Profiles In Cowardice And Courage From Our Shameful Senate: Mark Begich And Mark Kirk

Profiles In Cowardice And Courage From Our Shameful Senate: Mark Begich And Mark Kirk

On Tuesday 45 senators — mostly Republicans, but some Democrats — made cynical political calculations by choosing to protect the NRA gun merchants over America’s children, betraying the families of Newtown, CT, and the nation in their failure to pass stronger gun laws.

It was expected that the right-wing Republicans in the Senate would reflexively vote against any common-sense gun safety measures. Only slightly more surprising was the cowardice of the four red-state Democrats who voted against expanding gun background checks — senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Mark Pryor (D-AR). But at least Baucus, Heitkamp, and Pryor are keeping a low profile as they face the angry 92 percent of Americans whose demands for universal background checks went ignored.

Begich, however, spoke up with a pathetic excuse for voting against background checks. He told TheNew York Times that “it’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment. Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up. That’s not enough.”

Never mind that it has been four months since Newtown. Never mind that poll after poll after poll shows a majority of Americans, including gun owners and NRA members, support universal background checks. Never mind that Vice President Joe Biden put together a task force that convened 22 meetings with law enforcement professionals and gun safety experts and collected ideas from 229 organizations, concluding that universal background checks would reduce gun violence.

And in a conference call with donors on Thursday, Begich explained that he voted yes on the rejected Grassley-Cruz alternative amendment — which was thrown together and introduced at the last minute — because it had a better chance of passing the House than Manchin-Toomey, even though Grassley-Cruz did nothing to expand background checks, and in fact included pro-gun measures such as allowing interstate firearms sales and interstate transportation of firearms that would undermine existing state laws. Grassley-Cruz also would have made it easier for mentally ill people to obtain guns.

And besides Grassley-Cruz, did Begich say anything about making an emotional policy decision when on Wednesday he voted yes on the Cornyn amendment that would have allowed “concealed carry reciprocity”? The NRA-backed bill would make it legal for someone with a gun permit from a state with weak gun laws that allows concealed carry, like Arkansas, to carry that concealed weapon across state lines to a state with tough gun laws, like New York.

That must have been a completely rational, well-researched decision.

Amazingly, although the Senate rejected the Cornyn amendment, the measure received 57 votes, which is three more votes than the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill received. Think about that —  a bill to loosen gun laws received more votes than expanding background checks. That was the Senate’s response to Newtown.

To Begich, expanding background checks is a dangerous policy driven by human emotion, but allowing any yahoo with a concealed-carry permit to walk around Times Square or Hollywood is just common sense.

At the same time that Begich was trying to justify himself, four Republican senators courageously stood up against their party and NRA pressure and voted for expanding background checks: Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Susan Collins (R-ME), and John McCain (R-AZ).

Kirk didn’t just vote yes on expanding background checks, however; he voted yes on the assault weapons and high-capacity magazine bans, and yes on a bill making gun trafficking a federal crime and strengthening penalties against straw purchases as well. All four of those amendments failed. The man from Illinois who now holds Barack Obama’s Senate seat ended up voting yes on every single common-sense gun violence prevention measure proposed by the president in response to the Newtown mass shooting.

Kirk was the only Republican to vote for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and was one of only three Republicans to vote for the gun trafficking bill. He was also the only Republican who voted against the Cornyn amendment to allow concealed-weapon carriers to cross state lines.

His decision to vote for gun control legislation was influenced by his meeting with Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who told him that in Chicago, 40 percent of the guns seized in crimes are purchased without a background check. Kirk also met with the parents of the Sandy Hook victims.

Perhaps Kirk’s compassion and bipartisan spirit comes from the perspective he gained by spending a year recovering from a stroke. After returning to the Senate in January, Kirk wrote in The Washington Post about how his experience with his own mortality made him a better senator.

“I was the beneficiary of many kindnesses from colleagues on both sides of the aisle after my stroke, and those acts will forever matter more to me than any political differences,” wrote Kirk. “I don’t expect to be the same senator I was before my stroke — I hope to be a better one. I want to make my life matter by doing work that matters to others. I want to do it with the help of my friends, Republicans and Democrats, and to share the satisfaction of knowing we have honored our public trust together.”

But after Tuesday’s shameful vote, Kirk’s tune had changed regarding his colleagues.

“I am disappointed that the Senate could not come together to support a bipartisan proposal that would reduce gun violence and protect law-abiding gun owners, but American voters are the ultimate judge of today’s result,” Kirk said in a statement.

Photo: AFL-CIO via

Gabrielle Giffords Takes Gun Reform Push To Capitol Hill


On the sixth anniversary of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history at Virginia Tech, former congresswoman and Tucson shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, headed to Capitol Hill to meet with senators in a final push to gather the 60 votes needed to add an expansion of background checks to include gun shows and the Internet as part of the broader gun reform legislation.

Giffords and Kelly, who formed a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, met with Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), who authored the compromise amendment on expanding background checks, as well as other senators.

On Monday, GOP leaders bowed to public pressure by announcing they will not whip against a background bill. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Republicans should “vote their conscience.”

But in a sign of how contentious even modest gun reform proposals are in today’s Congress, Manchin and Toomey are talking about watering down the amendment further to try to lure rural lawmakers. The Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein reports that “talks have centered on exempting gun sellers whose businesses are located far from a federal firearms licensee — perhaps outside a 100-mile radius — from performing background checks on gun buyers.” The changes could delay consideration of the background check bill to Friday or next week.

As of Tuesday, the whip count stands at 52 yes votes and 38 no votes, with 10 senators still undecided. The six Democratic senators who have yet to state a position are: Max Baucus (MT), Heidi Heitkamp (NC), Mary Landrieu (NC), Mark Pryor (AR), Mark Begich (AK), and Joe Donnelly (IN). The four undecided Republicans are: Kelly Ayotte (NH), Dean Heller (NV), John McCain (AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (AK).

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that a majority 55 percent of Americans and 52 percent of gun owners think it’s “possible to make gun laws without interfering with gun rights.” Also, a majority 56 percent of Americans support a federal assault weapons ban and a ban on large-capacity magazines, and 86 percent of Americans support a law expanding background checks to gun shows and online.

In a sign there will be political consequences for failing to support expanding background checks and other popular gun safety measures, Kelly, in a reaction to Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) Facebook post Monday night announcing he would oppose the Manchin-Toomey amendment, said Americans for Responsible Solutions would work to replace Flake, a friend of Giffords’, in 2018 if he continued to oppose bipartisan gun reform.

“Friendship is one thing, saving people’s lives — especially first-graders — is another,” said Kelly.

Also on Monday, the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America released the first of a series of ads putting a spotlight on what the organization calls “the absurdity of our country’s current lax laws and weak regulation of guns.” The ad shows two schoolchildren, one holding a banned version of Little Red Riding Hood, while the other child holds an assault weapon. The ad says “one child is holding something that’s been banned in America to protect them. Guess which one.”

In addition to the proposal to allow rural private sellers to bypass background checks, gun safety advocates are concerned about language already in the Manchin-Toomey amendment that would weaken many gun laws. The bill exempts private sales between friends and family members, allows “reciprocal concealed carry” that would allow anyone with a gun permit to carry their concealed weapon across state lines, bans the creation of a national gun registry, and makes it easier for mentally ill people to buy firearms.

“This legislation could change Times Square into the OK Corral,” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said. “To allow criminals to go to other states, get a permit for concealed carry, and then carry their guns concealed here is outrageous.”

The National Memoreported on Monday that one gun rights advocate said “we snookered the other side” on the Manchin-Toomey bill.

“It’s a Christmas tree,” Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation said. “We just hung a million ornaments on it. We’re taking the background check and making it a pro-gun bill. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues haven’t quite figured it out yet because they weren’t sitting in the room writing it. My staff was.”

 AP Photo

Georgia Rep Says Romney Right About ’47 Percent’


Apparently Republican representative Rob Woodall of Georgia didn’t get the memo about his party’s “rebranding” effort to avoid offending half the population, or at least avoid getting caught doing it on camera.

Woodall, who sits on Paul Ryan’s House Budget Committee, said last month at a town hall meeting that Mitt Romney was right in his secretly videotaped remarks that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes.

“You know, folks mock Mitt Romney for what he said, but he’s right,” Woodall says in the video. “Forty-seven percent of American citizens pay zero in income taxes. It’s just true.”

Many pundits believe those remarks significantly contributed to Romney losing the election. And even Romney himself admitted in an interview last October that his comments were “completely wrong.”

Romney was right about being wrong. The Washington Post points out that “Among the Americans who paid no federal income taxes in 2011, 61 percent paid payroll taxes — which means they have jobs, and, when you account for both sides of the payroll tax, they paid 15.3 percent of their income in taxes, which is higher than the 13.9 percent that Romney paid. Another 22 percent were elderly.”

The Republican “rebranding” has not been going as planned, as the GOP leadership appears to have no control over right-wing members of the party who continue to make inflammatory remarks that offend the millions of Americans the party would like to win over. Two recent examples include Representative Don Young (R-AK) using a racial slur about Hispanics and Georgia GOP chair Sue Everhart saying that “if same-sex marriage is legalized across the country, there will be fraud.”

And Americans are not buying the Republican “rebrand” so far. A recent Gallup poll shows that 21 percent of national adults and 26 percent of Republicans themselves believe the GOP is “inflexible” and “unwilling to compromise.”

Here is the full video, which was appropriately released on Tax Day by Georgia Fair Share — a group that advocates for a fairer and more progressive tax code in the United States.

AP Photo

Gun Suicide At NRA Race As Support Increases For Background Checks


A man used a gun to kill himself on Saturday night at the NRA 500 — a National Rifle Association-sponsored NASCAR race that took place over the weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The medical examiner reports the man shot himself in the head, becoming one of the 20,000 gun suicides in the United States every year out of 30,000 total gun deaths.

The NRA sponsorship drew controversy when it was announced because of what many believe to be the gun group’s insensitive and tone-deaf response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting and their continuing opposition to the majority-supported gun safety measures proposed in the aftermath of the massacre, including the compromise expanded background checks amendment put forth by two NRA “A” rated senators — Democrat Joe Manchin (WV) and Republican Pat Toomey (PA).

Besides the embarrassment of a gun-related death at an event they sponsored, the NRA suffered two big blows in their opposition to  expanding background checks. The Washington Post reported Sunday that  the second biggest gun rights group — the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms — is splitting with the NRA by endorsing the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill. Also on Sunday, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) announced she will be supporting the background checks compromise, following Mark Kirk (R-IL) in endorsing the measure. John McCain (R-AZ) appeared to be leaning toward supporting the measure in comments he made on CNN Sunday.

The NRA opposes universal background checks despite the fact that a majority 92 percent of Americans and 75 percent of NRA members support the reform.

Three out of every five gun deaths in America are self-inflicted. A story in The Boston Globe published these stunning statistics: The majority of gun deaths since 1920 have been suicides, more people kill themselves with guns than all other methods combined, the number of people who kill themselves with a gun is four times greater in high-gun states than low-gun states. Public health researchers found that mandatory gun locks and proper gun storage reduces suicides.

The Globe story concludes that “no matter what we may believe about the Second Amendment, the debate over how to reduce the death toll from guns is, to a great extent, a debate about suicide prevention.”

AP Photo

New TV Ad Links Mitch McConnell With Al Qaeda For Opposing Gun Background Checks

A new TV ad that will be airing in Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky this week shames him for opposing universal background checks — which are supported by 82 percent of Kentuckians — for gun purchases.

But the ad goes further than just pointing out that by joining the failed GOP filibuster to even bring a debate on expanding background checks to the Senate floor, McConnell is going against the will of the people he is hoping will re-elect him in 2014. The TV spot, titled “Bad Company,” shows video footage of a 2011 al Qaeda recruitment video in which American-born al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn talks about how “you can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

The ad, which was released by progressive advocacy group Americans United for Change, ends by telling viewers to call McConnell and “ask him why he’s in such bad company.”

The Manchin-Toomey compromise amendment would close the “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks on everyone in order to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, and al Qaeda terrorists.

“What should give Sen. McConnell and fellow Republicans who oppose broader background checks great pause is that their position is so unpopular that virtually the only people who agree with them are big gun manufacturers, criminals, and terrorists.  Talk about bad company,” said Tom McMahon, executive director of Americans United for Change. “Senator McConnell doesn’t even want to have a debate about gun safety in Newtown’s aftermath. Talk about a slap to the face to all families whose loved ones were taken away by gun violence – violence that may have been prevented if these common-sense gun safety measures before Congress were law. ”

Here is the ad:

Majority of Americans Support Stronger Gun Laws, Immigration Reform

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A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that a majority of Americans support two of President Obama’s top legislative priorities in his second term — gun safety and immigration reform.

A majority 55 percent say gun laws should be more strict, while only 9 percent want looser gun laws and 34 percent don’t want any changes.

On immigration, a majority 64 percent somewhat or strongly favor a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, with 87 percent of Hispanics/Latinos strongly or somewhat favoring the proposal. Only 35 percent somewhat or strongly oppose a pathway to citizenship.

However, even though a majority of Americans back the president on gun safety and immigration, the approval ratings for President Obama himself dipped 3 points since February to 47 percent, while his disapproval rose 3 points from February to 48 percent, with 5 percent not sure. That’s the lowest approval rating since he was at 48 percent while on the campaign trail last August.

A majority 50 percent aren’ t satisfied with the job the president is doing of handling the economy, a 1-point drop from February, while 47 percent approve, a 3-point increase from February. In regards to the sequester, 58 percent of respondents say the automatic spending cuts have not had much of an impact on them and their families, but 47 percent believe the sequester will “mostly harm the economy,” a 3-point increase from March, while only 30 percent say the sequester won’t have an impact on the economy.

Photo: J Valas images via

5 Infrastructure Gains Under President Obama


President Obama didn’t have to read the American Society of Civil Engineers‘ (ASCE) new report card on the nation’s infrastructure to understand why America was given a near failing grade yet again. All he had to to do was ride in the presidential limousine on Washington, DC’s bumpy roads, of which 99 percent are poor or mediocre quality, and then cross one of the capital’s 30 structurally deficient bridges.

There was some good news in ASCE’s latest report card, which comes out every four years — the United States received a D+ grade, which is up from a D in 2009 and represents the first grade improvement in the 15 years the engineering organization has conducted the study. And none of the categories saw a grade decline from 2009. Bridges, drinking water, roads, solid waste, and wastewater all jumped up half a grade point, while rail saw the biggest gains by moving up from C- to C+.

President Obama has pushed for greater infrastructure investments since he first took office. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 committed $105.3 billion to infrastructure investments; his American Jobs Act of 2011 would have invested $50 billion on infrastructure projects and created a National Infrastructure Bank capitalized with $10 billion; and most recently the president pushed for more infrastructure investments in his State of the Union speech and in a speech at the Port of Miami, where he praised a new tunnel project and again called for creating an infrastructure bank, investing in a “fix-it-first” policy, attracting private investment through a “Rebuild America Partnership,” an “America Fast Forward” bonds program, and other proposals.

But these investments simply scratch the surface of what is needed. The ASCE report warns of a $1.6 trillion funding gap by 2020 and says that $3.6 trillion in funding is needed to put the nation’s infrastructure in a state of good repair (a B grade) by 2020.

An administration spokesman said, “this report confirms what we already know: that while smart investments in infrastructure have not only created jobs but started to produce the improvements American workers and businesses will need to compete in a global economy, we have a very long way to go.”

The ASCE report concludes by saying that “we must commit today to make our vision of the future a reality – an American infrastructure system that is the source of our prosperity.”

Here are five infrastructure gains that have been made since President Obama took office.


Passenger and Freight Rail


California is building a high-speed rail corridor, Amtrak is enjoying record ridership, freight rail is booming. Much of the rail resurgence is thanks to historic investments Obama made in the Recovery Act and other areas of the federal government. The ASCE report states that “since 2009, capital investment from both freight and passenger railroads has exceeded $75 billion, actually increasing investment during the recession when materials prices were lower and trains ran less frequently. With high ridership and greater investment in the system, the grade for rail saw the largest improvement, moving up to a C+ in 2013.”

Photo: touring_fishman via

Doubling Renewable Energy

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Renewable electricity generation from wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass has nearly doubled under President Obama, helping reduce the nation’s carbon-dioxide emissions to its lowest level since 1994. Clean energy output rose from 43.5 gigawatts in 2008 to 85.7 gigawatts in 2012. Examples of individual projects cited in the ASCE report include an FAA grant that helped Portland International Jetport install an innovative geothermal heating and cooling system through the agency’s Voluntary Airport Low Emission (VALE) grant program.

“I think they’re the future. I think they’re worth fighting for,” said Obama of renewable energy.

APPhoto/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Public Transit


Mass transit projects are moving ahead through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER grants and America Fast Forward program, which was part of last year’s two-year federal transportation spending bill, called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). America Fast Forward offers over $20 billion in federal loans over the next two years.

The one city that should benefit the most from America Fast Forward is Los Angeles, with an ambitious mass transit rail expansion currently under way that has been championed by departing mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. His 30/10 plan envisions building out L.A. Metro’s rail system and other transit projects in 10 years instead of 30 through federal bonds and loan finance programs like America Fast Forward in addition to the voter-approved Measure R transportation sales tax.

Photo: Omar Omar via

Expanding Broadband Access


The Recovery Act included $7.2 billion to upgrade the nation’s broadband infrastructure and expand high-speed broadband access to rural and underserved communities. The FCC raised the bar for acceptable broadband access speed to 768 kilobits per second and in 2011 there were 7.4 million Americans who gained this level of high-quality Internet access.

Photo: Damodar Bashyal via

Smart Grid


Obama has made significant investments in upgrading America’s power grid for the 21st century. The Recovery Act provided $4.5 billion to implement the smart grid, which was matched by an additional $5 billion in private funding. The Smart Grid Investment Grant and Smart Grid Demonstration programs helped install residential smart meters and other smart grid projects. PolitiFact rates Obama’s promise to modernize the nation’s electricity grid as a “Promise Kept.”

Photo: Tom Raftery via



Biden Pushes Congress On Gun Reform As GOP Filibuster Beaten Back


Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET

At a gathering of the nation’s top law enforcement officers on Tuesday afternoon, Attorney General Eric Holder and Vice President Joe Biden pushed Congress to act on the gun safety recommendations put forth by their task force, which was formed following the mass shooting this past December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, more than a half-dozen Republican senators announced their opposition to a gun reform filibuster threat, allowing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to schedule a vote to proceed this Thursday.

Biden said he hosted 13 Newtown family members for breakfast at his home on Tuesday morning, saying he wished members of Congress could have listened to the discussion. He said one woman whose little girl was hiding in the bathroom and was shot through the heart asked Biden how members of Congress can explain not doing anything.

“Don’t they understand? They’re talking about filibustering. What are they doing?” said Biden. “Why don’t people up there understand this? What has to happen to break through the consciousness of people up on the Hill? The public is so far beyond where the Congress is, so far ahead of the way they’re talking.”

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At one point, Biden held up a piece of paper showing how easy it is to conduct a background check and dispelling the misinformation perpetuated by the NRA. The gun lobby group and others trying to stop any action “are in a time warp,” he said, and the nation has moved ahead on this issue.

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) joined 13 other Republican senators planning to filibuster gun reform legislation at the same time President Obama was in Connecticut making an emotional plea for stronger gun laws. In calling out the politicians prepared to block legislation from being debated on the Senate floor, the president told the crowd, “They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter, and that’s not right” as the audience booed and then stood up and chanted “We want a vote!”

While McConnell joins the far-right fringe of his party on gun safety legislation, a pro-Democratic SuperPAC on Tuesday unveiled an online campaign calling the senator — who is up for re-election in 2014 — “Washington’s top roadblock” who is “deep in hock to extreme special interests.”

CBS News reported on Tuesday that all 14 Republican senators who plan to filibuster denied requests for interviews with the network. However, the news outlet did secure an interview with Georgia Republican senator Johnny Isakson, who said he will not join the filibuster and that gun safety legislation deserves a “vote up or down.” Georgia’s other Republican senator, Saxby Chambliss, on Tuesday also said he opposes a filibuster, saying “I don’t think I’m going to support that. I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

On Face the Nation last Sunday, John McCain (R-AZ) blasted the filibuster threat, saying “I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand.” The six other Republican senators saying they will not join the filibuster are Lindsey Graham (SC), Tom Coburn (OK), Mark Kirk (IL), Kelly Ayotte (NH), and Susan Collins (ME), which means the Democrats have enough votes to proceed. Also, Jeff Flake (AZ) appears to be leaning towards not joining the filibuster.

In a last-ditch bipartisan effort to move the Senate forward on gun reform legislation, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) are working on a compromise universal background checks bill,  which 9 out of 10 Americans support. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns group — which announced a new A-to-F grading system for members of Congress similar to the NRA’s scorecard — is running ads in Pennsylvania supporting Toomey’s stance on expanding federal background checks to all gun sales.

Also on Tuesday, Reid took to the Senate floor to give an emotional speech urging his colleagues to vote on tougher gun laws, citing his own father’s suicide. “In Nevada, if you purchase a handgun you have to wait three days to pick it up. And it’s believed that alone has saved the lives of many people. Sometimes people in a fit of passion will purchase a handgun to do bad things with it, Mr. President, even as my dad did, killed himself. Waiting a few days helps.”

Said Biden: “Now it’s time for every man and woman in the Senate to stand up and say yay or nay, I’m for or against. It’s time for them to say what they think. What should or should not be done to diminish the possibility of another Sandy Hook or reduce the number of dead over the next 113 days below 3,300.”

“We are going to win this fight. This is not going away. The American public will not stand for it.”

The full event can be seen here.


Is Sarah Palin Jealous of Electric Car Maker Tesla’s Success?


Failed vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is spending a lot of time on Facebook posting family photos and attacking President Obama’s clean energy investments.

Her latest social media rant targeted struggling electric car company Fisker Automotive, which received a U.S. Department of Energy loan, and announced last Friday that they were laying off 75 percent of their staff. She then went on to attack the “Obama-subsidized” plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt and Tesla Motors, which she writes “turns into a ‘brick’ when the battery completely discharges and then costs $40,000 to repair.”

“This is really just the latest manifestation of the administration’s crony capitalism as their green energy buddies benefit from this atrocious waste of taxpayer money. Americans really need to get outraged by these wasteful ventures. As we’ve seen time and time again, We the People are always stuck subsidizing the left’s ‘losers.'”

Except Tesla is a winner. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk’s zero emissions electric car company recently announced its first quarterly profit after three years of losses and that it will repay the $465 million in Department of Energy loans a full five years earlier than expected. Tesla’s stock is up 18 percent over the past year. The Tesla Model S was also voted Motor Trend‘s 2013 Car of the Year, with the magazine writing that “for the first time since anyone can remember, this year’s winner was a unanimous choice. Not a single judge had any doubts about the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year.”

While Palin uses her Facebook account to blast the president for “picking winners and losers in the free market,” that’s exactly what she did as governor of Alaska. In January 2009, Palin announced a plan to produce half of Alaska’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Palin’s administration picked 77 geothermal, wind, tidal, and wave energy projects with $100 million in funds that she urged the legislature not to cut.

Perhaps Palin’s definition of renewable energy has changed since then. In an April Fool’s Day Facebook post that received nearly 60,000 likes and more than 8,000 shares, she uploaded an image of a cross with the words “sustainable power source.”

Photo: Tesla Motors


Huckabee Stokes Fear With Nazi Gun Control Comparison


Pastor-politician Mike Huckabee continues to stoke fear and paranoia regarding the sensible gun safety measures proposed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults, the latest gun-related massacre that occurred because of what many consider to be lax gun laws in America, compared to other developed nations.

On his radio show Wednesday afternoon, Huckabee responded to a caller who repeated the lie that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis turned Germany from a democracy into a dictatorship by registering and collecting guns, by saying:

“When you bring that up there are people that get crazy on us. They’ll start saying, ‘oh there you go, comparing to the Nazis.’ And I understand the reaction. But it’s the truth. You cannot take people’s rights away if they are resisting and have the means to resist. But once they’re disarmed and the people who are trying to take over have all the power — not just political, not just financial — but they have the physical power to domesticate us and to subjugate us to their will, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it, other than just plan to die in the course of resistance…in every society and culture where dictators take over, one of the things they have to do is get control of the military and police and ultimately all the citizens and make sure the citizens are disarmed and can’t fight in the streets. Gosh I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Besides making a slippery-slope argument that modest gun reform will somehow lead to weapon confiscation and a Nazi-style dictatorship, Huckabee and the caller display a dangerously ignorant reading of history regarding gun laws in Nazi Germany. Mother Jones, Salon, and other publications have refuted the oft-repeated assertion among gun rights absolutists that gun control allowed Hitler’s rise to power and made the Holocaust possible.

First, it is worth noting that other developed, democratic nations with stronger gun laws, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and others, did not see a dictator rise to power and “domesticate” and “subjugate” their people when they enacted new gun measures. In fact, their democracies are still intact with the people still deciding important issues peacefully through the ballot box. What these countries have done is made their societies safer by decreasing gun violence.

Now back to the right wing’s seemingly favorite comparison when discussing anything President Obama has proposed to help the American people — Nazis.

The reality is that the Weimar Republic following World War I actually had tougher gun laws than the Nazi regime, in part to disarm the violent extremists causing havoc, like the paramilitary SA brownshirts. The Nazi Weapon Law of 1938 actually loosened gun restrictions, except for Jews and other persecuted minorities.

But there were only 214,000 Jews living in Germany when World War II started and between 160,000 and 180,000 were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. That is a small fraction of the six million Jews from other countries who were murdered and who wouldn’t have been subject to the Nazi gun laws. The mighty Russian army lost more than 10 million soldiers fighting the Wermacht on the Eastern Front, so it is unrealistic to think that a Jewish armed uprising in Eastern Europe would have beaten back the German military machine. That is why many say a strong Israeli army is so important to preventing another holocaust, the reasoning being that a Jewish state with a modern military is the only match for a genocidal force like the Nazis.

In reality, it is the Tea Party “patriots” intimidating people with loaded assault rifles, Republican efforts to suppress the vote, and right-wing radio hosts like Huckabee stoking fear and paranoia that more closely resemble the tactics used by Hitler’s Nazis to gain power.

Gun control and Second Amendment-analysis website GunCite concludes the following in a story titled “The Myth of Nazi Gun Control”: “There are no lessons about the efficacy of gun control to be learned from the Germany of the first half of [the 20th] century. It is all too easy to forget the seductive allure that fascism presented to all the West, bogged down in economic and social morass. What must be remembered is that the Nazis were master manipulators of popular emotion and sentiment, and were disdainful of people thinking for themselves. There is the danger to which we should pay great heed. Not fanciful stories about Nazis seizing guns.”

 Photo: David Ball

President Obama Takes Gun Reform Push To Colorado

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President Obama is taking his federal gun reform push to states that have passed stronger firearms laws following the mass shooting of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, CT last December. On Wednesday he spoke in Denver, CO, a state with a strong hunting culture and gun-owning tradition, and which recently passed tough new gun restrictions

Speaking at the Denver Police Academy, only 6.5 miles from the Century 16 Aurora movie theater where last June a gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 others, the president praised Colorado’s new gun laws, saying the state is “proving a model of what’s possible,” and adding that “every day that we wait to do something about [gun violence], even more of our fellow citizens are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun. The good news is that Colorado has already chosen to do something about it.”

Colorado governor John Hickenlooper recently signed landmark gun reform laws that expand background checks on gun purchases and limit the size of ammunition magazines. But the opposition to stronger gun laws has been fierce in the western state. More than a dozen Colorado sheriffs held a rally before the president’s visit to voice their opposition to new gun laws. And Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and executive vice president of the National Association for Gun Rights, recently said in an interview that “we tell gun owners, ‘There’s a time to hunt deer. And the next election is the time to hunt Democrats.'”

The president said that “If you want to buy a gun, whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller, you should at least have to pass a background check to show you’re not a criminal or someone legally prohibited from buying one. That’s just common sense.” (Gun violence expert Daniel Webster backed up the president’s assertion that expanding background checks will reduce gun crime in an interview with Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent that was published on Wednesday.)

In a reference to Aurora, the president received applause when he said, “I don’t believe that weapons designed for theaters of war have a place in movie theaters,” as he talked about why banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are so important in preventing more mass shootings.

As the president amps up the pressure on Congress to pass universal background checks and bring an up-or-down vote to the Senate floor on an assault weapons ban and limiting high-capacity magazines, a new poll commissioned by MSNBC’s Morning Joe finds that a majority 60 percent of Americans favor stronger gun laws, 87 percent support expanding background checks to private sales and gun shows, and 59 percent back a ban on military-style assault weapons.

The president will travel to Hartford, CT on Monday to praise the state’s bipartisan agreement to pass the toughest gun laws in the nation in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.

The Senate is expected to take up gun legislation starting next week when they return from Easter-Passover recess.

“The only way this time will be different is if the American people demand that this time it must be different,” the president said. “That this time we must do something to protect our communities and our kids…that we’re not going to just wait for the next Newtown or the next Aurora before we act.”

NRA Unveils Plan to Weaponize Schools

Students answering teacher question

After aggressively opposing every single common-sense gun safety measure that the majority of Americans support — including universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, and limiting high-capacity magazines — the National Rifle Association on Tuesday unveiled a plan to weaponize educational institutions.

The 225-page National School Shield Report, which was introduced by former congressman and Drug Enforcement Agency chief Asa Hutchinson, recommends putting armed guards in every school, training and arming school personnel, as well as other school safety proposals.

“The presence of armed security personnel adds a layer of security and diminishes response time” during a shooting, said Hutchinson.

House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force chairman Mike Thompson (D-CA) responded that “arming school personnel and training them for shootouts will only exacerbate the problems,” adding that “passing legislation that enhances school safety is not an acceptable alternative to passing other gun violence prevention measures such as background checks. Congress can and should do both.”

However, a majority of educators do not agree with the NRA’s recommendations. A January National Education Association poll found that “America’s educators resoundingly reject the notion of arming school employees.  Only 22 percent of NEA members polled favor a proposal to allow teachers and other school employees to receive firearms training and allow them to carry firearms in schools, while 68 percent oppose this proposal (including 61 percent who strongly oppose it.)” The poll also found that a majority 64 percent of educators support stronger gun laws — including 90 percent for universal background checks , 76 percent for banning military-style semi-automatic assault weapons, and 69 percent supporting limiting high-capacity magazines — all of which the NRA oppose.

The report also fails to say anything about safety plans for movie theaters, shopping malls, houses of worship, restaurants, courthouses, government buildings, inner-city street corners, basements, backyards, bedrooms or the many other places in the nation that mass and individual shootings occur.

While the NRA attempts to steer the debate from gun control to arming schools and so far successfully kills national gun reform legislation, the gun lobby group appears to have less sway at the state level, including the state where 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

On Monday, Connecticut lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement to pass the toughest gun laws in the nation, including establishing the nation’s first statewide dangerous weapon offender registry, requiring universal background checks for the sale of all firearms, expanding the Connecticut Assault Weapons Ban to include more than 100 additional types of guns, banning the sale or purchase of large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds and registering and restricting already owned large-capacity magazines, requiring state-issued eligibility certificates for the purchase of any rifle, shotgun or ammunition, expanding the firearms safe-storage law, increasing penalties for firearms trafficking and illegal possession offenses, adding a mental health professional to the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, lengthening the look-back and eligibility periods for persons admitted to a hospital for psychiatric disabilities, and further firearms regulations and restrictions.

Photo: Civil Beat via

Exxon Oil Spill In Arkansas Raises Concerns About Keystone XL Pipeline


Environmentalists and Nebraska farmers are upping the pressure on President Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline following an oil spill that took place over the weekend.

The rupture occurred in central Arkansas, about 20 miles north of Little Rock, as Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of Canadian tar sands oil — the same Alberta crude the Keystone pipeline would carry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling it a “major spill” as officials from the EPA and Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) are currently conducting an onsite investigation while ExxonMobil continues its cleanup efforts.

The company said more than 12,000 barrels of oil and water, or 185,000 gallons, had been recovered by Sunday. Reports say the line gushed for 45 minutes before being stopped and 22 homes were evacuated.

The Arkansas accident was the second Canadian crude oil spill in less than a week, as last Wednesday a train derailed and leaked 30,000 gallons of crude in western Minnesota.

The 20-inch Pegasus pipeline runs from Illinois to Texas and carries 90,000 barrels of crude per day. TransCanada’s 36-inch Keystone XL Pipeline would stretch 1,179 miles from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect with the pipeline system that would carry the tar sands oil to refineries in Texas along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A Media Mattersreport states that “Keystone is all risk and no reward for America. The fact that Canadians don’t want Keystone built across their own country tells us everything we need to know about the risks.” The report cautions about TransCanada’s poor safety record, citing 12 oil spills in the first year of operation of another section of the Keystone pipeline. However, TransCanada promises that new technology from its Calgary control room can better monitor pipeline pressure and shut off a leak within 15 minutes. But environmentalists say the tar sands pipeline is more vulnerable to leaks because “the diluted bitumen, or dilbit, from the oil sands can separate under pressure or high temperature and create explosive natural gas, heavy compounds, and corrosive acids.”

In an interview about the Arkansas spill, Keystone XL opponent and founder of climate action group, Bill McKibben, said “the power of the fossil fuel industry in Washington is enormous. They have all the money. The only thing we can stack up on the other side is the power of movements. We’ve been building them as fast as we can. We’ve had the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years about anything, about this pipeline. We had 40,000 people on the Mall last month in D.C. in the largest climate rally ever. I don’t know if it’s going to be enough, but we’re fighting it as hard as we can.”

The president is expected to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline by this summer.

Photo: KARK-TV

America’s High-Speed Rail Future


Thalys and SNCF’s TGV high-speed trains at Paris North Station (Gare du Nord). Photo credit: Josh Marks

President Obama has repeatedly talked about the urgent need to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure to create jobs and keep the country competitive in the 21st-century global economy. Upgrading the nation’s antiquated passenger rail system has been a dream of the president’s ever since he took office. He made sure to include $8 billion for high-speed rail in The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and most recently mentioned it in an infrastructure speech in Miami on Friday, saying CEOs want to do business and create new jobs in countries with high-speed rail, but that the United States still has “too many rail lines that are too slow and clogged up,” and that we need to “make sure we’ve got the best rail lines.”

Making that high-speed rail vision a reality in America — something Western Europe and Japan have been enjoying for decades, with China and other developing nations rapidly getting into the fast train game — is the focus of the book Fast Trains: America’s High Speed Future,by Emy Louie and Nancy Bolts.

The authors argue that building high-speed rail corridors in America would create thousands of jobs, reduce congestion on our clogged roads and at the nation’s overburdened airports, benefit the environment with a lighter carbon footprint compared to car and airplane travel, and boost national security by helping reduce dependence on petroleum.

The book starts out with a brief history of how in the 1860s the Transcontinental Railroad allowed for the westward expansion of the United States and that America had the best rail system in the world until World War II. Rail travel was popular until various factors led to its decline — including monopolistic practices by the railroad tycoons, the Great Depression, the scandalous dismantling of the streetcar system, and the rise of the automobile. There is a chapter about how the Japanese were the first to embrace high-speed rail as they rebuilt their country’s infrastructure from the destruction of World War II and created the Shinkansen, or bullet train, which then eventually spread to France and other European nations.

Fast Trains compares fictional trips in other countries with high-speed rail against a comparable trip in the U.S. For example, a 200-mile bullet train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto versus driving the same distance from Long Island to Washington, D.C. The comfortable, relaxed train ride in Japan takes about two and a half hours traveling at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour, whereas the uncomfortable, stressful drive down gridlocked Interstate 95 with stops for gas and food takes seven hours.

The authors write that “the United States must move forward again in brave, innovative ways to become competitive on the world stage, to promote economic development, and to secure advancement and prosperity across the nation,” adding that “it’s time to get America back to work and back on track.  It’s time to get America on the track that runs high-speed trains!”

Documentary Hits Fossil Fuel Industry-Funded Climate Change Deniers


Greedy Lying Bastards is as timely a movie as you will ever see. The global warming documentary — directed, produced and narrated by Craig Rosebraugh — pulls no punches in a damning indictment of the fossil fuel industry-funded climate change deniers who have successfully deceived the public and prevented climate change action in Congress at a time when Americans are feeling the damaging effects of a changing climate — from Hurricane Sandy to western wildfires to devastating droughts.

A look at recent headlines proves why this film is so important:

— The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new clean fuel regulations that would require refineries to make gasoline with less sulfur to reduce polluting tailpipe emissions. The EPA’s move to toughen fuel standards predictably drew attacks from Big Oil’s lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute, and Republicans such as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who in 2011 received large campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, including a PAC representing ExxonMobil.

— Tea Party senator and climate change denier Ted Cruz (R-TX) removed a mention of climate change from a routine resolution commemorating International Women’s Day. Cruz cut the part that said women “are disproportionately affected by changes in climate because of their need to secure water, food and fuel for their livelihood.”

— And perhaps the most infamous climate change denier in Congress, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), recently said he was proud to be targeted by Greedy Lying Bastards. Inhofe, who has repeatedly called global warming a hoax, said, “I was not surprised to see myself front and center on the promotional material for this climate change movie, and quite frankly, I’m proud of it.”

The film exposes the front groups the fossil fuel industry uses to attack the 97 percent of climate scientists who agree that man-made greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change, making the comparison to the tactics used by the tobacco industry to attack the scientific findings linking smoking to cancer.

ExxonMobil and Koch Industries are exposed in the film as the two worst culprits in funding misinformation campaigns to delay action on climate change and confuse the public.

Rosebraugh made the film because he is “concerned about the future of the planet and our ability to exist on it. I wanted to undertake a project that would uncover the hidden agenda of the oil industry and provide answers as to why as a nation we fail to implement clean energy policies and take effective action on important problems such as climate change.”

Click here for screenings in your area. You can watch the trailer below:

Men Armed With Assault Rifles Intimidate Moms At Gun Safety Rally


Gun extremists brought loaded assault weapons and handguns to a rally of mothers calling for common-sense gun laws to protect children and adults from mass shootings and daily firearm fatalities and injuries. A local chapter of Moms Demand Action was gathered for the event in Indianapolis as part of Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ National Day to Demand Action. The event was aimed at keeping the need for new gun laws at the forefront of public attention and pressuring senators and representatives to stand up to the National Rifle Association and pass stronger gun measures that the majority of Americans support.

ThinkProgress reports that “at least two or three men showed up at the rally site before the event began and engaged in a discussion about gun regulations with the group…The armed men — who were later joined by another man carrying a handgun and a woman who runs Indiana Moms Against Gun Control — insisted that they had a right to carry the loaded weapon.”

A local news report showed video of a man from the gun control group asking one of the armed men, “Who goes on a hunting trip with this?” as he pointed to the loaded assault rifle slung over the man’s shoulder. Another armed man answered, “Lots of people. It’s legal in this state to hunt deer.” The man from the gun control group said he didn’t know anyone who goes on a hunting trip with a military-style assault weapon, before asking the man with the assault weapon if he went hunting with it, to which the armed man responded, “This firearm is not about hunting for me… it is my right to have this firearm and I don’t have to defend or show a need for this firearm to own it.”

Gun safety groups held events similar to the one in Indiana all over the country, including at the White House, where President Obama made an emotional appeal for Congress to act on stronger gun laws. “The entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different,” said the president. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids.”

Photo: Indiana WTHR 13 News

Gun Safety Groups Plan Historic Congressional Push

michael-bloomberg-joe-biden-gun-control (1)

In what organizers are labeling as the largest gun violence advocacy event in U.S. history, Americans across the country will be joining the National Day to Demand Action on Thursday, which will include rallies, petition drives, press conferences, and calls to senators’ district offices while Congress is at home for Easter-Passover recess.

On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden addressed supporters on gun reform progress as part of Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ Demand Action campaign. Other organizations involved in Thursday’s advocacy day include President Obama’s grassroots group Organizing for Action, and Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly’s American for Responsible Solutions, who Wednesday released a video showing Kelly demonstrating how easy it is to go through a background check when buying a firearm.

Also on Wednesday, conservative Democratic senators Joe Donnelly (IN) and Kay Hagan (NC) came out in support of expanding background checks, meaning the remaining Democratic fence-sitters are Mark Pryor (AR), Kay Hagan (NC), Mary Landrieu (LA), Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Mark Begich (AK).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to introduce a base bill when Congress returns from recess that will include universal background checks and stiffer penalties for gun trafficking. He will be introducing an assault weapons ban and a limit on high-capacity magazines as amendments.

Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns recently announced a $12 million TV ad campaign that will push senators in key states to back gun control legislation. The group is also hiring organizers and opening field offices in 10 key states. Also, President Obama is hitting the road to push for his gun safety proposals.

The historic grassroots mobilization for gun control comes nearly three and a half months after the Newtown mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults. A new CBS News poll shows that public support for stronger gun laws has slipped 10 points to 47 percent since just after Newtown. However, a recent University of Massachusetts poll still shows a majority of 53 percent support an assault weapons ban and a new Quinnipiac University poll finds that 88 percent of Americans still support universal background checks.

AP Photo