Gun (and Much Else) Extremist Larry Pratt

Larry PrattRemember last night when I wrote, Repealing Smart Gun Law Won’t Change Attitudes? It was about this New Jersey law that says if any Smart Gun is sold in the United States, all gun sales in that state must be Smart Guns within three years. So Democrats in New Jersey are offering to repeal the law. I said that it wouldn’t matter, because the same people will just come up with other reasons for being against them. Plus I said they would claim that New Jersey could just enact another such law.

Well, All In had Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America on his show tonight. Hayes asked Pratt if his organization would back down if the law was repealed. Pratt spent most of his time talking around the issue but in the end, his answer was no. And he ended the segment by saying that the legislators were saying, “Do what I say or else.” Along with that, he made a gun with his hand and pretended to shoot the camera. It was both creepy and infantile. Pratt is an excellent example of why we can’t have a sane or honest discussion about guns in his country.

The main part of what Larry Pratt talked about was how Smart Guns only work 80% of the time. For some reason, he thinks that this justifies stopping anyone from selling them. Or at least that’s what he implied. It’s outrageous to think that a gun rights group is really protecting consumers, like a gun-only Consumer Reports. But what about that 80% claim. The All In Twitter feed sent out a link to the study that Pratt is pushing. It is eleven years old (pdf) and it is not about the Smart Gun technology at all; it’s about fingerprint technology. The Smart Guns are not based on fingerprint technology.

Of course, this all makes Larry Pratt a perfect conservative! Once you get a talking point, regardless of how old it is and regardless of the fact that it doesn’t relate to the issue at hand: repeat it! Over and over. I went back and watched the segment. Pratt was on for almost exactly two and a half minutes. He mentioned the “20% failure” point three times, using the vast majority of his time to talk about it.

This isn’t surprising though. Larry Pratt is not only involved with Gun Owners of America. He’s also founded English First and is at least involved with US Border Control and Committee to Protect the Family. So basically, he just hates everyone. Take a spoiled and bullying kindergartener and you pretty much have Larry Pratt. He is emblematic of a certain kind of conservative who think that the government has no right to interfere with gun ownership but thinks that the government should have cameras in every bedroom in America to make sure that people only have the right kind of sex.

Oh, and did I mention that Pratt at least pals around with racists? Here’s what the Southern Poverty Law Center had to say about him 13 years ago:

Larry Pratt, a gun rights absolutist whose Gun Owners of America (GOA) has been described as “eight lanes to the right” of the National Rifle Association, may well be the person who brought the concept of citizen militias to the radical right.

In 1990, Pratt wrote a book, Armed People Victorious, based on his study of “citizen defense patrols” used in Guatemala and the Philippines against Communist rebels—patrols that came to be known as death squads for their murderous brutality.

Picturing these groups in rosy terms, Pratt advocated similar militias in the United States—an idea that finally caught on when he was invited for a meeting of 160 extremists, including many famous white supremacists, in 1992.

It was at that meeting, hosted in Colorado by white supremacist minister Pete Peters, that the contours of the militia movement were laid out.

Pratt, whose GOA has grown since its 1975 founding to some 150,000 members today, hit the headlines in a big way when his associations with Peters and other professional racists were revealed, convincing arch-conservative Pat Buchanan to eject him as a national co-chair of Buchanan’s 1996 presidential campaign.

The same year, it emerged that Pratt was a contributing editor to a periodical of the anti-Semitic United Sovereigns of America, and that his GOA had donated money to a white supremacist attorney’s group.

Pratt is today close to the extremist Constitution Party and its radical theology.

What a sweetheart! And he is one of the people driving our conversation about guns in this country.

Art Laffer’s Toxic Prescription

Art LefferJon Perr wrote a great article at his website Perrspectives, The Laffer Curve Brings Red Ink to Red States. It seems that over the past few years, Art Laffer has been going around the red states and selling the usual supply side economic nonsense. If you were around in the 1980s, you are very familiar with it, “You will get more tax revenue if you cut taxes!” The idea is that cutting taxes will cause the economy to grow and so more taxes will come in. It sounds too good to be true because it is.

Let’s talk a bit about the Laffer curve. It isn’t actually a concept of Laffer’s, it’s just that he’s the guy who made it popular among Republicans in the 1970s. The idea is that if taxes are too high, people will not work as much or will find ways to avoid paying taxes. For example, a 100% tax rate would produce no tax revenue because there would be no incentive to work. More or less. But a photo in Perr’s article that looks like it is from the 1970s really struct me. You can go over and look at it, but here is my standard Laffer Curve graph and it shows the same thing:

Laffer Curve

There is no reason to think the Laffer Curve would be symmetrical. Indeed, when real economists (and I have a hard time putting Laffer in that category) deal with it, they don’t make it symmetrical. In fact, an article in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics shows that estimates of the rate are around 70%. So why did Laffer present his curve as being symmetrical?

I think it’s the timing. In the 1970s, when he was first using the Laffer Curve to argue for lowering taxes, the top marginal tax rate was 70%. And this default Laffer Curve says that the optimal rate should be 50%. And what was the first top marginal tax rate that Reagan got? Fifty percent! The Laffer Curve was and always will be a propaganda device. As Laffer admits, the idea was not new to him. But the reason his name was put on it was because he proposed the idea that you could lower tax rates (the top one especially) and increase tax revenues. But that just wasn’t true at the tax rates we had then (which are much higher than they are now).

The result: tax revenues went down. But somehow this fact is not known by conservatives. That, or they just don’t care:

What Perr noted was that after Laffer did his tour, many red states followed his lead and enacted the same failed policies the Republicans have been pushing for four decades. And the results have been predictable. He discussed New Jersey and especially Kansas. But the truth is that this has been going on in a lot of red states, although generally with less catastrophic consequences. But this is why, for example, Scott Walker and his Republican legislature cut school funding while giving businesses tax breaks.[1] That sounds loony to liberals but it makes perfect sense in the world of Laffer propaganda.

Perr ended the article with a 2012 survey of economists that didn’t find anyone who thought that a cut in the federal tax rates would increase economic growth over a five year period. There’s a reason for that. In a depressed economy, forcing the federal government to borrow less will not make more money available to the private sector to borrow and invest. As I point out all the time, companies are sitting on piles of money not knowing what to do with it. But Laffer wasn’t going around telling red states to cut their top taxes because it would be good for the economy. I’m not even sure how that would happen at the state level. Laffer was doing it because he’s looking out for the interests of the rich. Check out this graph from Kansas on their tax cut:

Kansas Tax Cut

This is modern conservatism. I don’t think Art Laffer especially wants to make the lives of the poor worse—he’s just looking out for the rich. But the Kansas legislature was certainly trying to send a message with this distribution.


[1] Politifact, in their typical fashion rated this claim false. But if you read the text, you will see that it is actually true. On the issue of school funding cuts, they say the original claim was twice what Jennifer Shilling said. So the schools were not cut by $1.6 billion but by $800 million. In other words: Scott Walker cut school funding by a whole bunch. Politifact gave that a “mostly false” rating. On the issue of tax breaks, Politifact gets into a semantic debate about whether tax breaks actually cost tax payers any money. They give that claim a rating of “half true.” This is why everyone thinks Politifact is a joke.

Good Obamacare News Is No News to Conservatives

Jonathan CohnI may have to subscribe to New Republic just because of Jonathan Cohn. His coverage of Obamacare has been great from the very beginning. If you are going to get your news about the law from one place, he’s the source to go with. He’s insightful of course, but more important, he’s accurate. And that’s something we don’t get much when it comes to coverage of Obamacare.

Yesterday, he wrote, Gallup: Uninsured Rate Is Lowest We’ve Ever Recorded. Of course, Gallup has only been polling about this since early 2008. But that was when the economy was doing pretty well. That was when the unemployment rate was right around 5.0 percent. So that’s when we were somewhere close to full employment. Yet at that time, our supposedly great employer-based health insurance system still left almost 15% of our citizens without coverage.

This number climbed over the following five and half years. I assume this is largely because even as new jobs were created in place of old jobs, they were mostly worse jobs without health benefits. Cohn cautioned us that the numbers are noisy. But the trend is unmistakable. The uninsured rate rose steadily until Obamacare was fully in effect and then the numbers plummeted to a full percentage point below the lowest point they’ve ever been:

Gallup Poll: Uninsured Adults

It is a mark of Cohn’s seriousness that he noted that being insured is not the purpose of the new healthcare law. The purpose is to allow people to more easily get healthcare and to avoid medical bankruptcy. So the uninsured rate coming down is a good sign but it doesn’t mean anything on its own. But here’s the thing: Republicans have long been fans of coverage alone. That’s why they’ve always pushed high deductible “catastrophic” plans. And that’s not even to mention some of their other favorite policies, like purchasing insurance across state lines that would set up a system where most people got insurance in name only. So they ought to thrilled that the uninsured rate is going down. Right? Right?

Today, Cohn wrote, See How Right-Wing Media “Covered” Obamacare’s Big News Day. Not only is the uninsured rate down, but a study based upon the Massachusetts’ plan that Obamacare is based on shows that the increased access to healthcare is, in fact, saving lives. Great news! The reaction:

The news got lots of attention from the mainstream media and from health-care policy analysts. But on the right? Crickets…

The only Obamacare news that readers of [the Weekly Standard and the National Review] have gotten in the last 24 hours is about public opinion polls, which suggest that the health care law remains unpopular as ever, and reports that Oregon officials are facing a federal investigation into whether the state’s botched website was a result of corruption rather than incompetence. These are perfectly newsworthy stories and, yes, they reflect poorly on the health-care law. But are stories about familiar public perceptions and one state’s foibles really more important than signs that many more people are getting health insurance—and that, as a result, thousands of lives are probably being saved?

This is the very core of why conservatives are generally so ill-informed about what’s going on in the world. Major stories are simply ignored. And no, this is not the same as it is on the left:

This is not how it’s supposed to be done, even for opinion journalists. Those of us who support the law are not perfect, but I’d like to think we grappled with the bad news when it happened—whether it was website problems or plan cancellations. Last year, when a similar study about the effects of health-care reform weakened the case for making insurance more available, liberals spent lots of time writing about it.

And that’s why Cohn, and liberal writers in a general sense, are worth reading. They aren’t going to hide information from you. It’s good news for Obamacare and thus good news for the nation. But because the Republicans are not in power, they see good news for America as bad news. And they don’t report bad news to the true believers who read them.

Afterword

I wonder about this behavior on the part of conservatives. With Obamacare, they can kind of get away with it because Obamacare will triumph slowly. But the same thing happened during the 2012 presidential election where much of the conservative movement was truly shocked that Obama won re-election. The news sources must have known that a fall was coming. And after the conservative base was so badly informed, it amazes me that they didn’t turn on those news sources. But I guess if Dean Chambers is still “unskewing” reality, there must be something deeply delusional about conservatives.

On Being Better Than Others

Carol GaitherIn a very real sense, the ONION is “America’s Finest News Source.” There is more truth to be found in it than in most newspapers. I felt that especially strongly yesterday when I read, Woman a Leading Authority On What Shouldn’t Be in Poor People’s Grocery Carts. The article is about Carol Gaither, a woman who is very critical of how the poor are living their lives. If they would just live as she does, their lives would be as great as her’s. (Yes, I know she isn’t an actual person!)

Broadly speaking, Gaither is all of us. We tend to think we have the answers to the correct way for everyone to live. Of course, that would mean the whole world would be like us and that would be (1) very boring and (2) a total catastrophe, regardless of how wonderful anyone may be. Personally, I try to understand that the focus of my life is not the focus of others’ lives. This is perhaps a bit easier for me than most people because I’m pretty idiocycratic so society has a habit of rapping me on the head about how out of it I actually am.

It reminds me of a segment on The Colbert Report last week, “Watters’ World.” It made fun of the videos that Jesse Watters does for The Factor, where he goes around and interviews people and finds that they are ignorant of this or that political matter. It’s very much like Jay Leno’s thing, but it isn’t done for humor; it’s done for outrage. It is also highly deceptive. Obviously, the vast majority of the people, who are reasonably knowledgeable, don’t get put on the segment.

But I think it’s wrong to feel above the people who are ignorant about politics. I’m ignorant of things that they think everyone should know. The girls in the segment were Miley Cyrus fans. I know the name, but I wouldn’t recognize a picture of her. (When I went to check the spelling of her name, I saw a picture and I was surprised she was a blond.) Now, I think the things I know about are more important—who doesn’t? But that doesn’t mean that in an absolute sense it is more important to know who John Kerry is than who Katy Perry is. As it is, I suspect my impact on what Kerry does is less than the girls’ impact on what Perry does.

It seems that there are two ways that people develop as they get older. They become more certain about their world views or less certain. Carol Gaither in the Onion article is one who has become more certain. But I think such constant prattling about how people ought to live does not come from a conviction that one knows how the world ought to be run. I suspect it is all about trying to grab onto a little power in a society in which very few people have power even over basic aspects of their lives.

None of this is going to stop me from ranting about all the wrongs I see in the world. Along with my constantly lowered belief that I know what’s really going on in the world comes a greater acceptance of who I am. Regardless, this is about communication. My opinions can and do change over time. If only everyone were more like me, the world would be fine!

Touch of Welles

Orson WellesThe great filmmaker Orson Welles was born on this day back in 1915. Yes, I gave him the day last year but my only other choice was Sigmund Freud who I am deeply divided about. Of course, in some ways I’m divided about Welles too. This is why I think of him more and more as a filmmaking innovator. He was always—to the very end—looking for new and better ways to tell stories. So it is probably better to think of all his films as experiments.

A constant complaint about Welles is that he left a lot of films unfinished. That strikes me as a very unfair criticism. He left unfinished films because of the way his films were made. Since they were mostly self-financed and made over time, he left unfinished work in the same way that most writers leave unfinished work. I think that’s a testament to him. We should applaud it. What’s more surprising is that Welles managed to finish as many films as he did.

And look at the films where he had major Hollywood support. They include three of the finest films ever made: Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Touch of Evil. And you could probably add The Lady from Shanghai to that, and that is with the mangling of the film by Harry Cohn.

But it’s really his independent films that I most love. It’s interesting how critics of the time had mostly just written off Welles. When his filmed version of Macbeth came out, everyone said it was all wrong and proclaimed that Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet was the way they ought to do Shakespeare on film. Well, Macbeth isn’t a great film. But I still find it more compelling than Hamlet, which I’ve always found too reverential. And Macbeth led to another great film five years later: Othello. Regardless of what the critics said at the time, Othello showed how Shakespeare would be done on screen. The film is still amazingly powerful.

This really was the high point of Welles’ career. After Othello came: Mr. Arkadin, Touch of Evil, The Trial, and Chimes at Midnight. The first and third of these are especially unrated. I kind of understand that with regard to Mr. Arkadin, because it isn’t all that polished and most people would rather have polished crap than rough brilliance. But I don’t understand why people are somewhat cool to The Trial. It’s a perfect film. But maybe the problem isn’t Welles but rather Kafka.

In the last years when Welles was not able to get much released, he created what is a whole new kind of film, F for Fake. I think of it as a cinematic essay. It’s just great. I watch it at least once per year.

Here is a nice montage of his major films (strangely with the theme from The Third Man in the background):

Happy birthday Orson Welles!