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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Even if

It seems unlikely to me that the framers of our Constitution intended citizens to own and use the types of weaponry that can now allow one man to wreak the kind of havoc that it would have taken dozens of soldiers to do in the late 1700s. But even if they did intend for citizens (even highly unstable, hate-filled, murderously bigoted citizens) to be able to purchase and carry weaponry that can enable one man to kill many innocent people in just a few minutes — they were wrong.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rethinking My Views On Gun Control

I am a gun owner. I have at times thought of myself as a gun enthusiast. I own quite a few firearms, not an arsenal by any stretch of the imagination, but more than enough of them. I've hunted with some of them. I've used all of them for target shooting. I've fired many thousands of rounds through them in the thirty plus years since my father first taught me how. I've put serious effort into learning to shoot proficiently and safely -- to teach others to do the same. I've long considered firearm ownership to be a generally good thing, but I'm finding myself becoming less convinced of that and more concerned with the laxity of gun control measures in my country.

When the Second Amendment to the Constitution was written and ratified the United States of America was a very different country than the one in which I now live. There was, with good reason, a genuine fear that America would be invaded by foreign powers or even reconquered by the British Empire. None of the original thirteen states nor the federal government had standing, professional armies that could hope to completely defend our young country. But in time of need, citizens could become a defensive fighting force. The muskets that citizens owned for hunting or protection were remarkably similar to those wielded by professional armies and that made every armed citizen a potential soldier to fight off an invasion or to at least make it costly for an invading force.

Now here we are in the 21st Century and much has changed. Our states have not been in any real danger of invasion for a long, long time. We do have a standing army now, the most well-funded and capable army in the world. A great gulf has grown between the destructive capability of civilian and state of the art military weaponry. The age of muskets is long over and so too is the idea that we civilians can be called up with our hunting rifles into a militia that can be effective against modern tanks, fighter-bombers, or infantry battalions.

Yet we are clinging to an artifact from the past, the idea that our nation is better off if civilian gun ownership is commonplace. Well that doesn't seem true to me. We have an extremely high murder rate when compared to other Western nations. We have an extremely high rate of gun violence when compared to other Western nations. We have an extremely high rate of mass shootings when compared to other Western nations.

It isn't as though Americans are somehow more murderous in our hearts than anyone else. Murder and attempted murder happen in Europe too, but Americans have a much easier time obtaining firearms and that seems to make our murderers more effective and capable of achieving higher body counts. Because compared to knives or tire irons, guns are very effective labor saving devices for killing people.

I don't think it is realistic to end civilian firearm ownership in America. But I do think that we can and should have policies that reduce the numbers of guns in circulation, restrict who can buy and sell them, and ban certain types of guns based on their firepower.

In most of America, a private citizen can sell another a gun without restriction or regulation. No one involved in such a sale is required to do background checks to see if the buyer is legally prevented from possessing firearms. No one is required to report the sale. No one is required to demonstrate proficiency or any understanding of proper gun handling or storage. Where we do place some restrictions on these sorts of sales, it is a piecemeal mess of largely unenforceable, loophole ridden, and incompatible municipal and state ordinances.

I think there should be a national firearms owners license and that such a license is necessary to purchase firearms or ammunition. I think that only people who have shown they understand firearms and have passed basic background checks should be able to obtain such a license. I think that there should be a national record of every firearm purchase and that individual firearms should be traceable to individual licenses. To that end I think that all sales should be required to involve a licensed and regulated gun broker of some kind.

I think that open carry laws, the concept that it is legally permissible to carry around a loaded unconcealed gun, is absurd. If someone is out in the country, actively engaged in hunting, sure, but walking around a crowded city street with a loaded rifle is utterly ridiculous and shouldn't be legal. I think that it has become far too easy to obtain a concealed carry permit, a license that allows someone to carry a hidden pistol on their person. I'm not completely opposed to such permits for those who have an occupational need, like bodyguards, but in my opinion far too many insensible, hair triggered, paranoids are carrying handguns these days.

I think that some kinds of firearms have no business being in the hands of civilians. As a concept, that isn't new or controversial. We already don't allow civilian ownership of fully armed main battle tanks, machine guns, or artillery howitzers. This is seen as sensible because those sorts of weapons are very destructive and best restricted to the military. But I am increasingly of the mind that we ought to move that line further.

Outside of law enforcement or some very tightly regulated classes of licenses, I no longer think that civilians should be able to own semi automatic firearms. I think that such weapons allow for too high a rate of fire, vastly increasing the destructive potential and capability of taking multiple human lives. I think that civilians should be restricted to firearms that require the user to cycle the action in some way, separate from just pulling the trigger, in order to fire the gun repeatedly. Pump action shotguns, lever action carbines, bolt action rifles, and single action revolvers are all examples of guns that cannot be fired as fast as the trigger can be pulled. All of them can still be effective hunting, self defense, and target shooting firearms in the hands of a proficient user, but none would allow a single shooter to lay down the volume of fire that recent mass murderers have achieved with their high capacity, semi-automatics.

I don't want civilian gun ownership outlawed. But gun policies in this country ought to be rethought with an eye towards deescalating gun violence and developing policies that are based upon modern realities not bygone eras.