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“A Nation Of Skilled Crimestoppers”: We Should Keep Talking About Our Gun Laws

The wake of a massacre is exactly the right time.

When an event like the mass shooting in Colorado happens, it’s a fair bet that people on every side will take the opportunity to say, “See? This just reinforces what we’ve been telling you all along.” But that’s easier for some than others. I looked around some conservative web sites today to see what their reaction was, and much of it ran to this: Awful liberals are going to use this to push their anti-gun agenda, and they should be ashamed of themselves (see here or here). But is there really anything wrong with taking the events that occur in our country, even horrible ones, and making the connections to our policy and political choices? Isn’t that what people who write about politics are supposed to do?

Obviously, making those connections can be done in ways that are crass and inappropriate. But so can a discussion about anything. You can say we should talk about something else out of respect for the victims and their families, but the idea that the families’ grief might be lessened one iota if we refrained from discussing gun laws for a week or two is beyond ridiculous.

So here goes. This horrifying event demonstrates, as though we needed any demonstration, how removed from reality so many gun advocates are. When they push laws to allow gun owners to take their weapons anywhere and everywhere, they often paint a picture of a nation of skilled crime-stoppers, ready at a moment’s notice to cut down that psychopath before he has a chance to draw his weapon. But this is an absurd fantasy. Colorado is a state with lots and lots of gun owners, and it has a concealed-carry law that allows you to get a permit without too much trouble. We don’t know if anyone else in the theater had a gun on them, but even if they had, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Lots of gun owners imagine themselves to be some kind of Jack Bauer figure, who will see an event play out in slow motion while he calmly draws his weapon and delivers one perfectly aimed shot to save all the civilians. But that’s not how things work in real life. A mass shooting like this one is chaos. Things don’t happen in slow motion, and a few hours at the shooting range don’t turn you into Jack Bauer.

I wish I could say “This would never have happened if we had passed Law X.” But extremist Republicans and cowardly Democrats have guaranteed that our nation is and will continue for the foreseeable future to be awash in guns, about one for every man, woman, and child in the country. They’re easy to get and easy to amass. And if you’re angry or mentally ill or plenty of both, you won’t have much trouble putting together the arsenal that will enable you to vent your rage in the most spectacular and destructive way imaginable.

Around 30,000 Americans are killed with guns every year (the figure includes murders, suicides, and accidental deaths). Our political system has, in its wisdom, decided that that’s an acceptable price to pay for the “freedom” that isn’t enjoyed by people in England or France or Japan, where this kind of mass shooting is unknown. When it happens here—as it did last year and the year before that, and as it will next year and the year after that—nobody should act surprised.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 20, 2012

July 21, 2012 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Romney’s Cliff Notes Version Of The Ryan Plan”: Your Guide To “Ending Medicare As We Know It”

It’ll be the next argument in the campaign, so it’s a good time to brush up.

Yesterday, President Obama went to Florida and told seniors that Mitt Romney wants to end Medicare as we know it, and it appears that this argument (and some related ones) will be a central feature of the Obama campaign’s message in the coming days. It’s entirely possible, as Jonathan Chait has suggested, that all the Obama campaign’s attacks on Romney’s finances and record at Bain Capital are the first stage of a two-stage strategy that culminates with an attack on the Ryan budget. Since we’ll be talking about this a lot soon, I thought it might be worthwhile to refresh our memories on what this is all about, particularly with regard to Medicare, and how it relates to the current campaign.

First: Is it fair to tar Mitt Romney with the Ryan plan? No question. While Romney’s own policy proposals are quite a bit more vague than the Ryan plan is, they follow the same contours, and when Romney is asked about the Ryan plan he never hesitates to praise it. When asked about it last month, Romney’s chief strategist Eric Fehrstrom said of his boss, “He’s for the Ryan plan.” Or in Romney’s own words, “I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan. It’s a bold and exciting effort on his part and on the part of the Republicans and it’s very much consistent with what I put out earlier.” Enough said.

Next: Does the Ryan plan actually “end Medicare as we know it”? This is the phrase that Democrats have used in the past to describe it, and that Obama will continue to use. Republicans claim the phrase is unfair and demagogic. But while it would be inaccurate to simply say the Ryan plan “ends Medicare,” because if the plan were enacted there would still be a program going by the name of “Medicare,” it is fair to say that Medicare would be a drastically different program, and some of the critical things that make it so successful would no longer exist.

Today’s Medicare is an insurance program. If you’re a senior, you go to your doctor, and your doctor gets paid by Medicare. It is a single-payer program that covers every senior, and though it doesn’t pay for every conceivable procedure, because of Medicare’s universality there are essentially no uninsured seniors in America, no seniors who are subject to the tender mercies of the notoriously unmerciful insurance companies, no seniors who need to worry about their pre-existing conditions or their lifetime limits or any of the other ways those companies find to screw their customers, and almost no seniors who find it impossible to pay their insurance premiums (seniors do contribute premiums to Medicare, but they are quite modest).

The Ryan plan in its initial incarnation eliminated Medicare as an insurance program, and replaced it with “premium support.” There’s an argument about whether premium support can be described accurately as a “voucher,” but that’s nothing more than a silly disagreement about semantics; premium support in practice is no different from any voucher. Under this plan, seniors would have to get their insurance from private companies, and the government would pay part of the cost. If those private premiums go up, then seniors will have to pay more out of their own pockets; indeed, this is a feature, not a bug, of the Ryan plan. The whole point is to limit government spending on Medicare by limiting how much seniors get in their vouchers/premium support.

And those limits could be vicious. The Ryan plan caps the growth of Medicare at GDP growth plus 0.5 percent. If health costs rise faster than that, seniors will have to pick up more and more of the tab. That means that if the Ryan plan were enacted, there would likely be many seniors who couldn’t afford private premiums and would have no health coverage. This feature of the plan eliminates one of the fundamental pillars of Medicare: that it is an entitlement, meaning that if you qualify, you’re entitled to the benefit. If this year’s costs are higher than we’d like, we can make changes to the program for next year, but nobody goes without coverage. Under the Ryan plan, that would no longer be true.

But here’s an important thing to keep in mind: After Ryan released the first version of his plan in 2011 and caught a whole bunch of flak for basically destroying Medicare, he came back with a revised plan earlier this year that has one critical difference: it allows seniors, if they so choose, to stay on traditional Medicare. Mitt Romney’s Medicare plan does the same thing (Romney’s plan, such as it is, is basically a Cliff Notes version of the Ryan plan). In other words, under political pressure they embraced a public option. But since the plan still caps overall spending at GDP+.05, seniors would likely have to pay more and more out of their own pockets, likely thousands of dollars.

At this point, it’s good to remind ourselves that Medicare does a far better job of controlling costs than private insurance does, partly because of the negotiating power it has and partly because it spends just a fraction of what private companies do on overhead (around 98 percent of Medicare’s costs go to paying for care, while private companies often spend 20 percent or more of their costs on administration, marketing, underwriting, and so on). Yet Republican philosophy tells us that no matter what the facts say, this is just impossible. A government program can’t possibly be cheaper and more efficient (and deliver service that its customers love, by the way) than a private sector alternative. So if we introduce private competition, then costs will of course come down.

But there isn’t much reason to believe they will, which means seniors will be left holding the bag, and most importantly, lose the security they have now. Anyhow, to return to the question we started with: Is it fair for the Obama campaign to charge that Mitt Romney wants to end Medicare as we know it? If you define “Medicare as we know it” as an insurance program that provides affordable, efficient, and most importantly secure health coverage for every American senior, then the answer is clearly yes.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 20, 2012

July 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“At The Altar Of International Finance”: Romney “Goes For The Gold” In London’s Libor Village

In fairness to Mitt Romney, he did not schedule his $75,000-a-plate money grab at the altar of international finance when he heard that—via the Libor bank-rate scandal—Londoners were practicing his kind of crony capitalism.

Even before the Bain capitalist knew that bankers in London were lying to regulators and fixing interest rates in order to run up their profits—engaging in activities that the governor of the Bank of England said “meet my definition of fraud”—Romney was excited about getting a piece of the London bankster action.

But Romney campaign has has gone to Olympian lengths to make their candidate’s British sojourn seem to be about something other than the looting of London.

The Republican presidential contender’s international fundraising operation—and, yes, he does have an international fundraising operation—scheduled two major events to coincide with the opening of the Olympic Games. As a candidate who is having trouble touting his business experience (Bain Vulture Capital) and his governing experience (RomneyCare), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee calculated that it might be a good idea to take a trip across the pond to highlight his (somewhat less controversial) management of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Olympics are being held this year in east London, just beyond the fabled “City” precincts which are, along with New York’s Wall Street, the nerve center of global banking and financial dealmaking. And Romney is using his London sojourn to skim off some cash—make that a lot of cash—for his campaign accounts.

Or, as London’s Independent headlines the story: “Romney Goes for the Gold in London.”

Romney Victory Inc., the incredibly complex fundraising structure the candidate has developed to funnel money into his many campaign operations, has scheduled two London events for July 26:

1. A meet-and-greet where the price of admission is $2,500 per person.

2. A dinner where the places at the tables go for as much as $75,000 per person.

Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have raised money overseas from American expatriates (who, along with Green Card holders, are allowed to donate to US campaigns even if they do not reside in the United States or work for US-based banks or corporations). Obama’s had the upper hand in the global fundraising race by a $3.1 million to $1.4 million margin. But that will change after Romney collects his London haul.

Why? Because Romney is getting together with with The City’s wealthiest, and most scandal-plagued, banksters.

Or, at least, most of them.

Bob Diamond, the former Barclay’s banking empire chief executive who was forced to resign after it was revealed that his bank manipulated the Libor (London InterBank Offered Rate) with false reports about interest rates, was supposed to be at the head of the table. But with his busy schedule of testimony before parliamentary committees and investigators of the biggest banking scandal in recent years, the American expatriate has been forced to absent himself from the festivities.

“Mr. Diamond decided to step aside as a co-host for the upcoming London reception to focus all his attention on Barclays,” the Romney camp announced. “We respect his decision.”

Why shouldn’t they? One of Diamond’s closest lieutenants at Barclays—which just paid $453 million in fines stemming from the Libor scandal—is still co-chairing Romney’s big-ticket event in London.

Barclay’s lobbyist Patrick Durkin’s name is right there at the top of the invite to “a private dinner with Governor Mitt Romney at a central London location.”

Also on the list of forty-seven co-chairs of Romney’s London fundraisers are the names of top players in other banks that have been targets of the interest-rate manipulation scandal, including:

* Bank of Credit Suisse chief executive Eric Varvel (Varvel has already donated $100,000 to Romney’s “Restore Our Future” Super PAC.)

* Deutsche Bank managing director Raj Bhattacharyya

* HSBC managing director Whitfield Hines

Executives from Goldman Sachs, Blackstone and Wells Fargo Securities—and, of course, Bain Capital Europe—are also on the list.

Why would these Americans associated with international banks be giving maximum money to this particular presidential candidate? Gee, could it have anything to do with the fact that there are calls for criminal prosecution of the bankers who were involved in interest rate manipulations that effectively rigged the rates that helped to determine who consumers in the United States and other countries obtained mortgages and paid on credit cards?

“Much more needs to be done,” Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed( D-RI) and ten of their colleagues wrote in a mid-July letter to financial regulators and Attorney General Eric Holder. “Banks and their employees found to have broken the law should face appropriate criminal prosecution and civil action.”

Electing a friendly president, who might put the brakes on those prosecutions, just became a very high priority for the men who pull the financial strings not just on Wall Street but in London.

Approached by Britain’s Telegraph, one invitee hailed Romney’s “American understanding of capitalism. A prominent lawyer who will be attending one of Romney’s London bashes explained that the Republican candidate understands “very important things [that] people here in the UK also understand.”

That sort of “understanding” is worth a lot to embattled bankers. Certainly, the $75,000 it will cost for what the Independent describes as a “chance to whisper some of their own policy preferences into the ear of the man who may—or may not—be US president.”

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, July 20, 2012

July 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mourning and Mulling”: We Can’t Keep Digging Graves Where Common Ground Should Be

America is aching.

There are some events that we never grow numb to, things that weigh heavily on our sense of humanity and national psyche.

Early Friday morning, 24-year-old James Holmes, masked and armed, entered a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire. After things settled, at least 12 people were dead and 59 were left wounded.

It is on days like this that we are reminded of how much more alike than different we are, when we see that tears have no color, when ideologies melt into a common heart broken by sorrow.

But it is also on days like this that the questions invariably come.

They are questions about the shooter. How deep must the hole have been in his life? How untenable was the ache? How cold must the heart have grown? When did he cross the line from malcontent to monster?

But there are also questions for us as a country and as a people. We are called to question our values and our laws, and those obviously include our gun laws.

My own feelings on the matter are complicated.

I grew up in a small town in northern Louisiana — in the sticks. Everyone there seemed to own guns, even the children. My brothers slept beneath a gun rack that hung over their bed. Women carried handguns for protection. Even now, my oldest brother is an amateur gun dealer, buying and selling guns at his local gun shows.

There are parts of America where guns are simply part of the culture, either for hunting and keeping the vermin out of the garden (there are more humane methods of doing this, of course, but some people simply have their ways), or for collecting. (According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans have a gun in their home.)

But, as a child, I also saw how guns could be used in a fit of anger or after a few swigs of liquor. And I have seen the damage they do to the fabric of society in big cities where criminals and cowards alike use them to settle disputes and even scores.

While I hesitate to issue blanket condemnations about gun ownership — my upbringing simply doesn’t support that — common sense would seem to dictate that it is prudent and wise to consider the place of guns in modern societies. It has been some time since we have needed to raise a militia, but senseless violence is all too common. The right to bear arms is constitutional, but the right to be safe even if you don’t bear arms would seem universal. We must ask ourselves the hard question: Can both rights be equally protected and how can they best be balanced?

As Howard Steven Friedman, a statistician and health economist for the United Nations, wrote for The Huffington Post in April:

“America’s homicide rates, incarceration rates and gun ownership rates are all much higher than other wealthy countries. While the data associated with crime is imperfect, these facts all point to the idea that America is more violent than many other wealthy countries.” This is not the way in which we should seek to excel.

There are whole swaths of gun owners who don’t use their guns in a criminal way. But many of the people who use guns to commit murder are also law-abiding until they’re not. (Holmes’s only previous brush with the law seems to have been a 2011 traffic summons.) We shouldn’t simply wait for the bodies to fall to separate the wheat from the chaff.

One step in the right direction would be to reinstate the assault weapons ban. Even coming from a gun culture, I cannot rationalize the sale of assault weapons to everyday citizens. (The Washington Post reported that Holmes had a shotgun, two pistols and an AR-15 assault rifle, all legally purchased.)

But this will be an uphill battle because the National Rifle Association has been extremely effective at promoting its agenda and sowing fears that gun rights are in jeopardy even when they are not. Much of that campaign has been aimed at painting President Obama as an enemy of the Second Amendment, and it has been exceedingly successful.

That 2011 Gallup poll, in a reversal from previous polls, found that most people are now against an assault weapons ban. (In general, the desire for stricter gun control laws has been falling for the last two decades.)

We simply have to take some reasonable steps toward making sure that all our citizens are kept safer — those with guns and those without.

We can’t keep digging graves where common ground should be.

 

By: Charles Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 20, 2012

 

July 21, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Talk About Guns”: Why New Gun Control Is Not Likely To Follow Tragedy

Before the sun had even risen in Aurora, Colo., the shooting there last night had reignited the debate over gun control, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the country’s most outspoken advocates of gun regulations, demanding action. While it may seem a bit crass to turn to politics so soon, it is worth asking how this could happen less than 30 minutes away from Littleton, the Colorado town where the 1999 Columbine high school massacre left a lasting scar on the state and the country for years.

While the emotional damage from Columbine may linger, its policy effects did not. After the school shooting, the state legislature, like many across the country, pushed a flight of bills aimed at making it more difficult for kids to get hold of guns. Lawmakers sought to close the “gun show loophole,” which allows people who buy guns at conventions, instead of brick-and-mortar retailers, to avoid a background check. They also aimed for a law requiring guns to be stored with trigger locks or in safes at home, and tried to increase the age someone could buy a handgun from 18 to 21.

But a year later, almost all of these bills had been shot down thanks to effective lobbying from the NRA and other gun groups. The only laws that passed were token ones the gun lobby supported, like allowing police to arrest people who knowingly purchased guns for criminals. The NRA spent $16,950 in January of 2000 alone fighting gun laws. “[It’s a] tremendous amount of money,” Pete Maysmith of Colorado Common Cause, a government watchdog group, told CBS News in February of that year. “$16,000 in one month going into the Colorado Legislature — it’s a financial arms race.”

More than a decade after Columbine, gun laws across the country are more lax than ever. Opponents of gun control say legislation wouldn’t have prevented the Columbine massacre or any other major shooting, which may be true to varying degrees, depending on the shooting. Early reports indicate the suspect in last night’s theater shooting had an AK-47-type weapon, some variants of which were outlawed under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. That law was signed by President Clinton in 1994 but expired 10 years later and is not likely to be reauthorized.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, writes today, “If history is any guide, however, the Aurora shootings will do little to change public sentiment regarding gun control, which has been moving away from putting more laws on the books for some time.” Indeed, the experience after the Columbine shooting shows he may be right.

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, July 20, 2012

July 21, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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