Archive for January, 2013
You can’t legally drive a car if you don’t have insurance, but should gun owners be held to the same standard? NPR’s Plant Money brings up an interesting idea that has been floating around the gun-control debate lately and asked economists to weigh in. A radio piece was aired today on Morning Edition.
Justin Wolfers, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan tells them:
“Another even more powerful approach is to recognize that the problem isn’t guns per se, but gun violence. Thus, instead of taxing guns, we should tax gun violence. Basically, this is the same as saying that we should make gun owners liable for any damage their guns do. Not only would this discourage some people from buying guns, it would lead those who do keep guns to be more careful with how they’re stored. Indeed, greater care would surely have kept Adam Lanza out of his mother’s cache. The problem, though, is that Nancy Lanza is neither with us to pay the damages her gun caused, nor could she afford to pay for the enormous damage her gun wrought in Newtown. And so the only way this solution works is if guns required mandatory liability insurance, much as we force car owners to buy insurance for the damage their machines wreak.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein was more than cordial to National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre at Wednesday’s big gun hearing, noting they had done battle 18 years ago when the California Democrat passed her 1995 assault weapons ban, expired since 2004.
“You look pretty good, actually,” the California Democrat told LaPierre. No fireworks there.Her new assault weapons ban appears to be headed nowhere fast, given the lack of support among Democratic leaders. (See below.)
But she addressed all her questions to James Johnson, Baltimore County’s chief of police and chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence.
“This is such a hard debate because people have such fixed positions,” She said. “Police I think see killings as they are. Many people do not. The streets speak about this issue.”
Flipping through what appeared to be a gun catalog, Feinstein said the apparently popular AR 15 can be modified to permit 400 to 800 rounds per minute, and two, three or four rounds at a time. The former San Francisco mayor, who put her finger through Harvey Milk’s wrist only to find a bullet hole, described in even tones these firearms’ “tremendous velocity and tremendous killing power,” which “I suspect tears young bodies apart.”
As for the call to put armed guards in schools, “Most people believe, sure we can have guards at schools,” Feinstein said. “What do you do about malls? What do you do about movie theaters? What do you do about businesses? We can’t have a totally armed society.”
As for banning certain categories of guns in her bill, she said it exempts 2,000 specific weapons by make and model, and ban 158 assault weapons.
The Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee did not endorse colleague Dianne Feinstein’s assault weapons ban at a packed Capitol Hill hearing on guns Wednesday in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called for “common sense reform,” that closes loopholes in current gun laws and enforces background checks. Buthe did not endorse Feinstein’s tougher ban. “I know gun store owners in Vermont,” Leahy said. “They follow the law and conduct background checks…why should we not try to plug the loopholes in the law that allow (criminals and the mentally ill) to buy guns without background checks?”
The rebuffed California Democrat plans to hold her own hearing in her Judiciary subcommittee on her legislation, which is strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association. Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has also refused to back a ban on military-style weapons and high-capacity clips. Reid’s position reflects the political fact that a whole bevy of conservative Democrats do not support Feinstein’s ban.
Former Arizona Rep. Gabriel Giffords opened the hearing. As a House Democrat from a gun friendly district, Giffords opposed stricter gun laws, but since being shot in the head by a crazed gunman while holding an event in her district has reversed her position. Giffords, accompanied by her husband, gave a halting and brief but extremely forceful opening statement.
“Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important,” Giffords said. “Too many children are dying
We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be courageous, Americans are counting on you.”
Her husband Mark Kelly gave equally forceful testimony, noting both he and Giffords are gun owners. He said the Arizona gunman who shot his wife in 15 seconds emptied his magazine of 33 bullets, “and there were 33 wounds,” including a fatal shot to a young child. Kelly said one of the most important things to do is close the gun show loophole and require all sellers to require a background check. “I can’t think of something that would make our country safer than doing just that,” Kelly said.
David Kopel, an adjunct Professor of constitutional law at Denver University, said universal background checks “are only enforceable with universal gun registration,” which in other countries has left gun ownership “in serious peril.”
Kopel said teachers should be allowed to be armed, as they are in Utah. “Armed defense in schools is the immediate and best choice,” he said.
Gayle Trotter, an attorney and senior fellow at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, said guns “make women safer,” because they “reverse the balance of power in a violent confrontation” between a male attacker and a weaker female. “An armed woman does not need superior strength” in a hand-to-hand struggle, Trotter said.
As expected, President Obama endorsed inclusion of bi-national same sex couples in his own immigration framework announced in Las Vegas Tuesday, in contrast to Monday’s bipartisan Senate framework which omitted mention of gays and lesbians.
Obama did not mention bi-nationals in his Las Vegas speech but they were included in the written fact sheet, endorsing reform that “treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”
Currently, married gay and lesbian couples, of whom one partner is a U.S. citizen and the other a foreigner, are banned under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act from the spousal immigration preference given to straight couples. DOMA is currently before the Supreme Court. If the court overturns DOMA, the issue should be moot for gay and lesbian couples married any of the nine states (and D.C.) that permit it.
Gay rights activists worry that in the long, tough negotiations ahead, the interests of the small number of gay and lesbian couples of whom one member is a foreigner (est. 28,500) could be ditched to woo GOP votes. (How many depends first on how deeply Senate Republicans splinter on immigration, and second, on whether House Speaker John Boehner would allow an immigration bill to come to the floor that would need Democrats to pass.)
Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who joined the bipartisan Senate Gang of Eight for comprehensive immigration reform, on Tuesday morning dismissed the issue as less important than broader immigration issues. “It’s something that, frankly, is not of paramount importance at this time,” McCain said. “We’ll have to look at it … to gauge how the majority of Congress feels. … We need to get broad consensus on our proposal to start with.”
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck warned against Obama’s leftward tilt: “There are a lot of ideas about how best to fix our broken immigration system. Any solution should be a bipartisan one, and we hope the President is careful not to drag the debate to the left and ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and Senate.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, a chieftain of the Gang of Eight, praised Obama for leaving “space” to Congress to work out the details: “He is using the bully pulpit to focus the nation’s attention on the urgency of immigration reform and set goals for action on this issue. But he is also giving lawmakers on both sides the space to form a bipartisan coalition.”
The tech industry, one of the most powerful players in the immigration debate, threw down its marker Tuesday with a bipartisan stand-alone bill to increase H-1B visas for skilled workers from 65,000 to 115,000 with an escalator that could bring total visas to 300,000 a year.
Silicon Valley has been chafing under H-1B caps since the last comprehensive bill collapsed in 2006. Industry leaders have long argued that a green card should be stapled to every diploma earned by a foreign student in math or engineering, on the grounds that the U.S. is losing talented people educated in its own universities. Despite support from California House Democrats Anna Eshoo (Palo Alto) and Zoe Lofgren (San Jose), the effort has been stymied by stiff resistance from some U.S. tech workers and bipartisan opponents in Congress who say the industry just wants cheap labor.
The bill would also “allow dual intent for foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities to provide the certainty they need to ensure their future in the United States.” And it would exempt from the employment-based green card cap dependents of employment-based visa holders, U.S. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) advanced degree holders, “persons with extraordinary ability” and “outstanding professors and researchers.”
This year’s model of an H1b visa increase is called I-Squared, or the Immigration Innovation Act, sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).
The authors say the bill is critical to U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. In addition to increasing H-1B visas to 115,000 a year, the bill would create an automatic escalator “so that the cap can adjust – up or down – to the demands of the economy” with a total ceiling of 300,000.
Depending on how quickly the annual cap is reached, mini-escalators are included that would provide as many as 20,000 additional visas immediately. Additional sponsors include Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Mark Warner (D-Va,).
Whether 2013 will be a replay of the immigration failure of 2006, we shall know by summer. The various factions are suiting up for well-worn roles. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will be pushing for expanded temporary slots for the farm workers who are essential to California’s produce industry. The bigger bipartisan Senate framework introduced Monday by the Gang of Eight has placeholders for both tech and farm workers. Florida Republican Marco Rubio is one of the Gang and also a sponsor of the separate tech worker bill, giving it added juice.
Pew just released a new estimate on the total U.S. immigrant population, tallying a record 40.4 million in 2011, or 13 percent of the population, based on an analysis of Census data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.
UPDATE: Obama gave a plug to the tech side in Las Vegas Tuesday: “Right now, there are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities. They’re earning degrees in the fields of the future, like engineering and computer science. But once they finish school, once they earn that diploma, there’s a good chance they’ll have to leave our country. Think about that.
“We’re giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we’re going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else. That’s not how you grow new industries in America. That’s how you give new industries to our competitors. ”
Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, on a book tour, wowed a full house in San Francisco Monday — speaking frankly about her “terror” in handling her first case there, defending affirmative action, and talking about forces that guided her journey from the South Bronx to the highest court in the land.
Sotomayor was greeted with wild applause and two standing ovations during her sold-out talk to the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco Monday.
SFChronicle legal affairs writer Bob Egelko will be providing the full analysis of her talk, but here’s some highlights:
*On her reason for writing her memoir, “My Beloved World”: “I wanted readers to come away, saying “She’s just like me — and if she can do it, I can do something too.”
“Now, there aren’t that many spots on the Supreme court….it’s not the ultimate goal of whether you can make it or not…but every kid can find the path and enrich themselves by trying.”
*On her childhood: “I may have beaten up some people, but I got beaten up a lot..because I would never cry uncle…I’ve learned to not give up, just to get up and — even when I fail — to lick my wounds.”
*On her diabetes and why she talks about it: “My diabetes is such a central part of my life…….it did teach me discipline..it also taught me about moderation…I’ve trained myself to be super-vigilant…because I feel better when I am in control.”
*On her family history, including that of her father, an alcoholic who died young: In researching the book, “I found the father I never knew, and a romance between my mother and father that I had never heard….For someone who had lived her whole life thinking of my parents as unhappy, it gave me a thrill to know I was wrong.”
“It is important for all of us to appreciate where we come from and how that history has really shaped us in ways that we might not understand.”
*On the importance of mentors: “Find someone whose love is “unconditional,” but if that doesn’t exist “find someone you admire whose ways of doing things you really want to learn from and go up to that person and tell them…”I need to learn what you do so well…there is someone, always in your life, who you can admire.”
*On affirmative action and its impacts on her life: “Affirmative action…is a doubled edged sword…everybody in this room knows we have a case pending, and that case will be judged by its own merits.”
But when she began going to college “people forget, the civil rights movement had just really started.”
“Princeton had only admitted women two years before I got there, and the number of minorities was so small, you could probably count them on two hands…”
“I probably didn’t have anywhere near the top of SAT scores…but I was given the chance to get to the start of the race, and it changed my life. I didn’t know a race was being run before I got there.”
“So part of this race was to make many people (who have benefitted) not to feel ashamed…yes, I needed help. But once I got there, I worked at it. And I proved myself worthy.”
*On her first case on the Court: “The first case I sat on..was Citizens United. Talk about being thrown in. Needless to say, if I was scared before, I was terrified.”
*On writing about witchcraft and her family’s beliefs in it: “When you read the book, you understand how important it was to my grandmother..and my family life…It was a part of my life. Puerto Ricans, as have all the people from Caribbean cultures, have managed to integrate their belief in brujeria and their faith in the Catholic Church…. It was a part of my life, and yes, I did hesitate (to write about it), but .it was to underscore that everybody has a crazy uncle out there, or something that their family does that should be kept secret.”
*On the best job she’s ever had: “Being a justice. If you love law the way I do…you’re given the job of a lifetime…you’re permitted to address the most important legal questions of the country, and sometimes the world. And in doing so, you make a difference in people’s lives.”
Sales of the AR-15 Bushmaster rifle — the kind used in the Dec. 14 school massacre in Sandy Hook — would be illegal under a federal assault weapon ban that Connecticut’s two U.S. senators and Newtown’s new congresswoman will help introduce Thursday in Washington.
Current owners of assault weapons outlawed by the bill would likely be required to register them with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, those familiar with the bill told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers.
Gun magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition would also be rendered illegal under the legislation, which is undergoing last-minute tweaks on Capitol Hill.
“The AR-15 would be banned by this bill,” U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., told Hearst Wednesday night. “It’s pretty clear that the AR-15 has become the madman’s gun of choice.”
Murphy was sworn-in to the Senate earlier this month after representing Connecticut’s 5th District in the House for three terms, including the Sandy Hook section of Newtown.
Twenty children ages 7 and under and six female educators were killed when a heavily armed gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and sprayed the building with bullets before turning a gun on himself.
The AR-15 Bushmaster used in the rampage was legally registered to Nancy Lanza, the slain mother of Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza.
“It will be a more stringent measure than the assault weapon that existed from 1994 to 2004,” Blumenthal told Hearst.
Blumenthal said the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines will work in concert with school security enhancement and mental health reform.
“This measure is a significant first step as part of a comprehensive program,” Blumenthal said.
Murphy said that certain weapons such as the AR-15 belong in the domain of the military.
“The NRA is trying to pull one over on us by retrospectively marketing the AR-15 as a hunting rifle,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the federal assault weapons ban would trump any gun laws passed by the states, including New York, which recently capped magazine capacity at seven rounds.
“This is a big fight and the fight kicks off tomorrow,” Murphy said. ” I wish politics didn’t enter into this. I think there are going to be a lot of Republicans who don’t want to face the wrath of voters who think very differently about gun laws after Newtown. These mass shootings now seem to be an almost daily occurrence. If we don’t change the laws, there’s going to be another Newtown.”