Saturday Reads: The Gun Lobby and Bad-Faith Negotiations

some monsters are real

Good Morning!!

I had a tough time sleeping last night. The past couple of days’ political events have been so surreal that it feels like there’s a disturbance in the force, so to speak. I couldn’t stop thinking about that bizarre NRA press conference yesterday and the way Wayne LaPierre talked about the need for more guns in our schools while at the same time a man in Pennsylvania was “randomly” shooting and killing people and grieving families were holding funerals for first graders and school teachers and administrators in Connecticut.

If only we had a responsible mainstream media. But that’s not going to happen either. Early this morning I heard CNN reporting on Americans who are rushing out to buy more guns because they’re afraid there will suddenly be gun control laws to stop them. A man in Georgia was who was interviewed was remarking on the high cost of AR-15’s right now, because so many people want to stock up on them. He was at the store because he had long wanted one of these and was no afraid he soon wouldn’t be able to get one. The interviewer asked if he would pay the high price, and he said, “I probably will.”

Here are some more intelligent reactions to Wayne LaPierre’s so-called press conference, at which the press couldn’t ask questions.

The New York Daily News: NRA’s Wayne LaPierre was America’s mad gunman in first comments after Newtown school massacre

A week after a gunman armed with an assault rifle murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and ever so shortly after the bells there tolled for the dead, LaPierre lashed out at everyone and everything but the weapons that were used to kill.

Still worse, in his arrogance and in his sense that terrible forces are out to get him, LaPierre was callous to the raw agony of the families of the slain. The hell with them — he made clear that he will fight to maintain the easy availability of assault weaponry of the kind that killed their kids.
He flayed the news media for supposedly perpetuating a culture of violence and ignorance.

He blamed video games and movies for murder, as if big-screen or small-screen entertainment matters more than easily obtained machines of death.

He mocked anyone with a single new idea to prevent deadly weapons from falling into the hands of those intent on mayhem.

And, exhibiting a level of insanity that qualifies people for commitment as a danger to themselves or others, he called for stationing armed cops at every school in the United States.

The Atlantic: The Most Paranoid, Fear-Mongering Lines in Wayne LaPierre’s Call to Expand the Gun Market to Schools

Anyone expecting the NRA to be chastened at all by the shooting in Newtown, Conn., was quickly disabused of that expectation as Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the gun industry and enthusiast lobbying group, delivered a blistering speech effectively arguing today for a major expansion of the market for the product his group represents.

It was an extraordinarily tone deaf performance, but it followed a well-worn script for product sales: Provoke anxiety — and pitch your product as the one and only solution to it.

Read the examples at the link.

Dan Bigman at Fortune: What The NRA’s Wayne Lapierre Gets Paid To Defend Guns

If you’re a transparency fanatic like me, you appreciate knowing what kind of skin public people have in the game during episodes like this. So what did the NRA pay Lapierre to say that the best way to stop school shootings is to have the government put every mentally ill person in the nation on a watch list and arm school personnel to defend schools like banks?

Just under a million bucks.

That’s according to the most recent NRA filings with the IRS.

The numbers are a bit out of date. The last filing of a Form 990 from the NRA was in 2010. Still, if you’re interested in the numbers behind America’s most powerful gun lobby, it makes for interesting reading.

The organization’s mission is simply stated, right at the top: “To protect and defend the U.S. Constitution.” To accomplish this, in 2010 the NRA reported that it had 781 full time employees, 125,000 volunteers and generated revenues of $22.5 million.

BTW, as Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out last night, banks don’t use armed guards anymore, because they don’t prevent bank robberies. But LaPierre is living in the past as he showed with his pop culture references to decades-old video games and movies.

Here’s O’Donnell’s rant. It’s pretty long, but well worth watching in full.

It’s not a response to the press conference, but Mark Ames posted a great piece on the history of the NRA a couple of days ago: FROM “OPERATION WETBACK” TO NEWTOWN: TRACING THE HICK FASCISM OF THE NRA. Ames is the author of Going Postal, a book on workplace and school shooters. His article can’t be easily excerpted from, but I highly recommend you go an read it at the link.

On a slightly more positive note, here’s an article in New York Magazine about a former school principal who has been studying school shootings ever since one happened at his own school: School-Shooting Specialist Bill Bond on Why Lockdowns Save Lives

Bill Bond, specialist for school safety at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has spent more than a decade speaking and consulting on school violence. Here, he tells assistant editor Eric Benson about lockdown procedures and the deadly shooting he witnessed himself.
Along with Columbine, my school is the reason lockdown procedures came into being. I was principal of Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, and we had eight shot in the lobby; three girls were killed. Back then, we had a crisis plan for the school, but what we were thinking about was a school intruder — an irate person, a mad parent, someone like that. We weren’t thinking about guns at all.
A lockdown means that all students get to the nearest classroom, regardless of whether it’s theirs or not, as quickly as possible. You lock the doors. You pull the shades. You turn the light out. You have the kids move to the back corner of the room, away from the door and windows. And you get the kids to be as quiet as possible. You want them to be quiet, because shooters react to sound and movement. If there’s someone screaming and hollering or running around, the shooter is much, much more likely to try to enter that door.

It sounds like that’s exactly what the teachers did at Sandy Hook School. Read much more at the link.

The other big story of the day is the so-called “fiscal cliff” and the way the Villagers–politicians and media–have turned this giant clusterfuck waiting to happen into an even huger and more horrible clusterfuck.

Boehner poker

Last night Jonathan Chait posted the perfect response to the insanity of the “negotiations” between Speaker Boehner and President Obama: Obama Waking Up From Dream of Grand Bargain

In recent weeks, Obama seems to have concluded that Republicans have come around, and that it is time to sit down and hash out a deal like reasonable people. He moved his position more than halfway toward Boehner’s. Democrats in Congress are, incredibly, discussing the option of compromising even more.

But reasonable compromise to avert the fiscal cliff is impossible. Republicans, as a whole, don’t even seem capable of linear thinking about the budget. They don’t know what they actually want on spending. They don’t understand why Obama wants more revenue or what role this would play in the broader fiscal picture. They don’t even seem capable of politically organizing in a way that maximizes their fanatic principles. The House Republican caucus is simply a teeming pit of revanchist anger.

Chait is hopeful that Obama’s latest remarks on the mess in which he outlined a smaller proposed solution to the standoff may be a sign that the president has once again let go of his fantasies of postpartisan cooperation.

Obama’s remarks today indicate an apparent acceptance of the dynamic and a desire to at least steer the process toward minimizing the economic harm that would result if the contractionary policies scheduled for next year take effect. Obama is again demanding a tax cut for income under $250,000 a year, along with canceling out some of the more punitive spending cuts. He can get that if he holds absolutely firm on his income threshold. Unfortunately, his offer to Boehner confused the matter. Obama offered to lift the tax hike level to $400,000 a year. Now, he was proposing to make up the revenue through reducing tax exemptions, so he really changed only the delivery system for higher taxes rather than the end result, but this fact has gotten confused in the reporting, and Obama needs to re-solidify it. (In his press conference, he didn’t.)

The president also needs to learn about the uselessness of the corporate media.

Roll Call had an interesting insider report on the goings on during the GOP battle over Boehner’s Plan B on Thursday night.

Even his allies admit that Boehner’s stunning failure to find the votes for his “plan B” tax legislation was a major blow to his credibility, provoking befuddlement and even outrage from fellow Republicans.

But there is also considerable anger in the GOP conference directed at the conservative lawmakers that forced Boehner’s shocking defeat.

That fractured reaction — coupled with the lack of a plausible challenger — mean Boehner is unlikely to face any significant challenge to his position as speaker in the near term.

“These are people that, they don’t have a leader amongst them, and they don’t want to be led,” said a GOP member and Boehner loyalist. “He had probably 200 people lined up for him, for his position. And those 200 are pretty dad gum loyal to the speaker and pretty angry at that group.”

Read lots more at the link.

Finally, Rob Urie, who describes himself as an “artist and political economist,” writes at Counterpunch on why Obama and other Democrats are determined to cut Social Security even though it is political suicide and Republicans will use it against them in successive elections–and why we might fight back: Democrats, Social Security and the Fiscal Cliff

Why cut Social Security? The program is currently solvent, is expected to remain solvent for decades to come, and projected shortfalls in the future could be better addressed by raising the incomes of the people who pay into the program, not by cutting payments to those who depend on them. What is to be gained by ‘solving’ a problem that isn’t?

If cutting Social Security isn’t necessary, why then is it being proposed? Barack Obama provided copious evidence in prior proposals, television interviews and speeches that doing so is his intent. Congressional democrats and labor leaders quickly acceded to his proposal to do so, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi going so far as to actively lie that proposed cuts will ‘strengthen’ the program. And given the cuts will eventually put tens of millions of Americans into dire poverty from a program they paid into for all of their working lives, what rationale could possibly justify doing so?

The reason I ask is a coalition of democrats, labor, liberals and progressives just re-elected Mr. Obama and democrats in Congress to what—cut Social Security? Mr. Obama created the ‘fiscal cliff’ to first push his stacked (in favor of cutting social insurance programs) ‘deficit commission’ to develop a plan to cut government spending and second, to force the issue to be revisited immediately after the election if no plan was agreed to. And Republican threats to refuse to raise the debt ceiling for leverage to ‘force’ spending cuts are idiotic—George W. Bush and congressional Republicans just led the largest increase in government spending in modern history. And that is not a difficult point to make. (And had it been on beneficial programs, it would have been laudable).

Ultimately the entire ‘debate’ is nonsense—the U.S. doesn’t fund spending directly from taxes. As the Federal Reserve is in the process of demonstrating with its QE (Quantitative Easing) programs, it can buy an unlimited quantity of government debt with money it ‘creates’ –the ‘debt limit’ is an arbitrary misdirection.

None of this is news to any of us who went into this with our eyes open about Mr. Obama, but it’s a very good summary of what’s happening and well worth reading in full.   And remember, George W. Bush did his darndest to privatize Social Security and failed miserably.  Perhaps Obama will succeed, but I believe can be tripped up too.  The Republican hatred of anything Obama wants will probably help–after all Social Security wasn’t even addressed in Boehner’s “Plan B” proposal.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the politicians have left for their luxury vacations (leaving unemployed people to wonder whether they’ll have any money at all after Dec. 31); so I guess we can relax for the moment and try to enjoy some peace and quiet for the next week.

I’ve focused on only two issues in this post, so I look forward to seeing what everyone else is reading and thinking about. What’s on your list for today?


Unhinged Wayne LaPierre Advocates Putting Guns in Schools as Gunman Kills 4, Wounds 3 in Altoona, PA

Wayne LaPierre

A short time ago, NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre gave a press conference in which he suggested turning American into an armed camp by assigning “armed police officers” to guard every school in the country. Washington Post:

In his first extensive public remarks since last week’s mass shooting at a Connecticut school, the head of the National Rifle Association called Friday for lawmakers to take action to put police officers in all schools in an effort to curb such violence.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a news conference in Washington.

LaPierre called on Congress “to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school in this nation.”

Will the money for that be coming out of the hides of elderly social security recipients along with all the other things wingnuts want to spend money on?

Simultaneously with LaPierre’s speech, an armed man in Altoona, PA began “randomly” shooting people.

Emergency officials have rushed to to the scene of a deadly shooting in Blair County, PA. Officials in Altoona, Pennsylvania say that four people were killed, including the shooter, and three state police officers were injured in the deadly shooting. According to KDKA-TV, the state troopers are not in critical condition. One trooper’s bulletproof vest stopped a bullet that struck him in the chest. Another trooper was injured in a crash, and the third was injured by flying debris, likely to be shattered glass. The troopers shot and kill the suspect, who sources say was Jeffrey Lee Michael of Hollidaysburg, Pa.

Before he died in a shootout with state troopers, the man killed two other men and a woman.

Four people are dead — including the shooter — and three state troopers were injured this morning in a shooting incident in Frankstown Township, Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio said.

The gunman and two other men and a woman are all dead, Consiglio said.

The woman was killed at the Juniata Valley Gospel Church, a nondenominational church outside of Geeseytown on Juniata Valley Road, sources tell the Mirror.

Two troopers were wounded during a shootout with the suspect, Consiglio said. One trooper was hit in his bulletproof vest and another was hit by flying glass when the gunman fired at his state police vehicle.

A third trooper was injured in a crash involving the suspect, Consiglio said.

No word on what kind of weapon the shooter used. Watch Wayne LaPierre’s wild and wooly press conference here.

This is a wild west, gun totin’ America-gone-insane open thread.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

This week’s New Yorker has a fascinating article by Jill Lepore about guns in America that I think everyone should read: Battleground America: One nation, under the gun. It’s long, but well worth reading. Here’s just a tiny excerpt:

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

Men are far more likely to own guns than women are, but the rate of gun ownership among men fell from one in two in 1980 to one in three in 2010, while, in that same stretch of time, the rate among women remained one in ten. What may have held that rate steady in an age of decline was the aggressive marketing of handguns to women for self-defense, which is how a great many guns are marketed. Gun ownership is higher among whites than among blacks, higher in the country than in the city, and higher among older people than among younger people. One reason that gun ownership is declining, nationwide, might be that high-school shooting clubs and rifle ranges at summer camps are no longer common.

Although rates of gun ownership, like rates of violent crime, are falling, the power of the gun lobby is not. Since 1980, forty-four states have passed some form of law that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside their homes for personal protection. (Five additional states had these laws before 1980. Illinois is the sole holdout.) A federal ban on the possession, transfer, or manufacture of semiautomatic assault weapons, passed in 1994, was allowed to expire in 2004. In 2005, Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law, an extension of the so-called castle doctrine, exonerating from prosecution citizens who use deadly force when confronted by an assailant, even if they could have retreated safely; Stand Your Ground laws expand that protection outside the home to any place that an individual “has a right to be.” Twenty-four states have passed similar laws.

I hadn’t realized that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin just one day before the school shootings at Chardon High School near Cleveland, Ohio. Isn’t it amazing that we heard all about that shooting right away and it was old news by the time the corporate media began reporting on Trayvon’s death?

Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, and it seems America has changed very little, probably largely because of NRA lobbying as well as ALEC’s “model legislation” writing services.

Of course no one could help hearing about the crude and tasteless behavior on display at the NRA convention last weekend. Executive VP Wayne LaPierre even had the gall to complain about media coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting. At HuffPo, Dean Obeidallah asks why.

Did Mr. LaPierre offer any sympathy to Trayvon Martin’s family? No.

Instead, he chose to denounce the media for their coverage of the case, alleging that the media’s: “… dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.”

What makes Mr. La Pierre’s comments especially callous is that they were made at the annual NRA convention which was being held this weekend in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis has the unenviable distinction of being the city with the second highest rate in the country for youth being killed by guns. Indeed, the gunshot murder rate for 10 to 19 years old in St. Louis is more than three times the average for larger cities according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yesterday the LA Times published photos of American troops in Afghanistan posing with body parts of dead suicide bombers.

Two photos of incidents from a 2010 deployment were published Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times. In one, the hand of a corpse is propped on the shoulder of a paratrooper. In another, the disembodied legs of a suicide bomber are displayed by grinning soldiers and Afghan police.

These are the “hero” troops that we are constantly told we have to support and be grateful to. Have these young people been warped by America’s immoral wars? Or are they products of America’s vicious gun culture? I don’t know the answer, just asking.

American officials weren’t happy with the LA Times for publishing the photos and tried to stop them from doing it. Although the Obama administration and military leaders fell over themselves condemning the actions of these troops,

At the same time, Pentagon and White House officials expressed disappointment that the photos had been made public. The Pentagon had asked The Times not to publish the photos, citing fears that they would trigger a backlash against U.S. forces.

Speaking to reporters during a meeting of NATO allies in Brussels, Panetta said:

“This is war. And I know that war is ugly and violent. And I know that young people sometimes caught up in the moment make some very foolish decisions. I am not excusing that behavior. But neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people or to our relationship with the Afghan people.”

Tough shit. Haven’t we seen enough war crimes by now? This war and the war in Iraq are just plain evil. Get these kids out of Afghanistan, and let’s hope we can prevent a majority of them from acting out violently or joining the growing number of military suicides when they get back home.

Mother Jones reports that ALEC is begging right wing bloggers to rescue them from mean old Common Cause, Color of Change, and other liberal groups who have been convincing ALEC’s donors to withdraw their support.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the once-obscure organization that pairs corporations with state lawmakers to draft pro-business and often anti-union legislation for the state level, is in damage control mode. Corporate members such as McDonald’s, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mars, Inc. have cut ties with ALEC after taking heat from a coalition of progressive groups angry over ALEC’s “discriminatory” voter ID bills and controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense legislation that figures into the Trayvon Martin shooting in central Florida.

To push back, ALEC has turned to the conservative blogosphere for help. As PR Watch reported, Caitlyn Korb, ALEC’s director of external relations, told attendees at a Heritage Foundation “Bloggers Briefing” on Tuesday that the campaign against ALEC was “part of a wider effort to shut all of us down.” She asked the bloggers for “any and all institutional support” in ALEC’s fight against progressive groups, especially when it came to social media. “We’re getting absolutely killed in social media venues—Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest,” she said. “Any and all new media support you guys can provide would be so helpful, not just to us but to average people who don’t know much about this fight but are seeing us really get heavily attacked with very little opposition.”

Korb educated the bloggers with a handout listing ALEC’s positions on a range of issues. PR Watch, one of ALEC’s loudest critics, described the handout as “riddled with errors.”

Check out the list at the above link.

Joshua Holland has an excellent piece at Alternet: Freedom from a Dead-End Life: True Liberty Means Defeating the Right-Wing’s Nightmare Vision for America.

Last week, Mitt Romney summed up the Right’s rhetorical fluff as well as anyone when he told the National Rifle Association that “freedom is the victim of unbounded government appetite.” It was an unremarkable comment, so accustomed are we to hearing the Right – a movement that historically opposed women’s sufferage and black civil rights and still seeks to quash workers’ right to organize and gay and lesbian Americans’ right to marry– claim to be defenders of our liberties….

Dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear that “freedom” for the Right offers most of us anything but. It’s the freedom for companies to screw their workers, pollute, and otherwise operate free of any meaningful regulations to protect the public interest. It’s about the wealthiest among us being free from the burden of paying a fair share of the taxes that help finance a smoothly functioning society.

The flip side is that programs that assure working Americans a decent existence are painted as a form of tyranny approaching fascism. The reality is that they impinge only on our God-given right to live without a secure social safety net. It’s the freedom to go bankrupt if you can’t afford to treat an illness; the liberty to spend your golden years eating cat food if you couldn’t sock away enough for a decent retirement.

It’s another long read, but well worth the time.

At FDL, Kevin Gosztola writes about yesterday’s unanimous SCOTUS that multinational corporations can’t be sued for torturing and/or killing people.

The US Supreme Court unanimously decided that foreign political organizations and multinational corporations cannot be sued for the torture or extrajudicial killing of persons abroad under an anti-torture law passed in 1992. The law only gives people the right to sue “an individual,” “who acted under the authority of a foreign nation,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by the family of a US citizen, Azzam Rahim, who was tortured and killed in the Palestinian Territory by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) intelligence officers. It was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who President Barack Obama appointed to the Supreme Court, that spoke for the decision. She explained the text of the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 “convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this branch to do otherwise.”

Apparently, corporations are only “people” for purposes of corrupting electoral politics, but when they commit crimes they are no longer considered “individuals.” Gosztola also calls attention to the fact that Chief Justice Roberts actually laughed at the arguments of the Rahim family’s attorney Jeffrey Fisher.

Mr. Fisher did what he could with what the justices seemed to think was an exceptionally weak hand.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. summarized Mr. Fisher’s position: “You are saying, ‘Well, we want a term that is going to include individual persons and organizations but not state organizations.’ And the only term that fits perfectly is ‘individual.’ ”

“Exactly,” Mr. Fisher said. “That’s our argument.”

Chief Justice Roberts was incredulous. “Really?” he asked, to laughter in the courtroom, which the chief justice joined.

Finally, Dakinikat sent me this from The New York Times: Vatican orders crackdown on American nuns

The Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America’s 55,000 Catholic nuns, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.

Rome also chided the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for sponsoring conferences that featured “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Those are my recommendations for today. What are you reading and blogging about?