Mojo - January 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 27, 2012

Tue Nov. 27, 2012 12:26 PM EST

Lance Cpl. Joshua Allen, with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, loads his M249 squad automatic weapon during a live-fire training exercise aboard the USS Iwo Jima, Nov. 25, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tucker S. Wolf.

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Mitt Romney: Truly the 47 Percent Man

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 10:44 AM EST

It's official. Or sort of. Mitt Romney appears to be finishing the presidential race with 47 percent of the popular vote. According to the National Popular Vote Tracker, Romney's take of the nationwide vote, which is still being tallied in several states, now stands at 47.43 percent. Rounding down, that's the magic number. And given that the states that have not finalized their vote count include California and New York, where Obama won big, it's likely Romney's percentage will tick down a bit. With Obama bagging 50.86 percent, the history books will record the contest as a 51-47 percent contest.

Romney was stuck at 47 percent even within twelve swing states, where he drew 47.32 percent of the cumulative vote. In the non-swing states, he pocketed 47.49 percent. This is highly convenient. Anytime the results of this presidential race are referenced, there will be a reminder of Romney's now infamous 47 percent rant.

In the aftermath of the election, numerous politicos—and strangers on the street—have told me they consider the revelation of the 47 percent video to have been the game-changer. Various post-mortems have cited Romney aides saying the same. There is, of course, no way to know what might have transpired had the video not roiled Romney's campaign for nearly two weeks during the crucial general-election period, where every single day counts. The video certainly reinforced the narrative that Romney's critics—including the Obama campaign—had been pushing: He was a 1-percenter who could not relate to middle- and working-class Americans confronting serious economic challenges and troubles. But the 47 percent story also caused Romney another problem; it stole time.

Money is not necessarily the most precious resource for a political campaign; it is time. Money can always be raised. Time cannot. After the political conventions, Romney had nine weeks to execute his strategy for winning the presidency. As campaigns do, his crew mapped out how it would use those weeks: when it would run ads, when it would stress particular messages, when it would focus on this or that state. The dust-up created by the 47 percent video lasted nearly a fortnight, throwing sand into Romney's gears during that crucial period. A week and a half after Mother Jones broke the story, a top executive at a broadcast news outlet sent me an email: "Used your video tonight (not too many stories are still going 10 days strong)." The 47 percent video had become one of the longest-running dramas of the 2012 campaign.

During those days, Romney was knocked off his already not-too-sure footing—which he wouldn't regain until the first debate, thanks to President Obama's limp performance. By then, the Obama campaign and its allies were using the 47 percent video in a series of ads that reinforced its initial impact on the race. On election night, an Obama adviser told me that the campaign did not rush out 47 percent ads right after the video emerged because in focus groups, undecided voters were bringing up Romney's remarks without prompting. His 47 percent comments had penetrated the voting public so fast and so far that the campaign had no cause at first to spend money to remind voters.

Romney was the 47 percent man. And that's how he is ending up.

In a private post-election call with funders that was revealed by the New York Times, Romney explained his loss by saying that Obama had showered key parts of his coalition with "gifts," by which he meant federal support for college loans, a health care law that allows children to remain on their parents' policies, and an executive order that permits the children of undocumented residents to remain in the United States. With those comments—something of a sequel to his 47 percent tirade—Romney was failing to take personal responsibility, holding the government accountable for what happened to him, and portraying himself a victim. Now where have we heard that before?

CEO's Who Can't Manage Their Companies' Retirement Plans Want to "Fix" Social Security

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 10:42 AM EST
Members of the Fix the Debt coalition ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange

Corporate chief executives who get involved in politics often invoke their business bona fides as a superior guide to fixing the nation's problems. The CEO's behind the latest "Fix the Debt" campaign are no exception. The top dogs at more than 90 American corporations—ranging from Honeywell's David Cote to Loews' James Tisch— have signed on to the coalition to press Congress to rein in federal spending, particularly on entitlements, and to balance the nation's books. The anti-debt coalition would like to see big cuts in Social Security benefits and an increase in the retirement age as a "fix" for the program.

Of course, American political leaders should always take the advice of rich businessmen with a grain of salt (and here they are almost uniformly men), especially when the remedy also includes big corporate tax cuts, as the "Fix the Debt" coalition is advocating for. But also, in this case, it's fairly clear that there's nothing about being a CEO that makes one especially well-equipped to dictate massive changes to the nation's collective retirement plan. Indeed, the CEO's behind the "Fix the Debt" coalition come from companies with rather dismal records of managing their own retirement plans.

Consider this: According to a new report from the Institute of Policy Studies, the 71 publicly held firms in the coalition have "a combined deficit of more than $100 billion in their employee pension funds." As with Social Security, these companies' retirement plans don't have enough money in them to pay out the promised benefits to the company workers. That's not because the companies don't (or didn't) have the cash. On the contrary.

One of the largest companies participating in the "Fix the Debt" campaign is GE, which in the 1980s had a $24 billion pension fund surplus. But GE and other big companies like it found ways to siphon money out of the fund to use for other things, like restructuring deals. GE also failed to contribute any money to the fund for 24 years. By 2009, GE's pension fund had a $22 billion deficit. Rather than draw on some of its cash reserves—some $85 billion currently on hand—GE last year decided to simply close the fund to new participants, forcing them into the sub-par 401(K) system.

Meanwhile, GE's CEO, Jeffery Immelt, hasn't skimped on his own retirement funds. He has a pension worth more than $47 million, plus another $5.3 million in deferred compensation coming his way, a nest egg that would translate into a monthly pension payment of about $292,000 for the rest of his retired life, according to IPS. By way of comparison, the average monthly Social Security check is $1,237.

IPS also includes in its report some staggering statistics about the state of the private sector's retirement planning that suggest some of these companies' retirement policies are one reason American workers are so reliant on the very safety net that the "Fix the Debt"ers want to slash. Here are a few:

  • Percentage of Fortune 100 firms offering traditional pensions to employees in 1980: 89
  • Percentage of Fortune 100 firms offering traditional pension for employees in 2012: 11
  • Percentage of Fortune 100 firms operating such plans for CEO and other executives: 79
  • Percentage of private sector workers having traditional pension at work in 1980: 83%
  • Percentage of private sector workers having traditional pension at work in 2011: 15%
  • Percentage of current full-time American workers in their 50s that have neither 401(K) nor traditional retirement plan at work: 44%
  • Percentage of Americans with no retirement assets of any kind: 34%
  • Estimated amount of retirement savings necessary (beyond Social Security) to provide $25,000 in annual income during retirement years: $500,000

12 Ways a Fiscal "Grand Bargain" Could Screw the Poor

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 6:08 AM EST

As the fiscal cliff looms, there's a consensus that, one way or another, the rich are going to have to pay up. But that doesn't mean the poor are home free. Any "grand bargain" budget deal will be just that—a deal, which means that even though Democrats want to shield social programs from cuts, they will inevitably end up as bargaining chips on the table.

Obama's starting point for negotiations is the deficit plan that came out of the 2011 debt-ceiling showdown. It already contains heavy cuts in discretionary spending, which is spending on stuff that is not entitlements, including military and domestic programs. And 25 percent of that domestic spending goes to programs that help low-income people, according to Richard Kogan, a federal budget expert and senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Obama and the Democrats have been pretty set against cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and long-term unemployment benefits. However, Rep. Paul "62-percent-of-my-proposed-budget-cuts-come-from-poor-people-programs" Ryan will likely be leading the charge on the other side of the aisle. He won't be able to chop up the safety net to his liking, but he and his fellow Republicans will do what they can. 

Kogan says that even though a final budget deal is likely not to eliminate tax benefits for the poor, it will almost certainly include deeper cuts to lots of social programs. Here are 12 possible targets (program costs are from 2012 unless otherwise noted):

Medicaid ($258 billion): Though Obama has largely targeted providers for potential Medicaid cuts, Republicans want beneficiaries to fork over more. In which case, says Kogan, patients might be forced to make copayments, or program costs may be shifted to the states, which could decide to scale back coverage.

Food Stamps ($78 billion in 2011): The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program serves about 45 million people. It is not part of discretionary spending, but Ellen Nissenbaum, senior vice president for government affairs at CBPP, told The Nation it faces a real prospect of being cut in negotiations.

Public University Launches Marijuana Institute

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 4:56 PM EST

College students already smoke a lot of pot, but now some of them can also study it in the classroom.

Northern California's Humboldt State University recently launched the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, what's believed to be the nation's first pot institute at an accredited university, according to the Eureka Times-Standard. The HIIMR will offer scholarly lectures and help coordinate reefer-related research among 11 faculty members from fields such as politics, economics, geography, sociology, and psychology.

"Across the country, there was a tendency to ignore the 'green elephant' in the room," institute co-chair Josh Meisel told the Times-Standard, explaining how the idea for the institute went from pipe dream to reality. "With these public discussions (around pot legalization), there were a lot more questions than there were answers."

Located in California's "Emerald Triangle," the epicenter of the state's pot-growing economy, Humboldt State has about 7,000 full-time students, putting it among the smallest third of the 23 campuses of the California State University system.

Unlike well-known "cannabis colleges" such as Oakland's Oaksterdam University, HIIMR won't offer classes on pot cultivation—at least not for now. But it will have the ability to teach courses for college credit. Its first annual speaker series kicks off tomorrow with a public lecture on the implications of pot legalization for "marijuana communities"—groups like the backwoods growers in Humboldt County.

Crist and GOP Officials Accuse Republicans of Voter Suppression

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 3:46 PM EST
An early voting line in Florida on November 3, 2012.

According to a report in the Palm Beach Post, current and former Republican Party officials in Florida have confirmed what voting-rights advocates have long suspected: That the GOP has hyped concerns about voter fraud as a means to reduce Democratic election turnout. Former Governor Charlie Crist told the Post that party leaders approached him when he was governor to see if he'd back efforts to limit early voting. While he didn't recall the officials explicitly saying their intention was to target black voters, Crist said that "it looked to me like that was what was being suggested. And I didn't want them to go there at all."

In 2011, Crist's successor, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, signed a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature that slashed Florida's early voting period from two weeks to eight days. (The bill also tightened restrictions on voter registration laws, although many of those provisions were tossed after a court challenge.) This November, Florida was plagued with long early voting lines that extended into Election Day and may well have disenfranchised voters.

Crist's claims were echoed by former Florida Republican party chairman Jim Greer, who told the Post he was first approached about restricting early voting in 2009. Greer told the Post: "The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates. It's done for one reason and one reason only…'We've got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us.'…They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue. It's all a marketing ploy."

Republican Party of Florida spokesman Brian Burgess told the Post that Crist, who recently left the GOP and is considering running for governor as a Democrat, "speaks out of both sides of his mouth" and implied that Greer's claims weren't credible in light of his indictment for embezzling $200,000 from party coffers. But two current Republican consultants also told the Post that their party's intentions were clear:

Wayne Bertsch, who handles local and legislative races for Republicans, said he knew targeting Democrats was the goal.

"In the races I was involved in in 2008, when we started seeing the increase of turnout and the turnout operations that the Democrats were doing in early voting, it certainly sent a chill down our spines. And in 2008, it didn’t have the impact that we were afraid of. It got close, but it wasn’t the impact that they had this election cycle," Bertsch said, referring to the fact that Democrats picked up seven legislative seats in Florida in 2012 despite the early voting limitations.

Another GOP consultant, who did not want to be named, also confirmed that influential consultants to the Republican Party of Florida were intent on beating back Democratic turnout in early voting after 2008.

Read the rest here.

UPDATE, November 28, 2012: Republican Party of Florida spokesman (and former Rick Scott communications director) Brian Burgess sent out a press release today attacking the Palm Beach Post for its "unsupported claims" and "dubious sourcing." He pointed to a statement on the state GOP's website from Wayne Bertsch, who says he "never participated in any discussion or meetings with any of the named individuals about how to create impediments to any voters," has never been on contract with the party, and that "a quote from me [was taken] entirely out of context."

Burgess also repeated the assertions he made to the Post that Crist and Greer are untrustworthy sources with an axe to grind against the GOP, and claimed the fourth, unnamed source in the Post's story "has no first hand observations to substantiate Greer's claim" that voter suppression talks happened. Meanwhile, Florida Democrats have called for a federal civil rights investigation because of the story.

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The Department of Justice Censors MoJo

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 2:50 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."

No, Andrew W.K. is Not the State Department's Cultural Ambassador to the Middle East

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 2:00 PM EST

Over Thanksgiving weekend, hard-rock performing artist and self-declared "King of Partying" Andrew W.K. announced that he had just landed a new gig: America's "cultural ambassador of partying" to Bahrain. Here's an excerpt from his press release:

The US Department of State in partnership with the US Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, has invited Andrew to visit the Middle East to promote partying and positive power. In the tradition of the American Jazz Ambassadors who traveled the world in the mid 20th century as examples of American culture and spirit, Andrew has been invited by the State Department to travel to the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain and share his music and partying with the people there. Andrew will begin his journey sometime in December, 2012 and will visit elementary schools, the University of Bahrain, music venues, and more, all while promoting partying and world peace... For security reasons, the exact travel dates, details, and other specifics are being kept top secret at this time.

The US government appointing a rocker-diplomat—known for partying til he pukes, covering himself in blood, dabbling in the My Little Pony-based subculture of "bronies," and sing-screaming about the McLaughlin Group—to represent American interests in the Kingdom of Bahrain? That sounds totally plausible! Nevertheless, a host of media outlets ran with the news without bothering to check with State Department, including UPI, the Huffington Post, New York magazine's culture blog "Vulture," Pitchfork Media, Breitbart.com, Mediaite, DCist, NME, Gawker, and Russia Today.

A State Department spokesman confirmed to Mother Jones Monday that the man behind the 2001 party-rock album I Get Wet will not in fact be partying 'til he pukes in Bahrain—at least, not in any official capacity. While Andrew W.K. was invited by a US embassy "cultural speakers program" for a possible overseas trip to Bahrain, the embassy in Manama later determined that the program was "not appropriate" and canceled it promptly "some time ago." (As for why the recording artist is still hyping up his imaginary position online is anybody's guess.)

To anyone familiar with Andrew W.K.'s exploits, the singer-songwriter's story strained credulity from the get-go (Brooklyn web magazine Brokelyn expressed its doubts early on). If Hillary Clinton were to send a B-list celebrity on a goodwill mission to children's schools in a Persian Gulf Muslim country with a lousy human rights record, why would she send the guy who sang "Party Hard" or "Party Party Party" for Aqua Teen Hunger Force?

For the uninitiated, here's a clip of Andrew W.K. appearing on Fox News:

And here he is dancing on Conan O'Brien's old show:

So, no, this man will not be going to the Kingdom of Bahrain on the US government's dime in order to promote rock-star-style hedonism. That is a thing that is not happening.

 

UPDATE:

Tweeted at 2:37 p.m. EST on Monday:

And shortly after...

In response to this post, Andrew W.K. sent Mother Jones the following message:

I'm not legally allowed at this exact moment to go into too many details, but they invited me a year ago and then canceled this morning. They said they had changed their mind and decided I wasn't appropriate. I was scheduled to go there this weekend...The trip had been confirmed and developed over the past year—their cancellation only happened today, which is why it's so important to make that clear that after all the planning, they canceled it THIS MORNING, not 'some time ago.'"

Top Republicans Threaten to Ditch Grover Norquist's Anti-Tax Pledge

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 12:24 PM EST
Grover Norquist.

Grover Norquist's anti-tax-increase pledge is beginning to show cracks.

Over the long holiday weekend, four top Republicans in Congress said they would not be bound by their signing of the conservative activist's pledge not to raise taxes on their constituents in any way, shape, or form. These lawmakers have broken with Norquist at a crucial moment: On Monday, members of Congress restart their effort to hammer out an agreement to avoid going off the so-called "fiscal cliff" on December 31.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), ranking member on the Senate select committee on intelligence, dismissed Norquist's pledge during a Thanksgiving Day interview with a Macon, Georgia, television station. "I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge," Chambliss said. "If we do it his way then we'll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that."

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who chairs the House homeland security committee, said he agreed with Chambliss. Standing by an anti-tax pledge he signed decades ago, King argued on NBC’s Meet the Press, "is just bad economic policy. "A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress," King said. "For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed, and the economic situation is different."

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said on ABC's This Week on Sunday that he agreed with Norquist on not raising tax rates, but believed—unlike Norquist—that other ways of raising tax revenue are fair game. "I think Grover is wrong when it comes to we can't cap deductions and buy down debt," Graham said. "What do you do with the money? I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform."

And Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told CBS' Charlie Rose on Monday that he was "not obligated on the pledge."

Norquist, for his part, has fired back by saying that lawmakers are bound to their constituents, not him, on their promises to oppose tax increases in any form. As for King, Norquist told CNN's Soledad O'Brien on Monday that King "knows full well that the pledge that he signed, and others have, is for while you're in Congress. It's not for a two year period."

This is hardly the first time Republicans have made noises about wiggling out of Norquist's pledge. But could this time be different? Members of Congress are now staring down the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and a potpourri of automatic spending cuts that could total more than $800 billion in 2013. That includes a $55 billion cut to defense spending and $55 billion more shaved off of domestic programs.

Republicans don't want these scheduled cuts to become a reality. The defense cuts and the expiration of the Bush-era tax breaks could be enough to nudge Republicans into ditching Norquist's pledge. If they do, it's Norquist, whose political currency depends on the pledge and its adherents, who stands to lose the most. 

Did the Head of the Israeli Military's Social Media Pose in Black Face?

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 11:36 AM EST

Following reports that he posted a photo of himself in what appears to be black face, with the caption "Obama style," Sacha Dratwa, the 26-year-old lieutenant heading the Israel Defense Forces' social media campaign is shutting down public access to his Facebook profile, according to a statement he sent Mother Jones and posted online.

A screenshot of the photo, which was originally posted by Dratwa on September 29, was published Saturday by the website, Your Black World. The image appears to be of Dratwa at the Dead Sea with mud on his face. While that would not be an uncommon activity there, the "Obama style" caption drew scornful comments on his Facebook page. Mother Jones asked Dratwa for a comment, and he said:

There have been attempts to make use of private photos from my Facebook profile in order to publicly misrepresent my opinions. Due to the amount of public attention I've garnered in recent days I have decided to restrict access to my page, in order to protect my privacy and prevent further cynical use of the information therein.  I am, and have always been, completely candid about my beliefs and have nothing to hide – as reflected by my Facebook profile, which until recently was open to everyone. The aforementioned photos do not reflect my beliefs and have no bearing whatsoever on my position in the IDF.

ABC News, which says it has confirmed the photo is real, reports that Dratwa responded to a user on Twitter accusing him of racism by saying, “I’m not a racist, please stop [spreading] lies about me.”

In charge of the Israel Defense Forces' official Twitter account, @IDFSpokesperson, Dratwa became a high-profile figure during the recent Israel-Hamas conflict. According to a profile by Gizmodo, in his free time, Dratwa enjoys snowboarding, swimming, vodka, macchiatos, and hanging out with friends.

The IDF did not respond to a request for comment.

This post has been updated.