Let’s talk about gun safety

This morning Nate Silver published two charts I found very interesting.

If the news coverage is any guide, there has been a change of tone in recent years in the public conversation about guns. The two-word phrase “gun control” is being used considerably less often than it was 10 or 20 years ago. But the phrase “gun rights” is being used more often. And the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is being invoked more frequently in the discussion.

In the chart below, I’ve tracked the number of news articles that used the terms “gun control,” “gun rights,” “gun violence” and “Second Amendment” in American newspapers, according to the database NewsLibrary.com. (Because the number of articles in the database changes over time, the figures are normalized to reflect the overall volume of database coverage in any given year, with the numbers representing how often the gun-related phrases were used per 1,000 articles on any subject.)

The usage of all four phrases, but particularly the term “gun control,” has been subject to sharp but temporary shifts based on news events.

The second showed five year averages.

As we can see, discussion of gun control has dropped off sharply.  Silver points out

The change in rhetoric may reflect the increasing polarization in the debate over gun policy. “Gun control,” a relatively neutral term, has been used less and less often. But more politically charged phrases, like “gun violence” and “gun rights,” have become more common. Those who advocate greater restrictions on gun ownership may have determined that their most persuasive argument is to talk about the consequences of increased access to guns — as opposed to the weedy debate about what rights the Second Amendment may or may not convey to gun owners. For opponents of stricter gun laws, the debate has increasingly become one about Constitutional protections. Certainly, many opponents of gun control measures also argue that efforts to restrict gun ownership could backfire in various ways or will otherwise fail to reduce violence. But broadly speaking, they would prefer that the debate be about what they see as Constitutional rights, rather than the utilitarian consequences of gun control measures.

Their strategy may have been working. The polling evidence suggests that the public has gone from tending to back stricter gun control policies to a more ambiguous position in recent years. There may be some voters who think that the Constitution provides broad latitude to own and carry guns – even if the consequences can sometimes be tragic.

But this morning I heard Representative Carolyn McCarthy say something very interesting when she was talking to Chris Hayes on MSNBC.  She wants to call for changes that lead to gun safety not gun control.  She wants to add a new term that is less politically loaded to the conversation.  She pointed out that the word “control” has negative connotations.

This morning in the Boston Globe, Adrian Walker wrote

By now the sites of tragedies practically roll off our tongues. Columbine. ­Aurora. Tucson. And now tiny Newtown can be added to this roster of unthinkable, preventable tragedy.

Yes, I said preventable. Every single one of these might have been prevented if getting hold of a gun in this country was as difficult as, say, getting a driver’s ­license.

Don’t talk to me about the right to bear arms. There is no right to open fire on defense­less children or a congresswoman meeting her constituents or a theater full of moviegoers. Don’t bother trying to tell me that the Founding Fathers intended access to guns as a “right” with almost no limits. That insipid argument is an insult to history, even if a majority of our highest court seems persuaded by it.

Those of us who do not believe that everyone has a right to own and carry a weapon because of the myth of “self-protection” need to step up.  To push our congressmen and women, to push our Senators and to push President Obama.  We know the statistics:  We are up there in gun ownership with Yemen.  Should be proud of that?  We know that guns kept in cars and homes are often used to kill family members, commit suicide, or in a mistaken effort at self-defense.

I remember seeing an interview after Congresswoman Giffords was shot.  The young man said he had been getting coffee and heard shots.  He rushed out to find a man on the ground who was being held by another.  He had a gun and thought about using it.  If he had done so, he would have shot, not the gunman, but the person trying to disarm the shooter.

Let’s work to make owning a gun as difficult as getting a driver’s license.  Let’s talk about gun safety the same way we talk about traffic safety or driver safety.

Carolyn McCarthy ran for office after her husband died and her son was injured by a gunman on the Long Island Railroad.

What do you mean the election is over?!

It is mostly over.  There are some Congressional races (most leaning Democratic right now) and Florida, but it is pretty much over.   The question to ask now is are you suffering from Post-Election Stress?  Brian McFadden has helpfully given us a list of the symptoms to watch out for.

 

To this I would add:  Still compulsively checking Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.

If  you are a sufferer, you are not alone.  I’m planning on taking a long walk this weekend and resisting the compulsion I have right now to go turn on UP with Chris Hayes.  (sorry Chris)

The Health Care Debate – mid-August

Everyone is talking about health care.  Sarah Palin thinks one of the House bills would lead a death panel.  Stephen Hawking defends the British system from attack by Americans.  Howard Dean thinks Palin is making things up.  And Christopher Hayes mocks us all proving that the Left has a sense of humor.

Sarah has retired as Governor of Alaska but she’s still posting on her facebook page.  CNN quotes her

In her post, the former Republican vice presidential candidate said President Obama’s health care plan would create a “death panel” that would weigh whether her parents or son Trig were “worthy of health care.”

This phrase, “Death Panel”, is now resonanting all around the country.  President Obama addressed it at his town hall meeting in New Hampshire.  Howard Dean tried to refute it

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told CNN Sunday that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had deliberately made up charges that the Obama administration’s health care bill would lead to euthanasia.“About euthanasia, they’re just totally erroneous. She just made that up,” he said. “Just like the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ that she supposedly didn’t support.

“There’s nothing like euthanasia in the bill. I practiced medicine for a long time, and of course you have to have end of life discussions — the patients want that. There’s nothing… euthanasia’s not in this bill.”

In the past few years, I have been party to several end of life discussions most directly with my parents and more indirectly with my in-laws.  All have been conducted with the patient, family, and doctors.  Don’t we want our insurance, including Medicare, to pay the doctor for his or her time and encourage those discussions?

And now the British are weighing in also.  Yesterday, Stephen Hawking received his Presidential Medal of Freedom and jumped in with a response to the Investor’s Business Daily – which in it’s zeal appears to have forgotten that Mr. Hawking is British and under National Health.  The best summary is in the New York Times ,

The physicist Stephen Hawking is defending Britain’s National Health Service after an editorial in Investor’s Business Daily said Mr. Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K.,” where the health service would have deemed his life “essentially worthless.”

The publication’s mistake, which came in an editorial titled “How House Bill Runs Over Grandma,” has since been corrected. But on a larger level, the snafu also shows how quickly rationing, particularly at the end of life, has become a focus of the health care reform debate.

Mr. Hawking — who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on Wednesday — responded to the editorial this week, telling The Guardian newspaper, “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the N.H.S. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”

DESCRIPTION

At this point, I fear for any type of health care reform.  New polls seem to show that older Americans oppose reform. The medical industry is threatening to pull support if legislation call for anything more that the co-op model.  Chris Matthews interviewed a man carrying a gun outside of the President’s New Hampshire town hall meeting.   I wonder if when they get back to Washington, there will be anyone left, Democratic or Republican, who wants to vote for health care reform.  Maybe they would prefer to just left the system explode or maybe implode.  Or we can be like Chris Hayes and try to laugh at the situation.

Here are parts of Hayes’  “Your Questions About Health Care Reform Answered”

Ok, so there’s been a lot of misinformation about proposals to reform the health insurance industry and provide (near) universal coverage. Understandable! It’s complicated stuff. Herewith, I’ll try to answer some questions

1) Is it true that all of the bills currently proposed would end the practice of “rescission,” whereby health insurance providers refuse to treat customers who’ve paid their premiums simply because they’ve become ill?

No! That’s a common misunderstanding. Actually, all of the bills would ban incisions, that is, they would legally bar surgeons from performing surgery until a panel of twelve gay illegal immigrant government bureaucrats unanimously signed off on the procedure.

2) Is it true that health care reform would ban insurers from refusing to insure people because of pre-existing conditions?

Wrong again. To get rid of health inequality, the bills actually mandate that every American be given a pre-existing condition. A National Illness Commission, with academics appointed from Harvard, Reed College and Berkeley, will evaluate each citizen, and based on their demographic profile, choose their malady. Each disease or syndrome is scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe. White christian men will receive pre-existing conditions of 8 or higher. Black people, “wise latinas,” and ACORN members will be exempted.

5) Will the current bills plug the “donut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug benefit so seniors don’t have to pay exorbitant out of pocket expenses for their medication?

Absolutely not. The legislation will ban donuts.

If you don’t laugh, you’ll have to cry.

Where are the Republican Ideas?

The Democrats have large majorities in the House and Senate.  The President is a Democrat.  I believe the majority of governors are also now Democrats.  And being Democrats, they are bickering among themselves about the details of things they all agree need to be done.  It seems to me this would be a perfect opportunity for the Republicans to offer a substantial plan on, say health care.  Instead, we have the birther movement.  Newsweek has published the President’t birthcertificate to celebrate his birthday.

But the birthers are sure this is fake.

Back to health care.  Congress is back home this month and holding town meetings.  Instead of offering alternative and maybe asking some reasonable questions, the Republican strategy is to scream and disrupt these meetings.  In fairness to them, this is not a tactic they invented (as much as Dick Armey’s lobbying firm might want to think they did).  Chris Hayes  in his blog in the Nation looks at the situation this way

I’m on a team in American politics: I’m proudly, vigorously on the left. So there’s no need to bend over backwards to be formally consistent. That said, intellectual honesty requires one to separate out one’s formal objections from substantive ones and I’ve been given pause by the remarks of some right-wing activists like Jon Henke. He and others have been saying: wait a sec, when the left shows up and makes noise somewhere it’s activism, but when the right does it it’s thuggery and mob rule?

So after discussing the issue on Maddow last night, I’ve been asking myself, aside from the deep substantive opposition I have to the tea-baggers’ ideological agenda (and the insane hypocrisy of people on Medicare screaming about the dangers of government-run health care), what, exactly, my beef is?

I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with the tactics of those people who, with the facilitation of large monied interests, are organizing and shouting down their opponents at town hall meetings. But one thing should be clear: these are the tactics of a small, motivated, enraged and engaged minority. The footage of recent town hall scrums remind me, actually, of ACT-UP actions back in NYC when I was growing up. ACT-UP, the AIDS and gay rights group that flourished in the 1980s and 1990s, was impassioned and angry and used dramatic confrontational action to great public effect. They were a vanguard. They were a small, tightly coordinated impassioned minority. And they were fundamentally on the right side of history.

What frustrates me, however, is that no one in the press confused ACT-UP with broader public opinion. No pundits said “the public is clearly feeling rising unease about government inaction on AIDS, as evidenced by the latest ACT-UP protest.” Why? Because they were gay, and they had AIDS and they didn’t look like “average citizens” or “heartland” voters.

At their root, the town hall protests are a very similar phenomenon. I think these people, unlike ACT-UP, are wrong. Deeply wrong. (They’re also not literally fighting for their lives because of a homophobic and indifferent government, but that’s neither here nor there). But they’re a small, tightly coordinated, enraged minority. They want to scream and fuss, it’s a free country, as they say.

The problem is the overwhelming instinct on the part of pundits and the MSM to look, and see old white men in overalls and Legionnaire hats and think they are watching someone give voice to the sentiments of broad swaths of the electorate. And it’s just not true. What we’re seeing at these events are the voices of radicals, extremists and zealots.

Harold Myerson writing in the Washington Post points out that the protesters are overwhemingly not people of color.

Last weekend, right-wing Republicans stormed a number of such meetings across the country, shouting down members of the House and, in Philadelphia, Sen. Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In Austin, protesters blocked Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s car and made it impossible for him to talk to constituents about such matters as appointments to military academies.

What’s particularly curious about these two protests is that they took place on very liberal turf — Philadelphia and Austin — yet the local liberals and people of color seemed absent. Philadelphia is a heavily African American city, yet one strains to see any blacks among the protesters on the YouTube clips. The activists who have been whipped into a frenzy, and who have dominated the recess meetings so far, appear to be conservative whites.

The question, as Meyerson goes on to ask, is why aren’t people of color, the young folks who worked for Obama, the progressives and the liberals turning out for the town hall meetings?   Meyerson again

When future historians look back at this passage in our nation’s history, I suspect they’ll conclude that this Obama-isn’t-American nuttiness refracted the insecurities and, in some cases, the hatred that a portion of conservative white America felt about having a black president and about the transformation of what many thought of as their white nation into a genuinely multiracial republic. But whatever the reasons, a mobilized minority is making a very plausible play to thwart a demobilized majority.

So we have a black President that one whole segment of the population (77% of Americans think he is a citizen but only 42% of Republicans think he is)  thinks is not really not President trying to reverse the slide into economic inequality and to promote racial equality at the same time.  This is a time when we should be having great debates about ideas not screaming at each other about where the President was born.

A genuine debate about ideas would help create better legislation and make the Democrats sharpen their ideas.  Maybe it would get those of us who support health care reform out to town hall meetings to talk about ideas.  But, unfortunately, the Republican party seems to be out of ideas.

So what’s up with the Democrats and Health Care

Will the Blue Dogs kill Heath Care reform or can Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, and the President prevail?

Here is a blog entry by Christopher Hayes from July 28 titled “What the Hell Is Max Baucus thinking!?!”

The following comes from a reader and frequent correspondent. This is not someone with particularly progressive politics. In fact, he only very recently has come to identify as a Democrat. No radical lefty, he.

 I don’t get the democrats on this one. Even if Charles Grassley and Olympia Snowe vote for this deal, the Republicans will still run against it as the Obama/Pelosi plan. Why not stick to your guns, treat the problem from a parliamentary perspective, and put through a plan that you actually think is optimal. The current attempt won’t protect their downside at all and may limit the upside. Very frustrating.

 More than frustrating. Enraging.

That’s it, the entire entry.  A lot of us are asking the same question.

Then there is my health care guy, Howard Dean.

Howard Dean guest hosted Countdown with Keith Olbermann at an opportune time last night, following reports that the Senate Finance Committee–helmed by Montana Democrat Max Baucus–is preparing to exclude a public option from its long-awaited healthcare bill.

“What if the Senate Finance Committee has already done the Republicans’ dirty work for them?” Dean asked rhetorically at the beginning of show.

Dean has just authored a book on healthcare reform–detailing why America needs a public option–and knows quite a bit about the subject from his years as a doctor and governor of Vermont. He called Baucus’s reported bill the “so-called compromise.”

Dean asked Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, why Baucus would “give away something something so fundamental to healthcare reform as a public option?”

“We‘ve got to have a public option in the plan that we send to the president‘s desk,” Van Hollen responded. “We‘re all still hoping that the Senate Finance Committee bill will have a public option.”

Dean noted that 72 percent of Americans, according to a New York Times poll, support a public option. “Is what Americans want already dead in the Senate?” Dean asked.

“No,” Van Hollen answered. “I certainly hope not. It‘s certainly not dead with respect to the bill that we‘ll send to the president‘s desk.” But it isn’t clear what kind of leverage House Democrats have with the likes of Baucus, nor do we know yet whether they’ll be able to keep their own Blue Dog conservatives in line.

“Voters were promised change they can believe in,” Dean told Van Hollen. “Are you concerned about what may happen to our party in 2010 or 2012 if we don‘t get any change at all?”

I’m not quite sure why the Blue Dogs and the Republicans are so afraid of the public option.  Health care for veterans which works pretty well is public as is Medicare.  So back to Chris Hayes and his post from today.

This has got me thinking: Republicans opposed Medicare when it was created. They hate socialized medicine, government-run health care and the public option now. So why don’t they put their money with their mouths are and propose scrapping Medicare? Any bills like this been introduced? If not, why not? I seriously think every single conservative and Republican caught railing against government run healthcare needs to be asked if they support disbanding Medicare.

Obama’s Press Conference at 60+ days and other Presidential Matters

How’s he doing?  I thought the press conference last night showed a more subdued President Obama.   David Biespiel said on Politico’s Arena

Overall: Professor in chief. I saw the news conference on CNN from my hotel room. Will cable TV present every Obama news conference as if it’s the last night of Yalta? I disagree with the interpretation that these night time press conferences should be for dramatic events only. Meeting with the press monthly on prime time is good for democracy–whether the climate is dramatic or not. 

I tend to agree with him.  I don’t think the President is at his best with press conferences – he seems to do better with town hall meetings – but they are informative.  Maybe he should think about a prime time town hall meeting.

Thomas Mann from Brookings said on Politico’s Arena

What struck me about last night’s press conference was how the President managed both to maintain his signature leadership style — cool, intelligent, knowledgeable, and reasonable — and to forcefully advocate his position that his economic recovery program and his budget are inextricably linked. He also signaled clearly, especially in his closing remarks, that he fully understands the obstacles he faces and that some of his priorities will take years to accomplish. It appears he will continue to aim high with an ambitious agenda in spite of the clamor of critics for cutting back on his objectives. In a world in which an exclusive focus on short-term gains has dominated behavior in government and in the private sector, Obama is planning an eight-year program of governance that aspires to grapple seriously with long-term challenges.

Which leads me to talk about the Republican opposition.  Several Republicans posted on the Arena their disappointment that there was no real opposition agenda.  I believe that the President has also pointed out that there is no alternative budget so there can be a real discussion.

Eugene Robinson wrote in today’s Washington Post

Some listeners thought they heard flexibility or even retreat on the president’s ambitious agenda of health care, energy and education. I heard the opposite — a single-minded focus on these three initiatives, which Obama maintains are vital if the economy is to be put on sound footing. His strategy is to let Congress work out the details, but he was clear that he expects all of the Big Three to be reflected in the budget. One thing we’ll learn about him, the president said, is that he’s persistent. I’m going to take him at his word.

If you recall, Barack Obama stuck to a consistant message throughout his campaign.  He never let himself get sidetracked to drawn into debates he didn’t want to have.  I think last night showed he is still the same person, that what we saw during the campaign is what we got as a President.

One negative note to my evaluation of his first 60 days.  I am still worried about some of his appointments, particularly in the economic area.  As I have said before I am very very skeptical about Larry Summers in particular.  Christopher Hayes gave this piece of advice back in January and I think it is still relevant.

But as the Obama administration continues to fill thousands of government positions, they’d do well to heed the words of a wise man who once said that “tallying up your years in Washington is no substitute for judgment.” That was President Obama, whose primary campaign was largely predicated on the principle that having gotten something crucial, like the Iraq War, right when other people got it wrong was of such overwhelming importance that voters should elevate someone who’d been a state senator just a few years earlier to the highest office in the land over a competitor with years in Washington under her belt.

The voters agreed, and I continue to think they got it right. Maybe the president should go back and read some of his old speeches the next time there’s an opening in his administration.

And not to beat a maybe dead horse:  where is a job for Howard Dean?

The Military Budget

President Obama said he expected to save money by withdrawing troops from Iraq (which savings will actually show up in the budget now that Iraq and Afganistan spending is no longer “off-line”) and that saving is part of how he proposes to spend on things we all want like health care, education, and energy efficiency.  That is all well and good.  But the elephant in the room (and I don’t just mean Republicans, but also Democrats with their own self-interests) is military spending.

Congressman Barney Frank has an article in the March 2 issue of the Nation in which he talks about military spending.  He begins

I am a great believer in freedom of expression and am proud of those times when I have been one of a few members of Congress to oppose censorship. I still hold close to an absolutist position, but I have been tempted recently to make an exception, not by banning speech but by requiring it. I would be very happy if there was some way to make it a misdemeanor for people to talk about reducing the budget deficit without including a recommendation that we substantially cut military spending.

As Congressman Frank points out there has been a huge increase in the military budget and not all of it attributable to the Wars in Iraq and Afganistan.

It is particularly inexplicable that so many self-styled moderates ignore the extraordinary increase in military spending. After all, George W. Bush himself has acknowledged its importance. As the December 20 Wall Street Journal notes, “The president remains adamant his budget troubles were the result of a ramp-up in defense spending.” Bush then ends this rare burst of intellectual honesty by blaming all this “ramp-up” on the need to fight the war in Iraq.

Current plans call for us not only to spend hundreds of billions more in Iraq but to continue to spend even more over the next few years producing new weapons that might have been useful against the Soviet Union. Many of these weapons are technological marvels, but they have a central flaw: no conceivable enemy. It ought to be a requirement in spending all this money for a weapon that there be some need for it. In some cases we are developing weapons–in part because of nothing more than momentum–that lack not only a current military need but even a plausible use in any foreseeable future.

It is possible to debate how strong America should be militarily in relation to the rest of the world. But that is not a debate that needs to be entered into to reduce the military budget by a large amount. If, beginning one year from now, we were to cut military spending by 25 percent from its projected levels, we would still be immeasurably stronger than any combination of nations with whom we might be engaged.

So are there any signs of hope that we might, despite what will be a conservative outcry about “keeping America strong” and the loss of jobs from miliary spending (can’t many of those folks shift toward developing good things like better batteries for electric/hybrid cars?) and so on?  Christopher Hayes  in a companion piece to Frank’s writes

Indeed, over the past year Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made a series of speeches about shifting resources toward nonmilitary international engagement, as well as reducing spending on outdated weapons systems. “The spigot of defense spending that opened on 9/11 is closing,” he told senators on the Armed Services Committee in January. “The economic crisis and resulting budget pressures,” he said, would provide “one of those rare chances…to critically and ruthlessly separate appetites from real requirements, those things that are desirable in a perfect world from those things that are truly needed in light of the threats America faces and the missions we are likely to undertake in the years ahead.”

Obama expressed similar sentiments on the campaign trail: “I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending,” he said in a campaign video. “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.”

Most recently, Rahm Emanuel hinted on Meet the Press that the administration might have the Pentagon in its sights as part of its promise to trim fat from the budget. “We have about $300 billion in cost overruns,” he said. “That must be addressed, and we will be addressing it.”

We seem to be getting some mixed signals, however.  William Lynn from defense contractor Raytheon who has been described by Hayes (and others) as “never having met a weapons system he didn’t like”  has been appointed deputy defense secretary.  On the other hand,  Obama has just appointed Ashton Carter from the Kennedy School to be Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.  As far as I know, Dr. Carter has mostly worked on non proliferation issues and has no ties to any defense contractors.