“Gun tourism”? How about gun idiocy with an Uzi?

Why would anyone think it was a good idea to teach a 9-year-old girl how to shoot an Uzi?

“Gun tourism” is apparently a growth industry to let those with itchy trigger fingers feel what it’s like to hold and operate a high-powered weapon. Dozens of such ranges, many in the Las Vegas area, have opened around the country in recent years, letting foreign and American tourists feel like Rambo.

In case you missed this story, a young girl was at the Last Stop range in White Hills, Ariz., when her instructor handed her an Uzi to shoot. He first fixed the setting so it would fire only single shots. But then instructor Charles Vacca, 39, altered the setting so it reverted to automatic — even though a 9-year-old girl obviously wouldn’t be able to handle the kickback. Vacca was standing next to the girl when she squeezed the trigger. The recoil wrenched the Uzi upward, and Vacca was shot in the head and later died.

The parents were recording the “lesson.” I doubt that’s one video they’ll show at Christmas.

The identity of the girl and her family has not been released, and police said no charges would be filed. Of course. You can’t charge someone with idiocy. Although imagine how that poor 9-year-old feels, knowing she took someone’s life because her parents wanted an Uzi video.

And in the case of “worst timing EVER,” two days after the incident, the National Rifle Association tweeted “7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range.” Sure — have fun and shoot your instructor! The tweet was deleted an hour later; but the damage had been done — one more way that the NRA looked insensitive. And that’s putting it mildly.

According to an online story at Talking Points Memo, written with help from the Associated Press, these ranges give visitors from other countries a chance to experience “American culture.” What — apple pie, hot dogs, and country music aren’t enough?

“The businesses cast a lighthearted spin on their shooting experiences, staging weddings in their ranges and selling souvenir T-shirts full of bullet holes,” the story says. There’s a real souvenir from a bachelor party: “I went to Vegas and all I got was this holey T-shirt.”

The “training” at this particular range is part of its “Bullets and Burgers Adventure.” Presumably, the kiddies work up an appetite while punching out a few rounds with a machine gun. I can think of better things to pass out with Happy Meals.

This is not the first time for this kind of incident. In 2008, according to the TPM story, an 8-year-old boy died after accidentally shooting himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun expo near Springfield, Mass. He was firing at pumpkins when the gun kicked back and killed him. A former Massachusetts police chief whose company co-sponsored the gun show was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.

This is not meant to be an attack on the Second Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has declared — going against legal precedent, but the court is the final say — that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own a gun, although it still held that such ownership can be regulated. Many communities ban the ownership of automatic weapons — not exactly what you need to shoot deer or pheasant.

Some in my extended family are hunters, and I have eaten venison at their tables. I am not advocating removal of anyone’s gun, despite the rash of accidental killings with firearms each year. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 100,000 Americans are the victims of gun violence every year. And lest anyone trot out the “good guy with a gun” line, only about one-tenth of those gun-related violence incidents were gun-related homicides, which make up only 35% of all gun-related deaths.

An Uzi is a submachine gun designed for warfare, not a shooting range. It can hold up to a 70-round magazine. It’s been used in wars since 1954, starting with the Israeli Defense Forces. It has spread to 90 countries, and it’s also used in law enforcement. It’s not a toy to hand to someone who’s not yet 10.

Every time lawmakers come up with a common-sense approach to gun regulation, they’re shot down by the NRA, which drives pro-gun voters into a lather, repeating the lies that “they’re out to take your guns.” Actually, no one has proposed any law to take away anyone’s gun — it’s future purchases they’re talking about, asking for things most of the public backs, like background checks and closing loopholes at gun shows.

“We have better safety standards for who gets to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park,” said Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, a group seeking to reduce gun violence, again according to the TPM story. Referring to the girl’s parents, Hills said: “I just don’t see any reason in the world why you would allow a 9-year-old to put her hands on an Uzi.”

So how about it? How about a common-sense law that says a 9-year-old shouldn’t be able to fire an Uzi?

Lawmakers, we’re waiting.

Excellent — and horrible — media work about Ferguson

Often your take on the news depends on how you get your news. If you stick to ideology-driven websites, Twitter feeds, and news media, your view of today’s stories are going to be skewed. It’s certainly true on the right; it’s even partially true on the left.

That’s why the coverage of the events over the last two weeks in Ferguson, Mo., has been so important.

A white cop shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. That much is certain. There was some kind of struggle between them beforehand. That’s pretty much been verified by actual eyewitnesses. And the cop, Darren Wilson, shot the teenager, Michael Brown, as Brown ran away. That’s also been verified by actual eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses who don’t know each other, who told the same basic story to varied media outlets without talking to each other.

Note: They had to tell their stories to media outlets because for a long time, Ferguson police didn’t bother to interview them. Nor do we know the extent of their eyewitness testimony to police, because — as it turns out — the Ferguson police didn’t bother to write up an incident report. Let’s repeat that — they didn’t bother to write up an incident report when a white cop shot and killed an unarmed black teenager who was running away from him. When the police finally DID release an incident report — a few days ago — it said basically nothing.

There has — as expected — been a range of quality and clarity in the reporting about the ongoing story in Ferguson.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes has been doing extraordinary work reporting live from Ferguson for more than a week, often letting the cameras tell the story as police in riot gear and gas masks march toward mostly peaceful protestors, fanning the flames of an already tense situation as they sometimes aim assault rifles and throw tear gas canisters and smoke bombs. Cameras also have shown some — a small minority — of protestors throwing rocks (sometimes even at MSNBC personnel). I’ve laughed as I’ve watched Chris perspiring in the St. Louis humidity, his shirts showing sweat stains, until he finally just showed up in a T-shirt and said, “I had to take off the dress shirt — it’s 100 degrees here.” We know what’s going on in Ferguson because of his excellent reporting.

If you’re a fan of right-wing media, however, you heard a different spin, with a heavy emphasis on “rioters and looters.” You heard that it must be about the “New Black Panther Party” (they just can’t let that go). You got lots of reporting about how Michael Brown “stole cigars.” Note: Even this is now in dispute. Although police leaked security footage video of a black man appearing to be Michael Brown pushing a convenience store employee, the whole tape appears to show that same black man paying for something at the register.

You also heard (again from a police leak) how Brown had marijuana in his system. Some right-wing sites immediately claimed that such evidence showed that Brown “wasn’t in control” and must have “gone crazy.” Funny — if memory serves, smoking marijuana leaves people more mellow, not “crazy.” Another question: If a police autopsy showed that Brown had marijuana in his system, why didn’t that same police autopsy show many times Brown had been shot? Or didn’t they think that was as important as smearing the victim?

The media became part of the story in Ferguson. Due to saturation coverage of Robin Williams’ death, the Ferguson story got minimal coverage the first few days, except for the coverage of “looting and rioting.” Note: There never was any rioting. There was looting, by a small minority of protestors, on multiple nights. A small minority threw Molotov cocktails. A small minority carried guns, and there was some shooting by that minority.

The media really became the focus when reporters and photographers were arrested with little provocation. Reporters refused to move quickly enough. They refused to stick to an assigned “media area.” (Since when does the First Amendment have “areas”?) We have watched video of Ferguson police threatening to kill members of the media (and the public), and of them disassembling camera equipment.

Then we have the actual reporting.

A few days ago, someone who identified herself as “Josie” called a St. Louis-area radio station and gave “the other side of the story.” She claimed that the shooter, Wilson, had told his fiance, who had told Josie, a different version of the tale, and that Wilson feared for his life. So a third-hand account somehow became a “witness.”

CNN jumped all over it, with its usual “BREAKING NEWS” meme. CNN reported that “sources” said the story from “Josie” matched up with what Wilson described.

I see. So — we have a shooter cop who won’t come forward, who won’t write up an incident report, yet will get his “side” of the story out via leaks, and the media eat it up. It took several days for CNN to ‘fess up: “Well, yeah, first let’s throw out ‘Josie,’ the radio caller in this … We all had Josie fever for about a day and we took a step back and realized wait, she wasn’t even an actual witness, even though her story was compelling.”

Compelling? Hell, I could make up compelling stories, too (if you want one, check out the book I wrote — The Political Blogging Murder, available as an e-book from a link on this site). But no, “Josie” is not an eyewitness to this shooting.

Then we had the “beating” of Darren Wilson. Fox News, in the form of FoxNews.com (pardon me if I don’t share the link) breathlessly reported that Wilson had been “beaten severely” by Brown. (How is that supposed to have happened when Wilson was in his car, Brown was outside, and multiple independent eyewitnesses saw Brown running away?) “Sources” said Wilson had to be taken to a hospital. Funny — cell phone footage shows him walking around afterward. He supposedly had an “eye bone” fracture. The Washington Post had to walk that story back the next day. The crime reporter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sent out a tweet that “Police sources tell me more than a dozen witnesses have corroborated cop’s version of events in shooting #Ferguson.”

A DOZEN witnesses? Somehow, if the police had a dozen witnesses corroborating Wilson’s version, they would have come forward. None has. The reporter, Christine Byers, who isn’t even reporting the story — she’s away from work due to the Family Medical Leave Act — had to walk back her tweet, claiming her original statement “did not meet standards for publication.” YA THINK? Of course, that didn’t stop other outlets from reporting the same thing.

There’s no evidence — and no proof — of injuries to Darren Wilson, although he very well may have an injury. We do, of course, have an injury to Michael Brown, in the form of his dead body lying on the street for five hours.

Does this “injury” story remind you of another shooting of an unarmed teenager? Trayvon Martin? When George Zimmerman claimed — after the fact — that he had been injured by Trayvon Martin, and had to be taken to the hospital? Even though police video footage of Zimmerman on that same night showed Zimmerman walking with no visible injuries?

We all would like to know what exactly happened the day Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. The police don’t seem interested in telling the story. They seem more interested in keeping everything under wraps, piecing together the narrative from eyewitnesses, and figuring out a scenario in which the cop won’t be charged with a crime. Wilson will have the chance to tell his side of the story to the grand jury — an almost unheard-of gift to him.

I don’t know if a grand jury will indict Darren Wilson — given Missouri law and the direction of the “investigation,” it’s beginning to seem more and more unlikely. A separate FBI and Justice Dept. investigation probably will tell a different story. And no doubt, right-wing media will spin that as the work of a black president and a black attorney general.

Somehow, the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer  — not to mention that of many other unarmed African Americans — deserves more than political spin.

Are you angry about police tactics in Ferguson? Vote.

This is not meant as a criticism of the residents of Ferguson, Mo., who are having a hard enough time right now dealing with police riots run amok. But it’s important that we all remember to vote in each and every election.

Every election means every election: presidential, congressional, statewide — and local.

In Ferguson, Mo., the majority of the population switched from white to black over a decade. Yet the mayor, the city council, the police chief, and all but three members of the police force are white. It took the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, to sound the wake-up call about the need to vote.

According to research from the nonpartisan group Fair Vote: The Center for Voting and Democracy, the U.S. falls way behind other countries in voter turnout.

“Robust voter turnout is fundamental to a healthy democracy,” the group says. “As low turnout is usually attributed to political disengagement and the belief that voting for one candidate/party or another will do little to alter public policy, ‘established’ democracies tend to have higher turnout than other counties. Voter turnout in the United States fluctuates in national elections, but has never risen to levels of most other well-established democracies.”

Some countries, such as Australia, Belgium, and Chile, have compulsory voting, where voting hovers near 90 percent. “Other countries, like Austria, Sweden, and Italy, experienced turnout rates near 80%,” the group adds. Many countries experience turnout rates of about 70%, while in the U.S., “about 60% of the voting-eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections.”

That research certainly holds up when you look at turnout for the two most recent national elections. Voter turnout for the 2012 presidential election was nearly 58 percent of U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote. In 2010, voter turnout for mid-term elections was less than 41 percent.

(Note: That’s “eligible to vote.” That also includes people who didn’t bother to register.)

In many states, municipal elections, for things like mayoral races, city councils, school boards, and library and park district trustees, are held in the spring in off years. People typically don’t pay as much attention, so they don’t vote. According to a study in Urban Affairs Review, “turnout in city elections may average half that of national elections, with turnout in some cities regularly falling below one-quarter of the voting-age population.”

So only one-quarter of the U.S. population shows up to vote in municipal elections. That’s how you have a situation like Ferguson, Mo. Again — this is not criticizing the population of Ferguson. But I bet many more of them will be voting — and running for office — in the next local election. Somehow, this whole situation in Ferguson has proved to be an eye-opener for a national populace that has been horrified at TV images of police in riot gear aiming assault rifles at citizens, firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and arresting reporters who are just doing their jobs. National leaders are in Ferguson sponsoring voter registration drives. In other cities, groups are using the police violence in Ferguson as reasons to bolster their own registration efforts. A friend in an African-American neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side said this had inspired him to start a voter registration drive at his church.

There are national mid-term elections coming up in less than three months. Much of the future direction of the country depends on it.

Even if you live in a district that’s considered dark red or dark blue — go vote. You may not think it makes a difference, but it very well could. If you’re not registered to vote, do so. It’s quick, easy, and painless. If you live in a state where state legislatures have passed onerous photo ID restrictions, and those restrictions have been upheld by courts, like in North Carolina, do everything you can to get that photo ID. Then go vote.

And don’t just watch TV ads from candidates. Do some research on your own. Look at their websites. Watch them when they debate. Read local stories about their positions on the issues.

Voting is a right. Voting is a privilege. But more than anything, voting is a responsibility. Don’t let those “likely” voters control who gets elected. Let’s all do our part.

If you’re mad about police tactics in Ferguson, Mo., get yourself to the ballot box. The people of Ferguson will thank you.

Ferguson police remind me of Chicago 1968. Only MUCH worse

Why is the response of police in Ferguson, Mo., to protests about the killing of an unarmed black teenager so different? So over the top?

There have been police shootings and killings of other unarmed African-American teens and men. There are usually protests and sometimes a violent community reaction. But I can’t recall another situation where the police used such extreme military tactics in a response.

Actually, I can. I’m old enough to remember the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where demonstrators in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Old Town, Grant Park, and Michigan Avenue created disturbances and were severely beaten by police. The demonstrations and overreactions lasted eight days and left the city with a big black eye.

The Youth International Party, or “Yippies,” led by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, came armed to create mischief, nominating an actual hog named Pigasus the Pig for president. They sought permits to demonstrate and march everywhere in the city, most of which were denied. Many groups were there protesting the Vietnam War, including the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Thousands of protestors came to Chicago to demonstrate against the war.

Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley decided that he would have none of it. There had been racial riots for the past few years in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1965 and in many cities in April of 1968 after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This was not going to happen again in HIS city. Daley had already given a “shoot to kill” order to police during the April riots, and he wasn’t afraid of giving one again.

Police wearing riot helmets went beyond their usual billy clubs and standard-issue guns and were armed with Mace and tear gas. They used all of their weapons — frequently. National Guardsmen were on hand to mobilize if the situation got out of control. Protestors were beaten with little provocation — some injury estimates were up to 500 injuries a night. And it went out on TV for all the world to see.

At the convention itself, the police acted little better. Journalists such as CBS’ Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were roughed up by security — events that got broadcast live nationwide. One journalist described entering the convention hall as “exactly like approaching a military installation; barbed-wire, checkpoints, the whole bit.”

On the floor of the convention, delegates got into shouting matches with each other. The failure to include a “peace plank” in the party platform caused delegates to march in protest around the convention floor. In his speech nominating Sen. George McGovern for president, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut said, “With George McGovern as president of the United States, we wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago.” At one point, as Mayor Daley and other Chicago delegates tried to shout him down, Ribicoff answered from the podium, “The truth hurts, doesn’t it?” (As for Daley’s response, people who could read lips claimed to have observed Daley shouting, “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch.” No confirmation is possible, but it’s a hell of a quote.)

Daley, never a total master of the English language, also uttered the famous line, “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.”

Afterward, a national government report blamed the violence on the police force, calling it a “police riot.” It has been said that because of the police overreactions in Chicago, America elected Richard Nixon as president.

But what we have in Ferguson goes way beyond Chicago 1968 — it’s more like Tahrir Square in Cairo. Like Baghdad in Iraq. Many former military have observed that they wore less armor in Iraq and Afghanistan than Ferguson police are wearing.

Many of us watched as police in Ferguson threw smoke bombs and canisters of tear gas and fired rubber bullets at groups of mostly peaceful protestors. They rode atop tanks aiming assault rifles at civilians. The night after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police, some — a minority — of residents did some looting at local businesses. That’s pretty much stopped. There were no “riots” in Ferguson. Those individuals who did the looting have been charged with burglary and theft. So far, there are no charges against the officer who shot Brown, whose name is still under wraps.

It was interesting that this situation received little or minor coverage for several nights, except for quick mentions. No doubt much of that was caused by the saturation coverage of Robin Williams’ suicide. It also was interesting that the coverage didn’t become front-page news until some national reporters from the Huffington Post and the Washington Post were arrested. Since when do police have the right to order reporters and cameramen to “stop filming”? Obviously, they don’t. Since when do police have the right to order a curfew? Obviously, they don’t — they “asked” that all protests end at dusk. As if that would happen, when many of those joining the protest are at work during the day anyway.

There is the added problem of the over-militarization of U.S. police forces — a subject on which others are more competent to comment than I am. But none of us likes to see our neighborhood Officer Friendly in riot gear. It creates distrust and makes every situation worse. Add the racial elements, and you’ve got a disaster in the making. Ferguson has a majority black population but only three black police officers. Who thought this would turn out well?

So far, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has said St. Louis county police will be removed from the area. That’s a start. Releasing the name of the officer in question is a no-brainer — it happens every time there is a shooting like this, in any city in America.

Again — why are things so different in Ferguson, Mo.?

Why the push for more involvement in Iraq?


Sen. John McCain, chillin’ with his ISIS pals in Syria in 2013.

You would think that after 10 years of a war that was started for illegitimate reasons, Republicans would have learned their lessons not to rush into combat.

You would think that the American people’s distaste for sending men and women of the U.S. military to a place where they can get killed, maimed, and mentally damaged would send the message that enough is enough. You would think that a war costing more than $9 billion a month, according to the Congressional Budget Office  — with no funding from Congress — would dampen the GOP ardor for war. You would think that they should know better than to try to goad the Obama administration into further Iraq entanglement. But I guess they just can’t help themselves.

On Sunday morning talk shows and on the campaign trail, we hear the same old tired rhetoric from the same old usual gang of suspects. The latest talking points, repeated ad infinitum, are that “we didn’t stay there long enough” and that “the soldiers left too soon.” Too soon for what, you may ask. Too soon to rebuild an entire nation that the U.S. destroyed? Too soon to pour more money and effort into training soldiers who apparently don’t want to get trained, since they dropped their weapons that the U.S made and paid for and ran away at the first sight of an enemy? Too soon to hold together a country formed after World War I of disparate tribes, ethnic groups, and religious sects that probably never should have been made into a new country in the first place?

Hillary Clinton, most likely gearing up for a 2016 presidential run, also cast doubt on Obama’s foreign policy, even though she served as his secretary of state. In an interview with The Atlantic, she said Obama should have armed Syrian rebels sooner. “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” she said.

Former Obama political adviser David Axelrod was quick to hit back. He tweeted: “Just to clarify: ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision.” It also was something that the hawkish Clinton voted for when she was a senator.

Of course, if we had listened to people like Sen. John McCain (R, I never met a war I didn’t like), the U.S .would have armed ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Don’t forget it was McCain, on a trip to Syria to meet with rebel leaders, who gave ISIS its first photo op (see above) by posing with the very leaders now leading the effort in Iraq. Who, exactly, should we have armed in Syria? The people John McCain posed with in their selfie, so they could use those same weapons against the Shi’a, the Kurds, and the Yazidi?

The Iraqi Army took care of that. Never has there been an army so quick to cut and run. There have been stories of ISIS forces bribing Iraqi Army officers, who ordered their own soldiers to dump their equipment and hightail it away from battle.

And what about “leaving U.S. forces in Iraq”? Don’t forget that SOFA, the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, was made under the Bush Administration and signed by President George W. Bush in 2008. And the Iraqis were totally unwilling to allow any U.S. troops to remain in Iraq or give them any legal protection. Obama rightly corrected a reporter in a recent news conference when he said: “That entire analysis is bogus and is wrong. But it gets frequently peddled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made.”

Nevertheless, McCain says the upsurge in violence in Iraq must be Obama’s fault. So does Sen. Lindsay Graham (R, S.C.) who said that if there’s an ISIS attack in the U.S., it will definitely be Obama’s fault. Funny, I don’t remember Graham, McCain, or other Iraq War supporters blaming President Bush when he ignored the intelligence briefing memo that said “Bin Laden determined to strike inside U.S.”

The current limited approach to violence in Iraq is supported by a majority of Americans because it’s just that — limited. According to a poll conducted just after the president ordered the airstrikes and humanitarian effort, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they support the limited option of airstrikes against ISIS. Only 15 percent support sending in ground troops again. And no wonder — we all saw how that turned out the first time. The American people most definitely do NOT want “boots on the ground,” and Obama has consistently said that’s not an option. Iraq needs its own political solution, not a solution from the U.S. military, he has stressed time and time again.

The limited number of U.S. troops sent to Iraq to protect U.S. personnel has remained limited, although the number has climbed to nearly 1,000. All that means the media are doing what they love to do best — start talking about “mission creep” and start making predictions.

Still, Obama has vowed to stick to his limited approach and not get bogged down in another unwinnable war. ” ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ ought to be emblazoned on the foreheads of all future presidents and secretaries of state,” said Aaron David Miller, a former State Department adviser during both Democratic and Republican administrations.

It turns out that “Don’t do stupid stuff” is a pretty good approach to foreign policy after all.

Here’s what’s wrong with the “Impeach Obama!” narrative

Well, we could start out by saying — everything. But let’s focus on some specifics by members of the media and the Republican Party. Let’s discuss what they’ve been saying and reporting about the possibility of impeaching President Obama.

The Beltway conventional wisdom these days is that Democrats are the ones pushing impeachment talk, both to raise money and to rev up their base for the mid-term elections in November. It’s true that progressive inboxes have exploded with emails from the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Commitee), OFA (Organizing for Action), the DNC (Democratic National Committee), and whatever other kinds of alphabet soup combinations that raise money for Democrats, all asking for funds. But to say that Republicans haven’t been talking about impreachment only means that Beltway talking heads have been taking siestas. Consider these recent statements:

* A few days ago, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has his own show on the Fox News Channel, was on a right-wing, Iowa-based radio talk show and said: “There’s no doubt that he has done plenty of things worthy of impeachment. … There’s a big difference between what we owe God and what we owe Caesar, and right now we’ve got Caesar acting like God.”

(Caesar, huh? Could a right-wing cartoon of Obama in a toga be far behind?)

* Rep. Bill Flores (R, Texas), said in a telephone town hall with constituents: “If you were to ask persons and many folks in the House, has the president violated the law and will he be worthy of impeachment, I think a fair number of people would say yes.”

* Rep. Walter Jones (R, N.C.) was one of five Republicans who voted against the GOP’s Obama lawsuit because it wasn’t right-wing enough. Just impeach already, he said on a radio show in Greenville, N.C. “Use the Constitution, that’s what it is there for.” Jones said impeachment was designed to get a president’s attention when he or she surpassed executive authority.

(Do we have to go through this again? You Tea Party types really should read the U.S. Constitution. Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution lists the possible reasons for impeachment: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Nowhere does it mention “getting a president’s attention.”)

* Rep. Steve King (R, Deport ’em all) raised the prospect of pursuing “that ‘I’ word that we don’t want to say.”

* In a recent Sunday morning TV interview, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R, I-let-lobbyists-sit-in-on-interviews-for-staff-members) refused multiple opportunities to say that impeachment is off the table for the GOP.

* A GOP House candidate in Tennessee, State Sen. Jim Tracy, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press: “I would be open to impeachment as an option to put a stop to the out-of-control executive orders and overreach this president has shown.” Since he’s running in the Tennessee primary against the disgraced Rep. Scott DesJarlais in a very red district, it’s likely he’ll be in the U.S. House in January and just itchin’ to hit the impeachment button.

* And let’s not forget $arah Palin, the half-term Alaskan governor who wants you to spend good money to listen to her spout idiocies on her own TV channel. She claims that God wants Obama impeached. “This president’s forgotten man is we the people, and we the people know that our best days are still ahead because we know that God shed his grace. He’s given us our freedom to do what’s right. God doesn’t drive parked cars.”

(“God doesn’t drive parked cars.” It’s hard to know how to even respond to that kind of crazy.)

Let’s add to the list other Republicans who have brought up impeachment: Sen. James Inhofe (R, Stone Age), Sen. Tom Coburn (R, You-have-to-listen-to-me-because-I’m-a-doctor), Rep. Louis Gohmert (R, Craziest Guy in Congress), Rep. Ted Yoho (R, Really Looney), and many, many more, including Rep. Steve Stockman (R, Texas, of course) who said, “President Obama is begging to be impeached.” And a collection of Teabaggers has organized a “Impeach Obama Week,” with its own website. I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t link to it.

Of course, Republicans are trying to have it both ways. House Speaker John Boehner (R, Sun Lamp) dismissed the entire story as a “scam” that Democrats “started” as an election-year stunt. Too bad that so many Republicans are feeding the narrative.

In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., spelled out “Five myths about impeachment.” As he discusses the money raised on both sides over the impeachment threat, he writes: “The money pouring in would be just as well spent on defense against Bigfoot. Much of the debate has been more mythological than constitutional.” Read the whole thing for a clear explanation of what the conditions are that warrant impeachment. Specifically, he says that impeachment is not just anything Congress says it is; it does not have to involve a criminal act;  it is not like recalling a governor; there is no clear historical precedent; and that Obama will not be impeached.

“Obama is as likely to be impeached as he is to be installed as the next pontiff,” Turley writes. “And I say that as someone who has testified in Congress that this president has violated federal laws, unconstitutionally appointed various executive-branch officers and improperly transferred money. Nevertheless, many of these disputes have divided judges on the merits. Presidents are allowed to challenge Congress in such conflicts without being subject to impeachment. Where they cross the line is when they ignore final judicial rulings in acts of contempt of both courts and Congress. Obama has not done that.”

Americans like Obamacare. They just don’t know it.

A recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows that more than half of the public — 53 percent — has a negative view of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. That’s up eight percentage points since the same poll in June. Yet in just about every poll, just about every answer about the individual aspects of the ACA puts those aspects in positive territory.

So what gives? Why such a disconnect? There are many reasons, but much of it boils down to a poor job of coverage by the media.

To be sure, the Obama administration and Democrats did not do a good job of selling the ACA when it finally passed in 2010. Timing was everything, and they missed the timing. Democrats scared of the 2010 mid-term elections were unsure of how to sell it, so they didn’t try. (Note to Dems: You’ll do a lot better if you don’t run away from your accomplishments). So people who didn’t know much about the new law instead heard the falsehoods being spread by the other party, which were covered ad infinitum. DEATH PANELS! No, not even close. GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTH CARE! Actually, these are plans offered by insurance companies.

From the new Kaiser poll: “The poll finds misperceptions about the ACA persist: fewer than four in ten are aware that enrollees in new insurance under the ACA had a choice between private health plans, while a quarter incorrectly believe they were enrolled in a single government plan and another four in ten are unsure.”

By all accounts, people who received coverage under the ACA are doing better by leaps and bounds. After the truly disastrous rollout in October, the website got fixed, people were finally able to connect online, and “navigators” helped people find coverage. According to one Kaiser survey, 10.6 million Americans received help with ACA covereage. And those people sought help because they didn’t understand the ACA — 87 percent in this survey said they had limited understanding of the law.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, really the gold standard when it comes to polling and information about health care coverage and especially about the uninsured, systematically reports how health insurance coverage has changed since the implementation of the ACA. Six in 10 people who now have coverage through the ACA previously were uninsured, according to another Kaiser survey. The number of Americans without insurance is dropping. In states that expanded Medicaid, even more people have coverage. The people who are left the worst off are poor people living in states without Medicaid expansion.

And what about health care costs? Again, the news from the implementation of the ACA is positive. There are many factors that affect health care costs, but growth in Medicare and Medicaid costs has slowed. The projections from a report by Social Security and Medicare trustees about the future of Medicare have improved —  the fund is expected to be solvent until 2030. The ACA is projected to cut $716 billion in expected increases to providers and insurers between 2013 and 2022.

Of course, back in 2010, the overwhelming forces against the ACA took up all of the air time. There were busloads of Tea Partiers — with buses paid for by organizations backed by monied special interests — attending town hall meetings. Those same Tea Partiers were screaming falsehoods about the new law. “Take your hands off my Medicare!” was a famous sign. As if the most successful government-run health program in history is not run by the government.

What’s a lazy reporter to do? Actually explain what’s in the new law? Of course, that would require actual work in reading it. Instead, it’s easier just to turn the cameras to the latest guy in a colonial tri-corner hat and to quote the latest soundbite from a Republican member of Congress, even when that soundbite has no basis in reality. “It’s not my job to explain the law,” was a famous quote by Chuck Todd, chief White House correspondent for NBC News. Really, Chuck? Since when isn’t the media’s job to report on laws that Congress passes? That’s what journalists always have done.

There have been some notable, positive exceptions. The always-excellent Julie Rovner, health correspondent for National Public Radio, did a superb job of explaining the law in weekly reports. She had regular reports in which she answered listeners’ questions. She understood the law so well, as a matter of fact, that she left NPR to work for Kaiser Health News as the Robin Toner Distinguished Fellow. She’s still doing excellent work there, but it’s the listeners’ loss that she’s not around to explain parts of the law anymore.

The partisan drumbeat is still strong. In the Kaiser poll, among the 53 percent who say they saw any political ads about the law in the past month, more than twice as many say the ads they saw were mostly in opposition to the law rather than mostly in support of it.

Remember that in 2006, when the law establishing Medicare Part D — that’s the part of Medicare that helps cover seniors’ drug costs — went into effect, the partisan bickering was over, even though passage of the bill was as sleazy as it got. The GOP-led House suspended its rules to let the vote to pass it continue for two hours instead of 15 minutes while John Boehner (R, Sun Lamp), then the GOP majority leader, reportedly ran around the House floor literally passing out campaign donations from tobacco companies. Thomas Scully, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, threatened to fire Medicare Chief Actuary Richard Foster if he reported how much the bill would actually cost. At the same time, he was negotiating for a new job as a pharmaceutical lobbyist. Former Rep Billy Tauzin (R, Drug Money), who steered the bill through Congress, left soon afterward to take a $2-million-a-year job with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America.

But the bill passed. Sen. Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying that although she didn’t like the way the law was passed, it was law, and she would help her constituents understand the workings of the law so seniors could sign up for drug coverage. Other Democrats did the same. Contrast that with many GOP members of Congress, who refused to give constituents any information when they called asking for information about the ACA.

And what was the media coverage of Medicare Part D? Think back. I remember many stories about confused seniors being confronted with too many coverage choices. But I also remember lots of stories about what the different choices were, and how seniors could get help from drug companies and pharmacies — indeed, insurance representatives often were in local Walgreen’s to explain coverage to older folks.

Possibly the most important takeaway from the new Kaiser poll is that a majority of Americans want Congress to improve — not repeal and replace — the law. It’s been four years, and the Republicans still have not offered a replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act (they say they’re “working on it.”) And no wonder — whenever they offer anything specific, people hate their ideas.

So please, Congress — this law isn’t going anywhere. Let’s all work on improving it, removing the objectionable parts and fixing the unworkable aspects. In other words, let’s do what Congress has always done in the past.

What do you think the chances are of that?

Tea Party really should read the Constitution

People in the Tea Party community constantly claim how they “love” the U.S. Constitution more than anyone else. Too bad so few of them seem to know what’s really in it.

The latest display of ignorance comes from the Republican nominee for Senate from Iowa, first-term state Sen. Joni Ernst. At a forum at the 2013 Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, she made the following statement:

“You know, we have talked about this at the state Legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. senator, why should we pass laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: Our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right — we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no, we should not be passing laws as federal legislators — as senators or congressmen — that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”

(Personally, I don’t think anyone who is so linguistically challenged as to use the phrase “bottom line” four times in one paragraph deserves anyone’s vote. But I digress.)

Actually, states can’t nullify federal law. It’s in — you guessed it — the U.S. Constitution. Article VI of the Constitution says: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” What part of “supreme Law of the Land” don’t they understand?

As reported in The Daily Beast, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine, Law School and a constitutional law scholar, noted that the Supreme Court had dealt with this issue in 1958, when, in Cooper v. Aaron, a unanimous decision signed by every justice on the court, it was made clear that states could not nullify federal laws or Supreme Court decisions. This concept is also known as the doctrine of pre-emption.

Of course, that doesn’t stop Teabaggers from claiming that the Tenth Amendment trumps all. If you recall, the Tenth Amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Somehow, those words have been twisted into meaning that states don’t have to follow federal laws if they don’t feel like it.

States have passed laws that — supposedly — exempt them from federal laws. Arizona passed a strict immigration law, and the federal government sued successfully under the supremacy clause (the U.S. Supreme Court decision was mixed, but upheld the supremacy clause in overturning parts of the law). The Missouri Legislature passed legislation nullifying federal gun laws; luckily, the Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed it, and the Legislature failed to override his veto.

There are some gray areas. An article on the website How Stuff Works discusses the idea of federal law vs. state law when it comes to marijuana laws. Marijuana is still considered a controlled substance from a federal legal standpoint, but both Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana use. The District of Columbia and 23 states allow the use of medical marijuana. In this case, it boils down to enforcement. In other words, you can do something in a state where lawmakers have made something legal, but those laws don’t apply elsewhere. Prostitution is illegal under federal law, but is legal in parts of Nevada.

And what about impeachment? A majority of GOP voters seem to think that President Obama deserves to be impeached. Again, READ THE CONSTITUTION (you can USE THE GOOGLE if you don’t have a copy handy).

Article II, Section 4, Disqualification: “The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Maybe this happened when I was on vacation, but I missed the news stories where Obama was convicted of treason. Or bribery, or any other felony or misdemeanor. Just because you disagree with a president’s policies doesn’t mean he warrants impeachment. The lawsuit that House GOP members are supporting is ridiculous enough. The basis of the suit is Obama’s one-year delay of the employer insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act — the exact same thing House Republicans voted for in at least one of their 50-plus votes to repeal Obamacare. Funny, they never sued President George W. Bush when he did the same thing in delaying parts of Medicare Part D, which gives seniors drug coverage.

Of course, there are also those who push impeachment with the “logic” that if the GOP holds the House in the 2014 mid-terms — a likely scenario — and takes the Senate — probably 50-50 at this point — the House can impeach Obama and the Senate will remove him from office. Note to Teabaggers: Again, READ THE DAMN DOCUMENT.

Article I, Section 3, The Senate: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all impeachments. … And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.” “Two thirds” means 67 senators. Even if the GOP gets a majority of 51 seats, you really think 16 Democratic senators will vote to remove President Obama from office?

In 2010, three-term incumbent Utah Sen. Bob Bennett — as conservative as they come — was defeated in the nominating process at that state’s Republican convention, which the party uses instead of a primary. The winner instead was now-Sen. Mike Lee, a Tea Party hero. Except for Salt Lake City, Utah is solid red; Lee won with 61% of the vote.

I remember listening to a radio report of delegates to that Utah Republican Party convention. Tea folk backing Lee claimed that they were voting for him “because he loves the Constitution.” When asked by a reporter if Bennett, too, didn’t love the Constitution, the answer was, “Lee loves it more.” So now we have a Constitution-love litmus test? Seriously?

You know, I passed the Constitution test in the eighth grade, as did everyone else who grew up in Illinois. I still carry a small copy of the document in my purse, supplied by the ACLU. I have tutored inner-city kids, off and on, since the 1980s, and have taught and quizzed multiple students as well as my own daughters on the Constitution so that they, too, would pass their tests before entering high school. I have referred to my well-worn pocket copy on numerous occasions. I’m neither an expert nor a lawyer, but I feel confident that I know the U.S. Constitution as well as most lay people.

So my advice to Teabaggers: Read the Constitution, learn what it says, and quit listening to idiots on right-wing radio and TV who claim they “know” what’s in the Constitution. Stop reading conspiracy theory e-mails from people who wear tin-foil hats. Quit making statements that display your ignorance. In other words, stop pulling quotes out of your collective asses.

Boehner’s suit against Obama tries to rekindle Obamacare fight

Let’s have a show of hands. Who else is confused about the proposed GOP lawsuit against President Obama?

House Speaker John Boehner (R, Sun Lamp) likes to push his way onto your TV screens with more talk about why he wants to sue the president. First it was that Obama was “failing to fulfill his constitutional duties.” Another day Boehner claimed that Obama was abusing executive power and circumventing Congress by issuing so many executive orders. (Note: Obama has actually issued FEWER executive orders than other modern presidents, as shown in this chart from the American Presidency Project.) Yet another day the Orangman said, “This is about the legislative branch … and it’s not about executive actions.” Well, sure. Why not waste millions of dollars in taxpayer money for a lawsuit that likely will get tossed quickly unless it’s to focus attention on Congress?

When Boehner finally announced the point of the lawsuit, it seemed to be (because it’s early in this process — they could dream up something else screwy) that Obama had delayed implementation of one part of the Affordable Care Act, the requirement that large employers must offer health insurance to employees, until 2015.

OK, let’s back up. In the 50 or so votes (because there are obviously no other problems facing the country) the U.S. House of Representatives has taken to repeal the ACA, some have sought the repeal of the employer insurance mandate. Indeed, those same lawmakers voted to do the exact same thing at virtually the exact same time — defer the employer mandate until 2015.

So … Boehner says he’s suing the president because the president took an action Republican members of the House wanted in the first place.

Huh? Nothing personal here, Mr. Speaker, but do you even listen to yourself? And why are you wasting so much money and time on this?

The GOP has to know this is a losing proposition. Recent reports about the success of the ACA show that the number of uninsured people in the U.S. has dropped from 18 percent to 13.4 percent, according to a recent Gallup Poll. There are 9.5 million fewer uninsured people now, according to a Commonwealth Fund study.

Even worse for the Republicans is the fact that most people seem to really like their new health care coverage. According to Margot Sanger-Katz in The New York Times: “Overall, 73 percent of people who bought health plans and 87 percent of those who signed up for Medicaid said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their new health insurance. Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans liked their plans.”

Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans. Wow.

Don’t forget the words of the GOP nominee in 2012, Mitt Romney: “If I were president, on Day One I would issue an executive order paving the way for Obamacare waivers to all 50 states.” Because “an outright repeal would take time,” he reminded GOP voters, “an executive order is the first step in returning power to the states.”

So I guess it would have been OK if a Republican president had done it.

You have to love the official reaction from the White House press secretary: “It is disappointing that Speaker Boehner and Congressional Republicans have decided to waste time and taxpayer dollars on a political stunt. At a time when Washington should be working to expand economic opportunities for the middle class, Republican leaders in Congress are playing Washington politics rather than working with the President on behalf of hardworking Americans. As the President said today, he is doing his job — lawsuit or not — and it’s time Republicans in Congress did theirs.”

No argument here.



You want less gun violence in Chicago? Hire somebody

Chicago’s Fourth of July weekend toll of shooting violence was horrific even by city standards. There were 82 gun-related incidents, with now 14 people dead, two of them 14- and 16-year-old boys shot by police when they refused to drop their weapons. In any other city, that would cause an uproar. Here in Chicago, it causes an uproar, but by now, it’s only in the neighborhoods affected and on the evening news, which overcovers the “if it bleeds, it leads” stories.

Local activists like the Rev. Michael Pfleger, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel all reacted. They talked about stiffer penalties for gun crimes. They have beefed up security, increasing overtime for police and are now talking about adding more officers, although that will be hard to do in a tight budget crunch.

Father Pfleger, who has led St. Sabina’s church on the South Side for many years and has been a leading voice against gun violence, sends out regular tweets with the gun violence toll. On his Facebook page, he wrote: “We send Billions of Dollars across the World in the Name of KEEPING AMERICA SAFE…..MESSAGE TO THE CONGRESS AND ADMINISTRATION, WITH 82 SHOT IN CHICAGO THIS WEEKEND OF WHICH 14 WERE FATAL ” AMERICA IS NOT SAFE.”

So — why? Why is there so much gun violence? A more important question is — what can anyone do about it?

I live in a mostly white but definitely mixed suburb of Chicago, mixed both racially and socioeconomically. We’re very near to Chicago’s West Side, which has lots of gun violence and a high crime rate — almost as high as certain neighborhoods on the South Side. Yet we have very little violence here. So what’s different?


Over the past few decades, businesses have fled the city and moved to far-out suburbs or even out of state by the promises of lower corporate taxes. Taxes might be lower, but what do they get for it, and what did they leave behind? They left behind a decimated work force with few jobs left and fewer opportunities to find one.

The overall unemployment rate in Chicago actually dropped last year. But it’s still very high on the South and West Sides. This map by the Workforce Information and Resource Exchange, an initiative of the Chicago Jobs Council, gives a breakdown of socioeconomic statistics in various Chicago neighborhoods. In Father Pfleger’s neighborhood near St. Sabina, unemployment is nearly 25 percent. In the violence-ridden Back of the Yards neighborhood, an area described as a “no man’s land” by The Chicago Tribune, it’s nearly 35 percent. Most unemployment numbers on the South and West Sides hover close to 20 percent.

Contrast that to the whiter, more popular places to live in Chicago like Lincoln Park or Lakeview. Unemployment is less than five percent in each neighborhood.

So people need jobs. No surprise there — we’re just now digging out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. The problem for many in those high unemployment neighborhoods is that there are no jobs to be had anywhere close by.

During my commuting days, I always rode the CTA Green Line along the West Side. The worst sight was the old Brach’s candy factory, which closed its doors in 2001 after 76 years of making StarBrite Mints and Milk Maid Caramels, leaving 1,100 people out of work. The company moved most of its candy manufacturing to Europe.

Now, the old factory sits empty, a broken shell of a once-thriving company. Worse, the 12-story building is awash with gang signs and symbols. Who was there to stop any street gangs from tagging the building? No one.

I have a fantasy that someday I’ll win the Powerball lottery and buy the old factory, turning it into a green energy plant that will give training and work to people on the West and South Sides, since it’s right by an El stop. Of course, I’ll get hit by lightening first.

We have a friend on the South Side named Shawn, a 40-year-old black man who has always struggled to find work. He’s a hard worker who has worked a series of jobs in various places around the city — when he can find them. More recently, though, the only places he sees hiring are out in the far west or northwest suburbs. How is someone who lives on 95th Street on the South Side who doesn’t have continued access to a car supposed to get to Elgin? Or Oak Brook? Or Schaumburg? The unemployment rate in his neighborhood, by the way, is nearly 20 percent.

At least he has access to a car. What is someone who doesn’t supposed to do when the only job available is 25 miles away, and the only way to get there is a 2 1/2-hour commute — or more — by a series of trains and buses? Whatever anyone says about the CTA, Metra, and Pace, the local public transportation train and bus services, they do have ways of getting from Point A to Point B. But it can take a long time.

No, there need to be more jobs available in the city itself. When people talk about investing in infrastructure, they should talk about starting businesses on the South and West Sides. People would line up at the door to apply.

I know about problems with the Chicago Public School system, and how many who do graduate aren’t always qualified for the jobs that are available. I know why companies that fled the city are happier in the far suburbs, where the owners live anyway.

But if you want to do something about gun violence, give those young men something to do besides join a gang. Shawn always tells us that the only two businesses in his neighborhood that do well are liquor stores — and funeral parlors. After a weekend like this, I’m not surprised.

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