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“Once Again, Guns”: The N.R.A.’s Vision Of The World Is Purposefully Dark And Utterly Irrational

There’s a TV ad that’s been running in Louisiana:

It’s evening and a mom is tucking in her baby. Getting a nice text from dad, who’s away on a trip. Then suddenly — dark shadow on a window. Somebody’s smashing the front door open! Next thing you know, there’s police tape around the house, blinking lights on emergency vehicles.

“It happens like that,” says a somber narrator. “The police can’t get there in time. How you defend yourself is up to you. It’s your choice. But Mary Landrieu voted to take away your gun rights. Vote like your safety depends on it. Defend your freedom. Defeat Mary Landrieu.”

Guns are a big issue in some of the hottest elections around the country this year, but there hasn’t been much national discussion about it. Perhaps we’ve been too busy worrying whether terrorists are infecting themselves with Ebola and sneaking across the Mexican border.

But now, as usual, we’re returning to the issue because of a terrible school shooting.

The latest — a high school freshman boy with a gun in the school’s cafeteria — occurred in the state of Washington, which also happens to be ground zero for the election-year gun debate. At least that’s the way the movement against gun violence sees it. There’s a voter initiative on the ballot that would require background checks for gun sales at gun shows or online. “We need to be laser focused on getting this policy passed,” said Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign.

Think about this. It’s really remarkable. Two years after the Sandy Hook tragedy, the top gun-control priority in the United States is still background checks. There is nothing controversial about the idea that people who buy guns should be screened to make sure they don’t have a criminal record or serious mental illness. Americans favor it by huge majorities. Even gun owners support it. Yet we’re still struggling with it.

The problem, of course, is the National Rifle Association, which does not actually represent gun owners nearly as ferociously as it represents gun sellers. The background check bill is on the ballot under voter initiative because the Washington State Legislature was too frightened of the N.R.A. to take it up. This in a state that managed to pass a right-to-die law, approve gay marriage and legalize the sale of marijuana.

The N.R.A. has worked hard to cultivate its reputation for terrifying implacability. Let’s return for a minute to Senator Mary Landrieu, who’s in a very tough re-election race. Last year, in the wake of Sandy Hook, she voted for a watered-down background check bill. It failed to get the requisite 60 votes in the Senate, but the N.R.A. is not forgetting.

Nor is it a fan of compromise. Landrieu has tried to straddle the middle on gun issues; she voted last year for the N.R.A.’s own top priority, a bill to create an enormous loophole in concealed weapons laws. As a reward, she got a “D” rating and the murdered-mom ad. In Colorado, the embattled Senator Mark Udall, who has a similar voting record, is getting the same treatment.

The N.R.A.’s vision of the world is purposefully dark and utterly irrational. It’s been running a series of what it regards as positive ads, which are so grim they do suggest that it’s time to grab a rifle and head for the bunker. In one, a mournful-looking woman asks whether there’s still anything worth fighting for in “a world that demands we submit, succumb, and believe in nothing.” It is, she continues, a world full of “cowards who pretend they don’t notice the elderly man fall …”

Now when was the last time you saw people ignore an elderly man who falls down? I live in what is supposed to be a hard-hearted city, but when an old person trips and hits the ground, there is a veritable stampede to get him upright.

The ad running against people like Landrieu makes no sense whatsoever. If that background-check bill had become law, the doomed mother would still have been able to buy a gun for protection unless she happened to be a convicted felon. And while we have many, many, many things to worry about these days, the prospect of an armed stranger breaking through the front door and murdering the family is not high on the list. Unless the intruder was actually a former abusive spouse or boyfriend, in which case a background check would have been extremely helpful in keeping him unarmed.

A shooting like the one in Washington State is so shocking that it seems almost improper to suggest that people respond by passing an extremely mild gun control measure. But there is a kind of moral balance. While we may not be able to stop these tragedies from happening, we can stop thinking of ourselves as a country that lets them happen and then does nothing.

Unless your worldview is as bleak as the N.R.A.’s, you have to believe we’re better than that.

 

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 24, 2014

October 26, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Contrary To Popular Belief”: In Real Life, Higher Minimum Wage Doesn’t Kill Jobs

Economists and government officials endlessly speculate on the impact of raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

Most recently, a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour might cut employment by 500,000 workers. That is balanced by the projection that higher pay could also boost about 900,000 people out of poverty.

But some places in the U.S. already have real-life experience with raising their minimum wage.

Washington state, for example, has the nation’s highest rate, $9.32 an hour. Despite dire predictions that increases would cripple job growth and boost unemployment, this isn’t what happened.

At 6.6 percent, the unemployment rate in December was a click below the U.S. average, 6.7 percent, and the state’s job creation is sturdy, 16th in the nation, according to a report by Stateline, the news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In Seattle, where metropolitan-area unemployment is 5.3 percent, that $9.32 sounds so yesterday. The mayor and city council are practically in a race to see who can move faster and with more gusto to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Safe bet: They will make a move by summer. Seattle could then surpass San Francisco, another city that fancies its role as a laboratory. The City by the Bay’s minimum wage is the highest (not counting airport workers), at $10.74 an hour, and officials are discussing a new rate of about $15.

While Seattle and San Francisco are unrepresentative of the nation, they have helped pressure their states to raise their minimum wages. Fifteen years ago, Washington voters approved an initiative giving the lowest-paid workers a raise almost every year, with increases now tied to inflation. Those increases produced the highest U.S. rate, although California could lap that in 2016 when it hits $10 an hour. Washington governor Jay Inslee and Democratic legislators have been pushing to raise the statewide amount to almost $11 or $12 an hour, but that now seems unlikely this year.

Critics of the voter-approved increase in Washington said it would harm the economy and cause businesses to flee to lower-wage states, such as neighboring Idaho, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That didn’t happen, as the experience of Washington counties bordering Idaho show.

At the Olive Garden in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, the spaghetti and meatballs are about $1.70 cheaper than at the Olive Garden about a half-hour away in Spokane, Washington. That may be explained by Idaho’s lower minimum wage, taxes, land costs or something else. A restaurant spokeswoman would only cite vague costs of products and of doing business in various locations. Whatever it is hasn’t stopped Olive Garden from operating two restaurants in the Spokane area.

Bruce Beckett, government affairs director of the Washington Restaurant Association, said he wasn’t aware of any restaurants bailing out of Spokane for Idaho. He said he had heard anecdotes about local restaurateurs buying cheaper supplies in Idaho — fairly small potatoes.

Two bakeries moved across the border a few years ago, said Robin Toth of Greater Spokane Incorporated, a Chamber of Commerce and economic-development organization, but she said those businesses cited Washington’s taxes, not its higher minimum wage, as the reason for doing so.

Yes, but what about businesses that can be based anywhere?

The Spokane chamber group had heard of one telemarketing company that had considered an operation in Spokane, then chose El Paso, Texas, instead. The company mentioned the higher minimum wage.

To be fair, it is difficult to measure what didn’t happen: the businesses that didn’t locate in the state, the job growth that vanished, the young people who missed opportunities. There is fear that adults are taking some jobs from teenagers. The state teenage unemployment rate is about 30.6 percent, compared with a national figure of 22.9 percent.

But over the years, states have raised the minimum wage above the federal level without major harm.

A study at the University of California at Berkeley compared hundreds of pairs of adjacent counties in states with differing minimum-wage rates and concluded that a higher minimum wage didn’t significantly affect employment.

“We found in these cross-border comparisons that employment did not decline on the higher wage side of the border,’’ said Michael Reich, one of three authors.

The research found that employers in places in the U.S. where the minimum wage was higher, as in eastern Washington, had an easier time recruiting and retaining workers, said Reich, who directs Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

“As a result, they saved on hiring and turnover costs, as well as the costs of not being able to fill all their vacancies,” he said. “Increased labor supply, together with small price increases in restaurants, could explain why we did not find employment moving to lower wage areas, such as in western Idaho.’’

Minimum-wage workers are younger, often single, perhaps working two jobs in leisure, hospitality, food preparation and serving. A single individual working full time and being paid Washington’s minimum wage earns more than the federal poverty level.

That changes if the earner is supporting a family. Maybe Seattle’s ascent into $15 territory — along with a few other cities — will eventually give Washington and other states the political will to follow this path. There is little real-life evidence to discourage them.

 

By: Joni Balter, The National Memo, February 24, 2014

February 25, 2014 Posted by | Jobs, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Not An Isolated Incident”: Washington Bridge Collapse Another Sign That America’s Infrastructure Is In Bad Shape

On Thursday evening, an Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington state collapsed, sending two cars into the water and injuring three people. So far no fatalities have been reported. Authorities don’t yet know what caused the collapse.

Another bridge also collapsed in Texas on Thursday after catching fire. The fire burned too hot for firefighters to put out, so they let it burn. It was a railway bridge over the Colorado river and repairing it could cost $10 million.

The bridge in Washington was listed as “functionally obsolete,” which does not mean it was considered structurally deficient or unsafe, but rather that it was built to standards that are no longer used and may have had inadequate lane widths or vertical clearance. As Yahoo! News reported, the bridge was built in 1955 and had a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, “well below the statewide average rating of 80.”

Unfortunately, these bridge collapses are not isolated incidents. There are 759 bridges in the state that have a lower sufficiency rating than the one that fell apart. More than 350 bridges in Washington are considered structurally deficient, meaning they require repair or replacement of a component, although are not necessarily considered in danger of collapse. More than 1,500 are considered functionally obsolete.

Overall, one in nine of the country’s bridges are rated structurally deficient by the American Society of Civil Engineer’s yearly report card in American infrastructure. The average age for the nation’s bridges is 42 years. This netted the country a C+ rating on its bridges, which is mediocre. To upgrade all of the deficient ones, the U.S. would need to invest $20.5 billion annually.

Yet only $12.8 billion is being spent on bridge updates currently. The country’s infrastructure only got a total grade of D+, a poor rating. Overall, the country needs to spend $3.6 trillion by 2020 to bring it into the 21st century.

Investment, however, has been moving in the opposite direction. Public spending on infrastructure as a percentage of GDP has dropped dramatically in recent years, falling to the lowest level in two decades, as Joe Weisenthal pointed out. The U.S. is only expected to spend about a third of what the report card calls for by 2020.

While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or 2009 stimulus bill, made infrastructure improvements, that money has mostly been used up. But as that package of spending proved, investment in infrastructure not only upgrades roads and bridges to make them safer, it also puts people back to work and helps improve the economy.

President Obama has proposed further stimulus spending on infrastructure, but his proposals have been repeatedly blocked by Republicans in Congress. Yet America’s borrowing costs are extremely low and deficits are shrinking, so there is no time like the present to invest in upgrading our infrastructure.

 

By: Bryce Covert, Think Progress, May 24, 2013

May 27, 2013 Posted by | Public Safety | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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