Governance Meltdown Brought by You Know Who

On that first day when there were three separate votes for Speaker of the House (who knew that C-SPAN could offer such riveting watching?), a Representative usually identified as one of the ultra-MAGA people but who had voted for Kevin McCarthy said, “Every hour we spend on electing the Speaker is an hour we are not working on policy.” She said that without a smile or even a hint of irony.

I heard her and others talk about “open borders,” which sometimes morphed into “Biden’s open borders.” When referring to his borders, I don’t think they mean the president’s personal space, or his skin, or his boundaries on blasphemy, all of which might refer to his borders. I think they mean this country’s borders, but I don’t think they mean the Northland or the mid-Atlantic seacoast. Neither did I hear a mention of why Jair Bolsonaro could freely fly to Miami when other Latin Americans were futilely knocking on doors at the Mexican border. (Whenever I hear the name of the former president of Brazil, I hear Richard Kiley singing that earworm song from Man of La Mancha.)

Sometimes the rhetoric says that we must “secure our border” as if that were a statement of policy. But a “policy” would need to identify what steps should be taken to reach that goal. And, of course, a meaningful policy discussion would include how much it would cost and where the money would come from, since those who want a “secure border” also insist we must have a balanced budget. This is also said without a trace of irony or a mention of the budget deficits that occurred when conservatives controlled all government branches. Policies for a “secure” border, however, need to go beyond walls and agents. The discussion must include who should be able to visit this country and under what circumstances; who should be able to study here; who should be allowed to work here; who should be allowed to take up residence in the United States; and who should be allowed citizenship. As far as I can tell, that ultra-MAGA Representative who now bemoans taking time away from policy discussions has not meaningfully discussed any of these policy imperatives.

Of course, there as so many other policies that should be discussed. We need, for example, a better healthcare system so that American life expectancies might someday exceed those in Cuba. (You can look it up.) We need to examine our policies on business competition. We need to consider bringing good broadband service to many parts of this country. And so much more. Somehow I don’t believe that ultra-MAGA Representative will be working sensibly on any of these policies. 

I certainly don’t imagine that Speaker Kevin McCarthy will be leading such policy discussions. As far as I can tell, the “policy” he is most associated with is, “Let’s hold another Benghazi hearing.”

I thought that I might be being unfair, so I went to Fox News that evening looking to hear from the conservative policy gurus. I could only last a few minutes with Tucker who was giving time to a person who has been repeatedly called a disinformation master. (Whenever I watch Carlson, I hear Shirley Ellis singing that earworm song, The Name Game.) The Disinformation Master was saying that we couldn’t rule out the possibility that the NFL player’s cardiac arrest had something to do with the vaccine we don’t know that he took. (And, I thought, we can’t rule out that the cardiac arrest resulted from his visiting the polar bear exhibition at his local zoo when he was eight.)

A little later I checked in with Hannity. His earth-shattering policy discussion was to tell us that, according to him, there was irrefutable proof that President Biden knew that China had given gifts to his relatives. I did not say tuned to find out why it would be democracy-shaking news that gift-givers were known. Nor did I wait (it would have been quite a long wait) to hear that Trump also knew who was heaping “emoluments” on Trump’s hotels before and during his term in office.

Apparently, this passes for working on policy. Alas.

“To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.” Benjamin Disraeli.

Guns and Insurrection

Tucker Carlson proclaimed that January 6, 2022, was not an insurrection because insurrectionists must be carrying guns. Apparently there is no reason to limit yourself to making up facts. Might as well create your own language and create your own definitions as well.

Two of my most easily accessible dictionaries define insurrection almost identically: “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority”; “an act or instance of rising in revolt, rebellion, or resistance against civil authority or an established government.” A third, however, does mention weapons and defines an insurrection as “an act of rising in arms or open resistance against civil or established authority.” But that “or” bears notice. An insurrection can be armed, but open resistance, with or without guns, against civil authority is an insurrection. Let’s be clear: January 6 was an insurrection. Aldous Huxley had it right: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

Underlying Carlson’s inanity, however, is an important observation. The January 6 insurrectionists were not openly armed, and it is here that more attention and respect should be paid to the gun safety laws in the District of Columbia. In the nation’s capital, firearms must be licensed and registered. Concealed carry requires a special license. Assault weapons are illegal. Extended magazines are illegal. Neither long guns nor handguns may be openly carried.

No doubt January 6 insurrectionists were aware of these restrictions. If they had openly carried guns as they went to hear Trump’s rants and to the Capitol, they could have expected that they would have been stopped by the police long before the Capitol was invaded. If they had openly carried their firearms, they might not have been able to commit their insurrection.

Imagine, however, if the law had allowed them to move about Washington openly carrying the weapons as they could have in many places in the United States. What do you think would have happened that day? What might the death toll have been?

In considering the events of January 6, we should be considering that the gun safety laws of Washington in all likelihood prevented deaths. In short, gun safety laws matter.

It is expected, however, that shortly the Supreme Court will render a decision creating a new right for people to carry guns into public spaces. The District of Columbia will no longer have its gun safety laws that prevented the open carrying of firearms. If that prediction turns out to be right, what will the next attempt to overthrow an election be like?


Narcissus was too perfect for sex or pelf—

He longed only to gaze in love at himself . . .

The moral of which is that, even in myths,

Too much reflection may be your nemesis.

                    Kenneth Leonhardt

I can’t get beyond the beginning of my new poem. Maybe somebody can advance it:

Tucker Carlson, Tucker Carlson/ Of smirk and rolling eyes.

Republicans’ new epithet is “grooming.” I was surprised that the conservatives were taking on the Catholic church.

Australians must be different from us. I am watching a Netflix series from down under, and many of the scenes take place in modern homes featuring glass walls. There is never a handprint or other kind of smudge on the surfaces.

The Supreme Court recently heard a case concerning a high school football coach who would kneel at the fifty-yard line after the game and pray out loud. That reminded me of my not-stellar days on the junior varsity high school basketball team when Johnny M. asked our coach if we could pray before the game. I was too timid to object and no one else did either, and the coach okayed it. No one was willing to lead the prayer, so someone suggested the Lord’s Prayer. (There were no Jews and certainly no Muslims, Buddhists, or “others” among the twelve of us.) Before the next game, we said it, and I learned about religious differences as I think others did. We now realized that Catholics had a different version of the prayer from the rest of us–it seemed to end abruptly–and the Protestants’ versions also varied depending on what translation of the Bible the denomination used. It made all of us feel awkward. We did not pray before other games.

I feel better now because I heard it is harder to kidnap overweight old people.

I opened a Twitter account because I read a report of a tweet I wanted to read. Since then I have not used the account. I have never tweeted. I am wondering if Twitter is important in shaping views, or is it merely an entertainment and only reinforces what is already believed?

Conservatives have rejoiced that Elon Musk is purchasing Twitter. They say they believe in free speech and want an open forum, which they believe Musk will bring to Twitter. At the same time, conservatives are punishing Disney for exercising its free speech rights. Go figure.

Luther: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear the scorn.” Thomas More: “The devil . . . the prowde spirit . . . cannot endure to be mocked.” Quoted in C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.

I liked the platform of a failed politician. He wanted to remove nationalism from the names of cheeses.

Covid-19. No Big Deal?

Most weeknights I watch the man with the smirk and rolling eyes but only for a few minutes. I can’t stand Tucker Carlson for longer than that.

The other night he was trying to convince us that the Covid-19 concerns have been overblown. His aha information was that the median age of a Covid death in this country is eighty. “That is higher than the average life expectancy in the United States.” A few moments later I turned off the TV and resumed reading Celestial Bodies, the selection for next week’s book group, but Carlson’s information stuck in my head.

So I did some checking the next day. A chart on the CDC website breaks down deaths involving Covid-19 by sex and age groups in 2020 and 2021. It does not provide the median age of the more than 600,000 deaths, but eighty, if not the official median age, is close to it.

Carlson was also right that eighty is more than the average life expectancy in this country. That number at birth is about seventy-eight years. (Carlson did not point out that life expectancy has recently declined for several reasons including the number of Covid deaths.*)

Finding out that his figures were right, however, did not stop me from thinking that the comparison between life expectancy at birth and the median Covid death age is bizarre. Perhaps Carlson thinks that if you get to be eighty, you are living on borrowed time and death is no big deal, or perhaps he thinks you must already be dead. However, life expectancy increases each year a person survives. At age 75, for example, the average life expectancy is not 78, but about 84. At age 80, it’s about 88. He wanted us to conclude from his statistics that the concern over Covid has been overblown, but is it no big deal that hundreds of thousands who died of Covid were deprived of seven or eight more years of life? If you are older than 78 and dying of Covid, Carlson would suggest that you shouldn’t be upset because you have already exceeded the average life expectancy. Perhaps Carlson thinks we also overreact to cancer and heart attacks because they disproportionately affect older people.

Carlson’s data, of course, also mean that half of the over 600,000 Covid deaths occurred to people younger than eighty. It is also the case that more than 120,000 deaths were of people under sixty-five. Starting at age forty, more than ten percent of deaths from all causes during the pandemic involved Covid, and overall, Covid was involved in about one in every eight deaths in 2020 and 2021. Remember how some people tried to tell us that this coronavirus was no worse than the flu? Influenza killed fewer than 10,000 people in 2020 and 2021; Covid-19 killed sixty times that number.

But even if they aren’t much concerned with the pandemic, the conservative news outlets do seem exercised about the recent rise in murders, and it is true that the sharp increase of gun homicides–about 25%–that occurred under President Trump has continued into this year. In 66 major cities, homicides were 33% higher in 2020 than in 2019 and have increased further by 29% in major cities in the first three months of 2021 over 2020.

The conservative news reports those homicides, but seldom, if ever, do they explore possible causes for the increase. These might include the rise in gun sales during the pandemic–a 64% increase in 2020 over the previous year. And alcohol sales, surveys indicate, were more than 50% higher during the pandemic. More guns; more alcohol. Is anyone surprised that there was a surge in gun violence? But guns, alcohol, and the pandemic–which put strains on the police, courts, probation offices, and social services agencies–are seldom considered on the conservative outlets; instead, they point to protests against the police and calls to defund the police as the only possible causes for the increase in homicides. If these were the only causes, there should be a concomitant rise in all street crimes, but this is not the case. While murders have increased, the rate of other crimes has not. Moreover, they fail to present any historical perspective. As it turns out the present rate is much less than recent highs. For example, the homicide rate in a group of cities was 19.4 per 100,000 residents in 1995; it was 11.4 in 2020 in those same locations.

The conservative fixation on city gun violence also leaves out a salient fact: more people die from gunshot suicides than from firearm homicides. The conservative commentators don’t mention suicides perhaps because they have nothing to do with police protests and reforms and are not a big-city problem. Gun suicides, in fact, are disproportionately rural—two-and-a-half times higher in rural than urban areas–and overwhelmingly white—about 85%. The states with the five highest suicide rates in 2020 were New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, and Idaho. They were lowest in New York and New Jersey. While the conservative media likes to emphasize the murder rates in a handful of cities with Democratic mayors, it is interesting to consider which states have the highest homicide rates. So far this year, the states with the five highest rates are Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Maryland, and Arkansas.

Conservatives may avoid discussion of suicides because these people cannot be subliminally transformed into an image of dangerous minorities and because it might lead to a serious consideration of guns in the hands of those whom we don’t think of as criminals. While the success of attempted suicides by all methods is low—about 4%–attempted suicides by gun result in death over 90% of the time. And a study concluded that the chances of a suicide in a household with a gun is about three times higher than in a home without a firearm. Shouldn’t we be talking about this?

The Tucker Carlsons of the world (I write that fervently hoping it is in error and that there is only one of him) want to downplay the importance of Covid-19 and disregard the suicides. But they continue to harp on the homicide rate without mentioning a stable overall crime rate. Yes, we should be concerned about the increase in murders, which has now risen to fifty murders a day in the country. Meanwhile, there are about sixty daily gunshot suicides, and about 250 people each day are still dying from Covid. But, apparently, since half of the pandemic victims have lived longer than the average life expectancy at birth, it is no big deal.

*Part of the reason that the median age of Covid deaths is higher than life expectancy at birth is because America does not have an exceptionally long life expectancy. The United States places forty-sixth is the world. It is always surprising to me when I learn that that life expectancy in Cuba, where medicine is socialized and poverty widespread, is longer than it is here.