Thursday, January 31, 2013

THE WORLD CONSISTS OF RIGHT-WING TALKING POINTS

Tweet from The Wasington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran in response to Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing:



Well, of course. The discussion, like most discussions in Washington, centered on what Republicans wanted to talk about, and what they wanted to talk about was -- exclusively -- whatever they thought they could use for political advantage. It doesn't matter that this is a dangerous world, and this was the Senate Armed Services Committee questioning a nominee for secretary of defense -- nobody talked about Mali because Republicans haven't yet figured out a way to use Mali to hurt Democrats. Republicans can no longer use Al Qaeda and and Afghanistan to hurt Democrats, because it's not Bush's first term anymore, so Al Qaeda and Afghanistan barely came up. It was all Israel and Iran, all the time.

We literally no longer have Republican officeholders in Washington who have any larger interest than scoring points for themselves and their side. (Oh, yeah -- they also care about cutting taxes for the rich, but that wasn't relevant here.) On foreign policy, the Republican Party was once dominated by isolationists, and later by realists and by interventionists -- but now the party is dominated by Republicanists. It's all about politics. Republicans have no greater concern. America and its role in the world? Who cares! All that matters is beating their political enemies.
AND NPR DIDN'T EVEN LABEL THIS "SPONSORED CONTENT"

I know you're probably sick of the gun posts, but I thought you might like to know about this warm-fuzzy NPR story, which showed up in my Twitter feed today:
Are Shooting Ranges The New Bowling Alleys?

The traditional American shooting range is extending its range.

In Summerville, S.C., for example, the ATP Gunshop & Range stages community-minded blood drives and Toys for Tots collections. Twice a week there are ladies' nights, where women can learn to fire pistols and receive free T-shirts.

The Freestate Gun Range in Middle River, Md., has staged competitive, poker-style target games and zombie shoots. The Family Shooting Center in Aurora, Colo. ...
Yes, you read that location correctly.
... The Family Shooting Center in Aurora, Colo., showcases gourmet elk and pheasant bratwursts. The Governors Gun Club under construction in Powder Springs, Ga., will feature a members' lounge and bar.

"Warm up this winter at an indoor shooting range," trumpets the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association of the firearms industry. "You can teach family and friends to shoot, or you can sign them up for a class. What better way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon than enjoying quality time together doing an activity you enjoy?"

Games! Specials! Online coupons! Sign up for teams! Fun for the whole family! Are shooting ranges the new bowling alleys in America? ...
Golly gee, I'm not sure! Tell me more!

We learn about a shooting league in Texas called A Girl and a Gun; we learn that a gunshop in Las Vegas has added a wedding chapel; were told, "Some women's shooting groups hire certified babysitters," and "Others have volunteers who take turns watching the kids, 'kind of like day care at church.'" It's mom and apple pie! It's girl power! How can you possibly criticize this, totebagger?

(A few grumbles of discontent from gun-control advocates do eventuallyshow up, but not until paragraph 26 of the 30-paragraph story.)

This isn't news -- this is sponsored content from the gun industry, except it's not labeled as such, and there's no evidence that any money actually changed hands.

The National Shooting Sports Federation, which gets a couple of mentions in the story (home base: Newtown, Connecticut), is the clear beneficiary -- and, I assume, the source of the story. NSSF has made a concerted effort in recent years to sell guns, particularly assault rifles, to new markets, particularly women and children, as a far more skeptical story at the Huffington Post notes:
"Why are these guns so popular?" asks a lecturer in a video of one of the NSSF media seminars. "One word: They're fun!"

"These are fun fun guns to shoot," says an unidentified journalist in the same video. "As a mother of three I'd have no problem letting my kids, with the correct supervision and safety gear, you know, try one of these guns."
A gun control advocate says the NSSF is trying "to put a happy face on these military weapons" -- and I suspect NSSF is also trying to put a happy, girly face on shooting in general. Thanks, NPR, for the big assist!
WALTER KIRN'S FIFTY SHADES OF GUN

I've been reading Walter Kirn's New Republic essay "What Gun Owners Really Want," which comes with Josh Marshall's recommendation. Aimai, in the last post, said a lot of what needs to be said about it. I'll add that I'm tired of gun owners' demands that I privilege guns' effect on their neurochemistry over the safety of everyone else in the country -- not just the thrill of the shooting but the delicious in-group joy of being part of the He-Man City Slicker Haters' Club.

Aimai and Josh quote one passage about the visceral effect of gun use (the divide between gun users and non-users is "like the gulf between those who've had sex and those who haven't or those who smoke and those who've never lit up"; shooting "cuts patterns in the self"). But there's more soft porn in Kirn's essay, of a vaguely BDSM variety, although it's hard to tell whether Kirn or the gun is the top:
They push back when they're fired. That's the elemental fact involved, the deep Newtonian heart of the whole business. They kick at your will in the instant they also project it, reminding you that force is always two-sided. It's a shock the first time, an insult to the senses, but once you've learned to expect it, absorb it, ride it, recoil becomes a source of pleasure. You're up on your board turning turbulence to flow. You want to do it again, again -- again! -- and the urge becomes part of your body, your nervous system. It feels as though it was always there, this appetite, this desire for a small, acute struggle that you can win. Win consistently. Repeatedly.

Semi-automatically.

When I shoot at the range, I don't feel personally powerful but like the custodian of something powerful. I feel like a successful disciplinarian of something radically alien and potent....

We're not talking rights here; we're talking instincts. It's not the gun that the so-called "clingers" cling to and don't like the thought of anybody screwing with. It's not even the power of the gun. It's the power over the power of the gun.
Need a cigarette, Walter?

Now, the main point of Kirn's essay is that we effete snobs who've never shot guns look down on gun owners with contempt. I'll grant that. I think a lot of gun owners have legitimate arguments for owning guns, and I even think the pleasure of shooting is mostly benign.

But it has to be balanced against the danger to society. Kirn, even though he favors some gun restrictions, wants you effete libs to swing all the way from contempt to uncritical acceptance -- he doesn't just think your criticisms are excessive, he thinks you're not entitled to them at all. You've never shot a gun! You just don't understand!

The tell is that he wants to exclude anyone who misuses a gun from his gun fraternity:
In Aurora, Colorado, last August, on assignment for this magazine, I stood at the edge of a movie theater parking lot where twelve people had been shot dead the night before and 58 others had been wounded. The shooter (I dislike this term; it seems too procedural, too flavorless; I still prefer the harsh, judgmental "killer") had been armed with a shotgun, a pistol, and a rifle.
No, Walter, you don't dislike the term "shooter" for a mass murderer because it's "flavorless" -- you dislike it because you want to banish James Holmes into a category far, far away from the one you're in. He's not a "shooter"! I'm a shooter! He's nothing like me! He has nothing to do with me!

Kirn loves the gun culture -- therefore, if James Holmes did something bad with guns, everything but the gun culture must be at fault. Kirn is, ultimately, Wayne LaPierre with a better prose style, blaming the culture exactly the way LaPierre does:
When the time to lay blame for the massacre arrived, it wasn't Americans' easy access to firearms that I found myself deploring, but a depraved, unbalanced culture of splatter-fest games and other dark entertainments. I blamed the potential for gruesome fame nurtured by the Internet, as well as a mental health system that's not a system.
Kirn goes on to sneer at "YouTwitBook -- our virtual town square where actual bodily harm is not a threat and aliases, masks, and hoods are common." It's the culture that's evil! It's the Internet's fault! It's anything but guns!

You and I see crazy people with guns killing unarmed and less-armed people. Kirn sees a siege that's mutual:
The hour of reckoning had come, particularly for gun owners like me who'd never thought clearly about where we stood, only that it was somewhere between the militants and the innocents -- a dangerous spot, since both sides felt attacked.
"Both sides felt attacked"? Um, the innocents are attacked with actual guns, and actually die. The gun militants are attacked with words. But to Kirn, these attacks are equivalent.

But what do you expect? The neural effects of shooting guns are, for Kirn, complemented by the neural effects of being art of the paranoid gun culture:
Guns can turn you into an insider even if you're an outsider by nature, recruiting you into a loose fraternity of people who feel embattled and defensive....
Kirn and an acquaintance apply for concealed-carry permits, and an instructor encourages fear -- which Kirn thinks is perfectly appropriate:
The instructor ... briefed us on the gun laws of states more tightly wound than ours. Special caution was urged when traveling through Nevada, where even an unloaded gun locked in a car trunk might land its owner in hot water. The presentation was neutral on the legitimacy of such regulations and restrictions, but its unmistakable, unvoiced premise was that we were entering hostile territory, a world poised to trip us up. The only solution was rigorous self-discipline, a heightened sense of vigilance and caution that those without guns didn't need to cultivate.
This is how religious cultists are taught to think, isn't it? You are special. And they're all out to get you.

Kirn is a bright guy, but the gun culture has made him stupider. He's completely lost sight of the meaning of a plain word:
To civilize, I think, is the key verb. It's a crossover word, with a cultural legacy and a practical, specific meaning -- to order; to, yes, "regulate" -- that the gun-owning mind responds to and respects.
"Civilization" comes from the Latin civis, meaning "city"; when you talk about civilization, you're talking about society. Angry gun owners in America don't believe in society -- they believe in a war of each against all, or "them" against all the rest of us. They don't consider the unarmed to be full citizens. They don't consider societies that aren't gun-saturated to be part of world civilization.

American civilization must include all of us, and must find ways we can all live together. The gun culture is openly hostile toward that aim. It accepts only dominance or a posture of opposition. It does not play well with others. And that's Kirn's culture, which he insists you stop criticizing.
Oh, Josh, No...This is not particularly Insightful:

by aimai

For a while now JMM has been on a tear trying to bump up traffic by printing "thoughtful" pieces by his readers. I've been almost uniformly unimpressed. His essay on his thoughts on the "tribe" of gun people which was a similar form of trolling cum log rolling was tediously self absorbed and it was followed by more touchingly self absorbed faux sociology and philosophy of the imaginary divide between gun owners and gun-not-owners.  To me the whole exercise reeks of the eternal attempts of religious people to lecture atheists on what atheism is or is not.  Or heterosexuals who only use the missionary position lecturing gays and lesbians on how they "just don't understand."

No, really, we get it: you see atheists, gays, and lesbians grow up in a world saturated with images, ideas, and the facts on the ground generated by our imaginary "opposites."  Speaking as an atheistical Jew, for example, I don't "not get" Christianity--I've been soaking in it for about 2000 years.  I am deeply conversant with the knotty ins and outs of its theology and I even grew up eating Fish on Fridays since I was living in a State that made that accommodation for our many Catholic neighbors. I've been to more Christian weddings and funerals than I have to Jewish ones. I've studied more Christian theology in school than I have Jewish.  And as for lesbians and gays not "getting" what heterosex is like most of the lesbian women I know passed through a period of intense self doubt and dated extensively so, yeah, they probably "get it."

Comes now one of Josh's pets--not one of his correspondents from foreign lands like the Midwest but a cherry picked "thoughtful" essay on a topic "we" are presumed not to understand--the phenomenology of emotion attached to guns.


Growing up around guns and owning them as an adult affords a person memories and experiences that strangers to guns may have trouble understanding. The divide is phenomenological, not political (or not political until it gets to be), like the gulf between those who’ve had sex and those who haven’t or those who smoke and those who’ve never lit up. Pulling a trigger and being prepared to do so cuts patterns in the self. Depending on the nature of your social life, which time around guns can shape and color in ways that I’ll describe, you might forget that these patterns are even there, because you’re surrounded by people who share them—until someone or some even challenges you to answer for your thinking. 
Oh, no, honey. Let me break it to you--I am not afraid of guns or of triggers. I'm also not afraid of mice or any other little story you guys tell yourselves about women, or people in cities, or liberals, or people who never owned a gun. I'm afraid of people--I'm afraid of people that I know exist in this world. People who are variously careful, careless, stupid, ill informed, angry, short tempered, lacking in foresight, paranoid, living in close proximity to relatives and friends who may be all of those things, raising children who may be all of those things--people who forget their keys and where they put their rifle, people who punch the walls when they get excited and may pull the trigger under the same impulse, people who leave their guns out where toddlers can grab them and kill themselves.

People are unreliable and people who own guns have something very serious and powerful with which to play out their personal dramas: job loss, old age, dementia, divorce, adolescent angst, quarrels with neighbors.

This is not really that hard to understand. There aren't two kinds of people in the world: people who have fond memories of dad and huntin' in the back forty and the rest of us "know nothings," gun owners and non gun owners. There are simply people who acknowledge that on balance people are not reliable 100 percent of the time--they are not in control of their own emotions, let alone of the circumstances in which they may find themselves. We have to legislate for the safety of the majority, not for the pleasure of the minority.

We routinely control, as a society, many things that give people pleasure--drugs, sex, property use--hell, you can't even burn leaves in my town--because in society one person's pleasure may lead to another person's harm.  If you want to make a Second Amendment absolutist argument be my guest--but if you want to make in on the grounds that your hazy memories of feeling safe pulling the trigger with daddy gives your gun ownership primacy over my hazy memories of being able to drop my kindergartners off for school well, fuck you, you don't get to make that argument without some pushback. We get it, we get it, but we don't respect it.




We Stoop To Conquer--NRO division.

by aimai

From the NRO mailer that lands in my in box periodically comes this amazing bit of garbled thinking. Obama won voters that no self respecting Democrat would ever have gone for--people who love JayZ, atheists, young women, non white people, people who wouldn't know a political issue like the debt if it jumped up and bit them!  That's how low Obama was willing to go--he even tried to appeal to voters who previous politicians as evil as Al Gore and John Kerry refused to appeal to.  How low is that? So low that after excoriating Obama and his voters NRO decides that if you can't beat 'em you'd better join 'em.

What cultural markers is the Republican brand associated with? Two things come to mind, the aspects of life that Obama said rural Pennsylvanians cling to, guns and religion. And those are pretty good ones; the country is full of people who take religion seriously and there are a lot of people who enjoy their right to own a firearm, for reasons ranging from hunting to sport shooting to collecting to self-defense. But as we've seen, that's not enough to get a majority of the popular vote or 270 electoral votes, and there are some pretty big swaths of the country -- mostly the West Coast and Northeast -- where those indicators either don't help us or work against us.
So, thinking of new cultural traits the GOP could attempt to adopt as some of their trademarks, just off the top of my head . . . [ellipses in the original]

Foodies? There are a lot of folks who are passionately interested in food, in a way there just weren't a generation ago. (See Vic Matus's great article from a while back on the rise of celebrity chefs.) Why can't the GOP be the Foodie Party, the one that fights moronic dietary laws like Bloomberg's ban on 20 ounce sodas, California's idiotic foie gras ban, the ludicrous talk of the Food and Drug Administration putting even more stringent regulations on raw-milk cheeses on top of the existing ones. (For Pete's sake, slap a warning label on it letting people know about the risk of raw-milk cheeses.) We ought to be standing up to the Nanny State, and making the case that grown adults who we entrust with a right to vote, a right to own a gun, and a right to speak their minds ought to have the right to eat whatever they want.

College-Age Drinkers: Propose lowering the drinking age to 18, on the argument that you'll see less binge drinking on college campuses if 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds can just go into a bar or restaurant and order a beer. If you're really worried about lowering the drinking age across the board, make it legal for those between 18 and 21 to consume alcohol in a licensed establishment, so that a bartender or server could cut them off if there are signs of dangerous intoxication.
I guarantee this would make the College Republicans a heck of a lot more popular on campus. Speaking of which . . .

The beauty of it all is that when Obama appeals to voters the NRO represents it as a bribe, when the NRO does it its merely some kind of ...inducement?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

WINGNUT-WELFARE BUSHMASTER INFOMERCIAL NOW CONVERTED INTO SENATE TESTIMONY

Last week I told you about a National Review opinion piece on guns published under the byline of Celia Bigelow and Aubrey Blankenship, two Koch-ite wingnut-welfare recipients. The piece was an extended plug for the Bushmaster AR-15:
Sorry, President Obama. As young women, we prefer an AR-15 "assault" rifle with a 30-round magazine for self-defense.

In fact, we wouldn't want to be stuck at home without one. In the wake of mass murders like Sandy Hook and the horrific rapes and murders of thousands of women each year, pepper spray, mace, or five-round handheld pistols aren't going to cut it.

So what's a girl to do? When choosing our tool for home defense, we want the best -- in accuracy, handling, and aesthetics. The best choice by all three criteria is -- hands down -- the AR-15.
Well, now (via TBogg) I see that a woman named Gayle Trotter testified today at the Senate Judiciary Committee's gun hearing -- the Huffington Post says she "captivate[d]" the committee with her "vivid testimony" -- and I can't help but notice that she and Senator Chuck Grassley got the Bigelow/Blankenship sponsored-content opinion piece read into the Congressional Record as a tax-funded infomercial:





SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY: Miss Trotter, your testimony discussed the need for women to be able to use firearms to defend themselves and their family. The law currently permits the lawful possession of semiautomatic rifles such as AR-15. Can you tell us why you believe a semiautomatic rifle such as AR-15 has value as a weapon of self-defense, and does banning weapon-- banning guns which feature designs to improve accuracy disproportionately burden women?

GAYLE TROTTER: I believe it does. Young women are speaking out as to why AR-15 weapons are their weapon of choice: the guns are accurate, they have good handling, they're light, they're easy for women to hold, and, most importantly, their appearance.... The peace of mind that [a woman] has knowing that she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she's fighting hardened, violent criminals...
Nice -- multiple mentions of the AR-15 brand, by both Trotter and the senator! And Greassley got in lots of talking points -- about accuracy, about legality. I bet Bushmaster is very pleased. And as for the rest, it's curiously similar to the Bigelow/Blankenship piece, which read in part:
Our goal when defending against a home invader is simple: to hit where we aim....

The AR-15 is lightweight and practical. As light as five pounds, it produces low levels of recoil, and it's easy to shoot. It also looks intimidating, which is what you want when facing an assailant or intruder....
Both mention lightness! And ease of use! And the intimidation factor! And did I mention accuracy?

Why, if I didn't know better, I'd think the opinion piece and the Grassley/Trotter Q&A were written by the same people.

****

The HuffPo describes Trotter as a humble attorney who's lately developed an interest in gun policy. Well, yes -- but she's an attorney for the wingnut-billionaire-funded Independent Women's Forum, for which she's also become a pundit of sorts, opining on such issues as Obamacare and the Violence Against Women Act (spoiler alert: she's against both). She may have come late to the gun issue, but she's been doing right-wing posts at her blog for a couple of years now (second-earliest post: "AVATAR: 3-D Mythology of the American Left"). She has also blogged at the movement-conservative Catholic site First Things (sample hardball question from her Rick Santorum interview there: "How do you stand up for your principles in the face of the nastiness of your opponents?"), and she's been writing recently for the Daily Caller (sample piece: "The Future Must Not Belong to Those Who Blame America").

So I don't want to hear that she's just some ordinary American woman who spoke truth to power. She's an operative. This was not her first rodeo.


(HuffPo link via Memeorandum.)
DON'T LAUGH -- THIS WILL PROBABLY HAPPEN

Just about every lefty I follow on Twitter has tweeted some version of this story from Chicago:
Girl who performed at Obama inaugural events slain on South Side

After taking their exams Tuesday, Hadiya Pendleton and a group of others decided to hang out at a park on Tuesday just blocks away from their high school on the South Side.

But the trip ended in tragedy when the 15-year-old King College Prep sophomore was fatally shot about a week after she attended President Barack Obama's inauguration and performed at inaugural events with the King College Prep band and drill team.

Penldeton and a16-year-old boy wounded in the attack were shot in a park near the school about 2:20 p.m., in the 4500 block of South Oakenwald Avenue, police said...
It's a horrible story about out-of-control gun violence. But please note that it also fits into the right's narrative:



For Matt Drudge (and the rest of the right), the worst hellhole on the planet is Chicago, not just because it's home to Obama "thuggery," aka "the Chicago way" (whatever the hell that means), but also because it's a city with a high murder ratewhere (until a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in 2010) handguns were banned. (It's also, um, not an exclusively white city, which is of special relevance to Drudge.) The fact that guns can easily get into Chicago from stores outside city limits and from other states where the laws aren't nearly as strict is irrelevant to the right's narrative. (One store just outside Chicago, Chuck's Gun Shop in Riverdale, is responsible for nearly 20 percent of guns seized by authorities in the city in the aftermath of crimes or unpermitted uses. Must be just an unfortunate series of coincidences, right?)

This guy is in Drudge's amen corner:



Yes, Newt Gingrich wants House Republicans to hold hearings on gun violence in Chicago. If this actually happens -- possibly just as the Senate is voting on some gun-control measures -- I won't be the least bit surprised.

The right ignores the sustained drop in crime in the past generation in gun-control cities like Boston and New York. The right doesn't explain why the overturning of Chicago's handgun ban didn't magically reduce the murder rate (it's risen since 2010). To the right, gun control = Chicago = fail. Expect the Chicago card to be played a lot by the right as any gun votes approach.
IT DOESN'T MATTER

I'm not able to watch the hearing on guns, but it doesn't really matter. The lefties I follow on Twitter all think Wayne LaPierre is beclowning himself, and maybe he is, but whatever he's saying, the mainstream press won't excerpt the nuttiest stuff he says when it reviews the day's events -- it'll show much respect for his general theory of gun violence and highlight his areas of apparent agreement with the rest of us.

By contrast, the right-wing press will hammer away at alleged threats to freedom, and even (gently) rebut Gabby Giffords by saying something like, "Oh, if there'd been somebody with a gun at that mall, she'd never have been shot. (Of course, there was a "good guy with a gun" in Tucson, and he almost shot another Good Samaritan.)

The point is, mainstream-media coverage will be evenhanded, with maybe a moderate sympathy skew toward the gun-control side; outside MSNBC and lefty blogs, and maybe Piers Morgan's show, LaPierre and his GOP coat-holders will be treated with respect. And that's how most Americans will learn about this hearing, not from media sources that treat the gunners with the contempt they deserve. Whereas the GOP base will get its news from Fox and talk radio, which will show no comparable restraint.

And tomorrow we'll be right back where we always are -- with a pro-gun-control majority lacking all conviction, and a gun-absolutist minority full of passionate intensity.
REPUBLICANS' CONCERN ABOUT A STRONG DEFENSE IS AS PHONY AS ALL THEIR OTHER ALLEGED PRINCIPLES

The Washington Post tells us something that's been clear for a couple of weeks:
Less than a month after averting one fiscal crisis, Washington began bracing Tuesday for another, as lawmakers in both parties predicted that deep, across-the-board spending cuts would probably hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies on March 1.

... party leaders say they see no clear path to compromise, particularly given a growing sentiment among Republicans to pocket the cuts and move on to larger battles over health and retirement spending.

... Cuts to the military and the defense industry remain politically problematic. But Tuesday, even some of the Pentagon's most fervent champions seemed resigned to the likelihood that the cuts would be permitted to kick in....
We've assumed all this time that Republicans would never, ever let the sequester cuts happen, because nothing on earth is more important to Republicans than a "strong defense," defined as massive amounts of Pentagon spending. We've thought that Republicans sincerely believe the country is in peril unless Pentagon spending is very, very high, and that their defense of the Pentagon budget is a sincere expression of what they think is best for the country.

We were chumps to believe that.

Posturing as champions of a strong defense is important to Republicans. But Republicans don't really give a crap about Pentagon cuts -- as long as they can blame Democrats for them.

Maybe all along they've known that they were using communism and terrorism and all the other threats from overseas as a ruse to jack up spending far beyond what we really need. Or maybe they've fallen for their own rhetorical nonsense -- specifically, the notion that the country is in peril whenever a Democrat is president by definition, no matter how much defense spending there is and how many bombs the president is dropping. So it's just categorically impossible for the country to be truly safe no matter how big the Pentagon budget gets, until the White House is restored to its rightful owner, the Republican Party.

Whatever the reason, we thought Pentagon cuts would be an effective gun to the head of Republicans because Republicans really care. They don't.

They just care about being seen as champions of a strong defense. They're happy to pocket the domestic cuts and have the opportunity to demagogue the Pentagon cuts. It turns out that they'd rather demagogue the Pentagon cuts than prevent them, if they also get cuts to programs that help poor and middle-class people. Now we know.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

IMMIGRATION REFORM IS PROBABLY GOING TO FAIL. NOW WE SEE HOW.

I know the conventional wisdom is that an immigration bill is very likely to pass because Republicans now believe they need to back a successful immigration reform process in order to remain politically viable. But that's not true in the next election cycle, which will be in 2014. In 2014, in most districts, Republicans have much, much more to fear from far-right primary challengers than they do from Hispanic voters. Yes, overall the Hispanic vote continues to increase, but the electorate is always much whiter in off-year elections. If we were approaching 2016, Republicans would be desperate to pass a bill. But 2016 is a long way away. Another election comes first.

So the Republican plan, I think, is to fake support for immigration reform, while looking for excuses to vote no. See this Steve Benen post, which is titled "Rubio's Exit Strategy Takes Shape," but might also be called "The GOP's Exit Strategy Takes Shape." Steve writes about the conversation Marco Rubio had today on the radio with Rush Limbaugh:
...the GOP lawmaker seemed to be hinting at an exit strategy from the reform initiative he's helped launch.
In an interview with Rush Limbaugh aired Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio said he wouldn't support a bill granting a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants unless it first addressed border security. [...]

"To the point of them not wanting to do the security, look, all I can tell you is that that's a big issue for me," Rubio responded. "That's why I'm involved in this process. I have no reason to believe it won't happen. But if it doesn't, I'll come back to you and say look, it didn't happen. We tried, they put that in the principles, but then they drafted a bill and I couldn't support it."
The Obama administration notes that it's deported undocumented immigrants at a much faster rate than George W. Bush, so the demand for real border security is already being met. But Republicans say they don't believe that.

Rubio also wants unspecified "real enforcement triggers" before there's a path to citizenship. He seems to want a border security commission made up of Southwestern government officials to have absolute power to declare that border security is still inadequate and therefore the citizenship path must wait.

And yet there's Rush Limbaugh saying that what Rubio is doing ""is admirable and noteworthy." The folks at Wingnut Central have clearly told Limbaugh that even he has to seem to be on board, or at least potentially on board. (He grumbles about all the horrible ways Democrats are allegedly going to demagogue this issue -- transcript here, from his site -- but he's suddenly not unswervingly against the effort.)

So the plan is to seem receptive to this -- and then, I think, to make it fail, while trying to pin the failure on Democrats. Then, as I said yesterday, Rubio will say he can get the job done if we make him president in 2016.

I'm not sure this plan will work. I don't think Republicans really can get the public to blame Democrats if this fails. But I think they think they can.

OBAMA'S "WAR ON FOX NEWS": BOOB-BAIT OR ACTUAL FIGMENT OF ROGER AILES'S PARANOID IMAGINATION?

There's an obvious explanation for why Fox News dispatched in-house faux-Democrat Kirsten Powers to write a FoxNews.com opinion piece asserting that the Obama White House is engaged in a "war on Fox News" and wants to "shut down" Fox: obviously, declaring itself the media outlet that strikes fear in Obama's heart is a good way for Fox to inspire brand loyalty among the rabid base. There's nothing more to it than that -- right? It's just boob-bait. Isn't it?

I'm not sure. Last night on Fox, Sean Hannity's show included a segment along the same lines, which featured some true paranoia, some of it expressed by Peter Johnson, the personal lawyer of Roger Ailes:
Reacting to President Barack Obama's criticism of the role the conservative Fox News Channel plays in U.S. politics, network contributor Peter Johnson, Jr. said Monday night that the president might just find a way to ban watching Fox News.

Johnson appeared on the network's nightly opinion show "Hannity" on Monday, where he and host Sean Hannity took Obama's recent critique of right-wing media -- wherein he told The New Republic that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are a key stumbling block to compromise in Congress -- as some sort of forthcoming policy mandate to revoke the First Amendment.

"In other words, forget about that little thing called freedom of speech, differing views," Hannity said. "Instead, he wants any, all opposing voices to be, what, silenced? That includes the opinions that you hear on this program and watch every single night."

..."Now the president is saying, 'Listen, do it the way I do it or I'm gonna come down your pipe,'" [Johnson said]....

"So, to say, 'Oh, you know what's happened here is that we have an institutional barrier, according to the president, that stops the will of the people,'" Johnson said. "Sean, you know what the institutional barrier is? The United States Constitution. And so, people at home should be afraid because, they say, 'Am I not allowed to watch Fox anymore? Am I not allowed to listen to Rush or Sean? Am I doing something that's un-American?' You’re not." ...
Here's a clip of the segment (via Media Matters).





In the clip, Hannity, Johnson, and fellow Fox-ite Andrea Tantaros express confidence that with the Constitution and the 50% of the country that (they say) hates Obama -- no, more than 50%! -- they can fend off this jackbooted attempt at speech suppression. But claiming that speech suppression is actually on the president's mind is just an act, isn't it?

Maybe not. Recall what New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman wrote a few months ago:
... if you want to know what Roger Ailes really thinks about the news these days, here's a tip: Pay close attention to Peter Johnson Jr.

... he is Ailes's personal attorney who negotiated the network chief's new four-year contract with News Corp., said to be worth upward of $30 million a year. Fox executives frequently find Johnson conferring with Ailes privately. "He is a fixture in Ailes's office," one Fox source explained.

But Johnson's value to Ailes extends far beyond his work as a lawyer. This election season, when Ailes has a message to communicate, chances are that it is Johnson who articulates it on air. One insider told me that Johnson is allowed to use the teleprompter to read from scripts, a perk which is normally reserved for Fox hosts. "Johnson has a rare privilege other contributors don't have," the source said. "He can load a script directly into the teleprompter. So it's not even Ailes unplugged. It's Ailes plugged in ... It's why he sounds like Roger."
"He sounds like Roger." And we know how paranoid Roger Ailes is:
... [Ailes] lived in fear that gay activists would try to attack him in retaliation over his hostility to gay rights. (In 1989, Ailes had broken up a protest of a Rudy Giuliani speech by gay activists, grabbing demonstrator by the throat and shoving him out the door.) Barricading himself behind a massive mahogany desk, Ailes insisted on having "bombproof glass" installed in [his office] windows -- even going so far as to personally inspect samples of high-tech plexiglass, as though he were picking out new carpet. Looking down on the street below, he expressed his fears to Cooper, the editor he had tasked with up-armoring his office. "They'll be down there protesting," Ailes said. "Those gays."

... Inside his blast-resistant office at Fox News headquarters, Ailes keeps a monitor on his desk that allows him to view any activity outside his closed door. Once, after observing a dark-skinned man in what Ailes perceived to be Muslim garb, he put Fox News on lockdown. "What the hell!" Ailes shouted. "This guy could be bombing me!" The suspected terrorist turned out to be a janitor. "Roger tore up the whole floor," recalls a source close to Ailes.
Well, Ailes did work for Nixon, after all. So, yeah, I think he really does believe that President Obama would shut down Fox News if he could get away with it.

****

And no, I won't attempt to parse Johnson's expression "I'm gonna come down your pipe."

INVASION OF THE AMERICA SNATCHERS!!!

When someone says, "Yes, David Brooks is an idiot, but today's column isn't bad," I rarely agree -- but that's what I'm going to tell you about today's David Brooks column. He's looking at the GOP's reinvention efforts and, surprisingly, he's not fooled, even by the dulcet tones of Bobby Jindal:
... so far, there have been more calls for change than actual evidence of change. In his [recent] speech [to the Republican National Committee], for example, Jindal spanked his party for its stale cliches but then repeated the same Republican themes that have earned his party its 33 percent approval ratings: Government bad. Entrepreneurs good.

In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn't already vote for them.
I don't want to give Brooks too much credit here -- his solution to the Republican Party's problems is the rise of a coastal/Midwestern wing of the GOP that hates government only a little rather than a lot. Outside the Northeast, I'm not sure how these nouveau Republicans are supposed to avoid being primaried into early retirement, and I'm also not sure why this is supposed to work in the Midwest, home of Michele Bachmann and Steve King. Not does Brooks have much of a program for these GOP renegades -- what he recommends is something about making government less "sclerotic," and making the poor more educated and marriage-minded, as that great sage Charles Murray advises.

But it's still a better column than what Brooks usually coughs up. I give him points for being less bedazzled by Jindal than, say, Chris Cillizza, or Politico.

I'll just quibble with this:
Since Barry Goldwater, the central Republican narrative has been what you might call the Encroachment Story: the core problem of American life is that voracious government has been steadily encroaching upon individuals and local communities. The core American conflict, in this view, is between Big Government and Personal Freedom.
I actually think "Encroachment Story" is an excellent name for the narrative in right-wingers' heads. But Brooks's view of this story is too narrow. Right-wingers' central narrative isn't just that government is encroaching on decent Americans -- it's that practically everything and everyone on earth is encroaching.

Black people. Brown people. Gay people. Feminists. Hollywood. College professors. The UN. European socialists. Jihadists. The liberal media. Takers. Union thugs. Gun grabbers. Nanny staters. Domestic mosque builders. People who take God out of the public square. People who say "Happy holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." People who want to replace American law with sharia law. They're all encroaching!

Brooks writes, "if opposing government is your primary objective, it's hard to have a positive governing program." But really, what makes it hard to have a positive government program is a mindset that says, "Don't you understand?! There's no time to lose! We have to neutralize all these encroachers!!!"

The message of the current GOP arouses the fight-or-flight mechanisms of targeted voters, and thus gives those voters a tremendous sense of purpose. They're heroes! They're helping to rid the world of evil encroachers! I don't know how a moderate wing of the GOP can compete with that message.

Monday, January 28, 2013

EVERY PERSON A COUNTRY: THE RANDIAN LOGIC OF THE RIGHT'S NEW #1 GUN TALKING POINT

There's a common idea behind a lot of what the gun absolutists are telling us right now.

* The current lead story at Drudge is a video of Jason Mattera, a professional wingnut confrontation provocateur, asking New York mayor Mike Bloomberg about gun control. The point of Mattera's questions to Bloomberg is that it's somehow unfair for the mayor of New York City to have more security than, say, a professional wingnut confrontation provocateur. As Breitbart reports:
In the video, Bloomberg is seen surrounded by security. Mattera approaches Bloomberg and asks, "In the spirit of gun control, will you disarm your entire security team?"

Bloomberg’s reply: "Uh, you, we'll get right back to you."

"Why can you defend yourself but not the majority of Americans?" Mattera asks as the mayor walks away. "Look at the team of security you’ve got. And you’re an advocate for gun control?"
* Glenn Beck's Blaze and a number of right-wing bloggers are upset for this reason:
The Department of Homeland Security is seeking to acquire 7,000 5.56x45mm NATO “personal defense weapons” (PDW) -- also known as "assault weapons" when owned by civilians. The solicitation, originally posted on June 7, 2012, comes to light as the Obama administration is calling for a ban on semi-automatic rifles and high capacity magazines.
This is posted under the headline "IF 'ASSAULT WEAPONS' ARE BAD...WHY DOES DHS WANT TO BUY 7,000 OF THEM FOR 'PERSONAL DEFENSE'?"

The answer is: they're for the "personal defense" of agents of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Apparently, ICE agents who may face violence in their day-to-day work aren't supposed to be better armed than the rest of us.

* And then there's David Mamet's fact-challenged Newsweek rant about guns, in which he effectively equates his own family's security needs with those of the family of the president of the United States:
[President Obama] has just passed a bill that extends to him and his family protection, around the clock and for life, by the Secret Service. He, evidently, feels that he is best qualified to determine his needs, and, of course, he is. As I am best qualified to determine mine.
The idea underlying all of this -- and underlying the NRA's "Are the president's kids more important than yours?" ad earlier this month -- is that, in effect, each of us is the president of his or her own country. Each of us is the mayor and police chief and chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of his or her own nation.

This dovetails perfectly with the notion that all taxation is theft and all government spending is larcenous redistribution (your personal Medicare wheelchair excepted, of course). If government should not exist, if fellow citizens owe nothing to one another, if "there is no such thing as society" (a Margaret Thatcher quote that sends a thrill up the leg of every wingnut) ... then it's literally true that governments don't need more weapons than individuals, because the number of legitimate governments in America is equal to the number of citizens.

So, no, these folks aren't making an incomprehensible argument -- they're arguing for a literal war of each against all. And I wish they'd admit that.
NO SOCIAL CONTRACT, PLEASE -- WE'RE RED-STATERS

The New York Times has a story today about problems in an oil boomtown, Watford City, North Dakota. Can you spot what's wrong with this picture? I'll give you a hint:
The patients come with burns from hot water, with hands and fingers crushed by steel tongs, with injuries from chains that have whipsawed them off their feet. Ambulances carry mangled, bloodied bodies from accidents on roads packed with trucks and heavy-footed drivers.

The furious pace of oil exploration that has made North Dakota one of the healthiest economies in the country has had the opposite effect on the region's health care providers. Swamped by uninsured laborers flocking to dangerous jobs, medical facilities in the area are sinking under skyrocketing debt, a flood of gruesome injuries and bloated business costs from the inflated economy.
Seriously? The oil business is making money hand over fist in North Dakota, the state has America's lowest unemployment rate? -- 3.2% -- and the companies employing these guys to do dangerous jobs generating big profits can't even give them health insurance?

Or maybe I'm just an East Coast lib who doesn't understand a culture where men are men and benefits are nonexistent.

In any case, this is putting a strain on the system:
The problems have been acute at McKenzie County Hospital here. Largely because of unpaid bills, the hospital's debt has climbed more than 2,000 percent over the past four years to $1.2 million, according to Daniel Kelly, the hospital's chief executive....

The 12 medical facilities in western North Dakota saw their combined debt rise by 46 percent over the course of the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years, according to Darrold Bertsch, the president of the state's Rural Health Association....

Mr. Kelly has pushed for the state, which has a surplus of more than $1 billion, to allocate money intended for the oil region specifically to health care facilities in the area. He has also asked for the state to grant low-interest loans so hospitals can borrow money for facility improvements and for the governor to convene a task force to study health care issues in the oil patch.
Yeah, those'd be good ideas.

Here's another proposal:
Hospital executives are hoping to get the local government to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase so they can build a $55 million medical facility that would triple the size of the clinic, expand the emergency room, maintain the 24-bed hospital and increase space for other outpatient services like physical therapy.
Right. Of course. Gotta be a sales tax, right? The most regressive of all taxes, because the greater the percentage of your income that you have to spend just to get by, the higher your effective tax rate is?

Still, it would be something. But, hey, no rush -- after all, why should a society take care of the people who are generating all of its wealth through dangerous, backbreaking labor? This is America, dammit!
WOULD ANYONE EVER GAIN CITIZENSHIP UNDER THE NEW IMMIGRATION PROPOSAL?

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on an immigration blueprint, which, we're told, will absolutely offer a path to citizenship for undocumented residents.

Or will it? As The Washington Post informed us a couple of days ago, while the plan was being cooked up, Senator Marco Rubio's "back of the line" proposal is a bit of a problem:
Rubio has said he thinks immigrants who came to the country illegally should be able to earn a work permit but should be required to seek citizenship through existing avenues after those who have come here legally.

Many Democrats and immigration advocates fear Rubio's approach would result in wait-times stretching for decades, creating a class of permanent legal residents for whom the benefits of citizenship appear unattainable.
I think, under the proposal, it would be hard even to get to the point where anyone could be in the queue for citizenship, even theoretically:
Under the senators' plan, most illegal immigrants would be able to apply to become permanent residents -- a crucial first step toward citizenship -- but only after certain border enforcement measures had been accomplished.

Among the plan's new proposals is the creation of a commission of governors, law enforcement officials and community leaders from border states that would assess when border security measures had been completed.
Who's going to be on that commission? The governor of Texas? The governor of Arizona? Maybe in the distant future Texas will go purple, but for now it's hard to imagine that the commission won't be full of far-right, build-a-moat grandstanders who'll never, ever say we've done enough to secure the borders (especially when a Democrat is president). As The Wall Street Journal notes:
It wasn't clear how it would be determined that those provisions had been met. A Rubio aide said Mr. Rubio would like to see "operational control of the border," a standard some advocates fear would be both hard to define and never be met.
****

I don't know if any of this can get past the GOP crazies in the House and the talk-radio rubes in the Republican base. Atrios's headline is "Still Think Lucy Holds On To The Football," the implication being that Democrats are being lulled again into thinking that Republicans will play fair -- but if this fails, aren't Republican leaders, who really seem to want more Hispanic votes in the future, also going to be tripped up?

If I had to bet, I'd assume that nothing passes -- that the House GOP will make the bill even tougher on immigrants, possibly even stripping out any path to citizenship, and it will still be deemed "amnesty" by most of them, while going too far to the right even for willing-to-compromise Democrats. Then the apparently pro-reform Republicans, Graham and McCain and Rubio and Boehner and the rest, can argue that Republicans really, really wanted reform, but Democrats insisted on "amnesty." And those Republicans will get brownie points for trying, at least with the mainstream press (Hispanics won't be fooled), while the crazy back-benchers will get credit with their base for stopping The Invasion Of America. And Rubio will be set up to run in 2016 as the guy who can really get this done.

I don't know if that will work -- the GOP opposition (in the House, in the right-wing media, and among the rubes) could be so rabid that no one will be fooled. But I think it will all unfold more or less that way.

****

UPDATE: Greg Sargent said a couple of hours ago that the Gang of 8's immigration framework doesn't actually require the commission's OK before the citizenship process starts -- but subsequently Sargent has noted that Marco Rubio wants the commission to have the power to block the start of the process, while Gang of 8 Democrats disagree. So already we have a bone of contention.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

THIS IS NOT A PIPE BOMB

I recommend the story in The New York Times today about the gun industry's aggressive marketing of firearms (including assault weapons) to children, in the hope that the industry's customer base won't continue to shrink. The story is infuriating. However, there is one moment of absurdity. Times reporter Mike McIntire speaks to Andy Fink, editor of a magazine called Junior Shooters:
In an interview, Mr. Fink elaborated. Semiautomatic firearms are actually not weapons, he said, unless someone chooses to hurt another person with them, and their image has been unfairly tainted by the news media. There is no legitimate reason children should not learn to safely use an AR-15 for recreation, he said.

"They're a tool, not any different than a car or a baseball bat," Mr. Fink said. "It's no different than a junior shooting a .22 or a shotgun. The difference is in the perception of the viewer."
Wow -- if a firearm isn't being aimed at a person, it's not a weapon. How post-modern!

Maybe this notion will work its way into our legal system.

You're a local pol and you get caught receiving a cash bribe? Tell the authorities that since you haven't actually spent the money on a Porsche yet, it's not really a bribe! It's just a bunch of paper!

The DEA swoops down on your boat and finds a kilo of cocaine? Hey, it's not an illegal drug -- it's not actually being snorted! It's a large quantity of a benign powdered chemical!

You build a car bomb and drive it to Times Square, but you're stopped before you can set it off? Hey, as long as you haven't actually detonated it, it's ... um, a science project! Yeah, that's the ticket!

Brilliant!
DOUTHAT'S "FEMINIST" HEROINE COMPARED PRO-CHOICE FEMINISTS TO NAZIS

In his column today, Ross Douthat argues that the anti-abortion movement is really quite enlightened -- very modern, very feminist. Douthat also says it's regrettable that we don't all consider the founder of the annual March for Life a giant of feminism:
IN 1942, ... the United States government established the Women's Army Corps, ... and welcomed our country's first female military recruits.

One of these pioneering women was a corporal from Big Spring, Tex., named Nellie Gray. After the war ended, Gray finished college (with an assist from the G.I. Bill) and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for decades at the State Department and the Department of Labor, earning a law degree at night from Georgetown University along the way. Then the social upheavals of the 1970s arrived, the soldier-turned-bureaucrat-turned-lawyer helped found one of America's most enduring mass movements, establishing an annual protest march that continues to the present day.

That protest is the March for Life, the annual rally against Roe v. Wade....

If she had chosen a different political cause, Gray's trajectory -- from soldier to working woman to professional activist -- would be a case study for students of second-wave feminism.
But, well, Gray did, as Douthat acknowledges, spend her time making "strident attacks on 'feminist abortionists.'" How strident? Douthat doesn't say, but the answer is: this strident:
Speaking to the crowd in fiery tones, Ms. Gray predicted that the United States would hold the equivalent of Nuremburg trials for "feminist abortionists," calling support for a woman's right to choose "crimes against humanity."

"Roe v. Wade has brutalized our country," she said. "The feminist abortionists, look at the evil they are doing. From that will come an accountability." Her words were met with strong applause, and more than a few supporters held high signs that compared abortions in the United States to "Hitler's Holocaust."
And she was serious about that Nuremberg stuff, as she noted in a 1994 interview with Mother Angelica of the Catholic news channel EWTN:
A student of the Nuremberg Trials that tried and sentenced to death Nazi leaders for their "crimes against humanity" during the war, Gray told Mother Angelica that the mass killing of the preborn in America "fits right into the principles of the Nuremberg Trials." She emphasized the serious individual responsibility of everyone to not be complicit in the killing as were many Germans who claimed all kinds of unacceptable excuses for their actions or inactions related to the killings that took place in the death camps and other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the war.
Douthat says that pro-choicers have a distorted view of the anti-abortion movement because of "the idiot 'mansplaining' of amateur gynecologists like Todd Akin." But if Douthat is trying to build a case that the anti-abortion movement is generally modern and enlightened, it's odd that he chose Nellie Gray as an example of that enlightenment. She may not have believed that pregnancy after rape is impossible, but she held the same views on abortion as Akin ("We expect no exceptions whatsoever.... That means no rape, no incest, no life of the mother"). She opposed sex education for teenagers ("It is teaching them how to become fodder for the abortion industry"). And she was so determined to keep her movement "pure" that in 2002 she refused to let a gay anti-abortion group participate in the March for Life and urged police to arrest the marchers.

That's your enlightened heroine, Ross?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

STEVE KING FOR SENATE?

I'm sorry to see that Tom Harkin won't run for reelection in 2014, giving the Republicans a shot at another Senate seat -- but I wonder if the GOP might crazify its way to yet another loss in a winnable race. This article (from The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier) mentions the name of the Iowa Republican with the widest name recognition nationwide, and although he's not regarded as the favorite for the GOP nomination, it's noted that he has some advantages:
Rep. Steve King, 63, a conservative from western Iowa ... has represented about half of the state;s 99 counties. He's ... never ruled out a Senate bid even if it meant challenging Harkin. [Tim] Moran [a former GOP State Central Committee member] believes the prospect of an open seat race would be appealing to his former boss.

For King, one GOP strategist said, the primary would be easier than the general election.
Yeah, that's what I would think, too. Victory in GOP primaries regularly goes to the craziest candidate.
A top party official speculated some Republicans would have reservations about running King in a statewide ticket.
Precisely why I'm rooting for him. And yet the one guy on the record won't say a bad word about him:
Despite those misgivings about the outspoken King running on a statewide ticket, Moran thinks the party -- both on a state and national level -- might find it "refreshing to have Steve King at top of ticket to drive the message and definition of the party." ...

"I've never known Steve King to sit back and be comfortable," said Moran....
Oh, please, Iowa Republicans -- do it. Pick a guy with Akin-esque ideas about rape and pregnancy. Pick a guy who compares immigrants to dogs. Pick a guy who thinks the Supreme Court was wrong in 1965 and states can ban birth control. Pick a guy who, when there was a proposal to place a marker in the U.S. Capitol noting that slave labor was used in the building's construction, cast the only no vote in the House. Pick a guy who's pro-dogfighting. I want him as the emblem of the GOP Class of 2014 nationwide. I'd love to have the whole Democratic Party running against the Party of Steve King.

Of course, he could win. I'm not saying it's risk-free. But try it, Iowa Republicans. Go ahead.
THE WINGNUT ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS

I see that Sarah Palin and Fox News have parted ways.

I don't really care what happens to her now that she's regarded as a laughingstock even by her ideological soul mates, but if I had to guess, I'd say she'll probably start showing up on whatever sort of TV operation Glenn Beck has going these days. Both of them became too crazy and unstable even for the clinically paranoid Roger Ailes (his discontent with each of them was widely reported in the press); the two of them have done joint appearances (at a D.C. rally in August 2010 and at a Missouri rally in October 2011).

So, yeah, I think they'll team up, at rallies you'll find very easy to ignore and on broadcasts you probably can't find on your TV. The right turned buffoons like George W. Bush and Rush Limbaugh into people with the power to do real harm, but the right's power isn't absolute -- some clowns are just too clownish to do serious damage to the Republic (although Beck had a pretty good run).
LEGISLATING FROM THE BENCH, GOP-STYLE: JUST WAIT TILL THE SUBJECT IS VOTING

Here's a passage from the New York Times story about the new federal appeals court ruling overturning President Obama's recess appointments (as you know, a three-judge panel of Republican appointees overturned a century's worth of presidential practice in rebuking Obama):
... the court went beyond the narrow dispute over pro forma sessions and issued a far more sweeping ruling than expected. Legal specialists said its reasoning would virtually eliminate the recess appointment power for all future presidents at a time when it has become increasingly difficult to win Senate confirmation for nominees.
It's become customary for Republican-appointed judges to take narrow questions and use them as an excuse to make sweeping rulings, hasn't it? The Citizens United case certainly wasn't supposed to be a big deal:
The issue before the Justices was a narrow one. The McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law prohibited corporations from running television commercials for or against Presidential candidates for thirty days before primaries. During that period, Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, had wanted to run a documentary, as a cable video on demand, called "Hillary: The Movie," which was critical of Hillary Clinton. The F.E.C. had prohibited the broadcast under McCain-Feingold, and Citizens United had challenged the decision. There did not seem to be a lot riding on the outcome. After all, how many nonprofits wanted to run documentaries about Presidential candidates, using relatively obscure technologies, just before elections?
We know what happened then.

And now, gosh, what ruling can we expect this year from the Court?
The Supreme Court said ... it will review a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that has been the federal government's most forceful tool in protecting minority rights at the polls....

The challenge [is] to Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Ac....

The justices said they would decide whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 when it reauthorized a requirement that states and localities with a history of discrimination, most of them in the South, receive federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.
So the case is ostensibly just about whether it's constitutional for the federal government to continue to subject certain (mostly Southern) states and localities to strict scrutiny of their voting procedures.

But why should we expect the Court to limit itself to that question? Why shouldn't we expect the Court -- which agreed to take this case less than a week after Barack Obama won reelection -- to use the case as an excuse to gut the Voting Rights Act altogether, and all but eliminate federal scrutiny of state voter-registration practices? Y'know, just in time to get the voter rolls purged for the 2014 midterms?

We know that the GOP began trying in earnest to rig the Electoral College vote in key states after the 2012 election results made clear that Republicans can't win fair and square in those states anymore:
Pete Lund, a Republican state representative in Michigan, "plans to reintroduce legislation that would award all but two of Michigan's 16 Electoral College votes according to congressional district results," said an article Friday in The Detroit News.

The paper continued, "The remaining two would go to the candidate winning the statewide majority."

Lund, who proposed a similar bill in 2012, made Republicans' intentions completely clear, saying, according to the article: "It got no traction last year. There were people convinced Romney was going to win and this might take (electoral) votes from him."
So I think it's safe to say that the fix is in. I think the 2014 midterms and 2016 presidential election will be conducted with federal oversight of voter-registration practices all but banned.

Friday, January 25, 2013

YOU LIBS ARE SO SENSITIVE

Rubbing liberals' noses in the D.C. Circuit court's recess-appointment ruling and the Harry Reid capitulation on filibusters, Jennifer Rubin cackles:
It was a bad day for the lefties afflicted with the totalitarian temptation. (Relax: It is a term of art, a well-known one, and I am not calling Democrats totalitarians.)
Really? She's not calling Democrats totalitarian? Yeah, not exactly.

If you're don't have a Wall Street Journal online subscription and don't feel like using Google as a back-door route to the link, let me quote it for you: the link quotes the British political philosopher John N. Gray. Here's what Gray wrote (emphasis mine):
One of the features that distinguished Bolshevism from Tsarism was the insistence of Lenin and his followers on the need for a complete overhaul of society. Old-fashioned despots may modernize in piecemeal fashion if doing so seems necessary to maintain their power, but they do not aim at remaking society on a new model, still less at fashioning a new type of humanity. Communist regimes engaged in mass killing in order to achieve these transformations, and paradoxically it is this essentially totalitarian ambition that has appealed to liberals. Here as elsewhere, the commonplace distinction between utopianism and meliorism is less than fundamental. In its predominant forms, liberalism has been in recent times a version of the religion of humanity, and with rare exceptions -- [Bertrand] Russell is one of the few that come to mind -- liberals have seen the Communist experiment as a hyperbolic expression of their own project of improvement; if the experiment failed, its casualties were incurred for the sake of a progressive cause. To think otherwise -- to admit the possibility that the millions who were judged to be less than fully human suffered and died for nothing -- would be to question the idea that history is a story of continuing human advance, which for liberals today is an article of faith. That is why, despite all evidence to the contrary, so many of them continue to deny Communism's clear affinities with Fascism. Blindness to the true nature of Communism is an inability to accept that radical evil can come from the pursuit of progress.
So, if I understand correctly, when Rubin links to this, what she's saying is:

If you believe in recess appointments or filibuster reform, you have the blood of all who died in the gulags and the terror-famine on your hands, you filthy hippie. Or, at the very least, it's clear that you're willfully blind to the fact that your desire for filibuster reform and recess appointments is the first step on a slippery slope that leads inexorably to totalitarian genocide.

Thanks, Jen. Got it.
ON THAT DAMN RECESS-APPOINTMENT RULING

All I can do is second what Scott Lemieux wrote.
PEGGY NOONAN IN BIZARRO WORLD

Golfer Phil Mickelson (annual income: more than $60 million) recently whined about his tax bill. Peggy Noonan was impressed:
... his complaint came as kind of a relief. It was politically incorrect.... And it was unusual: Most people in his position are clever enough not to sound aggrieved.
Yes, Peggy Noonan is right -- rich people never complain about being overtaxed or persecuted! You were just imagining that they do it all the time. It was a hallucination!

You know what else was a hallucination? Republican lockstep thinking. You just think they all think alike and vote alike and utter exactly the same Fox/talk radio talking points in exactly the same language. Totally not true, according to Noonan!
Conservatives on the ground are angry with [congressional Republicans] after the Benghazi hearings....

The senators weren't organized or focused, they didn't coordinate questions, follow up, have any coherent or discernible strategy....

All this looked like another example of the mindless personal entrepreneurialism of the Republicans on the Hill: They're all in business for themselves. They make their speech, ask their question, and it's not connected to anyone else's speech or question. They aren't part of something that moves and makes progress.

Minority parties can't act like this, in such a slobby, un-unified way.
Right -- it just seemed as if Republicans all asked the same questions. It just appeared as if Senator Rand Paul saying he'd have fired Clinton if he were president bore an uncanny resemblance to Congressman Jeff Duncan wondering why Clinton still has a job. You're missing the subtle differences!

All this comes from a Noonan column titled "Lessons Conservatives Need to Learn." And you know what's another lesson conservatives need to learn, according to Noonan? This:
[Barack Obama] means to change America in fundamental ways and along the lines of justice as he sees it....

He is certain he is right in what he's doing, which is changing the economic balance between rich and poor. The rich are going to be made less rich, and those who are needy or request help are going to get more in government services, which the rich will pay for.... The point is redistribution.

The great long-term question is the effect the change in mood he seeks to institute will have on what used to be called the national character. Eight years is almost half a generation. Don't you change people when you tell them they have an absolute right to government support regardless of their efforts? Don't you encourage dependence, and a bitter sense of entitlement? ...

"You didn't build that" are the defining words of his presidency.
That's right -- all those people who said he was a Marxist hell-bent on redistribution and reparations? Dinesh D'Souza? Newt Gingrich? Rush Limbaugh? According to Peggy Noonan, everyone else in the GOP should talk like those guys! And the Romney campaign, which ripped "You didn't build that" out of context, and spent weeks with the quote as the centerpiece of Romney's quest for the presidency? The Romney people were right! The GOP should spend even more time focusing on that quote and that idea!

This has been a dispatch from Peggy Noonan's Bizarro World.


WHY CHANGE WHAT'S (MOSTLY) WORKING LIKE A CHARM?

Over at The New York Times, Thomas Edsall asks:
Can Republicans Change Their Spots?

If the Republican Party were a profit-seeking corporation, the current management would be tossed.

A post-election study conducted Dec. 12 by Resurgent Republic, a conservative think tank, concluded that the market for right-wing ideologues is just not there anymore:
Republicans have run out of persuadable white voters. For the fifth time in the past six presidential elections, Republicans lost the popular vote. Trying to win a national election by gaining a larger and larger share of a smaller and smaller portion of the electorate is a losing political proposition.
... The problem ... is not just the normal reluctance of a political party to change. Instead, it is the fact that much of the Republican electorate, as presently constructed, is profoundly committed -- morally and ideologically -- to "traditional values." You're asking groups of people to change who were brought together by their resistance to change. Their opposition to change is why they are Republicans....
Well, sure. And so what? Republican plutocrat money and rank-and-file Republican rage may not have won the GOP the presidency for a while, but Republicans are wreaking havoc at the state and local level -- undermining unions, restricting abortion, making tax codes more regressive, gutting local democracy in Michigan. Republicans also control Congress (the Senate, too -- thanks, Harry), which means they actually do pretty much run the federal government. And they've got schemes at advanced stages of development (vote suppression, Electoral College rigging, the inevitable Supreme Court overturn of the Voting Rights Act) that could give them the presidency in 2016 no matter how unpopular they are.

And the press is desperate for a "resurgent, reasonable GOP" narrative, no matter what the party actually does, so the press will do its level best to elect a Republican president four years from now. The only question is which "reasonable" Republican the press will have the biggest crush on. This week, the leader, for no good reason, appears to be Bobby Jindal.

And don't get me started on Edsall's idea of a potential savior:
If the conservative movement continues on its downward trajectory, the American business community, which has the most to lose from Republican failure, will be the key force arguing for moderation.
Oh, please. Republicans in the states are doing a great job of creating a race to the bottom by undermining labor and making taxes and regulations more plutocrat-friendly. At the federal level, the government is jailing no fat cats, while the debate on the safety net is over how much to eviscerate it. Business has no reason to complain about the modern GOP (or about the modern Democratic Party, which continues trying to be GOP Lite).

So shed no tears for the Republicans. They’re doing just fine exactly the way they are.

(Via Balloon Juice.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

THE GUN ABSOLUTISTS DON'T MEET ANYONE PARTWAY

I told you over the weekend about the trouble Reed Exhibitions was having with its Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show, scheduled to take place February 2-10 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In response to the Sandy Hook shootings, Reed decided that exhibitors would not be allowed to display assault weapons -- a decision that, as of Sunday, had led to angry denunciations by likely attendees and the withdrawal of a principal sponsor.

As it turns out, a total of 307 vendors pulled out of the show. Ruger pulled out. The NRA pulled out. And now Reed has issued this statement:
Reed Exhibitions has decided to postpone, for now, the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show given the controversy surrounding its decision to limit the sale or display of modern sporting rifles (also called ARs) at the event....

"Our original decision not to include certain products in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show this year was made in order to preserve the event's historical focus on the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families," said Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions President for the Americas. "In the current climate, we felt that the presence of MSRs would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests. This was intended simply as a product decision, of the type event organizers need to make every day.

"It has become very clear to us after speaking with our customers that the event could not be held because the atmosphere of this year's show would not be conducive to an event that is designed to provide family enjoyment...."
The gunners do not compromise. The gunners do not engage in give-and-take. The gunners laugh at your silly public opinion and your pitiful grieving families.

The National Shooting Sports Federation also weighed in. It says it "has been in intense, frank discussions with Reed Exhibitions management in an effort to reverse this unacceptable decision." Why?
NSSF is in no way affiliated with, nor does it participate in or exhibit at this show in any way. Reed Exhibitions does, however, manage the NSSF-owned SHOT Show....

Because of Reed's recent actions, NSSF is considering all options regarding the management of future SHOT Shows.
The annual SHOT Show is "the largest and most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement industries." This year's edition took place last week in Vegas, with attendance of more than 60,000 people. The NRA had three booths; Bushmaster had two. Ted Nugent denounced the president at the SHOT Show. It's a really big deal in this world.

But if you mess with the gunners -- if you dared to consider the broader public's disgust with the gun culture and still expect to work with them -- well, the gunners will have "intense, frank discussions" with you, and will find themselves "considering all options" regarding whether you will ever do a dime's worth of business with them again.

So ... you still think Wal-Mart might express support for White House efforts to change the gun laws?
WINGNUT WELFARE AT WORK: YOUNG KOCH-ITES TRY TO SELL THE NRA AGENDA

Yesterday, a National Review opinion piece with the bizarre title "Why Young Women Want AR-15s" was being promoted at Fox Nation. Today, NewsBusters is hyping the piece.

The article reads in part:
... In the wake of mass murders like Sandy Hook and the horrific rapes and murders of thousands of women each year, pepper spray, mace, or five-round handheld pistols aren't going to cut it.

So what's a girl to do? When choosing our tool for home defense, we want the best -- in accuracy, handling, and aesthetics. The best choice by all three criteria is -- hands down — the AR-15....

The AR-15 is lightweight and practical. As light as five pounds, it produces low levels of recoil, and it's easy to shoot....

Accuracy? Check. Ease in handling? Check. Intimidation factor? Check. An AR-15 might be a woman's best friend....
The authors are two young women named Celia Bigelow and Aubrey Blankenship:




Both work for American Majority Action. AMA is the 501(c)(4) affiliate of a 501(c)(3) group called American Majority, which has been deeply involved in the Koch-ization of Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker. As the Awl notes:
American Majority was founded by Ned and Drew Ryun, sons of longtime Kansas Republican Representative Jim Ryun. (Yes, Kansas, home of the Kochs.) Jim Ryun's federal campaign finance report reads like a list of tens of thousands of dollars from the Kochs, going all the way back to 1997.

American Majority was organized by, and receives a great deal of its funding through, the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance, which carefully protects the list of its patrons and has gone to pains (though not effectively enough) to remove evidence that it is in large part funded by the Kochs. American Majority is also partnered with Koch organizations that don't hide the Koch connection at all, like Americans for Prosperity.

Sam Adams Alliance is very much funded by the Kochs -- but even if they were not, Eric O'Keefe, the chairman and CEO of the Sam Adams Alliance, is also a board member at the Institute for Humane Studies, a group which has received millions from the Kochs and for which Charles Koch is the chairman.
Do I think this is money well spent? No, I think it's very poorly spent -- wingnut billionaires (the Kochs and others) pay a couple of young female employees to try to generate buzz by arguing that assault weapons are weapons of female empowerment ... and the article gets placed at the dowdy National Review, then picked up by a couple of other sites that no one outside the obsessed right ever reads. (Other efforts to do right-wing outreach to young women, like the Christian-right women's magazine Glenn Reynolds recently shilled for, haven't amounted to much, either.)

But it's worth remembering that the Kochs and others are generally very interested in advancing the cause of the gun industry, even though that would seem to have nothing to do with the plutocrats' economic interests.

Why? A libertarian fondness for the Second Amendment? Or perhaps a desire to keep part of the population angry at "gun-grabbers" so they don't notice that the rich are really robbing them blind? Hard to say.