Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 16, 2014

Wed Jul. 16, 2014 9:59 AM EDT

The Village of Willowbrook Parks and Recreation department hosts a "Touch a Truck" community event where around 300 children interacted with military vehicles provided by the US Army on display in Illinois. (US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

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Watch Jon Stewart Try to Get Hillary Clinton to Admit She's Running For President

| Wed Jul. 16, 2014 8:23 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton is running for president. She has not officially announced this yet because it's 2014 and tradition dictates that prospective candidates pretend to "weigh all their options" and "talk about it with their family" for a few years before actually coming out and declaring. Presumably she'll announce sometime next autumn. Anyway, she's running for president.

Her most recent non-campaign campaign stop was on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night. Clinton came on nominally to talk about her new memoir "Hard Choices" which documents her four years as Secretary of State in the Obama administration. “It’s an incredibly complex and well-reasoned, eyewitness view to the history of those four years," Stewart begins, "and I think I speak for everybody when I say, no one cares. They just want to know if you’re running for president.”

What followed was a very entertaining game wherein Stewart tried to trick her into betraying her presidential ambitions. (When Stewart asks whether she'd like her next office to come in a particular shape, Clinton replies, "You know, I think that the world is so complicated, the fewer corners that you can have, the better.”)

Watch the whole extended interview. It's pretty great.

8 Reasons Why Jose Antonio Vargas Won't Be Deported

| Wed Jul. 16, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

On Tuesday morning, Jose Antonio Vargas, one of the most prominent and vocal undocumented immigrants in the United States, was detained at a Texas airport after traveling there to report on the plight of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. The Border Patrol took him into custody when he showed them a Filipino passport and no other form of identification. This was one of the few times Vargas, who self-identifies as the "most privileged" undocumented immigrant in the US, has had that privilege seriously questioned. He was released on Tuesday evening and issued a statement through his nonprofit organization, Define American:

I've been released by Border Patrol. I want to thank everyone who stands by me and the undocumented immigrants of south Texas and across the country. Our daily lives are filled with fear in simple acts such as getting on an airplane to go home to our family.

Vargas reminds those watching his case that he is representative of so many more undocumented children. But there are also many reasons why his is a special case—and why he won't be deported:

  1. He's a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a celebrity.
  2. He's been detained, and released, before: Two years ago, a year after he revealed his status as an undocumented Filipino immigrant, Vargas was driving through Minneapolis without a legal license while wearing headphones, according to MinnPost. Although the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office was signed up for a Bush administration initiative called Secure Communities that encourages local law enforcement to hold booked undocumented immigrants for ICE, Vargas was released after roughly five hours. It's unclear how much information authorities had about Vargas' citizenship, though MinnPost points out that it was unusual for police to haul him in, given that those suspected of driving without a license tend to be issued a citation on the scene.
  3. He's dared the ICE to deport him, and it did nothing: As Vox points out, Vargas essentially surrendered to the feds in 2012 when he called ICE and "asked what the government wanted to do with him." The agency declined to comment. Technically, they can come knocking anytime they want to deport him, and they have not done so.
  4. He's not a priority: The Obama administration claims it prioritizes cases having to do with "national security, public safety, and border security," including repeat offenders who have crossed the border after deportation, convicted criminals, and "recent border crossers." Vargas doesn't fit these descriptions, considering he's been convicted of no crime and has lived in the United States since he was 12 years old. (Though CBP has its own policies on what constitutes a recent border crosser, prioritizing any unauthorized entry regardless of how long ago it occurred.)
  5. The courts are already backlogged: As MoJo's Stephanie Mencimer wrote earlier this week, immigration courts are drowning in cases, especially with the sudden influx of unaccompanied minors. There are currently 30 vacancies on the immigration bench, dozens more judges eligible for retirement, and a backlog of 375,503 cases—up 50,000 since 2013. A case like Vargas' could've sat around for years before it was addressed.
  6. Prosecutorial discretion might have favored him anyway: Even if Vargas' case were taken up by ICE, the government could have chosen at any time not to proceed. ICE can waive deportation in cases where a defendant has "positive priorities," including status as a veteran, longtime US residency, a degree from a US college or university, or even just "ties to the United States," including a "role in the community" or "work as a volunteer." Vargas arrived as an undocumented minor and was unaware of his status until he was older. He's been a journalist since he was 17. He's a graduate of San Francisco State University. And now he's the founder of nonprofit advocacy group Define American. Not only does he fit many of the positive criterion, he doesn't fit into the clearly defined "negative" categories: He is not a clear threat to national security, a gang member, or a convicted criminal.
  7. He has a slew of lawyers, immigration groups, and public figures supporting him: Chris Rickerd, a policy council expert in the American Civil Liberties Union, says Vargas' "equities are such that he should be allowed to continue his stay in the US." Cristina Jimenez, a representative of the youth immigration group United We Dream, declared in a statement: "We stand in solidarity with Jose Antonio and demand for his immediate release, but we must remember that there are thousands of people along the border that live with this same fear every day." New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced his support for Vargas in a public statement Tuesday, describing him as an "exemplary man whose tireless work has helped raise awareness around the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants living on American soil" and encouraging authorities to use discretion when it came to his case. 
  8. He'd be a giant headache when the government already has plenty. (See also No. 1.) We'll just have to see if the outcry over Vargas'  release would be any less of a headache for the Obama administration than his deportation might have been.

This Is How The Right Will Try to Destroy Chris Christie

| Wed Jul. 16, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R)

This week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is crisscrossing Iowa. Officially, the visit is a fundraising trip tied to his side job as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. But like most any big-time politician choosing to spend some of the summer in the first caucus state, the visit is drawing the kind of speculation—and attacks—befitting a potential presidential contender.

Take the Judicial Crisis Network, which has seized the chance to target him with online ads and a website criticizing him for failing to turn the New Jersey Supreme Court into a bastion of right-wing judicial activism. JCN has established itself as significant player in judicial nomination fights and elections over the past several years, and has strong ties to conservative factions that don't trust the governor's record on social issues—and who would prefer a 2016 nominee more in line with the evangelical strain of the GOP.

The online ads take Christie to task for reappointing—gasp!—a Democrat as the chief justice of the state's supreme court, and criticize him for failing to live up to earlier campaign promises to remake the court as a conservative body.

The gripes about Christie's judicial appointments are pretty bogus. He's a Republican governor of a democratic state, and he's been thwarted again and again in his attempts to install conservatives on the high court: only three of his six nominees have been able to get past the Democratic controlled state legislature's judiciary committee. One of those nominees only got through because Christie agreed to a deal where he re-nominated the aforementioned sitting chief justice, a Democrat.

In a response to the ads, one of Christie's top advisers has argued that JCN is a Johnny-come-lately to New Jersey's nomination battles, suggesting that they don't really care about the composition of the court—but care plenty about dissing Christie. "This group has been noticeably absent from any judicial fight we've had in New Jersey, showing up only to criticize after the fights are over," Mike DuHaime said in a CNN appearance.

As DuHaime's complaint suggests, the Judicial Crisis Network's campaign is likely just another shot across the bow by social conservatives who think Christie is too liberal on issues like gay marriage and abortion, and don't want to see him become the GOP nominee for president in 2016. Indeed, the people behind the organization seem like just the sort who would much rather see a President Rick Santorum than a President Christie.

The JCN was founded by Gary Marx, who wooed family values voters for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, organizing church-sponsored voter drives in Ohio. According to Right Wing Watch, he was encouraged to start the organization, originally called the Judicial Confirmation Network, by Jay Sekulow, a veteran Christian soldier. As president of the American Center for Law and Justice, Sekulow has litigated numerous church-state cases before the US Supreme Court, including a recent one that allowed a Utah park to keep a Ten Commandments statute installed.

In 2004, Marx joined with Wendy Long, a former clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to set up the Judicial Confirmation Network to bolster President Bush's efforts to install staunch social conservatives on the federal bench. When Obama was elected, the group changed its name and focus to blocking the new president's nominees. (Marx went on to spend three years as executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative evangelical group founded by Ralph Reed.* Long left the JCN in 2012 to pursue an unsuccessful GOP Senate campaign against New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat.)

JCN also has close ties to the anti-gay marriage movement, sharing a treasurer with the National Organization for Marriage. Indeed, in a piece published this week by the National Review Online in coordination with the campaign bashing Christie's judges, the Judicial Crisis Network's current director, Carrie Severino, wrote that Christie's "conservative" justices took part in the court's unanimous decision last year to allow same-sex marriage in New Jersey. She also contends that Christie's most recent nominee has a record of being pro-choice. Severino—who is also a former Thomas clerk—concludes, "If these are Christie's conservative nominees, then Christie's definition of a conservative sounds an awful lot like a liberal."

Christie is likely to see similar attacks as he makes further steps towards a 2016 campaign after the ignominy of Bridgegate. He'll be in New Hampshire later this month.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Gary Marx is currently the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Marx left that post in December 2013 and now runs a political consulting firm, Madison Strategies.

This Group Is Starting the Elizabeth-Warren-for-President Campaign

| Tue Jul. 15, 2014 5:21 PM EDT

Move over, Ready for Hillary. You've got competition.

A group of progressive activists have unveiled Ready for Warren, a new outfit aimed at convincing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to run for president. Ready for Warren's website asks supporters to sign a petition urging Warren to get in the 2016 race. "It's time that the American people had a lobbyist of our own, and that lobbyist is Elizabeth Warren," the petition reads. "By standing up to Wall Street to defend Main Street, Warren has proven herself to be the spine that the Democratic Party forgot it had."

The Huffington Post reports that Ready for Warren's campaign manager is Erica Sagrans, an alum of President Obama's 2012 campaign. League of Young Voters founder Billy Wimsatt will serve as a senior adviser to the group. The group also has a Twitter account and a Facebook page.

Here's more from HuffPost:

Ready for Warren supporters will be bringing a van full of supporters to Netroots Nation, the annual gathering of progressive activists that is taking place in Detroit this week.

"We don't want to say too much about our exact plans, but we'll definitely be out in force and supporting Warren when she speaks on Friday," said Sagrans, adding, "We're planning on using Netroots as an opportunity to build on a lot of the momentum she's seen elsewhere and to show not only that she has progressive support—because I think we know that—but that there is an organized effort and people who are working on harnessing that support and building it into a real Draft Warren campaign."

The Ready for Warren supporters will have some competition at the conference. Ready for Hillary and its splashy bus will be there, and Vice President Joe Biden will be addressing the gathering for the first time.

Going forward, the campaign will make sure there are Warren supporters to greet her and encourage her to run as she goes around the country stumping for Democratic candidates. Sagrans said they haven't yet decided what shape the campaign will officially take—whether it will be a super PAC or a hybrid PAC like the Ready for Hillary effort—but they're going to step up volunteer efforts, fundraising and make sure they're a presence in the early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. An explosive amount of fundraising could be one way to entice Warren into the race.

Warren has insisted she's not running for president. Asked by the Boston Globe about a potential White House bid, she replied, "No, no, no, no, no." Yet there are signs that suggest she hasn't completely closed the door on 2016. Her recently published book, A Fighting Chance, read like something a politician eyeing higher office would write. And in an interview with Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, Warren appeared to leave herself some wiggle room about a future presidential bid.

Recently Warren has traveled the country campaigning and raising boatloads of cash for fellow Democrats on the 2014 ticket—and in the process, raising her national profile. Her super-PAC hauled in $620,000 in April, May, and June, a four-fold increase from the previous three months.

The launch of Ready for Warren is yet more evidence that just about every progressive out there wants Warren to run—every progressive, that is, but Warren herself.

Watch John Oliver Explain Why "It's Your Fault You're Not Rich" Is Bullshit

| Tue Jul. 15, 2014 4:42 PM EDT

On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, host and comedian John Oliver ripped into American politicians' colossal mishandling of the US wealth gap, which continues to grow to ever more astronomical proportions. As Oliver points out, plenty of lawmakers insist the game isn't rigged against the poor—ahem, Marco Rubio—while others recognize the problem but are too afraid to be gung-ho on the issue because of, well, politics.

Take a look:

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We're Still At War: Photo of the Day for July 15, 2014

Tue Jul. 15, 2014 10:08 AM EDT

A US Marine builds an obstacle course in Belize. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brett Cote.)

Here's How You Can Help Unaccompanied Border Kids Without Giving to Glenn Beck

| Mon Jul. 14, 2014 4:15 PM EDT
A Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Nogales, Arizona, last month

Glenn Beck has announced that he intends to head to the border town of McAllen, Texas, on July 19 with tractor trailers containing food, water, stuffed animals, and soccer balls to distribute to some of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children apprehended at the border each year. "I'm getting violent emails from people who say I've 'betrayed the Republic,'" he said on his TV program. "Whatever. I've never taken a position more deadly to my career than this—and I have never, ever taken a position that is more right than this." He's asking people to donate to (surprise!) his own charity, MercuryOne.

But suppose you wanted to help support those children without feeding Glenn Beck's ego. There are plenty of do-gooders to choose from. Our own Ian Gordon, whose recent feature story on the solo immigrant kids helped catapult the issue into the national limelight, has been hearing from people with alternative suggestions, and tweeting them out…

1. Michelle Brané, who runs the Women's Refugee Commission's Migrant Rights and Justice program, suggests donating to national groups such as Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and the American Red Cross. The Women's Refugee Commission advocates on behalf of unaccompanied children and families, conducts research, and monitors detention facilities and border stations. KIND also advocates for and provides legal services to these children, and USCCB provides services for the kids after they are released from detention.

Brané also suggests that residents of Texas border communities look around for local organizations that are helping the kids and their families. Annunciation House in El Paso is one example. "Also," she writes, "as these children are reunited with family or sponsors, they will be entering communities throughout the country and will be (I hope) enrolling in school. In would be great for people to support them in their local communities. Schools and churches are a good place to start."

2. Nora Skelly from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service suggested that people volunteer as foster parents or support Texas orgs such as the Refuge and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), which has been doing legal orientations for children in federal custody.

3. Ofelia de los Santos, the jail ministry coordinator for Catholic Charities in South Texas, has been interacting directly with the kids and their families. "One lady brought in knitted wool caps for the babies and small children, many of whom have colds from being in those freezing Immigration detention facilities," she said. "We quickly ran out. The adults started asking for them and we had no adult size knitted caps. Also needed are sweaters and light jackets for adults and kids, and inexpensive sneakers for women and children—"like Keds, not the fancy expensive kind." Current needs are posted daily here.

4. Elizabeth Kennedy, a Fulbright scholar studying unaccompanied migrant kids, points to the following suggestions from the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

5. Finally, here's another detailed roundup by Vox's Dara Lind.

For more of Mother Jones' reporting on unaccompanied child migrants, see all of our latest coverage here.

GOP Congressman Who Warned About Unvaccinated Migrants Opposed Vaccination

| Mon Jul. 14, 2014 2:29 PM EDT

Last week, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a dire warning: Some of the child refugees streaming across the southern border into the United States might carry deadly diseases. "Reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning," Gingrey wrote. "Many of the children who are coming across the border also lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles."

Gingrey's analysis carried an aura of credibility among conservatives, because, as Judicial Watch noted, the congressman is "also [a] medical doctor." But his two-page letter is filled with false charges—there's no evidence that migrants carry Ebola or that they're less likely to be vaccinated—from an inconvenient messenger: The congressman has himself pushed legislation to discourage some kinds of mandatory vaccinations in the United States.

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola virus has only ever affected humans in sub-Saharan Africa. (It has been found in China and the Philippines, but has never caused an illness, let alone a fatality.) Central America is far away from sub-Saharan Africa:

Central America is on the left. Google Maps

Ebola has a 50 percent mortality rate and a remarkably short life-span, so it's safe to assume that if it had somehow made its way across the Atlantic to our own hemisphere, we would've heard it by now; some congressman probably would've sent a letter. But apparently Ebola fearmongering can travel across the Atlantic even if the disease can't: A similar allegation was leveled in Italy last spring, with activists warning that migrants from Guinea were bringing Ebola with them to the peninsula. (Although false, the claim was at least more plausible: There is an Ebola outbreak in Guinea.)

Gingrey's misdiagnoses aren't confined to Ebola. As the Texas Observer points out, when it comes to measles, children in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are more likely to be vaccinated than children in the United States. None of those countries have recorded an outbreak of measles in 24 years. Kids in Marin County are more at risk.

Gingrey has long-standing ties to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a far-right medical group that opposes all mandatory vaccines. The organization touts access to Gingrey as one of its membership perks. (The AAPS has, incidentally, taken the lead in pushing the idea that migrant children are disease carriers.) In 2007, he wrote an amendment that would allow parents to block their children from receiving HPV vaccines, which are designed to combat cervical cancer.

Now that he's got a full-time job in Washington, Gingrey doesn't spend as much time practicing medicine as he used to. Maybe he could use a refresher.

For more of Mother Jones' reporting on unaccompanied child migrants, see all of our latest coverage here.

Mexican Government: Freight Trains Are Now Off-Limits to Central American Migrants

| Sat Jul. 12, 2014 1:20 PM EDT

On Thursday, a freight train derailed in southern Mexico. It wasn't just any train, though: It was La Bestia—"the Beast"—the infamous train many Central American immigrants ride through Mexico on their way to the United States. When the Beast went off the tracks this week, some 1,300 people who'd been riding on top were stranded in Oaxaca.

How do 1,300 people fit on a cargo train, you ask? By crowding on like this:

Central Americans on the Beast, June 20 Rebecca Blackwell/AP

After years of turning a blind eye to what's happening on La Bestia, the Mexican government claims it now will try to keep migrants off the trains. On Friday, Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said in a radio interview that the time had come to bring order to the rails. "We can't keep letting them put their lives in danger," he said. "It's our responsibility once in our territory. The Beast is for cargo, not passengers."

The announcement comes on the heels of President Obama's $3.7 billion emergency appropriations request to deal with the ongoing surge of unaccompanied Central American child migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. Many Central Americans take the trains to avoid checkpoints throughout Mexico—and the robbers and kidnappers known to prey on migrants. But riding the Beast can be even more perilous. Migrants often must bribe the gangs running the train to board, and even then, the dangers are obvious: Many riders have died falling off the train, or lost limbs after getting caught by its slicing wheels.

Why, though, hasn't the Mexican government cracked down sooner? Adam Isacson, a regional-security expert at the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America, says the responsibility of guarding the trains often has fallen to the rail companies—who usually turn around and argue that since the tracks are on government land, it should be the feds' problem. (Notably, the train line's concession is explicitly for freight, not passengers.)

In his radio interview, Osorio Chang also signaled a tougher stance against Central American migrants, in general. "Those who don't have a visa to move through our country," he said, "will be returned."

For more of Mother Jones' reporting on unaccompanied child migrants, see all of our latest coverage here.