Mojo - March 2013

Louisiana Judge Rules That Violent Felons Have Gun Rights Too

| Mon Mar. 25, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
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A New Orleans judge ruled last Thursday that a law forbidding felons from owning firearms infringes their rights to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the state's newly amended constitution.

Although Louisiana already had extremely permissive gun laws (and the second highest gun-murder rate in the country), last November voters overwhelmingly passed an initiative backed by the National Rifle Association that made gun ownership a fundamental right with the same levels of protection as the freedoms of religion and speech.

The amendment requires judges to review gun-control legislation using "strict scrutiny," the most stringent standard of judicial review. In his decision, Judge Darryl Derbigny wrote that statute RS 14:95.1, which bars firearm ownership for people convicted of violent crimes, such as murder, assault, rape and battery, and certain misdemeanors, is "unconstitutional in its entirety."

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LaPierre To Bloomberg: Drop Dead

| Sun Mar. 24, 2013 12:34 PM EDT
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre.

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, on Sunday delivered this message to New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg: Spend all the money you want; it won't make a whit of difference.

A day after news broke that Bloomberg would spend $12 million on an ad blitz pressuring Congress to expand gun background checks , LaPierre lashed out on NBC's "Meet the Press"

He's going to find out that this is a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, and he can't spend enough to try to impose his will on the American public. They don't want him in their restaurants, they don't want him in their homes, they don't want him telling them what food to eat. They sure don't want him telling them what self-defense firearms to own. And he can't buy America. He's so reckless in terms of his comments on this whole gun issue.

LaPierre claimed that Bloomberg's ramped-up involvement in the debate over gun control had prompted a backlash: "Millions of people," many of them presumably NRA members, were mailing in $5, $10, and $20 checks "telling us to stand up to this guy that says that we can only have three bullets, which is what he said. Stand up to this guy that says ridiculous things like, 'The NRA wants firearms with nukes on them.'" He went on, "I mean it's insane the stuff he says."

As he often does, LaPierre argued on "Meet the Press" that America's gun violence problem resulted from poor enforcement of existing laws, not a lack of regulation. He said the NRA supported "better enforcement" of federal gun laws, and that the failure to enforce gun laws was the Obama administration's fault: "I know they don't want to do it, but they ought to do it. It's their responsibility." LaPierre declined to mention that, for decades, the NRA and other gun-rights advocates have done everything they can to gut the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the agency that enforces federal gun laws. 

Mayor Mike Bloomberg Will Spend $12 Million to Push Gun Control Through Congress

| Sat Mar. 23, 2013 7:48 PM EDT
New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants new gun control legislation so bad that he's set to spend a staggering $12 million of his own money on ads targeting US senators in a dozen states.

As the New York Times reports, Bloomberg's new wave of ads, which begin on Monday, support universal background checks for nearly all gun purchases, but do not mention a ban on assault weapons. The ads, run under the auspices of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group funded and co-chaired by Bloomberg, will target Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Patrick Toomey (R-Penn.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

Bloomberg's $12 million ad buy further cements his position as the main political force challenging the clout of the National Rifle Association. For decades, the NRA has used its money and manpower to oust politicians who support any new regulation of guns in America. The threat of NRA attacks helped stifle any effort at new gun laws, including requiring background checks for most gun purchases and reinstating the ban on assault rifles, which expired in 2004. Now, by pumping money into Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Independence USA, his super-PAC, Bloomberg hopes to counter the might of the NRA, while giving cover to pro-gun-control legislators.

Here's more from the Times on Bloomberg's new ad blitz:

In each [state], the commercials urge support for the measure to require background checks for nearly all firearms purchases, not just those in gun stores, the most debated element of the legislation and a coveted goal of gun control advocates.

Mr. Bloomberg has singled out Mr. Flake, who already voted against the expansion of background checks in the Senate Judiciary Committee, by producing a special, scolding commercial aimed at Arizona. "Flake's vote," the ad declares, equals "no background checks for dangerous criminals."

The mayor, who over the years has spent tens of millions of dollars to support his favored candidates, holds the power to use his "super-PAC" to wield influence in the midterm Congressional elections next year and beyond. He said he would heavily favor "candidates who will stop people from getting killed."

"There is an easy measure of how you decide who those are," he said, noting that gun rights groups rate lawmakers. "The NRA keeps score of it for you. They are public information."

To those who might fear his financial might, he added: "If they pass sensible gun legislation, there is not an issue."

Bloomberg has scored a handful of recent gun-related victories. He pumped nearly $10 million into Independence USA in the 2012 elections; the super-PAC went on to spend $3 million to defeat Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), a pro-gun rights congressman. Independence USA also spent millions last month in the Democratic primary for Illinois' 2nd congressional district to defeat Debbie Halvorson, who had an "A" rating from the NRA. Democrat Robin Kelly, whom Bloomberg supported, ultimately cruised to victory.

The NRA has said it plans to fire back at Bloomberg with an advertising campaign of its own. And an NRA lobbyist told the Times that it's confident that many Americans won't buy into Bloomberg's message. "What he is going to find out is that Americans don't want to be told by some elitist billionaire what they can eat, drink and they damn well don’t want to be told how, when and where they can protect their families," Chris Cox, the NRA's top lobbyist, said.

GOP Sen. Wants to Require a Two-Thirds Majority for Gun Laws

| Fri Mar. 22, 2013 3:30 PM EDT
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

The Senate is expected to reject an assault weapons ban when it's introduced as an amendment to a large gun control package next month. But Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) isn't taking any chances. On Friday, the first-term conservative is planning on filing an amendment to the Senate budget resolution making it impossible for any gun control legislation to pass the Senate without a two-thirds majority—a standard currently reserved for the ratification of treaties. (That's an even higher threshold than that imposed by filibusters, which can be broken with 60 votes.)

"[I]f the Lee amendment is passed, the practical effect will be that gun control can never again pass the Senate," the far-right Second Amendment group Gun Owners of America boasted in an email to members on Friday.

Lee's amendment won't pass. But the fact that Republicans would consider carving out an entirely new voting threshold just for gun control legislation tells you just how little ground they're willing to concede, at least publicly, on this fight.

Here's the amendment:

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 22, 2013

Fri Mar. 22, 2013 10:11 AM EDT

Female members of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion secure an Afghan compound while Soldiers with Female Engagement Team 6 of 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment meet with Afghans March 3 during Operation Southern Fist III in the district of Spin Boldak, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann.

Even These Republican Women Lawmakers Think ND Went Too Far

| Fri Mar. 22, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

North Dakota won our Anti-Choice March Madness tournament, but apparently the state's anti-abortion laws have gone too far for even some Republican lawmakers.

Laura Bassett reports at Huffington Post that several Republican women lawmakers plan to attend a rally next week protesting the state's latest abortion law, which will make it the most restrictive state in the country:

"It's to say, hey, this isn't okay. We have stepped over the line," said state Rep. Kathy Hawken (R-Fargo) in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "One of the key tenets of the Republican Party is personal responsibility. I'm personally pro-life, but I vote pro-choice, because you can't make that decision for anyone else. You just can't."

Now would be a good time to raise that point to fellow Republican lawmakers, who are currently considering two even more restrictive fetal "personhood" measures as well.

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Do Conservatives or Liberals Have Better Gaydar?

| Fri Mar. 22, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Makhnach_S and TonLammerts/Shutterstock

Last week the conservative world was roiled by prominent Ohio Sen. Rob Portman's dramatic reversal on the issue of gay marriage. Having learned two years earlier that his son, a college junior, is gay, Portman says he struggled deeply with the issue—and finally pulled a Dick Cheney, coming out politically in favor of the same-sex marriages that many grassroots conservatives find viscerally abhorrent. In an op-ed explaining his reasoning, Portman noted that he and his wife were "surprised to learn" that their son is gay—but added that they now have "a more complete picture of the son we love."

Here's an interesting question: How do conservatives arrive at their assumptions about who is or isn't gay—in the absence of those people coming out to them directly?

A new paper just out in the March issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology casts surprising light on this subject.

The Assault Weapons Ban Ain't Dead Yet

| Thu Mar. 21, 2013 6:56 PM EDT

On Monday, Harry Reid told a disappointed Dianne Feinstein that her assault weapons ban, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, wouldn't be in the gun control legislation Democrats are preparing for the full Senate because it had insufficient support to get past a filibuster. But Thursday night, Reid said in a statement, "I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes" as amendments to the bill.

The bill moving forward now will include the provisions on background checks, school safety, and gun trafficking, Reid said. The universal background check provision was also controversial, passing out of committee on a party-line vote, but Reid signaled that wasn't satisfactory. He is hopeful that negotiations during the upcoming Senate break will lead to a compromise that attracts bipartisan support for the measure, which has overwhelming support from the American public. "In order to be effective," Reid said, "any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks." West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, a member of the National Rifle Association who expressed tepid support for gun control after Newtown, will reportedly lead the compromise effort.

Reid said the legislation will be added to the Senate calendar Thursday night to allow for a vote in early April. After opening debate, the assault weapons ban amendments will be introduced, in line with the Obama administration's continued commitment to keep it aliveBut as Reid noted earlier in the week, even using "the most optimistic numbers," Feinstein's amendment had fewer than 40 votes.

Sneaky House Bill Would Gut Financial Reform

| Thu Mar. 21, 2013 1:46 PM EDT

This blog post has been updated.

A bipartisan group of four representatives introduced a sneaky little bill Wednesday that would dismantle a huge chunk of the historic financial reform laws enacted after the financial crisis.

The Swap Jurisdiction Certainty Act, introduced by Reps. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), Mike Conaway (R-Tex.), John Carney (D-Del.), and David Scott (D-Ga.), three of whom sit on the House Financial Services Committee, would allow big banks to shift risky activities to foreign subsidiaries in order to avoid US regulations. Part of the landmark 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act requires that derivatives—financial products whose value is based on things like currency exchange rates and crop prices—be traded in public marketplaces, instead of in private. The new bill could exempt foreign companies from these US derivatives rules, which sounds reasonable; the law purportedly just affects other countries. But what it would mean is that huge US-based banks that operate internationally could just do their paperwork through their international arms to avoid US regulations, effectively gutting the section of Dodd-Frank that gave federal regulators the authority for the first time to regulate derivatives such as the credit default swaps that helped cause the 2007 bank failures.

The Commodities Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission were supposed to have finalized the Dodd-Frank derivatives laws into regulations a long time ago, but those governing international trading are still pending. The agencies are supposedly close to final rules now—SEC chair Elisse Walter said earlier this year that finalizing them was a top priority at the agency. But until they're finalized, the rules are still vulnerable to tweaking, or gutting, by crafty lawmakers. (The proposed Dodd-Frank rule on international swaps already says that countries with truly comparable regulations are exempt from US regs. This bill weakens that by presuming that international rules are comparable and making it hard for the SEC and CFTC to decide otherwise.)

Carney has defended his bill as consumer-friendly and bank-friendly all at once: "Congress and regulators must ensure that we're protecting American consumers, ending future bailouts and maintaining American competitiveness in an increasingly global economy," he said in a press release. Garrett was more straightforward about what the bill would do. "Our job creators—millions being crushed by overly burdensome Washington rules and regulations—deserve to be on a fair, level playing field with the international community," he said.

But last year, when Congress introduced a similar bill, financial reform advocates slammed it. Americans for Financial Reform, a group of national and state organizations that push for common sense financial reforms, wrote an open letter to representatives in May 2012:

The legislation "would create an overwhelming temptation to move swaps business overseas, indeed to the foreign jurisdictions where regulation was most lax compared to the US. In addition to seriously undermining the basic transparency and accountability requirements in the US, such a 'race to the bottom' would be a serious blow to the entire international effort to make derivatives markets safer.

Walter has said the derivative rules were the "critical linchpin" of Dodd-Frank because of the "global nature of the market."

Indeed, says Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of the Wall Street watchdog group Better Markets. "The CFTC proposed very strong cross-border guidance," he told Mother Jones. "Even if the CFTC gets all of the other rules correct—if they don't get the cross-border rules right, then a lot of their other work doesn't matter."

Update: After this post was published, a spokesperson for Garrett's office, Maggie Seidel, got in touch with Mother Jones. She asserted that because the bill "fully and specifically authorizes the SEC and CFTC to regulate" derivatives, if banks are able to dodge strict US regulations in favor of more lax international regulations, the blame would fall on the agencies, not on the bill that Garrett and the other three House members drafted. Kelleher reiterates that the bill "raises hurdles" for the agencies by making it harder for them to label lax international regulations as lax.

Return to the story.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 21, 2013

Thu Mar. 21, 2013 12:43 PM EDT

A UH-1Y Venom, top, and a AH-1W Super Cobra, bottom, both with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, land at a forward area refueling point during Operation Desert Tantrum outside of El Centro, Calif., March, 14. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns.