Mojo - July 2013

Mitch McConnell Has a Tea Party Challenger

| Mon Jul. 22, 2013 11:03 AM EDT

In the past month, Mitch McConnell and his allies have gone after Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the the Senate minority leader's likely Democratic challenger in 2014. His campaign bashed Grimes immediately after she entered the race, saying she was "not ready for prime time" and calling her a "left wing mime." More recently, a pro-McConnell super-PAC said it was spending $270,000 on ads attacking Grimes.

But the McConnell camp is getting ahead of itself. McConnell now has a challenger for the GOP nomination, a businessman and tea partier named Matt Bevin. An investor who also owns a 181-year-old bell-making company, Bevin plans to announce his candidacy on Wednesday, followed by a three-day tour of Kentucky. A group named Matt Bevin for Senate has reportedly reserved TV time in several Kentucky media markets.

Here's more from Politico:

While the all-but-announced McConnell challenger is believed to be wealthy enough to commit some personal resources to the race, it’s not clear whether he can—or will—fully self-fund a campaign. A key test of his viability may be whether conservative outside groups are willing to give him back-up on the airwaves.

A Bevin adviser, who asked to speak anonymously in the pre-announcement phase, said the challenger’s preparations have been "under way for several months."

"Matt has been speaking with grassroots activists throughout Kentucky and has received a great amount of encouragement and support. This will be a real campaign, and we are ready for the inevitable smear tactics that Mitch McConnell's campaign machine is famous for," the adviser said. "In the words of Kirsten Dunst, bring it on."

Even if Bevin manages to win some support from ideological advocacy groups, it will be no small task for him—and any allies he may have won over—to take on McConnell. A senior McConnell strategist expressed deep skepticism that any prominent outside groups would ultimately take the plunge into the Kentucky GOP primary.

Bevin's reason for running is obvious: He sees an opening to attack McConnell by challenging his conservative bona fides. Tea partiers inside and outside of Kentucky accused McConnell of apostasy for brokering a deal to end the fiscal-cliff showdown in January. "We feel like he sold us out on that, and beforehand he was just feeding us political spin," John Kemper, a tea party leader in Kentucky, told me in January.

But Bevin will need all the financial help he can get. McConnell has nearly $10 million in his campaign bank account, one of the biggest war chests of any Senate candidate. As I reported, Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat, told at least one Democratic strategist that she'll need $26-$30 million to defeat McConnell.

Bevin won't need that much for the primary fight, but it's safe to say he'll need many millions to even compete with McConnell. He will need to pony up his own cash—and all the help the tea party can muster—to stand a chance.

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Full Video: Obama Delivers Surprise Address on Race, #RealTalk Ensues

| Fri Jul. 19, 2013 1:26 PM EDT

"If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?"—President Obama, on Friday.

Watch:

Obama made a surprise address at Friday's White House press briefing. He weighed in on the Trayvon Martin case, spoke about race issues in America, and called for an evaluation of the efficacy and wisdom of Stand Your Ground laws. "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," the president said.

Here's the text of Obama's remarks:

I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is very much looking forward to the session. The second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to obviously be a whole range of issues—immigration, economics, etc.—we'll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week—the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday. But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle's, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they're going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there's going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case—I'll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that's how our system works. But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me—at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws—everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn't to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It's not to make excuses for that fact—although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent—using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys.  But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family. But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code. And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive.  So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff, so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing. And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job. So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And let's figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it—if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.

I know that there's been commentary about the fact that the Stand Your Ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the other hand, if we're sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there's a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we'd like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these Stand Your Ground laws, I'd just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?  And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three—and this is a long-term project—we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

I'm not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program. I'm not sure that that’s what we're talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I've got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they're a full part of this society and that they've got pathways and avenues to succeed—I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we're going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

And then, finally, I think it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven't seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there's the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?  Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?  That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn't mean that racism is eliminated. But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are—they're better than we were—on these issues. And that's true in every community that I've visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues. And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we're becoming a more perfect union—not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

Thank you, guys.

Judges Say Reporter Must Testify, CIA Spies Can Wear Disguises in Court

| Fri Jul. 19, 2013 1:22 PM EDT

A US appeals court has ruled that the First Amendment does not protect New York Times national security reporter James Risen from revealing the sources that gave him information about the CIA's plan to disrupt Iran's nuclear program. Risen has been issued a subpoena by the Obama Administration to testify at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who allegedly leaked unauthorized information about the program.

In a 2-1 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned a 2011 ruling by a lower court that Risen had journalist's privilege to protect his sources. It also reaffirmed that the CIA can take special measures to hide the identity of current and former CIA agents who provide witness in the trial. Agents can hide their real names from the jury when testifying, and can take other security measures such as hiding behind " a screen between the trial participants and the public seating section of the courtroom" or wearing "light disguises (wigs, false beards, half glasses.)"

The majority opinion said: "There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, absent a showing of bad faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate motive."

The information in question is part of Risen's 2006 book, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration.  In it, he described the CIA operation against Iran's nuclear program as poorly run and wrote that it potentially gave valuable information to the Iranians. Risen told The Times in 2011 that, "I am going to fight this subpoena...I will always protect my sources, and I think this is a fight about the First Amendment and the freedom of the press.”

In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Roger L. Gregory agreed with Risen: "The majority reads narrowly the law governing the protection of a reporter from revealing his sources, a decision that is, in my view, contrary to the will and wisdom of our Founders."

The Obama Administration indicted Sterling under the Espionage Act, a law it has wielded more than any other presidential administration. Critics of Risen's subpoena say that forcing Risen to testify, and cracking down on a national security whistleblower, is setting an alarming precedent. "I think it's possible we're headed toward a genuine crisis, where a New York Times reporter is in jail for publishing the news," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy, a government watchdog group. He would like to the Obama Administration to withdraw the subpoena, but notes, "I'm not sure where things go from here. It's hard for me to imagine Risen saying, 'OK, I give up. Sterling was my source.' Will he go to jail? I don't know."

Oath Keepers Heart Edward Snowden!

| Fri Jul. 19, 2013 11:54 AM EDT
Billboard at the Pentagon subway station bought by the Oath Keepers

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has earned quite a following, sometimes in unlikely quarters. The latest evidence comes in the form of this billboard recently installed inside the subway station that serves the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The billboard was paid for by the Oath Keepers, a "patriot" group founded in 2009 not long after President Obama took office. The controversial organization, founded by a former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) staffer and associated with former militia leaders, encourages members of the military and law enforcement to swear an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, and not necessarily to the Commander in Chief. The Oath Keepers pledge to essentially turn on the US government if they think they're being ordered to do things that they think are unconstitutional, such as, for instance, taking people's guns away.

They arrived on the scene with much fanfare and were often staples at tea party and Second Amendment rallies organized around opposition to the tyrannical Obama administration. Their ranks are filled with Birthers, Truthers, and others who see black helicopters lurking at every turn. Their highest profile associates have been people like Mike Vanderboegh, the former Alabama militia leader who urged followers to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices to protest the passage of healthcare reform. (Some actually did.) But the Oath Keepers have since dropped out of the limelight, the dictatorship they were preparing for never quite materializing. 

But the group has reemerged with a new project, which involves billboards like the Snowden one at the Pentagon Metro station. The Oath Keepers initially set out to put up billboards around military bases to "Educate Troops About Their Oath Bound Duty to Refuse Unconstitutional Orders," and to "counter the propaganda of the domestic enemies of the Constitution," according to their website. So far this year, they've installed one near the Twenty Nine Palms Marine base in California, with plans to target Ft. Hood, in Texas, and Ft. Rucker in Alabama.

The first billboard went up last year across from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, in response to a retired Army colonel who enraged tea partiers and gun activists with a paper he wrote describing a hypothetical scenario in which the military might have to intervene on US soil. The hypothetical involves an "extremist militia motivated by the goals of the “tea party” movement" that takes over a town in South Carolina and starts an insurrection. The "tea party insurrectionists" in the paper sound a lot like the Oath Keepers, who took great offense to the paper and responded with a billboard screaming, "Colonel 'Red Coat' Benson, The Tea Party is Not the Enemy. Soldiers! Honor Your Oath. Refuse To Fire On Americans."

Apparently the Oath Keepers have found a hero in Snowden, and decided to jump to his defense before moving on to billboards at Ft. Hood and elsewhere. The Pentagon billboard says that Snowden "honored his oath," and it urges others (presumably all the spies and military officers on the Metro) to follow their oath to the Constitution, too. Last month, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes explained to Reason why the group might be so sympathetic to Snowden (who, like Rhodes, was a Paulite):

He is an example of what needs to be done by anyone who has knowledge of such gross violations of our rights. We need more to stand up, because this is surely the mere tip of the iceberg of the infrastructure for a police state that is being built over us.

This is about far more than supposed attempts to ferry out al Qaeda operatives. This is part of a growing Stasi and Checka style surveillance police state which tags, tracks, and prepares plans to detain dissidents with the "Main Core" database of millions of Americans who the regime considers a "threat."...

Unless we the people purge out these oath breakers from BOTH parties, we will find ourselves in a nightmare dictatorship and we will have to fight to throw it off. Sweat now or bleed later. Purge them all.

 

Obama's New Labor Secretary Will Be the Most Progressive Member of His Cabinet

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 4:04 PM EDT

On Thursday afternoon Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Justice Department, was confirmed 54-46 to head the Department of Labor after months of Republican attempts to sink his nomination. Perez's confirmation was secured, along with four other long languishing nominees, as part of a deal brokered earlier this week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as an alternative to reforming the filibuster rules that have been used to waylay votes on key agency heads. But the confirmation of Perez, which Republicans had fought tooth and nail, might be the biggest win for progressives.

As my former colleague Adam Serwer wrote back in March, when the fight over Perez's nomination was just getting underway, spearheaded by Sen Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Perez is poised to be "one of the most effective and progressive senior administration officials to [Obama's] cabinet." As Adam wrote at the time

When Perez was nominated to head the Department of Justice's civil rights division, some congressional Republicans sought to block his confirmation over since discredited allegations regarding a voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party and Perez's advocacy on behalf of undocumented immigrants. During the Bush years, the division had been marred by partisan politics and declining civil rights enforcement. But since Perez took the helm, the division has blocked partisan voting schemescracked down on police brutalityprotected gay and lesbian students from harassmentsued anti-immigrant Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for racial profilingstood up against Islamophobia, and forced the two largest fair-housing settlements in history from banks that discriminated against minority homeowners

Before Perez ran the civil rights division, he was chosen by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley to head the state's Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. In this position, he earned plaudits from unions for taking a hard line against employers who were dodging overtime pay, benefits, and taxes by classifying employees as independent contractors. "They were basically cheating their workers out of payment and other benefits to which they're entitled," says Lynn Rhinehart, general counsel at the AFL-CIO. Some of the workers classified as "contractors" were doing dangerous work, such as construction, yet because they were not employees, they could be denied worker's compensation if injured on the job. Perez pushed for new state legislation to eliminate the practice by imposing stiff penalties on employers who break the law. The bill was signed into law by O'Malley in 2009. Fred Mason, head of the Maryland branch of the AFL-CIO, praised Perez's "tenacity" in helping to get the new rules passed. "This is someone who understands the relationship between worker rights and human rights," he says. 

Immigration reform advocates have high hopes for Perez, the child of exiles from the Dominican Republic. Gustavo Torres, head of the immigrant advocacy organization CASA de Maryland, told Mother Jones last year that while serving on the group's board, Perez played a key role in turning the organization into an influential force. "We were a very small organization; we were dreaming of how we could make a difference," Torres said. Perez "helped us develop a strategic plan to expand the organization around the state." Perez, Torres said, "truly believes in integrating the immigrant community, and believes in comprehensive immigration reform."

The deal negotiated by Reid earlier this week also scored votes on Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Gina McCarthy for the Environmental Protection Agency, Fred Hochberg for the Export-Import Bank, and current National Labor Relations Board chairman Mark Gaston Pearce, all of which have had the votes to pass by majority, but had been waylaid by Republican filibuster. The whole compromise was a serious win for the Obama administration, which had seen 16 of its nominations for executive-branch positions blocked by filibuster, but Perez's role as an unapologetic advocate for civil rights who's fought police brutality, voter suppression, racial profiling, and discriminatory lending practices makes this victory particularly sweet.

Report: Grand Jury Convened in California "Campaign Money Laundering" Investigation

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 3:42 PM EDT

In April, I reported on an investigation out in California into the source of a mysterious $11 million donation that the state elections watchdog called "the largest contribution ever disclosed as campaign money laundering in California history." That $11 million donation, made in October 2012 by a little-known nonprofit called Americans for Responsible Leadership, went toward defeating Proposition 30, which would have raised taxes on wealthy Californians, and passing Proposition 32, which would have curbed unions' campaign spending. But when the California Supreme Court intervened, we learned that money didn't originate with Americans for Responsible Leadership, but rather from a different nonprofit based in Virginia called Americans for Job Security. Conservatives worried, as I reported, that the probe into the true source of the $11 million might cast unwanted light on all the dark money sloshing around conservative politics.

Now, the plot thickens. Writing for the Daily Beast, Peter Stone reports that a grand jury has been convened in California's dark-money investigation. Stone notes that the existence of a grand jury likely means the state's probe is intensifying as it tries to unmask the true source of that $11 million donation, be it a single wealthy donor, several individual donors, a company, etc.

Stone also reports that billionaire investor Charles Schwab or an entity affiliated with Schwab has received a subpoena as part of the California probe. In November 2011, Mother Jones reported that Schwab was part of a club of donors who'd given more than $1 million to groups and causes backed by Charles and David Koch. A spokesman for Schwab did not comment for Stone's story.

The stakes of California's investigation are very high, as Stone notes:

If prosecutors do move forward, their investigation could shine light on parts of the burgeoning network of conservative "social welfare" outfits that spent hundreds of millions in the last two elections. Under IRS rules, social-welfare groups can engage in political activities so long as that work is not their primary purpose, a loosely enforced rule often interpreted to mean that 49 percent of a group’s spending can go toward political work.

One of the three groups that allegedly channeled the funds to California was the Arizona-based Center to Protect Patient Rights, founded in 2009 by Koch operative Sean Noble, who has emerged in recent cycles as a big player in conservative political and fundraising circles. Noble has spoken at least twice at the billionaire brothers’ biannual conferences aimed at tapping other wealthy conservatives for their favorite projects, and he has been a key strategist at small Washington meetings with other GOP allied groups such as the Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads.

"Sean is the wizard behind the screen" for the Kochs and their network of wealthy donors, said one GOP operative familiar with Noble's political work.

In 2010 and 2012, Noble's Center appeared to act mainly as a cash conduit, shipping millions to allied conservative groups. In the 2010 cycle, for instance, it channeled almost $55 million—a sum almost identical to its revenues—to a couple dozen conservative bastions including Americans for Tax Reform and the American Future Fund, according to the group's filings with the IRS. Most of that largess went to pay for advertising backing GOP candidates or attacking Democrats.

"We had no involvement whatsoever, financial or otherwise, neither directly nor indirectly, on anything to do with Prop. 30 or Prop. 32," a spokesman for Koch Industries, Rob Tappan, said in an email. Tappan, however, indicated he spoke only for Koch and not “independent entities,” such as Noble’s Center. Asked if the Kochs had received subpoenas from the grand jury, Tappan said it was company policy not to comment on “the existence or nonexistence of investigations.” Noble did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Officials with California's Fair Political Practices Commission and the state AG's office have refused to comment on the progress of their probes. But in a brief interview in April, Ann Ravel, the chairwoman of the FPPC, said she fully intends to find out who truly was behind that $11 million. "The most important factor of any investigation of this sort is getting the names of who's contributing to campaigns in California," she said. "Because that's the law."

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Trayvon Martin's Mom on Verdict: "I Couldn't Believe It"

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 3:02 PM EDT

Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, spoke to CBS This Morning today in their first interview since George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering their 17-year-old son. Fulton said she was "stunned" that Zimmerman was acquitted.

"I was in a bit of shock," she said. "I thought surely he would be found guilty of second-degree murder—manslaughter at the least. But I just knew that they would see that this was a teenager trying to get home. This was no burglar."

Fulton stressed that her son was just a child when he was killed. "Instead of placing the blame on the teenager we need to place the blame on the responsible adult," she said. As for whether or not civil action might be taken against Zimmerman, Martin and Fulton's lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said they are exploring all options and are also hoping for federal charges. "We're asking the Justice Department, can a private citizen with a gun profile and follow our children home?" he said.

Politico Has Published an Astonishing 17 Items on Mark Leibovich's "This Town"

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 1:58 PM EDT

New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich's new book, This Town, is in many ways a story about Washington, DC's obsession with itself. So it shouldn't come as a total surprise that one of the book's biggest targets, Politico, has been both its biggest critic and its biggest promoter. Since April, the outlet has published, by my count, 17 stories and items on the book, ranging from video segments to photo galleries to stinging critiques of This Town's cultural critiques.

It started in April, when Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei launched a preemptive salvo against Leibovich, whom they characterize as "at once a supremely confident and strangely self-conscious writer." The duo known as VandeAllen wrote: "we thought we'd have some fun and do some reporting on his reporting on our friends, sources and subjects to find out who else should worry most about his book." The story was accompanied by a video segment featuring the two reporters discussing Leibovich's "incest book*," with Vandehei noting that "if someone chronicled all the silly things I've said in the last 15 years, it would be a hoot!" There was also a slideshow of the suspected main characters of This Town, which included five people, one of whom was Leibovich. Their article was featured in Allen's daily tip-sheet, Playbook—"Not out till July, but everyone's talking."

In July, as the book's publication date neared, Politico flooded the zone. On July 3, media reporter Dylan Byers wrote that a bookstore had mistakenly begun selling copies of the "highly anticipated book about the way things work in Washington, D.C." two weeks early. Later that day, he scooped that the Times would excerpt a portion of the book, which "is expected to unearth some unsavory details about key Beltway players, including super-lawyer Robert Barnett, media-insider Tammy Haddad, various former Obama aides and POLITICO's own Mike Allen." Byers' review that night noted that "Leibovich is quoted as referring to [Politico] in the book as 'the caffeinated trade site,' 'the emerging company-town organ for Political Washington,' and 'an organization of healthy self-regard.'" The following day, Allen covered the same ground, while quoting generously:

Politico often gets blamed for defining down and amping up political news today. The 'haters,' as Politico's editors call their critics, are often the same Washington insiders whom the publication reports on – and who read the thing religiously… Politico is an organization of healthy self-regard.

On July 5th, Allen quoted 985 words of Leibovich's forthcoming New York Times Magazine excerpt (previously reported in Politico), and colleague Mackenzie Weinger compiled a guide to "Who's up, down in 'This Town'" which notes that Allen "is cast as an 'enabler' of journalistic groupthink, according to the Post's review." Another story that day flagged a list of talking points produced by the White House on top aide Valerie Jarrett. Byers took on a New York Times review which had generated controversy in this town for its suggestion that Washington has neither good pizza nor delicious sandwiches (it has both, but let's not do this again). After a long weekend, he revisited the subject, concluding that This Town demonstrates the need for another Tim Russert "not just to make The Club feel better, but to improve its standing with the rest of nation."

Tuesday was a new day, which meant a new video of Leibovich discussing his book with reporter Lois Romano, who pressed him on whether he'd broken any "unspoken code" by reporting on the people he rubbed elbows with in social settings. On Wednesday, Allen flagged a piece by the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone, which noted that "VandeHei is mentioned 16 times in the book, more than the aforementioned 17 Times editors, reporters and columnists combined." By Thursday, Romano's interview had been converted into a think piece, excerpted in Playbook, about the chilling effect of This Town on the social scene of "a town that shuns wannabes and impostors"—a previously unknown stereotype of Washington, DC.

Lest you think Politico has reached peak self-obsession, though, consider this: the book just came out on Tuesday.

*There is no incest in This Town.

Democratic Super-PAC Turns Up the Heat on Immigration Reform

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 12:47 PM EDT

There's no endgame yet for comprehensive immigration reform, but the lopsided reform ad wars, which are largely focused now on targeting House Republicans in Latino-heavy districts with Spanish-language TV and radio ads, may become central to securing a path to citizenship for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants. The House Majority PAC, a Democratic super-PAC, continued the ad wars on Thursday with a two-week, $175,000 ad buy targeting three lawmakers who have already faced considerable pressure from pro-reform groups. The Spanish-language TV ads take aim at...

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.): In 2009, Coffman took over the Colorado district formerly represented by Rep. Tom Tancredo, an anti-immigrant hardliner who once called the National Council of La Raza, a pro-reform group, a "Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses." Coffman has his own history that includes warning that President Obama would try to steal the 2012 election by giving amnesty to undocumented immigrants and supporting Arizona's Draconian immigration laws that the Supreme Court partially struck down last year. But after a 2011 redistricting, Coffman's Latino constituency doubled, and this February he said he supported legal status for undocumented immigrants and a path to citizenship for those brought into the country as minors.

Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.): Heck is one of just 15 House Republicans representing a district won by Obama in 2012. His district includes sizable Latino and Asian-American populations that have hammered him on immigration reform, but Heck also faces heavy pressure from the local Republicans opposed to reform who voted him into office. He's tried to appease both groups, expressing openness to a path to citizenship while voting last month for Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) amendment to deport undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children (Coffman also voted in favor). Recently, Heck's kept a low profile—the National Journal explained how he uses his Army training to navigate the Capitol's basement tunnels without being detected by reformers.

Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.): Miller represents a district that houses the Inland Empire, a metropolitan area east of Los Angeles that's more than 40 percent Latino. During his eight terms in the House, he's suggested deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, whom he's frequently referred to as "illegals," and opposed birthright citizenship. Like Coffman, Miller was recently redistricted and now represents many more immigrants, and there are signs he may also be softening his views. He recently purged several anti-immigration videos from his YouTube page, and his office is hedging on where he stands on reform. But Miller, too, voted for King's deportation amendment last month.

"House Republicans are working on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fix what has long been a broken system, and these three members in particular are working hard in their districts to listen to the voices of their constituents, especially within the Hispanic community," Daniel Scarpinato, a National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman, told Politico in response to the ads. "Unfortunately, Democrats ignored the immigration issue when they controlled the House, and Republicans are cleaning up their mess." Many Republican operatives see immigration reform as vital to the continued relevance of their party, but top Democrats—including President Obama—have made clear that anything less than a bill with a path to citizenship, which House GOP leadership has yet to embrace, is a non-starter.

Rick Perry, Please Stop Talking About Big Gulps

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 9:37 AM EDT

Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry has spent much of the last year convincing companies to relocate their businesses to the Lone Star State on the promise of low taxes, few regulations, and tens of millions of dollars in incentives (provided he likes your product). First he targeted Californians, prompting Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to dismiss the ad campaign as a "fart." Then he traveled to Illinois, where one state business leader likened him to a Roman emperor. His newest target is New York:

According to Perry, the state's crimes are plain: "Higher taxes, stifling regulations—bureaucrats telling you whether you can even drink a Big Gulp," he says, referencing Mayor Michael Bloomberg's scuttled regulations on soda serving sizes. And indeed, Texans feel passionately about their Big Gulps. In 2011, the Austin American-Statesman profiled Paul Sunby, an environmental consultant who was raising awareness of what he had concluded was a creeping reduction in the size of super-huge sodas, from 44 oz. to 40.

Perry is not alone when it comes to Republican politicians and Big Gulps. At the Conservative Political Action conference in March, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin drank from a 7-11 Big Gulp from the stage to demonstrate her party's commitment to freedom: "Bloomberg is not around, our Big Gulps are safe. We're cool. Shoot, it's just pop with low-cal ice-cubes in it."

In April, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer posted a Facebook photo of herself sipping a Double Gulp in Manhattan: "After walking around New York City today, I stopped to enjoy a refreshing and extra large Double Gulp from 7 11. Cheers Mayor Mike Bloomberg! #freedom"

Jan Brewer/Facebook

In March Texas Sen. Ted Cruz introduced the "Bloomberg Big Gulp Amendment" to protect the sanctity of super-huge soda. In February, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul reflected on his visit to New York City in an interview with Sean Hannity: "I was more worried about the Big Gulp—it was a 16 ounce drink and afraid your mayor is going to arrest me."

Here's the thing, though: Big Gulps are still perfectly legal. So are regular Gulps, Super Gulps, and Double Big Gulps—which, ironically, are only equivalent to about 1.6 Big Gulps. This is America after all. And they were never banned in the first place, because Bloomberg's restrictions on the size of soft drinks only applied to certain venues, like movie theaters. You could always buy a Big Gulp, provided you were willing to deal with the consequences of consuming one, which is, let's face it, kind of gross. Good God, that's a lot to put your body through just to make a weird political point your staff could have just fact-checked first.

So, invite New Yorkers to move to your state if you want. (Although you might want to deregulate vaginas first.) But for the love of God, stop talking about Big Gulps.