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“The ‘Four Freedoms’ Under Assault”: The Dangers “From Within” Demand Our Attention

In her syndicated newspaper column on Jan. 6, 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote , “America is not a pile of goods, more luxury, more comforts, a better telephone system, a greater number of cars. America is a dream of greater justice and opportunity for the average man and, if we can not obtain it, all our other achievements amount to nothing.”

That afternoon, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his annual State of the Union address and elaborated on what America is and is not. He spoke powerfully about the fundamental values at the heart of American democracy, which he portrayed as a potent antidote to the tyranny overtaking Europe. He envisioned a world with “four essential human freedoms” at its core: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. And he proclaimed that such a world could be “attainable in our own time and generation.”

Seventy-five years later, Roosevelt’s vision is being threatened by a retrograde politics that treats freedom as the punch line of a cruel joke against the American people. On the eve of the 2012 election, I argued that Republican politicians – in their fealty to billionaire mega-donors, zealous opposition to a woman’s right to choose, callous disregard for the working poor and terrifying enthusiasm for assault weapons – had perverted the four freedoms beyond recognition. Now, as voters prepare to choose the next president, the idea of freedom is once again under stress and being tested in new ways.

Although Donald Trump is leading in the polls, the real winner of the Republican presidential primary contest has been the politics of fear. With his signature bombast and bellicosity toward immigrants and Muslims, Trump has seemingly mastered the demagogic art of fearmongering. But he is certainly not alone in cynically sowing fear and hysteria among voters. During last month’s debate on national security, for instance, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie promised to escalate an already dangerous confrontation with Russia, citing President Obama’s aversion to military aggression as evidence that he’s a “feckless weakling.” Christie then defended his bluster in a nationally televised interview the following morning, declaring, “We’re already in World War III.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, overheated political rhetoric and sensationalistic media coverage have contributed to an exaggerated sense of the dangers of terrorism. As Stephen Kinzer recently wrote in the Boston Globe, “Fear is becoming part of our daily lives. Yet it is not justified by reality. The true terror threat inside the United States is a fraction of what many Americans want to believe.” We are rapidly becoming, in Kinzer’s words, “the United States of Panic.”

This suspension of freedom from fear has jeopardized another of Roosevelt’s four freedoms – freedom of worship. Whereas “religious freedom” has been abused for years to justify everything from restricting access to contraception to discriminating against the LGBT community, we are now witnessing political threats against an entire religion. Trump has called for a database of American Muslims while Sen. Marco Rubio has suggested closing down “any place where radicals are being inspired,” including mosques. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida governor Jeb Bush have argued for a ban on refugees fleeing the Middle East unless they can prove they are Christian. Hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. And yet, Rubio, the purported “establishment” Republican candidate, asks: “Where is there widespread evidence that we have a problem in America with discrimination against Muslims?”

Roosevelt believed that freedom from want is inseparable from freedom itself. That was the basis for his “Economic Bill of Rights,” which he introduced in 1944, saying, “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” But today’s Republican Party clearly does not share that understanding. Beyond their typically regressive tax proposals, the Republican candidates overwhelmingly support cutting Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age. Until recently, Ben Carson supported abolishing Medicare and Medicaid; Carly Fiorina opposes the federal minimum wage; and Bush claimed that Democrats appeal to African American voters with “free stuff.” Indeed, as conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru observed, Republican candidates simply have not offered “ideas that would give any direct help to families trying to make ends meet.”

And while there is nothing new about their neglect of those who are struggling, Republican politicians are increasingly hyper-attentive to the demands of billionaire donors, who fund the super PACs propping up their campaigns. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech, the cost of our elections has exploded, making it harder for ordinary Americans to have a say in the political process. At the same time, with the corporate media setting the parameters of legitimate debate and drowning out independent voices, dissenting opinions often do not get the public hearing they deserve. Taken together, the result is that freedom of speech applies to a privileged few more than everyone else.

In 1941, Roosevelt spoke with clarity about the serious threats to America “from without.” Today, we are facing a different kind of danger – but one that also demands our attention – from within. On the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech, may people fight to defend the core freedoms that have animated our nation at its best. In 2016, we are not just choosing a president. We are choosing what kind of country we want to be.


By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 5, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Congressional Republicans, Donald Trump, Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Four Freedoms | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Republicans’ Do-Nothingness On Guns”: Assuming A Superior Posture Of Purposeful Neglect

It is axiomatic that congressional Republicans will oppose anything smacking of “gun control,” which may as well be read as “ your mama.”

Thus, it comes as no surprise that President Obama’s announcement of executive actions to clarify and enhance federal gun laws prompted reflexive, hyperbolic responses from the right.

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said “Obama is obsessed with undermining the Second Amendment,” while Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) averred, “We don’t beat the bad guys by taking away our guns. We beat the bad guys by using our guns.”

Spoken like a true Canadian-born Texan who has been busy burnishing his “outsider” Outdoor Guy image. What’s next? Cruz drinking the warm blood of a freshly slain (unarmed) beast?

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) criticized the president for a “dangerous level of executive overreach” and for circumventing congressional opposition — as though Congress has been working feverishly to reduce gun violence. Rather, Republicans focus their laser beams on Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s political motivations, shocking to none, and remind us that we already have enough gun laws.

This may well be true, but couldn’t we stand to tweak them a bit? Or, perhaps, enforce them? And isn’t it possible to reduce the number of guns in the wrong hands without surrendering our Second Amendment rights or invoking the slippery slope of government confiscation?

Of course it is — and we can.

Obama made an artful and poignant counterargument to the usual objections Tuesday during a news conference at the White House. He reminded those gathered, including many who have lost family members to gun violence, that other people also have rights — the right to peaceable assembly and the right to practice their religion without being shot.

In fairness to the gun lobby, which may not deserve such charity, one can understand reservations about limiting access to guns. What is less easily understood is the refusal of Republicans to take the reins of any given issue and do something constructive rather than invariably waiting to be forced into the ignoble position of “no.”

It is one thing to be in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. It is another to do nothing and then assume a superior posture of purposeful neglect, as though do-nothingness were a policy and smug intransigence a philosophy.

The steps Obama is trying to take won’t save every life, but they seem minimally intrusive and could have significant effects. Summarizing briefly, he’s clarifying existing law and more tightly defining “gun dealer” in order to impose broader background checks; upgrading technology for improved information-sharing and safer guns; increasing relevant workforces to speed up background checks; and closing loopholes that have allowed criminals to buy guns online and elsewhere with a separate set of rules. Or no rules.

Giving the FBI more resources to modernize its system will help. So will giving $500 million to mental- health services aimed at keeping guns away from people determined to hurt themselves or others.

Requiring shippers to report stolen guns will also be helpful — and investing in smart -gun technology could be a game changer. As Obama said, tearing up at the mention of the Sandy Hook shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders, if we can keep children from opening aspirin bottles, surely we can prevent their pulling the trigger on a gun.

As for expanding background checks, only the criminal or the suicidal object to waiting a day or two before taking home a gun. And if the government doesn’t complete the process within three days, seller and buyer can proceed anyway.

What concerns most people, meanwhile, are those weapons, especially semiautomatics with large magazines, whose only purpose is to kill people. Many argue that no current law could have prevented any of the mass shootings in recent years, but is this sufficient justification for doing nothing when doing something could make a difference we may never know about — the child who didn’t die because new technology prevented him from firing a pistol? The Islamic State-inspired terrorist who didn’t murder holiday revelers because he failed an online background check?

Obama’s actions won’t go unchallenged, needless to say. And much political hay will be threshed, bundled and sold to Republican primary voters in the meantime. But GOP voters should be as skeptical of those ringing the gong of doom as they have been of Obama. In a civilized society, more guns can’t be better than fewer.


By: Kathleen Parker, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 5, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Congressional Republicans, Gun Control, Gun Deaths | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Hated Foe Might Not Be A U.S. Citizen”: Donald Trump Goes Birther Again — This Time On Ted Cruz

Well, well, Donald Trump is now having some fun with his new main rival, Ted Cruz. And this new line of attack against Cruz is actually an old line of attack for Trump, one he used to great effect against a certain somebody else. Trump is once again alleging that his hated foe might not really be an eligible U.S. citizen.

Remember that Trump practically built his political following back in 2010 and 2011 by promulgating all manner of conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birthplace. So it only makes sense that he could really have a ball against a candidate who was actually born in another country.

Cruz was born in the Canadian province of Alberta. In 2014, he legally renounced his dual citizenship in Canada — after the very fact of his having it had taken him somewhat by surprise.

The Washington Post reports:

“Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’ That’d be a big problem,” Trump said when asked about the topic. “It’d be a very precarious one for Republicans because he’d be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision. You don’t want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head.”

And just to up the ante here, Trump seemingly invoked the language of protection rackets:

Trump added, “I’d hate to see something like that get in his way. But a lot of people are talking about it and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport.”

Shorter message from Trump to Cruz: That’s a nice American identity you’ve got there — would sure be a shame if something happened to it.

For his part, Cruz has responded via Twitter — by invoking the classic “Jump the Shark” scene from Happy Days.

My response to @realDonaldTrump calling into question my natural-born citizenship?

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 5, 2016


By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, January 5, 2015

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Birthers, Birthright Citizenship, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Marco Rubio, Angry Young Man”: In Order To Get Real Attention, He Has To Become A Little More Trumpian

With the Iowa caucuses just 27 days away, the Republican race for president is getting more intense by the day. You can see it in the way the candidates are all shifting their focus to whatever they think is going to make voters more fearful, as Matea Gold documents in today’s Post. My favorite quote comes from Chris Christie, who says that the world “is a dark and dangerous place right now. In every corner that we look.”

That’s the optimistic spirit that Americans are yearning for! It’s also coming through in the candidates’ ads, which are filled with grainy images of terrorist hordes and immigrant hordes and anything else that looks sufficiently frightening.

There’s a tone of desperation to it all, as though the candidates are saying, “Not sure about voting for me? Well what if I told you that you and your children are all gonna die — how about now?” And nobody is sounding more desperate than Marco Rubio, who’s adopting a newly angry and personal tone that seems decidedly out of character.

Yesterday, Rubio gave a speech on foreign policy that was brimming over with contempt, as though he’s not just afraid of what’s happening in the world, he’s disgusted with both Democrats and Republicans for not seeing things his way. Let’s begin here:

It’s now abundantly clear: Barack Obama has deliberately weakened America. He has made an intentional effort to humble us back to size. As if to say: We no longer need to be so powerful because our power has done more harm than good.

This idea — that Barack Obama is intentionally harming America as part of his diabolical plan to exact revenge for the sins of the past — is nothing new. It’s been the topic of a hundred rants from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. But it’s usually the province of those media figures who spew their hateful bile out over the airwaves every day in an attempt to keep their audiences in a state of perpetual rage, not people who want to be president of the United States.

But that’s not all. Here are some more excerpts from Rubio’s speech:

We saw this clearly with [Obama’s] despicable speech after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino. When America needed a bold plan of action from our Commander-in-Chief, we instead got a lecture on love, tolerance, and gun control designed to please the talking heads at MSNBC.

The result of all of this is that people are afraid. And they have every right to be. To make matters worse, candidates for president in both parties cling to the same plan of weakness and retreat…

Not only is Hillary Clinton incompetent, she’s also a liar… She lied to our faces. No one in the mainstream media has the courage to call her out for it. If I am our nominee, voters will be reminded of it time and time again.

On the other side of this election is the party of Reagan, the party of strong national defense and moral clarity, yet we have Republican candidates who propose that rulers like Assad and Putin should be partners of the United States, and who have voted with Barack Obama and Harry Reid rather than with our men and women in uniform. We have isolationist candidates who are apparently more passionate about weakening our military and intelligence capabilities than about destroying our enemies. They talk tough, yet they would strip us of the ability to keep our people safe.

Rubio then went on to attack Ted Cruz, while describing the American military as a weak, degraded, pathetic force utterly incapable of defeating ISIS. Really:

Words and political stunts cannot ensure our security. ISIS cannot be filibustered.  While some claim they would destroy ISIS, that they would make the sands of the Middle East “glow in the dark,” my question is: with what? Because they certainly can’t do it with the oldest and smallest Air Force in the history of this country, or with the smallest Army we’ve had since World War II, or with the smallest and oldest Navy we’ve had since 1915. Yet these are what we will have thanks to the cuts these candidates have supported and even tried to deepen.

One might argue that if Rubio thinks the reason defeating the Islamic State is a difficult challenge is that we don’t have enough planes, soldiers, and ships, then maybe he doesn’t understand quite as much about the military as he claims. As for the jab about ISIS being filibustered, Ted Cruz does indeed describe his filibusters as an achievement of the highest order. But Rubio, who  has been a legislator since he was 29 years old, now seems to have nothing but disdain for the very idea of legislating. Asked today why he has lately missed more votes than any other senator, he said:

“I have missed votes this year. You know why? Because while as a senator I can help shape the agenda, only a president can set the agenda. We’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.”

Yeah, to hell with those guys. I guess if you’re worried that voters won’t like a candidate like you who serves in Congress, the way to handle it is to say that you think Congress is even more useless than they do.

What’s the explanation for Rubio’s newly sour rhetoric? The logical place to look is the frontrunner, Donald Trump. It’s usually the case that the really personal, nasty language is left to surrogates, who can get down and dirty while the candidate himself finds more subtle ways to reinforce the attacks without sounding bitter and mean. But Trump has no surrogates, and gets as means as he pleases — and of course it has worked. Perhaps with the clock ticking down to the first votes being cast, Rubio concluded that he had no choice but to do the same, that in order to get real attention for what he’s saying he has to become a little more Trumpian.

He might be partly right — but only partly. It’s always been true that going negative attracts attention, and the more personal and strident the attack is, the more attention it gets. The trouble is that this kind of rhetoric doesn’t fit with the rationale for his candidacy that Rubio has presented until now. He has argued that he’s the candidate of a new generation, with fresh ideas and a hopeful vision of the future. Yet despite all the smart people saying Rubio ought to be the party’s nominee, the idea has yet to catch on with enough actual Republican voters. With time growing short, he’s willing to try something else. But it’s hard to see how this will be all that much more appealing.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 5, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primaries, GOP Voters, Iowa Caucuses | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Congressional Inaction And Cowardice”: President Obama, Wiping Away Tears, Announces Executive Actions On Guns

On the issue of guns, President Obama has showed anger before. He’s made his sorrow visible, his frustration. But Tuesday, in his address to the nation, he showed us his tears.

In a speech outlining executive actions his administration plans to take in an effort to curb gun violence, many of which he has been trying to implement for years, he stressed the common sense of his directives, and urged Americans to stand up to those who oppose his efforts.

He invoked many of the incidences of gun violence that had compelled him to action, beginning with Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s shooting five years ago, on Jan. 8, 2011 in Tucson, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School – which inspired a bill that would have expanded background checks, but failed because of fierce Republican opposition – and then recited some of the mass shootings that have occurred since he took office in 2009, including Charleston, South Carolina; San Bernardino and Santa Barbara, California; Aurora, Colorado; Fort Hood, Texas; Binghamton, New York; the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.; and Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

At times, he was greeted with sighs of assent, and later, standing ovations, as when he called out the NRA: “The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now. But they cannot hold America hostage.”

The president said he wondered how the issue had become politicized, quoting Republican standard-bearers John McCain, George W. Bush, and the grand pooh-bah of them all, Ronald Reagan, on their sensible stances on guns.

He compared the effort to reduce gun deaths – the majority of which are suicides – to past struggles for civil rights, whether it was women winning the right to vote, the emancipation of black Americans, or LGBT rights; in doing so, he urged Americans not to give in to cynicism and defeat, or to grow dispirited by the routine nature of these tragedies, a routine which extends even to his now predictably outraged post-shooting speeches. “Just because it’s hard is no reason not to try,” he said, allowing that the effort will not succeed within his presidency nor during the current Congress.

Despite the tears, his speech was filled with personal anecdotes and chuckles, reminding Americans that he had taught constitutional law so that he was very familiar with the Second Amendment — to which he reiterated his steadfast commitment. Radical gun owners and the NRA have created a culture that elevates the Second Amendment such that it overtakes other rights Americans have, he said, including the right to assemble peaceably, the right to worship freely, and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

But the crux of his speech rested on the initiatives his administration will take to strengthen and clarify existing laws on gun possession:

All gun sellers must get a license and submit purchasers to background checks. The distribution channel will no longer matter. Background checks would expand to buyers who try to hide behind trusts, or purchase online, and the actual mechanisms of the checks would be streamlined.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents will be empowered to crack down on stolen guns and lost weapons. The 2017 budget will allow for allow for 200 new hires at the ATF Bureau to enforce gun laws.

A proposed investment of $500 million to expand access to mental health across the country. This was perhaps the least detailed of his actions, but he called on politicians to back up their rhetoric on blaming mental health for mass shootings by supporting this policy: “For those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings as a way of avoiding action on guns, here’s your chance to support these efforts. Put your money where your mouth is,” he said. Obama also pledged to remove barriers between federal record keeping on mental health issues and background checks, which might have prevented the Charleston, AuroraVirginia Tech, and Tucson assailants from obtaining guns.

He called on manufacturers to ramp up the deployment of safety technology, which has existed for years but due to political pressure and strange laws has stalled before being allowed to come to market. Using common-sense comparisons with everyday smartphone technology – “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?” – he said that he would work with the private sector to make sure guns aren’t accidentally discharged by children, thereby reducing accidental deaths.

President Obama noted that we have regulation, safety procedures, and public health research for medicines, cars, and even toys, but that political inaction and cowardice have maligned and sometimes actively prevented public health professionals from studying and implementing reforms that could reduce gun deaths. On the whole, states that have stricter gun measures have fewer deaths, but those that that have weakened regulations, like Missouri, have seen gun deaths rise above national levels.

“Maybe we can’t save everybody, but we could save some,” he pleaded.

Invoking Martin Luther King, Jr., twice, he asked Americans to “feel ‘the fierce urgency of now’” and “find the courage” to vote and mobilize on this issue. He ended with the story of Zaevion Dobson, a 15-year-old from Knoxville, Tennessee, who died while shielding three girls who were caught in an accidental crossfire.

Republican presidential candidates predictably denounced Obama and his reforms, with Sen. Ted Cruz calling them “illegal and unconstitutional” and House Speaker Paul Ryan saying that without a doubt Obama’s actions will be challenged in court.

Anticipating a frequent anti-gun-control canard, the president clarified: “Contrary to the claims of what some gun rights proponents have suggested, this hasn’t been the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation… This is not a plot to take away everyone’s guns.”

Josh Earnest, the White House spokesperson, said Tuesday afternoon that the president was “well within his legal right” to make these reforms and that the White House worked with the Department of Justice to coordinate these executive actions.

The president has said that Dec. 14, 2012, the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, was the worst day of his presidency, and that the failure to pass gun-control legislation in its wake was one of his most stinging defeats.

“Every time I think about these kids,” he said, referring to the 20 first-graders between the ages of 6 and 7 who were murdered, “it makes me mad.”


By: Stephanie Schwartz, The National Memo, January 5, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Congress, Executive Orders, Gun Violence, Sandy Hook | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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