3D Printing is Exciting, Scary

Salon examines the uselessness of gun control if people can “print” guns at home on 3D printers. I do not pretend to understand how 3D printers work, it might as well be time travel to me.  (Wondering if this might be for my generation what the computer was for my father’s generation, a bridge too far technologically to comprehend.  Then again my Dad actually got two whole tapes into a VCR, so even that relatively simple technology truly eluded him.)  

“How’s that national conversation going?” sneers Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, an organization dedicated to making it easy for anyone to 3-D print their own gun. It’s the opening line of a video showcasing Defense Distributed’s successful employment of a 3-D printer to manufacture a plastic high-capacity ammo clip for an AR-15 rifle.

Wilson’s message could not be more blatant. In the age of cheap 3-D printers and open-source, easily downloadable design code, he is declaring that gun control is obsolete. So don’t even bother trying.

Does seem to me, no matter the technology available, if society decides that a certain thing is in society’s interest to regulate and make rare, it can do so. Our problem will continue to be the attitude of the gun fetishists. 

To that end, with the plethora of stories every day about gun nuts killing each other, or shooting themselves, while driving, or cleaning their weapons – even certified firearms safety instructors (and their children killing their brothers and sistersagain and again), that gene pool will be athinnin’.

The “Tyranny of the Minority” is a lot more real than the opposite in the U.S.

54-46 means the 54 lose. Even casual sports fans get that there’s something wrong there. Anybody with basic math skills or possibly the entire population of 3 year olds who have casually watched Sesame Street would look at that and puzzle. Then you add in that the 54 represented the opinions of 90% of the country, and… they… lost! and it’s even more crazy making. But it goes further.  There’s an institutional problem here.

Yes, the drafters of the Constitution were very nobly interested in protecting the rights of minorities and that has been one of the things that made our democracy so great. It’s worked more in theory than in fact, but still, on paper (that paper called the Constitution) it’s still one of those things that Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, etc. got right. But the inability of a majority to actually rule has reached a ridiculous state. The Senate is in a state of dysfunction that makes the Lohan family took like the Brady’s.

Despite broad support from the American public, the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey amendment to extend background checks died in the Senate, six ‘ayes’ short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. But party divisions were only one reason why the gun vote failed. More important was the institutional structure of the Senate itself, which by its very design (two senators per state) gives disproportionate representation and political power to small populations in large, rural states.

Image

That map and Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog makes the case that the background check bill failed because “the Senate is wildly undemocratic.” The filibuster was not in the Constitution, it came about several decades later, but the idea of two senators per state,no matter how large or how small was part of the bicameral bargain hammered out over cheesesteaks in 1789. At that time Virginia, the most populous state was 12 times larger than Rhode Island, the smallest state. Today California is 66 times the size of Wyoming, but still have the same number of Senators! The Senate is 5 times less proportionate that it was at the founding.

Drill down into the numbers more and you have a mind boggling disproportionality of representation noted by Cohn and Kingsbury in the New Republic:

And the supporters’ majority was even bigger than it seems. If you assume, for sake of argument, each senator represents half of his or her state’s population, then senators voting for the bill represented about 194 million people, while the senators voting against the bill represented about 118 million people. That’s getting close to a two-thirds majority in favor of the measure.

And again, those are just the numbers representing representation. This doesn’t count that 46 Senators voted against something that majorities supported in their states. There is no poll that had ANY state underwater in backing the expanded background checks.  

So there’s the practical everyday question of how do we overcome the gun lobby and the cowardice of so-called “representatives” to vote scared. As Gabby Giffords noted in her NY Times op-ed. these 46 Senators ran away from what they perceived as danger rather than doing what heroes do, what great Americans have always done and run towards it for the benefit of our fellow citizens.  2014 has to be a year when the cowards, the NRA toadies, are shown the door and people more dedicated to the will of the people (on ALL issues) are elected. But what can we do to make our government more representative on the macro level given the evolving disproportionate nature of our government today?

Is it enough to get money out of politics?  Would all 100 senators from all 50 states vote their constituents’ interests then? Maybe. But factionalism and regional interests that were a huge issue in 1790 have only been exacerbated by time. If Virginia had been 66 times larger than Rhode Island at that time their representatives in Philadelphia would have been insane to agree to such an equalization of their rights as 2 senators each and reliance on the population driven House of Representatives.  How do we evolve our system to better represent us?

To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

Expanded Background Checks – Sen. Manchin just realizing NRA has no credibility

Feels like a surreal alternate reality, but yeah, the NRA has zero credibility Joe. Tell your fellow Senators.

Manchin later criticized the NRA, of which he has been a lifetime member with an “A” rating. “Now when when they are so disingenuous and telling members that our legislation, and I quote, ‘would criminalize the firearms by honest citizens,'” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “This bill does not even touch …”

“That’s a lie,” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough interrupted.

“It is a lie, Joe,” Manchin responded. “If they lose credibility, they’ve lost everything in Washington.”

Newtown figured this out, Aurora figured this out, Virginia Tech got it. America pretty much gets it. How is it that our elected representatives are the slowest people on the uptake of the duplicitousness and doubledealing of lobbyists? Could it be THE MONEY? Geez!

The NRA is Trolling America (and our Pols are falling for it) Sick! Sick! Sick!

David Cay Johnston, one of the most lucid reporters on economic issues in the country has the lowdown on what the NRA’s bait and switch proposal to arm schools would cost. Just in case you were thinking, “well, sure we could do that” or “yeah, why not, as part of…”  

None of the 13 (NRA) committee members named in the 225-page is an educator. However, all of them have a financial interest in security training.

From the NRA’s standpoint it’s a money grab. From ours it’s pure delusional folly.

In a time when schools are struggling for funding, teachers, teacher’s aides and administrators have been laid off, towns, counties and states are pinching pennies, usually at the expense of schools, this wouldn’t make any sense even if it made sense

1. Protecting schools is a slight of hand meant to draw attention away from actual firepower control. It does nothing to get guns off the streets, nothing to limit the firepower available to crazed gunmen, nothing to stop said crazed gunman from getting weapons of mass destruction. People trying to kill children specifically is not a thing. Guarding schools doesn’t help shopping malls, churches, etc.

America had almost 99,000 public schools, another 33,000 private schools and close to 7,000 colleges in 2010.

And say you do put up perimeter fences, have trained armed guards, security cameras, etc. what will the gunman’s response be? Probably aim their sites on off campus targets.  

2. In the real world, in which the NRA refuses to live, stats show that it is the proximity of guns that we should be afraid of. The fact of a gun in the presence of a child makes that child less safe. Do you really want your 5 year old to have to walk by armed guards every morning? 

How long would it be before some student pulling a black cellphone from his pocket was shot dead by an armed school officer who mistook it for a gun? On the streets, it happens.

… The understandably scared school guard who kills just one child would mean more money on lawyers and settlements, not to mention the awfulness of death-by-protector.

Or what happens the first time an irresponsible guard puts his gun down or leaves it in the rest room and a kid gets it?

3. Even if you ignored items 1 and 2, the cost will be astronomical and reminds me of the boondoggle that Homeland Security became after 9/11. Nineteen guys with box cutters pull off an unthinkable disaster and we immediately open the purse strings to spend billions in security and military overreaction. Likewise, this would be a windfall for whatever contractors get the deals to provide the guards and a further bleeding of tax payer moneys, while achieving next to nothing.

Using the median pay of police, assigning two officers to each school for 50 hours a week would cost $16.3 billion annually just for salaries. Of course we would need many more guards because many are, like the school I attended long ago, open.

… The cost, so far, comes to $34.6 billion per year for consultants, pay, fringe benefits and overhead. That’s almost $450 per student per year.

4. Armed guards are no guaranty they would even be a deterrent or an effective stop to a mass killing. Columbine had armed guards.  They were clear on the other side of the campus. Many schools are on large sprawling properties with multiple buildings. But even my old high school in New York was just one building, but with four floors each the size of a city block. If the guard is on the wrong floor, or even on the wrong side of the floor, with the high power guns with high capacity clips available to an Adam Lanza the carnage would be unspeakable before the guard can even enter the picture.

In reconstructions of police shootings, it is common to find that the vast majority of bullets not only missed their target — they went wild. That happens in real life when the adrenaline is pumping, adding to the fog of conflict.

In short, the NRA is trolling us and our pols are falling for it. Sick, sick, sick!!!

http://www.nationalmemo.com/what-the-nras-school-shield-would-cost/

Is the Background Check Issue a Firewall for Dem Activists?

Once again we reach a point where red state Dems run in fear from an issue and the rest of us have to weigh how much pressure can we put on them, how much leniency can we show them? Harry Reid busted the assault weapons ban out of the gun control bill simply because Begich, Pryor, Heitkamp, etc. do not want to go on record on that issue. Hell, neither does Reid himself. And yeah it’s cowardly, but it’s realistic too. Yada yada yada. The fear of the NRA may be irrational, but that fear may be harder to beat than the NRA itself.

Okay, so assault weapons ban, toss it.  I can see that, sure. I understand. I want to understand. I want to keep Dems in the majority in the Senate, I want the House back! I get it that the NRA is super scary because gun nuts are just that: nuts, and are single mindedest of single issue voters. They’re easy to bs and motivate, and no one wants them out in the streets with torches and AR-15s (in lieu of pitchforks). 

But there’s a whole array of measures on the table that should be voted on, and while the assault weapons ban might be a bridge too far, the low hanging fruit should be universal background checks. I think I’m in agreement with Democratic activists who believe that if you can’t support universal background checks what good are you? Draw the line there. 

(Although, I see the GOP as being in complete disconnect from the people and pretty much useless as a party. Further, anybody who joins it, at this point, disqualifies themselves from being fit for public service. So I’m not that worried about whatever crop of idiots they’ll put up in 2014 or 2016. So there’s that too. Hard to know how brave to be. It is up to each candidate to make that calculation. But complete cowardice and being a Republican in Democratic clothing is  not cool.)

GOP Ignoring Election and Polls – Part Infinity

Last week I mentioned that the GOP (hell, everybody!) considered the 2012 election a referendum, but then just ignored the results. Polls continue to show the people support ideas coming from the Democrats and the White House, not the GOP, but the party leaders and  politicos are continuing their Borg-like pursuit of whatever the hell they want to.

Gun control?  Majorities of the population, even NRA members! approve of an assault weapons ban, limitations on clip capacity, trafficking controls and universal background checks (92%!). We’ll be lucky if we get the background checks through a recalcitrant GOP-led Congress.

Social Issues? The country is running away from the religious right stance against choice and equality. Not the GOP, they run at it. But it’s not noble like firemen running towards danger when we all run away, no. This is a lack of ability to change or evolve unless of course their son comes out to them and then they will agonize about it and (maybe) slough off a thousand years of prejudice for what should have always been in a democracy that was founded on “all men are created equal.”

Economy? 

A total of 77 percent of respondents said they’d support infrastructure projects to put Americans to work and 75 percent would support a “federal job creation law” that would do the same for a million people.

Anticipating criticism of the poll, Gallup asked the same question again, pointing out that each initiative would “spend government money.” With that addition, support fell slightly, to 72 percent.

Over and over and over again, people are way smarter than the Beltway Bloviator Class and their GOP opinion leaders that constantly keep leading us rightward, while logic, science, reality and the people go leftward. You know what, screw that, it’s not “leftward”.  It’s not “left” or “right” it’s what works versus what does not friggin’ work at all. It’s what’s proven, been there, done that got screwed versus what worked before and would work again if the people in power would allow it to happen.

http://www.nationalmemo.com/poll-even-republicans-support-government-spending-to-create-jobs/

It’s so tiresome to have the people constantly show in polls and elections that they think one thing and their leaders believe that they’re just joking they really don’t think that. I hear it in the gun debate. Despite polls, it’s just smart politics to kill an assault weapons ban because the 4,000,000 members of the NRA will overwhelm the other 306 million of us and hand the Senate to the GOP.

From Digby:

It turns out that roughly the same number of Americans describe themselves as conservatives as they did in the 1970s, while the number of politicians describing themselves that way has skyrocketed. And yet Democrats, even as they win elections and hold massive amounts of power in the government are still on the run, following these GOP politicians as they race ever further to the right.

From Sal Gentile of the UP Blog:

There are a number of possible explanations for this disconnect. For one, politicians are much more beholden to the donor class that funds their campaigns than they are to their actual constituents, and as political scientists have found, the priorities of the wealthy are vastly different from the priorities of the public at large. Another possible explanation is that voters are generally bad at expressing policy preferences in the abstract. They’re much more accurate — and, generally, more liberal — about their own views when answering specific questions about discrete policies, like whether we should raise taxes on the wealthy.

http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/03/09/study-politicians-think-voters-are-way-more-conservative-than-they-actually-are/

Citizen’s United and NRA – Obstacle is the Same Belief in Unfettered Rights and MONEY

The 1st amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The 2nd Amendment states:

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 frustration progressives have found in the age of Citizen’s United and since Newtown, to restore previously enacted and popularly accepted limits on the 1st amendment (money in politics) and the 2nd amendment (firepower/gun control) both come back to conservative lawmakers, media and their constituents having recently adopted an antagonistic stance towards common sense restrictions on each.

In each case we also know that such antagonistic stances derive from the cynical moneyed interests behind the dissemination of talking points against unfettered rights.  The Chamber of Commerce, Koch Brothers, massive business interests et al. and their hold on conservative think thanks (Heritage, Cato, Manhattan, etc.) and jurists’ conclaves (the Federalist Society) are the only parties arguing that campaign finance limits are unconstitutional abridgments of the 1st amendment – that we should accept that money is speech and political speech cannot be abridged even if it’s in society’s benefit to do so.  

Likewise, the gun manufacturers and their influence on lawmakers, through the NRA, keeps us from passing more stringent restrictions on fire power, ammunition and the trafficking of same, even if it saves lives.  What John McCain essentially said on President’s Day at a townhall meeting to the parent of an Aurora victim was that the rights of citizens to buy guns supersedes the rights of citizens to life.

Since the straw the broke the camel’s back that was the Sandy Hook tragedy we’ve finally been engaged in an extended debate over firepower/gun restrictions. What the Supreme Court has always said, even the current, extremely conservative Roberts court in Heller, is that there are, of course, reasonable restrictions that are not only allowable, but in society’s best interests.  None of what is on the table since Newtown should be or presumed would be found unconstitutional, and yet you can’t sell it to 2nd amendment absolutists.  

Likewise, the 1st amendment guarantee of free speech has also been found to be reasonably restricted, for the sake of society.

But what laws can pass muster with the courts seems to be less of issue today than what will be enacted by legislatures. Specifically, conservative lawmakers and their constituents have adopted a fairly recently found position on each of these enumerated rights that makes them antagonistic towards common sense prohibitions.  The lawmakers have either bought into right wing think tank propaganda, been bought outright or cowed by their deranged tea party constituents into standing athwart against these sensible restrictions.

One of the most famous constructions in constitutional law is the idea that the “constitution is not a suicide pact.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Constitution_is_not_a_suicide_pact) But strict constructionists are denying that the negatives for society, ie., a government by the plutocrats and thousands of gun deaths a year are worth sullying the constitution for.

Many of the arguments against further fire power/gun restrictions are nonsensical  – that citizens are entitled to assault weapons in order to keep the government at bay is ridiculous on its face. The government has apache helicopters, RPGs, fully automatic weapons! These same activists arguing not to ban high powered semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines are not arguing they should be allowed to have fully automatic weapons and tanks!  Society already says, overwhelmingly, that it’s in our best interest for people not to be able to legally purchase many weapons of war. The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban tried to restrict the kinds of weapons used in Aurora and Newtown, and it was partially successful, but partially unsuccessful because of too many loop holes that manufacturers were able to get around. Hopefully, the lessons learned from that legislation would inform the new bills. 

In almost every case today the most vociferous argument from the right is the “slippery slope.” They cannot argue against the instant restriction, so they argue about where it will lead.  In the case of guns the debate is entirely about scare tactics and nonsensical warnings about “Obama taking your guns.”  There is no and has never been any truth to this.  But the NRA and the conservative media whip it up and weak spined legislators live in fear of backlash.  It never satisfies these people to say “see and watch, nobody is coming for your guns, give it a year and if it’s not as we say we’ll repeal it.” The vitriol and mistrust is too great to overcome by rational debate.

It’s perhaps harder to do anything about money in politics even though this issue infects every other issue in our democracy.  Even with the outrage that was the 2012 election and the crazy spending done by Super Pacs and anonymous dark money, there’s no way that popular outrage can be militated against political spending in the way that dead 6 year-olds can make average citizens say “enough is enough.” However, polls show that Americans do understand the issues regarding political money and want restrictions. In an October 2012 poll 84% agreed that “corporate money drowns out the voices of ordinary people.” The problem is the only answer to Citizen’s United is an amendment to the Constitution and that seems such a slog even though we passed the 27th amendment just 21 years ago (Limited Changes to Congressional Pay ratified 5/7/1992) and the 16th through 27th amendments were all passed in the last 100 years.  

Maybe its the failure of the ERA (and yeah, we still don’t have constitutionally guaranteed equal rights for females in 2013), that makes us believe that it’s not possible to pass a 28th amendment that says:  

Section 1. [Artificial Entities Such as Corporations Do Not Have Constitutional Rights]

The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.

Artificial entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.

The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.

Section 2. [Money is Not Free Speech]

Federal, State, and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.

Federal, State, and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.

The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.

This is the entire text of the proposed 28th amendment introduced by Rick Nolan (D-MN) on February 14, 2013.  It’s called the “We the People Amendment” and pass it we must to get our democracy back.  Sign the petition, call your Congressman, write letters to the editor and get the word out about Move to Amend’s action to pass the 28th amendment and change everything. 

https://movetoamend.org/wethepeopleamendment