Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Archive for December 2012

Sandy Hook is latest time to finally have gun control discussion

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While many questions pour from the horrific Connecticut school shooting, the one question that comes up in all of these mass shootings is “Will this be the time that we finally start changing the gun laws?”

Columbine was horrible but that didn’t change anything. You would think the assassination attempt on a sitting Congresswoman would unnerve Congress into doing something. Or the Aurora movie theater shooting. Or Virginia Tech.

Something did feel different about the Sandy Hook shooting. True, young children died in the other shooting. A 9-year-old girl died in Tucson. A 6-year-old girl died in the Aurora shooting.

Was it finding out that the kids were shot more than once? Was it that the authorities took pictures of the kids faces so the parents could identify them rather than seeing the horrible damage to their little bodies? Was it that the teachers and principal who lost their lives trying to stop the gunman? Was it the idea of kids hiding in closets and teachers pleading with students to be quiet until the good guys could show up?

Was it that all the kids were 6 and 7 years old? Was it that the number of students killed was 20? Was it that next year’s 2nd grade and the following year’s 3rd grade are essentially gone from this school?

Was it that the damage was so bad that almost all of those who were shot were killed. Think about that. Even in the coverage of the shooting, we didn’t hear much about the wounded. Two kids made it to the hospital before dying from their wounds. Ambulances were turned away before the carnage was that thorough and devastating.

The Dems in Washington have run away from this issue since the assault weapons ban expired. Up to now, President Barack Obama hasn’t shown much desire to use any political capital on this issue. For all the cries about “a black president taking guns away from white people,” Obama’s track record on guns to this point has gone against the wishes of his base.

At least Dems want to do something on gun control, loopholes, assault weapons. Finding a Republican who wants to tackle these issues is as likely as Honey Boo Boo taking etiquette lessons.

We could run a list of suggestions and requirements to improve the gun attitude in the United States. Closing gun show loopholes and bringing back the assault weapon ban would make a huge difference. When we mean “assault weapons ban,” that would be one without the loopholes of the 1994 bill.

The conservatives, political and non-political, have their usual cries. “This isn’t the right time to talk about this.” “Criminals don’t pay attention to gun control laws.”

They are right on one point: laws won’t be enough. Loopholes and an assault weapons ban will help greatly, but they aren’t enough. Those on the left try to fight conservatives directly on the gun issue, but forget that conservatives don’t even offer a non-gun solution.

Why aren’t conservatives fighting for more money for mental health coverage? Why aren’t conservatives fighting to make things easier for those with mental issues to get help through our convoluted health care system? If conservatives don’t think guns are the issue, ask them what else can we do?

To say that nothing can be done about this, that these shootings are just going to happen is the ultimate cop-out. Tuning out what happened at Newtown, CT, Aurora, CO, Tucson, Columbine, Virginia Tech isn’t going to work. Or so we hope. The question is whether those that want to make things better will spend political capital, and whether those who don’t want to make things better can offer solutions, even if they don’t involve gun control.


Ontario is better destination for jobs thanks to Michigan’s ‘right to work’ status

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Ontario isn’t in the best shape these days. Huge debt, teacher problems, and a premier with a minority government who is still in office but not for long.

Compared to the folks across the border in Michigan, Canada’s most populous province is singing Hallelujahs.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been signing bills right and right (not left and right) taking away worker rights, access to birth control, overriding voters insistence on getting rid of the takeover-a-city law. Snyder would have signed a bill allowing for guns in schools and day care centers, but the Sandy Hook school shooting made that virtually impossible to do right now.

Snyder was worried about competing for jobs with Indiana. He should have worried about Ontario.

For more on this story, check out this column from our sister blog,

Michigan needs jobs, ‘right to work’ won’t even bring in crappy jobs

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We’re trained with a cynical mind not to believe what politicians have to say, Even in that world, Rick Snyder sunk himself to a new low, and dragged down the state of Michigan with him.

In lightning fast speed, the Republicans in Michigan put together and Snyder signed legislation making Michigan the 24th state to be “right to work.’ Or as the liberals have put it so well, “right to work for less.”

The statistics are consistent: “right to work” (RTW) states consistently have lower wages, more poverty, and less access to healthcare. Why wouldn’t Michigan be any different? The state may not even get the crappy jobs other RTW states get.

One of the proposals on the Michigan ballot in November tried to strengthen the resolve of unions, and voters rejected that proposal. For having the “audacity” to try and strengthen unions — this is one of the reasons why Snyder and his GOP cronies pushed through the RTW legislation so quickly. Except that this was in the planning stages for some time. Why let facts stand in the way of a good story.

We know this is about politics, about Michigan once again voting for a Democratic president. The last Republican to win Michigan? George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Like most legislation where Republicans claim is about jobs, let’s pretend this is about jobs. Someone has to care about jobs, especially in Michigan, even if much of that hasn’t happened in Lansing in the last couple of years.

State Senator John Proos, a Republican who backed the RTW bill, predicted that the public anger would subside because jobs would be coming to Michigan.

“As they say in sports, the atmosphere in the locker room gets a lot better when the team’s winning,” Mr. Proos told The Associated Press.

This gets to the crux of the legislation. “Unions are the reason why Michigan has failed to generate jobs,” goes the argument. As soon as jobs come, regardless of the wages and conditions to follow, they will shut up and be glad they have a job.

This isn’t Alabama, this is Michigan.

As it turns out, I sort of know Proos. I went to the same high school as Proos — he was a few years back. He might remember me, I might remember him. Others that we know know him and me better than we know each other.

The idea that a crappy job is better than a good job is an attitude that plays well in the South, the dominant region of RTW states. Michigan has a stronger tradition that Proos and his fellow colleagues will find more difficult to switch over.

Proos should have learned in school, though I can’t remember if we learned it there, the words of Henry Ford. He was smart enough to realize that if his employees were going to buy his cars, they needed to earn enough to buy them. With the escalating costs of college education, parents need to be able to save money to help put their kids through school. Of course, since costs have skyrocketed, they can’t afford to repay their loans, even if they could find good wages. Since lower wages are coming to Michigan, if those magical jobs suddenly appear, a whole new generation can’t afford to live, buy a house, or reproduce.

The salaries of Snyder, Proos, and the other GOP politicians aren’t shrinking, so they don’t have to worry. And they’ll get plenty contributions from business that suddenly have more money because they won’t have to pay that cash to the workers.

Why hasn’t Michigan generated jobs?

Let’s started by quoting from a Salon article by someone I know better than Proos: Edward McClelland, a Michigan native now based in Chicago.

Fifty percent of Michigan State students now leave the state immediately after graduation. That ratio doubled in the 2000s, which is known in Michigan as “The Lost Decade.” In those 10 years, Michigan dropped from 30th to 35th in the percentage of college graduates, and from 18th to 37th in per capita income. (Michigan was also the only state to lose population in the last census.)

Brain drain is definitely a factor. And through my own experience, Michigan State isn’t the only university being affected. Chicago is filled with graduates of many Michigan universities. Go to a Red Wings or Tigers game in Chicago to get a sense of the love for the Michigan teams.

Even if you think Michigan made a wise choice by becoming a “right to work” state, ask yourself this simple question, “Why would a company pick Michigan over the other RTW states?”

This is a state where its citizens get upset if you are seen driving a “foreign” car, as in not a car with a stamp of a “U.S. company.” They don’t care if the car was “made in America” — the make has to be USA.

In the other 23 states, their attitudes toward unions and union labor aren’t as strong or intense. Most of these states, the majority of them in the South and West, have better weather, better kept roads, worse education, and an attitude that accepts lower wages as “God’s will.”

Even those who are vehemently against the concept of RTW can understand objectively why Southern states would go that route. Lower wages plays along with the anti-establishment mood.

Michigan has generations of people who had middle-class jobs with just a high school education. This may seem long ago to some Michiganders, but having that memory makes people less likely to settle. Employers might break that down in a generation or two, but that won’t help Michigan residents who want a job.

We’ve heard that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wasn’t that bad before this RTW vote. Consider, though, that Snyder pushed through and signed legislation limiting unemployment insurance from 26 weeks, the standard minimum, to 20 weeks. In good times, this action is cruel, but in a state that has suffered economically, even in good times, the cruelty is downright unconscionable.

Even though all this legislation is about “jobs,” the GOP and Snyder got around to passing a bill that severely restricts abortion and access to women’s healthcare in the state.

The voters said no to Snyder’s ridiculous notion of seizing control from local officials. Funny how Snyder only picked cities with predominantly African-American populations. And if Snyder did that in cities with mostly white populations, the same people who voted for Snyder would scream for his head.

Voters took that power away from Snyder. Snyder got that power back with a bill passed by his GOP buddies. And like the RTW legislation, Snyder put a provision that makes it impossible for the voters to rescind the law.

Style does say something about a politician. If you deliberately pass a law with a provision that voters can’t turn around that law, you don’t have much faith that what you passed has any legitimacy or usefulness.

School lunch reform, yes, but only for conservatives

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The USDA acted swiftly and responsively to concerns about school lunch reform. Less than 3 months after the concern started, the problem was solved.

The only problem was that the problem was killing the solution.

After fighting decades for a small amount of school lunch reform, a key component — limiting grains and meats in school lunches to reach a reasonable calorie count — disappeared. All it took was a sarcastic YouTube video from Kansas and a bunch of whining students in Wisconsin.

For more in-depth coverage, check out this column from our sister blog,

Kelly Ayotte working with McCain and Graham to show younger face on GOP foreign policy

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When you needed conservative, war-hawkish, hungry for any sense of TV exposure senators, you could always rely on the 3 musketeers, Supremes, Nirvana, the power trio of old and scared of the world around them: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman.

McCain is the leader of the group, the lead singer who wrote the lyrics. Graham adds background vocals and writes a few songs. Lieberman was the quiet one at least when they are assembled after whatever big meeting they had about nothing. Lieberman would sing the occasional song, a la Ringo Starr, but added “Democratic” cred to the argument.

But the 3 nirvana musketeers ran into a problem. Lieberman was going to leave the group. Oh, Lieberman wanted to stay but knew he was going to get kicked out of the overall group (McCain and Graham still love him). So Lieberman quit the band.

McCain and Graham needed a third member. Oh sure they had enough propensity and hot air to keep the group going for a long time. But they needed symbolically that third body to hold down the fort.

The two hawkish senators held auditions. Plenty of old crotchety white men to pick from, each angrier and more scared than the rest. Saxby Chambliss, Bob Corker, Roger Wicker — the list is literally too long to mention.

As the auditions were going nowhere, McCain and Graham wondered if maybe, just maybe they should try something different. After all, they needed a third person on the stage to do the things that Lieberman did. But what about someone younger and maybe someone from one of those minority groups they kept reading about in the liberal media.

They looked around for someone of color. Marco Rubio was a possibility. Actually, Marco Rubio would have been the only possibility. The GOP has only had one elected African-American senator, and he was liberal enough to have an affair with Barbara Walters.

“Well,” they may have wondered, “What about a woman?” Because nothing looks more odd than a woman standing next to two cranky older men. McCain and Graham ignored that image and went to see if they could find a woman to join the group.

Kay Bailey Hutchison was a good prospect, but she hadn’t really cared about foreign policy and besides, she was retiring. Olympia Snowe was retiring and she was too liberal.

If they were going to pick a female, they didn’t have many choices left. They were literally down to Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and the newcomer Kelly Ayotte.

Collins was seen as too liberal (from Maine, after all). Murkowski had the third-party cred that Lieberman sort of brought.

Ayotte came to the Senate from being New Hampshire’s attorney general, not a bastion of foreign policy concern. But Ayotte had one advantage: she had similarly good looks in the vein of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann without the desire to say something extremely stupid.

That met the low standards set by McCain and Graham.

McCain is the person who introduced the world to Sarah Palin and still thinks she would have done a good job as vice president. When Ayotte speaks, she doesn’t make a whole lot of significant points but hasn’t upset the apple cart. Right now, that makes her a potential GOP leader down the road.

The GOP will be down to 19 women, including Bachmann, in the House come January. The GOP women in the Senate in January will be 4: Collins, Murkowski, Ayotte, and the new kid on the block, Deb Fischer (R-NE). Ted Cruz (R-TX) will join Marco Rubio (R-FL) as being the only GOP men of color in the Senate.

With the defeat of Allen West, Tim Scott (R-SC) of the 1st District will be the only African-American in the GOP caucus.

These statistics would get a slight bump if South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appoints herself or Scott or a woman to the Senate to replace Jim DeMint, who is resigning to run the Heritage Foundation. (South Carolina native Stephen Colbert would have been an awesome pick.) Scott’s 2 years in the House isn’t a whole lot of experience, but if Haley does appoint Scott, he will be the only current African-American senator, regardless of party.

No wonder that Ayotte and Rubio are being groomed by some as part of the GOP future, even if they are extremely symbolic.

The Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan campaign was a contrast to previous GOP campaigns in that foreign policy wasn’t a big deal. Romney’s key message in the foreign policy debate was “I agree with President Obama.”

At some point, foreign policy will matter and when that time comes, the GOP wants Kelly Ayotte to be ready to say something. We’ll have to wait and say whether that will be something of significance.