To absolutely no one's surprise, the little shit arrested for murdering six people in Highland Park, Ill., yesterday turned out to be a 22-year-old white kid with a violent social media history. And of course he bought the gun legally.
Every society has its psychopaths and angry young men. But most societies acknowledge this, and make it really hard for those assholes to buy guns. Here, we make it easier to buy a gun than to buy a car. That's just insane, but politically hard to change.
Right now, with the current right-wing Supreme Court and Senate, we can't pass meaningful gun safety laws. But I have an idea. Let's make it harder to get military-grade weapons through taxation.
What if Illinois added use taxes for ammunition and magazines? Any ammunition of magazines purchased in or brought into Illinois must have a tax stamp. Failure to show the proper stamp multiplies the tax by 10. Tax rifle ammunition at $1 per round, pistol ammunition at 25¢ per round, and shotgun ammunition at 10¢ per round, reflecting the social costs (externalities) of each. And tax magazines at $10 per round for the first 10 rounds and then $100 per round after.
So if you really want that Glock 9mm pistol with the 17-round magazine, filling it will cost you $800 in magazine tax and $4.25 in ammunition tax. But if you simply must have that AR-15 with its 20-round mag, then it's $1,100 for the magazine and $20 for the ammo.
This tax won't really bother legitimate hunters as hunting rifles tend to have 5-round magazines ($50 + $5), and a good hunter won't waste rounds on a deer. And, of course, there would be exemptions for law enforcement and Federal agencies. (Illinois has a huge Navy presence, for example, and the state can't tax them.)
Is this nibbling at the edges? Of course; obviously we need to ban these weapons entirely. But I think it would pass the current Court. And if it adds enough friction to purchasing military-style rifles to deter just one mass shooting a year, it will have saved lives.
A lot has happened in the past day or so:
- The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 down partisan lines that everyone can carry a gun anywhere they want to, because they had guns in 1791 and so we have to live by 230-year-old rules. (Fun fact: a well-trained militiaman in 1791 could fire four aimed musket shots in a minute! Another fun fact: in 1791, bullets didn't yet exist!)
- That will surely comfort the parents of Uvalde, Texas, about as much as the news that the school police chief finally got suspended in light of the abject incompetence of everyone he supervised.
- Josh Marshall thinks the Justice Department may, actually, prosecute some of the January 6th insurrection leaders—including, perhaps, the XPOTUS.
- Microsoft's president and vice chair Brad Smith explains how Microsoft has fought the cyberwar in Ukraine.
- Robert Wright (sub.req.) argues in favor of a negotiated peace in Ukraine, and that American foreign policy over the past 25 years has made the benefit of standing on principle less than it could have been.
- Philosopher Slavoj Žižek responds that pacifism is the wrong response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
- Walter Shapiro shakes his head at how badly we (the West) squandered the "lost weekend" of 1989 to 2001.
- After investing $50m in the Republican primary election Illinois has next Tuesday, Ken Griffin has decided to up sticks to Florida. He will not be missed.
- Just four weeks before I visit my ancestral homeland, three transit-related industrial actions (strikes) have either started or will start soon, affecting the national railways, the London Underground, and Heathrow's ground staff. It's a good thing that the only modes of transit I typically use in the UK are planes, trains, and the Tube!
- The US Food and Drug Administration has halted sales of Juul e-cigarette products.
Finally, let's all congratulate Trumpet, the bloodhound who won the Westminster Kennel Club's dog show last night. Who's a good boy!
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), currently locked in a cage match with Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-MS) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) for "Dumbest Person in Congress," is under investigation for some pretty dumb shit:
Colorado officials are examining allegations that Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican representing the state’s western half, inflated the mileage she logged on the campaign trail in 2020 and then used more than $20,000 in reimbursements from donors to pay off years of tax liens on her restaurant.
The allegations have bounced around liberal circles since The Denver Post first reported in February 2021 that Ms. Boebert had cashed two checks from her campaign totaling $22,259 for mileage reimbursement. The number equated to 38,712 miles — well more than the 24,901-mile circumference of the planet.
At the core of the inquiry are eight tax liens from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment totaling $20,000 and filed against Ms. Boebert from August 2016 to February 2020 for failure to pay unemployment premiums on her business, Shooters Grill.
In late 2020, Ms. Boebert reimbursed herself for mileage from the 2020 campaign and paid off the liens.
“As you are both fully aware, utilizing an illegal source of funds or ill-gotten funds to pay off a tax lien is illegal in Colorado and under federal law,” the Muckrakers complaint to the attorney general stated, adding, “That is the very definition of ill-gotten funds.”
This won't really go anywhere before the November election, of course, but it will eventually get there. It'll be fun to watch though.
After four nights, five puddles, four solid gifts, and so much barking that the neighbors down the block left a note on my door, Sophie finally went home this afternoon. I also worked until 11:30 last night, but that had nothing to do with her. It did cause a backup in my reading, though:
Finally, army dude-bros in several countries have gotten into arguments over online tank games and, to win those arguments, have posted classified information about real tanks. The defense authorities in the US, UK, France, and China are investigating.
San Francisco voters recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin 60%-40% yesterday (but with only 26% turnout), which suggests a growing backlash against progressive crime policies as crime rates inch up from their historic lows:
Boudin was an easy scapegoat. Decades of failed housing and mental-health policies have fed a homelessness crisis in a city that was never as liberal as it appeared. The pandemic appeared to fuel deep sociological challenges that no politician or prosecutor had easy answers for. Still, his rejection reflected visible grassroots anger at both these conditions and his policies, particularly Boudin’s unwillingness to bring heavier charges against shoplifters and other kinds of petty thieves that had come to define, in the popular imagination, 2020s San Francisco. Wealthy, older voters were eager to dump Boudin, as were middle-class non-white voters, particularly Asian Americans. Victimized by a surge in hate crimes, Asian voters felt Boudin had not responded properly to their plight. In 2021, Boudin drew sharp criticism for failing to describe the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, as a racially motivated crime. While denouncing the crime, Boudin said the defendant was “in some sort of a temper tantrum” and said there was no evidence to charge him with a hate crime. His office would later charge him with murder and elder abuse, but it wasn’t enough to assuage anger in the community.
The outcome in Los Angeles, though, was not so decisive. [Rick] Caruso, a former Republican who developed the Grove and other popular malls in the city, unloaded almost $40 million to shoot to the top of the polls and discombobulate a sleepy race that was supposed to be Bass’s to lose. Caruso blanketed the city with TV and digital ads and secured the backing of several major celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow. His campaign, in many ways, represented conservative backlash: He promised to hire more cops and championed the broken-windows policing pioneered by Bill Bratton, the former police commissioner of L.A. and New York. Like Rudy Giuliani and other right-wing mayoral candidates of yore, he vowed to crack down on perceived disorder in the city.
Caruso was also able to exploit the blind spot of California’s left — the belief that it is progressive, and accepted by broad numbers of people, to allow the unhoused to sleep in tents on public property. But, borrowing from some on the left in the housing movement, he also promised to build 30,000 new shelter beds, convert more hotels and motels into shelters, as well as petition the federal government to triple the number of Section 8 vouchers.
Because we Americans have the maturity and attention spans of toddlers, the Right can always count on progressive policies (mental health care, education, anti-poverty measures) taking too long to solve the problems (crime, drugs, homelessness) that a lack of said policies cause. In other words, we know how to reduce crime, drug use, and homelessness, but it takes a lot of time and attention to do so. Right-wing "lock 'em up" policies appeal to the toddlers voters because they seem immediate and decisive, even though overwhelming evidence shows they fail in the long run. The lack of voter turnout in San Francisco yesterday contributed to Boudin's loss, by some accounts.
I suspect Boudin's problems went a lot deeper than just advocating progressive, long-range solutions to crime and homelessness. It seems a lot like he had a tin ear and a rigidity of thought (i.e., arrogance) that pissed off his natural allies. We have the same situation here in Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot—whom I supported—has done everything in her power to ensure she only serves a single term, mainly by crapping on her friends. For example, in Chicago, it's hard to lose both the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools, but Lightfoot achieved that elusive goal last year. It looks a lot like Boudin took a similar approach to office, with expected results.
National Geographic examines the growing number of large carnivores moving to urban areas, including Chicago's coyotes, who have nearly doubled their numbers in the last 8 years:
While black bears have reclaimed about half their former range and now live in some 40 states, coyotes—native to the Great Plains—have taken the U.S. by storm in recent decades. They now can be found in every state except Hawaii and most major cities. The metropolis most synonymous with the urban coyote is Chicago, home to as many as 4,000 of the animals.
Stan Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist with Ohio State University and the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, began studying Chicago’s coyotes in 2000, not long after the animals started showing up there. Back then, Gehrt thought his project would last a year. More than two decades later, he’s still at it. “We consistently underestimate this animal and its ability to adjust and adapt,” Gehrt says. “They push the boundaries of what we perceive to be constraints.”
At the beginning of Gehrt’s research, he thought coyotes would be restricted to parks and green spaces, but he was wrong. “Now we have coyotes everywhere—every neighborhood, every suburban city, and downtown.”
Indeed, coyotes have succeeded despite our best efforts to eradicate them. At least 400,000 are killed each year, about 80,000 by a federal predator control program primarily out West. Vehicle strikes are the main cause of death for Chicago’s coyotes, but the animals have learned to avoid cars and can even read stoplights. (Go inside the secret lives of Chicago’s predator.)
Meanwhile, Bloomberg runs the numbers that show how living in cities is significantly safer (from humans, anyway) than living in exurban or rural areas.
The most interesting (to me) story this afternoon comes from Cranky Flier: American Airlines has a new software tool that can, under specific circumstances, reduce weather-related cancellations by 80% and missed connections by 60%. Nice.
In other news:
And finally, as Lake Michigan water levels decline from their record levels in 2020, the receding water has exposed all the work the city and state need to do to repair our beaches.
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the reporters who followed the money to expose President Nixon's corruption 50 years ago, compare the corruption that brought down Nixon's presidency to the corruption that should have brought down the last one:
President George Washington, in his celebrated 1796 Farewell Address, cautioned that American democracy was fragile. “Cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government,” he warned.
Two of his successors — Richard Nixon and Donald Trump — demonstrate the shocking genius of our first president’s foresight.
As reporters, we had studied Nixon and written about him for nearly half a century, during which we believed with great conviction that never again would America have a president who would trample the national interest and undermine democracy through the audacious pursuit of personal and political self-interest.
And then along came Trump.
Both Nixon and Trump have been willing prisoners of their compulsions to dominate, and to gain and hold political power through virtually any means. In leaning so heavily on these dark impulses, they defined two of the most dangerous and troubling eras in American history.
As Washington warned in his Farewell Address more than 225 years ago, unprincipled leaders could create “permanent despotism,” “the ruins of public liberty,” and “riot and insurrection.”
In case you haven't seen Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, you should read Washington's full address. Even if you had: Hamilton's words are as true today as they were in 1796.
Today I learned about the Zoot Suit Riots that began 79 years ago today in Los Angeles. Wow, humans suck.
In other revelations:
Finally, it's 22°C and sunny outside, which mitigates against me staying in my office much longer...
David Graham argues that emphasizing the bungled police response in Uvalde "risks eclipsing the bigger picture, which is that the gravest failures happened before the gunman arrived at the school and opened fire":
The fundamental problem, of course, is that semiautomatic weapons are easily available to nearly anyone in the United States with relatively little trouble. Some reporting indicates that the Uvalde shooter was a victim of bullying, and though this may have played a role in his psychology, bullying is universal and timeless; readily accessible assault rifles are not. Gun-rights advocates used to try to sidestep this argument, arguing that prospective killers would find other ways to kill if guns were harder to find, but these days, with their position ascendant in the legal system, they hardly bother, instead pointing out that courts are interpreting the Constitution to block most gun laws. They are correct, but that doesn’t negate the simple fact that easy access to guns is what makes this country different. The guns and ammunition used in Uvalde were legally purchased, and no police officer could do anything about them until the shooter began committing crimes—by which point even an effective police response would have merely limited, not stopped, the slaughter, given how much death a shooter armed with an AR-15 can inflict, and how quickly.
So-called red-flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily seize guns from people if they might be a danger to themselves or others, may indeed be a commonsense measure, but there’s precious little evidence that they are useful in stopping mass shootings. (They seem to work better for preventing suicides.)
Armed guards at schools, better preparation, fortifying schools—all of these have been proposed as good solutions, but few of them seem to work all that well in practice. Schools in Texas had already been “hardened,” but that didn’t prevent the horror in Uvalde. The school district had drilled for a mass-shooting event. No armed officer was stationed at the school when the gunman struck. (In Buffalo, a retired police officer serving as a security guard engaged and fired at the shooter, and authorities say he saved lives by buying time; despite this apparent heroism, 10 people died.)
We have solid evidence from the US and from around the world about what works and doesn't work to prevent mass shootings. Banning assault weapons works; hiding under desks doesn't. As Graham concludes:
[D]emanding that police respond more swiftly and courageously once the slaughter of schoolchildren has already begun is itself the mark of a broken society, which no longer seems able to ask that we prevent such killings in the first place.