Kevin Drum - 2012

A Non-Gun-Owner's Guide to Guns

| Fri Dec. 21, 2012 1:54 PM EST

A few days ago I asked Adam Weinstein to help our nation's beleaguered press corps and provide them with a short, simple primer on guns and gun terminology. Today he comes through with "A Non-Gun-Owner's Guide to Guns." Check it out if you want to be able to talk about guns without instantly incurring the wrath of gun owners everywhere. It's nothing more than the level of knowledge you'd expect someone to have about, say, global warming or Social Security if they were holding forth on those subjects. It's always good to know the basics.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

NRA Exceeds Even My Expectations for Total Derangement

| Fri Dec. 21, 2012 1:38 PM EST

Guess what? It turns out that if you have only one political forecasting metric—modern conservatives are loons and will always act the part—your forecasting accuracy goes up. On Wednesday, I reminded everyone that when the NRA announced after the Newtown massacre that it was "prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again," it meant nothing of the kind. But even at that, I wasn't quite prepared for this:

In his first extensive public remarks since the mass shooting at a Connecticut school last Friday, the head of National Rifle Association called Friday for lawmakers to take action to put police officers in schools in an effort to curb violent outbreaks like the one that took place last week.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a news conference in Washington.... “Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them ... in doing so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk,” said LaPierre, head of the nation’s largest gun-rights group.

You really need to read the entire transcript of LaPierre's comments, italics and all, to get a full sense of what he was saying. You can practically see the flicks of spittle in your mind's eye. Here's a small taste:

Now, I can imagine the shocking headlines you'll print tomorrow morning: "More guns," you'll claim, "are the NRA's answer to everything!" Your implication will be that guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools. But since when did the word "gun" automatically become a bad word?

....With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can’t afford to put a police officer in every school? Even if they did that, politicians have no business — and no authority — denying us the right, the ability, or the moral imperative to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm.

The real problems, according to LaPierre, are Hollywood, video games, the national media that reports on gun massacres, demonization of firearms, and a defenseless population. America's 300 million guns not only have nothing to do with gun massacres, they're the answer to gun massacres.

Astounding. I figured that LaPierre would at least pretend to be willing to have a "dialog" about gun laws. But no. He let us have it with both barrels, so to speak. Republicans have now gotten their marching orders.

The Great Construction Employment Mystery Revisited

| Fri Dec. 21, 2012 1:05 PM EST

Yesterday I wondered why residential construction employment was flat even though residential housing starts had doubled over the past 18 months. Today, a regular reader writes in to suggest that I'm just not being patient enough. Yes, housing starts are up, but on a historical scale they're still about as low as they've ever been. Even with the recent doubling, starts have only barely reached the level they were at in the middle of the 1991 recession, and residential construction employment is about the same as it was then (green lines in chart below). Employment is a lagging indicator, and we just need another year or two of growth before we're going to see a similar rebound in construction employment. Calculated Risk wrote about this a few months ago.

The chart below shows only residential construction employment, which tracks housing starts better than the overall construction employment figure. But even so, you can see the lag and you can see where we are compared to historical levels. Unless I hear something better, it sounds like this basically solves the mystery.

Both Sides Are Responsible for Failure of Fiscal Cliff Talks

| Fri Dec. 21, 2012 12:38 PM EST

A friend writes to explain how the punditocracy will end up describing the failure of Plan B:

I think it's pretty clear that both parties are to blame for Plan B. And by that I mean the reason for Plan B, the creation of Plan B and the failure of Plan B.

And if you cannot see how the White House / Democrats could possibly be remotely responsible for Plan B, just wait for David Gergen to explain it to you. I'm sure it's all very meta and likely comes out as both sides should have caved more sooner. And then all of this could have been avoided. I'm sure this is very clear. Somehow.

This has an unfortunate ring of plausibility, doesn't it? Bob Woodward will tell us that Obama is a terrible negotiator. David Brooks will tell us that Democrats never understood what Republicans wanted. (Oh wait....) The Washington Post editorial team will bemoan Democratic opposition to raising the Medicare eligibility age and its unwillingness to ask for more "sacrifice." Jennifer Rubin will tell us that Obama's offers were phony all along. (Oh wait....) It's gonna be a long weekend.

The Republican Leadership Is Very Unhappy Today

| Fri Dec. 21, 2012 12:14 PM EST

Robert Costa reports on the mood within the Republican leadership last night after John Boehner called a meeting to finally concede that he didn't have enough votes to pass Plan B:

Boehner’s speech to the group was short and curt: He said his plan didn’t have enough support, and that the House would adjourn until after Christmas, perhaps even later. But it was Boehner’s tone and body language that caught most Republicans off guard. The speaker looked defeated, unhappy, and exhausted after hours of wrangling. He didn’t want to fight. There was no name-calling. As a devout Roman Catholic, Boehner wanted to pray. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” he told the crowd, according to attendees.

....Boehner and his leadership team soon departed. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP whip, who hours earlier was meeting with on-the-fence members over Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his office, left the Capitol looking distressed. So did Eric Cantor, the majority leader, who had spent the past two days wooing backbenchers. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Budget Committee chairman and recent Republican vice-presidential candidate, strolled out of the Capitol with Representative Tom Price of Georgia, a popular conservative who has expressed his unhappiness with Boehner’s cliff strategy. The pair declined to discuss the drama, but they both looked tired and frustrated.

From National Journal:

“It’s the continuing dumbing down of the Republican Party, and we are going to be seen, more and more, as a bunch of extremists that can’t even get the majority of our own people to support the policies we’re putting forward,” [Rep. Steven LaTourette] said. “If you’re not a governing majority, you’re not going to be a majority very long.”

Members sat stunned by the speaker’s admission, unsure of what it meant for the fiscal cliff negotiations. The speaker pledged to call the president, said one attendee, but few members had high hopes House Republicans could cut a deal or pass legislation. “Well, I don’t know that there is a next step. We’re not coming back until after Christmas and maybe never,” said LaTourette, who's retiring.

There you have it. Merry Christmas, everyone.

The Republican Party's Post-Election Meltdown

| Thu Dec. 20, 2012 9:53 PM EST

Just to keep score, in the six weeks since the election Republicans have:

  • Shamefully smeared Susan Rice in order to prevent her nomination as secretary of state.
  • Shown themselves completely unwilling to compromise with President Obama over fiscal cliff legislation.
  • Begun a campaign to block the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.
  • Almost unanimously refused to set up state healthcare exchanges to implement Obamacare.

This is after an election in which they decisively lost the presidency, lost eight seats in the House, and lost two seats in the Senate. Six weeks after.

Anyone who thought Republicans might be in a mood to face reality after their shellacking in November should be well disabused of this notion by now. By my reckoning, they've actually gotten worse.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Boehner Sabotaged by Lunatic Wing of Republican Party

| Thu Dec. 20, 2012 9:18 PM EST

Even after larding up his Plan B bill with lots of goodies, John Boehner apparently couldn't get his Republican caucus to support it. So he's now pulled the bill and adjourned the House, promising only to return after Christmas "when needed."

This is truly an epic fail. Boehner couldn't even get a piece of obvious political theater passed. He's completely unable to control the lunatic wing of his own party. So what's next?

One possibility is that this makes falling off the fiscal cliff much more likely. If the loonies won't even vote for Plan B, what are the odds they'll vote for a compromise bill along the lines that President Obama has offered? A second possibility—and I honestly don't know how likely this is—is that Boehner now knows he can't get the tea partiers to vote for anything, so he'll give up on the idea of bringing them into the fold. Instead of trying to craft a bill that can get 218 Republican votes, he'll round up 50 or 100 of the noncrazies and pass a compromise bill along with 150 Democrats. On this reading, today's failure actually makes a fiscal-cliff compromise more likely.

Maybe. It all depends on what Boehner thinks he can get away with and just how vulnerable he is to some backstabbing from Eric Cantor. Time will tell.

The Great Construction Employment Mystery

| Thu Dec. 20, 2012 6:52 PM EST

Over at the Atlantic, Matthew O'Brien canvasses the blogosphere's chart lovers to compile a list of the 34 best economic charts of the year. It's worth a look at the whole list, but the chart I want to highlight is from Conor Sen. Here it is:

That's damn peculiar, isn't it? How is it that housing starts can increase steeply starting in 2011 but construction employment continues to decline? That's the kind of thing that happens when you build a factory where robots do all the work that people used to do, but nothing like that has happened in the construction industry. Houses today are built pretty much the same way they were a decade ago: with human hands.

So what's going on? A few months ago the Fiscal Times asked some construction industry experts about this, and they got three answers. First, the increase in housing starts hasn't been big enough yet. Second, you have to wait a while for all the "finishers" (painters, paper hangers, tile workers, etc.) to be brought on board. Third, most of the work is in apartment buildings, which require fewer workers per unit than houses.

Answer #1 doesn't hold water. Since the beginning of last year, housing starts have nearly doubled. That's a lot. Answer #2 is similarly unsatisfying. Housing starts began their upward climb more than 18 months ago. That's plenty of time to get to the finishing work. So how about Answer #3? Here's a chart that breaks apart single-unit and multi-unit starts:

Hmmm. Single-unit structures are up by 200,000 and multi-unit starts are also up by about 200,000. The share of multi-unit starts has gone up from about 25 percent to 33 percent, but that's not much, really. Certainly nowhere near enough to account for a decline in construction jobs. Besides, an apartment building appears to count as a single housing start, and a single apartment building requires more workers than a single house. A rising share of multi-unit starts should accelerate construction employment, not hold it back.

So what's the answer? My guess is that it's a statistical artifact of some kind. Something isn't being counted right here. It's possible that the construction industry has gotten more efficient in certain ways, but it hasn't gotten that much more efficient. If housing starts have doubled, then one way or another, construction employment must be up too.

POSTSCRIPT: Anyway, O'Brien missed the real chart of the year. Here it is.

Quote of the Day: Wall Street and the Decline of Capitalism

| Thu Dec. 20, 2012 3:54 PM EST

From Felix Salmon, on the low market valuation of stock exchanges:

Think of it as one of the few areas of the financial-services sector where capitalism works as advertised.

Yep. Read the whole post for more. I've been meaning to write a little essay about exactly this subject, and maybe this is the push I need. Maybe.

Fiscal Cliff Doing Republicans No Favors

| Thu Dec. 20, 2012 3:02 PM EST

According to a new CNN poll, the GOP's crazies aren't doing its reputation any good:

According to the survey, 53% say the GOP should compromise more, with 41% saying the Democratic Party should give up more of the proposals it supports to develop bipartisan solutions.

"That's due in part to the fact that the Republican brand is not doing all that well," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland....It probably doesn't help that House Speaker John Boehner, who's leading GOP fiscal cliff negotiations with the president, is held in fairly low regard, particularly in comparison to Obama. According to the poll, 34% of the public approves of how the top Republican in the House handling his job. By contrast, the president's approval rating stands at 52%.

"Small wonder that nearly half say they have more confidence in President Obama than in the congressional Republicans and that nearly half (48%) would blame the GOP if the fiscal cliff occurs," adds Holland.

The absurd shenanigans surrounding the fiscal cliff and Plan B will only make this worse. Modern Republicans just don't know when to quit.