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“The Party’s Silence Magnifies Its Hypocrisy”: GOP Eerily Silent On Guns At Republican National Convention

So do you think guns should be allowed at the Republican National Convention?

Granted, the question is moot. On Monday, the Secret Service announced that only its agents and Cleveland police will be allowed to bring firearms into Quicken Loans Arena when the GOP assembles there this summer. But “moot” is not the same as irrelevant.

As you may know, the Secret Service put its foot down because of a petition at Change.org demanding that convention goers be allowed to bring weapons to the Grand Old Party. The fact that the arena does not allow weapons, says the petition, is “a direct affront to the Second Amendment and puts all attendees at risk.”

It goes on to say: “As the National Rifle Associationhas made clear, ‘gun-free zones’ … are ‘the worst and most dangerous of all lies.’ The NRA, our leading defender of gun rights, has also correctly pointed out that ‘gun-free zones … tell every insane killer in America … (the) safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”

The petition adds that because “Cleveland … is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 most dangerous cities in America” and because of “the possibility of an ISIS terror attack on the arena,” convention goers must be allowed to bear arms.

As of Tuesday, over 50,000 people had signed.

Presumably, at least some of them recognized the petition as a pitch-perfect satire, albeit from a man whose sense of humor is drier than saltines in the Sahara. CBS News has identified the author, who styles himself “the hyperationalist,” as a fellow named Jim — he would give no last name or city of origin — who told the network he’s a liberal Democrat. But, he said, “I’m 100 percent sincere in my conviction that guns should be allowed at the GOP convention. (It would be a reflection of) the policies they sought to impose around the nation.”

He’s right, of course. The Republican Party has marched in lockstep with the NRA for many years, pushing an agenda of guns everywhere for all people at all times.

So why not guns inside the Republican Convention? If it’s OK to have guns in schools, bars and churches, then why not there? If Republicans in Iowa think blind people should have guns and Republicans in Alabama want little kids to have guns, then why not sighted adults? If, as Republicans routinely argue, more guns equal greater safety, why shouldn’t convention goers be armed? Wouldn’t this provide better protection for their candidates?

So far, the party has declined to answer. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, in whose open-carry state the convention will be held, told reporters he would defer to the Secret Service. Ditto Ted Cruz, who once gleefully ate bacon cooked on the barrel of an AR-15 rifle. Donald Trump said that before he comments, he will need to read “the fine print;” the petition is 799 words long.

The party’s silence magnifies its hypocrisy. If Republicans believe what they say, they should demand the right to cram as many firearms into that 20,000-seat arena as it will hold. This is shaping up as the tensest, angriest, most contentious convention of modern times. By GOP reasoning, it would be safer if handguns, machine guns and the odd bazooka were added to the mix. It should tell you something that no Republican will say that now.

For years, they have promoted their cynical, dangerous policy of pushing guns into every cranny of American life. The rest of us have argued against it with limited success. But now, along comes Jim, eviscerating both party and policy in a single brilliant stroke and reminding us that when people make foolish arguments, sometimes it’s better not to fight them.

Sometimes, it’s more damning if you just take them at their word.

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 30, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | Guns, National Rifle Association, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“This Is No Small Development”: Supreme Court Split Saves Public-Sector Unions

Republicans have made no secret of the fact that they fear the Supreme Court moving to the left, even a little, in the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death. But we were reminded this morning that in the late justice’s absence, the high court’s capacity for conservative change has already been curtailed.

CNBC reported on the release of a decision that wasn’t expected until June.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday split 4-4 on a conservative legal challenge to a vital source of funds for organized labor, affirming a lower-court ruling that allowed California to force non-union workers to pay fees to public-employee unions.

The court, shorthanded after the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and evenly divided with four liberal and four conservative members, left intact a 1977 legal precedent that allowed such fees, which add up to millions of dollars a year for unions.

The case is called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and the Supreme Court’s “decision,” such as it is, has been posted online here. It’s extraordinarily brief, however: it reads in its entirety, “Per Curium. The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

This is no small development. At issue in this case was a seemingly obscure issue – public-sector unions’ “agency fees” – but while this may seem like a tangential dispute, the outcome had the potential to disrupt many labor unions nationwide.

Revisiting our previous coverageThe New Republic’s Elizabeth Bruenig summarized the issue this way:

Agency fees work like this: Public sector unions are required to cover all employees in a given bargaining unit, whether the employees opt into union membership or not. Public sector employees (which include EMTs, firefighters, public school teachers, social workers, and more) thus pay agency fees to their respective unions even if they are not union members, because public sector unions work on behalf of everyone in their bargaining unit, not just union members.

Agency fees do not fund unions’ political activities, but rather strictly the costs of union grievance-handling, organizing, and collective bargaining. In the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court upheld the right of public sector unions to extract agency fees from public sector workers, and found that agency fees do not violate employees’ freedom of speech, so long as they do not fund unions’ political activities.

The trouble, according to many on the right, is that literally everything unions do – even collective bargaining itself – is inherently political, even if it’s unrelated to campaign activities. As a result, the Friedrichs case offered the justices an opportunity to overturn the Abood precedent.

And if Scalia had lived, that’s almost certainly what the justices would have done in a 5-4 decision. Instead, the court was evenly split.

Make no mistake: this case represented a major threat to the existence of unions that rely on agency fees. Had the court sided with the right, public-sector unions would still bargain on behalf of public-sector workers – union members and non-members alike – but workers’ dues would have been voluntary.

This case will go back to the Supreme Court again in the not-too-distant future, but for now, a 4-4 split saved public-sector unions, leaving them to fight another day.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | Public Sector Unions, Republicans, SCOTUS | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Big Math v. ‘Big Mo'”: Despite Talk Of The Big Mo, It Really Is About The Big Math

Way back in 1980, when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were running for president, Bush heralded his Iowa victory by declaring he had “the Big Mo” — momentum — that would carry him to the presidency.

Other states and the math intervened, and he became Reagan’s vice president instead.

Bernie Sanders is talking a lot about the Big Mo after his victories in five western states. If I were in his position, I would probably be doing the same thing. It helps him raise money and continue the battle for the next several months.

But Hillary’s sweep of five major states on March 15th wasn’t exactly chopped liver either, nor were her overwhelming wins in southern states. The difference is that Hillary has been racking up the delegates. The math is on her side.

Right now, according to RealClearPolitics, she has 1,712 delegates and Sanders has 1,004 (including superdelegates). For Hillary to reach the magic number of 2,382, she needs 670 more. Sanders will need 1,378 – over twice as many as Clinton.

There are over 1,700 delegates in upcoming states still to be chosen, plus over 200 superdelegates yet to declare whom they will support. Of those superdelegates who have declared, Clinton has 469, and Sanders has 29. That is a big math problem unless, somehow, delegates change their mind and support Sanders. Clearly, that is his hope.

But here is his problem: Even if he wins a number of states and scores some upsets, these are likely to be close races, and delegates will be split fairly evenly. From April 6 in Wisconsin until April 26 (with New York in between), there will be 710 delegates chosen. Other states include Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wyoming. Clinton is likely to win at least half of these delegates, if not more. None of the major states should be blowout races for Sanders, like the caucus states in the West. Or, for that matter, blowout states for Clinton, like the deep South.

So for the sake of argument, let’s give Hillary Clinton 350 delegates between now and April 26; that brings her total up to 2,062, without additional superdelegates who may come over to her side. She will be 320 votes from the magic number of 2,382. If she wins 400 delegates in the next month, she will be only 270 votes short.

The pressure on the other 214 superdelegates to go over to the Clinton side will mount. Funny how politicians like to be the ones to put a candidate over the top or close to over the top.

The next big day with six states, June 7, has 694 delegates, with California selecting 475 and New Jersey 126. Again, assuming Clinton and Sanders are going back and forth winning states, Clinton will need only a portion of those delegates to secure the nomination.

If Clinton wins out in most of these states, pressure will mount on Sanders to unify the party after April 26, though he could easily choose to keep on until June 7. He will probably have the money, and he has focused a lot of energy on California. That is, rightly, his choice.

Clinton’s path to the nomination may have a few more curves and bumps, but it looks pretty straightforward. The delegate math is the delegate math. Barring a catastrophe for Clinton and superdelegates leaving her en masse, it is doubtful the trajectory of this race will change.

Despite talk of the Big Mo, it really is about the Big Math.

 

By: Peter Fenn, Democratic Political Strategist and Head of Fenn Communications; U. S. News and World Report, March 28, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Billionaires Try To Buy The Supreme Court”: Hiding Behind Tax Laws To Avoid Revealing Their Identities

“Let the people decide” is the refrain of Republicans opposed to holding hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, but they’re being bankrolled by an anonymous collection of billionaires—1 percenters so cowardly that they’re hiding behind tax laws to avoid revealing their identities.

Case in point: the “Judicial Crisis Network,” the right-wing front organization doing ad buys across the country to oppose Judge Garland getting a hearing. JCN is one of many 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations on the right and the left, and C4s don’t have to disclose their donors.That is the major reason that political spending by C4s increased more than 8,000 percent between 2004 and 2012.

That doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about C4’s like JCN, however. Thanks to a 2015 investigation by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, we do know it was started in 2005 (as the “Judicial Confirmation network” meant to promote Bush’s judicial appointees) by a group of arch-conservatives including Ann Corkery. Corkery isn’t listed on the JCN’s website, perhaps because the group doesn’t want “the people” to know she is also member of the far-right, literally self-flagellating Catholic order Opus Dei; a former director of Bill Donohue’s ultra-right Catholic League; and a board member of Hobby Lobby’s law firm, The Becket Fund, although her bio has been removed from Becket’s website too.

Conveniently, Corkery also directs JCN’s leading funder, the Wellspring Committee.

Who funds the Wellspring Committee? Well, here’s where things get interesting.

Turns out, Wellspring was founded in 2008 by none other than the infamous Charles and David Koch, together with their political Svengali, Richard Fink. According to Kenneth Vogel, author of the book Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp, Wellspring raised $10 million from attendees at the Kochs’ donor seminars, right after it was founded.

How much and from whom we don’t know.

And that’s precisely the point. Indeed, so secretive is the Wellspring Committee that Jane Mayer’s masterful 449-page tome on the Kochs, Scaifes, and other mega-donors doesn’t even mention it. One insider told Vogel, “Wellspring would never have put their name on anything.”

And these are the people saying “let the people decide.”

From the beginning, Wellspring was set up as a dark-money conduit, effectively laundering billionaire donations so no one would have to be accountable for them. Wellspring donated $7.8 million in 2008, for example, in part to other Koch-funded fronts like Americans for Prosperity.

But Wellspring was different in one key respect. Unlike most of the libertarian “Kochtopus”—which would eventually fund the Astroturf Tea Party movement—Wellspring worked closely with the Republican establishment. Corkery herself was a co-chair of the National Women for Mitt Finance Committee. The operations were initially run by Rick Wiley, a former Republican National Committee official. Wellspring also coordinated with Republican mega-donors, including Sheldon Adelson’s Freedom’s Watch.

The marriage didn’t last long, though. After the 2008 election loss, the Koch brothers turned back to their roots, funding front groups like Americans for Prosperity and Center to Protect Patient Rights to oppose Obamacare and the Tea Party movement to oppose mainstream Republicans.

From 2008 to 2011, Wellspring raised $24 million but not one donor’s name is known. (There are rumors that its funders now include the Templeton Foundation and hedge fund mogul Paul Singer, both contacts of Corkery’s.) Intriguingly, however, 10 of Wellspring’s grantees (in the period 2008-11) also received money from the Koch-funded Center to Protect Patient Rights, and Wellspring works with consultants who used to work with Koch Industries.

Whoever is paying for it, we do know that Wellspring is giving JCN $7 million a year, the lion’s share of that group’s budget, and that Corkery’s husband Neil is JCN’s treasurer. JCN, in turn, announced a $3 million campaign to oppose any Supreme Court confirmation hearings—just the latest of its big spends on judicial battles across the country.

In other words, the leading opponents of Judge Garland’s confirmation aren’t citizens concerned about democracy, but a front organization started by a secretive religious extremist and funded by anonymous members of the Koch brothers’ network. Let the people decide, indeed.

Oh, and by the way, C4s like Wellspring and JCN can only spend up to 49.9 percent of their expenditures on politics: the rest is supposed to promote “social welfare.” But since a judicial campaign isn’t technically a political campaign, these expenditures actually count as Wellspring’s non-political “social welfare” expenses. Because of course this has nothing to do with politics.

The further one digs into this miasma of hypocrisy, wealth, and secrecy, the more incestuous it all becomes. For example, it turns out, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, that Neil Corkery, in addition to JCN, was also “president of its allied Judicial Education Project, and executive director of a charity called the Sudan Relief Fund, all of which paid him salaries; but he also drew paychecks from at least four other organizations: the anti-gay union National Organization for Marriage, ActRight Action, the Catholic Association Foundation, and Catholic Voices. His total earnings were almost $450,000 and his weekly workload was 105 hours in the first half of 2012.” He is also linked to the C4 group called the Annual Fund, itself launched in 2010 with a $2.4 million grant from Wellspring.

Sometimes the “vast, right-wing conspiracy” isn’t really that vast.

It is, however, deeply hypocritical. If the mantra of the anti-Garland crowd is “let the people decide,” why won’t they let the people know who they are? Why the layers of obfuscation and secrecy? If the Wellspring Committee funders really care about democracy, they’ll stop hiding behind tax regulations and shell corporations, and proudly disclose who they are and what they want to do.

Unless, of course, they know the people would decide to run them out of Washington.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | Billionaires, Koch Brothers, Merrick Garland, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Radicalization Of The Republican Party: Seven Years Late, Media Elites Finally Acknowledge GOP’s Radical Ways

Now they tell us the Republican Party is to blame? That the Obama years haven’t been gummed up by Both Sides Are To Blame obstruction?

The truth is, anyone with clear vision recognized a long time ago that the GOP has transformed itself since 2009 into an increasingly radical political party, one built on complete and total obstruction. It’s a party designed to make governing difficult, if not impossible, and one that plotted seven years ago to shred decades of Beltway protocol and oppose every inch of Obama’s two terms. (“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.)

And for some of us, it didn’t take Donald Trump’s careening campaign to confirm the destructive state of the GOP. But if it’s the Trump circus that finally opens some pundits’ eyes, so be it.

Recently, Dan Balz, the senior political writer for the Washington Post, seemed to do just that while surveying the unfolding GOP wreckage as the party splinters over Trump’s rise. Balz specifically noted that four years ago political scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein examined the breakdown in American politics and zeroed in their blame squarely on Republicans.

“They were ahead of others in describing the underlying causes of polarization as asymmetrical, with the Republican Party — in particular its most hard-line faction — as deserving of far more of the blame for the breakdown in governing,” Balz acknowledged.

“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional,” Mann and Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post in 2012. “In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”

They continued:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Tough stuff.

And what was the Beltway media’s response when Ornstein and Mann squarely blamed Republicans during an election year for purposefully making governing impossible? Media elites suddenly lost Mann and Ornstein’s number, as the duo’s television appearances and calls for quotes quickly dried up. So did much of the media’s interest in Mann and Ornstein’s prescient book.

“This was far too much for the mainstream press,” noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. “They couldn’t assimilate what Mann and Ornstein said AND maintain routines and assumptions that posited a rough symmetry between the two parties. (‘Both sides do it.’) It was too much dissonance. Too much wreckage. So they pushed it away.”

For anyone who still harbors the naïve notion that the political debates staged by the Beltway press represent freewheeling discussions where anything goes, the Mann/Ornstein episode helped shed some light on the fact that certain topics and analysis remain off limits for public debate for years — even topics that are accurate, fair and essential to understanding our government’s current dysfunction.

Mann and Ornstein stepped forward to accurately describe what was happening to the Republican Party and detailed the calamitous effect it had on our democracy, and the mainstream media turned away.

So committed was the pundit class to maintaining its safe narrative about “bipartisan gridlock” and Obama’s puzzling inability to find “middle ground” with Republicans (i.e. why doesn’t he just schmooze more?), the press was willing to ignore Mann and Ornstein’s solid, scholarly research in order to wish the problem away.

Quite predictably, that problem has only worsened since 2012, which is what Mann and Ornstein address in their latest offering, “It’s Even Worse Than It Was.”  

“It is the radicalization of the Republican party,” they recently wrote, “that has been the most significant and consequential change in American politics in recent decades.”

“The radicalization of the Republican party” — talk about the topic the Beltway press simply doesn’t want to dwell on, let alone acknowledge. Instead, the press has clung to its preferred narrative about how the GOP is filled with honest brokers who are waiting to work in good faith with the White House. Eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are responsible for sparking conflict (i.e. center-right Republicans vs. center-left Democrats), the press effectively gave Republicans a pass and pretended their radical, obstructionist ways represented normal partisan pursuits. (They didn’t.)

Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstruction, the Violence Against Women Act obstruction, the sequester obstruction, Supreme Court obstruction, minimum wage obstruction, 9/11 first responder obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, immigration reform obstruction, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation obstruction, Susan Rice secretary of state obstruction, paid leave obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

The 2014 obstruction of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was especially galling, as a single Republican senator blocked a vote on the crucial veterans bill.

At the time of the bill’s blockade, Media Matters noted that there was virtually no coverage of the radical obstructionism on CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS, as well as news blackouts in the nation’s six largest newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, and Chicago Tribune

In other words, the GOP’s radical brand of obstructionism not only doesn’t get highlighted as something notable, radical, and dangerous; it’s often met with a collective shrug as the press pretends these kind of nonstop impediments are commonplace.

As Obama works his way through his final year in office, at least pundits like Balz are highlighting that Mann and Ornstein (and yes, Media Matters) were right about the GOP and the asymmetrical blame the party deserves for trying to wreck our functioning government.

It’s never too late for truth telling.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Governing, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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