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January 2023

America the Outlier

America the Outlier

            Robert A. Levine 1/24/23

Being an outlier nation can be either good or bad depending on the issue in question. With high GDP or per capita wealth it is obviously good being an outlier in a positive direction as America is. In terms of income inequality being high, it’s bad to be an outlier. In a number of areas such as cost of health care, availability of child care and various social programs, America is a negative outlier. However, probably the worst aspect of American life where the nation is an overwhelming outlier is in the number of gun deaths and mass shootings, where no other nation in the world is even close to the mayhem seen in America.

In fact, the next ten advanced nations added together do not match the annual number of gun deaths in America. The reason for the excessive number of gun deaths is simple. America has more guns per capita than any advanced nation. Actually, there are more guns in circulation in the U.S. than the number of people. And not only are there more guns, people have access to automatic weapons and enlarged magazines to augment the number of bullets a weapon can fire before it has to be reloaded. This allows more people to be killed when a gunman decides that he wants to become a mass killer for one reason or another. (Women are rarely involved in mass shootings.)

Domestic terrorists associated with white nationalist groups are one of the sources of mass killers, usually aimed at minority groups.  However, the two recent mass shootings in California show the disease has spread to Asian-Americans who previously might have been considered targets. However, the two largest groups of people involved in mass killings are mentally deranged individuals and criminal gangs, the latter often using guns to settle turf wars with other gangs. Domestic violence is another factor in mass shootings usually limited to family members.

Aside from mass killings, individual lives are often taken in criminal activities, personal vendettas, or from mentally disturbed individuals. There are also more gun deaths by suicide in America than in any other country. The answer to cutting down on the epidemic of gun deaths is straight forward: cut down on the number of guns. This is merely common sense, but the National Rifle Association, gun lobbies and right-wing zealots are opposed to any common sense measures to reduce gun deaths, claiming that “guns don’t kill people, people do.” They claim that the Second Amendment to the Constitution gives Americans the right to own an unlimited number of weapons of all types. However, the Second Amendment is ambiguous in its wording and could be interpreted in several ways, including that arms should be possessed by militia members. The Second Amendment was also written at a time when automatic weapons with extended magazines were not available and when ghost guns that are not registered could not be made by computers at home.

There is no reason for America to be an outlier with its number of gun deaths. Gun ownership should be limited to rifles for hunters and pistols for home self-defense, or for special situations to allow carry outside the home. The majority of Americans want automatic weapons, extended magazines and ghost guns banned and some surveys show that many gun owners feel the same way. But the power of the NRA, gun lobbyists and the right wing gun activists means that Americans will likely continue to kill Americans at an alarming rate and be an outlier in the civilized world.

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Resumed Do-Nothing Congress

Presumed Do-Nothing Congress

                Robert A. Levine  1-10-23

The control of the House of Representatives into Republican hands and the chaotic and traumatic election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House is predictive of government gridlock and dysfunction. McCarthy squandered much of the power of the Speaker’s position in order to get elected and it is hard to imagine how he will be able to govern with any degree of efficiency. The Republican House candidates ran for office without a definitive platform, except to investigate Democratic officials and the programs that Democrats have initiated. Also a desire to cut government spending, even if it affects social programs like Medicare and Social Security.

McCarthy has allotted chairmanships of important committees to MAGA Congressmen like Jim Jordan, who have already indicated that their man objective is going to be to investigate Democrats. A number of elected Republicans continue to be election deniers and want to re-litigate the 2020 election which they claim that Trump actually won. This is a formula for a government that is non-functional and will not be able to accomplish anything positive for the American public.

The major problem is that McCarthy does not have a working majority in the House to get things done. At least twenty of the GOP members of the House who ultimately voted for him as Speaker demanded and received special concessions and will be able to block any bipartisan legislation or spending bills. A single Congress person can also call for a vote of confidence at any time for the Speaker’s position, diluting much of McCarthy’s power. To keep these votes of confidence at a minimum, he may have to negotiate frequently with individual Congress persons, forcing him to make further concessions.

In order to govern effectively, McCarthy and House GOP members have to come up with specific programs that they wish to pass to move America forward. Changing House rules and investigating government activities is insufficient to positively impact the nation. Unfortunately, many of those recalcitrant Republicans come from deep red districts whose voters don’t care how their representatives conduct themselves in Washington. Some constituents just demand loyalty to Donald Trump or opposition to anything the Democrats propose.

Important spending bills and extension of the nation’s debt limit come up for votes this year. If Republicans block these bills or demand extensive changes, they may damage the world and America’s economy and the nation’s standing in the world. These Republicans are not a good advertisement for a democratic style of government and play into the hands of our autocratic opponents. Unfortunately, some of these House Republicans covertly or overtly support Putin and the Russian government and would be only too happy to see an autocratic government in place in America. The idea of compromise is anathema to many of these politicians who insist that it is ‘my way or the highway’ in governing America.

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