Political MoJo

Ex-Congressman Michael Grimm Gets Eight Months in Prison for Tax Crimes

Before he was an FBI target, he was one of its agents.

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 12:58 PM EDT

Former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), the Staten Islander best known for threatening on-camera to "break" a reporter "in half—like a boy," has been sentenced by a federal judge to eight months in prison for tax evasion.

The sentencing, by US District Judge Pamela Chen, comes seven months after Grimm pleaded guilty to his role in filing a false tax return. Grimm had been indicted in April 2014 on 20 counts related to accounting practices at Healthalicious, a Manhattan restaurant he owned before his time in Congress. The restaurant's co-owner, Bennett Orfaly, has previously been accused of having ties to a convicted Gambino family mobster.

Despite his indictment, last year, Grimm ran for reelection to his third term in Congress—and won. It was not until December 30—seven days after entering his guilty plea—that he announced his intentions to resign his seat.

Before Grimm was the target of an investigation by the FBI, he served for two decades as one of its agents. It was during this time that Grimm reportedly pulled a gun in a Queens nightclub, and, after a bouncer ejected him, stormed the nightclub with another FBI agent and members of the NYPD. "I'm a fucking F.B.I. agent," Grimm reportedly said. "Ain't nobody gonna threaten me."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

White, Anti-Immigrant Congressman Steve King Says He's Just as Latino as Julian Castro

Ummm...

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 11:10 AM EDT

This retort, from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Washington's most notorious immigration hawk, is just weird.

I uh...didn't know that. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro is Mexican-American, the son of a noted Chicano political activist from San Antonio. A local newspaper profile in 2002 describes King's ancestry as Irish, German, and Welsh. Steve King is not Hispanic or Latino by any conventional definition.

We've reached out to King's office for clarification and will update if we get a response.

BREAKING: James Holmes Found Guilty in Aurora Massacre Trial

Jury finds he wasn't insane when he killed 12 in a Colorado movie theater.

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 6:32 PM EDT

Three years after he killed 12 people and injured 70 more in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a jury has found James Holmes guilty of first degree murder.

The jury concluded that Holmes was not legally insane at the time he committed the crimes, despite evidence of mental illness. Holmes' mental state will come into play again in the penalty phase of the trial, in which jurors will hear testimony and decide whether he is eligible for execution.

Which raises the question: How crazy is too crazy to be executed? Here's how capital defense lawyer and occasional Mother Jones contributor Marc Bookman put it in a remarkable essay with precisely that title:

There is no simple answer to this question. State courts across the country have struggled to define "intellectual disability" (also known as mental retardation) since 2002, when the Supreme Court ruled that retarded people are exempt from capital punishment. The high court has also banned the execution of anyone who was under 18 at the time of his crime, but no court has ruled that severe mental illness makes a person ineligible for the death penalty.

The Supreme Court's latest foray into the issue involved the case of Scott Louis Panetti, another Texas death row inmate. Panetti, a diagnosed schizophrenic who killed his in-laws, defended himself in court wearing a purple cowboy suit. As if that weren't enough, he asked to subpoena Jesus, John F. Kennedy, and the pope. While the justices didn't offer any clear standard on how crazy is too crazy, they suggested that severe mental illness might render someone's "perception of reality so distorted" that he cannot be constitutionally executed.

As it stands, a person cannot be put to death if he or she is deemed "insane," but that's a narrow legal distinction. Whether at trial or on the eve of execution, an insanity defense hinges on a defendant's inability to connect his crime with the consequences. Absent that connection, neither deterrence nor retribution is served by execution. As the legal scholar Sir William Blackstone put it more than 200 years ago, madness is its own punishment.

Almost every state now utilizes some version of what is known as the M'Naghten Rule. Daniel M'Naghten, an Englishman, was put on trial in 1843 for fatally shooting a civil servant he apparently mistook for the prime minister. He had delusions of persecution, and a number of doctors testified that he was unable to hold himself back. When the prosecution produced no witness to say otherwise, M'Naghten was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent most of the rest of his life at the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum in London's Bethlem Royal Hospital, which locals pronounced "Bedlam."

Thus was coined a word we associate with chaos—and it was chaos that ensued when M'Naghten was acquitted and the public took the verdict poorly. What emerged amid the outcry was the generally applied law that an insanity defense would only be available to someone who cannot understand the "nature and quality" of his act.

In a more recent piece focusing on the Panetti case, staff reporter Stephanie Mencimer digs deeper into the high court's thinking, and demonstrates in a followup analysis why it is so difficult, once a case gets to this stage, to reverse momentum toward a verdict of death.

Chattanooga Attacks Kill 5 People Including Gunman

Shootings occurred at two Tennessee military sites.

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 3:32 PM EDT
An Armed Forces Recruitment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was attacked on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, a gunman shot and killed four Marines after opening fire at two separate military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The attacker, identified as 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez by both NBC and CBS, was also killed. Authorities are currently investigating the shootings as a possible act of domestic terrorism. 

 

The gunman reportedly first opened fire Thursday morning at a military recruitment facility. The attacker then traveled to a Navy reserve center roughly six miles away and opened fire again. A police officer was also injured.

This is a breaking news post.

President Obama Gets Greeted by Confederate Flags in Oklahoma City

"Confederate Lives Matter," according to the demonstrators.

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 11:48 AM EDT

On Wednesday night, demonstrators on the streets of Oklahoma City waved Confederate flags as President Obama's motorcade arrived, a stark scene captured by a New York Times photographer.

The incident comes in the midst of a renewed national push to remove the battle flag from government sites after the massacre inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month. Similar counter rallies embracing the slogan "Confederate Lives Matter" were scheduled in Oklahoma City ahead of the president's visit.

Following the attack in Charleston, Obama delivered an impassioned eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator and one of the nine people murdered, in which the president called the flag's enduring presence in the South a "reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation."

While South Carolina finally lowered the flag on state capitol grounds last week after more than 50 years, this latest scene encountered by the country's first black president is a reminder that the path to a more perfect union is still very much a work in progress.

Another Fatal Police Shooting Caught on Video—and More Questions About a Dispatcher's Role

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

On Tuesday, a federal court ordered the release of video showing a June 2013 police shooting in Gardena, California (a city in southern Los Angeles County) in which an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, was killed and another unarmed man wounded. Previously, an internal review by the Gardena Police Department had concluded that the shooting was justified, and prosecutors in Gardena decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved. In May, the City of Gardena agreed to pay $4.7 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the family of Diaz-Zeferino. But the newly released police dash cam footage, first posted by the Los Angeles Times, has raised questions about the events leading up to the fatal encounter—including the potential mishandling of a 911 call, an issue that has come up with other officer-involved killings.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there may have been a miscommunication by the police dispatcher:

The shooting occurred about 2:30 a.m. on June 2, 2013, after a bicycle was stolen from outside a CVS Pharmacy on Western Avenue. A police dispatcher mistakenly told officers that the crime was a robbery, which usually involves a theft using weapons or force, and officers headed to the area in search of two suspects.

Gardena police Sgt. Christopher Cuff saw two men riding bicycles east on Redondo Beach Boulevard. The men were friends of the bike theft victim and were searching for the missing bicycle. Mistaking them for the thieves, Cuff ordered the men to stop and put their hands up, according to a district attorney's memo written by a prosecutor who reviewed the police videos.

The Gardena killing is the latest in a string of high-profile police shootings captured on video, which have brought scrutiny on police tactics and procedures. With the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland, evidence emerged that the dispatcher who relayed the 911 call did not include potentially key details about the suspect, as Mother Jones previously reported. And according to a recent Washington Post data investigation of police shootings of mentally ill suspects, "officers are routinely dispatched with information that is incomplete or wrong."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Reddit's Former CEO Is Fed Up With the Site's Vindictive Trolls, But Not Its Anonymous Gun Dealers

Reining in the hate speech, but not the assault weapons.

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Custom AR-15s were produced for Redditors with the company's permission.

As turmoil continues at Reddit, former CEO Yishan Wong has been defending ousted leader Ellen Pao, in part with a schadenfreude-tinged post on Tuesday in which he informed the trolls populating the site's controversial hate-speech forums that their days are likely numbered. But when I questioned Wong on Tuesday night on Twitter about another controversial corner of Reddit—a de facto national market for assault weapons called r/GunsForSale that we exposed in a Mother Jones investigation last year—he was of a different mindset. As Wong had put it earlier on Tuesday, the new CEO now had "the moral authority to move ahead with the purge" of Reddit's darkest reaches. I wondered whether that might now also apply to a forum where anonymous gun dealers revel in the prospect of profiting from the mass murder of first graders and boast about selling firearms with zero regulatory scrutiny.

Reddit wasn't just allowing this gun market to thrive on its platform when we broke the story, it had also put its stamp on it—literally. The company had licensed its official alien logo for use on a bunch of custom AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, produced for and purchased by the site's users. Turns out Wong, who was CEO at the time, was himself a fan. In his response to me on Tuesday night he wrote in a series of tweets:

Ironically the sensationalist, leading questions you sent us when "researching" this muckraking piece sparked my interest in guns, which later led me to buy an AR-15. Wish I could get one of those reddit-stamped lower receivers though. Seriously, the hi-res pictures you included made those rifles look amazing. It was almost an advertisement for them.

A fresh look at r/GunsForSale this week revealed plenty of Bushmaster AR-15s and Glocks with high-capacity magazines—the weapons of choice for mass shooters in Charleston, Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, and so many other places—continue to be available from unidentifiable sellers eager to do deals in person. As in: Meet me in the parking lot, show me the money, no questions asked.

"I'd prefer to sell this face to face. I am in North Florida." From a July 14 gun listing on Reddit

There is now hot debate about a regulatory process that let the Charleston killer purchase his Glock after three days from a gun store, despite his disqualifying criminal record. But forget about how licensed retailers should operate: With sites like r/GunsForSale brimming with product, including in South Carolina, that whole conversation may really just be moot.

Rah Rah Rah! California Just Passed a Law Protecting Cheerleaders

A new reason to cheer for the NFL's sidelined female employees.

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 6:33 PM EDT
The Raiderettes and other pro cheerleaders now will make minimum wage in California.

Here's a reason to cheer: Today, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that guarantees better pay and working conditions for professional cheerleaders. Introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the new law was inspired by a series of recent lawsuits in which NFL cheerleaders, including the Oakland Raiderettes, alleged that they received less than minimum wage, had to make unpaid appearances, and were fined for things like bringing the wrong pom-poms to practice. (For more on these degrading working conditions, check out our coverage of NFL cheerleaders and NHL ice girls—which Gonzalez says was "essential" for gaining support for her bill.)

Under the new law, professional sports teams will be required to pay cheerleaders minimum wage as well as provide paid overtime and workers' comp. It protects professional mascots as well, though most mascots, most of whom are male, are already granted basic employee rights. (According to Gonzalez, the average mascot makes about $30,000 per year.)

A former college cheerleader, Gonzalez describes the law as a "no-brainer" that addresses basic gaps in equality and pay. "We would never tolerate shortchanging of women workers at any other workplace," she said in a statement. "An NFL game should be no different​." Gonzalez hopes the law will inspire national change; earlier this year, New York lawmakers introduced a similar bill. 

GOP Candidates Pile On to Praise Planned Parenthood Sting

Here's what Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and others had to say about the undercover viral video.

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 6:17 PM EDT

Yesterday, an eight-minute undercover video alleged that Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider of contraceptive and abortion services, profits off the sale of "baby parts," catching the attention of abortion foes everywhere.

Speaker John Boehner called for President Obama to "denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices."

Now conservative presidential hopefuls are weighing in. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has announced the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals will investigate the claims made in the video, in part because Planned Parenthood plans to open a $4 million clinic in New Orleans. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the video "A disturbing reminder of the organization's penchant for profiting off the tragedy of a destroyed human life."

House Speaker John Boehner called for Health and Human Services Secretary Slyvia Burwell and President Obama to "denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices." In a short written statement, he said: "Nothing is more precious than life, especially an unborn child. When anyone diminishes an unborn child, we are all hurt, irreversibly so. When an organization monetizes an unborn child—and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific  video—we must all act."

There's just one problem: It's not clear whether key revelations in the video, which has cleared 1 million views on its YouTube page, are accurate. In it, Planned Parenthood Senior Director of Medical Services Deborah Nucatola is shown having a meal in a restaurant and discussing the tissue donations with what the nonprofit claims are "actors posing as buyers from a human biologics company." She says the clinics "absolutely" want to accommodate patients who want to make donations. "They just want to do it in a way that is not perceived as, 'This clinic is selling tissue, this clinic is making money off this,'" she says in the video.

But Media Matters, a a nonprofit "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in U.S. media," found that key elements of Nucatola's conversation were cut out.

Key parts of the Planned Parenthood director's conversation were cut out from the video.

Nucatola discusses pricing for tissue in the video, giving the impression that there is a profit involved. "You know, I would throw a number out, I would say it’s probably anywhere from $30 to $100, depending on the facility and what’s involved," says Nucatola. "It just has to do with space issues, are you sending someone there that’s going to be doing everything . . . is there shipping involved? Is someone going to be there to pick it up?" 

Media Matters notes that the unedited footage shows a nearly eight-minute conversation regarding the basic reimbursement costs for the legal donation process in which Nucatola also says, "Nobody should be selling tissue here. That's not the goal." This statement does not appear in the viral video. In the unedited version of the video, Nucatola repeatedly refers to the process as "tissue donation," not "tissue sale." In its statement on the video, Planned Parenthood notes that only the actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue, are reimbursed, which is the standard in the medical field. 

The group behind the video is the Center for Medical Progress, a nonprofit associated with the Life Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-abortion group that "supported" the undercover project and regularly aggregates abortion horror stories and anti-abortion legislative victories.

In its statement, Planned Parenthood said that the "well-funded group" operates solely to damage Planned Parenthood, and that the video "falsely portrays Planned Parenthood's participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research." This is not the first such "sting video" the abortion provider has confronted—Live Action, a conservative anti-abortion group, has been making similar videos since 2007.

The Center for Medical Progress describes itself as an organization composed of citizen journalists "dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances." A blog post dated July 6, 2015 is the first sign of its existence and introduces the organization and conveyed its mission to create "a world in which medical practice and biotechnology ally with and serve the goods of human nature and do not destroy, disfigure, or work against them."

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, explained in its statement that fetal tissue has been an essential part of significant medical studies because of its rapid cell division and its adaptive nature. A version of the rubella vaccine came from fetal tissue, and the 1954 Nobel Prize for Medicine went to scientists who used the tissue to develop a polio vaccine using cultures from fetal kidney cells.

"In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases," it said. "Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue...just like every other high-quality health care provider does—with full, appropriate consent and under the highest ethical and legal standards."

Obama Hits Back at Critics of Iran Nuclear Deal

The president has vowed to veto any legislation blocking the deal's implementation.

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 3:07 PM EDT

A day after Iran and six world powers announced a historic deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear capabilities, President Obama took questions from reporters to defend it from congressional critics who say the plan fails to eliminate the threat of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"This nuclear deal meets the national security interest of the United States and our allies," Obama said at a press conference on Wednesday. "It prevents the most serious threat, Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would only make the other problems that Iran may cause even worse. That's why this deal makes our country and the world safer and more secure."

Tuesday's announcement from Vienna follows years of diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Iran and capped off an 18 day marathon conference led by Secretary of State John Kerry to finalize the plan's details.

The deal, which is now subject to congressional scrutiny, was met with strong condemnation from conservatives both in the United States and Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal a mistake and warned lifting economic sanctions in Iran would only "fuel their terror and military machine."

On Wednesday, Obama specifically hit back at such criticism, suggesting rejections from members of Congress were primarily focused on playing politics rather than on the national interest.

Acknowledging that "legitimate concerns" surrounding Iran remain, Obama said, "For all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu and some of the Republican leadership that has already spoken, none of them have presented to me or the American people a better alternative."

"We don't have diplomatic leverage to eliminate vestige of a peaceful nuclear program in Iran, but we do have the leverage to ensure they don't have a weapon. That's exactly what we've done."

In a statement shortly after the deal's announcement, Obama vowed to veto any legislation blocking the plan's implementation.