"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Under The Dome Of The NRA”: Navy Yard Shooting, A Jarring Reminder Of America’s Gun Problem

At least thirteen people were killed at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, including a suspected gunman, in the latest iteration of a now-familiar US news event: a mass shooting that claims victims apparently at random.

As the streets of DC came to life Monday morning, reports emerged around 8:20 am that shots were fired at the naval facility on the city’s southeast waterfront, less than two miles from the US Capitol. It quickly became clear that multiple people had been shot during a rampage, and at a 2 pm news conference on the perimeter of the crime scene, police confirmed that twelve people lay dead inside. The number was later updated to thirteen.

During a press briefing at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center not long after the shootings, a spokeswoman speculated that “it had to be a semi-automatic [weapon],” based on witness descriptions of gunshots heard in “rapid succession.” Authorities later confirmed that indeed the suspected gunman had an assault rifle as well as a pistol.

Police identified the deceased suspected shooter as Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old man from Fort Worth, Texas, who reportedly worked at some point as a contractor for the Navy.

In the context of increasingly frequent mass shootings and a highly visible congressional debate on gun control, any further mass gun violence is sure to become a political issue—all the more so when it happens in Washington itself.

Had the scene outside the Navy Yard been in a movie about a fictional gun control debate, it probably would have been rejected as too didactic.

The Capitol dome was part of the nearby skyline as reporters, television cameras, scattered passerby and law enforcement officers converged on M Street Southeast at the western edge of the perimeter set up by police. To the east, all one could see was a small army of emergency responders in the street; the sidewalk-to-sidewalk flashing lights made individual vehicles almost indistinguishable. A US Park Police helicopter flew in tight circles extremely low overhead.

In isolation it was not that unusual of a sight in DC: it looked like perhaps one of the many motorcades that criss-cross the city from time to time. But people on the street were unusually quiet and unsettled, because of course there was no dark limousine nor group of dignitaries in the middle of the chaos but rather the scene of a grisly multiple murder.

Many of the reporters at the scene wore congressional press credentials and might have otherwise been covering a comparatively dry budget debate, but instead scoured around for witnesses to the shooting. Blocks away, Senate office buildings were placed on a two-hour lockdown, with staffers unable to exit or enter, and intimidating military-style vehicles surrounded the Capitol complex.

In that fictional movie, this is where a dysfunctional Congress finally springs into action and helps solve the problem. The very same staffers who worked behind the scenes to scuttle this year’s big gun control legislation, now trapped in their offices because a mass shooter might be on the loose, suddenly see the light and pull the Manchin-Toomey legislation out of their desk drawers.

But will that happen here? While it’s clearly very early on, and the gun control debate has taken some surprising turns in the past year, this scenario seems unlikely. Senator Manchin already told reporters Monday afternoon he still didn’t have the votes to get his gun control legislation passed; no previously opposed members suddenly announced a new position. Only hours before the shootings, members of Congress and gun control advocates were bemoaning a recent loss of momentum in Congress thanks to recall elections in Colorado that cost two longtime legislators their jobs because they supported tighter gun rules earlier this year.

Continued inaction seems likely because the gun control debate has never suffered for an absence of bloodshed. Manchin-Toomey didn’t fail because the slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary School weren’t quite tragic enough. More indiscriminate killings—even right in the backyard of Congress—probably won’t change the fundamental calculus made by Senators to sidestep the wrath of the National Rifle Association (on display in Colorado just last week) and extremely pro-gun conservative voters, who value “gun rights” to the exclusion of almost any other issue.

That said, the gun control package was only a couple of votes short in the Senate this year. Maybe more shootings will finally convince someone to change his or her vote. But more likely, until the fundamentals of the debate change, this mass bloodshed will only serve as gruesome illustrations of a problem nobody in Washington can seem to solve—nor even meangingfully address.


By: George Zornick, The Nation, September 16, 2013

September 17, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Give Jobs A Chance”: To Err Is Human, But To Err On The Side Of Growth Is Wise

This week the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee — the group of men and women who set U.S. monetary policy — will be holding its sixth meeting of 2013. At the meeting’s end, the committee is widely expected to announce the so-called “taper” — a slowing of the pace at which it buys long-term assets.

Memo to the Fed: Please don’t do it. True, the arguments for a taper are neither crazy nor stupid, which makes them unusual for current U.S. policy debate. But if you think about the balance of risks, this is a bad time to be doing anything that looks like a tightening of monetary policy.

O.K., what are we talking about here? In normal times, the Fed tries to guide the economy by buying and selling short-term U.S. debt, which effectively lets it control short-term interest rates. Since 2008, however, short-term rates have been near zero, which means that they can’t go lower (since people would just hoard cash instead). Yet the economy has remained weak, so the Fed has tried to gain traction through unconventional measures — mainly by buying longer-term bonds, both U.S. government debt and bonds issued by federally sponsored home-lending agencies.

Now the Fed is talking about slowing the pace of these purchases, bringing them to a complete halt by sometime next year. Why?

One answer is the belief that these purchases — especially purchases of government debt — are, in the end, not very effective. There’s a fair bit of evidence in support of that belief, and for the view that the most effective thing the Fed can do is signal that it plans to keep short-term rates, which it really does control, low for a very long time.

Unfortunately, financial markets have clearly decided that the taper signals a general turn away from boosting the economy: expectations of future short-term rates have risen sharply since taper talk began, and so have crucial long-term rates, notably mortgage rates. In effect, by talking about tapering, the Fed has already tightened monetary policy quite a lot.

But is that such a bad thing? That’s where the second argument comes in: the suggestions that there really isn’t that much slack in the U.S. economy, that we aren’t that far from full employment. After all, the unemployment rate, which peaked at 10 percent in late 2009, is now down to 7.3 percent, and there are economists who believe that the U.S. economy might begin to “overheat,” to show signs of accelerating inflation, at an unemployment rate as high as 6.5 percent. Time for the Fed to take its foot off the gas pedal?

I’d say no, for a couple of reasons.

First, there’s less to that decline in unemployment than meets the eye. Unemployment hasn’t come down because a higher percentage of adults is employed; it’s come down almost entirely because a declining percentage of adults is participating in the labor force, either by working or by actively seeking work. And at least some of the Americans who dropped out of the labor force after 2007 will come back in as the economy improves, which means that we have more ground to make up than that unemployment number suggests.

How misleading is the unemployment number? That’s a hard one, on which reasonable people disagree. The question the Fed should be asking is, what is the balance of risks?

Suppose, on one side, that the Fed were to hold off on tightening, then learn that the economy was closer to full employment than it thought. What would happen? Well, inflation would rise, although probably only modestly. Would that be such a bad thing? Right now inflation is running below the Fed’s target of 2 percent, and many serious economists — including, for example, the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund — have argued for a higher target, say 4 percent. So the cost of tightening too late doesn’t look very high.

Suppose, on the other side, that the Fed were to tighten early, then learn that it had moved too soon. This could damage an already weak recovery, causing hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars in economic damage, leaving hundreds of thousands if not millions of additional workers without jobs and inflicting long-term damage as more and more of the unemployed are perceived as unemployable.

The point is that while there is legitimate uncertainty about what the Fed should be doing, the costs of being too harsh vastly exceed the costs of being too lenient. To err is human; to err on the side of growth is wise.

I’d add that one of the prevailing economic policy sins of our time has been allowing hypothetical risks, like the fiscal crisis that never came, to trump concerns over economic damage happening in the here and now. I’d hate to see the Fed fall into that trap.

So my message is, don’t do it. Don’t taper, don’t tighten, until you can see the whites of inflation’s eyes. Give jobs a chance.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 15, 2013

September 17, 2013 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For The Sake Of Complaining”: The Right Struggles To Hide Its Disappointment With Diplomatic Progress In Syria

A couple of years ago, after the United States and its allies used military force to help remove the Gadhafi’s government from Libya, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued one of my favorite Republican press releases ever. The two senators, who had eagerly spent months touting U.S. military action in Libya, issued a joint statement commending the “British, French, and other allies, as well as our Arab partners, especially Qatar and the UAE.”

McCain and Graham eventually said Americans can be “proud of the role our country” played, but they nevertheless condemned the Obama administration’s “failure” to act in Libya the way the GOP senators preferred.

It was striking at the time for its bitterness — the United States had achieved its strategic goals, but instead of celebrating or applauding Obama’s success, Republicans pouted and whined.

It’s funny how history sometimes repeats itself. Over the course of six days, the Obama administration pushed Syria into the chemical weapons convention, helped create a diplomatic framework that will hopefully rid Syria of its stockpiles, successfully pushed Russia into a commitment to help disarm its own ally, quickly won support from the United Nations and our allies, and did all of this without firing a shot.

Republicans are outraged.

U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) today released the following statement on the U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria:

“What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement — they see it as an act of provocative weakness on America’s part.”

McCain wasn’t scheduled to appear on “Meet the Press” yesterday, but he was nevertheless added at the last minute. It was, after all, a Sunday.

It’s not just McCain, of course. Over the weekend, it seemed as if much of the chatter out of the Beltway was an effort to spin a diplomatic resolution as necessarily disappointing and evidence of a presidential mistake, if not outright failure.

It’s difficult to take such talk seriously.

In fact, Fred Kaplan’s take seemed compelling to me.

And so, assuming all goes according to plan, Assad loses his stash of deadly chemicals — but he stays in power, at least for the time being, and the Russian Federation re-emerges as a serious player in Middle Eastern politics. A win-win-win for Putin.

At the same time, Obama can cite his threat to use force as the reason Putin suddenly swung into action (this might even be true, to some extent). He can thus take at least joint credit for ridding Syria of chemical weapons and upholding international law. And he is saved from having to make good on letting Congress vote on whether to authorize the use of force — a vote that he seemed all but certain to lose. A win-win-win for Obama.

I’d just add that Obama also gets the benefits that come with not using military force — while the diplomatic course moves forward, the White House won’t have to fear the unknown and unpredictable consequences of dropping missiles on another Middle Eastern country.

At this point, Republican complaints made a right turn at unpersuasive and landed at unseemly. Many on the right urged Obama to engage in saber-rattling against Syria, then complained when the president did just that. Many on the right urged Obama to take the issue to Congress, then complained when the president did that, too. Many on the right said they supported military intervention, right up until Obama agreed with them. Now Republicans seem to be complaining … just for the sake of complaining.

Neil Irwin had a worthwhile item over the weekend, asking, “Was Obama’s Syria strategy brilliant or lucky?” It’s not an unreasonable question, but note that the choices are predicated on an assumption: the outcome is good for the U.S. in general and the Obama administration in particular.

If the right could at least try to hide their disappointment, it might be easier to take their views on foreign policy seriously.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 16, 2013

September 17, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Madness Continues”: Navy Yard Shooting Hits Home Amid Complacency Of Our Elected Officials

Washington was under siege Monday, with SWAT teams racing through the streets and military helicopters circling overhead. Not immediately threatened, however, was the complacency that allows our elected officials to argue endlessly about the threats we face rather than work together to lessen them.

“We are confronting yet another mass shooting,” President Obama said at midday, “and today it happened on a military installation in our nation’s capital.”

A few miles away, at the historic Washington Navy Yard, authorities were just beginning to assess the carnage left by a gunman — or perhaps gunmen — who sprayed the halls of the Naval Sea Systems Command with semiautomatic-weapons fire. Police have put the number of fatalities at at least 13, but the tally of dead and wounded kept changing throughout the afternoon.

Was this an act of terrorism, similar to the Fort Hood shootings or the Boston bombings? That theory advanced and receded during the day, amid conflicting reports of multiple assailants and speculation about possible motives.

Since no possibility could be quickly ruled out, all the old arguments about the nature of the “war on terror” were deemed in order. Obama’s supporters praise him for killing Osama bin Laden and smashing al-Qaeda to bits. Critics say that decentralized terrorism and “self-radicalized” individuals constitute an increasing menace. Both positions are more often used to score political points than to seek solutions.

Or was the Navy Yard rampage “just” another senseless multiple shooting, like so many others? During his presidency, Obama has mourned the victims and consoled the survivors of Fort Hood, Tucson, Aurora and Newtown. There was a weariness in his voice as he spoke of Navy personnel who had served bravely overseas yet “today . . . faced the unimaginable violence that they wouldn’t have expected here at home.”

The one confirmed shooter — who died at the scene — was reportedly carrying at least three firearms. Following the unimaginable horror of Newtown, in which 20 children were slaughtered, Obama could not even convince Congress to mandate universal background checks for gun purchases, let alone take stronger measures to keep powerful weapons out of unstable hands.

Opponents of gun control argue that, instead of infringing Second Amendment rights, we should focus on the fact that most, if not all, of these mass shooters are psychologically disturbed. But many of the officials who take this view are simultaneously trying their best to repeal Obamacare, which will provide access to mental health services to millions of Americans who are now uninsured.

So what difference did it really make what motivated Monday’s shooting? Beyond tightening security at military bases, what is our sclerotic political system capable of doing to prevent the next slaughter of innocents?

The shocking events in Washington eclipsed what otherwise would have been headline news from New York: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a report providing “clear and convincing” evidence that chemical weapons were indeed used in Syria.

The report did not seek to ascribe blame. But it described the trajectory of rockets carrying nerve gas that were fired into a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21, and the data strongly indicate the projectiles were fired by forces loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad. If ever there was doubt, none remains: Assad used poison gas to kill more than 1,400 civilians.

In a rare display of consensus, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) both favor passage of a resolution giving Obama the authority to launch a punitive strike against Assad. But neither congressional leader is able to convince his rank-and-file members to back military action.

Failing to decide, however, is a decision. The multiple conflicts that intersect in Syria — Assad vs. rebels, Shiites vs. Sunnis, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia — have the potential to reshape the Middle East in ways that clearly will have an impact on U.S. national security. Whatever we do or decline to do, we will live with the consequences.

We don’t want to get involved in Syria. We don’t want to honestly assess where we are in the war on terror. We don’t want to deal with gun control. All these issues are fraught with political danger. Much safer for our intrepid elected officials to stake out their positions and yell at the other side, knowing the words will bounce off harmlessly. No progress made, no political damage done.

But the world doesn’t stop just because Washington does. Sometimes the issues our officials want to ignore hit tragically close to home.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 16, 2013

September 17, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“This Is A War Crime”: The U.N.’s Syria Report Strengthens President Obama’s Hand

United Nations inspectors confirmed Monday that hundreds of Syrians who died in an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus were killed with sarin nerve gas.

The highly anticipated U.N. report marks the first official conclusion by independent scientists that the victims had been gassed. “The findings are beyond doubt and beyond the pale,” Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said. “This is a war crime.”

Neither Ban nor the U.N. inspectors would say who committed the atrocity — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels fighting to topple him have accused each other.

The Obama administration and its allies, however, jumped on the findings, saying that only Assad forces had the capacity to carry out such a massive attack with chemical weapons — bolstering their push for a strong U.N. resolution to quickly seize and destroy Syria’s stockpile of deadly gases.

“The regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin,” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told CNN.

The U.N. inspectors, who visited the scene of the attack, also found rocket fragments indicating that the nerve gas had been delivered with two types of artillery-launched rocket — the M14 and the 330mm. Assad’s military has these big guns; the rebels don’t.

Furthermore, arms experts doubt that opposition fighters have the expertise to use these rocket launchers effectively, even if they have captured some from Assad’s army. “It’s hard to say with certainty that the rebels don’t have access to these delivery systems,” Dina Esfandiary, a chemical weapons expert, tells Britain’s Telegraph. “But even if they do, using them in such a way as to ensure that the attack was successful is the bit the rebels won’t know how to do.”

The timing of the U.N.’s assessment works in President Obama’s favor. The U.S. has just reached an agreement with Russia for the international community to take control of Assad’s stockpile — estimated at 1,000 tons of sarin, mustard gas, and other poisons — by the middle of next year. Secretary of State John Kerry is demanding a U.N. resolution that will leave open the option of using force if Assad doesn’t fulfill his promise to hand over his chemical arsenal, and the U.N. report will make it easier to rally other nations behind a get-tough approach.

If the Security Council fails to reach a deal, and Assad doesn’t hand over his chemical weapons, the issue could be thrust back into the hands of Congress, which was debating whether to authorize Obama to order missile strikes against Syria when the unexpected diplomatic push put military action on hold. The U.N. report gives Obama outside evidence to present to reluctant lawmakers to back up his accusations against Assad.


By: Harold Maass, The Week, September 16, 2013

September 17, 2013 Posted by | Syria | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: