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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Political Thoughts, The "Real" Purpose of Assault Weapons and a Visit from a Hummingbird

Some Thoughts from Political Science 101

Imagine that the United States had a parliamentary system of government, as do most European nations, in which the legislature's makeup determines who the country's leader will be.   Imagine that we did not elect our President via the Electoral College, separately from our voting for our Congressmen in the House of Representative. Just imagine.

In such a situation, the House of Representatives would elect, as do houses of parliament all over the world, the head of its majority party to be Prime Minister, or as we call the office of our head of state, the President.  Imagine President John Boehner in the White House.  That is what a parliamentary system would have given us, because the Republicans are the majority party in the House of Representatives, despite the fact that the total number of votes in the country cast in 2012 to elect all of our 435 individual members of the House of Representatives would have produced a Democratic majority.  This contradiction is the result of the way Congressional Districts are set up, producing more Republican Congressmen than Democrats.

To counterbalance this anomaly, the “upper house,” the Senate, is set up so that two Senators are elected by a popular majority in each state. (It wasn’t always this way.  The 17th Amendment went into effect in 1913, just 100 years ago.  Until then, state legislators appointed Senators.)  So, it might be said that the Senate is a more democratic body, directly reflecting the choice of the voters of an entire state. 
Indeed, the House is also a very democratic body, but the choices it reflects are narrower than those of the Senate.  The House reflects the choices of the voters of each separate and distinct Congressional District and hence, is far more responsive to local issues and pressures.  Unfortunately, state legislatures play politics when they set up Congressional Districts, often drawing boundaries to assure that particular groups such as minorities are represented in Congress, but at the same time, making certain that other Districts are not particularly competitive, protecting existing officeholders.  

But getting back to a “parliamentary” system, we do not choose our head of state based on the make-up of Congress, as would be the result if we followed the pattern of European nations.  But neither do we elect our President by popular vote.  Instead, an Electoral College chooses him or her.  In this “college,” each state has a number of votes equal to the total number of its Representatives in the House and its Senators.  Though not required by law, whichever candidate wins the popular vote in a state usually gets all of its electoral votes.   The identities of the electors are meaningless although recalcitrant electors may, and have on occasion, cast their votes in a manner so that one candidate does not get all of a state’s electoral votes. 

Recognizing that this system is not as democratic as it might be, some advocate the election of the President by nationwide popular vote.  There are those who would like a state’s electoral votes to be divided in the same proportion as the votes each candidate received in that state.  There are others who feel that a state’s electoral votes should be determined by whomever received the majority in each of that state’s Congressional Districts, and divided up accordingly, plus two votes (representing the two Senate seats) going to whomever carried the entire State’s popular vote. (We have had several Presidents who, while capturing a majority of the Electoral College’s votes, ran second to their opponent in the popular voting nationwide.)  Obviously, those who support any of these changes do so because of the advantages they perceive they would bring about for the party they support.

Okay … you may ask.  Why the Political Science 101 lecture at this time?  Well, it’s because this intricate system of checks and balances prevents anyone from becoming too powerful.  We now have a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate.  This is the result of the Democrats carrying states with enough electoral votes to win the Presidency.  (He also had a popular majority which really doesn’t officially count for anything.)  Similarly, the Democrats have a majority in the Senate, based on their statewide victories in 2012 and in 2008.  (One third of the Senate is elected every two years.).   But over in the House of Representatives, Republicans have held sway since 2010.   So very little is being accomplished.  

This is the way it’s supposed to work, preventing a "dictatorship of the majority.”  American government is designed to work for everybody, and not just for those who happen to be in the driver’s seat.  Perhaps that is why we have so many drivers’ seats, and I haven’t even mentioned the Supreme Court.


Right now, we are paying a price for the luxury of avoiding a dictatorship of the majority!  That price is the setting up of the “Sequester” and our government’s inability to agree on remedies to alleviate the problems it will cause.  In the preceding blog, I talked about the dire effects of sequestration, and if allowed to fester until 2014, how they might enable the Democrats to add control of the House of Representative to their existing control of the Presidency and the Senate.  If such a thing happens, do you feel that it would be for the good of the United States in the long run?   

Even though I do not attribute any sinister or ulterior motives to the President and the Democratic Party, I would not like to see that happen.  So while the “sequester” may be a bad thing from an economic standpoint, it has its favorable aspects from a political standpoint in that the paralysis it causes serves to preserve democracy in our country.  Sooner or later, “something has got to give,” though, and when that happens, I hope it does not weaken the system of checks and balances in our government or our two party system, both of which are good things.
Jack Lippman


The Thin Line Between Supporting the Second Amendment and Being an Enabler for Treason

(The following letter from Josh Horwitz appeared on the web site of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.  Horwitz is Executive Directior ot that organization.  For clarity, the tense of some of the verbs in the first two paragraphs has been modified.  it contains important informtion as to why some in this country insist on assault weapons being available to them.)

What are Assault Weapons Really For?

On February 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted an important hearing to consider the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, legislation introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein that would take military-style firearms off the civilian market and ban high-capacity ammunition magazines. Undoubtedly, claims will be made by some Senators on the committee that assault weapons are merely "scary-looking pieces of plastic" that are functionally equivalent to your grandfather's hunting rifle.

But what are assault weapons really for? 

I have submitted written testimony for the hearing which comments on the intersection between support for assault weapons and insurrectionist ideology. In this testimony I made two primary assertions:
  • Semiautomatics AR-15s are now the weapon of choice for violent insurrectionists in the United States.
  • Contrary to the assertions of the gun lobby—the taking up of arms against our government by individuals (or armed mobs) has always been considered treason.
One doesn't have to look hard to find evidence of the true purpose of assault weapons. Right-wing academic David Kopel, who recently testified before the committee, has written that since “resistance to tyranny or invasion would be a guerrilla war…‘assault weapons’ would be useful and citizen resistance might well prove successful." And none other than NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told Senate Judiciary Members that the Second Amendment was drafted to allow civilians to fight back against police, the military, and other government officials.

Such radical ideology had little standing with our Founders, who made it clear in the Constitution that the role of the Militia was to "suppress Insurrections," not to foment them. But it has proven far more successful in generating profits for the gun industry through a decades-long fearmongering campaign warning Americans about the dangers of forcible gun confiscation and even enslavement by our democratic government.

It's time for an honest debate about the role assault weapons play in our politics and culture. I hope my testimony can contribute to that dialogue.


Josh Horwitz
Executive Director

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
1424 L Street NW, Suite 2-1, Washington, DC 20005
202-408-0061 | csgv@csgv.org | www.csgv.org

Report from the Butterfly Garden

Except for an occasional monarch, the butterfly garden has been pretty quiet over the past few months.  The plants have been growing well, however, which promises a lot of butterflies stopping here when Spring comes.  I have, however, noticed hummingbirds feeding on the pentas at the back of the house.  I have not been able to catch one staying still long enough to pose for a picture but here is a photo taekn from the internet which is pretty much the same as what I saw out of the bedroom window the other day. 



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Jack Lippman
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