Archive

December 11th

No, you don't have an absolute right to own guns

    The "Second Amendment," more than a right, has become a rhetorical device. It's a counterargument in two words, a rallying cry designed to end debate. Want to restrict firearms, or regulate their sale, or limit which kinds Americans can buy?

    Meet the Second Amendment, the simplest rebuttal goes. It creates the unfettered right to own guns in America. Full stop.

    This claim -- prominent among gun-rights advocates -- implies that the Second Amendment establishes not just a right to own guns, but a right that the government cannot legally limit. The problem with this argument: None of our rights work this way.

    "The Supreme Court has said repeatedly that no right under the Constitution is absolute," says Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and the author of "Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. "In general, where the government has very strong reasons to restrict a right, it can."

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In Baltimore, not even Santa on a Harley can ease tensions from Freddie Gray case

    In this slightly off-kilter, riot-scarred city, Santa arrives on a tugboat. Or roars past the rowhouses on 34th Street in Hampden on a Harley.

    The gum is smack-chewed, the eyeglasses are cartoonishly cat-eyed and folks invite strangers onto their porches to look inside at the white-flocked motorized Christmas tree that is slowly twirling, even while dad opens the mail on the couch in his jammies and the dog sleeps with his hindquarters smooshed against the glass front door.

    This is Bawlmer, hon. And we are strolling the Miracle on 34th Street, a block of rowhouses that goes bazonkers every year with the most animatronic and explosively fabulous Christmas decorations.

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Congress gets a positive year-end review

    I jab at the majority Republicans in Congress when they don't do their job, so I should give them credit when they do.

    A five-year highway bill has been sent to the president. That's something Republican Congresses since the 1990s (and the Democratic ones in 2007-2010) have found difficult to do. Bloomberg View columnist Barry Ritholtz makes a reasonable argument against the way the bill is funded, but I agree with Kevin Drum of Mother Jones on this one: Muddling through is good enough.

    Up next is an education bill. Legislators have had revising or replacing No Child Left Behind on their to-do list for years. This Congress is getting it done, with just a final Senate vote remaining.

    In both cases, Republicans in the House and Senate demonstrated the ability to compromise and cut deals to get much of what they wanted, even if it wasn't everything they hoped for.

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Americans choose gun rights over public order

    Joe the Plumber had it right. In May 2014, after six people were killed in a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California, the erstwhile Republican campaign icon published an open letter to the father of one of the victims.

    "I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But: As harsh as this sounds -- your dead kids don't trump my Constitutional rights."

    Joe the Plumber's timing and blunt language may have been insensitive, with the effect of pouring salt in a grieving parent's unsuturable wound. But his analysis was unassailable: Gun rights reign supreme.

    That reality has nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution. Guns were regulated in America both before and after the Constitution existed. Even the Supreme Court's creaky 2008 Heller decision, which by a 5-to-4 vote established an individual right to arms that previously did not exist, makes it clear that regulation of guns is both rational and constitutional.

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Calling on Batman to explain our dark world

    Batman used to carry a gun. It's true. Back in the 1930s, not only did he carry a gun, but he killed bad guys with it. The very first official "Batman" comic featured the Caped Crusader firing a machine gun. But the public grew uneasy. So the editors adopted a new rule: no guns for Batman. Bob Kane, the character's co-creator, would later explain that his editors worried "that mothers would object to letting their kids see and read about such shootings."

    That tale from a simpler age comes to mind this week as, once more, we cringe at the ease with which carnage can be inflicted by a determined shooter. We've long passed the point when parents can shield their children from seeing and reading about horrific violence, whether or not inflicted by guns. And reports about violence -- especially terrorism -- frighten them.

    A lot.

    If children are scared, what do we tell them?

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December 9th

The long-term fight against terrorism

    "A cancer that has no immediate cure" was not the most soothing metaphor President Obama could have chosen, but it was the most honest. He has no idea how to prevent another terrorist attack like the one in San Bernardino -- and neither does anyone else, including his Republican critics.

    The president used that somber phrase in his Oval Office address Sunday to describe what "many Americans are asking." The answer was implicit: Yes, that is indeed what we face, and the cure for the disease will take time.

    The specific actions Obama demanded from Congress are no-brainers. Yes, individuals on terrorism watch lists should be prohibited from buying guns. Yes, the sale of military-style assault rifles should be banned. Yes, there should be better screening of foreigners who enter the country without a visa.

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Ryan's non-answer to the Trumpians

    Two events last week are exceptionally helpful to understanding the state of the Republican Party. They seem to point in opposite directions. In fact, they reinforce each other.

    The first is the CNN/ORC Poll released on Friday that showed Donald Trump as the overwhelming leader for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump had 36 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas ran a distant second at 16 percent, Ben Carson was at 14 percent, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida took 12 percent.

    The importance of the poll is that it brought home dramatically what other surveys have pointed to over the last several months: Trump, the billionaire, is the GOP's working-class hero.

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Why the New York Times' gun control op-ed can (and should) matter

    There is a way of thinking - one that tends to comfort the comfortable and leave the afflicted in extended misery.

    It's a way of dividing every vexing, complicated, long-running but slow-moving matter of public debate into one of three categories, then getting about the more ordinary business of one's day.

    First, there are ideas and proposals championed by the powerful that generally have a relatively easy path from idea to law. Second, there are issues that have somehow, some way managed to reach the critical mass necessary for change. Usually that's because the economic or reputation-related costs have, in that order of importance, simply grown too large.

    Then, there are those matters that are beyond practical political reach. Suffering, death, danger and maltreatment aside, a policy solution to these problems simply has no real path, no viability at all.

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Time to face our peculiar national problem

    In response to the latest mass killings in Southern California, President Obama once again deplored a type of crime that seems increasingly peculiar to American society. "The one thing we do know," he said, "is we have a pattern now of mass shootings in the country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world."

    The reason certainly is no secret. It's the ready availability of guns of all varieties openly purchased or traded in an open society, in which the gun-rights lobby successfully wards off most governmental attempts to bring sensible controls to the mayhem market.

    In what sounded like another note of futility, Obama lamented: "Those same people who we don't allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm, and there's nothing we can do to stop them."

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The Not-So-Bad Economy

    According to the economist Kevin O’Rourke, who has been doing a running comparison between the Great Depression that began in 1929 and the Great Recession that began almost eight years ago, the world has just passed a sad landmark. While the initial slump this time around wasn’t nearly as bad as the collapse from 1929 to 1933, the recovery has been much weaker — and at this point world industrial production is doing worse than it did at the same point in the 1930s. A remarkable achievement!

    But the bad news is unevenly distributed. In particular, Europe has done very badly, while America has done relatively well. True, U.S. performance looks good only if you grade on a curve. Still, unemployment has been cut in half, and the Federal Reserve is getting ready to raise interest rates at a time when its counterpart, the European Central Bank, is still desperately seeking ways to boost spending.

    Now, I believe that the Fed is making a mistake. But the fact that hiking rates is even halfway defensible is a sign that the U.S. economy isn’t doing too badly. So what did we do right?

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