Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fixing the Electoral College


There has been a lot of talk about abolishing the Electoral College lately. This sort of thing crops up every time a Presidential candidate wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College. It happened in 2000 with Al Gore, it happened again in 2016 with Hillary Clinton, so it is tempting to say that the Electoral College needs to be eliminated.

Now, before we begin, I am going to put it right out here for all to see. I am a registered Democrat. I am very liberal. Despite this, I am going to put aside my own partisan preferences and look at this with an objective eye. So, let's begin, shall we?

There are a number of valid reasons supporting the existence of the Electoral College in the modern age. Some eminently justifiable, some less so. I am going to list some of the benefits of having the Electoral College.

1. It simplifies campaign strategy and logistics.If Presidential candidates were truly elected on the basis of the popular vote, campaign strategy would be an enormous serpentine nightmare. The idea of "battleground states" would disappear entirely, since elections would hinge on who can turn out the highest absolute vote. In terms of logistics, getting the candidate from one event to the next would become even more unwieldy and punishing.

2. It protects smaller states.Using the 2010 census as a baseline, consider the kind of campaigns we would be seeing. In order to reach a solid majority of the population of the United States, candidates could conceivably be spending their time in only nine states (in descending order of population): California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Georgia. These states alone constitute 50.92% of the total population of the United States ... and if things start looking a little too close for comfort, well, there's North Carolina and New Jersey (the next two largest states).

Given this, candidates would have almost zero incentive to visit places like Kentucky, or Nebraska, or even New Hampshire once the primaries are over with.

3. It protects rural areas.With only 19.3% of the population living in rural areas, and with the population being so spread out in these areas, candidates would not only have little incentive to visit them but also would have great difficulty reaching everybody if they did.

4. Republicans would never win the White House.Let's pretend for the moment that I'm not liberal, not a Democrat, and have absolutely no interest in how the elections go one way or another. With that in mind, we turn to the 2016 electoral map -- at the city/county level.

When you look at a map of the 2016 election, broken down by county, you see that the country is this seething, pulsating mass of red, with specks of blue scattered here and there (with the exception of the West Coast and the Northeast, that is). One might be prompted to say "Well, no wonder Trump won! Lookit all dem Republican types!" But this is misleading ... again, because much of the country (in terms of surface area) is still very, very rural.

Look at Texas, for example. One of the reddest states in the Union, known for picking governors and state reps radical enough for them to get notes from the Spanish Inquisition advising them to "tone it down a bit, folks," does have some counties that voted blue. Looking at the map it's tempting to write them off. However, when you dig into the numbers a bit further, there were 27 counties out of 254 that went for Clinton. These 27 counties alone constitute 44.81% of the total population of the state, and Clinton won them handily (58.95% to Trump's 36.80%). In addition, of these 27 counties, six of them are home to some of the most densely populated areas in the state:
  • Harris County, home to Houston, cast slightly over 1.3 million votes, over 700,000 of which (slightly over 54%) were for Clinton.
  • Dallas County, home to Dallas, cast just over 750,000 votes, nearly 460,000 of these (just over 61%) were for Clinton.
  • Bexar County, home to San Antonio, cast nearly 600,000 votes, almost 320,000 of these (54.47%) were for Clinton.
  • Travis County, home to Austin, cast over 462,000 votes, of which nearly 307,000 (66.26%) were for Clinton.
  • Fort Bend County, home of the southwestern suburbs of Houston, cast slightly over 260,000 votes, of which nearly 1356,000 (51.65%) were for Clinton.
  • El Paso County, home to El Paso, cast 210,000 votes, of which over 145,000 (69.14%) were for Clinton.
These six counties, which by themselves make up just a hair over 40% of the total votes cast for the state, went overwhelmingly for Clinton, 57.96% to 37.66%. In the counties where Trump won, he won YUUGE. On average, he won 68% of the vote, compared to Clinton's 32%. In contrast, where Clinton won the margin was a bit smaller: 61.57% to 38.43%. Trump won nine counties (admittedly, very small ones) with over 90% of the vote. The highest percentage Clinton hit was just over 79% (Starr County, where 11.691 votes were cast in total).

It's pretty much the same in every state. Urban areas overwhelmingly went for the Democrats, while rural areas voted for Trump. In most states (Texas being somewhat of an outlier), urban areas constitute the vast majority of the population in each state (in fact, New Jersey is unique in that 100% of the population is considered to be "urban," through proximity to either Philadelphia or New York).
  • In Ohio, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo were wins for Clinton. Trump took the state.
  • In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg went for Clinton; Trump won the state.
  • In Michigan, Detroit and its surrounding suburbs went for Clinton. Trump won.
  • In Florida, Clinton won Miami, Tampa and Orlando. Trump won the state.
It becomes somewhat obvious that the Electoral College is intended to provide a voice for less-populated areas, and to allow them to play a role in elections. However, the fact that one candidate can win the popular vote while another wins the election is definitely a problem. So how to solve it?

I have a four-pronged approach to addressing this issue and making the entire process more equitable. It involves not just elections, but also how Congressional districts are drawn.

Step 1: Change how Congressional districts are drawn to make them fairer and to curb gerrymandering.The current method for drawing Congressional districts varies from state to state. Some have an independent panel, others rely on the legislature. The problem with the second method is that it leaves the door wide open for gerrymandering, or drawing a district to the political advantage of one party or another. This practice has created some very lopsided results.

Let's consider the 2012 election for Congress. In Pennsylvania, for example, this was the first election run under the new districts drawn up by the Republican legislature and signed into law by a Republican governor. As a result, even though Republican Congressional candidates state-wide received 48.56% of the popular vote, Republicans won 13 out of 18 Congressional seats.

My proposal is that Districts are drawn up by an independent panel to reflect the partisan demographics of the state as a whole. So, again using Pennsylvania as an example, there would be districts drawn with populations that are roughly 48% Republican, 49% Democrat, and the remainder being "other." Texas, on the other hand, would have districts with something in the neighborhood of 60% Republican and 40% Democrat.

This approach would eliminate the entire "safe Republican" or "safe Democrat" concept in Congressional elections, and it wold also eliminate the current ethos of "candidates picking the voters instead of the other way around."

Step 2: Eliminate electors, and have members of the House of Representatives and the Senate serve in this capacity.Our Presidential elections now are currently decided by a group of 538 people known as "electors." These people are party bigwigs and political insiders, who have no accountability to the public for their votes. In fact, in some states, electors can vote for whomever they please, even if this vote directly contradicts the will of the population – the so-called "faithless electors."

As it happens, we have 535 Senators and Representatives from the states, who can serve the role of elector quite nicely (the fact that there are 535 instead of 538 also eliminates the possibility of a tie).

Step 3: Require that Senators and Representatives vote their constituencies.As it stands now, there are 21 states that do not require that electors cast their votes consistent with the popular vote. The other 29 states have classified voting against the popular will as anything from a civil infraction liable to small fines to a misdemeanor.

My proposal is to make voting against the popular will an impeachable felony. Any Senator or Representative who violates this rule will be subject to impeachment and removal from office if found guilty, as well as criminal prosecution and sentencing.

Step 4: Eliminate "winner take all."This is the key part of this proposal. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump won 52.58% of the popular vote in the state of Texas, yet got all 38 of the states electoral votes. While this approach does make tallying up the votes easier (at least, it did before the days of computers and big data), it also disenfranchises large numbers of voters.

Consider the 1984 Presidential Election, for example. It's no secret that Walter Mondale lost, and lost big. Ronald Reagan garnered 59% of the popular vote, compared to Mondale's 41%. Yet, when it came to the Electoral College, Reagan won 525 of 538 – nearly 98% of the Electoral College. This lopsided result effectively sent a message to almost 38 million people that their votes didn't matter.

Nebraska and Maine are the only two states that do not follow this "winner take all" approach. My proposal is to expand on this, refine it, and implement it across all 50 states as follows:
  • United States Senators will be bound by law to cast their electoral votes in accordance with the popular vote in their state.
  • United States Representatives will be bound by law to cast their electoral votes in accordance with the popular vote in their Congressional district.
Again, to use Pennsylvania in 2012 as an example, Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes would not have all gone to Barack Obama (as they did in the election). Instead, President Obama would have won 7 of Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes (one each from Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, to reflect the popular vote state-wide, as well as one each from the five Congressional districts he carried) and Mitt Romney would have won the remaining thirteen.

Now, as Congressional districts are drawn now this is a completely impractical solution. For example, Pennsylvania's 7th District (in the Philadelphia suburbs) is considered to be one of the most heavily gerrymandered in the country. The Pennsylvania legislature, when drawing up new district lines in 2010, packed Democrats into five districts in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. As a result, Pennsylvania is one of the least competitive states, in terms of Congressional elections, in the country. This is why we need to address how Congressional districts are drawn before we can implement any reforms in the Electoral College.

Yes, there may be amendments to the Constitution required to do this. Yes, it involves a lot of heavy lifting. And yes, the biggest obstacle is going to be the cadre of political elites who are benefiting from such a skewed system. However, it will never get fixed if we just sit on our hands and complain about it. I urge everyone to get involved, speak out, and contact your representatives in Washington to get the ball rolling … after all, they are supposed to be representing you. Not themselves, not their donors, not lobbyists … you. The residents of their district and state. Their constituents. It is only through grassroots action that we can make them give us some attention when they are not trying to court our votes.

I gotta lie down.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Electoral College, Donald Trump, and Cooler Heads

Okay, so Trump won the Electoral College. Some people have placed the blame on third-party candidates. Others have said that the onus was Hillary for her “basket of deplorables” remark, and for not giving white, blue-collar workers enough attention during her campaign. Still others maintain that Hillary was the wrong candidate, that Bernie would have won, and the DNC is to blame for rigging the primaries.

Whatever.

The point is, like it or not (and I don’t, not even a little bit), the demented candy corn is our President-elect. And the Democrats did not do anywhere near as well as everybody expected -- everybody, that is, except Kelly Anne Conway, who apparently knows a thing or two. As a result, the Republicans control all three branches of government. Yes, the Republican majority in the Senate slipped from 54 to 51, and the House slipped from 246 to 239, but they are majorities all the same ... and since they also have the White House, the needs for a veto-proof majority is lessened dramatically.

Add to this the fact that there is still an open seat on the Supreme Court (that Senate Republicans refused to fill), and there will likely be three more in the next couple of years ... well, I think it’s safe to say that the progressive agenda is thoroughly fucked for a while. So what do we do about it?

1) The Electoral College

There has been some agitation, to the point of protests in the streets (in Philadelphia PA, Richmond VA, and other places) calling on the Electoral College to overturn the results of the election and vote in Hillary Clinton. And yes, while Clinton did win more of the popular vote than did Trump (60,274,974 to 59,937,338), the difference is only 337,636 votes ... or 0.28%. In statistical terms, a tie -- that 0.28% is small enough to be considered within the margin of error for some.

There is also the “slippery slope” question: do we really want the Electoral College to override the results of the election, simply because we didn’t get the result we wanted? Or, to put it another way, if all the vote totals had been reversed, and it was Trump supporters demonstrating in the streets, would we be as willing to accept this suggestion?

My answer is no, we would not.

Face it, folks. We lost. Whether it was a poorly run campaign, or intentional rigging of the primaries by the DNC, or Russian hackers, or just plain hubris in assuming that Clinton would walk away with this thing, the fact of the matter is:

We lost.

Plain and simple. And any attempt to invalidate the results, to turn it around in our favor, WILL come back to bite us in the ass later. I guarantee it.

2) Obstructionism as revenge
Another issue that has been gaining traction lately in social media is exhortations to Congressional Democrats to be as obstructionist as the Republicans were for President Obama. I guess the rationale for this is to “let them see what it feels like.”

The problem with this, apart from it being dangerous to the country to have ANOTHER four years of nothing being done, is twofold. First, it’s just juvenile. This is something my twelve year old would say, because “getting even” is a big thing with people that age.

We will never “get even.” All that will happen is that Congress’s approval ratings will slip even lower (not that they have that far to go before hitting absolute zero), and Americans will feel the pinch.

Second, the GOP, quite frankly, doesn’t give two shits. They have the majority in the House, the Senate, both Houses of state legislatures in 33 states, and 33 governorships, which means that, in addition to having the votes necessary to pass some truly bass ackwards shit, they also have control at the procedural level -- that is, which measures actually make it to the floor for debate -- and they can control the messaging. And say what you will about the Republican Party, they do have very strong discipline when it comes to messaging (I remember about a year and a half ago that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner made public statements to the press on an issue, and their statements were, word for word, identical. Oh, and it was all Obama’s fault).
On the other side are those who basically adopt P. J. O’Rourke’s stance: “The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.” Their take on things is to let the GOP have its way, pass all the ridiculous legislation it wants to, then show up at Congressional elections in two years saying “See? I told ya they’d fuck it up.”

The problem with this, of course, is that the Senate and House are being led by right-wing ideologues, and the Vice-President-elect is a man who makes George Will look like Leonardo DiCaprio (politically, that is). They are obviously itching to repeal Obamacare (not that they have anything to replace it with, except more privatization), overturn Roe v. Wade, overturn same-sex marriage, and (if Pence has his way) impose theocratic dominion over all US citizens -- a group which, in their view, does not include Muslims, Mexicans, or women.

In fact, it would not surprise me in the least to see an effort by the extreme right in Congress to repeal the 19th Amendment.

I realize that, by now, many of you are scratching your heads and wondering if I’m ever going to get to the point. So here ya go.

The point of all this is, we have to be better than ... well, everything. We have to be better than the mob mentality that is taking over some progressives, causing them to march in the streets and ignore the election results. We have to be better than the Trump supporters who are gleefully gloating, posting racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic trash, and generally reinforcing the stereotype of all Trump supporters being knuckle-dragging troglodytes. We have to be better than all the pollsters, pundits, and politicos who were complacent in assuming that Hillary would win in a walk.

Above all, we have to be better than Trump, McConnell, Ryan, and the rest of the Republicans who are so eager to move our country backward. How do we do this? It’s simple, actually. Not easy, but simple.

We must champion equal rights for all. We must work tirelessly to prevent them doing damage to the best of our ability. We must always strive to make things better for people. We must not be condescending, patronizing, or dismissive of those who supported Trump ... to them, their grievances are very real, and part of the reason we were unable to win with them is we essentially wrote them off as hopeless cases.

In short, we have to do our jobs as progressives. Sure, we’ll lose some (if not most) battles, and yes, there are going to be times when it seems like we are getting nothing accomplished. When that happens, we can take comfort in the fact that a) the majority of the public agrees with US, not them, despite their rhetoric; b) our ideas are, quite frankly, BETTER, and are intended to move the country forward, not protect our own asses (at least, most of the time); and c) we are the adults in the room, leading by example. We are willing to compromise, to find common ground, to sacrifice ideological purity for the greater good -- in short, everything the Republicans won’t do -- and this will seep into the American consciousness.

Above all, we must put our country first. Yes, Trump is a coarse buffoon. Yes, Newt Gingrich is a reactionary bozo. Yes, Mike Pence makes the Spanish Inquisition look like a quiz show. Yes, Sarah Palin is an empty-headed nitwit. And yes, they are going to try to stack the Supreme Court with religious ideologues. None of that matters.

What matters is that we show the Republican Party, the American public, and the world that progressives are NOT the manipulative, cynical political hacks that the GOP is trying to portray us as. We need to show that we are patriotic, well-intentioned members of society, and that we are trying to make things better for everyone -- not just Democrats.

We can do this. It’s gonna suck for a couple of years, but we can do this. And in 2018, despite the ridiculous gerrymandering put into place with Republican-drawn Congressional districts in 2010, we can take back the majorities we need to effect some positive results. And I, for one, can’t wait to get started.

Let’s do this.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Welcome to Trumpistan!

Well, it happened.

The thing that everybody (myself included, sadly) dismissed as being too crazy, too far out there, simply too absurd ... happened. Donald Trump is our new President-elect.

I need to let this sink in for a moment. A man who is going to trial for fraud, who has allegations of rape leveled against him, who mocked the disabled, who called for a ban on immigration based solely on a person’s religion, who bragged about being able to sexually assault whoever he wanted because “when you’re a star you can do anything you want” ... this is who was elected.

I have seen a lot of posting on Facebook from my circle of friends, all of whom are expressing shock, grief, outrage, anger, and fear -- as they should be. Despite all the polls, pundits, expectations, hints, and predictions, our better nature did NOT prevail, and our wisdom did NOT kick in as expected. Nate Silver of fiverthirtyeight.com, who as late as Monday night had pegged Trump’s chances in the 30% range, is probably spending the day today scratching his head and saying “What the fuck?”

I have also seen people casting about desperately for someone to blame for this debacle -- again, myself included. Some have blamed it on the media, some have blamed it on the third-party vote, some have blamed it on Hillary, some have blamed the DNC. And there is some truth to all of these. However, it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is that we have been dealt an incredibly shitty hand, by a corrupt dealer who has absolutely no qualms about rigging the game in his favor, and we just have to make the best of it. We are facing a Republican-controlled government with a radical conservative agenda and a raving lunatic at the top. Apparently, the obstructionism of the past eight years has paid off. So here’s what we can look forward to.

The Supreme Court will be stacked with conservatives. Roe v. Wade will be challenged and likely overturned. The NRA will enjoy an almost unfettered ability to write legislation, as will corporate interests. The Affordable Care Act will be dismantled, and there is nothing with which to replace it. Environmental protections will be gutted or scrapped completely. Climate change will be ignored, and in some cases outright denied. Voting rights for minorities will come under further, more serious, attacks.

In short, it’s gonna be ugly. So what can we do about it? Well, there are some things that we definitely do NOT need to do.

We do not need to point fingers. Sure, a post-mortem is appropriate, and finding the issues and/or people and/or organizations that led to this loss is needed, but only to improve things next time ... NOT to create scapegoats.

We do not need to encourage the same sort of obstructionist nonsense the GOP has been practicing for the past eight years. They’re much better at it, and preventing anything from getting done will only hurt the average American.

We do not need to question Trump’s legitimacy, his fitness for the office, or his ability to compromise. None of these things are new; they’ve all been said before. It will not move the ball one bit, and will only embolden his supporters to become even more intractable.

We do not need to demonize his supporters. Yes, they adopted (or brought out of the closet) some horrifically ugly viewpoints, exhibited behavior that was borderline criminal (and in some cases outright treasonous, as when a sitting Congressman suggested that Hillary Clinton be shot), but they are still people, after all, and each and every one of them is someone’s brother, sister, father, mother, son, daughter, and they are trying to navigate the twists and turns of life as best they know how -- just as we are.

On the other side of the coin, there are things we can -- and MUST -- do.

We must ignore the Republican playbook, and continue to put country ahead of party. For eight years, the GOP has had a single goal: to control the reins of power without Democratic involvement. Well, now they have it. And even though it will be painful for most Americans, and may very well end up sending us plummeting into an economic tailspin that makes the Great Depression look like a bounced check at the grocery store, we have to accept that they are going to do what they are going to do, and simply be ready to pick up the pieces afterward.

We must stick with what HRC said on the campaign trail: “When they go low, we go high.” There will be shameless gloating from Trump supporters today, and possibly for his entire Presidency. That doesn’t mean we get down in the gutter with them -- we simply stay on our path, trying to make things better.

We have to get ready for the next round. Even though this election has taken all the conventional wisdom there ever was concerning electoral politics, wadded it up, and flushed it down a gas station toilet, history has shown that, when a President enters office with majorities in both Houses, the following midterm elections usually see a switch in the majorities in Congress. Bill Clinton entered office with a Democratic majority in 1992; in 1994 Newt Gingrich’s “Contract For America” swept in a GOP majority in both the House and Senate that endured for the rest of Clinton’s Presidency. In 2000, George W. Bush entered with that majority, and in 2002 the Congressional majority switched back to the Democrats. A similar flip-flop occurred in 2010. This indicates -- but in no way guarantees -- that Democrats stand a fairly good chance at retaking both Houses in 2018 (of course, in 1994, 2002, and 2010, Congressional districts were not gerrymandered in favor of the Republicans to the degree they are now, which makes it more difficult).

Above all, we cannot piss and moan about how “Hillary done me wrong.” She put forth her best effort in the face of unprecedented opposition from not only her opponent, but also Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange and Wikileaks, the alt-right movement (including associated media outlets such as Breitbart), a latent, untapped nativism that many were shocked to discover existed, and younger voters who became caught up in the idealism of Bernie Sanders’ campaign and were either unwilling or unable to look at the pragmatic reality of the need to stop Trump.

So where do we go from here?

Become informed. Be kind. Love people. Stand in solidarity with those who are likely to be royally screwed by this monstrosity that is the new Republican Party: minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, women, the poor -- in short, anyone who doesn’t look and act like Trump -- and refuse to allow them to be bullied by anyone.

Most importantly, though, hold your representatives accountable for their votes, and if you don’t like ‘em, vote them out in 2018. Trust me, the midterm campaigns are getting underway today (already!), and many of them are going to be based around an anti-Trump message. The goal is to regain a veto-proof majority in both Houses so that Trump and Pence can be held in check.

I won’t kid anyone ... this is a devastating setback. Nobody expected this. But we can either cry and complain about how horrible things are going to be (and let’s face it, they will be), or we can get to work on minimizing the damage.

I vote for the latter.

Monday, June 27, 2016

No, Virginia, Gun Ownership Is Not Protected By The Constitution

Okay, so I've been hearing a lot of statements from gun-rights folks lately about how the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right of American citizens to own firearms.

It does not. Allow me to elaborate ...

In Heller v. District of Columbia, Antonin Scalia, a justice sympathetic to the gun lobby if there ever was one, wrote the majority decision that stated that keeping and bearing firearms as a means of self-defense is a Constitutionally protected right (he got this wrong in a big way, in my opinion ...). So even though I wholeheartedly disagree with his opinion, and I will provide my own analysis to support this elsewhere, the sad fact is that this is the law now.

In his decision, he expounded at great length about the definitions on the words "keep" and "bear" in the context of the Second Amendment (I'm not going to bore you, dear reader, with all the details; if you want to read it for yourself you may do so here). To summarize, his opinion hinged on the following definitions:

  • keep: to have in one's possession, to have control over an object.
  • bear: to direct the use of an object.

Interestingly, neither of these definitions addresses the question of ownership. This is not a new concept; virtually all of us live with this every day. Consider, for example the license plates on your vehicle. You "keep" the plates in that you have them in your possession. You "bear" the plates in that you direct how they are used (mounted on your vehicle, possibly a Red Sox license plate frame if you are a decent person, a Yankees license plate frame if you are not). However, they do not belong to you, they still belong to the issuing authority.

So what does ownership entail, if not possession? After all, there's an old saying that "possession is nine tenths of the law." But what of that other ten percent?

Ownership, while it may imply possession, carries with it the legal concepts of severability and transferability, which are closely related (and, in many cases, synonymous), and absolutely essential to the idea of owning anything. For purposes of this discussion we will consider the terms to be interchangeable and will use the term "transferability" from hereon.

"Transferability" is the legal ability to transfer ownership to another entity, be it an individual, an organization, or a governmental body. For example, let's consider the owner of a bookstore. While she may not own the building in which the store is located, she does "own" all the inventory -- that is, she bought the books, and if she was so inclined she could just say the hell with it, close up the shop, and have an amazing personal library. Because she owns the books, she has the legal right to transfer ownership to another -- also known as a customer. I'm not going to get into the economic justifications for setting prices an all that; suffice it to say that she has the ability to relinquish title to every book in the store and transfer that ownership to another.

In fact, she may not ever take possession of the book. Consider a customer who comes in and places an order for a book that is out of stock. She orders the book from the publisher and directs that it be delivered directly to the customer. The fact that she has never had the book in her possession does not diminish her ownership status in the slightest. Granted, she may own it on paper only, and for a very brief period at that (because the customer paid in advance in this case), but she is still owner of the book for a short time because the publisher sold the book to her, not her customer.

This same principle can apply to firearms in the United States. Under the Second Amendment as interpreted in the Heller decision, citizens have the right to keep firearms in their possession, and they have the right to bear them (that is,to direct their use). However, and this is important, the do not have a Constitutionally protected right to own a weapon. This doesn't mean that it is now illegal to own a firearm, far from it. All it means is that, when it comes to ownership, it is regulated at the legislative level, not the Constitutional.

This is a very important distinction, and may provide an opportunity for supporters of gun control to gain some measure of regulation. If legislation can be introduced that places reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, then perhaps we can see a drop in the number of firearms being sold to people who only wish to do harm.

However, this is not going to happen as long as the Second Amendment is used as a shield by the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups, which is why we need to repeal the Second Amendment. It is archaic, outdated, and was written in the days of breech-loaded matchlock rifles that could, when in the hands of an expert marksman, fire up to two rounds in a single minute, and whose accuracy beyond twenty five yards was only marginally better than shooting with your eyes closed. It no longer applies in the twenty-first century, with firearms capable of hurling chunks of hot lead with a high degree of accuracy for hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of yards, and doing so in bursts of up to 1,500 rounds per minute (the German MG 42 machine gun), and in the case of Gatling-style guns (with multiple barrels), rates of up to 6,000 round per minute have been achieved.

6.000 rounds per minute. That's 100 rounds per second.

Please sign and share the petition at https://wh.gov/isJZz.

Friday, June 17, 2016

You Have Rights? So Do I.

Recently I was part of a thread on Facebook in which one person commented "We don't need to repeal the 2nd amendment; there's a very good reason that it's in the Constitution. However, no right is absolute and that includes gun ownership. We need to ban killing machines that are too readily available and have real national vetting of people who want to own guns. It's just common sense."

This person makes a good point. There IS a very good reason why the Second Amendment was written into the Constitution. The problem is, that reason is no longer relevant. The original intent was to protect the right of citizens to own weapons when our national defense strategy consisted of all-volunteer, amateur (in the sense that they weren't paid; it is not a comment on skill level) militias. However, militias are no longer part of our national defense, being replaced by a professional standing army. In addition, weapons technology in 1791 that was available to citizens was roughly equivalent to what was available to armies ... breech-loaded matchlock smooth bore rifles, with comparatively short ranges and subpar accuracy. Compare that to modern times ... there are some pro-gun types that actually make the claim for citizens having access to every weapon the government has, including nuclear weapons, fighter planes, and submarines in addition to the usual panoply of firearms (these people are, almost without exception, completely batshit crazy).

In the 21st century, there is absolutely no reason for Constitutional protections for firearms. The Second Amendment has been used as a shield by the National Rifle Association every time one of these events takes place (and they take place depressingly frequently). Each time there's a mass shooting, pro-gun activists spout the same tired old lines:

  • It's not the gun, it's the shooter. Guns don't kill people, PEOPLE kill people.
  • It's a mental health issue.
  • It's proof that more people should have guns. If someone had been armed, then that person could have stopped all this.
  • More people die in car accidents than by guns. Does that mean we also ban cars?

... all to avoid the obvious issue, which is this: THERE ARE TOO MANY GUNS IN THE UNITED STATES.

So let's unpack these one at a time.

1. Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

On the surface this sounds like a reasonably accurate statement. After all, guns are inanimate objects and do not possess free will. They are simply tools, and their effects are simply directed by the operator.

What this fails to address, and it's a big point, is that guns are DESIGNED to kill. You don't point a gun at someone as a joke (unless you're a complete fucking moron, that is). Someone with a gun is a lot more effective at killing than someone without one. The idea that a gun lying on the floor isn't going to kill anyone by itself, while true, is also patently ridiculous as an argument. It's like saying "It was the pond that got you wet, not me pushing you into it."

2. It's a mental health issue.

Again, reasonable on the surface, and in many cases it is very true -- after all, someone walking into a school and shooting a bunch of five and six year olds is pretty much guaranteed to not have all the lights on upstairs. However, saying that does not excuse the fact that there are other issues at play, such as ease of access to high powered weapons, or a culture that glorifies violence and belligerence and trivializes peaceful means of resolving conflicts. And when you hear it coming from the NRA or their ilk, it's a safe bet that it's a distraction. After all, someone with mental health issues could take YEARS to improve, and imagine the profits that would go to the gun manufacturers in the meantime.

3. It's proof that more people should have guns. If someone had been armed, then that person could have stopped all this.

Right. Let's think about this for a second.

Let's say you're in a nightclub with around 300 of your closest friends. It's loud. It's dark. It's crowded. All of a sudden, you hear something, but because it's so loud you're not exactly sure what it is. You realize it's gunfire when people around you start screaming and panicking, running for whatever exit they can find. You, being a highly trained and remarkably unflappable individual, pull out your fully legal and licensed gun for which you have a concealed carry permit, and start looking for the shooter. You spot someone with a gun taking aim and squeeze off a quick shot, taking him out. Ah-HAH! Got him! You start to make your way over to the shooter to make sure that he no longer is a threat, when a bullet suddenly rips through your rib cage, turning vital organs into jelly in an instant.

What happened was, you weren't the only good guy with a gun. You shot the other one, and when the real shooter saw that he decided to take you out as you represented the greatest threat. Now that both good guys with guns are out of commission, the shooter can proceed with what he was doing ... only now that he has not only your weapon but also the other guy's, he has even more power to unleash mayhem.

This also assumes that someone in this situation with a gun will be able to remain calm enough to assess the situation and respond calmly, instead of reverting to instinct and running like hell. This natural flight response is incredibly difficult to overcome, which is why the armed forces spend months training it out of people. The vast majority of people, when faced with this situation, will do one of two things:

  • Freeze.
  • Run like hell.

Almost nobody will say "Hmmm. Looks like an active shooter situation. Let us assess the situation and quickly, yet carefully, plan our next move."

Saying that the solution to our gun problem in this country is more guns is like saying the solution to cavities is more sugar, and anyone who suggest that maybe you should brush your goddam teeth once in a while is infringing on your rights.

4. More people die in car accidents than by guns. Does that mean we also ban cars?

This is one of the most ludicrous statements out there, especially since it seems to resurface at least 50,000 times every time one of these things happens. So I am going to type this is all caps, in a large, bold font, with a lot of white space around it, so the more feeble-minded and/or slow members of the pro-gun community can get the concept:

CARS KILL PEOPLE WHEN THEY ARE USED OUTSIDE OF THEIR DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS.

Got that?

Let's explain.

First, we'll take a look at cars (or hammers, or screwdrivers, or baseball bats, or whatever the excuse du jour happens to be). When used properly, an automobile is perfectly safe. It is only when it is used outside of its design specifications (going too fast for conditions, being inattentive behind the wheel, running red lights, mechanically unsound, that sort of thing) that they become dangerous.

Now, guns.

When they are used as they are designed to be used -- that is, aiming at something, pulling the trigger, and hurling chunks of hot lead at high velocity toward the target -- they are extremely dangerous. Maybe not to the operator, but definitely to anything -- or anyone -- who happens to be downrange. Conversely, when a gun is used outside of its design specifications -- shooting rocks instead of bullets, say, or using the butt of your pistol as a hammer to build a garage -- it's a fairly safe bet that it's not going to end well for either the operator or the gun itself. However, and this is the important point, that doesn't stop it from being dangerous to anyone nearby.

The entire argument that "more people die from accidents involving than guns" is about as ridiculous as saying that "Sharknado" was a documentary and that constant vigilance against airborne sharks is required.

The Second Amendment is a favorite shield for the pro-gun lobby. Any time any sort of gun legislation is proposed -- even something as innocuous as "let's not let anyone who is suspected of being a terrorist buy a gun," or "whaddaya say we tell people that, if they have a conviction for domestic violence on their record, they are not allowed to buy a gun," or even something as simple as "howzabout we limit the capacity of the magazines people can buy for their firearms" -- the National Rifle Association (and the conservatives they have paid for in Congress) immediately start bleating about how there might be one person on the suspected terrorist list who is there by mistake, and if we don't let that person buy a gun then Murica ain't Murica no more, and that atheist Muslim dictator Obummer is gonna come and take mah guns, dammit.

And yes, I put "atheist Muslim" in there on purpose, because someone actually made that claim, and couldn't understand -- even after I explained how one could not be both an atheist and a Muslim -- why I was laughing so hard.

To them, the right of one individual to be able to get weapons at any time supercedes everyone else's right to not get shot and killed. For people who claim to honor the intent of the Founding Fathers, this seems to be highly hypocritical, especially when you consider that it's right there in the Declaration of Independence: "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Last time I checked, it didn't also say "unless that guy over wants a gun REAL BAD."

It comes down to the following point: your right to have a gun does not supercede my right to not have it used against me.

I gotta lie down.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

An Explanation of My Proposal

So I am going to expound a bit on my petition to repeal the Second Amendment. This is addressed primarily to the gun rights advocates, many of whom fear that a repeal will be a way for their guns to be confiscated.

1. "Repeal" does not mean "confiscation."

Nobody is, ever has, or ever will be discussing wholesale confiscation of firearms from the general population. If nothing else, the logistics of such an effort would be prohibitive, but there is also the fact that the vast -- and I do mean VAST -- majority of gun owners are responsible, treat their weapons with the respect they deserve and then some, and practice the four common-sense safety rules when handling a firearm:
  • Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
  • Never point the weapon at something you are not willing to destroy.
  • Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it in case you miss.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
These rules are simple, easy to follow, and make a lot of sense. Given this, taking firearms away from these people seems counterproductive ... and, quite frankly, the idea violates everything we stand for as a country.

The only time guns are confiscated, whether the Second Amendment is in place or not, is when a gun has been used in the commission of a crime or is part of a criminal investigation (for example, a gun obtained illegally may be confiscated as the act of obtaining it is itself criminal activity).

2. The Second Amendment is obsolete.

In 1791, when the amendment was passed, firearm technology was understandably rather primitive. Pistols were primarily used for duels, and were ornately decorated, with smooth bores ... not at all practical for warfare, as their accuracy was pretty abysmal. Rifles were the weapon of choice for warfare, and were breech-loaded matchlock guns -- the projectile and powder were poured down the end of the barrel, tamped down with a rod to provide maximum explosive power (this had to be done carefully so as not to cause the powder to ignite as a result of compression), then a small amount of gunpowder was placed in a flash pan and ignited by a wick or match.

Needless to say, this was not a particularly quick process. As a result, an expert marksman might be able to get two shots off in a minute.

In addition to primitive firepower, there was no standing army in the United States and national defense centered on all-volunteer militias from each state.

Finally, much of the country was frontier, and attacks by wild animals and hostile Native Americans were both very real and disturbingly common occurrences. In addition, America was an agrarian society (remember, this was pre-Industrial Revolution), so hunting game was an essential part of rounding out a Colonial-era diet. This meant that having a weapon in the home was vital to the very survival of Americans.

Compare that to the modern day. Weapons technology has progressed such that, if the Second Amendment as various libertarian groups like to interpret it is followed, then average citizens have a Constitutional right to own the same weapons employed by the government as well as those intended for the consumer market. This encompasses everything from a two-shot Derringer to shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles, drone aircraft, tanks, mortars, bombs (including nuclear) ... in short, everything an individual would need to protect him- or herself from the tyranny of government (more on this nonsense later).

Modern weapons as the AR-15 (yes, I know that wasn't used in Orlando, but it was used in Newtown, Aurora, and Umpqua, and the weapon used in Orlando is based on the same basic platform) are semi-automatic, which means that a round is loaded into the chamber automatically, but not fired until the operator pulls the trigger (as opposed to fully automatic, in which rounds are loaded an fired with a single trigger pull, and continue until either the magazine is depleted or the operator removes pressure for the trigger). This means that it is capable of firing as quickly as the operator can pull the trigger, up to 100 rounds per minute. And if the shooter uses a technique called "bump firing" (in which the recoil of the gun from the first shot is used to bounce the trigger against the trigger finger, as opposed to pulling the trigger) this can be increased by seven or eight times, simulating fully automatic operation.

Of course, bump firing is usually done from the hip, so accuracy isn't the greatest. Fortunately, manufacturers have found a way around that by providing an attachment that lets an individual use the bum firing technique while maintaining the stock against the shoulder, increasing the accuracy. Great, huh?

In addition, we no longer employ militias for national defense, and because of our burgeoning population, urban development, the Industrial Revolution, suburban sprawl, paved roads covering (in aggregate) a significant portion of the landmass of North America, and the (in many cases) outright genocide of native populations, people have to worry much less about being attacked by bears and Indians and more about being accosted by an intolerably perky, upbeat guy named Sean trying to sell you Cutco knives at Costco. We also have professional standing armed forces that, quite frankly, have enough firepower to reduce every other nation on Earth to microscopic grit.

3. "Protection against tyranny" isn't really a thing.

In Revolutionary times, governmental tyranny was a very real concern. After all, Colonial Americans had been under the thumb of King George III for decades, and had seen first-hand what happens when an imperialist despot gets annoyed, and they wanted to insure against the same thing happening with the new government. Which, as we have seen over the past 229 years or so, hasn't been an issue (despite claims made by right-wing crackpots -- and I'm including people like Mitch McConnell in this group -- that the Muslim atheist baby-killing jack-booted dictator Barack Obama is a merciless tyrant hell-bent on taking everyone's guns and forcing them to, oh, I don't know, breathe clean air, or something).

In the modern era, claiming that you have your Sig Sauer .223 (and if that isn't a real thing, I'm not concerned; I'm not into gun porn like some people) as protection against the government is ridiculous. You and your cute little rifle will be about as effective against the United States Army as trying to clean up post-Sandy New Jersey with a Swiffer.

There's also the question of the understanding of the word "tyranny." To quote Inigo Montoya, "I don't think that word means what you think it means." Dictionary.com defines "tyranny" as "a state ruled by a tyrant or absolute ruler." Our Constitution, with the checks and balances between the three branches of government, protects against this quite nicely, thank you very much. As a result, we have not had to worry about tyranny for centuries.

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The Second Amendment, intended to protect people from having their weapons taken while in service to the country in a militia, has been warped and twisted as a means to protect the profits of gun manufacturers. The National Rifle Association used to be in the business of educating people about gun safety measures, and about teaching people how to safely and effectively both use and care for their firearms. This all changed in the 1970s, when Wayne LaPierre showed up on the scene. He made it his mission to turn the Second Amendment into a way to pressure Congress to give beneficial treatment to gun manufacturers. As a result, it has become nothing more than a shield for gun activists to hide behind while making ever more fanciful arguments in favor of their position ... their reasoning being that they are perched high on this sacred mountain called the Constitution, and anyone who dares challenge them is un-American and treasonous.

By repealing the Second Amendment, we open the door to reasonable legislation to make it more difficult to get high-powered weapons in the first place. There are many who want to enact a ban on assault rifles, and there are just as many who claim that such a ban is unconstitutional based on their interpretation of the Second Amendment. This near-religious devotion to twenty-seven words has cost at least 100 lives in the most recent mass shootings in which a semi-automatic high-powered military style rifle was used, and almost assuredly many times more than that.

The common refrain that repealing the Second Amendment equals a mass confiscation operation is pure fabrication. All it does is remove a shield against future legislation ... and trust me, it would not be difficult at all to include a proviso in any future legislation -- whether it is restrictions on the kinds of guns that may be sold to the public or an out-and-out ban against a certain type of weapon -- that allows current gun owners to be grandfathered in and keep their weapons.

The Constitution is not infallible. It is not the be-all and end-all of instructions for our society. This is why the Founding Fathers included a method for updating it, so that it would remain current. Some examples ...
  • The original Constitution stipulated that the Vice-President would be the candidate with the second highest number of votes in a Presidential race. The Twelfth Amendment changed it so that the office of Vice President would be a separate campaign and not a consolation prize.
  • The original Constitution had provisions allowing slavery (even protecting it as an institution against Constitutional amendments for the first twenty years of our nation). The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, and the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed the right to vote would not "be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude ..."
  • The original Constitution had Senators being selected by state legislatures. The Seventeenth Amendment instituted the practice of direct election of Senators by the voters.
  • The original Constitution limited voting to white males. While the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed voting rights for black males, women of all races were denied the vote until the Nineteenth Amendment.
  • Originally, there were no term limits on the Presidency. True, it had been customary for Presidents to serve a maximum of two terms, but there was no legal prohibition against it, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt proved (he died while serving his fourth term of office). The Twenty Second Amendment instituted a two-term limit for President.
  • The original Constitution had no provision for allowing citizens of the District of Columbia to vote for President or Vice President. The Twenty Third Amendment allowed for the "... number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State ..." Surprisingly, this Amendment was not proposed until 1960, and not ratified until 1961.
  • The Twenty Fourth Amendment eliminated poll taxes, used in the Jim Crow South as a means of suppressing the African-American vote.
  • The Twenty Sixth Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
And, most importantly to this argument, the Twenty First Amendment, passed by Congress on February 20, 1933 and ratified on December 5, 1933, repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, also known as Prohibition. This is proof positive that repealing an Amendment is possible and is part of the normal functioning of our Constitution.

I'm sure that there will be those who point out that the Eighteenth Amendment was not part of the original Bill of Rights, which are sacrosanct. This is bullshit. There have been countless court cases in which these first ten Amendments have been examined, and in some cases had the "traditional" interpretation changed -- Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which upheld an implied right of privacy in the Fourth Amendment; Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine introduced by Plessy v. Ferguson; and (most notoriously in recent times) Citizens United v. FEC, which held that limitations on donations to non-affiliated political groups (that is, groups that do not coordinated directly with campaigns) constitute an infringement of free speech rights and are therefore unconstitutional (this is a load of crap, but for some reason Antonin "I'm Rich, You're Poor, You Suck" Scalia's "reasoning" won the day on this one ... expect it to be challenged and overturned in the near future, I promise you).

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The Second Amendment is archaic, outdated, and needs to be repealed. Please sign the petition at https://wh.gov/isJZz, and share it with everyone you know.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

This Has To Stop, People

July, 2012: a man walked into a theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire after setting off tear gas grenades, killing 12 people. One of the weapons used was an AR-15 assault rifle.

December 2012: 20 students and six teachers were executed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The weapon of choice? An AR-15.

June, 2013: Five killed and four wounded at Santa Monica Community College by an AR-15.

October, 2015: At Umpqua Community College in Oregon, nine people were killed by an AR-15.

December, 2015: An AR-15 was used to kill 14 people in San Bernardino.

June 2016: an AR-15 was used to kill 50 people (so far) and leave 53 more wounded in the largest single mass shooting event in United States history.

Omar Mateen purchased the gun used in the Orlando nightclub shooting legally. American-born al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn said in a video that encouraged followers of al-Qaeda to take advantage of the lax gun laws in the United States, "You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?"

If I want to get on a plane, I have to make sure my bottle of mouthwash is less than three ounces, and I have to submit to a full-body scan at the airport, and remove my shoes, and if there is anything more complicated than a toothbrush in my carry-on bag I might be hauled off to a back room somewhere to be interrogated about who I know, how long I've known them, what's my religion, why am I going where I'm going and what am I going to do when I get there and when am I coming back, and if I start to get annoyed because all of this nonsense is causing me to miss my flight this only serves to cast more suspicion and I could end up in a CIA black site.

If I want to buy an assault rifle, though, all I have to do is show up at a gun show, and the only question I will have to answer is "debit or credit?"

This is all because the National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, and dedicated to serving the lobbying needs of the gun manufacturing industry, has somehow transformed the Second Amendment from ensuring the functionality of a "well-regulated militia" to protecting the (non-existent) right of every man, woman, child, dog, cat, gerbil, and some species of invasive plants to own whatever type of gun they want, and to carry them openly in places like Chipotle, Target ... but, ironically, not at the national convention of the National Rifle Association, where firearms are banned from the inside of the building in which it is being held.

The thing is, the right to own firearms is not Constitutionally protected, and this has been reinforced by none other than Antonin "Fuck the Public, They Don't Know Shit" Scalia in Heller v. District of Columbia (2008). Scalia expounded for pages about the precise definitions of the words "keep" and "bear" as they applied to the Second Amendment, and at no time during this exposition did he mention ownership. His opinion holds that the average citizen has a Constitutionally protected right to "keep" arms (that is, to have them in his or her possession), and to "bear" arms (that is, to put them to use), but never to own them.

This is like saying my neighbor has a Constitutionally protected right to "keep" and "bear" my lawn tractor. Under Scalia's definition, my neighbor has the right to keep it in his garage, and to use it whenever he wants to, but it's still my goddam tractor. To extend this analogy, and to apply Scalia's reasoning to the question of firearms, I have a right to keep a gun in my home, and I have a right to use it for self-defense, hunting, etc., but at no point is my right to actually own the thing -- to claim title to it -- Constitutionally protected.

Of course, in light of the horror in Orlando, this is all Monday-morning quarterbacking. Because of our lax gun regulations (thank you, National Rifle Association!), Omar Mateen was able to legally purchase a military-style assault rifle, and then use it to kill 50 people and injure over 50 more. And even as I write this, there are those on the right who are trying to shift the spotlight away from gun regulations and shift it toward their favorite target of ire:

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, in his weekly bible verse tweet, posted Galatians 6:7: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." This was later deleted, and the PR firm hired by Patrick after the shitstorm provoked by his tweet claimed that "the tweet was pre-scheduled."

Donald Drumpf, ever the master of thoughtful, informed commentary, tweeted "What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough"

Drumpf also tweeted "Appreciate the congrats for being right on Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!" Still waiting for him on that last one ...

There have been multiple calls for increased vigilance -- against mental illness. Granted, anyone who would do something like this is a sick fuck, but when the plague has already been unleashed you focus on eradication first and prevention second.

Over on redstate.com, Jay Caruso pens a column in which he maintains that "If the shooter were a Christian? All we'd have heard all morning was how Christianity spurred the shooter to commit acts of violence against gay people. But the shooter was part of a radicalized form of Islam that THROWS GAY PEOPLE OFF ROOFTOPS TO THEIR DEATH. So the left instead chooses to blame the NRA. Typical." Actually, Mr. Caruso, it's not that it's typical of the left, it's of people who follow the rules of logical thought ... something with which, apparently, you only have a cursory acquaintance.

The left-wing blogosphere is all astir over the fact that the National Rifle Association hasn't commented on this story ... not at all surprising, if you think about it. Say what you will about the NRA -- they're evil, soul-sucking scum; Wayne LaPierre is the illegitimate love child of a diseased possum and Mr. Hyde from the Bugs Bunny cartoons (actually, there is a disturbing resemblance there) ...
Wayne LaPierre
NOT Wayne LaPierre. Or so he says.
 ... and so on -- they ain't stupid. Anyone with the common sense of gravel, when they are fronting an organization such as the NRA, knows that the best course of action in a situation like this is to sit tight, shut up, and wait until the President says something that can be twisted around so that you can blame him for everything.

None of this, however, addresses the real problem, which is that access to guns is simply too easy. I'm not saying, as some idiot parrot at the Right Wing Shriek Factory will be quick to claim, that we should confiscate firearms. First, the public would never stand still for it; second, it is but the first step to a police state; and third, the logistics are just unworkable.

What I am saying, however, is that we need to do the following things:

Repeal the Second Amendment.
Amendments can be repealed; we've done it before (the Twenty-First Amendment is an explicit repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, aka the Volstead Act, aka Prohibition). This doesn't criminalize guns. It simply removes this near-mythic status of Things Protected By The Constitution that preents anything of substance from being done to regulate them.

Regulate guns.
I can't buy a beer without being able to prove that I am twenty-one years of age (depressingly, nobody has asked in decades). Yet guns are being marketed to children ... cute little pink rifles for girls that fire actual bullets. For some reason, a fizzy beverage with 5% alcohol is deemed to be more of a threat than a machine that is designed expressly for the purpose of hurling chunks of hot lead at high speeds into other living things so that they aren't living things any more. This is patently absurd. Not only do we need full background checks for all gun sales, including the cute little pink ones, we also need to require that anyone purchasing a gun be properly licensed and insured. Which brings me to ...

Require gun owners to be licensed, and require guns to be registered.
Libertarian types as well as NRA shills will immediately squawk that this is the first step toward confiscation. Of course, that's like saying that, because my house faces northwest, a step out of my front door is the first step to Toronto. Requiring gun owners to have a license, which would serve as proof of training and expertise, is not unreasonable.

And actually, I am going to use right-wing "logic" here. A few years ago Pennsylvania passed a voter ID law, and a conservative friend of mine tried to make the argument that I shouldn't be upset about it because I already had the ID, so what's the problem? Using that same logic, the vast majority of people who would be subject to this licensure requirement would be able to get said license with no issues, so what's the problem?

As far as registering weapons, it has nothing to do with confiscation, or the paranoid ravings of right-wing nuts who think that Obama is comin' to take yer guns. All it has to do with is identifying the weapon and the owner in the case that it is used in the commission of a crime. Again, if you never use your guns illegally, and you always know their whereabouts (for example, a gun safe in your home), then what's the problem?

Require gun owners to carry liability insurance.
Sure, in cases like the Orlando shooter (who was killed by police), he probably wouldn't have had insurance anyway. However, contrary to what the NRA and their ilk would have you believe, just because something doesn't work all the time doesn't mean we shouldn't even bother trying. Using that logic, David Ortiz would never get up to bat because he strikes out occasionally, and if he can't spank it out of the park every fucking time then what's the use?

With that being said, requiring gun owners to carry insurance gives them an economic incentive to ensure that they are not used for nefarious purposes. In addition, it's a free-market solution ... and I thought conservatives loved it when the market is the solution, rather than government.

Repeal the Second Amendment.
Yeah, I already said it. I know. It's that important.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is archaic. It no longer fits the needs of our society. It is a low-technology 18th century edict that is not at all appropriate in our high-tech 21st century world. It may have served a purpose when governmental tyranny was a real concern, and the weapons used by governmental forces and the weapon owned by a plantation owner in Virginia were equivalent. That is no longer the case. Joe Six Pack with an AR-15 going up against the United States Army is roughly the same as trying to control a tornado with a flyswatter.

The long and short of it is, we need to make it extremely difficult for people like Omar Mateen -- or Adam Lanza, or James Holmes, or Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, or Christopher Harper Mercer, or John Zawahiri -- to get guns. These are all people who were known, for one reason or another, to be a risk to those around them, either through mental illness (Lanza, Holmes) or religious fanaticism (Farook, Malik), yet they were still able to purchase, legally, enough firepower to slaughter 116 people collectively and injure another 149 people.

That's 265 people. Two hundred sixty five dead or injured because Congress allows itself to be bullied by the NRA.

Repeal the Second Amendment. Regulate guns. Granted, we won't be able to stop them all, but each life saved by these measures will more than justify them.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Conservatives Are Just Plain Wrong On Minimum Wage

Let's consider the conservative stance on the minimum wage. Their conventional wisdom holds that raising the minimum wage will cause jobs to be lost. On its face this seems valid, but once you start looking at the underlying assumptions it becomes clearer that this is flawed premise. But let's break it down.

Assumption #1: Raising the minimum wage will cause employers to lay off workers.
This is not going to happen. It ignores completely the cost of hiring a new employee: initiation of benefits (if any), training costs, lost productivity, and so on while the position is open and/or the employee is trained. Raising the minimum wage will increase retention, actually lowering costs for employers.

Assumption #2: The spending patterns of minimum wage workers will not change.
The conservative thinking here is that workers will take that extra money and ... what? Hide it under a mattress? Use it as wallpaper because they're not educated enough to know better? I don't know what the thinking is here; I do know that it is fundamentally flawed.

The truth is, raising the minimum wage means that money is circulated back into the economy. Workers will be spending that money, being consumers, instead of living off food stamps and government largess. Which brings me to ...

Assumption #3: They're already sucking the government dry. Why should we give them more money?
The minimum wage in the United States is the biggest boondoggle perpetrated against the Federal government in history. Because the minimum wage is so close to the poverty line, minimum wage workers qualify for all sorts of government assistance at both state and Federal levels. Raise the minimum wage and they do not qualify any more.

Why is this important? Simple. As it stands right now, a minimum wage worker earns $15,080 a year. However, conservatives like to trot out the fact that, after the Earned Income Tax Credit, minimum wage workers earn $19,656 a year (source: The Fiscal Times, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/03/13/Truth-About-Minimum-Wage-Workers-Take-Home-Pay, Rob Garver, 3/13/2014) . Which is all well and good, except when you consider the following:

  • $19,656 ain't that much either.
  • In Garver's example it raises a family of three just above the poverty line. Add another non-earner to the family, and they are now magically below the poverty line again.
  • The EITC may help with big ticket items around tax time (say, a major car repair, or needing significant dental work), but it does very little for the day-to-day because it's received as a lump sum in the tax refund instead of being distributed equally throughout the year.

In addition, there are the various subsidies for the working poor -- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, child care credits, etc. -- which amount to nearly $153 billion a year. That is money paid out by the Federal and state governments subsidize employers such as Wal-Mart and McDonalds who pay minimum wage. In short, the American taxpayer is paying part of the real salary earned by these folks instead of the employers. Pretty sweet deal for Wal-Mart, when you think about it ... your employee gets the equivalent of around $15 an hour, but you pay less than half of that.

So what happens if the minimum wage is increased? A few things ...

  • The employee doesn't actually see much of a raise, if any; it's simply a case of money being shifted around. Instead of some coming from an employer and some coming from the government, now virtually all (if not all) money comes from the employer.
  • The government saves money on these programs, because people will no longer qualify for benefits and therefore expenditures can be reduced.
  • It also increases the amount of taxes collected by the government ... instead of benefits being paid out, the worker is paying taxes on higher wages.
  • Taxpayers are no longer on the hook for part of the worker's salary.


So what does all this actually mean?

Quite simply, it means that the conservative view that raising the minimum wage will result in job losses is patently false ... in fact, the opposite is true. By raising the minimum wage, we create a whole new crop of consumers, who will generate economic activity, which will cause employers to need more workers, and so on.

So why the big pushback from conservatives on this? Simple, really. Conservatives (and, by extension, the Republican Party) is quite proud of the fact that they are the party of business. Conservatives are very sympathetic to business interests, and one of those interests (even though it is not explicitly stated as such) is that businesses quite enjoy having more than half of their labor costs for low-wage employees subsidized by state and Federal governments. I can't blame them, really ... if I could get the government to pay over half of my mortgage, I would. I don't have armies of lobbyists working on my behalf, though, so I'm not holding my breath for that one.

In the end, it comes down to a fundamental question of what people believe is better for the country. Progressives believe a strong middle class makes for a better economic climate, and points to data from the 50s and 60s (when the middle class was strongest, and before Republicans started in with the ridiculous "trickle-down" thing) as proof. Conservatives, on the other hand, still want to stick with trickle-down economics and believe that if the top earners are doing well then the rest of the country is too, because fuck the poor. I gotta lie down.

Liberal vs. Conservative: Let's Get Ready To Rumble!

I need to address something that seems to be coloring all debate between the right and the left, and that is that I don't think conservatives actually have a clear idea of what the left is in the United States.

The "leftists" label they apply to liberals in the United States is inaccurate, at best. The leftists to which they often refer -- violent anarchist, fascists, statists, etc. -- are actually leftists in the European sense. For example, Mussolini's fascist movement was branded as leftist, even though it shares some common points of philosophy (capitalism unfettered by regulation, for example) with American conservatism. Similarly, Britain's Conservative Party shares common ground with American liberals.

This leads to some interesting dichotomies. For example, conservatives regularly claim they are about personal freedom and getting government out of peoples' lives. Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservatism, famously proclaimed that "government is the problem."

For the record, claiming that conservatives are about personal freedom while simultaneously trying to dictate not only when a woman can have an abortion but also implementing some pretty invasive measures to try to talk her out of it is, at best, disingenuous. In particular, I refer to the Virginia law that mandated a trans-vaginal ultrasound before having an abortion so the woman could hear the fetal heartbeat and thus "make an informed decision," when it was really an attempt to shame her into carrying to term after cramming an electronic dildo into her vagina and waving it around. Conservatives like to dress these things up as "promoting women's health," but everyone knows it's bullshit ... it's just another way for a political philosophy that is fundamentally anchored in the belief in the superiority of rich white males to promulgate this view.

Another example of this is the law in Texas that mandated that any clinic performing abortions (which is recognized by the American Medical Association as an outpatient procedure) had to have admitting privileges at a hospital and all the facilities accommodations of a surgical center. These modifications to facilities would often run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This resulted in the closing of dozens of facilities (the actual intent of the law), and as a result there are only nine centers performing abortions in Texas ... and none at all west of San Antonio. This means that some women have to travel nearly 550 miles for an abortion. And because of the other restrictions put into place by Taxes's H.B. 2, a woman now must prepare for a multi-day ordeal because she is required to make two visits to the same provider no less than 24 hours apart -- the first for an ultrasound, and the second for the actual procedure (which, ironically, routinely includes an ultrasound).

In contrast, the left in the United States holds the view that, when it comes to a medical procedure like an abortion, it is a decision that is best left in the hands of the woman and her doctor, and government should butt the hell out. And before anyone gets their bloomers knotted up by saying that liberals are trying to promote their position through legislation, all I can say is, yes, we are. The difference is that conservative legislation on this issue is intrusive, patriarchal, and authoritarian, telling a woman what she is allowed to do and not allowed to do with her own body. Liberal legislation on this issue is simply trying to protect the right of a woman to make her own choice and prevent others from infringing on this right.

I don't have a problem with anti-choice people trying to promote their position through peaceful means. It is well within their rights to make their case as best they can. I will go to the mat to protect an anti-choice activist's right to protest peacefully, and to counsel women on alternatives to having an abortion. What I do have a problem with is trying to promote that view through legislation and mandate a "one size fits all" approach that hews closely to a doctrine espoused by a particular branch of evangelical Christianity.

For the record, I was adopted. When conservatives learn this, they often triumphantly pounce on it as proof of their view point, and the conversation goes a little something like this:

Me: Yes, I was adopted,
Anti-choice Activist: Really? So where would you be if your mom had decided to have an abortion?
Me: Well, I wouldn't be at all upset about it, because I never would have been born. None of the people I know would have felt any feelings of loss, because they would have never known me. The only person who would have been upset by that is my birth mother.
Anti-choice Activist: Well, aren't you glad she gave birth to you?
Me: Of course I am. I've had a good life, I have great kids, a lawn tractor that starts whether I want it to or not, and two semi-dysfunctional dogs that like to bark at individual air molecules.
Anti-choice Activist: But you want all women to have abortions!
Me: No, I want all women to be able to make the choice to have an abortion free from interference. And just because she has a choice to do so, does not automatically assume that will be the choice she makes. And you made the argument for me, when you asked where I would be if my birth mother had decided to have an abortion. You were assuming it was her choice, were you not? You may have used the word "decision" instead of "choice," but the meaning is the same: given two or more options, my birth mother selected the one that resulted in me being born and being adopted by my parents. Yet you want to take that decision-making power away from her and put it into the hands of the government. How is that "personal freedom?"

Yes, I have thought about this a lot. Moving on ...

The point of all this is not a diatribe against the anti-choice movement (although I cold go on for days on this topic). It's that conservatives who complain about "violent leftists" often do not have a full understanding of that the terms actually means, and are often conflating the European definition of "leftist" which includes any radical movement that seeks to upend the status quo, and does not account for their position on the political conservative/liberal spectrum) to the American definition of the word (which includes liberal activists, politicians, and groups ... some violent, but mostly not).

I do not intend to demean conservatives here (I'll save that for another blog post!), only to clarify things. I gotta lie down.

A Path Forward

The Democratic primaries are heating up, and I am already seeing purity tests of various stripes filtering across the intertubes. Bernie ...