Friday, January 11, 2013

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon was born 100 years ago. This anniversary probably popped up on "on this day" web sites and journalists paid by the number of hits their posts receive, sitting at their screens, weighed this story against the gun debate, Congress's poor ratings, the president's good ratings, the weather, and one of several meltdowns on cable news. The Nixon birthday ranked low on the list. Since most journalists were born after Nixon left office they have only occasional references in the media, all negative, and maybe the History Channel to give them much information.

But Tricky Dick's (a nickname he earned in his first congressional campaign) legacy deserves more consideration than the Watergate "national nightmare." How about

  • China
  • Going off the gold standard
  • The National Environmental Policy Act
  • Inflation control through wage and price freezes
  • Advocating spending more money on drug abuse treatment than on enforcement
  • Advocating health care reform
I'm not sure how to classify his performance as to the Viet Nam War. There are probably more successes along with some failures. In a way he did a great service in the scandal by demonstrating that the presidency should have limits to its powers. His administration should be viewed in its totality and in its parts. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gun Debate

I am disappointed at the noise about the role of guns in the recent tragedies in Connecticut, Colorado, and here in Seattle. I am one inclined to support regulation of firearm possession and ownership, but the reality is that there are enough guns in the U.S. to arm every man, woman, and child. I cannot imagine a mechanism to remove half or a quarter or a tenth of these weapons from homes and circulation. All these discussions and all this proposed legislation syphon resources and intellectual energy away from a better solution to preventing future disasters.

This being a democracy, any proposed legislation will be subject to opposition and, ultimately, enough compromises to render the results to be ineffective. When high-capacity magazines were prohibited in the 90s, the law did not apply to existing stocks of magazines or to their transfer. The hundreds of thousands of magazines out there just got more valuable. There were so many loopholes in other aspects of the laws that anyone interested in an assault rifle with several 30-round magazines still could get them. This did not impact those already owned. Useless.

Let's consider the real cause of these tragedies: mental illness. In every case I have read of mass killings the shooter, who usually took his own life, was mentally ill and people knew it. I say mentally ill from a medical standpoint, not a legal one. A crazy person can be convicted of a crime and a sane person can manage an acquittal by virtue of insanity. These shooters could have been prevented from committing their crimes by effective mental health services, services they were able to sidestep because laws seem to grant them the right to be crazy if they want. Until they commit a crime or are of danger to themselves or others, they enjoy every right including the right to possess - maybe not buy - a firearm. Until a shooter with body armor and multiple weapons starts to pull the trigger, police officers are expected to be courteous and constitutional. Once that young man approached the school, the police were limited in their options.

The man in Connecticut could just as easily stolen his mother's car keys and driven into a shopping mall. The guns made his killing easier. This man has been described in the press as "autistic." It sounds as if his autism was severe enough to have his mother consider committing him. I say he was not just autistic, but really crazy.

The two Columbine shooters were early-on described as retaliating against bullying. Totally wrong. One was profoundly depressed and the other was psychotic. Bullying was not an issue. They were crazy. But they came from nice families and had all their rights including those under the Second Amendment.

So, enough with gun control. Yes, regulate. Impose heavy insurance requirements on gun owners like automobile owners (not that all drivers carry insurance). But the guns will stay. Enough.

Let's start passing laws and spending money on the mentally ill. Some people might lose their rights to be homeless if they are crazy. Some might lose their rights to keep and possess firearms. We keep our children safe.