Mojo - January 2014

Michael Grimm's Greatest Hits

| Wed Jan. 29, 2014 4:37 PM EST
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.)

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) upstaged the president's State of the Union address last night. In an interview following the speech, the Staten Island representative threatened to toss Michael Scotto, a New York television reporter, over a balcony in the Capitol. The NY1 reporter's offense? Asking the congressman about allegations of campaign finance violations. "You're not man enough," Grimm said, while moving threateningly toward the reporter. "I'll break you in half. Like a boy."

Grimm's opponent quickly jumped on the comments, calling the tiff a "shameful abuse of power." Grimm has publicly apologized and invited Scotto to lunch. Grimm is hardly the first congressman with a temper, but his brief political career—first elected to Congress in 2010 and one of the eight candidates MoJo couldn't believe would actually win in 2012—has been defined by bizarre tales of Grimm's outbursts and associations with shady individuals.

That Time He Waved A Gun Around A Nightclub

In 2011, Evan Ratliff wrote an excellent deep-dive profile of Grimm for the New Yorker. Ratliff's article examined the full extent of the corruption charges against Grimm, but the highlight of the piece was a 1999 incident during which Grimm supposedly stormed into a Queens nightclub after an altercation with a date's ex-husband. According to the story, Grimm was kicked out by the club's bouncer, but he returned later with a posse and went bonkers:

Around 2:30 a.m., there was a commotion on the dance floor. According to Williams, somebody was shouting, “He’s got a gun!” Following a crowd into the club’s garage, Williams discovered that Grimm and the husband had returned, and Grimm was holding a weapon. Grimm was “carrying on like a madman,” Williams said. “He’s screaming, ‘I’m gonna fuckin’ kill him.’ So I said to him, ‘Who are you?’ He put the gun back in his waist and said, ‘I’m a fucking F.B.I. agent, ain’t nobody gonna threaten me.’ ” (Grimm said he only moved his gun from an ankle holster to his waistband.) The bouncer at the front door told Williams that, when he patted Grimm down and found his gun, Grimm had showed his F.B.I. identification. The bouncer then let him pass through the club’s metal detector. 

Grimm left the club, but at 4 a.m., just before the club closed, he returned again, according to Williams, this time with another F.B.I. agent and a group of N.Y.P.D. officers. Grimm had told the police that he had been assaulted by the estranged husband and his friends. Williams said that Grimm took command of the scene, and refused to let the remaining patrons and employees leave. “Everybody get up against the fucking wall,” Williams recalled him saying. “The F.B.I. is in control.” Then Grimm, who apparently wanted to find the man with whom he’d had the original altercation, said something that Williams said he’ll never forget: “All the white people get out of here.”

Going into Business with a Restaurateur With Ties to the Gambino Mafia and 'Fat Tony'

In between his career as an FBI agent and his first political campaign, Grimm opened an Upper East Side restaurant. He co-owned Healthalicious with his friend Bennett Orfaly, who has since been accused of having ties to a locked-up Gambino family mobster nicknamed Fat Tony (real name Anthony Morelli). It's unclear if Grimm himself had any dealings with the Sopranos character Morelli, but Orfaly's friendship with the mafioso came to light thanks to a federal investigation into whether Ofer Biton, a Grimm fundraiser and Israeli citizen, illegally funneled contributions to Grimm's campaign in exchange for green cards for foreigners.

The Other Time Grimm Yelled At a Reporter

National Journal reporter Marin Cogan recalled her own run-in with Grimm after his Tuesday outburst. In an article titled, "That Time Michael Grimm Yelled at Me," Cogan explains how she interviewed Grimm in 2011 and published a quote of the congressman dissing the tea party wing of his caucus. Grimm wasn't pleased when Cogan published the quote and called her to complain:

It's been a few years since this happened, and I don't remember all of the details. I do remember him repeatedly yelling that he "did not serve 10 years in the FBI!" to have to put up with something like this. To be clear, at no time did I feel threatened, nor did I feel particularly scared or upset--although that seemed pretty clearly to me to be what he was trying to accomplish. I was a little shocked, but I gave as good as I got, and he took it to my editor, and we eventually settled on this blog post where he got to clarify his claims. Compared to last night's outburst, it was pretty tame. Still, I've never dealt with anyone so angry before, or since.

The Most Corrupt

Why did Scotto's question on Grimm's campaign finance anger the congressman anyway? Grimm's entire political career has been dogged by several investigations mounted by the FBI, the Federal Election Commission and the House ethics committee. Grimm failed to report a free trip to Cyprus paid for by a businessman arrested on corruption charges and broke House rules when he included a video of a floor speech in a fundraising e-mail. His ex-girlfriend was arrested earlier this month for making straw donations to his campaign. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has named Grimm to their "Most Corrupt" list for the past three years.

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The White House Just Responded to the Petition to Deport Justin Bieber

| Wed Jan. 29, 2014 2:47 PM EST

This article has been updated. Click here for the White House's response.

You've all heard that embattled Canadian pop star Justin Bieber was recently arrested for alleged drag racing and drunk driving. Now the Obama White House has promised to weigh in on the incident and resulting backlash.

In late 2011, the White House launched its We the People initiative, an online system in which anyone can create an account and petition the government. If a petition reaches a certain number of signatures (currently set at 100,000) within a month of its posting, the Obama administration's own rules require White House staff to respond.

A new petition, created on January 23, has reached that threshold. It's titled, "Deport Justin Bieber and revoke his green card," and it reads:

We the people of the United States feel that we are being wrongly represented in the world of pop culture. We would like to see the dangerous, reckless, destructive, and drug abusing, Justin Bieber deported and his green card revoked. He is not only threatening the safety of our people but he is also a terrible influence on our nations youth. We the people would like to remove Justin Bieber from our society.

(The petition is tagged under the issues of "criminal justice and law enforcement," "human rights," and "women's issues.")

The We the People page hosts a wide variety of petitions, including ones that focus on subjects such as AIDS prevention and mass shootings in America. But the White House also receives—and sometimes responds to—frivolous petitions, including one asking the Obama administration to build the Death Star and another calling for states to adopt Pokémon characters as state animals. (The latter was yanked from the government website.)

The usual White House rules indeed apply to the Bieber petition, Matt Lehrich, an assistant White House press secretary, confirms in an email to Mother Jones:

Every petition that crosses the threshold will be reviewed by the appropriate staff and receive a response. Response times vary based on total volume of petitions, subject matter, and a variety of other factors.

A previous White House petition called for the deportation of CNN host Piers Morgan because of his strong support for gun control in America. White House press secretary Jay Carney issued a response defending the First Amendment, and Morgan is still working in the United States.

We'll see if the White House's response has any impact on Bieber's feelings about the Obama administration. As of the president's reelection, things seemed pretty good:

But on a serious note, if you'd like to read about how Bieber's case highlights the complexities of America's deportation system, click here.

UPDATE, January 29, 2014, 2:14 p.m. EST: As Tow Center fellow Alex Howard notes, the nature of an O-1 visa (which Bieber has) means that the pop singer is pretty much safe from deportation, at least for now. For more on this, you can click the link I posted above on the complexities of our deportation system, or check out this Time post titled, "Why We Can't Just Deport Bieber."

We'll see if the White House addresses all this nuance.

UPDATE 2, April 18, 2014, 7:01 p.m. EST: Well, it took nearly three months (the White House has had other things to deal with), but here it is, the White House response:

Sorry to disappoint, but we won’t be commenting on this one.

The We the People terms of participation state that, “to avoid the appearance of improper influence, the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government in its response to a petition."

So we'll leave it to others to comment on Mr. Bieber’s case, but we’re glad you care about immigration issues. Because our current system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers, and 11 million people are living in the shadows.

The rest of the response is peppered with Justin Bieber references and goes on to discuss immigration reform.

That's that then.

The West Wing's Big Block of Cheese Day Ideas, Ranked

| Wed Jan. 29, 2014 2:38 PM EST

Wednesday is "Big Block of Cheese Day" at the Obama White House, an homage to two episodes of the television series The West Wing in which senior staffers were forced to spend a day dealing with constituents who don't normally get an audience with the president. (That idea, in turn, was inspired by an enormous block of cheese housed in the Andrew Jackson White House.) The implication of the episodes is that the people who want to talk about these issues are kind of crazy, but a Mother Jones analysis of the projects presented to Sam Seaborn et al. reveals more nuance. On further examination, the dismissive tone with which Big Block of Cheese Day activists were greeted (or embraced) says more about the smallness of the Bartlet administration's aides than it does about the issues at hand.

Here is the official Mother Jones ranking of Big Block of Cheese Day ideas, from best to worst:

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Society: It's never fully explained what the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Society wants, but we can probably guess. According to National Geographic, the Kemp's ridley is "the world's most endangered sea turtle" and according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, there are somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 nesting females left. Their greatest threat is shrimp trawlers, which snare the tiny turtles in their nets. But the turtles are also vulnerable to man-made disaster. Most of the 156 turtles that died as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill were Kemp's Ridleys, because the spill interfered with the creatures' nesting habitat. It's a tragedy that these turtles can only get the government's attention on "total crackpot day."

Wolf highway: The plan: "1,800 miles from Yellowstone to the Yukon Territory complete with highway overpasses and no cattle grazing." Badass! The price: "With contributions and corporate sponsorship, the cost of the taxpayer is only $900 million." Damn. We have no idea why it costs that much, though, and it seems like something that can be scaled down. Montana and Washington state have already built natural bridges to help animals cross highways at a considerably cheaper rate.

Rep. Michael Grimm's Challenger Weighs In: "A Shameful Abuse of Power"

| Wed Jan. 29, 2014 12:25 PM EST
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY)

New York GOP Rep. Michael Grimm's outburst after last night's State of the Union was problematic because members of Congress (or anyone, really) aren't supposed to threaten to throw reporters off balconies—at least not when a camera is rolling. But Grimm's aggressive confrontation with NY1's Michael Scotto also complicates an already difficult re-election campaign. Although the 11th district is New York City's most conservative, it still voted for President Barack Obama by a 51–47 margin in 2012, making Grimm one of just a handful of Republicans representing blue-leaning districts. To that end, he was already one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's top targets heading into 2014, even before he threatened to "break" Scotto "in half. Like a boy." And unlike last cycle, when the Democratic nominee was dismissed as a former actor who lived with his dad, Grimm is facing a viable challenger in the form of former New York City council member Domenic Recchia Jr.

On Wednesday, Recchia was quick to pounce, issuing a statement blasting the incumbent:

Michael Grimm's behavior last night was disgraceful, completely unacceptable, and unbefitting of a United States Congressman. Using threats of physical violence to intimidate the press from doing their jobs is against everything our country—and our government—stands for, and is a shameful abuse of power.

Michael Grimm owes Michael Scotto and the NY1 team an apology. He also owes the people of Staten Island and South Brooklyn an apology. The people of this district deserve leadership that in the wake of the President’s State of the Union is focused and committed to restoring the promise of the American Dream for all Americans. They deserve leadership that is focused on creating jobs, stimulating the economy, investing in transportation alternatives, and strengthening the middle class. Instead they’ve got Michael Grimm, who is clearly part of the distractions plaguing Congress, not the solutions. It’s time the people of this district had a representative focused on working for them.

Grimm already delivered on one of those apologies—on Wednesday he called Scotto to apologize.

VIDEO: David Corn on Why Obama's State of the Union Speech Missed the Mark

| Wed Jan. 29, 2014 12:10 PM EST

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman this week, arguing that President Obama's speech let Republicans off too easy. Watch here:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 29, 2014

Wed Jan. 29, 2014 10:59 AM EST

Marines with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, patrol through the jungle during a point man reaction course aboard Camp Hanson, Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 22 - 24. The training course tested a dozen teams of three to four Marines in the challenging jungle vegetation with more than ten targets concealed in positions at varying heights. The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps' force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Kuppers/Released)

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Republican Congressman Michael Grimm Threatens to Break Reporter in Half

| Wed Jan. 29, 2014 1:46 AM EST

The State of the Union was Tuesday night! DC got its hair done and went to watch President Obama regale a captive nation with stories about meager but sustained economic growth and how Congress is basically the worst, but 2014 is a new year and the sun will come out tomorrow so turn that frown upside down, kiddo!

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) did not, in fact, turn his frown upside down. Instead, he threatened to throw NY1 reporter Michael Scotto off a balcony after being asked about alleged campaign finance irregularities.

On TV.

You know, like you do.

It's a bit hard to make out what the distinguished gentleman from Staten Island is saying to Scotto, but here are the key bits, courtesy of NY1:

Grimm: "Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this f-----g balcony."

Scotto: "Why? I just wanted to ask you..."

[[cross talk]]

Grimm: "If you ever do that to me again..."

Scotto: "Why? Why? It’s a valid question." [[cross talk]]

Grimm: "No, no, you're not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy."

Later, Grimm released a statement in which he failed to apologize, generally blamed the whole thing on the pesky unprofessional reporter, and sort of hinted towards more physical threats to come:

"I was extremely annoyed because I was doing NY1 a favor by rushing to do their interview in lieu of several other requests...I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor. I doubt that I am the first Member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am certain I won't be the last."

Grimm, a former FBI agent, should learn two things from this episode:

1) Don't threaten reporters with physical violence.

2) If you do threaten reporters with physical violence, don't do it when the reporters' camera crew is still filming B roll. You'll look pretty unhinged!

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Grimm released a second, less-tone deaf statement.

"I was wrong. I shouldn't have allowed my emotions to get the better of me and lose my cool. I have apologized to Michael Scotto, which he graciously accepted, and will be scheduling a lunch soon. In the weeks and months ahead I'll be working hard for my constituents on issues like food insurance that is so desperately need in my district post Sandy."

10 Guesses Why SF Mayor Ed Lee Is Sitting With Michelle Obama at SOTU

| Tue Jan. 28, 2014 9:00 PM EST

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee

First Lady Michelle Obama has invited San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to sit in her box during the State of the Union Speech tonight, but she didn't specify why. All we know is that she's continuing a longstanding tradition of inviting "extraordinary Americans who exemplify the themes and ideals laid out in the State of the Union Address," as the White House puts it.

A former city bureaucrat who was first appointed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to replace Mayor Gavin Newsom before winning re-election, Lee is considered popular and competent but not particularly extraordinary—except for the fact that he's the...oh, wait, he's only the second Asian-American mayor of a major US city. (The first was San Jose's Norm Mineta, who later became Transportation Secretary under George W. Bush.) So why was Lee invited? Was it because he proposed a $15 minimum wage for a city whose $10.55 minimum is already the nation's highest? Or perhaps because he rallied Silicon Valley around immigration reform?

Here are 10 other possibilities:

  1. Obama is settling for Lee because he couldn't get Bat Kid.
  2. The president is set to announce a transcontinental Google Bus route.
  3. In the future, $4 toast will be a mandatory minimum benefit in Obamacare plans.
  4. Rose Pak
  5. Maybe he has some techie friends who know how to fix a website.
  6. Exporting your poor and middle-class people to other cities is a great model for fighting income inequality.
  7. The Fear the Moustache meme is still too legit to quit.
  8. The President feels guilty for that time when the Giants won the World Series but Lee couldn't get into the White House party because his name wasn't on the list.
  9. Lee is the last Californian the Secret Service would suspect of being a marijuana courier.
  10. If you live in DC but crash on your San Francisco friend's couch when you're in town for business, it's probably a good idea to return the favor once or twice. The same logic applies to political fundraising. See you in Presidio Heights, Ed.

Watch the 2014 State of the Union Address Right Here

Tue Jan. 28, 2014 8:00 PM EST

And while you're waiting for the speech to start check out David Corn's preview or recall the hilarity of the flubbed GOP responses to past Obama SOTUs.

College Football Players Are Trying to Unionize, and the NCAA Is Not Happy About It

| Tue Jan. 28, 2014 5:45 PM EST
Kain Colter

Football players at Northwestern University, led by quarterback Kain Colter, took formal steps Tuesday to gain labor union representation. Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who's now the president of the National College Players Association, an athlete advocacy group, filed a formal petition with the National Labor Relations Board's Chicago office on behalf of the players.

If certified, the union would be known as the College Athletes Players Association. CAPA's initial goals don't call for salaries for players, instead focusing on medical protection for concussions and other issues, guaranteed multiyear scholarships even if players get injured, and a trust fund players could use to finish schooling after their NCAA eligibility expires. Athletic departments of schools in the five major conferences currently generate $5.15 billion in revenue.

To no one's surprise, the NCAA opposes to the move—on the grounds that extending medical protection and guaranteeing multiyear scholarships would detract from education:

This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize. 

Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.

Or, as SB Nation writer Rodger Sherman summarizes it:

This case will likely land in federal court, where it would join O'Bannon v. NCAA, a case in which a group of former players are suing to receive revenue from game rebroadcasts, DVD highlights, apparel, and other merchandise. (That lawsuit has already led to the death of Electronic Arts' popular NCAA Football series of video games; EA settled with the players.) If the O'Bannon litigation is any indication, it may be years before we know the fate of unions in college athletics. Until then, get ready to hear a lot of griping from some highly paid college officials.