Stormy Monday, 11/4/13

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StormyMondayTomorrow, Virginians choose one of milquetoast Clintonista Terry McAuliffe or Tobacco Belt Taliban Ken Cuccinelli to succeed Bob McDonnell in the Executive Mansion. The Democrat’s lead in the polls still holds, though a low projected voter turnout suggests Cuccinelli could pull off an upset with a sufficiently large turnout of irate Teabaggers and/or plain old Republican electoral tampering. Two Obamas, two Clintons and a Biden have been campaigning on McAuliffe’s behalf, while Cuccinelli’s audiences have, deservedly, been talked at by the likes of Marco Rubio, Reince Priebus, Rick Santorum, the Duggars and Rand Paul.

Speaking of Rand Paul, expect more fun this week centering on his weakness for “borrowing” words and ideas without attribution or shame. If a few more examples of the Senator’s plagiarism turn up, he could be forced to issue a major “clarifying” statement to try and muddy the waters. If it comes to that, I hereby offer him a preliminary draft that he’s welcome to pass off as his own: “I am not a crook and I have not yet begun to fight, or to remember the Maine. It’s been the best of times, it’s been the worst of times, it’s been a date which will live in infamy, but I have nothing to fear but fear itself and I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. Now, watch this drive and read my lips: no new taxes. For the rich, anyway. Ask not what your country can do for you, but what it can do for me. So long, and thanks for all the fish, and good night and good luck, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are. Oh, and would somebody please tear down this wall?”

Voters in 11 Colorado counties get a chance to weigh in tomorrow on whether they want to secede from the state. One of these rural (meaning Republican) counties would supposedly become part of Wyoming, while the other 10 would form a new state called North Colorado or Brigadoon or something.

Chris Christie is the odds-on favorite to win another gubernatorial term in New Jersey tomorrow, so certain of victory that he spent part of Saturday afternoon indulging in one of his favorite activities, publicly belittling a constituent. Christie wagged his finger in the face of teacher Melissa Tomlinson, who says he told her, “I’m tired of you people.” A Christie staffer later disputed the quote, so you just know Tomlinson described it accurately. Once safely sworn in for another term, Christie will immediately forget about New Jersey and turn his attention to a presidential run.

Boston’s mayoral election is also happening tomorrow, with last-minute polls still showing a tight race between Democrats Martin Walsh and John Connolly, and a significant number of voters still undecided. New York City, by contrast, will shock nobody by electing Bill de Blasio to succeed Michael Bloomberg; a poll released this morning shows the Democrat leading GOP opponent Joe Lhota by 41 points. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 11/4/13

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Take Five (We Don't Need Another Zero edition)

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Take-FiveONE: One Fling to Rule Them All…

What’s more mawkish than Republicans rallying moistly and noisily around a new standard bearer? Absolutely nothing.

While all but the most stalwart or blockheaded of the party faithful ended up too embarrassed to admit how embarrassed they finally were by George Bush and Dick Cheney, many of them shamelessly went on to embrace a succession of greasy mediocrities like Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, Scott Brown, Paul Ryan, Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Marco Rubio.

The mass infatuations mostly dwindled miserably into scandals, lawsuits, ridicule and/or simple morning-after remorse, but it’s worth remembering that most of these intellectual pipsqueaks retain a mystifying and immovable popularity among one or more dependably Republican demographics.

Enter Ted Cruz, who aspires to be the one fling to rule them all. I confess I’d never even heard of this guy until he appeared at last year’s Republican National Convention. Even then he didn’t make much of an impression, if my synopsis of the first day of the convention is a reliable yardstick:

9:40 PM:

Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz forsakes the podium and gives a pointless speech as he paces the stage. It’s as if he’s auditioning to be an evangelist. Or a stand-up comic. He points to the debt clock. Yep, the nation is still in debt.

Cruz bellows, “Government is not the answer,” which makes me wonder why he and his fellow Republicans are so damned keen on being elected to office.

As it turned out, the position Cruz was actually auditioning for, then and since, was President of the United States of America. Happily, even some Republicans seem completely appalled by that idea, but Cruz effectively capitalized on the government shutdown and flirtation with default to enhance his grassroots popularity and leadership cred. He also realizes that the GOP’s actual leadership is laughably inept, something he telegraphed by upstaging Mitch McConnell‘s announcement of a budget deal. The party is ripe for hijacking, and Cruz – a shrewd demagogue, equal parts Cotton Mather and Joe McCarthy – seems poised to do just that, at least temporarily.

Lest Cruz’s increasingly high profile and rock star status among zero-information conservative voters make you queasy with thoughts of a presidency in his future, Paul Bibeau offers some reassurance on the subject of Ted Cruz Yet to Come:

We know what happens to Ted Cruz, because it’s happened before…

Ted Cruz runs for president. Jackasses in Iowa talk about his honesty and his directness. They portray him as an outsider, a renegade, a fresh new face. What they mean is something else, something darker. Anyway, soon after that – because of dropping polls, stories of infighting, and some hideous thing he says into a hot mike or on hidden camera – his campaign turns into a space shuttle made of balsa.

Does it stop there? Christ, no. Because then Ted Cruz finds what he was meant to do all along. He’s going to get a TV show, a radio gig, or an income stream from giving speeches to the kind of folks who think the UN is a totalitarian plot and gay people are poisoning our water supply…

Yeah, that sounds about right. If Republicans do only one thing well – and indeed, yes, they actually do only one thing well – it’s that never go away. Examples come readily to mind. Not only did the outlandishly repugnant Tom Delay avoid prison; he’s working on a book with infamous huckster Jerome Corsi. Dick Cheney, risen from the dead for the sixth or seventh time, is energetically spitting ichor at Barack Obama and still stubbornly insisting that the invasion of Iraq actually had something to do with weapons of mass destruction. Sarah Palin also has a book coming out, and still found time to pretend she shot a bear. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist has remade himself yet again, this time as a Democrat, and is probably going to run for another term. Hell, Ronald Reagan has been dead for almost a decade, but stick any Republican in front of a microphone and you’re bound to hear his name invoked, with stupefying reverence, within about 60 seconds.

No, they never go away, so get used to Ted Cruz. He’s only just getting warmed up.

TWO:  Houses of the Holy Moly

Further to that last-ditch attempt to block construction of Mitt Romney’s La Jolla McManor discussed in the previous edition of this column, the California Coastal Commission recently shot down Anthony Ciani’s appeal, clearing Casa Romney to go forward, weird-rich-guy car elevator and all.

Romney being Romney, he’s also building a house in Holladay, Utah, and it’s going to have a weird-rich-guy feature of its own: a secret room hidden behind a bookshelf. Why a secret room? It’s just a guess, mind you, but behind those shelves I picture an exact replica of the Oval Office, a place where the hapless millionaire, safely hidden from view, can pretend he became leader of the free world after all, manage imaginary crises, sign imaginary executive orders, conduct imaginary diplomacy, and give imaginary addresses to the nation, while “Hail to the Chief” loops stirringly in the background. Continue reading Take Five (We Don’t Need Another Zero edition)

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Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

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Take-FiveONE: Death Becomes Them

Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).

Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).

It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.

TWO: Squeaker of the House

John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”

Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.

THREE: China Syndrome

You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.

I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”

Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:

The pork was treated with chemicals, including paraffin wax and industrial salts, to make it look like beef…

The news will come as [of] particular concern to Xi’an’s large Muslim community, who may have been buying some distinctly non-halal beef.

Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

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Take Five (The Anger Games edition)

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ONE: Party Scooper?

Sarah Palin has managed to turn feigned anger into a pretty damned lucrative pseudo-career. Now on her second stint with Fox News and coming off a headlining appearance at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual “Road to Majority” shindig, Palin’s newest gambit is to imply that she might cut and run from the Republican Party. The GOP power structure would probably be relieved were this to happen, but only to a point. Palin’s enduring popularity with zero-information conservatives could be the catalyst for a significant number of traditionally reliable Republican voters bolting for weirder pastures.

Asked by a Twitter questioner whether she and rightwing radio loudmouth Mark Levin might “be willing to build a ‘Freedom Party’ if [the] GOP continues to ignore conservatives,” Palin got right down to some of that fancy pageant walkin’ that remains her only true aptitude:

“I love the name of that party — the ‘Freedom Party,’” Palin said. “And if the GOP continues to back away from the planks in our platform, from the principles that built this party of Lincoln and Reagan, then yeah, more and more of us are going to start saying, ‘You know, what’s wrong with being independent,’ kind of with that libertarian streak that much of us have.”

Yes, uh, much of them do. Putting aside the absurdity of her characterization of Republicans as the “party of Lincoln and Reagan” – which is like calling Chicago the “city of Studs Terkel and John Wayne Gacy” – I’m guessing she could no more name a plank in the party platform than she could name a newspaper back in 2008. Palin continued, in commendably fluent Palinese:

“In other words, we want government to back off and not infringe upon our rights. I think there will be a lot of us who start saying ‘GOP, if you abandon us, we have nowhere else to go except to become more independent and not enlisted in a one or the other private majority parties that rule in our nation, either a Democrat or a Republican.’ Remember these are private parties, and you know, no one forces us to be enlisted in either party.”

Darn right they don’t, Governor. I won’t get my hopes up that this is anything more than you pandering to your fans, but if your comments were at all sincere, I look forward to you and your acolytes fancy pageant walkin’ your splinter cell, and the GOP, straight to permanent electoral oblivion.

TWO: Through a Glass Snarkly

Barack Obama’s first term was barely underway when I experienced my first queasy twinges of disappointment. At first, it was nothing overt, nothing readily explicable; a strangely off-kilter statement here, an abrupt about-face there. Soon came the willful misrepresentations, blatant distortions, even bald-faced lies. Almost before I knew it, I found myself feeling more and more burned, betrayed, deceived. The sentiments gradually intensified over months and years, eventually becoming something resembling utter, exasperated disgust.

I’m not referring to the President’s policies and actions (even ones I oppose adamantly, such as Race to the Top, the escalation in Afghanistan, some woeful compromises on energy policy and the environment, and some pretty questionable appointments). I’m referring to the hypertensive squawking that now passes for “criticism” across a broad swath of the cyber-left, and what has devolved into a churlish and counterproductive reaction to this presidency.

The recurring clichés tell a lot of the story. He “lied” about closing Gitmo. He “lied” about ending George Bush’s wars. He “dragged his feet” on DADT and DOMA. He “rolled over” on even trying to implement a universal, single-payer health care system and then “shrugged” at the failure of the public option. He “bailed out” Wall Street and “ignored” Main Street. He “embraced” the use of drones and expanded it to new operational theaters. He “ramped up” persecution of altruistic medical marijuana operations and courageous whistleblowers alike. He brutally “suppressed” the Occupy movement. He “wasted” his “huge” majorities from 2009 to 2011 and got “nothing” accomplished. He eschewed using the “power” of the bully pulpit (while giving “nice” speeches). And now he is “revealed” to have taken the surveillance state to new heights of “intrusive” overreach and “Orwellian” excess.

Throughout the Bush years, I depended on a host of progressive pundits and bloggers to keep me informed, encouraged and emboldened. Some of the very same people now seem more interested in inciting a howling mob to stand in a perpetual downpour outside the gates of the citadel, declaring as one that this presidency and this President have been failures. For some, it seems as if Barack Obama was de-legitimized merely by winning office and actually having to govern.

At the heart of much of the “criticism” is a sense that the “critics” feel jilted somehow, that the duplicitous Barack Obama represented himself as FDR Redux, that he campaigned as a fire-breathing progressive, that he was supposed somehow to govern simply by asking himself what George Bush would have done on any issue and then immediately doing the diametrical opposite. I don’t doubt that some of this is genuine and heartfelt, but it’s still heavily underpinned by the fierce urgency of unreasonable expectations and an unhealthy ignorance of basic civics, not to mention an oddly selective critical faculty that takes nothing the government says at face value but will readily suspend skepticism over the latest inane Paulite bullshit, or worse.

Equally illuminating is the strident name-calling found at the larger nominally progressive discussion sites (one of which purports to exist in part to “elect more Democrats”). Expressing confidence in the Democratic Party and the President, or articulating any degree of comfort with the notion of incremental change and willingness to accept the frustrations of compromise and misstep is simply courting vituperation. The epithets this supposed heresy solicits, some dating all the way back to early 2009, have become more and more meaningless as they have become more and more venomous: DINO, DLCer, Third Wayer, Vichy Dem, sellout, apologist, propagandist, fanboi, Kool-Aid drinker, authoritarian, worshipper. It’s debate by tantrum.

Add to this an astonishing compulsion to play the victim. Rahm Emmanuel called me retarded! I’ve been hippie-punched! The Catfood Commission wants to kill my granny! Robert Gibbs dissed the Professional Left, and I’m a leftist so he obviously meant me! Obama said I’m all wee-weed up! Obama told me to eat my peas!

A lot of this is grandstanding, theatrical ego-tripping; start with, say, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West and you can draw a direct line right to the oh-so-aggrieved message board bloviators who insist in the face of any and all evidence to the contrary that Obama is worse than Bush, to a frenetic chorus of hurrahs. The new frontier of perpetual outrage is limitless; anyone can stake a claim.

And then there’s race. The last thing in the world I want to believe is that any sincere liberal would have a problem with the President’s skin color, but comments from some quarters about his supposed passivity and ineptitude don’t sound very different to me from accusations of shiftlessness. There’s a rank ugliness about some of this that’s hard to fathom if it’s anything other than racism.

These things aren’t universal, of course. There are still rational voices on the left side of the Internet, and I count myself very grateful to be aligned with some of them right here on this site. Those voices don’t shy away from honest criticism where honest criticism is due. As well, only a fool would believe that the Obama Administration hasn’t mishandled and misjudged the progressive cyber-community on more than one occasion. But the potential impact of the digital grassroots has been blunted mostly by the shocking willingness of so many to wallow in disinformation and histrionics. The promise of a synergy between elected power and a vigorous leftosphere leveraging technology for information sharing and activism is lost in a miasma of all-caps paranoia and misdirected anger. A community organizer can’t organize a community that refuses to be organized. Continue reading Take Five (The Anger Games edition)

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Take Five (Let's Play Two edition)

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ONE: Boom Shakalaka

Baseball is back, and so is a freshly redoubled effort on the part of the Texas Rangers to kill their fans. With food.

2013 is the sophomore year for the Boomstick, a two-foot hot dog smothered in onions, nacho cheese, chili and jalapenos, all heaped on a 22-inch potato bun. The Boomstick, named for the bat of outfielder Nelson Cruz, will set you back $26 at Rangers Ballpark.

These and other food items at the stadium are served up by Delaware North, a company I saluted previously for donating 8,000 pounds of food to Charlotte-area food banks and charities last September, food originally prepared for the President’s nomination acceptance speech at Bank of America Stadium before the event was moved to TWC Arena. The Boomstick generated half a million in sales last season, and this year the dog even gets its own merchandise line, along with some comparably heavy-duty menu companions:

The Boomstick will be joined by the “Totally Rossome” Boomstick ($32), named after Rangers relief pitcher Robbie Ross, which is smothered with smoked brisket, fresh pico, sour cream and Doritos chips. Also on the menu is a whopping 24-ounce bacon burger ($26), a 24-inch sausage ($26), a 24-inch pretzel ($13) and a 24-inch quesadilla ($26) covered with brisket and served on a bed of nacho cheese Doritos.

Last July, in honor of National Hot Dog Month, Delaware North made the gargantuan wiener available for a limited time at six other MLB stadiums. Marketed as the Giant Slugger, it wowed fans of the Padres, White Sox, Cardinals, Twins, Reds and Brewers. Fortunately, the Kansas City Royals (whose food services are provided by The Bigelow Companies) have no equivalent product; they’re having a hard enough time with ordinary hot dogs. The Missouri Court of Appeals recently overturned a frankfurter-related lower court verdict involving the club:

The Kansas City Royals must face a lawsuit from a fan who was hit in the eye by a hot dog thrown by the team mascot, a Missouri appeals court ruled.

John C. Coomer went to a Royals baseball game in September 2009 with his father. After the third inning, the team’s crown-topped lion mascot, “Sluggerrr,” came out for the Hot Dog Launch.

Twenty to 30 hot dogs are thrown to fans or launched from an air gun in the spectacle.

Coomer testified that he while he was looking at the scoreboard, a hot dog hit him in the face, knocking off his hat.

Two days later, Coomer was diagnosed with a detached retina. He underwent surgery for that and again for a cataract, and now has an artificial lens in that eye. He sued the team for negligence and battery in 2010.

Yet whatever the hazards, fans’ love affair with the tube steak looks to remain ardent, according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council:

… baseball fans will consume [an estimated] 20,421,361 hot dogs over the course of the 2013 season. That’s enough hot dogs to round the bases 28,113 times. It’s also enough to feed all 56,000 fans at Dodger Stadium, Major League Baseball’s largest stadium, for 361 straight home games.

TWO: Gun Shysters

Turning from guns that fire hot dogs to ones that fire bullets, Colorado has been ground zero in the renewed struggle for meaningful gun control. While recent measures passed there are actually pretty feeble, they’ve been sufficient to provoke both gun-huggers and companies that exist to cater to them into some dismayingly childish behavior:

Michael Bane, a producer for The Outdoor Channel, announced he will no longer film his four shows in Colorado, and hunters are joining the protests. It’s reportedly a small number, but growing.

Somehow, against all odds, I believe Colorado will survive Bane taking his creepy, paranoid shows elsewhere, and – bonus! – animals left alone by boycotting hunters will survive too. Democrats, on the other hand, might want to keep their eyes open and their heads down if Dudley Brown, head honcho of a group called Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, is anywhere nearby:

Brown complains that universal background checks are just a step toward identifying gun owners so the government can seize their weapons, and he calls the 15-round limit on ammunition magazines arbitrary. He’s promising political payback in next year’s election that could cost Colorado Democrats their majorities.

“I liken it to the proverbial hunting season,” Brown says. “We tell gun owners, ‘There’s a time to hunt deer. And the next election is the time to hunt Democrats.’ “

Meanwhile, the management team of Magpul Industries (makers of 30-round magazines, buttstocks, shotgun accessories, semi-rigid iPhone cases offering “basic protection in the field,” and other assorted items no free society should be without) are about to pull their operations out of the state, their corporate feelings having been hurt by Colorado’s insistence on background checks and a ban on magazines holding more than 15 rounds:

Magpul employs 200 people directly, ranging from basic assembly workers to product designers and other professionals specializing in weapons-related components…

Like any successful mid-sized business, Magpul nurtures many other businesses, or did until it decided to throw its little corporate tantrum:

As much as possible, the company tries to contract with Colorado vendors, who represent about 90 percent of its supply chain… Those suppliers received about $46 million last year from Magpul, with the company projecting that number to reach $85 million for 2013…

Personally, I project that the company’s projection is marinated in bullcrap, but there’s no doubt that the disappearance of $46 million in revenues to Magpul suppliers is going to hurt.

Texas, Alabama, West Virginia and Alaska are already courting Magpul. Another company, HiViz Shooting Systems, makers of “light-gathering sights, recoil pads and accessories,” announced that it too is cutting and running from the imminent danger of a little more civilization encroaching on Colorado:

“We cannot in clear conscience support with our taxes a state that has proven through recent legislation a willingness to infringe upon the constitutional rights of our consumer base,” HiViz President and CEO Phillip Howe said in a news release.

As of this writing, I’m still trying to find the Constitution’s guarantee of unrestricted access to recoil pads and light-gathering sights, never mind all the goddamned guns. Maybe I should ask Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, a “Democrat” who:

…hinted on Tuesday that he would oppose a Democratic initiative to expand background checks to all gun purchases, but reiterated his support for an NRA-backed measure that would permit individuals deemed mentally ill or incompetent to purchase firearms more freely.

Why, you ask?

“You know, I’m a Second Amendment guy, everybody knows that…”

Sure thing. I’m a Second Amendment guy too, Senator. I’ve always believed that a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state. Continue reading Take Five (Let’s Play Two edition)

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