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“The Cries Of Tyranny”: Hey, NRA And Republican Stoolies: Obama’s Not The Tyrant Here

On Tuesday, after three years of trying to convince recalcitrant Republican legislators frozen in perpetual genuflection before arms dealers to pass responsible gun-safety legislation, President Obama did the next best thing. He offered a well-thought-out, well-vetted series of executive orders to expand background checks on gun sales, clarifying who is “in the business” of selling firearms.

Additionally, these measures aim to expand research on smart-gun technology, require reporting of guns lost in transit between manufacturer and dealer, facilitate the hiring of more FBI agents to process background checks, and improve the NICS background-check system.

You know, some real Pinochet-level, authoritarian shit.

Or at least you’d think that from the reactions of Republican stoolies running for president and American Politburo members cowering in fear that the 99 percent reelection rate of their ilk might somehow forget to include them. In other words, those craving easy National Rifle Association campaign checks like a quick fix behind the Capitol and/or future shovel-ready NRA jobs and/or speaking fees for past sucking up.

Their reaction—in a degeneration of Cesare Beccaria’s theory on crime and punishment—was swift, severe…and stupefied. Sure, it’s no surprise to anyone paying even the scantest attention to politics. Even impartial and conservative observers have wondered whether this once great party can continue to operate when its leaders seem to have mass-shotgunned The Blood of Kali. But coming from these poor (mostly) white souls, the cries of tyranny when the president is doing something 90 percent of Americans (and 85 percent of gun owners) support are rich indeed.

For if you’re looking for real tyranny, look no further than the NRA. Recent weeks have made clear that as it becomes more embattled—i.e., loses—it is moving past mangled euphemisms and apocalyptic prediction to straight-up threatening and encouraging violence against opponents. Sedition, domestic terrorism, call it what you will, but a group that already was about as cuddly as the characters on Fury Road has now shifted into first. For example:

Just four days before the fifth anniversary of the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the NRA targeted a pair of Brooklyn lawmakers Monday with a menacing image of bullets next to photos of the two gun control advocates.

America’s 1st Freedom, an NRA publication, tweeted the image of state Sen. Roxanne Persaud and Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, both Democrats, weeks after they announced legislation aimed at controlling the sale of ammunition.

The two lawmakers and other local supporters—including Mayor de Blasio and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams—condemned what came across as a veiled threat.

Cute, right? In case you are feeling charitable, thinking those 1st Freedomers didn’t mean any harm, the NRA promoted another article—decorated with a picture of nooses—suggesting “radical” Democrats will be hanged after they start a civil war over gun rights.

I know, maybe NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre just drank a bit too much cough syrup the night before. But then why, after some faculty at Bowling Green State University chose to exercise their actual first freedom by petitioning their state representative to oppose a loony open-carry bill, did an NRA affiliate in Ohio choose to do this:

Recently, the Buckeye Firearms Association went a step further and blasted criticism at Bowling Green State University faculty members who had written to State Rep. Tim Brown, R-Bowling Green, asking him to not support legislation allowing concealed carry of firearms on Ohio college campuses. House Bill 48, which has since passed the House, allows hidden loaded weapons to be carried on college campuses, school safety zones, day care facilities, public areas of airport terminals, police stations, and certain government facilities…

The Buckeye Firearms Association went on to publish the names and email addresses of BGSU faculty who contacted Brown with their comments, plus a photograph of [geology professor James] Evans, who had used his private email to send his comments. The result, at least for Evans, was a rush of emails to him from the association’s members, with wording that he characterized as threatening.

Let’s not even bother with NRA board member Ted Nugent’s public threats against the president of the United States, after which the Secret Service felt it necessary to pay him a visit. And notice we haven’t even touched upon the Fabulous Bundy Boys, who’ve chosen to go through their midlife crisis not by buying a Porsche or going to a strip club but holing up in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon waving guns and crying government tyranny.

Obama has done what any human president would do, upon watching the slaughter of his country’s civilians in the real world, while Y’all Qaeda and Yokel Haram stockpile guns for the coming episode of The Running Man because they’ve run low on Olanzapine. These are background checks, plain and simple, and they still won’t go as far as needed without Congress.

Tyranny would be letting terrorists, criminals, cowardly domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill continue murdering and maiming scores of people every day because the most puerile, thick-skulled 10 percent of our society can’t understand statistics and fear the monsters on Maple Street.

 

By: Cliff Schecter, The Daily Beast, January 6, 2016

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association, Tyranny | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Politicians Protecting Themselves”: Ideology And Polarization Are Trumping All Of The Old Rules Of Politics

If you need convincing that 2015 wasn’t just an “outlier” of a year in American politics, where all of the old rules seemed to fly out the window, please read Mark Schmitt’s fascinating piece in the New York Times earlier this week that examines the rapid decline of some of the bedrock principles of political behavior we all used to take for granted. You cannot, he concludes, blame any of this weirdness on Donald Trump; it’s preceded his rise for a good while.

He may be changing the rules of the presidential primary race, but in the halls of Congress and in governors’ mansions across the country, politicians have already acted in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. By testing and breaking the rules, they have been reshaping the practice of politics since long before Mr. Trump emerged.

Members of Congress, Schmitt observes, are showing unprecedented independence from their own constituents, and so, too, are state elected officials. In both cases they are beginning to refuse to “bring home the bacon” if they dislike the ideological provenance of the cook:

[S]everal members even announced in 2013 that they would not assist constituents with problems involving the Affordable Care Act. The idea of not just neglecting but actively refusing constituent services, for reasons of ideology, would be unimaginable to the constituent-focused members of Congress of both parties elected beginning in the 1970s.

Governors, too, rejected everything from infrastructure spending to federal funding for Medicaid expansion. Even when they saw their approval ratings drop into the 30s, they survived. In 2011, Rick Scott of Florida rejected $2.4 billion in federal funds for a commuter rail project and yet got reelected.

The widespread expectation that red states would accept the Medicaid expansion once the Supreme Court made it voluntary, as a deal too good to refuse, is an example of the old conventional wisdom.  In nearly half the states, ideology trumped helping constituents access available funds and services.

Schmitt believes that predictable partisan voting patterns and special-interest pressure have combined with ideology to all but kill the once-reigning assumption of American politics: the “median voter theorem,” which held that politicians of both parties would inevitably cater to the interests of swing voters in the middle of the ideological spectrum in the pursuit of a majority. It’s the basis of the still-common belief that in competitive contests candidates have to “shift to the center” to win general elections no matter how much time they spend “pandering to the base” in primaries. If, however, an ever-higher percentage of voters simply and reflexively pull the lever for the party with which they identify, then keeping them motivated enough to vote — perhaps by negative attacks on the hated partisan foe — becomes far more important than appealing to an ever-shrinking number of “swing voters.” Eventually, as Schmitt suggests, the whole idea of accountability to voters begins to fade, as pols try to figure out how to protect themselves via gerrymandering and oceans of special-interest money.

[B]y recasting politics as a winner-take-all conflict between wholly incompatible ideologies and identities — as most of the presidential candidates have done — they help to closely align party and ideology, so that those who identify as Republican will always vote Republican and vice versa. When politicians know more or less who will vote and how, they can ignore most voters — including their own loyalists.

Schmitt attributes a lot of these trends to the conquest of the GOP by conservative ideologues, but also notes that the declining competition for median voters has liberated Democrats — themselves less constrained by a conservative minority that barely exists anymore — to think bigger and bolder thoughts about the role of government than they have at any time since the Great Society era. So judging the new rules of politics as a good or a bad thing will most definitely depend on one’s own ideological perspective.

If Donald Trump didn’t cause the fading of the old political order, is he nonetheless benefiting from it? Quite probably so, in that he is the living symbol of spitting defiance to the belief of Republican elites that the median voter theorem required a less viscerally angry and culturally reactionary GOP. Indeed, political observers view Trump as strange and scary precisely because the old rules that would have consigned him to the dustbin of history don’t seem to be in operation anymore. We’d better all lower our resistance to the unexpected.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 6, 2015

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Ideology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Out In The Fever Swamps”:The One Thing To Know About Obama’s Philosophy On Executive Actions

There he goes again: President Barack Obama is issuing an executive order to tighten regulations of gun sales to make background checks modestly more effective. And in doing so, Obama is thumbing his nose at Republicans who claim his habit of end-running the legislative branch to act on his own reveals a dictatorial temperament and perhaps even a threat to the Constitution. Out in the fever swamps, the conspiracy theory holding that Obama is going to cancel the presidential elections and rule by decree will gain new adherents. And here and there (and from “centrist” pundits as well as Republicans) you will hear angry talk about the president once again betraying the bipartisanship he promised to bring to Washington back in 2008. You’ll even hear some progressive and Democratic validation of this treatment in the form of claims that Obama is pursuing extremism in the defense of this or that urgent policy goal.

Obama himself laid the political groundwork for this action not by insisting on his as opposed to Republicans’ ideas about gun safety, but by noting repeatedly that the Republican-led Congress has refused to act even in the wake of catastrophes like those at Sandy Hook and San Bernardino. Here’s the relevant statement from the White House:

The president has made clear the most impactful way to address the crisis of gun violence in our country is for Congress to pass some common sense gun safety measures. But the president has also said he’s fully aware of the unfortunate political realities in this Congress. That is why he has asked his team to scrub existing legal authorities to see if there’s any additional action we can take administratively.

If you look back at Obama’s record on big executive actions — on guns, climate change, and immigration — you see the same situation. It’s not that he’s fought for “liberal” as opposed to “conservative” policies in these areas. It’s that congressional Republicans, pressured by conservative opinion-leaders and interest groups, have refused to do anything at all. They are in denial about climate change and in paralyzing internal disagreement on immigration, and refuse to consider any new gun regulations. So there’s literally no one to hold bipartisan negotiations with on these issues, and no way to reach common ground. In all these cases, the absence of action creates its own dreadful policies, most notably on immigration where a refusal to set enforcement priorities and to fund them forces arbitrary actions no one supports.

So taking executive actions is hardly a betrayal of bipartisanship, but rather a forlorn plea for it. And it’s significant that Obama is usually acting on issues in which the Republican rank-and-file are far more supportive of action than their purported representatives in Congress.

Back during his announcement of candidacy in 2007, Obama made it reasonably clear that he didn’t just want to cut deals between the two parties in Washington, but also intended to force action on them when gridlock prevailed. After discussing several national challenges, he said:

What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

Knowing that a Republican president could and probably would roll back all his executive actions, Obama is not taking a preferred course of action. If, of course, a Democratic succeeds him, his policies will take root and probably endure. Eventually, the two parties may come to agree on the challenges the country faces, and then have actual discussions — and disagreements and competition — over how to address them. That’s bipartisanship. And counterintuitive as it may seem, Obama’s executive actions may be necessary to produce bipartisanship down the road.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 5, 2016

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Gun Regulations, Gun Violence, Republican Obstructionalism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“No Sense In Which That Description Is True”: Being Less Crazy Than Donald Trump Does Not Make Marco Rubio ‘Moderate’

Marco Rubio built his presidential campaign upon a strategy that has succeeded many times in the past, and (if betting markets are correct) stands a strong chance of succeeding again. He is running a campaign that is more or less optimized for the general election rather than the primary — a tactic that holds him back from viscerally channeling conservative anger, but which, by maximizing his electability, makes his nomination more attractive to party elites. But because Rubio has found himself principally challenged by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who are running campaigns based purely on gratifying Republican base instincts, his strategy has magnified the contrast to the point where Rubio’s principal ideological identifier is now “moderate.” The term has been employed everywhere — by Rubio’s rivals, by his friends, and by neutral reporters. There is no sense in which that description is true — not in relation to modern Republican politics, and perhaps not even in relation to his allegedly more extreme opponents.

Rubio burst onto the national scene in 2010 as a self-described “movement conservative” who managed to draw backing from important Establishment Republicans, like the Bush family, and tea party groups. On foreign policy, he has embraced full-scale neoconservatism, winning enthusiastic plaudits from figures in the right-wing intelligentsia, like William Kristol. While much of the Republican Party has recoiled from the excesses of the Bush administration’s wild-eyed response to the 9/11 attacks, Rubio has not. He was one of 32 senators to oppose the USA Freedom Act, which restrained the federal government’s ability to conduct surveillance. He was one of just 21 senators opposing a prohibition on torture, insisting, “I do not support telegraphing to the enemy what interrogation techniques we will or won’t use.” Indeed, Rubio now delights his audiences by promising to torture suspected terrorists, who will “get a one-way ticket to Guantánamo, where we’re going to find out everything they know.”

On social issues, Rubio has endorsed a complete ban on abortions, even in cases of rape and incest (a stance locating Rubio to the right of George W. Bush). He has promised to reverse executive orders protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination and to appoint justices who would reverse same-sex marriage. The centerpiece of Rubio’s domestic policy is a massive tax cut — more than three times the size of the Bush tax cut, and nearly half of which would go to the highest-earning 5 percent of taxpayers. By reducing federal revenue by more than a quarter, Rubio’s plan would dominate all facets of his domestic program, which is otherwise a mix of conventional Republican proposals to eliminate Obamacare, jack up defense spending, and protect retirement benefits for everybody 55 and up. Rubio has voted for the Paul Ryan budget (“by and large, it’s exactly the direction we should be headed”). He has proposed to deregulate the financial system, thrilling Wall Street. (Richard Bove, author of Guardians of Prosperity: Why America Needs Big Banks, wrote a grateful op-ed headlined, “Thank you, Marco Rubio.”)

What, then, accounts for Rubio’s moderate image? One reason is the issues Rubio has chosen to emphasize. His conventionally conservative domestic policies would, if enacted, bring about an epochal shift in the role of government and the distribution of wealth in the American economy. (And given his party’s entrenched majorities in Congress, Rubio would be able to enact those policies.) But Rubio has not emphasized these ideas publicly. He has given far more attention to his plan to increase college affordability. As Rubio has said, “You’ll hear me spend a tremendous amount of time talking about higher-education reform.” This formulation perhaps gives away more than Rubio intends. Rubio’s higher-education reform plan, while largely innocuous, is also minuscule in scale — a third-tier throwaway line in a State of the Union speech. Its importance is trivial in comparison to his radical domestic-policy commitments. Rubio spends a tremendous amount of time talking about it because doing so allows him to position his platform as new and different from those of a generic Republican without any of the risk of actual heterodoxy.

A second reason is Rubio’s ill-fated 2013 attempt to shepherd bipartisan immigration reform through Congress. Because of the prominence of his role in that episode, which consumed a large share of his brief tenure in national politics, Rubio’s support for reform has disproportionately colored his public image. But his history provides no reason to believe the issue sits close to Rubio’s heart. As a Senate candidate in 2010, Rubio forcefully opposed any path to citizenship as “amnesty.” In the wake of the 2012 election, after the Republican Party wrote a post-mortem calling for the passage of immigration reform and efforts to reach out to young people and minorities, Rubio loyally reversed his position and led the pro-reform charge, and initially he drew support from important figures in the party. But when restrictionists revolted against the bill, Rubio abandoned his own proposal and has promised never to support comprehensive reform again. The fairest conclusion to draw from his two reversals is that Rubio does not hold especially strong beliefs on the issue at all, taking whichever position seems to be the most effective means of advancing traditional Republican policies (for which he has displayed consistent support). Republican donors naturally adore Rubio.

While Rubio’s willingness to sponsor immigration reform tells us very little about his convictions, though, it reveals a great deal about his political strategy. Rubio is a political pragmatist. And pragmatism is the fundamental divide inside the GOP. While split on foreign policy between neo-conservatism and neo-isolationism, Republicans have near-unanimity on economic and social policy. A domestic Rubio presidency would look very much like a Cruz presidency or a Bush or a Walker presidency. Any Republican would sign the bills passed by Paul Ryan’s House and Mitch McConnell’s Senate.

What Republicans disagree about is how to handle a situation where the president does not sign those bills. Cruz’s response to whip up conservative suspicions that the Republican failure to enact its agenda over President Obama’s objections represents a secret betrayal. Trump’s response is to break the stalemate through unique force of personality. Both of them signal their solidarity with the base through demonstrations of anger and cultural resentment. But, while making themselves attractive to their base, Trump and Cruz harden a cultural polarization that seems to leave their party at a disadvantage in the general election. He avoids statements that make him appear ostentatiously deranged, like Cruz visually comparing Obama to a Nazi, or Trump … doing just about everything Trump has done. The third cause of Rubio’s moderate image is that he declines to indulge right-wing paranoia on such topics as whether Obama is a Marxist, or the looming threat of Sharia law in the United States, trading the opportunity to indicate solidarity with the base for general election viability. He husbands his potential electoral weakness for matters of policy, not symbolism.

Rubio’s value to the party is that he approaches its predicament realistically. He will reach out to Democratic-leaning constituencies with personal appeal without compromising on core agenda items Republicans care about. Everything Rubio says — his message of generational change, a “new American century,” his frequent invocations of his parents — ties into his youth and heritage as the son of immigrants. If Democrats attack his policies, he will change the subject to his biography. “If I’m our nominee, how is Hillary Clinton gonna lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck?” he boasted at a Republican debate. “I was raised paycheck to paycheck.” Rubio is the embodiment of the Republican donor class’s conviction that it needs to alter nothing more than its face.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 6, 2016

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP’s Benghazi Committee Passes Ignominious Milestone”: The American Taxpayers Continue To Pay The Price

It’s long been difficult to find a legitimate purpose for the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee, but as of October, the panel was simply indefensible. A farcical 11-hour hearing with Hillary Clinton, coupled with a series of internal controversies, made clear that the committee needed to pull the plug.

But it didn’t. In fact, McClatchy reported this morning on the partisan exercise passing an ignominious milestone.

As of Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi has been in existence for 609 days, surpassing the length of time the 9/11 Commission took to investigate the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Instead of following the bipartisan model set by the 9/11 Commission, which brought our entire nation together after we were attacked by terrorists, Republicans created a highly partisan Select Committee with an unlimited budget to attack their political opponents,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat. “Republicans continue to drag out this political charade closer to the 2016 presidential election, and the American taxpayers continue to pay the price.”

Remember, even congressional Republicans have admitted the committee is a partisan exercise, making it that much more difficult to justify its prolonged existence.

For the record, the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan panel created to investigate the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil, conducted its work over 1 year, 7 months, and 25 days – which works out to 604 days, five fewer than this current charade.

A report from Benghazi Committee Democrats added, “The Benghazi Select Committee has surpassed multiple previous congressional investigations, including the investigations of Hurricane Katrina, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, Iran-Contra, Church Committee, and Watergate.”

What’s more, the Benghazi investigation, which has cost American taxpayers nearly $5.6 million, isn’t done. There is no end date in mind, and there’s every reason to believe GOP lawmakers will just keep it going, probably with this year’s elections in mind.

Just so we’re clear, though I find the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee ridiculous, I’m not suggesting the deadly terrorist attack in Libya, which left four Americans dead, is unworthy of investigation. Just the opposite is true – Congress had a responsibility to determine what happened and take steps to prevent similar attacks in the future.

But therein lies the point: seven separate congressional committees investigated the Benghazi attack before the Select Committee was even created. It was one of the most scrutinized events in American history. Republican lawmakers, however, didn’t quite care for what the evidence told them, so they effectively concluded, “Maybe an eighth committee will tell us something the other seven committees didn’t.”

That, alas, was 609 days ago. If there’s a coherent defense for this exercise, I can’t think of it.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 6, 2016

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Congressional Investigations, GOP, House Select Committee on Benghazi | , , , , , | 4 Comments

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