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“I’m More Scared Of Criminals Than I Am Of Guns”: For Policymakers To Address A Problem, They Must First Understand The Problem

In the wake of this week’s shooting in Virginia of two journalists, President Obama mentioned in an interview, “What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism.” As a simple matter of arithmetic, Obama’s assessment is plainly true.

But Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie wasn’t impressed with the factual observation. “I don’t know that anybody in America believes that they feel more threatened by this than they feel a threat by ISIS or by other terrorist groups around the world,” the New Jersey governor said on Fox News.

It’s a curious approach to the debate. For Christie, the president may be right, but the facts don’t “feel” true. The governor doesn’t know anyone who actually believes the truth – statistically speaking, reality tells us Americans really are more threatened by gun violence than international terrorism – and as such, the facts are somehow less important than the perception.

But this was the line that really stood out for me.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) said Thursday that enforcing existing gun laws should take precedence over new legislation, a day after the deadly shooting of two journalists during a live broadcast.

“I’ll tell you what I am more scared of, I’m more scared of criminals than I am of guns,” the 2016 presidential contender said during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

That seems like a line that would score well with focus groups, but it doesn’t mean much.

Vox had an interesting report yesterday that pointed to an under-appreciated dynamic: “America doesn’t have more crime than other rich countries. It just has more guns.”

Wednesday’s Virginia shooting, like so many shootings before it, seems likely to raise a debate we’ve had many times before: Why does the US have such a high rate of gun murders, by far the highest in the developed world? Is it because of guns, or is there something else going on? Maybe America is just more prone to crime, say, because of income inequality or cultural differences?

A landmark 1999 study actually tried to answer this question. Its findings – which scholars say still hold up – are that America doesn’t really have a significantly higher rate of crime compared to similar countries. But that crime is much likelier to be lethal: American criminals just kill more people than do their counterparts in other developed countries. And guns appear to be a big part of what makes this difference.

Christie’s argument seems to be that criminals are the real problem – they’re the societal factor the governor is “scared of.”

But the available data tells us that the United States has so many gun deaths, not because we have more criminals, but because we have more firearms.

In order for policymakers to address a problem, they must first try to understand the problem.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 28, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Universal Election Day Registration”: Jimmy Carter And The Conservative Abandonment Of Voting Rights

Being a Georgian and a kiddie volunteer for Jimmy Carter’s first gubernatorial contest in 1966, I thought I was an expert on Most Things Jimmy. But Rick Perlstein, who was seven years old when Carter became our 39th president, has unearthed a proud moment of that presidency which I and probably others watching at the time had all but forgotten: a 1977 election reform initiative which still seems bold in its clear purpose and scope.

Everyone loved to talk about voter apathy, but the real problem, Carter said, was that “millions of Americans are prevented or discouraged from voting in every election by antiquated and overly restricted voter registration laws”—a fact proven, he pointed out, by record rates of participation in 1976 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, where voters were allowed to register on election day. So he proposed that election-day registration be adopted universally, tempering concerns that such measures might increase opportunities for fraud by also proposing five years in prison and a $10,000 fine as penalties for electoral fraud.

He asked Congress to allot up to $25 million in aid to states to help them comply, and for the current system of federal matching funds for presidential candidates to be expanded to congressional elections. He suggested reforming a loophole in the matching-fund law that disadvantaged candidates competing with rich opponents who funded their campaigns themselves, and revising the Hatch Act to allow federal employees “not in sensitive positions,” and when not on the job, the same rights of political participation as everyone else.

Finally, and most radically, he recommended that Congress adopt a constitutional amendment to do away with the Electoral College—under which, three times in our history (four times if you count George W. Bush 33 years later), a candidate who received fewer votes than his opponent went on to become president—in favor of popular election of presidents. It was one of the broadest political reform packages ever proposed.

As Perlstein notes, Carter’s proposal initially drew support from national leaders of the GOP. But then the engines of the conservative movement became engaged in blocking it, led by Ronald Reagan, making arguments that sound extremely familiar today: real voters don’t need convenience; universal voting will empower looters in league with the Democratic Party; voter fraud will run rampant; and the Electoral College is part and parcel of our infallible system of federalism. The initiative was filibustered to death (in another fine usage of an anti-democratic device), Reagan beat Carter in 1980, and another rock of progress rolled down another long hill.

And now Jimmy Carter, at 90, is suffering from apparently incurable cancer, but is still speaking out:

This spring, when only those closest to him knew of his illness, Jimmy Carter made news on Thom Hartmann’s radio program when he returned to the question of democracy reform. In 1977, he had pledged “to work toward an electoral process which is open to the participation of all our citizens, which meets high ethical standards, and operates in an efficient and responsive manner.” In 2015, he was still at it.

He declared our electoral system a violation of “the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president.”

The best possible tribute to Carter at death’s door is what Perlstein is doing: remembering his finest moments in causes then lost but now redeemable, if we take them up again.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 28, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Voter Registration, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hillary vs. The World”: Opponents’ New Tactic Is To Paint The Party As Colluding With The Frontrunner

There aren’t going to be a lot of “Minnesota nice” jokes coming out of this weekend’s Democratic National Committee meeting here in the Twin Cities.

Sure, speakers did obligatory eye-pops at the promise of state fair food, made Garrison Keillor references, and sang Paul Wellstone praises. But there were two ardent, rabble-rousing speeches by underdog candidates that made it a Democrat-on-Democrat bloodbath all afternoon.

Coming into 2016, the DNC crafted a debate schedule apparently designed to usher Hillary Clinton through a gentle primary process. The committee may have protected her, today’s meeting showed at what cost. Clinton’s two main rivals used the DNC as a backboard for bankshots at her. The DNC itself was a target, and Clinton’s challengers hit at it repeatedly and to great applause.

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley hooked his entire speech around a linguistic barb, calling out the Democrats’ lack of debates for being literally “undemocratic.” More daringly, Sen. Bernie Sanders warbled a doomsday tune: If the Democrats continue with “politics as usual,” “establishment politics or establishment economics,” he warned, then they “will not retain the White House, will not regain the Senate, will not gain the House and will not be successful in dozens of governor’s races.” The only part of his speech that wasn’t vicious criticism was clearly a lie: “With all due respect,” he said, “And I do not mean to insult anyone here.”

Well, on that last part Sanders might well tell true. By the time he had spoken, Hillary Clinton wasn’t there.

Cynics might say that was according to plan. The day’s speaking schedule, advertised as being in alphabetic order, put Clinton in a sweet spot: mid-morning, right after a wistful and mild Lincoln Chaffee. Not a bad expectation-setter, as opening acts go.

More fodder for those looking for conspiracy: Her speech went ten minutes longer than the committee claimed to allow. Her lack of nerves showed. She hit every mark, nailed every applause line and even summoned some laughs. (Truly, Donald Trump’s most significant Democratic donation is in-kind: He’s given Hillary a punchline that’s not about email, and a few more about hair.)

Her delivery reflected the deliberate lack of urgency her entire campaign wants to convey. Going into the committee’s meeting, the Clinton campaign placed a story claiming the primary all but over before a single vote has been cast. With 130 superdelegates already publicly committed, Clinton officials told “supporters and the undecided” that “private commitments increase that number to more than 440—about 20 percent” of what she needs to for the nomination itself.

I have my doubts about that story, mainly because it’s impossible to check. But as important as whether it’s true is that Clinton’s people want everyone to believe it.

Sanders’ success in turning out crowds has given him the most obvious retort. At the meeting itself, his supporters were raucous and eager to stand, rising from their chairs to thunder approval at a litany of not just good progressive causes (from mass incarceration to the minimum wage)—the same stuff of Hillary’s speech hours before. Even more insistently, they hooted encouragement at Sanders’ thundering against the establishment that Sanders was there to address. His argument was Sanders-centered but succinct: I am generating crowds and excitement, and without them, the Obama coalition is going to stay home.

O’Malley’s argument was necessarily more small-bore, but ingeniously formed. Sanders’ doomsaying was non-specific and grim—invoking the specter of loss but not focusing that much on what they’d lose to. O’Malley, on the other hand, mounted a race against Trump—and his platform was simple: “We’re better than this.” Without more debates, he asserted, the Democratic party will cede the whole conversation: “Will we let the circus run unchallenged on every channel, as we cower in the shadows under a decree of silence in the ranks?”

Sanders’ crowd may have been more ardent, but O’Malley’s rhetoric was craftier—lines like that prodded applause that seemed to fade in confusion, as if Hillary supporters could not help but endorse a distinction between their party and Trump, but then had to remember who was drawing the distinction from whom.

Both Sanders and O’Malley’s boldness fell short of breaking the Clinton omerta from the podium. They declined to furnish ad fodder for next fall. But in the press conferences afterwards, egged on by reporters to go from bank shots to point blank, both men were unable to resist direct jabs.

Both were asked they felt the debate schedule was rigged in Hillary’s favor, and both simply said, “yes.” O’Malley in particular couldn’t wait to say more. He was proud of how obvious he’d been: “I don’t think I was hinting, I thought I was pretty clear.” Sanders dredged up some sarcasm when a reporter wanted to know if by “establishment” he meant Hillary: “I’ll let you use your imagination on that.”

Who knows what Clinton makes of all this. Defensive mode, ironically, is what she does best.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, August 29, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Keeping America American”: The Koch Brothers Have An Immigration Problem

Every year, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the political group backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, gathers thousands of conservative activists to share strategies for building a popular movement to advance their small-government, low-tax philosophy. This year’s Defending the American Dream Summit, held in Columbus, Ohio, on Aug. 21-22, attracted about 3,600 people to compare notes for weakening labor unions and stopping Medicaid expansion. Yet everyone on the floor seemed to be talking about the one topic left off the agenda: immigration.

That may be a problem for the Kochs and their network of like-minded donors, who’ve invested heavily in broadening their appeal beyond the traditional conservative base of older, white voters—and, specifically, in appealing to minorities, immigrants, and young people. In Columbus, activists got training on how to reach Snapchat-happy millennials and knock on doors in black neighborhoods to spread the gospel of the free market. They heard a former farm laborer, the son of Mexican immigrants, describe a Koch-backed program in Las Vegas that helped Latinos pass their driver’s tests and get licenses. The crowd dutifully took notes and applauded politely.

When it was time to file into the bleachers to see presidential candidates speak, talk of outreach faded away. The crowd went wild for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose plan for guarding the Mexican frontier includes 90,000 repurposed IRS employees, and for Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, who promised to build a wall on the nation’s southern border within six months. “Immigration without assimilation is invasion!” proclaimed Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants.

The message struck a chord with summit-goers as they filed into a nearby bar for an AFP-sponsored “Buckeye bash.” “Send ’em back,” said David Dandrea, an 82-year-old former school custodian from Altoona, Pa., referring to undocumented immigrants. “A lot of them are coming over and getting on welfare. They overload the hospitals. A woman who’s eight months pregnant comes over the border to have her kid.” Fellow conservatives in bright red and highlighter-yellow AFP T-shirts wandered past. John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” blared from the speakers.

Donald Trump, who’s dominated media coverage of the presidential race and made a crackdown on “the illegals” the centerpiece of his campaign, was never far from people’s minds in Columbus. Praise for Trump, who wasn’t invited to speak, was virtually unanimous, even from those who said they were backing other candidates. “He’s like the last little bit of salt you put in the stew to bring out the flavor,” said Rita Singer, a retired fabric store saleswoman from Moncks Corner, S.C. “He says what everyone else is thinking.”

Tim Phillips, the president of AFP, cautioned against reading too much into the Trump buzz. “It’s partly impacted by the breathless 24/7 coverage,” he says across the street from the Greater Columbus Convention Center, where the event was held. “If the summit were in two more months, and it’s 24/7 coverage of the Iran nuclear deal, you would find people bringing that up more.” Phillips pointed out that the activists the Koch network cultivates care about all kinds of issues, from abortion to gun control, but AFP, he said, remains solely focused on shrinking government and taxes. “We still have good friends who care passionately about these issues,” he says. “It shows a healthy, vibrant movement to have those discussions.”

The Kochs’ wealth comes from Koch Industries, the Wichita industrial behemoth they run. Their net worth is estimated at about $49 billion each. They’ve bankrolled libertarian causes for decades, although in recent years they’ve forged bonds with nontraditional allies. They gave $25 million to the United Negro College Fund and are working with the Obama administration to reduce the ranks of nonviolent drug offenders in the nation’s prisons. Yet they’ve also come to rival the Republican Party as an organizing body of the American right, securing pledges from other wealthy donors to spend as much as $889 million this year and next pushing their agenda.

Their strategy for recruiting Latinos hinges on Daniel Garza, a son of migrant fruit pickers who runs the Libre Initiative, funded by Koch-affiliated groups including the nonprofit Freedom Partners. Seated before more than 500 AFP members in Columbus, he described going door-to-door in Latino neighborhoods to make the case against Obamacare. When someone asked if Trump is threatening conservatives’ chances with Latinos, Garza said conservatives need to be respectful and appreciate the crucial role that immigrants play in the U.S. economy. He called Trump’s proposal to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants “not realistic.”

Dorothy Osborne, a stay-at-home mom from Tennessee, disagreed. “Yes it is!” she called out as Garza spoke. In the hallway outside, Osborne said she agrees with much of Garza’s message. “We have to go and talk to these people,” she said. “We want them to love freedom.” But she said she doesn’t think an immigration crackdown would alienate Latinos who live here legally. “It’s economics, it’s crime, it’s the drain on our resources. And it’s keeping America American,” she said. “If our country becomes more like Venezuela, that’s not helping anyone.”

 

By: Zachary Mider, Bloomberg Politics, August 27, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Immigration, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Is Donald Trump Leading A Proto-Fascist Movement?”: Trump’s Political Message Is Uncut Xenophobia If Not Outright Racism

With the increasingly unsettling success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, I am beginning to wonder: Does America have a fascism problem?

That may sound like an inflammatory question, but the point isn’t to say Trump is the next coming of Hitler. So what do I mean by fascism? Robert Paxton, in an excellent book about the subject, summed it up this way:

A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. [The Anatomy of Fascism]

The first half of the definition fits the Trump movement pretty well. His slogan “Make America Great Again” isn’t too far from the average political bromide, but its intention is much different than, say, Reagan’s “Morning in America.” Reagan did deal in his fair share of veiled race-baiting, but Trump straight-up rants about how non-white foreigners are ruining the country. From claiming unauthorized Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and “rapists,” to saying he wants to deport 11 million people, to arguing that China is “killing us” on trade, Trump’s political message is uncut xenophobia if not outright racism — all of which is coupled with how he, as a very masculine tough guy who will never back down, is going to fix everything. Just watch him give the bum’s rush to the most famous Hispanic journalist in the country!

This has been an enormous political success, with hundreds of thousands of people enthusiastically flocking to the Trump banner (just look at the people in this picture). With the exception of Bernie Sanders, Trump is now drawing bigger crowds than any other candidate. That mass basis is a key foundation of fascism — without the delirious crowds, the fascist demagogue is little more than a deranged street preacher. Many of those supporters are out-and-proud white nationalists, as documented in a fascinating New Yorker investigation.

So we’ve got the victim complex, the incipient personality cult, the mass nationalist support, and the obsession with purifying the polity (like this Trump fan arguing that the government should pay a $50 bounty to murder people crossing the border).

However, on the second half of the definition, Trump is clearly not there. Paxton demonstrates that nowhere did fascists come to power by themselves; instead they relied on support from elite conservatives who feared left-wing populist movements. But today, there is not much sign that the Republican establishment is ready to team up with Trump, and neither is there a socialist party on the verge of electoral victory. On the contrary, the GOP brass has clearly been trying to get rid of Trump, and the most left-wing challenger in the presidential race is a moderate social democrat who is far behind the centrist front-runner.

Trump has also not proposed any wars of aggression, or the abolition of democratic principles. Cleansing wars of conquest and a scorn for democracy were both signature fascist ideas.

But I also think it’s fair to call Trumpism a proto-fascist movement, not in line with Hitler, but with the likes of Benito Mussolini, who was at the forefront of European fascism. Before the Nazis, he was regarded as a somewhat clownish dictator with an unusual degree of mass support. He was a racist, authoritarian warmonger, but nowhere close to the genocidal maniac that Hitler was.

Who’s to say where we’d be under different conditions? If the American economy were as bad as it is in the eurozone, and if Bernie Sanders was cruising to easy victory in the Democratic primary, loudly promising confiscatory tax rates, Trump might well be a genuinely terrifying figure.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, August 28, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fascism, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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