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The Supreme Court implicitly reaffirmed the right of government to regulate firearms. Thank goodness!

The Supreme Court implicitly reaffirmed the right of government to regulate firearms. Thank goodness!

The latest term of the United States Supreme Court delivered a mixed bag of decisions that, on the whole, should please conservatives even if appearances may be to the contrary. For example, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) won a temporary reprieve but only because of the typically sloppy way the Trump administration went about trying to end it. They will undoubtedly try again.

And whilst a Louisiana law that imposed a needless requirement for doctors at abortion clinics in the state to have admitting privileges at hospitals was set aside, this was primarily on the grounds that it was virtually identical to a Texas law that had been struck down just four years ago. Chief Justice Roberts only joined the more liberal justices because he felt bound by precedent but not before opening the door to future abortion restrictions, challenges to, which suggested, may be viewed more skeptically.

Finally, the very welcome news that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does prohibit LGBTQ employment discrimination may be undermined by the court’s fulsome embrace of religious rights that may override those of the LGBTQ community in where the two clash in the future.

However, somewhat overlooked this term was the court’s decision not to hear challenges by the gun rights crowd to a plethora of state and local firearms restrictions much to the chagrin it has to be said of its most conservative members. This is very good news indeed since it appears to reaffirm the majority’s view in a SCOTUS dominated by conservatives that the misguided decision in District of Columbia v Heller upholding the individual right to own a firearm nevertheless does not preclude reasonable regulation of that right by the government. The key here is clearly the Chief Justice and I can think of three reasons why he has sided with the liberals/moderates on this issue.

First, Roberts is no doubt mindful of Heller’s assertion that the decision did not mean that the regulation of gun rights was foreclosed. Casting doubt on that element of Heller would serve to undermine the entire decision and make it appear as a meaningless, not to mention dishonest, gesture to those concerned about gun violence. Second, to go further than Heller itself and eviscerate the ability of federal, state and local governments to regulate firearms would simply invite a future more moderate court (and, yes, that day will come) to revisit Heller as a whole, thus undoing one of the Roberts’ court’s landmark decisions. By refusing to go to the extreme, Roberts may protect Heller and his legacy.

Finally, whilst his most conservative brethren are likely driven by ideology to the exclusion of common sense, I doubt that Roberts wishes his legacy to add substantially to the carnage of gun violence in a nation already plagued with far more than any other advanced society.

Whatever his reasons Roberts in this case has done an enormous service to the country by ameliorating the otherwise pernicious effects of Heller.

More of the Best New Music of 2020 so Far

More of the Best New Music of 2020 so Far

Many people are not familiar with Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band. I think I first heard him on KEXP’s Swingin’ Doors show around twenty years ago when Don Slack played “Gimme a Ride to Heaven” from the the 1983 album Bloodlines. I bought that album and have been following him ever since. No Depression describes his new album, Just Like Moby Dick, like this;

Instead of a voyage on the Pequod, Allen takes his listeners on a journey that covers a lot of ground, from Houdini facing death after life in “Houdini Didn’t Like the Spiritualists” to a town lamenting the loss of its last local dancer in “Death of the Last Stripper.” Allen brings clown-killing vampires into the light on “City of the Vampires” and delivers the storytelling masterpiece “Pirate Jenny,” which serves as a nod to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s original of the same name.

Here is “Sailin’ on Through”. Enjoy!

Drive By Truckers have been putting out great southern rock music for decades now. They are not shy about expressing their political views, so it’s no surprise that during this year of a presidential election they have released their most political album ever, The Unraveling. Here’s their response to the nutjob, Christian, second-amendment crowd who won’t do anything about the epidemic of mass killings committed with ridiculously powerful automatic weapons except offer up their “Thoughts and Prayers”.

Stephen Malkmus has put out several solo albums, and they all sound a little different – some sound similar to his seminal band Pavement, some a little like Sonic Youth, some are bit electronic, and this new one titled Traditional Techniques is less rock, less electric, more acoustic, and maybe sounds a little bit like Wilco.

This next one is the title track from Tré Burt’s new album, Caught it From the Rye. You will probably find that the instrumentation and vocals sound very much like someone you know. Sean Jewell over at American Standard Time, in a somewhat amusing fashion, goes to great lengths not to name that singer/songwriter, because well… Sean has his own set of principles to which he must adhere.

I, on the other hand, will name that person. He happens to be an artist I have been listing to quite a bit lately. Bob Dylan has released two new songs on YouTube in the past three weeks. I won’t post the actual videos, because they are already ubiquitous on the internet. “Murder Most Foul“, about the assassination of President Kennedy and what it means to the American psyche, was released a few weeks ago. Today he released “I Contain Multitudes” which seems to be about all the things that have influenced his work.

This is what Australia thinks about Americans and Guns

This is what Australia thinks about Americans and Guns

Comedian Jim Jefferies riffs on Americans and how they love their guns, via Vox:

You have guns because you like guns! That’s why you go to gun conventions; that’s why you read gun magazines! None of you give a shit about home security. None of you go to home security conventions. None of you read Padlock Monthly. None of you have a Facebook picture of you behind a secure door.

Vote “Yes” on I-594 to expand background checks on Washington State firearm purchases.

Vote “Yes” on I-594 to expand background checks on Washington State firearm purchases.

On November 4th Washington State voters have an opportunity to close loopholes in the background checks that we impose, for good reason, on firearm purchasers.

Currently, someone who likely would not be approved for the legal purchase of a firearm through a licensed dealer once a background check was conducted can still obtain one online, or at a gun show through a private sale where no checks are conducted. That makes no sense.

Why would we wish to make it easy for a convicted felon or an abusive husband or boyfriend with a restraining order against him, for example, to obtain a lethal weapon such as a handgun?

The gun zealots argue, as they always do, that all it will do is inconvenience law-abiding folk not the criminal which, presumably, is an argument against any and all background checks on gun purchases; which is a joke. If you want to see an example of how lax our laws are for acquiring a firearm compared with the rest of the industrialized world, check out this comparison of requirements in the United States with those of Canada (compliments of Vox.com), a country that is actually serious about keeping guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

Research does show that stricter gun control laws do serve to reduce gun violence. I-594 is not a panacea to gun violence in Washington, as our latest school shooting tragedy in Marysville shows all too clearly; but it will help to save at least some lives.

And while we’re at it, don’t forget to vote “NO” on I-591 which is the gun zealot proposal designed to merely confuse the issue and maintain the status quo.

Vote for a saner, safer society: Vote “YES” on I-594.

Justice for gun-violence victim Renisha McBride

Justice for gun-violence victim Renisha McBride

In Wayne County, Michigan last Thursday, Theodore Wafer was found guilty on all three charges of 2nd degree murder, manslaughter and felony firearm in the shooting death of 19 year old Renisha McBride on the porch of his house in Dearborn Heights, MI.

McBride was one of a depressing litany of unarmed victims who have fallen prey to gun carriers claiming self-defense.

Other well publicized cases included Trayvon Martin in Florida; Ronald Westbrook, a 72-year old man from Georgia suffering from Alzheimer’s who was shot in circumstances similar to McBride; Jordan Davis, who was shot dead while he sat in a vehicle in a convenience store parking lot; and Chad Oulson who was killed by a gun carrier following an altercation with an angry movie-goer with a gun over texting during the previews.

Convictions have been harder to come by than liberal Republicans in the gun-friendly legal environment that prevails in many states.

George Zimmerman, of course, was found not guilty in Martin’s case.

And a Florida jury deadlocked on whether Michael Dunn murdered Jordan Davis, although they did nail him for the attempted murder of his three equally unarmed friends, who were lucky to escape with their own lives after Dunn fired at them as they fled the car park. He is to be retried on the murder charge but, as with Ronald Westbrook’s killing in Georgia, prosecutors will again be seriously impeded by a lunatic stand-your-ground law that makes a conviction very difficult; more power to the prosecutors, therefore, that they won’t give up.

Depressingly, the alleged shooter of Westbrook was not even charged because prosecutors did not believe they could overcome Georgia’s stand-your-ground law to win a conviction.

The trial of the man accused of killing Oulson is pending.

Many saw the McBride case as one suffused with racial undertones but, in the end, a jury cut through all of that and simply saw a man who had acted recklessly and without justification to cut short the life of a young woman on a flimsy and ultimately unconvincing assertion that he felt threatened and in danger.

Too many states have virtually given gun carriers a license to kill with their misguided and dangerous SYG laws and, as we have seen all too often, holding the perpetrators accountable has been a huge challenge.

But Renisha McBride was not forgotten, not by this jury and not by the justice system that put her killer on trial and won a conviction.

It would be nice to think that more courts in other places in America will start to hold gun carriers accountable when their unreasoning fear or anger ends in an unnecessary death. But I won’t hold my breath.

Still, I’m glad that Renisha McBride and her family received a measure of the justice they so richly deserved. It’s not enough but it will have to do for now.

Stand up to “Stand Your Ground” – Boycott Florida

Stand up to “Stand Your Ground” – Boycott Florida

Florida, Florida, the redneck riviera
Florida, Florida, there’s no more pathetic place in America
yes a man must make unpopular decisions, surely from time to time
and a man can only stand what a man can stand
it’s a wobbly volatile line
– Vic Chesnutt

Florida is not alone in allowing the concealed conveyance of loaded firearms, unfortunately. Although the United States Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of permitting restrictions, nearly all states allow concealed-carry with few if any impediments.

In addition, however, Florida is one of more than twenty states with a specific stand-your-ground law that imposes no duty on an individual to retreat before resorting to deadly force even in situations away from the home.

The result of this lethal combination has been a number of well publicized use of deadly force cases (the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on the street, the movie theatre shooting death of Chad Oulson and the fatal shooting of Jordan Davis while he sat in a vehicle in a convenience store parking lot) and a 200% spike in so-called justifiable homicides in Florida according to a comprehensive report released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Even as the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis lobby to repeal or at least weaken Florida’s stand-your-ground law, GOP legislators in the state seek to limit media scrutiny of SYG shootings following an unfavorable report on the law’s application and outcomes by the Tampa Bay Times.

The combined effect of an armed and carrying citizenry and an expansive stand-your-ground law is that Florida has become an increasingly unsafe place. Not only do we have to worry about criminals with guns – every state in the union has to worry about them thanks to our overall lax national gun laws – but in Florida we also have to worry about the trigger-happy, law-abiding gun carrier who no longer is legally constrained to act responsibly; instead, he now has a legal get-out-of-jail-free card to shoot anyone who pisses him off while claiming that he felt threatened.

It was lunacy for the people of Florida to elect NRA-lapdog loonies to govern them and pass such laws. So maybe it’s time for the rest of us to bring them to their senses. And the best way to accomplish that is via the pocket-book, by mounting a tourist boycott of Florida.

Not convinced? Well, picture this: You’re a British (or New York) wife and mother holidaying in Florida to see Disneyworld. Your husband or teenage son, who’s gone back to the rented car for his sunglasses, gets into an argument with some jerk in the parking lot. Maybe he’s complaining about the way your car is parked too close to his. The argument escalates. Your son or husband is big enough that they’re not easily intimidated. The jerk gets angry, pulls out his pistol and shoots your son or husband dead. There is no witness close enough to see or hear exactly what happened.

Under Florida law the shooter will claim he shot in self-defense because he felt threatened, and that he was not required to retreat before using deadly force. There are no witnesses to contradict his version of events, the putative threat to his life for example; and the fact that your husband or son was unarmed will carry little if any weight, nor the fact that the shooter instigated the confrontation, assuming he admitted as much. The burden of proof that it was not a justified killing has already shifted to prosecutors and away from the perpetrator of the shooting. The jerk in this scenario will walk, almost certainly without being prosecuted.

There are, of course, a million possible scenarios for someone to claim a justifiable homicide, but it will nearly always be with a firearm and rarely when the victim is also armed. And not only does Florida’s SYG law almost always favor the shooter, it has the effect, whether intended or not, of encouraging the gun carrier to kill rather than wound; after all, we don’t want police to hear an alternative version of events, do we?

It’s true that being black almost certainly increases your risk of being shot by both the criminal and law abiding gun carrier alike. But let’s not kid ourselves that the rest of us aren’t at risk. Just ask Chad Oulson.

Florida is no longer a fit place to visit. We should send a clear message to Floridians and their deeply misguided politicians by giving it a miss from our vacation plans.

The real reason why the Gun Bill was voted down in the Senate

The real reason why the Gun Bill was voted down in the Senate

“In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), co-sponsor of the Toomey-Manchin background check bill.

Shameful.
Pigheaded.
Intransigent.
Disgraceful.
Dishonorable.
Contemptuous.
Disdainful.

America Stuck in Neutral

America Stuck in Neutral

There’s not much to say about the disgusting failure of the United States Senate to muster sixty votes to expand background checks for gun purchases that hasn’t been said already. Suffice it to say that if we can’t even agree to close a loophole that allows dangerous people such as felons and certified nutcases to purchase firearms through a legal seller, there can be no better example of our country’s abysmal dysfunction.

I’m not a big fan of Maureen Dowd but a recent column on President Obama’s failure to use his office effectively to get a better result on the gun bill did resonate with me. To some extent I accept the sharp rebuttal from his defenders that it’s unfair to blame Obama when the real problem is a radical GOP that provided just five votes for the expanded background checks and only one (Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois) for bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. The fact remains, however, that in addition to the four Democrats who voted down the expanded background check, ten also failed to support a ban on high capacity magazines and fifteen the banning of assault weapons – both of which were used in the mass shooting of children and teachers at Newtown.

Yet just four months into his second term, the president overall seems to have reached a dead end, and with him the country. The goals he set out in his most recent State of the Union address are laudable and dead right for the country – universal pre-school, significant investments in infrastructure and scientific/technological research and development to name a few key ones – but seem completely out of reach in the current political environment. And the president has suffered from a number of self-inflicted wounds as well.

In the debt ceiling debacle of 2011, for example, which yielded the monstrosity that is sequestration, it is clear he miscalculated the willingness of Republicans to tolerate steep across the board defense cuts which, in turn, led him to agree to omit tax increases from the automatic trigger, as he had originally proposed. We now have harsh cuts to worthwhile programs in the discretionary budget that disproportionately affect children and the poor. To add insult to injury, Democrats have retreated the first time the public at large actually felt the pain of sequester cuts and, in the process, handed the GOP a significant victory.

Another example is the fiscal cliff negotiations wherein he effectively held all the cards yet won a paltry $600 billion in new revenues; inequities such as the favorable tax rates enjoyed by hedge fund managers and the likes of Mitt Romney on his unearned income remain.

And the president seems almost passive in the face of the outrageous refusal of Senate Republicans to allow his nominations for federal district and appellate court vacancies and even some agency heads an up or down vote. Added to which is the fact that he has been slow to send up nominees for many such appointments. Things will hardly get better in the future as Republicans become increasingly confident of gaining control of the Senate in next year’s midterm elections. This does not bode well should a Supreme Court vacancy arise.

That the country is stuck in neutral is indisputable. And while it’s possible another Democratic incumbent with keener political and negotiating skills could have done better, you really have to wonder how much difference it would have made. The GOP has moved so far to the right it really has become a radical party, home to anti-tax and pro-gun zealots as well as Tea Party fanatics. It is clearly more intransigent and obstructionist with a Democrat in the White House now than it was even in the Bill Clinton years; to the point of a willingness to be destructive to the country’s economic interests if doing so furthers its ideological aims.

The reason is not hard to see in considering the yawning chasm between Blue and Red America, a development even the vapid editorial writers of The Washington Post have noted. And the GOP, driven by a base that brooks no compromise, will have ample opportunities for even more mischief in the days to come, what with the debt ceiling looming again. And next year when Obamacare kicks in and suffers inevitable teething troubles, the situation will be just ripe for exploitation by a party that couldn’t care less if millions of Americans don’t have adequate health insurance.

Like I said, with Democrats trying to move us forward and Republicans taking every opportunity to drag us back, we are stuck in neutral.

And what does all this presage? Merely that if you think things are bad now, just wait.

GOP Filibuster Kills Bill to Expand Background Checks on Gun Sales

GOP Filibuster Kills Bill to Expand Background Checks on Gun Sales

We at harikari have written much about guns, gun control, and the need to enact laws that make it more difficult for criminals and mentally unsound people to purchase guns. After the Newtown tragedy, Americans seemed to have had enough of the bullying by the NRA and they called for the expansion of mandatory background checks for nearly all gun-sale transactions. The Manchin-Toomey background-check bill was supported by nearly 90% of Americans. Polls show that a majority of Americans also supported a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

On Wednesday a bill to expand background checks was filibustered by Republicans, so it needed 60 votes to move forward. The senate voted for the bill 54-46. Yes, a clear majority of senators voted to move forward with the background-check bill but because of the Republican filibuster, the bill was killed. The senate also voted “down” the amendment to limit the capacity of ammunition clips 54-46.

90% of Democrats voted in favor of the bill, and 90% of Republicans voted against the bill that 90% of Americans supported.

For some smart commentary about how undemocratic the senate is and how the arguments of gun-control opponents are intellectually unsound, watch these two excellent segments from Thursday’s edition of The Daily Show.

First Jon,

and now John…

NRA and GOP demonstrate their paranoia on guns to the world.

NRA and GOP demonstrate their paranoia on guns to the world.

The United Nations General Assembly voted 154-3 with 20 abstentions for the first international treaty to regulate the global arms trade. The treaty is designed principally to curb the supply of arms to terrorists, rogue regimes and human rights abusers such as Assad in Syria, warlords such as the groups in Africa who kidnap young boys to become brutal soldiers, and organized crime.

The United States played a key role in shepherding the treaty through to a vote, yet will likely not ratify it, which requires a two-thirds majority in the US Senate, because of opposition from paranoid Republican lawmakers doing the bidding of the even more paranoid leadership of the NRA.

These paranoids, you see, continue to believe, against all the evidence and the credible assurances to the contrary contained in a definitive paper by the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, that the treaty could be used to supersede their rights under the Second Amendment.

In opposing the treaty, the GOP and NRA zealots join such worthies as North Korea, Iran and Syria who all voted against it in the UN.

It should come as a shock that senior Republican senators would join the truly deranged people who lead the NRA to oppose a treaty whose only opponents in the UN were countries which have regimes we count among the craziest and/or most murderous in the world. It should, but of course it doesn’t.