Mojo - September 2012

VIDEO: Elizabeth Warren's "You Built That With Help" Speech

| Wed Sep. 5, 2012 9:22 PM EDT

A motto of this year's GOP convention was "We Built It." But remember when Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren reminded voters about how America really gets built? "There is nobody in this country that got rich on their own," she declared, in a clip that became a viral sensation. Watch:

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Duckworth Blasts GOP as AWOL on Afghanistan

| Wed Sep. 5, 2012 6:42 PM EDT

Four years ago, the Republican party was celebrating the military service and foreign policy credentials of its presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. But last week in Tampa, the United States' overseas excursions were that which must not be named. Mitt Romney made no mention of Iraq or Afghanistan, and with the exception of an appearance on stage by a group of disabled veterans, there was virtually no mention of the hundreds and thousands of veterans of post-9/11 conflicts. That has Illinois House candidate Tammy Duckworth (D) fired up.

"This is about a party that wants to lead this country, and Mitt Romney who wants to be the commander in chief and yet he couldn't even remember to talk about military men or women or our veterans," said the Iraq War veteran—and double amputee—in an interview with Mother Jones on Wednesday. "And this is the same guy who during the Republican presidential primaries called for an invasion of Iran. So it's very typical to sit there and say you're gonna use military forces, but then you don't actually acknowledge the men and women who have to bleed for this nation? The least he could have done is talk about Afghanistan and the work that needs to be done. He could have at least confirmed the covenant that we have to keep with our veterans, and he didn't do any of that."

"They say they support our veterans, and yet I don't see the actions that back up what they're saying," she added. "Instead they talk about everything else and we have men and women dying right now."

Duckworth, who narrowly lost her first House bid in 2006, has reason to be on edge: Her Republican opponent, tea party Rep. Joe Walsh, recently criticized her for discussing her military service on the stump, charging that a "true hero" wouldn't need to talk up her record.

Fewer Former Gitmo Detainees "Returning to Terrorism" Under Obama

| Wed Sep. 5, 2012 3:54 PM EDT
A US National Guard member guards the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

The number of former Guantanamo detainees suspected of involvement in terrorist activity following their release from the detention camp has plummeted since President Obama took office, according to a new report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The report notes that, since 2002, 15.8 percent of former Gitmo detainees are "confirmed" as having "returned to terrorist activity," while 12.1 percent are "suspected" of engaging in terrorism. During the Bush administration, the confirmed and suspected numbers were 17.3 and 13.5 percent, respectively. The Gitmo "reengagement" rate fell dramatically under the Obama administration, with only 4.3 percent confirmed and 1.4 percent suspected of "reengaging" in terrorism-related activities.

Source: Mother Jones

There are two factors that may explain the drop: When Obama took office, his administration discovered that its predecessor lacked "comprehensive case files" on the detainees held at Gitmo. The administration convened a task force to examine all the detainee cases at Gitmo shortly after the president took office, so the government may now have a better idea of who the detainees are and what their connection to terrorism might be (if any). Congressional restrictions on detainee transfers, imposed since the 2010 lame duck session, have also made it increaslngly difficult to release or transfer detainees out of Gitmo under any conditions. More than 500 detainees were transferred (but not necessarily released) out of Gitmo under the Bush administration, compared to 70 under Obama. The "reengagement rate" reported by the DNI is far lower than the one established in controversial report by the House Armed Services Committee last year, which pegged the rate at 27 percent. That report, which House Democrats criticized as flawed, conflated "suspected" and "confirmed" cases. 

Source: Mother Jones

The numbers are already fairly low when you consider that US prisons have close to a two-thirds recidivism rate. But the government's definitions of "confirmed" and "suspected" are somewhat loose as well. Ex-detainees are "confirmed" of involvement in terrorist activity based on whether the government deems that "a preponderance of information" shows they were "directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activity." To make the "suspected" list, all the government requires is "plausible but unverified or single-source reporting." The definition of "reengagement" is itself problematic, since very few detainees at Gitmo have been convicted of a crime in any venue, military or civilian. 

Democrats reiterated their intention to close Gitmo in their 2012 platform, but they currently don't have the votes to do it (and they didn't take action when they did have the votes). Republicans have successfully leveraged the fear of terrorists escaping from domestic prisons, making the politics of closing Gitmo toxic. So even in an age of austerity, with a low "reengagement" rate, Gtimo, which costs $800,000 a year per detainee, will almost certainly remain open. 

A Tennessee Case Study in Defunding Planned Parenthood

| Wed Sep. 5, 2012 1:39 PM EDT

In November 2011, officials in Shelby County, Tennessee decided to defund its local Planned Parenthood, taking away the $397,000 in state funding to the Memphis chapter. The Obama administration responded in July 2012 by awarding family planning funds directly to Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis, but it's worth noting what happened to all that state money that didn't go to Planned Parenthood in the meantime.

Local officials decided that instead of giving that Title X money to Planned Parenthood for health screenings, STD tests, and birth control, they'd instead give it to Christ Community Health Services, a religious organization that refuses to provide abortions or refer women to others who would provide them. The organization also does not offer emergency contraception, and is reportedly looking to expand to create more "crisis pregnancy clinics" that offer "counselors who can discuss adoption and other life-affirming options" with women.

But it turns out that Christ Community Health Services has not been nearly as efficient at using Title X funds to provide family planning services, reports the Memphis Flyer (via Women's Health News). Between July 2011 and June 2012, more than $500,000 of the $1.3 million grant the county received was not used at all. Hannah Sayle reports that Christ Community Health Services was averaging just 51 Title X visits per month in early 2012, compared to Planned Parenthood's 841 visits in August 2011.

Here's how the county health department tried to explain the issue:

Last year, in what Yvonne Madlock, director of the county health department, has called "a year of essentially transition," Title X funding was diverted from longtime Title X family-planning provider Planned Parenthood to Christ Community Health Services.
The result was a drastically reduced number of Title X patient visits in Shelby County. Christ Community, which Madlock says was busy transitioning to its new role as the Title X service provider, did not sign the Title X contract until March, five months after the contract was awarded. In the meantime, the number of Title X patient visits to Christ Community dropped, while the health department maintained its usual number of Title X visits.
"I think all of us had some gearing up to do in order to be able to create the level of staff available to provide the services and communication with the community as to where services are available," Madlock said. "Change takes time. Systems have to ramp up."

As Women's Health News points out, this is becoming a great case study in what happens when governments decide to reallocate family planning funds to groups that aren't really all that interested in family planning.

VIDEO: The 5 Most Comically Bad Anti-Gay Ads, Ever

| Wed Sep. 5, 2012 1:17 PM EDT

There are political ads that attack candidates. There are ads that attack candidates' policies. There are even ads that attack candidates' health problems. But beneath that subterranean level is another class of ads: those that throw lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender voters under the bus. And regardless of how you feel about gay marriage, these kinds of ads hit rock bottom for an entirely different reason. They flunk acting, screenwriting, stage direction, and costume design 101. Here are five of the worst offenders:

1. "That's Not the Change I Voted For"

          

Sponsor: Campaign for American Values PAC (2012)

The Fail: The ominous jars of animal crackers, the old-timey "I just lost my job in a Lucille Ball comedy" music, the furrowed brows, the mysteriously awkward sentence cadences, and the completely false premise that these people actually voted for President Obama in 2008. 

2. "I'm Confused"

          

Sponsor: National Organization for Marriage (2009)

The Fail: Using small children to spout political views, excess blush, the fact that something or someone (the director?) has managed to inspire real, tangible terror in the smallest children, and saying "Our kids will be taught a new way of thinking!" like it's a bad thing.

3. "Boys Beware"

          

Sponsor: The Inglewood, California, Police Department and School District (1961) 

The Fail: Comparing homosexuality to smallpox, equating it with pedophilia, general fear-mongering, creepy facial hair, and the fact that our main character (Jimmy) vanishes at the end of the film, never to be seen or heard from again. 

4. "War on Religion"

          

Sponsor: Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) (2011)

The Fail: Since when can't kids openly celebrate Christmas? And what does this have to do with Don't Ask Don't Tell? Also, someone has to say it: The rough-and-ready governor's Carhartt-style wardrobe is straight off the set of Brokeback Mountain.

5. "A Storm is Coming"

          

Sponsor: National Organization for Marriage (2009) 

Fail: What NOM had in quantity, it lacked in quality: special effects stolen from a Final Cut Pro tutorial, people photoshopped in front of said special effects, costumes from the J. Crew bargain bin, fake-sounding foreign accents, and a complete and total inversion of logic. Oh, and spiky-hair lady: How does gay marriage affect the way you live, anyway?

On the plus side, though, that NOM effort led to this great Futurama spoof ad:

6. BONUS: "Vote NO on robosexual marriage"

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 5, 2012

Wed Sep. 5, 2012 12:02 PM EDT

Marines with Scout Sniper Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6 exit a compound in Agha Ahmad, Afghanistan, Aug. 27, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ed Galo.

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At Democratic Convention, Unions Battle "Thug" Image

| Wed Sep. 5, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

There is no way to sugarcoat it: Labor unions got shafted in the planning of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Labor leaders say they weren't consulted before Democrats picked Charlotte, North Carolina, an anti-union city in a "right-to-work" state, to host their quadrennial confab. After pumping $8.5 million into the 2008 Democratic convention, many unions decided against funding this year's convention, and they threw their own "Workers Stand for America" rally in Philadelphia last month.

But don't be fooled into thinking union leaders and rank-and-file members are avoiding the Democratic convention. Labor is here—and it's on a mission.

You might say union members are using the convention as a teachable moment. Here, in a state with the lowest unionization rate in America (2.9 percent), union workers are telling anybody who'll listen about the benefits of joining a union, and also trying to defuse the stereotypes of union members as greedy or thuggish. "We're here to spread the word," says Lillian Roberts, executive director of the New York City affiliate of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the city's largest public worker union. The convention "is an excellent way to educate people here on how important labor is."

On Monday, union members walked the streets of Charlotte and handed out AFL-CIO fliers titled "What's so good about unions anyway?" The fliers touted unions' efforts to give workers more input in their employers' business decisions and helping to "balance the power of big corporations and create a fair economy." In the wake of fights over collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Ohio, the flier reads, "When working people have the right to bargain collectively at work, it's good for us, for our communities, and for the whole economy."

The North Carolina AFL-CIO union took direct aim at the stereotype of "union thugs" here on the streets of Charlotte. At an event called "Hug-a-Thug" on Monday, state AFL-CIO members dished out hugs aplenty to friendly passersby amid the hubbub of the CarolinaFest street fair. Several other unions hosted booths at CarolinaFest, chatting up the crowd and handing out pamphlets, stickers, and more.

Jaime Rodriguez, an employee with the American Federation of Teachers in Oregon, says his message to North Carolinians echoes one of the themes in heard in Tuesday's speeches—the idea that everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed and earn a living wage. Rodriguez says his conversations with locals have stressed how union representation benefits not just union members but also nonmembers. "A union job means higher wages for everybody," Rodriguez says. "People here hopefully will realize that."

The official convention proceedings present union leaders with a national platform to reach millions of Americans. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, spoke on Tuesday night, giving a full-throated defense of Obama and a rousing call for working people to rally around the president and reelect him in November. "Middle-class Americans cannot afford four years of Romney economics," she said. "We need a president who fights for us, and that's what we have in President Barack Obama." United Auto Workers president Bob King and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka are set to speak tonight.

Not all union members have embraced labor's lemons-into-lemonade strategy here in Charlotte. At a Baptist church just outside of the city, the Los Angeles Times reported, labor organizers circulated an open letter to Obama noting that North Carolina "has been cited by the United Nations' International Labor Organization for its violations of international labor standards."

Nick Ciaramitaro, the legislative director for a Michigan branch of AFSCME, sees North Carolina's hostility to organized labor as "an opportunity to show a right-to-work state how unions work and work well." He told me that labor's anger at the Democratic Party for picking Charlotte was "ancient history," and that he looked forward to spreading his union's message far and wide. "We're here showing people we don't have horns," he says. "We'll win hearts and minds."

Corn on "Hardball": Obama's Surrogates Step Up

Wed Sep. 5, 2012 3:09 AM EDT

David Corn and Robert Costa joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the big performances from night one of the Democratic National Convention.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Corn on "Hardball": The Battleground State of Virginia

Tue Sep. 4, 2012 6:39 PM EDT

David Corn and Howard Fineman joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the wimpy bounce in the polls the accompanied the GOP convention, the campaigns' use of microtargeting technologies to turn out the vote, and how the presidential contest will play out in Virginia and other swing states.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

US Sanctions Anger Iranian 'World of Warcraft' Gamers, US Treasury Department Weighs In

| Tue Sep. 4, 2012 6:33 PM EDT

For citizens of Iran, brutal American sanctions could mean the end of the world...

...of Warcraft. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Sanctions by the United States, it seems, have hit World of Warcraft.

WikimediaWikimediaIranian gamers took to the World of Warcraft message board...complaining that they had been shut out of the online game. "Well, as if life of an Iranian couldn't get worse, the Battle.net became completely inaccessible as of today," one World of Warcraft fan wrote in frustration.

Another lamented, "Well we had a good run, Goodbye cruel world..."

The year's salvo of US and international sanctions, aimed at choking off Tehran's controversial nuclear program, have throttled the Iranian economy (see: plummeting oil exports), ravaging major industries like transportation and emergency civilian health care along the way.

The online role-playing game is merely the latest casualty in this drawn-out geopolitical fight.

For those unfamiliar with WoW—the online global phenomenon that involves engaging with Orcs and doing battle with throngs of complete strangers—here's a quick refresher:

Blizzard Entertainment, the California-based video game developers who debuted the WoW series in 2004, recently explained that the Iranian gamer black-out was required to stay in compliance with US law. "We apologize for any inconvenience this causes and will happily lift these restrictions as soon as U.S. law allows," one employee wrote.

Late last week, the US Department of the Treasury begrudgingly weighed in on the subject of pwning n00bs in Persian society. John Sullivan, a media affairs specialist at Treasury, told the Times that "clearly the focus of our sanctions is not on video games." (He went on to note that the department would "consider a license request from Blizzard Entertainment should they choose to apply for one.")

The World of Warcraft universe includes roughly 9.1 million subscribers worldwide, an 11-percent drop from 10.2 million in March 2012. The game also holds the 2009 Guinness World Record for the most popular multiplayer role-playing game.

There have also been numerous studies on the severity of video game addiction, with some rating World of Warcraft as addicting as cocaine. Pity the Iranians going through withdrawl.