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“Too Few Deaths”: The Big NRA Flip-Flop On Background Checks

You know, I had premonitions of this story, thinking: Didn’t the NRA used to support universal background checks as the alternative to every gun control measure? Between deadline pressures and the fear that I was having a senior moment, I didn’t follow it up. But now, via TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro, we have a former NRA president acknowledging that used to be the organization’s position not that very long ago, but has “changed its mind”:

The former president of the National Rifle Association told CNN Thursday night that the group has changed its mind on universal background checks. Back in 1999, after the Columbine school shooting, the NRA actually ran ads saying “it’s reasonable to provide for instant background checks at gun shows, just like gun stores and pawn shops.”

After last month’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn., the group has sounded a different note. Universal background checks are a waste of time at best and a “federal nightmare” that would lead to confiscation at worst, NRA leaders have said recently.

On CNN, former NRA President Sandy Froman admitted that the group dramatically changed its tune on universal background checks — which gun control advocates have said are their number one post-Newtown goal — and explained the reason was that the NRA now sees expanded background checks as totally ineffective.

“Yes, the NRA has changed its position,” Froman said. “And the reason it’s changed its position is because the system doesn’t work. The (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) is not working now. We have to get that working before we can add any more checks to that system. It’s already overburdened. In Colorado, I know it takes 10 — 10 days to do an instant check.”

So why not fix the system? If the NRA’s basic position is its members are law-abiding citizens who have no reason to fear background checks, why is it a problem?

Current NRA President David Keene echoed those concerns at a meeting with reporters Thursday while explaining his group’s opposition to expanded background checks. But he also sounded a more ominous note, warning that a universal background check infrastructure was possibly a first step toward a dismantling of Second Amendment rights.

“One of the reasons we’re fearful of a system like that is because we have been and continue to be and will continue to be very opposed to any kind of national gun registry system,” Keene told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor-sponsored breakfast. “For several reasons. The historic reason of course is that is a precursor in many cases to confiscation.”

So boil off the evasions, and we’re right back to the insane idea that Barack Obama is part of, a front for, or a precursor to, a totalitarian regime, and that “patriots” need the right to keep their military-style weapons on hand in case the day arrives when it’s time to start killing cops and members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Somebody with access to these people needs to very directly ask them their own personal indicators for when it’s time to start the blood-letting.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 1, 2013

February 3, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Congenital Hothead, A Man Of Grudges”: The Bitter Twilight Of John McCain Gives Even Republicans Pause

That one,” John McCain famously snarled in a presidential debate four years ago, referring to his opponent who was a quarter of a century younger and who had been in the Senate 3 years to McCain’s 20. It’s difficult to imagine a better revelation of the McCain psyche than that moment, but if there is one, then it came yesterday at the meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, convened to consider the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. The McCain fury is something to behold, almost irresistible for how unvarnished it is in all its forms. In the instance of the 2008 debate, McCain’s dumbfounded antipathy had to do with facing an opponent he so clearly considered unworthy. In the instance of the hearing yesterday, McCain’s bitter blast was at somebody who once was among his closest friends, a former Vietnam warrior and fellow Republican of a similarly independent ilk, who supported McCain’s first run for the presidency in 2000 against George W. Bush but then appeared to abandon the Arizona senator eight years later.

If all this suggests political differences born largely of personal dynamics and their breach, it’s because for McCain the two are interchangeable. At this moment we should make the effort to remind ourselves of what’s commendable about McCain, an admiral’s son who could only live up to his father’s reputation by way of five years in a Hanoi jail, where he walked—or hobbled, given the crippling abuse he suffered at the hands of his captors—the walk of loyalty and didn’t just talk it. When offered freedom halfway through those five years, he refused to leave behind his fellow prisoners of war who had been there longer and were due their freedom first. It’s a story so formidable that 12 years ago Bush supporters resorted to suggesting McCain was a “Hanoi Candidate,” brainwashed in the manner of cinematic Manchurians. So let’s not question McCain’s courage, or a code that means as much to him as patriotism. In that initial presidential run, admiration for the man trumped what disagreements overly romantic voters like myself had when it came time to mark his name on our ballots (as I did in that year’s California primary).

In the time since, two things have happened to McCain. One was the Iraq War, the worst American foreign policy blunder of the post-World War II era, which McCain wholeheartedly supported from the beginning and about which he’s never intimated a second thought. The other was Barack Obama, electoral politics’ upstart lieutenant whose bid to become five-star general, bypassing stops along the way at captain, major and colonel, wasn’t just temerity to a man who waited his turn to be released from prison, but insubordination. Those two things converged yesterday in McCain’s prosecution of Hagel, no less sorry a spectacle on McCain’s part for the fact that Hagel handled it so unimpressively. Perhaps Hagel was startled, figuring his one-time compatriot would be tough but not vicious. If that’s the case, then he never knew McCain as well as he thought or hoped, because if he did then he would know that McCain is a man of grudges. In his memoir Faith of My Fathers, in which words like “gallantry” appear without embarrassment (and which no one has more earned the right to use), McCain himself acknowledges being the congenital hothead of legend who’s nearly come to blows with colleges. Half a century later, he recalls every altercation with every Naval Academy classmate; as a child, rage sometimes drove him to hold his breath until he blacked out. No need to indulge in untrained psychotherapy from afar to surmise that the ability to nurse such a grudge may be what gets you through half a decade of cruel incarceration.

At any rate, what happened yesterday wasn’t about Hagel at all. It wasn’t even about the Iraq War’s 2007 “surge,” which McCain is desperate to justify because he can never justify the war itself that finds Hagel moved to the right side of history while McCain remains stubbornly on the wrong. It’s about that junior senator from Illinois who crossed McCain early in some obscure backroom Senate deal no one can remember anymore, then denied McCain the presidency in no small part because Obama understood the folly of Iraq better than McCain can allow himself to. McCain’s personal honor in Hanoi was too hard won to be stained now by almost anything he does, including how he’s allowed temperament, pique and ego to steamroll the judgment and perspective that we hope all of our elected officers have, let alone presidents. But his political honor, not to mention whatever might once have recommended him to the presidency, has fallen victim to the way that Obama has gotten fatally under his skin. Even if this once-noble statesman should succeed in denying Hagel’s nomination as he denied Susan Rice’s prospects for Secretary of State (and even the most devout Hagel supporter would have to acknowledge that the Defense nominee’s performance before the Committee was often a shambles), McCain’s unrelenting obsession with the grievance that Obama has come to represent to him is the saddest legacy in memory. The very fact of Obama and all things Obamic has turned McCain into something toxic, maybe even to himself.

By: Steve Erickson, The American Prospect, February 2, 2013

February 3, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Foolish And Bellicose”: The Failure Of The Anti-Hagel Campaign

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense was really never much in doubt, despite the clamorous complaints of a few vocal conservatives. Still, Hagel’s likely confirmation has gained additional support in recent weeks that make his success all but certain. Despite the concerted efforts of a few outside Republican interest groups and a steady stream of hostile coverage from conservative media outlets, Hagel has received the public support of numerous former national security officials, diplomats, and retired military officers, as well as securing endorsements from several senators even before his hearing began today. Excluding members of the Bush administration, Hagel’s nomination has been endorsed by every living former secretary of defense and secretary of state. Faced with an unprecedented campaign of character assassination and misrepresentation in the media, Hagel has become a rallying point for Americans across the political spectrum interested in greater prudence and restraint in the way the U.S. acts overseas.

While it shouldn’t make a difference to the final outcome, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s threat to put a hold on Hagel’s nomination until outgoing Secretary Leon Panetta testifies on the Benghazi attack is a reminder that issues that are mostly irrelevant to Hagel’s competence to run the Defense Department have dominated the debate over this appointment. Hawkish Republicans have argued that then-Sen. Hagel’s relatively mild dissent on issues related to Israel and Iran disqualify him for the job. However, most of these have no bearing on the responsibilities Hagel will have at the Pentagon, and those that do should increase the public’s confidence in Hagel rather than undermine it. This has underscored the overwhelmingly ideological nature of the campaign against him, which has had more to do with policing what current and future politicians can say on foreign policy than it does with selecting the right people to serve in the Cabinet.

So it appears that the anti-Hagel campaign has failed. The Democratic defections that conservatives coveted never materialized, and this week, the first Republican, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, announced his support for the nomination. The anti-Hagel campaign has mainly managed to waste its donors’ money, and it has made the politicians that have sided with it appear foolish and bellicose, and all for the sake of “taking a stand” against a nominee who, lest we forget, is a Republican.

Still, at least 15 Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to Hagel or are reported to be leaning in that direction, which reflects just how committed a large number of the party’s leaders still are to a hard-line foreign policy vision that has brought the GOP and the country nothing but woe for the last decade. The failure of the anti-Hagel effort could be a final straw that breaks the hold that the worst hard-liners have had on the party, but so far, there is not much evidence of that. In the meantime, the message that most people will receive is that leading Republicans have learned nothing from their past failures and seek retribution against those in their party that have.

After all, Hagel was one of the few national Republican figures who saw the potential pitfalls in Iraq before the invasion, and later came to recognize the full extent of the folly of the U.S. war there. Most of his Republican colleagues in Washington have still not fully reckoned with the disastrous decision to invade in 2003, and to make matters worse, they insist on holding Hagel’s skepticism about the wisdom of attacking Iran against him. Each charge they make against Hagel for being too “soft” on Iran bounces back on them and marks them as the reflexively, dangerously aggressive people that they are.

The good news for the country is that a competent and qualified nominee for the Defense post will almost certainly be approved by the Senate in the near future. Unfortunately, a large number of Hagel’s fellow Republicans have done their best to use this confirmation process to inflict even more damage on their party’s battered reputation on foreign policy and national security. Hagel’s nomination should have been a chance for Republicans to start repairing the party’s image in the eyes of the public. They are well on their way to squandering it.


ByDaniel Larison, The Week, January 31, 2013

February 3, 2013 Posted by | Dept of Defense, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“My Country, Always Right, Never Wrong”: The Regressive, Vacuous Ideology Of Neocons

In the three months since the GOP’s trouncing in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican Party has shown numerous signs that it’s willing to change course to improve its future fortunes. First, the House GOP crumpled in the fiscal cliff standoff. Then it refused to engage in yet another game of chicken over the debt ceiling. And now Republicans in both houses of Congress appear ready to pursue a bipartisan deal on immigration. Those who care about the future of the party should applaud these developments. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be sufficient to solve the GOP’s problems. On the contrary, Republicans will continue to find themselves at an electoral disadvantage until they break free from the grip of neoconservatism.

Since the term neocon is so often deployed for polemical purposes these days, let’s be very precise about what it means. Back in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the original neoconservatives — Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and their colleagues at The Public Interest and Commentary — had two main aims: In domestic affairs, to expose the defects of Great Society social programs and propose more effective (read: less ambitious) alternatives; and in foreign affairs, to counter McGovernite isolationism with hawkish realism, which meant adopting a more confrontational stance vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

The domestic side of neoconservatism reached its apex of influence in the 1990s, with New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crime-fighting policies and, at the federal level, the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Today, domestic neoconservatism is largely extinct, a victim of its own success at changing the public policy conversation.

As for the neocons’ foreign policy agenda, it, too, became irrelevant once the Soviet Union collapsed and the Democrats showed (under Bill Clinton) that they were no longer averse to using military force.

Yet some of the neocons — or rather, some of their children — were unwilling to accept their fate. By the mid-1990s, Irving Kristol’s son William had teamed up with Norman Podhoretz’s son John to found The Weekly Standard, a magazine that would reorient neoconservatism entirely toward foreign policy — and toward a very different and far more reckless style of foreign policy thinking than the one their parents championed.

Neoconservatism 2.0 is the apotheosis of hawkishness. A latter-day neocon isn’t just convinced that force is often necessary in specific cases, which is what hawks have always maintained. Rather, he’s convinced that force is invariably good any time and any place it is used by the United States. As Kristol put it in a seminal 1996 essay co-authored with Robert Kagan, a foreign policy in which the United States started and fought wars around the globe would be, axiomatically, “good for conservatives, good for America, and good for the world.”

“My country — always right, never wrong”: It’s the least thoughtful and most primitive form of patriotism. And yet, since September 11, 2001, the Republican Party has adopted and repeatedly reaffirmed the outlook as its guiding ideology in foreign affairs. Why? First, because it perfectly fit the angry, wounded mood of the country (and within the Bush administration) after 9/11. Second, because it perfectly fit the angry, wounded mood of the GOP base after the White House was captured by a man many Republicans consider an anti-American Kenyan socialist.

Fortunately, the country as a whole seems to have moved beyond its post-9/11 collective PTSD, aided by the passage of time as well as by the sobering experience of having to clean up the mess that followed the neocon-inspired invasion of Iraq in 2003. It’s a very good sign for the nation — and for Democrats — that the American people prefer President Obama’s more measured style of conducting foreign policy to the one-size-fits-all bellicosity favored by the neocon-infatuated GOP.

Obama has managed to lead the U.S. through a period of considerable global volatility with only minor missteps — and he’s been able to do so because his approach to foreign policymaking is shaped by a clear-eyed assessment of the emerging post-Cold War world order. For a time, the implosion of the Soviet Union left what appeared to be a “unipolar” world ruled by the one remaining superpower. But unipolarity was always an illusion — and it’s revealed to be less and less accurate with each passing year.

Yes, American power is formidable in many areas. But there’s an awful lot we cannot do — and at the top of the list is bending whole peoples and regions of the world to our will. In the multi-polar world we now inhabit, the U.S. will remain the single most powerful nation, but not by orders of magnitude. We will defend the nation’s borders and its interests. We will offer support to allies in those selective cases (NATO in Libya, France in Mali) when we judge that doing so really will be “good for America and good for the world.” But we will not be leading any crusades to transform (and liberalize) entire civilizations at the barrel of a gun. Why? Because the effort would fail — and failure is bad for America and bad for the world.

The president deserves our support in his attempt to adjust American expectations to fit the reality of a complicated, recalcitrant world — just as the GOP deserves our disdain for denying that same reality. Which is precisely what leading Republicans are doing in their efforts to block Obama’s choice to head the department of defense. What is it about Chuck Hagel that so rankles the right? Some cry anti-Semitism, but the charge is so groundless that Hagel’s critics have yet to produce a single shred of evidence to substantiate it. What is it, then, that supposedly disqualifies him from serving as secretary of defense? The answer: Hagel is a Republican who dares to believe that the use of American military force is only sometimes (as opposed to always) a good thing. That’s all it takes to provoke denunciations in today’s GOP.

Until that changes, the Republican Party will continue to be punished — and to earn its punishment — at the ballot box.


By: Damon Linker, Senior Writing Fellow, The University of Pennsylvania,The Week, February 1, 2013

February 3, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Your Money At Work”: Taxpayers Are Footing The Bill For The Site Of This Year’s Super Bowl

The tenth Super Bowl played in New Orleans, and the first since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, will kickoff in a stadium that has received more than $470 million in public support since the storm, as taxpayers have footed the bill for renovations and upgrades in the face of threats from ownership and the National Football League to move the team to another city.

In the aftermath of Katrina, New Orleans was desperate to keep the Saints from skipping town. The NFL and Saints owner Tom Benson seem to have taken advantage of that desperation, leveraging it into hundreds of millions of dollars in public support — from the city, state, and federal governments — for renovations to the decimated Superdome, which housed Katrina refugees during and after the storm. In 2009, the state committed $85 million more to keep the Saints in town and attempt to woo another Super Bowl, all while signing a lease worth $153 million in a nearby building owned by Benson.

While investors and Benson have profited from the deals, taxpayers haven’t been as lucky, Bloomberg reports:

Talks headed by then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue led to a plan to fix and renovate the Superdome with $121 million from the state, $44 million from the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which oversees the facility, $156 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $15 million from the league. Blanco said a rushed bond deal followed.

Ultimately, the financing cost the district more than three times its $44 million commitment, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from state documents and interviews. […]

In April 2009, Louisiana negotiated a new lease to secure Benson’s promise to keep the team in New Orleans through 2025. The state made $85 million in fresh Superdome improvements, adding luxury seating and moving the press box. A company owned by Benson, Zelia LLC, bought the 26-story tower next to the stadium that had stood mostly vacant since Katrina and renovated it. At the time, Benson put the total cost at about $85 million. The state then signed a $153 million, 20-year lease for office space in the building, which now houses 51 state agencies, according to the Louisiana Administration Division. […]

“A lot of folks in New York made a ton of money,” [former state Treasurer John] Kennedy said. “Louisiana taxpayers didn’t do so well.”

The Superdome certainly needed renovations following Katrina. But its original construction was financed solely by taxpayers, and Benson, who is worth roughly $1.6 billion, didn’t contribute and repeatedly hinted that the Saints would move to San Antonio, Los Angeles, or another city unless taxpayers ponied up. Kennedy, the state treasurer, told Bloomberg he went into negotiations with the NFL and Benson “with a gun against my head.”

Benson isn’t alone. Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wylf used the threat of relocation to help secure public funding for a new stadium, and owners across the NFL are doing the same. Owners of the Miami Dolphins are using the promise of future Super Bowls (even though the event rarely provides the promised economic boost) to lure more money from taxpayers who are already on the hook for the city’s new baseball stadium.

The NFL’s program that provides loans to teams for new facilities is contingent on taxpayer support for at least part of the cost, and only one current NFL facility was built without some sort of public funding.


By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, February 1, 2013

February 3, 2013 Posted by | Sports, Taxpayers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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