Restrictions, not Control

Over the holidays, I was speaking with my Father-in-law about the recent gun violence in Connecticut.

He (a long-time hunter and gun owner) made an interesting point that people looking to use legislation to avoid future incidents were doing themselves no favors by continuing to use the phrase “Gun Control” – that “Gun Restrictions” would perhaps be more palatable to Gun rights advocates.

I thought it a good example where language plays an important role in shaping the conversation.

Ultimately, I do think this is an issue of placing more restrictions on gun ownership in the United States.  I disagree with the NRA, whose stance is to install more armed guards in schools and other public venues.

“People kill people, guns don’t kill people”  is a common phrase from gun rights advocates, followed often by “What’s next? Ban cars?”

I find this interesting on a few fronts.  First, I haven’t really heard anyone suggest an outright ban on guns so the phrase is obviously an emotional outburst intended to show any gun legislation as purely ludicrous.

Second, trends show that decreases in the rate of automobile-related deaths suggest that, if nothing changes, gun deaths could actually surpass automobile deaths within the next decade or so.

Third, I think automobiles provide a good reference point for gun regulations.  One would be hard-pressed to argue that “the government is coming to take your cars.”

Automobiles require registration (annually); require a licensed operator (with timed renewals, some requiring re-testing); require periodic equipment inspections; have restrictions on equipment designs (for safety); have restrictions on where and how (in public) they can be operated; and require the operator to be insured for damage caused by negligence or fault.

Sure, it would be fun to be able to drive at 120mph down the highway, just as I’m sure it’s fun to fire a semi-automatic .223 rifle through 30 rounds (for that matter, it would be fun to shoot a bazooka or drive a tank).  But there are obvious reasons why this isn’t allowed.  And yes, I should be able to use my judgement when it’s OK to drive at 120 and when it isn’t and sometimes it bums me out that I can’t.  But I understand why it is that way.  Just as I understand why I’m not allowed to drive through /over traffic in a tank.

The libertarian in me of course wants less regulation and more freedom.  But as the earth gets more and more populated, the pragmatist in me recognizes we’re going to have to accept that squeezing this many people onto this planet is going to take some compromises and some regulations.  And it seems to me that we have a lot to gain from a few restrictions to make gun ownership in this country safer for everyone.

Would more restrictions have prevented some of the recent tragedies?  We will never know.  But that’s not a reason not to try.

Can the democrats ever control the message?

There was a great piece in the New York Times today discussing why the Democratic party is unable to gain support from the middle class, even though history shows that when the Democrats are in control the middle class does better.

The premise is that Republicans are against ‘big government’ (or .. put another way.. “government”) therefore the Democrats must be for government and that today, more than ever, people feel estranged from government and therefore, find it hard to side with the party that is ‘for’ government.

This really struck a chord with me – it seems spot on.  And, it seems to explain what’s going on in Washington today.  The Republicans, ever the strategists, know that they want ‘smaller’ government and know the best way to achieve this is to get the rest of the country to become disgusted with government.  How can one do that?  How about sabotage the ability for the government to get anything done.

Once again, it just seems, honestly, brilliant. As always, the Republicans are driving the conversation and the Democrats are left on their heels trying to defend what becomes an indefensible position – that Government can work (while we all sit and watch the (albeit Republican generated) stagnation in Washington).

The Dem’s approach is to show that the Republicans are the bad guys, unable to compromise and unwilling to solve the problem.  It will be interesting to see (next fall) whether this approach will work.  Will the electorate remember who was responsible for the quagmire? Or will they just walk away with a stronger sense that indeed, Government doesn’t work and I guess those Republicans were right all along, and that I’d be better off with my own money in my pocket rather than in the public coffers.

It’s hard to imagine the Dem’s message will survive the next year of campaigning while the Republican’s is so much easier to see.

Osama, Obama, Abbottabad

My thoughts on the killing of Osama?

This was a man who had clearly declared and waged war against the Unites States. It’s hard to imagine he’d surrender. It’s hard to imagine his ability to get a fair trial with a jury of his peers. It’s hard to imagine his not making a mockery of the court and using it as a platform to incite more violence.

No one is arguing his innocence.  Is this not a man who would be sentenced to death?  What would we really have gained with a trial?  Would we have proven our case to anyone who doesn’t already believe it? Does that mean we should give up on Civil Rights?  Of course not.

How did the government, the military, and most specifically Obama handle it?

The decision to call for a strategic strike was spot on.  No drone strikes here.

The decision to provide a proper ceremony with a burial at sea spot on.

By all appearances, the strike team executed the operation with exceptional diligence and professionalism.

Would you have told the Pakistanis?

Yes, we did the right thing.  Yes, Obama deserves some (and not all) credit.


No, I don’t think we should hold mass celebrations – dancing in the streets, chanting U.S.A. feels crass and barbaric. So does publishing photos.

Yes, it’s sad that we had to take a life – any life. But sometimes that’s how it is.  Life isn’t as ideal as we’d like.


So Fuck you Osama.  You asked for it, and we delivered. Rot in hell.


Now let’s get on with working on building good will and celebrating life and not give him the power that he wanted to tear us apart.

How do we reward good politics?

Over the past three years, between 75 and 85 percent of deficit solutions never came to fruition, according to the Department of Finance. Brown’s budget might break that trend.

This is from the San Francisco Chronicle’s article about Jerry Brown’s new budget proposals that are making the rounds.

Ultimately, I think the biggest frustration with politicians is all of the gimmicking that goes on.

(Just before taking office, the California courts managed to suspend the selling off of state property as an incredibly short-term way of closing budget gaps – which would have benefitted only the year in which the properties were sold and saddled future years with rent checks to lease that exact same space back.  Totally backwards.)

So how do we show appreciation when we think politicians are doing the right thing?  We need to make sure we are vocal about what we like as much as we are vocal about what we don’t.

(and how do we keep one-time building sales out of the budget?!  While Brown seems to be making good steps, he still sadly relies on some old tricks..)

Prop 16 and the California Constitutional Congress

I’ve been seeing a lot of ads for Prop. 16 lately and it reminds me just how screwed up California can be.

I used to be a big fan of California’s propositions.  I thought that it was a way to get the people more directly involved in government and elections.

I was young and innocent.

Seal of California
Image via Wikipedia

The propositions have long been a way for interest groups to circumvent the legislature and use the uneducated masses to vote on items that they don’t understand.  And they’re just getting worse.

I’m not trying to be harsh on the masses.  When I say uneducated, I’m referring to their awareness of the propositions and their content.  Most people just don’t spend any time to understand what it is they’re voting for (or against).

Prop 16 is a great example of this.  The “Taxpayers’ Right To Vote” proposition.  Who doesn’t like the right to vote?  Why, on the face of it, of course taxpayers should have the right to vote.  But that of course is the problem.  Most people won’t look past the simple description of the ballot measure.

What this proposition is really about is whether California governments should get into ‘public power.’ (I don’t want to trouble with debating the merits or detriments of public power – that’s a separate topic.)  Because what this proposition says, if it passes, is that, should the government be truly interested in getting into public power, they’ll first need a 2/3 majority vote by the public to approve such a move.  And think about that – 2/3 majority is just about impossible.  Just ask someone trying to pass national healthcare or a California budget.  And these were passed by legislatives.  It’s hard to imagine the general public voting 2/3 for anything.

So basically, all one needs to do to change the law is to get a proposition passed (with a simple majority, by the way) that calls for future votes to require a 2/3 majority vote.  In doing so, you lock in your own view and make it near impossible for any future changes.  And how does one do that?  Just throw a bunch of money behind it.  PG&E has already supported this measure with over $30 million (while opponents have raised about $50,000).

More and more I’ve become a fan of a constitutional congress for the state.  Of course that process has the potential to be filled with missteps and problems but we’re getting to the point where almost anything would be better than what we have today.