The GOP preexisting condition – they voted to kill ACA before defending it

Cross-posted from SkyIslandScriber.com

Republicans think you are stupid. As part of your mental incapacity, the GOPlins are betting that you, and millions of other voters, have no memory of what the GOP candidates said just a couple of weeks ago. A case in point is “preexisting conditions.” The entire Republican party repeatedly voted against the ACA (aka Obamacare) which has as a major feature protection for those with preexisting conditions. But the Republicans, notably the president and leaders of both House and Senate, vowed to kill ACA and thereby remove such protection. Closer to home, AZ CD2 Rep. Martha “Get this fucking thing done” McSally jumped on that bandwagon and repeatedly voted to kill ACA. Now, however, it is apparent that the public really likes ACA and wants its protection for those with preexisting conditions. Of course, you know what’s happening next. The Republicans, including McSally, are for such protection. Big time. Why the change? That’s the topic of this post.

I begin with various commentaries. But if you are strapped for time this morning, skip to the end and view the Rachel Maddow video from last night. It features our own Martha McSally flipping, flopping, and floundering on camera about the disconnect between her votes to kill ACA (and its provision for preexisting conditions) and now her claim to be its grand protector.

This morning 538 asks Are Republicans Losing The Health Care Debate? It looks like it. They’ve done a 180 on protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

This week President Trump tweeted that Republicans would “totally protect” health insurance coverage for the millions of Americans who have pre-existing medical conditions (while Democrats would not, he said) and encouraged people to “Vote Republican.” If this sounds like a bizarre 180-degree turn for Trump and his administration, that’s because it is.

Earlier this year, the administration supported a lawsuit that asks the courts to throw out key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, arguing that the individual mandate and protections for pre-existing medical conditions were unconstitutional. What’s more, Republicans have long campaigned on the promise to repeal the ACA and tried to “repeal and replace” it for much of the summer of 2017.

“The ground has shifted under Republicans and now they’re trying to catch up with this,” said Simon Haeder, a professor at West Virginia University. Haeder said the GOP may be trying to change its tune on ensuring coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions because the position is now so widely accepted. “A decade ago or so, we had no protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” said Haeder. “And we got those with the ACA, and now they’re so accepted by everyone that Republicans feel compelled to acknowledge they want to support people with pre-existing conditions, despite what they’ve told us for the last eight years.”

But unfortunately for Trump and the Republican party, Democrats seem to be winning the health care public opinion battle: 53 percent of Americans said they trust Democrats to do a better job with health care than Republicans in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Just 35 percent of respondents said they trusted Republicans over Democrats. Similarly, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Americans were more likely to trust Democrats over Republicans on specific health care issues like continuing protections for pre-existing medical conditions and reducing health care costs. Even independents have gotten behind Democrats: 60 percent placed their faith in Democrats to protect pre-existing conditions (compared to 19 percent who trusted Republicans) in the Kaiser poll.

Americans have also come to feel more positively toward the the ACA in the last year. Forty-nine percent of U.S adults view the ACA favorably in the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, compared to 42 percent who view it unfavorably. The popularity of the ACA even reached an all-time high in February of this year, with 54 percent of Americans approving of it according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

With just two weeks to go until the midterms, both Democrats and Republicans are doubling down on health care as a critical campaign issue. We reached out to experts to see if they thought it was a smart move for Republicans to try to shift the narrative on pre-existing medical conditions, but the experts we spoke to said Republicans were too far behind on the issue to gain much ground. They were also unsure if this might actually hurt Republicans at the polls. After all, health care isn’t the top issue for every voter.

Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard, told FiveThirtyEight that the best political strategy for Republicans is to “try to not talk about health care.” But Democrats have made health care a core campaign issue, running deeply personal and emotional ads, and Blendon said that has ultimately forced Republicans to respond. “If you’re there and the ads are running and you’re in a forum with a Democratic candidate accusing you, you have to say something. The old argument — ‘We’ll just get rid of it and start over’ — is a total nonstarter.”

In the short term, Republicans’ strategy of supporting protections for people with pre-existing conditions may help reassure some independent voters who were already planning to cast their vote for the GOP, but the experts we spoke with said it’s not likely to sway other voters. And in the long term, experts said today’s positions will make it tougher for Republicans to repeal the ACA, putting them in a difficult legislative position going forward.

Whether Republicans will suffer electoral losses as a result is unclear. But, Eric Patashnik, a public policy professor at Brown University, said in an email that “it is already clear that Republicans have made it even harder for their party to govern if they manage to retain control of both chambers and take another stab at dismantling Obamacare.”

See? The GOPlins are losing their bet against you and your memory.

Katrina vanden Heuvel writing in the Washington Post (and The Nation) hopes that Voters must catch on to Republicans’ con on health care.

And it seems that they are.

… [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell is getting criticized for handing Democrats a campaign issue, but this has been Republican gospel for years. …

McConnell’s heresy was to mention his plans a few weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm elections. As committed as Republicans are to cutting Social Security and Medicare, they are even more rabid about not admitting that in election campaigns. More than a dozen vulnerable Republicans scrubbed their websites to omit any mention of their pledge or vote to repeal Obamacare. This year, emulating Trump’s penchant for the big lie, many have been even more brazen — cross-dressing as Medicare’s defenders against Democrats who favor moving to a Medicare-for-all program. Trump himself weighed in with a characteristically dishonest opinion piece in USA Today, arguing that Democrats would “eviscerate Medicare.”

For the first time, however, Americans might be catching on to the shuck. Health care emerged as a leading issue this year, even before McConnell made his comments. Democrats are on the attack against Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare, deprive millions of health insurance and end coverage of those with preexisting conditions. The Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks paid advertising by candidates, super PACs and party committees, reported that from Sept. 18 to Oct. 15, almost half of the ads in federal races mentioned health care, including nearly 55 percent of pro-Democratic ads.

A Morning Consult-Politico poll taken Oct. 11–14 reports that among voters who prioritize senior issues such as Social Security and Medicare, Democrats enjoy a 19-point advantage (52–33) over Republicans. Seventeen percent of the voters reported these issues were their leading concern. In recent years, seniors have been the most conservative voting cohort, while having the highest turnout. Republicans won the senior vote convincingly in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Trump won 53 percent of the senior vote in 2016. If these concerns dent the Republican margin among seniors, a blue wave would be virtually assured.

And Paul Waldman, also in the Post, boldly declared that Obamacare has finally won.

It’s happening on multiple fronts. First, polls over the past year or so have shown the law to be consistently popular — more so than, for instance, the tax cut Republicans thought would be the key to a midterm election victory. When even Fox News polls show the law getting more support than ever, the world is obviously not as Republicans would like it to be.

Second, instead of demanding that the ACA be torn from its foundations and set ablaze, the public seems more inclined to entrench its protections and expand its coverage. As the Associated Press reports, in the four conservative states where voters got initiatives on the ballot to accept the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and insure thousands more people, the conservative lawmakers who refused to do so for years have been shocked by the popularity of the measures, with polls showing them with a good likelihood of winning …

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising after the backlash they experienced when they tried to repeal the ACA last year and it became apparent how popular Medicaid is. In the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, by a margin of 56 percent to 37 percent, voters in states that did not accept the expansion of Medicaid — conservative states all — now say they support expansion.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that the ACA’s guarantee of coverage for people with preexisting conditions has suddenly become the hottest issue in the midterm elections, so much so that one Republican candidate after another is airing ads proclaiming his fervent commitment to maintaining those protections — the very protections Republicans have been trying to destroy with repeal efforts and lawsuits aimed at getting the law struck down. You can find few better signs of the political success of a law than when the people who fought against it and are still trying to destroy it rush to assure voters that in fact they dearly love what it does.

And every time another Republican airs an ad claiming that he wants to mandate protections for preexisting conditions, he only reinforces one of the ideas that drove the creation of the ACA in the first place: that it’s the responsibility of government to ensure that every American has secure health coverage.

This is a story in itself. Remember the Trumpian formula for governance? For a given agency X, appoint as its leader someone Anti-X.

Just to be clear, none of this means that the ACA is safe. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that if Republicans have the votes next year, they will try again to repeal the law. The Trump administration is encouraging states to add work requirements to Medicaid, the purpose of which is simply to force recipients to navigate a bureaucratic maze so that the state can find a justification to kick them off their health coverage. To be in charge of the Medicaid program, Trump just appointed Mary Mayhew, a former aide to America’s worst governor, Paul LePage of Maine, who refused to accept the expansion even after his state’s voters passed an initiative requiring him to do so; her mission seems to be to destroy Medicaid from the inside.

Regardless, the popularity of ACA might well shield us against such attempts at bad governance. Waldman concludes “Once people started seeing the benefits of the ACA, it did indeed become more popular. It still has problems and leaves gaps, and Democrats are becoming united around the idea of moving past it to go all the way to universal coverage. But it’s looking increasingly unlikely that we will revert to the unspeakably cruel health insurance system we had before the ACA took effect. Even if that’s what Republicans would still prefer.”

Lastly, you should set aside 10 minutes or so and view this segment from the Rachel Maddow show last night (Thursday, Oct. 25th). The clip is embedded below but if you have trouble viewing it, here is the link.

http://player.theplatform.com/p/7wvmTC/MSNBCEmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_maddow_a2mcsally_181025

The dozen things Susan Collins did not say should motivate female voters

Cross posted from SkyIslandScriber.com

There were few surprises yesterday on the Senate floor as the senators delivered speeches about why they did or did not favor the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. The notable actions were from the supposedly undecided senators who announced how they will vote: Collins (yes), Flake (yes), Heitkamp (no), Manchin (yes), Murkowsky (no).

Susan Collins (R, Maine) took the podium at noon yesterday to defend her decision. I watched the full, hour-long presentation. I won’t (can’t, really) trouble you with her detailed defense of Kavanaugh’s judicial record, her condemnation of the confirmation process, her indictment of Kavanaugh’s opponents, her casting of doubt on Ford’s naming of Kavanaugh as Ford’s abuser. It was a bit hard not to be impressed with her defense of the presumption of innocence. However, what really grabbed me was what she did not say.

She did not talk about the dozens of potential witnesses ignored by the FBI in the reopened background check.

She did not talk about the apparent interference by the White House with that investigation.

She did not talk about the 90% of the Kavanaugh documents that were withheld from the Senators.

She did not reference the now over 2400 law professors who were united in their condemnation of the horrific rant by Kavanaugh.

She did not reference an additional letter signed by 900 female law professors.

She did not reference the announced opposition by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

She did not cite the American Bar Association’s concerns about Kavanaugh.

She did not mention the (rare) opposing announcement by the National Council of Churches.

She did not cite the studied editorial positions of America’s two major newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

She did not refer to the dishonesties attributed to Kavanaugh’s previous appearances before the Senate.

She did not take note of Kavanaugh’s deranged rant in which he blamed Democrats and the Clintons for the opposition to his confirmation. He stopped just short of “Lock her up!”

And, particularly galling to me: after citing the over 90% concurrence between voting patterns of Kavanaugh and Merrick Garland, she did not admit to how the Senate Republicans denied a chance for the nominee of a sitting president to be heard let alone voted upon for over a year. In ignoring McConnell’s role in that cheat, as one columnist called it, she let stand the underlying hypocrisy of this rushed Republican circus.

You can read about the details in the post this morning by the AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona who wrote Despite massive opposition, Republicans are set to confirm the most unpopular judicial nominee in American history.

David Fitzsimmons, editorial cartoonist and columnist at the Daily Star, will have the last words for now as he says I believe Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh told the truth.

If you are a woman, on the way to getting even, you should be seriously mad. Because, Fitz says, you know that “if a woman acted like Kavanaugh did, she would have been dismissed as a hysterical, raging bitch. If a black man acted like Kavanaugh, he would have been cuffed and searched. Any Latino who dared to act like Kavanaugh would have been put on a plane to Mexico yesterday.”

“It’s good be a preppy, Brett”, observes Fitz.

And there is one more thing Collins did not say. That’s the indelible memory that Christine Ford will carry to the grave, the memory of two drunk preppies having a laugh at her expense. Fitz again:

… the king and all the king’s men had best know that in 2018, Hell hath no fury like a woman voter scorned by her prehistoric senators. This election year, indelible in the female voter’s hippocampus as she contemplates her vote, will be the laughter. The uproarious laughter between you, Mister President, and your fans at that rally, having fun at the expense of a sexual assault victim.

If you are woman, please, please let me watch you vote.

An open letter to Sen. Jeff Flake

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Following is a letter to the editor from your Scriber appearing in the Green Valley News this morning titled Kavanaugh vote.

An open letter to Sen. Jeff Flake.

At the end of Bertolt Brecht’s play, Galileo tells his former student “The practice of science would seem to call for valor.” I add, “The practice of responsible politics would seem to call for valor.”

Shortly you will be asked to cast a vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court. What you do might well take valor. Everything you detest about President Trump exists as a microcosm that played out in the confirmation hearings. The record shows Kavanaugh being less than honest in previous appearances before the Senate. The record this year shows Kavanaugh being evasive and not answering questions put by the senators. In the past, you have spoken out forcefully on your displeasure with the president. Trump most recently has tried to use the Justice Department against his political opponents. And now Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh appears to be a ploy to protect himself from his legal entanglements. You need to talk about the connection between Trump and Kavanaugh, but you need to do more. You need to vote against that confirmation. Your integrity and credibility are at stake.

In the Rogue Theatre director’s notes, we are told: “Like the courtiers surrounding Prince Cosimo de Medici who refuse to look through Galileo’s telescope, we refuse to learn the truth because it might upset our ideas about the way things are.” You, sir, are not a courtier and Donald Trump is not a king. You are a United States senator and as such you should demand and get honesty and forthrightness from those who testify before the Senate.

I hope you will behave with valor and vote against this confirmation. I ask this of you in the name of the citizens of the United States of America to whom you owe the truth.

Bill Maki, Green Valley

BTW: I highly recommend the Rogue Theatre version of the play, Galileo.

The most important vote you ever cast

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona reminds us that Reality Calls: Kyrsten Sinema May Be the Most Important Vote You Ever Cast. Here it is in full.

I was hoping a miracle would save me from writing this post.

I so wanted Deedra Abboud to pull off a stunning upset, even though I knew it couldn’t happen.

But reality has arrived. Kyrsten Sinema is the nominee for U.S. Senate of the Democratic Party.

And as soon as I receive my ballot in the mail in October, I’ll be connecting that broken bar next to her name. It’ll be painful. I’ll undoubtedly throw up a little in the back of my mouth as I do it. But there will be no hesitation on my part. Sanity demands no less.

And if you want to maximize our chance of avoiding disaster, you’ll be joining me.

I will do this with no delusions about how Sinema will vote. I know each vote she casts will be an exercise in abject cynicism, with the sole consideration being how it impacts her own political future, principle be damned. I know she’ll vote to repeal the estate tax on billionaires and to let Wall Street thieves run wild. I get that.

But it’s not about how she will vote; it’s about who she’ll caucus with and about avoiding the alternative, Martha McSally. Whatever the possibilities are to wrest control of the Senate from Mitch McConnell, we need to maximize them. If that chance is a mere one percent, we need to pull for it. If it’s 99 percent, we need to make certain there is no surprise. And as tragically flawed as Sinema is, McSally, who repeatedly pledges fealty to Trump, is a thousand times worse. Yeah, I know, the lesser of two evils is still evil. But when choosing between a shoplifter and an axe murderer, choose the shoplifter. It’ll be a choice you can live with.

For Arizona progressives who resent the condescension of establishment hacks stupidly blaming you for Hillary Clinton’s loss, when any moron could figure out that the election was lost in the rust belt, I feel your pain. But the election isn’t about those establishment hacks, no matter how much their condescension tempts you to lash out and vote Green or stay home. This is not 2016. This time, Arizona is the epicenter. Sinema’s success in November is crucial. Arizona very well could decide the balance of political power in the U.S. Senate.

And there is nothing remotely as important as constraining the power of Donald Trump. Nothing.

So, when you receive your ballot, get it over with right away, lest you not give in to the temptation to send a message, or forget to vote early, then get whacked with some emergency on Election Day.

And if you wake up feeling a bit cheapened on November 7th, you can find redemption by gearing up for the 2024 primary. It’ll be here before you know it.

Scriber weighs in: If you stay home, you get McSally. If you vote Green or Libertarian, you get McSally. You can continue to be a progressive, but you need to get practical. She “who repeatedly pledges fealty to Trump, is a thousand times worse” than Sinema. Here are some samples of what I’ve posted in the recent past.

From my May 21, ,2018 post: In Election 2018 ‘The Democrats are coming.’ But which ones and how Democratic? I reviewed the reasons for thinking badly of Sinema, concluding:

So, do with this what you will. But remember 167. That’s the number of Democrats who were angered by some of then Rep. Ron Barber’s votes who stayed home in 2014 and thereby were complicit in getting McSally the CD2 seat. Which she kept in 2016. And which may now be her path to the Senate. And then the Presidency.

If you don’t like Sinema for Senate (and there are good reasons why you should not), what are you going to do come November? Are you (oh, hell, we) willing to accept McSally or Kelli Ward or Joe Arpaio over Sinema?

From my June 13, 2018 post: Research report – Krysten Sinema’s votes reveal progressive values.

For Sinema’s record in the U. S. House, I used 538’s Tracking Congress In The Age Of Trump. An updating tally of how often every member of the House and the Senate votes with or against the president. One measure is “how often a member votes in line with Trump’s position.” Sinema scores 57.3% and is the third highest Democrat in the House in voting with Trump.

However, that percentage is misleading. Here is why. The percentage includes lots of bills that provide stop-gap funding to keep the government running or that deal with other budgetary matters. Votes for these kinds of routine bills will tend to inflate the percentage score – assuming we all want to keep our government running. (Disclosure: I’ve used that percentage score to criticize other candidates before. Now I have to reevaluate that practice.)

Instead of using the overall percentage we need to look at votes on legislation that matter to progressives, for example, denying funding for Planned Parenthood, punishing sanctuary cities, increasing the availability of guns, repeal of Dodd-Frank, and repeal of regulations that provide for clean air and water. I pulled the records for 33 such bills from January 1, 2017 to present. I counted the number of instances in which Sinema voted against legislation supported by Trump. Her score was 85% opposed to Trump’s position.

You might ask how good is that score. To establish bounds on that measure I used the same method to compute the progressive scores for Raul Grijalva (AZ CD 3) and Martha McSally (AZ CD2). Grijalva scored a perfect 100% opposed to Trump’s positions and McSally, voting almost entirely with Trump on everything, scored 3%. (By the way, Trump’s score on the same measure was a perfect 0%.)

At the time of this writing, it appears that a likely match-up for the AZ U. S. Senate seat will be between Sinema and McSally. When it comes to deciding on how to vote, if you want ideological purity, you could point to the difference between Sinema and Grijalva (100% – 85% = 15%) and stay home. But if you want to flip that seat held by Republican Jeff Flake to a Democrat, you should focus on the difference between Sinema’s progressive score vs. that of McSally (85% – 3% = 82%) and Get Out to Vote.

CALL FOR ACTION – protest family separation policy to your Reps and Senators NOW

Cross-posted from SkyIslandScriber.com

In the Daily Star this morning, Isabel Garcia (former director of the Pima County Legal Defender) and Dino DeConcini (former Tucson City attorney) call for action in We must speak out against immigrant family separation. The full article is reprinted here – along with Fitz’s take on the “zero tolerance” of King Donald the Cruel.

Trump the Cruel
Children detention centers in America?
Or Hitlerian concentration camps?

On May 7, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session announced that the Department of Homeland Security would refer 100 percent of illegal border crossers for prosecution, including parents with children. On May 14, six Tucson Operation Streamline lawyers arrived at the DeConcini Federal Courthouse to meet with their assigned immigrant clients and encountered frantic parents who did not know where their children had been taken.

No one knew the location of the children or how to help the parents. The Streamline lawyers were shocked. The immigrant parents had been arrested by Border Patrol, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, and were being prosecuted by the U.S Department of Justice. Their children had been taken into the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of another giant federal agency. ORR contracts with numerous organizations for child placements all over the country. Where did Lupe’s son get taken? Where was Oscar’s daughter? Lawyers and other advocates scrambled to find out.

Immigrant parent/child separation has sharply increased all along the U.S.-Mexico border, impacting mostly brown and black Latino families. The American Immigration Council reported that 638 parents were separated from 658 children during prosecution for illegal entry during a 13-day period in May.

In Tucson’s Streamline court, frightened parents ask their lawyers to find out how they can be reunited with their child at the time of deportation. There are few answers.

The Houston Chronicle reported that coordination between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and ORR is rare or nonexistent. A parent convicted of illegal entry may get time served and be deported in a few days, or may be incarcerated for several months, depending on the charges. The children are held in shelters or other child welfare settings for weeks or months, which is undoubtedly traumatizing. It is difficult for detained parents to locate their children, and almost impossible to arrange for a coordinated deportation. Thus, parents may be returned to their home country alone, without knowing where their children are or how to get them back.

The ramped-up child separation is also creating a strain on existing resources. In mid-May, numerous media reported that the Trump administration is considering using military bases to expand the nation’s capacity for immigrant child custody.

Many of the parents affected by child separation are fleeing persecution and violence in Central America. The U.S. is bound by its own law and international treaties to allow these families to pursue asylum claims without punishment or deportation. Yet we are subjecting them to both. President Trump denounces gang violence in Central America but won’t protect the very people who are brave enough to risk everything to resist and escape.

This can no longer be ignored. Where are our community, political and religious leaders, the ministers, rectors, bishops, rabbis, imams, and especially the evangelical leaders with close ties to this administration? This is our government, seizing children and holding them hostage, purportedly in order to teach their parents a lesson — a grave moral and human-rights violation.

Please call your members of Congress and ask them to take steps to ensure that the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice immediately cease prosecuting parents entering the U.S. with children and cease separating children from their parents.

Contact your representative

Sen. Jeff Flake: 520–575–8633

Sen. John McCain: 520–670–6334

Rep. Raúl Grijalva: 520–622–6788

Rep. Martha McSally: 520–881–3588

White House Press Corps Hosted Michelle Wolf’s Saturday Night Massacre

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

This last weekend the nation witnessed a Saturday Night Massacre – just not of the Nixonian sort that we usually think of. I’m also not referring to Trump’s public display in Michigan that same night that informed us once again of what a truly awful person as President he is. I am, of course, referring to comedian Michelle Wolf taking a very sharp ax to Trump, members of his administration, and the mainstream media. Wolf’s barbs were not uniformly appreciated and she’s come under attack by those she wounded. For me, some of her punch lines flopped and some triggered a mental “ouch”. But all the rest were spot on.

Michelle Wolf
Michelle Wolf who addressed the WH press corps

So what’s the flap about? Vox.com has the answer for you in its transcript, Wonder what Michelle Wolf said to make everyone so mad? Read it here. Hint: “What would I do without Megyn Kelly? Probably be more proud of women.” But before she even got close to that …

Here we are the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Like a porn star says when she’s about to have sex with a Trump, “Let’s get this over with.” Yep, kiddos this is who you’re getting tonight.

… I know as much as some of you might want me to, it’s 2018 and I am a woman so you cannot shut me up — unless you have Michael Cohen wire me $130,000.

Thanks to Trump, pink yarn sales are through the roof. After Trump got elected, women started knitting those pussy hats. When I first saw them I was like, “That’s a pussy?” I guess mine just has a lot more yarn on it. Yeah. You should have done more research before you got me to do this.

Yeah. I suspect that whoever invited Wolf to do that gig was cringing.

Press corps dinner
Attendance at the WH press corps dinner

Members of the Trump administration walked out when she made those early remarks. Sarah Suckerbee Handers earned kudos from some in the media for her poise under fire. For example:

Maggie Haberman
@maggieNYT
That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive

Nonsense! She was ordered to fill in for the AWOL president and sit at the head table. What was she going to do? March off and prove to the world that Trump and his minions have skins as thick as that of an onion? F-’em if they can’t take a joke. (I’ll come back to this tweet in a moment.)

For me, though, one of the iconic scenes was the view of the Washington Hilton ballroom and the crowd of thousands – thousands! The WH press corps is just not that big. Watch one of Suckerbee Handers’ noon-time pressers and guesstimate the number of journalists in the room. You will see what I mean. So who are those people? At least in part, to quote from Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

For Sure Not Tom elaborates in response to a post from today’s Blog for Arizona.

Here’s why the MSM is sad. Wolf rightly calls them out on their BS.

“There’s a ton of news right now; a lot is going on, and we have all these 24-hour news networks, and we could be covering everything. But, instead, we’re covering like three topics. Every hour, it’s Trump, Russia, Hillary and a panel of four people who remind you why you don’t go home for Thanksgiving…

…You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you.

He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him. And if you’re gonna profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money because he doesn’t have any.”

So the answer is that those in attendance are those who profit from media attention – politicians, corporate execs, lobbyists, all of whom are chummy with each each other and with the reporters who should be seriously worried about the clubbiness of this event.

Yes, Wolf was hard on journalists, but she was right. Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona pens An Open Letter to Michelle Wolf.

I’m one of the millions you inspired with your performance Saturday night.

Whatever you do, please, please, don’t surrender to the attacks. Don’t apologize.

The line drawing the fire, as you know, is your brilliant and courageous comparison of Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Aunt Lydia in the Handmaid’s Tale.

No surprise. The attacks on you are not about impropriety or stepping over the line or being mean. They are about truth spoken to power in a way that, for those in power, was alarmingly dead on. After all, what is Sarah Huckabee Sanders if not a high-level functionary for a corrupt regime, just like Aunt Lydia.

You exposed Sanders as a modern-day brown shirt, just as Colbert once exposed the ineptitude of the Bush administration and Larry Wilmore exposed the brutality of Obama’s drone bombing. On each occasion, the room fell silent. Ugly truth wrapped in humor can be unsettling.

So, when pressed to apologize, respond by saying that you’ll apologize as soon as Sarah Huckabee Sanders apologizes to Jim Comey, Hillary Clinton, and countless others she has smeared at the behest of the wannabe tyrant to whose black hole she has so willingly, eagerly and treacherously hitched her wagon.

Along the same lines, illustrating my unease with the attendance Saturday night, Molly Roberts wrote in the Washington Post about how Michelle Wolf got it just right.

Wolf, according to the commentariat, violated a sacred standard of decency that defines the correspondents’ dinner every year. The comedian should roast people, yes, but she should do it at a suitably low temperature for this town’s all-too-tender egos. Wolf broke protocol by turning on the broiler. Yet the figures she scorched have shattered norms that are far more important than an unspoken prohibition on vagina jokes.

The correspondents’ dinner supposedly celebrates the rapport that journalists have with the people they cover. This three-course fete of access journalism has always made some skeptics queasy, but after the Trump administration’s active attempts to undermine every organization in the room Saturday that doesn’t treat the president as an unassailable dear leader, it’s hard to pretend that the fourth estate and its subjects can carry on a relationship that’s adversarial and respectful all at once.

That persistent chumminess is why Wolf’s performance, in the end, wasn’t really for the press. It was about us. “You guys love breaking news, and you did it,” Wolf said to CNN. “You broke it.” To everyone else, she said: “You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him.” Instead of listening — to that or to Wolf’s final line, “Flint still doesn’t have clean water” — we got grumpy on Twitter. Which means Wolf did a better job of defending the First Amendment than those who say that’s our business.

Also in the Post, Jonathan Capehart advises readers critical of Wolf to Shut up about Michelle Wolf if you’ve been silent on Trump’s offenses.

As happens after every White House Correspondents’ Association dinner (a.k.a. Nerd Prom), the question is “What did you think?” What did you think of the comedian hired to skewer the president, the press corps and the political class gathered in the Washington Hilton for a dinner that raises money for scholarships, awards and other things done by the WHCA? The query takes on an added urgency when the comedian crosses a line that offends the glittering precious souls in the ballroom.

Michelle Wolf, the former correspondent and writer for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” whose eponymous special HBO cemented her on the comedic map, didn’t just cross the line. She blithely blew past it like a bank robber through a red light — after plowing through a cement-truck barricade. I’m no shrinking violet. I love a well-executed salty joke wrapped in blue. But Wolf even had me agape and clutching my pearls.

She was a riot!

Like her predecessors, Wolf went after members of the press, the Democratic Party and Trump administration officials. No one was spared. Trump wasn’t there for a second year in a row, which didn’t stop Wolf from taking him down a peg (times infinite). And it didn’t stop Wolf from tearing into the person sitting at the dais in the president’s stead: Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The press secretary doesn’t engender empathy, what with her complicated relationship with truth and a demeanor at the podium that is a mix of rushed annoyance and condescension. Yet I couldn’t help feel a twinge of OMG as Wolf mercilessly ridiculed Sanders seated just feet away. It was as comfortable as when a comic uses a member of the audience as a punchline punching bag. But that feeling was fleeting. Wolf’s eye-popping routine was simply a comedic reflection of Trump, whose presidential library will overflow with coarse, rude, ugly and personal attacks. It probably won’t mention other things like, oh, being embroiled in a scandal involving hush-money for a porn star that was paid by his personal lawyer who was raided by federal investigators. Trump, his staff and Cabinet emulate his rhetorical disregard for the norms, customs and respect we expect from the presidency.

The criticism of Wolf by Republicans, the press and the public was inevitable. Comes with the job, and some of it I agree with. What makes it galling is that those screaming the loudest about Wolf are mute when it comes to Trump. The former is a comedian hired to tell jokes at a dinner where jokes are traditionally told. The latter is the president of the United States. His words, even the jokes, carry weight. They have real consequences and affect real lives. But we’ve become so used to the garbage that sloshes from his Twitter feed and his presidency that we have grown numb to how it sluices over our collective national psyche.

So, until some of this righteous indignation and moral outrage at Wolf is directed at Trump for his inattention to the Flint water crisis and the devastation in Puerto Rico; his silence on the heroism of James Shaw Jr. and the demands for gun control; his disrespect for the rule of law and his inability to effectively govern without striking fear in the hearts of American families, folks need to shut up about Michelle Wolf.

In the end, we must realize that the flap over Wolf’s routine is not about Wolf at all. It’s about Trump, his character (or lack thereof), his shredding of our norms, his destruction of our government, his behaviors that violate the religious principles of those who forgive him all that.

So take your pick. In this corner is Michelle Wolf. In the other corner is Donald Trump who spent the evening of the press corps dinner doing more damage to the country. Politico.com reported that Trump vilifies ‘dishonest’ press at Michigan rally. As the White House press corps celebrates at an annual dinner in Washington, the president again demonizes the media at a rally in Middle America.

In which corner would you prefer to be?

Supreme Court rules Trump’s war on the free press unconstitutional – in 1971.

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com.

Our President, Donald Trump, sworn to uphold the constitution, once again, last night, attacked the free press, calling journalists “dishonest” and accusing them of promoting “fake news”. His red meat crowd howled their pleasure as he pointed to the journalists present.

Sometimes it is worth taking a deep breath and contemplating what this is about. I’ve got two sets of quotes to remind us of the stakes here. One is an example of the press reports of Trump’s comments rant from Politico.com. The second is from a 1971 Supreme Court ruling affirming the supremacy of the First Amendment to our Constitution.

Trump’s attack on our free press: “very dishonest people”

Politico reports that Trump vilifies ‘dishonest’ press at Michigan rally. As the White House press corps celebrates at an annual dinner in Washington, the president again demonizes the media at a rally in Middle America.

For the second consecutive year, President Donald Trump vilified the American press at a campaign-style rally orchestrated to effectively counter-program an annual dinner in Washington, D.C., celebrating the work of White House journalists.

“These are very dishonest people, many of them. They are very, very dishonest people,” Trump said at a boisterous event in Washington, Mich., speaking in front of a blue banner emblazoned with the president’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

“Fake news. Very dishonest,” he added. …

Why it matters

Yesterday, before Trump’s rant, the Scribers watched the movie “The Post”. The film reminds us of what the First Amendment is supposed to do. At issue was the publication of The Pentagon Papers by the New York Times and the Washington Post. The two publications asserted their freedom to publish under the First Amendment. The Nixon administration and its lawyers argued that national security interests constrained that freedom. The case went to the US Supreme Court which, rather quickly, decided the case in favor of the newspapers. The announcement of that decision, in the film, was abbreviated so I went looking for the text of the decision. More or less arbitrarily I picked up the text from justia.com. Here are excerpts.

U.S. Supreme Court

New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)

New York Times Co. v. United States

No. 1873

Argued June 26, 1971

Decided June 30, 1971*

403 U.S. 713

The United States, which brought these actions to enjoin publication in the New York Times and in the Washington Post of certain classified material, has not met the “heavy burden of showing justification for the enforcement of such a [prior] restraint.”

But the majority thinking, expessed by Justices Black and Douglas, in the 6–3 decision is powerful.

Our Government was launched in 1789 with the adoption of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, followed in 1791. Now, for the first time in the 182 years since the founding of the Republic, the federal courts are asked to hold that the First Amendment does not mean what it says, but rather means that the Government can halt the publication of current news of vital importance to the people of this country.

In seeking injunctions against these newspapers, and in its presentation to the Court, the Executive Branch seems to have forgotten the essential purpose and history of the First Amendment. When the Constitution was adopted, many people strongly opposed it because the document contained no Bill of Rights to safeguard certain basic freedoms. [Footnote 1] They especially feared that the new powers granted to a central government might be interpreted to permit the government to curtail freedom of religion, press, assembly, and speech. In response to an overwhelming public clamor, James Madison offered a series of amendments to satisfy citizens that these great liberties would remain safe and beyond the power of government to abridge. Madison proposed what later became the First Amendment in three parts, two of which are set out below, and one of which proclaimed:

“The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments, and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable. …”

In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.

… the Government argues in its brief that, in spite of the First Amendment,

“[t]he authority of the Executive Department to protect the nation against publication of information whose disclosure would endanger the national security stems from two interrelated sources: the constitutional power of the President over the conduct of foreign affairs and his authority as Commander-in-Chief. …”

In other words, we are asked to hold that, despite the First Amendment’s emphatic command, the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary can make laws enjoining publication of current news and abridging freedom of the press in the name of “national security.” The Government does not even attempt to rely on any act of Congress. Instead, it makes the bold and dangerously far-reaching contention that the courts should take it upon themselves to “make” a law abridging freedom of the press in the name of equity, presidential power and national security, even when the representatives of the people in Congress have adhered to the command of the First Amendment and refused to make such a law.

… To find that the President has “inherent power” to halt the publication of news by resort to the courts would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make “secure.” No one can read the history of the adoption of the First Amendment without being convinced beyond any doubt that it was injunctions like those sought here that Madison and his collaborators intended to outlaw in this Nation for all time.

The Court’s decision is just as relevant today as it was decades ago – and I assert even more so. We have now a President at war with most of our institutions, including the press. He is backed by a majority of both chambers of Congress, a “conservative” majority on the Supreme Court, and a vocal minority of the populace. These are exactly those conditions foreseen by the Founding Fathers. The free press, protected under the First Amendment, is the ultimate check on governmental power over the governed. Members of the press are not “dishonest”. They do not dispense “fake news”. Rather, they are doing their constitutionally mandated job of serving as a check on executive and legislative excess. Trump’s rhetoric and actions amount to “injunctions like those … that Madison and his collaborators intended to outlaw in this Nation for all time.”

Ducey’s Lament: "we’re not last" when it comes to teacher salaries. He has the means to make it so with more tax cuts.

Teachers protest salaries
Teachers march for higher pay

Cross posted from skyislandscriber.com

Howard Fischer reports in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) that Gov. Doug Ducey rejects teachers’ demand for 20 percent pay hike. Governor also won’t reverse tax cuts. (Fischer’s report also appeared in the Daily Star.)

Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday that teachers aren’t going to get the 20 percent pay hike they are demanding – not now and not in the foreseeable future.

And he intends to continue proposing further cuts in state taxes even as teachers say that, without substantially more money, they may have no choice but to strike.

Speaking to reporters a day after a rally brought more than 2,000 teachers and supporters to the Capitol, the governor rejected the demand they laid out. Ducey said he’s doing the best he can.

Rubbish. What Ducey meant by that last statement is that “he’s doing the best he will.” After you discount Ducey’s inflated claims about what a good education guy he is:

What that leaves is the 1 percent pay increase that lawmakers gave teachers for the current school year – more than the 0.4 percent that Ducey had actually sought – and the governor’s promise of an additional 1 percent hike for the coming school year.

And the new money still leaves Arizona teacher pay close to the bottom of the barrel nationally.

Ducey disputed figures from the Morrison Institute that put salaries for elementary school teachers dead last when considering the cost of living, with high school teachers at No. 49. Instead, he insists, Arizona is just No. 43rd in the nation.

“I’m not bragging on 43rd,” the governor said. “I’m just saying we’re not last.”

It sounds to me like this is _Ducey’s Lament_: “we’re not last.” The thing is, he has the means to make it so and, as Fischer reports, he is hell bent on getting us back to last.

But the governor is not backing away from his pledge not only to never increase taxes but also in refusing to reverse any of the hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax cuts that have kicked in since taking office. Each $100 million that was lost would translate to a 3 percent pay hike for teachers.

Perhaps more galling to teachers is Ducey’s insistence that lawmakers approve yet another tax cut this year, albeit a much smaller one that eventually would reduce state revenues by another $15 million a year.

The governor’s comments, coming on the heels of that rally, discouraged Arizona Educators United organizer Noah Karvelis.

“He’s going to continue to ignore and neglect us,” he said.

Karvelis isn’t buying Ducey’s argument that the state can improve its economy by continuing to shave off sources of revenue.

“Every single one of those tax cuts has come with the promise it’s going to inject capital and dollars into our economy,” he said. “That hasn’t happened. That’s a lie.”

Nor does he believe that 20 percent is unrealistic, pointing out it would not even bring the average salary for Arizona teachers up to the national median.

“It’s ridiculous he won’t even consider it,” Karvelis said.

Part of what is working against the teachers is the sheer size of their demand.

Republican leaders in the lege are lined up behind Ducey, Fischer reports. However, there is some support for the 20 percent from the business community.

… Karvelis said he believes many elements of the business community would support a tax hike if they could be guaranteed it would increase teacher pay.

That’s likely true. In fact there is a coalition of current and former business officials who have said the current 0.6-cent sales tax for education – the one lawmakers just extended until 2041 – should be raised a full penny. That would raise more than $1 billion a year, more than enough to get teacher pay up to the national median.

Karvelis has the last word.

"We’re going to get out of ton of teachers to vote on [a ballot measure],” Karvelis said. “A lot of those teachers … are going to be checking ‘yes’ to that ballot initiative and then they’ll be checking ‘no’ for him.

In service of the Guv’s likely fight against a 20% initiative, consider some possible mottos for Ducey.

Last is best.

Back to last.

Make Arizona Last Again.

Preventing mass shootings – What America must do and models for doing it

Cross posted from SkyIslandScriber

Let me start with a road map for what follows in this post. The general theme is what we as a nation must do to prevent more mass shootings, especially those in schools and those using assault weapons. The first two following sections offer models for how we might accomplish that goal. Australia implemented a ban and a buy-back program. New Zealand has very stringent procedures designed to greatly restrict who can own handguns and semi-automatic rifles. Comparing these two countries makes it difficult to argue that the idiosyncrasies of any one country invalidates it as a model for the USA. The third section reports on the logical case for banning assault weapons in which elements from both Australia and New Zealand politicies and practices are included. In the fourth, last section, I give voice to some of my thoughts about what should be done and how.

AUSTRALIA stopped mass shootings with national gun control legislation

Pacific Standard Magazine has a summary of Australia’s strict gun laws noting that the number of mass shootings has gone from many to none. However, Australia’s Ambassador Says His Country’s Gun Laws Can’t Save America. Gun control advocates point to Australia for inspiration in ending gun violence. Australian Ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey thinks they should stop. Here are snippets.

After each mass shooting in the United States, many gun control advocates point to Australia, where a bipartisan coalition passed sweeping gun legislation that effectively ended mass shootings and dramatically reduced gun violence nationwide.

More than 20 years ago, Australia had its own mass shooting, a devastating massacre in which a man with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire at a tourist destination on the Tasmanian peninsula, killing 35 and injuring 23. Twelve days later, a conservative prime minister introduced the National Firearms Act, which banned the sale and importation of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, forced people to produce a legitimate reason for wanting to buy a weapon, and installed a 28-day waiting period. Perhaps most controversially, the law called for a massive mandatory gun buyback during which the government confiscated and destroyed 700,000 firearms, effectively reducing gun-owning households by half. The bill required bipartisan support, passed within six weeks, and is still reviewed every six months for any updates, to which all parties must agree before any changes can be made.

In the 20 years since the law was passed, there have been zero mass shootings in Australia.

In September of 2017, the Australian government held another gun amnesty program, its first in 20 years, and collected 26,000 unregistered firearms. Under the amnesty program, Australians surrendering unregistered firearms were able to drop them off without providing any personal information.

It’s almost unfathomable from an American viewpoint, which is perhaps why it’s become such a popular talking point for politicians, advocates, and late-night show hosts alike. Even President Barack Obama referenced Australia’s laws during a memorial following a mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

Since 1996, U.S. has experienced a series of mass shootings: There was Las Vegas, which saw 59 killed and more than 500 injured; Orlando, where 49 people were killed and 58 were injured; Columbine, which left 13 dead and 24 injured. There was Virginia Tech; there was Sandy Hook. There were so many more. After each, gun control advocates in the U.S. inevitably point to Australia’s success in curbing mass shootings as something that could be replicated here.

The Ambassador disagrees with the last point. Here’s why – in excerpts from the PSmag interview.

Australia and the United States are completely different situations, and it goes back to each of our foundings. America was born from a culture of self-defense. Australia was born from a culture of “the government will protect me.” Australia wasn’t born as a result of a brutal war. We weren’t invaded. We weren’t attacked. We weren’t occupied. That makes an incredible difference, even today.

… our histories are completely different. The U.S. had a horrendous civil war, with more casualties than every other war combined. We didn’t have that history. It really went to the core of what it means to defend your people. And so you have a second amendment based on an antiquated view of what it means to be occupied.

But the gun culture is so ingrained in America. I can’t wrap my brain around impulsive buys, no cooling off period, no mental-health checks. I’m stunned there’s not more road rage here given the number of guns.

The Ambassador listed challenges in implementing the National Firearms Act.

I was a fierce critic of existing gun laws in 1996, but I represented an urban district that’s 32 square miles, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would have guns in their homes. To this day I don’t know why anyone would have semi-automatic or automatic weapons in the middle of the city. My colleagues in rural areas had a different perspective.

Being center-right, we had to stand against our base. But there was such collective grief after Tasmania that we were able to put aside our differences.

The right wing had previously lobbied fairly hard against changes to the gun laws. The National Rifle Association sent people and money to campaign in Australia.

… There’s really no NRA equivalent in Australia, not like you have here. And it backfired. People saw it as American intervention in our elections. They haven’t tried it again.

One might even think that the NRA is an intervention in our own elections – and to wish that they would not try it again.

What was in the law and what was the result?

Gun and ammunition must be locked separately. Cooling off periods, not pick up right away, gun lockers at gun clubs, spot checks for enforcement. The amnesty buyback program was the most controversial.

Fifteen years before the laws, we had 13 mass shootings. In two decades since, none. Gun homicides decreased by 60 percent. Where it hurts the most are unreported suicides, and threats against women.

So what do we make of this argument, that the two countries are so culturally different that we here in America can learn nothing from the Australian experience?

NEW ZEALAND – A frontier culture with strict gun control laws …

… and their bipartisan support. The Kiwi experience is relevant and informative especially because what they are doing works, is supported by both major political parties, and has support inspite of New Zealand’s national character: “the country has a similar frontier mentality and outdoorsy culture to the US.”

A few years back the Seattle Globalist published a report on gun laws in New Zealand written by an ex-Washingtonian who moved there titled Getting strapped in New Zealand, Americans learn ropes of gun control. Here are some excerpts.

You might be surprised to find out that New Zealand is not unfamiliar with gun violence. In 1990, a 33 year old mentally unstable man in Aramoana, NZ shot and killed thirteen people including a police officer using a semi-automatic rifle. (The events have been dramatized in the New Zealand film Out of the Blue)

But unlike shootings in the US, the incident directly resulted in changes to New Zealand firearms laws. A special category of “Military Style Semi-Automatic” weapons was created; the sales and ownership of which are now severely restricted. Purchase or import of military style semi-automatics and all handguns must be individually approved by, and registered with, the New Zealand police.

Without a valid and current firearms license, you cannot legally purchase any firearm other than a pellet gun anywhere in New Zealand. There is probably a black market or some other means of acquiring a firearm illegally, but firearms recovered from drug busts or other organised criminal activities typically amount to hunting rifles or pump action shot guns. Handguns and military style semi-automatics are rare, difficult to obtain, and very expensive.

So how do Kiwis go about getting their hands on guns?

That’s a very long story with details that I leave to you to read about in the Globalist article. Here’s the essence.

The process for obtaining a basic firearms license is long, complicated and expensive. In other words, designed to weed out a broad portion of the population that the law deems unsuitable to possess a firearm.

If you wanted a pistol, for example, you would have to apply for a license, take a firearms safety course, submit to an in-home interview, recruit a character witness who has known you for 2 years (and who also is interviewed). The Arms Officer doing the interview “also asked what we intended to use firearms for. Hint: personal or home protection is not an accepted rationale and would likely get you rejected – acceptable reasons are limited to hunting and/or target shooting.” You need to demonstrate that you have separate lockers for the gun and ammunition. And you have to be affiliated with shooting club and be an active, regular participant.

So a firearms license in New Zealand is difficult to obtain. It’s also easy to lose: “Violation of any gun laws, including those relating to storage, transport or sales can easily result in a loss of your endorsement, your full license or even criminal conviction.”

Does it work? It appears so.

NZ has a firearm-related death rate of 2.66 per 100,000 people, per year. The rate in the US is almost 5 times that.

And unlike in the States, gun legislation rarely becomes mired in the political fog, despite the fact that the country has a similar frontier mentality and outdoorsy culture to the US.

The two main political parties, Labour and National (there are 8 active parties in NZ parliament) both treat gun control as a bi-partisan issue.

Some could argue that the sheer number of firearms available in the US (almost one for every person) render effective control of those firearms impossible. By comparison, New Zealand is estimated to have just over 1 million firearms in a country of 4.4 million. By and large, the level of scrutiny and control on possession and transfer of firearms, especially the types of weapons capable of mass killings, seems like an alternate universe when compared to the United States.

Between the application fees, membership dues, club activities and special safes required, the financial obligations alone could be a barrier to anyone looking to obtain a firearm for frivolous or reactionary reasons. To get a gun in New Zealand you have to plan ahead, have a clean record, and have the money to spend on it.

In other words, it’s a tremendous pain in the ass. But it’s a pain in the ass that appears to be saving lives.

The fact that New Zealand has “a similar frontier mentality and outdoorsy culture to the US” counters the cultural difference cited by the Australian Ambassador to the US. Regardless of history and current norms, both New Zealand and Australia have reduced the rates of mass shootings to zero and greatly reduced firearms deaths. As an interim conclusion, consider that if we want to reduce the number of firearm deaths we should reduce the number of firearms. Reinstating a stronger version of the assault weapons ban would be a good place to start. That case is made next.

AMERICA – the case for ban-and-buy assault weapons

We could start by asking why anyone would have a need for an AR–15 and high-capacity magazines. And then we could – and will here – feature an op-ed with the answer.

This Saturday (March 10) the Daily Star published an article by Michael T. Hertz, retired lawyer and law professor, titled Ban assault weapons altogether. Here it is.

Twelve days before the Parkland school massacre, my friend and I were driving near Orlando, Florida, and saw a sign. It pictured a woman shooting a machine gun and said, “Live Life Full Auto” above the words “Machine Gun America.” A few miles later, we passed the store, which sold semi-automatic guns and ammunition.

In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott proposed a number of measures to improve safety, and on March 7 the state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill to toughen gun laws. This included banning “bump stock” devices that turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones, raising the buying age for rifles to 21, and requiring a three-day waiting period for all firearm purchases. Scott signed the bill Friday.

These are all good ideas. But why not go further and restore the ban on assault weapons? This was the type of weapon used to kill 17 people in Parkland. It was the kind used in Las Vegas, where a shooter was able to “live life full auto” and fire 1,100 rounds of ammunition in 10 minutes, killing 58 people and wounding 851.

Yes, getting rid of these weapons would take real political effort. The people who make money off businesses like Machine Gun America, backed by the NRA, would fight this tooth and nail. But at this moment in our history, our country is ready for this.

The federal assault weapons ban was passed September 1994, following a close 52–48 vote in the Senate. President Clinton signed it into law the same day. The ban didn’t apply to guns in existence at the time it was enacted, and it contained a sunset provision allowed it to expire after 10 years, in 2004, which is what happened.

We need to revive this ban today. It should apply to all semi-automatic assault weapons, including the AR–15. It should also remove ammunition for such weapons from the market. It should apply to all persons in the United States except members of the military and police forces while they are on the job. There should be no sunset provision.

The government should offer to buy all such weapons in the year after the ban is enacted, given that the weapons could no longer be used.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already expressly affirmed the ability of government to ban certain weapons.

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” declared conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in a 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller. He noted prohibitions against concealed weapons, firearm possession by felons and the mentally ill, bringing firearms into schools and government buildings and “the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

An absolute ban on these weapons, coupled with an offer by the government to buy them, would be completely congruent with this decision. Putting a heavy punishment on possession would give police forces good reason to look for such weapons and get rid of any in illegal possession.

If we really want to end large-scale massacres, we cannot flinch at banning the means by which they are accomplished.

SCRIBER- Time for a change

There you have it. We can reduce the number of deaths, notably those in schools. We have evidence from other countries that assault weapons bans, buy-backs, strict licensing, safety training, and rigorous background and character checks are components of an effective gun control program. We’re not talking hunting rifles or shotguns; in no way would such a program infringe on legitimate gun ownership by responsible individuals. Such folks do not go around shooting school children and thus have little to fear from the actions advocated by Michael Hertz.

This will not be easy. You have a vocal minority consisting of mainly white males led by the NRA opposing any attempts at gun control. Having a gun is a symbol reinforcing their identity, we are told. Some of them, at least, fear a government gone amok and so a citizen militia armed with AR–15s would protect us against government control. That’s silly, argues a writer of a letter to the editor in this morning’s Green Valley News titled “frontier thinking.” The author, a retired military type, observes “Unfortunately, there is a frontier mentality among many who truly believe that assault weapons are insurance against our government somehow going awry. If you have ever watched a Marine Corps exercise you readily appreciate how ludicrous this idea is. If all the able-bodied males in Green Valley and Sahuarita were armed with these weapons, they wouldn’t hold off one Marine platoon for 10 minutes.” Moreover, contributing to our collective inaction, there is the cowardice of our elected officials exhibited in their groveling subservience to the NRA.

So what to do? Recognize that most Americans favor the program advocated by Hertz and its components in place in Australia and New Zealand. We are in the majority. We have a voice and should use it. Call out, publicly, our legislators and demand a public commitment to gun control. Demand that they choose between unlimited access to assault weapons and dead school kids. And if they complain about gun control being a heavy lift, as one ex-congressman expressed it to me, use our vote and vote them out of office. Finally, be prepared for a long struggle. When it comes to societal change nothing comes easy or early. The civil rights movement is a case study. It took decades to arm America with a gun for every single person. We should be prepared for a struggle just as long to come to grips with America as a post-frontier country that values right to life for the many more than a phallic symbol for the few.

At the end of all arguments about gun control, it comes down to a single question. Is it the de facto policy of the United States of America that the murder of our children is an acceptable price to pay for unlimited access to assault weapons? How you answer that question defines your humanity – or lack of it.

The Women’s March to Elected Office

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

In Shutdown, Schmutdown – ‘GRAB ’EM BY THE MIDTERMS’ is the bigger story, I wrote on Tuesday that “The biggest news of the weekend and yesterday was the shutdown, the details of the Senate-initiated bill that the House passed and that Trump signed.”

Then I featured New Yorker John Cassidy’s alternative take on the biggest story.

But New Yorker’s John Cassidy has another take on the news – on something he sees as a lot bigger and under-reported story – the Women’s Marches.The Women’s Marches Could Have More Lasting Consequences Than the Government Shutdown.

John Nichols (The Nation) concurs and tells us that the big Story This Month Was Not the Government Shutdown. It’s the grassroots activism that could end Republican control of Congress.

… for all the tumult over the shutdown, a more significant story was taking place far from the Beltway—in communities where the resistance has been gaining strength and focus before a midterm election that could hold the president and his allies to account. Case in point: Wisconsin. While Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million nationwide, narrow wins in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan gave him the Electoral College. Trump’s Wisconsin win was powered by votes from the western and northern regions of the state—places like the 10th State Senate District, which has historically elected Republicans and where Trump ran 17 points ahead of Hillary Clinton. But in a special election on January 16, medical examiner and small-town school-board member Patty Schachtner swept to victory in a result that saw a 37 percent swing to the Democrats. In 2016, the outgoing Republican had won the gerrymandered district by 26 points; Schachtner prevailed by 11. “President Donald Trump—along with Speaker Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker who support and prop him up—are toxically unpopular and divisive,” the state Democratic Party declared in a press release.

This reaction to Trumpism isn’t limited to Wisconsin. Noting that Schachtner was the 34th Democrat to flip a Republican state legislative seat since Trump took office, statehouse-watcher Carolyn Fiddler observed: “Democrats are still winning Republican seats! Even when Republicans run in ‘safe’ and extremely gerrymandered districts and spend boatloads more money than the Democrat!”

More often than not, these Democratic winners have been women (22 of 34). This made the Wisconsin win a perfect setup for the massive Women’s Marches across the country, which filled the streets with millions of Americans— 600,000 in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, 200,000 in New York, 50,000 in Denver—who channeled the anger and frustration of 2017 into a mighty cry for change. The marches highlighted #MeToo activism and the “Time’s Up” initiative to combat sexual harassment, along with a new “Power to the Polls” message. Echoing the “Don’t Just March, Run” calls by groups like Emily’s List—which counts more than 26,000 women planning to seek federal, state, or local office—many of this year’s marchers were candidates themselves. Trump isn’t on the ballot in 2018, but the women who have been his most ardent and effective critics will be. As former Maine state legislator Diane Russell, who is mounting a progressive bid for her state’s governorship, announced: “We march—to elected office.”

This appears to me to be a vanguard of an national about-face, a repudiation of Trumpism, and a Democratic wave in 2018. The numbers Nichols reports indicate my view is not just wishful thinking.