Ringside

Ringside Seat: Filibuster: 1; Background Checks: 0

This afternoon, the Manchin-Toomey amendment—a proposal to expand background checks to gun purchases that occur at gun shows and online—failed to be adopted, despite the fact that a majority of senators favored it. That's because today's vote wasn't a vote on the bill, it was a vote to have a vote on the bill. It was a vote to end a filibuster. The people who voted "no" were saying that they were so violently opposed to this modest expansion of background checks that they refused to even allow the Senate to vote on the bill. The overwhelming majority of the filibuster supporters were Republicans, but a few Democrats joined them as well. Remember these names: Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Max Baucus (MT), Mark Begich (AK), and Mark Pryor (AR). Even this compromise bill, worked out by two senators with "A" ratings from the NRA, was just too radical for those 41 Republican and four Democratic senators to live with. And even if it had been adopted, it would have faced an even harder time in the...

Ringside Seat: Where's the War on Torture?

Just after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Dick Cheney said with a gleam in his eye that in order to be safe, America would "have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful." As a bipartisan panel organized by the Constitution Project has concluded in a 600-page report released today, we did indeed go to the dark side, to our lasting shame. The bombing in Boston is a reminder that the "War on Terror" is a war without end, since terrorism is always possible. And this report is a reminder that even in a democracy as mature as ours, the government is capable of awful things. The Constitution Project's panel on treatment of detainees was led by former Democratic Congressman James Jones and former Republican...

Ringside Seat: Fear Itself

Much of what we hear in the immediate aftermath of events like today's tragedy in Boston turns out to be wrong. You may remember, for instance, that just after the Oklahoma City bombing 18 years ago, initial media reports included copious baseless speculation that the culprits might be Arab terrorists. The press obviously has a difficult job to do when something like this happens, attempting to gather information quickly in a chaotic situation and, particularly on television and radio, explain events in real time when so little can be confirmed. So one can have some understanding when they get some things wrong, as they certainly will. In the coming days we'll learn what really happened in Boston and, we hope, find the terrorists responsible. Meanwhile, we should remember what terrorists' goal is: quite simply, to terrorize us. To make us live in fear, so that we make our own lives more difficult and unpleasant. When we do so we aren't merely making the only appropriate response, we'...

Ringside Seat: Politicians Just Wanna Have Fun

When you're a politician, you have a finely tuned sense of your public image. Aware that your every word is being heard and your every gesture watched, you can easily become so hyper-vigilant about not saying anything that might get you in trouble that you grow overly calculated, leading voters to conclude you're just another phony looking to pull one over on them. Or so we tend to think. But sometimes, politicians can do things like what Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, a liberal Democrat, did the other day. After seeing Cindy Lauper perform at the White House, Cohen tweeted, "@cyndilauper great night,couldn't believe how hot u were.see you again next Tuesday.try a little tenderness." The tweet was quickly deleted, but nothing really disappears these days, and now Cohen is mightily embarrassed . Now, "couldn't believe how hot u were" might show that Cohen still holds on to the crush he had on Lauper back in 1983 when "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" came out. On the other hand, he could...

On Guns, "Better than Nothing" Doesn't Cut It

An estimated 3,349 lives have ended by American gun violence since 20 children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. We've seen roughly 120,460 years of life wasted since the New Year began. Thousands of lives extinguished. Dozens of communities wounded by fear and grief. And zero new federal laws passed to prevent the slow and deadly attrition of American life at the end of a gun. In the emotional heat of the weeks after December 14, Democrats assembled a coalition of the willing—in other words, those who weren't in danger of losing their seat in 2014—to work on passing an assault-weapons ban. The cry for that legislation has dissipated in the months since, however, as the horror at what transpired in Newtown, Aurora, and Oak Creek grows less pungent, replaced by the less-heady cocktail of electoral fear and Bill of Rights fetishism worn as armor by the right. Any hope of passing that assault-weapons ban, or a limit on the size of ammunition magazines, appears to have vanished for...

Today's Ringside Seat: Gun Bill—Bang or Whimper?

At the moment, there are 45 Republicans in the United States Senate, a number sufficient to give them the ability, should they so choose, to filibuster anything and everything. And choose they do, with only the rarest of exceptions. But we may be about to see one of those rare exceptions, on a piece of legislation regulating guns. Maybe. You see, for the legislation to succeed, Democrats must first defeat a Republican filibuster in order to begin debate on the bill, and then they must defeat another Republican filibuster to end debate on the bill and have an actual vote. According to late reports , as many as seven Senate Republicans have said they'll vote to allow debate to begin, though they won't say whether they'll vote to allow it to end. We don't yet know exactly what they'll be debating, if the debate does begin, but chances are it will involve expanded background checks and a crackdown on illegal gun trafficking. You might be asking how anyone could object to any of that, and...

Ringside Seat: Jindal's Tarnished Brand

If presidential politics is a game of luck as well as skill, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is doing it wrong. Very, very wrong. Four years ago, at the beginning of President Obama’s term, he was touted as a new hope for the Republican Party. A skilled, competent, conservative analogue to Obama—or even Bill Clinton. But that was before he gave the Republican response to Obama's first State of the Union. The problem wasn’t content—though there’s something off about mocking government investment in the face of a terrible recession—as much as it was style . Jindal came across like an overgrown Kenneth the Page from the show 30 Rock . The fiasco dimmed his political star considerably. Wisely, it seemed, Jindal responded by removing himself from the national limelight and focusing on his job as governor of Louisiana. The thinking was straightforward: If he can improve his state and build a strong political platform, then he can make a credible bid for the White House. Now, four years...

Ringside Seat: Obama's Imaginary Washington

Having won re-election comfortably and with poll after poll showing majority support for most parts of his agenda, President Obama will soon submit a budget to Congress that features significant cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Why? Well, they are "entitlements," and all right-thinking people in Washington agree that "entitlements" simply must be scaled back. Naturally, when news broke, Speaker of the House John Boehner responded by saying, "We're glad that President Obama has agreed to our demand for cuts to the safety net, and we will now demonstrate our goodwill by agreeing to some upper-income tax increases." Kidding! As anyone who has been even vaguely aware of the progression of national politics over the last four years could have predicted, what Boehner actually did was reject Obama's offer outright, since it also included some tax increases. Did Obama expect anything different? He couldn't have, given that he appears to have a functioning brain. So where does that leave...

Ringside Seat: Lifestyles of the Rich and Offshore

The rich are different from you and me—and how. For instance, you may work hard with your tax software to make sure you haven't overlooked any deductions you can take on your income taxes, but some people—quite a few people, as it turns out—can take advantage of an international web of offshore companies and trusts that enable them to hide assets from their governments. Today, the Center for Public Integrity released a report, " Secrecy For Sale ," based on 2.5 million documents unearthed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that show how these secret investment vehicles are exploited by the world's rich and sneaky. Among the investors, the report details, are "middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers, and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labeled as a cog in Iran's...

Ringside Seat: Greens Catch the Messaging Bug

The Republican Party and the environmental movement, through some strange twist of fate, are suffering from similar strategic snags. The GOP has worked itself into a well-documented rebranding tizzy in the months since November, trying to refashion itself into the “ exciting party that smiles ." The party appears blind to the fact that it's policy , not presentation, that voters outside the base are rejecting. Meanwhile, the environmental effort to combat climate change, a cause championed and led mostly by elite whites, has hit its own dead end in appealing to non-elites. Thirty-seven percent of voters think global warming is a hoax according to a poll from Public Policy Polling this week. Only 33 percent think it's a serious problem , according to another poll this week from Pew. Sixty-six percent are gung-ho for the Keystone pipeline. Opposing the pipeline has been the movement's main public focus of the past few years. So, clearly, something isn't working—even though...

Ringside Seat: Braaaaaaains for Freedom

As big-government liberals, we're always heartened when the federal government undertakes ambitious projects to solve fundamental problems and better Americans' lives. Today, President Obama announced the BRAIN initiative, and no, it doesn't have anything to do with preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, during which our precious gray matter will become food for the undead. It stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, and it's a proposed $100 million project, funded through DARPA, the NIH, and the National Science Foundation, in partnership with a number of private foundations. We actually know very little about how the brain works, and the goal of the project is to fund basic science and help foster new discoveries that will lead to new therapies for diseases and applications no one has even thought of yet. In the context of a federal budget that runs into the trillions, this is a small amount of money. But it could have a large impact. As...

Ringside Seat: April Fools

Imagine if you visited a foreign country, and the people there told you that on one day every year, everyone tried to expose one another as gullible half-wits. Other holidays might honor historical figures or encourage love and fellowship, but on "You're An Idiot On October 12 th Day," the celebration was all about mean-spirited cons and contempt for your intellectual lessers. Victory goes to those best able to subject others to the humiliation of being exposed as a buffoon. "But it's all in good fun!" the people would tell you, and you'd remind yourself to move your wallet from your back pocket to your front pocket whenever you left the hotel. April Fool's Day, however, seems to be celebrated all over the world. Be careful that your bed has not been short-sheeted today, or cellophane placed carefully under your toilet seat. In politics it was no different than anywhere else: Barack Obama tried to fool the press corps into thinking that he stinks at basketball, Rick Perry tried to...

Ringside Seat: The Angry Whites Liquidation Sale

Let it not be said that the GOP doesn't know it has a problem. As Senator Lindsay Graham said last year, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term." And in the November election, that became vividly clear. Mitt Romney lost Latino voters by 44 points, Asian-American voters by 47 points, and voters under 30 by 23 points. So in the months since, the Republicans have been racking their brains to come up with ways to appeal to voters who do not happen to be older white men. So how's it going? Well, this week, not so great. First you had Ben Carson, the Baltimore neurosurgeon who, as a black conservative, has become a hero to the right, getting a bit too frank about marriage in an appearance on Fox News. Heterosexual marriage, he said , is "a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality—it doesn’t matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition."...

Ringside Seat: Huckabee Puts on His Dick Morris Hat

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee—who at the moment is a talk radio host—gave an exclusive interview to Newsmax TV where he warned of doom (and gnashing of teeth, presumably) if Republicans back away from their opposition to same-sex marriage. When asked if he thought the GOP might pivot away from opposition to marriage equality, he said, “They might. And if they do, they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk." He later elaborated, explaining that “Politicians have an obligation to be thermostats, not just thermometers. They’re not simply to reflect the temperature of the room, or the culture, as it were.” For that reason, Republicans must continue their opposition, lest they cease to “set standards” for “what’s right” and “what’s wrong.” As a representative of sorts from the social conservative wing of the Republican Party, Huckabee has every reason to oppose a general move to support—or quietly ignore—same-sex marriage. But if...

Ringside Seat: To Rule or Not to Rule?

It's always dangerous to read too much into oral arguments at the Supreme Court. You can certainly get a general sense of which way the justices are leaning by the tone of their questions, but it's also easy to be misled, particularly when the case in question affords them a number of options for a ruling. So it was in today's case testing the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California initiative banning same-sex marriage in the state. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the presumed swing vote, spoke in rather emotional terms about the "40,000 children in California that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?" Does that mean he'll join with the Court's liberals to vote to strike down the law? Who knows, particularly when striking down the law would be an undeniably radical step, invalidating laws against marriage equality in dozens of states. For that matter...

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