Mojo - July 2013

Fast-Food Workers Strike in 7 Cities to Demand Higher Wages

| Mon Jul. 29, 2013 10:54 AM EDT

In a major address at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., last week, President Barack Obama launched a push to "deliver on behalf of those people that are still struggling" in this recovering economy. Some of his priorities include investing in green jobs, focusing on education and training, and raising the minimum wage. On Monday, in what will likely be the largest fast-food strike in US history, workers in seven cities are lending him a hand in the effort by walking off the job to demand higher wages.

Thousands of fast-food workers in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Flint, Mich., will strike at joints like McDonald's and Wendy's, calling for a wage increase to $15 an hour and the right to join a union without retaliation. (Although all American workers are legally allowed to join unions, many who try to organize are fired or punished with reduced hours.)

Many fast-food workers are paid at, or just above, the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25, though it's higher in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Fast-food wages have fallen 36 cents an hour since 2010, even as the industry has raked in record profits.

This is part of an economy-wide problem; the bottom 20 percent of American workers—some 28 million employees—earn less than $9.89 an hour, or $20,570 a year for a full-time employee. Their income fell five percent between 2006 and 2012. Meanwhile, average pay for chief executives at the country's top corporations leaped 16 percent last year, averaging $15.1 million, the New York Times reports.

The Times has a great chart showing what low-wage America looks like. Here are the demographics of the 21 million workers who make between $7.25 and $10 an hour:

The mobilization of fast-food workers is a pretty new thing, because the industry has traditionally had high turnover. But the slow economic recovery, which has been characterized by growth in mostly low-wage service sector jobs, has resulted in a growing population of adult fast-food workers who can't find other work.

Fast-food workers can work in the industry for years without more than a dollar or two raise. In his story on the strikes at Salon Monday, Josh Eidelson points to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project that explains why: "Opportunities for advancement in the fast food industry are significantly limited compared to other industries," the report says. "[O]nly 2.2 percent of jobs in the fast food industry are managerial, professional, or technical occupations, compared with 31 percent of jobs in the overall US economy."

The strikes today follow waves of fast-food worker strikes across the country this past spring and last fall. And they are part of a string of recent strikes in other industries too. In recent weeks, federally-contracted workers in Washington walked off their jobs; and there has been growing worker discontent at Walmart over the past year.

As City University of New York labor expert Ruth Milkman told Eidelson of the Monday strikes, "As a consciousness-raising strategy for the United States, it’s really great."

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Anti-Islam Activists Are Freaking Out About Crayons Now

| Mon Jul. 29, 2013 9:59 AM EDT
A sample from Crayola's Ramadan coloring exercises.

Anti-Shariah activists have a new target in their sights: Crayola. Late last week the Pickens County (Ga.) Republican party posted a call to action on its website about a new promotion from the world's leading crayon manufacturer, which had begun offering free Islamic-themed coloring pages in honor of Ramadan. Zut alors! The images are pretty innocuous—one features a prayer rug; another features a young boy kneeling while reading from the Koran. But the Pickens GOP sees something more nefarious:

Recall that Muslims consider Ramadan the "month of jihad" and "month of victory" over infidels. Crayola should remind kids not to try and draw Muhammad lest their parents need to fend off Muslims and enter witness relocation – like the creator of Everyone Draw Muhammad Day – since the FBI nor anyone else will protect them.

Christmas trees and bunnies abound but a search for the Bible returned zero results.

contact Crayola:@CrayolaListening to Consumers and CustomersConsumer AffairsCrayola LLC1100 Church LaneEaston, PA 18044-0431-or-Click here to contact us electronically.About Our Products – in the U.S. or Canada:For Crayola®, Silly Putty®, Portfolio Series and Pop Art Pixies products, call 1-800-272-9652 1-800-CRAYOLA.

Both the Pickens County GOP and another anti-Shariah website, the appropriately named "Creeping Sharia," both published the exact same text on the exact same day, so it's not clear who plagiarized whom. Crayola is in good company. Other American institutions that have fallen under the spell of Shariah (according to anti-Shariah activists) include David Petraeus, the grocery store Wegman's, and Nashville's Hutton Hotel.

Mitt Romney's Incredible 47-Percent Denial: "Actually, I Didn't Say That"

| Mon Jul. 29, 2013 9:07 AM EDT

Poor Mitt Romney. He seems unable to come to terms with one of the most significant episodes in his public life: the 47 percent video that undercut his chance of becoming president of the United States. 

Sunday's Washington Post featured an article adapted from reporter Dan Balz's new 2012 campaign book, Collision 2012, and the excerpt focused on Romney's take on why he entered the race and why he lost. Toward the end of the article, which was based on a series of interviews Balz conducted with Romney, the twice-failed Republican presidential candidate was forced to confront his 47-percent remarks, and he just couldn't do so forthrightly. 

First, Romney blamed his initial botched response to the video—his bungled, impromptu press conference the night Mother Jones released the video—on a misperception of what was on the video:

[Romney] was in California and said at first he couldn't get a look at the video. His advisers were pushing him to respond as quickly as he could. "As I understood it, and as they described it to me, not having heard it, it was saying, 'Look, the Democrats have 47 percent, we’ve got 45 percent, my job is to get the people in the middle, and I've got to get the people in the middle,'" he said. "And I thought, 'Well, that’s a reasonable thing.'... It's not a topic I talk about in public, but there's nothing wrong with it. They've got a bloc of voters, we've got a bloc of voters, I've got to get the ones in the middle. And I thought that that would be how it would be perceived—as a candidate talking about the process of focusing on the people in the middle who can either vote Republican or Democrat. As it turned out, down the road, it became perceived as being something very different."

Whoa. He first thought the video only showed him stating the obvious? That Obama had his voters, Romney had his supporters, and the small percentage in between was up for grabs? Well, that would have hardly caused a fuss. But here's what doesn't track: When the video was posted, an article accompanied the video with a transcript of what Romney had said. Anyone with a smart phone could access the video and the transcript of his remarks, in which he stated:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what… These are people who pay no income tax..."[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Raised Big Money for Obama? You Get an Ambassadorship!

| Mon Jul. 29, 2013 9:03 AM EDT
Matthew Barzun, Obama's national fundraising guru, will become the US' ambassador to the United Kingdom.

When he first ran for president, Barack Obama pledged to...well, you know the story. No more politics as usual, curbing the clout of lobbyists and special interests, the most transparent administration ever, etc., etc. But there's one time-honored, you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours Washington tradition that Obama has been more than happy to continue: Rewarding major campaign fundraisers with plum gigs as ambassadors.

At last count, 26 of Obama's existing and nominated ambassadors had raised money for the president and the Democrats. Together, those fundraisers scared up at least $13.6 million for Obama's campaigns, the Democratic Party, and other Democratic congressional candidates, according to Bloomberg News.

One in three of Obama's diplomatic appointees have been political appointees, according to the American Foreign Service Association. That's right on track with his predecessors going back to Ronald Reagan.

These fundraisers aren't getting shipped off to far-flung locales. Instead, they can look forward to a few years of fine dining and nightly parties. For instance, there's Matthew Barzun, who chaired Obama's team of fundraisers, or "finance committee," who was named US ambassador the UK. Rufus Gifford, the chief fundraiser for Obama's 2012 campaign and his second inauguration, will head off to Denmark. A slew of other regional fundraisers have also scored high-profile ambassadorships: Alexa Wesner (Austria), Denise Bauer (Belgium), John Emerson (Germany), Kirk Wagar (Singapore), and Jim Costos (Spain). A White House spokesman told Bloomberg that each of Obama's ambassador picks was qualified for the job, adding, "None of them was chosen because they supported the president's campaign and none of them should have been ruled out just because they did."

Early in his first term, Obama acknowledged that "there probably will be some" political types serving in diplomatic posts. But the rainmaker-to-ambassador pipeline has continued enough under Obama's watch that the foreign service association last year urged him to cut down as naming political allies to diplomatic positions. "Now is the time to end the spoils system and the de facto 'three-year rental' of ambassadorships," the group's governing board said in a statement. "The appointment of non-career individuals, however accomplished in their own field, to lead America's important diplomatic missions abroad should be exceptional and circumscribed, not the routine practice it has become over the last three decades."

The Most Damning Part of That Reza Aslan Fox News Interview You've Been Hearing About

| Sun Jul. 28, 2013 6:37 PM EDT

On Friday, author and religious scholar Reza Aslan appeared on Fox News. The interview has been getting some attention over the weekend, and it isn't hard to understand why once you start watching it. The whole thing is worth a look:

Aslan is promoting his recently released nonfiction book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which examines Jesus Christ's legacy as a political insurgent. The book has generated some controversy and accusations of faith-based bias.

There are a lot of things wrong with the 10-minute FoxNews.com Live interview (conducted by Fox religion correspondent Lauren Green), none of which are perpetrated by Aslan. But the most damning part is toward the end, when Green says the following after several minutes of implying that Aslan's own religious beliefs compromise the objectivity of his work:

I believe that you've been on several programs and have never disclosed that you were a Muslim.

(And in the interest of "full disclosure"—a term Green uses to justify her supposed outing of Aslan as a covert Muslim—I have interviewed Aslan on the subject of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, a man Aslan said belonged "in an insane asylum." I failed to disclose in that blog post that Aslan is a Muslim; I did, however, note that he is of Iranian descent. Mother Jones has also chatted with Aslan here.)

Obama Says Ho Chi Minh Was Inspired by Founding Fathers, Conservatives Freak Out

| Fri Jul. 26, 2013 3:22 PM EDT
Official White House portrait.

After a meeting with Vietnam's president Truong Tan Sang on Thursday, President Barack Obama said the following to reporters (emphasis mine):

At the conclusion of the meeting, President Sang shared with me a copy of a letter sent by Ho Chi Minh to Harry Truman. And we discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson. Ho Chi Minh talks about his interest in cooperation with the United States. And President Sang indicated that even if it's 67 years later, it's good that we're still making progress.

(Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese communist and nationalist revolutionary leader who died in 1969. He fought alongside Allied forces during World War II, but fought American forces during the Vietnam War.)

Some conservatives have chosen to freak out about that second sentence. For instance, here's former tea party congressman Allen West:

Several conservative media outlets blasted the president on similar terms. "Obama may have just been trying to flatter his guest who was obviously eager to show that Ho was not the monster history shows him to be," Chris Stirewalt, digital politics editor for Fox News wrote. "But his connection between the American founders and Ho shows either a massive lack of historical knowledge on the part of the president or a remarkable degree of moral flexibility." (The Drudge Report quickly picked up the Fox piece.) The headline at Breitbart.com read, "Obama Praises Communist Dictator & American Enemy Ho Chi Minh." And so on and so forth.

Yes, it is true that the United States once waged a disastrous, pointless, and horrific war against Ho Chi Minh and the people of Vietnam. But Obama's comment wasn't a gaffe or insult to American war vets, as much as someone like Allen West would like it to be. What Obama said is literally a historical fact. In September 1945, Ho Chi Minh delivered the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi to a crowd of nearly a million Vietnamese. Not only was the "The Star-Spangled Banner" played by a Vietnamese band during his address, but he opens his speech by quoting Thomas Jefferson. Here's the excerpt:

"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"

This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.

So there you go. Anyone with the capacity to Google "ho chi minh thomas jefferson" would have been able to find all of this in seconds. Wait until Allen West and right-leaning editorialists discover that Karl Marx was a supporter of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Or that Margaret Thatcher supported the ultra-Maoist, genocidal Khmer Rouge in the 1980s.

Historical irony, man.

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US Government Promises Not to Torture or Execute Edward Snowden

| Fri Jul. 26, 2013 11:37 AM EDT

Via the New York Times on Friday:

U.S. Tells Russia It Won't Torture or Kill Snowden

Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter to Russia's minister of justice assuring him that the United States government would not seek the death penalty against the former NSA contractor, and that the US would not torture him. (Snowden faces criminal charges back home and has been hiding out in a Moscow airport.) Theoretically, the US Constitution should on its own be enough of a reassurance that American officials won't torture someone. It hasn't always worked out that way in recent years.

Will Russian Hackers Cause the Next Financial Crisis?

| Fri Jul. 26, 2013 9:48 AM EDT

The US brought criminal charges Thursday against a gang of Russian and Ukrainian programmers in what is the biggest hacking case yet in the United States. The men were indicted for a long-running scheme of stealing and selling 160 million credit card numbers from more than a dozen big American companies. But the case has bigger implications, according to a story in the New York Times today. One of the men was also able to hack into the servers of the Nasdaq stock exchange, raising fears among US and international authorities that the next financial crisis could be caused by rogue programmers.

One of the Russian men, Aleksandr Kalinin, was also charged Thursday in a separate case with having gained access to Nasdaq servers for two years between 2007 and 2010. The indictment reveals that Kalinin, who also went by the names Grig and Tempo, had access to an unknown amount of information on a bunch of Nasdaq servers, where he was able to enter commands to steal, change, or delete data, and at certain points could even perform systems administrator functions. According to the Times, federal prosecutors, international banking regulators, the FBI, and the financial industry are all worried that next time this happens hackers could gain access to even more tightly secured trading platforms and disrupt the financial system.

From the Times:

While Mr. Kalinin never penetrated the main servers supporting Nasdaq’s trading operations—and appears to have caused limited damage at Nasdaq—the attack raised the prospect that hackers could be getting closer to the infrastructure that supports billions of dollars of trades each hour.

"As today's allegations make clear, cybercriminals are determined to prey not only on individual bank accounts, but on the financial system itself," Preet Bharara, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in announcing the case.

It is a pivotal moment, just a week after a report from the World Federation of Exchanges and an international group of regulators warned about the vulnerability of exchanges to cybercrime. The report said that hackers were shifting their focus away from stealing money and toward more "destabilizing aims."

In a survey conducted for the report, 89 percent of the world's exchanges said that hacking posed a "systemic risk" to global financial markets...

At a Senate hearing on cybersecurity on Thursday, a representative of several financial industry groups, Mark Clancy, said that "for the financial services industry, cyberthreats are a constant reality and a potential systemic risk to the industry."

The World Federation of Exchanges (WFE) report found that 53 percent of all stock exchanges had experienced a cyberattack in the past year.

My colleague Nick Baumann has reported on how mere programming glitches at the mid-sized financial firm Knight Capital a year ago caused losses at the firm of $10 million a minute, and set off turmoil in the stock market. But an intentional attack could have more drastic effects. Baumann pointed to a 2011 article by John Bates, a computer scientist who has designed software behind complicated trading algorithms. "Fears of algorithmic terrorism, where a well-funded criminal or terrorist organization could find a way to cause a major market crisis, are not unfounded," Bates wrote at the time. "This type of scenario could cause chaos for civilization."

Funny or Die Is Making Pro-Obamacare Videos

| Fri Jul. 26, 2013 5:05 AM EDT

On Monday, a cluster of Hollywood celebrities gathered at the White House for a chat on how they could help spread the word about Obamacare to young people in America. In attendance—along with some producers and writers—were big-name entertainers such as Amy Poehler, Jennifer Hudson, Michael Cera, and Kal Penn. (Penn served multiple stints as associate director for the Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration, and delivered this speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.)

The meeting was run by senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who gave a presentation on health care reform and talked about pushing back against conservative memes surrounding the law. President Obama dropped in for roughly half an hour to mingle and hear some ideas from the attending celebrities and artists. Mike Farah, president of production and "ambassador of lifestyle" at Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's comedy website Funny or Die, was at the meeting with his colleague Jake Szymanski. "It was awesome," Farah tells Mother Jones. "It kind of kicked ass…I was honored to be there and to hear from Obama directly."

PHOTOS: Meet Groundswell's Major Players

| Thu Jul. 25, 2013 1:42 PM EDT

A cadre of conservative activists, journalists, and aides has been meeting privately to coordinate messaging in a fight against progressives and the GOP establishment, according to documents obtained by Mother Jones. Groundswell's participants include DC power players like Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, wife of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, along with journalists from Breitbart News, the Washington Examiner, and the National Review. Meet some of them below.