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“The Perpetually Untimely Conversation”: The Second Amendment And The Fantasy Of Revolution

Even though the National Rifle Association and its supporters believe that there is never any good time to have a national conversation about gun policy in the United States, the latest example in a too-long string of mass murders has indeed prompted calls for exactly such a dialogue. These conversations proceed along the same lines every single time one of these incidents occurs. On one side are the people who think it should be at least somewhat harder, if not illegal, to own assault rifles and 100-round clips. These people tend to think that at the very least, we need to make sure that random individuals are not able to buy these kinds of weapons anonymously and with no background check, so at the very least we can make sure that violent criminals aren’t stocking up on a full arsenal.

The arguers on the other side of this perpetually untimely conversation say that conversely, the problem isn’t too many guns, but not enough guns. That if only there had been more people with loaded guns who felt like they could be heroes in a loud, dark theater among the screaming, the tear gas, and the rapid fire of 71 shots from a semiautomatic weapon, that the shooter could have been neutralized. Whether or not the people who claim this have ever been in a dark theater filled with tear gas and terrified innocent victims attempting to avoid the storm of bullets from a shooter who could be anywhere is immaterial: It is a theoretical possibility to live out a heroic fantasy, and so we must keep the dream alive.

But even more than that, they argue, the Second Amendment is not about the rights of hunters, or those who wish to have weapons to defend their persons and property against intruders—again, things for which an AK47 might not be the best choice. Indeed, the Amendment should specifically protect the right to own assault rifles because the original intention is to allow citizens to resist the military of an attempted takeover by a tyrannical federal government—the precise fear of which has for some reason risen significantly since Barack Obama was elected as president. But more on that later.

This brings up a question: Has anyone actually thought through the realities of staging a domestic insurgency against the armed forces of the United States?

Ignoring for a moment the paradoxical reality that the people who so fervently believe that they need assault rifles to protect themselves against our own military are so often the same people arguing that we should continue to spend more money on that same military than all other countries spend on theirs combined, the first conclusion anyone would come to is that a successful domestic insurgency would need far more than than an assault rifle. When the Second Amendment was written in the late 18th century, the main weapons of war consisted of muskets and flintlock pistols. There are two very worthwhile things to note about this period in weaponry: First, it would have been very difficult for any individual to walk into a crowded theater and commit a massacre with one of these weapons, mainly because by the time the shooter had managed to reload the weapon, everyone could have already run out of the theater, or even escaped at a leisurely stroll after pulling the assailant’s knickerbockers over his wig. But secondly, a group of ordinary citizens, so armed and with the proper training, could pose a significant threat to an invading army, which would be comparably armed.

These days? Things are obviously somewhat different. This will become especially obvious should one find themselves face-to-face with an M1A1 Abrams tank with a Predator drone hovering above raining down hellfire missiles from the sky. One doesn’t need field tests or a war games simulation to realize that even military-grade infantry weapons won’t be very effective against that type of technological terror. If we’re serious about enabling citizens to resist a tyrannical takeover by our nation’s armed forces, it’s immediately clear that we would need to start talking about legalizing far more than just guns. Any well-armed insurgency will need rocket-propelled grenades and surface-to-air missiles; beyond that, we should be talking about making it legal for pilots to retrofit any aircraft they own with whatever caliber of cannon their planes will support.

But previous history has taught us that perhaps the most effective insurgency weapon is the Improvised Explosive Device. If we are serious about defending American liberty against our own military, it’s clear that we need our patriotic bomb-makers to have the freedoms they need to defend our country. As long as our government is monitoring and regulating purchases of fertilizers and other nitrates that could be used to make the explosives we need for self-defense, it’s quite clear we can’t have the freedoms we deserve to defend ourselves against tyranny. And while we’re at it, our nation’s sovereign citizens shouldn’t be bound by United Nations treaties on self-defense items like chemical and biological weapons. The fear of anthrax or sarin gas might be the only thing that keeps our own tyrannical military from attempting to overwhelm our hard-earned freedoms. And while it’s doubtful that any individual would have the wherewithal to build or acquire their own suitcase nuke, that person should certainly be free to do so: It’s the ultimate in self-defense, is it not? The sum of all fears?

But let’s conclude back in the real world. If the types who advocate for the Second Amendment as defense against tyranny were serious about their motivations, they would very quickly realize the inconsistency of having their arguments apply to guns alone, and seek to expand its scope to apply to weapons that actually had a hope of doing the duty for which they believe the Constitution provides. But those who say they dream of rebellion do no such thing, meaning that they either haven’t thought through the consequences of their ideology, or that it is a cover for a motivation that dares not speak its name in polite circles, even if right-wing radio shock jock Neal Boortz did:

And I’ll tell you what it’s gonna take. You people, you are – you need to have a gun. You need to have training. You need to know how to use that gun. You need to get a permit to carry that gun. And you do in fact need to carry that gun and we need to see some dead thugs littering the landscape in Atlanta. We need to see the next guy that tries to carjack you shot dead right where he stands. We need more dead thugs in this city. And let their — let their mommas — let their mommas say, “He was a good boy. He just fell in with the good crowd.” And then lock her ass up.

Now that Barack Obama is the president, it’s simply that the people who fantasize about “standing their ground” against minorities and the people who fantasize about defending themselves against an intrusive government just happen to have even more interests in common.


By: Dante Atkins, Daily Kos, July 29, 2012

July 30, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Frauds And Fabricators”: What Drives The Obama Doubters And Haters?

There are Obama doubters and haters out there who claim with righteous anger that they are “vetting” the president, something they say the mainstream media never did. Some of them have said that my new biography — unwittingly, they argue, for I am too dumb to understand what my research has unearthed — proves that Barack Obama’s defining memoir is phony and that his entire life is a fraud. My intent is not to defend Obama or his book; he can take care of himself, and I have my own questions about “Dreams From My Father,” which I make clear in my book. But when comparing the liberties Obama took with composite characters and compressed chronology — which he acknowledged in the introduction to his memoir — to the stretches his most virulent detractors have taken in building their various conspiracies, I believe that they are the frauds and fabricators.

Not all of them are “birthers,” but the notion that the president was not born in the United States remains at the epicenter of the anti-Obama mythology. Here is the conspiracy that would have had to exist if Barack Hussein Obama II were not born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Aug. 4, 1961:

First, the local newspapers would have had to have been in on the scheme, because they ran notices of his birth among all the other local births that week. Second, the Immigration and Naturalization Service would have had to have been covering something up, because INS officials were closely tracking Barack Obama Sr. when he was at the University of Hawaii on a student visa from Kenya. They thought that he was a bigamist — which he was, having married a woman in Kenya before coming to the States — and a womanizer, which he also was. INS documents in the weeks and months before and after the son’s birth clearly establish the father’s whereabouts and the birth of his son. Finally, the name of Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann, was unusual enough that doctors and nurses in Honolulu remembered it and her giving birth. One prominent doctor was asked by a young journalist if anything interesting had happened in the medical world that week, and he responded, “Well, Stanley had a baby!”

In tandem with the birther notion comes the idea that Obama is a secret Muslim. His Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango, was Muslim; his Indonesian stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, was Muslim; as a boy he was instructed in Islam at a school in Jakarta; and many of his college friends were Muslim. None of this adds up to Obama being Muslim, except in the minds of conspiratorialists. Obama never met his Kenyan grandfather. After infancy, he spent time with his Kenyan father only once, and in any case Barack Obama Sr. was an atheist. The truth is that Muslims had nothing to do with the rise of the Obamas of Kenya and that conservative evangelical Christians were essential every step of the way.

It was proselytizing Seventh-day Adventists who first came to the Obamas’ villages out near Lake Victoria at the start of the 20th century. They taught English and Western ways to the first wave of young boys from the Luo tribe, including Hussein Onyango. His son, the president’s father, was also educated at a missionary school. Later, as a young adult, Barack Obama Sr. was mentored by a remarkable evangelical Christian, Betty Mooney, whose grandfather was one of the founders of Texas Christian University. Mooney, who went to Kenya in the late 1950s to spread the gospel and literacy, met Obama Sr. in Nairobi and hired him to translate some of her literacy books into the Luo tribal language. She encouraged and helped sponsor his coming to the United States and specifically to the University of Hawaii, where he met Stanley Ann Dunham. One can say that President Obama would not exist except for evangelical Christians.

While living in Jakarta from ages 6 through 9, young Obama temporarily took the last name of his stepfather, Soetoro, for school purposes. He was listed as a Muslim on school documents because students were listed in the religion of their fathers. Lolo was not particularly religious; Stanley Ann was spiritual but not part of any formal religion. For most of his three-plus years in Indonesia, Obama attended a Catholic grade school. When his family moved to a better neighborhood in his final year, he went to the local grade school, one of the best in the city. The central doctrine taught at S.D. Besuki was not Islam but Pancasila, or five principles, of modern Indonesia, which evoked the unity of the islands on the vast archipelago, social justice and a belief in one God. Conservative Muslims detested Pancasila (a Sanskrit word revealing Indonesia’s Hindu heritage), insisting that it was too liberal and open to too many religions and interpretations.

In both the issues of Obama’s birth and of his religion, documents and common sense lead in one direction. Obama’s doubters run the other way: His birth certificates must be fake; his espoused Christianity must be a cover. Another group of right-wing doubters hold on to the notion that Obama is a closet socialist, some sort of Manchurian candidate, an idea that his every move as a pragmatic liberal politician over the past 16 years has utterly disproved. Some others maintain that he was not smart enough to get into Occidental, Columbia and Harvard Law, and too inept to write his own memoir, which one particularly obsessed conspiratorialist claims was penned by the former radical Bill Ayers. What about the well-written letters from Obama that are published in my book? Those, too, must be frauds slipped to me by the Obama administration.

In the introduction to my book, I took note of a sick political culture where “facts are so easily twisted for political purposes and where strange armies of ideological pseudo-historians roam the biographical fields in search of stray ammunition.” That sentence is now cited on right-wing Web sites as evidence that I hold them in contempt. True enough, one of the few accurate things that I’ve read from them. I do hold some of them in contempt, not because of their politics, nor because of their dislike of Obama. Political debate and disagreement are the lifeblood of American democracy. No, I hold them in contempt for the way they disregard facts and common sense and undermine the role of serious history as they concoct conspiracy theories that portray the president as dangerous, alien and less than American.

What drives them? Some of it can be attributed to the give-and-take of today’s harsh ideological divide. Some of it can be explained by the way misinformation spreads virally to millions of like-minded people, reinforcing preconceptions. And some of it, I believe, arises out of fears of demographic changes in this country, and out of racism.

By: David Maraniss, Associate Editor, The Washington Post, July 27, 2012

July 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt vs Stubborn Facts”: A Difficult Relationship For The Romney Campaign

John Adams once said, “facts are stubborn things.” These days, another Massachusetts politician has found that saying to ring especially true.

While it’s still unclear how Mitt Romney can be the CEO, chairman, president and sole shareholder of Bain Capital, a company that he claims no responsibility for, it’s become increasingly evident that candidate Romney simply doesn’t want to talk about the facts of his business record.

In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Romney suggested that to question his experiences is to “attack success.” If this is the case, and if we’re also not supposed to talk above a whisper about Mitt’s record as governor, including his signature accomplishment in health care reform, then which parts of his biography remain on the table?

Romney clearly prefers his largely undisclosed experiences in the private sector over his publicly poor record in Boston. At every turn, Romney and his campaign have attempted to steer the discussion toward business matters for just this reason.

But when the Washington Post took him up on it last month and published an article headlined “Romney’s Bain Capital invested in companies that moved jobs overseas,” the Romney campaign was caught flatfooted. The Post found that Bain Capital, the firm Romney spent much of his professional life building up, had invested in companies that had not only shipped jobs overseas — a practice of some concern to working- and middle-class Americans — but had pioneered the practice.

Romney’s campaign pushed back hard, claiming that the Post had its facts wrong. The campaign met with the Post’s editors and demanded a retraction, claiming that Romney had left Bain in 1999, supposedly before the outsourcing investment began. The Washington Post listened to the Romney side of the story but stood its ground.

Now we know why. The Boston Globe reported two weeks ago that Romney had signed official documents claiming to be the president and CEO of Bain Capital as late as 2002, when the company was actively building up firms that outsourced American jobs. He didn’t just say this casually at some dinner party; he swore it was the truth on Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

What did the Romney campaign do this time? It hit the “repeat” button and demanded a retraction from the Globe. Who are you going to believe, the campaign asked its hometown paper, me or your lying eyes? Once again, the investigative journalists stood by their reporting.

Since the Globe story, the hits have kept coming. The AP reported this week that Romney stayed in “regular contact” with Bain during his so-called absence, “personally signing or approving a series of corporate and legal documents through the spring of 2001.” Several sources are now saying that Romney made repeated trips to Boston to meet with Bain executives during this period, even though he recently told CBS’s Jan Crawford that he doesn’t “recall even coming back once to go to a Bain or a management meeting” during the period in question.

So despite what the Romney campaign claims, media interest in this story has nothing to do with attacking personal success in the private sector. It has nothing to do with avoiding the real issues of the campaign.

It has everything to do with attempting to get to the bottom of a situation in which what a candidate is saying seems to have come unglued from the stubborn facts.

Americans know that a level playing field empowers a successful economy. You want to talk about soaking the rich? Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney, paid an effective tax rate of nearly 37% in 1967. The elder Romney didn’t complain and released his tax returns to prove his compliance with the law of the land he wanted to lead. In 2010, Mitt Romney’s tax rate bobbed and weaved its way below 15% — and we know that only because the public had to pry his return (he has released only a full one) out of his clenched hands.

Even more fascinating than the fact that Romney’s father released 12 years’ worth when he ran for president in 1968 is the reason why. “One year could be a fluke,” the elder Romney said, “perhaps done for show.”

This country has a noble habit of withholding elected office from people who have trouble with the facts. Romney could end these discussions overnight by releasing his tax returns, as he has been called on to do by Republicans like Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Until he makes peace with the facts, Romney will be stuck at the intersection of what is both a character issue and a policy issue. If Romney won’t stand by his record at Bain, just like he won’t stand by his record as governor of Massachusetts, how exactly is the American public supposed to evaluate the candidate? And if he won’t disclose his own relationship with tax loopholes and offshore tax havens, leaving voters more questions than answers, how can the American people trust him to reform our tax code in a way that closes loopholes, eliminates free-riding and ensures that everyone is playing by the same rules?

Facts and the Romney campaign have a difficult relationship these days. But they do share one thing in common: They’re both stubborn.


By: Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor, CNN Opinion, July 27, 2012

July 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt’s Olympic Meddle”: Romney Just Can’t Run Away From Fate

So the Republican presidential contender, eager to show off more than gubernatorial experience, travels overseas to bolster his foreign policy credentials. Then, in a TV interview, he blurts out a shockingly ill-considered, if undeniably true, observation that snowballs until the poor guy collapses into an international punch line.

It was a vertiginous fall for George Romney, who, while running for president in 1967, asserted that generals and diplomats had given him “the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get” when he toured Vietnam two years earlier.

And it was painful for Mitt, who had to watch his father’s epic gaffe from afar, while he was over in France struggling to drum up a few Mormon converts.

In their book “The Real Romney,” Michael Kranish and Scott Helman quoted Mitt’s sister Jane as saying the episode deeply affected Mitt: “He’s not going to put himself out on a limb. He’s more cautious, more scripted.”

That’s when Mitt began to build his own sterile biosphere, shaping his temperament and political career to make sure he never stumbled into such a costly moment of candor.

Even though the Mormon doesn’t drink coffee, he has measured out his life in coffee spoons, limiting access to reporters, giving interviews mostly to Fox News, hiding personal data, resisting putting out concrete policy proposals, refusing to release tax returns, trimming his conscience to match the moment, avoiding spontaneity. But somehow he ended up making the same unforced error that his dad did.

It’s like the epigraph in John O’Hara’s “Appointment at Samarra.” You can run from fate, but fate will be waiting in the next town, at the next marketplace.

Even as he angled to appear Anglo-Saxon and obsequiously vowed to restore the bust of Churchill to the Oval Office, Mitt condescended to the nation that invented condescension. The Brits swiftly boxed his ears for his insolence and foul calumny.

Conservatives in London oozed scorn. Mayor Boris Johnson mocked “a guy called Mitt Romney,” and Prime Minister David Cameron suggested it was easier to run an Olympics “in the middle of nowhere.” Fleet Street spanked “Nowhere Man” and “Mitt the Twit.”

Conservatives on Fox News were dumbfounded. “You have to shake your head,” Karl Rove said. Charles Krauthammer pronounced the faux pas “unbelievable, it’s beyond human understanding, it’s incomprehensible. I’m out of adjectives.”

The alarming thing about Romney is that he has been running for president for years, but he still doesn’t know how to read a room. He doesn’t take anything in, he just puts it out. He doesn’t hear himself the way the rest of us hear him.

In the Mitt-sphere, populated by his shiny white family, the Mormon Church and a narrow, homogenous inner circle, Romney’s image of himself as wise, caring, smart and capable is relentlessly reinforced. That leaves him constantly surprised that other people don’t love what he is saying.

We may wince when the blithering toff, or want-wit, as Shakespeare would say, arrives at the Brits’ home and throws his Cherry Coke Zero can in the prize rose bushes. But what drives his gaffes is his desire to preen over accomplishments.

As a candidate, he’s expected to stoop to conquer, to play a man of the people. But he really wants voters to know that he earned $250 million, and not even in the same business where his dad made a name for himself.

So he keeps blurting out hoity-toity stuff to make sure we know he’s not hoi polloi — about his friends who are Nascar owners, his wife’s Cadillacs, how he likes to fire people and how he, too, is unemployed. And he builds a car elevator in the middle of an economic slough.

In his interview with Brian Williams in London, Romney couldn’t resist giving himself the laurels for saving the Salt Lake City Games by analyzing whether the British ones were off by a hair, or a hire.

Then he tried to scamper back to the obligatory common-man script and ended up looking clumsy and the one thing he most certainly is not: unuxorious.

After going all the way to London to see the Olympics, he decides he won’t watch his wife’s mare, Rafalca, compete in horse ballet? He tries to win the political horse race by going to the Games, which are literally a race in which he has a horse, and then feigns disengagement?

“This is Ann’s sport,” Romney told Williams dismissively. “I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it. I will not be watching the event.”

He came across like a wazzock, as The Daily Telegraph called him, using a British insult for a daft know-it-all.

Romney programmed himself into a robot, so he wouldn’t boil over with opinions and convictions, like his more genuine dad.

But if we’re going to have someone who’s removed, always struggling to connect and emote, why not stick with the president we already have?

Better the android you know than the android you don’t know.


By: Maureen Dowd, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 28, 2012

July 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speaking In Secret Code”: Romney’s Love Letter To The Israeli Right Wing

Usually Mitt Romney’s problem, as we saw in London, is that he says something obnoxious. But on Friday, to the right-wing Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, owned by Las Vegas mogul Sheldon Adelson, he said something that simply made no sense, about George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and the Arab Spring. Check that: it made no sense unless you keep up with the tergiversations and vanishing-commissar new versions of history propounded by the neocons and duly followed by Romney. Once again, Herr Mittens proves that there are times when he emphatically does not misspeak—when he’s sucking up to the right.

Israel Hayom asked Romney: “How do you view the Arab Spring and the way in which the U.S. responded to the uprisings in those Arab states?” Romney’s reply has to be reprinted in full to be savored properly: “Clearly we’re disappointed in seeing Tunisia and Morocco elect Islamist governments. We’re very concerned in seeing the new leader in Egypt as an Islamist leader. It is our hope to move these nations toward a more modern view of the world and to not present a threat to their neighbors and to the other nations of the world.

“The Arab Spring is not appropriately named. It has become a development of more concern and it occurred in part because of the reluctance on the part of various dictators to provide more freedom to their citizens. President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner.”

What does this even mean? If this reads to you like some kind of sign language or secret code, you aren’t far off the mark. Romney is speaking a kind of code. As Daniel Larison points out in The American Conservative, what Romney is trying to do is finesse his way around the two phases of the Arab Spring.

There was a time, see, when the Arab Spring was a good thing to the neocons. That it was happening at all was solely a reflection of Bush’s courageous “freedom agenda” and had nothing to do with anything done by Obama, even though it was all happening on Obama’s watch. That was in the early phase, the hopeful, Tahrir Square-centered, throwing-off-the-yoke-of-oppression phase.

But then the Arab Spring mutated into phase two, the democracy phase, when people started voting and, damn them, started voting fundamentalists into office. Suddenly, the Arab Spring wasn’t a glorious manifestation of the freedom agenda. Now it was a dark turn toward a pan-Muslim hegemony that was to be pinned, naturally, on the Muslim in chief in the White House.

So that explains part of Romney’s answer. The other part requires a leap of faith across some vast Grand Canyon of statecraft. So let’s get this straight: if Obama had continued Bush’s agenda, Romney’s saying, then Mubarak would have felt pressured to give more freedom to his citizens—so we’d have a freer Egypt, but with Mubarak still in charge. Um…sure. Just like he did when Bush was pressuring him, and he did almost nothing, a few fig-leaf local elections that meant little.

In its way, it’s kind of elegant. Romney manages to speak highly and sorrowfully of the freedom agenda, and thus to praise Bush. He disparages Obama. And—and here’s the real key to this puzzle—he signals to right-wing readers of this interview in Israel that we’d all be better off if the whole thing had never happened and Mubarak were still in power, closing off those tunnels in Gaza, never mind how full his jails were of his own people. That was his narrow intent—to speak to a conservative Israeli readership, and, who knows, perhaps Adelson himself.

More broadly, Romney’s remarks betray an odd attitude toward history. First of all, it is worth remembering that Bush’s freedom agenda involved, you know, a war in which tens of thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands more turned into refugees. But second, would Romney really rather the Arab Spring never happened? Yes, we’ll go through a period in which fundamentalist parties will prevail, but those parties will have to improve the lot of the citizens or they will, we hope, be held accountable. It’s a regrettable but inevitable phase of the process, and the region has to pass through it, no matter who the American president is and what kind of speeches about freedom he gives.

In other words, democracy for Arab people is OK, maybe, provided American liberals and Democrats don’t get any credit for helping the cause along, and most of all provided the democratization process causes the Israeli right wing no discomfort. Both conditions, especially the second, render the whole project a nullity.

It certainly and quite directly raises the question of how a President Romney would have positioned the United States during the Tahrir Square uprising. With the batphone to his great pal Bibi beeping and blinking nonstop, would Romney in essence have backed Mubarak? Would he have placed the United States against those striving people in the street because however many months later, they were likely to vote the wrong way?

Romney may not know what he’s saying when the topic is Britons’ collective will or “varmint” hunting or the quality of cookies served by working-class Pennsylvanians. But he knew exactly what he was saying in that interview, and the results are sadder to contemplate than his famous errors.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 28, 2012

July 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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