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“The Status Quo Is Unacceptable”: It’s Time To End The Imposed Ignorance Of Guns And The Harm They Do

A revealing thing happened in the grief-filled days that followed the massacre of helpless children and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Virtually every conversation about gun control, about any possible remedy for gun violence, hit a roadblock. We just didn’t know a lot about the guns circulating in America.

How many guns are in the U.S.? We don’t have reliable figures.

Is there a connection between gun violence and the depictions of violence in video games and movies? Studies on that issue are few and inconclusive.

Just how do guns wind up in the hands of the mentally ill or the criminally minded? To answer that, we’d have to do a better job of tracking guns used in crimes.

This national ignorance is the cover under which the gun lobby hides. Its denialism and simplistic wishful thinking — the solution to mass shootings is more “good guys with a gun” — thrives and holds sway because we have failed to study the problem and base our policy decisions on a sound basis: evidence.

Things may be about to change. A new report pushes us one step closer to treating gun violence as a public health issue. If allowed to gain traction, this change in attitude will have huge consequences.

The report was issued by a panel of experts called together under executive order by President Obama after Newtown killings. The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council assembled the panel and has set priorities to focus research.

Obama is asking for $10 million in the 2014 budget to fund research. Time will tell if Congress has the backbone to follow through. It has folded before.

Money for such research was halted in the mid-1990s under pressure by the National Rifle Association. Ever since, we’ve been stumbling along as a nation, racking up more than a quarter-million deaths by gunfire in the last decade alone.

Because we haven’t gathered a great deal of data on how guns are used in America — for self-defense, in crime, in suicides — we have permitted all sorts of magical thinking.

Hence, some have argued that the solution to mass shootings is to get rid of “gun-free zones,” which (they reason) create easy targets for killers to seek. Then there’s the argument that simply giving children more education about gun safety will lessen their chances of playing with a weapon. What does the evidence say? Well, studies conflict. More and better research would help assess policy proposals.

The president’s panel has selected five areas for focus: the characteristics of gun violence, risk and protective factors, prevention and other interventions, gun safety technology, and the influence of video games and other media.

The aim is not to take guns away from people. It’s about making gun ownership and use safer. It’s about respecting the lethal nature of the weapons enough to reduce accidents, suicides and gun use by the untrained and criminals.

The report took pains to address the fear of creating any sort of national database for gun ownership, a favorite bugbear of gun-control critics. It notes that “anonymized data should be used to protect civil liberties.”

In fact, more and better information could decrease the gulf between those who see gun ownership as an absolute and integral American right and those who regard guns as a serious public health problem. The two points of view need not be mutually exclusive.

Think about the great benefits to American society that have come from efforts to change attitudes about road safety, as well as improvements to roadway design. Countless lives have been saved by a process that began after the federal government began thoroughly studying car wrecks.

By understanding better how people were being injured, both government and industry could make sensible changes. Some key changes were instituted by law, such as speed limits and seat belt usage. Some were safety design changes initiated by manufacturers. After all, protecting the car’s “precious cargo” is a great selling proposition.

Wouldn’t the same argument appeal to a responsible gun owner? This model is less likely to be used by a child or stolen and used by a criminal due to biometrics.

We didn’t confiscate people’s cars. We simply mitigated the injury and loss of life they caused.

As the debate about funding research into firearms goes forward, note which organizations and politicians fight mightily against it. It will speak volumes.

The status quo is unacceptable. And those who fight research and understanding will be telling us that they are satisfied with the way things stand.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, June 24, 2013

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Taking A Trip To Boehnerland”: John Boehner Takes His Relationship With DC’s Lobbying Industry Quite Seriously

When we think about the sphere of influence for the Speaker of the House, we would ordinarily think first of the House majority caucus. After all, that would make sense — John Boehner should have power on the Hill, where he leads over 200 federal lawmakers who chose to put a gavel in his hands and put behind only the Vice President in the presidential line of succession.

But in practice, Boehner’s sphere of influence is fairly limited in the chamber he ostensibly leads. His operation is far more impressive about a mile and a half away from the Capitol, in the city’s lobbying corridor.

A top aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is leaving his post to run the Washington office of American Express, becoming the third-high ranking staffer to depart the office in recent months.

Brett Loper, one of Boehner’s key conduits to the White House during the doomed “fiscal cliff” negotiations of 2012, is returning to K Street after a brief stint in the Speaker’s office where he most recently served as deputy chief of staff.

The Speaker’s chief of staff, Barry Jackson, left in Feburary to work at two separate firms — Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a lobby shop, and Lindsey Group, an economic advisory firm. Earlier in February, Boehner’s health adviser, Emily Porter, left to become a vice president at the lobbying firm Nickles Group.

As these departures mount, it’s only natural to wonder if the Speaker’s career is in in decline, and there are rumors that Boehner, frustrated by his complete inability to govern, may retire in the near future. The resignations will only further fuel the speculation.

But there is another explanation — there’s long been a revolving door in Boehner’s office, with aides (a) leaving his staff to become lobbyists; (b) leaving lobbying to join his staff; or (c) occasionally making more than one trip in each direction.

Indeed, in a statement thanking Loper for his service, the Speaker said the staffer will be missed throughout Boehnerland, our Conference, and the entire House.”

This may sound like an odd choice of words, but for a significant group of people, “Boehnerland” is an actual thing.

Long-time readers may recall that this has been an ongoing area of interest for me, dating back to 2010 when I first learned what “Boehnerland” is.

He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.

They have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed.

Some of the lobbyists readily acknowledge routinely seeking his office’s help — calling the congressman and his aides as often as several times a week — to advance their agenda in Washington. And in many cases, Mr. Boehner has helped them out.

Of course he has; many of these lobbyists worked in his office.

While many lawmakers in each party have networks of donors, lobbyists and former aides who now represent corporate interests, Mr. Boehner’s ties seem especially deep. His clique of friends and current and former staff members even has a nickname on Capitol Hill, Boehner Land. The members of this inner circle said their association with Mr. Boehner translates into open access to him and his staff.

It’s probably worth emphasizing that all of this is legal and permissible under congressional ethics rules. The point isn’t that Boehner is guilty of anything untoward; rather, the point is Boehner takes his relationship with DC’s lobbying industry quite seriously.

And as we talked about last fall, this relationship manifests itself in ways that reinforce its value. When Congress worked on a jobs bill in 2010, Boehner and his team huddled with corporate lobbyists. When work on Wall Street reform got underway, Boehner and the GOP huddled with industry lobbyists. When Congress worked on health care reform, Boehner and the GOP huddled with insurance lobbyists. When an energy/climate bill started advancing, the GOP huddled with energy lobbyists. In 2012, when the STOCK Act was being considered, the GOP huddled with financial industry lobbyists.

This is just Boehner’s m.o. And as more staffers depart the Speaker’s office for more lobbying gigs, the population of Boehnerland just keeps growing.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 24, 2013

June 25, 2013 Posted by | John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I Want My Binky”: Justice Samuel Alito’s Middle-School Antics

The most remarkable thing about the Supreme Court’s opinions announced Monday was not what the justices wrote or said. It was what Samuel Alito did.

The associate justice, a George W. Bush appointee, read two opinions, both 5-4 decisions that split the court along its usual right-left divide. But Alito didn’t stop there. When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, Alito visibly mocked his colleague.

Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the high court, was making her argument about how the majority opinion made it easier for sexual harassment to occur in the workplace when Alito, seated immediately to Ginsburg’s left, shook his head from side to side in disagreement, rolled his eyes and looked at the ceiling.

His treatment of the 80-year-old Ginsburg, 17 years his elder and with 13 years more seniority, was a curious display of judicial temperament or, more accurately, judicial intemperance. Typically, justices state their differences in words — and Alito, as it happens, had just spoken several hundred of his own from the bench. But he frequently supplements words with middle-school gestures.

Days earlier, I watched as he demonstrated his disdain for Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the two other women on the court. Kagan, the newest justice, prefaced her reading of an opinion in a low-profile case by joking that it was “possibly not” the case the audience had come to hear. The audience responded with laughter, a few justices smiled — and Alito, seated at Kagan’s right elbow, glowered.

Another time, Sotomayor, reading a little-watched case about water rights, joked that “every student in the audience is going to look up the word ‘preemption’ today.” Alito rolled his eyes and shook his head.

Alito is best known for his antics at the 2010 State of the Union address, when President Obama criticized the Citizens United decision. While other justices remained expressionless, Alito adopted a sour look, shook his head “no” and appeared to mouth the words “not true.” At the various oral arguments I’ve watched over the past few years, Alito’s eye-rolling, head-shaking and other expressions of exasperation are a fairly common occurrence, most often when Sotomayor has the floor.

Alito’s latest irritability came, ironically, on a day when the main headline about the court was comity: Justice Anthony Kennedy read an unexpectedly modest decision on affirmative action that left some racial preferences intact and commanded a 7-1 majority. Many in the audience expected bigger decisions, on same-sex marriage and voting rights (former justices John Paul Stevens and Alito’s predecessor, Sandra Day O’Connor, were both in the house), but those contentious issues were held for another day.

Beyond the broad agreement on affirmative action, though, were three 5-4 decisions Monday, two read by Alito with a dry and clinical delivery. In the first, he announced that the court was rejecting a jury award for a woman who was disfigured and disabled by a drug that didn’t come with adequate warnings. Despite the “dreadful injuries,” Alito argued, siding with the drugmaker and throwing out an appellate-court ruling, “sympathy for respondent does not relieve us of the responsibility of following the law.”

The second case Alito read, one of two cases Monday limiting claims of workplace discrimination, rejected an African American woman’s complaints of a racially hostile work environment. Alito argued that the employer was not liable because, under Alito’s narrowed definition, the person doing the harassing did not qualify as the employee’s supervisor.

Other conservative justices share Alito’s views but aren’t quite so dour in expression. Antonin Scalia is caustic and even incendiary, but often funny. Chief Justice John Roberts can be droll. On the other side, Kagan has tried to make the court more accessible to a lay audience by giving chatty lectures from the bench rather than reading from her written opinions, which also have been playful. In an opinion she wrote this month on a transportation case, she made reference to the 1980s song “867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone.

Even Ginsburg, no comedienne, can be colloquial and accessible. In her dissents Monday, she noted that an employee can avoid a harassing co-worker by telling him to “buzz off.” She also invoked the self-deprecating quotation defining a legal mind as one that “can think about a thing inextricably attached to something else without thinking about the thing which it is attached to.”

Ginsburg was tart, even acidic — but she confined her objections to words. That kind of judicial restraint would benefit her junior colleague.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 24, 2013

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paula Deen Is Confusing People”: A Stange Epidemic Of People Pretending To Be More Stupid Than They Actually Are

American life is full of two groups of people: those who find racism abhorent, and those who find this first group of people tiresome. Paula Deen’s humilation this week seems to have brought out the members of Group 2. Why is everyone making such a big fuss, they ask?

Thankfully, The New York Times has a very amusing report from Georgia on this subject:

The line of Paula Deen fans waiting for her restaurant here to open grew throughout the hot, muggy morning Saturday. They discussed what they might select from the buffet inside The Lady and Sons, her wildly popular restaurant in the heart of Savannah. But they also talked of boycotting the Food Network, which dropped their beloved TV chef on Friday after she awkwardly apologized for having used racial slurs and for considering a plantation-themed wedding for her brother, with well-dressed black male servants.

And what are these folks really angry about?

 “Everybody in the South over 60 used the N-word at some time or the other in the past,” wrote Dick Jackson, a white man from Missouri. “No more ‘Chopped’ for me, and I suspect thousands like me,” he said, referring to a popular Food Network show.

A white man? I never would have guessed. And, then, of course, the question that good white folks love to ask:

In the line Saturday, some pointed out that some African-Americans regularly used the word Ms. Deen had admitted to saying. “I don’t understand why some people can use it and others can’t,” said Rebecca Beckerwerth, 55, a North Carolina native who lives in Arizona and had made reservations at the restaurant Friday.

Really? You don’t understand it? Ms. Beckerwerth doesn’t say she wants to use it, but it sure sounds like she thinks she is making a real sacrifice by not using it.

The article descends into unintentional hilarity when the writer decides to call an expert on race:

Tyrone A. Forman, the director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University, said the use of derogatory words can mean different things to different groups. “People take a term that was a way to denigrate or hold people in bondage for the purpose of continuing their subordination and turn it around as a way to reclaim it,” he said. But that kind of subtlety is often lost in a discussion of race. “That nuance is too much for us,” Mr. Forman said. “We have a black president so we’re postracial, right? Someone uses the N-word? That’s racist. But the reality is there is a lot of gray.”

Thank God we have someone to address all this confusion, although the final sentence here left me, if anything, even more confused.

The piece ends as follows:

[One man] was particularly bothered by a commentator on a national news program who suggested that Ms. Deen should have atoned for the pain of slavery, given credit to African-Americans who helped influence some of the country food that made her famous and offered a stronger statement against racism. “She’s a cook,” Mr. Hattaway said. “She’s not a Harvard graduate.”

Hold on, aren’t we supposed to sneer at Harvard graduates? Now apparently you have to go to Harvard to understand that using racist language is wrong. The Deen case has brought with it a stange epidemic of people pretending to be a lot more stupid than they actually are. Ms. Beckerwerth and her ilk aren’t really confused. I didn’t go to Harvard, but I’d diagnose their problem as something a little worse than a lack of comprehension.

 

By: Isaac Chotiner, Senior Editor, The New Republic, June 24, 2013

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Diversity Is A Faddish Theory”: According To Clarence Thomas, Affirmative Action Is Just Like Segregation

Today, the Supreme Court sent the University of Texas’ affirmative action program back for a lower court for review by a vote of 7-1.

Justice Clarence Thomas concurred in that decision but also wrote a scathing concurring opinion saying he would have rejected Texas’ affirmative action program outright as unconstitutional.

In the opinion, which no other justice joined, Thomas called the idea that racial diversity at colleges improves education a “faddish theory.”

“As should be obvious,” wrote Thomas, “there is nothing ‘pressing’ or ‘necessary’ about obtaining whatever educational benefits may flow from racial diversity.”

Thomas repeatedly compared arguments for affirmative action in college admissions today to arguments for segregation in the 1950s and before. Here’s Thomas:

It is also noteworthy that, in our desegregation cases, we rejected arguments that are virtually identical to those advanced by the University today. The University asserts, for instance, that the diversity obtained through its discriminatory admissions program prepares its students to become leaders in a diverse society… The segregationists likewise defended segregation on the ground that it provided more leadership opportunities for blacks…

There is no principled distinction between the University’s assertion that diversity yields educational benefits and the segregationists’ assertion that segregation yielded those same benefits.

He went on to associate his view with the arguments made by the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education, the 1955 decission that prohibited racial segregation in public schools:

My view of the Constitution is the one advanced by the plaintiffs in Brown: “[N]o State has any authority under the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities among its citizens.”… The Constitution does not pander to faddish theories about whether race mixing is in the public interest. The Equal Protection Clause strips States of all authority to use race as a factor in providing education. All applicants must be treated equally under the law, and no benefit in the eye of the beholder can justify racial discrimination.

Thomas also wrote that universities’ arguments about promoting diversity are canards and their real goal with affirmative action is to help black and Hispanic students—but that they’re not actually helping.

He wrote that “discrimination is never benign” and “the University’s professed good intentions cannot excuse its outright racial discrimination any more than such intentions justified the now denounced arguments of slaveholders and segregationists.”

Thomas made two arguments that affirmative action hurts black and Hispanic students: It leads to them being admitted to schools where they have, on average, significantly lower SAT scores than white and Asian students; and it creates an impression (both internal and external) that their admissions are not based on merit.

Given the high bar that Thomas places for allowing any public policy that discriminates based on race, this policy analysis wouldn’t matter for the constitutionality of the Texas program.

 

By: Josh Barro, Business Insider, June 24, 2013

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Affirmative Action | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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