Monthly Archives: July 2012

Gun Control: Japan vs. USA

Japan has incredibly strict gun control laws–and an incredibly low firearm-related homicide rate to boot:

In 2008, the U.S. had over12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.

Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country’s infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories.

Shotguns and air rifles are the only guns citizens can own legally, and they have to go through a serious application and vetting process to get them:

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Check out the whole thing!

Wage Labor Update

Be sure to check out Sociological Images‘ post on “Low-Wage Work in the U.S.,” which aggregates some good statistics about that topic.

Perhaps the most interesting part:

Finally, over at the Economic Policy Institute blog, David Cooper posted a table that provides an overview of the demographics of those who would be affected if Congress passed Senator Tom Harkin’s proposed bill that would raised the minimum wage to $9.80/hour:

Any legislation in Congress that has even a snowball’s chance in hell of helping the working class economically is almost certainly not going to pass.  But a minimum wage hike looks to me to have a better chance than most bills, and if it helped almost 30 million individuals, even just a little bit, that could be a huge victory given the constraints of the current legislative climate.  Better yet would be a bill that indexed that minimum wage to inflation or the cost of living, but these days even that seems a bit too much to hope for.

Footnotes

This is going to be a long one. Special thanks to Aaron for holding down the fort these past few days.

  • Enter Big Soda, guns aimed at the New York soda ban. [Mother Jones]
  • Scotland is set to legalize same-sex marriage. [The Guardian]
  • BMW is letting you buy their electric car over the internet. [Bloomberg]
  • What Star Trek got right on mobile devices. [The Atlantic]
  • Dan Harmon and Fox are finalizing a deal to produce a new t.v. show. [New York]
  • Sandy Weill wants to break up the biggest banks. [Dealbook]
  • Also, the coolest map I’ve seen in a while:

Oil Dialectics

Optimistic as always about the rise of renewable energy, Juan Cole provides a new list of developments in this arena under the name of “Top Ten Reasons Fracking won’t Last Long.”  All intriguing, but I was most intrigued by #7:

Algeria wants to go solar, aiming for 650 megawatts of solar energy by 2015 and a massive 22 gigawatts by 2030. The Desertec Foundation has big projects in Egypt and Morocco, and Algeria, an oil producer, has decided to join in. Theoretically, a small portion of the Saharan desert could power the entire world. Desertec plans to turn North Africa into a clean electricity-producing zone that could meet nearly a fifth of Europe’s energy needs. Algeria is eager to turn to renewables because its rapidly growing population is using more an more of its petroleum production, which is declining.

Cole has pointed out the same of other big oil producers like Saudi Arabia and even Iran.  He argues that Iran is most likely pushing forward with refining its nuclear capacities not to make a bomb (though more on that, perhaps, another time) but to have an alternate source of energy so its own growing economy doesn’t suck up all its oil.  Perhaps a strange byproduct of the world’s addiction to oil really will be a stronger move toward renewables, at least in some parts of the world.

Photo by now picnic

Is Your Hate Pure?

Can’t help but pass this along:

My favorite Cockburn passage and something we do at Jacobin, as well.

I asked the future leader what I asked all interns as a matter of form, “Eddie, is your hate pure?”

The man who first asked me that question was the late Jim Goode, editor ofPenthouse.

Like PlayboyPenthouse would pay good money for long articles about the corruption of America, thus giving the pointyheads an excuse to thumb through the pinups. Goode, tall and cadaverous, was gay, clad in black leather as he crouched on the floor of his office, gazing morosely at hundreds of photos of bare-breasted women.

As I entered with some screed about corporate and political evil, he’d snarl, “Alex, is your hate pure?” “Yes, Jim, my hate is pure.”

It was a good way of assaying interns. The feisty ones would respond excitedly, “Yes, my hate is pure.” I put the question to Eddie Miliband. He gaped at me in shock like Gussie Fink-Nottle watching one of his newts vanish down the plug hole in his bath. “I…I… don’t hate anyone, Alex,” he stammered.

It’s all you need to know.

(In commemoration of the recent passing of journalist Alexander Cockburn)

Image via Wikipedia

Europeans don’t want Obamacare

Our socialism is apparently not good enough for the French. The Wall Street Journal reports that the French Minister of Health and Social Services says President Obama’s oft-villainized healthcare law isn’t pure European socialism:

Republicans lawmakers have denigrated President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul by labeling it a European-style takeover of the health system.

France, for one, doesn’t exactly agree.

In an interview with reporters Tuesday, French Minister of Health and Social Affairs Marisol Touraine said the 2010 law creates a distinctly different system than the one that universally covers the French.

[…]

“This segmentation is quiet different than what we have,” said Ms. Touraine, given that France’s health coverage extends across age groups and income levels.  Many French find it surprising that Americans would resist a system of near-universal health coverage, she said.

Nationalize Them

You don’t see this in The New York Times every day:

THE Barclays interest-rate scandal, HSBC’s openness to money laundering by Mexican drug traffickers, the epic blunders at JPMorgan Chase — at this point, four years after Wall Street wrecked the global economy, does anyone really believe we can regulate the big banks? And if we broke them up, would they really stay broken up?

Most liberals in Washington — President Obama included — keep hoping the banks can be more tightly controlled but otherwise left as is. That’s the theory behind the two-year-old Dodd-Frank law, which Republicans and Wall Street are still working to eviscerate.

Some economists in and around the University of Chicago, who founded the modern conservative tradition, had a surprisingly different take: When it comes to the really big fish in the economic pond, some felt, the only way to preserve competition was to nationalize the largest ones, which defied regulation.

The other worthwhile part of this piece is a reminder that nationalization isn’t just some horrible sin that only bad people like Soviets have committed; it’s happened in the US, and not even that long ago:

We tend to forget that we did, in fact, nationalize General Motors in 2009; the government still owns a controlling share of its stock. We also essentially nationalized the American International Group, one of the largest insurance companies in the world, and the government still owns roughly 60 percent of its stock.

The author of this op-ed, Gar Alperovitz, presents nationalization mainly as a strategy to preserve competitive markets, but another potential benefit of this strategy could be accountability.  Big corporations don’t answer to anyone but big shareholders and management, which is part of what makes them so dangerous.  Nationalization could be a way to add some sort of democratic accountability to these firms.  Of course, that depends on how democratic your government is, and the US government appears to be increasingly less so.  But if you want an economy “of the people, by the people, and for the people”–and why not aspire to that in the economic realm if we do in the political?–some good strategies seem to be nationalization of some of the larger industries and some form of worker ownership/management of smaller and medium-sized firms.  This latter approach, which often takes the form of worker cooperatives, has worked marvelously for Spain’s Mondragon Corporation and seems to be prospering among the Evergreen Cooperatives, of which Alperovitz happens to be a leading theorist and backer.

Image by lambdachialpha

Tax Havens

The debate over Romney’s taxes is just the beginning:

James Henry, former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has compiled the most detailed estimates yet of the size of the offshore economy in a new report, The Price of Offshore Revisited, released exclusively to the Observer.

He shows that at least £13tn – perhaps up to £20tn – has leaked out of scores of countries into secretive jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands with the help of private banks, which vie to attract the assets of so-called high net-worth individuals. Their wealth is, as Henry puts it, “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy“. According to Henry’s research, the top 10 private banks, which include UBS and Credit Suisse in Switzerland, as well as the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, managed more than £4tn in 2010, a sharp rise from £1.5tn five years earlier.

[…]

“The problem here is that the assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments,” the report says.

The sheer size of the cash pile sitting out of reach of tax authorities is so great that it suggests standard measures of inequality radically underestimate the true gap between rich and poor. According to Henry’s calculations, £6.3tn of assets is owned by only 92,000 people, or 0.001% of the world’s population – a tiny class of the mega-rich who have more in common with each other than those at the bottom of the income scale in their own societies.

The War on Terror/Drugs

While doing research for my senior thesis last year (more on that, perhaps, another time), I read an excellent book by Greg Grandin called Empire’s Workshop, in which he argued that the Reagan administration’s training, funding, and other support for far-right Central American regimes in the 1980s could be seen as practice by US in imperial foreign policy, to be later reenacted by many of the same neoconservatives in the [George W.] Bush Administration’s War in Iraq.  (Man, sorry for that doozy of a hideous sentence.)  It’s a compelling argument, and Grandin concludes by describing the way these policies and tactics were re-imported to Central (and South) America in the US’s antinarcotics operations.

That last bit seems to be part of a broader critique of the “War on Terror” and the “War on Drugs” in which critics see each “war” as an inappropriate use of US global police power.  They argue that these “wars” do little to solve and may even exacerbate the problems they address and that they tend to blend together.  I’ve always seen this sort of argument as a radical position that didn’t crop up in the mainstream, but then I read this New York Times article today, “U.S. Expands Drug Fight to Africa, a Newer Hub for Cartels”:

In a significant expansion of the war on drugs, the United States has begun training an elite unit of counternarcotics police in Ghana and planning similar units in Nigeria and Kenya as part of an effort to combat the Latin American cartels that are increasingly using Africa to smuggle cocaine into Europe.

[…]

The aggressive response by the United States is also a sign of how greater attention and resources have turned to efforts to fight drugs as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down.

“We see Africa as the new frontier in terms of counterterrorism and counternarcotics issues,” said Jeffrey P. Breeden, the chief of the D.E.A.’s Europe, Asia and Africa section. “It’s a place that we need to get ahead of — we’re already behind the curve in some ways, and we need to catch up.”

If even US officials are openly admitting some sort of continuity between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, then either the above-mentioned critique isn’t as radical as I thought or the fuzzy boundaries between these operations isn’t considered problematic or embarrassing anymore.

Literacy Militancy

Two Sandinistas

An interesting little story about the Sandinistas (FSLN) I came across in this piece on anti-intellectualism and leftist activism, which the author situates in the context of a former teacher of hers reporting on the FSLN in the 1980s:

She had arrived shortly after the FSLN began implementing Carlos Fonseca Amador’s vision of a strong relationship between literacy and militancy. Fonseca Amador was a librarian, teacher, and founder of the FSLN. Years after his death, his ideas lived on, and took the shape of literacy brigades. This visionary project sent 100,000 volunteers into peasant communities to end illiteracy. Drawing from the example set by the Cuban Literacy Campaign, which literally eliminated illiteracy in that country, they adapted the concept to their own unique conditions. Jesuit priest Fernando Cardenal coordinated the effort, and described it this way: “not only would we teach people letters and what those letters mean, we would also make it possible for peasant farmers and urban workers to learn about their own situation and the economic, social, and political context in which they lived. We were going to teach them to answer questions like, why am I poor? We wanted them to learn to distinguish between a tragedy like a drought or an earthquake and a tragedy like poverty. We wanted them to learn that nature provokes hurricanes while human beings create poverty. Making this distinction is what conscientización is all about.”

As usual, check out the whole thing. (It’s not long!)

Image by Robert Croma