Political MoJo

The Surgeon General Is Finally Coming Around on Pot

| Wed Feb. 4, 2015 3:36 PM EST

Despite the legalization of medical marijuana in 30 states, the federal government still lists cannabis under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." But today, the nation's new top doctor appeared to challenge that designation.

"We have some preliminary data showing that for some medical conditions and symptoms that marijuana can be helpful," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CBS This Morning. "So I think we have to use that data to drive policymaking, and I'm very interested to see where that data takes us."

Here's the full interview (Murthy's comments on medical marijuana start at 3:48):

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Chris Christie: Parents Should Have "Choice" on Vaccines

| Mon Feb. 2, 2015 10:36 AM EST

Update, February 2, 2015, 12:20 p.m.: In 2009, Christie wrote a letter in which he appeared to support the theory that autism may be linked to vaccinations. An excerpt from the letter, provided to MSNBC, below: 

"I have met with families affected by autism from across the state and have been struck by their incredible grace and courage. Many of these families have expressed their concern over New Jersey’s highest-in-the nation vaccine mandates. I stand with them now, and will stand with them as their governor in their fight for greater parental involvement in vaccination decisions that affect their children."

Update, February 2, 2015, 10:30 a.m.: Gov. Christie's office released a statement amending his previous comments to reporters, saying there is "no question kids should be vaccinated." 

 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for a "balanced" approach to childhood vaccinations, telling reporters on Monday that it's important to provide parents a "measure of choice" in their decisions.

"Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health," Christie said during a press conference in Cambridge, England, where he is traveling on a trade mission. "I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide."

"Not every vaccine is created equal and not every type of disease is as great a public health threat as others," he added.

Christie's comments come a day after President Obama urged parents to vaccinate their children in the midst of a widening measles outbreak that started in Disneyland. The highly contagious disease has since spread to 14 states with at least 102 cases reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I understand that there are families that, in some cases, are concerned about the effect of vaccinations," Obama said in an interview with NBC Sunday. "The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not."

The rise in parents who choose not to have their children fully immunized has been cited as one reason for a growing number of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in recent years.

Mitt Romney Won't Run for President in 2016

| Fri Jan. 30, 2015 12:09 PM EST

It's official: Mitt Romney will not seek the presidency for a third time. After some news outlets reported he would announce a run on a call with donors this morning, a statement leaked in which Romney said, "I've decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee." Here's a look back at what Mitt 3.0 could have been, as well as some highlights from 2012.

He was going to run as a liberal.

He had plans to be a born-again climate hawk.

He was going to face some resistance from the Kochs.

He had a new private equity conflict-of-interest problem.

We were deprived the chance to revisit the controversy over Romney's lengthy history of outsourcing.

Also, this little problem:

Thanks for the memories, Mitt:

England Just Established "Yes Means Yes" Guidelines for Police Investigating Rape

| Fri Jan. 30, 2015 7:15 AM EST

Police departments in both England and Wales have been provided an unprecedented new set of recommendations when it comes to investigating rape allegations. The guidelines, launched by the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders and Martin Hewitt of the Metropolitan Police, now require officers to establish sexual consent, rather than prove when a victim says "no." 

"This is really about making sure investigators and prosecutors look at the whole context, so we're able to put strong cases before the court and we don't just focus on what a victim did or said," Saunders told the BBC. "We know there are too many myths and stereotypes around rape and consent  and this is about making sure we really examine cases." 

The shift to a more "yes means yes" context comes as a welcome move for sexual assault advocates, who have long blamed the "no" standard for discouraging victims to report assaults. The new guidelines also strongly emphasize the need to stop blaming rape victims "for confusing the idea of consent, by drinking or dressing provocatively" as Saunders states, and clearly outline what sexual consent is.

While many in England and Wales are applauding the change, some have been more cautious, waiting to see if police forces actually adhere to the new guidelines.

"The CPS's new rape toolkit might make welcome headlines, but I won't be celebrating until police officers and prosecutors are made to put existing policies and guidelines in practice or face appropriate sanction for failing to do so," Harriet Wistrich wrote in a Guardian column on Thursday. 

This Massive New Project Is Great News for Homeless Vets in Los Angeles

| Thu Jan. 29, 2015 6:19 PM EST

After a three-year legal battle, the US Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Wednesday that it will rededicate its giant West Los Angeles Medical Center campus to provide much-needed housing and services for the city's homeless veterans.

The announcement stems from a settlement in a 2011 lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of disabled veterans. The Los Angeles property, nearly 400 acres, was deeded to the federal government in 1888 to house veterans with disabilities. Instead, the campus, which is located in an affluent area, has been used for commercial rental agreements with, among others, entertainment companies, UCLA, and hotel laundry services. According to NPR, Veterans Affairs had accepted between $28 million and $40 million in leasing agreements that a federal judge ruled illegal.

The settlement includes a plan, set for completion by October, to build long-term housing combined with support services designed to help ensure that the formerly homeless, especially veterans who are physically and mentally disabled, remain housed.

The effort is part of a larger Obama administration initiative to house all homeless vets by the end of 2015. Los Angeles has the nation's highest number of homeless vets—more than 3,700—and the newly announced plan could go a long way toward solving the problem.

"This agreement offers VA a historic opportunity to build new community relationships in Los Angeles and continue the work needed to end veteran homelessness here," Veteran's Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement. "VA is proud of the progress we've made in ending veteran homelessness—down 33 percent since 2010—but we won't be satisfied until every veteran has a home."

According to a report released last January by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, close to 50,000 vets were homeless on any given night. States are now gearing up for their annual "Point-In-Time" count, a HUD-led event that deploys volunteers to conduct a census of the homeless in their communities. The results will indicate how much work remains to meet Obama's 2015 deadline. McDonald said he plans to participate in the Los Angeles count: 

"There is no question that the goal to end veteran homelessness is within reach, and we remain laser-focused on it," he said. "It's about helping communities put a system in place that can house every veteran."

Lawmaker: Cheerleaders Should Get Paid a Real Wage

| Thu Jan. 29, 2015 6:18 PM EST
The Raiderettes perform in a December game against the Buffalo Bills.

While football fans are getting ready for the Super Bowl this weekend, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has turned her attention to the women on the sidelines. Gonzalez, a former cheerleader and labor leader, introduced a bill today that would require California's professional sports teams to classify cheerleaders as employees, thus forcing teams to provide minimum wage, paid overtime, and workers compensation.

The bill was inspired by a spate of lawsuits last year in which NFL cheerleaders sued their teams for workplace violations. The first lawsuit, Lacy T. et al vs. The Oakland Raiders, exposed a "stunning system of abuses against cheerleaders," says Gonzalez, including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid practices and appearances, and fines for things like bringing the wrong pom-poms to practice. According to an ESPN the Magazine article, a Raiderettes handbook simply says that it's possible to "find yourself with no salary at all at the end of the season." (Read more of our coverage of the indignities of NFL cheerleaders here, and of NHL's ice girls here).

"NFL teams and their billionaire owners have used professional cheerleaders as part of the game day experience for decades.  They have capitalized on their talents without providing even the most basic workplace protections like a minimum wage," Gonzalez said in a statement. Reached by phone, she added, "Nobody would never, ever question that the guy who brings you beer is going to get minimum wage, but we're not gonna pay the woman on the field who's entertaining you?" Asked whether she was concerned about pushback from NFL teams, she replied, "I don't think it's a good PR move for the NFL to be opposing minimum wage for women's workers. Let's be honest."

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Here's How Boehner and Netanyahu Really Screwed Up

Thu Jan. 29, 2015 11:22 AM EST

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the ongoing fallout from John Boehner's decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress:

 

FAA to Football Fans: Super Bowl Is a No-Drone Zone

| Wed Jan. 28, 2015 3:39 PM EST

On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a 15-second warning to football fans eager to sneak a bird's-eye look at this Sunday's Super Bowl: Leave your drones at home.  

The No Drone Zone campaign is part of the FAA's ongoing efforts to regulate small drones flying over crowded stadiums. The Washington Post reported last November that the aviation agency was investigating a rash of incidents involving drones hovering over major sporting events. A month earlier, the agency extended its ban on airplane flights over large open-air stadiums to include unmanned and remote controlled aircraft. 

Drones over sporting events have occasionally raised alarms. In August, a man was detained after he flew a drone that flew over a preseason NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs. A month later, police questioned a University of Texas student who was flying a drone around Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Last October, a drone carrying an Albanian flag during a soccer match between Serbia and Albania sparked a riot in Belgrade.

Earlier this month, the FAA issued an advisory reiterating the civil and criminal penalties for pilots who drone the Super Bowl. (Also banned in the airspace above the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona: gliders, parachutes, hang gliders, balloons, crop dusters, model aircraft, and model rockets.) The Goodyear blimp will be allowed.

No One Can Agree on What to Call Drones

| Wed Jan. 28, 2015 7:00 AM EST
Ceci n'est past un drone.

Early Monday morning, a small, temporarily unidentified flying object crashed on the White House lawn. The mishap, possibly the result of droning under the influence, prompted a salvo of alarming headlines about a stealthy violation of presidential airspace. "A Drone, Too Small for Radar to Detect, Rattles the White House," declared the New York Times. Fox News announced, "White House gets drone defense wake-up call," while New York magazine warned, "Secret Service Can't Protect White House From Drones."

The most ominous-sounding word in those headlines is "drone," a term that's come to encompass everything from the two-pound DJI Phantom quadcopter that flew over the White House fence to the nearly 5,000-pound MQ-9 Reaper, which can be flown remotely via satellite and fire laser-guided missiles at targets eight miles below. As Dutch designer Ruben Pater's Drone Survival Guide conveys, there are drones and then there are drones:

The Drone Survival Guide (in English and Pashto) Ruben Pater

Is there an easier way to differentiate a hi-tech toy from a killing machine? Why not just call that stray quadcopter a remote-controlled or model aircraft? (No one would write a headline such as "A Model Aircraft, Too Small for Radar to Detect, Rattles the White House.")

The Federal Aviation Administration treats lightweight noncommercial drones as model aircraft. (They must stay under 400 feet and can't fly beyond the operator's line of sight.) Yet a true hobby drone is different than a traditional remote-controlled plane in one significant respect: It can fly itself. As former Wired editor Chris Anderson explains on his site DIY Drones, "Usually the UAV is controlled manually by Radio Control (RC) at take-off and landing, and switched into GPS-guided autonomous mode only at a safe altitude." The DJI Phantom can fly itself back home; users can program flight paths into top-of-the-line model. DIY Drones uses the terms UAV and drone interchangeably.

Even if equating personal drones with model aircraft might irk amateur remote pilots, it would help defuse the devices' death-from-above image. That would probably please the manufacturers of military and commercial drones, who would prefer if you don't use the D-word at all. Testifying before the Senate in 2013, the head of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (the robot lobby) stated, "I do not use the term 'drone.' The industry refers to the technology as unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, because they are more than just a pilotless vehicle…The term 'drone' also carries with it a hostile connotation and does not reflect how UAS are actually being used domestically." Besides UAS, other suggested alternatives to "drone" include Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).

The future Marilyn Monroe poses with a World War II-era Radioplane drone. US Army via Wikimedia Commons

While the president and White House freely call them drones, the military is also not keen on the designation. An Air Force spokeswoman told Defense News that "There are some people who are offended by it." And UAS has its detractors: Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a reporter last year, "You will never hear me use the word 'drone,' and you'll never hear me use the term 'unmanned aerial systems.' Because they are not. They are remotely piloted aircraft."

Yet for critics of remote-control warfare, the word economically delivers an explosive payload—much like a drone. The American Civil Liberties Union has endorsed using "drone" rather than the officially sanctioned abbreviations. "These acronyms are technical, bland, and bureaucratic. That's probably their principal advantage from the point of view of those who want to separate them from the ugly, bloody, and controversial uses to which they've been put by the CIA and U.S. military overseas," writes ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley. "[I]f the word continues to carry a reminder that this is an extremely powerful technology capable of being used for very dark purposes, then that's not necessarily a bad thing."

To further complicate things, some people insist that "drone" only refers to unpiloted aircraft used for target practice—the term's original meaning. As analyst Steve Zaloga explained to Defense News, it was coined by an American admiral who in 1935 witnessed a demonstration of a remote-controlled British aircraft dubbed the Queen Bee: He "adopted the name drone to refer to these aircraft in homage to the Queen Bee. Drone became the official US Navy designation for target drones for many decades." (Fun fact: Future bombshell Marilyn Monroe assembled small target drones in a California factory during World War II.) According to Zaloga, the military kept calling all remote-controlled aircraft drones until the 1990s. (He's partial to calling them RPAs.)

Drones will likely remain the most convenient way to describe the rapidly expanding variety of…drones. But whatever you do, don't call them "pilotless drones." That phrase especially infuriates pedants, like Drone Man, the San Francisco Chronicle reader who left an angry voicemail expressing his disgust at the paper's use of the seemingly redundant (yet grammatically acceptable) term. Here's the dance mix: 

 

Mormon Church Comes Out in Support of LGBT Rights

| Tue Jan. 27, 2015 3:38 PM EST

In a groundbreaking news conference on Tuesday, the Mormon Church officially announced its support for some LGBT rights, on the condition that the same legal protections are extended to all religious groups. But in doing so, the church also made clear their endorsement did not reverse the church's opposition to same-sex marriage. 

"We call on local, state, and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches, and other faith groups while protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment, and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants, and transportation," Elder Dallin Oaks, a top official of the church, said. "[These] protections are not available in many parts of the country."

"We must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values," church officials stated

"We must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values."

The announcement comes as an anti-discrimination bill makes its way through Utah's state legislature that seeks to ban gender-based discrimination in the workplace and housing. In the past, the church has made overtures towards friendlier LGBT stances, but Tuesday's press conference is by far its most clear endorsement of gay rights. Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer has covered the church's evolution on same-sex marriage:

In the five years since the LDS church sent busloads of the faithful to California to canvass neighborhoods, and contributed more than $20 million via its members to support the initiative, it has all but dropped the rope in the public policy tug of war over marriage equality. The change stems from an even more remarkable if somewhat invisible transformation happening within the church, prompted by the ugly fight over Prop. 8 and the ensuing backlash from the flock.

Although the LDS's prophet hasn't described a holy revelation directing a revision in church doctrine on same-sex marriage or gay rights in general, the church has shown a rare capacity for introspection and humane cultural change unusual for a large conservative religious organization.

"I am proud that the LDS Church has seen fit to lead the way in non-discrimination," state senator and founder of the Utah Pride Center Jim Dabakis said in a news release following the announcement. "As a religious institution, Mormons have had a long history of being the victims of discrimination and persecution. They understand more than most the value and strength of creating a civil society that judges people by the content of their character and their ability to do a job."

Watch Tuesday's announcement below: