Opinion

The Great Debate

Fighting the gun world

Customers view display at a gun shop in Los Angeles, California December 19, 2012. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

In the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Washington Post began a series of editorials calling for an end to unregulated guns. Those editorials continued every day for months.  After a while, the editor gave up, and gun control eventually was forgotten – as it has been over and over again.

Now, almost five months after the killing of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut, riveted the nation, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is talking about trying to resurrect his bill on gun background checks that was defeated in the Senate last month.

Why is it so difficult to regulate guns in America?  Part of it is a result of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which says “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Many Americans now believe that the Second Amendment means only using arms for regulated militias. But many people outside of big cities believe that keeping unregulated guns is part of what America means.

A ‘Game of Thrones’ in Damascus

In last Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones, Lord Baelish and Lord Varys, perhaps the show’s most Machiavellian characters, discuss their political philosophies. While admiring the <a “href=”http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Iron_Throne”>Iron Throne, the show’s iconic symbol of absolute power, they debate the true nature of the realm: What power, they ask, holds the seven kingdoms of Westeros together?

Lord Baelish: “Do you know what the realm is? A story we agree to tell each other over and over until we forget that it’s a lie. But what do we have left once we abandon the lie?”

Lord Varys: “Chaos. A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.”

It might be bleak and melodramatic, but this resembles today’s global order. In the wake of the financial crisis, the first Group of 20 summit helped save the financial system, but it was fear for survival rather than fealty to a common worldview that drove progress. Since then, it’s become all too clear that the G-20 is more of an aspiration than an institution: There are simply too many member countries with too many conflicting interests.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Obama versus Congress on Guantanamo

A young girl holds a picture of Bobby Sands in a republican march to mark the 20th anniversary of the IRA hunger strike at the Maze prison in Northern Ireland May 27. REUTERS/Archive

Barely a week after Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London, her ghost is stalking the corridors of power. At his press conference on Tuesday in Washington, President Barack Obama was asked about Guantánamo Bay prisoners refusing to eat. In doing so, the veteran CBS reporter Bill Plante, who asked the question, exposed a running sore in the Obama administration. He also invited direct comparison between Obama and Lady Thatcher – who faced a similar dilemma in 1981.

As a candidate in 2008, Obama, a distinguished Harvard-educated legal scholar known in the Senate for his common sense and humanity, promised to quickly close the prison for 166 terrorist suspects in the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The existence of a U.S. detention center that ignores the basic legal right of habeas corpus and the failure to bring prisoners to trial after so many years “erode our moral claims that we are acting on behalf of broader universal principles,” he said. He went on to repeat his pledge, yet five years on, Gitmo is still open for business.

Which Mexico for Obama?

When President Barack Obama meets this week with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico, he will be visiting a country that was much maligned throughout his first term.

Washington has viewed Mexico largely as a source of problems for the United States in the past six years. Many Mexicans, in a mirror image, consider the United States the origin of their troubles. They blame Mexico’s epidemic of violent crime on an insatiable appetite for drugs and loose control over gun and ammunition sales in the United States. In addition, the U.S. financial crisis left the Mexican economy reeling in 2009.

But in the past year, particularly since Peña Nieto’s election in July 2012, Mexico’s standing in the United States and internationally has increased dramatically — along with its national self-esteem.

Obama can close Guantanamo

At his news conference on Tuesday, President Barack Obama for the first time in years spoke about the controversial detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which he had promised to close when he first took office.

“Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” Obama said, responding to a reporter’s question. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.” He went on to acknowledge that more than half the detainees have been officially cleared for release.

As if to forestall the obvious next question – then why hasn’t he closed it? – the president blamed the prison’s continued existence on Congress. “Congress,” he said, “determined that they would not let us close it.”

The GOP’s immigration problem

Old vaudeville joke:

Man goes to the doctor.  Says he has a pain in his arm.

“Have you ever had this problem before?” the doctor says.

“Yes,” the man answers.

“Well, you got it again.”

Bada-bing.

Now look at the Republicans’ immigration problem. Have they had this problem before? Yes. Well, they’ve got it again.

Republicans had an immigration problem nearly 100 years ago. A huge wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe – Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Jews – came to this country during the first two decades of the 20th century, before strict national quotas were imposed in 1924. These immigrants were largely Catholic and Jewish.

Republicans were the party of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment. The GOP did little to reach out to immigrants, except to try to “Americanize” them and “reform” them (the temperance movement).

Sarin: The lethal fog of war

The Syrian government’s reported use of sarin in its war against rebel forces is ominous. It suggests dissemination of the nerve agent could become more frequent there — whether by the Syrian military or by opposition forces in possession of captured stockpiles. If this happens, many more people will likely suffer the tortured effects of the chemical.

This could weaken the international taboo against such weaponry. No wonder President Barack Obama has warned that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of sarin would be a “game changer.”

For sarin is considered a weapon of mass destruction. As with all chemical agents, effectiveness depends on the purity, the means of dissemination and vulnerability of the exposed population. At worst, chemicals can be devastating agents of death, even if less expansive in their effect than a biological release or a nuclear detonation.

President must address Obamacare ‘train wreck’

When even a key architect of Obamacare says the law’s implementation will resemble a “train wreck,” it is clear that its biggest remaining supporters need to finally level with the American people about what’s in store — starting with President Barack Obama.

The president must step into the breach and explain to the public that skyrocketing premiums and a raft of new taxes, penalties and fees are coming their way.

It may not be easy, but the president has a responsibility to explain as frankly as possible what this law will mean — before its major components take effect. He could start by delivering a major address, just as he did to push the law’s passage, laying out exactly what Americans can expect. He should also instruct his Cabinet secretaries to explain what this could mean as well. Families and businesses across America need time to prepare — and that means they need to know the facts.

The next step on gun control

Politicians know they incur a big political risk if they support gun-control legislation.  Gun-control advocates have to demonstrate that there is also a political risk if they do not support sensible gun legislation.

The only way to do that is to defeat someone who voted against background checks.  Their defeat will become a “teachable moment.”

But who?

Three of the four Democratic senators who voted against background checks on Wednesday are up for re-election next year.  They represent conservative, largely rural states that voted for Mitt Romney last year: Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana.

Obama’s budget bid for a ‘grand bargain’

President Barack Obama’s budget, released Wednesday, is getting a lot of criticism from ideologues on the right and left. That is one of the most encouraging things about it.

Though the president’s budget falls short in several important ways, it demonstrates his willingness to compromise — something most Democratic and Republican legislators have resisted. Now comes the critical stage in any real effort to achieve a “grand bargain,” when the president can show true leadership by bridging the divide between the parties and using the bully pulpit to address the American people in a constructive fashion that can lead to a deal.

The most helpful thing about the Obama budget is that, for the first time, the president has publicly proposed reforms to two key social insurance programs. By adopting a GOP-backed change in the inflation calculator — the so-called chained CPI — the president is accepting adjustments in the cost of living payments for those receiving Social Security.

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