Friday, October 2, 2015

10 more innocent victims sacrificed to a misreading of the 2nd amendment

By Marc Jampole

As of this writing, the unanswered question is how Chris Harper Mercer obtained the gun he used to kill 10 people at Umpqua Community College.

The police easily reconstructed a profile of Mercer, and it’s a chillingly familiar one: Young male, antisocial, withdrawn, without real relationships, mental problems that his family and others recognized.

So how did he get his guns? Did he buy them legally? Did his mother get them for him?  The New York Times reports that when a reporter asked a neighbor whether he ever saw Mercer with a gun, the reply was “I’d rather not say,” which sounds like he was thinking “Yes, I saw him with a gun and I knew he was crazy and now I feel like dog meat.”

“I've been waiting to do this for years,” Mercer told a professor before gunning him down, according to a CNN report.  Combine this statement with the ease at which he operated his firearms and the fact that he had three with him: two handguns and a long gun, which is a gun with an extra-long barrel. Consider all these facts and we can only conclude that someone who knew he was unbalanced also knew he liked to pack. It defies reason to believe that none of the people who suspected this kid was mentally ill knew he liked guns and had a few.

We cannot, however, blame mental illness for what Mercer did. Nor can we blame his parents, do-nothing neighbors or guidance counselors at whatever schools he attended. We shouldn’t even blame the gun dealers who sold the weapons, assuming that they followed all existing laws at the time.

The blame falls fully on the laws themselves—correction, the lack of laws regulating the sale, ownership and use of guns in the United States. 

Even though the federal government banned the use of tax dollars to study gun safety years ago, enough research exists to state unequivocally that the more guns there are in a society, the more people will die and be wounded by guns. Nations in which there are few guns have lower rates of gun deaths. The United States with the highest number of guns in the hands of its citizens has the highest number of gun deaths per capita a year. 

It’s true that criminals will get guns no matter how few guns there are afloat in society. It’s also true that no one can stop the psychopath or spurned lover who wants to take out a dozen or more people with a spray of bullets.

But if we had fewer guns, we would have fewer deaths, fewer mass murders and fewer crimes committed with firearms. That’s tragically clear from the available research.

We need to act on virtually every front on the local, state and federal levels to control the distribution and use of firearms. Here is what I would propose:
·         Increase the wait time for firearms purchases to a month and make the application process more rigorous.
·         Require gun owners to get a license with testing requirements at least as rigorous as those required to drive a car; include a psychological test as one the requirements.
·         Ban the sale and use of all automatic weapons and ammunition.
·         Make all states participate in a national gun registry and implement an active campaign to improve the information in that registry.
·         Ban private citizens carrying firearms on all college campuses and in all public buildings, modes of public transportation, arenas, movie theatres, other entertainment venues, restaurants, malls and retail outlets.
·         Ban carrying firearms by employees in their places of employment or their employer’s parking lots, unless as a requirement of the job.
·         Repeal all “stand your ground” laws.

Evoking the Second Amendment has always been a canard. The National Rifle Association and others opposed to gun control laws make two mistakes: 1) They wrongly infer that infringe means “can’t regulate”; 2) They misunderstand that the stipulated purpose of private ownership of firearms in the Constitution was to allow participation in a militia (volunteer army).  

Despite what the gun lobby says, the gun control issue is not a matter of personal freedom, unless you propose that people should have absolute freedom to do whatever they like with no constraints regardless of the impact on others. No, gun control is a matter of safety and the social contract by which we all agree to follow certain rules for the good of all of us.

As it turns out, only about one third of American households own guns, down from more than 50% in 1978. Almost 90% of all Americans and three-quarters of NRA member support stiffer gun control laws. Thus, less than one third of the country is bullying the rest of us to accept guns and the death and destruction they bring.

It’s time for the voters in the two-thirds of all households without guns to let their elected officials and the candidates know that if they want the vote, they better support implementing tough gun control laws.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pope is right to hate cap-and-trade, which is akin to the Church selling indulgences

Yale economist William Nordhaus writes as if he wants to address human-induced global warming—euphemistically called “climate change” even by the most ardent environmentalists—but I think he loves what he calls “the market” more than he does the environment.

You can see him grasping for straws to balance his love or humankind and other living things and his greater love for the “market” in his recent New York Review of Books critique of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment and capitalism. While he applauds the Pope’s concern for the environment, he essentially condemns the Pope for specifically rejecting the use of carbon credits. To do so, he has to take a leap of faith similar to the one taken by Pascal and Kierkegaard. But instead of leaping towards a silent, hidden god, Nordhaus leaps towards the infallibility of “markets.”

Nordhaus does a good job of describing how the carbon credit system, also called cap-and-trade, operates, so I’ll repeat his brief explanation: Cap-and-trade begins with actions by which a country, through its government, caps or limits its carbon dioxide emissions. The country then auctions or issues a limited number of ‘emissions permits.’ These convey the right to emit a given quantity of emissions. Firms that own the permits can use them or sell them on carbon markets, while firms who need them can purchase permits. The advantage of establishing a market in permits is that it ensures that emissions are used in the most productive manner.” 

The Pope rightly asserts that the trading of carbon credits can lead to speculation and enables countries and industrial sectors to buy the right to pump excessive pollution
into the environment. The Pope doesn’t mention another problem with trading carbon credits: it give these dirty industrial companies and utilities absolutely no incentive to clean up their acts.

It makes sense that the Pope condemns markets. Markets by their nature are brutal, because they reduce everything to money, and not to the well-being of a community and its members. The market assumes that all market players are individuals, responsible for their own selves. Market theory further assumes that the mostly unguided action of all these individual players will lead to the greatest good for all. This basic premise strikes me to be as much based on faith as is the idea that a half god-half man born of a virgin died for our sins and came back to life three days later. I have a feeling that Pope Francis would rate the absurdity of the invisible hand much lower.   

I’m uncertain why Nordhaus has so much faith in markets, when it is the market economy that has helped to create the environmental mess in which we find ourselves in several ways: 1) The market hides the social cost of pollution by reducing the value and cost of producing goods and services to dollars and cents; 2) The market mentality has contributed to the rampant consumerism that has infected all western-style economies, thereby driving the rapid rise of greenhouse gases, resource shortages and other environmental challenges.

Like all those who believe in the religion of free markets, Nordhaus has to construct an overly complicated argument for why the current market does not work to benefit the environment. Basically, he (and others) say that environmental degradation results from “distorted market signals” that put too low a price on environmental effects. The good professor uses as his examples the water shortage in California and people dying before their time because of small sulfur particles in the air. In both cases, he blames underpricing—if people paid more for water or air pollution, they would use less. That argument ignores the fact that the wealthy won’t care what they pay, which will engender an inequality in resource access similar to the gapping inequality in wealth that currently exists throughout the planet. It also ignores the fact that water and some of the products made in processes that emit sulfur particles are necessities for human life.

Nordhaus is talking in convoluted euphemisms. What he means to say is that the market isn’t working because it’s leading to the carbon-loading of the atmosphere and oceans.

And his solution for something that isn’t working? Create another thing just like it. A market for the right to pollute.

Wouldn’t it be much simpler just to set limits for each industry and make companies pay huge fines and shut facilities if they can’t meet the standards? Sure prices will go up, but I assert that instead of raising prices, corporations could absorb some of the costs to pay for pollution controls, more fuel-efficient processes and alternative energy. All they have to do is shrink the profit before paying executive salaries, bonuses and benefits. In other words, executives could choose to pay themselves and shareholders less.  That certainly won’t happen with cap-and-trade.

The essence of cap-and-trade is a dirty company paying a clean company so that it can keep polluting. The immorality of this market solution will leap into focus when you think about rich folk paying people to serve in the military in their place during the Civil War. What about someone who paid the Catholic Church money to receive absolution for sins or a church office for a ne’er-do-well nephew in the 15th and 16th centuries?  These situations rightly offend us. Cap-and-trade is the very same thing. Nordhaus’ argument that cap-and-trade enables society to use its carbon emissions most productively would apply to the wealthy draft dodger or church manipulator. Why get the wealthy banker’s son shot up when he could be making lots of money that he will use to build an art collection to donate to a museum for a tax write-off?

In both the analogies I gave, an informal market was created: Buying and selling humans for slaughter. Buying and selling church favors. Buying and selling the pollutants that are rapidly degrading our planet. Do you see a difference?  I don’t, nor does Pope Francis. Only a true believer in markets blinded by the invisible hand would.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Resignation of Boehner gives Obama opportunity to spread mainstream Big Lie that he & other Democrats are leftwing

In commenting about John Boehner’s resignation from Speaker of the House and Congress, President Obama told the Big Lie in American politics. It’s a lie that virtually all mainstream politicians tell and that’s presented positively by most Democrats and negatively by all Republicans.

The lie is that Boehner and Obama are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Now the President didn’t spell it out in detail, but what he communicated to everyone when he said he and Boehner are on opposite ends of the political spectrum is that Obama is on the left and Boehner is on the right. To be sure, Boehner is to the right of Obama, although there are many such as Ted Cruz and Kevin McCarthy who are much farther right than the retiring Boehner.

But Barack Obama, like so many in the Democratic Party, are centrists looking left. Certainly Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are left of Obama, but that doesn’t even begin to cover the possible ground to the left of our president. Think of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or FDR’s best VP, Henry Wallace.  If we expand to all the legitimate stable democracies of the world, the right-centrists in countries such as Germany and the Scandinavian countries are to the left of Barack Obama. And then we come to Willie Brandt and Helmut Schmidt and the golden age of democratic socialism.

If we were to analyze the positions advocated in the work of legitimate sociologists, political scientists and historians in the English speaking world—those who don’t depend on think tanks for funding, we would find that Obama would at best be a centrist.

And let’s not forget that Obama typically follows the hawkish right-looking American foreign policy of the last 70 years. He is not as hawkish as the Republicans who want to bomb everything that moves in the Middle East outside of Israel, but Obama is in favor of using drones, developing automated weapons, wholesale NSA spying on citizens, using foreign policy to help large U.S. multinational corporations grow their businesses and projecting a strong U.S. military presence throughout the world. Of course, no person can be elected president who does not accept the basic premises of the military-industrial complex.

It is only in the bizarre world of 21st American mainstream politics, truncated by big money and a rightwing news media, that Barack Obama can imply that he is a the left end of the spectrum with a straight face and not have a dozen journalists call him on it.

The news media has always kept the American public firmly focused on maintaining the myth that a narrow part of the political spectrum represents all possibilities. And since 1980, that narrow part of the spectrum has moved considerably rightward, to the point that on all but the very basic social issues such as gay marriage, Barack Obama and the Clintons are about where Dwight Eisenhower was in the 1950s.

The news media defines the terms of the debate in many ways, including:
·         Defining the issues in terms of rightwing language and predilections, e.g., assuming we have to cut the deficit and discussing spending cuts but not tax increases to eliminate the deficit.
·         Allowing the ultra-right to have their views aired in the public forum, while ignoring anyone left of mainstream Democrats.
·         Selection of Op/Ed experts and academic studies they publish. My favorite example in recent years was the extensive coverage that the media gave to a study that showed that an enormous number of TV weather personalities—half of whom are talking heads and none of whom are experts in climatology—have doubts about global warming, while completely ignoring a study that demonstrated how the world could produce twice the electricity it needs using clean wind energy.
·         Using the so-called fairness doctrine to let rightwing lies gain or maintain credence, for example quoting both sides in debates that have already been settled such as human-created global warming and the safety of vaccines. In both instances, a story will quote the one expert who doubts global warming or thinks that vaccines cause autism and one of the 99+% of all the experts who rightfully think that humans are causing global warming or that vaccines are safe.
·         Letting rightwing lies stand. The media is willing to go after politicians who lie about their own accomplishments like Carly Fiorina or behave hypocritically (e.g., gay politicians who condemn other gays, such as ex-Senator Larry Craig). But they are much more reluctant to highlight policy lies, such as the lie that raising the minimum wage destroys jobs or that we are undergoing a crime wave.
·         Selective coverage, for example, covering right-wing politicians but not progressives; focusing on Republican primaries in which to right-wingers are battling it out, but not Democratic primaries. To see what I mean, try looking up the instances when the “liberal” New York Times calls a Democratic politician “brave” in a feature story over the past five years. In virtually all instance, that politician is fighting unions.

When compared to the corporate factotums who are most of the current crop of American politicians, Obama looks very good to progressives. But compared to the possibilities that exist out there, he is a centrist. A true progressive would favor a wealth tax—a tax that people pay annually on all assets over a certain amount, say $5 million. A true progressive would never favor any movement such as charter schools that hurts unions. A true progressive would clamor for single-payer nationalized health insurance. A true progressive would advocate the unilateral dismantling of all nuclear weapons.

Thus, while we could label Barack Obama a 21st century mainstream progressive, that far from puts him on the opposite end of the spectrum from John Boehner. There is much more to the left of Barack Obama than the mainstream news media and the two major parties would like us to know about.