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“Ignoring The Real While Fighting The Imaginary”: The Dangers Of The Right Wing Panic Machine

It should’ve been the shot heard around the world. Chances are, you didn’t hear it.

An ominous sort of history was made last week near Austin, Texas, but it seems to have largely escaped notice. There was some media coverage, yes, but less than, say, Lindsay Lohan’s latest stint in rehab, certainly less than you’d think for something whose ramifications will likely shadow us for years.

On May 2, you see, a group called Defense Distributed, led by law student and self-described anarchist Cody Wilson, accomplished what was apparently the first successful firing of a gun “printed” entirely by a 3-D printer. According to Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg, who witnessed the test, the gun is made almost entirely of plastic, the only metal in it being the nail that served as a firing pin and the bullet it fired.

A 3-D printer, for the benefit of those who remember when the mimeograph machine was the cutting edge of duplication technology, is a device that can download computer blueprints and use them to manufacture complex physical objects right on your desktop.

The one Defense Distributed used is said to have cost $8,000. Amazon has one listed for $1,299.

So we now have technology, largely unregulated, with the potential to turn every desktop into an armory. Forbes reports that, in just two days, 100,000 blueprints were downloaded.

Hold that thought as you ponder another recent headline. It seems one Adam Kokesh, an Iraq War veteran and activist, is organizing an armed march on Washington for Independence Day. Participants — he claims 2,500 so far — with loaded rifles slung across their backs plan to march into the nation’s capital to protest the “tyranny” of the federal government.

While D.C. residents are allowed to have registered firearms on their property, they are not allowed to carry them in public. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has said marchers will be met at the border and if they break that law, “we’ll take action.”

Kokesh, apparently delusional, promises to turn back peacefully if confronted, but says it is his hope the city will suspend the law for him and even provide his group a police escort.

You will not be surprised to learn that, by “tyranny,” Kokesh means the duly elected (not a hanging chad in sight) president of the United States going about his job. Thing is, if you don’t like the way he does his job, you get a chance every four years to make a change. People in North Korea would doubtless love to live under that kind of “tyranny.”

Because it isn’t. Kokesh’s march is just the latest product of the great American panic machine, the mechanism by which the extreme right works itself into spasms of apoplectic terror over threats that don’t exist.

“We’re going to be under Sharia law!”

Except, we’re not.

“We’ve become a socialist country!”

Except we haven’t.

“There’s a War on Christmas!”

Except there isn’t.

“They’re trying to take our guns away!”

Except that it is now theoretically possible for a mental patient to manufacture his own gun in the comfort of his aluminum foil-lined basement. That’s a sobering development with far reaching implications barely considered, much less addressed, by lawmakers though this technology has existed for over a decade. Since Wilson’s test, there’s been a flurry of calls for legislation. On Friday, the federal government ordered Wilson to remove the blueprints from his website. All of which is the very epitome of locking the garage after the Hyundai has been hotwired.

It’s a pity some of the energy that has gone into fighting imaginary tyranny did not go into pondering this real and eminently predictable threat. But, then, we are unserious people in a very serious age.

And therein lies the danger of the panic machine. We spend so much time fighting threats that do not exist, we are left ill-prepared for the ones that do.

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr.,  The National Memo, May 12, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Former Cheney Aide Married To A Romney Adviser”: Meet The Woman At The Center Of The Benghazi Controversy

After ABC News released emails detailing the evolution of the Obama administration’s talking points on the Benghazi terror attack, much of the right’s ire has focused on Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson who asked for the removal of references to al-Qaida and the CIA’s warnings about the dangers to U.S. diplomats in Libya.

With her name splashed all over the emails and her very public role in Hillary Clinton’s State Department, Nuland serves the useful dual role of scapegoat and proxy for the potential 2016 presidential candidate, who may be the real target of conservative uproar over Benghazi. Naturally, critics ascribe political motives to Nuland’s actions in the Benghazi aftermath. “It’s very clear today that lib Victoria Nuland was not honest with reporters,” conservative blogger Jim Hoft wrote.

But Nuland may prove to be a poor choice of left-wing villain for the right considering that her record suggests she’s anything but a Saul Alinskyite. In fact, she came under attack from the left when Clinton chose her as spokesperson because she had previously served as a senior adviser to Dick Cheney. Yes, that Dick Cheney, leading antiwar blogger Marcy Wheeler to call her a “former Cheney hack.”

Meanwhile, Nuland is married to Washington Post columnist and neoconservative historian Robert Kagan, who helped sell the case for the Iraq War, advised both Mitt Romney and John McCain’s presidential campaigns, and co-founded the Project for a New American Century think tank with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. Obama has spoken fondly of some of Kagan’s work as well, but his credentials in the conservative foreign policy establishment are unimpeachable.

This is not to say that Nuland is some kind of neoconservative plant as some liberals have claimed. Nuland has a distinguished career in the Foreign Service going back almost 30 years, holding senior positions under presidents of both parties. If she has any political views, she’s kept them to herself, refraining from making any donations to political campaigns or speaking publicly about domestic elections.

In an interview with the Brown Alumni Magazine, Nuland compared the Foreign Service to the military, suggesting she views the role apolitically. And while she praised Clinton, she said she expected to leave the job after John Kerry took over. “Like all good foreign service officers,” she said, “I go back in the pool, and see what they might want me to do.”

Nuland may, however, be a closet hipster, with an affinity for Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 13, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Far-Right Mob Movement”: Benghazi, Projection, And The Dark Obama Obsession

President Obama’s most fevered critics have been waiting for a national “aha” moment since he was first inaugurated more than 50 months ago. Coming off an electoral landslide, Obama was instantly greeted by a mob-like movement on the far right that denounced him as a socialist and a communist. Excited conservatives quickly reached for Nazi rhetoric and imagery in an effort to convey the dark threat the Democrat posed to the country.

Amplified by Fox News and a well-funded right-wing media industry, the “grassroots” revolt was portrayed as a sweeping rebuke of Obama. But in truth, the raging critics occupied the loud fringes, a fact confirmed by Obama’s easy re-election.

Still, professional detractors have held out hope that at some point Americans would come to see Obama as they see Obama; as a monster of historic proportions who’s committed to stripping citizens of their liberties and getting them addicted to government dependencies, like a drug dealer.

This week’s House Oversight Committee hearing into the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was supposed to trigger that “aha” event. It was supposed to be The Day Americans Turned On Obama. Indeed, Obama wouldn’t be able to finish out his second term because the Benghazi revelations were going to be so damaging, Fox New’s Mike Huckabee told his radio listeners. And Sean Hannity warned ominously that, “This is going to be a really defining, important week in the Obama presidency, and it’s not going to be a good week.”

But none of that happened at the hearing. Instead of being the kind of “explosive” Watergate-style hearing that Fox talkers prayed for, Wednesday’s hearing sagged under the weight of stubborn facts, and didn’t even reach the level of Whitewater hearings, which under Bill Clinton established the modern-day mark for pointlessly partisan “scandal” hearings.

Not that it matters to the media players who produced the Benghazi hearings, though. Conservatives continue their Groundhog Day charade, reassuring themselves that the hearing was a hit and that scandal “bombshells” exploded on Capitol Hill. (They did not.)

The larger, common sense question that lingers though is, why? Why keep pounding a story so far into the ground that most news consumers can’t even make sense of the convoluted allegations anymore?

I think the explanation for the durability is that Benghazi serves as an all-purpose platform that allows the most hardened critics to project their anti-Obama madness. It allows them to spin their ugliest fantasies about the president and to depict him as a heartless traitor who chose to let Americans die at the hands of Islamic terrorists. It’s a way to condemn Obama for having a “reflexive impulse to blame, rather than defend, America.”

For the last eight months, Benghazi has served as a convenient vessel to ferry around the right wing’s Capt. Ahab-like obsession. Most often docked at Fox News, which has referenced “Benghazi” thousands and thousands and thousands of times since last September, the terror attack represents a way to feed that sinister fixation about the president being a Manchurian Candidate who let Americans die in Benghazi and “sacrificed American lives for politics.”

Benghazi mania is driven by a dark obsession with Obama that’s built upon the assumption that he’s capable of the very worst and incapable of anything good or decent. That the president of the United States does not deserve to sit in the Oval Office because his loyalties (not to mention his origins) are in doubt. Which is supposedly why he would abandon Americans to die in Benghazi.

Note some of the rhetoric this week, which portrayed Obama as unfit and un-American. From Fox News’ Todd Starnes:

“If Obama won’t protect four Americans under attack in Benghazi, what makes you think he’ll protect the rest of us?”

And from talk show host Mark Levin [emphasis added]:

It’s just unbelievable that our country didn’t come to the defense of these men. It makes me sick to my stomach. It’s not a natural reaction if you’re a red-blooded American. My God, send in the military! But no, we didn’t… What the hell kind of commander in chief is that? Let me go further, what kind of an American is that?

What kind of American is Obama if he won’t protect citizens under attack?

As Marc Ambinder at The Week noted, if you follow the premise of the Republican’s vast conspiracy that suggests the White House deliberately let people die in Benghazi because they feared the political fallout of a terror attack, you’d have to assume Obama “is simply and utterly evil.” Ambinder is right, and they do believe it.

Which is to say, Benghazi as it’s debated and presented today (and will be for months to come), isn’t just about Benghazi, or the four Americans who died in the attack or the dozens more injured. It’s about Obama and a blinding, uncontrollable anger that fuels his most dedicated foes, and their relentless, futile search for the American “aha” moment.

Two decades ago, radical Republicans waged an eight-year campaign against Bill Clinton because Republicans were convinced he was a crook and a scoundrel. We’re now past the halfway mark of another eight-year Republican war against a Democratic president. This one is fueled by the belief the president, as a person, is utterly beneath contempt. (It’s one reason Fox talkers so easily, and so crassly, invoke Obama’s children when launching political attacks.)

The Benghazi narrative gives the fevered swamp denizens a ready-made framework to project their fears and hatred onto Obama and to do it in the context of “news.” And that’s why, despite this week’s hearing which didn’t advance the story forward one inch, the Benghazi narrative isn’t going away anytime soon.


By: Eric Boehlert, The Blog, The Hufington Post, May 10, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scamming The Taxpayers”: The IRS Controversy And The Tax-Exempt Charade

As we’re learning more about the IRS giving heightened scrutiny to conservative groups filing for tax-exempt status, we should make one thing clear: If what we’ve heard so far holds up, the people involved should probably get fired, and new safeguards should be put in place to make sure nothing like it happens again. And let it be noted that liberal publications, at least the ones I’ve seen, have all taken that position and have been discussing this story at length.

Now, let’s see if we can understand the context in which this happened. There’s an irony at work here, which is that it may well be that the IRS employees involved were trying to obey the spirit of the law but ended up violating the letter of the law, while for the organizations in question it was the opposite: they were trying to violate the spirit of the law, but probably didn’t violate the letter of the law.

Let’s take the first part, the IRS employees. When a group files for tax-exempt status, the IRS investigates it, asks it some questions, and determines whether it qualifies under section 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4). The difference between them is that a 501(c)(3) is supposed to be a genuine charity, like your local food bank or Institute for the Study of Foot Fungus, while a 501(c)(4) is still primarily devoted to “social welfare” but is allowed more leeway to engage in some political activities like lobbying and participation in elections, so long as the political activities make up a minority of its time. The biggest practical difference is that donations to (c)(3) groups are tax-deductible, while donations to (c)(4) groups are not.

Once the Supreme Court said in the 2010 Citizens United decision that (c)(4) groups could engage in “express advocacy” (i.e. explicitly saying “Vote for Smith!”), the IRS got flooded with new applications for (c)(4) groups, and its job was to determine if these groups were actually “social-welfare” organizations that also did some politicking on the side, or if they were groups whose main purpose was actually political, in which case, according to the law, they should be denied (c)(4) status. We know very little at this point about what the IRS employees in Cincinnati did and why, but the generous interpretation is that since so many of the applications they were getting in 2010 and 2011 were from Tea Party groups that looked a lot like their sole purpose was to elect Republicans, they looked for some way to handle them all together, so they searched for applications with words like “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their names and subjected them to extra scrutiny.

Even if their motivations were innocent and they were just struggling to find ways to wade through all these applications and do their jobs properly—in other words, if there was no violation of the spirit of the law—it was still improper for them to sort the applications this way, because it could mean in practice that an ideological test was being applied to which groups got heightened scrutiny. But now let’s look at the other half of the story, the groups applying for tax-exempt status.

The truth is that a great many of the groups that request 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) status, of all ideological stripes, are basically pulling a scam on the taxpayers. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but at the very least they’re engaged in a charade in which they pretend to be “nonpartisan” when in fact they are very, very partisan. For instance, nobody actually believes that groups like the Center for American Progress on the left or the Heritage Foundation on the right aren’t partisan. When there’s an election coming, they mobilize substantial resources to influence it. They blog about how the other side’s candidate is a jerk, they issue reports on how his plans will destroy America, and they do all sorts of things whose unambiguous intent is to make the election come out the way they want it to. CAP and Heritage, along with many other organizations like them, are 501(c)(3) charities, meaning as long as they never issue a formal endorsement and are careful to avoid any express advocacy, they can maintain the fiction that they’re nonpartisan (keep getting tax-deductible contributions, which are easier to obtain than those that aren’t tax-deductible).

And that fiction is even more exaggerated when you get to the (c)(4) groups, particularly the new ones. For instance, when Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS applied for 501(c)(4) status, it explained to the IRS that it was a social-welfare organization for whom influencing elections wouldn’t be its primary purpose. Instead, the group said “Through issue research, public communications, events with policymakers, and outreach to interested citizens, Crossroads GPS seeks to elevate understanding of consequential national policy issues, and to build grassroots support for legislative and policy changes that promote private sector economic growth, reduce needless government regulations, impose stronger financial discipline, and accountability in government, and strengthen America’s national security.” It claimed that 50 percent of its activities would be “public education,” 20 percent would be “research,” and the remaining 30 percent would be “activity to influence legislation and policymaking.” On the section of the form where the group has to state whether it plans to spend any money to influence elections, it wrote that it “may, in the future” do so, but “Any such activity will be limited in amount, and will not constitute the organization’s primary purpose.”

As everyone knows, this is a joke. Crossroads GPS was created for one purpose and one purpose only: to get Republicans elected. Maybe they found a way to stay within the letter of the law, but there’s no question they were violating its spirit. And the same is true of Priorities USA, the pro-Obama group created in advance of the 2012 election by a couple of former White House staffers. Both are actually twin groups, a (c)(4) and a super PAC, which allows the people running them to keep within the letter of the law by moving spending around between the two. (Stephen Colbert and Trevor Potter memorably explained how all this can be done.)

Without knowing anything about the particular Tea Party groups that were subjected to heightened scrutiny (we’ve only heard about a few so far), the broader context is that you have a lot of groups of all political persuasions that are essentially trying to pull a fast one on the IRS, and through them, the American taxpayer. Keep in mind that tax-exempt status is a gift that we give to groups that can demonstrate they deserve it. Perhaps this part of the tax code should be made stricter, or perhaps it should be made looser so all these charades can stop. But either way, this wouldn’t be a bad time to start that discussion.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 13, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Citizens United, IRS | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Slow-Motion Mass Murders”: Raising The Political Heat On Opposition To Gun Control

Public officials are very selective about when violence and death matter.

Massacres and terrorist incidents cannot be ignored, but the day-to-day toll from gun violence is often swept aside. Politicians who tout themselves as advocates of law and order don’t want to be unmasked as caring even more about their ratings from gun lobbyists.

And opponents of the most moderate gun reforms engage in a shameless game of bait-and-switch. Because measures such as background checks would not stop every murder, they’re declared useless even though they’d still save lives. Then the gun lobby turns around and opposes other measures, such as a ban on high-capacity magazines, which could prevent some of the killings that background checks might not.

The lack of coherence doesn’t bother those who are willing to tolerate all manner of violence to keep the gun business free of inconvenient restraints. Their goal is to exhaust supporters of sane gun laws and get them to give up until the next big tragedy strikes.

Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee has never given up and never given in. One of the earliest members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group spearheaded by New York City’s Michael Bloomberg and Boston’s Tom Menino, he has made curbing urban bloodshed a personal cause.

Every year between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, he organizes a “Cease-Fire Sabbath” that enlists clergy around the city to preach against violence. “The ministers and other clergy can reach people that I can’t,” Barrett said in an interview in his office last week. Here’s a faith-based initiative that everyone can believe in.

Barrett has paid a price for his steadfastness on guns. In his rematch last year against Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s recall election (he lost to Walker in 2010), gun groups spent more than $800,000 to defeat him. Such sums are designed to have a chilling effect on other politicians who might take on the gun lobby. “It hasn’t chilled me,” Barrett says with a smile, “but obviously I’m not the governor.”

Since late last year, Barrett has made the case for extending background checks to online and private purchases as well as gun show sales by pulling out a large cardboard blow-up of a request sent through an online gun market on Oct. 20, 2011.

It reads in part: “Looking for a handgun that is $300 obo [or best offer]. … Looking to buy asap. … Prefer full size. Prefer .45, .40. … I constantly check my emails. … Also I’m hoping it has a high mag capacity. … I’m a serious buyer so please email me asap. Have cash now and looking to buy now. I am mobile.”

As The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, the ad was posted by Radcliffe Haughton days after his wife Zina Haughton “was granted a four-year restraining order against her husband because she said she feared for her life.”

“The couple had a volatile relationship,” the paper explained. “Police had been to their Brown Deer [WI.] home on 20 different occasions. These red flags should not have been ignored, but they were.”

The day after the ad went up, Radcliffe Haughton gunned down Zina and two other women at the Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield, WI.

The Journal-Sentinel noted (and Barrett also makes this point) that Radcliffe Haughton “may well have found another way to get a gun. But that doesn’t mean that such legislation would not keep guns out of the hands of others who buy them every year without undergoing a background check.”

The slaughter in Newtown decisively shifted the nation’s discussion on guns, and Barrett says he’s still hopeful that a background check bill will eventually pass. The law is needed, he said, not just because of gruesomely spectacular killings but also to stop “what my police chief calls slow-motion mass murders in the cities around our country.”

But can the politics be overcome? At a recent talk at Georgetown University, former president Bill Clinton spoke of how politicians draw warnings from past political fights even when those lessons have become obsolete. He used the analogy of the cat that gets burned on a hot stove, and will never jump on the stove again, even after the stove has cooled.

As of May 8, according to Slate magazine, there had been at least 3,947 gun deaths since Newtown. The political heat is now coming from those who have lost patience with slow-motion mass murders. Will Congress notice the temperature change?


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 12, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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