After leading the Senate's unsuccessful push for background check legislation, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has a new target: "Wiki Weapons." At his usual Sunday press conference, Schumer announced his support for legislation that would criminalize the production of firearms made from 3-D printers (which can replicate or "print" plastic objects using digital files).
The bill was introduced in April by Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) in response to the boasts of University of Texas law student Cody Wilson, who last fall launched a company called Defense Distributed to manufacture the plastic guns. On Monday, Wilson unveiled the first fully-operational prototype, a handgun he calls "the Liberator." The file has already been downloaded 50,000 times.
But there's a problem with Schumer's pitch: The legislation in question would not stop the guns from being made. Israel's bill is mostly a reauthorization of the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which was originally written to combat the anticipated onslaught of fully plastic Glocks. (It was an onslaught, Bloomberg Businessweek's Paul Barrett explained, that never really materialized.) It's not especially controversial, and part of the reason is that it doesn't take many significant steps to stop 3-D-printed weapons from being printed.
A protestor stands outside the Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlor in Worcester, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev's body is being held.
On Monday, Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy announced he would not grant a permit for the burial of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, citing his authority as "chief conservator of the peace within the city." Instead, Healy argued, federal authorities should arrange the disposal of the body—preferably somewhere far away.
The response was mixed. The protesters who have gathered outside the funeral home where the body is being kept were no doubt encouraged. Gov. Deval Patrick called the burial a "family issue." The family, for its part, had not even formally sought a burial permit in Cambridge. Tamerlan's mother wants his body returned to Russia; his uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, wants the body to remain in the Boston area where he spent the last decade of his life.
Cambridge's fight over the resting place of the older Tsarnaev brother is complicated by the fact that the remains of a Muslim cannot be cremated. "This is very unusual circumstances that make it really complicated and hard to think of another historical parallel," said Gary Laderman, a professor at Emory University.
In March, shortly after President Barack Obama signed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act into law, the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women sent an email to the hundreds of nonprofits and government agencies around the country that rely on its annual grants. The message was grim: Due to cuts mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, better known as sequestration, programs that fight domestic violence and sexual assault would see a $20 million drop in funding over the next year. It was Washington at its most inept: Almost immediately after renewing VAWA, a popular law intended to help victims of abuse, Congress had stunted its own efforts, leaving already cash-strapped programs looking for ways to scrape by.
In the months since sequestration kicked in, Congress acted swiftly to restore funding for tuition aid for active-duty service members and prevent unpopular furloughs at the Federal Aviation Administration. But lawmakers have shown little interest in restoring funding to programs that deal with domestic violence and sexual assault.
"The tower is understaffed and the rescue plane can't land," says Kim Gandy, president and CEO National Network to End Domestic Violence. "We're talking about really vital services to people who are already in a terrible situation and really in need of emergency services—and there aren't alternatives."
Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz might run for president. That's been apparent for a while, but it was confirmed most recently on Wednesday, when the National Review's Bob Costa cited Cruz confidantes who believe their guy could be "a Barry Goldwater type...but with better electoral results." The case for Cruz, according to Cruz, is that he is uniquely positioned to capture the kind of grassroots conservative activists who propelled him to victory in his 2012 Senate primary.
If nothing else, Cruz seems determined to hold onto those right-wing supporters. That might explain why, last week, he and and eight other Republican senators signed onto a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opposing the Common Core curriculum standards, which the Department of Education has been encouraging states to adopt. As I reported last month, Common Core has attracted criticism from all sides of the education debate, and for a variety of reasons. Some advocates decry the lack of flexibility it affords local school districts. Others, like Diane Ravitch, think it's a great idea but should be purely voluntary. And still others, specifically grassroots conservative activists, believe it is nothing less than back-door brainwashing—part of a global push to indoctrinate kids into a socialist worldview. That's the Glenn Beck view, anyway.
Cruz's letter is comparatively tame. Put simply: He wants the Department of Education to back off. But it's a move that's sure to please the conservative base in the weeks and months ahead. Here's the letter:
Meanwhile, here's a letter from Tuesday signed by 34 Republican congressmen, including Rand Paul acolytes Justin Amash (Mich.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.):
"It's outrageous!" thunders the recently retired 10-term Republican congressman from Maryland. "It's outrageous!"
The source of his ire is a stack of newspaper clippings about 20 feet away from where he's standing in the wood-paneled ballroom of National Press Club in downtown DC. For the last three days, Bartlett and five other retired members of Congress have been holding hearings on the "truth embargo"—that is, the government's decades-long silence on unidentified flying objects. Next to the empty bottle of Honest Tea orange–mango Honest Ade, which he has been drinking out of a wine glass, Bartlett has a pile of stories from mainstream news sources that have dismissed the privately organized hearings. On top is a New York Daily News story featuring a photo of a woman with a headband featuring a "third eye" that, she maintains, allows her to contact beings in other dimensions. (It includes this caption: "Ex-Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (center) and ex-Sen. Mike Gravel (right) listen to testimony without cracking a smile.")
The hearings are being sponsored by the Paradigm Research Group, the nation's only organization dedicated to lobbying Washington on UFO disclosure. Its president, Stephen Bassett, is a full-time lobbyist on this front.
(MoJo readers might remember Bassett for his theory that alien technology recovered at Roswell holds the secret to stopping climate change, and for his endorsement of the Exopolitics Institute, which contends that the Iraq War was a ruse to recover an ancient interstellar portal that had been buried in Mesopotamia.)
In addition to Bartlett, Bassett recruited former Reps. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.), Merrill Cook (R-Utah), and ex-Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) to come to DC to hear testimony about aliens.
Bassett doesn't have much influence in Congress, but his organization apparently does have some money. The former members will receive $20,000 apiece for five days work.
"It helped," Woolsey says, of the honorarium. "It was nice, and I think…let's put it that way." As she puts maintains, it's standard operating procedure for retired politicians to make money on the speaking circuit; learning about UFOs is kind of like getting paid to speak to a trade association. Cook says the money was a big part of Bassett's pitch, but it's not why he's here. "Even though the fee was offered up first thing, that still didn't convince me," the barrel-chested former talk radio host says. "It really didn't." Kilpatrick called the honorarium "minuscule," adding, "And I'm appalled that someone would even raise that." Bartlett is likewise appalled that anyone would associate his participation in the hearings with the appearance fee. "It's an insult to infer that that's why I'm here." Hooley insists she's actually losing money by taking a week off from her consulting firm.