Weekend Reading List

Sunday, December 16th, 2012


For this weekend’s reading list, we have articles on guns, criminal background checks, Japan’s miniscule rate of firearm killings, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Deal for All budgetary proposal, and always low wages at McDonald’s.

More Guns, More Mass Shootings – Coincidence? – Mother Jones’ investigation of the links between the proliferation of guns and the high number of mass killings in the US

Fatal Gaps – a report about the substantial gaps in the federal criminal background checking system for firearm purchases, and proposals on how those gaps can be closed

A Land Without Guns – an essay on how Japan has as few as two firearm killings per year in part because almost all guns are banned.

The Deal for All - a detailed accounting of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s budgetary proposal, which seeks to protect earned benefits programs, increase revenue mostly through increased taxes on billionaires and big corporations, reduce military spending, and stimulate economic growth through investments in infrastructure and education

McDonald’s $8.25 Man and $8.75 Million CEO Shows Pay Gap – a story on the economic and other struggles of McDonald’s employees, and how many of those employees would have to work for 1 million hours to earn the amount of money that McDonald’s CEO takes home in a single year.

Yes, We Should Politicize the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

In Newtown, Connecticut yesterday, the United States’ culture of violence flared up yet again in an especially tragic and gruesome way when Adam Lanza reportedly shot and killed 27 people, including 20 children and his mother, and killed himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School.   According to a comprehensive report by Mother Jones magazine, this killing rampage is just the latest of more than 60 mass killings that have occurred throughout the nation since the early 1980s.  And while high profile, mass killings account for only a small portion of total firearm homicides in the US, which numbered more than 11,500 in 2009.

Whenever a heinous murder spree like the one in Connecticut yesterday occurs, gun rights activists offer two responses.  The first is to argue that killings like these could have been prevented if there were more guns in our society.  For example, Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, responded to the Newtown tragedy by stating that:

Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.

This view that the solution to gun violence is more guns is a common one among gun fanatics – for example, the Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan on Thursday passed a law, which Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) is still evaluating, that would allow concealed weapons in bars, schools, child-care centers, colleges, hospitals, and places of worship.  It is also a view that is flatly wrong.   While it is hypothetically possible that a teacher could have stopped the shooting in Newtown if he or she had been armed, the far more likely result if multiple people in such a situation are armed is a shootout that could lead to even more deaths and mayhem.  And a wide array of scientific research bears that point out, by demonstrating that the higher the number of guns in a society, the higher the number of firearm homicides.

The second major response to mass killings offered by gun rights activists is to try to squelch any discussion of guns in the wake of the killing by claiming that we should not “politicize” the situation by talking about guns at a time when families and the nation are mourning the victims of yet another shooting.  But this response is utter poppycock.  To “politicize” something means to make it “political” which, in turn, means simply that the issue relates to or deals with the affairs of government, politics, or the state.  The death of 27 people, including 20 children, at the hands of an individual who was able to obtain weapons better suited for military or police work is already an issue that relates to or deals with affairs of government or the state.  In fact, as Ezra Klein has pointed out, gun rights activists are themselves politicizing the issue by trying to prevent a discussion of gun laws in order to preserve the status quo of little regulation of gun possession.  And gun control advocates can only change that status quo if they treat this as the political issue it is.  If anything, using the Newtown massacre to help get stricter gun legislation passed so that schoolchildren will be less likely to be killed by a firearm would demonstrate a compassionate understanding of the situation, not an inappropriate politicization of an already political tragedy.

To the gun rights activists who offer spurious claims of politicization to argue that now is not the time to discuss our nation’s gun laws, Winning Progressive asks when is the right time to discuss these issues?

- If the  firearm killing of 27 people, including 20 children, is not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and killing of six others was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of eight people in a salon in Seal Beach, California in 2011 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of five people in an IHOP in Carson City, Nevada in 2011 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of seven people at Oikos University in Oakland, California earlier this year was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the killing of twelve people and injuring of fifty-eight people in a shooting spree in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the shooting deaths of 11,500 people nationwide in 2009 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of 33 people and injuring of 23 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

While gun rights fanatics may not be able to answer these questions, Winning Progressive believes that the time to discuss and strengthen our nation’s gun laws is now.  Such laws should be based on the core principal that with the right to bear arms comes responsibility to make sure that guns are used safely, that they do not fall into the wrong hands, and that ownership of the most powerful weapons that are clearly meant for little else than killing people is restricted or forbidden.  Consistent with that core principal, we need common sense gun legislation that reinstates the assault weapon ban, fixes the gun checks system, closes the gun show loophole, bans ammunition clips that hold more than 10 rounds, and makes it easier for police to trace guns that are used in a crime and to revoke the licenses of corrupt gun dealers.

In order to get such common sense gun control legislation passed, we must all raise our voices in demanding government action gun control.  You can help do that by:

- Contacting President Obama - 202-456-1111 – and urging him to show leadership on the issue of gun control

- Write a letter to your local newspaper editor in support of common sense gun control laws

- Support the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, both of which are working to establish sensible gun control laws in the US


Guns Aren’t the Problem, The NRA is the Problem

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

In the wake of the horrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the battle over gun control has flared up again with predictable results. Gun control supporters repeat their long list of facts about how much gun violence there is in our country, where 34 Americans are killed every day with a gun, and call for stricter controls on gun ownership. The National Rifle Association (“NRA”) and other gun advocates argue that our society would be safer with more guns, and spin wild conspiracy theories about people coming to take your guns away. Meanwhile, with the exception of a few Democrats such as New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, most politicians duck the issue, and most political commentators correctly predict that little progress will be made on protecting public safety from gun violence.

The question for us progressives is how do we break this logjam? Doing so will obviously be a long, hard battle, but I would recommend that a good starting place is to adopt and consistently repeat the slogan – “Guns Aren’t the Problem, the NRA Is the Problem.” What I mean by that is our goal as progressives should not be to ban guns. Instead, it should be to achieve common sense regulations of guns in order to protect public safety. The NRA, however, has blocked such common sense regulation of gun ownership every step of the way.

On the first part of the slogan – “Guns Aren’t the Problem” – the reality is that the Supreme Court has, for better or worse, settled the question of whether there is a 2nd Amendment right to own guns. In addition, the right to bear arms is quite politically popular, so eliminating it in order to ban guns would be virtually impossible as a matter of politics. While I don’t dispute that there are some progressives who want to ban guns, the vast majority of us do not seek to do so. So, we should stop letting our opponents frame us as if we are out to get people’s guns.

Instead, we progressives should be arguing that with the right to bear arms comes responsibility to make sure that guns are used safely, that they do not fall into the wrong hands, and that ownership of the most powerful weapons that are clearly meant for little else than killing people is restricted or forbidden. And that is why we advocate for mandatory background checks, closing the gun show loophole, banning cop-killer bullets and bullet clips that hold 100 shells, making it easier for police to trace guns that are used in a crime and to revoke the licenses of corrupt gun dealers, and making sure people on the terrorist watch list cannot buy guns. These are all common sense steps to protect public safety that can be achieved while not infringing on the right to own a gun that the Supreme Court found in the 2nd Amendment. And large majorities of Americans, even gun owners, support such common sense efforts to protect public safety.

The blocking point on these issues, however, is the NRA, which refuses to accept that with rights come responsibilities. Instead, the organization uses its $200 million per year lobbying budget to defeat even the most benign gun control regulations, and to falsely accuse even the mildest supporters of common sense gun control of being out to take away everyone’s guns. The NRA even goes so far as to use its lobbying power to muzzle efforts by government agencies to fund research into violence and ways to prevent it.

A fight against the right of Americans to own guns is one that almost certainly can never be won. But a concerted effort to make gun ownership safer by enacting and strengthening common sense efforts to protect public safety through, for example, closing the gun show loophole and banning bullet clips that hold 100 shells, can and must be won if we want to reduce gun violence in the US. And the way to win that fight is to paint the NRA, which takes advantage of its own members in order to promote a reactionary and dangerous agenda of turning the US into a version of the old Wild West, as the out-of-control villain that it is.

More, More, More, Part I: Guns

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

This week Morning Feature considers the curious conservative belief that the solution to many problems is more of the same problem. Today we look at their view on mass shootings. Next we’ll examine the Wall Street crisis and financial regulation. Then we’ll conclude with deficits and tax cuts.

A Failure of Gun Control?

“The government killed more people in Fast and Furious,” reads the subhead to Don Surber’s Charleston Daily Mail article headlined Gun control failed in Aurora, Colo. His source is a Mexican government claim that 150 people have been killed by weapons that were lost in the failed ‘Fast and Furious’ sting operation, where ATF agents attempted to catch Americans illegally selling weapons to Mexican drug gangs. Setting aside the dubious factual claim, let’s turn to the irony:

The theater in Aurora, Colo., is a gun-free zone, which means that even with a concealed weapons permit, no one was supposed to enter the theater with a firearm.

The city of Aurora has other restrictions on gun acquisition and use as well. The only legal firing of weapons can be done at a shooting range there.

Despite all that gun control, James Eagan Holmes shot the place up and changed hundreds of lives forever.

Laws did not prevent it.

The implicit argument is that had others in that theater had been armed, they could have stopped the carnage, an argument made explicit in this Investor’s Business Daily op-ed:

In December 2007, two church members were shot to death and three others injured after a gunman opened fire outside the New Life Church in Colorado Springs as Sunday services were wrapping up.

That tragedy could have been much worse, but the gunman was shot by a church security officer and was found dead when police arrived at the scene.

On April 22 of this year a just-released felon went to the New Destiny Christian Church in Aurora, Colo., and killed the mother of Pastor Delano Strahan before being killed himself by a congregant carrying a gun.

Unlike the tragedies at Columbine High School and the movie theatre in Aurora, there was someone at these venues willing and able to shoot back.

Other than the shooter, there was nobody armed in or at the Century 16 theater complex where 12 were killed and another 59 wounded, unable to exercise their right to self-defense.

Yes, the problem in the Aurora theater was not a man with a gun, but that there was only one man with a gun. By that logic, the ATF failed not by losing some weapons in the Fast and Furious operation, but by not losing even more weapons into Mexico. If they had allowed enough guns to cross the border, surely some would have ended up in the hands of civilians, who could then protect themselves from the criminals….

A tiny detail….

The stories of the church shootings are true, so far as they go, but each leaves out a tiny detail. Jeanne Assam, the “church security officer” who returned fire at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, was a former Minneapolis police officer. And the “congregant” who returned fire outside the New Destiny Christian Church in Aurora was an off-duty Aurora police officer. In each case, lives were saved not by ordinary civilians with guns … but by trained law enforcement officers.

That tiny detail matters, of course. Like military service members, law enforcement officers have extensive training with firearms. That training includes not only how to load, fire, and maintain a weapon, but also how to use it in confusing and stressful situations. I dare say even the most fervent gun control advocate wishes an off-duty cop had chosen that night to attend that movie at that theater.

But that’s very different from wishing average citizens had been carrying guns. One such average citizen might have made a difference, had he or she responded perfectly, with no training, under the worst possible conditions. This was no planned trip to a well-lighted shooting range with a marked lane and a paper target. No one expected any gunfire except on the screen. The room was dark, and the shooter began his attack by throwing a smoke grenade and firing at the ceiling with a shotgun. He then began firing at people as they panicked and ran. And he was wearing body armor. To believe an untrained civilian could have found a clear path for a perfect head shot through a panicking crowd is sheer fantasy.

And what if there had been more than one untrained civilian with a gun? Would the second, third, or fifth untrained civilian drawing a weapon in a dark, smoky, crowded theater have returned fire at the original shooter or – far more likely – at the nearest other person with a gun?

Put another way: would you rather try to escape from a movie theater in which one person was shooting into the crowd, or from a movie theater in which several people were shooting at people they thought were shooting into the crowd?

Color me crazy, but I think my chances are better trying to escape the lone shooter. I’m allergic to crossfire.

By the gun advocates’ logic, theaters should issue a weapon to everyone on their way in. “Here’s your ticket stub and your Glock, ma’am. You may want to tuck it in your waistband, so you have both hands free for the tub of popcorn and jumbo soft drink. Enjoy the movie and thanks for coming to the O.K. Corral Theater.”

More, more, more….

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))

Weekend Reading List

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list we have the story behind the “Black Power” salute at the 1968 Olympics, a review of the history of America’s obsession with guns, a look at poverty in the 50 years after the publication of Michael Harrington’s The Other America, an investigation of how the religious right is spreading homophobia in African nations, and a report on the impact of GOP obstructionism on the federal court system.


Fists of Freedom: An Olympic Story Not Taught In School – the story behind Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ human rights salute at the 1968 Olympics, in which those two American athletes, along with Australian Peter Norman, risked ostracism and rejection by standing up for human rights and racial equality.

Battleground America – an in-depth review of the history of gun laws, gun ownership, and the rise of the NRA in the United States, which is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world (Yemen is second).

Poverty in America 50 Years After Michael Harrington’s The Other America – a look back at Michael Harrington’s seminal book on poverty in America, which was published 50 years ago, and an evaluation of how issues surrounding poverty have and have not changed since then.

Colonizing African Values - a report on how the U.S. Religious Right is promoting the spread of homophobia and anti-LGBT legislation in numerous African nations, and a discussion of how we can fight back and promote human rights instead.

The State of the Judiciary – a report on how unprecedented GOP obstructionism of President Obama’s judicial appointees has left us with a judicial system that is understaffed, and has delayed or even prevented the appointment of eminently qualified jurists.


Texas A&M Study Finds ‘Stand Your Ground’ Means More Homicides

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

Florida state representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) sponsored the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law that drew national attention after self-styled neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. In March he defended the law on the Lehrer News Hour, claiming it had “saved thousands of lives.”

Representative Baxley offered no evidence to back up his claim, and a new study by Texas A&M economists Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra suggests Rep. Baxley won’t offer evidence anytime soon. Professors Cheng and Hoekstra compared crime statistics in states that had adopted ‘Stand Your Ground’ (SYG) laws, to those of states with previously similar crime statistics that had not adopted SYG laws.

Note: The study’s authors refer to these as “castle doctrine laws.” However the castle doctrine protected the right of self-defense in one’s own home, with no duty to retreat, long before SYG laws were proposed. SYG laws removed the duty to retreat from confrontations outside the home. I have replaced their references to “castle doctrine” with [SYG].

Their conclusion is disturbing (boldface added):

In recent years, more than 20 states have strengthened their self-defense laws by adopting [SYG] laws. These statutes widen the scope for the justified use of lethal force in self-defense by stating the circumstances under which self-defense is justified and removing the duty to retreat from a list of protected places outside the home. In addition, in some cases they establish a presumption of reasonableness and remove civil liability. Thus, these laws could hypothetically deter crime or, alternatively, escalate violence. To our knowledge, this is the first paper to examine empirically which of these possibilities, if any, is true.

The Palm Beach Post op-ed linked above also noted that Rep. Baxley offered no evidence – when he proposed Florida’s SYG law in 2005 – that Floridians had been wrongfully prosecuted after legitimate self-defense situations. The Florida Legislature simply accepted his claim that such wrongful prosecutions could happen, and his argument that SYG would both prevent those wrongful prosecutions and deter would-be criminals. Oops….

We find no evidence that [SYG] law deters crime. Furthermore, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out moderate-sized deterrence effects. Thus, while our view is that it is a priori reasonable to expect that strengthening self-defense law would deter crime, we find this is not the case.

The authors examined crime rates for burglary, robbery, and aggravated assault – crimes one might reasonably expect SYG to deter – in similar states with-and-without SYG, and within states before-and-after SYG laws were enacted. They found no significant difference in the rates of these crimes.

We find suggestive but inconclusive evidence that these laws increase justifiable homicide by private citizens. However, the absolute impact of even the largest and most statistically significant estimates is quite small, given how few homicides are classified in this way. Our estimates suggest the laws cause at most 50 additional justifiable homicides per year across all 23 states that adopted [SYG].

More significantly, results indicate that [SYG] laws increase total homicides by 7 to 9 percent. Put differently, the laws induce an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year across the 23 states in our sample that enacted [SYG] laws. This finding is robust to a wide set of difference-in-differences specifications, including region-by-year fixed effects, state-specific linear time trends, and controls for time-varying factors such as economic conditions and policing and incarceration rates. These findings provide evidence that lowering the expected cost of lethal force causes there to be more of it.

The additional homicides induced by [SYG] could be due to victims practicing self-defense under the terms of the new law, an increased propensity by criminals to use lethal force when committing crimes or encountering resistance, the escalation of other conflicts, or some combination of the above. While we would expect different analysts to weight homicides from these situations differently, it is clear that the primary impact of these laws, beyond giving potential victims additional scope to protect themselves, is to increase the loss of human life. Thus, in light of our findings, our view is that an informed debate over these laws will weigh the increased protection offered to law-abiding citizens against the increase in homicide that results from the laws.

The evidence shows that SYG laws have not “saved thousands of lives.” Quite the contrary, SYG laws have resulted in thousands more deaths. If state legislators care about evidence, and not simply NRA rhetoric, they should start to save lives … by ending the bloody experiment called ‘Stand Your Ground.’

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))