Mojo - September 2010

Corn on "Countdown": Christine O'Donnell's Bogus Resume

Thu Sep. 30, 2010 8:43 PM EDT

David Corn joined Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's Countdown to discuss the scandal surrounding Christine O'Donnell's falsified resume and whether or not her tea party supporters even care.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

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Do Guns And College Mix?

| Thu Sep. 30, 2010 6:40 PM EDT

Should students be allowed to carry concealed weapons on college campuses? Yesterday, the question entered the national limelight after a 19-year-old University of Texas student fired four rounds through the campus with an AK-47 before killing himself. No one else was hurt, the Associated Press reports. But the incident has Texas Gov. Rick Perry—a dude who goes jogging with a loaded pistol—calling for a relaxation of the state's gun-free college laws. He told the AP:

There are already guns on campus. All too often they are illegal. I want there to be legal guns on campus. I think it makes sense—and all of the data supports—that if law abiding, well-trained, backgrounded individuals have a weapon, then there will be less crime.

It's a stock argument for pro-gun partisans: Students and faculty with concealed carry permits need the ammo to shoot back if a crazed gunmen enters their school. But a 2002 Violence Policy Center study found that sometimes, just sometimes, even the people permitted to carry concealed weapons can become the crazed gunmen. From 1996 to 2001, 41 concealed-handgun license holders in Texas were arrested for murder and attempted murder. And permit holders were arrested for weapons offenses 81 percent more often than the state's general 21-and-over population. Just a decade ago, after launching a year-long investigation into the Lone Star State's licensing laws, the Los Angeles Times reported that 400 criminals with prior convictions had been issued concealed-carry permits despite background checks. And more than 3,000 licensees had since been arrested, including a computer analyst who shot a bus driver in the chest because he'd nearly missed the bus.

But there's another group on Perry's side: Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. At the annual Gun Rights Policy Conference last weekend in San Francisco, SCCC president David Burnett cited the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting—in which "a young and mentally deranged individual took a firearm," killed 32 people, wounded 17 others, then killed himself—as an example of why licensed gun holders should be allowed to carry them on campus.  "The only alternative that we have is to duck and cover," Burnett said. "A lot of these college campuses like to pretend that they are exempt from the freedoms that we have to carry a concealed weapon." In protest, 130 campuses have participated in "Empty Holster Contests," according to Burnett, where they wear their holsters to school sans guns as a symbol that they are disarmed and vulnerable.

Currently, Colorado and Utah allow concealed weapons on campuses. But gun advocates have vowed to press the state on the side of public armament. A Texas state representative, Republican Joe Driver, plans to file legislation (again) that would invite gun-toters back to school, cocked and locked. Criminals "would not go to a place where they don't know who has a gun," Driver says. "I think it's an absolute deterrent."

This Week in National Insecurity: Frequent Fliers Edition

| Thu Sep. 30, 2010 2:38 PM EDT

Welcome, insecure reader, to the friendly skies of national defense! In this weekly link dump: Air marshals are freeloaders; WikiLeaks Wiki-locks down on its public image; dirty subs, built dirt-cheap; Iranian arms dealers stop for cheesesteaks; your granddaddy's Medal of Honor means bubkis at the White House; and a tea party Republican exaggerates just a teensy bit about his military experience.

The sitrep:

The United States government's national threat level is Elevated, or Yellow. You're welcome.

  • Sky marshals, who fly with you (for free) to prevent a hijacking, sit in first class a lot. Which airline executives don't like. Not because "a free ride in a fluffy seat" costs the airlines money, mind you, but because it's less secure. Silly air executives: Protecting profits is a national security issue. Every good free-marketeer knows that.
  • What's long, hard, and wrapped in a "Wal-Mart tarp"? The Navy's new $2 billion submarines, whose super-stealth coating falls apart in the water. It turns out that cutting costs on the construction of nuclear vessels is not totally a good thing.
  • What's the best investigative national security story you haven't heard about? It's this Philadelphia Inquirer series about how authorities used a storefront sting to ensnare an arms dealer for the Iranian government, operating in a Philly suburb. Wait, what?
  • We've said it before: If you're a descendant of the last African American Medal of Honor recipient in World War II, who rallied his fellow black troops and took out a bunch of Nazi gunner's nests after his white commander deserted, and you don't want to be turned away from a tour of the White House...don't wear shorts and a T-shirt bearing the likeness of your hero grandfather. It's just disrespectful.

Ignorance

| Thu Sep. 30, 2010 10:07 AM EDT

I want to draw everyone's attention to two particularly depressing news items. The first is from the New York Times, which wants us to feel sorry for rich people whose taxes will go up under President Barack Obama's tax plan:

As the political battle drags on... it has also veered into a more basic matter of fairness, whether a person who earns more than $200,000 a year should be taxed at rates similar to those who make $5 million.

As Jon Chait points out, this is just wrong. In America, we have something called marginal tax rates. If you move into a higher tax bracket, you're not taxed at a higher rate on all your income—just the income above the minimum for that bracket. The poor, benighted individuals who make $200,001 will only pay a higher taxes on the $1 they make that's over $200,000. Because of this, people who make $5 million pay (and, under the Obama plan, will continue to pay) taxes at a significantly higher effective rate than people who make, say, $270,000. Socialism!

The second item comes via the New York city tabloids (the Post and the Daily News), which both have stories on how annoyed New Yorkers are that the government is mandating a font change on street signs. Dan Amira of the New York magazine's wonderful Daily Intel blog does the honors on this silliness. As Amira points out, the change was mandated in 2003 in order to improve safety (the new font has been proven to reduce accidents), cities and states have 15 years to switch out the old signs, and the change isn't likely to cost the city much of anything in terms of extra money or work since 8,000 signs are replaced each year due to wear and tear anyway. But, you know, big government is evil!

JPMorgan Freezes Foreclosures

| Thu Sep. 30, 2010 8:51 AM EDT

Is the whole foreclosure system teetering on the brink? It's starting to look like it, given JPMorgan Chase's big announcement on Wednesday: The bank's mortgage arm is suspending foreclosures in 23 states, the second major lender to do so in mere weeks.

For the same reason that GMAC halted evictions and foreclosure sales, JPMorgan has temporarily stopped 56,000 foreclosures in states like Florida, New Jersey, and New York, where the judicial system handles foreclosures. (As opposed to, say, California, where foreclosures are a bureaucratic matter.) JPMorgan's foreclosure freeze has to do with the use of legal filings that were signed by what defense attorneys and critics call "robo signers"—bank employees tasked with signing tens of thousands of documents without knowing what those documents even say.

According to federal rules, however, an employee signing affidavits used in a foreclosure must have "personal knowledge" of the documents. Depositions with GMAC and Chase employees have called into question the legitimacy of their foreclosure documemnts, so are being forced to stop foreclosures while they try to fix their document problem.

Here's the Times on JPMorgan's news:

In depositions taken by lawyers for embattled homeowners, the robo-signers said they or their team had signed 10,000 or more foreclosure affidavits a month.

Now that haste has come back to haunt them. The affidavits in foreclosures attest that the preparer personally reviewed the files, which those workers acknowledge they had no time to do.

GMAC and Chase say that their lapses were technical and will soon be remedied with new filings. But defense lawyers are seizing on these revelations and say they will now work to have their cases thrown out.

Beyond the relative handful of foreclosure cases being contested are many more in which the homeowner did not have legal counsel. Potentially, hundreds of thousands of cases could be in doubt.

Black Wednesday for US Workers

| Thu Sep. 30, 2010 8:06 AM EDT

For the American labor force, Wednesday was a brutal day in the US Senate. You can thank the Republican Party for that. In the waning days of the Senate's session, extensions of long-term unemployment insurance and an emergency fund subsidizing jobs around the country were blocked by GOP senators.

The unemployment insurance extension would've made it possible for jobless workers in states with high unemployment to collect 119 weeks of benefits. The current cut-off point is 99 weeks, the most in recent history. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) had for months pushed to add another 20 weeks onto the available 99 in states with 7.5 percent unemployment or higher. Joining her in demanding more relief for jobless workers were the "99ers," those out of work Americans who've exhausted all of their support funds and now have no safety net at all. But it was Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fl.) who stood in their way. LeMieux said Stabenow's proposal would add to the country's $13.5 trillion deficit and thus wasn't feasible:

"Without knowing how much it is going to cost and how we're going to pay for it, while we're all certainly sympathetic and want to work to make people go back to work—my home state of Florida certainly suffering with very high unemployment—we need to know how we're going to pay for it so we don't put this debt on our children and grandchildren."

Stabenow countered by saying, "The reality for us in America is that we will never get out of debt with more than 15 million people out of work." But the Michigan senator's request for unanimous approval of the extension was rejected. And with Republicans, uninterested in more jobless benefits, sure to gain seats in the House and Senate this fall, if not win one or both chambers, we've likely seen the last of Stabenow's proposal.

With the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families emergency fund—which supports job creation programs in various states—expiring on Thursday, Senate Democrats had also sought to prolong TANF's emergency fund for three months. "This small program has had a huge impact in Illinois," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Democratic Party whip. "Rather than paying people to do nothing, this program helps private companies hire the employees they need but can't quite afford." But this idea, too, was rejected, this time by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).

Enzi's office told the Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney that the Wyoming senator opposed the continuation of the fund because it was "not sound welfare policy, has not been considered by the Senate Finance Committee, is not bipartisan, and is costly, estimated to cost approximately $500 million for a one quarter extension reported." A Democratic aide told HuffPo the TANF extension now looked to be "pretty much dead in the water." The fund's loss will certainly be felt: the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated the fund placed 240,000 unemployed Americans into jobs.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 30, 2010

Thu Sep. 30, 2010 8:03 AM EDT

A U.S. Soldier with 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team pulls security outside a house in Chak district, Wardak province, Afghanistan, Sept. 25, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Donald Watkins

There's No "I" in "Undocumented Worker"

| Wed Sep. 29, 2010 6:22 PM EDT

There's a new campaign to eliminate the I-word from the public discourse, and activists don't mean "impeachment" or "incentives." The particular piece of verbiage that has prompted the "Drop the I-Word" campaign is "illegal"—as in "illegal aliens" or "illegal immigrant." Fed up with a label they say dehumanizes its subjects, campaign promoters ColorLines.com and the Applied Research Center are sending out a pledge and a tool kit to inform people on the negative connotations of the word. "The I-Word creates an environment of hate by exploiting racial fear and economic anxiety, creating an easy scapegoat for complex issues, and OK-ing violence against those labeled with the word," their site says.

The campaigners' hope is that like-minded activists will want to educate their neighbors and influence the media frame. The campaign website displays close-up shots of cherub-cheeked children and adults, overlaid with the simple message "I am not an illegal"—along with a video and the endorsements of such organizations as the Nation Institute and Feministing.

Corn on Countdown: The Zombie Party

Wed Sep. 29, 2010 10:59 AM EDT

Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn was on Countdown last night, talking about the zombie party. Check it out:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Norwegian Curse Words, Hoodies, and the Alaska Senate Race

| Wed Sep. 29, 2010 10:47 AM EDT

Alaska's Democratic Senate candidate Scott McAdams, who we profiled here last month, is up with his first ad, which touts his deep ties to the state. It's probably the first political ad to brag about being cursed at in Norwegian. I'd also venture that it's the first to feature a candidate dressed in a hoodie.

"This is a long way from DC," he says in the ad. He continues: "I'm not your usual Senate candidate."

McAdams' candidacy got a whole lot more exciting a few weeks ago, as tea-party candidate Joe Miller defeated incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski in the primary. Then Murkowski decided to launch a write-in campaign, spicing things up further. The latest poll shows McAdams behind both his opponents; Miller at 42 percent, Murkowski at 27, and McAdams at 25. But Murkowski's bid relies largely on making sure people know how to spell her last name—which is apparently more difficult than it seems.

But McAdams might have more of a shot than the top line poll numbers show right now. The same poll found that 18 percent of likely voters in the state said they were "nor sure" yet what they think of McAdams. (Only 4 percent said the same of Miller and 2 percent said that about Murkowski.) This is his first ad in the state, which means more Alaskans could be getting to know McAdams in the coming weeks.

Here's the spot: