Political MoJo

These Tweets About Attacks on Abortion Providers Should Make Your Blood Boil

| Mon Nov. 30, 2015 3:21 PM EST
Attendees at a University of Colorado vigil for those killed in Friday's shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic

Last Friday, three people were killed and at least nine were injured when Robert Lewis Dear allegedly shot them at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility. This assault was the latest in a recent surge of violence against women's health clinics following the release of doctored videos this summer by anti-abortion activists who claim the videos show Planned Parenthood staffers selling fetal tissue.

But even before this summer, US abortion providers have weathered a long and deadly string of violent attacks. On Sunday, Michelle Kinsey Bruns, a feminist organizer and the woman behind Twitter account @ClinicEscort, tweeted a roundup of 100 attacks on women's health providers, beginning with the 1976 arson attempt at an abortion clinic in Eugene, Oregon, and ending with the response from some anti-abortion activists to Friday's shooting in Colorado.

Here's her list:

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Vandalized Mosques, Threats of Violence—Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes on the Rise

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 6:00 AM EST

One day after the deadly terror attacks in Paris, a woman in Michigan went on Twitter and threatened to "send a message to ISIS." How? By violently targeting Dearborn, Michigan, a Detroit suburb where more than 40 percent of the population is of Arab ancestry. In response, the head of the FBI's Detroit office announced an investigation into a string of recent threats in the city. (Sarah Beebee, the woman who sent the tweet, publicly apologized.)

Since the Paris attacks, there have been similar incidents across the United States, from vandalized mosques to threats of violence, rattling Muslim Americans.

Based on the latest FBI hate crime figures, these incidents are on the rise. The most recent FBI data, released last Monday, indicates that hate crimes based on race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation have dropped across the board—with the exception of crimes against Muslim Americans. In 2014, even as the total number of hate crimes dipped nearly 8 percent from the year before, anti-Muslim hate crimes rose 14 percent. 

While anti-Muslim incidents have risen, they trail behind incidents targeting Jewish Americans. Last year, 609 hate crime incidents were reported against Jews, the highest number of crimes based on religious beliefs—and four times the number of anti-Muslim crimes. As Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post points out, these figures are likely undercounted, since police departments' participation in the FBI's crime assessment is voluntary and some departments track figures better than others.

Some bright spots can be found in the FBI data: Crimes against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity dropped from 1,264 in 2013 to 1,115 in 2014. And recorded incidents against Hispanic and black Americans dipped nearly 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively. 

The uptick in crimes against Muslim Americans, though, signals a troubling trend that lingers more than 15 years after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described the climate in the aftermath of the Paris attacks as "increasingly bleak." "There's been an accumulation of anti-Islamic rhetoric in our lives and that, I think, has triggered these overt acts of violence and vandalism," he recently told the Chicago Tribune

Between 1996 and 2000, according to the Washington Post, the FBI recorded between 20 and 30 hate crime incidents against Muslim Americans. In 2001 alone, the figure skyrocketed to nearly 500. Even before the terrorist attacks in Paris, the number of anti-Muslim hate crime incidents remained roughly five times as high as it was before 9/11. 

Police Just Released Dashcam Footage of the Laquan McDonald Shooting

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 7:18 PM EST

On Tuesday, Chicago officials released the dashcam footage from the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The video’s release came hours after state prosecutors charged Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder in McDonald’s shooting last October, reportedly becoming the first cop in the city to face such charges in nearly 35 years.

The video, posted below, is disturbing. (WARNING: Seriously, watch at your own discretion.)

In April, the city of Chicago paid McDonald’s family $5 million, before any lawsuit was formally filed.

The footage and a bond hearing early Tuesday revealed details that differed from the initial police narrative of events. Police previously said they had found McDonald in the street slashing a car’s tires, and that when ordered to drop his knife, he walked away. After a second police car arrived and police tried to block McDonald’s path, police said, McDonald punctured a police car’s tires. When officers got out of the car, police officials alleged McDonald lunged at them with the knife and Van Dyke, who feared for his life, shot him.

Instead, the footage shows McDonald, who was carrying a knife, ambling away from police as Van Dyke and his partner get out of their car. Van Dyke then unloads a barrage of bullets on the teen about six seconds after then. The Chicago Tribune reported that according to prosecutors, Van Dyke fired 16 rounds at McDonald in 14 or 15 seconds and was told to hold his fire when he began to reload his weapon. For about 13 of those seconds, McDonald is on the ground.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez described the video as "deeply disturbing" and told reporters that Van Dyke’s actions "were not justified and were not a proper use of deadly force."

A judge had ordered the video’s release by Wednesday, but Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced that the city would release the video a day early. "The officer in this case took a young man's life and he's going to have to account for his actions," McCarthy told reporters. Van Dyke could face between 20 years and life in prison if convicted.

"With these charges, we are bringing a full measure of justice that this demands," Alvarez said.  

Van Dyke's attorney Daniel Herbert questioned whether the case amounted to a murder case and believed the shooting was justified. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked for calm after the video’s release. "Jason Van Dyke will be judged in the court of law," Emanuel told reporters. "That's exactly how it should be." In a statement through attorneys, McDonald’s family reiterated a call for peace and said they would have preferred for the video not to be released.

"No one understands the anger more than us, but if you choose to speak out, we urge you to be peaceful," the family said. "Don’t resort to violence in Laquan’s name. Let his legacy be better than that."

On His Way Out, Kentucky Governor Restores Voting Rights for 140,000 People

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 12:15 PM EST

Outgoing Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order on Tuesday immediately restoring voting rights to more than 100,000 ex-felons convicted of nonviolent offenses. Until now, Kentucky was one of three states, along with Iowa and Florida, that did not give ex-felons their voting rights back after they completed their sentences. "This disenfranchisement makes no sense," Beshear, a Democrat, said in his announcement. "It makes no sense because it dilutes the energy of democracy, which functions only if all classes and categories of people have a voice, not just a privileged, powerful few. It makes no sense because it defeats a primary goal of our corrections system, which is to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes."

The restoration does not apply to sex crimes, other violent crimes, or treason. Going forward, felons exiting the criminal justice system will be presented with a certificate indicating the restoration of their right to vote and to run for public office. Those who are already eligible must submit a form to get their rights back. The Brennan Center for Justice in New York estimates that 140,000 Kentuckians are now eligible for rights restoration, along with another 30,000 who will become eligible in the future.

A spokesman for Republican Governor-elect Matt Bevin told Insider Louisville that "restoration of voting rights for certain offenders is the right thing to do," but he did not weigh in on the specifics of Beshear's order. Beshear's move is particularly significant because such restrictions on the franchise have disproportionately affected African Americans—often by design. Racial disparities in the criminal justice system are generally reflected in felon disenfranchisement rates, and Kentucky is no exception. According to 2010 census data compiled by the Sentencing Project, 5.5 percent of the state's voting age population were disenfranchised due to a past conviction. But for African Americans, the number is 16.7 percent.

Beshear's order comes after years of failed attempts by Kentucky lawmakers to address the issue. Because permanent disenfranchisement is in the state's constitution, a change would require approval by 60 percent of lawmakers and by voters via a ballot referendum. In 2014, the effort stalled. The GOP-controlled state Senate wanted a five-year waiting period before ex-felons could apply for their rights, and the Democratic-controlled state House would not agree to it. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, now a Republican presidential candidate, opposes disenfranchisement for ex-offenders and tried to revive the issue earlier this year.

Beshear said he waited until now to take executive action in order to give the legislative process a chance, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Bevin will be sworn in December 8.

Kentucky joins several states that have eased restrictions on felon voting since the mid-1990s. One of the exceptions to this trend is Florida, a perennial swing state where Democratic-leaning black voters are disenfranchised at an even higher rate than in Kentucky. In Florida, many ex-offenders must personally petition the governor and his cabinet for rights restoration. Under the current governor, Republican Rick Scott, Florida has made it very difficult for ex-felons to have their rights restored.

Republican Super-PAC Attacks Trump Because He's Creepy About His Daughter

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 11:28 AM EST

New Day for America, a super-PAC supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the back-of-the pack GOP presidential contenders, has a bold new plan to take down front-runner Donald Trump: tell Iowa voters how creepy he is. The group posted a web ad on Tuesday that mocks Trump for, among other things, saying of his daughter, while sitting next to her on national television, "If Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her."

Of all the Republican wannabes, Kasich took the lead in the last debate in assailing Trump, noting that Trump's plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants was nutso. But Kasich's verbal punches did not land, and, so far, it's tough to see him as the guy to dethrone Trump—and there's not much evidence to date that a YouTube clip like this will persuade Trump fans that he's too weird to be president.

5 People Shot at Black Lives Matter Protest in Minneapolis

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 10:21 AM EST

Update, November 25, 7:50 a.m. EST: A third man is now in custody. The Star Tribune reports the three suspects are Allen Lawrence "Lance" Scarsella III, Nathan Gustavsson, and Daniel Macey. Police say the Hispanic man arrested earlier in the day was released after officials determined he was not at the scene of Monday's shooting. 

Update, November 24, 2:28 p.m. EST: Police have arrested two suspects in connection to Monday night's shooting in Minneapolis. The Guardian reports the two suspects are a 23-year-old white man and a 32-year-old Hispanic man.


The police are searching for three gunmen who reportedly shot five people during the continued Black Lives Matter demonstration in Minneapolis on Monday, where demonstrators are protesting the November 15 killing of an unarmed black man by the police.

Officials say the victims suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

A witness told NBC News that the gunmen arrived at the scene "yelling and being aggressive and it was obvious they were here to antagonize and confront people." At least one of the suspected gunmen was seen wearing a mask.

Black Lives Matter protester Miski Noor told the Star Tribune that the group was attempting to escort the men away from the demonstration, when gunfire broke out. On Facebook, the activist group described the gunmen as "white supremacists."

"I don't want to perpetuate rumor," Rep. Keith Ellison, whose son has been participating in the protests, said in response to Monday's shooting. "I'd rather just try to get the facts out. That's a better way to go. I know there's a lot of speculation as to who these people were. And they well could have been, I'm not trying to say they weren’t white supremacists. But I just haven't been able to piece together enough information to say with any real clarity."

Monday marked the eighth night of ongoing protests for Jamar Clark, the 24-year-old black man who was fatally shot by the police earlier this month. On Sunday, the Department of Justice announced it was opening a federal investigation looking into Clark's death.

In the wake of Monday's violence, Clark's family has called for an end to the protests.

"Thank you to the community for the incredible support you have shown for our family in this difficult time," Clark's' brother Eddie Sutton said in a statement released on Tuesday morning. "We appreciate Black Lives Matter for holding it down and keeping the protests peaceful. But in light of tonight’s shootings, the family feels out of imminent concern for the safety of the occupiers, we must get the occupation of the 4th precinct ended and onto the next step."

Both a school walkout and march are still planned to take place as scheduled today.

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Turkey Just Shot Down a Russian Warplane Near the Syrian Border

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 8:54 AM EST

Update, November 24, 3:00 p.m. EST: Speaking at a press conference from the White House on Tuesday, President Obama responded to the situation by saying Turkey had the right to defend its airspace. But he pressed the two countries to abstain from escalating tensions. While expressing solidarity with Turkey at an emergency meeting, NATO also echoed the president's call to calm.


A Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian warplane on Tuesday, after Turkey says the Russian aircraft ignored several warnings that it was violating the country's airspace. The Kremlin denies that its warplane crossed into Turkish airspace.

The two pilots inside were seen ejecting themselves from the SU-24 plane. Their whereabouts were still being officially determined. A Syrian rebel group claims to have found one of the pilots badly wounded. The group told Reuters the pilot was dead.

In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the incident was a "stab in the back" that would render "very serious consequences" for relations between the two countries. He also accused Turkey of being "accomplices of terrorists."

"Neither our pilots nor our jet threatened the territory of Turkey," Putin said before a scheduled meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan. "This is obvious. They are fighting terrorists in the northern areas around Latakia, where militants are located, mainly people who originated in Russia, and they were pursuing their direct duty, to make sure these people do not return to Russia."

"These are people who are clearly international terrorists."

A NATO official told CNN that the group has called an emergency meeting for later today to discuss the downing of the Russian aircraft.

More Than 100,000 People Have Signed a Petition to Oust the DEA Chief

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EST

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for the ouster of Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Roseberg after he flatly rejected the idea that smoking marijuana could have medical benefits. "What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal—because it's not," Rosenberg said during a press briefing earlier this month. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine—that is a joke."

In response, a Change.org petition with more than 106,000 signatures is calling upon President Barack Obama to "fire Chuck Rosenberg and appoint a new DEA administrator who will respect science, medicine, patients, and voters."

Rosenberg is clearly wrong, yet it's not entirely inaccurate to call medical marijuana a joke—in California at least.

Roseberg need not look far to find reputable studies documenting the medical value of marijuana, even in its whole-plant, smoked form. As Vox's German Lopez points out, a comprehensive review in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that pot can effectively treat chronic pain and muscle spasticity.

Still, it's not entirely inaccurate to call medical marijuana a joke—at least in California, the state with the nation's most lax medical marijuana law. When I visited a "marijuana doctor" in San Francisco a few years ago, it took me less than 15 minutes to get a pot card for—wait for it—"writer's cramp." Meanwhile, my wife waited for days before being denied a pot recommendation from our HMO, Kaiser Permanente, despite suffering from a flare-up of actual arthritis. While she sat at home popping Advils, I headed to the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo, where my card got me into a "patient consumption area" staffed by busty women in tight-fitting nurse outfits and a dispensary worker with a nametag that read, "Dr. Herb Smoker, MD."

But that sort of irony wasn't what Rosenberg was talking about. He seems to believe that because marijuana is popular as a recreational drug, it can't  also be real medicine. Clearly, Dr. Herb Smoker isn't the only medical professional who disagrees.

This Judge Just Condemned Wisconsin's Abortion Law as Unconstitutional. Read the Withering Ruling.

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 9:38 PM EST

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that a Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to gain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is unconstitutional.

The law that was struck down is known as a TRAP law—short for "targeted regulation of abortion providers." According to the Guttmacher Institute, Wisconsin is one of 11 states that have required similar admitting privileges. (Courts have blocked these requirements in six of those states.) The law is particularly effective in conservative regions where hospitals are less likely to grant those privileges to abortion providers. The law's supporters say the law ensures continuity of care if complications arise from the procedure. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that less than one half of 1 percent of all abortions involve major complications.

The 2-to-1 decision comes at a time when the constitutionality of TRAP laws are in question nationally. Just over a week ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Texas' "HB 2," which decreased the state's number of abortion clinics from 41 to 18 by implementing a host of TRAP laws. The ruling, due next year, will be the most notable reproductive rights ruling since Roe v. Wade.

Judge Richard Posner, writing for the 7th Circuit majority, stated that the regulation qualifies as an "undue burden" and that the medical grounds for such a requirement is "nonexistent." Posner also had some words for abortion foes: "Opponents of abortion reveal their true objectives when they procure legislation limited to a medical procedure— abortion—that rarely produces a medical emergency."

Posner—nominated by President Ronald Reagan—is known for his tart legal arguments, as we've noted previously. This case is no exception:

A great many Americans, including a number of judges, legislators, governors, and civil servants, are passionately opposed to abortion—as they are entitled to be. But persons who have a sophisticated understanding of the law and of the Supreme Court know that convincing the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey is a steep uphill fight, and so some of them proceed indirectly, seeking to discourage abortions by making it more difficult for women to obtain them. They may do this in the name of protecting the health of women who have abortions, yet as in this case the specific measures they support may do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion. This is true of the Texas requirement, upheld by the Fifth Circuit in the Whole Woman's case now before the Supreme Court, that abortion clinics meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers—a requirement that if upheld will permit only 8 of Texas's abortion clinics to remain open, out of more than 40 that existed when the law was passed.

Planned Parenthood Launches Texas Legal Offensive to Fight Funding Cuts

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 5:27 PM EST
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards gives a high five to a supporter at a rally in Texas.

Planned Parenthood announced on Monday that it's suing Texas officials for stripping the organization of Medicaid funding, saying that the decision unfairly singles out Planned Parenthood and prevents women from accessing their chosen medical provider in violation of federal law.

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, said the federal lawsuit aims to protect the 13,500 women on Medicaid who go to the organization for health care services. Ten patients also joined the lawsuit, all of whom are currently covered by Medicaid and would have to go elsewhere for health care unless the lawsuit is successful.

In October, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blocked Medicaid funding for the organization, citing safety concerns brought to his attention following the release of the now-infamous (and widely discredited) videos showing some of Planned Parenthood's staff discussing fetal tissue donation. Three days later, state officials also subpoenaed Planned Parenthood for the medical records of patients who donated fetal tissue in the past five years, in an attempt to find criminal activity. A Planned Parenthood representative called the move "unprecedented" and denied any wrongdoing on the part of the organization.

Texas is one of a handful of states that have taken aim at Planned Parenthood over its fetal tissue donation, a practice that is legal in the United States. Arkansas, Utah, and Alabama have also tried to cut Medicaid funding to the group, despite a warning from the Obama administration that doing so could violate federal law. In October, a federal judge blocked Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's attempt to defund Planned Parenthood in the state, saying the move would cause "irreparable harm" to the 5,200 women who depend on the organization for health care.

Many states have also launched investigations in the organization, though none so far have found any wrongdoing.

"Texas is a cautionary tale for the whole nation," Richards told reporters this morning. "Officials who oppose women's health may think they can bully us out of providing care for our patients, but we will not back down, and we will not shut our doors."