Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sirota calls b.s. on public pension 'crisis'

Sirota argues that states' public pension shortfalls are a manufactured crisis by conservatives and big business, caused by years of states' chronic under-funding of pension funds while giving tax breaks and subsidies to business:

Public pensions face a 30-year shortfall of $1.38 trillion, or $46 billion on an annual basis. This is dwarfed by the $80 billion a year states and cities spend on corporate subsidies.

As usual, conservatives' go-to "solution" for a "crisis" is more cuts.

Sirota cites one state example that I've mentioned already:

Perhaps the most famous illustration of the pervasiveness of this deceptive argument comes from Detroit, Michigan. When the city recently declared bankruptcy, much of the media and political narrative around the fiasco simply assumed that public pension liabilities are the problem. Few noted that both Detroit and the state of Michigan have for years been spending hundreds of millions of dollars on wasteful corporate subsidies.13 Worse, the very same political leaders pleading poverty to demand cuts to municipal pensions were simultaneously promising to spend more than a quarter billion taxpayer dollars on a professional hockey arena.

And now conservative idealogues in the states are treating everywhere like Detroit:

But as outrageous as the blame-the-pensioners mythology from Detroit is, it is the same misleading mythology that is now driving public policy in states across America. In Rhode Island, the state government slashed guaranteed pension benefits while handing $75 million to a retired professional baseball player for his failed video game scheme. In Kentucky, the state government slashed pension benefits while continuing to spend $1.4 billion on tax expenditures. In Kansas, the state government slashed guaranteed pension benefits despite being lambasted by a watchdog group for its penchant for spending huge money on corporate welfare “megadeals.” 

Sirota reveals a devilish bait-and-switch is at work here:

The goals of the plot against pensions are both straightforward and deceptive. On the surface, the primary objective is to convert traditional defined-benefit pension funds that guarantee retirement income into riskier, costlier schemes that reduce benefits and income guarantees, and subject taxpayers and millions of workers’ retirement funds to Enron’s casino-style economics. At the same time, waging a high-profile fight for such an objective also simultaneously helps achieve the conservative movement’s larger goal of protecting profligate corporate subsidies. 

The bait-and-switch at work is simple: The plot forwards the illusion that state budget problems are driven by pension benefits rather than by the far more expensive and wasteful corporate subsidies that states have been doling out for years. That ends up 1) focusing state budget debates on benefit-slashing proposals and therefore 2) downplaying proposals that would raise revenue to shore up existing retirement systems. The result is that the Pew-Arnold initiative at once helps the right’s ideological crusade against traditional pensions and helps billionaires and the business lobby preserve corporations’ huge state tax subsidies. 

Kentucky offers a good example of the real problem, what this bait-and-switch is meant to protect by means of distraction:

... Kentucky’s $760 million annual pension shortfall is far less than the $1.4 billion a year Kentucky spends so-called “incentive programs” – much of them classic corporate welfare. These programs have included subsidies of $300 million to Ford Motor Company, $205 million to Weyerhauser and $110 million to United Parcel Service. They also include a $560 million subsidy to the mining industry. Meanwhile, thanks to Kentucky’s loophole-riddled tax code, profitable Kentucky-based Fortune 500 companies like Yum Brands and Ashland Inc. have during one of the last few years paid no state income tax whatsoever.

Thanks to corporate lobbying, Kentucky converted its defined-benefit public pension system into a cash balance hybrid system, while keeping corporate welfare.  

Privatizing Social Security is their next aim, trust me!  

By David Sirota
Institute for America's Future

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Russia and American exceptionalism

American exceptionalism in foreign policy is valid only if we believe that U.S. leaders, regardless of party or ideology, always act out of the best interests of the world.

If you're a Republican: do you think President Obama (or Clinton, or Carter) meets that criterion?

If you're a Democrat: do you think Dubya, Bush, Sr., or Reagan met that criterion?  

No, of course not. This alone should give the lie to the myth of American exceptionalism. The bulk of the evidence shows that the U.S. does what's best for itself, according to the judgment of current partisan administrations.

Now here's an interesting historical tidbit that I didn't know, courtesy of Tom Engelhardt.  Did you know? [emphasis mine]:

I’m talking about actual property rights to “American exceptionalism.”  It’s a phrase often credited to a friendly nineteenth century foreigner, the French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville.  As it happens, however, the man who seems to have first used the full phrase was Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.  In 1929, when the U.S. was showing few signs of a proletarian uprising or fulfilling Karl Marx’s predictions and American Communists were claiming that the country had unique characteristics that left it unready for revolution, Stalin began denouncing “the heresy of American exceptionalism.”  Outside the U.S. Communist Party, the phrase only gained popular traction here in the Reagan years.  Now, it has become as American as sea salt potato chips.  If, for instance, the phrase had never before been used in a presidential debate, in 2012 the candidates couldn’t stop wielding it.

Engelhardt spends some time talking about Putin and Russia.  I know a little about both.  We're oddly connected, America and Russia, although we may not realize or acknowledge it.

I mean, if there are two countries on Earth with delusions of exceptionalism, they are the U.S. and Russia. That's the irony of Putin's recent denial of American exceptionalism.  I have confirmed this in many conversations with Russians. They are always curiously eager to convince me of Russia's enduring greatness, its parity with America, what their country means to the world, and so on.  Nobody I've ever met from any other country suggests much less seeks out a conversation like this. A few times Britons, wistful for empire, have told me, "It's your problem now, you deal with it."  As if that's what we've volunteered for! 

The U.S. perspective is a bit different. Since 1992, we have taken our hyper-power status for granted. We basically stopped paying attention to Russia 20 years ago. So what I usually tell Russians, both to enlighten and provoke them, is that the average American doesn't think about Russia at all.  Many ignorant Americans still think the USSR exists; and yet Russians don't figure in our worldview anymore.  (For the mere fact of 8,500 nuclear weapons still in Russia's arsenal, Americans are quite mistaken in their disregard).

What most Americans don't realize is that Russians, like Americans, take inordinate pride from their country's foreign policy, and perceived military prowess. Just as in America, where rednecks who can hardly spell their own names feel an out-sized sense of personal pride for being the citizen of a country that can bomb, drone or nuke anybody on Earth, so do Russians -- who are mostly poor, without basic liberties and cut off from the outside world -- augment their self-esteem with pride in being citizens of a nuclear-armed super power that can bully its near neighbors with impunity and occasionally stand up to the U.S. in the UN Security Council.

So my rhetorical question is: are Americans just Russians with a different political economy? Or are we indeed different?  Is America exceptionally exceptional?  And if so, in what ways? Taking pride in our civilian-controlled (read: political) military can't be the reason why.

UPDATE (30.09.2013): FYI, here's a report on a recent Gallup poll of Americans' attitude toward Russia, "Poll: Half Of Americans See Russia As 'Unfriendly' Or Worse".  Looks like Putin is successfully lowering Russia's rating in the U.S.

By Tom Engelhardt
September 26, 2013 | Tom Dispatch

Sunday, September 22, 2013

U.S. middle class & unions fall together

Correlation ain't necessarily causation, but... check out below how those red and blue lines have fallen in sync!

Big Business and Republican politicians who have taken swings at unions as "lazy" and "corrupt" and cut private union membership have in fact kneecapped America's middle class.  

With the exception of France, with its socialist welfare system and already strong labor laws, there is not a developed Western country with a lower rate of unionization than the U.S. at 11.3 percent.  The OECD average is 17 percent.

Meanwhile, Red State conservatives, many of them America's economic losers, swallow the GOP-talk radio explanation for falling U.S. incomes: Obamacare (yet to be enacted) and food stamps.  

Among the 254 counties where food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011, Republican Mitt Romney won 213 of them in last year’s presidential election, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data compiled by Bloomberg.

These poor suckers don't know what's best for themselves or others.  There cannot be a strong U.S. middle class without unions.  End of story. 

By Caroline Fairchild
September 18, 2013 | Huffington Post  

This week the Census Bureau reported the latest depressing decline in middle-class incomes during the so-called economic recovery. But it may have missed an important factor in this story.

A report on Wednesday from the left-leaning think tank Center For American Progress notes that as middle-class incomes have steadily fallen, so have union membership rates. The middle 60 percent of households earned 53.2 percent of national income in 1968. That number has fallen to just 45.7 percent. During that same period, nationwide union membership fell from 28.3 percent to a record-low 11.3 percent of all workers.

Put these two economic trends together, and a striking image appears: 

unions middle income

Indeed, declining labor-union participation is not the only factor killing middle-class income growth. But increased union participation would likely mean more income for the middle class, the left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute argued in a 2009 report. Unions typically increase the wages of their workers while also raising pay for nonunion workers in industries with a strong union presence.

Higher union participation rates might also reduce income inequality. The U.S. has the worst income inequality of any county in the developed world, and the nation's top earners continue to see their pay rise as median incomes fall. Union participation could counteract this trend, according to the EPI.

So why is union participation declining so rapidly? Private sector union membership reached a peak of about 35 percent of the labor force in the 1950s, The New York Times reports. Since then, labor unions have steadily become smaller as many states have rolled out new laws limiting union power.

Young millennials' disenchantment with organized labor may also be an important contributor to its decline. From 2002 to 2012, union members ages 16 to 24 fell by 26 percent. That's double the decline in union membership for all workers, according to Quartz.

That said, younger generations may have a good reason to be less than eager to join a union. Studies have discovered that during the economic recovery, non-union workers fared considerably better than union workers in fields like manufacturing and private construction. Also, during the 1982 and 1991 recessions, states with fewer union members were found to recover more quickly than states with a strong union presence.

Problem solved?: GOP cuts food stamps

In case you weren't paying attention, the House GOP's vote on the annual farm bill showed us two things: 1) food stamps for hungry people are bad; and 2) agricultural subsidies for Congressmen and rich farmers are good. What do those two things tell us?

It’s the juxtaposition of the two programs that so clearly exposes the party’s agenda. Anti-government ideology can justify even the most vicious cuts to the safety net. It can’t justify the massive socialist scheme that is agriculture policy. And, to be fair, conservative intellectuals generally don’t justify agriculture socialism. But the Republican Party certainly does. The ultraconservative Republican Study Committee recently banned the Heritage Foundation from its meetings because Heritage denounced the GOP’s farm subsidies. There is a grim hilarity here: Republicans punished Heritage for its one technocratically sane position.

The GOP's stance on these two issues also belies their hypocrisy on social spending:

Obama has attacked the GOP farm-subsidy bill for spending too much. Here is the one chunk of social spending where Republicans are not only failing to issue hostage threats to secure the cuts they demand, they are also refusing to cut spending as much as Barack Obama asks. And the program they pick to defend is, on the substantive merits, the most unjustifiable program of any significant scale in the federal budget.

But that's OK, because this wasteful federal spending doesn't go to black ghetto queens: 

It is also one that accrues to disproportionately wealthy and overwhelmingly white recipients. (As opposed to Obamacare, whose beneficiaries are disproportionately poor and non-white.) 

That's really the only thing that matters to Republicans nowadays. Because it's clearly not about the numbers. It's simply a question of: could this federal spending possibly benefit a single brown-skinned person who games the system, no matter how many people genuinely need it? 

More broadly, Republicans' present meme that, If only we could repeal Obamacare and reduce food stamps, our economy would take off!, is completely asinine and without economic merit.  We liberals and Democrats must not let such idiotic thinking go unchallenged as a "credible" policy alternative!

By Jonathan Chait
September 20, 2013 | New York Magazine

U.S. needs an intervention on guns

About half of America is insane about guns and the other half cannot cure their illness:

There have been fewer than 20 terror-related deaths on American soil since 9/11 and about 364,000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms. If any European nation had such a record and persisted in addressing only the first figure, while ignoring the second, you can bet your last pound that the State Department would be warning against travel to that country and no American would set foot in it without body armour.

In fact, if we take the entire history of U.S. warfare vs. the past 50 years of gun deaths, our national sickness looks even worse:

The figures from Congressional Research Service, plus recent statistics from, tell us that from the first casualties in the battle of Lexington to recent operations in Afghanistan, the toll is 1,171,177. By contrast, the number killed by firearms, including suicides, since 1968, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, is 1,384,171.

Porter believes it's time for the rest of the world to intervene and stop the bloodshed in America, since we Americans are mentally and physically incapable of ending it ourselves.

By Henry Porter
September 21, 2013 | Guardian

Sunday, September 15, 2013

MB360: Looming U.S. retirement disaster

In this context, cutting Social Security makes even less sense.  Just like with health insurance, the private sector has foisted this responsibility onto its employees, and the federal government.  

Posted by mybudget360 | September 15, 2013

Americans are on the verge of a retirement disaster.  As pension plans slowly go extinct Americans are not saving enough for retirement.  The figures point to a looming pension and retirement disaster.  Retirement for most Americans is largely a mirage.  As organizations switched from pensions to 401ks it was expected that most Americans would save money. This trend started in 1980 and over 30 years have now passed.  We now have enough data to see if this transition has been beneficial to most Americans.  Unfortunately the answer highlights an American population that has not saved enough for retirement.  Most Americans will make Social Security their default retirement plan.  Pension issues also loom as many state governments contend with deep underfunding for retirement benefits.  In the end, there is a disaster looming.

The disappearing pension

Very few Americans now have access to a pension.  This wasn’t always the case:

Today, less than 10 percent of Americans have access to a pension.  Most however have access to 401k plans and other retirement options.  Unfortunately as the middle class shrinks more Americans are finding it more difficult to save any money.

Social Security unfortunately is going to become the default retirement plan for many.  Many current pension plans are setup with unrealistic returns.  Many states are underfunded in spite of the dramatic returns in the stock market:


Keep in mind there is simply no way the stock market can continue producing returns as it has. It is simply impossible and already ratios are getting inflated showing a slight exuberance.  As the chart above highlights, many state pensions are underfunded and if the market even has a slight correction, this will exacerbate the problem.

Beyond the above data that only impacts a small number of Americans, most simply do not have enough (or anything) saved for retirement.

The lack of savings in retirement accounts

Without pensions many Americans are left to fend for themselves via retirement accounts.  How has this worked out?


These are disturbing figures.  The median amount saved by all Americans is $3,000 for retirement!  Even those nearing retirement in the 55 to 64 age group have roughly $12,000 to get by in their later years.  In other words, many are going to be working deep into old age.

A lot of this can be attributed to the lack of income being made by most Americans.  As we have seen income inequality is at record levels, even higher than it was prior to the Great Depression.  It is simply hard to get by when the per capita wage is $26,000 and the cost of living continues to increase without any wage increases.  Getting by is priority number one, not a far off retirement.

Retirement dreams pushed out

As you would imagine the retirement age is being pushed out:

at what age did you retire

It is becoming tougher for Americans to retire and there is less of a safety net.  Since the retirement amount saved is so low, many are going to depend on Social Security as their main income stream in their later years.  Much of this money is going to be paid by a younger and less affluent generation.  You can already see this disaster lining up.  As young people struggle, how will they feel when they see pensions going out while they struggle to find work?  If you think you have heard the last of this think again.

Lessons from acid rain on climate change

This story about the follow-on effect of acid rain is important for a few reasons. First and most important, it shows that our tampering with nature can have unexpected consequences. Second, it shows that, even after corrective measures, those consequences can be long-lasting.

Mother Jones recently reported:

In 1990, Congress amended the Clean Air Act to include the Acid Rain Program. The impact on the targeted pollutants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power generation, was remarkable. Between 1995 and 2011, emissions of sulfur dioxide fell by 64 percent; nitrogen oxides by 67 percent.

Despite this environmental success story, acid rain has done its work, eating away at the rock in our creeks and riverbeds. Perhaps counterintuitively, acid rain has made our waters -- including the Mississippi River -- more alkaline than acidic. Said one researcher: "The impacts are large, larger than we ever thought 50 years ago they might be."

This is why global climate change is so scary.  Even when we can predict the immediate effects like drought, flooding, salination, we can't predict what will be the domino effects of man's messing with the climate, even with the best scientific models. Therefore prudence is even more necessary.  

By Christopher Joyce
September 13, 2013 | NPR

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Duh files: States with more guns have more gun murders

As long as 40 percent of the U.S. is crazy about guns, researchers must continue to do these types of studies to prove the obvious: more guns = more gun murders.

By Braden Goyette
September 14, 2013 | Huffington Post

A new study of gun violence published by the American Journal of Public Health found that states with greater levels of gun ownership tend to have higher rates of gun-related murder.

The study, conducted by Boston University professor Michael Siegel and coauthors Craig S. Ross and Charles King III, examines this relationship in all 50 states from 1981 to 2010. The researchers found that "for each percentage point increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9 percent."

The authors note that, though they can't prove a causal relationship between higher levels of gun ownership and homicide, "states with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides."

Their findings echo past studies about the relationship between gun ownership and homicide, though Siegel, Ross and King look at the relationship over a larger window of time than previous research.

According to a fact sheet from the Harvard School of Public Health:

Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

A more localized 1993 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which focused on the most populous counties in Tennessee, Washington and Ohio, found that "keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide."

Cohen: Where's liberals' outrage over Syria?

Neo-interventionist and "liberal" pundit Richard Cohen continues his assault on liberals' heartstrings, pleading with them to attack Syria:

I pick on the American left because it is liberal and because that suggests empathy, concern and internationalism. The American right is now going through one of its periodic bouts of lunacy, reverting to a comfy isolationism-cum-selfishness that has often characterized it. (I should note, though, that back in the late 1930s Norman Thomas, the six-time socialist presidential candidate, supported the isolationist America First movement.) Still, I look to liberals to make common cause with the underprivileged, the unfortunate and the weak. If that doesn’t describe the people of Syria, then what does? Can the United States help them? We certainly could have. We certainly didn’t.

Once again, I advise all pundits and editorial page editors to read their own newspaper. If Cohen did, he would have read an interview a week ago by the WaPo's Ezra Klein with Congressman Alan Grayson, who summed up the futility of limited U.S. military intervention in Syria:

So, a) Assad has so much [military] stuff, b) the Russians will replace it, and c) we don’t want to weaken him too much. Sometimes there is no solution to the equation.

Interventionist liberals like Cohen -- and now add Christiane Amanpour -- who cry, "We must do something!" don't seem to care too much what that something is, or what it will achieve.

Beyond that, Cohen's unapologetic assertion that the U.S. is indeed the world's policeman is, well, stunning. It's so 2001. 

The inescapable truth is that the world needs a policeman. The inescapable truth is that only the United States can play cop. We have the wherewithal. A further inescapable truth is that evil exists and needs to be fought. We should always proceed cautiously and prudently, aware of mission creep, complexity and our own limitations. I have always thought, maybe naively, that these were values embedded in the very soul of American liberalism. It seems I am wrong.

Yes, and thank God you are wrong.  It's hard to believe anybody who calls himself a liberal would dare to put this in print. "We have the wherewithal"?  "We should proceed...aware of our own limitations!"  Hello!  We have almost $17 trillion in national debt, about 10 percent of it from the Afghanistan-Iraq debacles. And Cohen wants us to put a third war on the nation's credit card?!  We have a U.S. Military that is overstretched and thinned out at the junior office ranks, the backbone of our fighting force. And what if we need to fight a war where our security or interests are actually at stake?!  Folks, this is the road to empire, overreach and collapse.  

By Richard Cohen
September 13, 2013 | Washington Post

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Perverse states' reaction to Sandy Hook

It's sickening to think that the real result of the Sandy Hook gun rampage -- a shooting spree that killed eight boys and twelve girls, between six and seven years of age -- was even more lax gun control laws in more states, including: Utah, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota and Kansas.

The faces of those shot and killed in Sandy Hook. The price of liberty?

Of course, you won't hear that in the U.S. lib'rul media.  You can only see that in a British newspaper.

If you live in one of the above-mentioned states, you're living among the crazies.  Are you one of the psychos, or somebody who knows the cure?

If you're one of the gun nuts, then none of the insane statistics cited below will matter to you, because no amount of dead children can equal the price of your "freedom" to bear assault-type weapons and semi-automatic handguns with big clips and avoid a criminal background check.

Defenseless little kids shot up at school.  Just as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the rest of our Founding Fathers imagined it.  Right.

UPDATE (09.12.2013):  In reply to this post, one of my GOP friends gave me one of the gun nuts' fallback arguments: alcohol kills more people than guns, so unless the Left is serious about banning alcohol, they don't have a right to talk about regulating firearms

(Nor should we spend $ billions on missions to Mars while children are starving in Africa, I suppose.)

So I sighed and reminded him that guns have no positive benefits, unlike alcohol. (Two exceptions: law enforcement and hunting; but hunters can pass background checks and they don't need banana clips to kill deer).  You can't shoot yourself or others in moderation. 

Besides, we regulate alcohol purchase and consumption myriad ways, and ban it for citizens under 21. A kid can legally own a rifle but not drink. It's a crime to buy a kid a beer but buying him a handgun is fine. You can't bring beer to a public school or library but you can take a gun. You can't drive while drinking but you can drive with a gun. We have public health campaigns against alcoholism, yet doctors and public health officials must remain silent about the dangers of guns. The state can take your kids away if you're an alcoholic, but not if you keep guns lying around the house. And we impose sin tax on alcohol ... but trying imposing a tax on ammunition!  The gun nuts would explode.

Yes, besides alcohol there are a few things that kill more people every year in America than guns: automobiles, prescription drugs.... Would the gun nuts have us outlaw pharmacies before we can have a reasonable conversation about regulating firearms?

By Ana Marie Cox
September 10, 2013 | Guardian

The cover of the recent Children's Defense Fund report (pdf) on gun violence in the United States carries a single statistic:

The number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 134 classrooms of 20 students each.

That's just a more dramatic way of stating an already staggering figure – 2,694 in 2010. Most of the report's 73 following pages are devoted to restating it. Sometimes, this done to illustrate the chilling frequency of such deaths:

• One child or teen died every 3 hours and 15 minutes
• Seven children and teens died every day, more than 20 every three days
• Fifty-one children and teens died every week

Other times, the same set of statistics (all from the Centers for Disease Control) is used to drive home the magnitude of the tragedy, relating it to the kinds of violence we think we understand:

Nearly three times more children and teens were injured by guns in 2010 than the number of US soldiers wounded in action that year in the war in Afghanistan; 82 children under five died from guns in 2010, compared to 55 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

And then, there's the shameful comparison to other countries:

US children and teens are 17 times more likely to die from a gun than their peers in 25 other high-income countries combined.

Put it slightly differently:

US children and teens made up 43% of all children and teens in these 26 countries but were 93% of all children and teens killed by guns.

The report is an exercise in word problem reformatting, a hideous nightmare of a standardized test in which every answer is both "all of the above" and wrong. We have failed. The numbers in the examples change, but the fact they illustrate is big and ugly and refuses cosmetic adjustment: the United States, despite a meekly gratifying downward trend, continues to kill its young people with guns at rate more in line with war-torn nations than the prosperous, peaceful countries we presume to lead. In a different, but equally upsetting report, the World Health Organization observed (pdf):

With the notable exception of the United States, most countries with youth homicide rates above 10 per 100,000 are either developing countries or countries caught up in the turmoil of social and economic change.

The repetitiveness of the statistics reflects desperation, I think. One can picture the authors' frantic oneupmanship in coming up with ways to make the truth as vivid as possible: compare it to war! Compare it to Sandy Hook! And, of course, show us the victims – not via pictures of the violence itself, thank God, but in descriptions of who they were: post-Sandy Hook stories salt the wound:

Steven Curtis, 12, dead after accidentally shooting himself in the head with his father's gun. Caroline Sparks, 2, shot in the chest and killed by her five-year-old brother. Tayloni Mazyck, 11, caught in gang crossfire and paralyzed for life. The list goes unrelentingly on. (As of July, the New York Daily News found 120 children had been killed by gunfire since Sandy Hook; they relied only on news reports, not CDC surveys. The end number will be undoubtedly, horrifyingly larger.)

The report wallops us over the head with statistics because its authors can't reach through the pages and throttle us. The frustration is as understandable as it is evident, for as gruesome as the statistics about violence are, the recounting of what legislation has and has not passed is even more dispiriting. Over and over, the public's willingness (even eagerness) to tighten gun laws has been outmatched by the cowardice of politicians in mysterious thrall to the National Rifle Association.

The whimpering death of the Toomey-Manchin bill has been examined at length; the CDF notes further that, beyond the Senate voting against regulations, a majority of Americans were for (assault weapons ban, background checks):

Several proposals to weaken existing gun violence prevention measures received more 'Yes' votes than the background checks provision. They included a concealed-carry reciprocity proposal and a provision to prevent veterans who are mentally incapacitated from losing their right to own a gun without a court hearing.

The news gets worse as we get closer to home, where state legislatures reacted to Sandy Hook primarily by widening access to firearms andweakening regulation. You read that right: more states passed pro-gun legislation in the wake of Sandy Hook than there were states that passed stricter gun control. Maryland, Connecticut and New York and New Jersey all tightened gun laws; Utah, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Kansas all somehow relaxed their gun laws – by extending the number of places one can carry a concealed weapon, by allowing guns in schools, by instituting "stand your ground" laws, or adding the right to own a firearm to the state constitution.

Colorado reigned in some gun rights after the Aurora massacre in July 2012; today, it is at the center of an NRA-sponsored recall, to be decided this week. Another state legislature, Missouri, both liberalized conceal carry and took unprecedented step of nullifying all federal gun laws – outlawing the federal government from enforcing its gun restrictions within the state. The bill was passed and then vetoed. This week, the legislature will meet in a special session to override the veto.

The Missouri proposal goes beyond the kind of passive quasi-civil disobedience of, say, medical marijuana laws, or even those rebellious legislatures that have sought to nullify Obamacare. The Missouri law would punish federal enforcement of legally enacted statutes by setting criminal penalties for federal agents, and prohibiting state officials from co-operating with federal efforts.

This is insanity.

Conservatives and liberals alike can use the tragedy of children's deaths as evidence of the need for their favored policies. After all, gun rights advocates want more guns in schools, they argue, for the greater safety of the children. They might even deny the relevance of concealed-carry laws and stand-your-ground provisions to the issue at hand. What does banning raids from the federal government's "jackbooted thugs" (in NRA president Wayne LaPierre's famous formulation) have to do with those classrooms full of dead kids?

There is only a shuddering half-step between between the general availability of firearms, their lax regulation, and the death of children. States with background checks have 16% lower gun fatality rates.  Child access prevention laws reduce accidental shootings by as much as 23%. Australia passed a strict assault weapons ban and mandatory buy-back program (the US law once on the books had no such program) in 1996 – and hasn't had a single mass shooting since.

I'm not even sure the CDF believed this report would change that many minds: to anyone disinclined to believe that strict gun laws work, the report is just a recitation of bad things happening because of bad guys (even if a lot of those "bad guys" are other children). Perhaps the point of the report was more modest: just to let people know what is happening, what violence is going on beneath surface, as politicians and lobbyists posture. Though, who knows: Missouri has the fourth most gun deaths in the nation, the sixth most deaths by firearm for children under 18 and is a favorite transit point for gun-traffickers (in a July raid that may be deemed illegal next week, federal agents seized 267 illegal weapons) and look what's happening there.

We're beyond the point of "what will it take" when it comes to sane gun laws. The tragedies that should spur protests and marches and petitions happen quietly every day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lib'rul media remembers Hasan, forgets F.E.A.R.

Well you know me, always out to expose the dastardly lib'rul media.  

Seriously though, I can't understand why my liberal co-conspirators in the media pay so little attention to this crazy story about a shadowy, murderous, drug-dealing, anti-government militia group operating inside the U.S. Military?  

I mean, we still see stories about the Fort Hood shooter, including the saga of his beard... and I'm sure it has nothing to do with his being Muslim, no sirree.  

Conservative bloviators like Michelle Malkin and Mark Steyn have done their best to keep three-year-old Nidal Hasan story alive and stir up fear that he is just the tip of the Islamist iceberg in the military.  Yet the right-wing as well as MSM media (whatever that is) both ignore F.E.A.R.  

Could it be that my fellow liberals ensconced in their corporate media fronts for left-wing brainwashing operations are napping on the job, or.... (gasp!) could it be that there is no liberal media at all?  

By Don Terry
August 29, 2013 | Southern Poverty Law Center

SPLC Intelligence Report | Fall 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

A history of 'rich people's movements'

This historical-political study by Martin is long and somewhat academic (not surprising since it's excerpted from a book), but it's nevertheless worth reading in full.

My dear Tea Parties, realize two things: 1) a lot of your "grassroots" ideas were recycled from previous rich people's movements more than a half-century ago when taxes were a heckuva lot higher than they are today; and 2) the original rich people's movements of the early 20th century learned their tactics and style from the Progressive Era reformers.

That's right, you got your modus operandi from Progressives!  Oh, the shame in it!

Austerity kills

"Austerity was designed to shrink debts. Now, three years after Europe's budget-cutting began, the evidence is in: severe, indiscriminate austerity is not part of the solution, but part of the problem -- and its human costs are devastating."

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fund the IRS to reduce the deficit

This story will drive my dear Republican friends crazy because it's true:

The Internal Revenue Service’s limited, focused exams of federal tax filings—known as correspondence exams—can yield a $7 return for every dollar spent, the Government Accountability Office found in a December report. Even more complex face-to-face investigations yielded a return of $1.8 for every dollar spent.

My man David Cay Johnston mentioned similar stats in his well-researched books Perfectly Legal and Free Lunch and in his articles on tax policy. Recently, Johnston cited a report by Citizens for Tax Justice that found that, [emphasis mine]:

Every dollar invested in the IRS’s enforcement, modernization and management system reduces the federal budget deficit by $200. Here’s another metric. Every dollar the IRS “spends for audits, liens and seizing property from tax cheats” garners ten dollars back.

And as WaPo describes, Mississippi, one of our 50 "laboratories of democracy," increased its spending on tax collection at the state level and got an even better return: $23 for every dollar spent on tax collection!

So why isn't the Grand Old Tea Party demanding that the IRS and every state do the same, to shore up our deficits and restore our fiscal health? Could it be they don't really care about budget deficits at all, only lowering taxes for themselves?.... 

By Niraj Chokshi
September 5, 2013 | Washington Post