What’s Up: January 16, 2012?

· The Hula Hoop Theory of History – by MORRIS BERMAN

Above all, no zeal. – Talleyrand

There is a curious rhythm to human affairs, or perhaps more specifically, to Western history. Some movement or idea comes along, and everyone gets swept up in its wake. This is it, then; this is the Answer we’ve been looking for. All of those previous answers were wrong; now, at long last, we’re on the right track. In the fullness of time, of course, this shiny new idea loses its luster, betrays us, or even results in the death of millions. So apparently, we were deceived. But wait: here’s the true new idea, the one we should have followed all along. This is the Answer we’ve been looking for. Etc..

The American writer, Eric Hoffer, described this syndrome roughly sixty years ago in a book that also generated a lot of zeal (for a short time, anyway), The True Believer. People convert quite easily, observed Hoffer; they switch from one ism to another, from Catholicism to Marxism to whatever is next on the horizon. The belief system runs its course, then another one takes its place. What is significant is the energy involved, not the particular target, which could be anything, really. For what drives this engine is the need for psychological reassurance, for Meaning with a capital M–a comprehensive system of belief that explains everything. There is a feeling, largely unacknowledged, that without this we are lost; that life would have no purpose, and history no meaning; that both (as Shakespeare put it) would amount to little more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I call this the Hula Hoop Theory of History, but one could also label it the Pet Rock Theory, or any other craze that grabs our attention for a week or a century. It has a lot in common with the skeptical thinking of the sixteenth-century philosopher Montaigne, who had a great influence on Eric Hoffer, among others. In his Essays, Montaigne pointed out that the new sciences of Copernicus and Paracelsus claimed that the ancient sciences of Aristotle and Ptolemy were false. But how long, he argued, before some future scientist comes along, and says the same thing about Copernicus and Paracelsus? Do we ever really know the truth once and for all?

One might also call this the Drunken Sailor Theory of History, I suppose. Reflecting on the first flush of the French Revolution, William Wordsworth wrote: “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive.” After Robespierre, the Terror, and the rivers of blood that flowed through the streets of Paris, however, a sober Talleyrand could only comment that what the human race needed, above anything else, was to stay clear of zeal. The path from bliss to barbarism may not be linear, but it does seem to be fairly common, historically speaking.

The latest treatise in the Montaigne-Hoffer school of history is that of the British scholar John Gray, Black Mass. Gray draws liberally on the work of the American historian Carl Becker, whose Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932) has never been surpassed as an analysis of modernity. Becker claimed that the notion of redemption that lay at the heart of Christianity was recast by the philosophers of the French Enlightenment in terms of progress, or secular salvation. Enlightenment utopianism, in a word, was the transformation of Christian eschatology into the belief in the perfectibility of man–heaven on earth, as it were. This would be the Second Coming, the defeat of ignorance and evil (= sin) by means of reliable knowledge, science and technology in particular.

In Gray’s view, the modern “secular fundamentalisms”–Jacobinism, Bolshevism, Fascism, and most recently, globalization–followed directly from this transformation. The result has been satanic–a black or inverted mass (i.e., one recited backwards)–in that these pseudo-religions have all caused a world of harm. The one idea common to all of them is that progress and perfectibility are within our grasp, and can be attained through an historical process whereby true knowledge will defeat ignorance (evil). Thus the world, and our psyches, are saved, no less in the modern secular world than they were claimed to be in the medieval Christian one, because history itself is imbued with Meaning.

Sad to say, the first three of these secular religions proved, in the fullness of time, not to be the Answer but rather the God that failed; and globalization (Thomas Friedman and his devotees notwithstanding) is in the process of going the same route, revealing itself to be a “false dawn.” Of course, says Gray, once globalization and neoliberalism are finally exposed for what they are, and take their proper place on the scrap heap of history, it will hardly be the case that we shall abandon notions of progress, utopia, and Meaning in history. Not a chance. We in the West will have to find another hula hoop, another pet rock, because as a Christian civilization we are simply unable to live without the myth of redemption. Hence, he concludes, the “cycle of order and anarchy will never end.” The tragedy is that we “prefer the romance of a meaningless quest to coping with difficulties that can never be finally overcome.” Hence, “the violence of faith looks set to shape the coming century.”

At the present time, it’s not clear what the next hula hoop will be; but I’m not sure it matters all that much. If the Montaigne-Hoffer-Gray school of historical analysis is correct, what is certain is that there will be no derailing the zeal in advance, no stopping the next ideological-religious binge at the second martini, so to speak. The word “some” has very little meaning in the world of secular fundamentalism; for us, it’s all or nothing. “Man cannot make a worm,” wrote Montaigne, “yet he will make gods by the dozen.”

For it is all a kind of shamanism, in a way, an attempt to become whole through magic. We are all broken, after all; that is why the promise of redemption has such a powerful hold on us. “I am he who puts together,” declared one Mazatec shaman, some years ago. It finally comes down to a (misguided) attempt at healing, which is reinforced by tribal practice (commonly known as groupthink). I recall attending a conference on postmodernism in the 1990s and being struck by how similar the lectures were, in form, to those of Communist Party members of the 1930s. The “holy names” were different–one cited de Man and Derrida instead of Marx and Lenin–but the glazed eyes and the mantra-like repetition of politically approved phrases were very much the same. Truth be told, I have observed the same hypnotic behavior at all types of academic conferences, from feminism to computer science. You watch, you listen, and you wonder: When will we finally wake up? And you know the horrible truth: never. In effect, we shall continue to erect statues to Napoleon, but never, or rarely, to Montaigne. This much is clear.

Which brings me to what I consider the bottom line, namely the structure of the brain. The frontal lobes, the large neocortex that governs rational thinking and logical processes, is a relative latecomer on the scene, in evolutionary terms. The limbic system, which is the center of impulse and emotion, has been around much longer. The conflict between the two is perhaps best illustrated by the case of the alcoholic sitting at a bar, staring at a frosty stein of beer in front of him. The neocortex says No; the limbic system says Go. Statistically, most drunks die of alcohol poisoning or cirrhosis of the liver; very few escape from the siren song of the limbic brain. As Goethe once put it, “the world is not logical; it is psycho-logical.” And that is to put it quite mildly, it seems to me.

We will not escape the ravages of climate change; we shall not avoid the economic and ecological disasters that are integral to global capitalism; not be able to avert an oil crisis, an energy crisis, or a food and water crisis that will become extreme when the world population finally arrives at 10 or 11 billion, by mid-century. These things are not going to be resolved by reason, by the neocortex, no matter how many articles are published on these subjects in learned journals or popular magazines. And they certainly can’t be resolved by the limbic brain, whose function is indulgence, not restraint. Hence, it is a fair guess that we shall start doing things differently only when there is no other choice; and even then, we shall undoubtedly cast our efforts in the form of a shiny new and improved hula hoop, the belief system that will finally be the true one, after all of those false starts; the one we should have been following all along. What to call it? Catastrophism, perhaps. You can consider this the founding document. Story Continued:

· Andrea Mitchell On Obama Cabinet: Women In The White House ‘Are Not Happy’

Andrea Mitchell spoke out about President Obama’s cabinet nominations on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” saying that women in the White House “are not happy” about his picks.

Obama has faced pressure over his selections in recent days, with critics blasting what they have described as a lack of diversity in his cabinet. His recent picks for prominent positions were all men, including John Kerry for secretary of state, Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, John Brennan for CIA director and Jack Lew for secretary of treasury.

Newark mayor Cory Booker defended the president during “Meet the Press,” comparing the criticism against Obama to “swift boating.” He said that 50% of White House staff are women, and pointed to the fact that the president has more nominations to announce. He also said that a recent photograph showing Obama surrounded by male advisors was “disingenuous,” in light of that information.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, hit back against those arguments. She said that the picture was an official White House photo. Despite the statistics, “at the highest level of the White House and in the cabinet, you have men and they are white men,” Mitchell said.

She said that there was a difference between nominating women to prominent positions and lower levels of the cabinet, and that men “were the predominant people” on Obama’s team.

“I’ve got to tell you, I wrote a story about this this week and I did not get one complaint,” Mitchell said. “I talked to several people inside the White House — women — and they said ‘No, we didn’t have any problem about what you wrote about this week.’ The women are not happy.”

The NBC News correspondent did a segment on the issue on her MSNBC show earlier this week. In December, Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name for consideration for secretary of state. At the time, Mitchell reported that women in the administration were “angry with the White House” and the president over the decision. Story Continued:

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· GOP congressman threatens impeachment if Obama uses executive action for gun control

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Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman threatened Monday afternoon that he would file articles of impeachment against President Barack Obama if he institutes gun control measures with an executive order.

Stockman warned that such executive orders would be “unconstitutional” and “infringe on our constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms.”

“I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment,” Stockman said in a statement.

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At his press conference Monday, Obama floated the possibility of using executive action to enact policies aimed at reducing gun violence.

The freshman congressman, who served one term in Congress in the mid-1990s, further labeled the possibility “an existential threat to this nation” because, he said, the purpose of the Second Amendment is to allow the people to protect themselves from tyranny.

“Any proposal to abuse executive power and infringe upon gun rights must be repelled with the stiffest legislative force possible,” he added. “Under no circumstances whatsoever may the government take any action that disarms any peaceable person — much less without due process through an executive declaration without a vote of Congress or a ruling of a court.”

He concluded by claiming that an executive order would be not just “not just an attack on the Constitution,” but also an “attack on Americans.”

“If the president is allowed to suspend constitutional rights on his own personal whims, our free republic has effectively ceased to exist,” he said. Story Continued:

· N.Y. Assembly Speaker Silver: ‘We Are Going To Ban Assault Weapons’ – Among Aspects Of Law, Legislature Set To Limit Magazines To 7 Bullets From 10

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The New York State Legislature was poised Monday night to pass the first gun control measure following the Newtown school massacre. This as the vice president was set to unveil federal proposals to end gun violence on Tuesday.

Albany lawmakers have reportedly ironed out the kinks, allowing them to enact new gun control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.

“To basically eradicate assault weapons from our streets in New York as quickly as possible is something the people of this state want and it’s an important thing to do. It is an emergency,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

Sources told Kramer the deal worked out by the Legislature is wide ranging, but it starts with assault weapons.

“We are going to ban assault weapons. We are going to eliminate all of the loopholes that existed previously,” Silver said.

The new state legislation will:

* Limit ammunition clips to seven. It’s now 10

* Force gun owners to renew their licenses every five years

* Stiffen penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime

* Stiffen penalties for bringing a gun on school property

* New restrictions on the assault weapons already owned by New Yorkers

“They will be basically not permitted to be transferred. They will be grandfathered in but not in terms of a transfer. There will be a registry,” Silver said.

The state agreement came a day before Vice President Joe Biden was set to give his gun control recommendations to the president. With the gun lobby at a fevered pitch, President Barack Obama said there will be some things he can do without congressional approve.

“I’m confident that there are some steps that we can take that don’t require legislation,” the president said Monday.

One of those steps, also sought by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would have the president order the Justice Department to prosecute criminals who provide false information to buy a gun.

The mayor said that in 2010 there were 76,000 cases referred by the FBI to the Justice Department. Only 44 were prosecuted.

“This is a joke. It’s a sad joke, and it’s a lethal joke,” Bloomberg said.

It’s not clear whether the president will spend his political capital on seeking to re-impose the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The gun lobby has vowed to defeat it in congress. And prominent Republicans, like Sen. John McCain, are opposed. Story Continued:

· Lance Armstrong Apologizes To Livestrong Staff Ahead Of Oprah Interview

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Lance Armstrong apologized to the staff at his Livestrong cancer foundation before heading to an interview with Oprah Winfrey, a person with direct knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussion was private.

Stripped last year of his seven Tour de France titles because of doping charges, Armstrong addressed the staff Monday and said, “I’m sorry.” The person said the disgraced cyclist choked up and several employees cried during the session.

The person also said Armstrong apologized for letting the staff down and putting Livestrong at risk but he did not make a direct confession to the group about using banned drugs. He said he would try to restore the foundation’s reputation, and urged the group to continue fighting for the charity’s mission of helping cancer patients and their families.

After the meeting, Armstrong, his legal team and close advisers gathered at a downtown Austin hotel for the interview.

The cyclist will make a limited confession to Winfrey about his role as the head of a long-running scheme to dominate the Tour with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs, a person with knowledge of the situation has told the AP.

Winfrey and her crew had earlier said they would film the interview, to be broadcast Thursday, at his home but the location apparently changed to a hotel. Local and international news crews staked out positions in front of the cyclist’s Spanish-style villa before dawn, hoping to catch a glimpse of Winfrey or Armstrong.

Armstrong still managed to slip away for a run Monday morning despite the crowds gathering outside his house. He returned home by cutting through a neighbor’s yard and hopping a fence.

During a jog on Sunday, Armstrong talked to the AP for a few minutes saying, “I’m calm, I’m at ease and ready to speak candidly.” He declined to go into specifics.

Armstrong lost all seven Tour titles following a voluminous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that portrayed him as a ruthless competitor, willing to go to any lengths to win the prestigious race. USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Armstrong once led, “The most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Yet Armstrong looked like just another runner getting in his roadwork when he talked to the AP, wearing a red jersey and black shorts, sunglasses and a white baseball cap pulled down to his eyes. Leaning into a reporter’s car on the shoulder of a busy Austin road, he seemed unfazed by the attention and the news crews that made stops at his home. He cracked a few jokes about all the reporters vying for his attention, then added, “but now I want to finish my run,” and took off down the road.

The interview with Winfrey will be Armstrong’s first public response to the USADA report. Armstrong is not expected to provide a detailed account about his involvement, nor address in depth many of the specific allegations in the more than 1,000-page USADA report.

In a text to the AP on Saturday, Armstrong said: “I told her (Winfrey) to go wherever she wants and I’ll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That’s all I can say.”

After a federal investigation of the cyclist was dropped without charges being brought last year, USADA stepped in with an investigation of its own. The agency deposed 11 former teammates and accused Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug program that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.

Once all the information was out and his reputation shattered, Armstrong defiantly tweeted a picture of himself on a couch at home with all seven of the yellow leader’s jerseys on display in frames behind him. But the preponderance of evidence in the USADA report and pending legal challenges on several fronts apparently forced him to change tactics after more a decade of denials.

He still faces legal problems.

Former teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, has filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit that accused Armstrong of defrauding the U.S. Postal Service. The Justice Department has yet to decide whether it will join the suit as a plaintiff.

The London-based Sunday Times also is suing Armstrong to recover about $500,000 it paid him to settle a libel lawsuit. On Sunday, the newspaper took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, offering Winfrey suggestions for what questions to ask Armstrong. Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which tried to deny Armstrong a promised bonus for a Tour de France win, has threatened to bring yet another lawsuit seeking to recover more than $7.5 million an arbitration panel awarded the cyclist in that dispute.

The lawsuit most likely to be influenced by a confession might be the Sunday Times case. Potential perjury charges stemming from Armstrong’s sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Armstrong was not deposed during the federal investigation that was closed last year.

Many of his sponsors dropped Armstrong after the damning USADA report — at the cost of tens of millions of dollars — and soon after, he left the board of Livestrong, which he founded in 1997. Armstrong is still said to be worth about $100 million.

Livestrong might be one reason Armstrong has decided to come forward with an apology and limited confession. The charity supports cancer patients and still faces an image problem because of its association with Armstrong. He also may be hoping a confession would allow him to return to competition in the elite triathlon or running events he participated in after his cycling career.

World Anti-Doping Code rules state his lifetime ban cannot be reduced to less than eight years. WADA and U.S. Anti-Doping officials could agree to reduce the ban further depending on what information Armstrong provides and his level of cooperation. Story Continued:

· AP SOURCE: ARMSTRONG TELLS OPRAH HE DOPED

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Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey during an interview Monday that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the interview is to be broadcast Thursday on Winfrey’s network.

Armstrong was stripped of all seven Tour titles last year following a voluminous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that portrayed him as a ruthless competitor, willing to go to any lengths to win the prestigious race.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Armstrong once led, “The most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

After a federal investigation of the cyclist was dropped without charges being brought last year, USADA stepped in with an investigation of its own. The agency deposed 11 former teammates and accused Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug program that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.

A group of about 10 close friends and advisers to Armstrong left a downtown Austin hotel about three hours after they arrived Monday afternoon for the taping. Among them were Armstrong attorneys Tim Herman and Sean Breen, along with Bill Stapleton, Armstrong’s longtime agent, manager and business partner. All declined comment entering and exiting the session.

Soon afterward, Winfrey tweeted: “Just wrapped with (at)lancearmstrong More than 2 1/2 hours. He came READY!” She was scheduled to appear on “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday to discuss the interview.

In a text to the AP on Saturday, Armstrong said: “I told her (Winfrey) to go wherever she wants and I’ll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That’s all I can say.”

Armstrong stopped at the Livestrong Foundation, which he founded, on his way to the interview and said, “I’m sorry” to staff members, some of whom broke down in tears. A person with knowledge of that session said Armstrong choked up and several employees cried during the session.

The person also said Armstrong apologized for letting the staff down and putting Livestrong at risk but he did not make a direct confession to using banned drugs. He said he would try to restore the foundation’s reputation, and urged the group to continue fighting for the charity’s mission of helping cancer patients and their families.

Armstrong spoke to a room full of about 100 staff members for about 20 minutes, expressing regret for everything the controversy has put them through, the person said. He told them how much the foundation means to him and that he considers the people who work there to be like members of his family. None of the people in the room challenged Armstrong over his long denials of doping.

Winfrey and her crew had earlier said they would film Monday’s session at Armstrong’s home. As a result, local and international news crews were encamped near the cyclist’s Spanish-style villa before dawn.

Armstrong still managed to slip away for a run despite the crowds outside his home. He returned by cutting through a neighbor’s yard and hopping a fence. Story Continued:

· Bloomberg urges Obama to defy Congress, implement gun control by executive action

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday told a group of John Hopkins students that President Obama ought to sidestep the wishes of Congress and order swift new executive gun control measures.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Monday that President Obama should implement a series of gun control measures through executive action.

“There are steps that President Obama can take without congressional approval at any time he chooses with just one stroke of the pen,” Bloomberg told the mixed audience of students and scholars, speaking at the “Gun Policy Summit” at John Hopkins University.

Bloomberg’s remarks came hours before President Obama argued in a rare press conference that executive privileges afforded him the power to implement some federal gun control measures without the permission of Congress.

“My understanding is the Vice President is going to provide a range of steps that we can take to reduce gun violence,” President Obama told the White House Press Corps. “Some of them will require legislation, some of them I can accomplish through executive action.”

Since the Newtown Massacre late last year, the White House has eyed legal options for mandating comprehensive gun control as House Republican leadership has signaled reluctance to even allow such legislation to reach the floor.

Bloomberg also recommended to Vice President Biden a four tiered plan for strengthening existing weapons laws.

President Obama should make a recess appointment to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, direct the Department of Justice to prosecute convicted criminals caught providing false information during gun background checks, and order federal agencies to submit data to the national gun background check database, said Bloomberg.

Bloomberg also said Obama should direct his agencies to cease adherence to the “Tiahrt Amendment” a law which prevents local law enforcement agencies from full access to federal gun databases.

John Hopkins University dubbed Monday’s summit “the most extensive summit meeting ever of gun policy researchers.”

The statement added that its intended purpose is to gather “experts on gun policy and violence” to ultimately make policy recommendations aimed at reducing gun violence.

The summit kicked off Monday morning and will conclude late Tuesday afternoon. Story Continued:

· For first time in nearly seven years, Justice Clarence Thomas talks during court arguments

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Justice Clarence Thomas broke nearly seven years of silence during oral arguments on the Supreme Court on Monday.

The last time the famously reserved Thomas spoke up, George W. Bush was president, the iPhone was nothing but an internet rumor, and the U.S. economy seemingly had nowhere to go but up. But just before noon on Monday, Thomas uttered what appeared to be a lawyer joke.

During arguments in the Sixth Amendment case Boyer v. Louisiana, the justices were discussing the qualifications of the plaintiff’s counsel when Justice Antonin Scalia asked the assistant district attorney of Louisiana whether another lawyer was a Yale Law School graduate. He then spoke of a different lawyer in the case who graduated from Harvard Law.

“Son of a gun!,” Scalia, a Harvard Law graduate himself, remarked.

According to the official court transcript, Thomas then cut in.

But because there was so much laughter in the court, the transcriber was only able to note part of Thomas’ remarks:

“JUSTICE THOMAS: Well – he did not – (Laughter.)”

The assistant DA replied: “I would refute that, Justice Thomas.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor followed up with her tongue planted firmly in cheek, requesting the lawyer to “define constitutionally adequate counsel.”

“Is it anybody who’s graduated from Harvard and Yale?” she asked to more laughter.

People present in court understood Justice Thomas’ brief remark to be a joke at the Yale alumni’s expense, according to the New York Times.

Justice Thomas is a graduate of Yale Law and has, in the past, criticized the school for its affirmative action policy. However, he has more recently been supportive of his alma mater, speaking there on at least two separate occasions since 2011.

The last time Justice Thomas asked a question during oral arguments was on Feb. 22, 2006 in Holmes v. South Carolina, a due process case in which the high court unanimously reversed a state supreme court’s decision that refused to let a convicted murderer introduce new evidence that claimed to prove a third party was guilty of a crime.

Justice Thomas had said in the past that he simply did not like oral arguments and that is why he rarely asked questions. Story Continued:

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– However, there are many people in the country that do not agree that the above mentioned items were accomplishments. PdC

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· Joe Biden: White House eying 19 executive actions on guns

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The White House has identified 19 executive actions for President Barack Obama to move unilaterally on gun control, Vice President Joe Biden told a group of House Democrats on Monday, the administration’s first definitive statements about its response to last month’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Later this week, Obama will formally announce his proposals to reduce gun violence, which are expected to include renewal of the assault weapons ban, universal background checks and prohibition of high-capacity magazine clips. But Biden, who has been leading Obama’s task force on the response, spent two hours briefing a small group of sympathetic House Democrats on the road ahead in the latest White House outreach to invested groups.

The focus on executive orders is the result of the White House and other Democrats acknowledging the political difficulty of enacting any new gun legislation, a topic Biden did not address in Monday’s meeting.

The executive actions could include giving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority to conduct national research on guns, more aggressive enforcement of existing gun laws and pushing for wider sharing of existing gun databases among federal and state agencies, members of Congress in the meeting said.

“It was all focusing on enforcing existing law, administering things like improving the background database, things like that that do not involve a change in the law but enforcing and making sure that the present law is administered as well as possible,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).

The White House declined to comment on the details of what Obama will propose.

But Biden did indicate that the remains of the Obama campaign apparatus may be activated in the effort.

“He said that this has been a real focus on the policy and that the politics of this issue, that a strategy on the politics of the issue hasn’t been undertaken yet,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told POLITICO. “He did remind us that the campaign infrastructure is still accessible.”

Biden did not address two of the more significant issues in the gun debate: the appointment of a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the role violent images in the entertainment industry play in the nation’s gun violence. Story Continued:

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· Obama to unveil broad gun plans Wednesday

President Obama will unveil a sweeping set of gun-control proposals at midday Wednesday, including an assault weapons ban, universal background checks and limits on the number of bullets that ammunition clips can hold, according to sources familiar with the plans.

The announcement, which press secretary Jay Carney said is scheduled for about 11:45 a.m. at the White House, is also expected to include a slate of up to 19 executive actions that the Obama administration can take on its own to attempt to limit gun violence.

In four years, how the world changed

The White House has invited key lawmakers as well as gun-control advocates to appear at Wednesday’s policy rollout, according to two officials who have been invited to the event.

Joining Obama and Vice President Biden for the announcement will be children from across the country who wrote Obama letters after last month’s elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Carney said.

Carney declined to provide details on the administration’s gun proposals, and he acknowledged that there are “limits” to what Obama can achieve through executive action alone.

“I will not get ahead of the president in terms of what his package of proposals will include,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I will simply note that the president has made clear that he intends to take a comprehensive approach.”

Regarding executive action, Carney said, “It is a simple fact that there are limits to what can be done within existing law, and Congress has to act on the kinds of measures we’ve already mentioned, because the power to do that is reserved by Congress.”

Obama said at a news conference Monday that he would present his gun proposals later in the week.

The moves signal that Obama intends to push ahead with an ambitious and controversial gun-safety agenda in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which killed 26 people, including 20 small children. The shootings, carried out by a lone gunman who also killed himself, have prompted a wave of demands for stricter gun-control laws at the state and federal levels.

“The issue is: Are there some sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can’t walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a — in a shockingly rapid fashion?” Obama said at Monday’s news conference. “And surely we can do something about that.”

The emerging set of White House proposals stem from a month-long review led by Biden, who has been meeting with advocates on both sides before making the recommendations that were delivered to Obama this week.

The recommendations — many of which Obama has endorsed — are expected to include a tougher version of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004; a limit on the number of bullets that magazines can hold; background checks for gun shows and other “private sales”; better database tracking for weapons sales; and strengthening measures aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those with severe mental health issues.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that most Americans support tough new measures to counter gun violence, including an assault weapons ban, mandatory background checks and other policies.

But the efforts will face political head winds on Capitol Hill, where the National Rifle Association and many lawmakers from both parties oppose any significant changes to gun laws.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a radio interview this week that an assault weapons ban cannot pass Congress because of opposition from House Republicans.

Obama and his aides have said they are aware of the political challenges but have decided to push ahead with changes that they view as necessary in the wake of Newtown. To put pressure on Congress, the White House is working with its allies on a broad public campaign aimed at shifting public opinion and providing political cover for lawmakers.

Lawmakers who met with Biden on Monday said that the vice president is aware of the steep political obstacles to gun-control measures but that the White House has decided to push ahead.

“I think there’s a commitment to do the big things,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). “I also think that they’re realists, and in addition to doing the big things, they want to make sure that they do as many of the effective things that we can find some level of consensus on.”

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) said: “I don’t think this is Joe Biden’s first rodeo. They are well aware of the high bar.”

The administration has also signaled that it intends to move aggressively on gun policy changes that do not require legislative approval. Obama on Monday pointed to federal data “on guns that fall into the hands of criminals and how to track that more effectively.”

“There may be some steps that we can take administratively as opposed to through legislation,” Obama said. Story Continued:

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