NEWS2U Articles & Comments
Critical Reporting

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Shocking: Reporting Factory Farm Abuses to be Considered "Act of Terrorism" If New Laws Pass

This article was published in partnership with

How do you keep consumers in the dark about the horrors of factory farms? By making it an “act of terrorism” for anyone to investigate animal cruelty, food safety or environmental violations on the corporate-controlled farms that produce the bulk of our meat, eggs and dairy products.

And who better to write the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, designed to protect Big Ag and Big Energy, than the lawyers on the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force at the corporate-funded and infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska are the latest states to introduce Ag-Gag laws aimed at preventing employees, journalists or activists from exposing illegal or unethical practices on factory farms. Lawmakers in 10 other states introduced similar bills in 2011-2012.  The laws passed in three of those states: Missouri, Iowa and Utah.  But consumer and animal-welfare activists prevented the laws from passing in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

In all, six states now have Ag-Gag laws, including North Dakota, Montana and Kansas, all of which passed the laws in 1990-1991, before the term “Ag-Gag” was coined.

Ag-Gag laws passed 20 years ago were focused more on deterring people from destroying property, or from either stealing animals or setting them free. Today’s ALEC-inspired bills take direct aim at anyone who tries to expose horrific acts of animal cruelty, dangerous animal-handling practices that might lead to food safety issues, or blatant disregard for environmental laws designed to protect waterways from animal waste runoff. In the past, most of those exposes have resulted from undercover investigations of exactly the type Big Ag wants to make illegal.

Wyoming’s HB 0126 is the perfect example of a direct link between an undercover investigation of a factory farm and the introduction of an Ag-Gag law. The bill was introduced mere weeks after nine factory workers at Wheatland, WY-based Wyoming Premium Farms, a supplier to Tyson Foods, were charged with animal cruelty following an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). HSUS activists videotaped workers kicking live piglets, swinging them by their hind legs and beating and kicking mother pigs. Charges were filed in late December. In January, State Rep. Sue Wallis and Senator Ogden Driskill introduced Wyoming’s Ag-Gag bill which would make it a criminal act to carry out investigations such as the one that exposed the cruelty at Wyoming Premium Farms.

Wallis and Driskill both have ties to Big Ag. Wallis was the subject of a conflict-of-interest complaint filed in 2010 by animal welfare groups. The groups accused her of improper and fraudulent abuse of her position as a legislator after she introduced a bill allowing the Wyoming Livestock Board to send stray horses to slaughter. At the time she introduced the bill, Wallis also was planning to develop a family-owned horse slaughter plant in the state. Both Wallis and Driskill are members of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association. Driskill has accepted political contributions from the livestock industry and Exxon Mobil, a member of ALEC.

Most of the Ag-Gag laws introduced since 2011 borrow the premise, if not the exact language, from model legislation designed by ALEC. ALEC’s sole purpose is to write model legislation that protects corporate profits. Industry then pushes state legislators to adapt the bills for their states and push them through. The idea behind the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act is to make it illegal to “enter an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.”

In other words, these laws turn journalists and the investigators of crimes into criminals.

Many of the legislators involved in ramming through state Ag-Gag bills have ties to ALEC, including Missouri’s Rep. Casey Guernsey. Guernsey’s top donor in 2010 was Smithfield Foods, itself a target of undercover investigations that exposed widespread abuse of pigs. Of the 60 Iowa lawmakers who voted for Iowa's Ag-Gag laws, at least 14 of them, or 23%, are members of ALEC
ALEC’s interest in large-scale factory farm operations, or in industry-speak, Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), can be traced to one of its staunchest members, Koch Industries.  Koch Industries once owned the Koch Beef Company, one of the largest cattle feeders in the U.S. When neighbors of one of the company’s huge cattle-feeding operations opposed a planned expansion, claiming it would pose health concerns, Koch persuaded local legislators to rule in its favor. ALEC subsequently wrote the  “Right to Farm Act,” a bill to bar lawsuits by citizens claiming that neighboring farms, including industrial farms, are fouling their air and water. 

Ag-Gag bills a threat to animals, public health and the environment
Under U.S. laws, farm animals don’t get the same protection as other animals, such as dogs and cats. Anti-free speech Ag-Gag bills only serve to leave farm animals even more vulnerable to the routine pain and suffering on factory farms. The three federal statutes that address animal welfare, including the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, do not apply to animals raised for food.  The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act regulates animals raised for food, but applies exclusively to slaughterhouses, where animals may spend only a short time before they are killed. That leaves the states to regulate the often-barbarous treatment of animals raised for food.

But as we’ve seen with the Ag-Gag bills, state laws often are written by big corporations. Nowhere is that more obvious than in states where cruel methods of treating animals are exempted from state laws on the basis of their being classified as “customary.” Who decides if a certain practice is “customary” even if most thinking people would consider that practice cruel? Corporations that own and operate CAFOs in that state.

Apart from the obvious ethical concerns, Ag-Gag laws also threaten public health and the environment, and undermine workers’ rights and free speech laws. Undercover investigations at factory farms have exposed the mishandling of meat, eggs and milk in ways that could potentially lead to health risks including mad cow disease, salmonella, e-coli and others. One investigation in Chino, Calif., revealed widespread mistreatment of “downed” cows – cows that are too sick or injured to walk. The facility is the second-largest supplier of beef to USDA's Commodity Procurement Branch, which distributes the beef to the National School Lunch Program.

Ag-Gag bills also keep employees and others from blowing the whistle on environmental violations. Huge amounts of waste are generated by the billions of cows, pigs and chickens on factory farms. Much of that waste, full of antibiotics, growth promoters and synthetic hormones, finds its way into our waterways and municipal water supplies. State and federal laws require CAFOs to minimize their environmental damage, but the laws are often not enforced. One of the ways to expose violations is through undercover investigations.

And then there’s the matter of free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union has been an outspoken opponent of Ag-Gag bills. In a letter opposing the proposed Ag-Gag law in New Hampshire, the executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union wrote that the proposed law “has serious implications for two fundamental rights protected by the U.S. and New Hampshire constitutions: the right to freedom of expression and the right against self-incrimination.”

There’s still time to stop Ag-Gag laws in New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska

The majority of Americans see Ag-Gag laws for what they are: just another attack on consumers’ right to know. According to a poll conducted last year by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 71% of Americans oppose the laws. When consumers learn that 99% of the animals raised for food are raised in factory farms, they generally agree that lawmakers should focus on strengthening animal cruelty laws, not prosecuting the whistleblowers.

It was public outrage that killed proposed bills in seven states last year. Here are the three latest bills to be introduced, and links to petitions telling lawmakers in New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska to reject the proposed laws:

New Hampshire: HB110
Primary sponsor: Bob Haefner (R) ; Co-sponsors: Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff (D), Rep. Tara Sad (D), Senator Sharon Carson (R), and Bob Odell (R)

This is a 7-line bill written to look as if its main concern is the protection of animals. However the bill would require whistleblowers to report animal abuse and turn over videotapes, photographs and documents within 24 hours or face prosecution – a clear attempt to intimidate and deter people from conducting undercover investigations. Lawmakers know that in order for anyone to prove a pattern of abuse in factory farms, they must document repeated instances of cruelty. A video or photograph of only one instance will be dismissed as a one-time anomaly, which will get the agribusiness company off the hook.
Sign the petition to stop New Hampshire's Ag-Gag bill.

Wyoming: HB0126
Co-sponsors: Rep. Sue Wallis (R), Sen. Ogden Driskill (R)

Introduced within weeks after nine workers at a Wyoming factory farm were charged with abuse. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sue Wallis, is planning to build horse slaughterhouses in Wyoming and other states. If this bill had been law in 2012, it would have prevented activists from exposing horrific acts of cruelty at Wheatland, WY-based Wyoming Premium Farms, a supplier to Tyson Foods. 
Sign the petition to stop Wyoming's Ag-Gag bill.

Nebraska: LB 204
Introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson (R), Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh (R), and Sen. Ken Schilz (R)

The bill would make it a Class IV felony for any person to obtain employment at an animal facility with the broadly defined "intent to disrupt the normal operations," It would require animal abuse reports to be filed within 12 hours. Co-sponsor Sen. Launtenbaugh has advocated in the past for horse slaughtering.
Sign the petition to stop Nebraska’s Ag-Gag bill.


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Myth of Human Progress

Clive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. 

The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and continue to resist the forces that are destroying us.

The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planet wide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the Earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power—for the industrial elites are the forces that now doom us. 

The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine that grinds forward, as the draft report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee illustrates.

Complex civilizations have a bad habit of destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. 

The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the Earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed and self-worship.

There is a pattern in the past of civilization after civilization wearing out its welcome from nature, overexploiting its environment, overexpanding, overpopulating,” Wright said when I reached him by phone at his home in British Columbia, Canada.

 “They tend to collapse quite soon after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity. That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the Romans, the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what I called in ‘A Short History of Progress’ the ‘progress trap.’

We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature. We have failed to control human numbers. They have tripled in my lifetime. And the problem is made much worse by the widening gap between rich and poor, the upward concentration of wealth, which ensures there can never be enough to go around. The number of people in dire poverty today—about 2 billion—is greater than the world’s entire population in the early 1900s. That’s not progress.”

“If we continue to refuse to deal with things in an orderly and rational way, we will head into some sort of major catastrophe, sooner or later,” he said. “If we are lucky it will be big enough to wake us up worldwide but not big enough to wipe us out. That is the best we can hope for. We must transcend our evolutionary history. We’re Ice Age hunters with a shave and a suit. We are not good long-term thinkers. We would much rather gorge ourselves on dead mammoths by driving a herd over a cliff than figure out how to conserve the herd so it can feed us and our children forever. That is the transition our civilization has to make. And we’re not doing that.”

Wright, who in his dystopian novel “A Scientific Romance” paints a picture of a future world devastated by human stupidity, cites “entrenched political and economic interests” and a failure of the human imagination as the two biggest impediments to radical change. And all of us who use fossil fuels, who sustain ourselves through the formal economy, he says, are at fault.

Modern capitalist societies, Wright argues in his book “What Is America?: A Short History of the New World Order,” derive from European invaders’ plundering of the indigenous cultures in the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries, coupled with the use of African slaves as a workforce to replace the natives. The numbers of those natives fell by more than 90 percent because of smallpox and other plagues they hadn’t had before. 

The Spaniards did not conquer any of the major societies until smallpox had crippled them; in fact the Aztecs beat them the first time around. If Europe had not been able to seize the gold of the Aztec and Inca civilizations, if it had not been able to occupy the land and adopt highly productive New World crops for use on European farms, the growth of industrial society in Europe would have been much slower. 

Karl Marx and Adam Smith both pointed to the influx of wealth from the Americas as having made possible the Industrial Revolution and the start of modern capitalism. It was the rape of the Americas, Wright points out, that triggered the orgy of European expansion. The Industrial Revolution also equipped the Europeans with technologically advanced weapons systems, making further subjugation, plundering and expansion possible.

“The experience of a relatively easy 500 years of expansion and colonization, the constant taking over of new lands, led to the modern capitalist myth that you can expand forever,” Wright said. “It is an absurd myth. We live on this planet. We can’t leave it and go somewhere else. We have to bring our economies and demands on nature within natural limits, but we have had a 500-year run where Europeans, Euro-Americans and other colonists have overrun the world and taken it over.

This 500-year run made it not only seem easy but normal. We believe things will always get bigger and better. We have to understand that this long period of expansion and prosperity was an anomaly. It has rarely happened in history and will never happen again. We have to readjust our entire civilization to live in a finite world. But we are not doing it, because we are carrying far too much baggage, too many mythical versions of deliberately distorted history and a deeply ingrained feeling that what being modern is all about is having more. This is what anthropologists call an ideological pathology, a self-destructive belief that causes societies to crash and burn. These societies go on doing things that are really stupid because they can’t change their way of thinking. And that is where we are.”

And as the collapse becomes palpable, if human history is any guide, we like past societies in distress will retreat into what anthropologists call “crisis cults.” 

The powerlessness we will feel in the face of ecological and economic chaos will unleash further collective delusions, such as fundamentalist belief in a god or gods who will come back to earth and save us.

“Societies in collapse often fall prey to the belief that if certain rituals are performed all the bad stuff will go away,” Wright said. “There are many examples of that throughout history. In the past these crisis cults took hold among people who had been colonized, attacked and slaughtered by outsiders, who had lost control of their lives. They see in these rituals the ability to bring back the past world, which they look at as a kind of paradise.

They seek to return to the way things were. Crisis cults spread rapidly among Native American societies in the 19th century, when the buffalo and the Indians were being slaughtered by repeating rifles and finally machine guns. People came to believe, as happened in the Ghost Dance, that if they did the right things the modern world that was intolerable—the barbed wire, the railways, the white man, the machine gun—would disappear.”

“We all have the same, basic psychological hard wiring,” Wright said. “It makes us quite bad at long-range planning and leads us to cling to irrational delusions when faced with a serious threat. Look at the extreme right’s belief that if government got out of the way, the lost paradise of the 1950s would return.

Look at the way we are letting oil and gas exploration rip when we know that expanding the carbon economy is suicidal for our children and grandchildren. The results can already be felt. When it gets to the point where large parts of the Earth experience crop failure at the same time then we will have mass starvation and a breakdown in order. That is what lies ahead if we do not deal with climate change.”

“If we fail in this great experiment, this experiment of apes becoming intelligent enough to take charge of their own destiny, nature will shrug and say it was fun for a while to let the apes run the laboratory, but in the end it was a bad idea,” Wright said.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How NRA’s true believers converted a marksmanship group into a mighty gun lobby

By Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz
The Washington Post
January 12, 2013

In gun lore it’s known as the Revolt at Cincinnati. On May 21, 1977, and into the morning of May 22, a rump caucus of gun rights radicals took over the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association.

The rebels wore orange-blaze hunting caps. They spoke on walkie-talkies as they worked the floor of the sweltering convention hall. They suspected that the NRA leaders had turned off the air-conditioning in hopes that the rabble-rousers would lose enthusiasm.

The Old Guard was caught by surprise. The NRA officers sat up front, on a dais, observing their demise. The organization, about a century old already, was thoroughly mainstream and bipartisan, focusing on hunting, conservation and marksmanship. It taught Boy Scouts how to shoot safely. But the world had changed, and everything was more political now. The rebels saw the NRA leaders as elites who lacked the heart and conviction to fight against gun-control legislation.

And these leaders were about to cut and run: They had plans to relocate the headquarters from Washington to Colorado.

“Before Cincinnati, you had a bunch of people who wanted to turn the NRA into a sports publishing organization and get rid of guns,” recalls one of the rebels, John D. Aquilino, speaking by phone from the border city of Brownsville, Tex.

What unfolded that hot night in Cincinnati forever reoriented the NRA. And this was an event with broader national reverberations. The NRA didn’t get swept up in the culture wars of the past century so much as it helped invent them — and kept inflaming them. In the process, the NRA overcame tremendous internal tumult and existential crises, developed an astonishing grass-roots operation and became closely aligned with the Republican Party.

Today it is arguably the most powerful lobbying organization in the nation’s capital and certainly one of the most feared. There is no single secret to its success, but what liberals loathe about the NRA is a key part of its power. These are the people who say no.

They are absolutist in their interpretation of the Second Amendment. The NRA learned that controversy isn’t a problem but rather, in many cases, a solution, a motivator, a recruitment tool, an inspiration.

Gun-control legislation is the NRA’s best friend: The organization claims an influx of 100,000 new members in recent weeks in the wake of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. The NRA, already with about 4 million members, hopes that the new push by Democrats in the White House and Congress to curb gun violence will bring the membership to 5 million.

The group has learned the virtues of being a single-issue organization with a very simple take on that issue. The NRA keeps close track of friends and enemies, takes names and makes lists. In the halls of power, it works quietly behind the scenes. It uses fear when necessary to motivate supporters. The ultimate goal of gun-control advocates, the NRA claims, is confiscation and then total disarmament, leading to government tyranny.

“We must declare that there are no shades of gray in American freedom. It’s black and white, all or nothing,” Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at an NRA annual meeting in 2002, a message that the organization has reiterated at almost every opportunity since.

“You’re with us or against us.”

An identity crisis

The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871 by National Guard and retired Army officers in New York who vowed to “promote rifle practice” and improve marksmanship. The first president, Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, had seen too many Union soldiers who couldn’t shoot straight. For generations thereafter, the NRA focused on shooting, hunting and conservation, and no one thought of it as a gun lobby.

The turmoil of the 1960s — assassinations, street violence, riots — spurred Congress to pass the Gun Control Act of 1968, the first major piece of gun legislation since the New Deal. Supporters of gun control originally included California Gov. Ronald Reagan, who worried about the heavily armed Black Panthers.

The NRA didn’t like the 1968 law, viewing it as overly restrictive, but also didn’t see it as a slide toward tyranny. The top NRA officer, Franklin Orth, wrote in the association’s publication American Rifleman that “the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”

The key word: “sportsmen.”

In 1972, a new federal agency charged with enforcing the gun laws came into being: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Lawmakers raged against the terror of cheap handguns known as Saturday-night specials.

It was in that environment that Neal Knox rose to prominence.

Clifford Neal Knox — born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas, a graduate of Abilene Christian College — started out as a newspaper reporter and editor before founding, at the age of 30, Gun Week magazine.

He wanted to roll back gun laws, even the ones that restricted the sale of machine guns. He believed that gun-control laws threatened basic American freedoms, that there were malign forces that sought nothing less than total disarmament. There would come a point when Knox would suggest that the assassinations of the 1960s and other horrors might have been part of a gun-control plot: “Is it possible that some of those incidents could have been created for the purpose of disarming the people of the free world? With drugs and evil intent, it’s possible. Rampant paranoia on my part? Maybe. But there have been far too many coincidences to ignore” (Shotgun News, 1994).

In the second half of the 1970s, the NRA faced a crossroads. Would it remain an Establishment institution, partnering with such mainstream entities as the Ford Foundation and focusing on shooting competitions? Or would it roll up its sleeves and fight hammer and tongs against the gun-control advocates? Or flee to the Mountain West? The latter was appealing, and the NRA leadership decided to move the headquarters to Colorado and also spend $30 million to build a recreational facility in New Mexico called the National Outdoor Center.

The moderates felt rejected by both the NRA hard-liners and the Washington elite.

“Because of the political direction the NRA was taking, they weren’t being invited to parties and their wives were not happy,” says Jeff Knox, Neal’s son and director of the Firearms Coalition, which fights for the Second Amendment and against laws restricting guns or ammunition. “Dad was on the phone constantly with various people around the country. He had his copy of the NRA bylaws and Robert’s Rules, highlighted and marked. My father and a lot of local club leaders and state association guys organized their troops.”

Theirs was a grass-roots movement within the NRA. The solution was to use the membership to make changes. The bylaws of the NRA gave members power on the convention floor to vote for changes in the NRA governing structure.

“We were fighting the federal government on one hand and internal NRA on the other hand,” Aquilino says.

In Cincinnati, Knox read the group’s demands, 15 of them, including one that would give the members of the NRA the right to pick the executive vice president, rather than letting the NRA’s board decide. The coup took hours to accomplish. Joe Tartaro, a rebel, remembers the evening as “electric.” The hall’s vending machine ran out of sodas.

By 3:30 in the morning the NRA had a whole new look. Gone were the Old Guard officers, including Maxwell Rich, the ousted executive vice president. The members replaced him with an ideological soul mate of Knox’s named Harlon Carter.

Carter, a longtime NRA board member, had arrived in Washington in 1975 as founding director of a new NRA lobbying unit, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA). His pugnacious approach, which rankled the Old Guard, was captured in a letter he wrote to the entire NRA membership to discuss the fight in Congress over gun control: “We can win it on a simple concept —No compromise. No gun legislation.”

He had a shaved head (“bullet-headed” was one description) and vaguely resembled Nikita Khrushchev. A former U.S. Border Patrol agent and chief, Carter was an outstanding marksman who racked up scores of national shooting records. (Four years into his tenure, he would acknowledge that, as a 17-year-old, he’d shot and killed another youth, claiming self-defense. He was convicted of murder, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.)

Within months, thanks to Carter, Knox was working in the NRA headquarters, running Carter’s old lobbying unit. And Carter made clear in an interview with The Washington Post that the NRA wouldn’t be relocating to Colorado:

“This is where the action is,” Carter said.

Another leadership change

Over the next few years, NRA membership tripled. With the presidential election of Reagan, the energized activists went on the offensive, hoping to roll back the 1968 gun-control laws and, in the process, abolish the ATF.

Aquilino, who became the top NRA spokesman, remembers those days as great fun: “We were a bunch of 25-year-olds, and we created the whole grass-roots lobbying concept.”

The hard-charging style of Neal Knox created internal and external turbulence. Carter kept looking over his shoulder at Knox, who clearly wanted the top job. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers chafed at NRA pressure. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) complained of the NRA, “You have to have a litmus test every five minutes or you’re considered wavering.”

One day in 1982, Knox came to work and discovered that he’d been locked out. He’d been fired as head of the NRA’s lobbying shop and replaced by a mellower character, Warren Cassidy. Cassidy portrayed himself in an interview with The Post as a reasonable man: “There have been lobbyists at the NRA whose zeal has occasionally gotten in the way of their common sense.”

“They felt Dad was too extreme and too uncompromising and they could get more mileage with honey than vinegar, so Harlon pulled the rug out from under him. It was hugely painful. They were best of friends,” Jeff Knox said. “Dad showed up to work in the morning and there was a security guard with his boxes of stuff at the front door, and he wasn’t allowed back into the building.”

Neal Knox hovered around the organization. He managed to get elected to the board in 1983, only to be expelled a year later. (“My mistake — Mine! — was not to have cleaned house on the board when I had a chance,” Knox told The Post in 2000.) Carter, meanwhile, retired in 1985.

What happened next revealed the NRA’s delicate position as a Washington institution representing a large and increasingly hard-line membership. After years of lobbying by the NRA, Congress passed the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, which, among other gun-friendly provisions, eased restrictions on interstate sales of firearms and expressly prohibited the federal government from creating a database of gun ownership.

A huge NRA triumph, the media declared. Some lawmakers said off the record that they would have voted against the act but feared retaliation from the gun lobby. And yet the Second Amendment fundamentalists were furious. The NRA endorsed the act even though it included a last-minute amendment pushed by gun-control advocates that further tightened the restrictions on machine guns.

The hard-liners like Knox feared that the NRA had gone wobbly. Membership declined. Knox blamed the organization’s financial and membership problems on Cassidy and a general “compromising and wimpiness.” Cassidy shot back in the press: “Neal is unhappy about everything about an NRA that can function without Neal Knox. . . . Neal believes that the sun does not rise unless he permits it and does not set unless he permits it.”

Knox, however, wasn’t going away.

A shift back

The NRA made a comeback in part because of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The gun-control effort, named for White House press secretary James Brady, who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan, called for a seven-day waiting period on gun purchases and a background check on the purchaser.

“What if there had been a Brady Bill 150 years ago? What if they had to wait seven days to get their rifles to come to the Alamo and fight?” an NRA vice president, Robert Corbin, shouted to loud applause at the annual meeting in 1991 in San Antonio, according to The Post’s account.

The membership once again shoved the NRA to the right, electing dissidents to the board, including the editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine. Among the new board members was a familiar face: Neal Knox.

“What you’re seeing now is the NRA on the way back,” he said at the time.

The organization had a new executive vice president, as well, Wayne LaPierre, who knew the organization inside and out from years in the lobbying shop. LaPierre, then 41, had been a PhD student in political science at Boston University with political skills smooth enough to land a job offer after college with Tip O’Neill, the legendary liberal House speaker from Massachusetts.

Instead, LaPierre gravitated toward the lobbying world and, in 1978, was hired by Knox as an NRA lobbyist. He had helped write the gun-friendly 1986 legislation, and he maintained an unwavering stance on the Second Amendment. The NRA flourished under LaPierre’s leadership. As Bill Clinton ascended to the presidency, some 600,000 people joined the NRA, according to LaPierre’s tally. He appointed a Knox ally, Tanya Metaksa, as head of the NRA lobbying unit.

“Wayne was trying to protect his flank, and he needed somebody very hard core,” recalls Richard Feldman, who worked for the NRA in the 1980s and whose book “Ricochet” is a tell-all on gun politics.

LaPierre knew what notes to hit to satisfy the hard-liners. At the annual meeting in 1993, LaPierre told the members, “Good, honest Americans stand divided, driven apart by a force that dwarfs any political power or social tyrant that ever before existed on this planet: the American media.”

Democrats in Congress and some Republican allies passed an assault-weapons ban in 1994. That fired up the NRA base. The NRA’s rhetoric grew harsher. Out on the political fringe, the militia movement grew in influence, as anti-government activists warned of black helicopters carrying federal agents dressed like ninjas. The militants cited the 1992 shooting deaths of two civilians in a federal raid at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the 1993 siege by federal agents of a religious sect’s compound in Waco, Tex., that culminated in a fire killing 76 people.

John Magaw, then the head of the ATF, recalls trying to set up meetings with the NRA to discuss gun issues. “They would not answer. They would ignore us.”

It was personal, too. Once, Magaw says, he saw LaPierre waiting to board a plane at Dulles International Airport. They were at the same gate.

“I went over to pay my respects and say hello,” he says. “He just turned and walked away. He wouldn’t talk to me.”

The NRA did not make LaPierre or any other NRA official available for an interview for this article.

Everything seemed to be going the NRA’s way in the aftermath of the 1994 midterm election, when Democrats were drummed from the House en masse. But then came Oklahoma City.

Timothy McVeigh’s April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people, including 19 children in a day-care center, and although the NRA had nothing to do with the terrorist attack, the association’s strident anti-government rhetoric drew national attention. News reports focused on a fundraising letter, signed by LaPierre and sent to NRA members before the bombing, that said the new assault-weapons ban “gives jackbooted Government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property and even injure and kill us.”

Even staunch NRA members began to get queasy. Former president George H.W. Bush resigned his NRA membership. Former NRA president Richard Riley, who headed the association from 1990 to 1992, told The Post at the time, “We were akin to the Boy Scouts of America . . . and now we’re cast with the Nazis, the skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan.”

LaPierre apologized for having used language that he said was wrongly interpreted as a broad attack on federal agents. And he began to maneuver behind the scenes to keep the NRA from turning into a fringe organization like the John Birch Society. That would mean doing something about Neal Knox, Metaksa and their allies.

At the 1997 annual meeting in Seattle, Knox ran for the office of first vice president, a position that would put him in the line of succession to become president of the NRA. But suddenly he had competition for that job from none other than Charlton Heston. The legendary actor and NRA supporter beat Knox by four votes and went on to become president.

“Needless to say, when you run against Moses, Moses wins,” says Joe Tartaro, the Cincinnati rebel.

Metaksa left ILA the next year, and Knox was off the board at decade’s end. He died in 2005. David Gross, a self-described “Knoxinista,” says Knox and his allies ultimately won the ideological battle even if they personally didn’t survive as NRA leaders.

“You know the old saying, ‘You never want to be first’?” Gross says. “The person with the alleged radical ideas, or the new ideas, they extend themselves, they fail, then somebody comes along, picks up the pieces and then develops the project.”

By 2000, the NRA had become even more closely aligned with the Republican Party and worked strenuously to keep Al Gore from becoming president. At the annual meeting in May of that year, Hollywood legend Heston provided what might be the signature moment in the history of the NRA. He spoke of a looming loss of liberty, of Concord and Lexington, of Pearl Harbor, the “sacred stuff” that “resides in that wooden stock and blued steel.”

Handed a replica of a Colonial musket, he said: “As we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed — and especially for you, Mr. Gore.”

He held the gun aloft.

“From my cold, dead hands!”

The power of controversy

Had Gore managed to carry Arkansas or West Virginia — states full of gun-toting Democrats — or his home state of Tennessee, he would have become president even without any favorable recount of votes in Florida. The next spring, citing the election results, Fortune magazine ranked the NRA as the most powerful lobbying group in Washington, surpassing even AARP.

The paradox for the NRA is that it gains strength when under assault. During the 2000s, with gun control now largely off the table, the NRA membership leveled off. In 2004, the assault-weapons ban expired; in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5 to 4 vote, that the Second Amendment establishes an individual’s right to own a firearm.

The NRA is now headquartered outside the Beltway, in Fairfax, and, according to its 2010 filing with the IRS, has 781 employees and 125,000 volunteers. Annual revenue tops $200 million. It’s a tax-exempt, “social welfare” organization with the self-described mission “to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, to promote public safety, law and order and the National defense.”

LaPierre received $960,000 in compensation from the NRA and related organizations, according to the 2010 documents. Kayne B. Robinson, executive director of general operations, was paid more than $1 million. Chris Cox, head of the ILA, made $666,000. NRA President David Keene, a longtime conservative activist who was elected in 2011, is unpaid.

Last election cycle, the NRA spent about $20 million on federal election campaigns, according to It has endowed a professorship at George Mason University (the Patrick Henry Professorship of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment). It’s a prodigious publisher of newsletters and glossy magazines, including American Rifleman, which in 2011 reported a paid circulation of 1.8 million. The NRA has a weekly TV show (“American Rifleman Television” on the Outdoor Channel) and a satellite news service, NRA News. The Web site is as slick as they come (as it loads on the screen, the site informs the visitor, “The full NRA experience requires a broadband connection”).

Beyond the financial muscle, the NRA has people power. The NRA can inundate local, state or congressional offices with phone calls via a single action alert to the membership.

Cleta Mitchell, an NRA board member, says, “Obama famously referred to people who ‘cling to guns and religion.’ He was right. We do. And we are proud of it. This is about abiding principles, and people take action when they think someone or some group is taking away precious values.”

Grover Norquist, the influential tax activist and an NRA board member since 2000, believes that gun-control advocates fail to recognize that their efforts are viewed by many gun owners as a message that says, “You don’t like me.” That message blots out all other efforts to communicate, he says. And no one, he says, votes for a candidate simply because that candidate is in favor of gun control. Millions of voters, however, will vote against a candidate on that single issue, he says. He thinks Democrats’ efforts to pass new gun laws will backfire.

“The D’s keep coming back to this. This is so visceral to them,” Norquist says. “Again, it’s an expression of contempt for Middle America. They don’t like you and yours and don’t think you should be in charge of the capacity to take care of yourself. They know they can’t do this for you, but they’ve hired these nice people to draw chalk outlines of your kids, and that’s supposed to make you feel better.”

William J. Vizzard, a retired ATF official who is now a criminal justice professor at California State University at Sacramento, says the NRA is not trying to be like other Washington organizations seeking to influence legislation.

“The NRA is a populist lobby,” he says. “They get support when people are mad and stirred up. They want the attention. They’re not interested in fixing things. They want to stir things up, and the more they stir things up, the more members they get and the more money they make. What do they gain by compromising? Nothing.”

In the fall of 2009, Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, convened a gun conference that brought police chiefs and law enforcement officials to Washington from around the country. Wexler also reached out to the NRA. The NRA representative remained largely silent, and at the end of the day Wexler sensed that the NRA had showed up merely to say no.

“They were not willing to accept what police chiefs who deal with shooting and firearms every day were saying,” Wexler says. “It was like, we don’t really care what you’re saying because this is what we think. The NRA has a preconceived idea about what should be done. And that is nothing.”

The NRA keeps track of gun-control supporters and makes lists. The NRA compendium of “National Organizations With Anti-Gun Policies” includes AARP, the AFL-CIO, the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics — just from the A’s on the list. (Toward the end of the list is The Washington Post.)

The NRA waited a week before it responded in depth to the Newtown massacre. LaPierre’s news conference, covered live on cable television, reintroduced America to the core values of the association. After calling for armed guards for every school, and uttering the line, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre predicted that he’d be beaten up in the news media: “I can imagine the headlines, the shocking headlines you’ll print tomorrow. ‘More guns,’ you’ll claim, ‘are the NRA’s answer to everything.’ Your implication will be that guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools.”

“CRAZIEST MAN ON EARTH” blared the front-page headline of the next morning’s New York Daily News.

“GUN NUT!” proclaimed the New York Post.

Among the most sensitive issues for the NRA is the idea of a national database of gun registration. It is orthodoxy among gun rights advocates that registration is a prelude to confiscation. The diehards invoke Hitler and other dictators who confiscated guns prior to slaughtering innocents. The NRA also argues that such registration is unconstitutional.

Two years ago, as part of The Post’s investigative series “The Hidden Life of Guns,” NRA lobbyist Chris Cox explained the organization’s position:

“The federal government has no business maintaining a database or a registration of Americans who are exercising a constitutional right. Just like they have no right and no authority to maintain a database of all Methodists, all Baptists, all people of different religious or ethnic backgrounds.”

Last week, Vice President Biden said the administration might use “executive orders” to curtail gun violence, a remark that incited the Drudge Report to run a screaming headline with photographs of Hitler and Stalin splashed on the page.

Biden met with NRA representatives Thursday at the White House. The NRA listened to the administration’s ideas and then provided an immediate response.

“We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment,” the NRA said afterward in a statement e-mailed to its members. “We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen.”

In short: No.

© The Washington Post Company

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Prosecutor as bully 

by Lawrence Lessig
Lessig Blog
Jan. 12, 2013

Boston Wiki Meetup
(Some will say this is not the time. I disagree. This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice.)
Since his arrest in January, 2011, I have known more about the events that began this spiral than I have wanted to know. Aaron consulted me as a friend and lawyer. He shared with me what went down and why, and I worked with him to get help. When my obligations to Harvard created a conflict that made it impossible for me to continue as a lawyer, I continued as a friend. Not a good enough friend, no doubt, but nothing was going to draw that friendship into doubt.
The billions of snippets of sadness and bewilderment spinning across the Net confirm who this amazing boy was to all of us. But as I’ve read these aches, there’s one strain I wish we could resist:
Please don’t pathologize this story.
No doubt it is a certain crazy that brings a person as loved as Aaron was loved (and he was surrounded in NY by people who loved him) to do what Aaron did. It angers me that he did what he did. But if we’re going to learn from this, we can’t let slide what brought him here.
First, of course, Aaron brought Aaron here. As I said when I wrote about the case (when obligations required I say something publicly), if what the government alleged was true — and I say “if” because I am not revealing what Aaron said to me then — then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morally wrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as I respect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine.
But all this shows is that if the government proved its case, some punishment was appropriate. So what was that appropriate punishment? Was Aaron a terrorist? Or a cracker trying to profit from stolen goods? Or was this something completely different?
Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew as Aaron.
Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.
Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.
For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.”
In that world, the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.
Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.
One word, and endless tears.
Lawrence Lessig has called for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of computer crime laws, and the overzealous prosecutors who use them. We agree.

Friday, January 04, 2013

I Do Not Support the Troops

Why those who say "I Support the Troops" really don't

by Michael Moore
Common Dreams
January 3, 2013

I don't support the troops, America, and neither do you. I am tired of the ruse we are playing on these brave citizens in our armed forces. And guess what -- a lot of these soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines see right through the bull**** of those words, "I support the troops!," spoken by Americans with such false sincerity -- false because our actions don't match our words. These young men and women sign up to risk their very lives to protect us -- and this is what they get in return:

1. They get sent off to wars that have NOTHING to do with defending America or saving our lives. They are used as pawns so that the military-industrial complex can make billions of dollars and the rich here can expand their empire. By "supporting the troops," that means I'm supposed to shut up, don't ask questions, do nothing to stop the madness, and sit by and watch thousands of them die? Well, I've done an awful lot to try and end this. But the only way you can honestly say you support the troops is to work night and day to get them out of these hell holes they've been sent to.

And what have I done this week to bring the troops home? Nothing. So if I say "I support the troops," don't believe me -- I clearly don't support the troops because I've got more important things to do today, like return an iPhone that doesn't work and take my car in for a tune up.

2. While the troops we claim to "support" are serving their country, bankers who say they too "support the troops," foreclose on the actual homes of these soldiers and evict their families while they are overseas! Have I gone and stood in front of the sheriff's deputy as he is throwing a military family out of their home? No. And there's your proof that I don't "support the troops," because if I did, I would organize mass sit-ins to block the doors of these homes. Instead, I'm having Chilean sea bass tonight.

3. How many of you who say you "support the troops" have visited a VA hospital to bring aid and comfort to the sick and wounded? I haven't. How many of you have any clue what it's like to deal with the VA? I don't. Therefore, you would be safe to say that I don't "support the troops," and neither do you.

I don't "support the troops" or any of those other hollow and hypocritical platitudes uttered by Republicans and frightened Democrats. Here's what I do support: I support them coming home.

4. Who amongst you big enthusiastic "supporters of the troops" can tell me the approximate number of service women who have been raped while in the military? Answer: 19,000 (mostly) female troops are raped or sexually assaulted every year by fellow American troops. What have you or I done to bring these criminals to justice? What's that you say -- out of sight, out of mind? These women have suffered, and I've done nothing. So don't ever let me get away with telling you I "support the troops" because, sadly, I don't. And neither do you.

5. Help a homeless vet today? How 'bout yesterday? Last week? Last year? Ever? But I thought you "support the troops!"? The number of homeless veterans is staggering -- on any given night, at least 60,000 veterans are sleeping on the streets of the country that proudly "supports the troops." This is disgraceful and shameful, isn't it? And it exposes all those "troop supporters" who always vote against social programs that would help these veterans. Tonight there are at least 12,700 Iraq/Afghanistan veterans homeless and sleeping on the street. I've never lent a helping hand to one of the many vets I've seen sleeping on the street. I can't bear to look, and I walk past them very quickly. That's called not "supporting the troops," which, I guess, I don't -- and neither do you.

6. And you know, the beautiful thing about all this "support" you and I have been giving the troops -- they feel this love and support so much, a record number of them are killing themselves every single week. In fact, there are now more soldiers killing themselves than soldiers being killed in combat (323 suicides in 2012 through November vs. about 210 combat deaths). Yes, you are more likely to die by your own hand in the United States military than by al Qaeda or the Taliban.

And an estimated eighteen veterans kill themselves each day, or one in five of all U.S. suicides -- though no one really knows because we don't bother to keep track. Now, that's what I call support! These troops are really feeling the love, people! Lemme hear you say it again: "I support the troops!" Louder! "I SUPPORT THE TROOPS!!" There, that's better. I'm sure they heard us. Don't forget to fly our flag, wear your flag lapel pin, and never, ever let a service member pass you by without saying, "Thank you for your service!" I'm sure that's all they need to keep from putting a bullet in their heads. Do your best to keep your "support" up for the troops because, God knows, I certainly can't any longer.

I don't "support the troops" or any of those other hollow and hypocritical platitudes uttered by Republicans and frightened Democrats. Here's what I do support: I support them coming home. I support them being treated well. I support peace, and I beg any young person reading this who's thinking of joining the armed forces to please reconsider. Our war department has done little to show you they won't recklessly put your young life in harm's way for a cause that has nothing to do with what you signed up for. They will not help you once they've used you and spit you back into society. 

 If you're a woman, they will not protect you from rapists in their ranks. And because you have a conscience and you know right from wrong, you do not want yourself being used to kill civilians in other countries who never did anything to hurt us. We are currently involved in at least a half-dozen military actions around the world. 

Don't become the next statistic so that General Electric can post another record profit -- while paying no taxes -- taxes that otherwise would be paying for the artificial leg that they've kept you waiting for months to receive.

I support you, and will try to do more to be there for you. And the best way you can support me -- and the ideals our country says it believes in -- is to get out of the military as soon as you can and never look back.

And please, next time some "supporter of the troops" says to you with that concerned look on their face, "I thank you for your service," you have my permission to punch their lights out (figuratively speaking, of course).

(There is something I've done to support the troops -- other than help lead the effort to stop these senseless wars. At the movie theater I run in Michigan, I became the first person in town to institute an affirmative action plan for hiring returning Iraq/Afghanistan vets. I am working to get more businesses in town to join with me in this effort to find jobs for these returning soldiers. I also let all service members in to the movies for free, everyday.)