Friday, May 24, 2019

The Erickson Report - Page 3: A Deeper Look: Venezuela

A Deeper Look: Venezuela

What happened to Venezuela as a news story?

It was all over news in April, you couldn’t turn your head without bumping into a Venezuela story. Ever since January we had breathless media reports of building tensions, we had reports of massive demonstrations by opponents of the government, all against a backdrop of - as our media would have it - a dictator desperately trying to cling to power against a rising tide of internal resistance and international condemnation. How long can he hold out, he’s going to fall, it’s got to happen, any day now, any day now, any day now!

Now, there’s still news, but by comparison, it’s crickets. So what happened?

The two leading characters in this are Nicolás Maduro, winner of the last election for president of Venezuela, and Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, who have been metaphorically butting heads for four months.

The roots go back earlier - of course you can always go back earlier, claiming ever-earlier roots of most any conflict, but the immediate roots date to 1999. That was when Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela as the face of a movement to raise the poor: to raise their living standards and to raise their voices.

Chavez launched big poverty-reduction programs that had measurable impacts:
- between 2003 and 2009, the poverty rate was cut by more than half
- between 2001 and 2007, illiteracy was cut by nearly a third
- government programs brought food, housing, and health care to the needy

Nicolás Maduro
But during his time in office, he made three serious mistakes, all of which bear on the present moment:

For one, his anti-poverty measures were paid for with oil income, which accounts for 98% of the country’s foreign earnings, which meant they depended on oil prices remaining high.

Notice on Graph 1, which displays the world price for oil, that I’ve marked when Chavez came into office. It was a time of increasing oil prices. Not in an unbroken string, but overall, yes, clearly increasing. Prices continued to generally climb - until around 2008-2009 when they crashed to less than a third of what they had been, saddling Venezuela with debts it couldn’t pay and sending the country into a deep recession from which it has still not recovered.

Juan Guaido
Second, he didn’t account for - or at least didn't count enough for how much international finance and transnational corporations would hate him and how much they would hate what he was trying to do for the poor, how much they would try to smear him, how much they would try to undermine the economy. When he nationalized some parts of the oil industry, the reaction among those self-labeled Masters of the Universe was to declare Venezuela unsafe for investment.

Even though unless they were in certain segments of the oil industry they had no reason to be concerned, even though foreign investment was still welcome, even though private enterprise continued across the economy, still Venezuela was declared too risky for investment, thus denying it needed foreign capital. That hatred, including among his domestic elites, was enough to see an attempted (and US-endorsed) coup in 2002.

Hugo Chavez
They couldn’t stand what he was trying to do and they especially couldn’t stand that despite their best efforts, he kept winning elections that even his opponents were forced to admit were free and fair.

Before Chavez died in office in 2013, he had named Nicolás Maduro as his preferred successor. Maduro was elected in April 2013 but by the thin margin of 1.6 percentage points.

During his first term in office, the economy, still suffering from the effects of the price crash of 2008-2009, sank even further when oil prices hit another decline, leaving the people increasingly struggling and Maduro increasingly unpopular.

Even so, Maduro was re-elected to a second six-year term in May 2018, but in an election that could politely be called controversial. In fact, there is good reason to regard that election as at best unfair if not illegitimate. Most opposition parties boycotted it because the most popular opposition parties were barred from running, leading to charges the poll would be neither free nor fair. As a result, Maduro's re-election was not recognized by the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition.

Which relates to Chavez’s third failing: He failed to build a movement that would survive him. The movement was Chavez, Chavez was the movement. When he died, he left behind him a party structure, but there was no movement beyond that structure, no broad base of organized support to call on, to not only hold that party up, but to hold it to point. Yes, Chavez could be authoritarian - although he was never near the incipient dictator much of the media here would have him be - but he could be authoritarian but at least it could be said of him that it was in service to that idea of lifting the poor.

For Maduro, being authoritarian - and he most certainly is that and more than Chavez ever was - is in service to idea of staying in power.

On January 10 of this year, Maduro was inaugurated into his second term. Almost immediately, the National Assembly held itself to be the only legitimate governing body and Guaido, as head of the Assembly, declared himself the legitimate "acting" president. The US recognized Guaido, and the players were all in place.

Graph 1
The US got others to go along with its endorsement of Guaido, intentionally setting the conflict up as an ideological proxy war between the hideous phantasm specter of "socialism" as pesented by the US foreign policy apparatus on the one hand and fields of flowers "democracy" on the other. The crisis in Venezuela deepened and sharpened complete with the US repeatedly dangling the possibility of sending in the Marines.

Across this time, the US kept claiming its only interest was the welfare of the people of Venezuela, but that was a lie. Already reeling from a the deep recession caused by 2008-2009 the collapse of oil prices, Venezuela has been hit with two rounds of severe economic sanctions from the US.

The first round, in August 2017, prohibited the Venezuelan government from borrowing in US financial markets, making it impossible for the country to restructure foreign debt, which made it impossible to obtain more financing which made it impossible to recover from the recession and caused oil production to crash.

Look Graph 2. It compares domestic oil production in Venezuela and Colombia, with Venezuela’s in the dark blue. I want you to notice the vertical dashed line closer to me. It marks the imposition of the 2017 sanctions. Notice what happens to Venezuela’s production in their wake. The result was driving the economy from a state of very high inflation to one of hyperinflation, with all the attendant effects of the population.

The second set of sanctions, laid down in January of this year, prohibited the sale of oil from Venezuela’s national oil company in the US, which has previously been the customer for more than a third of Venezuela’s oil, and also froze nearly $18 billion in Venezuelan assets.

Moreover, the US has pressured other countries not to buy the oil that previously had been imported by the US and has instructed oil trading houses and refiners around the world to further cut dealings with Venezuela or face sanctions themselves, even if the trades are not prohibited by published US sanctions. Put another way, the US has declared to the world “do not deal in, do not refine, do not even transport Venezuelan oil or we will come for you.”

In a report issued in April, economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs calculate that US sanctions have resulted in the death of 40,000 Venezuelan civilians between 2017 and 2018, with an additional 300,000 at risk “because of lack of access to medicines or treatment” and another four million with diabetes and hypertension who cannot access needed medicine. They say the numbers “virtually guarantee that the current sanctions are a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelans.”

Some have challenged those figures, claiming they are inflated - but significantly, the challengers have not disputed that fact that the sanctions have resulted in Venezuelan deaths, they only dispute how many.

The US is literally killing thousands of Venezuelans to oust Maduro - and remember, these sanctions started in August 2017 - nearly a full year before the suspicious elections that are supposedly the basis for declaring Guaido the president.

Graph 2
The lie about the welfare of the people also lead to that staged “relief caravan” at the border with Colombia, with the US bringing trucks of “aid” to the starving, desperate people of Venezuela because the US government was just so moved by their need, aid they knew would be refused, aid that was intended to be refused, intended to be refused as part of a cynical political carnival so transparent that international aid organizations refused to take part. In other words, the US was oh so graciously offering some minimal help in order to relieve suffering for which it itself was significantly responsible. Meanwhile, the response of the Maduro government was in effect “don’t send aid, unfreeze our assets and we’ll buy what we need.”

And so we stumbled forward until April 30 when Juan Guaido, apparently believing that the venom and froth coming from such as John Bolton meant the US really was ready to invade on his behalf, declared “the final phase” and “the time is now” for an uprising, declared it in a video designed to make his supporters believe the military had switched sides and he may have already seized a military base near the capital of Caracas.

It turned out that the two dozen or so soldiers appearing with him on the video were all he had and his call for an uprising quickly fizzled, as did his call the next day for a general strike. The opposition could and still did generate mass protests, but they were neither large enough nor, more importantly, sustained enough to force change. Instead of being forced out, Maduro seemed even more secure.

This is not to say things are resolved or that it’s all over - although it is, interestingly and revealingly, that point at which our mainstream media lost interest and Venezuela disappeared from the front page, to be replaced by the latest shiny penny.

But let it be known that there are clear signs that there is more to be told about Venezuela and the opposition might not be reduced to issuing defiant proclamations, our media to the contrary.

For one, Guaido is still dreaming of US military support. On May 5 he told the BBC that he was considering asking the US to launch a military intervention and a few days later he asked for a meeting with the US military for “strategic and operational planning” and said he "welcomes the support of the United States and confirms our government's willingness to begin discussions regarding the cooperation that has been offered." In response, a representative of the US Southern Command said “We are currently following up with” Guaido’s representative in the US, which could mean he's not the only one still thinking about it.

For another, there are signs that Maduro may be bending. On May 13, Venezuela lifted foreign exchange controls on banks for the first time in 16 years. Observers were skeptical that it will do much to lift the economy, but it is a shift.

There was also a report that Maduro was inviting a range of local officials to meet with him and suggest changes in his policies, which could mean he is feeling confident in his position but could also mean he feels the need to look flexible in order to deflect some of the pressure.

And finally, there are multiple reports that representatives of both sides have traveled to Norway for exploratory talks on resolving the crisis. Members of the National Assembly confirmed the reports on background and while Maduro has not directly commented, he did say May 15 that Minister Jorge Rodríguez was on a "very important" mission outside the country.

And finally, on something else that may - emphasize may - help to move things toward a resolution, it develops that the US is unlikely to grant a request from the Venezuelan opposition for an executive order protecting the nation’s assets from creditors. That means Guaido will need to make a critical bond payment by the end of this month to ensure that investors don’t try to seize Citgo, which is owned by the Venezuelan national oil company and was put up as collateral on the note. Supposedly this reluctance is because President Tweetie-pie doesn’t want to get too involved in the opposition’s economic agenda, but in reality it means that the US will not shield Guaido’s administration from the banks - and Juan Guaido may just gotten his first lesson in whose interests he is truly supposed to act.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Erickson Report - Page 2: Listen Up!

Listen Up!

Okay people, it's time to listen up.

There has been a lot of talk about impeachment of late, impeachment, that is, of President Tweetie-pie*. Some folks say it has to happen, some say it's inevitable, some say there is no point, and of course he has his defenders insisting that nothing he's done or accused of justifies it, it’s all "fake news" and in any event nothing rises to the Constitutional definition of "treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Well, listen up: We can't not do it. We can't not impeach. We can't say that what we have seen is acceptable. We can't say that obstruction of justice is okay. We can't say that ignoring the emoluments clause is okay. We can't say cooperating with agents tied to a foreign government to influence our elections is okay.

We can't allow endorsing white supremacy to be okay. We can't say returning to the days when bigotry was the law of the land and publicly acceptable is okay. We can't say a president acting like a mafia boss is okay.

We cannot not do it. Even if know will lose, even if we know the right wing Senate won't convict, even if we are fearful that the mouth-breathing bigots who are such a big part of his base will get all riled up, we can't not do it.

The contrary argument is that it’s better to avoid the conflict and beat him in 2020, an argument spun mostly by people like Nancy Cluck-Cluck Pelosi whose sole concern is how impeachment might affect the political fortunes of the Democrats in 2020, preferring to run and hide for fear of what the GOPpers will say about them, as if they wouldn't say it all anyway, fearful that Tweetie-pie will make himself out the victim as if he won't anyway, as if he hasn't already.

The argument, ultimately, is based on a claim about the Clinton impeachment, noting that his popularity went up in the wake of it - but the comparison is weak if not bogus.

First, Bill Clinton was a popular president: His approval rating was in the mid-50s to the low 60s through all of 1997; when scandal broke into the media in January 1998, it stood at 60.

Trump is an unpopular president; his approval rating has never been above 46; it’s averaged about 42; and is often in upper 30s.

Second, the Clinton impeachment was seen by many as purely political (which it was); many argued the impeachment was wrong because it involved a personal matter that had nothing to do with his job as president and did not involve offenses to the body politic, which are the sort of offenses the authors of the Constitution intended to be the focus of impeachment.

You can’t say any of that about Trump.

What's more, waiting for the election doesn't resolve the issue of the damage that we have seen.

If we let this pass, we are saying that a president can obstruct justice, ignore the emoluments clause, break campaign finance laws, undermine Constitutional government and corrupt the political process, ignore subpoenas, refuse to obey laws even if the plain black letter of the law says otherwise, subvert the very rule of law by turning the Attorney General into their personal lawyer, subvert free speech by encouraging violence against protestors, subvert the free press by calling any critical coverage "fake news" from "the enemies of the people"and even declaring their own twitter feed the only source of truth, even refuse to recognize Congress as a co-equal branch of government - all of that and more, with no consequence beyond maybe losing an election.

We can't let this pass without at least trying to lay down a marker saying this is not acceptable!

Listen up, people: We cannot not impeach.

*So named because of his addiction to tweeting out his every passing thought.

The Erickson Report - Page 1: Abortion rights are under attack and it goes beyond that

Abortion rights are under attack and it goes beyond that

It should come as no surprise that the anti-choice, anti-freedom, anti-abortion, forced birth crowd is feeling pretty good these days, especially as the elevation of Brett The Liar Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is giving them wet dreams of overturning Roe v. Wade.

Six states have enacted so-called "heartbeat bills" that ban abortions, with very few exceptions, once a fetal heartbeat can be detected - which is usually at about six weeks, a point before which most women even know they are pregnant. Four of those six - Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia - have passed such laws this year.

It should be noted that none of these laws have gone into effect: Kentucky's, which was to go into effect immediately, has been blocked in federal court. Mississippi's is intended to go into effect July 1, Ohio's July 10, and Georgia's January 1, 2020 - and all three are certain to be blocked by suits in federal district court because they so obviously conflict with Roe v. Wade. But of course the point is not to get them in force immediately - supporters know they will lose in lower courts - but to get one or more of them before the Supreme Court.

Still, it does seem that each is vying to be the most restrictive and to be the one that makes it to SCOTUS and so obtains the glory of being the one that results in Roe being overturned and thus the return of back-alley abortions.

For example, last November, a federal judge ruled Mississippi's ban on abortion after 15 weeks was unconstitutional - and the state responded by banning it after six weeks and adding that a physician who performs an abortion after that time could lose their state medical license.

The Ohio law not only bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, it provides no exceptions for rape or incest.

In Georgia, the law extends the legal definition of "natural persons" to include the fetus once a heartbeat is detectable, which means that women who have abortions after six weeks along with those who perform them could be prosecuted for murder. Even if the woman goes to a different state where the procedure is legal, she could be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, punishable by 10 years in prison.

And don’t wave that off like it can’t happen because it already has. In 2015, in Georgia, a woman named Kenlissia Jones was prosecuted for "malice murder" for taking an abortion pill. The charges were only dropped when prosecutors had to admit that there was no provision in state law allowing for such prosecution. If this new bill were to become law, there would be.

The Alabama legislation is perhaps the most extreme, as it seeks to outlaw abortion outright. It bans all abortions in the state except when "necessary to prevent a serious health risk" to the woman. It classifies abortion as a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison for doctors. It does say a woman who gets an abortion can't be prosecuted, but also makes no exceptions for victims or rape or incest.

Overall four states passed such laws this year, but similar bills have been introduced in 13 more and some are moving through state legislatures.

For example, in Missouri, a bill banning abortion after eight weeks has been approved by the state Senate - with no exceptions for rape, incest, or human trafficking. A doctor who performs an abortion after that point could be charged with a felony and face up to 15 years in prison.

But Ohio has a new twist: Following on its "heartbeat bill," the legislature is considering a bill to bar insurance companies from covering abortion services unless the procedure is necessary to save the woman’s life. The bill defines this kind of abortion as a “nontherapeutic abortion,” which “includes drugs or devices used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum.”

This is important: By that definition, using the pill is abortion. Using an IUD is abortion. Use the patch, use the ring, it's all abortion under this proposed law.

There have long been warnings, too often ignored or dismissed, that this issue would not end at abortion; that even if the anti-choice bigots got their way and abortion was outlawed in every state, they would not be satisfied but they would come after birth control next.

Admittedly, some of the effects of this proposed Ohio law are the result of an astonishing level of ignorance about the biology of human reproduction and the very basics of how something like the pill works, but the blunt truth is that a fair about is due to ideology.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to that, noting that abortion bans "aren't just about controlling women's bodies. They're about controlling women's sexuality. Owning women. Ultimately, this is about women's power. When women are in control of their sexuality, it threatens a core element underpinning right-wing ideology: patriarchy."

Exactly. Ultimately, this is not about abortion. That is the current and necessary battlefield, but it’s not the war.

It's not even about birth control. But AOC is too limiting when she says it's about women's sexuality or controlling women's sexuality. It's about more. It's about controlling women's entire lives, controlling their options, limiting their choices. It is about too many men - and, let it be said, a not inconsiderable number of women - looking for a world of Stepford wives (if you're anywhere near AOC's age, look it up) and barefoot and pregnant homilies.

It is about, ultimately, people so rigid and narrow in their thinking, so trapped in their presumptions, so fearful, indeed so terrified, of the future, that they are striving to undo decades of social change and social progress because that's where their ideology, one based on an inability to deal with change, leads them.

Abortion is the current battlefield, but that is the war.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Erickson Report - May 21-June3

The Erickson Report for May 21 - June 3, 2019

This week:

- Abortion rights are under attack and it goes beyond that

- Listen Up! We can't not impeach

- A Deeper Look: Venezuela -16-years-63015289

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What's Left Special Report: Guns

What's Left Special Report: Guns in the US

I almost forgot to put the video up.

Monday, June 11, 2018

What's Left Special Report: Guns

What's Left Special Report: Guns

Welcome Jon Swift Memorial Roundup readers. If you would rather see the video of this, it's at

February 14, 2018: Seventeen are killed, 17 more wounded, in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida

May 18, 2018: Ten killed, 13 wounded, in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

May 25, 2018: Two injured, happily none killed, in a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Noblesville, Indiana. According to CNN, this was the 23rd school shooting of 2018 - just 22 weeks into the year.

And of course we heard from the right wing and from the gun nuts all their sorrowful expressions and their thoughts and prayers and of course their excuses and diversions and distractions, blaming the massacres on mental illness, bullying, Hollywood, violent video games, socialism, single parents, Godlessness, abortion, and now Ritalin. Everything but the guns.

Well, you know what? I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear anything they have to say, now or ever again. I don't want to hear the gobbledygook, the nonsense, the lies, the garbage. I don't want hear any of the noxious venom spewing from the fangs of the snakes at the NRA. I don't want to hear the slimy excuses, the shopworn slogans, the stale talking points.

There have been well over 60 mass killings in US over last 30 years. One every couple of months for 30 years. In the vast majority of those cases, the guns involved were obtained legally. Of the weapons used nearly three-fourths were either assault weapons or semiautomatic handguns.

So I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear anything from the gun nuts or their bought off lackeys in Congress. I don't want to hear their lies, I won't tolerate their distractions, I won't abide their trickery, I won't fall for their attempts to talk about anything other than the damn guns.

What's more, I also don't want to hear it from the Democrats, I don't want to hear any of the mealy-mouthed blather from political cowards who will whine that they're doing the best that they can even as the body count rises and members of their own party continue to either worship at the altar of the NRA or run and hide at its approach.

And that's nothing new. Even Mr. Nobel Peace Prize himself, President Hopey-Changey, talked big about "meaningful action" on guns while the only thing he did was to expand the areas where people can legally carry them. Thanks to legislation approved and actively defended in court by the glorious Mr. O's administration, you can transport a gun via Amtrak train, which you couldn't before. Even better, you can now carry a loaded, concealed gun around in a national park, which you couldn't before.

And I don't want to hear, as we have always, invariably, inevitably heard after every tragedy and as sure as the sun rising in the morning will hear after the next one that "now is not the time" to talk about doing something about the carnage. Because if that's true, then what the hell time is "the time?"

Know this: The mass murders, especially the ones at schools, grab our attention, take our breath away, break our hearts and break through our indifference but they are in fact only a small part of the reality, a small part of the daily, grinding, carnage that guns bring to our nation.

Over the past five years, on average, 13,000 people in US are killed, murdered, every year by gun. Over the past five years, on average, nearly 22,000 commit suicide by gun every year. Over 35,000 gun deaths a year - 96 a day - including seven children and teenagers. Ninety-six a day: that's three Parklands plus four Santa Fes a day, every day, day after day.

The suicides are especially tragic because while gun suicides account for 60% of gun deaths and 50% of all suicide deaths, they only account for about 10% of all suicide attempts - because 90% of those who attempt suicide by gun succeed, while 90% of those who try by other means fail and rarely try again.

So I have to ask: When is it "the time" to talk about the guns? How many more have to die before it's "the time?" How many more have to be shot down before it's "the time?" How many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, have to lie in spreading pools of their own blood before it's "the time?"

How many children have to cry out for mommy after a fall or a bee sting until someone has to gently as they can explain again that mommy is no longer there before it's "the time?" How many wives have to wake in the night and reach across the bed and have that moment of confusion before the pain of remembering - yet again - why there's no one there? How many parents have to suffer the repeated gaping empty ache of being in the grocery store and reaching for something before realizing - again - that they no longer have to buy that sort of cereal or that particular brand of peanut butter?

The days of those children, those spouses, those parents, are not measured in minutes but in pains; they are not marked by hours but by aches. So what time is the time? And why is this time, whatever time it is, not the time?

So I don't want to hear it; I don't want to hear any of it. Not the time? Of course it's the time, it's way past the time, way past time to face the truth that there is only one issue here: there are too damn many guns that are too damn easy to get.

Part of the problem is, we don't actually know how many people own guns or how many they own. Keeping official records on that sort of thing, thanks to the NRA and political cowardice, is illegal. So the information we have is all by survey.

But based on that, there are by various estimates anywhere from 270 million to 310 million guns in private hands in the United States - close to one firearm for every man, woman, and child in the US and about one-half of all weapons owned by civilians in the entire world.

But while those numbers about ownership may be close to the actual totals, they remain indefinite, imprecise. Still, one thing is for sure: more guns equals more gun crime, more gun deaths, more murders, more suicides. That's what the research shows, over and over again.

In 2013, researchers from Boston University looked at the relationship between gun ownership and gun homicides over the 30-year period from 1981 to 2010 in all 50 states. They found a "robust correlation" between the two factors.

Also in 2013, a team lead by Dr. Eric Fleegler, a physician in pediatric emergency medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, used information on state laws from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence to create a list of 28 possible laws states could enact to in some way control guns or access to them. They also used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding gun violence. Putting those data sets together, they found that the more such laws a state had, the lower the level of gun violence there. The states in the top 25% of gun legislation strength had a 42% reduction in gun deaths compared with the states in the bottom 25%, including a 40% drop in homicides and a 37% drop in suicides. Notably, when gun violence was lower, other types of violence did not go up, suggesting people without guns do not kill themselves or others by other means.

In 2014, a team lead by David Hemenway, director of the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University, assembled a list of nearly 300 experts on guns, which they established by going through about 1,200 articles on firearms that had been recently published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Hemenway began sending monthly surveys to the authors of these articles. The results showed that a heavy majority the experts responding agreed that having a gun in the house makes it a more dangerous place to be, makes it more likely that a woman living in the house will be killed, and increases the risk of suicide. Heavy majorities also agreed that having more guns around does not reduce crime and that strong gun laws do reduce homicide.

In 2016, a report by researchers from the University of Nevada-Reno and the Harvard School of Public Health used World Health Organization data to compare gun violence and murder rates across 23 developed (or "high-income," as they are also called) nations, including the US. Among the findings were that Americans are 25 times more likely to be violently killed with a gun - murdered - than in those 22 other nations; we are six times more likely to be accidentally killed with a gun; eight times times more likely to commit suicide using a gun; and overall 10 times more likely to die by gun than residents of other developed nations. It found that homicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans 15 to 24 and the third leading cause of death among those 25 to 34. Americans 15 to 24 are 49 times more likely to die from gun murder than similarly aged young people in other high-income nations; for those aged 25 to 34, the risk is 32 times greater.

Despite having only one-half the total population of the other nations studied, the US accounted for 82 percent of all firearm incidents. What's more, the US accounted for 90 percent of all women, 91 percent of children aged up to 14 years, and 92 percent of youth aged 15 to 24 years who were killed by guns.

In 2017, a working paper by John Donohue, an economist and law professor at Stanford University, addressed the question of relating gun ownership to gun crime at a time during which violent crime in the US has been and continues to decline. He found that the introduction of so-called right-to-carry laws makes violent crime rates 13-15% worse and the gun homicide rate 9% worse over 10 years. That is, even as violent crime is dropping, it would have dropped significantly more in the absence of those laws. More guns around, more guns carried, more crime, more death. The result was based on an analysis of 37 years worth of data comparing gun crime rates in states with and without right-to-carry laws, including how the rates changed in states that adopted right-to-carry during those 37 years.

And just last fall, evidence from a massive database maintained by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracks lives lost in every country, in every year, by every possible cause of death, showed the US as a shocking outlier on gun deaths.

Measured by socioeconomic success, such as income per person and average education level, the US ranked 9th highest among the nations of the world - but on death by gun violence, it ranked 31st highest. That is, of the 195 recognized nations of the world, only eight nations had higher socioeconomic success than the US, but 164 nations had lower levels of death by gun.

The rate of gun death in the US in 2016, the most recent figures available, was eight times higher than the rate in Canada, 27 times higher than in Denmark, 33 times higher than Germany.

But oh, we're told, even if all that is true, well, it's unfortunate, it's terrible, but it's the price we pay for freedom! The freedom we are guaranteed by the Second Amendment, the Amendment that itself guarantees our freedom!


I'm going to have to get a little legalistic on you, but it's necessary because you can be damn sure that the gun nuts are going to trot out the Second Amendment argument over and over, the argument that goes "I can have my guns - the Constitution says so!"

So first, let's be clear on what the Amendment says:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The first important Supreme Court decision about the Second Amendment was Presser v. Illinois, which was decided in 1886. In it, the Supreme Court found that the Second Amendment limited only the power of Congress and the national government to control firearms, not that of individual states. States could essentially put on whatever restrictions they wanted. That decision was affirmed in Miller v. Texas, decided in 1894. Now, this was before the idea of incorporation, the idea that the protections of the Constitution extend to the states as well as the federal government, became commonplace, so these decisions are not truly relevant the legal situation we face to today. But they do mean that right away this idea that from the very beginning the Founding Fathers wanted everyone to be able to own whatever and however many guns they wanted is totally bogus.

The next big case, the important one, was United States v. Miller. This was in 1939 and it concerned the National Firearms Act of 1934. That Act required that certain types of weapons be registered and taxed. A unanimous Court upheld the law, saying there was no conflict with the Second Amendment. The Court found that:
In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a [weapon of the sort involved in the case] has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. ... With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.
The syntax is rather stilted, but the meaning is clear enough.

For 69 years, that was precedent, relied on by all lower Courts and occasionally referred to by the Supreme Court itself. For 69 years, the legal standard was that states and the federal government were within their legitimate powers to regulate sale and possession of weapons which were not related to maintaining "a well-regulated militia" - which, in the absence of state militias (except to the degree that the National Guard could be considered such), pretty much meant any weapon at all.

Put another way, the guarantee under the Second Amendment was understood to describe not an individual right but a collective one: It applied to the people as a whole, not to discrete individuals, and referred to the right of the people of a state (or a nation) to collectively defend themselves against attack.

After 69 years, the narrowest majority of the Supreme Court, 5-4, decided to ignore those decades of precedent, or more to the point, to regard them as irrelevant. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment does provide an individual right to own a gun.

To do that, they had to go through some real mental contortions. They treated the reference to a militia as merely "prefatory," as having no legal effect, no legal meaning, even though there doesn't seem to be another example of such a "prefatory" anywhere in the constitution. What's more, the phrase "keep and bear arms" has traditionally referred to serving in a military force (including a militia). To get around that, the Court majority broke the phrase into two separate pieces - so it's not a right to "keep and bear arms" but a right to "keep" arms and an entirely separate right to "bear" arms as part of a military.

This decision only applied to federal enclaves such as the District of Columbia. However, two years later, in McDonald v. Chicago, the Court ruled in another 5-4 decision that the finding in Heller applied to the states as well.

That is what the gun nuts now rely on, that is what they now argue: "Can't have gun control. Second Amendment. Supreme Court has ruled. Debate is over." Now, if you're ever faced with that argument, the first thing you should do is to ask those wackos if at any time during those 69 years that the Court said otherwise, in all that time did any of them just say "the Court has ruled, the debate is over, we lost." Of course they didn't. So don't expect us to do it now.

Especially because I'm going to advance an argument that the interpretation of the Second Amendment relied on by the gun nuts and the NRA and the right-wingers on the court is wholly bogus even beyond the majority's mental contortions.

First, again, here is the text:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Here is James Madison's original proposed text:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
Note that expressed this way, the tying of the article to a militia is specific and undeniable; it makes no sense to regard the reference to a militia as some sort of passing observation with no relevance to the rest of the text.

What's more, the "Powers of Congress" as listed in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution include these (among others):
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States;
Note well: Congress can maintain a navy but only raise an army and that for only two years at a time - and meanwhile, can call out the militia to "suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions."

The expectation was that the US would not have a standing army, that one would be raised in the event of need but that the militias would be the first line of defense against attack. Despite that - and this is something that then-Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his dissent in Heller - there still was a concern at the time that Congress would disarm the state militias and create a national standing army and the Second Amendment was intended as a guarantee to the states that their militias could be maintained. Which means that yes, it was about a militia from the very start. Which means the Miller decision got it right and the Heller decision should go to hell.

But there's another thing that is equally if not more important: The gun nuts - and, in fact, a lot of gun control advocates - don't know what the Heller and McDonald decisions actually said.

In Heller and reasserted in McDonald, the majority of the Supreme Court actually embraced the concept of the 1939 Miller decision that the federal government and the states have the authority to regulate firearms. What's more, that majority argued that the protections of the Second Amendment only apply to weapons "in common use for lawful purposes." In fact, in Heller, the Court said the ruling, quoting here,
should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
The majority also said that other existing or potential prohibitions, such as banning concealed weapons or the carrying of "dangerous and unusual weapons" were unaffected by the decision.

So the gun nuts who claim that the Second Amendment gives them the right to have pretty much any kind of gun they want and as many of them as they want and carry them wherever they want are, happily, completely wrong. Heller and McDonald are far more limited than gun nuts hoped and than control advocates feared.

Carrying concealed guns can be banned. Carrying guns into schools or government buildings - or, for that matter, on Amtrak trains or in national parks - can be banned. Assault weapons can be banned. Semiautomatic handguns can be banned. High-capacity magazines can be banned. Safety locks can be required. "Dangerous and unusual" ammunition such as hollow-point bullets and armor-piercing rounds can be banned.

Michael Waldman, who is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, has noted that even since Heller, courts have upheld nearly all gun rules, finding that yes, individuals have a right to a gun, but society has the right to protect itself, too.

And in fact that society agrees. A survey by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and published in the May issue of the "American Journal of Public Health" covered 24 proposals of varying severity restricting access to guns. A majority supported 23 of them; significantly, a majority of self-described gun owners supported 17 of them and in most cases the approval gap between gun owners and non-gun owners was in the single digits.

And in terms of societal right to self-protection, it's wise to recall here that gun ownership is a distinctly minority position in the US: Based on surveys, no more than about 30% of Americans own one or more guns and the figure may be as low as 22% and only 42% live is a household where anyone owns a gun.

An important sidebar here is that I would not approve of all the proposals in the Johns Hopkins survey, as some made a history of mental illness a bar to gun ownership - and the fact is that the best and recent research shows no reliable predictive value in associating mental health and gun violence. Put another way, the research says that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent toward others, especially to commit mass violence, than anyone else is. We can't simply dismiss the harsh truth of mass violence with the slogan "better mental health programs." They are justified on their own account - but not because they will address the issue of mass shootings, because they will not. They are a gun lobby-pushed distraction. The issue is the damn guns. Stay focused.

So staying focused, here's the last thing, a bottom line: Based on current jurisprudence, the truth is that pretty much any kind of gun other than basic hunting rifles, shotguns, and ordinary handguns could be banned outright.

And dammit, they should be - ban them all. You want to hunt? Go with a basic rifle. Don't even try to tell me that you need an AR-15 to go after deer. In fact, why don't you use a bow? Or is the extra effort involved in having to track the deer to get close enough to take it down with a bow instead of dropping it from a couple of hundred yards away with your manhood too much for you?

You want to target shoot? Use a pellet gun. Yeah, yeah, I know, they can be dangerous blah blah blah - but don't even try to tell me you need a Glock to shoot out a paper bulls-eye.

Ban them all. I know that's not going to happen. I know there is no chance of that in my lifetime and probably much longer, if ever. But it's not going to stop me from saying it and from wanting it - and as long as I am 100 times more likely to be killed by a gun here than in the UK, I'm going to keep on saying it and keep on wanting it.

I am not usually a one-issue voter. but this year, on this issue, on there being too damn many guns that are too damn easy to get, I am. So this year, this time, this election, if you are not with me on this, I am against you.

Because all I can think is that until we Americans as a people, as a culture, grow the hell up and throw away our childish fantasies that somehow we are all living on the frontier in the 1870s with nothing between us and who knows what danger except our trusty guns, until we grow the hell up and ditch the infantile vision of ourselves as action movie heroes ready to leap into action to defend the defenseless and save the day, until we grow the hell up and realize the our guns have brought us death and not deliverance, until that time the tens of thousands of people who die by gun every year in this country will continue to die by the tens of thousands - because there are too damn many guns that are too damn easy to get.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Outrage of the Year 2017

Now for our third yearly award. This is for the Outrage of the Year for 2017.

The Outrage category is different from the Clown Award in that it's meant to involve something that was spread over the year, something on-going, where the Clown Award could be for a one-off. Which also means it's more about an issue than a person or persons.

By way of illustration, the 2015 Outrage of the Year was the Trayvon Martin case; for 2016 it was the Democratic Party presidential campaign (both primary and general).

There were a few themes that ran through my posts during the year that I considered for the dishonor of Outrage of the Year. (The links are examples.)

One was what I called the "unleashing of militarism as national policy," including essentially making the War Department the director of policy in Afghanistan and the US enabling of war crimes in Yemen, combined with news about our wars becoming pack-of-the-paper stories and the virtual disappearance of those wars and of military spending in general from the concerns of the Left.

Another was how a number of states and the federal government responded to protests by variously pushing legislation specifically intended to make it harder to protest and trying to prevent media from covering such protests.

There was the disparaging of the "other" marked by continuing opposition to the rights of LGBTQ people and even the human dignity of immigrants.

All of these are outrageous and outrages. But ultimately, I chose a topic that I brushed against, discussed briefly, a number of times but only addressed directly and at length late in the year.

So the Outrage of the Year 2017 is the scourge of sexism and the sexual discrimination and violence to which it gives birth.

And oh, the examples were everywhere. I already mentioned "Time" magazine's jackassery on the topic. There was plenty more where that came from, such as the guy who to the delight of his friends, got filmed humping the "Fearless Girl" statue on Wall Street - because crude, boorish, simulated sexual violence is always good for a laugh.

Worse was Captain Peter Rose of the New York City police, who was not concerned about a sharp increase in reported rapes in his precinct in 2016 because many of the attackers were acquainted with the victims, and "only two were true stranger rapes." Because, y'know, a woman who knows her rapist isn't really raped.

And in a dark part of the universe there exists an entire online community of men dedicated to "stealthing," the practice of sneaking off a condom during sex without your partner knowing because it's the "right" of a man to "spread his seed" regardless of the desires of, or potential consequences to, your partner.

Meanwhile, good old economic sex discrimination rolled on.

According to the US Census Bureau, women make up more than 47% of the workforce. They make up at least a third of physicians, a third of surgeons, a third of lawyers, and a third of judges. Women also represent 55% of all college students.

But at the same time, American women still earn less than men do, a difference that persists across all levels of education to the point where a woman with an advanced degree can expect to be paid less than a man with a bachelor's.

The point here is that while it was sexual harassment and violence that got most of the attention this past year, they are not, at the end of it all, the real problem. Sexism is.

Sexism, the underlying assumptions about women that society has long held and still does hold, assumptions that breed a sense of privilege and power, even if unconsciously, in men, is the problem, is the root of the poisonous plant of sexual harassment and assault, is the foundation of workplace discrimination, is the cause.

Sexism is why women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, why women don't advance in business despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting, why women still get paid only 83% of what men do.

And sexism and the corrupting influence of power it feeds is why women have been forced to pretend to ignore the smirks and sneers, to abide the grabs and gropes, to fear the silent street and the empty elevator.

In realities ranging from stifled dreams and blunted careers to harassment and brutal assault we have the chills, the throbbing aches, the raging fevers; in sexism we have the disease, one we all - men even more than women - have a moral duty to eradicate.

Sexism: Outrage of the Year 2017.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Clown of the Year 2017 - Total Jackassery Category

Now for the Clown of the Year 2017 - Total Jackassery Category.

And not surprisingly, we had a good number of jackasses from which to choose. For example, we had Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who in describing Tweetie-pie's trip to Saudi Arabia in June, positively gushed over the fact that "there was not a single hint of a protestor anywhere there during the whole time we were there, not one guy with a bad placard."

The host interrupted to suggest that maybe that was true because Saudi Arabia is, y'know, a dictatorship, but that didn't stop Ross, who enthused as how "there was certainly no sign of [protest], there was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn't anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood."

Then there was old Clown pro Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who took his best shot at the award.

Daesh - that is, ISIS - took credit for a suicide bomber attack and siege at Iran's parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on June 7. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing the next day, Rohrabacher said the attack could be a "good thing" and actually proposed that the US government support ISIS in attacking rival groups and even suggested the attack was part of some secret foreign policy of TheRump.

He later issued a statement "clarifying" his position, which, until it was corrected - a clarification of the clarification - assumed Khomeini is still alive. He died in 1989.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin was a serious contender and has to be considered first runner-up.
On September 28, when asked by a high school student whether he considered health care a right or a privilege, Johnson not only went with privilege, he also said that food and shelter and clothing should also be considered "privileges," reserved to those who can afford them.

"What we have as rights," he said, "are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Past that point, everything else is a limited resource that we have to use our opportunities given to us so that we can afford those things."

So in other words, there's only so much health care - or food or clothing or shelter - to go around, so it's up to you to be able to pay whatever the market demands and if you can't, well, you just didn't "use your opportunities." Johnson did not explain how you can have a "right to life" if you don't have food, shelter, clothing, or health care.

What - in a great old phrase I like - capped the climax was that not only did Johnson, in addressing "rights," refer to the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, but the actual quote is "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Which means the very source he cited says those are not the only rights. [Emphasis of course added.]

Our final nominee before announcing the winner was a sort of a crossover in that he could just as easily been in the Basic Stupid group.

His name is Mike Shoesmith, and he is the self-styled executive editor of something called PNN News and Ministry Network although I couldn't for the life of me find out what the PNN is supposed to (or ever did) stand for.

Anyway, writing on his "news and ministry network" which is actually a blog on October 19, he argued - and I do mean he argued, he went on at some length, this was no tweet, it was a column - he argued that "when a man sees a naked or partially dressed woman a chemical reaction happens in his brain ... giving him an involuntary surge of pleasure," which he apparently regards as a bad thing. But this means that, he turns to the criminal code now, "without his consent" she has "applied or attempted to apply" a force against him.

Which means that, he rambled, that if a woman wears "suggestive clothing" around a man she is committing criminal sexual assault against him. Seriously.

So what could top all of that? Because yes, something could and did.

So the winner of the Really Big Red Nose for Clown of the Year, Total Jackassery Category, is, how could it be otherwise:

"Time" Magazine.

Amal Clooney is an accomplished, international human rights lawyer who made a powerful speech to the UN General Assembly on March 10 calling on the world body to investigate human rights crimes by ISIS in Iraq, especially against the Yazidis, a religious minority who ISIS regards as devil worshippers to be wiped out. She specifically called on Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send a letter to the Security Council so it can vote to begin investigating those crimes.

And how did Time decide to tweet about this story? With an image of her dancing with George and a headline about showing her "baby bump" at the UN.

And if that isn't award-winning jackassery, I can't imagine what would be.

They weren't the only ones, but while we might - emphasize might - expect it from outfits like "Entertainment Tonight" or "E! News" or tabloids like The Mirror in the UK, to see it from as establishment and mainstream a publication as Time just serves to emphasize how deep-rooted and pervasive sexism in our media really is.

"Time" magazine: Clown of the Year 2017, Total Jackassery Category.

Clown of the Year 2017 - Basic Stupid Category

Yep. it's the Clown of the Year for 2017!

For Clown of the Year, we have two categories. First is Basic Stupid, for those who just made us go "Wha?"

We had, for example, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who in March said that among our nation's immigrants were those "who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day, their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters...might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land" - asserting, that is, that slaves were actually immigrants seeking a better future for their descendants.

We had Pennsylvania state senator and gubernatorial hopeful Scott Wagner, who insisted fossil fuels have nothing to do with global warming which is, he said, actually caused by the Earth moving closer to the Sun and the increased body heat from a growing population.

Speaking of climate change, we had Rep. Tim Walberg, who told a constituent town hall on May 26 that he isn't worried about it because "if there's a real problem, God can take care of it" - just as, apparently, God has stepped in to head off every other major catastrophe, plague, or extinction throughout history.

And there was Lucian Wintrich, White House correspondent for the right-wing conspiracy blog The Gateway Pundit, who took offense at a picture of three people giving the finger to Mt. Rushmore, fuming that "They break into our country, steal resources, and then do this. And libs wonder why we are pushing for immigration controls," apparently so blinded by the sight of brown skin that he didn't notice that the three are Native Americans - and then responded to a mocking headline that we was telling "Native Americans To Go Back To Mexico" by saying - and I swear this is a quote - "And they should."

Before I announce the winner, I want to note that Kellyanne Conartist was a leading contender early on. For example, in January she groused that the media wouldn't give Tweetie-pie "the benefit of the doubt" because "he's telling you what was in his heart. You always want to go by what comes out of his mouth rather than look at what's in his heart." That is, TheRump's chief media mouthpiece whined that the media pays attention to what he says.

Then in February, faced with questions about TheRump's team's possible collusion with Russia, she spluttered "you're not looking at the other side, which is 'What if it's not true?' I haven't heard that question at all."

Either of which would be a worthy candidate, but she was disqualified when it was noted that saying inane crap like that was part of her job description.

So now: The winners of the Really Big Red Nose for Clown of the Year, Basic Stupid Category is (or rather are)...

Donald TheRump supporters!

Clowns of the Year, Basic Stupid Category
For the past 29 years, National Public Radio's “Morning Edition” has observed the Fourth of July by having the show's hosts, reporters, newscasters, and commentators do a reading of the Declaration of Independence.

This year, NPR also tweeted out the Declaration, 140-character line by 140-character line.

So what happened? Backers of TheRump, who I suppose could be called Rumpers, who usually can be found ritually chanting "Make America Great Again" interspersed with accusations of how everyone to their left is un-American, didn't recognize the Declaration of Independence and accused NPR of "calling for revolution," "condon[ing] the violence" (of the Left, of course) and pushing "biased propaganda" and "trash," while references to George III as an "unworthy" leader were taken to be code for TheRump.

Even when people pointed out the source document for NPRs tweets, the Rumpers still claimed it all was bias on the part of NPR. Put another way, they are saying that the Declaration of Independence is anti-TheRump propaganda.

Which, I suppose, in a way it actually is.

Donald TheRump supporters: Clowns of the Year 2017, Basic Stupid Category.

So that's it. Your own proposals can be in comments. Just remember the standard: This is for the really dumb, not the (merely) venal. That comes under Total Jackassery, up next.

Happy 2018

Happy 2018 to everyone.

With the ending of my TV show, I've been taking a bit of a break from politics. But I will be back within a couple of weeks.

Peace, joy, and love to all.

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