Mojo - November 2013

Why Do CNN and HLN Keep Giving Airtime to George Zimmerman's White-Power Buddy?

| Fri Nov. 22, 2013 9:34 AM EST

Since George Zimmerman was arrested earlier this week for allegedly threatening his girlfriend with a shotgun, many of his defenders have gone silent or turned tail. Speaking on Fox News after Zimmerman's Tuesday arraignment, Geraldo Rivera, a former Zimmerman booster, went so far as to call him "borderline psychotic."

But Zimmerman's neighbor and de facto spokesman, Frank Taaffe, has pressed ahead with the media crusade he began in the runup to Zimmerman's trial on charges of murdering unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. And despite revelations that Taaffe is a convicted criminal and unabashed racist who hosts a white-power podcast, cable news networks have continued giving him a platform.

Most recently, Taaffe appeared on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight and argued that Zimmerman was suffering from post-traumatic stress. Morgan asked Taaffe what Zimmerman—who faces charges of aggravated assault with a weapon, domestic violence battery, and criminal mischief—was doing in a house full of guns. "Boys will have their toys," Taaffe replied. He also called Zimmerman's girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, and his ex-wife, Shellie (who has alleged that Zimmerman threatened her and her father with a gun, too) "opportunistic."

Earlier this week, Taaffe appeared on HLN's  Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew On Call. "George is being oppressed by the press," he told an incredulous Grace, who asked: "So according to you, what is it? A conspiracy between the...the ATF officer, the girlfriend in 2006, the wife in September 2013, and me, I guess?" 

"No," Taaffe said. "He's allying himself with these women that he shouldn't be with."

Here is the Nancy Grace segment:

Here's a segment from Dr. Drew On Call:

In media interviews during Zimmerman's trial, Taaffe made similar personal attacks on Martin and posted virulently racist comments on Twitter—one read "the only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them."

Taaffe himself has been arrested (though never convicted) repeatedly on stalking and domestic violence charges, and he served nine months in jail for trespassing in his ex-wife's home. But there was no mention of his criminal record on CNN or HLN, both of which have given him ample airtime in the past. As Mother Jones reported in August:

CNN and its sister network, HLN, have repeatedly invited Taaffe to weigh in on legal and technical aspects of the Zimmerman case, from the implications of witness testimony to the meaning of forensic evidence….When Valerie Rao, Jacksonville, Florida's chief medical examiner, testified during the trial that Zimmerman's injuries were minor enough to be treated with Band-Aids—an assertion that cast doubt on Zimmerman's claims that Martin had bashed his head repeatedly on the sidewalk—Taaffe appeared on the Nancy Grace show and argued that Rao was wrong. 

When Taaffe made these appearances, some still made the case that Zimmerman was a community-minded neighborhood watch volunteer who perceived Martin as a genuine threat. But this version of events seems far less plausible in light of his recent actions. And giving Taaffe a platform to bash Zimmerman's alleged victims is that much less defensible.

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Are Coke and FedEx Worried About Sponsoring the Redskins?

| Fri Nov. 22, 2013 7:00 AM EST

As more and more people have called for Washington's pro football team to change its name, some folks have argued that the only way to get owner Dan Snyder to listen is to go after his wallet. That's right: Boycott the team or, failing that, target its corporate sponsors.

On its official website, the team displays five of its largest partners: Ticketmaster, FedEx Express, Bud Light, Ameritel Corporation, and Bank of America. Mother Jones reached out to each of these sponsors, as well as a few others, to see if they had any comment on the campaign to push Snyder to drop the R-word—and whether they had considered dropping their sponsorship because of the controversy. Here's what their spokespeople had to say:

Coca-Cola: "As sponsors, we do not play a role in decisions regarding NFL trademarks. Your questions can be better addressed by the team and the NFL."

 

FedEx: "We understand that there is a difference of opinion on this issue. Nevertheless, we believe that our sponsorship of FedEx Field continues to be in the best interests of FedEx and its stockholders."
 

 

New York Life: "The company has received no complaints. The company plans to assess the sponsorship at the conclusion of the season."

 


Virginia Lottery: "We have not received complaints regarding the Redskins sponsorship and we are not considering dropping it."

 

Ticketmaster: "We are declining to comment, but perhaps their sponsor StubHub would have something to say about this. StubHub is located right there in San Francisco."


Thanks for the suggestion, Ticketmaster PR! Unfortunately, StubHub—like Ameritel, Anheuser-Busch, and Bank of America—did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

This article has been updated.

FEC: We Won't Treat Tea Partiers Like Jim Crow-Era NAACP Supporters

| Thu Nov. 21, 2013 4:19 PM EST

By a 3-2 vote, the Federal Election Commission on Thursday rejected a national tea party group's request to stop disclosing its donors under an exemption that originated with protections given to the NAACP and its members who faced violence during the Jim Crow era. 

Here's the background: The Tea Party Leadership Fund is a year-and-a-half old political outfit that has received $2.5 million in donations from some 600 contributors. The Fund makes independent expenditures and also contributes directly to candidates, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Steve Gaines (R-Mont.). Earlier this year, the Fund handed the FEC 1,400 pages of what it said was evidence of "harassment, threats, and reprisals" against the group and its donors. Citing all that evidence, the group asked the FEC for an exemption so that it no longer had to disclose its donors and other vital campaign finance information.

This exemption has been granted only rarely by the FEC: The most prominent recipient is the Socialist Workers Party, which has received this exemption for several decades after showing considerable evidence of threats and harassment of their supporters. (The NAACP's exemption was granted by the Supreme Court in 1958, which set a precedent for future exemptions.)

The decision over whether to give the Tea Party Leadership Fund the same exemption has been closely watched by campaign finance advocates and election lawyers. Some feared granting the exemption could set a precedent allowing many other political committees who felt harassed to get the same treatment, gradually eroding the nation's disclosure laws. "If the FEC allows it, it's a very slippery slope of this group and that group and this group all getting exemptions, too," says one Democratic campaign finance lawyer.

Opponents of the Tea Party Leadership Fund's request also argued that what the group considered harassment was far less severe than what the NAACP and Socialist Workers Party faced. "This tea party group comparing itself to the NAACP of old, whose membership feared for its lives and its livelihoods, would fail the laugh test if their request was not so offensive and so outrageous on its face," Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, said on Wednesday.

At Thursday's meeting, the FEC's commissioners split on the matter. Republicans Matthew Petersen and Caroline Hunter agreed with the tea party group, citing the scandal over the IRS' targeting of tea party groups applying for tax-exempt status. The Democrats broke the other way. Chair Ellen Weintraub quoted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's 2010 comment that "running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage"; tea party donors, she said, needed to show that courage. Democrat Ann Ravel, meanwhile, agreed with the Campaign Legal Center's argument that the Tea Party Leadership Fund's evidence of harassment paled in comparison to what the NAACP and Socialist Workers Party experienced.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 21, 2013

Thu Nov. 21, 2013 10:51 AM EST

An infantry instructor scans a field for enemies after firing a green star cluster flare during patrol week of Infantry Training Battalion near Camp Geiger, N.C. on Oct. 31, 2013. Patrol week is a five-day training event that teaches infantry students basic offensive, defensive and patrolling techniques. Delta Company is the first infantry training company to fully integrate female Marines into an entire training cycle. This and future companies will evaluate the performance of female Marines as part of ongoing research into opening combat-related job fields to women. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tyler L. Main/Released.

Support Grows In House to Save Food Stamps by Killing Farm Bill

| Thu Nov. 21, 2013 9:15 AM EST

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.)

Congress is getting ready to pass a farm bill—the $500 billion piece of legislation that funds agriculture and nutrition programs—that will cut funding for food stamps. As Mother Jones reported last week, Democrats in the House are considering banding together to derail the bill entirely, thus preserving nutrition funding at its current level. Support for that idea is building.

The House and Senate are currently negotiating a compromise farm bill that will contain food stamps cuts somewhere between the $4 billion the Senate wants and the $40 billion the House wants. (These cuts will come on top of the $5 billion in funding reductions to food stamps that went into effect at the beginning of the month as extra stimulus money for the program expired.) On Thursday, Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Florida) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), co-chairs of the Congressional Homelessness Caucus—a group of House lawmakers devoted to policies that help the extremely poor—signaled that they are drumming up support for no votes on any compromise bill. The two lawmakers asked members of the caucus to sign a letter to the House and Senate agriculture committees opposing any cuts to the food stamp program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

"For those living without permanent housing, everyday life is extremely difficult," the lawmakers say in the letter. "SNAP benefits provide these individuals with a limited opportunity to obtain nourishment."

House Democrats wager that if enough House Republicans vote against a final farm bill because they think the food stamps cuts are not deep enough, only a small group of Dems will need to also vote against the bill in order to kill it. In this case, food stamps would continue to be funded at current levels.

There is precedent for this idea: the last food stamps battle. In June, the House failed to pass a farm bill that cut $20 billion from SNAP because 62 conservative Republicans thought that wasn't enough and 172 Democrats thought the reductions were far too deep. This time around, food stamps funding will probably be cut by around $10 billion in the farm bill, according to a Democratic aide. That means far more GOPers will vote against the bill. The more Republicans that House Speaker John Boehner loses, the more Dems he'll need to pass the farm bill. If Democrats don't play ball, they'll win—which could keep thousands of Americans from destitution. "For many families with limited resources living close to or at the poverty level," Hastings and Johnson write in the letter, "cuts to food benefits [would] force them to choose between food and rent."

Here's Another High School Football Team Promoting the "Trail of Tears"

| Thu Nov. 21, 2013 7:00 AM EST

On Friday, the Dyersburg Trojans beat the visiting Jackson Northside Indians 34-14 to advance in the Tennessee high school football playoffs. But the game wasn't without controversy: A Facebook page managed by the Dyersburg coaching staff proudly highlighted a half-dozen photos of Dyersburg students holding up a giant "Trail of Tears" banner to taunt the visiting Jackson Northside team.

Dyersburg principal Jon Frye said he was not aware of the photos on the football team's Facebook page but would ask moderators to take them down. "I will be leaving here and going to the fieldhouse as soon as you and I are done," he told Mother Jones on Wednesday. Sure enough, the photos have since been removed, but here's a screenshot:

Dyersburg Trojans/Facebook

Frye, who did not attend the playoff game, said he became aware of the signs on Friday and met with students on Monday and hopes this will be the last of it. "Largely I tried to draw a parallel between persecuted population groups," he said. "You would not take African Americans and try to draw a parallel to an event in which a lot of African American people had died."

This is the second recent incident involving fans of a high school football team using "Trail of Tears" signs to taunt "Indian" opponents. That same Friday night, the principal of McAdory High School in McAlla, Alabama, was forced to apologize after his team took the field for their second-round playoff game against the Pinson Valley Indians by running through a paper sign reading "Hey Indians, get ready to leave in a trail of tears."

The incidents come amid a renewed push by activists and lawmakers to persuade the Washington NFL franchise to change its name and logo to something less racially insensitive. On November 5, DC's city council approved a resolution asking the team to change its name. Although supporters of such names say the names are intended to honor American Indian heritage, the lesson of Dyersburg and Jackson Northside may be just the opposite.

"I haven't given that one a ton of thought, I know, but I guess you could make the logical connection if they weren't named Indians then you couldn't have this particular situation," Frye said of the school's opponent. "I suppose there's some truth to that."

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Here's How Walmart Could Pay Workers a Decent Wage Without Raising Prices

| Wed Nov. 20, 2013 6:08 PM EST

Walmart has gotten a lot of bad press this week over news of an Ohio store holding a food drive for its own workers, who were unable to buy Thanksgiving groceries on the retail giant's paltry wages. The store managers deserve credit for their thoughtfulness, but wouldn't it be better if Walmart simply paid its workers enough to feed themselves? A new report from Demos, a liberal think tank, suggests that doing so wouldn't be as hard as you might think.

Walmart could continue spending $7.6 billion to buy back its own stock, or it could pay every worker $14.89 an hour.

According to the report, "A Higher Wage Is Possible," Walmart spends $7.6 billion a year buying back stock. Those purchases drive up the company's share price, further enriching the Walton family, which controls more than half of Walmart stock (and for that matter, more wealth than 42 percent of Americans combined.) If Walmart instead spent that money on wages, it could give each of its 1.3 million low-paid US employees a $5.83 per hour raise—enough to ensure that all of its 1.3 million workers are paid a wage equivalent to $25,000 a year for full-time work.

Walmart and its defenders like to argue that raising wages would require it to raise prices, which would in turn hurt its low-income shoppers. But Demos disagrees: "Curtailing share buybacks would not harm the company's retail competitiveness or raise prices for consumers," the report says. "In fact...higher pay could be expected to improve employee productivity and morale while reducing Walmart's expenses related to employee turnover."

A spokesperson for Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Are Cuts to Virginia's Mental Health Programs Implicated in Creigh Deeds' Son's Attempted Murder/Suicide?

| Wed Nov. 20, 2013 1:48 PM EST

Creigh Deeds concludes his 2009 run for governor while his son looks on.

Update (11/20/13): Despite initial reports that there were no hospital beds available for Austin Deeds, the Washington Post reported that at least three facilities did have room. This post has been updated to reflect this.

Austin "Gus" Deeds underwent a psychiatric evaluation Monday at the Rockbridge County Community Services Board in Virginia. While at least three hospitals had beds available, hospital officials told the Washington Post, Deeds was still turned away.

The next day he likely stabbed his father, Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Va.), in the face and chest before shooting himself, police said. The elder Deeds is currently listed in good condition.

Between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011, about 200 people in Virginia met the criteria for a Temporary Detention Order—meaning a physician of clinical psychologist saw a substantial risk of them causing harm to themselves or to others, or that they was unable to defend themselves—but were put back on the streets, according to a report from the state Office of the Inspector General. The Commonwealth isn't the only state dealing with such problems.  States cut $1.8 billion from their mental health budgets from 2009-2011, according to a 2012 report from National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Mental health charts
Also see our state-by-state interactive map of cuts to services for the mentally ill.

In a Mother Jones cover story six months ago, Mac McClelland wrote the harrowing story of her cousin Houston, who murdered his father after "a classic onset of schizophrenia." When Houston's violent outbursts started, his parents were told that calling the police was their only option—even though the local cops had killed  two mentally ill men in the past six years.

It's also part of a pattern of exchanging one kind of institution—state mental hospitals—for another: jails. "In the 1950s, more than a half million people lived in US mental institutions—1 in 300 Americans. By the late '70s, only 160,000 did, due to a concerted effort on the part of psychiatrists, philanthropists, and politicians to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill. Today there's one psychiatric bed per 7,100 Americans," Mac writes. But there's been a corresponding rise of incarcerated inmates who are mentally ill. Between 1998 and 2006, the number of mentally ill people incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails more than quadrupled to 1,264,300. Those numbers have only gone up in the face of cuts to mental health programs due to the recession and austerity programs. See our timeline on the politics of deinstitutionalization here.

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 20, 2013

Wed Nov. 20, 2013 10:56 AM EST

Marines with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, hastily reload an M777 howitzer with a 155 mm artillery shell during a multiple-rounds fire mission as a part of a two-day dual-fire training exercise at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Nov. 13, 2013. The M777s fired alongside M327 Towed-Rifled Mortar Systems to eliminate the possibility of short-range threats on the battlefield and to expand the capabilities of the battery as a whole. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg.

Florida Congressman Arrested on Cocaine Charges Has History With Sex-Themed Websites

| Tue Nov. 19, 2013 7:00 PM EST
Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.)

Who could have anticipated that the former owner of sexguideonline.com might get into trouble as a congressman? On Tuesday, Politico broke the news that freshman congressman Henry "Trey" Radel (R-Fla.) was arrested on cocaine possession charges in DC last month and is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday. (DC Superior Court records on the charges can be found here.)

Radel, a tea party favorite and a Fox News radio host, came to office with an unusual background, having run a business that bought somewhat pornographic sex-themed domain names in both English and Spanish, as Mother Jones reported last year. Radel's business snagged all sorts of un-family-friendly domain names, including www.casadelasputas.com ("whorehouse") and www.mamadita.com ("little blow job").

During the campaign he brushed aside whispers of "domaingate," but eventually admitted to buying the site names after Mother Jones reported their existence. (After our story, he sent an email to supporters attacking Mother Jones as an "ultra-liberal San Francisco rag" whose "attack" on him he wore like a "badge of honor.") Tea partiers I interviewed at the time insisted that the business was no reflection on Radel's family values, and said they were behind him completely. From that story:

Radel supporter George Miller, the president of the Cape 9/12 group, a conservative tea-party-type organization inspired by Glenn Beck, says that he doesn't believe Radel would register raunchy web sites to begin with. "I stand by him 100 percent," he says. "He's an honest guy. He's a family guy. He's the kind of guy I want representing me."

Radel was hand-picked by former Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) to fill Mack's seat when Mack challenged Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) for Senate in 2012. Radel won a crowded Republican primary. Among those he defeated: establishment candidate Chauncy Goss, son of former CIA director Porter Goss. Chauncy Goss was endorsed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Tea partiers dismissed Goss as too much of an insider and threw their weight behind Radel, who had never held elected office before.

Just weeks ago, Radel won some accolades for becoming one of the few Republicans to support drug sentencing reform. He cosponsored the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would provide an exception to mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws to allow shorter sentences for nonviolent, low-level offenders. Radel may get a chance to see how such a law works first hand. He was arrested in DC, which has a special drug court that is designed to funnel low-level addicts into rehab rather than long-term jail time.

Tuesday night, Radel released a statement apologizing to his family and blaming his troubles on alcoholism, a problem he said he would be able to get help with thanks to his arrest. He hasn't said whether he'll try to keep his seat.