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“Freedom To Live In Fear”: One Wonders How Much More Of This “Freedom” We Can Take

“Everybody got a pistol. This must really please the NRA” — from “Gun” by Gil Scott-Heron

So maybe the NRA is about to get its wish.

Here we are, a little over three weeks after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, CT, a little over two weeks after the National Rifle Association said there should henceforth be armed guards at every school, and at least one school system, Marlboro Township in New Jersey, is taking its advice. Under a 90-day pilot program in partnership with local police, students who returned to school last week found their campuses patrolled by armed officers.

But here’s the thing. If this is truly a good idea — “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre in a news conference — then why stop there? After all, it is not just our schools that are being shot up. So let us follow this advice to its logical end.

Consider:

Four firefighters in upstate New York were shot, two of them killed, on Christmas Eve when they responded to a call and were ambushed by a man with a semiautomatic rifle. So we should have armed guards on all our fire trucks.

Two customers were killed two days before Christmas when armed men opened fire with semiautomatic handguns inside a grocery store in Delray Beach, FL. So we should have armed guards at all our grocery stores.

Two people were killed and one injured on Dec. 11 by a gunman who started shooting at a shopping mall near Portland, OR. So we should have armed guards at all our shopping malls.

Two people were killed and two others injured Nov. 6 when an employee started shooting inside a chicken-processing plant in Fresno, CA. So we should have armed guards at all our chicken-processing plants.

One man was killed and five others wounded in a shooting at a New Year’s Eve party in a private residence in Lakewood, CA. So we should have armed guards at all our private residences.

One man was killed, a pregnant woman and her unborn child wounded, in a Dec. 9 drive-by shooting on a street corner in Miami. So we should have armed guards on every street corner.

That list, by the way, represents only a random sampling of recent shootings, most so run-of-the-mill, so plain-vanilla ordinary, they didn’t even make news outside their local areas, which should give you an idea of how common gunfire in this country is. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, nearly 98,000 of us are shot each year, a figure that includes law enforcement activity. That’s nearly 268 a day, 11 every hour.

By the reasoning of the NRA, you do not address that sad state of affairs by crafting laws that strive to balance the rights of responsible gun owners with the need to block the irresponsible, the dangerous, the criminal-minded, the unhinged, from access to these WMDs. No, by the NRA’s reasoning, the solution to too many guns is more guns still.

The organization frames this as a defense of freedom. To which the best rejoinder is provided by Gil Scott-Heron in the song quoted above: “Freedom to be afraid is all you won.”

It is a trenchant observation. Just the other day, two seventh-graders in Tillamook, OR. found a handgun, with a round in the chamber and the safety off, on the floor in a movie theater. It had apparently slipped out of the holster of one Gary Warren Quackenbush, 61, who said he felt the need for protection as he watched The Hobbit.

Quackenbush reportedly feared someone might shoot up the place — as happened in Aurora,CO, last July during a Batman movie. So add movie theaters to the list of places we should have armed guards. We are a people shot through with fear, a nation under the gun.

And one wonders how much more of this “freedom” we can take.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, The National Memo, January 7, 2013

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Most Antagonistic Toward Israel?”:That Would Be Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary, Something Lindsey Graham Should Know

When Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned on national television over the weekend that Chuck Hagel “would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history,” either his memory served him very poorly — or he was simply lying to smear his former Senate colleague. For whatever Hagel’s perspective on Mideast policy may be, it would be absurd to compare him with the Secretary of Defense whose hardline hostility toward Israel became notorious during the Reagan administration.

That would be the late Caspar W. Weinberger, of course.

Weinberger, a longtime Reagan confidant, ran the Pentagon from 1981 until 1987, when he was forced to resign over his involvement in the cover-up of the Iran-Contra affair (a ruinous scandal that involved the secret sale of missiles to the Iranian mullahs and the illegal transfer of profits from those sales to the Nicaraguan contra rebels – and that almost sent Weinberger to prison along with more than a dozen administration officials).

In contrast to other members of the Reagan cabinet known for their sympathy toward the Jewish state, including Secretary of State George Shultz and the president himself, Weinberger developed a reputation not only for opposing Israel’s interests directly but for seeking to prevent any action, including counter-terrorist operations, that might upset Arab allies of the United States. Until the Iran-Contra scandal broke in 1986, Weinberger was perhaps best known for orchestrating the sale of AWACS jets – the highly advanced airborne surveillance, command, and control system built by Boeing – to Saudi Arabia. Opposed by Israel and much of the American Jewish community, the Saudi AWACS deal generated enormous controversy.

Weinberger’s views on the Mideast were often said to derive from his career at Bechtel Corporation, the mammoth international construction firm where, as general counsel, he had approved compliance with the Arab boycott of Israel. Construction in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states was a major source of profits for Bechtel, and the firm’s support of the boycott was so blatant that Edward Levi, a Republican attorney general, filed a civil lawsuit against the California-based company, which led to a consent decree and prolonged litigation.

Among the most outspoken sources on Weinberger’s record was retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, the former Reagan White House aide and intelligence operative who oversaw the Iran-Contra fiasco In his 1992 memoir Under Fire, North explained what everyone in Washington had long known about the former Defense Secretary:

[Weinberger] seemed to go out of his way to oppose Israel on any issue and to blame the Israelis for every problem in the Middle East. In our planning for counterterrorist operations, he apparently feared that if we went after Palestinian terrorists, we would offend and alienate Arab governments – particularly if we acted in cooperation with the Israelis.

Weinberger’s anti-Israel tilt was an underlying current in almost every Mideast issue. Some people explained it by pointing to his years with the Bechtel Corporation…Others believed it was more complicated, and had to do with his sensitivity about his own Jewish ancestry.

As an Episcopalian whose paternal grandparents converted to Christianity — and who later worked at Bechtel, a company with a terrible reputation for anti-Semitism — Weinberger’s personal feelings about Jews and Judaism may well have been “complicated.” But his record as defense secretary was straightforward enough – and considering that Graham is a self-styled expert on Reagan administration foreign policy, the South Carolina senator certainly ought to know it.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, January 7, 2013

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tea Party Absolutism”: The High Cost Of Hating Government Levies An Enormous Unnecessary Cost On Everyone Else

The tourniquet applied by the outgoing Congress to the economy allows a two-month breather before we are consumed by the next deadline. The president and his party can allow themselves a brief moment of celebration for imposing higher taxes on the richest Americans, but the next stage in fixing the nation’s fiscal problems may not be as easy. By the end of February, lawmakers must find enough cuts in public spending to allow the debt ceiling to be raised. Two more months of uncertainty will prevent businesses and consumers from making spending decisions that would bolster the economic recovery.

The devil is not so much in the detail of the arguments to come as the big picture that frames the debilitating running debate. While the difference between the sides is ostensibly over taxes and public spending and borrowing, the more profound division is over where government should begin and end. For many of the Republican Party’s Tea Party insurgents, the choice is even more fundamental: whether there should be a government at all. Their unbending position, demanding an ever-diminishing role for the federal government, has levied an enormous unnecessary cost on everyone else.

Since Republicans regained control of the House in the 2010 mid-terms, when the Tea Party tide was in full force, they have attempted to freeze the size of government, coincidentally putting a brake on economic recovery. They have vetoed attempts at further economic stimulus, encouraged America’s economy to be downgraded by the ratings agencies by threatening not to extend the debt ceiling, and tried to veto any and every tax increase in the fiscal cliff talks. Their aim is to shrink government by starving it of funds. Such uncompromising absolutism has led to the dampening of business confidence and investment that would have created jobs.

It is not just the economy that has suffered from the absolute positions held by the anti-government rump in the GOP. Their insistence that the Founding Fathers intended us to be allowed to carry guns of any sort, including the rapid-fire assault weapon that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, continues to hamper attempts to curb the nation’s murderous gun violence. Ghosts from the eighteenth century are preying on our school-children, abetted by those who believe that compromise on amending our gun laws is surrendering to the forces of big government. Such unbending absolutism costs human lives.

Similarly, suspicion of government is behind the growth in home schooling, that narrows the education of children, deprives them of a sense of community, and diminishes their social skills. It came as little surprise to read reports that the Newtown shooter was kept home from school by his mother, a “survivalist” or “Doomsday Prepper”, who stockpiled food and guns because she expected an imminent economic apocalypse. Such paranoia about the role of government is a recurring theme in our society’s most appalling massacres, from the bombing of the Federal Government Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 by the anti-government militiaman Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168, including 19 children, to the FBI siege of the anti-government Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, in 1993, that left 76 dead.

Hostility to government also ensures that health care is unnecessarily expensive. The average cost of American health care is $8,233 per person per year, the most expensive in the developed world. In comparable Western countries such as France, which has a private health insurance mandate administered by the state, it is $3,974. In Britain, which for 65 years has enjoyed a taxation-funded national health system, it is $3,433. As much as Americans may prefer to believe that they have a health care system second to none, there is little discernible difference between the quality of health care provided, nor the efficacy of the medicine administered in the three countries, while dealing with the health insurance bureaucracy here is considerably more time-wasting, expensive, and irritating.

Changes in demography, with Americans living longer and using more medical resources to enjoy a tolerable quality of life, mean that health care costs will continue to rise unless reforms are made. The easiest way to reduce American health care costs would be for the federal government to provide a “single payer” alternative to compete with the near-monopolistic private health insurance companies. But such a system is considered an abomination by absolutists who demand that the federal government should keep out of healthcare. The harsh alternative is to cut the amount of care the system provides to the elderly. Again, an unbending attitude to the government’s role and responsibilities comes at an exorbitant cost.

Conservative theologians have devoted themselves to explaining why government interference is a bad thing. For Milton Friedman, the American system of government was so monetized from the moment the Republic was founded, and so open to corruption, that he always advocated small government – at least in the United States. For the Austrian thinker Friedrich Hayek, writing in his influential masterwork The Road to Serfdom, a burgeoning state could lead to tyranny. To be fair to Hayek, who wrote his topical tract as World War II was drawing to a close, he was principally concerned that free enterprise might continue to be stifled by the imperatives of the wartime command economy once peace was declared. In The Road to Serfdom, in a passage often ignored by contemporary conservatives, he insisted that all governments should provide a generous safety net for the needy, homes for the homeless, and universal health care.

Tea Party members owe less to conservative thinkers such as Friedman and Hayek than to uncompromising proponents of the untrammelled free market such as the libertarians Ayn Rand and Ron Paul. When the new Congress comes to head off another fiscal cliff crisis at the end of next month, it will take courage from the Republican leadership to keep their extreme wing in check. If they fail to do so and they demand too deep cuts to public spending too quickly, they will not only cause the American economy to return to recession but may find that the middle ground voters who decide elections will add together the vast cost of their allies’ absolutist intransigence and keep them in opposition forever.

 

By: Nicholas Wapshott, The National Memo (originally appeared at Reuters.com), January 7, 2013

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Teaparty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Calling The Great Turtle’s Bluff”: President Obama Should Raise The Debt Ceiling Himself

The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff.

On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, ruled out any further tax increases, declaring that “the tax issue is finished, over, completed.” He insisted, “Now it’s time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction.”

But is spending really the problem? For most the postwar era, federal tax revenues hovered around 19 percent of GDP, and spending a bit more than that. But for the four years since the financial collapse, federal revenues have been under 16 percent of GDP, thanks to the Bush tax cuts and the weak economy. It’s true that spending is up—it peaked at 25.2 percent of GDP in FY 2009, mainly because of the stimulus. But if it were not for the stimulus, unemployment would be even higher and growth even lower.

The point is that none of these fiscal issues caused the financial collapse, nor are they retarding the recovery. Were Congress to reduce the budget deficit, it would weaken, not strengthen the recovery. That is the real danger of the so-called fiscal cliff.

Spending relative to GDP was as high as 23.5 percent in the Reagan years, a shade above its projected level for this year. So there is no “addiction to spending.” If a free society wants to tax itself more to pay for decent retirement and health benefits, that is a political choice. Even with the slight tax increase of last week’s budget deal, limited to the top one percent, we still have the lowest tax rates of any wealthy country.

Seemingly, the Republicans hold a much stronger hand in the next round of budget talks: If Congress does nothing, the automatic cuts of the sequester take hold.

But Republicans have been blustering on taxes and spending for years. They were never going to raise taxes (Sorry, Grover), but when Obama decided to hang tough they turned around and voted to hike taxes on the richest one percent.

Obama needs to call McConnell’s bluff. On the issue of the debt ceiling, he can invoke his authority under the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that the U.S. government’s debts must be honored. He’d get wide backing.

On the sequester, Obama can keep Social Security and Medicare cuts off the table. There is more than one way to balance accounts going forward. One way is to raise the ceiling on incomes subject to payroll taxes. That would be a lot more popular than cutting benefits.

And does McConnell really want the sequester to bite, with its $60 billion in Pentagon cuts? In the great budget showdowns of the mid-1990s with Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton got the GOP to blink first.

If Clinton could achieve that with the Great Newt, Obama can do no less with the Great Turtle.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, January 7, 2013

 

 

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Reasonable Defense And Adaptive Security”: Yes, We Have A Defense Spending Problem

Last year, in 2012, the U.S. government spent about $841 billion on security—a figure that includes defense, intelligence, war appropriations, and foreign aid. At the same time, the government collected about $1.1 trillion in individual income taxes. (And about $2.4 trillion in revenues overall if you include payroll, corporate, estate, and excise taxes.)

In other words, about 80 cents of every dollar collected in traditional federal income taxes went for security.

That’s an astonishing statistic, and it captures the most underappreciated aspect of today’s fiscal challenges: We have a security spending problem. Such spending is significantly higher than all non-defense discretionary domestic spending.

Worse yet, almost nobody in Washington seems interested in seriously curtailing defense spending that is greater in real terms than what the U.S. spent in the Cold War—despite the fact that the U.S. will be officially at peace when we withdraw from Aghanistan next year and the U.S. faces no major global adversaries.

While the Simpson-Bowles Commission advocated over a trillion dollars in defense cuts, President Obama’s budget would only reduce spending modestly, and even that’s a hard sell on Capitol Hill. Both parties happily suspended planned defense cuts under sequestration as part of the fiscal cliff deal.

Given all this, it was great to read a new report by the Project on Defense Alternatives entitled “Reasonable Defense: A Sustainable Approach to Securing the Nation” and written by Carl Conetta. PDA has long been a leading voice for responsible defense spending. But today, with the fiscal heat on, their work is more timely and important than ever.

The new report sets the defense challenge in it’s proper context: Which is that the United States is operating in a much more competitive global economy and needs to rethink its ideas of national strength, along with its budgetary priorities:

Today, the challenge that will most affect America’s future prospects lies in the economic sphere, not the military one. In this respect the current era is distinct from the period of the Second World War and the Cold War. How America handles current fiscal challenges and reorders government priorities should reflect this fact. . . . In all areas of policy, new economic realities compel national leaders to adopt a longer view, set clearer priorities, seek new efficiencies, and attend more closely to the ratio of costs, risks, and benefits when allocating resources.

A centerpiece of the report’s strategic framework is the idea of Adaptive Security. This approach focuses:

America’s armed forces on deterring and containing current threats, while working principally by other means to reduce future conflict potentials and strengthen the foundation for cooperative action. This would move America toward a future in which threat potentials are lower and security cooperation greater. While the United States uses its military power to check real and present threats of violence, it would employ non-military instruments to impede the emergence of new threats and reduce future conflict potentials.

This strategy makes a whole lot of sense in a world where America’s real enemies, like Iran and Al-Qaeda, are quite weak while our main potential enemy, China, is very strong.

While many in the Pentagon—with their worst-case mindsets—may be inclined to maintain a military that could deal with all potential enemies, the Adaptive Security formula suggests that the U.S. focus other kinds of resources on making sure such enemies never materialize. If money were limitless, one could argue the merits of either approach. But in today’s fiscal climate, Adaptive Security is the only affordable path.

In any case, the rise of China in particular underscores how economic challenges are the biggest challenges facing the United States, as Conetta argues. If we’re really worried about being dominated by China, we should be focused on training more engineers not more fighter pilots.

Beyond its big picture contributions, “Reasonable Defense” makes many smart points about how to create a more cost-efficient defense sector and a leaner military—and reduce defense spending by a half trillion over the next decade.

Let’s hope this report gets widely read in Washington.

 

By: David Callahan, The American Prospect, January 7, 2013

January 8, 2013 Posted by | National Security, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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