Political murder is on a Rocky Mountain high

We don’t mean that literally, of course, even though marijuana is legal in Colorado. But we’re off to explore the beautiful vistas of Colorado and northern New Mexico, so Politicalmurder.com is taking a break for a few weeks.

So you will see no new posts at this site. But I’ll try to update the Political murder of the day every day (unless we’re having too much fun or we’re out of Wi-Fi range), so look over to the column on the right to see who died on this day in history, then click the link above.

If you missed some posts from the past, click above on Complete list of posts. You can revisit past opinions on the still-relevant news of the day, such as the issue of gun safety: Watch out, NRA: There’s new momentum in gun reform fight. Posts on the upcoming midterm elections are definitely newsworthy, such as Democratic women are kicking some serious electoral butt and 2018 midterm success hinges on Democratic determination — and wild cards. I’m always surprised to see what posts continue to be popular, like Black Lives Matter offers 10-point plan to curb police killing. And here’s a look at why the media can’t seem to get enough of Trumpland: 6 reasons for media’s obsession with Trump voters.

Posts about corruption in the Trump administration are high on the list, too. Probably the best example of a swamp creature is EPA chief Scott Pruitt is one hot mess of corruption. Or just read about them all in Trump’s crooked Cabinet: Liars, thieves, & scoundrels edition. There are several pieces looking at Russian influence on Trump, such as Donald Trump and Russia: Like Watergate and Iran-Contra — only worse, and What will be the Trump-Russia equivalent of Watergate’s smoking gun?

Finally, don’t forget about reading both books in the political murder series. The Political Blogging Murder, a funny mystery set at a Netroots Nation-type of convention, and Off With His Talking Head, in which murder infiltrates the world of Sunday morning talk shows, are both available at this site for a mere $2.99. You can read the initial chapters of both books by clicking the Book excerpts link above. Or check out how to order the books in a variety of electronic formats by clicking the Books: How to order link above.

So, go ahead. Read. We’ll be back with a new post in July.

Trump may try to demonize food stamps even further

If the Trump administration has its way, count on cuts to benefit programs like food stamps.

In an attempt to find new ways to make life worse for people receiving any government benefits, the Trump administration is seeking to lump together all government benefit programs into a renamed and reorganized Department of Health and Human Services. And you can be sure that the word “welfare” will be emphasized in any new organization.

According to a story that ran first in Politico, the White House Office of Management and Budget soon will release a new report outlining a plan to move all safety-net programs into HHS and to give the federal department a new name, emphasizing the “welfare” moniker that used to be part of the department’s name. A big reason for this recommendation is to lump the $70 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps, in with Medicare and Medicaid. SNAP would move out of the Department of Agriculture, where it is now housed.

The reasoning is likely that once these benefits are combined under one departmental roof, it will be easier to cut them all.

The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was created in 1953 and became the Department of Health and Human Services in May 1980, splitting off the “education” part into a new Cabinet-level department. Part of the reason for dropping the “welfare” name in the first place when Congress established HHS and the Department of Education in the late 1970s was to emphasize the health and service part. Even during the Trump administration, the department’s mission statement at HHS.gov reads:

The mission of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, by providing for effective health and human services and by fostering sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health, and social services.

“Health and well-being”? “Sound, sustained advances in sciences”? No doubt people in Trumpworld overlooked this wording. Otherwise, they would have taken out the humanity and intelligence implicit in the definition.

Any change in federal departments would have to be passed by Congress, but Republicans seem all too willing to push through changes that trim benefits and add more conditions for recipients.

In March 2017, Donald Trump issued an executive order directing OMB to overhaul the federal government, and the budget office’s report is predicted to recommend retooling many departments and agencies. The reorganization proposal on safety-net programs originally came from recommendations by the conservative group the Heritage Foundation. According to the Politico story:

Heritage recommended that all nutrition functions at USDA — including food stamps, nutrition education, and school meal programs that serve some 30 million children each day — be transferred to HHS.

“[T]he USDA has veered off of its mission by working extensively on issues unrelated to agriculture. This is mostly due to the nutrition programs,” Heritage wrote in last year’s report about reorganizing the government. “By moving this welfare function to HHS, the USDA will be better able to work on agricultural issues impacting all Americans.”

In other words, once you remove the food stamps, they can concentrate more on farm subsidies, because that’s what their voters like. Because in that way of thinking, agriculture — growing food — has nothing to do with nutrition, right?

House Republicans might have failed in their latest attempt at a farm bill, but only because of internal fights within the GOP over immigration. Even that failed bill included draconian work requirements for food stamp recipients and was opposed by Democrats. The bill would have required adults to spend 20 hours per week either working or participating in a state-run training program as a condition of receiving benefits, according to a story in The Washington Post:

Democrats argue that a million or more people would end up losing benefits, because most states do not have the capacity to set up the training programs required.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described the legislation as “cruel” and argued that with the proposed changes to food stamps, “Republicans are taking food out of the mouths of families struggling to make ends meet.”

But cutting aid and adding work requirements is part of the plan. Those work requirements that likely would have taken about 1 million people off food stamps also would save about $20 billion over 10 years. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the massive hole that the GOP tax cuts are digging in the federal budget, but House Speaker Paul Ryan has no qualms about taking away benefits from the poor.

The rationale behind those cuts is based on the usual misconception about exactly which Americans are on food stamps. Here are facts about food stamp recipients from a USDA website, using the most recent data available from fiscal year 2016 and published in January 2018. In that year, the program served some 44.2 million people, a slight decrease from previous years.

  • Nearly two-thirds of SNAP participants were children, elderly, or had disabilities.
  • One-third of all SNAP participants already have jobs, and over half of families with children on food stamps have jobs.
  • Eighty-two percent of SNAP beneficiaries live in or near major cities, while 10 percent live in or near smaller cities and seven percent live in rural areas.
  • When food stamps are added to a family’s gross income, 10 percent of SNAP families move above the poverty line.
  • The average monthly benefit for SNAP households was $249.

That amount of money doesn’t go too far in paying for groceries. Instead, cuts would take food money away from the working poor or those unable to work.

Despite the stereotype of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen,” the biggest beneficiaries of government safety-net programs are working-class whites. A 2017 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that whites without a college degree were the largest group of people lifted out of poverty because of government programs. Here’s how The Washington Post described some of the study’s data:

Government assistance and tax credits lifted 6.2 million working-class whites out of poverty in 2014, more than any other racial or ethnic demographic. Half of all working-age adults without college degrees lifted out of poverty by safety-net programs are white; nearly a quarter are black and a fifth are Hispanic.

The result does not simply reflect the fact that there are more white people in the country. The percentage of otherwise poor whites lifted from poverty by government safety-net programs is higher, at 44 percent, compared to 35 percent of otherwise poor minorities, the study concluded.

The saving grace might be that such a massive overhaul of the federal government would have a hard time getting through Congress. If you think congressional Republicans can’t get anything done now, just imagine how ineffective they would be trying to restructure such large programs. The danger is that, just as they’re doing to the Affordable Care Act, they will take a simplistic approach and slash funding without developing the needed plans and details of making a new program work.

Too bad son-in-law Jared Kushner is too busy trying to create peace in the Middle East to handle this task, right? Actually, overhauling government bureaucracy was on Kushner’s original to-do list — just another job he didn’t get done.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 17, 2018.


Pardon me! Trump obsesses on his new favorite mania

Donald Trump is toying with pardoning Muhammad Ali, but the late boxer’s conviction was already overturned. A history lesson might help for the guy many refer to as “Cadet Bone Spurs” because of his multiple deferrals during the Vietnam War.

When it comes to pardons and other acts of clemency, Donald Trump is at seven and counting. But by all accounts, he’s just getting started with his new hobby.

Trump’s latest action is actually good news — Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who received a life sentence after a 1996 conviction for a first-time, nonviolent drug-related offense. (Johnson served 21 years of her sentence.) That’s two good moves, the other being the posthumous pardon for African American boxer Jack Johnson. He served 10 months in prison for a 1913 conviction of violating a Jim Crow law of transporting a white woman across state lines.

Others on the complete clemency list from Newsweek don’t pass the smell test, unless you’re considering how Trump is issuing pardons or commuting sentences for the same kinds of crimes that Trump cronies could be charged with in the investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Joe Arpaio, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Dinesh D’Souza all committed crimes against the government, and they didn’t even need Trump’s “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who gained notoriety for (among other things) housing and humiliating prisoners in an outdoor Tent City in Arizona heat, was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to racially profile Latinos in violation of a court order that told him to stop. He never spent a day in jail. Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, outed a covert CIA agent, but his sentence already had been commuted by George W. Bush, so he never spent a day behind bars, either. D’Souza, the conservative commentator and filmmaker who pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign donations, received probation and community service.

A lesser-known pardon from Trump was for Kristian Saucier, who was convicted of taking photos of classified areas inside a submarine in 2009 while he served in the Navy (care about national security much?). He pleaded guilty in 2016. Another lucky winner was Sholom Rubashkin, the executive of a kosher meatpacking company in Iowa who was convicted of money laundering in 2009. He “sent banks fake invoices to make his company seem more lucrative than it was, therefore allowing him to borrow more money,” according to the Newsweek story. He was sentenced to 27 years and had served eight before Trump commuted his sentence.

These other beneficiaries of Trump’s favors do not exactly represent the best of America. But those currently under Robert Mueller’s magnifying glass are getting Trump’s message loud and clear — don’t turn on me, and I may save you.

Trump is reportedly “fixated” with exercising his pardon powers, according to many reports that quote anonymous White House sources, including this story from The Washington Post:

A White House official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity said Trump is “obsessed” with pardons, describing them as the president’s new “favorite thing” to talk about. He may sign a dozen or more in the next two months, this person added.

“It’s all part of the show,” said veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins, a former strategist for a pro-Trump super PAC. “It’s not a rational or traditional process but about celebrity or who they know, or who he sees on ‘Fox & Friends.’ He’s sending the message, ‘I can do whatever I want, and I could certainly pardon someone down the line on the Russia probe.’ ” …

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, said the implications for the special counsel investigation are obvious: a sign to witnesses and others tangled in the probe that “help is on the way.”

“If you’re being squeezed by Mueller, [the president is] sending a signal that he’s in an all-out war with Mueller and people should know [he] is willing to issue pardons,” Gingrich said.

The U.S. Constitution gives presidents the authority to grant pardons without any oversight or interference from any other branch of government. In a normal administration, requests for pardons go through the Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Department of Justice. (Of course, that office has only an acting head, Larry Kupers, senior counsel in the office since 2014. It’s just one of the many offices that Trump hasn’t bothered to nominate anyone for or that people have been fleeing in droves.) Another Washington Post analysis describes what usually happens when people apply to that office for clemency: There is a review process, a 28-page form to fill out, interviews with character witnesses, and background checks.

Not for the Orange Pardoner. He picks up ideas from (where else?) watching Fox News or meeting with esteemed legal scholar Kim Kardashian West, who championed Alice Johnson’s cause in an Oval Office meeting with Trump that was arranged by Jared Kushner.

Trump can check his old guest lists from The Apprentice to see who needs a little legal help, such as cooking and decorating maven Martha Stewart, who served five months in prison after her conviction on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, or disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on multiple corruption charges for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat and is currently serving a 14-year sentence.

The Post analysis offers a new Trumpian flowchart for pardon requests, with these questions:

  • Are you a darling of conservative politics?
  • Are you a celebrity?
  • Do you know a celebrity?
  • Can you get on Fox News anyway?
  • Do you have any friends who are friends with Trump?
  • Have you been indicted by Robert Mueller?

Trump’s “latest discovery is how his pardon power can be a big news-cycle hit, especially when a celebrity is blended in,” wrote columnist E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

Of course, there are lots of other people in prison who need pardons or at least need their sentences commuted. According to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, there are over 3,200 people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for convictions of nonviolent crimes, mostly through mandatory minimum sentences. Sometimes the offenses were for crimes as simple as possessing a crack pipe, sharing several grams of LSD with Grateful Dead concertgoers or selling a single rock of crack.

“About 79 percent of the 3,278 prisoners serving life without parole were sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent drug crimes,” the report said. Roughly 65 percent of these prisoners are African American. Many had mental illnesses or drug addictions, or were in severe financial straits when they committed these crimes, such as the man who sold methamphetamine to pay for a bone marrow transplant for his son. If these sentences were commuted, the report estimates, the savings for U.S. taxpayers who wouldn’t have to foot the bill for these prison housing costs would be $1.784 billion.

That’s a lot of people receiving obviously lopsided punishment for nonviolent offenses, and that’s a lot of money being spent to house them all. Alice Johnson fell into that category and shared her thoughts about her imprisonment in a CNN opinion piece.

On his final day in office, President Barack Obama issued 330 sentence commutations to nonviolent drug offenders, bringing the clemency total for his two terms in office to 1,715, including commutations to 568 inmates with life sentences. Maybe someone on Trump’s crack legal team should explore the possibility of issuing pardons or commuting sentences for prisoners in that category.

HA! Just kidding. Trump doesn’t care about any of them. Except when a celebrity like Kim Kardashian West argues their case.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 10, 2018.


Hey, media: Real news doesn’t always start with Trump tweets

Remember when Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for 11 minutes? If only that were permanent.

The nation’s media made a collective decision after the 2016 election on how to cover Donald Trump’s tweets. Too bad it was the wrong decision.

Yes, he’s the president, and the media are obliged to cover what he says and does. They are not, however, obliged to regurgitate in full the growing number of lies that fit into 280 characters or less. Yet that’s what they’ve chosen to do.

A Trump tweet is not necessarily “breaking news,” and it’s lazy, irresponsible, and shallow for news media to treat all of his tweets that way. But why should Trump change? He tweets, and the media fall over each other to report that. Trump’s tweets drive every news cycle. Trump is playing the media like Nero played the fiddle.

As president, Trump has told more than 3,000 lies, according to both The Washington Post and CNN. The number grows daily. Yet not a day goes by when a Trump tweet — lies and all — isn’t repeated or printed in full by a newspaper, radio station, or broadcast or cable news station.

Although most news media are getting better at pointing out afterward when Trump isn’t telling the truth (Is he breathing? Then he’s not telling the truth), they’re giving him an open platform to sell his lies. And that’s the problem.

Just like during the 2016 campaign, when cable stations ran lengthy Trump speeches in full, without commentary, these days the media breathlessly report every misspelled, ungrammatical, and incorrectly capitalized missive thumbed into his unsecured mobile phone, either written by him or typed from a tweet prewritten by an aide. The viewer, listener, or reader is left with his or her first impression: the tweeted lie.

Often, that’s where the impression ends. And that’s the problem.

Many media outlets are doing an excellent job uncovering the truth about corruption in the Trump administration. But when too many start each news cycle with “President Trump tweeted today,” then Trump has defined the narrative once again. Trump deliberately sends out tweets in the morning to lead the news cycle, and the media comply without giving any context or pointing out his obvious lies.

“Trump is winning his effort to demonize Mueller,” declared the front-page headline on a CNN analysis by Z. Byron Wolf, on a blog usually written by Chris Cillizza, which claimed that Trump’s mantra of repeatedly tweeting “WITCH HUNT” and “NO COLLUSION” and “SPYGATE” was turning at least some Americans against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence on the Trump campaign. “In large part, he’s winning it because he’s the only one arguing right now,” the analysis claimed.

Actually, if Trump is “winning,” it’s because CNN and all other media give him a free and open platform to repeat his lies.

If the Mueller investigation is viewed as a partisan witch hunt — and there’s no evidence that’s what it is — then Trump has won the political argument. … Republicans, Trump’s base, have responded. … Republicans are souring on the investigation.

Not just Republicans: A shrinking number of Americans think the Mueller investigation should continue — only 54 percent, compared with 60 percent in March and 62 percent in July 2017. A growing number — 43 percent, versus 33 percent last summer — think it’s time for the special counsel to wrap things up.

And the tweeted repetition of NO COLLUSION NO COLLUSION NO COLLUSION has had an effect: Other polling shows that 59 percent of Americans don’t know that Mueller and his team have uncovered any crimes, despite the five guilty pleas and 17 indictments.

In response, Raw Story pointed out the obvious. “Trump was likely in search of headlines when he embarked on the campaign to undermine Mueller. With the article on Cillizza’s blog, Trump has already achieved part of his goal.”

It’s been more than a year since Trump has held a solo news conference (Feb. 16, 2017 — The Washington Post keeps a running count), and that was the only formal news conference he has held as president. (He answers some informal questions from gaggles of reporters, although he usually ignores shouted queries, and answers a few questions alongside other world leaders.) In their first years in office, other presidents were more available: Barack Obama held 11 solo news conferences, George W. Bush held four, Bill Clinton held 14, and George H.W. Bush held 26.

Trump knows he doesn’t need to hold the kind of news conference that every other president did. Why should he, when he’s got the media to deliver a one-sided view — his — of his message? When the media spout the exact wording of his tweets, he can avoid answering hard questions and bypass any media filters.

“The media seems just as addicted to Trump’s tweets as he is to Twitter,” said an analysis in Medium, giving some reasons why such über-coverage is so harmful.

  • The tweets exploit the media to spread his message beyond his loyal Twitter following and his core base.
  • Trump’s tweets divert our attention away from the real issues (tax reform, health care act, abolishing net neutrality, corruption) that should matter.
  • Concentrating on tweets leads to a mental fatigue on the part of the audience, which is long beyond the point of being properly outraged by every new tweet typed out on Trump’s phone.

Medium offered several reasons why media should turn off their Trump Twitter obsession.

  • The tweets help to legitimize fringe views and push them into the mainstream.
  • They allow Trump to set the agenda, or at least shape it.
  • His tweets often serve as a means of distraction.
  • They crowd out more important issues.

The analysis also offered some solutions in the form of questions that news media need to answer before spewing out a Trump tweet in knee-jerk fashion.

  • Is his tweet news? If the answer is “no,” then why should it still be covered?
  • What are the risks? What is at stake if a Trump tweet which promotes fringe or extreme views is being covered?
  • Establish context. Why is Trump tweeting about this right now? It may be just a distraction.
  • Add context to coverage. “If you have to report, try to phrase headlines differently. Don’t say ‘Donald Trump retweets racist anti-Muslim videos.’ Do say: ‘Donald Trump retweets racist anti-Muslim videos in an attempt to distract from Russia probe.’ ”

This tweet summed it up:

Nicolle Wallace of MSNBC had the right reaction when she recently stopped reading Trump’s tweets on the air in the middle of a sentence. According to an account in The Hill:

“I’m not reading any more of this,” Wallace said with a laugh. “These are boldface lies and as his audacity and his sort of fantasies expand, I wonder what role you think the truth plays in this for any of them.”

What role does truth play? Very little, if any at all.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 3, 2018.

Democratic women are kicking some serious electoral butt

Who wins a primary by 50 points? She did.

The media have been slow to cover the obvious, but they can’t ignore the fact any more: Democratic women are winning.

The biggest primary win so far may have been Stacey Abrams winning the Democratic nomination for governor in Georgia by 50 percentage points. The former state House Democratic leader won statewide, becoming the first black woman in the nation to clinch a major party’s nomination for governor. But that’s far from the whole story.

A few states away, Lupe Valdez, a former Dallas County sheriff, won a runoff to become the first openly gay Latina to win a major-party nomination for governor in Texas. In Idaho, Paulette Jordan, a two-term state lawmaker, is the first Native American candidate for governor, having won the Democratic nomination.

Democratic women also are having major victories in primaries for House seats. While many states have yet to hold primaries, women are racking up victories, often against male Democratic establishment candidates. The winners include combat veterans, political newcomers, women with years of government experience, progressives, socialists, gun safety activists, and more. The candidates also represent more diversity.

All in all, these candidates could very well be the key to major victories on Nov. 6.

There is no one factor as to why so many Democratic women are running—and winning—in races this year. David Hopkins, an associate professor of political science at Boston College, offers this assessment about the huge growth in the number of women candidates:

But it’s apparent enough by now that we are witnessing a dramatic and historic change in the gender distribution among Democratic congressional nominees, caused by a rise in the supply of, and demand for, female candidates within the party in the wake of Trump’s election (and Hillary Clinton’s defeat). It’s equally clear that this development is not occurring in parallel on the Republican side. In fact, the GOP is drifting the other way—so far, only 7 percent of the party’s House nominees this year are women (compared to 12 percent in 2016), the lowest share for the party since the election of 1988. The proportion of female Republican nominees isn’t much bigger when incumbents are excluded (9 percent).

With more women running (Emily’s List reported interest from 36,000 women this election cycle, vs. 920 in 2016), there are bound to be more victories. More than two-thirds of women won races in the May 22 primaries alone. Women make up more than 40 percent of all House nominees so far. The total number of Democratic women nominated for House seats is now up to 62, with a few more women, such as gun safety activist Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, still facing runoffs.

Only the blue team shows a rising tide.

Election primary victories by Democratic women in 2018 follow the overwhelming number of seats in state legislatures across the country that flipped from red to blue over the last year—41 at last count. Many were won by women.

The media usually follow the reports of victories by Democratic women candidates with the caveat that many of these wins are in red states and red districts, and the women will face uphill battles in November. But more and more people are casting votes in Democratic primaries. Consider these primary voting numbers in Georgia:

Looks like the odds of winning have improved considerably.

In the 2016 election, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright raised a lot of hackles when she introduced Hillary Clinton at a New Hampshire campaign event with her quote: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” It wasn’t the first time Albright used that line, but it rubbed many voters the wrong way—Clinton lost to Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary by more than 22 percentage points.

Albright had to backtrack and apologize afterward, but her point is well taken. We shouldn’t pick our candidates based on gender alone, but support for ground-breaking women candidates is crucial, just to make sure that women’s voices are heard.

The presence of so many women on the political trail also is shaping the Democratic message nationwide, both in 2018 and likely in 2020. According to a piece in Politico:

The prospect of a record number of female candidates on the November ballot — and running for president in 2020 — has Democratic leaders leaning into increasingly explicit, gender-based appeals and focusing renewed attention on education, health care, sexual harassment, and other issues perceived as critical to women.

The party itself is casting women as a focal point of the pre-presidential campaign, ahead of a presidential primary season in which women are expected to prove critical — as volunteers, donors, and, most important, as a bulk of voters.

The emphasis on supporting women is equally true inside and outside the political arena. Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens quoted a commencement speech that soccer star Abby Wambach delivered at Barnard College in New York with a message about women’s empowerment. Wambach is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a Women’s World Cup champion. She’s also a leading activist for pay equity and LGBTQ rights.

“You will not always be the goal scorer. And when you are not — you better be rushing toward her.

“Women must champion each other. This can be difficult for us. Women have been pitted against each other since the beginning of time for that one seat at the table. Scarcity has been planted inside of us and among us. This scarcity is not our fault. But it is our problem. And it is within our power to create abundance for women where scarcity used to live.

“As you go out into the world: Amplify each others’ voices. Demand seats for women, people of color, and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made. Call out each other’s wins and just like we do on the field: claim the success of one woman, as a collective success for all women.”

Yes, 2018 is turning into the Year of the Woman. And it’s about time the media noticed.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 27, 2018.

Meet the law enforcement allies in the fight for gun safety

Retired ATF agent Mark Jones explains to a Democratic group in suburban Chicago about the importance of state-level gun dealer licensing. (Photo by Todd Bannor/bannorbannor.com)

When it comes to common-sense gun safety laws, at least some major players in law enforcement are on the same page as the rest of the country.

The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence is made up of nine different police leadership organizations, including groups representing African-American, Hispanic, and women command officers. Its website lists several solutions that a growing number of Americans agree should be enacted:

  • Requiring universal background checks for all gun purchasers.
  • Strengthening NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
  • Limiting the size of high-capacity ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
  • Opposing federal preemption of state laws governing the carry of concealed weapons.
  • Strengthening the penalties for straw purchases of guns.
  • Making firearms trafficking a federal crime.
  • Banning or regulating firearms accessories designed to circumvent federal law, such as bump stocks, trigger activators, suppressors/silencers, and similar products.

In addition, seven of the nine groups also support banning the sale of new semi-automatic assault-style weapons and passing “red flag” laws, which allow officials to temporarily remove guns from people who threaten to commit violence against themselves or others.

There are approximately 900,000 sworn police officers (meaning those with powers to make an arrest) in 18,000 police agencies in the United States, and they’ve got a variety of opinions on gun laws. Polling on what police think about gun safety laws specifically is spotty and varied.

One poll reports that 82 percent of police chiefs favor background checks before any weapons purchase. Other polls say that 86 percent of police chiefs favor concealed carry, and that large numbers of rank-and-file police officers oppose bans on sales of high-capacity magazines. The most recent polling from the Pew Research Center shows that two-thirds of police oppose a ban on assault-style weapons, contrasted with a similar number of the public in favor of such a ban.

What the National Law Enforcement Partnership group does, as its website says, is to “inform elected officials and the public of the policies we need to better protect our nation.” The partnership, which covers the majority of police command groups representing chiefs, executives, and command staff, supports progressive gun violence and firearm safety proposals. And although the partnership itself is nonpartisan, those proposals are coming from Democrats.

Mark Jones is project director for the National Law Enforcement Partnership group. He spent 31 years in law enforcement, including serving on a local police department in suburban Chicago, five years working in the diplomatic security service for the State Department, and 21 years with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, including a stint as a regional firearms adviser to fight firearms trafficking in Central America. He retired from the ATF in 2011. Then he turned his attention to fighting gun violence. “There’s a cadre of retired ATF guys working with gun [safety] groups,” he said.

Jones spent the next few years as an expert witness testifying in favor of several gun safety laws that were challenged in court, all of which won; as a law enforcement adviser at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which does research on reducing crime and violence; and at SST Inc., whose ShotSpotter technology uses acoustic sensors to provide police in nearly 90 cities around the country with pinpointed geographic data on where guns have been fired. He joined the National Law Enforcement Partnership group two years ago.

The partnership is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organization. Its operations are run through the Police Foundation, mostly through grants. While small, it has a big job in working against gun violence.

Jones said he often is solicited by gun safety groups because “they want to know what law enforcement thinks.” These are chapters of groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Giffords, the organization run by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was severely injured in 2011 when she was shot in the head during a constituent event near Tucson. A big part of his job is teaching about strategy and about firearms themselves.

“We call it a guns 101 presentation,” Jones said. “We do a very basic overview on what kinds of guns exist, what obstacles they’re likely to face in the fight against gun violence.” Often, he said, Second Amendment advocates fire “gotcha” questions at gun safety advocates in hopes of proving that gun safety groups are too ignorant to be taken seriously. “It’s not a clip; it’s a magazine,” is one such example.

“We’re educating people who otherwise have no such knowledge,” Jones said. He likened getting into those kinds of “gotcha” arguments with gun rights backers to “wresting with a pig in the mud.”

“We want policy decisions that will keep our families safe,” he added. “We want to arm advocates with facts,” such as information about the numbers of women who are shot each year by domestic abusers.

Jones is not against gun ownership. “I’ve been shooting since I was 9 years old,” he said. What he does object to is the lack of standards on the issuance of concealed-carry permits to people without any safety training. That lack of regulation is why the partnership objects to proposals for national reciprocity on concealed-carry laws.

Jones’ current focus is passing the Combating Illegal Gun Trafficking Act in Illinois, which would require all gun dealers to have state licenses. The bill passed easily in the Illinois Senate this week on a 35-18 vote and now heads to the Illinois House. The legislation is about gun dealers’ licenses, but the intent of the bill is to make sure legally-sold guns don’t get re-sold in a straw purchase to criminals who otherwise aren’t able to buy a gun.

A similar bill was passed in the Illinois Legislature earlier this year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner was in a close GOP primary race for renomination—his primary opponent voted against the bill, and Rauner bowed to pressure and refused to sign it. Instead of holding a vote to override the veto, the bill’s sponsors, including State Sen. Don Harmon, who has been working on this issue since 2003, chose to tweak the bill to answer some concerns and to increase bipartisan support.

One big reason the bill finally moved ahead at all was because of Jones’ testimony last year in front of state House and Senate Judiciary committees. His expertise on guns convinced enough lawmakers that such gun dealer licensure was necessary so that the bill moved ahead after 15 years of non-movement.

Although it’s true that gun dealers must have federal licenses, the ATF lacks the money and personnel to oversee them all. The production of guns more than doubled during the eight years of the Obama administration, and 9,000 new gun dealers went into business. Last year, Jones said, ATF agents were able to perform checks on only 11 percent of gun dealers nationally, and only 6 percent of gun dealers in Illinois. Some gun dealers have never been inspected at all. According to a story on Huffington Post:

The ATF’s budget, which includes funds for monitoring the network of gun manufacturers, wholesalers, and dealers, has increased only slightly amid the recent boom, and it has remained unchanged at $1.25 billion over the last few years. The agency hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed director since 2015, and, as The New York Times reported, the National Rifle Association has been part of a campaign to ensure that the ATF remains a small agency grappling with a wide-reaching set of duties, including prosecuting gun crimes, combating gun violence and trafficking, and regulating firearm commerce in the U.S.

“The ATF gets hobbled by Congress,” Jones said. “There are giant holes in the system right now. About 22 percent of all transactions receive no official scrutiny.

“The firearms industry has convinced Congress that ATF shouldn’t share data,” he added. “We need to do it at the state level. We need our own state ATF so that if lots of guns used in crimes are traced back to a specific dealer, we can say, ‘We’re pulling your certificate now.’ With ATF, it could take up to five years.”

Jones said the National Law Enforcement Partnership group hopes to get more police rank-and-file organizations to back its gun-safety proposals, but there is opposition. For instance, the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Trump in 2016, is definitely not on board.

“Police need to take a more clear-eyed view of the firearms industry than what the industry shows them,” he said, adding that most police officers don’t really want a heavily armed populace. “I don’t think most cops actually think that. We don’t want armed civilians to stick their noses in police business.

“The bottom line is, we don’t want the firearms industry making policy for American citizens, which is what’s happening now,” Jones said.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, May 20, 2018.

2018 midterm success hinges on Democratic determination — and wild cards

With less than six months to go before the 2018 midterms — and as more states hold primaries to see who will face off in the fall — it’s time to check in with various predictions about which candidates and political parties will wind up on top. It’s also time to look at other factors that could upend all conventional wisdom about midterm elections.

Pundits and pollsters constantly pontificate about and measure how voters feel. How likely they are to vote in November. How likely the House and/or Senate are to flip. Which politicians—of either party—won’t have a job come January.

Polls breathlessly report any tiny tick of change, whether it’s Donald Trump’s approval rating or the gap in the generic congressional ballot measurement. The average difference in the generic congressional ballot race has been roughly seven or eight points for months, tipping to the Democrats, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, which updates its aggregate polls daily.

Yet any tightening generates sound-the-alarm headlines, casting doubt on good results for Team Blue in November. A new CNN poll, for instance, proclaims that Democrats’ advantage is “nearly gone” (actually, it’s down to three points in the poll). By the next week, the gap may widen again by a bit. Then the headlines will proclaim that it must be because too many people hate Trump and Republicans are doomed once more.

More important than slight shifts in weekly polling are the ongoing measurements of voter enthusiasm. Traditionally, Republicans, with a higher preponderance of older (and hence more reliable) voters, perform better in midterm elections. FiveThirtyEight.com reports that the average GOP advantage in midterms since 1978 has been about three percentage points, with obvious swings back and forth, depending on which party holds the presidency. In 2018, just about every poll notes an enthusiasm gap against Republicans.

Enthusiasm breeds more enthusiasm. Voters who are enthusiastic about a candidate are more likely to talk to their friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers about voting. They’re more likely to spread news through social media and volunteer for campaigns.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that two-thirds of Democrats have a high level of interest in voting on Nov. 6, while only half of Republicans do. This poll also shows how the enthusiasm gap is widening; earlier polls showed voters of both parties roughly even in their intentions to vote.

Interestingly, the numbers of those with a high interest in voting (66 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican) are identical to the poll numbers in 2010. Only then the numbers were reversed: 66 percent of Republicans had a high interest in voting, compared with 49 percent of Democrats. And we all remember what happened then: Democrats took “a shellacking,” as President Obama famously said.

Given restrictive voting laws, gerrymandered districts, and a lopsided Senate electoral picture (with 26 seats up in November held by Democrats versus only eight held by Republicans), a shellacking is likely too much to hope for. But a light coat of varnish would be just fine.

Here are some other factors that could affect midterm outcomes. In 2016, many votes were cast with a racist, misogynist, and “throw-the-bums-out” mentality. This year, there are issues and circumstances that could cause conventional wisdom and normal predictions to be thrown out the window. Heck, they might as well be thrown from the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Growing generational differences. The latest findings from the Pew Research Center show that Millennials strongly favor Democrats over Republicans, although a plurality of them identify as independents.

By greater than two-to-one (62% to 29%), more Millennial voters say, if the election were held today, they would vote for the Democrat in their district or lean toward the Democrat than prefer the Republican candidate. … Millennial registered voters support the Democrat by a wider margin than in the past.

Older generations of voters, according to Pew, are closer in their voting preferences. Gen-Xers favor Democrats by five points, baby boomers are roughly equal in their partisan leanings, and those in the older “silent” generation tip toward Republicans by nearly 10 points.

And for those—especially polling outfits—who say that younger voters don’t show up in non-presidential years, look no further than young voter turnout in Virginia in 2017. In 2010, only 21 percent of those 18-22 voted in the Commonwealth. In 2014, that same figure was 17 percent.

In 2017, that figure for that same demographic group jumped to 34 percent.

Women voters—and women candidates. We already know that Trump’s support among women is dropping, down to 35 percent in one poll (the gender gap between men and women voters is being described as the “Stormy Effect”). We also know that attitudes toward Trump are a factor in the record numbers of women running for office at all levels—the latest numbers from Emily’s List show that 36,000 women approached the group for electoral help in 2018, compared with 920 in 2016. Those numbers include 309 women running for the House, 29 running for the Senate, and 40 women running for governor. And those numbers could still grow—some states still have not reached filing deadlines. According to an Emily’s List news release:

Nationally, campaign operatives say they cannot name a single state that does not have a record number of women running for state legislatures, and female candidates alone could flip party control of at least seven legislative chambers. The stage is set for a historic year for female political power at a time when state governments are filling the power vacuum left by a feuding Congress.

The candidates include teachers, businesswomen, military veterans, and lawyers. Some are single mothers, and many are first-time candidates. Some have been inspired by the #MeToo movement, which has unleashed an outpouring of complaints from female legislators, lobbyists and staffers of sexual harassment, abuse and toxic work environments in America’s statehouses. Some want to focus more on health and family issues they believe legislatures are ignoring. They are Democrats, Republicans, and independents, representing a wide array of views on issues.

The women share one mission: to break up the old boys’ clubs they see in the nation’s statehouses and bring in more female perspectives.

By the way, these women are winning. Bigly. According to an analysis by Politico:

There were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot Tuesday night, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of them.

It’s a sharp turnaround from past years, when female Democrats faced big hurdles in trying to win support from voters. A good number of the primary winners Tuesday night are running in heavily Republican seats with little chance of winning general elections. But they are still part of an important trend: Evidence is building that Democratic voters are tilting toward supporting women this year.

Note to Politico: Those women might be running in heavily Republican districts, but counting them out is a mistake. Just ask some of the Democrats—many of them women—who have flipped some 40 seats in special elections since 2016. This could easily be another “Year of the Woman,” but even more successful than 1992.

Gun safety will be an issue this fall. The National Rifle Association may have loved having both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at its recent convention, but the momentum is still on the side of those favoring common-sense gun safety laws, including universal background checks; “red flag” laws allowing officials to take guns from those who pose a danger to themselves or others when officials are alerted by families or other members of the public; and bans on bump stocks, high-capacity magazines, and military-style assault weapons. Support for these solutions has reached record highs. Publicity about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, may have ebbed, but the students’ efforts have not, as they work for widespread voter registration of young, first-time voters with groups such as HeadCount, which pushes voter registration at music concerts.

According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution:

Republican intransigence on guns may represent an example of a policy that helped them in the past but will hurt them in the future. Most public opinion surveys show overwhelming majorities in favor of gun action. A February 2018 survey by Quinnipiac University found that young people between 18 and 34 supported the Democrat’s position on gun violence by 62 to 27 percent. The GOP can ignore that message at its own peril.

A news release from the gun safety group Giffords offered some more chilling news for Republicans from polls about guns and voting:

  • Gun violence prevention is the top issue among young people in deciding who to vote for in the 2018 midterm elections.
  • 37 percent of Americans under 30 indicate they will “definitely be voting in the upcoming midterms.”

For polling organizations who use historical voting data as significant weighting factors to develop election predictions: It might be time to update your models.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, May 13, 2018.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt is one hot mess of corruption

How bad is it that Pruitt’s sweetheart deal for cheap rent in a condo belonging to an environmental lobbyist’s wife is now the least of his scandals?

In the quagmire that is the swamp of the Trump administration and Cabinet, one name stands above — or should that be below? — all the rest: Scott Pruitt.

A new scandal about the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency emerges almost daily. If you miss one, don’t worry — there will be a new one out the next day with some other piece of corrupt malfeasance, whether it’s a shady deal, a lavish taxpayer-funded trip, or undue influence by fossil fuel lobbyists.

The latest scandal involves Pruitt’s desire to be a world traveler without paying for it himself. He asked aides to rustle up reasons for him to visit multiple countries, ostensibly for environmental reasons but really so Pruitt could push the U.S. business interests of influential outsiders. At least a dozen nations were on his travel bucket list on six continents — guess there’s no profit with penguins. Never mind that the guy who is supposed to be in charge of protecting the U.S. environment has no business visiting a new country every month to peddle liquefied natural gas or water purification products. But lobbyists, Republican donors, and conservative activists all had a hand in shaping his travel schedule until even he was too embarrassed to continue on the Pruitt world tour.

The Washington Post revealed a memo by head of Pruitt’s security detail (who has now “retired” from the EPA) outlining the supposed need for all of Pruitt’s high-flying habits. The justification was that if the EPA administrator rode in coach, people would “lash out” at him. Maybe they’re yelling like, “WHY ARE YOU POISONING THE PLANET?”

Pruitt is facing nearly a dozen federal ethics investigations by congressional committees, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, the EPA Office of Inspector General, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office. Requests for such probes have come from both Democratic lawmakers and members of the general public through an EPA OIG hotline.

It goes without saying that this kind of behavior would never be tolerated in a Democratic administration. Republican lawmakers and Fox News pundits would be fighting each other to see who could scream the loudest with demands for resignations, firings, and more.

In a normal presidency, any of Pruitt’s numerous scandals would be enough to earn him a swift kick out the door or a statement that the EPA chief wanted to spend more time with his family. There are reports that some senior White House officials are calling for him to be fired, but for now (at least) he’s still in charge. So it’s time once again to ask: Why does Scott Pruitt still have a job?

Steve Benen, who writes much of the content at the Maddow Blog for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, compiled a “baker’s dozen” of Pruitt scandals, from his $43,000 soundproof phone booth to his 24/7 security crew to his insistence on first-class airline travel. But that list was incomplete within days and needed updating, mainly to include more details about the $100,000 trip to Morocco to “sell U.S. natural gas,” a trip arranged by a lobbyist who quickly became an agent for the Moroccan government. Here are both of Benen’s lists in convenient abbreviated form — all credit goes to the Maddow Blog for this succinct and handy scandal roundup.

  • The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s controversial travel habits.
  • The House Oversight Committee is also exploring the EPA chief’s use of public funds for first-class travel.
  • The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s behind-the-scenes talks with the National Mining Association.
  • Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on an around-the-clock security detail is the subject of three inspector general investigations.
  • The House Oversight Committee is also examining the EPA chief’s security expenditures.
  • The Government Accountability Office has already investigated Pruitt for exceeding federal spending limits when he bought a $43,000 phone booth for his office.
  • The White House Office of Management and Budget is also investigating the phone booth.
  • The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s use of funds set aside for the Safe Drinking Water Act and diverting the money to give generous raises to two of his top aides.
  • The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco late last year.
  • The Government Accountability Office is investigating Pruitt’s ouster of scientists from the EPA’s science advisory committee.
  • The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether Pruitt broke lobbying laws with comments he made to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.
  • The House Oversight Committee is investigating Pruitt’s living arrangement at a lobbyist’s condo.
  • And as noted above, the EPA’s inspector general is now also taking a closer look at Pruitt’s time at that condo.

And the new list of charges:

  • Pruitt has been accused of lying to Congress while giving testimony under oath.
  • Pruitt appears to have done a highly lucrative favor for a major Trump supporter who helped Pruitt get his job.
  • Two of Pruitt’s top aides abruptly resigned.
  • The Associated Press reported that the lobbyist whose wife rented a condo to Pruitt for $50 a night “sought EPA committee posts for a lobbying client, according to a newly released EPA memo.”
  • The Washington Post reported that Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast lobbyist and longtime Pruitt associate, helped arrange Pruitt’s controversial and trip to Morocco last year. Taxpayers ended up paying for the trip, which Pruitt took for reasons that the EPA has struggled to explain.
  • The New York Times reported that a former lobbyist for foreign governments played a central role in attempting to set up a trip for Pruitt to Australia, and then “took steps to disguise his role.”
  • Taking Points Memo reported that in early 2017, after Pruitt took the reins at the EPA, he “directed his future chief of staff to explore the creation of an EPA office in Pruitt’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, even though an EPA office with authority over Oklahoma already existed in Dallas, Texas.”

All of this is enough for a person to develop “Scott Pruitt fatigue,” as a recent Vanity Fair story suggested. So let’s look as some possible reasons why this swamp monster still has a seat at the Cabinet table.

Fleecing the taxpayer is a way of life in Trumpland. Private and military jets, first-class travel, expensive furniture, and campaign trips masquerading as official business are all SOP in the Trump administration. The presence of graft and grime is seen as a feature, not a bug. When the majority of Cabinet secretaries are flying high on the taxpayers’ dime, questionable travel expenses mean nothing. After all, the biggest money-waster is Trump himself with his regular golfing trips: In 2017 alone, trips to Mar-a-Lago in Florida and to his Trump property in Bedminster, New Jersey, cost taxpayers more than $13 million.

Pruitt strokes Trump’s ego — bigly. The most effective way to stay in Trump’s good graces is to lavish praise on the president, and the Cabinet members who are still around keep delivering. All good news must be attributed to Trump; all bad news must have been Barack Obama’s fault. “This president has shown tremendous courage to say to the American people that America is going to be put first,” Pruitt said in an April news conference in which he announced a rollback of auto-efficiency standards.

All of Pruitt’s actions are pro-fossil fuel and anti-environment. According to a story at Vox, the EPA launched 16 deregulatory actions in 2017, more than any other federal agency. Instead of protecting the environment, all of those actions went toward loosening regulations on coal, oil, and gas, while fossil fuel industries cheered from the sidelines. As a Mother Jones story pointed out, most of the EPA’s deregulatory actions and planned initiatives match up with specific industry requests, “ranging from air-pollution limits for oil and gas operations to water-pollution restrictions on coal-fired power plants.” The saving grace for the rest of us is that much of the deregulation has been done in a sloppy manner and is being challenged in court by states and environmental groups. Launching a deregulation is not the same as an actual deregulation, as federal rules take a long time to rewrite.

Pruitt is doing his best to help undo Obama’s legacy. It’s not enough for Trump just to push deregulation for fossil fuel industries. That must be coupled with undoing some of Obama’s successes, and no area is being pinpointed more than the advances Obama made on climate change and the environment. That’s another way that Pruitt stays in Trump’s good graces—by reversing whatever Obama tried to do. Vox described Pruitt as “the happy conductor of the Trump train.”

Pruitt is fulfilling long-held Republican dreams. Just as many Republicans are willing to ignore Trump’s lies, moral failings, and disregard for the law (not to mention human decency), they’re willing to give Pruitt a pass as long as he’s getting rid of regulations and giving big donors like fossil fuel industries a chance to make more money. Although some in the GOP are alarmed about Pruitt’s ethical failings, many others just shrug off the charges as “nitpicking.”

The Three Stooges Syndrome. Steve Benen has a new theory of how Pruitt’s getting away with so much corruption. He takes it from an episode of The Simpsons, explained by the “Three Stooges Syndrome.”

In the episode, C. Montgomery Burns goes to a doctor’s office, and the physician tells him he’s “the sickest man in the United States.” The doctor adds, “You have everything,” including “several diseases that have just been discovered.”

When Burns, disheartened, says that the prognosis sounds like bad news, the physician says, “Well, you’d think so, but all of your diseases are in perfect balance.” He tells the plutocrat about what he calls the “Three Stooges Syndrome,” in which no one ailment can doom Burns because they’re all trying to break through an open doorway simultaneously.

When Moe, Larry, and Curly all tried to exit a door at the same time, they inevitably would bump into each other, so none could actually make it out the door. In other words, there’s so much wrong about Pruitt that one scandal can’t rise above another.

But the worst part of the Scott Pruitt scandal roundup is this: All of Pruitt’s scandals pale in comparison to the damage he’s trying to inflict on the planet.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 6, 2018.

Waffle House shooting shows why all states need ‘red flag’ laws

The alleged shooter might not have had access to weapons if laws were uniform across states.

By now, most people know the details about the Waffle House mass shooting near Nashville, which killed four people. But still unresolved is the question about the legal status of the alleged shooter, Travis Reinking, possessing guns. That’s why every state needs to enact “red flag” laws.

State and local officials in Illinois revoked the firearms license and confiscated the guns belonging to Reinking after multiple arrests and bizarre behavior that suggested evidence of mental illness. He reportedly believed he was being stalked by pop star Taylor Swift; he went swimming at a public pool in his underwear, exposing his genitals; and he told officials in Washington that he had a right to inspect the White House grounds “because he was a sovereign citizen.”

Reinking’s guns were turned over to his father, Jeffrey Reinking, who does hold a valid firearms license, or FOID card (Firearm Owners Identification card). He promised officials that he would keep the guns away from Travis. But the elder Reinking returned the weapons to his son when the 29-year-old moved to Tennessee. One of those weapons was the AR-15 used in the Waffle House shooting.

Here’s where the legality of the gun transfer gets murky.

A federal official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives said at a news conference that the weapons transfer was probably illegal under federal law and that Jeffrey Rein­king might be charged. But Tennessee officials suggested that Travis Reinking’s possession of guns, while illegal in Illinois, might have been legal in Tennessee. According to a story on NPR:

Laws are different state to state. And a restriction in one state doesn’t always translate to another — even if it was intended to.

Susan Niland, a spokeswoman with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said even though Reinking was forbidden to have guns in Illinois, it didn’t mean he couldn’t have them in Tennessee.

“It does not appear that there is anything in his record that would have been deniable from our end,” Niland said.

If every state had a red flag law, which allows police to confiscate guns from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, and those laws were reciprocal from state to state, Travis Reinking’s possession of those weapons and his father’s transfer of those guns back to him would definitely be illegal. Everywhere.

Red flag laws have been enacted in only eight states, but nearly 20 more states and the District of Columbia are considering such legislation, and some bills are working their way through state legislatures. Since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed, such laws are gaining bipartisan support. After the Parkland shooting, Florida became the sixth state to pass a red flag law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, another Republican, signed multiple gun restrictions into law on April 11, including a red flag law. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican, signed a red flag law on April 23, along with other gun safety measures. In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, signed an executive order essentially establishing a red flag measure.

The laws are seen as successful in preventing gun violence, although most are too new to measure the effect. Connecticut was the first state to pass a red flag law, in 1999, and a 2016 study suggested that Connecticut’s law may have reduced the number of suicides in the state. California, Washington, Oregon, and Indiana have similar laws.

Here’s an explanation of how the laws work, from a story in USA Today:

Red-flag laws vary by state, but they generally allow law enforcement or family members to petition a judge for a “gun violence restraining order” or “extreme risk protection order” to temporarily restrict a person’s access to firearms.

The judge can issue an emergency, temporary order — without the gun owner being present —  to prevent immediate danger. But a full hearing must be scheduled quickly, offering the gun owner the ability to respond.

A longer order can be issued during the full hearing if there is enough evidence that the person is dangerous.

Unsurprisingly, the National Rifle Association has opposed red flag laws, although there is evidence that the gun lobby is changing its tune: Its top lobbyist, Chris Cox, released a YouTube video asking Congress to pass incentives for states to pass red flag laws. But the NRA-ILA, the group’s political arm (ILA stands for Institute for Legislative Action), still has web pages urging NRA members to contact state lawmakers to vote against any proposed bills. And although some members of Congress have made noises about red flag legislation, no one expects any movement from either the House or the Senate, especially in the current session.

Passage of red flag laws are a high priority for the antiviolence group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The group’s chapters across the country are making their presence felt in state capitals as lawmakers consider these new laws, attending hearings and legislative sessions.

To check on the status in your state, the affiliated antiviolence group Everytown for Gun Safety has a searchable, interactive Gun Law Navigator with complete, up-to-date information on the status of gun laws across the country. Another complete reference to gun laws nationwide is this guide available from The Washington Post, which is updated periodically.

Travis Reinking is reportedly not talking to authorities about any motive. He considered himself a “sovereign citizen” as part of the right-wing extremist movement and thus said he was not subject to U.S. law. Spoiler alert for Travis: You are.

Not much has been gleaned about the attitude of Travis Reinking’s parents about guns. His father, Jeffrey Reinking, isn’t commenting publicly (not a big surprise), but there are reports that he had taken away and returned his son’s guns three separate times. There are other clues, too: Travis’ mother, Judy Reinking, posted on Facebook that mass shootings only started after God and Jesus were removed from public school classrooms. A Chicago Tribune story described Travis Reinking this way: “He came from a Christian family and was home-schooled.” The story quoted neighbors saying, “They are a really good family.” (Once again: A white shooter is always a “troubled young man.”)

Illinois lawmakers are considering their own version of a red flag law, which would add more protection than current law. One provision being considered would let law enforcement officials keep confiscated weapons, rather than hand them over to a relative. This is similar to the way police can confiscate and keep property under civil forfeiture laws, in cases where assets might be used in criminal activity, typically drug trafficking. Such confiscation is legal even when suspects aren’t convicted.

Now officials in Tazewell County, Illinois, which contains the Reinkings’ home in Morton, are reviewing whether to charge Jeffrey Reinking with a felony. So far, they’re noncommittal. According to a story in the Pantagraph in Bloomington, Illinois:

Transfers of weapons from one family member to another as a “bona fide gift” are exempt from a requirement under Illinois law that the owner first verify with state police that the recipient of the gun has a valid FOID card.

“At this point, our office does not possess enough information to determine if Jeffrey Reinking committed a criminal offense. When our office receives information from the criminal investigation, particularly from the FBI, we will be in a position to determine if any violation occurred,” Umholtz said.

“More information”? Seems pretty clear to me.

Red flag laws are not a panacea and are just one tool to cut down on gun violence. They join other common-sense gun law proposals that are gaining in public support, such as expanded universal background checks and bans on assault weapons, bump stocks, and high-capacity magazines. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in April showed that 85 percent of those surveyed supported red flag laws.

Red-flag laws have the support of more than 8 in 10 Democrats, Republicans, and independents, including at least two-thirds who support them “strongly.” … Most Americans living in gun-owning households also back proposals for a red-flag law.

Travis Reinking has been charged with four counts of criminal homicide. Whether or not Jeffrey Reinking ever faces criminal charges for returning his son’s guns, one thing is sure: The family is likely to face one heck of a civil suit from the families of those killed and injured in the Waffle House mass shooting.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 29, 2018.

The Ronny Jackson saga: a tale of sucking up and flaming out (UPDATE)

There’s a podium that White House physician Ronny Jackson will never speak at again.

So Navy Admiral Ronny Jackson withdrew his name from consideration as the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. You could say Dr. Jackson was the Harriet Miers of the Trump administration, except Harriet Miers never prescribed Percocet.

Harriet Miers, you may recall, is a Republican lawyer who was once counsel to President George W. Bush. In 2005, Bush nominated her to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, even though Miers had never been a judge. She finally withdrew from consideration, but it wasn’t because of her lack of experience. She was criticized by many conservatives because she wasn’t a staunch enough abortion opponent.

Like Jackson, Miers was unqualified for the job. Unlike Jackson, Miers didn’t expose raw ambition by sucking up to a president who was all too willing to succumb to flattery. She also didn’t do the kinds of things that Jackson allegedly committed:

  • Earning the nickname “the Candyman” for freely prescribing drugs to White House staff without examinations or paperwork.
  • Crashing a government vehicle after a retirement party, allegedly while drunk.
  • Writing prescriptions for himself, known as self-prescribing — a huge no-no in the medical world.
  • Heading up what was described as a “toxic work environment” at the White House Medical Unit.
  • Drinking on the job excessively, especially on overseas trips.
  • Providing a “large supply” of the opioid Percocet to a White House staffer, throwing the medical office into a panic when it couldn’t account for the large amount of the missing drug.

The descriptions from Jackson’s colleagues (none attributed directly) in a report released by Senate Democrats are brutal.

Jackson was described as “the most unethical person I have ever worked with,” “flat-out unethical,” “explosive,” “100 percent bad temper,” “toxic,” “abusive,” “volatile,” “incapable of not losing his temper,” “the worst officer I have ever served with,” “despicable,” “dishonest,” as having “screaming tantrums” and “screaming fits,” as someone who would “lose his mind over small things,” “vindictive,” “belittling,” “the worst leader I’ve ever worked for.” Day-to-day environment was like “walking on eggshells.”

Jackson was viewed as someone who “would roll over anyone,” “worked his way up on the backs of others,” “was a suck-up to those above him and abusive to those below him,” a “kiss up, kick down boss,” “put his needs above everyone else’s.”

Most Americans probably had not heard of Ronny Jackson until he gave a now-infamous assessment of Donald Trump’s health. It was beyond laughable.

Jackson gushed about how healthy Trump was. He bragged about Trump’s “incredible genes” and his “excellent health.” Trump’s cardiac health also was described as “excellent,” despite the fact that Trump has no daily exercise beyond his frequent golf games (where he rides in a cart) and his well-known diet of Diet Cokes, cheeseburgers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, red meat, and double scoops of vanilla ice cream.

“I told the President that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years he might live to be 200 years old,” Jackson said to the laughter of reporters.

Ronny. They weren’t laughing with you. They were laughing at you.

Nevertheless, with Trump, flattery will get you anywhere. So it wasn’t long before Trump fired VA Secretary David Shulkin (who had his own travel-related ethical challenges) by tweet and named Jackson as his successor.

Never mind the fact that Jackson has very little administrative experience. And he had nowhere near the experience to run an agency with an annual budget of $186 billion that serves over 9 million veterans and oversees 360,000 employees. The nation’s injured veterans deserve better than a flattering flunky to oversee their care.

You almost have to feel sorry for Ronny Jackson (note I said almost). Earlier, general reports never questioned his medical competency. But he sounds like an awful person to work for.

Jackson also is a rear admiral. The military doesn’t exactly make it easy to criticize a superior officer, so it’s understandable that these criticisms weren’t out in the open before. And while he will continue in his post in the White House Medical Unit, his reputation and his career are in ruins.

So ask yourself, Dr. Jackson: Was it really worth shaving all of those pounds off Donald Trump’s weight, just to make him feel less fat?

UPDATE: Now it seems that Jackson is out of a job as Trump’s physician as well as the VA. Two administration officials report that Jackson will not return as the president’s physician, although he will remain with the White House Medical Unit.

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