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‘Looking Beyond The Store Countertop”: Maybe The Supreme Court Isn’t As Pro-Gun As We Thought

Bruce Abramski must have known he was going to get into trouble when he bought a Glock 19 for his uncle. A retired police officer, Abramski was familiar with gun regulation. Yet he accepted $400 from his uncle, went to a local gun store, andas required to purchase the Glockfilled out federal Form 4473. Question 11.a of that form required Abramski to confirm that he was “the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s)?” Question 11.a includes, in stark bold lettering “You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you.” Nonetheless, Abramski signed the form, knowingly lying about his intentions in purchasing the gun for his uncle.

When he was finally caught, Abramski answered with the audacity increasingly typical among a certain class of gun owners: He insisted the law itself was illegal. His lying, he claimed, was perfectly lawful. Surprisingly, he almost convinced the Supreme Court to let him off. Instead, a narrow majority of the Court declined Abramski’s invitation to gut one of the nation’s most important laws designed to reduce easy access to guns by felons and the mentally ill. The ruling is a relief to law enforcementand a setback for the National Rifle Association.

Law enforcement will be happy because the majority’s decision affirmed the continued viability of the federal prohibitions on gun trafficking. Nearly half of all trafficking investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the main federal agency overseeing gun sales, involve what Abramski did. It’s called “straw purchasing,” and it occurs when one person buys a gun for another person. People who can’t pass a background check, say, because of a prior felony conviction, persuade someone else to go to a gun store for them. It could be a girlfriend, a young recruit into the gang, or just someone looking to make a quick buck. Studies show that criminals often use straw purchasers to obtain firearms.

Abramski wasn’t planning to give his gun to a criminal. It was for his uncle, who wasn’t prohibited himself from purchasing firearms. In the lower courts, Abramski emphasized this argument. Because the uncle could have bought the Glock 19, Abramski’s misrepresentation on Form 4473 was not, as the law required, “material to the lawfulness of the sale.” This argument had a certain logic to it, even if it wasn’t especially persuasive in the end. The lie was still material because the gun store, which needs to verify the background of the buyer, would not have been allowed to sell the gun to Abramski had he told the truth. At the Supreme Court, however, Abramski decided to go further: He said he could lie regardless of his uncle’s eligibility. As is so often the case in today’s gun debate, a reasonable argument is pushed aside in favor of a more extreme and dangerous one.

Abramski’s extreme claim was that straw purchasing was not illegal at all. The law, he argued, only required the gun store to check his own background because he was the purchaser. It didn’t matter what he did with the gun later or whether he was already intending to sell it to his uncle, his aunt, or some dude he met at a gun show. As Justice Scalia, who agreed with this argument, wrote in dissent on behalf of Justices Alito, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts: “If I give my son $10 and tell him to pick up milk and eggs at the store, no English speaker would say that the store sells the milk and eggs to me.”

Writing for a majority that included Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, Justice Kagan declined to buy what Scalia and Abramski were selling. In holding that federal law intends to look beyond the store countertop (Abramski and the gun dealer) to see who the actual purchaser is (the uncle), Kagan was clearly worried about the AFT’s continued ability to prosecute gun trafficking. The “overarching reason” to reject Abramski’s circumscribed interpretation is that it “would undermineindeed, for all important purposes, would virtually repealthe gun law’s core provisions.”

Repealing gun control is exactly what the NRA, which filed a brief in support of Abramski, was hoping for. Although famous for saying we need to enforce existing gun laws, here at least the NRA was trying to make it harder to enforce federal law. Perhaps this is an example of what’s been called the NRA’s gun control “Catch-22”: make gun laws impossible to enforce, then point to the laws’ ineffectiveness as a reason to get rid of them. Had the NRA’s position won in the Court, tomorrow they’d be saying the background check law doesn’t work because it doesn’t stop straw purchasing.

Whatever the NRA’s motive, the nation’s leading gun rights organization will be disheartened by today’s ruling. It’s bad enough, from the NRA’s perspective, that the Court strengthened the hand of ATFlong the target of the NRA’s hostility. Worse, the Abramski case saw Justice Kennedy siding with the liberal wing of the Court to uphold a gun control law. Ever since the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Second Amendment in the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller, another narrow, 5–4 decision, the NRA has been counting on Justice Kennedy to side with it in the NRA’s challenges to gun control.

Based on that expectation, the NRA has been pursuing lawsuits around the nation challenging a variety of gun control laws. The most significant of these are laws restricting who can carry guns in public. Just this term, the NRA and other gun rights advocates petitioned the Court to rule on that issue in several different cases. Although the Court has so far declined to hear any of those casesand today’s case was not framed as a Second Amendment casetoday’s ruling shows that Justice Kennedy is willing to support gun control. For people on either side of the gun debate, that may be the most important signal to come from the Court’s ruling.


By: Adam Winkler, Professor of Constitutional Law at The UCLA School of Law; The New Republic, June 6, 2014

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Transfers, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Where Is The Accountability On Iraq?”: At Best A Fool’s Errand, At Worst A Criminal Act

Can someone explain to me why the media still solicit advice about the crisis in Iraq from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)? Or Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)? How many times does the Beltway hawk caucus get to be wrong before we recognize that maybe, just maybe, its members don’t know what they’re talking about?

Certainly Politico could have found someone with more credibility than Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy in the George W. Bush administration and one of the architects of the Iraq war, to comment on how the White House might react to the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Iraq today. Certainly New York Times columnist David Brooks knows what folly it is to equate President Obama’s 2011 troop removal with Bush’s 2003 invasion, as he did during a discussion with me last Friday on NPR?

Just a reminder of what that 2003 invasion led to: Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes authoritatively priced Bush’s war at more than $3 trillion. About 320,000 U.S. veterans suffer from brain injury as a result of their service. Between 500,000 and 655,000 Iraqis died, as well as more than 4,000 U.S. military members.

Yet as Brooks’s words reveal, the prevailing mindset in today’s media is to treat the 2003 invasion as if its prosecution were an act of God — like Hurricane Katrina, an inevitability that could not have been avoided. Seen this way, policymakers can ignore the idiocy of the decision to invade in the first place and can instead direct all of their critical attention to how to deal with the aftermath. It’s almost as though the mainstream media have demoted themselves from a corps of physicians, eager and able to diagnose, prognosticate and prescribe, to one of EMTs, charged instead with triaging, cleaning and cauterizing a catastrophe without investigating its underlying cause.

Since so many liberal hawks reached the same conclusion as did Bush et al., this notion of the 2003 invasion’s inevitability can falsely seem to have some credence (which is, perhaps why, as Frank Rich points out in New York magazine, so many erstwhile hawks, especially so-called liberal ones, feel no need to acknowledge their erroneous judgments of a decade ago).

But if so many were wrong about Iraq in 2003, why are they still being invited (and trotting themselves out) on Sunday morning talk shows and op-ed pages as authorities on U.S.-Iraq policy? Where is the accountability for the politicians’ and pundits’ warmongering of 11 years ago? James Fallows — who was “right” on Iraq in a 2002 Atlantic cover storytweeted Friday, “Working hypothesis: no one who stumped for original Iraq invasion gets to give ‘advice’ about disaster now. Or should get listened to.” Amen.

In the current cacophony of Washington, we must remember that there is no equivalence to be drawn between Bush’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq and Obama’s 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. troops. Bush’s invasion, after all, was not just a mistake. At best a fool’s errand, at worst a criminal act, this great blunder helped set the stage for Iraq’s chaos today. The increased sectarian violence stems not from the 2011 withdrawal; rather, it is the fruit of the 2003 invasion, subsequent occupation and much-vaunted “surge” of 2007–08.

McCain and Graham insist that airstrikes are the only way forward in today’s Iraq. But what we need now are not armchair warriors calling for military strikes or sending weapons. (As an aside, I will say that, should members of the neoconservative movement feel so motivated, we would wholeheartedly respect their decision to enlist in the Iraqi army.) Obama, himself “right” on Iraq during the war’s run-up, is also right today to resist calls for direct U.S. military action — including airstrikes — in Iraq. The U.S. misadventure in Iraq ended in 2011; we do not need another. Experience and history have (clearly) taught us that there is no military solution in Iraq. Only a political reconciliation can quell the unrest, and this requires more than bellicose calls for violence from 5,000 miles away. To find a solution, we must commit to regional and international diplomacy.

We learned in 2003 that when we move in with guns blazing, we tend to spark a lot more fires than we extinguish. In 2014, we cannot afford to learn this same lesson. Regardless of how many are too blind (or proud or foolish) to realize it, we need to write a new scenario for 2014, so that 11 years from now, we can look back and ponder how, this time, we did things right.


By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 17, 2014

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Iraq, Iraq War, Media, Neo-Cons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Good And Evil Are Interchangeable”: How Fox News Created A Monster And Made Two Others Disappear

Anyone who read 1984 in high school should know that the target of propaganda can turn on a dime. But we tend to forget this lesson whenever the media’s real-life Big Bros crank out their version of “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” as they’ve being doing of late.

It’s worth quickly revisiting Orwell. “On the sixth day of Hate Week,” he wrote,

when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces—at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally.

There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place…. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.

We’ve recently gone through a Hate Week or two ourselves. Only months ago, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last POW in Afghanistan, had been valorized by the right. Senators McCain, Ayotte and Inhofe, Sarah Palin and Allen West and right-wing websites wanted Bergdahl freed at all costs, and blamed Obama for leaving him behind.

Then, of course, Obama did free Bergdahl. You can argue that the deal struck was mishandled, but there’s no excuse—none—for the rightwing pillorying of Bergdahl into a one-man Eastasia. With no evidence and “no admission that any change had taken place,” they’ve recast him, variously, as a deserter, a traitor, a jihadist or, as Fox News reporter James Rosen bizarrely put it, “a kind of modern-day Lee Harvey Oswald.” Death threats were made against his parents; his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, canceled a celebration of his return for fears of public safety. Fox News’s Kimberly Guilfoyle declared that he was “lucky” US forces didn’t find him earlier because “he would have come home either in a body bag or come home and gone straight to jail.”

Bergdahl is back now in the United States, being treated at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, and God help him when, weeks or months or years from now, he meets the media. (This cartoon puts it succinctly.)

Then, faster than you can switch a long beard from signifying good ol’, homo-hatin’ Duck Dynasty boys to signifying that you look like a Muslim (as Bill O’Reilly said of Bergdahl’s father)—quicker than that, you can make a pair of right-wing cop killers cease to exist.

The same Fox News that usually torches not only cop killers but lawyers who defend them and singers who rap about them had almost nothing to say about Jerad and Amanda Miller, the couple who executed two police officers as they were eating at a Las Vegas pizzeria. The Millers had attended rallies at the Cliven Bundy ranch and thus hated law enforcement in the right way, in the way Fox had helped to foment. As Eric Boehlert wrote last week:

Primetime hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity both ignored the shocking cop-killer story [the day after the killings], while Megyn Kelly devoted four sentences to it. (By contrast, the story covered extensively during CNN and MSNBC’s primetime.) Fox talkers on Monday were still far more interested in debating the prisoner swap of Bowe Bergdahl than they were examining the political ambush in Las Vegas….

In the 36 hours after the shooting, Fox News tread lightly around the Las Vegas story, producing regular news updates about the crime spree. But Fox provided almost no commentary, no context, and certainly no collective blame for the executions.

And that’s how Fox News deals with right-wing domestic terrorism in America, when it even bothers to acknowledge the killings and the crimes…. on Fox the perpetrators are always portrayed as lone gunmen (and women) who do not represent any cultural or political movement.

This sort of media-manufactured amnesia goes beyond a mere “flip-flop.” In a well-oiled propaganda machine, who’s lone and who’s representative, who’s a hero and who’s a heel, even good and evil themselves, are interchangeable. Anything can be instantly reframed as circumstances dictate.

As we’re already hearing from some quarters: “We have always been right to go to war in Iraq.”


By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, June 16, 2014

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Domestic Terrorism, Fox News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Really Stepping Into It”: When ‘Traditional’ Apparently Means ‘White’

North Carolina State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) fairly easily won his party’s U.S. Senate nomination this year, after presenting himself as the most electable center-right candidate to take on Sen. Kay Hagan (D) in November.

He may have oversold his electoral qualities a bit.

We learned a month ago about remarks, first aired by msnbc’s Chris Matthews, in which Tillis argued in 2011, “What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance.” The Republican lawmaker described a vision in which policymakers pit those in need against one another, in order to cut off benefits for those on the losing end of the fight.

This morning, TPM reports on another striking quote from Tillis’ recent past.

State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC), the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, said that the “traditional” voting bloc of his home state wasn’t growing like minority populations in an interview he did in 2012.

In context, the host of the Carolina Business Review television program asked why the Republican Party was struggling with minority voters, most notably Hispanics. Tillis responded that he believes the GOP’s message is “appealing to everybody.” As for his party’s demographic challenges, he added, “The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It’s not growing. The African-American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers.”

It sounded an awful lot like Tillis sees the “traditional population” as the white population.

The Republican’s campaign manager said this morning that Tillis was referring to “North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations” when he used the word “traditional.”

That’s one way of looking at it. But the words themselves are hard to ignore.

Tillis wasn’t talking about migration or new populations that have recently arrived in North Carolina. Rather, he described three demographic groups by name: the African-American population, the Hispanic population, and the “traditional population.”

NBC News’ First Read added, “It appears North Carolina GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis stepped into it,” which seems more than fair under the circumstances.

Tillis was already likely to struggle with minority-voter outreach, especially given his support for some of the nation’s harshest voting restrictions. It’s safe to say his “traditional population” comment won’t help.

The next question, of course, is whether remarks like these also alienate a broader voting base.  In 2006, for example, then-Sen. George Allen’s (R-Va.) “macaca” comments were offensive not just to minority voters, but also to anyone concerned with racism. It’s not hard to imagine Tillis running into a similar problem, alienating anyone uncomfortable with the notion of white people being some kind of “traditional” default.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 17, 2014

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rand Paul’s Defining Fraud”: Behind His Moment Of Non-Truth On Iraq

If the United States were finally going to have a sober debate about post-9/11 national security and defense policy, deciding what to do about the chaos in Iraq would seem to be the time for it. It seems like a tailor-made opportunity for Sen. Rand Paul to showcase the foreign policy of realism and restraint his admirers say could make him a formidable 2016 contender; just this weekend, on MSNBC’s “Up With Steve Kornacki,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele suggested Paul might emerge as a leader among antiwar voices in Congress.

But not quite yet. While Paul has voiced caution about putting ground troops back in Iraq – as has the president, and most sane people – on Sunday he tried out some new gravitas by saying he’s open to airstrikes, in an interview with the Des Moines Register. Yes, in Iowa, home to the first 2016 caucus.

“I think we aided the Iraqi government for a long time; I’m not opposed to continuing to help them with arms,” Paul said. “I would not rule out airstrikes. But I would say, after 10 years, it is appalling to me that they are stripping their uniforms off and running. And it concerns me that we would have to do their fighting for them because they won’t fight for their own country, their own cities.”

The problem is there’s little that airstrikes can do to change the fundamental political problems that are leading to the bloodshed. That’s why it’s become clearer, over the weekend, that the major voices calling for military action in Iraq don’t foresee getting the job done with a few precision airstrikes, or maybe a drone campaign to minimize the possibility of U.S. casualties. No, they’re now saying Nuri al-Maliki must go, committing the U.S. to another round of regime change at an unimaginable cost.

On Friday MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Sen. John McCain whether Maliki could be coerced into broadening his government and changing his ways, and McCain answered, “He has to, or he has to be changed.”  On Sunday Sen. Lindsey Graham even suggested the U.S. work with Iran to topple Maliki and form a new government.  “The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall,” he said blithely. “We need to coordinate with the Iranians and the Turks need to get in the game and get the Sunni Arabs back into the game, form a new government without Maliki.”

That’s interesting. Here’s what Graham said about Iran seven months ago, when discussing negotiations over its nuclear program:

We’re dealing with people who are not only untrustworthy: this is a murderous regime that murders their own people, create chaos and mayhem throughout the whole world, the largest sponsor of terrorism. This deal doesn’t represent the fact we’re dealing with the most thuggish people in the whole world” (h/t The Wire).

Now Graham thinks “the most thuggish people in the world” are preferable to the Maliki government. To be fair to Rand Paul, supporting airstrikes does put him in opposition to the surreal hawkishness of his GOP Senate colleagues preaching regime change. But Paul could be meeting the Iraq crisis to lay out his larger vision of a realistic, restrained foreign policy that avoids such entanglements. Instead, there he was in Iowa taking a middle ground. “Rand Paul 2016: Not as Hawkish as the Old Guys” won’t make much of a bumper sticker.

It’s not the first time Paul’s supposed courage to question the national security state has itself come in for questions. After his filibuster against President Obama’s drone policy last year, he suggested he’d support the use of drones against the Tsarnaev brothers, the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, and even against someone trying to rob a liquor store. “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him,” the supposed libertarian told a shocked Neil Cavuto on Fox. Sounds like due process to me.

He missed another opportunity to stand out from the craven, anti-Obama Republican Party in the controversy over the prisoner swap that brought home Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The libertarian hero might have stood up for the principle that Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty of various charges made by some of his fellow soldiers, or for the notion that we don’t leave our military men or women behind on the battlefield. The complicated politics of Bergdahl’s release, and even the circumstances of his enlisting in the Army – he’d been rejected by the Coast Guard but entered the Army on waivers that became common given the strain two wars put on the military – might have provided Paul with an opportunity to discuss the very human implications of America’s military overreach.

Instead, he used it as an opportunity to make a dumb partisan joke, suggesting Obama should have traded Democrats, not Taliban fighters, to retrieve Bergdahl. Another statesmanlike moment for the man some think could be the 2016 front-runner.

Some Republicans suggest Paul could be a formidable 2016 foe to Hillary Clinton, who may or may not be more hawkish than he is on foreign policy. I say “may or may not” because when Paul is pushed on his alleged anti-intervention, pro-liberty stances, he often goes limp: Drones are bad in Pakistan but OK in Boston? There’s not much the U.S. military can do in Iraq but let’s do some airstrikes because … well, we don’t know why. Airstrikes are quickly becoming the safe way for Republicans to trash Obama for the Iraq debacle without  committing themselves to ground troops either, and Paul missed another chance to show the foreign policy courage his supporters are always telling us about.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, June 17, 2014

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Fiscal Policy, Iraq, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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