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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Guns and Intensity

Megan Brenan at Gallup:
In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, more Americans support tighter controls on guns. Six in 10 U.S. adults now support stricter laws covering the sale of firearms, up from 55% last year and the highest percentage since 2004. However, the public is sharply divided over an assault weapons ban, though the 48% in favor exceeds last year's record-low 36%. Americans still widely oppose an outright ban on handguns, but more favor such a ban than in 2016
Lydia Saad at Gallup:
The great majority of Americans are in favor of more stringent regulation of the sale and ownership of guns in three ways that go beyond current law in most states. U.S. adults offer near-universal support for requiring background checks for all gun purchases, backed by 96%. Also, three-quarters favor enacting a 30-day waiting period for all gun purchases and 70% favor requiring all privately owned guns to be registered with the police.
As previous posts have noted, however, there is an intensity gap on gun control

Large majorities of Americans support several specific policies intended to limit access to guns, including expanded background checks and restrictions on sales to the mentally ill. But relatively few Americans actually contact public officials to express their views, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in the spring.
Just 15% of all U.S. adults say they have ever contacted a public official to express their opinion on gun policy. About one-in-five gun owners (21%) have done this, including 9% who say they’ve done so in the past year. That compares with 12% of non-gun owners who have ever reached out to officials about gun policy, including 5% who have done so in the past year.
Furthermore, Americans who believe gun laws should be less strict are more likely to contact public officials on the issue than those who think gun laws should be stricter or are about right (22% have ever done so, compared with 15% of those who favor stricter laws and 10% of those who think laws are about right). Among gun owners, 19% of those who want less strict laws have contacted a public official in the past year, compared with 9% of those who want stricter laws.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Adopted Sons and Daughters of America

The Wall Street Journal excerpts remarks by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy at a Sept. 21 naturalization ceremony in Bakersfield, Calif.:
Every one of you has a story—an American story now. You come from many countries—but today the Pilgrims are your ancestors. You’ve known many leaders—but today George Washington is your Founding Father. You’ve experienced many hardships—but today Valley Forge is your winter.

The Declaration is your inspiration and the Constitution is your inheritance. Lincoln is your liberator. . . . The GIs of D-Day are your heroes. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of your dreams. The moon bears your flag. And our future is your future.

You are adopted sons and daughters of America with every right, every privilege, every duty and every national memory of those blessed with citizenship by birth. I pray that as you grow into your place as a citizen, that what you would feel more than anything else is gratitude.

Lobbying for Opioids

This important story illustrates key aspects of legislation today.
Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein report at WP:
In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.
The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated a final version with the DEA.
Deeply involved in the effort to help the industry was the DEA’s former associate chief counsel D. Linden Barber. Once a DEA lawyer who supervised cases against pharmaceutical companies, he left the agency and is now an executive at Cardinal Health. While at the DEA, he helped design and carry out the early stages of the agency’s tough enforcement campaign, which targeted drug companies that were failing to report suspicious orders of narcotics.
When Barber went to work for the drug industry in 2011, he brought an intimate knowledge of the DEA’s strategy and how it could be attacked to protect the companies. He was one of dozens of DEA officials recruited by the drug industry during the past decade.
Barber played a key role in crafting an early version of the legislation that would eventually curtail the DEA’s power, according to an internal email written by a Justice Department official to a colleague. “He wrote the Marino bill,” the official wrote in 2014.
Barber declined repeated requests for an interview.
With a few words, the new law changed four decades of DEA practice. Previously, the DEA could freeze drug shipments that posed an “imminent danger” to the community, giving the agency broad authority. Now, the DEA must demonstrate that a company’s actions represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” a much higher bar.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Dollar Stores and Fishtown

Mya Frazier reports at Bloomberg at the sad story behind the growth of dollar stores:
Already, there are 14,000 one-story cinder block Dollar Generals in the U.S.—outnumbering by a few hundred the coffee chain’s domestic footprint. Fold in the second-biggest dollar chain, Dollar Tree, and the number of stores, 27,465, exceeds the 22,375 outlets of CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens combined. And the little-box player is fully expecting to turn profits where even narrow-margin colossus Walmart failed.

About a year ago, as stores were going under across the nation, Garrick Brown, director for retail research at the commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield, was searching for bright spots in the industry. For five years running, he realized, a dollar store had opened once every four and a half hours, an average of more than five a day. “They see a need and are aggressively racing to meet that need for low-cost goods in places that are food deserts,” he says.
“It reminds me of a craps table,” Brown, the commercial real estate analyst, says. “Essentially what the dollar stores are betting on in a large way is that we are going to have a permanent underclass in America. It’s based on the concept that the jobs went away, and the jobs are never coming back, and that things aren’t going to get better in any of these places.”

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Attacking North Korea

There was a pretty striking finding in Thursday's Quinnipiac University poll: Fully 46 percent of Republicans — a plurality — said they would support a preemptive strike against North Korea.
That's nearly half of President Trump's party that is ready for war — today — with Kim Jong Un, his nuclear weapons and all. (Forty-one percent said they opposed a preemptive strike.)
However, a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted a couple of weeks ago also differs markedly from the new Quinnipiac survey. The late-September Post-ABC poll asked whether the United States should launch a military strike “only if North Korea attacks the U.S. or its allies first” or “before it can attack the U.S. or its allies.” In that case, 23 percent overall and 30 percent of Republicans picked the preemptive-strike option, and Republicans were about two to one against it.
Part of the problem is that many writers and pundits conflate preemptive and preventive attacks.  They are not the same thing.  A 2006 RAND report:
Preemptive attacks are based on the belief that the adversary is about to attack, and that striking first will be better than allowing the enemy to do so. Preemption may be attractive because it promises to make the difference between victory and defeat, or merely because it will make the ensuing conflict less damaging than it would be if the
enemy struck first. Preemptive attacks are quite rare, though the possibility of preemption was a central concern of nuclear strategists during the Cold War; the archetypical example is Israel’s attack against Egypt in 1967 that began the Six-Day War.
Preventive attacks are launched in response to less immediate threats. Preventive attack is motivated not by the desire to strike first rather than second, but by the desire to fight sooner rather than later. Usually this is because the balance of military capabilities is expected to shift in the enemy’s favor, due to differential rates of growth or armament, or the prospect that the opponent will acquire or develop a powerful new offensive or defensive capability. Israel’s 1981 raid on the Osirak nuclear facility was a classic preventive attack, as was Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Perhaps many survey respondents had a "preventive"  attack in mind.  If so, we should worry.  But if some were thinking of a true preemptive attack, their position is not crazy.  Suppose that US intelligence knew for sure the North Koreans were about to nuke Honolulu.  In that case, even the most rational and traditional-minded policymaker might favor a preemptive attack.

Be wary of ascribing too much sophistication to survey respondents.  Many cannot even find Korea on a map.

Whatever the case, our survival depends on caution and deliberation.  Nicholas Kristof of the NYT was recently in North Korea. He concludes.
I left North Korea fearing that we are far too complacent about the risk of a cataclysmic war that could kill millions. And that’s why reporting from within North Korea is crucial: There simply is no substitute for being in a place. It’s a lesson we should have learned from the run-up to the Iraq war, when the reporting was too often from the Washington echo chamber rather than the field. When the stakes are millions of lives and official communications channels are nonexistent, then journalism can sometimes serve as a bridge — and as a warning.
Yes, we must carefully weigh the risks — physical risks and the danger of being used by propagandists — and work to mitigate them.
But I have a sinking feeling in my gut, just as I had on the eve of the Iraq war, that our president may be careening blindly toward war. In that case, the job of journalists is to go out and report, however imperfectly, and try to ring alarm bells in the night.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Alt-Right v. America

Ramon Lopez in National Affairs:
The alt-right is the latest in a long line of political movements that reject the principles of the American founding. In the 19th century, John Calhoun asserted that the Declaration's proposition was "erroneous" and that it ought to have no role in American political life. In more recent times, the influential paleoconservative columnist Samuel Francis wrote, " not consider America to be an 'idea,' a 'proposition,' or a 'creed.' It is instead a concrete and particular culture, rooted in a particular historical experience, a set of particular institutions as well as particular beliefs and values, and a particular ethnic-racial identity, and, cut off from those roots, it cannot survive." Pat Buchanan recently mocked the principles of the Declaration of Independence along similar lines: "'All men are created equal' is an ideological statement. Where is the scientific or historic proof for it? Are we building our utopia on a sandpile of ideology and hope?"
 Today's alt-right echoes these sentiments. Tory Scot asserts on the Right Stuff blog that it was a particular historical and ethnic people that built America, not a universal set of ideas: "The American nation built America, and it carried forward the idea of a free, and White, republic." Similarly, Peter Brimelow, the editor of VDARE, rejects the notion that "[a]nyone can become an American by subscribing to a set of abstract principles." Rather, American national identity is forged out of a "specific ethnic and cultural heritage," which restricts political power to Europeans and their descendants.
The alt-right believes a pluralistic society will become too fractured to maintain itself as a cohesive nation. Difference will inevitably tear it asunder, with each tribal group battling for dominance. According to them, we are driven exclusively by our respective group identities. But the lineage of our American tradition points down a different path. The greatness of the American experiment lies in its bold proposition that people can transcend their impulse toward instinctive tribalism, and be joined together in civic brotherhood by a mutual commitment to a noble and inclusive ideal.
 In an 1858 speech in Chicago, Lincoln spoke of brotherly bonds forged through mutual commitment to American's founding principles. While Lincoln acknowledged that new American immigrants could not trace their ancestry to those of revolutionary times by blood, he also observed, "when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,' and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them." According to Lincoln, it is by this connection to a common moral project that "they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration." Our attachment to the Declaration of Independence is "the electric cord" that "links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together." This gives truest meaning to our national motto: E Pluribus Unum.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Living Alone

In the past 10 years, the share of U.S. adults living without a spouse or partner has climbed to 42%, up from 39% in 2007, when the Census Bureau began collecting detailed data on cohabitation.
Two important demographic trends have influenced this phenomenon. The share of adults who are married has fallen, while the share living with a romantic partner has grown. However, the increase in cohabitation has not been large enough to offset the decline in marriage, giving way to the rise in the number of “unpartnered” Americans.