Mojo - 2013...on-unstoppable?page=96

Georgia Legislators Propose Ending Direct Election of Senators—Why Not Just Get Rid of the Senate?

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 1:45 PM EST
Atlanta skyline at dusk.

It is a matter of public record that the United States Senate is a terrible place where serious policy issues are ignored; routine votes are occasionally delayed over concerns about non-existent terrorist groups; and proverbial cans are proverbially kicked down the proverbial road of sadness, gridlock, and despair.

What's less clear is why the Senate is such a congress of louts. Is it the endless pressure to raise money? The never-ending campaign? The fact that Americans hold lots of substantive disagreements on important things and are themselves—it's been said—somewhat dysfunctional?

Actually, according to Georgia state Rep. Buzz Brockaway, the biggest problem with the Senate is that it's democratically elected. Brockaway, a Republican, has introduced a bill in the state legislature to repeal the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators, and instead restore the responsibility of choosing members to state legislatures (as was the process until 1913).

The bill, HR 273, laments that "the Seventeenth Amendment has resulted in a large federal government with power and control that cannot be checked by the states," and suggests that "the original purpose of the United States Senate was to protect the sovereignty of the states from the federal government and to give each individual state government representation in the federal legislative branch of government."

If the bill passed, Georgia would be the first state to endorse repealing the 17th Amendment, but the idea has gained traction among conservatives over the last few decades. Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports it; so do GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona. (Republican Indiana Sen. candidate Richard Mourdock endorsed the idea during his campaign last year, before, in an ironic twist, losing the popular vote.) As Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald noted in 2012, conservatives blame the 17th Amendment for trampling over the rights of states by changing the constituency to which senators are accountable.

Of course, introducing a bill is the easy part. Getting voters to agree to give up their right to vote will probably be a tough sell.

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FreedomWorks Is "Freaking Out" Over the Giant-Panda-Hillary-Clinton-Sex Video

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 12:33 PM EST

The story revealing that FreedomWorks produced a video with an obscene scene featuring a giant panda, Hillary Clinton, and oral sex created quite a stir and, according to former officials of the influential tea party group, had staffers at the conservative advocacy group and super-PAC "freaking out," as one put it. That was to be expected, especially since FreedomWorks is the target of an internal investigation mounted by its board of trustees after board members received "allegations of wrongdoing by the organization or its employees," according to a letter the board sent in December to Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks. That probe is being conducted by two lawyers: Alfred Regnery, long a prominent figure in the conservative movement, and David Martin.

Readers of Thursday's article may have noticed that Kibbe, Adam Brandon, the executive vice president of the group (who appeared in the obscene video), and Jackie Bodnar, the director of communications for FreedomWorks, did not respond to repeated requests from Mother Jones for comments (and an explanation) regarding the bizarre video. James Burnley IV, one of the two trustees who initiated the internal inquiry, did offer a comment that suggested he might not have known of the video and that the investigation might have not yet learned of it. (Former FreedomWorks officials note that the production of the video could have entailed sexual harassment, given that two female interns were asked to play the roles of the giant panda and Hillary Clinton and act out a pretend sex scene.)

After the story was posted, the FreedomWorks gang was still officially keeping mum about the giant-panda-Hillary-Clinton-sex video. I did send Burnley this query, which referred to C. Boyden Gray, another board of trustees member:

Now that the allegations regarding the video are public, do you and C. Boyden Gray intend to ask Alfred Regnery and David Martin to investigate them?

So far, no response from Burnley. Yet two former FreedomWorks officials say that they believe Regnery and Martin will have no choice but to add the panda-Clinton-sex video to their to-do list.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 15, 2013

Fri Feb. 15, 2013 12:00 PM EST

U.S. soldiers patrol down a mountain after visiting an Afghan border police observation point in Kunar province, Afghanistan, Jan. 28, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jon Heinrich.

Under Obama, Feds Holster Gun Cases

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 7:01 AM EST

Despite the amped-up claims that President Obama is just waiting to crack down on gun owners, a new report reveals that his administration has been pursuing significantly fewer gun crimes than the predeceeding one. Under Obama, federal weapons prosecutions have declined to their lowest levels nearly a decade, according to a new report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group associated with Syracuse University.

After 9/11, the Bush administration's firearms prosecutions shot up, peaking at about 11,000 cases in 2004. In 2012, the feds prosecuted fewer than 8,000 gun cases:

TRAC

The prosecutions' most common target are felons who illegally possess or sell weapons—not legal owners or sellers who run afoul of the law. And, TRAC notes, counting on federal prosecutions misses the majority of gun cases: "Because of the very different number of the enforcers and prosecutors working at the two levels, state and local gun prosecutions almost certainly dwarf anything that is done by the federal government."

It's not entirely clear how the gun lobby's efforts to hamstring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives's ability to enforce weapons laws has influenced the decline in gun cases. But of the 3,741 weapons cases referred to federal attorneys in 2012 that weren't investigated, about 40 percent were determined to lack sufficient evidence to pursue. And since 2005, the number of cases referred by the ATF has exceeded the number of weapons crimes prosecuted by federal authorities.

TRAC

Universal Preschool? Not So Fast

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 7:01 AM EST

On Tuesday, President Obama first proposed to "make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America." Like many ideas that get floated during the State of the Union, the plan could've withered from there. As Gail Collins described in the New York Times, one of the earliest victories of the new right was destroying a preschool proposal that made it through Congress in 1971. No president has seriously tried to pitch universal preschool, or a similarly ambitious plan for early education, since.

But the president promoted universal pre-K again during a visit to an early childhood center in Decatur, Georgia, on Thursday, as the White House rolled out an ambitious plan to give states money to expand preschool access for kids from low- and middle-income families, and grow several federal programs that focus on health and early education for infants, toddlers, and pregnant moms.

Mounting research indicates that preschool pays off for kids from low-income families, not just in terms of better grades and academics in school but also, as Kevin Drum noted, in important life gains. The kids who who attended the HighScope Perry pre-K program in Ypsilanti, Michigan—which Obama was likely referencing during SOTU when he threw out that early education provides a $7 return on the dollar—were as adults more likely to be employed, less likely to have committed crimes, and made more money than a control group. The idea that pre-K is a good public investment, even "a better investment than the stock market," as the Washington Post argued yesterday, is becoming increasingly popular in Washington. But some experts argue that there are better ways to improve pre-K for kids from low-income families than the White House's new strategy.

Your Longreads Guide to Guns

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 7:01 AM EST
longreads logo

"I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence," President Obama said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. "But this time is different." In light of the national debate set off by the massacre in Newtown, here are six stories about guns that will take you from the annals of the NRA to the Vietnam war to the US-Mexico border.

For more MoJo staffers' long-form favorites, visit our longreads.com page. Take a look at some of our own reporters' longreads here and follow @longreads and @motherjones on Twitter for the latest. And for additional in-depth reporting on gun laws and mass shootings in America, check out Mother Jones' yearlong investigation.


"The NRA vs. America" | Tim Dickinson | Rolling Stone | January 2013

While the National Rifle Association claims to represent more than 4 million "marksmen, hunters, and responsible gun owners," recent polls show its politics are out of whack with those of most Americans, gun owners included. Some observers believe that the NRA and its lightning rod of a front man, Wayne LaPierre, essentially acts as a lobbying outfit for the powerful firearms industry.

In more than three decades of service to the NRA, Wayne LaPierre has done more than any other man alive to make America safe for crazed gunmen to build warlike arsenals and unleash terror on innocents at movie theaters and elementary schools. In the 1980s, he helped craft legislation to roll back gun control passed in the wake of the Kennedy and King assassinations. And since the late 1990s, twice he has destroyed political deals that might have made it hugely difficult for accused killers like Holmes and Lanza to get their hands on their weapons.

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The Pistorius Case and South Africa's Gun Problem

| Thu Feb. 14, 2013 5:24 PM EST

South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, has been charged with murder for shooting his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, early this morning. While initial reports suggested that the 26-year-old athlete had mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar, the BBC reported that authorities were skeptical: "Police say neighbours heard screaming and shouting around the time of the shooting, and that they had been called to investigate incidents of a domestic nature at the same house in the past."

Pistorius' ownership of and affinity for guns has been well documented by journalists, including the New York Times Magazine's Michael Sokolove and others. Check out this tweet from last November:

(Following the shooting, Nike pulled a South African TV ad featuring Pistorius and the tagline "I am the bullet in the chamber.")

The shooting is the most high-profile case from a country that, like the United States, has recently grappled with the impact of its well-established gun culture. Interestingly, firearms are not mentioned in the South African constitution, and a tough gun control law was passed in 2000. When it went into effect five years later, it put a five-gun limit on most citizens, allowing just one gun per person for self-defense purposes. As the Times explained:

But getting any gun at all, critics say, is the big task. Guns are to be automatically denied to drug or alcohol abusers, spouse abusers, people inclined to violence or "deviant behavior" and anyone who has been imprisoned for violent or sex-related crimes. The police interview three acquaintances of each applicant before deciding whether he or she is competent to own a gun. Prospective gun owners must pass a firearms course. They also must install a safe or strongbox that meets police standards for gun storage.

South Africa now ranks 50th in the world in gun ownership rates, and gun-related crime has dropped 21 percent since 2004-05. Shooting murders of women, particularly by their partners, has dropped, as shown by this chart from a 2012 report (PDF) by the South African Medical Research Council. (Murders by partners are called "intimate femicides.")

Gun homicides

Still, in 2007, the country's gun homicide rate was among the highest in the world, ranking 12th at 17 gun murders annually per 100,000 people. To put that statistic in context: In 2007, there were 8,319 gun deaths murders in South Africa, a country of roughly 49 million people. The United States—No. 1 in gun ownership, and with more than six times as many people—had 9,960 gun deaths homicides in 2012.

In many ways, American and South African gun culture and gun violence are quite different. But the possibility that Pistorius intentionally shot and killed Steenkamp brings to mind two of the most prominent pro-gun myths: namely, that keeping a gun at home makes you and your loved ones safer, and that guns make women safer.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 14, 2013

Thu Feb. 14, 2013 11:21 AM EST

A Marine deployed with Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group, kisses his wife during a homecoming aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. Marines and sailors with CLR-15 were deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Laura Gauna.

Minimum Wage Boost Would Help Women Most

| Thu Feb. 14, 2013 11:06 AM EST

In his state of the union address Tuesday, President Obama called for an increase in the federal minimum wage, and on Wednesday, he took his pitch on the road to a factory in North Carolina. There's no guarantee that GOP opposition will be overcome, but if Congress does grant his wish, this income bump would most dramatically impact women and their families, according to a new study.

Last year, 64 percent of workers who earned the minimum wage or less were women, according to the report, put out Wednesday by the liberal think-tank Center for American Progress. CAP found that if wages were upped from $7.25 to $9 an hour, as Obama proposed, nearly 9 million women who are paid hourly wages would see their earnings directly increased. Another 4.2 million women would get a wage hike because of a "spillover effect," in which companies boost wages for higher earners as well in order to maintain the same pay hierarchy in the firm.

Center for American Progress

"Raising the minimum wage would be a step in the right direction to ensuring that women are properly compensated for their work, as it would disproportionately help low-wage female workers," write the report's authors.

And since the workers that would be affected are largely adults, a higher minimum wage would help whole families in a big way. Seventy-nine percent of minimum wage earners are over 20 years old, according to the report. Nine dollars an hour would mean more money for macaroni and cheese, gas, diapers, and shoes.

Over the past three decades, the super rich have grabbed the largest share of economic gains in the United States. Meanwhile, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen by 13.5 percent, according to CAP.

Mother Jones

As Obama said in his address Tuesday night, "Let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty."

Obama Issues Cybersecurity Order, Does Not Seize Control of Internet

| Wed Feb. 13, 2013 12:57 PM EST

Largely overlooked among President Obama's State of the Union policy moves was a push to protect US infrastructure from cyberattacks. Earlier on Tuesday, the president signed an executive order that expands information-sharing between the government and private companies to, as he said in Tuesday night's address, develop "standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy." Conservatives and big business are warning of executive overreach—but in fact, the cybersecurity program gives companies more information than it requires from them, relies heavily on congressional support, and even makes civil liberties advocates happy

Under the order, companies that provide vital services like electricity and water—many of which are considered highly vulnerable to attacks—will be able to view classified government information on cyberthreats, but they aren't required to share information when they get hacked. The order doesn't require companies to participate, nor does it provide any financial incentives (yet), but that didn't stop House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. John McCaul, R-Texas, from warning that it could "open the door to increased regulations that would stifle innovation [and] burden businesses." The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the program "unnecessary."

By contrast, civil libertarians such as the ACLU were relieved that the order emphasized privacy and civil liberties safeguards. Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Forbes that “We definitely like the executive order better than last year's Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act... The executive order can’t change any federal rules. It just changes the way the executive branch chooses to do things.”

In other words, Obama didn't take over the Internet (that's what Facebook is for.)