Erika Eichelberger

Erika Eichelberger


Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She has also written for The NationThe Brooklyn Rail, and TomDispatch. Email her at eeichelberger [at] motherjones [dot] com. 

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The Department of Justice Censors MoJo

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 3:50 PM EST

Mother Jones received word recently that our November/December issue had been banned by a Massachusetts prison facility. The issue's cover story was Shane Bauer's harrowing in-depth investigation into the overuse of solitary confinement in the US prison system—but that apparently wasn't the reason the magazine was rejected by Federal Medical Center Devens. It was censored because of a naked lady.

A couple of weeks ago, Mother Jones received a letter from the prison's warden, Jeffrey Grondolksy, informing us that our magazine, addressed to an inmate-subscriber, was being returned because it contained "sexually explicit information or material, or features nudity." The letter stated that, in accordance with federal regulations, no Bureau of Prisons funds could be used to distribute such material.

Immediately, speculation swirled at the MoJo hive about which racy image in the November/December issue was the culprit. (WARNING: naked ladies.)

Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giuseppe Cesari.  FotopediaThe Rape of the Sabine Women was featured in a pg. 10 sidebar called Mansplaining Rape. Fotopedia


Page 19 ad for a book about how "men are not capable of [a] new manner of thinking; however, the majority of women are." Athena BooksPg. 19 included this ad for a book about "human males' addiction to war...and his universal domination of women." Athena Books


Look at her!  p. 38Just look at her! pg. 38


From p. 26 of Bauer's story: Inside an inmate's isolation cell at Pelican Bay Prison. Need we say more?  Shane BauerFrom pg. 26 of Bauer's story: Inside an inmate's isolation cell at Pelican Bay Prison. #meta

  Ew! p. 34pg. 34

A call to Grondolsky to inquire about the offending image was directed to Todd Chapman, the supervisor of correctional systems at Devens, who revealed that the objectionable nakedness was the pg. 19 ad image featuring a depiction of Eve. Chapman explained that Grondolsky is pretty strict when it comes to enforcing the no smut rule. And for "certain types of offenders," he said, there is "zero tolerance. Our warden is pretty 100 percent. It could be something as small as a statue" or "even if a kid drew a nude picture." He did allow that the law gives leeway for anthropological or scientific content.

Indeed. The law says, "Publications containing nudity illustrative of medical, educational, or anthropological content may be excluded from this definition." Moreover: "The Warden may reject a publication only if it is determined detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity. The Warden may not reject a publication solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social or sexual, or because its content is unpopular or repugnant."

Bauer's solitary confinement story details the petty offenses for which California prisoners get "validated" as gang associates, and consequently thrown into isolation for years. Among them: possession of black literature, left-wing material, and publications advocating for the abolition of prison isolation units.

But the magazine was not banned because Bauer's solitary story was "political" or "unpopular." It was censored because of an advertisement marketed to the geriatric set. And just like that, investigative journalism with pictures of flesh gets lumped into the no good list along with materials that describe how to make a bomb, show prisoners how to escape, instruct them on "brewing alcoholic beverages," or are "written in code."

Grondolsky's justification for rejecting the latest issue of Mother Jones may not even be covered within the bounds of the regulation he cites, which refers to publications that "feature" nudity. According to the statute, this means "the publication contains depictions of nudity or sexually explicit conduct on a routine or regular basis or promotes itself based upon such depictions in the case of individual one-time issues." 

It's not the first time MoJo has been trashed by a prison. Mailroom censors at a Texas prison banned the September/October 2007 issue because it contained a picture of a nude child…in a story on the dangers of mining. (Guess what did get past the Texas prison censors that year? Letters to Penthouse XXVIII.)

All is not lost though. Upon receipt of the censorship notice, Mother Jones' Sharzy Makaremi promptly cut out all possible offending breasts, etc. and sent the magazine to the inmate, along with a letter contesting the rejection. When I spoke to Chapman he said he had heard that "someone pulled the page out and sent it back, so the inmate should be receiving that today."

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3 Newsmakers Who Tried to Sneak One Past You Over Thanksgiving

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 9:52 AM EST

Every year, like clockwork, as we turn off the news and settle in for the turkey, someone drops inconvenient news in hopes it will get missed. Among this year's under-the-radar Thanksgiving newsmakers:

Jesse Jackson Jr. 

Jason Moore/ZUMAPressJason Moore/ZUMAPress

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) barely campaigned for reelection, was MIA from Congress for much of the past year due to bipolar depression, and recently became the target of a federal criminal investigation, yet cruised to reelection in Chicago's 2nd District with 63 percent of the vote. But he ended up only staying a couple weeks. The 47-year-old resigned last Wednesday as you were piling into the car to go visit your sister. Jackson, who held the South Side seat for 17 years, was already under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over links to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attempts to auction off Obama's Senate seat in 2008. Then in October, the FBI launched another investigation over allegations he used campaign funds to spruce up his Chicago home. In his resignation letter, he said health problems forced him to step down, but he also acknowledged the federal probe for the first time: "I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes…None of us is immune from our share of shortcomings or human frailties, and I pray that I will be remembered for what I did right." Besides the letter, there was no official announcement of the resignation. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to announce a date for a special election today.


The Pentagon

Jonathan Alcorn/ZUMAPressJonathan Alcorn/ZUMAPressAfter Osama bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011, by a NAVY Seal team, his body was packed onto a helicopter and flown to the USS Carl Vinson, and he was buried at sea. But how did it really go down? That's what the Associated Press wanted to find out through a Freedom of Information Act request it filed with the Pentagon. The Defense Department complied on Thanksgiving eve, handing over a trove of heavily redacted emails in the first public disclosure of government information about bin Laden's death. The story the documents tell is that only a small group of the ship's leadership knew what was going on, according to the AP, and that officers used code to discuss whether the body had arrived on the aircraft carrier. "Any news on the package for us?" asked one. "FEDEX delivered the package," another responded. The grand high wizard of terror was also given a quite civil burial. According to the AP, one email read:

Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was followed. The deceased's body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased's body slid into the sea.

The AP requested other materials, but the DOD told the news wire it couldn't find any photographs or video of bin Laden's body taken during the raid or on the ship, nor any documents related to pre-raid plans, nor a death certificate, autopsy report, or DNA identification tests results.


Rep. Scott DesJarlais October, anti-abortion Congressman Scott DesJarlais' (R-Tenn.) campaign hit a little bump in the road when court transcripts from his 14-year-old divorce emerged revealing that when he was chief of staff at a Tennessee hospital, he allegedly had affairs with two patients, three coworkers, and a drug company rep and pressured one of the patients to have an abortion. He also backed his first wife's decision to terminate at least one of her pregnancies. DesJarlais won reelection by 12 points. Now, in his first public comments since the release of the tapes—published on Thanksgiving—the congressman basically said it was all water under the bridge. In an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel DesJarlais said he has no plans to resign over the controversy, and that he will run for reelection in 2014. DesJarlais told the News Sentinel that his views on abortion have evolved, and that in the past, it "was just not something that I put as much thought into as I should have." He continued, "I am human. I don't think I ever put myself out there to be somebody that was perfect. I put myself out there as somebody who wanted to serve the public."

Jon Stewart on Romney's 47 Percent Comments: "Unfairly Caricatured By His Own Words"

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 4:14 PM EST

On Thursday night's episode of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart laid into Mitt Romney for the former Massachusetts governor's recent comments blaming his defeat on "gifts" with which President Obama bribed his voting base.

Stewart replayed a clip of Mother Jones' now-famous "47 percent" video in which Romney says almost half the country sees themselves as victims entitled to government handouts, and expressed shock that Romney would reiterate those sentiments, even after having walked them back. "You can imagine my surprise when this man, so unfairly caricatured—by his own words—as an out of touch plutocrat who sees the lower classes as government leeches, yesterday blamed his campaign loss on said leeches."

"As it turned out," Stewart said, "much to Mitt Romney's disappointment," the president ended up getting votes from some non-47 percenters, too. "Barack Obama was somehow also able to pick up four more percent of real America."

Business Leaders to Washington: Tax The Rich!

| Thu Nov. 15, 2012 11:23 PM EST

Not to be outdone by the pack of millionaires who swept through the nation's capital this week demanding higher taxes on the rich, two groups of business leaders are asking lawmakers for the same—because they didn't build that.

The American Sustainable Business Council and Business for Shared Prosperity, which represent hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, and managers—people John Boehner had claimed would be hurt by higher individual tax rates—made their case to Congress in a letter. They are urging Congress to let the Bush tax cuts expire on incomes exceeding $250,000 and to "put that money toward programs that help the economy and business."

Millionaires to Washington: More Taxes, Please!

| Thu Nov. 15, 2012 7:03 AM EST

A pack of millionaires descended on Washington, DC, Wednesday to tell Congress to take more of their money. The Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, a group formed in 2010 to push Obama to allow the Bush tax cuts on millionaires to expire, are back, and lobbying for the same thing as Congress faces the looming fiscal cliff.

A dozen or so 1-percenters, representing the group's total membership of about 200, are meeting with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this week to deliver the message that "we care as much about our country as we do about our money," and that any budget agreement Congress cobbles together in the coming weeks should include fat taxes on the rich.

At a press conference to kick off the campaign Wednesday, Frank Patitucci, CEO of NuCompass Mobility, explained why the group is seemingly advocating against its own interests. "We believe we've been able to achieve our circumstance in life because of the vibrancy of the American system we live under," he said. "Right now we're in danger of losing some of what has been valuable to us." He noted that Americans like him often pay lower tax rates than, say a middle-income single mom with two kids. "We're losing the opportunity to achieve the American dream the way we have."

Garrett Gruener, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur from Oakland, California, laid out the specifics of their demands: allow top tax rates to return to Clinton-era rates of 39.6 percent, and create a new tax bracket for those who make over $10 million; let taxes on capital gains return to Clinton-era levels of between 20 and 28 percent; tax dividends at the same rate as ordinary income; bring back a hefty estate tax; and limit itemized deductions for the wealthiest Americans.

The millionaires are quick to point out that they are not just a bunch of bleeding-heart libs. They're a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents who see upping taxes on the rich as a practicality, not charity.

"I'm acting out of selfishness," said Woody Kaplan, a businessman from Boston (who incidentally voted for Gary Johnson for president). "With every business I've owned, customers have been terribly important. If we give the middle class a break, then we're much more likely to grow the middle class, and that will make all of us stronger."

That sounds nice, but what about all that GOP grumbling that higher taxes on the rich will curb job creation? Balderdash, says Gruener. "Their theory is by reducing my tax rates, I'll do more to create jobs. It just isn't true. If I thought they were right about that I'd be on their side of this negotiation. But my own experience as a venture capitalist is that this sort of investment they're talking about, in fact, has nothing to do with marginal tax rates."

T.J. Zlotnitsky, chairman and CEO of iControl Systems, agreed. "When it's time for my company to hire someone, I don't make a decision based on my personal tax rate. It's based on what my customers need. It's whether we see a new opportunity, a new concept."

The Patriotic Millionaires are meeting with nine Dems and three Republican legislators over two days. When asked how exactly they planned to convince the GOP to include the millionaires' plan in a budget compromise, Zlotnitsky appeared almost offended by the idea that their proposal was partisan. "There's an assumption that everyone here is of one political persuasion," he said. "I don't think it's about that. I think it's about putting Americans first. Putting country ahead of our party. The message is that people who are fortunate in this country such as ourselves are prepared to do more for our country. Now it's up to [the GOP] to be patriotic as well."

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