Mojo - January 2013

New Mexico GOP Rep. Wins Prize for Abortion Trolling

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 12:42 PM EST

You might think the 2012 election taught Republicans that talking about rape and abortion is just a bad idea. But apparently Cathrynn Brown, a GOP state representative in New Mexico, didn't get that message, because on Wednesday she introduced a new law that would bar raped women from getting abortions because doing so would be "tampering with evidence."

Brown's bill, HB206, would make obtaining an abortion after a rape a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Here's what the bill says:

Tampering with evidence consists of destroying, changing, hiding, placing or fabricating any physical evidence with intent to prevent the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any person or to throw suspicion of the commission of a crime upon another.
Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.

As Huffington Post notes, the bill isn't likely to pass: Democrats control both chambers of the legislature. But it is some world-class trolling that this is even being introduced.

UPDATE: After the bill got national attention, Brown issued a statement saying that her bill had been misinterpreted, the Albuquerque Journal reports. "House Bill 206 was never intended to punish or criminalize rape victims," Brown said. "Its intent is solely to deter rape and cases of incest. The rapist—not the victim—would be charged with tampering of evidence." 

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Real Filibuster Reform Appears to Be Dead in the Senate

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 12:26 PM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The fight to rewrite the filibuster, that pesky blocking maneuver used by senators to quietly kill a bill before it even arrives on the Senate floor, appears to be over. As the Huffington Post reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have cut a compromise deal that will make it easier for the Senate to begin debating new legislation, while also speeding up the process of voting to confirm the president's judicial nominations. But the deal does not include the major reform liberals wanted: the so-called "talking filibuster," which would force senators to remain speaking on the Senate floor for as long as they wanted to filibuster.

Here's more from HuffPost:

[Reid and McConnell] also agreed that they will make some changes in how the Senate carries out filibusters under the existing rules, reminiscent of the handshake agreement last term, which quickly fell apart. First, senators who wish to object or threaten a filibuster must actually come to the floor to do so. And second, the two leaders will make sure that debate time post-cloture is actually used in debate. If senators seeking to slow down business simply put in quorum calls to delay action, the Senate will go live, force votes to produce a quorum, and otherwise work to make sure senators actually show up and debate.

The arrangement between Reid and McConnell means that the majority leader will not resort to his controversial threat, known as the "nuclear option," to change the rules via 51 votes on the first day of the congressional session. Reid may have been able to get greater reforms that way, but several members of his own party were uncomfortable with the precedent it would have set. And Reid himself, an institutionalist, wanted a bipartisan deal for the longterm health of the institution. Reid presented McConnell with two offers—one bipartisan accord consisting of weaker reforms, and a stronger package Reid was willing to ram through on a partisan vote. McConnell chose the bipartisan route.

The Reid-McConnell deal is nothing to dismiss. It should accelerate the pace of bringing new bills to the floor and confirming nominations in the Senate. But it is a stinging defeat for progressive senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who fought hardest for the talking filibuster.

Merkley and Udall's proposal makes perfect sense when you stop and think about it. If you want to stymie a piece of legislation, or deny a vote on a judicial nominee of the president's, then stand up and explain why and don't stop until you're done blocking whatever it is you don't agree with. The way it works now, senators can filibuster in absentia, meaning they don't need to be on the Senate floor—or even in Washington, DC!—to block a bill. Senators now filibuster more than ever, objecting to even the most routine bills and nominations. As Merkley recently noted, there was just one vote to try to break a filibuster during Lyndon Johnson's time as Senate leader in the late 1950s; under Harry Reid, there are have been 391 such votes.

But even some Democrats in the Senate didn't like the talking filibuster idea. They still believe the filibuster will be useful when, inevitably, they're the minority party in the Senate, and they feel complelled to block the GOP's agenda. 

The Reid-McConnell compromise is also a blow to the Democracy Initiative, a coalition of labor unions, enviros, voting rights groups, and other progressive outfits that had embraced filibuster reform as its new cause célèbre. That coalition lobbied hard in the Senate this month and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads to promote the talking filibuster. Now they're left empty-handed. A related filibuster reform group, Fix the Senate, blasted out this statement Thursday morning: "If the agreement proceeds as expected, Senator Reid and the entire chamber will have missed an opportunity to restore accountability and deliberation to the Senate, while not raising the costs of obstruction."

The Silly Conservative Freak-Out Over Women in Combat

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 11:55 AM EST

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that the Pentagon plans to lift a 1994 prohibition on women serving in combat roles. The announcement prompted an ill-informed outcry from conservatives, who were perhaps unaware that American servicewomen are already in the line of fire, serving in combat though not doing so in what the Defense Department defines as "combat roles."

Late Wednesday night, Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson tweeted, "The administration boasts about sending women to the front lines on the same day Democrats push the Violence Against Women Act," suggesting an equivalence between choosing to serve on the front lines and being targeted for domestic assault. Carlson followed up: "Feminism's latest victory: the right to get your limbs blown off in war. Congratulations."

Carlson is a political journalist, so he might be expected to know that there is a woman US Army veteran amputee named Tammy Duckworth currently serving in Congress. Duckworth, who represents Illinois' 8th District, lost her legs after an attack brought down the helicopter she was piloting in Baghdad.

In the US military, a woman's service is not recognized, professionally or financially, the same way as a man's. Because women have not been eligible for "combat role" positions—even though they were shooting and being shot at—they were denied access to certain career opportunities. The plaintiffs in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the Department of Defense over the exclusion of women from combat roles offer great examples of this discrimination. Two of the plaintiffs in that case have received Purple Hearts, and two have received combat medals. One of the plaintiffs, Air Force Major Mary Jennings Hegar, a helicopter pilot, was shot down in Afghanistan attempting to evacuate wounded US service members. She engaged in a firefight with enemy forces and was shot before escaping. Women are already "getting their limbs blown off in war." Panetta's announcement will ensure they are recognized for it.

The Daily Beast's David Frum, appearing on CNN, also raised a misguided objection to the new policy. Frum claimed that servicewomen will face sexual violence from America's enemies and therefore shouldn't be allowed to serve on the front lines:

The people we are likely to meet on the next battlefield are people who use rape and sexual abuse as actual tools of politics. In Iranian prisons, rape is a frequent practice. Women are raped before they are executed. In Iran, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan rape is a conscious tool of subjugation and it is something women will be exposed to. In the name of equal opportunity they will face unequal risk.

It's true that women face the danger of sexual assault if captured. The same could be said of men. Frum's objection seems somewhat selective; women in the US military are more likely to face sexual assault from their comrades in the service than they are to be killed by enemy fire. Perhaps that's less sensational than the thought of scary foreigners violating American women, but it's a more urgent threat.

Most men cannot meet the necessary mental and physical requirements for service in combat. Any woman who can meet those standards should not be denied the opportunity because of an arbitrary gender restriction. Moreover, removing the restriction is not about celebrating militarism. The military has long been a path for historically disfavored groups to claim the full benefits of citizenship. Justifying discrimination against blacks, gays and lesbians, or women becomes much more difficult when they're giving their lives for their country. 

When John Kerry Was a Lone Hero in Congress

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 11:20 AM EST

Thursday was a big day for Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat. The son of a foreign-service officer, he was appearing before the Senate foreign relations committee (which he used to chair) as President Barack Obama's pick to be secretary of state. Though Kerry failed in 2004 to win the nation's highest job, becoming the country's top diplomat is a tremendous accomplishment and marvelous capstone for his decades-long public career, which began when he returned from service in Vietnam a war hero and led the movement against that war.

Over the years, it has been easy for some to poke fun at Kerry for his sometimes stodgy senatorial ways and for his occasional lapses, such as his 2002 vote authorizing President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. But those who weren't around Washington in the 1980s or who have short memories might not realize that Kerry has been one of the more courageous members of the Senate. Back in 2004, when Kerry was running for president and some progressives were grumbling about him, I wrote an article for The Nation reminding folks of the gutsy actions Kerry had taken in the dark days of the Reagan-Bush era, when Republicans in the White House were cozying up to dictators, the CIA was using assets tied to drug smuggling to prosecute its secret wars, and Democrats were nervous about probing international banks with shady ties (that in several instances implicated Democrats). As Kerry reaches the pinnacle of the foreign-policy world, it's an appropriate time to recall his years of noncombat bravery. Here's the bulk of that article:

It's Not Illegal To Buy a Gun for a Criminal

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 10:48 AM EST

Want to buy an AR-15 for a friend who happens to be in a Mexican drug cartel? The way gun laws stand right now, you can: It's not illegal to purchase guns for a criminal. And federal laws surrounding gun trafficking across the border are notoriously weak. Legislation that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) unveiled Wednesday would help fix that.

The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), strengthens laws governing the "straw purchase" of firearms, or the buying of guns or ammunition for someone who is prohibited from owning one. Under current law, it is only a crime to transfer a firearm to someone else with the knowledge that the person will use it in a crime. So prosecutors usually cobble together "paperwork" violations such as lying on federal forms in order to bring charges against a straw purchaser. Leahy's bill prohibits weapons transfers in which the transferor has "reasonable cause to believe" that the firearm will be used in criminal activity, and sets up heavy penalties for doing so.

Top Obama Organizer Wants to Turn Texas Blue

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 10:42 AM EST

For the last decade, Democrats have dreamed of turning Texas blue. Yet for the last decade, Texas has turned increasingly red—peaking over the past two years, when Repbulicans gained a supermajority in the Legislature for the first time ever. Those two facts, needless to say, can't really coexist. Now, Politico's Alex Burns reports, Democrats think they may have found a solution:

The organization, dubbed "Battleground Texas," plans to engage the state's rapidly growing Latino population, as well as African-American voters and other Democratic-leaning constituencies that have been underrepresented at the ballot box in recent cycles. Two sources said the contemplated budget would run into the tens of millions of dollars over several years—a project Democrats hope has enough heft to help turn what has long been an electoral pipe dream into reality.

At the center of the effort is Jeremy Bird, formerly the national field director for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, who was in Austin last week to confer with local Democrats about the project.

One month into its existence, though, the group has already hit its first road bump: Thanks to a quirky system that forces legislators to draw straws to determine the length of their terms in redistricting cycles, the party's best statewide candidate (per the story), state Sen. Wendy Davis, will only serve two years instead of four. That means that come 2014, Battleground Texas' first bite at the gubernatorial apple, its most viable candidate for governor will likely be fighting for statehouse re-election instead. Such is life for Lone Star Democrats.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 24, 2013

Thu Jan. 24, 2013 10:29 AM EST

U.S. Marines with Romeo Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, receive their ammunition at a live fire range on Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 22, 2013. The Marines of Romeo Battery deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kowshon Ye.

The NRA in 1905: More Mustaches, Less Politics

| Thu Jan. 24, 2013 6:06 AM EST

A look through the National Rifle Association's 1905 annual report (price: 10 cents) shows how vastly the gun group has changed since it was merely "A Patriotic Organization...Organized in 1871 for the purpose of promoting and encouraging rifle shooting among the citizens throughout the United States," as the title page explains.

Unlike the leadership of today's NRA—whose board of directors includes has-been actors, a loudmouth rocker, America's most zealous anti-tax activist, and a former GOP senator who fell from grace following a 2007 escapade in an airport men's room—the 1905-1906 board consisted overwhelmingly of former or active-duty members of official state militias. (Only 30 percent of the current NRA board has served in the military.) You'll see a similar contrast between the NRA's officers and executive committee then and now. Check out the 1905 officers' titles (and 'staches!) below.

 

I daresay the chaplain has been downsized. In any case, this vintage report is little more than a voluminous shooting-club newsletter, portraying the activities of men consumed with target practice, marksmanship, and competitions held by NRA-affiliated shooting clubs across the nation. You'll find therein endless names, scores, and stats, plus plenty of photos of uniformed gentlemen with funny facial hair shooting or standing around in fields.

 

What you won't find is a hint of today's politics and fearmongering. The only controversies you're likely to encounter are of a sporting nature. From one dispatch: "Under such circumstances, the conditions which prevented the finish of a range on one day by all was manifestly unfair to many contestants, as some of them had to shoot during a heavy rain and wind storm, while others had favorable conditions over the same range another day."

It seems that if you were an NRA member back then, you were most likely an active, engaged member, not just someone who got a free membership because you bought a gun or a ticket to a gun show. And the 1905 NRA, of course, had no wine club. But some things haven't changed. The NRA's grass-roots shooter-members were always viewed as a customer base for the makers of rifles, uniforms, and related gear. The NRA acknowleges these special "Life Members" in its report.

Over the years, the NRA has expanded its symbiotic ties with gunmakers to the point that it seems to have lost sight of its founding mission. It vehemently fights even the most reasonable proposals to curb runaway gun violence, makes outlandish proposals when confronted, and engages in tasteless and misleading political attacks. It doles out leadership positions to the CEO of Bushmaster (which made the rifle used in the Newtown massacre) and the founder of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing (who invented the very unsportsmanlike .50 caliber sniper rifle).

Nowadays, in the magazines that the NRA gives away free with every membership, its corporate sponsors—$1 million-plus recently from Smith & Wesson!—advertise advanced killing machines. It makes you yearn for the days when the group's trade members proffered their simple wares to a group of dedicated sportsmen, minus the machismo. I'll leave you with some of the ads from the annual report. Forget Walmart—check out these low prices!

 

 

 

 

Defense Secretary Lifts Ban on Women in Combat

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 3:55 PM EST

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced on Wednesday that he's lifting the ban on women serving in combat roles.

The Associated Press broke the news:

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

Panetta's decision makes women eligible for another 238,000 jobs in the military. The DoD last changed its rules on this in February 2011, when it opened 14,000 more jobs to women. The ban on women serving in combat roles was the subject of a recent lawsuit filed by four female service members who argued that the policy limited their ability to advance in the armed forces and did not reflect the reality that many women are already serving in combat roles in practice, if not in name.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the four women in that case, issued a statement on Wednesday noting that the group is "thrilled" at the announcement. "But," added Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, "we welcome this statement with cautious optimism, as we hope that it will be implemented fairly and quickly so that servicewomen can receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts."

GOP Rep. Paul Broun Says Obama Upholds the Soviet Constitution, Doesn't Specify Which One

| Wed Jan. 23, 2013 3:54 PM EST
Official White House photo.

According to a guy who's questioned Barack Obama's citizenship, thinks America is headed for a Leninist dictatorship, and has called evolution and other science "lies straight from the pit of Hell," the president and his congressional allies are taking their marching orders from the Constitution...just not the American one.

"I don't know what Constitution that other members of Congress uphold, but it's not this one," Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jim Galloway. "I think the only Constitution that Barack Obama upholds is the Soviet constitution, not this one. He has no concept of this one, though he claimed to be a constitutional lawyer.”

The Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991. For all his years in the public eye, Barack Obama has only ever had mean things to say about the former Communist stateIt's pretty clear that there's nothing to suggest that President Obama adheres to the "Soviet constitution." What isn't clear is which Soviet constitution Broun was referring to.

During the seven-decade existence of the Soviet Union, the government approved three separate constitutions. There is the one approved in 1924, which defines the "camp of capitalism" as "national hate and inquality, colonial slavery and chauvinism, national oppression and massacres, brutalities and imperialistic wars." The one adopted in 1936 (also called "Stalin's Constitution") actually pays a lot of lip service to universal suffrage, individual rights, health care, and the like. And the constitution adopted in 1977 (also called the "Brezhnev Constitution") praises the Soviet people, their army, and Vladimir Lenin for winning the Russian Civil War and therefore starting the "epoch-making turn of mankind from capitalism to socialism."

I reached out to the congressman's Washington office to ask which of these three he meant. Perhaps Broun was referring to all of them. I will update this post if I get a response.

h/t Pema Levy