2013 - %3, January

What the Senate Filibuster Deal Does—and Doesn't Do

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 11:33 PM EST
From left: Mitchell McConnell, Jimmy Stewart filibustering in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and Harry Reid.

After more than a week of negotiations, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cut a deal for the  filibuster reform package that sailed through the Senate on Thursday. Unfortunately for fans of real filibuster reform, who expected Reid to win at least some GOP concessions—like a proposal by Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) that would force the minority party to muster at least 41 votes to continue a filibuster, rather than force the majority to find 60 to end it—the final package looked strangely like the minority-friendly one proposed last month by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

The first part of the Reid-McConnell deal, Senate Resolution 15, creates a temporary "standing order" that will expire with the end of the current Congress in 2015. The second part, Senate Resolution 16, is a permanant change. Here's a breakdown on what it accomplishes—and doesn't.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Boy Scouts Threaten to Kick Out Pack For Supporting Gay Members

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 3:57 PM EST
Prayitno, Flickr

Update: Pack 442 took down its non-discrimination statement on Saturday after pressure from the National Capital Area Council, and will keep its charter as a result.  Theresa Phillips, committee chair of Pack 442 tells Mother Jones the pack will continue to welcome gay members and families, even without the statement.  "I asked for my name to removed from the charter because I feel like if gay/lesbian individuals are not worthy of being registered leaders, then I am not either," Phillips says. 

The Boy Scouts council in charge of overseeing scout programs in the Washington, DC-area is threatening to kick out a Maryland pack for posting a statement on its website declaring it won't discriminate against gay scouts. The pack has to decide by tomorrow whether to remove the statement.

In September, the families of Pack 442, which is based in Cloverly, Maryland (a small town less than 20 miles from the nation's capital), anonymously voted and overwhelmingly approved to adopt a non-discrimination statement. According to Theresa Phillips, committee chair of Pack 442, the pack wanted Boy Scouts of America to know "we will not stand for the discrimination of homosexual minors or adults whatsoever." Here's the sentence causing the controversy:

Not long after the statement was posted, the National Capital Area Council (NCAC), one of the bigger local councils of the Boy Scouts of America, asked the pack to strike it from the website. "At first they [said] they would "allow" us to leave it up based on our right to freedom of speech. Now they are doing a 180 and basically asking us to either conform to BSA's discriminatory policy or get out," says Phillips.

Les Baron, CEO and Scout Executive of NCAC, confirms to Mother Jones that if the pack doesn't erase the declaration, "they will not be recognized as an organization, although that's our last resort." That means that the pack will lose access to member insurance, rank badges, and scout camps. The only problem with the statement, Baron acknowledges, is the reference to sexual orientation. "That's a message that's against our policy, and we don't want it continue to be out in our community," Baron says.

In July 2012, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its ban on gay scouts and scoutmasters, and the organization has been losing financial backers as a result. This isn't the first time the organization has threatened to kick out a chartered organization for welcoming gay members. In 2003, scouts in Sebastopol, California, lost their charter for refusing to drop a similar statement. In 2012 in Ottawa Hills, Ohio and Redlands, California, families were forced to choose between accepting gay members and retaining membership.

"To think that the Boy Scouts would rather cast out elementary school children than accept a parent-approved policy allowing gay children and parents to participate is just unconscionable,” Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, tells Mother Jones. “How many young Scouts is the BSA willing to sacrifice in order to preserve its harmful and discriminatory policies? This despicable act of bullying and intimidation is yet another reminder that the BSA is out of touch with its members and the American public at large.”

Baron says that "we're working through our differences with the pack right now." Pack 442's website is hosting an online poll, open to the public but intended for pack families, on whether it should remove the non-discrimination statement. It must decide whether to apply for membership by January 26, so it is closing the poll at 8 PM on Friday. Phillips says the pack has not determined yet whether it will take it down, and is waiting for the poll to determine "how families feel on this matter." According to Pack 442's website, if they do decide to remove it, they plan to return to a "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.

"Clearly the Council's threat reflects a fear that Boy Scouts of America will crack down on NCAC, which has a lot on the line," says Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbian mothers, and founder of Scouts for Equality. "It's unfortunate and disappointing that they're bowing to this pressure instead of opposing the ban and being brave, as Scouts swear to do every time they recite the Scout Law."

Correction: An earlier version of this post used the terms "troops" and "packs" interchangeably. Packs are only used to describe units of the Cub Scouts, BSA's program for boys aged 7 to 10

GOP Judges' Ruling Could Blow Up Obama's Consumer Watchdog

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 3:41 PM EST

On Friday, a federal appeals court ruled that President Barack Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, which regulates and oversees labor disputes, were unconstitutional. The Constitution allows the president to make temporary appointments, called recess appointments, while the Senate is on break—or recess, in DC terms. Obama did make the NRLB appointments while the Senate was on vacation. But Senate Republicans claimed that the Senate was technically still in session over their vacation because they were holding brief, minutes-long meetings over the course of the break. The three judges on the panel—all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents—agreed with the challengers. Now all the decisions Obama's NLRB appointees made since they joined the board are at risk of being invalidated.

The court's decision doesn't just affect labor law: it could also have an impact on the White House's broader economic agenda. The sweeping ruling throws into question the future of regulatory decisions made by one of the administration's most aggressive agencies, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Richard Cordray, the CFBP's director, was appointed at the same time and in the same manner as the three labor board members. That means the appeals court's ruling could put the enforceability of his decisions in question, too. Since Cordray's appointment, the CFPB has set rules preventing mortgage lenders from lying to borrowers about rates, fined credit card companies for violating consumer protection laws, and forced debt-relief services to refund illegal fees they charged to their cash strapped clients.

In other words, the Bureau has done what liberals hoped and Republicans feared: Prevented companies from gouging consumers with the kind of unscrupulous business practices that caused a nationwide economic meltdown four years ago. Although Cordray's appointment is being challenged separately, Friday's ruling gives companies impacted by the CFPB's decisions an opening to argue that some of the CFPB's actions should be invalidated. Cordray has been renominated as the CFPB's director, but Republicans could easily filibuster him again.

Last January, when Senate Republicans held their brief vacation sessions, there was little pretense that it was anything more than an obstructionist gimmick: Rep. Dianne Black (R-Tenn.) complained that Obama only put forth the names of his appointments "two days before the Senate recessed for the holiday." That would be the same recess that the Senate—and now the DC Circuit Court—has said technically didn't happen. Democrats have tried similar vacation meetings, which are called pro-forma sessions, in the past. But as with the filibuster, Republicans have perfected the practice.

Obama only turned to recess appointments because Republican obstructionism was blocking major government agencies from doing their jobs. The NLRB had no power to make decisions absent at least three of the five members of the board, and the CFPB's regulatory authority was similarly hampered by the absence of a director. As my colleague Kevin Drum noted at the time, this was nothing less than the Republicans nullifying a duly-passed financial regulatory law they didn't like.

Friday's ruling takes the sweeping view that recess appointments made during Senate breaks, like vacations, are unconstitutional. The court found that the recess appointment power can only be used during breaks between Senate sessions—and those only happen once a year, usually over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. It also holds that the president can only make recess appointments for positions that become open during a recess—as opposed to ones that already were open. The court's position would invalidate the vast majority of recess appointments made by Republican and Democratic presidents over the course of the last century, including that of John Bolton, George W. Bush's ambassador to the United Nations.

"That is really a radical position to take," says Caroline Fredrickson, president of the liberal American Constitution Society. "A president could be prevented from having any of his nominees confirmed." Fredrickson says she expects the administration to ask the Supreme Court to take up the case as soon as possible. 

Here's the best part: If the decision holds, then Senate Republicans just acquired even more power to block presidential appointments than they already had. Good thing the Democrats decided to cave almost entirely on filibuster reform just a day earlier.

Friday Cat Blogging - 25 January 2013

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 3:31 PM EST

No quilt today! We have a lot of quilts around our house, but we don't actually have 52 of them, so there were always bound to be some missed weeks in this year of quiltblogging. These missed weeks will appear randomly, mostly depending on whether I have an alternate catblogging photo that I want to put up. This week I do: a rare action shot of Domino jumping down off the fence after a morning stroll. She jumped down onto a pile of chairs covered by a tarp, and then sort of slid down the tarp until she got to the edge and fell the rest of the way to the ground. Nothing was hurt except her dignity. It would have made for good video if I'd been quick enough on the shutter finger to think of it. I wasn't, though, so you'll just have to use your imaginations.

Not Everyone is Living Longer

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 3:21 PM EST

On the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, Donald Boudreaux and Mark Perry argue that the middle class is doing better than we liberals think. They haul out all of the usual arguments, some of which are valid (you need to count healthcare benefits as part of income) and some of which aren't (the average is being pulled down by immigrants). But then there's this:

No single measure of well-being is more informative or important than life expectancy. Happily, an American born today can expect to live approximately 79 years—a full five years longer than in 1980 and more than a decade longer than in 1950. These longer life spans aren't just enjoyed by "privileged" Americans.

Harold Meyerson is agog: "Clearly, they missed the recent study in Health Affairs which found that the life expectancy of white working class men fell by three years from 1990 to 2008, and that of white working class women by five years." This is actually the figure for high school dropouts, not the entire working class. At the other extreme of the educational spectrum, whites with more than a college degree, life expectancies have risen by five years for men and three years for women.

The chart on the right shows the difference, with men in light colors and women in darker colors. Longer life spans, it turns out, really do depend on just how privileged you are.

NASA's Alarming Map of the Worst Australian Heat Wave on Record

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 3:14 PM EST

This story first appeared in The Atlantic Cities and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Although temperatures around the country have receded this week, many Australians no doubt are still having fever dreams of their country's recent skull-boiling weather. The past four months have been the hottest ever recorded on the continent, with a new countrywide high temperature on January 7 busting the mercury bulb at 104.6 Fahrenheit. (It wasn't much better that night, with A/C units struggling to compensate for 90.3-degree heat.)

But how far and wide did this steamy bulk of hotness spread? The folks over at NASA have revealed the answer in the form of a heat map, and it looks like this was truly a monster-sized "persistent and widespread heatwave event," as the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has dubbed it. Here it is, the surface-temperature anomalies for January 1 through 8 as observed by satellite:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

"Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" in 3D: Diabetes, Witches, Kung-Fu Witches, and Sex With Witches

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 2:54 PM EST

#YOLO.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
Paramount Pictures
88 minutes

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters—a new action film presented in IMAX 3D that is very loosely based on the famous German fairy tale—delivers surprisingly profound commentary on the epidemic of diabetes.

Hansel, played by Oscar-nominated actor Jeremy Renner, is now a full-grown adult who tortures and mass-murders sadistic Wiccans for money and justice in the 19th century. At one point early in the movie, he sits down to chat with an attractive young village woman. Suddenly, he rips a stout syringe out of his pocket and plunges it into his skin. The witch-killing protagonist informs the villager that when he was a child a witch force-fed him vast quantities of evil candy. Because of this, he has to take these injections every day, or he will die on the spot.

The word "diabetes" isn't ever mentioned. But it's still a helpful reminder from Hansel and Gretel about the dangers of consuming too much sugar.

Anyway, the rest of the film (directed by Nazi zombies auteur Tommy Wirkola and co-produced by Will Ferrell) involves a lot of witches doing kung fu and eating small children from the village. If you enjoy watching witches doing kung fu in 3D, then this movie is for you. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to see Hansel have sex with a blonde witch in a tranquil meadow, then this movie is for you. If you've ever longed to see a grown-up Gretel (played by Gemma Arterton, a.k.a. the Bolivia-dwelling MI6 agent "Strawberry Fields" in the James Bond series) karate chop witches, wield a crossbow, and threaten to blow a corrupt sheriff's brains out "all over these hillbillies," then this movie is for you. If you have ever desired to watch Famke Janssen portray Bloodlusting Witch Hitler, then this movie is for you. And if you have ever yearned to watch a mass of ugly witches get mowed down with a Gatling gun and a shovel, then, by god, this movie is for you.

Here's the trailer, in the language the story was meant to be told:

ALSO: This is a good time to remind you that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is also a thing. It too was in 3D.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters gets a wide release on Friday, January 25. The film is rated R for being so powerfully awesome that the human mind almost reels. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To listen to the weekly movie and pop-culture podcast that Asawin co-hosts with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.

The Assault Weapons Ban Just Doesn't Have the Votes

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 2:53 PM EST

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) new assault weapons ban legislation has many features the original 1994 law lacked—most notably, it closes loopholes that allowed manufacturers to produce de-facto assault weapons, and it eliminates the sunset provision, meaning the new version wouldn't expire after 10 years as the first one did. But according to Bloomberg, AWB 2.0 is missing one key thing that the original had—votes:

A proposed ban on sales of assault weapons would be defeated in the U.S. Senate today unless some members changed their current views, based on a Bloomberg review of recent lawmaker statements and interviews.

At least six of the chamber’s 55 Democrats have recently expressed skepticism or outright opposition to a ban, the review found. That means Democrats don’t have a simple 51-vote majority to pass the measure, let alone the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster to bring it to a floor vote.

...The five Democratic senators from traditionally pro-gun states who've recently expressed skepticism about the bill are Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who is caucusing with Democrats, also said he opposes a ban.

This isn't exactly surprising. On Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) predicted the ban wouldn't even come up for a vote. For gun control advocates, the question going forward may be just how much capital they want to invest in what's looking like an uphill battle—especially given the uncertain effects of the initial ban.

Quote of the Day: Being Outvoted is Unfair and Demoralizing

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 2:10 PM EST

From Virginia state senator Bill Carrico, explaining why rural voters are unhappy with Virginia's current method of simply counting up the votes statewide in presidential elections:

The last election, constituents were concerned that it didn't matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them.

Ah, yes. All of Virginia's "more densely populated areas" are outvoting them. I wonder who they could possibly be talking about? That's a real chin scratcher.

And while we're on the subject, here's a bonus quote from Michigan representative Pete Lund, explaining why his Electoral College vote-rigging scheme is gaining support this year but didn't in 2012:

It got no traction last year. There were people convinced Romney was going to win and this might take (electoral) votes from him.

Points for honesty, I guess, but not for IQ. Didn't anyone tell Lund that you're supposed to pretend there's nothing partisan about all these bills, just an honest attempt to represent the will of the people more fairly?

Gristedes Tycoon John Catsimatidis Launching New York Mayoral Bid Next Week

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 2:04 PM EST
John Catsimatidis, center, the billionaire businessman and soon-to-be New York mayoral candidate/

John Catsimatidis, the controversial billionaire Republican whose business empire includes real estate, an oil refining company, and the Gristedes supermarket chain, is running for mayor of New York City this year. For real. He told me Friday morning that he plans to officially announce his candidacy at a press conference on Tuesday.

Catsimatidis flirted with entering the 2009 mayoral race, going so far as to hire staffers and set up an exploratory committee. But he never jumped in,  and Michael Bloomberg went on to narrowly defeat city comptroller Bill Thompson. (Bloomberg is term-limited and cannot run again.) Late last year, Catsimatidis started a campaign account for the 2013 race and talked publicly of exploring options, sparking speculation that he would again flash some leg before ultimately retreating. 

But Catsimatidis now insists he's all in. "I'm running," he declares. His potential competitors in the GOP primary include Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joe Lhota, Bronx Borough President (and ex-Democrat) Adolfo Carrion Jr., and newspaper publisher Tom Allon, who switched from Democratic to Republican for this election. Should he win the Republican contest, Catsimatidis could face Democrats City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, city comptroller John Liu, or New York public advocate Bill de Blasio in the November general election. 

Catsimatidis, like Allon, used to identify as a Democrat. In the 1990s, he raised huge anounts of money for President Bill Clinton's reelection campaign. But he jumped to the Republican Party in 2007 because, he explained at the time, doing so gave him clearer path to the general election, with several prominent Democrats rumored to be running. Since then, Catsimatidis has stuck with the GOP and blasted Barack Obama as an inexperienced, ineffective, anti-business president. In December, he drew a comparison between singling out wealthy Americans for tax increases and the Holocaust. "We can't punish any one group and chase them away," he asserted on a local teelvision show. "We—I mean, Hitler punished the Jews. We can’t have punishing the 2-percent group right now." (He subsequently backed away from the Hitler analogy, adding, "I think the rich should pay more in taxes, I agree with that 100 percent, but everybody should feel the pain a little bit.")

Catsimatidis, not surprisingly, backed Mitt Romney in 2012, raising millions in campaign cash in the New York area for the Romney-Ryan ticket. (He still attends fundraisers for Democrats, he says.)

This Sunday, Catsimatidis is hosting a fundraiser for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at his apartment. Castsimatidis notes that this is his way of thanking McConnell for not impeding the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill that passed the Senate in December. Asked why he is fundraising for McConnell, who voted against the first Sandy relief bill, Catsimatidis says the Kentucky senator could've done much to kill the bill, but elected not to do so. "What should I do instead? Kick sand at McConnell [for voting against the measure]?" he asks. "No, I say thank you."