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“The Buffoon Speaks Again”: John McCain Says Ignorant, Belligerent Things, Press Swoons

I’ll admit that I know next to nothing about Ukrainian politics. And when it comes to the current crisis there, I don’t have any brilliant ideas about how the United States could solve this problem, but that’s partly because the United States probably can’t solve this problem. My limited knowledge and lack of transformative ideas puts me on equal footing with John McCain. Yet for some reason, McCain is once again all over the news, now that the situation in Kiev is turning uglier by the hour. What does McCain have to say? Well, he believes that it’s all Barack Obama’s fault. “This is the most naive president in history,” he said, citing as evidence the fact that five years ago, the Obama administration said it wanted to “reset” relations with Russia. Got ’em there, John. Obviously, if a certain someone was president, and he’s not naming any names here, this whole thing could be wrapped up in an afternoon.

What does McCain actually think we should do about Ukraine? We’ll get to that in a moment. But if you had to sum up John McCain’s foreign policy beliefs in a single word, that word would probably be “Grrrr!” Whatever the situation is, McCain’s view is always that we should be tougher than whatever the White House is doing. This applies to both Republican and Democratic presidents. If we’re already bombing somebody, McCain’s answer to any challenge is that we should bomb harder. If we haven’t yet commenced action but are seriously thinking about it, he thinks we should start bombing. If we’re engaging in diplomacy, McCain thinks we should ditch all that talk, which is for pussies anyhow, and get “tough” with whoever it is that needs getting tough with.

That is, I promise you, the extent of the sophistication of McCain’s foreign policy thinking. Despite the fact that he is regularly lauded by the reporters who have worshipped him for so long as an “expert” in foreign policy with deep “knowledge” and “experience,” I have never heard him say a single thing that demonstrated any kind of understanding of any foreign country or foreign crisis beyond what you could have gleaned from watching a three-minute report on the Today show. And this one? Well, McCain’s got the solution: “This thing could easily spiral out of control into a major international crisis,” he says. “The first thing we need to do is impose sanctions on those people who are in leadership positions.” You mean, Senator, what the Obama administration already did? Or the ones they’re preparing with our EU allies?

Once somebody clues McCain in to that, you can bet he’ll come back and say that it isn’t tough enough, and we have to get tougher. And dozens of media outlets will run stories titled “McCain Calls for Tougher Stance Toward Ukraine,” as though he were some kind of wise and influential foreign policy voice, and not a buffoon.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 21, 2014

February 22, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, John McCain | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A License To Discriminate”: Religious Freedom Is A Shield, Not A Sword

When a bad idea pops up in a state legislature, it’s about as common as the sunrise. When the same bad idea pops up in 10 state legislatures at the same time, something odd is going on.

At issue are proposals to make anti-gay discrimination easier for social conservatives under the guise of “religious liberty.” Kansas, for example, recently generated national headlines for a bill that would have given those with “sincerely held religious beliefs” license to discriminate practically everywhere – restaurants could deny gay couples service; hotels could deny gay couples rooms, even public-sector workers could refuse to provide services to LGBT Kansans.

Kansas’ right-to-discriminate bill was derailed, but as Adam Serwer reported yesterday, very similar proposals have drawn attention in Idaho, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah. My colleague Laura Conaway found a related measure in Maine.

“Religious freedom is a shield, not a sword,” Nick Worner of the Ohio ACLU said, paraphrasing George H.W. Bush appointed federal Judge Carol Jackson. “It’s not religious freedom when you’re using it to hurt someone else.”

For proponents of civil rights, the good news is that these proposals are faltering in nine states. The bad news is, a bill in Arizona’s Republican-led legislature actually passed yesterday.

The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday and the GOP-led House on Thursday, would bolster a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion.

The state Senate passed it on a straight party-line vote, 17 to 13. The House followed suit, 33 to 27, with two Republicans joining all the Democrats in opposition.

This is no modest effort to accommodate religiously motivated discrimination.

Democratic opponents of the bill tried to make clear to GOP lawmakers just how significant the right-to-discriminate measure would be.

[O]pponents say it could also protect a corporation that refused to hire anyone who wasn’t Christian and could block members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from access to nearly any business or service.

“The message that’s interpreted is: ‘We want you to work here, but we are not going to go out of our way to protect you, to protect your rights, to protect your family,’ ” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. “God forbid should someone come to the Super Bowl and come to a restaurant that is not going to allow them in.”

The bill is awaiting action from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who has not yet taken a position on the proposal.

If she signs it into law, a legal challenge would be inevitable. Organized boycotts would also appear likely.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 21, 2014

February 22, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“New Study Makes The Case For Gun Control”: The Strongest Evidence We Have That Background Checks Really Matter

During last year’s battle over gun control, the pro-gun side did more than passionately invoke the Second Amendment: They claimed that gun control doesn’t work. Sometimes even the reformers, surveying the limited impact of legislation from the 1990s, feared the same. But a new study on universal background checks makes the strongest case yet that the policy saves lives. “This is probably the strongest evidence we have that background checks really matter,” said Philip Cook, a gun expert at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

The study, from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found the murder rate in Missouri jumped 16 percent—an additional 55 to 63 murders a year—after the repeal in 2007 of a state law that required anyone purchasing a handgun to obtain a permit showing they had passed a background check. (Though federal law mandates background checks by licensed dealers, private dealers don’t have to perform them in all but 14 states.) “This study provides compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence,” said Daniel Webster, the study’s lead author, in a statement.

Since this is only a single study, “it’s just suggestive,” warned David Hemenway of Harvard’s School of Public Health. It is “another piece of evidence that is consistent with the bulk of the literature, which shows where there are fewer guns, there are fewer problems… But you want eight more studies that say background checks really matter.”

And the study isn’t perfect: Missouri also enacted a “stand your ground” law in 2007, creating some challenges in disentangling the effects. But Cook said he is confident that background checks played a major role because the authors tracked an increase in guns that went directly from dealers to criminals—exactly the scenario background checks are designed to prevent. The study also notes an uptick in guns “purchased in Missouri that were subsequently recovered by police in border states that retained their [permit-to-purchase] laws.”

The findings at least begin to fill a gap in the research that last year’s debate exposed. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, found that the shortage of data stems from a shortage of funding—especially federal funding. In 1996, the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby pushed Congress to eliminate the $2.6 million appropriation that underwrote the Center for Disease Control’s research on firearm injuries. President Barack Obama ended the funding freeze last year, and Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Research Program at the University of California, Davis, told NBC that private funding for gun research has also spiked with the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other high-profile acts of violence.

So why hasn’t the new finding gotten much attention? “I don’t mean to diminish the value of the study, but I don’t think it could have made a difference last year, and I don’t think it will now,” said Tom Diaz, a former policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center. He called the finding “very clear,” but added: “The debate is just unhinged from the facts.”

As the study notes, 89 percent of Americans, and 84 percent of gun owners, supported universal background checks in 2013, before this study bolstered the argument for them. But that’s just one more reason for Congress to pick up the issue again—that, and a new analysis last week which found there have been 44 school shootings since the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

 

By: Nora Caplan-Bricker, The New Republic, February 19, 2014

February 22, 2014 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Minimum Truth”: The Hollow Argument Against Higher Wages

In the midst of a crucial political debate that plainly favored proponents of a higher minimum wage, the Congressional Budget Office dropped a bombshell headline this week.  Increasing the minimum to $10.10 an hour – as demanded by President Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill – will “cost 500,000 jobs.” At a moment when employment still lags badly, that assertion was potentially devastating.

Almost lost in much of the predictable media coverage was the CBO’s estimate that a minimum-wage increase would lift at least 900,000 workers and their families out of poverty – and boost incomes for at least 15 million more.

But as top economists have repeatedly pointed out, such damning employment numbers are fuzzy and unreliable, while the CBO’s poverty numbers probably underestimated the positive impact of a higher minimum.

Moreover, those 500,000-jobs-lost headlines were highly misleading, with the strong implication that more than half a million actual people would be laid off — which is wrong. In fact, the CBO number is meant to estimate the number of jobs that employers might not fill when workers leave, or the number of jobs that employers might not create as quickly if they must pay a higher wage.  It doesn’t mean that people will lose their current jobs, but those people seeking low-wage jobs may have to look slightly longer to find them.

What about that nice round number of 500,000? Naturally it is rounded to the nearest hundred thousand, but more to the point is that the headlined number is simply the midpoint of an estimated range from “slight impact” or zero lost jobs on the low end to one million on the high end.

Such a million-job spread represents substantial uncertainty. Skeptics may consider the uncertainty even greater because the CBO report relied heavily on disputed assumptions by conservative economists – and diverged from the consensus of top US economists, who expect that moderate increases have a vanishingly small impact on employment.

But even if 500,000 fewer jobs are created in the short run, that somewhat notional cost must be weighed against the indisputable benefit to low-wage workers. As economist Dean Baker explains:

With 25 million people projected to be in the pool of beneficiaries from a higher minimum wage, this means that we can expect affected workers to put in on average about 2 percent fewer hours a year. However when they do work, those at the bottom will see a 39.3 percent increase in pay.

While overstating the negative effect of raising the minimum wage on jobs, the CBO study understated the positive effect on families living in poverty. Its estimate of 900,000 families lifted above the poverty line is based on computer simulations. But historical research into the effect of previous minimum-wage increases suggest a much more robust benefit to the working poor.

According to University of Massachusetts economist Arindrajit Dube, who has studied the effects of minimum-wage increases in recent decades, the impact on poverty is much more powerful than the CBO suggests. He quotes a study by the Hamilton Project, a centrist economic think-tank based at the Brookings Institution, which suggests that as many as 35 million families will benefit from an increase to $10.10 an hour due to “spillover effects” raising income among workers who already make slightly more than the minimum.

Dube’s studies of the historical effect of past minimum-wage increases indicate that raising the federal minimum to $10.10 would lift somewhere between 4.6 and 6 million households above the poverty line.

Raising the minimum wage will also reduce profiteering by large, highly profitable employers like Walmart and McDonalds, whose workers rely on government benefits – such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps – to supplement inadequate paychecks.  Survey after survey reflects the strong public appetite for higher wages at the low end. But popular approval is not the only way that companies can actually benefit from improving workers’ earnings and livelihoods.

The Gap clothing chain just announced that its workers will soon receive better pay to bring them above the current federal minimum. Announcing that his company will voluntarily raise its lowest-paid workers to $9 this year and $10 next year, Gap CEO Glenn Murphy said he regards the expense as a “strategic investment” that would pay for itself many times over in better productivity and morale (as well as lower job turnover and training costs).

When the clear social benefits of raising wages are contrasted with the dubious warnings of lost jobs, there is no real argument. If we intend to address poverty and reduce inequality, higher wages across the workforce are imperative – but especially at the bottom.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, February 21, 2014

February 22, 2014 Posted by | Minimum Wage, Poverty | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Unreasonable Absolutist Death Penalties”: The ‘Stand Your Ground’ Mindset Is Flawed

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was not invoked by the defense at either the trial of George Zimmerman or, more recently, Michael Dunn. But the mindset was present in both cases, and raises some troubling questions about what constitutes self-defense.

In the Zimmerman case, the defendant was acquitted of shooting an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, in the chest, arguing that Martin had attacked him. Zimmerman was acquitted.

In the Dunn case, the defendant’s behavior was even more sketchy. He had pulled into a gas station, and – annoyed by what he called the “rap crap” emanating from another car there – asked the four teenagers inside to turn it down. Dunn said 17-year-old Jordan Davis then threatened him and had a shotgun, and Dunn then shot into the car. Prosecutors said there was no threat (there was, in fact, no gun in the boys’ SUV) and merely shot 10 bullets into the car because he didn’t like the loud music.

Davis was killed, and Dunn was convicted of attempted murder of the three surviving teens. The jury deadlocked over whether Dunn was guilty of fist-degree murder of Davis. From a practical standpoint, it may not matter as much – Zimmerman is free, and has spent the time doing such bizarrely inappropriate activities as posing for a photo with a gun manufacturer and getting into a fight with his girlfriend, while Dunn already faces up to 60 years in prison for the attempted murder convictions. But the mindset, that “threat” is in the eye of the shooter, endures.

Florida law says someone does not have an obligation to retreat if he or she “reasonably” believes his or her life is at stake, even if there is no actual threat. (The “Stand Your Ground” law was not specifically invoked at either trial, but the Florida self-defense statute, complete with that language, was read to the jury.) How far does one take that? State of mind is indeed a reasonable factor to consider. But putting the onus on the prosecution to prove that the defendant was not reasonably in fear for his or her life merely enables racism, xenophobia and any other kind of fear-based in bias.

Would a middle-aged white man be more “reasonable” in believing that four black teenagers were a threat, than if the ages and races were reversed? That’s not stated in the law, of course, but juries, which insert their own experiences and fears into their judgments, might think so. A woman has a far greater chance of being raped than any man of any race has of being murdered. Would that make it OK for a woman walking alone to attack or shoot a man walking past her – especially if the man were of the same race, since most rapes are intra-racial?

The problem with the standard of “reasonable” is that it isn’t reasonable at all. It puts law behind emotion and human bias.

In Virginia, current law allows farmers to shoot dogs which run after their chickens, and officers are actually required to kill a dog caught going after someone’s poultry. The state legislature recently cleared a bill that would soften that law, giving urban areas (where more people, it seems, are raising chickens) the right to ease such absolutist death penalties. If Virginia can do more to protect dogs, perhaps Florida could do more to protect people.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, February 19, 2014

February 22, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Stand Your Ground Laws | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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