Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: NRA is going down, GOP despair is going up, and tips may be going away

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Ron / Flickr The Usual Idiots...
Ron / Flickr

Less than two weeks after the Parkland shooting, both Delta and United have dropped special arrangements with the NRA.

The airlines turning their back on the NRA follows the cutting of ties by car rental firms Enterprise, Alamo and National. NRA members also no longer get discounts at Best Western or Wyndham Hotels.

But it’s not just travel companies that are breaking away from the NRA. NRA VISA cards, which were issued by the First National Bank of Omaha, will no longer be available. MetLife will no longer issue an insurance discount (which seems like an odd thing to have offered in the first place). Tech companies Symantec and SimpliSafe have cut the NRA loose. 

That’s pretty astounding. Not just because the NRA remains a large organization. It doesn’t have anything like the 15 million members it has sometimes claimed, but it does have somewhere close to 4 million — and they’re a famously vindictive lot. After all, NRA membership has been falling for years, and anyone who has stuck with them to this point is a true believer (or the irritated recipient of a gift membership).

At least, that’s the theory. But is it more than a theory? Companies who cross the NRA have to be afraid of … what? What exactly do they have to fear? After all, when is the last time the NRA faced a serious push? It has been decades, at least. In fact, its not clear that the NRA has ever faced a genuine existential crisis— and that’s what this is — in the whole of its 147 year history. Yes, the NRA has fended off past attempts at gun safety regulations, even when they were supported by a large majority of citizens in both parties. But all that took was paying off a few Senators.

Of all the over-inflated hobgoblins in politics, the NRA may be the most puffed up little toad of the bunch. There’s no evidence that kicking them constitutes touching a third rail. It just means not getting a drink from their dirty money pipeline from Russia. Which probably matters to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Not so much to politicians who are capable of raising money without the help of Kalashnikov.

How serious is the threat to the NRA? Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Emma González joined Twitter only two weeks ago. As of Sunday morning, her @Emma4Change account had 655,000 followers — 100,000 more than the NRA account. Dana Loesch can scowl all she wants, but the energy is not on her side. Not this time. There may be 74 million gun owners in the United States, but 70 million of them have chosen not to belong to the NRA. For a reason.

A decade from now, someone might mention the NRA and get nothing but a look of confusion? NRA? What is that? Rowing? Racquetball? And while that person is puzzling it out, someone might mention another unknown name. Like Cruz. Or Rubio. Or any other clown that decides to ride this Hindenburg all the way to the ground.

Come on in. Let’s read pundits.

School Shootings / Gun Safety

Kathleen Parker asks the question that a lot of actual gun owners have been asking.

Funerals for the 17 students and faculty were barely begun before rhetoric on the right descended into indecency.

Much of it came from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering of the extreme right who snack on brimstone. Speaking to the mostly young crowd, politicians and officials from the National Rifle Association went ballistic over recent talk of gun control. Low points included characterizing the media as loving mass shootings and as wanting to advance its socialist agenda.

Your regular reminder that Parker is a conservative Republican. But CPAC has long been home to fringe groups supporting racism, conspiracy theories, and extreme positions — the group now known as The Republican Party.

Is this really the best we can do? I ask this not as a member of the media but as someone who grew up with guns; lives in a house with guns; knows how to shoot and is good at it; doesn’t object to hunting for food; has friends in the NRA.

And the answer is, yes. Yes, this is the best the right can do. Because they’ve staked out a position so far from sanity, there’s no point in trying to defend it with a reasonable argument. Besides, if cornered you can always throw a cry of “fake news!” or “lock ‘er up!” and get applause.


Leonard Pitts has some words for America’s NRA-funded politicians.

You need to grow up.

As far as I know, no survivor of last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland has used those words to challenge conservatives who have created a world where mass shootings are almost literally an everyday thing. But the sentiment is clearly there. …

Students have called a rally — “The March For Our Lives” — for the 24th of next month on the National Mall. And is it too much to hope that maybe we are finally feeling the ground shift beneath our feet?

Nope. That shift is happening.

Context is a good thing. It can provide valuable perspective. But it can also make you jaded and weary, convince you that crying out is futile because nothing’s going to change.

But if you have only now, if crimes, sins and absurdities are visceral and new to you, you confront them with a fervor, energy and anger often inaccessible to your elders. You don’t yet realize that change is impossible. And so, sometimes, you create change.

When the shift comes, it’s going to leave a lot of NRA supporters sitting on their ass.


Christine Emba on the purpose of an AR-15.

After all, what are guns for? Guns are for killing. This is their purpose; this is what they are meant for and designed to do. When the question of gun control is viewed in light of that essential fact, the banality of our current debate — and our proposed “solutions” — becomes scandalously clear.

For instance: We should raise the age at which you can buy an assault rifle — because, really, the issue is that you should be a bit older before you can mow down crowds with a highly efficient killing tool.

I have several guns in the house, and they are meant to kill — squirrels and quail. But even though no one would mistake my grandad’s 1898 Marlin pump for an assault rifle, it’s my intention to get rid of every one of my weapons by year’s end. Not sell them. Not trade them. See that they are destroyed. I might save the bolt-action rifle my father carried in the army, but only after I’ve made sure that it can never fire again.

Because the truth is that I haven’t gone hunting in years, and having these guns around isn’t doing anyone a bit of good. So … by the time we hit 2019, I’m hoping that I’ll no longer be starting conversations with “as a gunowner …”

The National Rifle Association and its allies have used this sort of erroneous logic to distract the public for decades. They say, “To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun,” as though it’s a given that the bad guy must have a gun in the first place. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” as though killing isn’t more likely in the United States because people inclined to do it can obtain killing machines so quickly and easily.


Dana Milbank on why the NRA is genuinely frightened.

To see the National Rifle Association boss speak this week at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference was to see a man in urgent need of mental-health intervention. He turned a conventional speech about guns (specifically, the need for more of them in schools) into a paranoid fantasy about a socialist takeover of the United States.

He saw a “tidal wave” of “European-style socialists bearing down upon us,” creating a “captive society,” eliminating “resistance,” making a “list” in a cloud database of those who spank their children, expunging the “fundamental concept of moral behavior,” controlling speech through “safe zones.”

It sometimes seems like LaPierre and Trump are in a over-the-top feedback loop, double-dog daring each other to ever greater depths of irrationality.

LaPierre singled out three billionaire capitalists to blame for the socialist revolution: George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. But he saw conspirators everywhere in the government — Trump’s government: the FBI (with its “corruption” and “rogue leadership”), the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the intelligence agencies. He also blamed the Democrats, media, Hollywood, universities, classrooms, Black Lives Matter, elites and Keith Ellison.

The clearest sign that that I haven’t done enough with my life is that I failed to make Wayne LaPierre’s hate list. But I’m working on it.


Edward Burmila offers up some strategic tips.

On Tuesday, with high school students watching tearfully from the gallery, the Republican-controlled Florida House voted 71 to 36 against taking up debate about banning large-capacity ammunition magazines and assault-style weapons, which would include the AR-15, the type of weapon used in the mass killing at Douglas.

Why?

Because groups such as the National Rifle Association and many gun owners long ago adopted a zero-compromise approach. They’ve enforced their agenda in Congress and statehouses by relentlessly casting the gun debate as an issue of identity, treating any incremental restriction on gun ownership as a step toward stripping Americans of constitutional rights, bolstering a cadre of single-issue gun-rights voters.

Yeah … but no. They’ve sold that story to politicians. Which doesn’t make it true.

The usual explanation is that the NRA exerts so much influence in Congress and in state capitols that it has a de facto veto over any attempt to regulate firearms. Indeed, the NRA is an especially organized and well-funded interest group. Many legislators view the group with a mix of fear and awe — CNN reported that nearly all of the GOP members of the Florida House have somewhere between an A-plus and an A-minus rating from the NRA’s Political Victory Fund. The Washington Post found that 52 members of the U.S. Senate, including four Democrats, have “A-minus grades or higher.” But interest groups of similar size, resources and membership don’t dominate policymaking in the same way. And as Vox’s Jeff Stein explains, NRA contributions account for a fraction of Republican fundraising.

I’m adding an extra break here to say listen up to this next part.

The key to the NRA’s success is that gun-control opponents consider the issue more important than do those who favor increased regulation. … For gun-control advocates, by contrast, the issue is often just one of many issues they consider important.

The way things change, is to change that relationship.

Immigration

The Washington Post congratulates Melania’s parents.

Congratulations are in order for the parents of first lady Melania Trump, who, The Post reports, will soon be sworn in as citizens of the United States. Like tens of millions of immigrants before them, the first lady’s parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, left their homeland (in their case, Slovenia) and made a fresh start in America despite the obstacles of an unfamiliar culture, customs and language.

As it happens, the Knavs are probably the beneficiaries of a policy their son-in-law, President Trump, has disparaged as “chain migration,” otherwise known as family reunification. A bedrock of the legal immigration system in this country for more than half a century, family reunification has accounted for tens of millions of immigrants, and nearly three-quarters of all legal immigrants who have entered the United States since the mid-1960s.

Of course, two critical bits of information are missing; First, the Knavs are white, Second, Trump supports them. So clearly those rules he’s aiming at poor brown people don’t apply in this case.

Trump / Russia

Colbert King says conspiracy by any other name does just as much damage.

Whether somehow in cahoots or out of pure chance, the efforts of the Trump campaign and the Russians to suppress the votes of groups likely to support Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election tracked remarkably similar lines.

As outlined in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three companies, an effort based in St. Petersburg deceitfully created theme-oriented groups with names suggesting a connection to the Black Lives Matter movement and other U.S. interests on social media sites. The purpose was to churn out posts and interfere with the 2016 presidential election by, as the indictment states, “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”

And strangely enough, the Trump campaign was hammering the same talking points as the Russians, while Trump campaign staff was ‘unwittingly’ helping the Russian efforts.

Just as the Russians attempted, according to the indictment, “to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate,” a similar operation was underway in the United States, as skillfully reported by Bloomberg’s Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg.

The Trump campaign’s digital nerve center in San Antonio set in gear its own strategy: Don’t expand the electorate; shrink it. Turn off likely Clinton voters found among blacks and moderate-to-liberal white women.

This included a prolonged, all-hands-on-deck effort to pit Democrats against each other and create memes about ‘identity politics.’


Max Boot gives a standing-O to Putin.

But as contradictory as Trump’s position may be, he has a point — sort of. Obama was far too weak in dealing with the Russian assault, which ranged from stealing Democratic emails to promoting pro-Trump propaganda online. As the New York Times reported shortly after the election, Obama was briefed regularly on the Russian operation, but he “did not name Russians publicly, or issue sanctions. There was always a reason: fear of escalating a cyberwar, and concern that the United States needed Russia’s cooperation in negotiations over Syria.”

In hindsight, those reasons do not look like good ones: Obama was placing fear of confrontation with Russia over his duty to safeguard the electoral process. In part this was because he was overly complacent, imagining that Hillary Clinton would win no matter what. But in fairness to Obama, he was handicapped by the lack of Republican cooperation.

Again, the most harmful thing Mitch McConnell has done in his whole turtle-length career is not any vote he cast on the Senate floor, but the refusal to assist in blocking Russian interference.

The Post reported that in September 2016, Obama dispatched national security officials to Capitol Hill to plead for bipartisan unity in confronting the Kremlin. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) shamefully put party above patriotism by refusing to cooperate. If Obama had gone ahead on his own, he would have added credence to Trump’s cynical charges that the election was “rigged.” …

there is far more evidence that Trump has been anything but tough on Russia. Given that he routinely trashes everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), it’s striking that he never has a negative word to say about Russian President Vladimir Putin. When the Russian autocrat ordered the elimination of 755 U.S. diplomatic positions in Russia, Trump praised him. Trump even credulously accepted Putin’s denials of complicity in election interference.


Leonard Pitts on Republican disassociation from reality.

Four out of 10 Republicans said they always regard as “fake news” accurate news stories that cast a favored politician or group in a negative light. Let that marinate for a moment. They concede it to be true, but they regard it as “fake” if they don’t like what it says. …

I am willing, even eager, to have the discussion about what news media must do to earn back the public’s trust. Let’s talk about ways to keep cultural, class, racial and political biases out of our reportage. Let’s figure out how to protect ourselves from attack by trolls. Let’s consider strategies to more effectively wall off opinion from hard news. Let’s ask if we need so much opinion to begin with.

But let’s also talk about what’s going on with 42 percent of Republicans. Because clearly, 42 percent of Republicans are out of their damn minds. For the record, 17 percent of Democrats are, too.

And 100 percent of everybody else should recognize this as a clear and present danger. It is bad enough that malevolent online hoaxers make it difficult to tell the difference between fact and fiction, but when you no longer care about discerning that difference, when truth matters less to you than protecting your political turf, you are a virus in the body politic of a democratic nation. You are an infection that threatens the ability of free people to understand their world and make competent decisions about it.

Amen.

Labor

Danny Meyer on why the proposed tip-pooling regulation would be a disaster.

The Labor Department has proposed a policy change that, if implemented, would designate restaurant employers as “owners” of tips paid by patrons. The proposal claims to give employers the freedom to distribute tips more equitably among workers but doesn’t require that distribution, or any distribution at all — meaning employers could legally keep tips for themselves. This parts with decades of Fair Labor Standards Act policy in which tips are considered the property of workers. Why would you bother leaving a tip in the first place if you have no idea in whose pocket it might or might not end up?

As it happens, I made a couple of trips to Australia in recent years, where the minimum wage is on the order of $18 — and there’s no special little waiver that says employers can give wait staff less. As a result, few people tipped (I never broke the habit, even when the waiters seemed puzzled), but they didn’t need the tips just to get back to minimum wage, the way so many Americans do.

Meyer makes a good argument for simply raising wages.

Consistent and predictable wages. On a snowy night — or a slow Monday after a holiday — a tipped employee won’t go home with much of a return for the hours worked. Do you get paid less at your job on days when the weather is lousy? …

Work-life balance. Servers make more money when they work the lucrative weekend dinner shifts. But what about the server who is a parent, who just might want to be with family over the weekend? In tip-free restaurants, workers’ wages are more consistent shift to shift.

I’m not sure I could get used to not laying down a tip — it’s too ingrained — but I could certainly get used to the people on the other side of the door not needing it.

 Election 2018

Karen Tumulty on Phil Bredesen’s chances in Tennessee.

Tennessee is so red that it has not voted for a Democrat statewide since 2006. As it happens, that Democrat was Bredesen himself, who picked up every single one of its 95 counties in his bid for reelection [to governor].

While much of the rest of the country is gearing up for an epic midterm battle between the hardened forces of Trumpism and the resistance, Tennessee is testing whether persuasion is still possible in politics. The theory is that the right kind of candidate can persuade voters, particularly the growing share of Tennesseans who identify as independents, to see beyond party labels.

At the moment, Bredesen appears to be running neck and neck with …

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who in her announcement for the job said: “I know the left calls me a wing nut or a knuckle-dragging conservative. And you know what? I say that’s all right. Bring it on.”

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