When President Obama announced that Vice President Biden would be chairing a task force to come up with recommendations on gun restrictions, he said, "This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside."
Over the past year, there's been a steady and ongoing revolt in Texas. Not about secession or guns or the many other fringe topics that the state is usually associated with. This battle has been waged primarily by parents and teachers, and the demand is relatively simple—cut back on testing our kids. There's been similar sentiments simmering in states across the country, but in Texas a new set of tests, put in place last year, sparked the outcry. Now, the push that began in school board and PTA meetings has finally reached the halls of power.
The other day, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly (or as he is for some reason always referred to as, "Astronaut Mark Kelly"; I guess if you're an astronaut you get that) announced that they have started a new initiative, Americans for Responsible Solutions, to push for new laws to limit gun violence. I have great admiration for both of them and I certainly hope they succeed, but there was something I heard Kelly say in an interview that was worthy of note, and a bit unfortunate. He noted that they're not trying to take away anyone's guns, and they're gun owners themselves. They just want to make sure guns stay out of "the wrong hands." The problem with this—and I think it's something well-meaning people probably say a lot without giving it too much thought—is that it assumes that the lines are clear between the right hands and the wrong hands, and if we could just make sure no wrong hands got guns, we'd all be safe.
There are certainly some people who should definitely not have access to guns, like convicted felons, or people with severe mental illness, or teenagers, whose ability to make clear, reasoned judgments is extraordinarily poor. But once you get beyond that, the idea that we can make an a priori distinction between people who should have guns and who shouldn't is a fantasy.
Writing for ABC News, Amy Walters notes that for all the criticism of Obama’s traditional cabinet—which, thus far, is heavy on white men—the bigger problem for Democrats is that their presidential hopefuls lean heavily on the conventional side:
For all the hand-wringing over the lack of diversity in the Obama Administration’s second term Cabinet, Democrats should really be more depressed about the fact that their potential 2016 field is a lot less diverse than the GOP’s. Take away Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic bench looks more like that picture in the New York Times than it does the picture of Obama’s 2012 voting coalition.
This is how much people elsewhere love their health systems. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
If you've been paying attention to debates on health care over the last few years, you're probably aware of how poorly the American system performs compared to other similar countries. We're the only advanced industrialized democracy that doesn't provide universal health coverage to our citizens, and though there are many variations in those systems ranging from the completely socialized (as in Great Britain) to the largely private but heavily, heavily regulated (as in Switzerland), they all do better than we do on almost every important measure you could come up with.
That's the big picture. But a new report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine compared the United States to 16 similar countries (mostly in Europe but including Canada, Australia, and Japan) on a range of health measures has some fascinating details. Unsurprisingly, the US comes out at or near the bottom on most measures of health. We have the highest infant mortality, the highest obesity rates, and the highest rates of teen pregnancy. And given our current debate about gun violence, this is one data point that will inevitably be noted in stories about this report:
To no one’s great surprise, President Obama has appointed his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to succeed Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. Mainly, the choice signals that there will be no change either in the Obama-Geithner approach to reforming Wall Street (not very much), or on fiscal politics, where deficit reduction is a paramount goal despite a faltering recovery.
Anyone who thinks congressional Republicans will roll over on the debt ceiling or gun control or other pending hot-button issues hasn’t been paying attention.
But the President can use certain tools that come with his office—responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution and in his capacity as the nation’s chief law-enforcer—to achieve some of his objectives.
On the debt ceiling, for example, he might pay the nation’s creditors regardless of any vote on the debt ceiling—based on the the Fourteenth Amendment’s explicit directive (in Section 4) that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”
Last week, TheWashington Post’s Greg Sargent had the great idea of talking to an actual hostage negotiator, for a little more insight into the current situation with congressional Republicans and the debt ceiling. Throughout the interview, the negotiator stressed one key point: If you want to defuse a hostage situation, you have to show the hostage taker that you’re in control. For police, this is straightforward—they have lots of guns, and the hostage taker doesn’t.
There has never been a more pro-worker Secretary of Labor than Hilda Solis, who announced yesterday that she’s stepping down from her cabinet post. But for much of her tenure, she was swimming upstream—confronting not just most anti-labor congressional Republicans in modern American history, but also an Obama White House inner circle that she, like many of her fellow cabinet members, never really permeated.
I find little to disagree with in Scott Lemieux’s look at the legality of minting a trillion-dollar coin. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the idea is simple. When the president is required to spend all money authorized by Congress, in most instances, that requires the Treasury to borrow money to fulfill congressional obligations. But Congress has also imposed a borrowing limit on the Treasury. In the past, Congress has lifted the limit with little fuss, but beginning in 2011, House Republicans have used it as leverage for spending cuts.
Last February, the big banks agreed to a major “settlement” to protect themselves from litigation by state attorneys general stemming from fraudulent documentation of mortgages. Though some, such as New York’s crusading attorney general Eric Schneiderman, believed that the government had leverage to get a lot more, the settlement required the banks to pony up some $25 billion to settle outstanding charges.
The banks, without admitting wrongdoing, agreed to reform fraudulent practices, such as “robo-signing” and proceeding with foreclosures on one track while supposedly helping borrowers to adjust terms on another. The settlement reserved the government’s right to continue criminal prosecutions.
It's likely that early this year we will once again see another debt ceiling crisis, with Republicans in Congress threatening the credit of the United States in order to win unpopular policy concessions. One increasingly popular idea for getting out of this cycle of hostage-taking is for the president to mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin that would allow the federal government to meet its outlays even if Congress refuses to lift the debt ceiling to allow the executive branch to cover the expenditures is has already required.
The Newtown elementary school massacre has finally sparked a discussion about what to do about the 80 gun deaths in America each day, seven of which are children.
But the dialogue remains constrained, as if we know we have to talk about gun control but we’re still afraid the National Rifle Association (NRA) will scold us as anti-freedom oppressors or start shooting. Beyond the obvious—banning assault weapons and limiting the size of gun clips—there is little information or analysis about concrete reforms that could make a difference. We’re still shying away from basic issues like how criminals, youths, and mass murderers get guns, why existing laws don’t seem to provide rudimentary safety, and why so little attention is paid—and so little responsibility ascribed—to the purveyors and profiteers of the gun industry.
On an April Sunday in 1996, a young man named Martin Bryant went to the popular tourist site of Port Arthur in Australia, and using a pair of semi-automatic rifles, undertook a massacre that spread over several locations and killed 35 people. The crime was so horrific that previously pro-gun politicians changed their positions, and less than two weeks later the government announced sweeping changes to the country's gun laws, outlawing automatic and semi-automatic weapons, instituting lengthy waiting periods and background checks for gun purchases, and creating a gun buyback program that eventually resulted in a fifth of the country's firearms being destroyed. In the years since, the country's rates of gun homicide and suicide have fallen dramatically, and Australia has not had another mass shooting.
What happened in Australia—a terrible tragedy galvanizing public sentiment and leading to a significant change in policy—is something many Americans fervently wish would happen here in the wake of last month's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Details are now emerging on the legal solutions that the White House and its congressional allies will be pushing in the coming days. But anyone hoping for a transformation in America's relationship with guns would do well to be skeptical.