Alpaca: Not about those cute little llama-looking animals.
One of the odder details in Dallas 1963, Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis' new book on the JFK assassination and the superheated political climate of the early '60s, is a modest proposal for transforming American democracy as we know it. The source of the idea is Dallas oilman Haroldson Lafayette "H.L." Hunt—a JFK-bashing billionaire bigamist whom William F. Buckley, Jr. described as a man "of eccentric understanding of public affairs, of yahoo bigotry, and of appallingly bad manners." Once one of the richest men in America, Hunt is thought to have been an inspiration for J.R. Ewing.
In 1960, Hunt self-published a novel called Alpaca. In it, he described a fictional republic of the same name whose constitution enshrined the concept of "graduated suffrage," by which votes are apportioned by income and age, with as many as seven "bonus" votes going to the richest citizens.
Here's how it works: In Alpaca, every citizen 18 and older may vote. Voters between 22 and 65 automatically get two votes apiece; young and elderly voters get one vote. Beyond that, citizens may earn "premium votes," based on how much they pay in taxes:
Assuming that the Alpaca's tax system works like ours, the top 10 percent of taxpayers likely would be the wealthiest 10 percent of citizens. So the 55-year-old CEO of Alpaca's largest fast-food chain might get nine votes, while his 19-year-old counter worker might get just one. (The Alpacan system has some wiggle room for the under-enfranchsied: It doles out two extra votes to retirees who forsake their official or military pensions, government employees who give up half their salaries, and citizens who pay a "poll tax" of more than 440 pounds of wheat or rice.)
Hunt explains the rationale behind the income-based rationing of voting power:
The grant of additional voting power to those who pay a larger part of the taxes is prompted by the logic that the citizen's sense of responsibility rises in direct ratio with his contribution to the nation. The recognition that he has a direct stake in the government and its spendings gives him an alertness and caution in the exercise of his citizenship which is seldom found in the non-taxpayer and the very small taxpayer.
In other words, the makers and job creators deserve a greater political voice than the takers and moochers, who "could be expected to vote alike"—and presumably in opposition to the interests of their wealthy betters. (Fast forward to Mitt Romney's 47 percent video.)
Though Hunt clearly endorsed the Alpaca system, his book didn't speculate how its application at home might affect American politics. Yet what would happen if we implemented his plan in 21st century America? How would officially stacking the deck in favor of the superwealthy change a system where they already wield disproportionate influence? Would it upend partisan politics as we know it?
First, let's look at how Americans voted in the 2012 presidential race based on income. According to exit polls, 53 percent of voters making $50,000 or more voted for Romney, while 60 percent of those making less than $50,000 voted for Obama.
The younger the voter, the more likely she would vote for Obama; a majority of older voters preferred Romney. Sixty percent of voters between 18 and 29 voted for Obama. Half or more of all voters 40 or older picked Romney. In short, the younger and less wealthy the voter, the more likely she would vote for Obama, and vice versa. Even though voters making $50,000 or more and voters over 40 made up nearly 60 percent of the electorate, respectively, Obama won with 52 percent of the overall vote.
So, if Hunt's system of graduated suffrage was in place, would it have boosted the electoral power of Romney's older, richer constituency enough to flip the election? To find out, I did the math. In order to determine how many income-based bonus votes would be distributed, let's first look at who pays taxes. According to IRS data, the roughly 198 million Americans who filed income tax returns in 2011 broke into these income levels:
After applying the Alpaca model to the taxpayer data (7 additional votes going to the top 10 percent etc.), here's how many extra votes each income level would receive:
In this scenario, the 500,000 or so Americans earning $1 million or more would get 3.9 million extra votes, effectively increasing their voting power by 700 percent. The 84 million Americans making $50,000 or more would get 453 million extra votes while the 114 million making less than $50,000 would get just 63 million bonus votes. And that's before you count the extra votes given to voters between 22 and 65.* Once I factored in extra votes for age (assuming that the age breakdown of 2012 voters was the same across all income levels), I was ready to rerun the most recent presidential election, Alpaca-style.
The result? Mitt Romney wins, but not by the landslide you might expect.
The result? Mitt Romney won—but not by the landslide you might expect.
In fact, under graduated suffrage, Romney would get 52 percent of the 1.8 billion votes cast—essentially the mirror image of Obama's actual win. And it wouldn't be the superwealthy that carry the election for him, but the well-off voters in the $50,000 to $100,000 bracket, who received the lion's share of extra votes based on income. The 10-percenters are enough of a minority that their overall share of the total vote didn't change much under the one-millionaire-seven-votes system. But the share of the Romney-leaning folks with above-average incomes jumped considerably—from less than a third of total votes in 2012 to more than half in the hypothetical election. And the millions of Americans making $30,000 or less got crushed: Their share of the vote dropped from 20 percent to 4 percent.
Clearly, Hunt's system would turn the American political system on its head, but perhaps not as dramatically as he might have hoped. But then, Hunt's oligarchic utopianism extended beyond vote rigging: Alpaca also bans discussing politics and government business via "radio, TV and the theater" as well as public meetings of more than 200 people. Print media would be the only officially sanctioned medium for news and opinion. "The purpose of this limitation," Hunt wrote, "is to prevent the illiterate or thoughtless from being aroused in "mass to impulsively overcome soundly considered, responsible views expressed by the printed word." No doubt he would have loved the internet.
*A couple of things I did not try to include in my calculations: In Alpaca, corporate taxes are also counted toward one's total tax bill, so it's possible that the final distribution of votes is more concentrated toward the very top. Also, the Alpacan system assumes that men are primary breadwinners: A woman who earns less than her husband gets the same number of bonus votes as he does; yet a man who earns less than his wife "is on his own in making his showing for increased voting power."
An Afghan policeman stands guard at a border checkpoint.
The United States and Afghanistan are close to finalizing a deal that would set guidelines for the two countries' relationship after 2014, when the bulk of American forces are supposed to leave the country—more than a dozen years and hundreds of billions of dollars later.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai had reached tentative agreement on one of the last remaining holdups preventing a long-term deal: whether American forces could continue to raid Afghan homes during security operations. The new agreement would prevent American-led raids except under "extraordinary circumstances," but it's not yet clear that the deal will pass the Loya Jirga, a body of Afghan elders. The raids, among other issues, have created deep mistrust between American forces and the Afghan people.
If a deal is reached, US forces could remain in the country at least another 10 years in some fashion, committing taxpayers to spending millions more on security and nation-building projects. So far, many of those projects have been undermined by corruption and dysfunction. Here are a few examples of US investments in Afghanistan that have already either fallen apart or show little signs of lasting success:
At least 19 of the hospitals built by the international community—including two US-funded facilities that cost nearly $20 million—may be too expensive for the Afghan government to run.
The Pentagon has invested $770 million for nearly 50 planes to patrol the countryside for opium poppy and hashish fields. But the Afghan government can't afford the $100 million annual overhead—nor does it have enough qualified pilots to fly the aircraft.
With two-thirds of Afghans lacking regular access to electricity, the United States has spent more than a billion dollars beefing up the country's power grid. But according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the state-run power company may not be able to pay its bills after 2014, when US funding expires. Meanwhile, the US Agency for International Development recently gave the utility control of the construction of a hydroelectric dam in a restive section of Helmand province—a project 29 Marines died to make possible. As the Los Angeles Times reported, there are doubts about the "utility's competence and experience, as well as the government's commitment to a project that insurgents have violently opposed."
The United States spent $1.7 billion on road and bridge building from 2002 to 2007, but some of the projects have already started to fall apart, "mainly because of the poor quality of initial construction, poor maintenance, and overloading," according to SIGAR.
More Afghan children are being educated than ever before, thanks to international development efforts. But the Afghan government won't be able to operate all the new schools, especially as international personnel and aid trickle out of the country. "Of course we built too much," one British official told the Guardian. "We didn't think about how the Afghans would pay for it…We wanted to show them what we could do for them, but without regard for sustainability."
All in all, military operations in Afghanistan have cost nearly $700 billion. That's still less than the United States spent fighting in Vietnam, but it's still a major chunk of the more than $1.6 trillion spent on the Afghan and Iraq conflicts since September 11.
With all eyes on congressional Republicans' doomed effort to repeal Obamacare, it's easy to forget that efforts to stymie the law's key provisions are continuing apace at the state level. Specifically, 22 states have decided not to go along with the Affordable Care Act's provisions for expanding Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents.
Medicaid expansion will kick in January 1. So far, its uneven rollout is disproportionately affecting minorities, a higher percentage of whom qualify for the federally funded coverage. As the authors of a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation explain, "People of color make up the majority of uninsured individuals with incomes below the Medicaid expansion limit in both states moving forward and not moving forward with the expansion at this time." (The 2012 Supreme Court decision that spared Obamacare turned Medicaid expansion into a state-by-state decision.)
Under Obamacare, states may offer Medicaid coverage to anyone whose income is at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. (The poverty line is currently $11,490 for one person and $19,530 for a family of three.) By that benchmark, 25 million Americans without health insurance are now eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage. Of those, 59 percent are people of color.
However, nearly half of the people of color who might enroll in Medicaid live in states that currently are not expanding coverage.
While 47 percent of whites now eligible for the Medicaid expansion live in states that are not increasing coverage, 60 percent of eligible blacks and 53 percent of eligible Hispanics do.
In the states that do not offer the new Medicaid coverage, Kaiser predicts that "poor, uninsured adults will not gain a new coverage option and likely remain uninsured."
Comparing policies and people we don't liketo Nazisnevergets old. Yet if you are seeking to not further validate Godwin's Law or simply want to make better historical analogies, here's a list of things you may confidently describe as sharing undeniable similarities with the adherents of the universally abhorred ideology of German national socialism, AKA Nazis:
Oh, BuzzFeed, we love your serious reporting and we also love when you try to make ridiculous memes win the internets. But when you inadvertently help tenuous gun-lobby talking points go viral? Not so much.
"Can law-abiding citizens with guns combat mass shootings?" Broderick asks by way of introduction. That's it—there's no attempt to define his terms or explain the scope of his reporting. What exactly constitutes a "law-abiding citizen" or a "personally owned firearm"? And how do you define a mass shooting? Broderick doesn't answer these potentially inconvenient questions, letting his post suggest that armed civilians are responsible for stopping nine mass shootings that were either in progress or about to start.
Contrast that with what my colleague Mark Follman has found in his extensive reporting on mass shootings (which is based on a clear explanation of the terms and criteria being used.) While pro-gun advocates claim that courageous gun owners have routinely stopped mass shootings, the reality is that armed civilians rarely respond to shooting rampages—and those who have are rarely, if ever, successful. Most of the examples they cite are either ambiguous or involve trained law enforcement or military personnel—not the ordinary citizens with personal firearms that Broderick alludes to in his clicktastic headline and just-asking-a-question subhead.
Here are the nine incidents listed in Broderick's post and why they deserve a click on BuzzFeed's trademark "FAIL" button:
1. The Pearl High School shooting: In this case, a 16-year-old who'd killed two people and wounded seven was subdued by an assistant principal who retrieved a handgun from his truck. However, the shooting may have already been over when the assistant principal arrived. And he wasn't an ordinary civilian: He was an Army reservist. All this is explained in issue of People whose image is in Broderick's post. However, his sole link goes to David Horowitz's Frontpage Mag (motto: "Inside Every Liberal is a Totalitarian Screaming to Get Out").
2. The Parker Middle School dance shooting: Another case where a teenaged shooter may have already finished his rampage, which killed one person and wounded three, when an armed adult showed up. Yet Broderick says definitively that the shooting "was ended" when a man with a shotgun intervened.
3. The Appalachian School of Law shooting: Another deadly incident in which trained law-enforcement personnel stepped in. From a New York Times article Broderick links to:
Mr. Odighizuwa was subdued by three law students who were experienced police officers, the authorities said.
''We're trained to run into the situation instead away from it,'' said one of the three, Mikael Gross, 34, of Charlotte, N.C., who ran to his car for his bulletproof vest and service pistol before tackling the suspect.
Though the article notes that Gross grabbed his service pistol, Broderick vaguely describes it as a "personally owned firearm," suggesting that he carried it for personal use.
4. The New Life Church shooting: Broderick makes it sound like this shooting, which killed two people and wounded three, was stopped by "a former police officer" who just happened to be at church that day. In fact, she was a church security officer.
5. The Trolley Square shooting: Yet another incident where a off-duty cop got involved. The officer who confronted the shooter during this Salt Lake City shooting was "well-trained for such an event," according to the local news article Broderick cites.
6. The Golden Market shooting: "The details are murky," writes Broderick, "but according to reports, a man entered a Golden Market in Virginia in 2009 and began firing a gun." The "reports" he links to are a breathless post on AmmoLand and a pro-gun op-ed in the Collegiate Times. The Richmond Times-Dispatch's account of the incident makes it sound like a botched robbery, not a thwarted mass shooting.
7. The New York Mills AT&T store shooting: A good example of a planned mass shooting being averted—by a cop. In this 2010 incident, a 79-year-old man with a handgun walked into an AT&T store, wounded one employee and apparently planned to kill several others whose names were on a list in his pocket. An off-duty police officer who was in the store shot and killed the shooter.
8. The Clackamas Town Center shooting: Nick Meli, an off-duty security guard, drew his concealed handgun on the shooter during this 2012 rampage that left three dead at an Oregon mall. Broderick doesn't mention that Meli was a guard, but asserts that shooter Jacob Roberts "retreated" after seeing Meli produce his weapon, which he did not fire for fear of hitting a bystander. It's not clear if Meli affected the outcome of the incident, which ended with Roberts killing himself. After a 926-page investigative report on the shooting was released, a sheriff's spokesman told The Oregonian, "We have no information that the suspect's—Roberts'—actions were ever influenced by anything Mr. Meli did. But I also can't deny it."
9. The San Antonio Theater shooting: In December 2012, a 19-year old opened fire at a San Antonio restaurant where he and his ex-girlfriend worked. He then shot at a police car and headed into an adjacent cinema, where he wounded one person. He was pursued and wounded by a security guard who was an off-duty sheriff. Breitbart described it as a would-be "mass shooting," and Glenn Beck's The Blaze suggested that the suspect had intended to shoot up a crowded theater. Yet the shooting appears to have been sparked by the breakup and it's unclear how many people the suspect intended to kill. Broderick doesn't acknowledge this uncertainty, adding more fodder to the questionable premise that more "good guys with guns" can stop the next mass shooting before it happens.