In the USA...
April 2, 2013
In Mexican Villages, Few Are Left to Dream of U.S.
By DAMIEN CAVE
EL CARGADERO, Mexico — The pretty houses in the hills here, with their bright paint and new additions, clearly display the material benefits of having millions of workers move to the United States over the past few decades. But these simple homes also reveal why another huge exodus would be unlikely: the bulk of them are empty.
All across Mexico’s ruddy central plains, most of the people who could go north already have. In a region long regarded as a bellwether of illegal immigration — where the flow of migrants has often seemed never-ending — the streets are wind-whipped and silent. Homes await returning families, while dozens of schools have closed because of a lack of students. Here in El Cargadero, a once-thriving farm community of 3,000, only a few hundred people remain, at most.
“It’s not like it used to be,” said Fermin Saldivar Ureño, 45, an avocado farmer whose 13 brothers and sisters are all in California. “I have three kids, my parents had 14. There just aren’t as many people to go.”
As Congress considers a sweeping overhaul of immigration, many lawmakers say they are deeply concerned that providing a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States would mean only more illegal immigration.
They blame the amnesty that President Ronald Reagan approved in 1986 for the human wave that followed, and they fear a repeat if Congress rewards lawbreakers and creates an incentive for more immigrants to sneak across the border.
“The big problem with immigration is convincing people in the country that it won’t turn into a 1986 endgame,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who is in the bipartisan group of senators working on a bill.
But past experience and current trends in both Mexico and the United States suggest that legalization would not lead to a sudden flood of illegal immigration on the scale of what occurred after 1986. Long-running surveys of migrants from Mexico found that work, not the potential to gain legal status, was the main cause of increased border crossings in the 1990s and 2000s. And as Mr. Saldivar points out, times have changed.
The American economy is no longer flush with jobs. The border is more secure than ever. And in Mexico the birthrate has fallen precipitously, while the people who left years ago have already sent their immediate relatives across, or started American families of their own.
“It’s a new Mexico, it’s a new United States, and the interaction between them is new,” said Katherine Donato, a sociologist at Vanderbilt University who specializes in immigration. As for Congressional action spurring a surge of illegal crossings, she added: “You’re just not going to see this massive interest. You don’t have the supply of people. You have a dangerous trip that costs a lot more money, and there has been strong growth all over Latin America. So if people in Central America are disenfranchised and don’t have jobs, as was the case in Mexico three or four decades ago, they might decide to go south.”
Of course, hundreds of thousands of people, from all over Mexico and other parts of the world, still try to reach the United States each year, and the country’s magnetism will partly depend on the details of what Congress approves. Who will be eligible? How long will they have to wait, and what barriers will lawmakers erect to prevent new immigrants from entering illegally and finding work?
Some scholars argue that granting any form of legal status encourages illegal migration because it creates a more settled immigrant class, attracting other relatives. “If that person is a green card holder, the power of that network would seem to be significantly stronger,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which advocates reduced immigration.
Many lawmakers, particularly Republicans, see the 1986 law — the Immigration Reform and Control Act — as the prime example of what can go wrong.
Billed as a sweeping effort to halt illegal immigration, it gave legal status to around 2.7 million immigrants through two programs: one for farm workers and another for immigrants who had been living in the United States since 1982. For the first few years after it passed, illegal crossings fell because migrants who had once entered the United States illegally suddenly had papers allowing them to come and go at will.
But by 1990, the flaws began to show. The documentation requirements for agricultural workers were loose enough to allow for widespread fraud, encouraging people to cross the still relatively unprotected border and apply.
More significant, experts say, work visas for Mexico’s masses of poor, young men were hard to obtain and sanctions against employers using illegal workers were rarely enforced. As a result, American companies and immigrants continued to seek each other out.
“The great wave of Mexican migration to the U.S. in the second half of the 1990s and early 2000s was driven by the abundance of jobs generated by the U.S. economic boom of this period,” said Wayne Cornelius, director emeritus of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego. “Any delayed effects of” the 1986 amnesty “were inconsequential compared with the incentives created by U.S. job growth,” he said.
Here in central Mexico, local economics and demographics also played a significant role. The collapse of the Mexican peso in 1994 and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which made it harder for Mexican farmers to make a living, pushed some families to Mexican cities and accelerated a migration pattern that would soon reshape both sides of the border. More immigrants now living in the United States come from central Mexico than from any other place in the world, according to census and survey data in both countries.
In states like Zacatecas, many areas emptied out gradually. If a visa could not be obtained, the sons and daughters of farming families crossed with smugglers, calling local radio stations back home to announce to their relatives that they had survived the journey.
“It became a way of life,” said Eduardo López Mireles, president of the municipality of Jerez, which includes El Cargadero. “There are 50,000 people from Jerez over there, and 57,000 here.”
But over the past few years, the traffic patterns have changed. In Jerez and other places, the established cross-border networks of family connections that made possible one of the greatest immigration waves in American history are either tapped out — with most close relatives already in the United States — or they are sending people home. Not only were more than 10,000 Zacatecans deported in 2012 alone, according to state figures, but thousands of others have returned voluntarily because of a lack of work.
Many of these returning migrants — like Angel Castro, 38, who was sitting on a bench wearing a watch with an American flag — say they do not intend to head north again for a shot at legalization. “It’s just too hard,” Mr. Castro said.
In a half dozen towns in Zacatecas, scores of residents of all ages said that crossing the border had become too expensive and dangerous to consider seriously. In Perales, a hilltop village surrounded by fields of oats, corn and beans, a dozen men gathered by a church said it was not just all the extra American enforcement; they also feared the criminal gangs that now dominate smuggling.
Though most of the men had worked illegally in the United States before, they all said that even if they got in again, new rules would probably make it harder for them to work and impossible for them to qualify for any proposed pathway to citizenship. And because of increased prosecution in the United States, they said, getting caught without papers now could torpedo any chance of a visa later on, even just to visit relatives.
“The amnesty, it’s for them, the people who are there,” said Jose Luis Lopez, 32, a laborer in Perales with a brother in Dallas and another in Los Angeles. “It doesn’t mean much for us.”
Over the long term, experts predict that eventual citizenship for 11 million more immigrants could greatly increase legal migration as families reunite. Congress appears interested in limiting the swell, with the senators drafting legislation saying the bill might eliminate visas for married adult children and siblings of American citizens.
Regardless, the pool of potential applicants is shrinking. In a sign of just how much family reunification has already occurred, legally or not, remittances to Jerez have fallen to $100,000 or less per day, down from $1 million in the late 1980s, according to Jerez officials.
Especially in the small towns that have been sending migrants north for decades, the void is stunning. In Santa Ines, three secondary school grades were combined this year into just two classes, including one with only 11 students.
On the main road into El Cargadero, most homes are locked up and gathering dust. On a recent afternoon, there were only two people on the street: an old man in a wheelchair and another with a cane. The sound of a radio inside a home blocks away could be heard as clearly as the men’s conversation.
Nearly everyone in the town has relatives in the United States — one woman counted 150 — but the families still here tend to be intact, suggesting that legalization would be less of a magnet than before. And there are simply not as many young people over all: the birthrate across Mexico has fallen from nearly seven children per family in 1970 to just over two, partly because of a government push for family planning. Mr. Saldivar, the avocado farmer, says his daughter’s sixth-grade class has seven students, compared with 30 when he attended.
He doubted that his three children would bother heading to the United States. His son is in a college preparatory program. He and his wife, whose nine siblings are also all in the United States or Canada, live comfortably in a small, well-kept home with flowered curtains. Their main nod to migration is linguistic: they pay an English teacher to instruct their children so they can communicate with their American cousins. They are among the many here who no longer see the United States as a dreamland, recoiling at the anti-immigrant sentiment there and the stories of struggle that relatives share in phone calls and e-mails.
At least initially, many Zacatecans said, legalization may actually send more people south than north, as millions of immigrants would be able to come and go from the United States legally for the first time in years.
J. Reyes Sanchez, 53, one of the men chatting near the church, said he wanted nothing more than to see his three children in the United States, and his American grandchildren, and a pathway to citizenship could let that happen. “They could come see their family, they could come see me,” he said. “They’d practically be tourists here, but they need to come.”
April 02, 2013 03:00 PM
As Predicted, Higher Taxes Not Hurting Spending by the Rich
By Jon Perr
As the nation teetered on the edge of the so-called "fiscal cliff" in late 2012, Republican leaders warned that higher taxes for the rich would crush "job creators" and derail the U.S. economic recovery. But according to a new survey, a majority of those earning over $500,000 a year report that the new higher rates on income and capital gains have not impacted their spending, charitable giving or investment strategies. As it turns out, the Chicken Little conservatives could have spared themselves this embarrassment had they just heeded the lessons of American history and the predictions of the Congressional Budget Office.
Last fall, the nonpartisan CBO forecast the impact of "going over the fiscal cliff." As the chart above shows, CBO warned that the combination of the expiring Bush tax cuts for all Americans, the end of the temporary payroll tax holiday and the steep budget cuts of the sequester could catapult unemployment to 9.1 percent while slashing gross domestic product by 2.9 percent in 2013. But ending the Bush tax cuts for households earning over $250,000 a year, the agency assured lawmakers, would have virtually no impact (the 0.1 percent of GDP in light blue above) on the U.S. economy at all.
As CNBC reported last Wednesday, the CBO appears to have had it exactly right--at least so far. The GOP's dire predictions that upper-income Americans would "would spend less, invest less and give less to charity" have not come to pass:
The Shullman Luxury and Affluence Monthly Pulse found that 55 percent of people making $500,000 or more said higher taxes have not impacted their spending plans. Fully 61 percent of those making $250,000 or more said taxes have not impacted their spending plans.
On investing, 59 percent of those making $500,000 or more (and 64 percent of the $250,000-plus group) said higher taxes have not impacted their investment strategies. When it comes to charity, 55 percent of those making $500,000 or more, and 62 percent of those making $250,00 or more, said paying more taxes has not impacted their giving plans.
Of course, it's still early in the year. It's possible some of the well-to-do (that is, households earning over $450,000 a year) have not yet adjusted to the fiscal cliff deal that raised their income tax rate to 39.6 percent (from 35) and capital gains and dividend tax rate to 20 percent (from 15) in addition to the surcharges from the Affordable Care Act.
Possible, but unlikely. As the decades of U.S. history show, the American economy grew faster and produced more jobs when upper-class tax rates were higher--even much higher--than today. And as the data also show, lower capitals gains tax rates don't fuel greater investment, but instead greater income inequality.
And right now, income inequality is at record highs. For the wealthiest Americans, the recession was a blip. Their steep losses have already been erased by the doubling of the stock market over the past four years. As a recent analysis by University of California Professor Thomas Saez revealed, between 2009 and 2011 the top one percent saw their incomes rise by 11 percent, even as the other 99 percent continued to lose ground. To put it another way, during that period the gilded class more than captured all of the income gains.
But despite having once again been mugged by reality, Republicans won't be changing their talking points any time soon. After all, when the Congressional Research Service last fall published an analysis which found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth, Senate Republicans demanded its retraction. And as it turns out, this spring's continuing budget resolution contained a little noticed GOP amendment asking the CBO to use so-called "dynamic scoring" which assumes that tax cuts will pay for at least part of their cost by generating more economic activity.
Republicans, who have accused the agency of "budget gimmickry" or called for its outright elimination, are demanding these changes not because the Congressional Budget Office got it wrong, but precisely because the CBO got it right.
Obama launches $100 million brain-mapping project
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 2, 2013 13:13 EDT
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced a $100 million project to map the intricate inner mysteries of the human brain, targeting cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s.
“The most powerful computer in the world isn’t nearly as intuitive as the one we’re born with,” Obama said at the White House.
“There’s this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked. And the BRAIN initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action,” Obama said.
The research initiative, financed with $100 million of Obama’s budget that will be unveiled next week, will seek to find new ways to treat, cure and prevent brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.
Researchers will try to make complex pictures of the inner brain that show how individual cells and neural circuits work and interact and examine how the brain records, uses and retrieves vast amounts of information.
The BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative will be run by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation.
Obama was introduced as “scientist in chief” at the White House event by NIH Director Francis Collins, and his administration makes the case that despite tough fiscal times, investments in science are vital.
“I am glad I have been promoted to scientist in chief — given my grades in physics, I am not sure it is deserving,” the president said.
“But I hold science in proper esteem, so maybe I get some credit.”
The Christian Science Monitor
Fannie Mae record profit: How long until it pays back bailout money?
By Mark Trumbull, Staff writer / April 2, 2013 at 6:51 pm EDT
The mortgage giant Fannie Mae said it racked up its highest profit ever during the 2012 calendar year – a signal of housing-market recovery that raises hopes that US taxpayers will recover billions of dollars in bailout funds from the company.
Fannie Mae on Tuesday reported earnings of $17.2 billion for the year.
The firm, along with a sibling corporation named Freddie Mac, is at the heart of a US mortgage market that imploded during the financial crisis. The two firms received some of the biggest taxpayer bailouts in 2008.
But now, as housing markets are recovering, so are their fortunes.
Fannie Mae has drawn some $116 billion in financial support from the US Treasury since the firm was taken over in a federal conservatorship in 2008. Some $35.6 billion of that has, in effect, been paid back through dividend payments to the Treasury since 2009.
The company has paid a $4.2 billion dividend to the Treasury in the first quarter of 2013.
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“We expect to remain profitable for the foreseeable future and return significant value to taxpayers,” said Susan McFarland, the firm’s chief financial officer, in releasing the new profit numbers.
In February, Freddie Mac gave a similar progress report of its own, banking $11 billion in net income for 2012. The firm has paid dividends totaling some $23.8 billion to the Treasury – or 33 percent of the company’s cumulative bailout draw – since conservatorship.
Paying back the full bailout funds is still a long way off for both firms.
And even if they achieve that goal, that doesn’t mean the bailouts would be cost-free. For one thing, economists say the rescues come with “moral hazard” attached. That term refers to the risk that the behavior of large financial firms will be guided somewhat that they can expect bailouts in future crises.
Still, the rescue of Fannie and Freddie symbolize policies that worked, in the view of many economists, to quell a spreading panic in financial markets that could have made the recession much deeper.
And, in the housing market in particular, Fannie and Freddie (along with the Federal Housing Administration) have acted as bulwarks of mortgage underwriting during the past five years, when other sources of credit had largely dried up.
Fannie and Freddie provide mortgage guarantees to private lenders, or purchase loans, when the loans conform to their standards.
The goal of helping to ensure a reliable flow of mortgage credit, even during hard times, is the reason Fannie and Freddie were created in the first place. Until the conservatorship, they operated with an unusual hybrid identity as investor-owned companies serving a Congress-created purpose.
Their futures remain in doubt. Congress must consider what role the government should play in providing Fannie- and Freddie-style loan guarantees in the future.
With the example of the bailouts in mind, many argue for downsizing any implicit taxpayer underwriting of the risk that home loans will go bad, as occurred in dramatic fashion in recent years. At the same time, other lawmakers say the market for home loans shouldn’t be left completely to soar and plunge on its own.
For their part, executives at Fannie and Freddie are touting the role they’ve played in buoying the housing market since the recession ended.
“Actions [by the company] have helped … to support the housing recovery by enabling families to buy, refinance, or rent a home even during the housing crisis,” Timothy Mayopoulos, Fannie’s chief executive officer, said in the company’s statement Tuesday.
Fannie Mae was involved in some 4 million new or refinanced mortgages in 2012, and Freddie Mac accounted for another 2 million.
With the housing market stabilizing and starting to recover since 2010, the share of Fannie-backed loans where borrowers are seriously delinquent on payments has been declining.
Some 3.3 percent of its single-family loans were in serious delinquency as of December, down from 5.5 percent in March 2010. The improvement stems partly from completing foreclosures, and partly from preventing foreclosures.
GM, Ford and Chrysler post best U.S. sales since 2007
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 3, 2013 1:20 EDT
Total (NYSE: TOT – news) industry sales rose 3.4 percent from March 2012 and came in at a seasonally adjusted, annual pace of 15.3 percent, according to Autodata.
That’s down slightly from February, but means the industry has now racked up five consecutive months with a sales pace of over 15 million vehicles.
The strong sales come after years of painful restructuring and the plunge in demand following the 2008 financial crisis, which pushed GM and Chrysler into government-backed bankruptcies.
“We’re not quite back to pre-recession levels, but the industry is getting closer to a full recovery every month,” said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell.
“As long as the auto industry continues this string of 15-plus million (sales pace) every month, there won’t be any shortage of optimism.”
Since auto sales vary significantly from month to month because of traditional shopping patterns, seasonal sales and product launch schedules, analysts focus on the seasonally adjusted sales pace.
GM said it posted its best March performance since 2007 “thanks to a strengthening economy and new products” as sales rose six percent to 245,950 vehicles.
“Sales of smaller cars have been robust for some time,” GM sales chief Kurt McNeil said in a statement.
“Trucks have improved in lockstep with the housing market and the strength of the crossover market signals that America’s families are more confident about their financial health.”
Chrysler said its sales rose five percent to 171,606 vehicles in March despite limited inventory of some of its best-selling models, including Jeep and heavy-duty Ram trucks.
It was the company’s 36th consecutive month of gains in year-over-year sales, and the strongest sales for any month since December 2007.
Ford posted its best performance for any month since May 2007 as sales rose six percent to 236,160 vehicles in March.
Meanwhile, Toyota sales rose one percent to 205,342 units in March.
“The auto industry continued its string of impressive monthly results, and at Toyota we had our best month since Cash for Clunkers in August of 2009,” said Bob Carter, head of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, USA.
“A strong first-quarter close and increased consumer confidence continue to position the auto industry as a leader in the economic recovery.”
Honda sales rose seven percent to 136,038 units while Nissan saw its sales rise by one percent to 137,726 vehicles.
Korean automakers bucked the positive trend, with Kia down 15 percent at 49,125 and Hyundai (KSE: 011760.KS – news) down two percent at 68,303.
Volkswagen (Other OTC: VLKAY – news) , which has been aggressively expanding in the United States, marked its 31st consecutive month of gains and its strongest March in 40 years as sales rose three percent to 37,704 vehicles.
“While we are cautious in terms of economic outlook, we expect to see continued growth at a moderate pace in the months ahead,” said Jonathan Browning, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America.
April 2, 2013
Pipeline Spills Stir New Criticism of Keystone Plan
By DAN FROSCH
Two recent oil pipeline spills have prompted new criticism from opponents of the proposed Keystone XL project, while raising more questions about whether the federal government is adequately monitoring the nation’s vast labyrinth of pipelines.
An Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured in central Arkansas on Friday, leaving a sheen of oil on nearby streets and causing the evacuation of 22 homes in the small town of Mayflower.
Exxon Mobil said its Pegasus Line, which runs from Patoka, Ill., to Nederland, Tex., was carrying heavy crude from western Canada when the spill occurred. On Tuesday, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel of Arkansas announced that he was opening an investigation into the spill, and he asked Exxon to preserve all documents related to the accident.
Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would also move heavy Canadian crude, leapt on the Exxon spill, reiterating their contention that crude drawn from Canada’s tar sands region is too risky to transport and especially vexing to clean up.
“What we’ve got here is a small example of the type of risks associated with a tar sands pipeline,” said Anthony Swift, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of many environmental groups fighting the pipeline proposal, which is awaiting State Department approval. “It also demonstrates the large gaps in pipeline safety.”
On Tuesday, vacuum trucks and crews were still working to clean up the accident, which the Environmental Protection Agency called a “major spill.” While it was unclear how much oil had leaked, Exxon Mobil said it had recovered thousands of gallons of oil mixed with water and had prepared for a spill as large as 420,000 gallons, though it said it believed that the amount released was smaller.
“Our focus is on the safety of the people in the community and restoring the environment as soon as we possibly can,” said Alan Jeffers, an Exxon Mobil spokesman. “We’re committed to the cleanup and will stay until it’s done.”
The spill appears to be the largest accident involving heavy crude since an Enbridge Energy pipeline spill in 2010 that dumped more than 840,000 gallons near Marshall, Mich., soiling a 39-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River.
Late Tuesday, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration ordered Exxon not to restart the pipeline without getting approval, because of its proximity to populated areas and waterways, and because the initial investigation had not yet uncovered the cause of the spill.
The Arkansas spill followed an accident in Utah on March 18 in which a Chevron pipeline leaked more than 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel in a wetlands area about 50 miles from Salt Lake City.
“Chevron Pipe Line Company regrets this incident, and we are committed to remediating the affected area and mitigating all impacts on the environment,” Gareth Johnstone, a Chevron spokesman, said in a statement.
The Chevron spill was the third in three years in Utah, prompting Gov. Gary R. Herbert to sharply criticize the pipeline agency at a recent news conference. “Obviously, they have not done a very good job of overseeing the pipes that travel between our states,” he said.
The safety records of both the Exxon and Chevron pipelines have been under scrutiny in recent years. Last week, the pipeline agency proposed imposing a $1.7 million fine on Exxon Mobil over a 2011 spill that dumped an estimated 63,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River in Montana.
Records show that the pipeline agency has proposed a fine of about $150,000 in the same year over the company’s failure to properly test several pipelines.
In June 2010, a Chevron pipeline spilled more than 33,000 gallons of crude into Red Butte Creek near Salt Lake City. The company took more than 10 hours to respond to the spill, and it was fined $423,600, according to pipeline agency records. Seven months later, a second Chevron spill sent an additional 21,000 gallons of oil into the same area.
Carl Weimer, a member of the agency’s technical advisory committee, said he was told by a federal official that Chevron was thought to have misidentified the section of the pipeline that caused the spill last month.
According to Mr. Weimer, who runs a pipeline safety watchdog group, regulators believed that Chevron might have mistakenly classified the part of the pipeline in question as seamless in its integrity management plan, an internal document that helps guide inspections. In fact, the section had a seam, and it was of a type known to be subject to accidents, Mr. Weimer said.
Jeannie Layson, a spokeswoman for the pipeline agency, said it was investigating whether Chevron had correctly identified the types and ages of pipe in its integrity management plan.
However, Mr. Johnstone, the Chevron spokesman, said the company had indeed identified the part of the pipeline that ruptured as having a seam.
In recent years, critics have said that the pipeline agency has allowed pipeline companies too much autonomy in regulating their own operations. In 2011, Congress approved legislation that increased maximum fines that pipeline operators face for safety violations, among other measures.
Ms. Layson said the pipeline agency had become more aggressive in holding operators accountable for pipeline safety, while increasing enforcement and fines.
Last month, the State Department released a revised environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline, finding no conclusive evidence to keep the project from moving forward. A public hearing on the environmental report will take place this month in Nebraska. President Obama is expected to make a decision on the pipeline this year.
April 2, 2013
Report Links High Rates of Gun Violence to Weak State Regulations
By ERICA GOODE
Many states with the weakest gun laws have the worst rates of gun violence, ranking high on numerous indicators, like gun homicides and suicides, firearm deaths of children, and killings of law enforcement officers, according to a report to be issued Wednesday by the liberal Center for American Progress.
Alaska ranked first in overall gun deaths, the report found, with 20.28 deaths per 100,000 people in 2010 — more than twice the national average — followed by Louisiana and Montana, all states that prior analyses have judged to have weak gun laws. Eight of the states with the highest levels of gun violence were among the 25 with the weakest gun laws, the report found.
The report is the second in recent weeks to link gun deaths and firearms laws. Last month, a group of Boston researchers reported online in JAMA Internal Medicine that more firearm laws in a state were associated with lower rates of firearm deaths. That study took into account factors like poverty, unemployment, sex and race, education, population density, violent deaths unrelated to firearms and household firearm ownership.
Deborah Azrael, a research scientist at Harvard’s School of Public Health who studies firearms and violence, called the latest state-by-state report “a useful collation of data,” and said it “reinforces what we know from other studies, which is that the rate of exposure to firearms is associated with overall mortality.”
But the report was criticized by opponents of tighter gun laws, who faulted its methodology and said it ignored the beneficial effect of gun ownership in combating crime.
“The real world experience of guns obviously is that they are harmful in the wrong hands and protective in the right hands,” said David B. Kopel, an assistant policy analyst at the Cato Institute. “So you want to look at both effects.”
He added that high rates of gun violence in states with less gun regulation did not necessarily indicate higher crime rates over all.
“Is Louisiana a low-control state with a lot of crime? Absolutely,” he said. “On the other hand, New York and California are clearly dangerous states in comparison to the rest of the country, and they’re also very high-control states.”
The new report was based on an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In addition to firearm deaths, the report looked at other indicators of gun violence, like aggravated assaults with firearms, the percentage of guns traced to crimes within two years of their purchase, and the rate at which guns bought in one state are recovered in another after a crime is committed, a measure of illegal gun trafficking.
When all 10 indicators of gun violence were taken into consideration, Louisiana — the state with the highest rate of gun homicides, 9.5 per 100,000 people in 2010, and one of the states with the highest numbers of firearm deaths among children from 2001 to 2010 — ranked as the most violent state. Hawaii had the lowest overall rate of gun violence, followed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, all among the 10 states that an analysis last year by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence found had the toughest laws.
“Obviously, we know that correlation is not causation necessarily,” said Arkadi Gerney, a fellow at the Center for American Progress and the lead author of the report, “but it suggests that there could be a causal relationship, and there are a lot of reasons to think that there is.”
Some states did not follow the pattern. Vermont, which has relatively weak gun laws, had low rates of gun violence. Maryland, which has relatively strong firearm legislation, had a high level of gun homicides, ranking fifth, with 5.3 per 100,000 people.
Dr. Azrael, of Harvard, noted that the factors that were driving gun violence differed from state to state — in states like Montana and Idaho, for example, the rate of gun suicides greatly outstrips the rate of homicides committed with firearms.
Tightened laws like universal background checks could address the availability of guns to criminals and the spread of trafficked guns across state borders, she said. But understanding more about things like “household decision making about guns and how people weigh the costs and benefits of guns” should also be part of the conversation, she said.
April 2, 2013
Background Checks Are Still Stumbling Block in Gun Law Overhaul
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
WASHINGTON — With Senate Democrats still struggling to line up support, the success or failure of President Obama’s four-month campaign to overhaul gun laws will most likely revolve around a single provision: a proposal to expand federal background checks for gun purchases.
Background checks, both advocates and independent researchers say, would have a bigger potential effect on gun violence than any other measure under consideration — including the much-discussed assault-weapons ban, which has little chance of passing in Congress. Proposed federal gun-trafficking laws and changes to mental health databases would have a marginal impact on gun violence, experts say.
But even though around 90 percent of those polled in public surveys support background checks, the fight for it and the rest of the first major piece of gun control legislation since 1993 faces a difficult test in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, Senate aides said that formal debate and substantive votes on the gun issues would probably slip to the week of April 15 — a setback considering that Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, had pledged that it would be the first issue to come up when Congress returns from spring recess next week.
Background checks are central to the delay. Efforts to reach a compromise between Senators Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, have foundered. Separate talks between Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Mark Steven Kirk, Republican of Illinois, have also yet to yield a breakthrough.
Among the most difficult questions are which gun-purchase records the government would track and which purchases would be subject to background checks.
“The background-check piece is the single most important thing we can do right now to make a difference,” said Pia Carusone, the executive director of Americans for Sensible Solutions, the advocacy group formed by Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman, and her husband, Mark Kelly, after Ms. Giffords was shot in the head in Tucson in 2011.
“If the background check bill doesn’t pass Congress,” Ms. Carusone said, “we are not going to be happy.”
Mr. Obama will push for the legislation on Wednesday not far from the site of a movie theater massacre in Colorado last year. Next week, he will travel to Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and 6 adults at a school in December, as part of a stepped-up public campaign to pressure lawmakers.
Lawmakers who support gun rights and officials with the National Rifle Association deride background checks as ineffective and a threat to gun ownership. Most Republicans in the Senate oppose the measure, and several have said they will filibuster to prevent its passage. A handful of Democratic senators also have expressed doubts.
In the face of that opposition, approval of the legislation would represent a major victory for Mr. Obama and his allies, only months after gun-control legislation seemed a political impossibility. Advocates say that more stringent background checks would shut down large gaps in a system that allow felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to buy guns.
Since the existing background-check system began, in 1994, officials have screened more than 108 million people before they could buy a gun, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the federal government has blocked 1.9 million attempted purchases because of felony convictions or other problems with the would-be buyers’ background.
But no background check is required for about 40 percent of gun purchases, including those made online or at gun shows, federal officials estimate. Requiring checks for those purchases would be the single most effective way to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, advocates say.
“The research is so strong that it would actually make a difference,” said Ellen Alberding, the president of the Joyce Foundation, which makes research grants to inform gun violence prevention efforts. “It has been our grantees’ top priority from Day 1 on this.”
Should it eventually pass the Senate, the background check legislation would then head to a House chamber firmly controlled by Republicans and advocates of gun rights. If it fails, gun-control supporters may have missed their best chance in a generation at significant new federal laws. For the president, it would be a reminder of the limits of his powers to persuade.
“We have always said that this would be hard,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. “We remain engaged in conversations with the Senate and those senators who are interested in forging a bipartisan compromise on measures to reduce gun violence.”
A new assault weapons ban has always seemed the most visceral response to the massacre in Newtown, Conn. But with advocates of stricter gun laws turning their attention to background checks, opponents of new gun laws are doing so as well.
In the past, the N.R.A. had supported background checks. But in a February speech, Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s chief executive, lashed out at the tougher background checks being pushed by gun control advocates, which he called “the heart of their anti-gun agenda.” Mr. LaPierre said the legislation would create a national gun registry.
“When another tragic ‘opportunity’ presents itself, that registry will be used to confiscate your guns,” Mr. LaPierre warned.
Groups that oppose new gun laws are pushing hard to block the legislation. The Heritage Foundation’s lobbying group said Tuesday that it would consider votes on the gun proposals crucial to earning its support in the future. The group urged lawmakers to vote against what it called “feel good” legislation.
Gun control advocates are also stepping up their campaigns in support of an expanded background check system. The group headed by Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly will run online ads next week in four Western states — Arizona, Colorado, Montana and Nevada — urging people to call their members of Congress.
Separately, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group founded by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, will continue to run television ads aimed at persuading senators to vote for the background check legislation.
John Feinblatt, a senior adviser to Mr. Bloomberg on guns, compared the existing background check system to an airport with two lines for screening passengers — one line with security and one where people “just waltz through” without being checked.
“If you were only going to do one thing, this is the single most important thing that Congress can do to prevent gun violence,” Mr. Feinblatt said. “That’s what is going to make a difference. That’s what’s going to keep people safe.”
Mr. Bloomberg has indicated he is willing to invest some of his personal fortune in defeating candidates who refuse to support gun control measures.
“If it does fail, then Congress is going to need to explain why they thwarted the will of the electorate,” Mr. Feinblatt said of the background check provision. “When the next tragedy occurs, members of Congress will have to explain what they did to prevent it.”
Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
Republicans Use the Deficit As an Excuse to Cut Food and Health Care for Children
Apr. 2nd, 2013
There is an intrinsic quality in the animal kingdom, including human beings, to care for the young that transcends species, religion, and race without exception. In nature, the innate protection quotient is based on maintaining the species survival, and to a degree it is true of human beings as well although love and parental bond certainly play a major role. Even selfish Republicans care for children, except their regard is limited to their own offspring, unless it is politically expedient to make a phony outward display of concern for “future generations” as they enact austerity cuts to education and domestic programs that provide children with healthcare, food assistance, and a secure future. Now, Republicans are back again fighting for children’s futures and, as is their wont, they are protecting the next generation by seeking entitlement cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as the debt and deficit reduction frenzy focus shifts to protect America’s most precious resource; our children.
Over the past few weeks Republicans acknowledged there is not an imminent debt crisis even as they voted for an austerity-laden budget and celebrated drastic job-killing sequestration cuts. The fear-mongering over the immediate debt crisis is now fear mongering over the long-term deficit Republicans claim is a moral issue, and that unless deeper austerity and Social Security cuts are enacted, then America is waging “generational warfare” by “imposing a crippling burden on the next generation.” Of course, with nearly 25% of America’s children living in extreme poverty, and deeper sequester cuts over the next nine years loom large, chances are the next generation will be much smaller so it makes sense to cut “entitlements” like Social Security in the Republicans’ never-ending war on the deficit.
Last month when the President met with Republicans to mend fences and find common ground to address the deficit threatening today’s children, Social Security chained CPI cuts were on the agenda. Chained CPI reduces the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) calculations for Social Security and veterans’ benefits, and it is curious that the President is unaware that Social Security does not, by statute, add to the nation’s deficit. Perhaps the President is still laboring under the illusion that Republicans will compromise if he just gives them everything they want in exchange for a so-called “grand bargain,” but after four years of intransigence and obstruction, anything less than privatizing or eliminating both Medicare and Social Security will be met with a new hostage situation over increasing the nation’s debt limit. However, at least the President is not yet acquiescing to eliminating domestic programs or education that give the next generation a slim hope of escaping poverty.
Republicans who are now worried sick about America’s children’s future, have already taken care to assure future generations will stay mired in poverty and ignorance unless they are part of the privileged elite who can afford private schools, healthcare, and three nutritional meals a day. Over the course of the past three years, hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers were dismissed and assistance that, at one time, made college affordable for children of less-affluent families has been slashed to ensure the next generation struggles to survive the poverty 24% of today’s children live in. The millions of jobs Republican austerity cuts destroyed in deficit reduction madness all but guarantees recent high school and college graduates will never start a career unless one considers part-time minimum wage WalMart jobs a career.
If Republicans are so concerned America is cheating today’s children with crushing future deficits and creating undue burden with Social Security that does not affect the deficit, there are fiscally responsible ways to help them now and in the future. The President just re-introduced an infrastructure plan that will save over 3.1 million jobs and create millions more, but Republicans claim “America is broke” even though corporations and big businesses are hoarding huge amounts of cash from soaring profits and avoiding paying taxes on that cash. Republicans could also stop slashing public education funding and rehire over half a million teachers instead of shifting public school funds to under-performing charter schools (read private religious training) in a massive union-busting scheme funded and promoted by ALEC and the Koch brothers. No, it is much more fiscally responsible to protect children now, and in the future, with cuts to Social Security, education, Head Start, and education that all but guarantees the nearly 25% poverty-level children will struggle to survive, much less contribute to Social Security with decent paying jobs.
Republicans care about as much about future generations as they do this generation or the children they cut services and education for eliminating any hope of a living wage job now or in the future. It is important to remember, that cutting the deficit will not produce one job, hire one teacher, or feed one child that Republicans are suddenly concerned about, and cutting Social Security will not reduce the deficit by one penny which makes the bipartisan “entitlement” hawks’ argument seriously suspicious. There is a simple fix for Social Security that no Republican will consider, and it is possible they are unaware that lifting the cap on earnings will keep the American peoples’ retirement accounts solvent forever, but asking the wealthy to contribute like every other American is anathema to Republicans. It is much easier to cut Social Security under a “protect our children’s future” meme because it tugs at Americans’ heartstrings and demonstrates concern for the next generation that will face deeper poverty in their retirement.
One hopes President Obama has a strategy in acquiescing to Republicans’ 80 year assault on the New Deal’s Social Security Trust, because if cutting benefits for retirees, Veterans, and the disabled is truly to reduce the deficit and unburden future generations from Republican debt for two unfunded wars, an entitlement to big pharma, and tax cuts for the rich, he needs to read the statute that forbids the Trust from adding to the deficit. Republicans have no excuse because they were slashing programs and enacting austerity before they changed course to “unburden future generations” from “generational warfare,” and they will proceed cutting domestic programs and push for tax cuts for the rich regardless if America is swimming in cash.
It is true that children need to be protected now and in the future, but it is from Republicans who have shown a predilection to cutting education, safety nets, and jobs their parents need to provide for them now and in the future. What cutting Social Security now does is ensure that in the future, not only will today’s children struggle to provide for their own children because jobs vanished from Republican cuts, they will struggle to provide for their parents whose Social Security benefits were slashed in the deficit cutting frenzy and all because no politician in Washington understands Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. Fortunately, President Obama does understand that jobs and education will protect children’s’ future, but if he thinks giving Republicans Social Security cuts they lust for will protect children or fund job creation and better schools, he needs to look back at his first term and recall that regardless what he gave Republicans, they still cut spending on children, their education, and their future they suddenly are concerned about.
Arkansas Republican Led Senate Committee Refuses to Ratify the ERA
By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 2nd, 2013
Conservatives like to pretend there’s no war on women, but at every legislative turn, they can be found obstructing equal rights for women. In Arkansas today, the Republican-controlled State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected a proposal to ratify the ERA to the U.S. Constitution.
Two Democrats sponsored the legislation, but the committee is comprised of 5 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Seven men to one woman. That’s a ‘no’ to equal rights for women from Arkansas.
Sure, the deadline was 1982 but hey, these guys have been busy. On March 22, 1972, the ERA passed both the Senate and the House and was sent to the states for ratification. The states were given until 1982 to respond. It is currently April 2, 2013. Arkansas sure took their time about it.
Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was written in 1923 by Alice Paul and introduced in Congress the same year. It has been reintroduced in every Congressional session for half a century. What awful piece of legislation is this, that can’t pass? Oh, just that rights will be equal, not denied or abridged based upon sex.
The Equal Right Amendment Organization explains why the amendment is necessary:
The Equal Rights Amendment would provide a fundamental legal remedy against sex discrimination for both women and men. It would guarantee that the rights affirmed by the U.S. Constitution are held equally by all citizens without regard to sex.
The ERA would clarify the legal status of sex discrimination for the courts, where decisions still deal inconsistently with such claims. For the first time, sex would be considered a suspect classification, as race currently is. Governmental actions that treat males or females differently as a class would be subject to strict judicial scrutiny and would have to meet the highest level of justification – a necessary relation to a compelling state interest – in order to be upheld as constitutional.
To actual or potential offenders who would try to write, enforce, or adjudicate laws inequitably, the ERA would send a strong preemptive message – the Constitution has zero tolerance for sex discrimination under the law.
Fifteen states have not ratified the EA. They are (wait, take a guess first): Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.
In the current 113th Congress, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) reintroduced the measure.
As even the AP noted, “Similar resolutions failed before legislative panels in 2007 and 2009, after facing opposition from conservative groups.”
Conservatives often complain that the ERA is a federal power grab, citing a clause that just so happens to appear in eight other amendments. This fact suggests that it’s not about a “federal power grab”; it’s about control over women, otherwise they wouldn’t have wasted the last several years attacking women’s freedom and trying to justify rape.
How is not wanting women to have equal protection under the law anything other than a war on women?
Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp Put the Fool in April Fool’s Day
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Apr. 2nd, 201
Tim HuelskampYesterday was April 1. April Fool’s Day. Good times. People say and do silly things and don’t mean it. Some jokes can be downright mean. Some can be downright stupid.
Sadly, Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp was not joking when he published an op-ed piece in the Washington Times about marriage equality. He might have been intentionally stupid, however.
Mary Elizabeth Williams at AlterNet called it an “onion-like parody of the absurd” and it was certainly that, and so much more. Titled The War on Marriage and Motherhood, this brave Republican defender of womanhood opened his barrage on our shared reality by proclaiming, ” President Obama and I have very different notions of what a family is.”
Good thing he told us. I don’t think anyone would have known, otherwise.
Williams called his piece “unambiguous” . This is true: as in an unambiguous assault on the common sense Huelskamp pretends to be defending. Take a look at Huelskamp’s straw man:
For liberals, the family can apparently be everything from “Heather Has Two Mommies” to “Daddy’s Roommate” to Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s “It Takes a Village.” In the opinion of electoral majorities in Kansas and 40 other states, however, that does not a family make.
For conservatives, the concept of family is the same as the Judeo-Christian model God ordained, a model supported by every other major world religion. It is the same unit recognized by the laws of nature, the laws of government, and civilized societies for thousands of years: one man, married to one woman, with so many children as God should see fit to entrust to their care through birth or adoption. In my case, that means me, Angela (my wife of 18 years), and our four children (who happen to be adopted).
You wouldn’t know from this that there are many more gods – or many less – than Huelskamp proclaims. There were many gods before the God of Abraham and many people now assert there are none. Many others have vastly different conceptions of the divine than Huelskamp.
The term “Judeo-Christian” is a non-starter. As I’ve pointed out before, there is no tying Judaism to Christianity. Christianity spent the better part of its 20 centuries of existence damning Judaism and Jews to hell as “Christ-killers” – those wicked spawn of Satan who put Jesus to death. You can’t fool us now, you know. We all know how you really feel about Jews: people who continue to deny Christ, who need to be perfected.
Judaism has just one God, undivided and indivisible. Christianity has a trinity. There are good reasons Jews have continued, after 2000 years, to reject Jesus. And all that “Jews for Jesus” crap doesn’t fool anybody, least of all actual Jews.
But ideological constructs like “Judeo-Christian” aside, we could look at the reality of marriage (because we certainly can’t look at the marriage of reality and Huelskamp’s conservative Christianity). Judaism did not invent marriage. neither did Christianity. People were getting married a long time before anyone had heard of the hill tribe called Jews, first mentioned in the historical record c. 1220 BCE by the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah, who had chastised them, and other, more powerful groups, on a tour through Palestine.
Essential to conservative Christian mythology is the idea that marriage is a religious institution. But marriage is not a religious but a social institution, and often a very political one. People were being married long before Moses and without the interference of religious authorities. There is nothing inherently religious about marriage.
But if God ordained marriage and Christians have the only God (and if cave men played with dinosaurs) then, of course, Christians have control of marriage and are in a position to tell us how we can and cannot define it.
Sadly for Huelskamp and their allies, neither history nor science are on their side. Nature abounds with homosexual behavior among animal species. Marriage in the ancient world could include same-sex partners. Even Christians for many centuries cared little about homosexuality, but for all the fuss they make now you would think the entire Bible was written with only homosexuality in mind.
Huelskamp is making a mountain out of a molehill but that is not his chief offense. His chief offense is his soaring hyperbole: claims that marriage equality is somehow unpatriotic and will destroy not only the family, but motherhood itself.
It is too late for conservative Christians to pretend to be protectors of mothers, when so much of their legislation insists mothers must die, and have no rights to their own bodies or reproductive systems. But nobody is taking mothers out of the equation. As long as we have a human race we will have mothers. The existence of other gods and other religions, or of no god at all, does not preclude Christianity and Christians and their God anymore than marriage equality precludes mothers and motherhood.
Having his hyperbolic tiger by the tail, Huelskamp proclaims, “Redefining marriage to remove parents of both sexes from the equation would further the destruction of the family, the most fundamental building block of society. If that definition is changed by the court, the purpose of marriage devolves to mere recognition of an emotional union. In so doing, the children of America will be shortchanged — and the will of the American people would be once again short-circuited by black robes in Washington.”
He warns us that if the Supreme Court does not block Obama, “the high priests and priestesses of political correctness will have done irreparable harm to yet another pillar of the American paradigm for our patriotic, wholesome culture — ‘God, the flag, mom and apple pie.’”
I don’t know about you, but if the Supreme Court does not block Obama, I’m going to honor my gods, fly my flag, and serve myself a hefty serving of apple pie.
Huelskamp is wrong. We will still have families. We will have more families, families of men and women and men and men and women and women. Where is the destruction of the family? Nowhere. The damage done to science and to common sense if Huelskamp gets his way is another matter.
Republican Economic Ignorance Is Pushing America Off The Austerity Cliff
Apr. 3rd, 2013
Leadership is a highly regarded commodity and includes social influence where one person enlists the aid and support of others to accomplish a specific goal or agenda, and without adherents or devotees willing to follow without question, success at achieving the leader’s goal is nearly impossible. America has been a world leader for the past seventy years, but for the past two years under Republican rule, America relinquished its leadership position to Europe and became a devotee of austerity economics to follow the Eurozone into economic contraction and recession regardless the damage to America and its citizens.
For two years immediately following the Great Recession, President Obama showed true leadership and avoided following Europe’s lead in imposing austerity economics, and with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created jobs, grew the economy, and set the country on a course toward fiscal health. However, Republicans took control of the country’s purse-strings in 2011 and committed Washington to follow Europe’s austerity lead and their course began bearing fruit in the fourth quarter of 2012 when the economy’s growth slowed on the way to a new recession. Europe never recovered from the Great Recession, and is precariously close to full-blown depression that Republicans have convinced nearly all of Washington to follow with blatant disregard for the deleterious effects to the people, the economy, and nation’s well-being. It is a sad commentary for America that Republican leadership convinced Washington to blindly follow Europe’s lead with their infectious debt and deficit reduction agenda, but they succeeded driving a narrative that without cutting government, killing jobs, and contracting the economy, America was doomed.
The economic retardation and contraction aside, the effect on Americans is beginning to produce real results that Europeans have experienced for over two years with massive unemployment, shredded social safety nets, and rising debt that Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman labeled “Europe’s Second Depression,” and it is slated to last much longer than the first one. In fact, the current European recession has already gone on longer than the 2008 financial crisis. As was pointed out several times, austerity is toxic during a recession, and seeing the effects of prescribing poison to