Saturday, December 22, 2012

Looking forward to holiday political chit-chat (Arrgg-ggh!)

For those oh-some-pleasant holiday discussions about the latest political controversies, here's a little reference aid for one of them, The Gun Glossary: What’s a semi-automatic? What counts as an assault weapon? by Mark Joseph Stern Slate 12/17/2012.

One of my Facebook friends and one his commenters like the idea of armed guards in schools because it makes kids "feel good" to see them. It makes six-year-olds "feel good" to see a guy in a Santa Claus suit, too. But if you're an NRA True Believer, nothing is too silly an argument to repeat. As long as it changes the topic from enacting and enforcing sane gun laws. Putting armed guards in the schools - like they had at Columbine - isn't going to prevent or even much mitigate mass shootings as long as automatic and semiautomatic assault weapons are easily available with enormous clips and no background checks for buyers at gun stores and gunshows and widespread online ordering (called "mail-order" back in Lee Harvey Oswald's day). Besides in general being a shabby way to allocated police resources. And states with the most permissive gun laws also tend to be the ones who try to operate their public services at a minimal level. Like, you know, local police departments.

And how many rent-a-cop security guards have the kind of training to take down a well-trained survivalist with assault weapons and body armor? But it doesn't matter. My friend said he once heard about some security guard who shot and killed some drunk who showed up at a school board meeting one time and fired off a couple of shots, or something like that. That was enough reason for him to cheer for the NRA!

While I'm on the subject, what's with the Democrats talking about all the "responsible" members of the NRA? They haven't been a generic gun-safety group since the crackpot rightwingers took over in the 1970s. Their board of directors includes the xenophobe and patriot-militia nut Jim Gilchrist and professional loser Ted Nugent, who enjoys suggesting in public that it would be nice if somebody murdered the President. They're like a Ku Klux Klan group without the sheets. Anybody who supports today's NRA has no reason not to know who and what it is they're supporting. "Responsible" is not the word that comes to mind. Can you picture Harry Truman or LBJ appealing to "responsible" members of the KKK?

For anyone who's serious about using guns for home security - the burglar breaking in during the night, the home invasion robbery - a shotgun with a self-defense load is probably more than you'll ever need. But people need to take it seriously and not just keep a loaded gun around the house for a kid to play with or an angry spouse to grab in a tense moment. Joseph McNamara, then Chief of Police in San Jose, did a book back in 1985 called Safe & Sound about personal safety and crime prevention. It obviously doesn't have much on Internet fraud. But his observations on self-defense with guns is still relevant nearly 30 years later.

  1. Know the laws in your state concerning when you can use a gun.
  2. Take professional lessons on how to shoot a gun.
  3. Plan in advance how you will get to your gun and use it in case of emergency.
  4. If you have children, or a spouse who does not know how to handle a gun, you must safeguard it. I suggest you keep all weapons unloaded, with the ammunition in a separate location. In the case of a revolver, place a lock through the open cylinder. On an automatic, a guard should be used to prevent the trigger from being pulled. A rifle or a shotgun are best stored if the safety bar is put through the trigger mechanism.

In other words, for a gun to be useful for self-defense, it has to be in the defender's hand at the moment it's needed. It has to be loaded and in good working order at that moment. As McNamara put it, "What good is a weapon if it is locked and unloaded? Not much." And the user has to be able to shoot well enough to hit the target attacker in the torso and be willing and able to kill the attacker with it. The last one is a critical condition. McNamara didn't describe these things in comic-book or Wayne LaPierre fashion:

I learned from my patrol days in Harlem that when a store owner keeps a gun, his wife stands a decent change of collecting on his life insurance policy. I remember one grocer - we nicknamed him "Wild West" - who kept several pistols in his store. He even killed two robbers in separate holdups. ON a third robbery attempt, it was Wild West who got splattered all over the tuna cases. I knew he was going to get it sooner or later. He had to. Every time he shot it out with a robber, the odds mounted against him. And he only had to lose once.

Wild West was not your run-of-the-mill handgun owner. He knew how to fire a weapon. But when the crucial moment came for him to shoot, the robber beat him to the punch. The death of Wild West convinced me long ago that [for most people] the risk of owning a gun far outweighs the protection. Most law-abiding citizen who own guns will hesitate to pull the trigger; the armed robber will not. Once he reaches the stage where he points a loaded revolver in a shopkeeper's face, he has become a hardened criminal. That means he has probably committed other acts of violence. Many violent criminals consider it no big deal to take the life of a victim who resists. They've done it before and they may have to do it again. It's part of the job. You and I generally don't think that way.

Compare the robber's motivation to that of the store owner who pulls his gun and yells for the robber to freeze. Chances are the shopkeeper has never shot anyone, nor does he want to kill another human being. All he wants is for the robber to leave him alone. The person who has second thoughts about taking another life had better not wave his gun at anyone. A shred of hesitation and he can be dead.
The rightwing fanatics at groups like the NRA and the Gun Owners of America, guns are all opportunity and no risk. In their dystopian view of the world, the only risk is not having a loaded weapon strapped to your body at every moment.

That's not the real world of guns.

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posted at 5:31:00 PM by Bruce Miller | +Save/Share | | |

Friday, December 21, 2012

The NRA's solution to gun violence: more guns, more fear

Somehow I listened to the presentation on Friday by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre without gaq reflexes kicking in. If you want to try it yourself, here's the whole thing, courtesy of PBS Newshour, NRA's Wayne LaPierre Calls for Armed Security in Every School 12/21/2012:

LaPierre proposes armed security guards at every school as an excuse not to have any restrictions at all on the manufacture and sale of the kinds of weapons that were not so long ago banned as "assault weapons". But this week's Facebook setting don't seem to allow it.

German cartoonist Klaus Stuttmann has a drawing (12/17/2012) of what LaPierre's ideal of a public school would be, captioned "the next thing".

Also, the Christian homeschool lobby would love to have public schools looking like this to market against. I wonder how many Christian homeschooling arrangements, which sometimes include classroom-size gatherings, have armed guards present trained to take down well-trained survivalists with automatic weapons and body armor. For that matter, how many private elementary/middle/high schools have them? But the NRA sells fear, and they are pretty successful at it.

I haven't checked the figures, but I assume that there are lots of urban schools that may be near high-crime areas that have extra security coverage. Also, there's this story: Amanda Terkel, Columbine High School Had Armed Guards During Massacre In 1999 Huffington Post 12/21/2012.

Obama is endorsing the idea of an assault weapons ban, something he has nominally supported during his entire Presidency and done little or nothing to actively promote. How much we should expect from his vague calls for doing something is well illustrated by this animated cartoon from Mark Fiore, Condolencer-In-Chief 12/20/2012 (embeddeing not available).

There are a couple of things that I'm watching about Obama's position on gun violence. One is the connection he is careful to make between everyday street violence, illustrated by this screen shot from the Huffington Post homepage of .... The Huffington Post has been pushing Obama's framing in this sense in their coverage the last several days:

"We may never know all the reasons why this tragedy happened. We do know that every day since [the Newtown], more Americans have died of gun violence," Obama said on 12/19/2012:

The other is the stress he places in his presentations on security. For example:

And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. ... That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. ... Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm? ... If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try. (12/16/2012)
And so I think all of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington. And as I said on Sunday, this should be a wake-up call for all of us to say that if we are not getting right the need to keep our children safe, then nothing else matters. And it's my commitment to make sure that we do everything we can to keep our children safe. (12/19/2012)
These statements in themselves are entirely compatible with Wayne LaPierre's approach. The NRA also claims they want to keep children safe, too, by making sure they are in the presence of loaded guns every minute of their lives.

Obama earned an F rating from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for his first year in office:

  • Brady Campaign, President Obama's First Year: Failed Leadership, Lost Lives (Jan 2010): "In a year [2009] punctuated by mass shootings, ambush killings of police, assault weapon-toting protestors, and profligate gun trafficking from U.S. gun shops that threatens the stability of Mexico, President Obama’s first-year record on gun violence prevention has been an abject failure. "
  • Michael O'Brien, Gun control group gives Obama an ‘F’ The Hill 01/19/2010: " the Brady Campaign, a leading advocacy group for stricter gun laws, said Obama actually has done little to clamp down on firearms since being elected. Instead, the president has signed into law two bills that favored gun-rights supporters."

I haven't located their ratings from later years. Maybe this time he'll do a little more on gun regulation as a way of persuading supporters of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid not to raise too much of a stink about cutting those programs and putting them on the fast track to elimination. But his chronic unwillingness to promote an alternative framing to the issues is a real problem if he's serious about even restoring the assault weapons ban. Here is an example from his 12/19/2012 press conference in which he tries to make an argument for better gun regulations within an NRA-friendly framing:

Look, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. This country has a strong tradition of gun ownership that’s been handed down from generation to generation. Obviously across the country there are regional differences. There are differences between how people feel in urban areas and rural areas. And the fact is the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible -- they buy their guns legally and they use them safely, whether for hunting or sport shooting, collection or protection. ...

And here’s what we know -- that any single gun law can't solve all these problems. We’re going to have to look at mental health issues. We're going to have to look at schools. There are going to be a whole range of things that Joe's group looks at. We know that issues of gun safety will be an element of it. And what we've seen over the last 20 years, 15 years, is the sense that anything related to guns is somehow an encroachment on the Second Amendment. What we’re looking for here is a thoughtful approach that says we can preserve our Second Amendment, we can make sure that responsible gun owners are able to carry out their activities, but that we’re going to actually be serious about the safety side of this; that we're going to be serious about making sure that something like Newtown or Aurora doesn't happen again.

And there is a big chunk of space between what the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all. And that space is what Joe is going to be working on to try to identify where we can find some common ground.
So it wouldn't surprise me at all if Obama were hoping for the issue to quiet down, have Diane Feinstein's assault weapons bill die in the Senate next year with little if any help from Obama to pass it, and then announce a bipartisan compromise to put more armed guards in schools just like Wayne Pierre suggested.

The Democrats need to take on the NRA and delegitimize their framing and wreck their credibility outside the Republican alternative-reality bubble. Mark Ames in From "Operation Wetback" to Newtown: Tracing the Hick Fascism of the NRA Truthout 12/20/2012 explains the radicalization of the NRA since the 1970s. (Also at NEWSCORP 12/17/2012) Alan Berlow in Held hostage by NRA paranoia Salon 12/17/2012 describes the NRA's grim success on various fronts in derailing, even outright suppressing, honest public discussion of gun violence.

And, as Digby reminds us with particular reference to the NRA, "despite their freedom-loving libertarian, anti-government mantra, for the most part gun nuts are actually authoritarian bullies and closet totalitarians." (Free to live in a totalitarian society Hullabaloo 12/21/2012)

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posted at 9:20:00 PM by Bruce Miller | +Save/Share | | |

Thursday, December 20, 2012

If only ...

"And frankly, I’m convinced that the president is unwilling to stand up to his own party on the big issues that face our country." - House Speaker John Boehner (Sabrina Siddiqui, John Boehner To Obama On Fiscal Cliff: Act On Plan B Or Get 'Serious' Huffington Post 12/20/2012


posted at 4:21:00 PM by Bruce Miller | +Save/Share | | |

Financial recovery and recovery in the "real" economuy

Yanis Varoufakis describes the experience of the eurozone with austerity policies, in the context of describing why the non-financial sector may not recover as fast as the financial sector (Will the real economy rebound, following Wall Street’s resuscitation? And what of Europe? – Interviewed by El Confidencial 12/20/2012):

Rapid, unregulated growth is usually built on the back of a financial sector bubble; also known as irrational exuberance. Credit expands fast, increasingly risky bets are placed and a portion of this is channelled into productive investments in industry (the real economy, as you put it). Then the bubble bursts, liquidity disappears and the real economy entered a vicious cycle, of having to pay back unsustainable debts through austerity that causes investment to plummet, debt-to-income ratios to remain prohibitively high and, alas, growth to turn increasingly negative. In this sense, the answer to your question is bleak: No, there is no guarantee that industry will grow faster than the financial sector now. In fact, quite the opposite: Since governments and central banks are financing the banks, to refloat them, the financial sector is in the process to recovering, and growing again, while at the same time the real economy is continuing to shrink. Especially in the Periphery of the Eurozone where the impossibility of devaluation, coupled with the disproportionate burden of adjustment falling on the deficit countries, guarantees a depression. This is precisely what is meant by the trap of negative growth and high debt. It is a phenomenon that we first encountered in the 1930s, from which Europe seems to have learned almost nothing.
It really is sobering to see the extent to which policymakers in both Europe and the US have ignored the practical lessons of the Great Depression in the current extended crisis.

This reminds me, "depression" doesn't have the same kind of precise technical definition that "recession" does. I generally use the term to describe the current situation in Europe and the US, in which recovery from the recession that began in 2007 is slow, interest rates in the US are are up against the zero bound, and growth is fragile enough that a negative shock in aggregate demand could easily push economies back into recession. Varoufakis in that statement uses it more specifically for the conditions eurozone "periphery" countries like Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain are facing.

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posted at 2:35:00 PM by Bruce Miller | +Save/Share | | |

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The theology of distraction and the Newtown mass gun murders

I've resisted trying to speculate about some of the more subjective aspects of gun violence in the US political culture because of the very reason Charlie Pierce mentions in his The Night Before The President Came To Newtown Esquire Politics Blog 12/17/2012: "One pastor got on TV and blamed "the evil in the heart of man." (Unless you adopt his particular interpretation of monotheism, there is something inherent in you that might put seven bullets into a seven-year old.) This is convenient, because this is something against which we cannot legislate." (my emphasis)

A lot of the pet theories that Christian fundamentalists in particular like to throw out there on these all-too-frequent occasions of mass gun massacres are just that: a cover for the gun lobby to focus people's attention on anything and everything but better gun regulations.

For example, Franklin Graham - who apparently is more interested in being a new Jerry Falwell than a new Billy Graham - invoked video games and the Mystery of Evil as excuses not to regulate assault weapons any better. (Why the shock and awe? Washington Post 12/15/2012) Mike Huckabee first blamed the public schools not forcing Jewish and Muslim and non-believing kids to pray rote Christian prayers for the deaths of the 20 kids and six adults in Newtown. He later went on to clarify he remarks and spread the blame to other favorite fundamentalist gripes about the decline of his version of "family," etc. (Mary Elizabeth Williams, Huckabee blames gays for the Newtown massacre Salon 12/17/2012), in the process presenting his God in a very mean, astonishingly cruel and petty light.

For evangelical Christian denominations that stress proselytizing as a central duty, it's normal to suggest, "This nation needs the gospel now more than ever. We need to reach everyone with the hope of Jesus Christ," as Greg Stier does in Another Tragic School Shooting; How Should We React? Christian Post 12/15/2012. How appropriate that might be face-to-face with a non-Christian parent whose child had just been murdered is another question. But if their "witness" for their faith includes trying to be a responsible citizen, this kind of perspective doesn't have to turn into a way to distract from policy discussion that actually address the problem of gun violence.

I have some sympathy for the platitudes that people, including ministers, may wind up producing when they try to provide comfort or orientation to people affected in some way by an horrible event like the Newtown mass gun murders. Jim Denison in God on Trial in Newtown Christian Post 12/17/2012 gives what might initially look like a serious attempt to deal with the issues that often occur to religious people confronted with such situations. But he winds up reducing the complex theological question of theodicy to cartoon charactures. Satan did it. The killer made bad choices. Then he "answers" four questions he posed on theodicy (without using that term) by basically just restating the question. He ends up with the ever-reliable it's-a-mystery answer. Declaring that God ultimately makes everything right, he explains, "This assertion does not guarantee that you and I will experience or even understand God's greater good on this side of glory." It's a mystery! He probably would have been better off citing the Book of Job and it conclusion that human being in the end don't know the ways of God. That way you end up at least with some sense of humility instead of making a bunch of village atheist arguments without answering them.

But his presentation does keep the whole matter safely in the realm of "something against which we cannot legislate." And therefore of no direct practical relevance. Not that a message of comfort needs to. But it shouldn't be an excuse to oppose or ignore practical matters relating to the problem of mass gun massacres.

And what does our reliably mealy-mouthed friend Dr. Al Mohler have to say about the Newtown shooting? In Rachel Weeping for Her Children — The Massacre in Connecticut 12/14/2012, he explains that The Fall (of Adam and that temptress bitch Eve) is to blame. Then there's this: "the Christian must affirm the grace of moral restraint, knowing that the real question is not why some isolated persons commit such crimes, but why such massacres are not more common." Which read to me as, what are you moaning about, it's not as bad as what you should expect! It's apparently also our Christian duties to indulge murderous fantasies about the shooter, and sneer at any suggestion that mental health issues might have some relevance: "Even if executed for his crimes, he could die only once. Even if sentenced to scores of life sentences to prison, he could forfeit only one human lifespan. ... No human court can hand down an adequate sentence for such a crime." Oh, a remember, if you're an adult and get murdered without believing in God according to Bro. Al's prescriptions, you're going to Hail! I doubt anyone is going to be terribly comforted by Bro. Al's message. I'm much more confident that they aren't going to take any decent Christian theology from it.

And what about Bro. Wade "Sword of Vengeance" Burleson, who takes his divine guidance from sources like the John Birch Society? In Gun Control and the Tragedy at Sandy Hook Istoria Ministries Blog 12/15/2012. He says the Newtown mass gun murder happened because, apparently, citizens need guns so they can execute criminals after they are convicted. And there's too many of them thar' gun laws around that prevent that. So God decided to bump off 20 little kids and six adults in Newtown as a message that we need more guns to be killing more people. Or something. I'm thinking Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance might want to cut down on the time he spends on Bircher websites. He seriously argues that this whole business of criminals being judged to have committed crimes against the state is wrong and instead individuals should just be able to gun down wrongdoers, sort of Hatfields-and-McCoys style, I guess. This whole rule-of-law nonsense just doesn't seem right somehow to Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance.

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posted at 9:32:00 AM by Bruce Miller | +Save/Share | | |

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Obama to seniors: Merry Christmas! I'm cutting your Social Security benefits!

So President and Social Security opponent Obama has gone there. After he let people hope for a weekend that the Grand Bargaining to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid might at least be on hold until January, on Monday comes the news that he's agreed with House Speaker John Boehner on a "fiscal cliff" plan. (Jonathan Weisman, Obama's New Offer on Fiscal Crisis Could Lead to Deal New York Times 12/17/2012)

The details are overshadowed by the only thing in it that really matters: cuts to Social Security benefits, including current recipients, by adopting the "chained CPI" inflation-adjustment measure. There are various places to find explanations of "chained CPI," e.g., David Dayen, What Chained CPI Means, and Why a Cut in a Time of Inadequate Social Security Benefits Makes No Sense FDL News 12/17/2012; Mide Konczal, A Cost of Living Adjustment for Social Security in the Fiscal Cliff? Rortybomb 12/17/2012; Bryce Covert, In Fiscal Cliff Deal, Don't Chain Grandma to Smaller Social Security Checks The Nation 12/18/2012; Dylan Matthews, Everything you need to know about Chained CPI in one post Wonkblog 12/11/2012.

This AARP video explains the basic concept, Changing Social Security COLA Formula Would Hurt Current Retirees 12/14/2012:

The placing of that critical "detail" in the New York Times article linked above, the ninth paragraph, is a reflection of the success among the Beltways Villagers of Obama's approach to the "fiscal cliff" marketing of concentrating overwhelming on taxes, so that coverage of any such proposal like this would focus on the Social Security opponent Obama's supposed victory on taxes and ignore the very damaging cuts to Social Security benefits. (It's not clear from what I've seen how many other programs might be affected by "chained CPI," but it's my understanding that if Social Security is subjected to it, veterans benefits will also be.)

It's bad enough that we have a Democratic President who is committed to cutting benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. If this is adopted, it will be open season on the program. Social Security is the Mississippi River of cash flows and Wall Street wants to find some way to tap into it, ultimately by privatizing it.

It's politically important that this is a cut to current beneficiaries, a boundary that even privatization advocates like Bush II were generally unwilling to cross before now. And if a Democratic President and any substantial number of Democrats support it, the political firewall that has protected the program will be, well, badly damaged. A critical thing here will be how many Democratic members of Congress who support this cut to Social Security benefits are unseated in primaries in 2014.

It also shows that Obama is going to continue his President Pushover act - in dealing with Republicans. We saw early on in the fight over a public option for health insurance that he was willing, even eager to fight "the left," aka, his voting base. Since "the left" now apparently includes everyone who opposes cutting benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, it's pretty much the Democrats' entire voting base. The Democrats will need some new approaches in 2014 if this thing goes through:

Raven Brooks of Netroots Nation tweeted:

What's astonishing too is that Obama is willing to have himself and the Democrats be patsies for this. The Republicans will campaign against them in 2014 based on the Social Security cut if it goes through. The idea that they will observe a "Grand Bargain" by not using the Social Security cut against the Democrats is nonsense. Then when they capture both Houses of Congress, they can push Obama for more cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and then make the Democrats own those in 2016. Awesome!

Brian Beutler in The Social Security Benefit Cut Obama May Agree To TPM 12/18/2012 reports on several alleged Social Security supporters leaning toward backing this cut which would politically have the effect of throwing Social Security to the Wall Street wolves:

Supporters like to describe it as a technical fix to the way the government calculates inflation. But in practical terms, it will effectuate a genuine Social Security benefit cut. If it’s applied across the board, it will also reduce food stamp benefits and veterans benefits, and function as a modest but regressive tax increase, as brackets grow more slowly and taxpayers find themselves pushed across income thresholds more quickly than in the past.

Chained CPI differs from the way the government currently calculates inflation by taking a broader view of the behavioral changes consumers make when prices rise. It factors in a propensity to substitute cheaper, but similar products for ones that have become more expensive. And it has been criticized by advocates for being a less accurate measure of inflation for the products seniors rely on than Social Security currently uses.

But Obama allies and and some liberal economists have identified it as the least-bad entitlement benefit cut and have given it their blessing provided it's one piece of a broader, balanced debt reduction plan, and includes protections for poorer seniors. Though the Congressional Budget Office has cautioned that indexing Social Security to chained CPI would be technically complicated, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities backed it under those circumstances. So did the progressive Center for American Progress, which has close ties to the White House.
In Evaluating The Coming Deal 12/16/2012, Beutler added an important aspect: "But even though it’s not as onerous as an increase in the Medicare eligibility age — and even though the Obama administration has never really had a problem with this particular reform — it's still a benefit cut, a real one, up front, with Obama’s fingerprints all over it." (my emphasis) As Sarah Palin might say, you betcha!

I was unpleasantly surprised to see that even Paul Krugman went a little wobbly in writing about this awful proposal. Just the day before in, he Assimilated by the Peterson Borg 12/16/2012 was writing about a "Peterson deficit-scold front group" fear-mongering about the fiscal cliff, and he observed, "The only way we could even get anything pretending to be a Grand Bargain would be for Obama to surrender completely, as he almost did in 2011; and a bargain like that wouldn't even deliver deficit reduction, because you know that Republicans would end up reneging on the revenue parts." And he reminds us of what today's Republican Party is:

So this is ridiculous — and the fact that all these people don’t realize that is in itself evidence of the bubble in which Very Serious People still live. It’s also evidence of the desperation of the deficit scolds, who are evidently horrified that they aren’t managing to exploit the fiscal cliff — which has nothing at all to do with our debt — to ram their agenda through.
This is one of the weaknesses that even sensible economists like Krugman or Robert Reich show on Social Security. For economists, a payroll tax cut looks like a technically efficient way to put more money immediately into consumers hands and one that even enhances the progressivity of the tax, since wealthy people pay a much smaller percentage of their total income on payroll taxes because of the cap and because it doesn't apply to income categories like capital gains.

But politically, the payroll tax is an anchor of the Social Security and Medicare programs because it emphasizes their nature as social insurance and gives people a sense that "I've paid into this program my entire life," and therefore more ownership of the program. Reducing the payroll tax and replacing the lost revenue from the General Fund, which we've been doing the last couple of years, helps Social Security opponents like Obama and the Republicans stigmatize Social Security and Medicare as "welfare."

That's even true of one of the reported elements of Obama's current proposal to cut Social Security benefits: the fact that the cut would be replaced by a subsidy of some kind to the lowest-income seniors. Another big and visible step toward making it "welfare."

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posted at 12:25:00 PM by Bruce Miller | +Save/Share | | |

Monday, December 17, 2012

Video of Obama's Sunday speech on the mass gun massacre in Newtown CT

From PBS Newshour, President Obama: 'Newtown, You Are Not Alone' 12/16/2012:

Ken Dixon and Neil Vigdor in The president comes to comfort Newtown SFGate 12/17/2012 managed to hear in this speech that the President "put Congress on notice about toughening gun laws in the wake of the fourth mass shooting during his tenure." Since he didn't even mention the word "gun," I'm not sure how they got that.

Looking through the transcript, I didn't see any indication of a policy change, just a suggestion that maybe sometime we ought to possibly think about someday having a conversation about possibly doing something that might somehow improve things.

President Obama in cases like this seems to be operating on a saying that was attributed to Richard Nixon during his Presidency though it doesn't necessarily describe well how Nixon ran his Presidency: give the liberals the rhetoric they like and they'll be satisfied, but you have to give conservatives the substance.

Yet in Obama's case, the results often look downright bizarre. In the case of the Newtown mass gun massacre, he's talked vaguely often enough about some kind of unspecified action or change in approach that he gets interpretations of what he says such as that "he put Congress on notice about toughening gun laws," even though he's not actually demanding that Congress, you know, toughen gun laws.

That gives the gun lobbies and far-right fear-mongers cover to tell their followers that the scary Kenyan Muslim atheist President who hates America is about to come confiscate all your guns and maybe force you to marry someone of the same sex, too. So run out quick and buy more guns before you lose the chance forever! Fear and hatred do sell guns. That's not new or unique to the United States.

So Democrats get the worst of both ends. They wind up not getting better gun regulations passed and even ducking the issue so they don't get a lot of credit for trying. On the other hand, the Republicans react as though the Democrats are seriously trying to outlaw guns and they get maximum benefit from the fear-mongering. And the gun manufacturers and dealers do more business. Everyone but the dead and maimed wind up happy.

Well, except for the Democrats, who wind up looking like schmucks. Awesome.

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posted at 11:17:00 AM by Bruce Miller | +Save/Share | | |

Friday, December 14, 2012

Today's mass gun massacre in Connecticut

President Obama On School Shooting 12/14/2012:

President Obama, apparently thinking he was re-elected National Pastor in November, says in this short public statement on the Connecticut mass murder, "We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news, I react not as a President, but as anybody else would as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do."

Yes, it was good theater that he seemed to tear up. I saw someone actually in tears after hearing it. But I'm to the point I really don't care what Barack Obama thinks as a person or as a parent about these things. He's right that when he has heard of these "tragedies," aka, mass gun murders, he's been reacting "not as a President," but instead he plays the sympathetic minister.

But it's long past time he starts acting "as a President" and take the lead not only on rolling back the domestic massive arms proliferation,. And also start shoring up public mental health facilities so some of these killings could be prevented instead of babbling endlessly about The Deficit that only he and David Brooks actually care about anyway.

Well, he did say he wanted to take "meaningful action," then proceeded immediately to talk about hugging his kids. But he'll get good press, and the Pod Pundits will all say how fine a statement it was.

The gun lobby will keep right on saying he's going to confiscate everybody's huntin' rifles any day now, so he might as well push some policies to actually do something to mitigate these mass gun murders.

I saw some fool on Facebook today who uses the name Bill Currie respond to someone's serious post about the Connecticut shooting with this:"We should get the first amendment while we are at it-the press has caused a lot pain and destructions of lives through accusations of innocent people. The founding fathers knew that the people need to be armed to protect themselves from teranical [sic] government." A few minutes later he followed it up with, "Lets not worry about the second amendment."

My response to him was no doubt "uncivil" by media standards (for libruls); I've corrected it for typos:

Yes, Bill, none of those elementary school kids murdered today in Connecticut will be tyrannizin' over anybody any more. Do any of you people who celebrate these mass gun murders actually read the 2nd Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Obviously it makes people like you feel FREEEEE to know that some people got gunned down in a mall in Portland or a bunch of children murdered in Connecticut. Just to mention the incidents of the last four days. But do you expect anyone but other fans of mass gun murders to pretend this has anything to do with "A well regulated Militia"?
But the sad state of affairs these days is that he's probably not even slightly embarrassed. On the contrary, he probably takes it as a sign that he's good about pissing off libruls.

But does this guy's family know that he thinks a mass murder of little children is something to make adolescent snark over? His wife/girlfriend/boyfriend? The people he works with? I mean, if I heard one of my officemates talking like this live and in person, I would wonder if it was safe to have him around.

Oh, wait, after I wrote that, I see he responded:

... Bruce Miller-I find it offensive that you say I "celebrate these mass shooting" **** you *** **** -the liberal left celebrates them because it gives them the opportunity to get what they want-gun control. You want the government to become more tyrinical than it is. So once again **** you and the horse you rode in on.
To which I responded contritely, "Gosh, Bill, I'm so sorry! I didn't realize that guys who think a mass gun murder of little children is something to make adolescent snark over were so sensitive about people responding to what they post for the whole world to see. Gee, please forgive me for being 'uncivil'!"

Meanwhile, the charming Bro. Mike Huckabee says that if we just had the little Jewish kiddies forced to pray Christian prayers, the bullets of mass murders would bounce off all of them. Or something. (Benjy Sarlin, Huckabee: Schools 'A Place Of Carnage' Because We 'Systematically Removed God TPM 12/14/2012)

Actually, the Huck's statement is particularly cruel. He's effectively telling the parents of the murdered kids and the traumatized survivors that if they had just sent their kids to a Christian school instead of the Satanic public ones they would be alive now.

You hardly need to look them up to know the kinds of responses people will be making. Another mass shooting incident in the US the same week as the one in Portland. Merry Christmas from the psycho-killers and the gun lobby!

I really don't find it to be a good sign that these things have become effectively normalized now. A mass shooting occurs, the politicians' assistants call up their boilerplate about how they "regret the terrible tragedy" and their "thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families," blah, blah. Then they don't have to bother to do anything in terms of actual policy. Except maybe to declare it's critical to the 2nd Amendment's requirement for a " well regulated Militia" to have weapons like the 223 Remington rifle the latest mass murderer reportedly used freely available (with lots of ammo, of course) to anyone and everyone who feels like shooting up a mall or an elementary school. Heck, it took me about five seconds on Yahoo! to find out where you can order one online if you have some mall shoppers or school children in mind you'd like to murder in large numbers.

You don't even have to wonder whether someone will be saying this particular kind of weapon is especially good for deer huntin'. You can be sure they're already saying it.

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posted at 6:53:00 PM by Bruce Miller | +Save/Share | | |

The week in fiscal cliffing and Grand Bargaining

Obama's Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid had a bad week, it seems. Which means it was a good week for the vast majority of Americans.

After the White House floated a trial balloon to cut benefits on Medicare by raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67, by Thursday his spokesperson on austerity policy, Sen. Dick Durbin, said that the proposal is "no longer one of the items being considered by the White House" in the current negotiations.

Of course, as Digby points out (More fiscal cliff notes --- 12/13 Hullabaloo 12/13/2012), this was simultaneously an admission that Obama had been considering it.

Also, the Republicans are reported to be stubbornly refusing to propose specific spending cuts, instead demanding that Obama come up with something they can like. Unlike his performance in the 2011 debt ceiling fight, Obama does appear less willing to let the Republicans just make a fool of him, at least this month. Or maybe just this week.

But as Taylor Marsh pointed out a few days after the election, Obama showed in his first term how dedicated he was to pursue the Grand Bargain, which quickly evolved to being essentially about cutting benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (Obama's 2011 Grand Bargain Detailed in Documents Obtained by Bob Woodward 11/12/2012):

Many people think of it [the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid] as a "Nixon to China" moment, but it's not.

Obama has always been fixated on Ronald Reagan and what he did, because that’s the president that impacted, impressed and embedded most in his mind when he was coming up. So, the grand bargain is about a Ronald Reagan – Tip O'Neill moment. An "I saved Social Security" for future generations deal, which will likely include a nod to the business community, whose "fiscal cliff" is the bookend meant to push the "grand bargain" to manifestation, in the mother of all Obama – Wall Street make-up sessions imprinted for history.
So we're not out of the woods on this thing. And probably won't be as long as President Obama is in office.

But any week where the Democrats and the Democratic President are forced into the position of acting like Democrats and defending benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid instead of looking for political cover from the Republicans to cut them is a good week for supporters of those programs.

Digby also warns that we can't assume a December victory is the end of this Grand Bargain/Great Betrayal fight:

Sure people want compromise --- if it ends up with policies they like. When it doesn't, they think it was a sell-out. The politicians usually know this even if the pundits don't. And this is one reason why I've been pessimistic that the Democrats were going to hold a tough line on the "entitlements." They've been signaling for months that they would be willing to cut them if they can only get these tax hikes from millionaires. And yet, the tax hikes ... were going to happen anyway. Can we all see the problem with that? I suppose that's a smart thing to do: set yourself as winning a big victory even if it was inevitable. That way you really can't lose. But it also begs the question: why put spending cuts on the table in the first place? True, much of that came out of the failed debt ceiling talks in 2011, but that was the result of a proposed Grand Bargain that was endorsed by the Democratic leadership. You can call that a mistake, but I don't think it makes a lot of sense to get back in the same position unless this is a result you truly seek. [my emphasis in bold]
Obama wouldn't have played the December "fiscal cliff" negotiations the way he did, in other words, if he weren't still interested in his Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Paul Krugman in Party of No Ideas 12/13/2012 reflects on the implications of the Republicans' playing this game:

This is not a negotiation in the normal sense, in which each side makes proposals and they dicker over the details; instead, Republicans are demanding that Obama read their minds and produce a proposal they’ll like. And Obama won’t do that, for good reason: he knows that they’ll just pronounce themselves unsatisfied with whatever he comes up with, and are indeed very likely to campaign in 2014 attacking him for whatever cuts take place.
He concludes from the Republicans' general frivolity in making budget proposals and their negotiating intransigence, "We are at a strange and dangerous place in American political life."

But on the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, the Republicans' experience in the debt ceiling fight in 2011 showed that that could punk the President in just that way. If Obama is not willing to have them jerk him around the same way any more, that's good and very understandable. But they could hardly be expected not to try it again since Obama was so willing in 2011 to beg them to let him "concede" and make benefit cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

David Dayen (FDL News 12/14/2012) seems to think the "fiscal cliff" farce for December is about over. The Republicans aren't going to make a deal. The Democratic base isn't being passive and compliant about accepting the Medicare benefits cut that the White House informally proposed via trial balloon. So the Bush tax cuts will expire on December 31. And Obama will be a strong position to force the Republicans to swallow his "middle class" tax cut proposal as a standalone cut. David sees the Republicans approaching the new year with this perspective:

Republicans have located their strategy in the debt limit, seeking to retreat to higher ground and use that vote, and the threat of a default, to force fiscal changes. Speaker John Boehner admitted as much yesterday, saying that he wants to use the debt limit vote to "to bring fiscal sanity to Washington, D.C." He described the vote as Congress asserting its "ability to control the purse," which is completely illogical. Congress controls the purse when it makes appropriations. The debt limit vote merely authorizes the Treasury to pay for the obligations Congress already approved. So the proper analogy with the debt limit is Congress controlling the ability to dine and ditch if it so chooses.

This probably isn't all that informative a post, but that's the state of play. In a matter of weeks, the tax-side issues will get dealt with. Then Republicans will take the debt limit hostage and try to negotiate over spending and social insurance. However they want Democrats to dictate the spending cuts so they can pin them on their opponents. In addition, they really want to attack programs for the poor, rather than those for the elderly, which represents a substantial portion of their base. And hitting the poor isn't all that popular.
The initial makeup of the new Congress also looks more favorable than the current one for defenders of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Corruption happens, both the illegal kind and others, and lobbyists like the various incarnations of the Peterson Foundation will continue to push for benefit cuts on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But getting past December is a real plus for those programs' supporters.

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posted at 1:39:00 PM by Bruce Miller | +Save/Share | | |


"It is the logic of our times
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