Political MoJo

Obama Just Came Out Hard Against the Washington Football Team’s Racist Name

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 7:06 PM EDT

In an irony that will surely be lost on team owner Dan Snyder, the Washington Redskins are being kicked off their land.

From the Washington Post:

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser this spring that the National Park Service, which owns the land beneath Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, was unlikely to accommodate construction of a new stadium for the Redskins unless the team changes its name.

Jewell oversees both national park land and America's trust and treaty relationships with Native American tribes.

Her decision not to extend the District's lease of the RFK land badly hinders Bowser's bid to return the Redskins to D.C.—and boosts efforts to lure the team across the Potomac to Northern Virginia.

Jewell, who has been an outspoken critic of the team's controversial name, added that adjusting the federal lease on the property, which doesn't expire for another 22 years, is "not likely to be a priority for the administration." The team's owner Dan Snyder, who has vowed to never change the team's name, has long been interested in building a new stadium in the DC area.

There's actually a great precedent for this. As we explained in 2013,

The showdown began in 1961, when John F. Kennedy's interior secretary, Stewart Udall, who'd committed to ending segregation anywhere in his sphere of influence, declared his intent to break pro football's last color bar...The call for integration was met with opposition, most notably from the team's owner, George Preston Marshall, a laundromat magnate turned NFL bigwig who had held firm for years. Udall had one advantage over Marshall: The team's new home field, DC Stadium (later renamed RFK Memorial), was federal property. With Kennedy's approval, Udall gave Marshall a choice: He could let black players on his team, or take his all-white squad to someone else's gridiron."

Don't worry, Washington fans: There's always Virginia (or stay in Maryland).

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The Combined Black Workforces of Google, Facebook, and Twitter Could Fit on a Single Jumbo Jet

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 2:00 PM EDT

We already knew that Google, Facebook, and Twitter employed relatively few African Americans, but new details show that the gap is truly striking. All three companies have disclosed their full EEO1 reports, detailed accounts of their employees' race and gender demographics that the law requires them to submit to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The reports show that out of a combined 41,000 Twitter, Facebook, and Google employees, only 758, or 1.8 percent, are black. To put this in perspective, all of those workers could fit onto a single Airbus A380. Have a look:

African Americans comprise 13 percent of the overall workforce, which means they are underrepresented at Google, Facebook, and Twitter by a factor of 7. Here's a visual comparison of the black employees…

 

 

versus all other employees:

Race and gender gaps in tech hiring have been hot-button issues as of late. Since last May, when Rev. Jesse Jackson showed up at Google's shareholder meeting, he has won some serious diversity concessions from major tech companies—but the pace of minority hiring remains slow. As the Guardian noted yesterday, Facebook hired 1,216 new people last year, and only 36 were black. Since last year, the percentage of black Google workers has not changed.

It should be easier to shift workplace demographics at smaller companies. Twitter, with fewer than 3,000 employees in 2014, has a huge black user base that is sometimes referred to as "Black Twitter." Jackson wants the company to do more to move the needle. "I am very disappointed," he told the Guardian. "We are becoming intolerant with these numbers. There's a big gap between their talk and their implementation."

Airplane image: Anthony Lui/Noun Project

Correction: An early version of this story misstated the number of black employees at Google and incorrectly suggested that Twitter had released its 2015 EEO1 report. Mother Jones regrets the errors.

Sorry, Obama. The Founding Fathers Loved Peas

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 11:31 AM EDT

On Wednesday, after the New York Times proposed adding peas to guacamole (what's next, mayonnaise?), President Barack Obama announced that the proper way to make guacamole is with avocado, onions, garlic, and hot pepper. It wasn't the first time the leader of the free world had disparaged peas. In 2011, when Congress stalled on raising the debt ceiling, he announced that it was time for all parties involved to "eat our peas"—swallow the tough pill, if you will.

But Obama's anti-pea polemic, published just days before the Fourth of July, puts him at odds with an important group of Americans—the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers loved peas.

Thomas Jefferson's favorite vegetable, according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, was the English pea. He cultivated 19 different kinds of peas in the Monticello vegetable garden, including 15 kinds of English peas. Among them were Marrowfat, Hotspur, Blue Prussian, and Early Frame. (Jefferson even spoke with Mother Jones about his peas in February.) Letters to his daughter, Mary, often made reference to the status of the peas. Here he is discussing peas in a letter to George Washington:

Peas weren't just sustenance for Jefferson. They were a way of life; every year he would hold a contest with his neighbor to see whose peas would sprout first. Per the Monticello website:

Though Jefferson's mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage for the contest, it seems that the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers.

As Jefferson's grandson recalled: "A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. Mr. Jefferson, on one occasion had them first, and when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, 'No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails.'"

Divers, that clever knave! There's even a children's book, First Peas to the Table, inspired by Jefferson's fruitless obsession with winning at peas.

Jefferson's friends in government got in on the action too. At his prodding, George Washington attempted to plant English peas at Mount Vernon, with  mixed results. But Washington loved peas so much that when a bunch Tories attempted to kill him, they did so by poisoning a dish of his favorite food—peas. Wise to the plot, a 13-year-old girl fed them to his chickens first as a precautionary measure. (Or at least, that's the legend. It's probably apocryphal.)

The point is, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington loved peas. If avocados had even been around when they were president, they would have made pea guacamole. And they would have loved that, too. Pea hold these shoots to be self-evident.

Wow, That's a Yooge Crowd to See Bernie Sanders

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 9:29 AM EDT

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a "political revolution" at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin, on Wednesday night, and just a few people showed up:

 

Sanders' campaign estimated the crowd at about 10,000 people, the largest rally by any candidate during the 2016 campaign. Granted, it's not even 2016 yet, but Sanders has continued to draw massive crowds everywhere he has gone (5,000 people in Denver; 300 people in an Iowa town of 240). It's not necessarily a barometer for public support—Hillary Clinton still holds a comfortable lead in national polls—but it does show that his popularity stems from something much deeper than just good name recognition.

Obama Just Gave the World the Perfect Guacamole Recipe

| Wed Jul. 1, 2015 5:09 PM EDT

The internet freaked out this afternoon after the NYT suggested we put peas in our guacamole. What is this, Soviet Russia?

Then IJR's Justin Green tweeted at President Obummer about it and he answered!

 

Obama is right. Peas in guacamole is disgusting.

Obama Announces Plan to Open Embassies in Cuba and United States

| Wed Jul. 1, 2015 11:41 AM EDT

On Wednesday, President Obama announced that the United States and Cuba have agreed to open embassies in Washington and Havana to formally reestablish diplomatic ties after more than 54 years of broken relations.

"This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas," Obama said.

"We don't have to be imprisoned by the past," he added. "When something isn't working we can and will change."

Obama said Secretary of State John Kerry will also be traveling to Havana later this summer to "proudly raise" the American flag over the new embassy.

Wednesday's announcement, which follows last month's move by the United States to remove Cuba from a list of states sponsoring terrorism, is another historic step in normalizing relations between the two countries. Shortly before the president's press conference, the Foreign Ministry of Havana also announced that diplomatic ties with Washington would be fully restored by July 20.

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Jeb Bush Made Millions But Gave Little to Charity

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 7:45 PM EDT

Jeb Bush released 33 years of tax returns on Tuesday evening. So how much did he give to charity over the years?

Not that much. Between 2003 and 2013, Bush gave 1.5 percent of his income to charity, according to the lists of charitable deductions in the tax returns. That's about half the national average of 3 percent, according to Charity Navigator.

In a letter posted on his website, Bush says he has given $739,000 to charity between 2007 and 2014, which indicates that he increased his annual rate of giving substantially last year. (His 2014 tax return will be released in the fall, according to his campaign.) "Since I left the governor's office I have tried to give back—and even though all of us strive to do more—I'm proud of what Columba and I have contributed," he wrote.

Bush's charitable donations as a percentage of his income is substantially less than the 13.8 percent given by Mitt Romney in the year before he launched his last presidential campaign. Bill and Hillary Clinton gave away about $10 million in the years leading up to the 2008 election, with much of that money going to the family's foundation. That was about 10 percent of their income. The Obamas gave 15 percent of their income to charity in 2014. (The Bidens' charitable giving was far lower: 2 percent.)

The NSA Just Got Six More Months of Unlimited Snooping in Your Phone Data

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 2:34 PM EDT

Almost as soon as Congress passed the USA Freedom Act earlier this month, which ended the National Security Agency's mass collection of phone records under the Patriot Act, the government moved to keep that program around for as long as it could. Administration lawyers went before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees government surveillance requests, and argued that because the new law gives the NSA six months to shut down the program, the NSA should be able to keep vacuuming up this metadata until then—even though the Patriot Act had briefly expired, ending the legal authorization for such bulk collection.

Today we learned the government won that argument: the National Journal obtained a ruling from the FISA court saying this bulk collection can continue for the next six months.

"Congress deliberately carved out a 180-day period following the date of enactment in which such collection was specifically authorized," wrote Judge Michael Mosman in the ruling. "For this reason, the Court approves the application."

The good news for privacy advocates is that there was, for the first time, actually an argument at the FISA court on the issue. I wrote earlier this month about how the USA Freedom Act is meant to open up the court, and one of the ways it does so is by giving federal judges who sit on the FISA court the option of bringing in what's called an "amicus panel," a group of outside experts who can advise the court on privacy concerns. That panel hasn't yet been appointed, but Mosman allowed former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to join the proceedings and argue against restarting bulk collection. Cuccinelli and FreedomWorks, the tea party-aligned conservative group, already tried to block the program earlier this month.

But judges can also decline to use an amicus panel or a stand-in. Dennis Saylor IV, another federal district judge who sits on the FISA court, chose this path in a case two weeks ago because he considered his pro-government ruling one in which "no reasonable jurist would reach a different decision."

That, civil liberties advocates say, is exactly why the amicus panel is needed. "His decision does not even acknowledge the existence of any other interpretation of the law," Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, notes in an email. "That’s simply bad judging.…Congress may need to consider whether to make amicus participation mandatory rather than leave it to the court’s discretion."

A footnote in Saylor's decision revealed another potential basis for the FISA court to reject the privacy panel: money. "There may be other circumstances, as well, where appointment of an amicus curiae is not appropriate," Saylor wrote. "For example, such an appointment would in most instances result in some degree of additional expense and delay."

Saylor didn't rule on whether time and cost are sufficient grounds not to appoint an amicus. But as Steve Vladeck of American University's Washington College of Law points out, "Judge Saylor tries hard to say he’s not saying that, but he is surely suggesting it. That makes no sense to me, since there’s no other context in which courts pay for amici." The footnote still leaves open the prospect that the FISA court could choose not to appoint outside experts simply because finding them could be a pain in the ass.

Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Landmark Bill Requiring Childhood Vaccinations

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 1:50 PM EDT

Amid heavy pushback from anti-vaccine groups, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation today officially putting an end to the personal belief exemptions that let parents opt out of vaccinating their kids for reasons of philosophy or conscience. California is now just one of just three states that does not allow nonmedical exemptions.

The bill, introduced in February by Sen. Sen. Richard Pan (a pediatrician), came in response to the Disneyland outbreak, which infected more than 100 people across the US and Mexico at the beginning of this year. Measles, a preventable but dangerous disease, has been on the rise in recent years due in large part to the increase in people claiming the exemption. Many of those infected were too young, or medically unable to get the vaccine. Public health officials expressed concerns that measles could become endemic again—putting everyone at risk—if vaccination coverage continued to fall.

The new law should close those vaccination gaps by requiring that all children enrolled in school be up to date on shots against 10 childhood diseases, unless a doctor determines they are medically unable to receive vaccines. Parents who decide against these mandatory vaccines would be forced to homeschool.

Vaccines are extremely effective at preventing illness and are championed across all health agencies, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the World Health Organization. Still, there's still a large contingent of anti-vaxxers, and the legislation was hotly contested. The LA Times reports that Sen. Pan has received death threats and his foes have even filed for his recall.

Gov. Brown acknowledged how divisive the issue has become, but stressed how important vaccination is to keeping people healthy: "The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community."

Here's his full statement:

 

Bree Newsome Explains Why She Tore Down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina

| Mon Jun. 29, 2015 6:29 PM EDT

On Monday afternoon, Bree Newsome, the woman who scaled the flagpole at the South Carolina statehouse on Saturday and took down the Confederate flag, made her first public comments since her arrest, which were published on the progressive website Blue Nation Review. She detailed her recent history of activism and described her motivation:

The night of the Charleston Massacre, I had a crisis of faith. The people who gathered for Bible study in Emmanuel AME Church that night—Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson and Rev. Clementa Pinckney (rest in peace)—were only doing what Christians are called to do when anyone knocks on the door of the church: invite them into fellowship and worship.

The day after the massacre I was asked what the next step was and I said I didn’t know. We’ve been here before and here we are again: black people slain simply for being black; an attack on the black church as a place of spiritual refuge and community organization.
I refuse to be ruled by fear. How can America be free and be ruled by fear? How can anyone be?

So, earlier this week I gathered with a small group of concerned citizens, both black and white, who represented various walks of life, spiritual beliefs, gender identities and sexual orientations. Like millions of others in America and around the world, including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and President Barack Obama, we felt (and still feel) that the confederate battle flag in South Carolina, hung in 1962 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, must come down. (Of course, we are not the first to demand the flag’s removal. Civil rights groups in South Carolina and nationwide have been calling for the flag’s removal since the moment it was raised, and I acknowledge their efforts in working to remove the flag over the years via the legislative process.)

We discussed it and decided to remove the flag immediately, both as an act of civil disobedience and as a demonstration of the power people have when we work together.

Explaining why she worked together with fellow activist James Ian Tyson, she continued:

Achieving this would require many roles, including someone who must volunteer to scale the pole and remove the flag. It was decided that this role should go to a black woman and that a white man should be the one to help her over the fence as a sign that our alliance transcended both racial and gender divides. We made this decision because for us, this is not simply about a flag, but rather it is about abolishing the spirit of hatred and oppression in all its forms.

Read Newsome's whole statement here.