Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Right-Wing Civil Rights Act

How do you compel a retailer to sell guns to 18-year olds while allowing a baker to sell wedding cakes to straight couples only? I read on forums from many commenters. including a few members of the intellectual class. The right-wing answer is as follows: "Gays, rental cars and hotels are not mentioned in the Constitution. But guns are specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights".

In all practical matters, the decision of Dick's Sporting Goods to restrict gun sales to 21+ is a boon to local sportsman stores. (Walmart has come to the same conclusion, but read below for my verdict). These local stores presumably have regular contact with county law enforcement and support public safety while serving customers. This face-to-face contact is something large corporations cannot achieve, with directives from coming from headquarters from a state far away.  .

One might mention that hotels and car renters restrict to 21+. Often, a hotel will waive age stipulations if a company, especially the US Military, will foot the bill. Understandably,  a hotel is at stake if young Spring Break revelers trash the room. For car renters, an age of 21 can serve as a proxy for "five years of licensed driving experience". Indeed, inexperienced drivers are more likely to accumulate a claims bill! Requiring auto rentals at 18 would create an undue burden on car rental companies.  I went to college in New York and benefitted from the state's requirement of renting cars to 18 year-olds. (I'm a good driver, as everyone thinks they are). Now turn to guns: Due to the legal precedent in this nation, gun sellers do not face liability if their customers raise Cain with the products they sell.

I believe that discriminating against customers is sheer stupidity. I feel that African-American economic empowerment in WWII was a significant factor in securing equal rights under law.  Integration of the military was very important as it gave African-Americans buying power that they didn't have before. There was the "Don't buy where you can't work" movement in the 1940's, referred to in August Wilson's Fences. After WWII, Woolworth's and other interstate chains no longer had incentive to racially discriminate asides from local regressive laws. Indeed, I read that southern Woolworth's were encouraged to 'discriminate politely' so as to not offend the northern African-American market. BS.

In Virginia where I have bought a condo, since the same year interracial marriages were allowed, alcohol licenses have been issued to  restaurants, while taverns have been outlawed for 100 years. Notably, restaurants and hotels  are subject to more stringent anti-discrimination laws than other forms of privately-owned venues. Concealed-carry weapon owners have been able to carry in "bars", and the ability to create a 21+ environment is limited. Most often, age restrictions in alcohol-serving establishments will not apply until 9 or 10pm due to the fact that an establishment must function as a restaurant to qualify for a license. This is in a "commonwealth" which does not treat homosexuals as a protected class.

I suspect that Walmart's board of directors anticipates a letter from an "Attorney General of xx southern/western state". With that, they will "suspend efforts" to restrict gun purchases to 21+ in compliance with the law. As a further aside, posters on gun forums have commented that they didn't even know that Dick's sold guns. If so, they were overpriced. They should focus on selling "concussion causing" footballs to gym teachers.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Trigger Warning: Something Fundamentally Wrong

Another school shooting....I heard about it halfway around the world.
Just from the headline I could picture the murderer. Young white male, withdrawn, down on his luck.
The presumed killer met my description to a tee. What does young, white American males have in common, which is shared between the working class and middle class?

 Generation Z is the first generation to live in the era of frequent mass killings. I was out of high school before mass killings became an epidemic in America. What has gone wrong? Three answers to start: Social media pressures, emotional infantilism of teenagers, and glorification of violence in media. More reasons?

Giving guns to dangerous people:
Young mass murders seldom buy firearms with money they earned. On top of the purchase price, boxes of ammunition are too expensive on a ramen diet. The usual story is that the killer got a gun as a gift, or got a loan to buy a gun. I would support liability insurance requirements for inexperienced gun owners.

Ostracizing and De-facto Criminalization of mental illness:
Despite health privacy laws, diagnosis of mental illness is carried on permanent records. It affects one's ability to join the military, get a high paying contractor job, own a firearm, drive a car, or even participate in civic life. With the digitalization and interstate access to records, there may be a perception that a mental health diagnosis is something to be avoided, when it is something needed to get appropriate (though stretched and underfunded) treatment. As if it were a criminal record.

It might trigger the "You can't have it" theory illustrated on South Park. When a gun ban is proposed, people rush to buy guns. President Obama, it is said, was the best firearm salesman. On a smaller, personal scale, when a person is marked as ineligible to own a gun, he has the urge to get his hands on one. That said, several killers have no significant criminal record, but a disturbing history of behavior. Courts should be able to put a clinically unstable individual's firearms in the custodianship of a responsible individual. Without rendering a person legally incompetent.

Disrespect for authority figures:
In a former time, when much of the world lived under dictators or communists, public officials were given respect for being democratically elected. While there is a place for holding authority accountable to the people, the past several years the disrespect is incredible. It occurs in the media, on the streets, and even in the halls of city governments. Then there are the government shutdowns, which is totally prejudicial to good order. As of last month, both major parties are guilty of unleashing this anarchist tactic. Violent protests are a stark contrast to MLK's approach of non-violence. How could this not translate to disruptive behaviors and grossly disrespectful behavior in the classroom?

Mistrust of authority:
  Students need to understand that safety issues can be raised without resorting to intrusive searches of the innocent. That raising a concern will not trigger full SWAT.

Deadly marksmanship:
 Columbine was shocking since that kind of violence was rare at the time. But recent events made Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold part of the JV squad of school killers.
In the inner-city, bad aim and good trauma care have given many people second chances. I have seen it multiple times on the news, which reports that a  gang member opens fire into a crowd. One dead, seven injured. Six injured. Four injured, one dead.  (It should be noted that injury by firearm can cause permanent damage). What these school shooters have today is horrific accuracy, better than on actual battlefields. If we could do one thing, keep the guns out of dangerous peoples' hands.

Soft targets:
Since 1990, we've gone from acceptance of hunting rifles in the high school parking lot to mass murder despite restrictions on guns in school. The 1990's federal school gun ban originated form 1980's incidents of one-on-one violence between ex lovers, gangs, and grudges.

That did not change policies of wide open doors and lack of preparedness in once-peaceful suburbs. Columbine was a one-time tragedy. This Florida high school was ready, and yet the Valentine's Day killer slayed 17 in 6 minutes. One dead every 20 seconds, plus the wounded. In Washington, DC the local public schools have metal detectors. A good measure, but not foolproof: armed attacks have occurred at the security checkpoints of the US Capitol, DC's Metropolitan Police Headquarters, and the Holocaust Museum in DC. As Rudy Giuliani demonstrated in New York City, visible presence is a deterrent. 

OK, OK, maybe its the guns: and how they are glorified in certain circles. In deference to 1st and 10th amendments, restrict paid advertising, of gun makers, across state lines to prevent criminally-minded people from gaining a bloodlust from reading magazines and internet pages.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Easy Days

Snow- public schools in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia were closed for a whole week. Us adults got two days off. On both occasions, we returned to work while ice and snow covered the roads. I greatly improved my winter driving abilities this January. Now I suppose the high tolerance of these southern cities for snow-driving is the prevalence of SUVs, F-150 and Chevy pickups, and other 4WDs. And the can-do attitude of the heavily military population.

Leave- Gate traffic was light between Thanksgiving and the new year. This is the time that many to most military personnel take several weeks’ leave. The benevolence of a month off is met with the ambivalence of merchant seafarers and migrant workers, who get their two-month breaks in exchange for weekends missed on duty.

While commuter traffic was light, the cumulative traffic on I-95 was heavy, northbound to the Northeast and New England on Friday afternoons.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

When Cash is Joker

     Today, with Paypal and Square, even the smallest merchants are connected to digital payment. Bitcoins are totally cyber.  So discussing currency, especially denominations other than the greenback $20, might seem nostalgic. Numismatists, a.k.a. coin collectors, recognize long-obsolete denominations of money: Half-cent coins issued until 1857, large 2 cent coins during the Civil War, small antebellum silver 3 cent coins, and the short lived 20 cent coin of 1875-1876. The small print tells you that it isn’t a quarter. One-cent pieces (pre-1857) and dollars (pre-1979) used to be larger.
     To compare then-and-now circulation of money, I like to use “Jurgis Rudkus” or NYC Subway Fare metric. It does not account for real changes in the price of goods. For example, the real cost of a New York City subway ride ($2.75 today) has doubled since opening in 1904. So the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s CPI calculator is better, when the internet is readily available. Jurgis’ boss might’ve had gilded age gold coins in $2.50 and larger denominations, at a time when laborers made a dollar per day. We know Jurgis, a laborer in the Chicago Stockyards, through Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
     Some denominations have fallen out of favor. Take the one-cent piece, or colloquially- the penny. Due to the percent tax and the psychological deception of $.99 pricing, we have been stuck with the penny. Sure, stores could choose to round down the purchase. In overseas shops using US currency, pennies; even nickels and dimes, are dropped. In Dubai, I saw the 1 dinar coin used as ersatz American quarters.
     Half dollars are widely recognized at all classes of convenience stores, where cash is king. Exception is the shopettes on-base, which serve a straight-laced clientele. Elsewhere, the half dollar is not readily recognized, but most often accepted nonetheless. Their availability at banks is capricious, and the futility of using them in laundry, vending and other machines is frustrating.  
     Despite the US Mint’s best efforts, dollar coins are not the “hip new thing” millennials are clamoring for. If you use a silver-toned Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, make sure it’s not mistaken for a quarter. It was a short-lived series that immediately followed the Nixon-era large Eisenhower dollars. The Sacagawea gold-toned dollar coin fares better. They are the mainstay of mass transit machines, and circulate freely in downtown shops. To stir more interest in auto-centric areas, the US Mint concurrently introduced the Presidential Dollar Series. The Sacagawea series continued concurrently as her peoples’ sworn enemies Andrew Jackson, Zachary Tyler, and colleagues were commemorated in coin.
     $2 bills are a popular Christmas gift. They are accepted on Hampton Roads Transit’s GFI fareboxes, a type that is used around the country. But many younger cashiers do not recognize the bill, even in entertainment-focused locales like San Juan.
     $10 bills: Many stores do not stock these bills in cash registers at the start of shift. $5 bill became the workhorse of the economy. Where a seeming inefficiency is king, this orange hued bill is squeezed out by the $5 and $20 bills. I would also blame inflation, which makes $20 bills more easily broken by cashiers.
     $50 bills: Due to inflation, these are now convenient for grocery shopping, dinner out, and oil changes for the car. Also issued by Navy Federal ATMs in high-priced countries like Bahrain. For all purposes, though, the larger “C Note” remains more popular.
     $100 bills: A mainstay of the cash economy. In the cutthroat world of commercial shipping, if a sailor can’t deposit a paycheck immediately, he or she would prefer cold cash in hand. For those sailing on government ships backed by the full faith of Uncle Sam, the Benjamin is used for the seemingly contrary purposes of Western Union family remittances and entertainment. Overseas, it’s safer to carry cash than to trust an entertainment venue with a credit card. The Benjamin is also required when exchanging for local currencies in underdeveloped economies.
     $500 bills (and larger): Banks have not issued them since 1969, a time when $500 could buy a new car. Yet, unlike deflated or obsolete European currencies, these big bills have not been demonetized. Thus the Federal Reserve keeps track of these large bills remaining in circulation, presumably in collectors’ hands and senior citizens’ safes.
Now have a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What a single vote can do

Back in 2014, I got at least two votes in an uncontested ANC ( neighborhood committee) election in DC. Since I had not declared candidacy, no winner was proclaimed. As a studious college student, I went back to my studies in New York, and did not challenge the Board of Elections to be seated.

And three years later in Virginia, where I’m staying for work, a House of Delegates seat will flip to the Democrats by one vote in recount. Yes, one vote of 24,000 cast. And that one voter will end the 20-year Republican majority in the legislative body, resulting in a power-sharing tie. It takes a real “good old boy” to congratulate the presumed incoming delegate. And a “good old boy” network is therefore one of Virginia’s strengths: I have seen stats showing that Virginia is less partisan than other states. Even when a Democratic wave wipes away your Republican  supermajority. Apparently, through the House of Delegate’s elections committee, the governing party can toss a close election like tied candidates toss a coin in other states. In the post-1965 voting rights act environment, a legislative overturn of a recount would warrant federal scrutiny. Being a Virginia delegate is a part-time job, with 90 days of service over two years. The pay is approximately $18,000 per year plus hotel and meals while in session. Most delegates have full-time jobs, so engaging in a controversial, almost unprecedented, endeavor might not be appealing to outgoing Delegate Yancey, a Republican, especially during the Christmas season. Personal sensibilities might trump party loyalty, and how many citizens can say that they’ve been tossed out of office by a single ballot? The Republican Party of Virginia has yet to put out a statement.

With legislative experience that outgoing (carpet bagging) Governor McAuliffe lacks, incoming Democratic Governor Ralph Northam could lure a Republican delegate to a job in the executive branch, putting Democrats into the majority until a special election can take place. Republicans pulled a similar stunt on the Virginia Senate in 2014. despite the stunned silence, I doubt that Republican leadership is waiving a white flag.  You don’t just give away the keys to your house after 20 years of power. Democrats would know that feeling, having held the House of Delegates from the end of Reconstruction to 1998, about 120 years of Democrat control in the Solid South. So I’m betting that there are back room discussions with Democratic leadership and the incoming governor that will leave shell shocked Republicans with more power than they deserve after November’s electoral whipping. After all, it’s the art of the deal.

In other news, professional sports players play and perform for the fans, not for themselves. The NFL organization ‘s fumbling on the National Anthem protests was reported to cost about 10-12% viewership, which the media explained away as a natural occurrence of 2016 being an election year. But that margin was  enough to hit a tipping point that made stadiums empty out and tickets sell for cheap. Which is a surprise for me, since I thought new game-day fans would fill in for dejected regulars. Then again, I’m talking about the Washington Redskins, a team that will not be going to the playoffs this year. Given the economic harm that NFL has suffered from player protests, the organization could bring C.K. in to discuss a settlement of grievances, as an alternative to substantial civil suit against the controversial player.

Racial grievances in the NFL were a fringe issue until last year. Jesse Jackson’s and Spike Lee’s concerns now hold water. I applaud rapper P. Diddy for quipping about purchasing an NFL franchise. African Americans are underrepresented in sports leadership- from quarterbacks to managers to owners. It is analogous to the military of the 1970’s: you can be the best employer of racial minorities, yet there will be tension until one’s management represents diversity.

UPDATE (12/21/17): GOP reversed its course of resignation, successfully challenging one uncounted ballot. Result is a tie, coin flip to follow ( and likely second recount) per Virginia law.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Deconstructing the Department of Motor Vehicles

As I stand in line waiting for the DMV to open, I wonder how the experience could be improved. Online services have helped tremendously, reducing workload for "Patty and Selma" behind the desk.  Permits have to be renewed in person less frequently than in the past. But sometimes you still have to go to the DMV, MVA, or whatever it's called in your state.

How about privatizing? No, this is not a libertarian antigovernment screed; I'm referring to the customer-facing services. The government definitely has a role in ensuring safety of vehicles and their operators on public roads. But going to the DMV still stings.

The driver's license or ID card is an important document that allows people onto airplanes and into other secure facilities. How could you trust a private firm to issue IDs? On behalf of the federal government,  private Acceptance Agents check identity documents for the IRS, notaries give a seal of witness to legal documents, and contractors perform security screening in lieu of the TSA in places like San Francisco, and at a number of small airports. Ditto the rationale for registering car titles and license plates.

And would shady companies look the other way on tests? Computer based testing, typically arranged by the firms Prometric and Pearson Vue, is used for knowledge tests in issuing certificates and licenses to skilled tradesmen and professionals. No clerk can nudge you up to a passing grade. A simulator would objectively evaluate driving skills versus a subjectively-graded road test. However, a simulator seems to be a disservice to 16-year olds when this 20-minute test allows for a lifetime of driving. So, okay, you'd go to the DMV for that road test.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

San Juan Report

For the past two weeks, I've been on the ground in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Although I earlier reported the resumption of normal life after Hurricane Maria, what I saw from the bow of the hospital ship was superficial. Beyond the Marina street, electricity is not in service in the old city. A number of shops are open and running on diesel generators. Grocery stores are selling dry goods which do not require refrigeration. Essentials like eggs and milk can be procured at certain restaurants running on generators. It is impossible to find fresh meat in affected areas of the harbor, although stores near downtown have had electricity restored.For eligible patrons, the PX and Commissary at Fort Buchanan, both well-stocked, were doing brisk business. Gasoline is available, and rush hour traffic jams give a sense of normalcy. However, many traffic lights remain down, and major intersections are being marshaled by police. Light rail service is not available, but a cabbie was optimistic of an upcoming reopening. Much work remains in restoring public infrastructure, which will at long last allow more citizens to resume daily life and get the essential tourism industry back on track.