Thursday, June 23, 2022

Hallelujah!

 

Today, June 23rd, 2022, Justice Clarence Thomas, born on this day in 1948, delivered the majority opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, striking at the beating heart of New York's flagrantly unconstitutional Sullivan Act.

The Sullivan Act, passed in 1911, establishes strict gun control within New York State with particular application within New York City.  It guarantees that obtaining a personal firearm is going to be a long and costly bureaucratic nightmare.  Beyond that, obtaining permission to actually carry that firearm on your person is nearly impossible.  A few years back, I posed the question "How many concealed-carry permits are there in New York City?"  The answer I derived was '2,291'.  In a city of 8.8 million people, that is statistically zero.

Two New York residents who had 'possession' permits for their pistols (valid only at their home or business) wanted to carry those firearms concealed on their persons and were denied because, in keeping with the Sullivan Act, they were unable to demonstrate to the examiner that they had a need to be armed beyond simple self-defense.  Five other states (you can almost guess who they are, can't you?) impose similar or identical restrictions.  The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association funded the several lawsuits resulting from that denial, culminating at the Supreme Court as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

Justice Thomas has several times in the past castigated his fellow justices for turning away 2nd amendment cases that were similar to Bruen, and it appears his complaining has finally borne fruit.  The 6-3 decision gave Thomas the pen since the 2nd amendment seemed to have been his pet project.  Finally, he has the ability to author a strong defense of the 2nd's original meaning.  The 135 page decision will take some effort, no doubt, but given Thomas' erudition, it will be worth every minute.

Thank you, Justice Thomas.  We have been waiting so long for this.  Happy birthday.

 

Update:  I have managed to actually read the official opinion (footnotes omitted) and there is something else in there that I didn't realize originally: NYSRPA v Bruen also explicitly instructs lower courts that when dealing with 2A issues strict scrutiny is the applicable level of judicial review.  That means that any new or existing law, when it appears before a lower court, the state must now make a compelling case that the law at issue is both compliant with the Constitution and necessary for the public safety.  When challenged, NYS will have to defend its $445 fee for doing a background check beyond that done (for free) by the federal government.  Good luck with that.  They will have to defend the overly intrusive 32 page questionnaire each applicant is required to complete.  Good luck with that, too.  Basically, the entire Sullivan Act is now at risk of being gutted like a perch.

 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Undoing The Gordian Knot

 

The current economic maladies gifted to us by the Biden administration have left the American people, by turns, angry, confused, and benumbed.  The largesse bestowed upon favored institutions — trillions of dollars backed by nothing — has triggered an inflation that seems not to have an end in sight.

The price of gasoline is up sharply, and inflation is only one cause.  The other cause(s) are centered around declining refining capacity due, largely if not entirely, to obsolete plants going offline and not being replaced with modern equipment.  They aren't being replaced because the government has to approve new refineries, and that isn't happening.  Old equipment is expensive to operate, and that has to be recouped at the pump.  We're told that the embargo on trade with Russia is (partly) at fault, although just a few years ago we were energy independent, a net exporter of petroleum products.

Food prices are also up sharply coupled with actual shortages, notably of baby formula, driven, we are told, by a shortage of truck drivers, higher prices for diesel fuel, and some owner-operators simply parking their rigs because it's too expensive to operate them given the existing rates available from shippers.  Supply-and-demand has not yet kicked in to establish a new equilibrium point.  California, the entry point for most Asian exports, is choking on container ships.  There aren't enough trucks to get the containers off the docks.  There aren't enough trucks because California won't allow a truck to enter the port facilities unless it meets California's overly-strict environmental requirements.  There are enough trucks.  There aren't enough conforming trucks.  Congress, with the power to regulate interstate commerce, doesn't see that this concerns interstate commerce, but regulating guns obviously does.

The pain felt by the man in the street is predicted to spell bad news for the Democrats come November.  Even those who voted for Biden (the live ones, anyway) are having second thoughts about the wisdom of installing an enfeebled septuagenarian in The Oval Office.  Unfortunately, that will probably translate to a Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress in the next cycle, and that will translate to... no noticeable change, because the GOPe isn't going to upset the apple cart.  When they fail, once again, to correct the problems they were sent to Congress to correct, the Democrats will be able to make a plausible case for remaining in office in 2024, and the destruction of the American economy will proceed apace.

There are, to be sure, a bunch of fresh faces among the Republicans running for office this year, and some of them may actually have spines, unlike the stereotypical GOPe incumbent.  If there are enough of them, we may see some push-back against the current destructive policies.  Having control of even one house of Congress means that bad bills can be killed, and budgets can be butchered.  That's what it will take to regain control of our current death spiral.  Failing that, get ready for another Great Depression.

Let's hope that the new crop of GOP office-holders are bold enough to draw their swords.  That's the only way this knot will get undone.

 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Problem With Inflation

 

Inflation in one form or another has always been with us.  Even during the 18th and 19th centuries, there was some inflation.  Inflation, however, really 'got its legs' beginning in the 20th century.  Two events gave it the boost it needed to become a household fixture: the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank, and the 16th Amendment (Income Tax).

The Federal Reserve Bank made it possible for the federal government to fund itself with deficit spending: 'borrow' money from the Fed and pay it back sometime in the future — maybe never.  Our 'national debt', the Keynesians told us, was no problem because 'we owe it to ourselves!'

The Income Tax made it appear that the federal government was actually 'paying' its way.  Well, actually you're paying its way, sort of...

Until the advent of COVID hysteria and the latest round of massive government spending bills, it was estimated that the value — the purchasing power — of a 1913 dollar had fallen to about five cents ($0.05).  Yes, inflated by a factor of twenty.  Since COVID, it has gotten much worse.  80% of all the greenbacks in circulation today were printed within the past 3 years.  Since (Milton Friedman warned us) 'inflation is everywhere and at all times a monetary phenomenon', that means that our hypothetical 1913 dollar is now worth approximately a penny.

Now, if you are a businessman or a wage-earner, your prices or wages will rise to accommodate the inflation.  Everything seems to adjust itself, to 'establish equilibrium'.  Generally.

If you aren't a businessman or wage earner, if you are living on savings, things are going to be somewhat different.  Your savings are static.  They don't automatically rise to establish equilibrium with the new prices for everything.  This is why AARP is always so concerned about their members, many of whom are on fixed incomes.  For them, everything is suddenly more expensive and their 401k's don't seem to be quite as lush as they felt last year or the year before that.

We are told by our politicians that this inflation is transitory, meaning it will subside within the planning future.  (Janet Yellen is lately 'walking back' that pronouncement.)  Even if it is, there's still a serious problem left unaddressed.

The real problem is this: once inflation subsides, prices will still be high.  Just because runaway inflation becomes less runaway, prices don't go down.  They stay at the elevated state the last runaway inflation left them at.  Things are still unaffordable; they're just not becoming more unaffordable.

What us senior citizens on fixed incomes really need is a little runaway deflation: prices retreating to levels not seen since 2018... or 1958... or 1918.

Is that going to happen?  Not likely.  For that to happen, the government would have to grow smaller and less expensive.  The Mint would have to collect greenback dollars and take them out of circulation — while not printing any replacements.  We would then have the situation of 'fewer dollars chasing the same amount of goods'.  We haven't ever seen that happen with the U.S. economy, so we don't know exactly how such a thing would work out, but it would be an interesting experiment, no?

 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Right Path to School Safety

 

The dust has largely settled from the massacre in Uvalde, TX, and facts — what few we have gotten — can now be analyzed with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight.

Once again, local police who should have been able to confront a maniacal killer chose, instead, to 'play it safe' and wait until the shooting had died down before putting their own lives in danger.  In the end, it was actually a Border Patrol officer who engaged the shooter and ended the standoff.  Reliance on paid, trained professionals has once again proved to be the wrong path to school safety.

Some have suggested that combat veterans, having been in high-stress situations analogous to school shootings, ought be hired as school security guards.  The drawbacks to this should be obvious:  a fair few of the candidates may already suffer from PTSD, and might be more of a danger than a help and, as we have seen before, even paid, trained professionals are often "as useless as tits on a bull".

Allow me to offer a modest proposal:  While not all teachers will be able to act as first responders, to suggest that no teachers will be both willing and able to do so is, frankly, not borne out by the experience of many school districts across the country.  Therefore, I suggest that school districts be mandated to offer to all willing and qualified teachers and staff a "training and readiness stipend" not less than 6% of the employee's annual compensation, in exchange for which the employees will be expected to carry their own firearm (concealed) during their work day.  Whatever training the district deems necessary will be provided by the district at no cost to the employee.

It is clear that school shootings only occur in schools and districts where teachers and staff are prohibited from being armed in their own defense.  There are no countervailing examples.  There have been no school shootings at schools in districts where teachers and/or staff are permitted to be armed during their work day.  The solution to school shootings thus suggests itself:  no districts may be permitted to disallow self-defense by its teachers or staff.

We should expect that "school shootings" will become the stuff of legend, and the few that do still occur never rise to the level of "mass shooting" (4 or more dead per incident).  Anyone who objects to this plan has the obligation to put forward an alternative that, even if only theoretically, works.  Failing that, zip your lip.

 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Uvalde, TX

 

Well, it's happened again.  A mentally-deranged teenager has shot up another school, this time an elementary school in Uvalde, TX.  There seem to have been several warning signs that were handled, not surprisingly, inadequately by the authorities, nineteen 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-graders are dead along with two of their teachers and the shooter who was killed by a Border Patrol officer.  Thoughts and prayers, &c.

Texas, it turns out, allows school districts the option of letting their teachers be armed on the job.  This school district chose not to allow their teachers to be armed.  As a result, the 18-year-old shooter had no opposition after barricading himself in a classroom full of potential victims.

How long are we going to put up with this?  How long are we going to put up with ivory tower academics who are more concerned with the negative P.R. associated with teachers who are ready and willing to defend themselves and their charges?  How long are we going to be bullied by a gun-phobic bloc of teachers who threaten to quit and make a scene if any of their colleagues are permitted to pack heat in their classrooms?

How many dead children are we willing to put up with until we implement a real solution?

 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

What Hath Roe Wrought?

 

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Roe v Wade centered around the topic of abortion.  Up to that point, some states allowed it, others prohibited it, and still others regulated it.  The 7-2 decision in Roe was based on an implied right to privacy originating in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The effect of that decision was that the law on abortion became uniform throughout the 50 states: permitted absolutely in the first trimester, regulated in the second, and prohibited in the third.

When Justice Lewis Powell retired from the court in 1987, President Reagan nominated Robert Bork to replace him.  This was the first of the contentious Supreme Court nominations, so ferocious that it spawned a new verb, to bork (v. tr.), defined as

"To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually to prevent his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way." 
The attacks on Bork were primarily based on his response to a question regarding Roe v Wade, specifically that he thought the Supreme Court should not have opined on the topic since it was clearly a matter of state jurisdiction (that is, the way it was prior to Roe).  Bork's nomination hearings set the pattern for all subsequent Supreme Court nominations, the most recent being those for Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Roe has generated intense controversy over the decades since 1973, virtually none of it related to the notion of "federal legislative authority".

Until now.

Comes now before the court Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that addresses a law in Mississippi banning abortion after 15 weeks (that Roe presumably permits).  JWHO sued because this was a contraction from the previous limit of 24 weeks.  A firestorm has erupted over the leak of a draft decision in the case that, were it the majority decision, would overturn both Roe and Planned Parenthood v Casey and return the entire issue into the hands of state legislatures as it was prior to Roe.

Article I section 8 of the Constitution begins: "Congress shall have power to..." and goes on to list 17 areas of concern that Congress shall have power to legislate in.  There is not a single one of those 17 that can be construed as providing federal jurisdiction over abortion or the states' methods of addressing that issue.

Bork was right, but Bork was an originalist.  He also, unlike too many Americans, too many American judges, and too many American Congressmen, understood the Constitution.

For reasons that are not at all obvious, we apparently now have a Supreme Court that is as smart as Robert Bork.

 

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Biggest Mistake

 

When the USSR, the Soviet Union, went out of business on Christmas Day 1991, President George H. W. Bush saw it merely as the United States having one fewer competitor.  It never occurred to him that a former competitor ought to become a valued trading partner.

Of all the mistakes that mistake-prone President ever made, that was the biggest.

A truly forward-looking leader would have immediately sent hordes of diplomats winging toward Moscow with instructions to kiss babies and hand out lollipops.  Bush didn't do that.  He congratulated himself on being the last man standing and let the opportunity pass to make friends with a country that was still a superpower despite having shrunk its territorial borders.

Opportunity, they say, only knocks once.  When it did, Bush the elder was busy.