Repealing Smart Gun Law Won’t Change Attitudes

Smart GunThree words: it won’t matter.

Chris Hayes did a great sequence on All In about Smart Guns. These are the guns that only allow authorized people to use them. This is done with a little wristwatch that is worn on the same arm as you shoot with. This is necessary because the “watch” much be within ten inches of the gun. This is a big deal because hundreds of kids are accidentally shot and killed each year. It would also make stolen guns much less useful. So it’s a win-win.

But of course, there are those who don’t like it. Some claim that the system is not perfect and it might not shoot when you need it. This is a totally ridiculous complaint. The same can be said for any gun. Things go wrong with guns. They jam, for example. So this complaint is just from people who are against any advancement.

But as Hayes points out, there is actually a substantive reason that the gun rights crowd is against these guns. New Jersey has a law that says that if Smart Guns go on sale anywhere in the United States, the gun dealers in New Jersey must convert their inventories to Smart Guns within three years. Outside of gun rights, that strikes me as an onerous regulation. In three years, it is unlikely that many manufactures will be making Smart Guns—so it would greatly limit consumer choice. Also: the Smart Guns are very expensive and I doubt that will be much changed in three years.

Hayes says that he would be in favor of repealing the law to get Smart Guns on the market. And he had a New Jersey legislator on his show who said the same thing. But there’s a problem and that’s where we get to my three words: it won’t matter.

Even after the law is repealed, the gun rights crowd will do at least two things. First, they will grab onto the “we can’t be sure these guns will always work” argument. Second, they will claim that even though New Jersey repealed its law, it could always pass another. And any number of other states could do the same. So the Smart Guns will be seen as a Trojan horse. And they doubtless will come up with other reasons why the Smart Guns are the Son of Satan.

The truth is that gun owners are not especially crazy. But they see themselves as an oppressed minority. So it takes very little for them to get worked up. One or two opinion leaders decide that Smart Guns are the biggest threat to gun rights since serial numbers and suddenly they all believe it. (Can you imagine the reaction if the government proposed serial numbers as a new thing today?) But this is how bad it’s gotten. Now we don’t even argue over gun laws. Now new gun technologies have to be pre-approved by the gun rights brigade. It’s shameful. They’ve pathetic. And I weep for the steep downward trend of this country.


I know I said I stopped watching MSNBC. And mostly I have. But I do check back in occasionally, especially if I hear they are going to do something interesting. And I was really interested in this.

Is it too Late for Democracy?

Chris HedgesChris Hedges wrote an update about his case Hedges v Obama, which challenged the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA). The law allows the government to detain anyone (including US citizens) for indefinite periods of time as long as the government believes that they are terrorists. Of course, “terrorist” is meant in the Patriot Act sense where the government knows a terrorist when it sees one because a terrorist is someone the government wants to detain indefinitely.

If this sounds like circular reasoning, it shouldn’t be surprising. After a lower court found this part of the law unconstitutional, the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned it. Of course, they didn’t do it on its merits. That would be too much like an actual legal system. It said that Hedges had no standing because he did not know that the government was targeting him. Of course, he can’t know because that information is classified. And so we get into the usual catch-22 where the government can’t be forced to reveal its unconstitutional surveillance because the people can’t prove the the government is in engaged in unconstitutional surveillance.

Last September, Hedges asked the Supreme Court to force the lower court to reevaluate the case, given that the Snowden revelations showed that Hedges did in fact have standing. And a week ago the Supreme Court came back and said no. And interestingly, all it said was no. According to SCOTUSblog, “The Court made no comment as it denied review of Hedges v Obama.” I find it interesting that people like Scalia and Alito who were so concerned about government overreach in the matter of Obamacare leading to forced broccoli consumption don’t seem to be the least bit concerned about the government effectively making US citizens disappear.

For his part, Hedges sounds more desperate than I’ve ever heard him—and that’s saying a lot. He seems to think that nothing short of a popular uprising will save the country and the constitution that supposedly supports it. He explains what the ruling (such as it is) means:

It means the nation has entered a post-constitutional era. It means that extraordinary rendition of US citizens on US soil by our government is legal. It means that the courts, like the legislative and executive branches of government, exclusively serve corporate power—one of the core definitions of fascism. It means that the internal mechanisms of state are so corrupted and subservient to corporate power that there is no hope of reform or protection for citizens under our most basic constitutional rights. It means that the consent of the governed—a poll by showed that this provision had a 98 percent disapproval rating—is a cruel joke. And it means that if we do not rapidly build militant mass movements to overthrow corporate tyranny, including breaking the back of the two-party duopoly that is the mask of corporate power, we will lose our liberty.

He’s threading a needle here. His point is that the problem is not the government. That’s an important distinction because people like Hedges are not like the supposed “constitutional conservatives” who seem only to want to overthrow the government so they can stop paying taxes and set up a theocracy. The problem is that we really don’t live in a democracy anymore. The government does the bidding of the oligarchs and not much more.

Cecily McMillanBut when I look out on this country of ours, I don’t see people ready to demand their power back. In fact, I don’t even see many people who will bother to vote to keep things from getting much worse.[1] And at this point, voting is of limited power even if we could get politicians who would support the people. The judicial system has been thoroughly corrupted. Just today, Cecily McMillan was found guilty of assaulting a police officer while she was being arrested during an Occupy protest. She faces up to seven years in jail for allegedly elbowing the officer. (I find it amusing how cops claim to be so tough and whine about how hard their jobs are, but when a young woman elbows one, they run to the authorities.) And the judge wouldn’t even let her free for the two weeks until her sentencing.

The power elites own everything and everyone who matters. The rest of us are too busy scraping by to do anything about it. I don’t see much hope.

[1] Let me be clear. The candidates we get are bad. But if all the people showed up at the polls, all the time, we would get much better candidates. But instead, we get a government that is far more conservative on economic issues than the people. And one of the long-term results of this is that we have a ridiculously conservative judicial system where what was once considered conservative is now labeled “liberal.”

I Was Forced to Watch Joel McHale

Joel McHaleAs a general rule, I don’t watch the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The truth is that I think it’s dangerous. What the event says is that the media and the political world are just one happy family that puts on a hell of a show for the American people. Well I think that’s bunk. The politicians are supposed to be doing the work of the people. And the media are supposed to be reporting on and probing that work. You want to know why Benghazi is so big in the right wing world? Because it’s entertainment. It is no different than Finding Bigfoot or similar shows based upon nothing but the delusions of kooks.

But I heard all weekend just what a terrible job Joel McHale did at the dinner so I had to check it out. I’ll admit, I went into it as an iconoclast: I wanted to disagree. I wanted to say everyone just didn’t get him. And I think that is largely true. The material was quite strong. But there is no doubt that his performance was weak. He blew a number of otherwise good jokes. But above all, he spent 70% of his time looking down at his cards. I went back and watched Stephen Colbert’s 2006 performance, just to make sure this was not how it was done. And it was not. I’m not sure what was wrong with him.

The best joke of the night was not about politics at all. McHale noted that Robert De Niro was in the audience. He said that he couldn’t do a De Niro impression, but that he did De Niro’s agent. So he reached out and grabbed a pretend telephone and put it to his ear. Then he said very excitedly, “He’ll do it!” That goes along with what seems to have happened to his career. At one time he took great roles. Now he’s just making money.

But the show was filled with some sharp attacks. For example, he said, “Julia Pierson, the new director of the Secret Service, is here tonight. Under her leadership Secret Service agents can no longer consort with prostitutes thanks to their new ‘too drunk to make it to the brothel’ program.” And then there was this, “CNN is desperately searching for something they’ve been missing for months: their dignity.” This elicited boos, to which McHale responded, “Totally!” He continued, “At this point, CNN is like the Radio Shack in a small strip mall: you don’t know how it stayed in business this long, you don’t know anyone that shops there, and they just fired Piers Morgan.”

He made a number of what I thought were cruel jokes about Chris Christie, and that’s saying something because I despise the man. But he did pay it off with what was the high point of his performance, satirizing Christie’s 9 January press conference:

He’s actually here today. Sir, you are a glutton… for punishment. Chris Christie—his administration canceled the train tunnel to Manhattan, they’re closing the Pulaski Skyway, and they’ve blocked the George Washington Bridge. Finally, a politician willing to stand up to America’s commuters! Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes because I got a bunch of both—I could go half and half; I know you like a combo platter… [Audience moans.] I get that. I’m sorry for that joke Governor Christie. I didn’t know I was gonna tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops here. So I will be a man and own up to it—just as soon as I get to the bottom of how it happened, because I was unaware it happened until just now. I’m appointing a blue ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be dealt with. [Pause.] I just looked into it, it turns out I’m not responsible for it, justice has been served!

The best part of the evening was not McHale, however. Nor was it Obama, who I thought was rather stilted. It was this fun Veep sort of parody with Joe Biden and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ve actually never seen the show, but I loved to see Joe Biden playing a cleaned up version of his super-cool character in The Onion:

But for the record, this is the real Joe Biden:

So it’s all kind of silly and bad for the country. But it has its moments.


Here is the whole thing, if you dare:

Karl Marx as Moral Philosopher

Karl MarxOn this day in 1818, Karl Marx was born. Historically, he’s a curious fellow since so many authoritarians claimed to base their despotic regimes on his thought. I think he was very much like Adam Smith: essentially a moral philosopher who had some things to say about economics. And also like Smith, when people talk about him, he is little more than a caricature. There’s no doubt that he was one of the greatest thinkers of the 19th century, and although I used to find him culpable in the Communism of the 20th century, I know longer do—just as Adam Smith is not to blame for the neo-feudalism we find ourselves living through today.

What is perhaps most interesting, and frankly charming, about Marx was his conception of humans. He saw them as essentially good and productive. And I would really like to believe that! But I’m afraid that we are instead apes with over-sized brains. Fear, above all, is what drives us. In this way, I tend to be in alignment with the capitalists who think that the only way to deal with this is to create the kind of dog-eat-dog environment that capitalism provides. But I find that I’m more inclined toward Marx’s solution. The capitalist system seems to provide a way for harnessing the problems with humans but in no way limiting them. Capitalism is essentially a way of systematizing what comes naturally to humans.

I think it is possible to create a society that encourages the better aspects of human behavior. And we know what kind of society it is, because to some extent, we’ve already created it: a mixed economy with enough capitalism to encourage people to create, and enough socialism to not turn them into animals. This is why I am a strong supporter of a social safety net and have even come to see the necessity of a guaranteed income. But even more, we need what Ayn Rand always wanted: a revolution of thought. Of course, that revolution needs to be exactly the opposite of what she wanted. We need to learn to value the hobbyist who fashions wooden bowls as much as we value the venture capitalist. And I think that’s possible, which I suppose puts me very close to Marx.

Most people claim that Marx was wrong in his political predictions, and this is true. But his central economic prediction, based upon his analysis of the industrial revolution, we are seeing at this very moment. He argued that the capitalist system will naturally evolve into an unacceptably unequal society. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was easy to regard this as nonsense. Inequality was actually being reduced. But Marx himself said that for brief times the capitalist system could work. What’s more, that reduction in inequality was due to the very socialist programs that conservatives hate. The purer the capitalism, the stronger the tendency to go haywire. And we are seeing this today. The solution, of course, is a balance between capitalism and socialism. But for the last four decades, we have erred constantly on the side of capitalism, and now we have a real mess that has so distorted our politics that it is hard to make the changes we most desperately need.

I think it is clear that given the history of the last 150 years, both Adams and Marx would agree with me about what kind of system is ideal. Neither of them were ideologues. They were interested in improving the practical state of human beings. Contrast this with the modern conservative who is mired in ideology. Of course, it just so happens that this ideology also helps their class. There aren’t a lot of impoverished libertarians, for example. So I think it is important to see Marx and Adams as they really were. We tend to make out Adams like he was Milton Friedman crossed with Jesus Christ, which is bad enough. But the negative view of Karl Marx is unacceptable and unwarranted.

Here is a nice short lecture by Terry Eagleton about his book Why Marx Was Right, which I haven’t read:

Happy birthday Karl Marx!