Photo of the day

Very nice NYT gallery of year’s best photos.  Not surprisingly, some pretty great post-Sandy photos:


Iwaan Baan/Getty Images


Photo of the day

From part 2 of In Focus best photos of the year.  The following is certainly among the more bizarre I’ve ever seen:

The Orvillecopter by Dutch artist Bart Jansen (right) flies in central Amsterdam as part of the KunstRAI art festival, on June 3, 2012. Jansen said the Orvillecopter is part of a visual art project which pays tribute to his cat Orville, by making it fly after it was killed by a car. He built the Orvillecopter together with radio control helicopter flyer Arjen Beltman (left) . (Reuters/Cris Toala Olivares)


Why we don’t want an armed society

Really enjoyed this on-line conversation between Jeffrey Goldberg, author of the recent article, “The case for more guns and more gun control” and fellow Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates (TNC).  Not surprisingly, I thought TNC got the better of the exchange.  Goldberg kept on asking whether TNC would want to be armed or not if there was a crazed killer about, but TNC adeptly argued that this is not the question we should be discussing (i.e., it’s just as misleading as always trying to put torture in the ticking time-bomb scenario).  I especially liked this exchange where he put the scenario into the cost-benefit of what it means to carry a gun on  a regular basis:

 It is not enough to have a gun, anymore than it’s enough to have a baby. It’s a responsibility. I would have to orient myself to that fact. I’d have to be trained and I would have to, with some regularity, keep up my shooting skills. I would have to think about the weight I carried on my hip and think about how people might respond to me should they happen to notice. I would have to think about the cops and how I would interact with them, should we come into contact. I’d have to think about my own anger issues and remember that I can never be an position where I have a rage black-out. What I am saying is, if I were gun-owner, I would feel it to be really important that I be a responsible gun-owner, just like, when our kids were born, we both felt the need to be responsible parents. The difference is I like “living” as a parent. I accept the responsibility and rewards of parenting. I don’t really want the responsibilities and rewards of gun-ownership. I guess I’d rather work on my swimming. And I think, given the concentration of guns in a smaller and smaller number of hands, there’s some evidence that society agrees…

[JG] … We’ll get to the other questions later, but this is important: In the situation I just described above, would you rather have a gun, or rather not?

TNC: The crucial difference is that I don’t accept the premise. In other words, if I have “have a gun” in that situation, other things are then also true of my life. In other words, there is no “me” as I am right now that would have a gun. That “me” would spend a good amount time being responsible for his weapon.It’s not so much a situation that, if I were with you and we were facing down a crazy dude, I wouldn’t want to have a gun. It’s that I’ve already made choices that guarantee that I couldn’t have one. It just isn’t possible, given my life choices. I’d much rather work toward a world where the psychotic shooter is actually a psychotic knifer, or a psychotic clubber [emphasis mine]…
I guess my point is, I have a hard time with a construction of violence that begins and ends in the moment of violent confrontation. My belief is that an intelligent self-defense begins long before that dude with the AR-15 in hand appears. If we’re down to me licking off shots, then we are truly lost. And I say that as a dude with a huge poster of Malcolm X on his wall.
Goldberg certainly makes about the best case I’ve heard for more guns as he’s not at all an NRA gun-nut.  He’s trying to look at things pragmatically– including America’s current legal regime and gun culture– and come to the conclusion that the best solution is not only more gun control, but also more guns.  It’s not entirely unreasonable.  That said, I do think the argument that this is really not the kind of society that we want to live in and really is more compelling.


Newtown matters

I’m pretty sure we’ve never seen this kind of dramatic change this quickly after any of the other previous gun massacres.   Here’s the latest from Gallup:


Wow.  Now, we have no way of knowing just how long-lasting and meaningful this will be, but dramatic shifts like this in public opinion– on issues of any importance whatsoever– are very rare.   I still think the utterly controlled by the NRA Republicans in the House stop any legislation,  but this does suggest there’s a real chance here.  More importantly, maybe Democrats re-learn to stand up to the gun lobby.  The truth is that long gradual decline in support for stricter gun laws is assuredly tied to the Democrats just deciding guns were a losing issue for them and shrinking away.  Hopefully this can change now.

Also worth mentioning, is when you get down to it, just how incoherent public opinion actually is on this issue (like most).  To wit, there’s this chart:


I.e., only about 46% want new gun laws, yet…


Word to the wise– that 92% of the public that wants to close the “gun show loophole” wants a new law.  Same with the 62%.

Republicans do want to raise taxes

But unlike Democrats, they want to raise them on average working stiffs and spare the rich guys.  Ezra:

The big lie of the fiscal cliff is that the argument is between Democrats who want to raise your taxes and Republicans who want to cut your taxes. That’s wrong. Republicans want to raise taxes on more people than the White House does…

So yes, Democrats want to raise some taxes. But so do Republicans. They want to let the payroll tax cut and the various stimulus tax credits (notably the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit) expire. Those are the tax cuts that primarily help poor and middle-class Americans. In fact, 87.8 percent of the payroll tax cut’s benefits go to taxpayers making less than $200,000 and99.9 percent of the stimulus tax credits’ benefits go to taxpayers making less than $200,000.

And those tax cuts help many, many Americans. Pretty much everyone who works benefits from the payroll tax cut. Pretty much everyone who works in a low-wage job benefits from the stimulus credits. Whereas the tax cuts for income over $250,000 help about 4 percent of taxpayers, these cuts and credits help almost every taxpayer. Letting them expire will thus raise taxes on many, many more people than letting the high-income Bush tax cuts expire…

Republicans argue that these policies weren’t really tax cuts, that they were temporary stimulus measures designed to be tax cuts. And it’s true that their primary purpose was stimulus. But the Bush tax cuts were also designed to be temporary and they were sold as stimulus once the 2001 recession began.

What’s amazing is that a party that is so transparently committed to carrying water for the richest Americans at the expense of poor and average-income Americans continues to be so electorally competitive.  It’s almost like Marx was onto something.

Photo of the day

One of my favorites from Christmas morning. Love the way Sarah is posing and the contrasting background of Kim’s PJ’s.


We need more terrorists to use more guns

Why?  Perhaps because then we’d actually take guns seriously and not be quite so worried about gun owners’ “rights.”  Kevin Drum nicely juxtaposes the absolutely absurd situation as it presently exists [all emphases are in original]:

Compare and contrast. Here is how seriously we take civil liberties when the subject can be plausibly labeled terrorism:

[New rules] allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.

Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others.The agency has new authority to keep data about
innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years,
 and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.

Got that?  You just maybe might be a terrorist– I don’t know,maybe your first name is Mohammed or something– and the government can collect and keep pretty much all the data it wants on you.

Let’s say that your might be a terrorist and you buy a gun, though.  Very different story:

Under current laws the bureau is prohibited from creating a federal registry of gun transactions….When law enforcement officers recover a gun and serial number, workers at the bureau’s National Tracing Center here — a windowless warehouse-style building on a narrow road outside town — begin making their way through a series of phone calls, asking first the manufacturer, then the wholesaler and finally the dealer to search their files to identify the buyer of the firearm.

….The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, for example, prohibits A.T.F. agents from making more than one unannounced inspection per year of licensed gun dealers. The law also reduced the falsification of records by dealers to a misdemeanor….The most recent Tiahrt amendment, adopted in 2010…requires thatrecords of background checks of gun buyers be destroyed within 24 hours of approval. Advocates of tighter regulation say this makes it harder to identify dealers who falsify records or buyers who make “straw” purchases for others.

So that’s where we are. The federal government can swoop up enormous databases, keep them for years, and data mine them to its heart’s content if it has even the slightest suspicion of terrorist activity. Objections? None to speak of, despite the fact that terrorism claims only a handful of American lives per year. But information related to guns? That couldn’t be more different. Background checks are destroyed within 24 hours, serial numbers of firearms aren’t kept in a central database at all, and gun dealers can barely even be monitored. All this despite the fact that we record more than 10,000 gun-related homicides every year.

I think most Americans would be absolutely appalled if they understood this.  Of course, like most policy, most Americans don’t have a clue.  The people who pay attention are the crazy gun nuts are who convinced that their rights are violated just because the government actually keeps records on extremely dangerous products.  What’s pathetic is that a majority of legislators go along with this absolute craziness (though, of course, that’s what happens with an intense minority and apathetic majority).  Seriously, if only some Islamist terrorists started buying up guns through straw buyers, then we could actually do something about this.

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