Mojo - April 2013

8 Things You Won't See at the George W. Bush Presidential Library

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 3:05 AM PDT
W.

"Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful."—Former President George W. Bush, July 2012

On Thursday, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will be officially dedicated at Southern Methodist University, a school attended by the likes of former first lady Laura Bush, actor Powers Boothe, and Kourtney Kardashian. The invitation-only event will be attended by President Obama, before he visits a memorial at Baylor University for victims of the West, Texas, plant explosion. A spokesperson says attendance at the library dedication is expected to be in the thousands.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Chart: Here Are the 18 House Democrats Who Haven't Endorsed Marriage Equality

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 3:00 AM PDT

Since mid-March, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed marriage equality in a YouTube video, 11 Democratic senators have formalized their "evolution" on the issue in a series of interviews, statements, Facebook posts, and Tumblr entries. Only three Democratic senators—Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana—have yet to officially come out in support of gay marriage.

While the Senate holdouts hail from states that voted for Mitt Romney last fall, their 18 counterparts in the House come mostly from districts that President Obama won in 2012—in some cases overwhelmingly—even though the majority hail from red states. Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), David Scott (D-Ga.), and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) all represent heavily black districts in the Deep South that Obama won by 30 points or more.

Richmond is a particularly interesting case. Although he told the Hill's Cameron Joseph that he is a "proponent of equal rights," he did not explicitly endorse marriage equality. Meanwhile, his New Orleans district, where 76 percent of voters cast for Obama, includes one of the largest gay communities in the South and is home to the annual LGBT "Southern Decadence" festival. In a statement provided to Mother Jones, Richmond said he supported equal rights, but did not respond specifically to the question of marriage:

I am a firm proponent of equal rights and support efforts to end prejudice against all human beings. A person's decision concerning who they commit their life to should be respected regardless of gender, race, or sexual preference. Our collective goal as Americans should be to strive to treat all people with decency and fairness.

Here's the breakdown of the Democratic holdouts, and how Obama fared in their districts last fall.

Correction: Costa formally endorsed marriage equality on April 18, before this story was published.

Iowa GOPer: "Let's Hear it For Rising CO2 on Earth Day!"

| Wed Apr. 24, 2013 7:43 AM PDT

No one celebrates Earth Day quite like the Republican party of Iowa. On Monday, as environmental activists across the world called for increased attention (or any attention at all, as the case may have it) to the effects of anthropogenic climate change, state Rep. Dwayne Alons took to the floor of the state capitol to offer up a counterpoint: Climate change is awesome.

Alons cited a 2012 article in Global Change Biology on the impact of increased carbon dioxide levels on the growth of Greek fir trees:

There's a man by name of Koutavas has come out with this report that basically says there's a very positive indication that rising global CO2 is a good factor, not a bad factor, and we shouldn't be fighting that. And to sum up of some of his words in his report and such observations in the words of Koutavas are most consistent with a significant CO2 fertilization effect operating through restricted stomatal conductance and improve motor use efficiency. And he also opines that if this interpretation is correct—and what other interpretation could there possibly be?—atmospheric CO2 is now overcompensating for growth declines anticipated from dryer climates suggesting its effect is unusually strong and likely to be detectable in other up-to-date tre-ring chronologies from the Mediterranean. There we have it: The increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2 as illustrated in the data I have before me, and the graph is quite significant, appears to be the most important factor driving recently enhanced growth rates of Greek fir trees, and it in spite of unfavorable moisture conditions and declining temperatures that should be causing growth declines. Not bad for a growth-promoting and life-sustaining molecule that some have incorrectly labeled a pollution. So let's hear it for rising CO2 on Earth Day!

The study doesn't actually say, as Alons suggests, that CO2 is a "good" thing or that we "shouldn't be fighting that." It's simply looking at a near-term effect of CO2 on a specific population. Scientists are skeptical that tree growth will continue to keep pace with rising CO2 levels. And all is not well for Alons' beloved Greek fir; he forgot to mention—or perhaps had no idea—that the species is in a continual decline due to, among other things, drought and air pollution.

Rep. Ralph Watts, who followed Alons on the floor, proposed Iowans observe Earth Day by honoring power plants. He suggested that legislators "leave our lights on all night long in celebration of Earth Day and recognition of those privileges we have."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 24, 2013

Wed Apr. 24, 2013 6:29 AM PDT

A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter lands at Camp Al-Galail, Qatar, to drop off several Marines assigned to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, for Exercise Eagle Resolve April 21, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston/Released.

"Go to Sleep or I Will Call the Planes"

| Wed Apr. 24, 2013 6:01 AM PDT

A week ago, activist Farea al-Muslimi was live-tweeting the aftermath of a drone attack on his childhood village of Wessab in Yemen. Monday, he was testifying before a Senate subcommittee on the legality and impact of the Obama administration's targeted killing program. It was the first time Congress has heard from a witness with anything close to first-hand experience with being on the receiving end of a drone strike. 

"Women used to say [to kids] go to sleep or I will call your father," Muslimi said. "Now they say go to sleep, or I will call the planes."

Last week's strike killed Hameed al-Radmi, described by the US government as an Al Qaeda leader, and four suspected militants. But Muslimi told the Senate that Radmi had recently met with Yemeni government officials, and could easily have been captured, rather than killed in a strike that alienated everyone in the village. 

"[A]ll they have is the psychological fear and terror that now occupies their souls," Muslimi said of the residents of Wessab. "They fear that their home or a neighbor's home could be bombed at any time by a U.S. drone." President Obama received some backup from an unlikely source—Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has spent the last week criticizing the Obama administration for handling the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings in civilian court. Graham said although he would prefer to capture terror suspects, Yemeni officials couldn't be trusted to apprehend them. "The world we live in is where if you share this closely held information you're going to end up tipping off somebody," Graham told Muslimi.

The United States has carried out 64 drone strikes in Yemen since Obama took office, according to the New America Foundation. The Obama administration did not send a witness to the hearing to defend its targeted killing policy despite promising greater transparency, but Obama has previously defended the targeted killing policy by stating that lethal force is only used in "a situation in which we can't capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States." Critics of the policy, which include former members of the Obama administration, have said that the policy creates more enemies than it eliminates. 

That was Muslimi's take. "The drones have simply made more mistakes than [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] has ever done with civilians," he told the Senate panel. "The drones have been the tool they have used to prove [ordinary Yemenis] are at war with the US."

Lew Won't Adopt Geithner's Stand Against Wall Street Deregulation Bills

| Wed Apr. 24, 2013 3:00 AM PDT

 

This post has been updated.

Last year, then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner slammed a series of bills that would have deregulated Wall Street banks. But this year, as a slate of nearly identical bills is being considered by the House Financial Services Committee, newly minted Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has declined to oppose them.

The bills are presented as technical fixes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act, which was aimed at preventing another 2008-style financial crisis. Most of them aren't. One bill would allow certain derivatives that are traded among a corporation's various affiliates to be exempt from almost all new Dodd-Frank regulations. Another measure would expand the types of trading risks that banks can take on. Yet a third bill would allow big multinational US banks to escape US regulations by operating through international arms. Etc. Etc.

The main problem with these bills, financial reform advocates say, is that it's too early to tweak Dodd-Frank. Although the massive financial-reform law passed more than two years ago, all of its provisions must go to regulatory agencies to be crafted into rules before they take effect in the real world. Because of heavy industry lobbying to weaken or kill the regulations, two-thirds of the 400-odd rules are still not finalized. "You take the least controversial [bill], and it's still pulling a thread out of a jacket," says Jeff Connaughton, an investment banker-turned-financial reform advocate who worked with former Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) on financial reform legislation in 2009 and 2010. He says altering these sections of the law could make the whole thing fall apart. "Can we please get the rulemaking done first before we start pulling thread out of the sleeve?"

When many of the same bills were introduced in the last Congress, Geithner sent a letter to the House Financial Services Committee warning against the measures. The Dodd-Frank Act "provides essential financial reforms that should not be weakened or repealed," he wrote:

The bills present issues that the regulators are still actively considering in their rulemakings. If enacted, the proposed legislative changes would undermine the integrity of the rulemaking process, further complicate the work of the regulators, and increase uncertainty for firms. Accordingly, Treasury believes that the proposed bills are at best premature and that the regulators should be permitted to continue their work through the rulemaking process.

When asked about Lew's position on the bills and whether he would take a stand against them, Lew's office had no comment. However, his spokesperson did point to recent testimony by a Treasury official who said, "Efforts to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act in whole or piecemeal...will...be corrosive to the strength and stability of our financial system." But a Treasury official saying that a partial Dodd-Frank repeal would be bad does not carry the same weight as a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury that takes a stand against specific bills.

Financial reform advocates have said the administration has not done enough to defend Dodd-Frank. "This is a three-front war by Wall Street," Connaughton says. "The administration needs to be standing up strongly on all three fronts and they're not. They haven't been supporting the agencies the way they should. They haven't been giving the judicial battles the legal importance it deserves. They haven't loudly stated Geithner's position from April 2012, so they're not fighting Congress."

The seven bills sailed out of the House Agriculture committee in late March and are now being considered by the House Financial Services Committee. Last year, the similar bills cleared all the committees, but some never received a vote on the House floor, and they all failed to reach the Senate by the time the 112th Congress ended. As Bart Naylor of Public Citizen noted in April, the bills got an early start this time around, so the pressure on the Senate to take them up if they pass the House will be higher.

Update: After this story, the Treasury Department got in touch with Mother Jones to clarify its stance on Dodd-Frank. After that story, the Department got in touch with Mother Jones again to further reiterate its support for financial reform.

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bulletproof Clothing for America's Schoolkids? Seriously?

| Tue Apr. 23, 2013 3:27 PM PDT

The collapse of the Senate's gun control efforts last week has left parents to wonder what, if anything, might protect their children from another Newtown-style massacre. The world's leading high-fashion bulletproof clothing company has an answer: discreet kid-sized body armor woven into school backpacks, t-shirts, and puffer vests. The new line of clothing from Miguel Caballero, a Colombia-based company best-known for outfitting celebrities, executives, and political figures, is aimed specifically at the US market as a response to the number of mass shootings here. Watch:

Via TechEBlog

What We Know About the Tsarnaev Brothers' Guns

| Tue Apr. 23, 2013 3:22 PM PDT

We still don't have a full account of where and how the Tsarnaev brothers obtained the firearms and explosives they allegedly used in the deadly attacks that began on April 15 at the Boston Marathon. Here are the details about their guns that have emerged so far:

How may firearms did they have?
Along with several pipe bombs, law enforcement officials recovered four guns they believed the Tsarnaevs used, according to a report in the New York Times (Update: officials are now saying only one 9 mm handgun was recovered.) Authorities believe three of the firearms—two handguns of unspecified makes and models, and a BB gun—were used in the dramatic early morning shootout with police in Watertown that left Tamerlan dead.

Did they have military-grade weapons?
The other gun, described by the Times as an M-4 carbine rifle "similar to ones used by American forces in Afghanistan," was reportedly found on the boat in the Watertown driveway where Dzhokhar was captured. It is unclear whether the rifle is a semi-automatic civilian model or the selective-fire model used by the military.

What gun laws would they have been subject to?
Both Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were residents of Massachusetts, a state with strict gun laws including a ban on assault weapons and magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Along with Washington, D.C., Massachusetts is one of just seven states with some form of assault weapons ban. No such restrictions exist under federal law, but if the M-4 is a selective-fire model it would fall under the highly restrictive National Firearms Act of 1934 that requires the registration of automatic weapons.

Did they have gun permits? Could they have gotten any?
Reuters reported that neither brother had a valid handgun permit in the state of Massachusetts. Because he is younger than 21, Dzhokhar could not have legally owned a handgun even with a permit. He also did not have the firearms identification card he would have needed to legally possess a semi-automatic rifle with a 10-round magazine. BB guns don't require licensing for non-minors in Massachusetts.

Facebook Shoots Down Giveaways of Assault Weapons

| Tue Apr. 23, 2013 1:21 PM PDT

The months since the Newtown massacre have seen an explosion of gun and ammo giveaways on Facebook. For some gun enthusiasts, scoring a free AR-15 assault weapon has been as easy as clicking a "like" button on the Facebook page of a firearms marketer such as 556 Tactical, Pittsburgh Tactical, or AR15News.com. Since December, the number of gun and ammo giveaways on the social networking site has increased seven-fold, according to research by the media startup Vocativ:

Facebook has allowed companies to give away guns as sweepstakes prizes since 2011. However, a Facebook spokesperson told Vocativ that the sweepstakes in question are technically ads, and therefore still violate a Facebook policy banning "the promotion and sale of weapons." As of yesterday, the Facebook pages of the three major firearms marketers had been taken down, though Facebook apparently still allows assault weapons giveaways as long as they aren't used as tools for selling guns.

Rand Paul Agrees Tsarnaev Is No 'Enemy Combatant'

| Tue Apr. 23, 2013 11:42 AM PDT

It hasn't made as many headlines as his marathon filibuster over drones, but Monday Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Fox Business host Neil Cavuto Monday that he supports trying Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in court rather than holding him as an "enemy combatant." 

Here's the transcript of their exchange (emphasis added):

PAUL: Well, you know, I want to congratulate law enforcement for getting and capturing these terrorists, first of all. But, what we do with them, you know. I think we can still preserve the Bill of Rights. I see no reason why our Constitution is not strong enough to convict this young man with a jury trial, with the Bill of Rights, we do it to horrible people all of the time, rapists and murderers. They get lawyers, they get trials with juries. And we seem to be able to do a pretty good job of justice. So I think we can do it through our court system.

CAVUTO: All right, so the whole, enemy combatant thing is a moot point for you. The fact is that an American citizen will be served American justice. And will get -- he will get, if guilty, his just deserts.

PAUL: You know, when I talk to our young soldiers, and my wife and I have been working, we're trying to build houses for some of these wounded veterans, who've really sacrificed their bodies literally, they tell me they are fighting for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and I believe them. And I know that that's what they represent, I think they are disheartened to think, oh, we're going to just tell people, oh, no jury trial any more. So I think it is something worth standing up for. 

Law enforcement has yet to turn up any evidence of an operational connection between the Tsarnaev brothers Al Qaeda or its affiliates. Without such evidence, holding Tsarnaev as an "enemy combatant" is probably illegal. Paul's support for the Obama administration's decision to try Dzhokhar in criminal court without holding him in military detention first has not received much attention. That may be because Paul also suggested that immigration from Chechnya should be restricted in the wake of the marathon attacks.

The Tsarnaev brothers are of Chechen descent. But they emigrated to the US from Dagestan, not Chechnya. Tamerlan was 15 and Dzhokhar was eight. Presumably they hadn't yet begun planning to bomb the Boston Marathon.