Mojo - April 2013

Terror Attacks on Sporting Events, Especially Marathons, Are Surprisingly Rare

| Tue Apr. 16, 2013 11:52 AM EDT
The aftermath of the attack on the Boston Marathon Monday, April 15 2013.

The bloody attack on the Boston Marathon that caused over a hundred casualties Monday seemed designed to maximize media coverage and cause as much harm as possible. But despite the potential for media attention and mass casualties, attacks on sporting events are relatively rare compared to attacks on other sorts of targets, says Bill Braniff, who runs the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland.

The Olympics and the World Cup have occasionally been targets for terrorists because of their prominence on the international stage. But attacks on marathons are even less common than attacks on sporting events in general. According to START, counting Monday's attack in Boston there have been seven terrorist attacks on marathons. Only one was more lethal than the Boston bombing. Here's a summary:

Sri Lanka, 2008: The separatist Tamil Tigers detonated a bomb at a marathon outside the capital city of Colombo, killing 14 people and injuring 83. The attack was a successful assassination attempt on the Sri Lankan minister of highway and road development, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.

Ireland, 1998, 2003, and 2005: There were three attacks associated with the Belfast Marathon between 1998 and 2005, in which local authorities suspected the Irish Republican Army or its radical offshoot, the Real IRA, were responsible. In 1998 the IRA was suspected of firing mortars at a local police station, prior to the marathon, which was "disrupted" as a result, but the mortars did not explode. In 2003, there was a bomb placed in a van prior to the marathon, but the van owner called the police who defused it. In 2005, a pipe bomb was placed along the marathon route that was again disabled by police. 

Pakistan, 2006: START counts as two incidents violent protests in response to a marathon in Lahore, by groups opposed to the fact that men and women were both allowed to participate. There were arson attacks and two police officers and two civilians were injured. 

Bahrain, 1994: START lists as one of the incidents an attack on marathon runners along the al-Budayyi’ Highway. START lists the motive as "unknown," but speculates that the attackers may have been motivated by the dress of the runners, some of whom were women, or the route's proximity to the "remains" of a former mosque.

Terrorists might be reluctant to strike at sporting events because "there is so little perception that the people watching a sporting event are responsible for any grievance," Braniff says. "A backlash is very likely because people will see this for what it is, which is an indiscriminate attack on innocent civilians," he adds. "It's very hard to come up with an argument that the people running this marathon are legitimate targets, even for an international terrorist organization." That's not always the case—extremist Islamist groups in Somalia have targeted sports fans and events in part because they see identifying with sports teams as a threat to the strict religious identities they are trying to force on others. 

The final number of deaths and injuries from the attack in Boston is not yet known, but if the early number of casualties holds it will be the highest-casaulty attack on a marathon in history. According to the START database, there have been over 2000 terrorist attacks in the US between 1970 and 2011, less than two percent of which have caused more than ten casualties.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 16, 2013

Tue Apr. 16, 2013 8:39 AM EDT

Artillerymen with 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, conduct an Artillery Raid with assistance from CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters during WTI 2-13 in Yuma, Ariz. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Christopher R. Rye.

The Man in the Cowboy Hat: Meet Carlos Arredondo, a Hero of the Boston Bombings

| Tue Apr. 16, 2013 1:17 AM EDT

One of Monday's most gripping—and graphic—images was a picture of a young man who appears to have lost both of his legs, being frantically wheeled to an ambulance by responders. On Twitter, there's been a lot of discussion about the ethics of running the picture without blurring the young man's face, as The Atlantic did for over an hour on its site before altering the image. The Washington Post chose to crop the image so the victim's legs are visible only above the knee.

One of the responders in the photograph—the man in the cowboy hat—has been identified as Carlos Arredondo, a Costa Rican immigrant (originally undocumented) whose Marine son died in action in Iraq in 2004. The day he learned of his son's death, Arredondo ​locked himself in a van with five gallons of gasoline and a propane torch and set the van on fire. He survived, became a peace activist, and was among the spectators who rushed toward the fumes after the explosion today. After tying a tourniquet onto the young man's legs and wheeling him past the finish line to emergency help, Arredondo, seen badly shaken and trembling in this video, gripping a small American flag drenched in blood, talks to some bystanders on the street about the explosion:

Arredondo was at the marathon to cheer for a runner who'd dedicated their race to his son. In 2011, Arredondo's other son, Brian, 24, committed suicide after suffering years of depression and drug addiction following his brother's death. You can see the 52-year-old, cowboy-hat-clad activist in the immediate aftermath of the attack at the 2:00 mark below, lifting pieces of broken fence and debris away from victims lying on the sidewalk:

Over on Reddit, there's a post from someone who says they're a friend of the victim in the wheelchair, and that he found a record of his friend—Jeff—through Google's Person Finder, an app for locating loved ones after an emergency. The app said Jeff "was in the Boston Medical Center ER as of 23:20 UTC." The thread also has a Facebook message from someone asking for prayers for his son, Jeff Jr., who was injured in the blast: 

Can everyone pray for my Son Jeff jr who was at the finish line today in Boston. He is in surgery right now with injuries to his legs. I just can't explain whats wrong with people today to do this to people. I'm really starting to lose faith in our country.

The Redditor added an update to say Jeff is in stable condition, and that "Carlos Arredondo should never have to buy a drink in this town again."

Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic Can Stay Open, For Now

| Mon Apr. 15, 2013 8:38 PM EDT

A judge in Mississippi has ruled that Jackson Women's Health Organization can stay open, for now.

A state law passed in April 2012 threatened to shut down the state's last abortion clinic, which we recently profiled. But on Monday, US District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III granted a preliminary injunction blocking that law from taking effect, which means that the state cannot revoke the clinic's license to operate.

The new state law requires doctors who perform abortions at the clinic to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Given the politics on abortion in Mississippi, all of the local hospitals rejected the applications of the two doctors who work at the clinic, so the state Department of Health had begun the process of revoking the clinic's license for non-compliance. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the clinic, asked the judge to prevent the law from taking effect, as it was impossible for JWHO to comply.

In a statement Monday evening, Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, noted that this is just the first step in the legal battle over this law. "While the women of Mississippi may be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief today, this fight is far from over," she said. "We will continue our work to see this underhanded attempt to ban abortions in Mississippi struck down as a violation of women's constitutional reproductive rights."

Read the judge's decision here.

Background Checks in Danger of Being Shot Down in the Senate

| Mon Apr. 15, 2013 12:26 PM EDT

UPDATE 2, Monday, April 15, 5:00 p.m.: Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said this afternoon that he will vote for Manchin-Toomey, becoming the 52nd senator to do so.

UPDATE, Monday, April 15, 1:52 p.m.: The New York Times reports that the absence or presence of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who has been out of the Senate as a result of complications from stomach cancer treatments, could prove crucial to whether Harry Reid can secure 60 votes for the background check compromise. Lautenberg supports the legislation.

ORIGINAL POST: Last Thursday, the Senate overcame a filibuster threat and voted 68 to 31 to allow debate on gun legislation that centers on a compromise amendment to expand background checks. But that was just the difficult beginning for the legislation, brokered by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to vote on the amendment, but it lacks a clear path to the 60 votes it needs to head to the House.

Of the 16 Republican senators who voted to allow debate, only three so far—Toomey, Susan Collins (Maine), and Mark Kirk (Ill.)—have signalled they will support the Manchin-Toomey bill. On Sunday, John McCain said he was "very favorably disposed" to it.

Five others—Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), and Roger Wicker (Miss.)—plan to vote against the bill. Johnny Isakson (Tenn.) said he will probably also vote no.

That leaves Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), John Hoeven (N.D.), and Dean Heller (Nev.), as the remaining undecided Republicans from that group. A spokesperson for Heller remained vague on the senator's position, telling the Hill that Heller "will not support any plan that creates a federal gun registry." That's a red herring, though: Manchin-Toomey affirms a ban on a federal gun registry that has been in place since 1986. (Naturally, that hasn't stopped some Republican hardliners from warning of that dire possibility anyway.)

The Enduring Mystery of GOP Megadonor Bob Perry

| Mon Apr. 15, 2013 11:38 AM EDT

Bob Perry, the wealthy Texas homebuilder and Republican mega-donor who helped bankroll the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group that attacked John Kerry's presidential campaign, died on Saturday night. He was 80 years old.

In 2012, I wrote a story about the Republican Governors Association, one of the many Republican causes to which Perry gave generously. During my reporting on the RGA, I interviewed an Austin attorney named Buck Wood who'd once crossed paths with Perry. Wood told me a head-scratcher of a story that, while hardly definitive, struck me as useful to understanding Perry's place in GOP politics. 

In the mid-2000s, Wood represented Chris Bell, a trial lawyer who'd run as the Democratic candidate in Texas' 2006 gubernatorial election. Late in the race, Bell's opponent, Gov. Rick Perry, received a $1 million donation from the RGA—an infusion that may well have contributed to Perry's nine-point win. Bell believed that the $1 million originated with Bob Perry (no relation to Rick), and that Perry funneled the money through the RGA to Rick Perry's campaign to wipe his fingerprints and avoid causing a fuss about such a big donation. (The RGA denied all this.) Bell sued the RGA in November 2007 for allegedly violating state campaign finance law.

Wood, Bell's attorney, visited Bob Perry in Houston to depose him in the case. The two met in a conference room next to Perry's personal office. Perry was pleasant, seemingly unbothered. Before the questioning began, Wood pointed out an aerial photograph on the wall of a new development in Austin built by Perry Homes. Perry looked at the picture, Wood recalled, studying it for an uncomfortably long time. "Yeah, that looks like one of our developments," Perry replied unconvincingly, according to Wood. In the deposition, Perry recalled little about his RGA donations. Yes, that was his signature on the checks, he said, but he didn't remember writing them.

Wood ended the deposition convinced that Perry really didn't remember his $1 million donation to the RGA. He suspected that someone in Perry's office, not the man himself, was handling Perry's large political portfolio, as it were. "I wanted to know who was running the show so I could depose them," he said. Wood asked a few local reporters if they knew anything more about the political affairs over at Perry Homes; he got nothing.

Perry went on to give tens of millions more to Republicans after the 2006 gubernatorial election. The 2010 Citizens United case freed Perry to give even more, which he did, doling out more than $20 million to super-PACs in 2012. When I spoke to Buck Wood on Monday morning, he told me he still didn't have a clue who handled Perry's political affairs, if it wasn't Perry himself. All these years later, Bob Perry was still something of an mystery.

Perry preferred it that way. Here's an excerpt of an April 2007 Texas Monthly profile that offered a rare glimpse inside Perry's world:

Unseen by the public, uninvolved with his candidates, the most powerful political donor in the nation has until now remained largely an enigma. Few apart from a small circle of close friends in Houston know much about him. What they do know may surprise some people. For instance, Perry favors affirmative action. He has given money to Democrats, particularly black and Latino Democrats. He opposes his party’s hard line on immigration rights. He is a large-scale donor to an inner-city Houston foundation sponsored by a liberal black minister and to an educational scholarship program for Hispanic students founded by a liberal professor. So who is Bob Perry? Is he the monolithic, unyielding, far-right ideologue he is often portrayed to be? A philanthropist who gives generously to causes he believes in? Some hybrid of the two? Almost nobody knows, and that’s the way he likes it.

As under the radar as he was, Perry loomed large in Republican politics, in Texas and nationwide. His passing leaves the GOP without one of its biggest financial supporters.

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Louisville Courier-Journal: McConnell Tape Contents Are "Despicable" and the "Real Story"

| Sun Apr. 14, 2013 10:31 PM EDT

In a blistering editorial on Sunday, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the largest newspaper in Kentucky, weighed in on the controversy kicked up by the Mother Jones article disclosing a tape that captured Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his campaign aides at a private strategy session laughing about using actor/activist Ashley Judd's past struggles with depression and her religious views as political ammunition, should Judd challenge McConnell for his seat. The newspaper derided the super-PAC that reportedly was connected to the tape, but it unloaded on McConnell, who is up for reelection next year:

The contents of the audio are as despicable as they are damaging, leaving Mr. McConnell unable to defend them. Instead, he blustered he was the victim of "Watergate style" bugging by left-leaning enemies and demanded an FBI investigation.

The paper, which McConnell targeted for a "Whac-A-Mole" offensive at that meeting, blasted McConnell for ducking the true issue at hand:

Mr. McConnell has masterfully diverted public attention from the offensive content of the tape—which is the real story here—to his outrage over how it was obtained. McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton called the tactics "comparable only to Richard Nixon’s efforts to bug Democratic Party Headquarters."

But how it was obtained—reportedly by at least one member of Progress Kentucky recording it outside the closed door of the McConnell campaign meeting—falls short of the "Watergate style" bugging Mr. McConnell and staff conjured up.

The tape, the newspaper contended, was just another reason why Kentucky needs to replace the five-term senator:

He has long ceased to serve the state, instead serving the corporate interests he counts on for contributions and leading obstruction that continues to plague Congress. He needs a credible opponent and a serious effort by people ready to advance the interests of Kentucky and its citizens.

With his I'm-the-victim act, McConnell may have nudged the narrative in his favor, but he did not win over the Courier-Journal.

Rand Paul Does Not Deserve a Gold Star for Speaking at Howard University

| Fri Apr. 12, 2013 1:00 PM EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Some supporters of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) think he got a bum rap from critics of his speech at historically black Howard University this week. Andrew Sullivan wrote that "the sheer lack of any grace among some liberal commenters on what was an obvious outreach to African-Americans depresses me." Others, like National Journal's Josh Kraushaar, who gave Paul a hearty pat on the back for "showing up to make a case," were impressed that Paul went to Howard in the first place.

We can count Paul among the people impressed that Paul showed up. "Some people have asked if I'm nervous about speaking at Howard," Paul joked. "They say 'You know, some of the students and faculty may be Democrats.'" That landed like a brick on a concrete slab. After that, as though Paul had spent no time learning about Howard itself, Paul proceeded to lecture his audience on the history of black voters and the Republican Party, using the abridged version preferred by Fox News pundits: Lincoln freed the slaves, Democrats were the party of the Jim Crow, so black people should vote Republican. Paul mangled the name of one of the only elected black senators and a Howard alum, Massachusetts Republican Edward Brooke, calling him "Edwin Brooks," and then asked the audience if they knew that the founders of the NAACP were Republicans. The people in the audience replied, laughing and incredulous, that they did. Later he tried to whitewash his position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and an audience member pointed out that Paul's opposition to a key provision of the act was "on tape."

From his first lame joke, Paul condescended to his audience by repeatedly underestimating their knowledge of a subject they almost certainly understand better than he does. Institutions like Howard exist in part because much of America once refused to educate blacks and whites together. Paul might as well go to NASA to lecture the scientists on astrophysics.

Also strange is the presumption that somehow Paul was doing something risky or brave by speaking at a historically black college. Howard University is not a Greyhound bus station at midnight. It is way past time for pundits to retire the notion that white politicians deserve extra credit for being willing to talk to a room full of black people. This is, as one Republican once put it, the soft bigotry of low expectations. The history of Republican politics and the conservative movement means that a black audience has every right to be skeptical of the GOP, and that the burden is rightfully on that party to reconcile with black voters. Politicians are supposed to reach out to voters, not the other way around. No more gold stars for attendance.

The official Republican history of race in America should no longer ignore the fact that Republicans abandoned black people after Reconstruction in the name of "reconciliation" between North and South or elide the party's post-1964 embrace of the politics of white racial resentment. That the party that was once the party of Jim Crow now gets upwards of 90 percent of the black vote is not an indictment of the Democratic Party. It is an indictment of the Republican Party.

Some of Paul's defenders, such as The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, have complained that Paul was unfairly mocked as being "hilariously backward about race," even though Paul's positions on war and drug enforcement are much more progressive than other politicians, including many Democrats. Aside from the fact that the Howard audience was quite receptive to Paul on those issues, it's beside the point. In college, I used to hear all the time from liberals that simply being liberals somehow meant that they couldn't do or say anything racist. Paul wasn't being unfairly mocked for his positions on America's various wars against abstract concepts. He was justifiably mocked for dishonestly condescending to his audience. Having the "correct" politics no more absolves him of that than they would the annoying campus liberals I encountered as a college student.

Paul's unorthodox (for a Republican) positions on drug enforcement and national security, and even his recent shift on immigration, make him a better messenger to minority voters than most for Republicans. They reflect an admirable empathy for the marginalized and less powerful that the Republican party in general rarely expresses. Despite its misses, during Paul's Howard speech you could hear the beginnings of a small-government message that might appeal to minorities. But if that message is delivered with a comical underestimation of those who are meant to receive it, then don't be surprised if they toss the envelope in the trash without opening it.

Top House Dem: On Social Security Cuts, Obama Is Like a Small Child

| Fri Apr. 12, 2013 11:23 AM EDT
"Here I am!"

President Barack Obama's new budget has much of his own base up in arms, particularly over $230 billion in proposed cuts to Social Security. On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) convened a meeting of House Democrats to hear a closed-door debate on the proposal, which would cost retirees hundreds of dollars a year by tying the growth of monthly Social Security benefits to a new, lower measure of inflation called chained CPI. It was unclear whether the meeting changed any minds, but it certainly highlighted the divisions between the president and his party.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, many Democrats complained that Obama put the cuts on the table far too early. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House rules committee, likened Obama's negotiating skills to the eagerness of a five-year-old. "When I was a kid, I couldn't play hide and seek," she said. "The pressure was just too much on me. I would hop up and say, Here I am! This is the way this negotiation is taking place. We're trying to get a grand plan out of Republicans. It would be better instead of hollering up, Here I am! to get that agreement first, before you put it in your budget."

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said she could envision putting chained CPI in the budget, but only as a product of negotiations, not as an initial offer, and only as part of a grand bargain with additional revenues, and investments in other progressive priorities. "We don't know what the other side is willing to offer," she said. "We cannot give anything on a silver platter."*

Other Democrats were outright opposed to the president's plan. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) looked positively distraught. "I can only say that the Progressive Caucus is dead set against it," he said. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said she had no idea why Obama is embracing what was initially a Republican idea. "Chained CPI was a bad idea when [GOP Speaker of the House John] Boehner had it, and it's a bad idea now," she said, adding that measure would hurt seniors much more than the recent tax hikes on high-earners hurt them. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has calculated that switching to chained CPI would cut about 2 percent of seniors' retirement income over 20 years. By contrast, the hit that the rich got from Obama's New Year's tax increases was only 0.6 percent.*

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) said she hopes her party doesn't cave and line up behind the president. "This is so serious because…it will last forever," she said. "If we institutionalize the chained CPI, we will literally throw generations into poverty."

The debate House Democrats attended pitted Damon Silvers, the associate general counsel of the AFL-CIO, against Robert Greenstein, president of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Silvers adamantly opposes chained CPI. Greenstein argues that the plan could be workable, but only if included in a bipartisan deal that preserves spending on things like antipoverty programs and infrastructure, and contains protections for the oldest and poorest beneficiaries, as the president's budget does.

Pelosi suggested that many in her caucus thought chained CPI should be preserved as an option for making Social Security solvent in the long run, not as a way to pay down the national debt. "The deficit is not about Social Security," said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J). "What puzzles me is why the president would do this."

But nearly every House Democrat who spoke to reporters after the event suggested that, other criticisms aside, Obama's chained CPI proposal is bad politics. "Our brand is the party that brought you Social Security," Holt said. Slaughter added that she has been swamped with calls by unhappy constituents opposing the president's idea. "I'm at a loss for words," she said. "There are so many people living hand to mouth, day to day."

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Rep. Velázquez and Rep.Schakowsky's names.

Texas GOPer Tweets Image of Noose for Republicans Who Even Debate Background Checks

| Fri Apr. 12, 2013 10:53 AM EDT

On Thursday, 16 Republican senators voted to move forward with debate on gun control legislation. Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman's response: hang them.

Smitherman, a Republican who oversees the state's oil and gas industry (the name is a bit of an anachronism) retweeted an image listing all 16 GOP senators, along with an image of a noose with "treason" on top of it:

Smitherman still has a long way to go if he wants to claim the biggest overreaction to gun control legislation. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) alleged that national firearms databases could lead to "evil consequences"—such as genocide.

Update: The image has been taken down, but here it is: