Mojo - June 2013

Regulators to Beef Up Wall Street Rules…Thanks to Republicans?!

| Tue Jul. 2, 2013 6:10 AM PDT

When it comes to financial regulations, Republicans are perhaps best known for pushing efforts that would, say, increase the chances of taxpayers bailing out big banks or allow financial institutions to skirt regs by operating overseas. So what gives with a recent decision by GOP regulators to push tighter Wall Street rules?

Republican members of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) have convinced two other Wall Street regulators to make the country's largest banks keep more capital on hand in case of another financial downturn, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, and regulators are expected to issue the proposed rules Tuesday.

Some background: An international agreement on financial regulations called Basel III requires banks to keep a certain level of safe funds on their balance sheets; it says participating countries must ensure that 3 percent of a bank's total assets are backed by stockholder money. In the event of a financial downturn, losses would be absorbed by shareholders, and the bank wouldn't have to be bailed out by taxpayers. The Journal reported that last week, officials at the FDIC, the Federal Reserve, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) agreed to increase capital requirements for US banks above and beyond what the international agreement requires.

The proposal, which calls for 5 to 6 percent of a bank's balance sheet to be stockholder-backed, is something the FDIC's two Republican members, Thomas Hoenig and Jeremiah Norton, had been pushing hard, despite heavy resistance from other regulators.

But what motivated the GOP duo? Mike Konczal, an expert on financial reform at the Roosevelt Institute, says Hoenig and Norton's reasoning is fairly simple: The FDIC is the agency that would have to bail out failed banks. "This is a major undertaking, and [the FDIC], rather than other regulators or politicians, will be blamed if it goes wrong," he says. "So they certainly want things to be better situated if that happens." The capital requirements will "serve as a backup if the ratings agencies…fail in their job again," Konczal says, referring to the credit-ratings agencies that gave top-notch ratings to junk securities in the lead-up to the financial crisis.

Some financial reformers, however, say that the proposed capital levels aren't really something to celebrate. The FDIC's Republicans "are to be congratulated," says Marc Jarsulic of the advocacy group Better Markets, but "5 to 6 percent is clearly inadequate"—especially since the average loss at banks that the FDIC bailed out between 2006 and 2010 was 25 percent of their assets.

"The baby step just announced is welcome," says one financial-policy advocate. "But adult steps are necessary."

Increasing banks' capital requirements "is necessary, and the baby step just announced is welcome," says Bart Naylor, a financial-policy advocate at Public Citizen. "But adult steps are necessary." Along those lines, Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have introduced a bill that would impose a 15 percent capital rule on the largest banks. But it's highly unlikely the legislation will make it through Congress.

The regulators' capital-requirements proposal, if finalized, would not take effect until 2019. And even when it does go into effect, it won't be set in stone, says Jeff Connaughton, a former investment banker and author of The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins. He says the Dodd-Frank financial reform law of 2010 should have forced big banks to downsize so they couldn't pose such a huge risk to the financial system in the first place.

"Dodd-Frank should have imposed structural reforms on the big banks so we wouldn't have to worry how…regulators will vote [in] 10 or 20 years," Connaughton says. "Future bank regulators whose identities we can't even know today will inevitably fail to stop systemic risk from metastasizing, just like these regulators did in the run-up to the crisis."

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VIDEO: "I Now Pronounce You: Spouses for Life"

| Fri Jun. 28, 2013 7:18 PM PDT

Friday afternoon at San Francisco's City Hall, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier become the first same-sex couple in California to legally marry following a major Supreme Court decision on Wednesday that effectively overturned California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The couple were litigants in the court's Hollingsworth v. Perry case, which addressed the California ban, making today's ceremony especially memorable for the crowd of local supporters and national media in attendance. Watch below as California Attorney General Kamala Harris officiates their wedding and pronounces them "Spouses for life":

Virginia Gov. Candidate Cuccinelli Asks Supreme Court to Revive Ban on Oral, Anal Sex

| Thu Jun. 27, 2013 2:54 PM PDT

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP's nominee for governor, filed an appeal on Tuesday asking the Supreme Court to revive the state's law banning oral and anal sex. In a statement, Cuccinelli claimed that the law, which the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled unconstitutional earlier this year, is "an important tool that prosecutors use to put child molesters in jail." Cuccinelli warned that the appeals court's decision to strike down the statute "threatens to undo convictions of child predators that were obtained under this law" since 2003, when the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that laws criminalizing oral and anal sex—sometimes referred to as sodomy bans—are unconstitutional.

As the Huffington Post reported:

Cuccinelli wants the court to reconsider a March 2013 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit striking down the state's "crimes against nature" statute. The 4th Circuit ruled that the law did not pass muster in light of the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, which struck down the latter state's anti-sodomy law as an unconstitutional criminalization of Americans' sexual conduct. The Virginia law, however, remained on the books.

The 4th Circuit ruled in favor of William Scott McDonald, who was convicted in 2005 at age 47 under the Virginia statute for soliciting a 17-year-old girl to commit sodomy. That law broadly makes oral and anal sex a Class 6 felony. While such laws historically targeted gay men, they have also been used against heterosexual activity.

The three-judge panel ruled that an unconstitutional law could not be used to convict McDonald. It added that the Virginia Legislature could pass another law to criminalize sexual conduct specifically between a minor and an adult. The Lawrence ruling applied only to consensual adult conduct.

Virginia has a notably low age of consent, which means, in effect, that vaginal sex between a 47-year-old and a 17-year-old is legal, but oral and anal sex between the same two people is not. Cuccinelli claims he will only use the sodomy law to bring cases involving minors or sexual assault, and argues that Virginians need not worry about him prosecuting "consenting adults," because the part of the law that would enable him to do so was defanged by the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision. But in 2004, when a bipartisan group of state Senators was trying to fix the sodomy law so that it would only apply to cases involving minors and non-consensual sex, Cuccinelli, then a state Senator, blocked the effort. And in 2009, as my colleague Andy Kroll has noted, Cuccinelli made clear that he objected to oral and anal sex (at least between gay people) on principle, telling the Virginian-Pilot, "My view is that homosexual acts—not homosexuality, but homosexual acts—are wrong. They're intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law-based country it's appropriate to have policies that reflect that...They don't comport with natural law."

As Mother Jones noted, some 90 percent of Americans would be felons if the Virginia law were to be applied nationally. Cuccinelli has remained mute as to whether he's one of them.

Here Are the 14 Republicans Who Voted for Immigration Reform

| Thu Jun. 27, 2013 2:52 PM PDT

After two weeks of debate on the floor and the addition of beefed-up border security measures backed by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.), the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill on Thursday by a 68-32 vote. The bill, which House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said he won't bring for a vote in the House, would offer a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants after the border measures are implemented.

Here's how all 100 senators voted (no Democrats voted against the bill):

Republicans who voted for the bill (14)

  • Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
  • Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)
  • Jeff Chiesa (R-N.J.)
  • Susan Collins (R-Maine)
  • Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
  • Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
  • Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
  • Dean Heller (R-Nev.)
  • John Hoeven (R-N.D.)
  • Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)
  • John McCain (R-Ariz.)
  • Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
  • Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Democrats and Independents who voted for the bill (54)

  • Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)
  • Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
  • Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
  • Michael Bennett (D-Colo.)
  • Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
  • Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
  • Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)
  • Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
  • Carper Thomas (D-Del.)
  • Bob Casey (D-Pa.)
  • Christopher Coons (D-Del.)
  • Mo Cowan (D-Mass.)
  • Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)
  • Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
  • Al Franken (D-Minn.)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
  • Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)
  • Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)
  • Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.)
  • Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)
  • Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)
  • Tim Johnson (D-S.D.)
  • Timothy Kaine (D-Va.)
  • Angus King (I-Maine)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
  • Mary Landrieu (D-La.)
  • Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
  • Carl Levin (D-Mich.)
  • Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
  • Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
  • Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
  • Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
  • Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)
  • Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.)
  • Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
  • Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)
  • Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
  • John Reed (D-R.I.)
  • Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
  • Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
  • Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)
  • Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
  • Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)
  • Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
  • Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
  • Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
  • Mark Warner (D-Va.)
  • Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
  • Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

Republicans who voted against the bill (32)

  • John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
  • Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
  • John Boozman (R-Ark.)
  • Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
  • Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)
  • Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
  • Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)
  • Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)
  • John Cornyn (R-Texas)
  • Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)
  • Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
  • Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.)
  • Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)
  • Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
  • Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)
  • Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
  • Mike Johanns (R-Neb.)
  • Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)
  • Mike Lee (R-Utah)
  • Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
  • Jerry Moran (R-Kansas)
  • Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
  • Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
  • James Risch (R-Idaho)
  • Pat Roberts (R-Kansas)
  • Timothy Scott (R-S.C.)
  • Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
  • Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
  • John Thune (R-S.D.)
  • Pat Toomey (R-Penn.)
  • David Vitter (R-La.)
  • Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

Rick Perry's 3 Dumbest Comments on Teen Pregnancy

| Thu Jun. 27, 2013 11:35 AM PDT

Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn't happy about Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis' 11-hour (11th hour) filibuster of a strict anti-abortion bill that would ban pregnancies after 20 weeks and close all but five abortion providers in the nation's second-largest state. On Wednesday, he announced plans to convene a special session of the Legislature next month so Republicans can reintroduce the legislation. On Thursday, he took a more personal shot at Davis. Referring to the fact that Davis was herself a teen mom (she had her first child at 19, before going on to Texas Christian University and Harvard Law), Perry mused: "It is just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters."

This isn't the first time Perry has wandered into uncomfortable territory when talking about teen pregnancy, though. He sort of has a knack for it.

In February, he blamed rising teen pregnancy rates on the fact that America had strayed from the core values exemplified by the Boy Scouts—something he feared would be exacerbated if the organization drifted from its morals and embraced openly gay members. The Boy Scouts advocate abstinence before marriage. Then again, so does the state of Texas—and all it has to show for it is the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation.

Speaking of that, in a 2010 interview that went viral during his presidential campaign, Perry was asked by Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith to explain the disconnect between Texas' high teen pregnancy rate and its policy of abstinence-only sex education. "Abstinence works," Perry said, to laughter from the audience. He continued:

It works. Maybe it's the way that it's being taught or the way that it's being applied out there, but the fact of the matter is it is the best form to teach our children. I'm just gonna tell you from my own personal life abstinence works. And the point is if we're not teaching it and if we're not impressing it upon them, no, but if the point is we're gonna go stand up here and say, "Listen, y'all go have sex and go have whatever is going on and we'll worry with that and here's the ways to have safe sex," I'm sorry, call me old-fashioned if you want, but that is not what I'm gonna stand up in front of the people of Texas and say that's the way we need to go and forget about abstinence.

It is just unfortunate that the governor of Texas hasn't learned from his own example that nothing good ever happens when he talks about teen pregnancy.

Peeing During Filibusters, Explained

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 3:52 PM PDT

Update (6/27/2013): This morning, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that, according to Joel Burns, who holds Sen. Davis' former Fort Worth City Council seat, Davis was equipped with a catheter during her filibuster. When contacted to confirm, Davis' office responded that the senator "made all necessary preparations."

While obsessively watching state Sen. Wendy Davis' heroic filibuster in the Texas Legislature yesterday, I couldn't help thinking the obvious: 13 hours without peeing is a long time. Was she just holding it? Or wearing some sort of, er, contraption? (The options on such things, by the way, are many.)

For the most part, the logistics on this tend to be something politicians keep mum about. "It's a kind of urological mystery," Joseph Crespino, biographer of legendary filibusterer Strom Thurmond, told the BBC last year.

But over time, filibustering heavyweights have tried some pretty incredible tactics to avoid defeat by bathroom—and have gone on to share their tales. A few of them below:

1. Steam baths and a surreptitious urine bucket: Thurmond, who completed the longest federal filibuster in US history (24 hours, 18 minutes) in 1957, took the minimalist route with a bucket. His aides set it up in the cloakroom so that Thurmond could pee while keeping one foot on the Senate floor.

But even before that, Thurmond took daily steam baths to prepare for the epic speech, to make it easier for his body to absorb, rather than expel, fluid.

Thurmond also got lucky: After speaking for about three hours, Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater asked him to temporarily yield the floor for an insertion in the Congressional Record. This gave Thurmond a few precious minutes to make his one and only trip to the restroom.

2. When without a bathroom, bring the bathroom to you! In 2001, then St. Louis Alderwoman Irene Smith staged a filibuster during a City Hall debate to protest a ward redistricting plan that she believed would have hurt the city's black communities. Nature called, but rather than yielding the floor and ending her filibuster, Smith's aides came down and surrounded her with a sheet, quilt, and tablecloth while she relieved herself in a trash can. Here's video of the incident:

Later, she was charged with violating the city's public urination prohibition, but was never convicted: Given the sheets, there wasn't any hard proof of the act.

3. Astronaut bags and a light diet: In 1977, then-Texas Sen. Bill Meier staged a 43-hour filibuster over a bill he believed to be an attack on the state's open records laws. He wore an "astronaut bag" on the Senate floor, and when it filled up, then Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby would arrange to take a message from the House, while Meier ran to the women's restroom (closest to his desk) to empty the bag. On each trip, two sergeants-at-arms came with him to ensure he never sat down. Meier also said he ate lightly in the days preceding his filibuster. Today, Meier is a judge on the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth.

4. Catheters: After his filibuster protesting the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director, Rand Paul told Glenn Beck that he'd considered fitting himself with a catheter for the speech, but decided against it, even though he'd tried them before.

5. Adult diapers: Lots of jokes and rumors have flown around about various filibustering politicians pulling a Lisa Nowak and using these, though we haven't been able to find any confirmed instances.

 

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Can We Stop Talking About Wendy Davis' Shoes Yet?

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 3:39 PM PDT

Yesterday at 11:30 AM, Wendy Davis, a Texas state senator, began filibustering a piece of anti-abortion legislation that threatened to shut down all but five of the state's abortion clinics. The filibuster, which lasted almost 11 hours, ended dramatically around midnight: Senate Republicans managed to do in Davis' filibuster but opponents of the bill literally screamed and yelled for fifteen minutes in order to delay the vote until after midnight, preventing it from passing (for now).

But what did she wear?, you were wondering, right? The media is on it: Davis' choice of footwear, a pair of pink sneakers, was front-and-center in many, many articles that ran on the filibuster this morning.

From the lead paragraph in this morning's Washington Post:

The job of state senator isn't considered one of the most physically demanding occupations a Texan could take up. But Fort Worth's Wendy Davis put on her running shoes to run out the clock. Pink-sneakered, intellectually steeled, and back-braced for the long haul, Davis intended to slog through a grueling 13-hour-long filibuster…

From Slate:

There appears to be only two things standing in the way of Texas passing a package of sweeping new restrictions on abortions that would effectively close most abortion clinics in the state: Wendy Davis and her pink shoes.

The New York Post went for the hat trick, including Davis' sneakers in the headline and photo this AP story, which in turn mentions Davis' sneakers in its lead:

The Daily Beast:

Wearing pink sneakers, the Democratic state senator from Fort Worth began her filibuster at 11:18 a.m., knowing that she would need to remain on her feet for almost 13 hours to prevent the vote on what would be the strictest abortion laws in the country.

The Atlantic Wire:

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis may or may not be able to stop a controversial anti-abortion bill from becoming law, but she's not going to let it get through without a fight. Davis took the floor of Senate chamber on Tuesday—armed with a pair of comfortable pink sneakers—and will attempt to filibuster the bill.

What about Mother Jones? We're no better than the rest of them:

Donning pink tennis shoes, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth) waged an almost 11-hour filibuster Tuesday to thwart a GOP-backed bill that would have shuttered most of the abortion clinics across Texas.

The shoe chat was lively on Twitter:

And at the New York Times:

The New Right-Wing "ObamaCars" Conspiracy Theory Is Heinously Dumb

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 2:11 PM PDT
An actual Obama car.

A new rumor is making the rounds—first on Breitbart, then Fox News and beyond—that the Senate's immigration reform bill contains a provision that could provide free, taxpayer-subsidized cars, scooters, motorcycles, Segways, hovercraft, and god knows what to young Americans. The supposed nationwide government-sponsored "ObamaCar" giveaway would happen during a 15-month period following passage of the legislation. America will grow weaker and poorer; our enemies, foreign and domestic, will be emboldened.

I've reached out to the White House for comment on the existence of the government's top-secret car-gifting plot, but have not yet received a response. Instead of allowing the Obama administration's silence to fuel any suspicions you may have about the Far-Reaching ObamaCar Conspiracy, here's a fleck of reassurance: There is absolutely nothing to this allegation. At all. You can add it to the long list of explosively wrong and heinously dumb conservative memes that have cropped up in the Obama era.

"An amendment by [Sen. Bernie] Sanders to the immigration bill would provide a youth jobs program that includes the possibility of transportation and child care services," PolitiFact notes. "That prompted conservative news outlets to make claims such as, 'New Immigration bill has taxpayer subsidized Obamacars for youths'...There is no proof to support the idea that the program would include free car, motorcycle or scooter giveaways. In fact, that such a process would end up allowing car giveaways seems laughable."

And if PolitiFact's thorough takedown doesn't convince you, here's a fact-check courtesy of the office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)—a man who isn't exactly known for leaping to President Obama's defense:

MYTH: The new Hoeven-Corker Amendment creates a special program with taxpayer money to give free cars, motorcycles, or scooters to young people 15 months after the bill passes.

[...]

FACT: There are absolutely no cars, motorcycles, or scooters for young Americans in the immigration bill, and no taxpayer dollars will be used to fund the new jobs program for American youth.

So there you have it. If you buy the vehicle-giveaway story, you might as well believe that Marco Rubio chows down on $16 muffins while using his very own Obamaphone to mass-text Friends of Hamas while driving his brand new ObamaCar to work.

Watch: San Francisco Celebrates Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act Decisions

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 2:00 PM PDT

Hundreds gathered at San Francisco's City Hall this morning to witness announcements of the Supreme Court's historic rulings which overturned California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California in 2008, began its path to the Supreme Court with the help of San Francisco city attorneys. On August 19, 2009 the City and County of San Francisco joined as coplaintiffs challenging the Prop 8 ballot measure. Watch as city officials greet the crowd and gay couples celebrate their renewed right to marry in California.

Note: There were audio recording issues during the final interview, most likely caused by jubilant celebration.

Justice Kennedy: DOMA Had to Go Because It "Humiliates Tens of Thousands of Children"

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 11:06 AM PDT

In a 5-4 ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law preventing the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, said that the law was tantamount to the "deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment."

There is a striking aspect to Kennedy's surprisingly passionate opinion: He focuses directly on the children of same-sex couples. DOMA, he writes, "humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives."

In a sense, this turns on its head one of the main bogeymen used by activists opposed to marriage equality: that gay marriage will somehow harm children and disrupt families. To the contrary, Kennedy argues that striking down DOMA will give dignity to same-sex families and help end the suffering of children caused by the current the law.

Just ahead of the decision, the American Spectator's John Guardiano toed the conservative line, arguing in a post that same-sex marriage is "part and parcel of an overaching effort to undermine and deprecate traditional marriage and the traditional family." (He noted the rise in single-parent homes and the problems caused by fatherlessness, and yet also admitted that rising divorce rates preceded any whiff of a marriage equality movement.)