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“Joe The Camel With Feathers”: New Missouri Law Would Allow First Graders To Take NRA-Sponsored Gun Class

First-graders may soon be able to enroll in a NRA sponsored gun class as a result of a public safety bill signed into law by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) on Friday.

The measure requires school personnel to participate in at least eight hours of an “Active Shooter and Intruder Response Training” program conducted by law enforcement officials and allows schools to apply for financial grants for the NRA’s Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program.

The NRA claims that the course, which features colorful cartoon character named Eddie Eagle, teaches children about gun safety. But research has failed to link the program to a reduction in children’s deaths from guns, with some studies showing that while “children could memorize Eddie’s simple advice about avoiding guns,” the instruction “went unheeded when children were put in real-life scenarios and asked to role-play a response.” Another report labeled Eddie Eagle “Joe Camel with feathers” and argued that the goal of the program was to recruit new NRA members.

The gun lobby itself has a long record of marketing guns to children and actively works to discredit groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that want to stop children from encountering guns in the first place. Missouri now joins North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia in providing an endorsement of the NRA program through state laws. Ohio was the first state to fund the Eddie Eagle program.


By: Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, Think Progress, July 14, 2013

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Blind And Insane Justice”: What Is Wrong With Florida Juries?

On Saturday night, a Florida jury of six women found George Zimmerman not guilty of any crime in the shooting death of a black teenager named Trayvon Martin. Not murder. Not even manslaughter. A lot of people are having a hard time accepting this verdict, given that Zimmerman was armed with a pistol and Martin was not, and a police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow Martin, and he did it anyway.

It doesn’t help that the same prosecutor who lost the Zimmerman case recently won a conviction against Marissa Alexander, a black woman who fired a warning shot to chase off her abusive ex-husband, hurting no one. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Twenty years for a warning shot against a known abuser versus no time at all for killing an unarmed teenager leaves you scratching your head and wondering if justice is not just blind but also insane.

I spent four years covering criminal courts in Florida. I covered every kind of case, from misdemeanors to murder. One thing I learned is that you can never predict what a jury might do once it’s locked away to deliberate. I covered one trial where the defendant was accused of bigamy, and his defense was: Sorry, I forgot I was married already. He walked.

Prosecutors around the state boast of their high conviction rates, but those stellar records tend to be built primarily on successful plea deals, not trials. And frankly, some of their trial successes turn out to be the result of flimsy or faulty evidence—Florida leads the nation in the number of death row inmates who were subsequently exonerated.

People who work in the court system can blame the legislature for the way our laws are worded. For instance, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was based on a distortion of a single anecdote, and it has subsequently allowed drug dealers to avoid murder charges and gang members to walk free. The law has proven especially effective in providing legal cover if the victim is black. In 2005, for instance, Derrick Hansberry shot a romantic rival five times—four as the man tried to run away—but after he claimed a “Stand Your Ground” defense, a jury acquitted him of attempted murder.

Florida juries have proven to be very lenient even in cases that don’t involve “Stand Your Ground.” Two years ago, as you probably heard, a Florida jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of murdering her daughter. Two months ago, a Florida jury acquitted 70-year-old Ralph Wald of murder for gunning down his 41-year-old wife’s 32-year-old lover, whom Wald caught with his pants around his knees. In 2007, despite seeing a videotape of seven guards kicking and beating a 14-year-old boy named Martin Lee Anderson to death at a juvenile boot camp, an all-white jury acquitted them and a nurse who’d failed to stop the killing of manslaughter charges. The guards and nurse said they were just following normal boot camp rules and procedures.

Afterward, the family’s attorney told reporters, “You kill a dog, you go to jail—you kill a little black boy and nothing happens.”

Some Florida jury verdicts can make your head hurt. A Florida jury acquitted World Series hero Jim Leyritz of DUI-manslaughter in connection with a wreck in which a 30-year-old mother died—but they did convict him of drunk driving in connection with that same wreck. A criminal court jury acquitted a Clearwater police officer named Robert Milliron of a manslaughter charge for shooting an unarmed man. Then a civil court jury said Milliron was to blame for the death after all—but not the city that employed him, and thus the dead man’s family was not entitled to any monetary damages.

The most forgiving jury in Florida history was probably the one that heard the case of four white Miami police officers charged with murder in the death of a black insurance executive named Arthur McDuffie. A Marine Corps veteran, McDuffie died in 1979 four days after he went out riding on his motorcycle and wound up in a coma. The officers said he sustained his injuries when he crashed while trying to avoid being arrested for reckless driving. The truth was that the cops had caught up to McDuffie and then beaten and kicked him mercilessly, cracking his skull like an egg. A medical examiner testified that the fatal blow was “equivalent to falling four stories and landing between your eyes.” The cops phonied up the crime scene to hide what they’d done. It all came out anyway.

“My child is dead, they beat him to death like a dog,” McDuffie’s mother Eula said.

Because of pretrial publicity, the case was moved to Tampa, where an all-white jury voted to acquit the cops on all charges. Miami’s Liberty City erupted in three days of riots that left 18 people—eight white, 10 black—just as dead as Arthur McDuffie.

This blog has been largely devoted to pointing out the weird stuff that happens in Florida, most of it worth at least a chuckle or a gasp of astonishment. Thousands of people follow the Twitter feed called @_FloridaMan for the same reason—it highlights a host of strange and funny stories from the Sunshine State. After the Zimmerman verdict came out Saturday night, he tweeted: “Florida Man Not Guilty Of  Killing Unarmed Teen Who Beat Him In Fight.” That one didn’t seem funny at all—and given the history of Florida juries, it wasn’t all that strange, either.


By: Gregg Pittman, Slate, July 14, 2013

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Accepting A Deal With The Devil”: Immigration Reform May Prove To Be A Mirage

For a bright, shining moment, it seemed that the abiding spirit among conservative Protestants was one of hospitality and compassion toward the “stranger.” But that turned out to be an illusion. Despite signs that Southern Baptists and other evangelicals might finally embrace the unauthorized immigrants living among us, many conservative churchgoers remain ambivalent or outright hostile to any plans to provide a path toward citizenship.

That helps explain why House Speaker John Boehner and his rebellious caucus have denounced a comprehensive immigration reform proposal recently passed by the U.S. Senate. House Republicans believe their constituents, who include most conservative evangelicals, find comprehensive immigration reform a bit of heresy — amnesty granted to lawbreakers and grifters. There is research to back that conclusion: 55 percent of white evangelical Protestants view immigrants as a “burden,” while 58 percent believe they “threaten” traditional American values, according to the Pew Research Center.

Optimists had concentrated on a less antagonistic — and slightly contradictory — finding from that Pew survey, conducted in March: An overwhelming majority of white evangelicals, 62 percent, said that undocumented workers should be allowed to stay in the country legally. While other religious groups showed greater support, even evangelicals appeared solidly behind the Biblical imperative to treat the “stranger” with charity and acceptance.

And there were other signs that conservative evangelicals might have experienced a road-to-Damascus epiphany, a realization that their belligerence toward undocumented newcomers borders on persecution. Two years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest and most influential denomination of conservative Protestants — called for “a just and compassionate path to legal status.”

Sure, the language was vague enough to give skeptics room for cover. Still, it denounced bigotry and harassment of the undocumented, which seemed a big step down the path of righteousness for a denomination that didn’t get around to apologizing for endorsing slavery until 1995.

More recently, several prominent evangelicals organized a group called the Evangelical Immigration Table to push to legalize undocumented workers. Prominent SBC pastors — including Richard Land and the organization’s current president, Bryant Wright — have endorsed the Table’s principles.

That led some observers to hope they’d bring the same passion to fighting for undocumented workers that they’ve brought to fighting against, say, gay marriage or abortion clinics. Perhaps there would be fiery sermons denouncing the unfairness of keeping undocumented workers in the shadows, telephone banks set up to call members of Congress, and massive political demonstrations demanding legislation granting a path to citizenship.

But, alas, that was not to be. Instead, evangelical leaders are themselves divided: A counter group called Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (whatever that may be) opposes the Senate’s call for a path toward citizenship. Among that group’s most active supporters are several leaders of the Tea Party movement, whose pronouncements provoke more fear in Republican politicians than any tent-revival preacher ever could.

Meanwhile, few evangelical flocks have taken up the cause of their undocumented brothers and sisters with any passion or urgency. Here and there, a few have protested the meanest restrictions, such as those passed by the Alabama Legislature in 2011. Some Alabama churches, for example, actively opposed provisions that could have penalized a motorist who drove an undocumented newcomer to church.

Still, there has been nothing resembling the outrage over gay marriage, which evangelical preachers continue to attack with relish. There haven’t been the sustained protests that still inspire Republican state legislatures to curb reproductive freedoms. So it’s no surprise that GOP lawmakers have gotten the message: No matter what a few evangelical leaders have said, most of their members don’t want undocumented immigrants given the full rights of U.S. citizenship.

Later this month, the Evangelical Immigration Table will convene a day of “prayer and action” in Washington, but leaders have already signaled their willingness to accept a deal with the devil, refusing to pressure GOP lawmakers to keep a path toward citizenship as part of any bill. At this stage, it seems only heavenly intervention can resurrect comprehensive immigration reform.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, July 13, 2013

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bob McDonnell Is Unfit For Office”: A Sense Of Entitlement And A Conviction Of Invulnerability

There are two swift routes to political downfall. One is sex. The other is money. The first is humiliating but survivable. The second tends to be terminal, even criminal.

Today’s topic is the second, in the form of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and the now mountainous evidence that — whether he technically complied with Virginia’s Swiss cheese disclosure laws or not in accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from a wealthy businessman — he has no business continuing in office.

The sordid McDonnell details in a bit, but first the comparisons between politicians and illicit sex and politicians and illicit money. They are linked to the twin delusions of the erring politician: his (I use the male form intentionally) sense of entitlement and his conviction of invulnerability.

I work so hard, the politician tells himself. I deserve a little (insert specific failing).

No one will find out, the politician tells himself. I was smart enough to get elected (governor/president/senator).

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There are differences, as well, between the politician tripped up by sex and the one felled by greed. The former can argue that he was not thinking with . . . well, he was not thinking. He is hardly the first to do something dumb in the grip of lust, love, whatever.

Yet he most likely has a wife and family, collateral damage in his sexual escapades. Points off for that — and more off if he has his wife by his side at the confessional news conference.

The greedy pol is blameworthy in a different way, again both heightening and lessening his guilt. On the negative side, he was not swept away by the passion of the moment; he calculated that he could accept the money, the Rolex, whatever, and get away with it.

On the plus side — and this is explanation, not excuse — he may have been acting under familial pressure, and in what he conceived as the best interests of his family, rather than against it, as the straying spouse certainly has.

Much modern political corruption, especially of the penny-ante sort, can be explained by the yawning gap between the relatively paltry income of the politician and the wealth of the private-sector types fluttering around him.

The politician feels aggrieved, which in turn feeds his sense of entitlement. The political spouse sees her friends driving fancier cars, wearing fancier clothes — all this while her husband is probably working longer hours, to the detriment of his family. You can understand, although not excuse, the husband whose ethical judgment is warped by marital guilt, the wife whose judgment is warped by marital resentment.

Which brings us to the McDonnells, and the flagrant, repeated misconduct exposed by The Post’s Rosalind Helderman. The story began with relatively trivial, if astonishingly morally obtuse, bits of graft and back-scratching:

The $15,000 check that businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave to help cover the catering bill at the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding — an event that took place three days after Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she touted a dietary supplement made by Williams’s company, Star Scientific Inc. Three months later, Star Scientific used the governor’s mansion for a luncheon, attended by the governor, to promote the supplement.

The $6,500 Rolex, complete with engraved inscription, “71st Governor of Virginia,” that Williams bought for the governor at Maureen McDonnell’s behest. She allegedly requested the bauble moments before a meeting she had arranged for Williams to pitch a top state health official on the supplement.

● Maureen McDonnell’s reported $15,000 spree at Bergdorf Goodman, again on Williams’s tab — this a year after a staffer foiled McDonnell’s bid for a Williams-underwritten Oscar de la Renta inaugural gown.

Now comes reporting that raises the story to a new level of outrage: Williams last year gave $70,000 — supposedly a loan — to a corporation owned by McDonnell and his sister; plus $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell in 2011, and $10,000 as a wedding present this year to another McDonnell daughter.

As astonishing is the governor’s technocratic defense: that he is complying with the letter of Virginia disclosure rules, which do not require reporting of gifts to family members. “To, after the fact, impose some new requirements on an official,” McDonnell told a Norfolk radio show, “obviously wouldn’t be fair.”

But gifts and entanglements like these are simply wrong, a violation of the governor’s duty to citizens, whatever the rules. That McDonnell doesn’t get this basic point makes him unfit for office. Obviously.


By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 12, 2013

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Delusions Of Libertarian Populism”: Here’s A Public Service Announcement For You, It’s Bunk

Have you heard about “libertarian populism” yet? If not, you will. It will surely be touted all over the airwaves and the opinion pages by the same kind of people who assured you, a few years ago, that Representative Paul Ryan was the very model of a Serious, Honest Conservative. So let me make a helpful public service announcement: It’s bunk.

Some background: These are tough times for members of the conservative intelligentsia — those denizens of think tanks and opinion pages who dream of Republicans once again becoming “the party of ideas.” (Whether they ever were that party is another question.)

For a while, they thought they had found their wonk hero in the person of Mr. Ryan. But the famous Ryan plan turned out to be crude smoke and mirrors, and I suspect that even conservatives privately realize that its author is more huckster than visionary. So what’s the next big idea?

Enter libertarian populism. The idea here is that there exists a pool of disaffected working-class white voters who failed to turn out last year but can be mobilized again with the right kind of conservative economic program — and that this remobilization can restore the Republican Party’s electoral fortunes.

You can see why many on the right find this idea appealing. It suggests that Republicans can regain their former glory without changing much of anything — no need to reach out to nonwhite voters, no need to reconsider their economic ideology. You might also think that this sounds too good to be true — and you’d be right. The notion of libertarian populism is delusional on at least two levels.

First, the notion that white mobilization is all it takes rests heavily on claims by the political analyst Sean Trende that Mitt Romney fell short last year largely because of “missing white voters” — millions of “downscale, rural, Northern whites” who failed to show up at the polls. Conservatives opposed to any major shifts in the G.O.P. position — and, in particular, opponents of immigration reform — quickly seized on Mr. Trende’s analysis as proof that no fundamental change is needed, just better messaging.

But serious political scientists like Alan Abramowitz and Ruy Teixeira have now weighed in and concluded that the missing-white-voter story is a myth. Yes, turnout among white voters was lower in 2012 than in 2008; so was turnout among nonwhite voters. Mr. Trende’s analysis basically imagines a world in which white turnout rebounds to 2008 levels but nonwhite turnout doesn’t, and it’s hard to see why that makes sense.

Suppose, however, that we put this debunking on one side and grant that Republicans could do better if they could inspire more enthusiasm among “downscale” whites. What can the party offer that might inspire such enthusiasm?

Well, as far as anyone can tell, at this point libertarian populism — as illustrated, for example, by the policy pronouncements of Senator Rand Paul — consists of advocating the same old policies, while insisting that they’re really good for the working class. Actually, they aren’t. But, in any case, it’s hard to imagine that proclaiming, yet again, the virtues of sound money and low marginal tax rates will change anyone’s mind.

Moreover, if you look at what the modern Republican Party actually stands for in practice, it’s clearly inimical to the interests of those downscale whites the party can supposedly win back. Neither a flat tax nor a return to the gold standard are actually on the table; but cuts in unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicaid are. (To the extent that there was any substance to the Ryan plan, it mainly involved savage cuts in aid to the poor.) And while many nonwhite Americans depend on these safety-net programs, so do many less-well-off whites — the very voters libertarian populism is supposed to reach.

Specifically, more than 60 percent of those benefiting from unemployment insurance are white. Slightly less than half of food stamp beneficiaries are white, but in swing states the proportion is much higher. For example, in Ohio, 65 percent of households receiving food stamps are white. Nationally, 42 percent of Medicaid recipients are non-Hispanic whites, but, in Ohio, the number is 61 percent.

So when Republicans engineer sharp cuts in unemployment benefits, block the expansion of Medicaid and seek deep cuts in food stamp funding — all of which they have, in fact, done — they may be disproportionately hurting Those People; but they are also inflicting a lot of harm on the struggling Northern white families they are supposedly going to mobilize.

Which brings us back to why libertarian populism is, as I said, bunk. You could, I suppose, argue that destroying the safety net is a libertarian act — maybe freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. But populist it isn’t.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 11, 2013

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Libertarians, Populism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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