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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – June 17, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Fuji, Japan- photo by Takashi Yasui

The news and the pundits are non-stop in their analysis of the shooting in DC that critically wounded Republican Congressman Steve Scalise and 3 others. Much has been written, but Wrongo likes what Charlie Pierce wrote the best:

Violence doesn’t “intrude” on everyday life in America. Violence is a part of everyday life in America. A little more than a week ago, five people were shot to death in warehouse in Orlando. Is a warehouse in Orlando less innocent than a Virginia ballfield? Is a disgruntled worker taking his mad vengeance less of a demonstration of a country unhinged than a home-inspection specialist who fried his brain over politics? Is somebody who wounds over politics a worse murderer than someone who kills because he got fired? I admire the ability of anyone who can make that measured a moral choice.

On the whole, people shouldn’t get shot. They shouldn’t get shot in the streets. They shouldn’t get shot in school. They shouldn’t get shot in the workplace. They shouldn’t get shot while carrying snack food in the “wrong” neighborhood, and they shouldn’t get shot while they’re trying to surrender. They shouldn’t get shot while dancing in a nightclub. And they shouldn’t get shot on the ballfield on a spring morning.

In the main, one victim is not more “innocent”—and, thus, of more value—than any other one. Their occupation shouldn’t matter. Their politics shouldn’t matter. There is a violence inherent in the country’s history and there is a wildness present in its soul and, on occasion, both of these surface more clearly than is usual. Technology has made the violence more lethal and the wildness more general. The uniquely American conflation of innocence with hubris is a luxury we can no longer afford.

OTOH, according to Heather Digby Parton:

Meanwhile, 93 people on average are shot and killed every day in America, many of them in incidents involving multiple victims. More than 100,000 people are struck by bullets every year. President Donald Trump was right to speak about “carnage” in America in his inaugural address. He just didn’t acknowledge that the carnage is from gun violence. According to the gun safety website The Trace:

Using data from the World Health Organization, researchers found that America accounted for 82 percent of all firearm deaths among 23 comparable nations in 2010. Ninety percent of women killed by guns in the study were in the U.S., as were 91 percent of children under 15.

There is no solution for this that will fly politically in this country. The gun-toter, and the no guns crowds are already spinning their version of the narrative to the crowd that sits in the pews directly in front of them.

America just has to accept that this is perhaps the most concrete way in which America is exceptional, and, it.just.sucks.

It is difficult to get to a soothing place on this Saturday, with all that has happened. Also, my brother died a year ago this week. Back in the late 1970’s he was (very) down on his luck, and each weekend, he would come to visit Ms. Right and me to get fattened up for the coming week. He would walk into the house, grab the album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and play its opening track, Funeral for a Friend”. There would be no talking until 11 minutes later when it ended:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Make America Safe?

Wrongo has tried hard not to write again about the murderous and divisive actions taken against police over the past few weeks, but it seems impossible. From the NYT:

The twin attacks — three officers dead Sunday in Baton Rouge, five killed on July 7 in Dallas, along with at least 12 injured over all — have set off a period of fear, anguish and confusion among the nation’s 900,000 state and local law enforcement officers. Even the most hardened veterans call this one of the most charged moments of policing they have experienced.

Never one to let bad news pass without blaming, the Pant Suit criticized President Obama’s response:

FireShot Screen Capture #104 - Trump

Monday kicked off the GOP Convention. The theme for the first day is “Make America Safe Again”. In case you thought that despite the recent spate of cop killings, you live in one of the safest places on earth, the Trump team is out to scare you up good.

The central theme of Trump’s campaign is that he plans to protect you: From scary Islamic terrorists, from scary immigrants who steal jobs, rape and pillage, and from scary black men with guns.

This resonates with many Republicans who are in the grip of overpowering nostalgia for the1950’s. Republicans see this as a time of stable marriages, respect for authority and economic dynamism. They are not alone: Democrats see it as a time when most men could leave high school and walk into a well-paid job, with pension and health-care benefits, which would allow them to support a family and retire comfortably.

There was much to like about this era of 25₵ gallons of gas, sport coats and cars with tail fins, but it is far from the whole story. It forgets the specter of nuclear annihilation that was ever-present. It forgets that women had little chance of a career beyond the typists’ pool, or that society forced African-Americans to the back of the bus.

Feminism, the civil-rights movement and economic progress in other countries swung a wrecking-ball at the society of the 1950s. But, to regret its collapse, as many Tea Partiers and Republicans do, is also to wish those improvements had never happened, which is absurd. Life was NOT good for the working person in the 1930s and 1940s. Even in the halcyon days of the 1950s -1970s, life was not good for women, people of color, gay people, and others.

Republicans see our politics and our culture decaying, so we see the sharpening Trump “law and order” rhetoric, and the success of the Tea Party in setting our national political agenda.

An alternative view to Trump’s is that Obama’s eulogy for five Dallas police officers a week ago was an eloquent plea to Americans to acquire “a new heart” – a new empathy toward others across the racial divide. And rarely has a president talked so bluntly about the limits of his ability to bring about the changes he seeks. Mr. Obama:

It is as if the deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened…Faced with this violence, we wonder if the divides of race in America can ever be bridged…We must reject such despair…I’ve seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change. I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been…I confess that sometimes I, too, experience doubt.

In an era of partisan polarization, the problem isn’t merely a deficit of leaders capable of binding us together; it’s a shortage of citizens willing to listen. According to the Pew Research Center, only 14% of Republicans approve of Obama’s conduct, compared with 80% of Democrats. That’s a record high in polarization – except that the previous record held by George W. Bush, who was supported by only 23% of Democrats. Trump is exploiting that.

When we zoom out from the “Make America Safe Again” meme, we remain in a competition between divergent views. We will not even start on the road to consensus until two conditions are met:

  • Our solutions strive for the preservation of a value called “the greater good”.
  • Our solutions rely on the preservation of a value called “in good faith”.

We have never changed ethics by legislation, although we can impact behavior.  What we have to change is whether or not we as a society will accept the greater good and good faith as inextricable parts of our society.

But as long as there are those among us who can defend the rights of people to use a weapon of war to kill policemen and children, or people who threaten the careers of the elected representatives who stand up to them, we will be seeing this happen again and again, and we’ll be stuck asking the same questions over and over.

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Our Thin-Skinned Blue Line

When we see each other as enemies, we are the Middle East, and we can no longer work together for the common good. Consider what happened last week at a Minnesota WNBA basketball game:

Four off-duty Minneapolis police officers working the Minnesota Lynx game at Target Center on Saturday night walked off the job after the players held a news conference denouncing racial profiling, then wore Black Lives Matter pregame warm-up jerseys.

Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, praised the officers walk out:

I commend them for it… If [the WNBA players] are going to keep their stance, all officers may refuse to work there.

What is lost in the police union grandstanding was that the Lynx jerseys in question read “Change starts with us, justice and accountability” and on the back had Philando Castile’s and Alton Sterling’s names along with “Black Lives Matter” and the Dallas Police Department shield. How is that seen as anti-cop? This highlights how thin-skinned police forces around the US are whenever criticism emerges about bad policing.

But what can be done?

The most recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics quadrennial “Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008” shows that there are 17,985 state and local law enforcement agencies with at least one full-time officer or the part-time equivalent in the US. All of them are managed by local, county or state governments, and the majority of police are members of a local union. Wrongo is not anti-union, but the social identity of being in law enforcement cultivates a code of unduly protecting members, hiding evidence, and blindly supporting the position of other officers simply because of their collective identity. The “Blue Wall of Silence” around cops is the excuse to cover up bad behavior in the face of investigation.

Creating an equivalency between #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter is wrong. Consider this thought from Jonathan Russell, Professor and Chaplain at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture:  (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

A black life is a life under the threat of social death, a social life constituted by precarity and the potential of imminent death…Blue lives have no analogous history, no precarious location from which their collective lives need recovery…Blue lives are not…living under conditions similar to black life. It is the history of black lives not mattering that gives meaning to the hashtag. Blue lives have no such analogous history.

Russell goes on to say:

Blue lives have always mattered, present and past. Their experience of social space is (for the most part) one of…deferential treatment… It is profoundly misrepresentative and disrespectful to develop an analogous hashtag, as if blue lives have an analogous experience of social life in America as black lives have. This hashtag is wrong in so much as it connotes that the lives of law enforcement officers have failed to matter sufficiently in the broader public consciousness.

For the umbrage-takers out there, relax. Wrongo isn’t saying that cops don’t deserve respect, they do. He thinks that cops have a tough job, and that we must mourn any cop killed on the job. But, we can’t be blind to the power of this confrontation between #Blue and #Black to tear us apart.

Here is ginandtacos: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I keep holding out hope that we will learn something from this, that police can say to themselves “All those Dallas officers wanted was to do their job and go home alive at the end of the day” and have some moment of inspired transference wherein they realize that every black person they pull over in a traffic stop wants the same...

More from ginandtacos:

If most cops are good cops as we are repeatedly told – and statistically that’s true, as most departments have a few officers who account for the majority of complaints – then it is time for the Good Cops to stop participating silently in a broken system. It’s time for Good Cops to do something about Bad Cops.

Is this realistic, given the Blue Wall of Silence and the power of the police unions, who go ballistic at the merest hint of criticism? Politicians who criticize their PDs are seen as “weak on crime.” However, when police unions are part of any decision to fire a cop, what is the alternative? Two additional considerations:

  • An armed society makes for nervous and trigger-happy law enforcement officers.
  • Police have an expectation of immediate and absolute compliance with every command. Anything less is deemed justification for using force.

Fixing all of this will take action on multiple fronts. We have to soften the Blue Code. We need to see fewer guns on the street. We need to reform police protocols.

We need to talk to each other.

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Our National Trauma Wake Up Call – July 11, 2016

It didn’t take long after five dead officers in Dallas, victims of a racially motivated killer, for some on the right to say “Its Obama’s fault”, or “Its Black Lives Matter’s fault”.

Here is a sentiment that you would hope that all Americans can agree on:

FireShot Screen Capture #100 - EM Simpson-page-001

From Evan Osnos:

It is a vision at the heart of the modern gun movement: the more that society makes the threat of violence available to us, the safer we will be. In forty-eight hours this week, the poisonous flaw in that fantasy has been exposed from multiple angles…

Wrongo hasn’t seen the videos, and hasn’t checked deeply into the circumstances, but he can’t seem to keep these incidents at arm’s length:

  • The Baton Rouge incident seems to have been the result of panic among the police who shot the victim repeatedly, even though the victim was pinned down on the ground.
  • The Minnesota shooting of a man halted for a traffic violation, who informed the policeman that he was armed and had a permit for concealed carry of a firearm, again may have been the result of fear and/or panic by the cop. The victim was shot several times while trying to pull his identification from a pants pocket.
  • The attack on Dallas police, in which five policemen died, and seven were wounded, seems to be a racially motivated revenge killing by a black shooter.

Needless to say, we need people on both sides of the Black/Blue Lives Matter argument to stand down. Cooler heads need to prevail. There are probably many cops who are not in possession of the nerves of steel needed for their jobs in 2016. Policing America today is no cakewalk. Everybody has a gun, most people are angry, and many have very low points of frustration.

FWIW, these violent episodes are partly a reflection of the larger struggle reflected in our national politics. There is a palpable dissatisfaction with how our country operates. The accumulation of money and power by people controlling our institutions has brought us an elite that no longer operates in the best interests of the population at large.

Some of this frustration and anger is played out with gunfire, and guns are everywhere.

The past week shows clearly that America’s police and America’s black citizens are at odds. During the day or so after Baton Rouge and Minnesota, there was an opportunity to step back and perhaps discuss what we might have learned from these killings. But the shooter in Dallas muddied the bigger picture, making revenge the story in our national news.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald quotes former NYC Mayor John Lindsay at another time of racial division:

This is a drifting, angry America that needs to find its way again.

This week feels like a sea change. Until now, neither killings by police, nor killings of police have been happening at unusual rates. This feels completely different, but we won’t be sure for a while.

More from Leonard Pitts:

There is a sickness afoot in our country, my friends, a putrefaction of the soul, a rottenness in the spirit. Consider our politics. Consider the way we talk about one another — and to one another. Consider those two dead black men. Consider those five massacred cops…Deny it if you can. I sure can’t. Something is wrong with us. And I don’t mind telling you that I fear for my country.

Let’s meditate on this from Dr. MLK, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

We always have a wake-up tune on Monday. Here is Ben Harper with “Call It What It Is”:

Sample Lyrics:

Government ain’t easy

Policing ain’t easy

Hard times ain’t easy

Oppression ain’t easy

Racism ain’t easy

Fear ain’t easy

Suffering ain’t easy

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 10, 2105

Our Havanese dog Bandit lost his fight with an autoimmune disease at age 15 this past Tuesday:

DSCN5103

Gonna miss him terribly.

Turning to other news, what does the Dallas attack against police mean for the rest of this American summer? As Mark Shields said on PBS, “events are in the saddle”, and there is a distinct feeling that our leadership is not only not in control, but they have no answers.

No one knows what the reaction will be to New Orleans, Minneapolis and Dallas:

COW Dallas Reaction 2

Despite all we know, we can’t escape our need for Gunz:

Culture of Violence

Some truths demand an explanation:

COW Broken Tail Light

Our satellite in orbit around the giant gas planet Jupiter found something horrifying:

COW Gaseous Titan

The Brits waited seven years for the Chilcot report on Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq War:

COW Chillicot Report.gif

Really, is W. sorry? Maybe he’s sorry he got 4500 American soldiers killed, and another 32,000 wounded. And unknown numbers of American military damaged mentally. Or, that the Middle East is totally destabilized. Or, that our economy crashed. Or, that the country is totally polarized. Maybe he’s sorry, but that’s highly doubtful.

You know, it was OKAY  because a Republican did it.

That’s the mission he accomplished.

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Why So Fearful?

The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil menPlato

Following on yesterday’s thoughts about how our presidential candidates are busy soiling their underpants over the possible threat of “Radical Islamic Terrorism” (say it Obama! What are you afraid of??), we heard Trump call for banning Muslims from visiting the US. Cruz and Rubio are merely for registering all of them.

This is a good time to take a look at the rates of homicide in America and our perception of the rates of homicide. Here is a chart from Gallup that shows the actual rate has fallen steadily and dramatically since 1992. The graph demonstrates that starting in 2001, we saw an increase in the number of Americans who thought violent crime was rising (the dark green line), even though the actual violent crime rate (the light green line) continued to fall, and remains roughly 75 points lower than it had been at its early 1990s peak. It’s clear that the perception of that crime rate tracked closely with the actual rate until 2001, when they began to diverge:

Galllup Violent Crime rate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, Pew asked Americans in 2013 if the number of gun crimes had: gone down, gone up, or stayed the same over the past 20 years. Bear in mind that the gun murder rate is half what it was, and the rate of non-fatal gun crimes is about a quarter of what it was 20 years ago, but only 12% said gun crimes were down, 26% said they were the same, and 56% said they’ve gone up.

This, despite the fact that the homicide rate/100,000 people in this country is lower than it’s been in 50 years, falling from 6.6 in 1981 to 3.6 in 2010. That’s not all. Ian Reifowitz at the Daily Kos offers more data:

Violence in schools has dropped dramatically in the past two decades
• The overall rates of physical and sexual abuse of children is down
• The rates of rape/sexual assault and violence against intimate partners in the US is 25% of what it was a couple of decades ago.

We live in an environment where all politics is designed to ramp up fear and outrage. Where our media, both mainstream and Internet, awefulize about nearly everything, where people have short attention spans, and fail to understand nuanced problems.

The current “be afraid” broadcast coverage of San Bernardino is another opportunity to instill fear in the public about mass shootings. It sells commercials, but misinforms the public. The press and most politicians characterize these mass shootings as either the work of misguided crazies if they are Americans, or terrorists if they are not.

And then the media complains about the public’s ignorance, and basks in the fact of peoples’ acceptance of extreme political views, followed by hand-wringing about why people are so angry, frightened and cynical.

Polls show that Americans are afraid of Muslims. A 2014 Pew survey asked Americans to rate various religious groups on a 0 to 100 scale, with a higher score indicating more positive feelings.

• Republicans (including people who lean Republican) gave Muslims a rating of 33, on average — one point lower than atheists and far lower than any other religious group.
• Democrats had more positive feelings toward Muslims, but were still chilly; they gave Muslims an average rating of 47, slightly above atheists and Mormons and below other religious groups.

According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted earlier this year, 77% of Trump supporters believe “the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life,” versus 72% percent of other Republicans, while 43% of Democrats said the same.

After fifteen years of non-stop war against the Muslim world, it may make sense that Americans are insecure about Muslims. But, it is the media, and the 2016 Republican candidates who have ginned up this fear, against the reality of our actual experience.

It shouldn’t be difficult for either the candidates, or the media, to put public safety in a context of the past 20 years.

The facts above show that we are safer than at any time in the last 50 years, but that doesn’t mean we are safe, or that we do not have a problem with potential terrorist acts at home. We do, and we need to be vigilant. We also need to develop better techniques to identify potential domestic terrorists, and to teach citizens how to react in a potentially threatening situation.

Restrictive gun control wouldn’t hurt either.

The quantifiable improvement in crime and homicide rates in particular, should give us some hope that we can do better. But none of that happens unless we chose facts over fear.

Or, if we let fear drive us from our long-held values as a people.

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Is The Second Amendment Now a Security Threat?

San Bernardino brings to the front burner an ignored reality of our open society: Bad guys (and gals) don’t need to use bombs or planes to cause terror in the US; they can use small arms fire in a crowded place. And Mr. Obama, in his Sunday speech, underlined that America was indeed attacked by terrorists, using guns that anyone can purchase at Wal-Mart and thousands of other stores.

This creates an issue for the Second Amendment absolutists. Last week, the epidemic of gun violence in the US transcended being just another crime. Now, it’s become a matter of national security.

Mr. Trump and the other GOP presidential nominee wanna-be’s have been pandering to the fear that terrorists could be among us, in sleeper cells, waiting to spring an attack. In effect, they are saying, “all you terrorists, off my lawn!

But, American voters know that any terrorist, Atheist, Christian or Muslim, can go shopping for guns and ammo, and then be ready to get busy terrorizing. Now it HAS happened here.

And it is a paradigm shift from our efforts to make America safe from terrorists that fly planes into buildings. No matter the size of a 9/11-type catastrophe, we would be crippled emotionally but not economically. But, imagine what the economic consequences would be of a series of attacks on shopping malls (or supermarkets) around Christmas. Who would be brave enough to shop?

An amendment before the Senate last Thursday would have enabled the US Attorney General to deny the issuance of firearms to known or suspected dangerous terrorists, like those on the terrorist watch list.

But Senate Republicans voted against it, and the amendment was defeated. The Republican position is that any citizen has a right to their day in court before those rights can be suspended. Fair enough, but there are only about 8,400 American citizens on the list, so there must be a bigger GOP agenda at work here to torpedo the watch list amendment.

Republicans understand that Democrats could use this vote against them in 2016. They must know that as much as they think that they stand to gain politically from a fearful public, there will be more Planned Parenthood type shooters, and that ANY terrorist attack will be even more proof of the need for gun control as a matter of national security.

If voters can accept the “national security” arguments for limitations on the 2nd Amendment, maybe gun control has a better chance of limiting use of weapons in public places than we think. Perhaps, banning those on the terror watch-list from acquiring guns, an assault rifle ban, and large-capacity magazine ban would make even Republicans feel safer.

From David Atkins at WaMo: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

[We have] already made a number of concessions to the clear wording of the 1st and 4th Amendments in the name of national security. The 2nd Amendment is explicit about its call for a well-regulated militia. It’s beyond time that if we as a people are going to be serious enough about stopping terrorism to invade countries halfway around the world…and set up…a mass spying agency against ourselves, we at least take seriously the imperative to regulate the terrorists’ latest weapon of choice…

A major problem is that the meaning of the 2nd Amendment has already been decided by the Supreme Court. SCOTUS has ruled that there is an individual right, unconnected with association with a militia, to possess firearms in the home for purposes of self-defense and that right applies to state regulations as well as federal regulations.

So, walking back recent Supreme Court decisions will be tough. How tough? Well, here is a video of Justice Scalia saying that rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are probably permitted under the 2nd Amendment:

(those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here)

RPGs. A weapon of choice for terrorists. And Scalia thinks it is ok for Americans to own them. Think this guy is going to vote to limit the 2nd Amendment? Doubtful.

Of course, with 300+ million guns already in circulation, it will take decades for gun control to impact public safety, so why even try to do it?

Yet, you can bet that in a few weeks, some Christian we fail to call a terrorist, will shoot up a mosque. After all, how far are we from: “if you see something, shoot something?

Then we can read these arguments all over again.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 11, 2015

COW Freedom Caucus

The Freedom (!) Caucus wants things its way. They didn’t want Boehner as Speaker, and Rep. McCarthy either jumped, or was pushed off the platform when his turn to be Speaker arrived.

The Freedom (!) Caucus intends to block both an increase in the debt ceiling and virtually all fiscal appropriations as a way of reigning in the power of our mad usurper, Barack Obama. But, they are nominally Republicans and Republicans are in the majority in the House and Senate. The most important responsibility of the majority in Congress is to raise the money we need to operate the government, and to then figure out how to spend that money.

This is the appropriations process.

One of the advantages of controlling the appropriations process is that you get to add money to the budget to keep the A-10 aircraft, or rebuild a crumbling bridge, or to subtract money from programs you think are immoral, like Planned Parenthood.

But, with today’s fractious Republican Party, no one will get elected Speaker without doing one of two things: Either they promise NOT to pass the appropriations bills, or raise the debt ceiling; or they have to ask for the Democrats’ help in getting the votes they need to avoid a government shutdown.

Whenever John Boehner tried to pass spending bills using just Republican votes, he failed. So he then went to Nancy Pelosi and asked her to get some Democrats to vote to keep the government open, and the Democrats supplied the votes. But, the Freedom (!) Caucus is done with Republicans who do not demonstrate the right level of ideological purity, so they will search for a Speaker who will make a show of not passing appropriations bills, while they wait (and hope) that the Democrats cave in to their demands, like defunding Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act.

The Nobel Prize for small particles was awarded, but the GOP is still experimenting:

COW Nobel Prize

This week was the first time a Nobel Peace Prize Winner (Obama) bombed another Noble Peace Prize Winner, Medcin Sans Frontières. And you thought it would be Kissinger!

A week with three more mass shootings. How much longer America?

COW Guns in Congress

And the mess in Syria gets messier:

COW Putin on the Blitz

The Editorial in the NY Times on Saturday hit the nail on the head:

The Obama administration’s $500 million initiative to train and arm so-called moderate rebels to take on the Islamic State never seemed promising when it was rolled out last year. Having acknowledged that this plan has failed — largely because Syrian opposition groups are more interested in taking on President Bashar al-Assad — the White House on Friday unveiled a plan that is even more incoherent and fraught with risk.

The Pentagon will stop putting rebel fighters through training in neighboring countries, a program that was designed to ensure that fighters were properly vetted before they could get their hands on American weapons and ammunition. The new plan will simply funnel weapons through rebel leaders who are already in the fight and appear to be making some headway.

The initial plan was dubious. The new one is hallucinatory, and it is being rolled out as the war enters a more perilous phase now that Russia has significantly stepped up its military support of Mr. Assad’s forces.

We have no strategy for Syria, and never have had one. Obama was hoodwinked by the Saudis, the Gulf States and our domestic neo-cons into supporting the Free Syrian Army option, followed by the “moderate” Islamist option.

Now, the strategy is to just flood the zone with arms. This by a guy who won a Nobel Peace Prize. Pathetic.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 30, 2015

That light from the city on the hill isn’t a beacon. It’s the flash of gun fire.

The snuff video of two TV journalists this week got everyone talking about gun ownership and gun control for the umpteenth time. Phys.org pointed out that despite the fact the US ranks in the middle among other industrialized countries in virtually every form of crime, and only has 5% of the world’s population, we have had 31% of the mass shootings since 1966.

By cutting off federal funding for research and stymieing data collection and sharing, the NRA has tried to do to the study of gun violence what climate deniers have done to the science of global warming. Mother Jones had a chart for you to consider:

Gun Ownership and Gun Deaths
Gun ownership is a part of our culture. We could have a conversation about why Americans need so many guns, but the current level of gun ownership is not going away. And there is a large disconnect between the current gun control proposals and the facts in the Virginia case. The TV killer wouldn’t have failed any test, either now in place, or contemplated under the new proposals.

A simple solution to the problem of gun deaths would be to require gun owners to have liability insurance for any gun that they buy. Mr. Market (beloved by the right) would then come up with solutions to keep that liability insurance costs low enough that people could own their guns, but fewer third-party deaths and injuries would occur, and there would be compensation for victims. You could still carry guns, but you would have to be able to produce proof of insurance. Like driving a car.

On to cartoons. The gun culture has a new Caliph:

COW Gun Culture

New media and old media loved talking about the killings, live on your TV:

COW News Cycle

Hillary’s week didn’t improve, so she got help:

COW Hillary Email

I’m you from 2015, Hillary. I’ve come back to help you set up your e-mail.

Biden called in a few favors:

COW Biden Back Rubs

Trump’s week was fine. Republicans? Not so much:

COW Anchor Baby

China’s stock market fell:

COW Bear Market

 

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It’s Just A Suggestion, But…

Would Gun Insurance Help?

Not insurance that pays to replace stolen firearms, but liability insurance for the damage that is done by firearms. Over the past few days, there have been many suggestions about mandating such insurance as a way of:

  • Paying for the damages done by people irresponsibly using (storing, playing with, or loaning) their guns
  • Reducing gun ownership by increasing the costs associated with it

Can we agree that guns as weapons are inherently dangerous to society? Can we agree that gun owners should bear the risk and true social costs of gun ownership?

Suggestion: Require both owners and sellers to purchase liability
insurance that is underwritten by private insurance companies according to the relative risk of the gun or the buyer. As John Wasik writes in Forbes:

When you buy a car, your insurer underwrites the risk according to your age, driving/arrest/ticket record, type of car, amount of use and other factors. A teenage driver behind the wheel of a Porsche is going to pay a lot more than a 50-year-old house wife. A driver with DUI convictions may not get insurance at all. Like vehicles, you should be required to have a policy before you even applied for a gun permit.  Every seller would have to follow this rule before making a transaction.

This is where we take social economics beyond theory. Actuaries would work to understand which buyers/guns are most at risk to commit a gun crime, or to be used in a gun crime. Gun owners/buyers would then be underwritten according to age, mental health and place of residence, credit/bankruptcy record and/or marital status, whatever causal criteria turn out to be the most relevant.

Insurance companies have mountains of data and know how to use it to price policies, or in industry parlance, to reduce the risk/loss ratio. Wasik continues:

Who pays the least for gun insurance would be least likely to commit a crime with it. An 80-year-old married woman in Fort Lauderdale would get a great rate. A 20-year-old in inner-city Chicago wouldn’t be able to afford it. A 32-year-old man with a record of drunk driving and domestic violence would have a similar problem.

Moreover, the market would over time, become very efficient at weighing these risks, since insurers specialize in figuring out the odds of something going wrong and charging the appropriate amount for the risk.

And there’s a good argument that the damage caused by firearms gives the government a “compelling interest” to require insurance, the basic test for infringing the constitutional rights of our 2nd Amendment lovers.

If it seems like requiring insurance might be too expensive, remember that the social cost is already expensive: We pay a huge cost for firearms injuries, says the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a part of NIH. According to their study, most injuries are paid for with public funds. Mandatory insurance would shift that cost from a public tax burden to a private insurance burden borne by gunowners. Quoting from the conclusion of the referenced study:

96 % of the patients in this report had their costs of care covered by the government, because they had no primary insurance coverage.

There could be a possibility of lower taxes down the road, if medical costs paid by the government come down; the taxes needed to pay those medical costs could come down too.

Given that gun violence kills more than 30,000 Americans annually, it is harmful not only to our well being, but our economy, so using economic disincentives to moderate their use makes sense.

If you think that the idea of mandatory insurance is onerous, think again:

You can’t finance a home mortgage without homeowner’s and title insurance. Want to own a car? Most states require liability insurance. You can’t employ someone in most states without worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance.

The advantages of mandatory gun insurance include the following:

  • Responsibility is placed on the gun owner: The law would require firearm owners to take responsibility for their firearms. Insurance separates responsible firearm owners from irresponsible ones
  • Control remains in the private sector: Private firms will vet the buyer for proper acquisition of firearms, not the Government
  • 2nd Amendment rights are protected: Anyone can purchase firearms as long as they can get insured
  • Promotes registering of existing weapons: Unregistered weapons will not be insured so the owners will not be able to buy ammo for those guns
  • Those who are injured: Will receive some recompense for their injury

What about the economic burden on gun owners?

If the insurance is required by the gun, the cost may prevent some people from buying them. A buyer in the middle class or higher could easily afford insurance on multiple weapons. If insurance was required for each gun registered, it might discourage multiple purchases by high risk owners. It may make people more responsible when they store their guns: Stolen guns had better be from a broken-into gun safe or your policy renewal will be a lot more expensive; the same would probably happen to your rates if little Billy finds a loaded gun in the desk drawer and shoots his friend with it.

It probably means that poorer people won’t be able to afford the insurance, so it probably will not dramatically affect gun violence (or coverage for same) in inner cities. We know that people take the chance of driving without insurance all the time and it’s a lot easier for someone to hide an uninsured gun than to drive an uninsured automobile.

But, will it  work?

Insurers underwrite risk: casualty loss, liability, health, auto, home and life insurance. With gun insurance, instead of charging the highest premiums for overweight smokers, alcoholics with bad driving records and dangerous hobbies, the most expensive gun policies will be priced for those who are younger with histories of mental illness, divorce, criminal records or severe financial difficulties. Or, the highest prices will be for the kinds of weapons that kill the most people the quickest: A shotgun owner who has hunted for years without incident would pay far less than a first-time owner purchasing a semi-automatic.

People would have a financial disincentive to purchase the most risky firearms. They would have a financial incentive to attend gun safety classes and use trigger locks. Using insurance to drive outcomes instead of attempting to enforce widespread bans and confiscation may result in much of the behavior we seek, without another festering, divisive issue draining our society.

Requiring insurance will simply add the already known social costs to the actual manufacturing costs of a weapon. If the social costs go higher, price of owning a weapon will be higher; if the social costs go down, so will insurance costs.

The market will decide what the fair price will be.

Insurance can be used to effectively price the risk and costs of social harm. This idea falls short of immediately getting rid of the most dangerous weapons and it will not prevent the next Newtown, but we have to start somewhere.  

The Constitution was ratified in 1789. We are the Founders now. These are our problems and we must come up with our own solutions. The 2nd Amendment does not fit perfectly with current circumstances. Gun ownership has become a bigger problem than any of the problems it was meant to solve. The British are NOT coming; Indians no longer threaten your little fort.

Buy insurance for each gun, or turn the gun in.

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