Monday, December 31, 2012

10 of 12: Your Picks

This year, I wanted to do something different. So today, I wanted to note the stories you couldn't get enough of. Here are the top 5 most viewed stories of 2012.

5. "Sando Sez 'No Health Care for You!'"- June 29, 2012

This was when Governor Sandoval hinted that he may not agree to the Medicaid expansion provision of the Affordable Care Act. Now, however, he's said he will allow it... But wants to institute a co-pay?! This story will probably have at least a few more up's & down's in 2013.

4. "What John Lewis Said"- September 6, 2012

During the Democratic National Convention, civil rights icon and Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) warned the audience about the ongoing threat of voter suppression done in the name of "needing ID".

3. "Why 'Tea Party' Abandoned Its Own Rally"- July 19, 2012

In July, AFP attempted to throw a "tea party" outside Shelley Berkley's Congressional office. Instead, progressive counter-protesters far outnumbered the AFP crowd. And in case that wasn't enough, police ordered AFP to move their bus because they had never obtained a permit to park there. This was the first in a series of high-profile embarrassments for AFP.

2. "Nevada Democrats Finish with 7.17% Voter Registration Lead"- October 19, 2012

After 7 months of intense voter registration statewide, Nevada Democrats managed to turn a slight and diminishing voter registration advantage into a rather dominant 7+% and 90,000+ raw vote lead. And so far, it looks like the folks at Valley View are determined not to let this slip away.

1. "Finding Elizabeth Halseth"- February 19, 2012

As discussed earlier, this was the story that shook up the trajectory of the race for #NVLeg this year. With one resignation over a salacious affair, Republicans lost their chance of retaking the State Senate.

And these were your top 5 stories of 2012.

Friday, December 28, 2012

10 of 12: Congress

Yesterday, we discussed the amazing developments in #NVLeg this year. Today, it's time to jump up to the federal level and take a look at Congress.

Actually, the story of #nvhouse 2012 began in 2011 when redistricting was very much up in the air. And with a new "ungerrymandered" map being approved by the courts, the playing field was suddenly scrambled as politicians on both sides had to play a round of "Musical Chairs" to see where they'd land.

Meanwhile in the current session of Congress, all sorts of crazy emerged, particularly from the G-O-TEA run House. For one, the "War on Women" raged on as the radical right demanded more prodding into women's private lives. In addition, there were multiple attempts at repealing "Obamacare" and take health care away from millions of Americans. Oh, and while Nevada and other states were busy pursuing more renewable energy and green jobs, Congress was fighting over a recipe for economic and environmental disaster. And they never managed to address the "job creation" they promised to deliver (in 2010). And both Dean Heller & Joe Heck were at the center of all of this.

So this year, voters had a(nother) chance to have their say on all of this. In addition, some Nevada voters had the opportunity to chime in on the new NV-04 Congressional seat. And oh my, what a race that was. Danny Tarkanian tried yet again to land a steady paycheck with a solid pension a high elected office, and this time he attempted to do so by banking on his famous last name acting as a chameleon... And by smearing Steven Horsford. Yet despite Baby Tark's desperate attacks (aided by a last minute push by the likes of AFP), Horsford ultimately managed to win NV-04 and do so by a more comfortable margin than most everyone had expected.

Yet in the end, both Heller & Heck got lucky. With just enough "down-ballot drop-off", they managed to survive... Though Heller only did by the skin of his teeth and with less than 50%. But already, both of them are facing a major dilemma as the new Congress is about to begin. With President Obama reelected to a second term (with the help of Nevada) and the "Fiscal Cliff" fast approaching, will they let their party leaders cut a budget deal with Obama and Harry Reid? Or will they (again) cast their lot with "tea party" extremists by voting to push America "Off the Cliff" and into recession?

The story of the 2012 election cycle may be over, but the cast of characters here are destined to make waves again as the 113th Congress is about to begin.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Last week, we were wondering if we could completely avoid "The Fiscal Cliff". Earlier today, news broke that the House will reconvene on Sunday. So is a deal finally in the works?

Not so fast. Even as the House returns, Speaker John Boehner (R-Agent Orange) still can't really get it together. Basically, he's now throwing a temper tantrum and demanding that Harry Reid provide him a "political bailout". And if you're still wondering why this is, read what Steve Kornacki posted this morning.

The twist in the Obama-era is that some of the conservative backlash has been directed inward. This is because the right needed a way to explain how a far-left anti-American ideologue like Obama could have won 53 percent of the popular vote and 365 electoral votes in 2008. What they settled on was an indictment of George W. Bush’s big government conservatism; the idea, basically, was that Bush had given their movement a bad name with his big spending and massive deficits, angering the masses and rendering them vulnerable to Obama’s deceptive charms. And the problem hadn’t just been Bush – it had been every Republican in office who’d abided his expansion of government, his deals with Democrats, his Wall Street bailout and all the rest.

Thus did the Tea Party movement represent a two-front war – one a conventional one against the Democratic president, and the other a new one against any “impure” Republicans. Besides a far-right ideology, the trait shared by most of the Tea Party candidates who have won high-profile primaries these past few years has been distance from what is perceived as the GOP establishment. Whether they identify with the Tea Party or not, conservative leaders, activists and voters have placed a real premium on ideological rigidity and outsider status; there’s no bigger sin than going to Washington and giving ground, even just an inch, to the Democrats. [...]

This is exactly what the Tea Party mindset produces. For one thing, the House GOP conference (and to a lesser extent, the Senate GOP) contains no shortage of Tea Party true-believers – men and women who embody the spirit of the movement and have no qualms about going to war with party leadership if they believe their principles are at risk. And they are backed by a conservative information complex – media outlets and personalities, commentators, activists and interest group leaders – ready to cast them as heroes in any fight with “the establishment.”

All of this is more than enough to instill real fear in Republicans on Capitol Hill who aren’t true believers – but who do like their jobs and want to keep them. McConnell falls in this category. Boehner evidently does too. And so do many, many other Republicans who don’t want to look back and regret the day they cast a vote that ended their careers. The fact that the Tea Party, as a literal entity, seems to be dying is actually a sign of how successful it’s been. Its spirit now rules the Republican Party.

Long story short: Boehner wants to keep his gavel. And he fears any "unsavory deal-making" with Democrats will lead to his political demise. Yet if he lets America fall off "The Fiscal Cliff", he may still face political demise. So right now, he wants some kind of "Deus ex machina" to swoop in and save him.

And right now, rational Americans just want to avoid an unnecessary "double-dip recession". So will there be a deal? That may very well depend on whether Harry Reid (or really anyone, for that matter) can convince John Boehner that it's best for everyone that he avoids "cliff diving" at any and all costs. But so far, it looks like Boehner is putting petty politics above any kind of necessary policy solution.

10 of 12: All About #NVLeg

Early in the year, we were wondering just how relevant the Legislature will be in the future. With ideological rigidity and polarization at an all-time high, can any kind of major tax reform get through Carson City? And will the rise of "ballot box budgeting" change Nevadans' relationship with their representatives in state government?

Oh, what a year we lived!

In the space of 72 hours in the third week of February, the entire "conventional wisdom" of Carson City was turned on its head. Early on, the biggest assumption was that Republicans had the inside track to retake the State Senate, especially considering the early retirements of Clark County Democrats Shirley Breeden (SD 5) and Alison Copening (SD 6). However in that third week of February, the entire calculus of the campaign for the upper house of the Nevada Legislature changed with the entry of Sheila Leslie into the SD 15 race in Washoe County and the sudden resignation of Elizabeth Halseth in SD 9 in Clark County. At first, the Halseth story seemed like such a tawdry case of "dirty laundry" being aired out in public...

Obviously, Elizabeth Halseth is leaving behind a messy personal life that Senate Republicans are trying to quietly sweep under the rug. And while I typically don't like probing into politicians' personal lives, I feel obligated to talk about something that hardly anyone else (with the notable exception of Chuck Muth) is willing to discuss.

In 2010, Elizabeth Halseth became a State Senator thanks to attacking others' personal lives. Her campaign attacked Dennis Nolan over being called to testify at someone else's criminal trial. And after the Republican primary, she then attacked Benny Yerushalmi in the general election over ridiculous material like his wife's outfits! So considering this context, I've come to accept that it's perfectly appropriate to note Halseth's total hypocrisy on making other's private lives public... Before she flees over her own private life.

And not only that, but Halseth is now using her private life as an excuse not to fulfill her public duties. Why won't she show up at interim committee hearings any more? Why won't she answer constituent emails? And why has her cell phone been shut off? Hello, Elizabeth Halseth is still listed as a Nevada State Senator for the 9th District! She has an obligation to her constituents to finish the job she was elected to do. And for Michael Roberson to try to shut down questions on her whereabouts just because of his own political ambition is downright reprehensible. He may be afraid of losing his shot at becoming Majority Leader, but fulfilling one's public duties should always come above fueling someone else's political ambition.

Is it really that hard for Roberson to ask Daniel Halseth and Tiger Helgelien if they know where Elizabeth Halseth, his fellow Senator, is? And is it really that hard for him to ask her to either fulfill her duties or prepare to resign?

Apparently, it was... But that didn't really matter, since she ultimately decided to resign. And since SD 9 was made much more Democratic in redistricting, that meant a GOP held seat was suddenly put into play. And that led to the ultimate "game change" moment.

This is why [Senate Republican Leader Michael] Roberson is so scared now. And this is why the "big bid'ness" establishment will be forking out big checks to the likes of Greg Brower and Steve Kirk (a GOP candidate in SD 5). Again, as we've been saying here for a while (and Jon Ralston has admitted on Twitter), Republican hopes of flipping the Senate have diminished greatly in the last 100 hours. However, they still intend to go all in for the #NVLeg campaign just for the sake of saving enough seats to obstruct any kind of progressive agenda in the 77th session.

So perhaps more so than ever before, the Legislature campaigns of 2012 will really matter. If one wants to fix the broken and outdated tax structure straight out of the 19th century, fully fund public education, improve our state's health care system, rebuild the rest of our state's public infrastructure, and properly invest in the kind of job creation that will benefit our economy for many generations to come, the choice will be crystal clear. And thanks to both redistricting last year and the major developments of the past week, we may actually have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to change the dynamics of Carson City for the better. So remember not to "stop at the top"... Keep going down that ballot and vote for progress.

And they did this cycle. In fact, they mattered so much that "Tea Party, Inc." giant AFP risked legal action in order to strengthen Republicans' hand in the Legislature. But between AFP missteps, ongoing Nevada Republican infighting, and the strength of Nevada Democrats' ground game, they couldn't save Nevada Republicans in Carson City.

While many challenges remain for Nevada progressives, new opportunities are emerging. As discussed earlier, issues like gun safety and LGBTQ equality are bound to make a huge splash in Carson City in 2013. In addition, there's renewed hope for humane immigrant rights proposals and other progressive policy priorities.

Of course, the biggest challenge for 2012 remains "The T Word". But even there, there's been some progress. There's been convergence around extending the 2009/11 "Sunset Tax" deal. It just remains to be seen what else happens on the taxation front.

I guess we'll all have to stay tuned in 2013...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

10 of 12: Call It Marriage?

I quite vividly remember the morning of May 9. I was on a plane from Las Vegas to Long Beach. And jeez, while I was on the plane this news broke.

8 News NOW

And that was actually just the start.

At Southern Nevada Stonewall last night, soon to be State Senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) made more news by announcing plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to repeal Question 2. If it's passed by the next two consecutive sessions of the Legislature, then it can go to the voters for approval in 2016. State Senator David Parks (D-Paradise) also noted that marriage equality may come to The Silver State even sooner if Lambda Legal's federal law suit challenging Question 2 succeeds. Even our US Senator, Harry Reid (D), is evolving.

It's really amazing to see how we've progressed as a country... And as a state. Just twenty years ago, an anti-sodomy law targeting LGBTQ citizens were still on the books. (It was repealed in 1993.) Just three years ago, SB 283 domestic partnerships were on the verge of becoming law. Just last year, AB 211 transgender inclusive ENDA became law. And now, Nevada is closer than ever before to fully stepping into the 21st century. Oh, the places we'll go.

And it didn't even stop there. As mentioned above, Lambda Legal filed a federal law suit (Sevcik v. Sandoval) challenging Nevada's Question 2 marriage ban. And even though the district court judge ruled against marriage, Lambda Legal already has plans to appeal. And with Prop 8 & DOMA now officially in The US Supreme Court's docket for next spring, there's now a strong chance of at least a favorable precedent being set in the nation's highest court (if The Court issues a narrow Prop 8 ruling just striking down California's marriage ban, yet nonetheless ruling in favor or equality)... And perhaps even a chance of The Supreme Court bringing marriage equality to Nevada next year (if The Court issues a broad Prop 8 ruling striking down all marriage bans).

However, not all the action will be in court. As also mentioned above, the Nevada Legislature will likely consider placing a Constitutional Amendment to repeal Question 2 & enact marriage equality on the 2016 ballot. And in the mean time, a record number of Nevada elected officials (including Congressman-elect Steven Horsford, and outgoing Assembly Speaker & NV-03 candidate John Oceguera) fully embraced both Nevada's LGBTQ community and our issues. Even the number of open LGBTQ elected officials grew as 3 new state legislators were elected... With one of them specifically defeating a sitting anti-equality Democrat in the primary.

So 2012 has been a huge year for #nveq. And already, 2013 is starting to look like another big year with major federal law suits pending and proactive, pro-marriage legislation coming to Carson City. I, for one, can't wait to see what happens next here.

10 of 12: Aurora. Newtown. Guns. Violence. Change?

While gun violence has been a problem for this country for quite some time, the issue came to the forefront in 2012 in a rather bloody and tragic way. In July, shots were fired in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. 12 people died, and 58 were injured. They were watching the premiere of the new "Batman" film.

It was another horrific crime that "pushed the envelope" on violence in this country. And it made us ask...

It's become so easy in most parts of this country (Nevada included) to purchase not just guns, but the very assault weapons that are DESIGNED to kill masses of people. As we've discussed before, it's been easier to buy guns than to access affordable mental health care in most states. There's something seriously wrong with that. [...]

Frankly, I don't think we can afford to keep avoiding this subject. And I don't think it's fair to dismiss all gun safety advocates as "nanny state socialists who want to ban hunting". That's actually not what we're talking about.

Rather, we're asking how logical it is that instruments intended for mass murder are so readily available. And does it make sense that nearly anyone and everyone can access these instruments intended for mass murder? So when will we finally be allowed to have a rational discussion on improving gun safety?

Unfortunately, this would not be the last time. Just this month, the issue has come to the forefront after a slew of shootings.

That's what makes the series if events today even more tragic. 18 innocent children are dead, along with at least 8 adults. A small town in Connecticut has been devastated by horrific violence. And it really didn't have to happen. And if we want to prevent future tragedies like this one, then we must act. [...]

Even though we've heard plenty of people declare on the cable news channels that "now is not the time" to discuss better gun safety, we just can't do that. How many times have we heard this before when other incidents of mass gun violence occurred? How many more of these must we endure as a nation before we finally take action?

Just this past Tuesday, someone opened fire inside a mall in the Clackamas County suburbs of Portland, Oregon. Two people died, and many more were frightened just as they were doing their Holiday shopping. And then, less than 72 hours after that gruesome act of violence in Oregon, someone else opened fire in an elementary school in Connecticut. And Desert Beacon has a full list of even more mass shootings that occurred just this year. Again, this is truly disgusting. And both events should show us that we can no longer blithely ignore this growing problem of domestic terrorism carried out by easily accessible guns.

While today should be a day to allow those who lost loved ones to grieve, today should also be a day to ponder what happened... And address what's wrong with our gun policies.

And it didn't even stop there. Closer to home, shots were fired at Excalibur on the Las Vegas Strip mere hours after Newtown. And the following day, someone opened fire (but in this case, was stopped before anyone could be hurt) in an upscale mall in Orange County, California.

And it didn't even stop there. Last weekend, a gunman opened fire and shot dead 4 firefighters in New York City. And this gunman used the same assault rifle that Adam Lanza used when shooting dead 18 children and 8 adults in Newtown, Connecticut.

So there's actually been renewed discussion of better gun safety. Yet unlike previous occasions, this effort may be more sustained. I guess it's just too hard to forget the sight of 18 dead children in an elementary school.

So Harry Reid and other "pro-gun Democrats" suddenly had a change of heart. And President Obama became determined to push gun safety reform in the new Congress. Even here in Nevada, one brave legislator plans to introduce gun safety legislation (including a state assault weapons ban) in Carson City next session.

We'll have to see if this change is truly lasting. But so far, it looks like many people have been spurned to action after a tear of exceptional violence. And really, can we continue like this?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Can Harry Reid Fill House GOP "Leadership Void"?

Jeez. What else can I say now? We knew this was coming. And now, it's happened.

And House Speaker John Boehner (R-FAIL) has probably just achieved his greatest EPIC FAIL ever!

Even after larding up his Plan B bill with lots of goodies, John Boehner apparently couldn't get his Republican caucus to support it. So he's now pulled the bill and adjourned the House, promising only to return after Christmas "when needed."

This is truly an epic fail. Boehner couldn't even get a piece of obvious political theater passed. He's completely unable to control the lunatic wing of his own party. So what's next?

One possibility is that this makes falling off the fiscal cliff much more likely. If the loonies won't even vote for Plan B, what are the odds they'll vote for a compromise bill along the lines that President Obama has offered? A second possibility—and I honestly don't know how likely this is—is that Boehner now knows he can't get the tea partiers to vote for anything, so he'll give up on the idea of bringing them into the fold. Instead of trying to craft a bill that can get 218 Republican votes, he'll round up fifty or a hundred of the non-crazies and pass a compromise bill along with 150 Democrats. On this reading, today's failure actually makes a fiscal cliff compromise more likely.

So now, we don't even know if John Boehner will remain Speaker in the new Congress. And we're now wondering if "The Fiscal Cliff" can be averted... And if not, then what happens in that first week of the new year.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Here's what we know for sure. Boehner has effectively become politically neutered by scuttling negotiations with The White House, failing to advance his own tax plan (even as he larded it up with "tea party" wet dreams!), and losing the backing of his own party. President Obama will have to rethink his next steps in negotiations with Congress. Oh, and as we've been saying all along, the REAL power on the Congressional side now lies with Harry Reid.

“Everybody’s talked about Boehner and Obama cutting this deal, but Harry Reid’s the third man,” said Eric Herzik, a UNR political scientist. “And Reid’s advantage is, he can deliver votes.”

Reid and Boehner have been locked in a protracted arm-wrestling contest over fiscal policy for the past two years. For that entire duration, the crux of their policy war has been a dispute between the role of tax revenues versus spending cuts in enhancing economic solvency and deficit reduction.

But this week, that became a war within the Republican Party. [...]

“Reid’s strengthened because he doesn’t have to spend any political capital; this is just Obama and Boehner,” Herzik said. “Harry Reid can call a news conference and criticize folks, but has he had to do any heavy lifting so far? No ... he gets to enter the next round completely fresh.”

Again, as we've been saying all along, Harry Reid has the ultimate "Ace in the Hole" now. He is the only one on Capitol Hill who can round up votes. And with Boehner pushed aside, Obama and Reid can now bring in House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to round up enough Democrats in both chambers, along with however many rational Republicans left, to reach a final accord.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And now, accord is needed now more than ever before. All eyes will be on DC as we await a solution. Because if we go "Off the Cliff", the economic ramifications will not be pretty. Republicans threw America into what was supposed to be an "artificial crisis" by playing petty political games with America's full faith & credit. But now, Republican incompetence combined with pure teabagger insanity are turning this "artificial crisis" into a real one. And as they just walk away, they're forcing Obama & Reid to fill "the leadership void" and take action to save our economy.

Wow. What a week this has been. Happy Holidays?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"The T Word"... & The Tiny Box It's In

Even though some still don't want to talk about it in public, there's increasingly been more buzz behind the scenes and on center stage about "The T Word". And interestingly enough, public safety concerns have brought this issue back to the forefront. And Governor Brian Sandoval
is weighing in a somewhat surprising way.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said Wednesday he will support a quarter-cent sales tax increase in Clark County to pay for more police officers.

Sandoval cited Clark County voters’ approval in 2004 of a half-cent sales tax increase — only a quarter-cent has been enacted so far — for police.

“Given the importance of public safety to Clark County’s economy and to the citizens of our state’s most populated county, I plan to support the decision of voters of Clark County and sign this measure if it passes the 2013 Legislature,” Sandoval said in a statement provided at the request of the Sun.

Of course, he then had to declare yet again his aversion to "new taxes"... While simultaneously beefing up his "moderate" bona fides by declaring yet again his intention to extend the "Never Really Sunsetting Taxes".

He has, though, rallied Republican support for extending up to $620 million worth of state taxes to prevent cuts to education and health and human services that would otherwise expire in 2013. He said he would cut some business taxes in the budget proposal he will present to the Legislature in January.

Sandoval said earlier this month that raising taxes would hurt businesses as the state’s economy recovers.

Here's what confuses me. Sandoval keeps mouthing the G-O-TEA talking point that "raising taxes hurts the economy". Yet when push comes to shove, he wants to continue indefinitely the flawed policies of the 2009/2011 "Sunset Tax" deal while avoiding talk of real tax reform that can actually provide relief for working families (instead of the usual coddling of the 1% while hitting working families and small businesses the hardest). Oh, and apparently now it's OK to allow for another sales tax bump in Clark County to better fund Metro.

We all know what this is really about. Just read between the lines in Ray Hagar's blog entry from last week.

Sandoval and his moderate stances are in position to dominate this 2013 Legislature for two reasons:

Popularity is the first. There is no GOP hard-liner or Democrat tough enough to take him out in 2014. Secondly, Sandoval raised around $800,000 for GOP State Senate candidates. In the tit-for-tat of politics, some state senators owe him. [...]

Republican state senators who ran on the no-new-taxes platform along with Sandoval in 2010 —like caucus leader Michael Roberson of Henderson —have also moved to the middle.

Roberson is now advocating no cuts to education after talking like a hard-liner in past years. Roberson, plus Reno GOP Sens. Greg Brower and Ben Kieckhefer (another who ran as a tough conservative in 2010) are marching in lockstep with Sandoval, too..

“There is really no denying Sandoval’s popularity and I think other Republicans are trying to ride his coattails,” [NPRI's Geoffrey] Lawrence [oh so woefully had to admit]. “And as a result, they are afraid to go against him on any policy measure.”

Or in other words, what we found 9 months ago still stands. Sandoval and his Republican #NVLeg confidants are embracing just enough taxes to look "moderate" and "reasonable". But in allowing for a little this, a little that, and a whole lot of the same regressive status quo, they're hoping to quash any chances of real, comprehensive, progressive tax reform that may offend too many in "the gaming-mining-lobbying industrial complex".

So this is the box that progressive activists want to pull legislators out of. Are there enough people in Carson City who can think big enough to notice the solutions available outside the box? Or will we have to endure more of the same nonsensical status quo?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who's Afraid of Those NRA Checks?

Yesterday morning, we were wondering how far gun safety reform can go in Carson City. Today, we're being reminded of why this won't be easy. Note who's been playing in #NVLeg races since 2010.

The National Rifle Association spread around five figures to Nevada legislative candidates in 2010 and 2012, including to key Carson City players.

The NRA has given to about a third of the current crop and in a bipartisan fashion. The contributions, while not overwhelming, indicate that the gun lobby is interested in squelching legislation in Carson City. Its biggest contribution, not surprisingly, was to ex-state Sen. John Lee, who proposed that campus carry bill now being pushed by newly elected Assemblywoman Michele Fiore. It's worth keeping these donations in mind as lawmakers consider laws related to guns in 2013.

In looking at the NRA's contribution history, it becomes obvious that the NRA was almost as invested in a more Republican controlled Legislature as the rest of Tea Party, Inc. It gave to Michael Roberson and Don Gustavson in 2010, and to Mark Hutchison, Greg Brower, Steve Kirk, and Mari St. Martin in 2012. It also gave to several Republican Assembly candidates in both cycles.

Yet unlike the rest of Tea Party, Inc., the NRA has been much savvier in currying some bipartisan favor. Most notably, it gave $2,500 to John Lee earlier this year. However, the NRA has also given to Democrats David Parks, Debbie Smith, Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Eliot Anderson, Olivia Diaz, and others. Yikes.

This is why Senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) will have such an uphill battle in pursuing better gun safety standards. With so many Republicans AND Democrats so close to the NRA, will this get a fair shot?

Maybe. It especially might if a few "angry liberals" succeed in shaming the above mentioned Democrats who have accepted campaign contributions from the NRA in the past. Hey, if it seems to be working at the federal level, why can't progressives try shifting "The Overton Window" on gun safety here in Nevada?

Again, it won't be easy. And today, we're seeing even more reasons why. However, something has to change. And people have to start making noise in order to make the change possible. At least it now looks like a few brave souls have started making noise.

Doomed? Damned? Or Deal? (Federal Edition)

Late last week, it looked like a deal to avoid the "Fiscal Cliff" was near. Yesterday, a deal seemed so close that Beltway reporters could smell one from their offices. But today, it all looks to be falling apart.

Why? Come on, we all know why. But if you're actually still wondering why, I'll let Jonathan Chait explain.

But [House Speaker John] Boehner isn’t going to get a chance to make his plan work, because Republicans themselves have revolted against it. Heritage Action, the conservative “think tank,” is planning a public denunciation. It is being openly denounced by such luminaries as Marco Rubio and Jim Jordan. Robert Costa reports in National Review that the plan may be dead on arrival. "A lot of us don't trust Boehner right now," one House Republican tells The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

What’s amazing about this reaction is that Plan B is not really a legislative proposal but a tactical maneuver to increase Boehner’s leverage. That is to say, even if Republicans find it substantively objectionable, they have no reason to oppose it since it is not designed to take effect. They opposed it anyway and have made little effort to hide their opposition. If Boehner can’t rally his troops behind a negotiating ploy like this, there’s no chance he can get them to support an actual deal Obama would sign.

And the conservative revolt shows something important: Boehner does not have control over his own caucus. Obama is trying to cut a deal with Boehner, and he may succeed, but in all likelihood such a “success” would lead to a reprise of the 2011 negotiations, when House Republicans threw the deal back in Boehner’s face. Obama better be planning to negotiate something in January.

So Boehner actually thought his "Plan B" would automatically create/revive Democratic discord and singlehandedly shift both public opinion and the bulk of the "leverage" to House Republicans. Oh, snap. That just backfired on him.

And now, everyone in The Beltway is wondering what might come next. Well, whatever comes next will likely involve "Senator Badass".

“This isn’t going to be a situation where we’re going to vote on a particular provision in the bill, it’s going to be a framework to do something about the long-term security of this country,” Reid said when asked about Social Security. “I admire and appreciate very much the president showing the American people how reasonable he’s trying to be. Significant tax increases, significant cuts.”

Reid has not been in the negotiating room with Obama and Boehner, though he has been weighing in and keeping tabs on their progress through frequent contact with the White House and the speaker’s staff.

But his comments about the president’s bill, despite his stance on Social Security, are a sign of how much more closely coordinated the two powerful Democrats have become since the last time Obama and Boehner were holding private negotiations, during the debt ceiling debacle of mid-2011.

“My impression is that Reid is comfortable with Obama’s tough negotiating stance, is kept fully briefed by the White House and has opportunities to flag any components of a potential deal that he finds problematic in the Senate,” said Thomas Mann, a congressional expert with the Brookings Institution.

Signs Tuesday hinted that the process toward a fiscal cliff deal might now be shifting to the Senate.

Yesterday, it seemed like there was some distance between Harry Reid and President Obama because Obama's preliminary deal with Boehner included the very controversial "chained CPI" plan to cut the COLA (cost of living inflation adjustment) formula for Social Security benefits. That enraged many progressives, so much so that a new possibility was emerging, one of a "Fiscal Cliff" deal being shot down by the left.

Yet this week, Harry Reid has been pretty mum about this proposed deal. Now, we have a better idea as to why. He may have known all along that this deal is DOA ("dead on arrival") in the House, and that he may (again) have to cajole Senate Republicans into agreeing to cajole Boehner to allow enough House Republicans to vote for a final compromise. And perhaps Reid remembered how badly Republicans fumbled their last attempt at "budget hostage" in 2011, so he and Obama may now be waiting to see how much more radical right chaos they (and the entire country) must endure before they can get Senate Republican leaders behind a deal that most Democrats can live with.

So now, the $1,400,000,000,000 question is whether the nation will have to endure some "Fiscal Cliff-diving" next month. And right now, that's back to being a question with no definite answer. This is why Republicans, with all their "Plan B" nonsense, are back to Square 1: Do they really want to be blamed for a possible "double dip recession" and more pain being inflicted on working class families at the worst possible time? How Republican leaders on Capitol Hill answer that question will help us figure out the answer to our earlier question.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Art of the Deal?

Last time we checked in on the "Fiscal Cliff" situation, Republicans were wrangling with each other on whether to accept a deal. Today, if looks like a deal is near... Or is it? Ezra Klein noted all the major sticking points. And yes, one of them is in the Republican Party.

Boehner has moved to a $1 million threshold for the Bush tax cuts, and Obama has moved to $400,000, indicating that a deal is somewhere in between. That’s assuming, however, that Boehner will be able to keep his own caucus in line: More Republicans have called for the party to concede on marginal tax rates, but they’re still a minority in the party. Today, Boehner vowed to hold a House vote this week on a tax extension on a $1 million threshold. That could be a hardball negotiating tactic with the White House. But it could also be a litmus test of sorts for his own party’s willingness to accept any tax hike.

However, not all the angst is coming from the right. Many on the left are now expressing concern, and in some cases complete outrage, over a possible cut to Social Security benefits. Under a "chained CPI", retirees on Social Security would receive a smaller cost of living increase than the current formula to automatically take care of inflation.

Liberals are not happy with this concession to Republicans, calling it a “backdoor benefit cut.” The administration has tried to allay these concerns by promising to shield the impoverished elderly from harm. The White House hasn’t gone into details, but the top-line numbers indicate that Obama is backing a modified plan with less sweeping benefit cuts: Obama’s latest offers promises $130 billion in savings from chained CPI, which is significantly less than the $220 billion in savings that the Congressional Budget Office says would be achieved through a full-out transition to the new inflation index.

That suggests that Obama would protect some retirees, giving up some savings in the process. But Democrats will want to know exactly how low-income seniors are protected -- CBPP’s Jared Bernstein, for one, wants to make sure any deal exempts benefit changes to Supplementary Security Income, which goes to the elderly, blind and disabled. And it won’t necessarily be easy, policywise, to protect the elderly against cuts, as Mike Konczal argues. At the same time, Republicans could push Obama to squeeze even more savings out of Social Security than he’s currently offering: House Speaker John Boehner’s original proposal contained $200 billion in chained CPI savings.

So now, a deal is in the works... But it may never even get off the ground because both sides hate it so much. Even Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), a close White House ally, said today he and the bulk of his Senate Democratic colleagues won't accept any Social Security benefit cuts by any name.

In an interview with me this morning, Senator Dick Durbin, a top ally of the White House, told me he opposes including Chained CPI for Social Security in the final deal. He said it would be difficult for Democrats to support Chained CPI for Social Security if it ended up in the deal, though he said it was premature to say anything definitive about how they would vote.

“We ought to deal with Social Security in a separate conversation that is not part of deficit reduction,” Durbin told me. “To do it at this stage is the wrong way to go.” [...]

Pressed on why the White House is backing this, given that it’s bad policy, Durbin blamed Republicans, saying they were insisting on including it in a final deal. “The president is trying to get to an agreement, and I understand that,” Durbin said. “Boehner has been adamant that he wants Chained CPI.”

“The Speaker and many of his Republican friends are hell bent on Chained CPI,” Durbin continued. “It may be part of an overall solution [later] but to do it at this stage is the wrong way to go.”

Since Harry Reid vowed last month to keep Social Security and Medicare off the table in "Fiscal Cliff" resolution negotiations, many progressives are now asking him and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to hold the line against any entitlement benefit cuts. But then again, they may not have to do this for too much longer. Back to the right flank, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may now be killing this deal.

"Plan B calls for sending us a bill that, the only thing will be in it is raising taxes on people who make over a million dollars," Reid said. "If that's not walking away, I don't know what walking away is.... I was happy to see the last statement that Boehner made at his press foray where he said negotiations are not closed. I talked to the President at a quarter to one today, he hasn't heard a word from Boehner."

Other Democrats are also trying to yank Boehner back into negotiations, and wedge him from House conservatives.

“News this morning of Speaker Boehner offering his ‘Plan B’ is yet another example of House Republicans walking away from negotiations on a big deal to avert the fiscal cliff and reduce the deficit in a balanced way," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), House Dems' top budget guy, in a statement to reporters. "By pushing this totally lopsided approach, the GOP is once again trying to minimize the impact on the wealthiest in our country and maximize the burden borne by working families.”

Last week, Boehner introduced his "Plan B" as some kind of alternative Republican tax plan. However, it raises nowhere near the kind of revenue that President Obama has been looking for. And ironically enough, while Boehner and other Republicans have been screaming the most about the fiscal "CRISIS!!!", they have yet to offer any serious proposal to avert the "Fiscal Cliff"... And that also means a plan that can actually pass Congress and be signed by the President.

So perhaps there was more to Obama's offer than met the eye. Perhaps he's trying to show everyone just how "un-serious" Congressional Republicans have been in resolving this fiscal fiasco. After all, we've lived through this before. It seems like the only way Obama cam secure a deal with Congress is by shaming just enough Republicans into accepting one.

So we still don't really know yet how this will be resolved. And at this point, we don't even know for sure if it will be resolved by the end of the year. All we know for sure is that President Obama wants a deal ASAP, he does not same to risk a "double dip recession" that may result from "Fiscal Cliff-diving" next year, and that he's ready to cut a deal with Republican leaders in order to solve this once & for all. Now, it's just a question of whether Republicans will let one happen... And perhaps if that deal can simultaneously pass Congressional Democrats' muster as well.

Will #NVLeg Consider Common-sense Gun Safety?

Last weekend, there was (again) talk of bringing guns onto school campuses. So far, it looks like that bill may end up with the same fate as the one introduced in 2011. Now with that being said, is there any chance of reasonable gun safety being discussed in the Nevada Legislature next session? Believe it or not, one legislator is putting this to the test.

“I think the expansion of gun rights has reached its apogee,” said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I look forward to spending the next decade trying to limit weapons of mass destruction.”

Segerblom said he “supports reasonable restrictions on handguns and assault weapons and concealed weapons.” [...]

“With Nevada’s history with hunting and ranching, there’s a legitimate use for guns. And we also have one of the most expansive concealed weapons laws in the country,” he said. “But we’ve become increasingly urbanized. We have to recognize there’s no reason to have assault weapons and concealed weapons on campuses.”

So what can be done? On one hand, the Nevada Constitution actually enshrines the individual right to keep and bear arms. However, it does not specifically enshrine the right to assault weapons, unlimited magazine capacity, and/or exceptionally easy concealed carry permits.

So there may be some middle ground here. Hardly anyone really wants to take everyone's guns away. And let's face it, that will likely never happen here in Nevada or nationwide.

But really, what's the point of civilians owning very high-powered assault weapons that were originally meant for military use? And what's the point of such high magazine capacity? And what's the point of allowing guns just about anywhere and everywhere?

Sure, there's a time and a place for people to use guns for things like hunting and recreational shooting in designated areas. And standard concealed carry permits probably won't even be going away any time soon. But really, isn't now the time to consider the ramifications of allowing everywhere to become an armed battlefield?

Oh, and there's been yet another shooting this morning. Apparently, five people died in a murder-suicide in Longview, Colorado. And sadly, this probably won't even be the end of it.

So last year, there was a mass shooting right there in Carson City, in an IHOP less than 3 miles from the Legislature building. And on Friday, there was a shooting on the Las Vegas Strip just hours after the Newtown massacre. Do we reallt want a society where we must constantly fear for our lives because everywhere is an armed battlefield? That's what we must ask ourselves. And that's especially what legislators must ask each other next spring.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Is Today Finally the Day?

Earlier today, we were wondering what Harry Reid would say on the Senate floor today. Now, we have our answer. And Senator Reid is finally starting to change his tune. And he isn't alone in doing this.

With gun legislation practically non-existent in recent years, it's easy to forget that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), before he became his caucus' leader, voted against the assault weapons ban. But in light of Friday's violence, Reid is joining his Democratic colleagues in looking anew at possible changes.

Reid conceded that "every idea must be on the table," adding, "We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens." The majority leader went on to say, "I believe part of that healing process will require Congress to examine what can be done to prevent more tragedies like the ones in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Oak Creek, Wis.; and Portland, Ore."

Also today, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who's also been considered an NRA ally, conceded his perspective has changed. "I've been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights," Warner said this morning. "I've got an A rating from the NRA. But the status quo isn't acceptable. I've got three daughters. They asked me on Friday evening, 'Dad, what are you gonna do about this?' There's got to be a way to put reasonable restrictions, particularly as we look at assault weapons, as we look at these fast clips of ammunition."

It's so saddening that it's come to this. We had to wait for 20 children to be shot dead in their school before we realized we have a problem. But with that being said, at least it's finally happening now.

And perhaps there may be another dynamic at work. Greg Sargent noted how new poll data show an upswing of support for better, common-sense gun safety reforms. In addition, support is strongest among the very voters who propelled President Obama, Senator Reid, and many other Democrats to victory in recent election cycles.

But again, above all else, there was that horribly remarkable outbreak of gun violence last week. A school was attacked in Newtown, Connecticut. A shopping mall was attacked in Clackamas County, Oregon. Another shopping mall was attacked in Orange County (CA). And even here in Southern Nevada, there was a shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.

Of course, new gun safety standards won't solve everything. There is no single panacea. However, we have to start somewhere. And perhaps enough people in Congress are finally waking up & realizing this for President Obama to have a real chance at pushing something through Congress.

Please, No Guns in the Classroom.

In Washington right now, there's renewed hope for meaningful progress on gun safety reform. Yet while that's happening there, some G-O-TEA stalwarts here are still pushing more of the same insanity. In fact, one of them even wants weapons in classrooms!

This really is not helpful. We don't need for more classrooms to turn into war zones. And no, this would not make anyone safer. Rather, the opposite is likely far closer to the truth.

When Brian Fadie of Progress Now Nevada questioned Fiore’s logic —the claim that everyone must be carrying a gun at all times to be safe —the assemblywoman asked him if he had ever shot a gun and upon learning that he hadn’t, accused the [advocate] of “talking out of school.” [...]

A Mother Jones analysis of 61 mass murders over the last 30 years found that “in not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun.” As one leading expert explained, “given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances,” arming civilians could often lead to more chaos and deaths.

Incidentally, The Nevada System of Higher Education and several law enforcement groups opposedan earlier bill permitting concealed weapons on college campuses, citing safety concerns.

This is the simply the wrong bill advocating the wrong policy at the wrong time. It was frightening when John Lee proposed it. And it's just as frightening now. The very last thing Nevada needs is schools full of weapons. We can't afford to have Newtown or Virginia Tech happen here.

Reason for Hope?

In the wake of the violent turn of events last week, there's been talk of finally doing something about the growing gun violence problem. Yet while there's been talk about real action, there's also been speculation over what will actually happen. And today, much of that speculation is swirling around Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Here).

But as the president lamented last night in Newtown that "we are not doing enough," the question is what Reid will do. He has openly courted the NRA in the past, and when the group offered a no-endorsement in his re-election bid two years ago, his campaign manager touted Reid's gun rights bonafides:

"The NRA’s relationship with Sen. Reid has been long-standing and productive and – unlike for Sharron Angle – they’ve put their money where their mouth is this cycle. Along with their financial support, the declaration of NRA head Wayne LaPierre that Sen. Reid is 'a true champion of the Second Amendment' and that 'no one has been a stronger advocate for responsible gun ownership than him' shows beyond a doubt that the NRA believes Sen. Reid to be a strong advocate for Nevadans’ Second Amendment rights in the US Senate."

That "true champion" comment came from NRA boss Wayne LaPierre at the dedication of the Clark County Shooting Park and Reid is not seen as a friend to gun control advocates, with some accusing him of killing the assault weapons ban in 2004, and his actions after the Colorado shootings this year also were muted.

Even though conventional wisdom says the GOP-controlled House would kill any gun control legislation, nothing is conventional right now, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Reid become an advocate for gun control today.

In the not-so-distant past, Harry Reid felt the need to court the NRA for political survival. And he hasn't been the only Democrat to do so, far from it.

One of the more extreme cases is Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). And since Manchin hails from a rural Red State that celebrates the "gun culture", he has said quite a few things that have irritated progressives. So no one was expecting him to say this on MSNBC today.

So hope for real action on gun safety may indeed be alive. If even Joe Manchin is suddenly willing to consider (reinstating) an assault weapons ban, perhaps Harry Reid won't be afraid to finally do something.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Now, It Hits Home.

Unfortunately, the carnage didn't stop in Connecticut on Friday. Later that evening, it happened here. And it happened in the economic heart of Nevada.

Officers arriving in the main lobby area found a man dead in what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A woman was found shot and taken to University Medical Center in critical condition, where she was pronounced dead.

The woman, Jessica Kenny, 30, worked at the Excalibur concierge desk as a vendor for travel website, which is owned by the Greenspun family, publishers of the Las Vegas Sun. Metro Police Homicide Lt. Ray Steiber said she appeared to be the intended target of the shooter, and no one else was injured. [...]

Witnesses on the casino floor said they noticed many distraught people suddenly running for the exits after apparent gunshots. Amid the panic, many poker players were seen abruptly leaving their tables and their personal effects. Police and casino security had taped off an area near the registration desk where the man’s body lay.

Las Vegas resident Zakeyaha Amacker was gambling at the casino near Dick’s Last Resort when she heard the shots, then chaos.

“People just began running,” Amacker said. “It all happened so quickly.”

Trisha Banks, 14, and her sister Danielle Banks, 17, were at the hotel for a holiday cheerleading party with 80 other cheerleaders when they heard four loud gunshots. They ducked under the tables for safety fearing for their lives until the situation was cleared 10 minutes later.

“It’s scary after what happened this morning (in Newtown, Conn.) and then this,” Trisha Banks said. “How can people do this?”

One would think a Strip resort would be among the safest places in the world. There are so many tourists visiting. And there is so much money changing hands on the casino floor.

It increasingly feels like nowhere is safe any more.

And that was not even the end of it. Yesterday, we saw yet another shooting. This time, it happened in the heart of my childhood home of Orange County. And this time, it occurred in the prominent, upscale Fashion Island mall in Newport Beach. Fortunately, no one died there last night because police caught the shooter in time.

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Marcos Gurrola, 42, of Garden Grove, was arrested in the parking lot near the Macy's department store shortly after allegedly firing the shots about 4:30 p.m., said Kathy Lowe, a spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department. Officers on bike patrol apprehended the man. [...]

The mall was crowded with holiday shoppers at the time of the shooting.

Shopper Dena Nassef said she and another person were walking toward Macy's when people started yelling and running.

"With what happened in Connecticut, we were freaking out," she said. "It was like crazy, people leaving stores." [...]

Shopper Eric Widmer said he was at the Barnes & Noble bookstore when he saw a mother and daughter rush in crying. He said he heard someone scream, "Shooter!"

He said he managed to exit the bookstore and head to Macy's, which he could not leave.

"I thought, 'Great, I get to be scared twice,'" he said. "Lightning strikes twice."

Again, it's now starting to feel like nowhere is safe any more. But sadly, much of the country has felt like this for quite some time. This kind of violence has plagued poor urban neighborhoods for far too long. It seems like far too many of is only notice when this kind of epic violence reaches our "comfort zones".

But now, all our past "comfort zones" have been breached. Nowhere feels safe... Not the mall, not the casino, not the house of worship, not the local "Congress at the Corner" event, and not even the local elementary school. Something has to change.

What has to change is our culture's veneration of violence. And what has to change is the often limited access to vital mental health care. And yes, what has to change is the dangerously easy access to high-powered weapons meant to kill multitudes of people almost instantly. And it doesn't even end there.

There is so much to do to find solutions to this problem. We as a society must start by acknowledging this is a grave problem. Do we really want to live in a place where we can't feel safe anywhere?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Something Must Change.

Sorry. I couldn't help it. I just had to say it today.

What happened in Connecticut this morning was tragic. And it was horrific. And yes, it didn't have to happen.

That's what makes the series if events today even more tragic. 18 innocent children are dead, along with at least 8 adults. A small town in Connecticut has been devastated by horrific violence. And it really didn't have to happen. And if we want to prevent future tragedies like this one, then we must act.

You’re not supposed to say this on days like today, but political action is exactly what’s needed. The usual voices will try to shut down the debate by warning against “politicizing” the tragedy. But we should “politicize” it, if by that we mean undertaking a discussion about how our elected officials can act to stop this madness.

Gun violence is one area where something approaching a bipartisan consensus has formed among commentators and observers that reform is imperative, even as the only people who continue to refuse to act are those in a position to actually change things. This time, our public officials —the president included —simply must start an actual policy discussion about the appropriate response to the slaughter caused by the easy availability of guns. Not just a “conversation” about how screwed up our culture is or the usual argument over whether Evil and/or mental illness are the real culprits (as the gun rights advocates tell us) that require addressing. It’s easy access to guns that translates the darkest of human impulses, whatever their cause, into the massacre of innocent children.

Greg Sargent makes a great point here. Even though we've heard plenty of people declare on the cable news channels that "now is not the time" to discuss better gun safety, we just can't do that. How many times have we heard this before when other incidents of mass gun violence occurred? How many more of these must we endure as a nation before we finally take action?

Just this past Tuesday, someone opened fire inside a mall in the Clackamas County suburbs of Portland, Oregon. Two people died, and many more were frightened just as they were doing their Holiday shopping. And then, less than 72 hours after that gruesome act of violence in Oregon, someone else opened fire in an elementary school in Connecticut. And Desert Beacon has a full list of even more mass shootings that occurred just this year. Again, this is truly disgusting. And both events should show us that we can no longer blithely ignore this growing problem of domestic terrorism carried out by easily accessible guns.

While today should be a day to allow those who lost loved ones to grieve, today should also be a day to ponder what happened... And address what's wrong with our gun policies. Here's Salon's Joan Walsh.

Guns in national parks. Guns in church. Guns in schools and day care centers. All over the country, the spaces that used to be gun-free zones are now open to them. According to Mother Jones, in 1995 there were an estimated 200 million guns in private hands. Now there are about 300 million, a 50 percent jump. Yet BuzzFeed found that President Obama only mentioned gun control three times in the last campaign.

It’s not just the NRA who are political villains in this story: the right-wing Koch-funded ALEC has been pushing to weaken gun laws too. In fact, the lame-duck right-wing GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature just passed an ALEC-backed bill allowing concealed loaded guns in schools, churches and day care centers,and abolishing the county panels that controlled concealed-pistol licensing.

After the Aurora, Colo., shootings,in which formerly banned assault weapons were used, even Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper dismissed talk of renewing the federal assault weapons ban. Stricter gun control measures wouldn’t prevent “acts of evil,” Hickenlooper insisted: “If there were no assault weapons available and no this or no that, this guy is going to find something, right?” In fact, the Aurora shooting inspired more gun control legislation, but it went nowhere, as Alex Seitz-Wald reported this week. Only three days ago, formely banned assault weapons were used in the Clackamas, Ore., mall shootings. Will that trigger a new push to restrict and ban assault weapons and their ammunition? Probably not.

But today, a day when children as young as kindergarteners were told to hold hands, close their eyes and walk past scenes of unspeakable carnage –that’s a perfect day to begin a new conversation about what’s wrong with our gun culture. Clearly, we are getting numb to massive gun violence. It’s hardly inappropriate that the murder of at least 18 children, reportedly between the ages of 5 and 10, might shock us out of our numbness and inspire more activism and legislation –and political courage.

Sadly, we as a society have become far too numb to the brutal reality of gun violence. Can that change today? If the events of this week can't, then I don't know what can. For goodness sake, not even elementary schools are immune from this any more! Children were shot dead inside their classroom! If that isn't repulsive, then I don't know what else can be.

Again, today is a day to grieve lost loved ones. And today is a day to share condolences. However, today is also a day to reflect on this metastasizing crisis of rampant mass shootings and out-of-control gun violence. Something must change.

It's Time to Start Talking About Gun Violence.

How many times have we had to talk about this? And yet, it keeps happening. All this morning, I've been thinking about what Adam Gopnik wrote in a New Yorker blog back in July.

The truth is made worse by the reality that no one —really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly “made him” do what he did; but we know how he did it. Those who fight for the right of every madman and every criminal to have as many people-killing weapons as they want share moral responsibility for what happened last night—as they will when it happens again. And it will happen again. [...]

But nothing changes: the blood lobby still blares out its certainties, including the pretense that the Second Amendment—despite the clear grammar of its first sentence—is designed not to protect citizen militias but to make sure that no lunatic goes unarmed. Make sure that guns designed for no reason save to kill people are freely available to anyone who wants one—and that is, and remains, the essential American condition—and then be shocked when children are killed. For all the good work the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence tries to do, nothing changes. On the last episode of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” Jeff Daniels’s character, in a scene set shortly before the Gabrielle Giffords gun massacre, was thought to display political courage by showing, accurately enough, that it’s a lie to say that Barack Obama is in any way in favor of gun control. This was said in Obama’s defense.

Only in America. Every country has, along with its core civilities and traditions, some kind of inner madness, a belief so irrational that even death and destruction cannot alter it. In Europe not long ago it was the belief that “honor” of the nation was so important that any insult to it had to be avenged by millions of lives. In America, it has been, for so long now, the belief that guns designed to kill people indifferently and in great numbers can be widely available and not have it end with people being killed, indifferently and in great numbers. The argument has gotten dully repetitive: How does one argue with someone convinced that the routine massacre of our children is the price we must pay for our freedom to have guns, or rather to have guns that make us feel free? You can only shake your head and maybe cry a little. “Gun Crazy” is the title of one the best films about the American romance with violence. And gun-crazy we remain.

It happened again. This time, elementary school students in Connecticut were targeted. At least 26 people have died so far.

Multiple fatalities have been reported at a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., about 65 miles northeast of New York City. One law enforcement offcial said preliminary reports suggested there could be as many as 20 fatalities. [Again, the official fatality count now includes 18 children and at least 8 adults.]

One state official said that an adult gunman was believed to be dead in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The gunman was in possession of at least two firearms, the official said.

Meredith Artley, the managing editor of, has a friend who works at the school. "She volunteers with the school as well," Artley said on CNNr.

The woman was in close vicinity to the shooting, which happened in the hallway, according to Ms. Artley. "She described it as a 'Pop, pop, pop,''' Ms Artley added. "She said three people went out into the hall and only one person came back, the vice principal, she said, who was shot in the leg or the foot, who came crawling back. She cowered under the table and called 911. She never saw the shooting. There must have been a hundred rounds.''

Danbury Hospital said it was treating three patients from the shooting scene, according to its Facebook page. The hospital, which is not far from the elementary school, said it was on lockdown.

Frankly, I'm horrified right now. How could someone do this? And why has it become so easy for someone to do this?

I keep thinking of my memories of elementary school. We never had to do "mass shooting drills". And I never had to worry about a domestic terrorist arriving in the classroom.

Of course, there are deranged and disgusting people in this world. Unfortunately, that will never change. However, what has to change is allowing these very people to commit acts of terrorism on our soil. And what has to change is the celebration and downright worship of assault weapons that should have never been allowed to become so commonplace in civilian life.

There. I said it.

Obviously, we don't yet know all the facts of this case. But so far, it's looking incredibly likely that Newtown, Connecticut, is now suffering immense loss because of a deranged individual getting one's hands on dangerous assault weapons. There may have been no background check. And clearly, there was no fail-safe to prevent so many bullets from being released so quickly.

Will we ever learn? And will we ever have an honest discussion on how to correct this horrifying failure in public policy? How many more people have to die before we reconsider our extreme allegiance to the gun lobby?

Cutting Through the Fiscal Crap

Last time we checked on the "Fiscal Cliff" fiasco in Washington, the G-O-TEA was threatening yet another round of fiscal hostage taking. Yesterday, we saw President Obama and US House Speaker John Boehner (R-Scared Orange) meet in The White House. And yes, the great kabuki theater over taxes and internal G-O-TEA strife continues.

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Oh, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Badass) is having no more of it.

“With every passing day the Republicans are calling on Speaker Boehner to guarantee tax cuts for the middle class,” he said Thursday.

Reid counts his latest conquest in Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, set to be the Republicans’ second-highest ranking Republican next year after Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona retires.

Cornyn said this week that he believes that Congress will have to pass the Democrats’ proffer, a bill to extend lowered tax rates for income levels up to $250,000 only, “sooner or later,” since the end-of-year deadline didn’t leave them much choice: After December 31, those tax rates will rise, along with those for the wealthier tax brackets, anyway.

“More than three-quarters of the American people, including 61 percent of Republicans, agree with John Cornyn that the middle class shouldn’t be held hostage to move giveaways for millionaires,” Reid said. [...]

“To this day Republicans have not identified five cents in actual money,” Reid said. “They speak in generalities.

“Entitlements? We looked at that. The Affordable Care Act? We looked at that...we know we’ll have to do some [cuts], we’ll be glad to do that and it’s part of what we need to do,” Reid said. “If we had some movement on those rates, the president has said he’s willing to take some significant action.”

Here's the problem for Republicans on Capitol Hill: They're losing. A strong majority of Americans essentially support the Democratic budget plan. And they see that President Obama is actually negotiating on good faith while the bulk of Republicans are not. Oh, and the Republican plan is so politically toxic that most Republicans don't really want to be seen pushing it. After all, remember what happened to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan just last month!

Interestingly enough, a growing number of Senate Republicans are ready to cut a deal and keep Americans from "falling off The Cliff". Yet even while they're ready to put this to an end, most of their G-O-TEA colleagues would rather take America for a "Cliff Dive" than compromise. Yes, they're really that delusional.

The single greatest obstacle to a fiscal cliff compromise remains the House GOP’s refusal to agree to a single additional penny generated by higher tax rates on the rich. Even Senate Republicans are increasingly acknowledging this —and the damage it’s doing to the party. Indeed, the Senate GOP is now trying to throw the House GOP a lifeline. But the House GOP is pushing it away.

The Post reports that Senate Republicans are quietly floating a compromise: They would allow tax rates on the rich to go up, while nixing other revenue-raising ideas the White House wants, such as higher rates on investment income and putting limits on itemized deductions. This would lower the revenue price tag on the compromise, supposedly making it easier for Republicans to accept a hike in rates. It would produce $440 billion in new revenues —half of John Boehner’s original $800 billion offer —so it’s hard to see what this would accomplish. But at least Republicans would be giving ground on rates.

House Republicans, the Post reports, promptly shot this down. It’s not hard to see why: As Real Clear Politics put it: “many House conservatives who represent safe GOP districts remain philosophically and politically wary of voting for higher taxes or conceding to Democrats.” [...]

[... I]ndeed, for some conservatives, there’s no need to acknowledge that the election happened. I don’t know if this applies to Rep. Harris, but in a general sense, as I noted here yesterday,many of them retain strong incentives to stand by positions that have been rejected by the broader electorate, thanks to safely drawn districts where voters agree with them, and the prospect of praise from conservative interest groups and right wing media as a reward for any refusal to compromise with Dems. The result: A schism may be developing between Senate and House Republicans, one driven by the plain fact that Senate Republicans are increasingly recognizing reality —tax rates on the rich must go up —and House Republicans aren’t.

Again, the "TEA" fueled House Republicans are the problem. And yes, John Boehner is afraid of setting a vote on a "Fiscal Cliff" averting deal on the House floor because most of his House Republicans won't support it. And yes, that's because he's more afraid of losing his Speaker's Gavel than he is of sending America back into recession and immense economic pain.

So as long as Boehner keeps watching his back and the G-O-TEA refuses to engage in any kind of responsible governance, this "Fiscal Cliff" kabuki theater will continue. It's just a matter of who finally strong-arms House G-O-TEA leaders into scheduling a floor vote on a truly balanced budget deal so that the words "double dip recession" can finally be stricken from the lexicon of American economists as they appear on TV.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

An End to "Trash Tahoe"? Or the Start of a New Battle?

So after a long and very contentious battle over the future of Lake Tahoe, an agreement has finally been reached over how to plan for its future.

California and Nevada reached a historic agreement over Lake Tahoe this week with the passage of an extensive plan designed to shape development at the lake for years to come.

The Tahoe Regional Planning's Governing Board approved an update to its 1987 Regional Plan by a 12-1 vote late Wednesday afternoon. California board member Mara Bresnick was the lone vote against the plan update, which has been under discussion for the better part of a decade. [...]

“The reality is we need to take the old that is not working and redesign it so it is working to the benefit of the lake,” said Douglas County Commissioner and Governing Board member Nancy McDermid during the board meeting at Harveys Lake Tahoe.

Supporters of the new agreement claim that this heralds a new era of economic growth and environmental protection for the Tahoe region. After all, the Regional Plan hasn't been updated in 25 years. And older developments by and near the lake may be more harmful to the lake with their excessive runoff reducing the lake's clarity.

However, not everyone is buying this. In fact, some environmental groups are already vowing to fight this. There may even a be a law suit brewing.

TRPA’s latest plan, approved today, delegates critical environmental protections back to local jurisdictions, leaving many to wonder if a Tahoe on development steroids will soon turn into a series of corporate resorts. Without better protections, the scenic Tahoe loved by so many will likely morph into one with more paving and less open space, new eight to ten story hotels, and mega-size recreation resorts built on acres of once-pristine lands. The result will be a murkier lake and fewer views of the mountains and the lake as local communities add three and four story buildings along the roadways.

“This plan is based on the belief that the pathway to environmental improvement is through economic development. There is definitely some merit in encouraging development to replace aging commercial buildings and parking lots. But putting all of TRPA’s eggs in that basket is too risky for the golden goose that lays those eggs—Lake Tahoe,” said Bob Anderson, Chair of the Lake Tahoe Sierra Club Group.

Wendy Park, an attorney with the public interest law firm Earthjustice, agrees that the new plan poses new and bigger risks. “Earthjustice has represented local interests and conservation groups in the past to protect the lake and regions around its shoreline from unbridled construction and development. The population of California is growing rapidly and Lake Tahoe needs stronger, not weaker, protections to stay the very special mountain lake everyone cherishes,” Park said.

Last Friday, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) stated his support for rescinding SB 271 as an agreement for a new Regional Plan has finally been reached. Perhaps the more cynically minded are thinking that it won't matter now that the damage may already be done. After all, the often omnipotent looking "gaming-mining-lobbying industrial complex" revamped SB 271 and pushed for its final passage in order to weaken environmental protection at Lake Tahoe in order to clear the way for more development. And now, it looks like they finally snatched what they wanted with the new Regional Plan.

To be fair, not all environmentalists are planning to fight this. The Nevada Conservation League has signaled it can live with the new plan.

“I think the plan is certainly a compromise,” said Kyle Davis, political director for the Nevada Conservation League. That group joined the League to Save Lake Tahoe in representing conservation interests in discussions last summer led by Nevada Conservation and Natural Resources Director Leo Drozdoff and California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird designed to reach consensus over the hardest sticking points that had the plan at impasse at the time.

“There’s a lot we don’t like about it. There’s a lot that is an improvement,” Davis said. “I think there are enough safeguards to protect the lake but I think there is a lot more that could have been put in place for environmental gain.”

Nearly everyone was in agreement over the plan needing an update. What has been so contentious is how much more development to allow in the Tahoe region. Will the lake ultimately benefit from an "extreme makeover" of the lakeside communities that will allow for more energy efficient and less runoff producing development? Or will the lake be choked to death by the rush of real estate developers to fill every last acre of land with mega-resorts, mid-rise condos, bigger mansions & golf courses, and shopping malls?

Ultimately, time will tell where this new agreement takes Lake Tahoe. It just looks like this story hasn't ended just yet.