March 5, 2018

Gun Controls That Might Work

As noted in my previous post, some of the gun-control legislation and individual / corporate actions and reactions after school or mass shootings are "feel good." Like Dick's Sporting Goods choosing not to sell any "assault-style" weapons any longer - the moves give people good and happy feelings, but do nothing to limit crime in the greater sense.

I am generally pro-Second Amendment. I believe that people have the right to defend themselves, with deadly force if necessary. I also think that most progressives who talk about "doing something," either: (1) Do not offer or cannot understand what legislation will do and not do; or (2) DO understand that legislation which makes any given firearm or type illegal will fail to accomplish its ends, and are seeking gradual steps towards seizure of all firearms.

With that said, there are some laws and actions which I think will help the violence situation. As I noted in my previous post, the majority of gun crime occurs with stolen weapons. To whit: "...further reading seems to indicate that in cases of gun crime 'in approximately 8 out of 10 cases, the perpetrator was not a lawful gun owner but rather in illegal possession of a weapon that belonged to someone else.'"

Therefore, I propose the following laws:

1. Tort or criminal liability for gun owners who fail to secure their weapons and report the theft of those weapons to police. As indicated in the article, "But more than 40 percent of those stolen guns weren't reported by the owners as stolen until after police contacted them when the gun was used in a crime." Hopefully, such a law will have the effect of making owners more aware of the need to secure their weapons, and the need to report their theft. The article also states that "[o]ne of the more concerning findings in the study was that for the majority of guns recovered (62 percent)"the place where the owner lost possession of the firearm was unknown."

2. Cracking down hard on straw purchasers. This is a problem where someone who cannot legally purchase a gun prevails on friends or family to purchase a gun on their behalf. The article notes that "One potential sign that straw purchasing is a factor in the Pittsburgh data: Forty-four percent of the gun owners who were identified in 2008 did not respond to police attempts to contact them." We have laws already against straw purchasing - the need to be enforced harshly.

3. Tort or criminal liability for parents whose in-home children are perpetrators of gun crime using weapons owned by the parents, in addition to tort or criminal liability for parents whose children post social media which threatens violence against again person, and which violence is later carried out.

4. A system of required weapons insurance policies for gun owners, which insures against use of the weapons in crime, and which will provide cushion for the above liabilities for victims.

Just some thoughts.

March 1, 2018

Tribalism and Virtue Signaling

On the heels of the most recent school shooting, a number of companies have taken steps to eliminate discounts for members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others have elected to stop selling certain firearms.

Wal-Mart and Dick's Sporting Goods have said that they will no longer sell firearms to anyone under the age of 21. Dick's Sporting Goods also reported that they were "immediately ending its sales of military-style semi-automatic rifles."

Delta, United Airlines, Metlife, Symantec, Simplisafe, Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis Budget announced that they had ceased offering discounts to members of the NRA. First Bank of Omaha elected to stop offering an NRA-branded VISA card. There may be others now which I have missed, and others which will do the same in the future.

The constitutionality of halting sales to anyone under the age of 21 is somewhat questionable, though that may be a question for state law. Certainly, one would have difficulty imagining that a store which stated that a person was "too old," if otherwise legally qualified to own a gun, would be on firm legal ground.

However, this aside, it is clear that what is going on here is virtue signaling to the internet mob.

Let's consider the following statistics for a moment:

1. The NRA has between 4 and 6 million members, give or take. While they say "over 5 million," rough estimates from various internet sources (such as here) seem to think it's 4 - 6, give or take.

2. The amount of gun violence committed by NRA members appears to be quite small; smaller than the general populace. For instance, it is statistically unlikely that every owner of the 270 million to 310 million guns (or more - since that is 5 years old or so), is a member of the NRA. And, it is difficult to glean how many members of the NRA commit gun crimes, or what percentage of overall gun crimes are committed by NRA members.

However, suppose we look at gun crimes committed by those who have concealed carry permits (CCP). The author estimates that there were 14.5 million CCPs as of July 26, 2016. Then, the author looks at Florida (1.4 million CCP permit holders) and Texas (1.05 million CCP holders) - both states which collect data on licenses revoked for gun crimes. The author reports:
Concealed carry permit holders are even more law-abiding than police. Between October 1, 1987 and June 30, 2015, Florida revoked 9,999 concealed handgun permits for misdemeanors or felonies. This is an annual revocation rate of 12.8 permits per 100,000. In 2013 (the last year for which data is available), 158 permit holders were convicted of a felony or misdemeanor – a conviction rate of 22.3 per 100,000.
Among police, firearms violations occur at a rate of 16.5 per 100,000 officers. Among permit holders in Florida and Texas, the rate is only 2.4 per 100,000. That is just 1/7th of the rate for police officers. But there's no need to focus on Texas and Florida — the data are similar in other states.
Let's assume, for a moment, that 2.4 / 100,000 is a similar rate of firearms violations for the general NRA population, and that 12.8 / 100,000 is the number of annual revocations of CCPs for NRA members. Now, if my math is correct, this would mean that 144 NRA members (of 6 million) have firearms violations each year, and that 768 (of 6 million) have their CCPs revoked each year for misdemeanors or felonies. Relatedly, further reading seems to indicate that in cases of gun crime "in approximately 8 out of 10 cases, the perpetrator was not a lawful gun owner but rather in illegal possession of a weapon that belonged to someone else."

So, the question is, given the (apparently) ridiculously low rate of gun crime among NRA members (taking this data as a loose proxy), the companies ending their affiliations with NRA members can only have in mind their marketing and tribal affiliations. No step they could take in making NRA members pay more for their services will likely change deaths, shootings, or any other crime statistic. Nor will it likely reduce membership in the NRA, nor make the NRA change its stance on gun control.

The question of ceasing sales of certain firearms is a bit more complex, but (in the end) will likely result in the same outcome. Statistics of gun crimes committed each year reveal that "Handguns are used in about nine times as many murders and eight times as many nonfatal  violent crimes than rifles, shotguns, and other firearms combined." In fact, one op-ed writer has said:
The only thing unique about assault rifles is their menacing name and look, and it is these elements that make them such an appealing — if not particularly sensible — target of gun control advocates.
The same writer added:
Little wonder then that a 2004 study commissioned by the Department of Justice found that the federal ban [on assault-style rifles from 1994 to 2004] didn't lead to any decrease in gun crime or gun deaths. For starters, rifles, assault or otherwise, are rarely used in gun crime. Notwithstanding the two rifles used in San Bernardino (and a few other memorable mass killings), rifles account for only about 3% of criminal gun deaths. Gun crime in the United States, including most mass shootings, is overwhelmingly handgun crime.
So, while ceasing sale of "assault-style" rifles feels good, because the guns look like military fully-automatic weapons, it is truly only good in feeling.

As for raising the age to purchase firearms to 21 - it sounds good, but of crimes committed, how many people under the age of 21 had actually purchased the guns for themselves, and how many had stolen them from lawful owners or obtained them in other ways? While I am out of time to continue these thoughts, I hazard that more gun violence from people ages 18 - 21 is committed with stolen or gifted weapons (given the cost of purchase of weapons) than with those purchased by the criminals themselves.

February 25, 2018

Stop Believing in Science!

Ben Shapiro points out here that two public intellectuals - Neil Degrasse Tyson and Steven Pinker - have made what Shapiro argues are ridiculous Twitter statements following the school shooting in Florida.

Tyson stated:
Evidence collected over many years, obtained from many locations, indicates that the power of Prayer is insufficient to stop bullets from killing school children.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) February 16, 2018
while Pinker said that the shooting and similar occurrences:
...[C]ast doubt on the idea that there is a benevolent shepherd who looks out for human welfare. What was the benevolent shepherd doing while the teenager was massacring his classmates?... If you’re counting on God to make the world a better place you are probably going to make the world a worse place because he is not listening and we saw that yesterday.
Shapiro has an excellent discussion on the problems with these statements, and I am not going to rehash them here. Also worth reading is David Bentley Hart's book "Doors of the Sea" (an abbreviated article of which is here), in which he says:
It is of course somewhat petty to care overly much about captious atheists at such a time [of a tragedy], but it is difficult not to be annoyed when a zealous skeptic, eager to be the first to deliver God His long overdue coup de grâce , begins confidently to speak as if believers have never until this moment considered the problem of evil or confronted despair or suffering or death. Perhaps we did not notice the Black Death, the Great War, the Holocaust, or every instance of famine, pestilence, flood, fire, or earthquake in the whole of the human past; perhaps every Christian who has ever had to bury a child has somehow remained insensible to the depth of his own bereavement...It would have at least been courteous, one would think, if [the atheist commentator] had made more than a perfunctory effort to ascertain what religious persons actually do believe before presuming to instruct them on what they cannot believe.
With that said, in pondering the (fairly consistent) mutterings of atheist scientists, it occurred to me that perhaps the problem religious people face is waiting for scientists, engineers, etc. to come up with solutions to the problem. After all, we do not have light shields which could be worn by all school children to prevent bullet injuries, do we? In fact, while science has been quite good at preventing and curing disease, and very good at exploration and observation, it has also been very good at identifying, developing, and selling personal and global weapons of murder, mayhem, and mass destruction, including (but not limited to): viral plague agents, incendiary devices, nuclear bombs, machine guns, flame throwers, grenades, cannon, tanks, mass starvation, and poison gas, as well as appropriating otherwise useful devices for related purposes.

The Renaissance is often posited as the bright line between the "Dark Ages" and modernity - when the tides of light started to push back the old world of religion and superstition. A useful, vague, dividing line is the year 1300 AD. Now, there had been body counts estimate quite high before that time, and quite high after. However, using Wikipedia numbers (raw, I know), which include deaths due to disease, etc., we can make a few general observations (using the high number listed):

Before 1300:

Total Deaths in War: 7,594,766 (1848 years; 549 BC - 1299 AD)

Total Years of Warring for All Wars: 2,889

Average Yearly Deaths During War: 2,629

Bloodiest War: Mongol Conquests; 40,000,000 (1206 - 1368 AD)

Bloodiest Average Deaths / Year: An Lushan Rebellion; 4,500,000 deaths per year (755-763)

After 1300:

Total Deaths in War: 59,311,510 (718 years; 1300 AD - 2018 AD)

Total Years of Warring for All Wars: 2,701

Average Yearly Deaths During War: 21,959

Bloodiest War: Taiping Rebellion; 100,000,000 (1850-1864)

Bloodiest Average Deaths / Year: WWII; 14,166,667 deaths per year (1939-1945)

So, we can see, in the much shorter period of time from 1300-2018 AD, the body count rose massively as scientists and engineers improved humanities ability to kill one another. (Note: I make no claims here as to the morality of better killing, though I am not sure scientists should be able to boast that "we've gotten so much better at curing disease and causing death..."). Perhaps this is why scientists are so concerned about global warming - science created most of the machines and methods that have, according to scientists, caused the ecological disaster in the first place.

In short, advancing the cause of science in its varied forms has proven disastrous for many members of the human race. Perhaps we should consider praying more and supporting science less, in hopes that scientists don't decide to develop some device, organism, or virus that manages to wipe us all out, for good.

February 6, 2018

Exhaustive Discussion on the released Memorandum, FISA, FISCs, Etc.

Since the opinion seems to vary widely, and I am not sure exactly what sources people are using for their information, I have decided to paste and parse the memorandum ("Memo") in an attempt to inform and (potentially) explain.


The Memo begins as follows:
To: HPSCI Majority Members
From: HPSCI Majority Staff

Subject: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation
The HPSCI refers to the "House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence," which may be located here.  The current chair is Devin Nunes (R. California), with the remaining members consisting of 12 Republicans and 9 Democrats. Pursuant to its own terms, the HPSCI:
[I]s charged with oversight of the United States Intelligence Community—which includes the intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the following seventeen elements of the U.S. Government—and the Military Intelligence Program.
Therefore, questions of abuses of power by the DoJ and the FBI would fall under the purview of this committee. The Memo continues...
Purpose...This memorandum provides Members an update on significant facts relating to the Committee's ongoing investigation into the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and their use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the 2016 presidential election cycle. Our findings, which are detailed below, 1) raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), and 2) represent a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the PISA process.
So, okay. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or "FISA," was sponsored by Senator Edward ("Ted") Kennedy in 1977, and signed into law in 1978. It has numerous effects, but for the purposes of the Memo, it established secret courts (secret, in this instance, meaning "not open to the public," versus "not known to exist") called "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts, or "FISC"s. In order to conduct electronic surveillance on a United States citizen, a Federal officer and the attorney general must apply to a FISC to obtain a surveillance order, following certain procedures.

As part of the procedures, the Federal officer must supply to the FISC:
(3) a statement of the facts and circumstances relied upon by the applicant to justify his belief that— (A) the target of the electronic surveillance is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; and (B) each of the facilities or places at which the electronic surveillance is directed is being used, or is about to be used, by a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.
I think that this is the concern of the HPSCI staff, and that which prompted the investigation and the Memo. The Memo continues...
On October 21, 2016, DOJ and FBI sought and received a FISA probable cause order (not under Title VII) authorizing electronic surveillance on Carter Page from the FISC. Page is a U.S. citizen who served as a volunteer advisor to the Trump presidential campaign. Consistent with requirements under FISA, the application had to be first certified by the Director or Deputy Director of the FBI. It then required the approval of the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General (DAG), or the Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division.
The FBI and DOJ obtained one initial PISA warrant targeting Carter Page and three FISA renewals from the FISC. As required by statute (50 U.S.C. §,1805(d)(l)), a FISA order on an American citizen must be renewed by the FISC every 90 days and each renewal requires a separate finding of probable cause. Then-Director James Comey signed three FISA applications in question on behalf of the FBI, and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed one. Then-DAG Sally Yates, then-Acting DAG Dana Boente, and DAG Rod Rosenstein each signed one or more PISA applications on behalf of DOJ.
This is outlining how the actors involved obtained the permission to surveil Carter Page. Comey was appointed by President Obama, McCabe was appointed by Comey. Yates was appointed by President Obama, Boente was appointed to positions by both President Obama and President Trump, and Rosenstein was nominated by President Trump. The Memo continues...
Due to the sensitive nature of foreign intelligence activity, PISA submissions (including renewals) before the FISC are classified. As such, the public's confidence in the integrity of the FISA process depends on the court's ability to hold the government to the highest standard particularly as it relates to surveillance of American citizens. However, the FISC's rigor in protecting the rights of Americans, which is reinforced by 90-day renewals of surveillance orders, is necessarily dependent on the government's production to the court of all material and relevant facts. This should include information potentially favorable to the target of the FISA application that is known by the government.
This is leading somewhere, but to pause for a moment, I would like to briefly note the importance that an officer before a court include information potentially favorable to the surveillance target. The most important protection against illegal searches by a government entity is the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to wit:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
This was discussed at length as applied to warrants in a case called Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 164-65, 98 S. Ct. 2674, 2681 (1978). Importantly, the case held:
The bulwark of Fourth Amendment protection, of course, is the Warrant Clause, requiring that, absent certain exceptions, police obtain a warrant from a neutral and disinterested magistrate before embarking upon a search.  In deciding today that, in certain circumstances, a challenge to a warrant's veracity must be permitted, we derive our ground from language of the Warrant Clause itself, which surely takes the affiant's good faith as its premise: "[No] Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation . . . ." Judge Frankel, in United States v. Halsey, put the matter simply: "[When] the Fourth Amendment demands a factual showing sufficient to comprise 'probable cause,' the obvious assumption is that there will be a truthful showing" This does not mean "truthful" in the sense that every fact recited in the warrant affidavit is necessarily correct, for probable cause may be founded upon hearsay and upon information received from informants, as well as upon information within the affiant's own knowledge that sometimes must be garnered hastily.  But surely it is to be "truthful" in the sense that the information put forth is believed or appropriately accepted by the affiant as true. It is established law that a warrant affidavit must set forth particular facts and circumstances underlying the existence of probable cause, so as to allow the magistrate to make an independent evaluation of the matter.  If an informant's tip is the source of information, the affidavit must recite "some of the underlying circumstances from which the informant concluded" that relevant evidence might be discovered, and "some of the underlying circumstances from which the officer concluded that the informant, whose identity need not be disclosed, . . . was 'credible' or his information 'reliable.'
Keep in mind this part regarding "underlying circumstances" and credible information. Now, Franks has been interpreted and discussed many times since 1978, but importantly, it has been held not only to apply to disclosing underlying circumstances regarding sources of information, but also deliberately omitting relevant information. As the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has held:
Under the first step of Franks, the defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the affiant knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, made false or misleading statements or omissions in support of the warrant application.A negligent or innocent mistake does not warrant suppression. [A] warrant affidavit must set forth particular facts and circumstances . . . so as to allow the magistrate to make an independent evaluation of the matter. Sufficient information must be presented to the magistrate to allow that official to determine probable cause; his action cannot be a mere ratification of the bare conclusions of others. An officer presenting a search warrant application has a duty to provide, in good faith, all relevant information to the magistrate. United States v. Perkins, 850 F.3d 1109, 1116 (9th Cir. 2017).
Much of the remainder of the concern of the HPSCI investigators is related to these omissions and the potential biases displayed in actions relating to the FISA application:
1) The "dossier" compiled by Christopher Steele (Steele dossier) on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application. Steele was a longtime FBI source who was paid over $160,000 by the DNC and Clinton campaign, via the law firm Perkins Coie and research firm Fusion GPS, to obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump's ties to Russia.
a) Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or. any party/campaign in funding Steele's efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.
(b) The initial FISA application notes Steele was working for a named U.S. person, but does not name Fusion GPS and principal Glenn Simpson, who was paid by a U.S. law firm (Perkins Coie) representing the DNC ( even though it was known by DOJ at the_ time that political actor􀄅 were involved with the Steele dossier). The application does not mention Steele was ultimately working on behalf of-and paid by-the DNC and Clinton campaign, or that the FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information. 
2) The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isilcoff, which focuses on Page's July 2016 trip to Moscow. This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News. The Page FISA application incorrectly assesses that Steele did not directly provide information to Yahoo News. Steele has admitted in British court filings that he met with Yahoo News -and several other outlets- in September 2016 at the direction of Fusion GPS. Perkins Coie was aware of Steele's initial media contacts because they hosted at least one meeting in Washington D.C. in 2016 with Steele and Fusion GPS where this matter was discussed.
a) Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations-an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI in an October 30, 2016, Mother Jones article by David Com. Steele should have been terminated for his previous undisclosed contacts with Yahoo and other outlets in September-before the Page application was submitted to the FISC in October-but Steele improperly concealed from and lied to the FBI about those contacts.
b) Steele's numerous encounters with the media violated the cardinal rule of source handling-maintaining confidentiality-and demonstrated that Steele had become a less than reliable source for the FBI.
3) Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official who worked closely with Deputy Attorneys General Yates and later Rosenstein. Shortly after the election, the FBI began interviewing Ohr, documenting his communications with Steele. For example, in September 2016, Steele admitted to Ohr his feelings against then candidate Trump when Steele said he "was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president." This clear evidence of Steele's bias was recorded by Ohr at the time and subsequently in official FBI files-but not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications.
a) During this same time period, Ohr's wife was employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump. Ohr later provided the FBI with all of his wife's opposition research, paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign via Fusion GPS. The Ohrs' relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the FISC.
4) According to the head of the FBI's counterintelligence division, Assistant Director Bill Priestap, corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its "infancy" at the time of the initial Page PISA application. After Steele was terminated, a source validation report conducted by an independent unit within FBI assessed Steele's reporting as only minimally corroborated. Yet, in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steele dossier, even though it was-according to his June 2017 testimony-"salacious and unverified." While the PISA application relied on Steele's past record of credible reporting on other unrelated matters, it ignored or concealed his anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations. Furthermore, Deputy Director McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.
5) The Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, but there is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos. The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok. Strzok was reassigned by the Special Counsel's Office to FBI Human Resources for improper text messages with his mistress, FBI Attorney Lisa Page (no known relation to Carter Page), where they both demonstrated a clear bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton, whom Strzok had also investigated. The Strzok/Lisa Page texts also reflect extensive discussions about the investigation, orchestrating leaks to the media, and include a meeting with Deputy Director McCabe to discuss an "insurance" policy against President Trump's election.
In essence, then, the Memo is arguing that the Steele dossier, compiled at the behest of a campaign opposed to Trump, should not have served as the basis for the obtaining of a FISA order of surveillance on Carter Page, or that it should have at least revealed the presence of information obtained and paid for by a political opponent of President Trump.

November 22, 2017

The Poor Are Being Barred From Voting...

Or are they....?

Today I spotted an interesting blog post from Robert Reich, who "served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century." Said blog post has also been picked up by Newsweek and posted on Yahoo.

THIS blog post, entitled variously "The New Poll Tax" (blog) and "The Poor Are Being Barred From Voting. And That’s Unconstitutional..." is in serious need of Fisking.

So, let's see here. Reich states that there are several ways that the poor are being disenfranchised. Each one deserves a closer look. But before I do so, a couple comments.

I would say initially that Reich compares various laws to the poll tax, outlawed by the 24th Amendment. That Amendment states:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
In what follows, Reich is not really arguing that there is any actual tax imposed, as far as I can see. However, the Supreme Court stated in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections:
It is argued that a State may exact fees from citizens for many different kinds of licenses; that if it can demand from all an equal fee for a driver's license, it can demand from all an equal poll tax for voting. But we must remember that the interest of the State, when it comes to voting, is limited to the power to fix qualifications. Wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one's ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process.  Lines drawn on the basis of wealth or property, like those of race  are traditionally disfavored. To introduce wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a voter's qualifications is to introduce a capricious or irrelevant factor.  The degree of the discrimination is irrelevant.  In this context -- that is, as a condition of obtaining a ballot -- the requirement of fee paying causes an "invidious" discrimination that runs afoul of the Equal Protection Clause.  Levy "by the poll..." is an old familiar form of taxation; and we say nothing to impair its validity so long as it is not made a condition to the exercise of the franchise. Harper v. Va. State Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 668-69, 86 S. Ct. 1079, 1082 (1966)
Other cases interpreting the 24th Amendment have held:
It is unconstitutional to force a citizen to "either pay a poll tax or file a certificate of residence six months prior to the election." Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528, 543, 85 S. Ct. 1177, 1186 (1965).
Outside of the 24th Amendment, the Supreme Court has also held that governments may not force people to waive constitutional rights in exchange for benefits.

With that said, there is also language in the 14th Amendment that states that the right to vote may not  be in "any way abridged" except for a voter who participates in "rebellion, or other crime." The Supreme Court interpreted this in the case of Richardson v. Ramirez to hold that this did not prevent a state from denying a convicted felon the right to vote, even if the felon had otherwise finished their sentence. 

So, while there may be no actual tax to be paid at the poll, what I suspect that Reich is doing here is arguing that these laws become a defacto way of introducing unconstitutional "wealth or property" tests for voting, and perhaps, since felons are often required to pay fines or fees as a condition of completing their punishment, they cannot vote for long periods in some states even if the right to vote is restored to felons who have otherwise finished their punishment.

In his post, Reich first argues:
In nine states, Republican legislators have enacted laws that disenfranchise anyone with outstanding legal fees or court fines. For example, in Alabama more than 100,000 people who owe money – roughly 3 percent of the state’s voting-age population – have been struck from voting rolls. 
Reich says that Alabama is one example, and that there are 8 other states that do so. He does not give an example of the laws in question, nor name the other states in which this occurs. But where are the laws that do this? I have not located any information which indicates that there are 9 states who condition voting on the payment of fines and fees outside of payment of fines and court fees for felonies committed. In these states, restoration of voting rights is specifically conditioned on repayment of fines and fees.

And, in fact, the Washington Post featured an article on November 8, 2016 entitled "These people have been barred from voting today because they’re in debt." In that article, the authors feature an interview with a woman from Alabama who cannot vote, and who says:
Forty-eight-year-old Treva Thompson won’t be voting on Election Day. It’s not that she’s turned off by the choice of candidates. It’s that she can’t. She owes around $8,000 in fines and fees, plus more than $30,000 in victim restitution related to her felony theft conviction in 2005. And she’d have to pay it all off before starting the process to have her voting rights restored. A herculean task, she explains, because she often doesn’t “even have money to get gas to go look for a job.” Speaking for individuals with criminal histories and debt, Thompson says: “We shouldn’t lose our rights as if we’re nothing.”
So, as I suspected, this is less of an issue with a poll tax and more of an issue of whether felons with debts and restitution payments can be denied the right to vote for failure to complete a felony. It's not necessary to go to "poll tax," which is very different and unconstitutional from denying felons the right to vote, which IS constitutional. There is an in-depth study here, which discusses the issue more in-depth.

However, I am still not quite sure to which laws Reich is referring. For instance, he says that:
Preventing people from voting because they owe legal fees or court fines muzzle low-income Americans at a time in our nation’s history when the rich have more political power than ever.
But also says: "These state laws are another form of voter suppression – like...bars on anyone with felony convictions from voting." This is curious, because I haven't been able to find information on fines or fees unrelated to criminal actions causing inability to vote. I would be interested in more information from Reich as to what laws he's referring to...

November 17, 2017

Jessica Chastain...

Is NOT happy that Amazons in the Justice League movie are (apparently) wearing less than they did in Wonder Woman.

Nor is, for the Yahoo! record, is Melissa Silverstein.

I really, REALLY, hate the "you hypocrite" argument; I don't normally make it, myself. But, could it be that there is, I don't know, some jealousy at the success of superhero movies, or perhaps some feeling that "When I do female nude, it's necessary to the plot, but when your Amazons dress more scantily, it's a...step backward?"

Let me see here.

I ran some searches and (with a NSFW) warning, I discovered that:

Jessica Chastain has done 3 - 4 movies in which she has appeared entirely nude, and several others with skimpy clothing. Perhaps she would say that this is artistic choice. But, really, she's done her bit for nudity on screen. And now she's concerned about Amazons?

Enough with Chastain.

Melissa Silverstein states:
Ms. Silverstein is the founder of the Women & Hollywood page / blog / movement, which
"Educates, Advocates, and Agitates for greater gender diversity in Hollywood and the global film industry." Sounds laudable. For those who are wondering, the "male gaze" vs "female gaze" thing can be found here.

Summarily, Ms. Silverstein attributes the differences in costumes between "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League" (with the latter being more skimpy) to the difference between female director Patty Jenkins, of Wonder Woman, and male director Zack Snyder, of Justice League.

She also said, based on responses to the above tweet:
So, can we take away from this that Ms. Silverstein is interested in de-sexualizing cinema? I say "BRAVO." I'm in total agreement that this should happen, from casting couch to the screen, male or female directors.

This doesn't mean, however, that one can state that women are sexualized only by male directors, but female directors can proceed with impunity, right?

Ms. Silverstein states that she "loved" the first "SMILF" episode, and is excited about another. Strangely, SMILF features at least a few scenes of nudity and sex. I don't see that Ms. Silverstein called them out for that. But then, these are female directors. Perhaps this was an oversight on her part. Let's see...
Referring to Hedy Lamarr, whom Ms. Silverstein lauds (rightly) as an inventor and actress. And yet, Lamarr also was one of the earlier progenitors of frontal nudity and portrayal of orgasms on film. But, she is excused because she was otherwise a great actress who was a brilliant inventor.

Oh, and then there's Grey's Anatomy, of which Ms. Silverstein says:
This is the same Grey's Anatomy which features (on ABC) guys fantasizing about women making out in a shower, a woman jumping up and down on a bed in lingerie, and assorted other scenes.

Ms. Silverstein's website also seems to be quite excited about television shows and movies which star or are directed by women, and feature sexualized nudity.

So, is this simply another instance of "So long as my people do it, it's okay, but if it's your people, you're 'male gazing' and 'sexualizing?'"

November 13, 2017

The Christian Idea Has...

...Not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult; and left untried.

Today, I am moved to write briefly about this article, entitled "I'm Catholic and Didn't Get Married in a Church For This Reason."

I fully expected that the article would reference problems with the Church's teachings on sexuality, on marriage, on children, etc. This would be de rigeur among writers on Yahoo!, or any of its linked sites (in this case, "Style Me Pretty"), and likely, among many bloggers. However, I was initially somewhat surprised to see her claim that it was all about money.

You see, the church this author initially contacted (red flag!) asked $1,200 for the use of the church. And, the author notes, "from there, our options got less and less attractive." Presumably this means that other churches charged more.

End of story, right? Money-grubbing Catholics? Seems like it. Being Catholic myself, I found this a bit shocking. Catholic churches, charging people huge sums to get married?

When reading the story, however, something became very obvious: This is a collision between the world of identity politics, "tradition," and the world of lived faith and pragmatism.

The author, a "Ximena N. Larkin" (website here, if this is the same person) reveals as follows during her brief sketch (I've fisked it for your convenience):
[W]e were both raised Catholic. Up until high school, he attended a Catholic private school. And I started every Sunday with mass and then picked a Catholic university....There was no way around it. We were engulfed in religion.
Given what follows, perhaps "[w]e had been engulfed in religion" would be more accurate.
It was the primary reason we were even considering incorporating the ritual in our wedding day. Even though during our two-year relationship, and one-year engagement we had never attended mass as a couple, we felt like it was something we had to do.
AH HAH! SO THAT'S IT. A two-year relationship and one-year engagement and never attended Mass as a couple. Yet you were both Catholic. Seems like you were awash in nostalgia and identity, not "engulfed in religion."
I was shocked to discover our first pick required a $1,200 mandatory donation for 45-minute use of the church (more than 10 times the cost of our wedding venue for the evening). 
Now already had a wedding venue reserved, and NOW you're calling around for churches? Did the desire to get married in the Church come from within you, or was it something that parents or grandparents mentioned and you decided to give it the ol' college try for them?

I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that, if you're a member of a parish, the charge to use the parish is free, or nearly so. However, if you're just calling around for a venue, they charge because it makes it less attractive to church shoppers. As I look around the internet, it seems some churches do charge for the venue due to costs inherent in a wedding and the use of the facilities. Some churches offer to waive the fee if the couple are parishioners and cannot afford it, and also offer free convalidations during weekday Mass.

And THEN, towards the end of this article, we read the following revelatory statements:
The church had played no part in our relationship. We honored and respected the traditions held by family and friends, but realized we had to make a choice between what we 'should do' and what was right for us. For us, that meant promising to honor, love and respect each other every day. A pledge requiring work from both parties and not a religious deity to do the heavy lifting for us.
[Oh, RIGHT...that's what getting married in a church means? You get GOD to do the work and rest on your laurels? BULLS**T.]
Family members still ask if one day I'll get married by the church. Being Mexican and Catholic is part of my identity so the answer is yes. One day it'll happen when we're ready, not when someone tells us to.
So, wait...was all the money stuff a serious argument? Or did you reject a Church wedding because someone told you you had to? Or because you didn't believe in the first place? Why not have a free or nearly-free convalidation done and call it good?

This is identity politics and smear in equal part and parcel. Religion when I feel like it, when it may be important to me feeling "Mexican" enough, or to show our children what it's like, or whatever.

But let's not pretend that "we couldn't afford" to get married in the Church. You didn't care about Faith at the time you got married, except as a sort of cultural crustation and a vague desire to please someone else in your life. If you simply want to say you'd fallen away from the Faith and didn't care about religion any longer, own it. You are engaged in deceiving yourself and others regarding the real reason why you didn't get married in the Church.