Saturday Morning Open Thread: True (Truth) Believers

I spent Thursday morning at the swearing in of the new Congressional Black Caucus at the historic Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. If you’ve never been to a CBC swearing in before (I hadn’t) it’s quite a sight to see. Black politicos of every stripe line the halls and crowd into the room dressed in something between “Sunday best” and “Friday night, after work, I’m-heading-to-Happy-Hour” style. However unlike Congressional Black Caucus weekend, which is a party for the politically initiated, the swearing in felt like a mixture between the first day of school and an HBCU graduation…

If you’ve ever been to an HBCU graduation (or heard the reactions of the few scattered black parents when that first generation kid walks across the stage at a predominately white institution) you know how loud and celebratory black folks can get. The CBC swearing in was no different. The cheers when the entire panoply of political talent came across the stage were amazing. Specifically whenever Jahana Hayes name was mentioned a group in the back left of the theater went crazy like she’d just shouted out Waterbury, Conn. in a call-and-response lyric. Maxine Waters came on stage and gave the “Wakanda Forever” salute to her colleagues and the audience roared so loud you’d have thought there was vibranium in the rafters. Clearly picking up on the vibe, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) came in and spoke about the great work that the Congressional Black Caucus has done under the leadership of Cedric Richmond and how the CBC was officially the “nuck” for her Congressional “buck” when it came to dealing with Trump…
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Breaking News: Maria Butina Has Reached a Plea Agreement with Federal Prosecutors

Ms. Butina has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with Federal, state, and local investigations. ABC News has the details (emphasis mine):

Maria Butina, a 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist who stands accused developing a covert influence operation in the United States, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in any ongoing investigations.

She admits, as part of the deal, according to a copy obtained by ABC News that is expected to be filed to the court, that she and an unnamed “U.S. Person 1,” which sources have identified as longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, with whom she had a multiyear romantic relationship, “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official (“Russian Official”) and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

Based on the description, the “Russian Official” appears to be Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under his direction, the agreement said, she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”

The agreement, which Butina signed on Saturday, Dec. 8, also notes that the conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison, but the deal could see Butina receive a lesser sentence, depending on the level of her cooperation, before likely being deported back to Russia.

It is unclear what Butina’s cooperation might entail, but federal prosecutors have reportedly notified Erickson that he is a target of an ongoing investigation. The target letter sent to Erickson is from federal prosecutors in Washington, sources familiar with the case told ABC News, and separate from any South Dakota-based federal fraud investigation into his business dealings that has been the subject of earlier media reports.

But now, according to the agreement, Butina has acknowledged that with U.S. Person 1’s assistance, she drafted a proposal called “Description of the Diplomacy Project” in March of 2015 which was later sent to the Russian Official, in which she said that she had already “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration” and requested $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and meetings to further develop those ties. The Russian Official, the agreement said, confirmed that her proposal would be at least partially supported.

The government has alleged that U.S. Person 1 “worked with Butina to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics,” including high-ranking members of the National Rifle Association and organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast, that would ultimately give her a surprising level of access to conservative politicians, including — in one memorable interaction captured on video— to then-candidate Donald Trump.

Most notably, Butina’s Russian gun rights group “Right to Bear Arms” hosted a delegation of former NRA presidents, board members and major donors in Moscow in 2015, where she appears to have succeeded in arranging a meeting between NRA insiders and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, raising the prospect of a discussion between conservative political operatives and a powerful member of Russian President Putin’s inner circle in the midst of a presidential campaign.

After that now infamous meeting, the agreement said, Butina sent the Russian Official a message, which was translated as saying “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”

Much more at the link!

While we’ve covered Ms. Butina’s endeavors here before, one of the most interesting items in ABC’s report is that the plea deal was reached this past Saturday. There are also some non-surprises here. That US Individual is Paul Erickson who, apparently, is not very bright! And given the attempts to run a petroleum sale using funding partial raised by former NRA President David Keene’s wife, as well as her ability to get access to Governor Scott Walker, former Senator Rick Santorum, Donald Trump Jr, former sheriff and flair aficionado David Clarke, and a number of other high level Republican elected and appointed officials, as well as conservative activists, there could be multiple Federal, state, and local targets of this investigation.

And, of course, that the Russian official is Alexander Torshin and oligarch and leader within Russian organized crime circles who is close to Putin. Depending on how this proceeds, keep an eye out to see if Torshin suffers an accidental death that will clearly be anything but accidental.

What we don’t know right now is exactly what Butina is going to provide to the Federal prosecutors, as well as state and local investigators. Some of it will likely deal with Russian attempts to penetrate the NRA, the National Prayer Breakfast, and related groups and organizations in an attempt to influence the Republican Party, Republican elected officials, and the outcome of the 2016 election.

Just to be thorough, I did a quick search of the top firearms/guns/2nd Amendment sites and there’s no mention of this at all.

Always make sure to identify your target and know what’s beyond it!

Open thread!



Thoughts and prayers, mofos

Have we gloated about the hardships besetting the death merchant sector and their industry lobbying group lately?

From the Fortune article:

Share prices for some gun manufacturers dropped after the National Rifle Association released that it had lost more than half a billion dollars in income last year.

The gun-rights organization reported $98 million in contributions in 2017, down $55 million from the year prior, according to a report on the organization’s tax records by the Daily Beast.

In the wake of the news, stock prices for gun companies fell…

These companies have typically seen a bump in stock after mass shootings, including a February shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school that left 17 dead and a shooting at a concert venue in Las Vegas in October 2017 that left more than 50 dead.

But many are also reporting a drop in sales during the Trump presidency…

And as gun manufacturers are seeing a decrease in sales, the NRA is hurting from a loss in dues. The $55 million drop in contributions during 2017 includes a $35 million downturn in dues collected, a sign that hints at dwindling support, the Daily Beast reports.

Looks like at least some NRA execs are riding the grift all the way down. From an 11/28 report at The Trace:

The National Rifle Association paid more than $100,000 in personal expenses for an official who is now leading an austerity campaign within the organization, new tax filings show.

The official, Josh Powell, is the NRA’s executive director for general operations. The Trace and Mother Jones reported two weeks ago that Powell, along with the NRA’s new treasurer, Craig Spray, is seeking to impose steep cuts to the gun group’s budget. The effort is so stringent that the NRA did away with free coffee and water coolers at its Fairfax, Virginia, headquarters, causing consternation among NRA staffers. Today, NRATV staffer Cameron Gray announced on Twitter that he and “several colleagues” had been laid off.

We’re ass-deep in guns in America, and our twisted gun culture will continue to be a deadly problem for the rest of our lives — and probably our children’s and grandchildren’s lives too. A drop in NRA contributions and decline in gun maker profits won’t change that, at least not right away.

But did anyone see this coming — NRA contributions tanking and House Republicans driven from power in a wave election, inspired in part by activists young folks who demand sensible gun safety regulations? The Parkland kids believed they could change things — and they were right. Let us savor the NRA’s cordite-scented tears, comrades.



Friday Evening Open Thread: The NRA Lost This Election

More good news of the Blue Wave!
 

Forensic pathologist for the rebuttal:



I Don’t Understand Gun Culture

With the shooting in the Thousand Oaks bar having been committed by a veteran who allegedly had PTSD, I did some thinking while driving today, and I have just come to the conclusion that I will never understand gun culture. I just simply do not get it.

I mean obviously I have shot guns and know how to use them. I’d wager I have probably shot more weapons than your average gun humper, having fired all sorts of handguns ranging from .22 long barrel to m9 beretta to a cz-75 to a .44 and a .45 and on and on. And then all sorts of long rifles, from your run of the mill .22 and .30-06, to ar-15’s and multiple variants of m-16’s. And countless shotguns of various types. And then the various machine guns from a .240 and M60 and a .50 cal. And then the big boys, including a 90mm recoilless to a 105mm on an M1 to a 120mm on an M1A1 and TOW missiles. Hell, I’ve set off claymores, thrown grenades, set off a bangalore torpedo, gone through more c4 and det cord than I can remember. Hell, I was even taught how to make explosives with fertilizer and diesel fuel. What I am trying to say is I’ve been around them, I’ve used them, and I’m not afraid of them.

But they don’t interest me in the least. I’m not even remotely drawn to them. I simply do not understand the allure or attraction.

Mind you, I am not talking about hunting culture. I have a lot of friends who hunt. By friend Amy who I trade veggies for eggs is typical of the kind of people I know who hunt. She hunts turkeys, deer, etc., and she eats them. But for her, it’s not so much about the firearm, although she does go shooting recreationally from time to time. For her it really is about the hunt, and she just likes being outdoors and enjoys hunting with a bow and arrow the most. If you could describe her dream day, it would be out before the ass crack of dawn, looking for game, and then an afternoon riding her horses and dinner and a couple beers with her husband. She just likes being out there and a good day hunting doesn’t mean having to kill something. It just means a good day out there.

So I’m not talking about people like them, and to be honest, if there were not people like her around you simply would not be able to drive around here between the hours of sunset and sunrise, there are so many deer.

I’m talking about the idiots who just worship guns. Recently I’ve seen a bunch of gomers driving around with a silhouette of an M16 on the covering the entire back windshield of their car. It’s like they are advertising that they are assholes and warning the rest of us. I just simply do not understand them- the hours they spend reading about guns and thinking and saying things like “oh that’s a sexy piece” or “check out this grip” and getting excited about something like fucking grip tape. It’s just so foreign to me I do not get it.

And I don’t get the people who are so scared they need to have a gun with them all the time. It’s not that I am particularly brave- there are tons of things that scare me. But I simply do not understand being so afraid that you literally can not go anywhere without a gun to “protect” yourself. It’s nuts. When someone says they need to carry a gun with them everywhere to protect themselves the first thing I think is “jesus you pussy.”

I wonder what percentage of guys who were in the military feel the way I do. Since I got out of the service, I bet I have fired a weapon maybe a half dozen times, and easily haven’t fired on for fifteen years. It just does not interest me.

There’s no real point to this post. Just I don’t get it.








My Pet T-Rex

Did you know some of the founding fathers kept birds as pets and livestock? It’s true — you can read all about it in the Federalist Papers. The right to keep and bear birds is as American as apple pie.

Now, some people claim that the right to keep chickens, parrots, ducks, peacocks, etc., shouldn’t extend to a right to keep and bear a T-Rex that has been cloned from DNA found in blood consumed by a mosquito that was fossilized in amber.

That’s an anti-science way of looking at it. Everyone knows modern birds are descended from dinosaurs like the T-Rex. On a DNA level, there’s very little difference between a parakeet and a T-Rex.

While it’s true that a T-Rex can bite people’s heads off and slaughter dozens in just a few minutes, a parakeet could kill you too, or at least peck out your eye if you didn’t stop it.

Every now and then, someone’s pet T-Rex gets loose and kills a bunch of people. It’s a tragic thing caused entirely by irresponsible T-Rex owners. So why punish responsible, law-abiding T-Rex owners for something they didn’t even do?

Owning a T-Rex is thrilling and manly. Maybe if everyone had their own T-Rex, we wouldn’t have to offer up our thoughts and prayers about these tragedies involving rogue T-Rex owners so frequently.

A T-Rex-armed society is a very polite society. Or at least a very STILL one.

[Image from Chicago Reader.]



Guns, Suicide, And Starting To Change The Argument

So, fellow Jackals,

I’ve got a piece up today in the Boston Globe on what firearm-suicides tell us about who is most at risk from a gun in the home.  The answer leaps out of the numbers — 2/3 gun deaths in the US are self-inflicted, and another notable fraction are murders within or close to the gun household.

What caught my eye amidst those numbers is the attempt by public health figures to frame the discussion of guns in gun-friendly states around safety rather than control.   So I wrote about it.

Trigger warning: an unhappy painting and more on a tough subject below the fold.

ETA: switched out the art to be slightly less on-the-nose.

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