Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

December 18, 2012

Guns: Working Around the Second Amendment

By David K. Shipler

            Please forgive the cynicism, but here’s a prediction: For all the heartfelt hand-wringing and passionate calls to action since the Newtown massacre, Americans will not be made safer from gun violence. After a year or five years (let’s give Congress plenty of time), the country will still be awash in firearms, they will still be available to many untreated mentally ill people, and mass shootings will still occur on occasion, probably even in schools. Guns exist in a perfect storm of politics, law, and culture not easily revised.
In the most optimistic scenario, the Second Amendment might serve as an asset to those favoring modest controls, for under recent Supreme Court rulings, gun ownership is no longer jeopardized. Recognizing an individual right to bear arms rather than one based only in state militias, the thin conservative majority has effectively eliminated what the National Rifle Association and its supporters saw as the dire threat that all guns would eventually be outlawed and taken from the hands of law-abiding citizens.
That cannot happen as the Second Amendment is now interpreted. In both District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), a 5-4 majority ruled that the right to keep a loaded gun at home was protected by the Second Amendment. Whether the right extends to handguns outside the home remains uncertain until the justices consider cases that have been decided differently in lower courts.

December 13, 2012

The Right to Exploit

By David K. Shipler

            No political movement in America can match the dazzling facility with words mastered by conservative Republicans. From “death tax” to “pro-life,” they brand complex issues with simplistic slogans that slide easily into conversation. So it has been with “right-to-work” laws, just passed in Michigan, and now on the books in 24 states.
            Like the “right to life,” the “right to work” is not a right but a diminution of a right, one that has contributed to the lowest labor union membership in decades, currently just over half the rate of thirty years ago. Only 6.9 percent of those employed in the private sector belong to unions, which are nearly extinct in the free enterprise economy. The unions’ last bastion is in government, where 28.1 percent of federal, 31.5 percent of state, and 43.2 percent of local government employees (mostly teachers, firefighters, and police officers) are unionized. This leaves the country’s overall union membership, public and private, at 11.8 percent, down from 20.1 percent when comparable data collection began in 1983.
            The result is not a free market in labor but a rigged market, one in which the seller is relatively powerless next to the buyer. No seller of her labor to Walmart can bargain alone against the gargantuan buyer, the employer who unilaterally sets the price. Low-skilled workers, especially, are not in a position to negotiate individually; with no coin of professional talent to put on the table, they must bargain collectively or not at all.