Friday, August 28, 2015

We Need Fewer Thinkers Like Damon Linker on Guns.

This is a first grade class and teacher. Now think of them all shot dead brutally.
Then, think just like Damon Linker and say, "There's nothing we can do about it."

If Damon Linker is right, and there's nothing we in America can do to significantly reduce gun violence, then I suggest we all just buy one and shoot ourselves in the head. There, an American solution!

Or, as I wanted when I was twenty-two, we could move to the Netherlands. They don't want us there now, so it's too late. Anyway, I'm sixty-six, not twenty-two, and my wife doesn't want to move. Oh, well.

Here's brilliant cynic Damon Linker:
[...] I would personally love to wake up tomorrow and find myself in such an America [one that would ban guns].
But there is no chance of it happening. Zero.
Why? Because the Supreme Court has declared that the Constitution forbids it. Because a sizable chunk of the country strongly opposes it. Because America's democratic culture would never allow the mass confiscation of property by the government. When that property is a weapon that could be trained on the person attempting the confiscation, things get trickier still.
There is simply no realistic path that gets us from the country we have to the country gun-control advocates want.
Should we try to pass more laws regulating guns? Absolutely. If your city is motivated to ban high-capacity gun magazines, by all means do so. The same with local, state, or federal laws encouraging the development of childproof guns and public-health efforts to persuade people to buy them. The same with increasing waiting periods, deepening background checks for gun purchases, and closing the gun-show loophole. Go ahead and do every well-intentioned thing in Nicholas Kristof's indignant column on the Roanoke shooting.
But understand that in the end the improvements will only be marginal. Yes, some indeterminate number of lives will be saved, which is why we should keep trying. Something is always better than nothing. But there will still be hundreds of millions of guns out there in circulation, and countless ways to purchase new ones, which means there will be ample opportunities for a would-be mass murderer to secure the means of attaining his goal. That's why Kristof's analogy to lives saved by automobile regulations is bogus. The vast majority of people killed while driving die by accident. The vast majority of people killed by guns die by intent. Firearms are deadly weapons, we have an awful lot of them lying around, and unfortunately we have a disturbingly large number of people who want to use them to kill human beings.
This doesn't make me happy. It makes me ill. It means that, in this respect at least, America is broken.
No, Damon Linker, your cynicism isn't helpful. We, those of us smart -- yes, smart -- enough to know that statistics say guns make us less safe, should work as hard as we can to alter gun laws to make us more safe. First, start locally: your town, your county, your state. And vote only for those who are brave enough to state openly that they're for tougher gun laws.

Then boycott any business that supports guns in any way, shape or form. For example, if Walmart sells guns, don't shop there (I stopped shopping there fifteen years ago for other reasons).

Move to a state -- mostly blue -- that have stricter gun laws and are therefore safer. Let everyone know that you moved from Alaska and Louisiana to Hawaii or New Jersey because you feel safer.

Then keep talking. Guns kill people. American guns kill more people than all the terrorism in history. Don't tell me we can't ever be as safe as Australia and the U.K. and the rest of the civilized world. And think of that first grade class in the picture.

America Is Exceptional, All Right. We Have an Exceptional Number of Gun Deaths.

Do any of these make you feel safe? Statistics say they make you less safe.

I've read study after study that the presence of a gun in the home makes that home less safe. The countervailing theory is that I've got a gun, and if I'm threatened, I'll get that gun and shoot the threat. The problem is that you're more likely to get drunk, mad, and decide to shoot a friend or a relative than you are to pull out the gun, Rambo-style, and put a cap in a home invader. Also, you may go for your gun and before you get there, grab it, and shoot someone, that someone grabs it and shoots you. Happens more than you know.

Or your four-year-old finds it and accidentally shoots his sister to death. There are dozens of scenarios where things go wrong for every one that might go right.

But we have a problem: Most Americans don't believe the statistics, if they've even been exposed to the statistics. And, unfortunately, there is a statistically significant number of people who are incapable of accepting that a gun is, far from empowering, actually a ticket to disaster more often than a ticket to glory. Here's the truth:
Moving from state-level analysis to the household or individual, the risks for gun owners become even more apparent. A recent meta-analysis of 16 studies examined the relationship between firearms and gun deaths. Gun ownership doubled the risk of homicide and tripled the risk of suicide. This research is bolstered by a national survey that found that a gun in the home was far more likely to be used to threaten a family member or intimate partner than to be used in self-defense.
An important article came out today in the Washington Post entitled "American exceptionalism and the ‘exceptionally American’ problem of mass shootings." In it, we find, as we always seem to do, that statistics overwhelmingly prove that America has an overwhelming lead over all the other countries of the world for gun violence. Second place, Yemen, that's right, Yemen, has a considerable lower gun death rate than the U.S. Impress you? It should depress you. It depresses me. Says WaPo:
The United States, according to Lankford’s analysis, is home to just 5 percent of the world’s people but 31 percent of its public mass shooters. Even more stunning, between 1966 and 2012, 62 percent of all school and workplace shooters were American. At 90 mass shooters in less than 50 years, the U.S. has five times as many as the next highest country on the list (the Philippines).
Yeah, we're exceptional, all right. zeroes in on how we compare to other countries:
Wednesday's Virginia shooting, like so many shootings before it, seems likely to raise a debate we've had many times before: Why does the US have such a high rate of gun murders, by far the highest in the developed world? Is it because of guns, or is there something else going on? Maybe America is just more prone to crime, say, because of income inequality or cultural differences?
A landmark 1999 study actually tried to answer this question. Its findings — which scholars say still hold up — are that America doesn't really have a significantly higher rate of crime compared to similar countries. But that crime is much likelier to be lethal: American criminals just kill more people than do their counterparts in other developed countries. And guns appear to be a big part of what makes this difference.

Okay, I get it. Can we go home now? No, because there's more that we need to accept as fact, before we take action. We need to accept that guns kill people.
Why does this [violent crime] happen? It's not because, as you might think, American violent criminals are just more likely to kill people. "Only a minority of Los Angeles homicides grow out of criminal encounters like robbery and rape," they find (there's no reason to believe the pattern would differ in other cities). So even if it could be shown that American robbery and rape rates are across-the-board higher than those in similar countries (which doesn't appear true today), that still wouldn't explain why America has so many more homicides than other countries.
Again, Zimring and Hawkins's LA data was revealing. "A far greater proportion of Los Angeles homicides grow out of arguments and other social encounters between acquaintances [than robbery or rape]," they find.
This is where guns enter the story. The mere presence of firearms, according to Zimring and Hawkins, makes a merely tense situation more likely to turn deadly. When a gang member argues with another gang member, or a robber sticks up a liquor store, there's always a risk that the situation can escalate to some kind of violence. But when people have a handheld tool that is specially engineered for violently killing, escalation to murder becomes much, much more likely.
Guns kill people. The mere presence of all these guns in America lead to their being used. And statistics, again, prove it.

That's your correlation right there. Now what do we do? Despair, knowing that the NRA will never let us deal rationally with out obvious problem with an obvious solution? Maybe. I suggest we act locally, you know, town, then county, then state. Move to a state with stronger gun control laws (these states have lower gun death rates). Boycott companies that foster guns. At least act, daily if possible.

Thanks to for liberal use of their material. Go there to read the entire, well-researched report.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Another Senseless Shooting: Rush Limbaugh's Answer? Arm Journalists.

I knew that "the solution to gun violence is more guns"
was coming. Just didn't know how fast.

I also know that Rush Limbaugh's career is no longer on the ascendancy, but nonetheless his comment so soon after the senseless live-TV assassination of a cameraman and a journalist -- and wounding of the subject of their interview -- is repulsive, if not totally expected.

You can bet après Rush, le déluge, as in watch the NRA, et al, line up calling for more guns. Sheesh.

(Thanks to Media Matters)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Is the GOP Flying Off the Rails? Oh My, Yes...

The sanest moment in the GOP campaign so far? Not many since the Fox debate.

Of course we all remember the GOP "autopsy" shortly after the party lost the 2012 election by an unthinkable margin. In fact, there were some who were staggered on election night that they lost at all, so thorough was the seal on their information bubble.

Anyway, Jindal said that they had to stop being the party of the stupid, and just about every sensible Republican leader said that the party absolutely had to reach out to women, minorities, even to the GLBTQ community. A number of potential candidates ran a few policy proposals in speeches, testing the impact the rhetoric might have.

There was even a burgeoning reformicon movement, trying to pivot the GOP back to being the "party of ideas," and not so radical ones at that.

Then came the ascendancy of Donald Trump, and everything since has become unglued, as candidate after candidate tries to attract attention in a race where it seems The Donald has all the oxygen.

Bob Cesca of Salon pitches his take on the madness:
So, the far-right is mainstreaming slavery; it’s pushing for women and even young girls to die from complicated pregnancies or to birth the children of rapists; it’s planning to strip the citizenship clause from an amendment that was ratified 150 years ago; it’s embracing racist colloquialisms; and it’s acting upon videos that are proven hoaxes. The Republican race for the presidency is all about who’s better at blurting ridiculous non-sequiturs — all of it following the lead of their reality-show frontrunner.
If there is one place where the GOP may have crashed for good, it's with the immigration issue. Trump, in the speech announcing his candidacy, blew the lid off. Picking on the Mexicans -- but angering immigrants of all stripes -- he has since that speech doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down, saying build a wall all the way across the Mexican border (making Mexico pay for it?!) and while you at it, gather up every last singe "illegal" immigrant and deport them, all 11 or 12 million of them.

Thoughts on how they'll do with minorities? Anyone? Bueller?

 And how about the womenfolk? When Politico can't find a silver lining (well, they do, among married, non-college-graduate women), you know the Republicans are in trouble:
A detailed report commissioned by two major Republican groups — including one backed by Karl Rove — paints a dismal picture for Republicans, concluding female voters view the party as “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion” and “stuck in the past.”
Women are “barely receptive” to Republicans’ policies, and the party does “especially poorly” with women in the Northeast and Midwest, according to an internal Crossroads GPS and American Action Network report obtained by POLITICO. It was presented to a small number of senior aides this month on Capitol Hill, according to multiple sources.

Even on fiscal matters — traditionally the party’s strongest issue set — Republicans hold only slight advantages that do not come close to outweighing their negative attributes. The GOP holds a 3 percent advantage over Democrats when female voters are asked who has “good ideas to grow the economy and create jobs,” and the same advantage on who is “fiscally responsible and can be trusted with our tax dollars.”
When female voters are asked who “wants to make health care more affordable,” Democrats have a 39 percent advantage, and a 40 percent advantage on who “looks out for the interests of women.” Democrats have a 39 percent advantage when it comes to who “is tolerant of other people’s lifestyles.”
Female voters who care about the top four issues — the economy, health care, education and jobs — vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Most striking, Democrats hold a 35-point advantage with female voters who care about jobs and a 26 percent advantage when asked which party is willing to compromise. House Republicans say jobs and the economy are their top priorities.
Obviously, I'm deliriously happy about these developments, since as a Democrat I'm secure in the knowledge that not only do Democrats have clear policy positions on women's issues, jobs, education, and immigration, they've had the good common sense to latch on to the most popular ones. This is no accident but the happy result of having voices like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the race. No longer frightened of their shadows, the Democrats might, driven by these popular issues, secure a significant victory at the polls in 2016.

Heaven knows the Republicans are doing their best to lose. Let's not get in their way.

Who's the biggest prick among the GOP field? Nowadays, it's pick 'em.

Ronald Reagan's Liberal Legacy (That's Right, Liberal)

The iconic Reagan photo: a liberal lion?

I used to look at the photo above and almost wretch at the undeserved legacy Ronald Reagan had accrued. The conservative movement wanted a hero and quite nearly manufactured one. For me, there was no decent legacy to speak of. Much of his history was either made-up or distorted, and it bothered me that conservatives, to this day, make much of the slim pickings any realist would call the Reagan legacy.

There was so much not to like about Reagan -- his anti-unionism, his war on drugs, his antipathy toward Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, his supple-side economics that truly was "voodoo" as his competitor-turned-vice-president called it, his massive defense buildup and subsequent growing deficits, his invasion of Grenada (why again?), and certainly his siding with some of the worst right-wing elements in Central America in an effort to counter leftist guerrillas. Plenty enough death and murder came out of those adventures.

There was plenty not to like. But there were the successes -- both in domestic politics as well as foreign policy, especially with the Soviet Union -- which were hard to dismiss. When I saw Reagan make his famous "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" speech, I begrudged him a truly remarkable visual, at least, accomplishment. He looked tough, he was tough, and you couldn't dismiss it as Hollywood bluster. He stood tall right then, and it was real, and it had an impact.

So, it's with, to some extent, true glee that I embrace a viewpoint I discovered while googling Reagan's accomplishments to refresh my memory of the Reagan years: Joshua Green, writing in Washington Monthly back in 2003, took a novel look at Reagan in terms of his liberal -- yes, liberal -- accomplishments. All of a sudden, my grudging acceptance of good things Reagan accomplished made sense. They were accomplishments, from my ideological vantage, I could only applaud. Now I could, knowing why I liked them: They were liberal, quite simply. Says Green:
Many of Reagan's actions that wound up furthering liberal ends were to some extent the result of the normal compromises of political office. The fact that his conservative biographers don't see fit to acknowledge these deviations is a clue that their aim is something besides an accurate depiction of the life and achievements of the 40th president. When conservatives mythologize the Reagan presidency as the golden era of conservatism, it's not Reagan that they're mythologizing, but conservatism.
The great success of Reagan's 1980 campaign was that it united the disparate strands of the conservative movement: supply-siders, libertarians, religious conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and big business. The fact that Reagan's presidency didn't accomplish anything approaching its seismic promise--the size of government grew, abortion remained legal, and entitlements still abounded--is one that his partisan biographers elide by focusing on what Reagan believed and said rather than on what he actually did. The imaginary Reagan who inhabits these books embodies the ideas on which all these groups can agree. His shining example helps maintain the coalition while putting pressure on current GOP politicians to hew to the hard-right ideal.
The real Reagan, on the other hand, would bring discord to the current conservative agenda. If you believe, as conservatives now do, that raising taxes is always wrong, then it's hard to admit that Reagan himself did so repeatedly. If you argue that the relative tax burden on low-income workers is too light, as the Bush administration does, then it does not pay to dwell on the fact that Reagan himself helped lighten that burden. If you insist, as many hardliners now do, that America is dangerously soft on communist China, then it is best to ignore Reagan's own softening toward the Soviet Union.
The whole of the Joshua Green article is stuffed with irony. Reagan raised taxes, saved Social Security by raising the payroll taxes, expanded government and the government payroll, tripled the national debt, and made nuclear peace treaties and other agreements that would make today's neocons shudder (as they did back then, as well).

We on the left who resist letting Reagan have his (manufactured) conservative legacy do so while giving short shrift to his liberal legacy. Maybe we can essentially speak of Reagan as bad, conservative Reagan and good, liberal Reagan. It's not made up of whole cloth, it is the remarkable truth of Ronald Reagan. Most of his conservative accomplishments were mostly talk, and many of his undeniable worthy accomplishments were carry-overs, perhaps, from the more liberal leanings of his younger years.

We get the Reagan each of us want, I suppose.

Kennedy had his Cuban Missile Crisis, Nixon his China card, and
Reagan his summits with Mikhail. Credit where great is due.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Is the Ashley Madison Data Dump Fair to the Cheaters? (Josh Duggar Edition)

Updated below!

I can't wait for Ashley Madison: the Movie. Okay, I guess I can.

It seems quite the violation of privacy to get outed for using a website that helps you arrange marital infidelities -- even if it's sort of wimpy to use a service to arrange such things. Whatever happened to putting in the time and actually "earning" your dalliances by finding them yourself? But, oh well.

Amanda Marcotte -- a feminist writer who gets to weigh in on so many aspects of the push-pull between and among the sexes and does an admirable and nuanced job of it -- gives us permission to express glee at at least one outed philanderer: wouldn't you know it, Josh Duggar.
It’s not like domestic violence or rape, which are often kept quiet but are, in fact, the business of everyone else in the larger community because violence is a violation of the social contract. Or even just creepy or harassing behavior. When you harass someone, you really don’t deserve a modicum of privacy. These behaviors are about maintaining basic order and setting a standard for how we treat people, regardless of who they are. It’s about ensuring that we all have a right to safety that other people can’t violate.
But cheating is about violating a deeply personal agreement between two people. If the person you’re with doesn’t care if you sleep with other people, it’s not cheating. It’s all about an agreement that you decide between yourselves, and like all such agreements, the only people who should care what you do are people who your behavior directly affects. It’s not the business of the world at large.
Unless you’re Josh Duggar, of course. Or anyone else who fights publicly to use government interference to mess with the private sexual choices of consenting adults. If you fight for the government to limit or ban gay people’s marriages or women’s reproductive choices, then your sex life is our business. If only there were a way to do a targeted search of Ashley Madison data for that, while leaving everyone else alone.
When the Jimmy Swaggarts, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakers, Ted Haggards and, yes, Josh Duggars of this world are brought low, schadenfreude is called for. Loudly. Read the Gawker on young Josh. What are his turn-ons? I was reading, gleefully, then had to turn away. It was that much of a trainwreck. Maybe you'll feel differently. But, seriously, ROTFLMFAO.

Family Research Council, I got your research right here.

Not in support of infidelity here. Just lovin' me some justice.

Update.  Josh Duggar, like all good Christians, is getting all confessional on us. If he were a preacher he'd be on stage crying his eyes out and declaring what a sinner he is. Ha. Ha.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Jeb! on Torture: I Wish I Knew How to Quit You!

Wish I knew how to quit talking about your war and your torture is more like it.

Nobody told Jeb Bush it was going to be easy living down his oldest brother's Iraq legacy, but someone might have told him to keep quiet about it as much as possible.

That could have applied to Big Brother's torture policies, but, no-o-o-o, Jeb! has to keep yapping. Here's Slate running down the latest:
At a forum in Iowa, Bush declined to make a “definitive blanket kind of statement” on whether he would authorize the harsh interrogation techniques OK’d by George W.’s administration. Bush declined to say which techniques he considered torture but asked specifically about waterboarding at a later event, he said “I’m not ruling anything in or out,” and used the Orwellian formulation, "There’s a difference between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture. Torture’s—America doesn’t do torture.”
We can infer from Bush’s comments—America doesn’t torture, but he won’t rule out waterboarding—that he does not consider waterboarding to be torture. He believes, in other words, that a technique described by the CIA itself as a “series of near drownings” that induce “convulsions and vomiting” and left one detainee “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth” does not constitute “severe pain or suffering, inflicted for the purpose of obtaining information,” as torture is defined under an international treaty the U.S. has ratified.
I'm sure after he said it, an aide came up and quietly said, "Governor, I thought we'd..." to which he just as quietly replied, "Yeah, I know..."

Bush looks like he's sitting on a pile of rattlesnakes and wants to finish his statement before someone asks, "Yeah, but waterboarding two suspects 266 times? Fer real?"

Jeb, this stuff is going to swirl around you right up to the moment you lose the 2016 election, so you'd better learn not to step in it all the time. But, as they say, that's a bridge too far.

Bonus just-ran-into-it video of Jesse Ventura on Larry King, giving us some, er, perspective on torture and Dick Cheney. To quote a Broadway show, Mamma Mia!

Jeb! Listen and learn...