No one, no matter where he lives or what he does, knows who next will suffer from some senseless act of violence. Yet it goes on and on in this country of ours. Why?

Senator Robert F. Kennedy

This week’s featured post is “Two Parties, Two Worlds“.

This week everybody was talking about guns

Just about every political article this week could have started with the line: “The Senate is broken.” I suspect that is going to be true every week until the filibuster is eliminated.

So we had another mass shooting. This one was in a grocery in Boulder. (I was in Boulder one summer in the late 80s. It’s an idyllic mountain college town. The week I was there it showered briefly each afternoon, so that the clouds could move on and give us a rainbow. The thought that buying groceries there is dangerous really brings home the RFK quote at the top of the page.)

The Boulder shooting kicked the Atlanta shooting off the front pages, even though we hadn’t really gotten a clear account yet of the shooter’s motive or how it all went down. (A New Yorker article contrasted how the Atlanta shootings affected a local Korean Baptist church and the mostly white Southern Baptist church that the shooter attended. As I might have predicted, the shooter’s church did zero introspection. The murders are “the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind for which Aaron is completely responsible.” The church’s repressive teachings about “sex addiction” require no rethinking.)

Two shootings so close together once again raised issues of gun control.

In the two mass shootings that unfolded over the past two weeks in the U.S., both suspected shooters purchased weapons shortly before their attacks. The suspect in the Atlanta-area spa shootings purchased a 9mm semi-automatic pistol hours before he used it to kill eight people on March 16. The suspect in the King Soopers attack in Boulder, Colorado, bought a Ruger AR-556 pistol six days before he killed 10 people on Tuesday, according to the arrest warrant affidavit. Police recovered a rifle and handgun at the scene but didn’t indicate if either was the Ruger.

Every few years, some shooting or group of shootings reminds us that this problem isn’t going away on its own. And again we wonder, “This time, will it be enough? Will we see some meaningful action?” Many thought the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 would tip the balance, because it was children. Or maybe the Parkland shooting in 2018 would, because the survivors were such articulate young people.

Neither massacre resulted in anything passing the Senate. After Sandy Hook, an assault-weapon ban failed to get a majority in the Senate, and an extremely watered-down background-check proposal — background checks regularly polling above 80% — got 54 votes but couldn’t overcome a filibuster. After Parkland, schools got more money for metal detectors, but Congress did nothing about guns.

The rhetoric has become so predictable that it virtually satirizes itself. On social media, “thoughts and prayers” has become an eye-rolling way of saying “I’m not going to lift a finger to help you.” An iconic Onion article sums up: “No Way To Prevent This,” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

Now, the very predictability of inaction has become a reason to attempt nothing. Tuesday Ted Cruz told the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders.

There are laws that arguably could make a difference, short of the full-scale rewriting of the Second Amendment I proposed (to a shower of hostile comments) in 2019. Enforcing a waiting period on gun purchases might have interrupted the process that led to both of the recent shootings. An assault-weapon ban decreased mass shootings during the ten years it was in effect, and could again. Shooters are most vulnerable while they reload, so limiting the size of gun magazines could at least reduce the body count.

But the Senate is broken, so we’re left with thoughts and prayers.

and voting rights

I discuss this in more detail in the featured post, but basically this is where we are: Republicans at the state level have decided that they lost the 2020 elections because they let too many people vote. So in red states across the country, bills are pending (or have passed already) to make voting harder, make it easier to stay in power with a minority of votes, or maybe just let the legislature overrule the voters completely.

Democrats are fighting back at the federal level, with the For the People Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act which would set some minimum national standards for elections and voter rights. For the People has passed the House, but will face a filibuster in the Senate. John Lewis has not been voted on in this Congress, but likely will take similar path: pass the House, filibuster in the Senate. Democrats could use this opportunity to nuke the filibuster, but West Virginia’s Joe Manchin (and maybe Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema) don’t seem to be on board with that.

Until they change their minds, the Senate is broken and nothing will happen.

The most outrageous anti-voter bill so far was signed this week in Georgia. It’s worth remembering the reason Brian Kemp is governor of Georgia in the first place: As Secretary of State, he managed to throw tens of thousands of Black voters off the rolls. Successful voter suppression leads to more voter suppression.

Steve Benen is wondering the same thing I am:

what happens after GOP senators make clear to Manchin that they will not cooperate on voting rights. The West Virginian wrote, “We can and we must reform our federal elections together.” OK, but when Republicans tell him they have no intention of reforming federal elections, or even working in good faith on the issue, Manchin will … do what exactly?

This might be a good time to remind you of “I Was Undocumented in Arizona“. Back in 2012 (so, well after the post-9/11 security regime started), I found myself in line at the airport when I remembered that I had left my driver’s license in the pocket of my jogging shorts. (If I ever have a heart attack while jogging, I want the ER to know who to contact.) I flew from Boston to Phoenix, and back a week later, with no photo ID. It turned out that TSA had work-arounds, because they were trying to identify me, not to prevent me from traveling. But Republican voter-ID laws don’t have work-arounds, and in fact are quite picky about what kinds of ID they’ll accept. (For example, student IDs often aren’t good enough. Neither are expired driver’s licenses. The poll-worker might be your next-door neighbor and have no doubt who you are, but that doesn’t matter.) That’s because they ARE trying to prevent people from voting.

and the border

Last week I said I couldn’t find an article that handled the border situation well. This week I have one: “9 questions about the humanitarian crisis on the border, answered” on Vox.

In general, I’ve been seeing a lot of irresponsibly sensational coverage of the Biden-wants-open-borders variety, partially balanced by people who try to explain the whole situation away. The Vox article presents the issues and problems in what I regard as their proper perspective. For example: the framing in the headline. The current situation on the border is a “humanitarian crisis” — people are suffering there. But it is not a security crisis — we’re not being “invaded” by “terrorists”. And it’s not a health crisis — we’re not being overrun by diseased foreigners.

and Biden’s first press conference

President Biden did not hold his first press conference until Thursday, more than two months into his administration. For me, this was a non-issue, so I wasn’t surprised that it concluded in a non-event. The press conference did not break any major news or produce any headline-grabbing gaffes.

Ideally, reporters would demonstrate the value of professional journalism by getting important information out of Biden that ordinary people wouldn’t have known how to ask for. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the questions showed the public how poorly the White House press corps’ interests align with ours. There were no questions about the pandemic, but one reporter was already focused on 2024: Is Biden running? (He thinks so, but doesn’t seem to have any clear plans yet.) Will Harris be his VP again? (What president in his third month would ever say no to this question?) Does he expect to run against Trump again? (Who the hell cares what Biden expects Republicans to do three years from now?)

The Insight blog suggests “Ten Questions the Press Should Have Asked President Biden“, any one of which would have been better than the questions they asked.

Historical note: Obviously, George Washington gave no televised press conferences. This modern innovation is not part of the president’s constitutional duties.

The presidential press conference became a big deal because JFK was particularly good at them. He was charming and funny, and those qualities came through as he bantered with reporters. For more than half a century, the press has been wishing for another JFK and being disappointed.

Since Nixon, presidents have often cast reporters in the role of the Enemy. This tendency reached its peak during the Trump administration, when the press was openly branded “the enemy of the People“. The purpose of a Trump press conference (or of briefings by his press secretaries) was not to inform the public, but to stage a drama in which the President triumphed over his enemies in the media.

Beyond the theater of press conferences, the more important issue is whether the American People can get answers from their government, and whether those answers are true. As we saw last year when Trump was holding daily Covid briefings, it doesn’t matter how available the President is if he uses those opportunities to lie to us. (Like: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” or “Everything [the governors] need they get, and we are taking good care. We have tremendous supplies and a great supply chain.”)

By that standard, the Biden administration is doing quite well. The achievements that he noted in his introductory remarks Thursday (vaccinations are going faster than he promised, nearly half of K-8 classrooms are open five days a week, 100 million people have gotten payments through the American Rescue Plan, jobless claims are down) are real. The fact-checks on his news conference are fairly minor; often they depend on omitting a single word (WaPo flags Biden for a statement about corporations that pay no “taxes”, when he should have said “federal taxes”), or dueling interpretations. (AP disputed Biden’s claim that 83% of the benefits of the Trump tax cut go to the top 1%, but went on to admit that the 83% figure is true, if you measure over the plan’s full ten-year projection, and assume that the middle-class provisions that are set to expire actually will expire.)

But even without presidential press conferences, a lot of true information is coming out of this administration. Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s briefings are frequent and quite good — though, of course, she can’t announce decisions that haven’t been made yet. She fields hostile questions without creating unnecessary drama, and communicates much that is true and useful. (Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has criticized Psaki for how often she promises to get back to reporters when she doesn’t know the answer to their questions. But McEnany had the option of responding to a question immediately by attacking the reporter, making something up, or lying, all of which Psaki tries to avoid.) Plus, government experts like Dr. Fauci or the scientists at the EPA can now speak freely, without interference from political commissars.

and the stuck ship

The stuck ship is a great reminder of the physicality of the economy. It’s easy to get caught up in apps and memes and hacks and digital rights — and forget the importance of gross physical objects that have to fit in the spaces they’ve been assigned. Once you get a giant container ship wedged sideways in the Suez Canal, you’re not going to get it out without a lot of old-fashioned brute force.

Late this morning, the ship was finally freed.

Grist looks at the complex environmental tradeoffs the ship embodies. Larger container ships are supposed to use less fossil fuel than an equivalent number of smaller ships, but blocking the canal has left about 300 ships idling, and caused countless others to take the longer route around Africa. Many ports need to dredge deeper channels to accommodate such ships, and that usually involves using a substantial amount of fossil fuel, in addition to whatever environmental damage the dredging itself does.

Meanwhile, the ship has become the subject of many jokes, and a metaphor for anything that blocks a process — including why the Senate is broken.

But my favorite take on the ship comes from the Twitter account “I’m not a girl I’m a wolf“, where you can find this parody of a rhyme from The Lord of the Rings. (Hat tip to Jonathan Korman.)

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who pass here can float;
The boat that is long does not fit here,
Whose bow is dug into this moat.

From the sand a small digger is woken,
Some tugs from the shadows shall spring;
Re-float shall the boat that was stuck in,
Its cargo again shall it bring.

and you also might be interested in …

My vengeful heart is going to enjoy watching Trump’s liars squirm as they defend the defamation lawsuits filed by Dominion Voting Systems. They have a simple problem: They’re guilty. They knowingly lied about fraudulent vote-counting, and those lies injured a corporation with deep enough pockets to make them pay.

This week we saw Trump’s (sometimes) lawyer Sidney Powell’s defense: If you were fooled by all that silly stuff she was saying, it’s your own fault.

reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact but view them only as claims that await testing by the courts through the adversary process

Here’s a question worth asking: How many of the participants in the Capitol Insurrection actually did “accept such statements as fact”? How do they feel now that they know Powell does not view them as “reasonable people”?

Meanwhile, Dominion filed a new lawsuit, this one seeking $1.6 billion from Fox News for its “orchestrated defamatory campaign”. It’s already having an effect: When Trump called in to Laura Ingraham’s show Thursday and started to repeat his election-fraud bullshit, Ingraham cut him off. “Speaking as a lawyer, we’re not going to relitigate the past.”

Jay Rosen points to a prime example of bad reporting at the NYT:

Democrats say that Republicans are effectively returning to one of the ugliest tactics in the state’s history — oppressive laws aimed at disenfranchising voters

And he comments:

“Democrats say…” Okay. But what do you say, @nytpolitics? Do these laws make it harder to vote? Or do they fix problems with election security? And if your answer is “depends on who you ask,” does that meet the quality bar for Times reporting?

Lazy reporting tells you what people say. Good reporting investigates until it figures out what the truth is.

QAnon isn’t catching on in Japan. “It’s too naïve for our readership,” says the editor of Mu, Japan’s top magazine for believers in Bigfoot and ancient astronauts. He urges people to “boost their ‘conspiracy theory literacy,’ by regularly reading our magazine”.

Israel has now totaled up its fourth election in two years, and this result looks just as murky as all the others. It’s hard to see how Netanyahu can pull together a governing coalition. But it’s also hard to see how anybody else can.

and let’s close with something portentous

And in the fullness of time, the vision of St. Paul became manifest.
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  • wcroth55  On March 29, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    FWIW, there are suggestions from many corners suggesting we reframe “gun control” as “gun safety”. Purely semantic… but possibly useful. It’s a less “loaded” (ouch) term.

  • Marty  On March 29, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    For the words of the prophets are written on the studio wall, and concert halls…. and echo with the sound… of salesmen. 😉

  • Abby  On March 29, 2021 at 2:03 pm

    “…if your answer is “depends on who you ask,” does that meet the quality bar for Times reporting?”

    This shows that even supposedly good journalists duck basic investigation in favor of pretending to be “balanced”, by which they mean assuming that there are exactly two sides to any question, and that what each side says is equally valid.

    People outside the scientific community are beginning to realize that this is both lazy, and a menace. Meanwhile, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists have been dealing with this lazy mess for many decades.

  • ADeweyan  On March 29, 2021 at 6:24 pm

    We’re all making a big deal of Powell’s statement about “no reasonable person” taking her comments seriously, figuring this is revealing to those Trump supporters who believe the Big Lie that they were played for fools. But this reveals the power of the victim story that Trump and the GOP have so handily constructed.

    Believers in the Big Lie “know” that Powell, like Trump, has no respect for the crooked Libs that are attacking them, so are justified in saying whatever they have to to avoid the illegitimate consequences of the fake accusations against them.

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