Mojo - March 2013

Assault Weapons Ban Heads to Senate Floor, Where It Will Probably Die

| Thu Mar. 14, 2013 1:02 PM EDT

The Senate Judiciary Committee met again on Thursday morning to discuss Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) bill to ban assault weapons, and advanced the legislation to the full Senate by a 10 to 8 party-line vote. The bill bans magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition and outlaws the further manufacture of 157 specific models of guns, while grandfathering existing assault weapons. It will almost certainly die on the Senate floor, where a GOP filibuster is expected to prevent it from even getting a vote.

Here's Politico with more:

Feinstein got into a tense exchange with GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), who pointedly challenged her on whether the bill complied with the Second Amendment or would be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I am not a sixth grader," Feinstein bristled. "Congress is in the business of making the law. The Supreme Court interprets the law. If they strike down the law, they strike down the law.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), whose state saw the death of 20 children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in mid-December, said such weapons are "primarily for criminal purposes" and it was "simply appropriate" to ban them.

But Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the second-highest Republican in the Senate, said he "must strongly oppose" the Feinstein proposal and echoed the GOP position — backed by the powerful National Rifle Association — that the measure was overly broad and failed to address the problem of the "seriously mentally deranged" getting guns.

...

Cornyn, though, did suggest he might support a potential bipartisan compromise on universal background checks if a deal can be reached when the gun bill comes to the Senate floor in coming weeks. Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) are searching for GOP backers for that legislation after talks with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) broke down.

Despite the contention from Sen. Cruz that a renewed assault weapons ban might be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has never struck down such a ban and has stated that the right to own firearms is "not unlimited." Republicans were also quick to point out that Feinstein's bill, introduced after the massacre at Newtown in December, would ban semiautomatic rifles used in only a fraction of gun deaths each year in the United States. However, both the assault weapons and magazines that would be banned under Feinstein's bill have often been used by mass shooters like Adam Lanza. And while many handguns come standard with magazines of more than 10 rounds, one former special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives told Mother Jones recently that it is often access to a high-capacity magazine that "turns a killer into a killing machine​."

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have snuck a series of six pro-gun measures limiting federal officials' authority to track and analyze gun crimes into a bipartisan bill intended to prevent a federal government shutdown.

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9 CPAC Events We Initially Thought Were Parodies

| Thu Mar. 14, 2013 12:55 PM EDT
New York businessman and public intellectual Donald Trump.

Once a year, conservatives from across the country gather in some manner of subterranean hotel ballroom or windowless conference center to talk about what matters most to them and why. It's called the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, and it's usually a complete and utter zoo; Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will be there, along with Rep. Paul Ryan and his former running-mate, Mitt Romney.

But CPAC isn't just a showcase for the party's brightest stars and biggest ideas; it also offers a close-up view of the underbelly of the conservative movement—the hacks and hucksters that helped lead Republicans astray in November in the first place. (Last year I found a booth dedicated to exposing the secret alliance between George Soros and Fox News.) Here are some of the panels and speeches at this year's conference that promise to entertain:

  • "Dick Morris, author and political commentator": Morris lost his gig as a Fox News commentator, with cause, after predicting that Mitt Romney would win the presidential election in a landslide. He also projected that Republicans would pick up as many as 13 seats in the Senate, including races in New York and Oregon. (Quick, name last year's Republican Senate candidate in Oregon!) Dave Weigel wasn't the only person to dismiss Morris as a "con artist." Naturally, he was slated to speak on Thursday morning.
  • "Benghazi and its aftermath: US Middle East and Southwest Asia policy," moderated by John Solomon: It's not entirely surprising that CPAC would devote an on-stage panel to what Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called "the worst tragedy since 9/11." But Solomon is most famous—or infamous—for his work as a journalist, ably chronicled here by Mariah Blake.
  • Wayne Allyn Root as a featured speaker: Here, I'll just quote from a 2012 article by the former Libertarian Party presidential nominee:

    I am President Obama's classmate at Columbia University, Class of '83. I am also one of the most accurate Las Vegas oddsmakers and prognosticators. Accurate enough that I was awarded my own star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. And I smell something rotten in Denmark. Obama has a big skeleton in his closet. It’s his college records. Call it “gut instinct” but my gut is almost always right. Obama has a secret hidden at Columbia—and it's a bad one that threatens to bring down his presidency. Gut instinct is how I've made my living for 29 years since graduating Columbia...

    If anyone should have questions about Obama's record at Columbia University, it's me. We both graduated (according to Obama) Columbia University, Class of '83. We were both (according to Obama) Pre-Law and Political Science majors. And I thought I knew most everyone at Columbia. I certainly thought I'd heard of all of my fellow Political Science majors. But not Obama (or as he was known then- Barry Soetoro). I never met him. Never saw him. Never even heard of him. And none of the classmates that I knew at Columbia have ever met him, saw him, or heard of him...

    I can only think of one answer that would explain this mystery.

    Here's my gut belief: Obama got a leg up by being admitted to both Occidental and Columbia as a foreign exchange student. He was raised as a young boy in Indonesia. But did his mother ever change him back to a U.S. citizen? When he returned to live with his grandparents in Hawaii or as he neared college-age preparing to apply to schools, did he ever change his citizenship back? I'm betting not.

  • "Should we shoot all the consultants now?," featuring Pat Caddell: Finally, a Democrat! Except it's Caddell, a former Jimmy Carter pollster who now plays the part of the Good Democrat on Fox News. In the run-up to the 2012 election, he repeatedly argued that President Obama should remove himself from the presidential race and be replaced by Hillary Clinton. We don't think Pat Caddell should be shot, but it'd be tough to find a consultant who offers worse advice.
  • "Stop THIS: Threats, Harassment, Intimidation, Slander, and Bullying from the Obama Administration," with Ben Shapiro: In which the Breitbart.com reporter behind the "Friends of Hamas" smear accuses someone else of slander.
  • Screening of Hillary the Movie: This 2008 film is something of a historic artifact, given its central role in the 2009 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. It's also totally nuts. Among other things, the movie alleges that the former First Lady murdered a cat.
  • "The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution," featuring Bill Norton of the National Center for Constitutional Studies: Come find out how the Founding Fathers were descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel!
  • Donald Trump, chairman and president of the Trump Organization: Trump, whose birther crusade made him a (short-lived) front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2011, was last seen all-but-endorsing liberal activist Ashley Judd for Senate in Kentucky. His entire political existence appears aimed at trolling us all:
  • Mitt Romney: Congratulations!

"I Didn't Go There With a Grudge Against Romney"

| Thu Mar. 14, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The secret is out. Six months after Mother Jones first released his video from Mitt Romney's private fundraiser, Scott Prouty has revealed his identity on MSNBC's The Ed Show. Earlier tonight, Prouty introduced himself as "a regular guy" with a "good moral compass."

In part one of the interview Prouty explained, "I didn't go there with a grudge against Romney. I was more interested as a voter." He also explained how David Corn's reporting on Mitt Romney's Chinese investments helped him conclude that Mother Jones was the right choice to release the video.

Prouty continued by recounting his decision to allow Mother Jones to release the entire recording, following Mitt Romney's press conference response to the video:

In part three, human rights activist Charlie Kernighan joined the interview to describe his influence on Prouty's decision to release the video:

Finally, Prouty joined Ed Shultz live in studio. He apologized to the company he worked for, but added "what was at stake was more important than my job."

Following the interview David Corn appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show to discuss Prouty's unveiling:

The World Has Its First Jesuit Pope. Will He Really Help the Poor?

| Wed Mar. 13, 2013 6:48 PM EDT
Newly elected Pope Francis speaking at the Vatican Wednesday.

It's still much too early to say what the election of Pope Francis will mean both for the Catholic Church and for the world. Unsurprisingly, the cardinals elected a man known for his orthodoxy on cultural issues such as gay marriage and abortion. The leadership of the church remains unwaveringly orthodox, especially on the matter of abortion. Thus, focusing on Pope Francis's social conservatism is mostly unhelpful. If the cardinals had elected a pro-choice pope, that would have been real news.

What is interesting, however, is that Pope Francis is Argentine, making him the first non-European pope to be elected in more than a millennium. He's also a Jesuit, which is perhaps even more surprising than his nationality.

"Perhaps for the first time in modern times, the global outlook of the church is reflected at the highest level of the church," Rev. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, an East African Jesuit, told the National Catholic Reporter.

Poped Out

| Wed Mar. 13, 2013 5:43 PM EDT

Watching the cheering crowds and the usual fawning secular media reporting on a new pope without the slightest bit of knowledge, I am, quite simply, poped out. A non-European! A Jesuit! Doesn't he look warm and friendly!

The truth is, we don’t know much. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is described as a doctrinal conservative and a man of social justice. He gave up his limo and takes the bus. He’s said to be fan of Comunione e Liberazione, a conservative Catholic lay group.

He was ordained a priest in 1969 and by 1973 he was a bureaucrat—almost no history of serving ordinary people in parish life. He was a midlevel Jesuit functionary and then worked for many years in the Curia in Rome rounded out his resume with Vatican commissions. His profile fits those of many bishops and cardinals appointed by the last two popes—youngish when appointed, little pastoral experience. Working as a Jesuit provincial doesn’t tell you much about the lives of women or children, of working and starving families.

Vamos a ver; we will see. The job of Pope can turn the most humble man into a elitist. After all, you are infallible.

I expected little; I think my expectations have been met.

Will Big Donors Get Special Access to Obama? Group Still Won't Say

| Wed Mar. 13, 2013 4:38 PM EDT

Organizing for Action, the pro-Obama nonprofit hoping to raise $50 million to mobilize Democratic supporters around the president's agenda, kicked off its "Founder's Summit" on Tuesday morning at the tony St. Regis Hotel near the White House. But as ex-Obama aides David Plouffe, Jim Messina, and others spoke of the need for volunteers and donors outside Washington to pressure Congress into action on gun control, immigration, and climate change, OFA itself is still dogged by reports that big donors to the group will gain special access to the president.

At the OFA summit, spokeswoman Katie Hogan said little to satisfy the group's critics. Hogan stressed that OFA's fundraising plans were still in flux, and she couldn't say definitively what the group's interactions with the Obama administration would look like or how the organization would evolve going forward. "I don't have a crystal ball," she told reporters before event began.

She did say that OFA's board meetings will be closed to the public or press. The group's main board of directors will reportedly include ex-Obama officials such as Messina, Plouffe, and former deputy campaign director Stephanie Cutter. However, it is OFA's "advisory board" that has drawn much of the criticism. That board, according to the New York Times, will consist of supporters who've donated or raised $500,000 or more, and who will receive quarterly meetings with the president.

Both the White House and Jim Messina have dismissed the notion that OFA is selling access, but neither have refuted the Times story. Reformers have blasted OFA for appearing to sell access to the president, and some have called on Obama to demand that OFA be shut down.

On Wednesday evening, Obama is scheduled to speak to the 50 or 60 volunteers, donors, and other supporters who are in DC for the OFA summit. That event will be open only to small pool of reporters assigned to follow the president, and most of the summit is closed to reporters and the public. It's a safe bet, though, that near the top of the organizers' agenda is a plan to raise $50 million to back Obama's second-term agenda. As Bloomberg reported, some big Democratic givers are still worn out from the campaign, when they were pressed to give time and again. OFA's tallest hurdle going forward may be donor fatigue.

In his own remarks, Plouffe offered an indirect rebuke to OFA's critics. "Just the notion that there's millions of Americans that want to be part of these debates that they've been closed off to in Washington, that in my mind is reason enough to march forward," he said. "This is something that should be celebrated, not criticized."

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Pope Francis I is Really, Really Opposed to Gay Adoption

| Wed Mar. 13, 2013 4:36 PM EDT

We have a winner. On Wednesday, about an hour after white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was formally announced as the new head of the Catholic Church, replacing the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI.

So what does it mean for the Church? We have no idea—we don't write for the National Catholic Reporter. But John Allen Jr., who does, has a pretty useful quick guide to Bergoglio that is worth checking out. This part stood out:

Bergoglio is seen an unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, earning a public rebuke from Argentina's President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Bergoglio was considered a top candidate for the job the last time there was a conclave, in 2005, when he was subjected to this bit of last-minute research. Here's the Associated Press press reported it:

Just days before Roman Catholic cardinals begin meetings to select a new pope, a human rights lawyer filed a criminal complaint against an Argentine mentioned as a possible contender, accusing him of involvement in the 1976 kidnappings of two priests.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's spokesman on Saturday called the allegation "old slander."

The complaint filed in a Buenos Aires court Friday accused Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, of involvement in the kidnappings of two Jesuit priests by the military dictatorship, according to the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarin.

The bar for Worst Pope Ever is pretty high; here's hoping Pope Francis I comes nowhere near it.

Here's How a GOP Congressman Opposed the Violence Against Women Act—Then Pretended He Was for It

| Wed Mar. 13, 2013 3:37 PM EDT

By now, most Americans know that Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on February 28, giving the government the resources to better investigate, prosecute, and stop violent crimes against women. Lawmakers have proudly announced that they helped pass the law—in some cases even when they voted against it.

Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) was one of the 160 Republicans who voted against the reauthorization of VAWA. Prior to that, he had voted for a GOP version of the bill put forth in the House, which gutted key protections for Native Americans, members of the LGBT community, and undocumented immigrants. The bill was rejected by the House. Nevertheless, Fortenberry issued a statement on February 28 suggesting that he supported both versions of the bill, according to screenshots from his official website obtained by Mother Jones. Later that day, after his office started receiving criticism of his statement, Fortenberry changed the statement to more accurately reflect his actual vote. Here is what was changed and added, marked up in red: 

And here's what commenters had to say on Fortenberry's Facebook page about the changes: 

Fortenberry, who has not responded to a request for comment, isn't the only lawmaker to issue a misleading statement about the vote. According to The Huffington Post, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), and several other Republicans also played up that they supported the version of the bill that failed. The House version may have been designed in part to give them cover on the issue, but the question is: Do these lawmakers really care more about their voting records than stopping violence against women?

Waiting Periods in South Dakota: Guns v. Abortions

| Wed Mar. 13, 2013 1:15 PM EDT

Last week, South Dakota became the first state in the country to authorize teachers to carry handguns in the classroom. South Dakota already had some of the most lax gun laws in the country. Back in 2009, the state passed a law repealing the waiting period to purchase handguns, meaning there is now no mandatory waiting period—none at all—to buy a gun.

Meanwhile, the state has been passing ever-more draconian waiting periods to access another constitutionally protected right: abortion. In 2011, the state passed a new law requiring a woman to consult with her doctor, visit an anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy center," and then wait 72 hours before she can actually have an abortion. Two weeks ago, the state legislature passed another new law excluding weekends and holidays from the 72-hour waiting period, which means a woman may actually have to wait five or six days between her first appointment and the actual abortion procedure.

 

Study: Blacks Twice as Likely as Whites to Get Death Penalty in This Texas County

| Wed Mar. 13, 2013 12:39 PM EDT

In September of 2011, the Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for Texas death row inmate Duane Buck, who was given a death sentence in 1997 for the murder of an ex-girlfriend and a male acquaintance. The reason: Buck's race (he's black) was cited by a psychologist—whose testimony was in turn cited by the prosecutor—as evidence that he may pose a threat to other inmates should he be sentenced to life in prison. Texas' Republican attorney general in 2002, now-Sen. John Cornyn, recommended that Buck and six other inmates in similar situations be tried again; Buck is the only one who hasn't. Buck's case has since returned to the state courts, and his attorneys are still appealing for a re-trial. (No one disputes his actual guilt.)

On Wednesday, Buck's attorneys released a new report from University of Maryland criminology professor Ray Paternoster examining the impact race played on sentencing in Harris County (which includes Houston, where Buck was tried) from 1992 to 1999. Paternoster examined 504 cases. The takeaway:

The probability that the district attorney will advance a case to a penalty trial is more than three times as high when the defendant is African-American than for white defendants (this includes Mr. Buck’s case). This disparity by race of the defendant, moreover, cannot be attributed to observed case characteristics because these cases are those that were most comparable in terms of the estimated propensity score.

This racial disparity is only partially corrected at the jury sentencing stage...Ultimately, among this group of comparable cases a death sentence was twice as likely to be imposed on an African American defendant as a white defendant.

You can read his full report here:

 

The race of the perpetrator isn't the only variable likely to influence sentencing decisions. According to Amnesty International, "the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim."