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“It’s All About Me”: Rand Paul Criticized By Fellow Republican For Threatening To Filibuster Gun Bill He Hasn’t Even Seen

Thirteen Republican senators have pledged to filibuster a senate debate about new gun safety measures, insisting in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that they will “oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms, or their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance.” The threat, which Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) first made last week without seeing the bill, comes just days before the body prepares to consider the first comprehensive gun legislation in the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The package will expand restrictions against gun trafficking, invest in school safety and provide for universal background checks of all gun purchases.

But one top Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), is speaking out publicly against the group, questioning the wisdom of promising to filibuster legislation that lawmakers have yet to finalize:

After Mr. Coburn was asked multiple times an identically worded question about whether he would join Mr. Paul’s effort to block gun legislation as he traveled around Oklahoma in recent days, Mr. Coburn bristled at the idea that Mr. Paul would threaten to filibuster a bill before its contents were made final.

Is that about filibustering a bill to protect the Second Amendment, or is that about Rand Paul?” Mr. Coburn said at a town-hall meeting at the Oklahoma Sports Museum in Guthrie, Okla., on Wednesday. “I’ve done more filibusters than Rand Paul is old,” Mr. Coburn said, but he added that he doesn’t announce such moves before he understands the bill.

Coburn is working on compromise legislation that would expand background checks to all gun purchases, but would not require private sellers to keep a record of the transaction, which gun safety advocates say would ensure that checks are being properly conducted and allow the entire chain of custody to be reconstructed in the event the gun is later recovered in a crime.

Should the Republicans proceed to filibuster on the motion to proceed to the gun package, Reid could take advantage of a new Senate rule “by promising each party two amendments on the legislation.” “Under that scenario, Paul and his allies would still get a chance to raise their objections on the floor for hours on end, but they couldn’t stop the Senate from starting debate on the bill,” Politico reports.


By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, April 6, 2013

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Young Are The Restless”: The Days In The Lives Of All Our Children Are Rapidly Changing

The surge of generational change continues in this country, altering the cultural landscape with a speed and intensity that has rarely — if ever — been seen before.

The latest remarkable change concerns the decriminalization of the use of marijuana. A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that for the first time more Americans support legalizing marijuana use than oppose it.

It was rather unsurprising that more young people would support the move, but it was striking how quickly they adopted a more liberal position. About seven years ago, millennials (defined by Pew as people born in 1981 or later), Generation Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980) and baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) shared the same view on marijuana: Only about a third thought it should be legalized. Since then, the share of millennials supporting its legalization has risen more than 90 percent. Meanwhile, the number of legalization supporters in Generation X and among the baby boomers has risen by no more than 60 percent.

The millennial generation is the generation of change. Millennials’ views on a broad range of policy issues are so different from older Americans’ perspectives that they are likely to reshape the political dialogue faster than the political class can catch up.

I surveyed the past six months of Pew and Gallup polls, to better understand the portrait of a generation bent on rapid change — even if that means standing alone.

ON GAY MARRIAGE Much has been made of the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in this country, but a Pew poll last month found that that the change is driven mainly by millennials. Theirs was the only generation in which a majority (70 percent) supported same-sex marriage; theirs was also the only generation even more likely to be in favor of it in 2013 than in 2012, as support in the other generations ticked down. The longer-term picture is even more telling. Support for same sex-marriage among Generation X is the same in 2013 as it was in 2001 (49 percent). But among millennials, support is up 40 percent since 2003, the first year they were included in the survey.

Some of this no doubt is the result of younger adults’ having more exposure to people who openly identify as LGBT. According to an October Gallup poll, young adults between 18 and 30 were at least twice as likely to identify as LGBT as any other age group.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that millennials overwhelmingly agree, on a moral level, with same-sex relationships. In fact, a survey released last year by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University in conjunction with the Public Religion Research Institute found that they “are nearly evenly divided over whether sex between two adults of the same gender is morally acceptable.”

ON GUN CONTROL According to a February Gallup report, Americans ages 18 to 29 are the least likely to own guns, with just 20 percent saying that they do. That is well under the national average of 30 percent of Americans who own guns.

And in a Pew poll taken shortly after the Newtown, Conn., shootings, younger Americans were the most likely to say that gun control was a bigger concern in this country than protecting the right to own a gun. (Younger respondents barely edged out seniors with this sentiment.)

In fact, a Gallup poll found that the percentage of those 18 to 34 years old saying they want the nation’s gun laws and policies to be stricter doubled from January 2012 to 2013. No other age group saw such a large increase.

It is remarkable that young people’s opinions shifted so dramatically, especially since a December Pew poll found that young adults under 30 were the least likely to believe that the shootings in Newtown reflect broader problems in American society. This age group was, in fact, the most likely to believe that such shootings are simply the isolated acts of troubled individuals.

Young people also are the least religious (more than a quarter specify no religion when asked), and they are an increasingly diverse group of voters. Fifty-eight percent of voters under 30 were white non-Hispanic in 2012, down from 74 percent in 2000. Like it or not, younger Americans are thirsty for change that lines up with their more liberal cultural worldview.

Advantage Democrats.


By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 5, 2013

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Cultural Issues | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The End Of Majority Rule?”: Giving Extremists Far More Influence, Our Democracy At The Moment Is Not Very Democratic

The National Rifle Association is facing attacks from Gun Owners of America for being too soft on gun control. This is like a double cheeseburger coming under severe criticism for lacking enough cholesterol.

Universal background checks are supported by 91 percent of Americans. Yet there is enormous resistance in Congress to passing a strong bill to keep arms out of the wrong hands. What does “rule of the people” mean if a 9-to-1 issue is having so much trouble gaining traction?

Or consider the Morning Joe/Marist poll last week showing 64 percent of Americans saying that job creation should be the top priority for elected officials. Only 33 percent said their focus should be on reducing the deficit. In light of Friday’s disappointing jobs report, the public’s instinct is sound. Yet politicians in our nation’s capital are so obsessed with the deficit you’d imagine they still haven’t heard how many Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

These three non-randomly selected facts illustrate a deep structural tilt in our politics to the right. This distortion explains why election outcomes and the public’s preferences have so little impact on what is happening in Washington. At the moment, our democracy is not very democratic.

Start with the weirdness within the gun lobby. Once upon a time, the NRA supported background checks for gun buyers, and why not? Polls show that gun owners overwhelmingly support background checks, too.

But the political far right is, among other things, a big business. The NRA’s chief concern is not sane public policy. Its imperative is to maintain market share within a segment of our country that views the federal government as a conspiracy against its liberties and President Obama as an alien force imposed upon them by voters who aren’t part of “the real America.” Within this market niche, background checks are but a first step toward gun confiscation.

In a well-functioning democracy, the vast majority of politicians — conservative, moderate and liberal — would dismiss such views as just plain kooky. But here is the problem: A substantial portion of the Republican Party’s core electorate is now influenced both by hatred of Obama and by the views of the ultra-right. Strange conspiracy theories are admitted to the mainstream conversation through the GOP’s back door — and amplified by another fight for market share among talk radio hosts and Fox News commentators.

That’s because the Republican Party is no longer a broad and diverse alliance but a creature of the right. According to a March Washington Post/ABC News poll, 65 percent of Republicans called themselves conservative, just 27 percent were moderates and 7 percent were liberals. Democrats, by contrast, are far more middle of the road: 43 percent called themselves liberal, 38 percent moderate and 16 percent conservative. Among independents, moderates predominated at 46 percent.

Practical Democratic politicians thus need to worry about the political center. Practical Republican politicians, especially those in gerrymandered House districts where primaries are all that matter, will worry almost entirely about an increasingly radicalized right.

And our Constitution combines with the way we draw congressional districts to overrepresent conservatives in both houses. The 100-member Senate is based on two senators per state regardless of size. This gives rural states far more power than population-based representation would. The filibuster makes matters worse. It’s theoretically possible for 41 senators representing less than 11 percent of the population to block pretty much anything.

In the House, those gerrymanders helped Republicans keep control even though more Americans voted for Democrats in the 2012 congressional races.

This representational skew affects coverage in the media. Most Americans may care more about jobs than deficits. But if a right-tilted power structure is talking about deficits all the time, members of the media feel obligated to cover the argument they hear in Washington, even if that means downplaying views held by a majority of the voters — and even if the economic data say we should be talking about growth, not austerity.

There’s also this: While background checks probably would pass the Senate with relative ease if there were no filibuster, the media cover a world in which 60 votes is the new 51. Thus do the battles for 60 percent of the Senate, not the views of 91 percent of Americans, dominate journalistic accounts.

There is no immediate solution to the obstruction of the democratic will. But we need to acknowledge that our system is giving extremists far more influence than the voters would. That’s why American democracy is deadlocked.

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 7, 2013

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Cultural Fight For Guns”: Understanding Does Not Entail Acceptance

One of the oddities of the gun-control debate—apart from ours being the only country that really has one—is that the gun side basically gave up on serious arguments about safety or self-defense or anything else a while ago. The old claims about the million—or was it two million? It kept changing—bad guys stopped by guns each year has faded under the light of scrutiny. Indeed, people who possess guns are almost five times more likely to be shot than those who don’t. (“A gun may falsely empower its possessor to overreact, instigating and losing otherwise tractable conflicts with similarly armed persons,” the authors of one study point out, to help explain that truth.) Far from providing greater safety, gun possession greatly increases the risk of getting shot—and, as has long been known, keeping a gun in the house chiefly endangers the people who live there.

And so the new arguments for keeping as many guns as possible in the hands of as many people as possible tend to be more broadly fatalistic, and sometimes sniffily “cultural.” Ours is a gun-ridden country and a gun-filled culture, the case goes, and to try and change that is not just futile but, in a certain sense, disrespectful, even ill-mannered. It’s not just that Mayor Bloomberg’s indignation is potentially counter-productive—basically, his critics suggest, if not so bluntly, because a rich, short Jew from New York is not a persuasive advocate against guns. It’s that Mayor Bloomberg just doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand the central role that guns play in large parts of non-metropolitan American culture. What looks to his admirers like courage his detractors dismiss as snobbishness.

And so the real argument about guns, and about assault weapons in particular, is becoming not primarily an argument about public safety or public health but an argument about cultural symbols. It has to do, really, with the illusions that guns provide, particularly the illusion of power. The attempts to use the sort of logic that helped end cigarette smoking don’t quite work, because the “smokers” in this case feel something less tangible and yet more valued than their own health is at stake. As my friend and colleague Alec Wilkinson wrote, with the wisdom of a long-ago cop, “Nobody really believes it’s about maintaining a militia. It’s about having possession of a tool that makes a person feel powerful nearly to the point of exaltation. …I am not saying that people who love guns inordinately are unstable; I am saying that a gun is the most powerful device there is to accessorize the ego.”

It’s true. Everyone, men especially, needs ego-accessories, and they are most often irrationally chosen. Middle-aged stockbrokers in New York collect Stratocasters and Telecasters they’ll never play; Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld own more cars than they can drive. Wine cellars fill up with wine that will never be drunk. The propaganda for guns and the identification of gun violence with masculinity is so overpoweringly strong in our culture that it is indeed hard to ask those who already feel disempowered to resist their allure. If we asked all those middle-aged bankers to put away their Strats—an activity that their next-door neighbors would bless—they would be indignant. It’s not about music; it’s about me, they would say, and my right to own a thing that makes me happy. And so with guns. Dan Baum, for instance, has an interesting new book out, “Gun Guys: A Road Trip.” His subjects, those gun guys, are portrayed sympathetically—they are sympathetic—and one gets their indignation at what they see as their “warrior ethic” being treated with contempt by non-gun guys. (That’s, at least, how they experience it, though where it matters, in Congressional votes, there is little but deference.) As Baum points out, gun laws are loose in America because that’s the way most Americans want it, or them.

But though you’ve got to empathize before you can understand, understanding doesn’t entail acceptance. Slavery, polygamy, female circumcision—all these things played a vital role at one time or another in somebody’s sense of the full expression of who they are. We struggle to understand our own behavior in order to alter it: everything evil that has ever been done on earth was once a precious part of somebody’s culture, including our own.

We should indeed be as tolerant as humanly possible about other people’s pleasures, even when they’re opaque to us, and try only to hive off the bad consequences from the good. The trouble is that assault weapons have no good consequences in civilian life. A machine whose distinguishing characteristic is that it can put a hundred and sixty-five lethal projectiles into the air in a few moments has no real use except to kill many living things very quickly. We cannot limit its bad uses while allowing its beneficial ones, because it has no beneficial ones. If the only beneficial ones are the feeling of power they provide, then that’s not good enough—not for the rest of us to be obliged to tolerate their capacity to damage and kill. (And as to the theoretical tyrannies that they protect us from: well, if our democratic government and its military did turn on us, that would surely present a threat and a problem that no number of North Dakotans with their Bushmasters could solve.)

In a practical sense, we’ve been reduced to arguing about marginal measures—a universal background check, which might still become law; an assault-weapons ban, which seems to have been put aside. There is, let it be said, another cultural argument to be made here about both. Though gun violence remains shockingly common in America, gun massacres, of the kind that took place in Newtown or, before, in Aurora (remember that? A while ago now, though this week the shooter appeared in court) and that are dependent, in some ways, on the speed and scope of assault weapons, are still statistically rare. If one is playing the odds, there really isn’t any reason to be frightened for your children each time you drop them off at first grade, though parents feel that fear anyway. They might have more to worry about from the gun in the closet, or the person who will still be able to get a gun legally. That’s true about lots of things. It’s even truer about terrorism, for instance. Yet, rather obviously, we spend a lot of money, and go through many airport contortions, to protect ourselves from what is, rationally considered, a minute threat.

That we do so is not unreasonable. Though, from a cold-blooded accounting point of view, we might be able to survive many more 9/11s, the shiver that one feels writing that sentence reveals its falseness. The nation might survive it, but we would not, in the sense that our belief in ourselves, our feeling for our country, our core sense of optimism about the future, would collapse with repeated terrorist attacks. And so it is with gun massacres, whether in Aurora or Newtown or the next place. Our sense of what is an acceptable and unacceptable risk for any citizen, let alone child, to endure, our sense of possible futures to consider—above all, our sense, to borrow a phrase from the President, of who we are, what we stand for, the picture of our civilization we want to look at ourselves and present to the world—all of that is very much at stake even if the odds of any given child being killed are, blessedly, small. Laws should be designed to stop likely evils; it’s true, not every possible evil. But some possible evils are evil enough to call for laws just by their demonstrated possibility. There are a few things a society just can’t bear, and watching its own kids killed in the classroom, even every once in a while, is one of them.


By: Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, April 4, 2013

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Larger Terrifying Trend”: Nullification Must Never Be On The Table

About a week ago, Robert Schlesinger reported on a bill in Montana’s state legislature that would have “forbidden Big Sky law enforcement from enforcing any new assault weapons ban or ban on high capacity magazines,” even if such a law were passed by Congress. In effect, a majority of Montana state lawmakers said they want to be able to nullify a federal law they don’t like.

In this case, the Montana bill was largely pointless — a law that doesn’t exist can’t be rejected — and was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock (D) anyway. But the effort was a reminder about a larger, rather terrifying trend: a growing number of state Republican policymakers consider nullification a legitimate use of state power.

For context, it’s worth remembering that there was a rather spirited debate in the mid-19th century over whether states could choose to ignore federal laws. The debate was resolved by a little something called the U.S. Civil War — those who argued in support of nullification lost.

And for the last several generations, that was that. But as Republican politics has grown increasingly radicalized in recent years, the discredited legal principle has started to move from the outer fringes of American life to state capitols. Consider this story out of Tennessee this week, for example.

The state House and Senate speakers have agreed to have a joint committee conduct hearings over the summer and fall on federal government laws and executive orders that may have exceeded constitutional authority, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, told colleagues Tuesday.

Beavers’ announcement came after declaring she would not push for passage of the “Balance of Powers Act” (SB1158), which would have set up a joint legislative committee to determine which federal laws should be nullified in Tennessee by the General Assembly.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but there’s nothing to discuss — state lawmakers can’t pick and choose which federal laws they’ll honor. But instead of realizing this basic tenet of modern American law, Tennessee will actually hold hearings on a concept that is, in the most literal sense, radical.

And it’s not just Tennessee.

As Schlesinger noted in his report, some states are looking to nullify gun laws that don’t yet exist; West Virginia is thinking about nullifying federal regulations on coal mining; and Mississippi, like Tennessee, is eyeing the creation of a nullification committee to pare down federal laws the state doesn’t like.

Let’s also not forget that in North Carolina, there’s pending legislation that says the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the state, federal courts can’t determine what’s constitutional under the U.S. Constitution, and North Carolina has the right to declare its own state religion.

If we broaden the context a bit, we can even look at the anti-abortion measures recently approved in North Dakota and Arkansas. Lawmakers were well aware of the fact that these bills are unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court precedent, but they decided it didn’t matter.

It’s my sincere hope that this is just a bizarre fad among radicalized Republicans, and to borrow a phrase, the “fever” gripping GOP politics will soon fade without incident. Chances are, cooler heads will prevail and these various nullification efforts will fade away, left to become a punch-line among future historians marveling at the far-right hysteria of the Obama era.

But I’d lying if I said this isn’t disconcerting and more than a little alarming.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 4, 2013

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Federal Government, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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