Mojo - February 2014

George Zimmerman's BFF Called Oprah the N-Word

| Wed Feb. 19, 2014 1:23 PM EST

George Zimmerman's de facto spokesman, Frank Taaffehas recently rushed to the defense of Michael Dunn, who, like Zimmerman, was accused of murdering an unarmed black Florida teenager. Perhaps this should come as no surprise: Taaffea frequent cable news commentatoris an unabashed racist who has said that "the only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them."

On Tuesday, Political Research Associates, a liberal think tank, dredged up troubling new evidence of Taaffe's racial animus, including audio of him calling Oprah Winfrey the N-word on his now-defunct white-power podcast, Standing Our GroundDuring an episode last fall, Taaffe and his cohost discussed when to apply the slur. After being asked by a caller whether Oprah fit the bill, Taaffe launched into a rant, filled with racist language:

Yeah, she's a nigger because she keeps spewing out all that bullshit. She goes over to Switzerland and she says that the lady didn't want to share a handbag because she thought that she couldn't afford it, and she keeps just doing what she's doing. She keeps stirring the pot. She keeps trying to promote her boy Obama. You know, Obama could do no wrong. You know, it's birds of a feather, they flock together and stick together, and to me, she's a nigger. Oprah Winfrey's a nigger. She's a nigger.

You can listen to the entire exchange here:

This language is not out of character for Taaffe; he has previously come out against races intermingling, defended racial profiling, and compared affirmative action to slavery. Nevertheless, cable news networksincluding CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox News—regularly tapped him for commentary on the Zimmerman case. During the recent murder trial of Michael Dunn, the Florida man who shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis after a dispute over loud music, Taaffe began making the rounds again, with appearances on HLN's Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew on CallHe was supposed to appear on CNN as well. But on Monday, after Mother Jones took HLN to task for giving Taaffe a regular platform, his booking was canceled. And Taaffe announced on his Facebook page that he won't be making any more Nancy Grace appearances either. Here's hoping that next time cable news networks can find a pundit who isn't a white supremacist.

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GOP Congressional Candidate: Protecting Gays From Workplace Discrimination is "Segregation"

| Wed Feb. 19, 2014 11:43 AM EST

Cresent Hardy was expected to be the milquetoast candidate in the Republican primary for Nevada's 4th district—especially compared with his competitor for the GOP nod,  Niger Innis, who said that the fight to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling was "very much like the civil rights revolution."

But on Tuesday, Hardy, a Nevada state assemblyman, gave Ennis a run for his money. In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Hardy called the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a federal bill passed by the Senate that prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, "segregation."

"When we create classes, we create that same separation that we're trying to unfold somehow," Hardy told the Sun. "By continuing to create these laws that are what I call segregation laws, it puts one class of a person over another. We are creating classes of people through these laws."

In the same interview, Hardy vowed that he "will always vote against same sex marriage because of my religious beliefs, the way I was raised…For me to vote for it would be to deny the same God that I believe in."

As a state assemblyman, Hardy was one of just 13 assembly members to vote against a Nevada bill banning housing and job discrimination against transgender people. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval signed that bill into law in May 2011.

Hardy and Innis are competing to challenge first-term Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford. The sprawling 4th district, which covers northern Las Vegas suburbs, leans Democrat, although Horsford was elected in 2012 with a scant 50.1 percent of the vote. While Innis is running as an outsider, Hardy is squarely backed by the Republican establishment, having racked up endorsements from Sandoval, Sen. Dean Heller, and Rep. Mark Amodei.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 19, 2014

Wed Feb. 19, 2014 11:13 AM EST

Staff Sgt. Austina Knotek takes a photo with the United States Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Ray Odierno in Kabul, Afghanistan, February 7, 2014. Staff Sgt. Austina Knotek is an Information Technology Specialist from Crown Point, N.M. assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps. Knotek noticed the large crowd outside her work area and realized the Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno, was conducting a media engagement with Fox & Friends, which included more than a dozen Soldiers in the background. (U.S. Army Photo by Nate Allen)

Surprise: Liberals Are Just as Morally Righteous as Conservatives

| Wed Feb. 19, 2014 7:00 AM EST

From the Moral Majority to the Tea Party, we tend to think of those on the political right as driven by deep moral convictions. Much of the reason involves the right's strong connection with fundamentalist religiosity, and the accompanying rhetoric about "moral values." Indeed, conservatives have made a habit of accusing liberals of being "moral relativists," even as psychological research paints liberals as more tolerant of uncertainty and nuance than conservatives, and more open to new experiences and ideas. That certainly doesn't sound like the psych profile of a moral crusader.

Maybe, though, the moral motivations of liberals have been underestimated. That's the upshot of a new political psychology study by Linda Skitka of the University of Illinois-Chicago and two colleagues. The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 21 separate studies examining the differing moral investments of the left and the right. And they found that overall, liberals showed just as much moral conviction as conservatives—albeit on very different political issues.

The 21 studies in question had much in common: All of them asked participants how much their stances on a wide variety of political issues were "based on moral principle," "deeply connected to [their] beliefs about fundamental right and wrong," "a moral stance," and other related questions. All the studies also asked participants about their political ideology.

Crunching together this large body of similar research, Skitka and colleagues didn't find much convincing evidence that conservatives feel more morally righteous than liberals do. For instance, in total the 21 studies examined the moral commitments of liberals and conservatives on 41 separate political issues, from drug policy to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But on the large majority of those issues—28 of them in all—liberals and conservatives showed about the same level of moral conviction. Of the remainder, conservatives felt more strongly about 7 issues (immigration, abortion, states' rights, gun control, physician-assisted suicide, the deficit, and the federal budget) and liberals felt more strongly about 6 issues (climate change, the environment, gender equality, income inequality, healthcare reform, and education).

Different levels of moral conviction from left to right might tell us a lot about how particular issues play out, then (think abortion). But there's wasn't a very big difference in moral conviction overall.

When Skitka and her colleagues examined a subset of the studies that involved political engagement (activism, voting, and so on), meanwhile, they also failed to find a major left-right difference. In other words, liberals and conservatives were equally likely to be driven, by their moral convictions, into overt political actions such as activism or voting.

None of which is to suggest that when it comes to moral politics, liberals and conservatives are just two sides of a coin. Prior research, for instance, suggests that conservatives are more likely to believe in moral absolutes than liberals are. And as already noted, the two sides are not always equally fired up about a given issue: Thus, the zeal with which the right attacks, say, government spending is not matched with equal zeal on the left aimed at defending it.

Finally, much research has suggested that the basic moral systems of the left and the right are very different. If you follow George Lakoff, liberals have a "nurturant parent" morality, centered on caring and empathy, as opposed to conservatives' "strict father" morality, centered on rules and obedience. If you follow Jonathan Haidt, meanwhile, then liberals feel strong moral convictions about issues involving harm and fairness, whereas conservatives root their morality in authority, tribalism, and even emotions of disgust.

There's no reason to doubt that these differences are real. But the new study suggests that in spite of them, both the left and the right can get very fired up about politics. And when they let their deep-seated moral emotions drive their political views, they may do so with equal zeal.

What's Happening in Ukraine, Explained (Updated)

| Tue Feb. 18, 2014 7:08 PM EST

This article is being updated as news breaks. Click here for the latest.

At least 26 were killed and several hundred were injured Tuesday and Wednesday in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, as police cracked down on the protest movement that has gripped the Eastern European nation for months. Several local news outlets—including Ukraine's Espreso TV—are live streaming the swelling crowds, large-scale fires, and numerous explosions at the opposition camps. The harrowing video feed is below:



The EuroMaidan protests, which started on November 21 in response to President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a European Union trade deal, have been going on for nearly three months. Early Tuesday, the US Department of State released an emergency message warning about escalating violence and potential "extraordinary measures" by the Ukrainian Security Services.

As the Washington Post's Max Fisher explains, the conflict is fueled by sharp political and ethnic divides. A significant portion of the population wants closer ties to Europe, but Putin has been pressuring Yanukovych's government toward closer economic integration with Russia.

The protests turned violent in late November, with police deploying batons, tear gas, and even attacking journalists. In mid-January, the government enacted a series of anti-protest laws restricting freedom of assembly and speech. Though Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned and many of these laws were later repealed, the damage was already done. Yanukovych, who had previously been linked to vote-rigging during the infamous 2005 Orange Revolution, has also been accused of corruption, mismanagement, and human rights violations. To many citizens, the laws only reinforced that view. Allegations of torture and disappearances continued throughout January as the protests spread.

Protesters in Kiev have occupied city hall and other government buildings for the last two months. This weekend, after officials promised to give them amnesty if they ended their occupation, the demonstrators agreed and partially dismantled their barricades, making Tuesday's crackdown all the more ironic.

As with any uprising, it's too early to call which direction the protests could go, but some analysts are warning a civil war is possible. Here are a few recent images of the scene in Kiev:

Ukrainian Demonstrator

Jacob Balzani Loov/ZUMA

Ukrainian Police
Maxim Nikitin/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Truck Explosion
Yevgeny/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Clashes
Yevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Protestor
Yevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA
 

Ukrainian Protestor

Nikolai Nikitin/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Car ExplosionYevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Riot PoliceYevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

New Ads Push the Supreme Court to Broadcast Oral Arguments

| Tue Feb. 18, 2014 2:43 PM EST
The Roberts Court

The US Supreme Court is often called on to rule on matters involving political advertising (see, of course, Citizens United). But it's rare for the court itself to be the target of political advertising, especially on TV. But a new coalition is about to unleash a torrent of ads in the Washington DC media market aimed squarely at the nation's high court—to demand that the court itself go on TV.

The US Supreme Court is one of the last places in the federal government where recording devices are expressly prohibited, despite efforts by members of Congress over the past 15 years to change that. (Broadcasting oral arguments is perhaps one of the few issues that both Republicans and Democrats tend to agree on.) Virtually all state supreme courts allow some degree of recording, and 14 federal courts have been involved in a three-year pilot project to study the use of cameras in those courthouses. Yet the US Supreme Court has remained stubbornly resistant to moving into the 21st century, despite overwhelming public support for footage of its arguments.

So a new group of professional media and legal transparency organizations have created the Coalition for Court Transparency to try to lean on the court in new and more public ways to insist that everyone deserves a chance to see how the court conducts its business. One of the biggest arguments in the coalition's favor: The court itself holds only 250 spectators, meaning that for big and important cases, virtually all the people camping outside the court to get a seat won't be able to get in.

"When you think about the most widely followed cases of the last year, litigants hailed from California (Hollingsworth v. Perry), Oklahoma (Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius), and Alabama (Shelby Co. v. Holder)," said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a coalition member. "The idea that these individuals, and other concerned parties from across the country, would have to fly to Washington, find a hotel, and stand in line for hours—or pay someone to do so—just to see justice in action shows how far the Court needs to come to get more in step with technology and transparency today." Here's the ad:

 

 

Bringing oral arguments to the people by video is a noble cause, but also probably a lost one. There was a brief window of hope back in 2009, after Justice David Souter announced he was retiring from the bench. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. had been guardedly open to the idea of cameras in the courtroom, a position embraced by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer. Justice Samuel Alito allowed cameras into his appellate courtroom while serving on the Third Circuit. And Justice Anthony Kennedy has said cameras are "inevitable." But Souter was a major obstacle to a more open high court. He was a notorious technophobe, whose New Hampshire farmhouse was full books but not a TV screen. He eschewed computers, emails and answering machines, writing his opinions with a fountain pen. He famously announced his views on oral argument broadcasts by saying, "I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it is going to roll over my dead body."

Souter was replaced by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who at the time of her confirmation had indicated that she was supportive of cameras in the courtroom, which she'd had a positive experience with as a judge in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Alas, her position changed quickly once she joined the high court. Last year, she said she believed that basically, the public wouldn't understand the proceedings. "Oral argument is the forum in which the judge plays devil's advocate with lawyers. I think the process could be more misleading than helpful,” she said.

Losing Sotomayor pretty much dooms the cause of cameras in the Supreme Court, given the staunch opposition from Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. But perhaps the ads targeting the court's transparency might have some other beneficial effects, like forcing the justices to experience some of the same sorts of political tactics they're often called on to regulate.

 

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 18, 2014

Tue Feb. 18, 2014 11:02 AM EST

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force aviators light night-time smoke signals as part of their mandatory, semi-annual Life-Saving Survival Training aboard Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 28, 2014. Night-time smoke signals use grey smoke with a flashing red light, while day-time smoke signals are bright red in color. The signals burn for approximately 70 seconds. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. D. A. Walters/Released)

Why There's an Even Larger Racial Disparity in Private Prisons Than in Public Ones

| Mon Feb. 17, 2014 7:00 AM EST

It's well known that people of color are vastly overrepresented in US prisons. African Americans and Latinos constitute 30 percent of the US population and 60 percent of its prisoners. But a new study by University of California-Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella addresses a fact of equal concern. Once sentenced, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to serve time in private prisons, which have higher levels of violence and recidivism (PDF) and provide less sufficient health care and educational programming than equivalent public facilities.

The study compares the percentage of inmates identifying as black or Hispanic in public prisons and private prisons in nine states. It finds that there are higher rates of people of color in private facilities than public facilities in all nine states studied, ranging from 3 percent in Arizona and Georgia to 13 percent in California and Oklahoma. According to Petrella, this disparity casts doubt on cost-efficiency claims made by the private prison industry and demonstrates how ostensibly "colorblind" policies can have a very real effect on people of color.

Chart- people of color

The study points out an important link between inmate age and race. Not only do private prisons house high rates of people of color, they also house low rates of individuals over the age of 50—a subset that is more likely to be white than the general prison population. According to the study, "the states in which the private versus public racial disparities are the most pronounced also happen to be the states in which the private versus public age disparities are most salient." (California, Mississippi, and Tennessee did not report data on inmate age.)

Chart- inmates over 50

Private prisons have consistently lower rates of older inmates because they often contractually exempt themselves from housing medically expensive—which often means older—individuals (see excerpts from such exemptions in California, Oklahoma, and Vermont), which helps them keep costs low and profits high. This is just another example of the growing private prison industry's prioritization of profit over rehabilitation, which activists say leads to inferior prison conditions and quotas requiring high levels of incarceration even as crime levels drop. The number of state and federal prisoners housed in private prisons grew by 37 percent from 2002 to 2009, reaching 8 percent of all inmates in 2010.

The high rate of incarceration among young people of color is partly due to the war on drugs, which introduced strict sentencing policies and mandatory minimums that have disproportionately affected non-white communities for the past 40 years. As a result, Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows that in 2009, only 33.2 percent of prisoners under 50 reported as white, as opposed to 44.2 percent of prisoners aged 50 and older.

So when private prisons avoid housing older inmates, they indirectly avoid housing white inmates as well. This may explain how private facilities end up with "a prisoner profile that is far younger and far 'darker'... than in select counterpart public facilities."

Private prisons claim to have more efficient practices, and thus lower operating costs, than public facilities. But the data suggest that private prisons don't save money through efficiency, but by cherry-picking healthy inmates. According to a 2012 ACLU report, it costs $34,135 to house an "average" inmate and $68,270 to house an individual 50 or older. In Oklahoma, for example, the percentage of individuals over 50 in minimum and medium security public prisons is 3.3 times that of equivalent private facilities.

"Given the data, it's difficult for private prisons to make the claim that they can incarcerate individuals more efficiently than their public counterparts," Petrella tells Mother Jones. "We need to be comparing apples to apples. If we're looking at different prisoner profiles, there is no basis to make the claim that private prisons are more efficient than publics."

He compared private prisons to charter schools that accept only well-performing students and boast of their success relative to public schools.

David Shapiro, former staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project, agrees. "The study is an example of the many ways in which for-profit prisons create an illusion of fiscal responsibility even though the actual evidence of cost savings, when apples are compared to apples, is doubtful at best," he says. "Privatization gimmicks are a distraction from the serious business of addressing our addiction to mass incarceration."

But in addition to casting doubt on the efficacy of private prison companies, Petrella says his results "shed light on the ways in which ostensibly colorblind policies and attitudes can actually have very racially explicit outcomes. Racial discrimination cannot exist legally, yet still manifests itself."

Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News, calls the study a "compelling case" for a link between age disparities and race disparities in public and private prison facilities. "The modern private prison industry has its origins in the convict lease system that developed during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, as a means of incarcerating freed slaves and leasing them to private companies," he says. "Sadly, Mr. Petrella's research indicates that the exploitation of minority prisoners continues, with convict chain gangs being replaced by privately-operated prisons and jails."
 

*The study draws on data from nine states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas—selected because they house at least 3,000 individuals in private minimum and medium security facilities.

The Beauty of Music, Visualized

| Fri Feb. 14, 2014 5:03 PM EST

The beauty of great data visualization is that it renders wildly complex information into easily digestible pieces. What was once complicated still is, but now it's much easier to understand. Music does that in its own way, taking individual notes that fit together via incredibly complex patterns and stringing them together to make a rich and nuanced flow that gets past the complexity. When the two come together, you get something like this. Prepare to be mesmerized and blow part of an otherwise productive day with Igor Stravinksy's The Rite of Spring, visualized, from the people at The Music Animation Machine.

[h/t Flowing Data]

Guns Are for Shooting "All Black People" and Other Horrifying Quotes From the NFL's Dolphins Investigation

| Fri Feb. 14, 2014 3:50 PM EST
From left: Dolphins linemen Mike Pouncey, Richie Incognito, and John Jerry. While Incognito was identified as a bullying leader, all three took part, according to the report.

In November, after Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team due to bullying from teammate Richie Incognito, the NFL commissioned an independent investigation to look into the matter. The results of that investigation, released today, reveal a pattern of racist, homophobic, and generally awful instances of harassment that took place inside and outside the Dolphins' locker room. Read the lowlights—which are vulgar and graphic—below.

Incognito leaves a racist voicemail for Martin (page 10):

"Hey, wassup, you half-nigger piece of shit. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. I'll shit in your fuckin' mouth. I'm gonna slap your fuckin' mouth, I'm gonna slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. Fuck you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."

Incognito and others taunt and harass an Asian American trainer (page 22):

Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey admitted that they directed racially derogatory words toward him, including "Jap" and "Chinaman." At times, according to Martin, they referred to the Assistant Trainer as a "dirty communist" or a "North Korean," made demands such as "give me some water you fucking chink," spoke to him in a phony, mocking Asian accent, including asking for "rubby rubby sucky sucky," and called his mother a "rub and tug masseuse." Martin and others informed us that Incognito and Jerry taunted the Assistant Trainer with jokes about having sex with his girlfriend. Incognito admitted that these types of comments were made to the Assistant Trainer.

On December 7, 2012 (the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor), Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey donned traditional Japanese headbands that featured a rising sun emblem and jokingly threatened to harm the Assistant Trainer physically in retaliation for the Pearl Harbor attack. Martin reported that the Assistant Trainer confided to him that he was upset about the Pearl Harbor prank, finding it derogatory and demeaning.

Incognito and an anonymous teammate exchange text messages joking about shooting black people (page 103):

Player B: Fuck yea! That what I'm doin my .338 in. Badass

Incognito: That's gonna be sick

Player B: Especially if u plan living in Arizona in the future, that's exactly what you want

Incognito: Yea. For picking off zombies

Player B: Lol isn't that why we own any weapons!?

Incognito: That and black people

Player B: Mmm def all black ppl

Incognito and others, including a coach, engage in homophobic taunting (page 19):

Incognito and others acknowledged that Player A was routinely touched by Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey in a mockingly suggestive manner, including on his rear end, while being taunted about his supposed homosexuality. Incognito specifically admitted that he would grab Player A and ask for a hug as part of this "joke."

Martin said that on one occasion, Pouncey physically restrained Player A and, in full view of other players, jokingly told Jerry to "come get some pussy," and that Jerry responded by touching Player A's buttocks in a way that simulated anal penetration. Pouncey and Jerry both denied this allegation. Given the seriousness of this allegation and the conflicting recollections, we decline to make any findings about this particular alleged incident.

The evidence shows that [offensive line coach Jim Turner] overheard and participated in this behavior toward Player A. During the 2012 Christmas season, Coach Turner gave all of the offensive linemen gift bags that included a variety of stocking stuffers. In each gift bag except for Player A's, Turner included a female "blow-up" doll; Player A's bag included a male doll.

Incognito tries to get teammates to get rid of evidence—a "fine book" that lists financial penalties for offenses like wearing "ugly ass shoes" or being a "pussy" (page 42):

"They're trying to suspend me Please destroy the fine book first thing in the morning."

Martin tells his parents about the taunting and his struggles with depression (page 15):

"I care about my legacy as a professional athlete. But I'm miserable currently. A therapist & medication won't help me gain the respect of my teammates. I really don't know what to do Mom."

"People call me a Nigger to my face. Happened 2 days ago. And I laughed it off. Because I am too nice of a person. They say terrible things about my sister. I don't do anything. I suppose it's white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek"

Martin texts a friend with the pros and cons of continuing to play football (page 112):

-Football games are fun

-I can make a lot of money playing football and be set for life

-I have a legacy that will live after I die

-not many people get to live their childhood dream

-I am the left tackle for the Miami dolphins

-if I quit, I'll be known as a quitter for the rest of my life

-my legacy at Stanford will be tarnished

-I will never be able to look any coach from my past in the eye

-I hate going in everyday.

-I am unable to socialize with my teammates in their crude manner

-I already have a lot of money. I could travel the world, get my degree. Then get a real job

-I could lose 70 lbs and feel good about my body

-I won't die from CTE

-Maybe I'll start to LIKE myself

-I don't need to live lavishly. I could live very frugally

-why do I care about these people? All I need is my family

Read the full report here: