The Texas Legislature has just passed its version of campus-carry — a bill that allows students, teachers, janitors, administrators, and anyone else with a firearms permit to carry concealed handguns on college campuses throughout the state. That means students sitting in a library or classroom or strolling through a classic tree-lined quadrangle may be armed.
College campuses don’t have enough problems with student misbehavior? Administrators aren’t frazzled enough coping with rapes, binge drinking, and routine infractions such as cheating? The Legislature had to add concealed weapons to the mix?The illogic is hard to overstate. This is what one proponent of the measure, GOP state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, had to say: “An armed society is a safe society, so any time you have gun control, there is far more opportunity to become victims.”
Ah, where to begin?It should be clear from the recent spate of police shootings that even those who are highly trained make mistakes with their weapons. They fire too quickly, killing the unarmed. They shoot bystanders. They miss altogether. What makes the gun lobby think that civilians would handle their firearms with more precision and control?
One Texan who is intimately familiar with firearms tried to persuade the Legislature not to pass campus-carry. Adm. William McRaven, who is now the chancellor of the University of Texas System, said, “I’m a guy that loves my guns. I have all sorts of guns. I just don’t think bringing guns on campus is going to make us any safer.”
The man is a former Navy Seal. He commanded the U.S. Special Operations forces who killed Osama bin Laden. But the GOP-dominated Legislature ignored him.
Clearly, we’re in the grip of a kind of madness, an irrational, fevered obsession with firearms. Sometime in the not-too-distant (I hope) future, historians and anthropologists will study our society’s gun sickness to try to figure out how we became so warped by firearms ownership. They’ll ponder this cultural weirdness just as we look back at the Salem witch trials and the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness.
To be sure, the vast majority of Americans are not persuaded that more guns are tantamount to more safety. They know better. Polls show that we support additional gun safety laws, including a ban on large-capacity magazines and broadening background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and the deranged to get guns.
But we don’t care enough. We haven’t gone about the business of isolating this madness, quarantining the fevered, protecting ourselves from the spread. We’ve allowed this infection to embed itself in the bloodstream of civil society.
Currently, according to the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states prohibit concealed weapons on college campuses. Twenty-three others allow college presidents or regents to make the decision. But it seems inevitable that campus-carry laws will spread.
The gun lobby has more energy, more focus, more intensity. Its minions take their odd enthusiasm to state legislatures, to city councils, and to court, where they seek to overturn even modest gun safety laws. They target politicians who dare suggest that not every private citizen needs to own a shoulder-fired rocket launcher.
When Gov. Greg Abbott signs the bill, as expected, Texas will become the ninth state to allow campus-carry, and proponents will continue to push in gun-crazed states with Republican-dominated legislatures. Look for some to emulate Utah, which has the broadest (and nuttiest) law, outdoing Texas. Its statute specifically bans any college campus from prohibiting concealed weapons. In Texas, at least, private colleges may opt out.
There is a very real danger that some student will kill another on campus. Or kill a teacher with whom he or she has a disagreement. Or go on a rage-fueled spree and kill several people.
Texas, especially, ought to know better. It was the scene of one of the nation’s earliest spree shootings, in 1966, when former Marine Charles Whitman fired from the clock tower on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin.
Unfortunately, the Texas Legislature has trampled the memory of the dead.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Commentary in 2007, The National Memo, June 6, 2015
“The Goal Is To Limit Representation”: The Conservatives Who Gutted The Voting Rights Act Are Now Challenging ‘One Person, One Vote’
Ed Blum, who brought the case that led to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, is now going after the historic principle of “one person, one vote.” The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to hear Evenwel v. Abbott, Blum’s latest case, which challenges the drawing of state Senate districts in Texas. The obscure case could have major ramifications for political representation.
Blum first began attacking the Voting Rights Act after losing a Houston congressional race to a black Democrat in 1992 and founded the Project on Fair Representation in 2005 to challenge the constitutionality of the VRA. The Evenwel case doesn’t deal directly with the VRA but on how districts should be calculated. Since the Supreme Court’s 1964 Reynolds v. Sims decision, districts have been drawn based on the total population of an area. Blum instead wants lines to be drawn based only on eligible voters—excluding children, inmates, non-citizens, etc. from counting toward representation.
If that happened, legislative districts would become older, whiter, more rural, and more conservative, rather than younger, more diverse, more urban, and more liberal. “It would be a power shift almost perfectly calibrated to benefit the Republican party,” explains University of Texas law professor Joey Fishkin. “The losers would be urban areas with lots of children and lots of racially diverse immigrants. The winners would be older, whiter, more suburban, and rural areas. It would be a power shift on a scale American redistricting law has not seen since the 1960s. While not nearly as dramatic as the original reapportionment revolution, it would require every map in every state to be redrawn, with the same general pattern of winners and losers.”
Demographically, the gap between Republicans and Democrats is wider than it has ever been. “House Republicans are still 87 percent white male, compared to 43 percent of House Democrats—the widest gap we’ve ever seen,” explains Dave Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report. “In terms of composition of districts, the median GOP district is 76% white, while the median Dem district is 49% white—again, the widest gap we’ve ever seen. Overall, the median House district is 68% white, compared to 63% for the nation as a whole.”
This representation gap explains why Republican officials are pushing new voting restrictions like voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, which disproportionately impact minority voters and seek to make the electorate smaller and whiter. A victory for Blum’s side in Evenwel would make districts across the country even less representative of the country as a whole.
Blum claims to be fighting for race neutrality but he’s often done the bidding of the most powerful figures in the conservative movement and Republican Party. As I reported in 2013:
His Project on Fair Representation is exclusively funded by Donors Trust, a consortium of conservative funders that might be the most influential organization you’ve never heard of. Donors Trust doled out $22 million to a Who’s Who of influential conservative groups in 2010, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafted mock voter ID laws and a raft of controversial state-based legislation; the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Koch brothers’ main public policy arm…Donors Trust has received seven-figure donations from virtually every top conservative donor, including $5.2 million since 2005 from Charles Koch’s Knowledge and Progress Fund. (The structure of Donors Trust allows wealthy conservative donors like Koch to disguise much of their giving.)
From 2006 to 2011, Blum received $1.2 million from Donors Trust, which allowed him to retain the services of Wiley Rein, the firm that unsuccessfully defended Ohio’s and Florida’s attempts to restrict early voting in federal court last year. As a “special program fund” of the tax-exempt Donors Trust, Blum’s group does not have to disclose which funders of Donors Trust are giving him money, but he has identified two of them: the Bradley Foundation and the Searle Freedom Trust. The Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation paid for billboards in minority communities in Milwaukee during the 2010 election with the ominous message “Voter Fraud Is a Felony!”, which voting rights groups denounced as voter suppression. Both Bradley and Searle have given six-figure donations to ALEC in recent years, and Bradley funded a think tank in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute, that hyped discredited claims of voter fraud to justify the state’s voter ID law.
The challenge in Evenwel isn’t so different from the gutting of the VRA or new laws restricting voting rights. The goal is to limit representation, make it harder for some to participate in the political process and to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.
CORRECTION: Blum says, “The Project on Fair Representation hasn’t been affiliated with Donors Trust for nearly 6 months; we are now a 501 (c) (3) so our donors will be disclosed according to the regulations that apply to all public charities.”
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, May 28, 2015
Some folks thought it was “inflammatory.” Some said it was “irresponsible,” others, “absurd,” still others, “disappointing.”
Those are some of the words affronted conservatives used in emails last month to describe my column on the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. In it, I noted how Timothy McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism shed light on a movement of like-minded zealots motivated, as he was, by hatred of the federal government and rejection of its authority.
“Twenty years ago,” I wrote, “the idea of anti-government resistance seemed confined to a lunatic fringe operating in the shadows beyond the mainstream. Twenty years later, it is the mainstream, the beating heart of the Republican Party. And while certainly no responsible figure on the right advocates or condones what he did, it is just as certain that McVeigh’s violent antipathy toward Washington, his conviction that America’s government is America’s enemy, has bound itself to the very DNA of modern conservatism.”
That’s the argument conservatives found “hateful” “sickening,” and “dishonest.”
So it is, depending upon your religious outlook, a fortuitous coincidence or superfluous evidence of God’s puckish sense of humor that a few days later comes news of conservatives accusing the federal government of trying to take over the state of Texas. It seems the four branches of the U.S. military are gearing up for Operation Jade Helm 15, an eight-week training exercise across seven states. Right-wing conspiracy theorists online and on radio are claiming the exercise is actually a pretext for a federal takeover of the Lone Star State, with — get this — abandoned Walmarts to be used for the processing of prisoners!
Nor is this being laughed off by conservatives in positions of authority. To the contrary, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the state guard to monitor the exercise to safeguard Texan’s “civil liberties.” Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert has asked the military to change the exercise. Senator and presidential wannabe Ted Cruz said he checked with the Pentagon and while he accepts that it has no plans to conquer Texas — how magnanimous of him — “I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty” because the Obama administration “has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy.”
Forgive me if I don’t spend a lot of space pointing out that this is stupid, though I can’t resist asking: If the Navy, Army, Marines, and Air Force were, indeed, planning to take over Texas, just what does Gov. Abbott think the state guard would be able to do about it?
There is, however, a more pressing observation to be made. After all, chances are good you’ve never heard about any of this — the story hasn’t garnered major headlines — and that, hearing of it now, you are not terribly surprised. That speaks pointedly of how inured we have become to the insane, paranoiac, anti-government prattle flowing like sewage from the political right. Duly elected leaders, putatively responsible people, give credence to the crazy idea that the federal government is about to attack its second most populous state and we shrug because it’s just another Tuesday in the lunatic asylum of American politics.
Look, I get it: No one wants to be compared to McVeigh. And I’ll repeat: No one in a position of responsibility embraces his prescription of terrorist violence. But it seems to me beyond argument that in the philosophical struggle for the soul of conservatism, he lost the battle and won the war. Much of what now passes for conservatism proceeds from extremes of government loathing that would have stunned Ronald Reagan himself.
Some of my readers used many colorful words to characterize that argument. Here’s the word I’d use:
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 11, 2015
“Who’s Really Laughing About The Invasion Of Texas?”: Just Getting The Larger Idea Into The Mainstream Media Is A Victory
All week long we’ve been having a good laugh over Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordering the Texas state guard to monitor Jade Helm 15, a military exercise planned by the Pentagon to simulate “covert military operations” in Texas and seven other western states. The conspiracy theory on the right is that the operation is designed to “take over” Texas, which is funny because the state is actually already part of the US. The speculation that abandoned Walmart stores are being prepped to hold gun-lovers and patriots makes it only more hilarious because, well, don’t Walmarts already do that?
We on the left can laugh all we want at the rightwing nut-jobs, but don’t think for a moment that liberals are the only ones enjoying the comedy. A lot of Republicans who know better are laughing up their sleeves about the hysteria the media coverage is generating. Texas Representative Louie Gohmert feeds the alarm, warning that “patriotic Americans have reason to be concerned” about the exercise. “I have a great deal of faith and confidence in Governor Abbott,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz says, letting the fantasy fly. “You know, I understand a lot of the concerns raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm. It’s a question I’m getting a lot.”
But as Jon Stewart points out, these military exercises have been going on in Texas for years, and the Lone Star state has always welcomed them. Hmmm, what’s different now, he wonders, under a photo of our black president.
This is how ginning up the base works. If there’s a near-time analog, it would be the 24/7 coverage before the 2014 midterm elections about Ebola and the crazies’ theory that the feds were encouraging an epidemic in America by not quarantining anyone who set foot in West Africa. That was a bad joke, too, since, after all, nobody who had not been in West Africa or treated someone with Ebola had ever caught the disease. And the media coverage stopped on a dime when the election was over.
But, boy, did that coverage help drive racially biased voters to the polls.
Whether or not rank-and-file Texans really believe that US generals are threatening to put them under martial law, there’s a sense of pleasure in punking the national media and forcing them to discuss black helicopters. Check out this video, from the Austin Statesman and played this week on Hardball, that shows a US Army spokesman trying to calm fears at a town hall in Bastrop County, Texas. After the 4:30 mark, you can see a young woman smiling and hooting in delight as the spokesman tries to make his point, only to be confronted by folks shouting that they don’t believe a word he says.
The Texas takeover is like Obamacare death panels, or Sharia law coming to a court near you, or fluoride in the water supply. It doesn’t matter if the particular charge is proven to be completely false. Just getting the larger idea (don’t trust Obama’s feds, they want to un-cling you from your guns and religion) into the mainstream media is a victory. It validates the paranoia.
And just because Clive Bundy is paranoid does not mean the federal government isn’t actually out to get him. The right perceives their power waning and so proactively taunts the powers that be to expend resources and convince them they’re wrong. Many conservatives are sane enough to know that these conspiracy theories are a crock. But they see that Mitt Romney tried to win the presidency two years ago with a supermajority of white voters and lost convincingly. They want conservatives to win elections, and it is increasingly apparent that their ability to do so in national contests is diminishing rapidly. Defying or degrading the institutions that enforce the will of popular majorities is actually a logical way to delay their expression.
We’re going to have a long hot summer of this sad joke: Jade Helm 15 lasts from July 15 through September 15. There’ll be lots of laughs, but it’s not clear who’ll get the last one.
By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, May 8, 2015
“Men Of The People”: Multiple GOP Presidential Candidates Now Investigating Nutball Conspiracy Theory
As we discussed last week, conspiracy theorists in Texas are convinced that a multi-state training exercise the military is soon to conduct called Jade Helm is actually preparation for the declaration of martial law across the Southwest, with all manner of ungodly consequences to follow, including the confiscation of people’s guns and perhaps forced internment in re-education camps where patriotic Americans are forced to watch episodes of “Girls” with their eyes pried open “Clockwork Orange”-style and fed a diet of borscht and stale bread. Governor Greg Abbott, perhaps after noting continued healthy sales of tinfoil hats throughout the Lone Star State, announced that he had instructed the National Guard to “monitor” the exercise, just to make sure there’s no funny stuff going on. Last week Rand Paul told a radio host he’d look into it, and on Saturday, Ted Cruz made clear that he’s on the case:
“My office has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise,” Cruz, a Texas senator, told Bloomberg at the South Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention. “We are assured it is a military training exercise. I have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying.”
If the question you’re asking is, “Why would people believe something so preposterous?”, then what Cruz is saying almost makes sense. His argument is essentially that ordinary folks would never have contemplated such a thing a few years ago, but after Barack Obama went on his socialist rampage, trying to get people health coverage and imposing restrictions on Wall Street’s ability to obliterate the American economy again, it’s only natural that people would become so alarmed that it seems perfectly plausible to them that Obama would have sent the army to take over Texas.
But there’s a big difference between saying “Here’s an explanation for why some people might be taken with this insane idea” and saying “I too am taken with this insane idea.” Cruz is planting himself somewhere in the middle — he’s not endorsing it, but he’s not dismissing it either, which is why he instructed his staff to communicate with the Pentagon and inquire whether they are in fact about to launch some kind of coup.
Not only does Cruz not come out and say the conspiracy theory is absurd (he only goes so far as to say that “I have no reason to doubt” that martial law is not in the works), he seems to imply that it’s perfectly reasonable, based on the Obama administration’s record, for people to assume that something like that would actually be happening.
But it isn’t. You can have a thousand objections to actions this president has undertaken, but if you genuinely think that an army training exercise is actually a cover for a military coup, you’re a loon and there is not a single reasonable thing about what you believe. Like Greg Abbott and Rand Paul, Ted Cruz knows perfectly well how crazy this is. But he’s a man of the people, so he’ll just pass on what the people are telling him.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 4, 2015