Far too much media coverage of politics focuses on the horserace angle--who's ahead, who's behind, who's up or down. It relies on false equivalency: if Politician A says X, then the reporter goes to Politician B, who's sure to say Y. That's lazy journalism, and it doesn't actually inform the public about which position (if any) is actually true, or adheres to the facts as we know them. At TWiA, our mission is to discuss politics through the prism of policy--to look, in other words, at the real-world implications of the things that politicians say and do, to make connections others might miss, and to explain it all in language a lay person can understand. Also to offer suggestions of how you can help somebody in need, to report on what's awesome, and to keep tabs on bears. If you like TWiA, share or repost or tell a friend, and be sure to leave comments, even if they're arguments. Especially if they're arguments.
Happy Halloween, TWiA Readers!
This Week in School Shootings
Last Friday, after TWiA's deadline for the week, a Washingon state high school freshman named Jaylen Fryberg took a.40-caliber handgun, legally obtained by a family member, to school and shot five of his fellow students, killing two, then killed himself. He was, reports said, upset because a girl wouldn't go out with him; she was one of his targets. Later that afternoon, two deputies were killed and several other people wounded in a shooting spree in Sacramento, CA.
Mass murder and active shooter incidents have become a sad area of specialty these last few years, here at TWiA World Headquarters. We've done far more research than anyone should--in part because there's so much material to work with, since they keep happening. We're amateurs in the field, though. The professionals are the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit 2 (BAU2), which focuses on "threat assessment." These agents have prevented hundreds of incidents, through intervention before the fact, and that intervention virtually always comes from some concerned citizen reporting that they're worried about somebody.
Because nobody just "snaps" and becomes a mass murderer, or a would-be mass murderer. There are things the vast majority of these people have in common.
1) Most have had some contact with the mental health community. They've been assessed, they've seen a psychiatrist or psychologist or school counselor--somebody who knows they have emotional problems, but who didn't recognize the right signs or ask the right questions or know the right infrastructure to kick the problem up to.
2) Most have experienced some loss or perceived loss that threatened or destroyed their sense of self, their idea about who they are. When they've tried to figure that out--trying on new personalities, like suits of clothes, in some cases--those attempts have failed. The result is that they no longer know themselves or where they fit into the world--and when you don't fit into the world, it's not a big step to wanting to be out of it.
3) Most have a history of violence of some kind. They were beaten or abused, or they were raised in a household where guns--instruments of violence--were highly prized. They may or may not ever have committed a violent act themselves (although most killers--and mass murderers are by far the minority, among killers--have done so, and that violence proved somehow rewarding for them, so it escalated from there), but they have thought about it, dreamed about it, fantasized about it, sometimes acted it out in video games in or other ways. Whether or not they have been personally violent, they have lived for a long time with violence in their thoughts.
4) They have access to guns. Most of them obtain their guns legally, or simply use guns already in the house. As the would-be active shooter in this Esquire article says, "There is no way I would have bought an illegal firearm. I wouldn't have known how. I would have been too scared. When I was in jail, there were two kinds of inmates: There were criminals, and there were people who did crimes. The criminals are the people who'll get a gun no matter what. But I was a person who did a crime. There is no way I would have gone to the inner city and gotten a gun. If I was the kind of person who was able to do that, I never would have done the crime that I did." That's usually the case. Although some mass murderers and active shooters have had brushes with the law, most have never committed any significant crime before that day. They're not criminals going out to do another crime. They're hurting, frightened, desperate individuals who are about to commit their first crime. And it's usually going to be a big one.
We've had at least 87 school shootings since Newtown. We've had changes in gun laws since then; most have had the result of making guns more available, not less. And we've had plenty of active shooter situations outside of schools (despite these school shootings, kids are usually in far more danger in households where guns are present than they are at school).
Gun deaths are on pace to outnumber automobile deaths next year. For anyone to think that the country's gun fetish is not a public health problem is to live under a delusion (much the way that anyone is who thinks the NRA is concerned with individuals' Second Amendment rights and not with the profits of the arms manufacturers that are its primary interest and major source of funding). During this era of Ebola-freakout, the country doesn't have a surgeon general, because Dr. Vivek Murthy, the incredibly well-qualified individual nominated, understands that guns are a public health problem and has said so; therefore, the pro-gun death NRA announced that it would "score" votes on his nomination, and it was held up in the Senate. Since Senate "holds" are anonymous, we only know of one senator who has admitted to putting a hold on Murthy: Sen. Rand Paul (R/KY), who wrote, "In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence. As a physician, I am deeply concerned that he has advocated that doctors use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home... Dr. Murthy has disqualified himself from being Surgeon General because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans' right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign."
First of all, Dr. Murthy is a physician--Rand Paul is an opthalmalogist who has that title only because he formed his own imaginary organization to certify himself. Second, gun violence is unquestionably a public health issue. Third, yes, access to guns is a bigger part of the problem of gun violence than mental health issues, although those are a part of the overall puzzle and can't be ignored. Paul doesn't know what he's talking about, and/or he's putting ideology (and what he perceives as electability) ahead of fact--neither of which are remotely out of character for him.
This week, Governors Andrew Cuomo (D/NY) and Chris Christie (R/NJ) came up with a stupid overreaction to the American Ebola "crisis," insisting that any health care workers coming into the country from West Africa undergo mandatory 21-day quarantine. (Other states have their own rules, sensible and otherwise.) The first person affected, a nurse named Kaci Hickox who landed at a New Jersey airport, was imprisoned inside a tent with no running water and only a portable toilet. She has since been freed, because both governors bowed to pressure from sane people.
Hickox showed no symptoms of Ebola, and two Ebola tests were negative. Gov. Christie, however, defended his state's actions, saying she was "obviously ill" and "sympomatic."
She was neither of those. She was imprisoned, against her will, by a governor who ignored all the medical advice of experts in order to...well, what? Appear to be taking a strong stance against Ebola, in advance of his 2016 presidential run? Since the stance he took was the opposite of what real experts suggest is effective, Christie must have been playing to low-information voters who don't understand that he's not really doing the right thing.
The facts are these: Ebola is only transmitted by symptomatic people. If we're serious about fighting Ebola, we need to fight it in West Africa, where it's prevalent, not here where it's exceedingly rare. If it can be contained there, then we have no problem here. If it's not contained it'll spread globally, and no quarantine will be effective or possible.
That means medical personnel from around the world have to be able to make the courageous decision to go to West Africa to work with infected people. That's a brave choice and one that should be respected and honored. If they know that when they come back, they'll be locked up against their wills, whether or not they're actually sick, we'll likely get many fewer volunteers.
An editorial in the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine says it best: "This approach, however, is not scientifically based, is unfair and unwise, and will impede essential efforts to stop these awful outbreaks of Ebola disease at their source, which is the only satisfactory goal. The governors' action is like driving a carpet tack with a sledgehammer: it gets the job done but overall is more destructive than beneficial."
We're glad those governors changed their minds about that probably unconstitutional approach, although Christie, after having clearly reversed his decision, insists, "I didn't reverse my decision," possibly because of all the heat he's been taking from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge for "caving" to the White House. In this case, of course, he's "caving" to the facts and the experts. Limbaugh and Drudge are neither, and they apparently care more about scoring points against the president than they do about stopping Ebola, here or abroad. Christie and Cuomo aren't experts, either, and Christie in particular should try to refrain from lying about his policies and about his policy reversals. It isn't becoming, and--when a potential epidemic is the topic of conversation--it's dangerous.
Side Note 1: The senior senator from the home state of TWiA World Headquarters, John McCain (R/AZ) has some brilliant advice. "What we need to do is — anyone who wants to get on a plane and come to the United States of America should go into quarantine for 21 days, take a blood test and then come to the United States. We shouldn’t wait until they get here after they may have contaminated innumerable people. ... This has been a terrible fumbling again by this administration.”
McCain is...how can we phrase this delicately?...full of one of the bodily fluids Ebola victims commonly expel, and we don't mean blood. Anyone who wants to come to the US faces a 21-day quarantine? Regardless of whether they've been in contact with a symptomatic Ebola patient, or even in a country where there's been a single case of Ebola? He says "plane," but of course people can enter the country in different ways, so that would have to be expanded to cover them all. How does he suppose the economy would fare when people just stopped coming here? Even if some were willing to be quarantined for 21 days, between now and then there would be three weeks without a single incoming ship or airplane or car or truck across the northern or southern borders. All international trade into and out of the US would halt. That's not even mentioning the fact that the vast majority of those people don't have Ebola and never will. But because we've had one--c'mon, John, even you can count this on your fingers...er, finger--one death from Ebola here, McCain wants to completely shut down trade and travel, and crash the global economy.
How did somebody so frightened of the world ever survive his own childhood?
Side Note to the Side Note: And how is our economy doing without McCain's help? Growth in the third quarter of 2014 was stronger than expected, at 3.5%, "...aided by a surge in exports and a big jump in military spending." Exports, like imports, require people to travel between the US and other places on airplanes, cargo ships, and the like. A 21-day period without any of that activity would, as mentioned, be an economic disaster. This is the first time since before the crash that we've had growth of 3% or more in four out of the last five quarters (the first quarter of 2014 was down, largely attributed to the terrible weather last winter).
We're experiencing the longest uninterrupted period of economic growth in Amerrican history. That economic growth, of course, was spurred along by the dreaded, demonized stimulus package, aka the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. A new study shows that not only did every dollar spent in any given labor market increase employment income by 79 cents in that area, but had a spillover effect of a 59-cent increase in its neighboring community. Next time somebody calls it a "job-killing stimulus," tell them they're wrong.
And once more, America should be delighted that John McCain will never be president.
Side Note 2: Want to see what leadership looks like?
This Week on the Border
Timothy McVeigh used ammonium nitrate to make the bomb with which he blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building back in 1995. When a fertilizer plant in West, Texas blew up in April, ammonium nitrate was to blame. It's explosive stuff.
Which makes it a little concerning when a leader of a right-wing militia that took it upon itself to "patrol" the Texas border was found to have a box of it in his hotel room, along with an AK-47 and six loaded magazines and a loaded handgun. Those items were found because back in August, a Border Patrol agent legitimately patrolling the border had to fire four shots at a man pointing a rifle at him, and that man turned out to belong to the militia in question. The leader was arrested on weapons charges, leading to the search of his room.
Why did he have ammonium nitrate in his room? There's pretty much only one standard militia-type use for it, which is to blow stuff up. And why are right-wing extremists so obsessed with violence?
This Week in Arizona
Arizona's far-right state legislature has spent most of the last few years working on cutting taxes and any programs that might tempt businesses to locate here or tourists to want to visit (K-12 per-student spending in AZ, for instance, is down 17.5% since 2008, third worst in the nation--so much for a broadly educated workforce). The result is that the state's recovery has underperformed the nation's as a whole, and the state is looking at a $1 billion budget shortfall. Despite this evidence, many people in Arizona will vote to send the same legislators back, or to elect new ones who would govern in exactly the same way. Cutting taxes does not increase revenue, people. But it makes necessary spending impossible, and stagnation is the result.
This Week in Kentucky
Speaking of the Senate, newspapers in Kentucky don't seem very fond of longtime Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R/KY). Endorsing his opponent, Allison Lundergan Grimes, the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote:
"But, wait, you say: How can our poor state afford to give up the power that Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has amassed in 30 years in Washington, especially if Republicans take the Senate, making him the majority leader?
"McConnell does have power. He commands a perpetual-motion money machine; dollars flow in, favors flow out.
"The problem is how McConnell uses his power. He has repeatedly hurt the country to advance his political strategy.
"McConnell has sabotaged jobs and transportation bills, even as Kentucky's unemployment exceeds the nation's and an Interstate 75 bridge crumbles over the Ohio River. He blocked tax credits for companies that move jobs back to this country while preserving breaks for those that move jobs overseas. He opposed extending unemployment benefits, while bemoaning the 'jobless' recovery. He brags about resolving crises that he helped create.
"The Senate may never recover from the bitter paralysis McConnell has inflicted through record filibusters that allow his minority to rule by obstruction.
"Even before Barack Obama was sworn in, McConnell told his fellow Republicans that their strategy was to deny the new president any big wins. The country was in two wars and at deep risk of sliding into a depression, but making an adversary look bad was McConnell's main mission.
"His signature cause - flooding elections with ever more money - corrupts. He poses as a champion of the right to criticize the government, but it's really his rich buddies' right to buy the government that he champions."
And the Louisville Courier-Journal added, "But as the stakes grew higher and campaigns more costly, he lost his way to the point where he now is identified largely as the master of obstruction and gridlock in Washington. Kentucky needs a U.S. senator who sees a higher calling than personal ambition and a greater goal than self-aggrandizement."
In a sure sign of desperation, McConnnell--who last week bragged about his long-time efforts to replace Social Security with private accounts that would exist primarily to enrich Wall Street--decided this week to try to get local TV stations not to air an ad that reminds voters of that position. When asked last week if he would push for privatization again, if he's reelected, McConnell said, “I’m not announcing what the agenda would be in advance,” We thought that's what a campaign was about--telling the voters what you'd do if they elect you. Apparently McConnell's plea to Kentuckians is "Vote for me, then I'll tell you what I have in mind for the country. And by the way, don't allow ads to repeat the words I spoke just last week."
This Week in Mississippi
Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, with the lowest per-capita income, 22% of the state's residents living in poverty, 20% never graduating from high school. It's also the unhealthiest state, with the highest mortality rate and the shortest life expectancy. A quarter of the adult population has no health insurance at all, and to qualify for Medicaid, a person has to have children, and has to make less than $384 a month for a family of three (23% below the poverty line). For African-Americans--37% of the state's population, it's worse; one in three adults has no health insurance.
But before Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, Mississippi was well on its way to implementing a conservative idea that had originated with the far-right Heritage Institution--creating a government-run marketplace at which, by pooling their buying power, the state's small businesses could provide their employees with health insurance. It had worked in Mitt Romney's Massachusetts, and Governor Haley Barbour believed it could work in Mississippi, too. The idea was coming to fruition when the ACA passed and some Tea Party Republicans in the state decided it (and Mississippi's version of it) was a Socialist invasion that had to be stopped. In 2012, Republicans took control of both houses of the state legislature and Tea Party favorite Phil Bryant became governor. They effectively quashed the ongoing efforts, and declined to accept the offered Medicaid expansion.
And so the people of the nation's poorest, unhealthiest state (a state that, though conservatives are loathe to admit it, gets $3 back from Washington for every dollar it sends in) are still without good insurance options. There's only so much the federal government can do; the ACA was designed to be a federal/state partnership, and when the state won't cooperate, the feds are stuck. Mississippi's far right prevailed, and the citizens are paying for it.
This piece from Politico ends with a tragic and infuriating final paragraph: "I kept thinking of my conversation with Roy Mitchell, the embattled head of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, this summer. I had asked whether Jackson—or Washington, for that matter—would ever find a way to actually help the sick and the poor in Mississippi. 'Ideology put a man on the moon,' he said. 'Ideology can certainly kill health care.'”
This Week in Voting
Need a reason to vote early? Here's one: the parties pay attention to whose ballots are returned, and they stop calling and mailing to those people, so they can focus their resources on those who haven't voted yet. The earlier you vote, the earlier you'll stop being harassed.
As of this writing, Senate races in ten states are still up in the air, with candidates in many of them polling within the margin of error in either direction. Control of the Senate could come down to any one of these. Which makes it especially troubling that in Georgia--where the official who oversees elections, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, during the summer bemoaned the fact that Democrats were "registering all these minority voters that are out there"--at least 42,000 people who registered to vote still haven't been added to the voter rolls, mostly in Democratic-leaning counties. This week, a state judge declined to take any action that might have sped up those seemingly slow-walked registrations. Those voters will be allowed to cast provisional ballots, which are often discarded or ignored. Kemp might have found one more way to suppress the minority vote--just take the registration forms and put them on ice until after the election.
Finally, voter fraud barely exists, really. So it's safe to ignore those who deliberately ignore and distort the facts to try to "prove" that it does. But the laws supposedly designed to prevent it really do make voting outrageously difficult for the poor and the disabled.
Side Note: If Republicans do win the Senate, the country is in for a turbulent ride. So far the House has been successful at blocking a lot of important legislation, like jobs bills that could have improved the economy much faster than we've seen. With Republicans in charge of the Senate, too, expect more obstruction, more ridiculous bills to be floated (and vetoed), and--perhaps most devastatingly to the nation, going forward--judicial nominations to be in the hands of Tea Party-favorite crazies like Sens. Ted Cruz (R/TX), Rand Paul (R/KY), and Mike Lee (R/UT) who--the Federalist Society devoutly hopes--will try "to remake the judiciary in the mold of jurists like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas." Not coincidentally, those are the two worst justices on the Supreme Court--Scalia constantly puts ideology ahead of constitutional precedent and legal reasoning, and Thomas, who almost never speaks during sessions, obediently follows along wherever Scalia goes. More judges of that ilk are the last thing the country needs. (This is also among the most important reasons to elect a Democrat president in 2016, because chances are that president will have at least two Supreme Court seats to fill.)
This Week in Lynching
Speaking of Kentucky: "An offensive Halloween display outside of a Fort Campbell home has been removed.The display appeared to show an African-American family hanging from a tree outside of an on-post residence on Litwin Street. The child in the display had a knife in its back."
This Week in WWIII
Fox "News" resident "psychiatrist" Dr. Keith Ablow (recently designated that channel's "biggest race-hustler") has published a column advocating America's takeover of the world, by force if necessary, in what he calls an "American jihad."
This Week in Irony
And speaking of Fox, host Bill O'Reilly has revealed the secret of the channel's success, saying, "Many American citizens are simply dumb. They don’t know anything. And when you don’t know anything, you’ll buy anything and propaganda rules."
(Thanks to TWiA special cable news correspondent Jason Zibart for the tip)
This Week in Poor Me
A certain former half-term governor and failed vice presidential candidate, who will not be named in this space until she apologizes for equating the national debt with the horrors of slavery, is the all-time queen of poor-me victimhood. Whenever she says or does something egregiously stupid--which is often--she tries to deflect criticism by claiming the liberals are out to get her. She has not, in our memory, ever once accepted personal responsibility for any mistake or misstep (and now she's apparently trained daughter Bristol in the same practice, as evidenced by Bristol's turning a fight in which every witness declared her the aggressor into a man's attack on poor defenseless her). This week she made the absurd claim that climate change is the new "eugenics," and that the "junk science" behind it will be exposed in time. Forgive us if we doubt that she knows more about it than 97% of the world's climate scientists. She also threatened to run for office again, if only to troll the "haters" who are, in her mind, constantly after her. Here's a tip--if she would stop saying moronic things, nobody would talk about her at all. Which is exactly why she continues to make deliberately provocative statements. Like some pseudo-political Kardashian, she wants to keep her social media fame alive, the better to promote her next profit-making venture.
Side Note: The national debt is actually in pretty good shape.
This Week in Stunts
We reported back in June that House Speaker John Boehner (R/OH) planned to sue President Obama,. At the time he said it was for the president's uses of executive orders; later it turned out to be for delaying enforcement of an aspect of the Affordable Care Act that Boehner and his fellow Republicans didn't want to see enforced in the first place. We suggested at the time that his threat indicated that the Speaker had had a psychotic break, because the supposed lawsuit was absolutely baseless.
We were right.
It's almost November, and the "lawsuit" has yet to be filed. House Republicans requested a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, meant to provide some support for the absurd stunt. Instead, the report concluded that there was no legal justification whatsoever for the suit. When that news came in, House Republicans tried to bury the report.
Then we learned that the second law firm they hired to file the suit--after the first firm backed out--has also backed out.
That, at least, is some good news. Those firms were to be paid $500 an hour, up to $350,000, of our money on a bogus lawsuit. Maybe the Speaker should pay back the staff time and money used to create the unfiled lawsuit to begin with, out of his own pocket. And maybe he should never complain about "frivolous lawsuits" for as long as he lives, because in that category, this one would have been a champion.
This Week in Fast Food
In this country, the average fast food worker makes $8.90 an hour. In Denmark, the minimum a fast food worker earns (Burger King and McDonald's both operate there) is the equivalent of $20 an hour. In Denmark, taxes and the cost of living are both higher than here--yet, even with those expenses, fast food workers can make a real living from a full-time job (and those taxes help support universal health care, so medical costs don't eat into salaries). And the businesses still make money, or they wouldn't stay open. So why don't American fast food workers earn $20 an hour?
We can't think of any answer other than corporate greed.
Side Note: Another point of comparison--in the ranking of children living in poverty in the developed world, Denmark is the third lowest, behind only Norway and Finland. The US, on the other hand, is 6th from the top. In our country, one out of every three children is living in poverty. Compared to much of the world, even our poor are pretty rich. But our poor don't live in the rest of the world--they live here, and they're not doing well at all.
This Week in How You Can Help
November is National Alzheimer's Disease and Awareness Month. Alzheimer's is the sixth most common cause of death in the US, and more than 5 million Americans are living with it right now. There's no cure, although there is some progress toward one. You can help by tossing a few bucks into the Alzheimer's Association's hat, or by volunteering some time.
This Week in Bears
And they like to be neatly groomed.
Also, people at South Lake Tahoe are taking too many selfies with bears. The bears don't like it.