2013 - %3, September

6 Risky Gun Storage Products Sold by the NRA

| Tue Oct. 1, 2013 2:38 PM EDT

This Sunday, the New York Times published an extensive report on children accidentally killed by guns. Most of the tragic examples cited involved kids (almost always boys) coming across an unsecured firearm. As Mother Jones has previously reported, owning a gun has been found to substantially increase the risk of accidental death. Studies have also found that 40 percent of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm. And an experiment by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that one third of 8- to 12-year-old boys who find a handgun will pull the trigger.

Nevertheless, the National Rifle Association has fought efforts to require safer gun storage. On its website, it even sells various gun storage products that ensure easy access to loaded weapons—without safeguards to protect curious kids (or anyone else). Here are a few:

 

The NRA Minuteman Concealment Mantel Clock
The NRA Store claims that, "like our revolutionary heroes," this mahogany-stained working clock "conceals an underlying, defensive capability." Simply pulling back on the clock's magnetic front panel allows "quick access" to a gun up to 8 inches long, offering you a "heightened sense of security in your home."
 

NRA Diversion/Concealment Book Set
These hollowed-out book covers' "elegant spines blend seamlessly with other fine literature" and easily open to store handguns up to 10.5 inches long. They come in two colors: The red set comes with the titles Life and Liberty and The Framework of Freedom. The black set comes with Eternal Vigilance and Rendezvous with Destiny.
 

NRA Amendment II Peacemaker Wooden Box
With decorations "reminiscent of 19th century Western designs," this pine, birch, and poplar box features images of an American flag, three Peacemaker revolver, and the full text of the Second Amendment on a removable lid covering enough space for a real Peacemaker. The box is recommended for storing a flag, jewelry, documents, or "other items in need of old fashioned American protection" (hint, hint).
 

NRA Concealed Carry Day Planner
Featuring separate compartments for a handgun and a three-ring binder stocked with calendar pages, this tactical organizer also has lockable zippers—but a lock is not included.
 

NRA Under the Desk Holster
For those who need a firearm handy while checking email or paying bills, the NRA touts this desk holster as an "an easy way to inconspicuously keep your handgun at arm's length." The elastic holster is designed to "safely and securely" fit any size handgun.
 

Holster Mate
When combined with the NRA Slide Holster, the Holster Mate® allows you to slip your holster off your belt and onto a metal bracket that fits between your bed's mattress and box spring. A hook-and-loop backing is included to eliminate slippage.

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Chart of the Day: We're Still Living With the Toxic Political Legacy of 9/11

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 11:23 PM EDT

Via Larry Bartels, here's an interesting chart from James Stimson that tracks the public's level of conservatism over the past 60 years. You can click the link to read about his methodology, but what this chart basically shows is that "the public tends to act as a 'thermostat,' shifting to the left when the political climate in Washington shifts to the right and to the right when policy shifts to the left." In other words, when the president is a Republican, the public tends to tire of conservatism and become more liberal. When the president is a Democrat, the public tends to tire of liberalism and become more conservative.

Until recently, the only real exception to this was the 60s. But now there's a second one: the George W. Bush administration. And this is interesting, I think, because it shows the enduring effect of the war on terror. My interpretation of this chart is that Bush managed to avoid the normal public backlash during his first three years in office, and the obvious explanation for this is 9/11 and the Iraq War. Eventually, the political mood did start to trend more liberal, but because of the initial 9/11 effect, the public ended up in 2008 about where it had started in 2000. As a result, Obama began his presidency with an unusually conservative public. Thus, instead of merely bouncing back from the previous presidency in the usual yo-yo fashion, the conservative backlash against Obama took us into the right-wing stratosphere.

There may be other explanations for this. Have at it in comments. But George Bush did everything he could to politicize 9/11, and it looks to me like it paid off. Whether we realize it or not, we're still living with the toxic legacy of 9/11 and the war on terror.

We Hit the Debt Ceiling Months Ago. Nobody Cared.

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 10:59 PM EDT

Here's another quick reminder for everyone: It's not true that we'll hit the debt ceiling on October 18. We've already hit it. This happened first on December 31 of last year, and then, after a few months of legislative maneuvering, again on May 19. The Treasury Department has been taking extraordinary measures—withholding payments to pension funds, taking money from the Exchange Stabilization Fund, etc.—to keep the government running ever since.

I only mention this to illustrate how far things have degenerated. Nobody even cares about actually breaching the debt ceiling anymore. We did that months ago, and it was just a date on the calendar. It's only when the Treasury has exhausted its ability to rob Peter to pay Paul, with all the attendant chaos this produces, that we've "really" hit the debt ceiling. Welcome to the new normal, courtesy of the Republican Party.

Government to Furlough Food Inspectors but Not Military Recruiters

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 8:03 PM EDT

Now that Uncle Sam is about to run out of money, federal agencies will need to use their last pennies simply to keep America from falling apart. Food inspectors and pesticide regulators will stay home under the furlough plan, but fear not: Military recruiters will show up to work no matter what. Sure, your kids might die from eating tainted spinach, but they will have died in order to show that America does not give in to terrorists. Or whatever it is you call those ideologues and hostage-takers that the military fights. The point is, just remember that the military will be there for you during the budget apocalypse if you need a job, or want to watch some inspiring videos about jumping out of helicopters and hunting people with spear guns.

UPDATE: Below, readers point out a variety of reasons why furloughing military personnel is not as easy as furloughing civilian workers, which may help explain why Army recruiters are still working while food inspectors are not.

Shiny Object Watch: The Vitter Amendment

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 6:00 PM EDT

Erick Erickson, who is pretty clearly the voice of the Tea Party at this point, is unhappy with his fellow Republicans and he's letting everyone know it via Twitter:

At this point, the House should just go on and pass a clean CR. They've already embarrassed themselves and done requisite head pats.

Seriously House GOP, if you're going to fully fund Obamacare, go on and stop the shiny object dangling and just embrace it.

GOP should either find for defund or just embrace the suck.

And which shiny object is Erickson objecting to here? That's hard to say since Republicans could furnish a disco hall with all the shiny objects they've been dangling in front of their base lately, but most likely he's talking about the stupidest shiny object of them all: the Vitter Amendment.

In fact, the Vitter Amendment is so stupid that it's actually a little hard to explain. As you know, the whole point of Obamacare is that it's for people who don't get health insurance via their employer. Back in 2009, however, when Republicans were offering up a slew of amendments to try to embarrass Democrats, Chuck Grassley offered an amendment that would require members of Congress and their staffs to buy insurance via the exchanges.

This made no sense since staffers already had a health insurance plan, just like all other federal employees. But Republicans somehow decided that if Grassley's amendment didn't pass, it would mean Democrats weren't willing to use their own program. So Democrats sighed and went ahead and voted for it.

But wait. The federal government paid for staffers' health insurance. Under Obamacare, they'd have to pay for it themselves. That's a raw deal. So the federal government decided to take the money that had previously gone to health insurance and give it to staffers to offset the cost of insurance on the exchanges. Fair enough.

But now Republicans are up in arms again. Allegedly, this is because they've somehow decided that it's unfair for staffers to get this money, so they want to take it away via the Vitter Amendment. After all, other people on Obamacare don't get money from their employer to offset the cost of insurance.

Which is true. But that's because other employers aren't allowed to dump their employees onto Obamacare. Only Congress does that.

This is all mind-bogglingly stupid. Congressional staffers should never have been put on Obamacare in the first place. It only happened thanks to a craven political ploy from Republicans. Now they want to double down on their cravenness by taking away a chunk of their staffers' compensation under the moronic pretense that they're getting "special treatment." They aren't, of course. In fact, they got screwed by Grassley, and now they're going to get doubly screwed by Vitter.

What's more, this ploy is so craven and moronic that even Erick Erickson recognizes it for what it is. Go figure that. If this is the best Republicans can come up with, even Erickson thinks they should just give up and pass a clean CR. That's how bad things have gotten.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, passing a clean CR isn't what Erickson wants. He wants the House to fight Fight FIGHT! Refuse to pass anything except a bill that fully repeals Obamacare, and if the government shuts down, then the government shuts down.

But if they're not going to do that, the Vitter Amendment is just about the worst way imaginable to save face. Republicans think they're being clever because they can complain about Congress giving itself "special privileges," and they know that Fox News will dutifully repeat this no matter how dumb it is. But all they're doing is screwing their own staff members because they know they can't fight back. It's truly odious behavior.

Trent Lott on Ted Cruz: "Cut His Legs Out From Under Him"

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 4:26 PM EDT

Just as House Speaker John Boehner was concluding a brief press conference on Monday afternoon—declaring that House GOPers would once again send to the Senate a bill funding the government that would block Obamacare, practically ensuring a government shutdown—I bumped into former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who now works at Patton Boggs, a powerhouse law and lobbying firm in Washington. Glad not to be part of the mess? I asked.

"I'm of two minds," Lott said. "I'd like to be in the arena and help work something out. But it's gotten too nasty and too mean these days. I couldn't work with these guys."

What do you think of how Boehner and the House Republicans are handling this?

"They've made their point," Lott huffed. "It's time to say enough and move on." Referring to the die-hard tea partiers in the House Republican caucus, he added, "These new guys don't care about making things work." Lott noted that in the mid-1990s, he warned then-Speaker Newt Gingrich not to force a government shutdown. "I knew it wouldn't be good for us," he said.

So how does this end? Lott said he still was optimistic that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could step in and negotiate a deal—maybe a short-term continuation of spending. (Not too long ago, I noted that the odds of a successful McConnell intervention were low.)

I asked Lott if his old GOP pals still serving in the Senate have lost control of their party. How do they feel about that? I inquired. Lott shook his head: "That Ted Cruz. They have to teach him something or cut his legs out from under him."

Cut his legs out? Yeah, Lott replied with a chuckle. He noted that when he was in the House in the 1980s he mounted a campaign against a fellow Republican who had challenged him for a leadership post. "Took me two years," he recalled. "But I got him. And he was out of the House." Recalling his vindictiveness and hardball politics, Lott chuckled once more. "Call me if you want more red meat," he said, before heading toward the car waiting for him.

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Open-Access Champion Michael Eisen "Sets Free" NASA's Paywalled Mars Rover Research

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 3:30 PM EDT

NASA's Curiosity rover, spending your tax money in the name of cool science.

Wait, did science publishing maverick Michael Eisen just borrow a tactic from the late internet whiz kid Aaron Swartz?

Why yes, he did.

The headline for my new profile of Eisen wasn't meant to be taken literally. As I explain in "Steal This Research Paper! (You Already Paid for It.)," Swartz was indicted by the federal government for trying to do just that: He'd gained access to MIT networks to "liberate" millions of copyrighted scientific papers, most of them bankrolled by taxpayers through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies. Swartz and others in the open-access movement believed that the public should be able to view publicly-funded research without forking over stiff access fees to science publishers. Seems like a no-brainer, huh?

How Proton Beams Are a Metaphor for Our Broken Health Care System

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 2:59 PM EDT

Via Austin Frakt, here's a lovely little chart from a Brookings report that helps explain why health care costs in the United States are so stubbornly hard to control. It shows the growth in proton beam facilities, which Kaiser Health News describes as an "arms race" between hospitals. These facilities are the size of a football field and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct.

Which might be OK if PRT were truly an advance in treating cancer. Unfortunately, there's not much evidence that it is, even though it costs far more than old-school IMRT radiotherapy. Here's the conclusion from a recent study of prostate cancer cases:

Although PRT is substantially more costly than IMRT, there was no difference in toxicity in a comprehensive cohort of Medicare beneficiaries with prostate cancer at 12 months post-treatment.

In other words, the supposed advantage of PRT—that it targets cancers more precisely and has fewer toxic side effects—doesn't seem to be true. It might be better in certain very specialized cases, but not for garden variety prostate cancer.

And yet, new facilities are being constructed at a breakneck pace. Why? Because if they build them, patients will come. "They're simply done to generate profits," says health care advisor Ezekiel Emanuel. Roger that.

Jennifer Hudson Promotes Obamacare, Impersonates Olivia Pope in New Funny or Die Video

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 1:23 PM EDT

It's the first video from Funny or Die's new series of pro-Obamacare videos. The above two-minute segment, titled "Scandalous with Jennifer Hudson," is a playful spoof of Scandal, ABC's hit political-thriller series starring Kerry Washington. "I prefer covert scandal manager," Hudson says when people refer to her as a "fixer." But the main point of the video is to promote the benefits of Obamacare and to show viewers how to sign up. The sketch ends with this image, with the narrator encouraging you to visit the website:

On October 1, the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges—in which uninsured Americans will be able to buy coverage using federal subsidies—open up for business. While conservative groups are emphasizing doom and government excess (this includes the Koch brothers-backed young-conservatives group Generation Opportunity, which recently released this creepy, sort of rapey anti-Obamacare ad), Funny or Die, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's comedy site, has planned a short series of comedic celebrity web videos aimed at educating American twenty-somethings about the law.

In July, a cluster of Hollywood big-names attended a meeting at the White House to chat about how they could help spread the word about Obamacare. (President Obama swung by for roughly half an hour to mingle and hear some of their ideas.) The meeting was run by senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who gave a presentation on health care reform and talked about pushing back against conservative memes surrounding the law. Here is Jarrett tweeting about Funny or Die's Scandal-themed PSA, using the hashtag "#GetCovered," a hashtag that appears in the video:

And here's the White House sharing it:

Hudson and Mike Farah, president of production and "ambassador of lifestyle," were both present at the July meeting. "We want to make the right amount of videos—ones that are smart and break through the clutter [and rhetoric]," Farah told Mother Jones. "If we can help make [signing up for Obamacare] a normal thing, something that isn't politicized, something that comes second nature to younger people (like putting your seatbelt on), that is something we'd want to do...It's not like one Funny or Die video can change the world—it'd be nice if it could! But people have to hear about this issue from all sorts of directions."

Funny or Die has generated and promoted Obamacare-related content before, including "The Mis-Informant" (starring Jack Black as a "professional mis-informant who gets paid a buttload of cash" to lie about Obamacare) and "Injured Americans Against Obamacare." The website pumps out a lot of political satire in general. Shortly after the 2008 election, it released the star-studded "Prop 8 - The Musical." More recently, Funny or Die produced a sketch warning of the dangers of sequestration, and worked with actress Alyssa Milano on her "sex tape" that turned out to be all about the bloodshed in Syria.

Here's Why the Public Blames Republicans for an Imminent Government Shutdown

| Mon Sep. 30, 2013 12:23 PM EDT

Just another quick reminder, because sometimes this stuff gets lost in the fog.

Q: Why do we need a 6-week Continuing Resolution to keep the government running?

A: Because Congress hasn't passed a budget for the new year, which begins October 1st.

Q: And why is that?

A: There's no mystery. Both the House and Senate passed budget resolutions months ago, but Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP have refused to open talks with the Senate to negotiate a final budget number.

Q: Why is that?

A: They've been crystal clear about this. They wanted more leverage for their demands, and they figured the only way to get it was to threaten a government shutdown. Here's the Washington Post last May:

Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement. Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate.

....“The debt limit is the backstop,” Ryan said before taking the stage at a debt summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington. “I’d like to go through regular order and get something done sooner rather than later. But we need to get a down payment on the debt. We need entitlement reform. We’re very serious about tax reform because we think that’s critical to economic growth and job creation. Those are the things we want to talk about.”

This is why the public is likely to blame Republicans for a government shutdown: because Republicans have been very clear all along that they were deliberately stringing out the budget process so they could use a shutdown as leverage for their demands. At the time Ryan made the statement above, it looked like we were going to hit the debt ceiling before we hit the end of the budget year, so that was the "backstop." Now it's turned out that the end of the budget year will come first, so that's become the backstop instead. Either way, though, Republicans have been quite open for months about their desire to delay negotiations until they had a government shutdown of some kind to use as a threat. Now they have it, and they're using it.

So that's that. They're the ones who said they wanted a shutdown as leverage. They can't really pretend otherwise at this point.

It's also worth noting, just for the sake of nostalgia, Ryan's claim that he was doing this because he really, really wanted to talk about entitlement reform and tax reform. That was always laughable—nobody thinks you can negotiate stuff like that in a couple of weeks with a gun to your head—and we haven't heard much about it since. Still, it's worth preserving for the memory vaults.