In the USA...
ALEC’s Fingerprints Are All Over the Electoral College Rigging Efforts in Blue States
Jan. 26th, 2013
United States of ALEC
One of the benefits of living in a democracy is knowing, with relative certainty, that the people choose a representative to lead the country through the electoral process, and although not every voter is pleased with the results of an election, they can rest easy the leader was chosen by the people and not appointed by special interests. Republicans hate democracy and fair elections, and to ensure future presidents are chosen by conservative fascist committee, they have been on a two-and-a-half year crusade to rig the electoral process to guarantee a Republican will win the White House with fewer votes than their opponent. In the last election, although Democrats garnered 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, redistricting and gerrymandering enabled the GOP to hang on to the House of Representatives. Republicans are notorious for using revolting tactics to win elections, and the current coup d’état by electoral college rigging is a travesty, but like every dirty trick Republicans use to steal elections, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is behind Electoral College rigging efforts in Republican-controlled states that overwhelmingly voted for President Obama.
The current Republican assault on the democratic process began during the 2010 midterm elections when dark money groups helped Republicans pick up 675 legislative seats and gain complete control of 12 state legislatures, and the result was the GOP redrawing lines for four times as many congressional districts as Democrats. In early 2010, Karl Rove laid out the Republican approach to redistricting in a Wall Street Journal article titled, “He who controls redistricting can control Congress” and his words were prophetic as Republicans held the House of Representatives despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democrats. Once Republicans controlled state legislatures, they had free rein to begin redistricting to tilt elections in Republicans’ favor, and it was ALEC that provided Republican governors and state legislators with the redistricting tactic to rig Electoral College votes and guarantee a Republican will always be president.
The corporate-controlled ALEC was instrumental in pushing redistricting tactics spearheaded by a former national Republican Party lawyer, Mark Brayden, who gave a presentation on redistricting to members of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force in December 2010. Wisconsin Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald, a member of that Task Force and former ALEC state chair, received an email invitation in January 2011 for an ALEC “special” conference call with other Wisconsin Republicans to discuss the legality of redistricting; Fitzgerald led the redistricting effort in Wisconsin, and no Democrats were invited to the secret ALEC conference call. Despite being sharply criticized by a court for developing redistricting maps in Wisconsin under a “veil of secrecy,” the new maps have taken effect and the majority of Congressional districts are now out-of-step with statewide voting patterns.
With new redistricting in place, Republicans plan to allocate electoral votes so that the lion’s share of the state’s electors would go, one by one, to the presidential candidate who won each individual congressional district, but only in blue states. For example, in Michigan where President Obama won by nearly 10 points in 2012, Willard Romney would have received 9 of the state’s 16 electoral votes because he received more votes than the President in nine of the state’s congressional districts. It is precisely how Republicans in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, and Wisconsin plan on handing a Republican the White House if the despicable electoral rigging is allowed to reach fruition.
ALEC has been directing Republican-controlled state legislatures in various schemes to sway elections in favor of ALEC’s candidates since the 2010 midterm elections, and Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, made it clear he wants Republicans to use every dirty trick and bit of power they retain to rig the electoral process as part of a national strategy to hand Republicans victories even when they lose elections. Last week, Priebus urged Republican governors and legislators to rig the Electoral College by changing the rules for distributing Electoral College votes, and that is how democracy dies at the hands of ALEC and their Republican lackeys.
Republicans have to cheat to seize control of the nation because in a democratic process, their policies will never garner support from the voters, and although the latest ploy to subvert the Electoral College is just now gaining steam, it is part of ALEC’s long term strategy to appoint leaders their corporate masters demand. ALEC’s redistricting push began in late 2010 after dirty money from Karl Rove-types swept Republicans into state legislatures and governor’s mansions, and it is from those states that elected President Obama where the GOP’s coup d’état will have its greatest effect and ensure a permanent Republican president.
If any American thinks for a minute that there are limits to Republican fascists’ efforts to rig elections in their favor, they are blind, because ALEC and the Republican Party are threatening more than Democratic Presidents, congressional seats, state legislatures and governors; they threaten the existence of democracy itself. Americans should be repulsed and mortified it is even possible for ALEC and Republicans to impede the will of the people in choosing their president, but that is the price Democrats pay for sitting out the 2010 midterm elections, because now they will learn the hard way that “elections have consequences” and democracy can die.
Judge Who Ruled Obama Violated the Constitution Has a History Of Right Wing Judicial Activism
By: Jason Easley
Jan. 26th, 2013
The judge who ruled that Obama’s recess appointments violated the constitution is a Jesse Helms crony who overturned the convictions of Oliver and John Poindexter and sided with Bush on indefinite detentions.
Judge David Bryan Sentelle was first appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan. Sentelle history of right wing activism from the bench was detailed by Will Stabley, “However, Sentelle was promoted to the United States Appeals Court shortly after, as a circuit court judge, he voted to overturn the convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter – two key Reagan aides who had been found guilty in the Iran Contra scandal. This seeming tit for tat between Sentelle continued as he appointed Kenneth Starr to the role which Starr would go on to use in his overtly aggressive impeachment case against democrat Bill Clinton…Sentelle then went on to side with republican George W. Bush on the issue of indefinite detention without the right to trial, in a controversial ruling which saw even a fellow judge on his own panel dissenting against him.”
Sentelle has been described as a crony of Jesse Helms. He is also a member of the Federalist Society a group that describes itself and its role as, “Law schools and the legal profession are currently strongly dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology which advocates a centralized and uniform society. While some members of the academic community have dissented from these views, by and large they are taught simultaneously with (and indeed as if they were) the law. The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. It is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.”
In short, David Sentelle is the poster boy for right wing judicial activism.
Mainstream media reports of the story have quoted Sentelle’s ruling, but have failed to mention his right wing activism from the bench. The fact that Sentelle would rule in favor of Bush’s unprecedented expansion of executive powers on indefinite detentions, but would the rule against the precedent of 150 years of recess appointments illustrates the partisan nation of Sentelle’s judicial philosophy.
The right wing is celebrating this ruling because it feeds into their delusion that Obama is an illegitimate president who has no respect for the constitution. The reality, which the media is happily ignoring, is that a right wing judicial hack ruled based on nothing more than partisan politics.
This ruling illustrates why the filibuster reform that was agreed to this week matters. President Obama has 33 judicial nominees that are being blocked by Senate Republicans. The filibuster reform will allow Harry Reid to finally push some of these appointments through the Senate. The right wing has turned the judicial system into a conservative policy making establishment.
The real headline of this story should have read, “Hack Right Wing Judicial Activists Rule Obama Violated the Constitution,” but the truth rarely makes for a sexy headline. Instead, the media has chosen to maintain their ignorance under the disguise of “objectivity.”
Instead of being a serious legal ruling this decision was yet another partisan attack on the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency, but right wing judicial activism is a subject that the media refuses to discuss.
Obama vows to watch U.S. financial industry to prevent ‘irresponsible behavior’
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, January 26, 2013 11:18 EST
President Barack Obama promised Saturday to watch the US financial industry to prevent what he called “irresponsible behavior” as he defended his nominations to key financial watchdog agencies.
The comments came after Obama nominated Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission and Richard Cordray to continue as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The CFPB, set up under Obama’s 2010 financial regulatory law, has the power to protect consumers from predatory banking practices and hidden conditions on loans. It can also crack down on debt and credit agencies.
“Here in America, we know the free market is the greatest force for economic progress the world has ever known,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address. “But we also know the free market works best for everyone when we have smart, commonsense rules in place to prevent irresponsible behavior.”
He expressed the confidence that White and Cordray will be up to that task.
White has spent her career prosecuting high-profile fraud cases in New York and brought down mafia kingpin John Gotti, who headed the Gambino crime syndicate.
Cordray fought financial crime, serving as attorney general of the Midwestern state of Ohio.
“It’s not enough to change the law — we also need cops on the beat to enforce the law,” Obama said, showcasing both nominations and urging the Senate to give both candidates a speedy approval.
The president also noted that he was determined to create more jobs, improve education and job training, reform the immigration system and fight gun violence in his second term.
“As president, my top priority is simple: to do everything in my power to fight for middle-class families and give every American the tools they need to reach the middle class,” Obama said.
The Christian Science Monitor
Can Republicans get their act together before Obama 'pulverizes' the right?
By Patrik Jonsson, Staff writer / January 26, 2013 at 4:26 pm EST
Perhaps trying to eke some mojo out of the city where the Democrats held their successful convention last year, the Republican National Committee came out of a three-day meeting in Charlotte, N.C., this week with a blueprint for what the dispirited party hopes is a way out of the post-election weeds.
The meeting confirmed what most Americans can see plainly: The Party of Lincoln is having a crisis of confidence. The failure of Mitt Romney to connect deeply enough to win a race against a vulnerable Democratic incumbent shook the party establishment, which is already dealing with a powerful internecine and absolutist revolt from right-wingers in the guise of the tea party.
For Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, the battle is to reach out to new demographics and beef up the party's moribund ground game, but also to shift the conversation away from "government bookkeeping" to dinner table dilemmas – all while remaining relevant against an attempt by President Obama to, in effect, "pulverize" the party, in the words of Slate columnist John Dickerson.
Though many Republicans believe the cure is for the party to run even harder on fiscal principles – lower taxes, lower spending, give me liberty or give me death – it may well be the party's success in breaking out its "older white guy" mold that defines its fortunes in 2014 and beyond, and calibrates it for battles with Obama that are likely to define America for generations.
Recommended: Republican Party 2.0: 4 GOP leaders share ideas for political upgrade
"The Republicans are dead in the water right now … they're an aging white party in a country that is less white each year," syndicated columnist Mark Shields told the PBS NewsHour Friday night.
It's a healthy and necessary debate, to be sure, for a party that serves as a counterweight to America's more progressive tendencies, as embodied by the reelection of President Obama – the man who has overseen the massive $5.8 trillion increase in the national debt.
While Obama is likely to use his second term to strengthen the Democratic fortress in hopes of further weakening the Republicans, there's plenty of ground that can be won by conservatives. After all, the country remains center-right on issues from abortion to gun control, and insecurity about the national debt runs across party lines and across regional and income demographics. Moreover, the party has built a serious stable of potential leadership contenders, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
What Republicans say the party as a whole, as well as various candidates, have largely failed to do, however, is consider voters as people instead of numbers on a campaign consultant's chart.
In the process, experts say Republicans have failed to grasp how Americans are concerned about the economy and the debt, but also about policing and their neighborhood schools. Yes, they want their taxes spent more wisely, and most don't want an expansion of the welfare state (on the idea that permanent welfare inhibits the American dream), but they also see the power of compassion and remain concerned about family or friends in the military.
Last year, multitudes of potential GOP voters swung into the Obama column, because, as Mr. Shields said, "people found the other side to be more relevant, more real, and more plausible to their lives than they found [the GOP]."
Gov. Jindal – one of the party's most promising back-benchers – agreed, saying in remarks Thursday that Republicans need to "re-orient our focus to the place where conservatism thrives – in the real world beyond the Washington Beltway."
"Today's conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits, the mammoth federal debt, the shortfall in our entitlement programs … even as we invent new entitlement programs," Mr. Jindal added. "We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping. This is a rigged game, and it is the wrong game for us to play…. We must not become the party of austerity. We must become the party of growth."
Mr. Priebus added to that sentiment, telling the RNC that "it's time to stop looking at elections through the lens of battleground states – being a 'blue state' is not a permanent diagnosis."
New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks said on the PBS NewsHour Friday night that it is, indeed, a sort of born-and-bred insularity that's hobbling the GOP, but that trait is noticeable even when populist up-and-comers like Jindal try to break out of that shell.
"A lot of smart Republicans understand the problem, but even in the Jindal speech, it's as if conservatives have learned to speak a special language within themselves …" Mr. Brooks said. "Jindal said some smart things, but he's still locked within a prism of code words. He doesn't tell a story about what it's like to be a waitress in Ohio or a struggling worker in Texas. It is hard to get outside the mental framework you've grown up in, and it takes pain to force you out."
For now, Republicans say they'll focus less on changing the message than tweaking the messenger. Talk of beefing up the party's ground game and social media activities dominated much of the discussion, as did "tone" – how ill-chosen words by a few candidates, including Mr. Romney, helped shade perceptions and weaken the party's message.
"There certainly is a lot of talk about tone," RNC official Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, told reporters. "There are too many times that we have had candidates who have come across as hostile."
But if Republicans tweak the messaging and then look to the next wave of Republican candidates to foment a new deal with the American people, the party did leave Charlotte with what appeared to be genuine interest in having a more empathetic and down-to-earth conversation with the American people.
"One message is loud and clear from the 2012 election," said Ari Fleischer, President George Bush's former spokesman and a member of an RNC effort to restore the party's competitiveness. "Many voters found that Republicans were not inclusive."
Recommended: Republican Party 2.0: 4 GOP leaders share ideas for political upgrade
January 26, 2013
Secret Donors Finance Fight Against Hagel
By JIM RUTENBERG
A brand new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, saying he would make the United States “a weaker country.”
Another freshly minted and anonymously backed organization, Use Your Mandate, which presents itself as a liberal gay rights group but purchases its television time through a prominent Republican firm, is attacking Mr. Hagel as “anti-Gay,” “anti-woman” and “anti-Israel” in ads and mailers.
Those groups are joining at least five others that are organizing to stop Mr. Hagel’s confirmation, a goal even they acknowledge appears to be increasingly challenging. But the effort comes with a built-in consolation prize should it fail: depleting some of Mr. Obama’s political capital as he embarks on a new term with fresh momentum.
The media campaign to scuttle Mr. Hagel’s appointment, unmatched in the annals of modern presidential cabinet appointments, reflects the continuing effects of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened campaign finance restrictions and was a major reason for the record spending by outside groups in the 2012 election. All told, these independent and largely secretly financed groups spent well over $500 million in an attempt to defeat Mr. Obama and the Democrats, a failure that seemed all the greater given the huge amounts spent.
While the campaign against Mr. Hagel, a Republican, is not expected to cost more than a few million dollars, it suggests that the operatives running the independent groups and the donors that finance them — many of whom are millionaires and billionaires with ideological drive and business agendas that did not go away after the election — are ready to fight again.
“We were anxious to get back into the battle,” said Nick Ryan, a Republican strategist and the founder of the American Future Fund, which started as a small, Iowa-based political committee in 2007 and has grown larger since taking a leading role now against Mr. Hagel. “Postelection we have new battle lines being drawn with the president; he kicks it off with these nominations and it made sense for us.”
Groups like his would have been able to operate freely against Mr. Hagel even before Citizens United. But the ruling has served to erase what had been traditional fears among donors that their involvement in the fight of the day would lead to legal trouble or, for those who prefer to stay anonymous, unwanted public exposure. That confidence, in turn, has helped spur the increase in the number of political organizations that pop up to engage in the big political entanglement of the moment.
American Future Fund was formed under a section of the tax code that allows it to keep its donors secret. It spent more than $20 million seeking to defeat Mr. Obama and the Democrats last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group. Other major conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity — partly financed by the industrialist Koch family — and Crossroads GPS are not involved in the Hagel nomination, but have made it clear that they will continue to combat the president’s agenda on several fronts.
The outside activity is not confined to Republicans. Mr. Obama’s campaign apparatus has transformed itself into a nonprofit political group, though it said it would disclose the names of its donors (and it is not getting involved in the Hagel fight).
After Mr. Obama won re-election in November and Democrats kept their majority in the Senate and made inroads in the House, Republican Party officials and senior strategists with conservative outside groups predicted that some of the big financiers of the larger outside efforts would pull back and reassess their involvement and whether their millions were wasted. But while the donors have said they will insist that the groups they finance find lessons in last year’s losses, their interest and stakes in what happens in Washington have certainly not waned.
For instance, the biggest individual financier of the so-called super PACs that sought to defeat Mr. Obama, Sheldon Adelson, is so invested in the fight over Mr. Hagel that he has reached out directly to Republican Senators to urge them to hold the line against his confirmation, which would be almost impossible to stop against six Republican “yes” votes and a unified Democratic caucus.
Given the more than $100 million he donated to the anti-Obama effort last year, no lawmakers need to be reminded of his importance to their future endeavors. People briefed on his involvement said Mr. Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and a longtime supporter of Israel, was calling in conjunction with the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group he has financed for several years.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in December, Mr. Adelson said he was prepared to “double” his investment in politics in the coming year.
But it is unclear whether he is directly financing any of the anti-Hagel advertising. An associate of his, speaking about Mr. Adelson’s thinking on condition of anonymity, said he did not believe that expensive television campaigns are the answer to every political push given that Mr. Obama’s re-election team accomplished so much of its success through online and volunteer efforts.
Citing similar reasons, another major Republican donor, Foster Friess, said in an interview that he had developed his own skepticism over “the whole idea of these multimedia ads from 45,000 feet.” After last year’s losses he said he was devoting most of his resources to an effort he called “Left-Right, Left-Right Forward March,” which finds projects liberals and conservatives can support together, like water purification in developing countries.
Still, he said, “no one in this effort is going to give up the values that they think are important.” For him, that extends to Mr. Hagel, whose “past statements about Israel should be really taken into consideration” Mr. Friess said, adding, “and I would hope they could find a better person to serve in that position.”
Whatever its chances of success, the blitz against Mr. Hagel is of a sort that has generally been reserved for elections and some Supreme Court nominations. The last major cabinet skirmish, over President George W. Bush’s nomination of John R. Bolton as the United States ambassador to the United Nations, had no comparable outside media blitz. Though goaded along by a phone campaign organized by the political action arm of the liberal group MoveOn, Democrats succeeded in blocking him in the Senate, forcing Mr. Bush to appoint him during a congressional recess.
That was before the Citizens United decision.
“This is the first big cabinet fight since Bolton,” said Michael Goldfarb, a strategist for a conservative group opposed to Mr. Hagel called the Emergency Committee for Israel and a founder of a conservative Web site called The Washington Free Beacon, which is running a steady stream of anti-Hagel news articles. “And things have evolved in the last seven years.”
The most mysterious of the new groups is Use Your Mandate. Portraying itself as a gay rights group, it has sent mailers to voters in seven states — including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Montana — and run television ads against Mr. Hagel in New York and Washington. It has sent out posts on Twitter questioning his gay rights record and asking, “Is this what we worked so hard for?” Established gay rights activists have expressed skepticism about the group’s authenticity.
It has no Web site and it only lists as its address a post office box in New York. But paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Commission link it back to Tusk Strategies, a bipartisan political group founded by Bradley Tusk, a former strategist for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York.
In an interview, Mr. Tusk would only identify its financiers as Democratic “gay and L.G.B.T. people who have been active in campaigns around the country.”
Yet federal records show that Use Your Mandate uses Del Cielo Media, an arm of one of the most prominent Republican ad-buying firms in the country, Smart Media, with clients that have included the presidential campaigns of former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah and Senator John McCain of Arizona; the 2010 Senate campaign of Christine O’Donnell, who was known for positions against homosexuality, in Delaware; and, as it happens, the Emergency Committee for Israel.
Mike McIntire, Kate Zernike and Derek Willis contributed reporting.
January 26, 2013
Tom Harkin of Iowa Won’t Seek Re-election to Senate
By JEFF ZELENY
WASHINGTON — Senator Tom Harkin, the Democrat from Iowa who championed landmark legislation banning discrimination against people with disabilities, said Saturday that he would retire and not seek re-election next year to a sixth term.
The announcement from Mr. Harkin sets the stage for one of the most competitive Senate races in the country in the 2014 midterm elections. It will be a crucial contest in the Republican Party’s quest to win control of the chamber from Democrats.
“It’s not easy to walk away, but life is fleeting,” Mr. Harkin, 73, said in an interview Saturday. “I’ve had the privilege to be here for 40 years. Too many people hang on to power for too long, and that’s not right.”
In a Washington career that began in 1974 with his election to the House, which was followed a decade later by his elevation to the Senate, Mr. Harkin has been a forceful voice of populism. He said his biggest achievement was the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, a bipartisan measure he pushed for on behalf of his brother Frank, who was deaf. He was also a leading proponent of overhauling the nation’s health care system.
Mr. Harkin sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992. But he has played a larger role in subsequent races for the White House as a fierce supporter of the Iowa caucuses that traditionally open the presidential campaign. Barack Obama, as a freshman senator from Illinois, made his Iowa debut at the state’s marquee political event in 2006, the Harkin Steak Fry.
The announcement from Mr. Harkin took some Democrats by surprise on Saturday, particularly because he had not signaled his intentions and had a campaign account of nearly $3 million. His is the latest in a series of Senate retirements, and it forces Democrats to try to defend an open seat that would have otherwise been more challenging for Republicans.
“I appreciate that Senator Harkin has made this decision so early in the cycle, giving us ample time to recruit a strong Democratic candidate for this seat,” said Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Iowa has a strong record of electing great Democrats, and I’m confident that we will elect a new Democratic senator.”
Representative Bruce Braley is among the party’s early prospects for Mr. Harkin’s seat. Mr. Braley had been considering running for governor, but aides said Mr. Harkin’s retirement made it certain that Mr. Braley would try to follow the example of Mr. Harkin and jump from the House to the Senate.
Republicans, who need to pick up six seats to win control of the Senate, will probably draw a wide field of candidates. Party officials said one early contender could be Representative Steve King, who has drawn criticism from other Republicans for his outspoken opposition to changing the nation’s immigration system.
The race in Iowa, one of the nation’s consummate swing states, is still a challenge for Republicans and will be a critical test for the party as it tries to rebuild and recruit candidates who have a wider appeal to voters. Overhauling immigration laws is a top priority of many Republican leaders, and a candidacy by Mr. King could complicate those efforts.
Rob Collins, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Saturday that Mr. Harkin’s planned retirement “immediately vaults Iowa into the top tier of competitive Senate races next year.”
In addition to Mr. Harkin, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, has said he will not seek re-election for a sixth term, and there may be other Democratic senators who retire. The party also is contending with a race in Massachusetts, where the successor to Senator John Kerry, who was nominated to serve as secretary of state, will stand for election in November 2014.
Republicans face retirements of their own, including Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who announced on Friday that he would not seek re-election next year. He was facing criticism from conservatives and could have faced a Republican primary challenge.
January 26, 2013
A true sickness of the U.S.A.
Selling a New Generation on Guns
By MIKE McINTIRE
Threatened by long-term declining participation in shooting sports, the firearms industry has poured millions of dollars into a broad campaign to ensure its future by getting guns into the hands of more, and younger, children.
The industry’s strategies include giving firearms, ammunition and cash to youth groups; weakening state restrictions on hunting by young children; marketing an affordable military-style rifle for “junior shooters” and sponsoring semiautomatic-handgun competitions for youths; and developing a target-shooting video game that promotes brand-name weapons, with links to the Web sites of their makers.
The pages of Junior Shooters, an industry-supported magazine that seeks to get children involved in the recreational use of firearms, once featured a smiling 15-year-old girl clutching a semiautomatic rifle. At the end of an accompanying article that extolled target shooting with a Bushmaster AR-15 — an advertisement elsewhere in the magazine directed readers to a coupon for buying one — the author encouraged youngsters to share the article with a parent.
“Who knows?” it said. “Maybe you’ll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!”
The industry’s youth-marketing effort is backed by extensive social research and is carried out by an array of nonprofit groups financed by the gun industry, an examination by The New York Times found. The campaign picked up steam about five years ago with the completion of a major study that urged a stronger emphasis on the “recruitment and retention” of new hunters and target shooters.
The overall objective was summed up in another study, commissioned last year by the shooting sports industry, that suggested encouraging children experienced in firearms to recruit other young people. The report, which focused on children ages 8 to 17, said these “peer ambassadors” should help introduce wary youngsters to guns slowly, perhaps through paintball, archery or some other less intimidating activity.
“The point should be to get newcomers started shooting something, with the natural next step being a move toward actual firearms,” said the report, which was prepared for the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Hunting Heritage Trust.
Firearms manufacturers and their two primary surrogates, the National Rifle Association of America and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, have long been associated with high-profile battles to fend off efforts at gun control and to widen access to firearms. The public debate over the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere has focused largely on the availability of guns, along with mental illness and the influence of violent video games.
Little attention has been paid, though, to the industry’s youth-marketing initiatives. They stir passionate views, with proponents arguing that introducing children to guns can provide a safe and healthy pastime, and critics countering that it fosters a corrosive gun culture and is potentially dangerous.
The N.R.A. has for decades given grants for youth shooting programs, mostly to Boy Scout councils and 4-H groups, which traditionally involved single-shot rimfire rifles, BB guns and archery. Its $21 million in total grants in 2010 was nearly double what it gave out five years earlier.
Newer initiatives by other organizations go further, seeking to introduce children to high-powered rifles and handguns while invoking the same rationale of those older, more traditional programs: that firearms can teach “life skills” like responsibility, ethics and citizenship. And the gun industry points to injury statistics that it says show a greater likelihood of getting hurt cheerleading or playing softball than using firearms for fun and sport.
Still, some experts in child psychiatry say that encouraging youthful exposure to guns, even in a structured setting with an emphasis on safety, is asking for trouble. Dr. Jess P. Shatkin, the director of undergraduate studies in child and adolescent mental health at New York University, said that young people are naturally impulsive and that their brains “are engineered to take risks,” making them ill suited for handling guns.
“There are lots of ways to teach responsibility to a kid,” Dr. Shatkin said. “You don’t need a gun to do it.”
Steve Sanetti, the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said it was better to instruct children in the safe use of a firearm through hunting and target shooting, and engage them in positive ways with the heritage of guns in America. His industry is well positioned for the task, he said, but faces an unusual challenge: introducing minors to activities that involve products they cannot legally buy and that require a high level of maturity.
Ultimately, Mr. Sanetti said, it should be left to parents, not the government, to decide if and when to introduce their children to shooting and what sort of firearms to use.
“It’s a very significant decision,” he said, “and it involves the personal responsibility of the parent and personal responsibility of the child.”
Trying to Reverse a Trend
The shooting sports foundation, the tax-exempt trade association for the gun industry, is a driving force behind many of the newest youth initiatives. Its national headquarters is in Newtown, just a few miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where Adam Lanza, 20, used his mother’s Bushmaster AR-15 to kill 20 children and 6 adults last month.
The foundation’s $26 million budget is financed mostly by gun companies, associated businesses and the foundation’s SHOT Show, the industry’s annual trade show, according to its latest tax return.
Although shooting sports and gun sales have enjoyed a rebound recently, the long-term demographics are not favorable, as urbanization, the growth of indoor pursuits like video games and changing cultural mores erode consumer interest. Licensed hunters fell from 7 percent of the population in 1975 to fewer than 5 percent in 2005, according to federal data. Galvanized by the declining share, the industry redoubled its efforts to reverse the trend about five years ago.
The focus on young people has been accompanied by foundation-sponsored research examining popular attitudes toward hunting and shooting. Some of the studies used focus groups and telephone surveys of teenagers to explore their feelings about guns and people who use them, and offered strategies for generating a greater acceptance of firearms.
The Times reviewed more than a thousand pages of these studies, obtained from gun industry Web sites and online archives, some of them produced as recently as last year. Most were prepared by consultants retained by the foundation, and at least one was financed with a grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
In an interview, Mr. Sanetti said the youth-centered research was driven by the inevitable “tension” the industry faces, given that no one under 18 can buy a rifle or a shotgun from a licensed dealer or even possess a handgun under most circumstances. That means looking for creative and appropriate ways to introduce children to shooting sports.
“There’s nothing alarmist or sinister about it,” Mr. Sanetti said. “It’s realistic.”
Pointing to the need to “start them young,” one study concluded that “stakeholders such as managers and manufacturers should target programs toward youth 12 years old and younger.”
“This is the time that youth are being targeted with competing activities,” it said. “It is important to consider more hunting and target-shooting recruitment programs aimed at middle school level, or earlier.”
Aware that introducing firearms to young children could meet with resistance, several studies suggested methods for smoothing the way for target-shooting programs in schools. One cautioned, “When approaching school systems, it is important to frame the shooting sports only as a mechanism to teach other life skills, rather than an end to itself.”
In another report, the authors warned against using human silhouettes for targets when trying to recruit new shooters and encouraged using words and phrases like “sharing the experience,” “family” and “fun.” They also said children should be enlisted to prod parents to let them join shooting activities: “Such a program could be called ‘Take Me Hunting’ or ‘Take Me Shooting.’ ”
The industry recognized that state laws limiting hunting by children could pose a problem, according to a “Youth Hunting Report” prepared by the shooting sports foundation and two other groups. Declaring that “the need for aggressive recruitment is urgent,” the report said a primary objective should be to “eliminate or reduce age minimums.” Still another study recommended allowing children to get a provisional license to hunt with an adult, “perhaps even before requiring them to take hunter safety courses.”
The effort has succeeded in a number of states, including Wisconsin, which in 2009 lowered the minimum hunting age to 10 from 12, and Michigan, where in 2011 the age minimum for hunting small game was eliminated for children accompanied by an adult mentor. The foundation cited statistics suggesting that youth involvement in hunting, as well as target shooting, had picked up in recent years amid the renewed focus on recruitment.
Gun companies have spent millions of dollars to put their recruitment strategies into action, either directly or through the shooting sports foundation and other organizations. The support takes many forms.
The Scholastic Steel Challenge, started in 2009, introduces children as young as 12 to competitive handgun shooting using steel targets. Its “platinum” sponsors include the shooting sports foundation, Smith & Wesson and Glock, which donated 60 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols, according to the group’s Web site.
The site features a quote from a gun company executive praising the youth initiative and saying that “anyone in the firearms industry that overlooks its potential is missing the boat.”
Larry Potterfield, the founder of MidwayUSA, one of the nation’s largest sellers of shooting supplies and a major sponsor of the Scholastic Steel Challenge, said he did not fire a handgun until he was 21, adding that they “are the most difficult guns to learn to shoot well.” But, he said, he sees nothing wrong with children using them.
“Kids need arm strength and good patience to learn to shoot a handgun well,” he said in an e-mail, “and I would think that would come in the 12-14 age group for most kids.”
Another organization, the nonprofit Youth Shooting Sports Alliance, which was created in 2007, has received close to $1 million in cash, guns and equipment from the shooting sports foundation and firearms-related companies, including ATK, Winchester and Sturm, Ruger & Company, its tax returns show. In 2011, the alliance awarded 58 grants. A typical grant: 23 rifles, 4 shotguns, 16 cases of ammunition and other materials, which went to a Michigan youth camp.
The foundation and gun companies also support Junior Shooters magazine, which is based in Idaho and was started in 2007. The publication is filled with catchy advertisements and articles about things like zombie targets, pink guns and, under the heading “Kids Gear,” tactical rifle components with military-style features like pistol grips and collapsible stocks.
Gun companies often send new models to the magazine for children to try out with adult supervision. Shortly after Sturm, Ruger announced in 2009 a new, lightweight semiautomatic rifle that had the “look and feel” of an AR-15 but used less expensive .22-caliber cartridges, Junior Shooters received one for review. The magazine had three boys ages 14 to 17 fire it and wrote that they “had an absolute ball!”
Junior Shooters’ editor, Andy Fink, acknowledged in an editorial that some of his magazine’s content stirred controversy.
“I have heard people say, even shooters that participate in some of the shotgun shooting sports, such things as, ‘Why do you need a semiautomatic gun for hunting?’ ” he wrote. But if the industry is to survive, he said, gun enthusiasts must embrace all youth shooting activities, including ones “using semiautomatic firearms with magazines holding 30-100 rounds.”
In an interview, Mr. Fink elaborated. Semiautomatic firearms are actually not weapons, he said, unless someone chooses to hurt another person with them, and their image has been unfairly tainted by the news media. There is no legitimate reason children should not learn to safely use an AR-15 for recreation, he said.
“They’re a tool, not any different than a car or a baseball bat,” Mr. Fink said. “It’s no different than a junior shooting a .22 or a shotgun. The difference is in the perception of the viewer.”
The Weapon of Choice
The AR-15, the civilian version of the military’s M-16 and M-4, has been aggressively marketed as a cool and powerful step up from more traditional target and hunting rifles. But its appearance in mass shootings — in addition to Newtown, the gun was also used last year in the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., and the attack on firefighters in Webster, N.Y. — has prompted calls for tighter restrictions. The AR-15 is among the guns included in a proposed ban on a range of semiautomatic weapons that was introduced in the Senate last week.
Given the gun’s commercial popularity, it is perhaps unsurprising that AR-15-style firearms have worked their way into youth shooting programs. At a “Guns ’n Grillin” weekend last fall, teenagers at a Boy Scout council in Virginia got to shoot AR-15s. They are used in youth competitions held each year at a National Guard camp in Ohio, and in “junior clinics” taught by Army or Marine marksmanship instructors, some of them sponsored by gun companies or organizations they support.
ArmaLite, a successor company to the one that developed the AR-15, is offering a similar rifle, the AR-10, for the grand prize in a raffle benefiting the Illinois State Rifle Association’s “junior high-power” team, which uses AR-15s in its competitions. Bushmaster has offered on its Web site a coupon worth $350 off the price of an AR-15 “to support and encourage junior shooters.”
Military-style firearms are prevalent in a target-shooting video game and mobile app called Point of Impact, which was sponsored by the shooting sports foundation and Guns & Ammo magazine. The game — rated for ages 9 and up in the iTunes store — allows players to shoot brand-name AR-15 rifles and semiautomatic handguns at inanimate targets, and it provides links to gun makers’ Web sites as well as to the foundation’s “First Shots” program, intended to recruit new shooters.
Upon the game’s release in January 2011, foundation executives said in a news release that it was one of the industry’s “most unique marketing tools directed at a younger audience.” Mr. Sanetti of the shooting sports foundation said sponsorship of the game was an experiment intended to deliver safety tips to players, while potentially generating interest in real-life sports.
The confluence of high-powered weaponry and youth shooting programs does not sit well even with some proponents of those programs. Stephan Carlson, a University of Minnesota environmental science professor whose research on the positive effects of learning hunting and outdoor skills in 4-H classes has been cited by the gun industry, said he “wouldn’t necessarily go along” with introducing children to more powerful firearms that added nothing useful to their experience.
“I see why the industry would be pushing it, but I don’t see the value in it,” Mr. Carlson said. “I guess it goes back to the skill base we’re trying to instill in the kids. What are we preparing them for?”
For Mr. Potterfield of MidwayUSA, who said his own children started shooting “boys’ rifles” at age 4, getting young people engaged with firearms — provided they have the maturity and the physical ability to handle them — strengthens an endangered American tradition.
Mr. Potterfield and his wife, Brenda, have donated more than $5 million for youth shooting programs in recent years, a campaign that he said was motivated by philanthropy, not “return on investment.”
“Our gifting is pure benevolence,” he said. “We grew up and live in rural America and have owned guns, hunted and fished all of our lives. This is our community, and we hope to preserve it for future generations.”
January 25, 2013 03:52 PM
Message from Mexico: U.S. Is Polluting Water It May Someday Need to Drink
By Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, Jan. 25, 2013
Mexico City plans to draw drinking water from a mile-deep aquifer, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The Mexican effort challenges a key tenet of U.S. clean water policy: that water far underground can be intentionally polluted because it will never be used.
U.S. environmental regulators have long assumed that reservoirs located thousands of feet underground will be too expensive to tap. So even as population increases, temperatures rise, and traditional water supplies dry up, American scientists and policy-makers often exempt these deep aquifers from clean water protections and allow energy and mining companies to inject pollutants directly into them.
As ProPublica has reported in an ongoing investigation about America's management of its underground water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued more than 1,500 permits for companies to pollute such aquifers in some of the driest regions. Frequently, the reason was that the water lies too deep to be worth protecting.
But Mexico City's plans to tap its newly discovered aquifer suggest that America is poisoning wells it might need in the future.
Indeed, by the standard often applied in the U.S., American regulators could have allowed companies to pump pollutants into the aquifer beneath Mexico City.
For example, in eastern Wyoming, an analysis showed that it would cost half a million dollars to construct a water well into deep, but high-quality aquifer reserves. That, plus an untested assumption that all the deep layers below it could only contain poor-quality water, led regulators to allow a uranium mine to inject more than 200,000 gallons of toxic and radioactive waste every day into the underground reservoirs.
But south of the border, worsening water shortages have forced authorities to look ever deeper for drinking water.
Today in Mexico City, the world's third-largest metropolis, the depletion of shallow reservoirs is causing the ground to sink in, iconic buildings to teeter, and underground infrastructure to crumble. The discovery of the previously unmapped deep reservoir could mean that water won't have to be rationed or piped into Mexico City from hundreds of miles away.
According to the Times report, Mexican authorities have already drilled an exploratory well into the aquifer and are working to determine the exact size of the reservoir. They are prepared to spend as much as $40 million to pump and treat the deeper water, which they say could supply some of Mexico City's 20 million people for as long as a century.
Scientists point to what's happening in Mexico City as a harbinger of a world in which people will pay more and dig deeper to tap reserves of the one natural resource human beings simply cannot survive without.
"Around the world people are increasingly doing things that 50 years ago nobody would have said they'd do," said Mike Wireman, a hydrogeologist with the EPA who also works with the World Bank on global water supply issues.
Wireman points to new research in Europe finding water reservoirs several miles beneath the surface — far deeper than even the aquifer beneath Mexico City — and says U.S. policy has been slow to adapt to this new understanding.
"Depth in and of itself does not guarantee anything — it does not guarantee you won't use it in the future, and it does not guarantee that that it is not" a source of drinking water, he said.
If Mexico City's search for water seems extreme, it is not unusual. In aquifers Denver relies on, drinking water levels have dropped more than 300 feet. Texas rationed some water use last summer in the midst of a record-breaking drought. And Nevada — realizing that the water levels in one of the nation's largest reservoirs may soon drop below the intake pipes — is building a drain hole to sap every last drop from the bottom.
"Water is limited, so they are really hustling to find other types of water," said Mark Williams, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "It's kind of a grim future, there's no two ways about it."
In a parched world, Mexico City is sending a message: Deep, unknown potential sources of drinking water matter, and the U.S. pollutes them at its peril.