Thursday, February 1, 2024

Oregon Republicans Off the Ballot in 2024

The state senate convenes at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Oregon.

The Oregon Supreme Court said Thursday that 10 Republican state senators who staged a record-long walkout last year to stall bills on abortion, transgender health care and gun rights cannot run for reelection.

The decision upholds the secretary of state’s decision to disqualify the senators from the ballot under a voter-approved measure aimed at stopping such boycotts. Measure 113, passed by voters in 2022, amended the state constitution to bar lawmakers from reelection if they have more than 10 unexcused absences.

Last year’s boycott lasted six weeks — the longest in state history — and paralyzed the legislative session, stalling hundreds of bills.

We call it the Constitution

I recently re-watched portions of the 2015 film, “Bridge of Spies,” starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. In the film, Tom Hanks' character attorney, James Donovan, lectures an FBI agent, who claims that when it comes to the Soviet Spy, Rudolf Abel, portrayed by Rylance, “There’s no rule book.”

Donovan responds, 

“I'm Irish, you're German. But what makes us both Americans? Just one thing…: the rule book. We call it the Constitution, and we agree to the rules, and that's what makes us Americans. It's all that makes us Americans, so don't tell me there's no rule book — and don't nod at me like that, you son of a bitch.”

I wish Donovan were around to lecture Donald Trump and his cronies, and Republican congressional members, who continue to dismiss January 6 as a simple protest — expletive  included.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Who is Austin Scott?

Austin Scott (R-GA 8th) may run again for Speaker of the House. Scott is a kind of Dan Newhouse with personality. He would favor a federal ban on abortion and same-sex marriage. Unlike Newhouse, he voted against impeaching Trump, and also challenged the 2020 election of Biden over Trump. Like Newhouse, he's pro gun on the gun rights vs gun control spectrum. Like Newhouse, he gets lots of money from Ag interests, but unlike Newhouse, he's not a "Gentleman Farmer." His background is in Insurance. He's not a fan of the CFPB. His voting record shows a lot of "Did Note Vote" entries, and all "Nays" on judgeship and Gov agency leadership confirmation votes. He'd be an improvement over Jordan. If that's any consolation.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Considering Republican Objections to House Bill 1240 Banning Selected Assault-Style Firearms

 I was attending a function in Vienna, Austria, in the early 1990s and during a casual conversation with some functionary or other, the gentleman asked if I was from America. I said yes. He paused, then said he had considered visiting America with his family, but decided against it, because America was “so violent.” At the time, I thought his perception of my country was an overreaction. Not anymore.

It seems that every morning I am assailed by the news of yet another shooting; a mass shooting at a parade or school, or hospital, or a person shooting someone who came to the wrong door, or drove into the wrong drive, or whose basketball rolled into a neighbor’s yard, or someone angered by the noise of a neighbor’s leaf blower, shooting  him — a danger not included on the leaf blower’s warning label.

The gun death rate in the U.S. is much higher than in most other nations, particularly developed nations. Tragically, the rate of children killed in gun violence in America far exceeds that of peer countries. No wonder people decide to spend their vacations elsewhere. Governments of other countries have taken to warning their citizens about travel to the U.S., “There’s a risk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” No kidding!

There are more guns in America (~400m) than there are people, and too many people with guns who shouldn’t have them. There are a lot of reasons given by those opposing restrictions on the ownership of firearms. In my opinion, none of them warrant risking our children being eviscerated by a .223 cartridge traveling at 3000 ft/sec, especially not concern about angering the NRA.

I’m sorry if the word “eviscerated” disturbs you. I’m quoting what trauma surgeons who’ve treated victims of such shootings, have said. Let’s not go into detail.

Instead, let’s examine the reasons my Republican state senator gave me for opposing the recently-passed bill (HB-1240) banning certain assault-style firearms. He said: (1) banning a particular firearm won’t make a “meaningful difference” until we address the “root cause” of violence; and (2) the law will be overturned in any case, because "it’s unconstitutional."

On the senator’s first point, perhaps you’ll remember that Republicans blocked research and funding into gun violence in 1996 and it stood for more than 2 decades. It was only in 2018 that the FY2020 federal budget included $25 million for the CDC and NIH to research gun-related deaths and injuries. Republicans blocked that, too. In 2021, gun violence in the U.S. was estimated to cost $280 billion annually. That should tell you the relative worth to Republicans of learning why our friends, and neighbors, and kids are being shot with such dreadful frequency.

While we’re waiting for our Republican leaders to do a “deep dive” into the root causes of gun violence, let’s take an educated guess at the primary cause of gun deaths — guns.

Yes, despite the banal claim by the NRA that, “Guns don’t kill people…,” in fact they do, or more accurately, people with guns kill people. The more people that have guns, and the more lethal the guns are, and the more permissive gun laws are, the more people are going to be killed by guns.

Studies have demonstrated that states with weak gun laws experience significantly more gun deaths. Children and teenagers are the most at risk, although according to a study by the Violence Policy Center, 25% of police killed in the line of duty were killed by an assault weapon. This is why the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) — the world’s largest professional association for police leaders — has been a strong supporter of the assault weapons ban since 1992.

My state senator’s claim that, “banning assault-style weapons won’t make a meaningful difference,” is baloney. He can’t know that unless he could transport to a parallel universe where the U.S. kept the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban in place (after its sunset clause expired in 2004), and never banned gun violence research.

On his Second Point, I fear my state senator might be right. The Supreme Court’s recent Bruen Decision, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, was said to be based on an historical analysis of regulations in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thomas wrote  that judges should no longer consider whether the law serves public interests, like enhancing public safety (my emphasis), but only if it is consistent with the country’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

As you ponder the Thomas Ruling ruling, please do a thought experiment and imagine what sort man-portable firearm might be available to individual Americans in say 2100, and then consider how the “right to bear arms” might be “infringed” at that time.


The M41A Pulse Rifle is an air cooled, fully automatic, short- to mid-range combat rifle. Made of light alloy plates, it fires 10x24mm Armor Piercing Caseless Rounds from a 100 round U-bend magazine in either semi automatic, four round burst, or fully automatic rates of fire. The magazines could only practically hold 99 rounds and were usually underloaded to 95% capacity to avoid jamming. The Pulse rifle has a small battery powered digital readout screen that displays number of rounds left in the magazine; the battery is located in the handgrip. With a retractable stock and an underslung 30 mm PN grenade launcher, this weapon can be used as a carbine and an assault rifle. 


Saturday, April 15, 2023

You're being played

 By Richard Reuther

 Tri-City Herald, April 10, 2023
“After weeks of increasing tension over family friendly drag shows in the Tri-Cities, the Emerald of Siam was vandalized on Easter morning, hours ahead of a planned all-ages event.”

I am clearly an introvert. I am uncomfortable in crowds and avoid being with strangers. But I am also something of an actor. A few paid gigs, but mostly unpaid community theatre work over the past 60 years. Some major parts. Cyrano de Bergerac, The Proprietor (Assassins), Man in Chair (Drowsy Chaperone), Cervantes (Man of La Mancha). Shaved my head to do Daddy Warbucks in Annie.

You could say I started acting when I was 11. A bunch of male friends and I volunteered to do a short play for the 6th-grade school talent show. Old style Meller Drammer. Snidely Whiplash, Young Maiden in Distress.

"Who's going to be the girl?”

"I'll do it!”

We rehearsed, we learned our lines, we performed. I wore the dress. Didn't try to imitate the voice or mannerisms of a female. I saw more possibilities to the plot and ad-libbed some of the lines.

Laughter, lots of laughter from the audience. APPROVAL OF MY PEERS. Wow!

How can you be an introvert AND an actor? You're standing in front of hundreds of people. Acting gives me an opportunity to be someone else for a couple of hours. It's not me up there; it's someone else.

In developing a character, actors look inward to bits and pieces of themselves and observe others so that they can accentuate or diminish behaviors to communicate with the audience. And we PERFORM for the audience. We make them laugh; we make them cry. Sometimes we give them something to think about. They applaud; we bow.

Whether it's a comedy, a farce, or a drama we are there to entertain. The same is true of drag. If you don't want to go to a tragedy, don't go. If you aren't entertained by drag, don't go. This is the same system that movies use: G, PG-13, PG, R, and X. If there is a drag story hour, you are going to hear age-appropriate stories. If it is advertised as "all ages," it will likely be held during the day, not at night in a bar somewhere.

This is where the "willing suspension of disbelief" comes in. You don't go to a movie thriller to yell out to the heroine that the bad guy is around the corner. You KNOW they can't hear you. You willingly suspend your disbelief for the duration of the movie. Same with theater. You don't jump onstage to prevent Caesar from being stabbed. You watch. You may jump in your seat; you may take a sudden breath when the boogieman jumps out unexpectedly (and likely will laugh a little because you were surprised).

The kids are doing the same thing during a drag story hour. They are suspending their disbelief. They aren't paying attention to the man in women's clothes. They are listening and reacting to the story that is being told, the voices of the different characters, the physical attitude of the reader's body. Nothing sexual is going on in this setting.

You are worried about "groomers" and "grooming"? Good. So am I. You're likely looking in all the wrong places. Statistically, "groomers" and "pedophiles" turn out to be relatives, or neighbors, or the church youth pastor, or the minister, or the after-school sports coach, or the scout troop master. "Grooming" is done in private, not on stage in front of dozens of people. "Grooming" is a process of gaining the trust of a child, and creating opportunities to be alone with the child. That's not what is going on here. Children will not become LGBTQ+ by seeing a drag show.

Your fears are unfounded. Your fears ARE, however, being played for political purposes. Right-wing Republicans are SCREAMING about drag shows, Critical Race Theory, vaccine and mask mandates, migrant “caravans,” abortion, and even birth control,  because they have no plan for governing. They don't want you to see that they have no plans to improve healthcare, reduce homelessness, raise America’s children out of poverty, or to stop America’s epidemic of mass shootings — at least 145 in just the first 4 months of this year.

Mass shootings play into the gun lobby’s hands; they hope to make you feel unsafe so everyone is armed, including teachers! They would allow anyone to conceal carry without a permit, and they promote concealed carry reciprocity from state to state. They rail against Emergency Risk Protection Orders, ”red flag" laws, that keep guns away from emotionally unstable people (Washington has such a law, Tennessee doesn’t).

Please, if you are concerned about our children (and we all should be), pay attention to the thing that is the leading cause of their death. Guns. Drag shows are not killing our kids. Guns are killing our kids.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Some Impacts of Top-Two Primary on 2022 Midterm Election

by Jon Phillips

I guess that unlike Dan Newhouse, Jaime Herrera Beutler's constituency had moved sufficiently to, or past, the center such that a Democrat could win under our Top-Two System. It’s a system that statistically favors stability in the center (as a game theory problem) of any particular District or the State as a whole since the two main Parties cannot effectively control access to the ballot box in the primary. Statistically, Top Two should put the outcome of the general election closer to the average of the “public mind” over a series of election seasons.
Our 4th District’s constituency hasn’t drifted far enough left to replace Dan, but it is not far enough to the right for a Trumpian election denier to win either. Dan took advantage of that fact. If we still had a partisan primary system, the Trumper might have won and Dan (who also voted to remove Trump) would likely have been sent home
Although Doug White made it into the general election, having the 2nd largest tally in the primary, Dan bested him by a landslide margin in the general. That was an expected outcome.
I wish more States would go to Top Two or Ranked Choice (Alaska has demonstrated that the right wing may not be able to win there for federal positions, and neither can the left wing). Since AK has only one Congressional District (it’s a tiny population), gerrymandering is impossible, and also greatly simplifies the process under Ranked Choice.
I have my doubts about Ranked choice, except possibly for small population States (e.g., the 5 single District States). I think it’s too easy to attack with disinformation since there’s a culture in the US that expects rapid simple answers on election outcomes and people confuse the need for additional time or complexity with potential for fraud. Ranked Choice, is a multi-step counting algorithm to come to a conclusion.
Getting people to accept a single step counting process is difficult enough. At least that’s my opinion. Since I can understand how Ranked Choice works, in principle, it has some advantages over Top Two in terms of favoring the statistical center (it probably reduces variance over Top Two from election to election in a sequence).
But I think the extra time and complexity gives too much room to the election denier mob to whip up trouble — especially in larger more complex States. We’ll see whether it lasts in Alaska, etc. It’s already under attack. If not, I hope they don’t back up all the way to a partisan primary system like they had before their 2020 Initiative cycle. Palin might come back in that case and that could move State’s politics noticeably rightward. AK has a serious independent and libertarian streak. That can be used to counter that a partisan primary limits individual’s freedom to choose.
It was delicious to watch Palin lose and the moderates sweep AK in 2022. That election was the first Ranked Choice implementation year and probably the only thing that saved the center right Murkowski (though she would likely win Top Two as well — she won on a write-in previous to this election cycle, that’s the definition of small d “democratic popularity”). Also the Democrats got the single House seat. It will also be interesting to see if the recent shift to Ranked Choice moves Sullivan’s (Sen. R -AK) rhetoric more toward the center before his term ends in 2026. I wonder what he might say in 2024 as early positioning.
In 2016, Sullivan took a clear position against Trump, but dropped it in 2020 when he had to run under a partisan primary system and Trump’s nutty cult following was maximal. Sullivan’s resume is fairly impressive. Based on his education and experience, I would expect him to be a center right pragmatist, not a Trumper. Former A/S of State in DOS, worked for the Bush WH, full Col (reserves) Marine Corps, former AG of AK, DJ from Harvard Law. Definitely well to the right of me, but doesn’t smell like some flaky Freedom Caucus Trump lover.
People should think harder about the value of election reforms that could tremendously help on federal office at the State level. I think that US public opinion writ large is to the left of the US House. Gerrymandering is a significant part of that. But partisan primary systems also play a role. To fix either of those is tough since both Parties engage in those abusive behaviors. They also limit small d “democracy” too much in my opinion
I also think that if we had more ideological stability in election outcomes every two years at State and National level, it could help calm populism and work in the interest of more reforms. Perhaps broader interest in reforms blunting gerrymandering and campaign finance might occur in a more pragmatic environment? We really need to dial down the Nation’s political temperature. It’s dangerously high.
It would be nice to be able to put an election bumper sticker on my car without worrying about vandalism. I always had one until the last 2 elections. I had an Obama sign in my yard and no one bothered it and I didn’t give a thought to the prospect that someone might — even though I lived in a GOP majority neighborhood. We should try to dial back to that level of comity in political discourse.

Monday, November 7, 2022

The Democratic Party: Internecine warfare is the deadliest

By Jon Phillips

Jon reacts to the November 4, 2022, opinion piece by Colbert I. King in the Washington Post regarding the Democratic Party under the Biden Presidency; "Internecine warfare is the deadliest."

Liz Cheney
Look at what a decade of party fratricide has done to the GOP. Half are supporting nutters and the nutty margin is growing as the MAGA fascists try to retire the remaining establishment Republicans, now clearly labeled as “RINOs” and traitors by today’s version of fanatical jackboot lickers who serve Trump’s agenda from one chaotic moment to the next. They used to be John Birchers, etc. Trump MAGAngsters are the new incarnation of right wing whack job in America.
What do we end up with if the Democrats also self destruct under pressure to move to their lunatic left wing fringe? Radical authoritarian right at war with radical peace loving progressive liberals? No — that’s not what happens. Progressive liberals will not survive a political wartime climate. Typically, only dictatorial types survive that environment.
Joe Manchin
It’s a race that gets meaner and more vicious in each cycle. The “nice” people just don’t make it. The progressive liberals would eventually be replaced by a radical authoritarian left either because they get forcibly retired as “LINOs” or because they learn to be vicious and unload their moral qualms to stay in position. That’s how it goes. It’s an ideological arms race that increasingly rewards brutality and punishes those who try to be ethical and fair.
Eventually those “snow flakes” are all melted away and horrible people are in power. By horrible, I don’t mean feisty politicians, I don’t mean typical politicians who’re painted by right wing fantasies like Q and Pizzagate to dehumanize them (look at the nonsense spread in Brazil’s recent election aimed at each side — it went all the way to cannibalism). I mean Hitler vs Stalin (and somewhat less vicious examples) as a psychopathic reality. Hitler and Stalin are sort of the most distilled examples in history of brutal right and left. People who murder many millions to serve the interest of their power.
Look at Central and South America. They’ve been stuck in that quagmire for many decades. Right wing authoritarians or left wing authoritarians. Periodic pseudo or full up brutal dictatorships. Occasional periods of decent government. Political violence and civil insurrection
That’s the logic of those who suppose that having a singular “correct” ideology is the way forward. A march toward extremes until, in terms of civil rights, both sides are brutal and indistinguishable when it comes to persecution of their political adversaries. As practical matter, both sides are the devil and use similar methods of coercion and brutality.
Democracy thrives best under centrist left and right parties. Why this is true is rather obvious. Centrists can work together and pass legislation that lasts and creates stability since the center is, by definition, where most of the people live on average. They’re capable of tolerating differences
But when you increasingly flip flop between far right and far left wing ideology, you tear stuff down. Institutional things that were very difficult to build. You try to build up and then dismantle over and over again and government loses public credibility against the tsunami of hateful lies “flooding the zone” — eventually from both sides. Eventually the center cannot hold and democracy recedes.
Donald Trump, September 6, 2016
 The only way to stably have radical government is under brutal authoritarians. People who physically crush and persecute their political opposition. They literally purge their opponents. Many Americans seem to suppose that is what they want these days — a strong man. Either a right winger or a left winger who will restore a singular order. The purpose being the elimination of significant ideological difference. That is not a nice place to be. It’s purely a fantasy that it might be better. The large majority will eventually suffer under it.
We’ve been stable for a long time and I suppose that Americans have no real idea how horrid things can get and how ruined a country can become and how quickly. Most of them have no relevant experience unless they grew up in a ghetto somewhere or fled some authoritarian country and migrated here. American voters don’t often know what very deep poverty is about in a personal sense. They’re not well “traveled”. When they leave the US, they go on vacation. Sometimes I hear them say how awful it was to see real poverty — but frankly at a distance.
They don’t go on vacation to see how the impoverished of the world live under chaotic and often authoritarian governments. Why would they go somewhere and risk getting dysentery or risk succumbing to violence or crime? Or just finding it too uncomfortable either physically or emotionally. Out of sight, out of mind. If they visit the developing world, they often go to some fancy resort with security guards. I’ve done that a few times. Relaxing on vacation is important, but often not very educational about the world.
But I’ve also spent much more time working overseas and been there for considerable time when not on holiday. I’ve been chewed on by vermin in a flea bag hotel and had dysentery. I’ve even had my life threatened a couple times. That’s where a large part of the world lives everyday. The main difference between the developed and developing world is the quality and history of governance institutions and their stability.
Sound and effective government institutions are very difficult to build. If you tear them down, everything else good eventually follows them in that collapse. Then we all live in the ruins and the ruins are most often governed by “King Rats,” not by “fair and just people.” Let’s not fool ourselves, and ruin ourselves.