Wayne LaPierre was a hit at CPAC. The National Rifle Association's executive vice president, who in the three months since the Sandy Hook massacre has fiercely opposed any form of gun control legislation, whipped the audience of conservative activists into a frenzy on Friday with a speech that took aim at Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester (or at least the prospect of releasing people from ICE detention centers).
But LaPierre saved the most firepower for President Obama's proposal to expand background checks to include all private gun sales. The push to close the so-called "gun show loophole," in LaPierre's view, is nothing more than a "placebo" that would do nothing to stop gun violence. (Never mind that placebos are actually quite effective.) He alleged that improved record-keeping would leave the United States vulnerable to foreign countries like China and Mexico (video above):
It's gonna be people like you and me. That's who they're tracking. That's who they're after. The names of good, decent people, all across this country, who happen to own a firearm, to go into a federal database with universal registration of every lawful gun-owner in America. That's their answer to criminal violence? Criminalize 100 million law-abiding gun owners in a private transfer? Build a list of all the good people? As if that would somehow make us safe from violent criminals and homicidal maniacs? That's their answer? Are they insane?
What's the point of registering lawful gun-owners anyway—so newspapers can print those names and addresses for gangs and criminals to access? You know that's happened before! So the list can be hacked by foreign enemies like the Chinese, who recently hacked Pentagon computers? So the list can be handed over to the Mexican government that, oh by the way, they've already requested that list from our government? In the end there are only two reasons for the government to create that list of registered gun owners: to tax them, or to take them.
We shouldn't track firearms sales because if we do, Chinese hackers will find out where all the guns are, and then...what, exactly? Go door-to-door in Northern Idaho to confiscate them? LaPierre, as is his wont, didn't get into specifics. The paranoia speaks for itself.
In 2012, scientist Peter Gleick leaked confidential documents from the climate-denying Heartland Institute. At CPAC, Heartland fights back with cotton t-shirts.
Walter Cunningham—a former Apollo astronaut and Marine fighter pilot who now gives talks about climate change for the conservative Heartland Institute—can only find one piece of evidence to support the view, held by 97 percent of climate scientists, that the Earth is getting warmer. He moves to the next slide on his Powerpoint presentation at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and the audience of about three dozen or so activists bursts into laughter.
It's a chart tracking the shrinking size of undergarments, from last century's long johns, to the 21st century's thongs.
Climate scientists, Cunningham suggests, are simply conflating correlation and causation—something he helpfully illustrates by charting rising global temperatures and the number of pirates worldwide. (They track pretty closely!) But his fellow panelists at Friday's breakout session, "The Right Climate Stuff," don't even go that far; Thomas Wysmuller, whose credentials include a degree in meteorology and a five-year internship at NASA, talks up icy winter temperatures in Moscow and Siberia as evidence the Earth isn't warming at all. Harold Doiron, a former rocket scientist who by his own admission has "only been a serious student of global warming for maybe two years," suggests we're making a big fuss about nothing.
"If sea level's rising, it's not a global problem," Doiron says. "It's not happening in the Rocky Mountains." (Sorry, Tuvalu.) Besides, he says, even if carbon dioxide were a problem, it's simply not in the United States' best interests to take action unilaterally—not when China is refusing to get on board. The reports that China is actually moving ahead with a carbon tax haven't made it to National Harbor, Maryland. Maybe they use Google Reader.
That none of the panelists critiquing climate science have any professional training in climate science isn't lost on the group. But lack of qualifications is itself a qualification at CPAC. Recommending another book that purports to debunk climate science, Doiror talks up the author thusly: "John is not a climatologist...He works in the semi-conductor industry." Doiron's own conclusions on the shortcoming of climate science rely on, in his words, "proven data analysis processes used in astronaut safety-critical situations."
Afterwards, I caught up with Cunningham, who was autographing his 17-page pamphlet, "Facts vs. Faith." Why, I asked, did he think so few climate scientists were willing to come on board with his arguments? He rejected the premise. "I don't think there's few climate scientists," Cunningham said. "I think only a few climate scientists have bought into this nonsense."
But on one thing, everyone seems to agree. "This is a controversy that should not be resolved in the court of public opinion or the political arena," Cunningham told his audience. Instead, it should be resolved in the scientific community. Wise words—although perhaps there's a better messenger than a retired astronaut at a political confab.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the so-called assault weapons ban on a party-line vote, paving the way for the full chamber to vote on the measure as early as next week. But not before Sen. Ted Cruz, the freshman Republican from Texas, aimed to give Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the five-term Democrat from California, a lesson about the Bill of Rights. He suggested that it was a slippery slope from banning bazookas to banning books. Feinstein was not impressed. Watch:
Here's the text of some of Feinstein's remarks:
Let me just make a couple points in response. One: I'm not a sixth-grader. Senator, I've been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in and I saw people shot. I've looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons. I've seen the bullets that implode. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered. Look, there were other weapons. I'm not a lawyer, but in 20 years I've been up close and personal to the Constitution. I have great respect for it. This doesn't mean that weapons of war—and the Heller decision clearly points out three exceptions, two of which are pertinent here—and so I, you know, it's fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know that I've been here for a long time. I've passed on a number of bills. I've studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well educated... Incidentally, this does not prohibit—you use the word "prohibit"—it exempts two thousand two hundred and seventy one weapons. Isn't that enough for the people of the United States? Do they need a bazooka?
New York businessman and public intellectual Donald Trump.
Once a year, conservatives from across the country gather in some manner of subterranean hotel ballroom or windowless conference center to talk about what matters most to them and why. It's called the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, and it's usually a complete and utter zoo; Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will be there, along with Rep. Paul Ryan and his former running-mate, Mitt Romney.
But CPAC isn't just a showcase for the party's brightest stars and biggest ideas; it also offers a close-up view of the underbelly of the conservative movement—the hacks and hucksters that helped lead Republicans astray in November in the first place. (Last year I found a booth dedicated to exposing the secret alliance between George Soros and Fox News.) Here are some of the panels and speeches at this year's conference that promise to entertain:
"Dick Morris, author and political commentator": Morris lost his gig as a Fox News commentator, with cause, after predicting that Mitt Romney would win the presidential election in a landslide. He also projected that Republicans would pick up as many as 13 seats in the Senate, including races in New York and Oregon. (Quick, name last year's Republican Senate candidate in Oregon!) Dave Weigel wasn't the only person to dismiss Morris as a "con artist." Naturally, he was slated to speak on Thursday morning.
"Benghazi and its aftermath: US Middle East and Southwest Asia policy," moderated by John Solomon: It's not entirely surprising that CPAC would devote an on-stage panel to what Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called "the worst tragedy since 9/11." But Solomon is most famous—or infamous—for his work as a journalist, ably chronicled here by Mariah Blake.
Wayne Allyn Root as a featured speaker: Here, I'll just quote from a 2012 article by the former Libertarian Party presidential nominee:
I am President Obama's classmate at Columbia University, Class of '83. I am also one of the most accurate Las Vegas oddsmakers and prognosticators. Accurate enough that I was awarded my own star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. And I smell something rotten in Denmark. Obama has a big skeleton in his closet. It’s his college records. Call it “gut instinct” but my gut is almost always right. Obama has a secret hidden at Columbia—and it's a bad one that threatens to bring down his presidency. Gut instinct is how I've made my living for 29 years since graduating Columbia...
If anyone should have questions about Obama's record at Columbia University, it's me. We both graduated (according to Obama) Columbia University, Class of '83. We were both (according to Obama) Pre-Law and Political Science majors. And I thought I knew most everyone at Columbia. I certainly thought I'd heard of all of my fellow Political Science majors. But not Obama (or as he was known then- Barry Soetoro). I never met him. Never saw him. Never even heard of him. And none of the classmates that I knew at Columbia have ever met him, saw him, or heard of him...
I can only think of one answer that would explain this mystery.
Here's my gut belief: Obama got a leg up by being admitted to both Occidental and Columbia as a foreign exchange student. He was raised as a young boy in Indonesia. But did his mother ever change him back to a U.S. citizen? When he returned to live with his grandparents in Hawaii or as he neared college-age preparing to apply to schools, did he ever change his citizenship back? I'm betting not.
"Should we shoot all the consultants now?," featuring Pat Caddell: Finally, a Democrat! Except it's Caddell, a former Jimmy Carter pollster who now plays the part of the Good Democrat on Fox News. In the run-up to the 2012 election, he repeatedly argued that President Obama should remove himself from the presidential race and be replaced by Hillary Clinton. We don't think Pat Caddell should be shot, but it'd be tough to find a consultant who offers worse advice.
"Stop THIS: Threats, Harassment, Intimidation, Slander, and Bullying from the Obama Administration," with Ben Shapiro: In which the Breitbart.com reporter behind the "Friends of Hamas" smear accuses someone else of slander.
Screening of Hillary the Movie: This 2008 film is something of a historic artifact, given its central role in the 2009 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. It's also totally nuts. Among other things, the movie alleges that the former First Lady murdered a cat.
"The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution," featuring Bill Norton of the National Center for Constitutional Studies: Come find out how the Founding Fathers were descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel!
Donald Trump, chairman and president of the Trump Organization: Trump, whose birther crusade made him a (short-lived) front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2011, was last seen all-but-endorsing liberal activist Ashley Judd for Senate in Kentucky. His entire political existence appears aimed at trolling us all:
We have a winner. On Wednesday, about an hour after white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was formally announced as the new head of the Catholic Church, replacing the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI.
So what does it mean for the Church? We have no idea—we don't write for the National Catholic Reporter. But John Allen Jr., who does, has a pretty useful quick guide to Bergoglio that is worth checking out. This part stood out:
Bergoglio is seen an unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, earning a public rebuke from Argentina's President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Bergoglio was considered a top candidate for the job the last time there was a conclave, in 2005, when he was subjected to this bit of last-minute research. Here's the Associated Press press reported it:
Just days before Roman Catholic cardinals begin meetings to select a new pope, a human rights lawyer filed a criminal complaint against an Argentine mentioned as a possible contender, accusing him of involvement in the 1976 kidnappings of two priests.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's spokesman on Saturday called the allegation "old slander."
The complaint filed in a Buenos Aires court Friday accused Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, of involvement in the kidnappings of two Jesuit priests by the military dictatorship, according to the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarin.
The bar for Worst Pope Ever is pretty high; here's hoping Pope Francis I comes nowhere near it.