Nel's New Day

July 17, 2015

Time to Protect People from Gun Violence

A couple of articles about guns caught my eye in yesterday morning’s newspaper. One was about a proposed sales tax on guns and ammunition in Seattle to pay for the costs of gun violence and research its prevention. The sales tax would follow one in Cook County (IL), and Seattle would be the second major U.S. city to help offset costs—more than $12 million paid by taxpayers for treating 253 gunshot victims at Harborview Medical Center in 2014.

The second article was about Texas gun owners afraid of Jade Helm 15, a routine military two-month exercise that started Wednesday in seven states with about 1,200 people from Texas to California. To extremists, however, it’s a ploy by the U.S. to take over Texas, one of the “united states.” (Personally, I don’t understand why they would think the U.S. wants Texas.) The New York Times reported an interview with a woman who owns a hair salon in Christoval (TX). About the “conspiracy-theory-type people,” she said, “All they’re worried about is their beer and their guns.” That may describe most of the extremists down there.

The state governor, Greg Abbott, ordered the Texas Guard to “monitor” the exercises after Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) checked on a possible takeover with Pentagon officials and a three-star Air Force general. As recently as mid-May, one-third of the Republicans believed that “the government is trying to take over Texas.” Abbott’s Texas Guard has help from Counter Jade Helm Operation, civilian watchdogs who plan to observe and report military activity every day as they search for suspicious activity. The director tried to explain that “we are not the radical extreme groups.”  I would still check them out to see if they’re wearing tin-foil hats.When the exercises peacefully end in September, conservatives will pat themselves on the back for having prevented President Obama’s dastardly martial law.

The big story about guns yesterday, however, was the murder of four Marines at two military facilities, a recruitment center and a Naval and Marine reserve center, in and near Chattanooga (TN) followed by the death of the shooter.  The right-wing bloggers are in full glory about the tragedy, blaming it on the facilities being designated as “gun free zone” and the shooter being an immigrant to the United States. Nothing was said on right-wing blogs, however, about yesterday’s news that a Colorado jury found James E. Holmes guilty of 165 counts of murder and attempted murder for the mass shooting in an Aurora movie theater almost exactly three years ago. Born in the United States, Holmes was a graduate student at the University of Colorado.

Killing the children in Newtown (CT) seems acceptable to many people in the United States—especially conservative members of Congress—and the deaths of nine people in a Charleston (SC) church inflamed a debate about the Confederate flag which the right-wing supports. The question is whether people will be upset enough about the death of four Marines to allow the “politicization” of change in gun laws.

The editorial board of the conservative USA Today stated, “The guilty verdicts in the James Holmes murder trial and a Tennessee shooting re-enforce the need to tighten gun laws in order to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those who pose a danger to society.” It pointed out that the number of mass shootings is almost tripling, and laws need to do something about this increase. Without any congressional action, President Obama could tighten gun sense protection through executive orders:

Help prosecutors go after black-market gun sellers: Although it is a federal crime to “engage in the business” of selling firearms without a license, the definition is too fuzzy to shut down most unlicensed dealers who flood the black market with guns that go to criminals. Only 18 states, recently including Oregon, require private sellers to run background checks on handgun sales.

Require the FBI to inform local law enforcement when someone fails a background check: Telling local law enforcement about people trying to buy guns who aren’t allowed to do so could raise red flags about potential crimes. For example, a man trying to buy a gun after a woman takes out a restraining order against him is committing a crime. Passing along that information could save the woman’s life.

Penalize states that fail to report to NICS in a timely manner: Many states are “irresponsibly slow” in reporting people barred from buying guns to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Withholding grant funds to states failing to report in a timely fashion could encourage a faster response.

Differentiate between private gun sales and licensed dealer sales: The FBI does not ask whether a sale is private or through a licensed dealer when a seller calls NICS for a background check. Better information would determine the success of stopping sales to people not allowed to buy guns from private individuals.

Prohibit dealers who lose their licenses from selling off stock through private sales: In 2006, DOJ allowed gun dealers who lose their licenses for violating gun sale regulations to sell their stock privately without background checks. A revision of the rule requiring the leftover inventory to be sold to another licensed dealer would remove the advantage of people who have already proved that they have acted illegally and irresponsibly. For example, a Baltimore dealer with more than 900 infractions of federal regulations was allowed to sell the remaining 700 guns with no background checks.

A study from Harvard University has shown the importance of these changes—and even more stringent gun sense laws. More guns equal more crime, including more firearm robberies, firearm assaults, and homicides by firearms. The rate of all homicides is two times higher in states with the highest number of gun owners. The new study compliments a 2013 study that increased gun ownership corresponds to an overall increased rate of non stranger homicides. A 2014 Boston University study shows that the overall homicide rate increases 0.7 percent for every one percent increase in gun ownership.

States with the highest numbers of gun owners had 6.8 times more firearm assaults than states with the lowest numbers of gun owners. Firearm homicides were 2.8 times higher. Additionally, the rate of firearm robberies was found to increase, point by point, in correlation to an increase in gun ownership. The theory that people are safer by buying more guns is wrong. Increased gun ownership preceded the increased crime rate, indicating that increased gun ownership leads to more crime.

The new study is one of many that show a correlation in recent years between increased gun ownership and increased crime rates. Last year a Stanford University study revealed that relaxed gun laws led to an increase in crime, instead of a decrease, in spite of NRA predictions that the opposite would happen. NRA focuses on just one study, conducted before the organization succeeded in deregulating firearms in large parts o the United States and at the same time that the NRA convinced Congress to cut off any funding for more research on the impact of these lax gun laws. The study negates the theory expressed on a right-wing blog that “the U.S. is just experiencing a run of phenomenal bad luck.”

On a day-to-day basis, people with guns in the United States are the greatest threat to other people in the U.S.—greater than Russia, China, North Korea, and ISIS, the threats listed by General Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.Every day 30+ people are murdered with guns in the United States. The five youth killed each day by gun violence is 11 times more than any other “high income” nation. The 33,636 killed by gun violence in this country in 2013 is more than the number killed by terrorists in the last 14 years, including 9/11. Only 48 have been killed since then by terrorism. Of these deaths from gun violence, about 20,000 are from suicide—fatal 85 percent of the time in contrast to the 3-percent fatality rate from pills.

Republicans reluctant to link themselves with gun sense laws include the presidential candidates. For example, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has failed to say whether he will to sign a bill, passed three weeks ago, to reduce gun possession by domestic abusers. After the woman’s death that moved the bill out of committee, Christie created a commission the night before he announced his campaign for president to determine if any state gun laws “infringe on New Jerseyans’ constitutional rights” and require modification. Gun groups oppose laws that bar suspected domestic abusers, abusers under protective orders, or convicted stalkers from owning guns. The proposed law would attempt to ensure that the subject of a restraining order actually surrenders his or her guns.

Republicans responded to the woman’s death with a bill to expedite the gun permitting process for victims of domestic abuse. A California shows that the percentage of women who purchased a handgun before being killed jumped to 45 percent from the 20 percent of women shot to death by an intimate partner.Christie supported the state’s tough gun laws until he considered a run for president when he vetoed the .50 caliber rifle ban in 2013.

The United States has a special department to protect people from terrorism but no department to protect people from gun violence. It’s time for an agency to coordinate efforts to keep the people within the United States safe from the clear and present danger from guns.

February 17, 2014

Gov. Christie – More than a Bridge

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:42 PM
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New Yorker cover.Chris ChristieNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has probably received more television minutes during the past few months than any other political figure, most of it devoted to a now-famous bridge between his state and New York. The major question is whether he is still a viable GOP presidential candidate for 2016. His humble, right-moving position shows that he’s working hard toward that position, but other GOP governors avoided him during his recent fundraising travels across the nation.

Christie has far more issues than having probably lied about helping to cause the serious and dangerous problems of the George Washington Bridge when his specially-selected underlings closed down two of the three toll lanes:

Much of the conservative media has dumped Christie: At the end of January, New Jersey’s biggest newspaper, the Newark Star Ledger, called for Christie’s impeachment if he doesn’t resign. The paper, which endorsed his re-election less than four months ago, also called for Christie to step down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. At the same time, the conservative National Journal reporter Ron Fournier, wrote a piece headlined “Why I Was Wrong about Chris Christie,” taking back his statement a year ago that “the smartest man in politics may be Chris Christie.”

Christie’s use of Superstorm Sandy’s relief funds is suspect: Emails indicate that Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer was right when she accused Christie of extortion for support in a development project in order to get Sandy relief funding. Hoboken requested $127 million in aid to initiate projects to prevent flooding from the Hudson River during future storms. The city received $342,000 of the $300 million in federal funds provided to New Jersey—a little more than 0.001 percent for a city of over 50,000. The city has thus far received about $6.57 for storm reparations out of a budget of $300 million.

Allocations of relief funding also showed a definite racial gap: blacks were twice as likely to be rejected for these funds as whites. As much as $6 million was given to a Belleville development project started before Sandy hit. The town’s Democratic mayor endorsed Christie for re-election less than two weeks after receiving the Sandy funds. 

Federal authorities are now investigating Christie’s possible mishandling of relief funds. Although many New Jersey residents haven’t receive help over a year later, Christie put $25 of federal money into ads that starred himself and his family—before his re-election. This money went to a company fully $2 million more than another bid from a company that did not offer to put Christie into the ads.

Christie’s political connections are suspicious:  Christie’s championing the corporation that runs the Community Education Centers, called the worst immigration detention centers in the nation, may have been connected to a former vice-president of these centers, Bill Palatucci, who chaired Christie’s 2013 re-election campaign. There is no proof of illegality, but the connection has an appearance of  a conflict of interest. Christie’s long-time law firm, Wolff & Samson, also received a great deal of business during Christie’s term: its lobbying business increasing from $40,000 annually before his first election to over $1 million a year following.

Christie also has an involvement in questionable real estate deals conducted by his brother, Todd Christie, including properties within walking distance of the Harrison (NJ) PATH station in line for a $256 million renovation funded by the Port Authority. In 2008 Todd Christie also acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged” in a settlement of civil charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Christie’s leadership didn’t help create jobs: Last December the state lost 36,000 jobs, the biggest drop in other decades at a time when the economy is growing. Only 7,000 private sector jobs were created last year.

Christie is a bully: “I am not a bully,” Christie told reporters in a press conference after text messages and emails were released showing that his deputy chief of staff was responsible for deliberately closing two lanes of the George Washington Bridge. His far-right supporters tried to defend the governor.

Fox network’s Brit Hume is blaming the women’s movement for Christie’s appearance of bullying.

“I have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct and are kind of old-fashioned tough guys run some risks.”

Hume kept going:

“By which I mean that men today have learned the lesson the hard way that if you act like kind of an old-fashioned guy’s guy, you’re in constant danger of slipping out and saying something that’s going to get you in trouble and make you look like a sexist or make you look like you seem thuggish or whatever. That’s the atmosphere in which we operate. This guy is very much an old-fashioned masculine, muscular guy, and there are political risks associated with that. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s how it is.”

Yet Christie’s body language and voice do not project the “old-fashioned masculine” guy. As Ezra Klein wrote: “He’s followed around by an aide with a camcorder watching for moments in which Christie, mustering the might and prestige of his office, annihilates some citizen who dares question him.” His purpose is to create a feeling of power that conservatives think is lacking in the current GOP.

Videos in this Mother Jones article show that his bullying is not a one-time situation. 

Before Dawn Zimmer’s allegations, a poll showed Christie on a downhill slide. In a nine-point increase since October, 64 percent think that the word “bully” fits Christie, even after he apologized for his staff lying to him. The all-time low of whether Christie is trustworth—27 percent—shows a 16-point drop. Half the people see him as arrogant, five points up, and “self-centered,” 11 points up. The description of “fair” has dropped 11 points to 30 percent, and effective shrank to 44 percent.

Christie’s history of bullying goes back to high school. As starting catcher on the baseball team, he considered suing to block a better player transferred to his school from getting his position. His decision against suing was based on the town turning against him if the lawsuit resulted in forfeiting the season.

At the University of Delaware during the 1980s, Christie was accused of pushing people not in his tight-knit circle out of student government. Even after he graduated, he ensured that his future wife, Mary Pat, and brother, Todd, would keep major leadership positions.

Christie has proved to be a survivor: When Christie was a U.S. Attorney, primarily between 2005 and 2007, the Bush administration fired a number of U.S. Attorneys, causing the resignations of other U.S. Attorneys as well as many members of the Department of Justice from the U.S. Attorney General on down. The dumped U.S. Attorneys had refused to open meritless voter fraud or meritless investigations on Democratic politicians. Others were fired because they were investigating lawbreaking by Republicans. Those found acceptable were U.S. Attorneys who would cover up criminal activity and create bogus investigations against innocent people. Chris Christie met that requirement.

During his term, Christie was “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and someone who offered “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at exclusive hotels such as the Four Seasons, according to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in Double Down: Game Change 2012 about the GOP presidential campaign. When Mitt Romney considered Christie as his vice-president, vetters raised questions about “Christie’s relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many trips.”

Christie also worked as a lobbyist for the Securities Industry Association when Bernie Madoff was a senior official there and tried to get an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. Other problems for Romney came from the way that Christie steered large government contracts to donors and political allies such as former attorney general John Ashcroft. Christie’s actions sparked a congressional hearing.

Even Fox readers are beginning to understand the Christie problem. A response to an article critical of Chuck Todd’s and Rachel Maddow’s reporting on Christie reads:

“Until we hold our Republican political officials accountable for their  incompetence and /or dishonesty, we can’t call ourselves leaders.

“Spare me the “… Obama did this.”, ” … Clinton did that.” chorus.  I believed in Christie.  I relished every story of him bringing accountability and common sense to the government.  Then I read a story and saw pictures of him lunging at a woman half his size, sticking his finger in her face and screaming at her.  My enthusiasm for Christie waned.

“Now, I’m asked by Christie and his PR machine to believe Bridget Anne Kelly acted alone to satisfy a personal agenda.  I’m supposed to believe she solely gave the order to punish the citizens of Fort Lee because their mayor exercised his right to vote for and speak out on behalf of the candidate of his choice.  Well, I can’t.”

In an interview, Sarah Palin said, “I just don’t know all the information out there, but it’s hard to be the CEO of an organization and not know what the closest people to you are up to.”

One silver lining of Christie’s problems is that the conservatives have finally decided that he’s conservative enough for them. He got an invite to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference this March after failing the extremist yardstick last year. The question is which governor will be brave enough to stand next to him.

October 21, 2013

Good News after the Shutdown

Recent news seems to be better than usual. We’re probably in a honeymoon period after the government re-opened and a few of the GOP members of Congress seem mildly chastened, but I’ll just enjoy what we have today.

Gov. Chris Christie has decided to stop fighting marriage equality in New Jersey. A judge ruled that same-sex couples could marry in that state this month—beginning yesterday, in fact—but Christie appealed the decision, asking for a stay of ceremonies until after the appeal. The judge turned him down, and the governor’s office submitted a formal withdrawal of the appeal to the state Supreme Court this morning. New Jersey is the 14th state to legalize marriage equality.

In my state of Oregon, the attorney general has ruled that the all government agencies in the state must recognize all legal out-of-state marriages, whether performed in other states or other countries. A campaign is still collecting signatures to put marriage equality on the ballot in 2014 by removing the ban from the state constitution. Over 100,000 signatures of the necessary 116,284 have already been gathered. Meanwhile two couples are suing the state to legalize marriage equality. Suits are popping up in several other states that discriminate against gay and lesbian marriage.

Opinion about the GOP has not faired well with the aftermath of the government shutdown. A new survey from Pew Research shows that unfavorable views of the Tea Party have doubled in the past three years from 25 percent in 2010, when the extremists took over the House of Representatives, to 49 percent last week. Only 30 percent of the people have a favorable view of the group that shut down the government for 16 days.

Tea Party

A majority of Americans also think that the GOP control of the House is bad for the country, and even more want House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) replaced. The 54 percent who oppose the GOP rule is up over 25 percent from the 43 percent in December 2012, the last fiscal standoff. Another 63 percent want Boehner replaced.

An NBC/WSJ shows that 24 percent of people approve of the GOP, a record low. Gallup, usually more positive than other surveys, found only 28 percent approval of the GOP. Congress has a 12 percent approval rating with 86 percent of the respondents disapproving, according to the CNN/ORC International poll. President Obama’s ratings haven’t changed since last June, and 44 percent are more confident that he can handle problems facing the U.S., compared to the 31 percent who think that the GOP can. Another 21 percent expressed no confidence in both that the president and the GOP.

For a month the Internet has been reporting the possibility of Democrats taking back the House. I have serious doubts because of the heavy gerrymandering done in the majority of the GOP-controlled states, but this idea keeps popping up. A new survey of 25 GOP-held districts shows dwindling favorability for Republican members of the House in the wake of the recent government shutdown, indicating excellent chances for a Democratic candidate.

In ten of these districts, the incumbent Republican is trailing a generic Democrat. Adding this survey to previous ones, generic candidates lead in 27 of 61 GOP-held districts. When voters were informed their Republican candidate supported the government shutdown, 11 more districts flipped, and one race became a tie. The Dems would have to add 18 seats to the existing 200 in order to achieve control of the House. Unfortunately, voters have very bad memories, but bad behavior in January and February with the possibility of another shutdown might renew a negative impression of the GOP legislators.

Negative press may be the reason that Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR), who came in with fellow Tea Partiers less than three years ago, has announced that he will not seek re-election. As usual, he used the family responsibilities. Griffin is a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and a nonpartisan report rates his district as “safe Republican.” Griffin was Karl Rove’s protege of Karl Rove and appointed as an interim U.S. attorney in Little Rock in 2006 after a scandal in which several U.S. attorneys were fired by the administration. He was never confirmed by the Senate and later resigned the position.

Another interesting race is for Kentucky senator. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is being attacked by the Tea Party on one side and Democratic candidate Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes on the other. She has run a tough campaign thus far with her infamous description of Congress: “The GOP has come to stand for gridlock, obstruction and partisanship. If doctors told Senator McConnell he had a kidney stone, he’d refuse to pass it.”

McConnell tried to pick up some points during the government shutdown by negotiating with Harry Reid and then announcing that this can never happen again. The final continuing appropriations resolution also provided his state with a $3 billion earmark. Yet Grimes’ one-point lead doubled during the shutdown to 45-43 as 60 percent of the people in the state opposed the government closures. The Affordable Care Act, which McConnell vehemently opposes, has been very successful in Kentucky.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is still looking good in the Tea Party despite his determination to eliminate the Affordable Care Act at all costs. Time, a publication popular with conservatives, announced that he “potentially violated ethics rules by failing to publicly disclose his financial relationship with a Caribbean-based holding company during the 2012 campaign.” When he was caught in 2013, he reported the financial relationship by amending his mandatory financial disclosure documents but is now being forced to submit a second amended disclosure after an inquiry by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

When good news comes out of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s usually because they have refused to hear a case. Last week justices said they wouldn’t review a decision that upheld the Maryland gun law requiring residents to demonstrate a “good and substantial reason” to get a permit to carry a handgun outside their own home or business. The state is one of six “may issue” states mandating this reason. Maryland law does not recognize a vague threat or general fear as an adequate reason for obtaining a permit. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law.

Maryland residents can carry a gun at their home or business or while hunting with no permit. The new Maryland law that went into effect at the beginning of October will most likely be the subject of court cases. One of the nation’s tightest gun laws, it bans 45 types of assault weapons, though people who owned the weapons before the new law was passed are allowed to keep them. People must also submit fingerprints to get a license to buy a handgun. That law is also being challenged in court.

Another court case that SCOTUS turned down comes from Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a candidate for governor, and his obsession with outlawing sodomy and oral sex. Ignoring the fact that SCOTUS struck down anti-sodomy laws ten years ago, Virginia kept the law on the books, and Cuccinelli wanted to use it to prosecute cases involving minors. Last July, Cuccinelli unveiled a website for the law and said that he planned to put it back on the books. He also blocked the Virginia legislature from changing the law to conform to the SCOTUS ruling.

The law, however, clearly includes all people, including adults, who engage in oral or anal sex, and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed it unconstitutional.

Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign isn’t very successful either, partly because of his close relationship to Ted Cruz. Last week’s poll shows the GOP candidate down seven points to Terry McAuliffe. A recent ad gives evidence of Cuccinelli’s role in shutting down the government. Virginia was the state most hurt by the federal shutdown. Another of Cuccinelli’s problems is the restrictive laws regarding women’s reproductive rights in the state that has frequently brought out protesters.

As Scarlet O’Hara said in Gone with the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.” But for today, this news is good.

August 9, 2013

Media Ignores Gun Control Efforts

Reading the newspapers would make one believe that efforts toward gun control have disappeared. With the silence out there, When I Googled gun-control articles for the past week, I found that Gov. Chris Christie has signed at least ten gun control bills passed by the New Jersey legislature. One measure disqualifies  people on the federal terrorist watch list from buying guns and another requires certain mental health records to be sent to the instant background check system. A third increases penalties for certain gun-trafficking crimes. Now gun buyers and owners in New Jersey also have to be trained in firearms safety.

Other bills wait for him such as ones that ban sales of .50-caliber rifles and modernize the state’s gun buying system. Bipartisan support in the legislature passed the bills, and gun opponents didn’t go up in flames over the measures. Scott Bach, executive of the New Jersey Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs, said that his group opposed two of the bills bills but they were not the top priority.

Other lawmakers are trying to make their residents safer:

  • Meridian (MS) has signed an ordinance restricting  open carry of firearms on all city property.
  • The Chicago City Council strengthened Chicago’s assault weapons ban and imposed sharply higher fines for gun crimes near schools and along “Safe Passage” routes.
  • Arkansas school districts can’t use a little-known state law to employ teachers and staff as guards who can carry guns on campus, according to the state’s attorney general.
  • A federal judge in Denver ruled in early July that he will not block the new Colorado state law that limits the size of ammunition magazines.
  • Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford announced Friday that he will order hearings this fall on the state’s “stand your ground” law.
  • The Ann Arbor City Council voted 10-1 to urge state lawmakers to repeal Michigan’s Self Defense Act of 2006, which is similar to Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground law.

Guns are not initially illegal: they are manufactured and then sold in a licensed gun store to a person who passes a background check. Yet in 90 percent of gun crimes, the person with the gun is not the original buyer of the gun from a store. In one-third of the crimes, the gun was bought in a different state than the crime. The most common age of a criminal with a gun is 19, followed by 20, and then by 18, yet the legal age to purchase a handgun is 21. These statistics show that the vast majority of guns used in crimes came from illegal gun trafficking.

Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) have introduced a bill that now has 184 co-sponsors. According to Thompson, the measure is identical to the bipartisan agreement on background checks struck by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA). The bill would require background checks for all gun sales in commercial settings, including at gun shows, on the internet, and in classified ads even if the sellers are doing so privately. Private sellers would be required to conduct background checks through licensed dealers, using the same background check system already used for dealer sales. Licensed dealers would not see changes in the way that they have done their recordkeeping for over 40 years.

In addition, the bill would improve the federal background checks database (NICS) by helping states improve their reporting systems, requiring federal courts to submit records, and removing hurdles to the submission of critical mental health records.  It would provide grants to improve automation and transmittal of mental-health records on the state level, make federal court information available to the NICS, and allow the NICS to have mental-health records otherwise protected by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Thompson and King stated the following in a joint press release:

“Background checks are the first line of defense against criminals and the dangerously mentally ill getting guns. This bill is comprehensive, it is enforceable, it will save lives, and it will protect the rights of law abiding Americans to own guns. It’s time for Congress to act.”

Over 6.6 million guns are transferred each year through private transfers not subject to background checks.  Almost 80 percent of criminals using handguns for crimes got these through private transfers. Background checks help save lives as shown by states requiring background checks for all handgun sales:

  • Gun trafficking was 48 percent lower than in states that fail to require background checks for all handgun sales.
  • The rate of women murdered by an intimate partner with a gun was 38 percent lower than in other states, while the rate murdered by other means was nearly identical.
  • The firearm suicide rate was 49 percent lower than in other states, even though people committed suicide in other ways at almost precisely the same rate.
  • Thirty-nine percent fewer law enforcement officers were shot to death with handguns.

Hopefully, the King-Thompson bill would close the loopholes that allow domestic violence abusers to easily get guns through existing private sales and transfers. Just the presence of a gun in a DV situation increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.

The day before Congress left for home last week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced a bill that addressed gun safety, mental health, and gun violence research. “The bill will prohibit the sale of gun kits like those used in the Santa Monica shootings,” Waxman said, referring the June 7 shooting in which 23-year-old John Zawahri shot and killed five people in the Pico neighborhood before he was killed in the Santa Monica (CA) College library.

The Gun Violence Prevention and Reduction Act of 2013 would also “authorize additional research on serious mental illness, improve access to mental health services for all, and reinforce existing government authorities to carry out public health research on gun violence.” Although Zawarhi was denied the purchase of a gun because of his mental illness, he used a loophole in the law to buy a partially-completed gun that he put together himself. Waxman wants to close this loophole.

Chris Hayes reports that California’s strictest gun laws of any state may have caused drastic reductions in gun deaths. Gun violence in the state dropped 56 percent from 1993 to 2010, a time when the population expanded from 30 million to 37 million. Across the nation, gun violence dropped only 29.5 percent in the same period of time. At least 30 California gun laws include a ban on military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, requirements of safety design for handguns, and various steps to help law enforcement authorities get guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers.

Among all the industrialized nations, 80 percent of all firearms deaths occur in the United States.

Organizations trying to reduce this percentage:

Mayors Against Illegal Guns: a national, bipartisan coalition of mayors with over 1,000 mayors from 46 states who have been joined by citizens.

The Violence Policy Center: a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury through research, advocacy, education, and collaboration.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America: an advocacy group formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting with 100 chapters in 40 states.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence: a national public interest law center dedicated to preventing gun violence.

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence: a coalition of religious, labor, and nonprofit organizations to secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy.

Ceasefire Oregon: a grassworks organization of people who want to prevent gun violence by advocating reasonable, effective gun laws.

The Brady Campaign: a group that works to create a safer America by reducing the number of gun deaths and injuries.   Americans for Responsible Solutions: an organization formed after the shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) to encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership.

These are just a few of the groups working in this area. Other organizations such as National Organization for Women are also committed to a safer life in the United States. And hopefully get the media back to the issue of gun control!

April 20, 2012

ALEC Becomes Visible, Loses Support

Shrouded in secrecy, an ultra-conservative organization has operated for at least 30 years to destroy the poor and middle class people in the United States until George Zimmerman followed and killed Trayvon Martin, who was armed only with Skittles and an iced tea. Although law enforcement groups opposed the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, people in Florida are permitted to attack a perceived assailant without retreating. John Timoney, former Miami police chief, called the law a “recipe for disaster” and said that he and other police chiefs had correctly predicted it would lead to more violent road-rage incidents and drug killings.

Behind this law is not only the NRA but also the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a collection of wealthy corporations and highly conservative legislators, that exists to prepare ultra-conservative legislative bills that have swept the country as more and more states are held hostage by Republicans.

Once people began to learn about ALEC’s destructive nature, they protested, frequently with on-line petitions against its supporters. At least 12 major corporations, the number growing daily, have withdrawn their donations, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kraft, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Gates Foundation. Petitions are still out there to persuade State Farm Insurance, Johnson & Johnson, and AT&T to drop their support.

The pressure is paying off: ALEC has announced that it will be “eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.” That’s the task force that was behind the controversial voter ID, “stand your ground,” and anti-immigrant laws.

Complaining about “an intimidation campaign,” ALEC claims that its aim is “economic vitality.” Toward that end, they strive to break unions, repeal minimum wage laws, privatize public lands, repeal capital gains and estate taxes, oppose efforts to address human-created climate change, repeal sick day laws, require super-majorities to raise taxes, restrict women’s reproductive rights, and even push laws stating that kids’ eating rat poison is an “acceptable risk.”

In the name of “economic vitality,” ALEC has model laws in the educational field to teach creationism and stop the teaching of human involvement in climate change. Their ultimate goal is to strip public education of all financing,  funding only private religious academies. The Supreme Court allows Arizona to funnel public taxes to religious schools, and Tennessee now promotes creationism and climate change denial in its schools. Denying any involvement in ALEC, New Jersey governor Chris Christie uses its model bills for education “reform” including the use of standardized testing and reforming teacher tenure. ALEC is also in Minnesota working for “torte reform.” 

ALEC distributes hate messages, such as the pamphlets about the “Ten Harms of Same-Sex Marriage” and worse. According to this material from the Family Research Council, marriage equality would result in fewer people marrying or remaining monogamous followed by polygamy.

After the NRA conceived Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground law and promoted its passage, the gun-advocacy group brought the bill to ALEC in 2005, when legislators and corporate lobbyists on the Criminal Justice Task Force voted unanimously to adopt it as a “model bill.” Since becoming first an ALEC model and then a law in dozens of other states, the number of homicides classified as “justifiable” has dramatically increased, jumping 300 percent in Florida alone. In 2009, members of the same Task Force approved the model “Voter ID Act,” versions of which were introduced in a majority of states in 2011, illegally denying voters the opportunity to participate in elections.

Members of the now-eliminated Task Force have included for-profit prison providers like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has also served as the co-chair. The ALEC Criminal Justice/Public Safety & Elections Task Force has created model bills that lengthen sentences, dramatically increased incarceration rates, and—of course—privatize prisons, putting more of those inmates under the control of for-profit corporations.

Fifteen years ago, Scott Walker, currently Wisconsin governor, introduced the “Truth in Sentencing” bill passed by the legislature which requires inmates to serve their full sentence without options for parole or supervised release. The law removes incentives for prisoners to reduce prison time through good behavior and participation in counseling as well as eliminating the ability for judges and parole boards to decide that the financial and social costs of keeping a particular person incarcerated no longer furthers public safety goals.

Walker failed to make money for CCA by losing his bid to privatize Wisconsin prisons, but Arizona Republican Rep. Russell Pearce was more successful when he collaborated with CCA to privatize half the immigrant detention centers at the same time that he persuaded the state legislature to pass the ALEC “model” immigration bill that became SB1070. An immigrant contesting their deportation can wait up to a year for a hearing, even though many of those detained have not committed a crime and have no criminal record. Taxpayers give CCA $122 per day for each detained immigrant in these centers. Pearce is known nation-wide because of the successful recall against him.

ALEC also made money for the for-profit bail bond industry’s trade association, the American Bail Coalition (ABC), through ALEC’s anti-immigration laws. An immigrant facing removal in some cases may be released on bond and will often pay a commercial bail bondsman for  release. Immigration bonds are usually between $5,000 and $10,000 although the bond can be much higher. A for-profit bail bondsman who receives 10 percent of that bail as a nonrefundable fee can collect significant profits for doing very little. ABC has called ALEC the industry’s “life preserver.” After the dissolution of ALEC’s Criminal Justice/Public Safety & Elections Task Force, ABC moved over to the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force.

In one specific way, ALEC affects almost everyone in its attempt to raise prices for Internet use. Although ALEC’s restrictive bill  failed to stop the public broadband system in Lafayette (LA), the “model” remains in ALEC’s library. Lafayette’s system offers Internet speed at a 750-percent cheaper cost to users than rival Cox’s service at the lowest tier. If the corporations that run ALEC get their way in the future, you will never have cheaper and faster Internet service.

While ALEC tries to keep Internet subscribers paying top dollar, they use it to protest what they perceive as “unfair” treatment, sending their message out to conservative bloggers of how to defend ALEC. In addition to its false claim of transparency, it also touts its “diversity of thought … a non-partisan resource”: ALEC leadership has one Democrat and 103 Republicans. Because of the closed-door policy, constituents don’t know that corporations write and approve ALEC legislation. Bloggers were told that ALEC will soon launch a website called “I Stand with ALEC.” (Until it comes up, you can find real information about ALEC at a website exposing their activities.)

Sounding virtuous about its work, ALEC said, “America needs organizations like ALEC to foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way.” ALEC Task Force meetings are closed to the press and public and take place behind closed doors. The Koch brothers are large donors to ALEC; they well understand the importance of opacity.

Unfortunately, ALEC is not unique in the land of blueprint legislation, borrowing bill prototypes or model bills from a central national entity and then adapting them for introduction in statehouses. People who notice that the women’s anti-reproductive rights legislation sweeping Republican states pretty much look alike can thank Americans United for Life (AUL) that took over from ALEC in this area. Behind this organization is former Mike Huckabee staffer Charmaine Yoest and former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson, who now claims “that Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with Satan.” Johnson is also behind Komen’s defunding Planned Parenthood. Not much has been said about their funding, but they certainly seem to have clout.

As The Nation reports, conservatives in ALEC think everything in government should be “demonized, starved, or privatized.” That’s probably true for all conservatives.


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