Blogs

John Oliver Calls Out Televangelists Who Exploit Religion to Make Millions

The "Last Week Tonight" host exposes the shady, tax-free industry.

| Mon Aug. 17, 2015 9:43 AM EDT

On Sunday, Last Week Tonight took on the shady world of televangelism, an industry that—unlike actual congregations doing real work to help others—is built on promises to "heal through faith" in exchange for hefty, tax-free donations. As John Oliver described, the business thrives on the premise that "wealth is a sign of God's favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to you."

The most vulnerable people are often targeted, while celebrity televangelists rake in millions.

To help expose the industry's fraudulent doings, the show conducted a seven-month correspondence with leading celebrity televangelist Robert Tilton that revealed a disturbing set of tactics he employed to convince people to send money his way. Oliver even established his own satirical church to show just how easy it can be to scam worshipers. Welcome to Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Your Meat-Eating Habit Is Killing More Than Just Cows

A new paper finds that meat production is a leading cause of mass extinction.

| Mon Aug. 17, 2015 6:15 AM EDT

The earth is in the middle of its sixth mass extinction, and die-offs are happening more quickly than ever before. In a little over a century, the world has said goodbye to more than 400 species—and many biologists believe this is just the beginning. Scientists predict that in the next 35 years, as many as 37 percent of the world's species could go extinct, if current trends continue.

While we know that climate change is a major culprit in the loss of biodiversity, some researchers now believe burgers might also be to blame. In a new report, a team from Florida International University cited the land degradation, pollution, and deforestation caused by rising global demand for meat as "likely the leading cause of modern species extinctions," and the problem is only expected to get worse.

The world's most biodiverse areas are also the places where meat production is most likely to increase in the coming years.

"It's a colossally important paper," Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York, who studies how human diets affect the environment, told Science Magazine:

Researchers have struggled to determine the full impacts of meat consumption on biodiversity, Eshel says. "Now we can say, only slightly fancifully: You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot."

Meat consumption has increased globally by 24 percent since the 1960s, mostly fueled by high demand from wealthy countries like the United States. Each year the number of livestock—specifically cattle, sheep, goats, and buffalo—increases by 25 million, requiring more space for both housing and feed production. Cattle, which require vast amounts of feed and produce the potent greenhouse gas methane, are expected to grow in number by more than 1 billion by 2050.

The world's "biodiveristy hotspots," areas biologists have identified where many species flourish, have already been reduced by nearly 90 percent in size and are now restricted to only 2 percent of the Earth's land surface. What's worse is that these biodiverse areas are the places where meat production is most likely to increase in the coming years. Researchers have predicted an additional loss of as much as 50 percent of land to livestock production.

Though Americans are already eating less meat than they used to, the researchers emphasized the continued need to cut back, especially because of how much meat ends up going to waste: Thirty percent of food—or $48 billion worth—is wasted in the United States each year, pushing up demand for meat production. "To support a future with lower animal product food demands," they write, "would drastically reduce habitat and biodiversity loss, fossil fuel energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution, while providing highly nutritious diets that greatly improve human health."

Here's How to Talk Like Donald Trump

| Sun Aug. 16, 2015 3:03 PM EDT

Back in 1996, Newt Gingrich wrote a memo that explained how to talk like Newt Gingrich. "That takes years of practice," he conceded up front, but he revealed that you could come close just by studying a list of his favorite words. Unfortunately, that was two decades ago and Gingrich is now a has-been. So what if you want to speak like Donald Trump? Well, that takes years of practice too. Still, you can come close just by studying a list of his go-to talking points.

So here's the list. Study it. And remember: it doesn't really matter what question you're asked. Whatever it is, just say a few words and then switch to any of these topics at random. There's no need to be subtle, either. Just switch gears. And don't worry if you've already said it. Just say it again. Telling people you're leading in the polls never gets old!

  1. Our national debt is $19 trillion. We're going to be Greece on steroids! I want to get rid of this deficit.
  2. I'd send Carl Icahn to China. He's a great negotiator.
  3. I'll build a huge wall, the greatest wall ever, and Mexico will pay for it.
  4. The Mexicans/Chinese/South Koreans are killing us. They're taking away all our jobs. Our leaders are so stupid.
  5. I get along very well with Mexicans/Chinese/Putin/foreign leaders.
  6. I'm leading in all the polls. All of them.
  7. I cherish women. I have such respect for women.
  8. We have to kick the hell out of ISIS and take all their oil.
  9. Iran is getting $150 billion. That's ridiculous. Also: 24 days is ridiculous too.
  10. I want a simpler tax plan. I want to make it great for the middle class.
  11. Saudi Arabia makes a billion dollars a day.
  12. We have to treat our vets better.
  13. I would be so tough. You wouldn't believe how tough I would be.
  14. I give money to everyone. And then they owe me favors. All the politicians are like that. It's a totally corrupt system.
  15. We don't have time for political correctness.

Here's an example: What do you think about Planned Parenthood?

Well, I hate abortion. And....you know, I cherish women. I have such respect for women. But if you really want to see poor treatment of women, just go to Iraq. They're beheading women! We have to kick the hell out of ISIS and take all their oil. It's the only way. You know, Saudi Arabia makes a billion dollars a day. They should be helping us fight ISIS. We can't afford to do it by ourselves. Our national debt is $19 trillion. We're going to be Greece on steroids! I want to get rid of this deficit.

The sad thing is that this isn't really a joke. It looks like one, I know. But if you read actual Trump answers to actual Trump questions, this is pretty much what they're like.

In any case, this is not an exhaustive list. And if you can't find something you think you can use, don't panic. Just attack. It doesn't really matter who. Megyn Kelly, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Barack Obama, whatever. The more outrageous the better. Alternatively, do just the opposite: say that you love the people/organization in question and will support them totally. You'll be great to them!

Now you can talk like Donald Trump. You're welcome.

Maryland Official: Lead Poisoning Is the Royal Road to Riches

| Sun Aug. 16, 2015 12:25 PM EDT

Technically this has nothing to do with lead and crime, but since I'm Mother Jones' senior lead correspondent it's up to me to put up this outlandish little item from Maryland:

Gov. Larry Hogan's top housing official said Friday that he wants to look at loosening state lead paint poisoning laws, saying they could motivate a mother to deliberately poison her child to obtain free housing.

Kenneth C. Holt, secretary of Housing, Community and Development, told an audience at the Maryland Association of Counties summer convention here that a mother could just put a lead fishing weight in her child's mouth, then take the child in for testing and a landlord would be liable for providing the child with housing until the age of 18.

Pressed afterward, Holt said he had no evidence of this happening but said a developer had told him it was possible. "This is an anecdotal story that was described to me as something that could possibly happen," Holt said.

I'm pretty sure this wouldn't actually work, but that hardly matters. It's just another example of the peculiar Republican penchant for governance via anecdote. They're all convinced that someone, somewhere, is trying to rip them off, but they can never find quite enough real examples of this. So instead we get Reaganesque fables about stuff they heard from some guy who heard it from some other guy who said, you know, it could happen.

By the way, if you're tempted to do this, please don't. Licking a lead fishing weight once probably won't actually cause a detectable rise in blood lead levels, but it's still a really bad idea.

Donald Trump Still Unclear About His Own Talking Points

| Sun Aug. 16, 2015 12:12 PM EDT

Donald Trump gets serious!

RADDATZ: Let me ask you a serious foreign policy question. What would you do about ISIS using chemical weapons?

TRUMP: I think it's disgraceful that they're allowed and you can't allow it to happen and you have to go in and just wipe the hell out of them.

RADDATZ: What do you do? Do you go in with ground troops?

TRUMP: What did you say? Say that again.

Ah, the old "I can't hear you over the crowd noise" routine. I see that Trump is picking up political pointers from the pros already. He's a quick learner.

Over on NBC, he has his usual addled conversation with Chuck Todd, but I see that he hasn't been getting pointers from his policy advisors:

DONALD TRUMP: No, not at all. Look, we are a debtor nation. We owe, I mean, now it's 1.9 trillion, okay? I've been saying 1.8. Now, it's 1 point — it’s really kicked in. It's soon going to be 2.4 trillion dollars, okay? That’s like a point, whether you believe in the great economists or not, that seems to be a point of no return. That's where we're Greece on steroids, okay?

This is one of the dozen or so talking points that Trump uses as his random answer to whatever happens to have been asked, and yet he still doesn't actually understand it. The number he's trying to pull from his brain is 19 trillion, not 1.9 trillion. Since Trump is obviously good with figures and would never misstate, say, the buying price of a property, it's hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that he doesn't really have the slightest idea about—or interest in—the size of the national debt and what it means. It's just a good applause line.

AT&T Is the NSA's Best Friend

| Sat Aug. 15, 2015 2:35 PM EDT

New Snowden documents indicate that AT&T has been the biggest and most cooperative supplier of internet and phone data to the NSA:

AT&T has given the N.S.A. access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks. It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T.

....In September 2003, according to the previously undisclosed N.S.A. documents, AT&T was the first partner to turn on a new collection capability that the N.S.A. said amounted to a “ ‘live’ presence on the global net.” In one of its first months of operation, the Fairview program forwarded to the agency 400 billion Internet metadata records — which include who contacted whom and other details, but not what they said — and was “forwarding more than one million emails a day to the keyword selection system” at the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

....In 2011, AT&T began handing over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records a day to the N.S.A. after “a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” according to an internal agency newsletter. This revelation is striking because after Mr. Snowden disclosed the program of collecting the records of Americans’ phone calls, intelligence officials told reporters that, for technical reasons, it consisted mostly of landline phone records.

US spying on the UN was stopped in 2013 after it was first reported, but it was never clear just exactly how much spying had gone on in the first place. We still don't know, but one of the documents in this new collection says the NSA was authorized to conduct "full-take access," and that the amount of data was so large that it flooded the NSA's technical capability unless a "robust filtering mechanism" was put in place. Sounds like a lot of spying.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Arkansas Is the Latest State to Defund Planned Parenthood

Sting videos prompt another Republican governor to cut funding for women's health care.

| Fri Aug. 14, 2015 8:00 PM EDT

Following in the footsteps of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has directed his state's Department of Human Services to terminate its Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood. The termination will be effective in 30 days.

In a statement, Hutchinson said, "It is apparent that after the recent revelations on the actions of Planned Parenthood, that this organization does not represent the values of the people of our state and Arkansas is better served by terminating any and all existing contracts with them. This includes their affiliated organization, Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma."

The announcement comes in the wake of outrage over heavily-edited sting videos released by anti-abortion activists alleging a litany of offenses by Planned Parenthood. The Obama administration contends that cutting Planned Parenthood off from Medicaid funds breaks federal law.

Federal money cannot be used for abortion, and abortion is only three percent of Planned Parenthood's services. The organization mostly provides STI/STD screenings, contraception, cancer screenings and the like.

Here Are 3 Gun Control Proposals That Republicans Actually Support

Really.

| Fri Aug. 14, 2015 6:05 PM EDT

It turns out there are some gun control proposals that Republicans and Democrats actually agree on. According to new findings from the Pew Research Center, fully 85 percent of Americans—including 88 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans—believe people should have to pass a background check before purchasing guns in private sales or at gun shows. Currently, only licensed gun dealers are required to perform background checks. A majority of Americans (79 percent) also back laws to prevent those with mental illness from purchasing guns.

There is a greater divide between the parties on other gun issues. Seventy percent of respondents support the creation of a federal database to track all gun sales, including 85 percent of Democrats but just 55 percent of Republicans. A more narrow majority (57 percent) would like to ban assault-style weapons. That proposal draws support from 70 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of Republicans.

Partisan Views of Gun Proposals

The survey found even sharper partisan disagreement on other questions:

  • Seventy-three percent of Democrats say it's more important to control gun ownership, while 71 percent of Republicans say it's more important to protect gun rights.
  • Republicans are almost twice as likely to see gun ownership as an effective form of protection rather than a way to jeopardize safety.

The study also examines demographics such race, gender, and education level:

  • Proposals for a federal gun database draw more support from African-Americans (82 percent) and Hispanics (76 percent) than from whites (66 percent). Fifty-six percent of African-Americans say gun ownership is a safety hazard.
  • Sixty-five percent of women favor banning assault-style weapons, compared with 48 percent of men.
  • Sixty percent of men say guns help protect people, compared with 49 percent of women.
  • Those with post-graduate degrees are more likely to favor a ban on assault weapons (72 percent) than those with a high school diploma or less education (48 percent). Those with post-graduate degrees are also more likely to say gun ownership does more to endanger than increase safety (57 percent).
  • College graduates are almost evenly divided; 48 percent say guns endanger people, while 46 percent say they protect people.
  • Those with a high school diploma or less say gun ownership does more to protect people (59 percent).

For more information, check out these interactive charts from the Pew Research Center.

Ben Carson: Abortion Is the No. 1 Killer of Black People

"I know who Margaret Sanger is. And I know that she believed in eugenics and she was not particularly enamored with black people."

| Fri Aug. 14, 2015 4:34 PM EDT

On Thursday, Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate, double downed on his recent assertion that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger used abortions as a population control tool in order to try and destroy the black population.

When asked by Fox News if he stood by his eyebrow-raising comments, Carson answered unequivocally, "Absolutely. No question about it."

"Anybody can easily find out about Margaret Sanger and what kind of person she was and how she was a strong advocate of eugenics," he explained. "She wrote articles about eugenics and believed that certain members of the population weakened the population and was not enamored of black people. And it is quite true that the majority and plurality of their clinics are in minority neighborhoods."

But Carson then brought the discussion up to 2015. "It brings up a very important issue and that is do those black lives matter?" Carson added. "The number one cause of death for black people is abortion. I wonder if maybe some people might at some point become concerned about that and ask why is that happening and what can be done to alleviate that situation. I think that's really the important question."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the number one cause of death for African Americans.

His attack on the women's health organization comes the same week that it was revealed Carson used fetal tissues to conduct medical research—a practice that has come under fire in recent weeks after an anti-abortion group published a string of a heavily-edited video footage appearing to capture Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissues.

Despite his very vocal anti-abortion criticism, Carson defended his past research on aborted fetuses and argued that there was no inconsistency with this and his continued attacks on Planned Parenthood. "Killing babies and harvesting tissue for sale is very different than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it," he said. "Which is exactly the source of the tissue used in our research."

John Wayne Was the Worst Swimming Instructor

This video.

| Fri Aug. 14, 2015 3:44 PM EDT

Do you know how to swim? I bet you do. But once upon a time you didn't know how to swim. Go back to that place. 

John Wayne is dead, but once upon a time he was alive. Bring him into that place.

Now tell John Wayne you don't know how to swim. Go on. Tell him.

He's John Wayne! TELL HIM! 

Sucker.