Following a dramatic defeat in Wednesday’s Senate vote on a raft of gun control provisions, a defiant President Obama and his posse of gun control advocates are vowing to press on – but the way forward is more likely to be off Capitol Hill, in state houses and legislatures.
Wednesday’s gun defeat was a grim chapter for gun control advocates and – if the Senate’s vote was any indication – future prospects for gun control legislation in Congress appear grimmer.
Each of the seven amendments voted on Wednesday failed (two more are scheduled for Thursday), including Mr. Obama’s centerpiece effort and the bipartisan proposal with overwhelming public support, expanded background checks. The quashing of that provision “likely marks the end of the entire effort in the Senate,” reports NBC News.
Even more telling was the fate of the least controversial piece of legislation, a measure to crack down on gun trafficking, which had the support of the National Rifle Association and was expected to pass with just a voice vote. That too, failed.
The disappointment in Washington was palpable.
Flanked by visibly grieved relatives of Newtown, Conn., shooting victims, Obama called it “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
Shooting survivor and former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona penned an angry opinion article in The New York Times claiming that senators “gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation.”
And yet, the outcome shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. While polls trumpet overwhelming public support for increased gun controls, it came down to politics, where the NRA is the kingmaker and lawmakers, especially those in rural states, reliably fall into line.
As pundits parsing the bill’s death have pointed out in their post-mortems, to expect the vote to have gone otherwise is a bald misjudgment and underestimation of the influence of the gun lobby on skittish red-state lawmakers.
The quashing of the gun bill, the Times reports, was a simple “combination of the political anxiety of vulnerable Democrats from conservative states, deep-seated Republican resistance, and the enduring clout of the National Rifle Association.”
What now for gun control? Is there a way forward?
For now, it appears that congressional leaders have conceded defeat.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada is expected to pull the entire bill from the Senate floor and move on to issues with better prospects – namely, immigration and an Internet sales tax provision.
Nonetheless, it may not be the end of the road for gun control advocates. The next front in the battle for gun control? The states.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, “even as federal legislation runs into the brick wall of the gun lobby, some states and local jurisdictions are forging ahead.”
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) expanded bans on assault weapons and further limited the size of ammunition magazines, as well as enacted measures to recertify gun licenses and identify mentally ill people who seek to buy weapons.
In March, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law several bills requiring background checks for private and online gun sales, as well as legislation banning ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. And in April, the Connecticut state legislature passed laws banning the sale of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds, requiring background checks for private gun sales, including those at gun shows, as well as expanding the state's current assault weapons ban to include more than 100 gun models.
Still, national gun control leaders insist they are not throwing in the towel.
“This effort is not over,” Obama said in remarks after the gun bill’s defeat. “I see this as just Round 1.”
Reiterated Senator Reid, “I want everyone to understand – this is just the beginning. This is not the end.”
Not everyone is so confident.
“I’m not sure what more the president can do, having persuaded 90 percent of the American public to support the heart of this bill, which is background checks,” Sen. Christopher Murphy (D) of Connecticut, a major gun control proponent, told Roll Call. “The fact is, senators are simply not listening to their constituents. And I’m not sure what more the president can do.”
Speaking of confident, let’s not forget the gun lobby, for whom Wednesday’s vote was a quiet victory – and if they have their way, the end of the road for federal gun control.
Bad news has piled up fast in recent days. It’s tempting to look for clues that link the events together. As Politico’s chief political columnist Roger Simon tweeted on Wednesday night, “Conspiracy theorists gonna have a field day tomorrow.”
But it’s worth pointing out that at this point, there is no evidence that Boston, ricin, and West, Texas, are related in any way.
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Beginning with the latest development: To all appearances, the Texas tragedy was happenstance. A fire started in one part of the West Fertilizer Co., and local firefighters responded to try to put it out. A few minutes later, the fire lit some of the large quantities of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that's produced and stored at the plant. At high temperatures, this common substance becomes a powerful explosive.
Unintended ammonium nitrate explosions are uncommon but not unknown. Since 1921, at least 17 such explosions have produced casualties, according to The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.
Six of those were in the United States. The worst occurred in 1947, when a fire aboard a ship docked in the port of Texas City blew up 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate cargo. Five hundred eighty one people died, including most of the town’s fire department.
“It still ranks as the deadliest industrial accident the country has ever seen,” Wonkblog’s Brad Plumer writes.
Meanwhile, the man who allegedly mailed letters laced with the potent toxin ricin to the White House and to congressional offices is now in custody. His name is Paul Kevin Curtis, he’s from Corinth, Miss., and he seems a very unlikely conspiracy participant.
He apparently made little effort to cover his tracks. The letters were signed, “This is KC and I approve this message.”
Mr. Curtis is something of a conspiracy theorist himself. In 2000, he sued a Mississippi medical center that had fired him, saying he was terminated because he had uncovered a Mafia-like body parts trafficking ring.
In recent years, Curtis appears to have made a living, or at least some money, as an impersonator of celebrities, including Elvis Presley and Hank Williams Jr. A number of videos of his performances are available on YouTube.
“Prepare to update your profile of domestic terror suspects to include Elvis impersonators who fear criminal gangs of organ-harvesters,” writes The Atlantic Wire’s Philip Bump.
Finally, in Boston the fact that no suspect or suspects have been identified and no person or group has claimed credit for the bombings has opened the door to speculation of all sorts. In such a vacuum, it’s perhaps easier for conspiracy theories to gain ground.
However at this point, many of those conspiracy theories differ and in some cases contradict each other.
Over at Foreign Policy, blogger J.M. Berger has read the reactions of a variety of extremist websites to the bombings (so we don’t have to). Some white nationalists blamed militant Muslims right off, he says, while others have argued at length as to whether Muslims or Jews are responsible. And a scattering have simply pointed fingers at people with skins darker than themselves.
A few online Islamist jihadists have blamed US gun enthusiasts, while others appear to hope that the perpetrator does turn out to be a foreign terrorist.
“But even they were hesitant, having been burned not that long ago with a premature declaration of responsibility for the actions of [Norwegian mass murderer] Anders Breivik, who embarrassingly turned out to be an anti-Muslim terrorist,” Mr. Berger writes.
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Ricin was the particular worry of the day. Preliminary tests indicate that letters sent to President Obama and to Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi were both laced with the deadly poison. Postal screening facilities outside Washington had intercepted the mail before it reached federal office buildings.
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Both letters were postmarked in Memphis, Tenn., according to the Associated Press. Both said “to see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” Both were signed “I am KC and I approve this message”.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri said the Capitol Police have a particular suspect in mind in this case. It is someone who “writes a lot of letters to members” she said, according to the Associated Press.
Where ricin is involved, preliminary tests can be inaccurate. Full laboratory tests will be needed to confirm the poison’s presence.
Lawmakers were made even more nervous by reports from some states that district offices were also getting questionable mail. Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas both said that letters set aside as suspicious by staff members back home had been tested by law enforcement and found harmless. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said a letter sent to his Saginaw office was still being checked.
Meanwhile, at least three questionable packages turned up in Senate office buildings, according to the AP. Capitol Police retrieved them while establishing a series of rolling lockdowns throughout some areas of the Senate side of the Capitol Hill complex. Confused Senate aides took to social media to share which corridors were open and which closed.
Ricin is a potent toxin found in the seeds of the castor plant. Touching it can produce a rash that is irritating but not fatal. Inhalation or ingestion of ricin particles is more dangerous, leading to death in three to five days if the dose is sufficiently large.
Ricin is not difficult to extract – the production of castor bean oil results in a mash that is approximately 5 percent ricin, for instance. Recipes for making the poison are readily available on the Internet and from commercial bookstores.
As a weapon of mass destruction ricin is unsuitable, according to a 2010 report on its production and dangers produced by the Congressional Research Service. It would be too hard to handle and too difficult to spread.
But scientists have long warned that it might be used in terrorism.
“Although causing mass casualties would be difficult, many experts agree that ricin could be a formidable weapon if used in small-scale attacks…. Although a string of attacks targeting dozens of victims at a time may not produce mass devastation, they might instill terror in the population, causing local economic disruption,” wrote CRS specialists Dana Shea and Frank Gottron in 2010.
The most notable past use of ricin occurred in 1978, when Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was assassinated by someone wielding an umbrella tipped with ricin pellets in London. Shortly thereafter, another Bulgarian exile, Vladimir Kostov, was found to be suffering from non-fatal ricin poisoning.
In the United States, in 2008 a man trying to produce ricin in a Las Vegas hotel room poisoned himself, according to CRS. He recovered and was convicted of charges of possessing an illegal biological toxin.
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That’s what folks are saying about the gun bill the Senate considers Wednesday – a roster of nine amendments that include Democratic proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips and to tighten laws against gun trafficking, as well as a bipartisan plan to expand background checks for gun buyers.
Even pro-gun control lawmakers determined to put on a good face are conceding that things are looking grim.
It's not for lack of trying. President Obama, shooting survivor and former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and parents of Newtown, Conn., shooting victims have worked to drum up support. Vice President Joe Biden has been laboring to salvage the bill, the focus of which is the background-check plan drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia and Patrick Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania.
Here are four reasons the gun bill is unlikely to clear the Senate.
Votes: Quite simply, the votes aren’t there. The gun bill needs 60 votes to pass, and so far the math isn’t adding up.
Three of the Senate's 55 Democrats – Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus of Montana – said Monday they would not commit to backing the proposal. Ditto Dems Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
As for Republicans, only four of the Senate’s 45 have committed to voting for the bill, including Toomey (the bill’s co-sponsor), Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine, and John McCain of Arizona. (GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Dean Heller of Nevada are still undecided.)
In fact, “of the 16 Republicans who crossed the aisle last week and voted with Democrats to begin a debate on gun control, 10 of them have now formally said they will vote against Manchin-Toomey,” reports Politico. They include Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
According to our political math, that leaves the gun bill with "yea" votes in the mid-50s – not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Waning public support: The window of opportunity is slamming shut fast. That’s according to public opinion polls that show post-Newtown gun control momentum is fading. An April AP-GfK poll shows that a hair less than half of Americans now support stricter gun laws – 49 percent now, compared with 58 percent in January, a month after the December shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
What’s more, 52 percent of Americans say they disapprove of how Mr. Obama has handled gun laws. You can bet lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are taking note.
The National Rifle Association: You didn’t think the NRA would let this go, did you?
Reports Politico, “The National Rifle Association hasn’t budged, and it warned supporters of the compromise Senate bill – authored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) – that the group would remember their vote when they are next up for reelection.”
The gun rights group spent millions on ads opposing the proposals, including $500,000 on an online video ad on Washington, D.C.-area websites that reportedly shows law enforcement opposition to gun control proposals. “Tell your senator to listen to America's police, instead of listening to Obama and [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg,” the ad says.
Then there’s the matter of intensity. While public support for gun control legislation, especially expanded background checks, may remain relatively strong, there’s a significant disparity in the level of passion of voters on both sides of the issue – and lawmakers know this.
The NRA "cares about [gun rights] more than anybody else,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, told the Monitor last month. “That makes their minority viewpoint more important than the majority viewpoint. People often think within a democracy, numbers matter. But it's also intensity; intensity matters.”
That intensity translates into grass-roots action – and lawmakers' votes.
Stakes for individual states: When you pull away from the national conversation and consider the issue from the perspective of individual states – and their senators, some of whom will be up for reelection soon – the lack of support begins to make sense.
Consider this: In January of this year there were 44 gun homicides in Chicago, according to the National Journal. In all of 2011, there were 40 gun homicides in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined.
“The political pressure for members of Congress from those states is much less than it would be for a senator from Illinois,” writes the National Journal.
And don’t forget that many lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, hail from predominantly red states in the South and Mountain West, where guns are a way of life.
As a bipartisan group of senators prepares to unveil its immigration reform proposal, several new polls show support for a path to citizenship at an all-time high.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Americans, or 63 percent, support a program giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status. That’s a sharp increase from a similar poll conducted in 2007, which shows a nearly even 49-to-46 percent split on the issue.
But if the Sunday talk-show blitz by Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida is any indication, the so-called Gang of Eight has a ways to go in drumming up more support for and hammering out the details of immigration reform.
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That much was clear in the ABC News poll. While support for legalization was highest among Democrats, with 75 percent supporting such a process, support fell to 47 percent among Republicans. (Some 67 percent of independents support a citizenship process, according to the poll.)
Although the Gang of Eight is on the verge of releasing its bipartisan immigration reform proposal, sticking points remain, including how to better secure borders and handle temporary guest workers.
By and large, Americans appear to support tougher border security as well as more visas for workers, especially high-skilled ones. Some 60 percent of poll respondents back issuing more visas for highly skilled workers, and 56 percent for a low-skilled guest-worker program.
On enforcement, 67 percent support more federal spending on border control, and a broad 83 percent favor requiring that all businesses check potential employees’ immigration status.
The poll shows some of the highest support yet for a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants, and many of those immigrants appear to be quietly taking note.
Eighty-seven percent of illegal immigrants say they would pursue citizenship if given the chance, according to a poll by Latino Decisions released Monday.
The poll, which was paid for by two pro-immigration groups, also showed that undocumented Latino immigrants have “deep roots in America.” Some 85 percent claim a family member who is a US citizen, 62 percent claim at least one US-born child, and 29 percent claim a spouse who is a citizen or permanent resident.
As the GOP moves past its 2012 defeat and confronts its “minority problem,” these and other similar polls, including an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, show that the majority of the nation – from Congress to lay Americans of varying political stripes and demographic backgrounds – may finally be on the same page on a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants.
The next hurdle now is how.
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Has the US relaxed the conditions under which it might talk with North Korea?
That question arises due to statements made by Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend. In Tokyo on an East Asia swing, Secretary Kerry said Pyongyang would find a “ready partner” in the US if it began to give up its nuclear ambitions. Kerry added that he might dispatch a US representative to discussions in North Korea or talk through backchannels if North Korean officials first made the right concessions.
“I’m not going to be so stuck in the mud that an opportunity to actually get something done is flagrantly wasted because of a kind of predetermined stubbornness,” Kerry told US-based reporters.
In terms of substance this is hardly different from past US statements on the subject. Obama administration officials have long insisted they won’t meet with North Korean counterparts unless the latter say they will curtail their nuclear weapons efforts. They prefer that all dealings with Pyongyang occur in the international context of six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.
But some critics are worried about the tone of Kerry’s words, the implication of a sort of let’s-get-on-with-it attitude. They want to make sure the White House does not make it easier for North Korea to meet preconditions for negotiations.
“The Obama administration should clarify Kerry’s suggestion that Washington has lowered the bar for direct talks with North Korea. The United States has a long and sordid history of offering concessions to Pyongyang without making any progress towards denuclearization. Lawmakers should call on President Obama not to engage in direct talks with North Korea unless Pyongyang has made meaningful and unambiguous steps to meet its longstanding commitments to denuclearize and dismantle its ballistic missile programs,” write FPI’s Chris Griffin and Robert Zarate.
Might the Obama team be thinking of “lowering the bar” to direct bilateral negotiations? Well, given how high tensions have ratcheted up on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea threatens war, it’s always possible the administration is considering a new approach to cooling rhetoric in the region. But it is more likely that Kerry was simply repeating current policy. And the real story there may be that the existing US conditions for North Korea to enter talks involve concessions Pyongyang appears less and less likely to meet.
In the past the US has suggested that it will meet with North Korea after the latter renounces its nuclear weapons, for instance, or agrees to stop producing the fissile material that’s at the heart of those weapons. The US also wants Pyongyang to stop the barrage of threats to its neighbors and refrain from missile tests.
But a number of experts increasingly believe that North Korea is now determined to be recognized as a full nuclear weapons state. Pyongyang appears to believe that its survival depends on its nukes, as its traditional military decays in place and seems technically obsolete compared to US and South Korean forces, and its economy remains a shadow of those of its East Asian neighbors.
While continuing to press for verifiable North Korean nuclear dismantlement, the US should hold no illusions that diplomacy by itself will produce a nuclear-free North Korea, Institute for International Security Studies nonproliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick tweeted earlier this week.
“The US cannot offer a substitute to what [North Korea] thinks its nukes provide: a guarantee of regime survival & a path to Peninsular dominance,” tweeted Fitzpatrick.
The only way the current Korean situation ends happily? “Unification,” Mr. Fitzpatrick added.
Months after attacking Mr. Romney for his low tax rate, some critics are now turning the tables on the president, saying his 2012 tax rate is too low.
The president paid $112,214 in federal income taxes on an adjusted gross income of $608,611 in 2012, making his effective federal tax rate 18.4 percent. (The Obamas also paid $29,450 in Illinois income tax.)
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“The president was talking about how shameful it is that Mitt Romney paid less in taxes than teachers paid in taxes, and yet Barack Obama, reportedly worth $14 million, paid less in taxes than teachers or Warren Buffet’s poor, overworked secretary,” “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough said on Monday's show.
Is Obama’s tax rate too low?
Well, for starters, it’s still higher than Romney’s 2011 rate of 14.1 percent – though that’s not saying much.
It’s also higher than US taxpayers’ average income tax rate of about 11.8 percent in 2011, according to the Tax Foundation, a tax research group in Washington. And it’s higher than the rate some 46 percent of Americans, mostly poor or elderly, pay – that is, no federal income taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a tax think tank.
Then again, Mr. Obama is not your average taxpayer, nor is he poor or elderly (though those gray hairs may fool you).
In fact, the Obamas’ 2012 tax rate is 2 percentage points lower than last year’s, when their rate was 20.5 percent.
There are a few reasons for this. Most obviously, the Obamas made less money in 2012 than they did the previous year – $608,611 in 2012 compared with $789,674 in 2011. That’s largely due to a drop in sales of the president’s two bestsellers, “Dreams From My Father,” and “The Audacity of Hope,” both of which made Obama a millionaire. (Both years Obama made $400,000 from his presidential salary.)
And as the White House likes to point out, they also donated almost a quarter of their income, some $150,034, to 33 different charities, lowering their tax rate.
Nonetheless, almost all of the Obamas’ income was subject to the top tax rate of 39.6 percent in 2012, according to Reuters.
Still, even the president himself appears to think his tax rate is too low, and he’s using his own tax return to promote the Buffett Rule, a minimum tax rate for the wealthy.
The White House’s 2014 budget proposal includes a proposed Buffett Rule, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who has publicly complained that his tax rate is lower than that of his secretary.
"The president believes we must reform our tax system which is why he has proposed policies like the Buffett Rule that would ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share while protecting families making under $250,000 from seeing their taxes go up," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a blog post. "Under the President’s own tax proposals … he would pay more in taxes while ensuring we cut taxes for the middle class and those trying to get in it."
If it’s an effort to make those who shoveled vast swaths of their paychecks to Uncle Sam feel better on this most grim of Mondays (à la Obama’s plan to give back 5 percent of his pay in solidarity with government workers affected by the sequester), it’s probably not working.
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North Korea began observing the major national holiday of founding leader Kim Il Sung’s birthday on Monday. Throughout the country, people waved celebratory banners and flags and lined up to place flowers at statues of the elder Kim and his son, the late Kim Jong Il. But at least one major event predicted by outside observers of Pyongyang did not happen: North Korea has not launched its widely expected test of a new Musudan missile – at least, not yet.
Well, first we’ll note that most US officials and experts on North Korean from outside government circles have long used the word “around” when discussing April 15 and the notional missile launch. Satellite imagery has detected the movement of several Musudan models toward North Korea’s east coast, and some reports indicate that at least one of the missiles has been set upright on its road-mobile launcher.
Pyongyang often holds military exercises, parades, and demonstrations around Kim Il Sung’s birthday. But April 15 is not the hard deadline on which these events always occur.
The simple explanation for that is that North Koreans, even high-ranking ones, want to enjoy the holiday. That’s what International Crisis Group East Asia specialist Daniel Pinkston told the website NKNews.org.
“Too many people have to work when they test, especially high-level people who have other responsibilities and priorities on the holiday. The symbolism is important, they have ceremonial responsibilities, and they want a couple of days off,” Mr. Pinkston told NKNews.org.
On his Twitter feed, Pinkston put the chance that a missile test would not occur on the founding leader’s birthday at about 95 percent. It is an optional event that can be scheduled at any time, he noted. To hold it on the holiday would be akin to the pope getting his annual physical on Christmas.
Neither did North Korea hold a full-scale military parade on Monday’s “Day of the Sun.” In the past, such displays of weaponry have included new missiles, or at least new missile mock-ups. Some experts suspect Pyongyang of producing fake rockets in an effort to fool the rest of the world about its capabilities.
In fact, that’s one reason the possible forthcoming test could be so important. The Musudan is thought to be a medium-range weapon that could reach Japan or perhaps even Guam. But some US experts dispute this and consider it nothing but a short-range Scud with a face-lift.
A test could settle this question.
It’s also possible that Pyongyang has chosen not to fire its Musudan yet because of the tension on the Korean peninsula and the open discussion in the United States as to whether the US should try to shoot down the missile if it veered too close to Japan.
If this is the case, North Korea may wait until tensions subside before acting.
Meanwhile, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said Monday that the launch remained imminent, but added that Seoul has detected no troop mobilizations or other signs that North Korea is preparing for full-scale war.
Rep. Steve Stockman (R) of Texas touts himself as "the most conservative congressman in Texas." His new bumper sticker should erase any doubts.
On Friday, Representative Stockman's Twitter account unveiled his new campaign bumper sticker: "If babies had guns, they wouldn't be aborted. Vote Pro-Life!"
For Stockman, the bluntness and the desire to shock are nothing new.
It was Stockman who invited gun enthusiast Ted Nugent to be his guest at President Obama's State of the Union address in February. This is the Ted Nugent who once said: "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year."
Later, in a YouTube video chat with Mr. Nugent, Stockman asked about the victims of gun violence that Mr. Obama had invited to the State of the Union: "Do you feel that the people that Obama have brought forward to hear his speech, do you feel like they are useful idiots or props in this?" (The video has since been removed, the New York Daily News reports.)
Stockman is an agitator, and social media has given him broader scope to portray himself as a "defender of the cause." And like former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, who once likened his conservative opponent to the Taliban and who said Republicans' health care plan amounted to "die quickly," Stockman apparently relishes in bringing the inflammatory tone of the blogosphere into public discourse.
Stockman's new bumper sticker, while intentionally over the top, does hint at the mood of some Americans upset by proposed gun control legislation in states and before the Senate. One sheriff in Colorado has vowed not to enforce that state's new gun control laws. Many other sheriffs have vowed not to enforce any new gun laws that come from Washington.
Moreover, many states with legislatures shaped by the tea party revolution of 2010 are embarking on an aggressive campaign to roll back abortion rights. In March, North Dakota banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat could be detected – which could be as early as six weeks.
But the real reason Stockman made his bumper sticker appears to go beyond the current conservative political winds. After all, with a year and a half until his next election, now is hardly the time to fire up a reelection campaign.
Instead, the clue as to why Stockman felt the need to make his bumper sticker comes at the end of his tweet. It is a hashtag that reads: "#gosnell."
Kermit Gosnell is the physician accused of running an abortion clinic that offered late-term abortions. The grand jury report in the case is horrific, depicting a clinic in which viable babies were delivered and deliberately killed in conditions that were unsanitary and unimaginably gruesome.
It is a trial that confirms the worst fears of abortion foes, and Stockman, like many other conservatives, suggests that the media has shown its pro-abortion-rights bias by not reporting on the trial.
A shocking trial deserves a shocking bumper sticker, perhaps.
Sarah Palin recently slammed electric car maker Tesla Motors on her Facebook page, referring to it as one of the “losers” of the auto industry. Earlier this week Tesla founder Elon Musk responded, tweeting that he’s “deeply wounded” by Ms. Palin’s words and that some of her assertions about the company are incorrect.
So what’s the background to this online slap fight? Is anybody right here and anybody wrong?
We’ll start with Alaska’s ex-governor. Her post was really about plug-in hybrid vehicle manufacturer Fisker Automotive, not Tesla at all. On April 5 she noted that Fisker, which has received about $200 million in US government loans, was laying off three-fourths of its workforce.
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“The Anaheim, CA-based start-up has failed at pretty much every level – especially when it comes to the company’s ultra expensive luxury electric hybrid, the Karma (what a name!),” wrote Palin.
She then went on to hit what she considers other tax-subsidized “losers,” including the Chevy Volt and the Tesla. Palin charged that Tesla’s fancy Model S. turns into a “brick” when the battery completely discharges, requiring a $40,000 repair.
Look, Fisker is low-hanging fruit in terms of criticizing government intervention in the economy. Vice President Joe Biden has attended some company announcements, and now the firm is pretty much belly up. Fully discharged. If there’s a “brick” here, Fisker may be it.
And yes, Volt costs have been subsidized by GM to get sales rolling. But last we looked, Chevy was still in business and Volts were still going out the door. And is California-based Fisker one of President Obama’s “losers”? Elon Musk does not think so.
“Sarah Palin calls Tesla a loser. Am deeply wounded ... btw Model S. warranty does cover ‘bricking’,” he tweeted.
OK, here’s where we really have something to say. Elon Musk is a visionary, the guy behind PayPal, the private SpaceX launch firm, and Tesla. Maybe he’s an Edison for our time, maybe not. But he needs to learn that sometimes the better part of PR valor is keeping your yap shut and moving on.
Tesla was a bystander here at the beginning – Fisker was Palin’s real target. Do we need to add that Mr. Musk’s response on the “bricking” thing would not make us happy if we’d just shelled out more than 60 grand for a Model S? Yes, maybe we can turn our new baby into a brick through inattention! It’s nice the warranty covers it, but we would not want it to happen at all.
Earlier this year Musk had an even more ferocious battle with The New York Times. A Times reporter test-drove a Model S and reported a bad experience – among other things, the car’s battery ran down unexpectedly when parked overnight in low temperatures. Musk responded with a full assault on the reporter’s motives and facts, citing data logs retrieved from the car’s computers.
Eventually the NYT’s public editor concluded that its reporter had problems with “precision and judgment” but not “integrity.”
But sometimes “pyrrhic” and “victory” also go together. Musk himself has said the fight cost the company orders and more than $100 million in revenue. It highlighted that electric cars aren’t yet fully analogous to internal combustion vehicles or even hybrids. Long-distance trips remain a challenge.
That said, have you seen the car? We want one. It’d be cooler than our Honda minivan, even “bricked.”
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