Mojo - March 2013

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 18, 2013

Mon Mar. 18, 2013 11:08 AM EDT

Marines with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment prepare to conduct a dismounted patrol near Patrol Base Boldak, Afghanistan, on March 3. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough.

 

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CPAC: Where Ashley Judd Rape Jokes Happen

| Mon Mar. 18, 2013 10:37 AM EDT

Possible Kentucky Senate candidate Ashley Judd has an "unnerving" "obsession" with rape, according to a conservative comedian who performed at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday. Fox News contributor Steven Crowder was winding up his monologue from CPAC's main stage when he decided to mock Judd's suggestion that people who use high-tech appliances (herself included) are indirectly contributing to human rights abuses:

By the way, in breaking news, Ashley Judd just tweeted that buying Apple products, again, is akin to rape. From her iPhone. Rape—now she knows how my brain felt after Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Oh, she said it. What is this obsession with Ashley Judd and rape? It's pretty unnerving.

Here's one reason why Ashley Judd talks about rape a lot: She is, in her own words, "a three-time survivor of rape." (I didn't have to look very hard for that; she talked about it at length in a nationally televised public appearance last month.) Talking about it is not just part of the recovery process—Judd feels it's her obligation: "I gave that shame back, and it's my job to break my isolation and talk with other girls and other women." That's also, not coincidentally, a large part of what she does internationally as a public health activist. There is literally a chapter in her memoir called "The Republic of Rape." It's about the Democratic of Republic of Congo, of which she has reported, "100 percent of the women I had interviewed had been gang-raped multiple times by armed militia."

On top of all of this, the original joke doesn't even make sense. Crowder's punch-line is that Judd is oblivious to the obvious hypocrisy of condemning Apple products while using them. What an idiot! But Judd's comments came in a long essay (not a tweet) about the angst she felt about using products that came from conflict zones.

Given the physical and emotional trauma experienced by countless women on a daily basis, it's not especially surprising that Judd is "obsessed" with rape; the better question is why Steven Crowder isn't.

For Apple and the Phone Companies, "All a Theft Means Is Another Sale"

| Mon Mar. 18, 2013 8:58 AM EDT

Are Apple and Samsung helping to prevent your tablet and smartphone from getting stolen? Not according to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who last week accused mobile device makers and data carriers of doing little to nothing to fix a problem that costs their customers tens of millions of dollars a year in replacement costs.

"For the manufacturer and the carriers, all a theft means is another sale," Gascón told me. "People are going back for a second phone; there is usually an up-sale, because the model that they had is generally no longer available—so people get sucked into new contracts. At least on the surface, [the companies] appear to be very mercenary, very profit-oriented, and not very socially conscious."

Last year, cellphones were stolen in nearly 30 percent of all robberies, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Between 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, and 2011, thefts involving cell phones in Washington, DC, increased by 54 percent. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg blamed iPhone thefts for single-handedly increasing the city's major crime rate last year. In San Francisco, nearly half of all robbery cases last year involved a mobile communication device. "People get traumatized by this," Gascón says. "At the same time, we're seeing young people starting to accumulate very, very serious criminal records."

Major wireless carriers say they're working to prevent thefts through a national registry for logging the serial numbers of stolen phones. By April 30, customers buying a new phone will be informed of ways to remotely lock the device and erase its data.

In New York—but nowhere else—Apple works with police to track down stolen iPhones.

But Gascón says those efforts fall far short. He points out that many stores will jailbreak a stolen phone "no questions asked," at which point thieves could sign it up with smaller carriers that aren't participating in the registry. Other critics of the approach say that bad guys will just ship the stolen devices overseas.

Gascon believes that if smartphone makers really cared about preventing thefts, they'd create a way to track or shut down their devices anywhere in the world, regardless of which carrier was being used.

"That seems like something that is reachable," Kevin Mahaffey, the chief technology officer of Lookout, a maker of anti-theft smartphone apps, told me.

Indeed, after New York's Mayor Bloomberg blamed Apple for fueling a crime wave, the company partnered with the NYPD to track down stolen iPhones using each phone's unique tracking number, known as its International Mobile Station Identity. Using that number, Apple can locate a phone even if it's registered with a different wireless provider. According to the New York Post, one stolen iPad was even tracked to the Dominican Republic and recovered with the help of a cop in Santo Domingo.

But apparently, New York is the only city where Apple offers this service.

Why? Apple didn't return a request for comment, but a reader of the tech blog Slashdot had an idea: Tracking or locking stolen phones "would reduce the likelihood of theft," he figured, "which would in turn reduce 1) Apple street cred; 2) The need to purchase another Apple device."

Obama's Labor Pick Could be Cabinet's Most Progressive Member

| Mon Mar. 18, 2013 8:45 AM EDT
Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division.

President Barack Obama will nominate Thomas Perez, currently the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, to be the next secretary of labor, Politico reports.

Perez is well-regarded by organized labor and his tenure as the head of the civil rights division has been praised by civil rights groups. But he's long been a target of the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley. Grassley's concerns revolve around Perez's involvement in a Minnesota fair housing case. The division has also come under fire from Republicans over its handling of the New Black Panther voter intimidation case, but an Inspector General's report released last week did not conclude that the decision to narrow the case, which was made before Perez was confirmed, was based on racial or political bias.

If confirmed, Perez would likely be the most progressive member of Obama's cabinet, which is reason enough for Republicans to fight his nomination

At CPAC, Sarah Palin Has Not Gotten Any Smarter Since Her Disastrous Political Career Ended

| Sat Mar. 16, 2013 2:15 PM EDT

Sarah Palin rocked a packed ballroom here at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday afternoon. The applause was roaring. The hollers many. The atmosphere crackling. In other words: Dog bites man.

Palin's speech, if you can call it that, was Palin at her most Palinesque: heavy on one-liners and folksy charm; light on, you know, anything resembling substance and solutions. Here, a sampling of Palin's many zingers:

"They talk about rebuilding the party. How about rebuilding the middle class?"

"They talk about rebuilding the GOP? How about restoring the trust of the people?"

"Let's be clear about one thing: We're not here to rebrand a party. We're here to rebuild a country."

"Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Barack Obama, you lie!"

"Mr. President, we admit it: You won! Now accept it and step away from the teleprompter and do your job."

"Remember no-drama Obama? Now it's all-drama Obama."

"More background checks? Dandy idea, Mr. President. Shoulda started with yours."

"[Obama] is considered a good politician—which is like saying Bernie Madoff was a good salesman."

"We're not here to put a fresh coat of rhetorical paint on our party."

"If you don't have a lobbyist in DC, you are not at the table, you are on the menu."

"Never before have our challenges been so big, and our leaders so small."

"My only advice to College Republicans is: You gotta be thinking Sam Adams, not drinking Sam Adams."

Imagine that for 30-plus minutes and you get the idea. I hesitate to call the above quotes "punchlines." Punchlines follow a wind-up of some kind, an anecdote or an argument. Palin's speech didn't have any of these. The one-liners were the speech.

The closest she came to making a point about the future direction of the fractured Republican Party was to say that "it's time to stop preaching to the choir," a piece of advice offered, as Jon Ward sagely tweeted, to the choir. The closest she came to tackling an issue of importance was to note that the median household income has declined by thousands of dollars since 2007 "even as we work longer and longer hours."

That's right! Also: Data! Economics! Here at Mother Jones, we, too, are concerned about this phenomenon of working longer while earning less. We call it "the Great Speedup." So go on, Sarah, tell us what we should do about the Great Speedup!

Instead, a few moments later, she told a joke having something to do with her "rack." Then she did this:

Dorsey Shaw/Buzzfeed

Yes, that's a Big Gulp. Palin was making a jab at New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's proposed ban on big sugary sodas, which was struck down in court this week. "Bloomberg's not around," Palin said. "Don't worry." And the crowd went wild.

Oh, Sarah. Don't ever change.

Elizabeth Warren Goes After NRA, Big Banks, GOP

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 8:19 PM EDT

Since joining Congress, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been fighting to penalize bad banks, expand consumer protections, and confirm Richard Cordray as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she helped create in 2011. Yesterday she took her message to the Consumer Federation of America. "I know I’m preaching to the choir," Warren told the group's members, "but it is time for Washington to stop protecting a handful of the big guys." 

Warren said the 43 Senate Republicans who sent a letter to President Obama demanding a change of structure at the CFPB were trying to weaken the agency, and she called the NRA's attempts to limit data gathering on gun violence "dangerous."

Watch a portion of the speech, and read her full prepared remarks below. 

 

 

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Corn on Hardball: CPAC Welcomes Romney

Fri Mar. 15, 2013 6:48 PM EDT

This weekend, the stars of the GOP will be at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the notorious meet-up in Washington DC. DC bureau chief David Corn discusses the first day of CPAC, including Mitt Romney's oddly warm welcome from his fellow Republicans, with The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson and Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball:

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

Read our dispatches from this year's CPAC here, here, here, and here.

North Dakota Passes Ban on Abortions After 6 Weeks of Pregnancy

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 5:54 PM EDT

The North Dakota legislature approved the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States on Friday, cutting off abortion access as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill, HB 1456, makes it illegal for doctors to perform an abortion if a heartbeat is detectable in the fetus—something that can happen as little as six weeks after conception. It passed the Senate by a vote of 26 to 17, and will now head to the desk of Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

North Dakota lawmakers have been considering a variety of anti-abortion bills. While this wasn't their most extreme option—another bill would have outlawed all abortions, period—it does mean that North Dakota now has the most restrictive abortion law in the country. This comes just over a week after Arkansas claimed the crown for most restrictive abortion laws, passing a twelve-week ban.

The law will almost inevitably be challenged in court, as it takes a clear shot at Roe vs Wade's protection of a right to an abortion up until the point the fetus is viable. But legal groups challenging state restrictions have a lot on their hands as states undertake what Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, called a "state-by-state race to the bottom on women's health" in an email after the North Dakota vote.

"I Can't Keep This Going": How JPMorgan Chase Changed Its Own Risk Rules and Lost $6 Billion

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 5:46 PM EDT
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon

Last May, JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank in America, lost $6 billion on a risky bet placed by its London office. So far, the bank has been punished with a slap on the wrist, but this week the Senate released a major report and held a Friday hearing on the debacle. The report shows that in the run up to the massive loss, JPMorgan Chase ignored its own risk controls, used fancy math to reduce estimates of losses, and blocked the flow of information to regulators. Regulators, meanwhile, first fell asleep on the job and then tried to downplay the incident.

The bank and its regulators should have seen problems coming. The risks JPMorgan Chase was taking on were so obvious that Bruno Iskil, the trader who made the giant bet, told a colleague last year that the way the bank was cooking its books was "getting idiotic," and said, "I can't keep this going," according to the report. One way the bank "kept this going" was by ignoring its own rules. In the first four months of last year alone, the London office broke its risk regulations 330 times. In order to avoid those pesky rules, JPMorgan Chase simply changed how it measured risk, with approval for those changes going all the way up to CEO Jamie Dimon himself.

JPMorgan Chase managers also "pressured" its traders to lowball losses by some $660 million over several months by changing how they calculated them, the report says.

The bank did send its regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, reports revealing it was breaking its risk rules by the hundreds, but the OCC officials at Friday's Senate hearing said that they were more focused on what they considered "riskier" parts of the bank.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which held the hearing, asked one OCC official if the bank's fancy new risk measurements should have been a "red flag." The OCC official said yes.

JPMorgan Chase didn't just ignore its own rules—it ignored the government's rules, too. For several weeks last year, the bank simply stopped giving profit and loss reports to the OCC because Dimon said "it was too much information to provide." Dimon, who is accused of withholding information about the daily losses, allegedly raised "his voice in anger" at a deputy who later turned over the info, the report says.

"This is something we should have been all over from Day One."

The bank "failed to send regular reports in…the same months [the trade] tripled size," Levin said. "Why…did OCC examiners that oversaw [the London office] not ask the bank for the missing reports until mid-April after the media storm?"

"This is something we should have been all over from Day One," admitted Scott Waterhouse, the main OCC official in charge of overseeing JPMorgan Chase.

And what about "If the OCC had required [the London office] to document its investment decisions[?]…Would it have learned of [the trade] earlier?" Levin asked. Yes, OCC officials said. "There were red flags we failed to notice and act upon," Tom Curry, the comptroller of the currency, admitted.

"The skepticism and demand for hard evidence that might be expected of bank regulators were absent," the Senate report concluded.

Maybe that's why regulators tried to play down the crisis after the fact. The day after JPMorgan Chase announced its loss, the head of the OCC's Large Bank Supervision division, Michael Brosnan, told Curry the trades were not that big a deal, calling it an "embarrassment issue," and adding that "at end of day, they are good at financial risk [management]. But they are human and will make mistakes."

Free Wifi at CPAC Comes With a Cost: Your Email

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 5:41 PM EDT

People attending the storied Conservative Political Action Conference this year were treated to free wireless internet by one of the event's sponsors, the Tea Party News Network, which picked up the $75,000 tab at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland. "We're delighted that we could provide free internet for all CPAC 2013 attendees," Scottie Nell Hughes, the news director of the Tea Party News Network, said in a press release. "We wanted to ensure that at the largest annual gathering of conservatives the thousands of bloggers and grassroots conservative activists have the ability to share their thoughts and message with the world."

But as the saying goes, there is no free lunch, and CPAC attendees might be sorry they took advantage of TPNN's offer.

People at the conference have been required to submit their names and email addresses to access the free wireless. Thanks to its sponsorship deal, all of that contact information is going back to the Tea Party News Network, a group that other grassroots tea party organizations have criticized as nothing but a data-mining operation.

The Tea Party News Network is a project of TheTeaParty.net, which is itself a spin-off of a nonprofit group called Stop This Insanity!. I wrote about the group last month when it was raising money for and sponsoring the "Day of Resistance" gun rallies around the country. The outfit was founded by Todd Cefaratti, who runs a "lead generation" business in Mesa, Ariz. Lead generation, for the uninitiated, is the business of finding potential contacts ripe for a sales pitch of some sort. In Cefaratti's case, his business harvests leads for the reverse mortgage industry, which has been flagged by consumer advocates as rife with many of the same predatory lending issues as the subprime mortgage industry that helped crash the financial system in 2007. 

Tea party activists have complained that after logging in to or making donations on TheTeaParty.net or related sites, they found themselves besieged with spam from precious metal dealers who'd been renting the group's email list through Newsmax. The group has repeatedly come under fire for raising lots of money from tea party groups but failing to spend much of it on politics, and has run afoul of the FEC. During the presidential campaign, it raised $1.2 million but spent only $52,000 on candidates. Much of its money gets spent on advertising, including many TV ads that run with a variety of different tea party names on gun and hunting shows. The Tea Party News Network sent out fundraising emails asking for donations to cover the $75,000 CPAC wireless bill.

Neither the Tea Party News Network nor TheTeaParty.net have responded to requests for information about what they intend to do with the emails they collect from CPAC.