For the NRA, a Possible Perfect Storm of Bad PR

Yesterday was not a triumph in PR for advocates of zero restrictions on firearms. While NRA boss Waynne LaPierre and other blood lobby types were getting their rhetorical asses handed to them in a Senate hearing on gun violence, gun violence erupted across the land. In Chicago, a 15 year-old girl who performed at the president's inaugural was shot and killed, apparently an innocent bystander in the attempted murder of another. In Phoenix, a man went on an office rampage, injuring two and killing one. And in Alabama, a hostage situation was continuing, as a rightwing anti-government extremist took a 5 year-old autistic boy hostage -- you read that right -- after killing a school bus driver.

While the NRA tools in Washington could find plenty of examples of people using guns to protect themselves, they couldn't manage to come up with any examples which were actually on-topic. The issues being discussed were assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and expanded background checks. In no example the gun nuts offered did any of these figure into a gun owner's defense of their families. And, contrary to the panic you see among rightwing bloggers and pundits, no one's talking about taking anyone's guns away. The debate is whether to stop the sale of certain items and whether to make background checks actually mean something by requiring them with every gun purchase, whether it's in a sporting goods store, a gun show, or a want ad in the Shopper Stopper. So, in a very logical sense, the anti-regulation folks were unable to offer any real world examples to back up their positions. They did a lot of talking, but managed no defense.

Meanwhile, one of the crimes ongoing yesterday may have been a great example of all three of the issues being discussed: assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and meaningful background checks. In the case of the hostage situation, it's reported that the bus driver was shot four times with a 9mm pistol. The most popular 9mm in America is a Glock 17. And the Glock 17 was covered under the assault weapons ban of 1994.


In 1991, the first Glock shooting spree took place in Texas. Twenty people were killed. Hours after the shooting, members of Congress were debating whether guns like the Glock should be restricted.

"It took awhile, but by 1994, a bill was passed — this is what we remember as the Assault Weapons Bill — and was signed into law by President Clinton," says Barrett. "It had a variety of restrictions. One of them was limiting the pistol magazine capacity to 10 rounds."

Unfortunately, congress in their stupidity grandfathered in guns that were manufactured before the ban took effect. Glock built a bazillion 17s and flooded the market with them, cashing in on wingnut fears that being without a weapon fitting the very narrow definition of an assault weapon was the same as being disarmed. It's a mistake that should not be repeated.

If it turns out that hostage-taker Jimmy Lee Dykes did use a Glock to kill the bus driver, then that means that while NRA stooges were in Washington, failing to come up with a single instance that a person used an assault weapon for defense, a lunatic in Alabama was using an assault weapon to commit a shocking and bloody crime.

Further, if Dykes had lived anywhere but Alabama, his previous run-ins with the law might very well have prevented him from buying a gun. "It was not immediately clear what prompted Dykes to storm the bus, but his motives appear to be related to a menacing charge in December," reports the Southern Poverty Law Center. "That month, Dykes pointed a gun at his neighbor, James Edward Davis Dr., who told the Dothan Eagle that Dykes accused him of driving on his yard. Dykes was scheduled to have a bench trial today on the charge, and an unidentified girl who Dykes released from the bus told reporters that Dykes was referring to his upcoming case." Dykes is also reportedly mentally unstable and suffering from PTSD. Even if he already had the gun, it seems obvious that he shouldn't be allowed to buy ammo.

So, while gun freaks in Washington could not come up with a single example of someone using an assault weapon or high-capacity magazine to defend themselves -- nor could they come up with any example of a background check preventing anyone's self-defense -- a perfect storm of a crime involving all three of those issues may very well have been playing out on news broadcasts around the country.

Once again, we see that reality has a liberal bias.


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Austerity, Spending, and the Stimulative Value of Holes

Construction sign shows man digging hole
An Associated Press article out today could be titled, "Everything Republicans say About Economics Proven Wrong." Instead, we get the less entertaining but just as accurate, "US economy shrinks 0.1 pct., 1st time in 3 1/2 years." If that doesn't sound like good news, that's because it is not. Even a minor contraction in an already deflated economy is enough to cause real worry, like a creaking support beam deep inside a coal mine. But one tenth of one percent isn't exactly a plunge into the danger zone and -- good news! -- we know exactly what caused it. Which means, we also know exactly what to do to fix it.

The U.S. economy unexpectedly shrank from October through December for the first time since 2009, hurt by the biggest cut in defense spending in 40 years, fewer exports and sluggish growth in company stockpiles. The drop occurred despite stronger consumer spending and business investment.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the economy contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter. That was a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 percent growth rate in the July-September quarter.

Economists said the drop in gross domestic product wasn't as bleak as it looked. The weakness was mainly the result of one-time factors. Government spending cuts and slower inventory growth, which can be volatile, subtracted a total of 2.6 percentage points from GDP.

The Reader's Digest Condensed version: austerity sucks. Government spending is the dreaded s-word (i.e., "stimulus") to the US economy. If you cut federal spending, you cut demand, and the economy suffers. Duh.

In fact, it's more than just defense spending cuts that are holding economic growth back. After all, defense spending isn't magically good, while other spending is somehow bad. Demand is demand and if you cut spending, you cut demand -- every time. It's inevitable. Non-defense discretionary spending is at a historic low. The Center for American Progress reports that this spending covers things like "crime prevention and investigation, border protection and immigration enforcement, the federal prison system, and U.S. attorneys and the federal courts, including the Supreme Court." So not wasteful spending in the least.

When we cut all that, we undercut the economy. It's simple: cut government spending and someone, somewhere stops getting paid. They stop spending their money and this sends a ripple effect throughout the economy. They no longer demand products and services -- and everyone on down the line demands fewer as a result. Again, the perfect word to describe the inability to understand this basic and obvious truth is "duh."

Which makes the Republican Party, conservative pundits, and rightwing media the Duh Brigade. And this report puts them all in a little bit of a pickle.

"It’s awfully tempting to argue for a delay in the defense sequester on 'stimulus' grounds -- if you are the kind of politician who hasn’t abundantly estopped any such argument with prior shrieks about deficit spending being the economy’s main problem," explains Ed Kilgore.

But of course, logical inconsistency is never an impediment to the conservative mind. They'll find some way to explain how defense spending is magically good and that money somehow knows it's being spent "the right way." But keep in mind the way the economy really works. They can't really come up with a convincing argument. Economist John Maynard Keynes said you could stimulate the economy by paying someone to dig holes and someone else to fill them in again. And this is absolutely true. The point being that spending is stimulus and it doesn't much matter what kind of labor that spending buys. Think about it; when hole-digger and hole-filler break for lunch, they still head to a burger joint. The money spends exactly the same as if they'd earned it painting bombers or manufacturing Humvee tires.

The point here isn't to advocate wasting money and that wasn't Keynes' point either -- he wasn't seriously suggesting a program of hole-based economic recovery. The point here is to demonstrate the very simple principle that income is income and money doesn't care how it's earned. If we raise defense spending, that's stimulative. If we raise non-defense discretionary spending, that's stimulative. If we pay people to walk around with signs reading "ask me where you can get a job holding one of these signs," that's stimulative. Money doesn't know things. It has no memory of how it was earned. Every federal dollar buys the same amount of burger, which means every federal dollar is as stimulative as the next.

This is all very obvious, which is why conservatives spend so much energy in obscuring it with crazy economic theories that seem to make a lot of sense -- right up until the moment that you really start to think about them. And that's why today's report is doubly bad news for the GOP: a contracting economy is bad for everyone and a report blaming austerity for that economy is bad for the right.

Today will be an extra-heavy spin cycle day, I think.


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Why National Dems May Wind Up Thanking Wisconsin Recallers

As a resident of this state, I really do believe there aren't many good things you can say about Wisconsin Governor Scott "Divide and Conquer" Walker. He's not particularly smart and he's not particularly honest. He's also not particularly courageous.

And courage is something he got some credit for. After his big unionbuster, Walker took a lot of heat. But I'd argue that this was heat he was unprepared for. The scale of the reaction scared the starch out of his drawers and left him obsessed with his own political survival. After all, this is a man a former high-level GOP legislative staffer described as a "giant fiery ball of ambition" -- and ambitions die when the career dies. He's gone from Tea Party Hero to a Romney-like weathervane, pointing in whatever direction the political winds are blowing at the moment. And, while Republicans control the State assembly and senate, this is the result of gerrymandering more than anything. The problem for Scott Walker there is that you can't gerrymander a statewide office. No creatively drawn district lines will save him from overreach and the ground looks very bad for him right now. At a time when Republicans would very much like to see him strike while the iron is hot and return to hard partisanship, Walker's survival instincts push him toward centrism. Rock no boats, make no waves, curb all overreach.

Steve Benen caught a whiff of Walkers newfound political cowardice moderation, this time on the issue of a slow, bloodless coup attempt being waged by the GOP.

Over the weekend, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) offered cautious encouragement to Republicans hoping to rig the 2016 presidential election by changing how his state allocates electoral votes. The conservative governor didn't explicitly endorse the idea, but Walker called it "interesting" and "worth looking at."

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Republican was far more circumspect.

Gov. Scott Walker says he has a "real concern" about a Republican idea to change the way the state awards its electoral votes, conceding the move could make Wisconsin irrelevant in presidential campaigns. [...]

"One of our advantages is, as a swing state, candidates come here. We get to hear from the candidates," said Walker in an interview Saturday at a conservative conference in Washington, D.C. "That's good for voters. If we change that, that would take that away, it would largely make us irrelevant."

That's a far cry from what Walker was saying over the weekend, and it's a welcome change. What's more, it's worth noting that the governor happens to be correct -- if Wisconsin changed to a system in which electoral votes are dictated by gerrymandered district lines, the state would immediately go from key, contested battleground to campaign afterthought.

"This would, incidentally, put Walker at odds with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, a long-time ally of the governor who's also from Wisconsin and who's endorsed the scheme," Benen says.

That's a bit of an understatement. If Walker bails on the scheme, the whole plot falls apart. Wisconsin is essential. He's got everything he needs to do it -- a pet legislature, inoculation against another recall (you only get one shot at that in Wisconsin) -- now should be the perfect time to subvert democracy and use gerrymandering, combined with electoral collage trickery, to install a popular vote loser in the White House. Walker wouldn't be "at odds" with his national party chairman if he caves, he'd be throwing his entire party's plan for national dominance under the bus.

While we're not out of the woods yet, it seems foolish in retrospect for the GOP to rest all their hopes on the narrow shoulders of the opportunistic Scott Walker. And even if Walker decides he can survive it, what's to keep another waffling GOP governor on shaky ground (think Rick Scott) from dropping out of the plot? Walker's set a precedent, no matter what he does going forward. By thinking of his own political survival, he's causing others to do the same. Who wants to be the one taking the heat, while the other governors drop out and run for cover? What would be the point, since without the others, the plan won't work anyway? Why cause rancor needlessly and bootlessly? None of these guys can trust the others now, so any one of them may drop out at the slightest sign of defection or tough sledding.

Anyone who thinks the Wisconsin Recall fight was a failure may well look at this moment as the moment when they were proven wrong. Scott Walker, scared straight and heading into reelection, may now be moderating his own party -- and suffocating what is really a slow-motion coup in its cradle.


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Sen. Ron Johnson: Mouth Over-Used, Ears Neglected

You might have noticed that I was out all last week. I had the second cold of the season, which is weird. Unfortunately, the surest way to give me writer's block is to stuff my sinuses and wrap my head in that weird cloud-of-cotton feeling you get with a rhinovirus. As a result, I managed only to watch a bunch of TV -- along with quite a few episodes of MST3k.

But if you thought I was hiding my face in shame as a Wisconsinite, though, that would've been a good guess. After all, we're the state that elected Sen. Ron Johnson, who John Nichols writes will never "be accused of being the sharpest tack in the box." If you want to instantly grasp Johnson's intellectual power, imagine a diehard Rush Limbaugh fan with the wherewithal to buy a senate seat. That's him. That's the guy in a nutshell. Nearly always steered 100% wrong by his local talk radio station and convinced beyond question that he's 100% right. A blockhead and a blowhard, inexplicably given the title of "Very Important Man."

Nichols' weekend column also says that during the first two years of his first term, Johnson "didn’t do much and wasn’t noticed much. While he ranted and raved about debts and deficits, he voted as a predictable partisan. He rarely dissented from the party line and the media — and most Americans — paid him little mind."

Then this happened...

[Huffington Post:]

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got testy on Capitol Hill Wednesday in response to a query from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who called into question her department's accounting of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Facing expected scrutiny from Republicans during her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton appeared to take exception to Johnson's pointed inquiry into the State Department's initial report that the attack had been mounted spontaneously as a reaction to an anti-Islam YouTube video.

"With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans," Clinton responded, raising her voice at Johnson, who continued to interrupt her. "Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."

In case you haven't seen it, the video is here. Long story short, Johnson was being a hectoring fool. Clinton wasn't repeating the lies he'd heard from Limbaugh, so he kept asking idiotic questions -- then interrupting the answers with more idiotic questions. So Sec. Clinton finally had enough and shut him up and shut him down. After getting a earful from her, Sen. Johnson suddenly had no more questions for Madam Secretary.

Of course, the embarrassment was too much to bear, so he later blamed Clinton for his own ignorance and lack of preparation. "It was theatrics," Johnson told Charlie Sykes -- Milwaukee's local version of Rush Limbaugh. "Again, she didn’t want to answer questions so she makes a big show of it." That doesn't really explain why you shut down your questioning and retreated with your tail between your legs, does it Senator?

Nor does it explain this...

[Talking Points Memo:]

At his secretary of state confirmation hearing Thursday, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) called out Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) for missing a classified briefing on the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Johnson pressed Kerry to commit to finding out what, exactly, happened on Sept. 11, 2012 at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

"Well, there was a briefing with tapes, which we all saw, those of us who went to it, which made it crystal clear," Kerry said. "We sat for several hours with our intel folks, who described to us precisely what we were seeing. We saw the events unfold. We had a very complete and detailed description."

There's another video at that link. But the condensed version is that Johnson kept badgering Kerry about why we don't know this and why we don't know that, so Kerry answered they we do know this and that -- and so would Johnson if he could manage to pry himself away from Fox News and attend an actual briefing for once in his life. Once again, Johnson's belief in his mastery of the facts led to his own humiliation. The man is a clown.

A few months back, the congressional newspaper Roll Call quote an anonymous "senior GOP aide" as saying that Johnson rubs even his Republican colleagues the wrong way. "He’s an interesting case study of someone who has talked more than he has listened, lectured more than he has developed relationships with his colleagues, and now he’s having a tough time because of that behavior in advancing his policy goals," the aide said. "It’s kind of like watching a temper tantrum by a 2-year-old in the middle of the grocery store."

I can only imagine how infuriating it must be to be lectured by a dope as wrong on the facts as Johnson has recently proved himself to be. I would avoid him like the plague -- and that would include working with him. Now wonder John Nichols was able to note that Johnson hasn't accomplished much of anything so far.

And thank your lucky stars for that, because this is what Johnson had hoped to accomplish (emphasis mine):

... If Johnson and others like him win, they seem less interested in plunging into specific legislation and more inclined to wage a philosophical messaging war to change the GOP and the nature of governance. Asked what innovative ideas he might push in office, Johnson didn't talk of tax reform or private Social Security accounts, or of anything a conventional senator might do.

Instead, he committed himself to a "re-education of America" and talked about how expectations of government help are spinning wildly out of control, creating “a culture of dependency" that has little appreciation for what it takes for individuals and businesses to thrive. One could easily hear Angle in Nevada and Paul in Kentucky making the same case, with the same intensity, using the same words to win — and planning the same approach if elected.

Mr. Talk-Radio-For-Brains is committed to "reeducating" you. As I said, be thankful he hasn't succeeeded or you'd be as much of a clueless dope as he is.


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Griper Blade: New NRA Ad Suggests President's Family Shouldn't Get Secret Service Protection

Josh Marshall looks at the NRA's latest attack ad against President Obama and calls the organization "a disease on the body politic." It's a good call. If you want to get more specific, then my diagnosis is leprosy -- movie leprosy that is -- a sort of living rot that destroys the body politic with oozing, festering wounds like the one above.

"There are so many vile things about this ad. But one thing to note is the ad is really only designed to appeal to people who have a deep — really deep — animosity toward the President," he writes. "The sort of people who don’t think he and his daughters should be in the White House and wish him the sort of ill citizens should never wish upon a freely elected head of state."

And that's the key to everything here. Instead of asking, as the NRA's ad does, whether the President's children are more important than yours, ask whether the President's family has received more death threats than yours. Answer: an easy yes. The hypocrisy is not the President's, the hypocrisy is the NRA's. Understanding this fact means understanding that the president's family is under constant threat because of rightwing demagogues like the idiot or committee of idiots who wrote this ad -- people who spend all of their time whipping up a frenzy against Barack Obama in daily sessions of Two Minutes Hate. There's your hypocrisy. The lefty site DailyKos recently reported on the massive amount of threats this president and his family have received, which Gawker helpfully condenses:

According to a super depressing report linked from The Daily Kos, the Secret Service doesn't even tell the President about the threats on his life out of concern that knowing the precise level of crazy out there would distract him from all the important Presidenting he has to do.

A dubious-looking petition site claims Obama has received more death threats than any other President, and while the head of the Secret Service says the organization doesn't comment on the exact number of threats that face the head of the executive branch, multiple news reports have characterized the number of threats against Obama as "overwhelming" and "unprecedented."

But the threats haven't stopped at Barack; in 2009, a woman who knew the Obamas' Hawaii vacation itinerary and threatened to "blow away" the First Lady was arrested a mile from where the First Family was staying. Others have threatened the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia.

Here's an example -- from a mere two days ago.

[Daily Mail:]

The Secret Service arrested a registered sex offender in Michigan after he allegedly made a racist death threat against President Barack Obama and threatened to blow up the FCC.

James Allen Myers, 37, called the offices of the National Geographic and the Federal Communications Commission and threatened the president because he was outraged by the 'filthy sex and perversion' that was allowed on television, according to federal charges filed against him on Thursday.

He allegedly called Obama a racial slur and said: 'I'm gonna hang our... president from a tree outside the White House with a burning cross and a swastika on the lawn.'

So, does the President and his family need more protection than the average person? I'm going to go ahead and answer yes. The NRA can take their offensive, idiotic ad and jam it.

And really, do they expect anyone but the already chumpish gun nuts who follow them to be persuaded by this argument? Apparently not. And apparently they missed the last election -- the base isn't enough to create majority opinion. Who doesn't think the President needs security? What does the NRA think they'll be able to accomplish with this crap? Polling shows their favorability is crashing -- and BS like this is a big reason why.

We may not need to cure this disease. We may be watching it burn itself out in one last, frantic fever dream.



The NRA's Pro-Assassination Argument

Currier and Ives engraving of the Lincoln assassination
According to George Mason University Historian Christopher Hamner, John Wilkes Booth was very clear on his reason for assassinating President Abraham Lincoln. Booth, considering himself a southern patriot, had plotted elaborate plans to kidnap the president, most of which were completely unrealistic fantasies; one "involved capturing Lincoln in his box at Ford’s Theater and lowering the president to the stage with ropes," Hamner writes. But it wasn't until he'd heard a speech by Lincoln that he settled on the easier and more realistic scheme of killing the president. The war was all but over, the confederacy had clearly lost, and Lincoln was looking ahead toward the future.

...Lincoln’s speech that evening outlined some of his ideas about reconstructing the nation and bringing the defeated Confederate states back into the Union. Lincoln also indicated a wish to extend the franchise to some African-Americans—at the very least, those who had fought in the Union ranks during the war—and expressed a desire that the southern states would extend the vote to literate blacks, as well. Booth stood in the audience for the speech, and this notion seems to have amplified his rage at Lincoln. “That means nigger citizenship,” he told Lewis Powell, one of his band of conspirators. “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.”

And so, on the night of April 14, 1865, a shot rang out in Ford's Theater, accompanied by the slogan, "Sic semper tyrannus!" -- "Thus always to tyrants."

The reason I bring this up is because the word "tyranny" is being thrown around a lot by demagogues and the gullible types who hang on their every word. Most recently, it's come up in the debate over limits on guns. Gun nuts argue that the Second Amendment is some sort of inoculation against tyranny, so it pays to ask: who gets to decide who's a tyrant?

Imagine if the Second Amendment really meant what the gun nuts say it means. As the Constitution is written, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of constitutionality. In their wisdom, the founders envisioned of the finest legal minds in the nation, assembled in one high court, tasked with untangling the intricacies of law and justice, in a deliberative, calm, and logical manner, through rational discourse and reasoned advocacy.

And, if that didn't work, constitutionality would then be decided by an angry person with a gun -- because angry people with guns historically have been such stellar decision-makers. If things don't turn out your way politically, it's your right as an American to start blastin'. By the NRA's version of the Second Amendment, Booth's cry of "Sic semper tyrannis!" was all the legal justification he needed. Lincoln was talking about giving African-Americans the vote, Booth thought that was tyranny, and he used his Second Amendment freedoms to put a bullet in the president's brain -- liberty in action! By this interpretation of the Second Amendment, there is no constitutional check on the Assassin's Veto. Where the ballot fails, the bullet rules. Because that's freedom -- the ability to vote, then overturn that vote through a tantrum of armed thuggery if the vote doesn't turn out the way you'd hoped.

While we're at it, wasn't the entire Civil War the gun nut's version of the Second Amendment in action? The south joined in rebellion against the union, because freeing people was tyranny and keeping slaves was liberty. Right? Once again, we see the genius-level decision-making skills of angry people with guns -- they set the south on a course that still has it leading the nation in poverty.

By the way, don't try that "it was about states' rights" dodge with me. It was states' rights to do what? Keep slaves, that's what. It was about slavery -- any other take is laughable revisionism, so keep it to yourself.

The only people who could possibly believe that the Second Amendment means the right to the Assassin's Veto are angry people with guns. Because, as I've pretty well established here, angry people with guns are idiots. As are people obsessed with imagined tyrants. Doubt that? Let's look at a few things that are "tyranny":

Health care.
Contraceptive coverage.
Marriage equality.
Environmental protection.
Digital television.
The secret UFO conspiracy.
The "oppression" of Christians by Jews.
Fluoridated water.
Anti-smoking laws.

No, the Second Amendment does not say that you get to start shooting people because your analog TV antenna doesn't work anymore, because you can't smoke in a restaurant, or because a couple of guys just sent you an invitation to their wedding. It's not a bulwark against tyrants, because you don't get to decide who is or isn't a tyrant. That was no defense for Booth and it would be no defense for you. The NRA's argument is an argument for legalized terrorism.

Somehow, I doubt that's what the founders had in mind.


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An Assault Weapons Ban, Piece By Piece

Let's get one thing clear immediately, the "assault weapon" classification is not some BS term meant to scare people away from certain guns. When someone tells you that the only differences between an assault rifle and a regular rifle are cosmetic, they're lying. The adaptations and customizations made to an assault weapon serve a purpose and that purpose is to make it easier to fire a lot of bullets in a short amount of time. To say there's no difference between a hunting rifle and an AR-15 is the same as saying there's no difference between a car off the dealer's lot and a street rod -- they look different because they are different.

There's a longer explanation here. But the shortest explanation is just as convincing: a "tricked out" AR-15 costs $1,000 at WalMart. Meanwhile, a regular deer rifle will cost you about 500 to 600 bucks. An example is here. It's very similar to a gun I used to use when I hunted deer. Out of 24 reviews at the site, 20 give this 500 dollar rifle five stars. It's not some cheap piece of junk. It's a perfectly good sportsman's rifle, used by hunters around the world.

Now, who in their right mind would spend twice as much for something that they know is different only in appearance? A gun is a tool. And anyone who pays that much more for a tool because they like the way it looks is a chump. There is obviously a difference and the people who love these weapons know it. When they say they "just look scary," they lie. And one person who knows this is Newton Police Chief Michael Kehoe.

[Raw Story:]

It’s been one month since the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe says it’s time for the White House to ban military-style assault weapons, restrict high-capacity magazines and close loopholes in the background check system.

In an interview with NBC’s Michael Isikoff, Kehoe recalled that he was one of the first to respond to the December elementary school massacre and entered the school to find “the eerie silence in the hallways, the smell of burnt gunpowder and then the bodies of dead children on the floor of the classrooms.”

“I was sickened, I was angry,” Kehoe explained. “It was something I never could have imagined could have happened in any school in Newtown.”

"Ban assault weapons," Kehoe says. "Restrict those magazines that have so many bullets in them, shore up any loopholes in our criminal background checks... We never like to think we’re going to be outgunned in any situation we’re dealing with. We do a good job of securing dynamite in our society... [Assault rifles] are another form of dynamite... I think they should ban them."

The problem, of course, is that the House of Representatives will probably never pass an all-out assault weapons ban. But this is not the big problem that you might think. Already, cracks are showing in the GOP's opposition to banning anything even remotely gun-related. Specifically, members are saying that they won't rule out bans on high-capacity magazines -- and high-capacity magazines or "banana clips" are one hallmark of an assault weapon.

An assault weapon is a weapon with a specific group of features. If we can't outlaw them all at once, we can shut them down one by one. None of them would stand up to public scrutiny very well (i.e., who needs a grenade launcher or a bayonet mount?).

If we have to take on assault weapons piece by piece, then that's what we should do. Because we can't let these weapons go unchecked. Since the original assault weapons ban expired in 2004, mass killings have risen. In fact, statistician Sam Wang calls the period during the ban "peaceful by US standards." Instances fell during the period, then rose again after the ban expired. Wang concludes that "renewing the assault weapon ban as a route to pre-2005 conditions seems like a rational response to today's horrific events." Everything you've been told about the ban from gun nuts is wrong: it made a difference, crime didn't rise because people were disarmed, and -- most importantly -- Joseph Adolph Hitlerstalin didn't rise up and throw everyone into death camps. If you're old enough, you probably remember never living in a Hitlerstalin death camp.

We can get assault weapon ban back again, just maybe not all at once. We can have something approaching sane gun laws in the US, it just may take more time than we'd like. Not passing an assault weapons ban wouldn't be an end, it would be the beginning of a much longer alternative approach.


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The NRA Exists to Sell Guns and Ammo. Period

Anti-NRA protesterYesterday, Public Policy Poll released numbers showing that the National Rifle Association's favorability had slipped into negative territory. It was close -- 42% positive vs. 45% negative -- but PPP reported that this represented a "10 point net decline in the NRA's favorability" compared to their numbers before NRA President Wayne LaPierre's disastrous press conference. You remember that press conference, the one where he revealed he's insane. The issue is dragging House Republicans' numbers down as well.

What the NRA desperately needs is to change their image from a collection of trigger-happy psychopaths with a gun fetish -- which is what they act like -- to an organization of levelheaded protectors of freedom -- which is what they pretend to be. The problem is that they apparently have absolutely no idea what the hell "levelheaded" looks like. As a result, they stage PR nightmares like this one yesterday, reported by NPR:

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband, Mark Kelly, have formed a political action committee to support prevention of gun violence. The announcement came Tuesday, the second anniversary of the mass shooting in Tucson that left six dead and wounded 13, including Giffords.

Churches and fire stations around the city rang bells in memory of the victims and in commemoration of other mass shootings since Tucson.

The Tucson Police Department also held a gun buyback Tuesday. Police want to destroy the 206 firearms turned in to them. But the National Rifle Association says that would violate Arizona law.

The buyback is funded not with city or state money, but with private funds. Sponsored by the grocery chain Safeway, people turning in guns receive a $50 gift card for the store. Police officers were needed merely to check the guns "to make sure they hadn't been stolen or used in a crime" and, I suppose, as gun safety experts to make sure the guns were empty and harmless.

Initially, I found it hard to imagine why the NRA would care about this -- the people turning in these guns clearly don't want them, so no one's "rights" were being abridged -- and why they decided this would be an excellent fight to pick, considering the nose dive the organization is in in terms of public opinion.

Then I remembered that the NRA is a trade group devoted to selling as many guns and as much ammo as possible. If those guns are sitting in someone's attic, no one makes money off them. If they're destroyed in a gun buyback, ditto. But if the government sells them, that's a different story. The buyers will want bullets. Ka-ching.

I can't stress enough that the NRA is not a gun rights organization, they're a gun sales organization. When Wayne LaPierre demanded in that press conference that the government put armed guards in every school in America, what he was really doing was demanding that the United States government buy a buttload of guns and ammo. At no time will the NRA ever suggest a policy that doesn't increase the sale of guns and/or ammunition. Concealed carry sells guns. "Stand your ground" laws sell guns and actually encourage shooting -- which sells ammo. When LaPierre said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he wasn't making a logical argument so much as he was making a sales pitch. He was envisioning a nation where every gun is countered by a second gun -- i.e., a nation with twice as many firearms as there are now. And, since America is plagued with an insane amount of guns already, that would be a bonanza for arms merchants.

And that's why I refer to the NRA as the blood lobby. They don't care about public safety and they only care about people's rights when it serves to sell more guns and more ammunition. Why defend ownership of a 30-round clip no one in their right mind wants or needs? Because it takes thirty bullets to fill it, instead of six or eight. Duh.

But it looks like the gun sellers' amoral greed has finally gotten the best of them. Public opinion is in a tailspin and they're still pulling stupid maneuvers like suing over gun buybacks. They could possibly pull themselves out of this hole, but they're too busy digging for gold down there to find the time.


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Meet the Newtown Truthers

I'm a little stuck as to how to start this thing, so I'll just throw the whole bunch of crazy at you right off the bat:

[Sun Sentinel, Florida:]

A communication professor known for conspiracy theories has stirred controversy at Florida Atlantic University with claims that last month's Newtown, Conn., school shootings did not happen as reported — or may not have happened at all.

Moreover, James Tracy asserts in radio interviews and on his memoryholeblog.com. that trained "crisis actors" may have been employed by the Obama administration in an effort to shape public opinion in favor of the event's true purpose: gun control.

"As documents relating to the Sandy Hook shooting continue to be assessed and interpreted by independent researchers, there is a growing awareness that the media coverage of the massacre of 26 children and adults was intended primarily for public consumption to further larger political ends," writes Tracy, a tenured associate professor of media history at FAU and a former union leader.

In another post, he says, "While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described."

You can understand why I'm so flabbergasted. I suppose it's to be expected -- the ability of some to deny obvious reality is proven again and again to be endless. The University has disavowed Tracy's views, but apparently he's still got a job teaching. In fact, he's teaching exactly this sort of lunacy to his students. His class is called "Culture of Conspiracy."

That's disturbing enough. But what's more disturbing is online poll posted with the story. It asks, "Does FAU prof James Tracy make the case that last month's Sandy Hook school shootings may not have been the massacre as reported?" Here are the results, as they appeared when I visited at 9:00 am central:

61 percent of respondents believe the shooting is a hoax

Yes, it says the results aren't scientific right there on the graphic, but still... WTF?

Over at No More Mister Nice Blog, Steve M. notes that this whole conspiracy theory seems amazingly well fleshed-out.

And I know I ought to resist nutpicking, but I'm struck not so much by the percentage of commenters who think the professor is on to something (not quite half in the Fox thread, an apparent majority in the Sun-Sentinel thread), but by how well developed Newtown trutherism is already...

In other words, all these conspiracy nuts seem to be on the same page. Steve would like a pollster to see how widespread this "Newtown trutherism" actually is -- so would I.

But I wanted to know where this is coming from. Do conspiracy theorists' minds all just work alike or is all this coming from some source I'm unaware of? It turns out, it's the latter.

[Talking Points Memo:]

Like many traumatic national events, the Newtown shooting has already spawned its share of wild conspiracy theories that draw in everything from British finance to the Hunger Games.

A false rumor spreading rapidly on fringe sites like Infowars and assorted Ron Paul messageboards ties the school murders to an existing hoax surrounding the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting. After that attack, conspiracy theorists fixated on the accused shooter’s father, Robert Holmes, pointing to media reports that he worked as an anti-fraud scientist for credit scoring company FICO.

Add to those, the white supremacist site Stormfront.org, where a discussion of Tracy's theorizing was started on the message board back in December. I won't link to it, because I refuse to drive traffic there. If you absolutely need proof, google "Evidence of Newtown Crime Scene site:stormfront.org." Otherwise, just take my word for it.

And that's what strikes me; how the paranoid ravings of the Tea Party right so often mirror the paranoid ravings of the racist right. For people who claim not to be racist, they sure share a lot of ideas with racists. In fact, these parallels are so often the case that it's impossible to believe there isn't some crossover here -- maybe a lot. At the very least, it's proof positive that Tea Party chunkheads are exactly as gullible as neo-nazi chunkheads.

It would be interesting to see how many Republican voters believe this newest conspiracy theory. After all, we know an astounding percentage of them are birthers, we know they were mostly poll truthers, and nearly half believe that Obama stole the 2012 election -- why wouldn't they be Newtown truthers?



Assault Rifles are Different in More Than Just Appearance

If the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer serves any useful purpose at all, it's to prove conclusively that the American Family Association is a hate group. His views on the subject of homosexuality are pretty much identical to those of Fred Phelps and Phelps' thankfully small hate cult, the Westboro Baptist Church. The only real difference between Phelps and Fischer is that Phelps is willing to use the word "fag" and to protest funerals. They disagree on method and there the difference ends.

But Fischer's opinions aren't limited to criticisms of the Homosexual Menace. He believes he's Big King Expert on just about any subject under the sun, so long as there's a conservative take on it. Like his criticisms of the LGBT community, these other opinions are completely ridiculous. When it comes to identifying idiotic conservative opinion, Bryan Fischer is the low-hanging fruit. The worst of the religious right, he makes Pat Robertson look like a hippy.

I point all of this out because Fischer said something stupid yesterday. This should come as no surprise. But, as so often the case, Fischer's simply repeating a conservative talking point he'd likely heard from someone else. The reason Fischer's such an easy target is because he doesn't waste a lot of time dressing up conservative arguments to make them more palatable. He puts them bluntly, offering right wing talking points up in all their naked stupidity. I'm not picking on Fischer specifically, but rather the argument he so helpfully distills.

[Raw Story:]

“Whoever controls the language is going to control the debate,” Fischer explained in a recent radio broadcast obtained by Right Wing Watch on Monday. “They picked the word ‘assault weapon’ to make it sound bad, to make it sound mean. They’re trying to say the Second Amendment does not protect assault weapons.”

“I say exactly the reverse. That is exactly what it protects, that is exactly what it was designed to protect,” he continued. “It was designed to protect the right of the American people to keep and bear arms.”

Fischer went on to insist that today’s assault rifles were “the same kind of arms, rifles, assault weapons, military-style weapons that were used to defeat the British.”

Yes, because technology was so limited back then that the average citizen had a firearm nearly identical to the average soldier, we get to have rifles nearly identical to those carried in Afghanistan. Of course, the British also had battleships and artillery, so Fischer's argument is logical mush.

But this was all a lead up to the more common argument; that assault weapons just "look different" than hunting rifles and that gun-grabbing liberals want to ban them simply because they're so scary-looking.

"They just used their hunting rifles and used them to defend their independence," he argued. "So the Second Amendment is exactly designed to protect assault rifles [and] that's just nothing more than a fancy-pants hunting rifle."

OK, so the first part of that is wrong. The US Army won the Revolutionary War, not a bunch of farmers with muskets. Militia barely even fought. But that's neither here nor there. The real argument here is that hunting rifles and assault rifles are basically identical. The former head of the NRA, Marion Hammer, recently made the same argument -- while managing to add a pinch of racial insensitivity.

"Banning people and things because of the way they look because of the way they look, but here they are again," she said. "The color of a gun, the way it looks. It’s just bad politics."

But the thing is, assault weapons aren't just different in appearance, they're different in design. The argument that these are just hunting rifles that look scary is incredibly dishonest. No hunter should need a 30-round magazine. If it takes you 30 freakin' shots to bring down your target, someone should take your gun away from you. You're a menace. You're blind and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence explains some other differences:

Some assault weapon features, like pistol grips, second handgrips, or barrel shrouds, make the gun easier to hold with two hands. This allows the shooter to spray an area with bullets without taking careful aim, and to control the gun without getting burned as the barrel heats up. Others, like detachable magazines, make it easier to maintain a high rate of fire for an extended period of time. Still others, like flash suppressors, allow the shooter to conceal his position. These features, most of which were specifically designed for the military, are unnecessary for hunting or target shooting.

The most common feature of an assault rifle seems to be the pistol grip, which allows the shooter to fire more rapidly by reducing recoil. Hunters don't need this feature, since the time to recover is also the time to aim. Pistol grips exist to create a hail of bullets, where there's no need to aim. Another common feature is a second pistol-like grip under the barrel, to protect the shooter from being burned by the heat of the rapidly fired bullets; again, a feature only necessary to for someone not interested in aiming carefully, instead intending to fire off a lot of bullets in a short amount of time.

And there's the irony; assault weapons bans aim very carefully at a very specific weapon that's uniquely problematic. It's a cautious approach to the incautious killer. And the idea that you need one of these weapons of war to protect you from the government? People try to use guns to protect themselves from government all the time. It's called a "police standoff" and it never works. The guy holed up in his house with an assault rifle never comes out on top. Never. And he shouldn't. He's a dangerous criminal who belongs behind bars. The Second Amendment was meant as a way to reduce the need for a standing army, nothing more. When it comes to removing government officials who abuse our rights, we use this thing called "democracy." It's worked better than police standoffs for more than two centuries. I say we stick with it and abandon the idea of voting via assassination -- which was never what the founders intended anyway.

Assault rifles don't just appear to be different, they are different. Substantially different. And those differences warrant substantially stricter regulation. If Bryan Fischer and the rest of the right refuse to see that, then screw 'em. We don't need their approval to do what's right and necessary.

We only need the facts.


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The Platinum Debt Limit Option

Coin stamp being made
First and foremost, let's get this little factoid out of the way: raising the debt ceiling doesn't add to the deficit in any way. It's a way to pay for funds that have already been spent -- and authorized -- by congress. Therefore, not raising the debt ceiling likewise does nothing to reduce spending, deficits, or the national debt. It would, however, mean economic disaster. Think of it as a credit card payment -- except with this card, if you miss one payment, you default and go into bankruptcy. Seriously, this is really, really bad.

So Republicans who threaten to vote against raising the debt ceiling as a way to reduce spending and the deficit are lying or stupid. The move would save nothing, while the actual cost may be incalculable. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments wouldn't be made. Federal employees -- including members of the military -- would not be paid. Federal bondholders worldwide would see their bonds become irredeemable. The ripple effect would spread out from the US and likely create a worldwide economic crisis, earning us few friends in the world. Our credit rating would crash. We may even finding ourselves facing economic sanctions from bond-holding nations as a result. This would be an incredibly boneheaded move and anyone who seriously argues for taking that route loves America not at all.

It's a variation of the he-who-smelt-it rule that those who mostly loudly proclaim to love America most are those who love her least. Tea Party Republicans claim to be the biggest freakin' patriots in the whole world, while arguing that America's best days are behind her, that great things are now impossible, that we must scale back our national ambitions and become a small people with measly dreams of a not-extremely impressive future. They march under a banner of "Status Quo Forever!" -- except they advocate a step back and down from the status quo. They're cowardly anarchists who hate government, but want to keep the police and military. Otherwise, everything can go. We used to all be in this together as a team, 'baggers envision a nation where everyone's on their own. One nation, no longer individual but divided into millions, each trying to get what they can cheat others out of and to screw everyone else as fast as they can. Social Darwinism run amok.

So, of course, we can't count on these guys do actually do what's best for the nation. There's no guarantee that they will. And that's where a crazy scheme to mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin comes in.

[Capital New York:]

Rep. Jerry Nadler proposed issuing a trillion-dollar coin to circumvent an impending fight over the federal debt ceiling, and the idea has taken off.

The idea, which Nadler assured me was "absolutely serious," was endorsed by Josh Barro of Bloomberg View and a Twitter campaign by Joseph Weisenthal of Business Insider using the hashtag #mintthecoin, and it's now one of those White House petitions.

The idea, which Nadler didn't make explicit, is that the coin is a bargaining chip, meant to counter the equally ill-founded idea that Congress' discretion over the debt ceiling was intended to be used regularly as a negotiating tool. (Congressional Republicans are explicitly promising, once again, to use the threat of national default to compel the president to cut spending in the next round of budgetary negotiations.)

See, it works like this: the treasury has the authority to mint coins as part of what Matthew Yglesias describes as a "poorly drafted subsection" of a federal statute regarding "Denominations, Specifications, and Design of Coins." The idea is that the mint can stamp out commemorative platinum coins "in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time."

So the Treasury stamps out a platinum collector's coin, gives it the denomination of one trillion dollars, which the government then uses to back debt payments. This is all absolutely serious, by the way. Crazy times call for crazy measures. And a former head of the Mint not only says it would work, but gives it his (admittedly backhanded) endorsement.

"From everything I know about this, it is possible," Philip Diehl, who headed up the Mint from 1994-200, told Capital New York. "Now, is it likely? I think it's highly unlikely to happen. It just looks so ridiculous for the major economic power in the world to produce a trillion-dollar coin in order to balance its books. But is that any more ridiculous than the country being held hostage over default? I think not."

And the effect on our economy of the government literally "just printing money," as conservatives love to put it? Pretty much none, really.

[Ed Kilgore:]

I tire of pointing this out, but there is no such thing as immaculate inflation. Let’s remember where we stand. The federal government is currently spending more than they take in revenue. The amount of spending is determined by congressional appropriations, signed into law by the president. The executive is thus legally obligated to spend at the levels specified for the various agencies. Now Congress is threatening to not allow the government to borrow the money they already legally obliged him to spend, creating an economic cataclysm in the process.

In other words -- and I know that you conservatives are going to have a hard time getting your heads around this -- debt creates wealth. Interest on debt is not a visit from the Interest Fairy, it's the creation of actual money. Debt in itself has growing value and that value is paid out as interest. That's what you call yer "capitalism." By borrowing the money, congress has already "just printed money." A trillion dollar coin can't increase inflation, because that trillion dollars of spending already exists and people are already getting paid.

OK, so the point of all this is not to stamp out a trillion-dollar coin and be done with it. As Diehl points out, it would just look ridiculous. The point is to stamp out a trillion-dollar coin as a last resort. Not only would this provide a mattress to land on if congress did choose to default, but it would defang Republicans looking to take the economy hostage in order to get cuts in spending. It's not adding a trillion to the money supply, it's giving a trillion that's already there a physical presence.

Besides, remember that fiscal cliff thing we just went through? Yeah, that was a leftover from the last debt ceiling fight -- meaning that we're still squabbling over the last debt ceiling increase with the next one looming. If we don't end this now, it could be pretty much the only thing our government does, as one debt ceiling fight gets folded into the next and the next, until we have a big, giant snowball of economic stupidity that becomes our national mascot.

The White House should signal that the trillion-dollar coin is plan B -- but a definite plan B. They should commission an engraver to create the design. They should cut the stamp and have it ready and waiting. They should put out press releases about the exact method they'll use to destroy the stamp once the coin is minted, about where the coin will be stored, about the security around it. They should do everything they can to prove that this is a very real option, that they're not only prepared but are preparing to go ahead with it, and ask Republicans if they want to join the president in saving the economy or would they rather he did it alone?

It doesn't matter much how they'd answer that, really. With or without them, disaster would be avoided.


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GOP Shouldn't Be Eager to Play Debt Limit Chicken

Semi appears to have shark's teeth
Many Republicans are consoling themselves over the fiscal cliff fiasco by tricking themselves into believing they can make up lost ground in the upcoming debt ceiling negotiations. After all, they argue, the GOP has the hostages leverage. If the White House doesn't give into their demands, they can crash the economy.

The problem with this thinking is that the debt ceiling fight -- as was the fiscal cliff fight -- was not a hostage negotiation so much as it was a game of chicken. That is, if Republicans could crash the economy if they didn't get what they wanted, so could the President for the same reason. The question then, was who would climb out of the twisted wreckage and who would wind up on life support. Polling showed that Republicans would be the ones taking the damage, so it was Republicans who made the biggest concessions. Any hostages held -- and there were hostages -- didn't mean crap.

An old hand at political brinksmanship (and over-the-brinksmanship, for that matter) is warning the GOP that the debt ceiling fight is not going to be the big chance at a political comeback Republicans seem to think it will be.


Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Friday that the upcoming showdown over the debt ceiling isn’t a political winner for House Republicans, dubbing it a “dead loser.”

“They’ve got to find, in the House, a totally new strategy,” Gingrich said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Everybody’s now talking about, ‘Oh, here comes the debt ceiling.’ I think that’s, frankly, a dead loser. Because in the end you know it’s gonna happen. The whole national financial system is going to come in to Washington and on television and say: ‘Oh my God, this will be a gigantic heart attack, the entire economy of the world will collapse. You guys will be held responsible.’ And they’ll cave.”

Gingrich is inarguably a spinmeister and a BS artist, but this seems pretty on the money. In this game of chicken, as in the last one, President Obama's driving a Mack truck and Republicans are all packed into a Yugo. You don't have to be The Amazing Kreskin to see that this isn't going to work out well for Team GOP. Yes, most Americans don't want to see the debt limit raised -- at least, they didn't last time -- but that's probably because they don't have a clear idea of what it is or what will happen if we don't raise it.

If the ceiling isn't raised, if America goes into default, and if the world economy crashes, then Republicans are deluding themselves if they think the public will shower them with adoration and give them "credit" for it. Not raising the debt ceiling seems like a good idea if you're not entirely sure of what that is, but the resulting worldwide recession or depression is not something you're going to want your fingerprints all over.

And President Obama has already said he won't bargain for a debt ceiling raise, for the same reason you don't negotiate with terrorists -- he doesn't want to encourage future hostage taking by the GOP. He's setting this up as another game of chicken.

In this game of chicken, Republicans might as well be pedal to the metal -- straight into a brick wall. It's impossible for them to win, unless President Obama chooses to lose.


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GOP Election-Rigging and Our Broken Government

Voting booth as trash can
In terms of votes cast for candidates to the House of Representatives this year, my home state of Wisconsin was close to evenly split. The edge went to Democrats, which is what you'd expect from a state that went for Obama. In the end, the total popular vote from all congressional races went Democrat -- 50.8%-49.2%. And here's where the math starts to get fishy: Wisconsin sent five Republicans to the House and three Democrats. This is a Republican controlled state and the congressional districts have been rigged through gerrymandering.

Wisconsin is a robbed electorate, but we aren't the worst off. That dubious award seems to go to Michigan. In that state, Democrats won the total house vote with a clear majority, 52.7%-47.3%. But they sent only five Democrats to Washington, while electing nine Republicans.

Republicans seem have Democracy bass-ackward and believe it should work the way the filibuster works in the Senate -- i.e., the side with the least votes wins. But I say "seem to" because it's pretty clear that Republicans believe democracy shouldn't work at all and that the most skillful cheater and vote-rigger deserves the office. That is, so long as they're a Republican.

Princeton University's Sam Wang, an election modeller who outperformed Nate Silver in the 2012 presidential election, has been investigating gerrymandering and finds that it's a largely Republican-caused problem.

Wang warns, "Recent changes in partisan gerrymandering constitute one of the major crises facing our system of government." And looking at the obviously stolen elections above, it's really hard to argue against it. In fact, the consequences of this sort of tortured and twisted democracy are obvious in our present politics. It encourages the partisan divide, by rewarding extremist Republicans with the reddest of red districts, carved out in meandering district borders. In other words, our hyper-partisan politics exist because Republicans cheat -- they choose their voters, instead of having their voters choose them. If they didn't, they'd be voted out of office and Democrats would run both chambers and the White House. Since redistricting can't affect statewide races, Democrats own the Senate and the White House. District by district shenanigans give Republicans the House of Representatives -- by a minority vote. In 2012, Democrats led Republicans in the total House vote nation-wide by a non-trivial 1,362,351 votes. 49.15% voted for a Democratic candidate, while 48.03% voted for a Republican. Yet the GOP retained control of the house.

And, of course, all this robs people of their votes. People redistricted out of competitive districts by gerrymandering suddenly find their votes don't really make a difference -- a blue drop in a red ocean. According to Wang (emphasis his):

In the seven Republican-controlled states, the total votes cast were 16.22 million (50.8%) for Republicans, 15.68 million (49.2%) for Democrats for a 74 R, 32 D outcome. The simulations indicate that this seat split would normally only require 11.7 million Democratic votes. In other words, 4 million Democratic voters in seven states were disenfranchised.

In Illinois, the total votes cast were 2.74 million (55.4%) for Democrats, 2.21 million (44.6%) for Republicans for a 12 D, 6 R outcome. In this case, 1.8 million Republican votes would have been “enough” to elect this delegation, so that about 400,000 Illinois Republican voters were disenfranchised.

Therefore the disenfranchisement due to partisan-controlled redistricting was a total of 4.4 million voters from both parties. Democrats were disenfranchised more than Republicans, at a ratio of 10:1.

Clearly, when it comes to redistricting, Democrats do engage in some pretty shifty moves themselves, but when the bulk of the guilt shift ten to one to Republicans, you really do have to say Republicans are the problem. The advantage would go to Democrats if redistricting were taken out of the hands of party hacks and handed over to independent, non-partisan boards.

As things are, House elections are so skewed toward Republicans that Democrats would need a huge vote advantage to recapture that chamber. Over at ThinkProgress, Ian Millhiser reports:

The upshot of this is that if Democrats across the country had performed six percentage points better than they actually did last November, they still would have barely missed capturing a majority in the House of Representatives. In order to take control of the House, Democrats would have needed to win the 2012 election by 7.25 percentage points. That’s significantly more than the Republican margin of victory in the 2010 GOP wave election (6.6 percent), and only slightly less than the margin of victory in the 2006 Democratic wave election (7.9 percent). If Democrats had won in 2012 by the same commanding 7.9 percent margin they achieved in 2006, they would still only have a bare 220-215 seat majority in the incoming House, assuming that these additional votes were distributed evenly throughout the country. That’s how powerful the GOP’s gerrymandered maps are; Democrats can win a Congressional election by nearly 8 points and still barely capture the House.

Republicans can win a minority and keep the House, while Democrats need a landslide.

Government can't work this way. You can't have democracy elect the president and senators, while anti-democracy elects representatives. The will of the people is being subverted and it is literally breaking government through strident partisanship. We voted for something very different than what we're getting.

And the worst part? Almost no one is talking about it.


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Fiscal Cliff Deal Demonstrates the Fantasy of Trickle-Down Economics

Motivational poster of Reagan staff laughing - 'We told them the wealth would trickle down!'
Last night's passage of the fiscal cliff agreement in the House of Representatives highlights a few important points: that Washington is broken, that a leaderless House GOP is in chaos, that Eric Cantor and John Boehner are working against each other and at cross-purposes, etc. You're going to hear a lot about that in the coming days, so I'm not going to waste your time writing a post you'll be able to read pretty much anywhere else.

Instead, I'm going to use the fiscal cliff deal to demonstrate how Republican explanations of economics are complete BS. As part of the deal (or, more accurately, because the deal completely ignores it), the payroll tax cut holiday will expire, hitting middle- and lower-income workers the hardest. Meanwhile, households over $450,000 and individuals making $400,000 or more will also see their taxes go up. Here's a fun game: guess whose tax hike will slow the economy more, the wealthy's or the rest of us?

[Associated Press:]

The higher taxes on the wealthy will probably slow the economy a little bit. But a bigger drag would come from a tax increase Democrats and Republicans aren’t even bothering to fight over: the end of a two-year Social Security tax cut. The so-called payroll tax is scheduled to bounce back up to 6.2 percent this year from 4.2 percent in 2011 and 2012, amounting to a $1,000 tax increase for someone earning $50,000 a year.

“It’s a huge hit,” says Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. “It hits people whether they’re making $10,000 or they’re making $2 million. It doesn’t matter who you are... The lower your income, the more of your income you’re (spending). So if your taxes go up, it’s going to come out of your spending.” And that is bad news for an economy that is 70 percent consumer spending.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, calculates that the higher payroll tax will reduce economic growth by 0.6 percentage points in 2013. The other possible tax increases — including higher taxes on household incomes above $450,000 a year — will slice just 0.15 percentage points off annual growth, Zandi said.

Math time: ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy will bring in $600 billion over ten years or $60 billion a year. The payroll tax cut would've cost almost twice that -- about $112 billion a year. But here's the thing. If we look at the effects of each cut on the economy, as Zandi reported above, we see that the payroll tax holiday is four times as effective in promoting economic growth as the tax cut on the wealthy. If the two were balanced out to reflect the same amount of lost federal revenue, we'd see that the payroll tax cut would still be roughly twice as effective at creating economic growth as the tax cut for the rich.

Granted, the payroll tax holiday had to end sometime, but now is not a good time. "The economy doesn’t have much growth to give," AP reports. "Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo, predicts it will expand just 1.5 percent in 2013, down from a lackluster 2.2 percent in 2012. Unemployment stands at 7.7 percent." We should've gone with Obama's original number and ended the tax cuts for those making $250,000 or more, while extending the payroll holiday for another year, at least -- or shift the tax cut from payroll to a tax credit for middle- and lower-income earners, to take the burden off the Social Security trust fund. But, as I said, Washington is broken because of the GOP's own brokenness and getting it to churn out something half-assed, rather than completely worthless, is probably a monumental achievement on its own.

But again, this all points to the fact -- as reality does over and over and over -- that trickle-down economics is a bunch of horse crap. The "job creators," as Republicans refer to the rich, don't drive the economy, consumers do. And it's consumers who create the jobs, by creating demand for goods and services. The Republican argument that employers "grow" and hire when they can afford to is ridiculous if you think about it for just a second -- would you hire a plumber whenever you could afford to or only you needed to?

Other employers are the same way. If they need more widgets made, they'll hire more widgetmakers. And they won't need more widgets made unless you, the consumer, want to buy some. Keynesian demand-side economics is real, Reaganaut supply-side is fantasy. If that weren't true, the differences in the economic impact of the two tax cuts would be reversed. Demand side tax cuts are far more effective than supply side tax cuts -- mostly because supply-siders have this whole "lob creation" thing balled up and backwards and wrong. Period.

And consider, Republicans' stated goal is deficit reduction. Fine. The most painless way to reduce the deficit is -- hands down -- to grow the economy and increase employment. More people working means more taxpayers with growing incomes. Let me ask you, did Clinton's balanced budget come during a downturn or during a period of unprecedented economic prosperity?

It's time for everyone to stop pretending that Republicans merely have a differing opinion on the economy and deficits. What they have is a collection of fairy tales. The media needs -- absolutely needs -- to stop pretending that conservatives are repeating anything other than laughable BS when they start spouting this trickle-down nonsense.

Our nation's health requires it.


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