Mojo - December 2010

Christian College Cans Lesbian Soccer Coach (Video)

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 7:51 PM EST

Belmont University, a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, was shocked! shocked! to discover that its women's soccer coach was a lesbian whose life partner was pregnant with the couple's first child. On hearing news of this family's scheduled delivery of joy, Belmont did what any purveyor of Christian love and charity would do: It told coach Lisa Howe to pack her crap and leave the campus forever.

Apparently, Howe—who'd previously earned administration kudos for upping the soccer program's performance and its kids' grades—announced to her players that she and her partner were expecting a baby. When word of her gayness filtered up to the college overseers, she was let go. The university, for its part, is saying Howe's departure was mutually decided, but Howe—who's hired a lawyer—and her players tell a different story:

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Tea Party 0 For 3 In House Leadership Fights

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 4:14 PM EST

Looks like the tea party is 0 for 3 in its bid to influence key House Republican leadership elections this week, as the Republican Study Committee (RSC) today rejected a bid by Rep. Louie "terror babies" Gohmert to win the committee's chairmanship. The Tea Party Patriots, a large national tea party umbrella group, has been lobbying its members to weigh in this week on intraparty races that would decide who will run powerful House committees in the next Congress. They planned to use their organizing heft to help ensure that the tea party movement remains relevant to sitting members of Congress. Influencing the leadership races was one way of keeping tabs on the people they helped elect. Unfortunately for tea partiers, their influence isn't turning out to be much of a match for that of incoming House Speaker John Boehner and other established House leadership members.

Today, the RSC voted to install Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) as its new chairman, rebuffing a tea party-supported bid by Gohmert to assume the helm of the conservative committee. Gohmert is a tea party favorite and has a strong following among rank-and-file conservatives, but even some of them had misgivings about Gohmert taking over the RSC. Erick Erickson had urged conservatives last week to "Just say no" to Gohmert's bid, writing on RedState:

I like Louie Gohmert, but between he and Jim Jordan, I trust Jim Jordan to be a fully competent conservative trench fighter who will never go off the reservation about terror babies in embarrassing fashion—let alone be asked about it.

After today's vote, Erickson tweeted, "Praise God. Jim Jordan gets RSC Chairman."

The RSC vote was just the latest tea party defeat on the Hill. On Tuesday, a GOP House steering committee headed by Boehner selected Michigan Rep. Fred Upton to chair the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Upton was the tea partiers' least favorite candidate for the job, primarily because his votes to expand state health care for children and support for banning incandescent light bulbs. The Republicans also rebuffed the tea partiers for the chair of the Appropriations Committee, passing over Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a tea party favorite, for Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a man dubbed by Democrats as the "king of pork" thanks to his success at winning earmarks that direct millions of dollars to his home state. Given how much tea partiers hate earmarks, his selection was a major defeat for the grassroots movement.

On the legislative front, too, the tea partiers aren't faring especially well. They recently failed to derail a food safety bill that was passed by wide margins in the Senate on the same day that the Senate voted against a ban earmark moratorium. They might be able to claim success when the DREAM Act goes down in flames this week, as its widely expected to, but that won't just be the work of the tea party. The anti-immigration forces lined up against the legislation stretch far beyond the tea party activists.

Still to come is the Republican National Committee chairman's race, which the tea partiers have also been trying to influence. But it seems likely that RNC members won't give the grassroots activists any more heft in their decision-making than they will evangelical Christians or other GOP voting blocs. And in that race, RNC members will have to choose between candidates endorsed by tea partiers, or one backed by former Vice President Dick Cheney. Given the tea party's recent record, my money is on Cheney.

 

Judge Freezes Assets of Former Beck Gold Advertiser

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 2:32 PM EST

Glenn Beck might, for once, be right: the government is coming for your gold. But only if you happened to buy it from one of Beck's *one-time advertisers, the Superior Gold Group. At the request of prosecutors from LA County and Santa Monica city who have filed a civil suit against the company, Los Angeles County judge has ordered that Superior Gold be placed into receivership and all of its assets—bank accounts, real estate, and presumably gold stored for customers—frozen. On Monday, a court-appointed lawyer actually physically seized control of the company, presumably to prevent further wrongdoing. The lawsuit alleged that among other things, Superior had defrauded its customers by overcharging them, fraudulently inducing them to buy overpriced collectors' coins rather than the bullion that they wanted, and taking customers' money for coins they never produced. The prosecutors hope that the lawsuit will provide restitution for all of the company's ripped off customers. The judge will hold a hearing later this month to decide whether the company's assets should remain frozen until the case goes to trial.

Putting a company in receivership is a pretty drastic and very rare move for a judge in a civil case. It does not bode well for Beck's other and much bigger gold advertiser, Goldline, which has also been accused of very similar tactics, as Mother Jones documented earlier this year. The California prosecutors are also investigating Goldline. Both companies have claimed that they were targeted solely because of liberal outrage about Beck's political viewpoints, and touted their outstanding ratings from the Better Business Bureau in their defense. But the dramatic business seizure on Monday of Superior Gold suggests that the consumer complaints were not only legitimate, but that the situation may be worse there than any of the critics suspected. Whether Goldline is in the same boat is hard to know, but the swift takeover of Superior Gold has to be making Goldline (and Beck, too) awfully nervous.

*Clarification: It appears that Superior Gold Group has not advertised on Beck's show since December 2009, though it has proclaimed its loyal support for the conservative talk show host. In August last year, the company issued a press release criticizing attacks on Beck's advertisers and announcing its intention to renew its advertising contract with Fox News. The company said it would continue to support Beck's show in the face of calls by liberal groups for advertisers to boycott the show. Three months later, the liberal group Media Matters documented that Superior Gold Group ran an ad during one of Beck's TV segments on gold, writing:

Let it never be said that Glenn Beck fails to repay those who are loyal to him.

On his show today, Beck told his audience that they should buy gold to protect themselves in the event of a U.S. economic collapse. Minutes later, that same audience was treated to a commercial for Superior Gold Group, featuring a “gold investor and a Superior Gold client” who cited “our government spending trillions of dollars and counting” and “a debt that will burden our children and grandchildren for years to come” as reasons to buy their product. I wonder how many of Beck’s viewers called their hotline on the spot?

In something of an endorsement, Superior Gold Group posted the item on its own website as if it was written in-house.

John Lennon's Murder 30 Years Later: A Remembrance

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 2:27 PM EST

Five years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the fatal shooting of John Lennon, I wrote this remembrance. Unfortunately, it is just as relevant today.

Twenty-five years ago today, John Lennon was shot dead outside the Dakota apartment building in New York City. He died about 11:00 pm. In those days, news was not so instantaneous. It wasn't until the next morning that many people—myself included—learned of this horrific event. At that time, I was working at the Center for the Study of Responsive Law in Washington, DC—otherwise known as the office of Ralph Nader. I was taking a year off from college.

The news that morning hit me—and millions of others—hard. After stumbling into the office—a rabbit warren of offices, some separated by walls made of cartons containing remaindered books produced by the Nader operation—I was asked to deliver a letter from Nader to President Carter. We didn't fax back then. I don't recall what the letter was about, but Nader was probably again blasting Carter, who at this point was a lame duck preparing to vacate the White House after losing to Ronald Reagan the previous month, for failing the public interest on some regulatory matter. I didn't mind the assignment. I didn't feel much like working or talking to anyone. It was a cold morning and about half a mile walk. I could stretch this mundane delivery task into an hour of solitude.

I walked down 16th Street NW, and within a few blocks I passed the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, an entire building next to one of Washington's lovely traffic circles. I stared at the building. My sadness and numbness slid into anger. I didn't know yet that Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, had purchased the .38-caliber handgun with which he shot Lennon, at a Hawaii gun store despite having a record of mental illness. But I did know that the NRA and its allies in the gun industry were one of the most powerful lobbies in town and that their primary concern was easy access to weapons. I started talking to the imposing building. "No," I said, "no, you're not going to get off scott-free here, no, no way." And an idea struck.

After dropping off the letter to Carter at one of the entrances to the White House, I hurried back to the office. I told Russell Mokhiber, one of the staffers and a veteran agitator, that I had decided to mount a protest rally outside the NRA's office. Here was a chance, I thought, to spur a debate on gun control. I wanted time off to organize the event. Mokhiber approached Nader, who said that would be fine, but that I should do it as a private citizen, not as an associate of the Center. That was fine by me. I immediately formed Citizens against Gun Violence, an "ad hoc citizens group."

CAGV—that is, me—quickly picked a date a few days hence for the event and designed a flyer advertising the rally. In recent weeks, there had been other examples of handgun violence in Washington. The brother of author David Halberstam, a local doctor, had been shot and killed by an intruder whom he had chased out of his home. And a popular community activist, a young African-American woman, had been shot dead, too. The flyer featured both of them and Lennon. And I asked a copy shop—no Kinko's back then—to print hundreds of copies on a super-rush basis. It could in those days take a day or two to get such a job done. The person at the counter looked at the material and said, "Come back in an hour."

CAGV grew in numbers, by which I mean that several interns at the Center and some friends of mine volunteered to put up flyers around town. Mokhiber went out and bought a bullhorn. I filed a permit application minutes before it was due. A local radio station announced that Lennon fans would be gathering at the end of the day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And as soon as the copies of the flyer were ready, I picked them up and headed toward the Lincoln Memorial.

There were several hundred people on the steps. One scrawny-looking fellow was in the middle of the crowd, holding up a cheap cassette player—no iPods, either—that was blaring out various Beatles and Lennon tunes. I politely pushed my way toward him. I handed him one of the flyers and asked if at an appropriate time he would let the people around him know about the rally. He looked at the flyer. The cassette player was playing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." He said, "No, you tell them." The song ended. He turned off the machine and said, "This guy has something he wants to say to you."

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I made my first and only political speech. "We've just heard this song that says, 'After all this time, we must surely be learning," I began. "But are we? There are 10,000 handgun deaths a year. Are we learning how we can prevent that?" I noted that not only Lennon but other important members of our community had been killed by guns recently and that efforts to restrict guns routinely fail. "Why?" I asked. "Because people who work there"—I pointed across the Reflecting Pool toward the Capitol—"listen too much to the people over there"—I pointed in the direction of the NRA building. But, I added, now was an appropriate time to show that other Americans had different views. I asked the people there to come to the rally. And I'm afraid I said something corny like, "Imagine if everyone who feels as you do today showed up." When I was done, the scrawny fellow gave me a hug; the people applauded. I darted off to start putting up the flyers.

Besides working the grassroots, CAGV had a media strategy. I had fellow workers at the Center call up various media outlets—particularly radio stations that played rock music. They asked for the news or program director and then said something like, "I hear there's going to be a large protest outside the NRA headquarters in three days to commemorate the death of John Lennon and to call for sensible handgun control, and I want to go. Do you have any information on this?" Of course, they did not. But invariably the person on the other end of the phone said, "No, but if you find out anything please let me know."

Hours later, I would call these media people and say, "I'm David Corn of Citizens Against Gun Violence, an ad hoc citizens group. I understand you're looking for information on the rally we're holding." Everyone was quite keen on listening to me. Several radio stations asked me to come into their studios to talk about the event. "Was I exploiting this tragedy to make a political point?" some asked. "Yes," I said. The aim was to use this awful killing to advance policies that might prevent such another tragedy from occurring. "Do you think," I countered, "that John Lennon, the antiwar, antiviolence activist, would mind?"

Word got out. People started calling from all over the region. Some students at a college—I believe it was in Pennsylvania—were renting a bus. I contacted the leading gun control advocates in Washington, convinced them this event was actually going to happen, and got them to commit to attending and speaking. Within a day or two, the office had unofficially become the headquarters of CAGV. Nader asked what was going on, but he didn't seem to mind. Nor did his chief of staff, John Richard.

The rally went off as planned. About one or two thousand people, I believe, showed up. There were camera crews, reporters from various newspapers. I put the professional handgun control advocates in front of the journalists; they gave the interviews. So too did relatives of Halberstam's brother and the community activist. All these people used the new bullhorn and spoke of the need for restraints on guns. I gave no speech. One woman approached me and said she had come because she had heard me on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The bus from Pennsylvania (or wherever) arrived. Cars driving by honked.

The event—as far as such events go—was a success. There was media coverage. Those who had come felt they had done something with their grief and anger. And as almost always happens when a prominent act of gun violence occurs, the topic of handgun was again on the radar screen. Not because of our effort, but we had done our part. However, that moment—like all moments—quickly faded. It is now 25 years later. John Lennon is still dead. (And so is George Harrison.) The NRA years ago moved to a bigger and better headquarters in suburban Virginia. The gun lobby has had its ups and downs, but it's been mostly ups of late (such as the expiration of the ban on assault weapons). Lennon's death, it turns out, was no catalyst for action. And we have still—after all this time—not learned how to stem the tide of gun violence. Which is one of several reasons why this anniversary of Lennon's death is a sad day.

Top Senate Liberal Defends Obama on Tax Cuts

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 12:10 PM EST

In the wake of the liberal revolt over Barack Obama's tax bargain, some senior Democrats have begun rising to the president's defense. When news of the deal first broke, there were only a small number of centrist Democrats openly willing to defend the proposal and the White House's leadership in striking the deal with Republicans. In both the House and Senate, Democratic members seethed at the president for criticizing his own party for letting ideology trump pragmatic solutions. But a growing chorus of liberal economists and analysts have since concluded that the package is better than they might have expected under the political circumstances. And on Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)—the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate—defended the president for making "what he thinks is the best decision in terms of keeping the economy strong."

Durbin noted that he was still undecided about whether to support the tax proposal, noting that there were still "provisions in there that trouble me greatly and trouble many members of my caucus." But he said that he sympathesized with the "horrible dilemma" that the president faced. He insisted, moreover, that Obama had not excluded congressional Democrats from the negotiating process, noting that the presdient had brought leaders from both sides together only two weeks earlier to discuss the issue. Durbin, moreover, told reporters off the Senate floor that Democrats themselves had invited the president to intervene:

Many leaders in Congress said to the president, "You reach an agreement, find out what you can do, then come to us." It isn't as if [Obama] didn't make an offer to be inclusive. They basically said, "you need to lead," and he did.

Durbin's words lie in stark contrast to those of both liberal and rank-and-file Democrats who have accused the president of caving to Republican priorities and ignoring liberal voices in the negotiating process. But by all accounts, it looks like this is basically the deal that Democrats will have to live with, aside from some tweaks that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may push through. In addition to Durbin and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Bill Nelson(D-Fla.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.) have also publically praised the deal. Though liberals will certainly vote against the package, a growing number of Democrats are likely to join them in defending Obama as the details are worked out and heads cool.

Feds Warn Oakland on Pot Farms

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 8:20 AM EST

Earlier this year, the City Council of Oakland, California, voted to issue permits for industrial-scale medical marijuana farms. Four hydroponic warehouses, each holding some 30,000 cannabis plants, are expected to yield the city between $4.8 and $7.7 million per year in tax revenues. City boosters hope the farms will help re-brand this rusting port city as a capital of all things cannabis, an "Oaksterdam" with its own brands of pot-related products and tourist destinations. But there's a hitch, California Watch reports, and it involves the federal government:

Officials from the Justice Department’s civil division and the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco delivered the blunt message to Oakland City Attorney John Russo, according to two officials who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to talk about the meetings.

"The warning is clear: These are illegal, large-scale pot growing operations, with Oakland planning to get a cut of the illicit profits," said one official. 

Apparently, Russo saw all of this coming. Yesterday the Bay Citizen reported that he'd declined to sign off of the city's pot farm plan and issued a memo in August raising legal concerns about it.

But none of that seems to have mattered to Oakland's politicians. Medical marijuana businesses are major political donors here and enjoy widespread public support. In a telling moment this fall, Oakland's two leading mayoral candidates both showed up to the grand re-opening of weGrow, a chain based in East Oakland that aims to become the nation's first "marijuana superstore." 

Years ago, when Oakland first began permitting medical marijuana dispensaries—now established businesses in town—it was also a legal gray area, City Council president Jane Brunner told the Bay Citizen. Yet Brunner left the door open to the possibility that the city could still back down on the farms. "We should know what we're getting into," she said. "We shouldn't go into this blindly."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 8, 2010

Wed Dec. 8, 2010 6:30 AM EST

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rafael Aguilera, right, with the Nevada Agribusiness Development Team from 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, patrols a street in Pul-e-Alam, Logar province, Afghanistan, near Forward Operating Base Shank Dec. 2, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Donald Watkins/Released)

The "Parent-Trigger" Goes to Compton

| Tue Dec. 7, 2010 8:49 PM EST

-Kristina Rizga, Mother Jones-Kristina Rizga, Mother Jones

[UPDATE: "Parent-trigger" organizers are now accused of misleading parents.]

This week, parents of kids attending LA's public McKinley Elementary School in Compton are trying something new: Shutting down the chronically struggling institution and demanding that it be replaced by a charter school. [Read Kevin Drum for a good backgrounder on charter schools.]

Can parents really do that? In California they sure can, thanks to the state's new "parent-trigger" law, which allows parents to force big changes at the state's lowest-performing schools.

And Compton is just the first case. The Los Angeles Times reports that parent-trigger laws are in various stages nation-wide. Meanwhile, former DC school head Michelle Rhee has launched what she calls a "national movement" to push for more charters and "teacher accountability."

The idea of using charter schools to "solve" low-performing public school issues—as opposed to increasing school funding and teacher pay—remains a divisive one. For now, parents in Compton are joining Michelle Rhee's camp, and it's hard to blame them. Thanks to Prop. 13 and budget cuts, parents in low-income communities in California aren't always able to get more funding or better teachers for their schools. Aside from giving charters a chance, what other options are there for Compton parents in the short-term?

Member Groups Quit Chamber Over Attack Ads

| Tue Dec. 7, 2010 5:27 PM EST

In an echo of last year's "monkey trial" imbroglio, the hard-hitting US Chamber of Commerce is facing another round of blowback, this time in response to its bare-knuckled, $75 million ad campaign to elect a Republican House. Politico reports that dozens of local Chambers are expressing their displeasure with the national group's partisan politics:

More than 40 local chambers issued statements during the midterms distancing themselves from the U.S. Chamber’s campaign — including nearly every major local chamber in Iowa and New Hampshire, key states for the presidential campaign.

Other chambers plan to take the extraordinary step of ending their affiliation with the U.S. Chamber, including the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce in Pennsylvania. Its leaders reported being inundated with angry — and sometimes profanity-laced — telephone calls from people objecting to the U.S. Chamber-backed ads.

Yet the revolt of the local chambers, which may soon include a splinter group backing curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, isn't likely to cripple the nation's most powerful business lobby. The locals account for a tiny fraction of the US Chamber's budget and have virtually no say over its policies. As I've reported, the US Chamber's real might resides in a handful of large companies and special interests, such as the health insurance industry's main trade group, which in 2009 ponied up a whopping 40 percent of its $205 million budget. 

A Tax Deal Only Ben Nelson Could Love?

| Tue Dec. 7, 2010 4:09 PM EST

President Obama's tax package has elicited a fierce backlash from Senate Democrats, with only the likes of Ben Nelson—one of the caucus' most conservative members—openly welcoming the president's compromise so far. Liberal members are infuriated with Obama's concessions to the Republican Party over extending the Bush-era tax breaks, accusing the president of caving without a fight to the GOP. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has already come out against the compromise, calling the extension of tax cuts to the top 2 percent of families "objectionable" and "unbalanced." "I'm opposed to this package based on what I know that's in it," Udall told reporters this afternoon. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist Democrat from Vermont, has already vowed to filibuster the bill.*

The compromise has also raised the hackles of centrist Democrats including Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who slammed the proposal for raising the deficit and supporting the rich at the expense of the poor. "We're borrowing money from those with net worth of $5,000 or less to give families that have income of more than $1 million," Landrieu told reporters, striking an unusually populist tone. She called the bargain an "unprecedented" move that would hurt the poor- and working-class families in her state—"many of whom are African-American," she added. Landrieu also had strong words for Obama, accusing the president of taking Democratic support for granted. "He basically didn't think any of us cared much about this—well, I care," she added. "I can't imagine the president leading the country in that direction."