Photo of the day

My wife shared this on FB.  Love it (story behind it here):

Greatest Wedding Photo In the History of the World

Photograph by Quinn Miller Photo + Design.

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NRA = gun manufacturers lobby

I’ve written before that the easiest way to assess whether the NRA will be for or against something is quite simply will it lead to more or fewer guns being sold.  That’s it.  I’m not aware of a single policy the NRA supports that might actually result in the reduction of guns sold.  Though they don’t technically represent gun manufacturers, it is pretty clear to see that is where their primary interests lies.  Especially when you consider that even a majority of NRA members support expanding background checks on gun sales.   Thus, it was sad, but not at all surprising to read this NYT piece on just how venal most of the gun manufacturers are:

The Glock executive testified that he would keep doing business with a gun dealer who had been indicted on a charge of violating firearms laws because “This is still America” and “You’re still innocent until proven guilty.”

The president of Sturm, Ruger was not interested in knowing how often the police traced guns back to the company’s distributors, saying it “wouldn’t show us anything.”

And a top executive for Taurus International said his company made no attempt to learn if dealers who sell its products were involved in gun trafficking on the black market. “I don’t even know what a gun trafficker is,” he said…

The [gun] executives claimed not to know if their guns had ever been used in a crime. They eschewed voluntary measures to lessen the risk of them falling into the wrong hands. And they denied that common danger signs — like a single person buying many guns at once or numerous “crime guns” that are traced to the same dealer — necessarily meant anything at all.

Charles Brown’s company, MKS Supply, is the sole distributor of an inexpensive brand of gun that frequently turned up in criminal investigations. He said he never examined the trace requests that MKS received from federal agents to learn which of his dealers sold the most crime guns. This lack of interest was echoed by Charles Guevremont, the president of the gun manufacturer Browning, who testified that his company would have no reason to review the practices of a dealer who was the subject of numerous trace requests.

The article continues to discuss a series of lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

The lawsuits were bolstered, however, by testimony from several former industry insiders. The most prominent was Robert Ricker, a former lawyer for the National Rifle Association and executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council, the main gun industry trade association before it was disbanded.

Leaders in the industry have consistently resisted taking constructive voluntary action to prevent firearms from ending up in the illegal gun market and have sought to silence others within the industry who have advocated reform,” Mr. Ricker wrote in a 2003 affidavit on behalf of the City of San Diego.

Mr. Ricker detailed the backlash from the N.R.A. and trade groups against anyone who pressed for changes to industry practices. Because of his calls for reform, Mr. Ricker, who died of cancer in 2009, said he was forced to resign as the head of the trade group.

Another insider, Robert Hass, a former Smith & Wesson executive, testified that “the nature of the product demands that its distribution be handled in such a way as to minimize illegal and unintended use.” And yet, he said in an affidavit, “the industry’s position has consistently been to take no independent action to ensure responsible distribution practices.” When Smith & Wesson voluntarily adopted a set of safeguards, including requirements that its dealers limit multiple sales of firearms, it was ostracized and boycotted, forcing it to abandon the changes.

Now, obviously, there’s only so much blame you can place on the actual gun manufacturers as compared to those who shoot the gun.  That said, they clearly make an extremely dangerous product and seem to have no interest whatsoever in seeing to it that the product is less dangerous.  This is a completely amoral industry as is their semi-official shills, the NRA.  Very, very sad and telling what happened when Smith & Wesson was actually ostracisted for trying to operate as a responsible company manufacturing a dangerous product.

Chart of the day

Nice Harold Pollack piece in Wonkblog of the failure of our supply-side driven (i.e., hopeless attempts to limit supply) war on drugs.  Simple truth is that humans are simply too ingenious when there’s this much money to be made.  Not to mention, the evidence across time and culture that many, many humans really value altering their psychological state via chemicals.  Anyway, the failure is quite dramatically summed up in the price of drugs:

embarrassing drug graph

Pollack writes

In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences concluded: “Neither the data systems nor the research infrastructure needed to assess the effectiveness of drug control enforcement policies now exists.”  That remains true today, 12 years and hundreds of billions of dollars later.

but I must be missing his point.  Given the law of supply and demand and how it relates to price, I would suggest that this graph is all we need (not quite, but goes along way) to assess the effectiveness of current drug control enforcement policies.  In short, stunningly ineffective.  Not to suggest full legalization, but it is quite clear that locking up ever more people for drug use and trying to limit supply are both failed policies.

Subjects → citizens → customers

One of the great revolutions of the American experiment was the idea that Americans were not subjects of a monarch, but rather citizens of a shared social contract– government by consent of the governed.  Alas, for many Republicans, it would seem the next step is for us to evolve from citizens to consumers.  In taking a look at the education voucher proposal here in North Carolina, NC PolicyWatch’s Rob Schofield has a great take on the insidious negative effects of viewing citizens not as such, but primarily as consumers:

Sadly, Jones’ position roughly summarizes a core belief of the state’s modern, Tea Partying right-wing: that citizens have a divine right to relate to their government as they relate to a big box store.

This is not an exaggeration or a parody. Governor McCrory has made this idea one of the centerpieces of his new administration with his repeated references to treating North Carolinians as “customers.”

In the modern conservative worldview, all human relationships are driven by the interactions of the marketplace. Many of these ideologues have genuinely come to believe that humans have been commanded by the Almighty to pursue their own self-interest in virtually all matters of economic and social interaction and that when they do, the “invisible hand” will somehow lead us all to the best possible (or, at least, the most just) societal result.

Hence the notion that North Carolina’s education ills can be cured by giving parents the kinds of “choices” afforded to “customers” and forcing schools to compete for their “business.” It’s really a quite remarkable and coldly Darwinian argument – especially coming as it does from a group that so frequently espouses a full-throated conservative Christianity…

And when citizens are treated like “customers” rather than owner/stakeholders, a subtle but important attitude shift is abetted. Rather than caring for their entire community as a whole, inhabitants are encouraged to worry about themselves, treat their neighbors as competitors and threats and confine their communal instincts to private charity.

Does this explain all of Milwaukee’s [they have a famous school voucher program of questionable efficacy] racial divides or economic blight? No, of course not; but it does shine an important window on the struggles of this once-thriving city. And, sadly, unless a change in course is effected soon, this attitude shift could soon come to afflict North Carolina on a mass scale as well.

This is why so many caring and thoughtful people are so desperately worried about the introduction of school vouchers in North Carolina. It’s not the immediate demise of public education they worry about; they know that public schools will cobble together a way to survive in the near term (just as they have muddled along through the budget cuts of recent years).

What worries these advocates and observers most is that vouchers will expedite the ongoing demise of citizenship and the social contract that once bound North Carolinians together in a united society. And sadly, judging by the attitudes and rhetoric of voucher supporters, this is a well-founded concern.

That’s ultimately a sharper point than I’d put on it (I don’t think civic virtue can be quite so easily eliminated), but I think Schofield is indeed right that viewing citizens primarily as consumers ultimately erodes a sense of community and social contract that is ultimately essential to a healthy democracy.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus series on the US-Mexico border.  Whoops:

In this photo provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a silver Jeep Cherokee that suspected smugglers were attempting to drive over the U.S.-Mexico border fence is stuck at the top of a makeshift ramp, on October 31, 2012 near Yuma, Arizona. U.S. Border Patrol agents from the Yuma Station seized both the ramps and the vehicle, which stalled at the top of the ramp after it became high centered. The fence is approximately 14 feet high where the would-be smugglers attempted to drive across the border. The two suspects fled into Mexico when the agents arrived at the scene. (AP Photo/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Climate change and scientific expertise

Listened to a great This American Life about climate change today (I love when TAL gets political– almost always a phenomenal job).   One of their stories was about former SC Congressman, Bob Inglis, a conservative’s conservative except for his apostasy of saying climate change is real and we should do something about it.  That’s why he’s former Congressman.  He’s doubled-down, though, and is now on a mission to convince conservative’s to address the problem by speaking to them in the language of another conservative.  Sadly, he’s not having much success.  It seems mostly liberals come out to hear his speeches designed to convince a conservative audience.  Part of the segment had him trying to convince a conservative talk-radio host who basically said, “I’m from Mississippi, why should I believe in this.”  I.e., I am a political conservative and I take it as a matter of faith that this is a liberal plot; tell me why I should believe otherwise.

And there’s the rub, so many conservatives simply take it as a matter of faith that there is no climate change.  It’s theology as ideology.  Now, surely the 97-98% of climate scientists could be wrong, but who the hell is any non-scientist to judge.  I know I’m not.  Yes, scientists have gotten things wrong all the time, but science remains far and away the best approach we have to understanding the natural world and “well, liberals are for it so it cannot be true” does not exactly trump the scientific method.  Alternatively, reading a few skeptical articles here does not mean you are actually qualified to judge the science.  Yes, there is evidence that the rise in global mean temperatures has stabilized for the time being.  So, either A) climate scientists are persisting, despite contrary evidence, in their overwhelming conspiracy to pull the wool over the eyes of the the world’s citizen; or B) there’s plenty of other measures/indications (i.e., sea level, sea ice, etc.) that suggests we very much still have a growing problem that largely fits with the science and mathematical models.  Given the choice, I’ll go with the latter.

Guns for hunting people

Really enjoyed this piece in the Atlantic last week buy a Charles Eisendrath, “gun guy,” who talks about why we need to regulate assault weapons.  I especially likes how he refers to them as “guns for hunting people,” which, of course, is exactly what they are.  Some highlights:

In most states, it is illegal to hunt animals or birds with more than six rounds in a rifle or three in a shotgun. Why? Because if you can’t kill within those limits you need remedial marksmanship (of the sort NRA Executive Vice President Wayne R. La Pierre might require to bring reportedly poor marksmanship up to snuff). If you’ve got ten or even 30-shot replaceable clips, then you’re holding arms for hunting humans–equipment that brings the Second Amendment face to face with the Sixth Commandment.*

Wow– I had no idea about that six rounds law.  I’ll be quoting that in the future.  Anyway, the author argues that rather than just limiting the size of detachable magazines is to simply eliminate detachable magazines:

One way to do that is to change manufacturing standards for guns as we did in barring vehicles without seatbelts or catalytic converters. Civilian weapons should be required to conform to the more humane rules for hunting game. No amount of legislative fiddling will prevent Rambo-styles clips from replacing small ones if the structure of the gun isn’t changed. The answer is to return long guns to traditional magazines internal to the weapons, themselves, limited to hunting restrictions.

Here’s his take on handguns:

Do I favor handguns’ remaining legal? Yes, except for the kind that are really assault rifles without stocks. For one thing, the huge sales boom in pistols represents a whole nation’s understandable lunge for self-defense, largely against bad guys with the assault weapons we hear about all to often. For that reason, keeping the option open for handguns, at least for now, may make it easier to eliminate assault rifles. It also weakens the argument that by eliminating civilian war weapons we would disarm law-abiders to the advantage of outlaws. We should start with the main threat. When people feel less fearful, they may buy fewer pistols, too.

Here, though, I think Eisendrath makes a big mistake.  He assumes that since he loves guns and approaches gun policy rationally, most others will as well.  I’m still waiting for that.  He’s right that keeping handguns legal absolutely, positively weakens the argument about law-abiding citizens defending themselves.  But this has never been about whether arguments are weak or strong, rational or irrational.  Sadly, to far too many on the right, gun ownership is a sacred right and any infringement on that right, no matter how sensible, is pretty much blasphemy.

So, I really appreciated what Eisendrath suggests as far as assault rifles go and think it would make smart policy (as if that means anything in the gun debate), but think it is completely dead as any other policy these days that actually tries to limit guns.

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