Mojo - April 2013

Corn on Hardball: The All-Too-Familiar Call for War in Syria

Mon Apr. 29, 2013 5:46 PM PDT

The arguments for American intervention in Syria are, in many ways, the same arguments that politicians made for intervention in Iraq—and are still making for Iran. "All the military options are really difficult, they might not be effective," says DC bureau chief David Corn, "but they don't care as long as we're in it." Listen to Corn and Time's Bobby Ghosh discuss the need for caution in Syria on MSNBC's Hardball:

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

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Senators Take Another Swing at Dark Money Disclosure

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 2:52 PM PDT
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Late last year, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) penned a Washington Post op-ed taking aim at Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that helped open the floodgates for political nonprofits spending cash in the dark to influence elections. "At minimum, the American people deserve to know before they cast their ballots who is behind massive spending, who is funding people and organizations, and what their agendas are," the senators wrote.

Now Murkowski and Wyden have followed up by introducing a bill that would require any group that spends at least $10,000 on an election to disclose all of its donors who donated $1,000 or more. Currently, tax-exempt 501(c) groups that engage in political spending have no legal obligation to reveal their donors. (That's not the case with super-PACs, as the AP erroneously reported, although many super-PACs skirt disclosure by accepting donations funneled through affiliated nonprofits.) Super-PACs and dark-money groups spent more than $1 billion during the 2012 election.

Murkowski first hinted she supported shining more sunlight on dark-money groups last summer when the Senate was debating the DISCLOSE Act, which is similar to her new bill. (She voted against DISCLOSE for not being strong or bipartisan enough.) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filibustered DISCLOSE twice, deriding it as "nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation." His continued opposition to campaign finance reform means that the Wyden-Murkowski bill will also face a GOP filibuster.

If it managed to defy McConnell's opposition and pass the Republican-led House, the Wyden-Murkowski bill would also enact some smaller campaign finance reforms: It would require Senate candidates to file disclosure reports directly with the Federal Election Commission so they can be posted online more quickly and replace the FEC's quarterly reports with a real-time reporting system. And while it would require greater transparency for big donors, it would ease requirements for small donors by lifting the disclosure threshold for gifts to candidates from $200 to $1,000.

Treasury Department: Lew Remains Opposed To Bills That Would Weaken Wall Street Reform

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 2:03 PM PDT
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Last week, Mother Jones reported that some financial reform advocates were worrying that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was not taking a sufficiently fierce stance against a group of House bills that would weaken Wall Street reform. Similar measures died last year, and with some Democrats and Republicans in the process of reviving them, reform advocates have become nervous, especially since Lew has not yet echoed the strong opposition to these proposals that was voiced last year by his predecessor, Timothy Geithner.

Treasury Department officials, though, say there is nothing to fear. Last week, a Treasury Department spokesman told Mother Jones, "Of course the Treasury secretary would oppose any effort to weaken Wall Street reform," known as the Dodd-Frank law. She pointed to Lew's recent comments on Bloomberg television. "The purpose of Dodd-Frank was to make sure the American taxpayer would never again be in the position where they had to step in when banks failed," he told the news channel. "We are committed to that purpose." Treasury is not condemning these measures yet because, as a Treasury spokeswoman told Mother Jones last week, the bills have not even won approval at the committee level. A Treasury Department official this week reiterated Lew's opposition to the crusade to water down Wall Street reform, but the official noted that the department doesn't want to get into the habit of denouncing all the various bills that are thrown into the hopper on Capitol Hill. The official emphasized that Lew's previous public statements opposing efforts to undermine Dodd-Frank or delay its implementation do indeed cover the set of bills that have been re-introduced in the House. The word at Treasury: if these bills do gain traction, Lew will not hesitate to slam them.

Carolyn McCarthy Says Congress Will Act Again on Guns Before 2014 Elections

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 1:29 PM PDT

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), one of the House's leading advocates of gun control, said Friday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has assured her that gun reform legislation will be reintroduced before the 2014 midterm elections. But for a bill to pass, it would almost certainly have to offer more concessions to the gun lobby than Sens. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey's (R-Pa.) failed compromise on background checks that already ceded a lot of ground.

As Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told the Hill, that could include a measure similar to the rejected amendment introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to force states to allow concealed carry permit holders from other states to carry there. Speier said she would consider that a deal-breaker. But according to the New York Times, current talks among senators are focused on finding broader bipartisan ground on proposals like Manchin-Toomey (which only four Republicans voted for) and a less contentious measure to crack down on gun trafficking.

Before the Senate rejected the Manchin-Toomey compromise, McCarthy told Mother Jones that the gun violence task force she co-chairs had been in touch with Republicans receptive to gun reform but declined to name names or say how many were involved in the talks. Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) have introduced a Manchin-Toomey companion bill in the House that a spokesman for Thompson said last week that the congressman was "pushing forward with." But the House's Republican leadership doesn't plan to act on any proposals unless the Senate manages to pass one first.

Meanwhile, groups like Occupy the NRA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns are focused on a longer game. The former has targeted gun lobbyists and corporations that have retained them; the latter is taking aim at senators up for reelection in 2014 who voted against background checks. Already, those votes appear to have affected some senators' approval ratings.

Democratic leaders are looking to have it both ways. On one hand, they're discussing how to reintroduce gun legislation in the Senate. On the other, they're reaching out to potential pro-gun Senate candidates in red states to see if they'll run in 2014.

One of the potential candidates is Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who would run to replace retiring Sen. Max Baucus. Baucus was one of four Democrats to vote against the Manchin-Toomey compromise. Schweitzer has expressed support for expanded background checks in the past but also has an 'A' rating from the National Rifle Association and recently told the National Journal that he had "more [guns] than I need and less than I want."

Jason Collins Is Not the First Out Gay Pro Athlete

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 1:22 PM PDT
WNBA's Brittney Griner at the 2012 ESPY Awards.

Although his coming out in Sports Illustrated is big news, NBA star Jason Collins is not the "first openly gay athlete in professional North American team sports," as some have claimed. Claiming as much implies that either women's sports don't matter as much (or don't exist at all), or that coming out is somehow less of a big deal for professional athletes who happen to be women. Here are just a few of them:

  • Retired WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes, who came out in 2005 when she played for the Houston Comets. (She later married a man.)
  • Brittney Griner of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury.
  • Chamique Holdsclaw, former WNBA player most recently with the San Antonio Silver Stars.
  • Megan Rapinoe, member of the US Women's National Team, now playing soccer professionally in France.
  • Lori Lindsey, USWNT member in the 2012 Olympics who currently plays for the Washington Spirit in the National Women's Soccer League.

There have also been a number of out stars in individual sports—including Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova in tennis and Orlando Cruz, a professional boxer.

There have also been other male professional athletes in team sports who have come out, even if they're not in the "big four" professional sports—like Andrew Goldstein, the goalie for Major League Lacrosse's Long Island Lizards.

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 29, 2013

Mon Apr. 29, 2013 8:46 AM PDT

Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 296th Infantry Regiment, Puerto Rico National Guard, conduct a skills presentation at Camp Santiago Joint Maneuver Training Center, Salinas, Puerto Rico, during the change of responsibility and retirement ceremony on April 27. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Rivera Rebolledo.

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It's a Monday, So Unemployment Checks Are Being Slashed Somewhere

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 8:07 AM PDT

Last week, Congress took quick and decisive action to restore funding to the Federal Aviation Administration that had been cut as part of sequestration. The move, which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama, comes as welcome news to America's frequent fliers. The long-term unemployed, on the other hand, are still totally screwed.

On Monday, New Hampshire residents receiving new emergency unemployment benefits—designed to assist people who have been without work for more than 26 weeks—will see their checks shrink by about 17 percent due to sequestration cuts. (Per the Associated Press, between 150 and 180 New Hampshire residents apply for emergency unemployment benefits every week.) Also laying down the sequestration hammer on the long-term unemployed on Monday: Utah, which will cut its benefits by 12.8 percent. The move is expected to impact roughly 4,000 citizens, according to the Deseret News. Alabama's 12.8-percent cuts (affecting about 16,500 people) and Rhode Island's 12.2-percent cut (affecting about 8,000 people) both go into effect this week as well.

As tough as these cuts are, they only get steeper the longer states wait. States that wait to make cuts will have a shorter period of time in which to enact them. As the National Journal explains, "If California waits until June 30 to reduce the checks, for instance, it will have to cut benefits by 22.2 percent between then and Sept. 30 in order to meet the sequester's requirements."

This could be averted if Congress restored full funding for the emergency unemployment benefits program. But don't expect Congress to act fast this time—people on emergency unemployment assistance generally don't fly business class.

This Libertarian Presidential Hopeful Wants Your Bitcoin Donations

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 7:43 AM PDT

Darryl W. Perry says he's running for president in 2016 as a libertarian, and he's pledging to be the first White House hopeful to accept Bitcoin, the online currency currently en vogue in tech and libertarian circles.

Bitcoin appeals to libertarians who are skeptical of the Federal Reserve and other central banking institutions. As Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, recently told Mother Jones, "There are types like me, libertarian gold-buggish folks," for whom "inflation is a constant worry" and who "see the cryptography in Bitcoin as insulation against inflation." The US Libertarian Party accepts Bitcoin donations on its website, and the Libertarian Party of Canada joined the Bitcoin bandwagon in March.

Perry laid out his decision to accept Bitcoin in a recent open letter to the Federal Election Commission, the nation's beleaguered elections watchdog. The Darryl W. Perry for President campaign, he said, will not accept any donations "in currencies recognized by the federal legal tender laws." The only currencies going into Perry's campaign war chest are Bitcoin, Litecoin (another online currency), and precious metals. "I am attempting to put into practice a belief that I hold that we should get rid of the Federal Reserve, which is a central bank," he recently explained. "And unlike some who want to get rid of the Fed, I don't want the government stepping in to fill the void."

Believe it or not, refusing to accept actual money may not be Perry's biggest obstacle to running for president. Unlike the Libertarian Party, Perry disavows the very existence of the FEC and denies its authority to regulate campaigns. Perry says he will not file any paperwork with the commission establishing his presidential campaign, nor will he disclose whom his bitcoin/litecoin/gold contributors are or how he spends their money. He ends his letter by writing, "I intend this to be the last communication I have with this commission as part of my campaign."

How serious is Perry's candidacy? His website is, well, far from inspiring, and there's one brief mention of him on the US Libertarian Party's website. But he's nonetheless one of the early Bitcoin adopters in politics, following candidates in North Dakota, Vermont, and New Hampshire who decided to accept the online currency. Provided Bitcoin doesn't bottom out in the months or years ahead—the price of a Bitcoin is vulnerable to wild swings, evidenced by a 60-percent drop a few weeks ago, quickly shedding $115 in value—I wouldn't be surprised to see more libertarian types embrace Bitcoin donations.

Therein lies a challenge: Explaining Bitcoin to the average voter is hard enough. If the FEC ever tried to regulate it, well, good luck.

Four Republicans Who Don't Understand the Constitution They've Sworn to Defend

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 7:14 AM PDT

Members of Congress swear an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, but that doesn't mean they understand it. Over the past week, several Republican lawmakers have expressed outrage over the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston marathon bombings, was read his rights and reportedly stopped talking to interrogators. These GOPers have accused President Barack Obama of making a grave error by recognizing the constitutional rights of a suspected terrorist.

The Obama administration, however, didn't have a choice in the matter. Tsarnaev was read his rights by a magistrate judge during an initial appearance that was required by the federal rules of criminal procedure, which are rooted in the constitutional right to due process under the law. The Supreme Court has held that, barring exigent circumstances, a criminal suspect has to be brought before a judicial officer within 48 hours, give or take, at which point the suspect is informed of his rights no matter what.

The interrogation priorities of law enforcement officials don't count as exigent circumstances, because the point of the rule is to prevent secret detention and to inform suspects of the charges against them. The public safety exception to reading suspects their rights affects whether suspects' statements can be used in court. It does not affect the requirement that a suspect see a judge within 48 hours. These Republicans don't seem to understand that distinction.

  • Rep. Peter King (R-NY):  The former chairman of the House homeland security committee told CNN the fact that Tsarnaev was read his rights was "disgraceful" and said "It is the matter of life and death. I don't know of any case law which says that magistrate has a right to come in to a hospital room and stop an interrogation." Rep. King, let me Google that for you.
  • Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.): On CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, Coats said that he "was very surprised that they moved as quickly as they did. We had, I think, legal reasons and follow-up investigative reasons to drag this out a little bit longer...I think the AG, attorney general, should have sent a signal basically saying we're within our legal bounds in doing this for the public safety exemption." This seems to be a popular misconception. Again, the public safety exception affects the admissibility of statements in court. It does not magically eliminate a suspect's constitutional right to a speedy trial.
  • Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas): Rep. McCaul is the current chairman of the House homeland security committee, and a former federal prosecutor, so it's difficult to believe he doesn't know the federal rules of criminal procedure. "The only other avenue we had to get this intelligence is through this emergency exception to the Miranda warning," McCaul told CNN. "But in my judgment, the FBI was cut short in their interrogations when the magistrate judge decided to Mirandize him within 16 hours...I think that cost us dearly in terms of valuable intelligence." Yes, that's a former federal attorney mangling not only the nature of the public safety exemption and the requirement to bring the suspect before a judge, but also constitutional separation of powers. The FBI does not get to tell judges when they should see suspects.
  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich): Probably the only thing more embarrassing than being a federal prosecutor who doesn't understand the federal rules of criminal procedure is being a former FBI agent who doesn't understand them. Enter Rep. Rogers, chair of the House intelligence committee, who in an interview with MSNBC last week slammed the judiciary for "interceding" in an interrogation, referring to Tsarnaev being read his rights as "confusing" and a "horrible, God-awful policy" that is "dangerous to the greater community." It's not that confusing: The public safety exemption does not allow interrogators to indefinitely detain and interrogate suspects in violation of their constitutional rights.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has gone a different route and argued that Tsarnaev should have been held in military detention as an "enemy combatant." But federal law specifically defines those who can be detained militarily as individuals who are play an operation role in foreign terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, and so far the evidence indicates the Tsarnaevs acted alone. It's also possible that holding an American citizen like Tsarnaev in military detention after apprehending him on US soil would be unconstitutional even if some tie to foreign terrorist organizations were discovered.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is accused of doing horrible things. But he is an American citizen who is entitled to all the rights due him under the Constitution, none of which would mean anything if the government could pick and choose when they apply. Then they wouldn't be rights at all.

MAP: Which States Have Cut Treatment For the Mentally Ill the Most?

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 3:00 AM PDT

Between 2009 and 2012, states cut a total of $4.35 billion in public mental-health spending from their budgets. According to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, significant cuts to general fund appropriations for state mental health agencies have translated into a severe shortage of services, including housing, community-based treatment and access to psychiatric medications. "Increasingly, emergency rooms, homeless shelters and jails are struggling with the effects of people falling through the cracks," the report says, "due to lack of needed mental health services and supports."

The map below shows how states' spending changed on mental health services between 2009 and 2012. Click on a state to see the specifics.

These six states and the District of Columbia made the deepest cuts to their mental health budgets.

South Carolina ($187.3 million in 2009 to $113.7 million in 2012, -39.3 percent): The director of the local NAMI chapter says the state’s mental-health department is “approaching crisis mode with funding at 1987 levels.” After closing community mental-health centers and reducing services at its remaining facilities, the department is now serving thousands fewer patients.

Alabama ($100.3 million in 2009 to $64.2 million in 2012, -36 percent): Alabama has one of the lowest numbers of psychiatrists [PDF] per capita in the nation. Despite rising demand for psychiatric hospital beds, Alabama plans to close most of its state mental hospitals this spring, laying off 948 employees.

Alaska ($125.6 million in 2009 to $84.7 million in 2012, -32.6 percent): Alaska has the nation’s No. 2 suicide rate—and a massive mental-health workforce shortage. Sometimes there is not a single psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse [PDF] available at the mental-health center in Fairbanks, the state’s second-largest city.

Illinois ($590.7 million in 2009 to $403.7 million in 2012, $-31.7 percent): Illinois has more mentally ill people living in nursing homes than any other state. In 2010, the state settled a class-action civil rights lawsuit, agreeing to help 5,000 of them transition into community programs within five years. As of July 2012, only 45 people had moved.

Nevada ($175.5 million in 2009 to $126.2 million in 2012, -28.1 percent): In 2003, Reno police calculated how much it cost the county to repeatedly pick up and hospitalize Murray Barr, a homeless man with an alcohol addiction. Tallying up doctors’ fees and other expenses from his decade on the streets, Barr racked up a $1 million bill.

District of Columbia ($212.4 million in 2009 to $161.6 million in 2012, -23.9 percent): Children on Medicaid wait 10 weeks—or one-third of the school year—for an appointment with a Children’s National Medical Center community clinic psychiatrist.

California ($3,612.8 million in 2009 to $2,848 million in 2012, -21.2 percent): Inmates with severe mental illness often wait three to six months for a state psychiatric hospital bed. In 2007, 19 percent of state prisoners were mentally ill. By 2012, 25 percent were.
 

crazy priorities

Approximately 10 percent of US homicides are committed by untreated severely mentally ill people.

Chances that a perpetrator of a mass shooting displayed signs of mental illness prior to the crime: 1 in 2

Between 1998 and 2006, the number of mentally ill people incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails more than quadrupled to 1,264,300.

three pie charts in a row

Since 2006, mental-illness rates in some county jails have increased by another 50 percent.

For every $2,000 to $3,000 per year spent on treating the mentally ill, $50,000 is saved on incarceration costs.

Prisoners with mental illness cost the nation an average of nearly $9 billion a year.

In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. In 2010, there was one psychiatric bed for every 7,100 Americans—the same ratio as in 1850.

Severe mental disorders cost the nation $193.2 billion annually in lost earnings.

another pie chart

Sources for pie charts: National Coalition for the Homeless, NIMH, "Hunger and Homelessness Survey," The US Conference of Mayors, "Inmate Mental Health," National Institute of Mental Health

three charts
 

Source for "Locked Up. But Where": Bernard Harcourt

Source for "Docs to Drugs": US Dept. of Health and Human Services

Source for "States of Denial": NRI