Mojo - January 2011

Will Democrats Throw Down on Filibuster Reform?

| Tue Jan. 11, 2011 7:00 AM EST

All 53 Senate Democrats have endorsed some level of filibuster reform—but will they actually make it happen? The push to overhaul this procedural tactic, which has allowed the minority to block debate on a number of legislative issues, is the top item on the table heading into a two-week break for senators, and prospects of passing it are unclear. The outcome hinges largely on whether Senate Democrats are willing to go it alone in the absence of an agreement with the Republican leadership.

"The key to us succeeding in this is going to be a point when our leadership says they're on board and they're ready to take us into battle," says Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one of the three cosponsors of a reform package released last Wednesday. That will be the test over the next few weeks, as Majority Leader Harry Reid huddles with Mitch McConnell to see if a deal can be brokered. Merkley and the other senators behind the reform package are also trying to muster public support over the recess this week and next, though Oregon's junior senator says he believes the Democrats already have the backing of most Americans. "When I raised this topic back home, the reaction was stronger than on any given policy issue," he notes. "The citizens are way ahead of the Senate in understanding the dysfunction in this institution."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 11, 2011

Tue Jan. 11, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Soldiers with Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 113 Cavalry Regiment fortify their fighting positions where they provide security for fellow soldiers through the night on two hour shifts, Parwan province, Afghanistan, Jan. 01, 2011. Bravo Troop visits Vehicle Patrol Base Dandarh to build up the base defense and to conduct dismounted patrols through surrounding villages to ensure security. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kristina Gupton/Released)

Our American Baseworld

| Mon Jan. 10, 2011 9:35 PM EST

India, a rising power, almost had one (but the Tajiks said no). China, which last year became the world's second largest economy as well as the planet's leading energy consumer, and is expanding abroad like mad (largely via trade and the power of the purse), still has none. The Russians have a few (in Central Asia where "the great game" is ongoing), as do those former colonial powers Great Britain and France, as do certain NATO countries in Afghanistan. Sooner or later, Japan may even have one.

All of them together—and maybe you've already guessed that I'm talking about military bases not on one's own territory—add up to a relatively modest (if unknown) total. The US, on the other hand, has enough bases abroad to sink the world. You almost have the feeling that a single American mega-base like Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan could swallow them all up. It's so large that a special Air Force "team" has to be assigned to it just to deal with the mail arriving every day, 360,000 pounds of it in November 2010 alone. At the same base, the US has just spent $130 million building "a better gas station for aircraft... [a] new refueling system, which features a pair of 1.1-million gallon tanks and two miles of pipes." Imagine that: two miles of pipes, thousands of miles from home—and that's just to scratch the surface of Bagram's enormity.

Post-Shooting, Dems Try to Clamp Down on Political Speech

| Mon Jan. 10, 2011 3:45 PM EST

It's becoming increasingly clear that Jared Lee Loughner appears to be a psychologically unhinged, nihilistic individual with no coherent ideology, whose political views are irrelevant if they can even be articulated. But that hasn't stopped lawmakers—mostly from the left—from denouncing a climate of extremism and calling for a more civil, less partisan atmosphere.

Democrats are now ramping up calls to place restrictions on inflammatory speech. Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.) plans to introduce a bill that would curb the use of threatening imagery against legislators and judges, according to the National Journal. Similarly, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.)—the third-ranking Democrat in the House—has called for the return of the Fairness Doctrine, a defunct regulation that requires broadcasters to devote airtime to opposing political views. "Free speech is as free speech does," Clyburn told a local paper. "You cannot yell 'fire' in a crowded theater and call it free speech and some of what I hear, and is being called free speech, is worse than that."

Meanwhile, Rep. Chellie Pingeree (D-Maine) has even called for Republicans to change the name of their health-care repeal bill, currently entitled "the Repeal the Job Killing Health Care Law Act." Pingree explains in the Huffington Post:

Don't get me wrong—I'm not suggesting that the name of that one piece of legislation somehow led to the horror of this weekend—but is it really necessary to put the word "killing" in the title of a major piece of legislation? I don't think that word is in there by accident -- my Republican friends know as well as anyone the power of words to send a message. But in this environment and at this moment in our nation's history, it's not the message we should be sending.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, national lawmakers will probably tamp down the tone in Washington: House Republicans have already postponed their vote this week on their health care repeal bill, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday, and lawmakers have called for unity out of respect for the victims. Barring any new evidence that directly links Loughner to any political activism or activities, Democrats will have a tough time pinning the blame on extreme rhetoric. The right has certainly racheted up inflammatory, increasingly militaristic attacks on their opponents, which has stoked Democratic fears about violent retaliation over the last year. But by calling for a free-speech crackdown, Dems may simply be accused of playing politics with a national tragedy.

Read our exclusive interview with a friend who describes Loughner's family, bizarre dream journal, and his obsession with Rep. Giffords. Full coverage of the shooting and its aftermath is here.

Tucson Massacre: McCarthy Plans to Introduce Gun Legislation

| Mon Jan. 10, 2011 12:35 PM EST

Spurred on by Saturday's horrific attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), New York Democrat Rep. Carolyn McCarthy has promised to introduce new gun control legislation in the House, reports Politico.

The extended magazine on the Glock 19 Loughner used was illegal under the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. Gun control advocates hope the tragedy might provoke fresh discussion on the ban, and on the ability to buy weapons that appear designed for mass murder. "He had an additional magazine capability. That’s not what a hunter needs," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) told Politico. "That’s not what someone needs to defend their home. That’s what you use to hunt people." Preventing people with mental health issues from buying guns could also be a focus of the legislation.

McCarthy and her staff hope to bring a bill to the floor as early as Monday that addresses the high-capacity ammunition clips used by alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner (read Nick Baumann's exclusive interview with a close friend of Loughner's here). Pennsylvania Democrat Robert Brady also plans to introduce a bill that would make it a crime to use language or symbols that might be interpreted as a threat to any federal official.

For McCarthy, gun violence is deeply personal: her husband was killed in a 1993 shooting on a Long Island commuter train. Since then, she's been a fierce advocate for gun control. "Again, we need to look at how this is going to work, to protect people, certainly citizens, and we have to look at what I can pass," McCarthy told Politico. "I don’t want to give the NRA—excuse the pun—the ammunition to come at me either."

Update: In a statement released on Monday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) announced his intention to work with McCarthy on a bill that would prohibit the manufacture and sale of high-capacity ammunition feeding devices like the high-capacity magazine used by Loughner. Lautenberg's bill will ban ammunition clips that have a capacity of, or could be converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunitioin—which, up till 2004, was the law.

"The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly. These high-capacity clips simply should not be on the market," Lautenberg says in the statement. "Before 2004, these ammunition clips were banned, and they must be banned again. When the Senate returns to Washington, I will introduce legislation to prohibit this type of high-capacity clip."

Read our exclusive interview with a friend who describes Loughner's family, bizarre dream journal, and his obsession with Rep. Giffords. Full coverage of the shooting and its aftermath is here.

Kristol Cries "McCarthyism" Over Palin Criticism

| Mon Jan. 10, 2011 12:01 PM EST

In the aftermath of this weekend's shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona, leaving six dead and Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition, a heap of criticism is being leveled at the right's queen of controversy: Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor has been blasted for a map on her political action committee's website (since taken down) depicting gunsights over the districts of twenty lawmakers who voted for the health care reform bill. One such gunsight targeted Giffords' district in southern Arizona. The former Alaska governor is also taking heat for past rhetoric like "you didn't retreat, you reloaded," a line she deployed at a Tea Party rally last fall.

On Monday morning, neocon Bill Kristol rushed to Palin's defense and ripped her critics. Kristol, who edits the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, said on C-SPAN that Palin's critics were guilty of "McCarthyism," adding, "The attempt to exploit this tragedy is distasteful." Kristol's full-throated defense of Palin joins that of her aides, who have vehemently denied any link between the Tucson shooting, carried out by a disgruntled, if not mentally unstable, 22-year-old Arizona resident named Jared Lee Loughner. Palin aide Rebecca Mansour told a radio host that attempts to tie Palin to shootings were "obscene" and "appalling." Mansour went on, "I never went out and blamed Al Gore or any environmentalist for the crazy insane person who went to shoot up the Discovery Channel."

But it's the kind of incendiary rhetoric that Palin has used in the past that's being partly blamed for Loughner's attack. In an interview with MoJo's Suzy Khimm, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) blamed the fiery rhetoric and polarization that defines American politics today. "[When] you stoke these flames, and you go to public meetings and you scream at the elected officials, you threaten them—you make us expendable, you make us part of the cannon fodder," he said. "For a while, you've been feeding this hatred, this division...you feed it, you encourage it."

On Sunday, the Justice Department filed charges against Loughner for murder and attempted murder of federal employees. Loughner is scheduled to appear in court today, but is reportedly not cooperating with law enforcement officials.

Read our exclusive interview with a friend who describes Loughner's family, bizarre dream journal, and his obsession with Rep. Giffords. Full coverage of the shooting and its aftermath is here.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 10, 2011

Mon Jan. 10, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Spc. Christopher Keefe pulls security on a hilltop while mechanics look over a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, after the brakes ignited during a return mission from Shinkay, Afghanistan, Jan. 6. Specialist Keefe is assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, Qalat, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)
 

Jared Lee Loughner's Close Friend Speaks

| Mon Jan. 10, 2011 4:01 AM EST

I landed an exclusive interview with Bryce Tierney, a close friend of Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged gunman in the massacre in Tucson Saturday that killed six people, wounded 14, and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the reported target, fighting for her life. In the interview, Tierney talks about his relationship with Loughner, why he thinks his friend might have targeted Giffords, and what Loughner said in a previously unreported 2:00 a.m. voicemail he left for Tierney. Read: Bryce Tierney on Jared Lee Loughner.

After Giffords Shooting, Rep. Grijalva Blames Rage-Fueled Political Climate

| Sat Jan. 8, 2011 7:36 PM EST

In the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the shooting of more than 20 others in Tucson today, fellow Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva denounced a political environment poisoned by "anger, hatred, and division." In a phone interview with Mother Jones, Grijalva called the assault "horrible and unbelievable and shocking….It's hard to explain and really difficult to comprehend." Grijalva—who was also the recent target of violent threats—went on to blame the polarized political climate for creating an atmosphere that fueled violence:

We never entered [politics] believing that we were taking our lives in our hands...we're feeding anger, hatred, and division for quite a while. Maybe it is time for elected officials and leaders in this country that have been feeding that disease to realize that there are consequences to it. I hope people stop and think that we can be opponents, but we don't have to be deadly enemies…to demonize another person because of a disagreement and to make them expendible is not a democracy, it's not the America I know.

Asked whether the tea party right deserved to be singled out for particular blame, Grijalva assented:

[When] you stoke these flames, and you go to public meetings and you scream at the elected officials, you threaten them—you make us expendable you make us part of the cannon fodder. For a while, you've been feeding this hatred, this division…you feed it, you encourage it….Something's going to happen. People are feeding this monster….Some of the extreme right wing has made demonization of elected officials their priority.

A number of prominent left-wing blogs, including Daily Kos and FireDogLake, also blamed Sarah Palin for fanning the flames by placing Giffords—along with other vulnerable Democratic members of Congress—literally in the crosshairs on a map during the midterm elections. Grijalva said that the Palin "apparatus" shares responsibility for creating a climate of extremism. "Both Gabby and I were targeted in the apparatus in that cycle [saying] these people are 'enemies.'" He concluded: "The Palin express better look at their tone and their tenor."

Jared Lee Loughner's Currency Obsession

| Sat Jan. 8, 2011 5:58 PM EST

Jared Lee Loughner, arrested in connection with the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and more than 20 others in Tucson, posted a series of often inscrutable YouTube videos outlining his philosophy. One video, posted in December, discusses, in a rather incoherent manner, the "new currency." Currency has been a staple issue of the Nativist right; its members fear that the shift from the gold standard to the Federal Reserve system (and the printing of paper money) has imperiled the country. The issue has lately been taken up by some within the tea party who have warned of the supposed dangers of printing money; some have even suggested using an alternative currency of silver and gold.

Concerns about currency stretch from extreme conspiracy theorists to traditional libertarians. For example, libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has often warned against paper money, advocating a return to the gold standard. (Some Paul supporters have worried that Loughner's currency ramblings would unfairly tarnish them. "That [Loughner] was for gold and silver backed currency can only mean bad things for us," a commenter on RonPaulForums.com wrote today.)

In an online posting accompanying one of his videos, Loughner refers repeatedly to Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution, which states that "No State shall...make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts."

Loughner writes: "What is section 10 you ask? If you make a purchase then it's illegal under section 10 and amendment 1 of the United States constitution. You make a purchase. Therefore, it's illegal under section 10 and amendment 1 of the United States constitution." He also states: "Top secret: Why don't people control the money system? Their Current Currency(1/1) / Your new infinite currency (1/~infinte) This is a selcte information of revoluntary thoughts!"

The fears of paper currency and the Fed also are shared by anti-Semites who maintain that Jews control the Federal Reserve system and are working behind the scenes to destroy the true American Republic. So at this early stage of the shooting investigation, it's worth noting that Giffords is the first Jewish member of Congress in Arizona's history. Loughner, in an online posting, described Mein Kampf as one of his favorite books. Still, there's no telling yet precisely where Loughner resides on the extremist landscape.

You can watch Loughner's video here:

Read our exclusive interview with a friend who describes Loughner's family, bizarre dream journal, and his obsession with Rep. Giffords. Full coverage of the shooting and its aftermath is here.