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“HO, HO, NO!: The NRA’s Twisted List For Santa

You might have heard that the U.S. Senate last week finally voted to confirm the president’s nominee for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

You also might have wondered what all the fuss was about. The vote on America’s top doctor was held up for nearly a year, thanks to a campaign by the National Rifle Association. Dr. Murthy was endorsed by the medical community, but the NRA’s lobbying machine turned his nomination into a political battle. All because Murthy believes that gun violence, which kills an average of 86 Americans every day, is a public health issue.

For most of us, acknowledging that America has a gun violence problem is stating a fact. For the NRA’s leadership, it’s heresy.

The gun lobby’s goal is to expand its customer base—and boost gunmakers’ bottom lines, no matter the risk to public safety. So a new surgeon general committed to reducing gun violence isn’t what the gun lobby wanted for Christmas.

The NRA’s wish list looks more like this:

• Guns for felons. The NRA has fought for the rights of felons to buy and own firearms. That means successfully restoring gun rights to convicted murderers, robbers, rapists, and people guilty of transferring explosives to international terrorists.

• Guns for terror suspects. The NRA has opposed efforts to block terror suspects from buying guns. Today the FBI can stop terror suspects from boarding a plane, but not from purchasing firearms.

• Guns for domestic abusers. The NRA objects to restraining orders that require domestic abusers to give up their guns. This year, six states—including Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana—defied the gun lobby and enacted laws that will help keep guns out of the hands of abusers.

• Guns for the mentally ill. The NRA opposed a new California law that will help prevent gun deaths, homicides and suicides both. Police and family members now can present evidence to a judge, who can order temporary custody of a mentally ill person’s guns for a brief, emergency period.

• Gun gag orders. The NRA objects to doctors asking patients basic questions about gun ownership. For example, before Congress repealed it in 2012, an NRA-authored gag order barred doctors and military officers from talking about guns with service members at risk of suicide.

• Guns on campus. The NRA has pushed for “campus carry” laws—despite near unanimous opposition from college presidents, law enforcement, and parents—and for arming educators in K-12 schools.

• Guns in bars. The NRA has pushed to allow guns in bars—despite the fact that 40 percent of people convicted of homicide had been drinking alcohol at the time of their offense.

Guns in restaurants and grocery stores. The NRA supports the open carry of guns in cafes, burrito shops, and the produce aisle. They reiterated their position in June, after a staffer first made the mistake of calling open carry demonstrations “weird” and “scary.”

• Gun lawsuits. The NRA wants the ability to sue local officials for passing laws that protect public safety. They push for so-called “preemption” bills in statehouses—which allow them to file expensive lawsuits against towns, cities, and even mayors and city commissioners.

• Guns for everyone, no questions asked. The NRA opposed Washington State’s gun-sale background checks ballot measure this year. The measure passed with 59 percent of the vote. Like background check laws across the country, it will help keep guns out of dangerous hands, reduce gun crime, and save lives.

That’s the gun lobby’s wish list for America—more guns for everyone, everywhere, anytime.

The new surgeon general certainly has his work cut out for him. But in 2014, numerous states passed common-sense public safety laws, showing that the momentum for gun safety is building. And just like Dr. Murthy’s confirmation, that’s bad news for the NRA.

 

By: John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety; The Daily Beast, December 23, 2014

December 24, 2014 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sometimes Things Don’t Work Out As Planned”: UPS’s Christmas Screw Up Is Comeuppance For Private-Sector Triumphalists

At the heart of the great big pile-on of ridicule for the flawed healthcare.gov rollout the past few months was a large helping of private-sector triumphalism. Just imagine, the chorus went, if tech giants like Amazon or Google had been in charge of the Web site instead of those clueless, fusty bureaucrats – first, the problems would not have happened in the first place, but even if they had, the private sector would have held those responsible for the mistakes to account.

Bret Stephens wrote an entire column in the Wall Street Journal listing all the ways that the kludgy healthcare.gov launch had failed to live up to Amazonian standards: “For an ‘Amazon-like’ experience, it isn’t enough to have a website that functions on the front end, the back end and in between. Nor is it enough to have a site that can handle 800,000 users a day without crashing, as the administration now boasts of the health site. Amazon.com handled 26.5 million purchases on Nov. 26, 2012, a company record and a rate of 306 items per second. You also need an Amazon-like culture, which is the product of other Amazon-like realities. Such as: Jeff Bezos as the boss, demanding results and innovation from his employees, providing results and satisfaction for his customers and shareholders.” California congresswoman Anne Eshoo, a Democrat, questioned the contractors’ excuse that the website’s problems had been exacerbated by the large number of visitors after the launch: “There are thousands of websites that handle concurrent volumes far larger than what HealthCare.gov was faced with,” she said. “Amazon and eBay don’t crash the week before Christmas, and ProFlowers doesn’t crash on Valentine’s Day.” And the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein mocked healthcare.gov’s performance by noting that during the 2011 holiday shopping season, “nearly half of [large retail] websites (such as Amazon and eBay) were up 100 percent of the time. The lowest performing was Foot Locker, which was at 98.573 percent.” He added: “Imagine what a disaster it would be for sales if, during the holiday shopping season, Amazon’s website were down for about a day and a half.”

Yes, just imagine the disaster: the presents might not make it to people’s homes on time!

Oh, wait, what’s this I see in today’s papers?

A surge in online shopping this holiday season left stores breaking promises to deliver packages by Christmas, suggesting that retailers and shipping companies still haven’t fully figured out consumers’ buying patterns in the Internet era. Companies from Amazon.com Inc. to Kohl’s Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., having promised to deliver items before Dec. 25, missed some delivery target dates. United Parcel Service Inc. determined late Tuesday that it wouldn’t deliver some goods in time for Christmas, as a spike in last-minute shopping overwhelmed its system. “The volume of air packages in the UPS system did exceed capacity as demand was much greater than our forecast,” a UPS spokeswoman said…. Although weather, Web glitches and late deliveries from manufacturers played a part in late deliveries, the sheer unanticipated volume of holiday buying this year may have been the biggest problem, retail analysts said.

…In notifications to some Amazon customers, UPS said there were some shipping delays because it had “not yet received the package from the shipper.” “Amazon fulfillment centers processed and tendered customer orders to delivery carriers on time for holiday delivery,” said an Amazon spokeswoman Wednesday. “We are reviewing the performance of the delivery carriers.” The spokeswoman also said Amazon refunded any shipping charges associated with the impacted shipment and provided a $20 gift card. She declined to say how many customers had been impacted or offered such a rebate.

On Christmas Eve, Brandon Scott was still waiting for a 46-inch Samsung TV and Kate Spade watch he ordered from Amazon on Saturday. “I’m frustrated because these items could have easily been purchased at various retailers in my area, something I would have gladly done had Amazon not ‘guaranteed’ their arrival before Christmas,” said Mr. Scott, of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Well, then. There’s little schadenfreude to be had in people being left empty-handed of presents to give their family and friends, or in underpaid, overworked warehouse employees and drivers rushing unsuccessfully to get the goods to their destinations on time. And as my colleague Jonathan Cohn noted recently, the comparison between healthcare.gov and Amazon was deeply flawed from the outset. But still, the Great Christmas Delivery Screwup of 2013 should inject a bit of perspective and humility into the ranks of the loudest private-sector champions. The fact is, the clichés are true: life is complicated, stuff happens and sometimes things don’t work out as planned. As amazing and wonderful as technology is, there are still limits to what is possible in narrow windows of time – sometimes you just need a few more weeks to get the complex new health insurance Web site for 36 states working properly, or you just run out of hours to beat Santa to the house – to millions and millions of houses. (And sometimes it’s not just the government web site that struggles with keeping personal information secure, but also one of the largest retailers in the country, in a breach far wider and more potentially damaging than anything that has happened with healthcare.gov.)

So, how about it: if not an outright truce, maybe some de-escalation of the anti-government triumphalism. And a little forgiveness all around. Happy Boxing Day.

 

By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, December 26, 2013

December 28, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Private Companies | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Private Isn’t Always Better Than Public”: UPS Delivers Christmas A Day Late

It’s the day after Christmas, which means, for many holiday revelers, that their Christmas packages are just arriving today. Or maybe tomorrow.

United Parcel Service, the Georgia-based company that is the go-to package delivery option for millions of Americans, fell short – far short – of meeting holiday expectations this year. Apparently overwhelmed by the delivery demands of the season, UPS failed to get packages to customers in time to put them under the holiday tree.

The number of undelivered packages was not revealed by the company, but social media exploded with complaints from people who said they had ordered online specifically because they were guaranteed pre-Christmas delivery. In a statement, the company said:

UPS understands the importance of your holiday shipments. UPS is experiencing heavy holiday volume and making every effort to get packages to their destination.

It’s not an acceptable explanation, just as it wasn’t a good explanation when the Obama administration said its health care website wasn’t working right because it was overwhelmed with traffic the first day people could go online to sign up for insurance. It is – or should be – someone’s job to figure out that when one is in a big-demand season, there needs to be enough staff to handle it. No one put it better than Saturday Night Live: It’s like 1-800-FLOWERS being taken by surprise by Valentine’s Day.

But there’s another issue here, and that is the public/private bias. Why is Amazon using UPS instead of the U.S. Postal Service? I ordered two books and a CD from Amazon 10 days before Christmas, and my package arrived (thankfully) late afternoon on Christmas Eve. The packages I sent through the U.S. Post Office arrived exactly as promise: When I got two-day Priority delivery, it got there in two days. And (“free” shipping aside), the U.S. postal service is cheaper than the private alternatives.

There seems to be a persistent idea that a private entity is always better or more efficient than a public one. You have people who spent many tens of thousands of dollars to attend some private college which offers no better education than many of the public institutions out there. But the graduates behave as though they’ve gotten some superior level of instruction, just because they didn’t have to go to school with the socio-economic riff-raff. There is, of course, a difference between state universities and pricey private colleges, of course. You can’t buy your way into a public school.

My mail arrives every day it’s supposed to – on time, and delivered by a cheerful and dedicated public servant, a mail carrier who managed to get mail to my building during Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy and all kinds of bad weather. It’s a shame UPS didn’t get packages to people on time. Next year, two changes could fix the problem: the private company could hire enough staff to handle and deliver packages. Or consumers could just use the reliable U.S. Postal Service.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 26, 2013

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Private Companies | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Evangelical Church’s Ugly Truth”: Duck Dynasty And Christian Racists

The Evangelical Church has a racism problem. And it is incumbent on us in this Christmas season to tell the truth about that. Recently A&E suspended Phil Robertson, the patriarch of its hit show, “Duck Dynasty,” for making incredibly homophobic statements in a GQ magazine interview. In typical fashion, he affirmed his evangelical belief that homosexuality is a sin, but went even further, comparing gay people’s sexual behavior to bestiality, and declaring emphatically that they would not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

Liberal-minded folk, some Christians included, have been outraged at his homophobia, while conservative Christians of all races jumped to defend his right to free speech. Many of these Christians feel particularly threatened by what they call “censorship” of Robertson, because the belief that homosexuality is a sin, and the right to declare that belief freely without recourse, has become for many of these people a defining marker of their identity as Christians.

A reluctant evangelical, I reject conservative theological teachings on homosexuality; the violence that the Church does to gay people in the name of God is indeed one of the primary reasons for my reluctance. But I am also ambivalent about the Church because of its continued subjugation of women and its failure to be forthright about its continuing racism problem.

I grew up in a black baptist church, in a small town in North Central Louisiana, about 30 miles west of where “Duck Dynasty” is filmed. I made my first “profession of faith” in Jesus Christ while at a white baptist church I had visited with my childhood best friend, Amanda, when I was about 7 years old. I was baptized at the age of 13.

At 33 years of age, my disillusionment with the church — which has come to full bloom in the last five years or so — is the thing that perhaps most solidly marks me as a member of the Millennial generation. Though I am often ambivalent about that label, too, I still get why Millennials, fed up with the vile homophobia of the church — as particularly evidenced by the “Duck Dynasty” episode — are leaving the institution in droves. But in the fervor and closing of ranks over Robertson’s homophobia, many Christians, white and Black, old and young alike, have missed the racist remarks he made in that same interview. Millennials, it turns out, haven’t proven themselves to be fundamentally better on race, despite post-racial proclamations to the contrary.

Apparently, according to Robertson, 1950s and 60s Louisiana — the Louisiana of his childhood — was a happy heavenly place where Black people hoed cotton and eschewed the blues:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

I have several aunts and uncles and a grandparent who would beg to differ with Robertson’s account of events. In 1956, several hundred African Americans were purged from the voter registration rolls in Monroe, and spent years struggling to be re-enfranchised.

I’m reminded of these words from James Baldwin’s essay “A Fly in Buttermilk”:

“Segregation has worked brilliantly in the South, and in fact, in the nation to this extent: It has allowed white people with scarcely any pangs of conscience whatever, to create, in every generation only the Negro they wished to see.”

But racism and colonization have also allowed white people, like Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, to create the Jesus they wish to see, too: a blonde, blue-eyed white man with long hair. Now my Bible says that Jesus was a Jew with Egyptian (Read: African) ancestry (Matthew 1). But many white people are decidedly uncomfortable worshipping a God that doesn’t look like them.

As Evangelicalism goes, racism, homophobia, and sexism go hand in hand. Black evangelicals like to tell themselves that they can reject Christianity’s racist past, while embracing homophobic and sexist ideas about the position of gay people and women, in the world and the church. I have come to say: It just isn’t so.

God is not a racist. I know that despite a Bible that sanctions enslavement and implores slaves to obey and be kind to their masters.

God is not a sexist. I know that despite a Bible that tells me that women are to be quiet in church, that women are not to teach men, that women are to submit.

God is not a homophobe. I know that despite a Bible that declares sex between men to be an abomination.

God is love. That is a truth I learned first and foremost from the Bible. And it holds moral and political weight for me because of the life that Jesus Christ lived, from birth to death and back again.

I love the Church, despite myself. But I won’t love it uncritically. This is what hermeneutic consistency requires. And worshipping alongside white folks who are more moved to stand with a homophobe than to stand against racism gives me great pause.

The Church can no longer afford to be disingenuous about its racism problem. Easy unity is not what we need. Time has run out for an African American Church that continues to tack hard to the right — uncritically imbibing the agenda of the (white) Evangelical Right, without acknowledging that this position, predicated as it is on the belief that Christian = Republican, is fundamentally averse to, and in some ways responsible for, the declining social and political condition of African Americans, gay and straight alike.

Ironically enough, the progressive Christians who inspire me the most these days are white. Rachel Held Evans, Jay Bakker, Brian McLaren and theologian Peter Enns are fighting the good fight of faith. But I won’t let any of them off the hook for their failure to be more forthright in addressing racism. Evans, Bakker and McLaren are great on questions of homophobia, poverty and sexism; but racism, when it is addressed at all, is largely addressed as a problem of individual attitudes rather than systemic disfranchisement. What Robertson’s statements point to, however, is that individual prejudices, and the amelioration of them, are bound up with the structures that support them. After all, it wasn’t his racist statements that got him suspended.

This is the season of hope. And I am hopeful. Because even though Phil Robertson said gay people would not inherit the kingdom of God, Jesus did say that the Kingdom of God is within us. Phil Robertson and his ilk don’t possess the keys to the kingdom. We do.

 

By: Brittany Cooper, Contributing Writer, Salon, December 24, 2013

December 25, 2013 Posted by | Racism, Religion | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“During The Holidays, Remember Our Least”: Today We Have To Say “Thou Shalt Not” To An Economy Of Exclusion And Inequality

As we celebrate the holiday season, we are instructed by virtually all faiths to turn our thoughts to the “least of these.” January will mark the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, but most notable today is how impoverished our discussion of poverty is.

Political leaders in both parties pledge to save the “middle class,” because polls show that most Americans consider themselves part of the broad middle. Democrats tout their “middle out” economics against Republican “trickle-down” economics. Republicans claim to be fighting to save small businesses and middle-class homeowners from the rapacious demands of government. Very little attention is given to the poorest among us.

Perhaps that is because poverty scars this rich nation. A recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) reveals that among 35 developed nations the United States ranks 34th in childhood poverty, above only Romania, a country several times less wealthy. Worse, we are also next to last in the depth of childhood poverty — the gap between average income of child’s family and that of poverty standard.

There is no argument about the facts. The poor were much more deprived when Lyndon Johnson declared his “war on poverty,” of course, but the percentage in poverty hasn’t changed much . Childhood poverty translates into poor health, poor education, and poor prospects. It isn’t an accident that the country frequently at the top of the international education rankings – Finland — also has the lowest levels of childhood poverty in that U.N. study.

So you’d think Washington would be focused on what to do to reduce the number of children in poverty, to address mass unemployment, declining wages, family distress. Instead, Washington has decided to administer a little “tough love.” Last month, Congress cut food stamps by an average of 7 percent for 48 million Americans . And this week 1.3 million jobless Americans will lose unemployment benefits , with as many as 5 million left in the cold over the course of the coming year .

In his recent “exhortation,” Pope Francis wrote starkly about the moral challenge of poverty:

“We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time, we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries.  . . .[Emphasis added.]

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Here, the Pope was standing firmly in the long tradition of the church’s concern for the poor, but among American conservatives, the response was hysteria. Rush Limbaugh accused him of peddling “pure Marxism.” Louis Woodhill in Forbes scorned him for “Papal Bull” that seemed “copied and pasted out of The Nation or Mother Jones.” (I take that as a compliment.) Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a pious Catholic, was notably silent.

In a recent speech on inequality, President Obama insisted, “We are a better country than this,” and he made the case for government action. But his agenda was far less impressive than his rhetoric — including lower corporate tax rates, more trade accords, “streamlined” regulations, a “responsible budget” (meaning continued austerity).

The president touted his “race to the top” education program, when, in fact, schools in low-income districts have been forced to fire teachers, leaving classrooms far more crowded. He bragged on his college loan efforts even as reports showed students are graduating even deeper in debt. He did repeat his call for universal preschool and raising the minimum wage, but neither of these has been able even to receive a vote in the Republican-led House.

The reality is that government programs to lift the poor work. Johnson’s War on Poverty brought poverty down dramatically, but that war was lost to the war in Vietnam. Today, the United States does a much better job lifting poor children out of poverty than it did before Johnson pushed through Medicare and Medicaid expansions, child nutrition programs, subsidized school lunches and more. Even so, the United States still does far less than other developed countries. In 2010, for example, Dutch government programs reduced its poverty rate from 25 percent to 7.5 percent , while the United States only reduced its rate from 28 percent to 17 percent .

Two fundamental issues should be at the center of our debate. The first, posed by Pope Francis and Barack Obama, is what must be done to make the economy work for working people? The second is that posed by the president: Are we a better country than this? Do we want to be? We know what works. We can afford it, even more than other industrial countries. But are we prepared to do what needs to be done?

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 24, 2013

December 25, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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