Monday, August 14, 2017

White Supremacists in Virginia

It wasn't that long ago that people (outside of tiny fringe groups) would have been too ashamed to march openly in favor of white supremacism. I was in college when the OJ Simpson trial and verdict stirred up a lot of racial tension and I have no doubt that there were plenty of white people who harbored racist views. But they did not march and they were not open about these views in public, because they rightly knew that to do so would have made them pariahs. Not anymore, when young, angry, openly racist, openly white nationalist, openly NAZI sympathizing, white men can march on a college campus carrying torches without shame or fear of social consequences. I find this deeply disturbing.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What is an Assault Weapon?

What is an assault weapon? Competing and sometimes mutually exclusive answers to that question seem to be driving a lot of debate and misunderstanding between gun control advocates and gun enthusiasts. Discussions about this can often end up being dismissed as a fight about what a gun looks like or how a gun labeled as an assault weapon is really just the same as other guns that share its caliber if not its design. I think that kind of thinking is missing a bigger picture.

So here is how I draw a distinction between assault weapons and sporting guns, an assault weapon is a gun designed to be a modern weapon of war or is directly derived from a modern weapon of war and therefore shares a significant number of parts with current military weapons. It isn't the magazine capacity, caliber, or shape that makes an assault weapon different from a sporting gun. It isn't judging a gun by some sort of checklist of features that if it has too many of them, it then gets an assault weapon label. The answer to me is in why it was designed, for what original purpose, and its relationship to military weapons that should matter.

A hunting or sporting rifle might have the same caliber as a current military rifle, but the hunting gun has a very different evolution of design. It cannot be remade with the replacement of a few parts into modern military assault rifle. Whereas an assault weapon like an AR15 is in almost every way, exactly the same as a front line, modern, military rifle, except that it cannot fire fully automatically without replacing a few small parts inside the action. It is the similarity of design, capability, and the sharing of parts with the military versions that makes such a gun an assault weapon.


I personally own a rifle that fires the same ammunition as the main assault rifle of the US military, 5.56mm or .223 caliber. My rifle shares nothing else in common with the Army's M4 carbine. Mine is a bolt action rifle that requires the action be manually operated between shots to eject a spent case and chamber a fresh round. It cannot fire in a fully automatic way. It cannot even fire in a semiautomatic way. I cannot possibly use it to spray 30 or more bullets in just a few seconds or hundreds of bullets in a minute or so. Because my rifle was never designed to put out that kind of firepower or to kill dozens of people in a few seconds, the M16, AR15, and M4 were and can. So, I'm not bothered by restricting their use to the military, along with many other powerful, deadly weapons of war.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Judge Gorsuch

Well, I think we've met our next Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch. From what I've read about him, he is very much like Justice Scalia who's seat he will take. So, he'll be very conservative on a wide variety of issues and the opportunity to lean the court further to the left has almost certainly been lost. I know that many will consider this unfair, given that the only reason President Trump is getting this chance to replace Scalia is because Republicans blocked President Obama's nominee for nearly a year. And, although I agree, it isn't going to matter. Democrats will not return the favor. There are a few reasons for that.

Democrats aren't going to be able to block this nomination for years waiting for another President or shift in power in the Senate. It's one thing for Republicans to hold things up while the Presidential primaries and general election played out. It is quite another matter to force a Supreme Court seat to remain vacant for at least two years and maybe four. Democrats just won't garner enough public support to maintain that kind of resistance for that long on the hope that they'll retake the Senate and the Presidency during the next four years.

Blocking Gorsuch could mean spending all of their public support and then not having enough to block whoever President Trump nominates next, someone who could be far less qualified or even far more conservative. President Obama nominated centrist in the hopes that by not insisting on a strongly liberal nominee that the Republicans would go along with things and the Court would move a little left. Instead of a centrist President Trump has nominated a Scalia clone that would keep the Court similar to the way it was before Scalia died. The Court is not going to move left under a Republican President and Senate, but at least Gorsuch isn't a swing further to the right.

Lastly, Democrats won't stubbornly block filling the Supreme Court because they are actually concerned with governing and keeping the essential functions of government in operation. Unlike some Republicans, Democrats aren't trying to create dysfunction as a justification to shrink government down to the point where it could be drown in a bathtub. By and large, Democrats believe in good governance and do not want to be accused accurately of acting in bad faith. They just aren't on the whole philosophically inclined towards long term, obstinate disruption for the sake of it. Because that sort of thing doesn't resonate well enough with their base. A base who often interprets government shutdowns and gridlock as failures not tactics.


None of this is to say I am happy about this nomination. There are a number of issues in which I disagree with Judge Gorsuch, based on his past rulings. I have no reason to expect that he will, once seated, move to the left. And so given his age, he will likely be a reliable conservative voice on the Supreme Court for decades to come. But going forward, it is the other seats on the Court that matter. Which means the 2018 and 2020 elections are very important. Democrats must gain and hold a majority in the Senate and retake the Presidency or the next Justices replaced will move the Court far to the right.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

To my US Rep on Immigration

US Representative Darin LaHood
1424 Longworth House Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20515


Representative LaHood,

I am writing to you as one of your constituents to implore you to speak out. President Trump has gone too far with his executive orders on immigration and it is not enough for only Democrats to oppose him. Republicans like yourself must stand up to his behavior as well. It is not just unconstitutional for the President to issue immigration restrictions that are blatantly discriminatory against religious groups, but it is contrary to the very bedrock principles that have made our country a shining beacon of hope, equality, and freedom – principles that when we fail to live up to them are great stains on our national honor.

In the dark days leading up to World War Two, America turned away from its shores Jews who were fleeing for their lives from the Nazis. It was done out of racism, fear, and misbegotten ideas of American purity. Many of those refugees who were turned away ended up murdered in Nazi death camps. America was wrong then, to our everlasting shame, and we would be just as wrong to allow President Trump to turn away refugees of any faith fleeing for their lives now.

We stand at a point in history where we can chose not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can still be a beacon of hope, equality, and freedom. But we must act, regardless of party or political leanings, to prevent the Trump administration from subverting our laws and best traditions – from turning away people who are running from genocidal monsters. Your constituents are not so hardhearted as to condemn another group of refugees in need our compassion to deprivation and death. I hope you aren't either. So add your voice to the millions of other Americans who are opposing these immigration restrictions.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

On the Anti-Trump Protests

I don't think it is fair to describe those protesting the election of Trump as though they are just whining because they didn't get their way. No doubt they aren't happy with the results of the election, but it seems to me that what is animating them is fear. Fear that much of the social progress our nation has made will be halted or turned back.

Fear that hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose their health insurance and that some of those will die as a result. Fear that marriages will be dissolved, unrecognized, or denied to same sex couples. Fear that families will be split up by deportations instead of incrementally working them towards citizenship. Fear that ill tempered interactions with foreign powers will entangle us in another war. Fear that genuinely bigoted people will be emboldened to harass and assault minorities; and perhaps be protected by some in the government. Fear that police brutality reforms won't happen and that black people will continue to be killed and injured by police at disproportionate rates. Fear that these men who deny the very existence of climate change will do nothing about it. Fear that rape and sexual assault victims will be taken even less seriously. Fear that the lives of trans people will be made purposefully even more difficult. Fear that conversion therapy will once again become commonplace as parents subject their children to torture to make them straight and that this might even get the endorsement of the government, instead of condemnation. Fear that religious minorities will be subjected to intimidation or worse and that some people may even be denied access to American at all because of their religion. Fear that those fleeing religious extremism and war will never be allowed to find safe haven here. Fear that our country is meaner, less compassionate, and actively devalues inclusion in favor of white, heterosexual, Christian hegemony.

A Trump Presidency with a Pence Vice Presidency and Republican Congress is a cause to worry about all of that and more. And I think it is those potential losses of progress that are driving the protests, not merely the loss of Hillary to Trump.

Lastly, for the record, those protesting with violence or causing property damage ought to be arrested for it and those protesting in good faith ought to be turning them in. So long as the protests are about expressing dismay, I think they're good, but should they become about violent upheaval of our democracy, then I'd be just as done with them as I am with sovereign citizens like those stupid ranchers who took over the wildlife refuge.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Two or More Parties

In the wake of Bernie Sanders losing the nomination for President for the Democratic Party, I've noted a lot of people complaining that we don't have enough political parties in America. The thing is that despite the fact that we essentially only have two parties, we still do have many ideologies vying for the influence to set government policy. We just use party primaries and conventions to form alliances among political ideologies before the general election, instead of afterwards. Let me try to explain what I mean.

In many other Western democracies, there are several important political parties. An election works out the strength of these parties relative to one another in the government. One party will end up having the most elected officials, but it won't have enough to run the government on its own, so coalitions are formed after the elections with at least one other party so that there are enough votes in the legislature to pass laws. But forming these coalitions means compromising on policy positions so that those two or more parties are in agreement on enough to ally themselves effectively, but this also means that none of them will get to set policy totally on their own terms. The end result is a ruling alliance of a few parties and an opposition alliance of some or all of the rest.

In America, we work out those alliances before the general election, in the primary process. In either of our two major parties there are various groups who have different ideas about what the party should consider most important. These various sets of opinions compete for influence within the party during the primary process based on which kinds of candidates do well in their primaries. Then the official policy positions are decided at the party convention. Often this means that opinions that were important four years ago get muted or that other opinions on what the party should push for rise in importance. The end result is that a coalition of groups within the party sets the ideological goals and tone for the party for the general election in November.

Almost always, when I hear Americans complain that neither of the two parties really speaks for them, what they mean is that the party that actually does care about their pet issues, doesn't care enough. Well, that is worked out in the primary elections and the party conventions. It is easier to get one of the parties to shift its emphasis than it is to get large numbers of voters to embrace a new party. And make no mistake, getting actual policies enacted into law is not as simple as getting any single candidate elected into office. It requires alliances of elected officials who will compromise with one another on similar ideological goals to get laws passed. And those broad alliances are what our current political parties actually are.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Shifting the line

Since this latest mass shooting, I’ve seen an uptick in an argument against gun control that it is unfair to punish law abiding gun owners by enacting gun control measures. I don’t find that argument compelling. It isn’t a punishment for certain things, in the interests of public safety, to be illegal to own or use. We don’t allow people to stockpile mustard gas, even if they have no history of using it to kill and maim. We don’t allow people to buy and commute to work in fully armed battle tanks, even if they promise they’d never fire its cannon except in self defense. Exactly where the line between permissible and restricted is can be a little fuzzy, but the concept that some things are simply too dangerous for us to have unrestricted access to is not a controversial point.

So called assault rifles ought to be on the restricted side of that line. Those high capacity, high rate of fire rifles aren’t derived from hunting or sporting guns; they are designed and refined to be modern weapons of war, specialized to take multiple human lives quickly. Sadly, we have repeatedly seen how even the civilian versions, lacking fully automatic fire, are still deadly efficient at their intended purpose. Like battle tanks and countless other examples, assault rifles should be restricted to the military.