Saturday, April 20, 2013

Guns, and Who the Republicans Really Work For

Shame On You

Obama Speaks On Gun Control After Vote Fails

   Last January, at the beginning of the present term of Congress the Senate majority led by Harry Reid of Nevada had the opportunity to change the rules regarding what is known as the filibuster, a procedure not mentioned in the Constitution which allowed a single member, or a small group of senators to put a hold on upcoming measures and presidential nominees indefinitely, a procedure the Republican minority had used on a record number of occasions during the last term to block important legislation that the President or the Majority had proposed, which effectively left the legislative body impotent, unable to pass anything at all in most cases (the passage of  Obamacare in 2009 being a rare exception).
   They also had the opportunity to change how many votes it was required to pass legislation... from the present 60 supermajority vote, to a simple majority, requiring just 51. Considering the Democrats had gained seats in the November election, for a total of 55, to the Republicans 45, chances of advancing the democratic and Presidential agenda would have been assured.  
   Did Reid and the Democrats take that opportunity?  Of course not! That would have taken a measure of courage, and, I cynically say, any legislation passed would have to be owned by the democrats, legislation with their name on it, that they would be responsible for. That's way to scary for elected officials who above all wish to be reelected, and who were much more comfortable doing nothing at all, which is relatively safe, leaving open the option of blaming the other party for obstructing all their hard fought for efforts.  
   Oh, they changed the rules a little bit, making it a little bit harder for a single senator, or small group to filibuster, but they left the supermajority rules in place, thereby giving the Senate minority undo, and unearned (democrats won the election after all, something Senator Reid must have forgotten) power over the majority.
   To be fair if all that was required were a majority vote to pass legislation the minority party, in this case the Republicans, would have the opportunity to attach amendments to bills that countered the larger purpose of the original legislation. Huuh? Yeah, I know, it's complicated. It doesn't need to be, but it is. Take the gun control background check legislation for gun purchases at gun shows and online that was defeated Wednesday in a 54 to 46 vote (Harry Reid supported the measure, but voted against it in order to preserve the right to bring it back up at a later time). If only a majority were needed to pass an amendment, a host of measures opposed by gun control advocates would have garnered enough support to pass, such as the right to carry a concealed weapon, which urban lawmakers stridently oppose and which could have doomed the entire gun control bill. The concealed carry measure scored 57 yes votes. Why did it score 57 yes votes of which 12 must have been democratic? Probably it was an effort to appease republicans and get some needed republican votes in order to pass the larger background check bill.
   Another problem peculiar to the Senate is in the way some states with low populations garner as much representation as those with larger populations, a situation that our founding fathers should have forseen considering the differences in population within the 13 colonies (for instance Tennessee had an estimated population of just 10,000 in 1780, compared to 538,000 in Virginia).    
   Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution stipulates  "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote."
   Jonathan Cohen and Eric Kingsbury of New Republic:
   “If you assume, for sake of argument, each senator represents half of his or her state’s population, then senators voting for the bill represented about 194 million people, while the senators voting against the bill represented about 118 million people. That’s getting close to a two-thirds majority in favor of the measure.”
   Ian Millhiser and Adam Peck of ThinkProgress continue:
   "To put this in perspective, Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi (R) and John Barrasso (R) both voted against the gun safety provision. Together, they represent a little more than half a million people. California Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D) and Barbara Boxer (D) both voted for gun safety. They represent over 38 million Americans. In other words, a voter in Wyoming enjoys 66 times as much representation in the Senate as a voter in California.
   As the least populous state, Wyoming makes out like bandits when it comes to Senate representation, but they are far from alone in enjoying such a windfall. A voter in Idaho (population 1,595,728) counts as almost 24 Californians. A voter in Nebraska (population 1,845,525) counts as nearly 21 Californians. And a voter in North Dakota (population 699,628) counts as more than 54 Californians. Indeed, if you add up the combined populations of Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Alabama, that still adds up to over 3 million fewer people than live in the state of California. That also adds up to 26 senators, all of whom opposed background checks [see the graphic above]."
   That's how a bill in the United States Senate which enjoys the support of 90% of the American population, including 8 out of 10 gun owners, is procedurally defeated.
   But why did those 46 senators, including 4 democrats, vote no?
   Money, and the power associated with it.
   The NRA (National Rifle Association) had lobbied aggressively against the proposal. Among other efforts, they spent $500,00 in one day, the day the Senate voted on the bill -- on ads calling the proposal "Obama's gun ban," according to the New York Times. They and their minions, which includes the bought and paid for senators, spread outright lies about the bill, such as that it established a national registry of gun owners, which the bill expressly forbade. The lies were so egregious that democrats overcame their typical polictical correctness, and called them for what they were, outright lies, including the president.
   Good for them.
   If 8 out of 10 gun owners supported the bill, gun owners that supposedly were represented by the NRA, why did the NRA oppose it?
   Good question? I'm glad you asked.
   It's because the NRA is actually a trade organization that represents gun manufacturers, not the actual members. (Adolphus Busch IV, heir to the Busch family brewing fortune, resigned his lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association on Thursday, writing in a letter to NRA President David Keene, "I fail to see how the NRA can disregard the overwhelming will of its members who see background checks as reasonable.") That's one reason the answer to every problem the NRA faces in the light of continuing tragedies like Sandy Hook is more guns.
   More guns, more guns, more guns.
   This gun mania is further fueled by the right-wing media which is forever pro business over individual rights (such as the right to stay alive in the face of gun violence), 2nd Amendment maniacs who hoard guns in compensation for their diminutive reproductive organs, and politicians who receive campaign donations (legalized bribery) from the NRA, or who face threats of election retribution by the NRA if said politicians oppose NRA backed legislation. Such is the power of gun manufacturers over the United State's elected officials, officials who were elected to represent their constituents rather than business interests.
   But why should that surprise anyone? Wall Street interests, defense contractors and manufacturers, the banking industry, and a host of other entities all enjoy the same unduly influence over our government, including the White House.
   Those senators who voted no offered excuses like these:
   “It’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment,” said Senator Mark Begichof of Alaska, a Democrat up for re-election next year. “Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up. That’s not enough.”
   Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) claimed the bill would lead to the creation of a national database of gun owners. Senators Manchin and Toomey, who introduced the bill, have repeatedly pointed out that their legislation explicitly barred a federal registry and would impose a harsh penalty on any official who tried to create one.
   "In my opinion, adopting mandatory federal government background checks for purely private transactions between law-abiding citizens, puts us inexorably on the path to a push for a federal registry," he said.
   The old "slippery slope" routine. As we've learned from our Baloney Detection Kit ( )  tenet # 17:
   "Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle* - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile). "If we allow same sex marriage to become the law of the land, then what's to stop marriage between men and goats?"
   For my own part I have nothing against interspecies marriage. To each his own.
   Here's another: "If we legalize marijuana, then everybody will become heroin addicts."
   Of course it remains my contention that the majority of Republicans in Congress suffer from sociopathology. What's that? Here's one diffinition:
   Noun - Psychiatry. a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. -Antisocial personality disorder Wikipedia
   The action of these 46 no voting senators do nothing to dispel my contention.
   What is in full display here is a corrupt, unresponsive Senate. If the bill had passed and sent to the House of Representatives most likely it would have been killed there, or watered down to the point that it might as well hadn't been passed. Why? Because Republicans control the House. It's as simple as that.
   Republicans have no excuses to fall back on regarding this. They can't blame the Democrats for inaction, or the President to lead... it's all on them.

    It's a shame isn't it? And I'm not the only one to thinks so. My girlfriend thinks it's a shame as well. So do these people:

Mayor Bloomberg, co-chair, Mayors Against Illegal Guns: “Today’s vote is a damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington. More than 40 U.S. senators would rather turn their backs on the 90 percent of Americans who support comprehensive background checks than buck the increasingly extremist wing of the gun lobby. Democrats – who are so quick to blame Republicans for our broken gun laws – could not stand united. And Republicans – who are so quick to blame Democrats for not being tough enough on crime – handed criminals a huge victory, by preserving their ability to buy guns illegally at gun shows and online and keeping the illegal trafficking market well-fed. Senators Manchin and Toomey – as well as Majority Leader Reid and Senators Schumer, Kirk, Collins, McCain and others – deserve real credit for coming together around a compromise bill that struck a fair balance, and President Obama and Vice-President Biden deserve credit for their leadership since the Sandy Hook massacre. But even with some bi-partisan support, a common-sense public safety reform died in the U.S. Senate at the hands of those who are more interested in attempting to protect their own political careers – or some false sense of ideological purity – than protecting the lives of innocent Americans. The only silver lining is that we now know who refuses to stand with the 90 percent of Americans – and in 2014, our ever-expanding coalition of supporters will work to make sure that voters don’t forget.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi: “Today’s vote in the Senate is disappointing to the American people and devastating to the families, friends, and loved ones of victims of gun violence across our country. A minority of Senators failed to summon the courage to do what’s right on behalf of the safety and security of our children and families.  Their shameful votes prevented commonsense steps to expand background checks and keep dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands.  Their indefensible actions broke our promise to every community struck by gun violence. In the words of the Sandy Hook promise, ‘Our hearts are broken, our spirit is not.’  With perseverance and determination, we hope the Senate brings strong legislation back up for consideration and acts to protect our schools, homes, and neighborhoods.  That is the least we can do to honor the memory of the children of Newtown, the people of Tucson, and all of the Americans lost to the scourge of gun violence.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten: “Make no mistake — the NRA and the gun manufacturers won out today over the life, liberty and happiness of our children, families and communities. A government by the people and for the people must serve the American people and not the gun lobby. The tragic question facing us now is how many gun deaths will it take before Congress lives up to its basic responsibility to protect and serve the American people? Twenty-six children and teachers gunned down in Newtown, Conn. Thirty-two students and faculty killed at Virginia Tech. U.S. Rep. Gabby Gifford shot outside a supermarket. Thirteen students and educators brutally murdered at Columbine High School. Twelve people gunned down in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Nearly 3,500 Americans killed by guns since Dec. 14—more than 50 of them children. The time for action is now. We applaud Sens. Manchin, Toomey, Feinstein, Blumenthal, Schumer, Kirk and Lautenberg for their leadership, as well as the other senators who voted for commonsense gun safety legislation today. AFT members admire their courage for standing up and doing what is right for our children and families.”

And lastly an op-ed by former Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona, a victim of gun violence:

A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.

Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.

I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.

They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.

This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

Stephen Colbert on Gun Control Block

Obama Taking Action On Background Checks After Senate Rejects Measure

* Tenet # 15.  Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (or a false dichotomy). "If you don't love this country, you hate it." "Your either for us or against us," which George B. Bush used to his advantage to further his plans to attack Iraq. Of course the argument makes no sense since there are a wide range of other possibilities, such as "I am not necessarily against you, but there are other ways to handle this problem other than the one you propose."

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