The deadly link between domestic violence and mass shootings

A candlelight vigil for the shooting victims of Texas gunman Devin Patrick Kelley. Those victims would be alive if the U.S. Air Force had followed the rules on reporting Kelley’s conviction for domestic violence.

The fight for rational gun safety laws is frustrating. But the information that the perpetrator of the latest mass shooting was also guilty of domestic abuse — a conviction that should have kept him from buying a gun — seems to be opening some eyes.

Devin Patrick Kelley, who opened fire with an assault rifle to kill 26 people at a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas, had been court-martialed for trying to strangle his wife and for fracturing his stepson’s skull. Kelley is just the latest in a series of mass shooters who also have committed domestic violence. Of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, nine were committed by domestic abusers.

According to research by Everytown for Gun Safety, which has analyzed all mass shootings since 2009, more than half of all mass shootings in the United States are related to domestic or family violence.

In at least 54 percent of mass shootings (85), the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member. These domestic violence mass shootings resulted in 422 victims being killed—more than 40 percent (181) of whom were children. A majority of these cases—56—also ended with the perpetrators killing themselves.

Yet the act of mass shooting is not the first instance of domestic violence by these perpetrators. In nearly half the mass shootings the gun safety group studied, the shooters already had committed such domestic violence or threatened to do so.

These findings reaffirm the value of gun violence prevention policies that address the circumstances underlying mass shootings: strong domestic violence laws that keep guns away from abusers, mechanisms that allow for the temporary removal of guns from individuals who have exhibited dangerous recent behavior, and background checks on all firearm sales to prevent people who are prohibited from having guns from buying them.

Still, one-third of mass shootings were done by a shooter who was legally prohibited from owning a gun. Those prohibitions don’t apply to private sales or to previously owned weapons. Or to cases when men who commit domestic violence aren’t even reported in the first place.

Devin Patrick Kelley was kicked out of the Air Force for “bad conduct” (a discharge less serious than dishonorable discharge), and his conviction should have banned him from buying an assault rifle. But the Air Force never reported his conviction to the federal database that gun dealers must check before selling a firearm, an omission it called a “mistake.” According to an NPR story:

Under federal law, his conviction disqualified him from legally possessing a firearm. But there was an apparent breakdown in getting information about his conviction to the proper federal database.

“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations,” said Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek in an email.

Top Air Force brass have ordered a complete review of the case.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would seek oversight hearings on how the Air Force could have made such an error. Sens. Kristin Gillibrand and Richard Blumenthal are asking Secretary of Defense James Mattis for the military to conduct a widespread investigation on whether the military complies with such reporting mandates.

Unfortunately, that answer seems to be “no.” According to a story from Newsweek, “The Department of Defense has only one active domestic violence case reported to the federal gun database.”

You read that right. One case. That’s despite the fact that, in the military:

More than one-third of women and one-fourth of men have experienced physical violence, rape, or stalking by an intimate partner, according to a study conducted for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The study found that 22 percent of active duty service members, over a 12-month period, perpetrated violence against their partners.

A 2015 Pentagon report showed that the armed forces had failed to provide information to the FBI on 30 percent of military members who should be banned from buying a firearm. Of course, that’s for all service members convicted of any felony, not just domestic violence. So the reporting discrepancy may be accurate.

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System is supposed to ensure public safety by “not letting guns fall into the wrong hands,” as its website touts. The system was established by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, was launched in 1998, and claims that a store selling guns can “instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms.” Yet reporting in recent years has pointed out huge holes in this system. Besides the lack of reports from the military, if states don’t report data on convictions, if data are incomplete, or if there were arrests without convictions, gun sales aren’t stopped. “Some of the biggest challenges for the database, experts say, are domestic violence and drug cases, which often have inconclusive ends,” says an NPR story on this topic.

The link between domestic violence and mass shootings is inescapable. According to a story from Business Insider:

Nine of the shooters on this list of  the top 10 most deadly mass shootings in modern America  committed violence against women, threatened violence against  women, or disparaged women. …

Forensic psychiatrist Liza Gold, who teaches psychiatry at Georgetown and edited the book Gun Violence and Mental Illness, told Business Insider that mass shooters tend to be “impulsive and angry about a lot of different  things” and many have a history with law enforcement or violence, especially domestic violence.

We’ll let Samantha Bee tell it, as she calls abused women the “canary in the coal mine” for mass shootings:

There are many common-sense gun regulations favored by large majorities of Americans. These include universal background checks for gun purchases, curbs on letting the mentally ill buy guns, and restricting gun purchases for those on terror watch lists. Even an assault weapons ban has a majority of support. Yet efforts to enact such laws go nowhere nationally.

The relatively minor no-brainer suggestion to ban the sale of bump stocks, used by the Las Vegas shooter to increase his rate of firing, seems to have died at the federal level, although some states are going ahead on their own. Massachusetts recently became the first state to ban the sale of bump stocks since the Las Vegas massacre (California already had such a ban). The Illinois State Senate passed such a ban, but the measure failed in the House.

I continue to contend that limiting the size of magazines would be the most effective in lowering carnage from gun violence, as you can’t keep shooting if your ammunition runs out.

Efforts to enact any gun safety regulations are quickly shot down by the National Rifle Association and the legislators they support. But if the election in Virginia is any indication, voters seem to be more open to some kind of gun safety laws—the 17 percent of Virginia voters who listed “gun policy” as their most important issue split evenly between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie. The NRA spent $2 million on Virginia races and came up mostly empty for the effort statewide, up and down the ticket.

Whatever your party, surely we all can agree that men with a history of domestic violence shouldn’t be able to get their hands on a gun. Not when there’s so much evidence that such men can go on to shoot and kill multiple people.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 12, 2017.

The GOP’s knee-jerk defense of Roy Moore (UPDATE)

Seriously, Alabama Republicans? You’re defending THIS guy?

Men who are sexual predators come from all professions and political persuasions. How political parties and their adherents respond to allegations of sexual abuse, however, is quite different.

Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in the special election to pick a new senator from Alabama, has been accused of trying to engage in sexual activity with a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney in Etowah County, Alabama. The Washington Post published the bombshell yet well-sourced story, which included allegations from three other women, all in their teens, who said that Moore “pursued” them during the same time period. The other three said the contact did not go beyond kissing while on dates with Moore, and drinking wine (the legal drinking age was 19).

The details of the contact with 14-year-old Leigh Corfman are not anything you would want to hear about between a young teen and a 32-year-old man. Corfman says they met outside a courtroom, which her mother verifies, and Moore offered to stay with the girl while her mother was in court for a child custody hearing.

“He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’” says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.”

Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

“I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did.

The story reports that Corfman confided to friends at the time that she was “seeing an older man,” and the friends told the Post that she identified the man as Moore. Corfman says she told her mother the story about 10 years later as Moore started to make a public name for himself.

Moore has denied the charges, blaming Democrats (who had nothing to do with the story) and the Post itself. He has refused to drop out of the race and is using the allegations of being a pedophile (she was 14, after all, and he allegedly tried to get her to touch his underwear-covered penis) to raise money for the Senate election on Dec. 12.

When asked on Sean Hannity’s radio show (I’m sure you’ll pardon me if I don’t provide a link) whether he dated teenage girls, Moore answered, “Not generally, no,” and said he didn’t date any teen “without the permission of her mother.” Nope, nothing perverted about that picture.

Even though many GOP senators have embraced Moore up to this point, Republicans at the national level said that the allegations, “if true,” would mean that Moore would have to leave the race. Note the “if true” caveat, which nearly all Republicans used in commenting.

The only Republicans on record for calling Moore to drop out are Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney, who is considering running for the Senate from Utah.

Republicans in Alabama, however, are fully in Moore’s corner. The defenses range from “not true” to “he didn’t force himself on her” to “sometimes 14-year-olds make bad decisions” to “I trust Putin more than The Washington Post.”

Steve Bannon of Brietbart News, formerly a top adviser to Donald Trump, used the excuse that whatever contact there was, it was OK because it was “romantic.”

The truly bizarre defenses came from some Alabama Republican officials who tried to give Moore cover from the Bible.

Here’s Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler: “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

It seems that Ziegler missed some Sunday school lessons. Let’s look at Matthew 1:25:

“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.”

Got that? The whole basis of Christianity is that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus and that Mary and Joseph didn’t live together as man and wife until after Jesus was born. And despite the fact that there is no historical record of either Mary’s or Joseph’s ages, Ziegler seems fine with the older-man-teen-girl model of dating.

The problem, of course, is that if the GOP doesn’t back Moore, a (shudder) Democrat might be elected.

Then there’s the Putin defense. According to a story in The Hill, quoting Paul Reynolds, the Republican national committeeman from Alabama:

“My gosh, it’s The Washington Post. If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time,” he said.

“This is going to make Roy Moore supporters step up to the plate and give more, work more and pray more.”

Of course, what can you expect from a party that backed Trump, who basically admitted sexual assault on the infamous Access Hollywood tape when he said he grabbed women “by the pussy”? There are multiple women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment, but to Republicans, his crude behavior is either “fake news” or doesn’t matter. They just want their tax cuts.

As a study in contrasts, let’s visit the case of Anthony Weiner. Weiner, as you recall, became infamous for sending explicit photos over his phone to young women of … well, let’s just say the subject matter matched his last name. The multi-term Democratic congressman from New York first gained notoriety in 2011, when these photos came to light.

Democrats, starting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, quickly called for Weiner to resign, and she was joined by other Democrats. Weiner was forced to resign from Congress. His political career over, he has struggled ever since. He took up the sexting habit once again and is now serving a 21-month prison sentence for sexting with a minor.

In recent months, there has been an avalanche of news reports of women coming forward with revelations about sexual harassment and assault from famous men in Hollywood, the media, in politics, and elsewhere. #MeToo trended on Twitter as women reluctantly shared stories of assault out of their pasts. Celebrities such as Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, and political reporter Mark Halperin no longer have careers because of these accusations. At Fox News, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Eric Bolling all were forced out. Comedian Louis C.K. is just the most recent one to have to face the truth.

Democratic as well as Republican men have committed sexual harassment and sexual assault. But here’s the difference: When those on the left are on the receiving end of these allegations, they are immediately denounced by others on the left. When anyone on the right is accused, they’re booked on Fox News.

The Alabama election is about one month away. Roy Moore still leads in most polls against his Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, who successfully prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan members who blew up a black church and killed four little girls.

Which candidate do you think belongs in the Senate? After all, as Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker tweeted:

UPDATE: Perhaps the dam is springing some leaks. Two more GOP senators, Steve Daines of Montana and Mike Lee of Utah, have withdrawn their endorsements of Moore, and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey said he thinks Moore should step aside. Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican congresswoman from Virginia, has said Moore “does not belong in the Senate.” Rep. Peter King of New York is giving Moore 48 hours to prove his innocence. Ohio Gov. John Kasich doesn’t believe Moore, either. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the fundraising arm that helps elect Republicans, has severed ties with the candidate.

In addition, some in the GOP are hoping to persuade Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who is in the “expressing concern” camp about Moore, to postpone the election completely to give the state Republicans a chance to replace Moore on the ballot, since it’s too late to remove him with the election just weeks away.

NEW UPDATES: Several reports say Ivey will not move the date of the election. Add Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Maine’s Susan Collins, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, and Texas’ John Cornyn to the list of GOP senators telling Roy Moore to hit the road. And Arizona’s Jeff Flake says if the choice were between Moore and a Democrat, he’d choose the Democrat.

A fifth woman has accused Moore of sexual assault when she was 16, and various colleagues of Moore said it was “common knowledge” that he dated high school girls when he was assistant district attorney.

NEW UPDATE: The total number of members of the GOP wanting Roy Moore to go away has reached 20.

More climate change victims: health and productivity

A global map of the September 2017 LOTI (land-ocean temperature index) anomaly, relative to the 1951-80 September average. As temperatures rise, health problems in the Earth’s warmest areas will, too.

Despite what climate deniers say, we know the damage that is happening to our planet. But a new, comprehensive ongoing study looks at the devastating health effects of climate change and how global warming will harm people’s livelihoods in the years to come.

Of course, the conclusions about health aren’t really new; they are just restating what other health experts, scientists, and climatologists have been telling us all along. For instance, this recent study from Nature Climate Change detailed the deadly effects of the increased number of extreme heat waves, which expose 30 percent of the world’s population to temperatures above a lethal threshold for at least 20 days a year.

What makes this report from The Lancet Countdown scarier is the conclusion that “The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible—affecting the health of populations around the world today.”

Here are some of the health disasters that already are happening and that we can look forward to as they worsen:

  • The spread of disease-carrying insects.
  • Worsening allergies.
  • Climate-sensitive infectious diseases.
  • Dramatic boosts in exposure to ever-worsening and potentially lethal heat waves.
  • Greater instances of malignant melanoma.
  • Premature mortality due to air pollution.
  • A lessening of food security.
  • A greater vulnerability to undernutrition.

And that’s not all. As the report points out:

The health effects from non-communicable diseases are just as important. Mediated through a variety of pathways, they take the form of cardiovascular disease, acute and chronic respiratory disease from worsening air pollution and aero-allergens, or the often-unseen mental health effects of extreme weather events or of population displacement. Indeed, emerging evidence is suggesting links between a rising incidence of chronic kidney disease, dehydration, and climate change. …

The public and the health systems they depend on are clearly unprepared to manage the health impacts of climate change.

The depressing addition in this study is that, besides the increased health risks, people working in rural areas are experiencing reduced productivity because of higher temperatures. The “global labour capacity of rural labourers, such as farmers, has fallen by 5.3 percent from 2000 to 2016 due to rising temperatures and the inability to work when it’s too hot.” In other words, heat’s impact on humans doing manual labor outdoors lessens their capacity to work, and hence their productivity. Lancet notes a two percent decrease in such productivity between 2015 and 2016 alone, as each year sets new records for being hotter.

The Lancet Countdown is a joint project of 24 universities and intergovernmental organizations, from every continent in the world. It follows the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change. Its members consist of “climate scientists, ecologists, mathematicians, geographers, engineers, energy, food, and transport experts, economists, social and political scientists, public health professionals, and doctors.”

A story from Think Progress on the Lancet study outlined the detrimental effects of climate change on productivity in many areas, but especially in the U.S. South.

A 2013 NOAA study concluded that “heat-stress related labor capacity losses will double globally by 2050 with a warming climate.”

In fact, by the 2080s, much of the Southern U.S. will see temperatures above 90°F for five months of the year or more, according to the congressionally mandated 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment. And that’s a startling change from just the recent past.

Large parts of the South will be all but uninhabitable outdoors for large parts of the year.

NOAA’s 2013 study warned that in the case of 7°F or higher warming, we face as much as a 50 percent drop in labor capacity in peak months by century’s end — versus a more manageable 20 percent drop if we sharply reverse emissions trends immediately.

The productivity loss from warming could exceed the “combined cost of all other projected economic losses” from climate change, explained one expert — and yet it has “never been included in economic models of future warming.”

The Lancet study makes several recommendations:

  • Invest in climate change and public health research.
  • Scale up financing for climate-resilient health systems.
  • Phase out coal-fired power. (Someone ought to tell those out-of-work coal miners who don’t think they need new job skills.)
  • Encourage a city-level, low-carbon transition to reduce urban pollution.
  • Rapidly expand access to renewable energy, unlocking the substantial economic gains available from this transition.
  • Agree and implement an international treaty that facilitates the transition to a low-carbon economy. The Paris Agreement is the best example to date. (If only the U.S. had a president who took this problem seriously …)
  • Develop a new, independent collaboration to provide expertise in implementing policies that mitigate climate change and promote public health, and to monitor progress over the next 15 years.

Really, what can we do with an administration in which Energy Secretary Rick Perry thinks that expanding fossil fuels will somehow prevent sexual assault? Perhaps linking climate change to a drop in productivity will cause business leaders to take note, even if Donald Trump and his climate-denying Cabinet never will.

The report reiterates the conclusion of the 2015 Lancet Commission. However gloomy the conclusions, it also sees opportunity:

Anthropogenic climate change threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health, and conversely, a comprehensive response to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.” …

More recent trends in the past five years reveal a rapid increase in action, which was solidified in the Paris Agreement. These glimmers of progress are encouraging and reflect a growing political consensus and ambition, which was seen in full force in response to the USA’s departure from the 2015 climate change treaty. Although action needs to increase rapidly, taken together, these signs of progress provide the clearest signal to date that the world is transitioning to a low-carbon world, that no single country or head of state can halt this progress, and that until 2030, the direction of travel is set.

This project will continue until 2030. For the future, the Lancet Countdown will report annually on progress in implementing the Paris Agreement, future promises that build on the original commitments, and the health benefits that result.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 5, 2017.

Donna Brazile’s 2016 claims are political catnip for media

Donna Brazile’s explosive accusations about the 2016 election aren’t holding up well, but the media are eating them up nonetheless.

Donna Brazile, the head of the Democratic National Committee in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, is making blockbuster charges in her new book that are causing the political media world to gasp.

Brazile’s book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House, is about to be released, but both Politico and The Washington Post ran excerpts from the explosive memoir. Never mind that the original claims of “Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC” (Politico) and the claims that Brazile was going to replace Clinton and vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine with Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (Washington Post) turn out to be not quite as accurate as first reported.

In the case of Politico, further digging showed that the Joint Fundraising Agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC also had been offered to Clinton’s primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Basically, Clinton and her fundraising team lifted the DNC out of a red-ink hole. So no, the election wasn’t “rigged.”

In the case of the Post, the newspaper had to keep publishing “clarifications” about Brazile’s claim that she wanted to replace the Clinton-Kaine ticket with Biden-Booker. It turns out that Brazile thought about starting the process to replace the ticket after Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis was made public in September 2016 (Clinton obviously recovered). Never mind that this would have thrown out the wishes of those who voted in Democratic primaries and caucuses, for either Clinton or Sanders (Clinton beat Sanders by some 4 million votes).

Brazile’s claims, which no doubt will go a long way toward selling her book, made for explosive headlines for a few days. Most voters, however, have been ready to move on from 2016 for a long time. True, the claims in the book reopened old wounds between die-hard activists who were feeling the Bern and those who always said, “I’m with her,” but most of America feels like it wants — and needs — to relegate the 2016 election to history.

There’s another factor at work, though. Most of the nation’s media are doing a thorough job of covering Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation in connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. All media gave oversize coverage to statements by rogue Republicans who are publicly breaking with Trump and leaving the Senate (Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona). Even if Flake was facing a likely loss in the primary, his Senate speech excoriating Trump and Corker’s continued criticisms offer the kind of quotes the Beltway media crowd love. In other words, Trump has been taking it on the chin, even as he tweets that “everyone” wants Hillary Clinton investigated.

So why shouldn’t it be the Democrats’ turn (an equal-time charge known as “whataboutism”)? Why shouldn’t the media spend a week or so dishing dirt on Democrats? Any story that throws mud at Hillary Clinton always chalks up big numbers anyway.

Democratic activists are furious that raising the old “rigged” charge will cement party divisions, especially as they work toward coming state elections and look to make gains in the 2018 midterms. In what he called “Donna Brazile’s Growing Pile of Nonsense,” Josh Marshall lamented the fact that Brazile’s charges, however false, mask the problems that do exist in the Democratic world.

Rethinking the way the DNC works would be a good thing. The DNC is the one committee whose stakeholders should be all Democrats – not the DCCC, which works for House incumbents or the DSCC, which works for Senate incumbents. It should never be about one candidate or one election cycle. It is a genuine shame that someone like Donna Brazile, who has worked so hard and so consistently in Democratic politics for decades, has now chosen to make it all about herself.

About 100 Clinton aides published a letter disputing Brazile’s claims and urging all Democrats to move on. So what did we learn from this election rehash?

  • Donna Brazile was overly fuzzy with her facts in her attempt to hype her book (don’t forget that she no longer has her CNN gig).
  • Hillary Clinton made mistakes in her campaign and lost.
  • At this point, the media will publish anything that dumps on Trump or Clinton.
  • Donald Trump is still president.

In other words, nothing new. So c’mon, media. Let’s stick to the present day. There are enough political scandals to keep you occupied for a long time.

Solar power price tag plummets, but climate change is making disaster relief costs soar

Solar panels in a desert in India. Other countries and individual states are tapping into a booming solar market, with costs getting cheaper every year.

While the Trump administration continues to boost dying fossil fuel industries, the rest of the world is stepping up to the true bargain of solar power.

In 2016, the record low unsubsidized solar energy price was 3.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. This year, 3.6 cents is becoming the top price, with bids going lower and lower. Saudi Arabia is building a 300-megawatt photovoltaic solar plant, and every bid it received was cheaper than that—the lowest bid price was 1.79 cents per kilowatt-hour. “For context, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is more than six times that, 12 cents/kWh,” says a story on Think Progress.

Why are oil-rich states in the Middle East investing in so much solar? Because using solar has become cheaper than using the oil they’re sitting on, and it leaves them with more oil to export. According to a story from Bloomberg Markets:

Solar power is getting so cheap that even Gulf Arab states awash in crude oil are embracing the renewable resource. Their motive is as much to keep selling fossil fuels as it is to rein in their carbon emissions.

With almost 30 percent of the world’s oil reserves and some of the lowest costs of production, Arab countries in the Persian Gulf will probably rely for years to come on crude exports as a pillar of their prosperity. But improvements in solar technology mean it will be cost effective to exploit the region’s abundant sunshine instead of burning their oil and natural gas to run power plants. That could allow them to export more and boost their haul of petrodollars.

Solar power increased worldwide by about 50 percent in 2016. The greatest growth came in the U.S. and China, which alone accounted for one-half the number of solar panels installed. The International Energy Agency says solar was the fastest-growing source of new energy worldwide, a shift mainly driven by falling prices and supportive government policies.

Although the U.S. federal government is now going in the wrong direction, many states in this country are headed in the right one. The solar industry has more than quadrupled in individual states in the last five years. To no one’s surprise, the top state using solar power is California, but others on this list from Energy Sage might be surprising. What they have in common are state tax credits, creative loan programs, and (of course) abundant sunshine. Homeowners and businesses are saving money on solar installation.

Which is good. Because the money we’re spending on relief from weather disasters made worse from climate change is only going up. Way up.

Here are the top solar states by cumulative capacity in 2017, with more information from Energy Sage:

  • California. “California now boasts 19,000 megawatts (MW) of installed solar to date, which is roughly the equivalent of the next nine states combined,” Energy Sage says.
  • North Carolina. North Carolina is now a top 10 state for solar jobs.
  • Arizona. Its state solar tax credit cuts the cost of going solar by one-quarter. “Arizona homeowners get the benefit of both their local and the federal tax subsidy and as a result, see some of the best prices for [photovoltaic] installations in the country.”
  • Nevada. “Nevada has slowly grown its solar market every year to now register as both a top U.S. state for installed solar and solar jobs.”
  • New Jersey. The state has “strong net metering policies and good values for solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs)—a process that allows homeowners to earn cash every year for the energy their solar systems are producing.”

Here are the five fastest-growing states in terms of solar power:

  • Utah. Utah has one of the best state incentives available, with an added subsidy of up to $2,000, and homeowners are taking advantage. But the incentive expires at the end of 2017, so the industry has seen a surge all year.
  • Florida. The state rejected a amendment that would have hindered the solar industry, and major price declines are projected for the next few years.
  • Texas. When you think of Texas, you think of oil, but “Texas now holds three of the top 20 cities for solar power in the U.S. in terms of consumer interest and favorable pricing.”
  • Georgia. There has been nearly a 70 percent drop in the cost of solar over the past five years.
  • Indiana. Energy Sage reports a “dramatic surge in consumer interest in 2017,” making it a hot solar market.

It’s good that someone is saving money, because 2017’s extreme weather events, greatly exacerbated by climate change, are costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and the price tag will only keep climbing. A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that “Climate change impacts are already costing the federal government money, and these costs will likely increase over time as the climate continues to change.” Here’s a highlight from the report:

For example, for 2020 through 2039, one study estimated between $4 billion and $6 billion in annual coastal property damages from sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms. Also, under this study, the Southeast likely faces greater effects than other regions because of coastal property damages.

The examples of damages would hit all areas of the country by 2100, and include:

  • Decreased shellfish harvests (Northwest).
  • Increased road damage (Northern states).
  • Increased damage to urban drainage systems.
  • Increased wildfires (Western states).
  • Changes in water supply and demand (mainly California).
  • Increased energy demand (mainly Southern states).
  • Increased heat-related mortality (mainly Southern states).
  • Increased coastal infrastructure damage (mainly Southeast states).
  • Decreased agricultural yields (widespread).

The only benefits predicted from climate change were decreased cold-related mortality in Northern states and a boost in agricultural yields in some areas.

Congress has just approved $36.5 billion in disaster relief because of the recent hurricanes and wildfires. This is on top of $205 billion for disaster relief over the past decade. The U.S. also has spent $90 billion for crop and flood insurance, $34 billion for wildland fire management, and $28 billion for repairs to federal facilities, according to the GAO report.

In case anyone is surprised that an agency connected to the Trump administration actually did research on climate change, the GAO report was requested by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.

The GAO report’s recommendation is as follows:

The appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President, including the Council on Environmental Quality, Office and Management and Budget, and Office of Science and Technology Policy, should use information on the potential economic effects of climate change to help identify significant climate risks facing the federal government and craft appropriate federal responses. Such responses could include establishing a strategy to identify, prioritize, and guide federal investments to enhance resilience against future disasters.

Yeah, like that’s going to happen. Not when the Interior Department is scrubbing any mention of climate change from its five-year strategic plan, instead stressing “energy dominance” over any kind of conservation and calling for more drilling and mining on public land. Not when the Environmental Protection Agency is forcing its top scientists to withdraw from a discussion panel at a climate change conference. And not when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is yet again adding to his security detail, causing costs for his personal security to skyrocket (now up to $2 million a year in salaries) while the rest of the agency’s budget is being slashed.

When it comes to solar power and renewable energy, it’s obvious that the rest of the world has more sense than the Trump administration.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 29, 2017.

Polls: Media offer fake news, but news from Trump seen as phoniest of all

Sorry, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but the American people don’t think what you’re dishing has much credibility.

With conclusions that should surprise no one, a new poll reports that most people in the country admit to being duped at one time or another by a false report or conspiracy theory masquerading as news. But the majority of Americans in this poll said the biggest source of fake news is none other than the administration of Donald J. Trump.

A survey of more than 1,000 Americans by the education company StudySoup asked respondents to judge news outlets on whether they were considered trustworthy. The study also asked respondents to evaluate whether they had been taken in by false news stories and whether they believed a list of claims that included several false stories. There was an expected partisan divide on what was judged believable and what was not trusted.

In this project, we set out to reveal which news outlets Americans trust most, and which they consign to the fake news category. Going further, we studied how many citizens actually believe theories that have been roundly debunked. Our findings demonstrate just how polarized the state of news is in the present, and how facts are an increasingly endangered species in our discourse.

Polls about media often show a variety of conclusions, often based on political affiliation. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll showed that 46 percent of Americans think the media make up stories about Trump (which Trump immediately took to Twitter to brag about). But another poll by the Newseum showed a boost in perceptions about the media: 43 percent of Americans say news outlets try to report the news without bias, an improvement from only 23 percent in 2016 and 24 percent in 2015.

Trump constantly attacks legitimate news organizations as fake news. But the StudySoup survey showed that nearly 60 percent of Americans consider what they’re being fed from the Trump White House as the real fake news. No surprise there, as the Washington Post count of Trump’s accumulated lies topped 1,300 by mid-October.

The StudySoup poll was broken down by political affiliation and by age. It revealed that:

  • 55.8 percent of Republicans said they “probably or definitely” had been fooled by a fake news story while 25.3 percent said they hadn’t.
  • 46.6 percent of Democrats said they had been taken in while 37.3 percent said they hadn’t.
  • 32.3 percent of millennials don’t believe they have ever been fooled by a fake news story.
  • 52.7 percent of Generation Xers admit that they have been duped.
  • 20.2 percent of baby boomers say they aren’t sure.

The poll measured reactions to 36 different news sources. The outlets ranking highest on the fake news scale were all right-wing, with these at the top: Breitbart News, Fox News, Infowars, the Rush Limbaugh Show, and the Glenn Beck Program. A left-leaning news source also getting high marks in the fake news department was BuzzFeed, perhaps because people tend to think of them as a source of Facebook quizzes and celebrity gossip more than a credible source of information. As expected, the right-wing outlets were rated as accurate by Republicans and fake by Democrats, with opposite marks about BuzzFeed (and MSNBC).

The news outlets that received high marks for being believable were the PBS NewsHour, BBC News, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and The New Yorker, among others. This impression came from both Republicans and Democrats and from all age groups. (Note: It’s highly doubtful that all people answering the survey questions were familiar with all 36 of the news outlets and shows named in the poll.)

When it came to believing specific falsehoods, there was a correlation of which lies or truths people believed and their favorite news outlets. This is stating the obvious—for instance, nearly half of Fox News fans believed that Hillary Clinton was involved in the death of a staffer for the Democratic National Committee or that Barack Obama faked his birth certificate.

Those whose favorite news sources were in the credible category were most likely to believe news reports that are real. Nearly half of respondents (46.3 percent) who listed BBC News as a favorite news outlet said they believed climate change was real, although the fact that the percentage is under 50 percent is depressing.

When we correlated belief in unfounded conspiracies with respondents’ favorite news outlets, an interesting mix of outlets emerged. For instance, lovers of Fox News were most susceptible to trusting in the Obama birther belief, Sandy Hook hoax, and Clinton murder myths (though the network is currently embroiled in a lawsuit involving the specious Clinton story). Yet fans of BBC and PBS NewsHour were also among the most likely to believe these false stories – perhaps an indication that these outlets resisted covering the conspiracies at all, let along debunking them. …

As our results make clear, America’s media cynicism is a double-edged sword. While it equips us to assess information critically, it also prevents us from broadening our perspectives beyond the sources we already entrust. Just as our findings show that we are willing to interrogate suspect claims, our suspicion of institutions fuels lingering myths, casting their debunking into doubt.

The most interesting statistic came from the perception of the White House as a source of fake news. In all, 58.5 percent of those polled said the news coming from the White House was false. It’s no surprise that the reaction was partisan; 78.6 percent of Democrats thought the Trump administration was fake news central, while only 20.3 percent of Republicans doubted the “alternative facts” delivered by the Trump White House. In a generational breakdown, 61.3 percent of baby boomers, 60.9 percent of millennials, and 53.1 percent of Gen-Xers saw Trump speaking with a forked tongue.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that multiple members of the Trump campaign regularly retweeted tweets from a fake Twitter account pushing Russian propaganda that purported to be an account of GOP officials in Tennessee. The account, @Ten_GOP, billed itself as the “Unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans,” but was operated from the Kremlin-backed “Russian troll farm,” or Internet Research Agency, according to a report from The Daily Beast. The account’s tweets regularly pushed falsehoods about voter fraud, outrage over Hillary Clinton’s email, WikiLeaks material blaming the Obama administration for the release of CIA material, and other nonsense. It took Twitter 11 months to shut down the account, which finally closed in August, but it had some 136,000 followers during the election.

Of course, Republicans would probably just say that whole report was fake news, too.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 22, 2017.

#MeToo: Why Harvey Weinstein story makes women feel like victims all over again

Harvey Weinstein in his element on the red carpet at the 2017 Academy Awards.

The infuriating news about the years of sexual harassment women suffered at the hands of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein hits home for women everywhere.

A show of hands of how many women have ever been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual attention from men would likely yield unanimous results. It’s no surprise that #MeToo started trending on Twitter and was widely shared on Facebook as women in every walk of life shared the fact that they had once been victims.

That’s not saying all men — not by a long shot. And the harassment many women have experienced might not be as abusive or as creepy as the behavior Weinstein inflicted on his victims. The end result might not have been as unfair as the outcomes suffered by the women whose careers were cut short when they turned down Weinstein’s propositions. But some degree of such harassment and assault is likely true for most, if not all, women.

It’s a pattern propagated by too many men in positions of power, no matter their profession: Weinstein, Casey Affleck, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump. And those are just a few of the most recent examples.

The oppressor need not be someone famous. It could be a boss, a coach, or a teacher. It might be a health worker taking advantage of a female patient or a police officer with the power to write or withhold a traffic ticket. It may be a cashier who makes a suggestive remark when ringing up a sale or a car salesman who stares a little too long, eyeing a potential female customer up and down with a smirk on his face. It could be strangers on the street making lewd catcalls or men at a bar giving unwanted physical sexual attention under the guise of “being friendly.” Women have been kissed, groped, and worse by total strangers as well as by men they know and fear retaliation from.

The Harvey Weinstein tale is a story about the victimization of women. The sordid details are titillating enough (masturbating into a plant? Ewww) that they’ve been reported on widely. Plus, there’s an audiotape of Weinstein pressuring a model to watch him shower and more.

So, of course, Republicans and some in the media have turned all of this into a story about Democrats, Hillary Clinton, and wondering why those women victims didn’t speak up sooner.

Sexual harassment is usually defined as an unwanted sexual advance or as an unwelcome request for sexual favors. Here’s what the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says about sexual harassment (luckily the Trump administration hasn’t tried to rewrite this yet):

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.

All of that sounds pretty straightforward, yet any woman subject to such behavior knows that reporting it can backfire. Those in power might not believe her, dismiss it as minor, or come up with an ineffective response. The perpetrator might make the victim’s life even more unpleasant. Just the act of reporting harassment can limit career advancement as women become “tainted.”

As the Weinstein story unfolded, with reports of 30 years of harassment, alleged sexual assault, and payouts, dozens of women came forward to tell their stories. Those same women were blamed for not coming forward sooner. Yet they feared repercussions. As a story on Vox described it, “Most of the women Weinstein allegedly targeted were young and had little institutional power, and they say they were afraid to speak out afterward for fear that he would ruin their careers.”

Weinstein was generous in his donations to Democrats and progressive causes. After this story broke, Democrats quickly started steering those donations to charity, yet in the eyes of some in the media (especially Fox News), this was now a Democratic scandal. Yes, the cable news station with millions of dollars in settlement payouts to its sexually harassed female employees because of the behavior of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Eric Bolling now says this whole situation is a Democratic problem, especially Hillary Clinton’s.

CNN wasn’t alone, but it blared on the front page of its website for days that Hillary Clinton and the Obamas were “mum” about Weinstein. Let’s ignore the fact that they weren’t the ones who committed these acts and think about this: Barack and Michelle Obama had sent their 18-year-old daughter to work for Harvey Weinstein as an intern during her gap year before college. They obviously had never experienced this kind of sexual harassment treatment from Harvey Weinstein. Now, if you were a parent in those circumstances, your first instinct would not be to issue a public statement. It would be to make sure that your daughter was okay and hadn’t suffered a similar fate.

When the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released a year ago with Trump’s “grab-them-by-the-pussy” remarks and other confessions of sexual assault, many women experienced not-so-fond memories of harassment and assaults they hoped would stay buried. The Harvey Weinstein reports, while more graphic, are having the same effect. At least Weinstein is out of a job, while Trump is still president. (As John Pavlovitz wrote on his blog, Weinstein’s “only viable option right now might be to fire off a hasty apology, state his opposition to abortion, his love of handguns, to claim he’s found Jesus—and then run for the Republican nomination.”)

And despite the claims that “it was just locker room talk” and “no Trump accusers ever came forward,” there are lists of those accusers. And now the Trump campaign is being subpoenaed by lawyers from one of the women who accused Trump of sexual assault for “all documents concerning any woman who asserted that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately.”

Samantha Bee, in her typical no-holds-barred style, gave Weinstein the full BEE-ting down. She offers an added lesson on sexual harassment in one of those “not safe for work” videos:

Many Hollywood actresses were traumatized enough when Weinstein was committing his acts of sexual harassment and assault. Having to talk about it years later isn’t easy and dredges up old memories.

The same is true for any woman who has ever been subject to this kind of behavior.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 15, 2017.

Not just NRA money: How the gun industry avoids regulation

Seriously. Who needs a gun this big?

The aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 and injured nearly 500 people attending a country music festival spurred the same partisan divide as any other horrific mass shooting. Republicans trot out the tired “too soon” memes while repeating talking points supplied by the National Rifle Association. Democrats try — usually in vain — for any kind of regulation that would cut down on killing.

It’s no secret that too many (mostly Republican) lawmakers receive campaign contributions from the NRA. The gun lobby and its contributors also fund attack ads against candidates likely to be sympathetic to gun safety laws. In all, the NRA has an outsize influence on the nation’s gun laws. But it’s not just generous NRA money. The campaign to escape government regulations is the result of decades of preemptive work by gun manufacturers to head off anti-firearm rules.

A resurrected analysis from Think Progress, originally written in 2015 after a mass shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic and republished after Stephen Paddock’s 11 minutes of slaughter from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, demonstrated some points that are hard to refute.

Another industry that causes harm has laws on the books that mitigate its deadly effects. In many areas, taxes on cigarettes have been raised to the point where many can’t afford smokes (there is a federal tax of $1 per pack, with state taxes as high as $4.35 per pack in New York). Ads for cigarettes have been banned on TV since 1971. Twenty-five states have banned smoking in indoor workplaces, restaurants, and bars (it’s no surprise that indoor smoking is still allowed in the reddest states). Cigarette packs must have health warnings on each pack, and, even though the tobacco industry went through decades of denial, the harmful health effects of smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke can’t be refuted. As a result of all of these efforts, smoking rates in this country have plummeted, from 42.4 percent in 1965 to 15.1 percent in 2015, and significantly fewer teenagers take up smoking today.

So what does the gun lobby know that the tobacco lobby didn’t? Why are so many places in this country off-limits for smokers but accessible to someone openly carrying a gun?

The short answer is: The NRA learned from the lesson of Big Tobacco. After that, it all came down to money—and finding successful ways to stop lawsuits and regulations.

The Second Amendment right to own a gun was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. But Justice Antonin Scalia, supplying the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, wrote that “the Second Amendment right is not unlimited,” and that “longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” were still constitutional.

Glad we cleared that up. Because gun lovers and Second Amendment advocates pass over Scalia’s qualifiers and quote only the line from the amendment itself: “shall not be abridged.” The NRA has backtracked on any gun limits whatsoever.

Here’s how the NRA found success against rules and lawsuits.

A big part of the answer is that the gun lobby preempted the sort of tactics that anti-smoking activists successfully used to reduce cigarette consumption. After seeing class action lawsuits that forced the tobacco industry to change the way it marketed its product, research by the Surgeon General and the U.S. government helping both discourage use and assist cessation, the creation of smoke-free public places, increased taxes on tobacco deterring use, and many medical professionals helping their patients quit, the gun lobby spent tens of millions to make sure they avoided the same fate. And by changing federal and state laws, it found ways to block every single one of those approaches from being used to undermine the firearm and ammunition industries’ bottom lines.

The 1998 settlement between 46 state attorneys general and the four biggest tobacco companies was a huge win for anti-smoking forces and for public health. Cigarette manufacturers had to drastically change their marketing practices, and they were forced to pay billions of dollars to states to set up anti-smoking efforts. Given that big win, gun safety forces were gearing up the same kind of approach, and the Clinton administration was set to join the battle. They scored an early victory in a settlement with Smith & Wesson, which agreed to “provide safety locking devices, invest in smart gun technology to limit use to the proper owner, limit magazine capacity for its new firearms, cut off dealers and distributors with a history of selling to criminals, and prevent authorized dealers from selling at gun shows where any arm sales are permitted without background checks,” according to Think Progress.

The NRA and its allies saw the danger. First, they undercut Smith & Wesson.

Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, told ThinkProgress that the NRA was “very afraid of the parallel between gun litigation and tobacco litigation, so it preempted that.” Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — the secretive free-market lobbying group that brings together conservative politicians and major corporate interests including the tobacco and gun lobbies — it pushed a “Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution” to hurt Smith & Wesson’s ability to sell to law enforcement.

“ALEC helped to try to punish the one component of the industry that agreed to these measures,” Graves recalled, discouraging local police “from buying guns from Smith & Wesson — for daring to go along with safety [measures] designed to keep kids safe.”

George W. Bush won the 2000 election (albeit with Supreme Court help), and the federal government quickly dropped out of the multi-state gun safety lawsuit. With a Republican president and Congress (the Senate was split 50-50, with some topsy-turvy party switching, but ultimately had a GOP majority), the NRA started racking up more victories.

ALEC and the NRA pressured states into prohibiting the kind of lawsuits against the gun industry that had been so successful against tobacco. Congress let the assault weapons ban expire in 2004, despite the fact that there were fewer mass shootings while the ban was in place. Gun advocates point to research claiming that the ban had little effect, but isn’t any attempt to cut down on killing worth it?

The big win was in 2005, when Bush signed a law that shielded the gun industry from legal liability when guns are used in criminal activities. Throw in the fact that the federal government no longer can spend money doing public health research on gun violence, and you’ve got a trifecta. Just as important, ALEC and the NRA were successful in getting many states to pass laws prohibiting local communities from enacting their own gun safety legislation.

“I think that, had the really powerful litigation run its course, we would have had the same success on guns” as on tobacco, Graves said. “That tobacco litigation was historic… They were able to make some substantial progress and change the future — having information out there, showing how evilly the tobacco companies were behaving. So there was an effort to stop that for guns, which have huge number of deaths and injuries. We haven’t seen the same progress as you would have had these been allowed to go forward.”

So where are we today? There is still widespread support for common-sense gun safety laws such as universal background checks, bans on gun sales to the mentally ill, and even bans on the sale of assault weapons, among people of both parties, including a majority of gun owners. But to say that such legislative efforts face an uphill climb is stating the obvious.

One small ray of hope might be the bills introduced by California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline. The legislation would ban the sale or possession of bump-fire stocks, or bump stocks, that can increase the shooting rate of a semiautomatic rifle to mimic that of an automatic weapon. Several Republicans, probably realizing that a white shooter and a huge number of dead and injured country music fans meant that they had to at least pretend they were concerned, said they were open to the idea. After all, 12 of the semiautomatic weapons Paddock had in his hotel suite of death were fitted with bump stocks.

Both the House and Senate version of this bill are picking up co-sponsors from both parties. The NRA, no doubt seeing the writing on the wall, has released a statement saying that “devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.” Hey, it’s a step.

But I’m not going to get my hopes up; they’ve been shot down too many times. If 20 dead children in Newtown, Connecticut, weren’t enough to pass any meaningful gun safety legislation, 58 dead country music fans probably won’t be enough, either.

America has 323 million citizens, and those citizens own 300 million guns. About one-half of those firearms are in the hands of just 3 percent of Americans who have large collections, as Paddock did. Many of those guns are semiautomatic assault weapons that have no place except in the military. There are already enough AR-15s out there to repeat the carnage of Las Vegas many times over—at least 5 million, and they’re sold by multiple gun manufacturers. Even if an assault weapons ban were passed, the guns are already too widespread.

No doubt, many owners of semiautomatic assault rifles already own bump stocks, too. An NPR report stated that Americans had spent about $10 million on the devices since they started being sold seven years ago. The price can be as low as $40 each; other reports listed the price as $100 to $300. Whatever the price, that could be anywhere from tens of thousands to as many as 250,000 bump stocks already in the hands of gun owners. And gun owners are now rushing to buy them just in case any law is passed.

Efforts aimed at legislation limiting ammunition would be a better strategy. Ammunition, once spent, must be replaced, while guns can be used again. Yet ammunition purchases remain largely unregulated, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. You can easily buy ammo online, and the lack of regulations means a lot of it can be trafficked to other states and other countries like Mexico. The “silencer” bill that House Speaker Paul Ryan put on hold (temporarily) also contained a provision removing controls on armor-piercing bullets.

High-capacity magazines are the main problem. Only eight states ban the sale of 30-round magazines, but they are widely available elsewhere. Some high-capacity magazines—perfectly legal to buy in many states—can hold 60 to 100 rounds. An analysis performed for CNN showed a correlation between restrictions on magazine size and a lower number of mass shootings.

With a fitted bump stock, there’s no stopping a shooter until the gun overheats. As Stephen Paddock showed us, all he had to do was switch to another gun in his deadly arsenal. Nevada has no regulations on sales of high-capacity magazines, and thousands of rounds of ammunition were found in Paddock’s home in Mesquite, Nevada. Says the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence:

While none of these provisions has been reenacted by Congress, several proposals to regulate ammunition, including some that would require background checks, impose taxes on ammunition sales, or require sellers to report the sale of a certain volume of ammunition to a single purchaser, have been introduced over the past several decades. In the wake of the Aurora shooting, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) introduced legislation to restore federal regulation of ammunition sales. The Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act would require ammunition dealers to be licensed and to maintain ammunition sales records. Under the proposal, dealers would also be obligated to report large volume sales and buyers would be required to present photo identification when purchasing ammunition. At present, however, federal law governing ammunition is limited to a prohibition on sales to and purchases by certain categories of persons, and a prohibition on the manufacture, importation and sale of armor-piercing ammunition.

That act has been introduced multiple times. It was fiercely fought by the NRA and never passed.

When a shooter has to stop to reload, there’s a pause. And during that pause, it’s at least plausible that someone could stop the shooter from killing others. When Jared Lee Loughner shot then-Rep. Gabby Giffords and killed six others during her constituent event near Tucson, Arizona, in 2011, further carnage was avoided when Loughner stopped to reload his semiautomatic pistol, and he was taken down by unarmed bystanders.

Obviously, no “good guy with a gun” could aim at a shooter inside a hotel suite on the 32nd floor. But extra time between shots might have given police the opportunity to find Paddock more quickly before he could reload.

And a lot more people would still be alive.

Originally published on Daily Kos on Oct. 8, 2017.

Not just Tom Price: More and more Trump officials are flying high (UPDATE)

HHS Secretary Tom Price was one of many Trump Cabinet members chartering private jets on the government dime. Now it turns out that Kellyanne Conway went on many of those trips.

It’s getting pretty crowded in the swamp of Donald Trump’s Cabinet, especially when it comes to taking private and military jets using taxpayer money.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign after a Politico investigation found that he had spent taxpayer money on military and private chartered jets for travel, while past HHS secretaries had always flown commercial. He promised to repay $52,000 for his seats on those flights, even though the total cost of both the military and private jets was more than $1 million. Those trips included a visit to Nashville to have lunch with his son and a trip to St. Simons Island where he and his wife own property.

But the now-former HHS secretary is far from the only one in Trumpland flying the pricey skies. We also have:

  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. There are now multiple reports about Zinke’s use of private jets. The first was a $12,000 trip in a chartered jet owned by an oil executive from Las Vegas, where he gave a motivational speech to a professional hockey team owned by Zinke’s largest donor, to his home in Montana for one night. Now, Politico is reporting that Zinke traveled more than a half-dozen times on taxpayer-funded chartered jets, mostly to meet with big donors or for campaign events, with a scant amount of official business thrown in. “Republican donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a photo with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at a fundraiser held during a taxpayer-funded trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Politico says.
  • Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has spent more than $58,000 in taxpayer money on military and private jet travel. This is in addition to his 10-person, 24/7 security detail and his $25,000 soundproof booth. And this is the guy who wants to slash spending on saving the environment.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He requested the use (luckily he was turned down) of a military jet to take him and his new bride on their European honeymoon. But Mnuchin and his wife, “let-them-eat-cake” Louise Linton, still rode on a government plane to “inspect the gold” at Fort Knox, coincidentally on the same day that the best view of the solar eclipse was occurring over Tennessee. A Mnuchin spokesman claims that he has reimbursed the government for the cost of the travel.
  • Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Shulkin is under review for extracurricular activities during a government-funded trip to Europe this summer, where he visited London and Denmark and took his wife along. Part of his trip was meeting with officials, but the couple took time to attend Wimbledon and take a Thames River Cruise.

Now, there is evidence that Energy Secretary Rick Perry used a private plane to travel from a coal mine in Pennsylvania to a decommissioned uranium facility in Ohio, where the industry is lobbying him to reopen it. Dude, the states are right next to each other, and commercial flights weren’t far away. And this trip was only one day before Price resigned, so there’s no way to pretend you didn’t know about the bad publicity and pressure to curtail private jet travel. Oops.

In addition, it is being reported that White House Senior Adviser Kellyanne Conway accompanied Price on many of his trips. Why would Conway be along for the ride, except possibly to get a free trip? She’s no expert on fighting the opioid epidemic, which was supposedly the reason for her inclusion.

Hey, at least Education Secretary Betsy DeVos flies on her own private jet when she travels.

You can’t really blame these officials — they were only following the lead of their boss. Donald Trump’s almost weekly trips to Mar-a-Lago this past winter and spring cost taxpayers about $3 million each, given the cost of flying Air Force One, extra Coast Guard security off the coast of Palm Beach, and more. The Secret Service has already exhausted its annual budget, having spent nearly $60,000 on golf cart rental alone at Trump properties.

Last May, House Democrats introduced the SWAMP Act, or the Stop Waste And Misuse by the President Act, in attempt to make Trump pay for his regular travel to Mar-a-Lago. Now it seems that the legislative proposal should have gone further, to cover Cabinet officials, too.

UPDATE: Add Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to the list. She’s used government planes seven times this year. And new information shows that Mnuchin also took military planes seven times, at a cost of more than $800,000 to taxpayers.

There’s also a new total of how much Secret Service money went for golf cart rental at Trump properties: $137,000. Of course, all this money is paid directly to Trump businesses. Paid by U.S. taxpayers for protecting Donald Trump.

How much more swampy can you get?

It’s guns, people. That’s it. #GunControlNow

Concertgoers fleeing the scene during the deadly shooting in Las Vegas.

No ties to ISIS. No history of mental illness. No criminal record. No political ideology. No hunting, shooting hobbies, or claims of “trying to protect his family.”

Just guns.

In the coming days, investigators might discover something related to a “motive” for Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old white retiree who killed 58 people and injured more than 500 when he opened fire on a huge crowd at an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort Hotel and Casino before taking his own life.

He checked into his hotel suite with what authorities now say were 23 weapons, many of them rifles (what, were they packed in suitcases?) and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. At least one gun, the one he started shooting with, was an automatic weapon, which have been illegal to buy since 1986. He had an arsenal of weapons at home.

The state of Nevada has among the most permissive gun laws in the nation. According to a story in USA Today:

Gun owners in Nevada don’t need a permit to buy or possess a rifle, shotgun or handgun, according to the National Rifle Association. They can carry a firearm openly in public. Nevadans can even purchase machine guns or silencers, banned in other states, as long as they’re legally registered and within federal compliance. The state does not prohibit possession of assault weapons, 50-caliber rifles or large-capacity ammunition magazines, according to the NRA.

Paddock’s arsenal and the harrowing sound of rapid-fire bursts of gunfire caught on video as he rained bullets down on the crowd renewed a national debate on Americans’ relationship with guns and whether any tragedy will prove shocking enough to change it.

Of course, it doesn’t matter which state the shooter was in, because so many states have lax gun laws. Concealed carry is now legal in all 50 states. Lots of states have open-carry laws, which is disconcerting when you’re on vacation in another state and you see a man carrying a baby balanced on a hip that also holsters a huge handgun.

The Las Vegas shooting was the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. Aren’t we tired of that superlative — “deadliest” — which just seems to be used with increasing frequency?

A mass shooting is defined as an incident in which at least four people are shot. So far in 2017, there have been 273 mass shootings. And there have only been 275 days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 30 people die every day from gunshot wounds.

A health professional on NPR was asked about the shooter’s likely mental health. He gave a measured but exasperated answer: “I don’t think you can say that anyone who shoots so many people is mentally stable.”

You know what? I don’t care about the shooter’s mental stability. I don’t care about his political affiliation, who he backed for president, or whether he was a member of the Islamic State or a neo-Nazi group.

What I do care about is the fact that he had so many weapons of mass destruction and he used them to kill and maim so many people.

Political reaction is going down the predictable road of Democrats calling for action while Republicans say it’s “not the time” to bring up the issue of gun safety laws.

Chris Murphy is a Democratic senator from Connecticut. When he was still a congressman, his district encompassed Newtown, where a gunman killed 20 1st and 2nd graders and six faculty and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. He has led the fight for common-sense gun laws ever since. According to a separate story in USA Today:

“It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic,” Murphy said in a statement.

“There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something,” he said.

Why even bother to quote the Republican response? In early 2013, a bipartisan effort to pass some limited gun-safety measures after Sandy Hook seemed to have broad backing but ultimately died in the Senate in the face of GOP opposition. Yet this is something that Americans agree on: According to data from the Pew Research Center, a majority of Democrats and Republicans support preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns, barring gun purchases from people on no-fly terror watch lists, and expanding background checks for private sales and at gun shows. A majority even support bringing back the assault weapons ban.

Except for an assault weapons ban, none of those laws would have stopped Stephen Paddock from amassing his deadly collection. And don’t expect help from the Trump administration. As an NPR story reported, “As one of his first actions in office, President Trump overturned an Obama-era regulation that had not yet gone into effect that was aimed at limiting gun access from certain people adjudicated mentally ill.”

Asked at Monday’s press briefing if Trump was considering whether to pursue any changes to gun regulations, press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country.” She added that the investigation was ongoing, “and it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t fully know all the facts or what took place last night.”

It comes down to one thing: the guns. So sorry, Ms. Sanders, but it is the time. And the place.

America is a country of about 323 million people. Those same American citizens own 300 million guns. Assault weapons that they don’t need for hunting. Huge caches of weapons that they don’t need to protect their families.

The most tragic part of this shooting is the huge number of victims. Yet just as distressing is what happens after every mass shooting: People buy more guns. Stock prices in gun companies shot up between 1.4 and 3.7 percent the day after the shooting. According to a story from Fast Company:

So why do gun stocks jump after a shooting? Fear. However, it is not fear of guns, but fear of gun control. The theory goes that in the wake of a mass shooting, gun lovers worry that Congress will actually do something and enact some form of gun control. Customers rush to the store to buy more guns before someone tries to take them away. (Bloomberg did a pretty solid analysis of this pattern after the Pulse shooting.) Gun sales rose during President Obama’s years in office out of fears that a Democrat in the Oval Office would put gun control in place. That, of course, never materialized.

Since President Trump was elected, after being endorsed by the NRA, share prices in gun manufacturers dropped, because consumers no longer feared gun control legislation. According to CNNSturm Ruger reported in August that its latest quarterly revenues were down 22% from a year ago and that earnings had dropped more than 50%. Now the shooting in Las Vegas has reversed that trend.

So fear not, Wayne LaPierre. Your position and exorbitant compensation (a reported $5.1 million a year, including his $1 million salary) as executive vice president of the National Rifle Association are safe.

I wonder how you can sleep at night, knowing that those dollars are seeped in blood.

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