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“A Resettling Of The Hostages”: What The Tea Folk Want In The Fiscal Talks

To properly assess the lay of the land for the continuing fiscal negotiations in Washington, it’s kind of important to understand what those conservative Tea types fighting John Boehner actually want. You get the general impression they just want less compromise than Boehner. But the reality is quite different. Here’s an appropriate reminder from Breitbart’s Joel Pollak:

The present Tea Party dilemma did not begin in November 2012 but in January 2011, when the new Republican leadership in the House of Representatives excluded Tea Party members from the highest leadership positions. The Tea Party, used to opposing but not to governing, acquiesced in a faulty arrangement that allowed the Republican establishment to lead the legislative agenda, and to blame the Tea Party when it failed.

That is exactly what happened in the summer of 2011, when Speaker of the House John Boehner quashed efforts by Rep. Jim Jordan to rally support around the Tea Party’s preferred “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal in the debt ceiling debate. Boehner then signed onto an ill-fated deal that led to the present “fiscal cliff” impasse–while the Tea Party, slandered by the mainstream media as “terrorists,” bore the burden of blame.

Sounds semi-reasonable until you focus on what the “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal involves. Here’s a description from June of 2011:

1. Cut – We must make discretionary and mandatory spending reductions that would cut the deficit in half next year.

2. Cap – We need statutory, enforceable caps to align federal spending with average revenues at 18% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with automatic spending reductions if the caps are breached.

3. Balance – We must send to the states a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) with strong protections against federal tax increases and a Spending Limitation Amendment (SLA) that aligns spending with average revenues as described above.

The “Cut, Cap and Balance” Pledge that was signed by 12 senators and endorsed by every one of the viable GOP presidential candidates (including Mitt Romney) made all three elements a condition precedent to support for any debt limit increase.

Since constitutional amendments require passage in both Houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote, and the version being promoted by conservatives involves a radical and permanent reduction in federal spending, it ain’t happening unless and until vast changes in the composition of Congress occur–maybe on the order of four or five straight 2010-style GOP landslides. So we’re not talking about some temporary “hostage-taking” involving the debt limit, but the kind where the hostage is resettled in another country under armed guard for years.

It is rather important that the media and Democrats understand where the Tea Folk are coming from. They aren’t just trying to push the country towards their policy priorities. The whole idea, and the rationale for all the revolutionary trappings, rhetoric and other folderol, is permanent repeal of much of the domestic policy legacy of the twentieth century–back towards what they imagine the Founders (and for many of them, Almighty God) intended. For the most part, they have little to fear from voters back home. There is no price to be paid for craziness and intransigence, though in most cases there is decidedly a big risk in exhibiting reasonableness.

So that’s who we are dealing with, and best we can tell, there are enough of them in the House to keep Boehner from showing much reasonableness as well.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 27, 2012

December 28, 2012 Posted by | Fiscal Cliff | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“2012, The Year Of Conservative Absolutism”: The Republican Party Embraces An Inflexible And Combative Conservative Ideology

Between now and New Year’s Day, I will occasionally post thoughts about the big political phenomena of 2012. The biggest was the decision made the Republican Party’s rank-and-file and leadership to embrace an unusually inflexible and combative conservative ideology as it sought to topple an incumbent Democratic president and regain control of the Senate. In my opinion, this counter-intuitive approach had more to do with the ultimate results than any other single factor, including the Obama campaign’s great strengths and Mitt Romney’s personal weaknesses, and the thousands of daily events on the campaign trail we all talked about. The only thing that perhaps rivaled the unforced error of the GOP’s basic messaging was the steady if unspectacular improvement in the objective condition of the country–from the economy to national security to the first positive benefits of Obamacare–which made it easier for Democrats to make the election a clear choice of future policy paths.

It didn’t have to be that way. In Mitt Romney the GOP had a presidential nominee who would have been perfectly happy to campaign as a different version of himself, among the many versions he has presented over the years. Republicans did not have to choose a list of Senate candidates so bad–many either open extremists or former “establishment” GOPers afraid to risk conservative criticism–that they managed to lose seats in a cycle when big gains should have been relatively easy. The party’s dreadful performance among younger and minority voters was largely self-inflicted. Nobody made them raise reproductive rights as an issue, particularly in a year when their own pundits and candidates constantly insisted–as though mumbling to themselves–that “social issues” were off the table.

Yet there they were, as prospects for winning the White House and the Senate slipped away, stuck not only with absolutist positions on abortion and LGBT rights that have become increasingly universal in recent years, but with equally absolutist and unpopular positions on tax rates for the wealthy, economic stimulus, health care, climate change, and “entitlement reform.” By the time Romney tried to pose as a “moderate” in the autumn, praying for media complicity in presenting yet another dishonest self-portrait, it was too late.

Yes, demographic trends played a big role in the outcome, but given economic conditions and what might have been a serious falloff in turnout for Obama’s 2008 coalition, a less ideologically rigid GOP would have had a decent chance to prevail.

This is all worth reiterating because there are scarce signs of any Republican reconsideration of basic ideological positioning following the election. Sure, they’ll move partway back to the George W. Bush positioning on immigration–though not without savage internal dissension–and will probably shut up about marriage equality in most parts of the country. Institutions associated with the Tea Party Movement, and some of its leaders, may decline in popularity–not that it much matters insofar as that movement’s point of view has now been largely internalized by the “Republican Establishment,” as Steve Kornacki notes at Salon today. But even as the image of an extremist party continues to sink in, and even as demographic trends make a party of old white people even less attractive to the entire electorate, the prospect of “better” candidates and shrunken midterm turnout patterns will almost certainly prevent any real internal change.

So those of us who thought Barack Obama deserved a second term, and who were horrified by what a Republican White House and Congress might have done–by now we’d be looking right down the barrel of the Ryan Budget being rammed through Congress via reconciliation–owe a lot to the many ideological enforcers of the GOP who made even modest accommodations to political necessity so difficult. And despite the frustrating inability or unwillingness of some in the Beltway media to grasp the basics of asymmetrical polarization, the conservative movement’s constant aggressions convinced enough self-conscious “centrists”–from Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein to yours truly–that something unsavory was going on in the Elephant Party which had to be repudiated. This enabled Obama and his highly competent campaign to lead a united coalition through thick and thin, and–who knows?–may now help him govern despite all the obstacles he now faces.

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 27, 2012

December 28, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Ideologues | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hijacked By Ideologues”: The Republicans Have Now Agreed To Raise Taxes For The Entire Country

The inside line from Washington is that there will be no Fiscal Cliff deal before the end of the year.

That’s not surprising. Unfortunately, it always seemed unlikely that our politicians would agree to any vote that could be framed as them having voted to “raise taxes” — which any deal before December 31 could have been framed as.

The more likely scenario seemed to be that politicians would wait until taxes increased automatically on January 1 and then heroically vote to cut them — at least some of them.

And that’s still my bet about what will happen in January.

But just because it seemed likely that politicians would be ruled by “politics” instead of pragmatism doesn’t mean this is something to be proud of.

And let’s be clear about what has happened in the past two months.

What has happened is that the political party that has based its entire existence on never agreeing to a tax hike of any kind has essentially agreed to tax hike for the entire country.

By not accepting the Democrats’ offer to extend the Bush tax cuts for ~98% of Americans, the Republicans have agreed to let taxes rise on ALL Americans.

The Republicans have done this, it appears, only (or at least mainly) in a stubborn attempt to preserve lower tax rates on the highest-earning Americans.

And now those tax rates, too, will go up.

And the economy will slow down.

The Republicans have tried to pin the blame for the tax hikes on the Democrats, but most Americans have seen through this. And rightly so. The Republicans agreed to the coming tax hikes when they voted for the legislation in the summer of 2011. And now, by refusing to extend the tax cuts for all Americans but the richest 2%, the Republicans have tacitly once again agreed to raise taxes on all Americans.

This is what happens when a party that used to be known for pragmatism and responsibility allows itself to be hijacked by ideologues.

A deal to mute the impact of the Fiscal Cliff and raise the debt ceiling should be within easy reach of reasonable people on both sides of the aisle.

Unfortunately, our government isn’t run by reasonable people anymore. Especially on the Republican side.

NOTE: This is my personal view, not “Business Insider’s” So if you want to lecture someone about how the Republicans are absolutely right to agree to raise taxes on the entire country just to avoid voting to increase taxes on the highest-earning Americans, please direct those notes to me.


By: Henry Blodgett, Business Insider, December 27, 2012

December 28, 2012 Posted by | Budget, Fiscal Cliff | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“NRA Misleads On Assault Weapons”: The ’94 Assault Weapons Ban Was Full Of Loopholes, But Studies Prove It Was Effective

As Democrats move to once again ban assault weapons and NBC host David Gregory gets investigated for using a high-capacity magazine, banned in D.C., as a prop in his interview with the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, one key question still hasn’t been properly addressed by the media thus far — did the 1994 Assault Weapon Ban actually work?

Even Gregory, who convincingly played a devil’s advocate to LaPierre Sunday, was dismissive of its effect on Sunday. “I mean the fact that that it just doesn’t work is still something that you’re challenged by if you want to approach this legislation again,” he said of the ban to New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, a supporter of the ban.

There’s a dearth of quality empirical research on the efficacy of the ban, thanks in part to Congress’ statutory limitations on the type of gun violence research the federal government is allowed to conduct. Pro-gun lawmakers made it illegal for research agencies to advocate for gun control, which effectively means looking for any connection between guns and gun violence, but the evidence suggests the law had positive effects, if not as much as advocates would like.

The single formal assessment of the ban, as required by Congress in passing the law, was conducted by criminologists Christopher Koper, Jeffrey Roth and others at the University of Pennsylvania (Koper is now at George Mason). The National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice, paid for the evaluation, which was first conducted in 1999 and updated in 2004, and looked at everything from homicide rates to gun prices.

A few key findings emerged. Overall, banned guns and magazines were used in up to a quarter of gun crimes before the ban. Assault pistols were more common than assault rifles in crimes. Large-capacity magazines, which were also prohibited, may be a bigger problem than assault weapons. While just 2 to 8 percent of gun crimes were committed with assault weapons, large-capacity magazines were used in 14 to 26 percent of of firearm crimes. About 20 percent of privately owned guns were fitted with the magazines.

But even though assault weapons were responsible for a fraction of the total number of gun deaths overall, the weapons and other guns equipped with large-capacity magazines “tend to account for a higher share of guns used in murders of police and mass public shootings,” the study found.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention to the recent history of mass shootings. In just the past year, the same .223 Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle was used in the Aurora, Colo., theater massacre, the shooting at the Clackamas Mall in Oregon, the Newtown elementary school shooting, and, just a few days ago, the killing of two firefighters in upstate New York. Jared Loughner used 33-round high-capacity magazines in a handgun to shoot former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and more than a dozen others. Seung-Hui Cho used a 15-round magazine to kill 32 and wound 17 at Virginia Tech in 2007.

An October 2012 study from Johns Hopkins, which looked at newer data than Koper’s, concluded that that “easy access to firearms with large-capacity magazines facilitates higher casualties in mass shootings.”

So, according to the official study, was the ban effective in stopping killings? The short answer is yes, though it’s a bit unclear because of the massive loopholes in the law. “Following implementation of the ban, the share of gun crimes involving AWs [assault weapons] declined by 17 percent to 72 percent across the localities examined for this study (Baltimore, Miami, Milwaukee, Boston, St. Louis, and Anchorage),” the Koper study concluded.

Data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also shows a significant drop in assault weapon usage in gun crimes. In the five-year period before the enactment of the ban, the weapons constituted almost 5 percent of the guns traced by the Bureau (the ATF is responsible for tracking guns used in crimes), while they accounted for just 1.61 percent of gun traces after the ban went into effect — a drop of 66 percent. The effect accelerated over time, as the guns presumably became harder to find.

The problem with the ban, as both gun rights advocates (seeking to cast aspersions on the law) and gun control proponents (seeking to explain its limited impact) agree, is that it was weak to the point of being meaningless. As the bill made its way through Congress, gun lobbyists managed to create bigger and bigger carve-outs, the largest being the grandfathering in of guns and magazines produced and owned before the ban went into effect. The guns and magazines could also continue to be imported, as long they were produced before the law went into effect.

At that time of the ban, there were already more than 1.5 million privately owned assault weapons in the U.S. and 25 million guns equipped with large-capacity magazines. Another almost 5 million large-capacity magazines were imported during the ban. These could continue to be used and traded completely legally.

“The ban’s exemption of millions of pre-ban AWs and LCMs ensured that the effects of the law would occur only gradually. Those effects are still unfolding and may not be fully felt for several years into the future,” Koper and his colleagues added.

The other big exemption in the law was the narrow definition of what the government considers an assault weapon. The ban initially targeted 18 gun models, and then prohibited any future models that contained two or more “military-style” features. Some of these features are decidedly superficial, such as a collapsable stock or muzzle shroud, leading the NRA to dismiss the category of assault weapons as artificial and “cosmetic.” Indeed, gun manufacturers were able to legally produce and sell nearly identical guns to ones that were now prohibited by making a few minor tweaks.

Since the ban was allowed to lapse in 2004, there hasn’t been another comprehensive national study. There is, however, some encouraging data on the state level. A Washington Post analysis of gun seizures in Virginia showed a significant drop in the number of high-capacity magazines seized by police during the 10 years the ban was in effect, only for the number to return to pre-ban levels after the law expired. In 1994, the year the ban went into effect, police in the state seized 1,140 guns with high-capacity magazines. In 2004, its last year on the books, that number had dropped to 612. By 2006, it was back to over 1,000.

Garen Wintemute, the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis Medical School, looked at his state’s experience and found a troubling pattern in who purchases guns that were once banned. First, “among those purchasing handguns legally, those with criminal records were more likely than others to purchase assault-type handguns,” he told Salon. Second, “among those purchasing handguns legally who had criminal records, those purchasing assault-type handguns were much more likely than those purchasing other types of handguns to be arrested for violent crimes later.” He wasn’t able to study rifles because the state’s archive of purchases was limited to handguns.

Abroad, the data is even more convincing. In Australia, a 1996 mass shooting that left 36 dead led the conservative government to act swiftly to ban semi-automatic assault weapons with a much stronger law. They did not grandfather in old guns and paid to buy back old ones. Gun-related homicide plummeted by 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. Meanwhile, gun suicides — which are responsible for most firearm deaths in most developed countries — dropped by a whopping 65 percent. Robberies at gunpoint also dropped significantly. In the decade prior to the ban, there were 18 mass shootings. In the decade following it, there were zero.

The resounding success of the Australian model shows where the U.S.’s attempt to ban assault weapons failed. By the same token, it shows where we could succeed by implementing a real ban without the carve-outs of the the 1994 law.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, December 26, 2012

December 28, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Beating The Odds”: Health Care, Guns And The Will To Win

For supporters of the urgent push for sensible gun laws, the fierce national battle over health care is a good example of how folks can beat the odds.

One of the most extraordinary things about the campaign to win Obamacare was the sheer will of its supporters — the ability to maintain momentum and keep going in the face of one challenge after another. The campaign for commonsense gun laws needs the same thing right now. While advocates have been slogging away for years, the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and so many other places have created an historic opportunity for change. We cannot afford to let the momentum and attention slip away.

We can already see the obstacles. Just a few days after the National Rifle Association (NRA) had a press event where they offered a shockingly stupid and tone deaf response to the massacre in Newtown, Conn., they’re back to doing what they do best — telling everyone what they’re against. Anything that smacks of regulating guns is a bad idea, they say. The only way to end senseless firearms violence is more guns, they say.

Already the apologists for the NRA and the gun manufacturers are out in full force, explaining that there are so many factors that contribute to this problem that we can’t possibly tackle one of the solutions that’s within our reach.

This time, it appears, members of Congress are not cowering. Many former opponents of sensible gun laws are announcing their support for measures like criminal background checks for all gun-buyers and bans on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines — the equipment used in the most recent mass shootings. Polls show that the public and most NRA members are on their side.

The outcome of the gun debate, as in the health care battle, will be determined by political will and the courage of individual members of Congress to stand up for what they believe to get results.

When she was Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi was a big reason we won health care. She defined what it means to be a leader. She was smart and strategic, and she got others to follow. But perhaps most importantly, in the dark days of January and February of 2010, when it looked like health reform would fall short in Congress, Pelosi was willful. She wouldn’t give up. Pelosi boldly told the American people what it would take to win — and gave us a roadmap for this fight:

We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health care reform passed for the America people.

We must ensure that the innocent victims of Newtown and other mass shootings, along with the 12,000 people killed each year by gun violence, did not die or suffer in vain. The fallen and their families deserve better. It’s time for Congress to pole vault in and break the political inertia that leaves us all at risk.

We took on the mammoth task of reforming a broken health care system, and our political leaders beat the odds through sheer force of will. Now our leaders must use the same single-minded determination to end rampant gun violence.


By: Ethan Rome, Executive Director, Health Care for America Now, The Huffington Post, December 26, 2012

December 28, 2012 Posted by | Guns, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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