Staring at the tree…

The U.S. Supreme Court generally clears the deck of all pending opinions before going away for the July 4thholiday. Typically, the higher profile the case, the latter the opinion is handed down. That means in the next ten days, we can expect to see new rulings on abortion, religious liberty, the environment, and the Second Amendment.  It’s enough to make a court watcher absolutely salivate with anticipation.

On the other hand, it’s enough to make me seriously consider proclaiming the month of July a social media-free zone. Regardless of how these pending rulings come down, public outcry will be equal parts intense, uninformed, and obnoxious. Responsible analysis will be tough to come by and will immediately be downvoted by partisans. I honestly don’t know if I’ve got it in me to sit around listening to so many people suddenly being engaged and interested. 

Being engaged is good and all… but not just on the big days. That’s just a recipe for people losing their minds as some kind of performative display of giving a shit. It means a whole lot less than paying attention when the sausage is being made. The Supreme Court rightly gets a lot of press, but 99% of law, policy, and regulation never touch their front door. If you’re focused only on those nine judges you’re staring at the tree and missing a whole universe worth of forest to your left and right and in front of and behind you. 

Sigh. Maybe if I just mute all notifications and just spend a month watching cat videos on TikTok the summer won’t be as bad as I’m anticipating. It really does feel like the ideal time to drawing up the digital drawbridge until people settle the fuck down.

Some thoughts concerning the bipartisan framework on gun control…

It appears that the United States Senate, in a rare bit of bipartisan effort, has cobbled together a framework for new gun control laws. As one of those people who will be stuck complying with whatever goofy laws the state and federal government come up, I have some thoughts on the issue. I’ll try to get through them in some kind of logical order.

I think most people who know me will be a bit surprised as they get through (most of) the rundown:

  • Clarify who must register as a licensed firearms dealer. This feels like a bit of a no-brainer. Clarifying current regulations defining who’s “engaged in the business of selling firearms” should make it easier to understand exactly what that phrase means and who needs to be in compliance in order to conduct that business appropriately.
  • Enhanced penalties for straw purchases. If you knowingly and intentionally purchase a firearm with the intention of reselling or otherwise giving it to someone who is legally prohibited from owning one, you ought to have the book thrown at you. I have no idea what percentage of total sales are straw purchases, but each one of them is an insult to every one of us who jumps through all the hoops in order to stay in compliance.
  • Closing the “boyfriend loophole.” Makes sense. If you’ve been convicted of abuse against your domestic partner – whether married, living together, or in a “serious dating relationship” – your propensity to violence or poor decision making is documented and the state therefore has a vested interest in limiting your ability to escalate that violence.
  • Increased mental health funding. Sure. Is anyone out there really saying that we don’t need to improve access to mental health in this country? I’m not going to turn this post into a brief history of mental health failures over the last century, but getting past the idea that “they’re nuts and there’s nothing we can do about it” is probably a good idea.
  • Enhanced school security. This one feels like something of a red herring. School shootings and “mass shootings” as a whole grab the headlines, but they make up a vanishingly small portion of overall violence in which a perpetrator uses a firearm. I mean sure, more security for soft targets is fine, but you’ll get more bang for your buck in getting people who commit crimes using a firearm off the streets and keeping them there.
  • Enhanced background checks for buyers between 18 and 21. Personally, if we’re going to make gun owners a suspect class, I’d say go all the way back and make sure the review includes juvenile records as well. Walking in with a clean record on your 18th birthday shouldn’t count for more than being a little felon as a minor.

Of course, there’s one bit of this proposed framework, that I’ll be watching with intense interest: Expanding red flag laws.

In Maryland, our red flag law takes the form of the Extreme Risk Protection Order and allows a spouse, domestic partner, dating/romantic partner, relative, law enforcement officer, or medical professional to potation the court to require an individual to surrender firearms and ammunition to the state and to refrain from purchasing new ones. It further provides the court with the ability to refer the individual for emergency mental health evaluation. Some states are more or less restrictive on who can waive the red flag to trigger this process.

It sounds eminently reasonable on its face, but feels replete with opportunities to be abused – by those who might file for an ERPO illegitimately, by an overzealous judiciary, and by the government agency that can continue to hold an individual’s firearms days and weeks after the ERPO has expired or been rescinded.

Unlike some, I don’t think these red flag laws necessarily violate any kind of due process expectation on their face. I do expect, however, that they need to be very strictly constructed and closely overseen in order to prevent them from slipping towards a scenario where those subject to an ERPO find themselves like those Americans who were incorrectly placed on government “no fly” lists with no recourse besides a faceless, shrugging, government bureaucracy.

Personally, if I were king for the day and I wanted to get after gun violence, I’d spend my time chasing better legislation to put violent offenders in the deepest, darkest hole that local and state government and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons could find. Commit a crime with a firearm and the whole world ought to fall down on your head. Instead, we continue to usher these individuals into the revolving door of arrest, incarceration, release, wash, rinse, and repeat… but that’s not the story that’s going to ever lead the headlines and captivate public attention, so we are where we are.

How they do it in San Francisco…

In San Francisco yesterday, voters recalled their elected district attorney. Chesa Boudin was elected to office in 2019. For many of us outside San Francisco his tenure as prosecutor was marked distinctly by dramatic property crimes and a sense that he was presiding over the legal machinery in a city where crime might just pay after all. 

It’s not hard, after watching video after video of smash-and-grab robberies and organized groups of shoplifters walking away with thousands of dollars’ worth of products, to understand why city residents might have lost confidence. 

Boudin is one of a number of prosecutors who came into office over the last few years by tickling every sweet spot for leftist criminal justice reformers. He promised to reduce crime by cutting the jail population, doing away with cash bail, reforming police procedures, and opting not to prosecute various “low level” violations. I guess that’s the sort of campaign promise that is well received in some circles.

What this successful recall tells me, is that people say they want to promote feel-good, soft shoe criminal justice policies. They might even be convinced that’s what they want. It seems, though, what voters really want is to feel secure in their homes, have their property protected from the criminal element, and be able to walk the streets without being accosted or wading through rivers of human excrement.

It doesn’t honestly feel like too much to ask from our elected leaders, but then again, I don’t really know how they do things in San Francisco.

Joe…

Let me say it straight from the shoulder… I’m not a big fan of Joe Biden as president. From spearheading America’s flight from Afghanistan to the current conflicted economic environment the administration is determined to cheer as rosy, while simultaneously decrying as hard times and painfully inflationary, it feels like the presidency is his in name, but that the hard work of the office remains, somehow, out of his grasp. 

I’ve never met him, but maybe he’s a nice enough old man. I’d be willing to go so far as to say he’s probably well intentioned. He might even be successful his role as head of state (à la Elizabeth II) where the main function is unveiling plaques, making proclamations, and waiving at crowds. I have to believe that even those who supported him during the election have found him wanting when exercising his awesome constitutional role as head of government. His performance when it comes to the hard stuff could, charitably, be called something between mixed and abysmal.

I’m certainly not advocating for a return to the batshit crazy administration of Donald Trump and his band of merry insurrectionists, but the fact that Joe was popularly recognized as the best available option really should concern every one of us. The best thing he could possible do would be to, as soon as the midterms are over, go on television and announce that he won’t seek a second term. I’m sure I’ll still hate the next contender’s policies, but the job deserves someone more engaged and energetic. 

Idiocracy…

It’s primary election day for seven states. I’m sure I should be paying more attention than I am, but other than next-door Pennsylvania I don’t think I could reliably name any of the other six states who went to the polls today. I won’t say that I don’t care, but I’ll confess to being disinterested. 

Even without knowing details or specifics I can surmise what’s going to happen. The Republicans will end up with seven candidates who move forward to the general election and fall somewhere along the political spectrum between January 6th apologists and Benito Mussolini. The Democrats will advance their general election candidates who land somewhere between Uncle Fluffy and Chairman Mao. The Republicans will be horrified by the Democrat’s candidates. The Democrats will revile the Republican’s candidates. All the while, the vast sea of voters who fall between the extremes will look at the candidates, yawn, and wonder how the hell these are the best, most qualified candidates we could find.

Look, I’m engaged in the process and informed about the issues… and I’m struggling when I look at the whole field of potential candidates. Across the board it’s hard to see one I’d want to spend an hour talking to, let alone one I’d feel comfortable elevating to high public office.

So it goes, on and on, election after election into the future as we all slide increasingly closer to living in a live-action version of Idiocracy. 

Show me your papers…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

I’ve spent a few Friday evenings opining on topics that would inevitably annoy my friends on the right, so it only feels fair that I offer up something to antagonize my friends on the left. 

You see, I support the notion that only citizens should be eligible to vote in our elections. What’s more, I believe where people vote should be inextricably tied to where they live. For instance, Mark Meadows should not have in any way been considered eligible to vote in North Carolina elections while not domiciled in that state any more than I should be allowed to vote in Tennessee elections simply because I use to live there once upon a time.

That there should be some form of identification required to ensure someone who seeks to participate in the electoral process is, in fact, eligible to participate feels like it should be a no brainer. 

“But,” I can hear the cry, “Voting is a right protected by the Constitution.” Yes. It is. Licenses and permits are required for many constitutionally protected activities. If I wanted to exercise my 1st Amendment right to stage a protest on the National Mall, for instance, I’d need a permit from the National Park Service. If, heaven forfend, I wanted to use my 2nd Amendment rights to purchase a handgun in the state of Maryland, I’d need to show ID, get finger printed, spend money to apply for a special Handgun Qualification License, and undergo an additional background check through the Maryland State Police. That hardly feels like unrestrained and unfettered exercise of a Constitutional right. 

As a nation, we’ve already accepted limitations placed on how and when we can exercise our rights under the Constitution. Unless we’re going to suddenly agree to roll back the others, needing to show some valid form of ID at the polling place hardly seems onerous or out of line with limits already in place for other rights. 

Perhaps more unpopular than my take on voter ID is my heretical notion that just because people are eligible to vote doesn’t mean they should. I think often of George Carlin’s quote that encourages us to “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” It’s a reality that makes me question if we really should be making such a big push by saying everyone should vote. Expecting everyone to have an informed grip on who or what they’re voting in favor of or against doesn’t feel strictly reasonable… which in my estimation leads to people simply voting for whatever voice happens to be loudest in their ear rather than any kind of informed self- or community interest.

So maybe we should back off this “get everyone to the polls” bit. If you’re not interested enough to know it’s election day without being bludgeoned over the head with that information, what are the chances you’ve spent even ten minutes “studying” the issues at hand? This business of getting everyone to the polls has contributed largely to getting us exactly the kind of government we deserve, so all I’m saying is maybe try a slightly different approach and focus in more on eligible voters who are halfway informed than the broader pool of eligible voters who don’t know or don’t care what’s happening in the wider world.

For most of us, voting is the most important responsibility we’ll ever exercise as citizens of the republic. Cleaning up the process a bit doesn’t feel like it should be a bridge too far. 

Freebooters…

The filibuster has a long and storied history as a delaying tactic employed by members of the minority party in U.S. Senate. In its most simple form, the filibuster means the minority can prolong or delay a vote as long as they can keep a solid block of 41 senators behind the effort.

The problem isn’t really the filibuster in and of itself. It’s the fact that since the 1970s, the threat of a filibuster has been enough to derail legislation. Since then, all a senator has had to do is signal their intent to filibuster and the majority leader most often opts not to bring the bill to the floor. It wasn’t always thus. 

Rather than eliminate the filibuster – and the need to get to 60 senators to invoke cloture – simply fall back on the more historic rules of the Senate. If the minority party, a small segment of senators, or even an individual wants to block legislation, go back in time to when they had to earn it. Make the bastards hold the floor. Make them talk until their exhausted. Don’t let them eat. Don’t let them drink. Don’t let them sleep. Make them grind the machinery of state to a halt right there in the chamber with the cameras on them. Make them stay in session on Fridays and over the weekend. If they want to filibuster, make these octogenarian asshats do the work.

Right now, the minority party can weaponize the filibuster and the majority just stands around and takes it… but the majority can weaponize the rules and procedures of the Senate just as easily. Plus, taking the filibuster back to the future is the far more poetic option than throwing it over and turning the Senate into a smaller, more elderly, simple majority needing version than the House. 

Make the Filibuster Painful Again. That’s Ol’ Doc Tharp’s prescription. 

Wartime leadership…

If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes and watch Ukrainian President Zelensky address members of the US Congress. The man displays more leadership in ten minutes than the Congress has shown in the last ten years.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2022/03/16/volodymyr-zelensky-congress-speech-ukraine-video-newsroom-vpx.cnn

Funding both sides…

Europe gets a metric shit ton of its oil and natural gas from Russia. It’s a simple, unfortunate truth.  No matter how bad the Russian attack on Ukraine gets in the short term, convincing the European Union to embargo their own fuel supply is probably too heavy a lift. That doesn’t mean as spring arrives, they shouldn’t be putting plans in place to cut out Russian oil for next heating season. It’s in their collective best interest to disentangle from Russia as quickly as possible. Either they do it on their own terms or it can be forced on them whenever Vlad the Invader decides to choke off their supply of his own accord.

Sources I’ve seen indicate that only somewhere between 1 and 8% of the petroleum products we consume here in the United States originate in Russia. I’m sure there’s a reason for that wide a variance in the numbers, but the bottom line doesn’t really change – there’s absolutely no reason the US needs to import oil products from Russia. Other, more reliable trading partners – I’m looking at you, Canada and Mexico – would probably be thrilled to pick up the slack.

The game we’re playing now, of airlifting arms and armaments to the Ukrainian resistance while simultaneously providing hard dollars to Russia by way of payments for petroleum, needs to stop. Funding both sides of the war is just plain stupid. Every lever of economic power we can throw to bring pain to the Russian economy is an effort worth making… and more importantly, once we’re off Russian oil we can focus on helping Europe get themselves clean, too. 

If we’re serious about not wanting to get into a shooting war with Russia ourselves, tightening the economic stranglehold we’ve got them in as quickly as possible feels like the last, best option. Otherwise, we’re just giving Putin more time and funding to hold on in hopes that the currently unified world begins to show some cracks at the margins. Our historically short attention span is working against us here, but this is important and it needs to get done.

The least they could do…

I’ll never turn my nose up at a federal holiday. If you want a holiday to celebrate or recognize someone or some thing, I’ll support you. Juneteenth? Sure. 9/11 Day? Yep. Kwanzaa? I’m in. Lunar New year? Sign me up. I’m happy to take any day off that the brain trust that is the US Congress wants to put on the books. 

I just wish a few more of them would fall between the middle of February and the end of May. 

Washington’s Birthday is always the holiday that hurts most, because it’s the holiday that leads in to the long slog through the spring of the year. In my mind there’s no worse part of the calendar than the stretch from Presidents Day to Memorial Day. It’s three months, a quarter of the year, or about 98 days, with nothing aside from standard issue weekends. Those weekends account for 28 days if you’re trying to do the math in your head.

I know, an extra day here or there doesn’t make a huge difference, but they do serve as helpful marks on the wall. If nothing else, they’re some small point of light to look forward to among the normal grind of spreadsheets, PowerPoint, and event planning. Sure, I could just burn off some of my own vacation days, but they just don’t feel as good as “free” holidays.

I normally try to struggle through the first half of the year without breaking into any of my own days. They make a nice reserve for the back half of the year, when the weather is better and I’m well and truly tired of everyone’s shit. Here in February, it means my normal early June tranche of vacation days still feel like something way out over the horizon. Almost a figment of my imagination. 

So yeah. Call your senators and representative and tell them we absolutely need a few more federal holidays in the mix. Since they can’t figure out how to pass a budget or do any actual programmatic oversight, it feels like the least they could do for us.