This video explains it all:
America’s on track for a another record year of mass shootings. Everybody in the country has an opinion about guns. But way too many people on all sides of the issue don’t know Jack about guns.
This free video is a straightforward, non-adversarial introduction to guns. You can watch it, download it, share it, do anything but sell it. I offer it as a public service:
What shall I say? That it’s been damnable?
That all the time my soul was never my own?
That we’ve slaved hard at endless make-believe?
It isn’t only actual war that’s hell,
I’ll say. It’s spending youth and hope alone
Among pretences that have ceased to deceive.
The Great National Debate continues.
The President and the Vice-President glide through the city in armored convoys, exquisitely isolated, omniscience at their fingertips, more regal and self-important than any Louis of any reign. Their black processions scatter the masses like coveys of quail before the thresher.
Overhead, important generals, admirals, couriers, and contractor wealth-suckers thunder to and fro in the cocoons of their whomp-whomping armored helicopters.
War is swell, ain’t it?
Thumb-sucking journalistes, posturing “members” of Congress, and tanked thinkers furrow their brows, preen and opine, thrust and riposte, play at paper wars. The luckiest get audiences with the Even Greater, thence to regurgitate the latest talking points.
The August Madness of 1914 lives! It has risen from the stench of its rotten grave and become the September Folly of 2013.
There is no escape to the Isle of Reason. But there are occasional glimmers of light: sharp, scathing, cleansing, antiseptic to easily uttered cant. Such might be found in Col. Andrew J. Bacevich’s latest book, Breach Of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers And Their Country (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company).
Here is an excerpt from a review in The New York Times by Rachel Maddow. The message? Do not send to know for whom the avenging harrow comes. It comes for thee.
Andrew J. Bacevich starts from the assumption that our modern militarism is unsustainable and unwise. He then proceeds to assign blame, mercilessly: to the public (for our consumerist apathy); to the Pentagon (for its “generals who had slept undisturbed back when Warsaw Pact commanders had ostensibly been planning to launch World War III” but who “now fretted nervously over the prospect of their budget taking a hit”); to the contractors (whose profiteering steals honor from the soldiers they serve alongside); and, naturally, to the politicians. Even Fenway Park and the Red Sox come in for blame, for the staging of a sailor’s homecoming at a July 4 game that left Bacevich all but retching over the “convenient mechanism for voiding obligation, . . . a made-to-order opportunity for conscience-easing.”
Bacevich saves particular vitriol for pro-war writers of both the right and left: Christopher Hitchens, the Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen and the New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier all get filleted and neatly stacked in the corner, to make room for the unleashing of all hell on David Brooks for his commentary before, during and after the Iraq war — followed by what Bacevich sees as an unconscionable repeat of the same mistakes in the late phases of the war in Afghanistan. Bacevich’s scorching litany of what he sums up as “grotesque and contemptible irresponsibility” is a bracing indictment of my profession, and how no one suffers consequences for even the most humiliating failures in prediction and analysis, as long as those failures favor the use of military force.
We teeter at the very razor’s edge of a precipice whose dark bottom we cannot know. Drink this gall and eat this bit of responsibility that we all share. It is the body of folly.
One of the most elegant examples of director Lee Daniels’ powerful artistic sense comes in an early scene of his Oscar-bound film, The Butler.
As the movie opens, protagonist Cecil Gaines, the gray-haired White House butler, reminisces about his childhood.
Gaines’ thoughts drift to a deep south cotton field in the year 1926. Like other black “field hands,” young Cecil is picking cotton alongside his family.
The camera sets up the scene, pans the field, and eventually works its way in close to the eight-year Gaines. His father teaches him how to know when a boll is ready for picking. One can feel the heat, the humidity and the palpable oppression of the plantation owned by Thomas Westfall and his grandmother Annabeth.
Clearly, things in this cotton field have changed little since slave days.
But as this scene develops, it is what one does not hear that is so beautiful, so subtle.
One doesn’t hear the default music that 99 out of 100 directors would have plugged into the sound track here. There is no sorrowful blues guitar. No moaning spiritual. No chorus of an unrepentant South.
Neither River Jordan nor Dixie echo in this “Land of Cotton.”
Rather, can you dig Robert Schuman’s Piano Concerto in A Minor?
Schuman’s only piano concerto is one of the most beautiful examples of the serious music of the Romantic era. Dark, brooding, an always lovely interplay between piano and orchestra, it grips soul and heart.
What is it doing here?
Clearly, serious thought is given to such a choice. It is simply impossible that the finger of mere chance landed on this composer and this piece of music for this horrible moment.
One more or less obvious reason for the use of any such “cultured” music here is that the very contrast between the elegant music and the sordid cotton field paints in harsh strokes the gulf between the gentility embodied in the White House and the sweat and dirt of the cotton field. The famous Godfather christening scene raised (or, more properly, lowered) to cliché such contrast between action and music.
In 1926, Calvin Coolidge sat in the White House. Some 35,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. In much of America the life of a black man (or a “Mexican” or an “Indian”) was worth just what the temper of a randomly encountered white man would bear.
But there is, I suggest, a deeper point, a more profound moral and historical scoring.
Consider first the evil plantation owner’s very family name: Westfall.
Then consider that Schuman and his piano concerto embodied what many consider to be the best of Western high culture: nobility of thought, an enlightened and idealistic view of humanity, and a reverence for beauty for beauty’s sake. These are indeed vauable artifacts of Western culture. They might even be the ones that white supremacists have in mind when they congratulate themselves for belonging to the factually non-existent category of the “white race.”
Yet all of these ideals have been precisely savaged—at best ignored—throughout the brutal centuries within which people of any color have had the fell misfortune of being visited by Western culture.
Schuman wrote his beautiful piece in 1845. Let us examine a few signal events of the same year for some instructive contrasts
In May, Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, was published by the Boston Anti-Slavery Society.
The powdered and perfumed elite who would later thrill to Clara Schuman’s performances of her mentally ill (and eventually institutionalized) husband were for the most part perfectly okay with—or at best indifferent to—the enslavement of other human beings, the treatment of others supposedly made in the image of God, as no better than and often worse than the lowest and dumbest of animals.
The horror of it is stunning.
There is more.
In the July-August issue of United States Magazine and Democratic Review editor John L. O’Sullivan opined that foreign powers were trying to prevent American annexation of Texas in order to impede “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” (O’Sullivan need not have worried so much. In December, Texas entered the Union…as a “slave state.”)
O’Sullivan’s was the first known use of the powerful phrase “manifest destiny.”
This odious concept taught that Western (the historically non-existent “Anglo-Saxon”) culture had been selected and, indeed, divinely charged with the duty to expand itself to the West (and anywhere else that it could ooze).
Manifest Destiny was the “white man’s” imperialist burden to violently conquer the hapless “little brown people” of the world. The generous conquerors would bestow upon these inferiors some few of the wonders of high Western culture (a patronage that usually amounted to little more than forced religious conversion, a mandatory change in dress, and a peonage equivalent in all but name to slavery).
Where in hell, my child, do you think America’s imperial holdings in Puerto Rico, Texas and the Great American Southwest, Panama, Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, and other hapless nooks and crannies came from?
It is the outstanding warrant for this savage and violent betrayal of its own values that the West in general and the United States in particular have yet to fully account. Many seek to evade this ineluctable accounting in the smug cant of the Tea Party and the lies of the thinly disguised racist plutocracy that now controls the right wing in America.
It is this fall from the grace of noble ideas to the putrescence of racism and slavery that is embodied in the name of Thomas Westfall. Just another plantation owner, enjoying centuries of violent subsidization.
The shame. The horror.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the so-called “Great Powers” of the world–Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and a few other wannabes–competed to stake out their colonies in Africa. The elbow-throwing, often violent competition became known as “The Scramble for Africa.”
The same powers had also competed for other colonies, including India and China.
The purpose of these colonies was simple–exploitation. The Great Powers ripped off natural resources and valuable commodities from the colonies. In return they forced their colonial subjects to buy goods from the imperial homeland or other colonies.
The British, for example, saw great potential in selling opium to the huge population of China. When the Chinese attempted to ban the flow of this drug, the British simply went to war (twice) and forced the defeated Chinese to take their opium.
The British and some other imperial powers (including the United States) preferred to rule “indirectly.” This means they set up systems of “native” stooges and front men to “administer” their own country on behalf of their conquerors.
A great Scramble for America has been going on in the world’s gun markets for some time. Foreign gun-makers have succeeded in carving out markets in the United States that they could never enjoy in their own countries, almost all of which have sensibly strict gun laws. America has become the last great colony in the world of guns.
Just like the Great Powers, the gun imperialists have their local boot-lickers: the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and of course, Congress and the hive of lobbyists that buzz around it.
Just as the British succeeded in mass addiction of the Chinese to opium, the gun industry has pretty much succeeded in addicting a sizable number of Americans to guns. And like drug addicts, gun buyers need a stronger “kick” after a while. The gun industry has obliged by designing and selling increasingly lethal firearms. These include assault weapons and high-capacity semiautomatic pistols.
Just as in other colonies, our indirect rule administrators are only rarely touched by the pestilence they fawningly help spread. It’s good for you, they say.
Here’s a short video on point.
As some of you know, Starbucks coffee chain has decided that it is good for their customers and other living things to allow the paranoid among us to carry their guns on Starbucks’ premises.
Personally, I think that is a terrible decision. However, I also know that mega-businesses like Starbucks are really not like real people (whatever the Koch Brothers and others may say). Carlos Danger is driven by his inner demons, and Starbucks is driven by … well, bucks. A few extra pennies here, and a few extra pennies there all add up to some fine executive compensation.
In any event, I was amused to see the following advertisement for tee shirts in the November 2013 issue of Combat Handguns. I have no idea whether Starbucks is even aware of how famous it has become among the American Gun Violence Culture, but I’m hoping some graphics art genius will pick up on this idea and crank out a few “Starbucks & Gun Death” or “Starbucks & Shoot First” designs to sell.
Wayne LaPierre, the Grand National Orifice of the National Rifle Association, infamously said in one of his emissions of verbal flatulence that “the guys with the guns make the rules.”
Anyone who dares to speak out on the American gun crisis has learned recently that the rules of the guys with the guns are cowardly threats. LaPierre and others of his ilk have sought to mobilize fear and anger in the United States. They want to get their pathetic troops out of their masturbatory fantasies in their grandmothers’ basements and onto the street, armed and ready to kill like so many jack-booted thugs. They want to murder the First Amendment and anyone who exercises their rights under that Amendment to express an opinion with which they disagree.
This post is about an example. It’s only one example out of many one could cite.
Last April I happened to appear for a few minutes in an excellent hour-long CNBC documentary titled
“America’s Gun: the Rise of the AR-15.” Here is a relevant clip from the documentary, which I highly recommend as having fully and fairly represented all of the many facets of this complex and troubling phenomenon.
I recently got a reply to the question I raised. It was posted as a comment on this blog.
Here is that reply:
In a nutshell, one “G. Wright” answers that it is I that he (or she) — or in his (or her) squishily evasive convention “they” — would like to kill.
It turns out that I, Tom Diaz, am the very face of oppressive government. I haven’t been elected to any office. I don’t run a powerful lobby for the gun industry, like the NRA. I am nothing more than a citizen expressing my educated point of view, as is my right to do under the Constitution of the United States.
Okay, if I am truly that powerful, I decree that the United States government take the cost of one (just one) nuclear submarine out of the Pentagon’s budget and spend it instead on building a decent education infrastructure in every town, city, hamlet, and school district on America. Call me the “Education Face.”
As a rule, I do not allow trash like G. Wright’s emission into the comments section of my blog. I used to let all comments in. But I realized that I was often just underwriting ignorance, the bleating know-nothingness of the Great Pestilential Stupidity that has infected America.
However, given the obvious passion of “G. Wright,” I decided to make an exception. I emailed G. Wright and invited him to provide his name and a brief biography. I figured that if he felt so passionately about his “rights” and the commandments of his “God,” he would be proud to attach his name to his opinion.
I’ll be honest.
I was not the least bit surprised when it turned out that “G. Wright” is a coward, a snake in the grass, a weak and no doubt mentally unbalanced person who emerges from the night, spray-paints the world with his simplistic and ill-informed hatred, and leaves a fake email address as his calling card.
Here is the email I sent to him and the “bounced back” response I got:
Yep, “failed delivery” to email@example.com.
As it happens, I know exactly who G. Wright is. The following video describes him in some detail, and includes my response to his cowardly threat.
Let’s be clear about one thing. G. Wright’s threat is not about me. It’s about you, and you, and you. It’s about whoever has an opinion that people like Wayne LaPierre, G. Wright, and other “guys with the guns” don’t like and don’t want this country to hear.
Shame on them. They are no different from and no better than the masked terrorists of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, or the Ku Klux Klan.
Shame on us if we let them get away with their terrorist campaign.
They don’t make em like me no more; Matta fact they never made it like me before
Phone home, Weezy; Phone home, Weezy
Lil’ Wayne – Phone Home
Gosh, The Washington Post’s exercise on the import of the M1 Garand sounds pretty scary!
Why should I–who carry a certified NRA “Gun-Grabber” certificate–care?
Because shadow-lantern-projection hyperbole obscures real issues and feeds the beast of the gun lobby. Anyone who truly understands the M1 Garand rifle has the right to laugh at some of the fright wig stuff written and said about it.
Bad facts–or mere assertion of bad facts–do not make good policy.
The main thrust of the Washington Post piece may be fairly summed up as follows: “Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s mouthpiece, may have profited from a little side deal with a gun importing front. (Or maybe not.) That deal, combined with LaPierre’s lobbying, opened the gates to a flood of military weapons through a dangerous new loophole for “curios and relics.” The M1 rifle is one of those curios and relics and its import puts the world at mortal peril.”
LaPierre himself seems to have emerged from this piece of reporting relatively unscathed. The practice of making a personal profit in Washington from side deals is, of course, unheard of in the Metropole of the American Empire. Well, okay, maybe unheard of if you don’t count the Members of Congress whose wealth balloons over their tenures (from the steady acquisition of inside information and fawning deal-making courtiers), the navel-gazing think tank “fellows” who charge hefty fees for “appearances,” the Presidents of the United States and their spouses who write best-selling books while they are oh-so marketable, the ex-Presidents, Senators, and Other High Potentates who cash in with six-figure speechifying fees, and the new media personalities who get their fingers in every pie in town, sometimes with a (gasp!) financial or ethical conflict.
But the oddest implication left hanging in the air by this piece is that the M1 Garand is an assault rifle or some kind of precursor assault rifle.
Josh Sugarmann of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center says the 200,000 rifles imported by Blue Sky were “basically the first of the military weapons marketed to the civilian population. If you were going to draw an ‘assault weapons timeline,’ it would start with the M-1 and eventually end up where we are today.”
By 2012, nearly 1 million of what gun advocates call “modern sporting rifles” were coming into the U.S. market from foreign and domestic sources in a single year.
Tom Hamburger and Sari Horwitz, “NRA lobbyist, arms dealer played key role in growth of civilian market for military-style guns,” The Washington Post, May 3, 2013.
Or, if not that, well, at least that the import of the M1 Garand, this horrible “military weapon,” marks the start of the “assault weapons timeline.”
Or, at the very, very least, the M1 Garand is a “bad” gun. Allowing it into the country is bad policy, something on the order of importing portable mini-nukes or missiles full of sarin gas.
Time to take a deep breath about the M1 Garand, folks.
These three propositions are demonstrably not true. There are indeed problematic guns that fall under the complicated curios and relics rule, which essentially sanitizes many (but by no means all) guns that are at least 50 years old. But the M1 is not one of those problematic guns.
Let me disclose a conflict of interest here. As a young and foolish man in uniform, I was intimate with the M1 in … well … an almost Biblical sense. Yes, I slept with an M1 Garand every night for, as I recall, about one week. That was the interval between one close rifle inspection–during which it was determined that I had cut corners and kept my rifle in “dry” condition (i.e., without oil, it seemed like a good idea at the time)–and the next. Worst than that, I’ve actually stripped an M1 down. All the way, baby. And more than once. I even just narrowly escaped “M1 thumb” a few times.
So, I guess I am a bit handicapped by actually knowing what the hell I am writing about here.
OK, people. Listen up. I am only going to write this once.
The M1 Garand is not by any stretch of fevered imagination an “assault rifle.” It is, in fact, a classic example of precisely the kind of “main battle rifle” that assault weapons were designed to replace. If you were going to draw a timeline of the demise of big, cumbersome, awkward military rifles, it would start with the M1 Garand in about 1944, when the Nazi army fielded the first true assault rifle, the STG-44.
The truth is that the M1 Garand is really no scarier, no more lethal, no worse than many popular semiautomatic hunting rifles sold today.
The M1 Garand is a semiautomatic rifle. It is fed by means of an 8-round clip. (Note: The M1 Garand is not the M1 Carbine, which is an entirely different gun, with entirely different features, and is quite properly excluded from import.)
That’s eight rounds. Not 20 rounds. Not 60 rounds. Not even the 10 rounds of the “high capacity magazine” that was banned (sort of) by the puny political fiction of the 1994 federal “Assault Weapons Ban.” In fact, the M1′s design is such that it can only accept an 8-round clip! And, yes, this is one time when the word “clip” (as opposed to “magazine”) correctly describes the ammunition feeding device.
So, what is an “assault rifle” and why isn’t the M1 one of them?
Well, Kristen Rand, of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, quite correctly defined assault rifles in her statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 27, 2013 supporting Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposed assault weapons legislation.
Ms. Rand described assault rifles as weapons that “have incorporated into their design specific features that enable shooters to spray (‘hose down’) a large number of bullets over a broad killing zone, without having to aim at each individual target.” Wow, that is really good writing!
The specific design features, according to Ms. Rand’s perceptive statement, are:
It’s hard to find a better or more succinct statement of what makes an assault rifle an assault rifle!
The M1 has zero of these features. None. Zippo.
Unlike the AK-47 and the AR-15–which are assault rifles–the shooter cannot just pop in a 10, 20, 40, 60 round magazine, or 100 round drum. Loading the clip into an M1 is by comparison a cumbersome and slow process. The clip–into which eight rounds have been previously loaded by hand–has to be pushed down into the receiver. This requires more manual dexterity than simply shoving a high-capacity magazine up into a receiver, because once the M1 insertion is fully accomplished and pressure released, the M1′s bolt flies forward. It can give the inept shooter a vicious whack on the thumb if he (or she) hasn’t gotten it smartly out of the way. Hence, the phrase “M1 thumb.”
In fact, the five-round box magazine of a modern semiautomatic hunting rifle like the Remington Model 750 can be more easily and more quickly inserted into the rifle than the clips of the M1. Bonus: no chance of M1 thumb.
No, the M1 is simply not an assault rifle by anyone’s definition. Its eight rounds are scarcely more than a semiautomatic hunting rifle’s, and it cannot be reloaded as quickly and easily as the AK-47 and AR-15 (and others) can be.
Nubbin’s question: Well, but, gosh, sir, doesn’t the M1 fire some of kind of really dangerous high-powered military ammunition? I mean (smirk) nobody would really want to shoot a deer with this thing, right?
Sarcastic Answer: What are you smoking, son?
The M1 fires basically the same round that millions of hunting rifles fire–the venerable .30-06 Springfield, which has been around for over 100 years.
The M1 was not the “first of the military weapons marketed to the civilian population.” In fact, it was one of the last to be directly marketed to civilians from surplus stocks. The fact is that millions of surplus military rifles were imported into the United States in the years following World War II. The flow was cut off by the Gun Control Act of 1968 not because the M1, or any of equivalent rifles, were particularly deadly, but because the domestic gun industry was being hurt by competition from these relatively cheap imports. It persuaded Congress to stop them. The changes in the law in the mid-1980s were simply a reconquest, a victory of gun importers over domestic producers.
Military rifles have been part of the American sporting scene since the Revolution. The M1 Garand was no different. What has changed the situation dramatically and dangerously since the 1980s is the import and manufacture of the high-capacity magazines and the semiautomatic assault weapons for which they are designed. As explained above, the M1 Garand in no such creature by any definition.
Let’s examine a little relevant history here. I would say with all due modesty that the second-best book about the American gun industry and attempts at its regulation is Robert Sherrill’s 1973 masterpiece, The Saturday Night Special. Sherrill documented and cut through the preening hypocrisy of his era (very similar to ours) with scathing documentation. Here’s what he wrote about the history of the import of military weapons into the United States:
It’s estimated that between 1959—about the time the New England manufacturers really began to get their anti-import propaganda going—and 1963, 7 million foreign weapons, mostly military surplus, were imported into the United States.
Robert Sherrill, The Saturday Night Special (New York: Charterhouse, 1973), p. 88.
Do the math and a timeline to figure out when military weapons were first marketed to civilians in large numbers.
Sherrill also cuts through the hypocrisy and cant surrounding the ban on foreign guns that was put into place by the Gun Control Act of 1968. (It is worth reading just to get perspective on how little things have changed: then and now the gun industry had great influence in Congress, and then and now many gun control nubbins really don’t know jack about guns. They just plain don’t like any of them.) For example, in 1958, then Senator John F. Kennedy offered a bill to restrict the import of military firearms:
…but he did so candidly, admitting that the bill he introduced to ban the importation of military arms was meant to keep the cash registers jingling in his home state…The imports, he said, “have helped spoil the domestic market,” and his bill was “of particular importance to five arms manufacturers in Massachusetts,” which was as close as any politician will come to telling the truth: the legislation was written by the interested parties.
Robert Sherrill, The Saturday Night Special (New York: Charterhouse, 1973), p. 91.
Kennedy’s legislation went nowhere. Among the millions of surplus military guns imported in the post-war era were about 125,000 Carcano M91 Italian army rifles. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, bought one of these by mail order from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. (“‘Cursed Gun’–The Track of C2766,” LIFE Magazine, August 27, 1965, p. 63.) “Within the context of the marketplace, Kennedy’s assassination came to the assistance of [Sen. Thomas J.] Dodd and the New England gun manufacturers.” (Robert Sherrill, The Saturday Night Special (New York: Charterhouse, 1973), p. 165.)
The rest is history. Foreign guns–and guns manufactured in the United States for use by foreign armies, like the M1s Wayne LaPierre either did or did not have a hand in getting into the US–were to a large extent shut out of the U.S. domestic civilian market until the 1980s.
The M1 was very like an attractive woman in a very short skirt with an enormous purse slung over her shoulder, who just happened to be standing on a corner in a bad neighborhood when the cops came and made a sweep to keep the politicians happy. The M1 got caught in the roundup. Its reputation has never been the same since.
“Cockroaches are a pretty good reason to call the exterminator but voters might be even more concerned if their homes were infested with members of Congress: Cockroaches 45 Congress 43″
Here are the names of two people you probably never heard of: Jim Manley and Mark Lyttle.
The worlds of these two men are a universe apart. The void between their worlds is filled with the dark matter of political influence in Washington–blood money, revolving doors, and the self-interest of career politicians. That invisible political astrophysics is what defeated the public’s desire for comprehensive background checks in the Senate last week, is defeating public health and safety measures to reduce gun violence in Washington today, and will continue to thwart the will of the vast majority of Americans for a safer country tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Unless you get up, stand up, and do something about it, like the hundreds of Americans rallying today in Washington to shame the NRA’s lobbyists.
Mark Lyttle is the subject of a frightening article by William Finnegan in the current issue of The New Yorker magazine. Lyttle is an American citizen who was arrested for a misdemeanor in North Carolina. From there–in a horrendously Kafkaesque series of arrogant mistakes and flawed decisions by nameless, faceless, and demonstrably incompetent bureaucrats–Lyttle was thrown into the unrelenting machinery of the American Homeland-Security-Industrial-Complex. He was expelled from the United States and repeatedly arrested by Department of Homeland Security operatives.
Like Boston marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Lyttle fell through the cracks of the vastly flawed system of piously fearful pork upon which we, the taxpayers of America, have lavished at least $1.3 TRILLION since the horrible events of September 11, 2001. Trillions for “homeland security,” but not one cent for keeping children safe from gun violence!
How can this be? How can it be that the Congress of the United States can allow–indeed, encourage–waste and incompetence on such a scale for such a Byzantine structure, and yet not protect small children and the rest of us from the far greater danger of gun violence?
Enter Jim Manley, a long time aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, career Senate staffer, now turned lobbyist. Manley made the unfortunate decision to be interviewed by the brilliant John Oliver for The Daily Show on politics and guns. He fairly made an ass of himself, but in the process revealed precisely the problem. Asked what makes a politician “successful,” Manley unblinkingly answered, “Getting reelected by his or her constituents.”
Not saving lives, but getting reelected.
Manley got the classic, patented John Oliver reaction to incredibly dumb statements. As the light dawned on his smugly placid face, he began to squirm with a deer-in-the-headlights look. Gosh, if only he could have rewound the tape and started over! But see the whole revealing bit for yourself here.
So, who is this inadvertently revealing guy, Jim Manley? Here’s his official bio from QCA, the oh-so-cleverly named “public affairs” (Washington doublespeak for House of Lobbyists and Piano Players) firm for which he now works:
Jim most recently served as the senior communications advisor and spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader, where he spent six years at the nexus of communications, politics and policy for every issue facing the Senate. As a strategist, he worked with the White House and the leadership in the House of Representatives to set the Democratic tone for legislative initiatives. As the Leader’s top spokesman, he dealt extensively with the national and regional media on a daily basis to advance the Democratic agenda. He is a regarded as a top Democratic strategist in Washington and continues to serve as a trusted resource for many of the nation’s top reporters.
What neither Manley nor The Daily Show revealed about this “top Democratic strategist” and “trusted source” is that among his firm’s clients is the investment management company BlackRock. New York City’s Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio recently named BlackRock as one of the Dirty Dozen investors in the gun industry. In fact, BlackRock, with $342 million of its investors’ money invested in the killing machine business, tops de Blasio’s money manager dirty investor list.
In truth, there is nothing remarkable about Jim Manley and his pedestrian, let’s-all-go-along-to-get-reelected “strategical thinking.” He’s just another of the thousands of Capitol Hill staffers who rotate between high-paying Congressional jobs to cash in with even higher paying jobs whoring–oops, I meant “lobbying”–for one or another plutocratic or just plain evil special interest in Washington. They are only following their bosses’ example. As The New York Times‘ inimitable Gail Collins recently noted:
Members of Congress regularly glom onto high-paying jobs in the private sector, none of which involve the use of their skills in computer technology. The Center for Responsive Politics counts 373 former House and Senate members who are currently working as lobbyists.
Former Congressman Steve Buyer (what a deliciously appropriate name, and no wonder he pronounces it as if it were spelled “boy-er”!), for example, went to work flacking for the tobacco industry, the only other industry in town that even comes close to the murderous, blood-soaked, unconscionable greed of the gun industry and its lackey, the NRA.
The NRA, of course, has been throwing its money around Washington with an abandoned passion since the Moloch’s slaughter of precious, innocent, beautiful children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Not that the NRA and the gun industry need that much help with brilliant “strategists” like Jim Manley and the Third Way’s Jim Kessler advocating preemptive surrender on the gun control front. Still, every little bit helps when your business is death machines in a society of people who mostly want to live.
Among the hired guns the NRA has bought with the gun industry’s blood money is Michael E. Williams, a director in the firm of Greenberg, Taurig, another House of Piano Players in the Washington lobbying game. If Williams’ name sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because he was reported to be linked to convicted felon Jack Abramoff’s “Dream Team” of hucksters and specialists in the subornation of Congress. Here’s Williams’ official bio, which brags conspicuously about his skill at “derailing” gun control legislation, meaning the will of the American people:
Michael Williams focuses his practice on coalition building and integrating legislative, regulatory, grass tops, grass roots and public relations strategies on behalf of his clients to affect positive legislative and regulatory outcomes. Michael’s 25 years of experience on Capitol Hill has allowed him to develop a deep understanding of the interaction of policy issues and politics, as well as a wide-ranging bipartisan network of contacts within all areas of the federal government including Members of Congress, Congressional staff, the Administration and various governmental agencies.
Michael is a member of the Greenberg Political Contribution Committee which reviews and approves contributions and political activities of the Greenberg Traurig Political Action Committee. He also serves as a government affairs team representative to the Greenberg Traurig Commitment to Excellence Committee (CTE). The CTE works to ensure that the firm preserves and enhances the core values crucial to our brand: integrity, quality, service and accountability.
Prior to joining the firm in 2001, Michael Williams was a Senior Lobbyist for the National Rifle Association (NRA), the number one rated Association lobbyist team for 2001, according to Fortune magazine. For more than 11 years, as a Federal liaison for the NRA, he promoted legislative and political objectives on Capitol Hill. Michael was one of the major architects of the NRA legislative strategy to derail the 1997-1998 Clinton Gun Control legislation.
These inside ball, dark-of-the-moon, smoke-filled room operators are the mere tip of a rotting mound of corrupt influence in Washington. For more information, go here.
These people have no shame. And, by the way, there should be no place to hide for those who hire them. All of their clients are gun violence enablers, linked to the NRA and the gun industry in a frothing chain of blood money.
But who lobbies for the children of Newtown and the rest of us?
Debate has raged for two centuries about whether Napoleon Bonaparte was a self-serving egomaniac, or a supremely confident leader driven by concern for the rights of the common person.
There is universal agreement, however, that–when he was on his game–he was a brilliant strategist and a tactical genius. He chose when and where to fight, picking the ground and the time with care. He had an uncanny ability to recall in minute detail aspects of the terrain. His personal courage was unquestioned.
The textbook example is the battle of Austerlitz, fought in what is now the Czech Republic on December 2, 1805. Like all brilliant commanders, Napoleon imagined the winning fight plan. Then he stuck to it with iron nerve and cold will, even when his subordinates lost some of their will. He thrashed a larger, better-trained, better-armed coalition of forces.
There will be no such debate about the claque of professional politicians and hangers-on who now run the Democratic Party. The latest gun control debacle has proven beyond argument that these hollow men are shallow, self-serving, and unfit for battle on behalf of innocent children and other living things. They are fit only to swell a crowd at a lobbyist fund-raising reception, or fill out a scene at a mawkish media event…little more.
The only strategy they have imagined for two decades is appeasement and preemptive surrender. Like Oliver Twist, they hold up their contemptible little bowls and beg of the NRA and its right-wing allies, “Please, sir, I want some more.”
They have never, ever, not once, gotten more.
The saddest part of this ignominious disaster, this sadly inevitable thumping, is that everybody in professional political Washington wins. Only the rest of America–you, and I, and our children, and our children’s children–loses.
Harry Reid got to make a noble speech after decades–decades–of sabotaging serious gun control at the altar of the NRA and his own reelection. Pundits fawned over his “act of courage,” as if the man were only just born yesterday and had no record of perverse obstructionism.
Reid’s heir apparent, Chuck Schumer, played both ends against the middle, as is his canny wont. He avoided antagonizing the Senate’s “NRA Democrats,” yet got plenty of photo ops at weepy media events. So he’ll still get to be Senate Majority Leader.
Pat (“Brick”) Leahy got to muddle around in his peculiarly thick-witted and uninspiring public manner without doing much of anything to fulfill his public trust.
The list could and perhaps should go on.
There’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who now professes to embrace gun control after years of cutting the throat of any Democrat–including the Attorney General of the United States–who dared raise the subject. Emanuel did as much as Wayne LaPierre to destroy the gun control movement. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose canonization is imminent after funding some puzzlingly bland Super Bowl commercials. Bloomberg showed up like a rich amateur in a pool hall. He had a million dollar suit and a wad of cash, and a slogan about so-called “illegal guns.” But Bloomberg never really understood the game and he still doesn’t. So he got snookered.
“Leaders” (cf., Nancy Pelosi) in the House will get a pass because the Senate’s fumbles saved them the awful embarrassment of having to actually try to do something themselves. Whew!
The NRA will be roundly—and rightfully—blamed for masterminding the smoking field of shame that was the floor of the United States Senate when dusk fell on April 17, 2013. People who used to call themselves gun control advocates—but now prefer wimpier terms like “gun violence reduction advocate,” or even “gun health advocate”—are waving their rhetorical pitchforks at the senators who voted with the NRA, promising to exact vengeance. Perhaps they shall. Much remains to be seen. At the very least, they all got some nice meetings at the White House and on the Hill to put in their scrapbooks.
I say, stop blaming the NRA.
Start blaming your own leadership, the men and women who squandered, threw away, let slip out of their hands, the last, best opportunity to truly save lives that America is likely to see for a generation.
In military terms, the bumbling field marshals of “gun safety” chose to use their puniest weapon—the vanilla-lilac-scented, impenetrable bureaucratic doubletalk of “improved” background checks—and positioned themselves in a rhetorical swamp with a river to their back. Plan B did not exist.
The operatives of this army of incompetents actually set out to aggressively sabotage any talk of such dangerous things as assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the inner councils of Washington Wisdom. Oh, no, you see, we can “respect gun rights” and find “common ground,” and that kind of talk … well, it just makes trouble in Happy Valley. Let our generals make parley with their generals in secret meetings. Like mommy and daddy, they know what to do. The polls will tell them.
Even had the NRA uncharacteristically ceded the field and allowed the pathetic Manchin-Toomey (and maybe -Schumer, who showed up at the press conference anyway) “compromise” (a weak compromise grafted onto on a weak compromise inscribed on a fig leaf) to pass, this scrivener’s curlicue on the arcane texts of the law would have had negligible effect on the blistering hurricane of gun violence that is America today. Negligible, in spite of all the hype with which “gun health groups” have hypnotized not only themselves but also many of the outraged mothers and fathers who trust the “experts” to know what to do.
It’s the guns, stupid!
The Machin-Toomey-Maybe Schumer-Pabulum would have no effect whatever on the guns. Nor would it have any effect whatsoever on the next Adam Lanza, who—mark my words—is out there right now and has, or will legally obtain, and would legally have obtained under Machin-Toomey-Maybe Schumer, his mass murder machine.
What would I have done, you may ask?
Well, I sketched out my ideas in an earlier post, here. Pick the high ground of the real world of American gun violence—the ruthless, greedy gun industry and its cynical mass-marketing of killing machines that have no place in a sane society–on which to do battle. Field a juggernaut of a bill, with the assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban for starters, truly universal background check and waiting periods for enders, and a Draconian bed of tough regulation for the death merchants in between.
Starting with that proposal, I would have made the NRA and its minions fight their way up a long and difficult hill in the blazing sunlight, punctuated with hearing after hearing after hearing, evidential artillery pounding away at them with every step, its ammunition the bloody, sickening, graphic facts of what the industry and its products have done and are doing to our country. Fact-based images abound that are a million times more persuasive and inspiring than the brief-cases full of opinion polls favoring obscure “background check” language that the Third Way and other geniuses tote around to persuade the professional politicians they can do good without doing anything too dangerous to their careers.
Yes, I favor war on the Napoleonic model.
But “wiser” heads—the defeatists and appeasers of the Third Way and its ilk—prevailed, as they almost always do in Washington these days. The Senate leadership had, and no doubt still does not have, the stomach for a real fight. Heavens, it might cost them an election! The darling of this pusillanimously passive path, Chuck Schumer, smugly–smugly–called background checks the “sweet spot” of the legislative path. As if saving the lives of children were a baseball game.
Really? The “sweet spot?” How droll. What a clever sound-bite! The media loved it!
The strategists of defeat will slink away now and point their nubbins’ fingers at the NRA and its herd of like-minded Senators, leaders for whom it must be said at least they stand up and fight for what they believe in.
But what do the denizens of the infamous “Third Way” believe in? The latest poll results. Nothing greater, or more noble, or more inspiring. Mere politics.
Because of decades of this flawed, cowardly and self-serving, merely political, arguably immoral, and certainly not moral strategy, more Americans will inevitably die preventable gun deaths, more terrorists and more criminals will easily get military-style guns, and the fabric of our society will be further rent by random gun violence from people who could pass any background check the minds of men like Michael Bloomberg or the Third Way’s operative Jim Kessler could ever dream up.
To those who are so deeply pained by this defeat, I say this.
Call your enemies to account, yes. But hold to an even higher standard your supposed “friends.”