Since President Obama took office, the White House has avoided touching the “third-rail” issue of gun control, leaving advocates of tighter regulations unhappy. After the mass shooting in Arizona (1/8) that gravely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others (including a federal Judge John Roll), Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., told TalkingPointsMemo.com (1/11) that banning high-capacity clips (the type used by alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner) was “the smallest step you can take to do the most amount of good.” But she’s still not sure if President Obama will make the legislation a bigger priority.

“I frankly don’t know what it’s going to take to get the Obama administration to do even the most minor positive policy change on guns,” Rand said. “They have a war basically brewing on the border, and there’s a lot they could do without legislation to address that problem, but that hasn’t moved them to act.” She added, “”I think they buy the hype about the power of the gun lobby. I think they and the Democratic Party buy into this idea that if you cross the gun lobby, you’ll lose.”

Before the Tucson shooting, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had asked the White House (12/17) to give the agency permission to require gun dealers to report bulk sales of semiautomatic weapons along the Mexican border. The emergency plan, published in the Federal Register on 12/17, requires gun dealers to report to ATF any sales of two or more semiautomatic rifles with a caliber greater than .22 and a detachable magazine over a five-day period. Dealers are already required (and have been for decades, according to the Washington Post) to report the sales of multiple handguns to the ATF. The plan must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, and is valid for 180 days. But the White House missed the ATF’s 1/5 deadline. An administration official told TalkingPointsMemo (1/5) the rule was still under review.

Gun rights groups raised alarms at the prospect of reporting bulk gun sales on the border. “RED ALERT: OBAMA CREATING NATIONAL GUN REGISTRY!” the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms said in an e-mail to supporters before the Tucson massacre. “NOW HE’S COMING FOR YOUR SECOND AMENDMENT RIGHTS.”

After the shooting, TPM reported, Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, put out a statement calling the gun control lobby “despicable” for “wasting no time at all in its attempt to exploit this hideous attack in an effort to further its political agenda. When will these people stop dancing in the blood of crime victims in an attempt to resuscitate their relevance?”

Despite heated commentary about gun control after the Tucson massacre, it’s unclear that public support for federal gun control measures will change much. Support for stricter laws changed little after shootings at Columbine in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007 Chris Cillizza noted at the Washington Post (1/10), but Gallup has found that support for stricter gun laws has dropped from 78% in 1990 to 62% in May 2000, 51% in October 2007 and 44% last October, the most recent time the question was asked (42% said the laws should stay the same and 12% said they should be less strict).

WHY ARE SO MANY MENTALLY ILL AMONG US? Harry Shearer asks at HuffingtonPost.com (1/10).

“In the bad old days, this nation had a system of mental hospitals — sad, dreary institutions in which the unhinged were quite often warehoused, sometimes for life. The worst of them were exposed as ‘snake pits,’ cruel and uncaring, and a reform movement sprang up. We should, we were told (by, among others, then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan), close down these shameful institutions, and return the patients to their communities, where a system of community-based mental health clinics would administer care that was, well, more caring.

“So we closed down the mental hospitals. And we neglected to set up community mental health clinics. And suddenly we had a crisis of homeless people, many if not most of whom were mentally ill.

“And now we have this: a society where we’re being lectured to temper our political rhetoric lest we inflame the crazies to acts of violence.

“This moment is, of course, perhaps the worst possible moment to remind ourselves of our unfulfilled pledge to the mentally ill, that promise that warehousing would be replaced by accessible, community-based care. We don’t have the money. We could call off our adventure in Afghanistan and we would have the money, but I don’t advise holding your breath about that one.

“I’m the last person to advocate re-instituting the old system. I personally helped get someone who was involuntarily, and improperly, committed to such a hospital out, when I was working for a state legislator. But the least we can do is acknowledge, amid all the fun finger-pointing, that we all, Dems and Reps, libs and cons, have failed the mentally disturbed among us. And the bill continues to come due.”

ARIZ. CUT MENTAL HEALTH CARE. Amanda Marcotte noted at RHRealityCheck.org (1/10) that after Loughner was pressured by college officials to get a mental health evaluation, he chose to drop out instead. “This is no surprise. It’s possible that he just didn’t want help, but it’s also true that most people have no idea where to even begin if they need mental health services,” Marcotte wrote. ”Some people are lucky enough to have insurance that not only covers mental health services, but makes referrals, but those people are rarely 22-year-olds attending community college.” In Arizona, mental health services were cut $36 mln, or 37%, in 2010 and Republican congressional leaders are proposing more Medicaid cuts that imperil about half the remaining spending on mental health care.

LAX GUN REGS HELPED KILLER. Another area in which conservative policies enabled the massacre, noted Pema Levy of Prospect.org, was Arizona’s lax and poorly enforced gun control laws. The assault weapons bill prohibited sales of semiautomatic pistol magazines carrying more than 10 rounds from 1994 until 2004, when the Republican Congress, on the orders of the NRA, let the ban expire. So Loughner was able to buy the pistol with 31-bullet magazines last November.

Mark Kleiman noted at SameFacts.com (1/9) that “there’s no way he could have passed even a cursory training program for concealed carry; he couldn’t even get through a community-college algebra class without being spotted as a dangerous person. Arizona is one of only three states to allow concealed carry without a special permit.

“But even assuming that he would have simply ignored that law, there’s no reason to think that he would have been sufficiently dedicated or knowledgeable to acquire an illegal high-capacity magazine. If he’d had only 10 rounds in his clip rather than 32 [the magazine plus a bullet in the chamber], some of his victims would be alive and unhurt.”

FALSE EQUIVALENCY WATCH. Fox News was feeling a little defensive after the shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., sparked discussion of rhetorical excesses and the toxicity of our discourse, Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com (1/10). Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, said he told his network’s on-air talent to “shut up, tone it down make your argument intellectually” and urged Fox News’ team to stay away from “bombast.” But he also claimed that there are excesses on “both sides.”

Paul Krugman asked in the New York Times (1/10), “Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be ‘armed and dangerous’ without being ostracized; but Rep. Michele Bachmann [R-Minn.], who did just that, is a rising star in the GOP.

“And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to [MSNBC’s] Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at the Washington Post. Listen to [Fox News’] Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.

“Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly are responding to popular demand. ... But even if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn’t excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.”

Benen added, “I realize major media outlets feel contractually obligated to embrace the false equivalency, but folks should know better. Remember the Senate candidate who recommended ‘Second Amendment remedies’? How about the congressional candidate who fired shots at a silhouette with his opponent’s initials on it? Or maybe the congressional candidate who declared, ‘If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals. The season would extend through November 2 and have no limits on how many taken as we desperately need to thin’ the herd’? Or how about the congressional candidate who said he considered the violent overthrow of the United States to government an ‘option’ and added that political violence is ‘on the table’?

“All four of these examples came from 2010 — and all came from Republican candidates for federal elected office. And this doesn’t even get into Republican activists and media personalities.”

George Packer makes a related point at NewYorker.com (1/11): “[T]here is no balance — none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.”

Benen added at WashingtonMonthly.com (1/11) that in Democratic circles, “liberal extremists can’t get any establishment attention at all. Members of Congress won’t return their phone calls or even be seen in public with them. On the right, however, there’s practically nothing a right-wing extremist can say or do to be exiled from polite company.”

Benen also noted that a senior Republican senator, “speaking anonymously in order to freely discuss the tragedy,” told Politico.com (1/9) that the Giffords shooting should be taken as a “cautionary tale” by Republicans. “There is a need for some reflection here — what is too far now?” said the senator. “What was too far when Oklahoma City happened is accepted now. There’s been a desensitizing. These town halls and cable TV and talk radio, everybody’s trying to outdo each other.”

The vast majority of tea party activists, this senator said, ought not be impugned.

“They’re talking about things most mainstream Americans are talking about, like spending and debt,” the Republican said, before adding that politicians of all stripes need to emphasize in the coming days that “tone matters.”

“And the Republican Party in particular needs to reinforce that,” the senator concluded.

“That seems like a fairly sensible approach,” Benen noted. “But let’s not lose sight of the context — in the 21st century, a Republican senator who wants to convey a basic observation about rhetorical excesses, has to do so anonymously. We’ve reached the point at which a GOP senator wants to say that ‘tone matters,’ but can’t quite bring himself/herself to say so on the record.

“That, it seems to me, is about as significant as the sentiment itself.”

‘HAMMER’ NAILED FOR 3 YEARS. Disgraced former US House Speaker Tom “The Hammer” DeLay (R-Texas) was sentenced to three years in a Texas state prison for his role in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas state legislative candidates in 2002. Senior Judge Pat Priest sentenced DeLay (1/10) but let him remain free on $10,000 bail pending appeal.

An Austin jury in November convicted DeLay on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. DeLay arranged to launder $190,000 in corporate contributions into the accounts of seven state Republican candidates in an attempt to influence an unprecedented 2003 redrawing of Texas congressional districts after the regular 2001 redistricting.

In a speech before his sentencing, DeLay said he never intended to break the law and described himself as the victim of a political prosecution. DeLay even instructed the judge on the statute by which he was convicted, Lou Dubose reported at TexasObserver.org. “In my opinion,” DeLay said, “money laundering has to start with the intent of criminal activity.”

“This criminalization of politics is very dangerous, dangerous to our system, and dangerous to or ability to maintain this Republic,” DeLay told the judge. He admitted only that he was guilty of “arrogance” — which, Dubose noted, “might have gone unsaid considering the nature of his remarks to the judge.” 

When DeLay concluded and Judge Priest began to speak, Dubose noted, “it was evident that DeLay’s remarks, and the closing argument of his attorney Dick DeGuerin, were not  persuasive.”

“What America is about is the rule of law, and there should be no more basic law than that those who write the laws are bound by them,” Priest said. And the judge did not buy DeLay and DeGuerin’s “selective prosecution” argument.

Priest is a Republican judge from San Antonio who was assigned the case by the Texas Supreme Court after DeLay’s defense team objected a Democratic judge from Austin.

HEALTH REPEAL COULD KILL 4M JOBS. Just as Republicans gear up to repeal the “job killing” Affordable Care Act, the Department of Labor reported that the US economy added 103,000 jobs in December, pushing the jobless rate down to a 19-month low of 9.4%. In fact, since President Obama signed the health reform into law last March, the economy has created 1.1 mln new jobs in the private sector. One-fifth of the new jobs — over 200,000 — have been in the health care industry, Igor Volsky noted at ThinkProgress.org (1/7).

Harvard economist David Cutler argues in new paper that repealing the health law would reverse these gains and could destroy 250,000 to 400,000 jobs annually over the next decade. Eliminating the law would increase health care costs and cause employers to reduce wages and cut jobs for those employees who already receive minimum wage or are in fixed contracts.

Employers may be anxious about some of the new requirements, but many are already benefiting from the law. A growing number of employers are taking advantage of the tax credit that allows businesses with fewer than 25 workers and average wages under $50,000 to deduct up to 35% of the cost of the premiums they provide for their employees, and many are receiving money from the law’s reinsurance program, which assists employers with retiree health costs. In 2014, small businesses will be able to use the new health insurance exchanges to pool resources and lower costs by covering their workers through a larger risk pool. All this would free up dollars that could then be used for job creation.

WAR AGAINST PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS. Labor unions appear to be hitting historic lows in public support, dipping below 50% for the first time in the Gallup poll in 2009, James Surowiecki noted in The New Yorker (1/27 issue). A 2010 Pew Research poll offered even worse numbers, with just 41% of respondents saying they had a favorable view of unions, the lowest level of support in the history of that poll. And although organized labor is much less powerful than it once was, voters don’t seem to see it that way: more than 60% of respondents in the Pew poll said that unions had too much power.

Kevin Drum of MotherJones.com noted that “the growing Republican crusade against public sector unions bears a very strong resemblance to the tort reform crusade of the ’90s. It was a twofer for Republicans: tort reform was already a natural Republican Party issue thanks to its support in the business community, but it only became a big issue when Republicans realized that things like damage caps and mandatory arbitration would seriously eat into the income of trial lawyers, who are big contributors to the Democratic Party. As Grover Norquist put it, ‘The political implications of defunding the trial lawyers would be staggering.’

“Public sector unions are a lot like that: conservatives don’t like them in the first place, and crippling them would also seriously cut into a major funding source for the Democratic Party. It’s another twofer. And as Surowiecki notes, they’re a ripe target right now. Conservatives succeeded spectacularly over the past few decades in destroying private sector unions (and doing considerable damage to the Democratic Party in the process), and this means that most people no longer belong to a union or even know anyone who does.” Drum concludes, “Unionism in general, then, simply has very little public support these days. With that as background, it’s pretty easy to understand how a recession would fuel growing taxpayer resentment toward public sector union benefits they’re paying for. The next few years are going to be rough ones for public sector workers.”

NEW LAW ENABLES LOW-POWER COMMUNITY RADIO. President Obama’s signing of the Local Community Radio Act will allow hundreds of new community radio licenses from coast to coast. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has pledged “swift action to open the dial to new low-power radio stations.”

Low power stations are small, 100-watt stations that fit between larger stations on the dial. These locally owned stations are run by non-profits, schools, emergency responders and other non-commercial groups. The new law repeals earlier restrictions that kept low power radio out of urban areas.

Now the FCC must design rules for the expanded service. “This law gives the FCC a new mandate to expand low power radio,” said Brandy Doyle, Policy Director for the Prometheus Radio Project (prometheusradio.org). “To finish the job, the FCC must ensure that these vital stations are available in the urban areas which have never had access to community radio.”

ARIZ. WOMAN TOLD LIFE-SAVING PROCEDURE NOT ‘COST-EFFECTIVE.’ At least two Arizonans have died because they were denied funding for organ transplants that they had been promised before Medicaid budget cuts championed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R). The governor called the transplants “optional” and has ignored those who have proposed possible solutions that would fully fund the transplants without requiring any additional revenue, ThinkProgress.org noted (1/11)..

Phoenix TV station Fox 10 reported the case of yet another victim of Brewer’s Medicaid cuts. Karen Brianin is a 63-year-old woman who suffers from Hepatitis C. She is in need of a liver transplant, and her doctors say that, without a transplant, she will die. She recently learned that the state’s Medicaid system, has decided to turn down her request for funding, citing that it does not believe funding her treatment to be “cost-effective.” She is considering leaving the state and moving to neighboring Colorado, where she believes she may “have a better chance at a life.”

The TV crew caught up with Gov. Brewer and asked her if she is considering ways to fund the transplants for the remaining 96 patients. She did not answer their question.

After learning about the plight of the 98 Arizona patients, Steven Daglas, an Illinois State GOP Central Committeeman, analyzed the Arizona budget to find ways to fund the transplants without raising new revenue. The possible solutions included using $2 mln from an AIG settlement that the state of Arizona will receive, or “transferring $1.2 mln in funds that Arizona once planned to use to build bridges for endangered squirrels.” Yet even after repeatedly sending his proposal to Brewer since December, Daglas has received zero response from the governor. He launched a website, Arizona98.com, that lists 26 possible ways that Arizona can shift funding to pay for transplants without having to raise additional revenue. Arizona reportedly is saving $1.36 mln by not funding the transplants.

As Arizona98.com notes, “The fact our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters (hard-working citizens and good people) have been deemed expendable at a price of $13,877.56 per human life still does not make sense.”

RECESSION SLOWS HEALTH SPENDING. US health care spending in 2009 grew at the slowest rate in 50 years, as the recession and high unemployment caused outlays for nearly all medical goods and services to slow or decline, according to a new government report (1/5).

Unlike previous recessions, when spending for health services began to slow some two years after an economic downturn, the effect of the Great Recession was swift and profound on insurers, health care providers and patients in both 2008 and 2009.

Total public and private spending for health services grew by 4% to $2.5 tln, or $8,086 per person in 2009. That’s up from $7,845 per person in 2008 when annual health outlays increased only 4.7%, which was the second-slowest growth rate in the last half a century, the Department of Health and Human Services reported.

Fueling the spending slowdown in 2009 was a 3.2% decline in private health insurance enrollment as 6.3 mln people lost job-based health coverage that year. That loss of private coverage also curbed growth in out-of-pocket spending by patients, many of whom delayed medical care because of a lack of cash.

The Kaiser Foundation (kff.org) reported (12/22/10) that the number of Americans lacking health insurance has swelled beyond 50 mln. The number of Americans without any health coverage grew by more than 4 mln in 2009. That left almost one-fifth of non-elderly people uninsured. Among those between 19 and 29 years old, nearly one-third lacked coverage. About one in four uninsured adults have forgone care in the past year because of costs, compared to only 4% of those who have private coverage, according to the report.

But Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is having none of it, telling Fox News recently: “The fact is a lot of people that don’t have insurance are getting [care] right now. They’re not denied in the emergency rooms. They’re generally not denied by doctors. It’s not a pretty system, but the idea that people are not getting health care particularly for critical needs is just — is just not the case.”

Unfortunately, McDonnell is in the GOP mainstream in arguing that ERs are the option for the uninsured. Steve Benen of WashingtonMonthly.com noted (12/28) that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was touting it in November 2009, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) was thinking along the same lines a month prior. In July ’09, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked about the 47 mln Americans who went without health insurance at that time. McConnell replied, “Well, they don’t go without health care,” because they can just go to the emergency room.

In 2008, the conservative who shaped John McCain’s health care policy said anyone with access to an emergency room effectively has insurance. The year before, former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay argued, “[N]o American is denied health care in America,” because everyone can go to the emergency room. Around the same time, then-President George W. Bush said the same thing: “[P]eople have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.” In 2004, then-HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said our healthcare system “could be defined as universal coverage,” because of emergency rooms.

More people in California might be eyeing the ER option as Blue Shield of California is seeking cumulative hikes of as much as 59% for tens of thousands of customers 3/1, the *Los Angeles Times* reported (1/5). Blue Shield’s action comes less than a year after Anthem Blue Cross tried and failed to raise rates as much as 39% for about 700,000 California customers. San Francisco-based Blue Shield said the increases were the result of fast-rising healthcare costs and other expenses resulting from new healthcare laws.

IRA VICTIM BLASTS KING ‘HYPOCRISY.’ Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the new chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, is promoting hearings on Muslim “radicalization,” but it was King’s designation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a terrorist that prompted Tom Parker, an official at Amnesty International in Washington, D.C., to go public with his distaste with King’s personal hypocrisy.

Parker himself is critical of Assange, ”but to call him a terrorist when you have supported people who actually blow stuff up, it seemed to me that that was really beyond the pale,” he told Justin Elliott of Salon.com (1/7). “This is a guy who is happy to bully other people when he has a whole crowd of skeletons in his closet on this issue.”

Since at least the 1980s, King, an Irish American from Long Island, has supported the Irish Republican Army as a prominent fundraiser for Noraid, the Irish-American organization that raised money for the IRA and was suspected of running guns to Ulster, too, during “The Troubles,” which claimed some 3,600 lives in Northern Ireland since 1969, Alex Massie wrote for TheDailyBeast (1/10/10). King broke with the IRA in 2005.

Parker survived an IRA bombing in 1990 when he was 21 and attending the birthday party of a friend at the hall of the Honourable Artillery Co. in London, a space frequently rented out for social events. Members of the IRA put a bomb on the roof that exploded during the party, injuring 17 civilian partygoers, including Parker, who still has a few scars from the incident.

“I have no problem with his support for a unified Ireland,” Parker wrote in a column for HuffingtonPost.com (1/6). “What really bothers me is the hypocrisy of the man,” says Parker, who is now policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights at Amnesty International USA. “... That problem is simple: if your test for whether or not terrorist violence is acceptable is whether or not you agree with the cause that it furthers, you will never have the moral authority to condemn such acts when they are carried out by others. The use of violence against innocents must be wrong in whatever form it takes. Take any other position and you are open, as Congressman King undoubtedly is, to charges of hypocrisy.”

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2011


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