries to build support in the months to come.

Another GOP presidential contender, Rand Paul, also seemed to be using the Benghazi committee hearing to benefit his campaign. The Kentucky senator’s campaign has been selling anti-Clinton memorabilia for a while now, but used the occasion of the Benghazi hearing to push its merchandise.

This story has been updated to include the tweet from Rand Paul.

American Soldier Killed on Mission to Rescue ISIS Hostages

| Thu Oct. 22, 2015 10:47 AM EDT

The Pentagon announced on Thursday that a special-operations soldier was killed during a rescue mission in Iraq. The unnamed soldier is the first American service member to be killed in combat in Iraq since 2011.

US officials told media outlets including Reuters and the New York Times that the soldier died during an attempt to rescue some 70 hostages being held captive by ISIS in the vicinity of Hawija, a town in northern Iraq near the city of Kirkuk. While Kurdish forces took the lead in the assault, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters during a briefing on Thursday, the US military provided helicopters and other support. The hostages were initially believed to be Kurds, but none were in fact Kurdish. Twenty-two of the hostages were members of the Iraqi security forces.

Cook confirmed that the as-yet-unnamed US casualty was fatally wounded while accompanying Kurdish forces "in a support role" on their assault of the prison. The United States withdrew its forces from Iraq at the end of 2011, but a small number of US Army soldiers have since returned to help train the struggling Iraqi security forces in their fight against ISIS. The Obama administration promised last year that there would be no American "boots on the ground" in the fight against ISIS, and the soldier's death in a firefight raised the prospect that Americans have in fact been engaged in other ground combat.

But Cook denied that the soldier's death indicated that American soldiers are changing their training role or taking part in fighting. "In that support role they are allowed to defend themselves and their partner forces," he said. "I wouldn't suggest you should look at this as some change in tactics on our part."

Cook dodged repeated questions from reporters about whether US forces have taken part in similar raids or rescue missions since the start of the anti-ISIS campaign last year. He consistently referred to the rescue mission as a "unique" instance prompted by the threat of "imminent mass execution" at the prison and a "specific request" from the Kurdish regional government. He refused to discuss any other potential missions in which Americans may have also accompanied Iraqi or Kurdish troops into battle.

The United States captured five ISIS fighters and recovered "important" intelligence materials, though Cook said the mission was planned specifically as a rescue and did not target any ISIS personnel or information.

This story has been updated with information from a Pentagon briefing that took place after publication.

Black Lives Matter Just Officially Became Part of the Democratic Primary

| Wed Oct. 21, 2015 6:52 PM EDT
Protesters demonstrate at a Black Lives Matter rally.

On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee invited activists from two prominent groups within the Black Lives Matter movement to organize and host a town hall forum on racial justice for the party's presidential candidates.

In recent months, the movement—which began with protests in response to the August 2014 killing of black teenager Michael Brown but has since grown to political organizing nationwide—has become increasingly influential in shaping the Democratic Party's stance on racial and criminal justice.

In August, the DNC passed a resolution declaring its support for the movement. Bernie Sanders introduced a criminal justice platform days after activists from the Black Lives Matter network, which was founded after the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, interrupted him at a rally in Seattle over the summer. And members of the police-reform group Campaign Zero, which is also affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, introduced a well-received criminal justice policy agenda.

In one of several letters to leaders of the Black Lives Matter network and Campaign Zero, DNC Chief Executive Officer Amy K. Dacey wrote, "We believe that your organization would be an ideal host for a presidential candidate forum—where all of the Democratic candidates can showcase their ideas and policy positions that will expand opportunity for all, strengthen the middle class and address racism in America."

The letters, which were obtained by the Washington Post, come a day after leaders of the Black Lives Matter network called on the DNC to hold an additional debate focused exclusively on racial and criminal justice. "We deserve substantive responses and policy recommendations," Elle Hearns and two other leaders of the collective wrote in an online petition—which, just one day after it was posted, had garnered nearly 10,000 signatures.

While the DNC gave a green light to a racial-justice-themed town hall discussion, committee leaders said the organization would not add another debate to the six presidential debates already scheduled, according to the Post.

Reactions to that news from Black Lives Matter movement leaders were mixed. In her interview with the Post on Wednesday, Hearns called the town hall invitation "unsatisfactory." Campaign Zero leader DeRay McKesson, however, indicated that he is already in talks with DNC officials to coordinate the town hall and has reached out to potential venues and corporate partners.

He has also been in touch with the Republican National Committee to explore including Republican candidates in the town hall as well. "We want to bring together all of the candidates, not focused on either political party, to have a conversation centered on race and criminal justice," McKesson said.

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WikiLeaks Releases What It Says Are the CIA Director's Personal Emails

| Wed Oct. 21, 2015 3:48 PM EDT

WikiLeaks released its latest document dump on Wednesday afternoon: a collection of files allegedly taken from the personal email of CIA director John Brennan, whose AOL account was allegedly hacked by a teenager and his friends.

The most sensitive of the documents is a draft version of Brennan's SF-86, the lengthy form that people must fill out when applying for a security clearance. The form requests years' worth of employment and personal history, allowing government investigators to delve deep into the backgrounds of applicants—and providing foreign intelligence services or hackers with a treasure trove of potential information for blackmail. That threat is why members of Congress, security professionals, and others freaked out when millions of SF-86s were stolen in the hacks on the Office of Personnel Management, exposing the personal data of a vast number of government employees. Those records are now presumed to be in Chinese hands.

Brennan's alleged form is now out in public, so his exposure may be even worse. The form released by WikiLeaks isn't complete, but it does include the personal information of both Brennan and his wife.

The exposure also highlights the government's ongoing problems with securing sensitive information and using it in unofficial channels. Such documents are supposed to be kept on secure government systems, but officials from Brennan to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former CIA director David Petraeus have run afoul of classification rules or used unsecured systems for sensitive data. Part of that may come down to aging, inefficient government computer systems that make using personal email attractive, but overclassification may also play a role. "It's inevitable, because the classified systems are often cumbersome and lots of people have access to the classified e-mails or cables," former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith told the Washington Post in August.

Other documents in the Brennan leak are much less interesting, including the 2007 draft of a memo on Iran that Brennan eventually published in 2008. The Department of Homeland Security says the FBI and the Secret Service are investigating the incident.

Ben Carson Wants to Censor Speech on College Campuses

| Wed Oct. 21, 2015 3:36 PM EDT

On a Wednesday afternoon episode of the Glenn Beck Radio Program, Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson advocated censorship of "extreme political bias" on college campuses.

During the "rapid-fire" component of the program, Beck asked whether Carson would shut down the Department of Education. Carson responded that he had a plan to make the federal agency useful.

"I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do," Carson said. "It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists."

This is not the first time that Carson has spoken about the need to eradicate alleged political bias from college classrooms. In June, he offered the same idea while appearing as a guest on a Las Vegas radio show. 

Carson often complains that the United States is weighed down by what he calls a "PC culture." It seems that his defense of intemperate speech doesn't extend to political speech that he finds objectionable.

Opiates Are Killing More People in This State Than Car Accidents. Obama Wants to Change That.

| Wed Oct. 21, 2015 2:05 PM EDT

President Barack Obama announced a new federal initiative to combat the country's painkiller problem ahead of a speech on Wednesday in Charleston, West Virginia, a place at the heart of an opiate crisis. In greater Kanawha County, of the 65 people who have died from drug overdoses so far this year, 22 people have succumbed to heroin. The same number of people have died from heroin in nearby Cabell County, the epicenter of the state's drug problem. 

For the last half decade, the state has been gripped by the rise of prescription opiates and heroin, just as the rest of the country has encountered the revival of the cheap painkiller as a drug of choice. In 36 states and the District of Columbia, deaths from drug overdoses have outnumbered those from auto accidents, with West Virginia leading the way. Of the 363 drug overdoses in West Virginia so far this year, roughly 88 percent were opiate-related and included multiple substances, with 97 deaths related to heroin overdoses, according to new data from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources' Health Statistics Center.  

A crackdown on cash-only clinics for prescription painkillers and a flood of pure heroin from nearby cities have contributed to West Virginia's drug problem. But just how bad is it? 



Donald Trump Says He Would Consider Closing Down Some US Mosques

| Wed Oct. 21, 2015 12:54 PM EDT

Donald Trump says his strategy for fighting ISIS might include closing some mosques within the United States.

In an interview on Fox Business, host Stuart Varney asked Trump whether, if elected president, he would follow the anti-ISIS lead of the British government, which has revoked the passports of people who traveled to fight alongside extremists, and has planned to close mosques that are "used to host extremist meetings or speakers."

"I would do that, absolutely, I think it's great," Trump responded. Varney pressed Trump on whether he even could close a mosque, citing religious freedom as a possible roadblock.

"Well I don't know," Trump conceded. "I mean, I haven't heard about the closing of the mosque. It depends, if the mosque is, you know, loaded for bear, I don't know. You're going to have to certainly look at it."

Update, 10/21/2015, 11:10 p.m. EST: On Wednesday evening, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a press release officially condemning Donald Trump's suggestion that he would close down certain mosques within the US. CAIR's Government Affairs Department Manager Robert McCaw explained that Trump's stance is actually antithetical to American values.

"Donald Trump's apparent willingness to close down American mosques that he deems 'extreme' is totally incompatible with the Constitution and our nation's cherished principles of religious freedom," McCaw said. "The government should not be in the business of deciding what is acceptable free speech or religious belief. Donald Trump's off-the-cuff remarks are both un-American, and un-presidential."