Mojo - October 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 7, 2011

Fri Oct. 7, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

US Army Sgt. Andrew Wall, Security Forces team leader attached to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, provides security for his civil affairs teammates during a visit to the district center in Shinkai, Afghanistan, Oct. 4, 2011. Sergeant Wall is deployed from Charlie Company, 182nd Infantry Division, Massachusetts National Guard. (US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)

 

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Florida Jobs Plan: Let's Revive Dwarf-Tossing

| Fri Oct. 7, 2011 2:51 AM EDT

In his fight for smaller government, Florida Rep. Ritch Workman wants to do something for the little people: He wants to let 'em fly. The Melbourne Republican has decided that the state's 22-year-old ban on dwarf-tossing in bars is keeping height-challenged residents from realizing their full career potential in a recession. "To me it's an archaic kind of Big Brother law that says, 'We don't like that activity,'" Workman told Florida Current reporter Bruce Ritchie. "Well, there is nothing immoral or illegal about that activity. All we really did by passing that law was take away some employment from some little people."

Once a staple of spring-break barrooms from Key West to Pensacola, dwarf-tossing (once incorrectly and more offensively referred to as midget-tossing) involves seeing which PBR-pickled frat brother can throw a Velcro-encased dwarf higher up a fabric-lined wall. State lawmakers banned the practice in 1989, finding it not only demeaning but physically taxing on the small subjects. But Workman's introduced legislation that would repeal the ban, taking his lead from such high-minded libertarian thinkers as TV newsman John Stossel. (That pundit's reaction to a dwarf-toss ban: "Give me a break!")

Westboro Baptist Church to Picket Funeral of "Gay-Friendly" Jobs

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 6:39 PM EDT
Young Westboro Baptist Church protesters.

If you're ever at a loss for what the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, is all about, take a gander at its website, tastefully titled GodHatesFags.com. There, you'll learn that a "modern militant homosexual movement" poses "a clear and present danger to the survival of America." And that to combat this menace, the church has conducted 46,635 demonstrations since June 1991 "at homosexual parades and other events, including funerals of impenitent sodomites (like Matthew Shepard) and over 400 military funerals of troops whom God has killed in Iraq/Afghanistan in righteous judgment against an evil nation." At these protests, church members parade around with signs declaring "FAGS BURN IN HELL" and "THANK GOD FOR AIDS."

Margie Phelps, daughter of Westboro Baptist patriarch Fred Phelps Sr., announced the church's latest picket target last night on Twitter:

Predictably, bloggers are having a field day with the delicious irony that the tweet condemning the iPhone's progenitor came…via iPhone.

Reached by phone Thursday, Fred Phelps Jr.—Fred Sr.'s son and one of the roughly 100 members of the church—expanded on his sister's rationale for the planned picket. "The main thing in my mind," Phelps said, "is that [Jobs] operated in a company that was recognized around the world as being gay-friendly." Phelps wasn't sure where this recognition came from, but he insisted, "I've read that several places. I don't think there's any dispute about that." (In 2008, a Prime Access/PlanetOut poll determined Apple to be the second most gay-friendly American brand, behind only Bravo.)

#OccupyWallStreet—and Madison—Comes to Washington

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 5:18 PM EDT
"To boost the economy, why not pay interns?" Why not? MoJo does it.

As Andy Kroll reported this morning, the three-week-old #OccupyWallStreet movement has risen out of many of the same grievances that sparked massive protests at the Wisconsin state capitol. In some cases, as I discovered on Thursday at a satellite demonstration in DC, it even includes the same group of people.

Chad Bucholtz drove to DC ("crammed in like sardine cans") along with 14 others from Wisconsin to attend the rally. A veteran of the union demonstrations in Madison last February, he sees the 99-percent movement as a direct continuation of those efforts. "I see a lot of similarities; in Madison it wasn't just Democrats, it was Democrats and Republicans—maybe former Republicans," said Bucholtz, a student at UW–Milwaukee. "It was both the left- and right-wing people that recognized that the corporate influence of Koch Industries was pretty much buying policies." He politely disagrees with skeptics who say the movement hasn't articulated any specific goals: "We need a constitutional amendment to clarify that money is not free speech," he says. "My opinion is that the root [of the problem] is money buying politics."

Carrie Scherpeltz of Madison, another veteran of the Wisconsin demonstrations, said she expected about 100 Wisconsinites were on there way to show their support. "We were a spark; I personally want to fan it." Her message: "De-rig our economy. They've been rigged in favor of corporatocracy and against the people."

After Troy Davis, More Doubt on Georgia's Death Row?

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 3:10 PM EDT
The Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, where Marcus Ray Johnson lives on death row.

On the night of September 21, Georgia executed death-row inmate Troy Davis despite lingering doubts about his guilt in the 1989 killing of an off-duty Savannah police officer. Just a few hours later, the state quietly announced that another man, Marcus Ray Johnson, would be executed on October 5. But Johnson, convicted of the brutal rape and murder of Angela Sizemore in 1994, was granted a stay Tuesday by Dougherty County Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette in light of newly discovered forensic evidence that has never been DNA-tested. The US Supreme Court rejected an appeal from prosecutors to overturn the stay.

According to trial records, Johnson met Sizemore at a bar on the west side of Albany, Georgia, on March 24, 1994. Johnson, angry that another woman had spurned his advances, began to chat up Sizemore, who was so drunk that the bartender refused to serve her. He handed her keys to Johnson, and the two left to hook up in a vacant lot a couple blocks away. A post-coitus argument ensued; Johnson told police that he punched Sizemore in the face, and the next thing he knew he woke up the next morning in his front yard.

That morning, Sizemore was found dead in her white van on the opposite side of town. A medical examiner determined that she had been cut and stabbed 41 times and had wounds consistent with the blade of a small knife belonging to Johnson. She had been brutally raped with a tree limb, the prosecution claimed. Blood was found on Johnson's clothing, and a handful of witnesses placed him in the area shortly before Sizemore's body was found.

That, Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards told local TV station WALB, convinced him that Johnson's "absolutely 100 percent guilty of the crime." The defense's appeal for further DNA testing (which Judge Lockette stopped short of granting), Edwards said, was just another "attempt to delay."

El Paso Judge Tells Perry Et Al. to Get Smarter, Not Tougher, on Border

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 3:09 PM EDT

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and fellow Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sparred last weekend over Perry's suggestion that the threat of Mexican drug violence spilling into the United States "may require our military in Mexico…to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks." Liberals mocked Perry's comments, and on Thursday, a border town judge chided both candidates in a New York Times op-ed for their "quasi-military approach [that] ignores the need for real solutions to our economic and social challenges."

In her piece, El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar claims that Perry's border hawk posturing—for instance, saying President Obama was either poorly informed or "an abject liar" for claiming in a spring speech that El Paso and other border cities had become safer on his watch—could actually end up hurting places like El Paso. According to a July report in USA Today, the border city has recently "seen sharp declines in violent crimes despite being in the shadow of Ciudad Juárez, one of the main battlegrounds of Mexico's drug wars where 3,400 people were murdered last year." Writes Escobar, a Democrat: "Claims about our supposedly dangerous border would be laughable if they didn't damage our image and our ability to recruit talent, investment and events."

She continues: 

Mr. Perry is far from alone. Many Republican politicians—and not a few Democrats, too—use the bogeyman of border violence to justify exorbitant security measures, like the ever-lengthening border fence that costs $2.8 million per mile (for a total of $6.5 billion, including maintenance, over the 20-year lifetime of the fence). Mr. Perry's brainchild, security cameras, have so far cost $4 million to put in place and maintain.

These measures do little besides waste money. Tunnels already run below the border fence. During their first two years in operation, Mr. Perry's cameras led to the arrest of a whopping 26 people—that's $154,000 per arrest. And once undocumented immigrants are apprehended, costs continue to mount: in this fiscal year alone, the federal government is budgeting $2 billion just for detention.

Those facts haven't stopped the likes of Romney and "every mile, every yard, every foot, every inch" Michele Bachmann from talking up the idea of a fence running the entire length of southern border. Still, as unlikely (and unmanageable) as it seems, don't look now: The Secure Border Act of 2011—which would require the Department of Homeland Security to gain "operational control" of US borders within five years—just recently made its way through the House Homeland Security Committee.

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GOP Congressman Equates Purchasing Health Insurance With Buying an Expensive Vacation Home

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 1:22 PM EDT

Just when you thought it could not get more ridiculous, GOP Congressman and Chairman of the House Appropriations Labor-Health and Human Services subcommittee, Denny Rehberg, has come up with a novel idea. He wants the Congressional super committee to solve $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by simply killing off the expansion of Medicaid and the subsidies that will open the door to health care for millions of Americans.

In making his argument, Rehberg noted that expanding the Medicaid safety net program, and providing subsidies to low and middle class workers, is akin to the "expensive vacation home" that the average American would choose not to buy if that American was facing a deficit as serious as the nation's.

Topeka to Legalize Domestic Violence?

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 1:03 PM EDT

Domestic violence may become legal in Topeka, Kansas, because local officials are caught up in a spat about who's supposed to pay to prosecute it.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor announced on Sept. 8 that he isn't going to prosecute misdemeanors anymore, which includes those for domestic violence, because he's too broke to deal with it. The decision came after the county commission voted to cut the DA's budget by 10 percent for 2012. Taylor argued, instead, that city prosecutors should be handling misdemeanors—even though, as the city manager pointed out at the time in the Topeka Capitol-Journal, state law requires the district attorney to prosecute those cases. Besides that, the county has better resources for dealing with those cases, especially domestic violence.

So then the Topeka City Council decided that in order to fix this situation, they would just repeal the city code that makes domestic battery illegal. Apparently council members believe this would force Taylor to prosecute those crimes. But, as domestic violence survivors warned the city council on Tuesday, that's a really terrible idea.

VIDEO: Obama: Occupy Wall St. "Expresses the Frustrations the American People Feel"

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 12:50 PM EDT
The scene at Occupy Wall Street.

President Obama made his first public comments on the growing Occupy Wall Street protests in a press conference on Thursday. "I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you're still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place." He went on, "So yes, I think people are frustrated and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works."

Here's the video:

It's not just Obama finally weighing in on Occupy Wall Street. At the Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum today, Vice President Joe Biden was asked by by NBC's David Gregory, "Do you stand in solidarity" with Occupy Wall Street? Here's Biden's reply, via Slate's Dave Weigel:

"Look, that's a really fair question. Let's be honest with one another. What is the core of that protest? The core is: The bargain has been breached. The core is: The American people do not think the system is fair, or on the level. That is the core is what you're seeing with Wall Street. Look, there's a lot in common with the Tea Party. The Tea Party started, why? TARP. They thought it was unfair."

Obama's and Biden's sympathetic remarks are big news—not just because they come from the president and vice president of the United States, but also because they signal a possible shift within the Obama administration. Consider what Bill Daley, the White House chief of staff, said about Occupy Wall Street on Tuesday, which was far less encouraging:

"I don't know if it's helpful. I wouldn't characterize it that way. Look it—people express their opinions. In the new social network world, they can do it pretty effectively outside the normal way, historically, people have done it. So whether it's helpful to us, or helpful for people to understand in the political system that there are a lot of people out there concerned about the economy—I know the focus is on Wall Street, but it's a broader discussion that we're having."

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was similarly indifferent. Asked by Atlantic editor James Bennet if he felt any sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Geithner replied: "No, I feel a lot of sympathy for what you might describe as the—as a general sense among Americans is whether, you know, we've lost a sense of possibility."

But if Daley and Geithner doesn't feel much sympathy, Obama and Biden apparently do. And that's a big development for the angry, boisterous protesters making their home in Zuccotti Park.

At the same time, the Democratic rank-and-file continues to rally behind the Occupy protests. Those voicing their support include former presidential candidate Howard Dean; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); House Democratic Caucus leader John Larson (D-Conn.); progressive House members Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison, and Dennis Kucinich; and former senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Scott Brown Calls Elizabeth Warren Ugly

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 11:40 AM EDT
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) doesn't think anyone should have to see Elizabeth Warren naked.

At Tuesday night's primary debate, Warren, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to challenge Brown, used a question about how she paid for tuition to take a jab at the freshman Senator. "I kept my clothes on," Warren said, referring to Brown's famed nude Cosmopolitan spread

Brown could have brushed off the attack, but instead, he decided on the worst possible course of action. According to Boston journalist Joe Battenfield, Brown said "Thank God," in response to Warren's jab. You can hear the audio of the comment at 3:30 here:

 

A Warren campaign spokesman declined to comment, but to state the obvious: By saying "Thank God," Brown was implying that Warren is ugly. Brown's comment might seem hilarious to your average bro, but elections aren't won by bros alone. Attacking your female opponent for her looks won't necessarily play well with women voters, and Brown can't afford to lose much more ground than he already has: several polls have already shown Warren within striking distance of the incumbent.

Several media figures think Brown has made a serious mistake by attacking Warren's looks. American Banker's Rob Blackwell has suggested this may be Brown's "Macaca moment"—referring to when then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) used the word "Macaca" to address a dark-skinned employee of his opponent, James Webb. (Allen lost.) Slate's Dave Weigel also joked that (Brown's previous opponent) Martha Coakley might be running Brown's campaign, and TPM's Josh Marshall called the comment "not smart."