Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bernie Sanders: I Will Vote for Hillary Clinton - to Stop Donald Trump

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. (photo: Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. (photo: Getty Images)

By Dan Roberts, Guardian UK
The Vermont senator continues his slow march toward concession and attacks Trump over his ‘campaign of bigotry’ and climate change denial
ernie Sanders crossed a verbal watershed in his slow march toward conceding the Democratic nomination contest on Friday by confirming he would vote for Hillary Clinton in November’s election.

Despite previous assurances that he would work with her to defeat Donald Trump, the remarks are the first time the leftwing Vermont senator has explicitly supported his Democratic adversary.

It may also help encourage his millions of supporters to more fully back the presumptive Democratic nominee after a period in which some have appeared reluctant to accept the legitimacy of the primary process.

Asked if was going to vote for Clinton in November, Sanders told a CNN interviewer: “Yes – I think the issue right here is, I’m going to do everything I can to defeat Donald Trump.”

He added: “We do not need a president whose cornerstone of his campaign is bigotry, is insulting Mexicans and Latinos, and Muslims and women, who does not believe the reality of climate change when virtually every scientist who has studied this issue understands we are at a global crisis. This is not somebody who should become president.”

Only the night before Sanders had declined to refer to Clinton or formally concede defeat during a speech in New York in which he stressed that his “political revolution is just getting started”.

But the more conciliatory comments on Friday morning appear consistent with a gradual withdrawal in recent weeks, first marked in comments outside the White House after a meeting with Barack Obama on 10 June in which he said he was prepared to work with Clinton following defeat in the California primary.

In an interview with C-Span this week, Sanders also acknowledged “it doesn’t appear that I’m going to be the nominee” when asked if he would be speaking at the party convention.

While appearing grudging or ambiguous to some Clinton supporters, Sanders campaign insiders say the gradual change of tone reflects a desire to exert leverage over the policy platform at the convention and migrate his huge base of backers onto a more lasting journey to reform the party’s agenda.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Best Is Yet to Come

Bernie Sanders. (photo: Mark Peterson/Redux)
Bernie Sanders. (photo: Mark Peterson/Redux)

By Naomi Klein, The New Republic
24 June 16
n the surface, the battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders looks like a deep rift, one that threatens to splinter the Democratic Party. But viewed in the sweep of history, it is evidence of something far more positive for the party’s base and beyond: not a rift but a shift—the first tremors of a profound ideological realignment from which a transformative new politics could emerge.

Many of Bernie’s closest advisers—and perhaps even Bernie himself—never imagined the campaign would do so well. And yet it did. The U.S. left—and not some pale imitation of it—actually tasted electoral victory, in state after state after state. The campaign came so close to winning that many of us allowed ourselves to imagine, if only for a few, furtive moments, what the world would look like with a President Sanders.

Even writing those words seems crazy. After all, the working assumption for decades has been that genuinely redistributive policies are so unpopular in the U.S. that they could only be smuggled past the American public if they were wrapped in some sort of centrist disguise. “Fee and dividend” instead of a carbon tax. “Health care reform” instead of universal public health care.

Only now it turns out that left ideas are popular just as they are, utterly unadorned. Really popular—and in the most pro-capitalist country in the world.

It’s not just that Sanders has won 20-plus contests, all while never disavowing his democratic socialism. It’s also that, to keep Sanders from hijacking the nomination, Clinton has been forced to pivot sharply to the left and disavow her own history as a market-friendly centrist. Even Donald Trump threw out the economic playbook entrenched since Reagan—coming out against corporate-friendly trade deals, vowing to protect what’s left of the social safety net, and railing against the influence of money in politics.

Taken together, the evidence is clear: The left just won. Forget the nomination—I mean the argument. Clinton, and the 40-year ideological campaign she represents, has lost the battle of ideas. The spell of neoliberalism has been broken, crushed under the weight of lived experience and a mountain of data.

What for decades was unsayable is now being said out loud—free college tuition, double the minimum wage, 100 percent renewable energy. And the crowds are cheering. With so much encouragement, who knows what’s next? Reparations for slavery and colonialism? A guaranteed annual income? Democratic worker co-ops as the centerpiece of a green jobs program? Why not? The intellectual fencing that has constrained the left’s imagination for so long is lying twisted on the ground.

This broad appetite for systemic change did not begin with Sanders. During the Obama years, a wave of radical new social movements emerged, from Occupy Wall Street and the Fight for $15 to #NoKXL and Black Lives Matter. Sanders harnessed much of this energy—but by no means all of it. His weaknesses reaching certain segments of black and Latino voters in the Democratic base are well known. And for some activists, Sanders has always felt too much like the past to get overly excited about.

Looking beyond this election cycle, this is actually good news. If Sanders could come this far, imagine what a left candidate who was unburdened by his weaknesses could do. A political coalition that started from the premise that economic inequality and climate destabilization are inextricable from systems of racial and gender hierarchy could well build a significantly larger tent than the Sanders campaign managed to erect.

And if that movement has a bold plan for humanizing and democratizing new technology networks and global systems of trade, then it will feel less like a blast from the past, and more like a path to an exciting, never-before-attempted future. Whether coming after one term of Hillary Clinton in 2020, or one term of Donald Trump, that combination—deeply diverse and insistently forward-looking—could well prove unbeatable.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Trump, His Virus and the Dark Age of Unreason

Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump. (photo: Gerardo Mora/Getty)
Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump. (photo: Gerardo Mora/Getty)

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Moyers & Company
17 June 16
 He's the latest in a long line of American demagogues but has come closest to the White House. That makes him the most dangerous of them all.

There’s a virus infecting our politics and right now it’s flourishing with a scarlet heat. It feeds on fear, paranoia and bigotry. All that was required for it to spread was a timely opportunity — and an opportunist with no scruples.

There have been stretches of history when this virus lay dormant. Sometimes it would flare up here and there, then fade away after a brief but fierce burst of fever. At other moments, it has spread with the speed of a firestorm, a pandemic consuming everything in its path, sucking away the oxygen of democracy and freedom.

Today its carrier is Donald Trump, but others came before him: narcissistic demagogues who lie and distort in pursuit of power and self-promotion. Bullies all, swaggering across the landscape with fistfuls of false promises, smears, innuendo and hatred for others, spite and spittle for anyone of a different race, faith, gender or nationality.

In America, the virus has taken many forms: “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, the South Carolina governor and senator who led vigilante terror attacks with a gang called the Red Shirts and praised the efficiency of lynch mobs; radio’s charismatic Father Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist Catholic priest who reached an audience of up to 30 million with his attacks on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal; Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo, a member of the Ku Klux Klan who vilified ethnic minorities and deplored the “mongrelization” of the white race; Louisiana’s corrupt and dictatorial Huey Long, who promised to make “Every Man a King.” And of course, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama and four-time presidential candidate who vowed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Note that many of these men leavened their gospel of hate and their lust for power with populism — giving the people hospitals, schools and highways. Father Coughlin spoke up for organized labor. Both he and Huey Long campaigned for the redistribution of wealth. Tillman even sponsored the first national campaign-finance reform law, the Tillman Act, in 1907, banning corporate contributions to federal candidates.

But their populism was tinged with poison — a pernicious nativism that called for building walls to keep out people and ideas they didn’t like.

Which brings us back to Trump and the hotheaded, ego-swollen provocateur he most resembles: Joseph McCarthy, US senator from Wisconsin — until now perhaps our most destructive demagogue. In the 1950s, this madman terrorized and divided the nation with false or grossly exaggerated tales of treason and subversion — stirring the witches’ brew of anti-Communist hysteria with lies and manufactured accusations that ruined innocent people and their families. “I have here in my hand a list,” he would claim — a list of supposed Reds in the State Department or the military. No one knew whose names were there, nor would he say, but it was enough to shatter lives and careers.

In the end, McCarthy was brought down. A brave journalist called him out on the same television airwaves that helped the senator become a powerful, national sensation. It was Edward R. Murrow, and at the end of an episode exposing McCarthy on his CBS series See It NowMurrow said:
“It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”
There also was the brave and moral lawyer Joseph Welch, acting as chief counsel to the US Army after it was targeted for one of McCarthy’s inquisitions. When McCarthy smeared one of his young associates, Welch responded in full view of the TV and newsreel cameras during hearings in the Senate. “You’ve done enough,” Welch said.

Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?… If there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further.”

It was a devastating moment. Finally, McCarthy’s fellow senators — including a handful of brave Republicans — turned on him, putting an end to the reign of terror. It was 1954. A motion to censure McCarthy passed 67-22, and the junior senator from Wisconsin was finished. He soon disappeared from the front pages, and three years later was dead.

Here’s something McCarthy said that could have come straight out of the Trump playbook: “McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.” Sounds just like The Donald, right? Interestingly, you can draw a direct line from McCarthy to Trump — two degrees of separation. In a Venn diagram of this pair, the place where the two circles overlap, the person they share in common is a fellow named Roy Cohn.

Cohn was chief counsel to McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the same one Welch went up against. Cohn was McCarthy’s henchman, a master of dark deeds and dirty tricks. When McCarthy fell, Cohn bounced back to his hometown of New York and became a prominent Manhattan wheeler-dealer, a fixer representing real estate moguls and mob bosses — anyone with the bankroll to afford him. He worked for Trump’s father, Fred, beating back federal prosecution of the property developer, and several years later would do the same for Donald. “If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent,” Trump told a magazine reporter in 1979, “you get Roy.” To another writer he said, “Roy was brutal but he was a very loyal guy.”

Cohn introduced Trump to his McCarthy-like methods of strong-arm manipulation and to the political sleazemeister Roger Stone, another dirty trickster and unofficial adviser to Trump who just this week suggested that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was a disloyal American who may be a spy for Saudi Arabia, a “terrorist agent.”

Cohn also introduced Trump to the man who is now his campaign chair, Paul Manafort, the political consultant and lobbyist who without a moral qualm in the world has made a fortune representing dictators — even when their interests flew in the face of human rights or official US policy.

So the ghost of Joseph McCarthy lives on in Donald Trump as he accuses President Obama of treason, slanders women, mocks people with disabilities and impugns every politician or journalist who dares call him out for the liar and bamboozler he is.

The ghosts of all the past American demagogues live on in him as well, although none of them have ever been so dangerous — none have come as close to the grand prize of the White House.

Because even a pathological liar occasionally speaks the truth, Trump has given voice to many who feel they’ve gotten a raw deal from establishment politics, who see both parties as corporate pawns, who believe they have been cheated by a system that produces enormous profits from the labor of working men and women that are gobbled up by the 1 percent at the top. But again, Trump’s brand of populism comes with venomous race-baiting that spews forth the red-hot lies of a forked and wicked tongue.

We can hope for journalists with the courage and integrity of an Edward R. Murrow to challenge this would-be tyrant, to put the truth to every lie and publicly shame the devil for his outrages. We can hope for the likes of Joseph Welch, who demanded to know whether McCarthy had any sense of decency. Think of Gonzalo Curiel, the jurist Trump accused of persecuting him because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. Curiel has revealed the soulless little man behind the curtain of Trump’s alleged empire, the avaricious money-grubber who conned hard-working Americans out of their hard-won cash to attend his so-called “university.”

And we can hope there still remain in the Republican Party at least a few brave politicians who will stand up to Trump, as some did McCarthy. This might be a little harder. For every Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham who have announced their opposition to Trump, there is a weaselly Paul Ryan, a cynical Mitch McConnell and a passel of fellow travelers up and down the ballot who claim not to like Trump and who may not wholeheartedly endorse him but will vote for him in the name of party unity.

As this headline in The Huffington Post aptly put it, “Republicans Are Twisting Themselves Into Pretzels To Defend Donald Trump.” Ten GOP senators were interviewed about Trump and his attack on Judge Curiel’s Mexican heritage. Most hemmed and hawed about their presumptive nominee. As Trump “gets to reality on things he’ll change his point of view and be, you know, more responsible.” That was Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Trump’s comments were “racially toxic” but “don’t give me any pause.” That was Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Republican African-American in the Senate. And Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas? He said Trump’s words were “unfortunate.” Asked if he was offended, Jennifer Bendery writes, the senator “put his fingers to his lips, gestured that he was buttoning them shut, and shuffled away.”

No profiles in courage there.  But why should we expect otherwise? Their acquiescence, their years of kowtowing to extremism in the appeasement of their base, have allowed Trump and his nightmarish sideshow to steal into the tent and take over the circus. Alexander Pope once said that party spirit is at best the madness of the many for the gain of a few. A kind of infection, if you will — a virus that spreads through the body politic, contaminating all. Trump and his ilk would sweep the promise of America into the dustbin of history unless they are exposed now to the disinfectant of sunlight, the cleansing torch of truth. Nothing else can save us from the dark age of unreason that would arrive with the triumph of Donald Trump.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Gay Rights Movement Could Take on the NRA - and Actually Win

Can the gay rights movement beat the NRA? (photo: Curt Merlo/WP)
Can the gay rights movement beat the NRA? (photo: Curt Merlo/WP)

By Jennifer Carlson and David Pettinicchio, The Washington Post
The gay rights movement knows how to change the culture, not just the law.

t’s an all-too-familiar routine for Americans: mass shooting, dramatic calls for change, inaction. It happened when 20 schoolchildren were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. When a dozen people were killed in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. When almost three dozen were slaughtered at Virginia Tech.

But this time, things might be different. Not because of the record number of people killed in Orlando or because this heinous act was a terrorist attack, a hate crime and a mass shooting. It’s because the victims were part of a social movement with infrastructure and political know-how largely unmatched within the gun-control movement. It’s because the attack targeted gays — and their community is organized.

Today’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer coalition is made up of powerful groups able to mobilize at a moment’s notice, including the NOH8 Campaign, the Human Rights Campaign and PFLAG. This robust and multifaceted apparatus is one of the most effective political movements in recent American history. It has faced down obscene public indifference to gay lives (peaking with the AIDS epidemic), violence against LGBTQ people (who suffer more hate crimes than any other protected group), laws that criminalized gay sex (Bowers v. Hardwick was overturned only in 2003) and widespread intolerance.

To attack these issues, queer people have focused not on transforming laws but on transforming culture. In the 1960s, gay rights groups organized “sip-ins” at bars that refused to serve “disorderly” homosexuals. Other picketers staged “zaps,” splashy, media-friendly protests that called attention to homophobic behavior. “Homophile organizations” sprung up around the country to fight for queer-only spaces. Their efforts led to the establishment of hundreds of pride parades, lesbian clubs and gay bathhouses — institutionalized “safe spaces” where people could meet and organize.

fter Stonewall, activists shifted their focus, working to build sympathy and support among straight Americans. They called on gay people to “come out” to family and friends, a social ritual that personalized the political (something gay rights groups learned from feminists). Organizers also broadened their message on important gay rights issues, selling things like same-sex marriage as the right to love. Efforts such as “kiss days” at businesses opposing LGBTQ rights have linked discriminatory policies to more relatable notions of romance and relationships.

It’s worked. According to Gallup polls, in the past 20 years, Americans’ support for marriage equality has jumped from 30 percent to 60 percent. Many people said they softened their attitudes because they knew a member of the LGBTQ community — what social scientists call the “contact hypothesis.” Today, gay groups have the organizational, financial and cultural resources to exploit political opportunities as they arise.

A similar cultural shift undergirds the country’s gun politics. Over the last 50 years, the National Rifle Association has convinced many Americans that gun ownership is a vital tool for self-defense and the key to serving as a responsible “citizen-protector.” The organization brought this galvanizing rhetoric to the national stage through its lobbying arm. But it exerted cultural pressure, too. Its ads, magazines and political paraphernalia reach millions. And the organization’s training courses — attended by hundreds of thousands of Americans each year — present defensive gun use as a civic duty and the NRA as a service organization.

Today, many Americans see a gun as something to be carried alongside a wallet or a cellphone. A majority say firearms enhance public safety. The shift is as striking as the change in sentiment on same-sex marriage: Over the past 15 years, the belief that guns make a home safer jumped from 35 percent to 63 percent. Even Americans who don’t own guns agree that they are objects of safety.

The gun lobby and the LGBTQ movement both understand that political change requires fundamental cultural shifts. It requires deep organizational ties and the ability to connect an issue not just to a set of beliefs, but to a sense of identity. Right now, gun control advocates lack these tools. If they can mobilize gay rights against gun rights, the NRA may have finally met its match.

It won’t be easy. The NRA has a track record of galvanizing a committed block of voters in key states. Meanwhile, the LGBTQ movement has largely focused on changing hearts and courts. In terms of electoral politics, it is unclear whether it can match the influence of the NRA to set national political agendas, especially in presidential campaigns. And those deep pockets of the NRA really are deep. The organization’s budget is more than seven times that of the Human Rights Campaign.

It’s also not clear that gay rights groups will take on gun control. Many gun proponents see gay rights as part and parcel of a broader libertarian cause.

Meanwhile, some LGBTQ activists have vigorously embraced gun rights as a way to protect gay lives. The Pink Pistols group, under the slogan “pick on someone your own caliber,” explicitly advocates the exercise of Second Amendment rights for self-protection, especially against hate crimes. The LGBTQ community is highly diverse, and attempts to ally gay rights activists with gun-control proponents may undermine the diversity that defines the movement.

Still, some Democrats, gun-control supporters and gay rights advocates are already making the link. Actor, activist and author George Takei has described the fight for gun control as “the next chapter of LGBT history.” Many LGBTQ groups cheered the Democratic-led Senate filibuster this past week in favor of gun reforms. This outcry makes sense. This hate-motivated killing in Orlando is but one example of the broad culture of violent intolerance that LGBTQ people face. Until now, the NRA — not just because of its sheer organizational strength and financial backing, but also because of its cultural ingenuity — has been able to define the terms of the gun debate and the terrain of the struggle. The LGBTQ movement might just be able to change that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Senate GOP Rejects Gun-Control Measures After Orlando Shooting

A vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting. (photo: William West/Getty Images)
A vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting. (photo: William West/Getty Images)

By Richard Cowan and John Whitesides, Reuters
he U.S. Senate on Monday rejected four measures restricting gun sales after last week's massacre in an Orlando nightclub, dealing a bitter setback to advocates who have failed to get even modest gun curbs through Congress despite repeated mass shootings.

A group of senators was still hoping to forge a compromise for later in the week aimed at keeping firearms away from people on terrorism watch lists, although that effort faced an uphill battle with critics in both parties skeptical about its chances.

Last week's massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, had intensified pressure on lawmakers, who moved swiftly to take the issue to the Senate floor. But the gun-control measures lost in largely party-line votes that showed the lingering political power in Congress of gun rights defenders and the National Rifle Association.

Republicans and their allies in the NRA gun lobby said the Democratic bills were too restrictive and trampled on the constitutional right to bear arms. Democrats attacked the Republicans' two proposals as too weak and accused them of being in the thrall of the NRA.

"What am I going to tell the community of Orlando?" asked Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida after the votes. "Sadly, what I’m going to tell them is the NRA won again."

Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, attacked the Democrats' amendments and thanked Republicans for rejecting them. "Today, the American people witnessed an embarrassing display in the United States," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the Democratic measures were ineffective and Republican senators "are pursuing real solutions that can help keep Americans safer from the threat of terrorism."

As the parties remain largely locked in their positions, polls show Americans are increasingly in favor of more restrictions on guns in a country with more than 310 million weapons, about one for every citizen.

The issue is already a prominent one for voters in November elections. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton supports new gun restrictions, while Republican Donald Trump expressed a willingness to talk to the NRA about the issue.

After the votes, Clinton issued a one-word statement: "Enough." It was followed by the names and ages of the dead in Orlando.

Gun control efforts failed after mass shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and a conference center in San Bernardino, California, in 2015. But some senators see resistance to gun restrictions softening as national security looms larger in the debate.

The Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to the militant group Islamic State as he killed 49 people in a gay nightclub.

"This country is under attack ... it's not a plane or an explosive device, it's an assault weapon," said Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat who led a 15-hour filibuster last week to draw attention to the effort to restrict guns.

Murphy walked off the floor after the Senate votes and embraced Erica Smegielski, the daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, a Sandy Hook principal killed during the Newtown shooting.

"He said, the good thing about me and you is we’re young, we’ll be at this a long time," said Smegielski, 30.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted last week found that 71 percent of Americans favor at least moderate regulations and restrictions on gun sales. That compared with 60 percent in late 2013 and late 2014.

Senior Senate aides left open the possibility of other votes later in the week on unspecified gun control proposals. Some Republicans pinned hopes on a proposal by Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, which was not one of the four bills being considered on Monday.

Collins' plan would restrict gun purchases to a narrow group of suspects, including those on a "no-fly" list or a "selectee" list of people who require additional screening at airports.

But Democratic aides said people credibly suspected of involvement in terrorism would not be covered by the weapons ban under Collins' bill, and a Republican aide indicated it would not do enough to protect the constitutional rights of gun buyers.

Even if the Senate approved a gun compromise, it would also have to be passed by the more conservative, Republican-majority House of Representatives. House Republican leadership aides did not comment on the possibility that any bills proposing gun restrictions would be considered on the House floor this week.

On Monday, all four of the measures to expand background checks on gun buyers and curb gun sales to those on terrorism watch lists - two put forth by Democrats and two by Republicans - fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage in the 100-member chamber.

Gun-control advocates expressed disappointment after the vote and vowed to take revenge on lawmakers at the ballot box in November.

"Shame on every single senator who voted against these life-saving amendments and protected the rights of terrorists and other dangerous people to buy guns," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "The Brady Campaign will expose these politicians for who they really are and call out their failure to disarm hate in America."

Monday, June 20, 2016

The great Second Amendment hoax

Carmen Feldman, of Orlando, cries while visiting for the first the scene of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting from a block away Friday, June 17, 2016, in Orlando, Florida. (photo: David Goldman/AP)
Carmen Feldman, of Orlando, cries while visiting for the first the scene of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting from a block away Friday, June 17, 2016, in Orlando, Florida. (photo: David Goldman/AP)

By Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
19 June 16
How the NRA and conservatives have perverted the meaning of the right to bear arms.

unday night, when my son asked me why we shoot each other dead almost every day in America, I got to tell him that it’s because we are “free.” We are free to get a .223 caliber AR-15–style semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm handgun. And we are free to sell those weapons to someone who might shoot and kill 49 people in a nightclub because of whom they choose to love. We are free to arm ourselves against any potentially tyrannical federal government and also free to watch our children bleed to death in our schools, and churches, and clubs.

And we are free to do it all again tomorrow and the day after that. We are free to feel paralyzed and trapped in a system that is literally killing us.

Freedom in America also means that we are free to wake up every morning hoping that it’s not our kid who gets shot with a weapon of war, and free to wake up hoping it’s not our kid who shoots someone, and free to wake up praying it’s not our kid, or our spouse, or our neighbor who shoots herself. In this freest country on earth, we also happen to be in a perpetual hostage situation, in which one false move—or merely the choice to go to class, or to dance with friends—means you may wind up dead.

What does all this have to do with freedom? Well the document that promises and protects our freedom has been interpreted to say that we are all condemned to live out our days in terror, hostage to powerful interests who urge us to become ever more free by purchasing and stockpiling ever more lethal weapons of war. Perhaps nobody so perfectly captured this twisted definition of freedom as former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who in the wake of yet another round of futile debates about gun rights last fall said this: “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” Indeed.

This is where I tell you that the current interpretation of the Second Amendment—the one held onto by Carson, and Donald Trump, and practically the entire Republican Party—is a hoax. Outside of the GOP, this is widely understood. But what we fail to comprehend, as we bury more of our dead in the name of freedom, is that it is a triple-decker hoax: A lie wrapped in a fabrication, lacquered over with a falsehood.

That we chose to wrap it around our necks as a symbol of our own liberty is our own fault and shame.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution says this: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” For most of U.S. history, that was understood to mean that the freedom guaranteed by the Second Amendment was precisely what it said: the right of the people of each state to maintain a well-regulated militia.

So clearly and unequivocally held was this worldview that no less a liberal squish than Richard Nixon Supreme Court appointee Warren Burger said after his retirement in 1991 that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud—I repeat the word ‘fraud’—on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” This reading was based on precedent.

The Supreme Court had clearly agreed with Burger’s interpretation and not that of the special interest groups he chastised, perhaps most famously in a 1939 case called U.S. v. Miller. That ruling said that since the possession or use of a “shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length” had no reasonable relationship to the “preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia,” the court simply could not find that the Second Amendment guaranteed “the right to keep and bear such an instrument.” Period, full stop. And that was the viewpoint adopted by the courts for years.

What changed? As Cass Sunstein and others have explained, what changed things was a decades-long effort by exceptionally well-organized, well-funded interest groups that included the National Rifle Association—all of whom “embarked on an extraordinary campaign to convince the public, and eventually the courts, to understand the Second Amendment in their preferred way.” It’s rather miraculous, if you stop to think about it: In a few short decades the NRA’s view of the Second Amendment became the law of the land. By 2008, writing the majority opinion for the Supreme Court in District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, Antonin Scalia enshrined this view for first time that: “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

That the Heller court itself qualified that right in multiple ways—and that in the years since Heller, the court has declined one important gun case after another—doesn’t change the fact that the hoax is now the law. On top of everything, most Americans believe by rather huge margins that the concededly ambiguous wording of the Second Amendment means that individuals have the constitutional right to bear arms, even if they don’t want it. According to a recent NRA poll, when asked if “[e]very American has a fundamental right to self-defense and a right to choose the home defense firearm that is best for them,” 76 percent of respondents said “yes.” 

But that is only the crunchy bottom layer of the fraud. The larger fabrication is the idea that the Second Amendment—unlike other provisions of the Constitution—cannot be subject to any reasonable restriction. As my friend Sonja West pointed out in Slate after another mass shooting late last year, we impose limits, caveats, and conditions on many provisions of the Constitution without crying tyranny:
We have the constitutionally protected right to peaceably assemble, but not to block traffic. We are protected from unreasonable and unwarranted searches, unless there is probable cause, exigent circumstances, or a hot pursuit. If charged with a crime, we have the right to a speedy trial (but not if the prosecution is hunting down witnesses) and also a public one (but not if you want your trial televised). We also have the right to a trial by jury (unless the crime carries a sentences of six months or less).
Constitutional rights are subject to every sort of condition and limitation, and as Scalia himself noted in Heller, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” He even went on to list some reasonable limits.

The second hoax—that the right to bear arms is not merely an individual right but also that it is the only constitutional right subject to zero regulation—makes no sense on its face, until and unless you are willing to fall prey to the third fraud.

Hoax number three: Obama, Clinton, Democrats, liberals, the media, whomever are coming for your guns. They are Coming. For your Guns!!! This is the crunchy candy shell that makes the other two lies seem almost reasonable. Of course you should have an inviolate individual right to defend yourself against a tyrannical federal government if you have persuaded yourself that the federal government is indeed tyrannical. This is the big lie that continues to be broadcast and pushed out ad nauseam, and no amount of fact-checking or direct confrontation with accusers makes a whit of difference. The NRA wanted us to feel that only our guns would make us free, and they have prevailed.

That is, of course the paradox. We are in thrall to a fib of epic proportions that itself relies on two other lies. And because we are captive to all these lies, we are also captive to the notion that as much as we wish someone would do something about all the innocent dead people, our hands are tied by the freedom-affording gift that is the Second Amendment. It is a sick joke of our democracy that after every mass shooting we must tell our children that the Framers gave us this precious gift of liberty, more valuable than their lives, and that we are stuck with it. This is the opposite of freedom. It is slavery by choice.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Punk Who Would Be President

Donald Trump describes how he was ready to punch a person who rushed the stage during an election rally. (photo: Nati Harnik/AP)
Donald Trump describes how he was ready to punch a person who rushed the stage during an election rally. (photo: Nati Harnik/AP)

By Garrison Keillor
18 June 16
t is the most famous ducktail in America today, the hairdo of wayward youth of a bygone era, and it's astonishing to imagine it under the spotlight in Cleveland, being cheered by Republican dignitaries. The class hood, the bully and braggart, the guy revving his pink Chevy to make the pipes rumble, presiding over the student council.

This is the C-minus guy who sat behind you in history and poked you with his pencil and smirked when you asked him to stop. That smirk is now on every front page in America. It is not what anybody — left, right or center — looks for in a president. There's no philosophy here, just an attitude.

He is a little old for a ducktail. By the age of 70, most ducks have moved on, but not Donald. He is apparently still fond of the sidewalls and the duck's ass in back and he is proud as can be of his great feat, the first punk candidate to get this close to the White House. He says that the country is run by a bunch of clowns and that he is going to make things great again and beat up on the outsiders who are coming into our neighborhood. His followers don't necessarily believe that — what they love about him is what kids loved about Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, the fact that he horrifies the powers that be and when you are pro-duck you are giving the finger to Congress, the press, clergy, lawyers, teachers, cake-eaters, big muckety-mucks, VIPs, all those people who think they're better than you — you have the power to scare the pants off them, and that's what this candidate does better than anybody else.

After the worst mass shooting in American history on Sunday, 50 persons dead in Orlando, the bodies still being carted from the building, the faces of horror-stricken cops and EMTs on TV, the gentleman issued a statement on Twitter thanking his followers for their congratulations, that the tragedy showed that he had been "right" in calling for America to get "tough."

Anyone else would have expressed sorrow. The gentleman expressed what was in his heart, which was personal pride.

We had a dozen or so ducktails in my high school class and they were all about looks. The hooded eyes, the sculpted swoop of the hair, the curled lip. They emulated Elvis but only the look, not the talent. Their sole ambition was to make an impression, to slouch gracefully and exhale in an artful manner. In the natural course of things, they struggled after graduation, some tried law enforcement for the prestige of it, others became barflies. If they were drafted, the Army got them shaped up in a month or two. Eventually, they all calmed down, got hitched up to a mortgage, worried about their blood pressure, lost the chippiness, let their hair down. But if your dad was rich and if he was born before you were, then the ducktail could inherit enough wealth to be practically impervious to public opinion. This has happened in New York City. A man who could never be elected city comptroller is running for president.

The dreamers in the Republican Party imagine that success will steady him and he will accept wise counsel and come into the gravitational field of reality but it isn't happening. The Orlando tweets show it: The man does not have a heart. How, in a few weeks, should Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell teach him basic humanity? The bigot and braggart they see today is the same man that New Yorkers have been observing for 40 years. A man obsessed with marble walls and gold-plated doorknobs, who has the sensibility of a giant sea tortoise.

His response to the Orlando tragedy is one more clue that this election is different from any other. If Mitt Romney or John McCain had been elected president, you might be disappointed but you wouldn't fear for the fate of the Republic. This time, the Republican Party is nominating a man who resides in the dark depths. He is a thug and he doesn't bother to hide it. The only greatness he knows about is himself.

So the country is put to a historic test. If the man is not defeated, then we are not the country we imagine we are. All of the trillions spent on education was a waste. The churches should close up shop. The nation that elects this man president is not a civilized society. The gentleman is not airing out his fingernail polish, he is not showing off his wedding ring; he is making an obscene gesture. Ignore it at your peril.