2013 - %3, January

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Boy Scouts Threaten to Kick Out Pack For Supporting Gay Members

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 1:57 PM PST
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

Friday Cat Blogging - 25 January 2013

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 1:31 PM PST

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 1:21 PM PST

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.

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

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 12:54 PM PST

#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 12:53 PM PST

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 12:10 PM PST

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 12:04 PM PST
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."