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Trump has yet to speak out against radicalism he inspires

Trump has yet to speak out against radicalism he inspires

08/05/19 09:19PM

Evidence suggests white supremacists and white nationalists in the United States are taking inspiration from Donald Trump, which gives him the power to potentially turn them away from violent acts. Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI assistant director for counter intelligence, Clint Watts, former FBI special agent, and James Alan Fox, criminologist at... watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 8.5.19

08/05/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The death toll in El Paso has reached 22: "The two latest deaths were announced by El Paso police and Del Sol Medical Center on Monday. One died overnight and the other died Monday morning."

* The latest from Dayton: "Police still don't know whether the gunman who murdered nine people and wounded dozens more in Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend targeted his sister in the shooting spree, authorities said Monday."

* Cesar Sayoc: "The Florida man who pleaded guilty to sending more than a dozen pipe bombs to prominent critics of President Donald Trump last year was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison."

* Quite a day on Wall Street: "U.S. stock prices slid sharply on Monday following the weakening of the Chinese yuan against the dollar, a flash of steel in response to President Donald Trump's surprise threat of 10 percent tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods."

* The turmoil in San Juan isn't over just yet: "Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's first unelected governor in seven decades, said courts should determine whether he's the rightful leader to replace Ricardo Rosselló, who officially resigned as governor on Friday."

* Kashmir: "India's government revoked disputed Kashmir's special status with a presidential order Monday as thousands of newly deployed troops arrived and some internet and phone services were cut in the restive Himalayan region where most people oppose Indian rule."

* Uncertainty at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence: "The White House is planning to block Sue Gordon, the nation's No. 2 intelligence official, from rising to the role of acting director of national intelligence when Dan Coats steps down this month, according to people familiar with the Trump administration's plans."

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President Barack Obama speaks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Monica Herndon/Tampa Bay Times/Pool/AP)

Obama: US must reject those who feed 'climate of fear and hatred'

08/05/19 03:50PM

With just two days remaining in his presidency, Barack Obama hosted a White House press conference in which he said he expected the new administration and Congress to make their own determinations about the nation’s direction, and by and large, he intended to stay out of it.

But as regular readers know, Obama also acknowledged at the time that there might be exceptions to the rule. “There’s a difference,” the outgoing president explained, “between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake.”

What the Democratic president couldn’t have known was just how frequently he’d find these core values in jeopardy. At last count, Obama has responded to major policy development with critical statements five times: the separation of immigrant children from their families, Trump’s Muslim ban, the Republican campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump rescinding DACA protections for Dreamers, and Trump’s abandonment of the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

By some measures, it looks like today was the sixth.

"No other nation on Earth comes close to experiencing the frequency of mass shootings that we see in the United States. No other developed nation tolerates the levels of gun violence that we do. Every time this happens, we're told that tougher gun laws won't stop all murders; that they won't stop every deranged individual from getting a weapon and shooting innocent people in public places.

"But the evidence shows that they can stop some killings. They can save some families from heartbreak. We are not helpless here. And until all of us stand up and insist on holding public officials accountable for changing our gun laws, these tragedies will keep happening."

Obama went on to note that the gunman in El Paso appears to be part of a trend of "troubled individuals who embrace racist ideologies and see themselves obligated to act violently to preserve white supremacy." The former president urged law enforcement agencies and internet platforms to "come up with better strategies to reduce the influence of these hate groups."

But Obama then directed some of his most spirited concerns at unnamed "leaders" who use their platforms to promote bigotry and division.

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File Photo: Rhino 500 handguns are on display at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits on April 14, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images, File)

The trouble with the GOP's focus on mental health and guns

08/05/19 03:03PM

In recent years, in the immediate aftermath of high-profile mass shootings, Republicans tend to talk about new policies related to mental health. In response to the latest slayings, we're hearing many of the same familiar refrains.

Here, for example, was Donald Trump's unscripted comments to reporters yesterday afternoon:

"[T]his is also a mental illness problem. If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness. These are people -- really, people that are very, very seriously mentally ill."

And here's how the president followed up on the point this morning, reading scripted comments:

"[W]e must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement."

There are all kinds of relevant angles to comments like these, which seemed to refer to general policy preferences, not specific legislation. For example, the idea of imposing "involuntary confinement" on the mentally ill is the sort of approach that easily could be abused and applied too broadly. Policymakers would have to deal with the challenges with great caution and care.

But hanging overhead is a problem that's tough for GOP officials to explain away: the last time they tackled a policy related to guns and mental health.

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An employee reviews a customer's application as part of a background check for a handgun sale, in Houston, Texas.

Why, even now, the prospects for background checks are poor

08/05/19 01:09PM

Donald Trump published a pair of curious tweets this morning, suggesting policymakers could approve a "strong" background-checks bill, "perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform."

There's been no further clarification on what the president might have been talking about. Was he suggesting some kind of trade-off with Democrats on unrelated issues? Was he trying to draw some kind of connection between the native-born white gunmen and immigration? Perhaps this was some kind of conditional warning in which Trump was saying he'll sign a background-check bill only if Congress meets his demands on immigration policy?

Whatever he meant, every time the president expresses support for a new policy on background checks, reform advocates wonder if maybe there's a chance for progress. Invariably, that door quickly shuts.

As the Associated Press reported this morning, Trump has "reneged on previous pledges to strengthen gun laws."

After other mass shootings he called for strengthening the federal background check system, and in 2018 he signed legislation to increase federal agency data sharing into the system. But he has resisted Democratic calls to toughen other gun control laws. [...]

At a February meeting with survivors and family members of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting in which 17 people died, Trump promised to be "very strong on background checks."

Trump claimed he would stand up to the gun lobby and finally get results in quelling gun violence. But he later retreated, expressing support for modest changes to the federal background check system and for arming teachers.

In February 2018, the president wrote on Twitter, "I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks... Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue -- I hope!" Almost exactly a year later, House Democrats passed a bill to require background checks on all gun purchases. The White House issued a veto threat before the legislation even passed the chamber.

In fact, just a few hours after he published a tweet endorsing a "strong" background-checks bill, Trump delivered scripted remarks that failed to echo his earlier tweet.

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Following shootings, Trump eyes remedies, but largely ignores guns

08/05/19 11:24AM

Donald Trump briefly spoke to reporters yesterday afternoon after the latest mass shootings, and the president gave every indication that the wheels of policymaking were in motion. "We're doing a lot of work," he said, pointing to nothing in particular. "A lot of people are working right now.... A lot of things are being done right now, as we speak."

The Republican added soon after, "A lot of things are in the works, and a lot of good things.... A lot of things are happening. A lot of things are happening right now."

Listening to the unscripted comments, one got the impression that the president would at least give the appearance of taking the issue seriously. He even referenced possible support for background checks in a morning tweet.

But then Trump delivered scripted comments from the White House. To be sure, the president condemned "racism, bigotry and white supremacy," adding that "sinister ideologies must be defeated." Of course, given his extensive record, the rhetoric was difficult to believe.

But Trump then explored his vision of possible remedies.

The president also voiced support for stronger death penalty legislation for those who commit mass shootings, putting additional resources and new tools toward helping identify early warning signs before shooters act, and reforming mental health laws.

"Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun," he said.

I'm not altogether sure what that line was supposed to mean -- guns don't pull their own triggers? -- but it suggested those waiting for meaningful reforms of gun laws are likely to be disappointed.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump blames news organizations for societal 'anger' (again)

08/05/19 10:14AM

Just a couple of weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, a deranged Donald Trump supporter sent pipe bombs to leading Democratic officials, CNN, and some prominent progressive voices. The man responsible for the attempted terrorism, Cesar Sayoc, is scheduled to be sentenced today.

But almost immediately after the public learned of the bombs, the president told a group of supporters that American news organizations have "a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories." Trump added on Twitter, "A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News.

As we discussed at the time, this was ridiculous, even by the Republican's standards. CNN, one of the world's preeminent news organizations, was targeted with an explosive device. The president nevertheless  wasted little time in blaming news organizations for the conditions that led to the attempted terrorism.

This morning, in the wake of deadly mass shootings, Trump pushed an eerily similar message via Twitter.

"The Media has a big responsibility to life and safety in our Country. Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years.

"News coverage has got to start being fair, balanced and unbiased, or these terrible problems will only get worse!"

This coincided with Trump's re-election campaign running social-media advertising this morning that said, "The left-wing MOB and their allies in the FAKE NEWS media represent a very real danger to our nation."

I can appreciate why many political observers roll their eyes in response to the president's routine nonsense and prefer to pay it no mind. But occasionally, it's a mistake to simply shrug one's shoulders in response to potentially dangerous rhetoric.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The House-passed background-check bill awaits GOP action

08/05/19 09:20AM

Even if they wanted to, members of Congress wouldn't be able to tackle policies to address gun violence anytime soon: lawmakers won't return from their summer break until early next month. Several Democratic senators, however, spent yesterday urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to call members back to Capitol Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the Republican leader to end the chamber's break to vote on a universal background check bill after the two shootings -- one in Dayton, Ohio, and another in El Paso, Texas -- left at least 29 dead and 53 injured in a matter of just 13 hours. The Senate is currently in recess until September.

"One awful event after another. Leader McConnell must call the Senate back for an emergency session to put the House-passed universal background checks legislation on the Senate floor for debate and a vote immediately," Schumer said in a statement.

I'll go out on a limb and guess that McConnell will ignore Schumer's suggestion, though I was glad to see the Democratic Senate leader reference the pending legislation.

It didn't generate a lot of attention at the time, but it was six months ago when the Democratic-led House passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R. 8) -- one of the Dems' top legislative priorities for this Congress -- that would require background checks on all gun purchases, including at gun shows. The final vote was 240 to 190.

It was the first time either chamber of Congress had passed a bill intended to reduce gun violence since 1994 -- a quarter of a century ago.

The legislation then went to the Republican-led Senate, where it proceeded to gather dust. Donald Trump, after spending months talking about his support for a background-check bill -- a sentiment he seemed to endorse again this morning -- issued a veto threat, vowing to reject the proposal if it reached his desk.

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Gamers play video games during the Gamescom 2014 fair in Cologne on Aug. 13, 2014. (Photo by Ina Fassbender/Reuters)

The laziest refrain: GOP blames mass shootings on video games

08/05/19 08:40AM

After one of last year's mass shootings, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) presented one of his ideas intended to save lives: if schools had fewer doors, the Republican said, there might be fewer school shootings.

Yesterday, Patrick brought this level of wisdom to Fox News, where he responded to the latest mass shootings by pointing at a less architectural culprit for the latest mass shootings.

"I say, how long are we going to let, for example, and ignore at the federal level particularly, where they can do something about the video-game industry? ... I see a video-game industry that teaches young people to kill."

This followed a different Fox News interview in which House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pointed in the same direction.

"The idea that these video games that dehumanize individuals to have a game of shooting individuals," continued McCarthy, "I've always felt that it's a problem for future generations and others. We've watched studies show what it does to individuals, and you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others."

NBC News' Benjy Sarlin noted that the House's top GOP lawmaker inadvertently raised a subject worth considering in more detail: "What things 'dehumanize' people? What language 'dehumanizes' groups of people? Referring to them as animals? Likening them to infestations? Saying people are invaders, secret radicals, or part of a global conspiracy to hurt you?"

There's also, of course, the laziness surrounding Republicans' reflexive efforts to shift the post-massacre conversations away from guns and toward gun violence.

If this line of argument sounds familiar, there's a good reason for that. As regular readers may recall, a couple of months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) argued on MSNBC, "I think video games is [sic] a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people."

That was certainly an odd thing to hear on national television, but it was part of a larger pattern: for much of the right, it's better to focus on pixelated guns than actual guns.

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Why Trump's response to the latest mass shootings came up short

08/05/19 08:00AM

Donald Trump's 2017 inaugural address included some memorable rhetoric, but it was the new president's references to violence that stood out. The Republican lamented the crimes "that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential."

Trump added, "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."

As the public once again tries to process the death toll from the latest American mass shootings, it's painfully obvious that the "carnage" did not, in fact, "stop." Complicating matters, in too many instances, the perpetrators of violence have justified their brutal crimes by echoing political rhetoric they heard from their president.

As a Washington Post piece put it yesterday afternoon, "After yet another mass slaying, the question surrounding the president is no longer whether he will respond as other presidents once did, but whether his words contributed to the carnage."

It was against this backdrop that Trump briefly spoke to reporters yesterday afternoon, saying, "Hate has no place in our country and we're going to take care of it."

Likely aware of the critics who've tied his rhetoric to some of the shooters' motivations, the president added, "This has been going on for years -- for years and years -- in our country."

It was at this point that Trump thought it'd be a good idea to start bragging.

"We're talking to a lot of people, and a lot of things are in the works, and a lot of good things. And we have done much more than most administrations. And it does -- it's not -- really not talked about very much, but we've done, actually, a lot. But perhaps more has to be done.

"But this is also a mental illness problem. If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness. These are people -- really, people that are very, very seriously mentally ill. So a lot of things are happening."

As the president spoke about doing "a lot" to address gun violence, while also emphasizing mental health, it was hard not to think of one of the first bills Trump signed into law.

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