Guns and Mental Illness 19 August 2019.

The recent spate of mass shootings has poured gas on the smoldering debate over guns.  Broadly, perhaps over-broadly, two schools of thought confront one another.  Democrats want access to firearms massively restricted, starting with assault-style weapons.  This amounts to penalizing the many because of the crimes of a few.  Republicans call for improved mental health screening and treatment, while also calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act which expanded access to mental health services.  Democrats counter that most mass killers aren’t mentally ill: they’re inspired by racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and Donald Trump.

In the wake of the  El Paso and Dayton massacres, Richard Friedman argued that mass murderers are not so much mentally ill, as conquered by hate and sometimes sucked in by extremist ideologies.  Gun control, including enhanced background checks, offers a better course than concentrating on “mental health” issues.[1]

One problem for this line of argument is that a bunch of the mass shooters have been people with serious mental problems.  Jared Lee Loughner was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and ruled incompetent to stand trial.  After the Columbine shootings, the FBI concluded that Eric Harris was a psychopath, and Dylan Klebold was a depressive with violent ideation.  James Holmes was mentally ill (probably some variety of schizophrenic), but sane enough to stand trial.  Travis Reinking suffered from delusions (including that he was being stalked by Taylor Swift) and appeared in a pink woman’s housecoat before exposing himself at a public swimming pool.

Yes, a bunch of the mass shooters have been proponents of hatred and racism.  Many others have slaughtered family members in relationships gone bad, many others have slaughtered former co-workers, and many others haven’t seemed to care who they killed as long as they killed somebody.

On the same days as Friedman’s opinion piece, Kim Strassel made an important point.[2]    According to Strassel, in 2017, the Pew Research Center published a study of the “demographics of gun ownership” in America.  Strassel  reported some of its findings. The fact that Democrats living along I-95 or I-5 don’t like guns masks politically important realities.  Overall, well over a third (42 percent) of Americans live in a home with some kind of firearm.  This includes 58 percent of people in rural areas, 48 percent of political Independents, 41 percent of people living in the suburbs, and 25 percent of Democrats.

About 75 percent of these people are determined to keep their firearms, which they regard as “essential to their own sense of freedom.”  “For today’s gun owners, the right to own guns nearly rivals other rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution—freedom of speech, the right to vote, the right to privacy, and freedom of religion.[3]

In short, the sort of gun control envisioned by Democratic activists and politicians face serious political opposition from gun owners who threaten no one.  Given the importance of the right to keep and bear arms to gun owners, it could cost the Democrats the White House in 2020.  The problem is how to include psychological screening in enhanced background checks.  JMO.

[1] “Letters to the Editor: Probing the Psyches of Mass Killers,” NYT, 18 August 2019.

[2] Kimberley Strassel, “Going to Extremes Against Guns,” WSJ, 9 August 2019.

[3] Indeed, the right to keep and bear arms looks something like a religion.

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Taking It to the Streets 6 August 2019.

When I’m in Easton, Pennsylvania on weekends, I take the dog for a walk.  He’s intrepid, so sometimes we go down to “The Circle.” From there up Northampton Avenue, there’s a lot of public assistance housing.  Nice—if unhealthy-looking—people to talk to on a Sunday morning.[1]

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 550,000 people are “homeless” in America.[2]  Geographically, the homeless are not evenly distributed.  About 25 percent (137,000) live in California, which has about 12 percent of the nation’s  population.  Another 65,000 people (or about 6 percent) live in New York City.  Even within California, the homeless are not evenly distributed.  About 45 percent (59,000 out of 137,000) live in the Los Angeles area, while 8,000 live in San Francisco.  However, the homeless population in Los Angeles has grown by 12 percent since 2018 and the homeless population in San Francisco has grown by 17 percent since 2017.

Economists point to a steep rise in prices for a limited housing stock in California.  Since 2013, the median rent in Los Angeles rose almost three times faster than did median income.[3]  Now, one-third of renters pay at least half their monthly income for housing.[4]  What is implied is that the “marginal” people get forced out of whatever ramshackle accommodations (called “flop-houses” in a less-enlightened time) they have found by rising property values/rents.

Substance abuse is a major contributor to homelessness and other things.  Among the Seattle’s homeless, for example, an estimated 80 percent have drug or alcohol problems.

Apparently, the “homeless” don’t want to be in city-provided “homes.”  New York City—with the abominable winter and summer climates (and delightful springs and falls) of the Mid-Atlantic states–provides shelter accommodation for 61,000 people, about 95 percent of its approximately 65,000 homeless population.  In contrast, Los Angeles—which has a temperate climate—has only 25 percent of its homeless population in shelters.  Building shelters or low-income housing may not appeal to the homeless.  Freeway underpasses are good enough for them.  Perhaps, what they’re after—other than getting high—isn’t offered by America?

Do cities entice homeless people to move there?  In 2007, Los Angeles announced that the city would no longer enforce a law against sleeping on the sidewalk in the 50-block “Skid Row” area.   Perhaps 10,000 people now live there.  So, IDK.

[1] Kris Kristofferson, “Sunday Morning Sidewalk.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbqGWTxwZEA

[2] “Living on the Streets,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 11.  How many of them are illegal immigrants or “asylum-seekers” from Central America?  My money would be on none.  If I am correct, that might—or might not—say something about the nature of the problem.

[3] 67 percent v. 23 percent.

[4] In areas around Boston in the 1980s, rents were high.  Low-income graduate students had to scramble.  I shared a one-bedroom apartment with a South Korean couple; I shared a two bedroom house in Somerville  with another graduate student; and then I shared a three bedroom apartment above Oak Square with two other friends.  My then-future wife shared an apartment with a couple of friends, then moved to a big group house.  So, being “poor” doesn’t have to mean being “homeless.”  None of this has anything to do with the actual homeless.  “Homeless” people aren’t grad students.  My question is what “life-style” do the poor have a right to expect?  This is a poorly-articulated political dispute between Democrats and Republicans.  Part of the problem seems to be that Republicans admit that society isn’t fair, but believe that human ability can overcome those problems, while Democrats claim that society is so unfair that no amount of human ability can overcome these barriers.  IDK where I stand on this exactly.  Just being a jerk here, I realize.

The News 6 August 2019.

Pro-Trump News.

The Supreme Court (5-4) allowed the administration to—temporarily–shift $2.5 million from the defense budget to building border walls.[1]

Anti-Trump News.

During the first segment of the second round of the Democratic debates, rivals–of most of whom no one has ever heard–heaped abuse on Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for their “radical” proposals—like “VA for All.”[2]  According to the critics, their plans are too extreme for many Democratic voters and for all “swing” voters.  So, in sports terms, “Go Big AND Go Home.”  “Mayor Pete”—what were the Immigration clerks on Ellis Island thinking that day?—tried to sell a more middle-of-the-road plan: “Medicare for all who want it.”[3]

There was a strong backlash against President Trump’s criticism of Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD).[4]  Congressman Cummings had criticized the treatment of the large numbers of people being held in border detention facilities.  As with his criticism of “The Squad,” the president basically said “Go back where you came from [Baltimore] and fix that before you criticize me!”  The president described Baltimore as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess.”

As with his criticism of “The Squad,” Democrats denounced Trump’s attack as “racist.”[5]  So, what is “racism” in the liberal understanding?  Slavery was racist.  Jim Crow was racist.  “Red-lining” was racist.  Racial and religious real-estate “covenants” are racist.  Employment discrimination is racist.  Is “white flight” racist?  Are “bourgeois values” racist?  Is affirmative action racist?  Is criticism of individual persons of color, on whatever grounds, racist?

Still, is Donald Trump a “racist”?  Very likely.[6]  Michael Cohen, once his attorney, recalled riding through Chicago with Trump.  Not-yet-President Trump remarked that “only blacks could live like this.”  For how many American voters does Donald Trump speak?

[1] “Supreme Court accepts wall construction,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 6.

[2] Petty self-interest prompts a question.  If you wipe out all private health insurance, what will happen to the stock value of the companies that provide health insurance?  About half of American workers have 401k retirement plans.  Most of these include health insurance company stocks in their portfolios in various mixes.

[3] “Moderates vs. progressives in Democratic debates,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 5.

[4] “Baltimore: Why Trump called it ‘disgusting’ and ‘infested’,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p.6.  My guess would be that he took a break from “Fox and Friends” to binge-watch “The Wire.”  I can’t imagine him in a limo going north on I-95, then suddenly telling his Secret Service driver to “Get off here, go west on Pulaski Highway, and then look for a sign for “The Gold Club.”  Wait.  What am I saying?  Yes, I can.  See: https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-gold-club-baltimore?osq=Full+Nude+Strip+Club

[5] Prominent denouncifiers included Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times.  Apparently, Blow does not read the Times.  Back in March 2019, the NYT Magazine ran a scalding piece on the collapse of city government and public order in Baltimore after Freddy Grey got arrested-to-death by the BPD.  Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun confessed that Baltimore does have a problem with rodents.

[6] At least he is anti-African-American, anti-African, and anti-mestizo.  It isn’t clear what are his views on East Asian and South Asian people.  Trump pretty clearly isn’t an anti-Semite.  But is Philo-Semitism “racist”?  If so, a bunch of Americans are in trouble.  Does one have to think all races are inferior to one’s own race to be a racist, or is it enough to think that one race is inferior to all other races to be a racist?  On the other hand, the attack by both Mayor Bill DiBlasio and the Editorial Board of the New York Times on Asian students attending the elite high schools in New York City might strike some people as racist.

My Weekly Reader 23 July 2019.

During and immediately following the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation had provided a framework for governing the country.  That framework proved unsatisfactory.  The current Constitution replaced it.  While the authors of the Constitution were experienced and practical men, it remained a theoretical system.  Would it work any better than had the Articles of Confederation?  Would it be able to foster a strong sense of national identity as well as provide effective government?  Could it overcome the distrust of the many Anti-Federalist who had opposed its adoption?  Carol Berkin has argued that four crises in the 1790s worked in various ways to legitimize the new system.[1]

The Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794).  The new federal government needed revenue, both to operate the government and to pay off the national debt.  Congress passed a tax on distilled spirits.  Farmers living on the then-Western frontier of Pennsylvania and Kentucky often distilled rye and corn into whiskey.  That whiskey could then be traded for goods to merchants who shipped the whiskey east for thirsty consumers.  Both the farmers and the distillers resisted the tax, often violently.  Talking to them didn’t work, so President Washington finally led an army of 13,000 eastern militiamen.  The army cowed the rebels and asserted federal authority (although it didn’t stop moonshining).

The Genet Affair (1793-1794).  The French monarchy had provided vital aid to the American Republic during the War for Independence.  In 1793, the French Republic wanted American aid in its war with Britain and Spain.  Many Americans took sides for or against the French Revolution.  Ambassador Edmond Genet arrived in search of aid.  Before presenting his credentials to the American government and in defiance of a recent Neutrality Proclamation, he commissioned privateers to raid enemy shipping and recruited volunteers for an invasion of Spanish Florida.  Talking to Genet didn’t work.  Washington, supported by both Hamilton and Jefferson, demanded France recall its ambassador.  Which they did, planning to guillotine him.

The XYZ Affair (1797-1798).  Recalling Genet did nothing to solve the growing Franco-American conflict.  President John Adams sent off a delegation to negotiate with the French.  Upon arrival, various French diplomats demanded bribes before negotiations could begin.  Most of the Americans went home in a huff.  The Adams administration then published the reports of the delegation, with the names of French diplomats replaced by the letters X, Y, and Z.  Many Americans became yet more hostile to France and the Adams Administration pushed through more military spending.  A naval “Quasi War” with France began.  However, Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans continued to favor the French Revolution and equated the Federalists with the old order.

The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798-1800).  The very divisive responses to the French Revolution and to relations with France embittered political debate.  The Adams Administration pushed through four Alien and Sedition Acts.  These extended the time to earn citizenship from 5 years to 14 years, allowed the government expel “dangerous” non-citizens, and allowed prosecution of those who made false statements that were critical of the government.  Under the guise of national security, the Federalists used the new laws in overtly political ways by prosecuting Democratic-Republican journalists, and by what amounted to future voter suppression.  (Many immigrants supported Jefferson’s party.)  Democrats attacked the Sedition law by invoking the First Amendment.  The reaction against the Alien and Sedition Acts helped spark the election of Jefferson as President in 1800.

[1] Carol Berkin, A Sovereign People: The Crises of the 1790s and the Birth of American Nationalism (2017).

An Imaginary Account of Robert Mueller Before Congress 4 22 July 2019.

Mueller: Dangling the possibility of presidential pardons in the media during the trials of people like Flynn and Manafort.  Did that prevent any of them from testifying?

Republicans: You got a bunch of people to roll.  You got Manafort on the tax and fraud stuff from 2014 and earlier.  You got Rick Gates on the same stuff.  What did they say about Trump-Russia contacts?  You got Flynn on the lying to the FBI thing and on some other stuff.  What did he say about Trump-Russia contacts?  You got Cohen on a bunch of stuff.  You got Papadopoulos on lying to the FBI.  He was the first contact reported between the campaign and the Russians.  What did he tell you?  Do you have any evidence that President Trump’s words altered their decisions about co-operation?  Is it your theory that President Trump is incredibly artful?  That his continued public sympathy for Flynn after Flynn abandoned the shared defense agreement with Manafort was just for show?  Do you suspect that each of these people held out some essential secret that would otherwise have revealed the true Trump-Russia conspiracy?

Mueller: Cohen provided false testimony to Congress and the President had to know that this testimony was false.  But we can’t tell if the President got Cohen to give the false testimony.  (p. 316.)

Republicans: So, this would be the first real danger to the President from your investigation?  Yet it is actually unrelated to Russian intervention in the election.  And you “failed to establish” any collusion between Trump and the Russians.  And Cohen is unlikely to have been called to give the testimony without the investigation into that alleged collusion.

Mueller: “Obstruction of justice can be motivated by a desire to protect non-criminal personal interests, to protect against investigations where underlying criminal liability falls into a gray area, or to avoid personal embarrassment.  The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong.” (pp. 320-321.)

Republicans: Fair enough.  Most of us have been to law school.  Given your interest is in defending “the integrity of the justice system,” then can you comment on the Randy Weaver and Ted Stevens cases?

Mueller: While the investigation did not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference, he may have had other personal motives for his actions.  For example, he may have thought that the 2016 Trump Tower meeting or advance knowledge of the Wikileaks would be construed as crimes that delegitimized his election.  These could fall under the definition of obstruction of justice.  (p. 321.)

Republicans: And Justice is?

Mueller: Much of this was done “in public,” but he’s the President and he has the power to pardon.

Republicans: And so you yourself and your subordinates felt intimidated?

Mueller: The President ordered subordinates to do many things that might have obstructed justice, but mostly those subordinates didn’t do them.  (p. 322.)

Republicans: Is there a federal statute that bars “wanting to obstruct justice” as differentiated from actual obstruction of justice”?

An Imaginary Account of Robert Mueller Before Congress 3 22 July 2019.

Mueller: Although the team did not establish that the President and his campaign had conspired with the Russians, he might have wanted the investigation to end because of things that it might have (and did) reveal about the campaign.  It’s possible that the President would have feared that these were crimes: the public misstatements about Trump Organization’s pursuit of Russian business deals into Summer 2016, and Trump tried to get information about future Wikileaks.

Republicans: And these were crimes under which laws?

Mueller: “More broadly, multiple witnesses described the President’s preoccupation with the press coverage of the Russia investigation and his persistent concern that it raised questions about the legitimacy of his election.” (p. 256.)

Mueller: Finally, he didn’t tell the truth at first about why he had fired Comey. (pp. 256-257.)

Republicans:  And you discovered the real reason how?  He went on national television a few days later and told a journalist.

The Post-Comey Phase.

Mueller: The team immediately added an investigation of President Trump for obstruction of justice to its mandate.  President Trump reacted strongly against the appointment of a special prosecutor.  (p. 257.)

An example.

Mueller: On 9 June 2016, Manafort, Kushner, and Trump, Jr. met with some Russians in hopes of hearing about Russian “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  That turned out to be false advertising on the part of the Russians.  Receiving such information might have been a violation of campaign finance laws, but they got skint.  When news of this meeting first became public, President Trump repeatedly tried to mischaracterize the intended purpose of the meeting.

Mueller: It would have been obstruction of justice to prevent either Congress or the Special Prosecutor from receiving relevant documents when demanded.  The President did not do that.  (p. 280.)

Mueller: “The evidence does not establish that the President intended to prevent the Special Counsel’s Office or Congress from obtaining the emails setting up the June 9 meeting or other information about that meeting.” (p. 281.)  The only evidence we have is that the President told people to hand over emails and other information to whomever needed to have them. (p. 280.)

Republicans: This phrase you keep using—“did not establish”—what does that mean exactly?  Because in this particular case, what you have is evidence of a media strategy directed against the Democratic media combined with a demonstrated willingness to provide requested information to Congress and the Special Prosecutor.  So, does “did not establish” mean the same thing everywhere else in the Report?  As in, “did not establish” collusion/co-ordination/conspiracy with the Russians.  Does that really mean “we didn’t find any evidence of this at all”?