In the USA...
February 12, 2013Obama Pledges Push to Lift Economy for Middle Class
By MARK LANDLER
WASHINGTON — President Obama, seeking to put the prosperity and promise of the middle class at the heart of his second-term agenda, called on Congress on Tuesday night to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, saying that would lift millions out of poverty and energize the economy.
In an assertive State of the Union address that fleshed out the populist themes of his inauguration speech, Mr. Obama declared it was “our generation’s task” to “reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class.”
“Every day,” he said, “we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills to get those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”
The increase in the minimum wage, from $7.25 an hour now, was the most tangible of a raft of initiatives laid out by the president, from education and energy to public works projects. Taken together, Mr. Obama said, these investments would accelerate the nation’s recovery by helping those in the broad middle class.
Raising the minimum wage holds particular political appeal for younger Americans, struggling workers and labor groups, all of which were important to Mr. Obama’s re-election. His proposal drew one of the loudest ovations of the evening from Democrats in the House chamber.
Speaking to a divided Congress, with many Republicans still smarting from his November victory, Mr. Obama declared, “Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”
He urged lawmakers to act on immigration, climate change, budget negotiations, and, above all, on gun violence, delivering an emotional appeal for stricter controls that drew on recent tragedies like the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn.
“They deserve a vote,” Mr. Obama declared over and over, gesturing to victims of various shootings, who were scattered through the audience.
Mr. Obama took the podium after a rousing welcome from lawmakers and other dignitaries. But millions of TV viewers, not to mention people glancing at their smartphones inside the chamber, were distracted by a manhunt across the country, where the police in California were tracking a suspect in the killing of officers and others.
News coverage concentrated on the search almost up to the point the president entered the chamber, and immediately after he finished, networks cut away to continue reporting on the events in California.
Republicans quickly rejected Mr. Obama’s activist approach, saying it would inevitably translate into higher taxes and an overweening government role, strangling economic growth and deepening the nation’s fiscal hole.
Still, in selecting Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American from Florida, to deliver their party’s official rebuttal, Republicans implicitly acknowledged the damage they had suffered at the polls from their hard line stance on immigration. Mr. Rubio, one of the party’s rising stars, favors overhauling immigration laws.
On Tuesday, he complained that Mr. Obama’s “solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more, and spend more.”
In a speech dominated by domestic issues, Mr. Obama admonished North Korea a day after it tested a nuclear weapon. He warned the country’s reclusive government that it faced further isolation, swift retaliation and a United States bent on improving its own missile defense systems.
As new threats erupted, however, old threats were receding, Mr. Obama said. He announced, for example, that 34,000 troops would return home from Afghanistan by this time next year. That withdrawal, representing slightly more than half the current American force, underlined his resolve to quickly wind down the second war of his presidency.
Mr. Obama did not match the lofty tone of his inauguration speech, but the address was clearly intended to be its workmanlike companion. In place of his ringing call for a more equitable society was a package of proposals that constitute a blueprint for the remainder of his presidency. Some would require legislation; others merely an executive order.
Among the proposals was a $1 billion investment to create 15 institutes to develop new manufacturing technologies, building on the success of a pilot project in Youngstown, Ohio. He said he would use oil and gas royalties from federal lands to pay for research in clean energy technology that would wean cars and trucks off oil.
Mr. Obama pledged to work with states to provide high-quality preschool to every child in America. And he recycled a proposal to help homeowners refinance their mortgages.
None of these proposals, Mr. Obama said, would add to the deficit, since they were consistent with the budget deal of 18 months ago. “It’s not a bigger government we need,” he said, “but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
Mr. Obama also signaled, however, that the era of single-minded deficit-cutting should end. He noted that the recent agreements on taxes and spending reduced the deficit by $2.5 trillion, more than halfway toward the $4 trillion in reductions that economists say would put the nation’s finances on a sustainable course.
Mr. Obama spoke darkly of the consequences of a failure to reach a budget deal, which would set off automatic spending cuts on the military and other programs. “These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness,” he said.
On climate change, Mr. Obama endorsed the cap-and-trade legislation once championed by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, but long stalled in Congress. Though the president said he would not hesitate to use executive orders to push his own measures to reduce carbon emissions, he did not give any details.
In another sign of the election’s lingering shadow, Mr. Obama was creating a bipartisan commission to investigate voting irregularities that led to long lines at polling sites in November. Studies indicate that these lines cost Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes. The commission will be led by the chief counsel of the Obama presidential campaign, Robert Bauer, and a legal adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign, Ben Ginsberg.
On trade policy, the president said that the United States and the European Union were ready to begin negotiations on a comprehensive trade treaty. That came after a report submitted earlier in the day concluded that the gaps between the two sides were narrow enough to put a deal within reach.
The most impassioned parts of the speech echoed those that Mr. Obama delivered on the west front of the Capitol three weeks ago.
“It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country,” he said. “The idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”
“It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few,” he continued. “That it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”
Children loomed large on Tuesday night. In addition to a teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary School, the guests included the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old high school student whose shooting death in Chicago has become an emblem of the grim toll of gun violence.
“She was 15 years old,” Mr. Obama said of Ms. Pendleton, in words that briefly transcended the political bromides and policy prescriptions of these speeches. “She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend.”
Click to watch the whole speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jqWrotmhEo
and then this stupefying 'response' by the Republican Senator Rubio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSs_VvBSQuU
February 13, 2013In an Age of Spending Cuts, Making the Case for Government
By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
WASHINGTON — Thirty-two years after President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that “government is the problem” and 17 years after President Bill Clinton offered a surrender of sorts on that issue by stating that the “era of big government is over,” President Obama made a case Tuesday night for closing out the politics of austerity.
In a State of the Union address largely focused on economic themes, he asserted that “we can’t just cut our way to prosperity” and suggested that it is time for a more balanced approach, including accepting that government has a vital role to play in ensuring economic growth and a secure middle class.
“Most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda,” Mr. Obama said. “But let’s be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.”
In setting out how government could reach what he considers an acceptable level of fiscal stability through Medicare cuts and tax increases, Mr. Obama was doing more than trying to set the terms for the next, fast-approaching rounds in his fiscal cage match with Congressional Republicans. He was also building a broader argument that the nation needs to shift away from the focus on shrinking the government that has dominated politics for the past several years and toward a modestly more activist agenda aimed at tackling persistent inequality and the dislocating forces of a globalized, technology-driven economy.
At the same time, Mr. Obama explicitly recognized the political and policy limitations of his stance after four years of budget deficits in excess of $1 trillion and broad public unease about saddling future generations with a crippling debt burden. There was no new stimulus plan, no mission to Mars, no ambitious plan to address the hangover from the housing market crash.
“Let me repeat: Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime,” he said. “It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
The president’s nod toward bipartisanship and his willingness to put entitlement programs on the table as he works on the budget with Congress were unlikely to head off harsh Republican criticism. Even before the speech, Republicans were mocking his “single dime” line and said he was failing to do enough to bring down a national debt that threatens to reach dangerous levels in coming decades. In the Republican response, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida referred to “the president’s plan to grow our government.”
But by filling in the details of the philosophical framework he set out last month in his second inaugural address, Mr. Obama made clear that after his re-election in November, he does not intend to allow a relentless Republican drive for spending cuts to define his second term. And in laying out his agenda, he continued trying to define a 21st-century version of liberalism that could outlast his time in office and do for Democrats what Reagan did for Republicans.
Mr. Obama has already shown a more emboldened approach to his second term.
The use of executive authority to begin addressing global warming in a more aggressive way would be a turning point in dealing with a potentially existential problem. Winning passage of an immigration bill and even modest new gun control measures would amount to breakthroughs, largely on Democratic terms, in a polarized capital; his call to “make what difference we can” on gun control was one of the most impassioned of his address.
But Mr. Obama has always looked admiringly at Reagan’s success in shifting the nation’s ideological center of gravity in an enduring way that transcended the issues of the moment. While no fan of Reagan’s policies, he credited him during the 2008 campaign with changing “the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way Bill Clinton did not.”
To achieve that level of influence before he leaves the White House will require not only that he enact an ambitious legislative agenda in the next year or two but also that he provide — and sell to voters beyond his base — a compelling alternative to the conservative mantra that nearly all problems can be traced back to excess government.
He has been honing that argument for years, asserting that America’s success was built as much on common effort as an individual initiative, a theme that recurred through his 2012 re-election campaign and surfaced again on Tuesday night.
“The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem,” Mr. Obama said, but they also know that “America moves forward only when we do so together, and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”
Unlike Reagan, Mr. Obama is no hero to his own party’s more ideological warriors, who still see him as timid and disturbingly centrist. And in fact, if his liberalism can be characterized by any one element, it is his willingness to acknowledge and absorb into his own worldview some of the very underpinnings of the modern conservative movement.
His more extreme conservative critics notwithstanding, Mr. Obama has a healthy respect and admiration for markets and economic growth as often the most powerful forces for good. He has long put personal responsibility at the core of efforts to address socioeconomic issues.
He has adopted ideas, like the individual mandate at the heart of his health insurance overhaul, that originated among conservative thinkers. He has sought to impose greater accountability on teachers and schools for the quality of education; on Tuesday night he announced that the federal government would begin issuing scorecards for colleges assessing educational value relative to cost.
“In his somewhat incremental way, I do think Obama is redefining liberalism and relocating the center of American politics well to the left of where it’s been since Ronald Reagan’s time,” said Michael Tomasky, the editor of Democracy and a leading liberal thinker.
“It’s his instinct not to be an ideological warrior but to be an ideological mediator,” Mr. Tomasky said. “And yet, in performing those acts of ideological mediation I think he’s renewed liberalism and made it more acceptable to people who might have rejected it.”
It is not clear whether Mr. Obama’s effort to broaden and deepen his party’s appeal will succeed in a more enduring way than a similar effort, built around similar themes of middle-class security, by the last Democratic president, Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Clinton presided over a booming economy and he balanced the budget. But Clinton-ism, at least by Mr. Obama’s own assessment in 2008, proved not to be transformative. Whether Obama-ism does any better in the long run will be judged in part on his success in changing the austerity narrative along the lines he set out Tuesday night.
February 13, 2013Raising Minimum Wage Would Ease Income Gap but Carries Political Risks
By ANNIE LOWREY
WASHINGTON — President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25 and to automatically adjust it with inflation, a move aimed at increasing the earnings of millions of cooks, janitors, aides to the elderly and other low-wage workers.
The proposal directly addresses the country’s yawning levels of income inequality, which the White House has tried to reduce with targeted tax credits, a major expansion of health insurance, education and other proposals. But it is sure to be politically divisive, especially given the weakness of the recovery and the continued high levels of joblessness.
The proposal would see the federal floor on hourly wages reach $9 in stages by the end of 2015. Tying the minimum wage to inflation would allow it to rise along with the cost of living. If enacted, the measure would boost the wages of about 15 million low-income workers, the White House estimated. The $9 minimum wage would be the highest in more than three decades, accounting for inflation, but still lower than the peaks reached in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong,” Mr. Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. “Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.”
The White House said that the move would have profoundly positive effects for low-income families without unduly burdening businesses or raising the unemployment rate. It cited research showing “no detectable employment losses from the kind of minimum wage increases we have seen in the United States.” The White House also pointed to companies like Costco, the retail discount chain, and Stride Rite, a children’s shoe seller, that have previously supported increasing the minimum wage as a way to reduce employee turnover and improve workers’ productivity.
But the move would almost certainly face stiff opposition. Many companies that hire low-wage workers — both small businesses and large businesses — have in the past vociferously opposed raising the minimum wage, as it increases their cost of business. By making employees more expensive for companies to hire, some economists argue that higher minimum wages increase the unemployment rate — a particularly toxic possibility given the high levels of joblessness that remain long after the recession has ended.
Moreover, some economists, like David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine, have even argued that minimum wages are counterproductive at reducing poverty.
On top of that, conservatives have often argued that higher minimum wages burden job creators, especially during times when the economy is weak. House Speaker John A. Boehner voted against a 2006 bill letting the minimum wage rise to its current level of $7.25 from $5.15. The legislation ultimately passed with bipartisan support in 2007, though many Republicans voted against it.
But many centrist, labor and liberal groups have pushed for higher minimum wages, and left-of-center research groups praised Mr. Obama’s new push on Tuesday evening.
“The president said he was putting jobs and the economy front and center tonight, and that’s exactly what he did by calling for a minimum wage increase,” Christine Owens, the executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement. “A higher minimum wage is key to getting the economy back on track for working people and the middle class. The president’s remarks also cement the growing consensus on the left and right that one of the best ways to get the economy going again is to put money in the pockets of people who work.”
Many state and local government set their own minimum wages above the federal floor. Currently Washington is the only state that sets a minimum wage above $9 an hour, but several states exceed the current rate of $7.25.
The White House said that the $1.75 increase in the minimum wage would be enough to offset roughly 10 to 20 percent of the increase in income inequality since 1980. According to data compiled by the economists Thomas Piketty, at the Paris School of Economics, and Emmanuel Saez, at the University of California, Berkeley, inequality has worsened considerably during that time, and many metrics show that wages have stagnated or declined for millions of working families. The income share of the top 1 percent of earners has doubled, to 20 percent in 2011 from 10 percent in 1980. Between 1980 and 2008, according to analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, the top 10 percent of earners captured 98 percent of all income gains.
The proposal is one of several that the White House has put forward to tackle that inequality. In the speech, Mr. Obama also proposed expanding early childhood education programs — another path that experts say can tackle inequality by leveling the playing field and increasing mobility among children from low-income families. “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime,” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.”
In his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama proposed lifting the minimum wage yet higher, to $9.50. Under the current proposal, the White House said that a family earning $20,000 to $30,000 would see an additional $3,500 of income a year.
“This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families,” said Mr. Obama on Tuesday night. “It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank, rent or eviction, scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while C.E.O. pay has never been higher.”
***********Obama signs executive order to defend U.S. infrastructure from cyberattacks
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 23:57 EST
Warning that cyberattacks pose a danger to US security, President Barack Obama signed an executive order designed to better protect critical infrastructure from computer hackers.
Obama, in his annual State of the Union speech to a joint session of the US Congress, said the United States is facing a “rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks.”
“We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private email,” he said. “We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets.
“Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems,” Obama said.
“We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”
Obama said his executive order would “strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy.”
The president also urged Congress to pass legislation “to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.”
The executive order calls for voluntary reporting of threats to US infrastructure such as power grids, pipelines and water systems.
The directive, which follows two failed attempts in Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation, allows the government to lead an information-sharing network but stops short of making mandatory the reporting of cyber threats.
A senior administration official said the order does not preclude the need for legislation but gets a cybersecurity program started that can encourage sharing information that may be confidential or classified.
The order allows for “sharing of classified information in a way that protects that classified information but enables the broader use of it to protect our critical infrastructure,” the official said.
The White House move came despite criticism from some lawmakers that an executive order bypasses the legislative process.
White House officials pointed out that the measure would not apply to consumer-based services or information systems which do not meet the standard of “critical infrastructure.”
“It’s about protecting the systems and assets where an attack could have a debilitating impact on our national security,” one official said.
The officials sought to quell concerns the measure could lead to increased surveillance of citizens, and said it requires federal agencies “to carry out these tasks in a way that protects privacy and civil liberties.”
Legislation has stalled on cybersecurity amid opposition from a coalition of civil libertarians who fear it could allow too much government snooping and conservatives who said it would create a new bureaucracy.
US military officials have argued that legislation is needed to protect infrastructure critical to national defense, including power grids, water systems and industries ranging from transportation to communications.
Analyists at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center in Arlington, VA, September 24, 2010. Warning that cyberattacks pose a danger to US security, President Barack Obama signed an executive order designed to better protect critical infrastructure from computer hackers.
February 12, 2013Bitterly Divided Senate Panel Backs Hagel for Defense
By JEREMY W. PETERS
WASHINGTON — After a combative two-hour debate that tested the bounds of Senate collegiality, the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary on a sharply partisan vote.
The 14-to-11 vote to send the nomination to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation was the latest step in a process that has deepened festering hostilities between Congressional Republicans and the White House and has exposed stark disagreements over wartime foreign policy.
After the vote, Republicans threatened to try to filibuster the nomination of Mr. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran whom some had worked with as a member of their own party, while Democrats were promising to force a vote of the full Senate as early as Wednesday night.
At times, the meeting slipped into an unusually accusatory and bitter back-and-forth, with Republicans like Ted Cruz, a freshman senator from Texas, going as far as to suggest that Mr. Hagel had accepted money from nations that oppose American interests.
Saying that he had serious doubts about the source of payments that Mr. Hagel had accepted for speaking engagements, Mr. Cruz declared, “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and other Democrats countered by saying that Republicans had unfairly questioned the integrity of both Mr. Hagel, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, and had undermined the work of the normally bipartisan committee itself.
“Senator Cruz has gone over the line,” Mr. Nelson said. “He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee.”
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is opposing his former colleague, also bristled at the attacks on Mr. Hagel, saying that “no one on this committee should at any time impugn his character or his integrity.”
Tension reached its height when Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the committee, said that those who had suggested that Mr. Hagel was “cozy” with terrorist states had a basis for their claims because Iran had expressed support for his nomination.
“He’s endorsed by them,” Mr. Inhofe said. “You can’t get any cozier than that.”
Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, gasped in disgust. “Senator Inhofe, be careful,” she later warned him. “What if some horrible organization said tomorrow that you were the best guy that they knew?”
Then, looking directly at Mr. Cruz, she insisted that the president should be free to choose his own cabinet.
“As much as some people in this room don’t like it,” she said, “he was elected president of the United States by the American people. And he has selected an honorable veteran, a Republican who has served our country in various capacities, including in this body.”
Blocking such a high-level presidential appointee is a rare move. Since 1917, when the Senate’s modern filibuster rules were created, a cabinet-level nominee has faced a supermajority barrier to confirmation only twice: Ronald Reagan’s nominee for commerce secretary in 1987, C. William Verity Jr., and George W. Bush’s nominee for interior secretary in 2006, Dirk Kempthorne.
Mr. Inhofe has vowed to use procedural tactics to slow the Senate’s consideration of Mr. Hagel, a step that would require 60 votes for confirmation instead of the usual simple majority of 51.
The tactic could prove mainly symbolic, however, because at least 60 senators, including some of those who voted against him on Tuesday, have indicated that they will allow his nomination to come to the Senate floor.
Even as Mr. Inhofe threatened to draw the process out, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, was preparing to hold a vote as early as Wednesday night. Still, Senate Democrats said that given the late timing of the committee vote, they did not expect Mr. Hagel’s nomination to reach the Senate floor until Thursday morning.
Mr. Hagel has faced opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike, drawing criticism over past remarks that were seen as anti-Jewish, anti-gay or insufficiently supportive of American foreign policy.
And a confirmation hearing performance that members of both parties said was uneven and underwhelming — at one point he misrepresented the Obama administration’s policy toward Iran as “containment” but later corrected himself to say it was preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — seemed to do him little good.
Mr. McCain said bluntly, “His performance before this committee was the worst that I have seen of any nominee for office.”
Criticism of Mr. Hagel from other quarters in the Senate has died down. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who initially expressed reservations, announced last month that he was reassured that Mr. Hagel did indeed support Israel despite derisive comments that the nominee once made about the “Jewish lobby.”
And Mr. McCain and other swing-vote Republicans like Senator Susan Collins of Maine came out against a filibuster last week.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the Republicans who objected the most vociferiously to Mr. Hagel’s nomination, told the committee on Tuesday that the nominee’s previous statements and positions on national security issues like sanctions on Iran, which he opposed, should disqualify him from the job.
“He’s in a league of his own, guys,” an animated Mr. Graham said. “I say dumb things every day. But it’s a series of things, a series of votes, an edge about him that makes many of us unnerved about his selection when the world is on fire.”
The meeting served as the latest example of the deep partisan rift that has left the Senate dysfunctional and, at times, inoperative in carrying out some of its most basic functions like voting on presidential nominees. In the case of Mr. Hagel, the clash has drawn greater notice because senators and former senators generally receive a warm reception before the Senate.
“I’m often asked what’s happened to the committee,” Mr. Graham said. “Nothing. We just disagree on occasion.”
As he concluded the meeting, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the chairman of the committee, remarked, “And we look forward to another wonderful year together.”
The room rumbled with laughter.
February 12, 2013Gun Debate on Capitol Hill Turns to Constitutional Issues
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
WASHINGTON — The discussion on Capitol Hill over proposed new gun legislation turned on Tuesday to the underlying constitutional issues around which the entire debate pivots.
Scores of families whose loved ones were killed by gun violence — including some parents of children from Newtown, Conn., the site of a mass school shooting in December — packed a hearing room here where legal scholars, lawyers, gun rights advocates and others testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights about the constitutionality of various proposals now being mulled by Congress, including the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban.
“Some say that all we should do is enforce the laws on the books,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the subcommittee’s chairman. The senator citied various measures under consideration, including universal background checks for gun sales, enhanced tools to stem the straw purchasing of guns, an assault weapons ban and limits on the capacity of some ammunition magazines.
“All of these proposals are common sense,” he said. “All of them have strong support among the American public. And all of them are clearly consistent with the Constitution and the Second Amendment.”
Lawmakers tangled over the 2008 Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the District of Columbia’s strict gun-control law, particularly the majority opinion that found gun rights “not unlimited.”
The interpretation fell along party lines. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, summed up the position of other Republicans in his opening remarks.
“In my view the divide on this issue is fairly straightforward,” Mr. Cruz said.
“The focus should be on criminals” and enhancing prosecutor’s tools, he said, including possibly adding a new federal statute against straw purchasing, in which people buy firearms for those who are prohibited from doing so; Mr. Cruz called such a statute an idea with “potential bipartisan” support.
“At the same time,” he said, “we should continue to respect and protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Timothy J. Heaphy, the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia, was repeatedly questioned on the efficacy of current gun laws. When asked to weigh in on an assault weapons ban — which many gun rights advocates believe violates the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling because it bans, rather than limits, a specific category of firearms — he said he believed it passed the constitutional test.
While the topics of the hearing varied from proposed legislation on mental health services in schools to the wisdom of carrying a gun in restaurants, much attention focused on the one area upon which there is an increasing bipartisan consensus: enhanced and increased background checks for gun buyers. Patching holes in the existing laws is “our best opportunity to keep firearms out of dangerous hands,” Mr. Heaphy said.
Some Republicans expressed concerns about the wisdom of such enhanced laws. At one point Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed deeply miffed that he might have to undergo a background check to buy a gun from Senator John Cornyn of Texas to improve his hunting outcomes.
Others wondered about how effective such laws would be. “Some on our side wonder why raise all this fuss about background checks,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, noting that most criminals buy guns illegally.
But the enduring potential of new background checks was underscored by submitted testimony from Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who emphasized the “need to close existing loopholes that allow criminals to avoid the common-sense requirement that gun sales should be performed with a background check,” and made some references to violent video games, but was silent on an assault weapon ban.
Next to the hearing, dozens of people affected by gun violence gathered in the afternoon in the Capitol basement in a room named for Gabriel Zimmerman, a Congressional staffer killed in Tuscon in 2011 when a gunman opened fire on Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Mr. Zimmerman’s mother, Emily Nottingham, was one of several who called on Congress to reform the country’s gun safety laws. In an emotional plea, she recalled how her son had loved and admired the political process.
“But he was not naïve — he knew government processes are long,” she said. “Please don’t let us down.”
February 13, 2013 09:00 AMStudy: Kochs Tried To Start 'Grassroots' Tea Party In 2002
By Susie Madrak
Here's a screenshot, below, of the archived U.S. Tea Party site, as it appeared online on Sept. 13, 2002.
Send this one to your teabagger relatives and watch their heads explode:
A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene.
Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry's role in driving climate disruption.
The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party's anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke.Published in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Tobacco Control, the study titled, 'To quarterback behind the scenes, third party efforts': the tobacco industry and the Tea Party, is not just an historical account of activities in a bygone era. As senior author, Stanton Glantz, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) professor of medicine, writes:
"Nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party have longstanding ties to tobacco companies, and continue to advocate on behalf of the tobacco industry's anti-tax, anti-regulation agenda."
The two main organizations identified in the UCSF Quarterback study are Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Both groups are now "supporting the tobacco companies' political agenda by mobilizing local Tea Party opposition to tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws."
Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity were once a single organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was founded in 1984 by the infamous Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch, and received over $5.3 million from tobacco companies, mainly Philip Morris, between 1991 and 2004.In 1990, Tim Hyde, RJR Tobacco's head of national field operations, in an eerily similar description of the Tea Party today, explained why groups like CSE were important to the tobacco industry's fight against government regulation. Hyde wrote:
"... coalition building should proceed along two tracks: a) a grassroots organizational and largely local track,; b) and a national, intellectual track within the DC-New York corridor. Ultimately, we are talking about a "movement," a national effort to change the way people think about government's (and big business) role in our lives. Any such effort requires an intellectual foundation - a set of theoretical and ideological arguments on its behalf."
The common public understanding of the origins of the Tea Party is that it is a popular grassroots uprising that began with anti-tax protests in 2009.However, the Quarterback study reveals that in 2002, the Kochs and tobacco-backed CSE designed and made public the first Tea Party Movement website under the web address www.usteaparty.com