Mojo - January 2014

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 16, 2014

Thu Jan. 16, 2014 10:59 AM EST

U.S. Marines and sailors scrub the flight deck of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Gulf of Oman. The Harry S. Truman was deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Karl Anderson/Released)

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Here's the Latest GOP Assault On Food Stamps: Requiring a Photo ID to Buy Food

| Thu Jan. 16, 2014 10:41 AM EST

Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

On Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) introduced a bill that would force recipients of food stamps to show a valid photo ID to buy food. Anti-hunger advocates say that because many poor people cannot afford to purchase government IDs, the requirement would make it harder for low-income Americans to eat.

Vitter says the bill is designed to cut down on fraud. "Using a photo ID is standard in many day-to-day transactions, he said upon introducing the bill. "My bill will restore some accountability to the program so it's not ruined for people who use it appropriately."

But it's not that simple. Vitter's bill would also prevent many Americans from using the nutrition aid they're eligible for. "Many poor people do not have photo ID's, and it costs money they do not have to get them," Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the advocacy organization Coalition on Human Needs, told the Times-Picayune on Wednesday. "Senator Vitter's proposal will be especially tough on elderly and poor people who do not have the documents needed to get their photo ID, and who will struggle even to get to the necessary offices. They will wind up going without food."

This is just the latest assault in the long-running GOP war on the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Last year, Vitter drafted an amendment to the Senate farm bill—the five-year legislation that funds nutrition and agriculture programs—that would ban those convicted of certain violent crimes from ever getting food stamps. The amendment, which the Senate approved, would have "strongly racially discriminatory effects," according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In 2013, House Republicans passed a version of the farm bill that would cut $40 billion from the food stamps program. The House farm bill also contains GOP-backed provisions that would impose new work requirements on food stamp recipients, and that would give states financial incentives to kick people out of the program.

The final version of the farm bill, which is a compromise between the Senate and the House versions, is reported to contain $9 billion in cuts to SNAP.

Reddit's Gun Gang Takes Aim at MoJo With a Pink Assault Rifle

| Thu Jan. 16, 2014 7:00 AM EST

A Redditor chose "rasberry metallic" for his custom design. Upvote?

When we published our investigation of gun trafficking on Reddit—including the company's endorsement of assault rifles emblazoned with its signature alien logo—the story promptly got yanked from Reddit's popular /r/Politics subreddit. Apparently one of the /r/Politics moderators known as "TheRedditPope" deemed our story "off topic."*

Lots of Redditors on the /r/Guns subreddit, on the other hand, found the story to be sufficiently political. In response to it they let loose with much talk about liberal "gun grabbers," the Second Amendment coming under siege, and so forth. But perhaps the most enthusiastic response came from Redditor "WarFairy," who decided to honor Mother Jones with its very own 3-D printable AR-15 lower receiver, featuring a "raspberry metallic" finish and the company's phone number. Indeed, the Second Amendment may be in grave danger, but clearly the First is hanging tough.

The dudes of /r/Guns deserve a couple of points for creativity here, though probably no one will accuse them of being super classy.

"I would like to mass print these and hand them out to the kids on Halloween," declared one commenter. (What a hilarious thing to joke about, especially given that kids and pink guns mix so well.)

"It looks like it has a boner," said another.

"A glorious pink one," replied WarFairy, who clarified that the feature in question was "actually a finger hook for use when using a magwell style grip while firing. Just a little design flair of mine."

Another Redditor saw the feature from a different angle, likening it to female genitals, to which WarFairy replied: "Throbbing… moist… aluring… oh yes… imagine it… imagine running your fingers over it, listening to the whisper… P… Pull my trigger…"

The response to MoJo's investigation also included multiple Redditors attempting to list guns for sale in the comments section of our story and then getting their buddies to vote up those comments (a vote-manipulation tactic that Reddit itself forbids). "Now motherjones has become an internet weapons market. TA DA!" one of them said.

gun sale on mother jones
gun sale on mother jones

Unfortunately, in their careful reading of our report, these folks missed a key distinction between Reddit and Mother Jones: Such postings are a violation of our Terms of Service, and thus have been deleted.

For more of the story behind our investigation, check out my conversation with WNYC's Anna Sale.

Update, Jan. 22, 2014: In an email to Mother Jones, TheRedditPope said that although he defended the removal of our story in a conversation with a site user who protested the ban, he was not the moderator who removed the story. He described the removal of the story as a group decision: "The moderators act via consensus when a moderator action is questioned and the vast majority of /r/Politics mods agreed that the post was off topic." He declined to specify why the story was deemed off topic or which other moderator removed the story.

Congress Just Averted Military Cuts With This Sneaky Method

| Wed Jan. 15, 2014 11:30 AM EST

Members of Congress from both parties have decided to temporarily ignore their usual deficit mania to assuage military vets. In a new 1,582-page bill that doles out spending to the entire federal government for 2014, Congress slipped in a sneaky measure that essentially keeps military pensions from counting against the deficit by ignoring the normal rules of government spending.

Here's the backstory of how that came to be: When Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) struck a budget deal last month, they did their best to slice everything straight down the middle, dividing their competing plans in two at certain points. When they raised sequestration caps, the cuts were lifted equally from domestic and military spending, this despite the fact the military's budget is already bloated.

The same logic applied to revenue measures to offset that new spending. The deal called for new federal government hires to contribute more of their salaries to their pensions, amounting to $6 billion in new revenue over the next decade. Ryan and Murray equalized that with $6 billion from decreasing future benefits in military pensions—an idea that originated in Murray's office. Ryan initially wanted all of those revenues to come from federal employees, but Murray convinced him to split it evenly with the military, a feat her staff trumpeted as a get for the Democrats in the budget deal.

Republicans instantly hated the measure and Democrats soon abandoned their support for the military cuts—derived from a downward shift in cost-of-living calculations. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced a bill to ditch the changes for the military and replace them by closing tax loopholes. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, vowed to examine the cuts when the senate returned from its winter break. Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C), two vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in 2014, teamed up to call for an outright repeal. Murray wobbled and said the cuts could also be overturned.

That process started Monday night with the release of a new omnibus spending bill. The legislation erases the cost-of-living adjustments for disabled, pre-retirement veterans and for survivor benefits, bumping the growth of future payments back to a higher level. That move increases the spending from the Ryan-Murray deal, seemingly a no-no for Republicans who had insisted that any deal be deficit-neutral. But instead of finding cuts elsewhere, Congress just declared that funding for the military shouldn't be scored against the deficit like other programs.

"The budgetary effects of this section shall not be entered on any PAYGO scorecard," the relevant section of the bill reads, referencing the congressional rules that mandate new revenues to offset any new spending. The new bill doesn't cancel the entire cut to military pensions, but they don't go into effect until 2015, so there's still plenty of time for Congress to make further adjustments while pretending the costs don't exist. Of course these new PAYGO standards don't apply to all programs equally. The $6 billion in cuts for other federal employees remain in place. Chances are slim that they'll be granted the same waiver.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 15, 2014

Wed Jan. 15, 2014 10:55 AM EST

Staff Sgt. Nehemiah E. Taylor, of the Mississippi National Guard's 298th Support Battalion, fires the M203 grenade launcher during the individual weapons qualification weekend at Camp McCain, Miss. (Photo courtesy of the National Guard Flickr photostream)

New Memo: Kissinger Gave the "Green Light" for Argentina's Dirty War

| Tue Jan. 14, 2014 4:23 PM EST

Only a few months ago, Henry Kissinger was dancing with Stephen Colbert in a funny bit on the latter's Comedy Central show. But for years, the former secretary of state has sidestepped judgment for his complicity in horrific human rights abuses abroad, and a new memo has emerged that provides clear evidence that in 1976 Kissinger gave Argentina's neo-fascist military junta the "green light" for the dirty war it was conducting against civilian and militant leftists that resulted in the disappearance—that is, deaths—of an estimated 30,000 people.

In April 1977, Patt Derian, a onetime civil rights activist whom President Jimmy Carter had recently appointed assistant secretary of state for human rights, met with the US ambassador in Buenos Aires, Robert Hill. A memo recording that conversation has been unearthed by Martin Edwin Andersen, who in 1987 first reported that Kissinger had told the Argentine generals to proceed with their terror campaign against leftists (whom the junta routinely referred to as "terrorists"). The memo notes that Hill told Derian about a meeting Kissinger held with Argentine Foreign Minister Cesar Augusto Guzzetti the previous June. What the two men discussed was revealed in 2004 when the National Security Archive obtained and released the secret memorandum of conversation for that get-together. Guzzetti, according to that document, told Kissinger, "our main problem in Argentina is terrorism." Kissinger replied, "If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures." In other words, go ahead with your killing crusade against the leftists.

The new document shows that Kissinger was even more explicit in encouraging the Argentine junta. The memo recounts Hill describing the Kissinger-Guzzetti discussion this way:

The Argentines were very worried that Kissinger would lecture to them on human rights. Guzzetti and Kissinger had a very long breakfast but the Secretary did not raise the subject. Finally Guzzetti did. Kissinger asked how long will it take you (the Argentines) to clean up the problem. Guzzetti replied that it would be done by the end of the year. Kissinger approved.

In other words, Ambassador Hill explained, Kissinger gave the Argentines the green light.

That's a damning statement: a US ambassador saying a secretary of state had egged on a repressive regime that was engaged in a killing spree.

In August 1976, according to the new memo, Hill discussed "the matter personally with Kissinger, on the way back to Washington from a Bohemian Grove meeting in San Francisco." Kissinger, Hill told Derian, confirmed the Guzzetti conversation and informed Hill that he wanted Argentina "to finish its terrorist problem before year end." Kissinger was concerned about new human rights laws passed by the Congress requiring the White House to certify a government was not violating human rights before providing US aid. He was hoping the Argentine generals could wrap up their murderous eradication of the left before the law took effect.

Hill indicated to Derian, according to the new memo, that he believed that Kissinger's message to Guzzetti had prompted the Argentine junta to intensify its dirty war. When he returned to Buenos Aires, the memo notes, Hill "saw that the terrorist death toll had climbed steeply." And the memo reports, "Ambassador Hill said he would tell all of this to the Congress if he were put on the stand under oath. 'I'm not going to lie,' the Ambassador declared."

Hill, who died in 1978, never did testify that Kissinger had urged on the Argentine generals, and the Carter administration reversed policy and made human rights a priority in its relations with Argentina and other nations. As for Kissinger, he skated—and he has been skating ever since, dodging responsibility for dirty deeds in Chile, Bangladesh, East Timor, Cambodia, and elsewhere. Kissinger watchers have known for years that he at least implicitly (though privately) endorsed the Argentine dirty war, but this new memo makes clear he was an enabler for an endeavor that entailed the torture, disappearance, and murder of tens of thousands of people. Next time you see him dancing on television, don't laugh.

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Florida's Unemployment Website Disaster: Worse Than Healthcare.gov?

| Tue Jan. 14, 2014 12:42 PM EST
Looking for Work

Republicans have spent the past few months reveling in the dysfunction of Healthcare.gov, the federal online health insurance exchange. And they've bashed the Obama administration for incompetence over the smallest of technological glitches that accompanied the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans aren't exactly immune from the plague of technology problems when they're in charge of things. Take the case of Florida, where Republican state legislators, with the support of a Republican governor, decided in 2011 that everyone seeking unemployment benefits would have to apply online.

The state spent $63 million trying to create a website that would allow the unemployed to access benefits, awarding a contract to Deloitte, which, like the Healthcare.gov contractor, had a better record of lobbying for contracts than actually performing them. (Massachusetts and California have both launched investigations into similar performance problems in their states.) The site's October roll-out was disastrous—in many ways, a bigger debacle  than the Obamacare rollout, because the people trying to apply for benefits were in desperate need of the $275 a week in benefits to pay the rent and keep the heat on. Unemployed people jammed state offices and have flooded Republican Gov. Rick Scott's office with thousands of angry complaints. Legal aid lawyers have seen a rash of clients facing evictions and car repossessions. Last week, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)*called for a federal investigation into the website problems, which still aren't fixed.

Florida's unemployment system was already stingy, offering fewer weeks of benefits than federal law allows. The state already had the nation's lowest percentage of unemployed workers applying for benefits, thanks in part to various obstacles to applying, like a requirement for applicants to take a math test—obstacles that the US Department of Labor found in April constituted major civil rights violations. But that dismal record got even worse in November, when the percentage of unemployed people applying for benefits dropped to 13.4 percent, from 15.5. (Nationally, that figure is 41 percent.)

Scott, formerly a tea party darling up for reelection this year and a big supporter of the restrictions on unemployment benefits, responded to the website crisis publicly this week by saying, "Oh gosh, we work on it every day. And try to improve it every day." Meanwhile, the National Employment Law Center estimates that jobless workers have been denied $20 million worth of unemployment benefits since the website rollout.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that Nelson is running for governor of Florida. He is not currently a candidate for that office.

Watch: North Carolina GOP Senate Candidate Claims Food Stamps Are "Slavery"

| Tue Jan. 14, 2014 12:39 PM EST
North Carolina Senate candidate Greg Brannon

North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Greg Brannon has an interesting argument for eliminating food stamps: "slavery." In a videotaped interview with the North Carolina Tea Party in October, Brannon, a Rand Paul-endorsed doctor who is top contender for the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, cited James Madison in making the case for abolishing the Department of Agriculture—and with it, the $76 billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Brannon has a real chance of winning: A December poll from Public Policy Polling found the GOP primary field split but showed him leading Hagan, 45-43.

"We're taking our plunder, that's taken from us as individuals, [giving] it to the government, and the government is now keeping itself in power by giving these goodies away," Brannon said in the interview. "The answer is the Department of Agriculture should go away at the federal level. And now 80 percent of the farm bill was food stamps. That enslaves people. What you want to do, it's crazy but it's true, teach people to fish instead of giving them fish. When you're at the behest of somebody else, you are actually a slavery to them [sic]. That kind of charity does not make people freer."

It's something of a mixed metaphor, because Brannon is suggesting that people on food stamps are lazy, while also conflating them with a system of labor exploitation in which people were literally worked to death. (Also: Madison liked slavery.)

Food stamps aren't the only thing Brannon believes is subjecting Americans to the cruelties of the chattel system. At the RedState Gathering in November, an annual event organized by the influential conservative website, Brannon suggested that bipartisan compromises also "enslave" Americans.

A call to Brannon's campaign was not immediately returned. We'll update this post if he responds.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 14, 2014

Tue Jan. 14, 2014 11:00 AM EST

Marines assigned to Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct live fire training aboard the USS Boxer (LHD 4) at sea Jan. 8, 2014. The 13th MEU is deployed with the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. David Gonzalez/Released)

GOP Senate Candidate Complained of Lack of Muslim Movie Villains

| Tue Jan. 14, 2014 7:00 AM EST

Political correctness is keeping Hollywood from properly stigmatizing Muslims—so said Mississippi Republican Senate candidate Chris McDaniel. He issued this complaint during a 2006 episode of Right Side Radio, a syndicated show McDaniel hosted for three years before being elected to the state Senate in 2007.

"It's funny how the movies have portrayed themselves lately and how the video games have portrayed themselves lately," McDaniel said in the segment. "There's one person that cannot be a villain in Hollywood, ever. One group that cannot be villains. Who is that? [Cohost: The Muslims.] Yeah, isn't that neat? They'll go out of their way to find some Russian white guy that's just nuts, and he's the terrorist, which I've never seen that. But the Muslims, they've just disappeared from Hollywood's radar."

"I think the true enemy is Ron Howard and Andy Griffith," he joked. (The remarks were first reported by a local politics blog, Dark Horse Mississippi.)

McDaniel didn't have it quite right. Islamic extremists played the roles of terrorists in seasons two, four, and six* of the television show 24; the Showtime series Sleeper Cell; and a variety of movies, including Syriana, The Kingdom, Rules of Engagement, The Siege, True Lies, and Zero Dark Thirty. The Muslim-as-villain has been such a long-standing stereotype that a 1998 New York Times story reported on the difficulties Arab American actors faced in obtaining roles beyond that as hijackers.

Other audio clips unearthed by Dark Horse Mississippi feature McDaniel warning about the dangers of the "homosexual agenda" and describing a grand plan by Democrats to make "homosexual marriage and polygamy completely legal in all 50 states." Speaking before the 2006 election, McDaniel rattled off a "parade of horribles" that would come to pass if Democrats ("the party of sex on demand") took control of Congress; these included "new social taxes, new social programs," and "new hate crime laws for homosexuals."

In another episode of his radio show, McDaniel mocked San Francisco lawmakers who had decried an ad campaign depicting a white woman wrestling a black woman, under the slogan "White is coming."

"They're elite," he said of the city's residents, before taking a shot at the city's LGBT community. "Right next to gender misidentification is IQ, I suppose. That's gonna get me in trouble."

Last week, Mother Jones reported on a promotional clip from Right Side Radio in which McDaniel blamed rising gun violence on hip-hop. As he put it, "It's a problem of a culture that values prison more than college; a culture that values rap and destruction of community values more than it does poetry; a culture that can't stand education."

*Correction: This story originally misidentified the villains in season five of 24.