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“Paul ‘Rage’ LePage, Maine’s National Embarrassment”: GOP Governor Under Fire Following Racially Charged Comments

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), already facing possible impeachment in an abuse-of-power scandal, is no stranger to controversies involving race. Early on in his term, for example, the Republican governor got in a dispute with the Maine NAACP over his decision to skip events honoring Martin Luther King. In reference to the civil-rights group, LePage said, “Tell them to kiss my butt.”

Two years later, according to Republican attendees to a LePage gathering, the far-right governor complained that President Obama doesn’t emphasize his biracial heritage because the president “hates white people.” He later denied having made the comments.

This week, however, LePage went just a little further still. The Portland Press Herald reported on comments the governor made at a town-hall meeting on Wednesday night.

About 30 minutes into the meeting, which was rebroadcast Thursday night, LePage responded to a question about how he was tackling substance abuse in Maine. He began talking about how much of the heroin is coming into Maine from out-of-state drug dealers.

“These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty … these types of guys … they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home,” LePage told a large crowd. “Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.”

By way of a defense, as Rachel noted on the show last night, the governor’s spokesperson said in a statement to reporters, “The governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant.”

Look, I feel bad for anyone who has to defend Paul LePage’s rhetoric; it must be an unpleasant and incredibly difficult job.

But if the governor’s office expects to be taken seriously, pretending LePage wasn’t making comments about race only makes matters worse.

On camera, and in front of a large group of people, the governor said “D-Money” is coming into his state from elsewhere – Maine’s population is over 95% white – selling heroin, and impregnating “young, white” girls.

Are we really supposed to believe LePage’s unscripted comments had nothing to do with race?

The governor’s rhetoric, not surprisingly, generated national attention quite quickly, and last night, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign issued a statement condemning the remarks.

“Governor LePage’s comments tonight are not only offensive and hurtful but they try to cover up the very real epidemic of drug abuse facing people in his state and across the country,” Hillary for America’s Marlon Marshall said. “LePage’s racist rants sadly distract from efforts to address one of our nation’s most pressing problems…. Sadly, Governor LePage’s comments aren’t too dissimilar from the divisive, misleading and hateful rhetoric we’re seeing from Republicans across the country these days.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 8, 2015

January 8, 2016 Posted by | Maine, Paul LePage, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What About Rights Of Those Killed By Gun Violence”: President Obama Isn’t Taking People’s Guns—But Maybe He Should

President Obama said a lot about guns in his teary press conference Tuesday, but the one thing that he is not saying, despite all the howling from the right, is that he intends to take away Americans’ guns. Yet equally significant is the realization that individual citizens are unwilling to free themselves of the destructive weapons that are wreaking havoc on our society. Numerous Americans care more about their individual freedoms than our collective freedoms, and they are unable to see how these individualistic desires undermine the essential fabric of a democracy.

This democratic fabric includes the Second Amendment, which has been contorted, misinterpreted, and applied in a way that destroys its intended meaning and threatens the safety and stability of our nation. And as the president pointed out on Tuesday, this grotesque emphasis on the Second Amendment impairs other Americans’ ability to freely exercise many of the other 26 amendments.

As President Obama forges a lone path toward gun regulation, we must wonder how we as a society have arrived to a point where “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” has morphed into allowing individual citizens to possess firearms for their individual protection with little to no concern about the security of a free state.

It is well documented that gun sales and gun-related deaths have increased since Obama came into office, but the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (PDF), which opened the floodgates and redefined the Second Amendment, rarely receives mention.

The court’s decision in the case went against 70 years of legal interpretations of the Second Amendment that stated in United States v. Miller that the “obvious purpose” of the Second Amendment was to “assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of” the state militia, and the Amendment “must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.”

In Heller and then in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court in a pair of 5-4 decisions determined that federal, state, and local governments could not create restrictions that could prevent an individual the right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense. The intent of the Second Amendment had shifted from allowing citizens to own firearms so that they could band together in an organized and regulated militia run by either local, state, or federal governments to allowing citizens to own guns for their own purposes so long as they fell under the individual’s definition of self-defense.

Not surprisingly, countless Americans purchased more and more firearms to protect themselves from the “inevitable” moment when the government or “Obama” was going to forcefully take their guns away. Not surprisingly a byproduct of this new interpretation of the Second Amendment has been a rise in unregulated militias or American terrorist groups who challenge the authority of federal, state, and local governments. Ammon Bundy and his posse of men who call themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, who just this week forcefully took over a federal building in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, are just one such iteration of this emboldened unregulated militia movement in America.

The Oath Keepers, formed in 2009, are one of the largest unregulated militia movements in the nation, and regularly you can find them injecting themselves unnecessarily into conflicts. In Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, Oath Keepers arrived carrying semi-automatic rifles so that they could prevent looters from destroying property, and many of them said that they saw nothing wrong with taking the life of a looter to prevent the destruction of property. They also advocated that Ferguson residents obtain firearms so that they could protect themselves from the police.

Instability, terror, and death are the inevitable outcomes of a heavily armed citizenry, yet in the 1846 case Nunn v. State of Georgia, an integral case that the Supreme Court used in the Heller decision, the state of Georgia—my home state—argued that arming citizens and allowing them to openly carry firearms created a safer environment. And the referencing of this decision only continues the Supreme Court’s idyllic reimagining of America’s Southern states.

Georgia in 1846 was a slave-holding state where African Americans were counted as three-fifths of a person and were not allowed the right to vote. Firearms at this time were regularly used to keep blacks in line and sustain the South’s racist, oppressive society. Additionally, duels were a regular occurrence in the South during this time period. In this volatile environment, carrying a firearm out in the open actually did bring about stability. The reason for this was that carrying a concealed weapon was illegal. Therefore, the assumption within society was that most white men owned or carried a gun, so being able to see everyone’s gun made it less likely that anyone would be killed by a surprise bullet. Additionally, guns could not be removed from the society because they were needed to oppress, intimidate, and terrorize blacks in the state.

This was a society whose infrastructure and logic regarding social stability should no longer be applicable to modern society, yet in recent years it has been to disastrous effect. Democracy and valuing human life were not principles that were celebrated in the pre-Civil War South.

But far from rejecting that old logic, we’ve embraced it, and the application of the South’s antithetical principles have brought instability, danger, and a disregard for human life to rest of the United States. Armed and dangerous and unregulated militias are on the rise, in addition to the numerous lone-wolf attacks that befall schools, offices, shopping centers, and public spaces at a disturbing frequency.

Right now the Second Amendment is being applied in a way that takes away the rights of thousands of Americans each year. The president must address this crisis, and not only to ensure the safety and stability of the American citizens who are threatened by gun violence. He also must do it to preserve the ideals and institutions that govern our society that are being threatened by the archaic notions of stability from a racist and oppressive society and the unregulated militias of today that openly advocate armed conflict against the government.

Obama is not going to take away America’s guns. I would argue that he should, as countless Americans have displayed a gross misuse of the social responsibility that comes with gun ownership, except that using force to attempt to disarm people of their firearms might inevitably lead to more violence and bloodshed.

Gun owners should want to regulate and reduce their gun usage for the greater good, but our society is too consumed with the myopia of employing lethal force to resolve minor disputes that it cannot imagine an environment without widespread gun usage. And countless Americans are unable to see that their gun usage actually jeopardizes the very freedoms and liberties they have chosen to fight for and defend via the barrel of a gun.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, January 7, 2016

January 8, 2016 Posted by | 2nd Amendment, Democracy, Domestic Terrorism, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Want Fewer Murders? Tax Guns and Ammo”: An Approach That Other Municipalities Could Adopt

With a new national push to combat gun violence, the city of Seattle has begun to tax firearms and ammunition in an audaciously creative way to get around Second Amendment protections on guns. The tax has passed its first court test, signaling an approach that other municipalities could adopt, with a $25 tax on every firearm sold in the city, 2 cents on every round of .22 caliber ammunition, and a 5-cent tax for every other round of ammunition.

The tax went into effect on Jan. 1 after surviving a challenge from the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups when King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Rubinson ruled in December that Seattle has the “constitutional and legislative authority to impose taxes”—which, as she noted, is separate from the city’s ability to regulate guns.

City attorney Pete Holmes was initially surprised the NRA didn’t ask for a stay in the judge’s ruling when filing its appeal Monday in state court.  If the NRA sought constitutional relief, they would have appealed in federal court. But, from a legal standpoint, this isn’t about the Constitution. “Everybody assumes this is about the Second Amendment, but it’s not, and that’s the story,” Holmes told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview.

“No one is telling you that you can’t own or buy a gun,” says Holmes. “We believe we are in a safe haven. We’re not regulating guns; we’re simply adding a tax.”

In Seattle, satisfying the Second Amendment is easier for gun-safety advocates than clearing “State Preemption,” a legislative barrier that the NRA employs to block gun-safety regulation in some three-dozen states, including Washington. It’s a short statute the gun rights lobby writes and then muscles through state legislatures; it says no other body, such as the municipal authorities in cities like Seattle, can regulate firearms. The NRA’s Institute of Legal Action (ILA) churns out the statutes and lawmakers in state after state are happy to oblige.

And with so many state legislatures wholly owned subsidiaries of the NRA, it’s an effective maneuver. Holmes says it was the undoing of an executive order issued two Seattle mayors ago banning firearms in city playgrounds and parks. The Court overturned the ban not under the Second Amendment but under State Preemption.

So it is a big deal in Seattle that this modest tax is in place, and that the money it generates will go toward compiling data about gun violence and putting targeted intervention programs in place. After the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre of first-graders, Seattle funded a study that found people with gunshot wounds treated at Harbor View Hospital, the regional trauma center, are 30 percent more likely to return with another gunshot, or as a homicide victim.

The study was the first of its kind done by a city, and researchers found parallels with alcohol-related injuries in the early 1990s. Spending 20-30 minutes with patients injured in such incidents before releasing them to talk about risk and their chances of being readmitted paid off in lower re-admittance rates.

That is now considered Best Practices in all trauma centers when it comes to alcohol. So could Seattle do the same for gunshot victims? It was worth a shot, and when the seed money ran out for the gun-violence victim research and intervention program, then-City Council President Tim Burgess, a former Seattle police officer, proposed the gun-violence tax to fund continued efforts.

Not all proponents of gun regulation are fully supportive of the Seattle tax. Ralph Fascitelli, Board President of Washington Ceasefire and a longtime gun-safety advocate, praises the tax as a “good morale boost” but says it is “more symbolic than significant” because gun buyers can easily avoid the tax by going outside the city limits for their purchases.

He would also rather see the money raised go toward smart-gun technology than more research. Noting that his organization has given its “civic leader of the year” award to both Burgess and Holmes, he says, “They’re doing the best they can, but they’re like Houdini in a straitjacket—getting oxygen at sea level is success.”

Asked for his response to the criticism, Burgess notes that the tax will raise $300,000 to $500,000 a year to fund research and prevention programs, which is hardly chump change. And while his friend Fascitelli argues smart guns are prevention, “we’re not there yet,” says Burgess.

Also, if people are counting, many millions are spent each year in uncompensated care at Harbor View to care for gunshot victims, and there’s no tax anybody dares to imagine at this point that would cover that.

Seattle, like every city in America, is “awash in guns,” says Holmes. “We’re looking to do something to help reduce what is a public health issue.” Automobile deaths are second to gun deaths in America for the first time in part, he says, because as a society we treated car accidents as a problem we could solve. He’d like to see the same approach to guns.

“I’m a hayseed from Virginia,” Holmes says. “I go hunting; I was on the skeet and trap team in college. I own guns. I want to be able to talk to my friends from the rural areas and tell them if you want an AR-15 in the country, you probably won’t be doing much damage.”

Washington is an open-carry state, but when a bunch of people with loaded AR-15’s showed up at the state’s annual gay pride parade, Holmes says that “spoiled the parade and alienated a lot of people.”

That’s the kind of behavior that can get states with a deeply engrained pro-gun culture to embrace new regulations. Washington passed a ballot measure in 2014 expanding background checks. Gun groups protested the new law by coming to the state capitol in Olympia, brandishing their guns and loudly objecting until the lieutenant governor banned bringing guns into the state house.

Common-sense gun laws are the new refrain, and while they don’t go far enough for some people, they look more achievable than they have in a long time. More regulations are inevitable, and the question now is how many cracks will it take in the NRA’s façade for its cloak of invincibility to crumble.

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, January 7, 2016

January 8, 2016 Posted by | Ammunition Taxes, Firearms Taxes, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Alabama Chief Justice Screwed 66 Judges”: Side With Roy Moore Or Side With The Law

Defying history, the law, and common sense, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has issued an order prohibiting Alabama probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Those judges now face a choice between disobeying the law of the land and disobeying their boss. Moore issued his law not as chief justice, but in his administrative role as head of the Alabama court system.

This is not Justice Moore’s first Hail Mary in the lost cause against gay marriage—and he’s not alone. All over the country, activists and law professors are wasting paper on fatuous proclamations that Obergefell v. Hodges is not really the law of the land, or is illegitimate because it’s so horrible, or is somehow, some way not as binding as the Supreme Court said it was (PDF).

Roy Moore is just the only one who’s a state supreme court justice.

As with Moore’s past efforts to delay the inevitable, today’s order was a mélange of the sensible and the risible.

On the sensible side, Justice Moore does have some law on his side—in fact, three extremely narrow, technical threads on which he hangs his order.

First, technically speaking, Obergefell only bound the five states that were a party to it. Since Alabama was not one of those states, technically its law is caught in limbo. Second, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld its same-sex marriage ban on March 3, 2015.

And third, injunctions stemming from two federal cases challenging the ban are, as gellMoore opined last February (PDF), only binding on the executive branch, not the judicial branch—which includes probate judges. This appears to have been an oversight, the result of a pleading error by one of the parties. But rather than extend them in a common-sense way, Moore chose to restrict them in a nonsensical one.

So, as three hyper-technical matters of law, Obergefell doesn’t govern, the Alabama case stands, and the federal injunction doesn’t apply.

But that’s where it all becomes laughable—if not outright dishonest.

It is completely obvious that the Obergefell decision does, indeed, govern all 50 states. The logic it applied to Michigan is equally applicable to Alabama. That’s why LGBT activists broke out the champagne last June. It’s also why judges and clerks around the country, with only a handful of exceptions like Kim Davis, have applied the law and granted same-sex marriage licenses for months now.

Even the cases upon which Moore relies, in fact contradict him. For example, Moore cites an Eighth Circuit case decided on Aug. 11 that said “The [Obergefell] Court invalidated laws in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee—not Nebraska.” But that case affirmed, not rejected, the right to same-sex marriage in Nebraska, and forbade Nebraska from blocking it while the court case wound down to its inevitable conclusion.

This happens all the time. When the Supreme Court rules on an issue, it does not automatically end all the cases that deal with it. But it does make their outcomes obvious. So, while the legal matters are formally resolved, lower courts issue or stay injunctions in light of the Supreme Court ruling.

For example, when the Supreme Court outlawed miscegenation bans in 1967, those bans technically remained on the books in 16 states, and many were not repealed until quite recently. But courts immediately issued injunctions forbidding the enforcement of those laws.

To take another example, many of the sodomy laws at issue in Lawrence v. Texas are technically still on the books. But courts everywhere have prohibited their enforcement.

Obergefell, obviously—laughably obviously—is similar. As the Supreme Court wrote, “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them… The State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid.”

Yes, as Justice Moore italicizes in his order, only “the State laws challenged… in these cases” were invalidated last June. But the rest of that paragraph obviously applies to all same-sex couples everywhere. There is no distinction between those in Alabama and those in Michigan, and so the legal outcome of the Arizona cases is a foregone conclusion. To cherry-pick one clause from the entire paragraph is, at best, facetious.

And it’s not unlike the way Moore cites that Nebraska case: snipping out two words that support his position, and ignoring all of the context.

Where the laughter stops, though, is in Alabama’s 66 probate court offices. These judges and their clerks are, with only a handful of exceptions, loyal public servants who are trying to do their jobs. Many of them personally oppose gay marriage, but recognize that they’ve sworn oaths to enforce the Constitution, not the Bible. What the hell are they supposed to do now?

Perhaps the worst part of Moore’s odious order is when he cites the “confusion” among Alabama judges, as if that confusion simply arose on its own somehow. In fact, he sowed it himself, with his court- and common-sense-defying orders last February, and he has watered those seeds with his absurd hair-splitting today.

Of course, Moore’s order will be rendered null and void, hopefully expeditiously, by a federal court in Alabama formally closing the same-sex marriages cases still pending, or extending the injunctions in them to judicial as well as executive employees. The tide of history will not be turned.

But in the meantime, not only has Moore demeaned every married couple in Alabama, straight and gay, he has also thrown his own employees under the bus. If I were a probate judge in Birmingham, I’m not sure what I would do tomorrow morning.

Roy Moore’s symbolic snatch of demagoguery may play well at the polls someday. But in the meantime, he has disrespected Alabama’s LGBT citizens, disrespected the rule of law, and disrespected all those doing their best to enforce it.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, January 7, 2015

January 8, 2016 Posted by | Alabama Supreme Court, Marriage Equality, Roy Moore | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Symbiotic Relationship”: How The NRA And Gun Manufacturers Work Together To Scam Gun Owners

If you took gun advocates at their word, you might think they’re enormously displeased when President Obama discusses measures like the expansion (or if you like, clarification) of the background check system that he announced on Tuesday. But the truth is this: When Obama talks about guns, the National Rifle Association couldn’t be happier. When Republican politicians decry Obama’s moves as a dire threat to Second Amendment rights (“Obama wants your guns” declares a web page the Ted Cruz campaign set up in response, portraying the president as some kind of quasi-fascist commando presumably about to kick down your door), they smile in satisfaction. That’s because the NRA and the gun manufacturers are in a symbiotic relationship, where they both benefit whenever guns become a political issue.

For the NRA, it’s about members and money. For the gun manufacturers, it’s about sales and protection from legal liability. And as long as gun owners are kept agitated, angry, and afraid, they both win.

Here’s how it works. There’s a mass shooting, then President Obama suggests we really need to do something about gun violence. Maybe he has a specific proposal as he did this week, or maybe he doesn’t. But the details don’t matter. Immediately, the NRA condemns him and other Democrats, then shouts, “They’re coming for your guns!” to its members, and all gun owners. A healthy chunk of those gun owners respond by rushing down to the gun store to buy more guns, lest they miss their chance before Obama comes to take them away. The threat always turns out to be imaginary; more background checks wouldn’t stop anyone legally authorized to buy a gun from doing so, let alone take away guns people already own. But no one seems to notice that the NRA is the boy who cried “wolf” again and again. Within a month or two, the cycle will repeat itself.

The NRA gets tens of millions of dollars from gun manufacturers, through a variety of channels, not just checks but advertising in NRA publications and special promotions the manufacturers run. For instance, every time someone buys a Ruger, the company donates $2 to the NRA. Buy one from Taurus, and they’ll pay for a year’s membership in the NRA.

And even though the relationship isn’t always perfectly friendly — the NRA has organized boycotts of manufacturers it felt weren’t towing the properly extreme line on regulations — with the NRA’s help, there’s never been a better time to be in the gun business. Gun sales are booming, and 2015 was the best year yet. We can use FBI background checks as a proxy for sales (even though many sales don’t require a background check), and last year, the agency performed a record 23 million checks. That has more than doubled just since 2007, which was by sheer coincidence the year before Barack Obama got elected.

What’s particularly remarkable about this increase in gun sales is that it comes at a time when gun ownership is on a long, steady decline. With fewer Americans living in rural areas and hunting no longer as popular a recreational activity as it once was, far fewer Americans own guns today than a generation or two ago. According to data from the General Social Survey, in 1977, 50 percent of Americans said there was a gun in their home; by 2014 the number had declined to 31 percent. That’s still a lot, of course, but given the demographics of gun ownership — among other things, members of fast-growing minority groups like Hispanics are far less likely to own guns — the downward trend will probably continue.

The numbers tell the story of a transformation in gun culture, from many more people owning a gun or two (often a rifle or a shotgun) to a smaller number of owners each buying many more guns, mostly handguns. And this is just what the NRA encourages, by feeding twin climates of fear. First, the organization, particularly its chief Wayne LaPierre, regularly describes America as a kind of post-apocalyptic hellscape right out of Mad Max, where only the armed can survive. As he wrote in a 2013 article, “Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face — not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival.”

Second, the NRA cries that no matter what’s going on in the political world, it portends an imminent massive gun confiscation. President Obama wants more background checks? Nope, he’s really coming to take your guns. There’s an election coming up? If Democrats win, they’re going to take your guns. You shouldn’t just have a gun, you should have lots of guns, and you should buy more right now because you never know when the government are going to send their jackbooted thugs to invade your home and take them away.

What do you call the frightened, paranoid, insecure guy having a midlife crisis who prepares for the inevitable breakdown of society and shakes his fist at the president? You call him a customer. He’s the one who responds to every “urgent” appeal from the NRA to donate a few more dollars and go buy another rifle or handgun or two, while the manufacturers watch their profits rise and their stock prices soar. He’s money in the bank.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, January 7, 2016

January 8, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Manufacturers, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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