MY THOUGHTS ON THE SECOND AMENDMENT

Recently I received a survey from the National Rifle Association asking for my views – as a candidate for Congress – on a number of Second Amendment issues. This was my response:

December 29, 2017

Jason M. Ouimet

Director of Federal Affairs

NRA-PVF    

11250 Waples Mill Road

Fairfax, VA 22030

Dear Mr. Ouimet:

I recently received your survey for Federal candidates for public office to find out where they stand on second amendment issues. I must admit that I found the questions in this survey to be rather biased, in some cases markedly so, so instead of answering your survey questions I will outline my position on second amendment rights in summary form.

First, I grew up with guns, and I support the second amendment in principle. I have owned handguns, rifles and/or shotguns for most of my adult life. I currently own two handguns, and I am licensed by the state of Texas to carry them openly, on my person, in public. With only a few exceptions, I carry one of them almost all the time I am outside. In addition, while on active duty with the US Navy (I am a Vietnam veteran) I was on the Navy Match Pistol Team while stationed in Subic Bay, R.P., and I am authorized to wear the Navy Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon with silver “E” for “Expert.” So I consider myself a “second amendment” supporter in both words and deeds.

I also believe in certain restrictions to the second amendment. For example, I believe:

– That no civilian needs or should be allowed to possess a fully-automatic firearm;

– That no civilian needs or should be allowed to possess a silencer;

– That no civilian needs or should be allowed to possess a high capacity magazine – i.e., a magazine that holds more than 15 rounds;

– That no one be allowed to obtain a state or federal license to either own or carry a firearm without a background check, without adequate training, without an adequate mental health evaluation by a licensed professional psychologist or psychiatrist, without appropriate liability insurance, and without a demonstration of proper handling before a certified firearms instructor;

– That no one who has been prosecuted for domestic violence be allowed to own a firearm of any kind;

– That no one who has been convicted of a violent crime of any kind be allowed to own a firearm of any kind;

– That no one with a diagnosed mental health condition that makes him (or her) a risk to the public be allowed to own a firearm of any kind;

– That no civilian be allowed to own a functioning mortar, rocket launcher or “crew-served” weapon of any kind.

In addition, I believe that each state should be allowed to decide how to license people to carry firearms, whether to recognize reciprocity in firearm licensing with other states, and whether to modify their criminal statutes to address gun ownership and gun violence. I realize that there is a counter argument on the constitutional basis of “full faith and credit” for carrying firearms either openly or concealed, but I also recognize that there are exceptions to this clause (e.g., legalized marijuana) that apply to gun ownership, licensing and carrying.

As far as veterans returning from conflicts with “liberated” weapons, I would allow them to keep such weapons only if they are permanently rendered incapable of “fully automatic” functioning.

This is my position, so grade me as you will.

Sincerely yours,

 

 

Greg Sagan

Candidate, U.S. House of Representatives, Texas District 13

 

GS/hs

          This is as clearly as I can state my position, and since I expect the NRA will rate me unfavorably I thought the voters in this District deserved to hear from me what my actual position is.

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Posted in The Amendments

HARVEY RELIEF VOTE DOESN’T HOLD WATER

Last week my opponent in next year’s Congressional election, Mac Thornberry, voted against providing $15 billion in flood relief for the residents of Houston and the surrounding area.

Congressman Thornberry’s stated reason for his vote was that the relief funding was tied to a “continuing resolution” to keep funding the government beyond September 30th, which is the end of the fiscal year. This resolution both raised the debt limit for the government and froze defense spending for three months. Congressman Thornberry argued that such a defense freeze would do “enormous and lasting damage to the American military.”

This argument deserves serious thought.

Last year the United States spent around $650 billion on defense. The current budget now being considered in the Senate calls for a budget for the coming year of about $700 billion. Delaying the funding for three months means that the Department of Defense would have only $162.5 billion to fund its operations for the first three months of the new fiscal year instead of $175 billion or, in other words, $12.5 billion less than they would under the new budget. That’s a reduction of about 7% – and that’s not a reduction of 7% from what they are now receiving; it’s a 7% reduction from the additional funding that Congress is considering.

Frankly I have a lot of trouble understanding how such a reduction in anticipated funding can cause “enormous and lasting damage to the American military.” Put it this way: If you had to absorb a 7% reduction in your salary then you would have to make some minor adjustments in how you live to accommodate the shortfall. But if you had to absorb a 7% smaller raise in your salary then … what? What adjustments in your spending would that cause? I suppose if you were planning on a larger raise and you had already committed yourself to spending that increase then you might have adjustments to make, but the professional budget masters employed by the Department of Defense should operate at a higher plane of responsibility than that. And it’s not as if the 7% reduction is permanent. It’s only for three months.

It’s also not as if the Department of Defense would be permanently denied this boost. At the end of the three months the new budget would be approved and the 7% boost would be spread over three fiscal quarters instead of four.

I don’t see how this 7% reduction can create “enormous damage,” and I don’t see how waiting three months can create “lasting damage.” As far as I can tell, Congressman Thornberry’s argument is the Congressional equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”

Now let’s consider what Congressman Thornberry’s vote wouldn’t do.

It wouldn’t help America’s fourth largest city’s two million residents, or the other two million residents in greater Harris County, recover their lives after a “once in 500 years” hurricane and epic flooding.

There is a simple and timeless truth about Texans in general and Panhandle Texans in particular: We are a community. We share each other’s successes and failures, joys and sorrows. We take care of each other when natural disasters strike hard, fast and deep. We are too proud, too independent, too caring to do less.

Congressman Thornberry was raised in the Panhandle, just like I was. But somewhere along the way he seems to have abandoned this simple and timeless truth. Perhaps he has been hanging out too long with other Republicans in Congress who have similar inane arguments for not doing the right thing for the people they represent. Maybe he cares more about the approval of the small and dwindling fragment of voters at the extreme right of his political base. Maybe he just doesn’t give a damn about anyone who isn’t a Republican and who doesn’t live in Texas’ 13th Congressional District. I don’t know the truth of it, but he does.

I believe it is a mistake, it is an error in perception, to divorce the needs of the people from the functions of the government. If a hostile nation had done the damage to Houston and its residents that hurricane Harvey did then we would consider it an act of war. To argue that helping Houston and its residents to recover from this blow is “not national defense” but that buying two more carrier battle groups “is national defense” is specious, hollow, false.

I do see one huge advantage for Congressman Thornberry in assuming the stance he did: As Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee he controls a major segment of the federal budget. By keeping so much money flowing toward the companies that stock America’s arsenal Congressman Thornberry can be sure of an assortment of executive positions with an array of defense contractors when he leaves public life.

But the people of Houston are in peril now, and Congressman Thornberry’s vote tells them that their lives don’t matter. That attitude creates enormous and lasting damage to our own neighbors.

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Posted in Environmental Consonsideration, Facts, Truth and Belief, Military Matters, Our Uncertain Future, The Progressive Imperative

A GOOD JOE

Donald Trump’s recent pardon of Joe Arpaio, the controversial former Arizona sheriff, carries an important message for America.

You may recall that Arpaio was recently convicted of criminal contempt of court for violating a federal judge’s order to stop the racial profiling Arpaio’s office routinely performed. Sheriff’s deputies would stop anyone who “looked Mexican” and demand evidence of citizenship, and they carried out these “stops” even after a judge ordered them to cease.

During his years as Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio styled himself as “America’s toughest sheriff.” While many applauded his “tough on crime” stance, he was also the subject of frequent controversies, including:

– Unconstitutional jail conditions, including the erection of a tent city for convicted prisoners, a compound which he referred to as a “concentration camp”;

– Improper clearance of cases;

– Failure to investigate sex crimes;

– Abuse of power;

– Investigations of judges and other county government officials he deemed political opponents, none of which led to convictions but which amounted to over $45 million in costs to Maricopa County voters;

– Election law violation;

– Forcing a female prisoner to give birth while handcuffed to her bed;

– Misuse of funds;

– Investigation of a federal judge and the US Department of Justice;

– Investigation of President Barack Obama’s place of birth

But it was Arpaio’s approach to “illegal immigration” that ultimately resulted in a charge of criminal contempt of court for continuing his department’s racial profiling of otherwise innocent citizens. He was found guilty on July 31, 2017, and Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio on August 25, 2017. At a political rally in Phoenix just before he granted the pardon, Trump stated that Arpaio was just “doing his job.”

As usual, Trump missed the point. The issue wasn’t whether Arpaio was or wasn’t doing his job. The issue was whether Arpaio broke the law while doing his job.

This decision by Trump shocks the conscience. In the first place, presidential pardons are normally granted only after the accused has completed at least part of his sentence. Arpaio wasn’t even scheduled to be sentenced until October 2017, so his pardon deprives the court of its proper role in establishing justice in a case of criminal conviction.

Second, presidential pardons are almost always granted only after the accused accepts responsibility for his actions, something that normally happens after sentence is pronounced but which, in any case, is not something Sheriff Arpaio has yet declared.

And third, presidential pardons are normally granted only after a rigorous review by the Department of Justice and the White House Counsel’s office establishes the requirements of justice, mercy, and due process.

Any way you look at it, Trump’s pardon of Arpaio was extravagantly early.

But the remaining questions go well beyond the issue of executive propriety.

There is the question of how Arpaio’s predicate acts which resulted in his conviction for criminal contempt play into Trump’s continuous – and erroneous – message about the magnitude of the “illegal immigrant” problem and how to solve it. Arpaio obviously shares Trump’s beliefs that everyone with dark skin is suspicious and probably guilty of something. By pardoning Arpaio, Trump is reinforcing the impression that he, himself, is a racist, a white supremacist, and a fascist.

There is also the question of how much respect Trump holds for the judicial branch of government. He is on record already for undermining the motives and the scope of judges involved in his immigration policies as well as his personal business dealings, and by circumventing the federal judge in Arpaio’s case Trump is signaling raw contempt for the courts.

And there is the question of how this affects other matters currently under scrutiny. By pardoning an unrepentant racist and xenophobe, Trump is reinforcing his support for American Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists in a way that no words can weaken. Beyond that, however, is the unavoidable signal he is sending to those under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that if they bite the bullet and refuse to turn on Trump then he will take care of them with presidential pardons before any real harm befalls them.

In other words, Trump is engaged in a colossal abuse of executive power.

What will we do about it? What can we do about it? These questions have no answers yet. The framers of the Constitution never anticipated a president so immune to facts, so deaf to public opinion, so arrogant about his power and his privileges, so petty in his principles.

But one thing is absolutely certain: If the people of America don’t stop this president then he will never stop himself.

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Posted in Justice and Social Serenity

CHARLOTTESVILLE: WHITE SUPREMACISTS’ DEBUTANTE BALL

         

 

         What happened on Saturday, August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, called for an immediate condemnation. The “Unite the Right” march that was countered by a spontaneous demonstration by Charlottesville residents and university students was shattered when a man, an apparent white supremacist, plowed his car into the counter demonstrators, killing 32-year old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

          In that instant, America woke up.

          Many Americans both black and white, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal spoke and wrote with unvarnished anguish at what had been done, who had done it, and what it said about the condition of this country. I felt the urge to write about it, myself, and I waited for our “president” to set the tone and context for my own contribution.

          What followed was a period unlike anything in my life. Not only did the “president” make a feeble and noncommittal initial statement before “re-booting” his comments two days later, but he also returned to a position of “all sides bear the same responsibility” just another day after that.

          This waffling is dangerous for us all. The white supremacists who initially welcomed the “president’s” soft rebuke on Saturday and angrily dismissed the “president’s” hard rebuke on Monday went on to celebrate his remarks on Tuesday. If I were a white supremacist I would conclude that I had an ally in the White House, and I would be emboldened to stage more demonstrations and resort to other forms of violence against anyone who opposed me.

          If there is any good arising from Charlottesville it is the clarity with which Americans now see the issue of race in America. We have shaken off the lethargic cultural trance that allowed us to ignore the recent episodes of white cops shooting black citizens without just cause, and we now cast our gaze on a new social movement in America, one that we recognize from a recent historical context: Nazis.

          The term Nazi has been misused in our culture for some time now, most notably among ultra-conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh. But there is a “true” Nazi social segment in this world, one with symbols and uniforms and a philosophy that are specific to a defined movement. We fought a war against them only two generations ago, and we fought it to keep our own democratic practices and institutions alive. America has never been a place where Nazism and democracy could co-exist. Each is the inevitable enemy of the other.

          America is no longer a “white” country. We can argue whether it ever really was “white” in the sense that Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacists intend to make it, but the absolute fact remains that we are not white today and we cannot make it white tomorrow without an ethnic cleansing of obscene dimension.

          Nor should we. Those who want to make sure that even the stupidest and most despicable white person is forever and always “better” than the brightest and most admirable of any other color would doom America to becoming and remaining a weak, dull, ignorant place susceptible to all manner of exploitation because we are no longer able to see the corruption in ourselves.

          This is my starting point for where I stand on the issue of “white supremacy,” There is no such thing, and there never was. What there is in America is exactly the opposite: a way of treating each other that ignores superficial distinctions and recognizes deeper qualities common to all of humanity. Most Americans accept this, and it shows in our ability to live beside, work with and love those who look different. Those who can’t do this are missing out on a source of social wealth.

          Being a white supremacist is a personal choice, and those who want to live this way are allowed to think they’re better than everyone else. America permits this as an expression of individuality, something that is even celebrated and defended it in our laws and courts. But signing up to become a member of the American Nazi Party is different.

          America recognizes Nazis as an alien and dangerous political philosophy that must be opposed by force. If we don’t oppose it by force then it will oppose the rest of us by force. As Winston Churchill said about Germany under Hitler, “The only way to live with the Germans is to have them at your feet or at your throat.”

          I say, put them at our feet. Call out the Nazi Party for what it is, a national danger to America. Find its members, arrest them, charge them with sedition and try them for it. If they are found guilty, hang them.

          If Nazis want to turn America into a killing ground to secure political and economic supremacy then America must be ready and willing to defeat them that way.

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Posted in Freedom and Human Rights

THE CLIMATE TRAP

          So which is it: the climate is changing or it isn’t?

          It’s such a simple question, really, and science has already answered it to the satisfaction of over 95% of those most knowledgeable of the subject. It’s changing. Our earth is getting warmer.

          Not each and every day, mind you. The warming trend doesn’t show up that way. But it is.

Those who have never studied mathematics beyond the common high school standard want to apply what is known as a “linear model” to climate change and then draw public policy inferences from the result. This “assumption of linearity” is commonly expressed in two ways. The first and simpler way is in this form:

                   X = a + by

For those who have forgotten algebra, this equation tells us that every value of X can be established on a graph where “a” is the intercept of the vertical axis and “b” is the slope of the line created by the values of “y.” So if we are measuring the force of impact of a car driven at various speeds from slow to fast then we can figure out the value of X (the force of impact) if we know the values for “y” (velocity), “a” (the amount of force when speed is 0) and the slope “b” (how much the force increases with speed). Sounds complicated, but it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

          Not all linear functions work this way, though, and we have amended this linear model to show how it works when there is a “wild card” present, called an “error term.” This linear model sets an intercept, “a,” and a slope, “b,” but adds a “fudge factor,” μ – the Greek letter mu. It’s expressed this way:

                   X = a + by + μ

All this means is that the values of X don’t all fall exactly along the slope “b” but may “wander” a little above and below it. So studying how height varies with age among elementary school children will look like this equation.

          We established this “linear function” as a tool of science to study how one value “varies” with respect to another, and it has served us pretty well for everything from deciding how many horses we need to pull a wagon of a certain weight to sending men to the moon.

          The problem is that some of the things science studies do not conform to this “assumption of linearity,” and one of the areas of science that is the most susceptible is meteorology.

          Around 40 years ago now, a researcher was studying the results of computer-generated weather predictions using extensive historical data that covered many variables, such as temperature, pressure, humidity, time of year, hours of daylight and so on. He ran this data, which was accurate to about four digits to the right of the decimal point (ten thousandths) using a linear model and came up with a set of predictions for the future. When he decided to re-run the exact same data but accurate only to three digits to the right of the decimal point he made a stunning discovery: the new predictions followed the previous predictions very closely for a brief period of time but then began to diverge, and ultimately the divergence was quite pronounced. Thus began the new study of “chaos theory,” the science of non-linear models in which there is a great “sensitivity to initial conditions.” In this case the sensitivity was to the presence of the fourth decimal place.

          The field of mathematics has known of non-linear models for a long time, but solving them is quite complicated and very hard to perform with just a pencil and paper. With the advent of powerful computers, non-linear models fell within the scope of a single researcher to apply.

          One by-product of these studies has been the exploration of the phenomenon of “global warming,” an unfortunate and misleading term which should actually be stated as “global temperature instability.” According to this new methodology, what is happening to earth’s weather is affected to an abnormal and unexpected extent by an array of initial conditions, among them the increase in so-called “greenhouse gas emissions.” Our failure to grasp and prepare for this development sees us living in a world in which the average annual temperatures world-wide are rising so much and so fast that we may begin to see the planet’s coastal dry zone changing radically in as little as 50 years.

          But right now, in America at least, we have misrepresented this problem by its source: is climate change man-made or natural? We may never know the answer to such a question with absolute certainty, and those who deny climate change like to invoke this question as a rationale for inaction.

          So let us consider an analogy.

          You wake up one night smelling smoke. You look outside and see your neighbor’s house on fire, and the wind is driving the flames toward your home. Available to you are (1) a hose connected to an outside water faucet, (2) a bucket of gasoline, and (3) your bed, which beckons you to comfort while others deal with the blaze. What should you do?

          You didn’t start the fire, mind you. It may well have been started by a lightning strike – an “act of God.” Besides, the science of fires has been disputed by some scientists, and you can’t be absolutely sure that the fire will spread to your home. You aren’t a fireman, so you are under no obligation to jump on a fire engine and set off to fight the blaze. Your neighbors aren’t doing anything, either … at least not yet.

          You could throw the bucket of gasoline on the blaze. After all, you didn’t start the fire, and a bucket of gasoline isn’t that much worse than what’s burning already, and it’s easier to reach than the hose, and going back to bed is much more inviting than either of the other choices. But if you choose the bucket or the bed then you cannot pretend that your action has no negative effect, and you certainly can’t pretend that you are doing any good.

          Now imagine that every other home-owner on your block has the same choices available.

          What do you suppose is the worst outcome for you and everyone else if all of you decide to wait until someone with a bigger bucket of gasoline chooses between water and fire before any of you did anything, yourselves?

          Not to put too fine a point on it, but what do you expect the result to be if everyone else is waiting … for you?

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Posted in Environmental Consonsideration, Facts, Truth and Belief, Our Uncertain Future, Science and Exploration

BRINGING BACK AMERICA’S JOBS

Donald Trump scored a lot of points with Americans by promising to bring jobs back to America once he was elected. This promise deserves some scrutiny.

The first question we should ask is, why did these jobs leave in the first place?

The answer to this question goes back to the early 1970s when companies began to understand – on a broad scale – that they could cut costs and raise profitability by shipping American-made parts overseas, having those parts assembled into finished products, and shipping those products back to America for less than it cost to produce them here. This trend recognized that assembling parts was relatively easy, especially for a low-skill worker. The hard part, and the part that required much higher skill levels, was to engineer, design and produce the components. It’s much harder, and therefore more expensive, to design and build an effective heating and air conditioning unit for a car than it is to bolt it into place and connect the wires.

A quick aside: why was (is) foreign labor so much cheaper? The answer to this question is rooted in “currency valuation.” For my purpose here it helps to simplify the answer to the question of “what is a dollar worth?” with this general distinction: until 1963 the US dollar was backed by either gold or silver at a rate of exchange set by the US government. Since 1963 the dollar has not been backed by a “sum certain” in either gold or silver but rather by the value of what our entire society produces in goods and services. This is now the general “way of the world,” and the reason the US dollar is an international currency rests in large part on the fact that the US has never (so far) defaulted on a debt. Other countries have their own currencies, the printing of money being one of the prerogatives of sovereignty, and those currencies are also backed by what each country produces. Countries that don’t produce very much that is demanded by the world market have currencies worth less than the currencies of countries whose goods and services are in high demand on the world market. So the Canadian dollar is worth almost as much as the US dollar, but the Mexican peso is not.

One of the problems of having a “high value” currency is that it makes our products more expensive in those countries with a currency of lower value. By moving manufacturing operations to countries with low value currencies, American businesses accomplished two things: first, they were able to take advantage of (or “exploit,” if you prefer) cheaper labor in other countries; and second, they created larger markets, because wherever you establish a job you establish a market. And one of the advantages of having a “high value” currency is that things produced in countries with “low value” currency are more affordable here.

So while it is true that American businesses put a lot of Americans out of their “good paying” jobs, the offset was that a lot of things enjoyed by Americans were cheaper.

When Donald Trump said he would “bring jobs back” he didn’t show us the bottom of the bag. What sits at the bottom of the bag is this: bringing back these jobs for Americans to perform meant that the price of everything would start to rise. And as prices rise, consumption tends to go down.

American businesses know this, of course, so they are anticipating this movement by looking for alternatives to having people doing the work that makes what we produce so expensive, and fortunately technology has an answer: robots.

The reality is that most people who have lost high-paying manufacturing jobs over the past 30 years or so have lost them not because of immigrant labor, not because of “off-shoring” of jobs, but because technology – mainly personal computers, but also everything that can work better with digital information processing – allows more work to be done by fewer people. Robots are the coming phase of this trend, especially in the higher-risk occupations such as mining minerals. A human coal miner requires a lot of care and support, including health care and down time, that a robot does not.

So when Donald Trump promised to bring back jobs to the United States he may well have been sincere.

But he did not promise that Americans would get them.

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Posted in Labor and Capital

WALL AND ALL

President Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.

His stated reason for building this wall is to take control of our southern border and keep out Mexican “rapists and murderers” and other “bad hombres.” His initial vision for this wall is a continuous structure running from San Diego to Corpus Christi, 30’ high, and loaded with high technology devices to detect and defeat any attempts by any person to cross into the United States from Mexico at any point. His initial commitment was to make Mexico pay for the construction of this wall.

This proposal has been popular with his followers. A common chant at Trump’s campaign rallies has been, and continues to be, “Build the wall!” But it seems obvious to me that those who favor this wall have given little thought to the salient facts.

First, we can dispense with the idea that any static defense will work to keep two populations separate. We may be seduced by the effectiveness of prison walls, and it is true that most prison walls are hard for inmates to penetrate. But prison walls also require armed guards, cells and unarmed prisoners inside them to be effective, and even then they may be breached.

On a larger scale, and our southern border represents a pretty large scale, a physical wall embellished with armed guards, searchlight towers, sensors, mines and whatever other forms of denial we can contrive is still vulnerable. For one thing, we cannot and do not want to completely isolate the US from Mexico. American businesses have facilities and customers in Mexico, as Mexican businesses have here. So there must be passage points in the wall. A passage point is an invitation for human creativity to defeat.

Walls have been tried in other places and times. The Berlin wall, the Maginot Line, Hadrian’s Wall, even the Great Wall of China have all been built with the idea of keeping people separated. All have been defeated. The Great Wall of China took almost two thousand years to build during a time when tunneling was primitive and flight non-existent, and Genghis Khan still invaded that country.

General George Patton once said of walls, “Static defenses are monuments to the stupidity of man.”

Second, we should not underestimate the strength of resolve it takes for someone from Mexico to enter the US by walking across the border. If a few hundred miles of arid desert doesn’t stop them then why should a 30’ wall do it? And for those who believe armed guards on a parapet will finish the job I would mention that the Berlin Wall had armed guards, too, and quite a few people crossed in spite of them. Sensors that might detect illegal entry are only useful if law enforcement shows up right away to apprehend, detain and return those who violate the border. That will call for another level of commitment to establish, supply and man such outposts.

But these considerations are really beside the point. The real point is, why do people from Mexico brave the border in the first place?

You may notice that we don’t have a problem with the border we share with Canada. We should, though, because the kinds of terrorists we are most concerned about today are more likely to come down from the north than up from the south. It is a simple thing for terrorists to fly into Canada and drive down to the US. In fact, all of the 9/11 terrorists came into this country legally – on student, visitor and business visas. The only wall that might have prevented this particular act would have been administrative, not physical.

Personally, I reject Trump’s assertion that the preponderance of Mexican nationals who enter this country illegally are “rapists and murderers.” Citizens of Mexico have been coming into the United States since Texas was a part of Mexico. One hero of the Texas revolution is Juan Seguín, one of a number of Mexicans who fought at the Alamo. Seguín is the one who carried the message of the Alamo’s siege from Travis to Sam Houston before the final assault. (The walls of the Alamo didn’t defeat Mexico, either.) Most of the citizens of Mexico who come to the US, either legally or illegally, do so for economic reasons. Mexican migrant workers once came into the US annually for manual labor, mostly on farms. These “braceros” followed three annual “migration paths” in the eastern, western and mid-western US. These workers were so common that in 1942 Congress enacted legislation for what became known as the Bracero Program, and it called for “decent living conditions” and a minimum wage of $.30 an hour.

This is an important clue about “securing our borders.”

If Mexican citizens are coming into this country so frequently and in such large numbers for economic reasons then the solution to our porous border must also be economic.

Recent history bears this out. Until the late 1970s, when American businesses began in earnest to move production facilities to other countries to take advantage of equally skilled but less expensive labor, Mexico had no real middle class. Almost all the wealth of the country was held by a tiny fraction of its population. The vast majority of Mexicans lived in what most American would consider poverty. But when American companies started building factories in Mexico and hiring Mexican nationals to work in them, things began to change. Mexican citizens realized that they could make more money and live better by working in an American factory and living in Mexico than they could by working on an American farm and living in America. Consequently, over the past ten years or so, America has seen a net “out migration” of Mexican nationals.

This was the real border wall with Mexico.

The structure of this wall was provided by the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

And one of the first things Trump did after taking office was to tear it up.

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Posted in Border Defense

MARIJUANA – MEDICAL AND OTHERWISE

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                A good friend of mine asked me to comment on whether I thought marijuana should be legally available for medical purposes.

                My answer may surprise her, because I am opposed to legalizing marijuana as a prescription drug.

                From what I know about marijuana, the claims of medical efficacy are, at best, unproven. There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that marijuana is at least a useful palliative for a wide range of afflictions from glaucoma to cancer, but science is skeptical of anecdotes. And rightly so. It can be hard to replicate what is claimed in one person’s experience, harder still to standardize that experience across a multitude. But an anecdote is a starting point.

                The fact of the matter is that almost all medical treatments rely on anecdotes to some extent. Medical science may know that a particular drug at a certain dosage relieves pain for a certain condition, but if you find the dosage insufficient as prescribed then your doctor may go on to authorize a higher dose. And if that drug happens to give you an even more troublesome side effect then your doctor may have to prescribe something else. These adjustments come from patient anecdotes.

                So if someone – anyone – claims a specific benefit from smoking pot then why shouldn’t it be legal to prescribe?

                My answer is this: It shouldn’t be illegal in the first place.

                We seem to have fallen into a very bad trap in our society, the trap of believing that anything that provides comfort or relief to the afflicted must be authorized by somebody before we can use it. This may be perfectly true for things like opioids, which are generally so chemically complex that they require specialized knowledge to apply. But pot is a natural substance. You can grow it in your back yard, harvest it, dry it, smoke it. If it relieves your pain or lightens your mood or increases your awareness or calms you down then you should not have to have it prescribed for you.

                Beyond that there is the question of “Who provides it?” Pot as a medical treatment is susceptible to absorption by pharmaceutical companies, and the recent record of pharmaceuticals is not encouraging. When “big pharma” can charge tens of thousands of dollars for a single dose of anything, you can imagine what such companies would do if they held the patent for pot.

                When I was in the Navy I taught a week-long course in drug and alcohol awareness at the US Navy Human Resource Management School at NAS Memphis. While teaching that course I came across a study that had been commissioned by the Defense Department that looked at various legal and illegal substances which were popular for “getting high.” These substances were ranked in order of both damage to the individual and damage to society. Damage to the individual was defined as the degree of permanent/temporary/reversible impairment. Damage to society was defined in terms of dollars spent to treat the abuser plus dollars lost to society from his impairment. First on the list, which is to say the worst for inflicting permanent damage to the user and the most expensive to society to treat, was glue sniffing. Ranked below that were various opioids such as heroin. Much farther down the list were alcohol and tobacco. Even farther down the list was marijuana.

                To me the implication was clear: We as a society are banning a substance that’s pretty benign while generously providing, and in some cases even subsidizing, substances that are deadly.

                There is a concept in criminal law called a “lesser included offense.” In plain language, this is an offense the elements of which are also elements in a much larger offense. For example, if you are found guilty of burglary of a habitation then you are also guilty of trespass, which is a “lesser included offense” of burglary. If you are charged with murder and the prosecution can’t quite make the case that you intended to kill the victim with malice aforethought then you may still be guilty of the “lesser included offense” of manslaughter.

                What we don’t seem to have as a legal doctrine, even in this “bastion of freedom” that we like to think of ourselves as, is a “lesser included freedom.”

                If I am free to drink alcohol and smoke tobacco, especially in the privacy of my own home, then I must also be free to use drugs or other substances that are less damaging to me and to society. The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants me the right to use alcohol as provided by law, so that amendment should cover the use of any substance that might be labelled an “intoxicant” that isn’t as powerful as alcohol. Pot qualifies.

                I see the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes as a half-step in the direction of general decriminalization, and a dangerous half-step at that. By merely legalizing the medical use of marijuana we admit, even if only tacitly, that this is a substance that the government must control, restrict, administer and license. I do not believe the government must do any of these things for a plant I can grow on my porch.

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Posted in Drug Policy

THE ABORTION WAR

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In America we have a war going over the subject of abortion. This war wastes enormous amounts of time, money, political attention and interpersonal good will as each side angles for a majority large enough to deliver a knockout punch to the other side. I believe it’s time we stopped.

I was raised Catholic. For those who don’t know it already, it’s hard to find another institution on the entire planet more reflexively opposed to any kind of abortion at any time for anyone than the Catholic Church. This opposition extends well beyond abortion to contraception and sex education to the point where the only form of permissible control over pregnancy is “the rhythm method,” known colloquially as “Vatican roulette.” The idea is that a married couple can have sex without the complication of pregnancy only when the woman is at a stage of her menstrual cycle when she cannot be successfully impregnated. As you can imagine, this is not reliable.

My maternal grandmother was Catholic. She was raised in an orphanage in New York City in the early 1900s, and she married a veteran of World War I who worked on the docks as a longshoreman. They raised nine children in a one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village. During the Depression she worked nights as a maid in a hotel in Manhattan in spite of having so many children to care for. When she found out that she was pregnant with her tenth child she knew she could not do it.

Abortion was illegal then, so her only recourse was a “back alley” procedure that almost killed her. She carried the guilt of it for the rest of her life.

This is simply to say that I know something about abortion, and my grandmother’s story is only one of many with which I am personally familiar.

You may know that studies of abortion rates in countries where abortion is illegal are statistically indistinguishable from countries where it is legal. That means that laws against abortion have no effect on abortion rates.

People opposed to abortion as a matter of morality have a powerful argument. There is no question that a voluntary abortion terminates a human life. We can ignore this reality, we can dress it up or down as our personal values may compel us, we may resort to elegant or specious arguments to avoid the fact, but at the end of the day we must admit that a human fetus, left to develop until it is naturally born of its mother, is a person. It is best to acknowledge this reality before we attempt to argue about abortion.

The real argument about abortion as a matter of public policy is broader than the consideration of whether we are aborting a human being or a collection of cells. When we look only at the religious morality it’s like looking at the problem through a soda straw. If we really want to reduce the rate of abortion in this country then we have to look at a much wider array of issues.

But first it behooves us to consider another moral argument.

It’s easy to forget that a pregnant woman in America is a full-fledged citizen entitled to the entire scope of freedoms and protections that the Constitution affords. It’s also easy to forget or maybe just gloss over the fact that a pregnant woman is in a state of servitude to the child she carries, servitude being defined as a condition of being in service to another human being. This is a universal and undeniable feature of motherhood. A child in the womb takes its nourishment from its mother as it needs it. A child in the womb is protected by the body of its mother even if the mother would like to transfer that responsibility to someone else. This goes on 24 hours a day for nine months, give or take.

This leads us to the real public policy issue. The question isn’t whether abortion does or does not terminate a life. It isn’t whether abortion is immoral for everyone just because it is immoral for some. It isn’t whether a woman should love the life she carries no matter what the circumstances of its creation might be. The only question in terms of public policy is, “Who decides?”

A pregnant woman who wants her child is not an issue in the abortion war, even if the child is created by rape or incest.

But a woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy when the law says she can’t is in a condition of “involuntary servitude.” The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States declares: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” [Italics added.] Therefore any law barring abortion is unconstitutional on its face, and the maneuvers and pretenses that ignore this reality are doomed to fail in time.

From a public policy perspective there is a way to end this war, and that is for the government to adopt a “neutral stance” with respect to childbirth. That is, the government should provide support to a woman either to have her child or abort it as she wishes, and it should, for the woman who decides to have her child, provide assistance as necessary not just for the birth but for the feeding, clothing, housing and educating of that child until it reaches an age of self-sufficiency. Government protection under the “Due Process Clause” – i.e., that no one shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law – shall apply at the moment the umbilical cord is cut.

A society that asserts its “pro-life” virtue and doesn’t see to the complete development of a child up to self-sufficiency is not “pro-life” at all. It is “pro-birth.” Those who want to demonstrate their pro-life commitment can still find assorted opportunities, from outlawing the death penalty to cleaning up our environment to ending war.

I have no problem giving sole and unreserved discretion over pregnancy to the mother. If she is the only one who can carry the child then she is the only one who can decide to.

In a nation that objectifies feminine beauty with pageants, magazines, movies and posters, in a nation that defines feminine worth by how sexually attractive she is, in a nation that hawks Viagra and other “erectile dysfunction” remedies with the same blasé acceptance as chewing gum, in a society that institutionalizes female-specific clothing, professions, wages and respect, elevating the status and prerogatives of women who are incubating our young would actually be a blessing to the species and a compliment to our enlightenment.

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Posted in Specifically Abortion

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A “PROGRESSIVE?”

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                If we are going to be progressive then I suppose we ought to decide what that means. It isn’t enough to simply be opposed to something. With infinite options before us, articulating what it is that we oppose merely reduces our choices to infinity minus one.

                And as any mathematician will tell you, infinity minus one is … infinity.

                In America we have some common assumptions about progress, assumptions based in both our Constitution and in the laws passed and judicial verdicts rendered since the Constitution was adopted.

                “Freedom” is a big one, of course. Everything from free movement westward, even at the expense of the indigenous native American tribes that already occupied the land we coveted, to the abolition of slavery to the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II to toll-free superhighways from border to border has expressed our hunger for freedom for ourselves and others in the world.

                “Fairness” is another, even when those who want to behave unfairly consider it unfair to have their unfairness terminated. It is the concept of fairness that persuaded England to establish courts of equity, or Courts of Chancery, as a way of speeding justice to those who have been harmed by the actions of others even when those actions were not illegal. Fairness is the root ethic of justice. Our own legal system has been heavily influenced by this English common law tradition.

                “Equality” is another. In America we have long followed a meandering course of making women equal to men, blacks equal to whites, poor equal to rich, the ignorant equal to the educated, the weak equal to the strong. We do this through both the law and through what has come to be known, inaccurately I believe, as “political correctness.” Political correctness, incidentally, is just a buzz phrase that turns the virtue of mutual respect into an iniquity.

                “Independence” is in there, too. We like to think for ourselves, act according to our self-interest, achieve self-reliance, get ahead, reach financial security, sustain our health, follow our own conscience. We despise the idea of bowing before someone else, feeling yoked to an inescapable oppressor, admitting that our ambition does not extend beyond the reach of our own arm.

                “Conservation of resources” is a subtle one, but it’s there, too. We don’t want to pay any more for goods or services than we absolutely have to. We want to be able to pass down to our descendants both our material wealth and our cultural traditions, practices and wisdom. In a universe that conserves, in the language of physics, attributes such as energy and angular momentum, our own often unconscious drive to conserve our life, liberty and property seems to both echo and align with God’s own grand design. Hidden even deeper in this idea of conservation is the notion of privacy, that we should be able to lead at least part of our lives free from intrusion, observation, publication.

                “Contribution” is never too far away. We expect to be able to discover, enhance and apply our abilities to the benefit of ourselves and to the world. If we are the children of unskilled and uneducated laborers but we have the ability to be astronomers then we expect to have available to us a path to the stars. Even if the best we can do is to live a life of crime and thereby give a good-paying job to corrections officers in the penitentiary then we assert our right to do it.

                “Honesty, facts and truth” can be lumped together. Our evidence for this can be found in our courts when we swear to tell the truth, in our scientific achievements when we land autonomous mechanical laboratories on other planets, and even in our journalism when we insist on getting a story straight. Yes, we fall short sometimes, and yes, we have a remarkable talent for producing fiction in literature and other art forms, but as long as we recognize it as invention then our commitment to honesty is undiminished. Besides, even in works of fiction we expect plausible stories based in real facts before we grant what writers know as “the willing suspension of disbelief.”

                There may be others, but these should help us to get a fix on our starting point.

                Any public policy that advances us along any of these paths constitutes “progress.” Any public policy that keeps us stagnant or moves us backward along these paths is “regression.”

                When I look at America today I see in our public policies, both existing and proposed, a frightening tendency to retreat along these paths.

                But here is the main point to me: “America” is not something that can be adequately defined by geography, by skin color, by religious conviction, by language or by national heritage. “America” is most accurately defined by those who embrace these qualities for themselves and extend them to everyone else. People who are born here, people who come here – even if illegally – are “American” if they live up to these qualities. People who are born here, people who come here – even if legally – are not “American” if they oppose, obstruct or destroy these qualities.

                Personally I’m quite satisfied to be called a progressive.

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Posted in The Progressive Imperative

90-Days To The Election

 

When I declared my candidacy last June I spent the first seven months travelling the 40,000 square miles of this District on a “listening tour” because I don’t believe you can represent people if you don’t experience the world through their eyes. While on this tour I met all kinds of people who told me what they really care about. My platform consists of 20 issues, all given to me by the constituents of District 13.  My positions on these issues are at  https://gregsagan2018.org. Now that we are in the final days of the campaign, I am travelling again, this time to hold conversations about how Congress should tackle these issues. If you would like to join this conversation then please attend one of my events or send your comments through my website. Thank you for helping me to craft your message.

Posted in Greg Sagan for Congress 2018

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