Nel's New Day

June 14, 2013

Six Months since Newtown Massacre

Twenty-eight people died of gun violence because of one armed young man only six months ago today. The flurry of attempts to reduce further gun violence in the United States gave some people hope that it would happen, but NRA knew that interest would fade if they stood their ground. Yet the people in Newtown (CT) where 20 children and six educators were gunned down in that massacre haven’t quit. Today they held a remembrance that included reading the names of the more than 5,000 people in the country killed with guns which is expected to take 12 hours.

Mayors against Illegal Guns has launched a bus tour through 25 states during the next 100 days to build support for expanded background checks for gun buyers, the legislation that failed in the Senate two months ago. Relatives of victims have gone to Washington, D.C. to lobby for gun control legislation although some of the legislators refuse to meet with them.

NRA has Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in their sights with an ad campaign telling people to phone his office and tell him “to honor his commitment to the 2nd Amendment.”

The gun organization has a strong supporter in convicted felon Gary W. Bornman who wrote from a federal super-maximum security prison in Colorado to his Connecticut hometown newspaper, The Hartford Courant  expressing his gratitude to the pro-gun lawmakers and NRA for giving him the ability to easily get guns when he’s released. As he pointed out in the letter, without the NRA and these legislators he could not easily buy weapons before he reaches Connecticut with its restrictive laws so that he can “resume my criminal activities.” He finishes the letter:

“And so, a heartfelt thank you to the NRA and all those members of Congress voting with them. I, along with tens of thousands of other criminals, couldn’t do what we do without you.”

This isn’t the first time that Bornman has written letters to the public. In a 1999 letter to the LA Times, he wrote:

“In little more than 14 months, in all probability I’ll commit murder, perhaps even mass murder. That’s when I’m due to be released from federal prison where I’m serving a seven-year sentence for bank robbery.”

Bornman’s public defender, Gary Weinberger, thinks that his client is not really that dangerous.

When Bornman is released from the Colorado prison, he can drop into adjacent Nevada, where the state legislature just passed a bill to close the gun-show loophole by requiring background checks on gun purchases, including private transactions. They followed the wishes of 86 percent of people in Nevada. Bornman could get a gun in Nevada, however, because Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed the bill, claiming it would do “little to prevent criminals from unlawfully obtaining firearms.” Another provision of the vetoed bill would require Nevada courts to submit information about mentally ill legal defendants to a national clearinghouse for all new gun purchases within five business days after the finding.

Some gun enthusiasts claiming that the Second Amendment gives everyone the right to own guns and ammunition are trying to stop the U.S. government from having them. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), chair of the House Homeland Security oversight subcommittee, is confused about why IRS law enforcement agents would train with AR-15 rifles. He said, “It’s been bugging me for weeks now, why IRS agents are training with a semi-automatic rifle AR-15, which has stand-off capability. Are Americans that much of a target that you need that kind of capability?” These are exactly my sentiments for the ordinary U.S. citizen.

The tax agency’s explanation:

“As law enforcement officials, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agents are equipped similarly to other federal, state and local law enforcement organizations. Special Agents receive training on the appropriate and safe use of assigned weapons. IRS Criminal Investigation has internal controls and oversight in place to ensure all law enforcement tools, including weapons are used appropriately.”

Fighting potentially violent criminals has been part of IRS agents’ job for 90 years; their jurisdiction includes “tax, money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act laws.”  The IRS guidelines for training its agents on semi-automatic rifles occurred in 2003 under George W. Bush’s watch.

Since the Newtown massacre, the House has passed one piece of gun control legislation.  By a vote of 234-192, the House voted last week to stop DHS from buying any more ammunition until they submit reports on the need for this to Congress. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has proposed a similar measure in Congress’s other chamber.

During the past six months, gun violence has killed an average of 28 people each day, more than the number of U.S. military members killed during the Iraq War. In the last 30 years, 62 mass shootings occurred in thirty different states, making an average of two each year. Twenty-five of them happened since 2006—seven of them last year with 140 victims. Mother Jones has tracked these on an interactive map.

During the past four years, the U.S. averaged over one mass shooting per month. In the last six months, there have been at least 14 mass shootings—over two each month. An interactive map of the nation, pinpointing these shootings, is available here.

An analysis of the 62 mass shootings shows the following:

Weapons: The killers possessed 143 weapons, more than three quarters obtained legally, including dozens of assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines.

Locations:  More than half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (12 and 20, respectively); the other 30 cases took place in locations such as shopping malls, restaurants, and religious and government buildings.

Killers: Forty four were white males; only one was a woman. The average age of the killers was 35, with the youngest 11 years old. A majority had demonstrated being mentally troubled before they killed.

Not once was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. In other recent rampages, civilians who tried to intervene not only failed but also were seriously wounded or killed. Even the police don’t have a good record: New York City police officers trained in counterterrorism wounded nine innocent bystanders when confronting a gunman at the Empire State Building.

Without registration, no one knows exactly how many guns are in private hands, but estimates indicate about 200 million privately-owned guns in 1995, a number that has increased 50 percent in the past 18 years to 300 million. During the same time, the U.S. population grew by only 20 percent. Yet fewer households have guns: 40 percent of them had weapons in the past decade compared to 50 percent in the 1980s.

During the last four years, the NRA and its political allies have pushed through 99 laws in 37 states making guns easier to own, carry, and conceal from the government. Eight states permit guns in bars, even when the carrier is intoxicated. Five states allow concealed weapons on college campuses. Kansas permit holders can carry concealed weapons inside K-12 schools, and Louisiana permits guns in houses of worship. Eighty percent of states now recognize handgun permits from at least some other states.

At least one educator is making a different in the gun control issue. Believing that children who play with toy guns become desensitized, making it easier for them to use real guns later, Strobridge Elementary School (CA) Principal Charles Hill organized a toy gun exchange. Gun rights enthusiasts claim that toy guns are painted in “bright colors,” making it impossible for them to be mistaken for a real gun, but “real guns” are also painted in such colors as bright pink and blue. About 75 children traded their guns for books and a chance on four bicycles.

Until 1996, Australia had the same lax attitude toward gun ownership that the United States does. After 35 people were killed in a massacre on April 28 of that year, Australia passed restrictive gun controls, requiring a “genuine reason” for permits and prohibiting gun ownership for convicted felons and those with mental illness. The rate of homicides involving firearms per 100,000 population in 2009 was 0.1 in Australia, as compared with 3.3 in the United States.The rate of unintentional deaths involving firearms in 2001 was 0.09, compared with 0.27 in the United States. Only Latin America has a higher death rate from guns than the United States.

May 18, 2013

Saturday Catchup: Maps, Police Brutality, Michigan School, Shelter Dumping, Agency Heads

The GOP has obsessed about scandals and President Obama’s failures during the past week, while the media has obsessed about the GOP obsessions. The scandals, much to the GOP dismay because of their hard work, are falling apart, thus today’s blog moves on briefly to other news.

Maps fascinate me, and geography students at Humboldt State University (which is in California’s northern hippie-heaven) have developed a doozey called “Geography of Hate.” They examined more than 150,000 geocoded tweets that indicate the location of the user for the time between June 2012 and April 2013, searching for ones with racist, homophobic or anti-disability words.

After deciding whether the tweets were using the terms in a hateful way, they determined that a majority of hateful tweets come from smaller towns and rural areas. For example, some of the biggest spots for homophobic tweets are along the border of Oklahoma and Texas, and one of the biggest hubs of racist tweets is in a seemingly empty area of western Indiana. Far more racist tweets come out of the middle of North Dakota than in Fargo. Homophobic tweets have a wider spread across the nation than racist ones which are centered in the Southeast. You can pull up the map to find any county in the country.

The project is a follow-up to a similar study on floatingsheep.com that mapped racial tweets after President Obama’s reelection in 2012. In both cases, students used the Dolly Project (Digital Online Life and You), an archive of geolocated tweets, for the data. 

Another map shows the dominant religion in each state: red, Evangelical Protestants; blue, Catholics; yellow, Mainline Protestants; and green, Other (which means Mormon in the three green states). This map of religion has a strong parallel with political “red” and “blue” states. Only four states with an evangelical plurality went for Barack Obama in the 2012 election: Florida, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. And only four states with a Catholic plurality went for Mitt Romney: Arizona, Louisiana, Montana, and Nebraska.

Largest_religious_plurality_by_state

Because the information from Association of Religion Data Archives is limited to people who belong to congregations, the numbers of “unclaimed” in each state may skew the results. For example, the Pacific Northwest may not be dominated by evangelicals because it has more “unclaimed” people. States with the highest “unclaimed” percentages are Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Alaska, and Nevada. People who want the exact numbers in all the states can go to this Google document.

The point, however, is that the map of religion in the United States looks a lot like the map of politics.

YouTube is inundated with videos of police brutality, and actions of the police trying to prevent this from happening, are backfiring. Makia Smith is suing the Baltimore Police Department, the police commissioners, and police officers for beating her up and smashing her camera because she filmed the officers beating up a man. She claimed that Officer Church said, “You want to film something, bitch? Film this!” Then he reached inside her car, grabbed her telephone-camera out of her hand, threw it on the ground, and smashed it with his foot. Three other officers joined Church in beating up the woman before arresting her.

Church failed to appear for trial, twice, and prosecutors dropped the charges. She still had to hire a lawyer to recover her impounded car.

Last week in Bakersfield (CA), David Silva was beaten to death by eight Kern County police officers. The 911 caller said she taped everything from when the sheriffs arrived until Silva was left dead in the street. A few hours after the death, the police went to the witnesses’ home to confiscate videos. After a witness, Melissa Quair, refused, the police brought a search warrant and took the phone and video. Jason Land, another witness, was arrested.

The FBI is now checking into the death after video footage came up missing on one of the phones. One of the deputies confronting Silva has the same name as a deputy accused in the 2010 death of a man who was struck 33 times with batons and tasered 29 times. The lawsuit resulted in a judgment of $4.5 million for the plaintiffs. The death of a jail inmate in 2005 at the hands of three deputies resulted in a $6-million civil judgement.

Several days after the attack, all the police officers accused of being involved in the beating were still on duty.

Last July, Washington D.C. police confiscated Earl Staley’s smartphone after he photographed a police cruiser hit a motorbike and then hit the rider, who was bleeding on the ground. When he got the phone back, the SIM memory card containing all his data, passwords, and photographs had been removed. The confiscation came one day after police officers were ordered not to take phones from people who were photographing them. Stakey is suing.

In a good news/bad news story, the Buena Vista School District (MI) has re-opened after closing on May 7 when it ran out of money. It took over a week for the state to release enough money to recall 27 laid-off teachers and let the 430 students finish the current school year. The irony of the situation is that the teachers offered to work for no pay until something could be worked out, but Gov. Rick Snyder, responsible for $1 billion cuts to education, refused to let them despite the fact that the state constitution guarantees every child a free education.

Again on the good side, Nevada’s health department is no longer sending psychiatric patients on a one-way bus trip out of state in an action called “shelter dumping.” Over 1,500 patients had been sent from Rawson Neal hospital (Las Vegas) before the policy was changed.

The Sacramento Bee broke the story, using James Flavy Coy Brown as an example. He arrived from Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services (Las Vegas) with his walking papers, a schedule detailing his 15-hour bus ride from Las Vegas to Sacramento, a three-day supply of medication (including one for schizophrenia), and directions to call 911 for help. His “address at discharge” read “Greyhound Bus Station to California.” Officers took the confused man to Loaves & Fishes which provides daytime services to homeless people.

The most amazing news of the past week is that the Senate approved President Obama’s nominee to head up Medicare and Medicaid, Marilyn B. Tavenner, by a 97-7 vote. The agency will now have its first confirmed chief in six and a half years since Dr. Mark B. McClellan left in October 2006. The agency spends more than $800 billion a year, more than the Defense Department.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), still working for his re-election, voted against Tavenner. The other Republicans opposing Tavenner were Sens. Michael D. Crapo (ID), Jim Risch (ID), Ted Cruz (TX), Ron Johnson (WI), Mike Lee (UT), and Rand Paul (KY). The president’s first choice who was never confirmed, Dr. Donald M. Berwick, was a temporary recess appointment for 17 months in 2010-2011.

In even more astounding news, the Senate unanimously confirmed a new Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz. It’s understandable that the conservatives would support him because of his love for coal mining, oil drilling in the Arctic, and fracking everywhere. The Senate Energy Committee has also cleared Sally Jewell, the former CEO of outdoor retail giant REI and friend to fracking, to lead the Interior Department.

Next week, however, the conflicts and the GOP’s manufactured scandals will return, including the discussion of Gina McCarthy, nominee for the EPA head, and Richard Cordray, nominee for director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The GOP has sworn that they will never vote for anyone for that position—it’s like “no new taxes.” If the GOP frustrates the Dems enough, it could bring the end to the filibuster.

July 22, 2012

Whining Republicans Protest States’ Rights

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 4:45 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

President Obama is gutting welfare: that’s the latest cry from Republicans about a recent White House directive giving more flexibility to states in determining requirements for welfare. Mitt Romney is leading the charge, complaining that Obama wants to “strip the established work requirements” from the welfare reform act of 2006 that required people to be searching for work in order to get any welfare. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)follows right behind, calling the action “a partisan disgrace.”

Back in 2005, 29 governors asked Congress to grant them waivers from some requirements in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Romney, then Massachusetts governor, signed the letter asking for waivers as well as Gov. [Haley] Barbour (Mississippi) and Gov. Mike Huckabee (Alabama). Secretary Tommy Thompson and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) also supported the waiver suggestion. Romney’s campaign now denies that he would do such a thing, but the signatures are on the Daily Kos website. It won’t be the first time that the Romney camp has had to back down when they lacked the facts about an issue.

George W. Bush didn’t take any action on the governors’ request, but less than two weeks ago the current White House issued a directive that giving alternatives to states so that they can use a combination of learning and work or vocational educational training to meet TANF requirements. George Sheldon, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), invited all the states to submit applications for waivers from certain parts of the TANF law, permitting states the opportunity to try programs that promote employment for welfare recipients in the face of the recession.

Sheldon’s memo states, “The Secretary will not use her authority to allow use of TANF funds to provide assistance to individuals or families subject to the TANF prohibitions on assistance.” That means that states cannot bail out people who aren’t on TANF because they didn’t meet the law’s work requirement. States have to provide specific methods of performance evaluation with establish necessary standards for the continuation of the state’s program.

Current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote that “within limits, however, we agree … that states should have ‘the flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively serve low-income populations.” She did add in her letters to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), “We do not go as far as these governors in supporting state flexibility.”

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ LaDonna Pavetti wrote that TANF’s work requirements are often phrased in terms of “activities,” unpaid work and internships, job searching, etc. as well as employment, activities which may only lead to unpaid work or unsuccessful job hunts. Waivers could  target employment rather than activity and ensure that successes are actually employment and not “busy work.” Pavetti added that waivers could reduce “mind-numbing” (Sheldon’s term) red tape and free up social service workers to give more attention to people in need.

When jobs were plentiful in the late 1990s, welfare reform moved people into employment. The growing recession has caused a steady drop of transferring single women into employment. Much of the TANF money is also spent on administration: only 30 percent of the budgets are used for cash assistance, and twice as many people live on less than $2 per day now.

Thus far two states with GOP governors, Utah and Nevada, have submitted requests for a waiver so far, while three additional states, Connecticut, Minnesota, and California, have asked about the potential for waivers. Also Orrin Hatch, also from Utah, is a leader in trying to dismantle the president’s directive.

Sounds like a win-win, giving states the flexibility to create their own programs, but the Republicans are reacting like swarming bees, stinging everything in sight. They’re screaming that the directive is “a blatant violation of the law” and have dragged out the old canard that poor people will become more dependent on handouts. “By waiving the law’s requirements, President Obama will make it harder for Americans to escape poverty,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) wrote in a statement. “He is hurting the very people he claims to help.” Rick Santorum compared President Obama to “a two-bit dictator” in this attempt to permit states to make welfare requirements more flexible.

Nevada wrote the following in its request for a waiver:

“Nevada is very interested in working with your staff to explore program waivers that have the potential to encourage more cooperative relationships among the state agencies engaged in economic stimulus through job creation, employment skill attainment and gainful employment activities. Nevada is also interested in exploring performance measures that ensure program accountability and also increase the probability of families becoming self-sufficient by providing meaningful data as to the services or combination of services with the best outcomes.”

Nevada Republicans think they can benefit from the voluntary program. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had a hissy fit about the lack of states right. So now Republicans want regulations and federal law? Go figure!   Republicans just want to disagree with President Obama more than they want to follow their own philosophy. They will do anything to destroy President Obama even if it destroys the country.

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