In a substantial blow to the president’s second-term agenda, the Manchin-Toomey gun control bill—a much weaker proposal than the president would have liked—failed in the Senate yesterday evening:
It failed by a vote of 54-46, short of the necessary 60. A handful of Democrats voted against it and only four Republicans supported the measure backed by the White House. The vote effectively halted gun control in the upper chamber. Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) voted no. Reid strongly supports the bill, and his vote was a procedural one that allows him to bring the measure up again in the future.
The president has called it a “shameful day for Washington,” and accused the bill’s opponents of deciding it “wasn’t worth it” to protect children from gun violence. The Huffington Post and various progressive groups are blaming the four Democrats who voted against it, but even if they had voted in favor, the bill would have been one short. Josh Krashauer has an important reality check about how 2014 impacts the politics of gun control:
Put simply, the 2014 Senate elections will be fought predominantly on the very turf that is most inhospitable to gun control–Southern and Mountain West conservative states.
Which is exactly why progressive promises to challenge the senators who voted against the bill shouldn’t be taken seriously. Jon Chait is thinking along similar lines.
The conservative take, from Charles Cooke, Ben Domenech, and others, is that the president and other gun control proponents bought the hype from opinion pages and the Sunday shows that the Newtown massacre catalyzed a major shift in public opinion. In reality, as Kevin Drum notes, most people don’t really care that much about gun control, and the proposed legislation was never going to be enough for the people who actually do. The recent uptick in public opinion in favor of gun control comes on the heels of a secular decline both gun violence and support for gun regulation, as Brian Doherty observed in these pages late last year:
… while guns themselves are still a big deal to Americans, the political struggle over them no longer is. At the beginning of the 1990s, Gallup found 78 percent of Americans asking for stricter gun laws. By 2009, that number was 44 percent, a historic low. The Democratic Party has grown leery of the issue, as many Democrats have come to believe that both the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress and Al Gore’s 2000 presidential loss could be blamed on backlash against the party’s gun-control victories of the early 1990s: the Brady Bill, which imposed national background checks before you can buy a gun, and the “assault weapon” ban on certain types of semiautomatic guns and magazines.
Americans have seen the number of guns in private hands continue to rise—and the number of states that pretty much allow any law-abiding citizen to carry concealed weapons reach over 40. We have simultaneously witnessed a 41 percent decline in overall violent crime rates over the past two decades. The homicide rate has fallen by nearly half over that period.
Too many lawyers are living in urban areas, so we need to subsidize their dispersion. Or, so goes the logic of this New York Times report:
In South Dakota, 65 percent of the lawyers live in four urban areas. In Georgia, 70 percent are in the Atlanta area. In Arizona, 94 percent are in the two largest counties, and in Texas, 83 percent are around Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Last summer, the American Bar Association called on federal, state and local governments to stem the decline of lawyers in rural areas. Last month, South Dakota became the first state to heed the call. It passed a law that offers lawyers an annual subsidy to live and work in rural areas, like the national one that doctors, nurses and dentists have had for decades.
It’s the New York Times’s job to spot trends, so forgive them for jumping the gun a bit on that analogy. The National Health Services Program, which covers underserved urban communities in addition to rural ones, employs almost 10,000 providers, a fact mentioned much later in the article. The bill creating South Dakota’s new program for lawyers authorizes no more than 16, at a cost to the state of less than half a million dollars (counties also chip in 35 percent, and the state bar adds 15). They aren’t really comparable.
A more important question is why it’s necessary to subsidize lawyers when there’s already a massive oversupply. Last June the Wall Street Journal reported that nine months after graduation, “only 55% of the class of 2011 had full-time, long-term jobs that required a law degree.” But, you’re probably thinking, many of those unable to secure employment in the legal profession would probably rather just take a job doing something else than pass the South Dakota bar and settle in the sticks. Fair enough, but given the conditions of the market, it’s a question worth asking.
Let’s add some geographic perspective. The distance from the location of the NYT reporter’s dateline to Rapid City, the state’s second-biggest, is less than two and a half hours by car. Three of the four counties where 65 percent of the state’s lawyers are concentrated are on the Western, Eastern, and Northern ends of the state, the last is in the center. They’re well-dispersed. Those counties house 48 percent of the state’s population; a disproportionate number, maybe, but less so when you consider that cities generally have a greater demand for lawyers. Not to mention that the counties surrounding Sioux City and Rapid City also have higher populations than the state average. In that light, 65 percent seems like a completely reasonable proportion.
But, you see, this is about laying groundwork for the future, not just a government patch for a shortage of expert labor. Here’s where the NHSP adoration gets ridiculous:
A spokesman for the federal program [NHSP] said research had shown that residents who train in rural settings are two to three times more likely than urban graduates to practice in rural areas.
That was the logic of the original NHSP—doctors going through the program would stay where they were placed, and in theory the program would be phased out. The spokesperson’s statement is a twist on the same theme. Except the providers don’t stay. A 1992 study found that nine out of ten leave—statistics have shown NHSP participants are less likely to stay in rural areas than non-participants in similar situations. Now the program is a permanent feature of the welfare state.
Whether or not South Dakota’s program is necessary, it comes at a relatively small cost—less than a million dollars. This small, locally-tailored solution should not be considered a prototype for a larger program aimed at ameliorating the problem of unemployed lawyers. And we certainly shouldn’t take cues from a program that failed on its own terms.
Brooksville became the ninth Maine town to declare its “food sovereignty” this month, when residents overwhelmingly supported a ballot referendum on the matter:
[R]esidents voted 112-64 to approve the “Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance,” which states that producers or processors of local foods are “exempt from licensure and inspection,” so long as the food is sold directly by the producer to a consumer. The ordinance also makes it “unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights organized by this ordinance.” The state contends that such ordinances hold no legal weight, but that hasn’t stopped residents of Sedgwick, Penobscot, Blue Hill and Trenton from passing the same local rules. Food sovereignty ordinances also have been passed in Hope, Plymouth, Livermore and Appleton.
According to a 2011 post by Reason’s Jesse Walker, the same town had “narrowly rejected” a similar ordinance back then. Apparently they’ve changed their minds.
Typically the media takes its cue from the state in referring to food sovereignty ordinances as symbolic, but the measure in Blue Hill has drawn a challenge from the state of Maine.
Whether it’s a sign of the growing influence of the “food freedom” movement I couldn’t say–based on some of the reporting this seems like a decidedly local phenomenon–but nullification advocates have stated their support.
As the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, consider these classic TAC essays on this polarizing subject:
Justin Raimondo — “The Libertarian Case Against Gay Marriage”
Jon Huntsman — “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause”
Margaret Liu McConnell — “Less Perfect Unions”
Daniel McCarthy — “Why the Right Can’t Win the Gay-Marriage Fight”
Austin Bramwell — “Pleading the Fourteenth”
Andre Archie — “What Same-Sex Marriage Means”
For your reading pleasure, here’s the funniest op-ed you will read today, via NRO, entitled “Marijuana: A Gift of the Left to America’s Youth.” Author Dennis Prager is happy to report that he has been proved right:
According to the CBS4 report, based in part on data from a local drug-testing lab: “Experts say the test results show that children are getting higher than ever with alarming levels of THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, in their bodies.” The massive increase in both the number of users and the amount of marijuana used by young people is precisely what I and many others predicted.
The source for Prager’s claim is the assertion of a drug-testing company that it’s been called in to conduct tests more often. He characterizes this as “based in part on data from a local drug-testing lab.” But the company provides no numbers in the CBS4 article, so it isn’t really “data” at all. And drug testing companies have a long history of inflating their claims, which is understandable because they profit from the drug prohibition. Does Prager, who’s done radio shows about cronyism, really not get that? He’s also a big fan of tobacco:
Yes, tobacco — specifically cigarettes — kills and marijuana doesn’t. But, if you’ll forgive the ultimate political incorrectness, young people would do much better in life if they smoked tobacco rather than weed. First, tobacco doesn’t kill young people. … Second, regular pot smokers increasingly tune out of life, becoming what are known as potheads, or, to put it bluntly, losers.
The entire op-ed is filled with ridiculous statements, from “How would Britain have fared in World War II if Winston Churchill had smoked pot instead of cigars?” to the easily-debunked claim that legalization leads to more potent forms of pot (there’s substantial evidence that the opposite is true–heroin emerged after opium was criminalized, meth after crack cocaine, etc.).
There’s no question that marijuana decriminalization provides local news stations with more opportunities to scare people. The very station Prager cites recently ran an AP report warning of a rise in meth lab-like explosions due to a profusion of hash oil manufacturers, and it’s run “think of the children” pieces before too. The difference is the good folks at CBS4 Denver have the honesty to report basic facts that may not fit into Prager’s narrative about evil leftists:
“We actually saw teen marijuana use go down in the state of Colorado, where it went up nationally in a tightly regulated medical marijuana environment,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of Denver Relief Dispensary. He’s citing a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says marijuana usage in Colorado teenagers went down by 2.8 percent from 2009 to 2011. Police say that’s not what they are seeing. “Were just seeing so many problems with it that it couldn’t possibly be on the decrease,” Sgt. Jim Gerhardt of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association said. “We’re seeing so many kids using it.”
Look, marijuana use among children is a problem that should be dealt with–ideally by parents. But people who make the argument that decriminalization equals more stoned children rarely have to confront the opposite argument that prohibition equals mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders and the enrichment of drug cartels rather than American businesses. The latter evidently doesn’t bother Prager, who will likely do quite well concern-trolling movement conservatives with columns like these for years to come.
Yet the biggest error of his piece is one of omission–the suggestion that letting states do what they will with regard to certain drug laws is some sort of leftist cause, and that conservatives have no reason to grapple with the realities of the drug war. Conservative opinion is evolving rapidly on this issue, as Anthony Gregory detailed last September in these pages. Since then we’ve seen hemp legalization efforts supported by the likes of Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and the arch-conservative Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli come out in favor of pot federalism. Prager is too busy demonizing familiar enemies and citing nonexistent “data” to relay those important developments to his readers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is out with a brand new report on “the year in hate and extremism” and an accompanying letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking them to reevaluate the nation’s ability to respond to the “growing threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.”
The warning is somewhat ironic because earlier this year the SPLC’s own work had the effect of painting a target for a domestic terrorist.
But Jesse Walker, of the Reason Foundation and author of an upcoming book, “The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory,” said counting groups isn’t a good way to measure the threat. “I’m dubious to assume growth in numbers is related to violence.”
Also, the center’s definition of hate groups has changed in the past year, kicking up a controversy. Critics accused the group of unfairly bundling together organizations with vastly different points of view — and painting them all as potentially violent.
For example a North Carolina-based group calling itself “Granny Warriors” appears on the SPLC list of active “patriots.”
It’s well known that the SPLC employs a pretty broad definition for what constitutes a hate group or domestic threat. Objectionable as the Family Research Council can be, especially now that they’ve brought on frothing Islamophobic hawk Jerry Boykin as a VP, few would consider them worthy of DHS’s attention. Even the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank condemned the FRC’s “hate group” designation after it nearly led to a mass shooting.
The SPLC’s listing of “patriot groups” is even more broad and pointless: if you look at the 2011 list, every state chapter of the Constitution Party and the John Birch Society is counted separately. The Tenth Amendment Center is listed along with Nullify NOW!, even though the latter is a campaign put on by the former. The numbers are inflated to the point of meaninglessness, and though I can’t find a link to the organizations included on this year’s list, one wonders if the number of patriot groups really has had “explosive growth” or whether the dragnet has just gotten wider.
Ken Silverstein’s 2000 profile of the organization is worth a re-read:
who could object to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Montgomery, Alabama-based group that recently sent out this heartwarming yet mildly terrifying appeal to raise money for its “Teaching Tolerance” program, which prepares educational kits for schoolteachers? Cofounded in 1971 by civil rights lawyer cum direct-marketing millionaire Morris Dees, a leading critic of “hate groups” and a man so beatific that he was the subject of a made-for-TV movie, the SPLC spent much of its early years defending prisoners who faced the death penalty and suing to desegregate all-white institutions like Alabama’s highway patrol. That was then.
Today, the SPLC spends most of its time—and money—on a relentless fund-raising campaign, peddling memberships in the church of tolerance with all the zeal of a circuit rider passing the collection plate. “He’s the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the civil rights movement,” renowned anti- death-penalty lawyer Millard Farmer says of Dees, his former associate, “though I don!t mean to malign Jim and Tammy Faye.” The Center earned $44 million last year alone—$27 million from fund-raising and $17 million from stocks and other investments—but spent only $13 million on civil rights program, making it one of the most profitable charities in the country.
I’m willing to believe that the niche the SPLC fills ought to exist, that it ought to be someone’s job to keep tabs on neo-Nazis and the KKK. But the way the SPLC goes about it—and it seems like they’ve only gotten worse since Silverstein took them to task—it’s pretty hard to take them seriously.
Robert Wright moderates a debate between Adam Winkler and Jacob Sullum on the wisdom of the proposed gun control measure:
In the entry on judicial activism found in the classic Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary, Robert Nisbet wrote of the “whole web of authority that naturally exists in any society, a web spun by family, locality, voluntary association, business enterprise, profession, and civil law.” Conservatives properly cherish the autonomy of this “web of authority,” while recognizing that it can, at times, be a haven for terrible injustice.
Having read that last sentence, the Jim Crow regime of the old South is probably on the tip of your tongue: wasn’t it necessary, in that case, for the federal government to intrude into that that web and impose its will?
I agree that it was.
But not every injustice rises to the level of Jim Crow.
Take the question of the Boy Scouts of America’s policy of barring membership to gays. Even if one believes that gays fundamentally have the right to marry, it’s less obvious to me that they have a right to join the Boy Scouts. As the Supreme Court, narrowly but correctly, decided in a 2000 case involving an expelled scoutmaster in New Jersey, the BSA is not a motel, restaurant, or “public accommodation” of any kind; it is a private organization whose First Amendment-guaranteed freedom of association trumps your desire, however blameless, to serve in it.
But if the Supreme Court is the court of final appeal in our legal system, it is not the final word of civil society. Thirteen years later, the BSA has signaled, with a microcosmic nod to the principles of federalism, that it will let local chapters decide whether to admit gay scouts and scout leaders.
So instead of a controversial legal remedy, followed by years of embittered acquiescence, the BSA is changing voluntarily. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins would insist, not without reason, that we should use the word “voluntarily” advisedly. “If the board capitulates to the bullying of homosexual activists, the Boy Scouts’ legacy of producing great leaders will become yet another casualty of moral compromise. The Boy Scouts should stand firm,” he said in a statement.
Time will tell if the Boy Scouts’ compromise renders their mission, well, compromised. But it strikes me that private actors adjudicated this conflict on their own. It required no diktat from the executive branch or the federal bench. Social peace has been preserved.
Reform, sometimes, is organic.
Says civil society: “Yes we can.”
The filmmaker-playwright David Mamet, of whose hot-and-bothered political conversion I’m decidedly not a fan, recently penned a column about gun control for The Daily Beast. The first half of the piece features a lot of wind about Marxism, the State, the Left, the Government, Human Nature, and Politicians. Having already dragged myself through The Secret Knowledge, Mamet’s political manifesto, I decided to skim over this portentous preamble.
I did, however, fasten onto this:
An assault weapon is that which used to be called a “submachine gun.” That is, a handheld long gun that will fire continuously as long as the trigger is held down.
These have been illegal in private hands (barring those collectors who have passed the stringent scrutiny of the Federal Government) since 1934. Outside these few legal possessors, there are none in private hands. They may be found in the hands of criminals. But criminals, let us reflect, by definition, are those who will not abide by the laws. What purpose will passing more laws serve?
Intrigued, I did some digging around the interwebs in search of data: how often are illegally possessed machine guns used in crimes? The pro-gun rights website GunCite.com had some oldish figures (but applicable to a period of high crime rates in the U.S.):
[I]n Targeting Guns, [Gary] Kleck writes, four police officers were killed in the line of duty by machine guns from 1983 to 1992. (713 law enforcement officers were killed during that period, 651 with guns.)
In 1980, when Miami’s homicide rate was at an all-time high, less than 1% of all homicides involved machine guns. (Miami was supposedly a “machine gun Mecca” and drug trafficking capital of the U.S.) Although there are no national figures to compare to, machine gun deaths were probably lower elsewhere. Kleck cites several examples:
- Of 2,200 guns recovered by Minneapolis police (1987-1989), not one was fully automatic.
- A total of 420 weapons, including 375 guns, were seized during drug warrant executions and arrests by the Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad (Will and Grundie counties in the Chicago metropolitan area, 1980-1989). None of the guns was a machine gun.
- 16 of 2,359 (0.7%) of the guns seized in the Detroit area (1991-1992) in connection with “the investigation of narcotics trafficking operations” were machine guns.
More recently, a 2009 report by California’s Bureau of Forensic Services found that of all firearms used in the commission of crimes in the Golden State that year, machine guns accounted for just two percent (handguns, meanwhile: 82 percent).
How interesting, I thought: the kind of weapons that are the most difficult to obtain are the least often used.
Pressed for time, I couldn’t finish the rest of Mamet’s column—but I assume he must have reached the same conclusion. Reality-based, anti-utopian conservative that he is, I’m certain he said that, yeah, America could try to transform itself into Japan, where access to guns is severely limited, and gun violence is extraordinarily rare. But such a transformation, if it could even be carried off, would do violence (of a different sort) to America’s constitutional inheritance. I’m certain that Mamet conceded that, like the American experience with machine guns inversely proves, easy accessibility to guns correlates with higher rates of homicide in other developed countries, too.
Knowing Mamet, he probably said something like, We make this choice because we choose to be free.
Read the column for yourself and let me know in the comment box if I’m mistaken.
Here’s a potential stumbling block for Sen. Marco Rubio’s strategy of whispering to the talk-radio right: If current immigration law, or what passes for it, is “de facto amnesty,” then the 11 or 12 million undocumented workers residing here illegally would have no incentive to “come out of the shadows” and take advantage of Rubio’s path to legal status.
Step back and recall the reason why many Republicans urgently want to tackle the immigration issue (other than to establish Rubio’s credentials as a reformer and policy wonk as preparation for a 2016 presidential run). Obviously, they want to improve the party’s image among Hispanics. Pace Mitt Romney, they would like to deliver a gift to a growing demographic.
To sell the plan to immigration restrictionists, however, Rubio must emphasize its punitive measures—its law-and-order litany of, as Romney-turned-Rubio booster Jennifer Rubin explains, monetary fines, back taxes, community service, and adverse treatment in the application for legal residence or citizenship.
At a certain level, this is how all large-scale legislative reforms work; you assemble a coalition by discretely highlighting the most appealing aspects of your proposal—access to medical care for the working poor, more customers for hospitals and insurers, lower costs (in theory!) for everyone, to use the Obamacare sales pitch as an example. If enough people think they’ll gain more than they lose, your reform stands a chance of becoming law. But Rubio appears to be playing this game to the point of internal contradiction. If he tells the likes of Mark Levin and Sean Hannity that current law is a better deal for undocumented workers, then what’s in it for undocumented workers? How would it tangibly improve their lives?
To be clear, I hope something like the Rubio-Bush-Obama framework eventually becomes law. While far from perfect, it’s better than the easily-flouted system currently in place. Maybe this PR flaw, as I see it, won’t matter much. At this point, it appears that both sides are hungry enough for a deal to ignore the dissonance of Rubio’s case for comprehensive reform.