2012 - %3, December

The Latest From the Fever Swamp: Concussiongate

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 5:58 PM EST

Hillary Clinton is widely viewed as the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic nomination if she decides to run, and that's prompted a lot of people to wonder how the right wing would react to a Hillary campaign. Have they learned to respect her over the past four years, or would it be Whitewater/Vince Foster/Travelgate all over again?

Anyone with a room-temperature IQ has already put money on Option B, and today brings fascinating new evidence that anyone taking the other side of that bet has already lost a bundle. You see, it turns out that the fever swamp thinks Hillary is faking the concussion she suffered over the weekend. Seriously. The Atlantic's Alexander Abad-Santos rounds up the quotes:

Jim Treacher: "If she has a concussion, let's see the medical report. Let's see some proof that she’s not just stonewalling."

John Bolton: "When you don't want to go to a meeting or conference, or an event, you have a 'diplomatic illness,' ... And this is a diplomatic illness to beat the band."

Lucianne Goldberg: "Hillary has given us a great new excuse. Don't call in with a cold or a bad tooth. Just say you have a concussion. It can last for days."

There you have it: a little mini-preview of 2016 if Hillary decides to run.

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A Gun Rights Fanatic and Gun Control Advocate Meet in the Green Room

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 4:16 PM EST
Gun Owners of America's executive director Larry Pratt on MSNBC's "Hardball"

The Washington green room is usually a fun place where Democrats, Republicans, journalists, legislators, executive branch officials, policy advocates, and politicos of various bents—occasionally adversaries—await television hits and chitchat politely among one another. The discourse can yield intriguing gossip, interesting tidbits, and, most important for a journalist, productive leads. It's a microcosm of official Washington. But on Monday, as I cooled my heels prior to appearing on Hardball, the green room at the DC studio for MSNBC was filled with tension. In one chair was Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, a group that's more die-hard on gun rights than the National Rifle Association. Standing next to him was David Chipman, of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which was founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In essence, the nation's emotionally fraught debate over guns was jammed into this tiny room.

The NRA Goes MIA…Yet Again

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 3:50 PM EST

Update, 12/18/12: The NRA has issued an official press release about the Newtown shooting, dispatching it via Twitter and Facebook after four days of social media silence. "We were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown," it reads. The short statement makes no mention of specific gun laws or policies, though it states that “The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” Read the full statement here.

As the country has reeled from the Newtown massacre, the National Rifle Association has been noticeably silent. Its Twitter account has been mute since Friday morning, and its Facebook page has been taken down. Its online radio program has been saying guns aren't to blame, and "sources close to the issue" tell Fox News that the NRA will speak up after "a proper period for mourning." But as of this writing, the gun rights advocacy group has yet to issue any official statement on the worst grade school shooting in US history.  

Virtual silence immediately following mass shootings is the NRA's usual M.O. In 2011, following the shooting that wounded Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, NRA president Wayne LaPierre boasted at the Conservative Political Action Conference, "Ladies and gentlemen, in the days after the tragic events in Tucson, the NRA refused to respond to the media's demands for reaction." (Italics and bold in original transcript.) Earlier, the group acknowledged its code of silence in a leaked 2006 brochure, though it also noted that it eventually might lift its self-imposed gag rule:

NRA has rightfully declined to join the debate, because no effective solution includes infringement of the Second Amendment. Although tragic, these incidents have called for no more anti-gun measures than any other crime committed with firearms. But the advent of domestic terrorism, compounded with recent high-profile school shootings, force America's gun owners to join the national discussion in a way we can no longer decline. Not because the Second Amendment is at fault, but because the Second Amendment is at risk.

But the NRA remains reluctant to join in the national discussion that immediately follows many mass shootings. We searched for the NRA's public statements following the 62 mass shootings of the past 30 years and we found few formal responses to most of them—that includes press releases or mentions on the sites of either the NRA or its lobbying wing, the NRA-Institute for Legislative Action.

When the NRA does acknowledge a shooting, it almost always does so a few days after the event. It often skips past expressing sympathy to make a political point: Gun control is definitely not the answer to preventing the next tragedy. Or as one NRA official put it shortly after a gunman killed 6 people and wounded 29 in a Stockton, California, schoolyard in 1989, "You're not going to be able to legislate crazy people sane."

Since the advent of the internet, the NRA often does not make such statements in its own name, instead citing or linking to third parties who have expressed similar sentiments. More recent examples of the NRA's record of trying to say as little as possible about mass shootings:

Michigan Governor Latest to Shoot Himself in the Foot

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 2:37 PM EST

In 2010, Republicans swept the table, electing a whole slew of new governors and state legislators. Since then, however, they've seemed bound and determined to use their newfound power to make themselves as unpopular as possible. This month's case study is Michigan governor Rick Snyder, who was behind last week's sneak attack that turned Michigan into a right-to-work state. PPP finds that Snyder's approval ratings have plummeted:

We now find Snyder as one of the most unpopular Governors in the country. Only 38% of voters approve of him to 56% who disapprove. There are only 2 other sitting Governors we've polled on who have a worse net approval rating than Snyder's -18.

....There's not much doubt that it's the right to work law and his embrace of other actions by the Republican legislature that are driving this precipitous drop in Snyder's popularity. Only 41% of voters in the state support the right to work legislation, while 51% are opposed to it. If voters got to decide the issue directly only 40% of them say they would vote to keep the law enacted, while 49% would vote to overturn it. This comes on the heels of voters overturning Snyder's signature emergency managers law last month. The simple reality is that Michigan voters like unions- 52% have a favorable opinion of them to only 33% with a negative one.

Dave Weigel gets the analysis right: "This is the problem with something perceived as a 'power grab.' Voters, who don't typically obsess over process, get angry about it. Democrats learned that in 2010, when a number of their endangered, to their confusion, faced voters angry about the constitutionality of a health care mandate and the state funding included in early versions of the deal."

The fact that Snyder's policies are broadly unpopular is bad enough. The fact that he and his fellow Republicans seem to be flouting the rules of fair play in order to pass them makes it even worse.

Aloha, Daniel Inouye; Senator and Amazing WWII Hero, Dead at 88

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 12:39 PM EST

On Monday, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) passed away due to respiratory complications at the age of 88. His last word before dying was, according to his office's press release, "Aloha."

Inouye, the second longest serving senator in American history, was noted for his involvement in both the Watergate and Iran-contra investigations. He delivered the keynote at the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He was the first Japanese American to serve in the US Congress. He was the father of Kenny Inouye, the guitar player in the DC hardcore punk band Marginal Man.

Inouye also served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team—a unit made up almost entirely of Japanese Americans who wanted to show allegiance in the face of internment—during World War II. (The team went on to become the most decorated infantry regiment in US Army history.) He is probably best known for this one time in which he killed throngs of Nazis in a manner closely resembling the climactic scene in the movie The Wild Bunch. But unlike the protagonists in The Wild Bunch, he somehow made it out alive at the end.

Here's an excerpt from a Hawaii Reporter piece, which details how a young Inouye responded to getting his arm blown off by Germans during a firefight in Italy:

On April 21, 1945, Dan's company was ordered to attack a heavily defended ridge guarding an important road in the vicinity of San Terenzo. His platoon wiped out an enemy patrol and mortar observation post and reached the main line of resistance before the rest of the American force. As the troops continued up the hill, three German machine guns focused their fire on them, pinning them down. Dan worked his way toward the first bunker. Pulling out a grenade, he felt something hit him in his side but paid no attention and threw the grenade into the machine-gun nest. After it exploded, he advanced and killed the crew.

Dan continued up the hill, throwing two more grenades into the second gun emplacement and destroying it before he collapsed from loss of blood from his wounds. His men, trying to take the third bunker, were forced back. He dragged himself toward it, then stood up and was about to pull the pin on his last grenade when a German appeared in the bunker and fired a rifle grenade. It hit Dan in the right elbow and literally tore off his arm. He pried the grenade out of his dead right fist with his other hand and threw it at the third bunker, then lurched toward it, firing his tommy gun left-handed. A German bullet hit him in the leg. A medic reached him and gave him a shot of morphine. In his typical stoic manner he didn't allow himself to be evacuated until the position was secured. In the hospital, the remnants of his right arm were amputated.

The attack concluded with 25 dead German soldiers, and eight others captured.

Here is Inouye in his own words:

When my platoon members told me [about what I had done], I said, 'No, it can't be. It can't be. You'd have to be insane to do all that.' I think it's all part of the training where you do things almost automatically. It's a sense of duty. That's what they told me, and the company commander who was also observing from the backside, he said, 'I couldn't believe what I saw, because you were a crazy man.'

In 1947, Inouye received over a dozen medals and citations for his heroic assault, including the Distinguished Service Cross and two Purple Hearts. (In 2000, his Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, which was presented to him by President Clinton.)

Here's an old military photograph of Daniel Inouye, Nazi Pulverizer:

Can a State Require You to Insure Your Guns?

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 12:37 PM EST

Paul Waldman:

If you say, "I want a gun," the rest of us can say, OK, you have that right. But guns pose a potentially lethal danger, so that means we need a special set of rules to deal with them. After all, we do this already. If you want a car, you can't just get one. First, you have to prove to your state that you are competent to drive it. Then you have to register it with the government, and you have to get insurance for it. We agree to this more restrictive set of rules for cars than for televisions or refrigerators because what you do with a car affects other people. Cars are dangerous. Used improperly, they can kill people.

There's a thought. What if you could own all the guns you wanted, but you were required to insure them against any damage they might cause? Would that be constitutional?

I'm not suggesting this is even remotely possible. I'm just curious. Could a state do this if it wanted? Could Congress?

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Government Agency Charged With Enforcing Gun Laws Has No Permanent Director, Tiny Staff

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 12:28 PM EST
ATF official seal

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, several members of Congress have pledged to push new gun control restrictions in early 2013. But the Washington Post reported Tuesday that the main federal agency charged with gun regulation—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—has been so kneecapped by the gun industry that it can barely enforce the laws already on the books.

The ATF hasn't had a permanent director since the Bush administration, and even then, President George W. Bush, no softie on guns, couldn't get his pick confirmed for the post. Idaho Republican senators Michael Crapo and Larry "Wide Stance" Craig (then and still a member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors) blocked Bush's nomination of Michael J. Sullivan, the Massachusetts US Attorney, arguing that he had it in for gun dealers.

Part of the problem is that Congress, in its wisdom, removed ATF from the Treasury Department and turned it into a stand-alone agency in 2006, adding the agency's director to the list of posts that require Senate confirmation. Thanks to the NRA's lobbying power, the Senate has never confirmed anyone for the job since then, leaving the agency rudderless. The ATF's current acting director is working out of the US Attorney's office in Minnesota.

Lack of stable leadership isn't the ATF's only problem. The bureau employs fewer people than it did almost 40 years ago, with fewer than 2,500 people on hand to regulate the 310 million guns and 60,000 gun dealers in the US. The Post reports that the ATF is so shorthanded that gun dealers can expect an ATF inspection about once every eight years.

"If the administration and Congress are serious about addressing this problem, they need to fund the gun police, the agency charged with administering the firearms regulations," Michael Bouchard, a former ATF assistant director, told the Post. "Unless they are going to do this completely, simply passing some form of gun legislation is only part of the solution.”

Yacht Owners Go Galt in Newport Beach

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 12:24 PM EST

Would you like to hear a story about rich people in America today? It's a small one, but it says a lot in a nutshell. It takes place just down the road from me in Newport Harbor, which, it turns out, needs renovation:

The city's five-year plan for the harbor calls for $29 million in long-overdue maintenance. Its silt-filled channels haven't been fully dredged since the Great Depression. Ancient, leaky sea walls protecting neighborhoods need to be repaired or replaced. "We have the makings of a perfect storm like they did on the East Coast" during Superstorm Sandy, said Chris Miller, the city's harbor resources manager. "The sea walls are nearing the end of their useful life."

So the city of Newport Beach, home of the rich and famous, needs $29 million to maintain the harbor. Where to get it? Let's now skip up to the top of this story to see what caught the LA Times' interest in the first place:

An increase in city rental fees for residential docks that protrude over public tidelands created a furor when it was approved last week by the City Council. It also prompted a call to boycott the boat parade and festival of lights by a group calling itself "Stop the Dock Tax."

"It costs us thousands of dollars to voluntarily decorate our homes and boats to bring holiday smiles to nearly 1 million people," organization Chairman Bob McCaffrey wrote to the city. "This year, we are turning off our lights and withdrawing our boats in protest of the massive new dock tax we expect the City Council to levy."

....Newport's dock fee, which has stood at $100 a year for the last two decades, will now be based on a dock's size. The city says rents will increase to about $250 for a small slip to $3,200 annually for a large dock shared by two homeowners. "People have been paying $8 a month all these years to access what is public waters," said Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff. "That's a pretty good deal. The City Council didn't think the increase it approved was too extreme."

Got that? These docks would probably be worth tens of thousands of dollars if they were auctioned off, free-market style. But the boycotters, who I'd guess are free market fans one and all, are outraged that they won't be allowed to use these docks for $100 per year forever. The free market might be a great idea when it comes to setting the wages and salaries of working folks, but using it to set the fees for dock rental in one of the richest communities in America? That's outrageous.

In fairness, the complainers are a small fraction of the Newport Harbor community. Still, they're a loud fraction, and it's this sense of entitlement from the very loud, very rich that drives so much public policy in America. No matter how well they do—and the rich have done very, very well over the past few decades—their blood boils at the thought of contributing so much as an extra dime to public coffers, even if the money is specifically earmarked to improve their own communities.

Welcome to America. Ho ho ho.

After Newtown, Sales Boom for Kids' Body Armor

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 12:24 PM EST

A bullet-proof Disney Princess backpack from Amendment II retails for $300, plus shipping.

"Basically, there's three models," says Derek Williams. "A SwissGear that's made for teens, and we've got an Avengers and a Disney Princess backpack for little kids."

Williams is the president of Amendment II, a Salt Lake City-based company that manufactures lightweight body armor for law enforcement and military use. But lately they've moved into a different market: body armor for kids. Six months ago, Amendment II introduced a new line of backpacks, built with the company's signature carbon nanotube armor, designed to keep kids safe in the event of school shootings. Since Friday's massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school, sales have gone through the roof. "I can't go into exact sales numbers, but basically we tripled our sales volume of backpacks that we typically do in a month—in one week," Williams says.

VIDEO: Corn Debates a Gun Lobbyist: Why is US Gun Violence Unique?

Tue Dec. 18, 2012 12:10 PM EST

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn debated Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association on Britain's Channel 4 evening news Monday regarding the need for gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre.

Feldman said the United States is undergoing a "seminal moment" in the debate over gun policies, but he claimed the only issue at hand is "the problem of deranged individuals obtaining guns and causing mayhem." Corn noted that the problem is much larger and pointed out that gun violence in the United States is unique among industrialized nations. "There is not one other country…that has this sort of problem and this sort of history with gun violence other than the US," he said. "We do not have a monopoly on deranged individuals. What separates us from other countries is the population of… assault weapons… and the gun lobby doesn't want to accept that. 

For more of David Corn's stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.