Guns Make Us Less Safe. That’s a Fact.

David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and director of the Harvard Injury Control Center, writes in the L.A. Times that his polling to determine scientific consensus with respect to the relationship between firearms and death rates “won’t please the National Rifle Assn. ”

For example, “one survey asked whether having a gun in the home increased the risk of suicide. An overwhelming share of the 150 people who responded, 84%, said yes.”

“I also found widespread confidence that a gun in the home increases the risk that a woman living in the home will be a victim of homicide (72% agree, 11% disagree) and that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (64%) rather than a safer place (5%). There is consensus that guns are not used in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime (73% vs. 8%) and that the change to more permissive gun carrying laws has not reduced crime rates (62% vs. 9%). Finally, there is consensus that strong gun laws reduce homicide (71% vs. 12%).”

“Of course it’s possible to find researchers who side with the NRA in believing that guns make our society safer, rather than more dangerous. As I’ve shown, however, they’re in the minority.”

“Scientific consensus isn’t always right, but it’s our best guide to understanding the world. Can reporters please stop pretending that scientists, like politicians, are evenly divided on guns? We’re not.”

The Beauty of Political Polarization

Christopher Ingraham: “Political polarization is on the rise, and with it come lots of clever new ways to visualize that polarization … A group of researchers recently gave it another go in a paper published in PLOS One.”

“You’ll see that they’ve created network diagrams for each House of Representatives from 1949 to 2011. They’ve drawn dots for each representative, and lines connecting pairs of representatives who vote together a given number of times. Finally, the dots for each representative are placed according to how frequently the Representatives vote together overall.”

New Optimism About Job Security

Gallup: “In the U.S., 13% of employed adults think it is ‘very’ or ‘fairly”‘likely that they will be laid off in the next 12 months, down slightly from the 16% who feared job loss a year ago. The percentage who fear being laid off is down from a high of 21% in 2010 and is essentially back to where it was in April 2007, before the Great Recession began.”

Americans' Fears of Being Laid Off Return to Pre-Recession Levels

“U.S. workers seem to be sensitive to changes in the national economy and the job market, which, in turn, affects how secure they feel in their job. It appears the period of heightened concerns about layoffs, seen after the recession, has now ended.”

The Irrelevance of Independents

Washington Post: As the chart below suggests, it’s somewhat meaningless to “talk about how the ranks of independents, those famously fickle people without a preferred party, are growing in every state as people sour on the traditional bifurcated model of elections.”

“Why? Because politics has increasingly become about campaigns and candidates talking to people who are already paying attention to what they are saying. Again, why? Because those high news consumption folks also happen to be — surprise, surprise — the sorts of people who turn out to vote. And where do those people tend to reside on the political spectrum? On the far left and the far right, of course. Independents? Not so much.”

“Such a ‘base’ campaign will likely grow the ranks of so-called independents as they feel ignored and unappreciated by the two major parties. Of course, until independents start paying more attention to politics, they don’t have much room to complain.”

A Big Jump in Obamacare Customer Satisfaction

The Hill: “People who bought coverage through ObamaCare are generally more satisfied than those with other types of insurance, according to a new national survey.”

“ObamaCare customers rated their satisfaction over the last year as 696 out of 1,000, compared to the 679-point rating by customers with employer-based plans, according to a large survey by the consumer research firm J.D. Power. Customer satisfaction has increased sharply from ObamaCare’s tumultuous first year.”

“New enrollees rated their experience at  670 — a significant 55 points higher than the previous year, when ObamaCare exchanges were plagued by website failures … Satisfaction was highest in the 10 states that rely on a partnership with the federal government, which includes Arkansas, Oregon and West Virginia. That rating was 716 out of 1,000.”

America’s Flawed Health System

Ezra Klein: “Americans like to think their health-care system is number one. But a 2014 report from the Commonwealth Fund compared it with 10 other developed nations and found it’s … number 11.”

Commonwealth_rankings

“Critics of these kinds of studies often argue they miss the point. America may not be where you want to pay a hospital bill or try and buy health insurance, but if you do have health insurance, it’s where you want to get treated if you get very sick.”

“At the Upshot, Carroll runs through a new study looking at cancer mortality in the US and 20 Western European countries. America looks good — if incredibly, insanely expensive — on breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer. But America looks terrible on lung cancer, melanoma, and cervical cancer — all cancers, incidentally, where prevention can have a huge impact, and do so at fairly low cost.”

“This speaks to a larger issue that the American health-care debate doesn’t quite know how to handle: the deficiencies of the health-care system matter, but they’re not the main reason Americans, or anyone else, gets sick. For the most part, health happens outside the walls of hospitals. For all the attention the medical system gets, improving it probably isn’t the fastest or most direct way to improve people’s health.”

Study Suggests a Link Between Fracking and Earthquake Activity

Wall Street Journal: “New scientific findings released Tuesday linked earthquakes to the practice of injecting wastewater from oil and gas operations deep underground, adding to a growing consensus among researchers that energy development is probably causing seismic activity in Oklahoma, Texas and other parts of the U.S.”

“The Oklahoma Geological Survey released a statement Tuesday saying that it now ‘considers it very likely’ that most of the hundreds of earthquakes in the state’s center in recent years were ‘triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.’ Produced water is salty fluid that naturally flows up wells along with oil and gas.”

“Meanwhile in Texas, a team of college and federal researchers headed by scientists at Southern Methodist University released a new study concluding that a string of earthquakes that began in 2013 northwest of Fort Worth was also likely caused by wastewater injection.”

The Death of Fracking?

Bloomberg: “Half of the 41 fracking companies operating in the U.S. will be dead or sold by year-end because of slashed spending by oil companies, an executive with Weatherford International Plc said.”

“Demand for fracking, a production method that along with horizontal drilling spurred a boom in U.S. oil and natural gas output, has declined as customers leave wells uncompleted because of low prices.”

“There were 61 fracking service providers in the U.S., the world’s largest market, at the start of last year. Consolidation among bigger players began with Halliburton Co. announcing plans to buy Baker Hughes Inc. in November for $34.6 billion and C&J Energy Services Ltd. buying the pressure-pumping business of Nabors Industries Ltd.”

GOP Presidential Candidates Split on Tax Reform

Al Hunt looks at the interesting debate within the Republican party over the proper way to cut taxes.

“The Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has proposed a huge tax cut… The proposal, offered with the Florida senator’s colleague, Mike Lee of Utah, reflects the thinking of the party’s ‘reform conservatives,’ who believe Republican tax orthodoxy has focused too much on marginal cuts in the top rate and too little on struggling middle-class families.”

“Several other Republican presidential candidates, including Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, probably will…embrace a so-called flat tax, with perhaps only a single rate and fewer deductions and credits.”

“In the middle will be Jeb Bush, whose tax cut plans — reductions are axiomatic for most Republican aspirants — are unclear. One of his chief advisers is Glenn Hubbard, who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the George W. Bush administration, which lowered top rates sharply and enacted more modest credits.”

A Disconnect Between Republicans and Americans Over Obamacare

Greg Sargent in the Washington Post comments on the new Kaiser Family Foundation poll that shows a positive edge for Obamacare.

“That’s the first time the law has been in positive territory since the last presidential election. More to the point, it’s the first time the law has been in positive territory since implementation of the law began and it suffered hideous roll-out problems, followed by months and months of GOP hyping of every Obamacare horror story Republicans could find (or invent).”

“Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the Kaiser poll demonstrates that GOP priorities for the future of the law are very different from those of Americans overall and independents.”

“The poll finds that 74 percent of Republicans want the law repealed or scaled back. By contrast, 46 percent of Americans overall want to move forward with implementation of it or expand it, versus 41 percent who want it scaled back or repealed. Independents are evenly split.”

“The poll also finds that one of the top priorities for Republican voters is repeal of the individual mandate. 52 percent of Republicans view this as a top priority; only 37 percent of Americans, and the same percentage of independents, agree.”

Conservatives Hold Out on Global Warming

Gallup: “While notable majorities of all other political party/ideology groups say the effects of global warming will happen within their lifetime, fewer than four in 10 conservative Republicans (37%) agree, a sign of that political identity’s strident skepticism on this issue.”

Americans' Views on Global Warming, by Party and Ideology

“This stable consensus belies the sharp political divisions that have paralyzed the national government’s ability to grapple with this issue, at least in a way that both Congress and the president approve of. While Obama may pursue international accords aimed at combating greenhouse gases, the Republican Congress unabashedly opposes these endeavors. In what amounts to a perfect summation of the distance between the two parties, Obama recently identified global warming as the biggest threat to future generations, while the Republican Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, has previously called global warming a ‘hoax.’ Inhofe, considered by the National Journal as one of the most conservative U.S. senators, undoubtedly represents an extreme viewpoint, just as Obama’s heightened language may not accurately capture how many Americans interpret the consequences of global warming.”