Mojo - January 2013

Boy Scouts Threaten to Kick Out Pack For Supporting Gay Members

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 1:57 PM PST
Prayitno, Flickr

Update: Pack 442 took down its non-discrimination statement on Saturday after pressure from the National Capital Area Council, and will keep its charter as a result.  Theresa Phillips, committee chair of Pack 442 tells Mother Jones the pack will continue to welcome gay members and families, even without the statement.  "I asked for my name to removed from the charter because I feel like if gay/lesbian individuals are not worthy of being registered leaders, then I am not either," Phillips says. 

The Boy Scouts council in charge of overseeing scout programs in the Washington, DC-area is threatening to kick out a Maryland pack for posting a statement on its website declaring it won't discriminate against gay scouts. The pack has to decide by tomorrow whether to remove the statement.

In September, the families of Pack 442, which is based in Cloverly, Maryland (a small town less than 20 miles from the nation's capital), anonymously voted and overwhelmingly approved to adopt a non-discrimination statement. According to Theresa Phillips, committee chair of Pack 442, the pack wanted Boy Scouts of America to know "we will not stand for the discrimination of homosexual minors or adults whatsoever." Here's the sentence causing the controversy:

Not long after the statement was posted, the National Capital Area Council (NCAC), one of the bigger local councils of the Boy Scouts of America, asked the pack to strike it from the website. "At first they [said] they would "allow" us to leave it up based on our right to freedom of speech. Now they are doing a 180 and basically asking us to either conform to BSA's discriminatory policy or get out," says Phillips.

Les Baron, CEO and Scout Executive of NCAC, confirms to Mother Jones that if the pack doesn't erase the declaration, "they will not be recognized as an organization, although that's our last resort." That means that the pack will lose access to member insurance, rank badges, and scout camps. The only problem with the statement, Baron acknowledges, is the reference to sexual orientation. "That's a message that's against our policy, and we don't want it continue to be out in our community," Baron says.

In July 2012, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its ban on gay scouts and scoutmasters, and the organization has been losing financial backers as a result. This isn't the first time the organization has threatened to kick out a chartered organization for welcoming gay members. In 2003, scouts in Sebastopol, California, lost their charter for refusing to drop a similar statement. In 2012 in Ottawa Hills, Ohio and Redlands, California, families were forced to choose between accepting gay members and retaining membership.

"To think that the Boy Scouts would rather cast out elementary school children than accept a parent-approved policy allowing gay children and parents to participate is just unconscionable,” Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, tells Mother Jones. “How many young Scouts is the BSA willing to sacrifice in order to preserve its harmful and discriminatory policies? This despicable act of bullying and intimidation is yet another reminder that the BSA is out of touch with its members and the American public at large.”

Baron says that "we're working through our differences with the pack right now." Pack 442's website is hosting an online poll, open to the public but intended for pack families, on whether it should remove the non-discrimination statement. It must decide whether to apply for membership by January 26, so it is closing the poll at 8 PM on Friday. Phillips says the pack has not determined yet whether it will take it down, and is waiting for the poll to determine "how families feel on this matter." According to Pack 442's website, if they do decide to remove it, they plan to return to a "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.

"Clearly the Council's threat reflects a fear that Boy Scouts of America will crack down on NCAC, which has a lot on the line," says Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbian mothers, and founder of Scouts for Equality. "It's unfortunate and disappointing that they're bowing to this pressure instead of opposing the ban and being brave, as Scouts swear to do every time they recite the Scout Law."

Correction: An earlier version of this post used the terms "troops" and "packs" interchangeably. Packs are only used to describe units of the Cub Scouts, BSA's program for boys aged 7 to 10

Advertise on MotherJones.com

GOP Judges' Ruling Could Blow Up Obama's Consumer Watchdog

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 1:41 PM PST

On Friday, a federal appeals court ruled that President Barack Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, which regulates and oversees labor disputes, were unconstitutional. The Constitution allows the president to make temporary appointments, called recess appointments, while the Senate is on break—or recess, in DC terms. Obama did make the NRLB appointments while the Senate was on vacation. But Senate Republicans claimed that the Senate was technically still in session over their vacation because they were holding brief, minutes-long meetings over the course of the break. The three judges on the panel—all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents—agreed with the challengers. Now all the decisions Obama's NLRB appointees made since they joined the board are at risk of being invalidated.

The court's decision doesn't just affect labor law: it could also have an impact on the White House's broader economic agenda. The sweeping ruling throws into question the future of regulatory decisions made by one of the administration's most aggressive agencies, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Richard Cordray, the CFBP's director, was appointed at the same time and in the same manner as the three labor board members. That means the appeals court's ruling could put the enforceability of his decisions in question, too. Since Cordray's appointment, the CFPB has set rules preventing mortgage lenders from lying to borrowers about rates, fined credit card companies for violating consumer protection laws, and forced debt-relief services to refund illegal fees they charged to their cash strapped clients.

In other words, the Bureau has done what liberals hoped and Republicans feared: Prevented companies from gouging consumers with the kind of unscrupulous business practices that caused a nationwide economic meltdown four years ago. Although Cordray's appointment is being challenged separately, Friday's ruling gives companies impacted by the CFPB's decisions an opening to argue that some of the CFPB's actions should be invalidated. Cordray has been renominated as the CFPB's director, but Republicans could easily filibuster him again.

Last January, when Senate Republicans held their brief vacation sessions, there was little pretense that it was anything more than an obstructionist gimmick: Rep. Dianne Black (R-Tenn.) complained that Obama only put forth the names of his appointments "two days before the Senate recessed for the holiday." That would be the same recess that the Senate—and now the DC Circuit Court—has said technically didn't happen. Democrats have tried similar vacation meetings, which are called pro-forma sessions, in the past. But as with the filibuster, Republicans have perfected the practice.

Obama only turned to recess appointments because Republican obstructionism was blocking major government agencies from doing their jobs. The NLRB had no power to make decisions absent at least three of the five members of the board, and the CFPB's regulatory authority was similarly hampered by the absence of a director. As my colleague Kevin Drum noted at the time, this was nothing less than the Republicans nullifying a duly-passed financial regulatory law they didn't like.

Friday's ruling takes the sweeping view that recess appointments made during Senate breaks, like vacations, are unconstitutional. The court found that the recess appointment power can only be used during breaks between Senate sessions—and those only happen once a year, usually over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. It also holds that the president can only make recess appointments for positions that become open during a recess—as opposed to ones that already were open. The court's position would invalidate the vast majority of recess appointments made by Republican and Democratic presidents over the course of the last century, including that of John Bolton, George W. Bush's ambassador to the United Nations.

"That is really a radical position to take," says Caroline Fredrickson, president of the liberal American Constitution Society. "A president could be prevented from having any of his nominees confirmed." Fredrickson says she expects the administration to ask the Supreme Court to take up the case as soon as possible. 

Here's the best part: If the decision holds, then Senate Republicans just acquired even more power to block presidential appointments than they already had. Good thing the Democrats decided to cave almost entirely on filibuster reform just a day earlier.

The Assault Weapons Ban Just Doesn't Have the Votes

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 12:53 PM PST

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) new assault weapons ban legislation has many features the original 1994 law lacked—most notably, it closes loopholes that allowed manufacturers to produce de-facto assault weapons, and it eliminates the sunset provision, meaning the new version wouldn't expire after 10 years as the first one did. But according to Bloomberg, AWB 2.0 is missing one key thing that the original had—votes:

A proposed ban on sales of assault weapons would be defeated in the U.S. Senate today unless some members changed their current views, based on a Bloomberg review of recent lawmaker statements and interviews.

At least six of the chamber’s 55 Democrats have recently expressed skepticism or outright opposition to a ban, the review found. That means Democrats don’t have a simple 51-vote majority to pass the measure, let alone the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster to bring it to a floor vote.

...The five Democratic senators from traditionally pro-gun states who've recently expressed skepticism about the bill are Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who is caucusing with Democrats, also said he opposes a ban.

This isn't exactly surprising. On Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) predicted the ban wouldn't even come up for a vote. For gun control advocates, the question going forward may be just how much capital they want to invest in what's looking like an uphill battle—especially given the uncertain effects of the initial ban.

Gristedes Tycoon John Catsimatidis Launching New York Mayoral Bid Next Week

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 12:04 PM PST
John Catsimatidis, center, the billionaire businessman and soon-to-be New York mayoral candidate/

John Catsimatidis, the controversial billionaire Republican whose business empire includes real estate, an oil refining company, and the Gristedes supermarket chain, is running for mayor of New York City this year. For real. He told me Friday morning that he plans to officially announce his candidacy at a press conference on Tuesday.

Catsimatidis flirted with entering the 2009 mayoral race, going so far as to hire staffers and set up an exploratory committee. But he never jumped in,  and Michael Bloomberg went on to narrowly defeat city comptroller Bill Thompson. (Bloomberg is term-limited and cannot run again.) Late last year, Catsimatidis started a campaign account for the 2013 race and talked publicly of exploring options, sparking speculation that he would again flash some leg before ultimately retreating. 

But Catsimatidis now insists he's all in. "I'm running," he declares. His potential competitors in the GOP primary include Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joe Lhota, Bronx Borough President (and ex-Democrat) Adolfo Carrion Jr., and newspaper publisher Tom Allon, who switched from Democratic to Republican for this election. Should he win the Republican contest, Catsimatidis could face Democrats City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, city comptroller John Liu, or New York public advocate Bill de Blasio in the November general election. 

Catsimatidis, like Allon, used to identify as a Democrat. In the 1990s, he raised huge anounts of money for President Bill Clinton's reelection campaign. But he jumped to the Republican Party in 2007 because, he explained at the time, doing so gave him clearer path to the general election, with several prominent Democrats rumored to be running. Since then, Catsimatidis has stuck with the GOP and blasted Barack Obama as an inexperienced, ineffective, anti-business president. In December, he drew a comparison between singling out wealthy Americans for tax increases and the Holocaust. "We can't punish any one group and chase them away," he asserted on a local teelvision show. "We—I mean, Hitler punished the Jews. We can’t have punishing the 2-percent group right now." (He subsequently backed away from the Hitler analogy, adding, "I think the rich should pay more in taxes, I agree with that 100 percent, but everybody should feel the pain a little bit.")

Catsimatidis, not surprisingly, backed Mitt Romney in 2012, raising millions in campaign cash in the New York area for the Romney-Ryan ticket. (He still attends fundraisers for Democrats, he says.)

This Sunday, Catsimatidis is hosting a fundraiser for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at his apartment. Castsimatidis notes that this is his way of thanking McConnell for not impeding the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill that passed the Senate in December. Asked why he is fundraising for McConnell, who voted against the first Sandy relief bill, Catsimatidis says the Kentucky senator could've done much to kill the bill, but elected not to do so. "What should I do instead? Kick sand at McConnell [for voting against the measure]?" he asks. "No, I say thank you."

Is Obama's Wall Street Cop Pick as Tough as She Seems?

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 11:36 AM PST

Mary Jo White, Obama's new nominee to head a key financial regulatory agency, has quite a reputation: Sen. Chuck Schumer has called her "tough as nails," and when the president announced the pick yesterday, he warned, "You don't want to mess with Mary Jo." But when it comes to policing the big banks, is she really such a hard nose?

Many financial reformers are psyched the president chose White, the first female US attorney in Manhattan, to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, one of the federal agencies that oversees financial markets. They say that choosing someone with fierce prosecutorial experience and success in cracking down on white-collar crime signals Obama's intention to follow through on the liberal agenda he laid out in his inauguration speech Monday, and keep banks on a tight leash. At the same time, though, White has also defended Wall Street execs in private practice, and has the backing of big shots on the Street.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 25, 2013

Fri Jan. 25, 2013 10:03 AM PST

Marine advisors attached with the Afghan National Army run to a compound to take cover while receiving enemy fire during Operation New Hope, Kajaki, Afghanistan, Jan. 16, 2013. U.S.Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Mark Garcia.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Americans Like Obama's Gun-Control Ideas—Unless You Tell Them They're Obama's

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 8:18 AM PST

Americans are remarkably supportive of requiring criminal background checks to buy a gun, banning civilans from buying armor-piercing bullets, and spending more government money training law enforcement officials to deal with mass shootings, new poll by Gallup finds. No fewer than nine in ten people said they'd support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, Gallup found; eight in ten said they'd vote for more government spending on mental health programs for young people and also on more training for police officers and school officials to respond to armed attacks. Indeed, the least popular of the nine gun-control ideas advocated by President Obama, according to the poll, is a ban on the sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. And that idea was still favored by more than half of all respondents.

So what's the catch? The poll didn't mention Obama by name. Last week, when Gallup polled Americans on the president's gun-control plans and name-dropped the president, just 53 percent said they'd tell their representatives in Congress to support them.

Here are the full results:

 

We'll leave it to others to ponder the reasons for the discrepancy, but in practical terms this represents a challenge facing the president as he makes the push for new gun policies: Sell the public on his ideas while staying out of the way. 

Shocker: NRA Survey Finds Its Members Love Its Extreme Policies

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 6:19 PM PST

A new survey conducted by the National Rifle Association finds that—surprise!—NRA members really, really like the NRA and its policies. More specifically, it found that 98 percent have a favorable view of the gun-rights organization and its absolutist stance. On the flip side, 93 percent have an unfavorable view of President Barack Obama; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg squeaks by with an 80 percent disapproval rating. Moreover, the NRA finds its members overwhelmingly reject gun-control measures that nobody in Washington is seriously proposing.

Beyond the Saddam-like approval ratings, the survey of 1,000 NRA (PDF) members shows that the vast majority "are united in their desire for Washington to focus on keeping firearms from the mentally ill and to reject unconstitutional gun control measures that infringe on Second Amendment rights." More than 90 percent support keeping firearms away from the mentally ill, 89 percent oppose an assault-rifle ban, 83 percent oppose a ban on high-capacity clips, and 82 percent back the NRA's proposal to put "armed security professionals" in every public school.

And the one-sided responses keep coming as the survey tosses out some wacky hypothetical gun laws: 92 percent of NRA members say they oppose "government confiscation of certain semi-automatic firearms…through a mandatory buy-back program," and 92 percent also oppose "a new federal law banning the sale of firearms between private citizens." When presented with Obama's claims that "a balanced approach" toward reducing gun violence is needed, 79 percent say they still suspect "his real goal is to pass sweeping gun control regulation that will take away our 2nd Amendment rights." (Related: New research shows that the more informed political conservatives are, the more likely they are to believe in conspiracy theories.)

The organization says the survey is "the only legitimate survey of NRA members in existence," suggesting that external surveys, such as this one conducted for Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns—by longtime Republican pollster Frank Luntz—are bunk. That survey found that 74 percent of NRA members support requiring criminal background for all gun purchasers. (Currently, around 40 percent of gun sales are conducted without background checks due to an NRA-backed loophole.)

Pentagon's Top General: Women in Combat Help Cut Down on Military Sexual Assaults

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 1:03 PM PST

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey

If the United States had previously allowed women to serve officially in military combat roles, including special operations forces, there might be fewer sexual assaults in the armed services, the Pentagon's top general told reporters Thursday.

Having studied the issue of rampant sexual misconduct in the ranks, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that he has concluded that the phenomenon exists partly because women have been subordinated to men in military culture: "It's because we've had separate classes of military personnel." 

Dianne Feinstein Tries to Unsuck the Assault Weapons Ban

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 11:07 AM PST

The problems with the 1994 assault weapons ban, according to its supporters, were twofold. The first was that gunmakers could—and did—simply modify their semiautomatic weapons to fit the law by eliminating cosmetic features. An AR-15 without a bayonet mount is still an AR-15; it's just marginally less effective in hand-to-hand combat with Redcoats. That second problem with the ban was that it ended, sunsetting in 2004.

At a Capitol Hill press conference on Thursday to introduce new legislation banning assault weapons, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) promised that she and her colleagues had learned from their mistakes. "One criticism of the '94 law was that it was a two-characteristic test that defined [an assault weapon]," Feinstein said. "And that was too easy to work around. Manufacturers could simply remove one of the characteristics, and the firearm was legal. The bill we are introducting today will make it much more difficult to work around by moving a one-characteristic test."

And unlike AWB 1.0, Feinstein explained, this one wouldn't expire in 10 years: "No weapon is taken from anyone," she said, but "the purpose of this bill is to dry up the supply of these weapons overtime, therefore there is no sunset on this bill."

Feinstein's bill, like the original version, includes a ban on the manufacture and importation of high-capacity magazines, defined as any feeding container holding more than 10 bullets—something gun-control advocates point to as one of the success stories in the 1994 law. It would also close a loophole that legalized the slide iron stock, which as my colleague Dana Liebelson reported, allows gun-owners to convert their firearms into fully-automatics weapons—legally.

But the package faces stiff opposition, including from some Democrats. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently lamented "one-size-fits-all directives from Washington," and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who initially seemed receptive to limits on assault weapons and high-capacity clips, has since clammed up.

Even if Feinstein's bill does make it through Congress, though, there's still an open question as to what it would actually accomplish. Although Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) suggested on Thursday that the ban might have saved "hundreds of thousands" of lives had it never gone away, a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study commissioned by Department of Justice was much more reserved: "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence."