Garance Franke-Ruta is a senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic. More
She was previously national web politics editor at The Washington Post, and has also worked at The American Prospect, The Washington City Paper, The New Republic and National Journal magazines. At The Prospect she won the 2007 Hillman Prize awarded to its group blog, "Tapped."
In 2006, she was fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Mass., and in 2007, a summer fellow with The Iowa Independent, based in Des Moines, Iowa.
Garance has lectured at the Kennedy School, the Harvard Art Museums, Williams College, Wellesley College, Brandeis and Georgetown Universities, and taught in Georgetown's Master of Professional Studies in Journalism program. She also has made numerous appearances on national and regional television and radio programs.
Born in the South of France, Garance grew up in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico; New York City, New York; and Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has resided in Washington, D.C., since graduating from Harvard in 1997.
"We've seen some recent press allegations that the IRS is targeting certain Tea Party groups across the country -- requesting owners' documents requests, delaying approval for tax-exempt status and that kind of thing," Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana observed during the Q&A portion of the hearing. "Can you elaborate on what's going on with that? Can you give us assurances that the IRS is not targeting particular groups based on political leanings?"Shulman's answer is worth considering at length, because it helps explain what otherwise seems a mystifying denial. It's all about the culture of the IRS and what its more general approach to people is. His reply:
Thanks for bringing this up because I think there's been a lot of press about this and a lot of moving information, so I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. First, let me start by saying, yes, I can give you assurances. As you know, we pride ourselves on being a non-political, non-partisan organization. I am the only -- me and our chief counsel -- are the only presidential appointees, and I have a five-year term that runs through presidential elections, just so we will have none of that kind of political intervention in things that we do.
For 501 (c)(4) organizations, which is what's been in the press, organizations do not need to apply for tax exemption. Organizations can actually hold themselves out as 501 (c)(4) organizations and then file a 990 with us.
The organizations that have been in the press are all ones that are in the application process.
First of all, I think it's very important to emphasize that all of these organizations came in voluntarily.
They did not need to engage the IRS in a back-and-forth.
They could have held themselves out, filed a 990, and if we had seen an issue, we would have engaged but otherwise we wouldn't....
And so what's been happening has been the normal back-and-forth that happens with the IRS. None of the alleged taxpayers and obviously I can't talk about individual taxpayers and I'm not involved in these -- are in an examination process.
They're in an application process which they moved into voluntarily.
There is absolutely no targeting.
The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.It's a really long and interesting piece, and worth a read as a reminder of what the Tea Party movement looked like earlier in its development, when it was a more fiery force.
These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.
Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.
Loose alliances like Friends for Liberty are popping up in many cities, forming hybrid entities of Tea Parties and groups rooted in the Patriot ethos. These coalitions are not content with simply making the Republican Party more conservative. They have a larger goal -- a political reordering that would drastically shrink the federal government and sweep away not just Mr. Obama, but much of the Republican establishment, starting with Senator John McCain....
The ebbs and flows of the Tea Party ferment are hardly uniform. It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure. Not everyone flocking to the Tea Party movement is worried about dictatorship. Some have a basic aversion to big government, or Mr. Obama, or progressives in general. What's more, some Tea Party groups are essentially appendages of the local Republican Party. (emphasis added)
"After reading his 34-paragraph screed, I am struck by how his alienation is similar to that we're hearing from the extreme elements of the Tea Party movement," wrote Jonathan Capeheart of the Washington Post in a blog item. According to a piece on Fox News:
Joseph Stack, the 53-year-old software engineer who crashed his small plane into a seven-story office building in Austin, Texas, was part of a growing, violent anti-tax and anti-government movement that has become increasingly alarming to law enforcement agencies.
Stack, who torched his home Thursday morning before setting out on his suicide flight, was fueled by his hatred of the Internal Revenue Service, which had offices and employed nearly 200 workers in the building.
Stack was not a member of his local group, the Austin Tea Party Patriots, as its founders repeatedly tried to make clear in February 2010.
We don't know what led the IRS to begin looking more closely at Tea Party groups and the conservative anti-government movement. But if you want to know how the Tea Party and the IRS and electoral politics were being discussed in February 2010, there's your answer.
The Treasury Inspector General report on the IRS mishandling of conservative advocacy group applications for tax exempt status between March 2010 and February 2012 was released Tuesday, and it is a doozy.
The report, conveniently titled "Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review" -- in case you had any question as to its conclusions -- points the finger at "ineffective management" as the cause of the improper selection of groups using the words "Tea Party," "Patriot" and "9/12" for additional review and questioning.
The report fills in some important blanks in our knowledge about how the groups were selected and how their applications were managed. Most intriguing to me is the apparent case of this one guy in an office in Cincinnati who sat on the selected applications for 13 months because he or she was waiting for assistance from the Washington, D.C., office, which took forever to arrive. Talk about your bureaucratic cul-de-sacs!
Follow along with me. The report summary states that "Although the processing of some applications with potential significant political campaign intervention was started soon after receipt, no work was completed on the majority of these applications for 13 months. This was due to delays in receiving assistance from the Exempt Organizations function Headquarters office."
It wasn't until "[m]ore than 20 months after the initial case was identified" that "processing the cases began in earnest."
Let's look at that more closely. The report states that:
The Determinations Unit developed and used inappropriate criteria to identify applications from organizations with the words Tea Party in their names. These applications (hereafter referred to as potential political cases)(13) were forwarded to a team of specialists (14) for review. Subsequently, the Determinations Unit expanded the criteria to inappropriately include organizations with other specific names (Patriots and 9/12) or policy positions. While the criteria used by the Determinations Unit specified particular organization names, the team of specialists was also processing applications from groups with names other than those identified in the criteria.
The Determinations Unit is based in Cincinnati. Later, the report gets more specific about what happened to the tagged applications: "The team of specialists stopped working on potential political cases from October 2010 through November 2011, resulting in a 13-month delay, while they waited for assistance from the Technical Unit."
The Technical Unit was based out of the Exempt Organizations main office in Washington, according to the report.
This is where it gets into facepalm territory. Footnote 14 earlier tells us that this "team" of specialists that stopped working on potential cases was just one guy.
(14) Initially, the team consisted of one specialist, but it was expanded to several specialists in December 2011. The EO function referred to this team as the advocacy team.
So basically, according to the IG report, a substantial portion of the delay in processing the improperly selected cases came about because they were sent for review to a team consisting of one guy, who then had to wait more than a year for help on them from the main office.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why people hate the government.
You can read the full IG report online here.
Are the AP snooping, Benghazi, and IRS scandals about to destroy Obama's second term? Not really—because hyperpartisanship in Washington had already stalled the president's agenda and put the 113th Congress on track to become another one of the young 21st century's already-legendary do-nothing bodies.
Most of what a president can accomplish takes place early in a term. But as Republican communications pros are fond of reminding reporters, Obama's second term was already off to a rocky start.
Gun control already failed.
The major reason the Toomey-Manchin bill to expand background checks failed was distrust of the federal government. That's not going to change. The IRS and AP scandals will no doubt worsen distrust of the federal government, especially in circles already prone to such sentiments and make it harder for members of Congress to withstand gun-lobby pressure. But the important thing to remember is that every major gun proposal before the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate already failed at a time when the political winds were as favorable to such reforms as they have been in more than a decade. And none of those proposals ever had a shot in the U.S. House.
Budget negotiations already failed.
The sequester was supposed to be a budgetary approach so stupid no one would ever allow it to be implemented, and yet here we are, with the Pentagon planning to furlough 650,000 civilian workers and Head Start and other programs across the country slashing services or putting off planned innovations. Even in the wake of a decisive reelection and while riding a crest of positive national sentiment, the president was unable to come to a grand bargain on revenues and spending with Republican leaders, and so instead we have the sequester, and no sign that Congress is eager to revisit the issue or reverse it. Republican willingness to negotiate with the president was always low, and what remained at the end of his first term seemed to evaporate early in the new year—that is, well before the current scandals.
Obama's appointments were already stalled.
Some worry that the scandals now providing fuel for congressional investigations could weaken the president and embolden his enemies to such an extent that they will prevent his second-term Cabinet from being seated in a timely manner, or as the president might wish. But after the successful Republican opposition to the idea of a Susan Rice nomination to the State Department and the GOP's pre-scandal efforts to thwart or delay the seating of Thomas Perez as Labor Secretary and Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator, it will be hard to tell the difference if that's the case. The appointments process under Obama has been broken since 2009.
As for the matter of whether the AP scandal will lead to calls for Eric Holder's head, it's worth recalling that the chairman of the Republican National Committee already called for him to resign in December 2011 over the Fast and Furious program, releasing a web ad accusing him of a "cover-up." There may be more calls, but they won't be the first ones.
The implementation of Obamacare was already going to be complicated and rocky.
The period in which a massive new law is implemented is always full of kinks. That was going to be the case no matter what. The one thing that might potentially change in the wake of the IRS scandal is the willingness of Republicans to increase funding for the taxing agency, so that it can oversee the implementation of the tax credits, tax increases, and individual mandate compliance that are a key part of the Affordable Care Act. But given that the Republican-controlled U.S. House has already held 36 votes to repeal Obamacare—a 37th is planned this week—and opponents of the law already contested it all the way up to the level of the Supreme Court, it is not far-fetched to imagine that adequate funding to implement mandate oversight was always going to be a hard sell. As the Fiscal Times reported in an examination of the issue, "long before the current uproar over the IRS scrutiny of these politically motivated groups seeking non-profit status, Republicans were challenging budget and staffing levels at the IRS and demanding to know how much the agency intended to spend to implement Obama's health care reform law."
Republicans have also already refused to appoint people to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, tasked with finding Medicare savings under the health-reform law. Last week, before the AP scandal broke and before the extent of the IRS one came into view, Democratic congressman John Larson of Connecticut predicted that the road ahead would involve "yet another round of obstructionism, another round of hostage-taking and another round of trying to block anything that Obama does."
Immigration reform was always going to be a difficult bill to pass.
The best chance for Obama to enact a major domestic priority this year involves the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill, which revives the goal of providing undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship. Attempts at comprehensive immigration reform have failed over and over since Reagan's 1986 "amnesty" bill, leading the Washington Post's Rachel Weiner to conclude in January, "if immigration reform succeeds, it will go against a quarter-century of political history."
Circumstances are more auspicious today than they were during the 2004-07 failed reform attempt period, but the Republican split on immigration is not something that will be resolved or erased by a new round of scandal investigations in the House. Republicans need to solve—or at least mitigate—their problems with Hispanic voters in order to have a shot at the White House in the years ahead, and the Washington leadership of the party knows this. That is a fact on the ground, as will be Hispanic anger if immigration reform and the fate of 11 million undocumented people fall victim to Republican opposition to the president thanks to Benghazi, the AP records snoop, or what went on in 2010 at the IRS division that reviews tax-exempt organizations. And yet there is also—already—substantial Republican resistance to a comprehensive bill, especially when it comes to questions like gay and lesbian immigration equality. "If the Judiciary Committee tries to redefine marriage in the immigration bill they will lose me and many others," Graham tweeted Monday.
Obama has said he will sign a bill that does not provide for gay and lesbian immigration equality, and ongoing scandal investigations might diminish his negotiating power on that front. But a much more significant factor than administration scandals when it comes to the fate of gays in the immigration reform bill will be the Supreme Court decisions, expected in late June, on two gay marriage cases.
In short, those who wondered why Obama seemed so singularly unenthusiastic about the prospect of a second term while in the midst of running for it now have their answer. Because it looks like this. Because despite optimistic rhetoric about how the 113th Congress would be different from the 112th, which was the least productive Congress since the 1940s, the likelihood was that it was always going to look like this.
A report in Roll Call in March 2012 revealed that leading members of Congress not only were aware that the Internal Revenue Service had begun investigating the political activity of would-be 501(c)4 Tea Party groups that winter, but showed to what an extent members of Congress had been actively putting pressure on the agency to take a closer look at tax-exempt conservative organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. Reported Janie Lorber in 2012:
Tea party outrage over a spate of IRS letters to conservative groups has revived a long-standing dispute over the agency's controversial role in policing politically active nonprofits.
In January, the IRS began sending extensive questionnaires to organizations applying for nonprofit status as part of a broader project to understand whether social welfare organizations—which are not required to disclose their donors—are actually acting as political committees.
Campaign finance reform groups and lawmakers in both parties have repeatedly demanded that the IRS examine the activities of tax-exempt advocacy groups, which proliferated during the 2010 cycle and are on pace to play an even larger role in 2012.
Democrats, whose affiliated outside groups have lost the fundraising race to Republican organizations this year, have been particularly vocal, sending repeated letters to the agency requesting an investigation. On Wednesday, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) asked his colleagues in Congress to sign yet another.
Peter Welch is a Democratic congressman from Vermont and sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by California Republican Darrell Issa. Welch's March 2, 2012 letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman explicitly called on the IRS to crack down on 501(c)(4)s:
We write to urge the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate whether any groups qualifying as social welfare organizations under section 501(c)(4) of the federal tax code are improperly engaged in political campaign activity.
Congress created a tax break for nonprofit social welfare organizations because communities across our country benefit greatly from their important work. It is clearly contrary to the intent of Congress for organizations supporting a candidate for office or running attack ads against a candidate to receive taxpayer support intended for legitimate nonprofit groups...
We strongly urge you to fully enforce the law and related court rulings that clearly reserve 501(c)(4) tax status for legitimate nonprofit organizations. And we urge you to investigate and stop any abuse of the tax code by groups whose true mission is to influence the outcome of federal elections.
In a statement accompanying the letter, Welch's office urged the IRS to "investigate whether nonprofit 501(c)(4) organizations affiliated with Super PACs—such as Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-backed group spending millions of dollars in campaigns across the country—are in violation of federal law and IRS regulations."
Issa, for his part, sent a letter on March 27, 2012 in concert with Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio, who sits on House Oversight and chairs its Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, asking the agency to look into the Tea Party group complaints about excessive information requests.
"Over the past several weeks the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sent many organizations, operating under tax exempt status, lengthy and detailed questionnaires," Issa and Jordan wrote to Lois Lerner, the director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS, footnoting the above Roll Call story and a report in CNSNews as their sources. "These questionnaires ask for information well beyond the scope of typical disclosures required under IRS Form 1024....[S]everal experts suggest these recent IRS questionnaires exceed appropriate scrutiny."
"Moreover," they added, "the IRS must apply the same criteria for all organizations applying for tax exempt status. News reports, however, indicate that the IRS efforts lack balance, with conservative organizations being the target of the IRS's heightened scrutiny efforts."
A group of 12 Republican U.S. Senators on March 14, 2012 also complained to the IRS about the handling of the Tea Party and other conservative groups. "We have received reports and reviewed information from nonprofit civic organizations in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas concerning recent IRS inquiries perceived to be excessive," they wrote Commissioner Shulman. "It is critical that the public have confidence that federal tax compliance efforts are pursued in a fair, even-handed, and transparent manner—without regard to politics of any kind. To that end, we write today to seek your assurance that this recent string of inquiries has a sound basis in law and is consistent with the IRS's treatment of tax-exempt organizations across the spectrum."
Signatories on the letter included Orrin Hatch (Utah), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and Rand Paul (Ky.).
Outside groups had been calling on the IRS to investigate non-profits—and especially nonprofit 501(c)(4) groups run by Republican political operatives—since at least the fall of 2011. The "IRS said examining the tax status of 501(c)4 political entities would be a priority for 2012," the Wall Street Journal reported in June 2012, noting that the agency was "taking initial steps to examine whether Crossroads GPS, a pro-Republican group affiliated with Karl Rove, and similar political entities are violating their tax-exempt status by spending too much on partisan activities."
Sen. Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, called on the IRS in 2010 to investigate tax-exempt groups, writing the IRS commissioner that September to request that the agency "survey major 501(c)(4), (c)(5) and (c)(6) organizations involved in political campaign activity to examine whether they are operated for the organization's intended tax exempt purpose and to ensure that political campaign activity is not the organization's primary activity." He said his request was prompted by news reports about the organizing efforts of conservative groups.
"Possible violation of tax laws should be identified as you conduct this study," Baucus wrote. "Please report back to the Finance Committee as soon as possible with your findings and recommended actions regarding this matter."
On Monday, Baucus announced plans to hold a Senate Finance Committee hearing into Friday's fresh round of revelations that the IRS had targeted conservative 501(c)4 groups.
According to a draft inspector general's audit obtained by the New York Times, the agency use of "tea party" as a key word to scrutinize applicants for tax-exempt status dated to March 2010 and continued through February 2012, when the Tea Party groups began to raise a public outcry.
Despite conservative outcry over the extent of coverage of the trial of Kermit Gosnell (the physician charged in the death of one adult and four infants at his Philadelphia abortion clinic) and a subsequent spike in coverage of the dangerous and dirty conditions at his now-shuttered facility, Americans are paying little attention to the case, Gallup pollsters report.
There also has been no measurable shift in public opinion on abortion in the wake of his trial. The trial has become a cause célèbre among anti-abortion activists, who see it as a way to shift the abortion conversation toward a national reconsideration of the legality of late second-trimester abortions and clinic safety standards.
"Although the latest Gallup survey was conducted after much of the testimony in this trial had already been reported in the news, the stability in Americans' views about the legality of abortion suggests the trial has not swayed public opinion," the pollsters wrote in an analysis released Friday. "Part of the reason could be that relatively few Americans are paying attention to the case."
According to Gallup, "One-quarter of Americans say they have followed news of the case either very closely (seven percent) or somewhat closely (18 percent), but that is well below the 61-percent average level of attention Americans have paid to the more than 200 news stories Gallup has measured since 1991....This makes the Gosnell case one of the least followed news stories Gallup has measured."
Unsurprisingly, those most opposed to abortion are following the case most closely. Surprisingly, fewer than half (46 percent) of this older, more anti-abortion, more Republican minority—the Gosnell-story watchers—said the case had not received enough attention. Another 47 percent said it had received either too much attention (20 percent) or the right amount of coverage (27 percent). Overall, only 21 percent thought the case was receiving too little coverage—and the majority of those surveyed were not following the case, now on its ninth day of jury deliberations.
SOCIOBIOLOGY has long been a sore spot for the Left, and with good reason. Our fundamental traits have a firm biological basis, shaped as they are by complex gene-environment interactions. And the more we discover how firmly ingrained our abilities, attitudes, and behaviors tend to be, the less plausible leftist social-intervention programs become....Biology severely limits the aspirations of social engineers While unwarranted optimism characterizes Nisbett's discussion of raising IQ, obfuscation best describes his treatment of racial differences in IQ. He claims, for example, that East Asians are not smarter than Europeans, citing a 1991 review of the data, but his evidence is 18 years out of date. Richard Lynn and his colleagues have since demonstrated that Asian Americans outscore white Americans by about fourpoints on IQ tests, and East Asian countries have the highest national IQ's in the world. These results are scarcely mentioned.
Nisbett does say that Jews have higher IQ's than Gentiles, and that whites have higher IQ's than blacks, but his purely environmental explanations of these differences often beg questions. For example, Nisbett explains the superior IQ of Jews by citing the educational focus of Jewish culture, and he ascribes elevated visual-spatial ability among East Asians to a culture that emphasizes it. But where did these cultures come from? Nisbett never seriously considers that cultures themselves could have genetic origins.
A key assertion that Nisbett makes to argue that genes have nothing to do with the black-white IQ difference is that blacks have cut the deficit by more than one third over the past 30 years, implying that we can expect smaller differences over time. But recent gap narrowing is shown by only a single IQ test. Four other major IQ tests show no narrowing of the black-white gap among people born after the 1970s.By de-emphasizing the role of nature in determining intelligence, Nisbett tries to reduce IQ to little more than an achievement measure. Achievement can be raised by better textbooks, better teachers, better home environments. No need to worry too much about biology, Nisbett is telling his readers. There is no need to face up to deep-seated individual and group differences in abilities, and to what implications they might have for a democratic society.New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has already bought in. In an article entitled "Rising Above IQ," Kristof pronounced Intelligence and How to Get It "superb" because it allows him to avoid talking about intelligence differences. He and most of the Left can go on with the comfortable assumption that everyone has the same cognitive potential. But biological differences cannot be wished away.
Niall Ferguson dismisses economist John Maynard Keynes's work as the product of an "effete" sensibility more interested in talking ballet than building a family with his wife.
Daily Caller writer Matthew K. Lewis blasts coverage of the gun control debate and declares, "Newsrooms should also hire a few journalists who aren't effete liberal p*ssies."
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas dismisses fellow Republicans who considered voting for a de minimis gun-control bill as "squishes."
Welcome to the place where public policy-making runs smack into the culturally charged policing of the boundaries of masculine identity.
Pussies. Squishes. Effete elites. This isn't policy talk oriented toward coming up with the greatest good for the greatest number, reducing human suffering, or even securing the nation against foreign threats. This is something else -- something far more primal. This is about perceptions of manliness, and about policy as an affirmation of masculine identity.
While identity politics is often seen as being a form of argument involving minorities, the reality has always been that identity politics in America is little more than a recent instantiation of the core human desire to be part of a group, and the fact that groups ceaselessly contend for power against each other. White men once were seen as the American norm from an identity perspective, in that they were the only ones who held the franchise. They remain the dominant class in virtually every significant remunerated field of endeavor. But today I think we see more and more expressions of cultural identity from white men qua white men, as they seek to claim a place of their own in the multicultural firmament. Sometimes this identity is described as being Southern, or rural; other times, as Lewis puts it, it's about "redneck" culture. He contrasts this with having "a cosmopolitan background," a.k.a. hailing from a racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse urban community.
But masculine identity-politics games are far from being just another thing white people like, or something specific to a rural American upbringing, in whatever region. Cruz is Hispanic and pretty cosmopolitan, having attended two Ivy League institutions and possessing personal ties to America, Canada, and Cuba. Ferguson, a Harvard history professor who came over from the U.K., is no country bumpkin, and it's hard to imagine his time at Cambridge and Oxford had much in common with Lewis's at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
What they all share is a philosophy in which a certain construction of masculinity is, in style and substance, superior to the that of their opponents, whom they see as somehow soft, feminized, and lacking in legitimacy. Ferguson quickly backed away from his remarks about Keynes, who though married was gay. But so what? Acknowledging that dismissing Keynes as a childless effete was a stupid thing to say only reveals how ingrained and normalized the desire to question the masculinity of opponents is.
Lewis stuck with his insult against members of the press that they are pussies. By his use of asterisks I think we can all be certain he did not mean that they were kittenish; he meant that they are like women. That they are weak. Inferior. Because women are weak and inferior; they are vulnerable where men are impenetrable. Indeed, much of the argument for unfettered gun sales in the wake of the Newtown shooting has hinged less on arguments about sport than on questions of self-defense, and, in particular, on the idea that women need guns to protect themselves from rape and intruders and so on. A world where the threat of violence by men is best met with the fact of violence by women, and in which the only solution to the threat of force is greater force. And not, for example, more prosaic changes -- which studies suggest have contributed to the nation's drop in crime -- such as the proliferation of cell phones and the move toward unleaded gasoline.
The argument of gun culture is an argument against a vision of masculinity that is seen as feminized, but it is also an argument deeply skeptical of the ability of government to provide security, and one that valorizes the gun-owner as a heroic, or potentially heroic, individual. No wonder that teased and bullied boys with mental issues seek a solution to their masculine identity conundrums in turning arms caches against innocents, seizing for a brief moment the power over others that they have always lacked.
And this is where we get into the really sticky part of the politics of masculine identity, which is that force, when not opposed, does tend to succeed. People who are weaker do tend to get hurt more. It is not just the predators of the savannah who prey on those who are most vulnerable. The rule of law stands in opposition to the rule of force and the natural inequalities between man and man. But not around the margins, where the strong too often are able to dominate, exploit, punish or control the weak, leaving it to the state to pick up pieces that can never really be put back together again.
Armed groups of men have always been a major force in world history, whether sanctioned by the state or not. The idea that the moral power of grieving parents could overcome the identity gifts -- the sense of security -- that arms give to the men who cherish them is not just ahistoric; it misunderstands the fundamental dynamics of how power works in human society, and the politics of masculine identity in America. Even in a democracy, the only thing that can overcome force is force.
Luckily, violence is not the only form of force. There are other ways of creating change.
Public shaming also has a power. Ferguson apologized because he was subjected to a great deal of criticism from people in his own world, people whose opinions mattered to his sense of group belonging. Cruz is getting some blowback from people in his own party who think that he's acting like an immature jerk (not my words), though I doubt that will slow or stop his rise as a public figure unless it turns into high-level on-the-record shaming from his squishy party colleagues or cuts into his fundraising ability. Majority Leader Harry Reid has sought to help define him during these early days of Cruz's tenure in the Senate, calling him a "schoolyard bully."
Recognizing the role guns play in the cultural construction of a certain kind of masculinity, and how much the policy conversation around them is about identity politics more than anything else, does suggest one path forward. The gun conversation can be changed by the one type of force more powerful than an organized group of people with arms -- the power to make people feel ashamed of themselves and ostracized by the group they care most about.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns has tried, without much apparent effect, to address the macho argument, putting forward a slate of senior military types to argue for reform. Meanwhile, slowly, on Twitter and elsewhere, we are seeing glimmerings of the new argument from shame, as people highlight of incident after incident in which small children have killed small children. Even if no new gun-control laws are passed, if it becomes beyond the pale socially for parents to store guns sloppily or allow their children to access loaded guns without their permission, it would be progress. If people developed a culture of more carefully locking up their guns and more carefully restricting access to them, it would be progress.
That means shaming parents, and holding them accountable for negligence when their children kill each other -- or anyone -- with unsecured guns. It seems cruel to punish a mother or father already doubtless grieving and guilt ridden, but such laws are on the books in some states. America has undertaken more vigorous shaming campaigns for far less harmful social behaviors than keeping a sloppy hold on guns, such as getting pregnant as a teen, or smoking, or letting babies ride in cars outside of car-seats. And it would mean asking gun owners to rethink how they store, share, and sell their legally purchased weapons. After all, according to the FBI, legal gun owners are the second-largest source of guns flowing to criminals, with 37 percent of them coming from family or friends of the individuals locked up in state prisons. Gun shows, in contrast, were the source of less than one percent of the firearms held by those who committed crimes.
Greater federal regulation of guns will only be possible once gun owners are less afraid of the government than the disapprobation of their own communities. I don't expect that to happen any time soon, because I don't believe that a small group of grieving mothers -- even with strong political backing -- has the power to transform a conversation that's at core about how millions of men define themselves. Only the men of the relevant communities can do that. But if gun-owners can change their own cultural norms enough -- if they can get a better get a grip on their own legal weapons and keep them out of the hands of criminals and children -- we might at the least have in the future fewer grieving mothers.
Yesterday, EMILY's List, the venerable group dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women, held a briefing to release data on how generic women candidates might fare and to urge pollsters to poll more women candidates than just Hillary Clinton as they consider potential 2016 presidential candidates.
"Battleground voters are ready for a woman president, and the country is, too," the group announced in presenting their data, which you can read in full here, and launching a new effort to elect a woman to the position of Madam President. "Almost unanimously (90%), voters in the battleground states would consider voting for a qualified woman candidate from their party. Their readiness goes deeper than this though -- 86% believe that America is ready to elect a woman president, and 72% believe that it is likely that America will elect a woman president in the next presidential election, including 86% of Democratic primary voters."
Such polling is nominally useful as a measure of how far voters have come in accepting women in the political arena.
"While voters believe that it is harder for a woman to be elected president than it is for a man, 75% also believe that a woman president would be a good thing for this country," the group found. "On nearly every issue tested, a female president is perceived to be as capable or more capable than a male president."
But what does that really mean? There is no such thing as a generic female president, any more than there is a generic male president -- all there is in real life are a bunch of specific women who might each run for president. And a group of real-life women who already have run for president, each of whom has been found wanting in her own way.
The issue for women who might run for president is not how they poll in theory before they run for office, but how they wear during the course of a campaign. Think Sarah Palin, popular outsider governor of Alaska, versus Sarah Palin, highly polarizing vice-presidential selection and drag on the McCain ticket. Or Hillary Clinton, popular and respected United States senator, versus Hillary Clinton, polarizing presidential candidate with high negatives who was only "likable enough" and too hawkish for the Democratic base.
Clinton, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, "has a huge lead over other potential 2016 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination" with support from 65 percent of Democratic voters, compared to 13 percent for Joe Biden. Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, described Clinton as having a "rock-solid hold on the hearts of Democratic voters at this point."
But the "at this point" is the key part of his sentence. Clinton ran on inevitability in 2007 and 2008. It didn't work. And already there are rumblings that, should she run, many of those on the left who are unhappy with the Obama Administration would coalesce against her in a primary contest, casting her run as a kind of bid for an Obama third term. Meanwhile, on the right, dissatisfactions with the handling of the Benghazi attack would grow into an ever sharper cudgel. That's not to say Clinton couldn't rise above and weather both forms of opposition -- not to mention the inevitable return of the Clinton derangement syndrome that pops up in public life whenever one of them contends for office -- but it's worth recalling that when it comes to women in public life, there are only individual women, each of whom is sure to draw fire in her own unique way. And that no matter what people think about women in general, they will have some very specific and biting thoughts on the particular women who might eventually contend for the top spot in the American government.
For all the talk of red lines when it comes to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, President Obama's remarks on the war-torn nation at a White House news conference Tuesday served as a reminder that the former senator from Illinois was one of the staunchest opponents of military action in Iraq and ran for office in 2008 on the platform that the war, launched based on faulty intelligence, was a mistake.
Obama was against a rush to war in Iraq 2002 and 2003, and he's taking a similarly cautious approach in the complex environment of the Syrian conflict. In this, he's completely in tune with the American public, according to a New York Times/CBS News survey released Tuesday. It found that "majorities across party lines decidedly opposed to American intervention in North Korea or Syria right now," with 62 percent of the public agreeing that "the United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between government forces and antigovernment groups."
And to the extent that people are on board with U.S. military action, they back a de minimis version of intervention that's become increasingly controversial among civil liberties advocates: 70 percent of those polled supported drone strikes against terrorists.
"What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don't know how they were used, when they were used, who used them; we don't have chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened," Obama said Tuesday in response to a question from Fox News. "And when I am making decisions about America's national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I've got to make sure I've got the facts."
"That's what the American people would expect," he continued. "And if we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in the position where we can't mobilize the international community to support what we do. There may be objections even among some people in the region who are sympathetic with the opposition if we take action. So, you know, it's important for us to do this in a prudent way."
Female professional athletes are already gender non-conforming. Male ones are still worshiped as exemplars of traditional masculinity. Extremely sporty women have to fight stereotyping that they are lesbians and ignore all manner of unkind commentary about how they are mannish, while sporty men are seen as participating in a form of the masculine ideal.
This is the backdrop to why N.B.A. center Jason Collins' revelations in a Sports Illustrated piece today that he is gay are such a big deal -- and why it is that similar recent revelations from the this year's W.N.B.A. Number 1 draft pick Brittney Griner were greeted in mid-April with a collective yawn.
Women who play professional sports are grown-up versions of what we still to this day call "tomboys," a linguistic relic of our cognitive inability to see outdoorsy, competitive, rough-and-tumble behavior as inherently and naturally female, as well as male. Remember when people were speculating that then Supreme Court-nominee Elena Kagan was a lesbian just because she played on a softball team? "Sorry, softball=lesbian," wrote Brian Moylan in Gawker. (Yeah, that still happens.) Team sports have about them something martial or manly, which means that female team sports are often seen as butch activities. Meanwhile, men who participate in activities like gymnastics or ice skating are often stereotyped as gay; even though they are athletes, they are taking part in something more feminine. As King Kaufman observed in Salon in 2002: "The average American sports fan, watching the Olympic men's figure skating competition, probably figured that most of the contestants were gay." He then went on to debunk this assumption in a conversation with U.S. Olympic medalist Rudy Galindo, "the first actively competing figure skater who was out as being gay."
There have been many female athletes who have come out of the closet and been pioneers. Tennis great Billie Jean King. Tennis player Martina Navratilova. WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes, the "female Michael Jordan." Soccer midfielder Megan Rapinoe. Most recently, we had the example of college basketball phenom Griner. Her casual mention earlier this year that she's gay was greeted with a New York Times story headlined, "Female Star Comes Out as Gay, and Sports World Shrugs." Why was her declaration seen as not such a big deal? Because she was female, according to the paper of record.
"It was an odd juxtaposition," the paper's Sam Borden wrote, "as there is increased speculation about whether a male athlete -- any male athlete -- will come out while still playing a major professional team sport, one of the best female athletes in the history of team sports comes out, and the reaction is roughly equivalent to what one might see when a baseball manager reveals his starting rotation for a three-game series in July."
The reality is that by becoming a top-ranking female basketball player, Griner had already done hard work violating gender norms and was already seen as a gender outlier. "In sports right now, there are two different stereotypes -- that there are no gay male athletes, and every female athlete is a lesbian," Patrick Burke of the gay sports advocacy group You Can Play told the Times. "We've had tremendous success in getting straight male players to speak to the issue; we're having a tougher time finding straight female athletes speaking on this issue because they've spent their entire careers fighting the perception that they're a lesbian."
But a traditionally masculine man, playing a traditionally masculine team sport -- and he's gay? Well, that's news.
A fascinating presentation by Simon Rosenberg, president of the center-left think tank NDN, argues compellingly that the massive influx of Mexican citizens into the United States in the '90s and early aughts was a one-time historic experience fueled by a confluence of high birthrates in Mexico, the economic shock created by the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the presence of America's then-booming economy just across the border. All three factors have changed markedly since undocumented immigration peaked. Mexico is now an increasingly middle-class nation, with smaller families and residents who are less attracted to El Norte thanks to America's continuing economic sluggishness and new opportunities at home in a nation that has emerged as America's third-largest trading partner. All this, combined with a decline in crime in U.S. border towns thanks to Department of Homeland Security efforts, Rosenberg argues, means that the 2013 political argument over comprehensive immigration reform is unfolding against a much more favorable backdrop than did similar efforts in 2005.
"There is no new net migration of undocumented immigrants. That's a profoundly different situation than it was," explained Rosenberg in a briefing earlier in the week, similar to ones he's made on the Hill. "There will never be historical circumstances like what happened in the '90s that created this mass migration .... Mexico is rapidly becoming a middle-class country."
Whereas Mexico in the immediate post-NAFTA years suffered from a "large surplus of rural labor," today Mexico has for the first time a real service sector and emerging middle-class economy, he said. As well, "The perception that the border is out of control is just false. It's just not true .... If DHS had not actually made the border much safer ... I think it would have been very hard to imagine us getting an immigration bill through in this Congress."
His key slides on how much has changed since the House last voted through an immigration reform measure in 2005:
If Barack Obama has a bit too much restraint about his persona for the commentariat, Joe Biden is the White House's exuberant and impassioned id. From "This is a big fucking deal!" to remarks that fall in Onion territory, the tactile, voluble vice president has stepped forward at key moments in White House history to say what everyone is thinking (and also, sometimes, to step in it).
Today's example was Biden unleashing a stream of wholly warranted invective at the Boston Marathon bombers. Speaking at memorial services for slain M.I.T. police officer Sean Collier, he called bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev "two twisted, perverted, cowardly knock-off jihadis."
"Our very existence makes a lie of their perverted ideology," he said, driving home the point. He later repeated the insult, calling the bombers "these perverted jihadis."
Some asserted he was insensitively diminishing the attack by calling the attackers "knock-off." But there was no question that in repeatedly calling the suspects "perverted jihadis," Biden was once again taking on his designated role as senior administration official who gets to sling it.
I have no idea what's actually going on inside the New York Times but reading Dylan Byers's piece on Jill Abramson's tenure as the paper's first female editor I could not stop thinking about chapter three of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In -- you know, the one titled "Success and Likability." In it, Sandberg dives into the research on how female leaders find their temperaments subjected to constant negative scrutiny. There are certain phrases you hear over and over again in the conversation about women leaders, and since they seem to operate like memes, I made them into some. The words come directly from Byers's Politico article.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the Koch brothers -- yes, those Koch brothers, of dumping mad cash into elections fame -- are considering buying the Tribune network of newspapers in a bid to establish a pro-business conservative media chain.
I say, good luck with that.
There are several reasons regional newspapers are an awkward fit for anyone looking to counter-program what they see as liberal bias in the news media.
The main reason is that all major U.S. newspapers are based in cities. Cities in America are in the main run by Democrats, because they are populated, by and large, with Democrats, and very often also surrounded by Democratic suburbs. And because cities are run by Democrats, and populated by not only by Democrats but, very often, by liberal, minority, and immigrant Democrats, they tend to have laws on the books that at least formally signal a desire to serve the interests of these voting groups -- their residents, let's call them.
Newspapers, which are businesses, are subject to the employment and other laws of the cities in which they are based. Because they are based in cities, and because cities are often at the forefront of progressive legislating, newspapers tend to work under employment laws and answer to regional communities that have distinctive views about what a just society looks like. Conservatives are right to call these views liberal, but it's just as important to recognize them as the product of representative democracy within defined urban spaces (see Richard Florida for more on what it is that causes cities to vote Democratic). Newspapers, like other businesses, have to follow the local laws -- such as those protecting out gay employees -- or risk getting sued. And, historically, they had to appeal to urban or urbanizing local residents if they wanted any subscribers.
A typical version of the conservative complaint about the views of people who are part of the media comes from The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, who cut her teeth in conservative media before joining the Post as a conservative opinion blogger. She ignores the role of the city in creating and sustaining the contemporary newspaper:
There is no doubt there is a secular, urbanized (emphasis added), college-educated and socially liberal portion of the United States. Unfortunately for the rest of America, the media are almost entirely made up of such people, who by virtue of their employment and income status have limited contact with those on the other side of this cultural gap ....I don't like to talk about "the media," because it's such a large category it's almost impossible to make generalizations about it. Talk radio, for example, is a very different beast from cable news, which is a different thing again from online media or newspapers. But because the Koch brothers are contemplating buying a chain of newspapers, I want to concentrate on that form of media here.
In recent decades there has been a push for more racial, ethnic and gender diversity in newsrooms, but virtually no effort to incorporate geographic, cultural, political, social and religious diversity. That makes for newsrooms that are at the very least more likely to ignore or distort the views and lives of rural, religious, pro-life, non-college educated and conservative Americans. In age, beliefs, religion, educational level, income, military service and many other indices, journalists in major outlets are unrepresentative, enormously so, of the country at large ....
The more newsrooms reflect full intellectual, religious, geographic, economic and ideological diversity the less likely they will be to "miss" stories or get them wrong and the more likely they will insulate themselves from criticism of bias. Unfortunately, they never seem to get around to that.
It's all very well and good to argue that newspapers lack regional diversity, as Rubin does, except this ignores the fundamental historic organizing principle of newspapers: geography.
American newspapers originated as physical objects designed to be distributed in defined, geographically constrained regions. They originated as urban creations because only in urban areas was there enough commerce, enough politics -- enough news -- for them to grow, and enough readers to make them strong. There are newspapers based in rural areas, but it is hard for them to grow large, both because of the lack of regional news, and because of the difficulty of getting the physical object of the paper to enough people to scale it. Newspapers have historically depended on high densities of people for their existence (see Discovering The News: A Social History Of American Newspapers, for a really wonderful and fun history of the form).
Newspapers have also, at least until rather recently, demanded that their writers know a region. Not before they got hired, but once they started to work in it. Papers may have hired from diverse regional backgrounds (and newspapers draw from a more geographically and educationally diverse population of reporters than Rubin thinks they do), but what they demanded of their workers is that they become regional specialists. That's what running people through the Metro Desk was designed to do. Until fairly recently, to report on national politics, you had to get to know the problems of the city or of dense close-in suburbs first. You had to take a crash course in the culture of the city and the region in which your newspaper was based.
Also important: Because employment at these city-based newspapers is voluntary, they tend to attract reporters who want to live in cities. The New York Times, for example, gets the Iowans who want to leave Iowa and live in Manhattan or Brooklyn. It does not get as many job applicants who want to live in traditional rural communities, because it is not a rural-community-based employer. Newspapers hire people who can deal with working in cities -- big, major, complicated, diverse, progressive cities -- and who will obey the socially progressive laws of those cities at work, even if they live off in the 'burbs somewhere.
There are successful conservative newspapers in cities, but they are usually the scrappy local underdogs to the big mainstream dailies bought by the plurality of the regional paper-buying population. Think: The Boston Herald (conservative) versus The Boston Globe. The New York Post (conservative) versus the New York Times and Daily News. The Washington Times (conservative) versus the Washington Post.
Actually, let's look at this last example more closely, because the Washington market is suffering one of the sharpest newspaper contractions in the country, and it is the printed papers whose conservatism spills over the opinion wall into the news pages that have been having the toughest time of it in this Obama-friendly region. The Washington Times laid off more than 40 percent of its newsroom in 2009, then another 20 people in 2013, and is on track to contract again through another round of layoffs. The Washington Examiner, founded in 2005 with big ambitions and a right-leaning editorial page, just announced it's ceasing near-daily printing and becoming a single weekly magazine plus a website, replacing its original model of a local-news-covering paper with a regional distribution with the only form of media that's even harder to sustain as a business, the weekly newsmagazine (think of the fates of Newsweek, or U.S. News & World Report) with national ambitions. Eighty-seven people were laid off, and the new publication is slated to focus on "national politics" and "hire at least 20 new people," according to a Huffington Post report, dropping its readership of Metro riders looking for crime news in favor of a new audience of "roughly 45,000 professionals in government, public affairs, advocacy and academia."
In short, it's giving up on being a newspaper and becoming an opinion and analysis magazine. It's moving from being a publication designed to serve a geographic community to one designed to serve an intellectual one, and, most likely, a community of interested conservative readers.
The Koch brothers could try to make the Los Angeles Times or the Baltimore Sun more appealing to a different intellectual community. But if they were to buy the papers and push their newsrooms in a more conservative direction, I suspect they would see an increase in the pace at which the geographic communities that once sustained the publications abandon them.
Within moments of holding a news conference, Ruslan Tsarni, the uncle of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers, became the top trending topic on Twitter in the United States and worldwide. Speaking with mix of anger and disgust in his features he appealed to his fugitive relative: "I say Dzhokhar, if you are alive TURN YOURSELF IN. And ask for forgiveness from the victims, from the injured."
His fuller remarks:
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano cancelled a planned appearance before the immigration-reform bill hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday to oversee her agency's participation in the manhunt in Boston. The suspects: Chechen immigrants.
"They got their start as refugees. Refugees from war," the uncle of the Boston Marathon suspects said of the young men, one of whom was slain in a shootout with police in Watertown, Mass., overnight.
The unfolding events in Boston and its surrounding suburbs immediately began to influence the debate over the immigration bill under discussion in Washington, as conservatives on Twitter began to prick at Sen. Marco Rubio over his support of immigration reform and to call for a slow-down in efforts to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the Unites States.
"Given the events of this week it's important to understand the gaps and loopholes" in the immigration system, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in opening remarks at the hearing. He said hoped the hearing would "shed light on the weaknesses of our system" and "how can we beef up security checks," as well as how to insure that "those who would do us harm do not receive benefits under the immigration laws."
Grassley described the committee as "off to a rough start," with the most members and staff on the committee not having had an opportunity to read the bill. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the committee, said he expected there would be a lengthy review of the bill and that he did not anticipate a vote on it until sometime next month.
The precise immigration status of the Boston suspects was not entirely clear. The elder one, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was featured online in a photo essay about his boxing aspirations titled "Will Box for Passport."
"I'm dressed European style," he described himself in the caption accompanying one photo. Another one said that he "fled Chechnya with his family because of the conflict in the early 90s, and lived for years in Kazakhstan before getting to the United States as a refugee."
Officials said that the two men were of Chechen origin. Chechnya, a long-disputed, predominantly Muslim territory in southern Russia sought independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and then fought two bloody wars with the authorities in Moscow. Russian assaults on Chechnya were brutal and killed tens of thousands of civilians, as terrorist groups from the region staged attacks in central Russia. In recent years, separatist militant groups have gone underground, and surviving leaders have embraced fundamentalist Islam.
The family lived briefly in Makhachkala, the capital of the Dagestan region, near Chechnya, before moving to the United States, said a school administrator there. Irina V. Bandurina, secretary to the director of School No. 1, said the Tsarnaev family left Dagestan for the United States in 2002 after living there for about a year. She said the family -- parents, two boys and two girls -- had lived in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan previously.
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