August 7, 2019

For the first time in years, there appears to be bipartisan momentum in Congress toward passing significant gun restrictions. The most popular gun legislation, universal background checks, has hit a wall in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but President Trump and GOP leadership appear open to passing "red flag" laws.

What are "red flag" laws?
Also called "extreme risk protection orders," they authorize law enforcement to temporarily confiscate guns from a person a judge deems an imminent danger to themselves or others. Typically, police or concerned family members or friends request the court order after a gun owner expresses a suicidal or homicidal intention. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws on the book.

Are red flag laws effective?
"For 'red flags' to work, someone has to raise them," The Washington Post notes, and an FBI study found that "those most likely to spot dangerous warning signs often feel loyalty to the attacker, refuse to believe they could commit violence, or fear what would happen if they reported the issue." There's little evidence yet that red flag laws are effective at preventing mass shootings, but there's a growing body of data that such laws can reduce suicides, which account for two-thirds of all U.S. gun deaths.

Are gun rights advocates on board?
The National Rifle Association has been fighting red flag laws in states for years, and an NRA spokeswoman said Tuesday that any such laws "at a minimum must include strong due process protections, require treatment, and include penalties against those who make frivolous claims." In most states, gun owners can petition the court to get their guns back.

What "red flags" should people look for?
Along with expressed intent to harm others, people who commit mass shootings tend to have low self-esteem, significant extended trauma, a history of violence — especially domestic violence — substance abuse, multiple DWIs, outbursts of anger, and access to guns NBC News reports, citing multiple studies. Mental illness does not appear to be a significant factor. Peter Weber

August 1, 2018

"Tricky when something can be true and untrue at the same time, and yet both aspects of it matter," Chris Cuomo said on CNN Tuesday night, alongside his whiteboard. He played Rudy Giuliani, speaking Monday in his role as President Trump's lawyer, saying that collusion isn't a crime. "Rudy's right — collusion is not a statutory crime under the federal code, in this context," Cuomo explained, but that's "a distinction without a difference." With Trump, "the key is the behavior, not the word," collusion.

"If it were to be proven that Trump or any of his people were doing what amounts to collusion with any of those who were intent on interfering in our democracy, there's plenty of potential criminal exposure, because the behavior would be criminal," Cuomo said, putting his law degree to good use by listing several relevant statues in the "family" of collusion and explaining how they could land Trump or his allies in legal hot water.

So, Cuomo said, you can safely ignore the new Trump team talking about collusion not being a crime. At the same time, if Trump or any of his people are indicted for collusion-related crimes, he cautioned, the burden of proof is on federal prosecutors. Peter Weber

June 28, 2018

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement means that someday, the Senate will be voting for his replacement, and CNN's Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night tried to explain the myriad of ways this could all play out.

With the help of a whiteboard, Cuomo explored whether the Democrats have enough votes to block the eventual pick. It comes down to a lot of things, he said — will Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, be able to vote? Will Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who have said they support abortion rights, vote against a more conservative pick? What about Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — they both voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch, and coming from red states, might go along with President Trump's nominee.

The biggest "if," though, is if the vote can be delayed, Cuomo said. It could happen, if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a "sudden allergic reaction to hypocrisy." McConnell, of course, famously blocked former President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, following Antonin Scalia's death in February 2016, due to it being an election year. Catherine Garcia

March 22, 2018

One of the biggest stories this week was the scandal rocking Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the political data firm that harvested and allegedly weaponized the private information of 50 million Facebook users before being hired by President Trump's campaign — a campaign Cambridge Analytica top executives claim they won on Trump's behalf using their data and specially tested phrases like "Crooked Hillary." On Thursday morning, Trump was apparently feeling nostalgic and a bit braggadocious:

He's right — they're not saying that anymore. They're talking about Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign figuring out "how to manipulate you at all costs," as Trevor Noah explained on Wednesday night's Daily Show. What they did may sound like advertising, where "they try to get you to buy something by tugging at your emotions, but this is 10 levels above that," Noah said. "You see, using Cambridge Analytica's tools, Trump's campaign figured out a way to manipulate people — or as they called it, electronic brainwashing."

As an example, he pointed out that Cambridge Analytica discovered that the phrase "drain the swamp" would make people want to vote for Trump. "And I'm not making this up: Trump told us this himself," like a "Bond villain" revealing "his entire scheme," Noah said. "Trump didn't create new fears in people, he found a way to appeal to fears and desires that already existed. And they used Facebook, in the same way that Facebook will be, like, 'Hey, remember your friend Steve from high school?' Except this time it was like, 'Hey, remember how you're scared of brown people?'"

Just to be clear, that's what people are saying now. Peter Weber

December 26, 2016

The Republican National Committee's Christmas message on Sunday, issued in the name of chairman Reince Priebus and co-chairwoman Sharon Day, included this line, after a sentence clearly referring to the birth of Jesus: "Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King." The message did not mention Donald Trump, for whom Priebus will serve as White House chief of staff, but the sentence still brought out the theologians and liturgists on social media — who pointed out, among other things, that the three wise men did not herald Jesus' arrival on Christmas, the angels and shepherds did. (In the Western Christian tradition, the three wise men or kings arrive in Bethlehem on Jan. 6 to pay homage to Jesus.) The wording of "a new King" was maybe a wee bit ambivalent, too:

Also, CNN notes, "last year's Christmas message from Priebus made no reference to a 'King.'" In any case, Sean Spicer, Trump's incoming press secretary and director of communications, felt the need to clarify that Priebus wasn't hailing King Trump and scold everyone for spending Christmas on Twitter instead of spending it with their families, or something. Peter Weber

December 23, 2016

Traditionally, presidents-elect don't try to make policy before taking office, because the United States has only one president at a time, and on Thursday, Donald Trump spokesman Jason Miller insisted that Trump wasn't trying to set new policy, either, when he tweeted earlier in the day that "the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes." Instead, Miller said, "Trump was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it — particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes."

If those two statements — expanding nuclear capabilities and preventing nuclear proliferation — don't seem all that similar, Miller said that Trump "has also emphasized the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength." Some nuclear proliferation experts expressed alarm at Trump's apparent call to start expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, after decades of scaling it down, but most analysts were just confused. "It is completely irresponsible for the president-elect or the president to make changes to U.S. nuclear policy in 140 characters and without understanding the implications of statements like 'expand the capacity,'" said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association. "He must have leaders around the world trying to guess what he means," Kimball told Reuters. "This is bush league."

Robert Jervis, a nuclear weapons expert at Columbia University, told USA Today he didn't think Trump's tweet would spark a new arms race, as some other analysts fear. But if Trump is going to weigh in on complex issues, especially ones that could lead to massive loss of life, he should be more specific, Jervis said. Is Trump advocating breaking the 2011 New START treaty with Russia? Does he want to spend more than the $350 billion Obama has budgeted to upgrade America's aging nuclear weapons? Has Trump even thought this through? "Unless we're being fooled and he's done great thinking, these tweets are off the top of his head and are immediate responses," Jervis said. "If you try to dig deep there isn't anything there. There's a reason states don't communicate in 140 characters without serious staff work." Peter Weber

December 21, 2016

Some people hear the line in the Christmas standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside" about, "Hey, what's in this drink?" and can't help but think of Bill Cosby. Tucker Carlson hears playful flirtation. The song was written during World War II, he said on his Fox News show Tuesday, "but some people are now finding offense with some of those lyrics. The song has been characterized as 'rapey.'" Carlson justifiably rolled his eyes over a new, "bowdlerized" version of the song, then brought on Vox writer Emily Crockett to play counterpoint to his defense of a Christmas song about a man pressuring a woman to have sex.

"Now feminists, maybe unfairly, have had this reputation as humorless scolds," Carlson began, and "I'm not sure attacks on this song do much to fight that perception." Crockett said her article wasn't an "attack" on the song, explaining that when she listens to the song, she can hear both the "rapey" and "romantic" sides. When the song was written, she noted, women "had to play hard to get, or had to just allow themselves to be seduced," rather than say they were interested in sex. At the same time, "putting pressure on a woman to have sex is just not cool for a variety of reasons," she said. "There's a difference between a negotiation and, you know, a predation." In the original version of the song, the man's part is labeled "wolf" and the woman's part is labeled "mouse," she said, which is "kind of creepy." "Why is that creepy?" Carlson asked.

"This issue is that it's a debate over whether the song promotes problematic ideas of consent, right?" Crockett said. "Don't you think that's a debate that's completely confined to small groups of silly rich people?" Carlson asked. When she said no, Carlson said he was trying to take this seriously, then brought up female genital mutilation, saying he never hears feminists complain about that on Vox. (Doesn't he have a research department, or the internet?)

"Culture matters," Crockett said, trying to find common ground. "I know conservatives feel this way, too, about culture, right? Like, we worry about the signals we're sending our kids. And if the signal we're sending our young men is that it's okay to badger and badger and pressure and pressure, and not listen to a woman, not respect her when she says no...." "Well, I'm against that," Carlson said, then he tried to adopt the left's language. "Isn't maybe even a bigger threat to our country and our minds to politicize art relentlessly?" When she said no, he cut in again: "So there can be no safe space from politics?" Watch. Peter Weber

March 11, 2016

The decision by Nabisco's parent company, Mondelez International, to move Oreo production from Chicago to Salinas, Mexico, has drawn sharp criticism from presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and especially Donald Trump, a former pitchman for Oreos. The company cites the $46 million it will save each year for the move to Salinas and the dismissal of 600 workers in Chicago, but Mondelez spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati says at least half those workers would still have lost their jobs if Nabisco built its new cookie and cracker factory in the U.S.

"Even if the investment would have been made in Chicago, there would have been an impact to positions at that bakery," she told USA Today, explaining that the new factory lines and machines are more efficient than the ones Nabisco operates in Chicago.

Nate Zeff, a member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers (BCTGM) International Union, isn't sympathetic, especially since Mondelez CEO Irene Rosenfeld earned $21 million last year. "We're talking about 600 jobs," he said, and "600 families who are going to be deeply affected. That's millions of dollars that's going to be stripped away from the economy here." The Chicago plant will still have 600 workers, and while it won't be making Oreos, Nabisco's Oreo plants in Oregon, Virginia, and New Jersey will still make the cookies, along with bakeries in 16 other countries. Oreos earned Mondelez $2.5 billion in revenue in 2014. Peter Weber

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