Last week, the DC Council passed a bill that would force large retailers in the city to pay their workers a living wage—specifically $12.50 an hour, a bill widely seen as targeted specifically at Walmart, which has been planning to open no fewer than five stores in the city. Walmart has been playing hardball, and shortly before the vote on the bill, it threatened to pull out of deals to put three of its stores in poor neighborhoods in DC. But the council didn't cave, and now the bill is sitting on the desk of DC Mayor Vincent Gray, who hasn't said what he's going to do with it.

Walmart is furiously lobbying the mayor to veto the bill, and Walmart haters and unions are furiously lobbying him to let the bill pass. Gray lives in one of the neighborhoods with a decrepit shopping center destined for a new Walmart and hopefully a new lease on life, so he is somewhat sympathetic to the retailer. On the other hand, Walmart isn't very popular in DC, and Gray is up for reelection next year and facing a slew of challengers. DC residents are watching the fight closely to see if DC might become the first major metro area to win such a confrontation with Walmart. Sadly for those of us who live here, we will probably lose no matter what the mayor decides to do.

Protestors at the Texas capitol this past Friday, before the HB 2 vote

This weekend, the Texas Senate voted to pass HB 2, the abortion bill that state Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered two weeks ago. The law bans most abortions after 20 weeks, requires clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and requires abortions to take place in ambulatory surgical centers. The law will likely close all but 5 of the state's 42 clinics. Gov. Rick Perry has confirmed he'll sign the bill into law, possibly as early as the middle of this week.

While Davis' 11-hour stand focused national attention on this bill, Texas lawmakers have quietly slipped at least seven other bills onto the legislative agenda that would restrict women's access to abortion. All of them have been proposed since the July 1 opening of the special legislative session called by Perry to force a vote on HB 2 after Davis and her supporters successfully stalled the first vote. These special sessions are unique in that a bill only requires a simple majority to pass rather than the two-thirds majority required during a regular session.

With that advantage in hand, the state's Republican lawmakers have gone on an abortion restriction spree. Here are the bills they've proposed in the last two weeks:

Abortion access

SB 9: Sponsored by Sen. Dan Patrick, who also sponsored Texas' sonogram bill, SB 9 would require that abortion-inducing drugs be dispensed only at abortion clinics. HB 2 already contains a provision requiring this, though it gives providers a little more leeway on dosage choices. Combined with HB 2's other provisions, this rule means women could have to travel for hours to obtain mifepristone and misoprostol, the FDA-approved drug regimen used for early nonsurgical abortions. The law then requires them to return to the clinic for a follow-up appointment 14 days later.

HB 17: This bill would prohibit sex-selective abortions. Abortion rights advocates consider such bills, which have passed in several other states, tangential and unenforceable ploys to further restrict abortion rights.  

HB 26: If passed, this bill would require women to fill out a "coerced abortion form" before the procedure, confirming they are acting voluntarily. The bill's vague wording leaves room for a physician to deny an abortion if they believe she seems coerced—even if that's not indicated on the form or said by her outright.

Abortion and minors

HB 18: Though Texas requires parental notification and consent for a minor to get an abortion, currently minors may bypass that requirement by way of a court petition. This proposed law would further complicate the red-tape-heavy process in a number of ways, including eliminating an existing rule that allows minors to move forward with the procedure if a judge does not rule within two days of a hearing.

HB 27: Taking HB 18 even further, this bill would extend the amount of time a court has to consider a minor's initial request for an abortion (and subsequent appeals) from two to five days. It would also require minors to testify about their reasons for wanting an abortion, be evaluated by a state mental-health counselor, and prove their maturity with examples like "traveling independently" and "managing her own financial affairs."

Sex ed and abortion

HB 50: This bill aims "to reduce the occurrence of abortions and the use of abortion facilities" by creating a public education program encouraging men to support women with unexpected pregnancies. That might not be a terrible idea, but the bill says that any state agency can work on the program (pregnancy info brought to you by the Texas Department of Transportation?!) and that they can't contract with any health care providers, facilities, or advocacy groups to educate the public.

HB 22: If passed, this bill would prevent any affiliate of an abortion provider from providing information on sexuality or family planning for sex ed curricula. That means any information at all, whether it's related to abortion or not. So Planned Parenthood, for example, which offers abortions (though they make up just 3 percent of their services, nationally) would be barred from providing any information—about women's health, STDs, contraception, etc.—for use in Texas classrooms.

And across the aisle

Democrats have proposed a few bills during this special session to counter the stream of anti-abortion legislation. SB 23 would prevent hospitals from denying admitting privileges to abortion-clinic doctors on the basis of where they work. Another measure, HB 45, mandates that all abortion laws passed in the Texas Legislature from now on can't go into effect until 60 days after Texas abolishes the death penalty.

This post has been revised.

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made a speech on the Senate floor demanding GOP Senators not filibuster a vote on Richard Cordray, Obama's nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

The CFPB—Warren's brainchild—was created as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act and is charged with protecting Americans from shady dealings on the part of banks, credit unions, payday lenders, mortgage-servicing companies, and debt collectors. Ever since its inception, Republicans have been doing all they can to kneecap the agency, which they say "wield[s] nearly unprecedented powers" over Wall Street, as 43 GOP senators wrote in a February letter to the president. Senate Republicans filibustered Cordray after Obama first nominated him to head the CFPB in July 2011. This prompted the president to recess-appoint Cordray six months later (meaning Obama appointed him without Senate approval while they were on recess), which then spurred Republicans to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Cordray's appointment. (The Supreme Court will review the case in the fall.)

Cordray's recess appointment term is up at the end of the year, and Republicans are again vowing to filibuster his re-nomination, unless Democrats allow key changes to the CFPB, such as forcing the agency to be subject to the congressional appropriations process so Congress can revoke its funding, and allowing other regulatory agencies to veto CFPB actions, which Democrats have refused to allow.

Warren and other financial reformers charge that Republicans are trying to block Cordray's confirmation in order to scrap financial reform and "rewrite parts of Dodd-Frank that they don't like," as Mike Konczal wrote at the Washington Post in May.

"I know that some Republicans and lobbyists think that this filibuster on Rich's appointment can shut down the work of the agency," Warren said Monday on the Senate floor. "They think it can shut down the agency, and protect the big banks from any meaningful consumer protection rules."

Democrats are so fed up with GOP obstruction of Obama's nominees that Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is threatening to change Senate rules on executive branch nominations like Cordray's to allow simple majority of 51 senators to approve nominees instead of the usual 67 needed for to overcome a filibuster.

Warren is down with this idea. "Outside the halls of this Congress and the fancy lobbyist offices across Washington... no one thinks it's ok to cheat regular people and cut special deals for giant banks," she said. "And no one wants to take the cops off the beat so big banks can break the rules without being held accountable."

Update: A Fulton County judge has stayed Hill's execution, pending a hearing on Thursday.

At 7 p.m. EST on Monday, Georgia is set to execute Warren Hill, who has been on death row since 1989 for murdering his cellmate with a wooden board. (Hill had, at the time, been serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend.) That in itself isn't especially unusual, except that according to every expert who has examined him, Hill is mentally disabled—and states are prohibited from executing mentally disabled individuals under a 2002 Supreme Court decision.

At this point, no one seems to dispute that Hill meets even the state's high standard for proving he's mentally handicapped. But Georgia contends—and in April, a federal appeals court agreed—that his mental capacities are irrelevant, because he is procedurally barred from making that case. That is, even though there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Hill is unfit for execution, Georgia is going ahead with the lethal injection anyway, on a technicality; he's all out of options.

But there's another wrinkle. In February, a state court granted a stay of execution for Hill due to questions about the legality of the state's lethal injection cocktail. The difficulty in acquiring new lethal injection cocktails is such that in February, Georgia sought to expedite the executions of its 94 death row inmates before its cocktails reached their March 1 expiration date. So in May, Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed the Lethal Injection Secrecy Act, which classifies the state's execution drug cocktail as a "state secret," and therefore immune from judicial oversight:

The identifying information of any person or entity who participates in or administers the execution of a death sentence and the identifying information of any person or entity that manufactures, supplies, compounds, or prescribes the drugs, medical supplies, or medical equipment utilized in the execution of a death sentence shall be confidential and shall not be subject to disclosure under Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 50 or under judicial process. Such information shall be classified as a confidential state secret.

Under the new law, judges—or anyone else, really—are prohibited from finding out what drugs are actually being used to execute death row inmates, and where those drugs are coming from. (In Oklahoma, for instance, lawyers have successfully blocked executions that make use of new, more experimental drugs.) Because the cocktail is unknown, it is impossible to know whether such an execution process would square with other Constitutional tenets, such as the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Hill's last best hope now is the US Supreme Court, which had previously announced it would conference on the case in September. But that's only pushed Georgia to speed up its own deadline. The law went into effect on July 1. On July 3, Georgia set the new execution date for Hill. We'll keep you updated.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes announces she will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014, during an afternoon news conference in Frankfort, Kentucky, July 1, 2013.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in next year's election, is wasting no time beating the bushes for campaign cash. On Saturday, she "wowed" attendees at a Democratic Party private fundraising retreat on Martha's Vineyard. She'll need to wow a lot more donors, and fast: McConnell is a master fundraiser, and Grimes will need a whole lot of cash to defeat one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress.

But how much? Between $26 million and $30 million, according to a Democratic strategist who recently spoke with Grimes. Even with Election Day still 17 months away, Grimes has been busy courting DC politicos to raise funds, name-dropping the Clintons in her conversations. Grimes' father, Jerry, a former director of the Kentucky Democratic Party, is friends with Bill Clinton, who reportedly urged Grimes to run against McConnell. (Grimes spokesman Jonathan Hurst did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Even by the standards of today's big-money politics, Grimes' $26-30 million target is a staggering sum of money. It's almost three times more than the average winning Senate race in 2012. Only four Senate candidates—Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, David Dewhurst of Texas, and Linda McMahon of Connecticut—raised more than $26 million during the 2012 election season. And Grimes' fundraising goal does not include outside groups—super-PACs, dark-money nonprofits, etc. Depending on how competitive the Kentucky race is, tens of millions more in outside money could pour in. 

Grimes' impressive showing at the Martha's Vineyard event could help donors and party loyalists forget her campaign's rocky start. Her kick-off event started half an hour late, with no banner or signs even mentioning the US Senate. Instead, an "Alison Lundergan Grimes: Secretary of State" banner hung behind her. A roll of toilet paper propped up one of the microphones she used make her announcement. At the time of her campaign launch, she had no website, no Facebook page, and nowhere for people to donate money.

McConnell, meanwhile, has been in campaign mode since literally the day after the 2012 elections, when he held his first 2014 fundraiser. In the second quarter of 2013, McConnell raised $2.2 million, more than any other Republican running for reelection. His campaign currently has $9.6 million in the bank.

There are a mere 80 days left until one of the main components of Obamacare goes into effect. The health insurance exchanges—where uninsured Americans will be able to buy health coverage with federal subsidies—open up for business on October 1. Naysayers are predicting delays and confusion. And not without reason. According to a June survey, 79 percent of Americans haven't heard of the exchanges. (Forty-two percent are still unsure if Obamacare is even law.) GOPers spreading misinformation about the law have outspent proponents by a factor of five. The administration is altering provisions of the law as it unfolds, even as Congress blocks efforts to improve it. Needless to say, the Obama administration has some work to do in the next couple of months to convince the American public that it is up to the task of signing up millions of people for coverage over the next year. As part of that effort, the White House held a press briefing with liberal reporters on Friday to advertise the fact that, despite all the gloom and doom, those insurance exchanges are ready to go, and darnit, people are going to like them. Here's how that will work, according to several senior administration officials:

First of all, it's no big thing: The insurance exchange roll-out has been portrayed as a gargantuan task, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate 50 separate exchanges, and craft an entirely new online marketplace. But the administration insists the infrastructure for signing all these people up already exists: more people signed up for Medicare part D under President Bush II than will ever enroll in the exchanges. And out of the 30 million uninsured Americans, only 15.4 million will be purchasing coverage on the individual market through the exchanges. Out of these people, the officials say, the administration really only needs to worry about signing up a good proportion of young and healthy folks—or 2.7 million 18 to 35 year-olds—so premiums won't be too expensive.

Micro-targeting will win again: This target group is mostly male, mostly minority, and mostly concentrated in urban areas, according to Census data. In order to sign up these Americans, the administration is deploying the same kinds of micro-targeting techniques it relied on during the re-election campaign—advertising through radio, social media, churches, community health centers, and retailers. Every Walgreens will distribute info on the healthcare law. The administration has also been working with women's networks and magazines, like Cosmo, to promote Obamacare.

The application process won't be terrible: The administration has already set up, where uninsured people will be able to apply for and buy insurance. The application was recently cut down from 23 pages to 3, and, officials say, you won't have to fill out any annoying questions about your migraines or your paternal grandmother's history of heart disease that private companies use to jack up rates. Once you fill out the online app, you'll find out if you're eligible for Medicaid, or whether you should buy through the marketplace, and, if so, whether you're eligible for a subsidy.

Those states that are not expanding Medicaid might come around: Obamacare broadened Medicaid eligibility to all people within 138 percent of the poverty line, but last year, the Supreme Court made that part of the law optional, and so far 17 states have refused to expand the program. Poor people filling out apps in states that are not expanding Medicaid will still be directed to the state Medicaid office, who will then have to inform the uninsured person that the state will not provide her insurance because the governor (or state legislature) decided he didn't want to. Administration officials are hopeful that public dismay at this kind of in-your-face rejection—along with pressure from mayors nationwide who are fans of the expansion—could lead recalcitrant states to change their minds.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) raised some eyebrows on Friday when he suggested that Ray Kelly, the controversial New York Police Department commissioner, should be the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS "is one of the most important agencies in the federal government," Schumer said in a statement, responding to the news that the agency's current head, Janet Napolitano, would step down in September to run the University of California system. "Its leader needs to be someone who knows law enforcement, understands anti-terrorism efforts, and is a top-notch administrator, and at the NYPD, Ray Kelly has proven that he excels in all three."

Immigration reform groups cheered the news of the impending departure of Napolitano, who has presided over the Obama administration's unprecedented levels of deportations of undocumented immigrants. "She will go into the halls of history as President Obama's go to person for implementing the most repressive anti-Latino and anti-immigrant policies our nation has ever seen,", an immigration reform group that has harshly criticized the Senate immigration bill's severe border enforcement measures, said in a statement. "This also presents an important opportunity for the Obama Administration to institute humane policies and stop the senseless deportations and separation of families once and for all."

But Kelly, who has led the NYPD's stop-and-frisk racial profiling program and its widespread spying on American Muslims, doesn't exactly have a clean record when it comes to the humane treatment of minorities.

"The nomination of Ray Kelly would raise immediate questions about his commitment to immigrant rights," says Arturo Carmona,'s executive director. "He has a spotty record at best in New York as the lead proponent for the racial profiling policy of 'stop, question, and frisk' which the [Center for Constitutional Rights] is currently suing the NYPD over."*

The NYPD has been accused of systematically targeting Latinos and African Americans, charging thousands with misdemeanor charges including pot possession, since Kelly's latest tenure as commissioner that began in 2002. The NYPD under Kelly's watch has also dealt with controversies involving its treatment of Latino officers. Anthony Miranda, chairman of the National Latino Officers Association, calls Schumer's endorsement "irresponsible." "I think his recommendation is ill-placed considering the lack of confidence people here in New York have had with Ray Kelly, especially minorities," Miranda says. He points specifically to the department's controversial English-only policy, under which at least nine officers have been reprimanded for speaking Spanish and which Latinos on the force say has created a hostile work environment. (A rival group, the NYPD Hispanic Society, has praised Kelly's treatment of Hispanics on the force.)

Talks about Napolitano's successor, of course, are speculative at this point. But Kelly's name has been floated occasionally as a potential DHS nominee since President Obama was first elected in 2008. And the endorsement from Schumer, who led the bipartisan Gang of Eight's efforts with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to pass immigration reform in the Senate, adds a degree of credibility.

A Kelly nomination might have an upside for immigration reformers, too. Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, says that a big-city police chief experienced with reaching out to immigrant communities might be what is needed to "challenge the culture of impunity" within the DHS's immigration enforcement agencies and their cultures that he says have "little respect for human rights." Kelly has criticized the Obama administration's deportation policy, out of concern that it would make undocumented immigrants less likely to approach police to report crimes. And Republicans who have opposed reform by claiming that Napolitano would not enforce so-called triggers that, in the Senate bill, would require border security measures to be fully implemented before immigrants could complete their paths to citizenship, would have a harder time arguing that Kelly would be soft on enforcement.

Still, advocates of immigration reform have plenty of reason to question Schumer's endorsement.

Correction: This story previously quoted Carmona as saying the Department of Justice is suing the NYPD. It is involved in the suit, which was filed in 2008 by the Center for Constitutional Rights, but officially "takes no position."

New Black Panther Party leader Malik Zulu Shabazz

The conservative blogosphere is brewing with ominous warnings about the inevitable riots they think will come if George Zimmerman is acquitted of charges related to his killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. (My colleague Lauren Williams has rightly questioned this mania here.) An email this week from Everett Wilkinson, a former tea party leader in Florida who now runs something called the Nation Liberty Federation, outlines many of the leading (and recurring) conspiracy theories about the verdict's aftermath, which he naturally thinks will include riots: martial law. FEMA camps. But he offers up some of the new ones, too. 

Among those is the suggestion that the New Black Panther Party is busing people to Florida for the specific purpose of inciting riots after Zimmerman presumably walks out of court a free man. Wilkinson writes:

Reports have come in from eye witnesses in Sanford, Florida that the New Black Panther Party, an extremist group that has called for the killing of George Zimmerman if he is found not guilty, is busing in thousands to that town. Sanford is the location of the trial and near the place where the shooting of Trayvon Martin by Zimmerman occurred. There have been threats of riots if Zimmerman is not found guilty and it is believed that the New Black Panther Party and other extremist groups will attempt to take advantage of racial tensions after a non guilty verdict by organizing riots.

Wilkinson points out that the New Black Panthers supposedly put out a "dead or alive" poster with Zimmerman's face on it last year—proof that the "eye witnesses" in Sanford must be right. He writes ominously, "When Zimmerman was first arrested the Black Panthers threatened to burn the whole state of Florida down." Wilkinson suggests that the Obama administration might be bringing in Russian soldiers to fight off the angry mobs (through FEMA, naturally), a claim that follows on the heels of his suggestion earlier this year that Russian intelligence was warning that President Obama was creating teams of "death squads," a story that originated on a hoax website.

Clearly Wilkinson doesn't know much about the New Black Panthers aside from the overhyped reports about them on Fox News during the past few presidential campaigns. For one thing, they probably don't need a bus. Most of their members could fit in a taxi. And they're not especially good at organizing anything, even voter intimidation. Their erstwhile leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, got his start in DC in the 1990s while at Howard University's law school, running as a candidate for the DC city council and trying to organize boycotts of Korean merchants in DC's poor, black neighborhoods. His first moment in the limelight came after he organized anti-Semitic chants at a Howard rally in 1994. Shabazz was good at getting himself in the news and not much else. Little has changed in that regard since 1995, when now-Slate editor David Plotz wrote this seminal profile of the guy. (A sampling: "Seated in the tiny chair in the tiny room, Shabazz looks somewhat like an overgrown schoolboy—an impression magnified by the large zit erupting beneath his right nostril.")

The reports and emails from Nation Liberty Federation vastly overestimate the potential of the Panthers to mobilize people. The Panthers themselves tweeted recently that even they don't think they could organize the kind of chaos conservatives warn about, saying, "If Zimmerman is acquitted there is likely to be unrest all over America. It will be way beyond the capacity of the NBPP." (The NBPP tweet that they will not be engaging in any unlawful activity, either.)

The Nation Liberty Federation's rhetoric suggests that if there are going to be riots after a verdict, the people we might want to be worried about are the white ones. Wilkinson, who is white, has some advice for readers on protecting themselves against "flash mobs": 

The obvious things you need are firearms, ammunition, maps, food, water, full tank of gas and/or “Bug Out Bag Survival Bag” and/or “Urban Survival Kit.”  I would also highly recommend a CB radio or ham radio because the cell phone towers may be overloaded or shut off.

One of the reason's why Americans beat the British is because they organized as militia units.  Remember also Korean shop owners that protected their shops during the LA riots.  We must learn to work as teams.  Talk to your friends and family and come up with a plan to protect as a unit.

We are expecting martial law declared, similar to Boston or Katrina Hurricane, in any area affected by riots or that Obama feels wants to control.  Unless you like the idea of spending anytime in a FEMA Camp, I would recommend bugging out of the area at the first sign of unrest if you live in an infected area.  Plan on having to be on the the move within 15 minutes of an riot

Don’t be surprised if Russian or other foreign troops come to help the DHS!  Rumor has it that Obama has positioned at least 15,000 Russian troops.  

If you find yourself in the immediate area of a “flash mob,” riot or protest, leave immediately.  This is not the time to be hero or argue.  You will only become a victim.  Hopefully you have a firearm to defend yourself, but you need to use it to help you extract from the area.  In other words, "shoot, scoot and run.”

It wouldn't take many paranoid, angry gun owners to create a bloodbath in Florida after a Zimmerman verdict, a prospect that seems far more frightening than Malik Shabazz and a cab full of New Black Panthers.

This post has been revised.

On Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that he won't run for re-election for a third time. That leaves the former presidential candidate with a little bit of free time on his hands, and now, by way of an interview with the Washington Times, we know he plans to spend it: international conflict resolution.

"We will be going to Israel to bring together Arabs, Christians and Jews in an educational forum," Mr. Perry told The Washington Times in an interview just three days after he announced he would not seek an unprecedented fourth term as Texas governor.

Most Christians living in the Middle East are Arabs. The people Perry should be inviting are called Muslims. Then again, counting to three has never really been his forte.

Ever since Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) departed the House in 2008, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has been the lower chamber's most visible critic of immigration reform. For the past three months, he has taken on the role of ringleader of the House's anti-immigration caucus, hosting regular meetings in his office to discuss with his tea party-minded colleagues how to scuttle efforts to pass legislation that would offer legal status to any of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.

On Wednesday, as House Republicans huddled on Capitol Hill to discuss a way forward for immigration reform, King told reporters outside the closed-door meeting that he didn't even want to see a bill giving President Obama more resources to beef up border security, suggesting that he couldn't be trusted. "It's like having a teenager that wants the keys to the car after he's already wrecked the other one," King told reporters outside the meeting. "Maybe handing him a new credit card and saying, 'Yeah, I know you promised you'll mow the lawn and carry out the garbage, here are the keys to the car.' You have to do it the other way. Say, 'Mow the lawn, do your chores, and then come back and talk to me and we'll discuss whether you get the keys to the car.'"

Comparing the president of the United States to a petulant adolescent who should "mow the lawn" is a fairly routine, if condescending, statement from the bombthrowing Iowa Republican. It hardly scratches the surface when it comes to King's anti-immigration bombast. Here's a small taste of some of the most outrageous, outlandish, or just plain weird things he's said and done on the topic of immigration: