Mojo - January 2014

Scott Walker Joins the Common Core Wars

| Tue Jan. 28, 2014 3:35 PM EST

Among the prospective field of Republican presidential candidates, few issues are as divisive as Common Core, the national educational standards that have been adopted by 45 states. Those in favor: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Those opposed: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. As I explained last year, some conservative activists like Glenn Beck have come to view Common Core as a Trojan horse for President Barack Obama's globalist dystopian agenda. Given the tea party automatic backlash to all things Obama, right-leaning education reformers who think Common Core is a good idea have gone so far as to ask Obama not to mention the program in his Tuesday State of the Union Address.

Now, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, widely seen as a 2016 presidential contender, has made his move—he'd like to have it both ways. Per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

In a speech at the State Education Convention in Milwaukee, Walker said he is working on legislation that would create a commission, chaired by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, to revisit the Common Core standards, which he said weren't high enough and were being dictated by people who weren't from Wisconsin.

"We embrace high standards in the state of Wisconsin," Walker said. "There's got to be a way for us to put our fingerprints on it.

Walker's position reflects the unsettled nature of Common Core opposition. Despite months of fighting from conservative groups (including the John Birch Society), support for the curriculum standards remains relatively high in Wisconsin. According to a new poll from Marquette University, 50 percent of Wisconsin voters approve of Common Core, with just 34 percent opposing.

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Springsteen Pays Tribute to Seeger

| Tue Jan. 28, 2014 11:40 AM EST

In 2009, at a concert marking Pete Seeger's 90th birthday, Bruce Springsteen paid touching tribute to the influential folks singer and activist, who died yesterday at the age of 94. Here's what he said:

As Pete and I traveled to Washington for President Obama's Inaugural Celebration, he told me the entire story of "We Shall Overcome." How it moved from a labor movement song and with Pete's inspiration had been adapted by the civil rights movement. That day as we sang "This Land Is Your Land," I looked at Pete, the first black president of the United States was seated to his right, and I thought of the incredible journey that Pete had taken. My own growing up in the sixties in towns scarred by race rioting made that moment nearly unbelievable and Pete had thirty extra years of struggle and real activism on his belt. He was so happy that day, it was like, Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man!…It was so nice. At rehearsals the day before, it was freezing, like 15 degrees and Pete was there; he had his flannel shirt on. I said, "Man, you better wear something besides that flannel shirt!" He says, "Yeah, I got my longjohns on under this thing."

And I asked him how he wanted to approach "This Land Is Your Land." It would be near the end of the show and all he said was, "Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote, especially the two that get left out, about private property and the relief office." I thought, of course, that's what Pete's done his whole life. He sings all the verses all the time, especially the ones that we'd like to leave out of our history as a people. At some point Pete Seeger decided he'd be a walking, singing reminder of all of America's history. He'd be a living archive of America's music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends. He would have the audacity and the courage to sing in the voice of the people, and despite Pete's somewhat benign, grandfatherly appearance, he is a creature of a stubborn, defiant, and nasty optimism. Inside him he carries a steely toughness that belies that grandfatherly facade and it won't let him take a step back from the things he believes in. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger through the heart of our country's illusions about itself. Pete Seeger still sings all the verses all the time, and he reminds us of our immense failures as well as shining a light toward our better angels and the horizon where the country we've imagined and hold dear we hope awaits us.

Now on top of it, he never wears it on his sleeve. He has become comfortable and casual in this immense role. He's funny and very eccentric. I'm gonna bring Tommy out, and the song Tommy Morello and I are about to sing I wrote in the mid-nineties and it started as a conversation I was having with myself. It was an attempt to regain my own moorings. Its last verse is the beautiful speech that Tom Joad whispers to his mother at the end of The Grapes of Wrath. "…Wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air Look for me Mom I'll be there."

Well, Pete has always been there.

For me that speech is always aspirational. For Pete, it's simply been a way of life. The singer in my song is in search of the ghost of Tom Joad. The spirit who has the guts and toughness to carry forth, to fight for and live their ideals.

I'm happy to report that spirit, the very ghost of Tom Joad is with us in the flesh tonight. He'll be on this stage momentarily, he's gonna look an awful lot like your granddad who wears flannel shirts and funny hats. He's gonna look like your granddad if your granddad could kick your ass. This is for Pete....

And here's a statement from President Barack Obama on Seeger's passing:

Once called "America's tuning fork," Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community—to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice—and his hammer—to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation.  And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Pete’s family and all those who loved him.

VIDEO: Is John McCain Too Liberal? David Corn Debates.

| Tue Jan. 28, 2014 11:35 AM EST

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with Arizona Republican Timothy Schwartz, who drafted a resolution calling Sen. John McCain too liberal, this week on MSNBC's Hardball. Watch here:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 28, 2014

Tue Jan. 28, 2014 11:11 AM EST

UIJEONGBU, South Korea - A snow-covered M-46 Patton medium tank guards the entrance to the 2nd Infantry Division museum on Dec. 16, 2013. (Georgia National Guard Photo by Captain William Carraway)

Pete Seeger, RIP. And, By the Way, You Won.

| Tue Jan. 28, 2014 10:40 AM EST

Pete Seeger has passed. The obits will call him a legend. But many won't capture an essential quality of the Seeger tale: as he fought for decades to advance political values and an artistic vision, he was hounded for much of that time by fierce enemies (most notably, the FBI and McCarthyites in the 1950s), and he whipped them. He persevered—and he won. He was never silenced. He played his music, protested wrongs, cleaned up the Hudson River, lived his ideas, and came to be celebrated for his devotion to music and principles. His revenge was simple: he kept on singing and, perhaps most important, encouraging others to do so. Seeger triumphed over his foes, not just because he outlived so many but because his voice was more powerful. Below are some thoughts I shared after attending a concert held four years ago to honor Seeger. The original headline for the post was, "Pete Seeger at 90: Surviving—and Winning—the Political Culture War."

After watching Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger lead Barack Obama and hundreds of thousands of others in singing "This Land Is Your Land" at the pre-inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, I noted that the concert "was a moment of victory in the political cultural war that has gripped the United States since the tumultuous days of the 1960s":

The show at the Lincoln Memorial contained other moments signaling that the cultural civil war that began with the civil rights crusade, the movement against the Vietnam War, and the rise of hippie-dom was done—at least for now—and that the libs had won. Toward the end of the HBO-aired event, Bruce Springsteen, once a greaser-rocker, brought out folk music hero and activist Pete Seeger, once derided by conservatives as a commie, and Seeger led the crowd in "This Land Is Your Land." This song is the liberal national anthem, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 as a populist-minded response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which was too rah-rah for Guthrie's liking.

Well, Seeger Nation took another victory lap on Sunday night. At Madison Square Garden, a host of musicians (Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Roger McGuinn, Ben Harper, Richie Havens, Rufus Wainwright, Tom Morello, Ani DiFranco, Rep. John Hall, and many others) and a full house feted Seeger on his 90th birthday. Norman Lear read birthday wishes from President Obama. Springsteen elegantly hailed Seeger and declared, "You outlasted the bastards." (If I can find a text of Springsteen's remarks, I will post or link to them.) And Seeger led the crowd for "Amazing Grace" and "This Land Is Your Land." At one point, Seeger, ever-the populist, declared, "There's no such thing as a wrong note as long as you're singing." One musical highlight: Matthews crooning a soulful version of "Rye Whiskey." He noted his first concert as a lad was a Seeger show. (You can see my tweets from SeegerFest here.) The concert was, of course, a benefit--for Seeger's Clearwater outfit, which preserves and protects the Hudson River.

Springsteen was right. Sometimes longevity--just keep on keeping on--is the best revenge. Seeger was once reviled as a no-good commie symp. He almost ended up in jail for defying congressional witch-hunters. Now he's seen a turnabout--one that he has been pushing steadily, inch by inch, note by note, for decades. To every season....

Did Your Spouse Pay These Guys to Hack Your Email Password?

| Tue Jan. 28, 2014 7:00 AM EST

If you're in a monogamous relationship and you come home at 4 a.m. with no explanation, your significant other may wonder where you've been. According to the FBI, some jealous lovers are going straight to the nuclear option: hiring hackers to find your email password. 

On Friday, federal prosecutors charged two Arkansas men, Mark Anthony Townsend and Joshua Alan Tabor, with operating a business that illegally obtained email passwords for customers who hoped to catch cheating spouses. The pair's company, needapassword.com, breached nearly 6,000 email accounts, including some hosted by Google and Yahoo, according to the indictments. Townsend, 49, allegedly established the website, which operated as recently as July 2013 and asked $50 to $350 per password. Tabor, 29, allegedly helped Townsend hack into the accounts. Both men are charged with accessing a protected computer without authorization and facilitating further access by others, a felony that carries a five-year prison sentence.

"Is your spouse cheating with someone? Do you know who they are? You have the right to read the personal thoughts your spouse is writing to others," Townsend and Tabor's website advertised last April, according to the FBI. The men allegedly offered to obtain passwords to Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, Gmail and other accounts. (You can view a version of the site here.) Tabor and Townsend were caught hacking into Yahoo and Gmail accounts, according to the indictments. Attorneys for the two men did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

In the indictments, the FBI notes that the scheme was dependent on a target logging into his or her email and checking it. A Google spokeswoman says that it appears that its servers weren't directly hacked; instead, users' individual Gmail accounts were hijacked using a technique called spear phishing, in which a hacker sends a fake email that tricks an account owner into providing sensitive information. "We have a wide variety of protections in place at all times to guard our users against account hijacking," the Google spokeswoman said. A Yahoo spokeswoman adds, "Yahoo takes the security of our users very seriously."

After gaining access to an email account, the hackers would send a screenshot of the inbox to the customer as proof, and then solicit payment via Paypal for the password, according to the indictment. One bank account the FBI believes to be associated with the defendants received approximately $150,000 in about a year and a half. According to the FBI, Townsend used a computer system that belonged to the fire department in his home town of Cedarville, Arkansas, where he was a volunteer for the local search and rescue team.

The FBI notes that the scheme wasn't always successful: An agent from the Los Angeles field office interviewed a customer identified in the indictment and search warrant as, "J.B.," who suspected her boyfriend of not being faithful. She signed up for the site, but received a message saying that although the site had obtained a password, it wasn't working: "Maybe he typed it wrong or he's suspicious."

The feds aren't just cracking down on people who allegedly do the hacking, they're going after customers too: indictments unrelated to the "needapassword" case were issued last week against three Americans who paid between $1,011 and $21,675 to hackers in order to obtain email passwords.

Read the FBI's search warrant on the case here: 

 

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No Gays in Sochi, But Many Confused Straight People

| Mon Jan. 27, 2014 8:24 PM EST

With the Winter Olympics less than two weeks away, Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov told the BBC that there are no gay residents in his city. Meanwhile, despite President Vladimir Putin's anti-gay crackdown, Sochi's two gay clubs are thriving. Watch Pakhomov's comments here:

Here's Why Obama's Surveillance Transparency Deal With Tech Companies Doesn't Matter

| Mon Jan. 27, 2014 8:06 PM EST

Update (1/28/14): See below.

On Monday, the Obama Administration announced that it's going to start allowing tech companies to disclose more information about the number of national-security related demands the government makes for user information. On the surface, this seems like a government-transparency victory. But compared to the extensive recommendations made by lawmakers, privacy advocates, and the president's own government surveillance advisory board, the change actually does very little to shed light on the nature or extent of the government's requests for personal data.

Up until now, tech companies have only been allowed to report a very rough figure on the number of national security letters they receive, and the number of users affected. (The FBI and other agencies use these secret requests to force businesses to hand over certain customer records.) Meanwhile, firms like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others have been forbidden from sharing any information on orders they receive via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Now, the New York Times reports:

Companies will be able to disclose the existence of FISA court orders. But they must choose between being more specific about the number of demands or about the type of demands. Companies that want to disclose the number of FISA orders and national security letters separately can do so as long as they only publish in increments of 1,000. Or, companies can narrow the figure to increments of 250, but only if they lump FISA court orders and national security letters together.

"It's a pretty absurdly tiny incremental increase in transparency," Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute who focuses on privacy and civil liberties issues, tweeted Monday. Not only are tech companies still barred from reporting the government requests they receive in real time—there's a six-month delay—but the information they are now allowed to disclose still tells Americans little about the requests the government is making. For example, the administration's now policy only allows FISA orders to be reported under "content" and "non-content" categories. And the number of accounts affected can still only be disclosed in ranges of 1,000. 

This week, Apple CEO Tim Cook reiterated that, "We need to say what data is being given," after revealing that his company is under a government gag order. The president's surveillance advisory board recommended in December that he reform the process by requiring judicial approval before sending national security letters. (Judicial approval is currently not required.) And members of Congress have introduced a bill that would limit the kinds of records that can be obtained. But the administration has yet to take meaningful steps at surveillance reform.

UPDATE, Tuesday, January 28, 2014: Nate Cardozo, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sent Mother Jones another reason Obama's announcement doesn't go far enough: "The deal won't allow the companies to disclose which legal authorities the government is using in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. We need that information especially, since we're currently trying to reform those very laws. True transparency—as well as the First Amendment—requires that companies be allowed to map the scope of the United States government's surveillance apparatus, including the legal authorities it claims to rely on."

Rand Paul: There's No GOP War on Women, But Remember the Lewinsky Scandal?

| Mon Jan. 27, 2014 12:14 PM EST

In 2011, after Republicans in Congress introduced a bill that would ban taxpayer funding for abortions except in cases of "forcible rape," Democrats adopted a new line of attack: the GOP was waging a "war on women." Instead of changing their policies, Republicans changed the subject, arguing that the sexual behavior of individual Democratic politicians—such as Anthony Weiner—proves the GOP "war on women" is a fiction.

On Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) became the latest GOPer to adopt this strategy, arguing on Meet the Press that former President Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky means Democrats are in no place to cry foul about the Republican party platform.

Paul made the comments after host David Gregory highlighted a moment in a September Vogue profile of Paul in which Kelley Paul, the senator's wife, said, "Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky should complicate his return to the White House, even as first spouse. I would say his behavior was predatory, offensive to women."

Gregory asked Paul if Bill Clinton's sexual behavior in the White House would be fair game in a 2016 race involving Hillary Clinton. Here's Paul's response:

I mean, the Democrats, one of their big issues is they have concocted and said Republicans are committing a war on women. One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn't prey on young interns in their office.

And I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior, and it should be something we shouldn't want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office.

This isn't having an affair. I mean, this isn't me saying, "Oh, he's had an affair, we shouldn't talk to him." Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office? I mean, really. And then they have the gall to stand up and say, "Republicans are having a war on women"?

When Democrats say there's a "war on women," they are not criticizing the personal conduct of GOP lawmakers. They're talking about Republican policymakers' sustained attacks on women's reproductive rights. It's hard to see what Bill Clinton's sexual conduct tells us about today's battles over reproductive rights policy—especially when he hasn't held elected office for nearly fourteen years.

Black Lawmakers Turn Up the Heat On Obama Over Judicial Nominees Who Backed Voter ID Law, Confederate Flag

| Mon Jan. 27, 2014 11:44 AM EST

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)—a group of African-American lawmakers in the House that defends the interests of minorities and people with low incomes—are planning to publicly chastise President Barack Obama this week over two of his judicial nominees who have backed racially offensive and discriminatory policies, and what they see as a lack of diversity amongst his judicial picks, The Hill reported Sunday.

Obama has confirmed more African-Americans to the federal bench than any other president, but CBC lawmakers see an "appalling lack of African-American representation" amongst Obama's judicial nominees in Southern states such as Georgia, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told The Hill. If Obama's nominees to the federal bench in Georgia are confirmed, there will only be one African-American district court judge in a state where 31 percent of the population is black.

And some of Obama's nominees have "views… that reflect the regressive policies of the past," Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) pointed out in a letter to Senate judiciary chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) earlier this month. Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs, who Obama nominated to the US district court for the Northern district of Georgia in December, voted to keep the Confederate battle emblem as a central part of Georgia's state flag when he was a Georgia legislator in the early 2000s. Atlanta attorney Mark Howard Cohen, who Obama nominated to the same court last month, helped defend Georgia's voter ID law, which voting rights advocates say makes it harder for poor people and minorities to vote.

CBC lawmakers and civil rights leaders have been pressuring Obama for months to rethink these nominations, but to no avail. So CBC members are trying another tack. They will hold a press conference this week to bring attention to the issue, and they're mulling an opposition strategy to block the nominees.

"We have very grave concerns [with certain nominees] given disparities that are particularly common in the South," Norton told The Hill. As my colleague Nick Baumann reported last summer, research has shown that the South remains more racist than the North.

So why did the president pick these nominees, especially now that Republicans can no longer filibuster judicial nominees? It has to do with a procedural hurdle called the blue-slip process that functions as a de facto filibuster. Here's how the process works: When the president is floating a potential judicial nomination, the senators from the state where the judge would serve are given a blue slip of paper. If both senators do not return their blue slips, the nominee will not be able to move forward to a vote in the Senate judiciary committee. This allows the GOP to exert significant control over nominees. Georgia's Republican Sens. John Isakson and Saxby Chambliss have used the blue-slip process to delay some of Obama's nominees to their state's northern district court for years. To fill those spots, Obama worked out a deal with the GOP senators that resulted in the nominations of Boggs and Cohen.

In an interview with MSNBC's Adam Serwer earlier this month, a White House official said Obama was not to blame for these nominations, as Republican senators are taking advantage of the blue-slip process. The White House has also pointed out that eighteen percent of confirmed judges under Obama have been black. That number was eight percent under President George W. Bush.  

CBC lawmakers are not impressed. As Scott told The Hill: “Do you think a white president, a George W. Bush, a Republican president—any white president—would appoint these kinds of nominees with the confederate flag background? With the voter suppression background? That White House would have been maimed by people crying out."