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Friday Cat Blogging – 13 December 2013

Mother Jones

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Gizmodo tells us today that squirrels were first introduced into urban parks by Philadelphia in 1847. Everyone loved it and the idea soon spread:

Central Park led the way in the second wave of squirrels introduced into American cities….Feeding the squirrels became a past time during these years, and was eventually seen by naturalists and conservationists as a way to help humans learn how to better treat animals….So next time you see a squirrel in the park, drink it in. These little critters were put there for your entertainment. But perhaps more importantly, they were put there to remind us of how man and nature must get along, even if it takes a little effort.

The little critters are everywhere now. One in particular has taken up residence in my backyard for some reason. I don’t think there’s anything to eat there, so I’m not sure what’s going on. Is he burying acorns there or something? It would be a pretty good spot, I suppose, since Domino doesn’t go outside much anymore and wouldn’t know what to do with a squirrel if she saw one. Especially in the winter, she much prefers burrowing under a nice, warm quilt. Today’s sample is another double Irish chain design, twin-sized, machine pieced and machine quilted. It nursed me back to health earlier this week when I headed downstairs during a bout of insomnia, so perhaps it has wonderful medicinal qualities too. Who knows?

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Friday Cat Blogging – 13 December 2013

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Divine intervention? Pope opposes fracking

Divine intervention? Pope opposes fracking

Catholic Church England and Wales

The worldwide leader of the Catholic Church, none other than the motherfracking pope himself, has come out in opposition to the worldwide scourge of hydraulic fracturing.

OK, so Pope Francis didn’t exactly make a policy statement or a speech denouncing fracking. But hints have emerged that he might do so soon. And Twitter is afire with pictures of His Holiness holding up anti-fracking T-shirts. The pictures were taken Monday following meetings with Argentinians dealing with environmental issues:

Environmental filmmaker Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas told elEconomista that the pope had indicated during a Monday meeting that he was working on a papal memo, known as an encyclical, that will address environmental issues.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: this article interesting? Donate now to support our work.Read more: Climate & Energy



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Divine intervention? Pope opposes fracking

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11 Clever Uses for Bubble Wrap

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11 Clever Uses for Bubble Wrap

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Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to shutter

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to shutter


Vermont Yankee, on the Connecticut River, will soon be shut down for good.

Yet another American nuclear power plant is going to shut down permanently, giving New Englanders reason to be as excited as the nucleus of a decaying uranium isotope.

Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday that it will power down the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant next year.

This is just the latest in a string of bad news for the industry. Nuclear plants are also being shut down in California, Florida, and Wisconsin, and plans to build new ones are being canceledFrom Reuters:

Leo Denault, Entergy’s chief executive since February, said in an interview with Reuters that the plant was no longer economically viable due to a combination of rising capital costs after the September 11 attacks, Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster and low wholesale electricity prices stemming from cheap natural gas burned by competing plants.

“We did everything we could to keep the plant open,” he said, praising the 600 employees for operating the plant even when “they did not feel welcome in the state.”

Opponents of the plant were quick to voice their approval.

“This is not a big surprise to me and I don’t think it’s a big surprise to many who follow the economics of aging nuclear power plants,” [Peter] Shumlin, Vermont’s Democratic Governor who led the state’s fight to have the plant shut down when its initial operating permit expired in 2012, told reporters.

But the news came at a surprising time: Just two weeks ago, Entergy won a hard-fought U.S. Court of Appeals case. The court ruled that Vermont lawmakers, who’ve been worried by the plant’s poor safety history, lacked the authority to shutter it.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to shutter

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Arkansas tar-sands spill was an accident 60 years in the making

Arkansas tar-sands spill was an accident 60 years in the making

National Wildlife Federation

Cleanup crews at a marsh covered with oil from the Mayflower spill in April.

The pipeline spill that flooded Mayflower, Ark., with up to 290,000 gallons of tar-sands oil in March was an accident that had been waiting to happen — for more than 60 years.

The pipeline that ruptured beneath the town was defective, with manufacturing flaws going undetected since it was laid in the 1940s, according to independent laboratory tests. ExxonMobil released a short summary of test results Wednesday.

The findings bring into question the integrity of the entire Pegasus pipeline system — and other oil pipelines that crisscross the nation. The Pegasus system, which runs from Illinois to Texas, was laid in 1947 and 1948. The pipeline manufacturer, Ohio-based Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co., is no longer in business but was reportedly one of the leading suppliers of pipelines in the 1940s.

The Pegasus pipeline remains shut down following the spill. Cleanup efforts are still underway. ExxonMobil is being sued over the spill by the federal and state governments.

From ExxonMobil’s press statement about the lab results:

Based on the metallurgical analysis, the independent laboratory concluded that the root cause of the failure can be attributed to original manufacturing defects — namely hook cracks near the seam.

Additional contributing factors include atypical pipe properties, such as extremely low impact toughness and elongation properties across the ERW [electric resistance welded] seam.

There are no findings that indicate internal or external corrosion contributed to the failure.

A seam is the welded part of a pipeline, either running along its spine or holding two pieces of piping together. By the American Petroleum Institute’s definition, a hook crack is caused by flaws at the edge of the metal plate used to create sections of pipeline.

The lab tests were required [PDF] by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), but the agency did not release the full results, nor did it comment to the press, citing the ongoing investigation. All we got was ExxonMobil’s five-paragraph statement summarizing the results.

Based on the laboratory findings, though, PHMSA officials will likely want to scour ExxonMobil’s records to determine which other sections of pipeline were provided by the same manufacturer, and find out where else the manufacturer’s pipelines are still being used in the vast networks that snake through the nation.

PHMSA will also be asking questions about Exxon’s apparent failure to adequately test the line when it was installed, or to detect the flaws during tests in more than six decades of operations since.

The pipeline was last inspected in February, but the company is not releasing the results publicly, claiming that would reveal trade secrets. (Yes, the old trade secrets excuse again.)

Electric resistance welded pipe like that which tore open beneath Mayflower has welding along its spine that is particularly vulnerable to rupture. The Pegasus pipeline at Mayflower suffered a 22-foot tear when it burst. From PHMSA’s website:

A failure in the weld seam of this type of pipe can propagate for a distance along the pipe and can quickly release large quantities of product to the environment. Low-frequency (LF) ERW pipe installed prior to 1970 in particular can be susceptible to such failures.

The new lab findings call to mind the natural-gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in the San Francisco exurb of San Bruno in 2010. Federal investigators found that PG&E’s gas pipeline had welding and manufacturing flaws when it was laid in 1956, causing it to tear open along a faulty seam and explode. PG&E was faulted for failing to inspect the pipeline and was subsequently ordered to inspect and replace pipes throughout its entire gas network.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Arkansas tar-sands spill was an accident 60 years in the making

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The Case for a Profit Motive in Conserving the Environment


Codex: Grey Knights – Games Workshop

The Grey Knights are the most mysterious of all the Imperium’s many organisations. Few outside the upper echelons of the Inquisition hold any knowledge of the Chapter’s founding, and even these most trusted of men are denied the full truth. For ten thousand years the Grey Knights have stood between the Imperium and the Daemons of the Warp. An incor […]

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Codex: Eldar – Games Workshop

Codex: Eldar is your comprehensive guide to wielding the deadly warhosts of the Craftworld Eldar upon the battlefields of the 41 st Millennium. This volume details the craftworlds of the Eldar, and the different types of army they field. The Eldar embody excellence in the arts of war, from their psychic might to their deadly aircraft, and their ranks co […]

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Inside of a Dog – Alexandra Horowitz

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All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition – Mel Bartholomew

Rapidly increasing in popularity, square foot gardening is the most practical, foolproof way to grow a home garden. That explains why author and gardening innovator Mel Bartholomew has sold more than two million books describing how to become a successful DIY square foot gardener. Now, with the publication of All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition , t […]

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World of Warcraft: Dawn of the Aspects: Part IV – Richard A. Knaak

A Simon & Schuster eBook. Simon & Schuster has a great book for every reader. […]

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Warhammer 40,000 Altar of War: Eldar – Games Workshop

Altar of War missions provide all the information required to play games inspired by the battlefield tactics of the different Warhammer 40,000 armies. This book contains six brand-new missions which you can use instead of the Eternal War missions in the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook if you or your opponent has an Eldar army. These battles sho […]

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How to Raise the Perfect Dog – Cesar Millan & Melissa Jo Peltier

From the bestselling author and star of National Geographic Channel’s Dog Whisperer , the only resource you’ll need for raising a happy, healthy dog. For the millions of people every year who consider bringing a puppy into their lives–as well as those who have already brought a dog home–Cesar Millan, the preeminent dog behavior expert, says, “Yes, […]

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The Art of Raising a Puppy (Revised Edition) – Monks of New Skete

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Trident K9 Warriors – Michael Ritland & Gary Brozek

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How to Paint Citadel Miniatures: Eldar – Games Workshop

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The Case for a Profit Motive in Conserving the Environment

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The 10 Worst Prisons in America: Polunsky

Mother Jones

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Last stop for condemned Texans. Minutes Before Six

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of an 11-part series. Click here for the complete introduction.

Serving time in prison is not supposed to be pleasant. Nor, however, is it supposed to include being raped by fellow prisoners or staff, beaten by guards for the slightest provocation, driven mad by long-term solitary confinement, or killed off by medical neglect. These are the fates of thousands of prisoners every year—men, women, and children housed in lockups that give Gitmo and Abu Ghraib a run for their money.

#1: ADX

#2: Polunsky

While there’s plenty of blame to go around, and while not all of the facilities described in this series have all of the problems we explore, some stand out as particularly bad actors. We’ve compiled this subjective list of America’s 10 worst lockups (plus a handful of dishonorable mentions) based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with criminal-justice reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy. We will be rolling out profiles of all of the contenders in the coming days, complete with photos and video.

Our subjective ranking was based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy. Now, as promised, let’s head on down to Texas to visit our second contender, where condemned men (even severely mentally ill ones) spend their final years under what are arguably the nation’s harshest death-row conditions.

2] Allan B. Polunsky Unit, a.k.a. death row (Livingston, Texas)

Number of prisoners: ~300

Who’s in charge: Richard Alford, former warden at Polunksy, he now oversees all the region’s prisons; Oliver Bell, chairman, Texas Board of Criminal Justice

A typical cell at Polunsky. Minutes Before Six

The basics: “The most lethal death row anywhere in the democratic world” is also probably “the hardest place to do time in Texas,” writes Robert Perkinson, author of the book TexasTough. Indeed, the all-solitary Allan B. Polunsky Unit houses condemned Texans under some of the nation’s harshest death row conditions. The prisoners are housed in single cells on 22-hour-a-day lockdown, and even during their daily “recreation” hour, they are confined in separate cages. With no access to phones, televisions, contact visits, they remain in essentially a concrete tomb (PDF) until execution day—a stretch of at least three years for the mandatory appeals, and far longer if they opt to keep fighting. Some have been known to commit suicide or waive their appeals rather than continue living under such conditions.

The backlash: At Polunsky, the “emotional torture” of awaiting death in total isolation is “driving men out of their minds,” former prisoner Anthony Graves told senators last year at the first-ever Judiciary Committee hearing on solitary confinement. “I would watch guys come to prison totally sane and in three years they don’t live in the real world anymore,” recalled Graves, who was exonerated in 2010, after spending more than 18 years on death row.

Graves detailed for the senators some of the profoundly erratic behavior of his fellow prisoners. “I know a guy who would sit in the middle of the floor, rip his sheet up, wrap it around himself, and light it on fire. Another guy…would take his feces and smear it all over his face as though he was in military combat.”

Listen: Click on the arrow for audio of M*A*S*H* actor Mike Farrell reading our essay, “How Crazy Is Too Crazy to be Executed?

This man, Graves added, was ruled competent for execution. While on the gurney, “he was babbling incoherently to the officers, ‘I demand that you release me soldier, this is your captain speaking.’ These were the words coming out of a man’s mouth, who was driven insane by the prison conditions, as the poison was being pumped into his arms.”

Another prisoner, a paranoid schizophrenic named Andre Thomas, scooped out his eye and ate it during his stay at Polunsky. He, too, remains on track for execution. It is perhaps no wonder that Dallas insurance executive Charles Terrell asked to have his name removed from the facility after it became death row.

Watch: Anthony Graves’ Senate testimony:

Coming tomorrow: A facility with a “pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos.”

Research for this project was supported by a grant from the Investigative Fund and The Nation Institute, as well as a Soros Justice Media Fellowship from the Open Society Foundations. Additional reporting by Beth Broyles, Valeria Monfrini, Katie Rose Quandt, and Sal Rodriguez.

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The 10 Worst Prisons in America: Polunsky

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Etsy Office Supplies to Make Your Workspace More Eco-Friendly

Even if you don’t spend your days at a desk, you may have a home office for keeping your projects organized. In both of these spaces, it’s worth putting in a little extra effort to make them fun and eco-friendly. To help you start thinking about how you might green your work space and add a little excitement at the same time, check out these Etsy products made from upcycled, recycled and eco-friendly materials.

Photo: Etsy user randall180

Prefer your office decor to be modern and reflect your interest in technology? Randall Littleton, owner of Etsy shop randall180, claims that with this repurposed iMac Lamp you will be the envy of your workplace. So if your office could use a little extra light, this might just be the accessory for you.

Littleton’s shop is dedicated solely to repurposed Mac products and in addition to this iMac Lamp includes clocks made from old computers.

To see more upcycled Mac products, visit randall180.

Price: $115


Don’t Miss: Hacks and Mods to Repurpose Your Own E-Waste

Photo: Etsy user CraftGather

If you have control over what kind of desk resides in your office, consider choosing an eco-friendly option like this one made by Rocky Garza of the Etsy shop Craft & Gather.

Garza constructs a variety of desks, tables and benches, all from reclaimed wood. He uses old trees, lumber and even a wooden spool that was previously used to transport electrical wire in his work. This desk is made from reclaimed lumber and steel plumbing pipe and would make a great focal piece for any office or workspace.

Garza also makes custom desks, so if you’d like something similar but tailored to your taste, check out the Craft & Gather Etsy shop and contact the artist.

Price: $650


Photo: Etsy user JemmDeeCreations

Sure, you could go to any office supply store and purchase some inexpensive push pins, but they wouldn’t be as original or eco-friendly as these push pins made from broken china.

Mirna Chang, the owner of Etsy shop JemmDeeCreations, is an expert upcycler, especially when it comes to reusing old kitchenware. As she puts it, her shop consists of “pretty things made from broken plates” and includes everything from push pins and magnets to jewelry. Her materials come from chipped, broken or unwanted dishes, and Chang cuts and shapes them into new, eye-catching products.

To see these push pins and the rest of Chang’s work, visit JemmDeeCreations.

Price: $12.50


Check Out: Reuse Design Challenge: Repurpose Old Kitchenware

Photo: Etsy user LizzieJoeDesigns

A cork board made from upcycled wine corks will go great with upcycled push pins. Jennifer of the Etsy shop Lizzie Joe Designs uses old corks to their full potential by turning them into things like cork boards, coasters, trays and wall decorations. All the corks are recycled, as are many of the other materials Jennifer uses. She likes to shop at thrift stores and upcycles as much as possible, according to her Etsy page.

This framed cork board incorporates many kinds of corks and would be well-suited to an office (or your kitchen, for that matter).

Visit Lizzie Joe Designs for more information.

Price: $30


Read: Eco-Friendly DIY: Wine Cork Lampshade

Photo: Etsy user OctoberInspiration

Could your office space use some plants? If so, you might want to check out this upcycled wine bottle hydroponic planter from Jamie Malone of October Inspiration.

Indoor gardening is made easy with this simple hydroponic system, which works especially well for herbs or small plants. Malone makes all the planters from old wine bottles, so each one is a little bit different. The planters will work great on any windowsill, and they come with instructions to help you get started growing plants.

Visit October Inspiration to learn more.

Price: $20


Related: 5 Reasons to Have a Plant at Your Desk

Photo: Etsy user TheBlackCatCellar

Have trouble keeping all your paperwork organized? These simple upcycled button paper clips from Kelsey of The Black Cat Cellar can help you keep things in order while also adding a little fun to the process.

Almost all the products in Kelsey’s shop incorporate upcycled buttons in some way, and 20% of the proceeds are donated to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The button paper clips come in a variety of colors, so check out The Black Cat Cellar for more details and photos.

Price: $5


Read: New Tech Allows Clothing to be Disassembled for Recycling

Photo: Etsy user ComfyCreations

For those who spend a lot of time in front of the computer, a wrist rest can help keep you comfortable at your desk. This computer keyboard wrist rest made by Kathleen Lee of ComfyCreations will do just that.

The wrist rests come in a variety of colors and patterns and are filled with organic buckwheat, flaxseed and rice. They can be used for moist heat therapy by putting them in the microwave, and they’re also scented with lavender. The wrist rests will conform to your wrists to help reduce strain and relieve pressure.

Lee is a licensed massage therapist and sells many other therapeutic spa products in her shop. Visit ComfyCreations to see more.

Price: $14.95


Read: Make Your Own Luxe Spa Treatments

Photo: Etsy user etchythings

Need more assistance keeping your office organized? These office organizing clothespins from Mei and Frank of the Etsy shop etchythings can help. Labels to help you categorize and fun patterns make these clothespins a useful addition to any office. Mei and Frank will customize and engrave the clothespins upon request.

Etchythings also sells a variety of rubber stamps whose wood mounts are all sourced from reclaimed wood. To see all of Mei and Frank’s offerings, visit etchythings.

Price: $10


Check Out: Reuse Design Challenge: Organize Your Desk Mess

Photo: Etsy user BeauMiracle

If your desk needs a colorful accent, consider this pen and pencil holder made by Dessy Stoeva, owner of the Etsy shop BeauMiracle. You may not be able to tell by glancing at it, but it’s made of upcycled wood and would easily fit many common office supplies like pens, pencils, markers and scissors.

On her Etsy page, Stoeva writes that she enjoys working with vintage materials, so you’ll find plenty of other upcycled products in her shop. To learn more, visit BeauMiracle.

Price: $31


More Ideas: Make This Upcycled Desktop Drawer Organizer

Photo: Etsy user AshleyAfterDark

Magnets are an easy way to personalize your office, especially when they come in fun colors and are made from upcycled materials. These magnets by Ashley Rodgers of Ashley After Dark are made from old dominos decorated with alcohol ink.

Rodgers’ shop is filled with unique items that incoporate alcohol ink. She sells jewelry, home accents and a new line of office supplies. If your office space could use additional decorations, head over to Ashley After Dark to see if there’s anything that will suit your space.

Price: $5


Looking for more unique recycled and handmade items? Don’t Miss: Recycled and Handmade Etsy Finds


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Etsy Office Supplies to Make Your Workspace More Eco-Friendly

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Cyprus Reaches Banking Deal, Should Be Safe For At Least a Few Hours

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To the surprise of no one, Cyprus reached a deal at the very last second to bail out its banking system. The Financial Times has the basics:

Under the outlines of the deal, depositors with accounts worth less than €100,000 would not be touched. But those above those levels in Laiki Bank, the second largest and most troubled financial institution, would be severely cut, the officials said. The losses on large deposits in Bank of Cyprus, which will survive as a much smaller entity, have yet to be decided, but could be as high as 40 per cent.

….While the deal spares Cyprus of the sweeping levy on all deposits that caused outrage earlier in the week, it could end up being far more painful for large depositors, including Russian account holders, in both banks. Bank of Cyprus is particularly heavily laden with Russian deposits.

Strict capital controls will remain in place to prevent wealthy Russians from withdrawing all the rest of their money the instant that banks reopen, which is pretty much what anyone with any sense would do if they were allowed to. No matter how emphatically the great and good of Europe insist that Cyprus’s problems are now solved for all time, the EU’s recent history suggests taking their assurances with a great big shaker of salt.

And it turns out that this isn’t all. AP reports that even haircuts this colossal will raise only €4.2 billion. The remaining €1.6 billion demanded by the EU will come from “tax increases and privatizations.” The Wall Street Journal reports on the likely result:

“The deposit haircuts will have a calamitous impact on Cypriot output, leading to a decline in gross domestic product of 10% this year and 8% in 2014,” said Gabriel Sterne at Exotix, a hedge-fund advisory. “We think the peak-to-trough decline in annual real GDP will be in the order of 23%, similar to Greece, but we see risks more on the downside than the upside.”

As with the rest of Southern Europe, Cyprus faces crippling job losses, rising business bankruptcies and slumping tax collections, said economists.

That could imperil the country’s ability to meet budget targets, something that in turn could call forth even harsher measures and once again stoke fears about the island’s long-term future inside the euro zone.

As for possible revenge from the Russian government, there’s no word on that yet. Stay tuned.

Mother Jones

Cyprus Reaches Banking Deal, Should Be Safe For At Least a Few Hours

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Assault Weapons Ban Heads to Senate Floor, Where It Will Probably Die

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The Senate Judiciary Committee met again on Thursday morning to discuss Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) bill to ban assault weapons, and advanced the legislation to the full Senate by a 10 to 8 party-line vote. The bill bans magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition and outlaws the further manufacture of 157 specific models of guns, while grandfathering existing assault weapons. It will almost certainly die on the Senate floor, where a GOP filibuster is expected prevent it from even getting a vote.

Here’s Politico with more:

Feinstein got into a tense exchange with GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), who pointedly challenged her on whether the bill complied with the Second Amendment or would be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I am not a sixth grader,” Feinstein bristled. “Congress is in the business of making the law. The Supreme Court interprets the law. If they strike down the law, they strike down the law.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), whose state saw the death of 20 children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in mid-December, said such weapons are “primarily for criminal purposes” and it was “simply appropriate” to ban them.

But Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the second-highest Republican in the Senate, said he “must strongly oppose” the Feinstein proposal and echoed the GOP position — backed by the powerful National Rifle Association — that the measure was overly broad and failed to address the problem of the “seriously mentally deranged” getting guns.

Cornyn, though, did suggest he might support a potential bipartisan compromise on universal background checks if a deal can be reached when the gun bill comes to the Senate floor in coming weeks. Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) are searching for GOP backers for that legislation after talks with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) broke down.

Despite the contention from Sen. Cruz that a renewed assault weapons ban might be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has never struck down such a ban and has stated that the right to own firearms is “not unlimited.” Republicans were also quick to point out that Feinstein’s bill, introduced after the massacre at Newtown in December, would ban semiautomatic rifles used in only a fraction of gun deaths each year in the United States. However, both the assault weapons and magazines that would be banned under Feinstein’s bill have often been used by mass shooters like Adam Lanza. And while many handguns come standard with magazines of more than 10 rounds, one former special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives told Mother Jones recently that it is often access to a high-capacity magazine that “turns a killer into a killing machineâ&#128;&#139;.”

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have snuck a series of six pro-gun measures limiting federal officials’ authority to track and analyze gun crimes into a bipartisan bill intended to prevent a federal government shutdown.

Mother Jones
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Assault Weapons Ban Heads to Senate Floor, Where It Will Probably Die

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