Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Short Takes

Militants attack police academy in Pakistan; many killed.

Vatican to help mediate political situation in Venezuela.

Ex-attorney general of Pennsylvania sentenced to prison.

Pentagon trying to get back recruitment bonuses.

No kidding: Study says guns on campus won’t make them safer.

Game 1 of the World Series is tonight in Cleveland.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Whites Only

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post:

If you are a black man in America, exercising your constitutional right to keep and bear arms can be fatal. You might think the National Rifle Association and its amen chorus would be outraged, but apparently they believe Second Amendment rights are for whites only.

In reaching that conclusion I am accepting, for the sake of argument, the account given by the Charlotte police of how they came to fatally shoot Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday. Scott’s killing prompted two nights of violent protests that led North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) to declare a state of emergency. Last Friday, police in Tulsa shot and killed Terence Crutcher — an unarmed black man — and the two incidents gave tragic new impetus to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Scott’s relatives claim he was unarmed as well. But let’s assume that police are telling the truth and he had a handgun. What reason was there for officers to confront him?

North Carolina, after all, is an open-carry state. A citizen has the right to walk around armed if he or she chooses to do so. The mere fact that someone has a firearm is no reason for police to take action.

This is crazy, in my humble opinion. I believe that we should try to save some of the 30,000-plus lives lost each year to gun violence by enacting sensible firearms restrictions — and that the more people who walk around packing heat like Wild West desperados, the more deaths we will inevitably have to mourn. In its wisdom, however, the state of North Carolina disagrees.

In open-carry states such as Florida or Texas, if a group of white men walked down the street toting semi-automatic rifles and strolled into Wal Mart, they would be seen as Americans exercising their rights.  Change the adjective “white” to “black,” however, and you’d have SWAT in the parking lot and a BREAKING NEWS crawl on CNN as their correspondent did a stand-up a block away under the glare of a searchlight from the police helicopter.

That’s the subtext behind Donald Trump’s call for “stop and frisk;” take away the guns from the non-white people.  You would think the NRA would be against that, too.  But so far they’ve been silent.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday Reading

Planning Ahead — Charlie Pierce on how the GOP will undermine Hillary Clinton, just like they did Barack Obama.

Well, I’ll be needing a Prestone gimlet or five.

Not that anybody will remember this little thing from Tiger Beat On The Potomac in March of 2017, when everybody will be writing about how Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strident rhetoric during the campaign has crippled her ability to govern effectively, or to “reach across the aisle,” or to “create bipartisan solutions.” But I thought it ought to be noted for the record that the Republican commitment to institutional vandalism will not be going anywhere any time soon, and that there are Republicans—and a few Democrats and faux independents—who see an inert executive to be a political opportunity.

That means the bipartisan show of support she has now—thanks to Donald Trump and the “alt-right,” conspiracy-driven campaign Clinton attacked Thursday in Reno—is likely to evaporate as soon as the race is called. If she wins the presidency, Clinton would likely enjoy the shortest honeymoon period of any incoming commander-in-chief in recent history, according to Washington strategists, confronting major roadblocks to enacting her ambitious agenda, as well as Republican attacks that have been muted courtesy of the GOP nominee. “It will be the defining fact of her presidency,” Jonathan Cowan, president of the moderate think tank Third Way, said of Clinton’s problem of entering office with a divided Congress. “It’s unprecedented.”

Good Lord, not these people again. They represent nobody. There is no viable constituency for anything they represent. The Republicans are going to be bad enough, but all HRC is going to need is to be heckled from the Joe Lieberman Memorial Peanut Gallery, especially with Zombie Evan Bayh on the verge of reappearing in the Senate, after his sabbatical during which he helped save representative democracy by being a lobbyist.

And check out the example cited in the piece.

Republicans operatives on the Hill, for instance, are already planning to block Clinton’s agenda by strategically targeting individual Democratic senators who will be up for reelection in 2018. “Take Joe Manchin in West Virginia,” explained one GOP operative of the strategy. “If Hillary puts up an anti-coal pro-EPA judge for the Supreme Court, the smart play is to start pressuring him with an advocacy campaign to vote no.” Voting with Clinton would jeopardize his reelection chances, and voting against her would rob her of a Democratic Senate vote she couldn’t afford to lose without the 60 votes needed to filibuster.

Yes, One GOP Operative, this is just the week to be concerned about the political viability of the Manchin clan.

If HRC wins the election, it is going to be in great part because a Republican Party that ate the monkeybrains 40 years ago has developed within itself a prion disease that has produced a public hallucination instead of a candidate. She should not govern by pretending that the prion disease will disappear because El Caudillo de Mar-A-Lago cratered. If the Republicans decide to freeze the agenda, to the detriment of the country, that has to be framed by the administration as a further example of the political dementia that also produced Donald Trump.

Short-Arm Inspection — Molly Stier in The Nation on the hard-core reaction to Texas’ law allowing open carry on college campuses.

College senior Julia Dixon stuck a dildo in the side pocket of her backpack as she headed to campus, setting out to conquer her final first day of classes as an undergraduate student. A sex toy might be the last thing you’d expect to see in a college lecture hall, but on Wednesday, August 24, Dixon and thousands of University of Texas students were participating in what some are calling the largest anti-gun protest in Texas history.

“As much fun and hilarious protesting with dildos may be, the issue behind it all is nothing to joke about,” Dixon said.

Dixon is referring to Texas’s passage of Senate Bill 11—commonly known as campus carry—which permits concealed handgun license holders to carry guns in all public universities in the state. The legislation went into effect on August 1. It coincided with the 50th anniversary of the University of Texas tower massacre, an event widely regarded as the first mass shooting in the country, where a sniper perched atop the campus’s main building shot 43 people, 13 of whom were killed. To fight the bill, students, faculty, staff, and parents gathered on the UT Austin campus on Wednesday to participate in an event called “Cocks Not Glocks.”

“If you’re uncomfortable with dildos, how do you think I feel about your gun?” student protester Rosie Zander shouted to the crowd gathered on the west side of the UT tower.

The protesters—dildos in hand, on backpacks, strapped to waists, suction-cupped to foreheads—gathered to listen to local progressive leaders, like Austin City Council member Kathie Tovo and Democratic candidate for state representative Gina Hinojosa, as well as members from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Cocks Not Glocks leaders Jessica Jin and Ana López.

Jin, a UT alum working for a tech startup in San Francisco, had her work cut out for her as soon as her plane touched down in Austin this week. She teamed up with allies to promote the event, making videos with dramatic Shakespearean monologues and jazz bands whose sets were decked out in dildos swinging from the ceiling. Days before classes started, she got word that the The Daily Show would be sending a correspondent to cover the event. She had more than 4,000 sex toys sitting in boxes crowding the apartments of her co-organizers, waiting to be distributed before Wednesday.

To deal with the latter, Jin, López, and co-organizer Kailey Moore held a dildo distribution rally the day before classes began. They liquidated their sex toy stock, all donated by companies based everywhere from Austin to Singapore, in 23 minutes.

The popularity of the event can be credited, in part, to how long it was planned in advance. Cocks Not Glocks has been in the works since October, after Jin learned that her home state would become the eighth in the country to allow students to carry guns on campuses.

As a Texan hailing from San Antonio, Jin got the gun thing. She understood that it was fun to go out shooting on a friend’s ranch, and she saw the value in getting a concealed-handgun license, having considered getting one herself. But with guns now making their way into classrooms, she thought enough was enough.

The idea came shortly after the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, where a gunman killed nine and injured nine others before turning the gun on himself. Jin sat in Austin traffic and listened to an uninspiring discussion on gun violence in this country.

“What a bunch of dildos,” she called the commentators—and then something clicked.

After digging into the UT code of conduct, she found that the university defaults to Texas law in prohibiting obscenity, which is defined as making public “a dildo or artificial vagina, designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.”

She took to Facebook to create an event she titled “Cocks Not Glocks”—calling on the UT Austin community to strap sex toys to their backpacks on the first day of classes.

“You’re carrying a gun to class? Yeah well I’m carrying a HUGE DILDO,” Jin wrote on the event page. “Just about as effective at protecting us from sociopathic shooters, but much safer for recreational play.”

Jin, proud of what she thought would be a small joke, shut her laptop, went to bed, and woke up to find that her event had gone viral. She went from being indifferent to gun issues, to being thrown into the arena of gun activism overnight.

In the following months, Jin’s Facebook event garnered 10,000 members. She flipped her once-neutral stance on gun issues, and began attending gun safety–advocacy gatherings, meeting professors, students, and people personally affected by gun violence. She actively confronted her trolls, who argued that guns would protect her from being assaulted or raped. One Second Amendment enthusiast went so far as to publish her address online, instructing people to “let her know how they felt” about her protest.

“Nobody really wants to be an activist in this space because of the amount of hate that you get and the amount of abuse that you have to undergo,” Jin said.

Gun rights zealots threatened the demonstration, but to no avail. Rather than using aggression, one member of the national pro-gun group Students for Concealed Carry carried a sign reading “Coexist,” intended to communicate solidarity with the right to free speech and to also highlight its ability to exist with concealed carry.

“It’s an issue of personal liberty,” said Brian Bensimon, a UT student and the organization’s Texas director. “It’s a matter of rights and when you consider that concealed carry is allowed in museums, grocery stores, and even at our own state capitol, that there’s not really a reason to ban it from colleges.”

Other Texan students echoed this sentiment. C.J. Grisham, a Texas A&M student and army veteran who carries his gun on campus, specifically challenged a growing concern held especially by faculty.

“This idea that it’s going to stifle debate is asinine and absurd,” Grisham said. “It’s just a narrative by anti-gun, liberal professors to undermine our rights.”

Professors are among the most vocal about their opposition to the law, their most common worry being that the presence of guns in classrooms will chill academic discourse. Over the past few months, thousands of professors have signed petitions and begun discussions on Facebook about the new policy, debating how to word their syllabi and the extent of their obligation to observe the law. Three UT Austin professors went so far as to file a lawsuit against the university and the state. Their request for a preliminary injunction, which would have blocked implementation of the law before the first day of class, was denied on August 21, but the case will continue on to trial.

“This is a fight that needs to happen in Texas,” said Mia Carter, UT Austin literature professor and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

In a similar spirit, Jin is instructing students to keep the movement going until the law is repealed.

“Dildos should be on backpacks as long as there are guns in backpacks,” she said.

Almost Got Away — Humor from Andy Borowitz.

VIRGINIA (The Borowitz Report)—Calling it a “scary moment” and a “close call,” Donald Trump’s campaign officials confirmed that they had recaptured Mike Pence after the Indiana governor attempted to flee the campaign bus in the early hours of Friday morning.

According to the campaign, Pence had asked to stop at a McDonald’s in rural Virginia so that he could use the bathroom, but aides grew concerned when the governor failed to reappear after twenty minutes.

After determining that Pence had given them the slip, Trump staffers fanned out across the Virginia backcountry, where the governor was believed to have fled.

News that Pence had vanished touched off a panic in Indiana, where residents feared that he might return to resume his political career.

After forty-five minutes of searching, however, campaign officials located a bedraggled and dazed Pence walking along Virginia State Route 287, where the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee was attempting unsuccessfully to hitch a ride.

A confrontation that Trump aides characterized as “tense” ensued, after which a sobbing Pence returned to the bus.

In the aftermath of Pence’s disappearance, Hope Hicks, Trump’s press secretary, attempted to downplay the severity of the incident. “This is the kind of thing that happens in the course of a long and demanding campaign,” she said. “Having said that, we’re grateful to have Mike Pence back with us, and we won’t let him get away again.”

Reportedly, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie offered to fill in for Pence in the event that he became unable to fulfill his duties. That offer was declined.

Doonesbury — Daydreamin’.

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