The New Black


The black voters who turned out for Barack Obama in November 2008 also have been blamed for nudging California's gay-marriage ban—since nullified by the Supreme Court—to victory. To explore changing black perspectives on gay rights, director Yoruba Richen follows Maryland's 2012 same-sex marriage referendum, introducing us to people like 24-year-old activist Karess Taylor-Hughes and Pastor Derek McCoy, president of the Maryland Family Alliance—thought leaders on opposite sides of the issue. Backed by an outstanding gospel soundtrack, The New Black is a story of passion, conviction, and the evolution of long-held attitudes. It's likely to move you, whatever your belief.

This review originally appeared in our January/February issue of Mother Jones.

The Bosnia List

By Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro


An estimated 100,000 people died during the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, but few Americans grasp the insanity of the conflict. Kenan Trebincevic, a Bosnian Muslim, was 11 when the fighting broke out. He describes how lifelong friends turned on his family, how his brother and father were thrown into detainment camps, and how they eventually fled under nightmarish conditions. He also takes us on a trip home to complete his titular to-do list as he confronts the betrayers and attempts to make sense of the nonsensical.

This review originally appeared in our January/February 2014 issue of Mother Jones.



From Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' Give the People What They Want


Liner notes: Departing from her usual hard-hitting R&B, Jones (whom we interviewed a few years back) tackles a suave uptown groove reminiscent of slicker Motown greats like the Marvelettes and Supremes.

Behind the music: Originally slated for summer 2013, Give the People What They Want was delayed while Jones underwent successful surgery for cancer.

Check it out if you like: Deep-soul survivors Bettye LaVette and Charles Bradley.

This review originally appeared in our January/February issue of Mother Jones.


Steve Benen has once again tallied up all the guests on the five major Sunday morning chat shows, and as usual, Republicans rule the roost. The chart below shows everyone with 10 or more appearances, and 77 percent of them are Republicans:

This really is a bit of a mystery. It's easy to go on about how the Beltway media is obsessed with Republicans no matter who's in charge, yada yada yada, but that's not really a satisfying explanation. Nor is it because one side happens to have more charismatic leaders than the other: it's true that neither Harry Reid nor Nancy Pelosi are on this list, but neither are John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. So what explains it? Are Republicans more aggressive than Democrats about getting themselves booked? Are Democrats more boring than Republicans? Do Republicans get better ratings? Is theatrical intransigence just fundamentally better TV?

Seriously, what's the deal? "Reporters love Republicans" just doesn't cut it. So what's up?

UPDATE: Inquiring minds want to know more. There are more Republicans with 10 or more appearances, but that doesn't tell us anything about total numbers. How many total Republicans and total Democrats made Sunday appearances in 2013? I asked Steve Benen for the raw numbers, and he kindly obliged.

Answer: 413 Republicans and 311 Democrats, counting all independents as Democrats. For the record, this counts only politicians: officeholders, former officeholders, candidates and potential candidates, etc. Strategists, pundits, and flacks for interest groups aren't included. This is Democrats vs. Republicans, not liberals vs. conservatives.

We will never know definitively what happened in Benghazi on the night of September 11, 2012. There were too many people involved, too many motivations for the attack, too many conflicting stories after the attack, and too little indisputable evidence about the exact course of events. Add to that the usual fog-of-war issues and you simply have to accept that we'll never know with absolute certainty everything that happened.

That said, after more than a year of investigation we know a lot. And while I was out of town, David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times produced a state-of-the-art summary of where the best evidence leads us. The whole piece is well worth reading, but I'd highlight a couple of things.

First, Kirkpatrick concludes that the attack was primarily the work of Mr. Abu Khattala, who headed up a local militia that was allied with Ansar al-Sharia, another local militia:

The C.I.A. kept its closest watch on people who had known ties to terrorist networks abroad, especially those connected to Al Qaeda. Intelligence briefings for diplomats often mentioned Sufian bin Qumu, a former driver for a company run by Bin Laden....“We heard a lot about Sufian bin Qumu,” said one American diplomat in Libya at the time. “I don’t know if we ever heard anything about Ansar al-Shariah.”

....The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack....But when the friend heard the attacker’s boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault.

....Three weeks after the attack, on Oct. 3, 2012, leaders of the group’s regional affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, sent a letter to a lieutenant about efforts to crack the new territory....The letter, left behind when the group’s leaders fled French troops in Mali, was later obtained and released by The Associated Press. It tallied up the “spectacular” acts of terrorism the group had accomplished around the region, but it made no mention of Benghazi or any other attacks in Libya.

It's important to understand exactly what Kirkpatrick is saying: not just that Al Qaeda had essentially nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi, but that our preoccupation with al-Qaeda actively crippled our understanding of what was happening in Libya. And the same thing happened after the attack. Based on the thinnest imaginable pretexts, conservatives have continued to insist that Al Qaeda was responsible, and that's crippled our ability to understand what really happened that night.

Beyond that, I think Blake Hounshell makes the most salient point: it's all but impossible to pinpoint exactly what "Al Qaeda" is these days anyway. In reality, there's a continuum of groups, starting with purely local militants on one end and Al Qaeda central on the other. In between are groups "allied" with Al Qaeda; groups with "ties" to Al Qaeda; groups with members who once worked with Al Qaeda; and groups that have no real connection to Al Qaeda but have similar goals. Trying to figure out which of these groups are "really" Al Qaeda and which aren't is a mug's game.

The second point I'd highlight is the role of the infamous "Innocence of Muslims" video. Here is Kirkpatrick:

On Sept. 8, a popular Islamist preacher lit the fuse by screening a clip of the video on the ultraconservative Egyptian satellite channel El Nas....Islamists in Benghazi were watching....By Sept. 9, a popular eastern Libyan Facebook page had denounced the film.

On the morning of Sept. 11, even some secular political activists were posting calls online for a protest that Friday, three days away....Around dusk, the Pan-Arab satellite networks began broadcasting footage of protesters breaching the walls of the American Embassy in Cairo, pulling down the American flag and running up the black banner of militant Islam. Young men around Benghazi began calling one another with the news, several said, and many learned of the video for the first time.

....There is no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers. A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him. Other Libyan witnesses, too, said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet.

If Kirkpatrick sounds slightly exasperated in this passage, it's because he reported all this more than a year ago. And he wasn't the only one. For some reason, though, it's been almost universally shoved down the memory hole. It's conventional wisdom these days that the video played no role.

But that's almost certainly not the case. The best evidence suggests that Benghazi was an opportunistic attack: There were lots of militant groups in Benghazi itching for action and looking around for a suitable provocation. Plenty of things might have done the job, and in the end, "Innocence of Muslims" turned out to be one of them.

Not the only one, though. Like it or not, there's no simple motivation for Benghazi. Likewise, there's no simple account of how well planned the attack was. Most likely, as Kirkpatrick says, it was neither spontaneous nor the result of long planning. It was something in between, probably in the works for a day or so before it started.

At this point, this is what we know. Benghazi was an opportunistic attack. Several groups were involved, all of them essentially local and with nothing but the most tenuous connections to Al Qaeda. These groups had multiple motivations for the attack, and anger over the "Innocence of Muslims" video was one of them. It provided the spark, and within a day or two it had fanned the flames of resentment enough to make an attack feasible. A few hours later, the attack was planned and then carried out.

That's the nickel summary. But do read the whole thing to get the full story. For now, it's about the best, most fair-minded account that we have.

Ani DiFranco promotional pic

In a banner year for non-apology apologies, singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco non-apologized this weekend for renting out an old Louisiana slave plantation to host a songwriting workshop. The event, now canceled, was billed as a "Righteous Retreat" and charged attendees $1,000 to sleep in a tent for four nights and learn about "developing one’s singular creativity" while DiFranco and her friends led jam sessions. The "captivating setting" was to be Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, Louisiana, a 64-room, 53,000-square-foot antebellum mansion and sugar plantation whose website has this to say about the plantation master:

"Considering his slaves to be valuable tools in the operation of his business, John Randolph provided the necessary care to keep them in good health. He understood the importance of hygiene in controlling the spread of illnesses and disease, so he provided a bathhouse where slaves could bathe daily if they wished...Ever the astute businessman, Randolph knew that in order to maintain a willing workforce, it was necessary to provide not only for his slaves' basic needs for housing, food and medicine, but to also offer additional compensation and rewards when their work was especially productive... It is difficult to accurately assess the treatment of Randolph’s slaves; however, various records indicate that they were probably well treated for the time."

The website also notes that Randolph's "willing workforce" was comprised of 155 slaves quartered in 42 slave houses in 1860, making Nottoway "one of the largest plantations in the South, at a time when most owners possessed fewer than 20 slaves."

On Saturday, a group of black feminists on Twitter took notice, and the hashtag #AniDiFrancoRetreatIdeas was born:


The event's Facebook page filled up with outraged comments, some noting that the building's current owner is a right-wing Australian billionaire who gave hundreds of thousands to help elect a prime minister who considers abortion "the easy way out," homelessness a choice, and doesn't want his daughters vaccinated against cervical cancer.

Yesterday, DiFranco posted an announcement to her label's blog canceling the event, and apologizing largely by way of excusing herself from blame, chiding those who'd gotten upset, and lamenting lost opportunities for "healing the wounds of history:"

"when i agreed to do a retreat...i did not know the exact location it was to be held. when i found out it was to be held at a resort on a former plantation, I thought to myself, “whoa”, but i did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness...i know that pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred. i believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness. i believe that compassionate energy is transformative and necessary for healing the wounds of history...if nottoway is simply not an acceptable place for me to go and try to do my work in the eyes of many, then let me just concede before more divisive words are spilled."

I spent many a dorm room night with Ani on full blast on the stereo (at Bryn Mawr, the DiFranco discography was practically a major) and she's nowhere near the likes of Richard Cohen and Paula Deen when it comes to obliviousness over history's injustices. But is it really such a huge step from "whoa" to "no" when a brochure for  Nottoway Plantation and Resort lands on your desk?

I probably missed this while I was away, but the LA Times catches me up this morning:

U.S. intelligence agencies warn in a new, classified assessment that insurgents could quickly regain control of key areas of Afghanistan and threaten the capital as soon as 2015 if American troops are fully withdrawn next year, according to two officials familiar with the findings.

The National Intelligence Estimate, which was given recently to the White House, has deeply concerned some U.S. officials. It represents the first time the intelligence community has formally warned that the Afghan government could face significantly more serious attacks in Kabul from a resurgent Taliban within months of a U.S. pullout, the officials said, speaking anonymously to discuss classified material. The assessment also concludes that security conditions probably will worsen regardless of whether the U.S. keeps troops in the country.

By the time we leave next year, we will have been in Afghanistan for 13 years. And yet, the consensus of our intelligence community is that we've had such a minuscule impact that the Taliban could be back in control of the country within a year or two. I think you can draw two basic conclusions from this:

  • Afghanistan is a tough nut, and we just need a few more years there.
  • The U.S military is plainly unable to affect the basic dynamics of Afghan culture, so we might as well leave.

As near as I can tell, Option A rather curiously marks you as a tough-minded person who faces the world with open eyes. Option B, which actually has the vast weight of evidence behind it, marks you as a dreamer and a defeatist. It's as though we already live on Bizarro Earth. I wonder if things are different back on Earth-1?

I've been away from the news for a few days, so I'm behind on things. How's Obamacare doing? Is it still a train wreck, an epic blunder, doomed to failure, the worst thing to happen to the American public since Dred Scott? I guess it must be. What can happen in the space of a few days, after all? Oh wait:

What seemed impossible in October suddenly became a lot more plausible in late December. This weekend, new enrollment data showed approximately 2 million Americans signed up for private health insurance plans since the start of open enrollment. Health policy experts now see a space to get to 7 million — although it's by no means a guarantee.

"October and November were essentially lost months," says Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "December is the first month where we're getting an indication of how things are working. It's starting to track with what people, particularly the CBO, projected originally." 

"It was a very impressive December," says Dan Mendelson, president of health research firm Avalere Health. "The fact that they have about 2 million enrolled is not that far off from [the original CBO projection of] 3.3 million."

Huh. How about that? Make a few tweaks here and there, get the marketing machine rolling, fix the website, and Obamacare is close to being back on track. It's never going to be the answer to all our health care woes—or, thanks to the vagaries of politics, even the best we could have done—but it's going to do a lot of good for a lot of people. Here in the real world, that's really the best we can hope for from a big new piece of public policy.

Who run the world? Girls.

From staging filibusters and hunger strikes, to protesting drones and driving bans, women have been up to some pretty incredible things this year. This unranked list is by no means exhaustive, and behind every one of these women there are many other women and men, unsung warriors, heroes and feminists who deserve our recognition.

Here they are, in no particular order, some of the women who rocked it in 2013.

1. The women in this satirical video on the rationale of victim-blaming


Sexual assault often spurs a series of misguided responses blaming the victim. This video is a response by comedy collective All India Backchod to the misguided rationale, using humor and sarcasm to put forward the message—lets face it ladies, it's not a man's fault, you have a vagina. It's time we stop blaming the real victims here. 

2. Actress Evan Rachel Wood for taking on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) when her oral sex scene was cut



After producers cut a scene where Wood receives oral sex, she pointed out the double standards female sexuality faces in a series of Tweets:

After seeing the new cut of #Charlie Countryman, I would like to share my disappointment with the MPAA, who thought it was necessary to censor a woman's sexuality once again. The scene where the two main characters make "love" was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people "uncomfortable," but the scenes in which people are murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered.

This is a symptom of a society that wants to shame women and put them down for enjoying sex, especially when (gasp) the man isn't getting off as well! It's hard for me to believe that had the roles been reversed it still would have been cut or had the female character been raped it would have been cut. It's time for people to GROW UP. Accept that women are sexual beings...


3. Sen. Wendy Davis, who filibustered an anti-abortion bill in Texas


One of this year's most gripping political moments unfolded on the Texas Senate floor when Davis, who recently announced she'll be running for Texas governor in 2014, stood for 11 hours to speak against a bill that would have closed all but five abortion clinics in the state. A few weeks later, despite the filibuster and the opposition it stirred, the bill passed in a special session. 

In non-breaking news, male politicians continued to make legislating women's bodies a priority in 2013.

4. Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova who went on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions.

Denis Bochkarev/ Wikimedia

Tolokonnikova and fellow Pussy Riot band members Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years in prison for a 40-second performance calling on the Virgin Mary to "kick Putin out" in a Moscow church in 2012.  Samutsevich was released with a suspended sentence after an appeal, while Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were sent to penal colonies in October. In an open letter, Tolokonnikova described the slavery-like prison conditions, and declared her decision to go on a hunger strike. After 10 days, she was transferred to a prison hospital where she ended the strike, only to be returned to the penal colony, where she re-started her strike and was soon transferred to a remote Siberian penal colony as punishment.

Last Monday, Russian president Vladimir Putin freed Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina under a new amnesty bill, in a move many consider part of his administration's efforts to improve Russia's image before the winter Olympics in Sochi.

5. 9-year-old drone strike survivor Nabila ur-Rehman who testified in Congress

Last October, Nabila saw her grandma blown to pieces by a drone strike in the northwest of Pakistan. In October of this year she, along with her father and brother, testified in a congressional briefing on US drone policy. By showing bravery beyond her years, and putting a human face on the civilian cost of drones, Nabila helped shape the discourse around US drone policy.


6. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who delivered this amazing Ted talk

In her talk "We should all be feminists", Adichie talks about growing up in the misogynistic culture of Nigeria.

The whole thing is amazing, but this bit in particular is worth pointing out: 

...(he) looked at me and said, "You know you're a feminist" 

It was not a compliment. I could tell from his tone. The same tone you would use to say something like "you're a supporter of terrorism."

I did not know exactly what this word "feminist" meant...and the first thing I planned to do when I got home was to look up the word feminist in the dictionary. Now fast forward to some years later. I wrote a novel...while I was promoting my novel, a journalist, a nice, well meaning man ...told me that people were saying my novel was feminist, and his advice to me, and he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke, was that I should never call myself a feminist because "feminists are women who are unhappy because they can not find husbands."

So I decided to call myself a "happy feminist."

Then an academic, a Nigerian woman told me feminism was not our culture. Feminism wasn't African and that I was calling myself a feminist because I had been corrupted by Western books...I decided I would now call myself a "happy African feminist." At some point, I was a "happy African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high heels for herself but not for men."


7. Women at Auckland University who did a parody of the song "Blurred Lines"

With rapey-sexist lyrics like "Just let me liberate you" and "Tried to domesticate you," Robin Thicke's song Blurred Lines launched a series of critiques, parodies, and memes; like this hilarious video by the not-so-good ladies at Auckland University, who are all about them defined lines.


8. These driven Saudi women who refuse to put the brakes on the protest against the driving ban


Amidst its roster of sexist laws, Saudi Arabia has a complete ban on women driving. In a powerful display of civil disobedience on October 26, more than 60 women got behind the steering wheel. Some were fined or arrested. Now, Saudi women are driving weekly to defy the ban and posting their interactions with law enforcement officials on social media platforms.

9. Mikki Kendall for starting the Twitter hashtag #Solidarityisforwhitewomen

Kendall started the hashtag to highlight the exclusion that many women of color feel in feminist discourses. Feminism is meant to be inclusive. Since many women don't fit into the mainstream white feminist narrative, voices like Kendall are especially important.

10. Egyptian protesters who despite increased risks of sexual assault, beatings, and arrest continue to peacefully protest


Three notable pro-democracy activists: Rasha Azab, Mona Seif, and Nazly Hussein were beaten and dragged off during a Cairo protest in November of this year and abandoned on a remote highway. In worse cases, many female protestors have been sexually assaulted. Despite these risks, women continue to work towards a more democratic Egypt.


11. Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban


From the age of 11, Malala urged families in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley to resist the Taliban's ban on girls in classrooms. Last year, when she was 15, Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban while on her way back from school.

Malala's journey has taken her from the Northwest of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, and the White House in DC. In her fight for girl's education, she has become an international symbol of defiance against oppression by the Taliban, and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel peace prize.

12. Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox, who broke the trans glass ceiling

Lev Radin/Shutterstock

2013 has been quite the year for Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset on the the hit Netflix prison drama Orange Is the New Black.

The first transgender woman of color in a lead role in a mainstream scripted TV show, Cox is a sought-after speaker on transgender rights. In an industry where transgender actors are type-cast into a limited number of roles (mostly related to prostitution), Cox's character on the show and her activism have helped humanize the transgender population.

13. Edith Windsor whose case led to the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

Edith Windsor and her spouse, Thea Spyer, shared a life as a couple in New York for 44 years. After Thea's death, the IRS denied Windsor use of a spousal state tax exception because, under DOMA, the federal government did not recognize their marriage. Edith challenged the constitutionality of DOMA. In a landmark June decision, the US Supreme Court struck down the law.

Edith's entire interview above with Ariel Levy of The New Yorker is beautiful, but this particular bit is stunning:

A member of the audience asked Windsor, "How do you keep love alive after death?"  After a few moments of silence, Windsor said, "Sometimes I wish I knew how to make it stop."

So there you have it: Some of 2013's badass women to cap off your year with a little inspiration. Who run the world? Girls!

Conventional wisdom says that people won't read lengthy magazine stories online, but MoJo readers regularly prove otherwise. Many of our top traffic-generating stories have been deeply researched investigations and reported narratives—and we find that plenty of readers stick with them to the bitter end. Our readers also comment, Tweet, Facebook, and Tumble enthusiastically, citing details found deep within these stories. So here, for your New Year's pleasure, is a selection of 10 of our best-loved longreads from 2013. (Click here for last year's list and here for our 2011 list, or, for something totally different, check out our hate-reads list for the stories that made us pull out our hair in 2013.)

Merchants of Meth: How Big Pharma Keeps the Cooks in Business
With big profits on the line, the drug industry is pulling out campaign-style dirty tricks to keep selling the meds that cooks turn into crank.
By Jonah Engle

America's Real Criminal Element: Lead
New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing.
By Kevin Drum

Gagged by Big Ag
Horrific abuse. Rampant contamination. And the crime is…exposing it?
By Ted Genoways

Schizophrenic. Killer. My Cousin.
It's insanity to kill your father with a kitchen knife. It's also insanity to close hospitals, fire therapists, and leave families to face mental illness on their own.
By Mac McClelland

Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us?
Smart machines probably won't kill us all—but they'll definitely take our jobs, and sooner than you think.
By Kevin Drum

My Heart-Stopping Ride Aboard the Navy's Great Green Fleet
With Washington frozen solid on climate, the Navy is breaking the ice.
By Julia Whitty

Is PTSD Contagious?
It's rampant among returning vets—and now their spouses and kids are starting to show the same symptoms.
By Mac McClelland

Why Your Supermarket Sells Only 5 Kinds of Apples
And one man's quest to bring hundreds more back.
By Rowan Jacobsen

Are Happy Gut Bacteria Key to Weight Loss?
Imbalances in the microbial community in your intestines may lead to metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes. What does science say about how to reset our bodies?
By Moises Velasquez-Manoff

What's It Like to Wake Up From a Tea Party Binge? Just Ask Florida!
Kids locked up in nursing homes. Leaky sewers. Mosquitoes unleashed. The Sunshine State has buyer's remorse.
By Stephanie Mencimer

Click here to browse more great longreads from Mother Jones.