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The Morning Grumpy – 4/30/13

30 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. Let’s get started, right after you take a piece of advice from a mallard.

 ScreenHunter_02 Apr. 30 00.43

1. Local writer Brian Castner wrote a thoughtful article for The Daily Beast about guns in schools and a father’s desire to protect his children.

The attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School restarted a long-delayed national debate about guns, and their proximity to children is on many more minds. The slaughter of young innocents, a war zone transported to small-town America, touched a nerve with an intensity that even other multiple homicides in workplaces and Sikh temples and movie theaters did not. In the last few months, gun control advocates saw an opportunity to finally make some headway, while guns were purchased at a frenetic pace by those who were afraid they may succeed.

Castner speaks with Lt. Col. David Grossman, a retired soldier and academic who sees several solutions to the growing problem of violence in our schools.

“The Department of Education says that in 1998–99, 47 students were killed in school attacks. In 2007 it was 63. Not only is a violent attack the leading cause of death by children in schools, it is more likely than all other factors combined. If there were this many children killed by fires, we’d be moving heaven and earth to stop it. Do you know how many children have been killed in schools by fire in the last 50 years? Zero.”

Fires have been reduced in schools because of a layered defense: sprinkler systems, fire-resistant building materials, evacuation drills, and, ultimately, firefighters on trucks. Do we need armored glass and bullet-proof doors as standard furnishings in school, part of the basic building code? Are fire drills applicable to the new threat? Yes, Grossman said, and more.

Grossman is also an advocate for “sheepdogs” in schools. 

Grossman has a name for the kind of person who sees the gun as protector in the opening thought experiment: sheepdog. He divides the world into three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.

“Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident …  Then there are the wolves … and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial … Then there are sheepdogs, and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”

David Frum, a contributing editor for Newsweek and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush took Brian’s article to task in a followup article.

(Castner) introduces to a concept from the concealed-carry world that divides Americans into three classes: “wolves” (criminals and other predators); “sheep” (those who don’t keep guns in the home); and heroic “sheepdogs”: those who, by carrying guns, protect all the rest of us. Well, thanks. But you know, there are a lot of happy little Pomeranians out there who may believe themselves sheepdogs, but who would prove worse than useless in any serious trouble. What procedures should we put in place to train and identify these noble protectors of us weak sheep? Answer: zero. “Sheepdogs by definition choose themselves.”

Ah. But the trouble is that for every valiant grandmother who protects home and hearth with her trusty shotgun, there is at least one trigger-happy George Zimmerman cruising the streets looking for a fight. For every properly trained veteran diligently securing his weapon, there seem to be dozens of people who are leaving loaded firearms out for children to find and fire.

I link to both articles because I found this exchange to be remarkably different from other discussions around guns in America, which seem to be emotional, partisan, and silly. Draped in constitutional fervor from the right and in righteous indignation from the left. We need to debate issues of import in a sensible way if we’re to find actual solutions to problems as large as this one.

However, as acceptance for marriage equality and gay rights grows, gun control is quickly becoming the most powerful wedge issue in American politics. A clever means to divide people into two belligerent camps whilst the plutocracy quietly goes about their business of looting the public trust. As an added bonus, using guns as a wedge issue  allows politicians and power brokers to use all sorts of racial codewords and create subsets of people organized by class and religion. If Lee Atwater were alive today, he’d ditch the southern strategy for the gun issue in  heartbeat. Let’s hope a real national discussion emerges on guns, violence, and media before the divide gets too wide.

2. Speaking of plutocrats looting the public trust, Matt Taibbi is begging you to read this article and get fucking pissed.

You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”) worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it “dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.”

That was bad enough, but now Libor may have a twin brother. Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world’s largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world’s largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps.

Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.

I know that financial instruments and interest rates are confusing, but Taibbi breaks this down in such a way that even my readers in Sloan will get it. Seriously, did i mention this is a big deal? Yup, it’s even bigger than HSBC laundering money for terrorists and drug cartels and getting off with a stern scolding. I am still shocked that hardly anyone gives a shit about any of this.

3. I love the retro-future, looking back on how people of the past imagined we would live. As usual, people are incapable of seeing innovation that will come and only use their current context and tools to imagine future technology, like how people in the 1950’s imagined the “newspaper of tomorrow


Rumors are that the editors of The Buffalo News are currently enamored with this idea. Coupons! From the Radio!

4. If you watched Mad Men on Sunday, one of the story lines was what happened in New York City in the days following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The history of how the Mayor of NYC handled those troubling times is astonishing and this is quite a read.

5. Raiteros and the seedy underbelly of the American economy.

Ty Inc. became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of stuffed animals thanks to the Beanie Babies craze in the 1990s.

But it has stayed on top partly by using an underworld of labor brokers known as raiteros, who pick up workers from Chicago’s street corners and shuttle them to Ty’s warehouse on behalf of one of the nation’s largest temp agencies.

The system provides just-in-time labor at the lowest possible cost to large companies — but also effectively pushes workers’ pay far below the minimum wage.

Temp agencies use similar van networks in other labor markets. But in Chicago’s Little Village, the largest Mexican community in the Midwest, the raiteros have melded with temp agencies and their corporate clients in a way that might be unparalleled anywhere in America — and could violate Illinois’ wage laws.

The raiteros don’t just transport workers. They also recruit them, decide who works and who doesn’t, and distribute paychecks.

What kind of country do we live in?

6. How’s the “economic recovery” working out for you? If you’re reading this, it probably stinks.

During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released Census Bureau data.


From the end of the recession in 2009 through 2011 (the last year for which Census Bureau wealth data are available), the 8 million households in the U.S. with a net worth above $836,033 saw their aggregate wealth rise by an estimated $5.6 trillion, while the 111 million households with a net worth at or below that level saw their aggregate wealth decline by an estimated $0.6 trillion.

Because of these differences, wealth inequality increased during the first two years of the recovery. The upper 7% of households saw their aggregate share of the nation’s overall household wealth pie rise to 63% in 2011, up from 56% in 2009. On an individual household basis, the mean wealth of households in this more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio had been less than 18-to-1.

So, we have that going for us, which is nice.

Fact Of The Day: New York state law requires that a seller inform potential buyers if a house is haunted.

Quote Of The Day: “Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be-or to be indistinguishable from- self-righteous sixteen-year olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.” – Neal Stephenson

Video Of The Day: “The Machine” – Bert Kresicher with one of the greatest stories ever told.

Song Of The Day: “Heavy Soul” – The Black Keys

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