Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Second Chances – Part II

In response to my post a few days ago about the general misunderstanding of Second Amendment, I was steered to this CNN story, that simply presents the text exchange between two sisters, one of whom was trapped in the high school.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/15/us/sisters-texts-florida-school-shooting-trnd/index.html?sr=twCNN021518sisters-texts-florida-school-shooting-trnd0853PMStory

Please take a moment to read it.  If it doesn’t move you to tears and anger, well. . .

My friend Jack Altschuler also steered me to a dissenting opinion on a Second Amendment case written by Justice John Paul Stevens in 2008.

The salient paragraph reads:

“The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.”

You can read the entire opinion here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/07-290.ZD.html

It’s a slog, but I recommend reading it.  In case you don’t, here are the headlines:

  • The Second Amendment was intended specifically to give you the right, and almost the duty, to keep a musket in your house in case you were called upon to join your state’s official militia, which is how they envisioned the new nation defending itself, and the states defending themselves.
  • The Framers considered and rejected proposals to make that right broader, but chose to limit it to possession of weapons for military use.
  • It was intended only to limit the Federal government, and was not intended to prevent the states from passing whatever laws they saw fit regarding the possession and use of weapons for non-military purposes (which a few states did, mostly by sanctioning the possession of weapons for hunting and self-defense).

Again, the notion that the Second Amendment is in any way about you having the right to own any firearms you want in order to protect your fierce American independence is a myth.

What we’re really dealing with is not an unlimited right, but bad grammar.  Bad on you, James Madison. (Yes, he wrote the damned thing.  Think “D-; see me in my office.”)

Now, a little common sense about this.

I once heard the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom I’m citing here because he was as conservative a judge as we’ll ever see, say that we should reserve our effort to interpret the Constitution to cover things the Founders didn’t know about, and on which they could therefore not express direct views.

Here’s a partial list of things they didn’t know about:

  • A standing army that has existed for 200 years
  • The institutionalization of state militias in the form of the National Guard
  • The operation of those militias in complete cooperation with, rather than in opposition to, the aforementioned standing army.
  • Bullets (they only knew musket balls)
  • Cartridges (projectile and gunpowder in a single casing)
  • Breech-loading weapons
  • Weapons that could be fired at a rate faster than once every 20-30 seconds
  • AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons
  • 30-round magazines
  • Tanks
  • Missiles
  • Nuclear weapons

A strict interpretation of the back half of the Second Amendment (the front half is where all the confusion exists) would permit individuals to own all of those things because they’re all “arms.”

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that this isn’t what the Founders had in mind.  They certainly didn’t have in mind dozens of dead children on the floors of our schools.

Repeal of the Second Amendment is a pipe dream. I know that. But I would rather see us spend our time on that than on arguments over exactly what it does and doesn’t allow.  That would free us up to apply common-sense restrictions to gun ownership that would couple entitlement with responsibility.

I would also like to see an insurrection against our real oppressor, which is the NRA.

This is not some noble organization that defends a precious American right.  As described above and in my last post, that “right” is a myth.

The NRA spends around $70 million per election cycle to ensure that we will continue to have dead children on the floors of our schools, on the floors of concert venues, in churches, and elsewhere.  Plain and simple, that’s what it does.

Very little of that money takes the form of actual campaign contributions.  It’s mostly spent directly on ads supporting or, mostly, opposing candidates based on their spinelessness.  That form of spending is largely unaccountable.  Try Googling “how does the NRA spend its money” and see how little of the $70 million you can account for.

If you know how to make the hashtag #NRAmeansdeadchildren go viral, please let me know.  I’m serious about that.

There is a bright spot in all of this.  I’m delighted to see that brave students who survived the Parkland shooting are banding together to organize a nationwide student protest to start making NRA-backed members of the House and Senate face the music.

They picked March 24 in order to eliminate any “now’s not the time” objection.  They are wonderfully, stunningly informed and articulate.  And they have a moral compass of which our elected leaders are sadly devoid.

They are also credible in a way that no one like me will ever be.  I fervently hope that this will start a long-overdue grassroots movement, and bring about a change in the national consciousness.

Perhaps they will be able to accomplish what I wish I could and almost certainly can’t.

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Second Chances

I’m a little tired of this.  I’m guessing you are, too.

We’re living in very strange times.  I’ll have more to say about that – from a big picture perspective – soon.  But for now, let’s stay focused.

There have been eight school shootings so far in 2018.  Taking out weekends, when they don’t happen, that’s one every four days, or more than one a week.  They’ve become so routine that you probably don’t know about any of them other than the one in Florida this week.  I certainly don’t.

What’s wrong with us that we allow this to go on?

After the Las Vegas massacre (Remember that? It’s rapidly fading?), the disgraced and disgraceful Bill O’Reilly said, “That’s the price of freedom.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. Or more ignorant.

It’s a sound, solid, conservative principle that when the need for a law or government program goes away, the law or program should go away, too.

Stay with me. And please know that everything that follows can be validated with very simple Google searches.  Like “Why do we have a Second Amendment.”

The notion that the Second Amendment exists in order to allow fiercely independent Americans to protect themselves and their property from marauders and from the risk of government oppression is a myth.  It has far more to do with John Ford westerns than with anything the Founders said.

The fact (which is a stubborn thing, according to Founder John Adams) is that the Founders put the Second Amendment into the Constitution because they didn’t want to create a standing army.  That’s why the amendment starts with the language about a “well-regulated public militia.”  And it’s why they disbanded the Continental Army immediately upon the end of the Revolutionary War.

What were they afraid of?  They were afraid that a standing Federal army might threaten or overwhelm the states.  (Remember, the word “state” actually means “country,” as in “Department of State.”  The United States was initially a federation of 13 separate countries.)

They were also afraid that a standing Federal army might threaten the Federal government, itself.

So they decided that if armies were needed, they would rather that let the states raise them on the spot through militias.  You kept your musket at home, and if Virginia or Massachusetts called, you came.

In short, the Founders did not put create the Second Amendment in order to protect the people from an oppressive government.  They created it to protect the government from what they feared would be an oppressive army.

Well, the standing army that was disbanded after the Revolutionary War was re-established in the War of 1812, and we’ve had one ever since.  We’ve had a very large standing army since WWI, and a really, really large standing army since WWII.

In other words, that train left the station a long, long time ago.  So long ago that it wasn’t even a train.  It was a horse leaving a barn.

Here’s what the idiocracy of the O’Reillys don’t understand.

The foundation of American liberty is the notion that your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.  Before there was a Bill of Rights, there was a statement of three “inalienable” rights with which we are all endowed.  The first of those is Life.  Notice that they put Life before Liberty.  Why? Perhaps because liberty without life is a non sequitur.

17 people, most of them children, were permanently deprived of their right to life this week.  In October, 58 people in Las Vegas were similarly deprived.  Only 5 weeks after that, 26 people were deprived of their right to life in a church in Texas.  The list goes on and on.

If you consider all shootings in which four or more people wounded or dead, they happen in this country at the rate of nearly one a day.

This – and I’m not going out on a limb here – is crazy.  As The Onion famously said (sadly, four years ago), “‘No Way To Prevent This’ Says Only Country Where This Happens.”

We all know why it happens.  Gun manufacturers fund the NRA, and the NRA uses that money to threaten Congressmen/women and Senators if there’s even a whiff of gun control.  None of this is a secret.  It’s not about liberty at all.  It’s about money, manipulation and tragedy.

This is a solvable problem.  We don’t have the will to solve it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t solvable.  Here’s a formulation that would work:

First, repeal the Second Amendment.  Yup.  S*!#-can it.  Like I said, conservatism calls for the repeal of laws that have outlived their original purpose.  This one is 200 years obsolete.

Second, change our mindset from one of “You have a right to own a gun unless we can find (without looking very hard) an overwhelming reason why you shouldn’t” to one of “In order to buy a gun, you have to prove that you can own it responsibly.”

We could enforce that mindset by requiring three things of anyone who wants to own a gun:

  • Before you can buy a gun, you have to pass the same background check required to obtain a Top Secret security clearance. (Don’t be alarmed.  Top Secret is only the second rung on the security clearance ladder.)  And you have to pay the actual cost of that investigation.
  • Before you purchase, and every year thereafter, you have to obtain a certification from a licensed mental health professional that you are of sufficiently sound mind to own a firearm. No mental health professional who is a gun owner him- or herself will be allowed to provide such certifications.  You have to pay for that evaluation.
  • Just like you do with your car, you have to maintain liability insurance in case your gun is used (by you or anyone else) to do harm to other persons or property. Not only would this create a whole new insurance market, which would be good for the economy, it would actually price the risk of gun ownership.  Of course, you have to pay for that insurance.

That would do it.

We could also simply outlaw weapons capable of rapid firing, which is what the Australians did in 1996.  They did this after a single mass shooting incident because they couldn’t imagine not taking action.  And a bunch of fiercely proud, independent Australians were patriotic enough, and other-oriented enough, that they turned in their guns.  Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting incident since.  Meanwhile, we have one a day.  Again, facts are stubborn things.

We have a second chance to get this right.  The 535 invertebrates who represent us in Washington won’t do it unless we collectively make it clear to them that we’re mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.  We probably won’t because collectively we are more persuaded by tv ads and the Bill O’Reillys of the world than by reason and fact.

But we should.

And we should remember that this week there are 14 more children who won’t get a second chance.  And those are just the ones we know about.

A Drop of Hypocrisy

Back in the old days, I used to watch the Today Show a lot.  You will never catch me admitting that I did this because I was a big Deborah Norville fan.  But that’s a story for a different day.

Today’s story is that I remember them having someone from the ACLU on to argue for a museum’s right to display artwork that many people found patently offensive, and just a few days later having someone else from the ACLU on to argue for something – I don’t remember exactly what – that required them to take exactly the opposite position.

It struck me as strange enough that I actually called the Today Show, got a producer on the phone, described what I’d seen and said, “I think it would be really interesting if you got a senior ACLU official on the show and asked them to explain how they could take such diametrically opposed positions only two or three days apart. I’m not anti-ACLU at all, but it seems like there’s at least a drop of hypocrisy in there somewhere.”

The producer agreed it was a good idea.  Alas, it never happened.

But that thought came back to me this morning as I was listening to the news coverage of the Anthem Antics at many of yesterday’s NFL games.

A significant chunk of the American people seems to believe that the First Amendment guarantee of free speech is a wonderful thing as long as the speakers are white and speaking about what they see as “preserving important aspects of American culture,” but that can and should go right out the window when the speakers are black and speaking about preserving something else they see as important – namely the right not to be shot in the back by the police.

Sadly, it goes without saying that the beacon for these conflicting views is the current occupant of the White House, who told us that in August that many of the pro-statue demonstrators in Charlottesville were “good people,” and said last Friday that NFL players who choose to kneel during the anthem are reprobates who should be fired.

Seems like there’s at least a drop of hypocrisy in there, doesn’t it?

Now comes the hard part.  It’s easy to point the finger at the current occupant of the White House because he’s, well, a moron.  But 60 million Americans voted for him.  Once again, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Confronting a Would-Be Tyrant

Years ago, I heard Mel Brooks being interviewed.  He was asked how he, in general but especially as a Jew, justified wrapping The Producers around a faux-musical called Springtime for Hitler.

His answer stuck with me.  As best I recall, he said that one of the best ways to deal with  would-be tyrants is to laugh at them because it just deflates them.

Obviously, he was a little late, as was Charlie Chaplin with The Great Dictator.  But maybe we can learn a lesson.

In that spirit, here’s what’s been going through my head over the past 3 weeks:

I think the Republic is strong enough to survive four years of this.  During that time, the best thing to do may just be to laugh at the news, and then go back to trying to preserve a great nation and build an even better one.

Pass it on.

Still Trumped Up

In the week since my last post, I’ve received a surprising number of emails (by surprising, I mean three) from people saying that while they agree with my assessment of Trump, they just can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary.

The arguments have ranged from “What’s wrong with a protest vote for Gary Johnson?” to “I want to send a message to the Libertarian Party that they could be a legitimate contender if they put up candidates better than Gary Johnson, like maybe Bill Weld” to “I just can’t bring myself to vote for someone who should be in jail.”

Let me check. . .yup, that’s three.

My responses:

  • Protest vote: I get it. In fact, I cast one in 1992.  But that was a year in which neither of the major party candidates was a nut-job who posed an existential threat to the Republic.  When there is a lunatic in the race, and this year there is, the protest vote has to wait.  Job #1 is to make sure the lunatic doesn’t get elected.

 

  • Send a message to the Libertarians:   This is a great idea.  And here’s a way to do it without contributing to the election of a nut-job.  Just copy the following text into a letter: “Dear Libertarian Party – I would like you to know that I think you could be a serious contender, but only if you nominate better candidates than Gary Johnson.  Like maybe Bill Weld.”  Print it, sign it and mail it to:

libertarian-party-address

  • Belongs in jail: First, in fairness, that should be “might belong in jail.”  Innocent until proven guilty, blah, blah, blah.

That said, I get it. Here’s how deep my desire not to vote for Hillary runs.  In 2008, living in the most Republican county in Illinois, I pulled a Democratic primary ballot, which meant throwing away the rest of my votes, and voted for Obama because I believed it was the only chance I would ever have to vote against her.

Her judgment has often been weak (see my post on the email server here).  Her ethics are fuzzy at best.  Colin Powell uses the words “greed” and “hubris” to describe her.  Remember – hubris doesn’t mean arrogant.   It means “thinks the rules don’t apply to you.”  That’s her (and Bill) in a nutshell.

 

All of that is true.  But the choices we have are the choices we have, and like it or not, here they are:

  • A career politician with questionable judgment and fuzzy ethics who might actually belong in jail.

 

  • A guy who belongs in an asylum. By “asylum,” I do not mean “what you apply for after you finally make it across the Rio Grande because the gringos haven’t built that wall yet.”  I mean the loony bin.  If you really don’t think Donald Trump is a nut-job, please go back and read the links in my last post.  We’re talking about a man who by all appearances is an ADD-addled narcissistic sociopath with a significant brain defect.  A man who has absolutely no interest in facts.  A man who lies like a bearskin rug and actually seems not to know he’s lying. A man who is either a sexual predator or is so insecure that at age 60 he felt the need to curry the approval of a 32-year-old entertainment reporter (take your pick, it has to be one of the other).  A man who is unnerved and provoked into response by the slightest insult (imagine if the provocations came from the Iranians, or for that matter the French, and the tools of response involved the United States military instead of a smartphone and a Twitter account).  A 70-year old who behaves like a six-year-old – whose pattern of behavior will be recognized by anyone who ever encountered a bully on an elementary school playground.  Oh, and let’s not forget the long-distance love affair with Vladimir Putin, who is currently running a close second to Kim Jong Un for Most Dangerous Man on Earth.

 

  • A dope-smoking crackpot whose knowledge of world geography ends at Santa Fe, and whose soul seems to be stuck permanently at a Doors concert.

 

  • Jill Stein

 

I don’t like that list of choices any more than you do.  But everything in life is relative, and that’s what we’ve got.  Given those options, “belongs in jail” starts to look pretty good, doesn’t it?

It’s going to be OK.  Really.  Here’s all you need:

clothespins

Trust me on this.  I tried it on Friday and I’m still here.

Trumped Up!

There’s an old saying in bridge: “Get your trump out early.”  Apparently, the Republican Party is not populated by bridge players.

In the eight years since I started writing this blog, I’ve tried to find ways to explain the underlying reality or root cause of various issues, often political in nature.  In that time, I have been careful never to tell you how I voted or how I thought you should vote.

I’m changing that now. If you’re reading this, you probably know what’s coming, and maybe this is just piling on.  Please read it anyway.  And then tell your friends.  And ask them to tell theirs.

A while back, my brother asked me what I was going to do in this election.  Here is my answer:

“I have two choices – to hate myself a lot or to hate myself even more than that. When election day rolls around, I will go to The Container Store, buy a bag of 100 clothespins, put all 100 of them on my nose, and go vote for Hillary Clinton.  There’s a lot that I don’t like about her, and I don’t think she’s going to be a great president.  But she doesn’t pose a threat to the Republic. Donald Trump does.”

There.  I said it.

When this mess is over, I hope there will be some soul searching as to how we got to this ridiculous place.  I may have a few comments to offer in a subsequent post or two.  And I hope, but don’t expect, that the deepest soul searching will be done by the Republican Party, with which I used to identify, and which once was the noble Party of Lincoln. Today, it’s the Miracle Party.  The miracle is that they managed to make Ted Cruz look like a rational option.

Whether the soul searching happens or not (spoiler alert – it won’t), here’s what matters now:

  • Trumps lack of impulse control is legendary (see “Three Disastrous Debates” and “Awake at 3 AM Tweeting About a Former Beauty Pageant Winner’s Weight”).  This short article from the National Institutes of Health explains how impulse control is provided by the frontal cortex of the brain, which normally becomes completely developed around age 25.  Trump’s utter lack of such control suggests that this part of his brain either never finished developing or was damaged somewhere along the way.

Add all that up, and here’s what you get:

The Republican Party, in its infinite wisdom, has nominated for President of the United States, an ADHD-addled narcissistic sociopath with a significant brain defect.

I wish I were trying to be funny, but I’m not.  The appropriate response to people like that is to pity them and to help them as best we can.  It is not to elect them to the most powerful office on the planet.

So let’s not do that, OK?

Just Plain Not Smart Enough

Political commentary coming shortly, but first, here are two recent conversations, one that I overheard and one that I was part of.

Overheard: The other day, in my neighborhood Walgreen’s, I saw a skinny young man who was wearing pants that defied gravity and an oversized baseball cap that was overwhelmed by it. I thought he was accompanied by one young woman, but it turned out to be two. I’m still not sure what that was about. He sidled up to the pharmacy counter and here’s what I heard:

Young Man (face mostly obscured by oversized cap): “Mumble. Mumble mumble. Mumble mumble mumble.”

Pharmacist (loud and clear – might as well have been using a bullhorn): “Over the counter?”

Young Man: “Mumble mumble. Mumble. Mumble.”

Pharmacist: “Fertility tests? Yes, we have fertility tests for women. They’re in Aisle 3.”

Young Man: “Mumble! Mumble mumble mumble mumble. Mumble.”

Pharmacist: “What?!?!”

Young Man: “Mumble mumble mumble!”

Pharmacist (looking a little disgusted): “No! For a test like that, you gotta go see a doctor!”

The pharmacist fled to the comfort of filling prescriptions. The young man and his crew slouched out of the store. All looked dissatisfied.

Part of: Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent way too much time on chat and phone with various forms of tech support. Most of it has had to do with Quicken, which inexplicably stopped working right, and then piece-by-piece, started working better. It now appears to be fine, although no one knows who or what caused the improvement. In the world of technology, an experience like this is known as a “Full Smolinsky.”

I have great respect for people who provide tech support from call centers in the places like India and the Philippines. To make better lives for themselves and their families, they work miserable hours supporting poorly built products that are used by ungrateful people like me.  And last week, one of those wonderful people called me and said the following:

“Hello. I’m trying to reach Mr. Daniel Wallace. Is this Mr. Daniel Wallace? Hello, Mr. Daniel Wallace. I’m calling from Intuit Quicken. I am the support agent who will be helping you on this call. My name is Ann-Margaret.”

You know my rule. I never make this stuff up.

Now, on to the political commentary.

Hillary Clinton has, at last, thankfully, conclusively demonstrated that she is not qualified to hold the nation’s highest office. This time, it’s not the general smarminess, the lack of transparency or the squishy ethics. It’s not the habit of doing questionable things and then acting outraged when people question them. And it certainly isn’t the deeply held beliefs, the policies that emanate from them, and the clear, compelling vision for the future of America. It can’t be any of those things because I have no idea what they are and, in fact, strongly suspect that they don’t exist.

No, this time it’s much simpler.

In this day and age, if you don’t know that you can carry one phone with two email accounts on it, if you think that the right way to get a personal email account is to get your own mail server, if you can actually get your own mail server, and yet your answer to the question of whether it was secure is, “Well, it was on a property protected by the Secret Service,” then, at least in my humble opinion, you simply are not smart enough to be President of the United States.

Case closed.


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