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Scott Walker Is Making Shit Up, Just Like His Hero Ronald Reagan

Mother Jones - February 28, 2015 - 10:06am

This morning, once again trying to show that fighting against Wisconsin labor unions is pretty much the same as fighting ISIS or communism, Scott Walker repeated his contention that Ronald Reagan's early move to fire striking air traffic controllers was more than just an attack on organized labor. It was also a critical foreign policy decision. Here's what he originally said last month on Morning Joe:

One of the most powerful foreign policy decisions that I think was made in our lifetime was one that Ronald Reagan made early in his presidency when he fired the air traffic controllers....What it did, it showed our allies around the world that we were serious and more importantly that this man to our adversaries was serious.

Years later, documents released from the Soviet Union showed that that exactly was the case. The Soviet Union started treating [Reagan] more seriously once he did something like that. Ideas have to have consequences. And I think [President Barack Obama] has failed mainly because he's made threats and hasn't followed through on them.

PolitiFact decided to check up on this:

Five experts told us they had never heard of such documents. Several were incredulous at the notion.

[Joseph] McCartin...."I am not aware of any such documents. If they did exist, I would love to see them."....Svetlana Savranskaya...."There is absolutely no evidence of this."....James Graham Wilson....Not aware of any Soviet documents showing Moscow’s internal response to the controller firings....Reagan's own ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, told us: "It's utter nonsense. There is no evidence of that whatever."

PolitiFact's conclusion: "For a statement that is false and ridiculous, our rating is Pants on Fire." But Walker shouldn't feel too bad. After all, Reagan was also famous for making up facts and evidence that didn't exist, so Walker is just taking after his hero. What's more, Reagan's fantasies never hurt him much. Maybe they won't hurt Walker either.

Kagan: Netanyahu Speech Is a Blunder

Mother Jones - February 28, 2015 - 9:09am

Even the ever-hawkish Robert Kagan thinks Republicans blew it by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress:

Looking back on it from years hence, will the spectacle of an Israeli prime minister coming to Washington to do battle with an American president wear well or poorly?

....Is anyone thinking about the future? From now on, whenever the opposition party happens to control Congress — a common enough occurrence — it may call in a foreign leader to speak to a joint meeting of Congress against a president and his policies. Think of how this might have played out in the past. A Democratic-controlled Congress in the 1980s might, for instance, have called the Nobel Prize-winning Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to denounce President Ronald Reagan’s policies in Central America. A Democratic-controlled Congress in 2003 might have called French President Jacques Chirac to oppose President George W. Bush’s impending war in Iraq.

Does that sound implausible? Yes, it was implausible — until now.

But President Obama has been poking sticks in Republican eyes ever since November, and Republicans desperately needed to poke back to maintain credibility with their base. Since passing useful legislation was apparently not in the cards, this was all they could come up with. What a debacle.

"It's Easier to Get Laid at CPAC Than on Spring Break"

Mother Jones - February 28, 2015 - 7:41am

While the annual Conservative Political Action Conference attracts right-wingers all stripes, there was one thing virtually all attendees could agree on: this year's conference was young. Especially young. College and high school-aged conservatives packed the halls of CPAC, decked out in all manner of paraphernalia: retro Reagan-Bush '84 campaign shirts, American flag shorts, buttons that declared "I Love Capitalism" and "Kill the Death Tax." I spotted at least one "Barry Goldwater for President" button on a millennial's lapel.

What were these fired-up young conservatives—many of whom traveled long distances to attend—here to see? Which would-be GOP candidate did they intend to support? Their responses were diverse, but if the Millennial Primary were held today, it would be a dead heat between Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), with Ben Carson running close behind.

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What's French for Chicken Nugget? The Truth About School Lunches Around the World

Mother Jones - February 28, 2015 - 5:00am

By now you've probably seen the viral slideshow called "School Lunches Around the World," in which a heavily processed American school lunch is contrasted against an array of fresh, healthy-looking victuals from Italy, France, Greece, etc. It's a compelling argument against the puny resources spent on school lunch in the United States, where, once labor and overhead are accounted for, schools get less than a dollar per daily lunch to spend on ingredients.

But as the great school-food blogger Bettina Elias Siegel points out, those sumptuous photos don't depict actual meals being served in actual schools—but, rather, staged shots that oversimplify a complex topic. As it turns out, Sweetgreen, a chain of health-food eateries located mainly on the East Coast, produced the photos, but didn't make that clear on its Tumblr.

In case you haven't seen them, here's a sampling:

Photo: Sweetgreen
  Photo: Sweetgreen
  Photo: Sweetgreen
 

So we see images of appetizing lunch from countries around the world contrasted against a relatively grim platter of pale chicken nuggets, potatoes, and peas from here in the good ol' USA. Siegel writes that many of her readers sent her a link to the gallery, "understandably but mistakenly" under the impression that the images depicted real-deal lunches, not a corporate photo shoot. The UK's Daily Mail even took them at face value, blaring in a headline that "Photos reveal just how meager US students' meals are compared to even the most cash-strapped of nations."

Siegel, though, had questions:

Sweetgreen says it based is photos on "some typical school meals around the world," but it doesn't tell us how it obtained the information underlying the photos. Were the meals modeled on public school menus? Private school menus? Are the meals depicted typical of what's served in a given country, or did Sweetgreen cherry-pick the most appealing items? And on what basis were the elements chosen for America's school meal?

Most egregiously, the Greece photo portrays a robust lunch featuring chicken over whole grains with yogurt, pomegranate seeds, a salad, and fresh citrus. Siegel provides a reality check: Debt-plagued Greece doesn't have the resources to provide much of anything to eat for its school kids. She points to a 2013 New York Times piece reporting that Greek schools "do not offer subsidized cafeteria lunches. Students bring their own food or buy items from a canteen. The cost has become insurmountable for some families with little or no income." Meanwhile, Siegel points out, even with dire funding for US lunches, more than 20 million economically distressed US kids had access to free or cut-rate lunches in 2013.

She adds that some US school districts do magical things with their minuscule budgets. Besides, even in France, where schools typically have twice as much to spend on ingredients per meal, lunches in some cases can look pretty, well, American.

Here's Sweetgreen's version of the French lunch:

Photo: Sweetgreen

And here's one of an French lunch Siegel found on the What's for School Lunch? blog, where "real people around the world submit their actual photos of school meals." There's no reason to assume all French lunches consist of chicken nuggets and well, French fries—but there's no reason to believe that Sweetgreen's idealized version is representative, either.

Photo: What’s for School Lunch?

After Siegel's posting, Sweetgreen added an appendage to its Tumblr page:

Note: These images are not intended to be exact representations of school lunches, but instead, are meant to portray different types of foods found in cafeterias around the world. To create this series, we evaluated government standards for school lunch programs, and compared this data to photos that real students had taken of their meals and shared online.

Sweetgreen's photo essay was designed to support an effort to raise funds for Food Corps, a "nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy" through cooking and gardening classes. It's an impressive bit of corporate marketing on behalf of a good cause—but not an accurate depiction of school lunch.

These California Maximum-Security Prisoners Are Making an Album

Mother Jones - February 28, 2015 - 5:00am

Inmates at California's New Folsom prison are slowly creating a sequel of sorts to Johnny Cash's hit record, and if an early preview of one song is any indication, their mix of folk, soul, blues, and hip-hop may be worth the wait.

The Prison Music Project, the brainchild of Canada-born singer-songwriter Zoe Boekbinder, is a collaboration between artists on the outside and at least eight men currently or recently doing time at New Folsom, the maximum-security facility adjacent to the lockup where Cash recorded Live at Folsom Prison back in January 1968.

Boekbinder, a singer who mixes folk with pop, has released five albums of her own and toured all over Europe and North America. While volunteering in New Folsom's art program from 2010 through 2014, she got the idea to set the men's poetry and lyrics to music. She reached out for help from folk-rock icon Ani DiFranco, with whom she'd previously shared a stage. DiFranco agreed to produce the album—she's like "my co-pilot," Boekbinder says—helping envision how each song might sound and working out arrangements and instrumentation.

The inmates will sing on some tracks, Boekbinder on others. She's also reaching out to additional musicians, but, "aside from the folks in prison, I don't want any one artist, including me, to be featured," she says. "I want it to be about the people these stories belong to." She's already managed to record some tracks inside New Folsom, but access can be dodgy—she'll record others over the phone, if need be.

The songwriters, she says, focused on their experiences with foster care, drug-addicted parents, and gang violence—as well as their longing for home. In the blues-heartbreak "All Over Again" (listen below), 72-year-old Kenneth Blackburn sings of lost love and the skies outside his window. "A lot of his songs talk about death. His health is not good, so it's a common theme in his music," Boekbinder says.

And here's a version of the song with Boekbinder singing. (Down below, you can also watch her perform it at the House of Blues in New Orleans.)

Another song, "Villain," combines two poems by Nathen Jackson, a 40-year-old from Sacramento who was released last June. Incarcerated in 1997 for aggravated assault (Jackson says he was defending himself), he served two stints at New Folsom alongside lifers. "At level-four security," he says, "violence happens. You're surrounded by a bunch of individuals who have nothing to lose, they're not going anywhere." The prison's art program put these men into a room together, working on poetry and critiquing each other's writing. "It's amazing work, and it's the type of rehabilitative programs that we really need," Jackson says, adding that it was the only positive part of his time.

    Spoon Jackson in his cell. Courtesy of Spoon Jackson and Zoe Boekbinder

"Villian," he says, describes the feeling of being isolated: "The people who are confined behind these walls are more than the crimes they were convicted of. We're fathers, brothers and sons. We were children at one time. Until people actually understand that, they'll still look at everyone behind bars as the stereotypical convict, like we're no good and we don't deserve to be rehabilitated."

Another contributor, 57-year-old Stanley "Spoon" Jackson (no relation to Nathen), is serving life without parole for a murder conviction in the late 1970s. Before his transfer to New Folsom, he caught the attention of a poetry teacher at San Quentin State Prison, who helped him get published. He eventually became an award-winning poet, author, and playwright. He played Pozzo in a prison production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" and was featured in "At Night I Fly," a 2011 film that won Sweden's prestigious Guldbagge Award for the year's best documentary. Writing is "my niche, my bliss, my life," Jackson says. (He's now at yet another facility.) "It allows a huge part of me to be free, despite these bars."

Boekbinder recently asked another prisoner, 30-year-old Gregory Gadlin, who wrote a song called "Monster," how he felt about having her sing his words, despite her being from a different background. "I feel good about it, being able to give it to different audiences, in a different light, with your way of delivering it," he said in the recorded phone call. Gadlin was released two years ago, but convicted of another crime—he's now in a county jail, pending trial, and in the process of writing a new song, "Badd," which takes the perspective of two women. "I'm so into music," he told Boekbinder. "It doesn't matter to me who it's coming from, as long as the person, you, is giving it your all, being real about it, sincere."

Proceeds from the Prison Music Project, Boekbinder says, will be donated to nonprofits involved with prison arts and re-entry programs. But she's still trying to raise money to produce the album. It's been a slow process. She's aiming for a release date within two years, though. Filmmaker Alix Angelis is also on board, with the hope of turning the effort into a documentary.

One of the prisoners, Boekbinder told me, is set to be released next month after 13 years inside. She plans to meet him in Los Angeles and hook him up with a local gang-intervention group. He told her he wants to help forge a peace deal between the Bloods and Crips. (He's a Blood). "But that's a whole other story."

The US Helped Create International Law, Now We Just Ignore It

Mother Jones - February 27, 2015 - 6:18pm

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

"The sovereign is he who decides on the exception," said conservative thinker Carl Schmitt in 1922, meaning that a nation's leader can defy the law to serve the greater good. Though Schmitt's service as Nazi Germany's chief jurist and his unwavering support for Hitler from the night of the long knives to Kristallnacht and beyond damaged his reputation for decades, today his ideas have achieved unimagined influence. They have, in fact, shaped the neo-conservative view of presidential power that has become broadly bipartisan since 9/11. Indeed, Schmitt has influenced American politics directly through his intellectual protégé Leo Strauss who, as an émigré professor at the University of Chicago, trained Bush administration architects of the Iraq war Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky.

All that should be impressive enough for a discredited, long dead authoritarian thinker. But Schmitt's dictum also became a philosophical foundation for the exercise of American global power in the quarter century that followed the end of the Cold War. Washington, more than any other power, created the modern international community of laws and treaties, yet it now reserves the right to defy those same laws with impunity. A sovereign ruler should, said Schmitt, discard laws in times of national emergency. So the United States, as the planet's last superpower or, in Schmitt's terms, its global sovereign, has in these years repeatedly ignored international law, following instead its own unwritten rules of the road for the exercise of world power.

Just as Schmitt's sovereign preferred to rule in a state of endless exception without a constitution for his Reich, so Washington is now well into the second decade of an endless War on Terror that seems the sum of its exceptions to international law: endless incarceration, extrajudicial killing, pervasive surveillance, drone strikes in defiance of national boundaries, torture on demand, and immunity for all of the above on the grounds of state secrecy. Yet these many American exceptions are just surface manifestations of the ever-expanding clandestine dimension of the American state. Created at the cost of more than a trillion dollars since 9/11, the purpose of this vast apparatus is to control a covert domain that is fast becoming the main arena for geopolitical contestation in the twenty-first century.

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The Economic Rise Of China Is Pretty Significant

Mother Jones - February 27, 2015 - 6:17pm

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

BEIJING—Seen from the Chinese capital as the Year of the Sheep starts, the malaise affecting the West seems like a mirage in a galaxy far, far away. On the other hand, the China that surrounds you looks all too solid and nothing like the embattled nation you hear about in the Western media, with its falling industrial figures, its real estate bubble, and its looming environmental disasters. Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, as the dogs of austerity and war bark madly in the distance, the Chinese caravan passes by in what President Xi Jinping calls "new normal" mode.

"Slower" economic activity still means a staggeringly impressive annual growth rate of 7 percent in what is now the globe's leading economy. Internally, an immensely complex economic restructuring is underway as consumption overtakes investment as the main driver of economic development. At 46.7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), the service economy has pulled ahead of manufacturing, which stands at 44 percent.

Geopolitically, Russia, India, and China have just sent a powerful message westward: they are busy fine-tuning a complex trilateral strategy for setting up a network of economic corridors the Chinese call "new silk roads" across Eurasia. Beijing is also organizing a maritime version of the same, modeled on the feats of Admiral Zheng He who, in the Ming dynasty, sailed the "western seas" seven times, commanding fleets of more than 200 vessels.

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What We Know About the Mysterious Suicide of Missouri Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Schweich

Mother Jones - February 27, 2015 - 4:35pm

On Thursday morning, Thomas Schweich, Missouri's auditor and a Republican candidate for governor, died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. His death—coming moments after he had invited two reporters to his home later that day—shocked Missouri political observers, who point out that in addition to his beloved family and distinguished career in public service, Schweich, 54, had just won re-election to a second term as state auditor and was leading in early polls of the 2016 governor's race. Why he would have taken his own life is a mystery to those who knew him. Just as strange is the predominant theory of what may have provoked his apparent suicide: rumors that he was Jewish. 

In the days before his death, Schweich had been worried that the head of the Missouri Republican Party was conducting a "whisper campaign" against him by telling people that he was Jewish. Schweich was, in fact, an Episcopalian, but his grandfather was Jewish.

The police were called to Schweich's home in Clayton, Missouri at 9:48 a.m. on Thursday. Just seven minutes earlier, Schweich had left a voicemail for Tony Messenger, an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, inviting him to send a reporter to his home that afternoon. That morning, Schweich had also invited an AP reporter to attend this interview.

According to Messenger, Schweich had hoped to counter rumors that he was Jewish, which he believed were being spread by Missouri GOP chairman John Hancock in a bid to damage his candidacy. He feared misconceptions about his faith might hurt him with evangelical voters, according to a report by the New York Times. Schweich had been "agitated" discussing rumors about his faith earlier in the week, according to the AP reporter who had spoken to him minutes before his death.

Hancock responded on Friday to allegations that he was spreading misinformation about Schweich's faith: "It's plausible that I would have told somebody that Tom was Jewish because I thought he was, but I wouldn't have said it in a derogatory or demeaning fashion."

But would rumors about Schweich's religion really have hurt him politically? A Jewish background doesn't appear to be impeding another prospective GOP gubernatorial candidate. Eric Greitens, a Jewish former Navy Seal, launched an exploratory committee for a statewide campaign in Missouri this week. The Washington Free Beacon described him as "the great Jewish hope" in a recent profile about his entry into politics. Reports note that he might enter into the gubernatorial race, though he yet to announce which office he has his eye on.

On Friday, Messenger, who had a close source relationship with Schweich, revealed that in the days leading up to Schweich's apparent suicide, the Republican candidate had discussed a desire to go public with accusations against Hancock. He had told Messenger that "his grandfather taught him to never allow any anti­-Semitism go unpunished, no matter how slight." Messenger noted that anti-Semitisim is a factor in Missouri, the state that "gave us Frazier Glenn Miller, the raging racist who killed three people at a Jewish community center in Kansas City." And he wrote, "Division over race and creed is real in Missouri Republican politics, particularly in some rural areas. Schweich knew it. It's why all week long his anger burned."

Kevin Murphy, the Clayton police chief, told reporters that there is no evidence that Schweich was under political attack or suffering from mental illness. Murphy also said it did not appear that Schweich's death was accidental. He noted that the ongoing investigation would include interviews with Schweich's friends and family, which has yet make a statement to the media about Schweich's death. 

The Missouri legislature gathered on Friday to mourn Schweich, who, before becoming Missouri state auditor in 2010, had served as chief of staff to three different US Ambassadors to the United Nations, as well as working on anti-drug trafficking initiatives in Afghanistan under during the George W. Bush administration.

There remain more questions than answers about Schweizer's apparent suicide. "I have no idea why Schweich killed himself," Messenger wrote in the Post-Dispatch on Friday. The only thing that seems clear is that there's much more to the story behind his death.

President Obama: "I Loved Spock"

Mother Jones - February 27, 2015 - 3:45pm

President Obama released a statement Friday on the death of Leonard Nimoy. The actor, best known for his role as Spock on Star Trek died at the age of 83 earlier today.

Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

I loved Spock.

In 2007, I had the chance to meet Leonard in person. It was only logical to greet him with the Vulcan salute, the universal sign for “Live long and prosper.” And after 83 years on this planet––and on his visits to many others––it’s clear Leonard Nimoy did just that. Michelle and I join his family, friends, and countless fans who miss him so dearly today.

Upon meeting for the first time, Nimoy said the president greeted him with the iconic Vulcan salute.

In the past, Obama has been criticized for being too "Spock-like" or methodical in his proceedings, to which the president once playfully responded, "Is that a crack on my ears?"

Nimoy's death has sparked an outpouring of eulogies from fans, fellow actors, and politicans alike. Earlier, Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted:

Spock is gone - and so is our last chance for a Vulcan mind meld with a great son of Boston. Sad day. #LLAP

— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) February 27, 2015

 

RIP.

Did Syriza Sell Out?

The Nation - February 27, 2015 - 2:36pm
Andy Robinson

No—the Greek negotiators had to swallow some bitter pills, but they extracted crucial concessions from the troika.

Must-reads of the week

Columbia Journalism Review - February 27, 2015 - 1:51pm
Culled from CJR’s own stories, plus the frequently updated “Must-reads from around the Web,” our staff recommendations for the best pieces of journalism (and other miscellany) on the internet, here are your can’t-miss must-reads of the past week: Will the new Page One meetings finally make the Times digital first? (CJR) - Nothing else has worked so far. How limited...

Why llamas took over the news cycle

Columbia Journalism Review - February 27, 2015 - 1:50pm
On Thursday, when two escaped llamas in Arizona captivated the internet, the Associated Press was ready. "Two quick-footed llamas dashed in and out of traffic in a Phoenix-area retirement enclave," read the AP's news item, "causing a stir in the streets and on social media." The AP wasn't the only traditional news outlet to lift the llama story out of...

Hero Mom Has the Perfect Response to Son Begging to Join ISIS

Mother Jones - February 27, 2015 - 1:48pm

Everyone of us can relate to having once been a stupid teenager, irrationally whining to our parents about needing to hang out with that group, wear this outfit, etc.

Such is the case of 19-year-old Akhror Saidakhmetov of Brooklyn who had a burning desire to join club ISIS, like all the cool kids seem to be doing these days. But despite having all the gear to prove he was ready to commit to the band, Saidakhmetov's dreams were ultimately crushed by a very adolescent roadblock—his mom. From the Times:

Mr. Juraboev and Mr. Saidakhmetov bought tickets, planning to travel to Turkey and then sneak into Syria, court papers say, and as the date of their departure neared, they seemed eager.

But Mr. Saidakhmetov still needed his passport, and on Feb. 19 he called his mother. In a conversation recorded by federal agents, he asked for it. She asked him where he was going. He said to join the Islamic State.

"If a person has a chance to join the Islamic State and does not go there, on Judgment Day he will be asked why, and it is a sin to live in the land of infidels," he told her, court documents say.

She hung up the phone. It is unclear if he managed to get his passport back. But the government’s informer helped Mr. Saidakhmetov secure travel documents. In the days before he left, he told the informer that he felt that his soul was already on its way to paradise.

Trust us, young Saidakhmetov, you'll thank your mom one day. We already do.

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