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Posts published in “Richardson”

Making people think

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There has been a disturbance in the force. Bill Hall has passed away.

The first time I met Bill Hall I was an impressionable 13-year-old in the company of my dad, a force of nature whose esteem was not easily earned. Pointing to a gentleman some way from us on the sidewalk, Dad said, “There’s Bill Hall. I want you to meet him. He’s the editorial page editor for the Lewiston Morning Tribune.”

I could tell by Dad’s tone of voice that he held this Bill Hall fellow in high regard.

As he saw us approaching, Bill greeted my Dad with mingled wariness and respect, no doubt bracing for Dad to hold forth, as he was wont to do, on the latest issue of the day. But that day Dad wanted only to introduce Bill to his young daughter and to impress upon her his belief that journalists were important members of the community and political writers had tremendous ability to influence public opinion.

Bill was gracious and greeted me warmly. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, we went on our way, and I remember Dad saying, “I don’t always agree with Bill Hall, but he does what an opinion writer ought to do – he makes people think.”

Indeed he did.

I was a nerdy kid, one who read the editorial page before I read the funny page. I cut my teeth on politics reading Bill’s columns. It was the late 60s and there was no dearth of fodder for a decidedly independent-minded political writer. With the support and encouragement of publisher Bud Alford and later his son Butch, Bill pulled no punches. His hard-hitting commentary was frequently punctuated with humor.

Bill delighted in hoisting self-satisfied office-holders on their own smug petards. And though his world view was most often left of center, he did not hesitate to hold to account those he admired when he thought they fell short.

In my senior year in high school, I was among a group of students who had somehow come to understand that Bill enjoyed our company and would welcome us to his home. He loved to share his thinking about contemporary issues, and was eager to hear our take on the topics of the day.

Bill could be provocative, both in print and in person, and occasionally he would say something a bit outrageous to elicit a response. If you didn't catch the twinkle in his eye, you might think he meant it.

Once, when a group of us was visiting, Bill said something with which I disagreed, and I offered another perspective. He forcefully rebutted, and I was quick to concede my point. Bill wouldn’t have it. “Betty, defend your position. Don’t just accept mine.” And so I did. He could not have been prouder.

Two decades later, in my bid for Congress, Bill was in the room when the Lewiston Tribune staff grilled me on any number of issues. I stated my positions without hesitation and, when pressed, defended them with vigor. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Bill remembered, as I did, his early instruction.

The last time I saw Bill Hall was at the memorial service for another north Idaho statesman, Mike Mitchell. Several months earlier, with the help of his beloved wife Sharon, Bill had penned a column letting his readers know that the column would be his last, explaining he had been diagnosed not only with cancer, but with progressive cognitive impairment.

Yet, as I visited with Bill after the service, he seemed his old self – bright-eyed, quick-witted, and, though the circumstances were sad, delighted to see old friends. We had a warm reunion, and I was about to thank him for having a profound impact on my thinking and writing, for encouraging a shy, but civic-minded high school student to express herself well and stay true to her convictions.

But then he and I were both drawn into conversations with others, and the moment passed. Later, I thought to myself, “I will see Bill Hall again before long and thank him then.”

Death has a way of bringing one up short.

When I learned yesterday afternoon that Bill had passed away, my first thought was profound regret that I had not explicitly thanked him for his mentorship and told him how much his friendship had meant to me. But believing, as I do, that our departed loved ones know our hearts, I thank him now.

I thank Bill Hall for years of informed and influential prose that stimulated civic discussion, making his readers wiser and our communities better. I thank him for his tutorials, often impromptu, on rhetoric, argument, and logic. And I thank him for modeling excellence in punditry.

Finally, I thank Bill for his many years of friendship and for seeing some potential in a teenager with strong opinions who wanted to make a difference in the world and encouraging her to do so. I expect I speak for many in noting that Bill was, quite simply, an extraordinary mentor. As my Dad rightly noted so many years ago, he made people think.

Indeed, there has been a disturbance in the force.
 

No joke

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White House aide Kelly Sadler recently responded to Sen. John McCain's principled opposition to Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee for CIA director. In an offensive remark that she later called a “joke,” Sadler dismissed McCain’s concerns saying "he's dying anyway.”

A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, McCain was almost killed during the Vietnam War when he was shot down over Hanoi. Over his five and a half years as a prisoner of war, despite episodes of torture, McCain refused an out-of-sequence early repatriation. He chose to stay with other imprisoned Americans, soldiers whose fathers – unlike his – could not pull strings.

The serious injuries McCain sustained during the war left him with lifelong physical disabilities. He cannot raise his arms above his shoulders and walks with an off-kilter gait. Now he has been diagnosed with a truly horrible brain cancer. He is indeed dying.

Against this backdrop, it is impossible to construe Ms. Sadler’s utterly insensitive and cruel statement as a “joke.” But we shouldn’t be surprised at this latest display of incivility. Vicious, ignorant rhetoric has become a hallmark of this White House. It started with the president, who set the tone for vile personal attacks from the outset of his presidential campaign. He has been the very model of a crude school-yard bully. It is not remarkable that his staff emulates him.

Trump, who repeatedly avoided military service due to supposed bone spurs, famously denied that McCain was a hero, sneering, “I like people that weren't captured." This hateful barb came from a man who never donned our nation’s uniform, who called himself a “brave soldier” for avoiding STDs and who compared the risks occasioned by his promiscuous sex life with the dangers of serving in Vietnam.

McCain’s politics, more often than not, are at odds with my own; but I would never, not for a second, deny that he is a hero and a patriot.

Trump and those in his administration who belittle Sen. McCain, and who, like General Kelly, approve the disparagement by their silence, have come to define what it means to be a Republican.

Somewhere, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ike Eisenhower are weeping.
 

President’s lapdog

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The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence recently released its Report on its purported investigation into Russian meddling in our nation’s 2016 election. The Report found “no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government.”

That finding is breathtakingly premature and almost certainly wrong. It reveals that the Report, like the inquiry itself, is a sham.

At the outset of the Committee’s investigation, the Chairman Devin Nunes and Ranking Member Adam Schiff promised that the Committee would fully investigate all the evidence it would collect and to follow that evidence wherever it might lead. Schiff and the minority members of the Committee did their utmost to keep that promise. Nunes and his fellow Republicans broke that promise at every turn.

Thorough and credible investigations take time and a genuine desire on the part of investigators to uncover the truth. This investigation was a rushed job, focused on concealing and distorting the truth, all in an effort to give the president cover. It appeared a partisan charade from the outset. Now, Nunes and his GOP colleagues may be accessories after-the-fact to the Administration’s ever more apparent obstruction of justice.

In response to the Committee’s Report, the Democratic members of the Committee issued a Minority Report addressing with chilling specificity the Committee’s failures. It provides a litany of the ways in which the Majority actually obstructed the investigation by refusing to call in key witnesses, refusing to request pertinent documents, and refusing to compel and enforce witness cooperation and answers to key questions.

The Minority Report also called out the Majority’s conduct as undermining Congress’ independent investigative authority: “Their repeated deferrals to the White House allowed witnesses to refuse cooperation, and permitted the Administration to dictate the terms of their interaction with Congress, or evade congressional oversight altogether, setting a damaging precedent for future non-cooperation by this President and, possibly, by his successors.”

Immediately after the Committee released its Report, the president predictably renewed his calls for an end to the Special Counsel’s investigation, as if the House Republicans’ spurious findings should be the final word. But former CIA Director John Brennan rightly rebuked the president saying, “A highly partisan, incomplete and deeply flawed report by a broken House Committee means nothing. The Special Counsel’s work is being carried out by professional investigators – not political staffers. SC’s findings will be comprehensive & authoritative. Stay tuned, Mr. Trump.”

Now that the Russian lawyer who attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Kushner, Manafort, and Don. Jr. has revealed herself to be a Kremlin informant, which is to say a Russian spy, the haste with which Nunes closed up shop is even more jarring.

It’s hard to see that which is in plain sight when one is wearing a partisan blindfold. It’s easy to miss the truth when you don’t really want to find it.

Long after this Administration is gone, the Committee’s response to an attack on our country will live on as a sorry reminder of the damage done when one branch of government surrenders its independence to another, when — as the Minority Report makes clear — Congress becomes the President’s complicit lapdog.
 

Taking the fifth

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The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states in pertinent part: “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”

The Fifth Amendment was adopted by our founders in reaction to the excesses of Britain’s Star Chamber proceedings where convictions were often obtained by browbeating the accused. Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the right to refrain from testifying against oneself attaches in any civil or criminal proceeding at which the answers might incriminate the speaker in the future.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump claimed that innocent people don't "take the Fifth." He also declared that the Fifth Amendment was most likely to be invoked by members of “the Mob.”

Now that Trump's personal attorney/fixer Michael Cohen has announced he will "take the Fifth" in the civil lawsuit filed by Stormy Daniels, a lot of people are gleefully trying to hoist the president on his own petard. According to Trump's thinking, they say, Cohen's assertion of his constitutional right to remain silent permits the inference of guilt.

As tempting as it is to beat this drum, it is important to remember that protecting oneself against "self-incrimination" is not the same as "admitting guilt." As the Supreme Court has noted, innocent people can be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances. In criminal actions, jurors are routinely instructed not to draw inferences of culpability from a defendant's decision not to testify. And prosecutors may not reference a defendant’s refusal to testify as probative of guilt.

By many accounts, Michael Cohen is likely to be indicted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York. If he is indicted, Cohen will be entitled to a fair trial, which includes the presumption of innocence unless and until the government proves him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Michael Cohen is not a sympathetic defendant - not by any stretch of the imagination. But we must soundly reject Trump's simplistic and erroneous pronouncement that invoking the Fifth Amendment is tantamount to proof of guilt.

To accept that notion is to undermine the rule of law; and unfailing protection of the rule of law must transcend and "trump" any distaste for Mr. Cohen and his most famous client.

Candidate Trump aspired to be “the rule of law president.” However, he has repeatedly shown himself to have little, if any, understanding of what that phrase means. Unfortunately, Trump’s misapprehension of the law resonates with segments of our population. The rest of us – and especially my fellow attorneys – cannot allow Trump’s ignorant views, which he asserts with unbridled conviction, to become conventional wisdom.
 

A history lesson

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Earlier this week, we learned with much sadness that Linda Carol Brown had passed away. Linda, you may recall, was the little girl who could not attend the all-white school just 5 blocks from her home. Instead, she had to walk through the Topeka, Kansas, rail-yard to get on a bus that would take her several miles away to a segregated school.

Linda’s father thought his daughter should be able to attend the neighborhood school, and he sued the Topeka Board of Education to make that a reality for his little girl. The case, famously, wended its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where a unanimous court overruled Plessy v Ferguson (1896) and declared that “separate is not equal” in public education.

In Plessy, there was but one dissenting vote, that of Justice Harlan who wrote: “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” His was a solitary, but barely audible, voice crying in the legal wilderness of the late 19th Century. It would take more than another half century for change to come.

In the wake of Linda Brown’s passing, it is fitting to reflect on the landmark case of Brown v Board of Education. And it is important to consider what many do not know - the decision almost went the other way. At the halfway mark of the last century, segregation was enshrined into law in many states and, in other states where segregation was not legally protected, it was nonetheless practiced openly.

Brown v Board of Education was first argued in December, 1952 and, at the time, many thought it unlikely the Supreme Court would reverse Plessy even though the appellant firmly established that legal segregation harmed black children. The Court was deeply divided and, in June of 1953, ordered that the case be re-argued.

But before the re-argument scheduled for September 1953, Chief Justice Fred Vinson died in his sleep. His replacement, California's governor Earl Warren, took the time and made the effort to move a seemingly intractable mountain. He did what many thought impossible: he built a consensus of his fellow justices, and - in the end - brought even the most recalcitrant justices along.

The result of Earl Warren's labors was a unanimous decision that declared: “[I]n the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

These many years later, we remain indebted to Linda Brown, her father, and an extraordinary team of lawyers led by Thurgood Marshall, who would later join the Supreme Court, for their skill, courage and tenacity in challenging a holding repugnant to the first “self-evident” truth stated in our nation’s founding document – “that all men are created equal.”

And we remain mindful of the fact that the replacement of even one justice on the nation’s highest court can change the course of history.

With that thought in mind, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the balance of power in the next Senate is one that will soundly reject any Trump nominee to the high court – and every other federal court – whose judicial moorings suggest he or she would take our nation backwards. Among the current Supreme Court justices are some who would repeal not only the progress of the Twentieth Century but of the Nineteenth Century as well.

Our nation has come too far to turn back now. Every issue of consequence to the functioning of our republic will, eventually, be addressed in some manner by our nation’s highest court. As the Brown case makes clear, who sits on the Supreme Court can make a real difference in the outcome of critical decisions. We don’t vote for the justices, but we do vote for the senators who confirm or reject them. In 2018, the future of the Court is on the ballot.
 

The Balukoff case

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Idaho Democrats are fortunate to have two qualified candidates seeking their party’s nomination for governor, and I will gladly support whoever wins the primary. That said I believe that A.J. Balukoff not only has a better shot at winning in the general election, he would make a more effective governor from day one.

As I see it, the five most important challenges facing Idaho in the years to come involve education, health care, job creation, equal access to justice, and public lands. Both candidates’ positions on these topics largely align with my own, but A.J. has the depth and breadth of experience to propose sound, progressive legislation and the skill set to persuade a Republican legislature to enact his proposals into law.

A.J. believes that a state’s future is only as strong as its commitment to quality public schools. For 21 years, he has been an active member of the Boise School Board, constantly and consistently advocating for top-flight public education for all children. He knows that public education enables children to grow into well-informed citizens who can contribute to their neighborhoods and communities and effectively compete in the work force. As Idaho’s governor, A.J. will make our public schools, colleges and universities a top priority.

And A.J. knows how important it is for all Idaho families to have access to quality health care. He has been a Board Member for St. Luke’s Hospital for 13 years and is firmly committed to expanding Medicaid to ensure that the almost 80,000 Idahoans without such access receive coverage. A.J. wants all Idahoans to have the certainty of knowing they will not face dire straits – even bankruptcy – if they are sick or injured.

A.J. grew up in a middle class family and knows first-hand the importance of hard work. He has built strong, successful businesses, created jobs, and developed economic opportunities for hundreds of Idahoans. He is an entrepreneur who will use the skills he honed in private life to keep businesses in Idaho and attract new industry to our state, all to the benefit of Idaho families. In his many years of public service, A.J. Balukoff has generously shared the bounty he has earned with countless others in support of the greater good.

A.J. strongly supports equal access to justice and will work to ensure that all Idahoans are treated equally under the law. He believes that women should receive equal pay for equal work, that Idaho should “add the words” to ensure that legal discrimination against LGBT individuals is a thing of the past, and that the government should not interfere in health care decisions made by a woman in consultation with her doctor.

Finally, A.J. is an outdoorsman who knows the importance of keeping our public lands in public hands. As a life-long member of what Governor Andrus used to call the “hook and bullet club,” A.J. will fight to ensure that Idaho’s public lands are not sold to the highest bidder, that our children and grandchildren are not locked out of our unique legacy of hunting, fishing and recreation in Idaho’s great outdoors.

The three frontrunners for the Republican gubernatorial nomination all present a poor choice for Idaho. Probably the most concerning candidate is first district Congressman Raul Labrador, a Tea Party darling whose ideological extremism and ineptitude is exceeded only by his grandstanding. I believe that A.J. Balukoff has the best chance of defeating Labrador, should he be the Republican nominee, in the general election.

A.J.’s exceptional work ethic, remarkable record of accomplishment, and clear vision for Idaho’s future make him my choice in the Democratic primary. I hope Idaho Democrats will nominate A.J. Balukoff on May 15th. His proven record of leadership in the private and public sectors make him the strongest candidate in the general election and the best prepared to serve in our state’s highest office.
 

It would be a lie

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I understand why some Idahoans who philosophically align with the Democratic Party have changed their registration to vote in the Idaho Republican primary election.

They are convinced that the governor's race will be decided in the primary and, in their utter disgust with Labrador, have decided to opt for Brad Little, who many see as the most moderate of the GOP contenders.

If one scratches beneath the surface, there is not much daylight on the issues among Labrador, Ahlquist and Little. Some, wistfully I think, hope Brad would shift to the center if elected, but his performance in the primary has been telling. He has embraced the hard right to fend off Labrador and Ahlquist and we can expect that, having benefitted from pandering, he would keep it up in the hope that a re-election bid would offer smooth sailing.

But I am not among those who registered as a Republican. If I were to do so, it would be a lie.

I am not ready to throw in the towel and concede that, because Idaho is currently one of the reddest states in the country, it is destined to remain red for all time and eternity. When the great Cecil D. Andrus was first elected governor in 1970, it had been 25 years since a Democrat had won the top job in the Idaho Statehouse. This drought, too, will come to an end, but not if we abandon the course.

I cannot align myself, not for any reason and no matter how fleetingly, with a party that treats people of color as "less than," that worships the golden calf and enables corporate gluttons to defile our environment, that denies equal rights to our LGBT brothers and sisters, that refuses to support equal pay for equal work and affordable health care for all, and to take basic, constitutionally permissible steps to reduce rampant gun violence.

I cannot align myself, not for any reason and no matter how fleetingly, with a party that shelters and protects a venal president who is systematically destroying the democratic norms of our great nation and who has shown every intention of undermining our republic and becoming a dictator.

The GOP is no longer the party of Honest Abe Lincoln, but the party of the liar-in-chief and his enablers.

The Democratic Party - at the state and national levels -- is far from perfect. But I believe that, unlike today's GOP, it strives to remain true to the rule of law and the aspirational goal that all Americans are equal under the law, that it values and adheres to our nation's motto: "E Pluribus Unum" – out of many, one.

And it is in that party's primary I will be voting my hopes, not my fears.
 

It’s up to us

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Some years ago, I was flying home to Boise from Washington, D.C. I was on the Chicago to Boise leg of the trip; the night sky was clear, and I was looking forward to seeing my family and getting to sleep in my own bed.

As we drew closer to Boise, I became aware of a higher level of activity than usual by our flight attendants. Then the captain’s voice came over the intercom. He told us he could not confirm that the third landing gear had come down. We would have to make an emergency landing at the airport.

The plane grew very, very quiet very, very quickly. Everyone gave the captain their rapt and total attention.

He told us that the flight attendants would be instructing us on emergency landing procedures and urged us to listen carefully. He didn’t need to ask.

People had begun praying quietly, reaching for the hand of their seatmate — whether a traveling companion or a stranger — and totally focusing on the situation at hand.

There was a baby on the flight and people began passing pillows to her mother to help cushion her, if needed. The flight attendant started to talk, to instruct us in the ways in which we could brace ourselves for landing. The urgency and anxiety in her voice, more than anything she said, conveyed the potential seriousness of our situation.

Then we circled and circled and circled. In retrospect, I understand that the pilot was draining the plane of fuel. The circling seemed endless. Looking out the window, I could see a fleet of emergency vehicles, lights flashing, waiting for the plane’s descent – smooth or otherwise.

My mind was focused on one thing: my family. I wanted them to know that I loved them, that I had been thinking of them, that they meant everything to me. Then, after what seemed like an endless descent, the flight attendant screamed: “Get down!”

All the passengers reacted at once, in unison. It seemed as if we collectively held our breaths. Amazingly, our landing was feather light. The third landing gear had worked. When the captain said, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Boise,” the plane erupted in cheers.

Today – all of us – every man, woman and child in this country – are passengers on a plane. The name of the plane is the U.S. Republic. It is a big, sturdy somewhat cumbersome plane, but it has flown through often turbulent skies for more than 200 years.

Some who have piloted this plane were less than proficient in the cockpit; however, the second officer, flight traffic control and the ground crew seemed to compensate for any deficiencies. But now we have a captain who hasn’t read a flight manual; he isn’t looking at the instrument panel; and he doesn’t know how to use the intercom. Totally self-absorbed, he's looking in the mirror. And he’s tweeting.

As the plane careens through the skies, we passengers are left to hang on for an increasingly bumpy ride. The GOP Senate in the traffic control tower and the GOP House on the ground seem unconcerned that the plane is in trouble. The second in command is enthralled by the captain who invited him along for the ride. He gazes fondly at the captain and does nothing to steady our flight.

As we are jostled about, the plane bobbing and weaving, few of us are confident that our pilot will land the plane safely. In fact, many of us know he cannot.

It is up to us, the passengers, to find a way. And to do this, we must work together. We must pay attention like never before. We must listen carefully to one another, take care of the most vulnerable, and replace the flight attendants and ground crew the first chance we get. We must act in unison as if our lives depend on it.

The 2018 midterms provide that opportunity and we must seize it. We can’t risk bouncing aimlessly in the skies for three more years, or worse, learning too late that the landing gear never came down.
 

No right is absolute

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The president's hucksterism was on full display last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where he shilled for the NRA just one day after meeting with survivors and victims of mass shootings.

Repeatedly calling his political opponents "crazed," he pumped up the crowd with threats that Democrats would "take away your Second Amendment." Sowing baseless fear has long been an effective NRA tactic. The not so subtle ploy is to scare the people so they'll buy more guns and the NRA can buy more politicians.

This kind of bellicose blather cannot go unchallenged. The Second Amendment is not the property of the NRA and its members. Like every other amendment, it is part of the Constitution and belongs to all of us.

The only way that any amendment "can be taken away" is for the Constitution to be amended yet again. For instance, the Eighteenth Amendment establishing prohibition was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment.

Article V of the Constitution prescribes how an amendment can become a part of the Constitution. While there are two ways, only one has ever been used. All 27 Amendments have been ratified after two-thirds of the House and Senate approve of the proposal and send it to the states for a vote. Then, three-fourths of the states must affirm the proposed Amendment.

The other method of passing an amendment requires a Constitutional Convention to be called by two-thirds of the legislatures of the States. That Convention can propose as many amendments as it deems necessary. Those amendments must be approved by three-fourths of the states.

This daunting process to amend the Constitution has always presented a very high hurdle, but in this age of deeply polarized and fiercely tribal politics, the consensus needed to garner the required votes is almost surely elusive.

The Second Amendment is here to stay. And the president, the NRA and its CPAC sycophants know it. But as even one of its greatest judicial defenders the late Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledged in the landmark case of District of Columbia v Heller, the Second Amendment is not without limits.

It is the idea of limits - reasonable, common sense, constitutionally permissible limits - that the president and the NRA cannot abide. They conveniently forget that no right is absolute.

In a series of cases, courts have placed a number of “time, place, and manner” restrictions on the First Amendment. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."

Thus, just as there are limits on the first amendment - and every other amendment - the second amendment should not be read to allow Americans unfettered access to modern, highly lethal weapons of war.

The CPAC crowd may respond to presidential fear-mongering, but I sense the rest of the nation is reaching a tipping point where they fear the NRA’s utter indifference to the gun violence epidemic and its rigid absolutism most of all. The NRA’s continued and virulent resistance to even the most anemic gun safety measures may be its undoing. Change is coming – maybe not today or tomorrow – but soon.