Mojo - January 2010

Gun Laws and Stupidity

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 6:35 AM EST

Flickr/Editor B, dbking (Creative Commons).Flickr/Editor B and dbking (Creative Commons).The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence put out a press release last week arguing that if Gilbert Arenas, who plays for the Washington Wizards NBA team, did in fact bring guns in to the Verizon Center, well, then he should be "punished to the full extent of the law, including jail time if appropriate."

Normally it would be uncontroversial to suggest that people who are convicted of breaking the law should be punished. But it's not always so clear-cut. Many conservatives see gun restrictions in much the same way that some liberals and libertarians see federal marijuana bans: unjust laws that don't need to be obeyed. (I'm not passing judgment on the relative merits of gun control and the drug war, just saying they incite similar political reactions.)

A few weeks ago I reported on Joshua Bowman, who was arrested near the Capitol during President Barack Obama's health care speech in September after cops found hunting guns in his car trunk. Bowman is a pretty committed Republican, was a career employee in the Bush White House, and was on his way to hang out with a bunch of congressional Republicans at the Republican Club when he was arrested. The facts of the case suggest that Bowman probably wasn't intending to harm anyone when he brought his guns to DC. Bowman lives in Virginia and forgot the guns were in his trunk when he consented to a search, his lawyer told me.

Basically, Bowman just made a stupid mistake—he didn't take the law seriously enough to think about the potential consequences of driving around Capitol Hill during a high-security speech with guns in his car. Some might accuse Arenas (or NFLer Plaxico Burress, who accidentally shot himself with an unregistered handgun and is now in jail) of similar recklessness.

I suspect the same thing is at play with folks who blatantly violate marijuana laws. It takes a truly stupid (and foolish) pothead to get arrested for smoking pot at a police softball game. I sympathize with the idea that some laws are unjust and can be morally disobeyed. But bringing your guns to Capitol Hill, or to the Verizon Center, for that matter, is like getting high in the police station parking lot. It's just dumb.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 12, 2010

Tue Jan. 12, 2010 6:33 AM EST

US Soldiers head home after using every available ray of daylight to train on Fort Bliss, Ruidoso, NM, Dec. 22, 2009. The Soldiers are assigned to the B Detachment, 4th Financial Management Company, 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. (US Army photo by Daniela Vestal)

Need To Read: January 12, 2010

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 6:30 AM EST

The must reads from around the web and in today's papers:

Get more stuff like this: Follow Mother Jones on Twitter! You can check out what we are tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

 

Prop 8 Lawyer Acting All "Pro-Children"

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 6:49 PM EST

Everyone seems to be appealing to emotion at the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial in San Francisco today, and that includes Charles Cooper, the attorney who is defending Prop. 8. (Read a profile of the little rascal here. And note: I’ve been following updates on the case from Dan Levine, a legal reporter, who is live-tweeting the action. The American Foundation for Equal Rights is also providing Twitter coverage.)

As Cooper began making his case to Judge Vaughn Walker, he said marriage between a man and a woman "is a pro-child societal institution," the meaning of which is beyond me, other than that, yes, a man and a woman can produce offspring. (They can do this whether or not they’re married, incidentally, and sometimes they even do it on accident!) And after opposite-sex married folk have children, they can also occasionally be seen leaving them unsupervised in hot cars while shopping at Wal-Mart and pretending they floated away in a helium balloon.

This case isn’t even about children, but apparently Cooper needs to be reminded that if a gay couple did had kids, they would be subject to the same child-protection laws as their not-always pro-child straight counterparts. The institution of marriage itself does not look after children. The laws protecting children do, and Cooper looks ridiculous trying to make the case for marriage as some sort of self-regulating, pro-child wonderland. It all just smacks of hateful harpy Anita Bryant circa 1977, who famously screeched, "Please remember, homosexuals don't reproduce! They recruit! And they are out after my children and your children." (A gay rights activist later threw a banana cream pie in her face.)

Anyway, Cooper, back to you: For the children, you say? Give me a break! Leave the kids at home. This is a case about adults. But if you insist upon making it about children, what about all the kids of gays and lesbians out there who wish they could say their parents were married?

 

Et Tu, California?

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 6:19 PM EST

A Republican from Alaska and a coal-state Democrat are fairly obvious obstacles to EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. But California?

The California Energy Commission last month sent a letter to the EPA asking it to slow down on implementation of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, after the agency announced that it had finalized its finding that greenhouse gases do in fact pose a threat to public health. The CEC argues that phasing them in too fast could hurt efforts in the state to expand use of low-carbon energy.

"We believe such an approach would avoid the disruptive effect of the current EPA proposal," wrote the CEC in the Dec. 23 letter, noting that the commission thinks the EPA rules would "likely retard, rather than facilitate, reductions in (greenhouse gas emissions) from the electricity sector."

California passed its own climate law, AB32, in 2006. The CEC argues that the introduction of new regulations from the EPA would tie up the state's efforts to reduce carbon, because EPA regulations operate differently from a cap and reduction program like theirs, which is more similar to the type of proposal being considered in Congress. As Reuters explains:

As part of California's plan to build more wind and solar power farms, which generate power sporadically, it would construct a fleet of highly efficient natural gas-fired power plants to back those systems.
The new rules could slow down the permitting process of those new natural gas plants, and, in turn, the build out of renewable energy, the letter said. It would also increase reliance on older, less efficient natural gas plants that are not designed to work with renewable energy.

This seems like a justifiable complaint from California, but it does ignore the fact that the rest of the country is not (much as some might like it to be) California. Most states are still reliant on dirty, aging coal plants with no concrete plan in place for transitioning away, thus the push for EPA regulations.

Watch: DC's Stockholm Syndrome

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 3:01 PM EST

We've getting emails all weeekend from friends, family, MoJo readers, and random strangers about David Corn and Kevin Drum's turn on Bill Moyers' Journal. It was really an astonishingly good show, and well worth watching in the context of... just about everything happening in Washington right now. Take your pick: Today, there's a kerfuffle about the shadow of the possibility of a financial transaction fee, a tiny amount the government could collect from banks to get a little something back for taxpayers--or, more to the point, for our children, who will be paying for the deficit we ran up for the bailout. (Yes, some banks are repaying TARP money, but do you know just how tiny fraction of the total bailout that is? Our handy chart, along with lots more data geekery on shameless bonuses and such, is here. The "Too Big to Jail" package that inspired Moyers to ask Kevin and David to come on is here.) As with every other proposal to make Big Finance bear any part of the burden for the disaster it has caused, this won't fly unless politicians feel they have more to lose from satisfying Wall Street than they do from offending it. So watch the show and forward it to your friends. It's as informative as it is outrage-building—and on this topic, we could use more information and more outrage

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Why Blumenthal > Dodd

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 2:52 PM EST

Flickr/kellynigro (Creative Commons).Richard Blumenthal | Flickr/kellynigro (Creative Commons).Ezra Klein says I'm wrong to argue that Richard Blumenthal stands a good chance of eventually becoming a better senator than Chris Dodd:

Legislating isn't just a question of purity and ideas. It is, at least in large part, a question of being good at the work of legislating: knowing parliamentary procedure, understanding the legislative process, sensing where your leverage is on a bill, building long relationships with other lawmakers so they'll be open to your interventions, etc, etc. Dodd, as one of the longer-serving members of the body, was also among the best at that work: There's a reason Ted Kennedy asked him to quarterback the HELP Committee's health reform bill after Kennedy fell ill. And there's a reason Dodd managed to pass it quickly and smoothly out of his committee.

Blumenthal might be less compromised than Dodd, but it will be a long time before he's got Dodd's legislative chops. And that's not a criticism of Blumenthal: He's been getting very good at being attorney general during the years when Dodd was getting very good at being senator. We tend to think about elections in terms of candidates rather than jobs, but in every other sphere of life, we tend to think of candidates in terms of the jobs they'll be filling, and that's probably the better way to do it.

Dodd may be a great "quarterback," but I suspect the Health committee's political makeup (more liberal and fewer conservative Democrats than the Finance committee) was far more important to getting the bill passed quickly. Moreover, there are plenty of senators who are great at understanding the legislative process and sensing where their leverage is on a bill. Not all of them use that leverage for good. Joe Lieberman, who was able to demand the removal of the public option from the health care bill, is one such senator. Point being that liberals don't simply need senators who understand process. They need senators who understand process and use that understanding to advance liberal goals. You don't want senators who are effective at doing bad things. The problem is that on the issue he has the most power over—financial reform—Chris Dodd has a problematic record.

Since Dodd has a long record of fighting for liberal causes on a lot of issues, liberals have been quick to defend his ties to Wall Street. That's too bad, because it obscures the fact that there's a real difference between Dodd, a five-term senator with clear ties to and dependence on the financial sector and Blumenthal, who made a living suing companies like Countrywide.

The reason that state attorneys general like Blumenthal had to do so much litigating against financial companies in recent years was because Washington wasn't protecting consumers, the Fed wasn't doing its job (it's empowered to protect consumers, it just didn't), and someone had to step up. This was not just Republicans' fault, either. It wasn't just Phil Gramm who was working to deregulate the financial sector in the 1990s and 2000s. Many Democrats, including Dodd, acquiesced to or often joined the bipartisan effort to curtail investor lawsuits, abolish Depression-era banking regulations, and keep derivatives unregulated. (Perhaps bipartisan complicity in the deregulatory orgy of the past two decades is one reason why no one's really been held accountable for it.) Maybe Blumenthal would have done the same thing if he had been in Dodd's place in the '90s. But his real-world record suggests otherwise.

Sure, people can change. Maybe the Great Recession taught Dodd a lesson—some of his current reform proposals suggest he may have altered his Big Finance uber alles ways. (It will be interesting to see what happens to the more populist proposals now that Dodd doesn't have to worry about getting reelected.) As I said above, Dodd has a long record of good works in many areas—the Family Medical Leave Act comes immediately to mind. But on financial regulation, there's no way a pro-regulation liberal can prefer Dodd to Blumenthal. Financial regulation is one of the most important issues of our time. The past few years have shown us exactly the kind of damage an underregulated or poorly regulated banking sector can cause. All the root causes of the crisis are still in place. So it's really important that politicians get this right. Chris Dodd was wrong on it—early and often.

Coal State Dem Moves to Block EPA From Regulating Carbon

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 2:44 PM EST

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. But on Friday night, coal-friendly North Dakota Democrat Rep. Earl Pomeroy introduced a new bill that would block the agency from doing so. This isn't the first congressional attempt to prevent the EPA from doing its job: Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is working on similar legislation in the Senate.
But Pomeroy's move is the first such ploy from a Democrat—and the wording of his measure is far more sweeping. While Murkowski has sought merely to delay EPA action by a year and cut off funds that would be used to regulate emissions, Pomeroy's bill would amend the Clean Air Act to exclude greenhouse gases altogether—a wholesale revision of the primary law governing air pollution in the United States.
 
 

Harry Reid and "Negro Dialect"

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 1:19 PM EST

Amazon.Amazon.Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is getting slammed for this, from John Heileman and Mark Halperin's gossipy book on the 2008 campaign, Game Change:

[Reid] was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama—a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he said privately.

Reid apologized for the "poor choice of words," and President Obama accepted the apology, but Republicans are still demanding that Reid resign. Kevin says "This whole thing is ridiculous" and Reid "didn't say anything offensive anyway," and points readers to Mark Kleinman's excellent post defending Reid. Conservative columnist George Will also thinks Reid didn't say anything wrong. Ezra Klein says he's "trying really hard to understand why Harry Reid's comments about Barack Obama's electability were offensive." As Kevin said, the feigned outrage from congressional Republicans is fairly predictable—anything that damages Reid tends to help Mitch McConnell's guys. But it's definitely worth taking a long look at some of the criticism of Reid's from people who don't have so much to gain from damaging Reid politically. Jack and Jill Politics' rikyrah, for example, says "this is the kind of mess that just angers me":

There were whole swaths of Black folk who were educated BEFORE the Civil Rights Movement.

W-T-F is NEGRO DIALECT?

NEGRO DIALECT?

Do you honestly believe that Black people walk around talking Ebonics? That you aren’t talking about a SUBSET of people?

That the overwhelming majority of BLACK people with BLACK parents IN AMERICA were raised speaking the ‘ King’s English’, and that we were liable to get hurt if we didn’t.

This was an insult by Reid, but guess what, it’s not an insult that any other EDUCATED BLACK PERSON hasn’t heard in their lifetime.

The whole, they know you went to college and graduate/professional school, but will utter the words – to your face-

‘ you speak so well.’

Matt Yglesias' take on this—that's it really sort of impossible to apologize for being the kind of person who would use the phrase "Negro dialect" or the kind of person who would be surprised that Obama "speaks well"—is also worth a read. What do you guys think?

Terrorism and the Reason Why

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 7:11 AM EST

Kudos to Helen Thomas, that 89-year-old front-row mainstay of the Washington press corps. At President Obama's press briefing this past week with counterterrorism official John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, which I'd mostly avoided figuring it to be an hour's worth of canned statements and only revisited Sunday, I completely missed an important—and painfully telling—question Thomas posed to Brennan and Napolitano. A question that in my estimation revealed more about the Obama administration than the rest of the 40-minute briefing.

What Thomas asked, in essence, was this: Why do terrorists like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hate and attack us? What causes them to want to do such a thing? Napolitano dodged the question entirely, but Thomas pressed on: 

Thomas: What is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.

Brennan: Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. What they have done over the past decade and half, two decades, is to attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he's able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.

HT: And you're saying it's because of religion?

JB: I'm saying it's because of an al Qaeda organization that uses the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.

HT: Why?

JB: I think this is a—this is a long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.

HT: But you haven't explained why.

At that point Thomas was cut off, the briefing moved on, and her prodding was left behind.