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Trump White House Refuses to Give Key Flynn Documents to Congress

4 hours 49 min ago

The White House is refusing to provide congressional investigators with some of the documents they're requesting as part of an investigation into potential Trump campaign connections to Russia, and whether former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn disclosed payments from Russian companies when applying for his security clearance.

The news comes as Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) announced Tuesday that Flynn might have broken the law by failing to disclose the foreign payments on official documents filed as part of the security clearance review process. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is conducing one of two congressional investigations into links between the Trump campaign and Russia (the Senate intel committee is conducting the other).

"I see no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law," Chaffetz, the chair of the committee, told reporters Tuesday.

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the White House is refusing to provide documents related to Flynn.

"Despite all of these very troubling developments...we received a response from the White House refusing to provide any of the documents we requested," Cummings told reporters Tuesday. "So we received no internal documents relating to what Gen. Flynn reported to the White House when they vetted him to become National Security Adviser, and we received no documents relating to his termination as National Security Adviser for concealing his discussion with the Russian ambassador."

CNN reported Tuesday morning that White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short told the House committee in a letter that some of the documents originated with other agencies and therefore would have to be provided by them. He added that concerning the relevant White House documents, "we are unable to accommodate" the request.

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Mother Jones.

Ivanka Trump Gets Booed at Women's Panel in Germany While Defending Father

4 hours 49 min ago

She was there to celebrate the business successes of women, alongside some of the world's most powerful female leaders—but Ivanka Trump's comments drew open derision instead.

During a panel discussion on women's entrepreneurship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump on Tuesday provoked boos and hisses as she described her father, President Donald Trump, as a an advocate for families and working women.

"I'm very proud of my father's advocacy," she said. "He's been a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive."

The remark was immediately met with groans from the female-heavy German audience, and prompted the moderator to address the crowd's chilly reaction:

Boos and hisses from female delegates as Ivanka mentions her father pic.twitter.com/EwmYZqTJmt

— jenny hill (@jennyhillBBC) April 25, 2017

"You hear the reaction from the audience," Miriam Meckel, editor-in-chief of WirtschaftsWoche, a German business magazine, said. "I need to address one more point: some attitudes towards women your father has publicly displayed in former times might leave one questioning whether he's such an empowerer for women."

"I've certainly heard the criticism from the media that's been perpetuated," Trump responded, prompting laughter from the crowd. "But I know from personal experience. The thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades when he was in the private sector are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women and their ability to do the job as well as any man."

Ivanka Trump gets a frosty reception at women's panel in Berlin -- @joejohnscnn has the details https://t.co/ApQcSe80nu

— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) April 25, 2017

Trump was in Berlin as a US representative to the third annual W20 Summit, which focuses on promoting women's economic empowerment and advancing women in leadership roles. As the panel took off, President Trump took to Twitter to praise his daughter:

Proud of @IvankaTrump for her leadership on these important issues. Looking forward to hearing her speak at the W20! https://t.co/e6Uajrm8zp

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2017

Two More Men Were Executed in Arkansas Last Night

4 hours 59 min ago

Last night Arkansas became to first state to conduct a double execution in the United States in 17 years, but not without questions about whether or not the first inmate suffered before he died. A spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the procedures "flawless."

The state of Arkansas planned to execute eight men in 11 days because its supply of the controversial sedative, midazolam, which has been behind several botched executions in recent years, is set to expire at the end of the month.

Jack Jones, who was convicted of the rape and murder of Mary Phillips in 1995, was administered the lethal drug cocktail and was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m. The second execution, which was scheduled to take place two hours later, was temporarily put on hold by District Judge Kristine Baker after Williams' lawyers claimed that after the midazolam was administered, Jones was moving his lips and gulping for air, evidence that he was not completely sedated. A media witness to the execution also said that Jones' lips were moving for one to two minutes.

Andrew tells us that curtain in the death chamber opened at 7:04. Injection took place 7:06. Jones' lips moved for 1-2 mins.

— julieturkewitz (@julieturkewitz) April 25, 2017

However, the state denied claims that Jones suffered, calling them "utterly baseless." The stay on the second execution was lifted, and Marcel Williams, who was convicted of the kidnap, rape, and murder of Stacy Errickson in 1994, was dead approximately three hours later.

Arkansas original plan suffered from a series of legal setbacks in the last two weeks. The execution of Stacey Johnson was stayed after the state's Supreme Court ruled that he should be given a chance to prove his innocence using DNA testing, but the state put Ledell Lee to death late Thursday night. While both Jones and Williams appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for reprieves, the high court refused to halt Monday night's back-to-back executions. Justice Sonya Sotomayor was the only member of the court to dissent.

Death penalty advocates asked for clemency, charging that both of the inmates who were ultimately put to death received insufficient counsel during trial and suffered severe abuse during their childhoods. Jones suffered from bipolar disorder and depression and had vivid hallucinations of being attacked by bugs as a child. He also attempted suicide twice. Jones was also physically abused by his father and sexually assaulted by three strangers. However, Jones' lawyers failed to provide jurors with any of this mitigating evidence. They also used an expert who surrendered his medical license for a year to enter substance abuse treatment. He told the jury that since he was bipolar himself, he knew that Jones wasn't bipolar. In a lengthy final statement, Jones apologized to the daughter of the woman he killed. "I'm sorry," he said. "I am not a monster. There was a reason why those things happened that day."

Williams' story is similar. Starting at age nine, his mother began letting adult woman sexually abuse her child in exchange for food and shelter. He also suffered from severe physical abuse at the hands of his mother and grew up in crushing poverty; his home was filled with roaches and rats and the utilities were often turned off. Williams' lawyers failed to provide this information to jurors during trial and a federal judge found the evidence compelling enough to reverse his death sentence. However, an appellate court reinstated his death sentence saying that because of a procedural error, Williams should never have received a hearing.

After both men were dead, Gov. Hutchinson released a statement after the executions saying, "Justice has prevailed."

Now three men have been executed in Arkansas, three have received stays, and one inmate received a stay after the parole board recommended clemency. Arkansas still has one man awaiting execution before the deadline of the drug expiration. Kenneth Williams, an intellectually disabled man who killed Cecil Boren in 1999 after escaping from prison where he was serving a life sentence for the murder of Dominique Hurd in 1998, is scheduled to die on April 27.

Trump Caves On Border Wall

6 hours 17 min ago

White House aides "signaled" yesterday that instead of money for a wall, they might accept money for tighter border security in the upcoming budget bill:

With a Friday deadline looming to pass a new spending bill, the Trump administration projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided. In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

But apparently that wasn't good enough for Trump. He just went ahead and surrendered completely:

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.

Quite a negotiator, our president.

Phil Klay's Resistance Reading

11 hours 20 min ago
Courtesy of Phil Klay

We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from author Phil Klay, who served in Iraq prior to landing on the New York Times bestseller list for his riveting fictional stories of war and the experience of coming home.

Latest book: Redeployment
Reading recommendations: I've been reading A. Scott Berg's anthology World War I and America, a fascinating collection of essays, articles, diary entries, and speeches from 1914 to 1921. Among the riches there are several articles by W.E.B. Du Bois and James Wheldon Johnson, showing first-rate minds grappling with which political course to advocate in a world gripped by a massive war abroad while black Americans routinely faced horrific acts of domestic terrorism. 

I've also been thinking increasingly about Teddy Roosevelt's 1883 speech "The Duties of American Citizenship." Though some of his positions are dated—"the ideal citizen must be the father of many healthy children"—so much of it holds up as solid, practical advice in how to go about creating political change. Roosevelt continually stresses the hard work of building up organizations and institutions as the key component of American political life. "A great many of our men in business," he says, "rather plume themselves upon being good citizens if they even vote; yet voting is the very least of their duties." (Sadly, he has little to say on the possibility of tweeting your way to a greater democracy.) 

Few things make me happier than reading Sandra Boynton's Muu, Bee, Así Fue to my 14-month-old son. I don't know if there's any direct link between that book, which is mostly an excuse to make animal noises, and our current moment of political rancor, but I'd like to believe that the process of reading to my child is slowly teaching me to be a kinder person.
_______

So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Phil Klay, Bill McKibbenRabbi Jack Moline, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith, Gene Luen Yang. (New posts daily.) 

 

Health Care Premiums Have Gone Down Under Obamacare

April 24, 2017 - 11:55pm

Someone asked me on Twitter if health care premiums had spiked after Obamacare went into effect. That turns out to be a surprisingly hard question to answer. There's loads of data on premiums in the employer market, where premium growth has slowed down slightly post-Obamacare, but not much in the individual market, which is where Obamacare has its biggest impact. However, a pair of researchers at the Brookings Institution rounded up the best evidence for pre-Obamacare premiums and compared it to premiums in 2014-17, when Obamacare was in effect. Here it is:

Premiums dropped in 2014, and are still lower than the trendline from 2009-13. So no, premiums didn't spike under Obamacare.

Now, there are lots of caveats here. The pre-Obamacare estimates are tricky to get a firm handle on. What's more, the Obamacare premiums are for the baseline coverage (second-lowest silver plan), while average pre-Obamacare policies might have been more generous in some ways (for example, deductibles and copays).

However, most of the pre/post differences suggest that Obamacare policies are better than the old ones. The old plans had an actuarial value of only 60 percent, while Obamacare silver plans have an actuarial value of 70 percent. The old plans were also limited to very healthy individuals. Obamacare plans are open to everyone. Finally, Obamacare plans mandate a set of essential benefits and place limits on out-of-pocket costs. These and other things suggest that premiums should have gone up under Obamacare.

But even with all these improvements, premiums still went down, and they haven't caught up yet. Bottom line: Average premiums in the individual market went down after Obamacare took effect, and they're still lower than they would have been without Obamacare.

New York Times Updates Its 2015 Hillary Clinton FBI Investigation Story

April 24, 2017 - 8:55pm

In July 2015 the New York Times reported that the Justice Department had opened a "criminal inquiry" into whether "Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information." This was apparently a mistake, and the article was quickly rewritten to say only that DOJ had opened an "investigation" into whether sensitive information had been mishandled "in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state." A few days later the Times' public editor wrote a scathing summary of the paper's scoop:

Aspects of it began to unravel soon after it first went online....From Thursday night to Sunday morning — when a final correction appeared in print — the inaccuracies and changes in the story were handled as they came along, with little explanation to readers, other than routine corrections....Eventually, a number of corrections were appended to the online story, before appearing in print in the usual way — in small notices on Page A2. But you can’t put stories like this back in the bottle — they ripple through the entire news system.

So it was, to put it mildly, a mess....“We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong,” [editor Matt] Purdy told me. “That’s an explanation, not an excuse. We have an obligation to get facts right and we work very hard to do that.”

A few days later I wrote about this too, suggesting that the Times owed us a better explanation of what happened. This weekend they went some of the way there in an aside buried in their big story about James Comey, co-authored by two of the same reporters who wrote the original piece. Here's what they say:

On July 10, 2015, the F.B.I. opened a criminal investigation, code-named “Midyear,” into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information....There was controversy almost immediately. Responding to questions from The Times, the Justice Department confirmed that it had received a criminal referral — the first step toward a criminal investigation — over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information.

But the next morning, the department revised its statement. “The department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information,” the new statement read. “It is not a criminal referral.”

At the F.B.I., this was a distinction without a difference: Despite what officials said in public, agents had been alerted to mishandled classified information and in response, records show, had opened a full criminal investigation.

If this is correct, it was a criminal investigation, and the Times didn't get it wrong. Rather, the Justice Department put up a smoke screen after news of the investigation had been leaked.

The second part of this remains fuzzy. Was the investigation specifically aimed at Hillary Clinton or was it only "in connection with" Hillary Clinton? It's pretty obvious that Clinton was, in fact, the primary target of the investigation, but the FBI also investigated many others in her orbit. So I'm not sure how to score this.

Overall, though, despite what I wrote and what the Times itself wrote, it appears that this wasn't an enormous screwup at all. There might have been a minor detail or two that was slightly wrong, but nothing central to the story itself.

Obamacare Is Doing Fine Unless Trump Kills It

April 24, 2017 - 8:11pm

The Congressional Budget Office says that Obamacare is in good shape:

Under current law, most subsidized enrollees purchasing health insurance coverage in the nongroup market are largely insulated from increases in premiums because their out-of-pocket payments for premiums are based on a percentage of their income; the government pays the difference. The subsidies to purchase coverage combined with the penalties paid by uninsured people stemming from the individual mandate are anticipated to cause sufficient demand for insurance by people with low health care expenditures for the market to be stable.

Insurance companies are starting to make money on Obamacare. Nearly 20 million people have health insurance because of Obamacare. Premiums will probably go up next year, but not by a huge amount. And even if they do go up, federal subsidies will shield most people from having to pay any more than this year. Because of all this, CBO believes that Obamacare will stay stable and strong:

President Trump tweeted the opposite today, saying once again that Obamacare was on the verge of failing. This is a lie, one that he's repeated over and over. Obamacare will fail only if he cuts off its funding.

The reason for this post isn't so much to mention that Trump lied again today. The sun also rose in the east, and I didn't write about that. It's to remind everyone—including me—to stop writing tweets and blog posts that say something like this:

Trump says Obamacare is in a death spiral. He's wrong.

When we repeat the lie, we just give it more exposure. The end result is that people vaguely know something about Obamacare and death spiral and controversial, and that's it. They don't really know who's right, they just know that they keep seeing stuff about Obamacare being in trouble.

So don't do it. Instead, just write the truth and then mention that Trump has lied about it.

Trump Planning to Hold Tax Plan Theater on Wednesday

April 24, 2017 - 7:11pm

Here's all you need to know about President Trump's tax plan:

Mr. Trump’s aides have been working on a detailed tax proposal, but that isn’t ready yet. The announcement on Wednesday is expected to focus instead on broader principles....Mr. Trump’s statement last week that he would announce details of his plan later this week caught his team off guard, said people familiar with the matter.

In other words, it's all theater. On Wednesday we'll get a vague description of "broader principles" that will include gigantic cuts in the top rates for both individuals and corporations, along with just enough eye candy for the middle class that Trump can pretend it's a tax cut for everyone. It will basically be a campaign document with a few extra tidbits so that Trump can claim to have released his "tax plan" during his first hundred days.

The benefit of staying vague, by the way, is that it's impossible to score his plan until every detail is filled in. Still, I expect the usual suspects at the Tax Foundation and the Tax Policy Center will try. So where do you think they'll end up? My guess is that it will cost $4 trillion, of which 95 percent will go to the top 10 percent. Enter your guess in comments. The winner gets the most precious thing I have to offer: a tweet that announces their victorious prediction.

State Department Pulls Post Gushing About Mar-a-Lago

April 24, 2017 - 6:57pm

After drawing sharp criticism on Monday, the State Department deleted a web article that showcased the President's Mar-a-Lago estate and private club. The post, which had been available on the department's ShareAmerica site since April 4, highlighted the compound's "style and taste" while noting the central role the oceanside property has played in Trump's presidency, having hosted state visits by Chinese president Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The post's tone was questioned after it gained wide notice on social media. "This reads almost as if it's an advertisement for the private club," says Jordan Libowitz, Communications Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). "This makes you question whether there were ulterior motives in mind."

ShareAmerica, a State Department public diplomacy project that creates social media friendly stories about US politics, culture, and places, characterizes itself as a "platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society." The Mar-a-Lago article was shared by the U.S. Embassy in London's website, and promoted by the Facebook page of the State Department's Bureau of Economic & Business Affairs.

The post drew the ire of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon):

Yes, I am curious @StateDept. Why are taxpayer $$ promoting the President's private country club? pic.twitter.com/IlPhUlvMwa

— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) April 24, 2017

"It's somewhat out of the ordinary for government websites to be talking about current businesses of the sitting president. That's not a situation we've really seen before," says Libowitz.

A State Department official provided Mother Jones a short statement after deleting the post late on Monday: "The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post.”

Since his inauguration, Trump has spent 25 days at the club at a hefty cost to taxpayers and local residents. Mar-a-Lago's initiation fee jumped to $200,000 around the same time that Trump entered office.

The ShareAmerica article included an outline of the estate's history, noting that the original owner—the cereal titan Marjorie Merriweather Post—willed her Palm Beach, Florida compound to the US government, hoping it would be used as a presidential retreat. At the time, the 114-room mansion was rejected as being unsuitable. In 1985, Trump purchased the residence, refurbished it, and reopened it as a private club in 1995. The now-deleted ShareAmerica post frames Trump's 2016 election victory as fulfilling the original owner's plan: "Post's dream of a winter White House came true with Trump's election in 2016."

The Kinder, Gentler National Front Has Made Only a Small Gain This Year

April 24, 2017 - 11:15am

I don't really have any point to make about this, but I was curious about how Marine Le Pen's National Front has done over the past few decades in elections for president of France. Here it is:

Since taking over the National Front, Marine Le Pen's strategy has been to sell a softer, less overtly racist version of the party her father founded. This, combined with the nationalist fervor supposedly taking over Europe, has produced a result 4.5 percentage points higher than her lunatic dad received in 1997 and 3.5 points higher than Marine herself received in 2012.

Is that a lot? A little? I'm not sure. It doesn't seem like a huge swing to me, and it's a sharp drop from the vote share the party received in recent elections for regional councils and the European Parliament. I don't know enough about French politics to venture an opinion, but it doesn't seem like strong evidence in favor of a big European swing to the nationalist right.

A Conservative Muses About the Past

April 24, 2017 - 10:15am

Conservative writer Jay Nordlinger engages in some nostalgia today:

Remember when we knocked President Obama for spending so much time on the golf course? Not all of us did, but many of us did. Donald Trump, for example, was unrelenting in his criticism.

You don’t hear that anymore. Conservatives don’t knock the president for spending so much time on the golf course.

....Remember how we counted up the times Obama said “I” and “me” in a speech? That was fun. It was kind of a conservative pastime. We don’t do that anymore.

....I was looking at Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock in the White House. What a trio! Striking poses in front of Hillary’s portrait and so on. I flashed back to the Clinton ’90s.

Two showbiz women, Markie Post and Linda Thomason, were jumping on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom. A photo circulated. Man, did we hate it. You have no idea what a big deal this was (to us)!

Good times.

Trump Slams New Polls as "Fake News"—Except for the Stuff That's Good for Him

April 24, 2017 - 10:04am

President Donald Trump lashed out on Sunday at two new polls that showed a majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the president's first 100 days in office.

However, unlike previous times the president has criticized similar surveys and the media as "fake," Trump made sure to highlight the bits of positive news the polls contained for his administration, including an ABC/Washington Post trend that showed that 96 percent of Trump voters do not regret their decision. Here he is trying to have it both ways:

New polls out today are very good considering that much of the media is FAKE and almost always negative. Would still beat Hillary in .....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2017

...popular vote. ABC News/Washington Post Poll (wrong big on election) said almost all stand by their vote on me & 53% said strong leader.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2017

The two fake news polls released yesterday, ABC & NBC, while containing some very positive info, were totally wrong in General E. Watch!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2017

In recent days, Trump appears to be increasingly fixated on how his first 100 days in office will be evaluated, even preemptively calling out the media for negatively covering the benchmark before it arrives:

No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2017

John Oliver Explains Why Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Aren't Going to Save the White House

April 24, 2017 - 7:09am

On the latest Last Week Tonight, John Oliver challenged the popular belief that President Donald Trump's closest advisers, his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, are moderating forces in the White House. According to Oliver, Americans should be concerned, because despite the incredible level of power the couple wields within the administration, the two have little to no actual political experience.

He began by specifically calling out Ivanka's history of publicly supporting progressive issues, such as paid maternity leave and climate change, while standing by her father, as his administration sets out to defund Planned Parenthood and limit the role of science and evidence-based policies in government.

"The assumption that many of us have that she disagrees with him isn't actually based on much," Oliver said.

Oliver then questioned what qualifications Kushner may or may not have to merit his increasingly stacked White House duties, which range from reforming veteran care to brokering peace in the Middle East.

"If they are the reason you are sleeping at night, you should probably still be awake."

A Loss in the Courts Won't Stop Missouri's Anti-Abortion Wave

April 24, 2017 - 5:00am

For decades, Missouri has embarked on a quest to eliminate abortion access. Earlier this year, state legislators filed some 14 anti-abortion proposals before the start of the session, making it a prominent example of emboldened efforts on the state level in the Trump era. Those measures were dealt a blow last week when a federal judge suspended two longstanding abortion restrictions in the state, but with the GOP controlling every level of the state’s government, state lawmakers are undeterred in their efforts to restrict abortion access.

Today, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis is the state's sole abortion provider licensed to serve approximately 1.2 million women of reproductive age, many of whom would face a 370 mile drive to access services, a process further protracted by a mandatory 72-hour waiting period. "People are driving hours to St. Louis, or they’re crossing over the state line into Kansas or other states in order to access services," says Laura McQuade, the President and CEO of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, one of the Planned Parenthood affiliates that filed a lawsuit last year challenging the Missouri restrictions.

As a leader in restricting abortion access, Missouri passed laws more than a decade ago that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and abortion clinics to meet the same structural requirements as ambulatory surgical centers. These laws were subsequently also passed in Texas, where they were challenged and finally struck down by the Supreme Court in a 5-3 ruling in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016.

Last week, in response to a challenge filed last fall by two Planned Parenthood affiliates with Missouri clinics, US District Court Judge Howard Sachs agreed to enjoin Missouri's version of the restrictions. Sachs first announced his decision in an April 3 memo sent to the parties involved in the case. In his decision, Sachs noted that the restrictions had negatively affected women in the state and failed to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling. "The abortion rights of Missouri women, guaranteed by constitutional rulings, are being denied on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion," he said. "The public interest clearly favors prompt relief." The restrictions will be halted while the effort to permanently strike down the laws moves through the courts.

Sachs’ ruling could have an immediate impact on abortion access in the state. Shortly after the decision was announced, the Missouri Planned Parenthood affiliates released a joint statement confirming their desire to increase the number of local abortion providers by expanding services to four additional Planned Parenthood locations. But Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has promised to appeal the decision, saying that it was "wrong" with the dire consequence that laws that "protect the health and safety of women who seek to obtain an abortion" can no longer be enforced. 

Last week’s ruling, however, is unlikely to deter state legislators from pursuing further abortion restrictions. Around the same time that Sachs issued the April 3 memo announcing his intent to grant the injunction, two Republican state Senators, frustrated that they were unable to block a St. Louis nondiscrimination ordinance protecting women that are pregnant, use birth control, or have had an abortion, took time during a discussion of tax hikes benefiting the state zoo to joke that women should go to the St. Louis Zoo for abortions, suggesting that it was "safer" and better regulated than the state’s lone abortion provider.

Meanwhile, shortly after Republicans in Congress moved to defund Planned Parenthood, state Republican Rep. Robert Ross proposed an amendment to House Bill 11—an appropriations bill for the Missouri Department of Social Services—that would allow the state to prevent "abortion services" providers from receiving state family planning funding. This could potentially include any group that provides even abortion referrals upon request.  Allison Dreith, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri characterized the amended bill as having the potential to create "a public health crisis in our state, if family planning clinics, hospitals, and Planned Parenthood are defunded from Medicaid reimbursement." The measure passed the House on a 107-39 vote and is now with the Senate.

Missouri lawmakers have faced some unintended consequences in their zeal to cut back on family planning services. In 2016, the state rejected the federal family planning funding it had received through Extended Women’s Health Services, a Medicaid program for low-income women funded by both the state and federal governments. Federal law already prevents Medicaid from reimbursing providers for the costs of most abortions, but Missouri legislators hoped to go further by completely cutting off funding to groups like Planned Parenthood by rejecting some $8.3 million dollars in federal funds, opting to create a state-funded program that would no longer have to abide by federal rules mandating that patients have the ability to choose their health care provider.

In the months leading up to the measure taking effect, Missouri has moved to block all abortion providers, including hospitals, from receiving family planning funding. But to the consternation of Missouri conservatives, many Planned Parenthood clinics in the state remained eligible for the program because they are not permitted to provide abortions. "Despite that being a simple amendment last year, apparently [the Department of Social Services] was confused," Ross said when discussing his proposed amendment earlier this month, according to reports from the Missouri House of Representatives newsroom. Ross' HB 11 amendment would change things by ensuring that even those who provide information about or referrals for abortions are excluded from the funding program.

"They have defined 'abortion services' so broadly that it is going to basically decimate the entire family planning network across the state of Missouri," says Michelle Trupiano, the executive director of the Missouri Family Health Council, which allocates funding to 71 clinics in the state under the federal government’s Title X family planning program.

Trupiano notes that under the conditions of Title X, many of the state’s family planning providers are required to offer abortion referrals upon request, a mandate that could open them up to losing funding should HB 11 be adopted. "There wouldn’t be a single provider that could participate in [the program]," she adds. With less than a month remaining in Missouri’s legislative session, advocates have begun lobbying lawmakers in hopes of defeating the amendment.

But given the history, advocates say, some lawmakers in Missouri will do anything to restrict abortion, even if it means an overall reduction in access for women to health care options in the process. "Responsible legislators want to move forward to other issues," McQuade says. "But this is what Missouri is choosing to spend its time on right now. It’s deeply disheartening."

Jeff Sessions Wants Courts to Rely Less on Science and More on "Science"

April 24, 2017 - 5:00am

On April 10, a group of lawyers, scientists, judges, crime lab technicians, law enforcement officers, and academics gathered in Washington, DC, for the final quarterly meeting of the National Commission on Forensic Science, a group whose two-year charter expired in late April. The two-day meeting of the commission was a no-frills bureaucratic affair—a few dozen attendees seated in rectangle formation facing each other to deliberate and listen to expert panels. But the bland exterior could not mask ripples of tension. Had the 2016 presidential election turned out differently, the commission's charter would likely have been renewed. But under President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, members arrived that morning fearing that their efforts to reform the field of forensic science would be cut short. Shortly after 9 a.m., Andrew Goldsmith, a career Justice Department attorney, delivered the bad news: The commission was coming to an end.

Follow-up questions from a few commissioners revealed more bad news. Efforts to improve forensic science and expert testimony, initiated under the previous administration, were now on hold. Kent Rochford, the acting director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the research arm of the Commerce Department, acknowledged that ongoing pilot studies into bite-mark and firearm analyses would not be completed. A representative from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy, Kira Antell, conceded that a project to create guidelines for expert forensic testimony had been paused as well. The message was clear: The era of independent scientific review of forensics is over.

Julia Leighton, a commission member and retired public defender, conveyed the disappointed mood of the room when she spoke a few minutes later. "We have to understand the importance of this juncture that we're at, where we're really grappling with, frankly, are we telling the truth as a matter of science to judges and jurors?" she said. "And that can't be put on hold. It is inconsistent with the Department of Justice's mission to put that on hold."

For years, scientists and defense attorneys have fought an uphill battle to bring scientific rigor into a field that, despite its name, is largely devoid of science. Evidence regularly presented in court rooms—such as bite-mark, hair, and lead bullet analysis—that for decades have been employed by prosecutors to convict and even execute defendants are actually incapable of definitively linking an individual to a crime. Other methods, including fingerprint analysis, are less rigorous and more subjective than experts—and popular culture—let on.

But on the witness stand, experts routinely overstate the certainty of their forensic methods. In 2015, the FBI completed a review of 268 trial transcripts in which the bureau's experts used microscopic hair analysis to incriminate a defendant. The results showed that bureau experts submitted scientifically invalid testimony at least 95 percent of the time. Among those cases with faulty evidence, 33 defendants received the death penalty and 9 had been executed. No court has banned bite-mark evidence despite a consensus among scientists that the discipline is entirely subjective. One study found that forensic dentists couldn't even agree if markings were caused by human teeth. Until this month, the National Commission on Forensic Science was the most important group moving forensics into the modern scientific era.

A few minutes after the commission learned of its fate, the Justice Department publicly announced its next steps. A new Justice Department Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, established by executive order in February to "support law enforcement" and "restore public safety," would now oversee forensic science. Sessions, the press release said, would appoint a senior forensic adviser and the department would conduct a "needs assessment of forensic science laboratories that examines workload, backlog, personnel and equipment needs of public crime laboratories." Rather than an independent body that uses science to evaluate forensics, the new administration seemed to be basing its forensic policies largely on increasing conviction rates for law enforcement.

Forensic science is a mess. Historically under the sole purview of cops and prosecutors, the advent of DNA evidence exposed the failures of older forensic methods. Fingerprint identification became standard practice in police departments around the early years of the 20th century and for decades was considered the gold standard of forensic science. Firearm or "tool mark" evidence connecting a bullet to a specific gun was also in full swing in the early 20th century—and played a major role of the famous, flawed case against Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1921.

The use of bite marks to identify a suspect began with an actual witch hunt. In 1692, authorities from Salem, Massachusetts, arrested the Reverend George Burroughs for allegedly biting, pinching, and choking girls in order to turn them into witches. During the trial, Burroughs' mouth was pried open to compare his teeth to the markings found on the injured girls. Twenty years after he was hanged, the colonial government of Massachusetts compensated Burroughs' children for his wrongful death. Bite-mark evidence should have been put to bed then, but in 1975 a California appeals court upheld a conviction for manslaughter based on bite-mark evidence—even though the court acknowledged a lack of scientific research to support such evidence. Soon, the practice became widespread around the country.

These forensic methods and others were largely developed by law enforcement and guarded from the rigorous testing and peer review used in every other scientific field. As molecular biologist Eric Landler observed in 1989, "At present, forensic science is virtually unregulated—with the paradoxical result that clinical laboratories must meet higher standards to be allowed to diagnose strep throat than forensic labs must meet to put a defendant on death row."

DNA emerged as a reliable tool in the late 1980s. It has since exonerated tens of thousands of suspects during criminal investigations and more than 349 convicted defendants, according to the Innocence Project. "I think what we've seen with the DNA exonerations," Paul Giannelli, a member of the commission, told Mother Jones at its final meeting, "is that there's a heck of a lot more innocent people in prison than anyone dreamed of."

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a landmark study that shook the field of forensics. Only nuclear DNA analysis, the report found, could "consistently, and with a high degree of certainty," link an individual to a crime. Around the country, it noted, crime labs lack uniform standards, practices, accreditation, and oversight. And forensic methods that involve expert analysis, as opposed to laboratory testing, really weren't science at all. NAS proposed creating an independent agency to advance the field of forensic science outside the purview of the Justice Department. "The potential for conflicts of interest between the needs of law enforcement and the broader needs of forensic science are too great," the report reads. "In sum, the committee concluded that advancing science in the forensic science enterprise is not likely to be achieved within the confines of DOJ." 

Reasons to sever the forensic science research from the Justice Department were numerous. In the early 2000s, the National Academy ditched a planned review of forensic methods after the Departments of Justice and Defense claimed a right to review the study before publication—in other words, the government was reserving the right to alter a scientific study. About the same time, the FBI commissioned its own studies as proof that its method of analyzing fingerprints was sound. In one, the bureau sent the 10-digit fingerprint profile of a defendant and two prints from the crime scene to multiple analysts and asked them for a comparison. When 27 percent of the respondents did not find a match, the FBI asked those respondents for a do-over, this time pointing out exactly what markings the experts should look at to connect the crime scene prints to the defendant. The resulting "test," Giannelli noted in a 2010 law review article, "was rigged." Yet cracks began to emerge in the FBI's own methodology. In a 2002 case, an examiner from Scotland Yard, the London police force, testified that the proficiency tests administered to fingerprint analysts at the FBI were incapable of assessing analysts' abilities. "If I gave my experts these tests, they'd fall about laughing," he said.

In 2004, Congress gave the Justice Department money to fund forensic labs with the requirement that grantees turn over investigations into serious misconduct and negligence to outside investigators. But the Justice Department's inspector general repeatedly found that the National Institute of Justice was handing out millions in grants without enforcing the oversight requirements. "That one anecdote is illustrative of their general approach to forensics, which is they just want more," says Erin Murphy, a professor at New York University School of Law and the author of Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA. "They don't really care about the quality of it, they don't really care about the accuracy of it. They just want more of it."

The independent government agency the 2009 NAS report called for never came to be, but in 2013 advocates for reform got the next best thing, the National Commission on Forensic Science. Though it was stacked with Justice Department employees as well as representatives of law enforcement and crime labs—a bloc large enough to veto proposals—the commission was prolific during its four-year existence, issuing dozens of recommendations on forensic standards, testing, and accreditation. At the commission's urging, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had adopted new accreditation policies for Justice Department labs. Another recommendation Lynch adopted required experts at federal labs to stop saying "reasonable scientific certainty" on the witness stand, which experts had regularly used to bolster their findings. The phrase, the commission concluded, has no scientific meaning and instead conveys a false sense of certainty. Even beyond federal cases, with the commission's recommendation in hand, a defense attorney could damage the credibility of an expert witness who uses the misleading phrase.

Now, reform advocates see progress halting, and even backsliding, under the new administration. "Definitely bite marks should be terminated," Giannelli said. "Hair evidence, the way it's been used, should be terminated. Testimony with respect to fingerprints and firearms identification should acknowledge the limitations of those disciplines, because right now I think the juries are being misled." He continued: "One of the risks that I see is we'll go back to the time when there is not science in forensic science."

Sessions is known as a strong supporter of the use of forensics. As a former prosecutor himself, the attorney general has long supported increased funding for crime labs so that law enforcement can get test results faster. During his 20-year career in the US Senate, he pushed to increase DNA testing—a bipartisan issue. But when it comes to regulating local crime labs or subjecting forensics to scientific studies, Sessions has been a skeptic. Questions about the reliability of forensic methods irked him because they hurt prosecutors' ability to win convictions based on forensic evidence; calls for more oversight contradicted his desire to see local law enforcement unencumbered by federal oversight or regulation. Given this history, it wasn't a surprise that Sessions chose to end the commission and bring forensic science research back under the direct supervision of the Justice Department.

In 2009, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bombshell 2009 NAS report. In his opening statement, Sessions, the committee's top ranking Republican at the time, expressed skepticism of the report's findings. "I don't accept the idea that they seem to suggest that fingerprints is not a proven technology," he said. "I don't think we should suggest that those proven scientific principles that we've been using for decades are somehow uncertain." Instead, Sessions' worried that the NAS report would be used by defense attorneys during cross-examination to discredit exerts, leaving prosecutors "to fend off challenges on the most basic issues in a trial."

The hearing took place in the shadow of new information about the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man who was executed in 2004 after he was found guilty of murdering his three children by setting fire to their home. The principal evidence prosecutors used against Willingham was the findings of two fire investigators who claimed that the conflagration could only have been caused by arson. Yet even before Willingham's execution, the arson evidence against him had been debunked by a premier fire expert, though Texas' clemency process had failed to heed the report. In August 2009, a few weeks before the Senate hearing, a fire scientist hired to review the case issued a blistering report denouncing the original investigators' work as "characteristic of mystics or psychics," not scientists. A few weeks later, The New Yorker published a detailed investigation of the Willingham case. Based on flawed forensic science, an innocent man had been executed.

When Sessions had his turn to question the witness panel, he brought up the Willingham case. Sessions read extensively from a piece of commentary submitted to a small Texas newspaper by John Jackson, one of the prosecutors in the Willingham case, who had gone on to become a local judge. In his op-ed, Jackson claimed that despite the flawed forensic evidence, Willingham was guilty, and listed bullet points intended to prove Willingham's guilt. But Jackson's points read like someone in denial of the newfound facts about the case—in fact, the author of The New Yorker piece, David Grann, had already written his own rebuttal to Jackson's list by the time of the Senate hearing. Still, Sessions proceeded to read several misleading facts about the case. "That does not excuse a flawed forensic report," Sessions concluded. "But it looks like there was other evidence in the case indicating guilt."

The 2009 investigation into the Willingham case was the work of Texas' own Forensic Science Commission—a state-level version of the national commission that Sessions just closed down. In the last few years, the Texas commission has received increased funding and responsibilities from the state Legislature, becoming a national leader in reviewing the scientific validity of forensic disciplines. It has taken up issues such as hair analysis and problems with DNA testing, and last year it recommended a ban on using bite-mark evidence in the courtroom. Texas, not Washington, is now carrying the torch for forensic reformers.

At the final meeting of the National Commission on Forensic Science, the group held a session on wrongful convictions, featuring Keith Harward, who had served 33 years in Virginia for a rape and murder based on bite-mark evidence before being exonerated by DNA evidence. When the panel ended, a few members expressed a sense of helplessness now that the commission was shutting down. John Hollway, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, rose to apologize to Harward for the decades he lost in prison. "Your story brings up the tragedy of putting this commission on hold," said Hollway, who was not a commission member but was involved in subcommittee work. Hollway said he worried that "we will lose time to help the other people like you who are incarcerated improperly or, worse, the people who are still to be incarcerated improperly because we cannot solve these problems yet."

Former Kinks Leader Ray Davies Reflects on the Good Old USA

April 24, 2017 - 5:00am

Ray Davies
Americana
Legacy

Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

On his first set of new material in nearly a decade, former Kinks leader Ray Davies reflects on his relationship with the good old USA, a subject the Brit also explored on the early-'70s LP Muswell Hillbillies. With alt-country mainstays The Jayhawks providing surehanded, understated support, he crafts a mood of bittersweet nostalgia, touching on The Kinks' early days in the British Invasion ("The Invaders"), lamenting the state of the modern world ("Poetry") and, as always, calling out crass poseurs ("The Deal"). A wry, tender singer, Davies remains in fine voice throughout—no small achievement considering he's been performing more than a half-century. It would be great just to have him back in action, which makes this memorable album an especially satisfying return.

Gene Luen Yang's Resistance Reading

April 24, 2017 - 5:00am

We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace and/or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are the recommendations from the acclaimed graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, a repeat National Book Award finalist who, by the way, reinvented Superman

Illustration by Allegra Lockstadt

Latest book: Superman and Secret Coders book series
Also known for: American Born Chinese
Reading recommendations: The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt, was a revelation to me when I read it a few years ago. Professor Haidt is a social psychologist. His book helped me understand folks who think differently from me just a little bit better. Silence, by Shusaku Endo, is probably my favorite fiction book of all time. It's about a Catholic missionary to 17th century Japan who eventually loses his faith. The story reminds me that grace can be found even when things are horribly broken.
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Bill McKibbenRabbi Jack Moline, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith, Gene Luen Yang.  (New posts daily.) 

Donald Trump Has Made Socialism Cool Again

April 24, 2017 - 5:00am

A month after President Donald Trump took office, khalid kamau was eating lunch in the cluttered kitchen of the Mayday Space, a leftist community center in Brooklyn. A year earlier, the 39-year-old (who prefers to spell his name without capital letters) had been driving a bus in Atlanta. Then his life took a hard left turn. When the city slashed public pensions, he became a union organizer. He then launched a Black Lives Matter chapter, became a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders, and led a walkout at the Democratic National Convention when Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination. In December, kamau announced his candidacy for City Council in South Fulton, Georgia. Not long after that, he joined the Democratic Socialists of America.

kamau, who was wearing a black T-shirt that said, "Don't let your new president get your ass whooped," had been a DSA member for all of a few weeks, but he already had big plans. Leaning forward on his wooden stool, he said, "I want to be the Obama of democratic socialism."

First, kamau needed to win an election. Which is why, on an unseasonably warm weekend in February, he had come to Brooklyn for the Revolution at the Crossroads conference, a gathering of about 300 teen and twentysomething leftists that was sponsored by the Young Democratic Socialists, a subgroup of the DSA. After speaking on the kickoff panel the night before, kamau had taught the attendees how to use the free canvassing app MiniVAN and signed up dozens of volunteers for his campaign. (His organizing paid off; last Tuesday, kamau won his runoff election with 67 percent of the vote.)

Founded in 1982, the DSA claims to be the largest socialist organization in the country. It's not a political party along the lines of the Communist Party USA or the Green Party. Many of its members are Democrats or the kind of left-­leaning independents who usually vote for Democrats. But just as the Obama era ushered in a boomlet of libertarianism on the right, the DSA is banking on Trump to make socialism great again. Its goal is not just to stop Trump's worst policies, but to push the political conversation on the left even further to the left through a mix of political action and cultural engagement. There are signs it's already working.

Fueled by disenchantment with the traditional institutions of the Democratic Party, the promise of Sanders' candidacy, and the specter of Trumpism, DSA membership has more than doubled since the election. The DSA now boasts more than 20,000 members and more than 120 local chapters. Sure, you could fit just about everyone comfortably inside Madison Square Garden, but being a socialist hasn't been this cool in years.

"The Bernie campaign really opened that Overton Window," said Winnie Wong, a 41-year-old activist who co-founded the group People for Bernie and coined the phrase "Feel the Bern." "We funneled thousands of people, hundreds of thousands—15 million people!—through to the other side. Are those people democratic socialists? No. Do they feel comfortable with the idea of socialism? Well, yeah! Because they voted for it." Normalizing socialism, she said, is "the most important thing we can do."

 

MAD LIBS: A quick guide to channeling your anti-Trump fervor Getty Images

Revolution at the Crossroads existed in a parallel universe to other political confabs, such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, known for its corporate sponsors, bad suits, and ritzy Beltway hotels. The opening panel was delayed because the speaker system was picking up an AM radio station. An attendee joked that "neoliberal capitalism"—"neoliberal" being the epithet of choice among the DSA set—was to blame. Sleeping bags littered the side walls. The dress code was plaid.

Socialism's hipster makeover has been accelerated by a flowering of leftist media and culture. The DSA's unofficial hype man is not Sanders—who is not a member—but the comedian Rob Delaney, who joined up after the election, inspired by his positive experiences with the British National Health Service as an expat living in England. Delaney has tweeted about the DSA more than 100 times since November and describes himself as a "fucking cockroach" for socialism, because of his persistence. "A lot of people have written me and said that they've joined because I won't shut up about Democratic Socialists on Twitter," he told me. He even raised money to defray expenses for some of the students who traveled to Brooklyn.

A popular gateway drug for democratic socialists is Chapo Trap House, a podcast hosted by a small clique of millennial Sandernistas that takes its deliberately head-scratching name from the jailed Mexican cartel king. It is incisive and irreverent but often scathing toward politicians, journalists, or anyone else insufficiently in line with its politics. (For instance: Clinton is an "entitled fucking slob," and Democratic leaders should have "fucking killed themselves" after losing the election.)

Outside the conference, activists hawked Workers Vanguard, the ubiquitous Trotskyist newspaper. But inside, students chatted with writers from the two-year-old journal Current Affairs ("the world's first readable political publication") and Jacobin, a quarterly launched in 2010 by Bhaskar Sunkara, then an undergrad at George Washington University. Jacobin aims to do for socialism what National Review did for conservatism half a century ago. It's polemical but not stodgy; its writers are as likely to discourse on the NBA as they are to inveigh against Uber. The magazine's audience doubled, to 30,000 subscribers, in the four months after the election.

At the conference, where he was selling the most recent issue from a folding table along the wall, Sunkara, also a vice chair of the DSA, was a minor celebrity. "I think there's a feeling that with the center kind of defeated, or at the very least temporarily discredited, we are the new center-left," he told me. That newfound popularity has caused him to rethink the limitations of leftist politics. "Compared to where the goalposts were five years ago, we're already basically there," he said. Socialists won't run Washington by 2020—but maybe they will in his lifetime.

But the DSA's continued growth is hardly guaranteed. One challenge as it seeks to broaden its appeal is messaging. Members of the new socialist vanguard pride themselves on a certain degree of unfiltered vulgarity, and they target mainline liberals as often as they do Trump-backing conservatives. Amber A'Lee Frost, a Chapo co-host and YDS panelist, has referred to her cohort's style as the "Dirtbag Left." Frost contends that rudeness is essential to disrupting the political status quo. It is, however, a weird way to make new friends. Coalition politics are hard when everyone else is a sellout.

More pressing than its inability to play nice is the movement's inescapable whiteness. If the audience at the conference was any indication, the DSA's future is doomed to demographic failure—a point kamau emphasized on the event's opening night. "I want you to look around the room," he said, "and then I want you to realize that we're in Flatbush, Brooklyn, right?" It was Bushwick, but the point stood. "I love Bernie, but I also think that the leaders of the Democratic Party and the leaders of the left are going to have to come to terms with the fact that the American left is a movement of black and brown people," he told me. "And the leadership of the Democratic Party doesn't look like that—the leadership of the DSA doesn't look like that."

In South Fulton, a mostly working-class, African American community of 100,000 people, kamau sees an opportunity to broaden the appeal of democratic socialism. He believed his race, which was nonpartisan, was a chance to act on a DSA manifesto that calls for running "openly democratic socialist candidates for local office, in and outside the Democratic Party," and "taking out pro-corporate, neoliberal Democrats." YDS had given each conferencegoer a three-page reading list with titles by writers such as Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, and Barbara Ehrenreich. Wong suggested that young socialists study up on the hard lessons of electoral politics instead. "Learn about the mechanics it takes to win these elections," she said. "You're not gonna learn those by reading all three volumes of Capital, I promise you."

Quote of the Day: I Only Said NATO Was Obsolete Because I Didn't Know Anything About NATO

April 23, 2017 - 7:14pm

From Donald Trump, explaining why he said NATO was obsolete during the campaign:

I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn't in government. People don't go around asking about NATO if I'm building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf ... asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO's obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete, and I said, "And the reason it's obsolete is because of the fact they don't focus on terrorism."

This is not the first time Trump has said something like this. I wonder if he even realizes that it sounds bad when he admits he was just blathering during the campaign because he didn't know what he was talking about?

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