Saturday, February 2, 2013

How many does it take? Gun control #3

When you are increasingly out of step with everybody around you, isn't it time to reassess your position?

Not if you're the National Rifle Association, apparently.  Even being out of step on background checks at gun shows with the majority of their own members doesn't trump being in step with the money bags that keep them going.

How many people opposing you is enough?   Apparently, there is no limit.   The NRA maintains a list of people and organizations -- a sort of enemies list, thought they don't call it that -- who have contributed or otherwise supported gun control and anti-gun violence causes.   The NRA official list is very long.

I counted some 141 organizations, including the AARP, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Bar Association, American Firearms Association, American Trauma Society, American Psychological Association, Anti-Defamation League, National Association of Police Organizations, NAACP, National Education Association, National Urban League, Inc., Physicians for Social Responsibility, United States Conference of Mayors.   That about 10% of the organizations.

Then there are the celebrities:  240 of them, including the macho icons George Clooney, Sean Connery (007 himself), Jack Nicholson, and Michael Douglas.

And a bunch of journalists, national figures from politics and religion, and corporations:   former President Carter, Time-Warner, Levi Strauss Company, Kansas City and St. Louis professional football teams, many newspapers and news magazines, broadcasting companies, professional sports teams.

That's a pretty impressive list of enemies of your position.   Isn't it time to reconsider?


GA state government give-aways to the elite

Did I mention the low regard I have for our state elected officials?   There seems to be no end to the new ways Republicans find to take from the poor and give to the well-heeled.  Or, a variation on this, take from the public sector and give to the private sector, which benefits their cronies.

They are taking over the public school system in the guise of "improving education for Georgia's children by offering choice" -- to move from pubic schools to charter schools.

They made a big inroad by the scurrilously deceptive campaign that got the constitutional amendment passed to recreate a state board for approving charter schools that the local process has rejected.   The members of this board are appointed solely by politicians, not educators.   And the funding for that campaign to pass the amendment came mostly from out of state corporations that set up --- for profit --- charter schools.

The state's educators were opposed to this amendment, first as unnecessary, because there exists a method for approving new charter schools already.  Second, because it was clearly a political move to gain power over the schools and bypass the professional educators.  Third, it was passed by deception in the wording on the ballot, which gave the impression that it was simply a vote to allow charter schools in Georgia and gave none of the above information.   Further, the governor's office issued an gag order forbidding any teachers or administrators to speak in any official capacity in opposition to the amendment, while the governor himself went around the state speaking for the amendment.

Now, they're wanting to increase another boondoggle for their own kind -- again disguised as giving more choice for parents to move their children to better schools.   This is a law that allows individuals or corporations to make donations to a fund to support scholarships in private schools -- "vouchers" in all but name.

The way it supposedly works is that the donor can take a tax credit (not a deduction, a dollar for dollar credit) for the contribution;  and he can designate which school it goes to.   There are a few instances in which it actually benefits needy families.   But in an under the table scheme it often winds up paying tuition of the children of the person who made the donation and who are already attending that school.   The only benefit there is to the wallet of the parents who essentially get a tax credit for the tuition they pay for their children's private school.

This reduces the state revenue, dollar for dollar, the same time the state budget has been cutting funds for public schools.   So it's simply not true that it does not reduce the state funding for public schools, as they defensively claim.   It doesn't have to be true, that's true.  But, in fact, at this time, it is true.

Bah humbug !!


Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's gotta be the money - gun control #2

A CBS/New York Times poll showed that 92% of Americans favor universal background checks before buying guns.   Even gun owners themselves in other polls in three states approved these background checks at gun shows by 90%.

But many politicians -- in thrall to the NRA gun lobby and its money -- are resisting even that sensible measure.

Sen. Orrin Hatch told reporters today:
"That's the way reductions in liberty occur. . . .  When you start saying people all have to sign up for something, and they have a database where they know exactly who's who, and where government can persecute people because of the database, that alarms a lot of people in our country, and it flies in the face of liberty."
Yes, but there are data bases for people who have library cards and drivers licenses.  Nobody complains about that taking away their liberty.

I think it's clearly a made-up excuse to placate the NRA lobbyists who give them money to vote down gun control laws.    Even a poll of NRA members shows large support for background checks.

You know why this disconnect between the NRA Board and its spokesman and its members?


The NRA does not speak for its members;  it speaks for the gun manufacturers and dealers who supply the money that is doled out to politicians.

Will there be enough members of congress who are ready to stand up to this gun lobby?   We'll never have a better time to do some sensible control -- until that nebulous utopia when we can get rid of the influence of money in our political process.


Debate on gun control laws -- the idiotic and the wise

Congressional hearings on gun control and violence brought forth the idiotic arguments today.

Senator Lindsey Graham -- one of the more reasonable Republicans -- was not so reasonable on this subject.  He said that, because state budgets have been cut and there are thus fewer police officers to answer calls, people ought to be allowed to have semi-automatic guns to defend themselves.

He used the example of a mother defending her children against an intruder:  "Six bullets might not be enough," and she might not be able to protect her children in a shoot-out "because of something we do here" . . . i.e. banning semi-automatic weapons.

What a familiar pattern!  Republicans cut budgets for police officers and then their solution is to encourage people to arm themselves with weapons of war.   Why don't we just eliminate the police force altogether and return to the Wild West?

As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief."

Laurence O'Donnell made a wise observation on MSNBC.   The NRA argument -- to put no restrictions on assault weapons for "law-abiding citizens" but concentrate on keeping criminals and mentally ill people from having them -- falls apart when you look at cases.

In the Newtown massacre, the guns were purchased by a law-abiding citizen.   But she was unable, or at least she didn't, safeguard those guns;  and her mentally unbalanced son took them, killed her and then went on a shooting rampage at the school.

Plus the NRA opposes requiring background checks at gun shows.

It's true.  Our current background check laws stop a lot of people from buying guns at gun shops or from legitimate dealers.   But they aren't required at gun shows or individual sales from person to person.   So those who can't pass the background check just buy their guns from them.

So their call for "enforcement of the laws we do have" should be done, of course;  but it is not a sufficient solution.  As long as these guns are out there, people who want them will get their hands on them, either buying them through these loopholes or stealing them.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cable news ratings

Now that I bit the bullet last month and got cable TV (it's part of a package with my internet and phone), I pay more attention to cable news shows and their ratings.

I'm working hard not to get addicted to MSNBC, the liberal answer to FoxNews, which has dominated cable news for the past 11 years.

January ratings are out, and Fox ratings are the lowest in those 11 years.   Don't get too excited, because they still had 9 out of the 10 top-rated news shows.   But Rachel Maddow climbed into 10th place, up from 14th a year ago.    Her 11 pm replay beat Bill O'Reilly's.

Here's the thing though.   January had a lot of tv time taken up by the Obama inauguration.   Fox couldn't ignore it, but their viewers didn't want to watch.  So they switched channels to something else -- not MSNBC, however, you can be sure.

So this may be an atypical month.  On the other hand, it may be that a lot of people got used to watching Rachel and other MSNBC programs and will keep watching.   New viewers of cable news, like me.


Political trouble for Rick Perry

Rick Perry just wasn't ready for prime time -- even in the low bar standards of the Republican presidential primary last year.  

And he has yet to recover his standing, even in Texas.   A recent Public Policy Polling found that 62% of Texas voters said he shouldn't run for re-election as governor.  And nearly 80% said he should run for president again.

Perry's response:  "I've been underestimated many times before, so we'll just let it sit right there," he told reporters.

Yes, but he has also been greatly over-estimated, too.   Remember when he was briefly considered the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination?


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

BSA #2

It's looks like the Boy Scouts of America have decided to punt -- that is, rather than making the decision to change their ban on gay scout members and leaders, they are going to leave it up to the sponsors of local groups.    That is, I suppose, a reasonable intermediate step.

The BSA has been bedeviled by its position for decades, winning a Supreme Court decision in 2000 that permitted them to continue their exclusionary policy.

Now, several factors seem to be bringing the change

(1) Bad publicity -- over several recent incidents, including the ousting of a lesbian mother as leader of her son's Cub Scout pact, the refusal of admission to a gay teen, and threatening to withdraw a Cub Scout group's affiliation for posting a non-discrimination statement on its web site.

(2)  Two powerful members of its national board, the CEOs of AT&T and Ernst & Young, have been working from the inside to change the policy to be in keeping with their own corporate policies on sexual orientation.

(3)  Prominent contributors have announced that their companies will not continue their support:   UPS and Merck pharmaceuticals.

Not surprisingly, the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention announced their disapproval and said their churches may decide to support other boys' club organizations instead of the BSA.

My family church, Sandersville Methodist, sponsors a scout troop.  I'll be watching to see what they do.   My guess:   the easiest things is to do nothing;  just continue ignoring the issue, and it's unlikely anyone will push for change.

Change is hard, I know, especially when two values you hold clashBut, from my perspective, one of those values just doesn't hold up in this case -- the ideas about homosexuality that are based in prejudice rather than fact.

It is not a choice;  gay men are no more predators on the young than are straight men;  there is no "gay agenda" to convert children to being gay.   I will concede that gay leaders might teach a broader view of acceptance of differentness than some prejudiced straight leaders would;  but I also know a lot of straight people who would teach just as broad a view of acceptance.   Role model?  What are your criteria for an acceptable role model?   Is who that person loves the most important?


Monday, January 28, 2013

Boy Scouts backing down?

Until now, the Boy Scouts of America organization has been firm in sticking to its policy that forbids not only gay scout leaders, but also gay boys as members.   Just last year, they "emphatically reaffirmed" the policy of excluding them.

Last weekend, a news story reported that a local cub scout troup in Maryland was threatened with losing its charter unless it removed a non-discriminatory statement from its website, which had been overwhelmingly approved by parents of this troop's cub scouts.

Now it seems that the BSA is reconsidering its policy.  It would remove the national ban and leave it to local groups.

It's about time.  Welcome to the 21st century, BSA.


Told you so . . .

The ridiculous claims that we need voter ID laws to prevent voter fraud just got their come-uppance.

In Nevada, a 56 year old woman, who says she is committed to exposing voter fraud, tried to vote twice in the November election -- to prove how easy it is, she claimed.

Instead, she was arrested at the second polling place where she tried to vote again.  In lieu of a trial, she has accepted a plea bargain that requires her to repay the court almost $2,500, do 100 hours of community service, complete an impulse control course, and promise to stay out of trouble.

Well, that worked out just fine, didn't it?    Didn't we tell them the "problem" was a manufactured, non-existent one?   She was caught by the system, even without voter ID laws, which Nevada does not have.


Krugman takes down Repubs' rebranding effort

Paul Krugman has some choice words today (New York Times) for Republican efforts to cope with their decisive defeat last November.

He writes that ". . . prominent Republicans have begun acknowledging that their party needs to improve its image. But here’s the thing: Their proposals for a makeover all involve changing the sales pitch rather than the product. When it comes to substance, the G.O.P. is more committed than ever to policies that take from most Americans and give to a wealthy handful."

He then specifically goes after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who seems to be positioning himself as a 2016 presidential candidate.   In a recent speech, Jindal said, "We must not be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys. We have to be the party that shows all Americans how they can thrive.” 

Krugman points out, however, that Jindal offers no suggestions for how they might do that;  and, at the same time, he is pushing a plan to eliminate his state income tax and make up for it with increased sales taxes, which hurts the poor and middle class and benefits the wealthy.

Krugman exposes the underlying hypocrisy.   The Republicans are focusing on changing their image, trying to appear "more sympathetic and less extreme," while actually advocating policies that amount to "a reverse Robin Hood-ism:  taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich."

I think Krugman is right that, for many of them, it's not intentional meanness or dishonesty;  it's that they "live in an intellectual bubble. They get their news from Fox and other captive media, they get their policy analysis from billionaire-financed right-wing think tanks, and they’re often blissfully unaware both of contrary evidence and of how their positions sound to outsiders."

Which leads Romney to be clueless as to why his 47% remark was so devastating and why he lost the election.   I may be less kind to them that Krugman.   I think some are clueless, but I also think that others, like Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh in particular, are mean SOB's who are quite aware that they are manipulating others who are more principled.

As long as the Democrats are winning, we can just let them stew in their own bubble of cluelessness.    But their efforts to gerrymander districts and suppress voters access to polls are really dangerous for Democracy.