Mojo - April 2013

At Howard University, Rand Paul Falsely Claims He Never Opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act

| Wed Apr. 10, 2013 9:45 AM PDT

Following an awkward, earnest speech to an audience at Howard University, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) insisted several times that he did not oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

"I've never been against the Civil Rights Act, ever," Paul told a questioner, following what was the first speech by a Republican legislator at the historically black university in decades. "This was on tape," the questioner responded. 

That's true. It is on tape. Here it is:

In 2010, during an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal flagged by ThinkProgress, Paul made it very clear that he opposed a key part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination on the basis of race in "places of public accommodation," such as privately owned businesses that are open to the public. Here's the transcript:

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I'm all in favor of that.

INTERVIEWER: But?

PAUL: You had to ask me the "but." I don't like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that's most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.

If federal civil rights laws only outlawed segregation in "anything that gets any public funding," the state would still be called upon to enforce racism by enforcing the property rights of business owners who did not want to serve people on the basis of skin color (or religion, or national origin). Only by extending the ban on discrimination to all places of public accommodation, including privately owned businesses, could freedom against discrimination actually be upheld. Paul elaborated later in the interview when he said that he "became emotional" reading the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

INTERVIEWER: But under your philosophy, it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworths?

PAUL: I would not go to that Woolworths, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but, the hard part—and this is the hard part about believing in freedom—is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example—you have to, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things and uh, we're here at the bastion of newspaperdom, I'm sure you believe in the First Amendment so you understand that people can say bad things. It's the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior, but if we're civilized people, we publicly criticize that, and don't belong to those groups, or don't associate with those people.

Paul expressed similar sentiments in interviews with MSNBC and NPR

So Paul made it quite clear in 2010 that he didn't believe in federal law banning discrimination in privately owned businesses that are open to the public. At Howard, Paul seemed to be saying he never opposed the Civil Rights Act in its entirety, but he certainly opposed a key part of it that completely reshaped American society. Supporting the right of white business owners not to serve blacks may be the "hard part of freedom" for someone, but not for anyone who looks like Rand Paul.

Paul got a warm reception from the Howard audience for some of his positions on foreign policy and the war on drugs. But in what seems like a tacit acknowledgement that his past position on a piece of historic civil rights legislation is embarrassing, Paul fibbed about what that position actually was. 

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WATCH: Kentucky Parents Discover Sequestration Will Close Their Head Start Program

| Wed Apr. 10, 2013 9:37 AM PDT

In Henderson County, Kentucky, sequestration has consequences. With Congress showing no signs of breaking its impasse on the massive cuts mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, the school district found itself looking to cut $1 million in funding. One of the first casualties: a local Head Start program, which will now close in early May 3, about a month earlier than originally scheduled. That means parents are now stuck figuring out where to put their kids for the rest of the year—and how to pay for it.

As one parent told Owensboro's NBC affiliate, WFIE, "All through school we hear the slogan 'No Child Left Behind.' And now, apparently, all the three-year-olds are."

Take a look:

14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled his new budget proposal which, among other things, looks to expand federal funding for pre-school by raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. That's too little, too late for the parents with three-year-olds in Henderson County, though.

Here's What's in the Compromise Proposal on Background Checks for Gun Buyers

| Wed Apr. 10, 2013 9:32 AM PDT

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave senators leading bipartisan talks on a compromise amendment for expanding background checks on gun buyers an ultimatum: Figure it out by 5 p.m. That's when Reid planned to file a motion to move to debate of his broader package of gun control legislation, which includes measures to improve school safety and crack down on gun traffickers.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) managed to strike a deal, and on Wednesday morning they held a press conference on Capitol Hill outlining their amendment, which Manchin said would be the first on the gun control bill when Reid introduces it for an initial vote on Thursday. (Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who introduced the background check provisions that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, told reporters on Tuesday that although some details needed working out, he supported the Manchin-Toomey compromise.) The amendment would require background checks on all gun sales in person and over the internet with the exception of transfers between "friends and neighbors." It's unclear how broad that exception will be in practice, but the Washington Post reported that the background check requirement "would not cover private transactions between individuals, unless there was advertising or an online service involved." Private dealers would be required to keep records of gun sales, as licensed dealers have already been doing since 1968. Gun sellers who allow prohibited people to buy firearms would face a felony charge.

Immediate reactions from gun control groups working with lawmakers on the Hill were mixed. "We like [the compromise] very much," Mark Glaze, director of Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told Mother Jones. Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, struck a more cautious tone. "We're still waiting to hear the language of the bill," he said, explaining that his group wanted more details on how record-keeping would work, and if gun transactions by, for example, people standing just outside gun shows would require checks. But Everitt commended Manchin and Toomey for standing their ground against pushback from staunch proponents of gun rights.

At the press conference, Manchin and Toomey, who both own guns, touted their support for the Second Amendment. "I don't consider criminal background checks to be gun control. It's common sense." Toomey said. "The mentally ill should not have guns. I don't know anyone who disagrees with that premise."

When asked if he worried that his support for expanded background checks would cost him his A rating with the National Rifle Association, Toomey replied, "What matters to me is doing the right thing." (Mayors Against Illegal Guns is releasing scorecards of its own to grade lawmakers on guns.)

The NRA, with which Manchin said he and Toomey have been in contact, stepped away from its opposition to expanded background checks, calling the compromise "a positive development." However, the NRA said, "no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, or Tucson."

Manchin also said he and Toomey "agree[d] that we need a commission on mass violence" with experts on mental illness, school safety, and "video violence."

If expanded background checks are able to dodge a Senate filibuster with the help of Republicans who want to see a vote, the next challenge will be in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has the power to block the bill from getting a vote. Toomey said there are a "substantial number of House Republicans who are supportive of this general [compromise] approach." (Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), one of the House's leading gun-control advocates, told Mother Jones last week that the gun violence task force she sits on has been in talks with Republicans, but declined to name names.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 10, 2013

Wed Apr. 10, 2013 8:37 AM PDT

Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. Marines practice engaging the enemy during convoy operations training April 7 at Camp O’Donnell, Philippines, as part of exercise Balikatan 2013. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Courtney G. White.

 

Man Who Wants to Criminalize Gay Sex Has Gay Friends

| Wed Apr. 10, 2013 8:29 AM PDT

On Tuesday, the Montana legislature took a huge step toward officially decriminalizing sex between two consenting adults of the same gender, when the house of representatives—on a 64–36 vote—approved a bill to repeal the state's ban on "deviate sexual relations," sometimes referred to as a sodomy ban. Per the state's law code, "'Deviate sexual relations' means sexual contact or sexual intercourse between two persons of the same sex or any form of sexual intercourse with an animal." The statute was effectively nullified by the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas, but Montana, like more than a dozen other states, has kept its version of the law on the books as a matter of principle—despite repeated efforts to have it stricken.

This is progress for Montana, but as the three-dozen "no" votes attest, the repeal effort was more than a little controversial. And here's state Rep. Dave Hagrstrom (R) explaining that—try to follow along here—he can't vote for the bill because, like a ballpoint pen, sex has both a primary purpose and a secondary purpose, and so by definition any sex that fulfills only the second purpose is "deviate" from the primary purpose. (Under this definition, having sex while using birth control would also be classified as "deviate" activity and therefore criminal behavior, but Hagrstrom doesn't really get into that.)

Take a look:

Hagrstrom: I have a lot of love and respect for a whole number of homosexual friends, so there's no homophobic issues going on here at all with me. My question is what's the purpose of sex? ...I'll just speak to the bill. I'm gonna vote no on this bill, but it's just for this reason. I don't think that homosexual sex is necessarily not deviate. Deviate isn't a bad word. Deviate simply means not normal. It's not typical. I kind of liken it like this. This pen has two purposes. The first purpose is to write. The second purpose is to retract so that it doesn't leave a stain on your shirt or your purse. So it has two purposes, but one is primary and the other is secondary. To me, sex is primarily purposed to produce people. That's why we're all here. Sex that doesn't produce people is deviate. That doesn't mean that it's a problem. That just means that it's not doing it's primary purpose. So I'm just speaking to the bill so I encourage people to vote red. Thank you."

State sodomy laws are having something of a moment right now. On Monday, a court blocked Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli's appeal to uphold an anti-sodomy statute in that state.

h/t/ Montana Cowgirl.

Who Is Sri Srinivasan, Obama's "Supreme Court Nominee in Waiting"?

| Wed Apr. 10, 2013 7:15 AM PDT
Principal Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan argues in front of the US Supreme Court.

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin calls Sri Srinivasan, the government lawyer Barack Obama has nominated to the prestigious US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, "the Supreme Court nominee in waiting." But you could also call him a mystery.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Srinivasan's nomination to the DC Circuit—often considered a place for potential future Supreme Court nominees. He would be the first Asian American and Indian American judge on that court.

Srinivasan's background is as a litigator, meaning he's spent most of his career defending other people's positions rather than his own. That means that although he's well regarded among legal elites of all stripes, his own views are less than clear. At a time when Republican obstruction has ground the confirmation process to a halt, and the outspoken progressivismor even mild progressivism—of prior Obama nominees has run into GOP filibusters, Srinivasan's unclear record offers Republicans few legitimate reasons to block him. It also means that liberals can't be sure that Srinivasan actually shares their views.

"I don't think anybody is going to suggest that he's being put forth as the next Thurgood Marshall or Justice Brennan. He does not come out of that kind of background," says Caroline Fredrickson, president of the progressive American Constitution Society. But, she argues, he is "extremely well qualified" and "probably has the perfect resume for anyone who would be nominated to the DC Circuit." Doug Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center, calls Srinivasan "unquestionably brilliant" but acknowledges that Srinivasan's record "is not progressive-forward; it is as non-ideological as you can find." (Neither organization has formally endorsed Srinivasan's nomination).

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Smart-Taxi Smackdown: Regulators Ponder the Future of Uber, SideCar, and Lyft

| Wed Apr. 10, 2013 3:00 AM PDT
Lyft's pink moustaches have become a meme.

If you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area or a handful of big cities, you probably haven't noticed the revolution in the taxi and livery cab businesses. In the Bay Area, local startups Uber, SideCar, and Lyft have made it a breeze to snag a ride in a taxi, a limo, or even your neighbor's aging Honda Civic. All it takes is firing up one of their apps on your smartphone. These companies' GPS-based dispatch systems allow almost anybody with an Android or iPhone and a clean driving record to make money as a quasi-legal gypsy cab driver. This ride revolution has made getting around town cheaper and easier, but has sapped the livelihoods of traditional cabbies and raised safety and security concerns.

Uber now operates in dozens of cities, and SideCar isn't far behind, having expanded its gypsy cab (or "ride-sharing") service last month to Chicago, Boston, Brooklyn, and Washington, DC. Lyft's trademark pink mustache, meanwhile, has become a pop culture meme. But the success of these alt-taxi firms may ultimately depend on whether California regulators put the kibosh on them—since other cities and states could well follow California's lead.

Today, the California Public Utilities Commission will hold a workshop aimed at drafting new regulations for the companies, which it deems "new online-enabled transportation services." Up for discussion will be whether these services must play by the same rules as traditional transportation companies—which include hefty insurance requirements, handicap accessibility, and set safety standards. 

Many taxi and limo drivers, and even some of Uber's own "partners" (drivers) think they should. I caught up with both sides at Uber HQ, where an ad hoc group of UberBlack drivers calling themselves Limounion was holding a protest, claiming Uber was taking a cut of their tips—a skirmish I wrote about here.

Corn on MSNBC: I'm Still Waiting for McConnell to Respond to the Substance of the Story

Tue Apr. 9, 2013 4:41 PM PDT

Earlier today, Mother Jones released a recording of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and campaign aides in a private strategy session discussing how to campaign against actress Ashley Judd, who is rumored to be running against McConnell for Senate. Watch DC bureau chief David Corn discuss the recording, McConnell's response, and looking behind the curtain at the ugly world of political campaigns on MSNBC's Bashir Live:

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

Did Mitch McConnell Use Senate Employees for Oppo Research on Ashley Judd?

| Tue Apr. 9, 2013 2:11 PM PDT

A secret recording of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and aides discussing in February how they might attack actor/activist Ashley Judd, then a potential 2014 challenger to McConnell, attracted widespread attention after Mother Jones published it Tuesday morning. Much of the news coverage focused on the McConnell team's comments about Judd's religious views and her mental-health history. But the tape might raise ethics questions for McConnell and his staff.

Senate ethics rules prohibit Senate employees from participating in political activities while on government time. But the tape indicates that several of McConnell's legislative aides, whose salaries are paid by the taxpayer, were involved with producing the oppo research on Judd that was discussed at the February 2 meeting.

Here's the relevant section of the transcript:

Presenter: So I'll just preface my comments that this reflects the work of a lot of folks: Josh, Jesse, Phil Maxson, a lot of LAs, thank them three times*, so this is a compilation of work, all the way through. The first person we'll focus on, Ashley Judd—basically I refer to her as sort of the oppo research situation where there's a haystack of needles, just because truly, there's such a wealth of material. [Laughter.]

Ah, you know Jesse slogged through her autobiography. She has innumerable video interviews, tweets, blog posts, articles, magazine articles.

The presenter was explaining that the opposition research on Judd was compiled by several people. "LAs" is congressional parlance for legislative assistants; one of the legislative assistants, Phil Maxson, gets his own shout-out. The question is whether Maxson and the other McConnell LAs were digging up material on Judd while on government time. If they were engaged in this research while on annual leave or vacation—or working outside Senate hours—they wouldn't be violating Senate rules. But if this was done on Senate time, McConnell could have a problem.

[UPDATE: The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper suggests that the aide in the transcription isn't saying "thank them three times," he's saying "in their free time." That's plausible, and if it's true, McConnell and his aides are in the clear. You can listen for yourself here. UPDATE 2: On even closer listen, "in their" isn't plausible, but "free time" is. You should decide for yourself.]

Here's how Tara Malloy, an expert on ethics rules at the Campaign Legal Center, described the issue in an email:

Any assessment under the Ethics rules would require some more facts—most particularly whether any official resources were used in connection to the conversation or oppo research, and/or whether the conversation or other activities took place on government property. In general, however, the ethics rules do not bar staffers from engaging in campaign activity provided they do it on their own time and do not involve government resources or property.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the Senate Ethics Manual:

As discussed more fully below, Senate Rule 41 prohibits Senate staff, with the exception of specified "political fund designees," from handling federal campaign funds. Subject to that restriction, however, and as long as they do not neglect their official duties, Senate employees are free to engage in campaign activities on their own time, as volunteers or for pay, provided they do not do so in congressional offices or otherwise use official resources.  An employee's "own time" includes time beyond regular working hours, any accrued annual leave, or non-government hours of a part-time employee. Staff may not be required to do political work as a condition of Senate employment. Just as Senate employees are free to campaign for their employing Members on their own time, they may also use their free time or, with the permission of their employing Members, reduce their Senate hours (with a commensurate reduction in pay) to campaign for presidential candidates, other federal candidates, or state or local aspirants. With respect to the question of leave time to perform campaign activities, it is the Committee's understanding that the Senate does not recognize a "leave of absence."

We asked Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager; Allison Moore, a spokeswoman for his Senate office; and Phil Maxson, the LA named on the tape, to explain whether the oppo work was done on Senate time, but they did not respond.

Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is working to defeat McConnell, sent out a series of tweets on Tuesday noting this issue:

VIDEO: There's No "Reasonable" Solution for Climate Change, Says Leader of Climate-Change Subcommittee

| Tue Apr. 9, 2013 1:36 PM PDT

In March, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) held his first hearing as chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Environment, which is responsible for, among other things, studying the impact of climate change on America's natural resources. The catch: Stewart is something of a climate skeptic who is "not as convinced as a lot of people are that man-made climate change is the threat they think it is."

At a town hall forum in his district last week, Stewart elaborated on those views when pressed by local environmental activists. Although his beliefs put him at odds with 97 percent of climate scientists, Stewart argued that his views on climate change put him squarely within the scientific mainstream. His evidence: If there really were a consensus, Congress would have have taken action to combat climate change years ago. Here's the video, via the pro-climate group Forecast the Facts:

Let me say that when I'm talking to you here right now, my position on climate change was very moderate and actually very mainstream. And that is this: If you think that the science on climate change is settled, you're simply overstating the facts. And let me give you an example of that. Two years ago, President Obama controlled the House and the Senate—the Senate by a 60-vote margin. They did not put forth a vote on human climate change. And do you know why? Why do you suppose they didn't? Because they recognized that science behind this...

There's one final thought that's really important in this, which is that even if you concede that climate change is real, even if you concede, there are no reasonable remedies that don't absolutely bankrupt the West.

Stewart's narrative is a bit off, actually. The House did pass major climate legislation in 2009, and the Senate came pretty close, but negotiations within the bipartisan coalition that was working on the bill broke down. The issue wasn't that the Senate rejected climate science—the legislation failed due to a variety of political pressures, including concerns from coal-state Democrats, and South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham's insistence that the body put immigration reform first. (Ryan Lizza has the best explanation of that episode here.)

Why does Chris Stewart hate baby polar bears?