Thursday, July 30, 2015

Immigrants, Guns and Congress

Such as do build their faith upon,
The holy text of pike and gun.
—Samuel Butler, Hudibras

It depends on two things-who is the actor and who is the victim. Those two things determine how people respond. The one thing it does not depend on is what the actor used to create the victim. It all came to mind during the month of July. July 26th was the 207th day of the year 2015 and that was the day that we celebrated the 206th mass shooting of the year. That does not mean that there had only been 206 occasions when guns were in the news. Quite the contrary. According to the Gun Violence Archive as of July 29, 2015 there had been 7,360 deaths in the United states in which the gun was the important actor. The individual activities of the gun, however, do not, normally, inspire a lot of response except from the usual people who use frequent gun related incidents to suggest there should be some sort of gun control in this country. Mass shootings, on the other hand, get a great deal of attention. Not all mass shootings are the same and responses to them vary.

In the case of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2013 there was a suggestion from the NRA that there should be armed guards in every school in the country but that suggestion was never acted on in part, perhaps because that would have required as many as one million newly armed guards. Following the July 26, 2015 movie theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana, presidential candidate Rick Perry was asked whether the proper response to movie shootings should be to permit all attendees to bring weapons with them. The former governor responded that the proposal made “a lot of sense”. There is little question but that the possibility of a movie shooter being suddenly confronted in the dimly lit space with a theater full of armed patrons who begin shooting at whomever the patron believed fired first would introduce a sense of calm and security to moviegoers that is presently lacking.

Churchgoers would also be better off if fellow worshippers were armed. Churches are typically well lit so that the possibility of a firefight erupting in the church and the wrong people being shot seems less likely. Attendees could, therefore, worship in a peaceful place, secure in the knowledge that an armed intruder would be swiftly dispatched to his maker.

With respect to the shooting in Chattanooga, TN that resulted in the death of military personnel, U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said that the shootings in that city are being investigated as an “act of domestic terrorism” although as of this writing the act has not been classified as a terrorist act. It is not clear why that shooting should be dealt with any differently from the other acts of violence that July gave us except that the victims happened to be military personnel.

Aside from Rick Perry’s agreement with the suggestion that movie theaters should become armed camps, only one of the many shootings that took place during July elicited a response from members of Congress and the occasion was not a mass shooting. It was the shooting of Kate Steinle on July 1, 2015. She was shot and killed by Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, a Mexican native who had seven felony convictions in this country and had made a number of illegal entries. Although she was only the 2d person shot during the month of July, her death evoked a strong response from members of Congress. To everyone’s surprise, however, the Congressional response did not finally acknowledge the need for something to be done about all the guns in this country. Instead it precipitated a call to, of all things, do something about illegal immigration. Members of Congress who spoke publicly were not concerned that this was simply the latest of several hundred gun inspired death that had already occurred in the United States during 2015. They were upset that the shooter was an illegal immigrant.

Less than a week before they rushed home for their well-deserved five weeks of rest and relaxation, a variety of bills was introduced to crack down on illegal immigration. The legislation was aimed at cutting off funding to so called “sanctuary cities”, localities that offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants. Rep. Steve King of Iowa explained that “The appetite for amnesty has diminished dramatically after we see the carnage in the streets of America at the hands of criminal aliens that should’ve been removed from the country. That means that now, the climate is much better to try to move down the line on enforcement.” The fact that not any of the well-known mass shootings over the last few years has been conducted by a criminal alien is of no moment as far as members of Congress are concerned. Referring to the Steinle killing, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas pulled an idea out of the cloud in which many members of Congress get their best ideas. He said: “Someone in this administration probably should be arrested for negligent homicide or for any of another dozen crimes that are so frequently committed by illegal immigrants in this country who shouldn’t even be here.” Someone should tell Rep. Smith that it’s not illegal immigrants that are the problem-it’s the guns.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Vetting Voters?

As long as I count the votes, what are you going to do about it?
— William Marcy Tweed, Tammany Hall Statement (1871)

The flag goes down and the bars go up. There’s a nice synchronicity to it. Of course it was nothing more than a coincidence. The efforts to raise the bar have been going on at least as long as the efforts to lower the confederate flag. In the overall scheme of things the bar may be more important than the flag. The flag is symbolic. The bar is practical with a significant political impact. The bar is, of course, the efforts of Republican legislators in some southern states to make it more difficult for minorities to vote. A challenge to North Carolina’s efforts opened in a federal court on July 13, 2015. The question for the court to answer was whether or not the new rules discriminate against black voters.

The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for the new laws when, in 2013, it struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The tone of the opinion was set during the oral arguments in which those who favor voting barriers asked questions of the lawyers appearing before them. Justice Scalia was very concerned with something called “racial entitlement.” As he explained during oral argument when the voting rights act was being considered by him and his colleagues, it was important for them to put an end to “racial entitlement” because only he and his colleagues had the courage to do it. Members of Congress, said he, are afraid of coming out against Sections 4(b) and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because they don’t want to be seen as being against such a popular act. (Section 5 of the Act requires States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting and Section 4(b) imposes that requirement only on States in which there had been entrenched racial discrimination in voting.) Since not all states were required to have preapproval from the federal government before changing their election laws Chief Justice Roberts in the majority opinion said there had to be a good reason to treat one state differently from another and in his opinion he said the Court found no such reasons. As Chief Justice Roberts explained, in striking down Section 4(b), the exceptional and unique conditions that once existed with respect to how some southern states treated voters and, therefore, justified that section of the statute, no longer exist.

No sooner did the U.S. Supreme Court issue its opinion than North Carolina and other southern states began enacting tougher election laws. In North Carolina state officials explained that the changes were intended to treat all voters equally and were designed to prevent fraud, ensure electoral integrity and reduce administrative burdens.

Elimination of fraud has been one of the most frequently cited reasons for strengthening the election laws and especially the voter ID laws in states in which those changes have been introduced. Examples of the perceived presence of fraud abound. All that is missing is fraud itself. Three examples suffice.

In 2012 Colorado’s Secretary of State observed there were 11,805 non-citizens on the voter rolls, a number he then reduced to 3,903. After sending out letters to those people he concluded there were 141 non-citizens on the voter rolls or .0041 of the voters in the state. In Florida the Division of Elections said there might be 180,000 non-citizens on the roll but that number, too, proved elusive. There were 207 non-citizens on the rolls and none of them had ever voted. South Carolina found 3 cases of voter fraud since 2000 and used that alarming finding as justification for toughening its election laws.

In North Carolina the legislation that is being challenged in federal court in a trial that began in mid-July put an end to same day voter registration, reduced the number of early voting days and ended a program to pre-register high school students. Arguing in support of the law’s provisions, North Carolina’s attorney general says that what those objecting to the new provisions are seeking is “the equivalent of election law affirmative action.” Plaintiffs, said he, “are arguing for practices that are favored by political organizations dedicated to maximizing Democratic turnout.” It is obvious to him that if fairness in voting practices is the goal of a group it is important to make sure that they are not seeking fairness only to benefit one political party but to benefit the entire voting process. A federal court will determine who is right.

If the case ends up before the U.S. Supreme Court as presently constituted, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. The majority will echo the words of Thomas Farr, one of the attorneys representing North Carolina. Speaking rhetorically he asked: “What’s the dastardly thing that North Carolina has done? What they did was they enacted regulations that represent majority rule throughout the United States.” Although a singularly awkward and meaningless explanation of what is at stake, one can easily imagine it being used by Justice Scalia should he be asked to write the majority opinion. The words have a nice ring to them and intoxicated with the sound of his own words, Justice Scalia always favors ring over substance.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A 21st Century Parable-The Lord and The Baker

The hippopotamus’s day
Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;
God works in a mysterious way-
The Church can sleep and feed at once.
— T.S.Eliot, The Hippopotamus

The Lord works in mysterious ways and that explains the actions of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner and baker, Jack Phillips.

One of the things Jack loves to do is bake cakes. He does it in the shop in which his cakes are also sold and as he will be the first to modestly tell you, God is his chef. He and God work hand in hand producing Jack’s wonderful creations. (Creating things is, of course, God’s strong suit and in God Jack has an able assistant.) Although God through Jesus has instructed Jack to love his neighbor as himself, and, presumably, treat his neighbor as he would be treated, that Commandment that Jesus described as being one of the two most important commandments ever pronounced (the other having to do with loving God) it was promulgated, as it were, before the United States Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution (which is in the same category of really important pronouncements as the commandments announced by Jesus) had said gays had a right to marry. Jack is sure that when the “love thy neighbor as thyself” was announced Jesus was not suggesting that Jack had to love gay people the same way he loved people who were not gay. Since God forgot to say anything about loving gay people as you love yourself, Jack considers himself a self-deputized spokesmen for God.

What Jack has said that God has told him to do, is to save his baking skills for the heterosexual. That is not quite how God put it. The way God put it, using Jack as his spokesman, is that Jack should not make cakes for gay people to use at their weddings because it violates Jack’s Christian beliefs and Jack’s Christian beliefs are, of course, derived from God. There is, no indication that God has any objection to Jack selling cakes to people who are gay nor, apparently, does God object to a gay person eating one of Jack’s cakes. God’s only objection to cakes and gays is if Jack makes a cake that is specifically baked to be served at a wedding of gay people. As Jack has said, that kind of baking would upset God and, naturally, violate Jack’s Christian beliefs.

To some it might seem curious that when considering for whom Jack may bake, God has focused on weddings of people who are gay. Acting as God’s spokesperson, Jack has not said God would object if he elects to bake a cake for a wedding of an heterosexual couple each of whom was previously married and who, while married, committed adultery. God, speaking through Jack, would say that Jack has no objection to baking a cake for that occasion even though one of the Ten commandments (which are almost on a part with the two commandments described above) specifically prohibits committing adultery and to bake a cake for those who commit adultery would seem to be as bad as, if not worse than, baking a cake for gays since adultery is expressly forbidden by God.

There is a reason God has made himself known in Jack’s kitchen. It is because of what could be called a “Godly oversight”. Jack is addressing an issue that God had overlooked because it never occurred to him that men would want to marry men or women would want to marry women. From God’s perspective, men marrying women and women marrying men made perfectly good sense since that way people would reproduce. As an added bonus, the process of insuring that there would always be people on the earth was fun for the participants in the process. Had God thought of the now common alternative and wanted to ban it, He could have come up with an 11th Commandment. It would have read something like this: “Thou shall not bake cakes for weddings for homosexual men, women nor any of their issue.” (In my recommended 11th Commandment I have included “issue” since many homosexual couples are now discovering ways to procreate that could not have been accomplished when the Ten Commandments were first promulgated and God would not approve of those creative ways of procreation. Since the “issue” are humans and part of the abortion debate about which God has strong feelings, the only effect this commandment would have on the “issue” is that a baker would not have to bake a cake for the “issue” when they get married even though they are not to blame for the fact that they have a mother and father who are of the same sex even if the issue are heterosexual.

One thing is absolutely clear. God is indebted to Jack for letting people know how God would have felt about gay marriage had God thought of it when having Jesus make the announcement about loving one’s neighbors as oneself. And God is no doubt especially pleased that rather than having his feelings about gay marriage explained by some prelate in fancy dress in a magnificent church or cathedral, he has imparted his message through a simple and humble baker in a place called Lakewood Colorado.