Mojo - January 2013

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 18, 2013

Fri Jan. 18, 2013 10:00 AM EST

Squeezing the near freezing trigger of his machine gun, Pvt. Jeff Richardson, an Infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares for realistic combat environments during a weapon’s malfunction training session held on a wet, 24-degree Fort Campbell field, Jan. 16. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Joe Padula.

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Obama's Plan May Put More Guns in Schools

| Fri Jan. 18, 2013 6:01 AM EST

President Obama's new plan for reducing gun violence includes a $150 million proposal to give school districts money that they can use to hire specially trained police officers, social workers or other support staff. Recent polling shows some support for the idea of more armed adults on school grounds, but how likely is it to become widespread?

In the wake of Newtown, there has been a push for more armed staffincluding teachers and even janitorsin some areas of the country. Two hundred teachers in Utah and 400 in Texas have reportedly flocked to conceal-and-carry courses, and a gun rights group in Ohio offering free classes for teachers has reported big interest in its program. In Ohio last week, one school board unanimously passed a plan to arm janitors. In many states, it’s legal for teachers and other school staff to carry concealed firearms with permits, as long as they have admistrators' permission (typically from the principal or school board), though few schools have taken advantage of that loophole in the past.

In most cases, however, there's a big difference between installing a police officer and a social studies instructor who's gotten some basic firearms training. Is arming school teachers and janitors a good idea at all? For starters, as Mother Jones' in-depth investigation showed, data on mass shootings strongly suggests that it's neither a smart nor effective solution for stopping massacres. And that's aside from the fact that studies show when more firearms are around, the odds of more people getting shot go up significantly, whether accidentally or otherwise.

Other bad outcomes may be in store, as some scenarios in Mississippi demonstrate. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves recently proposed spending an additional $7.5 million on hiring more law enforcement officers in schools, but as a newly released report on school discipline in Mississippi shows, only 4 percent of arrests at schools in Jackson in 2010 and 2011 were for incidents that posed any serious threat to students, teachers, or staff. That report comes on the heals of a US Department of Justice lawsuit filed against the city of Meridian, Miss., alleging that students have been arrested at school and incarcerated for disciplinary infractions, punished without due process, and held in jail for days at a time without probable cause hearings.

Opponents of having armed personnel in schools also point out that there’s no clear correlation between having more armed staff at a school and reduced violence. Resources, they say, would be better spent on mental health professionals and other support services.

The Gun Debate Is Just Another Part of the Culture War

| Fri Jan. 18, 2013 6:01 AM EST
The SOCOM 16 is a civilian version of the M14 assault rifle. It has the shortest permissible barrel for civilian use under NFA guidelines.

As we wade deeper into the guns debate, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: This issue is just as much a part of the never-ending culture wars as gay marriage and abortion.

I've written in the past about the language of politics, and specifically the language of conservative (or "reactionary") politics. People on the right and the left tend to use different language to present and enforce their ideas about the world and society, and this can create something of a barrier between liberals and conservatives. For instance, the president is often referred to by members of the far-right as a "socialist" while many members of the far-left refer to him just as disparagingly as a "neo-liberal." You could just as easily find more libertarian types calling the president a "statist" while died-in-the-wool socialists might refer to him as a "capitalist." Yes, he can be all these things at once, and yet none of them helps us understand his actual politics.

Obviously definitions vary wildly depending on one's point of view. Language is simply another currency of power, and every party to a political fight seeks to exploit language in order to advance their cause. The gun debate is no exception. 

Two of the most loaded terms in this debate are "assault weapon" and "gun control." Assault weapon has a very frightening sound to it, especially for people who don't own or understand much about guns. Gun control is similarly alarming for pro-second amendment activists, and certainly groups like the NRA utilize the term (and other more extreme language) to fan fears.

"Assault weapon" evokes images of machine guns firing off dozens of rounds each second, the sort of military weapons people are accustomed to seeing in violent films and video games. "Gun control" inspires people to line up at gun retailers to purchase as many weapons as possible before the government comes and takes them all away.

Neither of these assumptions is correct, and both serve to muddy the waters of debate. So let's take a look at some of the current misconceptions surrounding guns and gun control, and try to have, for lack of a better phrase, a fair and balanced discussion of the issues. Full disclosure: I'm not a gun owner, and have never liked guns, and if I had a magic wand I'd erase them from the planet. But since I live in the real world, in which magic wands are regulated far more heavily than AK-47s, I'll be happy with more practical solutions.

Corn on MSNBC: NRA Advertisement Featuring Obama's Children Went Too Far

Thu Jan. 17, 2013 6:49 PM EST

Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele debate the NRA's latest ad, which targeted the Obama children, on MSNBC's The Ed Show yesterday. "I am an ardent supporter of the NRA," Steele says, "but it is time for Republicans across the spectrum, and particularly on issues like this, to stop doing stupid."

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

Former CIA Legal Adviser Hits Obama Over Targeted Killing

| Thu Jan. 17, 2013 5:36 PM EST

Vicki Divoll, a former staffer for the Senate intelligence committee and legal adviser to the CIA, excoriated the Obama administration for its secrecy on targeted killing in an op-ed for the New York Times Wednesday [emphasis added]:

While Mr. Obama has criticized his predecessor, he has also worried about his successors. Last fall, when the election’s outcome was still in doubt, Mr. Obama talked about drone strikes in general and said Congress and the courts should in some manner “rein in” presidents by putting a "legal architecture in place." His comments seemed to reflect concern that future presidents should perhaps not wield alone such awesome and unchecked power over life and death—of anyone, not just Americans. Oddly, under current law, Congress and the courts are involved when presidents eavesdrop on Americans, detain them or harshly interrogate them—but not when they kill them.

It is not just the most recent president, this one and the next whom we need to worry about when it comes to improper exercise of power. It is every president. Mr. Obama should declassify and release, to Congress, the press and the public, documents that set forth the detailed constitutional and statutory analysis he relies on for targeting and killing American citizens.

Congress has occasionally criticized the administration for its secrecy on targeted killing, and it's made rhetorical demands that the White House release a legal analysis for why it believes it has the authority to kill American terrorism suspects abroad. But every time a group of legislators actually attempts to compel the administration to come clean with its legal analysis, they're kneecapped by their colleagues

Divoli's op-ed highlights one of the key paradoxes of the Obama administration: That many Democrats who were harshly critical of Bush's record on civil liberties have largely given Obama a pass when it comes to secrecy and executive power.

Are the Congressional Chaplains Attending an Anti-Obama Prayer Breakfast?

| Thu Jan. 17, 2013 4:52 PM EST

Just before President Barack Obama's swearing in on Monday, a group of religious conservatives plans to hold a prayer breakfast featuring a number of anti-Obama conspiracy theorists. The Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast—billed as offering "prayer, worship, and reconciliation of the nation"—will feature the editor of the birther site WorldNetDaily and minister and media mogul Pat Robertson, according its website. The organizers of the prayer breakfast also claim the House and Senate chaplains will speak at their event—appearances that may conflict with the non-partisan nature of the chaplain job.

House Chaplain Rev. Patrick Conroy and Senate Chaplain Barry Black (who has been in the news recently for his prayers during the fiscal cliff negotiations asking God to "save us from self-inflicted wounds") are listed under the "Prayer for the Nation" portion of Monday's event, just ahead of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). But featured speaker Joseph Farah, the WorldNetDaily editor, has drawn the most attention, given his website's regular assertions that President Obama was actually born in Kenya and allegations that he is "the first Muslim president." The event also features "messianic rabbi-pastor and author" Jonathan Cahn, who believes that there are signs of the apocalypse encrypted in Obama's communications.

The group Faithful America started a petition on Thursday asking the chaplains to skip this "anti-Obama" event, which gathered more than 5,000 signatures in less than a day. But it got weird when Mother Jones asked the chaplains if they were actually attending the event. "Chaplain Black has NOT agreed to attend," Senate Chaplain Black's office responded via email. "We are working with the organizers planning the event to get his name taken off any promotional materials associated with this."

A spokeswoman for the prayer breakfast who declined to give her name told Mother Jones that Black is scheduled to deliver a prayer at the event. "He spoke directly with us and said he was," she said, adding that they will have to "clear up" any confusion.

We also reached out to House Chaplain Conroy's office, but he was traveling and had not responded to a request for comment at press time.

The breakfast organizers seem to be having a hard time figuring out who is actually speaking at the event. On Wednesday, Media Matters detailed a rather bizarre exchange with organizer Rev. Merrie Turner as to whether or not Farah is an official speaker at the event.

UPDATE: Elizabeth Flock at US News reported on Friday that Senate Chaplain Black will not be attending the inaugural prayer breakfast. However, House Chaplain Conroy's office said that Conroy will be in attendance and will recite a quick prayer. (Conroy's office stated that he will not "stay too long," though.)

As of 4:00 p.m. ET on Friday, the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast website continues to list the Senate Chaplain as a featured guest for their "Prayer for the Nation."

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Welcome to the NRA Wine Club

| Thu Jan. 17, 2013 3:44 PM EST

The NRA may or may not be a gun club for whiners, but it does have a wine club. The NRA Wine Club, as it is known, offers "limited collector's editions NRA wines." If you sign up, you'll also get a "Custom NRA Engraved Wine Box."

Sadly, the NRA does not offer a domestic-beer club. Yet in one sense, marketing alcohol of any kind to hard-core gun owners is a stroke of brilliance: According to a 1997 study in the American Journal of Public Health, owners of semi-automatic weapons are more likely than other gun owners to report binge drinking.

Now if only the NRA could start a tobacco club, it would be primed for a raid by the "jack-booted thugs" in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

You Need to See These 5 Shocking Facts About Money in the 2012 Elections

| Thu Jan. 17, 2013 2:17 PM EST
Sheldon Adelson.

Not since the years before the Watergate scandal has a small cadre of mega-donors influenced our elections as much as wealthy givers such as casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, and Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner did in 2012. These men and a few dozen others pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into super-PACs and shadowy nonprofits and raised tens of millions more for presidential and Congressional campaigns.

Now, a new report titled "Billion-Dollar Democracy" by the Demos think tank and the US Public Interest Research Group, both left-of-center groups, distills all the fundraising and spending on last year's elections and spits out an array of eye-popping factoids about where all the money came from (or most of it, at least) and how it was spent. It is vital information as reporters, activists, and others try to make sense of an election season full of firsts—the first full cycle since the 2010 Citizens United decision, the first $1 billion campaign (Obama), and the first presidential race in which both major candidates rejected public financing.

I've plucked out five must-see highlights from the report, with graphics courtesy of Demos and US PIRG:

32

It took just 32 of the biggest super-PAC donors to match the total giving—$313 million—by every single small-dollar donor to Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's campaigns combined. Donors who give less than $200 aren't disclosed, but it's at least 3.7 million people.

Source: Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of FEC and Sunlight Foundation data.


159 donors

A tiny sliver of the American population supplied most of the money super-PACs used during the 2012 campaign season. How tiny? Sixty percent of all super-PAC donations came from just 159 people.

Source: Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of FEC and Sunlight Foundation data.


31%

Of the $1.03 billion outside groups spent last election cycle, 31 percent was "dark money," meaning we don't know who gave the money or where it came from.

Source: Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of FEC and Sunlight Foundation data.


58%

Dark money fueled a huge chunk of those TV attack ads you noticed during commercial breaks for Parks and Recreation. Fifty-eight percent of outside groups' TV spending on the presidential race was funded by dark money.

Source: The Washington Post, “Mad Money.”


322,000 average Americans

It would take 322,000 middle-income Americans—say, the entire population of Anaheim, Calif., minus a few thousand folks—giving 0.37 percent of their net worth to match casino magnate Sheldon Adelson's $91.8 million, which was 0.37 percent of his net worth. Forbes estimates Adelson's fortune at $20.5 billion.

Source: Dēmos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of FEC and Sunlight Foun- dation data.

Can These New Federal Rules Rein in Foreclosure-Frenzied Banks?

| Thu Jan. 17, 2013 11:52 AM EST

On Thursday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal consumer watchdog set up by the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, announced a new set of foreclosure-prevention rules focused on keeping loan servicers honest.

Servicers, which collect mortgage payments from borrowers and work out terms of a loan, are supposed to explore all alternatives to foreclosure before reclaiming a home, and to give homeowners a fair and clear evaluation process. But as millions of borrowers fell behind on payments in the wake of the financial meltdown, loan servicers got slammed by tons of added legwork and administration, and many more got perverse incentives to fast-track borrowers into default. Some servicers put on a spectacular show of incompetence and outright fraud, routinely losing paperwork, "robo-signing" people into wrongful foreclosures, and locking people out of their houses when the borrowers thought they were on road to loan modification. Much of this is still happening. The new CFPB rules are supposed to help fix it. (A similar set of regulations targeting mortgage lenders was released last week.)

Republicans Vigorously Oppose Imaginary Obama Gun Proposals

| Thu Jan. 17, 2013 10:54 AM EST
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announcing the White House's proposed action on guns Wednesday.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) knew that President Barack Obama's proposed ban on guns wouldn't work, saying as much to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly Wednesday night.

"What the President is proposing is problematic for a couple of reasons, but primarily because it doesn't work..." Rubio said. "These ideas don't work. It's not just Chicago. Washington, DC had a very similar gun ban. And it didn't work. In fact violent crime and murder and all these things skyrocketed in Washington during the time of those bans."

There's only one problem: Obama hasn't proposed gun restrictions that resemble anything like those in Chicago or those that were overturned in Washington DC. It's possible Rubio hadn't actually looked at what the White House proposed before reacting. If so, he wouldn't be the only Republican to make that mistake. Senator Rand Paul (R-Tenn.), speaking to Fox News' Sean Hannity, vowed to "nullify anything the president does that smacks of legislation," adding that "there are several of the executive orders that appear as if he's writing new law. That cannot happen." Paul's staff might want to inform him that Obama signed no executive orders Wednesday. He did sign several presidential memorandums directing relevant agencies to alter their behavior regarding gun tracing, health research, and criminal background checks, in addition to issuing a list of other executive and administrative actions that he will take on guns. 

Obama's legislative proposals on guns, meanwhile, still have to get through a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that is unlikely to greatly restrict gun rights. They include a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but nothing as restrictive Chicago or DC laws. Despite this, Republicans have already brought up impeachment, including Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), and Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.), who didn't even wait for Obama to unveil his plan and pretend to read it before deciding the president had met the threshold for removal from office.

Republicans were primed to expect a gun grab. Prominent conservatives like Matt Drudge have made historically obtuse warnings that Obama, like Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, is bent on disarming the population (presumably prior to building a gulag and engaging in genocide). But rather than of banning guns by fiat, the White House's list of executive actions consists mostly of practical or symbolic measures, containing lots of phrases like "release a letter," "start a national dialogue" and "provide incentives." It's not exactly the stuff dictatorships are made of, but Obama's imaginary executive actions on guns are certainly more exciting than the ones he actually proposed.