Vice president Joe Biden's task force is set to unveil its measures soon to reduce gun violence. The New York Times editorial board calls the next few weeks a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to harden the nation’s gun laws and reduce the threat of rapid-fire violence in America":
Federal laws on guns have been kept so lax, for so long, that the Biden panel could suggest scores of ways to improve public safety. But there are a few policies that clearly have to be in any serious legislative package, the first two of which were endorsed on Monday by President Obama: requiring criminal and mental-health background checks on every gun buyer, including sales from individuals; a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines; a strong statute prohibiting gun trafficking; and an end to the hobbling of the federal agency that enforces gun laws.

The need for background checks on every gun buyer has never been greater, now that the Internet has made it easy for private individuals to buy and sell guns without screening. The reason that both the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns have made universal background checks their top priority is that 40 percent of gun sales now take place privately, including most guns that are later used in crimes.

Requiring background checks at gun shows, parking-lot sales and Web sites would reduce the cash-and-carry anonymity of millions of gun transactions, putting buyers on notice that their sale is being recorded and can be traced. It is largely supported by legitimate gun dealers, who already have to conduct the checks and have long grumbled about competition from those who do not. And it would have no effect on law-abiding buyers who want a hunting rifle or a handgun to keep at home.

The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board urges broad action "right now":
Signs of the urgent need to act are everywhere. According to a report released Wednesday, the widespread possession of firearms and the practice of storing them at home in unsecured areas is a major reason the United States suffers far more violent deaths than any other wealthy nation. Guns are a major reason American men ranked last in life expectancy in the 17 nations studied and women ranked second to last.

And there’s no let-up in the violence. On Thursday, a 16-year-old boy shot and wounded a classmate and fired two more rounds at students in a Taft, Calif., school. In Chicago, three people were killed and six others were wounded by gun violence from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, a grim start to a the new year after 506 homicides in 2012.

The nation's leading gun lobby thinks it needs more air time:
The National Rifle Association will produce a nightly one-hour cable talk show called "Cam & Company" for the Sportsman Channel that is due to premiere on Tuesday, the same day Vice President Joe Biden is expected to present national gun control proposals to the White House.

NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre said on Friday in a statement from the Sportsman Channel that the program "comes at a critical time in the history of preserving our Second Amendment."

Roger Simon at POLITICO:
Year after year, the body count goes up. Year after year, outrage is expressed. And year after year, the gun lobby spreads around the hard cash it needs to get the votes it wants.

Will this year be any different? Barack Obama and Joe Biden say yes. They will help stop the killing, they say. But they need votes in Congress to do it.

You can help them get those votes.

Silence can not only be deafening, but deadly. Speak up. Speak out.

Whoever saves just one life, it is said, saves the world.

Save a life. Save the world. End the madness.

Joe Nocera at The New York Times looks at "the foreclosure fiasco" and argues that the big bank lawyers brokered a pretty sweet settlement with the government, a settlement he says does little to right wrongs or remedy the underlying problems:
The country’s primary bank regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — which, along with the Federal Reserve, engineered the settlement — is trying to make it look like a victory. Of the $8.5 billion, $3.3 billion will go directly to foreclosed-upon borrowers, making it “the largest cash payout to date,” according to Bryan Hubbard, the O.C.C.’s chief spinmeister. (The rest of the money will consist of reduced interest payments and loan modifications.)

In truth, the O.C.C. needed to save face after a foreclosure review process it had mandated had become an expensive fiasco. As amply demonstrated by Silver-Greenberg and American Banker, the government insisted that the banks hire expensive consultants to do a review of every foreclosure that took place in 2009 and 2010. The consultants racked up more than $1 billion in fees, while proceeding at such a molasseslike pace that the feds and the banks finally threw up their hands. The settlement made the whole thing go away.

Ezra Klein on the debt ceiling debate says the White House position can't be a bluff:
When it comes to the debt ceiling, the White House has a credibility problem. Their plan is to simply refuse Republican demands to negotiate over the debt ceiling. But for that plan to work, Republicans need to believe the White House won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling. Otherwise, they’ll refuse to raise the debt limit, assuming that as we get closer to actually breaching the ceiling, the White House will be forced to the table.
At The Atlantic, Matthew O'Brien looks at four ways to avert the debt crisis:
Welcome to everybody's favorite game, debt ceiling chicken! Here's how it works. Obama says there's nothing he can do to lift the debt ceiling on his own; that's it up to Republicans to pay the country's bills; and that if they don't, they will get blamed for Social Security checks not going out. It's the strategy former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin used back in the mid-90s when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich threatened to hold the debt ceiling hostage, and it's the strategy Obama seems to be using now. As Ezra Klein points out, Obama has deliberately ruled out all of these different debt ceiling end-arounds, because he doesn't want Republicans to think they have any alternative to increasing it themselves. Now, maybe half of them really do welcome default, as Politico reports, but maybe not. That's a terrifying bunch of "maybes", but it's where we are today.

In other words, Obama is happy not to mint the coin, because he thinks minting it reduces his leverage. Now it's a psychological game of chicken, with Obama and Republicans accelerating toward the other, each convinced they cannot swerve, and when they meet in the middle, they'll set off the mother of all global market crashes.

And you thought a trillion-dollar coin was crazy.

No, public debt is not like credit card debt, explains Robert Kuttner at Reuters:
One big part of the well-financed campaign for economic austerity is the contention that the public debt is like a national credit card. If we keep charging on it, the argument goes, we’ll get overwhelmed with interest costs, suffer a reduced standard of living and, pretty soon, go bankrupt. [...] The Peterson Foundation is the leading sponsor of this brand of bogus economics. It is a spurious metaphor on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Most important, this credit-card metaphor is a totally false analogy because, unlike a consumer on a spending spree who later has to pay the piper, government’s borrowing strategy directly affects economic growth. When deficit spending helps increase growth, that, in turn, makes the debt less burdensome. The Federal Reserve also has the power to buy public debt ‑ a prerogative not available to consumers.

"When presidential inaugurations go very, very wrong," from the National Constitution Center:
...the Lincoln team had to deal with another public relations problem: His new vice president, Andrew Johnson, apparently showed up drunk for his own speech. There were theories why Johnson appeared to inebriated, including claims he was ill and had used alcohol as part of a recommended treatment.

These incidents, however, paled in comparison to three really, really bad situations that developed at inaugurations in 1829, 1841, and 1857, which left the White House ransacked by a mob, one president dead, and another 36 people as victims of a fatal disease (including three congressmen).

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