Political MoJo

Guns May Soon Be Everywhere in Georgia

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Update April 24, 2014 5:40 p.m. EDT: Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 60 into law on Wednesday. "Our nation's founders put the right to bear arms on par with freedom of speech and freedom of religion," Deal said in a statement. "Georgians cherish their Second Amendment rights, and this law embodies those values." The new regulations—which allow guns to be carried in airports, bars, and K-12 schools, and expand Stand Your Ground protections—will take effect on July 1.

Update March 21, 2014 4:15 p.m. EDT: Last night, in the final minutes of its annual legislative session, the Georgia House passed a bill with the "guns everywhere" bill attached; HB 60 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk for a signature. The state Senate had sent the bill back to the House with a few minor amendments earlier in the week; Among the tweaks was a provision allowing religious leaders to decide whether guns may be carried in their houses of worship; the fine for not respecting those wishes can be no more than $100. Another change permits the use of silencers while hunting on some public land and on private property if the owners approve.

Otherwise, the final bill was largely the same as the one previously passed by the House. A copy of the final bill is not yet available, but according to the list of Senate amendments, changes were not made to sections providing for the expansion of Stand Your Ground. Opponents of the bill say the SYG provisions would allow convicted felons or others using guns illegally to claim a Stand Your Ground defense. 

If Gov. Deal signs the bill, it will go into effect on July 1. "We expect Governor Deal to sign the bill as he has always stated that he will sign any pro 2A [2nd Amendment] bill that reaches his desk," the pro-gun group Georgia Carry stated on its website this morning. Deal has an A rating from the National Rifle Association.

Soon gun owners in the state of Georgia may be allowed to pack heat almost anywhere—including K-12 schools, bars, churches, government buildings, and airports. The "Safe Carry Protection Act" (HB 875) would also expand Georgia's Stand Your Ground statute, the controversial law made famous by the Trayvon Martin killing, which allows armed citizens to defend themselves with deadly force if they believe they are faced with serious physical harm.

The bill could pass as soon as next week, before the current legislative session ends March 20. It is the latest effort in the battle over gun laws that continues to rage in statehouses around the country. It is perhaps also the most extreme yet. "Of all the bills pending right now in state legislatures, this is the most sweeping and most dangerous," Laura Cutiletta, a staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told PolitiFact. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun reform advocacy group founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head, has deemed it the "guns everywhere" bill. For its part, the National Rifle Association recently called HB 875 "the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation introduced in recent state history."

In addition to overturning current state laws and dramatically rolling back concealed-carry restrictions, HB 875 would loosen other gun regulations in the state. The law would:

  • Remove the fingerprinting requirement for gun license renewals
  • Prohibit the state from keeping a gun license database
  • Tighten the state's preemption statute, which restricts local governments from passing gun laws that conflict with state laws
  • Repeal the state licensing requirement for firearms dealers (requiring only a federal firearms license)
  • Expand gun owner rights in a declared state of emergency by prohibiting government authorities from seizing, registering, or otherwise limiting the carrying of guns in any way permitted by law before the emergency was declared
  • Limit the governor's emergency powers by repealing the ability to regulate the sale of firearms during a declared state of emergency
  • Lower the age to obtain a concealed-carry license from 21 to 18 for active-duty military and honorably discharged veterans who've completed basic training
  • Prohibit detaining someone for the sole purpose of checking whether they have a gun license

The sweeping bill would also expand the state's Stand your Ground law into an "absolute" defense for the use of deadly force in self-protection. "Defense of self or others," the bills reads "shall be an absolute defense to any violation under this part." In its current wording, the bill would even allow individuals who possess a gun illegally—convicted felons, for example—to still claim a Stand Your Ground defense.

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In a Radical Shift, California Police Chiefs Push for Regulation of Medical Marijuana

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, but like the pimply-faced stoner dude you may have known in high school, it hasn't had the healthiest of relationships with Mary Jane. The Golden State differs from most others with medical pot laws in that it doesn't actually regulate production and sale of the herb. Instead, it lets cities and counties enact their own laws—though in practice most haven't. The result has been the Wild West of weed: Almost any adult can score a scrip and some bud from a local dispensary, assuming, of course, that it hasn't yet been raided and shut down by the feds. 

But all of that might be about to change. The California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) recently announced support for a bill that would put the state in the business of regulating the medical pot trade. Though you'd think cops would have pushed for such a thing decades ago, the reality is quite the opposite: The CPCA and other law enforcement organizations have, until now, opposed pretty much every reform to California's medical marijuana system for fear that anything short of completely abolishing it would legitimize it.

"With no regulations, you get your doors kicked in."

The CPCA's change of heart "is a huge for us," says Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, the state's marijuana industry trade group. Bradley agrees with his police adversaries that tighter regs would legitimize medical marijuana, which is why the CCIA has pushed for them since the group's inception four years ago. Bolstering his case, the US Department of Justice last year announced that it would no longer raid dispensaries in states that it believes are regulating them adequately—a formulation that seemed to exclude California. New rules issued last month by the Obama administration allow banks to accept funds from pot dealers, but only if they're licensed in the state where they operate.

So why are California's drug warriors reversing course? "We could no longer ignore that the political landscape on this issue was shifting," the CPCA explained in a letter written jointly with the League of California Cities. Polls and changing federal policies suggest that medical pot reform "could be enacted," and that "without our proactive intervention, it could take a form that was severely damaging to our interests."

The bill that law enforcement groups are backing, SB 1262, is flawed, but it's something that "we can work with," says Bradley, who previously worked as a cop in California's Yuba County. Advocates of medical pot don't like how the bill constrains the ability of doctors to recommend marijuana, outlaws potent pot concentrates such as hash oil, and puts regulation in the hands of the Department of Public Health, rather than the Department of Alcoholic Beverages Control.

Sen. Feinstein: The CIA Scandal Began Because the Agency Misled Congress About Torture

| Wed Mar. 12, 2014 5:13 PM EDT

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, kicked off a Washington kerfuffle with significant constitutional implications when she took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to accuse the CIA of spying on her committee's investigation into its controversial interrogation and detention program. As pro-CIA partisans and the agency's overseers on Capitol Hill squared off for a DC turf battle—with finger-pointing in both directions—lost in the hubbub was a basic and troubling fact: Feinstein had contended that this all began because, years ago, the spies of Langley had severely misled the legislators responsible for overseeing the intelligence agencies.

At the start of her speech, Feinstein laid out the back story, and her account is a tale of a major CIA abuse. The CIA's detention and interrogation (a.k.a. torture) program began in 2002. For its first four years, the CIA only told the chairman and vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee about the program, keeping the rest of the panel in the dark. In September 2006, hours before President George W. Bush was to disclose the program to the public, then CIA Director Michael Hayden informed the rest of the committee. This piece of history shows the limits of congressional oversight. If only two members of the committee were informed, it meant that the panel could not provide full oversight of this program. But keeping secrets from legislators—even members of the intelligence committee—is not that unusual, and the story gets worse.

In December 2007, the New York Times reported that the CIA had destroyed two videotapes of the CIA's interrogation (or torture) sessions. After this disclosure, Hayden told the Senate intelligence committee that eradicating the videos was not as worrisome as it seemed. According to Feinstein, he noted that CIA cables had detailed the interrogations and detention conditions and were "a more than adequate representation" of what had happened. He offered Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who was then chairing the committee, the opportunity to review these thousands of cables. Rockefeller dispatched two staffers to peruse these records.

It took the pair about a year to sift through all the material and produce a report for the intelligence committee. That report, Feinstein noted, was "chilling." The review, she said, showed that the "interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us."

That is, the CIA had misled the Capitol Hill watchdogs.

After reading the staff report, Feinstein, now chairing the committee, and Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), then the senior Republican on the committee, decided a far more expansive investigation was called for. On March 5, 2009, the committee voted 14 to 1 to initiate a full-fledged review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program.

It is that inquiry that has caused the recent fuss, with Feinstein claiming that the CIA (possibly illegally) penetrated computers used by committee investigators and removed documents indicating a CIA internal review of this program had concluded it was poorly managed, went too far, and did not produce decent intelligence. The committee's more comprehensive review eventually produced a 6,300-page report slamming CIA that has yet to be made public, despite Feinstein pushing the CIA to declassify it.

So while this week's focus is on whether the CIA improperly—or illegally—spied on the folks who have the constitutional obligation to monitor CIA actions in order to ensure the agency acts appropriately and within US law, Feinstein's big reveal also presented a highly troubling charge: The CIA lied to Congress about what might be its most controversial program in decades. This in and of itself should be big news.

At the conclusion of her speech, Feinstein, referring to the present controversy, said, "How this will be resolved will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation's intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee." That is true. And if there cannot be effective oversight of intelligence operations, then the foundation of the national security state is in question. Yet Feinstein's remarks provide evidence that oversight was not working prior to the current face-off. If the CIA did not tell the Senate intelligence committee the truth about its interrogation and detention program, much more needs to be resolved than whether the spies hacked the gumshoes of Capitol Hill.

Are Russia and Ukraine on the Verge of an All-Out Cyberwar?

| Wed Mar. 12, 2014 12:16 PM EDT

For the past week, reports of physical violence have been rolling out of Ukraine: Russian troops storming a base in Crimea, officers beating journalists, and violent brawls at rallies. But as tensions escalate, another part of the conflict appears to be playing out in a cloudier realm: cyberspace.

On Saturday, Ukraine's top security agency—the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine—announced at a briefing that it had been hit by severe denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, "apparently aimed at hindering a response to the challenges faced by our state." This comes on the heels of a number of alleged hacks involving Russian and Ukrainian targets, including attacks on news outlets and blocking reception to the cellphones of Ukrainian parliament members.

Security experts say the region is currently seeing an unusually high number of DDoS attacks, which aim to shut down networks, usually by overwhelming them with traffic. But many of those seem to be coming from third parties, rather than government entities. In terms of state-sponsored cyberwarfare, "we haven't seen that much," says Dmitri Alperovitch, CTO of CrowdStrike, a California-based cybersecurity firm. Alperovitch adds, though, that his firm has seen a significant amount of cyber-espionage on the part of the Russian intelligence services—including tracking the activities of Putin opponents in both Russia and Ukraine—but he would not disclose names of those being monitored.

Ukraine is situated in a region of the world known for breeding some of the most talented cyber criminals. Several Russian universities offer top-notch hacking training, and a Ukrainian hacker is suspected in December's theft of 40 million credit card numbers from Target. But Ukraine and Russia aren't on equal footing when it comes to their cyberwarfare capabilities. "Russia is a Tier 1 cyber power," says Alperovitch. "Ukraine isn't even in Tier 3." So Russia has a leg up in this arena—and, during past conflicts with former Soviet bloc countries, it has flexed its cyberwarfare muscles. In April 2007, hackers unleashed a wave of cyberattacks on Estonian government agencies, banks, businesses, newspapers, and political parties, following a spat over the removal of a Soviet war memorial in Tallin, the country's capital. (The Kremlin took only partial credit for the crippling three-week attack.) Georgia was targeted with similar attacks in 2008 in the days leading up to its invasion of the secessionist republic of South Ossetia. (Russian involvement was widely suspected.)

Ukraine has yet be targeted with these type of widespread cyberassaults on key infrastructure—but it may not be long. "I anticipate continued escalation," says Jason Healey, director of the Atlantic Council's Cyber Statecraft Initiative and the former White House director of cyber infrastructure protection during the Bush administration. So far, the cyberskirmish is playing out differently than past attacks, Healey says. While the Estonia and Georgia attacks were strictly digital, in Ukraine's case, pro-Moscow forces have also deployed more hands-on attacks on information: "This old-school, Cold War style physical manipulation of equipment. Getting in and physically messing with the switches so Ukrainian civic leaders don't have phone service," Healey says. In Ukraine, these sorts of attacks ​are likely to be a bigger threat, because much of the telecommunications infrastructure was installed by Russians during the Soviet era. "Cyberattacks the way we tend to look at them—denial-of-service attacks, and so forth—you don't have to do those when you've got physical access to the guy's switch!" says Healey.

Here's a run-down of what has transpired so far: 

VIDEO: David Corn on Why the CIA's Fight with Senators Is "All-out War"

Wed Mar. 12, 2014 10:43 AM EDT

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell and Julian Epstein this week about the "unprecedented" allegations of CIA snooping on congressional investigators. Watch here:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 12, 2014

Wed Mar. 12, 2014 10:10 AM EDT

CAMP HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. -- As crew chief Spc. Scott Pauley, Company B, 1-140 Aviation Battalion provides direction, a Soldier with 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry clears out of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, Feb. 8. Soldiers of the 1-184 were sharpening their air assault skills in preparation for annual training 2014. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin M.M. Cossel)

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WATCH: Front-Runner in GOP Senate Primary Says Planned Parenthood Wants to Kill Newborns

| Wed Mar. 12, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

According to North Carolina GOP Senate candidate Greg Brannon, Planned Parenthood has a secret plan to legalize the killing of newborn babies as old as three months. Brannon, a Rand Paul-backed obstetrician who is a front-runner for the GOP nomination, made the allegations at a November fundraiser for Hand of Hope, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers he operates in North Carolina.

Well how far will [it] go? Last year, February 29, 2012, the Journal of Ethics in Australia, they debated that. They said we already know abortion is fine, why stop in the womb? Why not three months after. Why should we end the responsibility at that point? It could happen in America. Florida's trying to do it right now and so is Georgia. Planned Parenthood. Because we allowed that slippery slope. Every human being deserves life, liberty, and property.

Brannon's statement appears to be based on testimony given last year by a lobbyist for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. Asked how the organization's physicians would respond if a baby were born alive during an abortion, the lobbyist appeared confused and said she'd have to check. But in a follow-up statement, Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, unambiguously rejected the notion: "In the extremely unlikely event that the scenario presented by the legislators ever happened, of course Planned Parenthood would provide appropriate care to both the woman and the infant."

"These absurd and patently false claims by Greg Brannon demonstrate just how extreme and out of touch he is when it comes to women's health issues—and the rest of the Republican Senate candidates in North Carolina are just as dangerous," Planned Parenthood Action Fund Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said in a statement. Brannon's campaign did not respond to request for clarification.

In the same speech, Brannon said women get abortions because of the same nihilistic worldview that causes them to believe in evolution. "We have people who believe they evolve from nothing, they came from nothing, they'll go to nothing, and today doesn't matter, so when they have a mistake, why not move on?" he said.

The most recent survey of the race, from Public Policy Polling, showed Brannon tied with Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, for the Republican nomination—and running even with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) in a hypothetical November matchup.

Infamous George Zimmerman Prosecutor Puts Disproportionate Number of Black Men on Death Row

| Tue Mar. 11, 2014 2:35 PM EDT
Florida state attorney Angela Corey

Florida is working hard these days to make itself a case study argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty. In a state that has seen more innocent people exonerated from death row than any other in the country, lawmakers last year passed legislation to try to speed up the pace of executions. Last month, Gov. Rick Scott (R) set a dubious record for presiding over more executions in his first term than any governor since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Meanwhile, the state continues to ignore US Supreme Court rulings banning the execution of the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. Just last week, the state argued before the Supreme Court that it didn’t want to use accepted scientific principles to comply with the court's ban on executing mentally disabled people because that would spare too many death row residents, a move that would be "inconsistent with Florida’s purposes." And now comes the news the state's most notorious prosecutor has not only sent a disproportionate number of felons to death row, but a disproportionate number of African-Americans, once again raising the troubling issue of racial disparities in the state's capital punishment system.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 11, 2014

Tue Mar. 11, 2014 10:09 AM EDT

Sgt. Scott Hulsizer (left), a team leader with second platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, based in Okinawa, Japan, fires an M136 AT-4 rocket launcher after breaking away from the firing line as part of a weapons training package on the Kaneohe Bay Range Training Facility, March 4, 2014. 3rd Recon Bn. fired multiple weapon systems, such as the .50 caliber M2 Browning heavy machine gun, MK-19 automatic grenade launcher and M136 AT-4 rocket launchers, as part of a two day weapons package for Exercise Sandfisher. The weapons package focused on increasing the platoon’s proficiency with each system on the battlefield. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg/Released)

Here Is President Obama's "Between Two Ferns" Interview With Zach Galifianakis

| Tue Mar. 11, 2014 9:02 AM EDT

Tuesday morning, comedy website Funny or Die released an episode of Zach Galifianakis' satirical interview show Between Two Ferns featuring Barack Obama. The 44th president came on to promote the Affordable Care Act. (At the end of the six-and-a-half-minute video, there is a link to Healthcare.gov.)

The whole thing is pretty funny. To be clear, it isn't going to set the world on fire or anything, but there are definitely some amusing bits. ("What is it like to be the last black president?" "Seriously?") Funny or Die has a very good relationship with the Obama administration, which includes creating a recent batch of pro-Obamacare videos, and even pitching the president a sketch idea directly. Galifianakis is himself an Obama supporter.

Here is the whole bit for your viewing pleasure:

 

Or as the White House describes it: