Monday, July 18, 2016

What Will It Take?

How many people have to be killed by people with guns in order for us as a nation to do something about it?

We ask this question every time there’s a shooting that interrupts the TV (and we should be asking that question after every shooting, broadcast or not), and all we seem to do is shake our heads, offer “thoughts and prayers,” and move on.  Oh, and in the height of a political campaign, we ask the candidates what they think as if they will enlighten us with something other than “thoughts and prayers.”

The standard response to “What will it take?” has always been, “Well, it’s complicated….”  No, actually, it’s not.  Make it illegal to own a military-style weapon the same way it’s illegal to own a machine gun or a howitzer or a bazooka or a functioning Sherman tank.  Require anyone who owns a firearm to be licensed and carry liability insurance the same way we require people who own cars to be licensed and insured, and make it as hard to get a gun permit as it is for black people to register to vote in Alabama or a woman to get an abortion in Texas.

The easiest ways to curb gun violence is to shame the gun culture into submission.  It’s worked before; look at how public attitudes have changed about cigarette smoking in the last twenty years.  All we have to do is make it as socially unacceptable to carry a gun in public as it is to smoke a cigarette.  Force the gun manufacturers to run ads the same way tobacco companies have to run public service spots on the dangers of smoking.  Make them put huge warning labels on their products, and tax the hell out of them so that a box of bullets costs as much as a printer cartridge for your average Epson.  None of these will infringe upon the Second Amendment any more than laws on pornography, libel, or slander infringe upon the First.

None of these measures will put an immediate end to gun violence any more than Prohibition put an end to alcohol abuse or the civil rights laws ended discrimination.  We have never been able to change our morals by legislation.  What we have to change is whether or not we as a society will accept it as a part of our civilization.  But as long as there are those among us who can defend the rights of people to use a weapon of war to kill children and policemen and threaten the careers of the elected representatives who stand up to them, we will be seeing this happen again and again, and we’ll still be asking the same question.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sunday Reading

This Madness — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

“What sort of people are we, we Americans?…Today, we are the most frightening people on this planet.”

Historian Arthur Schlesinger

As these words are written, I am on a cruise ship pulling into the harbor of the Greek island of Crete. All around me, the morning sparkles. The water is placid, the sky is clear and pale blue, our ship is embraced by gently sloping hills dotted with houses and shops.

And I just turned on the television.

And I just heard about Dallas.

I have made it a point to keep the news at something of a distance these last two weeks of travel, filling my days instead with shell craters on a beach in Normandy, a shopping square in Barcelona, the ghostly remains of Pompeii. So while I know that two African-American men were killed by police under dubious circumstances in Louisiana and Minnesota a couple days ago, I haven’t seen the videos, haven’t checked too deeply into the circumstances.

I’m off the clock now. I wanted to keep the horror at arm’s length.

But distance is an illusion, isn’t it? That’s what I just learned when I made the mistake of turning on the television.

Indeed, sitting here in this picturesque place on this peaceful morning far away, it feels as if I can see the madness of my country even more clearly than usual.

Two more black men shot down for no good reason in a country that still insists — with righteous indignation, yet — upon equating black men with danger.

That’s madness.

Last night, I called my sons and grandson to tell them I love them, explain to them yet again that they terrorize people simply by being and plead with them to be careful. I am required to fear what might happen to my children when they encounter those who are supposed to serve and protect them.

That’s madness.

Twelve police officers shot by sniper fire, five fatally, while guarding a peaceful demonstration against police brutality.

That’s madness.

The usual loud voices of acrimony and confusion are already using this act of despicable evil to delegitimize legitimate protest by conflating it with terrorism, asking us to believe that speaking out against bad cops is the same as shooting cops indiscriminately.

That is madness.

And then, there was this coda: A black man, a “person of interest” turns himself in to police after carrying an AR-15 rifle through the protest in downtown Dallas.

An AR-15.

Through downtown Dallas.

As police are dealing with an active shooter.

Apparently, the guy was not guilty of a crime, but he is certainly guilty of the worst judgment imaginable — and lucky to be alive. But then, in carrying that war weapon on a city street, he was only exercising his legal right under Texas law. The NRA calls that freedom.

But make no mistake: It, too, is madness.

America has gone mad before.

The quote at the top is from one such period, 1968. Hundreds of urban riots had wracked the country, the war in Vietnam was uselessly grinding up lives, recent years had seen the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Now, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had just been murdered within two months of one another

And many people were wondering, as Arthur Schlesinger was, about America and its character, about what kind of country — and people — we were. Said New York Mayor John Lindsay, “This is a drifting, angry America that needs to find its way again.”

His words, like Schlesinger’s, feel freshly relevant to this era, almost 50 years down the line.

There is a sickness afoot in our country, my friends, a putrefaction of the soul, a rottenness in the spirit. Consider our politics. Consider the way we talk about one another — and to one another. Consider those two dead black men. Consider those five massacred cops.

Deny it if you can. I sure can’t. Something is wrong with us. And I don’t mind telling you that I fear for my country.

On the night Martin Luther King died, two months almost to the day before he himself would be shot down in a hotel kitchen, Bobby Kennedy faced a grief stricken, largely African-American crowd in Indianapolis and with extemporaneous eloquence, prescribed a cure for the sickness he saw.

“My favorite poet,” he told them, “was Aeschylus. And he once wrote, ‘And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

Those words feel hopelessly idealistic, impossibly innocent and yet, wise, grace-filled and…right for the raw pain of this moment I commend them to all our wounded spirits on this shining morning from a peaceful place that, as it turns out, is not nearly far enough away.

It’s Back — Brian Beutler on the resurgence of Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, then Republicans lost their minds chasing the Clintons down rabbit holes years ago.

They spent the 1990s turning every gnat fart in the Clinton White House into a six-part inquiry, and at the end of it, Bill left office historically popular. They’ve spent the better part of the 2010s doing the same thing to Hillary, and though she is emphatically not historically popular, Republicans have, in the process, tended to humiliate themselves and abet Donald Trump—the one person politically incorrect enough to call her crooked and accuse her of playing the woman card, at last, at last.

What we witnessed Thursday was part of a pattern that goes back more than 20 years. A Clinton does something—in some cases innocuous, in this case worthy of criticism—and her political nemeses respond completely out of proportion. They’ve invested so heavily in the fantasy that Hillary’s one email or utterance away from complete self-destruction that they can’t bring themselves to accept anything less than the highest return. A sunk cost fallacy of power politics and partisan score-settling.

The pattern has become familiar enough that reporters now anticipate it. When FBI Director James Comey excoriated Clinton for her sloppy email protocol, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Republicans would peer so deeply into the mouth of the gift horse he’d just given them that they’d pop out the other end. On Thursday, they hauled him up to Capitol Hill knowing that any number of right-wing members on the House Oversight Committee might attack his integrity, and sure enough they did. Now the chase continues.

What made this episode unique is that the same media that expected Republicans to overreach played a critical role in increasing their expectations of a political windfall.

Republicans in Congress and their conservative media allies largely brought this upon themselves. They were the ones who made right-wing sop out of baseless speculation that Clinton might be indicted for violating a law nobody’s ever been convicted of violating.

But due to a strange brew of incentives that proved toxic—the competition for eyeballs, the lack of subject matter expertise, the industry standard of reportorial balance—the mainstream media did nothing to puncture this myth. To the contrary, it treated the threat of indictment as a permanent question mark hovering over Clinton’s campaign like a dark cloud. In a different media ecosystem, this wouldn’t have happened. A mix of common sense and truly basic research and reporting would have established a consensus that Republicans were trying to gin up intrigue and damaging innuendo, but that an indictment was extraordinarily unlikely. Instead, the remote odds of one came to be seen as something like a 50-50 proposition, to the point where even professional Democrats began to worry Clinton might be charged with a felony and prosecuted.

By the time Comey handed down his utterly predictable recommendation that prosecuting Clinton would not be reasonable, it had become a foregone conclusion on the right that an indictment was imminent, and could only be sidestepped through corruption.

The ensuing dissonance between what this unimpeachable, Republican FBI director had concluded and what the Republican Party had trained its voters to expect explains why some members of the oversight panel felt compelled to question Comey’s honor. It also made it impossible for Republicans to congratulate themselves on a job well done, thank Comey for laying out the truth about Clinton’s “extreme carelessness,” and use his statement as ammunition in the election.

The only other way to resolve the inconsistency was to suggest that Clinton must have lied criminally along the way—to Congress under oath, or to the FBI in an effort to obstruct justice, or both. Jason Chaffetz, the committee’s chairman, thus promised to refer Clinton to the FBI for another investigation.

This will likely produce another disappointing finding (Clinton may have presented facts in a misleading way, but there’s no reason to believe she perjured herself). It will leave the conspiracy-minded GOP base blindsided once again, and give way to some other tangentially related but probably fruitless inquisition. We will be dealing with the fallout of the email investigation well into Clinton’s first term in the White House, unless Democrats reclaim the House and Senate. But now, instead of investigating Clinton for endangering national security or for some other crime related to her public service, it will transform into a shameless witch hunt. The kind of partisan onslaught that only seems to make the Clintons more powerful. And thus the insanity begets itself.

The Silence and Violence of the N.R.A. — Evan Osnos in The New Yorker.

In the language of today’s National Rifle Association, “an armed society is a polite society.” The aphorism, borrowed from the science-fiction author Robert Heinlein, is the inspiration for one of the N.R.A.’s most popular T-shirts, which bears the word “COEXIST,” spelled out in brightly colored ammo cartridges and guns. To promote the shirt ($17.99), the N.R.A. store says that Heinlein’s quote “emphasizes the independent, tolerant nature of gun owners in a fun and thought-provoking way.”

It is a vision at the heart of the modern gun movement: the more that society makes the threat of violence available to us, the safer we will be. In forty-eight hours this week, the poisonous flaw in that fantasy has been exposed from multiple angles: on Tuesday, two police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fatally shot a black man, Alton Sterling, while trying to arrest him. Some reports say that, before police arrived, he was openly carrying a gun, which, under the makeshift patchwork of American gun law, would have afforded him more legal protection, not less. Louisiana is one of the forty-five states that allow residents to carry firearms openly in public, and though Sterling was a convicted felon (and therefore probably ineligible to obtain a concealed-carry permit) police could not have known his criminal record before investigating him. It was absurd not to ask whether a white man, exercising his right to open carry, would have been approached differently.

The next day, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a police officer fatally shot a black man, Philando Castile, who, according to his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was licensed to carry a concealed firearm. According to Reynolds, who was in the car and broadcast the aftermath on Facebook, Castile had told the officer that he was carrying his gun, but when Castile reached for his license and registration, he was shot. In the hours that followed, as America turned, once again, to the ritual of mourning the killings of black men by police officers, the N.R.A. was silent. Its official Twitter feed, which often draws attention to cases of police questioning gun owners for exercising the right to carry, said nothing, even as the silence became conspicuous. (@CoolJ90: “@NRA care to come to the defense of a man murdered by police who had a license to carry his weapon?”)

For critics of the N.R.A., it was an awkward exposure of what is usually left unsaid: the organization is far less active in asserting the Second Amendment rights of black Americans than of white ones.

On Thursday, the politics of race, guns, and security exploded in a horrific attack on law enforcement. While protesters in Dallas marched in the name of Black Lives Matter, denouncing the latest killings, a sniper ambushed police, killing five and wounding seven others, along with two civilians. In a standoff, a suspect was killed by a police bomb. Dallas police later identified him as twenty-five-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson. In his statements to police, they said, he “wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers.” Three other suspects reportedly were in custody.

In turning guns on police, the Dallas ambush scrambles the usual polarities of gun politics. For more than two decades, the N.R.A. has maintained a facsimile of respect for law enforcement, reflexively announcing its devotion to “warriors” and “heroes”—even as it has pushed to relax laws that police routinely describe as a threat to the safety of their officers and the public. Last year, under lobbying pressure from the N.R.A., the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms abandoned an effort to stop the sale of armor-piercing “cop killer” ammunition that authorities have tried to ban for thirty years.

After each high-profile public massacre in recent years, the N.R.A. and its allies have deployed a reliable strategy: deflect criticism from the basic problem—the unqualified availability of military-grade weapons—by fixating on technical details that serve their political ends. After the massacre in San Bernardino, they emphasized that, despite strong gun laws in California, the killers had legally purchased some of their guns—as if that proved that gun regulation is useless, and so society shouldn’t bother. After the slaughter in Orlando, in an effort to defuse attempts to impose stricter regulations on AR-15s, the military-style rifle used in San Bernardino and many other attacks, gun-rights advocates fixated on the fact that the Orlando killer did not use an AR-15. (He used a similar military-style rifle, produced by Sig Sauer.) It was, in retrospect, an especially shortsighted strategy: by drawing attention to the broader range of weapons that are widely available to civilians and capable of inflicting mass harm, gun-rights advocates inadvertently aided their opponents by making it newly evident that banning AR-15s alone would not solve the problem.

The Dallas ambush will be harder to explain away. There is much still to learn about the guns involved, but early videos appeared to show a man executing a police officer using a military-style rifle, which has proved to be especially deadly for American police. The Violence Policy Center, a gun-safety group, noted that, in 2014, the most recent year for which information is available, “one in five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty were killed with an assault weapon.” The center’s executive director, Josh Sugarmann, said in a statement, “Responsibility for this lethal assault falls directly at the feet of the gun industry, which designs, markets, and sells the military-bred weapons necessary for such attacks. They must finally be held accountable.”

The Dallas ambush has also exposed an uncomfortable fact for the gun-rights movement: for decades, even as it maintains its abstract tributes to law enforcement, it has embraced a strain of insurrectionist rhetoric, overtly anti-government activism that endorses the notion that civilians should have guns for use against American police and military. In a 1995 fund-raising letter, the executive vice-president of the N.R.A., Wayne LaPierre, called federal law-enforcement agents “jack-booted thugs,” and suggested that “in Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.” In Texas, where the police ambush occurred, an open-carry advocate last year urged the killing of state legislators if they do not approve a more relaxed policy. (“They better start giving us our rights or this peaceful non-cooperation stuff is gonna be gamed up . . . We should be demanding [Texas legislators] give us our rights back, or it’s punishable by death. Treason.”) At the annual N.R.A. convention last year, the board member Ted Nugent said, “Our government has turned on us.” Stopping short of calling for violence, he urged members to focus their ire on “the bad and the ugly.” He said, “It’s a target-rich environment. If it was duck season, there’d be so many ducks, you could just close your eyes and shoot ’em.”

The consistent failure of our politics to take reasonable steps to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands makes it difficult to predict with any confidence that even the slaughter of police officers will alter the frozen politics. But it may have a subtler effect, causing gun owners to reconsider whether the N.R.A. truly has the country’s best interests at heart. More than a hundred million Americans live in households with guns, but many remain largely uninvolved in gun politics. The N.R.A. has between three and five million members, which means it represents only a sliver of American gun owners. Moreover, even among its members, many are unconvinced, I and others have found, by the belligerent rhetoric; they own and love guns for a variety of reasons—from sports to hunting to self-defense—and they overwhelmingly support reasonable steps to prevent innocent people, civilians or police, from being killed by gunfire.

On Friday, after hours of silence, the N.R.A. issued a statement from LaPierre, who had authored the “jack-booted thugs” letter. This time, he expressed “the deep anguish all of us feel for the heroic Dallas law enforcement officers who were killed and wounded, as well as to those who so bravely ran toward danger to defend the city and the people of Dallas.”

The N.R.A.’s explicit call for a more armed society reveals the lie behind its homage to “coexistence.” By directing rage against the government, by preventing politicians from heeding the overwhelming demands of their constituents for broader background checks, by endorsing Donald Trump’s plan for mass deportations and bans on Muslim immigration, the N.R.A. has assembled a volatile case against the idea of coexistence—and then disavows the result when it explodes.

Doonesbury — Take your positions.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Short Takes

Supreme Court strikes down restrictive abortion rights.

Supreme Court upholds ban on gun sales to those convicted of domestic violence.

U.K. politics in meltdown after Brexit.

Volkswagen agrees to settle U.S. emissions scandal for $14.7 billion.

Clinton and Warren hit the campaign trail in Ohio.

Monday, June 27, 2016

This Is Normal In America

Jim Wright in Facebook:

This week’s Good Gal with a Gun.

Yesterday raging gun nut Christy Sheats chased her two daughters into the street with a gun. One of the daughters, Taylor, was already wounded and collapsed in the street. Sheats’ husband, Jason, shouted, “Don’t do this, they’re our kids!” Sheats went back inside, reloaded, and returned to the street where she shot the unwounded daughter, Madison, in the back as she tried to flee. When police arrived they found Christy Sheats standing in the street, holding the gun she’d used to murder her children. They ordered her to drop the weapon and surrender. She didn’t. Fearing that she would shoot the children again, they shot her dead. One of the daughters was pronounced dead at the scene, the other died later in the hospital.


Why did this happen?

Because this is what gun nuts do.

This is how people who are obsessed with guns solve their problems. This how gun nuts resolve disputes. For gun nuts, this is the ONLY solution, every time. The gun gives them power and that power warps their thinking. They dream of using the power, being the hero, forcing others to do what they want. The gun makes them mighty. The gun makes them brave. The gun makes them ten feet tall. The gun makes them right. The gun makes them righteous. The gun makes them GOD. You do what I say or I’ll fucking kill ya.

That’s how obsession works.

This is why gun nuts like Christy Sheats are so utterly terrified somebody will come to take away their guns. Because to them guns are power, the One Ring, My Precious, and the thought of losing that power terrifies them.

It’s an obsession. And this is how it always ends, right here.

When people are fed a constant diet of fear, anger, and rage and are enabled by a culture of violence and paranoia and exceptionalism and told over and over that guns are the answer to every situation then THIS is how they solve their problems.

This isn’t an accident, or a moment of insanity, this is NORMAL in America and you can see it reflected in every aspect of our society from those who are afraid to go to the grocery store without a gun to TV shows that solve EVERY problem with a gun to sovereign citizen militias that intend to shoot down the rest of us with their guns to average citizens who believe they have a right to overthrow their government with guns to our police forces who increasingly resolve every confrontation with guns to our nation’s foreign policy which is largely based on guns. It’s all part of a set piece.

This, right here, is who we are.

When the only tool you own is a gun, every problem is a target. Couple that to a constant state of rage and insecurity and easy access to firearms and the end is inevitable.

Guns themselves aren’t the problem.  It’s the unfettered access to them by people who have no business getting them and being held in the thrall of a minority of loud-mouthed fearmongers that is the real problem.  Until we deal with that, this is normal America.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

No Bill No Break

The House Democrats were still holding the floor — literally — at 3:00 a.m. Thursday, sixteen hours into their demand that Congress hold votes on gun control measures.

Revolt in the House of Representatives turned raucous early Thursday, with protesting Democrats shouting down Speaker Paul Ryan’s attempts to restore order after their nearly 15-hour gun-control protest.

Democrats took over the floor of the House at 11:25 a.m. Wednesday, demanding Republican leadership schedule votes on bills about universal background checks and blocking gun sales to those on no-fly lists.

The sit-in stretched through the night and was broadcast around the world largely thanks to Democrats’ cellphones streaming live feeds to Facebook and the Periscope app.

Democrats nearly drowned out Ryan’s words with chants when the House Speaker reconvened the House for a vote on a matter unrelated to the gun issue at around 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Some Democrats held placards with the faces of the victims of the Orlando nightclub attack — the deadliest shooting in U.S. history — in view of the cameras. The clerk could barely be heard.

Speaker Paul Ryan is calling this a “publicity stunt.”  Yeah, and it’s working.

The cable networks were airing live coverage and I just heard a Republican say that the Democrats are interfering with the “important business of Congress,” such as re-naming post offices.

Apparently the Republicans don’t have enough to do, either, because Speaker Ryan adjourned the House until July 5.  So not only are they not doing anything about guns, they’re leaving funding for Zika virus control and the Puerto Rico debt crisis.  Good going, guys.

Short Takes

House Democrats sit-in for a vote on gun control.

North Korea fires off two ballistic missiles.

Bernie Sanders: “It doesn’t appear I’ll be the nominee.”

Colombia and rebels agree to a cease-fire in 50-year conflict.

Michigan A.G. sues two companies over Flint water crisis.

The Tigers beat the Mariners 5-1.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Brave Soldiers

All hail the brave soldiers of the United States Senate who bravely withstood the will of 92% of the people and voted down not one but four attempts to keep assault rifles out of the hands of murderers.

A divided Senate blocked rival election-year plans to curb guns Monday, eight days after the horror of Orlando’s mass shooting intensified pressure on lawmakers to act but knotted them in gridlock anyway — even over restricting firearms for terrorists.

In largely party-line votes, senators rejected one proposal from each side to keep extremists from acquiring guns and a second shoring up the government’s system of required background checks for many firearms purchases.

With the chamber’s visitors’ galleries unusually crowded for a Monday evening — including relatives of victims of past mass shootings and people wearing orange T-shirts saying #ENOUGH gun violence — each measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to progress. Democrats called the GOP proposals unacceptably weak while Republicans said the Democratic plans were too restrictive.

The stalemate underscored the pressure on each party to stand firm on the emotional gun issue going into November’s presidential and congressional elections. It also highlighted the potency of the National Rifle Association, which urged its huge and fiercely loyal membership to lobby senators to oppose the Democratic bills.

“Republicans say, ‘Hey look, we tried,'” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “And all the time, their cheerleaders, the bosses at the NRA, are cheering them.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Orlando shootings — in which the FBI says the American-born gunman swore allegiance to a Islamic State group leader — show the best way to prevent extremists’ attacks here is to defeat them overseas.

“No one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns,” McConnell said. He suggested that Democrats used the day’s votes “to push a partisan agenda or craft the next 30-second campaign ad.”

Well, Mitch, it’s about damn time we made it a partisan issue because the NRA has been doing that for the last forty years, and it won’t be just one 30-second campaign ad; this is going to be plastered all over: THE REPUBLICANS WANT TERRORISTS TO BUY GUNS THE WAY YOU BUY CHEWING GUM with your reptilian smirk underneath it all.

General LaPierre and his ranks are very proud of you, though.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Friday, June 10, 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Open and Shut

Why does the Secret Service hate the Second Amendment?

A petition by the “Americans for Responsible Open Carry” started last week to allow open carry of firearms at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, garnered close to 45,000 signatures. These folks wanted to allow every single attendee at the convention to arm themselves. Yup. Great idea. Their reasoning?

“Without the right to protect themselves, those at the Quicken Loans Arena will be sitting ducks, utterly helpless against evil-doers, criminals or others who wish to threaten the American way of life.”

The Secret Service shot down all hope of this passing by explaining that, sorry, only law enforcement are able to carry weapons. The rest of you gun nuts will have to leave your weapons at home.

Secret Service spokesman Robert K. Hoback said:

“Title 18 United States Code Sections 3056 and 1752 provides the Secret Service authority to preclude firearms from entering sites visited by our protectees, including those located in open-carry states. Only authorized law enforcement personnel working in conjunction with the Secret Service for a particular event may carry a firearm inside of the protected site.”

I have to imagine the cooler heads at the RNC are breathing a sigh of relief, that they don’t have to take responsibility for this one. Yes, the Secret Service has the last word on security debates regarding events where they are present. Sorry ammosexual Republicans, no guns for you at the Cleveland convention.

And we’ve now learned that this whole petition thing was probably a prank pulled off by someone punking the gun nuts with the petition in the first place.  “Hey, let’s see just how whacko these guys who spend all day oiling and stroking their guns are? [gigglesnort]”

Short Takes

Capitol Hill shooting — One police officer slightly wounded, gunman in custody.

Prosecutors in Belgium released the one suspect in custody in the bombing last week for lack of evidence.

California goes for the $15 an hour minimum wage.

Idaho allows those 21 and older carry a concealed gun without a permit within city limits.

Now we have “induced earthquakes.”  I wonder what the frack is causing them.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Open Shut

Wow, the Florida Legislature does something sensible. Via Miami New Times:

Usually when the NRA and other gun groups say jump, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature says, “How high and how many guns should we carry when we do it?” But a few gun fantasies are just a bridge too far for even some Floridians.

Yesterday, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, announced that bills to allow “open carry” and another that would allow guns in Florida airports are dead.


Open-carry laws allow gun owners to basically walk around with guns on themselves and totally visible to the public. In some states, that right has led to bizarre sights, such as people toting around large, high-powered machine guns inside Target and Starbucks locations.

Florida’s proposed law would have allowed those who already have a concealed-carry license to openly carry their guns. Since Florida’s concealed-carry license laws apply to only handguns, open carry would still not have applied to larger guns.

“Open carry is not going to happen; it’s done,” Diaz de la Portilla told reporters yesterday, according to the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau.

Diaz de la Portilla also killed a bill that would have allowed guns in airport terminals. Earlier this session, he dealt the same fate to a bill that would have allowed people to take their concealed weapons onto college campuses.

That’s it for this year, but I’m sure the NRA will keep trying.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

No Matter What, They’re Against It

Scott Lemieux in The Guardian on the Republicans’ knee-jerk response to President Obama’s modest gun-control actions:

Obama’s proposals are, in terms of gun control policy and executive branch authority, ultimately of minor importance. They’re more important for what they reveal about the Republican party in 2016 than for their substantive content.

First, the ludicrously overwrought Republican reaction to Obama’s statement shows that the party continues to refuse the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency: in that environment, utterly ordinary and plainly legal presidential actions can and will be cited as examples of a tyranny. Maybe next Republicans will start arguing that Obama is violating the US constitution and the will of the people by delivering the State of the Union address rather than letting Paul Ryan do it.

And second, it illustrates that gun control is an issue – like upper-class tax cuts and countless others – where Republican policy can be boiled down to a radical one-note ideological slogan. The effectiveness of a given policy, cost/benefit analysis and so on are all beside the point: if a proposal places any restriction on the sale or possession of guns, Republicans can know in advance that the policies are not merely bad policy but illegal. They can confidently make these assertions without even knowing what the proposed policies are.

But in 1991, former president Ronald Reagan wrote an op-ed endorsing federal gun control legislation; in 2016, Obama’s proposed to do less on gun control than even Reagan wanted is seen by Reagan-worshipping Republicans as unconscionable tyranny. The Republican race to get far to Reagan’s right makes the prospect of the GOP obtaining unified control of the government a frightening one indeed.

This is all part of a pattern that has been in place for roughly seven years: no matter what Barack Obama proposes, the Republicans oppose it.  He could have come out at the presser yesterday and said “The hell with it: from now on the federal government will give away a Glock 9 with every tax refund,” the N.R.A. and the House Republicans would have complained that he was usurping the free market by having the government get into the gun business: “Think of the small-town gun shop owners….”

The irony is that if the Republicans had actually tried to work out a sensible resolution to not just the president but to the plague of gun violence without their Pavlovian response that is based on nothing but vitriol and poorly-disguised prejudice and racism, Mr. Obama would not have had to implement these half-way measures to stanch the bloodletting.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Enforcing The Laws

Via the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Obama will announce executive actions on Tuesday intended to expand background checks for some firearm purchases and step up federal enforcement of the nation’s gun laws, White House officials said Monday, once again trying to sidestep a gridlocked Congress on a politically divisive issue.

But faced with clear legal limitations on his authority, Mr. Obama will take modest steps that stop well short of the kind of large-scale changes to the gun trade that he unsuccessfully sought from Congress three years ago. That legislation would have closed loopholes that allow millions of guns to be sold without background checks at gun shows or in online firearm exchanges.

Instead, Mr. Obama will clarify that existing laws require anyone making a living by selling guns to register as a licensed gun dealer and conduct background checks. White House officials said the president would note that criminal penalties already exist for violating those laws.

For years the gun lobby and ammosexuals have said that we don’t need any more laws restricting access to guns; we just need to enforce the laws that are already on the books.  Well, it sounds as if President Obama agrees with them; he’s going to enforce the laws we already have.  So what’s all the fuss about?

In a perverse way, President Obama is the gun lobby’s best friend.  Every time there’s a mass shooting and the president makes a statement about doing something about them, sales of guns go through the roof, either out of fear of being shot while waiting on line at the movies or the paranoia that somehow the guv’mint is gonna swoop down and take away all the guns.  (Given the efficiency and bureaucracy of the guv’mint, I have a hard time imagining that they can swoop down on a discarded candy wrapper, much less all 300 million guns in the country.  But that’s RW nutsery for you.)

Even the N.R.A. thinks this plan is pretty thin gruel.

“This is it, really?” asked Jennifer Baker, an official with the N.R.A.’s Washington lobbying arm. “This is what they’ve been hyping for how long now? This is the proposal they’ve spent seven years putting together? They’re not really doing anything.”

But that’s not going to stop them from raising tons of money to prevent the jackbooted Obama-bots from taking away that piece you’ve been stroking and oiling.

Short Takes

Iran faces more sanctions after Saudi embassy attack.

Volkswagen faces civil suit brought by U.S.

Federal forces tread lightly with Oregon VanillaISIS.

Today is the day President Obama will announce executive action to control gun violence.

GM is investing a lot of money in Lyft, the ride-sharing service.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Short Takes

Saudi Arabia cuts ties with Iran after attack.

Armed group vows to continue occupation of federal wildlife refuge center.

President Obama plans executive action on gun violence.

6.7 magnitude quake hits near India-Burma border.

Winter will finally arrive in the East as the Midwest cleans up.

Top aides to Ben Carson quit his campaign.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mock “Mass Shooting” Gets Mocked By Farts

Via ThinkProgress:

A “mock mass shooting” held adjacent to the campus of University of Texas at Austin was drowned out by a much larger group of counter-protesters armed with fart guns.

The mock shooting was organized by a group that advocates for the open carry of guns on campus under the banner of the website The group bragged that the event, which was sparsely attended, “went perfect.”

After the event, the small group held a march with “several members openly carrying real assault-style rifles.”

But the mock shooting was largely eclipsed by a large group of counter-protesters making farting sounds. The “mass farting” was organized by UT alumnus Andrew Dobbs who billed the dueling events as “a choice between fear and a little bit of good humor.”

While just a handful of people attended the mock shooting, Dobbs counter-protest attracted about a hundred people shouting slogans like “We fart in your general direction.”

Thank you, Mel Brooks:

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Reading

Can We Do It? — Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic looks at the promises and the challenges in the Paris climate change agreement.

With the swing of a gavel on Saturday, the world’s nations adopted the first international agreement to limit the causes of anthropogenic climate change. For the first time in history, more than 150 countries have promised to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere and to increase these reductions over time.

If ratified, the agreement will include a greater swath of countries than any previous pact, encompassing not only the rich, northern nations that put most of the carbon into the atmosphere, but also the rapidly developing southern states whose emissions could soon dwarf the rest of the world’s.

The document also nods to a more ambitious ultimate goal than any previous agreement. While reinforcing the long-stated international aim of keeping the rise in average global temperatures below two degrees Celsius, it encourages a new push to cap warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“If adopted, countries have united around a historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate crisis,” said Jennifer Morgan, who directs the climate program at the World Resources Institute, after the final text was announced.

In order to get to this point, national negotiating teams had to resolve many intricate and complicated issues central to international climate diplomacy. But if you have only been following the talks somewhat, you may be more interested in a de facto question posed by Venezuela’s lead climate negotiator, Claudia Salerno. Two hours into the most acrimonious public meeting that occurred during the talks, a nearly four-hour plenary on Wednesday, she described her hope for after the talks.

“I want to go back home, and look my daughters in the face, and say, ‘It’s all going to be fine,’” she told the other negotiators. “‘You’re going to be fine.’”

Venezuela, a petroleum producer, does not have a spotless climate record, and Salerno has pulled stunts at the climate talks before. But in her way, she was stating the prime question behind our roiling crisis. It was the only question that people asked me when I said I had been covering the Paris talks all week:

Are we going to be okay?

The answer is more complicated than yes or no.


Over the past half decade, more money has been committed to renewable energy than ever before, and the prices of solar and wind energy have fallen precipitously. But in order to halt climate change, many more billions will need to be expended. Research and development budgets, at both governments and companies, must quadruple or sextuple in size. And meanwhile investors must divest themselves of investment in fossil fuels.

The Paris agreement is meant to spur that great re-investment, by signaling the imminent end of the fossil-fuel business and the fantastic opportunity in renewable energy. It hopes to address the boardrooms of the world and say: Keep it up.

Which is good, because in no way are the emissions reductions that countries have made right now adequate. The carbon dioxide cuts specified at Paris will not keep the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming; they will not even keep it to two. If these cuts were made and no more, the world would warm about 2.7 degrees by 2100. That’s better than the track we’ve been on for a long time, but it is still a catastrophic event.

Everyone knows this. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s lead climate change negotiator and the impresario of Paris, told The New Yorker earlier this year that, “If anyone comes to Paris and has a eureka moment—‘Oh, my God, the [national cutbacks] do not take us to two degrees!’—I will chop the head off whoever publishes that. Because I’ve been saying this for a year and a half.”

The hope of the Paris talks is that it will not matter, that future technological advancements and reduction commitments will get us below the line. And part of the success of the talks is that there will likely be future cutbacks. Because, in a larger sense, the Paris talks have sounded a new era in how the world—as a global system of nation-states—manages climate change.

Time To Worry About Trump — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

For months now, there has been a disjuncture at the heart of the Republican Presidential race. The opinion polls have had Donald Trump leading handily, but the pundits and prediction (or betting) markets have been saying that it is unlikely he will win the nomination. Even today, this is true.

A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows Trump pulling further ahead of his rivals, with the support of thirty-five per cent of likely voters in the G.O.P. primaries. The survey placed Trump’s nearest challenger, Ted Cruz, almost twenty percentage points behind him. Other recent polls have produced similar results. The Real Clear Politics poll average shows Trump at 30.4 per cent, Cruz at 15.6 per cent, and Ben Carson at 13.6 per cent.

But if you go to online betting sites, where people can wager real money on this stuff, you will get a very different impression of the race. Marco Rubio, who got just nine per cent in the CBS News/Times poll, is still regarded as the strong favorite to land the nomination. At some bookies, the odds of Rubio winning are just 5/4, meaning you have to wager forty dollars to win fifty. Trump is the second-favorite, but gamblers can still obtain odds of 3/1 (or even 4/1) on him being the candidate. Predictwise, an online site that combines information from the betting markets and the polls, reckons the likelihood of Trump winning is just twenty per cent, whereas the probability of Rubio winning is forty-one per cent.

How can these numbers be explained? A bit of history is instructive. At this stage in 2003, Howard Dean was leading John Kerry in the polls by eight percentage points. In mid-December, 2007, Hillary Clinton was leading Barack Obama by eighteen points, and on the Republican side Rudy Giuliani had a five-point lead. On December 11, 2011, the Real Clear Politics poll average showed Newt Gingrich with a twelve-point lead over Mitt Romney: 32.8 per cent to 20.8 per cent. None of these leaders went onto win a nomination, which suggests the national polls shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Moreover, the arguments for Rubio can sound compelling. He’s young and fresh-faced, a good communicator, and the other contenders in the moderate-conservative lane—Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich—are all struggling. If they eventually drop out, much of their support could go to Rubio. Arguably, the senator from Florida also has the background, and political skills, to pick up some ultra-conservative voters: when he was elected to the Senate, in 2010, he was widely perceived as a Tea Party candidate. Right now, nobody else in the Republican field looks capable of putting together such a coalition.

Except for Trump, that is.

Even though early polls often turn out to be unreliable, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s been leading in them for five months now. If this is a blip, it is a very extended one. And during the past few weeks, two things have happened which also suggest it is time to reassess Trump’s prospects. First, more evidence has emerged that he isn’t just picking up the support of furious white men in pickup trucks who see the country slipping away from them: his support is a good deal broader than that. And second, the murderous attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have changed the dynamics of the Republican race, bringing the threat of terrorism to the fore. So far, Trump appears to be the principal beneficiary.

Take New Hampshire, where polls show Trump well ahead. A new CNN/WMUR survey of people likely to vote in the G.O.P. primary, which takes place on February 9th, shows him garnering support from virtually all corners of the Republican Party. To be sure, he gets his highest favorability ratings from men, self-identified conservatives, and people who didn’t attend college. But among self-identified moderates, forty-seven per cent have a favorable opinion of Trump, compared to forty-three per cent who view him unfavorably. Among women, forty-nine per cent think positively of Trump, and forty-three per cent have a negative opinion. Among college graduates, fifty-eight per cent express a favorable opinion of him, and thirty five per cent a negative opinion.

So much for the angry-white-guy thesis. At the national level, a recent Quinnipiac University survey of Republicans and Republican leaners produced similar findings. Trump was ahead among voters who described themselves as Tea Party members or extremely conservative, but also among those who described themselves as moderate or liberal. When the pollsters asked Republicans if there were any candidates for whom they definitely wouldn’t vote, Trump was the most popular choice. Twenty-six per cent of respondents ruled out backing him. That confirms he’s a polarizing figure, but it also implies that he hasn’t necessarily reached his ceiling.

And now there is the fear of terrorism to consider. Since the November 13th attacks in Paris, Trump’s poll numbers have risen steadily. While many commentators are outraged by his calls for religious profiling, registries of Muslims, and, most recently, an outright ban on Muslims entering the United States, Trump’s strident language clearly resonates with many Republicans, and even some non-Republicans. In the CBS News/Times poll, seventy-nine per cent of Americans said they believe another terrorist attack is very likely or somewhat likely in the next few months, the highest figure since 9/11. And eighty-nine per cent of the people polled said they are concerned about the threat of homegrown terrorists inspired by foreign extremists.

In terms of inspiring confidence on this issue, Trump ranks highest among the Republican candidates. Seventy-one per cent of Republican primary voters are very confident or somewhat confident in his ability to handle the threat of terrorism, the CBS News/Times poll found. Other surveys have produced similar findings. Asked which candidate could best handle ISIS, forty-six per cent of registered Republicans sampled in a recent national poll from CNN picked Trump. Ted Cruz came in second, but he was trailing Trump by thirty-one percentage points on this key issue.

As of yet, it is too early to say exactly how the furor over Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims will play out. The CBS News/Times poll was carried out largely before he issued his statement on Monday. What scattered evidence there is, such as a Fox News poll from South Carolina and another new poll from New Hampshire, both of which did some sampling on Tuesday, suggest Trump is maintaining—and perhaps even extending—his lead among Republicans. “The question that people have been asking this week is whether the comments that Donald Trump made earlier this week would hurt him,” said Steve Koczela, the pollster who carried out the latest poll in the Granite State for the public-radio station WBUR. “And what this poll shows is that in New Hampshire that certainly was not the case.”

Appearing on Fox on Thursday, Frank Luntz, the G.O.P. pollster who a few days ago conducted a focus group with Trump supporters that received quite a bit of attention, said it is “time for the Republican establishment to accept the fact that Trump is not only a viable candidate, but this lead is real.” Notwithstanding the fate of previous primary front-runners, the same point could be applied to pundits and everybody else. Right now the question isn’t whether Trump could win the Republican nomination; it’s: What is it going to take to stop him?

Armed and Quite Possibly Dangerous — How easy is it to get a concealed carry permit?  Tim Murphy of Mother Jones finds out.

According to the state of Utah, I earned the right to carry a concealed handgun on a Saturday morning in a suburban shopping center outside Baltimore. Toward the back, next to a pawnshop and White Trash Matt’s tattoo parlor, is the global headquarters of Dukes Defense World, a mom-and-pop firearms instruction shop certified by the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification to teach nonresidents firearm safety as a prerequisite for obtaining a concealed-carry permit.

My achievement doesn’t make sense for a number of reasons. One, I don’t live in Utah. I’m a resident of Washington, DC, a city that holds concealed handguns in roughly the same esteem as working escalators. I’ve never shot a gun. And in distinctly un-Utahn fashion, I’m nursing a hangover. Fortunately, none of that matters here. After four hours at Dukes Defense, I have a completed application and a snazzy graduation certificate for my wall. Sixty days after my application is processed, I’ll be able to carry a concealed weapon in no fewer than 32 states. It’s great for road trips.

Over the last two decades, Utah’s concealed-carry permit has emerged as a de facto national ID for handgun owners. It typifies a new era of arming Americans in public: 40 states now recognize some or all out-of-state permits, and 8 have made it legal in all or some circumstances to carry a concealed handgun without any permit at all. In April, the Senate came just three votes short of passing a measure that would have mandated reciprocity for concealed-carry permits—including the ones Utah so freely hands out—nationwide.

As part of a National Rifle Association-backed movement to roll back concealed-carry restrictions, in the mid-1990s Utah became a “shall issue” state. That means it grants concealed-carry permits unless it has a compelling reason (such as a felony record) not to do so. Licensees don’t need to demonstrate proficiency with a handgun, and they don’t even need to set foot in the Beehive State. They just have to take a class on firearm safety and pay a processing fee (approximately $50) and some of the cheapest renewal fees in the business (as little as 75 cents every five years).

The result has been a boom in out-of-state residents seeking permits and the birth of a cottage industry catering to them. As of June, nonresidents held more than 60 percent of Utah’s 473,476 valid concealed-carry permits. Maryland alone has 33 Utah-certified instructors. One, Mid-Atlantic Firearms Training, boasts “No Firearm Qualification Needed”; another, Semper Fidelis Consulting, touts its NRA ties and its convenience. (It makes house calls.)

My instructor is Kevin Dukes, a 20-year Army veteran who runs Dukes Defense World with his wife, Jenny. He’s ready for battle in cargo pants, a black polo, hiking boots, and black-rimmed hipster glasses that match his gray goatee. A handgun is on his hip. A black-and-white portrait of shotgun-pumping Hatfields—icons of responsible gun ownership if ever there were—sits in the corner. Across the room is a table with a paper invitation that will be his first topic of discussion: “Join the NRA.”

The pitch is straightforward. It costs just $35 to sign on with America’s top gun lobbying group, and membership comes with $2,500 of insurance in case anything happens to your piece. Dukes concedes that not everyone is a fan of the NRA’s politics, but in his view the group puts together smart training programs and its aim is true—”320 million people a year are being saved by guns, because they’re not being killed,” he tells us.


Utah lawmakers’ latest idea is to eliminate the requirement for a permit within the state’s borders entirely—what’s known as “constitutional carry.” In March, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed such a bill, but gun lobbyists are planning to make another push. Constitutional-carry-type laws already exist in eight states, including Arizona, where former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ assailant was exercising his legal right to carry a Glock 19 and high-capacity magazines. When I asked Carrick Cook, a spokesman for the Arizona Depart­ment of Public Safety, what it takes to carry a concealed handgun in Arizona, his response was brief: “Pretty much nothing.” (Residents in constitutional-carry jurisdictions may need to get a permit if they want to cross state lines with a weapon, but that’s usually a formality.)

As Dukes walks us through a long list of precautions, it’s clear that he’s passionate about safety. It’s equally clear that I don’t know the first thing about how to responsibly handle a firearm, let alone carry one in public. Jenny invites us to come up front to practice loading a handgun with fake rounds. When my turn comes, I struggle to load more than a few before they’re ejected halfway across the room. But that’s not going to stop Utah from giving me a permit.

A few weeks after my graduation, I call up Dukes. My application is still being processed, but a question has been nagging at me: What did a seasoned instructor think about the fact that pretty much anyone could walk in and get a Utah permit without demonstrating a lick of proficiency with a gun? While he seems disappointed that I signed up for the class with no actual desire to protect myself, he hardly hesitates: “The Constitution doesn’t say you need it.”

Doonesbury — Anybody can do it.