SALT LAKE CITY -- You won't see signs for the country's sweetest travel-club deal in the window of your local travel store. To join the American Legislative Exchange Council, your peers must first elect you to statewide office. If you win as a Republican or conservative Democrat, your ALEC state chair will approach with terms of membership you'll find generous, if not impossible to resist. A token $100 buys the opportunity to attend all-inclusive events on ALEC's busy calendar of summits, conferences, and academies, where you and your family can enjoy some of the country's finest resorts and destination hotels. Joints like Utah's Grand America, site of ALEC's just concluded national conference and proud bearer of AAA's "Five Diamond" rating.
It was on the eve of this conference that I first glimpsed the privileges and perks of ALEC membership. I was sitting in the Grand America's Viennese style lobby café, pondering the primrose bush courtyard outside as a young harpist plucked out Fur Elise, when an ALEC staffer appeared and began placing laminated cards on the tables. She was followed by groups of women, the wives and daughters of ALEC state legislators and lobbyists, sitting down to enjoy a British Full Tea of sweets, scones and jams, laid out on an elaborate spread of fine china. I picked up one of the laminated cards and read: "Enjoy your 'ALEC-SNACKS'!" Beneath the text were the logos of Americans for Prosperity and the American Insurance Association, two ALEC sponsors. As ALEC snacks were served, the tables grew atwitter. "This is so nice," said the wide-eyed wife of a Virginia state representative.
Not long after, the china was taken away and the café grew busy with attendees getting down to business. A hundred or so legislators, corporate representatives, and think tank staff greeted each other and ordered cocktails, filling the room with an ambient babble of right-leaning schmooze and networking. I've had to deal with those same damn unions.... We've got a few big tort reform bills in the pipe.... I'd love for you to come visit the plant .... Are you with Goldwater or Heritage now?
Before ALEC grew into an influential national force over the last two decades, few state-level politicians ever knew corporate pampering at swank hotels thousands of miles from their home districts, the scope for which all but disappeared with the introduction of post-Watergate ethics rules. Unlike their federal counterparts, state reps have generally tracked closer to the old republican ideal of the citizen-politician -- middle-class, part-time public servants who keep their day jobs as teachers, accountants, lawyers, farmers. Some of them have always been targeted and feted by special interests, but it was ALEC that innovated a private sector mechanism for corralling state representatives en masse to posh locations like the Grand for long weekends of cozy corporate lobbying and blunt-force ideological indoctrination.
For much of its four decades, the corporations and rightwing foundations that provide all but a thin slice of ALEC's current $7 million budget have succeeded in exerting pressure on the direction of the people's business in 50 statehouses. Unlike the National Council of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments, to which it often compares itself, ALEC is driven to an extraordinary degree by its private sector sponsors. It also aggressively hides from the press and the public the proceedings of its closed-door task force meetings, where corporate representatives vote on equal footing with elected legislators on model bills, who rarely identify the origins of ALEC bills when they are later introduced to become law.
Most Americans live under at least one product of these meetings, as the group has been very effective in turning one state's notorious right-wing bills into model legislation that can be pushed across the country. Arizona's infamous "Show Me Your Papers" law (SB 1070) took this path, with similar model legislation subsequently passed by ALEC's criminal justice task force, which the for-profit prison behemoth Corrections Corporation of America once co-chaired and had long been a member. So did the National Rifle Association's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law; ALEC used legislation passed in Florida as a template for a model bill that was eventually passed in two-dozen other states. ALEC's role in pushing reportedly discriminatory voter ID bills has followed a similar pattern.
ALEC's various Task Forces have altogether produced thousands of pieces of model legislation that have little to do with organic movements inside the states and everything to do with top-down nationwide attacks on workers' rights, environmental and other industry regulations, as well as pushes to accelerate the privatization of public education, federal lands, and the criminal justice system. The group has proven to be an ingenious multi-purpose tool for expanding corporate power. Like any lobby shop, it is pay-to-play. Corporate memberships run between $7,000 and $25,000, which buys full voting rights on Task Forces that function as bill mills for national and multinational corporations, industrial trade associations, and right-wing think tanks. Just as $100 is a steal for legislators, $25,000 is a bargain on the private sector side. As early as 1995, an article sent to ALEC's private sector members boasted of the group's growing effectiveness. "With our success rate at more than 20 percent [of bills passed] I would say that ALEC is a good investment," then-executive director Samuel Brunelli told corporate backers. "Nowhere else can you get a return that high."
The ultimate return sought by ALEC is nothing less than the rollback of the state and the establishment of unfettered corporate rule over everything from vast tracts of American wilderness to K through 12 education.
A New York Times/CBS News/Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday provides new evidence of the logical flaw in the media's claim that the American public opposes new gun violence prevention measures. The media distorts polling data to suggest that there is no support for new laws in the wake of mass shootings, ignoring widespread support for specific commonsense new rules.
In the wake of the Aurora mass shooting, we documented that the media repeatedly cited Gallup polling that shows a minority calling for "laws covering the sales of firearms" to be made "more strict" as evidence of public opposition to new gun laws. As we noted at the time, a wealth of other polls show strong majorities in favor of a variety of specific new gun laws, including assault weapons bans, requiring all gun buyers to pass a background check, and gun registration.
Today's survey asked both the general question of whether voters in the swing states of Colorado, Wisconsin, and Virginia want gun laws to be more strict, less strict, or kept the same; AND the specific question of whether those voters support a ban on high-capacity magazines, which have been used in several recent mass shootings.
The results show that while Americans may not support stricter gun laws in theory, they do support them in practice, with significantly higher percentages of respondents supporting an actual stricter gun law (the hi-cap magazine ban) than supporting "more strict" laws in general:
Graphic by Drew Gardner.
From the August 6 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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According to an e-mail sent by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), Mark O'Mara, the defense attorney for George Zimmerman, will speak at the SAF-sponsored Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC), which will begin September 28. The conference will be held, for the first time in its 27 year history, in Florida.
Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26. The conference will take place at an Orlando hotel less than 25 miles away from the site of the shooting.
According to a GRPC flyer, the event will provide attendees with the "once a year chance to network, get an insider's look and plan pro-gun rights strategies for the coming year." Whether O'Mara will divulge any new information about the ongoing criminal case remains to be seen. So far the Florida attorney has largely remained mum about the specifics of Zimmerman's self-defense claim, other than to indicate that that Florida's controversial "Kill At Will" self-defense law, called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents, will likely play a significant role in his client's defense.
Although the guest list has not been finalized, it is likely that O'Mara will get the chance to rub elbows with some of the most ardent defenders of "Kill At Will." The invitees include Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb, discredited gun rights "researcher" John Lott and unnamed representatives from Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the National Rifle Association, and Gun Owners of America.
In an opinion piece in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, discredited gun "researcher" John Lott cited dubious survey research to make the claim that members of law enforcement generally believe that "too often the laws disarm law-abiding citizens, not criminals, and thus make it easier for criminals to commit crime." In fact, academic research indicates broad support for some gun violence prevention measures within the law enforcement community.
Lott's goal was to admonish New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made waves last week when he suggested that police officers "go on strike" until legislative bodies agreed to address gun violence. But Lott's reliance on surveys with extremely suspect methodology makes it difficult to take his critique seriously.
Lott first cites a 2010 survey of 20,000 police chiefs and sheriffs conducted by the National Association of Chiefs of Police (NACOP). The number of officers that actually responded is unknown because NACOP did not release any methodology other than to say that the survey was conducted by mail. According to Lott:
Seventy-seven percent believed that concealed-handgun permits issued in one state should be honored by other states "in the way that drivers' licenses are recognized through the country" -- and that making citizens' permits portable would "facilitate the violent crime-fighting potential of the professional law enforcement community."
The fact that the survey would use such a leading question was probably of little concern to Lott, who has faced convincing allegations that he fabricated data in his own research. That the survey was released with insufficient information to describe its methodology means that it cannot convincingly be said to prove anything.
Lott also never mentioned that during the 1990s NACOP was a public opponent of the Brady Bill; legislation that required individuals purchasing a firearm from a gun dealer to undergo a background check. NACOP used the same mail survey methodology seen in its 2010 survey to claim that law enforcement officers largely opposed the Brady Bill. In a 1991 CNN special, pollster Robert Miller, who had examined NACOP's methods, stated, "The results would not be considered accurate by any scholarly or recognized body that evaluates polls." [CNN, 11/6/91, via Nexis]
For years a mutually advantageous relationship has existed between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and firearm manufacturers. The gun industry donates huge chunks of cash -- as much as $38.9 million from 2005 to 2011 -- to the NRA, and the gun rights organization in turn engages in hysterical fearmongering to promote gun sales. One hand washes the other. And now the Daily Caller is joining the action by offering its readers discounted NRA memberships.
It was only a matter of time before the gun-loving Daily Caller recognized the benefit of shilling for the gun industry and its unofficial PR wing, the NRA. In recent months the online publication has been heavily promoting the NRA while offering its readers perks in the form of a weekly handgun giveaway.
But as material published this week demonstrates, increasingly unabashed promotion of the NRA and FMK Firearms calls the Daily Caller's credibility as a news source further into question.
On Wednesday Mike Piccione, editor of the Daily Caller's Guns and Gear section -- which features firearms advertisements, NRA press releases, and other pieces of dubious gun "reporting" -- announced that Daily Caller readers were eligible to purchase discounted NRA memberships. Piccione offered a number of childish reasons for signing up, including, "Joining the NRA is the equivalent of giving [New York City Mayor] Michael Bloomberg the finger."
The ethical implications of a journalism outlet directly helping to fill the coffers of special interest group are certainly weighty. How can one trust the Daily Caller's reporting on the NRA -- which gets itself into the headlines all the time -- when it accepts advertising money from the group and urges its readers to purchase memberships?
The Daily Caller is clearly unconcerned. Nor does it see any problems in publishing columns by Jim Pontillo, who donates the guns for the weekly giveaway from his company FMK Firearms. Pontillo was probably happy for the exposure considering that in previous columns for other online outlets he offered casual racism aimed at the President and defended the Confederacy.
In a Daily Caller column published on Tuesday, Pontillo took umbrage with comments that President Obama made about small business owners (which were taken out of context by Fox News and other right-wing outlets). In his column, Pontillo made clear his feelings about people receiving government assistance:
How much of my success can I attribute to my hard work? Do I owe thanks to the welfare recipients you enrich at my expense? While they sit in government-subsidized housing, talking on their iPhones, viewing Netflix movies on their plasma TVs and eating dinners purchased with government food stamps, I sweat 80 to 100 hours a week trying to make my small business succeed.
Such uninhibited bashing of the needy might (or at least should) embarrass a reputable publication. Other publications might think to avoid mainstreaming a racist crackpot. But the Daily Caller wants to keep giving away guns, so they're sticking with Pontillo for the time being.
In a July 26 column for the Washington Times, prominent Mitt Romney endorser and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent labeled supporters of Keynesian economics "socialist" before comparing the idea of government playing an expanded role in the economy to "Jerry Sandusky managing a little boys' football team."
Fedzilla is growing fatter, less accountable and less transparent by gorging itself on our tax dollars. Instead of tightening Fedzilla's fiscal belt, government bureaucrats just buy him bigger belts and suspenders, and he gets fatter and smellier each day. The only good pig is a dead pig.
Regrettably, there are way too many intellectually stunted Americans who support this gluttonous and irresponsible spending curse. They are called socialists. Socialists believe in Keynesian economics, which supports government control and meddling in our economy. It's akin to Jerry Sandusky managing a little boys' football team. Another, more accurate name for Keynesian economics is Kamikaze economics.
On June 22, Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach for Penn State University, was convicted on 45 counts related to sexually abusing 10 boys during a 15-year period. He faces life in prison.
Nugent's comments are just the latest bizarre outburst from the outspoken right-wing activist.
From the July 27 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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It's been one week since the former medical student-turned-gunman opened fire inside an Aurora, CO movie theater, shooting 70 people and killing 12. News of the massacre continues to generate enormous amounts of press coverage, most of which has been accurate and helpful.
However, what's been often lacking has been useful context about gun violence in America and the disturbing truth that the Aurora rampage represents the latest chapter in a long, active line of U.S. shooting sprees. And that far from happening in a vacuum created an isolated villain, the mass murder was connected to a sweeping cultural and criminal problem, one that gun proponents and conservatives don't want to address.
In 2009, in the wake of a rash of deadly shooting sprees, I noted how gun rampages no longer seemed to generate interest from the press and that the news media treated them as though they were isolated incidents and there was no public policy issue that tied them together. The press essentially had embraced the lazy NRA mantra: Guns don't kill people. People do.
Worse, the press often covered shooting sprees the way it covered killer tornadoes: One-day stories that were acts of nature, and that all people could really do is try to stay out of the way.
I will say that in the wake of the Aurora massacre there was clearly a rejuvenated debate about gun control and the press did raise the obvious connection between free and easy access to guns (including assault weapons) and the specter of more shooting sprees. Additionally, leading gun control advocates such as New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg were given high-profile platforms to urge changes in firearm laws.
All of that marks an improvement over recent rampage coverage. However, crucial gaps persist. For instance, each year roughly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence, or 300,000 over the last decade. That's a staggering statistic and one that helps put into context the entrenched epidemic of gun violence that America faces. By comparison, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, approximately 4,300 Americans have died in that conflict.
As Forbes' Rob Waters noted, from the period between 2000 to 2009, "If you exclude natural causes of death and consider only deaths caused by injury, [gun violence] is the second-leading cause of death over that time span; only car accidents (417,000) killed more people."
That 30,000 figure represents an eye-opening detail that helps tell the larger, disturbing story about gun violence in America. But it's one that has rarely been cited by the U.S. news media over the last seven days. A search of Nexis finds very few mentions of the statistic in news articles or television discussions about the Aurora massacre. And some of the only U.S. newspaper references to the 30,000 figure that have appeared in the last week have been from opinion pieces about gun control, including essays in the New York Times, Boston Globe and the Raleigh News & Observer.
But why is that statistic not regularly cited in news articles? Is it considered controversial to simply report, in the wake of a senseless gun rampage, how many people die from gun violence each year in the United States?
Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is continuing to offer false or misleading commentary on last week's tragic mass shooting in Colorado in order to undermine a push for stronger gun violence prevention laws.
During an appearance yesterday on Glenn Beck's radio show, Nugent again denied that the alleged shooter had been armed with an assault weapon, while theorizing that the Aurora theater shooter could have done "more damage with a single shot or bolt action [rifle] because he had 20 minutes." In fact, police were reportedly on the scene between 60 and 90 seconds after the first 911 calls were made.
NUGENT: And remember, Glenn, this monster in Aurora took 20 minutes to do his evil. In 20 minutes you don't need an assault weapon, you don't need a machine gun, which he didn't have either of, but you could do more damage with a single shot or a bolt action because he had 20 minutes.
Single shot rifles and bolt action rifles must be reloaded after each shot is fired. Reload time has been a critical factor in other mass shootings. During the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona that left six dead and gravely wounded then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the shooter was only stopped when he was tackled as he paused to reload.
The three semi-automatic weapons reportedly used by the shooter fired a bullet each time the trigger was pulled. One of the weapons used, a Smith & Wesson assault weapon equipped with a drum magazine possessed the capability to fire 50 to 60 shots a minute with no need to reload until after the 100 round drum was expended.
Nugent also doubled down on a previous statement that there were "no assault weapons used in the CO shooting only universally proven sporting & self defense firearms."
NUGENT: And let me state as if fact that I know for a fact that most of the damage done by this devil in Aurora was done with the number one pheasant shotgun in the world, a Remington 870. His AR-15 Smith & Wesson rifle is now the most popular sporting rifle in America. It is the number one competition, number one in self-defense; it's the number one sporting rifle for big game and small game. And if they keep calling it an assault weapon, I may have that aneurysm.
Nugent's attempt to mainstream assault weapons as common hunting implements is misleading. Paul A. Smith, outdoors editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has stated that while assault rifles "have gained favor among some hunters and sport shooters in recent decades, they constitute a small fraction of deer hunting rifles in use today."
Indeed, the assault weapon allegedly used in the theater shooting may have been illegal to purchase under the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. The hundred-round magazine would have been banned under that law.
Washington Times columnist, National Rifle Association board member, and prominent Mitt Romney supporter Ted Nugent is speaking out on last week's horrific mass shooting in Aurora, CO, declaring that there were "no assault weapons used in the CO shooting only universally proven sporting & self defense firearms."
Nugent also praised the "brave warriors who saved lives" during the massacre adding, "IF only they would hav had a good gun."
Last night, Nugent tweeted:
This afternoon, he added:
One of the guns the alleged shooter carried was an AR-15-style semi-automatic assault weapon, which reportedly may have been illegal to purchase under the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. The alleged shooter used a high-capacity 100-round drum magazine that would have been illegal under that statute.
The gun industry trade association National Shooting Sports Foundation frowns on the use of terminology like "assault weapon" and "assault rifle," preferring the term "modern sporting rifle." Even some gun bloggers find such language ineffective and "O[r]wellian."
In a July 24 Washington Times column, Charles Hurt lashed out at Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan for expressing sympathy for the victims of the Aurora tragedy, writing that the shooting was "carried out almost precisely from the scripts of your own movies."
In the column, which is labeled "An open letter to Christopher Nolan, Sean Penn and Warner Brothers," Hurt pinned blame for the mass shooting on violent films made by Nolan and others in Hollywood, telling them that "[o]ne day, you will meet the original Joker, the inventor of all evil who is diabolical and depraved so far beyond your furthest, sickest imaginations":
No, you did not pull the trigger in this case. You did not don the gas mask. But you were the inspiration, and you are the architects.
Your celebrations of diabolical mayhem and pornographic violence prey on the fantasies of sick, fragile minds. You insulated them from the painful reality of bloodshed. You have inspired mass murder. You are the Osama bin Laden of this travesty.
This, of course, is all legal and has made you a fabulous fortune. But, never forget, this is who you are. It is what you do. This is your legacy.
When you die, your gravestones should read: Here lie men who created such horrific, meaningless violence in such realistic scenes that a sicko carried it out for real and shot 70 people, killing 12, including a 6-year-old girl.
To be fair, you haven't only inspired murderous rampages. It is true that you have also entertained. But is the fleetingness of that entertainment nearly so profound as the terror you inspired here? Will it outlast the irreversible permanency of 12 deaths, including that of a 6-year-old girl?
Which brings us to Warner Brothers, those titans of decency. You bankrolled "The Dark Knight Rises" and so many other pointlessly violent movies that infect feeble minds and bring hatred upon America. You, it is reported, are feeling really sad about those poor saps who paid to see your wicked movies -- only to have the very scenes come alive and kill them in the dark, sticky rows between seats of a movie theater.
Out of your "respect" for these people, you declared you would not announce box-office receipts from this weekend's snuff film. Instead, you will count your $150 million in bloody money -- privately.
One day, you will meet the original Joker, the inventor of all evil who is diabolical and depraved so far beyond your furthest, sickest imaginations and there, in his lair, you will spend the rest of eternity wishing you had had a little decency back when you had the chance.
Hurt's column is currently being featured on the Drudge Report, where he is a contributor:
During an appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight last night, discredited gun "researcher" and FoxNews.com contributor John Lott pushed a number of falsehoods about gun violence in America while discussing the July 20 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 dead and scores wounded.
Lott rejected host Morgan's assertion that "America has the worst incidents of gun murders of any of what they call the civilized world." Later on in his appearance, Lott baselessly claimed that banning the types of weaponry used by the Aurora shooter would necessitate banning all semi-automatic firearms.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Do you accept that America has the worst incidence of gun murders of any of what they call the civilized world?
JOHN LOTT: No, I don't think that's true. Look, guns --
MORGAN: They are not true?
LOTT: No, I mean, factually, it's not true. Look --
MORGAN: But it is, isn't it?
LOTT: No, it's not.
Lott went on argue that because two gun deaths occurred in London in 1900 compared to 39 gun deaths in England in 2011, that restrictions placed on firearms between 1900 and 2011 can be linked to an increase in gun homicides. But Lott's reliance on century-old statistics doesn't change the modern reality of gun violence here in the United States.
The United States leads the world in private gun ownership. We also lead the industrialized world in gun deaths, which occurred in the United States at a rate eight times higher than our economic counterparts between 1990 and 1995. A 2003 study by Harvard School of Public Health professor David Hemenway found that the firearm homicide rate in the United States is 19.5 times higher than the average rate found in other high-income nations. A study by the Firearm and Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that the availability of firearms is correlated with increased gun homicide rates in high-income industrialized countries. This is certainly born out in the United States where states that have the highest gun ownership and loosest gun laws also often have the highest rates of gun death.
From the July 24 edition of Dial Global's The Ed Schultz Show:
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From the July 23 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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