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“The NRA Is Becoming The Great Oz”: There’s Nothing Behind The Majic Curtain But The Voice Of A Special Interest Bully

For years the NRA has struck terror into the hearts of many Members of Congress. The organization’s officers and lobbyists purported to represent the interests and wishes of millions of American gun owners.

Members of Congress believed that negative NRA ratings — and a flood of NRA money — could sink their political careers faster than you could say “AR-15.”

But the American people, and Members of Congress, are gradually awaking to the fact that — just as with the Wizard of Oz — there isn’t much behind the NRA’s magic curtain but the big booming voice of a special interest bully whose power derives more from perception than reality.

It is of course true that in politics the perception of power translates into the reality of power. The problem is that once it becomes clear that you’re all hat and no cattle, the myth of power rapidly collapses into a pile of dust. That is exactly what is happening to the NRA. Here’s why.

Reason #1. First and foremost, in 2012 the NRA had exactly zero effect on the outcome of the General Election — or to be more precise, it had about .83 percent effect.

One of the big stories of the 2012 election was the failure of some of the big name right-wing PACs to win many races. The Sunlight Foundation calculated the relative effectiveness of a number of right-wing PACs and found that most of their money did not buy success.

The National Republican Congressional Committee had only a 31.8 percent percent success rate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce only had a 6.9 percent success rate.

Karl Rove’s non-profit, Crossroads GPS, did a little better, spending $70 million with a 14.43 percent success rate. But his American Crossroads Super Pac had only a 1.29 percent success rate after spending over $104 million.

The NRA’s Legislative Institute had only a 10.74 percent success rate.

But the NRA main PAC wasn’t just your run of the mill failure of the 2012 election year. It won the prize for the very worst performance of the entire gang. In fact of the $11.1 million it spent, only .83 percent went to winning candidates.

And to make matters worse, it didn’t just have a dismal batting average; many progressive PACs spent just as much, and were much more effective.

The League of Conservation Voters raised and spent $11 million, but instead of a .83 percent success rate, they had an 83 percent success rate.

Planned Parenthood’s two PACs raised and spent over $11 — and had a 98 percent success rate.

Part of the reason for the NRA’s horrible success rate is the fact that rather than back candidates that support the Second Amendment — a goal endorsed by many of its individual members — it has become for all practical purposes a wing of the Republican Party.

But that isn’t the only disjuncture between the interests of NRA members and those of its officers and lobbyists.

Reason #2. Turns out that the officers and lobbyists of the NRA actually represent weapons manufacturers, not rank and file gun owners. That’s why they refuse to support common sense restrictions on military style assault weapons, magazines that hold a hundred bullets, or background checks for anyone who buys a gun, even though most Americans — and many gun owners — support these measures.

A CBS News poll showed that 57 percent now support stronger laws, an 18-point increase since last April (39 percent). A USA Today/Gallup poll showed a similar trend, with 58 percent supporting stronger laws, 15 points above the level of support in October 2011 (43 percent).

In a CNN/ORC poll, the most pronounced shift was on support for a ban on assault guns like the AK-47, with 62 percent of Americans supporting such a ban, a 5-point increase from last August.

In fact, according to the CNN/ORC poll, 95 percent of all Americans think that everyone who buys a gun should have to undergo a background check. A December Washington Post poll shows this strong support for universal back ground checks extends to gun owners as well. Many people believe background checks are already required for all gun purchases, but the fact is that 40 percent of all gun sales are “private transactions” — at gun shows or from private gun sellers where no background check is currently required. That’s like having two lines in airport security — one that checks for bombs and weapons and one that doesn’t. Which one do you think would be chosen by those who seek to do us harm?

And to make matters worse, databases of many states are not maintained. Bottom line: it easy for dangerous criminals and the mentally ill to buy deadly weapons.

According to the Huffington Post, a recent bipartisan poll conducted for Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that:

“Large majorities of Americans agree with the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to own guns, and Americans strongly oppose efforts to ban handguns,” said Bob Carpenter, vice president of American Viewpoint, the Republican polling firm that joined with Democratic firm Momentum Analysis to conduct the survey. “But Americans and gun owners feel with equal fervor that government must act to get every single record in the background-check system that belongs there and to ensure that every gun sale includes a background check. Most Americans view these goals, protecting gun rights for the law-abiding and keeping guns from criminals, as compatible.”

That is directly contrary to the positions of the NRA’s high command.

The goal of the officers and lobbyists of the NRA is not to protect the rights of gun owners; it is to maximize the profits of weapons manufacturers and arms dealers.

They love to frighten law-abiding gun owners with the prospect that common sense measures to reduce gun violence put America on the “slippery slope” to end the right to bear arms and to the confiscation of your hunting rifle. Their attempts to develop paranoia about confiscation — and about government tyranny — are good for business; it’s that simple.

After the Sandy Hook tragedy, the NRA’s fear-mongering caused a massive spike in the sales of semi-automatic assault weapons.

And the reason the NRA is so keen on preventing a new assault weapon ban is that its customer base is shrinking from about 50 percent of the population forty years ago, to about a third. And that base of current gun owners already owns a whopping 270 million guns. In fact, with 5 percent of the world’s population, America already has about 50 percent of the world’s guns. One way to continue to raise the profit margins of gun manufacturers is to sell increasingly powerful, expensive guns like the “Bushmaster” that was used to kill the children at Sandy Hook elementary school.

The problem for the NRA’s officers and lobbyists, is that events like the Sandy Hook massacre make it crystal clear that there is no relationship between the NRA’s defense of semi-automatic weapons that can fire off dozens of rounds in a few seconds, and the weapons everyday gun owners need for hunting or for their personal safety.

No one uses a “Bushmaster” to shoot ducks. And there are not many Americans who keep a loaded semi-automatic assault weapon under their pillow for self-defense.

And there is another reason why all the talk about “slippery slopes” increasingly rings hollow.

Reason #3. The Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller made it crystal clear that the Second Amendment does in fact protect the right to own guns for hunting and self-defense. It also made clear that this right does not preclude the government from imposing common sense regulations on the sale and performance of weapons that can be marketed to the general public — nor does it prevent the passage of laws that prevent dangerous individuals from buying a gun.

The Supreme Court decision makes the “slippery slope” argument — the fear that the government is on the verge of confiscating their guns — into complete hogwash.

As more and more Americans recognize that their right to own guns is not jeopardized by common sense measures to curb gun violence, it will be harder and harder for the NRA leadership to continue to frighten gun owners with the phony specter of confiscation.

Reason #4. The NRA is led by officers and lobbyists that have lost touch with the reality of the American electorate. NRA Executive VP, Wayne LaPierre’s press conference immediately after Sandy Hook was completely tone-deaf. It didn’t demonstrate an ounce of empathy for the six-year old children who were murdered — or for the grief felt by their families. Instead it focused entirely on promoting the sale of more and more guns.

That might be good for short-term gun sales, but it continues to unmask the massive gulf between everyday Americans — including the millions of everyday American gun owners on the one hand, and those on Wall Street that make hundreds of millions of dollars selling weapons like the “Bushmaster” on the other. The “Bushmaster” — or AR-15 — has no purpose other than killing the largest number of human beings in the shortest possible period of time.

And it turns out we haven’t had to wait long to see the image of the NRA’s invincibility dissolve before our eyes.

For years the NRA has had a net positive rating with the public. No longer. A recent poll from Public Policy Polling found that in the period following the Sandy Hook massacre, support for the gun advocacy organization fell from 48 percent to 42 percent, while negative views increased from 41 percent to 45 percent.

For decades, the conventional wisdom in Washington has held that if the NRA opposed a gun bill, it was doomed. But there is a new reality in America. The faces of the children and women who died at Sandy Hook — and the faces of all of those who are dying in cities across America every day — have transformed the debate.

Increasingly, the struggle to reduce gun violence is being seen for what it is. Instead of a fight between gun owners and the “government” — it is becoming a battle between the rights of innocent victims of violence and the profits of weapons manufacturers.

And with every passing day, more and more politicians are beginning to realize that the NRA is nothing more than “the Great Oz.”


By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, January 14, 2013

January 14, 2013 Posted by | Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Dark Vein Of Intolerance”: Colin Powell Calls Out The GOP’s Racism Problem

On Sunday, during an appearance on Meet The Press, Colin Powell condemned the GOP’s “dark vein of intolerance” and the party’s repeated use of racial code words to oppose President Obama and rally white conservative voters.

Without mentioning names, Powell singled out former Mitt Romney surrogate and New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu for calling Obama “lazy” and Sarah Palin, who, Powell charged, used slavery-era terms to describe Obama:

POWELL: There’s also a dark — a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? I mean by that that they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that?

When I see a former governor say that the President is “shuckin’ and jivin’,” that’s racial era slave term. When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow. He was tired. He didn’t do well. He said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with that. The birther, the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?

Watch it:

Powell added that the Republican Party is “having an identity problem,” noting that its significant shift to the right has produced “two losing presidential campaigns.” “I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is a very hard look at itself and understand that the country is changed,” he said. “If the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they a going to be in trouble.”

Powell also called on Republicans to focus on a more equitable and progressive economic policies that help middle and lower income Americans, as well as immigration reform. “Everybody wants to talk about who is going to be the candidate,” Powell said. “You better think first about what’s the party actually going to represent.”


By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, January 13, 2013

January 14, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Fundamentally Stupid And Dangerous”: The GOP Debt Ceiling Strategy Is “Hostage Taking”

Paul Krugman on Sunday accused the Republican leadership of holding the country hostage.

The Nobel-Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist argued that congressional Republicans are “threatening to blow up the world economy” if they don’t get their way in the debt-ceiling debate. After a difficult fiscal cliff battle, President Barack Obama said he would not negotiate over the debt ceiling, but Republicans have said they won’t authorize an increase in the country’s spending limit without major spending cuts.

“We should not allow this to become thought of as a legitimate or normal budget strategy,” Krugman said on ABC’s “This Week.” “This is hostage taking.”

Krugman has made similar statements in the past, particularly when defending the idea of minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin to avoid the debt ceiling crisis — a loophole the White House ruled out Saturday. In a blog post earlier this month, Krugman argued that Obama should be ready to mint the coin because it offered a “silly, but benign” solution to the crisis. The alternative: Putting the nation’s ability to meet its financial obligations at risk, an option that Krugman described as “both vile and disastrous.”

“The debt ceiling is a fundamentally stupid but dangerous thing,” Krugman said on “This Week.” “It’s incredibly scary, this is much scarier than the fiscal cliff,” he added later.

If Congress does nothing to raise the debt ceiling, the U.S. could lose its ability to meet its financial obligations by as early as February 15, according to a recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center. Republican leaders and the White House came to an agreement earlier this month to address the so-called fiscal cliff, a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that economists warned could have plunged the country into recession.


By: Jillian Berman, The Huffington Post, January 13, 2013

January 14, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Confessions Of A Former Gun-Worshipper”: Like All Religions, Gun Worship Deserves A Healthy Dose Of Critical Thinking

First confession: I used to have a thing for guns.

Because guns meant men, power, danger, and love.

Guns meant legendary rifle-carrying Revolutionary War-fighting ancestors, posses of Okie great-grandfathers riding the line between outlaw and volunteer lawman, and Johnny Cash look-alike uncles. They meant chuckling tales of misspent shotgun cartridges traded by friends of Johnny Cash look-alike uncles at family funerals. Grandfathers who special-ordered assault rifles to keep in their homes in the Los Angeles suburbs—just because they could, and just because someone might think that they shouldn’t. And, once in a long while, guns meant a drive into the manzanita-thicketed Southern California foothills with Dad to aim into the dusty hillsides.

Guns were what boys got to do. More precisely: guns were what sons got to do.

How could I not have a thing for guns?

Second confession: I no longer have a thing for guns.

Yes, Newtown had something to do with it. But I have more private reasons as well. Suffice it to say, I sat up one morning last month and said, yes, I’m all done with guns now. Not interested. In any way, shape, or form.

And my conversion—or is it a deconversion?—has made me think more seriously about the reverence in which guns are held in this country.

It’s something I’ve known intellectually, of course. I’ve read my Richard Slotkin. I know, as he writes in Gunfighter Nation (1992) that one of our greatest national myths holds that “violence is an essential and necessary part of the process through which American society was established and through which its democratic values are defended and enforced.”

What I’ve only realized lately is the extent to which the sacralization of guns by the gun lobby has made it nearly impossible to have a sober, data-based public conversation about gun policy—blocking even the collection of data on gun violence, as Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center explained here last month.

We’re all waiting, of course, to hear what Vice President Joe Biden will say next Tuesday as he presents the findings of his gun task force. You can bet there will be something about closing the now infamous “gun show” loophole that allows for nearly 40% of gun purchases to proceed without a background check, as well something about reinstating bans on assault weapons—like the weapon used at Sandy Hook elementary. Maybe Vice President Biden will also underscore an obvious national need for better mental health screening and treatment.

But also needed is a broader conversation about the sacred halo many Americans—including me—have bestowed on guns and gun ownership.

Like all religions, gun worship deserves a healthy dose of critical thinking.


By: Joanna Brooks, Religion Dispatches, January 11, 2013

January 14, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Entirely Dysfunctional”: The GOP Spirals Deeper And Deeper Into Obstructionism

First Susan Rice. Then Chuck Hagel. Now Jack Lew.

Once upon a time, a norm existed that presidents had the right to choose the people they wanted to staff the executive branch. Once upon a time? I mean — from the beginning of the republic right up to January 2009. Oh, Senators could and did use the nomination to affect policy — both individual Senators and, at times, the partisan opposition would demand specific policy commitments before confirming nominees.

But what’s happened since Barack Obama took office is far, far, off the scale of any of that. And because it’s been accompanied by the use of the filibuster — the sudden demand for a 60 vote Senate on executive branch nominations — it’s entirely dysfunctional.

We now have Jeff Sessions attacking Jack Lew for — get this — lack of “gravitas.” Not drinking too much, or violating obscure laws, but…well, Sessions just doesn’t like the cut of his jib, or something like that. Or, as Kevin Drum figures, it’s just that Lew insists on using real math during budget negotiations.

All this does build the case for Senate reform. As I’ve been saying, there’s just no good reason not to change the rules to have simple majority approval of executive branch nominees. But that won’t solve the problem. After all, imagine if Republicans had done a bit better in the 2010 and 2012 elections, giving them a slim Senate majority today. If so, they would have been able to simply vote down dozens and dozens of nominations. Senate reform, in other words, would not fix the problem of knee-jerk opposition to presidential executive branch nominees.

In other words, the real problem isn’t Senate rules (as much as they should be changed); it’s the Republican Party, busting through norms for the sake of making it very difficult for the government to function well. And alas, although some have done a good job of describing this disease (such as Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein), no one yet has a cure.


By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Washington Post, The Plum Line, January 10, 2013

January 14, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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