Category Archives: gurvey

Ban the Damn Guns

America today is suffering a plague of gun violence.

It wasn’t always this way. Americans used to own guns without engaging in daily massacres. As a Chicago native, I learned as a child about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when members of one Chicago gang set up and killed seven members of a rival gang. It was so shocking it led to legislation that prohibited automatic weapons in the U.S.

That ban was extended with restrictions on “semiautomatic assault weapons,” as well as magazines that met the criteria for what it defined as a “large capacity ammunition feeding device,” in 1989 after 34 children and a teacher were shot and five children killed in Stockton, California with a semi-automatic Kalashnikov rifle. A pull of the trigger is required for each shot of a semi-automatic. An automatic fires continuously.

The Federal Assault Weapons ban went into effect in 1994 after a 52-48 vote in the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed it into law the same day. But times have changed. The ban expired after ten years and attempts to renew it have repeatedly failed. In 2018, another Valentine’s Day shooting, this one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 children and wounded 17 others. This time, then-President Donald Trump called for arming teachers, and the Republican-dominated Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have limited some high-capacity guns.

Fast forward to today. Our acceptance of violence npw stands in striking contrast to Americans’ horror at the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. I’ve done the legal arguments before, most notably here in a column which includes Chief Justice Warren Berger’s declaration that the conservative reading of the Second Amendment is a “fraud.”

I won’t repeat those arguments. What I do want to do is call your attention to the latest judicial idiocy, California has had its own ban in assault weapons for thirty years. Six other states plus the District of Columbia have similar bans. You would think even if the Second Amendment restricts the Federal government on gun control, language putting the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia” would allow the states, which at the time the Bill of Rights was written controlled the militia, to pass reasonable legislation to regulate firearms.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California now says he knows better than Berger and the state of California. He must figure the words “well-regulated” and “militia” were just thrown in because the Framers had some extra ink they wanted to use up. In a 94-page opinion Benitez declared unconstitutional the California statute. Benitez, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, comes out swinging with his opening paragraph:

Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR 15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.

Miller v Bonta, 19-cv-1537-BEN (JLB)

The Law and Crime blog has a detailed set of quotes from the decision. I’ll dwell on just a few. Judge Benitez writes, “The assault weapons ban has had no effect. California’s experiment is a failure.” This conclusion follows an analysis that claims the rate at which assault weapons were used in mass killings in California during the years the weapons ban has been in effect has not changed. Benitez also writes that mass killings are “rare events.” He also states, “A Californian is three times more likely to be murdered by an attacker’s bare hands, fists, or feet, than by his rifle.”

The New York Times ran a partial list of recent mass shootings in the United States.

Politifact earlier this year found that 10 of 11 mass shootings were done with AR-15 weapons. Newsweek says they were used in 26 of the last 80 mass shootings. As to his other conclusion, I have to wonder if he’d like to stand up for a duel. He gets the Swiss Army knife while his challenger gets the AR-15.

The hypocrisy of the conservatives is clearly on display here. If it is the place of judges only to “say what the law is,” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), Judge Benitez’s judgments on failure and the frequency of events is way out of the base path. If you believe in a state’s right to regulate its own militia, Benitez is also out of bounds.

Voters generally support an assault weapons ban. They support a large magazine ban. They support enhanced background checks. They support closing the gun show loophole. They might support amending the Second Amendment itself to clear up the poor punctuation that the gun lobby and their supporters in Congress and on the bench have used in the last few decades to prevent reasonable regulation. The United States has many more deaths by guns than other western developed countries. The United States has the weakest gun control laws in that group.

Do the math.

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Republicans Are Afraid of YOU!

You. Yes. You. Republicans are petrified you might discover the truth. Scared you might hold them accountable for the January 6, 2021 insurrection when a mob inspired by Donald Trump stormed Capitol Hill.

Thirty-five Senate Republicans ran from Washington, D.C. this week like rats deserting a sinking ship after driving another nail into the coffin of democracy. They were headed for another vacation. This one, ironically, to commemorate the sacrifices made by those brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect the democracy the senators had just turned their backs on. They had just refused to cast votes to create a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the January rebellion.

Don’t forget their names. Remember them when you see them on your ballot.

  1. John Barrasso of Wyoming
  2. John Boozman of Arkansas
  3. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia
  4. John Cornyn of Texas
  5. Tom Cotton of Arkansas
  6. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota
  7. Mike Crapo of Idaho
  8. Ted Cruz of Texas
  9. Steve Daines of Montana
  10. Joni Ernst of Iowa
  11. Deb Fischer of Nebraska
  12. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
  13. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
  14. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee
  15. Josh Hawley of Missouri
  16. John Hoeven of North Dakota
  17. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi
  18. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin
  19. John Kennedy of Louisiana
  20. James Lankford of Oklahoma
  21. Mike Lee of Utah
  22. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming
  23. Roger Marshall of Kansas
  24. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
  25. Jerry Moran of Kansas
  26. Rand Paul of Kentucky
  27. Marco Rubio of Florida
  28. Rick Scott of Florida
  29. Tim Scott of South Carolina
  30. Dan Sullivan of Alaska
  31. John Thune of South Dakota
  32. Thom Tillis of North Carolina
  33. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama
  34. Roger Wicker of Mississippi
  35. Todd Young of Indiana

It is a who’s who of cowards. What do they fear? Afraid the commission will conclude that Donald Trump instigated the violence? Afraid some of their own members, or their fellow travelers in the House of Representatives, had aided and abetted the mob leaders? Did some help raise money to bring the rioters to Washington? Did others give special reconnaissance tours in the days leading up to the riot? Did the brother of disgraced former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, himself a Lieutenant General and a top Pentagon official, delay sending national guard forces to defend the Capitol? Inquiring minds want to know!

This is not the first time I’ve written about that day. I doubt it will be the last. After the 9-11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington in 2001, Congress created a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate. For the January 6 attack on Congress itself, the Republicans demanded the same kind of investigation, fearful the Democrats might use a partisan investigation for political advantage.

Heaven forbid! Might Democrats try to politicize an investigation like the Republicans did, spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money investigating the murder of diplomats in Benghazi, right-wing myths about email servers in the Ukraine and the contents of a laptop belonging to a former aid of Hillary Clinton? Yes, heaven forbid.

Still, Democrats agreed. They gave Republicans equal power on the commission, even though they have the majority votes in Congress. They agreed to have the commission report before the end of the year to avoid having the commission’s findings become a topic of the 2022 elections. Those were the Republicans’ demands.

But true to their history, Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican Leader, and Kevin McCarthy, House Republican leader, reneged on their word. Given everything they demanded, they decided it wasn’t enough. But they offered no alternative. Declined to entertain any debate. Refused to consider amendments. In truth the Republicans only proved the theory that the party now stands for nothing at all. Except for the retention of power by whatever means necessary.

McConnell’s change of mind was no surprise. The man the Internet has branded “Moscow Mitch” has been playing the Democrats for fools for years, repeatedly adopting the position that no policy involving Democrats should ever be enacted. Still Democrats pursue bipartisanship. An unattainable goal. In imploring Republicans to vote no on the commission as a personal favor to him, McConnell accused Democrats of playing politics with the investigation. The most infuriating thing is that McConnell stands on the floor of the Senate and makes these statements without a hit of emotion and in the same, droll monotone with which he makes any other hypocritical statement.

McCarthy was a little more of a surprise. On January 6th he was heard on the telephone with Trump pleading for national guard assistance at a time when the lives of both the Vice-President and the Speaker were in danger. McCarthy will most likely be called as a witness in any investigation. But now, having gone down to Mar-a-Lago for a meeting with his lord and savior, he is now apparently ready to do whatever Trump demands. And Trump demands no investigation which just might accuse him of inciting a riot. The House passed the legislation by majority vote. One hundred and seventy-five Republicans voted no.

In the Senate the commission was supported by 54 of the 100 members. But because of the arcane filibuster rule in the Senate the bill died due to its failure to achieve a supermajority of 60 votes. Once again the Senate demonstrates how undemocratic American government truly is.

We did hear from the Democratic Senate leader, New York’s Chuck Schumer. Schumer was clearly angry, although you would never know it from his statement on the floor. I am amazed that we have sent two of the dullest and most soft spoken debaters to the top positions in the United States Senate. Neither McConnell nor Schumer seem to be able to make an argument that seems like an argument.

So the Republicans continue to avoid an investigation, intent it appears on covering up the events of January 6th. Better to help them maintain their alternative universe charade, where an election that has survived at least 60 formal legal challenges was somehow tainted and the Big Liar in Chief is still President of the United States.

What will be interesting now is how Democrats react. It would be nice if this is finally the straw that breaks Joe Manchin’s back, driving the nominal Democrat from West Virginia to support efforts to get rid of the filibuster. But I doubt it. Which almost certainly also means the progressive legislative agenda of Joe Biden has little chance of being enacted.

Hopefully the House will at least take up the reigns and create a select committee to investigate January 6. Since the 9-11 commission model was not acceptable to 2021 era Republicans, Democrats can now dust off the Republican’s anti-Hillary playbook and put it into action instead. I’d like to see the committee report come out in the summer of 2022, just in time to inform voters before the 2022 midterm election.

I’d also like to see the House pass the Biden agenda. Yes it will get filibustered in the Senate. But at least Democratic members can run for election by pointing out all the things they did for the benefit of the average voter and stressing how much more could have been done it the Republicans hadn’t blocked them at every turn. If voters can’t be convinced by those arguments, I don’t see much hope for the future.

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Just a Normal Day on Capitol Hill

Yeah, sure.

On May 12 Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) downplayed the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, comparing the mob’s breaching of the building to a “normal tourist visit:”

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos and pictures…. You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

Rep. Andrew S. Clyde et. al. May 12 Congressional Hearing
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Space TidBits

Ginny and Percy

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has a new mission. Having proven that powered, controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, the Ingenuity experiment will soon embark on a new operations demonstration phase, exploring how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.

So “Ginny,” her primary proof of concept mission over, will serve as a scout for “Percy,” flying ahead of the rover to survey locations Perseverance will investigate in its search for life on Mars. It will also help mission planners plot the best routes for Percy to follow. She’ll fly ahead and land and wait for the rover to catch up. That’s Teamwork.

Crew-2
NASA TV/4-24-2021

It got crowded on the International Space Station with the arrival of “Crew-2,” SpaceX’s second regular and third actual flight taking humans to the ISS (there was a test mission known as “Demo-2”). There hadn’t been eleven people on board since the Space Shuttle era.

There were other milestones as well. This was SpaceX’s first reused crew capsule to reach the orbiting platform and the first crewed mission with a reused Falcon 9 rocket. The Crew-2 astronauts themselves made history when they started boarding. This was the first time SpaceX had carried passengers from three different agencies (NASA, ESA and JAXA).

Crew-1
NASA TV/5-2-2021

The overcrowding on the ISS came to an end just a few days later with the spectacular nighttime landing of SpaceX’s Crew-1 “Resilience” capsule with four astronauts on board. They landed in the gulf of Mexico just before 3am Eastern Time. But with cameras tuned for night the scene was clearly visible in spite of the pitch dark ocean lighting.

Crew Dragon Resilience will add to its time in space on its next mission launching the privately-funded Inspiration4 crew on a multi-day Earth orbit mission targeted for September.

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A Breath of Fresh Air

It some ways it was certainly unusual. But mostly its normalcy made it a breath of fresh air. For more than an hour President Joe Biden delivered a report to Congress, the nation, and the world on the state of the state one hundred days into his administration. He laid out the achievements already accomplished, the programs now under way, and the proposals he is sending to Congress for enactment into law.

One way the speech was unusual was that there were two women behind the president. Presiding over the joint session of Congress were Vice-President Kamala Harris, who is President of the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That was a historic first. Another way was that the chamber, which normally holds 1,600 people for these events, was limited to 200 by pandemic protocols. The audience members were socially distanced and most were masked.

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Helicoptering on Mars – Really

A team of very smart humans flew a helicopter by remote control off the surface of Mars on April 19, 2021. It is easier to type that sentence than it is to truly appreciate the accomplishment.

The Mars Helicopter, named Ingenuity, weighs just four pounds. It is a proof of concept demonstration. That means it’s mission is just to prove that it works. It did. And it was the first time humans have achieved powered and controlled flight on another planet.

Ingenuity hitched a ride on the Perseverance rover. I wrote about Perseverance after it landed. Nicknamed “Percy,” it has a detailed science mission to look for signs of life on Mars. But first it was tasked with dropping Ingenuity, “Ginny,” onto the Martian surface, backing away and watching while the Ingenuity team tried to make their little drone fly.

This short video, taken by Perseverance, shows the entire first flight:

In this video captured by NASA’s Perseverance rover, the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took the first powered, controlled flight on another planet on April 19, 2021.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Mars is the closest planet to Earth, and has entranced humans since the beginning of recorded history. It is behind a paywall, but if you have access the Washington Post has produced a wonderful overview of the history of Mars exploration and the plans for this mission, known as Mars 2020.

The challenge for Ingenuity is that the atmosphere on Mars is only one percent the density of that of Earth. Strange at it seems, most of our airplanes effectively pull themselves through the atmosphere like a corkscrew pulls a cork out of a bottle. On Mars there is very little atmosphere to grab hold of. That produced a design for Ginny that meant a very low weight craft with relatively big rotors spinning at very high speeds. And of course the fact that radio signals take many minutes to get from Earth to Mars meant that Ginny, like Percy, has to be fed instructions but is then on its own to execute them. We humans find out if the task was achieved minutes or even hours later.

This was an amazing feat and in so many ways a tonic for the times in which we live. There are those who question the value of this kind of scientific research and exploration. Surveys show many people perceive the cost to be high. But in fact, the NASA budget is a tiny fraction of the military’s budget. The military budget just for its new Space Force and Space Command is higher. The debate is heated, but a majority of Americans favor continued funding for NASA.

Studies show that for every dollar spent on NASA, more than $8 is added to the economy. And you had only to watch the control room crew as the data came in documenting Ginny’s first flight on another planet to see how this research is exciting new generations of explorers. When I was a child watching the Mercury astronauts I saw images almost exclusively of white men wearing white shirts and narrow black ties. We now know that behind the scenes there were crucial if unsung members of the team kept hidden from the cameras. Today’s teams represent men and women across all demographics. If the United States is to remain competitive and really matter in the 21st century we need to do more to encourage all young people to pursue scientific careers.

Now that the helicopter concept has been proven, scientists and engineers planning future missions to Mars and elsewhere have access to a treasure trove of research as they explore the use of flying vehicles on their missions. There are, for example, many locations on Mars that are inaccessible by rover but are of great interest to planetary scientists. There is also an upcoming mission to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan has an atmosphere denser than that of Mars. There is already a helicopter named Dragonfly planned for that mission which is now scheduled to launch in 2026, arriving in 2034.

Even while waiting for Ginny to finish her testing, Percy is working. The MOXIE technology demonstration aboard Perseverance successfully extracted oxygen from the thin Martian atmosphere—a critical component for life support so humans can breath on the Red Planet and produce rocket fuel for the trip home.

The continuing plan for Mars 2020 is for Ingenuity to make several more test flights over the next few weeks, each one pushing the helicopter to fly higher and further away. A second flight was made on April 22nd, a third on April 25th. As often happens with technology demonstrations, it may well be pushed beyond its limits and crash on the surface. In any event, by the end of April it will be left behind as Perseverance leaves the scene to begin it’s own exploration of the Martian surface, which will include the collection of samples for retrieval on later flights.

You read that right. The Mars 2020 mission will be collecting samples of Mars to be picked up by later flights. Stay tuned.

Update – Ingenuity Tests Extended

After a successful fourth flight, NASA announced it would extend the test flight program for Ingenuity for another 30 days. Ginny’s mission was slated to end at the end of April. Now NASA plans to test the chopper’s ability to be a “scout” for future exploration by the Perseverance rover and future missions.

Perseverance will be farther from Ingenuity during the new flight phase, but the team thinks that the pair will still be able to communicate effectively. Additionally, Perseverance will not take the time to document the flights Ingenuity makes during its extended mission.  NASA will continue to provide updates on Ingenuity’s progress here.

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Infrastructure for the 21st century

I long for the days when I could have a rational discussion with someone I disagree on the serious issues of the day without that person spouting a stream of totally unsubstantiated falsehoods. In other words lies. I’m pointing my finger at you, Republicans, almost without exception.

Discussions with Democrats are also often frustrating. But that is because the Democrats include a wide range of differing views and the disagreements are generally over strategy. I’m thinking of you Joe Manchin. Not over the role of government in attempting to solve problems or denying that problems even exist. And Democrats are not inclined to interrupt a serious discussion with a rude critique of your mother’s footwear. I still remember being told, “Your mother wears army boots.” I was on the first grade playground at recess at the time.

Republicans will call you every name in the book at the drop of a hat. They will insult your relatives, living and dead. And charge you with a wide variety of crimes without the slightest bit of evidence. They also live in an alternate universe where up is down, down is up, and things you can see right before your own eyes are somehow not true. They revere the framers who wrote our Constitution, except when they ignore it.

Republican hypocrisy knows no bounds:

  • Senate rules are sacrosanct unless they need to be broken to thwart a Democratic proposal.
  • Deficits are bad but only if there is a Democrat in the White House.
  • The purpose of the federal government is to “provide for the common defense,” quoting the magnificent preamble to our Constitution, ignoring the fact that the phrase is part of a list and imminently following are the words, “promote the general welfare.”
  • Infrastructure means roads. That’s it. Roads.

Let’s put the debt debate aside for now except for to state that the evidence is clear, economics is an art, not a science. We really don’t understand what it is going on. Starting with Ronald Reagan, Republican, yes, Republican presidents have greatly increased the national debt by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending. Yet the inflation that was predicted by my college economics teacher (we used Paul Samuelson’s Principles of Economics) did not really appear. Go figure. For more right now I refer you to a great piece by John Oliver.

What this means is, while we should be watchful, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell seems to be, we do not have to be afraid of some Covid related economic stimulus. Republicans opposed the latest round of Covid economic payments even when Donald Trump asked for them. We also do not need to be afraid of a big infrastructure program. The Republicans are outraged at the infrastructure program, arguing that it will increase the debt and complaining that Democrats are extending the traditional definition of infrastructure.

Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with repairing the nation’s highways and bridges. Republican Dwight Eisenhower signed the legislation that created the Interstate Highway System in 1956 after all. But Republicans like highways that connect towns in rural America. Transportation projects that benefit urban areas do not get their approval. I take the New Jersey Transit train under the Hudson to Manhattan and always wonder if the crumbling tunnel, built in 1910, is going to cave in on the 200,000 people who use it every day. In 2012 the tunnel was inundated with millions of gallons of salt water during Super Storm Sandy. The water left behind corrosive chlorides, which continue to damage the already aged concrete and wiring. A Republican New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, and a Republican President, Donald Trump, each killed a project to build a replacement.

But where the Republicans most throw up the roadblocks is where it comes to infrastructure they claim is outside of the “traditional” definition of the word. I disagree. But I also don’t care. We do not live in a stagnant word. We can be respectful of our traditions but should not be afraid to change them for the public good.

So I am on board with what some analysts are calling “Social Infrastructure”:

Social infrastructure can be broadly defined as the construction and maintenance of facilities that support social services. Types of social infrastructure include healthcare (hospitals), education (schools and universities), public facilities (community housing and prisons) and transportation (railways and roads).

Aberdeen Standard Investments

I do not understand why people cannot see that the nation depends on the health of its people, and the safety, and quality of its schools. We also need a 21st century power grid and high-speed rail would be nice. Child care for working parents is an economic necessity. In an information driven society, broadband connections for the entire population are essential. Faced with tremendous world-wide competition education, research and development are all that stands between America and second-class status.

The public seems to understand this even if the Republicans do not. A Quinnipiac University National Poll finds the Infrastructure Plan is popular with the public:


Q46 Do you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?

—–

Support

Oppose

DK/NA

Total

44%

38

19

Republicans

14%

71

14

Democrats

81%

5

15


And even more popular if corporate taxes fund it as President Biden has proposed:

Q47 As you may know, President Biden has proposed funding his infrastructure plan by raising taxes on corporations. If it was funded by raising taxes on corporations, would you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?

—–

Support

Oppose

DK/NA

Total

53%

39

9

Republicans

22%

70

8

Democrats

92%

6

2

Last but not least, expenditures on infrastructure, traditional and 21st century alike, have a large multiplier factor. Put simply, they pay off many times over. The benefits spread throughout the economy. The Eisenhower creation of the Interstate Highway System is credited with creating the long post-war expansion of the American economy. Studies show tax cuts for rich people and fiscal policies which benefit Wall Street do not have this positive effect. The proposed infrastructure projects should be seen as an investment in America’s future.

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