By Matthew E. Milliken
April 5, 2014
Wednesday, April 2, 2014, was a quintessentially American day. It will be remembered primarily for two events; history will also footnote one purported joke that seemed to be a reaction to one of those happenings.
• In the morning, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the result of McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court invalidated provisions in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 limiting the total amount of money any one individual may give to political candidates or political parties.
Previously, the law set a number of restrictions. According to SCOTUSblog, any one person could give up to $2,600 per candidate per primary or general election, $32,400 per year to a national party committee, $10,000 per year to a state or local party committee, and $5,000 per year to a regular political action committee. Further, an individual’s aggregate donations over a two-year election cycle were limited; in 2013–14, the maximums were $48,600 for federal candidates and $74,600 to political committees.
The new ruling lets stand limits on giving to a particular candidate or committee, but the aggregate caps are no more.
Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog offered this rather understated analysis of the decision:
[T]he practical result of the new ruling is almost sure to be that wealthy individuals favoring specific candidates or party positions will be able to spread their money around among more candidates and political groups.
Donors will get into legal trouble, the ruling emphasized, only if they demand a specific favor in policy or legislation in a direct exchange for the money they give. That is the only kind of corruption that the First Amendment will allow the government to attack, the decision stressed.
Although the Court did not concede that it was creating constitutional donation opportunities only for the wealthy, the two-year caps as a practical reality probably would never apply to those with more limited financial means.
John Cassidy of The New Yorker was a bit more biting in his assessment. The court’s decision, he wrote:
represented another significant step away from the antiquated principle of “one person, one vote” toward the more modern, and utilitarian, notion of “one dollar, one vote.”
The plaintiff in the case was Shaun McCutcheon, a conservative Alabama businessman who sued the Federal Election Commission and was joined in the suit by the Republican National Committee. As is usually the case when the subject is campaign finance, the Court avoided declaring, straight out, that rich people have the right to buy elections. That would be too blatant. It might even offend the sensibilities of the five conservative justices, some of whom appear to have convinced themselves that, rather than carrying water for rich and powerful interests, they are merely adjusting the laws to reflect the original wishes of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.
How many — or few — people will be able to take advantage of the First Amendment rights newly discovered by the Court? The Center for Responsive Politics suggests an answer: In the 2012 election cycle, just 646 people “hit the maximum overall donation limit of $117,000. This tiny group was able to give a total of about $93.4 million directly to candidates and committees active in federal campaigns.”
That’s 646 people, mind you, out of the 1.2 million Americans who gave $200 or more to presidential or congressional candidates in 2011 and 2012, and out of the roughly 313 million residents of this nation. Without the aggregate limit, these 646 people and their fellow millionaires and billionaires will each legally be able to spend millions of dollars on candidates and committees.
What a brave new world! As Amy Davidson of The New Yorker writes: “Instead of targeting a single Congressman, you can try to buy off a whole committee.”
Thank goodness there are brave jurists such as as John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas who are willing to protect the embattled minority of American plutocrats.
Soon, Peter Beinart suggests, we may return to a time when tycoons such as Tom Steyer and the Koch brothers — latter-day versions of J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller — are, justifiably, better-known than the people they help elect to office.
We can only hope…
• Around 4 p.m. Tuesday, an Army specialist named Ivan Lopez went through parts of two buildings at Fort Hood, firing a .45-caliber handgun. The 34-year-old killed three people and wounded 16 others before taking his own life.
This was the second mass shooting at the massive base in Texas in the last five years; on Nov. 5, 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 soldiers and wounded more than 30 in a shooting. Both Hassan and Lopez legally purchased the weapons they used in the killings — and brought onto base against military regulations — at the same store, Guns Galore, a short drive from Fort Hood.
Hassan, a psychiatrist, confessed to attacking his fellow soldiers in order to protect members of the Taliban. (Hassan and the people he shot were scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan.) He has been convicted of murder by a court martial and was sentenced to execution.
Lopez’s motive as yet remains unclear. The married father of three was reportedly taking antidepressants as well as medicine to help him sleep. He was evaluated by a psychiatrist in March, but he was not found to be violent. Lopez had served in Iraq, but the military has no record of him having served in combat. Nor does it have a record of him having been injured there, although Lopez had reportedly “self-diagnosed” with a traumatic brain injury.
There are also reports that Lopez had had an argument with other soldiers before the shooting, and that he was disgruntled over having been granted just 24 hours to attend his mother’s funeral after her recent death.
Perhaps a motive will emerge in a few days; perhaps not, as in the case of the Newtown, Conn., rampage that claimed 27 lives, including 20 first-graders and the shooter’s mother, on Dec. 14, 2012.
But we already know this: This latest incident won’t prompt a serious discussion about guns and how to reduce their outsized contributions to American morgues. If the Newtown massacre and the Aurora, Colo., shooting spree that killed a dozen moviegoers on July 20, 2012, weren’t able to do so, then nothing will.
In 2010, guns were used in 11,078 homicides and 19,392 suicides in the United States. That accounted for more than two-thirds of that year’s murders and more than half of the suicides.
A 2011 study, which compared 2003 homicide data from 23 prosperous countries, reached a number of sobering conclusions. It found that America had murder rates nearly 7 times the rates of other high-income nations and gun-murder rates nearly 20 times higher than other countries in the study. Four-fifths of all gun deaths in the 23 nations were of Americans, including 86 percent of female victims and 87 percent of victims aged birth through 14 years of age.
U.S. gun murder rates for 15- to 24-year-olds were nearly 43 times the level of peer nations. Accidental gun deaths in America were more than five times higher. The U.S. gun suicide rate was almost six times higher, despite America’s overall suicide rate being 30 percent lower.
Peacetime gun fatalities are a very American phenomenon. Lopez’s victims, who were fellow soldiers, served their nation in life; unfortunately, in death, they also represent the United States all too well.
• About 90 minutes after Lopez’s shooting spree began, a conservative filmmaker and journalist (I use the term hesitantly) named Pat Dollard sent the following tweet:
If there is even one more act of Muslim terrorism, it is then time for Americans to start slaughtering Muslims in the streets, all of them.
Dollard has denied that his tweet was connected to Fort Hood and downplayed it as a joke. “Anyone who takes that tweet seriously enough to respond, looks like the idiot you’d have to be to do so,” he wrote, adding the hashtag #Boring.
Dollard has led a varied life. According to Evan Wright’s very long and very revealing 2007 profile of Dollard for Vanity Fair, the one-time Hollywood agent was married (and separated) four times by age 42. Dollard had some apparently epic bouts of alcohol and substance abuse, as well as sexual indulgences, before he decided to fly to Iraq in 2004 to document American war efforts there.
Dollard, who was once liberal, now unabashedly glorifies war and regularly warns of Muslim persecution of Christians. “If I could, I’d kill jihadis with my bare hands,” he told Wright. “That’s really the goal.”
Wright’s profile, which is brilliant, includes the following passage:
Dollard leads me into the editing room to reveal his next inspiration. The editing system is set up against the back wall of the bedroom. Along the opposite wall is a child’s bed, with an ornate iron frame and a ruffled cover, which was his daughter’s in his old home and is set up for a visit from her that never happens. I sit on the bed as Dollard plays jihadi videos: YouTube-quality clips made by insurgents to showcase attacks on Americans, beheadings, and other violent doings. Designed to recruit young men into the insurgency, many are set to jihadi hip-hop. Watching them, Dollard becomes outraged (even as I am struck by how similar they are to his own film). “This is the Islamo-Fascist death machine at work,” he says. “This is the breath of Darth Vader.”
Dollard is obviously someone who delights in hyperbole and provocation. Here are some of his tweets from Wednesday and Thursday (note that I have not checked any of the links; I suspect that many of the pages contain upsetting material):
WATCH – Rumsfeld: ‘A Trained Ape’ Could’ve Accomplished Key Task Obama Couldn’t In Iraq, Afghanistan http://bit.ly/Q9ojLx #tcot #p2 #pjnet
Obama Polling Too Low To Be Anti-Christ http://bit.ly/1kSoTuk #tcot
Geez, sometimes these days there’s nothing worse than trying to figure out someone else entertainment center remote control system.
Yeah, Obama’s “heartbroken” over Ft. Hood because it wasn’t Muslim terrorism.
whores don’t host a holocaust any more desirably than anybody else #plannedparenthood #life
I’m fucking furious. Turns out that soda was “caffeine-free”.
A gay float in a Catholic saint’s parade is a hate crime, vandalism no different than breaking a church’s window, or graffitiing its door.
I’ve never seen such mass idiocy. #Awesome This has been quite the fun chuckle night. America is so pansied, talking trash is a hate crime..
Every single critic of that tweet needs to be ashamed of the fact that they willingly surrendered their balls after losing their brains.
Every time I read that, I laugh, that shit was funny. I cannot believe the mass loss of IQ and testicles in this country over the decades.
Motherfuckers walked right into it. And still have no idea. And most never will.
diagnosed with inoperable 4th stage stupidity
What have you done to overthrow the government today?
Any doctor who speaks the word “gun” during an exam is first torted into a wall, then chased into hell by lawyers,psychopaths, & murder dogs
I’m not gonna play pretend with everybody. This is hilarious. I’m wallowing in the #awesome.
I’ve never seen such mass idiocy. It’s impressive.
Until the enemy is made to be afraid to do what he does he will not stop. You must make horror & mortal terror your friends.
You think that was bad, wait til you see my encore…
Someone who was assigned the male sex at birth but who identifies as female is mentally ill.
The purpose of green is to steal the business of oil.
Suicide is a sin, a lack of diversity is not. God does not smile upon a people who are committing suicide for the sake of diversity.
Anywhere From 100-200 Million Christians Are Persecuted Every Year By Muslims http://is.gd/P9vnnu #tcot #ccot #teaparty #lnyhbt #tgdn
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Murders Young Christian Woman, After Dragging Her From Car http://is.gd/61GLgK #ccot #tcot #lnyhbt
WATCH – WARNING, HORRENDOUSLY GRAPHIC: Syrian Christian Forced To Convert To Islam, Then Beheaded Anyway http://bit.ly/1kw2ceH #tcot #ccot
WATCH, WARNING, EXTREMELY GRAPHIC: Muslim Human Slaughterhouses For Christians http://bit.ly/1mG6UV3 #ChristianHolocaust
America awaits @BarackObama’s apology for helping Al Qaeda & Iran slaughter American soldiers in Iraq during the war, with his propaganda.
If anybody thinks that a patently absurd tweet in any way rates against the crimes committed by @BarackObama against Americans,you’re insane
Dollard re-sent the last tweet with several variations, inserting references to Democrats, Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the Internal Revenue Service, the “MSM” (mainstream media) and the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
The U.S. Constitution offers broad protection to speech, especially material with political implications. As thoroughly loathsome as Dollard’s tweets are, he is well within his rights to post them.
In fact, Dollard, who loves to wrap himself in the American flag, is maintaining a long tradition of American hate speech, one that goes back to Father Charles Coughlin and beyond. Much as Dollard vigorously flags Muslim persecution of Christians, Coughlin said Nazi violence against Jews was justified because Jews had oppressed Christians; he also claimed that communists and atheists had murdered millions of Christians and stolen billions of dollars of Christian property.
So that was Wednesday, April 2, 2014: A Supreme Court ruling that further opens politics to the influence of money, three soldiers shot to death by a compatriot and one awful reaction to the slaying. There will surely be better days in 2014, and there may yet be worse ones — but it’s hard to imagine one that so well captures the American essence.