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Decoder Buzz

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is the politics that actually gets people talking. Decoder Buzz adds a dash of perspective to the stories that are setting tongues wagging. 

First lady Michelle Obama signs copies of her book, 'American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America,' at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington on Tuesday. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Michelle Obama back on book tour. How successful are first lady authors?

By Staff writer / 05.07.13

Michelle Obama is back on the book tour circuit for her gardening tome, “American Grown." On Tuesday, about 250 people braved a soaking rain to line up outside northwest Washington’s Politics & Prose bookstore and then file through for an autograph and a few seconds of chat with the nation’s first lady.

“Buy away. It’s Mothers Day. It’s coming up,” said Mrs. Obama, to laughter from the damp crowd. They’d all purchased an “American Grown” copy as the price of their admission.

“American Grown” is a sumptuous picture book, the story of the White House garden. It came out last year and more than 175,000 copies have been printed, according to publisher Random House. It’s got recipes and stories about other gardens that have inspired Obama, including a scent garden for the visually impaired at a New York City school.

During the appearance Obama admitted that her own daughters really just like to thumb through the book’s illustrations. She added that, slowly but surely, they’ve started to read the text, as well.

“And that’s really the hope – that the pictures draw people of all ages in and then they start to read it and maybe start thinking about how to start a garden on their own, because there are many ways to do it,” said Obama.

She noted that if you don’t have any suitable ground you can use containers. (She didn’t add that in the Washington area that’s a particularly good idea, because the natural soil resembles ground-up clay pots.)

Yes, it’s unusual for an author to still get personal appearances after a book’s been out 12 months. Mid-list authors with sensitive coming-of-age novels usually don’t get that treatment. But Random House probably figured that with gardening season just starting, a bit more publicity could push a more “American Grown” hardcover copies out the door. Profits go to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of the national parks.

Nowadays, first ladies just have to churn out books, don’t they? “American Grown” is the first by Obama, but we bet there are more to come. Every first lady since Lady Bird Johnson has eventually written a memoir of their White House years that received a large printing and full-press publicity, according to Craig Fehrman, an author who’s been researching a book about presidential books for several years.

This does not mean that books by first ladies are a purely modern phenomenon. The first presidential spouse to see her memoirs published while she was still alive was Helen Taft, whose book came out in 1914, according to Mr. Fehrman. Edith Wilson wrote a popular book. Eleanor Roosevelt was practically a publisher unto herself – she wrote dozens of tomes, from “Courage in a Dangerous World” to “Christmas, 1940” and “It’s Up to the Women."

“In the end, what first lady memoirs may have most in common is popularity. Every such book in the 20th and 21st centuries has hit the best-seller lists,” wrote Fehrman in a 2010 New York Times essay on the subject.

This should not be surprising – first ladies have generally been more popular figures than their husbands, since they don’t get as involved in controversial policies.

As “American Grown” shows, memoirs aren’t the only, or even the preeminent, kind of first lady book. The Atlantic Wire has compiled a list of some of the lighter efforts, including Eleanor Roosevelt’s, “A Trip to Washington with Buddy and Betty,” written for children in 1935, and Nancy Reagan’s, “To Love a Child,” about the foster grandparents program.

And who could forget Barbara Bush’s dog books, the classic “C. Fred’s Story," written when her husband as VP, and “Millie’s Book,” written in the White House? They purported to be in the canines’ voices, as dictated to their owner.

“Between 7 and 7:08, the President and I go off to the Oval Office,” wrote Millie in describing her day. “I often sit in on the morning briefings.... I overheard the Bushes talking the other night. Some discussion about me keeping a lower profile.”

We’d have gone the other way – maybe a higher Millie profile would have eked out a reelection victory for Bush 41 in 1988.

Glenn Beck and stagecraft wizardry: Why his NRA talk trumped all

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 05.07.13

Here's one thing you can say about Republicans: They sure like their props.

First there was Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention. Then there was Sarah Palin chugging down a Big Gulp at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, and a couple months later, waving a tin of chewing tobacco at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston this past weekend.

But in the prop-toting antics category, Glenn Beck may take the cake. He used not one but five props at his keynote address at the NRA’s “Stand and Fight” convention Saturday, a rousing almost-two-hour talk during which he paced, mocked, pontificated, and of course, referred to props in classic Beck fashion.

He presented a series of firearms: the gun owned by serial killer Charles Manson before police confiscated it and Manson had nine victims slaughtered – with knives, not guns; a 9/11 first responder’s handgun, which Mr. Beck called a “small token of liberty;” and an antique rifle used by an American “the first time we fought against Muslim extremists” – the Barbary pirates.

A parade of arms? A firepower fashion show? A gun pageant? No, Beck was hammering home his point.

“So, what is this gun, good or evil?” he asked. “It is nothing! A gun is only the reflection of the people that use it.”

In other words, the classic gun rights supporters’ argument – guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

But Glenn was just getting started. His next prop? A pressure cooker.

“What was my grandmother’s summer pastime has now been defined as a weapon of mass destruction,” he said, gingerly carrying out a pressure cooker and placing it on a stool.

(A reference, of course, to the Boston Marathon bombings in which the suspects allegedly used pressure cookers as explosives.)

“Have we gone insane? Have we gone insane?” he shouted. “Guns save lives, guns protect homes, businesses … they feel they must regulate us until we comply. I will not comply.”

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, a strange segue to Beck’s final, bizarre, “prop” of sorts.

Taking aim at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Beck mocked the mayor’s “soda ban, popcorn ban, salt ban,” then unveiled his off-color twist on the “I Heart New York” motto: a giant image of Mayor Bloomberg (who is Jewish) as Adolf Hitler, delivering a Nazi salute, with the words “You will” love New York printed below.

We can’t explain that one.

The only thing missing from Beck’s wide-ranging talk – which, in addition to pirates, Nazis, and Charles Manson, encompassed Michael Moore, the Ku Klux Klan, and Winston Churchill?

His rambling chalkboard flowcharts.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looks on while giving his State of the State address in the Assembly chamber in Trenton, N.J., in January. Governor Christie, who has undergone weight-loss surgery, explains he did it for his wife and kids. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Chris Christie weight-loss procedure: Why now? (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.07.13

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has had weight-loss surgery, according to an account in Tuesday’s New York Post. He agreed to the operation at the urging of family and friends after reaching the milestone of his half-century birthday.

The lap-band procedure is designed to cut his appetite by constricting his stomach. It’s already working, he told the Post.

“A week or two ago, I went to a steakhouse and ordered a steak and ate about a third of it, and I was full,” Governor Christie said.

Is this about 2016 and the politics of appearance? After all, comedians have ribbed the non-small Christie about his weight for years.

In 2011, David Letterman did “Top Ten Ways the Country Would Be Different if Chris Christie Were President,” and it was basically just a list of fat jokes. (Our favorite was No. 9, “Goodbye White House vegetable garden.”) That same year, veteran political journalist Michael Kinsley wrote a Bloomberg View column saying that Christie had done well in the Garden State and might be the man to impose fiscal discipline on Washington. Then he went for the too-obvious symbolism.

“Perhaps Christie is the one to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first,” Mr. Kinsley wrote.

The fact is, though, Christie is doing pretty well on the national stage just the size he is. He’s one of the most popular governors in the United States and a front-runner for the 2016 GOP nomination, trailing ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Florida Sen. Marco Rubio by a tick in a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University poll.

Christie himself explains his surgery as something he did for his wife and kids. It’s got nothing to do with 2016 and isn’t complicated, he said. Weight is a problem he’s struggled with for years, and it’s time to do something about it.

“For me, this is about turning 50 and looking at my children and wanting to be there for them,” said Christie.

That’s a sentiment any nacho-loving spouse and parent can relate to.

If there’s something the procedure is not about, it’s Christie’s more-immediate political prospects. He’s running for reelection at the moment, and he’s so far ahead he’d need a telescope to look back at his opponent, Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono.

As of the beginning of May, Christie has raised $6.2 million for his reelection bid, according to Politico.

Senator Buono has raised about $738,000, which is not even enough to qualify for all the public matching funds to which she’s entitled, according to Jarrett Renshaw of the Newark, N.J.-based Star-Ledger.

Former US Vice President Al Gore gives a television interview during the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., April 30. Mr. Gore is almost as rich as Mitt Romney, according to a new in-depth Bloomberg analysis of his wealth. (David McNew/Reuters)

Al Gore now 'Romney-rich': Enough to make him happy?

By Staff Writer / 05.06.13

Al Gore is almost as rich as Mitt Romney, according to a new in-depth Bloomberg analysis of his wealth. He’s got a fortune just short of $200 million, as opposed to the $250 million net worth of the Republican the 2012 Obama campaign framed as an out-of-touch plutocrat.

Much of Mr. Gore’s wealth stems from the January sale of Current TV, which he co-founded, to the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera media empire. Gore netted about $70 million from his Current stake, estimates Bloomberg. That same month the ex-VP and almost-president of the United States also raked in about $30 million from sales of Apple stock. He’s on Apple’s board of directors.

“That’s a pretty good January for a guy who couldn’t yet call himself a multimillionaire when he briefly slipped from public life after his bitterly contested presidential election loss to George W. Bush in late 2000,” write Bloomberg’s Ken Wells and Ari Levy.

Gore still has $45 million worth of Apple stock he has not sold. He’s a co-founder of an investment firm, Generation Investment Management, that’s done quite well. He’s a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Then there are those best-selling books about environmental threats as well as speeches that earn him around $175,000 a pop.

Is this unseemly? After all, Gore railed against climate change, and now has a Tennessee mansion so big it uses 20 times more electricity than the average US household. He’s promoted green energy, yet made his biggest payday from selling his under-performing cable firm to petro-dollar interests.

It’s a turnabout that commentators on both the left and the right have not let pass. Jon Stewart lampooned the sale of Current on the “Daily Show;” right-leaning blogs skewered Gore as a hypocrite.

“Mr. Green is sure rolling in the green now,” wrote one commentator on RedState.

But losing presidential candidates don’t take a vow of poverty. Gore had to do something, and throwing himself into making money appears to be his method of coping with the shock of winning the popular vote yet losing the presidency.

“Ideological consistency has never been one of Al Gore’s hobgoblins, for better or worse. And one benefit of having endured what Gore has endured is that he has a very thick skin,” writes Steve Fishman in a lengthy profile of Clinton’s Veep in New York Magazine.

The better question to ask might be if all this money has truly made Gore happy. That’s the impression one gets from reading Fishman’s piece, which includes an interview with Gore at his (virtually empty) Nashville mansion.

Fishman portrays Gore as the “ultimate Davos man,” meaning the avatar of someone who is well-compensated for traveling the world to exchange ideas for saving it at posh resorts.

Gore’s books such as “An Inconvenient Truth” are apocalyptic. The word “cheery” does not come to hand when describing the man himself.

“Wherever Al Gore is, it’s hard not to get the sense that there are dark clouds lurking,” writes Fishman.

Still, Gore’s flood of cash may cushion the blow of being the Almost President, writes Dashiell Bennett at the Atlantic Wire.

Gore did not invent the Internet, but it turns out he’s made a lot of money off it, writes Bennett – “money that he almost certainly would have missed out on had a few more hanging chads gone his way.”

Immigration advocates gather outside the Senate Judiciary Committee room on Capitol Hill in Washington as they wait to attend a hearing on comprehensive immigration reform legislation on April 22. The Judiciary Committee will take its first votes on the reform bill on May 9. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

Immigration reform: 3 reasons it's got its best chance yet

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 05.06.13

The GOP's Sen. John McCain couldn’t do it in 2005. Spanish-speaking Texan President George W. Bush couldn’t do it in 2007. Spooked, President Obama didn’t even try it in his first term, although he had promised to.

Indeed, Republican opposition has doomed immigration reform nearly every time it has been proposed – 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010, according to the National Journal.

By all accounts, however, this time will be different. Even the typically restrained Associated Press calls it, “the kind of breathtaking turnaround you rarely see in politics.”

Senate hearings begin this week on the 844-page immigration reform proposal written by a bipartisan group of eight senators, including co-author Florida senator and conservative idol Marco Rubio. Though opposition still looms, for the first time in years partisan outrage appears to be absent – and this latest immigration reform proposal may have the best chance of passing in a very long while.

Here are three reasons why:

The 2012 election

You haven’t already forgotten, have you? If the 2012 election taught us anything, it is that Hispanic voters matter. Like the youth vote in 2008, Hispanics were the star bloc of the last election, arguably the reason Mr. Obama won and GOP contender Mitt Romney lost.

It’s not just the GOP that recognizes that. Obama won 71 percent of Hispanic voters in 2012, and frankly, he may feel he owes them – especially since he’s been promising immigration reform since he ran for office in 2008.

And the GOP, well, its “pathetic job of reaching out to people of color” (as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) told Fox News after his party’s thrashing) cost it the White House last year. And the party knows it’s more or less doomed without Hispanic support in coming years.

“If we don’t do better with Hispanics, we’ll be out of the White House forever,” Republican strategist Ana Navarro said post-election.

Potential political irrelevance? Nothing like it to fuel legislative action.

Marco Rubio

Come on, who’s got more conservative cred’ than bill co-author Sen. “I bleed Republican red” Rubio?

He’s been called the “crown prince of the Tea Party movement,” a “conservative hero," a Latino “rising star,” and the GOP’s natural leader on immigration reform.

And that’s why he’s the immigration reform bill’s best bet for success. Rubio, along with Gang-of-Eight GOP heavyweights Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain, and Jeff Flake of Arizona, are targeting Republican lawmakers to support the bill.

Sure, he’s getting plenty of flak, but that hasn’t stopped the Cuban-American from Florida from making his case.

As he recently wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Conservatism has always been about reforming government and solving problems, and that's why the conservative movement should lead on immigration reform … defeating it without offering an alternative cannot be the conservative position on immigration reform. That would leave the issue entirely in the hands of President Obama and leave in place the disastrous status quo.”

Growing support

Unlike in 2007, when Republican outrage mounted into an all-out war against immigration reform, 2013 sees increasing support for – and recognition of the need for – comprehensive immigration reform from a bevy of conservative groups.

Top among them: evangelical Christians. In 2007, they were among immigration reform’s staunchest opponents; today, they are some of its biggest supporters, calling on their ranks to obey biblical injunctions to welcome the stranger.

Last month, some 300 evangelical leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., to support immigration reform – virtually unheard of six years ago.

No surprise, business leaders are also coming out more publicly in favor of immigration reform, recognizing that they need immigrants – skilled and unskilled – to advance their own interests. As it stands, the Gang of Eight’s proposal would establish an agricultural worker visa system as well as create more visa programs for high- and low-skill workers.

That’s why Silicon Valley and the tech industry, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, are “feverishly working" to support the immigration bill – and shape it to their interests.

When it comes to change of heart, however, the biggest surprise has been conservative talk radio.

Six years ago, irate talk radio hosts, such as Fox News personality and syndicated talk radio host Sean Hannity, whipped up Republican outrage over immigration reform, which ultimately doomed the bill.

Not this time. Mr. Hannity "says that he 'has evolved' and that it is time for Republicans to support some kind of major change in the nation’s immigration system,” according to The New York Times.

Apparently he’s not alone.

Conservative talk radio host Michael Medved told the paper he sensed a shift. “What you are not hearing as much, except from a handful of people, is ‘over my dead body,’ ” Mr. Medved told the Times. “The level of apocalyptic hysteria is much less.”

Hey, if conservative talk radio – and Hannity – can pull an about-face on immigration reform, this bill’s got its best chance yet.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during the leadership forum at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting Friday, in Houston. (Steve Ueckert/AP)

Sarah Palin's chaw: Why did she wave chewing tobacco during NRA speech? (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.06.13

Why is Sarah Palin holding up a tin of chewing tobacco? That’s what attendees at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention in Houston might have asked if they weren’t paying close attention to the speeches. You know, you’re poking around the merchandise tables, maybe getting a snack, and you look up at the video screens that show the action – and there’s the former governor of Alaska waving what appears to be a can of chaw. Does she chew that stuff herself?

No, not as far as we can tell. At least not in public. She was using the chewing tobacco as a visual aid in her battle against what she perceives as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-freedom crusade.

In March at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, Ms. Palin defiantly sipped from a Big Gulp to mock Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda sizes in city restaurants. At the NRA convention she went a bit further, taking the tin of tobacco (no word on what brand) out of her pocket and showing it to the crowd in an attempt to belittle Bloomberg’s new proposal to forbid stores from publicly displaying tobacco products, set a minimum price for cigarettes, and prevent stores from redeeming tobacco-company coupons.

“Don’t make me do it!” said Palin to laughter from the crowd, tapping the tin as if she were about to open it. “That’s funny, though: Todd has been looking for this all morning.”

Now, earlier in the speech, Palin criticized President Obama for using parents from Newtown, Conn., as symbols in his attempt to get a gun-control bill through the Senate.

“Making them backdrops ... we have leaders who practice the politics of emotion,” Palin said.

Wasn’t the tobacco tin kind of a backdrop, though? Palin herself is pretty good at riling up a conservative crowd with applause lines, which is also the politics of emotion.

That said, New York City’s Bloomberg is a good target for a lot of people, since his ambitions are large and his enthusiasms can seem nanny-like. He was even mocked in the cold open of “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend. The skit was complicated: We’ll just say it involved a 16-liter cup of cherry soda, a fake “Fox & Friends” interview, and gun control.

“If there’s one person American gun owners will listen to, it’s a northeastern Jewish billionaire,” insisted “Mayor Bloomberg,” played by Fred Armisen.

Nor is Palin alone in criticizing the proposed ban on visible tobacco. An association of small grocery owners in the city has started a “Save Our Stores” campaign, arguing that the move would just create a black market in tobacco products while depriving them of crucial sales.

But it’s a lot easier to mock soda control than new tobacco regulations, given the science linking illness and tobacco products. Bloomberg has pointed out that some entire nations, such as Canada and Britain, have enacted similar prohibitions on displaying tobacco products.  

“This legislation will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking,” Bloomberg said in March.

Assata Shakur – formerly known as Joanne Chesimard – was convicted in 1973 of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. She escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba. (New Jersey State Police/AP/File)

Newest 'Most Wanted Terrorist': Should Assata Shakur make the list?

By Staff writer / 05.03.13

The FBI has added the first woman to its “Most Wanted Terrorists” list, Joanne Chesimard, who is currently living in Cuba under the name Assata Shakur.

Ms. Chesimard/Shakur is a fugitive member of a black militant group convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper by the side of a roadway on May 2, 1973. Sentenced to prison in 1977, she escaped in November 1979. Eventually she made her way to Cuba, where the Castro regime has sheltered her ever since, claiming she is a victim of racial persecution.

Cuba has declined repeated US requests to extradite her. On Thursday, the FBI and New Jersey law enforcement officials announced that they have doubled the reward for her capture and return to $2 million.

“She continues to flaunt her freedom in the face of this horrific crime," said New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes at a news conference.

The FBI “Most Wanted Terrorist” list is an offshoot of the venerable “Most Wanted” list, and something of a younger brother. It was first drawn up and published in late 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. At that time it contained the names of 22 men, mostly Middle Eastern, who had been indicted by federal grand juries on charges connected to terrorist attacks ranging from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to the 1996 attack on a US military residential tower in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden was No. 1. He was the only person on the 2001 terrorist list who was already a “Most Wanted” – in his case, due to his involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa.

Alleged terrorists remain on the list “until such time as the charges are dropped or when credible physical evidence is obtained, which proves with 100 percent accuracy, that they are deceased,” says the FBI.

Needless to say, Mr. bin Laden is no longer listed.

Today the list has 32 names. The majority are Middle Easterners, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, the former bin Laden associate and current listed head of Al Qaeda.

The first domestic terrorist added to the list, according to the FBI, was Daniel Andreas San Diego, in 2009. He is an alleged environmental extremist – the FBI says he has ties to “animal rights extremist groups” – wanted for possible involvement in two 2003 bombings in the San Francisco area.

As for Joanne Chesimard, the FBI says she was a prominent member of the Black Liberation Army, which from the late 1960s through the 1970s was responsible for the killings of more than a dozen law enforcement officers.

On May 2, 1973, state police stopped a car in which Chesimard and two associates were riding on the New Jersey Turnpike on grounds that it had a broken taillight. At the time, Chesimard was wanted for possible involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery.

“Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One trooper was wounded and the other was shot and killed execution-style at point-blank range,” reads the FBI’s account of what happened.

One of Chesimard’s companions was killed in the firefight. The other was convicted and remains in jail.

Not everyone agrees that Chesimard belongs on the terrorist list. They note that, among other things, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies used both legal and illegal means to watch and counter left-wing groups in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Nor is there any evidence that Chesimard actually fired the shots that took the life of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster, said Rutgers University criminal justice professor Lennox Hinds, who was one of her defense attorneys. (Under New Jersey law, an accomplice can also be convicted of first-degree murder.)

“I believe that we have to look at this in the context of what has just happened in Boston,” Mr. Hinds told the self-described progressive news show "Democracy Now!" on Friday. “I think that with the massacre that occurred there, the FBI and the state police are attempting to inflame the public opinion to characterize her as a terrorist, because the acts that she was convicted of have nothing to do with terrorism.”

The FBI, for its part, alleges that Chesimard took an active role in the firefight, including firing the first shot.

“This crime was always considered an act of domestic terrorism,” said Mike Rinaldi, a lieutenant with the New Jersey State Police and a member of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in Newark, at Thursday’s press conference.

Tommy Joost of Victoria, Texas holds up a raffle ticket to win a gun during the National Rifle Association (NRA)'s annual meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, Friday. Tens of thousands of NRA members gather in Houston this weekend for the first time since the Senate rejected a plan last month to expand background checks for gun buyers, but officials say attendees will not sit back to celebrate victory. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

NRA 'Stand and Fight' convention: Political big guns will be there (+video)

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 05.03.13

Consider it an after-party, victory lap, pep rally, and huddle, rolled into one rollicking shindig. It’s the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, held this weekend in Houston, and the timing – after the gun bill’s defeat in the Senate almost three weeks ago – couldn’t be better for the gun rights group.

By our estimation, the gathering of 70,000 NRA members, supporters, and Second Amendment activists will be one part congratulatory back-slapping, one-part good ol' fashioned gun show, and one part strategic planning session for the gun fight ahead.

And boy, is the NRA ready for a fight: Its theme is “Stand and Fight,” as NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told

“Our theme here is stand and fight,” Mr. Arulanandam said. “From our perspective, this is not over. This is a fight that will take years. And what happened a couple of weeks ago [in the Senate] was the first battle in what will be many battles. But we're prepared for a very long and extensive war.”

War-mongering by a hawkish NRA? Defensive posturing to intimidate gun-control groups? Here’s what we’ve learned about the gun debate, no matter your stance: If you’re not actively waging a campaign for your cause, you’re losing ground.

That point is not lost on gun-control groups. Although the Senate defeat of the gun bill, including its centerpiece provision of expanded background checks, marked an end to one chapter of the gun debate, gun-control groups vow to press on. They’ve taken the fight to the state level and the airwaves, where they’re pressuring senators who voted against the bill with a shaming campaign of sorts. (Most recent was a headline-making town hall meeting in New Hampshire where gun-control advocates confronted junior Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) on her "no" vote.)

Those very same gun-control activists will have a presence at the NRA’s Houston convention, staging rallies and vigils for victims of gun violence outside the convention center.

No surprise, the NRA isn’t taking this lying down.

The “Stand and Fight” rally is an opportunity for gun rights supporters to recharge for the political fight ahead. They’ve already begun with TV ads supporting senators who voted against the gun bill – and, no doubt, are preparing for the 2014 midterm elections.

The rally is also an opportunity to let loose and celebrate their Senate victory, NRA-style.

Imagine flag-draped NRA supporters milling the halls of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the venue itself plastered with bold red, black, and white, eagle-emblazoned “Stand and Fight” banners.

The speaker line-up is a who’s who of conservative activists including Texas governor and former presidential candidate Rick Perry (R), former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, former US senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R), Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).

Oh, and did we mention the headline speaker, conservative favorite Glenn Beck? He headlines the convention’s centerpiece “Stand and Fight” rally May 4.

Also on the docket is a gun trade show, antique gun show, prayer breakfast, as well as patriotic concerts and classes on handgun retention, defensive shooting, competition shooting, firearm law, and our favorite, wild game cooking.

On the menu, perhaps? Venison, with a side of victory-fueled strategizing? 


Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Washington on Thursday. Henry Kissinger, who was also secretary of State, paid Mrs. Clinton lots of compliments and noted that in US history, 'at least four' secretaries of State have risen to the presidency. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Hillary Clinton 2016: How many secretaries of State became presidents? (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.02.13

If Hillary Rodham Clinton runs for president in 2016, will she have fellow former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in her corner? OK, Henry K is a Republican and she’s not. But at an Atlantic Council event on Wednesday night, Mr. Kissinger paid Mrs. Clinton lots of compliments and noted that in US history, “at least four” secretaries of State have risen to the presidency.

“I want to tell Hillary that when she misses the office, when she looks at the histories of secretaries of State, there might be hope for a fulfilling life afterwards,” Kissinger said.

Actually, Mr. Kissinger, the correct number here is six instead of four. But first, we’ll take a timeout to note that the Atlantic Council dinner was a serious event. Clinton got an international leadership award. She gave a heartfelt speech about the importance of NATO and the growing gap between the United States and its allies in regard to bearing the burden of the common defense.

This gap risks creating a “two-tiered alliance,” she noted.

OK, back to the banter: Kissinger, secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, seemed to be having a good time in this return to the spotlight. He acknowledged that he’d thought about the Oval Office during his time in government but was stymied by the pesky constitutional requirement that presidents be natural-born US citizens.

“I thought up all kinds of schemes to get around that,” he said, to general amusement.

(Kissinger was born in Germany, in case you did not know or have never heard his accent. His folks fled to the United States prior to World War II.)

As to secretaries of State who have become president, most date to that era when the Founding Fathers moved up through the steps of government as if on an escalator – kind of like in civic organizations today where you start as treasurer, segue into VP, and end up in the top job, with minimal opposition.

Thus Thomas Jefferson served as the nation’s first secretary of State before becoming its third president. Jefferson’s secretary of State was James Madison, who was the fourth US president. Madison’s secretary of State was James Monroe, who became the fifth president. Monroe’s you-know-what was John Quincy Adams, who became the sixth president.

Then upstart Andrew Jackson got himself elected president in 1828. His secretary of State was Martin Van Buren, who ascended to the top job as the eighth president. Then the chain pretty much ended. The only subsequent sec/State to become POTUS was James Buchanan, who is routinely rated worst US chief executive of all time.

So Clinton could reestablish an old pattern, if she wins. Right now she remains the dominant figure in the Democratic field, at least. A new Quinnipiac poll puts her as the choice of 65 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters.

Jon Stewart speaks during a taping of 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,' in New York, Oct. 2012. Stewart mocked the President Obama's ever shifting 'red line' on Syria Tuesday night on 'The Daily Show.' (Carolyn Kaster/AP/File)

Jon Stewart channels Dr. Seuss to mock Obama's 'red line' on Syria

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / 05.02.13

When it comes to Syria, President Obama’s not much better that a spineless parent issuing empty threats.

At least, that’s according to Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," who mocked the president’s ever shifting “red line” on Tuesday night’s episode.

That red line, as Mr. Obama has sternly asserted time and again, is the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“You cross that line, mister, you are grounded,” Mr. Stewart warned an imaginary President Assad.

Flash to footage of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirming, "with some degree of varying confidence," that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons.

And back to Stewart, gleefully awaiting the fire and brimstone about to rain down on Assad.

…And waiting.

“We don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them,” Obama said Tuesday in a press conference, walking back his threatening stance.

This line so tickled Stewart, he went Seussical.

“Did he use them in a boat? Did he use them with a goat? Did he use them in a house? Did he use them with a mouse?” (From Obama’s new book, “Red Lines and Gas,” if you’re interested.)

The new red line, it seems, has shifted. (We hope Obama’s using erasable ink.)

Spooked perhaps by the specter of the Iraq war, the US says it now has to present hard evidence of chemical weapons use to the UN. Notably, it needs to persuade Russia that the Assad regime used deadly sarin gas against its own people.

“So intervention in Syria relies on us convincing Vladimir Putin that it’s bad to poison people?” a dubious Stewart asked.

In fact, Obama’s reluctance to engage Assad is no surprise.

For starters, polls show Americans just don’t care about Syria, with fewer than 1 in 5 respondents telling the Pew Research Center that they are following the situation in Syria closely. (If you’re still reading this, congratulations! You’re in the minority.)

According to a recent CBS/New York Times poll, 62 percent of the American public say the US has no responsibility to take action in Syria.

That reluctance to intervene is a byproduct of the 10-year war in Iraq, an exercise few Americans are eager to repeat.

That war’s controversial beginnings (remember WMDs and talk of mushroom clouds?) and exceptionally challenging mission have resulted in a sort of war weariness among not only the public, but American leadership, as well.

Hence Obama’s shifting red line, of which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has, no doubt, taken note.

He’s not the only one. If Obama’s weak ultimatum on Syria is any indication, we bet Sasha and Malia are not too worried about Obama's tattoo threat, either.

They have enjoyed some unauthorized West Wing pranking, scot-free.

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