Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Sane Word About Guns

My ideal world is one where people do not kill each other, regardless of method.  Unfortunately, I do not live in that ideal world.  Nor is it likely in any foreseeable future.  So I go with with is practical and, most important, reasonably effective.  Lee at HorsesAss has a good piece about the challenges of building effective policies to reduce gun violence
Our problem is now a deeply rooted cultural one. It’s not that I don’t think it can ever change, I just don’t think there’s a set of realistic laws that can bring about that change by itself. It has to be a cultural shift over time. It will happen if the next generation of Americans grows up with a healthy measure of disgust over our obsessive gun culture and firearm extremism.
The best parallel I can point to is with cigarettes. Within a generation, we’ve greatly stigmatized being a smoker, while also passing a number of laws that didn’t outlaw smoking, but made it more inconvenient. It’s likely the laws did less than the information campaign to educate people about its unhealthiness, but both happened in parallel. And cigarette smoking was greatly reduced over my lifetime. (links in original)
One of the commenters suggests a "market-based approach" by requiring liability insurance for owners of certain high capacity weapons.  I would require enhanced purchase requirements and hold gun manufacturers and dealers liable for the consequences of their sales if requirments are not met.  The gun nuts are right about one thing:  bans on weapons will be circumvented; we need only look at the failed drug wars of the past 40 years to know that.  Like Lee, I don't have the answers.  Like Lee, I would look for practical solutions. 

The appeal and myth of guns in modern America will confound any attempts to reduce gun violence.  It's an easy appeal for me to understand and fear.  I still remember the power and authority that carrying an automatic weapon in combat gave me.  Wielding that kind of power is disturbingly satisfying.  That's why I fear it.

That is why I want to see fewer opportunities for others to embrace that  power.  

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Solving the Deficit

When given a choice of fixed options to reduce the federal deficit to a sustainable level, most Americans are willing to accept higher taxes, less domestic and military spending losing the state and local tax deduction and even a carbon tax, according to a poll reported in Slate. The poll features an interactive menu of policy options totaling $2,082 billion.The user is tasked to select options totaling $900 billion to reduce the deficit.  Policies individually chosen by 53 percent or more respondents total $943 billion and do not, include reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits.  Those options garnered 34 and 37 percent respectively. 

Of course, the devil is in the details but the interactive menu provides some good thumbnail information, enough to make you think.  I took the poll and found $514 billion right off by choosing cuts in military spending, higher tax rates for incomes above $250K and a carbon tax.  The carbon tax was chosen by 56 percent of the respondents.  It makes perfect sense to tax something we want to discourage; given climate change we need to discourage carbon.

I can get to $731 billion by reducing domestic spending 1 percent a year (same as military) but that leaves me $269 billion short.  Frankly, I think I could get more savings out of the military.  Department of Defense financial management has been reported by the Government Accountability Office as high-risk area every year since GAO began identifying high risks in 1995.  For this exercise, if I get those additional savings, I would use them to offset cuts to the domestic programs so I'm still short.

Choosing a national sales tax would add $406 billion to my total and allow me to reduce those domestic program cuts big time.  Fifty percent of the poll respondents chose the sales tax.  I'm not inclined to.  Sales taxes are regressive and have traditionally been used by state and local government.  The other big money option is tax rate increases for all.  That would add $336 billion and give me some margin.  I don't want that option either.

My next choices would be to eliminate the deductions for home mortgage interest and state and local taxes.   Those two options put me at $943 billion. I would consider those options only as part of a larger review of all tax deductions.  Other deductions could well have less social and economic utility and could be much better candidates for elimination.  But as long as I am willing to accept a reduction in deductions, I can legitimately claim the savings.

So that's how I would solve the deficit.  It's pretty much in line with what most Americans want.  Maybe if Congress would listen to Americans and not corporate lobbyists, the deficit would be no fucking big deal.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Call Me Isolationist

For as long as I've studied history the term "isolationist" has been more of an epithet than any representative of any kind of systemic thought.  It conjured up images of Americans naively believing their nation had no interests or responsibility in the larger world, foolishly attempting to ignore the rest of the world.  The proof of Isolationist folly was fascism and World War II.  The Cold War only made Isolationists even more irrelevant, we were told. 

I came across a book review and a follow-up letter (actually the other way around) in The Nation that gave me an entirely different understanding of the opponents of American international engagement in the first half of the 20th century, the many who were derided for their views.  Promise and Peril:  America at the Dawn of the Global Age by Christopher Nichols offers a far more nuanced view of the Isolationists than is acknowledged by the conventional wisdom.  The money quote:
Isolationism, as Nichols insists, “did not entail cultural, economic, or complete political separation from the rest of the world.” On the contrary, “the inner logic of isolationist arguments turned on the inner life of the nation and on visions of national self-definition, serving to reinforce many, albeit limited, forms of international engagement.” Isolationists were not provincial bumpkins; they were cultural cosmopolitans who distrusted the impact of empire—not only on “native” populations abroad but on US society and character at home.
 What became known as isolationism was by no means an effort to wall off the United States from the rest of the world; it was the basis for a foreign policy strategy that encouraged cultural and economic involvement with other nations while discouraging political and military intervention—even as it recognized that such interventions might occasionally be necessary. This was hardly the ostrich-like caricature created by its critics.
That last paragraph sums up my world view.  If that be Isolationism, then I am an Isolationist and will proudly join the company of Thomas Jefferson, William James, W.E.B. Du Bois, Randolph Bourne, Eugene Debs and Jane Addams, all of whom understood the value of engaging with other nations but questioned military engagement. They had a different view of America in the world.

Many opponents of foreign military engagement recognized the inherent danger of a militarized society, which is the reality of America in the 21st century.  They feared the corrosive effects of a standing army. So did the the men who wrote the Constitution.   Article I, Section 8 requires Congress to "provide and maintain a Navy" while only authorizing Congress to "raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation for that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years."

The Framers were men who understood the dangers of standing armies and powerful executives.  So too, did many Americans--the Isolationists--in the early years of the last century.

Twenty-first century America would do well to remember.


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