Juan Williams Debunks GOP Attempts To Blame Democrats For Lack Of A Surgeon General

While discussing the Republican hypocrisy in their response to an Ebola Czar earlier this month, I pointed out how the Republicans blocked  Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General due to his concerns about gun violence, which kills far, far more people than Ebola in this country. Republicans who 1) are rarely willing to take responsibility for their action,  and 2) are fond of projecting their faults upon others, have been trying to shift the blame and falsely claim that the Democrats are responsible for blocking the nomination. Juan Williams of Fox News has called them out on this in a column at The Hill (also a Republican-leaning site even as not as overtly Republican as Fox). Williams also debunked the Republican claims that Harry Reid has not been fair due to not allowing them to add their “poison pill” amendments to bills, which would cause even greater gridlock. Williams wrote:

Republicans on the campaign trail tell voters that the Senate gets nothing done because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) blocks votes on GOP legislation.

Away from the Halloween funhouse mirror, the reality is this: Reid is willing to hold votes — but not with an endless open amendment process that merely creates a stage for Republican political theater. “Poison pill” amendments on partial birth abortions and gay marriage would sprout everywhere.

The real problem is that Senate Republicans can’t agree on which amendments to attach to bills because of the Tea Party versus Establishment war raging among them.

Yet I’ve personally seen voters nodding in agreement at Senate debates and campaign events as Republicans put the fright-night mask on Reid as the evil ogre responsible for dysfunction in the Senate.

The GOP is having success by repeating this distorted version of political life on Capitol Hill. Their tactic on that score is consistent with an overall strategy that includes blocking President Obama’s nominees to courts, federal agencies and ambassadorial posts while condemning any mistakes made by the administration.

According to the Senate’s website, there are currently 156 nominations pending on the executive calendar.

With all of the fear-mongering by Republican candidates over the administration’s response to Ebola — part of a broader approach to scare voters by undermining faith in government, the president and all Democrats — there is one screaming nomination still pending that reveals the corruption of the GOP strategy.

The nation has not had a surgeon general since November 2013 because the GOP is blocking the president’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. At a time of medical emergency, what is the Republicans’ problem with Murthy?

In October 2012, the doctor tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of the NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Dr. Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine, has impressive credentials for a 36-year-old. He created a breakthrough new company to lower the cost of drugs and bring new drugs to market more quickly.

But his big sin, for Senate Republicans, is that as a veteran of emergency rooms Dr. Murthy expressed his concern about the nation’s indisputable plague of gun violence.

When Dr. Murthy was nominated, the National Rife Association announced plans to “score” a vote on the doctor’s nomination, meaning any Republican or Democrat running in a conservative state who voted for Murthy would be punished in NRA literature and feel the pain in their fundraising come midterm election season.

When public anxiety over Ebola became a GOP talking point, 29 House Democrats wrote to Reid calling for the Senate to expose the Republicans for their deceitful strategy. They wanted, and still want, Senate Democrats to push for a vote on the surgeon general nominee and force the Republicans to explain their opposition. Their thinking is that swift action is needed to put a surgeon general in place and give the American people a trusted source of guidance on Ebola.

The Tea Party’s favorite senator, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, last week agreed on the need for a surgeon general in a CNN interview. But in the funhouse mirror-style so loved by the Republican base, Cruz blamed Obama for the vacancy.

“Of course we should have a surgeon general in place,” Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was also put on the spot recently over the GOP’s refusal to deal with the surgeon general vacancy.  As he railed against the president for perceived errors in handling the situation, NBC’s Chuck Todd interrupted to ask: “The NRA said they were going to score the vote and suddenly everybody froze him… Seems a little petty in hindsight, doesn’t it?”

“Well, the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly then we should confirm them, there’s no question about that,” said the senator, trying to find his footing as he backpedaled.

The fact remains that Senate Republicans, in lockstep with the NRA, have left a worthy nominee dangling while this vital post remains vacant.

This kind of game playing is what led Senate Democrats to consider using the so-called “nuclear option.” In its original form, it would have changed the Senate rules to require a simple majority for all confirmations, instead of the current 60-vote supermajority. But the Democrats decided to go with a more modest change that allowed a simple majority vote to confirm only federal judicial nominees, not presidential picks for the Supreme Court, the cabinet or the position of surgeon general.

Reid, speaking on the Senate floor this summer, said that despite the rules change “Republicans are still continuing to try and slow everything down…It is just that they want to do everything they can to slow down [Obama’s] administration, to make him look bad…even though they’re the cause of the obstruction… Everyone will look at us and say, Democrats control the Senate — why aren’t they doing more?”

As a matter of brazen politics, the Republican strategy of obstruction has worked.

What a shame.

I have seen contradictory interpretations regarding the filibuster rules as to whether the Surgeon General can be confirmed with 51 votes or if the post still requires a super-majority. It is academic in this case. Republican Senators have placed a hold on this nomination and if it goes to a vote are likely to vote unanimously against it. The NRA has indicated that they will include a vote on Murthy in their ratings, which makes it difficult for some Democratic Senators in red states who are up for reelection. Between these Democrats and the uniform Republican opposition there are probably not 51 votes for confirmation, although this could change after the election.

Despite the Republican actions to block the Surgeon General nomination, it is questionable as to how much of a difference it would have made. We don’t know how much Murthy would have said on the topic, and if he could have gotten a discussion of the science through, considering all the fear and misinformation being spread about Ebola by Republicans.

Despite all the panic, we have seen how small a threat Ebola actually is in a developed nation such as the United States. Ebola is a problem of developing nations which lack an adequate Public Health infrastructure. While the outbreak began in West Africa last December, we have had a tiny number of people who are infected enter this country, and the potential harm has been easily contained. Even in Texas, which does share some of the problems of a third world nation due to Republican rule, multiple mistakes were made with minimal harm. A patient was sent home despite meeting criteria for hospitalization, and yet he did not spread the infection to anyone else in the community. This is because Ebola is not contagious early in the disease before someone is symptomatic, and even then it does not spread by casual contact.

Maybe if there was a Surgeon General speaking about Ebola, the Emergency Room staff at Texas Presbyterian Hospital would have been better acquainted with the guidelines and hospitalized Thomas Duncan when he first presented. Maybe the hospital would have done a better job at following protocols to protect the staff. While possible, it is far from certain that having a Surgeon General would have made any difference.

Perhaps if there was a Surgeon General discussing the science there would have been less panic when Dr. Craig Spencer was found to have traveled on the subway and visit a bowling alley, where he did not spread Ebola. (Similarly the nurse from Texas Presbyterian who flew with a low grade fever has not spread the disease despite turning out to be infected). This might have prevented the poor, and unscientific decisions made by the governors in states such as New Jersey and New York. While I can see Chris Christie make such a mistake, I would  hope for better from Andrew Cuomo, even if he is faced with a Republican using fear tactics against him in his reelection campaign. This might have spared Kaci Hickox from being quarantined in an unheated tent in New Jersey despite showing no signs of being infected. Inhibiting health professionals from volunteering can only harm the cause of eradicating Ebola in West Africa–which is the only way of ending this matter.

It is impossible to know if a Surgeon General could have been effective in reducing the hysteria. Republicans are masters at spreading fear, and never have any qualms about ignoring science. It is very possible they could have still won out. We already have many Infectious Disease experts explaining the facts about Ebola, but that hasn’t been enough to maintain reason. While a Surgeon General might have had a little bigger soap box to speak from, I don’t know if that would have really mattered.

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Joni Ernst’s Defense Of Using Guns To Defend Her Rights, And To Use Government To Impose Her Views Upon Others

One of the reasons that the Republicans now have a better than even chance of taking control of the Senate is that there is the very real possibility that Joni Ernst will win in Iowa. We got another example of how extreme Ernst is from the manner in which she defended carrying guns:

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

When she speaks of defending herself against the government, context is quite important. We can certainly conceive of situations in which self-defense against a more repressive government would be justified. However, in the past Ernst has ran an ad in which she pointed a gun towards the camera and vowed to “unload” against Obamacare.

Paul Waldman thought of some contexts in which her statement would make sense but had some serious questions:

But if Ernst is talking about some hypothetical situation in which government’s disregard for her rights may necessitate an armed response it’s fair to ask her: What exactly is it? Is she saying that when law enforcement officers come to arrest her on some trumped-up charge, instead of submitting and fighting the charges in court she’ll shoot those officers? Who else is an appropriate target here? Members of Congress who pass laws taking away her rights? FBI agents? Who?

The problem with this new quote is that it borders on anti-democratic. I don’t care how many times you praise the Founding Fathers or talk about your love of the Constitution, if you think that the way to resolve policy differences or personal arguments with the government is not just by trying to get different people elected or waging a campaign to change the laws or filing suits in court, but through the use of violence against the government, you have announced that you have no commitment to democracy. In the American system, we don’t say that if the government enacts policies we don’t like, we’ll start killing people. It’s not clear that Ernst meant this, but it’s fair to ask her to explain what she did mean.

We might like to ask Ernst more clarification, but she is not likely to respond to questions. She has decided to cancel her scheduled interview with the editorial board of The Des Moines Register.

The National Review is not concerned about Ernst’s statement, seeing it as a the right of any free person. While there are conceivable situations where this might apply, opposition to Obamacare hardly qualifies. Ernst has also had no reservations against using the power of government to impose her views upon others. The Des Moines Register has criticized her support of the “personhood” amendment:

In a country that prides itself on personal freedom, politicians still think they should have a say in whether a woman continues or terminates her pregnancy. The issue of abortion always surfaces in political debates, and the recent U.S. Senate debate in Indianola between Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst was no exception…

Would miscarriages be investigated by law enforcement to make sure there were no nefarious actions involved? When a woman swallowed legal medication to terminate a pregnancy, would she face murder charges? If a fetus is really a “person,” a pregnant mother not seeking prenatal care might be engaging in child neglect.

Ernst very well might not want to speak with the editorial board of The Des Moines Register due to editorials such as the one quoted above, or because of their criticism of her support for nullification in another editorial. This leads back to the initial question of when Ernst feels laws can be disobeyed, and when individuals have the right to use a gun to prevent enforcement of laws she disapproves of.

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Republicans Attack Ebola Czar While Blocking Surgeon General Nomination

On the surface, Republicans have been all over the place regarding the idea of a government official to coordinate handling of Ebola. For example, there’s John McCain. Back in 2009 he attacked Obama over having too many czars:

Then McCain demanded an Ebola czar:

“From spending time here in Arizona, my constituents are not comforted,” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told State of the Union host Candy Crowley Sunday morning. “There has to be more reassurance given to them. I would say that we don’t know exactly who’s in charge. There has to be some kind of czar.”

So Obama appointed an Ebola czar. Ezra Klein explained why Ron Klain is an excellent choice:

Today, the White House will announce that Klain is being named “Ebola czar.” It’s a good choice because it shows a healthy respect for how hard the bureaucratic job of coordinating the Ebola response really is.

The Ebola response involves various arms of the Department of Health and Human Services (particularly, though not solely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Pentagon, the State Department, the National Security Council, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, President Obama’s office, private stakeholders, and many, many more.

The “czar” position requires someone who knows how these different agencies and institutions work, who’s got the stature to corral their efforts, who knows who to call when something unusual is needed, who can keep the policy straight…

Actual government experience is badly underrated in Washington. Politicians run for office promising that they know how to run businesses, not Senate offices. “Bureaucrat” is often lobbed as an insult. But in processes like this one, government experience really matters. Nominating Klain suggests the White House is thinking about this correctly: as an effort that requires the coordination of already ample resources, where the danger is that the federal government will be too slow in sharing information across agencies and getting the resources where they need to go.

John McCain’s reaction to the appointment of an Ebola czar was to again attack Obama for doing what he recommended:

“Frankly, I don’t think Mr. Klain fits the bill, as a partisan Democrat, certainly not in any effort to address this issue in a bipartisan fashion,” McCain said Friday evening on Fox News.

“He has no experience or knowledge or background in medicine,” he added.

McCain is hardly the only Republican with irrational attacks. For example, Steven Taylor has looked at even more irrational attacks from Mike Huckabee. The only common thread to Republican response appears to be a knee jerk opposition to whatever Obama does.

The duties of an Ebola czar are exactly the bureaucratic skills which Klain has, not being a medial expert. Of course there is a position in government which should have a background in medicine, and work closely with the Ebola czar. That would be the Surgeon General–a nomination which Republicans have blocked as Obama’s nominee has shown concern for gun violence.  Now Democrats are demanding that the Senate vote for approval of the Surgeon General nominee:

More than two dozen House Democrats are calling on the Senate to swiftly approve Vivek Murthy’s nomination to serve as surgeon general to help combat the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the U.S.

Murthy’s nomination got sidelined after Republicans and vulnerable Senate Democrats voiced reservations about the Harvard Medical School physician’s outspoken views on gun violence and public health. But the House Democrats, in a letter set to be released next week, argue that the Obama administration needs a top official in place to help with the Ebola response.

“The American public would benefit from having a Surgeon General to disseminate information that is desperately needed,” the Democrats wrote. “The Surgeon General can also work to amplify the Center for Disease Control’s actions, reassure the American people, and combat misinformation here at home.”

We have around 30,000 deaths due to guns a year in this country, but Republicans would rather ignore this problem, while playing politics and creating hysteria with a disease which so far has resulted in exactly one death in this country.

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Left and Right Join Together To Oppose Militarization Of Police

Police Missouri

The militarization of the police force seen with the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri has led to another case of portions of the left and right joining together. This includes a push for legislation in Congress with the backing of both the American Civil Liberties Union and Gun Owners of America.:

Groups on the left and right are uniting behind calls to end what they say is the rise of a “militarized” police force in the United States.

They say the controversial police tactics seen this week in Ferguson, Mo., are not isolated to the St. Louis County Police Department and warn the rise of heavily armed law enforcement agencies has become an imminent threat to civil liberties.

“What we’re seeing today in Ferguson is a reflection of the excessive militarization of police that has been happening in towns across America for decades,” said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU is aligned with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and groups on the right who are calling for an end to a controversial Defense Department program that supplies local police departments with surplus military equipment, such as armored tanks, machine guns and tear gas.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, more than $4 billion in discounted military equipment has been sold to local police departments since the 1990s.

“Why are those guns available to the police?” asked Erich Pratt, spokesman for the conservative Gun Owners of America. “We don’t technically have the military operating within our borders, but they’re being given the gear to basically operate in that capacity.”

Gun Owners of America and the ACLU are both backing a forthcoming bill from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) that would curtail the sale of DOD weapons to local police departments.

More libertarian factions of the Republican Party are speaking out on this issue:

The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., has produced a rare and surprisingly unified response across the ideological spectrum, with Republicans and Democrats joining to decry the tactics of the city’s police force in the face of escalating protests.

Most notably, the reactions reflect a shift away from the usual support and sympathy conservatives typically show for law enforcement in such situations. Although possibly unique to the circumstances of the events in Missouri this week, the changing reaction on the right is clear evidence of a rising and more vocal libertarian wing within the Republican Party.

No better sign of that came Thursday than in an article by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) published on Time’s Web site.

“If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off,” he wrote. “But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.”

In his piece, Paul criticized what he called the growing militarization of local police forces. “There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace,” he wrote, “but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.”

This comes as a change from what we generally expect from Republicans:

Since Richard M. Nixon made cracking down on crime a central issue of his 1968 presidential campaign, Republicans have held themselves up as the alternative to a Democratic Party they have derided as soft on issues of law and order. But an appetite for changes in the criminal justice system has been building among Republicans, many of whom believe the tough-justice approach has run its course.

Mr. Paul, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin are among those who say that the federal and state governments need to rethink the way convicts are sentenced and imprisoned, arguing that the current system is inhumane and too costly.

Mr. Paul’s remarks on Thursday were similar to those of other leading conservatives who have weighed in on the events in Ferguson.

“Reporters should never be detained — a free press is too important — simply for doing their jobs,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday, reacting to news that journalists from The Washington Post and The Huffington Post had been held by the police. “Civil liberties must be protected, but violence is not the answer.”

Erick Erickson, a conservative writer, took to Twitter to question why the police needed to display so much firepower. “It is pretty damn insane that people who spend all day writing speeding tickets,” he wrote, “hop in tanks with AR-15s at night.”

But not all conservatives are as concerned about the civil liberties aspects:

Other conservatives have focused on instances in which chaos has broken out in the streets. Images and headlines on The Drudge Report and Breitbart.com have singled out acts of violence among demonstrators and shown looters breaking store windows…

In much of the conservative news media, the protesters in Ferguson are being portrayed as “outside agitators,” in the words of Sean Hannity, the Fox News host.

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Democrats Seek To Regain Votes Of White Males

The Republicans have built a strange coalition. In terms of priorities,  it is primarily the party of the top one percent, but many other upper income Americans still mistakenly believe the Republicans represent their interests. This still would not give them anywhere near enough votes to win elections so they have gone after primarily two other types of supporters. For years they conned the religious right into following them while only throwing them a few bones, but in recent years the Republicans have more fully adopted their agenda. This still was not enough voters but in the past they could win elections by scaring low-information poorly educated white males into voting for them.

It made absolutely no sense for these white males to vote against their interests and vote for Republicans but this has been a group which has been easily fooled. The New York Times looked at Democratic attempts to win some of these voters back:

Some white men have proved to be within reach: single men, college students and graduates with advanced degrees, the nonreligious, and gay men. But working-class married men remain hardest to win over and, unless they are in unions, get the least attention — to the dismay of some partisans.

“You can’t just give Republicans a clear field to play for the votes of white working-class men without putting up some sort of a fight because that just allows them to run the table with these voters, thereby potentially offsetting your burgeoning advantage among minorities, single women, millennials,” said Ruy Teixeira, an analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

“I just think Democrats are having a hard time figuring out how to effectively pursue it,” he added.

What discourages Democrats is that men’s attitudes shaped over generations — through debates over civil rights, anti-Communism, Vietnam, feminism, gun control and dislocations from lost manufacturing jobs and stagnant wages in a global economy — are not easily altered.

“Democrats are for a bunch of freeloaders in this world as far as I’m concerned,” said Gari Day, 63, an Avis bus driver from suburban Detroit. “Republicans make you work for your money, and try to let you keep it.”

Michael Bunce, 48, buying parts at a Lowe’s in Southfield, Mich., first ascribed his Republican bias to fiscal matters, but quickly turned to social issues like gay rights. “I don’t see why that’s at the top of our priority list,” he said. “But you say that out in the open, and people are all over your back.”

Democrats’ gloom about white men was eased temporarily by Mr. Obama’s 2008 election when he won 41 percent of white male voters — the first time a Democrat exceeded 40 percent since Mr. Carter in 1976. But their support for his re-election fell to 35 percent, roughly what Democrats have gotten since they lost to Richard Nixon.

Republicans say Democrats’ appeals to women, minorities and gays have been counterproductive with white men. “When you’re spending 60 percent of your time talking about birth control and Obamacare, not a lot of men are paying attention to you,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Another issue arose later in the article which also explains their support for Republicans–guns. While Democrats have done little, largely out of fear, to push gun control, that is an issue which is going to work to the advantage of Republicans. If this article is representative and social issues play a big factor, this also does not leave Democrats with a good opening. However, if Democrats can get them to think rationally about economics, then they could win votes if they can get past the type of misconceptions quoted above. Those who have been convinced that Obama is a socialist are seriously ignorant about both economics and current events.

Democratic economic policies both better enable working people to earn more money and Democratic taxation plans have proposed taxing the middle tax less then Republicans. Republican tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy don’t do anything to help the bus driver quoted above. Plus, while the low information white males might not care about birth control (although they could also suffer from Republican attempts to restrict access to contraception) they do benefit considerably from the changes in health care under Obama.

The article points out that, “No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white men since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.” There is a significance to this date. The Democrats lost the south and the low-information white voters after the passage of the Civil Rights bill. Much of this came down to the Southern Strategy as described by Lee Atwater:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

It works just as  well in northern white states to scare low education white voters into fearing that minorities are a threat to them. Homophobic white males, like the one quoted above, are just as likely to be racists.  Such tensions decreased a little when Obama ran in 2008, but the Tea Party has helped bring about a return to old patterns. Democrats will need to make a strong pitch explaining the truth about economic issues,  overcoming considerable misinformation they have been exposed to, if there is any chance to pick up the votes of the low information white voters. While it makes sense to go after additional voters, realistically if the Democrats are going to win, it will primarily be with the votes of educated white males, females, and minorities.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Rand Paul Blocks Surgeon General Nomination For Calling Guns A Health Threat

Rand Paul has placed a hold on Dr. Vivek Murthy, Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General, because of calling guns a significant public health threat. Paul stated, “As a physician, I am deeply concerned that he has advocated that doctors use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home.”

As I have discussed before, this position is based upon recommendations of medical organizations which are justifiably concerned about the health risks of gun violence in this country. Following the Newton shootings fifty-two medical organizations including the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics sent a letter to President Obama requesting such intervention.

The text of the letter (pdf here) follows (emphasis mine):

The undersigned medical organizations, together representing the vast majority of practicing physicians and medical students in the United States, share the nation’s grief and sadness over the recent tragic school shootings in Connecticut. As physicians, we see first-hand the devastating consequences of gun violence to victims and their families. We offer our experience and expertise in finding workable, common sense solutions to reduce the epidemic of gun violence—indeed the overall culture of violence—in America. We also urge the nation to strengthen its commitment and resources to comprehensive access to mental health services, including screening, prevention, and treatment.

The investigation into the Connecticut shootings is still continuing, and the issues surrounding such violence are often complex and can vary significantly from case to case. Strategies for preventing gun-related tragedies must also be complex and carefully considered. The relatively easy access to the increased firepower of assault weapons, semi-automatic firearms, high-capacity magazines, and high-velocity ammunition heightens the risk of multiple gunshot wounds and severe penetrating trauma, resulting in more critical injuries and deaths. Even for those who manage to survive gun violence involving these weapons, the severity and lasting impact of their wounds, disabilities and treatment leads to devastating consequences for families affected and society, and contributes to high medical costs for treatment and recovery. Renewing and strengthening the assault weapons ban, including banning high-capacity magazines, would be a step in the right direction.

Many of the deaths and injuries resulting from firearms are preventable. More resources are needed for safety education programs that promote more responsible use and storage of firearms. Physicians need to be able to have frank discussions with their patients and parents of patients about firearm safety issues and risks to help them safeguard their families from accidents. While the overwhelming majority of patients with mental illness are not violent, physicians and other health professionals must be trained to respond to those who have a mental illness that might make them more prone to commit violence. Funding needs to be available for increased research on violence prevention in general, and on the epidemiology of gun-related injuries and deaths in particular, as well as to implement available evidence-based interventions. Of equal importance is providing sufficient access to mental health services. While we strongly supported the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act of 2008, unfortunately, the promise of better access top psychiatric treatment will not be a reality absent requisite federal and state funding. This effort should be combined with an education campaign that reduces the stigma of seeking mental health services.

Newtown, Connecticut has now been added to the sad litany of recent mass shootings, including Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Arizona, and Aurora. As we come together as a nation to mourn the most recent victims of senseless gun violence, we must make a real and lasting commitment to work together on meaningful solutions to prevent future tragedies. We stand ready to work with Congress and the Administration to make progress in protecting our communities, especially our children, from this epidemic of violence.

We would expect that a nominee for Surgeon General would support the recommendations of these medical organizations. Discussing the presence of guns in the home does not mean these medical organizations are advocating banning guns. Medical organizations recommend that physicians ask about a wide variety of potential risks. When we ask patients about use of seat belts we are not seeking to ban automobiles. When we ask elderly patients about electrical cords which could present a risk for falls we are not seeking to ban electric lights. When we discuss keeping medications safe and out of the hands of children we are not seeking to ban medications.

Think Progress has more on how Rand Paul’s view is out of step with that of the medical profession:

The idea that gun violence is a danger to public health is utterly uncontroversial among doctors’ groups, academic institutions that focus on public health, and children’s safety advocates. Although Paul criticizes Murthy’s position that physicians and pediatricians should ask patients about the presence of guns in their households, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution in 2011 officially opposing any law that bars doctors from having open conversations about gun safety and the risks of having firearms in a household with their patients.

In fact, just yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued new guidelines recommending that households with children who are diagnosed with depression should remove guns and ammunition from their homes entirely.

Not only would Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General be making recommendations in the mainstream of medicine today, Murthy’s views are consistent with those of Reagan-appointee for Surgeon General C. Everett Koop who has written about the dangers of gun violence.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Rand Paul Provides A Useful Lesson When Discussing Government Help For Unwed Mothers

Rand Paul says a lot of stupid things and justifiably often comes under attack from the left (not to mention all the times he comes under attack from fellow Republicans when he is right on some foreign policy issues). This week he is under attack for something which, after some clarification, he has a broader point worth looking at. This has significance as it shows something which applies to anyone, left or right, who desires to talk about difficult issues we face.

Rand Paul has discussed the problem of unwed women receiving government assistance and continuing to have children. While there are legitimate problems faced by the poor which Rand and other Republicans seem oblivious to, in this case it is worth discussing whether government funds have the desired results. This is a tricky issue to talk about, and Paul did later clarify his views, backing away from the idea of supporting any actual policy to cut financial assistance:

The Republican senator from Kentucky said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he didn’t “come up with a policy prescription,” such as limiting government aid, but rather said it’s up to communities to resolve the problem, which he called the No. 1 cause of poverty in the country.

“I mused about how you’d have a government policy, but I actually came down saying it would be very difficult to have a government policy,” the potential 2016 presidential candidate said.

“I mostly concluded by saying it’s a community, it’s a religious, it’s a personal problem, but it is a problem,” Paul said.

While I think it is a typical conservative cop-out to simply say it is something to be handled by the community without saying how, I do have some sympathy for Paul in trying to discuss a real issue where there might be no ideal solution. Potential presidential candidates typically try to avoid such discussion, limiting our political discourse. Efforts at helping the poor cannot be abandoned as many on the right might prefer, but we must also keep in mind that there can be adverse consequences from government actions.

There are often problems where we would like to act but there is no ideal solution. In some cases there might be nothing government can do. For example, I think that the misinformation spread by Fox and the right wing media does pose a serious threat to democracy in America, but government cannot solve this without creating more serious problems by infringing on First Amendment liberties. In this case, government cannot do anything.

In many other cases, government can try to act even if there is no ideal solution. We must do something about gun violence, but efforts are limited both by the need to respect the right bear arms (regardless of whether the Bill of Rights was ever intended to include this as an individual right) and consider the limited efficacy of many policy recommendations. This even applies to recent issues over implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Our health care faced serious problems which simply could not be left unchanged. Obamacare has provided tremendous advantages over the past, including expanding access to health care, providing coverage of preventative studies, getting rid of policies which fail to actually provide health care coverage, and preventing denial of coverage due to developing serious medical problems. There are also some negative consequences as there is no ideal solution, and some adjustments are needed in the law, with the right wing greatly exaggerating the problems and denying the far more significant benefits.

In the end, Paul is right in realizing that there is no simple solution such as cutting off  financial assistance, with such attempts in the past failing to have the effects predicted by conservatives. I’m glad Paul didn’t respond with the typical conservative/libertarian bromide that private assistance could totally replace government programs when this is clearly not possible. Perhaps some government programs could be made to work better if we had a serious conservative opposition which does raise real problems with liberal programs, and the two sides could get together to find a solution that works. At present this is not possible because of the knee-jerk opposition to government programs from the right. Many problems are best solved by individual actions and by the market. Other problems can only be solved by the type of organization provided by government, even if the outcome is less than perfect.

Update: I should also clarify that this not intended to agree with Paul that on the whole welfare results in mothers having more babies due to the economic incentive, just that it could happen in individual cases and that government policies do not always work out perfectly, even if beneficial. As is often the case, conservatives greatly exaggerate  potential problems. Past attempts at capping benefits has not provided the benefits which conservatives have claimed they would, but at least Paul did back away from advocating this. There have been some edits from the original version which gave more credibility to Paul’s argument than deserved. The post is intended more to be about dealing with the fact that government programs are often necessary even if the results are not perfect than about welfare for unwed mothers.

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The New American Center Is Socially Liberal

I would take the exact numbers in this NBC News-Equire Poll with a grain of salt but the overall trend is what we would have expected. The country is more liberal on social issues and conservatives are losing the culture wars. Results are more mixed in some other areas. From their summary of results:

The new American center has a socially progressive streak, supporting gay marriage (64 percent), the right to an abortion for any reason within the first trimester (63 percent), and legalized marijuana (52 percent). Women, workers and the marginal would also benefit if the center had its way, supporting paid sick leave (62 percent); paid maternity leave (70 percent); tax-subsidized childcare to help women return to work (57 percent); and a federal minimum wage hike to no less than $10 per hour (67 percent).

But the center leans rightward on the environment, capital punishment, and diversity programs. Majorities support offshore drilling (81 percent) and the death penalty (90 percent), and the end of affirmative action in hiring and education (57 percent). Most people in the center believe respect for minority rights has gone overboard, in general, harming the majority in the process (63 percent). And just one in four support immigration reforms that would provide a path to citizenship for those who came here illegally.

They found the following results regarding religion and guns:

Religion is not a major part of the Center’s life, and it firmly believes that religion has no place in the public sphere. Meanwhile: Even though about a third of those in the Center own guns, an overwhelming plurality have no problem with background checks…

The Center is less religious than the Right, and—surprise!—it’s less religious than the Left, too, and here’s why: Members of the Gospel Left (the ones who broke 99 to 1 for Obama in 2012) are second only to the Righteous Right for how important religion is to them. Unlike their fellow believers on the Right, though, more than half of the Gospel Left feels that religion should not play a role in public life.

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Quote of the Day

“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” –Bill Clinton

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Republicans, Guns, and Race

An interesting, even if not surprising, finding buried in this Public Policy Polling survey on airlines:

16% of Americans think you should be able to bring your gun onto a plane. There’s a large partisan divide on the issue with 30% of Republicans but only 6% of Democrats supportive of guns on planes. We also asked about expanded background checks on this poll and a plurality of the people opposed to them also think you should be able to bring your gun on the plane.

Many Republicans have called for armed passengers following 9/11, believing this would help prevent terrorists from taking over airplanes. (Actually it might, but it might also increase the number of flights which do not reach their destination.)

Republicans have also called for more guns in the schools after school shootings. Just a couple of examples here and here.

Republicans tend to argue that those at risk of violence should be carrying guns for protection. Well, not always. I can’t find any Republicans saying that Trayvon Martin would have been safer if he was carrying a gun.

Update: Shortly after posting this I found this related article: Guns Are For White People.

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