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“Guns, A Primer”: A Brief Compendium On The Instruments That Are Killing Our Children

With gun safety at the center of public debate, it’s understandable that gun-related terminology is flying fast from all directions. So here’s a brief compendium of some basics about guns, ammo, and potential areas of regulation.

One quick item: A bullet is the slug that actually moves down the barrel, comes out the end, and delivers a godawful mess of kinetic force to whatever it hits. The shiny brass thing that contains the bullet, the explosives that drive the bullet, and the mechanism that sets it off is a cartridge, or “shell.” For convenience sake, I’m sometimes going to say “bullet” when talking about the whole cartridge. Purists beware.

Automatic, Semi-Automatic and Other
The bit of information most likely to be mangled in any reporting on a mass shooting involves the action of a gun. That is, once the gun has been fired, what action does it take to make it fire again?

Many older guns require manual intervention to eject the spent cartridge, load a fresh cartridge, and make the gun ready for firing. Rifles, including military rifles made before the 1950s, are often bolt-action. They work by pulling back on small handle that’s attached to a long “bolt.” The gun fires, the shooter raises and pulls back the handle, causing the old cartridge to eject, he then shoves the handle forward to bring a new cartridge into place and brings the handle down for firing. A skilled operator can do all this very quickly. Likewise, many shotguns use a pump action. You’ve probably seen this in movies where Our Hero is going up against a vampire, terminator, or similarly tough beast. Pulling back the handgrip sends a spent shell flying, while pulling it forward again readies the gun for a new shot. It also makes a very cinematic series of clicks.

Automatic and semi-automatic weapons don’t require help in tossing out the old shell and loading up the new. They get their energy from the firing of the cartridge, capturing the energy or gases of the spent shell to bring the next cartridge into position. The difference between a fully automatic weapon and one that’s semi-automatic is simple: A fully automatic weapon begins firing when the trigger is pulled and keeps firing until you let off the trigger (or run out of bullets), a semi-automatic weapon fires once for each pull of the trigger.

How quickly you can fire a semi-automatic weapon depends partly on the design of the gun, partly on the speed of your reactions. Most of the time, the answer is Very Damn Fast. As in multiple shots in a second. That’s unlikely in a real-world situation, but with a semi-automatic the next shot is there when you’re ready. How fast you can move your finger is generally the biggest limiting factor.

Fully automatic weapons (which most people tend to think of as “machine guns”, though the Army reserves that term for larger weapons) are not legal for private citizens in most cases. You may see fully automatic weapons available to test at a gun range, or in use at special events. But you will rarely see one at all. None of the mass shootings in the United States within recent decades has involved a fully automatic weapon. They are regulated, and that regulation appears to be working.

Semi-automatic weapons are extremely common. Yes, these weapons have been used in many mass shootings, but they are also an increasingly popular type of rifle for hunting. Semi-automatics have also become a very popular form of shotgun. And of handgun (revolvers are not semi-automatic because the mechanical motion of the trigger positions the next shot).

Some semi-automatic weapons are based directly off fully automatic military models. These guns may have cosmetic differences with their military relatives, but in the same way that a Cadillac and a Chevy may be the same under the sheet metal, they share the same bones as the military guns. They are not fully automatic, and (for the last couple of decades, at least) it has been extremely difficult to convert them to become fully automatic. However, these weapons share many other characteristics with their military cousins. In the United States, there are many variations on a rifle called the AR-15, which is a semi-automatic version of the military M16. Many variations as in dozens, from several different manufacturers. And the AR-15 is just one category. There are semi-automatics that descend from the ever popular AK-47, the Chinese QBZ-95 and several more. These weapons are often able to accept accessories that were originally designed for the military version, or to accept modified versions of those accessories. This includes tripods, extended magazines, laser sights, night vision scopes, and all manner of ridiculous extras that those fearing the looming economic / racial / zombie apocalypse can bolt on to make their guns look meaner and kill more readily. It’s these military-derived semi-automatic rifles that are most commonly called “Assault Rifles.”

What can we do here? Eliminating or restricting all semi-automatic weapons may seem like the most obvious choice, but it would also be extremely unpopular with hunters, with target shooters, and with gun owners in general. These days, semi-automatic isn’t just the first thought of anyone going in to buy a rifle or shotgun, it’s almost the only thought. Legislation aimed at all semi-automatic weapons would be difficult to pass, no matter how strong the political tailwind. What can be passed is severe restrictions on semi-automatic weapons based off military models. Nearly half the killers involved in mass shootings over the last 30 years have carried assault rifles. They should be the clear target of any legislation.

The weapon carried in most mass shootings? Semi-automatic handguns. Often more than one. Banning those would be a much tougher fight.


Any story involving guns is sure to bring with it a set of strange numbers: .223, 9mm, 12 gauge, etc. These numbers represent the caliber of the weapon. In simplest terms, it’s the diameter of the bullet the weapon fires.

There are three common systems for measuring caliber. When you see someone talking about a .223 or a .44, the caliber is in inches. A .22 rifle fires a bullet that’s 0.22 inches in diameter. 9mm or 10mm is just what it sounds like—a gun chambered to fire a bullet 9mm or 10mm in diameter. If you remember your metric conversions, you can do the metal gymnastics to swap them around. A .44 caliber bullet is a bit larger than a 10mm. A .357 and a 9mm are close enough that some guns will fire either size.

If you see the term “gauge,” you know the weapon in question is a shotgun. Shotguns can fire a single bullet (usually called a “rifled slug”) but most of the time a shotgun fires a number of small metal pellets. Shotgun gauge is … complicated and the numbers we commonly use mix up two different ways of calculating the size. Just remember that in general, the smaller the number, the larger the shotgun diameter. So a 12 gauge is bigger than a 20 gauge, and a 20 is bigger than a .410. Those three are the only shotgun sizes you’re likely to encounter, so it’s not too hard to keep straight.

As you might expect, if all things are equal, a larger bullet carries much more impact. However, all things are almost never equal. Speed, bullet design, cartridge design, the type of gun used, they all make a big difference.

Take a look at the picture again.

The first three cartridges on the left contain bullets sized at 9 mm, .40 and .45. All are designed for handguns, and all of them deliver devastating impact. Next to them is a 5.7mm. Compared to the big lugs on the left, the 5.7 (the skinny, pointy one) might seem like a pipsqueak, but that long cartridge below the small bullet helps to give it a very high velocity. It’s a bullet that was specifically designed as a military anti-personnel round, designed to offer more “terminal performance” than the 9mm round it replaced. That’s military speak for “more likely to kill whoever it hits.” The 5.72 round is also designed to penetrate body armor. It’s used in militaries around the world, and by the U. S. Secret Service. It’s also available at your local store.

When it comes to bullets, there is no “safe” caliber, and smaller does not always mean less deadly. There are bullets designed to tumble so that they rip paths through flesh, bullets designed to shatter on impact, bullets that can cut not just through body armor, but through walls. High penetrating rounds, made from hardened metals, don’t only pass through walls or windshields, they also pass through people, so that one bullet can strike more than one victim. In addition to terminal performance, you’ll also see terms like ballistic trauma and hydrostatic shock. They’re all measures of a bullet’s ability to royally f*ck you up in different ways.

Cartridges designed for a rifle have the same range of variability. The smaller of the two rifle cartridges above is a 5.56mm while the larger is .30 caliber. In fact, it’s not just a .30 caliber, but a .30 caliber magnum meaning that the cartridge is proportionally larger than a standard .30 caliber and delivers more oomph. Cartridges of this size were used by many World War II era military weapons, and variants on the .30 are popular today with hunters. A modern .30-06 cartridge used in big game hunting actually delivers around 3,000 ft-lbs of energy, allowing hunters to take down a large animal at 300 yards or more.

Back to that little 5.56mm. It looks kind of puny next to the .30. Did I mention that it’s also called a .223? That’s the cartridge that’s fired by the M16, AR-15 and the Bushmaster rifle used to such horrible effect at Sandy Hook Elementary. Where the .30 is a WWII era military round, this is a modern cartridge. The 5.56 is NATO’s combat round. It’s designed to penetrate deep into soft tissue. It delivers high hydrostatic shock causing damage even in parts of the body not struck by the bullet. The .223 Remington cartridge (which is likely what was used on the victims at Sandy Hook) actually delivers almost exactly the same amount of energy to target as a big .30 magnum and can be used in hunting, but a lot of hunters don’t like it. It’s unreliable an inaccurate at long range, and at short range it tends to tear things up. (Note: in comments, several people have defended the .223 as being a better round for hunting in brush).

What can we do here? Regulating ammunition by type would by no means be a cut and dried approach. Just cutting out bullets above or below a certain size wouldn’t really work, and targeting specific cartridges would lead to a kind of whack-a-mole effort as new variants appeared.  But it should be possible to restrict cartridges that are designed to penetrate body armor, those using hardened materials (like the so-called “cop-killer” bullets) and those pistol bullets designed to fragment on impact.

Magazines & Clips
While bolt and pump action guns generally store their ammunition directly in a chamber inside the gun, automatic and semi-automatic weapons use magazines or clips. These can be small and completely contained within the body of the gun (the clips of many semi-automatic pistols hide within the gun’s grip) or they may curve down, up, or sideways to allow for higher capacity. The basic purpose of magazines is to allow for extended capacity and rapid reloading. On many guns, the magazine can be released quickly, and a new magazine put into place. A skilled user can switch magazines in a matter of seconds.

Many pistols have standard clips that contain between 10 and 15 cartridges. Semiautomatic rifles are more typically sold with larger magazines. The AR-15, one of the most common platforms, most often comes with a box magazine holding either 20 or 30 cartridges arrayed in column that curves down and slightly forward. Optional box magazines hold 40-50 cartridges.

However, this is just the start. Both drum and STANAG (a NATO design) magazines are available with capacities of 90-100 cartridges. These large magazines often make the weapon un-wieldy, but the STANAG variety are more compact than the older drums.

This is a Bushmaster Adaptive Combat Rifle equipped with an extended capacity STANAG magazine. Though it differs from what’s been in the news, I suspect this arrangement is similar to what students and teachers saw last week.

What can we do here? This is simple: Make the sale of extended magazines illegal. In fact, we should reduce the size of standard magazines. Magazines are already available that limit the capacity of AR-15 and other military-derived rifles to 5-10 cartridges. Make those mandatory at time of sale.

Net result if we can pass legislation that will restrict the sale of semi-automatic rifles based off fully-automatic military designs, limit the availability of bullets that are designed for high mortality, and strictly reduce the size of magazines that can be used with semi-automatic weapons we’ll have taken a good step. And this sensible step will not affect anyone’s ability to hunt or defend themselves.

By: Mark Sumner, Daily Kos, December 19, 2012

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Economics Of Gun Control”: Quantifying The External Costs Of Gun Ownership

After the school massacre in Newtown, everyone has been putting out proposals for how to reduce gun violence. President Obama created an inter-agency task force. The NRA asked for armed guards in every school. And now economists are weighing in with their own, number-heavy approaches.

First, here’s a recent paper (pdf) by Duke’s Philip Cook and Georgetown’s Jens Ludwig trying to quantify the “external cost” of gun ownership. The two economists wanted to figure out precisely what sorts of costs gun owners impose on the rest of society.

That’s not an easy question to answer. For starters, there aren’t even airtight estimates of how many people actually own guns in the United States. So Cook and Ludwig created a data set that used the number of suicides by firearm in a county as a proxy for gun ownership — and checked it against a variety of existing survey data.

The next step was to figure out the “social cost” of owning a gun. The two economists determined that a greater prevalence of guns in an area was associated with an increase in the murder rate, but not other types of violent crimes (guns, the authors argue, lead to “an intensification of criminal violence”). Why does this happen? One possibility: The two economists found evidence that if there are more legal guns in an area, it’s more likely that those guns will be transferred to “illegal” owners.

When the two economists added up the costs of gun ownership—more injuries and more homicides—and weighed them against various benefits, they concluded that the average household acquiring a gun imposed a net cost on the rest of society of somewhere between $100 to $1,800 per year. (The range depends on the assumptions used—and note that they are not including the increased risk of suicide that comes with owning a gun.)

Now, normally when economists come across a product that has a negative externality—like cigarettes or coal-fired plants—they recommend taxing or regulating it, so that the user of the product internalizes the costs that he or she is imposing on everyone else. In this case, an economist might suggest slapping a steeper tax on guns or bullets.

Others might object that this isn’t fair. There are responsible gun owners and irresponsible gun owners. Not everyone with a gun imposes the same costs on society. Why should the tax be uniform? And that brings us to John Wasik’s recent essay at Forbes. Instead of a tax on guns, he recommends that gun owners be required to purchase liability insurance. Different gun owners would pay different rates, depending on the risks involved:

When you buy a car, your insurer underwrites the risk according to your age, driving/arrest/ticket record, type of car, amount of use and other factors. A teenage driver behind the wheel of a Porsche is going to pay a lot more than a 50-year-old house wife. A driver with DUI convictions may not get insurance at all. Like vehicles, you should be required to have a policy before you even applied for a gun permit. Every seller would have to follow this rule before making a transaction.

This is where social economics goes beyond theory. Those most at risk to commit a gun crime would be known to the actuaries doing the research for insurers. They would be underwritten according to age, mental health, place of residence, credit/bankruptcy record and marital status. Keep in mind that insurance companies have mountains of data and know how to use it to price policies, or in industry parlance, to reduce the risk/loss ratio.

Who pays the least for gun insurance would be least likely to commit a crime with it.An 80-year-old married woman in Fort Lauderdale would get a great rate. A 20-year-old in inner-city Chicago wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Gun insurance for gun owners does exist right now, but it isn’t required — as Wasik notes, only 22 cities even require gun dealers to carry liability insurance. And, yes, under this proposal, people would no doubt still acquire guns illegally and evade the insurance requirements.

Granted, this proposal isn’t likely to garner much political support — even the Illinois state legislature, which has often looked favorably on gun-control laws, swatted a gun-insurance bill down pretty quickly in 2009. It might not get past the Supreme Court. And over at the Daily Beast, Megan McArdle outlines a number of other possible problems with having states require individual gun insurance. Still, it’s another way of thinking about the costs of gun ownership.


By: Brad Plummer, The Washington Post Wonkblog, December 28, 2012

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pig By Any Name Is Still A Pig”: Why Congress Cannot Operate Without The Bribing Power Of Earmarks

It seemed like a great victory at the time.

After years of federal taxpayer dollars being misappropriated to pay for pet projects in the districts of congressmen and senators looking to curry political favor with the voters back home, a moratorium was passed in 2011 ending the Congressional pork parade known as “earmarking”.

It appeared to make sense. Federal taxpayers had grown sick and tired of paying the bill for something like the construction and renovation of a botanical garden project in Brooklyn, New York when such a project, obviously, had nothing to do with core federal objectives, serving only to improve the re-election prospects of the Congresswoman who brought the money home to Brooklyn—along with the few Americans who spend their Saturday’s enjoying a picnic in the greatly improved botanical gardens at your expense and mine.

While the concept of earmarking—at the outset—had merit in that it compensated for the inability of the executive branch, who proposes the federal budget, to fully understand what might be rightfully required to achieve federal objectives in a state far away from the nation’s capital, earmarking quickly devolved into a system of vote-buying where a Member of Congress, reluctant to cast a vote for a particular piece of legislation, could be ‘persuaded’ to do so if enough pork was piled onto that Member’s plate in the effort to satisfy an important constituency at home.

Let’s face it—at a point, almost any elected official’s objection to a bill or judicial appointment will crumble when offered enough goodies to ensure endless re-election to office because the elected official is bringing home the bacon to the voters who hold his or her fate in their collective hands.

So, when the Senate and the House of Representatives agreed to end the earmarking process a few years ago, it certainly appeared to be a positive step in the direction of gaining a little control over wasteful government spending and a move towards bringing a bit of honestly to the process of government.

But what actually happened?

For starters, if you believe we have done away with the concept of earmarking money for special projects back home—thing again. The earmark moratorium has brought forward an even more insidious process called “lettermarking” where Congressional slush funds are created as tools for funding pet projects without even the limited accountability and public information that came with earmarking. While earmarks required publication of a pork project—along with the amount of taxpayer money being spent and identification of the elected official proposing the earmark—lettermarking allows for such expenditures without any identification of the project, sum and sponsoring legislator whatsoever.

Additionally, we now find that when an elected official is unsuccessful in convincing an agency of the executive branch to contribute money to a pet project, that official often turns to blackmailing the agency involved by threatening to cast a vote to deny some Administration objective. This is precisely what occurred when Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to block Obama administration appointments unless money was provided for a harbor dredging project in his home state.

But something even more insidious has followed the ban on earmarking—

Without the persuasive powers of the political ‘carrot’, congressional leaders and the President no longer have the ‘stick’ required to move Congress to get anything of significance accomplished.

The moratorium on earmarks went into existence in February 2011. Since that time we have seen some of the greatest legislative fails in the history of the nation, highlighted by the debt ceiling fiasco of 2011, the inability to pass a jobs bill, an ever-increasing vacancy rate in the federal judiciary as one nominee after another is shelved and, of course, the current fiscal cliff clunker that might be the most embarrassing and damaging display of congressional incompetence of all.

One cannot help but wonder if our current inability to legislate our way out of a paper bag might be different were party leaders and the President to, once again, be free to avail themselves of the one thing that could always win the hearts and minds of elected officials who care, first and foremost, for their own jobs—a healthy and legal bribe.

If the fiscal cliff fiasco has taught us anything, it is that our elected officials no longer even pretend to place the needs of the nation ahead of their own—to quote Mel Brooks—phony baloney jobs. Does anyone imagine that it is a coincidence that Speaker John Boehner has disappeared into the background in the final days of the fiscal cliff debate so as to avoid another misstep that might cost him the Speakership? Does anyone doubt that Boehner’s inability to deliver his own caucus’ support for his ill-conceived “Plan B” is the direct result of special interest groups—such as Club For Growth—whose political contributions are the life-blood that flows into the treasure chests of the more extreme elements of Boehner’s GOP caucus and remain the only carrot of any value when it comes to winning the affections of Congressional Members ?

Indeed, the only politician involved in this game of political chicken who appears to have a reason to actually put the public before politics would be the President—not because he is above playing the game, but because he no longer has to run for political office.

Accordingly, as we head into the new Congress and the expiration of the earmark moratorium, should we not be questioning whether the ban on earmarks has delivered the results that were intended? If Congress has already found a way around the ban—and is doing so by using a process that is even less transparent than what we previously had in place—maybe we would be better off simply accepting that our government only works when legalized, congressional bribery is allowed to more easily enter into the equation.

Cynical? Absolutely.

But how is it any more cynical than a political system that welcomes the bribery offered up by special interests in the guise of huge and often unlimited campaign contributions that benefit incumbents in exchange for their vote—particularly if the cost of earmarks to the taxpayer is far less than the cost to taxpayers when our legislators refuse to act, despite knowing that their inaction will cost our economy, and therefore our taxpayers, even more money?

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the cost of earmarks to taxpayers in 2010 totaled $15.9 billion dollars—a drop in the bucket when compared to the economic losses resulting from the failure of Congress to act rationally during the 2011 debt ceiling drama or what we stand to suffer if government cannot find a little courage as we hang over the edge of the fiscal cliff.

Accordingly, while returning to earmarks may mean a return to wasteful spending of taxpayer money on projects that bring no benefit to the nation as a whole, it could also mean saving even more money than is wasted by avoiding the financial setbacks that come with endless debt ceiling debacles and fiscal cliff fumbles.

Until we decide to completely remove the systematic rigging of elections to favor incumbents—which is precisely what earmarks seek to do as does the unlimited money that flows to incumbents from the myriad of special interests who call the shots in Washington—we may as well give in and allow the system to, at the least, function.

Conversely, if you are offended and troubled by earmarks—and you should be—you should be equally offended and troubled by the special interest groups that have taken their place. When incumbents cannot gain an advantage over challengers by bringing home the pork, they will go for the next best thing—enough campaign cash to allow them to outspend their challengers at election time.

To get rid of one without getting rid of the other makes no sense. At least earmarks produce legislation that might protect and create jobs for taxpayers while unlimited campaign money produces only jobs for elected officials themselves.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, December 29, 2012

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Elections, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The One And Only Cause Of “Fiscal Cliff” Economic Crisis: Republicans Fear Of Tea Party Primaries

Often, economic crises are caused by real physical problems – like draught, war, demography, or technological innovation that robs one economy of a competitive advantage over another.

Other times, economic crises result when asset bubbles burst, or financial markets collapse. That was the case of the Great Depression – and more recently the Great Recession.

The economic crisis of the moment – the “fiscal cliff” – does not result from any of these factors. In fact it is not a real “economic crisis” at all, except that it could inflict serious economic hardship on many Americans and could drive the economy back into recession.

The “fiscal cliff” is a politically manufactured crisis. It was original concocted by the Republican Senate Leader, Mitch McConnell as a way to get past the last crisis manufactured by the Republicans – the 2011 standoff over increasing the Federal Debt Ceiling.

Theoretically, “the cliff” – composed of increased taxes and huge, indiscriminant cuts in Federal programs – would be so frightening to policy makers that no one would ever consider allowing the nation to jump.

Now, America is on the brink of diving off the cliff for one and only one reason: many House Republicans are terrified of primary challenges from the Tea Party right.

That’s right, if your tax bill goes up $2,200 a year, or you’re one of the millions who would stop receiving unemployment benefits, the cause of your economic pain is not some a natural disaster, or a major structural flaw in the economy. The cause is Republican fear of being beaten in a primary by people like Sarah Palin, Sharon Angel or Richard Mourdock – funded by far Right Wing oligarchs like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers. It’s that simple.

Most normal Americans will have very little patience with Republicans as they begin to realize that GOP Members of Congress are willing to risk throwing the country back into a recession because they are worried about being beaten in low turn out primaries by people who do a better job than they do appealing to the extreme right fringe of the American electorate – and to the far Right plutocrats that are all too willing to stoke right wing passion and anger.

Nate Silver, of the New York Time’s, argues in a recent column that one of the reasons for this phenomenon is the increasing polarization of the American electorate. That polarization translates in to fewer truly “swing” Congressional seats and an increasing number where Members are more concerned with primary challenges than they are with losing in a general election. He concludes that at this moment the number of solidly Republican seats is larger the number of solidly Democratic seats.

This, he argues is partially a result of redistricting by Republican legislatures that packed Democrats into a limited number of districts in many states. But he also contends it results from increasing polarization of the electorate in general. And it is due to the fact that solidly Democratic urban areas have very high concentrations of Democrats, where Republican performing areas tend to have relatively lower concentrations of Republicans. These reasons help explain why, even though Democrats got more votes in House races this cycle than Republicans, Republicans still have more seats in the House.

Increased political polarization in the United States is not a result of some accident or act of God. In 2006, political scientists Nolan McCarty, Kevin T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal published a study of political polarization called Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. Their study found that there is a direct relationship between economic inequality and polarization in American politics.

They measured political polarization in congressional votes over the last century, and found a direct correlation with the percentage of income received by the top 1% of the electorate. It is no accident that the years following the second World War, a period of low political polarization, was also a period that economist Paul Krugman refers to as the “great compression” — with robust economic growth for most Americans and reducing levels of economic inequality. In other words, it turns out that if you want less political polarization, the best medicine is reducing income inequality.

Of course, one of the other major factors feeding the GOP fear of primaries is that, because of the Citizens United decision, far right plutocrats can now inject virtually unlimited amounts of money into primary races. Unlimited independent expenditures have so far been much more successful in unseating incumbent Republican Members of Congress than it has been winning General Elections.

In the end, of course the relatively more diluted presence of Republicans in Republican districts – and the country’s changing demographics — may allow Democrats to win many currently Republican seats. What’s more, Republican near term concern about primary challenges – and the stridency it breeds — may alienate increasing numbers of moderate Republican leading independents. We’ve already seen this effect in the Presidential and Senate races and it would not be surprising that by 2014 many of the primary obsessed Republican incumbents are hoisted on their own petard in the General Election. Just ask Tea Party Members of Congress who were defeated in 2012, like Alan West and Joe Walsh. But in the near term, at least, there is also no question that many occupants of Republican seats appear far more concerned with primary challenges than they are with general elections.

If House Speaker Boehner is to be successful passing any form of compromise to avoid the “fiscal cliff” – either before the end of the year or after – he will need to convince Republican Members of the House that he is doing them a favor by bringing a bill the floor that can pass even with many Republicans voting no. That, of course requires that the deal is good enough to allow many Democrats to vote yes.

Boehner will get political cover for that kind of maneuver if a bill passes out of the Senate with bi-partisan support. But even then, he will certainly weigh whether he risks his otherwise certain re-election as Speaker on January 3rd if he acts before the country goes over the cliff at midnight, December 31.

Of course the many Republicans that will never support any form of tax compromise don’t justify their position by explaining they are more concerned with primaries than they are of general elections. In fact they generally fall back on one of three myths that are themselves utter nonsense.

Myth #1 – You shouldn’t tax the wealthy because they are “job creators”. The plain fact is that no one invests money in any business if they do not think there are customers with money in their pockets to buy the products or services they produce.

Customers with money in their pockets are “job creators” – and the root of our current economic problems can be traced directly to the fact that everyday consumers are receiving a smaller and smaller percentage of the national economic pie and as a result have less ability to to buy the increasing number of products and services our economy can create. In fact, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government started keeping records in 1947. And corporate profits have climbed to their highest levels since the 1960’s.

Over the last two decades, per capita Gross Domestic Product has gone up; productivity per hour of work has gone up; but the median income of ordinary Americans has remained stagnant. That is only possible because all of the growth in our economy has been siphoned off by the top 2% of the population.

And it has meant that everyday people haven’t had the money in their pockets to buy the increased numbers of goods and services that are the consequence of that increased productivity. Stagnation and slow economic growth has been the result.

Henry Ford had this right. For the economy to grow over time, workers need to be paid enough to buy the products they produce.

If you want the economy to grow, the fruits of economic growth must be spread equally throughout the economy – if not consumers won’t have the money to buy and, as a consequence, investors won’t invest.

Higher taxes on the wealthy – including higher estate taxes on fortunes left to the sons and daughters of multi-millionaires – are not “bad” for the economy – just the opposite. They help address the economic inequality that is the core problem in our economy.

Myth #2 – Our biggest problem is the federal deficit. This is just flat wrong. It is the economic equivalent of the medieval view that you should “bleed” patients when they are sick.

We have learned from centuries of economic history, that when an economy is recovering from a recession, the right medicine for sluggish economic demand is more fiscal stimulus – and in the short run that does not mean lower deficits.

More economic stimulus, of the type that the President proposed in the American Jobs Act over a year ago, puts money in people’s pockets who can then spend it on more products and stimulate more investment. Austerity and reducing national debt will yield the same outcome we have recently seen in Europe – another recession. And that is exactly what the deficit hawks are likely to get if America slides of the fiscal cliff and stays there.

Right Wing deficit hawks are fond of warning that if we don’t cut the deficit, the country could turn into Greece – or some other European country that can’t pay it’s bills. They ignore the fact that right now U.S. Treasury Bonds are considered the safest investments in the world, and interest rates are at a record low. They also ignore the fact that, unlike the Europeans, the American Federal Reserve can monetize the federal debt and assure that U.S. bond holders are always paid — unless, of course, the Republicans refuse to pay the debts that we owe, which would be like committing economic Hara-Kiri.

In fact, the quickest way for America to become like Europe is a precipitous reduction of the federal spending. Ask the Brits how that worked out.

Finally, of course, let’s remember that the way to reduce the deficit is not an inscrutable mystery. When Democrat Bill Clinton was President he did it, just a few short years ago. The recipe for success involved two factors: increasing revenue, especially from the wealthy, and growing the economy.

Today we would have to add, the need to control the spiraling increase in health care costs. While ObamaCare will make big steps in that direction, much more will be needed. Shifting costs to seniors and other consumers by cutting Medicare or Medicaid benefits is not controlling health care costs – it is simply shifting them from government to individuals. And what is needed is not more de-regulation of for-profit health care companies. In fact we ultimately need to follow the model of the Canadians – and most of the other industrial nations in the world – and provide a universal Medicare coverage to all Americans. Our system of private health insurance is simply too expensive. Americans, after all, pay 40% more than any other country per capita for health care and have outcomes that rank only 37th in the world.

Myth #3 – Government is always bad and- as Grover Norquist argues – must be shrunk so it can be drowned in a bathtub.

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that while Republicans talk about small government, they inevitably expand it when they control the White House – mostly in the form of larger military budgets.

Government, as Congressman Barney Frank says, is the name we give to the things we choose to do together–and that includes many of the most important things we do in our economy. From fire and police protection to providing free public education and health care for all, to building public infrastructure, to creating the Internet – government does a better, more efficient, more equitable job in many economic arenas than the private sector.

To hear the Republicans talk you wouldn’t know it, but right now taxes are at their lowest levels since 1958.

Right now in America we need more government – more education, more roads and bridges, more mass transportation, more cancer research, more health care, more nutrition programs, more drug education and treatment – not less. More government shouldn’t mean more regulation of our freedom – it should mean that when we co-operate together we have the ability to achieve more than if everyone is left to sink or swim. Government action is necessary to provide the foundation from which each person can individually excel.

The question of the type of society we want in America was squarely on the ballot in the election last November, and voters overwhelming voted for a society where we have each other’s back – where we’re all in this together, not all in this alone.

Progressives need to make all of these arguments to win the battle for the future. But let’s remember that the unwillingness of most Republicans to compromise to avoid the “fiscal cliff” – or anything else – has less to do with their commitment to their ultra right principles than to the protection of their own political hides.

That being the case, there are only two ways to convince Republicans to compromise. One is to demonstrate that their obsession with primary challenges from the right will ultimately lead them to defeat in General Elections. The second is to defeat them so badly in the next General Election that they no longer have the power to impose the will of an extremist minority on the people of the United States.


By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, December 29, 2012

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Deficits | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Silencing The Science”: How The Gun Lobby Shut Down Gun Violence Research

On December 14, a 20-year-old Connecticut man shot and killed his mother in the home they shared. Then, armed with 3 of his mother’s guns, he shot his way into a nearby school, where he killed 6 additional adults and 20 first-grade children. Most of those who died were shot repeatedly at close range. Soon thereafter, the killer shot himself. This ended the carnage but greatly diminished the prospects that anyone will ever know why he chose to commit such horrible acts.

In body count, this incident in Newtown ranks second among US mass shootings. It follows recent mass shootings in a shopping mall in Oregon, a movie theater in Colorado, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and a business in Minnesota. These join a growing list of mass killings in such varied places as a high school, a college campus, a congressional constituent meeting, a day trader’s offices, and a military base. But because this time the killer’s target was an elementary school, and many of his victims were young children, this incident shook a nation some thought was inured to gun violence.

As shock and grief give way to anger, the urge to act is powerful. But beyond helping the survivors deal with their grief and consequences of this horror, what can the medical and public health community do? What actions can the nation take to prevent more such acts from happening, or at least limit their severity? More broadly, what can be done to reduce the number of US residents who die each year from firearms, currently more than 31 000 annually?1

The answers are undoubtedly complex and at this point, only partly known. For gun violence, particularly mass killings such as that in Newtown, to occur, intent and means must converge at a particular time and place. Decades of research have been devoted to understanding the factors that lead some people to commit violence against themselves or others. Substantially less has been done to understand how easy access to firearms mitigates or amplifies both the likelihood and consequences of these acts.

For example, background checks have an effect on inappropriate procurement of guns from licensed dealers, but private gun sales require no background check. Laws mandating a minimum age for gun ownership reduce gun fatalities, but firearms still pass easily from legal owners to juveniles and other legally proscribed individuals, such as felons or persons with mental illness. Because ready access to guns in the home increases, rather than reduces, a family’s risk of homicide in the home, safe storage of guns might save lives.2 Nevertheless, many gun owners, including gun-owning parents, still keep at least one firearm loaded and readily available for self-defense.3

The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997. But in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year. Funding was restored in joint conference committee, but the money was earmarked for traumatic brain injury. The effect was sharply reduced support for firearm injury research.

To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the following language was added to the final appropriation: “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”4

Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up. Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDC’s website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-related violence.

When other agencies funded high-quality research, similar action was taken. In 2009, Branas et al5 published the results of a case-control study that examined whether carrying a gun increases or decreases the risk of firearm assault. In contrast to earlier research, this particular study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Two years later, Congress extended the restrictive language it had previously applied to the CDC to all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.6

These are not the only efforts to keep important health information from the public and patients. For example, in 1997, Cummings et al7 used state-level data from Washington to study the association between purchase of a handgun and the subsequent risk of homicide or suicide. Similar studies could not be conducted today because Washington State’s firearm registration files are no longer accessible.8

In 2011, Florida’s legislature passed and Governor Scott signed HB 155, which subjects the state’s health care practitioners to possible sanctions, including loss of license, if they discuss or record information about firearm safety that a medical board later determines was not “relevant” or was “unnecessarily harassing.” A US district judge has since issued a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of this law, but the matter is still in litigation. Similar bills have been proposed in 7 other states.

The US military is grappling with an increase in suicides within its ranks. Earlier this month, an article by 2 retired generals—a former chief and a vice chief of staff of the US Army— asked Congress to lift a little-noticed provision in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that prevents military commanders and noncommissioned officers from being able to talk to service members about their private weapons, even in cases in which a leader believes that a service member may be suicidal.9

Health researchers are ethically bound to conduct, analyze, and report studies as objectively as possible and communicate the findings in a transparent manner. Policy makers, health care practitioners, and the public have the final decision regarding whether they will accept, much less act on, those data. Criticizing research is fair game; suppressing research by targeting its sources of funding is not.

Efforts to place legal restrictions on what physicians and other health care practitioners can and cannot say to their patients crosses an even more important line. Yet this is precisely what Florida and some other states are seeking to do. Physicians may disagree on many issues, including the pros and cons of gun control, but are united in opposing government efforts to undermine the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship, as defined by the Hippocratic oath. While it is reasonable to acknowledge and accept the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the meaning of the Second Amendment, it is just as important to uphold physicians’ First Amendment rights.

Injury prevention research can have real and lasting effects. Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans dying in motor vehicle crashes has decreased by 31%.1 Deaths from fires and drowning have been reduced even more, by 38% and 52%, respectively.1 This progress was achieved without banning automobiles, swimming pools, or matches. Instead, it came from translating research findings into effective interventions.

Given the chance, could researchers achieve similar progress with firearm violence? It will not be possible to find out unless Congress rescinds its moratorium on firearm injury prevention research. Since Congress took this action in 1997, at least 427 000 people have died of gunshot wounds in the United States, including more than 165 000 who were victims of homicide.1 To put these numbers in context, during the same time period, 4586 Americans lost their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.10

The United States has long relied on public health science to improve the safety, health, and lives of its citizens. Perhaps the same straightforward, problem-solving approach that worked well in other circumstances can help the nation meet the challenge of firearm violence. Otherwise, the heartache that the nation and perhaps the world is feeling over the senseless gun violence in Newtown will likely be repeated, again and again.


By: Arthur L. Kellerman, MD, MPH and Frederick P. Rivara, MD, MPH, The Journal of The American Medical Association, December 21, 2012

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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