Mojo - February 2013

Watch: Piers Morgan Schools John Lott Jr. on Mass Shootings

Thu Feb. 28, 2013 5:51 PM PST

Before CNN's Piers Morgan and his statistically-challenged guest got into a full-blown battle about guns Wednesday night, Morgan laid out some numbers and charts from our in-depth investigation into mass shootings. Watch:

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GOP Caves, Stops Blocking Violence Against Women Act

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 11:21 AM PST
Congress passes the Violence Against Women Act.

On Thursday, following a heated debate on the House floor, lawmakers passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Republicans had held up the law for more than a year over provisions designed to protect undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and members of the LGBT community. In a separate, earlier vote, the House rejected an alternative, stripped-down VAWA pushed by House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, instead embracing the bipartisan version of the bill the Senate passed last week.

The Senate version of the bill, however, was itself a modified version of Democrats' original bill, passed after Democrats acquiesced to Republican objections and removed a section that would have made more visas available to undocumented victims of domestic violence who help law enforcement prosecute their abusers. But the Senate's compromise bill wasn't good enough for the House Republican leadership, who introduced an alternate version that removed protections for members of the LGBT community and made it harder for tribal courts to prosecute non-Indian abusers.

Rights groups panned the House GOP leadership's version of the bill and pushed the House to approve the Senate version. For reasons that are still unclear, the House Republican leadership went ahead and allowed lawmakers to vote on both the Republican alternative and the bipartisan Senate version of the bill. The Associated Press reported that a letter from several Republican lawmakers to the House GOP leadership may have convinced the leadership they didn't have the votes to block the VAWA reauthorization again. The letter urged the Republican leadership to pass an inclusive version of VAWA that would "reach all victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in every community in the country." 

Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, argues that Republicans came back from the November elections knowing they would have to move on VAWA. "Elections matter," O'Neill says. "What happened between the 112th and the 113th Congress is that everybody in the country became sharply aware that the Republican Party has a problem with the issue of rape."

Thursday's vote was much closer than 2005, the last time the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized. This year, the bill passed 286-138, with just 87 Republicans joining all 199 Democrats (one Democrat did not vote). In 2005, there were only four "no" votes

The Budding Rand Paul–Bob McDonnell Flame War

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 9:46 AM PST
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.).

On Saturday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed into law a sweeping transportation funding bill that lowers the state gas tax, raises the sales tax, and ultimately aims to bring in $1 billion a year in new funding. It was, as Politico's Alex Burns wrote, just the kind of signature accomplishment McDonnell had been looking for as he prepares to leave office next January.

But for allies of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, McDonnell's possible 2016 presidential rival, the transportation bill is something else entirely: disqualifying. Here's a fundraising email blasted out on Monday by the Campaign for Liberty, the organization chaired by former Rep. Ron Paul (Rand's father) and actively supported by the senator:

As the Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Bob "Tax Hike" McDonnell's sellout has ramifications for EVERY man, woman and child in America.

It's no secret Bob McDonnell has ambitions to run for President.

Needless to say, after this massive tax hike on Virginia citizens - and cave in on ObamaCare - a dog catcher with a record like this is the last thing we need, let alone a President.

And here's a piece Campaign for Liberty president John Tate published at Business Insider on Wednesday:

Business Insider

The good news for McDonnell, anyway, is that he's finally being associated with something other than transvaginal ultrasounds.

Marijuana Legalization May Be Unstoppable

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 4:31 AM PST

On Tuesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder told America to expect a decision "soon" on how he'll respond to the recent legalization of pot by Colorado and Washington state. To which the rest of the country has basically said, "Whatever, dude." The same day, legislative committees in New Mexico and Hawaii approved bills to decriminalize marijuana possession and Oregon lawmakers introduced a legalization bill. Yesterday, Rhode Island legislators held a hearing on a bill to—surprise!—legalize and tax marijuana.

In California, where Holder's Justice Department has spent months trying to shut down respected medical-pot dispensaries, a Field Poll (PDF) released yesterday showed that 67 percent of state voters oppose the move. A 54 to 43 percent majority now backs fully legalizing the sale of cannabis and regulating and taxing it like alcohol.

Chart: Generational Attitudes on Sushi and Gay Marriage Correlate Almost Perfectly

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 1:56 PM PST

The younger you are, the more likely you are to support gay marriage. But what if there's another dimension to this generational shift—the sushi gap? Raw data from a new survey of Americans' food preferences shows that age-based unwillingness to put delicious uncooked fish in your mouth correlates nearly perfectly with existing data about who disapproves of marriage equality.

Sushi vs. gay marriage

Corn on MSNBC: The Republican Party's Broken Budget Rhetoric

Wed Feb. 27, 2013 1:45 PM PST

In the midst of Washington's latest budget battle, some Republicans are returning to their election-year rhetoric of "takers" and "makers." DC bureau chief David Corn breaks down the Republican talking points on the sequester with Al Sharpton on MSNBC's Politics Nation:

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

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Why Does the Capitol Still Whitewash White Supremacists?

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 11:49 AM PST
Former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and civil rights icon Rosa Parks are both represented in Statuary Hall.

On Wednesday, congressional leaders unveiled a new statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks at the Capitol's Statuary Hall. Parks is the first African American woman to be represented in the room, which is a fairly understandable consequence of the fact that, for most of the nation's history, only white dudes were allowed to participate in politics. Notwithstanding the near-total sausage fest, Parks is in some good company—Helen Keller is there; so is Dwight D. Eisenhower.

She's also in some really bad company. Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America, is there. So is Alexander Stephens, the man Davis tapped as second-in-command of the Confederacy. Here's how the office of the Architect of the Capitol, which oversees Statuary Hall (and every other statue-related corridor of the Capitol), describes Stephens' life's work:

Always in frail health, Stephens was nonetheless a dedicated statesman, an effective leader, and a powerful orator, always seeking moderation and peace. Abraham Lincoln, serving in Congress with Stephens, admired and befriended him; John Quincy Adams wrote a poem in his honor. Although opposed to secession and differing with Jefferson Davis over states rights and nullification, Stephens served as the Confederacy's vice president.

Stephens was so adamantly anti-secession that he only agreed to support the principle when he was asked politely.

He was also, the bio noted, "a powerful orator."

No kidding. Stephens is most famous for a speech he delivered in Savannah, Georgia, in 1861, shortly after agreeing to help the Southern states wage an armed conflict in defense of keeping black people enslaved in perpetuity. It was called the "Cornerstone Speech," on account of its simple premise—that the single foundational principle behind the Confederacy was the belief that not all men are created equal:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity.

Alexander Stephens was a terrible person who aided and abetted an armed rebellion in the name of white supremacy that left—conservative estimate, here—600,000 people dead. That he was, as the bio helpfully notes, "orphaned and penniless at age 15" simply demeans the good name of destitute teenage orphans. All of which raises the question of why there's still a statue of him in Statuary Hall—and why his official bio whitewashes his singular legacy.

It's no small irony that Parks joins Stephens as one of six Statuary Hall honorees who are sitting down. Maybe he could've given up his seat.

Ding Dong (Some) Anti-Evolution Bills Are Dead

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 9:55 AM PST

It looks like Charles Darwin can stop turning over in his grave, or at least, slow his roll: Three bills that take aim at widely accepted scientific theories like evolution and climate change died this week, in Indiana, the Oklahoma state Senate, and Arizona, following the earlier demise of similar legislation in Montana and Colorado, the National Center for Science Education reports. But two other anti-evolution bills—one in Missouri and another in Oklahoma's House of Representatives—are still kicking, and they have more explicit pro-creationist language than the bills that have already been scrapped.

As Mother Jones reported last week, the House bill in Oklahoma, introduced by Republican state representative Rep. Gus Blackwell in February, forbids teachers from penalizing kids for writing papers attempting to debunk the theory of evolution or global warming. That bill squeaked through the Oklahoma Common Education committee on February 19, and is still alive. So is a House bill in Missouri, introduced by Republican state representative Rick Brattin in January, that would require that teachers and textbooks devote equal space to the teaching of intelligent design, "destiny" and any other theories of origin. Brattin's bill has been referred to the Missouri Elementary and Secondary Education committee, but a hearing still hasn't been scheduled. Even the Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design research, is opposing the Missouri bill, saying it goes too far in pushing intelligent design in schools.

In contrast, the dead bills in Indiana and Oklahoma don't even mention evolution. Instead the Indiana bill merely says "some subjects, including, but not limited to, science, history, and health, have produced differing conclusions," and both the Indiana and Oklahoma bills say teachers should be allowed to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of different theories. This is similar to language used in the now-dead Arizona bill—except that Arizona actually names those controversial theories: "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning." Kathy Trundle, president of the Association for Science Teacher Education, tells Mother Jones that "these types of legislation represent a thinly veiled attack on biological evolution.... Theories are not speculation."

In Indiana, a spokesman for Rep. Robert Behning, House Education Committee chairman, told The Indiana Star on February 3 that the bill wasn't going to get a hearing "due to the volume of bills and limited time." But that doesn't mean that the bill's sponsor is giving up. "It might be one of those things that I may file for several years," Republican state Representative Jeff Thompson told the paper. "My thought process hasn't changed."

Trundle says this kind of thinking is exactly the problem: "Legislation that conflates science, religion and politics is confusing and works against efforts to achieve scientific literacy."

Supreme Court: You Can't Challenge Secret Law Because It's Secret

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 9:46 AM PST

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not after you. But you'll never be able to prove it.

That's the gist of the Supreme Court's Tuesday ruling in Amnesty v. Clapper, the challenge to the Bush administration's 2008 warrantless wiretapping law filed by human rights activists, attorneys and journalists who say the law makes it likely they will be unlawfully surveilled. The vote was 5-4, with the conservative justices backing up the Obama administration and the Democratic appointees dissenting. At issue was not the law itself, but whether the plaintiffs had "standing"—the legal requirement that plaintiffs prove that the law they're suing about would actually affect them. The Supreme Court said these plaintiffs couldn't prove the government would spy on them.

"It's a disturbing decision," Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "This ruling insulates the statute from meaningful judicial review and leaves Americans' privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches."

In 2008, Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which made the government seek warrants from a secret court in order to spy on suspected foreign agents, in order to retroactively legalize the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program. The law, which allows the government to intercept communications without a warrant as long as it believes one party to the communication is overseas, passed with the support of then-Senator Barack Obama, who made a since-broken promise to reform the law. Civil liberties groups sought to have the law overturned, but the Supreme Court decided Tuesday that because the plaintiffs couldn't prove they had been spied on by the government, they can't challenge the law.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, told the plaintiffs that any harm done to them was merely "speculative" and "hypothetical," which meant that they could not prove a concrete harm that would justify allowing them to challenge the law. "Respondents have no actual knowledge of the Government's targeting practices," Alito wrote.

Well, of course they don't. Whom the law targets is a secret!

Alito's argument relies on an obvious paradox: He writes that the plaintiffs can't prove they were harmed and so can't challenge the law. But the reason the plaintiffs can't prove they were harmed is that the US government doesn't tell people when it's eavesdropping on them. Under Alito's reasoning, as long as the US government engages in unconstitutional activities behind a cloak of secrecy, there's no problem, because no one could ever possibly prove that they were actually affected. 

The plaintiffs had argued that because their work brought them into contact with people the US government would be interested in keeping tabs on—some of them represent detainees at Guantanamo Bay, for example—they had a reasonable expectation that the government would violate their constitutional rights by subjecting them to warrantless surveillance. Simply believing that they might be spied on by the US government, they said, had forced them to drastically alter their behavior. Although the law technically forbids "targeting" of American citizens, it allows collection of communications where one point of contact is in the US and another is abroad. 

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the four Democratic-appointed dissenters, agreed that the plaintiffs had reason to worry. In fact, he said the government wouldn't be doing its job if it weren't interested in some of the people the plaintiffs were in contact with.

"We need only assume that the government is doing its job (to find out about, and combat, terror­ism) in order to conclude that there is a high probability that the government will intercept at least some electronic communication to which at least some of the plaintiffs are parties," Breyer wrote.

Alito defended his ruling by noting in the opinion that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court evaluates the government's spying operations. (Civil libertarians counter that the FISA court operates in secret.) Furthermore, Alito argues, "if the Government were to prosecute one of respondent-attorney's foreign clients using [evidence gathered from warrantless wiretapping law], the Government would be required to make a disclosure."

But there's no reason for the government to do that, says Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, precisely because it could result in court scrutiny. And even if the government ever did introduce evidence gathered through warrantless surveillance in court, it would mean of the potentially thousands of innocent people subjected to warrantless wiretapping (the government won't say how many Americans have had their communications intercepted) who were never prosecuted would never know their rights had been violated.

But assuming there's no harm done just because you can't know you've been spied on misses the point. "If the watchman is invisible," Sanchez says, "then everyone has to act as though they're being watched all the time."

 

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 27, 2013

Wed Feb. 27, 2013 9:40 AM PST

Marine veteran Cpl. Sebastion Gallegos, a San Antonio native, warms up for the shot put with a medicine ball during practice at the 2013 Marine Corps Trials at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 26, 2013. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel Wetzel.