Political MoJo

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.

Switching to the Metric System Is Officially a Presidential Campaign Issue

| Wed Jun. 3, 2015 6:45 PM EDT

Lincoln Chafee kicked off his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination on Wednesday in Virginia by promising to fight climate change, curb extra-judicial assassinations, and switch the United States to the metric system.

Wait, what?

The Rhode Islander, who served in the Senate as a Republican before joining the Democratic party after being elected governor, unveiled his left-leaning, if idiosyncratic, agenda in a wide-ranging address at George Mason University. His continued opposition to the Iraq War, which he voted against authorizing as a senator, could put him in conflict with the party's front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As a senator, Clinton was an early supporter of the invasion, though she has since called it a mistake.

National defense was just one area in which Chafee advised heeding the wisdom of the international community. (He likewise proposed ending capital punishment entirely, and praised Nebraska for its recent ban.)

But then Chafee went a few feet—er, meters—further:

Earlier I said, let's be bold. Here's a bold embrace of internationalism: Let's join the rest of the world and go metric. I happened to live in Canada as they completed the process. Believe me, it is easy. It doesn't take long before 34 degrees is hot. Only Myanmar, Liberia, and the United States aren't metric, and it it'll help our economy!

Finally, a presidential candidate with a foolproof plan to bring down rising temperatures.

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Elizabeth Warren's "Most Watched" Video Is Absolutely Fantastic

| Tue Jun. 2, 2015 6:05 PM EDT

Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren participated in a conference hosted by tech website Re/Code, where she was asked a policy question about infrastructure spending. What followed was an incredibly powerful response that touched upon the Massachusetts senator's signature issues—student loans, misplaced Washington interests, and the systematic problems hurting middle class Americans.

"The only way we get change is when enough people in this country say, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm fed up and I'm not going to do this anymore,'" Warren said. "'You are not going to represent me in Washington, DC, if you are not willing to pass a meaningful infrastructure bill. If you are not willing to refinance student loan interest rates and stop dragging in billions of dollars in profits off the backs of kids who otherwise can't afford to go to college. If you don't say you're going to fund the NIH and the NISF, because that is our future.' We have to make these issues salient and not just wonky."

The video is now officially Warren's most watched video, according to her digital director. Watch below:

(h/t Vox)

Google's New Diversity Stats Are Only Slightly Less Embarrassing Than They Were Last Year

| Tue Jun. 2, 2015 4:36 PM EDT

Around this time last year, Google shocked Silicon Valley by voluntarily releasing statistics on the diversity of its workforce. The move helped shame other large tech companies into doing the same, and the picture that emerged wasn't pretty: In most cases, only 10 percent of the companies' overall employees were black or Latino, compared to 27 percent in the US workforce as a whole. For its own part, Google admitted that "we're miles from where we want to be," and pledged to do more to cultivate minority and female tech talent.

Now Google has an update: Its 2015 diversity stats, released yesterday, show that it has moved inches, not miles, toward a workforce that reflects America. The representation of female techies ticked up by 1 percentage point (from 17 to 18 percent), Asians gained 1 point, and whites, though still the majority, slipped by 1 point. Otherwise, the numbers are unchanged:

Google

"With an organization our size, year-on-year growth and meaningful change is going to take time," Nancy Lee, Google's vice president of people operations, told the Guardian. Last year, Google spent $115 million on diversity initiatives and dispatched its own engineers to historically black colleges and universities to teach introductory computer science courses and help graduating students prepare for job searches. But unlike Intel, another big tech company that has prioritized diversity, Google has not set firm goals for diversifying its talent pool.

"While every company cannot match Intel's ambitious plan, they can set concrete, measurable goals, targets, and timetables," said a statement from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who last year played a key role in convincing Google and other companies to disclose their diversity stats. "If they don't measure it, they don't mean it."

Mike Huckabee Wishes He Lied About Being Transgender So He Could Have Showered with High School Girls

| Tue Jun. 2, 2015 2:17 PM EDT

While speaking at a religious convention in Nashville earlier this year, Mike Huckabee's trademark candor reached a new level of absurdity, as he joked about wishing he "could have felt like a woman" back in high school…in order to get access to female locker rooms.

"Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE," Huckabee said on stage at the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters Convention back in February. "I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.'"

The remarks, reported by BuzzFeed on Tuesday, were meant to warn the crowd about Americans' growing tolerance of the transgender community and  support for laws protecting transgender people's access to the restroom of their choice.

"For those who do not think that we are under threat, simply recognize the fact that we are now in city after city watching ordinances say that your seven-year-old daughter—if she goes into the restroom—cannot be offended and you can’t be offended if she's greeted there by a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man," he said.

For more on the conservative assault on where transgender people use the bathroom, check out our primer here.

SCOTUS Delivers Good News for Abusive Trolls

| Mon Jun. 1, 2015 12:09 PM EDT

Trolls and libertarians rejoice. In a highly watched case that explored the tough question of what distinguishes protected free speech from illegal threats, the Supreme Court on Monday made it harder for the government to prosecute individuals who are making threatening statements toward others.

The court voided the conviction of Anthony Elonis, who was found guilty of issuing unlawful threats over Facebook with rants that referred to killing his estranged wife. Elonis argued that his posts, which were presented as rap lyrics, were a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. He was convicted in federal district court in Pennsylvania under the "reasonable person" standard: Would a reasonable person consider Elonis' posts threatening?

In a 7-2 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that the reasonable person test wasn't sufficient for a criminal conviction like this one. Avoiding touchy First Amendment questions, the court determined that Elonis' posts should have been evaluated under a tougher standard that takes his mental state into account. That is, did he intend to follow through on his threats or did he know that his words would be seen as a threat?

"Elonis's conviction was premised solely on how his posts would be viewed by a reasonable person, a standard…inconsistent with the conventional criminal conduct requirement of 'awareness of some wrongdoing,'" Roberts wrote. He noted that a criminal conviction could only be supported "if the defendant transmits a communication for the purpose of issuing a threat or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat."

The case presented a difficult First Amendment question pitting freedom of expression against the freedom to not be threatened with violence. But the justices ducked the matter. The ruling was predicated on a statutory interpretation.

Elonis was sentenced to 44 months in prison for threatening to harm and even kill his estranged wife in Facebook posts—threats that left his wife afraid for her safety. Elonis fought the charges, arguing that he could not be imprisoned because he never intended to hurt his wife. A criminal conviction for someone who had no intent to harm, he contended, violated the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech. But the trial court disagreed and instructed the jury to use the reasonable-person standard.

The federal government argued that the reasonable person test is the best way to determine whether a statement is a threat. Its lawyers maintained that even if there is no intent to harm, such threats can severely disrupt the lives of those people targeted.

Civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, supported Elonis, fearing an encroachment on free-speech rights. Advocates for victims of domestic violence, though, argued that victims of domestic abuse "suffer the devastating psychological and economic effects of threats of violence, which their abusers deliver more and more often via social media," according to an amicus brief. This brief, filed by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and a number of state-based anti-domestic-violence groups, argued that threats are often a precursor to actual violence.

The Elonis case was argued before the court in early December and the justices took a full six months to decide the case. Roberts was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and the court's liberal wing. Justice Samuel Alito joined in part and dissented in part. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.