Mother Jones Magazine

Reagan and the Hostages

Here’s something I missed when it first came out a few weeks ago. It turns out that Chase Manhattan Bank was instrumental in getting the Shah of Iran admitted to the United States for medical treatment in 1979, which led directly to the Iran hostage crisis that eventually doomed Jimmy Carter’s presidency. The whole thing was called Project Eagle and was coordinated by Joseph Reed, the chief of staff to the bank’s chairman, David Rockefeller.

But that’s not all. After touching off the hostage crisis, Project Eagle was then redirected to ensuring that they didn’t get released too soon:

After the hostages were taken, the Carter administration worked desperately to try to free the captives….[But] the team around Mr. Rockefeller, a lifelong Republican with a dim view of Mr. Carter’s dovish foreign policy, collaborated closely with the Reagan campaign in its efforts to pre-empt and discourage what it derisively labeled an “October surprise” — a pre-election release of the American hostages, the papers show.

The Chase team helped the Reagan campaign gather and spread rumors about possible payoffs to win the release, a propaganda effort that Carter administration officials have said impeded talks to free the captives.

“I had given my all” to thwarting any effort by the Carter officials “to pull off the long-suspected ‘October surprise,’” Mr. Reed wrote in a letter to his family after the election, apparently referring to the Chase effort to track and discourage a hostage release deal. He was later named Mr. Reagan’s ambassador to Morocco.

This is a conspiracy theory of longstanding—namely that the Reagan campaign tried to prevent the release of the Iranian hostages before Election Day 1980. But according to notes he wrote at the time, it sure sounds like Reed worked closely with Reagan’s people on exactly that. Such patriots.

A Brave Journalist (And Friend of Mine) Just Got Arrested…For Going to a Public Meeting

Yesterday I woke up to horrible news, a Facebook message alerting me that a good friend had been arrested and detained while working in Indonesia.

Philip Jacobson, 30, is an editor for Mongabay, a US-based nonprofit that covers environmental news in the Southeast Asian archipelago and around the world. He was on the island of Borneo working with a local reporter on a story that will examine the forest fires generating thick clouds of smoke across the region. This is a sensitive issue for Indonesian authorities, since the fires last year interfered with air travel, led to school closures, and sickened thousands of people. On Tuesday, Phil was locked up by immigration officials at a detention center in the city of Palangkaraya, who accused him of engaging in activities that weren’t “in accordance with the intent and purpose” of his business visa. This administrative offense would typically be handled with deportation. Instead, Phil is facing criminal charges that could land him in prison for up to five years. His supporters see the potential punishment as an attempt by the Indonesian government to stifle press freedom.

Phil helps me with my bags on my last day in Indonesia in 2012.

Jassmyn Goh/Facebook

Phil and I became friends in 2011. We had both moved from the Chicago suburbs, where we’d studied journalism at Northwestern University, to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Over the next year, we worked together at an English-language newspaper, The Jakarta Globe. He has continued writing about Indonesia since then, and at Mongabay he’s helped uncover environmental degradation and shady dealings of big corporations, like a paper company that set up a shell company to secretly clear forest land. Mongabay is headquartered in California but has 1.5 million readers in Indonesia and is widely read by high-level officials and civil society groups there, according to the publication’s founder and chief executive, Rhett A. Butler.

In mid-December, Phil had traveled to Palangkaraya, the capital city of Central Kalimantan province, to meet with a Mongabay reporter and collaborate on coverage he planned to edit of the area’s wildfires. Last year, the toxic haze spread as far as Singapore and Malaysia. Environmental groups like Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund spoke out in September and November about the blazes and their impact on climate change. To better understand the issue, Phil and the reporter were invited to attend a public meeting between local lawmakers and Indonesia’s largest indigenous rights group, known as AMAN. The day after the meeting, before Phil was supposed to catch a flight, immigration officials arrived at his guesthouse, confiscated his passport, and ordered him to come in for questioning. They told him to stay in the city while they continued their investigation. After roughly a month of waiting, immigration officials returned to his guest house on Tuesday, ordered him to pack his belongings, and sent him to the detention center.  

Phil’s attorney, Aryo Nugroho, the head of Indonesian Legal Aid, told the New York Times that the case seemed to focus on Phil’s use of a business visa instead of a journalism visa, and did not appear to be driven by any particular article published by Mongabay. “We are supporting Philip in this ongoing case and making every effort to comply with Indonesia’s immigration authorities,” Butler, the Mongabay founder, said in a statement. “I am surprised that immigration officials have taken such punitive action against Philip for what is an administrative matter.” Butler told me that Phil wasn’t conducting interviews in Kalimantan. “They’ve not provided any evidence of him actually engaging in journalistic activities. The extent of what he was doing there was just attending meetings,” he said.

“This is a worldwide issue, and it should be of concern to anyone who cares about a free press and getting the facts out there.”

Local journalists and press-freedom advocates have expressed quick concern over the arrest. “Indonesian authorities should immediately release journalist Philip Jacobson and drop any criminal charges against him,” the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote in a statement. “While we of course urge all foreign journalists visiting Indonesia to ensure they follow immigration rules, if a journalist is simply attending meetings or happens to be present during a news event this should not be cause for punitive action or detention,” the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club said. On Friday, an official from the US Embassy in Jakarta is expected to visit with Phil, according to Butler.

Indonesia is not the easiest place to work as a journalist, and reporters have been prevented in the past from going to high-conflict areas like West Papua. The country ranks 124th out of 180 globally on an index of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders, an international nonprofit. “This isn’t just limited to Indonesia,” says Butler, of the scare tactics that keep journalists from pursuing tough stories. “Here in the US we have our own attacks on the press going on—it’s not what you see in Indonesia, but certainly the rhetoric is there. This is a worldwide issue, and it should be of concern to anyone who cares about a free press and getting the facts out there.”

Phil is one of the most curious, determined journalists I know, and he’s dedicated his career to telling truth to power. His arrest and detention are a threat to that tradition and should worry us all.

A Post-Roe Future Will Rely on Women Taking Control of Their Own Care. The Right Won’t Fail to Notice.

While miracles are not the stuff we should have to rely upon for our legal rights to remain in place, by some tiny, blessed miracle, Roe is still the law of the land. Even so, a post-Roe future feels alarmingly close. In fact, as we at Mother Jones have written before, in many ways that future is already here. And despite the power of the imagery, the end of legal abortion would not mean a return to back alleys and coat hangers, but pills and women taking their reproductive lives into their own hands.

“As long as there has been pregnancy, there has been self-managed abortion,” says Jill Adams, executive director of If/When/How, a legal reproductive justice nonprofit. “The trend that we’re seeing now, with more and more people in the US ending their own pregnancies, is really just sort of a returning of agency and power from the medical industry back to the people. ”

“With more and more people in the US ending their own pregnancies, is really just sort of a returning of agency and power from the medical industry back to the people. “

This predominately happens through medication abortion. Misoprostol is a drug commonly used for ulcers and to treat some pets and livestock; it’s fairly cheap and accessible and can be used alone to induce abortion. Adams notes how it’s been commonly used “in many areas of the global South for decades”: “In fact, women in Brazil, where abortion was completely criminalized, read the contraindications on an ulcer drug, misoprostol, which said do not consume if pregnant, could cause miscarriage and they went, Aha!”

The drug that it is usually paired with for in-clinic abortions, mifepristone, is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as a high-risk drug (despite its extraordinarily high safety profile). Still, the drug combination has become more accessible online, via a flourishing black market. 

While Adams notes that studies show ordering medication for abortion online has largely proven safe, she emphasizes it’s not without legal risk. In fact, from the state level on up, prosecutors are getting increasingly creative in how to criminalize the practice. “That’s the real tragedy of self-managed abortion in the US in 2020 is that people could be unjustly arrested, interrogated, prosecuted, even imprisoned for ending their own pregnancy or for helping a loved one do so,” she says. 

“We know of at least 21 people throughout the US who have been arrested, some even put in jail, for ending their own pregnancy or helping someone else end a pregnancy since 2005,” she notes—though this number is just the “very very tip of a huge iceberg” as it does not account for dropped charges or plea bargains. What’s more, the typical prosecutor or district attorney isn’t tracking arrests in connection with trends in either self-managing abortion or assisting someone with ending a pregnancy.

There are only five states in which self-managed abortion is actually illegal, but “overzealous prosecutors are just treating the Criminal Code like a grab bag—even the Civil Code like a grab bag!—and pulling out whatever they can that might possibly stick,” Adams says. Ten states have fetal harm laws that lack an exemption for the person carrying the fetus, and she notes sometimes these laws can be used to charge people who have self-managed their abortion. “Sometimes those laws have been manipulated by law enforcement to apply to the pregnant person themselves, switching from the pregnant person being the victim to being the perpetrator.” 

But the charges run across a full spectrum possibilities: practicing pharmacy without a license, drug-related charges, child abuse-related charges, concealment of a birth, failure to report a death, or even abuse of a corpse. She advises women to reach out to the If/When/How repro helpline for legal help or questions regarding laws in their state.

“That’s the real tragedy of self-managed abortion in the US in 2020 is that people could be unjustly arrested, interrogated, prosecuted, even imprisoned for ending their own pregnancy or for helping a loved one do so.”

Referring to the recent spate of abortion bans that made headlines last spring, Adams cautions that though these bans are not in effect, they do cause confusion about where abortion is and is not legal, and such legislation even “foments this antipathy toward people who perform abortions, and also toward people who have abortions.”

“That stigma provides this sort of fuel that increases the likelihood that someone will be criminalized for having an abortion,” Adams adds.

So if the future of abortion care is self-managed in the form of medication abortion, our worry should be that this will almost certainly become a burgeoning area of anti-abortion law. Until then, let’s count our miracles.

Donald Trump Did a Zillion Tweets Today and Each One Is Terrible

As day two of his impeachment trial began in the Senate, President Donald Trump departed Switzerland, en route to Washington, DC.  

Heading back to Washington from @Davos , Switzerland. Very successful (for USA) trip!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2020

The trip to Davos, a high-powered conference for the jet set and global elite, was “very successful,” the third president ever to be impeached said. “For USA.” 

Had the conference not gone well for other countries? Unclear. What was it George Washington said during his Second Inaugural? “Screw ’em” or some such? 

The flight went…well, it went. The flight flew and didn’t crash. So in that sense it was a good flight. But how did the flight go in relative terms to most flights? Maybe not so great.

The president broke a personal record for most tweets and retweets. 

Trump breaks his own Twitter record with 132 tweets or retweets as of 4:45 p.m., the most of any single day of his presidency, as he defended himself and lashed out at the House managers.

— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) January 22, 2020

He did some retweets of people saying nice things about him.

He retweeted some videos of himself complaining about democrats.

He retweeted some compliments from his sons, Don Jr. and Mike.

He retweeted some weird tweets by the guy who runs social media for his campaign.

— Dan Scavino (@DanScavino) January 22, 2020

— Dan Scavino (@DanScavino) January 18, 2020

He tweeted “no pressure” before immediately retweeting a set of tweets from a congressman credibly accused of failing to report sexual abuse

He then sent about a million retweets of crazy people I am not going to bother putting here.

Finally, he topped it off with a Trump golden classic, threatening immigrants:

Sorry, if you come you will be immediately sent back!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2020

“We wish he could have stayed in Davos longer,” many Americans and no Swiss thought.

tldr: Donald Trump spent this Wednesday the same way he spends most Wednesdays, the only differences being this Wednesday he was live-tweeting Fox News on a plane and also facing removal from office in the Senate.


A Utah Woman Was Charged for Going Topless in Her Own Home. Her Legal Case Is Not Going Great.

A Utah judge just denied a local woman’s motion to declare the state’s lewdness law unconstitutional after she was slammed with criminal charges for going topless in her own home.

Last year Tilli Buchanan was charged with lewdness after she and her husband took their shirts off while installing insulation in their garage. Her husband, who was in a similar state of undress, was not charged. Buchanan’s stepchildren were also there. Their mother was the one who reported Buchanan to the authorities. As I wrote back in September:

Even though Buchanan was topless in the privacy of her own home, she is now facing potentially very serious consequences: three counts of lewdness involving a child, a class A misdemeanor which could land her in jail and place her on the sex offender registry for 10 years. Utah’s ordinance about lewdness involving a child prohibits the exposure of “the female breast below the top of the areola,” either in public or “in a private place under circumstances the person should know will likely cause affront or alarm or with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of the actor or the child.” 

Buchanan’s attorneys filed a motion to declare Utah’s lewdness statute unconstitutional because it discriminates against women, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. They based their motion on a 10th Circuit Court ruling that found a Fort Collins, Colorado, ban on female toplessness unconstitutional because it did not apply similarly to men. The judge in Buchanan’s case claimed that that ruling did not apply here as the Utah law is “significantly different.”

“It is the prerogative of the Legislature to establish laws incorporating contemporary community standards regarding lewdness,” the judge wrote, according to the Tribune. “It is not for the court to decide whether the Legislature’s enumeration of lewd conduct is wise or sound policy.”

So the law stands, and if Buchanan does not appeal the judge’s decision, the case against her will move to trial.

Who Is the Least Worst Democratic Candidate?

Two questions for Democratic primary voters:

  • Who is the Democrat least likely to be so unacceptable to center-right voters that they end up voting for Donald Trump even though they don’t like him much?
  • Does this change after considering the most likely Republican campaign attacks?

The impeachment proceedings are making it more clear every day that nothing is going to change the minds of Trump voters. They just don’t believe anything that either liberals or the press say about him. So like it or not, everything hinges on the folks in the middle.

Lunchtime Photo

This is Palm Springs at midnight, taken from Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park. I ended up on this road sort of accidentally and just kept driving until it dead-ended at this overlook, with a lovely view of the city below. Yes, it was a dex night.

January 17, 2020 — Joshua Tree National Park, Riverside County, California

This Is Hands Down TV’s Most Compassionate Abortion Sequence

After months and months of hearing friends rave about Sex Education on Netflix, I finally sat down and watched the first season over the winter holidays. Folks, I was hooked. But it wasn’t witty teens navigating the awkwardness of starter sex that drew me in. It was an abortion storyline early in the show’s first season that did it.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Maeve, one of the show’s main characters, discovers that she’s pregnant and schedules an abortion at a local health clinic. (The show is set somewhere beautiful-looking in the UK, where it seems much easier to schedule an abortion than in most rural or even suburban areas in the US.) Once there, she meets an older woman who’s scheduled to have her own procedure—the latest of several, we discover later. The show steers clear of any moralizing about the women’s motives, focusing instead on the inevitable fact that untenable pregnancies happen. The storyline stays focused on them—the people having the abortions. Which, in its own way, is pretty revolutionary.

So often, popular depictions of abortion focus on everything except the person actually having it, particularly while they’re having it. It’s about familial disapproval. Angry partners. Marriage. (And, as Hillary Kelly wrote for Mother Jones last year, American TV often completely whiffs on the many insane obstacles that stand in a woman’s way in our country.)

This episode instead stays squarely inside the abortion clinic, humanizing people whose stories are often erased entirely. 

What’s more, Maeve’s will they-won’t they love interest—who, again spoiler, is not who got her pregnant—bumbles about, wanting to make Maeve feel supported, and decides to bring her flowers after her procedure. He supports her without question or judgment. 

The second season of Sex Education just dropped on Netflix, just in time for the 47th anniversary of Roe v Wade. It reminds us that sex—and abortion—are ultimately just about people.

On the Roe Anniversary, Let’s Consider One Seemingly Obvious Way to Expand Abortion Access

When the Supreme Court ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion 47 years ago today, individual states began to legalize and regulate the procedure, and most did so with what probably felt like a crucial, beneficial, and even obvious caveat: Legal abortion must be provided by a physician.

But today, this restriction, which was largely meant to protect women from the sort of horrific malpractice that took place before abortion was legalized, is a significant impediment to widespread and safe abortion care. This is a key argument in the forthcoming book, Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in Americain which authors David Cohen and Carole Joffe make a compelling case that broadening abortion access relies on expanding who can provide this kind of medical care. 

“I think people misunderstand how [abortion] could be regular medical care, in the sense that nurses, midwives, and doctors can all perform this procedure,” Cohen tells Mother Jones.

Last year, Rebecca Grant wrote in Mother Jones about how it makes sense, now more than ever, to expand the range of abortion practitioners:

After the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, every state, with the exception of Vermont, banned anyone except physicians from performing abortions. The restrictions were seen as necessary to edge out “back-alley” providers. But two medical advances over the 46 years since the ruling have made abortion both safer to get and easier to provide. The first was aspiration abortion, a procedure popularized in the ’70s that uses suction—as opposed to scraping, or “curettage”—to pull the pregnancy out of the uterus. The second was the development of the medication abortion method, a two-pill protocol that terminates early pregnancies and simply flushes the menses out of the body.

Together, medication and aspiration abortions, which are only performed in the first 10 or 16 weeks of pregnancy, respectively, make up the vast majority of terminations every year and have a serious complication rate of less than half of one percent. They’re also not exceptionally complicated to perform. 

Part of the issue here is that there are, of course, a limited number of physicians in the United States to begin with, and some of them refuse to provide abortion care due to religious beliefs. This can be particularly harmful for rural women who typically live hours away from the nearest clinic.

As Cohen and Joffe point out in Obstacle Course, there are some states that already allow non-physicians to perform abortions. Last year, as Grant also covered, Maine passed a law that permits nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other qualified medical professionals to administer medication abortions or in-clinic procedures. Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia also allow physician assistants to perform medication abortions, and five states allow them to perform the other dominant form of first-trimester abortion, aspiration abortion. 

On the other end of the spectrum sits Mississippi, which has a state law that not only stipulates a licensed physician must administer abortion care, but that the physician must be an OB-GYN as well. Thirty-two other states also have physician-only laws in place. 

“We’re not arguing for the lack of regulations here or lack of government oversight; we’re just saying is that this should be treated like normal medical care with the same kind of oversight that the medical profession has for any other medical procedures that apply to abortion,” Cohen says. “And when it is that way, the difference is just huge for the people who are able to access care in a more dignified way, without interference from the government.”

Beyond the physician restriction, Joffe emphasizes that another significant obstacle to abortion care is simply the costs. 75 percent of abortion patients are either below the poverty line or just barely above it, she says, and even an early medication abortion can cost around $500 (though some places charge more than that) and the most common second-trimester procedure can cost up to $3,000. What’s more, additional indirect expenses required to navigate restrictions, like waiting periods, add up quickly. “Wrapped up in costs is not just the cost of the procedure, but also the cost of getting to a clinic, the cost of child care for the 60 percent of patients who are already parents, the cost involved in taking time off from work to get a procedure,” Cohen adds. While providers often work to keep costs as low as possible, and abortion funds across the United States help their clients fill in the gaps, poverty is the sort of complicated challenge that cannot be fixed with a few funds and creative budgeting. Mississippi is a more severe case on this front, as I’ve written about before

In the meantime, consider that part of the reason Maine was able to pass physician assistant legislation in the first place was that the legislature flipped for a Democratic majority in the midterms. November is just nine months away.

Nine States Passed Abortion Bans Last Year. The Courts Have Not Allowed Any to Take Effect.

In an unprecedented wave of anti-abortion legislation, 17 states enacted restrictions in 2019, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Of those 17 states, nine enacted particularly severe laws that narrowly limit the window of time in which a woman can get an abortion, in some cases effectively banning the procedure altogether. These particular laws have sparked widespread outrage and panic among abortion advocates because they fly in the face of Roe, in many cases prohibiting abortion when a fetal “heartbeat”—electrical signals from a group of cells that form a heart later in gestation—can be detected. That’s often before many women even know they are pregnant.

But, on the anniversary of Roe, let’s say Praise Be: Thanks to a spate of lawsuits challenging these laws’ constitutionality—including many from the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights—not a single gestational age ban has gone into effect. In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah, judges have blocked the legislation from taking effect until court cases challenging the laws are decided. (There is no pending litigation challenging Louisiana’s heartbeat law, but the ban is on hold waiting for the outcome of Mississippi’s abortion ban in the courts.)

But the most immediate legal reckoning over Roe will not come on the question of bans, but rather in response to a 2014 Louisiana law that restricts abortion by requiring doctors who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their facility. The Supreme Court has decided to hear the case, June Medical Services v. Gee, and it will do so in March. As my colleague Jessica Washington writes, “Although the justices are not expected to overturn Roe outright in this case, legal experts argue that if the court were to rule in favor of the law, access to abortion in states like Louisiana could exist in name only.”

To be clear, there are still myriad hurdles to access in many of these states that have bans on the books—like too few clinics, mandatory waiting periods, and invasive ultrasounds—but it is still technically legal to obtain an abortion in these states.

Watch Adam Schiff Lay Out His Case Against Trump to Open Day 2 of the Impeachment Trial

On the second day of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) summarized the argument for impeachment and rebuked the president for “abusing the power of his office to seek help from abroad to improve his reelection prospects at home.”

“President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign,” Schiff said. “When the Ukrainian president did not immediately assent, President Trump withheld two official acts to induce the Ukrainian leader to comply: a head of state meeting in the Oval Office, and military funding.”

Trump’s gravest misstep, according to Schiff, was his withholding of military aid from Ukraine. “President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a strategic partner at war with Russia to secure foreign help with his reelection,” he said. “In other words, to cheat.”

He continued, “The president used official state powers available only to him and unavailable to any political opponent to advantage himself in a democratic election. His scheme was undertaken for a simple but corrupt reason: to help him win reelection in 2020. But the effect of his scheme was to undermine our free and fair elections and to put our national security at risk.”

Watch the video below:

.@RepAdamSchiff: “We are here today in this hallowed chamber undertaking this solemn action for only the third time in history because Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the US, has acted precisely as Hamilton and his contemporaries feared.” #ImpeachmentTrial

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) January 22, 2020

The Bezos Dick Pic Hacking Affair Just Got a Whole Lot Messier for Trump Allies

The Jeff Bezos Sexting Saga just took another wild turn. On Wednesday, the United Nations called for an “immediate investigation” of the alleged hacking of Bezos’s iPhone, citing forensic evidence showing  that a WhatsApp account linked to the Saudi crown prince himself, Mohammad Bin Salman, infected the billionaire’s phone while the two were chatting in May 2018. The vehicle for the hacking was alleged to be a video file that allowed the Saudis to suck up reams of Bezos’s personal data, according to The Guardian, which first reported the story on Tuesday.  The implications of the hacking claims are not limited to Bezos’s cybersecurity. They potentially pose tough questions for the Trump-allied proprietor of American Media Inc., which until recently owned the National Enquirer, itself at the heart of the Trump campaign’s hush money imbroglio.

Let me explain.

Team Bezos has long claimed that MBS has it out for the Amazon chief, who also owns the Washington Post. The paper’s relentless coverage of the grisly death of its columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly enraged the Saudi leader, who was implicated in ordering Khashoggi’s murder. That’s where the so-called dick pics come in. Almost a year ago, Bezos accused the National Enquirer and AMI of trying to extort him over compromising photos he allegedly exchanged with his girlfriend, and he published email exchanges on Medium to prove it. Gavin de Becker, a veteran private investigator for Bezos, soon made a related and more incendiary charge: Saudi Arabia had swiped “private information” from the billionaire’s phone and was “in league” with the Enquirer to bring down Bezos by threatening to publish the photos. AMI has insisted that its sole source for information about Bezos’s relationship with Lauren Sanchez was her brother Michael Sanchez. He has denied trading the selfies. (Sanchez declined to comment for this article. Gavin De Becker also did not respond to requests for comment.)

Now, UN special investigators Agnès Callamard and David Kaye, are lending their credibility to the intel, which was conducted by a team hired by Bezos, according to the Financial Times. “The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the crown prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, the Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the joint statement read, according to the Guardian. “The allegations reinforce other reporting pointing to a pattern of targeted surveillance of perceived opponents and those of broader strategic importance to the Saudi authorities, including nationals and non-nationals.”

Saudi Arabia “was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos,” the experts said. The Saudi embassy in Washington labeled the allegations “absurd.” The Financial Times, which saw the forensic report, notes that “it does not claim to have conclusive evidence and its findings could not be independently confirmed.”

So where does this leave the allegation that the National Enquirer was “in league” with the Saudis? As I reported in August last year, any federal investigation could complicate a deal crafted to protect the Trump-allied owner of AMI, David Pecker, in his company’s 2016 campaign finance scandal. I reported that during the early months of 2019:

…federal investigators began requesting corporate documents and questioning staff at American Media Inc., the company run by Donald Trump’s longtime friend David Pecker, about a special issue of the National Enquirer it produced that lavished praise on Saudi Arabia and its controversial leader, Mohammed bin Salman, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation. Gathering evidence through at least June and working at the direction of prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, FBI agents zeroed in on the circumstances behind the magazine’s publication and, according to one of the sources, whether AMI had engaged in illegal influence peddling on behalf of a foreign power.

Here’s the rub:

The Saudi influence probe could have profound implications for AMI, according to former federal prosecutors, because it threatens to undo a deal the company struck last year with the Justice Department over its role in the hush-money case that resulted in campaign finance charges against Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who is serving three years in prison for that and other crimes. AMI agreed to cooperate fully with investigators and in return received immunity from prosecution. Yet that deal could be tossed out if AMI was suspected of engaging in other wrongdoing… Former federal prosecutors say that if investigators are scrutinizing AMI for possible FARA violations, extortion, or other crimes, the company should be worried that its non-prosecution deal for the hush-money payment is in serious jeopardy.

Both SDNY and AMI did not respond to new questions from Mother Jones today about whether or not the probe was ongoing, or if the UN’s call to investigate Saudi hacking could affect their plans. For the dizzying story of how AMI came under scrutiny by the feds as a possible agent of Saudi Arabia, featuring a cast of characters that includes the world’s richest man, a Saudi leader who has forged deep ties to the Trump administration, and an embattled media baron with a reputation for using his flagship tabloid to protect his allies and punish his enemies, click here.

Trump to American Troops in Iraq: Your Brain Injuries Aren’t That Bad

President Donald Trump downplayed the possible traumatic brain injuries suffered by nearly a dozen US troops earlier this month after Iran fired missiles at two military bases in Iraq. “I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things,” he told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “But I would say, and I can report, that it is not very serious.”

Last week, the Pentagon confirmed that 11 soldiers at Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq had suffered concussions and were being screened for traumatic brain injury, contradicting Trump’s initial assessment following the attack that “no Americans were harmed.” Trump said Wednesday that he was told about those possible injuries “numerous days later” and reiterated his belief that the concussions were not very serious “relative to other injuries” he had seen. “I’ve seen people with no legs and with no arms,” he said. “I consider them to be really bad injuries.” 

But that is not the experience of veterans, who regularly deal with the consequences of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, suffered during combat, many of which can go unreported. “TBI is the signature wound of today’s wars,” a Center for a New American Security report found in 2018. “While a relatively low-level concern at the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by 2007 head injuries exceeded chest or abdominal injuries as those most treated by the U.S. military.” As Trump somewhat mockingly noted, headaches are a component of TBI, but dizziness, memory loss, and irritability are also common symptoms. 

More than 408,000 service members have been diagnosed with a serious brain injury and the actual number of personnel affected is probably much higher, the Military Times reported. Part of the problem is a stigma among service members against reporting head injuries, but the military itself also has not always rigorously tested for them. “Before June 2010, TBI screening was not routinely implemented in Afghanistan or Iraq, and there were no standardized provisions for recurrent TBI prevention or treatment,” a 2017 study found. “Return-to-duty decisions were generally left to line commanders, not medical providers. Thus, many injuries were not immediately reported.” 

Trump has often bragged about “taking care of every warrior that returns home as a veteran,” but he has shown less interest in taking concussions seriously despite considerable research about the serious and negative impact of repeated blows to the head. After years of complaints and study of NFL players, stricter rules to prevent concussions were enacted. During a campaign rally in October 2016, he mocked the league for doing so. “We don’t go by these new, and very much softer, NFL rules,” he said. “Concussions—’Uh oh, got a little ding on the head? No, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season’—our people are tough.”

His comments come at a time when the military has embarked on new efforts to study head injuries and encourage service members to report them, as some veterans noted on Twitter.  But it requires buy-in from troops who may take their lead from a commander-in-chief with a much simpler, and more dangerous, view.

Raw Data: Women in Songwriting

I don’t know squat about modern music, so I was a little surprised to see the latest stats on the number of women who write popular music. In short, there are hardly any:

The figures for 2019 are worse for producers (5 percent female) but a bit better for performers (22.5 percent female).

There’s more here in the full Annenberg report. I do have one comment about all this: I’ve heard of all but two of the top women songwriters but I’ve only heard of one of the men. This is mostly a commentary on my dismal knowledge of contemporary music, but I wonder why that is?

Trump Taunts Democrats: “We Have All the Material. They Don’t Have the Material.”

President Donald Trump is thousands of miles away from Washington right now, but that hasn’t stopped him from chiming in on the historic impeachment trial currently underway in the Senate. “We’re doing very well,” he told reporters before leaving the World Economic Forum in Davos, later adding, “Honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”

Donald Trump, who is essentially on trial for obstruction of Congress, just bragged about withholding material from Congress: “We’re doing very well…Honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) January 22, 2020

Trump didn’t elaborate on what he meant, but his comments come hours after Senate Republicans voted down several motions to subpoena administration officials and documents related to the Ukraine scandal. That’s certainly how Democrats took it. “The second article of impeachment was for obstruction of Congress: covering up witnesses and documents from the American people,” tweeted Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), one of the House impeachment managers prosecuting the case. “This morning the President not only confessed to it, he bragged about it.”

Of course, it benefits Trump to shield evidence from congressional investigators. When documents and witness testimony has become public—either from administration officials defying the White House’s obstruction or through a public records request—they have often proved devastating for Trump’s defense.

McConnell’s Goal: Keep the Impeachment Trial Short and Boring

Jonathan Chait says that Republicans screwed up by refusing en masse to allow the introduction of new evidence into President Trump’s impeachment trial:

The victory is Pyrrhic. Given that a vote to remove is almost inconceivable — Trump could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and all that — the trial is fundamentally an exercise in shaping public opinion about Donald Trump and his abuses of power. By voting to withhold evidence, Republicans are placing themselves in the unpopular position of abetting a cover-up.

Nah. Mitch McConnell obviously has one overriding goal here: to keep the trial short and the public bored enough not to watch it. Refusing to allow new evidence is part of that: it ensures that nobody bothers turning on their TV in hopes that something new and exciting will happen. It won’t. Since Democrats have little choice except to repeat stuff everyone knows already, what’s the point of watching?

As long as the trial is short and dull, McConnell wins. Very few people even know who John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney are, let alone whether they avoided having to testify.

Here Are Some of the Ukraine Documents Republicans Voted to Ignore

Late on Tuesday night, a watchdog group released a trove of documents from the White House Office of Management and Budget related to President Donald Trump’s hold on military aid to Ukraine. The disclosure of the material, obtained by the nonprofit American Oversight, came just hours after the Senate voted along party lines not to subpoena OMB documents or require testimony from two OMB officials, Robert Blair and Michael Duffey, in Trump’s impeachment trial. The president’s decision to block aid that had been appropriated by Congress is at the center of the Ukraine scandal.

The documents American Oversight released is composed largely of email traffic from Duffey, a political appointee who played a key role in executing the hold. The material reveals a flurry of activity by Duffey and a group of OMB employees related to the Ukraine aid just before Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Just after the call, the emails show, Duffey met with OMB General Counsel Mark Paoletta about the “Ukraine topic.”


The emails also shed new light on administration efforts to release the hold after it came to light that Trump had pressured Ukraine for investigations that could benefit him politically. 

The material OMB handed over, however, is heavily redacted, leaving its import not entirely clear. The Senate could presumably obtain the unredacted versions from OMB. Republicans just have to agree to ask.

GOP Senators Representing a Minority of Americans Are Preventing a Fair Impeachment Trial

On Tuesday, senators representing 153 million Americans outvoted senators representing 168 million Americans.

A majority of the US public supports President Donald Trump’s impeachment and removal from office, and an overwhelming majority wants new witnesses to testify in the Senate’s impeachment trial. But Senate Republicans appear almost certain to succeed in acquitting Trump and blocking the admission of new evidence.

On Tuesday, the first day of the Senate’s trial, Republicans defeated a series of amendments by Democrats to admit new evidence and call new witnesses on a 53–47 party-line vote. What explains the disconnect between the actions of Senate Republicans and the views of the public? Put simply, Senate Republicans do not represent a majority of Americans.

The Republicans who blocked the admission of new evidence represent 15 million fewer Americans than the Democrats who voted yes, according to Ian Millhiser of Vox.

Fun Fact: The senators who supported this amendment represent 15 million more people than the senators who opposed it.

— Ian Millhiser (@imillhiser) January 21, 2020

Of course, the Senate has favored small states over large ones since its inception because of the decision at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to give each state two senators regardless of population. But the gap between large states represented by Democrats and small rural states represented by Republicans keeps growing. Today, the country’s largest state, California, has 68 times the population of the smallest one, Wyoming, yet they have the same number of seats in the Senate. That means individual voters in deep-red Wyoming have far more influence over the Senate than voters in deep blue California. 

This makes the Senate deeply unrepresentative of the American people and puts Democrats at a major disadvantage, since Democrats tend to represent highly populated urban states while Republicans represent smaller, more rural ones. In 2018, Democratic Senate candidates won the popular vote by a margin of 54 to 46 percent, but Republicans gained two seats in the chamber. The GOP’s Senate majority is far whiter, more rural, and more conservative than the country as a whole.

As a result of this population divide, senators representing a smaller and smaller minority of Americans can block legislation supported by a majority of the public. Because removing a president from office requires support from two-thirds of senators, it’s now possible for 34 senators representing the 17 least-populous states with just 7 percent of the country’s population to prevent Trump’s ouster. (In reality, it wouldn’t play out quite like this, since some of the smallest states, such as Vermont and Delaware, are represented by Democrats.)

Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes in 2016. But minority rule in the Senate is even more skewed—and will likely help Trump keep his job.

Fox News Really Doesn’t Want You to Tune Into Trump’s Impeachment Trial

At around 2 a.m. ET, after voting down all 11 Democratic amendments that would have permitted new documents and witness testimony into the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally adjourned the chamber for the evening. It had been an excruciating, marathon day, one that appeared to fit into McConnell’s overall tactic to exhaust the American public’s interest in the historic trial.

That same strategy appears to be playing out on Fox News, which went to great lengths to convince viewers that the trial wasn’t worth their attention. “Unbelievably boring” is how Fox & Friends‘ Steve Doocy described the first day. “We watched so that you don’t have to watch the entire thing,” Pete Hegseth told viewers.

“This was just a debate over the rules,” Hegseth continued. “I was sitting back watching last night thinking, ‘This is a circus.’ And then my wife Jen corrected me and said, ‘No, at least circuses are entertaining.’ This is just a show, you know how it’s going to end: 53–47 on every vote. Now you have three days to endure.”

Fox & Friends downplays the impeachment trial: "It was unbelievably boring. I don't know how people can follow it. … I don't think the majority of people watched. I think they just turn to us to be able to summarize it for them because it was so long."

— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) January 22, 2020

On his program Tuesday night, Fox News personality Sean Hannity relied on a slightly different strategy, opting to mute remarks from the Senate floor and replace them with a long list of Trump’s so-called accomplishments. “He pulled us out of the horrendous climate accord,” Hannity said. “He pulled us out of the horrific Iranian nuclear deal.” The list went on.

Fox is just scrolling Trump "accomplishments" while the 3rd impeachment trial in US history is relegated to audio-free split screen action

— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) January 22, 2020

“As warranted, we will dip in and out, but we’re not going to torture you,” Hannity said. He then paused to highlight Trump’s lawyers, whose performances Hannity praised as “excellent.”

Hannity has good reason to praise Trump’s lawyers. They kicked off the first day of the Senate’s impeachment trial on Tuesday by barely engaging with the evidence House Democrats have offered in support of Trump’s removal from office, instead rattling off right-wing conspiracy theories and outright lies peddled on Fox News.

Hannity says “as warranted” he will dip in to the Senate impeachment proceedings, calling them “pointless” and telling his viewers, “We are not going to torture you.” He also promises to play highlight clips from today of Trump’s legal defense defending the President.

— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) January 22, 2020

Immigrant Kids Were Restrained to Chairs With Bags Over Their Heads at a Juvenile Hall in Virginia

Antonio was tired of people calling him names. Staff members at the Virginia juvenile hall where he was held would call him pendejo and “onion head,” he said. After fleeing violence in Mexico at age 15 and arriving alone at the US border, he’d been sent to Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in 2016 and held alongside American teens while he awaited immigration proceedings. Shenandoah is one of two juvenile halls nationally that the Office of Refugee Resettlement uses to hold unaccompanied minors who are deemed threatening.

Now a group of district attorneys from around the country—including reformers Larry Krasner, Chesa Boudin, and Kim Foxx—have filed a brief citing concerns about the immigrant teens’ treatment there.

Antonio hadn’t broken the law, but his detention in Virginia felt like a punishment: Once, when he got in a fight with an American kid who taunted him, he says staffers restrained him by tying him to a chair for four hours, allegedly hitting him while he sat there. Over a year and a half at Shenandoah, Antonio (not his real name) says he was tied to the chair about five times. In court documents, he recounted that staffers who restrained him would sometimes put a bag over his head, meant to deter biting or spitting. “It had small holes that I could see out of, but only a little,” he said.

Several other immigrants recalled similar scenarios. A boy from Honduras described his time in the chair as almost suffocating. “When you’re in crisis, the bag is the least helpful thing—it’s scary,” he said, adding that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder before arriving in Virginia. A third teen recalled peeing his pants while restrained in the chair.

The immigrant teens told their stories as part of a lawsuit about conditions at the juvenile hall, first filed in 2017 by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. (Their real names were redacted in legal filings to protect their privacy.) The lawsuit argued that the immigrant teens required trauma-informed mental health care, given the hardships they faced fleeing their home countries. But, the suit alleged, they were instead “subjected to unconstitutional conditions that shock the conscience,” including violence by staff, isolation, and excessive use of the restraint chair.

The case received national attention after the Associated Press reported on it, prompting Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to order an investigation in 2018. A former child-development specialist who worked at the facility told the AP she saw kids with bruises and broken bones. In court filings, lawyers for the detention center denied all allegations of physical and verbal abuse; they admitted staffers restrained children in a chair after fighting or self-harm, but rejected the kids’ accounts about specific instances. In December 2018, a federal judge found there were grounds to allow a trial over claims of excessive force, but ruled against the claim for better mental health care.

Now, as the teens’ lawyer appeals to a higher court, they have some new allies. On January 13, dozens of elected prosecutors and criminal justice reform advocates filed a brief on their behalf, arguing that the court erred in ruling against them. The prosecutors include some of the country’s most famous reformist district and state’s attorneys: Larry Krasner of Philadelphia; Kim Foxx of Cook County, Illinois; Chesa Boudin of San Francisco; Wesley Bell of Saint Louis County; Rachael Rollins of Suffolk County, Massachusetts; and Marilyn Mosby of Baltimore. They are joined by a handful of attorneys general, including Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the former deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. “The court’s decision,” they wrote, failed to consider that the immigrant teens “are children, and have not been adjudicated delinquent or convicted of any offense. The purpose of their detention is…to protect them from harm, not to punish them.” But, they added, staffers at the juvenile hall “responded to the Plaintiffs’ acting out with physical abuse and punitive imposition of restraints and solitary confinement.”  

The lawsuit claims that immigrant teens at Shenandoah were repeatedly confined to their rooms for minor infractions like not participating in class, complaining about a headache, or accidentally hitting the ceiling with the ball while playing soccer. It says they were sometimes “stripped of their clothes, including, at times, even their underwear, while restricted to their rooms in solitary confinement.” The plaintiff, a teen from Honduras who I’ll call Carlos, told the court about lying face-down on the floor in nothing but his boxers as punishment; repeatedly landing in room confinement for saying angry words and threatening staff members; and taking blows from staffers who hit him for misbehaving. The suit argues these experiences led to further trauma and exacerbated his mental illnesses.

Advocates for immigrant kids argue that aggression or bad behaviors exhibited at shelters generally stem from untreated mental illness, often resulting from trauma they experienced in their home countries or while fleeing. Some of the children interviewed as part of the lawsuit reported previous abuse by family members or strangers, witnessing murders of friends and relatives, being exploited for their labor, and enduring assaults. 

Some immigrants started engaging in self-harm at the facility; Antonio said he became suicidal, cut his wrists with a piece of glass or plastic, and banged his head against the floor because he was sad. Another boy said that after he slammed his fist into a door, staffers handcuffed him and strapped him into the chair as he cried. “Staff said that they did it to calm me down,” he said in court filings. Carlos said he repeatedly asked to talk with a psychologist about his angry feelings, but was only allowed to once. Lawyers for the detention center deny he made these requests and say he met repeatedly with a psychiatrist who prescribed him medicine, and that he spoke with a licensed professional counselor once a week. The detention center also denies punishing children for self-harm, or confining them for things like complaining about a headache. Any use of force or restraint, its lawyers said, was justified and legal.

Investigators noted that the juvenile hall was “geared more toward a correctional philosophy and environment than a therapeutic model.”

In mid-2018, Gov. Northam ordered a state investigation of Shenandoah. Investigators interviewed kids at the facility, but only with staffers in the room—something Carlos’ lawyer, Hannah Lieberman, says may have skewed responses. They also reviewed case files and medical records at the facility, but were barred from making any copies or taking handwritten notes. Staffers confirmed they strapped children to a chair and placed mesh bags over their heads to prevent spitting or biting. A few children said they had been abused.

But investigators concluded that the harsh treatment described by kids did not meet the state’s legal threshold for abuse. While the facility did isolate children in their rooms, records suggested that, contrary to what the teens had claimed in the lawsuit, it never lasted more than 24 hours, and tended to be a handful of hours at a time. Investigators did note that the juvenile hall was “geared more toward a correctional philosophy and environment than a therapeutic model,” and recommended training staffers about youth development, deescalation strategies, and trauma-informed care.

A few months later, US District Judge Elizabeth Dillon ruled in December 2018 that there was enough evidence to proceed to trial on claims that staffers used excessive force and restraints on Carlos. But she rejected his claim that the juvenile hall provided mental health care so inadequate that it violated his constitutional rights. “Not surprisingly, plaintiffs desire and advocate for a best practices approach, but the law does not require best practices,” she wrote. “Rather it requires constitutional practices, and that is the issue before the court.” 

The district attorneys aren’t buying that argument. In their amicus brief, they argued that “the conditions in which children are detained must account for, and not exacerbate, their trauma.” It is undisputed, they wrote, that many immigrant teens arrived at the Virginia juvenile hall with depression, conduct disorders, anxiety disorders, and PTSD, and that some engaged in self-harm there. “Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center has egregiously and repeatedly departed from accepted professional norms—including failing to provide adequate mental health treatment to children in its care with known mental health issues and using punitive measures including lengthy solitary confinement,” they wrote. Isolating kids and tying them to a restraint chair for lashing out, they added, would likely worsen mental health problems like panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, psychotic symptoms, and hopelessness. “Because of their special vulnerabilities and needs as adolescents, the use of these approaches is a cruel and harmful practice…and can have long-term deleterious consequences that are difficult to remediate,” Gregory Lewis, a Chicago-based licensed psychologist, wrote in earlier court filings.

Carlos’ attorney, Lieberman, is now appealing to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. “Punishing kids for behavior that is the consequence of trauma exacerbates the preexisting harm to which they’ve been exposed,” she says. “It’s antithetical to acting in accordance with any kind of professional judgment.” Next month, a juvenile hall in California will stop holding unaccompanied minors for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which will make the Virginia facility the only one in the country that still does.

In 2018, the teen who recalled crying in the restraint chair after hitting his fist on a door chose to go back to Honduras. Before he left, he gave the court a statement: “I want us to be treated as human beings.”