Sunday, December 30, 2012

Who Can We Put on the Boat with Piers Morgan?

The White House petition to deport Piers Morgan for his lack of respect to our Constitution in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy has reached 93,683 signatures. And if that's not a good enough start, he has promised to self-deport.

Michael Moore - "But I really believe that even if we had better gun control laws and better mental health, that we would still be the sort of sick and twisted, violent people that we've been for hundreds of years." Get on the boat.

Other Blowhard Pontificators - Rachel Maddow, you can stay if you can trick Chris Matthews, Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz, and Al Sharpton into getting on the boat. The deal is we'll slip Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh on too.

Oprah and Ellen - Can stay. I just wanted to get that out of the way.

Barbra Steisand - Let's face it, Barbra, you jumped the shark in 1981 with your Golden Raspberry nominated role in All Night Long. It was all downhill from there: Yentl, The Prince of Tides, The Mirror Has Two Faces. Time has exposed The Way We Were, your supposedly great opus with Robert Redford, to be nothing but an apology for Stalin's crimes and date rape. And, you ruined the two Focker sequels. Bye Bye Babs.

Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock - Don't think of this one-way trip as being raped from the country of your birth but as a legitimate gift from God.

Joe Biden - Enough said. Barack and Hillary, just tell Joe the trip is for a foreign dignitary's funeral, and then don't let him back in.

Sean Penn - You say no one in your life of romance has ever loved you, but you blew your multiple chances with Robin Wright Princess Buttercup. Git.

Alec Baldwin - You were safe until 30 Rock jumped the shark. If it's any consolation, you can play Piers in the movie Piers' Ark.

Karl Rove - You're taking James Carville, Paul Begala, and Dick Morris with you.

Arianna Huffington - Are you still here? Well, it's time to go.

Bill Maher - I know you wouldn't want to be left off this list. You get to take along your old guests Ann Coulter, Janeane Garofalo, and Christine O'Donnell.

Oh, by the way, Canada isn't far enough, if that's what you were thinking. Your destination is Afghanistan. The boat will let you off in Tartus, Syria and you can walk the 3800 kilometers from there. I'm told Iraq and Iran are pretty this time of year.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012 from Left Bank of the Charles

St. Anthony's School in Somerville.

Boston Common with the State House in the background.

Charles Durning Dances Another Little Sidestep

The actor Charles Durning has passed away at age 89.

"Now they see me now they don't, I've come and gone."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

$6.66 Billion for NRA School Shield Program, ...
Or 110 Community Service Hours for NRA Members

Wayne LaPierre put forth the National Rifle Association proposal on gun violence in schools on Friday:
"I call on Congress today, to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation."
John Boehner sent the House home Thursday, so LaPierre's call for Congress to act Friday was firing an empty chamber. Here's the outline of the multifaceted program the NRA wants to develop nationwide:
1. Armed security
2. Building design and access control
3. Information technology
4. Student and teacher training
Armed security failed at Columbine and Fort Hood, information technology failed at Virginia Tech, building design and access control failed at Sandy Hook, and the student and teacher training at Sandy Hook saved some lives but not the 26 that were lost. That's four more empty chambers.

OK, sure, improvements in those four areas could no doubt be made. Still, it takes a lot of brass to come forward now with a plan to make the NRA the lead consultant on a massive public spending project.

The Sandy Hook tragedy at its root is the story of a law-abiding gun owner, the kind of good guy the NRA likes to hold up as being our first and last line of defense from the bad guys, letting her lethal arsenal of guns fall into the wrong hands. That those were the hands of the troubled son who lived with her and shot her first should give any gun owner pause for introspection, and perhaps a little atonement.

I would have liked to see the NRA speak to gun owners on the need to keep semi-automatic weapons securely locked up and on not keeping guns in your home if you have a troubled member of your household. They could encourage such people to install gun safes at their gun club or rifle range to keep their gun collection there, or forgo owning any guns. That would be helpful and responsible.

Instead, the NRA gave us a "Guns Don't Kill People, Video Games Do" speech loaded with overheated rhetoric like this:
"Our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters -- people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them."
Crazy is just not that hard to understand. The NRA also failed to call for the states who are refusing to participate fully in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to upload all their records on criminals and mentally ill. And the NRA failed to call for making it easier to put mentally unbalanced people who haven't been institutionalized on the No Buy list.

That brings us back around to the proposal for armed security in every single school. That's not as crazy as it sounds. A lot of schools have a police presence already. One of my cousins was a Detroit Police Officer for 25 years, and left the force to take a security job at a high school in the suburbs. Currently, these school cops are focused on drug crimes and violence by students, which doesn't seem as necessary at the elementary school level. But the outside security threat may be just as great or greater.

I don't know that it would be so terrible if young school kids had to walk past a nice uniformed policeman several times every day. That might help teach them that cops are good guys, as well as keep them safe. But how much would it cost?

There are 132,183 K-12 schools in the United States (98,817 public, 33,366 private). The average salary of a police patrol officer is $50,406. To put just one police officer in every school would cost $6.66 billion.

Who would pay? That works out to just $1,550 a year for each of the 4.3 million NRA members in the U.S. Or a more affordable $83 per year if spread out across all the estimated 80 million gun owners in the U.S.

The NRA, of course, proposes that taxpayers pay. That would be $48 per year per U.S. income taxpayer. If we stick the top 1% with the full tax bill, that's just $483 per year for the privilege of being rich and the satisfaction of funding safer schools. Well, that's the one policeman cost for 1, I don't have an estimate for 2, 3, and 4.

If we are going to impose taxes, and NRA board member Grover Norquist has a no tax pledge to fight off any talk of that, I'd suggest taxing the $10 billion of firearms sold in the U.S. every year. That would add only $666 to the cost of each gun, raising the MSRP of a Bushmaster Quad Rail A3 from $1,391.48 to $2,057.76. Of course, hunters might feel their breech-loading shotguns and bolt-action rifle which are actually protected under the Second Amendment were being unfairly taxed for the sins of their cousins, so we might want to design a progressive tax that hits the privilege of owning semi-automatics more heavily than protected Second Amendment arms.

To be fair, the NRA is only calling for police officers in schools as a temporary stopgap. After that, the NRA wants to make use of local volunteers:
"The National Rifle Association knows that there are millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every single school."
How much volunteer time are we talking about? To provide security 10 hours a day for the 180 day school year, time enough to cover before and after school activities as well as the average 6.7 hours of instructional time, works out to 240 million hours of service annually.

That's just 55 hours of community service a year for each NRA member. I imagine they'll want to do this service on the buddy system, so let's make it 110 hours of community service per year. Now that would be something in the way of atonement.

School is out for the Christmas break, but I can just see the NRA member volunteers huddled in the cold in front of our school buildings in January and February. While they are there, they can answer any questions that parents might have, and I imagine there will be a few parents with a few things to tell them.

But my advice for Wayne LaPierre and Grover Norquist is not to pull their guard duty together. Grover prattling on about how the school shield can be paid for with no tax increase by cutting art and music while Wayne moans about having to amputate his cold, frostbitten fingers would just be too much to take.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Can Still Get the MAG5-60 for Christmas

The $179 100-round magazine is out of stock due to tremendous demand and heavily backordered, but SureFire wants you to know that their $129 60-round mags are available now. At 2 pounds each fully loaded, that's a little lighter load than the 3.3 pound 100-round mag. Or you can get two, for 20% more total firepower.

Both magazines are compatible with M4/M16/AR-15 variants and other firearms that accept standard STANAG 4179 magazines. Best of all, FREE HOLIDAY SHIPPING! That's free ground shipping on all orders of $40.00 or more. To ensure delivery by Christmas, orders must be placed by:
Noon on Wednesday, December 13, 2012 for Standard Ground shipments
Noon on Thursday, December 20, 2012 for 2nd Day shipments
Noon on Friday, December 21, 2012 for Overnight shipments
Actually, December 13, the day before the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a Thursday. The shooter is reported to have had 30-round magazines, which some of us might be excused for thinking is already way more than enough. But if 30 is not enough for you, SureFire will ship overnight to 41 states (not including Massachusetts).

The Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle shown costs around $1,391.48. You have to pass a background check to get one of these, unless you buy one at a gun show, or find one your mother left lying around the house. It comes with the standard 30-round magazine. I've shouldered an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle like this myself. It's kind of fun, although the friend whose gun it was commented on my poor marksmanship by suggesting I buy a shotgun.

What about ammunition, always a great stocking stuffer? The Ammunition Depot has this notice on its website:
Dear Customers - If any particular ammo is listed on our website, it is in stock. Due to dramatic increase in ammunition demand, please allow 7 to 10 extra days for us to process, ship and email your tracking information. Please understand that the reason we've had to raise prices is due to sharp increases in replacement costs in the wholesale market, which we hope will be temporary.
All of these purchases are protected by the Second Amendment right? Wrong.

Now don't get me wrong. I believe the Second Amendment means what it says, "the right to bear arms shall not be infringed." But no less a gun nut than U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (554 U.S. 570 (2008)):
(1) The majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.

(2) Nothing in our opinion should 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.

(3) We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those "in common use at the time." 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons."
You see, most of what you hear about Second Amendment rights, including that old chestnut about having to join a well-regulated militia (don't have to, never did), is actually wrong. Yes, you have a right to keep a loaded handgun in your nightstand so that an intruder has something to shoot you with in your sleep or point at you when you wake up, but that's about it. Owning a semi-automatic handgun or rifle is a privilege, not a right.

I'm glad to see that the National Rifle Association has said it will offer meaningful contributions to the national debate on what we should do now. I've been to their headquarters in Virginia. They gave me a copy of Wayne LaPierre's book Guns, Crime, and Freedom. I read it. On the other side, the proponents of gun prohibition need to rethink whether their equally hardline positions just reinforce the not-so-erroneous perception that any proposal for needed regulation is a pretext for infringement of the Second Amendment.

I'm not saying it's time for all semi-automatic weapon owners to stack arms, although under the Second Amendment all you are really entitled to is a revolver, breech-loading shotgun, and bolt-action rifle. Anything more is a privilege that can be taken away anytime enough Americans are ready to do so. If we don't get better background checks and screening in place, and get gun owners to lock these semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines up tight when not in use, it is going to come to that.

There's a little thing about "life" and "property" in the U.S. Constitution too. And, dear gun owners, if you want to get yourself something for Christmas, may I suggest a very good gun safe. You'll sleep better and may live to see Christmas morning.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Susan Rice Sandbagged for Secretary of State

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has bowed out of the running to replace Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State. So who sandbagged her nomination?

(1) Susan Rice, who read the foolish talking points about spontaneous demonstrations in Benghazi on four Sunday TV talk shows.

(2) John McCain, who would prefer his old friend John Kerry for the job, especially after the sacking of his favorite general David Petraeus at CIA.

(3) Barack Obama, who didn't back up his "you have a problem with me" tough talk.

(4) Hillary Clinton, Susan's boss and supposed mentor who has been deafeningly silent.

(5) James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence whose office provided the ill-fated talking points.

Here's the thing. September 2012 was Susan Rice's job interview and she muffed it. Hillary Clinton was announced to be retiring, Barack Obama was odds-on for reelection. In the post Iraq War era, the successful candidate for U.S. Secretary of State checks the facts on what the intelligence community gives her. And if what they tells her proves false, she comes up with a better explanation than "I read what they told me to read."

However, it is worth asking whether Susan Rice was set up. "Here, I swear this is true, go read this on TV, I've booked you for four shows. Yes, make the same points on all four." Call me a Susan Rice truther, but I'm not buying that the Susan Rice implosion is a case of spontaneous combustion. Still, she flunked the job interview.

What would a successful job applicant have done? "Yes, hey, these talking points look great, you know I'd love to come on these shows, but I've got a prior family commitment that I just can't get out of. Hillary is really not available? How about we send John Kerry?"

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tea Party Libertarian Rand Paul Offers a Deal

The spirit of bipartisanship sometimes comes from unexpected corners. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, son of Texas Congressman and perennial Presidential candidate Ron Paul, has offered to give Democrats the road on higher taxes:
"Why don't we let the Democrats pass whatever they want? If they are the party of higher taxes, all the Republicans in the House vote present and let the Democrats raise taxes as high as they want to raise them, let Democrats in the Senate raise taxes, let the President sign it and then they can own a tax increase."
And just to be clear, Rand Paul pledged not to filibuster such a deal.
"In the Senate, I'm happy not to filibuster it, and I will announce tonight on your show that I will work with Harry Reid to let him pass his big old tax hike with a simple majority if that's what Harry Reid wants, because then they will become the party of high taxes and they can own it."
That's an interesting offer as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can get the deal done for President Obama if he can find several more Republicans willing to break with a Republican filibuster.

Senator Rand Paul doesn't speak for the House, but if the Tea Party Caucus abstains by voting present, the Democrats in the House should have enough votes to pass the tax increase even if all the other Republicans vote no. With recent reports that House Speaker Boehner has been purging Tea Party representatives from key House committees, they may well be disinclined to support Boehner's holdout position much longer.

The problem Rand Paul has with the establishment Republican position is that it is a tax hike too. "Let's don't be the party of just almost as high taxes," he says and he isn't the only one who noticed.

To get back to a fiscal balance, tax revenues have to be raised and spending has to be cut. Republicans as much as Democrats own the idea that we can paper over that truth with borrowed money. The idea that you can force big spending cuts by running up big debts doesn't work and is recklessly irresponsible. Setting the taxes at the level to support the spending just might work, as then the public will feel the full cost of the spending.