The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Kristof

The Pasty Little Putz is being particularly vile today.  In “Bloomberg, LaPierre and the Void” he has a question:  Where are the alternatives to centrist arrogance and right-wing folly?  Apparently it’s arrogant to suggest that giving everyone an assault weapon might not be a grand idea.  He’s an unspeakable little piece of shit.  In “From Apocalypse to Dystopia”  MoDo says the N.R.A. solves the puzzle on gun violence: it’s the media’s fault.  The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Send in the Clowns,” says if Republicans continue to be led by a base that denies global warming after Sandy and refuses to ban assault weapons after Sandy Hook, then the party has no future.  Mr. Kristof’s byline is from Bahrain International Airport.  In “When Bahrain Said: Get Lost” he says Bahrain, our ally, is so determined to keep its repression from making headlines that it keeps American journalists, including yours truly, out of the country.  Here’s the dreadful POS from the Putz:

For a week after the Newtown shooting, the conversation was dominated by the self-righteous certainties of the American center-left. In print and on the airwaves, the chorus was nearly universal: the only possible response to Adam Lanza’s rampage was an immediate crusade for gun control, the necessary firearm restrictions were all self-evident, and anyone who doubted their efficacy had the blood of children on his hands.

The leading gun control chorister was Michael Bloomberg, and this was fitting, because on a range of issues New York’s mayor has become the de facto spokesman for the self-consciously centrist liberalism of the Acela Corridor elite. Like so many members of that class, Bloomberg combines immense talent with immense provincialism: his view of American politics is basically the famous New Yorker cover showing Manhattan’s West Side overshadowing the world, and his bedrock assumption is that the liberal paternalism with which New York is governed can and should be a model for the nation as a whole.

It’s an assumption that cries out to be challenged by a thoughtful center-right. If you look at the specific proposals being offered by Bloomberg and others, some just look like reruns of assault weapon regulations that had no obvious effect the last time they were tried. Others still might have an impact on gun violence, but only at a cost: the popular idea of cracking down hard on illegal handguns, for instance, would probably involve “stop and frisk” on a huge scale, and might throw more young men in prison at a time when our incarceration rates are already too high.

But instead of a kind of skepticism and sifting from conservatives, after a week of liberal self-righteousness the spotlight passed instead to … Wayne LaPierre. And no Stephen Colbert parody of conservatism could match the National Rifle Association spokesman’s performance on Friday morning.

It wasn’t so much that LaPierre’s performance made no concession whatsoever on gun restrictions or gun safety — that was to be expected. It was that he launched into a rambling diatribe against an absurdly wide array of targets, blaming everything from media sensationalism to “gun-free schools” signs to ’90s-vintage nihilism like “Natural Born Killers” for the Newtown tragedy. Then he proposed, as an alternative to the liberal heavy-handedness of gun control, something equally heavy-handed — a cop in every school, to be paid for by that right-wing old reliable, cuts to foreign aid.

Unfortunately for our country, the Bloomberg versus LaPierre contrast is basically all of American politics today. Our society is divided between an ascendant center-left that’s far too confident in its own rigor and righteousness and a conservatism that’s marched into an ideological cul-de-sac and is currently battering its head against the wall.

The entire Obama era has been shaped by this conflict, and not for the good. On issue after issue, debate after debate, there is a near-unified establishment view of what the government should do, and then a furious right-wing reaction to this consensus that offers no real policy alternative at all.

The establishment view is interventionist, corporatist and culturally liberal. It thinks that issues like health care and climate change and immigration are best worked out through comprehensive bills drawn up by enlightened officials working hand in glove with business interests. It regards sexual liberty as sacrosanct, and other liberties — from the freedoms of churches to the rights of gun owners — as negotiable at best. It thinks that the elite should pay slightly higher taxes, and everyone else should give up guns, SUVs and Big Gulps and live more like, well, Manhattanites. It allows the president an entirely free hand overseas, and takes the Bush-Obama continuities in foreign policy for granted.

The right-wing view is embittered, paranoid and confused. It opposes anything the establishment supports but doesn’t know what it wants to do instead. (Defund government or protect Medicare? Break up the banks or deregulate them? Send more troops to Libya or don’t get involved? Protect our liberties or put our schools on lockdown?) Sometimes the right’s “just say no” approach holds the establishment at bay — as on climate change and immigration, to date. But sometimes, as the House Republicans are demonstrating in the budget showdown, it makes the eventual defeat that much more sweeping.

What’s missing, meanwhile, are real alternatives — not only conservative, but left-wing as well. On national security, the left has essentially disappeared, sitting on its hands while President Obama embraces powers every bit as imperial as those his predecessor claimed. On economic issues, the Occupy Wall Street movement passed on the chance to actually advance an anticorporate agenda in favor of consciousness raising and theoretical self-gratification.

As for a conservatism with a serious program, and a real understanding of the challenges facing America today — well, hopefully it will surface by the 2016 presidential campaign. Till then, it’s the hubris of Bloomberg versus the humbug of LaPierre. Merry Christmas, America.

Here’s a huge plate of salted weasel dicks for you, Putzy.  Merry Christmas.  If you’re lucky you won’t choke on them.  Now here’s MoDo:

We’re a little overwrought now.

The N.R.A. understands that. It’s as patient with us as a husband with a tremulous pregnant wife prone to crying jags.

This is just a passing meltdown. We’ll get ourselves back under control soon and things will return to normal.

For decades, when the public has grown more sympathetic to gun control after an attempted assassination or a spike in gun murders or a harrowing school shooting, Wayne LaPierre and his fellow N.R.A. officials have hunkered down to wait for the “emotional period” or “hysteria,” as they call it, to pass.

They rule in the back rooms on Capitol Hill and rein in panicked senators and congressmen who fret that they should support some measly legislation to pretend they are not pawns of the gun lobby.

They defend anyone owning anything with a trigger, reiterating that military-style semiautomatics are just uglier hunting guns.

While there were more heartbreaking funerals in Newtown, Conn., with long hearses carrying small bodies, LaPierre stepped to the microphone in Washington on Friday to present the latest variation of his Orwellian creed: Guns don’t kill people. Media kill people.

“Rather than face their own moral failings,” he said in high dudgeon, “the media demonize gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws, and fill the national media with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action, and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.”

So it’s our fault.

LaPierre, who literally trembles when the omnipotent gun lobby is under siege, went ballistic painting a threatening picture of the dystopia that awaits if we don’t protect our schools from guns by putting guns in schools.

“The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters,” he said. “People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”

How many more copycat killers, he asked ominously, are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame?

On the day that 6-year-old Olivia Engel, who was going to play an angel in her church’s Nativity play, was buried, LaPierre heinously cloaked his refusal to consider any remedies to gun violence — not even better background checks — as tender concern for the 20 “little kids” shot in cold blood.

He kicked around the old whipping boy, violent video games, even though plenty of his four million members no doubt play violent video games. And he repeated his old saw: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Guns don’t kill people. Guns save people.

The press conference, where the press was not allowed to ask questions, played like an insane parody: a tightly wound lobbyist who earns a million or so a year by refusing to make the slightest concession on gun safety, despite repeated slaughters by deranged shooters with jaw-droppingly easy access to firearms.

LaPierre makes Charlton Heston look like Michael Moore. The N.R.A. vice president, who once called federal agents “jackbooted government thugs,” insists the solution to gun violence is putting police officers, or “armed good guys,” in every one of the nation’s 98,817 K-12 schools.

His logic is spurious. Hunters can have their guns without leaving Americans so vulnerable to being hunted by demented souls with assault rifles that can fire 45 rounds per minute.

And consider that in 1999 an armed sheriff’s deputy policing Columbine High School exchanged fire with the shooters, and still they killed 12 other students and a teacher. Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused LaPierre of “a shameful evasion.”

It’s hard to believe that the N.R.A. needed to go dark for a week after the Newtown shootings to cook up such a chuckleheaded arms race. And LaPierre made a worse case against himself than the media ever could. It’s shocking that the N.R.A. can’t even fake it better.

It didn’t try to mask its obdurate stance by putting forth a less harsh official — a woman who’s a mother and a hunter, for instance. Maybe it could have prompted a serious discussion about armed guards at schools if it had a less crazed presentation and less of an absolute vision that “guns are cool,” as David Keene, its president, says.

The 63-year-old LaPierre and the 67-year-old Keene, a cantankerous former Bob Dole adviser whose son went to prison for shooting at another driver in a road-rage fit, seemed as out-of-touch as Mitt Romney’s campaign and the rest of the white, macho Republican Party.

President Obama, who should have been alarmed that his re-election inspired a boom in gun sales, seems daunted at the prospect of taking on gun lovers, having handed the matter off to Joe Biden to study. The president seems to be setting the table for defeat. If only he had the visceral outrage of a Bloomberg. Who knows what could happen?

Yeah, MoDo, we know that you can’t stand it that President Obama doesn’t get all het up and weepy.  Get over it.  Next up is The Moustache of Wisdom:

When thinking about the state of the Republican Party, I defer to a point that the Democratic consultant James Carville made the other day: “When I hear people talking about the troubled state of today’s Republican Party, it calls to mind something Lester Maddox said one time back when he was governor of Georgia. He said the problem with Georgia prisons was ‘the quality of the inmates.’ The problem with the Republican Party is the quality of the people who vote in their primaries and caucuses. Everybody says they need a better candidate, or they need a better message but — in my opinion — the Republicans have an inmate problem.” The political obsessions of the Republican base — from denying global warming to defending assault weapons to opposing any tax increases under any conditions, to resisting any immigration reform — are making it impossible to be a Republican moderate, said Carville. And without more Republican moderates, there is no way to strike the kind of centrist bargains that have been at the heart of American progress — that got us where we are and are essential for where we need to go.

Republican politicians today have a choice: either change your base by educating and leading G.O.P. voters back to the center-right from the far right, or start a new party that is more inclusive, focused on smaller but smarter government and market-based, fact-based solutions to our biggest problems.

But if Republicans continue to be led around by, and live in fear of, a base that denies global warming after Hurricane Sandy and refuses to ban assault weapons after Sandy Hook — a base that would rather see every American’s taxes rise rather than increase taxes on millionaires — the party has no future. It can’t win with a base that is at war with math, physics, human biology, economics and common-sense gun laws all at the same time.

Do you know how troubled this party is? Two weeks ago, the former G.O.P. Senate majority leader Bob Dole, a great American, went to the Senate floor in his wheelchair to show his support for Senate ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. Nevertheless, the bill failed to win the two-thirds needed for ratification, because only eight Republicans dared to join Democrats in support of the treaty, which was negotiated and signed by George W. Bush! It essentially requires other countries to improve to our level of protection for the disabled, without requiring us to change any laws. It has already been ratified by 126 countries. But it failed in the Senate because Rick Santorum managed to convince the G.O.P. base that the treaty would threaten U.S. “sovereignty.” Santorum stopped just short of warning that space aliens would take over our country if we ratified the treaty.

Because they control the House, this radical Republican base is now holding us all back. President Obama was moving to the center in these budget negotiations. He reduced his demand for higher tax revenues to $1.2 trillion from $1.6 trillion; he upped the level at which Americans who would be hit with higher taxes to those earning $400,000 a year from $250,000; and he made his own base holler by offering to cut long-term spending by lowering the inflation adjustment index for Social Security. It seemed that with a little more Republican compromise, Obama would have met them in the middle, and we could have had a grand bargain that would put the country on a sounder fiscal trajectory and signal to the markets, the world and ourselves that we can still do big hard things together. That will have to wait. Now the best hope is some mini-, crisis-averting, Band-Aid.

The G.O.P. today needs its own D.L.C. The Democratic Leadership Council was founded by a group of Democratic governors and activists, led by Bill Clinton, in 1985 to lead the party back to the center from a failing leftward course that had resulted in it being repeatedly shut out of the presidency, except after Watergate. I asked Clinton’s pollster, Stan Greenberg, what Republicans could learn from the Clinton/D.L.C. experience.

“There is a lot of pain,” said Greenberg. “You can’t change the party without pain. You can’t just make some head-fakes to Hispanics.” The D.L.C., he noted, started by building an organization over 10 years and by running more centrist Democrats “in the primaries.” It didn’t just wait to pivot to the center in the general election. It fought for and educated the Democrat base in the primaries, by D.L.C. candidates running in support of free trade, Nafta and welfare reform. “With Clinton, we won the primaries in a way that defined us, so that he could run in the general election as the candidate of broad appeal.” That fractured the party and produced Ralph Nader, which cost Al Gore the 2000 election. But after losing that election, said Greenberg, the Democrats came together around a moderate-left core and did not engage “in dysfunctional primaries.”

Republicans need to go through a similar process of building new institutions and coalitions to support candidates who can move the party back to the center-right. Today, all their institutions, from think tanks to Fox TV, said Greenberg, “are reinforcing the trends that are marginalizing their party.”

Unfortunately, we don’t have a decade to wait for a G.O.P. D.L.C. Some leaders in that party need to stand up for sane compromises right now.

Last but not least here’s Mr. Kristof:

Bahrain, one of America’s more repressive allies, tries to keep many journalists and human rights monitors out. I recently tried to slip in anyway.

The jig was up at the Bahrain airport when an immigration officer typed my name into his computer and then snapped to attention. “Go back over there and sit down,” he said, looking at me in horror and keeping my passport. “We’ll call you.”

The Sunni monarchy in Bahrain doesn’t want witnesses as it tightens its chokehold over a largely Shiite population. Almost every evening, there are clashes between the police and protesters, with both sides growing more enraged and violent.

Around 100 people have been killed since Arab Spring protests began in Bahrain in February 2011. I was in Bahrain then as troops opened fire without warning on unarmed protesters who were chanting “peaceful, peaceful.”

The oppression has sometimes been nothing short of savage. Police clubbed a distinguished surgeon, Sadiq al-Ekri, into a coma — because he tried to provide medical aid to injured protesters. By all accounts, torture has been common.

In the larger scheme of things, Bahrain is a tiny country and maybe doesn’t matter much to the United States. What nags at me is that this is a close American ally — assaulting people in some cases with American equipment — yet the Obama administration mostly averts its eyes. This is a case not just of brutal repression, but also of American hypocrisy.

After that initial crackdown in 2011, the king commissioned a blunt outside report, and the Obama administration hoped that the country would ease up under the more open-minded crown prince. That hope is collapsing, and Bahrain is now clamping down more tightly.

“The human rights situation in Bahrain has markedly deteriorated over recent months, with repressive practices increasingly entrenched,” Amnesty International noted in a recent report on Bahrain. It concluded: “the reform process has been shelved and repression unleashed.”

The crackdown has, in turn, hardened the opposition, which increasingly turns to Molotov cocktails, rocks and other weapons to confront the authorities. Moderates on both sides are being marginalized.

This is a tragic turn for Bahrain, which traditionally was a lovely oasis of prosperity, moderation and toleration. Astonishingly, the country’s ambassador to Washington is actually a woman from Bahrain’s tiny Jewish community.

But the king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, can blame himself for the escalation of violence. He has imprisoned leading advocates of peaceful resistance, like Nabeel Rajab, the globally respected president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. My take is that the regime intentionally jails peaceful moderates so as to leave the protest movement in the hands of young men who discredit it by throwing firebombs — and thus create a justification for repression.

On my last visit to Bahrain, I profiled Zainab al-Khawaja, a dynamic young woman with perfect English who studied Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and tries to apply their methods. She is exactly the kind of opposition leader Bahrain needs, firing off Twitter messages rather than rocks, but in an e-mail to me a month ago she lamented: “It’s becoming very hard to even tweet about violations in Bahrain.”

She was prescient: Now she has been imprisoned as well.

“The reason the regime goes after them is because people like Zainab and Nabeel represent a force that they cannot deal with,” said Maryam al-Khawaja, Zainab’s sister, who is now in exile. “They stand firm despite the violence. They continue to protest, and they refuse to use violence. This encourages others to do the same. It’s easier for the regime when protesters use things like Molotov cocktails.”

The Obama administration initially spoke out against the crackdown but has since been “inconsistent and muted,” notes Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. “This has been horribly frustrating for human rights activists in Bahrain hoping that the U.S. would support their push for democracy,” he added.

President Obama pulls his punches partly because the United States bases the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and partly because Saudi Arabia insistently backs the repression in Bahrain. The security considerations are real, but, to me, this feels like an echo of Egypt: the United States curries favor with a dictator and ignores public yearning for change. The upshot is extremism, instability and anti-Americanism.

At the airport, an immigration officer eventually approached and told me: “Your name is on a list. You cannot be admitted.” There’s no negotiating with a blacklist, and early the next morning I was deported to Dubai.

Government officials treated me respectfully, and I never felt in danger. It’s different if you’re Bahraini. On the day I arrived, police arrested perhaps the last Bahraini human rights activist still at large, Said Yousif al-Muhafdah, after he posted a photo on Twitter of a protester whom police had shot with shotgun pellets. Muhafdah is charged with “disseminating false information through Twitter.” The downward spiral continues.

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