Mojo - April 2013

Scott Brown to Give Speech on Over-Regulation of Hedge Funds at Hedge Fund-Sponsored Conference

| Fri Apr. 12, 2013 10:48 AM EDT

If Scott Brown really is thinking of running for Senate in New Hampshire next year, he has an odd way of showing it. In May, the former Massachusetts Republican senator will travel to Las Vegas to give a topic at the SALT Conference, an annual confab put on by the hedge-fund giant Skybridge Capital. His topic: The consequences of over-regulating hedge funds.

SALT

Although Brown touted his crucial vote for the Dodd–Frank Wall Street reform law during his re-election campaign against Sen. Elizabeth Warren, he was widely credited with watering the financial-reform legislation at the behest of Wall Street interests. Among other things, Brown used his position as a tie-breaker to loosen the regulations on how much control banks could have over hedge funds, and to make it easier for them to use federal bailout funds to bail out failing hedge funds. (He brought in more than $3 million in campaign donations from the financial sector during his two campaigns.) Sure enough, in March Brown took a new gig at Nixon Peabody LLC, a law firm that services large Wall Street shops. As a release from the company explained at the time, "Brown will focus his practice on business and governmental affairs as they relate to the financial services industry."

The trip to Vegas looks like a sign he's focusing on the job he has now, not the job he might want later.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Are You Bro-Choice?

| Fri Apr. 12, 2013 7:00 AM EDT

Discussion of "reproductive rights" seems to always focus on the ladies. After all, we are the ones that get the brunt of that whole reproduction thing. But a new campaign from a national reproductive rights group asks the question, "What about the bros?"

"Bro-Choice" is a new project from the group Choice USA, a national organization that works with college students on reproductive rights issues. The program's goal is "disrupting the dominant narrative that reproductive justice is a 'women's issue.'"

"There has been a lot of important conversation lately about rape culture, victim blaming, and masculinity, but it's likely that many of the people who most need take part have not been brought into the dialogue," says Andrew Jenkins, a field associate for Choice USA. "Bro-Choice is intended to reach those men who might recognize sexism and rape culture when they see it, even if they wouldn't use those terms. We hope to turn them into vocal stakeholders in the fight against sexual assault."

GOP Congressman Compares Background Checks to Rwandan Genocide

| Thu Apr. 11, 2013 3:58 PM EDT

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), who enjoys an A rating from the National Rifle Association, took to Facebook on Thursday to warn Americans of the "evil consequences" of a national gun registry, comparing the dangers of expanded background checks to the Rwandan genocide.

The 2nd Amendment is (or should be) equal to the 1st Amendment and the 4th Amendment and all of the others. Ask yourselves why it is under attack? Ask yourselves about a National gun registry database and how that might be used and why it is so wanted by progressives.

Read about the Rwandan genocide, the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. Read that all Tutsi tribe members were required to register their address with the Hutu government and that this database was used to locate Tutsi for slaughter at the hands of the Hutu. (Since the government had the names and addresses of nearly all Tutsis living in Rwanda (remember, each Rwandan had an identity card that labeled them Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa) the killers could go door to door, slaughtering the Tutsis.

Not with firearms, mind you, but with machetes.

I use this example to warn that national databases can be used with evil consequences.

No lawmaker is proposing a national registry, which federal law has banned since 1986. The new compromise on background checks brokered by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) explicitly re-bans a registry, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for anyone who uses records from licensed dealers to create one.

In his Facebook message, Duncan also took a hard stance against a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines: "To blame the firearm, or a certain size magazine, or type of ammo—for the tragedies that have occurred in this nation is like blaming the knife used to kill Nicole Brown Simpson or the machetes used to slaughter a million Tutsis in Rwanda."

"Preying on the fears of the American citizenry is not good governance," Duncan added.

At least he's not invoking Hitler.

Read the full statement here.

Here Are the Republicans Who Voted to Allow Debate on the Senate Gun Bill

| Thu Apr. 11, 2013 12:39 PM EDT

As families of Newtown massacre victims watched from the gallery, the Senate voted 68 to 31 on Thursday morning to allow the Democratic gun package to proceed to a formal vote. Sixteen Republicans voted to move forward on the bill (see the full list below), easily warding off a filibuster threat from Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and 13 other Republicans. Two Democrats, Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), voted against proceeding to formal debate on the bill.

Republican opposition centered on a bill to establish universal background checks that was introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). On Wednesday, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced a compromise amendment to exempt transfers between family, friends, and neighbors, and temporary transfers between hunters, from background checks. The compromise also took steps to assuage Republican fears about a national gun registry and Second Amendment infringement.

Now begins the real test: Republicans and Democrats will offer a series of amendments, after which Republicans can still filibuster a vote on the final bill. If the bill survives the Senate it will head to the GOP-led House, where conservative Republicans like Rep. Steve Stockman (Texas) are pressuring Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) to block it from reaching the floor. (Some Republicans are apparently siding with Democrats, however.)

After Thursday's Senate vote, Reid said that the Manchin-Toomey amendment would be heard on Tuesday. Reid also reaffirmed his vow to allow votes on amendments to ban high-capacity magazines and assault weapons. "Some people love [the assault weapons ban], some people hate it. But we're going to have a vote on it," he said on the Senate floor.

The National Rifle Association, which initially called the Manchin-Toomey compromise a "positive development" that took a step away from the universal background checks called for in Schumer's bill, later penned a letter to senators calling the compromise "misguided" and warning them that the NRA would be keeping tabs on senators who voted for "anti-gun" amendments.

"[T]he NRA will oppose any amendments offered to [Schumer's bill] that restrict fundamental Second Amendment freedoms; including, but not limited to, proposals that would ban commonly and lawfully owned firearms and magazines or criminalize the private transfer of firearms through an expansion of background checks," the letter read.

Here are the Republicans who voted to move forward on the gun bill:

Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)
Kelly Ayotte (N.H.)
Richard Burr (N.C.)
Saxby Chambliss (Ga.)
Tom Coburn (Okla.)
Susan Collins (Maine)
Bob Corker (Tenn.)
Jeff Flake (Ariz.)
Lindsey Graham (S.C.)
Dean Heller (Nev.)
John Hoeven (N.D.)
Johnny Isakson (Ga.)
Mark Kirk (Ill.)
John McCain (Ariz.)
Pat Toomey (Pa.)
Roger Wicker (Miss.)

Watchdog Group Files Ethics Complaint Against McConnell Over Judd Tape Revelations

| Thu Apr. 11, 2013 12:10 PM EDT
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit government watchdog, has asked the Senate ethics committee and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to probe whether aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell improperly conducted political opposition research on federal government time.

A tape of a February McConnell campaign meeting that Mother Jones released Tuesday includes a section in which a McConnell aide states that McConnell's "LAs"—congressional parlance for legislative assistants—helped gather background information on Ashley Judd, who was at the time considered a potential opponent in McConnell's 2014 reelection race. The tape also refers to a "Josh" who worked on the research, which CREW's complaint speculates might be Josh Holmes, McConnell's congressional chief of staff.

Senate ethics rules forbid legislative assistants and other Senate employees from participating in political activities on government time. "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," Tara Malloy, a government ethics expert at the Campaign Legal Center, told Mother Jones on Tuesday. You can read the relevant section of the ethics rules here. Bottom line: If McConnell's aides did the research in their free time, they're in the clear. But if they used government resources or worked on political matters on government time, they could be in trouble.

The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper has suggested that the McConnell aide on the tape explicitly says that the LAs who worked on the opposition research did so "in their free time." Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager, made the same argument in an interview with WHAS-11, a Louisville television station. But "it doesn't really matter" whether the McConnell aide on the tape claimed that the political work was done in the LAs free time, explains Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director. "The question isn't what somebody said, it's what they did," she says. "We need to know if it was on office time and with office resources. Those are the relevant questions here."

Benton has acknowledged that McConnell's Senate staffers do campaign work, but says they only do it in their off hours. "We do have several legislative staff that do contribute their free time, which is perfectly fine, perfectly legal, and cleared ahead of time by the ethics committee," he told WHAS-11.

The FBI is currently investigating how the tape of the McConnell meeting was made. But Sloan says the bureau should expand its probe. "McConnell should welcome a review of the tape," she says. "If McConnell thought it was so important for the FBI to investigate, the FBI should investigate everything about the incident. I think that's hard to argue against. The tape certainly gives you probable cause to believe something improper occurred. It clearly merits investigation."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 11, 2013

Thu Apr. 11, 2013 10:24 AM EDT

Marines assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit stand armed watch on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) while transiting the Suez Canal on April 5, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Henderson.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Plan to Improve Social Security's Finances That No One's Talking About

| Thu Apr. 11, 2013 10:21 AM EDT

President Barack Obama's budget proposal, released Wednesday, would cut Social Security benefits by slowing their growth, a concession to Republicans who demand entitlement cuts in any budget. But what if there were another way to beef up Social Security's finances? Good news: There is. It would involve extending the payroll tax—which feeds the Social Security money pot—to rich people. But according to a new report by the policy shop Remapping Debate, most Dems would rather not talk about that.

Right now, the payroll tax only applies to income up to $113,700. Any income above that is exempt. According to the Social Security Administration, eliminating the payroll tax exclusion of incomes above $250,000 would ensure the program solvency for almost 50 years. Eliminating the exclusion entirely would ensure solvency for close to 65 years.

Plus, it would be more fair. "As it currently stands, payroll taxes apply to every dollar of earnings for a janitor making the minimum wage, but a professional athlete making $1 million a year pays only payroll taxes on approximately one-tenth of their earnings," Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has introduced a bill to phase out the payroll tax cap, told Remapping Debate.

Harkin isn't alone: 12 other senators have put forth proposals in this Congress to eliminate or adjust the payroll tax cap. But as Remapping Debate found out, the other 42 Democrats in the Senate don't seem interested in getting behind the proposals.

The group reached out repeatedly to the senators' offices for a couple of weeks in March, and what they got was a lot of meh. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) were 100 percent into the idea. Others gave vague responses about "being open" to changes; four declined to comment; some said they were too busy. For the majority of Senators, there was no reply at all. Even superstar Main Street advocate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had no comment.

"For all the talk of the Social Security system running out of money," writes Samantha Cook in the report, "it is well established that raising or eliminating the cap on the wages subject to payroll taxes would guarantee a healthy Social Security system for many decades, and do so without cutting benefits or raising the retirement age." Apparently that can wait.

Background Check Compromise: What's in the Fine Print?

| Wed Apr. 10, 2013 7:47 PM EDT

The compromise amendment on expanded background checks that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced Wednesday morning has yet to be released to the public. But the senators released a fact sheet on Wednesday afternoon that begins to clear up some answers sought by gun control groups and uncommitted senators. (Read it in full below, via the Huffington Post.)

Titled "The Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act," the amendment expands the existing background check system to cover sales at gun shows and on the internet, "encourages" states to put all their available records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and establishes a National Commission on Mass Violence "to study in-depth all the causes of mass violence in our country."

McConnell Campaign Manager Decries "Gestapo" Tactics

| Wed Apr. 10, 2013 3:39 PM EDT
Sen. minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

A day after Mother Jones published audio of a Louisville meeting in which Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his campaign staff discussed opposition research on prospective challengers, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton has validated Godwin's law by playing the Hitler card. In an interview with NBC News, Benton compared the leaking of the recording to Nazi Germany. "This is Gestapo-kind of scare tactics, and we're not going to stand for it," Benton told Michael O'Brien.

The Gestapo, who served as Hitler's secret police from 1933 until 1945, were best known for enforcing a reign of terror typified by abductions and executions, as well as aiding and abetting genocide. That's all quite a bit different than recording 12 minutes of a political strategy session or publishing a legally-obtained tape.

And there's no evidence that the audio was the result, as the McConnell campaign has insisted, of a Watergate-style bugging operation. Still, that hasn't stopped McConnell from taking the opportunity to play the victim, blasting out a fundraising pitch accusing the "liberal media" of "illegal and underhanded tactics."

Update: Aaron Keyak, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, just released this statement calling on McConnell to repudiate the use of "gestapo":

Senator Mitch McConnell—the most powerful Republican in the Senate—must denounce his campaign manager's inappropriate use of 'Gestapo,' which comes just days after Holocaust Remembrance Day. If McConnell chooses to remain silent on this matter and tolerate this offensive rhetoric, it will disrespectful to those who were murdered and abused by the actual Gestapo.

Progressives Advise GOP: Back Off On the War on Women

| Wed Apr. 10, 2013 3:28 PM EDT

It was clear in both the lead up to and the aftermath of the November 2012 election that Republican candidates are not faring well among women voters. From Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin to Mitt Romney's 11-point loss among women voters, it became painfully clear that the GOP has a lady problem. A new memo from a pair of liberal groups that pulls together some of the polling figures makes a strong case for paying more attention to this divide.

The memo, from Stephanie Schriock of EMILY’s List and Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, notes that even the Republican National Committee's own post-election report found that, "[Women] represent more than half the voting population in the country, and our inability to win their votes is losing us elections." But while Republicans have made some effort to soften the party's positioning on issues like immigration and LGBT rights, the party has not moderated its stance on reproductive rights or other issues of interest to many women voters.

The memo points to the unprecedented attack on access to abortion underway in states like North Dakota and Arkansas, the 160 Republicans that voted against the Violence Against Women Act at the federal level, and the ongoing fights over both contraception coverage and cuts to the federal family planning budget.

NARAL Pro-Choice America's polling right after the election found that Romney's view on abortion was the top reason for voting against him that swing-voting women cited in their survey. Planned Parenthood also used this issue to attack anti-choice politicians.  Planned Parenthood also used this issue to attack anti-choice politicians. Another post-election poll from Democracy Corps found that 33 percent of unmarried women listed the attacks on Planned Parenthood and women's preventative health services as a top reason for voting against Romney.

While I'd guess that Republican politicians aren't looking for advice from CAP and EMILY's List, the memo ends with some. "If the GOP wants to move forward, help its image and win elections, it should halt its embrace of extreme and out-of-touch policies that attack women and their families," Schriock and Tanden write. "Ending attacks on abortion rights in the states would be a start."