Thursday, February 28, 2013

Assault Weapons

Yesterday was an emotional day at the Senate hearing on assault weapons.

Via TPM:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sparred with Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn over prosecuting people who fail firearms background checks, a common line of attack from the gun rights side of things. The back-and-forth grew heated, requiring Feinstein to gavel in asking for order.

But it was from the gun control side where the strongest emotions came. Among the Democratic witnesses was Neil Heslin, a father of a boy killed in the Newtown shooting. He spoke about his recent testimony at a Connecticut hearing where gun rights advocates in the audience shouted out to him after he posed a question during his testimony, leading the chair to accuse them of heckling. Once again, Heslin asked why guns like the AR-15 that was used to kill his son should be in civilian hands.

“What purpose those serve in civilians’ hands or on the street?” he asked.

Chances that the assault weapons ban will actually pass the Senate are slim, and when you get the to the House, virtually nil.  The NRA have bought and paid for enough members of Congress to ensure that nothing will get through without their blessing.  And they’ll have no problem attacking Mr. Heslin or any other survivor of gun violence as an enemy of freedom, America, and Smith & Wesson’s bottom line.

They’re Still Out There

Like that sitcom “Rules of Engagement” and acid reflux, birtherism is back for another little run.

Michigan state Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican who represents the state’s 38th District, went on a Lansing, Mich. radio program on Tuesday and was asked right of the bat whether he believes President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. His response?

“Don’t know,” Casperson said.

Ah, yes. Another politician embarks on a journey into the birther swamp.

“I don’t know because it seems like that issue was dropped immediately as far as the major media went,” Casperson told host Michael Patrick Shiels. “My gut tells me if it had been a different president, like say George W. Bush, they’d have been digging into that like there was no tomorrow, trying to get to the bottom of, which they never really did try to get to the bottom of. So it became a conspiracy theory and no big deal.”

Okay, the bottom of this is that anyone who still thinks the president wasn’t born in Hawai’i and questions his legitimacy to office after two elections is a racist loser.  Check, please.

HT to FC.

Scalia Said What?

Heard during the oral arguments on the Voting Rights Act at the Supreme Court:

Justice Antonin Scalia said the law, once a civil rights landmark, now amounted to a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

That remark created the sharpest exchange of the morning, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the other end. “Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement?” she later asked a lawyer challenging the law, with an edge in her voice that left little doubt she was responding to Justice Scalia’s statement. “Do you think that racial discrimination in voting has ended, that there is none anywhere?”

Perhaps it’s time for Mr. Scalia to take a hint from Benedict XVI and find a nice quiet monastery to retire to.

Scott Lemieux at LGM sums it up:

So if I understand Scalia’s jurisprudence correctly, the 14th Amendment (which says nothing about race) applies only to racial discrimination (that affects white people) (unless a Republican has a presidential election to win), while the 15th Amendment (which explicitly forbids racial discrimination in voting and empowers Congress to enforce the provision) should not be construed as allowing Congress to prevent racial discrimination in voting, because this would be a “racial entitlement.”  Fascinating.

PS: Rachel Maddow has some background on the VRA for you youngsters.

Short Takes

Oxfam says Syria’s humanitarian crisis is out of control.

The Voting Rights Act has a tough go at the Supreme Court.

Jack Lew is confirmed as the Treasury Secretary.

Obama and Congressional leaders will meet tomorrow on the sequester.

Gun rights hearing in the Senate got emotional.

Big day at the Vatican.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Big Whoop?

A lot of people on both sides of the marriage equality debate seemed impressed that some 75 Republicans, including prominent members of the Bush administration and two members of Congress, signed a brief to the Supreme Court in support of marriage equality.

The document will be submitted this week to the Supreme Court in support of a suit seeking to strike down Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative barring same-sex marriage, and all similar bans. The court will hear back-to-back arguments next month in that case and another pivotal gay rights case that challenges the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.


Among them are Meg Whitman, who supported Proposition 8 when she ran for California governor; Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Richard Hanna of New York; Stephen J. Hadley, a Bush national security adviser; Carlos Gutierrez, a commerce secretary to Mr. Bush; James B. Comey, a top Bush Justice Department official; David A. Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s first budget director; and Deborah Pryce, a former member of the House Republican leadership from Ohio who is retired from Congress.

Ms. Pryce said Monday: “Like a lot of the country, my views have evolved on this from the first day I set foot in Congress. I think it’s just the right thing, and I think it’s on solid legal footing, too.”

Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor, who favored civil unions but opposed same-sex marriage during his 2012 presidential bid, also signed. Last week, Mr. Huntsman announced his new position in an article titled “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause,” a sign that the 2016 Republican presidential candidates could be divided on the issue for the first time.

“The ground on this is obviously changing, but it is changing more rapidly than people think,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist and former House leadership aide who did not sign the brief. “I think that Republicans in the future are going to be a little bit more careful about focusing on these issues that tend to divide the party.”

At the risk of sounding churlish and ungrateful — I’m glad they’ve come out in support; it beats the alternative — don’t expect me to stand up on my chair and raise a big ruckus like some people.  With the exception of the two members of Congress — and Ms. Ros-Lehtinen has been on the record in support of the cause for years — very few of these people have a lot of influence in the current government.  They also represent what used to be the mainstream of the moderate GOP which, in today’s climate, represents a fringe view.  They are safe to take this stand now that they know it won’t mean much to the people who are the ones who are trying to keep DOMA and Prop 8 in place.

It also strikes me as a tad cynical that they’re now on board once they’ve seen where the country is now coming from in term of voting in favor of marriage equality in the various states where it’s been on the ballot.  Where were these 75 when Maine and Maryland were voting last fall?  Would it have hurt them to come out in September rather than five months later?  Yes, the ballot measures passed, but that’s not entirely the point: being in favor of something before the decision is leadership.  After, it’s just lip service.

If they truly want to be influential and get something done, these 75 could work to get 75 other Republicans — the ones with the actual power to change things — to vote in Congress to repeal DOMA.  As it is, they are now one more amicus brief in the long line of briefs both in support and against the law.  I would like to think — as they do — that their view would enter into the decision making process of the Court, but in the end, it would be a lot easier just to make the case moot by getting rid of the law in the first place.

More Smaller Government

Indiana backs away from going inside a woman twice.

INDIANAPOLIS — A proposed requirement that doctors must try to perform a second ultrasound exam on women after they received abortion-inducing drugs was dropped Monday by the Indiana Senate.


Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, sponsored the move to drop the second ultrasound and replace it with a requirement that doctors perform “appropriate testing.” Alting said that would give doctors the option of performing blood or urine tests on their patients.

“I think that physicians know a little bit more about that particular area than legislators,” Alting said.

I think that Snowball, my stuffed toy cat, knows a little bit more about that particular area than legislators.

I hardly think I’m the first person to point out that a lot of people who are adamantly opposed to government-run healthcare are very much in favor of government-run healthcare when it comes to the ladybits.

HT to JM Ashby.

Vatican Fashion

Here’s what the newest pope emeritus will be wearing this spring:

Gone will be the red “Prada” loafers, replaced by brown shoes made in Leon, Mexico.

A pair was given to the Pope on a recent trip there. After Thursday, the Pope’s “fisherman’s ring” will also be destroyed.

You know how hard it is to coordinate your accessories.

Waiting Room

If you’ve been following the latest adventure in Beltway brinksmanship, you know that we are down to the wire with the sequestration.  So far all we’ve heard is a lot of trash talk and tantrums from the Republicans because President Obama won’t give into their demands that he does everything they tell him too.  After all, who won the election last November.

Brian Buetler at TPM explains why the Democrats are content to let the GOP drive over the cliff.

The most important factor in this fight is probably the reality that Obama doesn’t have to face voters again and thus is willing to veto sequestration replacement bills if they’re composed of spending cuts alone. Congressional Democrats are fully aware of this, too, and that creates a powerful incentive for them to hold the line.

So sequestration will begin. Obama won’t cave. And then the tension sequestration was intended to create — and in fact has created — between defense hawks and the rest of the GOP will intensify and actually splinter the party. If that doesn’t happen quickly enough, then the sequestration fight will become tangled up in the need to renew funding for the federal government at the end of March. If Republicans don’t cave before then, they’ll precipitate a 1995-style government shutdown, public opinion will actually begin to control the outcome, and it’ll be game over.

The Republicans are at a disadvantage and they know it.  Everything they do smacks of desperation, and it gives the President the chance to look reasonable and magnanimous.

Game over, indeed.

Short Takes

Syrian rebels may get U.S. aid and training.

Chuck Hagel is the new Secretary of Defense.

Sequester Smackdown — It’s Boehner vs. Obama.

Christie Caves — Another vocal opponent of Obamacare will take the money for Medicaid.

The Supreme Court backed the government’s surveillance program.

Neon Diplomacy — Dennis Rodman tours North Korea.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nixon and Bork

Via TPM:

Robert Bork says President Richard Nixon promised him the next Supreme Court vacancy after Bork complied with Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973.

Bork’s recollection of his role in the Saturday Night Massacre that culminated in Cox’s firing is at the center of his slim memoir, “Saving Justice,” that is being published posthumously by Encounter Books. Bork died in December at age 85.

Bork writes that he didn’t know if Nixon actually, though mistakenly, believed he still had the political clout to get someone confirmed to the Supreme Court or was just trying to secure Bork’s continued loyalty as his administration crumbled in the Watergate scandal.

President Ronald Reagan nominated Bork to the high court in 1987. The nomination failed in the Senate.


Dream A Little Dream

Any column by David Brooks that contains the words “my dream Obama” cannot end well.

My main complaint with Obama is that he promised to move us beyond these stale debates, but he’s, instead, become a participant in them.

My dream Obama would take advantage of the fact that only the president can fundamentally shift the terms. He’d take advantage of George Santayana’s observation that Americans don’t solve their problems; they leave them behind.

My dream Obama would abandon the big government versus small government argument. He’d point out that in a mature, aging society, government isn’t going anywhere. The issue is not size but sclerosis. The future has no lobby, so there are inexorable pressures favoring present consumption over future investment. The crucial point is not whether a dollar is spent publicly or privately, it’s whether it is spent on the present or future. The task today is to reform institutions and rearrange spending so we look like a young nation and not a comfort-seeking, declining one.

Except that when the other players in the game are people like Ted Cruz who are bringing back McCarthyism and Lindsey Graham who are filibustering the nomination of the Secretary of Defense because of hurt fee-fees, getting anything done is just a dream.

Making A List

Over the weekend the White House prepared a list of what states stand to lose if the sequester hits.

The reports details the consequences for popular areas of government like public health, education and research. It’s part of a broader public relations offensive to pressure Republicans to drop their opposition to raising revenue as part of a deal to avoid what leaders of both parties agree would be devastating consequences if the cuts go through.


The top lines: This year alone, across the country, 70,000 children would lose access to head start; 2,100 fewer food inspections could occur; as many as 12,000 scientists and students would be hit by cuts to research and innovation; up to 373,000 mentally ill adults and children would go untreated, and small businesses may see $900 million in reduced loan guarantees.

Security and law enforcement would also be hit. The White House estimates that the FBI could lose over 1,000 federal agents; customs and border patrol would effectively lose some 5,000 employees; and both the Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration would have to furlough most of their workers.

Scroll through the list and see what they say about your state.  Here’s Florida’s.

Teachers and Schools:  Florida will lose approximately $54.5 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 750 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 95,000 fewer students would be served and approximately130 fewer schools would receive funding.

  • Education for Children with Disabilities: In addition, Florida will lose approximately $31.1 million in funds for about 380 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.


Protections for Clean Air and Clean Water: Florida would lose about $5.2 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, Florida could lose another $1.1 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

They can talk about the sequestration in general terms about the deficit and spending, but as Charlie Pierce points out, that kind of talk doesn’t get outside the Beltway.  It’s the little things that matter and have the impact when it hits home on the local news between Ellen and Jeopardy!

Every laid-off defense worker is a story. Every closed national park is a story, weeping children live at 5:30 with Sarah, or Jennifer, or Russell from Our News Team discreetly herding the distraught tot into camera range. Local columnists can find easy columns in closed Head Start classrooms. Empty airport terminals make for outstanding video. This was a serious act of pre-emption aimed at using everything that’s maudlin and provincial about local TV news. You wanted the White House to play tough.

Tip O’Neill was right: all politics is local.

Last One, I Promise

For someone who did not bother to watch the Oscars Sunday night, I sure have posted about them… or the reactions to them.  So here’s the last one.

I don’t care if Michelle Obama presented an award, but since she did, the best thing about it is that it is sending the right wing into paroxysms of twitterpation.

At least while they’re all wrapped up in telling us that it’s positively shameless that the First Lady would impose herself on a sacred ritual like that — and something that Laura Bush would never do, right? — they’re not probing vaginas, denying marriage equality, or screeching about gun rights being the first right.

Thanks for the distraction, Ms. Obama.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Besides being President of the United States, being a film critic is something Donald Trump should never be.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump declared Monday morning that Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” which won an Oscar Sunday night for “Best Original Screenplay,” was “one of the most racist movies I’ve ever seen.”

The film chronicles a revenge tale set during slavery days in the U.S., with actor Jamie Foxx shooting his way through slave masters and their cronies to save his wife.


He also took a swing at “Best Actor” winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who won for “Lincoln,” saying “he’s not from this country” and criticizing his British accent, which was plainly apparent during his acceptance speech.

“I don’t think Lincoln had an English accent,” Trump said, apparently oblivious to the fact that Lincoln in the film does not speak with the same accent. “I know lots of politicians and lots of powerful people and they don’t talk like that,” he complained.

How can Donald Trump be that rich and that stupid, you ask?  Hey, this is America, where anybody can grow up to be an idiot.