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“Is This All You Got?”: Eric Cantor’s “Big Speech” Filled With Small, Greasy Nuggets Of Policy

The latest of the many Big Speeches delivered by Republicans aimed at changing the party’s image without changing its ideology was delivered today by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of VA in the friendly confines of the American Enterprise Institute. So important was this speech, it seems, that Republicans accused the president of trying to “step on it” via remarks at roughly the same time on how the administration proposed to avoid the pending March 1 appropriations sequester.

Cantor’s Big Speech was officially advertised as a “rebranding” of the GOP into a nice, positive, friendly band of pols who just want to help middle-class Americans improve their daily lives. And according to National Review‘s Robert Costa, what would make the speech especially interesting was that it would focus on policies, not just rhetoric.

Well, you can read Cantor’s prepared remarks yourself. It certainly does avoid the usual harsh War For Civilization rhetoric usually employed by House Republicans of late. It issues no ultimatums and threatens no revolutions. But after three eye-glazing readings, my main question was: Is this all you got, Eric? Nestled in an endless series of soft-focus rhetorical gestures and “real people” shout-outs, the speech was the policy equivalent of a side order of chicken nuggets: small, greasy, and not very nourishing.

By my rough count, you had to plow through twenty-seven (27) paragraphs before coming to anything that resembled an actual policy proposal. That turned out to be a laboriously explained yet not terribly clear endorsement of the “back-pack” K-12 education voucher–e.g., use of federal funds for non-accountable (except by the parents getting the money) use in private schools. Also on the education front was a ringing endorsement of better information for students entering higher education institutions, and maybe a tilt in student loan programs to create an incentive to graduate.

Readers reeling from all this policy boldness could move on to the same endorsement of “reform” in fragmented job training programs that people in both parties have been calling for ever since Dan Quayle was bragging about the Job Training Partnership Act. There was plea for the ancient conservative chestnut of letting hourly employees convert overtime pay to some sort of comp-time, without any clarity on the question of whether and on what terms employers could require it.

But wait: Cantor also came out for reducing loopholes in the tax system! And at the same time he endorsed the child tax credit that’s been in the code since the 1990s.

On the health care front, Cantor made the usual negative assertions about Obamacare, without a hint of any alternative GOP proposal for dealing with the uninsured. He offered the dazzlingly original argument that the states should be given more flexibility in administering Medicaid. And he seemed to be arguing for a return to some sort of Medicare Advantage program encouraging seniors to buy private health insurance.

And oh yeah, bravely taking the bull by the horns, Cantor waded into the immigration controversy by generally endorsing more visas for the highly qualified, and a path to citizenship for children brought into the country without documents–which are, of course, the least contentious issue in the entire debate.

I may have missed a morsel or two scattered amongst the anecdotes and bromides. But there couldn’t have been much. If Republicans are actually proud of this essay in policy minimalism–delivered at a think tank, no less!–then they are further away from any real reinvention of themselves than even hostile observers like me thought possible.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 5, 2013

February 6, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Absolute Opposition”: How The NRA Is Helping To Pass Gun Control

We’re in the early stages of a lengthy process that will involve hearings, competing bills, horse-trading, and the usual ugliness of life in the Capitol Hill sausage factory, but the contours of gun legislation are beginning to take shape. Though President Obama is out campaigning for the full package of reforms he has been advocating, there are indications that the assault weapons ban may get dropped in order to forestall a Republican filibuster in the Senate, and a bipartisan group is about to introduce a bill in the House on gun trafficking and straw purchases. (I’ll discuss the assault weapons question in a later post). In other words, the actual legislative process is getting underway.

And though it’s by no means assured that some gun measures will pass Congress, if any do, we’ll partly have the NRA to thank. That’s because, I believe, the organization fundamentally misread the role it plays in the minds of the average voter. They’ve become more extremist in the last two decades, but most people didn’t realize it, because unless you’re a member and are getting their magazines and emails or seeing their representatives appear at conventions, you had no idea just how extreme they’d become. So the idea that the NRA is just the guardian of Americans’ gun rights could persist. An average gun owner who saw that the NRA endorsed a candidate could say, whatever else he thought of that candidate, “I suppose he’s all right when it comes to guns.” But now that Wayne LaPierre has been appearing on television shows, the whole country has gotten to see just what a maniac he is, and how extreme the organization has become. And now that there are concrete proposals on the table, voters can see that the NRA will oppose even universal background checks, which every opinion poll taken in the last couple of months has shown are supported by an astonishing 90 percent of the public. When even the host of Fox News Sunday is calling your arguments “ridiculous” and “nonsense,” you’ve got a problem.

So now, members of Congress who just a few months ago would never have considered bucking the NRA on anything may realize that it isn’t that much of a risk to oppose them on a particular measure, provided it has wide public support. Instead of worrying that they’ll be branded “anti-gun” for disagreeing with the NRA on anything, they may be saying to themselves that if they’ve got the public behind them, it may not be such a risk after all to support something like universal background checks.

The NRA’s model of influence—absolute opposition to any measure to restrict guns combined with apocalyptic rhetoric aimed at its supporters—worked as long as the gun issue was out of the spotlight. But now that we’re having an actual debate, things have changed. It’s becoming clear that while they represent a certain portion of gun owners, they definitely don’t speak for all gun owners, which is what they’d like legislators to believe. And that may provide just enough of an opening for legislation to pass.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 5, 2013

February 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“18 Year Olds Can Buy Handguns”: Easier To Buy Three Glocks Than A Case Of Bud

If you’re 18, the law says you can’t buy a handgun. But you can buy a handgun without breaking the law. This paradox exists thanks to a little-noticed manifestation of the so-called gun show loophole, which keeps government regulations out of private gun sales.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 made it illegal for a gun dealer to sell handgun to anyone under the age of 21. “Sales of handguns and ammunition for handguns are limited to persons 21 years of age and older,” the ATF’s official Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide states. But the agency’s regulations only apply to federally licensed firearms dealers, not to non-professional private sellers.

“A high school senior in most states can go to a gun show, go online, or any other place that they might find a private seller and lawfully purchase a gun that they couldn’t otherwise at a gun dealer,” explained David Chipman, a former ATF special agent who now works with Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“That is correct,” confirmed George Semonick of the ATF. “Under federal law, it’s not unlawful for an 18-year-old to posses a handgun,” Semonick explained to Salon, though some states have their own age requirements for handgun possession.

While Congress will soon consider legislation to close the part of the private seller loophole that lets them sell guns without background checks, the handgun age restriction loophole has so far not been specifically addressed or even much noticed. “I’m shocked that the media hasn’t jumped on this,” Chipman told Salon.

But the Internet is way ahead of Washington (and the media) and can helpfully explain this nuance in the gun laws to anyone looking for answers. “How should I go about buying a pistol? I’m 18 years old?” one user asked on Yahoo’s question forum. There are plenty of informed responses: “You cannot buy from a dealer if you are under 21. You can buy from a private sale in many states, but not all states,” one read.

Another: “To be honest your best bet is to place a WTB [want to buy] classified, make sure you are up front about your age because lots of Face to Face sellers won’t sell to someone under 21.” A third: “Basically you have to put an ad in your paper saying you would like to purchase one of these or pick it up at a gun show.”

A separate user wrote that he or she had “heard from a lot of virginia residents that you can buy a gun at 18 years old in virginia at a gun show without a license i also know a couple of people that have bought from gun shows.”

The topic has come up on numerous gun forums as well, where commenters can give sophisticated explanations of the dichotomy between licensed dealers and private sellers. “I hate when people don’t know that you can sell a handgun to a 19 year old in a private purchase,” one commenter complained. Another responded: “Unfortunately, it will be very hard to convince something is legal if they feel it is illegal … All you can do is print out 18 USC 922(x) and the ‘providing firearms to juveniles or minors’ statutes in your state.”

It’s quite legal for a nonprofessional to sell it to the 18-to-20-year-old, and for the 18-to-20-year-old to buy it, even if the nonprofessional knows or suspects that the buyer is under 21,” wrote libertarian-leaning lawyer Eugene Volokh on his popular blog back in 2010. Volokh notes that while the 18-to-20-year-old “can’t have someone buy it specifically for him, since that would be conspiracy to make a false statement, given that the straw purchaser would have to falsely assert that the gun is for the straw purchaser himself,” he can buy it from a private seller. (Although, one 18-year-old in Pennsylvania found a state-specific loophole that let his father legally purchase a handgun for him.)

Laws vary from state to state and while some make it illegal for people under the age of 21 to purchase or possess a handgun at all, others go by federal law, which deals only with sales from gun dealers. An 18-to-20-year-old cannot, however, obtain a concealed carry license in any state, as they all set the threshold at 21.

The ATF’s Semonick explained that this loophole sometimes creates unexpected complications. For instance, if an 18-year-old brings their legally purchased handgun into a gun store for repairs, the licensed dealer is not allowed to return the gun, as that would violent federal law prohibiting the transfer of a handgun from a dealer to someone under 21-years-old.

“As a law enforcement professional, this was one of my concerns,” former ATF agent Chipman said. “It shouldn’t be easier to go buy three Glocks than to buy a case of Bud. But that’s the case.”


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, February 5, 2013

February 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Sobering Message”: What’s Wrong With The GOP

Republicans have been spending the weeks after their miserable showing in the 2012 election trying to figure out why they did so miserably. Bobby Jindal said what a lot of people were thinking by suggesting the GOP needed to stop being “the stupid party.” Karl Rove, who didn’t back one winning candidate in the recent election, is blaming the Tea Party for promoting extreme, unelectable candidates.

Republican political operative Liz Mair, who has been a communications strategist for governors Scott Walker and Rick Perry, offers a sobering message to her party:

Everyone knows that Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were not good candidates. What a lot of people don’t seem to recognize is that their opponents, even though they looked like they would perform better based on on-paper attributes, were even worse candidates. How do I know this? They lost to Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. I’m serious. Think about that for a minute.

In her blog post “Forget what you’ve heard, here’s what’s really wrong with the GOP,” she lays out five reasons why the Republican Party is seeing stars, despite an ailing economy and the best demographic advantage they will ever have.

First, a lot of bad candidates have been fielded, and a lot of crappy campaigns have been run. And no, I don’t just mean that candidate whose name immediately popped into your head there.

Second, and tied in with this, we have too many less-than-cutting-edge and insufficiently creative and/or out-of-date consultants making a lot of money off of said crappy campaigns.

Third, our technology sucks in comparison to what Democrats have.

Fourth, growing portions of the electorate—Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans—either loathe us or just don’t like us.

Fifth, the party seems to have forgotten that it’s supposed to stand for something—by which I mean actual principles of some sort, and not just, say, the general bumper sticker concept that “OBAMA = BAD.”

After laying out her diagnosis, she has a few prescriptions on how to treat the problems. If you’re not a fan of the GOP, you should hope that no Republican with any power heeds her advice.


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, February 5, 2013

February 6, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What An Honor”: What Do I Have To Do To Make The NRA’s ‘Enemies List’?

I can’t tell you how let down I am that I didn’t make the National Rifle Association’s so-called “enemies list,” which has surfaced again as the gun lobby comes under closer fire, if you’ll excuse the expression.

The NRA keeps so many scores of groups in its sights as anti-gun-control that it beggars belief. Among them are the American Academy of Pediatrics, the United Methodist Church, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Jewish Congress, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the YWCA, and Physicians for Social Responsibility. Those from the creative arts named include Bruce Springsteen, Alec Baldwin, Jerry Seinfeld, Matt Damon, Kyra Sedgwick, and Maya Angelou, to name but a few.

What an honor. Some newspaper columnists, notably E.J. Dionne, Jr., and Cynthia Tucker, got the nod. Congratulations to all, but count me in for next time. Another columnist, the economist Paul Krugman, who writes for the New York Times, is also mysteriously missing. He recently described the NRA as “insane,” in the wake and ashes of the Newtown school shooting tragedy.

Well, I go farther than that. The NRA may as well be criminally insane for the part it plays in American society, terrorizing legislators like a loose junkyard dog. It has intervened to block medical treatment and lawsuits relating to gun ownership and violence. Deaf to the urgent words of wounded former representative Gabrielle Giffords, whose congressional career was cut short by a lone white young gunman, the NRA was unmoved by the cold blooded murder of women and children in Newtown by a lone white young gunman. For its aggressive stance over the last decades, NRA has the blood of children on its hands.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, didn’t bat an eye in front of a Senate panel where Giffords and Newtown parents made eloquent pleas for better gun laws, such as background checks for buyers. LaPierre didn’t move an inch on working with Congress on an assault weapons ban. And there was no apology to President Obama for the ludicrous, lowdown ad suggesting that his daughters’ school, Sidwell Friends, has armed guards (“his kids are protected by armed guards at their school”). Of course the Secret Service protects every president’s family, but the daughters’ school does not have armed guards. (Note to LaPierre’s outfit: Society of Friends schools are Quaker, a pacifist faith founded in 17th century England. “Pacifist” is a word NRA leaders should go look up in the dictionary.)

Assault weapons are more sacred than preventing human tragedy, both civilian and police deaths. It’s just that simple in the NRA’s sinister worldview. Obama could not have done anything better with his Monday than visiting Minneapolis to talk to citizens about stemming the tide of gun deaths. He stated he didn’t intend to wait for another Newtown in taking this fight to the people. Thank you, Mr. President, for acting like one.

One more thing: Gayle Trotter, a senior fellow at the NRA-allied Independent Women’s Forum, also testified in front of the same Senate panel as LaPierre last week. How she could make the absurd claim that mothers need to protect their children from intruders with guns is beyond the reach of reason. It is pure right-wing fiction, since studies show that women are actually less safe with a gun in the house. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island tried to set the record straight with some facts, but Trotter wasn’t having any of that.

Trotter’s testimony goes to show that the enemies of a more peaceful public square remain ruthless. We more temperate Americans can’t let them take Thomas Jefferson or James Madison away from us. We have to work harder to oppose their locked-in conviction, knowing that it won’t be perfect or pretty (to paraphrase Baltimore Ravens champion Head Coach John Harbaugh). But we have to get on the field and engage. Obama has started the dialogue out in the open where it belongs.

My mother, a professor, made the Nixon enemies list. Do you think I just made the NRA’s?

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and Eorld Report, February 5, 2013

February 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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