Political MoJo

Watch the First Black Woman Who Served in the US Senate Go Off on the Confederate Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 3:14 PM EDT

With South Carolina poised to remove the flag from its statehouse, and with momentum growing toward the removal of the Confederate emblem from state flags in Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia, the symbol's enduring official status in the American South may finally be winding down. The current backlash against the rebel flag, sparked by the massacre of nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is the latest round in a fierce long-running debate.

On July 22, 1993, an impassioned Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois—the first African-American woman to serve in the US Senate and its sole black member at the time—took the floor to rebuke conservative legislators including the late Jesse Helms, who were backing an amendment to secure the Confederate flag as the official design for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Moseley-Braun said: "The issue is whether Americans such as myself who believe in the promise of this country, who feel strongly and who are patriots in this country, will have to suffer the indignity of being reminded time and time again that at one time in this country's history we were human chattel. We were property. We could be traded, bought, and sold."

She added with regard to the amendment: "On this issue there can be no consensus. It is an outrage. It is an insult."

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Rand Paul Super-PAC Slams "Bailout Bu$h" in Bizarre Web Ad

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 1:05 PM EDT

Here come the crazed attack ads. More than seven months out from the first votes in the 2016 presidential primaries, America's Liberty, a super-PAC backing Sen. Rand Paul's bid for the Republican nomination, has put out an online ad attacking Jeb "Bailout" Bush. It is…strange.

The video, which had more than 10,000 views as of Tuesday afternoon, is framed as an infomercial, with an exuberant, wild-bearded speaker named Max Power (perhaps borrowed from Homer Simpson, who took the same name from a hair dryer) serving as the pitchman. The ad offers a Bailout Bu$h action figure—which sadly does not actually seem to be for sale, probably because it appears to be a different action figure with an image of Bush's face pasted on—as Power shouts about how Jeb worked for Lehman Brothers right before the crash and supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program. "This offer guarantees a presidential candidate cannot win a single primary state, let alone the general election," a voice-over says at the end of the ad as Power bathes in a tub of money.

Per the Washington Times, America's Liberty is spending in the five figures to run the ad online in early primary states, though it is also clearly running in DC, since I encountered it when it popped up before a music video on YouTube.

America's Liberty has close connections to the Paul camp. The super-PAC's founder and president is John Tate, who worked as Ron Paul's presidential campaign manager in 2012 and currently also serves as president of Campaign for Liberty, a longtime Ron Paul organization.

Watch the ad:

How a Mediocre Football Team Helped Mississippi Evolve on the Confederate Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 11:47 AM EDT
In 2010, the University of Mississippi replaced its old Colonel Reb mascot with a black bear. The Care Bear above didn't make the cut.

On to Mississippi. Just hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked the state legislature to pass a law removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn issued a call for his state to follow suit. The Confederate battle flag is embedded in the upper left corner of the official state flag, but "as a Christian," Gunn wrote on Facebook, "I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed." Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and a well-connected politico himself, echoed Gunn's call.

How did white conservatives in Mississippi—the deepest of the Deep South—get to this point, not long after Haley Barbour, as governor, kept a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office? It helps that the state has gone through a process like this one before.

For decades, the University of Mississippi's identity was intertwined with that of its football team, the Rebels. In 1962, Democratic Gov. Ross Barnett waved the Confederate flag in the bleachers in support of the school's all-white team the night before a white mob attacked National Guardsmen assigned to protect the school's first black student, James Meredith. The team's mascot, Colonel Reb, wore a Confederate uniform and rode a horse called Traveler—the same name as the steed owned by Robert E. Lee. Over time, the mascot evolved into a less militant figure, a Colonel Sanders-esque old white man with a red suit and a cane, but the antebellum (or just bellum) nostalgia was evident. At games, students waved Confederate flags. They called the place "Ole Miss."

But the team was also—to use what I think is the appropriate term—a lost cause. It was losing out on top-flight talent, and its leaders had an inkling why. In his 2013 memoir, the school's former chancellor, Robert Khyat, recalled the pivotal moment, in the locker room after a shutout loss to the team's archrival, Mississippi State. When Khyat walked in, the Rebels' head coach told him, "We can't recruit against the Confederate flag."

The team stopped flying the flag at games in 1997. A few years later, again citing the impossibility of recruiting African Americans to the program, along with broader concerns about rebranding, it jettisoned Colonel Reb.

Colonel Reb and his die-hard supporters have not gone away quietly. An unsanctioned zombie Colonel Reb mascot continued to haunt campus on game days until 2009. A state legislator tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill restoring Colonel Reb. Last November, a state tea party leader launched a signature drive for a ballot initiative in the 2016 election that would bring back Colonel Reb once and for all. The old mascot has a small army of devoted fans who believe its absence is a direct assault on their heritage. It's a lot like the Confederate flag.

Other aspects of the school's makeover have faced a backlash. A new statue of Meredith on campus was vandalized in 2014. A white student placed a noose around the statue's neck, attached to an old Georgia flag that included the Confederate symbol. (In March, the alleged perpetrator was charged with federal civil rights crimes.)

But the school is moving on. In 2010, after a seven-year spell without a mascot, it asked students to submit their own ideas for a new one. A group of students, real-life American heroes, launched a grassroots campaign to make Admiral Ackbar, the meme-friendly squid commander from Star Wars, the new face of Ole Miss:

Ultimately, the school went with a black bear (inspired by a William Faulkner short story), who wears slacks, a blazer, and a Panama hat. It also began phase three of its image rehabilitation campaign, scaling back the usage of the nickname Ole Miss.

Momentum notwithstanding, the campaign to change the Mississippi flag is still in the germination phase. But if the state government wants to follow its flagship university's lead, we can think of a certain alien admiral who'd look great on a flag.

Mississippi House Speaker: Time to Remove Confederate Symbol from State Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 8:59 AM EDT

On the heels of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's call to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state's capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker, Philip Gunn, announced his support to remove the Confederate symbol from his own state's flag. In a Facebook post, he wrote:

 

We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us. As a Christian, I believe our state's...

Posted by Philip Gunn on Monday, June 22, 2015

As of Tuesday morning, one petition calling for the symbol's removal had attracted over 7,700 signatures. But Gunn's proposal, as the Clarion-Ledger notes, will face an uphill battle: Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday he didn't expect other lawmakers to "supersede the will of the people on this issue," referring to a 2001 ballot measure that failed to garner enough support to do away with the emblem.

The top Facebook comments below Gunn's statement since Monday night have been largely critical of his announcement, echoing similar defenses of the Confederate emblem seen in South Carolina and other parts of the south since the mass shooting that killed nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last Wednesday.

"Leave the flag alone. Hatred and racism lives in the heart not in a cloth flag," one Facebook user wrote.

Debate over the Confederate flag's racist legacy quickly emerged as central to the national conversation following the Charleston massacre, particularly after photographs surfaced online showing alleged gunman Dylann Roof holding the flag and embracing other racist symbols.

After initially appearing to defend the flag as merely a "part of who we are," South Carolina senator and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham eventually backtracked his support, and stood by Haley on Monday to announce his support in removing the flag from flying in Columbia.

Why Jeb Bush Wants the United States to Be More Like Estonia

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 5:55 AM EDT

On Monday, Jeb Bush posted a column on Medium touting the need for ramped-up cybersecurity efforts. "Given the reliance of the United States government and the private sector on the internet, it is disturbing we remain vulnerable to its disruption and misuse," he wrote.

The piece was mostly devoid of specific ways to fix those vulnerabilities, but what Bush did propose raises some privacy concerns. The former Florida governor cited Estonia, a tiny Baltic nation that's a world leader in cybersecurity efforts, as a model to emulate. What he didn't say was that Estonia's model is predicated on pervasive government involvement in policing the country's internet infrastructure, with the central government establishing a secure online national ID system for citizens. This is a digital version of what US conservatives have long opposed: a national identity card.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Estonian president who's perhaps best known for yelling at Paul Krugman on Twitter in 2012, wrote in a New York Times op-ed the following year that people should in fact be more concerned with cybercrime and hacking than government intrusion on privacy.

"At a time when the greatest threats to our privacy and the security of our data come from criminal hackers and foreign countries (often working together), we remain fixed on the idea that Big Brother, our own government, is the danger," he noted.

In his Medium post, Bush offered one concrete suggestion: backing the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, a bill that would give private companies greater legal cover to share information on potential cybersecurity threats with the government. Bush called the failure to pass the bill a "critical impediment to cybersecurity," but privacy advocates and technical experts who spoke to Mother Jones last week disagreed, noting the measure would result in private-sector companies passing information on consumers and citizens to government agencies.

"This isn't a cybersecurity bill—it's a surveillance bill," said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "There is absolutely no reason to think that that is going to provide any significant cybersecurity benefits."

South Carolina's Gov. Finally Calls for Removing the Confederate Flag From the State Capitol Grounds

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 4:27 PM EDT

Following days of mounting pressure, Gov. Nikki Haley just announced her support for removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol.

"It's time to move the flag from the capitol grounds," Haley told reporters at a press conference, where senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham were also present, on Monday.

"Some divisions are bigger than a flag. We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand," she added.

The flag has been the subject of controversy in the past, including in 2000 when large protests opposing its presence took place in Columbia, the state's capitol. The issue resurfaced, creating national headlines, after the mass shooting inside a historic black church in Charleston. This weekend, a racist online manifesto apparently belonging to the suspected gunman, Dylann Roof, which included images of him posing with the flag, one in which he had a gun in his hand, surfaced.

Following the shooting, a slew of Republican presidential candidates—some of whom shied away from directly stating Roof had racist motives—have been asked about their stances on the Confederate flag. Although he condemned the shooting as an "evil act of aggression," former Florida governor Jeb Bush ultimately said he did not know what was "mind or the heart of the man" behind it, despite the obvious racist symbolism Roof appeared to embrace. After once defending the flag as a "part of who we are," Graham joined Haley on Monday in backtracking his longstanding support of the Confederate flag.

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Marijuana Research Just Got a Green Light From the Obama White House

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 3:25 PM EDT

The White House today lifted a longstanding restriction on medical marijuana research, giving a green light to a growing group of mainstream scientists who are interested in investigating the potential health benefits of pot. Such research will no longer have to undergo review by the Public Health Service, a process that is ostensibly meant to ensure the use of scientifically valid clinical trials, but in practice has served as a barrier to launching studies. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, and even opponents of legalization, had called for the requirement to be lifted.

"This announcement is a pretty big deal," says Christopher Brown, a spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a group that advocates for access to pot for medical research. "You have a lot of interest in experimental research on medical cannabis and this shows that you are starting to see policies aligned with that."

The announcement comes a few months after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy signaled the federal government's shifting thinking on medical pot, telling CBS This Morning that preliminary data shows that "marijuana can be helpful" for some medical conditions.

Still, Americans for Safe Access is calling for the feds to loosen restrictions even more. Numerous startup companies are interested in capitalizing on the medical benefits of pot, but scientists who want to use marijuana for research currently must obtain it from a DEA-approved grow facility, a process that can take a year or longer if they need specific cannabis strains. And marijuana remains classified under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, a category reserved for drugs that supposedly have no medical benefit.

Mexican Piñata Maker Takes Revenge on Donald Trump

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 3:12 PM EDT

Dalton Javier Avalos Ramirez has given people a way to beat up on Donald Trump, and receive candy as a reward.

Ramirez, a craftsman from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, told The Independent that after hearing Trump announce his candidacy for presidency—during which he alleged that Mexican immigrants were rapists bringing drugs and crime across the border—he was inspired to create a Donald Trump piñata. He completed the task in a single day.

Ramirez told The Independent he's received more than 10 orders since Friday. According to Fox News Latino, the piñatas are priced at 500 pesos apiece, or roughly $33.

 

Yep, Obama Said the N-Word. Here Are the Other Candid Things He Said.

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 2:04 PM EDT

Appearing on comedian Marc Maron's WTF podcast on Friday, President Obama shared his views on gun violence and racism in America—two topics that have been thrust to the forefront of a national conversation following the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina last week. The interview, which was posted online today, featured a number of candid moments for the president, including a rare moment in which he said "nigger" to underscore the reality that the country's enduring legacy of racism is far from over.

"The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on," Obama said. "We are not cured of it and it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination."

On the issue of gun violence, he expressed his continued frustration with how little legislative action has been taken on gun control.

"I have done this way too often," he said. "During the course of my presidency, it feels as if a couple times a year, I end up having to speak to the country and to speak to a particular community about a devastating loss. The grieving that the country feels is real, the sympathy, the prioritizing, the comforting of the families, all that's important. But I think part of the point that I wanted to make was that it's not enough just to feel bad. There are actions that could be taken to make events like this less likely. And one of those actions we could take would be to enhance some basic, common sense gun safety laws—that by the way, the majority of gun owners support."

In his remarks shortly after Dylann Storm, the suspected gunman who killed nine people in the Charleston church, was captured Thursday, the president said that most other advanced countries don't see the kind of mass killings that have become all too familiar in America. He reiterated this point to Maron on Friday, telling him gun violence is "unique to our country."

Listen to the incredible hour-long interview here.

Huckabee Says the Confederate Flag Shouldn’t Be a Campaign Issue—Except That Time He Made It One

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 11:15 AM EDT

On Sunday, just days after a gunman killed nine African American parishioners at a Charleston church, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee argued on Meet the Press that presidential candidates should not need to answer questions about the Confederate battle flag:

For those of us running for president, everyone's being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is it most certainly does not.

Where could anyone have gotten the impression that the flag is a presidential campaign issue?

Maybe from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who did everything short of actually firing on Fort Sumter in an effort to court white South Carolina voters during his 2008 presidential campaign:

You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do.

Evidently, Huckabee's pandering on the flag issue was deemed a successful strategy. In that same campaign, the New York Times noted, an independent group ran radio ads attacking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for criticizing the Confederate flag, and boasted that "Mike Huckabee understands the value of heritage."