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buy levitra cheapThree recent events throw a bright spotlight on the extent to which small, supremely well-organized, and lavishly-funded single-issue constituencies wreak havoc with sensible policymaking, majority opinion, and the interests of the nation as a whole.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) held its annual convention â€“ as always an orgiastic celebration of the firearm as the ultimate emblem of American exceptionalism, unfettered freedom, and John Wayne-style manhood â€“ last weekend in St. Louis, Missouri. In a city recently wracked by numerous gun killings, including one of a 15-year-old African American allegedly toting a sawed-off shotgun cut down by a police bullet, the NRA meeting featured seven acres of guns and firearms paraphernalia.
This obscene cornucopia of instruments of death was not merely an occasion for gun lovers to mingle, bond, and browse â€“ lovers being an appropriate word to describe a significant subset of the 70,000 attendees whose relationship to their guns is virtually erotic â€“ but, especially in an election year, a significant political event.
The headliner at the NRA 2012 gun fest was none other than Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president (barring an unforeseen catastrophe befalling the former Massachusetts Governor and capitalist honcho.)
Predictably, Romney used the occasion to lambaste Barack Obama, who is anathema to the NRA. Preaching to the choir, Romney told the friendly crowd that “We need a President who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners. We need a President who will stand up for the rights of hunters and sportsmen, and those seeking to protect their homes and their families. President Obama has not; I will."
Although Romney frequently makes these kinds of statements, calculated to appease the middle-of-the- road voters he will need to win in the general election (“enforce current laws”) while pleasing the hard-core conservative base (“stand up for the rights of hunters and sportsmen”), there is more than the usual Romney incoherence in this statement.
Why? The sad fact is that as president Obama has done virtually nothing on gun control, not even putting on a fight to reinstate the expired ban on assault rifles, much less burden the rights of legitimate gun owners or hunters.
Obama, in fact, has done exactly what Romney said he would do: enforce existing gun laws while making no new ones. So what has Obama not done that Romney would do?
The reason Romney had to resort to this nonsensical statement is that when it comes to guns, as well as the two other issues I will discuss later, the gun lobby has become so powerful and fearsome that it has cowed politicians of both parties at all levels of government, including Barack Obama and the Democrats, into acquiescing even to its most outrageous demands. Indeed, if anyone is making new gun laws, and by the dozens, it is state governments all across the country, which have been passing measures that make concealed weapons licenses easier to obtain and enacting statutes like the Florida “stand your ground” statute, which encourage people to shoot first and ask questions laterâ€¦or never.
So when it comes to guns in the United States, we have reached a virtual one-party regime. The cost of this reality in human lives has been documented by reams of studies and it hits home frequently in cases such as that of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager shot dead while unarmed by an armed and overzealous anti-crime volunteer.
But perhaps nothing conveys the tragedy that the NRA agenda has helped bring about than a study of gun deaths among children 15 and younger in more than 20 developed countries conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the early and mid-1990s. Its conclusion: “The firearm-related homicide rate in the United States was nearly 16 times higher than that in all of the other countries combined (0.94 compared with 0.06); the firearm-related suicide rate was nearly 11 times higher (0.32 compared with 0.03); and the unintentional firearm-related death rate was nine times higher (0.36 compared with 0.04).” And this was before the recent upsurge in gun-friendly laws and the steep rise in gun sales.
At the same time the NRA was attacking Obama in St. Louis, the president was not having an easy time of it in Cartagena, Colombia, at the summit of leaders of thirty-one of the nations in the Americas. The major bone of contention was Cuba, which 29 of the 31 countries demanded be included in the next such conclave.
The only exceptions to the consensus were the United States and Canada, led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Even the event’s host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, one of the closest U.S. allies in the region, argued that in the future Cuba should not be excluded. And the leaders of several countries said that they would not attend another summit in the absence of Cuba, casting a shadow on the future of these events.
Thus at a time when the United States should be seeking to make up for unkempt promises to improve relations with the region, a miniscule but highly empowered minority within a minority â€“ hard-core Cuban exiles and their allies â€“ continue to succeed in maintaining a counterproductive U.S. policy of isolating Cuba that has failed for half a century.
Finally, as Jonathan Schell points out in The Nation, President Barack Obama’s speech a few weeks ago to another powerhouse lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), virtually committed to the United States to wage war on Iran if and when someone (who, U.S. intelligence, Israeli intelligence, Obama, Netanyahu?) concludes that Iran is about to reach a point of no return on the road to a nuclear weapon.
Next to this criterion for the U.S. attacking yet another Muslim nation, George W. Bush’s rationale for the Iraq invasion was rock-solid. And Schell observes that an attack on Iran will only delay the Iranians if indeed their intention is to get a nuclear weapon and if not it will certainly spur them to harden their sites and decide to definitely build a nuclear weapon quickly.
Obama’s threats may prevent him from losing the election, but the consequences of a U.S. attack on Iran would dwarf the awful toll of the Iraq debacle.
There is constant chatter in Washington about the American political system being broken and the country’s alleged decline. The hijacking of key public policy areas, foreign and domestic, by narrow interests, is a major cause for these conditions.
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