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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

“We’re Ignoring The Real Gun Problem”: Exactly Which Forms Of Gun Violence Do Republicans Support?

Today President Obama spoke briefly to the press about yesterday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, and he began by noting: “So many Americans sometimes feel as if there’s nothing we can do about it.” But what’s the “it” we’re talking about here? Is it just our spectacular and never-ending run of mass shootings?

Because if it is, we’re on the lesser of our gun problems. I’ll explain why in a moment, but here’s a bit more of what Obama had to say:

“It’s going to be important for all of us, including our legislatures, to see what we can do to make sure that when individuals decide that they want to do somebody harm, we’re making it a little harder for them to do it, because right now it’s just too easy. And we’re going to have to, I think, search ourselves as a society to make sure that we can take basic steps that would make it harder — not impossible, but harder — for individuals to get access to weapons.”

His mention of “legislatures” is an implicit acknowledgement that any movement that happens on gun laws will happen at the state and local level, because congressional Republicans are emphatically against any legislation that would even inconvenience, let alone restrict, anyone’s ability to buy as many guns of as many types as they want. But what are those “basic steps” we can take, and would they actually work? And which kinds of gun violence would they stop?

It’s not surprising that we focus on mass shootings, because they’re sudden and dramatic — the very fact that they’re unusual compared to ordinary shootings is why they’re newsworthy. That’s despite the fact that we have them so often that the victim count has to get pretty high before the national news pays attention. But as this blog has noted before, they’re actually the smaller part of our gun violence problem.

Using the now-common definition of a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are injured or killed, there were 351 mass shootings in the United States this year before San Bernardino, or more than one per day. In those shootings, a total of 447 people died and 1,292 people were injured.

Now let’s use a year for which we have complete data on gun violence, 2013. That year, there were 363 mass shootings resulting in 502 deaths. But overall, 33,636 Americans died from gun violence that year. The number of gun homicides was 11,208. That means that victims of mass shootings made up 1.5 percent of all gun victims and 4.5 percent of gun homicide victims.

Democrats advocating for gun restrictions take the opportunity when there’s a mass shooting dominating the news to say: “This is why we need these restrictions.” Which is understandable as far as it goes, but it still keeps attention on the smaller part of the problem.

Republicans and conservatives, on the other hand, see mass shootings as regrettable but say that any government action to restrict access to guns either won’t stop such shootings, or would represent an unacceptable trade-off in terms of surrendering liberty. Some will instead say, “we need to reform the mental health system. ” But nine out of ten GOP congressmen probably couldn’t tell you a single thing they’d do to reform it, let alone how whatever they support would actually reduce the yearly death toll. There are a couple of related bills in Congress that Republicans support to make some reforms to the mental health system, but they could actually wind up making it easier for some people with a history of mental illness to get firearms.

And of course Republicans don’t address this simple fact: the overwhelming majority of gun homicides in America are not committed by people who have been declared mentally ill. They happen when abusive men kill their spouses or partners, when an argument between neighbors gets out of hand, when an angry ex-employee shoots his boss, when cycles of revenge spiral onward.

But if we only try to talk about guns when there are mass shootings, it allows Republicans to say, “It’s not about the guns — this guy was just crazy!” (Never mind that there are people with mental illness everywhere in the world; only here is it so easy for them to arm themselves to the teeth.)

If Republicans (and I’d put special focus on the presidential candidates, since they’re the ones who can get the most attention) are going to argue that the answer to gun violence is mental health reforms, they ought to be forced to get specific. Exactly which forms do they support? How exactly will each of those forms reduce gun violence? Will any of their ideas do anything to help the 95 percent of gun homicide victims who don’t die in mass shootings?

We’re now getting reports that Syed Farook, one of the shooters in San Bernardino, may have been in touch with an international terrorism suspect, and so this shooting may have been politically motivated (even though he chose to target his co-workers). Had that not been the case, Republicans would have said that all that matters is that Farook was crazy — how could anyone who killed 14 people not be? Now they’ll say that all that matters is that he was a terrorist. But if that turns out to be true, it would bring the number of Americans killed at home in jihadist attacks since 9/11 to 45. That’s about the number of Americans murdered with guns in an average day and half.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 3, 2015

December 5, 2015 Posted by | Congressional Republicans, Domestic Violence, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


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