Mojo - April 2010

Texas Capitol Building Screens for Handguns, Then Welcomes Them Inside

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 2:03 PM EDT

Texas allows its citizens to pack heat just about anywhere, including inside bars*, shopping malls, and state administrative buildings. Sometimes this can be kind of scary. In January, an angry man carried a handgun into the office of a senator in the state's Capitol and then fired off five shots outside. So the Capitol building is installing metal detectors and X-ray machines that can detect firearms.  Not that bringing a gun inside has become illegal. This is Texas, after all. If a security guard finds your Colt .45, Glock, or Smith & Wesson, he'll just hand it back to you and welcome you inside.

"This is not going to make the Capitol a gun-free zone--no way," Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson told the Austin Chronicle. Under Texas law, anybody can still carry a rifle or shotgun into the Capitol as long as it's done in an open and non-threatning way. And people who have concealed handgun permits--getting one requires only a social security number, a quick background check, and a safety class--need only flash their permits and walk on through.  "The [Department of Public Safety] cannot prohibit firearms in the Capitol if they are carried lawfully," said Patterson, who is the author of the state's 15-year-old concealed handgun law. "The legislature would have to change the law to prohibit them and they're not going to do that."

So are the metal detectors and X-ray machines a complete waste of money? Probably not. They just need to be used more creatively. They could help security guards identify which honest-looking citizens don't yet have concealed handguns, and then give those folks loaner weapons for use in defense of the Capitol. Because as Patterson points out: "The more honest, responsible people with firearms, the safer Texas is."

After the jump, Patterson defends the law on video, and demonstrates his pistol's boot-holster. . .

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The Business of America Is Kleptocracy

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 12:30 PM EDT

It's hard to miss these days. The headlines tell the story—repetitively. Everyone, it seems, is on the take. The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Goldman Sachs with securities fraud for creating and selling "a mortgage investment that was secretly intended to fail"—and then betting against its own customers. JPMorgan Chase which, in a pinch in 2008, happily took taxpayer dough, just reported $3.3 billion in profits for the first quarter of 2010, a jump of 55% over the previous quarter. The bank set aside $9.3 billion in what's called "compensation and benefits" for its employees in 2009.

Even when they lose, they win. According to James Kwak of the Baseline Scenario website, on a deal in which JPMorgan swallowed $880 million in losses, its bankers still managed to walk awaywith up to $10 million in compensation. As he wrote, "JPMorgan's bankers did just fine, despite having placed a ticking time bomb on their own bank's balance sheet." Meanwhile, Robert Rubin, who helped create the world that led to the 2008 financial meltdown as Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, then took a top position at Citibank and made more than $100 million before it tanked on his watch. As economist Dean Baker puts it, "In the fall of 2008, when Citigroup was saved from bankruptcy with a taxpayer bailout, Rubin quietly slipped out the back door (with his money), resigning from his position at Citigroup." Only recently Rubin made the headlines for offering the least apologetic (non-)apology imaginable for taking the American people to the cleaners.

Report: America's Worst Governors

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 10:07 AM EDT

Since 2005, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has compiled an annual list of Washington's most corrupt lawmakers, and this year it added a new group of elected officials to its hall of shame: the nation's governors. In its "Worst Governors" report, CREW highlights "the unethical and incompetent actions" of 11 state chief execs. Who made the cut? You know your guv did, South Carolina. Yours, too, New York. The full list, along with what CREW says landed them there, below the jump.

DHS Silent on Radical Arizona Immigration Bill

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 8:30 AM EDT

National Hispanic lawmakers have slammed the Arizona immigration bill passed by state legislators that would allow an unprecedented crackdown on illegal immigrants. Authored by a state Republican who's praised a 1950s removal program called “Operation Wetback,” the bill would require police to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally—and then arrest them if they can’t provide identity documents. Denouncing the bill as "lunacy," Rep. Luis Gutierrez called for President Obama to intervene if the Arizona governor signs the legislation into passage, according to Politico's Kasie Hunt. But for the moment, the Obama administration has remained silent on the issue, using the opportunity simply to defend its own deportation program, Hunt reports :

The Department of Homeland Security, which enforces the border, would not comment on the proposed Arizona law.

"DHS continues to focus on smart, effective immigration enforcement that places priority on those dangerous criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, on employers who continue to drive illegal immigration by knowingly hiring undocumented workers, and by surging law enforcement resources at the southwest border,"said DHS spokesman Matt Chandler. 

The Arizona immigration bill comes at the same time that federal authorities have ramped up their own crackdown on illegal immigration in the state. Last week, federal immigration authorities conducted a massive raid in Arizona and Mexico to break up a human smuggling ring that used shuttle vans to transport people across the border. The DHS operation came shortly after a rancher was killed by on the border, provoking a public outcry and fueling momentum for the Arizona bill.

The Obama administration's decision to focus on apprehending immgrants involved in trafficking rings and criminal enterprises is a more targeted policy compared with the blanket workplace raids of the Bush era. It also stands in stark contrast with the Arizona bill's attempt to target anyone and everyone that authorities suspect of being undocumented. But if the Arizona bill becomes law, the administration's decision to focus on deportation policy rather than broad-based reform of the immigration system could help fuel a climate of fear—and the perception that this is the only urgent immigration issue worth focusing on.

GOP: Now Finance Reform Is Good!

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 8:11 AM EDT

It took them a week or so, but Republicans in the Senate finally realized that locking arms with big banks and their lobbyists does a doozy on your public image. Ever since Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made the disingenuous claim early last week that the current finance bill would create "endless taxpayer-funded bailouts," and soon after reports emerged that McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) had met with top hedge fund managers in New York to discuss reform with them, the GOP has looked like the party of Goldman Sachs at a time of boiling public anger at bankers and financiers.

Now, predictably, the GOP is backtracking. Yesterday, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-RI) told a Bloomberg radio station he hoped for a bipartisan solution on financial reform, and later on Tuesday, more top GOPers pared back the partisan fighting and extended their olive branches. "I'm convinced now there is a new element of seriousness attached to this, rather than just trying to score political points...I think that's a good sign," McConnell said, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the banking committee and a leading voice on financial reform, said he believed the Senate was "going to get there" on financial reform, adding that "we've got a few days to negotiate, and the spirit is good." Several other Republicans, like the Maine senatorial duo of Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, could ultimately lend a bipartisan imprimatur to a finance bill, too. (Though no one's forgotten Snowe's health care back-out, so I wouldn't hold my breath.)

All of this is quite a reversal for the Republicans, who only last week drafted a letter outright opposing the finance bill. All 41 Senate Republicans signed the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.). But the reasoning behind their reversal is obvious: With the Goldman-SEC suit adding momentum to reform efforts (momentum that, some GOPers believe, might've been deliberately created), the GOP's opposition made them look like Wall Street's cronies. And with midterm elections to worry about, that's an image every politician right now wants to avoid.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 21, 2010

Wed Apr. 21, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

 

As seen through a night-vision device, U.S. Army soldiers move through grasses to an overwatch position in Sabari, Khowst province, Afghanistan, April 6, 2010. Photo via the US Army photo by Sgt. Jeffrey Alexander.

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Could You Forget Your Baby in the Car?

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 7:18 PM EDT

Seven-month-old Sofia Wisher was safely strapped into her rear-facing car seat when her parents pulled up to their Antioch, California home late Saturday evening after returning from the laundromat. Mom Sara thought her husband Cameron had brought the baby inside, and Sofia's father thought his wife had put their daughter to bed. Tragically, neither parent had unstrapped Sofia, and 13 hours later, the Wishers found their baby girl dead in the backseat of their Toyota station wagon, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Sofia likely suffocated in the 100-degree temperatures reached inside the vehicle last Sunday. 

Nationally, 37* children a year die while being trapped in overheated cars, child safety experts say. Two* children have died so far this year. These deaths are tragic for everyone involved. But stories of parents who fatally forget their children this way are horrifying for other reasons: No sleep-deprived parent is immune from making such a terrible error. The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten tackles the question of whether these errors in judgement constitute a crime in his Pulitzer Prize winning piece, "Fatal Distraction." I'm a young woman in my early 20s who doesn't plan to have kids any time soon, yet reading Gene's piece last year had my brain buzzing for days. Could I make such a mistake? Could I live with myself if I did? And where's the motion-detector carseat that would prevent such a thing from happening?

Cars have sensors to alert you when you've left your headlights on or forget to remove your keys from the ignition. Other alarms sound when passengers have not yet buckled their seatbelts or if a door is ajar. But so far, no vehicles include standard equiptment that tells you when you've left a child in the back seat of a sweltering car.

Janette Fennell, founder of the advocacy group Kids And Cars, argues that hot-car deaths could be eradicated if lawmakers forced the auto industry to make child sensor technology standard on all vehicles. New safety standards would mean tens of millions in added costs for carmakers, but such technology does exist. Parents interested in purchasing monitoring devices should consult this list, published by the Associated Press in 2007:


• The Child Minder system replaces the car seat's harness clip with a "smart clip" synchronized to a key ring alarm. The unit is activated when the child is buckled in. As long as the child remains in the seat, an alarm will sound if the adult walks more than 10 feet from the automobile.

• NASA is on the verge of licensing its Child Presence Sensor, which replaces the clip with a weight-sensitive pad that fits under the car seat cushion. An alarm sounds 10 warning beeps if the driver moves too far away from the vehicle, and beeps continuously if the driver doesn't return within one minute. Engineers at the agency's Langley Research Center in Virginia developed the device after a colleague left his 9-month-old son in a hot car in May 2000.

• Volvo's flagship S80 sedan includes a Personal Car Communicator that can detect a heartbeat inside the vehicle and send a warning to the driver's wireless key fob. Volvo is marketing it as a safety option for women worried about back-seat attackers, not as a way to remind the driver of a child left behind.

*The original statistics posted were measures of the number of children who die in unattended cars under any circumstances, not over-heated cars specifically.

Columbia to Citi CEO: Drop Dead

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 6:45 PM EDT

Students and alumni of Columbia University in the City of New York® are raving mad today over the university's selection of Citigroup CEO/recession profiteer/irrational optimist Vikram Pandit to speak at its upcoming School of International and Public Affairs commencement. Turns out the school's budding diplomats, civil servants, and aid workers were less than pleased to be sent off into a bleak job market by one of America's worst captains of industry (if, by "industry," one means "that steaming load of worthless mortgage-backed derivatives that sent 401(k)'s and hiring levels off a jagged cliff").

"I certainly did not spend two years of my life at this school to sit for hours at my own graduation ceremony applauding a multi-millionaire bank executive while he lectures myself and my peers about a future to which he and the industry he represents caused grave damage," one unnamed student wrote on a Facebook bulletin board for the members-only group "We Don't Want a Bank Executive to Speak at Our Commencement," according to a student blog. The creator of that Facebook group, Daniel Safron-Hon, praised a series of campus protests staged by his classmates after Pandit's selection was announced Friday afternoon. "We are not in an attack mode," he said. "I believe this can be resolved. But the ball is now on the dean's side. If the school ignores the protests, it's hard to know what will happen."

Not that anyone at Columbia (full disclosure: I went there) should be shocked, shocked! to find Citigroup traipsing around the Morningside Heights campus. Pandit—who holds four Columbia degrees—sits on the university's board of trustees. One of his predecessors, Charles O. Prince, is a trustee of the university's Teachers College. A scan of the bank's current executive ranks turns up a number of benefactors to the university, alumni, and professors.

It's hard to deny that the university has a special relationship with Citigroup: Its ATMs (and only its ATMs) are on campus...where your student ID can double as a Citi bank card, if you enrolled for a student account during orientation...which makes it a lot easier to receive your student loans when they're disbursed by...who else? Citigroup. In fact, Citi (full disclosure: I borrowed from them, grudgingly) has historically been one of the university's "preferred lenders," even after Columbia was forced in 2008 to fire a financial aid administrator who'd been on the dole of one of those same lenders. (In a related investigation, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo forced Citigroup to donate millions to a lending-education fund to atone for its student-loan sins.) I knew a lot of classmates who, once graduated, took jobs with Citi or its peer institutions on Wall Street to pay off massive student debts that originated with a Citibank lending arm.

So, bully for the students of SIPA, biting the hand that starves them. Unless, of course, Citigroup starts hiring again. In which case Pandit's likely to be welcomed with open arms and desperately laser-printed business cards.

Happy (Un)Equal Pay Day!

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 6:20 PM EDT

It's National Equal Pay Day, a misnomered holiday that marks the 110 extra days the average woman must work in 2010 to get what an average man earned in 2009. Today Lilly Ledbetter along with Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) took to the White House blog to endorse legislation that will effectively penalize pay discrimination based on gender. From Dodd:

Women still earn just 77 cents for each dollar a man earns. The average woman in my state of Connecticut needs a bachelor’s degree just to earn what a man with a high school diploma earns. The gap is larger in the African-American and Hispanic communities, it persists across the income spectrum, and, astonishingly, in some occupations it’s actually getting worse with time...

Dodd went on to explain that factors like educational background, job characteristics, and ethnic and racial background don't account for the wage gap. It is solely based on gender.

In the Huffington Post Ledbetter outlines the effects this discrimination has on American families:

The fact is millions of Americans are dependent on a woman's paycheck just to get by, put food on the table, pay for child care, and deal with rising health care bills. Two-thirds of mothers bring home at least a quarter of their family's earnings. In many families, the woman is the sole breadwinner. On average, women lose an estimated $700,000 over their lifetimes due to unequal pay practices, and this inequality means real hardships for their families.

That’s why we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA).

It's good news and it's about time!

Last year, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act reversed the Supreme Court decision that blocked women from fighting pay discrimination in court. But the Act did not require companies to offer equal pay for equal work, which is where the Paycheck Fairness Act comes in. By requiring employers to prove that any disparities in pay between women and men are solely job-related, the act offers gender equity and accountability that's been lacking in the work place. It's a shame it's taken this long for the legislation to hit the Senate's floor. But it's even more ridiculous that in 2010 owning a uterus dictates a women's worth at work.

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Dems to Tackle Immigration Reform Next?

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 5:39 PM EDT

Defying expectations, the Democrats could be moving ahead with a comprehensive immigration reform bill as soon as next month, despite a crowded legislative agenda and warnings that the issue would be too politically risky in an election year. The Wall Street Journal reports:

President Barack Obama called Massachusetts' new Republican senator, Scott Brown, from Air Force One today to deliver some news: Democrats are moving forward with an immigration overhaul in a month.

Brown...said the president, who also discussed financial regulation, was giving him a heads-up that immigration was coming down the pike and he should give it some serious thought. The senator promised to look closely at the bipartisan bill that Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are trying to produce.

But other reports deny that Obama had given Brown a specific timeline for the bill, confirming only that Chuck Schumer would drop his bipartisan reform proposal next month. According to Politico, Harry Reid promised House leaders that he would move ahead this year on immigration, repeating a promise he made last week. And given the political climate and congressional agenda between now and November—including financial regulatory reform, a climate/energy bill, and the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice—it's difficult to see how a comprehensive immigration bill will make it on the agenda before the fall election.

Still, even preliminary movement on a bill could build momentum for a real reform effort—and would certainly cheer the immigration advocates and Latino voters who've been disappointed with Obama's inaction on the issue, given his unfufilled promise to tackle immigration within the first year of his presidency. Moreover, the potential short-term and long-term gains for Democrats in terms of gaining Latino voters could end up outweighing the risks—particularly given the Republicans' own vulnerabilities on the issue. Given the worrying state-level developments in the absence of a comprehensive bill—most notably, the resurgence of nativist hardliners in Arizona—there's even greater urgency to tackling the issue on a federal level.